Sunday, June 26, 2016

Men At Work

As I type this, I am sitting in the Milwaukee airport getting set to fly out to San Diego for the annual ESRI Users Conference. Per the usual travel snafus, my flight is delayed for 2.5 hours so I am left to connect to my phone's wifi hotspot and write this post. There are worse problems in the world, and I am blessed to be promised that my connecting flights are still intact.

Walk and post set.
Part of me writes this because I've always wanted to say I'm writing from an airport. A jet setter from Wisconsin, I am.

There's Clowns under there!
Anyways, I spent the better part of the past 2 weeks rebuilding my front walk and steps. I should qualify it and say that my son and I assisted two of my friends in the rebuild. Claude and Steve are good friends who both have mad construction skills. In the past, I've helped Steve build his deck and put in a wood floor and I've helped Claude with building an ADA accessible ramp.

They are both great at big picture and equally skilled at the small details. Add to that that that they work like dogs until the job is to the "finish point" for the day. One might even say they are obsessed.

So when the prospect came up for my rebuild, they both offered to help. Between the three of us and my son Ben with his strong back, we decided we could get it done.

Three weeks ago, Ben helped me hack out the old sidewalk. It gave us a good taste of what prison life is probably like. Breaking rocks at San Quentin had nothing on us. Hot, heavy, hard work. I was proud of Ben who worked at it without complaint.

Nearly done!
Then, last weekend on consecutive days, my buddies helped frame out and then pour the new walk. When that was done, they set four posts in concrete. This required a manual post hole digger and and interesting array of short single syllable vocabulary words. Again, gut busting hard work on a hot day and these guys did it with nary a complaint.

Yesterday we were all at it again for eight hours. This time we focused on closing off the underside of the porch - rumor has it that there was everything from a clown costume to a skeleton under the porch - and stair construction. If you haven't ever done deck/stair construction lets just say there's a lot of  the following things going on:

  • Dropping of screws at inopportune times.
  • Magically disappearing tape measures.
  • Measure, remeasure, cut, refine, and fit.
  • Grabbing the drill with the wrong bit loaded. Repeatedly.
  • Magically disappearing hammers.
  • A few near misses with various power tools and select hand digits.
And so by, 5:30 we were as done as we'd put our minds to. Exhausted, dirty and fully satisfied with all that we had set out to do. I owe these guys, to which they reminded me that I've helped them out just the same. But still, I am incredibly blessed to have friends willing to give up two weekends to help out a guy who never could have done it alone. I learn from these guys every project, and with Ben watching over and taking part in his own ways, he learned a few things too. 

So to Claude, Steve and Ben, I say, THANK YOU. You guys killed it.

Blogging off...

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Slightly Shorter Day Than The Longest Day.

A couple of days ago was the longest day of the year - the Summer Solstice. Sunlight stretches up to nearly nine o'clock this time of year and I try not to take it for granted one bit. I am a person who loves to live in shorts and sandals, so from late May until early September, that's what it is for me. I often refer to Summer as my favorite season of the year - until the really hot days when I swear that I love Fall and Spring better.

But I think Summer is really it. I love having the windows open all day and all night, usually with fans roaring. Donna often complains when I get home from work and start opening windows. I'm like a claustrophobic psych patient. I need my air!

The dog has a love hate relationship with the season, that is for sure. He longs to be on the porch where he can bark at passers by and go ballistic when the mailman comes. He does this regardless of the season. I swear he can smell his uniform.

At the same time, his dog hair makes him hot to the point where I'm sure he favors those cooler months. The other day I was walking him and he just laid down in the shade when we were 3/4 of the way around the block. Kind of looked at me like, "Nah, this is good right here."

I walk a little slower with the dog in Summer. There's not the sense of urgency that the other three seasons bring. There's more time to stop and savor the lushness of the greenery. It is hard to have a bad Summer day, and if the sun's out, forget about it. Life is too good.

Summer is when projects get done. We're currently undergoing a new walk and steps - a project I'll post about when it's completed. This is also one of those projects that is best done when there's no particular urgency to it - Summer affords this relaxed approach.

It's about weeds, and grass, and thunderstorms and watermelon. Picnic food, and fishing and trips out for ice cream. Mini golf, Drive In movies and trips up to the cabin.

I'm enjoying these long days and I hope you are too.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Ten From Twenty

Ten Great Moments In My Fatherhood(ness)

I have been a dad now for 20 years and it has been nothing short of the best period of my life. My kids are my pride and joy, as most parents would say, and I cannot imagine my life without them. It's  impossible to recount all the moments of joy and happiness from those twenty years, but in the spirit of Father's Day, I thought I'd recount ten of the more memorable moments. So, in no particular order, here are ten things that remind me how much I love being a dad.

  1. Driving home from Sarah's birth. Sarah was born on the leading edge of a 9 inch snowfall that fell progressively through the afternoon and evening. I drove home that evening around ten o'clock and about three miles from home I had to pull over because I was crying so hard. This coming from an emotional flat-liner. What was happening? I wondered. I was overcome with the joy of having someone new in my life. She was perfect!
  2. Fear of the unknown at Ben's birth. Ben was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. When he came out, his pulse was low and they took him away and immediately put him in the neo-natal ICU. They assured us it was precautionary, but we were scared to death. It turned out okay, but for some anxious moments there we weren't sure we were blessed with a son at all. It was a strange feeling having your baby taken away from you. It made the reunion that much happier an hour later when we got to see him again. He was perfect!
  3. Falling asleep in a chair with one of them on my chest. Parenting is exhausting, and you need to nap when they nap - as everyone tells you. There is nothing quite as calming as a baby's heart beating on top of your own.
  4. Watching them learn to walk. Sarah was slow to talk, fast to walk. Ben was slow to walk, fast to talk. I can remember one day Sarah stood up from an cross-legged sitting position and just kind of stood there amazed. Walking came shortly thereafter.
  5. The first day of Kindergarten for both of them. Yep, there were tears again. Not sure why. I just know I couldn't stop them. It was a bit of a relief to get them into school - it made things a little easier - but it also meant they were growing up FAST.
  6. Mom-less nights. Donna was deep into the Pampered Chef sales during our kids' early years. This meant a couple nights a week she'd be away at night doing shows. Left to kid duty, I was in charge of dinner, diapers, entertainment and bedtime. I LOVED IT. As a homebody, I kind of liked this chance to stay home all night and hang with my kids. We danced, we wrestled, we read books, played games and laughed. They were the best nights.
  7. Music recital. I went to a couple of Sarah's violin recitals and while most of the notes were mangled and screechy, they came together to make a song, which is way better than I could ever manage. I was so proud and it was my hope that she'd continue to play into adulthood. She dropped it after a few years, as most kids do. But those moments linger.
  8. Sports moments. Ben was always the athlete of the two. In his youth he's played Soccer, T-Ball, Flag football, Basketball, and most recently Swimming. While we showed up for every game, nothing made me prouder than to see him take on swimming as a Junior in High School and totally buy into it. He struggled a little early, but never lost faith in himself. By the end of the year he had shaved significant time off his personal best. "That's my boy out there!"
  9. Nights around the dinner table. Man, no one appreciates these moments more than Donna and I right now. We had another one tonight, over pizza. We laughed so hard about the stupidest things - things we wouldn't have if he'd gone out with his friends or if we'd eaten in shifts, like we do sometimes. Dinners with 4 are the best dinners.
  10. Watching them. As they progress into adulthood it is fun to see how they interact with other adults. So much of life is dependent on good social skills, and our kids seem to have a good feel for how to do it. 

The old saying is that no one gives you a manual on how to raise kids, and that's for sure. So most of us try and figure it out on our own. We read books, we listen to advice, we watch how others parent, but when it comes down to it, we make it up as we go. That has been the most hair raising part of it all. Are we doing it right? Is this the right discipline for the offense? What would Mom have done?

But in the end our kids came out okay. And that is attributable in part to my Mom and Donna's parents who raised us right. That and a whole lot of prayer.

Blogging off...

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Love In The Little Things

Tonight my wife and I celebrate our twenty sixth anniversary. It was a stiflingly hot 90+ degree day in one of the quaintest small town churches I've ever darkened the doorway of, Gorham United Methodist. I remember my brother Paul jokingly telling the videographer that he hoped it would be over in 30 minutes to save us all from the heat. I also remember my best man Rob handing me a paper towel to wipe the sweat from my brow on the altar. Most likely sweating for a couple of reasons, least of all the heat.

So last year was the big, recognized 25th anniversary. There's something epic about making it a quarter of a century with your soul mate. I might add that we've had a stable relationship the whole time - never a point where either of us even considered walking. I was pretty definite that I was in this through thick and thin when I signed on the line and swore under a Biblical oath. Thankfully God has blessed me with a perfect companion, someone to thrash and flail through this life when the waters are rough and someone to skim along the surface with when things are calm.

While our marriage isn't perfect, (whose is?) we do have it very good in that we hardly ever fight and if we do, it's forgive and forget. It's funny when we do argue sometimes - not even seriously - our kids always jump in with a joking comment, "Divorce is not the answer!" It is so funny because the thought is so far from both of our heads that it catches us all off guard. It usually lightens the mood enough and brings us back to agreement.

What then are some of the things that help make it to 26 years?

  • Recognizing your differences. Donna doesn't like exercising or sweat. I hate cooking. We both know these things and so have learned to not expect the other person to change it. It took a few years of trying to convince the other to like something they didn't before we realized that it's really okay if they're okay with it. 
  • Your good qualities will sometimes rub off. Donna will admit that one thing I've brought to her life is being a little more laid back, a little more "in the moment." In turn, I would say that she has taught me how to be better prepared (for whatever) and that being organized and having a plan is a good thing. Those first few years of marriage these differences kind of drove us crazy. Now, we've both turned them to good.
  • Little things matter. Making coffee, cleaning up after yourself and the kids, doing projects unprovoked, recognizing when they seem anxious or preoccupied, texting them and "I love you" for no good reason other than you do, doing for them tasks they don't enjoy. These little things add up to one big thing. Love.
  • Recognize the hard times and grind them out. The first three years after Ben was born and Sarah was three years older was probably the hardest time in our marriage. Lots of physical demands on both of us and we were in the trenches of parenthood. Lots of great memories and quite a few trying times as well. We both knew it would get easier, and a few years later it did.
  • Practice your faith. In our 26 years of marriage we have been a part of three different churches. For a time, we were at different points in our journey, but have finally caught up with one another and have found that our faith brings us together and our love keeps us there.
  • Laugh. I can't say enough about how it is to have someone you can share your day with and laugh until you're doubled over. We have raised our children to laugh as well, and it keeps us all sane.
  • Communication. One of the things I look forward to the most is our weekly coffee date. Every Saturday we get together for coffee, laugh, and plan our week. It's one on one time that I cherish, but you have to make it a priority. 
These are just some of the things that bond us to one another. There are so many little things - day to day happenings - that help with the process. We're not perfect though. There are things she does that drive me crazy and vice verse. Sometimes we joke about them, other times we just eye-roll. But ultimately both of us know that we're in this for the long haul, so the quirks come with the qualities.
2016                                           1989

Here's to a happy marriage.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Project For Later

I had a few "projects" in my basement that were there for years. You may know the type. The ones that get stashed in a corner for "later," a phantom day that sometimes never comes.

My projects were completed in the past week, but took completely different pathways to get there.

The first was a broken lamp. Two years ago this lamp of ours just stopped working for no good reason. It had been knocked off the table a time or two, and evidently one of those killed it. Killed it real good.

So, after replacing the light bulb and having it still not work, I put it down the basement for fixing "later." I often looked at the lamp in passing thinking to myself that it would never work again. Last weekend, Donna mentioned getting a cord kit, so I looked on Amazon and all I could find was a kit that was about $20.00 and didn't look like it would work with our lamp anyways.

Curiosity got the better of me and I started taking the lamp apart. How hard could it be anyways? After messing with it for 10 minutes I narrowed the problem down to a bad switch. It meant a little crimping and prying with a screwdriver, sprinkled with some colorful language and a dropped screw. (What project doesn't have a dropped screw the seeking of which doubles the length of the project?) When I got the part out I took it to the hardware store to see if they had such a thing. They did. It was $2.99. I put the lamp back together and, viola, it worked.

My wife and I had a laugh about how that is our life. Why do we wait two years to do things like this? After I told a few people the story, they all said the same thing. They have exactly the same nature.

It seems we all have those "later" projects.

The second project was my wheelbarrow tire. We are working on a project to put new steps and a walk in front of our house which requires a wheelbarrow. This project is one of those "later" projects of it's own, but I digress.

Anyways, the last time I used my wheelbarrow, it had a flat, so I took it to Tires Plus and they pumped it up. At the time, I thought the tire was tubeless, so they were the only ones who could pump it up, as every attempt I made, the air came out between the cracks faster than it stayed in the tire.

So this time, I tried a few tricks on advice from friends to pump it up myself. ("Put a cinc strap on it," they said. "Use a compressor, not a hand pump," they said. I've concluded they don't know.) I took it to two different air compressors using the cinch strap and labored to no avail.(Stops #1 and #2)

Well, I figured, Tires Plus fixed it once, they could fix it again. This meant Stop #3 on my tired quest.

I took it to them and they determined that it was indeed NOT tubeless and that I should get a tube across the street at Farm and Fleet and bring it over and they would put it in,

Off to stop #4 on the wheelbarrow tire time suck.

Of course Farm and Fleet didn't have a tube that size. They did have a tire that looked like it might work, though was more for a 4 wheel vehicle. I bought it anyway just in case. It was $15.

Off to stop #5, Home Depot "just to see" what they had. They had a tire that was the right size and made specifically for wheelbarrows. It was an appreciably more costly $25 tire, but it held promise
I'm a tire hoarder.
that the $15 tire did not. I bought that tire. Now I had 3 tires. One flat, one questionable and one highly probable.

Off to stop #6, Farm and Fleet to return the questionable tire for a refund now that I had a highly probable one in my possession.

I got home and, after a couple more dropped screws and colorful language, I had a working wheelbarrow. Again a great sense of accomplishment despite the two hours of my life that I would never get back and have to explain to God that, "Well, I needed a tire see...and well, you know it was a project that went south."  I'm sure He'd understand.

So if you've got those projects that are waiting to be done, my advice is, wait until it's time, then attack them with a vengeance. It will feel so good. But don't do them before it's time. These things are best left to age and weigh on one's conscience.

Blogging off...

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Biking For The Love

This week is Bike to Work Week in Waukesha County, part of a greater Wisconsin Bike Week celebration put on by the Bike Federation every year. As part of it the County hosts events throughout the week to try and raise awareness for employees. Because I bike to work, literally every day through the three seasons, I am always on the BTWW committee. I serve mainly as the guy who plots the posters, as our department has one of the few plotters in the county.

This year, they decided to step up the events by trying to coordinate a joint event where the County Executive and the Mayor of Waukesha. They set a location, Mama D's in downtown Waukesha for an hour of coffee, trail bars and photo ops. It was set to run from 7:00 - 8:00 and then weave it's way through Frame Park, past City Hall, and on to the County Courthouse.

So I showed up at the event on Tuesday about 7:15 or so and there were probably 15-20 people milling about inside the building. I went inside and was greeted by a gentleman in a green shirt. The two of us made small talk for a bit and then I asked, "So, do you work for the city?"  To which he replies, "Yeah, I'm the Mayor."


It turns out he was a good sport about it, a super humble, easy going guy. I'd acutally met him once before at a planning event, but I drew a blank when I was talking to him. I'm terrible with names anyway, but I likely won't make this mistake again.

Anyways the event was good and we had a fun ride. I'm used to riding much faster of course, so it was hard riding so slow.

While the event was to raise awareness about the benefits of biking to work, every year it's the same thing. We get a picture of a few people that ride to work a day or two that week, then everyone ends up back in their car the following week. So while I get the idea, I think it's kind of a hypocritical event. Now, I know not everyone can live close to work (I live < 2 miles from work), and that Waukesha is not a terribly bike-friendly city, but still, there are but a handful of people who bike regularly.

Someday I'd like Waukesha to become as bike friendly as Madison or Portland, Oregon. We'd be a healthier population, our environment would be better and traffic wouldn't be as trafficky.

In the meantime, I will continue to bike to work, bike for recreation and bike to writing class. Some days I have to remind myself that I'm 54, and not 23 when I'm cruising through traffic. Trying to minimize my impact and maybe do a little for my health along the way.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Explaining From Memory

About a week ago, my second poetry collection, Reciting From Memory, was released. I wanted to spend a post telling people a bit about it, and this is that post.

While I always claim to be a nonfiction writer first, and a poet second, I still say that practicing poetry makes me a better writer. Most of my poems are like tiny little stories with a beginning, middle and end. I use analogy and metaphor just as I do in my nonfiction writing. Poetry is where I turn when I'm either pinched for time, or suffering from block. It challenges me every bit as much as nonfiction writing, just in smaller increments. My style is concrete, relate-able and down to earth. I call it poetry for the working man/woman.

Over time I accumulated these forty poems and rather than trying to submit them to various magazines and journals, I thought I'd put together a collection and see if there was a publisher that would take them for publication. I looked at publishers that were looking at both print and eBook submittals. While I would have loved to have this come out as a print book, I figured it would be really cool in either format. I felt strongly that these were some very good poems, some of my better work, so wanted to get them into a publisher's hands.

So, I submitted them to three or four publishers. I got one flat out rejection, another that said they like my work and were interested, but to try back in three months. Then I heard from Underground Voices. They too said they liked the work, but were eBook only and thought I wanted only print. I wrote back and told them eBook was perfect and that I'd love to work with them.

They wrote back and sent a contract, and the rest is history. They did swap out one rhyming poem that wasn't my best (Improperly Vetted) for another much better one that I sent in it's place (Night Shift).

After that it was just a matter of getting some beta reader reviews (on the Amazon site), rounding up the dedication and acknowledgements.

When the cover came out I was ecstatic with it. I said I'd wanted it to have something to do with travel and as you can see, it was just that. I loved it. After one font change, it was perfect.

And so, I now have my third book in three years, (albeit an eBook/chapbook). I can't say how happy I am with where my writing road has taken me. I am in the midst of promotion, which can be arduous at times, but I am getting pretty used to it and realize it's all part of it.

Here are a couple of poems from the book. I hope you like them and consider ordering the eBook from either Amazon or Barnes and Noble online. The book is a bargain at only $3.99 and if you want it autographed, there is an app called Authorgraph that this book can be found on that allows a sort of eSignature/personalizing.

I'd like to officially thank the staff at Underground Voices for giving me this great book to add to my portfolio. They were great to work with, start to finish!

And finally, if you like the book, I'd love to get a review from you on Amazon or Goodreads.

Here are a couple of samples:

Above Ground Rules         by Jim Landwehr

The secret to life is:
knowing when to shut up
and dance
playing your cards right
and knowing when to fold
lead with your left
cover with your right
and avoid the kidney punch
stay up late, but then,
wake up and show up
brush and floss
trim and pluck
pray with fervency
and recognize its answer
read good books
check your spelling
dot your i’s and cross your t’s
check your mirrors
change your oil
kiss your children
let the dog out
set the hook
get the net
and let the little ones go
get a checkup
but overeat occasionally
say I love you
but only if you mean it
start with bourbon
but end with beer
or even better, water
bet what you can lose
or even better, give it to the poor
sing Alleluia
unless its spelled Hallelujah
write in pencil
edit in pen
turn it up
but wear ear protection
match socks to pants
press your shirt
change your drawers
don’t cheat or lie
unless it’s about weight or age
call your mother
pay your mortgage
water the plants
get your flu shot
love your neighbor
shovel the walk
get good insurance
and live dangerously!
Reciting From Memory        by Jim Landwehr

There are a half dozen of them
cerebral videos – motion picture cameos
mental snapshots of my father
Murdered in ‘67 – with a capital M
when I was only five – with a small f.
I am in our enormous car in the front seat
he’s letting me steer in a Rice Street parking lot
or maybe he was letting my sister steer
or maybe we took turns; could be.
It was reckless, frightening joy – whoever.
He is standing at a construction site
a little boy’s hero in a red hard hat
I am here with my mother
to tell him something
or maybe to bring him his lunch.
We are at a bar – The Silver Coaches
a couple of renovated train cars
it is afternoon, he orders a beer
Coke for me – we nibble at Beer Nuts
just he and I – acting all grown up.
Home from a long business trip
or maybe home for Christmas – not sure
he has a gift for each of us kids
mine was a soldier with a parachute
my sister got a checkered bag, I think.
His friend is drunk at our house
and dad’s on the telephone
calling a taxi to take his friend away
it is chaotic and I don’t like it
as I play with my toy car nearby.
Sitting in his favorite chair
a few of us kids torment him
sneaking up behind and messing his hair
he feigns surprise at the attacks
then reaches behind to surprise us.
Most days I’m not sure if any are true
and still can’t separate truth from fiction
for now, they’re all I’ve got
so I continue to cling to them
these home movies in my head.

Link to purchase>: Reciting From Memory
Blogging off...

Thursday, June 2, 2016

A Step Forward

We are undertaking a significant project over the next couple of weeks. Our front steps have been perilous for a number of years. There's a story to why, so I'd better start there.

When we moved into this house, the front door swung inward toward the porch which was awkward from both sides of the door. My father in law and I fixed that little issue, but in doing so, created essentially a "short" first step. A strategically placed 4 X 4 closed the gap we'd created, but made the top step 4" shorter. As a result, we have been telling people for the past 15 years to "watch that first step, it's a killer."

Well, the steps are aging and starting to list to one side, so we needed to shore them up. My friends Claude, Steve and Brad have offered to help with the project at some level. I've said it before, I am NOT handy. But when I am in the company of handy people, I tend to rise to the occasion and work well with others.

A perfect example of this was when the same friend Steve, my brother Rob and I all built a fence for our backyard about 12 years ago. I put an all-call out for help, and these two guys carried the day. I ordered the materials and set the date for Memorial Day weekend. Rob drove down from St. Paul, Minnesota with his wife and two girls and Steve drove in from Milwaukee on Saturday morning.

The rain started shortly thereafter and continued for two days.

We worked hard, shoulder to shoulder and got it done. In the rain. There were numerous, well earned beers during the process, but frankly we had a lot of fun with it. It gave ALL of us a sense of accomplishment to see it come to completion. We corrected each others mistakes along the way and it turned out textbook. As much as I hate the phrase, it was really a bonding experience. We laughed hard, picked on one another and had fun in the rain and the mud. Overall the construction of it still stands as one of my prouder accomplishments with this house.

So when Claude drew up some plans for the new steps, I followed his lead. Last night he came over and we staked out the plan and talked around terms like "rise" and "pour" and "framing." I hung with him for most of it. He's a very handy guy, so I tend to get a little star struck when those kinds of guys get to talking. I'm actually handier than I give myself credit for. I just don't "think" handy and so when I get around handy thinkers, I'm usually just along for the ride.

The schedule is set. With any kind of luck within the next three weeks, we'll have new steps and a new walk out to the driveway. I'm sure there will be numerous beers consumed along the way (or at the completion of each phase) because I'm fairly certain that is the key to getting anything big done around the house. Beer and boys. 

And power tools, of course.

Blogging off...