Thursday, December 29, 2016

A New Hope

We are a couple of days away from 2016 being over and done with. And let me tell you, I'll be the first one in line toasting good riddance to it. It has been a tough, difficult year in our country and our world - one of the worst I can remember anyway. I try and be as positive a person as I can, but this year was a struggle to keep my chin up.

There were a multitude of racially charged cop/citizen shootings that created demonstrations and counter demonstrations. Throw on top of this the nearly weekly active shooter occurrences and it kind of makes one sick to their stomach. I don't know what the answer is anymore, but I'm guessing a good start would be less guns and more punitive measures on gun crimes. I'm no expert though, so this is just a thought. I just want it to stop. 

And of course we had a rash of high profile celebrity deaths this year too. For some reasons the ones that always hit me the hardest are the rock stars of my youth. This year saw names like Prince, David Bowie and Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Glenn Frey and George Michael. I was never a huge fan of any of them, but they were all the face of my young generation, so it's a bit of an eye opener. When you're young, you kind of assume these guys are going to live forever. When you see the ages of some of them you kind of look over your shoulder to check for guys in long black robes bearing scythes. 

And then, don't even get me started on Carrie Fischer. That one slays me. 

There might have been one of the biggest election circuses that ever saw air time this past year too. I'm not sure. I can't remember. I bought in early to the candidate who got aced out (not naming names, but it started with a B) and when said candidate dropped out I was left with no good option. Another lesser of two evils election. It was divisive and ugly and long and drawn out. I for one am glad its over. Let the praying begin (and that would have been true for either candidate.)

To pile on to the craptastic year that was 2016, my wife and I have had a handful of health issues afflict our parents. Donna's father had a couple of heart stents put in today and her mother is struggling with worsening dementia. A couple of days ago my mother was admitted into a hospital for some lung related issues - a form of COPD. My wife and I realize we are of an age where this is the new normal. We will continue to love and try and help where and when we can. 

Because of the rough year we've had, the fear of the future is not really fear at all anymore. I can't wait for it, really. Last night I saw Rogue One with my daughter and the final line mentions that a data exchange about the death star gives the rebellion "hope." 

That is is a message I will ride alongside into 2017. 

Hope. 

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Santa's Gift

We just returned from our Christmas celebration after a 5 hour drive through a relatively torrential December downpour. There were moments of white knuckles and at least two incidences of a second or two of uncontrolled hydroplaning - which was kinda fun - in a one-horse-open-sleigh kinda way.

As in years of recent past, we stayed at the Homewood Suites in New Brighton, Minnesota. It is a pretty nice hotel and their suites have a kitchenette and separate living areas that makes it quite comfortable.

On the evening we arrived, we spent some time with my sister in-law, Jane and her two girls. We always used to stay with them during holiday stays, so our kids grew up together. Part of our evening was spent going through Jane's scrapbooks of a few of our family vacation trips together. Two of the trips were spent with three of us siblings and our families. We saw Colorado, South Dakota and Pennsylvania. It was a blast going back through some of the things we had forgotten about on those trips. Some of the sketchy 3 star motels that were blatantly mis-reviewed and shouldv'e been two stars or less!

Then, last night we continued our tradition of going to Christmas Eve service at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in downtown Minneapolis. The church is majestic and beautiful empty. Fill it with choirs of children, middle schoolers and adults and you have a transcendent experience. As usual I was a mess by the second chorus of Silent Night. So choked up I couldn't sing. It just means so much to me to be able to share that place and that music and that experience with my kids, my sister in-law, her daughters and the spirit of my brother Rob on Christmas Eve. It is one of the high points of every Christmas.

After church we crossed town to Woodbury where we had the gift exchange at my niece's apartment complex party room. It was our first year not at my sister Jane's house, and we were all a little apprehensive about how it would go.

It was perfect!

Santa managed to make an appearance for a bit. We snapped a bunch of family pictures with him and somewhere along the line, my niece's boyfriend managed to propose to her. He got down on one knee and did the surprise thing. It was a cool moment and we all celebrated it with hugs, congratulations and champagne.

After the gift exchange, people started to clear out - always a time of melancholy for me. I am such a sucker for family and I felt we were just getting started and, here it was, time to go. I had some great laughs with Tom, Jane, Mom and Paul as well as my nieces and nephews. For all of the commercialism and hustle and bustle of the season, this is really what it boils down to for me. We could all just get together for food and drinks and we would have just as much fun.

There were a few noticeable missing personalities. My sister Pat and her son Michael are sometimes home, but they are in California with her other kids. Also missing were my sister in-laws parents, Dwight and Carolyn. They are battling through some health issues with Carolyn and weren't up to making the trip. I missed chatting with them and I know they missed us too.

The whole experience is a reminder of how lucky we are to have each other. I feel the love of Christ in each of these relationships. He brought us together as a family and continues to see to it that we come together a couple of times a year to enjoy each other's company. I am blessed beyond measure and wish the same for you and your family.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Keep It Down Over There

Well, I am the not-so-proud owner of a new pair of Phonak hearing aids. Yep, it's official, I'm old. I got them on Tuesday and went through all the fitting/training procedures at the audiologists office.

I was surprised by the small size of them and when they're in, they are very difficult to see. (Of course I realize that by posting this, I am tipping you all off, and now you'll be looking for them next time you see me. Don't be a judger.)  In fact, the day I got them I went to Ben's swim meet neither my friend nor Ben noticed them until I mentioned it to them. That was my big hangup for so many years was the vanity end of it. That and the fact that it skews me as "old," which I may be becoming. Not sure yet.

Anyways, when I first tried them on, I was shocked at how loud and echoey my voice was. The doctor adjusted it and said that over time my brain would get used to it and I wouldn't notice it anymore. The other thing that was shocking was, I could hear her rustling papers even though I couldn't see the papers. I know for sure this is a sound I wouldn't have heard without the hearing aids. It made me wonder how many other sounds I haven't been hearing over the years.

I went to work after the fitting and the first thing I noticed was the clicking of my mouse - super annoying! I hear every click, which I don't recall hearing before, at least not at the present volume. The other annoyance is the clicking of my keyboard keys. Again, I've heard those before, but never this clearly. I'm not entirely sure this is a desirable fix.

The coolest thing about them though is that if I'm not hearing something, all I have to do is click the right one and everything goes up a notch. Same goes for situations when something is too loud - like, say, any political speech or banter - I can click the left and it all goes quieter. So, if you see me picking at my left ear, you'll know.

I was set up at 80% of my max with a slow adjustment up to 90% over thirty days. This allows me to get used to them. I also need to have them set it up so I can use a phone app to adjust them - which I think this model is capable of.

My whole concern over how they look and people's perceptions is totally stupid and selfish. I think of my brother Rob who wore hearing aids his whole life and never much cared what people think. I need to get over it and rejoice in being able to hear things that I should.

So that's what I plan to do. And don't be talking about me behind my back, because I might just hear ya!

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Happy

December is a month full of significant birthdays for me. My brother Paul's is December 2nd, my wife's is December 7th, my own is December 11th and my stepfather, Jack's is today, December 18th. He would have been 87.

Jack dated my mom  for nearly 10 years before they married in 1979. They divorced in 1985 and we sometimes joke about how getting married was the biggest mistake they made. When they didn't get along during the dating years, they just stopped seeing each other for a couple of weeks. Then, they'd get back together and all would be good again until the next time.

While I can't paint Jack as a saint - he had drinking problems for most of his adult years, the cause of both his divorces and the source of much hurt to his families - I think it's only fair to point out the good on his birthday.

Jack had a wicked sense of humor. He loved to laugh and was great at getting others to laugh with him. That's why people liked him. I know there were several occasions that Mom pulled him along to something he maybe didn't want to go to because she knew people "loved Jack." His sense of humor and wit were part of the reason he earned the moniker "Happy Jack," or just "Happy." He was also a smoker and as bad as that habit is for you, there is nothing quite as funny as a good "smoker laugh." It comes from the chest and fills a room. The good ones usually end up causing a coughing fit by the laughter afterward.

Jack loved kids. He had 8 by his first marriage and married into our family of 6 kids. He frequently mixed the families by taking us out to the beach. He spent much of the time either horsing around with us in the water (including his famous "butt bouncer" dive off the diving board or throwing the football to Timmy, Maggie and Theresa (his twin girls) and me. He and Mom took us camping and made sure that we had fun when we were there. I remember one year we went camping and we went to town to get something, not realizing we had the bug spray in our car. When we got back to the campsite, he joked that he'd been spraying Raid bug fogger on himself.

Jack had all the sayings. He was the king of a bunch of sayings, some of which got more prevalent when he'd had a few drinks. A few of his lines were:

"Not to worry!"
"Can of corn."
"Piece of cake."
"I'm a quiet man." (He was not.)

His nickname for his girls was "Toots" (less than flattering, ha!) and his go to phrase whenever he and Mom were arguing was that he'd go and "Sleep in my one-third of the house down at 965." (His family lived on the same street as we did, two blocks away.)

I realized coming into a family as any stepfather must have been a tough thing to do. I was lucky, Jack always liked me - for whatever reason. He taught me a love for football and the Vikings. He SHOWED UP when my grade school football team went to the City and then Twin City Championship games. It totally caught me off guard, but meant the world to me.

The last time I saw Jack was on Easter Sunday in the late 90's. Jack was in a nursing home for a rare disease that was eventually the end of him. I told mom that I thought it was more important to go see him than to go to church. We went and I introduced him to our daughter Sarah who was just a baby. He was in rough shape, but he still had his wicked sense of humor. Mom scolded him for being a slob and picked up his room a bit, but he just made light of it and we all had a laugh. For some reason I felt I needed him to meet my daughter. I don't know if he remembered it a week later, but it's a day I will never forget.

Because when you love someone, despite their imperfections and their flaws, warts, tics, bad habits and all of the hurt  they might have caused, at the end of the line when life is coming to a close, I like to focus on the beauty that that person brought to the world. Some prefer to dwell on the bad - and there's maybe space for that - but it's not my style.

People in your life shape you and make you who you are. You take their influence and try and make it better in your own sphere of influence. That to me is what relationships and love and family is all about.

So, Happy Birthday, Jack.

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Winter Camping Close To Home

It has been an interesting few days around this 95 year old house.

If you recall, I've mentioned we've had furnace issues for a while now. We've been walking the tightrope for about a year now. Our furnace started making some noise a couple of years ago. We had it checked and the guy said it was the inducer, it costs around $600 and that it could probably go for a while but would eventually need replacing. We were contemplating replacing it at the time, but since the noise wasn't too bad, we figured we'd ride it out for a while.

Well we rode it through last winter and by the end of the season, she was howlin' pretty good. When it fired up this fall, it was no better. It's weird how those things don't fix themselves with a little time off.

Knowing that I would absolutely lose my mind if I had to listen to the roar of that thing for another season, we decided to have it "assessed." The assessment was that the patient was old, lived a good life but was on about stage 3 of a very expensive cancer. The inducer was now up to around $650, with a "failing main board" to the tune of another $700. If we fixed both of those we would have a patient with a new heart and brain, but a 21 year old liver with heavy cirrhosis scarring and a 21 year old gall bladder that caused heartburn.

Oh, and it's appendix was about to burst.

It was not a glowing bill of health.

So we saw the writing on the wall and decided to bite the bullet and get a new furnace. When we sell the house in the next 5-10 years, it will be a decent selling point. Yeah, that's it.

The date was set for today back in November. That way we figured we'd nip any chance for a cold-snap disaster right in the bud. We got this.

In true form, timing is everything. Yesterday when I woke, the furnace was acting up. It roared for a few minutes then powered down with no heat blown our way. Then, oddly enough it powered up again a minute later, howled for a few minutes, then shut off again.

To make sure nothing tragic happened like a total failure and burst pipes, I stayed home and furnace sat. I holed up in an office with a space heater and worked.

The thing worked on and off all day and into the early evening. So we went to bed and crossed our fingers.

I woke at 2:30 because my nose was cold thinking something wasn't right. Checked the thermostat and it was at 56 degrees. I put the space heater on in our room, turned on the bathroom faucet slightly and went back to bed and thrashed around in bed like a heavily caffeinated meth addict.

It was a bit like winter camping in a large wooden tent.

A few hours-that-seemed-like-minutes later, I woke to the alarm. I went downstairs and saw we'd hit a new low of 51 degrees.
Seems kind of small for 4K

Not bad...liveable, I thought. I fired up the oven like an urban hillbilly and went about breakfast and my routine. In the shower it occurred to me how much more steam gets generated when it's hitting 51 degree air. It's kinda purty.

Our dog and cats were practically bedding down together to share the body heat.

The installers were supposed to show up at noon. True to form and fear, they were two hours behind schedule. Nonetheless, they got the new one in (not without having to replace one plumbing valve that was rusted open - Imagine that!)  and were setting up the thermostat until we realized our wifi was out due to an area-wide outage. Doh!

Well, at least we got heat. And I thank God for that.

Blogging off...(using a data tethered hot spot from my phone.)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Trips Around The Sun

As it turns out my blog post day (Sunday) falls on my birthday this year. I turned 55 today and while birthdays are always a little special, as we get older, they tend more and more to drift toward the "just another day" on the spectrum of life events. So today I will spend watching the Packers/Seattle game with a couple of close friends, eating ribs and birthday cookies and enjoying the downtime that snowy Decembers bring.

And it will be a really, really good day.

When pressed to think of memorable birthdays past, a few come to mind.


  • In 1972, we celebrated my golden birthday a day early on Sunday, December 10th. I remember the Vikings played the Packers and because the game was not a sellout, they blacked the game out in the Twin Cities. My mom and stepfather knew I was a big Viking fan and made it special by taking me across the border into Hudson, Wisconsin where the game was being shown. As I recall, even there the screen was fuzzy and snowy because, well, TV wasn't what it is today. I drank soda and ate beer nuts and well, the Vikings didn't get the memo and lost to the Packers 23 - 7. It was a good day nonetheless.
  • I don't recall much about my 16th "sweet 16" birthday. I'm not sure it was much of a thing back then - maybe so.
  • One of the best birthdays on record was my 30th. I was back home visiting with Donna because Mom wanted to take me out for dinner. Leading up to dinner, I sensed something was up because the phone kept ringing - more than usual, anyway. By the time dinner was done, I had kind of forgotten all the suspicion, and when I walked into Mom's house on Larpenteur, there were probably 40-50 friends and family, Surprise! It was so great talking to everyone and having some laughs. My brother Rob kept pulling me into the laundry room for secret shots of Yukon Jack - a Boundary Waters traditional spirit. Before the night finished out, I was telling my wife and Mom how to hunt Snipe at night using a burlap bag. That might be the Yukon talking, there. In any case my 30th was harder for me than 40 or 50. It was then that I realized I'd never play in the NFL (not that I could have at 25 either), and that I was leaving my youth behind. 
  • For my 40th birthday, my wife did something kind of cool. She told people to send cards, stories and pictures of me. It was fun reading some of the things people remembered. 
  • My 50th was a small affair, just how I'd asked for it. We spent it with a handful of good friends. with dinner at our house and a few beverages. The best part about it though was the surprise of a significant chunk of money toward my purchase of a fishing Kayak. I have my wife to thank for making that happen. It has been the source of so much fun for me that it's hard to imagine life without it.
In between each of these were the "average" birthdays, filled with chocolate covered angel food cake (a favorite), treats at work and hand made cards from the kids. All good. 

And so, as I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror today with an ice pack strapped to my elbow (tendinitis), swabbing my eyes for my blepharitis (eye condition) and my face for my rosacea, and remembering that Thursday I get my hearing aids, I took stock and thought, this must be what 55 looks like.

Well, at least I've got my health.

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Its Beginning To Look Like Not Quite Solstice

Well, the BIG winter jacket came out this week.

The polar blast has swung into Wisconsin with a vengeance. Temps aren't even that bad, low to mid twenties. It's the wind that is killing us. We've had a steady 10-20 mph wind for the past three days. It makes a feel-like temperature in the low single digits. The other day I was walking home and faced a strong head wind for much of the walk. I began to wonder if I would make it home without sustaining a frostbitten nose. Thankfully I had a great jacket with a decent hood and made it home unscathed - albeit delirious and out of breath.

And so we've come upon that time of year. The jig is up, the furnace is howling - shaking the whole house - and there's no turning back. Time to gas up the snow blower, ready the shovel, bust out the wool socks and cotton long johns and brace yourselves.

I am determined to make the best of it this winter and try and not be a depressed whiner about it all. Every day is a blessing I'm told, even if my skin has all the suppleness of a Nevada salt flat. I aim to look at it that way even if I AM looking through the periscope hole of my parka hood. It's winter dang it. Joy to the world, right?

I'm looking for the good in the little things. Things like:


  •  The clear blue skies of the morning walk - when it's not cloudy and battleship grey. Though clear skies usually mean cooler temps. But the clear blue skies. Yay, that!
  • The fact that Christmas is coming. The lights are beautiful and the tree is purchased and up. I only lost a couple of fingers picking it out last night, but it was worth it. It's beautiful. Yay for the tree!
  • That, despite our howling furnace that shakes the house, we are slated to get a new one installed a week from today - at great expense mind you. It won't fit under our Christmas tree, but we will be putting a bow on it - To: Donna and Jim from Donna and Jim - for the next three years! Yay, heat.
  •  In two weeks, the days will start getting longer. I know this is a simple joy, but it is the start of a climb toward June 21st when it is light out until nine o'clock - and I love that. I know it's only longer by 3-5 minutes a day or something ridiculous. but hey, I'm struggling here. Work with me. Yay, longer days in two weeks, after a ridiculously short December 20th. 
  • Both of my cars have batteries less than 3 years old. Yay, cold cranking amps!
  • We had an extremely mild November and, so far a fairly dry December. That much closer to April. Yay, meteorology!
  • I've found that dark beer helps. Yay, beer!
So, it's one day at a time around here. Lots of winter ahead, but I'm counting on you all to keep hounding me about how it's not that bad - even when I know you're lying. 

Because, I love winter! Love it!

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Pushing For The Wall

Friday night marked the start of my son's senior year of swim season. As you recall, he decided to join the team last year after not playing any sports in high school in the previous years. It was such a good experience for him that he decided to do it his senior year as well.

The meet was held at Waukesha North, a competing school in the city. It was a "compass meet" which I think means all the Waukesha teams South, North and West. There were a handful of other teams as well, including Mukwonago and Homestead.

Of course I went to the meet to cheer him on. I always forget how much I enjoy watching swimming events. The summer Olympics always find me glued to the swimming events watching Michael Phelps break records and take home medals. They help me appreciate what really goes into the training and competitiveness of the sport.

I am a fledgling swimmer - one who loves the water, but can't do much more than crawl/back float out to the island every year at the cabin. This is not an insignificant distance, but crawling/back floating is not really swimming. Or is it?  I don't know.

So when I see these boys doing a stroke as difficult as the butterfly and the backstroke, I have nothing short of great admiration for them. My sister in-law who coaches girls swimming once tried to give me some pointers on doing the butterfly but I ended up looking more like a man who'd just seen a shark and was trying to notify people. It's actually on a videotape somewhere, I think.

My admiration holds true for the breast stroke and freestyle. None of them look easy. I've often mentioned that I would like to one day learn how to swim freestyle (or any of them, really) because it is such a great sport for your health. Maybe in retirement.

And I might be a big sap, but there were a number of times I got kind of choked up at the meet. Like the time the Freshman from a competing school was struggling as the last kid in during the 400 meter freestyle. The whole natatorium was cheering him on as he floundered and pushed himself. It reminded me of Ben's first 200 yard backstroke race, where the whole place was cheering him on. It sounds weird I know, but in these days of political yuck, things like this restore my faith in humanity at times. Maybe if we all plugged for one another a little more instead of insulting one another's political party in the comments of the latest expose, we'd be a better world.

Swimming as a unifier!

Or the multiple times I saw teammates cheering on their teammates, regardless of what place they were in during the race. I also really like it when the winner of a race is congratulated by the second place guy - or vice verse. It is the ultimate Team/Individual sport, much like Track and Field. These boys are trying to improve their personal bests and help their team at the same time. It is a beautiful show of sportsmanship and something that is refreshing compared to all the chest thumping and grandstanding we see in football and basketball.

And then there was the fact that this was the first of the last. The last few times I will see my boy compete in a high school sport. That reality is one I'm having a hard time dealing with. Talk to me next fall when the house is deathly quiet. Those will be strange days.

Plus, I get really wound up watching some of the close races. Waukesha South has a really good swim team, one of the top in the state, and many of their races have them finishing 1, 2 and 3. It is fun to see them competing even against their own teammates.

Ben did well in his first meet of the year. His times were up a bit from the end of last year, but that's to be expected given that it's been 9 months since he swam competitively. He'll improve and finish strong, of that I'm certain. He really enjoys his friends on the team and loves being part of it all.

And, if you ask me, that's what it's all about.

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Party On The Iceberg

Well, I had my hearing test/evaluation today, and let's just say that if it was the ACT exam, I'd definitely want to retake it.

I pretty much failed with flying colors. 

Now, I;d had my ears tested about 8-9 years ago, I would guess. Back then they told me there was some loss and that I should probably consider a hearing aid somewhere down the road. Now, when you say this to a man, "down the road" means 8-9 years down the road. Not a big fan of doctors...

Anyways the whole experience was fairly stressful in a strange way. 

Once I filled out all the paperwork asking questions like what types of situations I would like to hear better in and things of that nature, I was taken back to the soundproof booth. There the Doctor and her intern asked the same questions. (Why?) Next she told me how the exam would be conducted. It was basically 3 parts.

  1. A series of ascending sounds - Click the clicker when they start.
  2. A sentence - repeat the sentence back (or as much as you can recognize)
  3. A sentence in a setting with steadily increasing background noise - repeat back as much as you can hear.
It was clear, this wasn't my daddy's hearing test with just a series of beeps.

As they started making the noises I strained to focus and listen. For the first few notes, I clicked away. They seemed to be timed roughly the same length apart from one another, so I could almost fake it. Until I couldn't hear anything....and I was pretty sure she was making sounds, because when I didn't respond, she kept reacting in a way that was telling. A couple of times I faked it when I thought I should be clicking. 

Because lying on a hearing exam, well, that helps make me look not so deaf right?

It was clear I was taking this exam personally. To me they were grading on a curve and I was shooting for a C+, because I know my ears and they're not honor-student ears.

We moved on to the second test. I got most of those right - I think. The one I may have made up had something to do with a party on an iceberg. That might have been a guess on my part. Haven't heard much talk about iceberg parties - unless maybe the test designer was from Antarctica. That could happen.

The best/worst part of the test was the last part. I had little issue when they had just a few people as background noise. "The footpath to the lake was well lit." No problem. But as they turned up the ambient noise, suddenly I was hearing things like "...occupied territory...on the dogs."  (Was there a "niner" in there?)

Now, this pretty much sums up my past couple of years at any party. I do a fair amount of what is known as the "deaf nod". Yeah, I heard you (no I didn't).

I told the doctor that by the time they had reached the "peak volume" of background noise was around the time that I left the party. I then asked her if people can really hear the sentence of the speaker in that last situation. She said, "Yep! People with normal hearing could hear that fine." 

So much for my C+.

When she gave me the results she mentioned that I had "moderate to severe" hearing loss, especially of high frequencies. Most people start hearing speech in the 8-12 DB range, I am in the 25ish range. She may have said I had a 60 DB loss, but I'm not sure. There were a lot of numbers, graphs and facts flying around at that point. I was a little like the cancer patient after diagnosis. The whole room was kind of spinning. (Just kidding, but it was eye opening.)

In any case I'm going to be fit with a pair of very expensive behind the ear hearing aids. And by the time I walked out of the office, I'd come to the realization that vanity is stupid and that I should have done this 5 years ago because it will be good to hear again.

Ironically enough, later tonight when I was walking the dog, the song "Hear that sound" by INXS came on my iPod.


The answer is, no, I don't hear that sound. 

But I will soon enough. No more occupied territory on the dogs for me.

Blogging off..

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Filled Up

The long Thanksgiving weekend is coming to an end and my house is quiet and my heart is full. It was a weekend full of food, family, friends and fun. Each day brought a new set of friends and family into our lives interspersed with moments of just Donna, Ben, Sarah and myself, reunited.

Thanksgiving brought our friends of 25 years to our house as well as my brother in-law and his partner. It felt good to eat, laugh and watch football with them. They each brought something to the table, literally in this case. Our table was full of food to the point of needing to use the nearby buffet to hold the stuffing. 

Then, on Friday we celebrated Sarah's 21st birthday with a different set of friends of nearly 20 years. Like many friendships, ours has ebbed and flowed over the years but, most importantly, has sustained. Our kids grew up together and have stayed in touch and lately we have reconnected through our church, CollectiveMKE. 

We had dinner and, afterward the kids played board games while the parents chatted. It was so much fun listening to our grown children laugh and talk in the other room. It gave me a sense of accomplishment - a sense that we'd arrived, if you will. They are good kids and there's something to be said for raising kids who are not axe murderers, never landed in jail and aren't messed up on drugs. These are the simple prayer requests of every parent, I think. Three of the five of them are in college and the other two will be soon enough. You kind of grind out those early years with this as the light at the end of a very long tunnel.

Yesterday we did more celebrating of Sarah's 21st birthday at a favorite restaurant in Milwaukee. It was the same crowd as Thanksgiving and was a fun night capped by my brother in-law's fantastic Wintermint cake. 

Today we spent among our church family discussing the first week of advent and how we all are dealing with our post election realities as we head into preparing for Christmas. 

Like I said, for this introvert, it was a FULL weekend. Loads of socializing and eating and festiveness. I love these people like family. There's a reason we have been friends for so long. We support each other, we've been through the fire together, and we share in our triumphs. We gather at these holidays to remind us how lucky we are to have such perfect, imperfect friends and family. 

And I wouldn't trade a moment of it, but now it is time to rest, recover and replenish. My heart is full, but I need to get back to my routine. I need quiet navel-gazing introspective bliss for a while. I need to write, to journal and get my mind set for what's next, because in a few weeks we'll have Christmas and it will all ramp up again. 

With a little luck, I should be good to go by then. And that extroverted part of me can't wait.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Qualified Thanks

It is that time of year when people count their blessings and look back. I think they even call November "Gratitude Month." Of course I have much to be grateful for. At the same time, the reality of my reality is that not everything is always perfect. I'm pretty sure that's what's called life. We can put on airs or try and make it look like everything is "just right," but, is it ever, really? The best we can hope for is 90% I think.

But 90% in middle class America is still pretty dang good. We are a country blessed beyond belief, yet still we find things complain about. Well, I am always seeking to find the positive in life, so here's a few things that I am thankful for but that come with qualifiers.


  • I am thankful for the heat pumped out of my howling furnace. The unit we have is 21 years old and when it fires up, it shakes the whole house. (C'mon over sometime if you don't believe me.) It needs a new "inducer unit." We're scheduled to get a new furnace on December 15th and I will be even more grateful for that. Until then though, I'm grateful for noisy heat.
  • I am blessed with a dog who isn't much to look at, but loves his "daddy" unconditionally. If you know Toby, you know he's a bear to groom, so is almost always in need of a trim. His breath could peel paint and smells like he's just eaten a dead carp. He has a fatty growth on his rear quarters that is benign, but gives him even more personality. But when the day is done, we love him and his quirky ways.
  • I am lucky to have two smart, beautiful children that have grown to become compassionate adults. All of this despite a son who jumps out from behind doors to scare his pops and a daughter who regularly rips his heart out with her tears. I thought parenting was supposed to get easier once you were past the physical needs. Anyway, I'm grateful for the practical jokes (I'll miss them some day) and the huge heart that brings the tears to the surface.
  • I am fortunate to have an imperfect wife who loves me despite my imperfections. Twenty six years in this business and we pretty much know what buttons to push and when to pull back. We're looking at a whole lot more together time in a year when Ben goes to college and that's okay with me. Grateful for my wife's patience.
  • I am forever grateful for my extended family in Minnesota. Like any family, there is a healthy level of dysfunction from member to member, myself included, but I love them, warts, tics and all. We've been through a lot as a family and when the going gets tough, we rally. 
  • I am blessed with a family of in-laws that comes with their own unique dysfunction - hey, it's part of life. They love us though, and I can't imagine a better set of in-laws to have married into.
  • I am thankful for the water that comes out of my faucets that are slowly gumming up because of the hard water. These are also on my short list to fix, but until then, every time I use them, I think of people all over the world who have no running water in their homes. It keeps me honest; keeps my first world problem real. (Nonetheless, if you have mad plumbing skills, lets have coffee soon.)
  • And last but not least I am grateful for this great country we live in. 2016 was a HARD year and it doesn't appear that 2017's going to get any easier. But I have faith in humanity that we, as people, will continue to care more for each other, and will continue to try and make a better America for our kids. We need to do it one person at a time. We need to quit bickering, finger pointing and dwelling on our differences and get down to business. 
So, that's just a bit of what I'm going to focus on today. Lots to be thankful for, none of it perfect, but all of it good.

And good is good enough.

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Coffee And Connective Moments

This past Wednesday evening, I was the featured poet at an Open Mic event at a coffee shop in downtown Wales, Wisconsin. The event was held at Mama D's Coffee, a quaint, atmospherically beautiful shop right downtown. (Wales is about 15 minutes west of Waukesha.)

Mama D's holds an open mic event once a month where a featured poet reads for the first half hour, then the mic is opened up and other poets and spoken word artists are invited to read. The way they happened upon me was through a writing colleague who had seen me read in Waukesha. She knew of the Wales location and thought I would be a good addition to the monthly featured poet series. It brings people into the shop and provides a venue for the writers, so is really a win-win. 

Anyway, the reading went pretty well. I covered about 18 poems in the half hour allotted. As I've mentioned before, I am getting increasingly comfortable in front of a group, so this was no different. I tried to break up each poem with a little introduction to what went into the creation of it. This gives the audience a glimpse into me and allows for maybe a level of connection that wouldn't happen if I were to just rattle off the poems.

With each of these events that I do, whether it is reading poetry or from my book Dirty Shirt, it becomes increasingly apparent that these are fleeting moments of artistic expression that will never be repeated. I could and will read again at a different location, but the audience's empathy, connection  and response will be entirely different. While I sometimes consider it a stretch to call myself an artist, what I am doing is performance art in every sense of the word. 

This notion of a moment in time performance art is no different than my brother in law acting in a play. The poetry (or prose, or theatrical performance) may have an impact on someone that they'll never forget. I know I'll never forget the first time I saw Michael Perry do a reading. It was a bookstore in Mequon and some of his short readings were so poignant that they took my breath away. The same holds true for some of my brother in-law's play performances. At this event on Wednesday, I got to hear creative poems from a couple of other poets, including a piece based around her grandson and Star Wars by Mary Jo Balistreri, and another by Charlie, who wrote about his emotions while in a treatment center for depression. There was even a memorized poem from a new inspirational friend and writer/poet who just happens to also be blind, Gregg Wandsneider. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. These are moments I will hold onto.

Maybe it's because I'm a sappy memoirist who has a thing for "moments in time," but that's what these things are - what this night was for me. They are snapshots of the beauty and brilliance of art and the artist and the story they are telling. The stories resonate about the human condition, of love, loss, laughter and life. The telling of them has been going on in the art and literary world since the beginning of time. 

So it is my hope that every time I ask people to be present at one of my events, that my work does justice to taking that time away from something else they could be doing. We owe it to our readers and our listeners to have something worth hearing. And it is nothing short of extremely gratifying when people assure you that you have done just that.

I will keep looking for more of these moments, because they are pretty cool.

Below is a list of the poems I read and the order. Nearly all were from either Written Life or Reciting From Memory. A couple that were mentioned by people were, Bad A*$ Daddy, Pushing One Hundred and Bobby Buzzword.


Set List
  1. Above Ground Rules (List poem)
  2. An Individual's Medley (Son)
  3. Learning To Fly (Daughter)
  4. On A Road (From the poem series in tribute to Kerouac)
  5. Car Hunting In America (In tribute to Brautigan)
  6. Can't be Beat (Beats)
  7. Wednesday's Child (Dad)
  8. Memphis MN (Dad)
  9. Reciting From Memory (Dad)
  10. Docked (Fishing)
  11. Huffy (Fishing)
  12. Pushing One Hundred (House)
  13. Winter Kite (House)
  14. Galactic Destiny (Wife/Love)
  15. The Start of a Beautiful Friendship (Wife/Love)
  16. Bad A*S Daddy (Mid Life Crises)
  17. Doctor Recommended (Mid Life)
  18. (Encore) Bobby Buzzword (Techno babble)

Blogging off...


Coffee And Connective Moments

This past Wednesday evening, I was the featured poet at an Open Mic event at a coffee shop in downtown Wales, Wisconsin. The event was held at Mama D's Coffee, a quaint, atmospherically beautiful shop right downtown. (Wales is about 15 minutes west of Waukesha.)

Mama D's holds an open mic event once a month where a featured poet reads for the first half hour, then the mic is opened up and other poets and spoken word artists are invited to read. The way they happened upon me was through a writing colleague who had seen me read in Waukesha. She knew of the Wales location and thought I would be a good addition to the monthly featured poet series. It brings people into the shop and provides a venue for the writers, so is really a win-win. 

Anyway, the reading went pretty well. I covered about 18 poems in the half hour allotted. As I've mentioned before, I am getting increasingly comfortable in front of a group, so this was no different. I tried to break up each poem with a little introduction to what went into the creation of it. This gives the audience a glimpse into me and allows for maybe a level of connection that wouldn't happen if I were to just rattle off the poems.

With each of these events that I do, whether it is reading poetry or from my book Dirty Shirt, it becomes increasingly apparent that these are fleeting moments of artistic expression that will never be repeated. I could and will read again at a different location, but the audience's empathy, connection  and response will be entirely different. While I sometimes consider it a stretch to call myself an artist, what I am doing is performance art in every sense of the word. 

This notion of a moment in time performance art is no different than my brother in law acting in a play. The poetry (or prose, or theatrical performance) may have an impact on someone that they'll never forget. I know I'll never forget the first time I saw Michael Perry do a reading. It was a bookstore in Mequon and some of his short readings were so poignant that they took my breath away. The same holds true for some of my brother in-law's play performances. At this event on Wednesday, I got to hear creative poems from a couple of other poets, including a piece based around her grandson and Star Wars by Mary Jo Balistreri, and another by Charlie, who wrote about his emotions while in a treatment center for depression. There was even a memorized poem from a new inspirational friend and writer/poet who just happens to also be blind, Gregg Wandsneider. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. These are moments I will hold onto.

Maybe it's because I'm a sappy memoirist who has a thing for "moments in time," but that's what these things are - what this night was for me. They are snapshots of the beauty and brilliance of art and the artist and the story they are telling. The stories resonate about the human condition, of love, loss, laughter and life. The telling of them has been going on in the art and literary world since the beginning of time. 

So it is my hope that every time I ask people to be present at one of my events, that my work does justice to taking that time away from something else they could be doing. We owe it to our readers and our listeners to have something worth hearing. And it is nothing short of extremely gratifying when people assure you that you have done just that.

I will keep looking for more of these moments, because they are pretty cool.

Below is a list of the poems I read and the order.


  1. Above Ground Rules (List poem)
  2. An Individual's Medley (Son)
  3. Learning To Fly (Daughter)
  4. On A Road (From the poem series in tribute to Kerouac)
  5. Car Hunting In America (In tribute to Brautigan)
  6. Can't be Beat (Beats)
  7. Wednesday's Child (Dad)
  8. Memphis MN (Dad)
  9. Reciting From Memory (Dad)
  10. Docked (Fishing)
  11. Huffy (Fishing)
  12. Pushing One Hundred (House)
  13. Winter Kite (House)
  14. Galactic Destiny (Wife/Love)
  15. The Start of a Beautiful Friendship (Wife/Love)
  16. Bad Ass Daddy (Mid Life Crises)
  17. Doctor Recommended (Mid Life)
  18. (Closing) Bobby Buzzword (Techno babble)

Blogging off...


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Lessons From A Bad Lip Reader

The time has finally come for me to take that leap into old age and get...wait for it...wait for it...a hearing aid! 

I've only been putting it off for about ten years now. In fact, I would argue that I don't really need one at all. 

My family would argue differently.

The other day, when I asked what we were having for dinner, what I heard was Fried web burgers. When I asked "What are Fried web burgers?" Donna and Ben just about busted a gut. She said, "I SAID, Prime rib burgers. 

Oh, that sounds better. Much better.

I actually had my ears tested about 10 years ago and they said I had some loss and that I would eventually need hearing aids. But telling that to a man is basically giving him license to ignore the problem for 10 years. So that's what I did. For me, it's as much a vanity thing as anything. Which is a stupid reason I know, especially given that my brother Rob wore one for most of his 47 years on earth. What's the big deal, anyway?

Well it's getting worse and I've decided that it's time.

The only problem is I can't seem to get a hearing provider to hear me.

Because I'm not a big phone person, I used a local audiology provider's email to ask for more information. 

What I got was crickets.

So I used their site to "Schedule an Appointment."

They sent an immediate email saying "Thanks for contacting us. We'll get back to you soon." Or something to that effect.

The next day they sent a message telling me to "Find an Office Near You!" 

Which I then did. 

Along about this time I'm starting to become a phone person. So I finally decided to call the local office. I figure I'll talk to a real, live person and actually schedule an appointment. 

So I called them at 3:00 PM on Monday.

And got their voicemail. Sigh.

I left a detailed message and have not yet heard back from them.

The moral of the story is I know a good Audiology clinic in Waukesha NOT to contact.

If anyone has any good suggestions in Southeastern Wisconsin, I'm all ears. (See what I did there?)

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Gratefully Apparent

It seems that November is also Gratitude Month. I think they pretty much have a month for everything now. It seems that the NFL teams just finished wearing all the pink socks and towels for breast cancer awareness month (October), and now they're all wearing some sort of camouflage in support of our troops. These are all noble causes and I can't say that I disagree with recognizing any of them, it's just hard to keep tabs on what's what.

Anyway, as I mentioned, it's gratitude month. Each day of November we're supposed to find something that we are grateful for. I think this is some psychological trick to distract us all from the fact that winter is just around the corner, so we need to stockpile our good feelings, because darkness and cold is a comin'. Oh, yes it is.

The wellness center at my workplace even has a Facebook page that is dedicated to gratitude posts. It's been kind of fun, as each day they pick a subject with which to post a grateful picture. (Home, siblings, books, etc.)

So, in light of what has been one of the tougher weeks for me personally, based on the events of the election and some of the fallout and backlash, I'd like to stay positive and focus on some of the things that keep me sane and in the present.


  • My kids. My son just found out he scored four points better on his re-take of  the ACT test. This will help him in his college application process, but more to the point, it is a reminder of how much better students both of my kids are than me. Follow that up with the fact that my college enrolled daughter celebrated her 21st birthday by playing board games and buying pizza for her fellow players. Good friends and good choices. Again, my kids are making way better decisions than I did and I am extremely grateful for that.

  • My job. I am incredibly lucky to have always loved my job. Maps are my life and I thank God everyday that I have a job in something I actually went to school for. I have been blessed to be in mapping/GIS for 30 years this year. Plus I work for one of the top counties in the state of Wisconsin that has a great GIS staff and an extremely engaged and strong community. I love GIS!

  • Family. Just talked to Mom today. She's 83 and just got home from "work." She works a day or two a week at the monastery near her, answering phones and doing computer work. She's living with my older sister in a mutually beneficial living arrangement. Both help each other. The rest of the family is back in Minnesota and provide a safe network for my daughter at the U of MN. I am grateful that we all get along so well after all these years. Proof of a good upbringing by mom.

  • My wife. She is my sanity in our sometimes insane world. We are looking in the face of an empty house soon and as we have more and more time one-on-one, I feel like we're reconnecting in some really cool ways. And I'm grateful for that.

  • My church. Collective MKE is our name and we are a small home-based church. As weird as that may sound, it is something that I cannot put into words. I feel more connected to my neighbors and my God than I ever have. And I've been to every sized church you can imagine. Small is working right now and I am grateful for it.  

  • The weather. We have had some of the best fall weather that one could expect. I especially like the cloudless skies we've had and can't stop taking pictures of the sunsets. Every day over 50 degrees is one less day of cold that I have to deal with
  • My house. It's drafty, in need of a new furnace and a half dozen other projects, but it is my haven. It's where I'm happiest - as I'm sure yours is as well. It ain't perfect, but I'm grateful for it.
That's just a short list of the things I can think of at the moment. If we take a moment each day to think of what we have instead of what we don't, we'd all be better off. So that's what I aim to do.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Restarting. Please wait...

I am not sure how to process all of the hatred and vitriol I am seeing on both sides of the political system these past couple days. It is unlike I've ever seen in all my days. I certainly have feelings of my own that I will keep to myself, just like we used to do in the old days. I wish I could come up with an inspiring post, but instead I think I will let this post be what it is. Sunday is a new day.


Blogging off...

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Saturday Well Spent

Yesterday I spent the day at the University of Waukesha for the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books. This is a two day event that celebrates local authors and their work using a series of panels, discussions and educational seminars. I've been going to the fest for years and this one was my second where I was featured on a couple of panels.

The first panel I sat on included Susan Martell Huebner who's written a soon-to-be-released memoir and Kathie Giorgio who has just released a short story collection called Oddities and Endings. The panel was titled Writers Branching Out and discussed crossing genres. I had such a blast on this panel answering the ad hoc questions of the moderator. This moderator was actually Kathie Giorgio's high school English teacher. He did a wonderful job of including the audience and the panel. A great interaction.

Sometimes people on panels like to know the questions in advance, but I feel there's something to be said for getting thrown surprise questions one after another. I think it makes for a more engaging discussion. At the end, the audience was invited to ask questions and they obliged nicely. I can't say enough about how much I appreciate readers who support local authors. They make it all worthwhile.

The second panel was titled The Family Tree: Writers on Families and included Fran Rybarik (memoir) and Lauren Fox (fiction). Like the other panel, it featured three of us covering three genres, poetry, fiction and memoir. The nonfiction author in this panel wrote a book about how her husband died and now here children and friends are taking bits of his ashes around on their travels in an effort to continue his adventure. I thought it was a great subject for a book and it was pretty cool sharing commonalities between our memoirs both before and during the panel.
Books by Books and Company.

These panels were a blast, but I also enjoyed so much more about the day.

  • I loved seeing my writing colleagues, old and young, current and past. We attend each others' events and signings because we are a community. Part of that community is mutual support and encouragement. We have each others' backs. 
  • It was cool meeting a few people that I've connected with on Facebook with but never met. This included David Mathews whose book, Lemons and Lemonade, about his experience with mid-life online dating is soon to be released. We had a nice chat and purchased each others' books. 
  • I got to finally meet Lisa Baudoin, who represented Books and Company of Oconomowoc,Wisconsin, the bookseller at the event. I can't say enough about the great job they did with handling all the books. Second to none.
  • At my signing after the last panel, I had a woman come up and talk to me for about five minutes. She didn't buy a book, but made a point of repeatedly telling me how much my stories during the panel meant to her. I talked a bit about some of the losses in my family during my panel and evidently they hit a common nerve with her. She thanked me a couple of times, took a bookmark and a business card and left. These kinds of interactions sometimes mean more to me than a sale. (Though, sales are always nice. LOL)
  • I also bumped into Paula Anderson who published one of my first poems in her publication, Echoes. She has set me up with a reading at Mama D's in Wales, Wisconsin, and has been a poetry advocate for years.
The whole day was really, really good. I came away from the event energized, humbled and grateful. 

I can't wait for next year!

Blogging off...

A Saturday Well Spent

Yesterday I spent the day at the University of Waukesha for the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books. This is a two day event that celebrates local authors and their work using a series of panels, discussions and educational seminars. I've been going to the fest for years and this one was my second where I was featured on a couple of panels.

The first panel I sat on included Susan Martell Huebner who's written a soon-to-be-released memoir and Kathie Giorgio who has just released a short story collection called Oddities and Endings. The panel was titled Writers Branching Out and discussed crossing genres. I had such a blast on this panel answering the ad hoc questions of the moderator.

Sometimes people on panels like to know the questions in advance, but I feel there's something to be said for getting thrown surprise questions one after another. I think it makes for a more engaging discussion. At the end, the audience was invited to ask questions and they obliged nicely. I can't say enough about how much I appreciate readers who support local authors. They make it all worthwhile.

The second panel was titled The Family Tree: Writers on Families and included Fran Rybarik (memoir) and Lauren Fox (fiction). Like the other panel, it featured three of us covering three genres, poetry, fiction and memoir. The nonfiction author in this panel wrote a book about how her husband died and now here children and friends are taking bits of his ashes around on their travels in an effort to continue his adventure. I thought it was a great subject for a book and it was pretty cool sharing commonalities between our memoirs both before and during the panel.

These panels were a blast, but I also enjoyed so much more about the day.


  • I loved seeing my writing colleagues, old and young, current and past. We attend each others' events and signings because we are a community. Part of that community is mutual support and encouragement. We have each others' backs. 
  • It was cool meeting a few people that I've connected with on Facebook with but never met. This included David Mathews whose book, Lemons and Lemonade, about his experience with mid-life online dating is soon to be released. We had a nice chat and purchased each others' books. 
  • I got to finally meet Lisa Baudoin, who represented Books and Company of Oconomowoc,Wisconsin, the bookseller at the event. I can't say enough about the great job they did with handling all the books. Second to none.
  • At my signing after the last panel, I had a woman come up and talk to me for about five minutes. She didn't buy a book, but made a point of repeatedly telling me how much my stories during the panel meant to her. I talked a bit about some of the losses in my family during my panel and evidently they hit a common nerve with her. She thanked me a couple of times, took a bookmark and a business card and left. These kinds of interactions sometimes mean more to me than a sale. (Though, sales are always nice. LOL)
  • I also bumped into Paula Anderson who published one of my first poems in her publication, Echoes. She has set me up with a reading at Mama D's in Wales, Wisconsin, and has been a poetry advocate for years.
The whole day was really, really good. I came away from the event energized, humbled and grateful. 

I can't wait for next year!

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Overcoming

It seems I slept through one of the best World Series games ever last night. I have a solid excuse. I'm not much of a baseball fan at all. I literally did not watch one pitch of the playoffs or series until last night. I follow the standings, and was well aware of what was at stake for the beloved Cubs going into the season. In fact, I told a die hard Cubbies fan friend of mine that if they didn't win it all this year, they deserve to be labelled the loveable losers that they were for 108 years.

Well, they didn't. And to that I say, congratulations Chicago!

I've actually been to Wrigley for games on two or three occasions. It is a fantastic stadium, truly like stepping back in time 50 years. I would go as far as to call it a cathedral or shrine. It is old school and given the ear-splitting sound systems at most parks these days, it is a pleasant alternative. I will even confess, and please forgive me Brewer fans, that when I was at those games, I was actually rooting for the Cubbies. When in Rome...

But as I said, I'm really not much of a fan. What I enjoy of it, I enjoy in person. I don't have much time for watching it on TV at all. I made it until the bottom of the sixth inning. It didn't look good for the Indians at that point. I made it until the bottom of the sixth inning. It didn't look good for the Indians at that point. As I was watching it though, I got so tired of the way the camera was flicking from coach (spitting) to batter (scratching, twitching, posturing) to teammates (more spitting) to pitcher (grabbing) and back to coach (spitting more). Lord help me! Can't we focus on one thing for more than 3 seconds?

But wait, there's a pitcher warming up in the bullpen. Lets go back and forth to that.

I know I sound curmudgeonly, but it's just not my thing. Football is, and it does much of the same flicking back and forth, but at least there's action. Nothing more painful than watching a guy foul off 5 or six pitches. There should be a 2 foul limit. If you can't hit it after two fouls, sit down.

So I slept through it.

I told everyone that had it been the Twins or Brewers, I'd have watched the whole series - an probably at least some of the playoffs. It brings to mind the last time a team I cared about made it to the series, the 1991 Twins, and before that the 1987 Twins.

If you recall, the 1991 series was pretty spectacular too. It went the whole 7 games and finished with Jack Morris' 10 inning shutout that was nothing short of scintillating. I can remember how nervous I was for many of those games. When there's a team I care about playing in a series that means so much, I kind of hung on every pitch. It was nerve wracking.

I also remember the Braves (another less than politically correct team mascot) hatchet chop and politically incorrect chant "Whoa, whoa, whoaaaa Whoa..." I hated that chant, more because it usually rallied the team to pull ahead of my Twins, but I hated it.

On perhaps the annoying side from a Braves or Cardinals' standpoint were the now-infamous Homer Hankies that the Metrodome was known for. Thousands of fans waving their hankies was probably nearly as annoying as the Brave chant.

Well, maybe not.

But they won. And they won in '87 too. That series gave my grandmother the opportunity to FINALLY see her Twins win the big one. She'd followed them for years, including their '65 series. It's these kinds of stories - lifelong fans of a relatively losing franchise - finally getting the chance to see them succeed.

And that is what the Cubs did.

It appears the Indians (who I wouldn't have minded see win, either) will have to get in line and wait their turn.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

No Time Like The Present

As winter approaches, there is always a bit of dread that comes along with it. In the autumn months, the days get shorter and cooler. I was lamenting this a bit on Facebook a while back and a friend of mine from my writing group smacked me out of it.

His reasoning was simple. Winter is going to happen and I can't control that, so why not enjoy fall for what it is - live in the joy of today a bit more, with less forward-looking dread. Then, he said, maybe make an effort to enjoy winter more via cross country skiing or other outside activities. He closed the argument with the fact that after December 21st, the days start getting longer again. Basically he said, you've got a good life, winter is part of it, deal with it.

It was exactly what I needed to hear. Good advice from a friend. (Paul) It snapped me out of my funk and caused me to look a little more at the present. This week provided me a chance to relish the present a bit more. Here are a few examples.


  • On Friday, my son got accepted to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee college of Letters and Sciences. This was great news to both him and us. He is still waiting to hear from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the University of Minnesota. I am trying to be mindful of these little successes and victories to remind me how blessed our lives are. 

  • Also on Friday, we spent the early part of the evening at a bonfire with our church community. It was a balmy 65 degrees - very uncharacteristic for late October. There's something about spending time outdoors either alone or with friends that re-grounds me. 

  • After the fire, I went to see the movie Halloween (from 1978) with Ben. I had not seen the movie since about 1981, and it scared the crap out of me then. Any chance I get to connect with my 18 year old who is really into scary movies at the moment, is a good thing. I'm glad I took the time to get tickets. We watch a lot of Marx Brothers movies and laugh our butts off, so it was kind of fun to get spine tingling scared together too.
  • 27" Northern Pike (Released)
  • Then, on Saturday, it was even nicer weather. It was 68 degrees and little wind, so about 10:30 I mentioned to Donna that I'd like to go fishing. We both agreed the chores could wait for a day where it was 47 degrees and cloudy. I ended up catching the biggest fish I've ever caught in my Kayak. The older I get, the more I don't want to miss chances like this. It was absolutely therapeutic being out there. I've determined that what I like about it is it is just me - no one telling me when it's time to move here or there, or what time to go in, or what I'm doing wrong. Just me and my thoughts. It's kind of like I am taking the beauty of the day and mashing it into my cranium to help me get through winter. If I can get these days in October, well, there just might be hope!
So as we creep closer to snow and darkness, I need to keep this perspective. Life is sweet and if you look at every day, there is goodness in it. Relish being with your family - they soon grow up and go to college. Cherish your friends - life is short. Appreciate the chance to occasionally change your routine at a moment's notice in order to take care of yourself - you'll be a better person because of it.

Thanks Paul.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fried Web Burgers

"I went to the doctor yesterday."

This is the line you never want to hear from anyone. It usually means one of two things. Either you're going to get a bucketful of bad news, or you're going to get a glimpse into Too Much Information.

So, I went to the doctor yesterday. When I'd gone for my physical a couple of weeks ago, the doctor gave me the green light of health except for my ears which were packed with wax. (See, I warned ya.)

Anyway, this is always bad news. I've had this recur about four times now in what appears to be a disturbing trend. I think it's part of some sort of old guy disease. This stuff never happened when I was 25, so what gives?

It gets better though.

The reason I needed to get my ears flushed is because I'm looking into getting hearing aids.

I know you're thinking: "Say what? He's so young!" You're thinking that, right? I knew it.

Yes, while I am pretty sure I don't need hearing aids, my family begs to differ. Why, just the other day, I asked Donna what we were having for dinner and she said "Fried web burgers." At least that's what I'd heard. When I repeated it back to her, she and Ben had a good laugh with it.

"I said prime rib burgers."

Ah, that's what I thought. (No I didn't)

This is the comedy of errors that goes on regularly in our house between me and my bride who is fighting back her own hearing loss.

So off to the doctor I go. I get an appointment with a nurse practitioner who weighs me in at 5 pounds heavier than I am at home. I think I have doctor induced weight gain or something. Then she takes my blood pressure and tells me that the hundred number is borderline high. She doesn't tell me how to fix it of course, just letting me know in case I stroke out while I'm getting flushed.

She takes a peak into my ears and says, "Yep, all backed up. I'll get the assistant to flush them." It seems there's a hierarchy to old guy ear flushing and she was having none of it.

A few minutes later the nursing assistant came in and set to work. It starts with her filling up the Windex bottle with slightly too-cool water and hydrogen peroxide. Then she hooks on the torture nozzle and hands me a cup to hold up to catch the water that flows out of my ear.

She then pokes the torture nozzle to just shy of drum-rupture and starts squeezing the trigger of dizziness and death. (First you get dizzy, then wish you were dead.)

It is not unlike taking a fire hose to your cranium.

The water blasting goes on for a good 3-4 minutes before she takes a break to see if there's been any progress. "Nope, it's not moving," she says. The tortuous blasting resumes until I forget my birth date, sprout gills out of my neck and a blowhole out the top of my head. Eventually she concludes that she'll need drops to help break things up.

I'm thinking, maybe next time we start with drops. I'm thinking that in between bouts of consciousness, mind you.

Finally she has luck with the right ear and then starts on the left. Just when you think the hard part is over, it gets harder. For some reason the left ear was even more sensitive. Or maybe she was poking the torture nozzle closer to my brain. I don't know.

I now know what it's like to be the victim of water boarding, however.

After five more minutes of literal brainwashing, the left ear clears. The difference was both noticeable and instantaneous. I would even say, miraculous.

And for all the joking, I don't want to minimize either the duties or the crap that nurses have to deal with every day. I joke about them torturing me, but I have the utmost admiration for all that they do. I can be a big baby when it comes to this kind of thing, so when both ears were cleared I wanted to hug this nurse. We'd both been through an ordeal, and she was the miracle worker in my mind. They really do care and do their jobs well.

So, no more Fried web burgers for me for a while.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Woods And Words

I love many things about autumn.


  • The smell of burning leaves.
  • The color-burst that is the cycle of death that needs to happen before winter.
  • The sky has a different light about it. 
  • The clouds in that differently lit sky have their own beauty.
I just wish we had about three more weeks of it than we do. (Accompanied by 3 less weeks of winter.)

Today was a perfect, Indian summer day. Temps near 68, clear skies and a light breeze. Leaves were falling and everyone was in good spirits. 

I took advantage of it and got two bike rides in. The first was an I-have-to-get-outside ride after church this morning. 

But it was the second ride with my son that was the capper on a great day. We took a ride through Minooka Park which has a system of mountain bike trails that is a blast. We'd been on them once earlier this summer, but I thought today was too good to pass up.

The ride up and down the trails was both exhilarating and technically challenging at times. Ben even had to bail a couple of times when he'd hit a rock or a stump. Bailing (jumping from the bike) can be a lifesaver (or a limbsaver) at times and Ben usually ends up laughing at the end of his dismounts, so that is a good thing. 

While the ride was really, really fun, it was the discussion during much of the ride that made me think how lucky I was to have him as a son. I don't want to give away all the details, but we talked a good amount about peer pressure and drug use in high school. Between hills and maneuvering our mountain bikes over rocks and roots, we had as frank a discussion about tough subjects as we've ever had. 

And through it all, I heard some heartbreaking things about kids that he knows that are going down a bad path. The thing that hit me the hardest though was when he said he'd told a couple of his friends that he "cared about them" and that's why he was calling them out on some of their bad decisions. That is such a brave, adult thing to do at this age of peer pressure. It's so much easier to just succumb to the pressure, so when he told me what he'd said, it choked me up.

In a nutshell, what started as a quick trip through the trees, turned into an important dialogue about decisions, discipline and self worth. And I am so glad I made it a point to invite him to take a ride this day. 

So, I guess my point is, never discount the value in a good bike ride with your kids.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Out Of Dodge

I am writing this from a conference on the edge of Nowhere Wisconsin and while that sounds like a complaint, I am happy to be here. I am normally just coming off a muskie fishing weekend this time of year, but this year it didn't happen. My fishing buddy Steve took it upon himself to go to Italy with his wife for their 25th wedding anniversary, and it ran dead into the muskie weekend. So it goes...

Anyway, my point is, I'm glad to be here because here is at least travelling and I am happiest when I have the road under my feet. As it turns out I'm just north of Spooner, Wisconsin at a remote lodge that involves at least 3 county roads and a stretch of deer-lined gravel roads. A fun ride at night with my mapping geek cohorts in a county van.

This comes while the rest of the world is overseas it seems. As I mentioned, Steve and Jill are touring Italy, end to end, and of that I am insanely jealous. They'll see Venice and Rome and a bunch of other great things

At the same time, my brother in-law and his partner are in Europe as well, They are doing Denmark, Paris, Edinburgh Scotland, London and back to Copenhagen.

It hardly seems fair.

These are all places I want to see someday. And unlike my wife who would prefer to do a single country really well, I would be the one that wants to see as many countries in two weeks as I could. It would probably kill me, or at least exhaust me, but it would be worth it.

Mark and Jake posted pictures from Notre Dame today. The pictures of the stained glass made me gasp. My brother Paul once visited Notre Dame and said it was so beautiful it actually moved him to tears. So I add that to my bucket list.


I don't know when or if I'll ever get "across the pond" to see any of Europe, but it certainly is on my radar to do in the next ten years or so. With one child in college and another one headed there next year, I doubt I'll be able to go much farther than Sheboygan in the next five years. Which is painful because, as I said, I'm not happy unless the ground is moving under my feet, or I at least have a plan to go somewhere.

We may be at that phase of life where local trips are the best we can hope for.

So for now, "somewhere north of Spooner" will have to do.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Election Rejection

As you have seen, I do not get political on this blog. I loathe politics and all that goes with it and feel it is increasingly dividing our country and bringing out the worst in people. 

Because of this, watching our Presidential election cycle play out like a car fire has been nothing short of painful. We've all seen mudslinging in the past, but never with two candidates that are almost equally disliked. A friend of mine said the only way he could ever imagine Hillary Clinton in office is if there was a Donald Trump as an opponent. And the only way he could ever imagine Donald Trump in office is if there was a Hillary Clinton as an opponent. 

Well said. 

And the wonders of social media have raised the rage level to new heights. As things get said and countered, it takes everything in me not to chime in. Like I said, I don't like being outwardly political, despite having definite opinions about who I think should be President. 

But I typically don't say anything. Because there are things that demand my energy that are important and as near as I know, nobody on Facebook has ever changed political allegiances based on a Meme or comment from someone on the other side.

As I said, there are things that demand my energy that are far more important to me. 

  • My Family. Laughing with my wife and kids, texting my daughter and telling her I love her and bantering with my extended family on Facebook. It's all good and all better than political vitriol.
  • My Causes. I look forward to serving at the Guest House of Milwaukee every couple of weeks. This place and its mission give me purpose.
  • My House. Fall seems to ramp up the urgency of things I wanted to get done "this summer." I've been priming and painting our new stairs, cleaning the garage and getting ready for the onslaught that we call winter.
  • My Church. Our new church, Collective MKE is small, but challenging and beautiful. We had such a great discussion today about the role of the Bible in our faith, the translations of it and how it is used as a club to hit people. These people remind me that there are earthly rulers that, in the big picture, are insignificant. There have been for years. 
  • My Writing. If I am denied the usual spaces to write throughout my week, I feel cheated. I've come to NEED it, whereas I used to just like to do it. Writing, editing, submitting and even talking about writing gives me a great sense of purpose. 
And so I aim to continue to steer clear of the political arena for another 3 weeks or so. Frankly, I can't wait for the whole election to be over. It's like a tire fire. Polluting and out of control. I will continue to pray for our country and our leaders nonetheless. Because Lord knows, we can use that.

Blogging off...