Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Blurred Anniversary

The older I get, the more I appreciate creative arts that move me in ways nothing else can. Be it words from a poem, a play that strikes a chord and brings me to tear, a movie that makes me laugh or even a well written book. I recently finished Richard Brautigan's book, A Confederate General From Big Sur, which had me laughing in bed while reading it. Part of the appeal of that book and other great works is that I try and get in the head of the artist/author/poet/director that penned the thoughts, wrote the piece or created the work. It is a pure and simple appreciation for an artistic outpouring or talent. 

Along these lines, if anyone knows me, they know that I am a music nut. It has always been my "thing" and so when I heard that The Church, a favorite band of mine from way back was coming to Evanston, Illinois to play two sets, I was intrigued. I'd been meaning to see them since I last saw them in Madison in 1988. 

And so when I heard they were playing my favorite album, The Blurred Crusade, in its entirety as their first set, and then more hits as part of a second set, I was hooked. My wife, also a Church fan, suggested we make an overnight stay of it and do lunch in Chicago the next day. She made the arrangements, I got tickets and this past Monday we drove down.

I know I'm supposed to be 54 years old, and act my age and all that. But I still get giddy when I know I'm going to see live music - especially if it is a "big" name. I was that way with the Black Keys when I went with my 16 year-old son, I was that way with Norah Jones, and I was that way 35 years ago with the Ramones. I can't help myself, though. 

Music nuts are weird about these kinds of things.

To spare you from the blow by blow, suffice it to say that it was phenomenal. The band (and there are only two remaining original members) has not lost a step in their play at all. It was an intimate venue of about 180 people and we were literally 20 feet from the stage. 

So as they played all the old greats and many of their newer songs, I started thinking how great it was that I was here with my wife to share what might have been the best concert I've ever experienced - and I've been to a TON of concerts. This was an early anniversary present to each other and what better way to celebrate it? When they played "our song," Under the Milky Way, I grabbed her hand and proceeded to get downright misty-eyed. She and I have had such a great life. I don't know how I got so lucky to land with her. I guess I owe that thank you to my brother Rob, who introduced us.

With the recent passing of Prince and David Bowie, I wanted to make sure I made it to this gig. None of us has a pass to tomorrow and you never know when a band is going to splinter, especially when they've been doing it for 30+ years. These guys looked like they could be doing this in ten years, and I hope they will.

I might have a hard time explaining it to my grandkids, though. 

Blogging off...

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Dinner And A Dance

Last night my youngest went to his first formal dance, prom for Waukesha South High School. If you've been through this scenario, like me, you probably wondered where the time went? Wasn't this little guy just wandering through the living room leaving a wake of destruction behind him? Wasn't he the kid who just yesterday was busy pulling up grass in the outfield and putting it on his head to be goofy during T-Ball? Wasn't he just "graduating" from kindergarten and begging for sleepovers every weekend?

Yep, it seems just like yesterday.

In any case when we asked him how he liked it, he said it was a blast. There's something about being around your friends with loud music, dancing and lots of laughs that is hard to beat. He went with a "friend" and so it was a little different than boyfriend/girlfriend. There are many variations on the whole prom experience than when I was a kid, including going "stag" with friends and or even attending an "anti-prom" party. As long as everyone has a good time, you can't take much away from doing whatever these young adults feel comfortable with.

Prom for me was when adult life got real. I think I went to four formal dances in high school and there's just something about putting on a suit or tux, then getting in a car and driving to pick up a GIRL. (Bear in mind that I went to an all-male military academy, so most of my dances were "set-ups). It was always a little unnerving, as this wasn't a pizza and a movie with your buddies. The whole thing demanded manners, class and gentlemanly courtesy. All of it done in uncomfortable albeit, fine clothes. Mine was a three piece bell bottomed, rust colored corduroy suit that was TOUGH! All it was missing was a hat and I'd have the whole pimp thing going. Superfly!

Then there's the whole conversing with a girl for the whole night. I was a shy kid, so the thought of this was daunting, but I knew it was something that had to be done that first few times- a rite of passage - toward becoming a real, live functional male adult. It turns out we spent most of the night hanging with friends, much like Ben, so the conversation jumped around the table most of the night.

And with regards to dancing, well, there was no issue with that. I've always loved to kick it, so when the band hit a song I liked, I dragged my date out on the floor again. Slow songs were awkward affairs, with clammy hands and respectful holds. Our son reported that the "grinding" was everywhere at the dance something he didn't participate in and wouldn't even if he went with a girlfriend. Both of our kids have more class than that. Thank God it wasn't a problem back when I was in high school. Heck it wasn't even invented yet.
Midwinter Dance 1979

It is an awkward time to be sure. I remember my mom telling me to be sure to open doors, compliment the girl on her dress, and basically don't be a self absorbed teenager for the evening. I did my best and came away unscarred. They were some of the best nights of my high school years.

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 21, 2016

That Time Of Year

Well, it's nearly upon us. Fishing season, that is. It opens the first weekend in May and I can't wait. Last night I went to an event with couple of friends. It's called Smallie Night Out and there are a couple of guest speakers followed by a door prize raffle. It got me jazzed for fishing, that much is sure.

Fishing has always been a part of my family. My dad loved it, my brothers and I love it and now my kids enjoy it too. It really is a sport that can bring a family together.

While I can't remember the first fish I caught, I do remember fishing at Lake Phalen and catching bluegills like crazy. My brother Tom gave me a Pocket Tackle Box with a few important lures in it. It gave me a sense of ownership and investment in the sport.

Me and Rob in Hibbing, MN
One of the things we used to do as brothers was to trade fishing tackle. It was the usual sham of trying to pass off the lures you didn't want to your siblings. The rusty old lures that we'd never used or the ones that were too big to ever do us any good. Meanwhile, your brothers were trying to sham you too so we usually ended up in a standoff and nothing ever passed hands.

The old saying that a bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work is more true than not. I have too many good memories of fishing to ever recount. Here are a few of the more memorable ones.

Rob, Me, Paul, Tom

  • Fishing for carp on the Mississippi River. Yes, it's bottom of the barrel, bottom feeder fishing, but fighting a fat carp against the river current is a blast too.
  • Canadian fishing with my friends Steve and Dave. We caught fish until our arms hurt. It spoiled me forever.
  • BWCA fishing with my kids. Walleyes cooked fresh from the lake converted my kids' eating habits.
  • My first Northern Pike caught in Hibbing, Minnesota. The fish that looked like an alligator intrigued me. 
  • Cabin fishing with Rob, Paul and Tom. Be it in Aitkin Minnesota or Mercer Wisconsin, there's something really fun about being in a boat with your brothers, dodging insults and catching fish. 
  • Mille Lacs fishing charter with the brothers. Didn't catch a ton of fish, but really good to get out with all 3 of them.
  • Fishing White Bear Lake with Rob, Paul and my cousin Lori as kids. Long summer days catching sunfish. 
  • Of course the last time the brothers got out fishing on White Bear with Rob, which I've blogged about before, will forever be a great memory.
  • Muskie fishing with my buddies Steve and John. Fishing for the biggest most fierce fish in the Midwest is always a rush. Lots of good memories from Manitowish Waters with these guys.
  • Kayak fishing on my favorite lake. 
Alison, Sarah, Hunter, Ben
I get that not everyone likes to fish. It takes patience, sometimes it's hard work and some people just can't get past the slimy fish thing. But for me, it is my therapy. It grounds me. Long hours in a boat are meditative for me. If I'm not catching much, at least I'm outdoors enjoying nature. Plus I get the chance to talk at a deeper level to whoever's in the boat with me.

Fish on!

Blogging off...

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Doing It Right

Today my mom celebrates her 83rd trip around the sun. If you know our story at all, you know that she is a woman of great perseverance, deep faith and a get-it-done attitude. Having to raise seven of us, almost single-handedly for many years, you begin to understand how these attributes enabled her to keep pressing on through the hard times; because there were a lot of hard times. How people react and respond to adversity shapes who they are, and before you know it you're eighty-something and still leading by example.

That's my mom.

There are some solid memories of moments in time where Mom was there for me and my siblings. Moments that stood above others enough to make an impact.

  • Once she bought me a cheap desk for my room. It was a poorly made thing, but I'm sure she got a deal on it because money was always tight. Well, two days into it a couple of the nails had popped out and one of the drawers wasn't working. When I complained to her about it saying I didn't like it, she said she'd look at it after work. After surveying the situation, she showed up in my room with a hammer and some nails. She started pounding and reinforcing the weak spots of the desk. I have this vision in my head today of her with nails in her mouth pounding away at the desk and making it right. When she was done, it was perfect. She said, "I bet you didn't know your mother was a part time carpenter, did you?"  It was the perfect example of her can-do, get it done attitude.
  • When Sarah was born, we of course were filled with apprehension of how our lives had changed and all the responsibility we had just taken upon ourselves. It was at this time when Mom said "You'll be great parents." No advice or support was more meaningful to me/us at that time. Again, good mothers know what to say and when.
  • Between the six of us we could be horrible kids at times. For instance, Mom threw out her back lifting a monstrously heavy air conditioner with my stepfather. After going through surgery for a herniated disk, she was recovering at home. I remember one day she read us the riot act about  how she shouldn't have to walk around the house picking up socks and other items with her feet because she can't bend over. When mom got ticked, the whole house knew it, as they should. As I said, we were horribly selfish kids at times. Mom's have a way of enlightening us to things like that and straightening us out.
  • Mom always showed up for the important events in all of our lives. This meant that because there were six of us, she obviously couldn't make it to every event/game/recognition in our lives. But when it really meant something, she was there. When her and Jack (stepfather) showed up to my grade school championship football game (unbeknownst to me until after the game) it meant the world to me - even if I only played on kickoffs. 

  • I've told the story of how, on the morning after my dad had been killed, she came into our room and said "Your father was killed last night, but we're all going to be okay." Devastating news to a bunch of kids our age, but the comfort behind the words "we're all going to be okay," were exactly what I needed to hear. Mothers have a way of doing that.

  • There was a time during my brother Rob's celebration of life where my daughter Sarah broke down and who was there for her but my mom, Sarah's "Nanny." It was a poignant picture of the oldest generation lifting up the youngest in times of great sadness. Sarah's first exposure to something unthinkably sad was something my mom had to deal with time and time again. 

  • I'm sure everyone has a bunch of stories of their own like this. Mothers are special. Mine has a listening heart, she never judges or pits one child against the other and lends a shoulder to cry on in moments of grief. She still calls us out when she thinks we're going astray, but you never really finish the job of being a mother, I guess.

    Anyway, Happy Birthday Mom. I love you.

    Blogging off...

    Thursday, April 14, 2016

    What's That Clunking Noise?

    We are going through what one might call a bit of a rough patch around here lately. It's my thought that everyone has these stretches in life where you kind of tiptoe around hoping nothing else breaks or goes south around the house. These rough patches are spaced between long stretches of relative calm and synchronicity, but I've discovered that when you own an old house, the stretches are much shorter than say, the owner of a new house. (i.e. one built in the last 60 years or so.)

    Now let me preface this with the fact that I realize these are all first world problems. When you own multiple vehicles and try and keep a relatively modern household, things go wrong. Sometimes it's real expensive things. Other times it's just minor inconveniences.

    But compared to the Ebola virus, the child slave trade and the Syrian refugee crisis, my problems are ridiculous. Unfortunately, it also is my life and they must be dealt with. Here's a little of what's gone bad lately. Again, not looking for sympathy, I'm just posting it so that if you're going through something similar, you can relate. If you're not, well, you probably will at some point.

    • Our 2004 Hyundai Santa Fe was making a humming noise that turned out to be a $900 muffler manifold/catalytic converter repair. The car has been paid for seven years, but when you start taking hits like that you have to start doing the new car payment math. Especially when we'd just put $1300 into a new Power Steering rack last fall. A new car doesn't figure into the whole kid-in-college and one on the way scenario real well. So we duct tape, patch and jerry rig the trusty Hyundai. Then again there are families of 6 in some countries that own a moped. It's all about perspective.
    • About a month ago our refrigerator suddenly spiked a fever. It kept our food at a savory 58 degrees, so we had it "fixed" to the tune of $200. When it was done the technician said it might be a different, much more expensive fix but he wanted to try the cheaper route first. Well, guess what? We're at 58 degrees again. This may be the old nail in the coffin for the Amana. New refrigerators are another budget buster item. What fun.
    • The Bosch dishwasher that we own - my wife's number one nemesis - has taken to saying dishes are "clean" after only three minutes of cleaning. The other night she futzed with it until I nearly had to tell her to step away. Today she managed to get it to run a full cycle. If anyone knows any Bosch employees, point them my way. I'd like to have a few words with them. Singularly the worst appliance purchase ever.
    • On a brighter note, I was vacuuming the other night and for no good reason, our Shark vacuum head stopped spinning. It literally was working one minute and when I turned it back on, it was dead again. Now, unlike the folks at Bosch, I have nothing but good things to say about the folks at Shark. I called an 1-800 Number and within 10 minutes a new head was on the way. This is on a four-year-old vacuum. It is the second time they have done such a thing, and I cannot say enough about what that means to me as a customer. Never a Bosch. Always a Shark!
    When you get a rash of badness like this, you kind of want to stay in bed some mornings with the covers pulled over your head. I'm sure we'll find a way to cover everything - they truly are first world issues - but that doesn't mean I wanted to spend the money on other things. Things like "getting ahead" whatever that means. We're bleeding money in a jugular kind of way. 

    So, my advice for any of you going through some stuff right now is, hang in there. Everyone has their crap to deal with. One day at a time. Breathe, work through them and always remember that someone else would kill to have these kinds of problems.

    As the great Canadian sage, Red Green would say, "Keep your stick on the ice. We're all in this together."

    Blogging off...

    Sunday, April 10, 2016

    Sprinting Towards Spring

    We are well into April and Spring continues to be "just around the corner." Friday we had an all day snow, mostly just flurries, but maddeningly hard at times. When Donna and I went out for coffee yesterday morning, I actually warmed up the van as I scraped the windows.

    In April.

    Warmed up the car.

    Cabin fever is setting in with a vengeance as a result of all of this uncomfortably cool weather. I am still wearing fleece around the house and keep threatening to take my bike out of the basement storage for the year. It's not a full fledged depression yet, but there is a certain snarl to people in our circles around here.

    Yesterday was cool as well, with temps in the thirties and light winds. The sun was out however, and sometimes that makes all the difference. I know it did for me yesterday.
    Carroll Track and Field Facility

    Carroll University, which is right across the street from my house was hosting an NCAA track meet all day. When I returned from my usual Saturday writing stint at the library, I decided to take in a little bit of the track meet. Carroll recently completed construction of a viewing pavilion that overlooks the Track and Field area so I thought I'd check it out from there.

    It was actually a good perch to watch all the events unfold simultaneously. At any one time there was a footrace, a javelin throw and the discus event going on. I tell you you get a whole different respect for these athletes as they scream by you at top speed in the shorter races. Then, just when you think that is impressive, you see the women come out and run the 5000 Meter race, 10 laps around the track.

    Some of my observations:

    1. There was one discus thrower that routinely threw his disc 15 yards farther than everyone else. He was a beast. (I think he threw for Ripon College.) In the video above you'll see the crowd of measurement judges part like the Red Sea when his disc comes flying their direction. He was a man among boys, the Michael Phelps of Discus.
    2. At one point during the 5000 meter women's race, I noticed a woman running with her long hair flying everywhere. Everyone else had pony tails in, except her. Then I heard one of her teammates standing near me, "That's has to suck when you lose your ponytail thing." That explained the flowing locks.
    3. The javelin is an interesting sport, as is the discus. I suppose there was a day thousands of years ago when throwing a spear a long distance was an beneficial skill to have in your quiver - to use a fitting metaphor. I guess that's part of the appeal of the Summer Olympics and the decathlon events. Such a diverse skill set and talents.
    4. I saw a couple of pole vault attempts. Again a skill set that might have been more necessary in the days of the early Greeks.
    5. People need to stay away from crossing the track during foot races.
    I am a  little sorry I didn't get to see any of the high jump, as that was my event in high school. I also did the Triple Jump and Long Jump in high school. I always wanted to be a pole vaulter. My step brother Patrick was one of the best and for a long time held the school record of 12 feet or so. He was fun to watch. 

    Me, center in dark jersey, 1976

    I never pursued track past my freshman year and kind of wish I had. The great thing about it, like swimming and other individual sports, is that you are competing both against yourself and your opponents. It's all about personal bests. 

    The best part about watching the events was just soaking in the sun. The whole event gave me hope that spring will come soon. 

    Well, one can hope.

    Blogging off...

    Thursday, April 7, 2016

    An Update From The Kitchen

    Well, it's been another one of those weeks. An eye opener for sure. One of those where the urgency of life gets ramped up a bit. If you know me and have followed this blog at all, you know I periodically get reflective and introspective. This is almost always spurred by the death of either a friend or a famous person, or, on a bad week a couple of famous people.

    This was one of those weeks. Today I got word that the brother of a friend from the old neighborhood passed away. Truthfully, I'd only met the gentleman once, and ironically enough it was at a funeral for another close friend's mother. He seemed like a nice guy and was right around my age.

    The other death this week was Merle Haggard. One of country musics biggest stars. I never knew much of his music, but when I was in Nashville, many of the groups I saw kept playing his music. He is one of the guys that were huge when I was growing up and somehow it just kind of hit me.

    Then, last night, Donna had gone up to bed to read and Ben was up studying. As I was turning out the lights downstairs, I started thinking about how empty this house is going to be when Ben moves out. And I thought about how many memories are held within these walls. Memories of those tiny bodies dancing in the living room. It made me wistful and sad.

    So I can't emphasize enough how important it is to:

    Nashville, TN

    • Tell the family you live with and see everyday that you love them. Everyday.
    • Forgive people and shed your anger baggage.
    • Dance to the radio in the kitchen
    • Take care of yourself, but also
    • Eat too much ice cream once in a while
    • Take that spontaneous trip to Nashville or (fill-in-the-blank). You'll never forget it.
    • Listen to the J. Geils Band LOUD
    • Hug your kids. Laugh with them.
    • Vote! 
    • Work hard, like you're paying yourself.
    • Over tip that good waitperson.
    • Read the classics, or contemporary, or local, or poetry or the back of a cereal box, but READ!
    • Pay somebody's coffee forward at work.
    • Create something. Journal, paint, sing, play, build, architect, design, cook, brew, sculpt. It is an expression of yourself that wants to be released and will make you a better person.
    • Lose some weight - get in shape. You'll feel better and live longer, God willing.
    • Sing when you're alone.
    • Pray often and hard
    • Have coffee or lunch with that old friend.
    • Laugh at stupid cat videos. 
    • Grow those dreads, shave your head, color your hair, join a book club.

    I don't mean to preach, it's just that life is way too short to waste. Only you can make it into what it could be. Leave a good story behind. I have to go now, because the radio's on in the kitchen.

    Blogging off...

    Sunday, April 3, 2016

    Under The Shiny Veneer

    As I worked and relaxed around the house this weekend, I kept coming across our little piles of chaos. I hope you know what I'm talking about, and that our family is not alone in our little chaotic piles.

    You know the ones:

    • It's the kitchen "junk drawer" that everyone has. If you don't have one, I'm not going to say you're abnormal, but I will say that I can't be your friend. (Just kidding. No, I'm not, really.) These drawers are typically a clinking, clanking collection of caligenous junk, to use the line from the Wizard of Oz. Small stuff with no other place to call home usually lands here. We had one growing up that held anything from a hammer to a popped button from a shirt that would never find its home again. Ours contains everything from Super Glue to an eyeglass screwdriver, to unframed class pictures from last year that never found that relative they were intended to get to. I would go as far as to say that these drawers are essential to a properly functioning household. Where do we go if we need a needle and thread in a hurry? The Junk Drawer. Where do you get a rubber band for the bag of whatever you have? The Junk Drawer. Ruler? Sympathy Card? Battery? Same answer - the chaos of the Junk Drawer.
    • It's the closet where stuff is shoved right before company comes. Or the one where even when company doesn't come, it is still stuffed with things that have no other home. Stuff that needs to be accessible, but not exposed. 

    • It's the cord pile from the TV, Stereo, Surround Sound, Computer, Laptop, Lamp, Power Strip, Gaming System, Phone Charger and any other electrical powered device. In our old house, outlets were placed three hundred feet apart so as to make every connection an electrical code violation. This necessitates power strips, sometime two to an outlet to enable the dangerous growth of the electrical draw to dizzying levels. It also forces you to think hard about what else is running in the house before you fire up the vacuum or the iron. Thing about these "cord piles" is I can try and organize them, even going so far as to zip-tying them by appliance groupings. But without fail, it ends up back in its native snake pit form before too long. Sigh. Little cord gremlins work at night on these things I think. 

    There. That's better.
    • Yes it's the kids' bedroom. As you go through life, you change your perception of "messy," but I think until you're about 21 or so, there is no such thing as messy - in your mind at least. What this creates when company comes is a dark hallway. Shut all the doors, especially the kids' doors to avoid a friend calling CPS on you for the squalor that is your child's bedroom. Like the cord snake pit, you can clean it, or the kids can clean it, but you're only fooling yourself.
    I bring up these instances of chaos because in this day and age we are so concerned about appearances. Everyone wants to have that "I've got it together," look to them - in the way they dress, the way they live, even the car they drive. (Our engine light is on again. A little electrical tape might fix that problem. I know where to get some. The Junk Drawer!) 

    But the truth of the matter is none of us really has it all together. (If you do, you're not my friend. Just kidding. No, not really.) Behind that meticulous living room, more often than not is a closet stuffed with intangibles, drawers chock full of doo dads and doo hickeys, and an electrical grid that would make most electricians develop an eye twitch. 

    Its just how we roll. If you're one of the unwashed brethren that knows what I'm talking about, rest easy that if I come upon some of your skeletons in your closet, I won't judge. Because I have a few of my own. All I ask is that you return the favor. (And stay out of that closet, please! Don't look in there!)

    And if you're not among those who know what I'm talking about well, the friend thing again.

    Blogging off...