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.

Step brothers/sisters
Old friend(s)
Middle school
Post Christmas Letdown
Thursday Theologians
Concert experience
God as a Friend
Bucket list
Military High School
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:

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

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?" 


"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.


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)


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)


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


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


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!