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...

Sunday, October 18, 2015

What It's All About

I just returned today from my annual muskie fishing trip. It was another tough year with nary a fish sighting all weekend. Much like last year, the lakes were in the middle of what is known as "the turn." I'm not sure of all of the details, but basically, when it starts getting cold out, the warm water gets pushed down and the lakes become clouded with stuff from the lake bottom. This makes the fishing slower until a week or two after it when things have cleared.

Like last year, I'm a little bummed out that I didn't come away with a fish picture. Then, as we were driving home, I got to thinking that the Muskie trip is so much more than just the fish.

It's about

  • ...being in a boat with two good friends and laughing until my side hurts.
  • ...seeing two eagles perched in the top of a Jack Pine.
  • ...having your friend warn you about the rock bar on a new lake while using his boat and then promptly finding the rock bar the hard way. By the grace of God, no major damage was incurred.
  • ...your friend giving you one of his favorite Stormy Kromer hat with a Lambeau Field logo on it in exchange for a ball cap with Landwehr Construction on it.
  • ...getting a lure snagged on the bottom requiring a U-Turn of the boat, thereby snagging one of the sucker baits on the propeller of the boat requiring death defying gymnastics to retrieve items one and two, then being able to laugh about it and ask your boat mate, "what just happened?"
  • ...Fall colors that are absolutely breathtaking
  • ...early evening sunsets that cannot be matched anywhere south of Wausau.
  • ...playing Stevie Ray Vaughn and Albert King LOUD in the truck and neither of us talking, just listening.
  • ...having a side dish of "Hot Corn" prepared by our host to go with our steak and potato.
  • ...seeing two freshwater otters playing near the shore.
  • ...getting kidded about trying to get a trollign motor out of it's hold, only to learn how to properly do it and then forget how it works again next year at this time.
  • ...looking up at the stars last night and feeling small, insignificant and infinitely blessed.
  • ...the ride there, and the ride back.
  • ...being able to belittle one of your buddies, knowing the third guy will laugh, and the understanding that you will probably be next and that it is all meant in fun and no one takes it personally,
  • ...feeling physically sapped because you were outside in the elements all day doing something you love.
So that's what I'm taking away from this trip. Good times with good friends in some of the most beautiful country in the state. These trips are all about that.

Oh yeah, it's about the fish too.

Blogging off...

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Pleasant Reminders

As I packed for my upcoming Musky Fest weekend in northern Wisconsin, there were constant reminders of my brother Rob, who would have turned 52
years old today. I sorted and organized my tackle and lures, most of which were his at one time. During his sickness, he started giving his outdoor stuff away to family and friends. I got his musky fishing tackle, and Paul and Tom were given his ice fishing equipment. It makes this time of year bitter sweet for me.

A couple of weeks after I received the tackle box, I remember looking in one of the pockets and finding a map for the BWCA for an area we frequented. It caused one of those blindsided moments of grief where I was glad no one was around. Somehow knowing that he'd used the map twenty some years ago was just too much to take.

When I can, I like to pack a backup reel for this trip, in case something should happen to my main one. So I grabbed the one Rob gave me and, well, there he was again. This reel gave me some problems when I tried it out a few years ago, so I had it serviced in hopes I could salvage it. Seeing it again reminded me of the first time he used it up at the cabin in Mercer. He was new to the "bait caster" reels that require a great amount of practice to perfect. Wildly different than a "spinning reel" these spool off line at a fast rate, so you have to stop the spool from spinning when the lure hits the water.

Well, while fishing with Paul on his first or second cast, he got a first rate rats nest. I remember the litany of colorful metaphors used to express his surprise and displeasure that the "brand new" reel had caused him.

The same thing happened to me the first time I used a bait caster.

While I packed, I recounted each of the five muskies I have to my credit. Two of the five have immediate ties to Rob. One I caught on his birthday a couple of months after he passed away in 2011. The other I caught on the 2nd anniversary of his death, August 30th, 2013.

But of those two, the birthday one meant the most. Rain, wind, tough conditions and a fishing buddy who understood what it meant to me to catch a fish that day made it unforgettable. Steve surrendered what we agreed was to have been his fish, because it didn't feel right for him to take it. Thankfully, within a half hour, he caught one himself, a nice tiger muskie. A day full of God moments.

And so as I finalize the details of food, beer and clothing for the trip I think back on one of the few regrets I have in life. I wish we had found a way to get Rob up to Musky Fest (as I like to call it) in October. He was always "fishing for an invite," but it seemed we never really had room in the boat. Had I known things would happen the way they did, I would have found a way to get him there.

Rob with daughter, Alison
This is not to say we didn't have a ton of other adventures together, because we did. The BWCA, the cabin, our family trips together and much more. Our kids are tight with his girls in large part because we made an effort to be together and to teach our kids to love the outdoors. But when someone's gone sometimes all you see is what you didn't do together. I guess I'll just have live with it.

It's my hope, as it is every year, to come away with at least one musky to my credit. While it won't happen on his birthday this year, in using his equipment, I'll know he's still there cheering me on in spirit. And Steve and I will toast him and Steve's deceased brother Pete who passed away a few months before Rob, just the same.

Happy birthday, Bro!

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Smell of Two Stroke Smoke in the Morning

My friend Claude needed some help cutting some wood for an upcoming event at his house as well as his winter stash. So, he put a call out for a few of us from church to help out. He asked us to show up at 8:30 AM today and he'd have coffee, donuts and chainsaws.

Now, I have to preface this post with the fact that I was raised a city boy. My house was deep in the middle of a pair of large cities, so I was not exposed to much in the way of country or farm living at all. That is why when I visit a farm or spend time at people's country homes I am like a little kid.

Because I don't have much experience with a chainsaw, I stuck with the grunt work of hauling logs and stacking it. Claude has a couple of chainsaws and took the first shift cutting away. We all stood back and watched with our ear and eye protection while he cut through the big logs like butter with the Stihl saw. It was all two-stroke smoke and wood chips from there. We'd follow behind him and grab what he'd cut and put it in piles on the trail. From there, Eric would take it away using the lawn mower tractor and trailer.

Eventually, Claude took the smaller saw and left Justin and I to take down a couple of big trees on our own. Justin took on what must have been a 60 foot tree and after a couple of minutes work, she fell with grace and elegance. I was joking with him that he should try and land it between a select two trees - kind of a split-the-uprights deal. Well, he was wide left as it turns out, but it was still a perfect landing. I was able to get most of it on video, for lack of a better job at the time.

We worked like dogs for two hours. It was a perfect fall day with the temps warming nicely as we worked.

What it was was a bunch of boys in boots and ball caps gettin' it done. It happens everyday on every farm in America, I'm sure of that. But to this city boy, the collaborative, outdoor, power tool, sweat and dirt, heavy-lifting guy thing is a rarity. One nice thing was that there were no slouches or slackers. Everyone came to work and realized that the sooner we reached our goal, the sooner we could go home. I want these guys on my side when the chips are down. Just focused, hard work fueled by donuts, pastries and coffee; that's all.

And while I know Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest, this sure enough beat sitting reading the paper or punching buttons on a laptop.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Update From The Sick Ward

This likely won't be my most creative blog post.

Because I'm sick. Sick, sick, sicky, sickly, sick.

This cold is making the rounds at our house. Donna was the first host, I got it next and Ben has the "light" version of it. And make all the man-cold references you want, but this one is kicking my butt.

I am:

  • up for an hour, down for two sick.
  • stay home from work for two days sick. 
  • delirious thrashing around in bed at 3:00 AM and 3:00 PM sick. 
  • lose that 5 pounds you've been meaning to lose for six months in two days sick.
  • never get too far from a box of Kleenex sick.
I'm sure you've all been there. 

There was a time last night at about 3:00 AM where I thought, ya know, I'm okay with dying. Death actually sounds pretty good right now. Because this sucks! My whole face hurt, my eyes were watering at random, my nostrils took turns getting plugged up. Heck, my teeth hurt. What's with that? There is no joy in sickness.

So I float about the house in various states of consciousness, drippiness and dress and the dog looks at me with confusion, like, what are you doing here? Wanna go for a walk, since you're here? How about a walk, Dad? Got any food. Life goes on in dog world.

I've taken to sleeping in the extra bedroom to spare my wife exposure to the sneezing snot fest. I feel like the English Patient and my room is taking on that "lived in" look. I'm currently taking:

500 mg Vitamin C
Tea with Honey
Gallons of water
Cough Drops

I've tried gargling with salt water, gargling with mouthwash and even garlic toast. (Garlic is some sort of miracle cure, I'm told.) As I write this there is a glass of water, an empty teacup, a half box of Kleenex and half a dozen used tissues by my side.

I'm telling you, it's Ebola-like. And if I shouldn't make it, divide my fishing stuff between my brother Paul and my friend, Steve. 

Right now, I'm crawling back to bed.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 4, 2015

When Summer Falls Short

It seems every fall season I spend trying to catch up on home projects that I had every intention of working on in the spring and summer, but never quite get around to.

I'm pretty certain that this is some sort of procrastinational (yes, I made that word up) disorder.

Maybe some of you suffer from it too. I can't believe I'm alone in this. I've analyzed it extensively over the years and here's my conclusion.

In this fine state of Wisconsin, we are blessed with, give or take, 90 nice days a year. By nice I mean, shirtsleeves and shorts without feeling terribly uncomfortable. I am a person who loves the outdoors, in almost any weather, actually. So, because I like to wear shorts, and I like to be outside, preferably on my bike, indoor projects take a back seat during good weather. Those days pile up and, well, before yo know it, it's October and I'm chasing the sunlight on projects that fill my weekends.

Understand that I am fully aware of how to fix the problem, (lifestyle changes, sacrifice, and hard work in June and July,) but it's my guess that next year in October, I may be writing about this same problem.

This weekend's focus was stairs. Our front stairs leading into our house really need to be replaced altogether and, while we had great intentions at the beginning of the summer to do just that, the money never came, and it never happened. So, as an alternative, I figured I'd fix up the old ones again and put a fresh coat of paint on them.

That project went smoothly, with the exception of the telephone book delivery clod who thought it was necessary to put my new phone book, (which I put immediately into the recycle bin anyway) on my freshly painted steps. Thankfully they were quite dry by that time, but one would think the masking tape strung between the hand railings would clue the person in. I guess it explains why they have the job they have.

A funny moment happened when while I was painting, my 17 year old son asked "Why do you always paint those in the fall?"

To which I replied, "Every year I run out of time and end up painting them in the fall instead of the spring."

"Well, that's dumb. You shouldn't do that," he said.

I must say, he has a point.

The other project involved putting new vinyl tread guards on my back stairs and the stairs going to the basement. Many of our old ones were broken and needed replacement. On Saturday, I went to Home Depot to buy some new treads and some traction tape for the front stairs. Of course, Home Depot had neither of those items and so I went to Menards, where I should have started in the first place.

After I found them, I realized I hadn't counted the number of stairs. Easy enough, I thought. I'll text Donna. Well, after waiting for 5 minutes, I just made a guess at needing 9 treads. When I was checking out the clerk was a nice woman who asked me if I double counted the number of stairs? I told her that actually I had forgotten to count at all, and that this was a guess.

When I was almost home, Donna texted me that we had 10 stairs.

So my procrastinated project just got reprocrastinated (yes, I made that word up, too) by one more trip to Menards.

At this rate, I hope it doesn't snow until January so I can finish all of my summer projects.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Noise Abatement

I'm reading a book called Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh, a name I can only pronounce after a couple of fermented malt beverages. I'm only about thirty pages into the book, but I wanted to write a bit of what has captivated me.

Hanh is Vietnamese Buddhist monk that writes about what it takes to walk towards enlightenment in our lives. He starts the story by laying the foundation that everything we do in the world, and everything everyone else does, has an effect on everything else. He describes life as all interconnected beauty.

He goes on to mention a poem that we can adopt that will help us change our lives if we let them. It goes as follows.

Breathing in, I calm my body
Breathing out, I smile
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment

These seem like such simple things to do, but can affect our outlook and behavior with minimal effort. He puts them in context after a great lead-in about the benefits of smiling and appreciating the immediate; the present. He also talks about the benefit of meditation and spending alone time with no media/music, etc.

Now, understand I have heard about the Buddhist lifestyle for years and I've always veered away from it, thinking it a threat or an affront to my Christian faith. (I don't know what I was worried about, my faith is deep and isn't likely to be shaken by anything at this point.)

As, it turns out Buddhist thought is more of a philosophy than a religion. It has spiritual leanings to be sure, but that's not to say that it's principles have to step on the toes of Jesus. And while I don't plan on selling everything and buying a Sarong, or whatever monks wear, I do think there are some things to be gleaned from this book and applied to my own life. As I read, I'll separate the wheat from the chaff and use what I can.

One of the reasons I was so anxious to read the book when it was mentioned was because I wanted to look at ways to quiet the noise of life. Like many of us, I've built a world of social media, and computers and phones and tablets that has made my life nothing short of "noisy." The problem is, while I know how to fix it - largely by unplugging - I'm not sure I can or fully want to yet. Add to that that it's all a big part of building a writing platform, that to unplug entirely would be writing suicide. That said, I think there are ways of paring down the tweets, posts and phone checks.

So, it's my hope that this book will help me make some of these adjustments. One thing I've tried to do more of is reading before bed. Instead of staying plugged in until it was bedtime, I've been going up a half hour to forty five minutes earlier to get some reading in. It is so much more rewarding than surfing Facebook, that I may try working toward more like an hour of it every night.

Another way to help might be to go back to writing in longhand, thereby getting away from the ding of Facebook notifications and the temptation to check email. I'm like a digital crack addict here.

I'll check back with you in a few months. Until then, I'll get back to reading my new book.

Blogging off...