Sunday, October 30, 2016

No Time Like The Present

As winter approaches, there is always a bit of dread that comes along with it. In the autumn months, the days get shorter and cooler. I was lamenting this a bit on Facebook a while back and a friend of mine from my writing group smacked me out of it.

His reasoning was simple. Winter is going to happen and I can't control that, so why not enjoy fall for what it is - live in the joy of today a bit more, with less forward-looking dread. Then, he said, maybe make an effort to enjoy winter more via cross country skiing or other outside activities. He closed the argument with the fact that after December 21st, the days start getting longer again. Basically he said, you've got a good life, winter is part of it, deal with it.

It was exactly what I needed to hear. Good advice from a friend. (Paul) It snapped me out of my funk and caused me to look a little more at the present. This week provided me a chance to relish the present a bit more. Here are a few examples.

  • On Friday, my son got accepted to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee college of Letters and Sciences. This was great news to both him and us. He is still waiting to hear from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the University of Minnesota. I am trying to be mindful of these little successes and victories to remind me how blessed our lives are. 

  • Also on Friday, we spent the early part of the evening at a bonfire with our church community. It was a balmy 65 degrees - very uncharacteristic for late October. There's something about spending time outdoors either alone or with friends that re-grounds me. 

  • After the fire, I went to see the movie Halloween (from 1978) with Ben. I had not seen the movie since about 1981, and it scared the crap out of me then. Any chance I get to connect with my 18 year old who is really into scary movies at the moment, is a good thing. I'm glad I took the time to get tickets. We watch a lot of Marx Brothers movies and laugh our butts off, so it was kind of fun to get spine tingling scared together too.
  • 27" Northern Pike (Released)
  • Then, on Saturday, it was even nicer weather. It was 68 degrees and little wind, so about 10:30 I mentioned to Donna that I'd like to go fishing. We both agreed the chores could wait for a day where it was 47 degrees and cloudy. I ended up catching the biggest fish I've ever caught in my Kayak. The older I get, the more I don't want to miss chances like this. It was absolutely therapeutic being out there. I've determined that what I like about it is it is just me - no one telling me when it's time to move here or there, or what time to go in, or what I'm doing wrong. Just me and my thoughts. It's kind of like I am taking the beauty of the day and mashing it into my cranium to help me get through winter. If I can get these days in October, well, there just might be hope!
So as we creep closer to snow and darkness, I need to keep this perspective. Life is sweet and if you look at every day, there is goodness in it. Relish being with your family - they soon grow up and go to college. Cherish your friends - life is short. Appreciate the chance to occasionally change your routine at a moment's notice in order to take care of yourself - you'll be a better person because of it.

Thanks Paul.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fried Web Burgers

"I went to the doctor yesterday."

This is the line you never want to hear from anyone. It usually means one of two things. Either you're going to get a bucketful of bad news, or you're going to get a glimpse into Too Much Information.

So, I went to the doctor yesterday. When I'd gone for my physical a couple of weeks ago, the doctor gave me the green light of health except for my ears which were packed with wax. (See, I warned ya.)

Anyway, this is always bad news. I've had this recur about four times now in what appears to be a disturbing trend. I think it's part of some sort of old guy disease. This stuff never happened when I was 25, so what gives?

It gets better though.

The reason I needed to get my ears flushed is because I'm looking into getting hearing aids.

I know you're thinking: "Say what? He's so young!" You're thinking that, right? I knew it.

Yes, while I am pretty sure I don't need hearing aids, my family begs to differ. Why, just the other day, I asked Donna what we were having for dinner and she said "Fried web burgers." At least that's what I'd heard. When I repeated it back to her, she and Ben had a good laugh with it.

"I said prime rib burgers."

Ah, that's what I thought. (No I didn't)

This is the comedy of errors that goes on regularly in our house between me and my bride who is fighting back her own hearing loss.

So off to the doctor I go. I get an appointment with a nurse practitioner who weighs me in at 5 pounds heavier than I am at home. I think I have doctor induced weight gain or something. Then she takes my blood pressure and tells me that the hundred number is borderline high. She doesn't tell me how to fix it of course, just letting me know in case I stroke out while I'm getting flushed.

She takes a peak into my ears and says, "Yep, all backed up. I'll get the assistant to flush them." It seems there's a hierarchy to old guy ear flushing and she was having none of it.

A few minutes later the nursing assistant came in and set to work. It starts with her filling up the Windex bottle with slightly too-cool water and hydrogen peroxide. Then she hooks on the torture nozzle and hands me a cup to hold up to catch the water that flows out of my ear.

She then pokes the torture nozzle to just shy of drum-rupture and starts squeezing the trigger of dizziness and death. (First you get dizzy, then wish you were dead.)

It is not unlike taking a fire hose to your cranium.

The water blasting goes on for a good 3-4 minutes before she takes a break to see if there's been any progress. "Nope, it's not moving," she says. The tortuous blasting resumes until I forget my birth date, sprout gills out of my neck and a blowhole out the top of my head. Eventually she concludes that she'll need drops to help break things up.

I'm thinking, maybe next time we start with drops. I'm thinking that in between bouts of consciousness, mind you.

Finally she has luck with the right ear and then starts on the left. Just when you think the hard part is over, it gets harder. For some reason the left ear was even more sensitive. Or maybe she was poking the torture nozzle closer to my brain. I don't know.

I now know what it's like to be the victim of water boarding, however.

After five more minutes of literal brainwashing, the left ear clears. The difference was both noticeable and instantaneous. I would even say, miraculous.

And for all the joking, I don't want to minimize either the duties or the crap that nurses have to deal with every day. I joke about them torturing me, but I have the utmost admiration for all that they do. I can be a big baby when it comes to this kind of thing, so when both ears were cleared I wanted to hug this nurse. We'd both been through an ordeal, and she was the miracle worker in my mind. They really do care and do their jobs well.

So, no more Fried web burgers for me for a while.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Woods And Words

I love many things about autumn.

  • The smell of burning leaves.
  • The color-burst that is the cycle of death that needs to happen before winter.
  • The sky has a different light about it. 
  • The clouds in that differently lit sky have their own beauty.
I just wish we had about three more weeks of it than we do. (Accompanied by 3 less weeks of winter.)

Today was a perfect, Indian summer day. Temps near 68, clear skies and a light breeze. Leaves were falling and everyone was in good spirits. 

I took advantage of it and got two bike rides in. The first was an I-have-to-get-outside ride after church this morning. 

But it was the second ride with my son that was the capper on a great day. We took a ride through Minooka Park which has a system of mountain bike trails that is a blast. We'd been on them once earlier this summer, but I thought today was too good to pass up.

The ride up and down the trails was both exhilarating and technically challenging at times. Ben even had to bail a couple of times when he'd hit a rock or a stump. Bailing (jumping from the bike) can be a lifesaver (or a limbsaver) at times and Ben usually ends up laughing at the end of his dismounts, so that is a good thing. 

While the ride was really, really fun, it was the discussion during much of the ride that made me think how lucky I was to have him as a son. I don't want to give away all the details, but we talked a good amount about peer pressure and drug use in high school. Between hills and maneuvering our mountain bikes over rocks and roots, we had as frank a discussion about tough subjects as we've ever had. 

And through it all, I heard some heartbreaking things about kids that he knows that are going down a bad path. The thing that hit me the hardest though was when he said he'd told a couple of his friends that he "cared about them" and that's why he was calling them out on some of their bad decisions. That is such a brave, adult thing to do at this age of peer pressure. It's so much easier to just succumb to the pressure, so when he told me what he'd said, it choked me up.

In a nutshell, what started as a quick trip through the trees, turned into an important dialogue about decisions, discipline and self worth. And I am so glad I made it a point to invite him to take a ride this day. 

So, I guess my point is, never discount the value in a good bike ride with your kids.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Out Of Dodge

I am writing this from a conference on the edge of Nowhere Wisconsin and while that sounds like a complaint, I am happy to be here. I am normally just coming off a muskie fishing weekend this time of year, but this year it didn't happen. My fishing buddy Steve took it upon himself to go to Italy with his wife for their 25th wedding anniversary, and it ran dead into the muskie weekend. So it goes...

Anyway, my point is, I'm glad to be here because here is at least travelling and I am happiest when I have the road under my feet. As it turns out I'm just north of Spooner, Wisconsin at a remote lodge that involves at least 3 county roads and a stretch of deer-lined gravel roads. A fun ride at night with my mapping geek cohorts in a county van.

This comes while the rest of the world is overseas it seems. As I mentioned, Steve and Jill are touring Italy, end to end, and of that I am insanely jealous. They'll see Venice and Rome and a bunch of other great things

At the same time, my brother in-law and his partner are in Europe as well, They are doing Denmark, Paris, Edinburgh Scotland, London and back to Copenhagen.

It hardly seems fair.

These are all places I want to see someday. And unlike my wife who would prefer to do a single country really well, I would be the one that wants to see as many countries in two weeks as I could. It would probably kill me, or at least exhaust me, but it would be worth it.

Mark and Jake posted pictures from Notre Dame today. The pictures of the stained glass made me gasp. My brother Paul once visited Notre Dame and said it was so beautiful it actually moved him to tears. So I add that to my bucket list.

I don't know when or if I'll ever get "across the pond" to see any of Europe, but it certainly is on my radar to do in the next ten years or so. With one child in college and another one headed there next year, I doubt I'll be able to go much farther than Sheboygan in the next five years. Which is painful because, as I said, I'm not happy unless the ground is moving under my feet, or I at least have a plan to go somewhere.

We may be at that phase of life where local trips are the best we can hope for.

So for now, "somewhere north of Spooner" will have to do.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Election Rejection

As you have seen, I do not get political on this blog. I loathe politics and all that goes with it and feel it is increasingly dividing our country and bringing out the worst in people. 

Because of this, watching our Presidential election cycle play out like a car fire has been nothing short of painful. We've all seen mudslinging in the past, but never with two candidates that are almost equally disliked. A friend of mine said the only way he could ever imagine Hillary Clinton in office is if there was a Donald Trump as an opponent. And the only way he could ever imagine Donald Trump in office is if there was a Hillary Clinton as an opponent. 

Well said. 

And the wonders of social media have raised the rage level to new heights. As things get said and countered, it takes everything in me not to chime in. Like I said, I don't like being outwardly political, despite having definite opinions about who I think should be President. 

But I typically don't say anything. Because there are things that demand my energy that are important and as near as I know, nobody on Facebook has ever changed political allegiances based on a Meme or comment from someone on the other side.

As I said, there are things that demand my energy that are far more important to me. 

  • My Family. Laughing with my wife and kids, texting my daughter and telling her I love her and bantering with my extended family on Facebook. It's all good and all better than political vitriol.
  • My Causes. I look forward to serving at the Guest House of Milwaukee every couple of weeks. This place and its mission give me purpose.
  • My House. Fall seems to ramp up the urgency of things I wanted to get done "this summer." I've been priming and painting our new stairs, cleaning the garage and getting ready for the onslaught that we call winter.
  • My Church. Our new church, Collective MKE is small, but challenging and beautiful. We had such a great discussion today about the role of the Bible in our faith, the translations of it and how it is used as a club to hit people. These people remind me that there are earthly rulers that, in the big picture, are insignificant. There have been for years. 
  • My Writing. If I am denied the usual spaces to write throughout my week, I feel cheated. I've come to NEED it, whereas I used to just like to do it. Writing, editing, submitting and even talking about writing gives me a great sense of purpose. 
And so I aim to continue to steer clear of the political arena for another 3 weeks or so. Frankly, I can't wait for the whole election to be over. It's like a tire fire. Polluting and out of control. I will continue to pray for our country and our leaders nonetheless. Because Lord knows, we can use that.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 13, 2016


For a number of reasons, tonight and into this weekend is typically one of my favorite times of year. The past six years running, I typically go up to northern Wisconsin for three days of muskie fishing with my buddies Steve and John. Because muskies are such elusive trophy fish, it is always a weekend filled with anticipation and what I consider the last fishing outing of the year. (I don't do ice fishing.)

This year is different though. My buddy Steve is going to Italy for a couple of weeks and leaves tomorrow. (Some people should have such a dilemma...Italy or northern Wisconsin. Hmmm). In any case, this leaves me hanging high and dry. There is talk of possibly going up in November, so I'm holding on to that little light.

But there's a few other reasons it's a great time of October.

Today is the birthday of my nephew Nicolas. He's 34 today and, being my godson, we have a pretty tight relationship. I did a lot with him as a boy when I lived in the Twin Cities and tried to get together when I could after moving to Wisconsin. Then, when he went to college, for a time he was at UW Madison and so we saw him a little more frequently.

Now he's in the Air Force and has grown into someone my son looks up to. Ben loves Nick's story and his past and thinks of him as a mentor I think. I saw the full manifestation of Nick's maturity when he went to the BWCA with us in 2012. He helped out with everything from packing to helping with meals. He rounded out the cousin scene quite nicely. I hope we get up there together again sometime.

So, our relationship has come full circle. I look up to a guy who used to look up to me.

L-R Me, Rob, Paul 1988
Another reason this weekend means a lot to me is it is my brother Rob's birthday. He would have been 53 tomorrow. The day always takes me back to 2011 when, with the help of Steve, (my brother from another mother) I managed to catch a Muskie on Rob's birthday while wearing the sweatshirt he'd given me. This was a mere 2 months after he'd passed away. I talk about it more in another post, but suffice it to say, it was a pretty great day.

The last reason it is such a memorable time of year is that it is typically the weekend of the traditional Landwehr Hunt. For years my uncles (and my dad, way back in the day) gathered at a farm in northwestern Minnesota to play cards, drink, break bread and reconnect. The rule for a while was "n
34" muskie caught 10/14/2011
o guns at the hunt." Over time that rule has relaxed and there are a couple of guys who actually hunt at the hunt. (What's with that?) The one year I attended the hunt the highlight was "Shotgun Bowling" which sounds as redneck as it is. I also shot (at some) clay pigeons. It was shocking how bad a shot I was. It explains though why I fish and don't hunt.

Usually when I'm up muskie fishing, I think of those cousins and my uncle Tom, my dad's twin and the only remaining living uncle at the hunt carrying on the tradition of my father. And I think there will likely come a day when I bring my son to the hunt or to our muskie fest to catch a trophy of his own.

Because that's what makes a tradition a tradition.

In lieu of going muskie fishing tomorrow I am taking the day off work and going kayak fishing in my brother's sweatshirt at a favorite local lake.

He would want it that way.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Purposeful Words

This past Friday I was part of the quarterly AllWriters Friday Night Free For All. It is put on by the AllWriters studio and features five different writers all reading some of their work. The cool thing about it is that every writer reads a different style. It features poetry, nonfiction, short story and novel. They always have a "featured speaker" at each one, someone who either travels, is outside the AllWriters circles or a recently published author.

This event featured Cristina Norcross a poet, from Oconomowoc who also is publisher of the Blue Heron Review, a beautiful publication featuring national and sometimes international poets.

The theme for this event was "Never Give Up." Because writing for publication or any kind of recognition or even personal enrichment is such a difficult thing at times, this gathering was built around writers who had all had books accepted in the past year. Because mine was a poetry collection, I was asked to do the poetry. The other writers were Lila Schwenk, Susan Huebner and Kathie Giorgio.

As with any public speaking event, I always wrestle with pre-event nerves. Public speaking is not my favorite thing, but as I've done more of it for Dirty Shirt, I've gotten more comfortable with them. On this night I daresay I even had a good time with it. I always keep my presentations light and sprinkled with humor, because that's who I am. My poetry reflects that humor if you've ever read it, you'd know that. (If you haven't, let me know. I know a guy who can get you some.)

At the same time, some of my work can be quite heavy and heartfelt too. I always say that I like to hook people in with humor and then hit them in the chest with some emotional gut punch. I have a friend who is the funniest guy I know, but his deal was, that he said that sometimes people never knew the real him. They couldn't get past his constant joking to see that he was a human being with much greater depth.

That's why I try and mix my work up a bit when I read. I'd like to think that people know me as someone who just writes funny little poems. Don't get me wrong, I love that side of me and I feel it's a gift in it's own right. But I also feel the craft allows for so much more. Cristina read some poems that just about took the crowd's breath away - as did some of the other readers that night. That's what writing, good writing, does. It makes people react.

The other thing that I took away from this event was that each and every one of these readings is an artistic expression - albeit a temporary one, as much art is - that everyone there is a part of. Something that cannot be recreated. I used to lament that I couldn't be part of the Beat generation - that time in the 50's and 60's when poets, writers and dreamers were reshaping the way we looked at literature. What I forget is that this is my chance to be part of that same experience in 2016. We're dressed differently, we're in a digital age, and most of us aren't living the Bohemian life that those men and women did. It's my chance to try and evoke an emotion, to entertain and maybe even in some small way, change the world for the better with my words.

So that's what I aim to keep doing.

Blogging off...

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Objection Rejection

I have always prided myself for having never been in court. I've had my share of traffic violations and a few parking tickets, a few close call run-ins with the boys in blue, but managed to keep my nose clean for 54 years. When I did get ticketed, I always just paid my fine and never chose to fight it in traffic court. I've heard that they will reduce your fine and in some cases, even change the charge from speeding to something like failing to signal a turn if it means a slightly lower fine.

I always thought that was a bit of a mixed message. A court lying about a charge.

Recently I was asked to serve Jury duty for Federal Court in Milwaukee. This is only the second time I've been asked to serve. The first was years ago and I was an "alternate" who simply had to call in the day of the jury selection. I was not needed, so that was that.

This one required that I show up downtown at the Federal Courthouse at 8:15 on Monday morning. When I got there I was signed in and told to take a seat with the rest of the 26 potential jurors. We sat there watching CNN reading over the Juror's Handbook until a woman explained what we were to expect over the course of the selection process. One thing she made very clear was that we were not to turn our cell phones on when we were in the courtroom

The first thing they did was assign us all numbers, albeit randomly. Of course I was number one! I was doomed to serve, I thought to myself.

Next we were escorted into the courtroom and seated in the jury box. (There was some spillover into the gallery, as the jury box only held 12.)

Then the Judge introduced himself and explained what we'd experience if we were selected. He mentioned it was a police excessive force trial. He swore us all in and then started asking us all questions that might tip the attorneys off that we weren't a good match for the case. These questions were fascinating.

  1. Do you own more than one gun?
  2. Do you have any relatives that are law enforcement officers?
  3. Do you know any of these people? (name1, name2, name3 etc)

And so on...

I was fairly nervous during this questioning, for some reason - almost like I was on trial.

Anyways, he asked the question, have any of you been victim of a crime? Well, I have on a few occasions. All of them involve burglary, but the one I mentioned took place in 1991 when I lived in Milwaukee. I said the guy broke in while we were home, then fled and was never caught.

The rest of the potential jurors answered the questions as applicable. It's funny, but a couple of the people were wildly under dressed for a courtroom. In fact one had shorts, sneakers and a snot green shirt on that had a mummy movie logo on it as near as I could tell.

Like someone once said, if this is what people wear to a court appearance, I wonder what they wear casually. Frightening, actually.

After questioning, we were all to answer 8 questions on a board about our age, work, city, etc. Then the judge and attorneys went to the chambers to decide who the jury would be.

That is when Clueless Cathy, as I like to call her - the woman who definitely didn't want to be there - took out her cell phone and started taking pictures of the courtroom. When the mummy guy saw her doing it, he took out his flip phone - because what else would he carry? - and started snapping pictures too. The Court Officer told them to stop after he saw them, but not before they both had a shot or two. People are so stupid sometimes.

US Federal Courthouse (Milwaukee)
When they returned from the selection process, the Judge called out eight names (6 jurors and 2 alternates.) I was not one of them. I felt a little offended. I wondered what would exclude me from being chosen. I'm an honest, hardworking person.

I reasoned it had to be that I mentioned being a victim once. I think they must throw every juror out that is even remotely tainted by anything they didn't want to hear.

But frankly I wanted to see the process run its course. I was looking forward to the trial. I was intrigued.

The whole process gave me a new appreciation for our Justice system. I was schooled up on the makeup of the Federal District court system, the jury selection criteria and civil vs. criminal trial process. Heck it even made me wish I'd studied a little law in college. I have a few friends that are lawyers and it gave me a new appreciation for the work they put into their careers as well.

I am "on retainer" for the next 90 days and can be called up at any time for duty. So there's that.

The experience also made me realize I don't ever want to be on the other side of the jury box any time soon. No sir.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 2, 2016

My Annual Round Of Golf

Yesterday I golfed for the first time this year. I am a fair weather golfer and usually only golf when provoked. I love/hate the game, mind you but I try and do it at least once a year to keep me loose, remind me of the etiquette and to keep the folks at the Nike ball manufacturing company employed and covered with health insurance.

My buddy Steve and his family organize what is known as the Greater Krey Open every year around this time. He and I share very similar stories in that we lost a brother within a few months of each other in 2011 to cancer. Every year, all of the proceeds from this fun tournament are donated to cancer research. This year they raised more than $3600 for the cause and I can only say I was happy to be a small part of it.

But that is just the background for the hijinks that go on once the first guy tees off. I've determined that what I like about this "scramble" tournament is that everyone on the team contributes. Even on my worst day I can still help our team with eight or nine good shots. I the big picture, that's nothing, but none of us is out to win the Ryder Cup here. Most of us are just trying to get out without losing a club along the way.

And, let me tell you, there is just a titch of smack talking that goes on. Just a smidge. Most of it coming from me. I try and keep things light and keep everyone loose.

By the second hole, my teammate Butch said he already had a ton of quotes that you'd never hear Tiger Woods say on the golf course. Things like:

"If that shot was straight, it would have been awesome."


"We finished two-under par, and I think those were your two."

Obviously, we don't take our golf too seriously. We all try our best, without a doubt, but we all recognize that this was a sport invented by some Scottish masochist who had too much time on his hands and a penchants for coarse language, mosquitoes and occasional strong drink.

I consider myself a pretty capable player at most ball sports, but golf is different. It is the great equalizer. Even the best in our group had some clunkers. At the same time, even I had a few moments of greatness. None of us is ready to quit their day job though.

So, I don't anticipate taking up the sport as a hobby real soon, but I really do enjoy playing it with guys who can take some decent smack talk or joking critique. A couple of times I was doubled over in laughter, be it at someone's shot, their comment after the shot or some snide remark from the gallery. There are parts of me that love being part of a team, something I haven't done much since getting soured on it during a softball league in like 1985 or so. (It's a long story, and I obviously hold things entirely too long.)

Ours is a team of duffers -like two Bill Murrays a Rodney Dangerfield and a Jack Daley thrown in to keep us honest. We're mostly about trying to not embarrass ourselves or the team from hole to hole all the while trying not to rip divots that are more than 4 inches deep. (and we missed that mark a time or two in the rain yesterday).

My nine iron looks like a scythe, but those divots weren't my fault. The rain was in my eyes.

That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

Blogging off..