Sunday, August 28, 2016

Trees, Water and Stars

As I mentioned in my last post, I was on vacation last week. It was our annual trip up to Pine Forest Lodge in Mercer, Wisconsin for a week at the cabin. This trip was different in that none of my extended family was able to make it up during the week we were up. While I missed having them around, it lent a different feel to the week in some cool kind of ways.
Some of the more memorable moments of the week include:


  • Muskie fishing with Sarah on two separate mornings - just her and I. She has been asking for a while when we were going to go Muskie fishing again, so this was the perfect chance. I think I am incredibly blessed to have a daughter that loves to fish, but I think it's even more amazing that I have a daughter who is willing to learn how to throw a bait caster with heavy lures in an effort to catch one of the biggest freshwater fish in North America. She learned the technique almost without error and never complained once, this includes hoisting and dropping the anchor. While we never caught a big muskie, I realized that there is a LOT to be said for spending time talking and laughing with my daughter in a boat on a calm morning in God's Country. The whole experience made me realize we did something right along the way in raising her.
  • Fishing with Ben and his friend Van on a couple of evenings. Same deal here. Ben also learned how to cast the big lures with a bait caster without incident. Then, on the last night as we were fishing with a big "sucker" minnow, we had a big fish pull the bobber down. Unfortunately as I handed the rod to Ben, the fish spit the sucker out. We lamented our near-miss for a while and then got back to laughing, joking and enjoying each other's company. They cracked me up. 
  • One night around the fire, another couple we know broke out a guitar and started playing. Then another camper brought out a saw - yes, a wood saw - and started playing it with a bow. If you've never heard a saw, it is an eerie, cool sound. Combined with a guitar it made for some interesting arrangements. Before we knew it most of the people, including me and my son and his friend, were singing "Horse With No Name" and "Wish you were were here" around the fire with a guitar/saw accompaniment. It was spontaneous, imperfect art, and one of the coolest things I've been around in a while.
  • That same night we saw the distant northern lights. It was not the spectacular show we'd seen in past years, but was cool nonetheless.
  • Stargazing every night was nothing short of breathtaking. Ben said it's almost like you could tell the earth was rotating if you watched the stars hard enough. I had to admit it was true. Throw into that mix a half a dozen shooting stars and they were nights to remember.
  • We were part of a kayak trip that the resort owner set up. Every year he has a "wheelchair week" where his resort focuses on serving disabled adventurists. Near as I know he's one of the few resorts in the state that is committed to doing something like this and I think it is such an awesome thing. We packed seven kayaks into the back of a pickup and went out to a chain of lakes. At some points we were bushwhacking through bullrushes to make our way. It was an unexpected twist to an otherwise ordinary trip, but one I'm glad we ran into.
  • I got to help a bunch of our friends' kids fish, kayak and pedal boat. There is nothing I like better than helping kids fish. If you've seen me in action, you know that I spend as much time baiting hooks, untangling lines and taking fish off as anything else, but it's all good. This is the next generation of adventurists/outdoor lovers, and I need to do my part.
  • I enjoyed watching my two kids and Ben's friend interact with adults and carry on adult conversations with them. It made me so proud to see them be respectful, interested and engaged with other people and not the "sulking teenager" that you sometimes see at these types of venues. 

Northern Lights (Photo Courtesy of Roost Photography)
All of it made me realize that my kids are growing up fast. I hope they will want to come up again next year, but I know if they can't, we will all make it back up there someday. Pine Forest Lodge is a special place for all of us, and this trip was a reminder that as we all get older, it's important that we make time to be together in nature. 

Blogging off...


Thursday, August 25, 2016

T-Bird Country

In keeping with my twice a eeek blog commitment, I wanted to post from up north, on my phone, no less. Suffice it to say it has been an amazing week in so many ways. Perfectio. More on Sunday. Now, back to business.

Blogging off...


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Duane And All His Friends

I was at an annual party called Brewfest this afternoon. My friends from twenty plus years ago host the party every year. He brews his own beer and wine and usually has a handful of homebrews on hand for people to try as they feel inclined. They always have a huge spread of food and as part of the celebration they always have a pinata for the kids.

At this party I always sit and talk with co-workers I haven't worked with in twenty years. We catch up on our family lives, laugh at how old we are all getting and talk about the old times with the old gang.

It was just another party today, but it reminded me of how rich my life is. These are people who genuinely care about my well being, and I theirs. They are the ones you "lose touch with" for 11 months out of the year, but then you pick up the conversation right where you left off last year. There is a comfort level and, it might be a stretch, but a level of love as well - maybe one you never mention or talk about, but it's there.

My wife always warns me about my inner extrovert Duane coming out at these functions. This title dates back to when we were on a horseback ride on vacation in Colorado. On the ride, for some reason, I talked at great length to the tour leader, named Duane, who had a fascinating life story, and Donna wondered, what the heck? Jim never talks this much. At the time it was the beginning of my writing focus and I found people's stories to be way more interesting than my own. Ever since, I have these extended "extrovert flares" in social settings where I find people fascinating. (Is this normal?) Anyhow, while at the time I can't get enough of the dialog, when it's over it usually results in introvert overload where I need to withdraw into seclusion for three days - but I digress.

I have the same kinds of interactions with my writing group, my colleagues in GIS, my Collective MKE church body and my family. I always come away from them appreciative of the people, the battles their raging through and the stories I've heard. I carry their grief, I linger in their joy, and I share in their loss. Each of them are fighting their own battles and are carrying on through it all - powering through life.

Anyways, I'm rambling here. My point was that while we get all caught up in the important and sometimes unbelievable things in life like the sorry state of politics, Olympic heroes and imbeciles and the issues facing our police force and black community, we need to remember what we have. People aren't perfect, but most are doing what they think is right. Sometimes their views and beliefs are radically different than ours, but that's what makes the world so interesting. They think and feel as strongly about their opinions as I do about mine. Let it go. Love them, give them a hug and tell them to press on.

Because I'm telling you, they might not be around at the party next year.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Super Charged

I am currently working on a story involving a couple of clowns and a stolen Dodge Charger. Well, actually a couple of stolen Chargers, one vintage, one modern. The story was inspired in part by my obsession with classic Dodge Chargers/Challengers.

I've also just completed a poem about a ride I had in one back in the day. We hit 100 MPH in it, which seems as reckless as it was - though 100 was different back then than it is today with our 70 MPH (and in some cases 80 MPH) speed limits.


I have loved these cars since I was a kid. Of course, back in those days, they were the muscle cars. The closest I came to ever owning one was the Hot Wheels version.

So when Ben and I go to our annual car show, I tend to focus on finding the Chargers and other muscle cars of the 70's and 80's. If you know them, they are the GTO, the Super Sports, Camaros, Firebirds, Corvettes and the like.

We went again last Sunday to a show in downtown Waukesha. We only had an hour before Ben had to leave, so we did sort of a sprint through. And it was funny because every time I saw a different model of car that I really liked, it spurred a story. I'm sure this probably bored Ben after a while, but if it did, he didn't say anything.

It has become one of our "things" that we try and do together every year. We go, we gawk and we talk about how I should buy one in my retirement and take it around the country and try and win prizes at various shows. He even says that he'd like to restore on one day. I tell him his Uncle Steve used to restore cars. He always joked about how he'd have to "save up" his spending money to by an alternator or bumper or blinker stick.

When we got home he jokes that one day 30 years from now we'll joke about seeing a Hyundai Santa Fe in mint condition and go "I remember when we had one of those!"

Well, that might be a stretch. But we will likely look back at this period of history as that "time everyone had to have an SUV."

And so, until that day in retirement when I take the plunge and do something as blindly foolish as buying a 50 year old car, I guess I'll have to continue to go to car shows and dream.

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Micro Diaries

As I was helping my son pack for his camping trip to Devil's Lake this past weekend, we were rummaging through the camping bins when he came to a bin with my High School yearbooks in it. He looked through a couple to find me and after that he came to something I'd forgotten I kept. It was six years worth of my Pocket Appointment Calendars from my days at the University of Minnesota.

Why six years worth you ask? Well, I was part-time for a while, changed my major a time or two and added a double major near my Junior year.

But that aside, the bigger question is, why did I keep these? It has been 31 years since I graduated and the fact that I not only kept them, but moved them to about a half dozen residences is even more puzzling.

They are actually kind of an interesting peek into my life as an undergrad. In essence, they are like a micro-diary of 6 years of my life. While nothing is detailed, there are some notable and some not so notable events. Things like:


  • 1979-80: In the Identification section I include my name, address and phone as well as emergency contact. Under Medical Information I list my Dr. as "Seuss" and my blood type as "B or A." In the 1980-81 book I get more specific with my blood type and declare it as "B" which is great, except that my blood type is actually A positive. When you're young, these things don't matter as much as when you're old, obviously.
  • 1980-81: I have December 9th penciled in as the last day of classes, and right underneath it I wrote, John Lennon shot. A dark day for sure.
  • 1981-82: Because I was such a music freak, most of my books have the dates of various concerts I attended. One notable one penciled in was November 21st, 1981 when I saw the Rolling Stones. I had main floor seats for their Tattoo You tour. Mick and the boys killed it.
  • 1982-83: I marked "Nicky's Baptism" for December 5th, 1982. Nick is my godson and if you would have asked me what month, let alone what day, he was baptized on, I wouldn't have had a clue. Well, it was a Saturday in December, 1982. So, there ya go. 
  • 1983-84: This was when some of my friends started to marry off. Most were graduated from college and had had steady girlfriends/boyfriends for many years. I have Peter and Beth both getting married a month apart in June and July. I wouldn't marry for another six years. 
  • 1984-85: By this time I was a part time student, and also President of the Anthropology Club which is a much more important title than the title would dictate. LOL. 
  • 1985-86: Evidently I dated a Karla a couple of times in the spring of 1985. I can honestly say, I have NO memory of Karla. How does that happen? I don't know.
My college years created some of the best memories of my life. I will always remember them as being very rich. These little glimpses into those years help remind me how lucky I an to have had the experiences I did. 

And to Karla, I'm sorry.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Morning Well Spent

It is 4:45 on Saturday, August 6th, and my alarm clock shrills and wakes my wife and I with a start. She shuts it off and continues her sleep as I drag myself out of bed with anticipation. This morning I am going fishing with my daughter Sarah and my brother from another mother, Steve. We always try and get on the water at 6:00 AM to get the early bite and avoid the later morning launch lines.

After I eat breakfast and start brewing the much deserved coffee, I rouse Sarah, who, like any teenager, can be a tough one to get moving in the morning. When I check on her five minutes later, I am surprised to see she is up and getting dressed.

The girl likes to fish - she's not missing this chance.

We pile into the Santa Fe for the half hour drive to the lake in Racine County. Ten minutes into our drive we realize she doesn't have her fishing license on her, so we turn around and trek back home to get it.


Once we're back on the road, we talk about how our summer has been and how we're both looking forward to going up to the cabin in a couple of weeks. We both love that we can do whatever we want for 6 days, including unlimited fishing.

Steve meets us at the launch and after we get the boat launched, we cross the lake to try our first spot. Sarah takes her seat on the front deck - the Queen seat today, while I take the middle and Steve runs the motor.

As we cast we chat about our lives, Steve tells us he's back to school teaching with kids returning next week. Sarah fills him in on her summer of babysitting our friends' three kids, and I talk about my home projects and my last fishing outing. As we struggle to find the fish, Steve steps up the challenge and says "First fish gets a buck."

An hour into it, Steve gets a strike and after a feisty fight, lands a nice 17" largemouth bass. It is always nice to get that first fish out of the way. Steve reminds us that we both owe him a buck. These bets get made every trip and are rarely fulfilled. Everyone knows that, but we continue to make them anyway. It breaks the monotony and creates incentive.

With the first fish out of the way, I pose another wager. "First northern gets five bucks from Uncle Steve."

"Your dad is always quick to try and take my money, isn't he?" Steve says.

Sarah laughs and says "Yep."

Over the next hour and a half Steve catches two more bass and I manage to lose one shortly after I set the hook. In customary form, Steve questions whether it was really a fish.

"Oh, it was a fish alright," I say in my defense. I am used to this kind of question and defense, because I am on the questioning side as much as the defense side. It's how we relate in the boat. We are both comfortable enough in our friendship that we can chide each other and know no feelings will be hurt in the process.

Sarah is next, as she catches one and ten feet into her fight it gets off. She is happy to finally have some action, albeit a getaway.

We take a break, pass granola and bottles of water around and comment about how it's heating up as the morning progresses.

Steve motors us to the channel where I finally get a smallmouth into the boat. It's a 15" fish, but a few minutes later I claim that I thought it might have been a little bit bigger than Steve's fish. This claim draws another laugh from both he and Sarah, who know better.

Hey, it's worth a try.

Within 20 minutes Sarah catches the biggest fish of the day, a twenty inch Northern Pike. I grab the slippery, slimy fish and hand it to her for a picture. She holds it proudly as Steve snaps a couple of shots. She drops the fish back in the water and it swims away to fight another day.

After another twenty minutes of futility, the speedboats start revving up a sure sign that the fishing is done for the day. Steve packs the boat up, fires the Mariner 20 horse motor and opens it up. I tell him to "Open her up!" He screams over the whining motor "She's wide open!"

All three of us laugh at our little boat that could trying to keep up with the other flashy boats around us.

It may not be pretty, but it holds a ton of great memories and always gets the job done.

We trailer the boat, rinse it free of invasive debris, say our goodbyes and chalk up another successful outing.

It is days like this that - one at a time - get etched in the slate of my mind. Days and memories that are always easy to recall and that frame an important part of what I will forever treasure. Time spent with loved ones laughing, fishing and keeping it real.

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Living Dangerously In Suburban America

One of the things I did with fair frequency in my youth was mountain biking. If you're not familiar with it, it's basically biking in the woods, sometimes at high speed and sometimes at a crawling pace during the more arduous hill climbing. There is something about the mix of speed, woods, rock, danger and adventure that makes it a great draw for me.

Last summer I took Ben out to the trails at Minooka Park here in Waukesha. The trail system out there was recently developed and provides a fairly technical ride as well as being a GREAT getaway right in the middle of the city. Ben seemed to really like it last year despite one near accident where he took a hit to the shoulder. He came out of the incident laughing though, which is what Mountain Biking does. It makes your adrenaline rush and gets you so psyched that even the falls are sometimes fun.

Well, we've been talking about getting out for a few weeks now, and finally did today. I was going to go out on my usual flat trail (Non-Mountain Bike) ride of 10 miles, but when I asked Ben if he wanted to go mountain biking, he said sure. It was a break in the monotony of my flat trail riding that was much needed.

I let Ben lead the way and we started out with an "easy" loop through the green trail. This trail level is simple enough that even a beginner could probably do okay on it. Trails are a little wider and more forgiving with not as many shoulder-width tree passes. It was a nice 1.5 mile warm up.

Then we progressed on to the blue trail. It was a blast! I know that much like downhill skiing, Mountain Biking holds a dangerous allure to me - especially at my age. I am certainly in good enough shape to tackle most of what gets thrown at me. I was barely winded during the 7.5 miles we did today- pretty basic stuff.


When I get into trouble, and where the danger lies is in my affection for speed which in many cases is not always on par with my reaction times and reflexes. It's like the kid who loves the water, but isn't a strong swimmer, (also me). It's a toxic mix, an accident waiting to happen.

But it can't keep me away, because no one wants a safe, boring, easy life. My brother Tom once said that it's his philosophy that everyone needs a little bit of adventure in their life. (And that doesn't mean the Motel 6 instead of the Holiday Inn.) I think that's part of the appeal of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. It takes camping to the extreme. Just like Mountain Biking takes biking to the extreme.

So, if you know me, I don't come off as a person who likes to live on the edge. I like familiar and routine and I'm a fairly unexcitable guy.

But every once in a while I need something closer to the edge of just a little bit risky, or maybe a tad dangerous. Fighting with Wisconsin's biggest species of fish, camping in Minnesota's most rugged terrain or biking on Single-Track trails in Waukesha are all my way of getting it out of me.

It ain't scaling Everest, paddling the Amazon and it sure ain't the Olympics, but for this city boy, it'll have to do.

Blogging off...

Living Dangerously In Suburban America

One of the things I did with fair frequency in my youth was mountain biking. If you're not familiar with it, it's basically biking in the woods, sometimes at high speed and sometimes at a crawling pace during the more arduous hill climbing. There is something about the mix of speed, woods, rock, danger and adventure that makes it a great draw for me.

Last summer I took Ben out to the trails at Minooka Park here in Waukesha. The trail system out there was recently developed and provides a fairly technical ride as well as being a GREAT getaway right in the middle of the city. Ben seemed to really like it last year despite one near accident where he took a hit to the shoulder. He came out of the incident laughing though, which is what Mountain Biking does. It makes your adrenaline rush and gets you so psyched that even the falls are sometimes fun.

Well, we've been talking about getting out for a few weeks now, and finally did today. I was going to go out on my usual flat trail (Non-Mountain Bike) ride of 10 miles, but when I asked Ben if he wanted to go mountain biking, he said sure. It was a break in the monotony of my flat trail riding that was much needed.

I let Ben lead the way and we started out with an "easy" loop through the green trail. This trail level is simple enough that even a beginner could probably do okay on it. Trails are a little wider and more forgiving with not as many shoulder-width tree passes. It was a nice 1.5 mile warm up.

Then we progressed on to the blue trail. It was a blast! I know that much like downhill skiing, Mountain Biking holds a dangerous allure to me - especially at my age. I am certainly in good enough shape to tackle most of what gets thrown at me. I was barely winded during the 7.5 miles we did today- pretty basic stuff.


When I get into trouble, and where the danger lies is in my affection for speed which in many cases is not always on par with my reaction times and reflexes. It's like the kid who loves the water, but isn't a strong swimmer, (also me). It's a toxic mix, an accident waiting to happen.

But it can't keep me away, because no one wants a safe, boring, easy life. My brother Tom once said that it's his philosophy that everyone needs a little bit of adventure in their life. (And that doesn't mean the Motel 6 instead of the Holiday Inn.) I think that's part of the appeal of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. It takes camping to the extreme. Just like Mountain Biking takes biking to the extreme.

So, if you know me, I don't come off as a person who likes to live on the edge. I like familiar and routine and I'm a fairly unexcitable guy.

But every once in a while I need something closer to the edge of just a little bit risky, or maybe a tad dangerous. Fighting with Wisconsin's biggest species of fish, camping in Minnesota's most rugged terrain or biking on Single-Track trails in Waukesha are all my way of getting it out of me.

It ain't scaling Everest, paddling the Amazon and it sure ain't the Olympics, but for this city boy, it'll have to do.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Beginning To See The Light

I went to the eye doctor today. It had been about a year and a half and I figured I was due. To top it off, I have been struggling with an ailment that I thought he might be able to address, so the time seemed right.

Now, I am 54 years old and my eyesight isn't what it used to be. The upside to that is that as all of my friends and loved ones age along with me, their eyesight is failing in many of the same ways. My wife is the queen of the on-again, off-again cheaters that she has on hand at any given moment of the day. They are propped on top of her head 80% of the time, the rest of the time they're by the sink, or in the bathroom or, or, or...

In her defense, she is practically legally blind without her glasses or contacts. Glasses are the first thing she reaches for in the morning and the last thing she takes off at night. 

My situation is different, I could almost drive without my glasses - save for those blurry street signs. I am nearsighted, so only need to wear my glasses for distance. So, instead of the annoying on-again, off-again cheater trick, I am the guy annoyingly looking under his glasses. I guess we all have our gigs in this world. 

About a year ago, I was experiencing what felt like really tired eyes, or puffy eyelids. (Oh no, He's telling us about his ailments!) I remember my mom telling me that problems like that are more suited to an opthamologist than an optometrist, so I set up an appointment with an opthamologist. His diagnosis was that I was suffering from Blepharitis

Uh, BlephaWhatIs?

Like most medical terms, I first mispronounced it as Blefartis, which made my family crack up. They still call it that, mostly because they like to say fart.

Anyways, this doctor told me to do 4 things daily. Hot compresses on my eyes 2-3 times a day, use eyelid pads to clean the eyes daily, put a small amount of antibiotic ointment in my eyes at night and use artificial tears when necessary.

If I did all of these things every day, I'd have little time to do much else. 

That was his treatment path and "come back in 3 months" which I did for 9 months until I realized I was paying $125 out of pocket for him to tell me it was a "chronic condition" that seemed to be about the same or maybe a little better.

After a year of this, I consulted my optometrist, who also happens to be a long-time friend. When I told him about my history and the $125/appt. cost, he just shook his head and said "Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, you should have come and seen me."

So he put me on a treatment path that is sustainable and I am forever grateful.

But the whole experience made me realize how much we take our eyesight and our corrective lenses for granted. When the assistant was testing my eyes, I'll be truthful, I took some wild assed guesses about what I was seeing a few times. W X Y Z - L M N O P. 

Of course they know the chart and can humor us when we give our WAG's. Their jobs are to fix it so that I can read my pill bottle or those directions in small print without decoupling my arms from their sockets to see them. Or maybe using a selfie stick to read the ingredients on a chip bag. 

So next time you see me, hopefully I'll see you too,

Blogging off...