Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Year In Pictures

As we say goodbye to another year, I always find it best to look back a bit before heading into a new year. This time I'll do it with pictures. When I take pictures, I put them in folders by year with sub folders by subject underneath those. For this exercise, I went into each folder and grabbed a picture from each that meant something to me. Here is what I ended up with. It is not every great moment of the year, but is a good overview of some of the best.


Our Memphis/Nashville trip. In June we celebrated 25 years of marriage. As part of that celebration, we treated ourselves to a road trip to Memphis and Nashville. One of the most moving parts of the trip was a tour through the Civil Rights Museum. The museum tour finishes by a walk through of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's hotel room. It was something everyone should see.


My niece's graduation from High School. A fun trip to upstate New York to celebrate a graduation. Great to see family and it even included a trip to Jody Morris's goat farm. Always a blast!


Landwehr Family Reunion. Every five years our family gathers at the cabin my grandfather built on Grand Lake. This one was well attended, and while it was great to see everyone again, the most memorable moments for me came during the evening hours on the beach with my mom, sisters, and brother, Paul. Lots and lots of laughs under a full moon in the warm evening  breeze. Unforgettable.



Ben and I have a tradition of going to car shows in Waukesha when they come into town. This year was no different. It's fun to walk and gawk with him. He appreciates the muscle cars as much as me. Good dad/son bonding time, for sure.



Trip to St. Paul. This was a trip to bring Sarah back to the University of Minnesota. We had dinner in the old Grand Avenue neighborhood and finished up with ice cream cones at the Grand Ole Creamery. It felt good to be in the old 'hood.


Collective MKE/Guest House.  We helped launch a new church in 2015. Donna and I are part of the Service Ministry. We organized a kids sandwich assembly one night during service and made over a hundred sandwiches for the Guest House of Milwaukee. In addition to this, we've served every month down at the Guest House. It has become part of our lives and I love doing it.


Thanksgiving. We were lucky to have most of our extended NY family out for Thanksgiving this year. Good food and family.


Written Life Launch. In April, I was surrounded by family, friends and colleagues as I launched my second book, Written Life. It was made extra special by having my mom in attendance. At 82 years old, she took the bus down specially to be here. It meant a lot and the whole launch was a dream come true.


BWCA Trip. After three years away, we all got back up to the Boundary Waters this June. Lots of cousin fun, a bit of adventure and the requisite uncooperative weather. Great memories, especially of the night where the cousins all went out on their own in the canoes and fished. They're growing up so fast.

Lakefly Writing Award. I was fortunate to win an award the Lakefly Writers Conference for my flash fiction story. It was part of a very successful year for me from a publishing standpoint as well.



I hope 2015 finds you healthy, happy and doing your part to make the world a little better.

Blogging off...


Sunday, December 27, 2015

January's Challenge

Back in November, I was invited to help a fellow writer/poet as she participated in a writing challenge for the month of December. The challenge was a fundraiser for Tupelo Press, a nonprofit independent literary press. My friend, Sarah Sadie, was faced with writing a poem a day for 30 days straight. As part of the fundraiser, she offered several different levels of support ranging from $3.00 to $129.00 with varying levels of giveaways to those who sponsored her. I've found that sponsoring her was a fun way to follow along her journey.

I  liked the idea and challenge of it so much that I checked into doing it myself. The thought of pushing myself creatively to come up with a new poem every day for a month was too good to pass up. After I inquired about it, I was selected for the month of January.

And so, I'd love it if you'd join me and support Tupelo Press at the same time. The details are below. In prepping for the challenge, I've put together a list of ideas or writing prompts. Here's what I've compiled for subjects so far.

Dogs
Personalities
Fishing
Routine
Winter
Computers
Step brothers/sisters
Homelessness
Old friend(s)
Middle school
Post Christmas Letdown
Coffee
Thursday Theologians
Concert experience
God as a Friend
Mother
Regrets
Bucket list
Writing/AllWriters
Military High School
Dad
John McKasy
Road Trips

I am by no way bound by this list. In fact I intend to let the moment lead me where it will. I even plan to bang a few of them out on the old Smith Corona. I'll likely do a few of them longhand as well. I
find that helps when the words aren't coming. Also, as outlined below, for a $15 pledge I'll even write a poem about you or a subject of your choice. 

I liken the whole process to sponsoring someone for a 10K, without the bad knees and moments of wondering why on earth I ever signed up to run a 10K.

Here are the details. 


If you're interested in helping me reach my pledged goal, I have a few incentives.

$3 or more (Ewok Level)
-- receives a daily email from me throughout the month, which includes a link to the day’s poem and some notes from me around the origins and thought process that went into the piece

$15 or more (Droid Level)
-- receives a daily email from me throughout the month, which includes a link to the day’s poem and some notes from me around the origins and thought process that went into the piece.

-- has the option of having a poem in the series addressed to you, and/or give me a topic to write about and I will write one to that topic.

$35 or more (Wookie Level)
-- receives a daily email from me throughout the month, which includes a link to the day’s poem and some notes from me around the origins and thought process that went into the piece

-- has the option of having a poem in the series addressed to you, and/or give me a topic to write about and I will write one to that topic.

-- will receive a unique chapbook from me, in 2016. These books will be handmade collections of the 30 poems from the month. Each one will be personalized.


• $50 or more (Jedi Level)-- receives a daily email from me throughout the month, which includes a link to the day’s poem and some notes from me around the origins and thought process that went into the piece

-- has the option of having a poem in the series addressed to you, and/or give me a topic to write about and I will write one to that topic.

-- will receive a unique chapbook from me, in 2016. These books will be handmade collections of the 30 poems from the month. Each one will be personalized.

-- receives a personalized copy of my poetry collection, Written Life.


 
• $129 or more (Skywalker Level) I should add that anyone who contributes $129 or more has the option of receiving a subscription to Tupelo’s books—ten Tupelo titles for a bargain price! Plus all the goodies listed above. That is quite a package, friends. 

Learn more about Tupelo Press here:
http://www.tupelopress.org/

Donate here (Don't forget to reference me as the poet you're sponsoring, and include your address for tax deductions): 

https://www.tupelopress.org/donate.php




Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas On The Continuum

Today is Christmas Eve, which for my extended, Minnesota family, is the "real" Christmas from a celebration standpoint. Everyone gathers at my sister Jane's house for a meal and kick-out-the-slats present exchange. We have been gathering at her house for almost twenty years now and today we will will gather one last time. Jane will be selling her house this spring in an attempt to downsize before she retires.

And while I know this will be a hard event for her, it will be hard for me as well. There are a ton of good memories from that house, most of them built around holidays and special events.

  • When I first brought my girlfriend Donna home to meet my family, we were met at the door of this house by my niece Stephanie (5 or 6 at the time) who, when she saw Donna, asked "Who are you, and what are you doing in my house?" How's that for a welcome to the family?
  • At that same event, my nephew and godson, Nicolas when introduced to Donna as "his future aunt," stormed away to his room saying "She's not going to be MY aunt." Nick and I were pretty close at the time, and he didn't want to have to share me with anyone. Eventually, that night, he warmed up to her when he realized she wasn't going away. 
  • We made the trip back to Minnesota every other year when the kids were young. When we did, all of my siblings with little kids got together and chipped in on paying a Santa to come and distribute presents. He'd come in the back door magically with one gift for each kid present. Then he'd get pictures with the kids and sing a song or two and be off. It was a great part of our Christmas every year.
  • One year when he was much older, Jane's boyfriend Chas, was chosen to dress up and play Santa Claus. As he was putting the finishing touches on his Santa coat in one of the bedrooms, my son Ben walked in on him much to the surprise of both of them. That marked the end of the whole Santa mystery for Ben. We all have to find out somehow, right?

  • In 2009, Jane held a '70's theme party in her back yard and deck. Everyone wore 70's clothing and brought 70's food. (Think Tab cola, Pringles, Jello Salad, deviled eggs, etc.) Songs from the 70's were played (yes, including Free Bird). There were three generations of "kids" all celebrating the era of pimp mobiles, bell bottoms and groovy music. One for the ages.

  • More recently, we celebrated Nick's return from Afghanistan last January. It was a great reunion of family and friends. It was also where I had to witness the Packers meltdown against Seattle for the NFC Championship. Well, all the memories can't be good now can they? At least I was with family. 
So, the pending sale of my sisters house brings to mind my own home that we lived in for 15 years as a family. I recall vividly when Mom first put the Portland house up for sale, my brother Rob said to her, "I DO NOT like that sign out front!" 

At the time, Mom and Paul were the only ones still living at home, and she was trying to get out from the burdens of old house ownership. Her reply to Rob still resonates with me today.

"Rob, the house is just a house. You can take the memories of the house with you your whole life. It's just a structure. It's the people and times that were part of it
that matter." 

As we change our living places more and more these days, that is good advice going forward.

Merry Christmas, everyone! 

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Looking For It

Christmas is almost upon us. For me personally, every year it's a slightly different take on the same themes:

  • November denial stage
  • Early December awakening
  • Methodical procrastination
  • Post Birthday wake-up call
  • Frantic online button pushing
  • Frenetic shopping on Saturday before Christmas
  • Hasty wrapping and egg nog chugging
  • Driving a zillion hours either east or west
  • Catching my breath at Christmas service
  • Enjoying the fruits of all the labor at Sister/Sister in-laws' house. (Jane K, Jane T, or Jill K)
My experience started of course with the tree purchase and lighting that I talked about in a previous post. Well that ended up working out great. Once the tree was decorated, it looked fabulous. 

Then, last Sunday night as I was watching the football game, I got to watch the tree of beauty crash to the carpet. It made a tinkling, smashing sound and I think I made a slightly different sound. Not so much tinkling but more on the smashing kinds of sounds. The only loss in the event were two of our favorite ornaments - an antique one of Donna's and my 1991 Twins World Series ornament. Of course the ugly ornaments survived unscathed.

The excitement continued this week. I've decided that one of the reasons I hate shopping is the barrage that meets you at the door. When I walked into Gander Mountain, I was swarmed on by a man at the entrance asking if I wanted a chance to win $500? 

"No, no thank you." I don't think I can afford that. Just here gift shopping, Jack.

"Do you like meat raffles, then?" he persisted.

"No, no thank you." I think we'd had this conversation already, but hey, I admire your intrusive nature. Just here to get a gift, Jack. Merry Meat Raffle to you.

I move on to Kohls to look for an item on my wife's gift list. As she will attest, I don't shop often. I have a clothes fairy who has much better taste in clothes than me. I credit this fairy with keeping me from looking like Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack.

So as I'm wandering around Kohls, I stagger through the women's departments like a lost child. I always have a problem with this because there are like, seven womens departments at Kohls. There's Teens, Petite, Misses, Large, Senior, Ms, and a couple I'm sure I missed while I was there. 

And the thing is, as I was looking for this specific item, I kept wandering into the lingerie and underwear department, which made me terribly uncomfortable. I'm sure security had me up on a couple of different video screens, and rightfully so. 

Luckily I eventually found the item I was looking for. (Actually it was "plan B" which accounted for at least one extra inadvertent trip through lingerie.) So, I made my way up to the register, only to hear:

"Would you like to use your Kohls charge today?"

"No, no thank you," I answer politely.

"Do you have a Kohl's charge card?" 

"No."

"Would you like to sign up for one and save 30% on your purchase today?" the clerk persists.

"No, not today, thank you." I'm just here to buy a gift, Jack. Got a schedule to keep. What do I owe so I can move along? 

It's enough to drive me further into online shopping.

Anyhow, I finally found the Christmas spirit last night. I was wrapping presents to carols sung by Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. There is something gratifying about putting the wraps on a gift for someone else. An outward looking act. 

And I suspect I will find more of it tonight at our Advent service at Collective MKE and on Thursday at our Christmas Eve celebration. 

Because, Lord knows the Christmas spirit can't be found at Kohls or the mall.

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Swimming Upstream

As I mentioned in a recent post, my seventeen year old son decided to join the swim team this year. I was a bit surprised because he has never really swam in a competitive mode before. We always had him in various swim lessons as a kid, but that was long ago and was far from structured. It was still more than I ever had as a kid however. We were taught by the old school three step method:

1. Get in your suit
2. Get in the water
3. Flail until you figure it out.

This is not a knock on my mother in any way. I'm sure trying to raise six kids was hard enough without making certain that each one had mad swimming skills. I remember her sending my step-father down to the water's edge once to help teach me some strokes. I was pretty hopeless though and likely the worst swimmer in the family. To the point where my sister Pat has dreamed on a number of occasions that I have died by drowning.

Well, I've made it this far. That's not to say I haven't been pulled out of a river's current on one occasion where I most certainly would have died.

Since then, I've become a much more competent flailer. I actually swim out to the island at our cabin every year. I use a combination of two strokes to get there. The first is a modified breast stroke and when I tire of that, I do a back float/push. Both are ungainly, but I make it every year, so maybe I don't give myself enough credit. (Imagine that.)

Anyhow, after about four weeks of practice, Ben had his first swim meet last week. We could tell he was nervous, and to top things off, he was the first swimmer in the first relay race to start the meet. The buzzer went off and...

He did an amazing job.

I was so proud of his effort that I had to shake off tears two or three times during the night. He was in four events and despite some rough turns and a grueling 100 yard backstroke race, he held his own.

When the 100 yard backstroke was over, he walked past us and said, "Pretty much the worst experience of my life, right there."

So it goes.

We had a talk at home after the meet and he fully understood that this was the worst race he'll ever have to swim. Not that it all gets easier from here, but at least he knows he can do it and now all he has to work on is endurance and technique. I fully expect him to stick with it through the season. He's no quitter. I saw that much at the meet. Plus he likes being part of a team.

I think we both recognized that this first race, this first meet is part of life. It's like that first job, that new school, that first dance, those first years as a parent. We all do them kind of badly, but they teach us how to do it all better the next time.

Blogging off...



Sunday, December 13, 2015

Running Laps

I finished my fifty third lap around the sun a couple of days ago. It's a race I've been in since birth and while I hope I'm around for many more laps, I feel I'm probably closer to the finish line than the start. Maybe not. There's some people out there who are 108, right?

In order to keep in "running shape" for this race, it takes a little more effort each year. While there's not too much I can do about my mug and hairline - which is more a rumor than an actual line - there are certain things I do to keep it all together on the inside. My weekday 20 minute yoga routine keeps the muscles from drying out like leather and snapping when I least expect it.

I also now take three different pills every day. Twice a day fish oil pills which cure everything from heart disease to hardening of the arteries, or so I'm told. Also twice a day Glucosamine which is supposed to help sore joints. This is my latest snake oil treatment, as most days, either a knee or a hip, or a shoulder hurts. Those playing days on the 8th grade football team are taking their toll. LOL. Then, once a day during the winter months I take a Vitamin D pill, or my "happy pill" as I call it. Winter's hard enough without taking my sun away. This one keeps me from going all Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

I got a couple of really cool gifts to help me through my fifty fourth lap around the sun and beyond. The first was a Smith Corona Sterling typewriter from my wife. I'd been wanting one for a while and her friend Barb found it at a thrift store and managed to get it for $6.50. Six fifty!!! It is in amazingly good condition. My intent is to use it mainly for poetry during those moments of writer's block or when I just need an inspirational change.

Typewriters always bring back bittersweet memories for me. There's something about the noise, clatter and dinging that is endearing. The sounds of writing progress. At the same time, I remember that misspelled word during that 11th hour typing of a term paper caused some colorful language and required backspacing and then using correction paper or white out. Things got better with an electric, but sometimes it only meant you could misspell words with greater speed.

I remember a time when I had to use a coin-operated typewriter by the hour for a paper as a student at the University of Minnesota. The bugaboo about this particular machine was the letter 'S' didn't work, so I had to write them in. (All the other machines were in use by other frantic students and I HAD to get this done.) I would have hated to have to read that paper. It's a wonder I ever graduated. Even a greater wonder that I chose to be a writer after such traumatic experiences with typewriters.

Anyhow, I can't wait to start using it.

The other gift I got was a Cobra Golf Driver from my friend, Steve. I've been thinking about getting a new driver for a long time, but because I don't golf much, I could never really justify a big outlay to get a better driver. The one that came with my custom clubs is nice, but the head is small and unforgiving. After golfing with Steve last fall, he remembered I'd said that I was looking at getting a better driver at some point. Because he'd gotten a new driver, he gave me this one. I can already tell it is going to help my game immensely. (And my game NEEDS help.) Furthermore, it may come in handy for my son, Ben, as he joins the Waukesha South High School golf team this spring.

As I look toward my fifty fourth lap, it is my hope is that it is even half as good as my fifty third. I am so incredibly fortunate to have great family, friends, neighbors and church folks as part of my solar relay team.

Pass me the baton, because I'm hitting my stride and feeling good.

Blogging off...

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Ambush Of Gratitude

There have been several instances lately where I have become almost overwhelmed with gratefulness, joy and momentary elation. They seem to be happening more as I get older and I'm not quite sure what that means. Is it a natural middle age thing? Am I getting too introspective lately? Am I choosing to stick my head in the sand with regards to all the world problems?

Most often the moments come upon me while I'm walking and listening to my iPod. If you know me, I do a crap ton of walking. I walk to work every day in winter, I walk the dog every night - twice a day on weekends, and I walk to class and the library to do my writing. When I walk, I almost always have my headphones in.

What I've found is that the songs trigger memories of specific times of my life. In many instances they are times of my life I don't think much about during the rest of the day. Music has a way of triggering a part of your brain that way.

I remember one summer my wife and I were painting our bedroom and we had the classic radio station on. I said that we should tell each other the first memory that comes in our head about each song we heard. It could be an event, a person or a date. It was striking how we were able to do it for EVERY song. And the incredible variety of things that were dredged up was remarkable.

Anyhow, I was saying how the iPod songs brought back memories that almost always brought feelings of nostalgic joy. Times like:


  1. My years working for Montgomery Ward. I was a college student, working part time, making decent money. I'm sure I had stresses back then, but I always look at these days as carefree and fun. Living at home (thus the carefree part), riding a motorcycle, hanging with friends, dating.
  2. My childhood years. While we had some hard times as a big family with 7 kids and a working mother, the majority of my memories are good. Writing my memoir about those days is bringing back to mind so much of the good we had as a family. Lots of love and laughs. I wouldn't trade any of my experience.
  3. My first apartment in Crystal, Minnesota. Everyone remembers their first dumpy apartment, don't they? In our first place, my roommate and I had the "handyman" come in one day and bust a hole in our wall where the water pipe was. Then he took a blowtorch and used it to thaw the pipes. (This was Minnesota, after all). Well, he never came back and fixed the hole, so our answer to that was to string Christmas lights in it. Lemons make lemonade. And I remember the scrawny pipe cleaner looking Christmas tree with lights on it. It was nothing to look at, but it was OURS. It was a great feeling being out on your own for that first time. An Adult-Try Hard. 
  4. The years immediately following my move to Waukesha from Minnesota. This included establishing myself in a faraway place with no support net except a couple of roommates and friends from work. It was a time when my letters to and from my "pen pal" Donna kept me sane. 
  5. Our times with our kids when they were little. I almost get wispy every time I think about them as small kids. They grow up so fast, but I can't imagine life without them.
Of course there are many, many other great memories, all triggered by the music. The thing is, when I think of one, it sometimes makes me think of another and cumulatively, these things add up to what can only be described as a blessed, beautiful life that all I can do is thank God in heaven for. 

This is not to say that sometimes the songs trigger bad or sad memories, but as I said, by far the memories are positive and joy inducing. I also think that when I turn nostalgic, I tend to gloss over the bad in favor of the good. I've said it before too, but having my brother die a few years back, for all the grief and sadness that it brought to me, it has also allowed me to appreciate how much love and goodness and happiness I've experienced in life. And frankly, it's a hell of a way to trigger an appreciation reflex.

And so, especially in this holiday season, I encourage you to listen to some music, or mediate or just be quiet and take stock of the good that has happened in your life. When I personally look at all the cumulative good, it is positively humbling. And I'm going to run with that for as long as I can.

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Season Of Light

Well, just like that, the Christmas season is upon us. For me, it's a little hard to believe. Part of this is because of the weather. We'll hit 40+ degrees today and throughout the week, finishing at 50+ on Friday.

And I am totally, completely, undeniably fine with that. Seriously. I may even take a bike ride today.

With the holiday, comes the preparation. Last weekend, I put up our outdoor icicle lights, which constitutes the beginning, middle and end of my outdoor decorating. It involves a ladder in winter which comingles two least favorite things: heights and cold. Fearing the weather turning, I put them up last weekend when it was 32 and windy.

Today it is 40 and calm.

If this was baseball, we'd call that a swing and a miss.

Anyhow, prior to hanging them, I plugged in the lights to make sure they were all working. This is always a crossed-finger affair. Nothing causes me such angst during the Christmas prep as non-functioning lights. A few years back, I even bought a tool to help repair non-working lights because I hated the chore of checking each one.

Fortunately, there were no lights out when I tested them.

That should have been my first clue.

I dragged the ladder out and got them all hung up in about 30 minutes. Without fail, when I plugged them in a short stretch was not lit. Somewhere between the house and the roof, they decided to stop. So, it was back up the ladder. Check-push, check-push, check-push, right down the line.

Nothing.

As it's getting colder and darker, I hurriedly went looking for my fix-it gun. (No, not that gun, the one for the lights.) It seems to have buried itself deeper in the Christmas box than I was willing to dig, so I gave up. The lights will have to be less than perfect. I'm not okay with that, but at that point, I was willing to comprimise.

The next day, in what I'll forever credit as a true Christmas miracle, when I plugged them in, they were all lit. It was my Chevy Chase moment. They're still lit to this day, so Merry Christmas to me.

Listing to the left.
With the outside "done," I turned to the interior decorating. This past weekend, my wife was out of town and my son was busy with work and swim practice, so I was left to get a tree and put it up on my own. Like most men, I look for a tree like I shop. There's no time for messing around. It is for all intents and purposes a hunting event. Pick, pay, tie on top. If it wasn't for my ten minutes of indecision over choosing between a bigger fuller tree that might be TOO big, or the smaller, not so full tree that would be easier to carry and setup, I would have been out of there in ten minutes instead of twenty.

Got it home, set it up, stepped back and...

It's crooked.

Tilted my head a bit and it looked fine. Decided I'd deal with it tomorrow (today).

This morning I was going to put the lights on, but figured I should straighten out the lean first. After turning the tree, adjusting the stand tighteners, and taking my vocabulary to a new low for a few moments, I decided to put a small book under the stand to correct the lean. After fighting with that for about two entire rotations of the tree, I pulled the book out entirely. And do you know what happened?

My second Christmas Miracle in a week. The tree corrected itself. Either that or my litany of sailoresque language shocked the Frasier Fir into submission.

With the tree finally straight, and once again completely prepared for disappointment, I broke out the tree lights. I plugged them in and lo and behold, every one lit up fine.

Maybe Santa is real.

Blogging off...

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Gift Ideas and a Giveaway

Gift Ideas and an eBook Giveaway

Unfortunately, it's that time of year for shameless self promotion. Below are all of the books that feature my writing in one spot for the readers on your Christmas lists. Click the links to purchase them in time for Christmas.

For putting up with this shameful blog post and to help me celebrate a great year in writing, I am hosting an eBook giveaway! The prizes are eBooks of:

Memories from Maple Street, USA: The Best Christmas Ever  (1 eBook)

and

Memories from Maple Street, USA: Leaving Childhood Behind  (1 eBook)


Here's how it works. To enter the drawing, you just need to:

1. Like this post on Facebook (Earns one entry)

or,

2. Share this post on Facebook (Earns two entries)

or,

3. Like my Author page (Earns one entry) (New followers only)

or,

4. All three of the above. (Entries are cumulative)

Then, on Saturday, December 5th, I'll draw two winners and send them the information on how to get their free eBook from Smashwords

Thanks for your support throughout the year. Your reviews, words of encouragement and feedback mean more to me than you can ever imagine. 

Good luck and Happy Holidays!

Jim


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ten Dollar Trip Around The World

Last night as a family we went and saw the new James Bond movie, Spectre. A couple of years ago we all went and watched Skyfall, so it was kind of a family tradition that our time together over this holiday made possible.

I don't get to many movies these days, so when I do it's a treat. After watching it, I now remember how much better seeing a movie is in the theater than watching it at home. For me, it is two and a half hours of escapism.

In the opening scene, at one point James Bond is fighting a villain inside a flying helicopter. When he finally defeats him, he then moves on to fight with the pilot. As they wrestle and punch, the copter zigs, zags and even flies upside down for a bit.

And in the midst of all of this action, there I am.

An hour before I was feeding the dog and hanging Christmas lights. Now, I was in an upside down helicopter over Mexico City. Not physically, of course, but in a wild fantasy sort of sense. The movie transported me out of my dull, mundanity into the world of espionage and danger.

Not too much later in the movie came the requisite car chase scene. In this one, Bond is in his bulletproof Aston Martin being chased down tight alleys and along river banks. The walls of the theater were thundering with engine revs and crunching with the shift in gears. It was intense and exhilarating.

And there I was again.

Twenty five minutes earlier I was driving five miles over the speed limit in my minivan. (Most days in the van, I'd rather take a bullet from a villain than be seen driving in it, but that's a different story.) But then and there, I was a passenger on the precipice of death.

In the final scene Bond and his Bond girl drive a boat out from underneath an exploding building and proceed into a high speed chase with a helicopter. As they near it, he shoots his small handgun with unbelievable accuracy and she drives the boat.

Yep, there I was again.

That is the beauty of movies for me. Total and complete escapism.

It happened with Narnia, where I was taken to the snowy land of the White Witch.

It happened in Star Wars where I was flying through the tight maze of the Death Star or walking among the Ewoks in their village.

It even happened in Casablanca where I was transported in both place and time.

And so while I realized that I have a quiet, safe life, it sure felt good to dive into one so different and foreign and exciting to me. It transported me to 7 foreign countries in two and a half hours.

And for me, it was time well spent.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Reasons for Thanksgiving

Giving Thanks is Day to Day

It's the holiday we all take a moment to think of things we are thankful for. I have many. Here's just a few.


  1. Faith. I was blessed to be raised in the parochial school system where religion was part of the curriculum. I was even luckier to be pulled along in my faith years ago by people like my friend Pat and continually challenged to seek deeper faith today by people like Brandon, Claude and Nick.
  2. Wife. We celebrated 25 years this summer by taking a trip to Nashville. She is still someone I laugh with daily, sometimes doubling over. And while we snip and snipe at times, she is still the best thing that ever happened to me. She taught me how to love.
  3. Kids. I don't know what we did right, but they came out pretty good. After years in the trenches fulfilling physical needs, then years meeting emotional ones, they're finally starting to find out who they are. Good students, compassionate hearts, smart and funny. I can't wait to see where they end up in life.
  4. Extended family. Though I only see them a few times a year, we all still get along really well. There's something to be said for all that we've been through together making up the glue that holds us together. We have our warts, tics and goiters (goiters?), but you can't deny the love that runs deep.
  5. In Laws. Our New York (and Milwaukee) family is much the same story. We only see them once or twice a year, but when we do, we laugh, love and reminisce about all the things we've shared together. As we all age, we realize that every time we get together is precious.
  6. Friends. Old friends and new friends. Friends near and far. We appreciate that when we get together, it's just the same as when we first met. Good friends are like that, and I am thankful for each one of you.
  7. House. She's 93 years old and has definite quirks and creaks, but she is home. With all that's going on with the refugees in Syria and other places, it's time we're ALL thankful for having a roof over our head. 
  8. Health. Every day I walk by a Senior Activities Center as well as the March of Dimes center for special needs kids. And every day I am reminded that I am incredibly fortunate to have good health, mentally and physically. The senior center is a reminder that the clock is ticking and you're only as young as you feel. 
  9. Job. Next year will mark my twentieth year at Waukesha County and over 30 years in GIS and Mapping. If you'd have told me that coming out of school in 1985 with a degree in Geography that I would work in my field (cartography) for 30+ years, without a day waiting tables or driving a forklift, I would have laughed my head off. 
  10. Dog. Toby is as much a part of my daily routine as going to work. He loves me unconditionally and only wants three things in life. A walk, some love and whatever I'm eating.

In the day to day grind, we all tend to overlook how lucky and privileged we are in this country. We spend too much time getting mad, shouting about our political differences, and spending money trying to get more of whatever we think we need to be happy. How about taking some time today and this season to be thankful for the things that we should really be thankful for? Let's not look at what we need next, but rather, what we have and have had. 

Because life is rich, and I for one, am THANKFUL for being around to enjoy today. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sporting Lessons

My son has decided to join the swim team at Waukesha South this year. He's a junior and hasn't played a sport in high school. He played football back in 6th through 8th and a host of various sports before that. When faced with the prospect of being small with little chance for playing time as a Freshman football player, he opted out. I've always thought that my kids should play a sport in high school. I think it's important to be part of a team, if only once. 

I felt strongly enough about it that we encouraged Sarah to play volleyball as a freshman. She did. She didn't like it very much, but to her credit, she finished it. She actually would have probably made a better swimmer or track person, as those are individual/team sports instead of just team. You work for a personal best in those sports and no one challenges Sarah worse than Sarah. Alas, she did what we asked, hated it, and maybe came out knowing more about herself, her abilities and her role within a group a little better. 

I played a few high school sports back in the day. I should say, I wore the uniform. Being a small guy as a freshman, I played the football, the sport I loved the most. I quickly learned the difference between middle school level football and high school. And I had a great moment of clarity when I was de-cleated  while holding a blocking dummy by our running back with anger issues. As I flew through the air on the way to my butt, my collective conscience whispered to me, "Maybe try soccer." 

Football taught me to realize my limitations.

I listened to myself and tried soccer the next year as a sophomore. It was a better fit for my size, to be sure. But it was like kissing my sister. It wasn't football (actually to Europeans, it IS football, but I digress) so it could never replace it. I did get a lot more playing time and even scored a couple of goals. 

Soccer taught me to recognize a better fit for my physical skills.

I also ran track as a Freshman. My events were the high jump, long jump and triple jump. I loved working on the Fosbury Flop method of high jump. I kind of wish I had pursued it past Freshman year to see how I could have improved. Or perhaps I should have tried a running event, as I liked that later in life. In any case, one thing Coach Miles taught me was that you set a personal best for yourself and try and beat it every time. Never mind what the team did, just do your part. If the team is good enough it will take care of itself. 

Track taught me personal goals are sometimes the best goals.

And so as Ben takes this leap into a sport he's never played before, I couldn't be more excited for and supportive of him. If I tried out for swimming at his age, I would have been Cretin High School's first swimming fatality. Seriously, man. Love the water, can't swim a stroke. 

But he's going into it with a great attitude. He even said to me the other day, "I am so glad to be part of a team sport again. I only wish I hadn't waited this long to do it." These words made my day. 

As a person who loves all sports, I want my kids to love them too.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Coffee, Canaanites and Comaradaerie

"A mechanical engineer, a metallurgist/tradesman, a GIS analyst, a bi-vocational pastor/photographer, an attorney, an optical salesman, and a stay at home father of eight walk into a coffee shop and..."

This is either the start of a great joke, or it comprises what has become one of the best hours of my week, every week.

Any combination from two to six of these guys show up every Thursday morning at Cafe De Arts, a local coffee shop in downtown Waukesha. The group started 3-4 years ago and I have been part of it for about two years now. I was asked to be part of it by the pastor/photographer, but having just left a "Bible study" group that went rogue on me, I wasn't ready to commit. The funny thing is, not two weeks later the metallurgist/tradesman invited me to the same group. I figured it was God's way of smacking me upside the head and saying, "What are you waiting for?"

The group was originally built around studying a book usually, but not exclusively about spiritual matters, but that is really just a formal excuse to get together and have coffee once a week.

I say the hour we spend together is sometimes the best hour of my week because you never know where the conversation is going to go from week to week. We usually cover the book for at least a few minutes each week, some weeks it's much more. Then, the conversation winds and weaves until anywhere between 7:45-8:00 we disperse and go about our day.

Today's conversation was a typical week. It started with talking about the mechanical engineer's music gig (he's bi-vocational in a different sense) in Little Chute, WI. That led to what he was doing for Thanksgiving, which led to the dynamics of discussing faith matters with in-laws. From there it led to how we were raised shapes our faith to a point, at which time we either continue to grow in it or become stunted and married to dogma.

It circled around to how what we remember is not always as it happened. By this I mean, we remember what happened at the time, but much of what we remember is shaped by our first memory of that memory (including what provoked us to recall the memory.)

Then the attorney joined us, and the metallurgist/tradesman had to get to work. From there it went to the Biblical view on warfare and the slaughtering of the Canaanites. And much of the time we are dropping one liners that crack the whole group up, or asking questions that make each other go, Hmmm...

There's wit, and laughter, and camaraderie, and support, and teasing, and just a dash of accountability.

So, you see why I enjoy this group, right? It's like Thursday morning philosophical/spiritual/mental gymnastics fueled by Waukesha's best coffee. Today made me aware how little I know about the Bible and how I need to start reading it more in order to keep up with these guys. And I'm glad I listened when I was asked a second time. I call us the Thursday Theologians, but we're a much more motley group than that name denotes. Whatever we're really called I'm happy to be a part of it.

Blogging off...



Sunday, November 15, 2015

Homework Again?

It's been a while so maybe a writing update is in order. There is always something going on from a writing, publishing and promotion standpoint, it seems. You can only share so much on social media, so a good synopsis goes a long way.


  • First of all, as of tomorrow, I'm back in class at AllWriters. It has been about 15 weeks since I was part of the "Mighty Monday Nighters," so it's high time that I return. This isn't to say that I haven't written since I left, I have. It's just that being accountable to my peers as well as getting great feedback from them makes me better. Every week we bring in from 1-10 pages and after reading it front of the group, people tell us where it excels and where it sucks. (Well, that might be a bit harsh.) It is a very encouraging climate and I really miss the banter among the group. The best moments are the "word of the week." You don't want to be the person who gets called out for writing a word a half dozen times on a page. It seems to be someone different every week. 
  • Tomorrow I also have a radio interview about Dirty Shirt. It is on Dan Small Outdoors radio, I believe. I think he has affiliates associated with WISN, so it might make for some decent exposure.
  • The same gentleman, (Dan Small) has offered to do a book review of Dirty Shirt which should appear in Wisconsin Outdoor News. He described it as a "fun read," so I can't wait to see the review. 
  • My story Christmas Presence is in the coming Christmas Anthology titled Memories from Maple Street, USA: The Best Christmas Ever. The book should be available soon for pre-order. This should be a great collection of Christmas memories. I am very happy with the way the story came out and am proud to be part of this collection. 
  • I am guest blogging on the Sundown Press Blog as one of the contributing authors. Check it out on the first Wednesday of every month. Click here for this month's post.
  • The Write Stuff Radio Show featuring Parker J Cole will be interviewing me about all things writing sometimes after the first of the year.
  • I will be presenting on Dirty Shirt at the Waterford Public Library on December 9th at 6:00 PM.
  • The Poetry Workshop at AllWriters' Workplace and Workshop in January, led by myself, is still scheduled for Thursday nights from 7:00-9:00. Spread the word.
  • I am working on a story for the coming Sundown Press Memories from Maple Street Anthology about Pets and Pet Rescues, Anthologies are so much fun and again, I hope the story is well received and accepted. 

So, that's a rundown of a few of the things going on. I feel like I'm forgetting something major, but if so, I'll post it here or on Facebook at a later date.

In all of my busyness I am constantly reminded that I am so blessed to be where I am. It's all a ton of work, but much of it is coming to fruition for me. These past 12-18 months have been some of the best of my life for a number of reasons, with writing being a huge part of it. There's a saying that being a writer is like having homework every day for the rest of your life. That's how it feels some days, but I am having a blast with it. And as I figure it, as long as that is the case, I'm going to write my head off.

Blogging off... 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

In The Trenches

My daughter turned twenty this week, which makes me about thirty nine as I figure it. Twenty is one of those strange milestones as a kid that you kind of look forward to and dread all at the same time. Leaving your teens behind is probably a good thing any way you slice it, but at the time, as I recall, there is a bit of remorse that you are finally "grown up" in a way that even the age of 18 didn't bring. There's something about that number two digit.

As part of wishing her a happy birthday on such a landmark date, I wanted to put together some short videos of her as a child. I broke out the DVD's that my father in-law had dumped from videotapes and started my search. I came up with three defining videos that took me back to my days of early fatherhood that I look upon with both great fondness and hesitant nostalgia.

The first video is of the two of them dancing to Trisha Yearwood's "Under the Rainbow." Back then, Donna was selling Pampered Chef and working at Matteos Italian Restaurant. This meant that many nights I was left at home with the kids. After dinner, we would frequently head to the living room and wrestle, goof around or dance. I captured this video of them dancing and  it is priceless. It's one of those things I am so glad I did at the time. It shows the freedom, joy and expressiveness of being a kid all in one song. Sarah was about 5 at this time, and Ben just 2 years old. It is one of those idyllic moments of being a parent when everyone is getting along and having fun.

The second clip was filmed on December 10th of 2000. Again, Donna is not home for this video, and I am taking care of the kids. While videotaping Ben playing nicely, Sarah points out that we didn't do the Advent Calendar. This is a 30 day calendar with a piece of chocolate behind every day. Donna usually had Sarah or Ben open each day and eat the chocolate. Not knowing that it was dated by Advent instead of the days of the month, well, you'll see my confusion in the video. Luckily, Sarah was there to straighten me out on things.

When I watch this, I long for those days when they were so cute and so dependent. Sarah says in this video "We degot to do the calendar!"

I can't even.

Near the end, Ben makes a photo bomb appearance that cracks me up as well.

The clincher is though, when it all comes crashing down as Sarah plays keep away from Ben. This is the part of parenting that wears a person down. The squabbling, fighting and noise. It is an unpleasant reminder that as much as I miss the "cuteness" of it all, I'm still glad it's behind us. I imagine being a grandparent will bring some of that back into our lives.

The last video hammers this home even better. It starts with Sarah asking Ben if she can have a try at using his glove. He runs away and she smiles so cutely. Eventually though, she gets her turn and when Ben tries to get his glove back, she denies him and the air raid sirens go off. Again, an idyllic moment of playing catch with my daughter, brought back down to the reality of the hard part of parenting - namely, being a referee.



As my kids get less and less dependent on us, I look back on these days wishing I had seen the big picture a little better. My wife and I have often said that we thought we'd never make it out of those days and, now they're gone forever. When you're "in the trenches" you can barely see past the next meal or diaper change. But if you string those together - one day at a time - pretty soon you have a twenty year old and a seventeen year old. And while they create their own set of demands and impose new trials on you as a parent, they seem to pale in comparison to the "physical need" years.

The best part of all the work and interaction and listening and nose wiping and feeding and teaching, and story time, and nap times and laughing and crying with them is the payback in having great kids. And you can't put a price on that.

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Trees for Tots

If you've followed me at all recently, you know my wife and I are part of starting a new church, called CollectiveMKE. At the moment, we're still fairly small, though growing two people at a time lately. I have come to really look forward to our Sunday morning "home church" meetings where we gather as 12-15 people and half as many kids. We have the greatest discussions about our faith, Biblical stories and just life events.

We were talking this morning about the story of the widow who gave only a couple of pennies. It moved us to talking about what it takes to change how we view the world. Person after person gave accounts of instances where doing something selfless or sacrificial led them not only to feeling better about themselves but also how blessings came back to them in some sort of circular flow. It's hard to explain. Actually, it's easier to just do it and see for yourself. 

An example from my own experience happened this past weekend. A guy from our church asked if anyone would be willing to help him remove some trees from another guy's property. 


Now, like every volunteer event that I've done in the past five years, my first thought was all about the time I was losing in my weekend. Because, of course, serving others is all about me. My time, my comfort, my resources, me, me, me. 

You see? I've still got a long ways to go. 

To be fair to myself, I did immediately say yes, despite my first thoughts. So, that's worth something. 

So at the appointed time on Saturday I showed up to our friends' house. When I walked in, there were seven kids at the breakfast table, with most of them under five years old. This couple has three of their own kids but also have taken in five foster kids.

Five. 

I have two kids and barely made it to fifty alive. They have eight at the moment. 

Now, I understand this is a choice. No one forced them to take this on. They just did. They did it because they made a choice to try and make a difference in the world, one child at a time. And I know them enough that I know they certainly didn't do it because they want accolades or special recognition for it. They just saw a need, and met it. 

And when I walked into the door, to see those kids' smiling faces and how they were all just sitting like one big family, it warmed my heart. One toddler even motioned for me to pick her up, which I did out of habit. (It's weird how you snap back into young dad mode, instantly!) 

The whole scene reminded me why I was so quick to say yes to helping remove these trees. I knew the makeup of this family and I realized that four hours out of my Saturday was nothing compared to the sacrifices they are making. In fact it pales in comparison. 

So we cut down two trees and trimmed back a third. I got to work a chainsaw for the first time in my life, which was an absolute blast. (I only buried the blade in a tree once, but wrested it free eventually). It was a beautiful fall day, and I was outside, getting a good workout with good friends, so I don't know why I was worried about losing part of my Saturday. That's the selfish part of me that I'm still working on. Furthermore, I still got everything done that I'd planned on for the weekend. Funny how that works.

But like we were saying, if you start doing things for the better of the world around you, it starts to change how you see everything. Then it changes how you act. Then it becomes part of your nature. And it culminates in how you can't see things the way you used to see them. 

The best part of it all is your life becomes richer and more fulfilling and, not to mention, you get to meet some great people along the way.

And sometimes you get to cut things with a chainsaw too. 

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Plumb Broke

We finally broke down and called the plumber to fix a laundry list of issues in our 93 year old house. Being brutally aware of the charge out rate of plumbers, we made sure we had exhausted all other measures; namely me plunging the sink and shower until there were no curse words left and my shoulder was like a wet noodle. (I didn't really curse. Okay, maybe once. On the inside. In a whisper.)

The guy was scheduled to come yesterday "around 8 o'clock." The first thing to realize is that plumbers get their watches from the same place as cable guys, appliance repair guys, and teenage children. So I stay home from work to meet the plumber at the appointed hour (of 8:48). To their credit, they were upfront with their charge out rates. It's $120 to show up, then, $120 an hour.

Now, when I'm paying that kind of coin, I think I should be able to just point to stuff and he, being a plumber should be able to deduce what the problem is. Kind of like plumber sign language. No time for small talk here. Get to work.

Instead, I got the gabber. Nice guy, just liked to talk a bit. Now, if you know me, I'm a man of few (spoken) words. So when this gentleman started telling me all of my options in entirely too much detail, I stood patiently, estimating that our little 15 minute discussion was about $30. Hey, I'd love to talk about the problems with the Packer running game last week, but if I don't see some snaking going on here soon, I'm going to file for foreclosure.

We had really four issues that he was visiting us for.

The first was the water main valve is corroded open and can't be turned off. Might seem like a minor issue, until we get that unexpected shower geyser or busted pipe and can't shut the water off at the main. Get out the surfboard and swim fins at that point. Catch a wave dude, cuz the surf's up!
Ain't it purty?

That job only took him about twenty minutes. Not bad, and it gave me incredible peace of mind.

The next issue was the dishwasher shut off valve. It can be shut off, but when I installed the dishwasher there was still a trickle of water coming out. When the guy looked at it, he made all kinds of bad noises. Grunted and wrinkled his nose. Then he said those fateful words no one wants to hear,

"That's the problem with these old houses..."

It turns out, that to remove the valve, because of the way it's threaded, he'd have to bash the cupboard floor out so he could unthread it. He admitted he didn't have time to do it that day and that if I could live with it I should.

Hey, I can live with it if you can live with it. What are we standing around here talking about it? I should have been able to point at it, have him shake his head and we move on. Would've saved me ten bucks.

The third and fourth issues were a slow bathroom sink and shower drain. While we were up there we got to talking about whether my shower was a "box drain" or some other style. He was trying to speculate before he even opened it up, thus provoking another 10 minute "Plumbing 101" diatribe about the differences, pros and cons and "that one time he had one at this one house..."
What the outdoor shutoff's look like.

Again, all I should need to do is point, make a snakey motion, and he should set to work. Save the small talk for email.

Then, for some unknown reason, I mentioned that we'd like to renovate the entire bathroom someday, which sparked another rambling discussion about how to hack the cast iron tub out, or maybe get it reglazed, or maybe a Bathfitter solution.

Hey, I don't know, so do you think Eddie Lacy needed better blocking, or was the play calling just bad?

Bleeding dough at this point. Someone get me a tourniquet here.

While we were in there, he mentioned the shower cartridge seemed sticky and would I like him to change it out as long as he was here? I changed it myself about 10 years ago, but you know what? He was here, it would save a trip to Home Depot and a whole lot of internalized, whispered cursing, so I said, "Hey, go for it. Make it nice for me."

When all was said and done, after about two hours I was out $353.16 and I have no idea where the sixteen cents came from. I don't remember that anywhere along the way.

Anyways, after all was said and done we are no further ahead with any significant plumbing improvements out of the deal at all. We ARE flowing again, which is a good thing, but hardly a selling point for the house. We're still mostly galvanized iron pipe. (I have PVC dreams at night, believe me.) We're still mostly unexposed, difficult to get at, old piping with crustified valves. We're still putting band aids on the bulging aorta.

But hey, we're flowing.

And I'm going to run with that.

Blogging off...


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Seclusion Elusion

These past four days have been what I will term an introvert's nightmare for me. Lots of people, interaction, face time, small talk and networking. For a private person and a confessed introvert, it was a string of events that would make you cringe - I know it did for me, as the days unfolded. Usually I'm good for one social event a weekend, and if pressed, two. When faced with four in four days, well, I grind it out and deal with it. Here's what I was up against with my thoughts in italics.

Thursday to Friday Morning: (This will be good, but I'll need some downtime afterwards.) For work, I was at a two day regional conference in Oshkosh. Like most conferences this is wall-to-wall networking and socializing. Great stuff, all of it but I always come away from them wiped out from long days in sessions, lots of standing, walking, talking, restaurant food, late nights and early mornings. This one was especially good, as I met a couple of GIS guys I'd never met before. When the subject of my book, Dirty Shirt, came up, one of them had been to the BWCA several times and so we had a great chat about that as well as his GIS background and experience. It's brutally apparent to me that these encounters are why it is so important to push ones self outside of your introverted nature and meet new people. There's also the possibility that I'm not as introverted as I think, or that perhaps something's changing as I age. For me, it's the dread of the "meeting." Once I'm introduced, I'm all in and it gets easier. It's just that, if left to my devices, I'd stay in the shadows.

Friday Evening: (Wow, I'm tapped. How many people are coming?) I was only home from Oshkosh for about two hours before my wife and I hosted about 12 people to make up sandwiches for the Guest House of Milwaukee. The people are all friends from Collective MKE, so it was familiar faces which makes things easier. I can't say enough about how satisfying it is to stand shoulder to shoulder making food for men in transitional life/housing. It is incredibly gratifying and we had some great conversations while we prepared the sandwiches.

Saturday Morning: (Why did we schedule these so close together?) We woke up early Saturday and drove down to Guest House to serve the men breakfast and to drop off the sandwiches we made. Again, all good stuff. These guys are so fun to be around and serve. They are super grateful for all we do and it turns out the meal we served (made by Donna and a friend with donations from others), namely biscuits and sausage gravy, was a House favorite. Again, lots of face time, small talk and socializing.

Saturday Night: (Help me please, I want to be alone!) Because it was Halloween, we went down to visit some friends and play card games in Milwaukee. If left to our devices, both Donna and I probably would have stayed home. I'm glad we didn't! We laughed SO HARD with these good friends, that by the end of the night, all of our stomachs hurt. The group was loud, brash and so much fun.

Sunday Morning: (Can't we stay home?) We got together with many of the folks from Friday night for our Collective MKE "Home Church" gathering. This is the group we have been a part of for almost a year now and I have grown to love being around them. Good friends who care about what is going on in your lives. Giving people who help serve the community and each other. The additional benefit of this group are the kids that all of the families bring to the events. It's great to go from stimulating spiritual conversation to goofing around with the kids ranging in ages from 2-14 years old. Again, I was really happy I didn't stay home.

So each of these events filled a very different niche: Work, Service, Volunteering, Play/Laughter, and Spiritual Growth. These are exactly the things that make life rich. And in every case, it requires taking people into your circles, giving them your time and attention. In some cases it means telling them you love them, and in others (like the Guest House) you just love them without saying. It means stepping outside your comfort zone and meeting someone you'd never reach out to because they reached out to you. When you do these things, beautiful stuff happen.

And while this introvert is dreading the next series of social events that will inevitably happen, he is also looking forward to them greatly. I just need someone to push me out the door and say, it'll be fun!

Until then though, I'll be recharging with my laptop and headphones in my favorite chair at home.

Nothin' personal.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Down the Trail

My son Ben is going on a backpacking trip to the Porcupine Mountains tomorrow with a friend and his brother and father. After a single night in a tent, they are hiking in about 5 miles and staying in a "cabin" shelter that has no electricity or running water. It's basically just a roof over your head. It's a few steps above the tent, especially given as cold as it will be.

I have to say I'm a little jealous. My wife reminded me that only two weeks ago I was fishing up north, so would have a hard time justifying another trip. At the same time, I like the thought of a trip where you're not hiking X number of miles per day, but rather a single, long hike to a cabin. Furthermore, it'd be a chance to get one more snowless (relatively) adventure in before winter. 

Needless to say, the trip was planned they'll go off tomorrow. But tonight as I helped Ben pack, it occurred to me how big/mature he's getting. One of his packing techniques involved rolling his shirt and underwear into a tube which was pulled over by his wool socks. I asked him where he learned that trick and he said that he'd found it on the web. 

Then when I started to pack his pack he showed me a diagram of how to pack a pack that he'd also found online. And while I was impressed that he'd done his research - on his own, nonetheless - I was also felt a little twinge of nostalgia, because it appears he's hit another stage of independence that I didn't expect and kind of resent a little, honestly. 

Now, I know we're supposed to be happy when our kids start asserting their independence, but I ---guess I was hoping it wouldn't come on so strong. With our daughter out of the house, I need just a little more time to be "needed," and this wasn't helping.

One of the things I allude to in my book Dirty Shirt is that by exposing our kids to the outdoors and wilderness, we instill a love and respect of it to them. The fact that he has been looking forward to this "survival trip" for months, shows me that I think I've succeeded. Add to that his ability to plan and pack for himself and it tells me that he's growing up in a hurry. 

My wife told me a funny related story to all of this that proves the fact again, She said when she told Sarah that Ben was going on a 3 night campout/backpack trip in the Porcupine Mountains, Sarah said, "Ugh, I'm jealous!" 

It seems they've both got the outdoors bug.

Mission accomplished.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Things Rattling Around

Every once in a great while I need a post where I just do a brain dump of everything I'm thinking about or have thought about in the last while. This is one of those random thought posts. Bear with me.


  • Is there possibly any better smell in the Fall season than burning leaves? I think not. The smell instantly takes me places. Today, for some reason, the smell took me back to a fall day when me and three high school friends took a couple of canoes and paddled down a portion of the St. Croix river. On that day, I smelled burning leaves, much like today and perhaps because it was us "kids" doing an adult thing, it stuck in my memory. Pair it with a familiar smell and, well, there I was doing my best time jump back 35 years or so.

  • I got a new phone today. The whole experience is certainly a peephole into Hell, if not a full-fledged trip there. The process, terms and paperwork are nothing short of exhausting. Because everything's on a "payment plan" it's not too unlike buying a car. (Of course they didn't want my working trade-in.) After all was said and done, I told my wife that while I know there are people out there who "love their phones," I am not one of those people. I like my phone, but it's a phone. It's a tool, and unfortunately a tool we can barely do without anymore. Has my phone saved me a few times? Yes. Is it convenient? Yes. Is it ungodly expensive to have one? Also yes. Do I love what it brings me? No. I have it, because I need it. Like my friend John says about his boat, "It's a boat, not a baby." Well put. Don't love it. Love my wife. Love my kids. Like my phone.
  • I recently had another nonfiction story accepted by Sundown Press. It's for their Christmas
    anthology titled, Memories from Maple Street, USA: The Best Christmas Ever. I am very excited about this book because I love the idea of a collection of peoples' stories about Christmas. The one I wrote outlines a Christmas in 1983 and it is one of my favorite stories of late. Very happy with the way it came out. 

  • I saw where Flip Saunders, ex coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, died today at 60 years of age. I was floored as I usually am when a celebrity dies. Sixty isn't what it used to be and it just seems way too young to die. It was cancer (of course) so there's another reason to hate cancer. 

  • I bought a MyCloud backup drive on Woot the other day. It allows the whole family to share pictures, folders and documents. It also allows us to backup our computers easily. It's one of those geeky things that means something to me, but probably nothing to anyone else. Sorry for bringing it up. (And, for the record I like it, but I don't love it.)
  • I have really come to enjoy the families that make up our Collective MKE church. It is a small group of families, but we come together weekly, and sometimes twice weekly, to share in each others' lives, pray for one another and laugh together. As I once said, church used to be about a building to me - a building with a weekly obligation - now it's different, and I feel like part of something bigger.

  • The Packers are 6-0 and with a bye week, not much going on. I haven't watched as much of them as I would like, mostly because of other things going on, or just really nice weather. I'm one of those guys who has a hard time sitting inside when it's really nice out. Especially knowing that in a month or two, the bottom's going to fall out on the weather. 

  • This has been such a spectacular fall weather wise, that I hate to see it end. I have come to dread winter and wish we could have a couple more months of temps in the 50's and 60's. Next weekend when they change the clocks the darkness will hit me squarely in the face. Bring on the vitamin D.
That's it. That is the noise in my head lately. Sorry, now you can hear it too.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Gridiron Reguritation

Seasonal Recollections from the early 70's

It is a crisp Saturday morning in October of 1973. My 7th grade intramural team, the Vikings, is playing against the Dolphins, a tough opponent with a nifty, capable quarterback. It is fourth down and long, and as the team's punter, I am called on to put us in better field position using my foot. I'm standing eight yards behind the center and wearing my fear just beneath my hardware store shoulder pads. Being an intramural league, my coach stands two yards behind me as kind of a poor man's helmet microphone; coaching by proxy.

Through the bulk of my mouthguard, I shout out commands to our center. "Down. Set. Hut one, hut two!"

Every snap is different. This time, the center hikes the ball toward me, this time sending a low, wobbling semi- spiral. The ball hits me squarely in the hands, but for some reason after catching it they choose to relax for no good reason, and I drop the ball. On this day, God is merciful, and the ball bounces straight back up to me and this time I grab it and ponder what to do next.

My brain screams, "Kick it, quick!"

Meanwhile, two yards behind me, coach Seidel screams, "Run it, run it!"

My flight response kicks in and I take off, running to my left in desperation and in part because the right side has collapsed into chaos. Because the defense is expecting a kick, the young players appear confused. Why is the punter running the ball? As much as I can, I juke, dodge and drag players for eight yards before I am taken down in a cloud of dirt. A couple of my teammates come over and help me up, patting me on the shoulder pads, congratulating me for getting a first down.

First down? I was running for my life; running for daylight as coach Lombardi used to say.

***

It is a year later and the last game of the regular season for our eight grade team, the St. Luke's Spartans. We have only lost one game this year and are poised to make the first playoff run in many years. Nonetheless, my coach, Mr. Wescott, has chosen a few of us second stringers to be "starters" this week, and I am one of them. At ninety eight pounds, standing five feet two, I am playing defensive end, jittery with nerves, and anxious to show all the third stringers on the sidelines how it's done. 

The defensive end's job is brain dead easy. One task. Box the ends and keep the play inside. The first couple of plays are up the middle and I do little more than dance around with the kid playing tackle on offense. 

Then, on third down, it happened.

They ran a power sweep to my side. 

As I "boxed my end" I stood there staring at a pulling guard and a blocking back, heading my way full speed with middle school violent intent. Behind them, the running back with the ball also running mad. 

Just before impact, I close my eyes and am quickly pummeled to the ground by the runner's henchmen while he cruises past me to the second level of defense. The crunch of pads, ligaments and bone is loud and hard. I am completely aware that the runner is past me, but I manage to occupy both of his blockers in the process. Luckily our tenacious linebacker Tim Godfrey takes the runner down after a short gain.

The pain of the collision resonates momentarily throughout my entire torso. I get up spitting dirt between my mouthguard and my teeth. I now understand why we have mouthguards. I jog-hobble back to the huddle. Tim Godfrey meets my eyes and says "Good play, Landwehr."

"Thanks. I got steamrolled," I reply.

"You broke up the interference. Good job."

I think to myself, now there's a positive spin on things for you. One boys self evident failure is part of a team's success. 

And that is when it occurred to me that, on a team, EVERYONE has a role to play. Even a 98 pound second stringer. 

***

Close to twenty five years later, I wrote a letter to Coach Wescott. In it I thanked him for what he'd done for me that day. There was no good reason to start an undersized, inexperienced second stringer in that final game. I told him how much it meant to me even to this day. It showed me that a coach can have integrity beyond his W-L record. It showed me that he was paying attention in practice when I was giving my all. And it showed he knew what such a small measure can do to a kid's self confidence that could last a lifetime. 

Thankfully we we won that day. We then went on to win the Twin Cities Championship for grade school parochial. And, personally, I think coaches in sports these days could learn a lesson or two from Coach Wescott.

Blogging off...