Saturday, November 30, 2013

Have It My Way

My 15 year old son has hit the teenage years where it seems that all he does is eat, sleep and go to school. Our food bill with two teenagers in the house has risen significantly now that we have two teenagers around. They've graduated from being fairly picky eaters to eating just about anything that they can find in the cupboards. You know they're growing up when they'll  not only try new things, but will actually cook something on the stove or the oven. Sarah has been known to cook a pizza after she gets home from work at 10:00 PM. I remember those days and did the same thing as a teenager. The other night Ben left one in the oven for about 50 minutes and something like this was the result. >>>

One of Ben's new favorite foods is hamburgers, another phase that I remember going through as a teenager. We grilled out one time and as we were eating, Ben said "Ya know, this burger is really good. I really like hamburgers." I knew we had hit a turning point right then.

Now I know red meat is evil and carnivores are evil, and I know beef is bad for you and I know hamburger is the bottom of the beef food chain. I know. And Ben knows too. I told him it's not something you want to eat a lot of. It should be like a luxury item, or a treat. If you don't know this and keep it in check, it will eventually kill you with artery clogging swiftness.

At the same time, I know that a good burger is just a teeny taste of heaven on earth. I know the PETA folks will hate me for saying it, but it's true.

Lately, Ben and I have been on a "burger tour." Our area of Southeastern Wisconsin has its share of frozen custard restaurants and most of them serve burgers too. Here's a rundown/restaurant review and ranking based on what we've found so far.

  1. Kopps. So far, this is his favorite. These burgers are huge and greasy and delicious. I like them best with fried onions, but Ben's a purist; cheese and ketchup only. The ambiance of this place is like stepping back in time. Lots of stainless steel, humming custard machines and the cooks and cashiers all wear the white hats from the 50's. It's a must-see destination for all visitors to our house.
  2. White Castle. We went here yesterday while visiting family in Minnesota. I miss not having these down in Milwaukee. They're horrible for you, probably a low quality meat, yada, yada, yada, but they are amzingly good. Best enjoyed way after dark, preferably while you're sitting in the car. They were as good as I remember, but there were just more selections, including a Jalapeno Cheese slider and a bacon cheeseburger slider. I said this restaurant almost should be classified in a different class than the rest, because sliders are different. (And so are their after effects.) ;-0
  3. Murfs. Another custard stand favorite. These are also grilled and their stand is local only to Waukesha. They are not quite as big as Kopps, but they come hot off the grill and can be chased by a scoop of the flavor of the day.
  4. Oscars. This burger is actually my "fast food" favorite, not Ben's. I like them best because they're flame broiled and not as greasy as Kopps or Murfs. It has a decent ambiance to as well. Not as big as Kopps, but the white hats and custard machines churning away. It's still on Ben's as a place to try.
  5. Harry's. These are the best ever. They are not fast-food burgers, but are simply the best in Milwaukee, in my opinion. Top quality beef, done to perfection. 
  6. Flameburger. I forgot about this place until we passed it yesterday after lunch at White Castle. It was a favorite of mine through college. Greasy spoon goodness that I've added to our list for when we return to Minnesota.
If you noticed I don't include any of the corporate heavyweights like McDonalds or Burger King. I can't eat those any more. They would be a last resort.  

There are likely a ton more that are "must have's" as it's tough to make a bad burger.Like I said though, I have to keep it to a minimum or my doctor will hate me. I'm sure the PETA people already do, and I'm okay with that.

Blogging off..

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Taking Stock

With the approaching Thanksgiving holiday I want to take a minute to spell out what I'm thankful for. So much of life is rushing to and from the next thing that, to me, to take a minute to reflect is almost therapeutic. Everyone has reason for thanks and tomorrow is meant to remind us of how lucky we are to have what we have.

I am thankful for:

My Wife Donna. She has stuck by me through some tough times and I feel like our marriage is richer because of all of it. We still laugh together daily and she "gets me" and I "get her". She has taught me that love and marriage are forever. I cannot imagine someone more compatible with me. 23 years and counting. Thankful.

My Daughter Sarah. I hate gushing about kids, but Sarah makes it hard not to. She has a strong will, an incredible work ethic and a huge heart. She is an amazing student, way better than I ever was, through no doing of her parents. Why is that? I don't know, but I am thankful.

My Son Ben. Ben has a huge heart too. He never balks when we ask him to "serve" for church or the homeless shelter. He is more of a "B" student, like I was, and there's nothing wrong with that. He has taught me that while friends are important, everyone needs alone time too. Even the socialites. Thankful for him.

My In-Laws. They say when you marry someone you marry their family. I lucked out in that respect. I don't see them but a few times a year, but I love having in-laws that are healthy, well adjusted and accepting of me and my kids. They love me unconditionally and that is a great comfort.

My Mom. She raised seven of us kids and through it all she always managed to stay level headed, active in the community and "there" for our kids and the rest of her grandchildren. She taught me to plow through adversity and to love and respect family as the treasure it is.

My Dad. He gave me this life and through his influences on Tom, he instilled a love of all things outdoors. I'm told he loved his kids more than anything and I believe it. He taught me the importance of being there for my kids and paying forward the love of all things outdoors. He also taught me that life can deal the unexpected and we need to appreciate the now, because tomorrow is just a chance.

My Brother Tom. He taught me the love of fishing, camping, canoeing and all things outdoors. (Hunting, not so much, but that's a story for later.) He shaped my sense of humor more than anyone, I think. He taught me what it means to be a man in my dad's absence.

My Sister Pat. She was the in-situ "mom" when our mom was at work. In some respects she was forced to grow up faster than she should have been because of this. She taught me that everyone needs to help in a family. I remember he "training" me how to properly do dishes and wipe counters down amongst the other household chores. Life skills.

My Sister Linda. Though I never knew her, I am thankful she was a part of my mom and older siblings' lives for the short time she was. I often wonder if I'd be the same person I am if she was still around. I wonder about her personality, what her family would have been like.

My Sister Jane. She is the one who shaped my view of the importance of keeping the family together through thick and thin. I remember when I moved to Milwaukee and she asked "So, when are you moving back to Minnesota, Jim?" I said it may never happen. I think her reply was something like "Well, that sucks." That's how important family was to her. She still hosts many holidays and though she's often in the background, it's apparent that nothing makes her happier than seeing family together.

My Brother Rob. Rob taught me the importance of living in the moment. He taught me that friends are sometimes as important as family. He was the one I was most comfortable being around for extended periods, in part because he loved to laugh. He taught me to not take myself too seriously. I miss him more than anything.

My Brother Paul. Paul taught me the importance of just a little bit of recklessness in my life. His perspective is that life is too short to stay between the lines for the duration. Live on the edge, enough to get your blood going, but not enough to get in trouble. He gave me the love of rock and roll and life as something to be lived with vigor.

My Friends. You know who you are. I'm the world's toughest friend to keep. I don't solicit get-togethers, I don't answer phone calls, and much prefer texts or emails. NONE of that means I don't appreciate you and that you're stubborn enough to stick by me. I'm happiest alone, but as my wife will attest, when I'm around my friends, I enjoy EVERY moment of it. Thank you for all you are to me.

And so, that's it. I'm thankful for friends, family and people that glide into and out of my life. You are beautiful and I can't imagine life without you in it.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Blogging off...

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Awash In Joy

I'll start by using my old tag line "I'm not handy". This is my opinion, but I really think I don't give myself enough credit. History has shown that in most projects I take on, I do okay.

Today was "install the dishwasher" day. We bought a Bosch Ascenta about a week ago and rather than spend the $150 to have it installed, we thought we'd save a little money and do it ourselves. I had no less than four people tell me that it was "easy" and 3 of those promised me they would be on retainer if needed. Based on those assessments I thought I'd give it a go.

I started by watching a YouTube video where a Canadian guy installed one. It looked fairly straightforward, and the video was only 21 minutes long, so I figured how hard can it be?

Bear in mind that the Canadian guy didn't live in a house that was 91 years old. His was new or new-ish.

So I get started by plugging in my work light that is halogen and, I kid you not, two minutes into being on it blew. Seriously? C'mon man. I take this as a bad omen.

I get flashlights from the basement and set to work. Trip the breakers off, turn the water off and detach the water inlet. Well, I assumed the water would drain from the lines after a minute or two. 10 minutes later, the water's still flowing at a good rate. It's my guess that the shutoff valve under the sink is corroded open or something. I go downstairs to the the water main and it doesn't budge. (Gotta get that looked at REAL SOON.)

So the fear and loathing sets in. What am I going to do? Eventually, I had Donna open it slightly and re-close the valve and the water slowed down to a workable trickle. (That valve should also be looked at REAL SOON, by a REAL plumber.) Bear in mind that at this point we've soaked 3 towels and emptied 14+ cereal bowls of water. "Contain the water" is my mantra.

I pull the unit out and look at what I have to work with. Of course it's copper from 1962, nothing like the "convenient flexible hose" in the stupid Canadian video. So I deem that at a junction, I can put an adapter to go from copper to "convenient flexible hose". I take off the piece and run to the hardware store for the first time. A very helpful, but way, way to conversational young man named John helped me get the right fittings.
It was clear he was getting paid by the hour and I was getting paid by the job as it took 20 minutes longer than it should have. But I digress.

I go to the register and realize I have no wallet. Seriously? C'mon man! Back home I go and when I return, the guy who helped me was much older. I told him what I was doing and that I was going to use the old copper nut, etc,. and he said "Oh, no. You need to cut the copper and replace the ferrule, or else you'll spring a leak and have trouble." When I questioned the process he so quickly described, he treated me like I had never done this before...maybe because I never have, dude! Nevertheless, he demonstrated how to use a copper pipe cutter and, well, $17 later, I left the store with the fittings and a new copper pipe cutter.

I had my doubts about cutting copper, but dang if I didn't cut it like a pro the first time. I put on the fitting, attached the "convenient flexible hose" - ala Canadian Joe - and was ready to finish the install. I move the machine into place and hook the outlet hose into place. Then I hook the still dribbling inlet hose into the brass fitting going into the dishwasher. I turn the water back on and as I go to level the legs, I see there's a leak at the fitting. Understand that I put plumber's Teflon tape on the fitting before I screwed it in and didn't "overtighten" it as the instructions warned. Why then, pray tell, was it leaking. Seriously? C'mon man!

The problem with detaching the inlet hose is that it's now full of water and a little bit of pressure. When I loosen the fitting, of course it's like a garden hose with someone's thumb over the outlet.

"Honey, I could use some towel's and bowls here!" Same story with the cruddy shutoff valve. Turning it off required turning it on again briefly and then off again.

I started the job at 10:00 AM, it's now 5:00 PM.

The fitting comes off after some choice words and a few knuckle scrapes. I retape it and replace it, cross my fingers, turn on the water and voila! No leaks. My confidence is restored momentarily and I finish up with hooking up the electric, levelling the legs, and securing it to the counter top. We switch it on and I check for leaks. I'm doing this by laying on my stomach with a flashlight and peering into the dark nether lands of the dishwasher slot. As the washer runs and I see no leaks, I am awash with a stupid kind of self-help joy. It was like finishing a marathon or something. I could have laid there for hours.

It was friggin' beautiful, man.

So I learned a few things today.

  1. I am handier than I give myself credit for. This stuff isn't easy and I do okay. 
  2. Never reuse copper fixtures. 
  3. Copper cannot be cut with a hacksaw. (I thought the guy at the hardware store was going to flip when I suggested this.) 
  4. Always check your mains and valves.
  5. Whatever wrenches you have, you need a size bigger (or smaller).
  6. Hardware stores don't sell stuff on the honor system. This ain't Mayberry.
  7. Don't be afraid to ask your wife to hand you towels, bowls, life preservers, or snorkels.
  8. Don't be afraid to text your "handy" friends (complete with pictures) if you're not sure.
  9. Always have a second halogen light for backup or a big, honkin' flashlight.
  10. Whatever time frame you have for the job, double it, or maybe even triple it if your house is 91 years old.
  11. Flexible hoses are convenient and put copper to shame.
  12. Plumbers earn every cent they make.
  13. Always buy your beer before you start the job. You'll likely need it at the end.
That's it for now. I'm going to go lay on the floor and listen to my dishwasher run.

Blogging off...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Spare A Little Change

My wife and I have a friend, who we actually met through another friend. This gentleman works for The Guest House, a homeless shelter/re-housing program in the city center of Milwaukee. The agency is, like many non-profit, humanitarian social services, wildly underfunded considering their case load (or, perhaps more correctly, their potential case load). As a result, they rely heavily on internal fund raising and a large community of volunteers to help fill the gaps. There are 86 beds at the shelter, and the men are typically hooked up with counselling staff to help them with job searches, educational opportunities, substance abuse and  mental health issues. Our friend took us on a tour one day and I have to say, it is one of the more humbling places I've ever toured or had the privilege to serve.

A while back, my wife Donna felt compelled to set a goal of trying to pull together enough volunteer donations to be able to serve a meal at the shelter. She set up a sign up list using sign up genius which enables people to easily offer to donate as much or as little food as they like. Her first meal was so successful she decided to try and make it a monthly goal - one meal a month - people donate, we serve.

Now all I can claim is to be in a "support" role. I fully embrace the idea and am wild about the serving end of it. It is the best part of my month every time I do it. But she does most of the hard work, coordinating the meal planning, food drop offs, dates, etc. I'm just there to lift boxes, take donations when she's not around, contribute our part of the food and when the time comes, to help serve the meal. Like most of the fulfilling causes I help with, I never feel like I'm doing enough, and feel bad I'm not doing more.

What I've found most fascinating though, and what this post is really about, is how a little idea can snowball and become infectious. 

Infectious good.

You see, shortly after we had been doing this a while, another friend of ours asked how she could help. She, her husband and her two daughters were so impacted by the homeless people they encountered on a trip to California, that her daughters actually wanted to change what they saw. 

They wanted to change the world. 

Donna told her about the opportunity to make sandwiches for lunches for the residents of Guest House, which again, is a volunteer-based meal. If they don't get someone to volunteer for sandwiches one day, the guys don't get lunch. It's that simple. So this woman's daughters organized their Girl Scout troop to make sandwiches. The girls loved it, and got a great sense of accomplishment out of it, never mind the terrific foundation their parents were setting for them. 

It was so successful, that one of their friends' 4H group wanted to do a sandwich session. It seemed it was catching on. 

Infectious good.

Now these girls thought they were changing the world. Of course, world changes only come about by big politics, big religion, and big government programs, right? Who could possibly change it by helping with a homeless shelter or making sandwiches? What impact can it make? 

Let me illustrate with a paraphrased story. 

A man was walking down a beach that was littered with starfish that had washed up onto the shore. As he walked he picked up the starfish and threw them back into the sea. Despite his intentions, it looked like an impossible task to get them all. 

Another man saw him and said, "Excuse me sir, with all of these starfish on the beach, how do you think you can make a difference by throwing a few back?"

The starfish thrower picked up another one threw it into the ocean and replied, "I just made a difference for that one."

Every sandwich is changing a man's life. Granted it's a small change, but don't doubt for one second the gratefulness of each man that gets one. I've served them. Trust me, they are grateful. So, say you helped with 10 of the sandwiches, you've impacted 10 men's lives. Sounds crazy? I say, ask the men.

World change starts at home, next door, downtown, at work.

But that's not all. Another of Donna's friends has taken the "Sandwich-Prep of the Month" challenge now too. Same deal, one commitment of 150+ sandwiches per month. All donated, all assembled by volunteers. 

More infectious good.

What blows me away is the thought of what a better place the City of Milwaukee would be if more people took up a cause like this. This is 3 organizational/foundational families with maybe 100 supporting donors supplying the food. Imagine what we could do with 30 families or 300 families with 300 or 3000 supporting donors? It's the way it should be. 

And so, I want to say to those of you who have donated with guest house or any other humanitarian agency on a regular basis, Thank You! You're changing the world and if that doesn't give you a sense of purpose, you might want to check your pulse. To those who haven't or aren't helping where you can, I challenge you to start this holiday season. It is a great family project that will train up the next generation. (More world changing there). 

I for one can vouch for the fact that it will change your entire outlook on life. 

It'll change your world.

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Well, the waiting game continues. I'm speaking of my attempt to get my manuscript published. I finished it in mid-September and began my publishing pursuits in earnest shortly thereafter. There are many ways to go about getting your book published, and so I consulted a friend of mine who is in the publishing business and asked him what my options were. He said there were essentially three routes you could take, or at least three that he recommends to people that he works with. I describe them below in the suggested order of pursuit. The first is the most desirable, the last being the least.

The first route was what he referred to as the agented route. That route involves soliciting the services of an agent, preferably a New York agent. The agent then works for you and pushes your book to various publishing houses in an attempt to get them to publish it. While you still have to write your query letter, synopsis and marketing plan, they do the "hard work" of convincing publishers that your work is worth a look. This is the "traditional" route that all the big, successful writers (though not all of them) end up taking.

The second route would be to try and market or agent the book yourself. This means that you would approach the small presses and publishing houses on your own. It requires that you have a decent marketing plan, synopsis, query letter and are confident that you can sell them on the idea of your book. Many publishers don't take unagented queries or solicitations, so it narrows down your options a little, but in the case where you can't seem to land an agent, it's a good fall-back plan.

The third route involves self publishing. It is where you take your manuscript to one of the many self-publishing services and get it published. Then, they allow you to put it up to Amazon for purchase and you are left to market and promote the book entirely on your own. I have no shame in saying this is what one would call a last resort solution. I've heard from enough people that if you aren't willing to take your lumps the hard way through traditional channels, you might cut your nose off to spite your face, for any future publishing you might want to do.

I don't want to dis self publishing entirely. I think there are some great stories of people who have had long successful careers after a self publishing start, but I think they are, by far, the minority. The mantra I've heard is that anyone can self-pub, and oftentimes the writing shows it.

The other route, that is an offshoot of the self publishing scenario is what is called a vanity publisher. This is self publishing on steroids. For significant fees, the vanity publishing house helps you get your book published. The name implicates it for what it is. Again, IMHO, it's not recommended, but perhaps you get a bit more respectability because there is a "house" name attached to the book. It's up to you however to try and sell enough of your books to recoup your own (not the "house's") investment.

So I wait. I've currently got book queries in to about eighteen agents and twenty publishing houses. About once a week I get a rejection, some nice, some brief and cold. When I do, I try and match it with a new query to take its place. I know a writer who said she got close to 70 rejections before her book was accepted. 70! It seems I'll need to develop a thick skin and grind this out for a while. I'm confident that it will happen. I don't know when, but when it does, it'll be EPIC!

Blogging off...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Coliseums and Gladiators

I just returned from a two day conference in Green Bay. It was the ESRI WI Users Group (EWUG) annual meeting and for the second time in 3 years it was held at Lambeau Field. The stadium has meeting rooms and banquet facilities in its atrium and it really worked out nicely for this conference. I've been to a few games at the stadium, so it was not a totally new experience for me. Every time I visit it though, I am more blown away by the behemoth that it has become.

Lambeau leaves all other football stadiums in the dust with regards to fan experience. You just cant touch it. It's second to none. At the same time, during the renovations, they took a football field with history and made it into a destination. All of this was done in the interest of revenue generation, but most of it is done in good taste and with class. It reminds me of Miller Park in some respects, as it's as much an indoor mall as it is a sports venue. Not a bad thing, just not your daddy's ballpark.

My visit brought to mind some of the other parks I've been to for football over the years. When I first moved to Milwaukee, I was shocked when I learned that the Packers actually played 2 or 3 of their regular season "home" games in Milwaukee at County Stadium. I went to a few of those games back in the 80's when the Packers were pathetic. While it was great to be able to see the Packers play (because a ticket to Lambeau is hard to get),  that's where the nostalgia ended. County stadium was nice for baseball, but brutal for watching football. The sight lines were horrible, parts of the field were dirt because of the infield, and the players from both teams had to stand on the same sideline.

The time I took my wife Donna to see the Packers play Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills was quite memorable. We sat down low so in some cases had to look over players heads to see the action. Donna had a good time except for the bloke next to us puffing on a cigar, back when that was socially acceptable. We've come a long way to the smokeless stadiums we now have. (This is a good thing.)

As bad as it was, watching football at a baseball venue was how I experienced my first NFL game. My step-father brought me and my step-brother to a Viking preseason game in the early 70's at Metropolitan Stadiun (aka the Met). I knew then I was hooked on the sport and have loved it ever since. The met was where the Vikings had all of their home games until the Dome was built. Playing outdoors in MN in winter was as tough as it sounds.

I've also seen the Packers play at Camp Randall Stadium which was pretty cool too. They used to play one preseason game at Camp Randall, and I saw them play the New Orleans Saints in the early 90's. A better venue for football than County Stadium for sure. Someday I'd like to get up there to see an actual Badger football game. Bucket list.

I've been to Soldier field once too, but it wasn't for football. There was a Christian men's rally there one year and they almost filled the place. It was a hot, July day, but a good day nonetheless. I'm not familiar with all of the renovations of Soldier field, but I'm not crazy about how it looks. It's a little space-shippy for me. Just my opinion.

Now I see the Vikings are going to be building a new domed football stadium to the tune of several jagillion dollars. It's a sensitive topic up that way, but you have to do those things if you want to keep a team these days. Like I said, this isn't your daddy's (or my step-daddy's) football franchise. I'm sure it will be built with great professionalism and be a spectacle to see, just like Lambeau. It'll be on my bucket list too, and I might even leave my coat in the car.

Blogging off...

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Reading from the Book of Sarah

Tomorrow my eldest, fairest, and only daughter turns 18. As my boss put it so disturbingly, she could technically get married now and not have to ask permission. Yikes! Thanks for that shot to the cranium. I'm well aware there are a host of other things she'll be eligible for too, including tattoos, credit lines, and probably some once-illicit-now-legal activities in Colorado and Washington. She's a smart kid though and we raised her right, so I trust she'll make only good decisions, like waiting until you're 51 to get a tattoo, if ever.

Sarah began to make her entrance into the world in the middle of the night in November of 1995. Donna woke me up at 3:00 AM saying something like "I think this is it!" I jumped out of bed and we both clicked into hyper drive. We let her brother know (he was living with us at the time), called the doctor and hit the road for West Allis Memorial Hospital. After almost 8 hours of labor, she was born at 10:53 AM that day. She was beautiful, the experience was humbling and it was one of the three most amazing days of my life, the other two being Ben's birth and my wedding day.

When Sarah was born, Donna's friend Jacqui gave the us a blank journal book as a gift. I started journalling key events and, being a writerly-type, have faithfully journaled through both of my kids' lives. It's nothing special, simply a page or a paragraph entered for life events, special days, holidays, or, just because.

I did it in part because I love to write, but another reason was I wanted them to have something to remember me by in case something tragic should happen. Having lost my dad when I was just 5 years old, other than pictures, I really have nothing to remember him by. I'm not dissing him or anyone else for not writing about their experience (God knows he had enough on his plate with 7 kids!) I'm just saying that knowing my love for words, and the chance to leave a bit of a written legacy for my own kids, it seemed like the thing to do.

None of my family, including my wife has seen any of these entries, except me. That is intentional on my part, as I'm one of those who doesn't really like people seeing my work until it is finished, (and preferably when I'm out of the room. I know I'm weird that way...). Most of it is fairly personal, probably kinda gushy and syrupy, so I'll leave that for both of the kids and their mother to read when the time comes. I always thought I'd give it to them when they turned 18, but that seems kind of early all of the sudden, so maybe I'll wait until they go to college, or get married. Hopefully it will be something they cherish, not like that box of special school projects that we have stashed in the basement.

In recognition of her eighteenth birthday, I'm posting the first entry from that journal. It's actually spread over three entries on two different days because, well, that's what happens to new parents. If you've been there, you'll understand.

12-8-1995 - 8:03 PM

I finally found a moment to pause and reflect on that special day that was almost 4 weeks ago now. Unfortunately your (sic) starting to fuss in your bassinet at the moment and so I'll have to put this aside for a short time. When you're old enough to read this, we can both laugh about it, but for now you're not so happy.

12-8-1995 - 8:35 PM

Well, the feeding is done and you're down in the middle of the living room floor kicking and grunting. You do not like that bassinet. Oh well, whatever works. Mom's out in the kitchen making Christmas cookies and I'm trying to relax, care for you and listen to a little Bruce Springsteen.

Back to that special day. Mom woke me about 3:15 with a shot to the ribs. "Jim, I think something's going on," she said. From there it was off to the races. After struggling with the clinic staff over the phone about Donna's "phantom Doctor," we loaded the car, Donna grabbed the scream bar and away we went down I-94.

We got to the hospital in good time and settled in our room for the long haul. After 4+ hours of heavy, steady contractions and then 3 hours of hard, focused pushing, there you were. You were kicking and screaming much like you are now. (Gotta go for the moment. You need a diaper or something.)


Back to your birth. I'll never forget your Mom's first words when she saw you for the first time. She said, with tears in her eyes, "Isn't she beautiful, Jim?" I had to agree that you were the prettiest baby I had ever seen. You had what looked like my lips and mouth, and Mom's eyes and cheeks. All of this was topped by a full head of thick, brown hair, also a "mom trait."

After what seemed like a day and a half, (actually about an hour and a half) they brought you back. You had your little mittened outfit on and of course had your hands up by your ears as you did through much of your infancy. We nicknamed you "Kilroy" for the Kilroy was here figure that's so well known.

You slept most of the day those first few days, so Donna and I spent most of our time admiring your beauty.


So there it is. Nothing great, no great literary genius going on, for sure. Just a heartfelt account of what was going on in our lives during this happy time. There's probably a hundred pages of entries like this in the journal, and while it is far from my finest work, I'm certain it and Ben's journal are my most important. I've always said that if I never get that book I've always wanted published, I've already written two epic books - Bestsellers of one copy each - and I'll defend that claim until I'm dead and gone.

Happy birthday to the sweetest daughter a father could wish for.

Blogging off...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

All Things Churchy

Our family went to a new church on Sunday. We were feeling compelled to try something new, so thought we would try Transformation City Church in Milwaukee. We've heard good things about their mission of outreach and service, so we thought we'd give it a look. The church itself is built in what used to be an archery range. They've remodeled it, so it is modern and spacious. Like many churches in this day and age, the worship was contemporary, complete with amps, drums and electric guitars. The message was good as well, now we just need to determine if we want to commit to the commute to get there every Sunday which takes 25 minutes.

We've been at our current church Elmbrook for twenty years or so. I won't go into why we're looking to change, because this post isn't about that. Instead I'd like to run down some of the churches I've been to over the years. Each of them has their strengths and weaknesses, and all of them played a role in shaping my beliefs and faith.

I grew up in the Catholic church. My first real church experience was at St. Agnes, in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was where I made my first communion and was also where I was confirmed. It is a beautiful old church. I can remember the nuns telling us not to put our butts on the pews behind us as when we knelt on the kneelers. It was where I learned reverence for the holiness of God. Talking (by students) was done in hushed whispers during service, and preferably not at all. I also remember the confessionals and making up some fictitious numbers/events about my sins of the week, just to not appear as perfect. (Which I wasn't anyway.)

After a couple of years at St. Agnes, we moved and switched to St. Lukes which has since become St. Thomas More Catholic Church, though nobody consulted me. :-) It was another mammoth sized church, similar in style to St Agnes, complete with vaulted ceilings and poured concrete design. I attribute the foundation of my faith to St. Lukes church and school. Through five years of schooling and 10+ years of church, it was all I knew. It was where my sister was married, where my step brother and step father's funerals were held, and several other key events.

One of my fondest memories was their Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve every year. Rob and I would go every year and every year on the way home (across the street) he would shove me into a snowbank when I least expected it. What are brothers for if not a good hip check into a snowbank, right?

When I moved out on my own, I fell into a church in Crystal Minnesota called St. Raphael's. It was memorable for the youth group that I came to know. Some really great college aged friends that gave me people who I knew in a neighborhood that I was new to. The church services were forgettable, but the people were not, and sometimes that's how God uses the church.

When I moved to Waukesha I tried St. Mary's because that's where my roommate went. It was a paradigm shift to me because it was so "new". I was used to big, drafty, dark Catholic churches of my youth. St. Mary's was modern, new, light and airy. I didn't go every week, I'll admit, but it did provide a connection for me in yet another new place - a new city in a new state for that matter.

When I later moved to Milwaukee, I floundered about, churchless for the most part. I tried St. Peter and Paul a few times, but mainly on holidays. I don't remember too much about it really. I was a faceless attender, looking to fulfill my obligation to attend rather than any kind of spiritual void.

After I married my wife and I tried a couple of Methodist churches in the Waukesha area, but both of them seemed like they were a bit desperate or smothering when we were greeted at the door.

Eventually we tried Elmbrook when it was still in its "small sanctuary. We loved the message and the pastor, Stuart Briscoe. His sermons were challenging, convicting and always interesting. He and that church took my faith to the next level. It made the Bible real, understandable, and relevant to me for the first time in my life. We raised our kids through their great kids/middle school/high school program and were active in many men's and women's ministries over the years.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that without even realizing it, I've built quite a history of churches throughout the course of my faith journey. While I realize, none of it is tied up in any of the buildings anyways, I can't help but think that each of them had a role in shaping who I am and what I believe. I don't know whether we'll keep going to this new church or not. I loathe the term "church shopping" and I don't think that's what we're doing. We're just restless and looking for a better fit. We may find that there's nothing better out there, and I'm okay with that. It's evident though in looking back through where I've been, it's a whole lot easier not to be afraid of where I'm going.

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Hero Treatment

I have a date that comes up annually on my Microsoft Outlook calendar every November 1st. It is set to remind me of my nephew's sobriety anniversary. I think this is his 4th or 5th year of being clean and sober and I have the calendar set because, in my mind, this is a significant date that needs to be recognized. It needs to be recognized annually. This guy knows how ugly he was as a drinker. He could be mean, nasty and a completely different person when he was on a bender. He was great to talk to and really funny to be around when he was sober, but if he had a few, look out. I wanted no part of being around him. Now that he's recovered, it's like he's a different person.

I say its important to recognize these people for their achievement on an annual basis. However, in their own lives, every day is a day that needs to be recognized, at least for them, unto themselves. One of the foundations of AA and other programs is "one day at a time". While no one wants a label, the old adage of once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic, is more true than not. They have helped themselves up, but realize that they could fall back into self destructive ways with the downing of one drink or the popping of one pill. They live with themselves and their temptations every day.

I want to make one thing very clear. They are all heroes to me. They had the guts to see what they were doing to themselves, their families and friends and take control of it. They had the guts to say NO. They continue to say no in a society where drinking (and drug use) is everywhere. I cannot fathom the pressure they must deal with to say no to cultural norms to "fit in" by having a "social" drink.

I've have a few people in my life who I look up to for these reasons of admission, abstinence, and resolve. I have a relative who went through drug treatment after struggling with stimulants for a number of years. She has been clean for quite some time, went back to college, is raising a daughter and has a good job in the social work field. She has a good network beneath her of people that support her. People struggling with addiction addicts are each others' best friends. She also has our entire family supporting her with encouraging words and love. She doesn't know how much I look up to her. She is a hero and she doesn't even know it.

I have a close friend who went through treatment almost thirty years ago after wrecking a car. Luckily, no one was hurt. It was a blessing in disguise, the accident, as it brought him to the realization that he had a problem. I remember things were always different when we were out at a party or whatever. He never quite knew when to say when. He always wanted to go a little farther with it. It was almost like it took over him. In the end, it caught up to him. He was fortunate to have a deep faith and it carried him through as he went through treatment and he's been clean and sober ever since. He's a hero to me and he doesn't even know it.

Then there is another grade school friend that I have reconnected with through facebook. I found out through facebook that he went through treatment with the female relative I talked about above. He has been clean and sober for quite a while and just recently quit smoking. He still loves rock n roll and rides a Harley but he does it all clean. I haven't seen this guy for 35+ years but in all the same ways as above, I look up to him.

So if you know someone who's been through treatment, I encourage you to acknowledge them for the good they've done for themselves. Your encouragement might be exactly what they need to hear at that moment.

Blogging off...