Sunday, February 28, 2016

We're Booked

There is a used bookstore near us called the Book Cafe. The place has been there forever and I'd never been in it. I love to read, so the other day I thought it was about time I checked it out. I had in mind a couple of old books that I'd really like to have paperback copies of, so that was the perfect excuse to go in.

When I got there the owner asked me if she could help. I told her I was looking for a couple of classics, namely works by Richard Brautigan and Jack Kerouac. I expected some sort of reaction, but kind of got a blank stare. She looked at me like I'd said I'd wanted a pastrami on rye or a fiberglass surfboard instead of a couple of classic authors.(I guess I don't know the name of every author on earth either, so I shouldn't be so judgy.) After specifying that they were fiction, she directed me downstairs and mentioned that all the books were 1/2 off the price marked on the inside cover.
My weekend acquistions.

I went downstairs and browsed the stacks of books looking for a gem or two in the rough. I didn't find any by either of the two authors, but I did come across another classic and personal favorite of mine, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. When I looked at the price, it was $4.00. Figuring I could get what might be my favorite novel of all time for only two bucks I bought it.

So it goes.

Ben's Comic and Graphic Novel
When I got home, there was a package for Ben on the front steps. I brought it in and gave it to him. It turns out it was a graphic novel and a comic book (a big one). He'd ordered them online and was surprised to see that they were already here.

And it hit me that my wife and I have passed on our love for reading to our kids. Ben ordered those of his own volition and will probably read them from cover to cover.

The same can be said of our daughter Sarah. She has ordered complete book series in the past just to make sure she has them all. She couldn't get through The Martian fast enough. (I thought it was just okay, but to each their own.)

Then, on Saturday, I got a package of my own in the mail. It was Hallelujah Time!, a book of poetry by a new friend of mine from the Tupelo Press challenge. He'd sent it to me because I sent him a copy of my own chapbook from the Tupelo challenge. It is a bunch of poems built around the ties between Biblical verses and Bob Marley songs. It incorporates a lot of Rastafarian principles (One Love) and I can't wait to read it.

Donna's current books
When I look at my wife's stack of books I see more of the same. She is the family's biggest reader and always has at least two books going at one time. (I currently have four, Immortal Diamond, Water to Wine, Slaughterhouse Five, and Hallelujah Time.) She schedules vacations aroutnd her habit. I aspire to read as much as her, but will never catch up. She throws every fourth book my way if she thinks I should read it. (She's my book vetter. Ha!)
Book Jenga

And so our nightstand looks like the photo>>>. (And that's just my side of the bed.) I know not everyone enjoys reading books. I find that sad, but I get it. Some people read slowly or struggle with big books. But I personally can't imagine life without lots of books in it. It is my art. Some people have lots of art on the walls, I have lots of books. (I wish I had more art, though.)

Re-reading Slaughterhouse Five is like talking to an old friend. (So it goes.) Reading Hallelujah Time is like meeting a new friend and getting to know him. Reading Immortal Diamond and Water to Wine is like talking to pastors about God. Reading The Sun magazine is like meeting the crazy uncle or cousin I never knew. Books and magazines are how I process much of the world around me. They make for great conversation - like at my Thursday coffee group. They make us richer, and, I dare say, smarter people.

It's my hope that my kids will be lifelong readers. That's a legacy worth talking about.

Blogging off...

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Church Of A Different Sort

Everybody has that favorite band. Some have many favorites. Some change their favorite from year to year, fad to fad, genre to genre. It's something that everyone is entitled to. We don't all have to like other peoples' favorite band, and maybe once you're over fifty years old, you shouldn't even have a favorite band. (Let alone be writing about one. But I am. So there.)

I know a guy who 25 years ago worshiped Neil Diamond. I had a hard time understanding this. While there's nothing wrong with Neil Diamond's music, it's just that at his age (26ish) I thought it was weird to be a fan of somebody more likely to be worshiped by my Mom or my in-laws (they did). Everybody has their thing though, so I get that.

Back in the day, I knew a guy who used to travel from state to state following Bruce Springsteen on tour. The guy was a fanatic. While I never went to that extreme, I had a few favorite groups that I waited for their new albums every year. Then I'd go see them live. A few that I've seen multiple times include, The Cars, Eric Clapton, and George Thorogood all of whom I've seen five times each. That is borderline fanatical.

It also probably explains my pulsatile tinnitus, a bit.

Anyway, one of my all-time favorite bands is a group from Australia called The Church. The old cliche about "the first time I heard their album, it changed everything..." is absolutely true for me. I remember it was my brother Paul's album and it was titled The Blurred Crusade. (This was in about 1984) It's one of those albums where EVERY song is a good song. It is what I refer to as my "Deserted Island Album" - the one you must have, (provided you have a record player on said island.) Great lyrics and layered, jangly guitars. Moody perfection. I love it.

Now, I've followed them on and off ever since that time. Over the 30 years I've followed them, their style and substance has changed with every album, some that I really like, others not as much. Every album has its gems though. Despite being a huge fan of their work, I've only seen them live twice, once in Madison, and once in Minneapolis. I've kicked around the idea of seeing them in Milwaukee a couple of times, but never pulled the trigger.

So, when I saw that they are coming on tour in the US again this spring, I was intrigued. Then I find out that their tour includes doing the entire...wait for it...Blurred Crusade album! My wife, who likes their older stuff as well, said maybe we should make a road trip out of it, down to Evanston, Illinois with an overnight stay and a trip into Chicago for lunch the next day. Favorite band, favorite album, in one of my favorite cities with my favorite girl. It all happens on April 25-26th. It's at a small venue called The Space, and we have guaranteed seats. It's a splurge in advance of our 26th wedding anniversary. A treat for sure!

After the Blurred Crusade set, the second set will include some new stuff and some older hits as well. It sounds like the best of all worlds for someone who hasn't seen them since 1988.

And this 54 year old fan who refuses to grow up, can't wait.

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Whatever It Takes

As I mentioned in the last post we are in the dog days of winter. It's not March yet, but it's sure not January either. Thank goodness for that. Maybe it's just me, but these long winter nights are causing me to shift things around a bit. I'm a man of routine, but sometimes I get sick of the sameness and shake things up with some change. I think I got all of the winter hate out of me last post, so here are a few things I've found that have helped me through this winter season.

  • I've gone back to writing in longhand and it's bringing forth good things. Thinking back to many of my first days of writing Dirty Shirt, I wrote most of my stories in a notebook and then transcribed them to the computer later. That fell away to where I was doing it all on my laptop. Well, in a fit of staring at a blank screen with nary a thought in my head for too long one night, I thought I needed a change. I picked up my pen and started scrawling words and before I knew it the inspiration had come back with full force. Sometimes all it takes is a change of place, medium, or way of thinking. 
  • My Sundays are more and more frequently treated as down time for me. Instead of being days where I finished what I didn't get to on Saturday, they are now almost exclusively rest. After church, I engage in things that recharge, relax and restore me. If at 4:30 I choose to take a 20 minute nap with a cat on my lap, that's okay. If I feel like writing, that's okay. Reading, fine. And believe it or not, I really enjoy that there's no football games that I feel obligated to watch. I enjoy them when I do, but enough is enough. 
  • Along those same Sunday lines, one of the things I've really come to look forward to is Church. We are currently part of Collective MKE, which is a church launch that is built around the idea of "house churches." Anywhere from 15 to 30 adults and kids gather every Sunday at a person's
    Collective MKE: Not your daddy's church.
    house and we do church. We follow a liturgy, have communion and always finish with a potluck brunch. It is not as weird as it sounds, believe me I was skeptical myself when I'd first heard of it. I've grown to appreciate all of the folks who come every week and the hope is to grow to several houses over time. Organic, fun and yes, you can wear jeans.
  • I confess, I'm a recovering Facebook junkie. One of the things I'm coming to terms with this winter is that I need to back off. I've learned that it's the same old slew stream day in and day out. So, I'm trying to take it for what it is and most importantly not contribute to the slew. It's really okay if I don't need to check into every place I visit. I have a feeling that the final plug puller for me will be the upcoming election. Seriously. Evidently we have Antichrists running on both sides of the political spectrum. Well, I knew that already and I'm going to vote for the lesser Antichrist and pray for our country whoever wins. Furthermore, Facebook will not change my decision, so why must people spew their rhetoric there?
  • Saturday Words. I've managed to carve out two hours every Saturday afternoon for writing at the library. It is what I call my "anchor time." Time when I can get out of the house and devote myself strictly to uninterrupted writing. It is invigorating and restorative to me. I treasure it.

  • Coffee with my best friend. Nearly every Saturday morning I have coffee with Donna at the Steaming Cup downtown. Coffee, a cinnamon roll and quiet conversation with the woman I love. It grounds me for the upcoming week and is my one really good chance to talk with her about our kids, friendships, work, goals and failures. It is precious to me and I miss it when we can't do it. People have said we're lucky to have this between us, but my point is, why would you not want something this nice? It is part of that routine I talked about earlier, but one that I wouldn't trade for anything. I'm a sap that way.

These are just some of the things that have helped me keep positive and productive this winter. Between these things and the fact that all of the snow is almost gone, I realize that I just might make it through.

Blogging off...

Thursday, February 18, 2016

February Glory

Some blog posts come easier than others.

But in case you didn't notice, it is dark February and, well, sometimes life comes easier than in the middle of winter, too. And make no mistake, I haven't yet posted my "I hate winter" post that typically comes this time of winter.

Well, I aim to fix that, so here goes.

  • I hate the salt stains that form on my sneakers from walking to work. I would like salt stains on my bathing suit from the ocean while in Tahiti. Yes.
  • I strongly dislike that there are roughly fifty minutes of daylight after I get off of work. Granted that is increasing by a minute or two a day, but I would prefer four and a half hours of sunlight, please. Is that so much to ask?
  • I do not like that most of the time my white van looks like it just survived the fallout from a volcanic blast. Yes, my van is white. It says so in the owners manual.
  • I loathe that I must make a decision each day on whether to wear my heavy winter coat or my slightly less heavy winter coat, depending on the forecast. I would like to not wear a coat. Again, is that too much to ask?
  • I prefer not to think about the fact that my furnace sounds a bit like a 747 taking off and landing when it starts and shuts down. Takeoffs happen about every 8 minutes and landings come about three minutes after. Life at the airport is noisy.
  • I hate that the last thing I do before I leave every building is check my coat pockets for my hat and gloves. As I mentioned, I would like to not wear a coat, let alone gloves and a hat.
  • I mourn unfrozen lakes every time I see my kayak sitting on its racks in the garage. I am so far from launching that thing that it makes me sad. 
  • I have a severe distaste for glaciated snowbanks, some of which may never melt and most of which are perilous to navigate. This time of year, I become adept at hurdling them, but I'm sure it's not a pretty picture.
  • I miss sitting on my porch with the windows open. As it is, right now, I only go on the porch to vacuum the salt that's been dragged in from the front steps.
  • I feel sorry for my dog whose paws take the beating from the salt laid down by zealous homeowners. 
  • I am super annoyed by those snowfalls/snow flurries that leave an inch of snow on my driveway. Sometimes we get a 3 day system where that happens three times in 72 hours. Being a psychotic Midwesterner, I HAVE to shovel it. It'll wreck an otherwise perfect driveway/walk if I leave it to get trampled, after all. 
  • I hate that during the cold snaps, I need to wear long underwear which, when accompanied with my seven pounds of winter fat, make my pants feel like they are tights. Man tights. Not a good look.
Now, to be fair, we've had a rel
Oh yeah, and I hate this too.
atively mild winter. Almost ridiculously so. December was kind of a joke, and we've really only had one significant snowfall and two good(?) cold snaps. So I really have nothing to complain about. But it's what we like to do most in winter, so I did. And never mind that winter seems to be on its 260th day. 

All I know is that tomorrow we gain one more minute of glorious sunlight. (Which will no doubt be shrouded in a think blanket of grey blech.) 

I'm going to run with that, because I'm...

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Keeping It Together

Since today is Valentine's Day, I thought I'd write a little about the 'L' word, LOVE, and what it means to me on this Hallmark Holiday.

My wife and I have been married for twenty five years. At the risk of jinxing something, I have to admit it has been a relatively smooth ride. We rarely argue, and when we do, we usually make up within 24 hours. I know there are many who say that not arguing can be unhealthy too. But Donna and I have always been non-argumentative/non-confrontational people. While we can agree that we both tend to stuff things, I think a better way to say that is we are forgiving people. We pick our battles, but more than anything, we both realize that the little stuff is really little. We don't let it add up to big stuff.

This past week I was at a work conference in Elkhart Lake and Donna tagged along. She took advantage of being away from home and work and looked at it as a chance to read, watch a movie or two and get some work stuff done without interruption.

One of the unexpected benefits of this time was to reconnect with each other, talk about deep issues and reaffirm that we were both okay - that neither was planning to go anywhere - that we were both still deeply in love. It was affirming and

And yet, while we realize this, we are both painfully aware that with the kids getting older, the whole dynamic of our relationship is changing. In their absence, we are together more and more - alone. This might seem like a good thing to those of you who have two or more kids, but don't get me wrong, it's an adjustment too. One we'll need to work at lest we grow old and separative. (is that a word?)

This day also makes me think back to the loves of the past, the ones that for one reason or another didn't work out. I think God puts these people in our lives as stepping stones for learning how to love. We go in with our selfishness, our jealousy, and our desires to change, and almost always come away wounded but wiser. These lost loves teach us more about what we're doing wrong than we could ever learn by being alone. And while I don't know what happened to all of them, most of the ones I can remember have been in long marriages themselves, which is fantastic. In the case of our breakups, it was a win-win.

One thing Donna and I have come to terms with ever since we were married is that we don't need a card, flowers or candy on February 14th. We've both done nice things a handful of times over the 25 years on Valentine's Day, but we know that nothing means more to the other than acts of kindness done the other 364 days a year. Why would we need a card with someone else's kitschy phrase on it to tell each other what we already know? When love is at the core as much as it is between the two of us, we both know that candy doesn't make it any better.

We're weird that way.

As she said on Facebook, around here, everyday is Valentine's Day. I like that analogy.

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The View From Deckside

Yesterday, my wife and I spent the better half of six hours at our son's last swim meet of the season. It was a nine school affair and was the conference championship. Because all of these events require a fair number of parent volunteers, we chose to do the lane timing for one of the lanes during the meet. We'd done it once before so knew the ropes and wanted to help out. While this detracts a bit from our focusing exclusively on Ben during his races, it does put us in the thick of things. Like being on the field during the Super Bowl. Well, sorta like that. Kinda.

Anyway our time there made me cognizant of a number of things about this season, this sport and this event.

First and foremost I was incredibly impressed with the sportsmanship shown across the lanes by all of the swimmers. These guys get to the end of the race of their life, and the first thing most of them do is shake hands with their competitor in the other lane. So let me get this straight, you're racing to beat this guy and then you shake his hand and congratulate them? What a cool thing! I'm guessing this is a coached thing - that they emphasize sportsmanship - but it's my guess that much of it is caught by the guys watching other guys do it so that it becomes infectious.

It made me think back to Clay Matthews' classless move this past season when he offered to help a quarterback up and then at the last second pulled his hand away. The Claymaker dropped a couple notches for me after that one.

Now I know you can't compare the two sports, football and swimming, but my son has played both and what he has gained from his one year of swimming, in my estimation, has far exceeded his three years of middle school football. He has gained confidence, discipline and loves being part of this team. He feels like he's contributing and is pushing himself to new personal bests from meet to meet. It is a much better fit, one I'd wished I'd seen for myself when I was his age and was "too small for football" which I lived for.

When they weren't congratulating their opponents, they were supporting each other by cheering, palm slapping after races, and clapping when their team was announced on the podium. This happens in football too, but there's a whole lot of yelling and beating down going on on the sidelines too. Foul mouthed coaches getting in players faces does nothing to build up a player. But again, I realize they're different. One is a very violent game the other focuses on personal achievement to advance the whole.

I mentioned to my wife that it was funny when the four man relays were waiting around, we were in the middle of a lot of flapping, slapping, skin twitching, and teenage banter. There is one movement where the bicep slaps the lat that is a swimmer's favorite apparently. Not sure what it does, but it seems to be very necessary, among the other neck rolls, windmills, toe touches and everything else. It was a little like being in the locker room, closer than I wanted to be, actually.

It was also interesting watching the skill levels of the various strokes. To see the inefficient errors of the "flailer" versus the smooth strokes of the faster swimmers. I'm certain I'd fall amongst the flailers, and I have nothing but total appreciation for all levels. These young men are all doing something that I never did. Still can't.

In high school my freshman year I played football and ran track. Sophomore year I played soccer and had what I would call a decent high school sports experience. I think it is good for kids, but not all kids. I think what it has done for Ben is given him a new appreciation for being in shape. I am incredibly proud that he took this on as a Junior that had never swam at an organized level before. He stuck it out, finished strong and can't wait until next year.

And I was just as "into" it as I was when he was in football, soccer, and T-ball. They're part of what's made him into the young man he is. To his coaches present, past and future, I want to say thank you.

Blogging off...

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Through It Together

A little about friends.

We all have them, some more than others. Some of the more social people I know have hundreds of friends, they attract them and collect them. Others have fewer and are quite content with their smaller circle. Most people, I would guess, are somewhere in the middle. Not shy introverts and not super social. Lots of friends with a few close ones.

I guess I'd put myself in that category or perhaps trending toward the smaller numbers of close friends. What I'm finding though is I have a diverse group of friends, many of which I cannot successfully mix and match. You know the two people you don't want to pair together. C'mon, you do.

I've got my church friends. Many of these cross over into other groups, but I've grown to really appreciate this group. A few weeks ago we had to miss a week or two of church, and I mentioned to Donna how I missed the folks in that group. We are a small church with a big heart for each other and the world around us. A couple days a month are devoted to making sandwiches and serving a meal to the guys at the Guest House of Milwaukee. Because we typically meet in what we call "house church" we all know what's going on in each others' lives. I love doing life with these people.

I've got my work friends. Next week I'll be at a statewide conference and reconnecting with some friends that I only see once or twice a year. We talk shop until we can barely stand it anymore then say goodbye until the next conference.

My Thursday coffee friends are among some of the closest, if for nothing else, we make a point to get up early one day a week and talk about life, God, philosophy, politics and home maintenance. Super small group, but one I treasure.

This same group plus two or three other guys meets once every couple of months for a couple beers. We talk about similar things, but it's usually a much more jovial gathering - less serious. Beer tends to do that.

My old, old friends. These can range from the guys I went to high school with, to the guys I worked at Montgomery Wards with, to my first "Waukesha friends," to my old Elmbrook Church friends, to my best fishing buddy who I've known for close to twenty five years. These friends are the ones I can pick up exactly where I left off with them last time. They'd all drop everything and help me if I ever had the courage to ask for help. I want them in my corner at crunch time.

Then there's my writing friends. These friends "get" me, They understand my need for writing and all of the thoughts and work that goes into it. I can pass ideas over them and they'll listen and not get that faraway look in their eye when I'm talking about metaphor and my struggles with the fiction genre. I can laugh with them about using the word "skate" seven times on one page and getting beaten up for it. They want to make me better and sometimes that takes a good beatin'.

Of course I cannot leave out my Facebook friends. There are times that these friends are just the answer to my "social need without social interaction". Not to say that I like virtual friends better, but rather that I can get a pretty good update about so many of them by taking a peek at Facebook. They cheer me on, laugh with me, recall old times with me and boost me when I need it. And if I don't want to talk at length, I give them a big "Thumbs Up" (which we all know means, I'm done here - quit talking now) or just turn chat off.

Most recently I met a few new poet friends through my Tupelo poetry challenge. These are folks I didn't know a month ago and now we have a common bond. I may only talk to them once a month or once a year, but they're part of my life now - at least in the virtual world.

There's probably four or five other groups I'm forgetting about. My point is that each of these groups meets a different need for me - and, I suspect, I for them. I can't imagine not having any one of the groups, and yet, I know because I drain easily, that I have to take each one in limited quantities. Some people don't have this and can never get enough "people time."

Next to family when it comes time to say goodbye to this place all we'll have is our friends. That's a philosophy I like to share with all my friends.

Speaking of friends, I have to go now. I'm meeting with the Thursday beer group.