Thursday, March 31, 2016

Turn The Page

Today I did another Dirty Shirt presentation. I'm referring to it as the "last one" of the Dirty Shirt road tour, but that is probably a bad label. I call it that because it is the last one that I have on the docket for the immediate future. It's not to say I will not do another one, because I am almost certain I will - probably sooner than later. It's just that there is nothing scheduled yet and I am not actively seeking more. The thing is, I will take whatever comes my way and give it proper consideration. The book doesn't go away just because no one has called lately about a presentation. If someone called tomorrow and offered an audience, I'd probably jump at the chance.

The whole Dirty Shirt travelling road show has been a surreal experience. I've slogged a million miles over these 21 months and wouldn't trade one minute of any of it. I've met some fantastic people - people in love with everything the BWCA stands for - and for that I am eternally grateful. People have been extraordinarily kind with their words and a few made it a point to contact me after they'd finished the book to tell me what they thought. I couldn't script a better tour. These last few appearances have been some of my best - in my opinion - and it's too bad that just when you get something working good, it ends.

A few points about the crowd to at Clement Manor. As far as numbers go, there were as many people there as any presentation since my opening at Cafe de Arts. Clement Manor is an assisted living complex and part of their programming is their "Life Enrichment Center." The center holds classes and a monthly "Author Spotlight" feature which is what I fell under. To be honest, when I heard of the venue, I was trepidatious about the turnout. To my surprise I got an email saying there were 45 people registered! Even if it wasn't my finest presentation, it would be great to get in front of that many people and get them exposed to the book.

I would guess the audience numbered around 40ish and they were one of the best. They were engaged, vocal (laughed when I hoped they would) and they asked great questions. Some shared stories of their experience others asked why the name "Dirty Shirt?"

Afterwards, they lingered, talked and bought books. A few thanked me and mentioned how they enjoyed it. Humbling feedback for a guy uncomfortable in his own skin, especially in front of a crowd. I take it as a sign that I'm getting better at this public speaking schtick and am going to run with that.

My wife came and said it might have been my best presentation yet. God bless her for sitting through the same punch lines this many times. She could probably give my talk as well as me, head net and all. To be truthful, seeing her in the back of the room makes me more comfortable. I can't wait to see where the next book will take the two of us. Now all I have to do is write it.

Until then, I'm sticking with the tag line: "Have book. Will present for food."

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Art Appreciation 101

I went to the Art Institute of Chicago on Friday with Donna, Ben and a couple friends of ours. The museum was featuring a special exhibit titled "Van Gogh's Bedrooms." Because it is a limited run, we wanted to get down to see it. Being the start of Spring Break, the stars all aligned, we got tickets and made it happen.

I am so glad we did.

We took the early train down from Kenosha and got to the museum about an hour before it opened. We lucked out that way because the line started forming within 15 minutes of us getting there. We got in early and went straight to the exhibit. There was no waiting, and the crowd wasn't too bad at first, but by the time we left they were in a 90 minute wait to get in.

The exhibit was fascinating. Vincent Van Gogh has such an interesting story and the museum did a great job of documenting some of it. One of the things I learned was that he had three versions of his famous work "The Bedroom." The first was a work done while living in his first real house - aka the Yellow house. When that one sustained water damage, he asked that his brother bring it to him while he was in the insane asylum, so he could copy it - it was that highly regarded. Then, eventually he made a third, smaller copy for his mother.

Each of the three have their differences and nuances that the museum explained quite nicely. They even had a looping video screen where they zoomed into each piece at the identical spot on the other photos and compared them.

As we walked through the rest of the museum, I thought that I'd really like to have the museum to myself so I could take my time at each piece and read the history of each and spend some a little more time appreciating each one.

It was really nice being able to talk to one another about what we liked and didn't like about not only the Van Gogh's, but all the art. It was proof that art can be enjoyed either alone or with someone else.

I also thought it was interesting to track my emotional response to each piece I stood in front of. Some evoked wonder and awe. Others brought out a feeling of joy or happiness. Several pieces were "dark" and made me wonder what the artist was going through at that period in time. Or, perhaps their stylistic tendency was just dark. In any case, when I emerge from the museum, I'm always a little emotionally spent. It's a bit like being around a bunch of people at a party for a long period of time. I enjoy the moment, but it is a draining experience in the end.

I also am glad that I have raised two kids who appreciate art. Ben was engaged and as fascinated as we were with the masters and the minds behind the masters. In years past when Sarah came along with us, she was the same way. Glued to the canvas, so to speak.

Family in 2013 in Chicago.
I've been to the museum probably a half a dozen times and I always thoroughly enjoy it. As I look at these paintings, I cannot fathom ever undertaking something like painting a large landscape or portrait. The mind of an artist is a different animal. I have nothing but admiration for my talented artist friends, including Walter Jack Savage, Stacey Ball, Jill Krey, Sara Risley, Mark Neufang, Leah King, and even my own two kids, Sarah and Ben.

I give them credit for the gifts they have that I do not. My paintings would look a little like Koko the Gorilla's if I ever decided to pursue the craft.

Writing is hard enough. I think I'll stick to what I know.

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Weighty Matters

Feeling the weight of the world lately and I hope it's a feeling that doesn't stick around very long. Of course there was the terrorism in Brussels yesterday, as if that isn't enough to make a person want to crawl in a hole. Who wants to live in a world where you have to worry about people blowing themselves (and others) up? Every time you think things are clicking along and are peaceful, some extremist group messes it all up.

Then I had a couple of friends who lost a sister/sister in-law. She was only 53 and died of cancer. I'd met this woman a couple of times about 30 years ago, so didn't really know her. But still, this kind of death always hits close to home, for obvious reasons. And when it's a relative of a friend, it's too close.

Add to that a friend of my step-sisters passed away after a battle with bone cancer. He too was in his fifties and while I never knew him, the fact that I have a sister who's grieving his passing, grieves me.

I saw on Facebook that a friend of mine from my writing group is also going through chemotherapy. Add to that that there's three or four other people on my prayer list and well, it can get overwhelming.

But as these sorrowful and bad things come to the fore, I try and remain positive and forward looking. I have much to be thankful for and I keep those thoughts on top. Things like:

  • My health. While I have aches and pains and a few skin conditions I'll spare you from, I am in pretty good health. As I passed a couple of people with canes today and heard of a couple of stroke victims on Facebook, I realize I am incredibly lucky and blessed with good health. Today, at least. 
  • My wife. Married 25+ years and still in love. We can laugh over the petty things we've picked on each other over the years and realize that the older we get, the better the laughter gets.
  • My mother. She's almost 83 years old, but still healthy and kicking. I know many who have lost both parents, and I am fortunate that I can still call her when I want and see her when I'm home. She is super-involved and active with work/volunteering and that seems to keep her sharp.
  • My church family and friends. I am surrounded by the most supportive group of friends that I have ever had. Tough to put a price on that. These folks make me laugh and would do anything for us. 
  • Freedom, a good job and secure living. 'Merica.
  • Good kids. I can't explain how fun it is to have them as adults around my house now. They are taking on their own personalities and yet we all share our past. We laugh with/at each other, but it is all tightly shrouded in love and respect. They keep me sane and honest. 
  • And as of this post, in the last 24 hours I have made sandwiches for the Guest House guys with people from CollectiveMKE, had coffee and deep spiritual discussions with my Thursday Morning buddies, and served dinner to the guys at the Guest House this evening. If that isn't a pretty good 24 hour stretch, I don't know what is. Grateful to be able to serve when I can. Even more grateful for my wife who coordinates all of the opportunities.
    Over 120 sandwiches for Guest House.
And so, when I look around and start adding up the good versus the bad, the good always wins. That doesn't mean there's not a place for sadness, it just keeps me from wallowing in it. If I tried, I could probably be a great depressed person. I try to stave off things that bring me down by dwelling in the good. It's not always easy, but it beats the other option.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Making The Grade

As we approach spring break in our house, we are getting a fair amount of complaints from our kids about how hard their classes are. Our youngest is a Junior in High School, and has complained that his AP (Advanced Placement) Physics and his Honors Algebra classes are hard. After having a pretty strong first semester he's struggling with keeping his GPA up near where it was. From every indication, I don't think any of it is because of lack of effort. He's got three AP classes and an honors class. It's a heavy load for any student. Heavier than I would like by an AP class or two, in my opinion.

At the same time, we are getting the same complaints from our eldest who is in her second year of college at the University of Minnesota. After a strong year and a half, with Dean's list appearances for every semester, she is saying that things are getting much harder. She is a bit of a perfectionist and puts a fair amount of pressure on herself. And so when things don't come as easily to her as they have in the past, she gets frustrated. Of course, she over-compensates to make up for the gap, and I have no doubt she'll excel, but that doesn't take away from the teachable moment that these times are having on our kids. It is a lesson in perseverance and hard work, both of which they'll exhibit and use to pull themselves up.

Part of the deal is that I can in no way compare their experience to my own. The classrooms and expectations of students today is so different than it was when I was in school. The whole AP track pushes kids in competitive ways that we never experienced.

Couple that with the fact that I came from a family of six kids and a single parent where my mom executed student triage for 15 years while we all got through grade-middle-high school. She did what she could and did a great job, but with six, you just kind of make sure no one's flunking out and whatever else happens is just okay.

Take me for example. I was always a B student in grade school. A couple of A's (English, science), a few C's (Math, History) and a couple of B's. I was always "young for my grade" which was both a social and academic detriment - at least that's my story anyway. I was always super shy, as well, but I don't think holding me back from Kindergarten would have changed my introversion anyway.

When I hit high school, I had one directive. Make the B Honor Roll consistently so we could get the "good student discount" from our auto insurance provider. So I carried my "B studentness" into high school and hit the B honor roll virtually every quarter.

But when I entered the University of Minnesota, I floundered my first year. My first quarter I dropped my College Algebra class, rather than take a fail. The next quarter I got my first collegiate D grade and promptly ended up on academic probation. I began thinking I wasn't cut out for college.

Then my brother Tom had speaks with me. He said maybe I should stay on campus and study after my last class was over, rather than going home and killing time before I started work at Montgomery Wards at 4:00.

So I switched my habits. I stuck around at school and studied until it was time to take the bus (or my motorcycle) directly to work. Over time, my grades levelled out. Then they started climbing. And the thing about getting yourself in an academic hole is that it takes a long time to dig out of it. It took me the next four years to get my grades back up over a 3.0. (For the record, I did graduate eventually. Also for the record, my one regret is that I did not pursue a Masters Degree at some point. Maybe someday...LOL)

And so I fully understand where my kids are coming from. I am the first one to admit that they are way, way smarter than I was at their age. Way smarter. I also recognize that they're being challenged in ways I never was, in large part because of the AP program. I've reiterated to both of them that when it comes down to it, I am totally okay with a B grade - in any class. They don't need unrealistic expectations. And a B is still above average. At the same time, I expect them to try their hardest and do their best.

But most of all, I'm confident that they'll be fine. Of that I have no fear. They've never given me an indication of anything other than great confidence at succeeding.

So, I'm running with that.

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Working Toward An Understanding

Last Sunday, our church, Collective MKE, hosted a group (or troupe) called A Jew, an Arab and a White Guy at St. Matthias Church in Downtown Waukesha. We rent the church for our own gatherings once a month or so, so this fit the bill rather well. My only wish is that we could have packed the place, because the message was so enlightening and helpful.

The idea behind these meetings/gatherings is to foster dialogue, discussion and cross cultural awareness between ALL people. Not between black and white or Muslims and Christians, but all people. All humans. Because that's all we are when you strip away all the labels we tend to stick on each other.

These guys started out with a quick introduction of their background stories. The Jewish guy was from New York City originally and grew up in a traditional Jewish home. The Arab guy was from Jordan originally and grew up in a traditional Muslim environment. The white guy was a Christian from Illinois who grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist home environment.

All three are practicing Christians, but that is not at all what this was about.

It was about understanding one another.

As I sat there listening, I was fascinated about how similar their three stories were, yet how different. Each was raised in their own faith yet their stories were interwoven; their faiths even shared some of the same gods and prophets.

The Christian guy told a story of when he moved to Colorado and when he heard a couple of college kids speaking in Arabic on a train, he spoke to them in Arabic and was shocked to find out that in the three months they'd been there, he was the first person to speak to them. They spoke English, but because of their looks, people avoided them...for three months. 

It was eye opening.

And it's no wonder we can't get along with people outside our tribes. The same guy had a nice phrase when he said that we are great at "othering" people. As a white guy myself, I am as guilty as anyone at this (though am brutally aware and continue to work on crossing over/reaching out.) 

I am a terribly empathetic person to begin with. I feel for peoples' hurt. So when I hear stories of injustice, racism and bias, it grieves me. I can remember in my Catholic grade school, their was a Jewish kid who got called all sorts of crappy things. It almost made me physically sick. And the only reason it was done to him was the ignorance of those doing it. 

Ignorance and othering. 

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but suffice it to say, I have a better understanding of what barriers are there and I'm going to continue to try and break some of them down in my own life. And events like this are a good start.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 13, 2016

I Can See For Miles And Miles

Well, I just got back yesterday from what I'm calling the triangle tour of Wisconsin (and Minnesota) and wanted to give a synopsis of some of my thoughts, encounters and experiences.

As I was driving northward toward Minocqua, I had the radio on (LOUDLY) and, like most road trips, I had lots of think-time. Oddly enough, the thought that kept coming back to me was how lucky I was.

  • How lucky I was to have the job I have, which allows me to be part of a statewide association and enables me to travel to plan the goals for that group. My boss (and many of my colleagues) have served on this WI Land Information Association Board of Directors in the past, so he knows the value of being engaged in the decision making and planning of the group. 
  • How lucky I am to have my wife who has stood next to me for 25 years, encouraging me to push myself, insuring that things happen in my absence and cheering me on.
  • How fortunate I am that our kids turned out to be great young adults with compassionate hearts, and a desire for education and social justice. I don't know what we did right, but they're both on a good track.
  • How blessed I am by my extended families in Minnesota and New York. Doing the same things we're doing. Getting up every day, going to work, bettering themselves, and raising great kids.
  • How good it is to have great friends and a church family that is second to none. 
And every time I turned the radio off to get some quiet, these thoughts came back to me. Sometimes we get so caught up in what's next that we forget to savor what we have and have had. I encourage you to reflect on what you have rather than focusing on what you want. It pays dividends, repeatedly.

During my travels, I was reminded how rural Wisconsin is. I sometimes drove for hundreds of miles and saw nothing but agricultural fields. Living in the largest urban area of the state, and travelling to the north woods to recreate, I often overlook the rest which makes the state so great - farms and country living. 

At my meet the author events, I really enjoyed talking to folks about their BWCA experiences. People who have been there all have "that story" that is so relate-able to the rest of us that also have. And unlike some of the other library events I've been at, people bought books! Attendance was sparse at the events, but the people that came all bought multiple books. I know as well as anyone that it isn't all about the money, but that sure helps. I am also quite grateful that both libraries provided financial stipends to help offset some of my travel costs. Again, not necessary, but a nice perk.
Over the course of pushing Dirty Shirt at these events, my presentation has gotten more and more comfortable. Saturday's event I was much more relaxed and at ease than Friday, where I struggled with some jangly nerves, but overall, both were successful. I have to say, I'm going to be a little sad when the promotion of this book is done. I will miss it.

In the midst of all the driving and book pushing I got to pick my favorite girl up from College. Sarah and I went out to dinner at Noodles and Company after I picked her up at her dorm room. I always treasure this one-on-one time with her. I get caught up with what she's going through with her classes and her friends and just enjoy laughing with her.

And finally, the two of us stayed at my sister's house on Friday night. It was so nice talking to her about our plans for our post kids-at-home experience. She is always a gracious host and I love her.

We all have much to be grateful for if we look hard enough.

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Windshield Time - Lots Of It

I am writing this on the evening (Wed) before I embark on a 906 mile, fourteen hour driving journey, and that's assuming no wrong turns or traffic.

If you know me at all you know I love road trips. This one is a bit more than I typically like, but it is broken up quite nicely and all of my destinations are places I really want to be, so it should be great fun.

Leg one of the quest takes me up past Minocqua to Arbor Vitae, Wisconsin. I am attending a
Wisconsin Land Information Association board of directors retreat. This is a mandatory meeting that involves strategizing, team building and committee assignments, among a dozen other action items. I was elected to the board this past February and am privileged to be able to serve a two year term. One of the focuses of this meeting will be planning the statewide conference that is happening in June. We have a good team of Land Information folks that I look forward to getting to know a little better this week.

This area of the state is prime fishing area - especially for musky and walleye - two of my favorite species to fish. Unfortunately we're into that unfishable time of year or I'd try and wet a line during lunch. The area is God's country nonetheless and I'm looking forward to getting out of Dodge for a couple days.

On Friday, leg two takes me to Ellsworth Wisconsin, near River Falls for a Dirty Shirt reading and book signing at the library there. It's a part of the state I haven't seen much of and is a stone's throw from the stomping grounds of Michael Perry, a favorite author of mine, so should be fun.

Part of the reason I got that gig was leg three of the trip, which takes me from Ellsworth to Minneapolis, Minnesota to pick up my daughter from college. She's off for spring break, and it worked out that I could schedule in a book event for each end of picking her up. Which explains...

Leg four takes the two of us from the University of Minnesota to River Falls where we'll be staying overnight at my nephew's (and niece in-law - is there such a thing?) place.

We are staying there because the next morning for leg five we go to the public library in Colfax, Wisconsin for another reading/signing event at 11:00 AM.

Leg six brings us back to Waukesha on Saturday evening.


So, the GPS is plugged and I'm stocked up with selzer water, Twizzlers and lots of CD's (our car has no-tooth). With any kind of luck, I'll be happily home with my WHOLE family on Saturday and will be a few books poorer and a few stories richer.

Because this life is a rich life.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Washing Lemons

For Sale: Bosch Dishwasher. 

  • November, 2013 model
  • Low miles
  • High customer dissatisfaction rating
  • Runs okay from time to time
  • Starts and finishes in 2 minutes from time to time
  • Infuriates wife and spouse from time to time
  • Super quiet - usually brought on by the 2 minute cycle mentioned above
  • New owner must prove access to mental therapist and clean and sober for 3 years prior
  • Willing to sell for a case of microbrewed beer 
  • Also willing to trade for a 10 year old "Best Buy cheapie" that works
I don't usually bash products online, but this particular dishwasher, a Bosch Ascenta Evolution model, deserves special treatment. It appears we got a lemon, as the unit has given us problems for the two years we've owned it and is showing no signs of letting up. Here's what happens.

  1. Unit is turned on
  2. Pump drains existing water for  25 seconds
  3. Water starts to fill unit for 15 seconds
  4. Clean light comes on!
And believe me, they're not clean at this point.

We've had a repairman out once who replaced a pump of some sort - that was about a month before our warranty was expired. It worked for a while and then the two-minute drill started happening again. After a few extended efforts by my wife and I we got the thing back on track. It'll work for a few months, then start doing it again.

Like any questionable appliance, one's faith in it's correctly functioning begins to wane. We're at the point now where, even when it does run, we're not sure it cleans like it was supposed to. 

I see from the reviews that I am not alone. Some notable headlines include:

"It runs quietly...and that is pretty much the only positive thing I can say about it."

"This is a terrible piece of machinery"

Not exactly ringing endorsements. It's disappointing because I'd heard that Bosch was the "premier" dishwasher to have. I guess we got the Plymouth Volare' model of the Bosch line, then.

When I ponder what it will take to satisfy me and convince me to buy or recommend a Bosch to others, it is clearly one thing only.

Take this machine away and give me a new one. Grind this one up, crush it, and bury it deeply in the landfill. Fixing this one clearly puts me on the road to further disappointment. 

So there you have it. My product review for the year. Wish it was a better one.

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Virtually Friends

This has been an interesting past few weeks. I have met so many different people - most of them in my virtual world via online channels - which isn't a bad thing necessarily. These social network friends know that I'm there, and vice verse, but there is no pressure to make small talk. Just good people who are good to know.

Here's a rundown on some of them.

  • John Stanizzi - is an adjunct professor at Manchester Community College in Connecticut. He
    and I connected through the 30/30 poetry challenge. We supported one another when the words weren't coming easily. After the challenge was over, I felt compelled to send him my collection of poems from the month. He was grateful and then proceeded to send me his poetry collection titled "Hallelujah Time!" It's a nice collection built around Rastafarian philosophies, Bob Marley songs and their Biblical ties. A guy I wouldn't have met had I not gone outside my comfort zone and tried the challenge.

  • Brett Rawson - is a handwriting aficionado who developed a website dedicated to the art of the the (literally) written word. We met when I submitted a couple of poems to the collection. He then pointed me back to a photographer friend of his Matthew Van Biene  who is an adventurer who travels with a camera. He has some phenomenal photography on his website. I then followed up with Brett on another project that involves signature tattoos. He was so impressed with the images and the story behind the tattoos that he is putting together another piece in collaboration with my nephew and me. Cool people, cool projects.
  • Parker J. Cole
  • Parker J Cole - is a fellow eLectio author as well as a blog radio host for a show titled The Write Stuff. She interviewed me last week and while I felt like I knew her a bit before the interview, we had such a good time that I feel I know her much better now. There's even talk of another interview about Written Life at some point. 

  • Jendi Reiter - is a writer and poet and founder of the website Winning Writers. I met her today, actually. I inquired about getting listed on their Recommended Authors listing and after seeing some of my work she agreed to do it. Well, in looking at my website, she noticed my Tattooed Poet link and read it. She thought it was cool and then sent me her link. Turns out she was a tattooed poet as well. 

  • Carly Butler - is another handwriting fanatic, though her focus is letters. I met her through the mention of my wife's collection of love letters from me before we met. Like Brett, she put
    Carly Butler
    together a column using my story and pictures. It came out amazing and can be found here. She has a collection of letters of from her grandmother to her grandfather that were written during World War II. It is a story worth checking out and can be found here.

  • Random Fan - is a random guy I met at my Racine Yacht Club event a couple of months back. He emailed me to tell me he really enjoyed my book. He's been to the BWCA several times and could really relate to the book. I love these kind of random reviews. It makes it worthwhile.

These are just some of the beautiful, creative, supportive people I've run into in the past few weeks in my writing circles. The introvert in me loves that we're "virtually" friends, but the socialite in me loves the fact that we connected at all. I'd like to have coffee with each of them for an hour (well, maybe a beer with John) and hear more of their story. 

Because now, they've heard some of mine.

Blogging off...