Thursday, July 31, 2014

Exponential Good

My family friends and I served the guys at the Guest House of Milwaukee tonight and, while that was as satisfying and energizing as ever, I was jazzed up by a couple of other small points of light outside their doors.

The Guest House has built a series of raised garden beds outside their building. It's been there a few years, but I got a much better look at all of the vegetables and flowers that are coming out of this agency's efforts. Beautiful looking lettuce, corn, onions and other veggies all flourishing in the heart of the city. I think the entire crop will be used by the Guest House for meals for the men and it is maintained by a few of the residents. The neighborhood residents seem to respect the area as "sacred ground" and it is a really cool gem in the middle of an area hit hard by poverty.

The other part of the equation though is the newest addition to the garden. A rainwater harvesting system was funded by the Milwaukee Brewers, including Rickie Weeks and Jean Segura. The construction isn't completed yet, but it is a marvelous structure with lots of green technology within it. Near as I can tell, the soon to be completed roofed overhang will funnel water into two large containers. From there the "brown" water can be used to water the raised garden beds during times of dry weather and/or drought. It looked like there was much more to the whole system than I'm explaining here, and I aim to find out more specifics as soon as I can corner my friend who works at the facility.

The reason I'm so pumped about this project is it's such an exponentially positive thing. It's a "green" water gathering system to divert water from entering the Milwaukee deep tunnel, that is used to water vegetables that don't have to be trucked from out of state, that are used to feed homeless men.

Goodness times three.

So why does this kind of thing get me excited? Because I think of all of the possibilities it holds for the rest of our city. It is this kind of Will Allen forward thinking, eco-minded, job creating mentality that keeps me going. When I see all of the rotten things happening in the world, jets getting shot out of the air, Israeli/Palestinian conflict, etc., it does nothing but drag me down. So when I see something that is so insignificantly positive as a garden grown by men trying to work through their temporary situation, I begin to see the light of God at work. I know that sounds cliche', but there's no other word for it. People were called to do this, to fund this, to build this, to foster it, and I'm a believer that God has a hand in it as well.

It spurs me to think of how awesome it could be if we had one of these in every neighborhood in the city, in every city in the world. There's so much good that could be done if the money we spent as a nation building rockets and bombs was spent on good. I know it's idealistic and probably highly unrealistic, but if I can't hope for things like this, what's the point? I've got to believe that as a culture we're better than what we've proven in the past. Or at least that's my hope.

It hit me the other day for some reason, as it seems to do a lot lately, that we are only here for a short time. A very short time. And I firmly believe that God put us here and said "There, go make a difference in the world. Do it in your job, do it in the way you raise your family, do it in how you influence your circle of friends, do it in your neighborhood, your schools, but most of all, make a difference in how you treat others. Donate, volunteer, help, lend a hand, say yes, give money, give time, give training. Have a better story than to say, 'I lived safe, rich, overindulged and self satisfied'. Go make a difference."

And that's why I'll continue to go and pour soda, schlep Nescos full of hot food up and down stairs, and wash dishes in a kitchen too small. I don't mention any of this it because I want accolades, because if I don't do it, theres sure enough someone else that will. But if I DO do it, that leaves them to do something else to make our world, our city, our neighborhood a better place. That's part of the reason I take my kids along with to help out. Because, I'm a firm believer that everyone has a role.

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Bits, Shards and Remnants

I always liked Hunter S. Thompson, partly because he was such a crazed maniac, but also because he called himself a Gonzo journalist. This is a bit of a Gonzo Blog post in that I'm not sure where it's going or where it came from, but it's kind of where I'm at right now. Life in shotgun mode. Random thoughts, maybe something for everyone here, or maybe not. Covering a large area with small little BB's.

  • I've always thought it would be kind of cool to write a whole book using my phone. It would take like 13 years, but hey, how unique would that be? Then I'd make it an eBook that could only be downloaded on a phone so that everyone would have to suffer reading it like I did writing it. My question is, why do I feel called to such a stupid undertaking? Don't look for it real soon. 
  • I am up to nine reviews on Amazon with Dirty Shirt. All of them have been favorable and positive so far, which is great. Getting to ten will be cool. Getting to twenty would be epic. Thanks to everyone who has helped.
  • I was in church today and the worship team was really, really good. I was standing singing in my horribly off-key, monotonic, only-do-it-in-the-car-alone voice, thinking how much effort it took to get up early, dress up a little, drive 25 minutes and sing along with 150 other people, and how it was worth every second. It energizes me for the whole week. By Saturday I'm so far off track that I need Sunday again. It's a part of who I am, and always will be.
  • I was given a bunch of fishing lures that my father in-law said he would throw out if I didn't take. I really don't know what to do with them, as I have a zillion lures myself, but I couldn't stand the thought of them being discarded. There's some classics in there for sure and I am contemplating having them built into a shadow box of some sort. Maybe to display in my cabin when I hit the lottery. Um, yeah.

  • I haven't been thinking about how in a month, my daughter will be 300 miles away and how quiet the house will be. Nor have I been thinking about how I'll worry for her safety and her adaptation to her new surroundings. Nor have I been thinking about the empty chair at the dinner table every evening. I haven't. Nope. Not when I'm sleeping, at least.
  • I found out that there's a litany of meaningless "awards" you can apply for as a writer, where for only $50.00, a panel will enter you in for an exclusive award of hundreds of dollars (first and second place winners only). A man could go broke getting "honorable mentions" from dishonorable contests.
  • It's that time of year where I get that frantic feeling of "summer is going too fast". I dwell on all of the things I haven't done, vacation and home-project wise, instead of reflecting on all of the things I have. What's with that? Does everyone do this, or am I psychotic?
  • I checked into getting my books in a Madison bookstore yesterday. They wanted to charge a $15.00 non-refundable fee for stocking the books (and shipping back any unsold books after 180 days) and then taking a 60/40 consignment fee. Where's the love, man? Needless to say I opted not to leave any. I'd do better standing in the median of Highway 100 and hawking them to traffic.Will write for food.
So, that's life in a nutshell lately. Crazy, fun, fast, furious, thoughtful and mind-numbingly the same, all at the same time. It's a beautiful, messy, confusing, poignant thing, and I'm just happy to be here.

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Casting Crowns In Tajikistan

I visited the godforsaken dentist this week. You know, I try and try, and I'm 52 years old and I should be over this now, but I really, really, really hate the dentist. I tell people that I'd 10 times rather go to the doctor than the dentist.

So anyway, my hygenist asks me if my I'm having any problems with my teeth. I lie and say no, because, lying helps, right? I've been obsessed with a "sharp spot" on one of my teeth ever since my last visit - it feels like a tooth that's about to crack. But as I see it, if I tell them, they'll want to:

  1. Poke at it a bit with sharp objects.
  2. Poke me with a Novocaine needle.
  3. Drill it with unbridled joy.
  4. Charge me exorbitant out of pocket fees for the "white" filling because, heaven knows, insurance doesn't cover the white ones. 
So I lie.

Then she tells me it's been a while since I've had X-Rays, so she layers me in lead and then makes me bite on these new "bite wings" that hurt and are more uncomfortable than the old paper ones they used to use while she takes what seems like a picture of each tooth in my mouth both in portrait and landscape mode. I figure I got enough radiation in my to last a while. It's weird how I haven't needed to charge my phone ever since the appointment, either. And I don't have to turn on the light when I go to the bathroom at night either.

Hmmmm...maybe I'm becoming Iron Man. 

Next she and her "shadowing intern" take out the clinking dental picks and weapons of inhuman torture and start scraping and poking and making a racket in my cranium that sounds like she's trying to start a fire with flint and steel in there, or something. When she reaches a particularly obsessive spot, I see her intern peek around the corner, looking like, "Oh, that's an interesting section of plaque, right there!" 

Dentistry as spectator sport. 

When the hygienist doesn't notice my "sharp spot" I feel like a kid who has gotten away with something. Now, I just need to give the Doctor the sleight of tooth. when he comes in.

On schedule, she fires up the drill and cleans my teeth which isn't so bad, really. A drill with a rubber tip on it is kind of like an idle threat. All the noise and none of the pain. Like I said, not bad. 

And then the floss. Again, not bad. Of course my existing crown bleeds when they floss it, just like home. This doesn't seem right, though she assures me it's fine. They put it in, so I guess they should know. I just think that taking a working, albeit failing, filling and grinding it down and crowning it should yield something better than a tooth that bleeds when you floss it.

Call me crazy.

So Doctor takes over the patient once the flossing/flushing and air-shooting (what is that anyway?) is done. He gives me the all clear. Looks good except for the "new" crown that I've been putting off for the past 6 months. 

At this point, I'm feeling guilty, so I tell him about the sharp tooth. He takes a look and guess what? Yep, it's a filling that needs replacing. 

Who knew?

I did, frankly.

In the end, here's what my "preventative check-up" netted me.

I now have an appointment for August 14th to replace the "sharp tooth" filling that I should have shut up about. This appointment will undoubtedly involve the sadistic poking, drilling and expensive white filling mentioned above. 

Then, at that appointment I get to schedule an appointment for my "new crown" (they make it sound all regal) which I actually have to have "pre authorized" by my health insurance, because evidently they need to make sure that they don't cover the $900 out of pocket that they never do cover because, well, because they're crooked insurance people, that's why. (Sorry I lost myself in that last rant. Where was I?)

Oh yes, and at that appointment, I get to schedule ANOTHER appointment, because everyone knows that you need a "temporary crown" while they send your mold out to central Tajikistan for its creation, a process that takes weeks evidently. Meanwhile you live with this "flat stanley" tooth that feels like you're biting down on a joke tooth you got at a magic shop. What's with that anyway? Isn't there an app for this?

And at that appointment they'll glue it on, and it'll be "too high" and they'll have to fire up the drill and grind away until I'm annoyed enough to say, "Yeah, that feels better".

All of this is why I don't like the dentist. A few years ago I had a woman dentist who was very good looking. Finally, I thought to myself, someone who will make going to the dentist a pleasant experience!


It just made me hate very good looking dentists too.

Blogging off...

P.S. To those of you who are or know dentists, I realize they are vitally important and I thank them for all of the great advances they've made over the years. But I'm going to start lying more. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Three From Each

Well, the Dirty Shirt Giveaway contest is over. For those who don't know, this was a Facebook contest I ran where I asked people to send in pictures of them reading Dirty Shirt or places where they like to read it. It met with a better than expected response. I got 15 responses for the contest and have received two more since. I encourage people to continue sending pictures because it is fun to see the different states and places that people are reading it.

Because it means so much to me that people took time to buy, read and take a picture, I'd like to answer three questions about each of the people who have sent one in. It will give you a better understanding of some of my friends and family and put the picture in a better context.

The three questions are:

1. How we met or how I know this person
2. How long I've known this person
3. What I admire most about this person.

So in no particular order, here they are.

Kris Nestingen Palm

  • We met at AllWriters' Workplace and Workshop.
  • Four years.
  • Kris has a huge heart for people.

Kristy Decker
  • We are both eLectio authors and met through Twitter.
  • Seven months
  • Her dedication to her family first, and to her writing second.

Ellen Enriquez

  • We met through AllWriters' when Dirty Shirt was just an idea.
  • Four years.
  • Her compassion for those going through rough times.

Emily Dittmar
  • Her dad and I work together.
  • 18 years
  • She made a point of getting Dirty Shirt into her high school's library. Thanks Emily!

Eric Damkot

  • Eric is a GIS map geek colleague who works in Washington County.
  • Sixteen+ years
  • His sense of humor and friendship.

Erin Ross

  • She's my niece by my sister Pat.
  • Her whole life. 
  • She loves her kids and she's one of the other GIS geeks in the family.

Jeannie Pollnow

  • She's a grades school friend who I've just reconnected with on Facebook
  • About 43 years
  • Married her high school sweetheart and they're still happily married.

Jody Morris

  • We met for the first time on her goat farm
  • About 3 weeks.
  • Her compassion for all living creatures. (Ask me about the bird rescue sometime.) I also love the fact that her dog ate my book cover. That is Jody's life in a nutshell. :-)

Lori Devall

  • She's my youngest cousin on my mom's side.
  • Her whole life (so as to not give away her age, or mine either.)
  • She loves her extended family as much as her own.

Maggie McKasy (Picture of her brother Timmy a minor character in the book)
  • Maggie is my step-sister. 
  • 42 years
  • Her rolling laughter. The whole McKasy family loves to laugh. Blessed to have them as family.


Mark Neufang

  • Mark is my brother in-law.
  • 25 years.
  • Mark is a very gifted actor, vocalist and baker!

Mary Jensen

  • Mary is a cousin on my mom'side. (Lori's sister)
  • My whole life
  • Mary always says positive things. A great trait to aspire to.

Mary Beth Kitzel

  • We met through my wife. MB was a friend of hers from RIT
  • 24 years
  • MB is a fiercely loyal friend and just got her PhD!

Nick Konkle

  • We met through a men's book discussion group.
  • 2 years
  • Nick has a wicked sense of humor and a laugh that lights up a room.

Pat Spahn

  • Pat is a boyhood friend from the neighborhood.
  • About 43 years.
  • Pat looks for and finds the best in people.

Peter Grayson (Also a character in Dirty Shirt)

  • Pete and I met in High School
  • About 39 years
  • When we got back together after years away, we picked right up where we left off. The sign of a good friend.

Stepahnie Waegener

  • Stephanie is my niece by my sister Jane
  • Her whole life.
  • Stephanie loves family and is a great cousin to my kids!

So, that's a glimpse into some of the Dirty Shirt readers. Like I said, keep those photos coming. Also, if you liked the book, I would love a review on Amazon. Amazon and others take notice of those and every new one helps a little.

Until next time.

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Summer's Slide

Well, it's mid-July and I'm starting to get that summer's-flying-by-too-fast feeling that I get every year about this time. It's probably a little exacerbated this year because of the dreadful winter that wouldn't end, followed by a spring that I would call more winter-lite.

And because it's screaming by, I begin to stack up the things I haven't been able to do yet, and in some cases, probably won't be able to do at all this summer. Well, rather than dwell on what I might not get to do, I'd rather talk about what I used to love about summer when I was a kid.

  • Backyard carnivals. As kids we were always looking for an entrepreneurial endeavor to earn a little cash for candy. So usually once a summer we organized a backyard carnival and invited all the neighborhood kids to participate. We would lure them into our backyard and then proceed to gouge them just like real carni's at the state fair. What great friends we were. One of the things we did was turn our garage into a haunted house. We'd use spaghetti as "brains", a scarecrow as, well a scareycrow, and other dumb stuff. Then, if they won the prize for a game they chose to play, we'd give them a candy prize that was worth less than they game cost. Then after the winnings were divided equally (except for mom's share which was just figured into the "overhead" column, we'd head down to Swanson's supermarket or Bober's Drug Store and blow the wad on candy, gum and Duncan yo-yo's which were all the craze.
  • Walking to the store. Bobers and Swansons were where we spent our fortunes. We begged Mom mercilessly for her purse change so we could get candy from those stores. Or, better yet my sister Pat would send us there to buy her cigarettes with a plagiarized note from "our mom". When they called home to verify my sale, Pat picked up the phone and said "Oh yes, Jimmy's my son." For a fifty cent pack of cigarettes, we often got a quarter, so the sin tax for smokers was high even back then.
  • Tubing down the Apple River in Prescott, Wisconsin. Usually once a summer, my mom and stepfather would pile us into two cars and take us to the Apple River. We'd have a picnic lunch and then get tubes and ride the river for a couple hours. It was great fun. It was also the source of one of my near-death drowning experiences, but that's a different story.
  • Camping. Usually one trip a summer to a State Park somewhere in Northern Minnesota. A great time to swim and get to know our step-brothers and sisters better. Nighttime games of hearts and blackjack around the Coleman lantern were the best. Smores, and fire towers, and small town carnivals were all part of it. 
  • Carp fishing on the river. This might tip my true redneck hand a bit, but we used to ride our bikes down to the Mississippi with our fishing rods and cans of corn for bait. If the fish weren't biting, we'd wander around the sandstone bluffs looking for fossils and carving our names in the stone. If we came across a beer can that we didn't have in our collection, well, that was a bonus.
  • Pickup games of baseball. Games started over in the St. Lukes parking lot and grew or shrunk as kids came around or left. Usually we were four to a side or so, which closed center and right fields (automatic outs), among a dozen or so other rule modifications to accommodate the small teams. We'd play the cover right off of our league baseballs. As we got older, we switched to softball, as the home runs over the fence in left were liable to break windows. 
Summers were awesome. They were usually about 3 weeks too long, when we'd get bored and were out of new ideas that came readily in the early summer months. 

It makes me wonder what my kids will remember about their summers? They are much less mobile than we were, of that I'm sure. We covered a lot of ground. (A single parent family tends to make for a long leash, so to speak.) I'm sure they'll have something. Every kid does.

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Way Better Than Good

Well, it has been a good weekend to be a writer. Lots of good things going on these past few days. Life as a writer seems to have ebbs and flows of activity, and right now things are flowing. The thing is, they're not just flowing for me, but for many of my friends as well. In some ways this makes me happier than my own isolated successes. Like any party, it's always fun when everyone is having fun along with you.

The weekend kicked off with my author interview at the studios of Milwaukee Public Radio's WUWM 89.7 I went into the interview not knowing what questions would be asked with the expectation that this would make my spontaneous answers more, well, spontaneous. At the advice of a couple of writers, I had prepared in my head some answers to a couple of questions that were supposedly always asked at interviews, namely, who are your favorite authors and what inspired you to write this book? Of course those direct questions never came up, but if they had, well, I was sure enough ready for them.

The interview experience was really cool. The big microphones, the quiet, dimly lit studio and the heartbeat pulse of our voices on the computer screen next to Stephanie Lecci, my host interviewer. I wasn't nervous at all. Stephanie put me at ease and it was just like talking to someone over coffee. In my own mind there were only two verbal glitches throughout the process. I did realize that I've picked up my wife's habit of ending my sentences with "so...". It kind of leaves the listener hanging with the idea that there's more, when there's really not. So is my form of a period, so...

Later that night I attended the AllWriters' Friday Night Free for All. This is an event open to the public that typically features the successes of the writing studio. This edition featured more writers who had books selected for publishing in the past 6 months. This included Sandy Goldsworthy's book, Aftermath, and Kerry Crowley's book, Snoogers Rule, Mammoths Drool! Introducing the Amazing Mucus Phlegmball, which may be the best title for a kids book ever and Diane Valentine's forthcoming book, Family Secrets. This was followed by a cool memoir piece about an encounter with Elvis in the form of a spirit, some wonderful poetry by one of Madison's co-poets laureate, Sarah Busse, and finished off with a preview of my writing instructor Kathie Giorgio's forthcoming fourth book Rise from the River.

The group covered the gamut of celebrity. Facebook friends I know but have never heard read, students I had been in class with and watched progress to brilliance, a gifted poet who published my first poem ever thereby fueling the unquenchable thirst to get published, and of course the woman who started each of us down this path to what I can only describe as surreal coolness. Thank you for that, Kathie.

To continue an already great weekend of writing related goodness, yesterday I managed to get a flash fiction sequel to the Zombie Sasquatch story finished, as well as a new poem. It felt good to write again.

And finally to finish out the weekend, today I attended another gifted writer's first book launch. Author Kelly Risser released her book, Never Forgotten today in Muskego, Wisconsin. This is a woman who helped critique, shape and refine my own book while I did the same for her in our book writing class last summer. It was so cool to see her have her day, having had my own a few short weeks ago. If we are not called to support one another as writers, then who is? She was magnificent and radiant. So happy for her.

So it was not just a good weekend, it was SPECTACULAR. Really felt good to be alive. I referenced it a bit in my Facebook post about how lucky I felt to be where I am today. I have a job and a familyI love, a roof over my head (with all of its creaks, groans, and leaks) the best set of friends a man could ask for and a craft I've discovered that completes me.

Oh, and a kayak.
And a dog.
And two cats.

And like in the movie, The Jerk, "That's all I need."

"And this remote control. I need this."

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"The Book"

Well, the Dirty Shirt bus I'm riding keeps plugging along. There are a ton of things in the works and yet I feel  I've still got a bunch more to set up. I'm managing on my own, setting dates, inquiring, and publicizing my book to the various media outlets, but lemme tell ya, it's a full time job, outside of my other full time job. It's a bit all-consuming in the few hours between 5:00 and 10:00 PM.

I remember Mike Perry saying that his wife tired of people telling her how funny he was. I think I've approached that point with my wife where I start and end every conversation with something about "the book". She politely nods and says nice things, but I know she's probably tired of it. I don't want to become "that guy" that people avoid for fear of hearing about "the book", so I tend not to mention it to friends unless they bring it up. And if they do, look out. It's hard to shut me up.

It's a bit like a woman with her first kid. You have to hear every detail about every burp, hiccup and spit-up. My writing instructor always said releasing a book is like giving birth. I now understand what she means. This one gets all the attention, will get lots of pictures and detail its every review, signing and sales blip. The next one will end up jealous and neglected.

Having said all that, and now that I have your attention. (Why, I'm glad you asked!) here's a rundown on what's new with "the book".

  • My radio interview with WUWM 89.7 is rescheduled for this Friday, 7/11. The interviewer had a cold last week, so we pushed it off a week. I am super psyched about this opportunity. Never been on the radio before.
  • I have set up a tentative date to lead a book study group in St. Cloud on December 17th. I connected with a woman from the Stearns County Historical Society and she mentioned the opportunity. I've put together some study questions for the group, so it should be fun. 
  • On July 18th I have a joint book signing set up with Allison Brooks Schley outside Martha Merrells during the Friday Night Live event in downtown Waukesha. This should be fun as well. 
  • I got a nice plug/excerpt in the Current newspaper based out of the Sheboygan area. This was a result of a chance meeting at the West Bend author event. It's all about connections.
  • I found out that I'll potentially be sitting on two different panels during the Southeastern Wisconsin Festival of Books in September. The first is a "First Time Authors" panel focusing on the many successes of the AllWriters' studio that I frequently attend. The other is a "Writing Across Genres" panel that is exactly what it's titled. Having had some success in poetry, nonfiction and even a bit of fiction, this seems like a good fit. 
  • I applied for an Emerging Writers Award from Drake University. It awards a $1000 to a publisher that is a first time author. I thought it would be worth a shot. Fingers crossed.

In addition to all of this I want to mention how grateful I am to the many, many people who have told me how much they enjoy the book. It means the world to me when someone says my book made them laugh, cry, or both. That they took the time to buy, read and react to my story makes it all worthwhile. It's what it's all about, is my guess. 

In my next post, I'll detail some ideas I have for future projects. Like the woman who gave birth and quickly forgot all the pain she endured, I am ready to jump back into the creation stages again. Lord help me if I should start to feel post-partum depression.

Blogging off..

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Road Warriors

Just got back from upstate New York for a long weekend holiday visit. It was a whirlwind trip of over 1500 miles in just 5 days. After doing battle with six states and Chicago traffic, I'm whipped. The kids were great though, much easier to travel with teenagers than young kids. You almost forget they're there most of the time, except when I turn to look over my shoulder and check for traffic and all I see is a foot (Sarah's). We've travelled together for so long, that we know each other's quirks. Donna makes sure there's enough snacks to keep everybody happy and then it's just a matter of grinding out the long stretches of pavement. I think we made only four stops in 750 miles today, so that tells you how we travel.

Get it done.
Get there.
No putzing.

Rob's Army Brick
The trip started with a quick visit to Rochester Institute of Technology, Rob's alma mater. Donna and the kids have been there to see the brick his friends had made for him when he was battling cancer, but I have not. I thought it would be cool to see it "in place" and it was. We found it fairly quickly and got back on the road. It didn't give me much time to check out anything else on campus, but I'll always have the memories from the times I visited him and Donna on campus in the late 1980's. I am so glad I made it a point to go visit him on his college campus. It was my way of living the campus life vicariously through him. I was a commuter student and didn't live on campus during my college years.

From there we went on to Gorham to visit Donna's parents. We had a great meal of Pontillo's pizza subs, which if you haven't had them, you're missing out on one of New York's finest treats. Melty, heavenly goodness.

After a night there we drove to her sister's place in Auburn. We had an absolutely great stay which included a Minor League baseball game (Auburn Doubledays), some beautiful hiking through the gorges of Ithaca, and a relaxing day at the pool.

It was so great spending time with her sister and brother in-law. Their kids and our kids grew up together and get along so well. They are very much like my Minnesota family in that the cousins love spending time together.

I'd love to write more about it, but frankly I'm spent. Bed is calling.

On Thursday I'll give a Dirty Shirt update, among other things.

Blogging off...