Thursday, February 26, 2015

Parting Thoughts

I would like to wish this February a fond farewell. Well, maybe fond is a little strong. I'd just like to wish it farewell. Actually, in two days I'll happily say good riddance. February, the month people love to hate. March holds hope. January - well, it's got nothin' either, but February it's just February. (It's even spelled wrong.)

What I'd really like to say good riddance to is not the month, but to winter. Unfortunately, that may not happen for a couple of months yet - at least not fully.

My thoughts are not healthy or good this time of year. Some random thoughts and observations:

My skin itches until it flakes off like sawdust, which then makes up 90% of the dust in my house. Who says you can't be everywhere at once?

I hate the neighbor 3 doors down for putting a layer of salt 1/2 inch thick on his sidewalk. He's salinating our rivers and lakes, (if salinating is even a word. If it's not I don't care, because its February)  My poor dog and his bloody paws, hates him worse.

The snowbanks have all glaciated. I have drumlins and eskers and moraines forming in my backyard (for all of you geology buffs).

Yesterday I saw 3 students shovelling, yes, shovelling the Carroll University football field. Now there's a workstudy job for someone. I thought to myself, has anyone in the front offices checked their calendar? Sometimes we get snow in March in Wisconsin. Sometimes it's A LOT of snow. But yeah, lets get it cleared off in February.

My furnace cycles on for 3 minutes off for 10 on for 3. Repeat to infinity. Increments get shorter as the temperature drops.

Earlier in the winter, I'm pretty sure I did nerve damage to my fingers while putting air in my car tires. Now, everytime I take my gloves off for more than 30 seconds my hands hurt. Or maybe that's just normal. In any case, I not likey.

My cats are absolutely nuts right now. They're obsessed with eating and have turned their noses up at anything except wet food. At the moment they are giving each other tongue baths in front of the heat vent. Me, I'm breathing their dander. Yum. I not likey either.

I've given up scooping Toby's poopsicles until spring. Right now they're stacking up like cordwood. Most of them are frozen to the ground and would require a pick axe anyway. I like to think of it as three dimensional dog art.

I'm tired of hand lotion, rock salt, dry air, slush, ice, slushy-ice, icy-slush, Christmas lights (seriously?), hot cocoa, darkness, and the sound of road plows.

I'm tired of all of it.

So good riddance February. And while your at it, take your flirty friend March with you.

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Collectively Gathered

People may or may not know it, but we are in the middle of the startup of a new church. It's called CollectiveMKE, and it is unlike any conventional church in a lot of ways. It stems in part from our soul-searching assessment of what "church" should mean.

For roughly the past two years, Donna and I have been searching for a good church fit. We left Elmbrook two years ago this May. I finished up my time with the middle school ministry and we just kind of stopped going. I can't precisely say why, only that we seemed to have changed our thinking on what church, or the mission of the church, should be. We learned a ton during our stay at Elmbrook, and left it with no ill will, it just seemed like it was time to move on.

We tried another church for a bit, whose mission fit ours quite nicely. But it turned out that because of distance and location, we couldn't engage with it like we would like. We wanted to be a part of the whole church, but that would have meant a half hour drive each way a few times a week. We thought it was important to be accessible and local to a church. 

Again, it wasn't them, it was us.

And so we've hooked up with a pastor, a few key friends and a bunch of people who have expressed an interest in something different. As I said before, this church will be different. It is intended to be largely built of small community groups of 8-15 people who meet weekly around a table for a meal. It is our hope that these groups will be spread all over metro Milwaukee. 

The thought is that it will be built upon four premises.

Table: We want to open our homes to our neighbors, friends and community. By sharing a meal in a non-threatening environment, we can get to know one another and build a better social fabric in the process.

Potluck: This does not have anything to do with food. What the thought is is that everyone brings something to the table. In other words, we all have gifts, talents and skills. We need to tap into those skills to further foster community and thus effect the wider world.

Key Chains: In order to unlock the doors of making better communities - through service, outreach, fellowship, etc., we may need people to help with that. These people are keys on our key chain.

Journey: This is the recognition that we are all at different places on our life journeys. It is our goal  to accept these differences and meet people where they are at. 

I may not have done justice to what these four premises are, but trust that it is the intent of this collective group to take church beyond a once a week meeting within four walls. We want to meet in our homes through the community groups, then gather those community groups once a month (with an eventual weekly gathering) for a worship hour. 

Then, maybe quarterly doing a much larger collaborative event with other churches. Also, we are very much focused on serving the community around us through service and social justice endeavors. There's a place for everyone here. That is the aim.

It's all very daunting and exciting at the same time. We're in the midst of much planning and formulating, but I already like the format that it is taking. As a launch team of between 12-15 people, we are meeting in a house every week to talk, share ideas and strategize. 

If you want to find out more about it (and there is so much more) check out the website or drop me an email. I'd love to tell you more. 

Blogging off...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Geo Geeks

I am in Green Bay the latter half of this week for the Wisconsin Land Information Association's Annual Conference. This is a gathering of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Professionals from around the state.  We get together a few times a year to talk shop, network and socialize. It is invaluable from a career development standpoint as it allows us to stay on top of trends, technology and to share ideas.

There's a running joke among some of our spouses who have either been to this conference with us or heard us talk about it. The joke is that we never shut up about work. We "talk shop" into the late hours of conference nights after having sat in sessions all day.

It's a bit twisted, but it's how we roll.

Part of it is that we have so much technology and so much data that there's always someone trying something new or doing it better.

We are geeks and that doesn't make us bad people.

A good example of this is last night I was talking with a guy who is actually taking historic forest maps that have been georectified or "rubber sheeted" (no, nothing to do with a bed here) and collecting the data to show what the state's forest lands looked back as early as the pre settlement days.

Now, I don't know about you, but that is exciting fascinating stuff to me. And it doesn't make me a bad person.

So, on that note, I've got to run for now or I'll miss my first session on Creating a Hydrologic Model Using GIS.

Don't be jealous.

Don't judge.

Don't be a hater.

This is what I do.

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Windows Wait Point One

It's been a weekend of PC rebuilds around here. (Okay all you Mac owners can stop reading at this point and go about your business, as you probably won't be able to relate.) In the past two days I've had to reload Windows 8 to two different PC's. One was Ben's gaming super PC and the other was my little 11" Acer notebook.

It has been the usual Microsoft melee.

Before I go off and rant, I do have to say that with each version, Windows gets a little (notice, I didn't say a lot) easier to redeploy than the previous version.

But Windows 8.0 is still not a turnkey solution, that much is true.

It turns out that Ben's PC was blue-screening on him during game play. He said it worked fine for everything except games, so was willing to give the Operating System reinstall a shot. We tried many other things with no results, so a Windows 8 reload it was. How hard could it be after all? We did a little research and it looked pretty easy.

I loaded the install DVD and did a system recovery. Now despite the painfully slow processing, it seemed to be installing okay, so we let it rip. 45 minutes later Ben checked it and while it appeared to have finished okay, his computer showed that he only had 100 GB of free space when he should have closer to 900 GB. Evidently it had installed windows, but not wiped out his existing files, even though that's what we specified.

Ben threw his hands up in frustration and left me to try other things. Within 5 minutes I had found the link to do a proper "System Reset". Part of this required inputting the 25 digit license number. Now my eyes are getting worse, but they make this number nearly impossible to see. I had to have Ben look at it under a very bright overhead light and he still misstook a K for an R in one spot. Take a look at this photo and you will see for yourself. >>>

Now you might say the photo is blurry. I would add that yes, but it looks much the same in person. The print is like a 4 point font and is blended over those various colors. I honestly asked my wife if she had a magnifying glass so I could read it. Now, I understand they don't want to make it too visible for fear that someone might write it down in Best Buy and steal a copy, but this is a tad on the side of ridiculous. I think braille license keys might not be far off.

Once we decoded the license key we were again left to wait it out. This one ran OVERNIGHT. It's a good thing Ben's not steering the space station with his PC because lives would be in peril.

Thanks Microsoft.

Then, this morning he started downloading the 8.1 update. It finished tonight at 6:00.

"Can ya hear me major Tom?"

Lives at peril. People dyin' in space here.

Now the other machine is a little laptop that isn't used that much. The kids stream movies from it to the TV. Somewhere along the way, it picked up 958 pieces of malware according to Malwarebytes, a software program I run regularly. Nine hundred and fifty eight.

I don't know how they got there. The thing hasn't been plugged in for a month. So, rather than try and clean it off I decided to start fresh.

I booted it from the USB recovery drive that I was careful to create when I got the thing. Then, after one false start I got it to start installing. After an hour and a half, it was done installing. This was appreciably faster than Ben, but the guys on the space station are still unnerved by the downtime.

"Here they are sitting in a tin can." While we are here watching little beads go in circles with the benign message "Checking for Updates..."

Luckily the new laptop already had Windows version 8.1 on it. Nevertheless, after it installed, it still had 1.5 GB of "updates" to install.

They are still downloading as I write this.

"Can ya hear me Major Tom?"

Now, I am pretty sure my allegiance to Microsoft and Windows is a bit of sickness. Its some form of self-hatred or something. The hours I spend scanning and defragging, and debugging and updating and troubleshooting, and optimizing, and tweaking and in worst case, reloading are lost forever.

To my children and my wife, and my love for the craft of writing, all I can say about these hours you lost me to my Windows-technical-black-hole-time-suck is, I'm sorry.

It's not me, it's Microsoft.

Now, I have to get back to my updates that are downloading. We're at 33%.

Blogging off...

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Rochester Reflected

It was four years ago this weekend that I made my second trip to the Mayo Clinic to visit my brother Rob for the weekend. Rob had two chemotherapy treatments while he was battling his cancer, one in January and one in February. When I found out, I told Donna that I thought it was important that I be there over a couple of weekends if I could. I missed out on being there during his back surgeries, so wanted to support him during his therapy.

These were difficult trips. Good trips; I'm so glad I made them, but difficult.

I went up on Saturday morning and stayed overnight in the hotel across the street. Rob knew I was coming and I think he appreciated the company. Both times I brought a care package from Wisconsin, including his favorite cookies from Donna and a very rough draft of Dirty Shirt. He loved the cookies and said the book was "spot on". That review was worth more than every Amazon review to me.

We had some crazy good conversations. We talked for hours about God, heaven, death, dying, life, past, present and future. He told me his regrets, his fears and his joys. He asked me if I thought we would recognize people in heaven. I told him I had to believe there would be some sort of recognition, but not as winged angels, white robed reincarnations of ourselves or anything like that. I had to admit that I didn't know, but I had to think God would grant us a reunion with those we loved on earth, at least in some form.

We laughed at some of the stupid things we did in our youth, stories only he and I knew. Fishing stories, road trip stories, college flashbacks, fatherhood stories and everything in between.

We cried a few times too. Love does that to grown men and brothers alike. Rob's biggest concern was "his girls". I told him he needn't worry about those girls. This family is too tight to let them fall without a safety net. We love his family like our own and our kids are still extremely close. Blessings fall.

Every hour or so he was poked or prodded or shuffled off to PT. When he was tired, he napped and I worked on my laptop. On Sunday morning I brought him his favorite Mocha from Caribou. When I got there he was sleeping. A few minutes later he said with closed eyes, "I smell coffee. It must be Jim." He opened his eyes and we both chuckled. He knew me.

While I was there, my cousin Coe came up for a visit. He has a heart the size of Texas and is one of the nicest guys I know. Rob asked Coe if he would pick up a couple of Valentines gifts for him so he

could give them to his girls. That was just the way Rob was. Laid up in a hospital bed, and he's concerned about gifting others. Coe went out and shopped for Rob, went over and above the call of duty, and wouldn't take Rob's money when he offered.  That's just the way Coe is.

It was a weekend I'll never forget for so many reasons. A good Valentines day in a different way.

Fast forwarding to 2015 there are still people in my life battling cancer. One of the first friends Donna made when she moved to Wisconsin is now battling breast cancer. Also, our brother in-law's sister is also recovering from a double mastectomy as well.

So we've got a long way to go to beat cancer. A long way.

I miss my brother every day, but I am forever grateful for the support I had from my wife and father in-law for making it possible to take those trips to Rochester that winter. I realize now that I was working things out as much for me as I was for Rob. Hospital beds have a way of doing that to people.

So this Valentine's day, I encourage you to tell that sibling, parent, or friend that you take for granted that you love them.

Better now than later.

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Envy of New

Last week at work, my coworkers and I got to talking about a person from another department who was in the process of building a new home in Waukesha County. The discussion ranged from all of the design decisions to the choosing of a builder, a lot, layout, etc. This is clearly not a task for everyone. I can barely choose between the two colors for wall and trim, let alone decisions like wall/door configurations, flooring material, countertops, knob styles, etc.

Starter home?
Anyway, the discussion moved to some of the designs this particular builder had. I went home and looked at some of the various collections online. These are, by my standards, gargantuan homes. They are all beautiful, but instead of names like "Signature Collection" and "Premier Collection," they should have names like "Castle Collection" or the "Out-of-Your-Price-Range Collection".

What was more interesting was the effect looking at the interior of these homes had on me. Obviously everything was new, shiny, clean and functional. There were no broken knobs, carpet stains, or dirty windows held open with a book. (We're past the book thing, thank goodness.) I began to have a great sense of WANT. The thought of having everything working and in good shape seemed kind of surreal to me. I recognized the covetousness and greed and jealousy right away, but I also know that these are unhealthy emotions.

Besides, my house, which is now 93 years old has things that these shiny new houses don't. Things like character and charm. And drafty walls, and cobwebby basements, and heaving driveway slabs, and a flat roof that leaks a little-but only when it rains stupid hard, and front steps that slant a little, and a couple porch windows that have busted opener thingys, and woodwork scratched up by cats, and certain circuits that blow the breakers when you run the hair dryer and vacuum at the same time, and a furnace that moans like an old man when it fires up, and ungrounded electrical outlets, and an un-child safe garage door opener with no remote, and, and, and...

So what thought do you think was running through my head when I was plunging my bathroom sink in an effort to get it to a decent flow rate? (And I do mean plunging until I nearly passed out. I actually woke my son up with all the noise - and most of that wasn't the plunger.) Yep, I was thinking about those new home pictures I'd been looking at online. I bet you those drains NEVER back up. I bet you those Premier Collection homeowners don't even have plungers! What the heck! It's not fair, I thought.

After that I moved to the shower and plunged that with great voracity until I was breathless and my arm felt like a big mozzarella stick, all flimsy and gooey. Seriously man. I was even plunging left handed for a while, cursing the gods of the Signature Collection for their opulent vinyl plumbing that might never, ever see the business end of a snake. Don't they know that cast iron is where it's at? They might never have the pleasure of trying to work some of the hair of a person from 93 years ago further down the pipeline in the name of a free draining shower. Heck, I'm experiencing history here! I thank Mr. Fuller and the owners before that for helping me relive part of their lives, to say nothing of part of their curly locks.

Ender home?
Now I shouldn't complain. Compared to probably 90% of the worlds population I am likely living in a castle. 1900 square feet of space to move about. Clean and warm with running water, electricity and a few major appliances that run most of the time. Hey, what am I griping about?

The Premier Collection, that's what I'm griping about. I got the 1922 version of the Premier Collection, and I would like an upgrade. Heck, I'd settle for a 50 year upgrade to 1972, I'm not that way.

And I've determined that all it will take is a boatload of money and somebody who wants a nice starter home with lots of charm and character and a slightly slow moving bathroom drain.

Blogging off...

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Writing Backwards

I'm back at writing the next book about my boyhood home and boy does it feel good. I seriously enjoyed the past eight months working on my poetry, but this feels good to come back to. While I love poetry, it forces you to not write - in some respects. At least it forces you to constrict your writing and be very choosy about word count and structure. Nonfiction allows me to run with an idea and hash it out. Most of my first drafts sound like it too, but that's why I get critiques.

This last Monday I read and was critiqued on a piece about playing a game of pickup baseball on the
playground across the street from our house. Like my BWCA book, one of the unsung benefits of writing memoir is reliving those moments. A well written piece can transport you to a different place and time. When I described falling on the asphalt while running at full speed, a few of the critiquers said they could feel my pain, based on what I had written. The same held true when I described how it feels when you catch a line drive in the palm of a baseball glove. It stings a bit. To hear them say it sort of hurt them to read it, well, that is always really good feedback to hear.

Now, there were a ton of little tweaks and changes, but that doesn't detract from the fact that at the core, the story is impactful, funny and evokes an emotion.

People might tend to look at memoirists as nostalgia-buffs who have a hard time living in the present - always tending to glorify the past at the expense of the present. I beg to differ, at least with regard to my reason for writing it.

For me, memoir is the capture of life's moments of beauty, joy, disappointment, shame, love and much more. These are emotions everyone experiences over the course of their life. I think when someone can relate to the fact that real people experienced these real moments, it draws them into a connection with the author and the book. I'd say it's a different connection than with a fiction book, but not in an attempt to make it look better. Just different - maybe more human. I don't know. I'm just rambling.

But I do know that in the writing of this book, and in the thinking about the writing of this book, I am transported to those streets and that neighborhood in a weird sort of brain-time-travel. I can see the Elm trees, I can hear the shouts on the playground, and I can feel the insecurity of being 12 years old again. Because there was so much that was good and beautiful and funny about growing up in a huge family in the 1970's, I want to bring people there. Bring them around the dinner table (complete with chew-and-shows when mom's not looking), bring them to the neighborhood where we ran wild with play guns playing war (without the fear of getting shot by a cop because someone called the cops), and bring them along on the long summer days when we rode our bikes and hung outdoors from noon until the sun went down.

It was a different time in a different age back then. There was an innocence that has since been lost, and I aim to describe it as best I can. I think we can learn something about where we are based on looking at where we've come from. If not, well, at least we can have a few laughs along the way.

Blogging off...

***Bill Bryson wrote a book called The Life and Times of Thunderbolt Kid. that takes the reader back even further into the 50's and 60's. It is a hilarious read and I recommend it highly. ***

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Not So Super Sundays

Well, that national day of mourning is upon us once again; Super Bowl Sunday. I can say that for a number of reasons, nine to be exact. You see, Donna and I come from a long history of teams that lost a super bowl. She grew up a Buffalo Bills fan and I grew up a Minnesota Vikings fan. Between us we have a combined 8 Super Bowl losses in our family. Throw in the 1997 Packer loss to the Denver Broncos, and well, that makes nine.

Nine sad days. Nine letdowns.

And this is nothing to say of the lost opportunities with NFC Championship chokes that the three teams have managed. That would add another nine. (There seems to be a trend here.) With perhaps the biggest NFC collapse in history happening two weeks ago at the hands of the Seahawks, well, just suffice it to say I will be watching tonight's game with great ambivalence and a bitterness that will take a while to go away.

The debacle in Seattle deserves no more mention except to say that it eclipsed Gary Anderson's missed field goal a the end of the 1999 NFC Championship game. That one still stings too. Oh, and Brett Favre's throwing interceptions to the Giants and Saints.

When I think back to my first Super Bowl, I remember watching the Colts and Cowboys in a thriller from my living room on Portland Avenue. I watched with my Mom and stepfather. It was a nail biter and kind of sucked me into the whole football experience.

Well a few years later, I got to watch the team I idolized play in the Super Bowl. It was the Vikings and Miami at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas. Below are memories of an impact player from each of the Super Bowls I have had a vested interest in.

  • Super Bowl IV - Chiefs/Vikes - This happened before I was a fan, so can't tell you what happened except that Len Dawson schooled our secondary.
  • Super Bowl VIII - Dolphins/Vikes - I met a man named Larry Czonka on this day and watched him run over, around and through the Purple People Eaters. Still one of the most dominating running games I can recall. Mercury Morris played a good part too.
  • Super Bowl IX - Vikes/Steelers - I got a good taste of the Steel Curtain on this day. And though the game was only a 10 point affair, I don't think it was as close as the score indicates. 
  • Super Bowl XI - Vikes/Raiders - Ken Stabler and Fred Biletnikoff. Somebody catch that guy! This was the end of a frustrating run of Super Bowls by my boyhood heroes. I'm still waiting for the day. 
  • Super Bowls XXV through XXVIII - Buffalo vs. Redskins/Giants/Dallas(Twice). The Bills had an electric no-huddle offense that I thought couldn't be stopped. Well, other than a Scott Norwood missed opportunity, the other three games were blowouts. I was beginning to think it was me and that whoever I rooted for lost.
  • Super Bowl XXXI - Packers/Patriots - One of the greatest games I've ever watched. Reggie White took over this game when he needed to. Desmond Howard, Andre Rison, Brett Favre and the rest. FINALLY! It was a great day.
  • Super Bowl XXXII - Packers/Broncos - I remember listening to the local radio on that day and fans were calling in predicting scores like 35 - 10 and such. I was thinking "Oh, don't say that. Have you been watching these broncos?" Well, Terrell Davis and John Elway showed us who was a little too cocky. Some horrible coaching at the end too.
  • Super Bowl XLV - Packers/Steelers - This game is still like a "bonus" to me. We were never picked to be there, maybe shouldn't have been there, but showed everyone that we should never be counted out. I still have visions of BJ Raji's end zone belly dance after his touchdown versus Chicago that got us there. Then, to go on and beat a team I've grown to hate (the Steelers) well, that was all the more sweet. 
So, that's the rundown. As I look at it my Super Bowl record is 2-9, so that's nothing to boast about. More often a day of regret than one of celebration. I'll keep watching though.

Now, I think I'll go sit down and root for Seattle mostly because I'm a Russell Wilson/Darrell Bevell fan.

And if they lose, well, I'm totally okay with that too.

Blogging off...