Sunday, December 28, 2014

Top 10 Blog Posts of 2014

Before I look ahead to 2015, I think it's always important to look back at last year and take stock on they year. In 2014, I posted a personal record of 125 times. What I'd like to do now is run down the top 10 posts from last year. These are based strictly on my own perception of them, so bear with me.

Here are the 2014 top ten posts with links to each.

  1. Dancing Defined This post was spurred by my niece's wedding reception where I took to the dance floor like a maniac. Unfortunately, I probably looked like a maniac. But as I allude to in the post, dancing is all about letting it out and not worrying what others think. This is probably not a healthy outlook from a face-saving perspective, but I can't change who I am.
  2. A Story Written - A Life Rewritten A fellow eLectio Author spurred this post with his memoir on the struggles he had growing up in the housing projects in South Dakota. It resonated a bit with me because of our brief foray into the housing projects right before my dad died in the mid 1960's. It speaks of adversity and the strong people that rise above it. 
  3. Reality Check A post about the prospect of Sarah heading off to college. It's weird to look back at this post and see all the doubt and anxiety I had about Sarah leaving. Now that I'm four months into it I know that it is exactly where she should be. I mourn her absence when she's not here, but I've come to realize life goes on and we're all going to be okay.
  4. National Poetry Month - Issue 21 In April I took on the challenge of posting a poem a day on my blog. It was a lot of work, but I loved the process. It took me into many poet's work. This particular one became even more meaningful last week. The author Jeff Poniewaz passed away. So it goes...
  5. From Where Art Comes My daughter's art show reminded me how much I cannot get into the head of an artist. One might say as a writer I use the same parts of my brain, but why then can I not draw? It's a strange jump.
  6. Coffee With Friends This post sums up one of the best days of 2014 for me, my book signing at Cafe De Arts. The place was packed and I had an absolute blast talking to friends and signing copies of Dirty Shirt. It was the start of a blindingly fun summer and fall of book promotion.
  7. Exponential Good With all that we do with the Guest House every year, it becomes clearer to me every day that if everyone did a little, it would make a big difference in the world. This post speaks to some of the other things going on at the Guest House.
  8. A Zillion Miles for a Dirty Shirt The book's road trip to Ely, Minnesota and all points in-between is the subject of this post. Lots of quality time with my son Ben and a surprise visit from my family on a tour run that I will always remember. Good times.
  9. Travel Log Part III - The Cabin More travels; to northern Wisconsin this time. Precious time with family and good friends in God's country.
  10. Gifts For Giving This is a synopsis of the many talents of my friends and family. Everything from music, and writing, and from cooking to art are included.
So that is my year. What was your favorite post of the year?

I hope you've enjoyed my blog from time to time (or on a regular basis). I sure appreciate all the good feedback people have given me. Its incredibly encouraging. Here's to a great 2015!

Blogging off...


Bear in mind that you can peruse any blog post from my blog over they years by scrolling down the right side of my blog to the "BLOG ARCHIVE" section and clicking on the month or year.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Timelessness of Christmas

Christmas was always loud and brash and full of laughter and joy at the house on Portland. This year like so many before it, Mom picked out the long needled Norway Pine and decorated it with ornaments old, new, gaudy and beautiful. She was careful to put the breakable ones up high, away from our cat. Tonto occasionally took to his lumberjack skills and climbed the trunk and gave a good shake, or, worse, toppled it altogether. To be sure, we tied it up with fishing line to give it a fighting chance against the cat's deft tree killing skills.

The relatives start arriving about 5:00. Along with my brother Paul, I am a student at the University of Minnesota. My brother Rob is home from Rochester, New York where he is attending NTID. Tom, Pat and Jane are all moved out and raising families of their own. They arrive with kids and spouses in tow for the annual Christmas gathering at mom's. Everyone is in high spirits, exhausted from all the preparation, yet finally ready to let down and enjoy the night with family.

After the welcoming hellos and Merry Christmases are said, people begin settling in. Beers are cracked among the brothers while the ladies sip wine. Sisters Jane and Pat live dangerously sipping "the recipe" a concoction modeled after the two sisters on the Waltons' television show while Mom worries about whether the standing rib roast is done or not. Our grandmother Dagny sits in the overstuffed chair looking regal in her Christmas outfit and large necklace sipping a cocktail of her own and laughing her Barney Rubble laugh that I love so much. All of us dread the goodnight slobbery kiss from Dag whose lips were always unnaturally wet at kiss time. The kiss is an annual joke between us, one we looked forward to in a twisted sort of way.

Dinner is the annual fare of roast beast, Dagny's oyster casserole, green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy and a crystal bowl full of sister Pat's mysteriously good "Green Stuff". It's a merriful mix of pistachio pudding, whipped cream, and fruit cocktail that made the holidays complete, despite all of the wrongness of a pudding and fruit mix. A line forms at the buffet lined with platters and bowls of steaming food. The adults gather around the antique dining room table set with mom's sterling silver place settings and her china with the rooster art. The delicate crystal goblet stemware holds wine or water. Tapered candles burn in the middle of the table warming the room as it buzzes with laughter, stories, and compliments on the meal. The food smells savory and delicious. It smells of love and richness and Christmas.

When dinner is finished, annual tradition has the Landwehr/Kaufenberg/McKasy men clearing the table and doing the dishes. Sisters Jane and Pat joke about how nice it is to see the boys working for a change, and even nicer how good it is to see them all working together. The discussion over dishes jumps from world issues to what's wrong with the Vikings' running game. The mood is jovial and anticipatory, each of us men stifling our expectant happiness at opening our gifts which happens when the last fork is dried.

After determining that this is Tom's year to pass out gifts, he settles into the Santa chair and starts reading off names. The nieces and nephews play elves and run the presents to each of the recipients. Carols seep from the stereo and a light haze begins to form near the ceiling from the various smokers in the group. The Un-candles on the mantle, a gift from Christmas two years prior, partially neutralize the smoke as they burn their vegetable oil fuel. The moment is frenzied with half a dozen conversations going on during the present distribution. The young kids have halos of electricity, barely able to surpress their pent up excitement. Through all of it God swirls about the room whispering in each ear,

"Do you see this? Isn't this beautiful? Revel in it. Hold it. This is Me. This is love. This is My love."

When the last gift is passed out we dig in. There is no taking turns among this group. Each person tears and unwraps at their own pace. The kids rip with voracity while those with fewer gifts take time to watch and enjoy others' moment of happiness. The room buzzes with cacophony and chaos. "Thank you, Mom!" is shouted more times than can be counted. Gasps are plentiful and dramatic. People spontaneously try on the sweaters, and slippers and hats that they receive. Toys are unwrapped as mom warns "Watch those small pieces! Every year something gets lost or thrown away in the wrappings."

It is an unbridled free-for-all of momentary excess, greed and gratefulness, and I am loving every second of it.

Everyone relishes in their gifts for an hour or so before they start packing things up for the ride home. As midnight approaches Rob and I prepare to go to Midnight Mass across the street at St. Luke's. It is an annual tradition with the two of us, one we would later include our wives in.

We walk into the cavernous church dimly lit for arguably the biggest service of the year. The huge pipe organ fires up the first notes of "O Come All Ye Faithful" as the congregation stands for the
processional. The whole scene is powerful and reminds me of the true meaning of Christmas. Later on in the mass, the priest lights incense and shakes the metal thurible back and forth in each direction, filling the church with aromatic smoky floral joy.

After the long but beautiful service, Rob and I head out into the cold darkness for the walk home. Our breath hangs in the air as we talk about the neighbor girls from up the block that we saw in church, and how they've become beautiful young women now. Then, when I least expect it, Rob hockey-checks me into the snowbank where I land hands-in-pockets, in a heap.

He runs away laughing and shouting, "Merry Christmas, bro," while I'm left to dust myself off and take chase in my dress shoes through the frozen night. I am shocked, damp, and laughing as I slip and slide down the street. I am equal parts amused at my brother's trickery and annoyed at my own naivete. I should have expected it. It is a moment of sibling goofiness carried into adulthood. Grown men being boys on Christmas Eve.

We arrive home and after a bit of wind-down to a few more Christmas carols and one last gift assessment, we unplug the tree lights and head up to bed.

It is in every sense of the word, and average Christmas. There was much preparation going in, and the inevitable letdown after the last gift was opened. At the same time it is a small moment of perfection. It is a glimpse of heaven, or maybe into the fiery heart of God's eternal love. We're over 30 years removed from this Christmas of long ago and we continue to pass down these traditions of Christmas to our own kids. Food, merriment, gifts and hearty helpings of hugs and warmth.

This Christmas, I hope that wherever you are, you take time out from the chaos and freneticism of the day to step back and look around. Be grateful for those that love you, but give to them by loving back. Next year will be differently the same. But for now, you have RIGHT NOW. Live it!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Getting Chiseled in Granite

I left off the last post with a promise to tell a bit more about the trip to Minnesota for the Granite City Book Club. As I have been alluding to all during this long, strange book tour/promotion, I still can't believe I am part of it all.

Stearns History Museum
Now, before I get all puffy in the chest about my fan base, you have to understand that most of these venues are small affairs, with anywhere from 12-20 people. I'm not hiring security, there's no tour bus, groupies, and the only drugs involved are a couple of antacids on the bad days. I have no concealed carry for my own protection, and I never have a problem eating dinner out without getting interrupted for an autograph. It seems first-time small press, Midwestern authors are a few notches down from Clapton, Rush and Springsteen on the fame scale. In fact, they're off the scale altogether.

And I'm okay with that.

I am so happy to be doing what I'm doing, and hopefully it shows. The Granite City Book Club event was held at the Stearns History Museum in downtown St. Cloud. While the event was open to the general public, it appeared that it was attended mainly by club members, and that was fine. It turned out it had to be held in the lobby because the regular meeting room was prepped for a breakfast thing the next day. They had the lobby all decorated for the holidays and it worked out great despite the last minute change.

I gave my presentation which consisted of:
  • Introduction
  • Reading from Dirty Shirt
  • Slide presentation of pictures from BWCA trips and dad
  • Book trailer and description of the making of.
  • Reading from the next book
  • Closing comments and Q&A
The coolest part of this event was the great participation from the members. Because everyone had read the book, they not only asked good questions, but they told their own experiences of the Boundary Waters. I had an hour and a half to fill, and I filled it completely, which is always refreshing.

And before I knew it, the whole thing was over. I chatted with a couple of ladies afterward. One said she couldn't wait for the second book because she liked what she'd heard and she was a single parent of five sons. While this surely puts the pressure on to write faster, (it'll be a couple years is my guess) it was so great to hear that someone could already relate to the topic of the next book.

Another woman came up and said that while she liked the book before the talk, she liked it even more after the presentation I gave. She had no idea what this meant to me. It is so encouraging to know that my presenting, which I never considered a strength, actually helped make the book better for her. (As I do more of these presentations, I get increasingly more and more comfortable with each one. I daresay I actually kind of like them. Shudder.)

Because after all, here are a dozen people or so who are braving the dark bleakness of a central Minnesota winter evening to hear some stranger talk about a book. They were attentive, respectful and a whole lot of fun. There were no pyrotechnics, no busted up dressing rooms, no caviar and champagne, (though there was some wine) no sound checks, no beach ball bouncing through the crowd, no boring drum solos, no laser show and certainly no Pete-Townsend guitar smashing.

Nevertheless, the whole affair was a dream come true and I hope it, and things like it, continue well into 2015. I would like to thank the members of the GCBC for being such gracious hosts and making me feel welcome and part of the group. They told me to come back when the next book is out, and I will be sure to do just that.

Blogging off...

Friday, December 19, 2014

Last Man Standing

So, the Central Minnesota leg of the 2014 Dirty Shirt book tour has been a fun one. An absolute whirlwind of activity these past few days, but all of it good. I'll run down the highlights.

On Monday, a couple of days before I left to come here, I got an email from a woman at the Stearns History Museum asking if I'd do an interview for KVSC 88.1 FM, a local radio station. Of course I said I would and later that night gave about a 30 minute interview. It was a lot of fun and if you haven't heard it, you can hear it HERE

I have a new appreciation for the job and duties of a DJ/Radio personality now that I've done a couple of interviews. These folks have to take an ordinary conversation and make it listenable, In this case, Jeff Carmack did a great job and put together about a 25 minute interview.

On Wednesday I drove up to St. Cloud with my mom a few hours before the Granite City Book Club event so we could meet up with my Uncle Tom. He is my dad's fraternal twin and the last remaining Landwehr sibling from that generation. He's 89 and seems to be doing OK for himself. He's still in the house he helped build in the 1960's, with help from a daily visit from his granddaughter Michaela. 

Tom served as a navigator in the US air force during WWII. (My dad also served, but was honorably discharged for health reasons.) My cousin Coe showed up and we had a nice chat with Tom. Much of the time was spent telling war stories and family history stories. Tom mentioned one incident where the plane he was in had an engine take a direct hit and started "windmilling", but he said they were able to pull out of it, thankfully. 

He also described a certain model of aircraft, the B-26 that was known as the Flying Coffin.  that had a history of crashing due to unpredictable failures. He never flew in one of them, but knew that's what they were called. It was a fascinating history lesson in the presence of a firsthand Veteran. 

One of the more interesting things we saw while we were at his house was nothing more than an empty brandy bottle. The history behind it was, every year my dad and his brothers went up for a "brothers hunt". My dad only made it to one, because the next year he was killed. After his death they started the "Last Man Standing" bottle of brandy. The agreement was that they wouldn't open the bottle until the last brother was still alive. As the brothers started passing away, they expanded the hunt to the eldest sons. The birth and death dates of each of the brothers was written on the side of the bottle's case. 

As it turns out, when there were still two brothers remaining, Tom and Willie, at the hunt a few years ago, they decided to open the bottle. It turned out it was pretty rancid stuff, almost undrinkable, but in doing so, it was the end of an era. I snapped a few photos of the bottle, because it gives a bit of life to a fairly cool story - a message in a bottle - of sorts. 

We finished up our refreshments, gave Tom a hug, snapped a picture and said our goodbyes. Tom congratulated me on my book which I'm told he's extremely proud of, especially given that the picture on the front is his brother. In some respects I made a point to visit him because of his great knowledge of the family, but also because he in part is the essence of my dad. And this time of year, that's a great thing to be a part of.

More on the rest of the trip next time.

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Intersecting Lives

The trail of my book promotion has been long and winding these past 6 months. It has brought some long lost family back into my life, from second cousins I never knew I had to first cousins I haven't seen in years. But maybe even more interesting are the chance encounters I've had with a number of total strangers that have followed me or my book. Here's a few examples.

There is a guy who saw me at the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books and sparked up a conversation. He had been to the BWCA as a teenager, but not since. He is also a Vietnam veteran and a writer who has his first book being looked at by a publisher in January. The book is titled The Last Man Out of Vietnam. It sounds like a great read and I can't wait to get a look at it. He said he read Dirty Shirt and really enjoyed it. He even came to my Pewaukee Library event to hear more of the back story and maybe to learn a little about book event promotion. I told him I'm no expert, but that it sure was a lot of fun

And there was the Canadian guide that I met in Ely who had actually written a number of guide-type books. He was an interesting character and probably had enough material for 10 Dirty Shirts if he put his mind to it. He was currently in dispute with his publisher, trying to get royalties that were long overdue for a book they were still selling.

At the Pewaukee event I had a lady come up to me and say she couldn't wait for my next book because she had raised 5 sons as a single parent. I had given everyone a sneak peek at what my next book-length memoir was going to be about. She bought a copy of Dirty Shirt and popped into my life and could relate to me on a personal level, even if for a brief moment.

Of course, there was the gentleman from Dousman, Wisconsin that I've mentioned before who had a brother die of cancer and who went to the BWCA every year with his family. Strange parallels all the way across the board there, but crazy how a book can connect two people for a short time over something like that.

At the Martha Merrells event I didn't manage to sell any books, but did get cornered for 45 minutes by a 93 year old guy who told me stories about his time living in Ely. It was a long winded monologue for the most part, but I'd be lying if I didn't say there were some interesting parts to his story.

There are the two people who helped coordinate my book signing events at the libraries. One was given the book by the other, but both loved the story of Dirty Shirt enough to think it was worthy enough to bring to the reading populace of the local libraries. Super nice ladies with nothing to gain by helping out a new writer. Good folks.

And there was the Michael Perry signing where, in the presence of greatness, I was privileged with having him taking one of my books and telling me congratulations on my own. A regular guy doing his thing to make a buck. Crossed paths.

There was a fellow writer who lived in Ely for quite a time that I have taken up a friendship with because of our common threads.

Or the woman who took my picture with Michael Perry who also bought Dirty Shirt and now reads my blog. She would like one day to retire in Ely. She too, has been to a couple of my events to hear more of the story.

The list goes on and on. All once were strangers for the most part, but also kindred spirits for one reason or another. I sometimes wonder why they were put on the same path as me, if even briefly. I do know that they've enriched my life in small ways one incident at a time. If nothing else, they've brought out my closet extrovert and we shared a moment. And it's all made the whole book promotion experience a whole lot of fun.

More good stories coming in the future, of that I'm sure.

Blogging off...

***I will be appearing at the Granite City Book Club in St. Cloud, Minnesota this Wednesday evening, December 17th from 6:30 - 8:00. The event is free for book club member and $7.00 for non-members.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Unforgettable Birthdays

Well, today is my birthday. Today marks the start of my fifty fourth lap around the sun. (That means I'm 53, BTW).

While birthdays aren't the big deal they once were, they're still a day when you expect just a little extra coddling or TLC. Give a person one day a year to feel a little special. Make them a cake or get them a card, or just wish them a great day.

In trying to think back to birthdays that were especially significant or memorable I can come up with a few.

Of course there were the childhood birthdays where the whole family gathered around and you were the man of the hour, for just about an hour. The Betty Crocker boxed cakes with boxed frosting were the best! Mom, or sometimes, my sisters, would make the double-decker cake with frosting between the layers. If she'd had a long day, we would have to settle for the lower maintenance 9 X 13" pan cake. And you know what? That was fine with us. It all tasted good and with 6 kids, it never lasted more than a day or two.

All of us would gather around the kitchen table after a meal of meatloaf, tacos or maybe pork chops, and mom would light the candles on the cake that was just about the best thing going. She'd start us singing and almost without fail one of my brothers or sisters would make a face during the singing which usually cracked me up. Then I'd blow out the candles and she'd dish it out to the six of us. Family doing family stuff. What a great life.

Later, a tradition was started by one of us where we were served an angel food cake with chocolate frosting, and that soon became the de-facto standard cake. I've had one of those almost every year since. The only downside to those is they have about a 3 day shelf life. Then they become too sponge-flattened to cut and are not good.

Then there was my 30th birthday. It was a "surprise party" that I thought I had figured out, then forgot about and it turned out I was completely caught off guard. My wife and mom went out to dinner and when we came home there was a house full of my friends and family. I was dumbstruck. It turned out to be probably one of the best birthdays I've had.

Just getting to chat with everybody and getting all my loved ones and friends in a room (without it being my funeral) was pretty cool. I remember my brother Rob pulling me into the wash room a time or two for a surprise birthday shot of Jack. Those might have had some bearing on my telling stories of how to snipe hunt at night with a burlap sack to my wife and mother in the wee hours of the morning, but I'm not sure. It was 23 years ago, after all.

And of course, I remember my 50th. I explicitly asked for no surprise and not a lot of pomp and circumstance. My wife organized a small gathering of close friends and family. We ate, had cake and laughed and talked. It was low key and wonderful. Chocolate angel food cake was served per the tradition and so it went. A great day,

This year I am celebrating in a different way. I was invited to speak to the Friends of the Pewaukee Library after their business meeting which happened to fall on Dec. 11th. I was flattered and could not turn down the opportunity. And so I'll spend the night talking to friends about my book.

What more could a 53 year old ask? I'm just happy to be here.

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Current Events

It has been a while so I thought I'd give a quick synopsis of all things writing related.

  • I will be presenting to the Friends of the Pewaukee Library on Thursday, December 11th (my birthday). I had such a good time at the New Berlin Library, that I am really looking forward to this. It will consist of some short readings, a slide show, followed by a book signing.
  • On December 17th I will be travelling to St. Cloud Minnesota where I'll be leading a book discussion about Dirty Shirt at the Stearns County Museum. This group, the Granite City Book Club has taken the time to buy my books and read it, which is flattering. Also, this is my father's hometown, so this trip will be pretty meaningful all the way around. 
  • Dirty Shirt was featured in the University of Minnesota's Alumni "Bookmarks" section on their website. Check it out here.
  • My book has been ordered by the Wisconsin Historical Society. This is pretty cool as it is already in the Minnesota Historical Society collection.
  • My  article in the Wisconsin State Journal's Sunday "Just Read It" column should be out in the next two weeks. This is the Madison paper and Madison is a market I haven't been able to bust into, so hopefully this will spur some sales or interest.
  • I continue to work on new poetry as well as editing my existing work. It's my goal to have it ready to submit by mid-January. 
  • I am also periodically working on the Portland book as time permits or as my focus drifts, as it does quite often.
  • I've submitted to a number of places recently, both poetry and some nonfiction stories. Sometimes these places take months to get back to me. Some never do. Cest la vie.
  • I've been to a few more book signings by fellow Authors recently, Nanci Rathbun and Sandy Goldsworthy are both gifted writers who had books published this year. It is wonderful to be surrounded by other successful colleagues but it is making my "to read" pile quite high.
  • I'm still enrolled in the AllWriters' Workplace and Workshop on Monday nights with about ten other students. I love working with this group. They encourage, support and keep me honest.
  • I have a story in an anthology about "Home" by Main Street Rag publishing that should be coming out in Q1 of next year, if not sooner.
  • At last count I was in over 30 libraries in Wisconsin and 20+ in Minnesota. I found I am also in several other out-of-state libraries on the WorldCat site, which shows me in 52 libraries. Yikes.
  • I am working to schedule another book group in Minnesota for the second weekend in January when I go up to drop my daughter off at school.
So it's all going great. I love what I'm doing and can't wait to see what the future brings. I am especially excited to get the poetry collection going. 

Stay tuned.

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Name Pending

The Thursday morning coffee group I meet with every week continues to be one of the highlights of my week, even though it is over in an hour or so. I'm still looking for a good name for this group. I've called it Thursday Theologians before, but we're all far from theologians. Most of us have a good understanding of the Bible, but with maybe the exception of one guy, I don't know if I'd classify any of us a theologian. Theological hacks, maybe. Maybe a name like, "guys seeking spiritual enlightenment through the use of caffeine, secular books and private study."

Nah, too long.

I kind of like Theological Hacks. It has a nice ring to it. 

That name is descriptive, yet evoking humility. After all, none of us are experts, but we're all seeking the deeper meaning of the Bible and how it applies in our broken, crazy contemporary world. We're hacking our way through it and it's a great adventure.

Anyhow, as I was saying, in the words of one of them, these guys a my tribe. We get together weekly for an hour to talk about a book we're working through, or at least that's what we intend - doesn't always happen that way. The morning typically starts out with where we're at in our week, sick kids, car troubles, work woes, etc. It is a dumping ground that way, but only for a few minutes. Because we only have an hour, there isn't much time to dwell on any one issue. And yet, it gives each of us a chance to air our grievances (and successes and joys as well) and at least get them off our chest. 

Because it's just an hour and we're all over the map with what we talk about it's kind of like a relational coffee-based tweet. Great substance, but limited to 3600 seconds. 

Like this morning we talked at decent length about car repairs, specifically the ease of replacing brakes on a car - something I've never done, but which I'm told is fairly simple. We talked about ball joints, wheel bearings and the difference between drum and disc brakes. Guy talk no doubt, but all fairly engaging. 

Cafe De Arts

But after a half hour of that, somehow we turn back to the book, in this case Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown. We talked a bit about that and the conversation turned, as it does so often, to current events. In this case the topic turned to Ferguson and the NY Eric Garner choking case. We all agreed the country is in disarray and it is largely the result of no accountability. 

Ultimately we differed as to some of the causes and solutions, but we all agreed that violence begets violence and that until our culture deals with that we'll have another Ferguson or Newtown or Boston Marathon or fill-in-the blank next year.  The great thing is we know each other well enough that no one has to "win" the argument. (I hesitate to call it an argument, maybe discussion is better.) We agree to disagree in some cases. 

As I said, the topics vary from week to week. For a while we were stuck in gay marriage and how the church should address it. We talk about service we've done, interesting Christian "celebrities" we come in contact with and our jobs. We talk about what we do outside of our jobs for fun, Things like photography, music and writing. 

Where you at with the book?

Where's your next music gig?

How's your photography business going?"

We pay service to our family lives too. We talk about the craziness that holidays bring out of family events. We talk of travels to and from the faraway places we call "home". We discuss our marriages and all the ups and downs of parenting. 

The group is a bit of the antithesis of a men's group I was in years ago at church. That group's focus was supposed to be accountability, study and prayer. It got to be fairly legalistic, cloistered and eventually, politically charged to the point that I stopped going. I wanted no part of an us vs. them group. It's us. The world out there, is US, not them. All of us.

So this group gives me all three of those things in a much more accepting, comfortable environment. We support, challenge, and pray for each other, but much of our contact during the week is by proxy; email, facebook and twitter. On the flip side, any of us would help the other out if we needed it.  

Occasionally the group meets on Thursday night for a beer at a local place. The talk is just as stimulating but comes with an added edge of relaxation. Again, everything from auto repair to discussions the movie Noah to the militarization of our police force. 

Yep, Thursday mornings are all good, and I'm happy to be a part of them. 

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Holiday Slowdown

I have admitted several times that I'm not a big fan of winter. I do occasionally cross country ski and have ice fished a half-dozen times, but given my preference, I'll take any other of the seasons.

Having said that, I do have to admit that I kind of enjoy this stretch from Thanksgiving until New Years. My son said that its nice because you always seem to have something to celebrate coming up or a break to look forward to. The reasons I enjoy the breaks are many and I'm sure you share a few with me.

  • Extended time with close family. My daughter came home from college on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and left to go back today. I was saying to my wife how good it was to have Sarah around the house, even when she was only sleeping. I miss her so much. At one point her and my son were giggling and messing around to the point of distraction. I turned to my wife and said, "I miss that tittering between them." 
  • Fun with extended family. On Thanksgiving we hosted Donna's brother and his partner for dinner. After a delicious feast, we played a board game called The Resistance. It was a game of strategy and teamwork and made us all laugh. I realized that as benign as this was, these are the kinds of things that our kids will remember down the road. Everybody has traditions and if not, sometimes you invent them on the fly.
  • Sleeping in.  It is a simple, guilty pleasure and I take advantage of it whenever I can during these holiday breaks. Unfortunately, my body clock gets me up by 7:00 most days, but occasionally I pull an eight o'clocker. I know we're supposed to keep our sleeping schedule the same during these breaks, but nobody listens to that advice anyways. Life's too short to wake up to an alarm every day. It rejuvenates me to get up at my own pace. 
  • Pajamas and coffee. Mornings move slow and take their time during the holiday breaks. No ironing to do, leisurely breakfasts, and lingering over coffee. 
  • Writing time.  These extended days off in a row allow me to catch up to my writing goals. Little things like submitting work, book promotion and getting new stuff written all gets chipped away during the break.
  • Reading time. Being able to read guilt free is wonderful. I need to do more of that in 2014. Right now I am reading Lost on Planet China. The book is hilarious escape and actually takes me to China. Believe me, after reading it, I don't care if I ever visit China.
  • Staying up late.  Not having to rise at 6:15 means I can stay up late and watch Breaking Bad. 
  • Spontaneous Naps. Another simple, guilty pleasure, and usually the result of the previous bullet point.
  • Spend time with Donna. Be it coffee at our favorite coffee shop or just hanging around the house, we get a chance to catch up on things and appreicate each others' company. We're both more relaxed and it shows. 
  • Reflect. This time of year always causes me to look back at the year and take stock. It always reminds me how rich I am and how good life truly is.
  • Football. College or pro, there's a lot of it on television and I keep it on in the other room with the sound down while I do other things. It's a weird, whacked out kind of sports multitask. 
This has been a good Thanksgiving break, filled with all the above. Now it's time to get back to work until the next break, because hard work makes them even better.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Big and Little Things

This is the time of year it's good to take stock of what you are thankful for.

Things I'm Thankful for:

  • My wife of 24 1/2 years. She makes me laugh, keeps the household clicking on all cylinders and is an amazing cook and mother. Often times she does it seamlessly and without complaint. Blessed to have her in my life.
  • My kids Sarah and Benjamin. Now as "little adults" it is fun to laugh with them around the dinner table. They are both great students and even more importantly, warm, compassionate, accepting people. I don't know what we did to deserve such low maintenance kids.
  • My faith. It's simplistic and complex at the same time. This year has introduced some big changes in how I look at and live out my faith. Thankful that God has pushed me out of my comfort zone.
  • Snyders Mustard/Garlic pretzel nibs and (one) Staghorn beer. My post work, wind-down indulgences of choice. 
  • My Minnesota and New York family. Support and love of the deepest kind.
  • My dog Toby. Everyday he treats me like I'm the most important thing in his life. Our walk time is his favorite time of the day.
  • My publisher, eLectio Publishing. For making a lifelong dream come true this year. For believing in me and cheering me on.
  • My laptop, phone, and tablet. As bad as screen time is, they've allowed me to keep in touch with faraway friends and family, to laugh at stupid videos, to write and blog, to work from home rather than going into the office, and even to watch all 5 seasons of Breaking Bad.
  • My cats. They bring another element of life into my home. If I could only get them to stop shredding my furniture. (Supposedly declawing is cruelty. Well, so is watching my couch get shredded.)
  • My writing colleagues at AllWriters, especially the Monday Nighters. I have the best network of supportive writers a person could ask for. Our success this year has been amazing and I don't know where I'd be without each one of them. Gifts of all kinds.

  • My 92 year old house. It's drafty, old and it's drains are all slow. But it's also warm, dry and the place in the world where I'm happiest. Our "starter home" has become our "ender home". 
  • My $40 Leaf TV antenna which frees me from $100+ cable bill every month. It's cut our TV watching down to football games and occasional news updates.
  • My Thursday Theologians coffee buddies. We meet for 1 hour a week for coffee, and the books we study challenge traditional faith structures about church, Christianity and religion in ways that really make you think. We also cover home maintenance, world issues and the treatment of the marginalized.
  • A fiscally responsible local government (county and city).
  • My snow blower. Winter no longer scares me.
  • My job. Blessed to be working in a field I love for over 25 years now. 
  • My fishing buddies, Steve and John. We don't always get a muskie, but these guys make the effort a lot of fun along the way.
  • The Guest House of Milwaukee. The days I serve there touch me and make me a better, more compassionate, accepting person. It is humbling work undertaken by an amazing agency. Blessed to be able to do the little that I do.
  • The Steaming Cup. My Saturdays here with my wife are a chance to reconnect and see where we are at. It centers me for the week. It is also my writing refuge. The rattle, hum and smells of the place help churn up literary inspiration.
  • My longtime friend Bill Lee. For getting back in touch with me. His laughter and presence rejuvenates me.
  • The Friends of the Boundary Waters organization. Keeping our wilderness wild.
  • The Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Badgers football teams. Nothing more fun than watching Jordy Nelson running free in the secondary and Melvin Gordon turning on the jets.
  • My Kayak. It is my refuge from chaos and being in it is my happy place.
  • The Mega Bus. For it's cheap rates which enable my daughter to affordably come home to visit.
  • My health. At 52 it is great to be thin, healthy, and happy.
I need to stop now. It's funny because I could go on and on. This list doesn't scratch the surface of all that I'm thankful for. I think that's so, so important to do. It's so easy to grouse about what you don't have or how you're struggling. 

This past weekend I served at the Guest House and ran into two guys who have literally everything they own in a small chest at the foot of their bed. But these two guys have a deep faith, a faith given to them by God through their circumstances. It is that faith that makes them happier than a lot of people I know with a lot more material possessions. I need to keep them at the forefront of this coming holiday season. 

They taught me much about giving thanks to Him who gives us all.

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Real 70's Show

Every once in a while as a blogger, when it comes time to post, you draw a complete blank. Most days I have no trouble coming up for ideas for my twice-weekly posts (Sunday and Thursday, for those who follow me). Well, this post is one of those spurred by a blank mind. So, I've decided to pull a picture from the set of old photos my mom sent on DVD's yesterday. Here is the snapshot I chose:

Landwehr Family about 1971.
I chose this picture out of the 360 pictures she sent because it is priceless. This was taken from the living room of our house on Portland Avenue. I'm guessing the year was 1971 or so. The picture says so much about the time and situation we were in that it needed to be described.

We moved into this house in December of 1969, It was our first "real house" as mom put it. The place we were living in before this we were renting transitionally while mom saved and strategized to buy a "real house." The place before the rental unit was in the housing projects of Saint Paul, a story for a different time. (When I tell people we once lived in the "projects" I can hardly believe it myself.)

The great thing about this picture is it is all of us together, six kids and mom. We don't have a ton of picture of us all together, especially impromptu, like this one appears to be. Most of us are smiling, happy to be in our new house. The rental place was small, in a less desirable neighborhood where, when the winds were just right,your neighborhood was overwhelmed by the smell from the coking plant across the rail yards a few blocks away. This house was gargantuan in comparison, with four bedrooms, a full basement and walk-in attic.

Despite what the picture says about our happiness, it speaks to so much more. If you look at my shirt and wonder "what's with that?," you're not alone. It is questions like that that my mom confronted every day as a single parent. Imaging trying to keep the lid on with 6 kids with only a 10 year difference between oldest and youngest. Yikes! I get itchy thinking about it.

I think things like my shirt being a stained mess just kind of rolled off mom after a while. If we weren't bleeding, or on fire, or have a broken bone protruding from our skin, we were passed over for more immediate crises, like making sure we had milk for our cereal or that the furnace pilot light was lit. My cousin said the picture was actually the "Original Dirty Shirt". I like that.

It makes me wonder too what my mom had to deal with on the day this picture was taken. A missed school field trip payment? An expensive car repair that had her robbing Peter to pay Paul? An appliance on the fritz? Again, I'm starting to get itchy just thinking about it.

But on top of all of that, if you look at the energy of this picture you get a good feel for the reason she often went from work clothes to pajamas/nightgown immediately after dinner. It's called exhaustion. None of this is to say that she didn't love every minute of raising us. Because we were never given the impression that we were anything more than loved completely and fully. But when it comes down to it, we were still a lot of work.

Going down the line you have Paul on the front left, completely distracted by heaven knows what. Rob seems to be very happy with his Willie Wonka Jack in the Box. and me with not only my shirt and pant tucking issues. Jane is smiling away in the middle row, a happy grade schooler. Tom across from her looking all older-brotherly and serious. Notice he has two hands on Rob, likely to keep him still and in-place. And in the back row you have Pat in her early adolescence with all of its hormonal changes and the fun that goes with it. She was the mom when Mom wasn't around, and never let us forget that.

And in the back in the beehive is mom. The beehive was high maintenance, redone once a week with a "comb-out" midweek, whatever that means. Every night she'd wrap the hive in a toilet paper with a hairnet thing over the top. I don't know what the toilet paper protected the hive from, but hey, look at my hairline. Maybe she was on to something.

Throw in a rabbit eared black and white TV and a couch that is on it's last legs (and luckily, not in the picture too much) and you get a feel for single parent life in '71.

All chaos, all broken, all loving and all good. And I'm blessed to have been part of it.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thoroughly Tested

My son Ben took his drivers test today. He's been "practice driving" all summer and fall in preparation for the test. We were finally able to get him scheduled for today. These past few weeks we've been letting him drive a lot more and with each turn he improved a little. Sure, there were some backwards steps every once in a while, where you wondered whether he'd ever driven a car before. But those were getting less and less as we drew nearer to the test date.

If you've had kids go through the whole experience of drivers training, you know it's not for the faint of heart. The time he blew a stop sign in a residential subdivision was probably the low point, though my voice was not low. It's those moments that you realize how alive you really are. Your heart reminds you quite nicely as it drums and flutters.

Anyways, he passed the test. Not with flying colors, but he passed. He was two points from failing, but he passed. He evidently has issues with "safety checking" (i.e. turning your head and checking your surroundings.) I mean, most kids probably have issues with that. I'm 52 and I might have issues with that. My family is a constant reminder that I am not the quality driver that I think I am. I never knew I was a bad driver until I got married.

I wish I could say that I passed my drivers test the first time I took it. Heck, I wish I could say I passed it the second time I took it. Those one-way streets get you every time. Both times I was a nervous wreck going in. The first time my Mom took me and I failed within the first 30 seconds, literally. It was a test given on a driving course, and I took a right turn (in our stylin' 1977 Plymouth Volare') out of the starting gate and when he told me to take a left, I turned into the oncoming lane of a two way street (which I thought was a one-way street.)

"Pull over, right here please," the tester said.

Never something you want to hear in the first 30 seconds of a test. He then promptly pointed to the car way up the block that was coming in my direction. Ummm, yeah.

The second time I took the test was with my sister Jane. She was barely licensed herself, and ironically enough worked for a long time as a tester for the DMV - special needs group. (i.e. people who flunked more than 3 times. She's got some great stories, many of which I've heard.) I made it quite a bit further on that test, but managed to do the same thing - turning into the wrong lane - that I'd done on the other failed test. This time though I was coming from a one-way to a two-way. Same result.

"Pull over, right here please"

Oh, the humanity. Well, luckily the third time was a charm. My older brother Tom took me that time and I think the best advice he gave me was "Just relax." He knew I was tense and when you are, you tend to make mistakes. Needless to say I passed and the rest is history.

Until I went to take my motorcycle test, that is.

I managed to fail that as well too, much less gracefully than the two auto failures, mind you. I actually dumped the bike during the quick-stop portion. Yep. Busted off a blinker, spilled a little gas out of the tank, everything but the Flight for Life.

"I, uh, take it that this means I fail?" I said to the guy.

"Uh, yeah. Sorry about your blinker."

I rode the bike of shame all the way back home, blinker dangling in the wind, hand signals filling in the gaps. It was another year of riding on a permit before I had the guts to take it again.

I passed.

So I was ready for whatever results Ben would have given. I had the "I've been there," speech ready to go if needed. Luckily I got the two word text "I passed." I congratulated him and told him I knew he would pass. This may have been a stretch, but I was pulling for him nonetheless.

From here I guess we all just buckle up, give a good safety check to the left and the right, and wait for the insurance premium hikes.

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Gifts for Giving

Over the past few years I've increasingly taken notice of the enormous talent of people around me. I don't mean to keep going back to it, but the sickness and passing of my brother seemed to open my eyes to something bigger than me. The God-given talent of artists and tradespeople and musicians and writers around me, is positively dizzying. I'm pretty sure it was there before, but maybe I wasn't as cognizant of it as I am now.

Sometimes death tilts a person's axis so they look at everything with a new orientation. For me it seems to have enabled me to better recognize the good in people, the talents that I don't have, talents that amaze me. I've mentioned things like the drumming of Neil Peart (from Rush) and the guitar work of Mark Knopfler (formerly of Dire Straits),  or the voice of Norah Jones. But those are all professionals. I'm talking about people around me, like me, that are working stiffs with day jobs, but have secondary passions and pursuits in their life that brings them joy and fulfillment.

For instance. my friend Brandon, by day, is an amazing pastor with a gift for reaching middle school, high school, and college kids and shaping their faith. On the flip-side, Brandon pursues photography and always been quite good at it. He's taken some pictures of Sarah that we used for her graduation and he clearly captured her spirit.

Now, he is looking to add it to his career path in order to help him become what is referred to as bivocational. He is looking to start a photography business of his own and he comes with high recommendations from me and others. His eye for color, shadow, pose, emotion, action and light are keen and dialed in. As part of a collection he's doing for a magazine, he shot photos of me and two other of our Thursday coffee guys. When all the photos were put together, it came out stunning, kind of a "Humans of Waukesha" spread. Amazing talent put to use for good.

Or, I think of my wife and her love of food and all things cooking. Nothing makes her happier than making people happy with food. (It was a talent I recognized early and said, I better not let this one get away. :-) As a matter of fact my son just said today after she cooked him lunch and dinner that it's been a "good day for food". Even better than cooking at home is she's taken that talent to the next level in coordinating dinners for the homeless shelter once a month. The guys are always saying how her meals are uniquely good. Using her talents for good.

And there's all of my talented writer friends. This has been a banner year for many colleagues. I've helped and been helped by their many skills and encouragement. Puzzling mysteries, fun kids/tweens books, mystical Young Adult fantasies, redemptive fiction, beautiful memoir, poignant poetry. These people fuel my spirit and are creating a source of escape for hundreds of people. Using their writing talents for good.

I have a host of artist friends that create beautiful work every day, stuff I cannot even fathom beginning, let alone carrying through to completion. The names are far too many, but a few are Stacey, Jill, Fernando, Sara, Mark, Christopher Kristina, Lynne, and of course my son Ben and my daughter, Sarah. When I think of writing as left-brained, well, art has a hemisphere all to itself. Off the charts creativity. I cannot see it, layer it, picture it, or design it. With these people, it just flows. Beautiful stuff and all talent for good.

And finally, there are those that play music. Being one who loves music but has never been able to play a note, I admire these people greatly. I think of the hours and hours of practice it must take. The two that come immediately to
mind are Nick and Mario. I've talked about Nick before as the talent behind the Dirty Shirt video. His multi-instrument mastery is the best part. He can play many instruments well and all of them accompany a pretty good voice as well. Mario is a gifted guitarist as well, layering and mixing his own recordings with precision. These guys are all about using their talents for good.

So, like I said, these are all qualities and spectacular talents in people that have been blindingly real to me lately. All of us have talents and they don't have to be artistic in nature It could be raising kids, cooking, athletics, coaching, teaching, compassion, friendship, auto maintenance, home repair, public speaking, or whatever.

And I suggest that you use them up before you're gone, because the world is begging for them.

Blogging off...

(I'm thinking each of these friends needs their own post on So it Goes... Each of them are certainly worthy. I haven't ruled that out.)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

On the Admission of Winter by Means of Natural Coat Selection

...or the Preservation of Frigid Faces in the Struggle for Life.

For as long as I can remember, I have tried to deny the coming of winter. I am not a big fan, and this denial is a good example of that. To illustrate I have to detail my annual winter coat transition routine. It is an evolution of sorts, albeit an involuntary one.

When I bike to work in the summer, often times, I won't wear a coat at all. As fall approaches, I work my way up the coat chain. I start with my "blue coat" that is an unlined wind-breaking kind of coat that says "Yeah, there's moments of chilliness, but it'll pass. " It also rolls up small enough so it can be packed in my backpack in case the day warms up.

Near the middle of October, I usually upgrade to my "black coat", a slightly heavier coat that is an admission that August truly is over and September ain't coming back, either. Unlike the blue coat, this coat says "Yep, I guess fall is here and you'd be best to admit as much."

A couple of weeks later by the end of October I usually cave and upgrade to my Lands End squall jacket. It is fully lined and cuts the wind nicely. It was starting to fray on the banded bottom, so this year my wife found a really nice substitute at Costco. It is a double zippered, hooded, waterproof, made-in-Vietnam coat she somehow got for $35. I love it, as it is a "tweener" coat for fall and spring.

When winter sets in I resort to the old reliable maroon parka. It says "Yep, yer done, beach boy. This is the real deal. Get used to it, cuz for the next 5 months I'm the best friend you have." I don't like it's tone, but it has saved me a few times, so when it speaks, I listen.

So I've been wearing the Costco Vietnam coat a couple of weeks now. Last week I took off the zippered hood as it seemed a bit overkill-ish for the fall. As much as the weather in this state permits, I like to try and look a bit fashionable, at least for the month of November. Come December, all bets are off. It's boots, parka, gloves, hat and an "I don't care what anyone thinks" attitude.

Well then this week rolls around. Up north and back home they got belted with 12-18 inches of snow. Down here wasn't quite so bad, but here's how the progression went.

  • Monday was gorgeous. We hit 60 degrees. I walked home with my Vietnam coat half unzipped, no hood, thinking, I wish I'd had my other, lighter black coat on.
  • Tuesday the temps dropped to the 40's. I had the Vietnam coat zipped all the way up by the time I got to work. Then I wore my wool sweater (that I stash at work for cold cubicle days) underneath everything coming home because of the chill I'd gotten walking to work. I thought to myself "Why did I ever take off that stupid hood? What was I thinking? My ears and neck are freezing!"
  • Wednesday the temps are in the high twenties. Still unwilling to admit that winter is coming, I wear my Vietnam coat (with the hood now on it) baseball cap and gloves. "I got this," I think to myself as I head out the door. I'm walking along thinking, I don't need my hood up. This air is so crisp and fresh. Refreshing! Ah! Well, by the halfway point to work I had the hood up and was cursing that it didn't really have drawstrings like my Parka. In fact, what was I thinking with a baseball cap? I need my knit hat.
  • Thursday the temps remained in the mid twenties. I broke out the parka (aka, my maroon coat) and kept the hood snapped on it. It took everything in me to take this leap, this breach of November fashion etiquette, this admission of impending winter, but dang, it was nice. Besides, I didn't see any Midwestern Small Press NanoFamous Author Fashion Paparazzi hiding behind any hedges either, so I think I'm good that way, too. 

Now, if any of you know me, you know I'm happiest in shorts and a t-shirt, preferably on my bike with the sun on my face. As the end of summer approaches I undergo a process similar to my winter coat denial. I'll wear shorts and a sweatshirt. Some days I'll start in shorts and an hour later I'll be in long pants. It's total denial and total insanity. I know this. I'm in a twelve step program for it. But living in a place where we get three months of shorts weather, I need to take any chance I can get.

So, if I show up to your summer wedding in shorts and a t-shirt, now you'll understand why.

Blogging off...with hopes of going back to the Vietnam coat next week...Yeah, right.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

High Culture

It was a weekend of high culture around here. It started on Friday night when we attended a Guest House volunteer recognition at the Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee. Donna was being recognized along with her friend Jill, and an attorney who has donated his services for the Guest House. For those who don't know, Donna and Jill are part of a large Facebook group that coordinate monthly meals for the guys at the shelter. They organize donations, cook the food and serve it every month. It is a lot of work and coordination and they are very good at it; good enough to be recognized for their efforts. I couldn't be prouder of both of them. Their hearts are huge and talents many.

If you've ever been to the Pfister you know its magnificence. It is a classic old Milwaukee hotel on the order of the Palmer house in Chicago. Crystal chandeliers, plush carpeting, ornate marble, beautiful artwork and details, details, details. If you don't feel rich when you're there, then you're probably not breathing. The place reeks of class and elegance. It's like stepping back in time. You half expect the elevator door to open with Marilyn Monroe walking out.

As part of the recognition there was a musical presentation by Cole Berger, a world-class pianist. Accompanying him was a very gifted flutist as well. They started the evening with some very difficult and, I would say, esoteric pieces. After a few numbers, the awards were presented and the performers started up again. I talked with Donna and the others and we all agreed that the music was hypnotic and captivating. We also all said that it was difficult to slow down our minds and lose ourselves in the music. We admitted to thinking about what we would do after the recognition or what our weekend would bring, or, or, or...

But all of us had the same response. We recognized the need to slow down and ENJOY the moment, enjoy NOW, right here. And when we did, it was really nice. Someone mentioned that the music took them skipping through fields of lilies. It is pretty amazing where the mind-on-music can take you. I don't recall where it took me, but it wasn't the ballroom at the Pfister. I was relaxed and removed. It was excellent. I know I did have time to reflect on how lucky I was to be in that place, on that night, on this day in my life. It was a magical night.

Then, on Saturday, we spent the day at the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books. This is an event with keynote addresses, presenters, authors, panels and books, books and more books. As I mentioned in my last post, I was on two different panels, Flexible Writer and First Time Authors. They were both given to packed rooms.

The moderator, Kathie Giorgio, did a wonderful job of keeping the panel peppered with questions. After a half dozen questions, she turned it over to the audience for questions. They asked engaging questions and were as gracious an audience as I've ever seen.

In between the panels I was lucky enough to attend the Michael Perry keynote address. He is one of my all-time favorite authors and a very engaging speaker. He had some great anecdotes and quotes. A couple come to mind. One was that two things come to mind when he's asked about the life he's been able to carve out of writing, speaking and farming and those are Humility and Gratitude. And these two qualities really show. He is the most down to earth "celebrity" I have ever seen. Just all real,

The other thing I remember, relates to the first one and that is his daddy always told that in life it was good to "run low to the ground so when you fall, it doesn't hurt as much." Again, humility and gratitude.

During his book signing, I asked if he would mind taking a picture with me. I had a woman snap a shot and then I offered him my book. I said that he probably had a stack a yard high by his bed of books people had given him. He said, "Ya know Jim, I get about 15 books a week." I laughed and told him that I'd consider it a privilege just to have it in his library. He thanked me for it and was deliberate in congratulating me in my own success. A class act from start to finish.

On top of this, I had great conversations with fellow authors, the public and even lined up my next potential speaking event at the Pewaukee Library in December. It was a day I will not soon forget to cap off a weekend of high culture.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sub-Micro Fame in Spring City, Granite City and the Twin Cities

Author update:

Well, it's been a while and a lot is happening right now and in the near future with regards to all things written, so I thought I'd take some time and update everyone on what's going on in the world of pseudo-fame, micro-fortune and the occasional royalty check. So, here goes.

Me and Michael Perry
  1. In regards to royalty checks, it's not something I like to make real public, but thought I'd share this story of my first check. I got it the first week of October. My publisher sends them out quarterly. I opened it with great anticipation, trying to get a gauge on whether I could retire early or maybe pay off a month of Sarah's college tuition. To my surprise, it was ridiculously low, like just over $150. What the heck? I was shocked and dejected. Well, after looking closer at it, I realized that it was for the Quarter ending June 30th. The book was released June 17th. The check was for a two week period. Whew! I won't get my first full quarterly check until after 1/1/2015. Then I'll be lighting my cigar with twenty dollar bills. (Or as my friend Pat always said, "You'll make fifties and fifties of dollars as a writer". He wasn't far from wrong.
  2. Tomorrow the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books begins. It is a two day festival that features over 70 authors, presentations, food and great chances to network with local writers. The keynote speaker on Saturday is one of my favorite contemporary writers, Michael Perry. I plan to get a couple of his books signed and look forward to his keynote. His stand-up routine is worth coming in itself, let me tell you. I'll be there too speaking on panels titled "The Flexible Writer" (writing across genres) and "First Time Book Writers". Times are 9:00 and 1:30, with a Dirty Shirt book signing at 2:30. Hope to see you there!
  3. In a kind of fun thing, my daughter found my book on the shelf at the University of Minnesota Bookstore today. She is a student there and it is my Alma Mater (1985). She knew it was there, so went looking for it. It is these kinds of moments that make the whole writing process, with all of its effort and commitment worthwhile. 
  4. My Meet the Author event at the New Berlin Public was a blast. If you know me, you know I'm not a big fan of public speaking, but for some reason, when it comes to this book (or other writing-based readings I've done) I seem to do very well. I felt comfortable, made the crowd laugh on several occasions and they were even kind enough to ask some questions at the end. I loved every second of it. I would do it again in a minute. (Contact your local library for me. LOL). 
  5. In a little over a month I'll be in St, Cloud, Minnesota leading the Granite City Book Club  in a discussion of my book. I am looking forward to hearing from people that don't know me. I want to know what they think and this group is the perfect audience for it. My dad grew up in St. Cloud and I have a number of great memories from the area. Hopefully they're nice to me. Ha! 
  6. I am continuing to work on my next work, a poetry collection. I'm shaping up some older poems and still getting a new one written here or there. My topics are all over the map, from teenagers, to tree killers, to working in government. I'm having a blast with it and feel passionate that this is an important extension of my writing career. I've got a friend I want to do the cover, and still haven't chosen a title, but it's coming together.
  7. And finally, I've been successful in getting my book in over 21 libraries. This is all my doing, it doesn't just happen on its own. It's part of my plan to make sure it is accessible all over the states of Wisconsin and Minnesota. It's hard work, but one I'm lucky to be able to do, so I just chip away at it when I have time. Here's a list of where it is available thus far, with more pending.
  8. I have to add that all of this, every bit, has been an absolute blast. Hard work in some cases, but so much fun along the way.
Dirty Shirt at U of M Bookstore

Great River Regional (St Cloud, MN)
St. Paul, MN
Ely, MN
Grand Marais, MN
Two Harbors, MN
Gorham Free Library, NY
New Berlin Public, WI
Hennepin County, MN
Duluth MN
Rochester, MN
OshKosh, WI
Washington Co. MN
Milwaukee, WI
Mercer, WI
Presque Isle, WI
Tomah, WI
MN Historical Society, MN
Superior, WI
Appleton, WI

Upsala Public Library (MN)
Manitowoc Public Lib

Not too shabby for starters.

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Sunday, November 2, 2014

House Call

I spent the weekend almost exclusively at home this weekend. It was an introvert's dream in that respect. No social commitments to speak of, just a lot of time and a list a half-mile long of things I wanted to get done, both personally and around the house.

As I worked through my project list for the house, I was reminded of how much work home ownership truly is. I think in my case, that work is compounded by the fact that our house is 92 years old. Old houses take work to keep things running, flushing, flowing, heating, cooling and live able. I'm not discounting new homes, ANY home requires maintenance, it's just that older ones seem to need an extra dose of TLC. 

Portland House from rear.
There are many days lately that we've dreamed of moving on; finding that dream condo or small bungalow with newness to it and no need to upgrade anything (does such a place exist?). Unfortunately, we have this thing called college education for our kids that will insure that we don't do anything for another 7 years or so. 

My mother settled into a similar situation many years ago with our house on Portland Avenue in St. Paul. After a few years of transient moves from house to house, we finally landed the house she'd always dreamed of. We spent 16 years there, and it was an old house too. 

As homeowners then and now, we fought some of the same battles. blowing fuses, old plumbing and no central air. All of these are first world problems, but problems nonetheless. It was my mom's determination to make it work, pay the mortgage, patch when needed, utilize the family when fixing needed to be done that kept the household humming along. Most of us got our background in interior painting from her as well as how to pound a straight nail and screw a screw.

So I spent my weekend, raking, cleaning, changing the snowblower oil, winterizing the lawn mower, moving a clothes rack from one closet to another, putting away the rain barrel, walking the dog, doing dishes, straightening the basement (who keeps messing it up?), plunging the sink, filling the water softener tank, and a dozen other things. Things every homeowner does. It's exhausting and fulfilling at the same time. 

The problem is, the list never ends. I've got twenty two more things for next weekend. On the upside, I'm paying the mortgage, keeping the rain out - mostly - and no one's freezing to death. And considering probably seventy-five percent of the world would consider my house a palace, I think I'm quite content here.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

My Other Big Sister

I have a sister in my family that I never really knew. Her name is Linda and I wish I could say I have a few key memories of her, but she passed away at the age of five when I was just over four months old. (Birth-order wise, it goes Tom, Pat, Linda, Jane, Me, Rob, Paul.) I don't know much about the specifics of timing and such, but I do know she was diagnosed with a Wilms Tumor which is a cancer of the kidneys (From what I've read it is a rare form of cancer that primarily affects children.) My older siblings have many more memories of her because of their close proximity in age, but I have nothing but pictures to go by.

Linda (Center)
Recently, my mom has been sending old photo album pictures off to get scanned in the hopes of preserving them. Looking through them has been a walk back in time for me, really fun. She made a point to try and get lots of pictures of each of her seven kids and then gave us the disk to share around. Because of this effort, I now have a decent collection of pictures of Linda that I never had before.

And while the pictures don't tell me anything more about her, they have in a weird way helped me feel like I know her a little bit now. Of course it's nothing more than a 2D picture can tell you about a person, but when you have nothing else to go by, pictures are golden.

Linda (R)
More to the point, the pictures have me trying to guess what her personality would be like. Judging from what I've seen, she strikes me as the gregarious, outgoing type. My other two sisters, Pat and Jane are not as much that way, so I think odds would have it that she was. I do know she was a beautiful girl and would have grown up to be a beautiful woman, much like her sisters. But I question things like, would she have married? What kind of job would she have had? Would she still be as tight as the rest of us kids are even into our 50's? What would her struggles have been? Would she have moved away or stayed local? How many kids, if any would she have had? Would she be an outdoors lover or more domestic?

Linda (Far Left)
And if that isn't enough, I then extrapolate those thoughts out into my own life. How would my life be different if she was still alive? Would having a third sister involved in my life have changed my personality in any way? Would we be close, distant or ambivalent toward one another? Would I have been a godfather to one of her children? Would knowing her and having a 6th sibling in the state have kept me from moving to Wisconsin when I did? Would she have changed my perception of women in any way, positively or negatively? What would my funniest memory of her be at this point in my life?

Then I think about what my mom must have felt through Linda's sickness and treatment. I cannot fathom the thought of losing a child. People talk about how you grieve but eventually forge ahead and, while that might be admirable, I don't know how I could do it. There is a picture of her in this collection where she is holding a stuffed dog on a hospital table and while she is beautiful in the picture, it literally tears at my heart to look at it. The fact that mom had six other kids to care for must have been what got her out of bed every day, because I don't know if I could do it. Losing a brother was hard enough, I can't imagine losing a child, (or, two now-, in her case). It might be the end of me. I'd like to think I'd make it, but it is not something I would wish on anyone.

And so, much like my brother Rob, I trust we'll meet again one day, Linda and I. It'll be awkward at first, neither of us knowing what to say, but I suspect that'll change after we finish a two minute long hug and a have a good cry.

She is, after all, my big sister.

Blogging off..

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Summer Skin

This past weekend was positively glorious. Temps in the high sixties and low seventies, low humidity and clear skies. I spend much of it in shorts and a t-shirt as I am painfully aware of what the coming weeks and months will bring. After tomorrow, I have a feeling that the shorts will get packed away for the fall and winter months. 

Knowing this is the end of warm weather - and I am well aware that we are lucky to have it this late in October - I had a chance to reflect on the summer we just finished. It was a great one, albeit too short. We traveled a million miles, but it all seems so long ago. Here are some of the highlights.

Sarah's Graduation

Family came from East and West to see Sarah graduate from high school. She made us all proud as she walked in the auditorium. We followed up with a fun party at a picnic shelter by the Fox River in Waukesha. Lots of food, friends and fun. 

Book Release and Signings

Can hardly summarize how fun these were. The opening at Purple Door was fantastic, followed by an equally fantastic signing at Cafe De Arts. The Piragis signing in Ely was  a great road-trip that included a lot of side trips and one-on-one time with Ben, which I wouldn't trade for anything. In some ways that time was the best part of summer.

Trip to New York

This happened over the fourth of July and was a beautiful trip in its own right. Not only did we visit a couple of really cool gorges and waterfalls, but we managed to take in a minor league baseball game on "Dollar Night". It was a major league night on a minor league budget. I'd sooner go to 10 of these than one MLB game, and probably still come out ahead. Great to see in-laws and a picturesque part of New York State.

Sarah's Move into College

Old home week for me as we took my daughter up to the University of Minnesota where she started her college career. She loves it up there and the move went flawlessly. She has a roommate she likes and respects and all is well. It's still hard to believe she's gone.

The Cabin 

Nary three days after we moved Sarah into college, we turned north again and headed to Mercer for our annual summer-ending cabin trip. It was strange not having her and much of my family there this year. Times change and this seemed like a season of shift. We had a good time with friends nonetheless, but it was different. Still a good way to finish out the summer.

I hate to see summer end, and within a few weeks we'll be done with fall. It's my plan to embrace winter a little bit more this year. I'm starting by getting new XC Ski bindings and boots in an attempt to rediscover my love of that sport. 

I'll let you know how that goes.

I think the song Summer Skin by Death Cab for Cutie best sums up the coming and going of summer, so I'll leave you with those lyrics.

Summer Skin by Death Cab for Cutie

Squeaky swings and tall grass
The longest shadows ever cast
The waters warm and children swim
We frolicked about in our summer skin

I don't recall a single care
Just greenery and humid air
Then Labor Day came and went
And we shed what was left of our summer skin

On the night you left I came over
And we peeled the freckles from our shoulders
Our brand new coats so flushed and pink
And I knew your heart I couldn't win
Cause the seasons change was a conduit
And we'd left our love in our summer skin

Blogging off...