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.

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