Thursday, September 29, 2016

Summer's Passing

Tomorrow is the last day of September, so I can no longer deny that the Fall season is upon us. I look at fall every year with mixed emotions. There are things I love about it and things I hate. Here is a running list of both.

  • I absolutely love the color changes. A sure sign that I'm old and getting older, is my appreciation for the fire burst of color that makes up late September until late October. It almost makes the season worth it. But...
  • I strongly hate that I can no longer comfortably wear a T-Shirt and shorts. If you know me, that is my summer attire from May until mid-September. Long pants and shirts are confining, so I put off the transition to pants for as long as possible. At this writing, I am in shorts and a long sleeve shirt. Making the move slowly.
  • I really like the smell of fall. Outdoors whether it's dead or burning leaves, and indoors whether it's apple pie, soup, bread or pumpkin anything.
  • I hate that I have to close my windows because it's too cool. I also miss not being able to use my window fan as white noise. 
  • I like not having to close all the shades in the house because I know it's going to be a blistering hot day.
  • I absolutely hate the fact that it gets dark by 6:45 now. I will hate it more each month until April when there's some hope. I may need to seek counseling this year. I go into a near depression late in every winter and it seems to get worse with age. It's my goal to make a somewhat regular habit of going Cross Country skiing at least a couple of times a week - just to get me outdoors. I live for being outdoors, but not when it's five degrees out.
  • I love the coming holidays. Halloween is my least favorite, but I do like carving pumpkins and giving candy out to the seven kids that come to our door every year. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years are great times of connecting with friends and family.
  • I dislike that going anywhere requires a sweatshirt at a minimum, and preferably a coat.
Maybe Fall is your favorite season. It would probably be higher up on my list if it wasn't followed by the meanest season of all. Anyway, it's my goal to try and get through this fall and winter with a better mindset. If you have any suggestions on how to do this that doesn't involve a sun lamp or a drinking habit, I'm all ears.

Happy Fall! <<

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Jam Packed For Good

Some days are packed from end to end.

Friday was one of those days for me.

It started with heading up to Madison for a college tour of UW Madison with Ben. He's looking at that as one of three possibilities, and since I was headed up there for a poetry reading later that evening, we built a tour into the itinerary.

After a forty minute parking adventure (next time we bike up there) we sat through the spiel and then took an hour and a half walking tour. Ben came away with a new appreciation for the university and could totally see himself as a student there, should he get accepted. My daughter on the other hand, made UW her third choice with Carelton and Minnesota being #'s 1 and 2. I always find it interesting how our kids see through such different lenses at times.

Anyways, after the tour, we went to lunch at Ian's and then on a tour of the Capitol building. We were fortunate to get into a tour group and saw all three chambers, Judicial, Senate and Assembly. The building is beautiful - with no expense spared for anything, near as I could tell. We also got to go out on the veranda that encircles the capitol near the 5th floor. It was spectacular!

From there, we went to the Henry Vilas Zoo to kill some time before the poetry reading I was reading at. The zoo is a great little "old school" zoo in the heart of the city. We walked around until they kicked us out to close the place.

On our way to the poetry reading, I told Ben to brace himself for what might be a drudging two hours for an 18 year old. Poetry readings are not for everyone as I am well aware, especially a young man of the "digital generation."

Well, there were 8 readers and we pretty much covered the gamut of styles. Everything from poetry inspired by "Up North Wisconsin" to a woman who'd written a piece she called "Rural, Goth Feminism."

After the event, I asked Ben what he'd thought about the reading and he said he enjoyed it. He said it wasn't as bad as I had prepped him for and that he'd definitely go to one again. He really enjoys English and writing anyway, so it was a good fit. I'd misjudged his maturity level - again. I do that a lot.

When we were driving home, I was totally wiped out. The day seemed like it was three days all jammed together. At the same time, I came away with a good feeling about the day. It's not often I get the chance to experience such a range of cool things in a single day with my son. There was a little for him, a little for me and a lot for both of us.

And I'd call that a win.

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Time Warp

Photo credit: Roost Photography
Very soon, my son Ben and I will be touring the University of Wisconsin - Madison. I am not sure when we moved out of the diaper stage into the college visitation stage, but I am pretty sure it happened overnight. And I'm even more sure that a year from now when he's away from home I will be just as befuddled by the quickly passing time as I am today

As part of the whole senior preparation, we had his senior pictures taken by our friend, Brandon, of Roost Photography.

Let's just say looking at these pictures of my grown son did not help matters. It was kind of like a kick in the gut. Here he is, all grown up.

The pictures, as you can see, are pretty amazing and totally capture his spirit. But his spirit is 18 - a real, live adult - and I can dislike that just a bit.
Credit: Roost Photography

I miss his little buzz-cut face and sort of resent that he now shares shaving cream with me. Not because I don't like to share, but because I don't think he should be old enough to shave.

A few weeks ago, he took a camping trip with a bunch of friends. It was his first trip without any parents along. I understand these things happen, and helping him pack was more work than I had intended, but I was still kind of sad that he could take an adventurous trip of this kind without me. They had a blast, as expected, which is almost unbelievable considering I wasn't there to orchestrate it all, but they did. (A bit of sarcasm there.)
Credit: Roost Photography

This whole growing up thing has me looking back. For both of my kids, I have kept a journal of significant or memorable days in his life - through my eyes. This is a passage from one of those days.

Entry from April 29, 2003 (Ben was not quite 5)

While I was putting you to bed tonight you asked me how my dad died. When I told you how, you said that you hope he feels better where he's living with Jesus. I told you that I'm sure he does. Then you said "I miss him," and I said "I do too, Ben. I do too."

I love you,


So, rip my heart out and stomp on it, right there.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Coming Attractions

Things are getting busy in the literary world again, so I thought I'd give a synopsis of what's coming up from an event standpoint.

  • Interview on The Write Stuff blog radio Tune in this Tuesday evening September 20th  at 5:30 PM for my interview with radio host, friend and fellow eLectio author, Parker J Cole. Parker was kind enough to interview me about my book, Dirty Shirt a while back and offered to have me back on the show to talk about my poetry books. She is an engaging host and I haven't really had a chance to talk about my poetry much in a radio setting, so am really looking forward to talking to her. I am always surprised when someone says that they heard about me from a radio interview, but it's happened quite a few times with Dirty Shirt. In book publishing you need to make yourself available whenever an opportunity arises for publicity. I see this as a good one of many avenues for exposure.
  • Tupelo Press 30/30 Reunion Poetry Reading This Friday, September 23rd at 7:00 PM, I will be reading with eight other poets at the Arts and Literary Laboratory in Madison. This is a reunion of poets from around the Midwest who have taken part in the Tupelo Press' 30 poems in 30 days challenge. I participated in this in January and found it to be one of the most challenging and stretching writing exercises I've ever been a part of. When I took the challenge I had a plan all along that I would come out of the 30 days with enough material for a chapbook (a short collection of poems.) Well, I added a few to the 30 and ended up with my collection, Reciting From Memory. I'll read from that collection, so if you're in the Madison area, stop by and check it out.
  • AllWriters' Friday Night Free For All Reading On October 7th at 7:00 I will be one of a number of writers reading some of their work. I was asked to read from Reciting From Memory, so that will be my focus. If you've never been to this event before, (FNFFA) it is a fun way to hear from writers of all genres, including poetry, novel, short story and nonfiction. It usually features a guest writer and is always a big draw. The event was recently moved to Cafe De Arts in downtown Waukesha to accommodate the bigger crowd as well as to allow people to purchase coffee and baked goods. This is a fun group for sure, so please join us!
  • Southeastern Wisconsin Festival of Books Panels  This event is one of Southeastern Wisconsin's biggest author showcases and takes place on November 4th and 5th at the University of Wisconsin - Waukesha. I am sitting on two different panels, one dealing with crossing over genres, the other on the interplay of family experiences and writing. My writing mentor, Kathie Giorgio will be moderating these discussions and, as in the 2014 event, I really look forward to talking about my experience as well as networking with other authors. It is a GREAT event and I hope to see you there. 
And so, I have a busy fall coming up, and that is the way I like it. These opportunities to get out in front of readers are just invaluable. As I've done more and more with Dirty Shirt, I've become much more comfortable in front of a group and have actually come to enjoy the experience and, more than anything, connecting with readers afterward.

As always, you can keep track of what's coming at my events page, Click Here.

Hope to see you out there somewhere!

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Part Of The Whole

I've mentioned in the past that I meet with three or four other guys for coffee every Thursday morning at Cafe De Arts. We talk about everything under the sun - lately a lot about the good and bad in our political system - but we always kind of have a book study going. Sometimes it's half hearted, other times more serious.

At the moment, we are muddling through a book by Leslie Newbigin titled Christ Our Eternal Contemporary. It is one of those books where you read a paragraph, then re-read it because it is so heady, then take a break because your head hurts from thinking so hard about what you just read.

Anyways, this week we read a chapter that caused a bit of an existential crises for me. The gist of the message was that there are two camps of thought about our lives on earth. Basically the one says that we are here to advance the whole, but our lives are expendable in the process. The other is that what matters is the human person. As he writes, "The only thing that really matters is that in the little span of life that is given to him, he himself becomes or achieves something significant."

To me one seemed nihilistic (we don't matter) the other seemed self-serving (we're all that matter.)

It kind of got me down until later in the chapter where it all made sense in two phrases. One by Albert Schweitzer that reads: "Every act of a Christian should be an acted prayer for the coming of the kingdom." Newbigin goes on to say, "That is the true Christian understanding of action."

The other sentence was "Everything that we have, everything we do with all our hearts, is offered to him in the faith...the faith that God is able to make out of this the offering of the new heaven and the new earth.

Those two sentences talked me off the ledge, so to speak.

I started thinking about the ramifications of our mundane day to day things and how it may have long lasting impacts.

  • How going to work allows me to raise kids who can be part of some of the solution to some of the problems that my generation created. This goes for my mother as she did for us and her mother for her.
  • How giving $5 to a homeless person might lead to him/her buying beer or cigarettes. Or, they might use it to buy a sandwich. Is one wrong? Maybe. I can hope and pray for that person to use it for good, but good to them may be something that helps them through the day. Give for giving sake. 
  • My vote matters. If my candidate doesn't win, I walk away with a clear conscience. I still pray for whoever is in office. Some terms I pray harder than others. LOL. 
  • What I say, what I create, what I consume or don't consume, my attitude and energy -positive or negative - all matters and has an impact. Choose wisely.
  • That saying nothing is sometimes okay. In fact a lot of times it's better than saying anything at all, especially if what you're saying is tearing someone down. 
  • That walking my dog daily gives him such joy that comes back to me in his unending love for me. Stupid small stuff, I know, but it's all part of life and is one of my favorite parts of my day to gather my thoughts.
Of course I had much greater plans for this post. When I was formulating the thoughts earlier today, I had some great ideas on how to extrapolate out simple things becoming much bigger. Most of them escape me now, but suffice it to say that if you look hard enough, it's all there. Having faith makes it a little easier to keep it all in perspective too. 

And so my existential crisis had been averted for now. And I can thank God for that. 

Blogging off... 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Guest In The New House

This past Thursday we volunteered to serve the guys at the Guest House. If you know Donna and I, you know this is often the best evening of the month for us. It is such a blessing to be able to serve dinner to 86+ guys once or twice a month. (We do one night with our Facebook group and one under the auspices of our church, CollectiveMKE.)

I need to preface this with the fact that Donna does the lion's share of the work for this every month. I only help serve it, whereas she solicits donations, plans and cooks the food and gets it ready for transport. I am just happy to help in whatever capacity I can.

Anyways, my point is that they have done some serious renovations to the Guest House kitchen, office space and living quarters. As a point of reference their old kitchen was smaller than my kitchen, so when we heard their plans for upgrades, we were ecstatic.

On Thursday we were literally the first group to prepare a meal in the new kitchen. They did a spectacular job with the remodeling. Everything is stainless steel, state of the art and new. I would guess the kitchen is about four times as large as the old one. It was a joy to work in.

That's not to say the meal went perfectly. There were some issues with not enough table space and some flow issues. To add to the matter, we tried a new meal - spaghetti - which posed some unexpected issues. We timed things a bit poorly as well, so were scrambling at the end to get the food out.

None of this dampened our spirits, though. We were excited to be in such a nice space. At the same time, the downside of a new space is everything is NEW and you want to keep it looking new. So we were overly conscious of spills and slops - all of which we cleaned up at the end.

Despite all of our new space SNAFU's we got it done and the guys loved it. As I said, I am grateful to be able to help where I can and it is such fun serving alongside our good friends. They are all "worker bees" who make it seem hardly like work at all.

I am thankful too for the friends and people on Facebook who contribute money or food every month to this great cause. You are instrumental in changing men's lives. Realize that, and own it. It may seem silly to say that giving soda or pasta, or condiments is changing lives, but it's all part of it. You are all spokes in the wheel to getting these gentlemen back living independently and turning their lives around. Thank you.

And I am super thankful for all of the donors and agencies who contributed financially to enable the renovations/addition. A project this big costs big money. Not to mention that there were some unexpected costs of the addition when the construction crew encountered human remains while digging the basement. It turns out there was a graveyard on premise before the church building went in. It seems they moved the headstones, but not the graves. It required getting an archaeological and forensic crew to move and document the remains.

If you'd like to find out more about the Guest House of Milwaukee, Click Here to visit their website. It is one of many agencies that treats people with dignity and respect as they struggle to reshape their lives. Great stuff!

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Fairly Distant Universities

Labor day weekend was another one of those thousand mile weekends, or at least it felt that way. We needed to take our daughter back to the University of Minnesota and that always starts and ends with 300 miles each way. This is her third year and she knows the ropes, so the preparation going in was easy. Our plan was to fill the car-top carrier so we would have room for some items we left in River Falls at our nephew's place.

Well, as many of you have experienced, when you're pulling a trailer or have a load on your roof, you tend to forget it's there. 

Or, maybe that's just me. 

Anyhow, as I'm pulling into the parking garage at her dorm, my car-top carrier scraped the "not to exceed" height sign. I almost didn't notice, but my wife promptly let me know. "Stop, stop, stop!"

You see, she's done this before, the hard way. She once entered a garage without one of these and on the way out ended up scraping the luggage rack for the entire distance. Ouch!

After a few seconds, I back out of the garage, knowing full well, that the warning sign is forgiving, solid concrete is not so much. So I pull over down the block a ways and start formulating a plan, What to do?

Empty the carrier and abandon it on campus for an hour while we unpack, seemed like an option. Given today's terroristic world though, it wouldn't take long for something that big and suspicious to attract the local Minneapolis Detonation Squad. 

"Hey, don't blow up my Ex-Cargo, dude!"

A better option was to empty the carrier and then bring that into her dorm room. With it being student move-in day, I guess moving a large plastic container in a four wheeled cart doesn't attract undue attention - or the Detonation Squad.

We probably looked a little like the Beverly Hillbillies go to College, but we got it done. 

Later that night, we recognized the 5 year passing of my brother Rob by going to the Spot Bar with my brother and two sisters in-law. He frequented the Spot, one of St. Paul's oldest bars, way back in the day. It's hard to believe he's been gone for 5 years already. 

Then on Sunday we went to the Minnesota State Fair. I cannot say enough about how I love this event. It is every state fair you ever went to - but on steroids. The day we went there were about 230,000 other fairgoers that made for crowded conditions, but hey, that's the fair. Half of the fun is spectating and seeing all the people that shouldn't have left the house dressed like they were. As I said before, I go to the fair to feel better about myself. It works every time. 

As usual, we had all the favorites. Pronto Pups (Corn dogs with white batter instead of corn batter), Tom Thumb Mini-Donuts, and the family favorite deep fried Cheese Curds from the Mouse House. We always take flak from our friends back home in Wisconsin about how they can't be better than the ones at the Wisconsin State Fair. I have to say, I've yet to find any ANYWHERE that can compete with these. It is the highlight of the fair for us every year. 

Throw in some Labor Day traffic on the way home and, well, it was quite a weekend. It was so good to see my daughter happy in her familiar surroundings at a place that holds such fond memories for me, an '85 U of Minnesota grad. I get so dang nostalgic walking around the campus and, later the state fair that I could definitely see myself moving back there someday. There's only three things holding me back from doing that.

January, February and March.

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Last First Day

Today marked the first day of classes in the Waukesha school district. In our case, as my wife pointed out, it was also the occasion for our last "first day of school" for our kids. Ben is a senior in high school this year and so there will be no more first day pictures or first day front door dropoffs.

I asked her if she cried when she dropped Ben off and she said no. She said she was really alright with it and she was ready to be done with getting kids off to school. I countered that I probably would have gotten a little misty eyed, but that's because I'm a big emotional sap when it comes to nostalgic things like this. We've always said that I'm the sentamentalist in the family, this was proof.

So the day was uneventful, according to Ben. "Kinda boring," I think were his exact words. A little change from grade school where the enthusiasm of learning and being with friends sort of oozed out of his pores.

It made me think back to his days in elementary and middle school. Like most families, our kids are wildly different creatures from one another - Ben a raging extrovert and Sarah more reserved and introverted. He and his posse of neighbor friends used to walk to school backpacks in tow and cell phones just a distant reality. Where does the time go?

I think back even farther to when I was in Kindergarten. Back then there was no pomp and circumstance picture taking on the first day of class. You walked to school and that was that. I remember nap times on our little rugs we had to bring. Later when we switched schools from Mississippi Elementary to St, Agnes, I remember my Tarzan lunchbox, the one that the latch failed on one day while I was crossing the street, only to have my glass-lined thermos go crashing to the street.

My days in the Catholic school system from St. Agnes, to St. Luke's and eventually to Cretin High school were mostly good. I look back with very few bad experiences, and many good ones. Being that mom raised 6 of us more or less on her own, we were left to figure a lot of stuff out on our own.

She made sure we had stuff to make our own lunches, that we had clean school uniforms and that we were well supplied with notebooks, pens and glue. Over the years there were many "lost" permission slips, innumerable sick days - some of them faked - and occasionally a lost book, but somehow we all made it through. There's a reason I refer to her as St. Mary.
Freshman Year - '76

And so to think that all of that is behind us as parents is a mixture of gratifying and sad. We've done okay - and super-kudos to my wife who bore the large brunt of much of the off-to-school duties - but this begins a new chapter in our lives and it feels weird. Sometimes I don't like it so much.

Well, at least until we get that first "I forgot my lunch/note/swimming coat/permission slip" call from Ben.

In nine months it will all be over, and I guess I'll have to be okay with that.

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