Sunday, December 31, 2017

Long Live Rock

As part of our Christmas vacation trip back and forth to upstate New York, we built in a two and a half hour visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. I've been wanting to get to this place for a number of years, so when my wife mentioned it as a possibility a few months back, I thought it was a great idea.

And, frankly, it was a side trip that almost didn't happen. After all the battles with snowy road conditions and the busy-ness of the holidays, we were all feeling the pull of home strongly by the time the end of our stay rolled around. At the last minute, we decided to stick with our original plan and go see the museum.

I am so glad we did.

For those of you considering it, I would say that you should allow at least 2.5 - 3 hours to see it all, more if possible. There is so much to see, especially if you are a rock aficionado.

We started at the top floor where there was an exhibit recognizing the 50 years of Rolling Stone magazine. While I realize that this magazine is much more corporately slick than it was when it started, there were some cool exhibits.
Life's Been Good original lyrics

As a writer, I can appreciate all that goes into the making of a magazine like this, especially the interviews. Because of this, some of the things that stood out for me were writing related. Three in particular were letters to Rolling Stone, one by Paul McCartney, one by Hunter S. Thompson who used to write a column for RS, and one from Charles Manson. The one from Manson was questioning some of the points that the interview with him emphasized. It was creepy weird, but cool that things like this are preserved.

Of course there were lots of famous guitars and other instruments too. Everything from the acoustics of the old blues masters, to the square electric of Bo Diddley, to the ornate piece of artwork that Jerry Garcia had custom made for his years with the Grateful Dead.  It is almost a bit tragic knowing that these instruments that brought such beauty to the world are now silent. At the same time they evoke great memories from everyone that sees them. There were even a couple of smashed guitars that didn't make it past the moment of rock rage.

A few other cool things I saw:
Peter Criss' makeup kit.

  • Peter Criss' makeup kit. He was the drummer for KISS a band whose music built around their garish makeup and costuming. I was never a fan of them, but I can appreciate this piece of history. 
  • Pre-concert contract agreement for the Replacements including the venue providing 2 cases of Heineken beer backstage before the show.
  • The lyrics to Joe Walsh's song, Life's Been Good, in his own handwriting. Same for Warren Zevon (Play It All Night Long) and The Clash (London Calling).
  • Michael Jackson's sequined glove. 
  • One of the dresses worn by Deborah Harry of  Blondie.
The list goes on and on. 

And after spending 2017 chasing the aging rock stars like Stevie Nicks, The Church and Roger Waters, this cruise through the Hall meant a lot to me. And with two of the 2018 inductees, (The Cars and Dire Straits) being among groups I count among my favorite of all time, the trip seemed even more like a pilgrimage. 
Jerry Garcia's guitar

Now, I realize the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a touristy, kitschy, pop culture wasteland to most people. And there are many that will claim that the HOF is a sham because of who ISN'T in it. (For me that band is the J Geils Band).

But for me, it was a walk down memory lane. I am a music lover and could spend all day there, if given the chance. Like it or hate it, Rock and Roll has brought a lot to the world. And this gives you a glimpse into much of it.

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Walton-esque Christmas - 1991

It is December 23rd, 1991 and my bride and I screaming across the Ohio Turnpike in our '87 Honda Accord, a ride of relative luxury given our Escort/Chevette roots. We are headed to Gorham a tiny burg in Upstate New York. It is a town of the size one would see on Walton's Mountain, with a historic downtown including a diner, a gas station and Gorham Grocery, an essentials-only small grocer.

As the newest member of this family, I am unsure what to expect this Christmas. The family has a tradition of doing a "Round Robin Dinner" on Christmas Eve. It involves having cocktails and appetizers at an aunt's house, dinner and a few piano accompanied carols at my mother and father in-laws, and desert and a one-gift exchange at my wife's grandma's place.

Being a guy who was steeped in tradition who usually celebrated Christmas Eve at one location (mom's place) every year, this arrangement actually sounded intriguing.

Pennsylvania Welcomes You! the sign reads as the Accord hurtled eastward.

I stand drinking a Heineken at my Aunt Alice's place talking to Donna's uncle Dave, a friendly guy who carries the conversation. This is a good thing, considering I am really just getting to know this family and feel like a displaced Midwestern boy in an East Coast Christmas Soiree. This Christmas Eve began by greeting each of her aunts and her grandmother with welcoming pecks on the lips(!) - something again that I neither expected nor initiated, but which made me feel like one of the brood, right out of the gate. It is weird how such a simple gesture brings a level of comfort to a nervous introvert like me.

The house is noisy with laughter, conversation and an undertone of Christmas carols lilting from the stereo in the corner. I make the rounds with the newest members of my suddenly increasing extended family. As I get to know each person from three-minute conversations, I realize that these folks are just like my own family. Some struggle with job changes, relationships or money issues, but all of them fundamentally love one another and ultimately, me, the new tallest member in the family.

So I have another piece of cheese and sausage on a cracker and mingle away.


With the last of the dinner dishes washed, the entire extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandmother sit around my mother in-law's upright piano singing the twelve days of Christmas. Each day of the twelve is assigned to a different person who repeats their part when the song reaches them. 

Everyone has a hearty laugh when, at every refrain, my aunt Alice belts our her line in her Pennsylvanian accent, "Five goden rings." The first time she sang it without pronouncing the "L" at a Christmas prior, she was assigned the part every year after. Every family develops their own quirky  traditions, and the Neufang/Phelps clan was no different.

It turns out I am assigned the "Eight Swans-a-Swimming" creating a moment of focus on me that I am not comfortable with, but roll with anyways, because I don't want to not fit in with my new family. I am accompanied by my two young cousins Kathy and Connie on either side of me. As grade school students, it seems they are smitten with "the new guy" and while at first their level of openness and acceptance of me is uncomfortable, after the whole kissing introduction to the aunts, I begin to wonder if maybe this family is just full of big love. Maybe it wouldn't be so awkward as an "outlaw in-law" after all. Maybe it was God's way of saying welcome to the family.

After the Nine Ladies Dancing, the girls and I belt out "Eight swans a swimming!"

On the final leg of the round-robin dinner, we are gathered in the living room of my grandmother in-law, if that's what you call them. There is a pile of $10 gifts under the tree. Everyone is given a number and the number determines the order of choosing a gift. People are careful to choose, because no one wants the dreaded "Turd Bird." The bird is a dried up cow-pie that is decorated with feathers and a head to look like a bird. It is another New York tradition that I have become a part of by marriage. 

After everyone has a present, the tradition allows one gift pass per person. The greediest among us go for the larger/heavier gift, or perhaps the more ornately wrapped one in hopes of upgrading from the one we have. Everyone surveys the gifts closely, as the Turd Bird winner from last year could have disguised the gift this year by using a bigger, heavier box, or perhaps wrapping it in especially flashy foil wrapping paper.

It is a form of Christmas gift Russian Roulette.

People take turns opening their gift, one by one around the circle. Eventually the victim is revealed and everyone laughs and taunts the 1991 winner of the Turd Bird. Pictures are taken and everyone begins to wander to the dessert table for cookies and a bit of grandma's percolated coffee, which bites with tannins but soothes our soul. 

At evening's end, we hug one another and I face another barrage of kisses on the lips from people I've only met a couple of times. I feel I have crossed over into a family of acceptance and love. I am grateful to God above for each and every one of them. One can never have a big enough network in this world, and my East Coast network was pretty amazing, if I didn't say so myself.

I put on my coat, thank grandma one more time and head out the door with my wife. As I look up into the dark sky I am amazed by the magnitude of stars I see, something we don't get back in the cities. 

And my heart is filled to bursting on this cold Christmas Eve in a small New York burg. God above has blessed me with a family I never expected - a gift of another sort. And it didn't come from a store, wasn't wrapped in a box, and it fit like a comfortable sweater. Yes, I was blessed this Christmas, that much is sure. 

So, my wish to all of you is that you look around you this Christmas and recognize the multitude of human gifts you are surrounded by. They are the true meaning of Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas Randomized

I'm sure you all have good and probably some bad memories from Christmas. It is really one of my favorite times of the year. Because we're approaching the big day, I've assembled a series of my own memories.

Completely Random Christmas Memories
  1. Going to pick out a Christmas tree with mom at the YMCA Y's Men (Get it?) lot on University Avenue a few years. Because we always had a sedan, it meant tying it on top of the ol' Chevy Impala or, worse, the Plymouth Volare'. 
  2. Shopping for my siblings gifts at Kmart trying to get the biggest bang for my buck. Mostly what I got was cheap junk. But at least the good side of my heart was in it before I discovered it was junk. LOL. 
  3. My sister Pat letting me come down and arrange the gifts under the tree because I couldn't sleep on December 23rd, the night before we typically opened gifts. (We were always a family that opened all our gifts on Christmas Eve. In fact, we still do, to some extent.)
  4. The first Christmas my brother Rob came home from college. Mom was so excited to pick him up from the airport and bring him into our house all decorated with Christmas decorations. When he walked in, the Christmas tree lay on the floor like a drunken bagpiper. It was the victim of a cat climbing. I thought Mom was going to cry. Oh, you can reassemble the tree, but it never really looks the same once it's fallen.
  5. The first Midnight Mass we attended with Rob's new girlfriend, Jane. When I got up from the initial kneeling and prayer, she goosed me! It was a shock to this good Catholic boy. She, Rob and I laughed under our breath so hard. It was when I knew he had a keeper!
  6. Of all Mom's Christmas LP's that we played on the stereo, Nat King Cole was (and still is) a favorite. It takes me back to the living room of Portland Avenue every time I hear it.
  7. With Donna's side of the family, we used to do a round-robin Christmas dinner. Dinner was at her mom's house, dessert was at her aunt's and drinks and presents at her Grandmother's. (Or some variation thereof.) I felt as loved by her family as I did my own. The tradition eventually fell away for some reason, but I still miss it.
  8. Working at the Montgomery Wards Catalog dock during the Christmas rush and dreading the week before when people would be lined up at the pickup counter taking home garbage bags full of Christmas toys. 
  9. Working the same job at the return desk in the post Christmas crush of people returning or exchanging gifts. It was a return clerk's nightmare for a couple full weeks after Christmas.
  10. Watching our kids as well as our nieces and nephews decorate grandma and papa's Christmas tree and never putting an ornament above their reach. My mother in-law left the tree that way to remind her of her grandchildren. Sweet.

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Dark Thirty

We are four days from the winter solstice, a time where the days turn the corner from being the shortest back on their march toward June when they are their longest. It is a time of darkness and sleep and rest and recharging. I never really looked forward to the December 21st deadline until a few years ago. The date is insignificant - just another day in December - but as someone who isn't a huge fan of winter, December 21st has taken on a new meaning, given me a new hope.

I wouldn't go so far as to say I fall into depression in winter, but it is a more difficult time for me. Knowing that I have these feelings, I'm trying to be more cognizant of what is going on internally and make adjustments to try and stay ahead of the curve-of-whatever-it-is-I'm-feeling.

My goal is to try and appreciate the nuances of winter for what they are. If that means going to bed to read at 9:00 PM only to fall asleep by 9:45, well so be it. If it means keeping Christmas lights up well into January, as my wife and I have talked about, then so be that.

The other day as I walked to work, it was snowing lightly as I left home. By the 3/4 mark it was coming down in big fluffy flakes and despite the fact that I loathe big snowfalls, I had to admit it was kind of beautiful. (These kinds of observations will no doubt change in late January, but last week it was beautiful.)

And I am determined to make the best of whatever this season throws at me. If it snows, I plan on Cross Country skiing more. If it's brutally cold, I will hunker down at home and drive to work instead of walk. If it is sunny, I will relish in the sunshine. If it rains, well, it will melt some of the cursed snow.

At the same time, I will focus on connecting with my friends from church and I will know that it's okay to recharge, rest and restore. Naps will be my new gospel. I'll connect with my kids via texting and phone calls. I'll take my vitamin D and try and keep in shape.

All of this becomes a priority because I realize our time here is short. We can choose to dread winter and be crabby and downtrodden about the darkness and cold, or we can try and make the best of it and live life as if it was a gift. And on the down days, I am committed to fake it till I make it.

With Christmas coming in a short week, I cannot wait for my kids to come home. They bring their light and a new energy to the house that will carry us to mid January and I am grateful for that.

So, in this season of darkness and quiet, I wish the same for you and your families. I encourage you to find what it is that carries you through the next 90 days and latch on to it. Like Keith Richards said, "I'm glad to be here. I'm glad to be anywhere."


Blogging off...

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Cover Me

When you are writing a book, you have several landmark days.

  • There is the day you decide to write it. As authors we sometimes joke about how this day must have been one of a momentary lapse of reason. Anyone crazy enough to undertake the hours, days, weeks and years that it takes to write a book can't be quite right in the head.

  • There is the day you finish writing it. "Eureka! I wrote a fricken book!" Oh, wait, you mean I have to edit it like five times? (See previous bullet point)

  • There is the day you finish your first edit of it. "Eureka! My first edit is done. Maybe this is good enough" I got news for you. It's not.

  • There is the day you submit it to 1 (or 20) publishers. This is followed by months of waiting, soul searching, praying, mojo working, self loathing, inside crying, anxiety, sacrificing goats, checking to see if your email is still working and questioning bullet point #1.

  • There is the day you get your first rejection. This is followed by ten, eleven or seventeen more rejections and a fair amount of creeping self doubt.

  • There is the day you get your book accepted. Hallelujah! I might just be legit! Quickly followed by, "Oh my Lord, what have I gone and done?"
And then there is the day you get your cover art. That is the day that it gets real. Yesterday was that day for my new book, The Portland House: a 70's memoir. 

I went through four revisions of the cover with my publisher before they nailed it. When I saw the final product I knew it was done. This cover was chosen to give it a 70's feel and has the font to help do just that. 

The house on the cover is a photo of the Portland house I grew up in with an arted-up filter put to it. Every time I look at it, it tells a story - as I suspect a picture of anyone's childhood home would. It is the house from Leave it to Beaver, The Christmas Story, The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family. It is a blue collar house of the working class. 

And it is my hope that my story resonates with you as much as the picture does.

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sisters By Another Mother

This past weekend we had the opportunity to host our Sister in-law Jill at our house for two nights. She travelled here from upstate New York to spend time with her sister and brother an to attend my wife's 50th birthday party. She has a busy schedule as a teacher and swim/dive coach for her local high school. 

Sister in-law Jill (Center)
What I came away with after spending two days with her in my house is how much I appreciate my sisters-in-law. I have four of them, Jill, Jane, Patty and Deb, and they are all unique in their own ways. We've had the privilege of staying for long weekends at a couple of their houses over holidays in Minnesota and at Jill and John's in New York. They treat us like royalty and, by staying in their homes all those years when the kids were young, our kids have grown up together and have come to love their cousins.

When we woke up yesterday morning, we had a casual breakfast and then the three of us, Jill, Donna and I, sat around and talked for nearly three and a half hours. None of us had to be anywhere and at the time the most important thing was just catching up. We talked about our extended family, our kids, our jobs, our futures and our pasts. And on several occasions we laughed HARD.

Leading up to my sister in-law coming to visit we worked hard to get the house in shape and deep cleaned. So, when she was here we concentrated on just being present with her and not distracted by the other duties of life. We all realized that we had less than 72 hours together, so we all made it a point to be present and just enjoy each others' company. 

When the party finally rolled around, my sister in-law seemed to have a great time meeting many of our friends that she'd heard so much about. It was so great seeing her interact and laugh with people she barely knew and despite their only common connection being Donna. And when the night was done, her and I got to laughing so hard on the way to the car that I could barely breathe. 

Now some people have less than stellar relationships with their in-laws. I am fortunate to say that I truly love all of them. And while there is no blood between us, they are as much sisters as my real ones. I would stand up for them and treat them with the same respect I would my own. I invite them into my home, I love them and their kids and I am glad they are part of my life. 

Blogging off... 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Nifty Fifty

Today my bride turns fifty. It is a milestone in everyone's life, one I will have passed exactly six years ago this coming Monday. Our six year age difference has never been an issue and in fact, she keeps me young. We have been together 27 and a half years, and have known each other for another three years on top of that. It has been quite a ride filled with lots of great memories. Here's just a few:

  • When we were still dating we took a road trip to Niagara Falls and from there onto Toronto. I was already smitten with her, but this trip with all its car time and adventure sealed the deal. We were in love and the fact that we lived 750 miles apart only made it clearer that we needed to be together for good.

  • Once we had a severe ice storm in Milwaukee. Donna tried to open the drivers side window and it shattered into a million pieces. She turned and looked at me with a look of panic. I'll never forget the look of shock on her face. It was our first disaster together. A real Kodak moment.

  • When I first brought Donna home to meet my family, she was met with quite the greeting party. My niece started by greeting her at the door with "Who are you and what are you doing in my house?" Then, my nephew proceeded to go and hide in his room. When we went to get him we told him his new aunt was here to which he said, "She's not my aunt!" It's great to be loved.

  • During the birth of our daughter, I vividly remember Donna holding onto the "scream bar" and breathing through contractions in my little Honda Civic. Two days later I remember putting the baby carrier in the back seat of that same car thinking, "We're gonna need a bigger car..."

  • When we went on our first camping trip along the North Shore of Lake Superior, we ran into a rainy stretch of weather. Then, when the rain stopped, the fog rolled in. At one point in my two man tent, Donna turned on the flashlight and there was a mist inside the tent. There was no place to get dry and warm. She eventually found her way to the car and spent the night. I was a stubborn (and wet) die hard camper and toughed it out in the tent. We went to town the next morning, dried our sleeping bags at the laundromat and finished out the trip. 

  • On our tenth anniversary we went up to Door County for a two night stay. Over dinner I gave her a small box with a gold wedding band. Again, I will never forget the look on her face. She never suspected it and it was a great surprise.
So, our life together has been one of ups and downs, but mostly ups. She keeps me laughing, sane and out of trouble. She keeps the ship on course and keeps the creditors at bay. On top of that she is a loving mother, a has a huge heart for people. I hope to spend the next 50 years with her.

Happy Birthday Donna!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Tree For Two

Well, the Christmas crush has descended. It was not even a factor until December 1st hit. Then, the realization came that it is just a few short weeks away - not to mention a couple of birthdays thrown in for good measure. And so we kick it to red line and start marching to the drumbeat of the holiday of all holidays.

In our family, I have always been in charge of getting a Christmas tree. I'd like to say we have a longstanding family tradition of loading up the car with kids and going out to cut our own tree.

Well, it ain't so.

Before kids, Donna and I always went together and picked a tree. After kids came, she came along for a few years and then relegated me to taking one or both of the kids to pick one out. Well, even that tradition was short lived. Once the kids figured out there was nothing but cold and indecision involved with tree shopping, they stopped wanting to go. So, it became a solitary process with Donna giving me free reign to choose a tree using a jury of one. My only stipulation is that no one complain about the one I bring home, because that's not fair. And so, yesterday I picked one out and had it home all within a one hour span. It was kind of sad to think that I wouldn't really even have a kid back home to help me decorate it. Life rolls on, I guess.

Frasier Fir Adoption
Today my job was to get the lights on it. Of course one major string was fried, so I tried a dozen replacement bulbs before I gave up and said I'd pick some up at WalMart. (My least favorite store, but it's close.) I hit pay dirt when I found strings of 100 lights for $2.68. Remind me to not mess around with trying replacement bulbs next year. At that price they are almost disposable.

I also got the Christmas Village set up today, which was a bonus.

Sitting in Church today, the first Sunday of Advent, I had the chance to shut my eyes, pray for some people I probably wouldn't have prayed for had I not gone to church and meditate a bit. It was a pleasant reminder that we need to stop in the madness sometimes and remember why we do all this crazy stuff in the first place.

Christmas lights are great. Trees, sure thing. Presents, awesome. But the best part of the last two days for me was none of that. It was connecting with people at a birthday celebration yesterday and at church today. Taking time away from the things we think we need to do to talk to friends is what it should really be all about.

And I am making it a priority to do more of that this season.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Dead Letter Office

Dear Dad,

I was scrounging through some old papers and stuff the other day and came across this card I evidently gave to you when I was just barely 5 years old. It looks like a Father's Day card, but it may have been for your birthday or some other occasion. I'm not sure how it got saved. I got it from Mom a few years back and have kept it around, because it's the only trace of anything I might have given you. I guess it shows that it's possible to love someone who means a lot to you at such a young age. I seemed to have a thing for butterflies, but I hope you liked it at the time.

This summer marked 50 years since that fateful night you were killed. I suspect each of us kids remembered that fact at some point this year and it gave us pause to think what life would have been like if you had been around to be a part of it all. But, we all know you can't change fate nor live in the past, so we have all just kept plugging along, making our lives and missing you along the way.

While Mom did an amazing job raising us, there are some things I wish you could have been a part of. Moments like watching my grade school football team win the Twin City championship or seeing me off to my first prom or helping me train to get my driver's license. (Lord knows I needed help with that.) I had a stepfather who loved me and filled in for some of that, but it wasn't the same.

But it's the much bigger things in life that I wish you could have experienced. Things like meeting my wife, being there on my wedding day or holding your grandkids Sarah and Ben. Every so often my kids ask about you and what I know or remember about you. So I tell them what I know or what I've heard. I show them pictures of you and tell them how you loved the outdoors and you loved us kids. I also tell them the truth that you were not perfect by any means and went through a rough patch in your life near the end. But I add that losing our sister to cancer played a big part in that. I can't imagine what that kind of pain and loss feels like. At the same time, I am sure to reiterate to them that despite all your struggles, you loved your kids unconditionally. Mom has made that abundantly clear, and I believe it.

And you know, it's silly, but the thing I miss the most is that my kids never got the chance to fish with their grandpa. They both love fishing and the outdoors and both of these things trace back to you. When I think of the pride you would have for Sarah and Ben it about kills me. They are fortunate as a family to have uncles and cousins who they can share this love of nature with and again that gets traced back to you. So, thank you for that.

I guess there's so much more I could say, but it seems kind of pointless to write a letter that will never be read. I do know that whatever the afterlife might bring, we have a whole lot of catching up to do. I want to start with what happened that night and go on from there. Because no adult should be left with a single crayoned card from which to draw memories of his dad.

I love you, Dad.


Blogging off...

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Blathering All Gratefully

It was a weekend of great dividends.

I know I beat the Thanksgiving drum on my last post and you are probably sick of hearing people's blathering words of gratitude, but based on the weekend I had, it is difficult to keep them to myself.

We went north to Minnesota to visit my family for the holiday and I came away filled with gratefulness for what we have built together. Much of this is the sap that I've become for connecting with people on a personal level lately. With all the crap going on in this country and the world lately, I find these moments with loved ones as little beacons of light in a sometimes dark world. They replenish me and, more importantly, restores my hope.

There were several connecting points with the family en-masse and in more intimate gatherings. The Thanksgiving feast is always good, a raucous affair with lots of food, laughter and memories. This one even featured a new baby - my niece's month-old son. But in some senses, the smaller gatherings was where we were able to really find out what's going on in peoples' lives.

In our family, we have a kind of weird tradition that goes back quite a ways. Me and my brothers Tom, Rob and Paul used to go down to the Spot Bar in St. Paul on the day after Thanksgiving. It was a time of brothers catching up, back slapping and revelry. The Spot is one of the older bars in Saint Paul and was always kind of dumpy. It was a blue collar bar where the only food were chips or a pizza ordered from a nearby pizza place. Over the years they've fixed it up a bit but it retains much of what I call "old timey charm," but what a health inspector might call a violation. It lacks swank, but I love the place.

Well, over the past few years, my some of the sisters and sisters in-laws and even a couple cousins have been joining the celebration. This year even my eighty four year old mom joined the fray. We all toast my brother Rob who would love nothing more than knowing his family was at one of his old haunts keeping the tradition alive. He loved that kind of thing and I know he was there in spirit.

Anyway, at the Spot I had the best conversation with my brothers and my godson/nephew Nick. I jokingly call it solving world problems because while we do a little talking of world affairs, we are well aware that none of what we say can change anything. At the same time it was positively therapeutic to hear from them that my feelings of dread with the direction of the country and the world right now are not just my own. Sometimes that helps to talk them out and try and keep doing what we are doing to make the world a better place.

When I mentioned to my nephew that someday (hopefully long from now) when my mom passes away, things will probably change with regards to our families getting together, he looked at me and said, "Why would ANYTHING have to change?" He went on to point out all that we've built as a family - everyone gets along, we help one another and it's kind of amazing. The weird thing is that is EXACTLY what Rob would have said. Both of these guys are gushing extroverts who love family more than anything.

And frankly, I had a hard time justifying why things would change. I stammered and backpedaled and waffled. I said "It'll become a space issue," or "Mom is the glue that holds us together," but Nick wasn't having it. It reminded me so much of my brother Rob that it was eerie.

So I guess I can't say enough about my family. It saddens me to know there are people who don't have what I have. I wish I could clone it and sell it.

Anyway, the whole weekend was an investment in a fund that is paying serious dividends right now and it's all because we've got a whole lot of investors.

And I am a rich, rich man.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Moment Of Thanks

Because it's that time of year that we celebrate all things we are thankful for, I would like to run down the list of a multitude of things large and small that I take pause at and consider myself lucky to have.

I am thankful for:

  • Not one but two good kids experiencing life in college - away from home. College years are some of the best memories of my life. I am living vicariously through them. Along those lines, I am also thankful for...

  • An empty nest. It was weird for the first few days, then we sort of adapted to the quiet, and now have come to embrace it.

  • CollectiveMKE - my church. We are a house-based church with a focus on acceptance and service. Cool people breaking the mold of conventional church.

  • New jeans. A simple pleasure, one we take for granted in this country.

  • My 95 year old house. It leaks a little and creaks a lot, but it is my haven. 

  • A decent job. Big changes ahead with my boss retiring in January, but still consider myself extremely fortunate to be where I am.

  • My family. They're all back in Minnesota, but we still get along as good as we ever have. This year will bring a couple of new babies to my neices, which will add to the energy level.

  • Toby the dog. He's getting old and limpy, like his owner some days, but he never ceases being happy when I walk in the door
  • The Mighty Monday Nighters - my writing colleagues at AllWriters'. These people are my tribe. They get me and keep me honest in all things literary.

  • My stupid 3 year old phone. I have a love/hate relationship with these cursed devices, but I have come to love my Samsung Galaxy S6. I hate my dependency on it, but love its dependability. 

  • Electio Publishing. These guys helped me fulfill a dream and most recently accepted my third book with them. On top of that they are men of integrity and great faith.

  • All of my fishing buddies. John, Steve, Sarah, Ben, Dave and Van are the folks I've fished with this year. The banter in the boat with these people keeps me sane and whiles away the days under the sun catching bass and laughing hard.

  • Good coffee and good beer. One gets the job done, the other rewards it.
  • And lastly, my wife. She is one step ahead of me and our kids and keeps the ship steaming ahead. One of my favorite hours of the week is our Saturday coffee hour at the Steaming Cup. We talk about anything and everything - sometimes it even provokes tears of gratefulness for what we've built, and that's okay. We started this ride 27 years ago and have been through everything that life throws at a person and we've come out still in love. 
And for that I am most thankful of all.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 19, 2017


Today we will be celebrating a new tradition called Friendsgiving. Last year, because we did not travel, we celebrated it on the real Thanksgiving. But this year we will celebrate it on the Sunday before the actual holiday. It is a gathering of friends and family at our house that features all the usual Thanksgiving fare, turkey, potatoes, green beans, salad and desserts. Because it is on Sunday, we will have football on the TV and lots of great conversation. For all intents and purposes it is just taking time around our table to spend with friends and some family that we may not see at Thanksgiving.

I think the practice started because we are always travelling to either New York or Minnesota during the holidays. This year sees us travelling West for Thanksgiving and East for Christmas. As I see it, the holiday season is short, and the winter long, so we might as well take advantage of the festival spirit and gather when we can. This sort of kick starts all of it with a feast.
Friendsgiving 2016

This gathering also puts us into hyper clean mode - yesterday saw lots of that - but then we both hit a wall and kind of say "That's it! I can't do anymore. If they're real friends, they'll understand." And they always do. The group we're having always feels very comfortable in our home.

As part of the prep for them coming as well as Donna's sister coming for her birthday in December, we are giving our bathroom a much needed upgrade. Paint, new lighting, new accessories and baseboard trim. It was a project full of snafus - probably deserving of its own blog post - but one that is finally done and it looks pretty good. I always say, "I'm not handy," but I also don't give myself enough credit. (Only with this and everything else in my life.) Like many people, I hate the thought of starting a project like this, but when it is done I always end up wondering why we waited so long to carry through with it.

So, now that the obsession is done, I think we can finally kick back, relax and enjoy our day. These are some of the closest people to me - kids, brother in-law and partner and a couple longtime friends - so no matter what, it will be a great day. One of giving great thanks for the multitude of things that make our lives so rich.

Most of all, the people in it.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Dreamy State

 As I sat in a bookstore last night watching Michael Perry, who is arguably my favorite Wisconsin author, I thought to myself, he's where I want to be someday. It may never happen, but even if I continue with what I call my "Sub-Atomic Micro Fame" it is still more than I ever dreamed. I cannot say how excited I am about what the future holds in my writing circles. Much of it is unknown, but I am having a great time at the moment.

Having said that, a writing/book update is probably in order, so here goes.

The dates are set for both a Wisconsin launch and a Minnesota launch for The Portland House: A 70's Memoir. They are as follows:

  • Book Release!: January 23rd. The book will be available on Electio's website as well as Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iTunes. Note that if you purchase a paperback on the Electio website, you get the eBook version as well, FREE.

  • Minnesota Launch: Saturday, March 10th from 7:00 - 9:00 PM at Subtext Books in downtown Saint Paul. 
I am also currently looking at dates for a signing at Paperbacks Plus in North Saint Paul as part of their Friday Night Cruisers author events. 

It's funny how it seems like I just geared down from the Dirty Shirt/Written Life promotion and now am starting all over again. It is a labor of love however and the best part is that I've established many connections, so that part of the job should be much easier the second time around.

I am approximately fifty pages into my next book which will be another memoir about my high school days. I attended an all male, military Catholic school which presented enough stories just by that alone. It is bringing back some great memories and some reminders of how stupid high schoolers can be.

Additionally, I've been submitting some of the stories from The Portland House to the Saint Paul Almanac, a journal that has been around for a long time. If they are accepted, they will be a good source of exposure to the book in the St. Paul area. 

Mike Perry Signing Books
The Portland House book trailer continues to progress too. The music portion is nearly completed and then we can layer the voice track over the top of it. Then it's just a matter of doing the video portion - no small feat. I am hoping to muddle my way through that part, but am looking for a good video editor who will work for beer, just in case.

And finally, I continue to write poetry when I feel led. It is a great outlet for me and continues to stretch me as a writer. I have a couple of chapbooks out for publication consideration, so we'll see if anything comes of that. Stranger things have happened.

So, that's the dream I'm living right now. Pretty lucky and eternally grateful for the support and encouragement from friends, family and my readership. Life is good.

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Band Aid Tourniquet

Have I mentioned I hate old houses?

It's true.

When I don't love them, I hate them.

Unfortunately I represent 50% ownership in a 95 year old house. This is where the love/hate relationship comes from. I love the feel, comfort and solid construction of the house. But it is also the solid construction (accompanied by the age) that makes doing anything in the name of home improvement a challenge, shall we say.

Take our bathroom for example. (Take it please!) What it really needs is to be gutted and redone entirely. Plumbing, drywall, flooring, electrical, shower, tub. All of it. Since this is probably a $15,000-20,000 undertaking we continue to put Band Aids on the spurting artery.

Our latest attempt is to repaint, install a new light and reconfigure our medicine cabinet/mirror. It has been probably 18 years since I last undertook similar upgrades, so I know it wont be easy.

I took off the old light to remind myself what lay behind the scenes. As feared, it was non-code wires sticking out of a wall. The installation of 18 years ago began to come back to me. So, after searching for a video on YouTube on how to install an electrical box, I went out to buy one as well as some floor trim.
My house. Don't be jealous.

On my way to Home Depot I thought I would give Menards a try. You know, save big money. This is an ongoing dilemma with me because I feel Menards is cheaper, but Home Depot has more help and is a much easier store to navigate.

Well, in Menards I took the slowest moving escalator on the planet to the second floor and started looking around the lighting department. I found what I thought would be the right box and then asked a woman clerk where I might find vinyl trim for flooring. She said it was in the flooring department. I took the slow escalator past the classical pianist playing Tom Petty's song, "Learning to Fly" back down to the first floor.

And, ya know, I go to a home supply store to buy nails and caulk, not tip a pianist while I sip on a martini. I'm not sure who made that call on the Menards Business Team, but I'd like to have a few words with them.

Anyways, after searching for ten minutes in flooring and finding neither trim nor a clerk with a clue, I put down the electrical box and walked out.

I went across the street to Home Depot found both of my items and was in and out in about seven minutes.  Next time I work on my house, remind me that I hate Menards for a multitude of reasons

So, today I am about to embark on my projects. I know not what mysteries and challenges await, but I know they're there.

I just hoping Home Depot is open late.

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Inextricable Connection

It has been an amazing weekend, to say the least.

Let me start by saying last night I finally finished Brene' Brown's Braving the Wilderness. In the book she talks about something called inextricable connection. It is this idea that as humans we all crave a connection to a higher purpose. I kept waiting for her to get to the solution, and by the end of the book she did. She said it is in our presence with others, both one on one, but more importantly as a collective in large events. Concerts, plays and even sporting events allows us all to experience joy and connection and as a result leave our lonely places and perhaps feel more alive.

I had it happen repeatedly this weekend.

It started with my presenting my experiences as a writer to the high school students at Waukesha South. The coolest part of the whole day was seeing the great diversity of South. There were African American, Asian, Hispanic and white kids everywhere I looked. It is the most racially diverse high school in the county and Friday reminded me of why I am so glad my kids attended there. In this polarized country and hyper segregated region that we live in, this school experience was a pocket of fresh air and hope for me.

Then, on Friday night, we went down and saw two bands, Driveway Thriftdwellers and Zach Pietrini and his band at Anodyne Coffee. And there is nothing more connecting for a large group than music, in my opinion. Each concert we attend is a unique entity, etched in time between everyone who is present. When the lead guitarist went into a long riveting solo, my son turned around and said "That guy is badass," which is EXACTLY what I was thinking. It was a moment of connection between the musician, my son and me. Ben then mentioned that the guy could easily launch into a Pink Floyd solo, because he was that good. The Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd fame) concert he and I attended wall forever remain a connection point, a shared experience between the two of us that will always tie us to something (humanity) bigger than both of us.

On Saturday I attended the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books at UW Waukesha. I really only attended two sessions, but they were both right in line with this idea of collective consciousness, connection and being part of something bigger.

  • The first session was a panel discussion on the 50 year recognition of the fair housing marches in Milwaukee. During it they kept mentioning the strife and racial tensions and riots during the summer of 1967. And I couldn't get out of my mind my own memory of 1967 - it was in June of that year that my father was murdered in a racial incident in St. Paul, Minnesota. The panelists were educating me as to what was going on here, 300 miles away from similar things going on in Minnesota. I am so glad I attended the session, but for me it was a reminder that his death was part of the fallout of a nationwide movement to wake us all up to injustice. It is what it is - a long time ago - but my story was only one story of many in the room at the time. (One I didn't reveal, because it didn't seem like the place.)

  • The second session was called The New Normal and addressed three women writers who had stories of pain and loss with their children or grandchildren. They talked about how writing about their child's medical conditions (and deaths in some cases) was their only way to process the pain of it. It dredged up my own experience with writing about my brother Rob, my dad and my sister, Linda's lives and deaths. Again, I didn't know (all of) these people real well, but through a communal discussion, could immediately relate to their human experience. It was a room full of shared grieving, as I am certain anyone in there could have told a similar story. 
And finally today we gathered as a church for worship as CollectiveMKE. This combines all the elements above, music, fellowship connection and sharing our lives. All of these things make me realize how alive I am despite all the pain I carry every day. These things fill me. 

Brene' Brown says in her book Braving the Wilderness,

"Collective assembly meets primal human yearnings for shared social experiences." 

Well, amen to that, sister. 

And this was a weekend that reminded me that getting out of the house and away from isolation is probably the most important thing a person can do sometimes.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Greatest Generation

As many of you know, I lost my dad early in life. He was killed when I was only 5, so I never really knew him, but as I said, most of you know that.

What many people don't know is that he was a twin. He and his brother Tom were fraternal twins. born in 1925. My uncle Tom was a little shorter and of slighter build, but they both shared the "Landwehr look," as I call it.

My dad and Tom were two of eight children born to Adolph and Magdalene Landwehr in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Their were 7 brothers and 1 sister, the eldest, Aunt Mariette. I remember many, many long car trips up to St. Cloud to visit family and in later years to attend funerals. A "long" car ride back then was a little over an hour. It seemed like seven. I can also remember getting car sick in the back seat and vomiting into a cereal box but, hey, sorry about bringing that up.

Well, uncle Tom passed away this week, the last of the 8 children. The end of a generation, so to speak.

Over the years my aunt and uncles have passed away. Some relatively young from cancer, and some old hold outs like uncle Tom. He was an independent spirit, carrying canoes on his back to go fishing into his seventies, from what I've heard. He was an accomplished taxidermist as well. One vivid memory I have is spending a weekend at his house and being freaked out by all the stuffed ducks and critters that lurked when the lights were shut off at bedtime. Weird how you remember that stuff.

Uncle Tom was also a navigator in the Air Force in WWII. When I was up in St. Cloud a few years ago for a book signing, he was telling us stories about how he'd ditched his plane because they'd run out of fuel. He was in a B-17 "Flying Fortress" and had a number of active missions to help defeat Nazi Germany. When I hear these stories, it makes me even more cognizant of how we need to honor our veterans.

Every year my uncles used to gather for the "Landwehr Hunt." It was usually a gunless affair that involved adult beverages, cards and late nights. Going way, way back, they had purchased a bottle of expensive booze that remained unopened. There was an agreement that the last brother standing at the hunt after the rest had passed, would open the bottle and serve it to the older sons of the uncles who still carry on the hunt tradition today. I got to see the bottle when I was up at the book signing I talked about. It was cool to see the brothers' signatures with dates next to their death dates.

I think a toast to Uncle Tom would be in order this week. He will be buried tomorrow in a military cemetery.

I suspect he's up in heaven trading fishing stories with my dad and my brother Rob right now. There's probably a little exaggeration going along with it, because that's what fishermen do.

Tight lines you three, and be sure and save me some minnows.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Manic Fall Cleanup Mode

I want to know if anyone else is like this.

You let some things go in your house, usually clutter, or dirt, or a junk drawer or something, and you just let it go. You work around it, you deny it is there, you hate on it and you neglect it. And over time, it becomes one of those things that grates on you every time you encounter it.

Well, I can be really good at that. In fact, I'd even say ignoring unlikeable projects in hopes that they go away is my super power.

To a point.

This latest breaking point started with steam cleaning the carpets in a couple of bedrooms yesterday. Donna was out of town, so it was a good chance to get it done before the holidays. So off to Home Despot I went, rented a cleaner, and in a little over two hours my carpets were clean and I'd returned the cleaner.

The (good) problem this project created was jump starting me on ten other sub projects that carried into today.

So what originally was going to be storing some backyard items for winter became much more. It became:

  • Get rid of some of these boxes I seem to have an affection for, because why do I need a box for a computer that I no longer have?
  • Reorganize the dang basement cistern (yes, we have a cistern - a formerly disorganized cistern at that.) It is a place of centipedes, dirt and probably a sizable concentration of lead dust from our 95 year old house. Been good knowing ya.
  • Put the backyard chairs in the basement cistern now that it is reorganized.
  • Get rid of some more of these dang boxes!
  • Drain the rain barrel and put it in the garage rafters.
  • Take the kayak racks off the Santa Fe. (This makes me extremely sad, BTW.)
  • What? More boxes? Get rid of them.
  • Get rid of these old golf clubs. They were gone within 15 minutes of putting them on the terrace. Somebody's using some old clubs out there now.
  • Ditch some old CD's
  • Finish putting away fishing equipment for the year. (Again, extremely sad.)
  • Okay, do we need this box?
I came away from the whole experience feeling a great sense of satisfaction. So there's that. 

On to the next set of closet skeletons, I guess.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Alone In The Woods

I continue to be amazed at how rich my life is because of the people around me. I understand the importance of being plugged into people who are seeking to become better human beings.

A couple of different groups I hang with are studying Brene' Brown's book, Braving The Wilderness. Brene is a research professor who specializes in studying the human condition in the form of empathy, shame and vulnerability.

The guys at my Thursday coffee group are discussing it, one chapter at a time. Another of the groups is called "Jesus and Wine" and it meets monthly to discuss books on faith, spirituality and the human condition. As is the case with this book, it doesn't have to be a Christian-centric book, but because often times faith in a higher power and the health of our culture/humanity are interconnected, these books fit inside a faith based study - in my opinion, anyways.

This Jesus and Wine group met this past Tuesday and the discussion was fantastic. I was convinced to go by my wife and am glad I did.I am only about 1/2 way through the book and am hooked. My wife tends to shove books at me when they've been deemed "really good" by her, and she reads a lot of books, so I trust her judgment.

The underlying premise is that loneliness is a state that many people find themselves in, but that loneliness and being alone are two different things. Without getting bogged down in details, because I'll probably get them wrong anyway, I'll leave it at saying "read the book" because at this point I am hooked.

The biggest question it asks early on is about "fitting in." Did you ever feel like you didn't fit in? With family, or friends, or colleagues or, or, or...?

And I got to thinking of a few times I didn't fit.

The first was as a new student in 4th grade. We had just changed schools and, other than my siblings, I didn't know anyone at the new school. Making a switch to a new school is hard for anyone, but when they are as shy as I was, the difficulty is magnified even more. I remember the first kid who befriended me was Ron Corazzo. We were playground outcasts, but somewhere along the first month of school, he reached out. He introduced me to Ralph Kishel and I started fitting in one person at a time after that. Still, some lonely days leading up to it.

Another that I'd almost forgotten was when I was a freshman in high school. Again, new school, this time with more familiar people than last, but still new surroundings. My sister tells the story that when she was going out one Friday night, I said to her "I wish I had as many friends as you." She said she felt terrible, but only for a second as she skipped out the door. By senior year, I had a well established circle of about 5 really close friends, so it didn't last forever, but a crappy, lonely feeling nonetheless.

I guess the last time I really felt out of place, or left out was, oddly enough, in a Bible study group. Over about a 4 year period, the group went politically rogue to the point where it was apparent that I was the only "liberal" (as much as I hate that word) thinker in the group. After a while, I was on an island in my thinking and so left the group. I probably should have stuck it out, but sometimes the answer to being a lone wolf, is to leave the pack. In my opinion, politics and religion shouldn't mix, but they did and broad based assumptions were made, so I put an end to that the easiest way I knew.

So I am looking forward to the rest of the book. One of the quotes she keeps going back to is from Maya Angelou and reads:

"You are only free when you belong no place - you belong every place - no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great."

-Maya Angelou

As confusing as this quote is, it has great depth, and from what I've read so far, she is planning on laying out a plan for better connection with the world and with ourselves as the book goes on.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Temporary Domicile

"Life After Portland" post #2

In my last post, I wrote about the roommate that done me wrong by defaulting on our lease and forcing me to move and surrender my security deposit. He was headed to California and I was headed to the want ads.

Luckily, through a connection at work, a woman's husband set me up with a guy who had a small two bedroom house less than a mile from where I was living. "He's a little strange, quiet and super frugal, but he's a super nice guy." He sounded okay to me. In the dire straits I was in, I could handle quiet and frugal.

So I moved in. I can't remember the address of the place. It was on 54th or 53rd Avenue in Crystal. The house was cozy and Tony (alias) worked a lot of overtime, so wasn't around much. When he was around, he was so quiet that I felt like I had to fill both sides of a conversation in. If you know me, I'm not one much for small talk, so this was kind of exhausting.

During a conversation he'd nod a lot and we'd have several what I call "awkward pauses" where nothing would get said, so I'd start back up with. "So, then..." just to get out of the awkward pause. It felt forced because it was forced. And while I know you can't change an introvert, when you get a couple of them in a room, and one feels like they need to make conversation, well, it gets awkward.

Then, when I thought a conversation was over, I'd walk to another room and when I turned around, sometimes he was standing there. Frankly it scared me every time it happened. More in a surprised kind of way, than fear, but unnerving nonetheless.

The upside to the arrangement was he had a floor to ceiling bookcase full of albums. He gave me free reign to them and I took advantage by recording some of the good ones.

Well, within about 4 months of living there I got laid off from my mapping job a few miles away. I was devastated and didn't know where to turn. When I asked mom if I could move in with her until I found a new place, she said sure, but that I'd have to share a room with my brother, Paul.

After I got my notice at work, I broke the news to Tony that I had lost my job and would probably have to move out. As it turns out, he said we probably wouldn't have worked out as roommates anyway. When I questioned him on it, he said he was looking for someone who could be more of a friend to him. Now, I had a few friend groups at the time, work, church and college and frankly was a little friended out at the time. So I guess it must have come across in some of my rambling monologues disguised as a dialogue that I didn't really need someone else to go and hang out with.

So, for the second time in less than six months I packed up what little dignity I had and moved again. This time it was with Mom and my brother. It wasn't ideal, but it would at least be comfortable again.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Life After Portland

My book The Portland House: A 70's Memoir is just a tad more than three months from being released. While that house was instrumental in forming our family, I have lived in about eight other places since then and I thought it would be fun to recount some of these places -as they were as unique from each other and, collectively were as much a part of my life as Portland.

The first place was my first "real" apartment at 7610 Bass Lake Road in Crystal, Minnesota. After I got my first job out of college at a mapping firm in Crystal, a guy I worked with talked me into moving in with him in 1985. I forget what rent was, maybe $375/mo. for each of us. I didn't know Dan too well, but he seemed decent enough, so I took the plunge and moved out of Portland to be closer to work.

Well, the place interviewed much better than it performed. (Like a bad pet.) The worst part was during the winter months. We had one thermostat for the whole 2 BR place, so if I shut my bedroom door at night, it got frosty in my room. I mean nose-nipping cold. Being my first place of my own, I was a fairly private person, so didn't like leaving it open. So, frosty it was.

It was a brutal winter, like most in Minnesota. At one point the pipes in the apartment above us froze because the walls were poorly insulated. So the caretaker of the apartment who lived above us took it upon himself to bust a hole in our wall near the ceiling so he could take a blow torch to the pipes to thaw them out.

This seemed a bit extreme to me as a first time renter.

Anyways, because this caretaker was also an alcoholic slacker, the hole was never fixed (at least not before I moved out the following March).

So, around the holidays we did what most bachelors would do. We strung lights up into the hole for our Christmas bash. I remember one guy commenting that in many countries they would call what we did "Art".

The place was scantily furnished. I know we used my roommate's drafting table as a kitchen table with the intention of upgrading someday. There was a couch and a couple chairs, his TV and my stereo system. I had a twin bed, bookcase and desk and chair. You don't need much more than all of that at that age. Mom gave me some hand me down dishes and silverware, so we made it work.

I remember vividly being home alone near the holidays and shutting the lights out except the Christmas lights, listening to REM and thinking, I made it. I finally got a job in my field and now my own place. I'm living the dream. 

Well, none of it lasted very long. Within 6 months of moving in, my roommate decided he was moving to California and we would have to break lease. This meant losing my security deposit as well as needing to find a new place to live. I've never forgiven the guy for that - nor have I heard from him.

But no one ever forgets their first apartment or dorm and we did have a couple of pretty good kickin' parties there, I'll give the place that. But it was still just a small step above government housing - we had bugs in the bathroom and, well, the thermostat/pipe thing I mentioned. So it was nothing great, but it gave me a taste of life on my own. It also made me never want to have to move back home.

Next time - where I landed after my roommate abandonment.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Word On Words

I was hoping to post about the big musky I caught this weekend but unfortunately it actually never happened so, that's that I guess. Instead I'll give a quick update on all things writing related.

  • I've entered the "quiet period" that my publisher talked about between the initial acceptance and the galley review and final edits. The release date for The Portland House: A 70's Memoir is January 23rd, 2018 so I probably won't hear much for the next 6 or 8 weeks. I am okay with that as it gives me the chance to plan my promotion and marketing a bit. 
  • I did get a couple of nice reviews from the Review Corner blog. I heard about this reviewer on the Paperbacks Plus Facebook page. She confessed she doesn't really read memoir, but was willing to review my poetry. I'll let you read the two reviews Here and Here, but suffice it to say her reviews were encouraging to me as a poet/author. Anytime someone says something like "I don't really read poetry, but I like your poetry," it is extremely reassuring and gratifying. 
  • One of the things I enjoy doing is supporting my colleagues who successfully publish their books. I had the chance today to do just that to my youngest colleague yet, Colleen June Glatzel, who just published her first novel, Hey, Joey Journal. She is not much older than my daughter, Sarah and it is kind of amazing to think that she has her first book out. I will be joining her at the local high school in a few weeks for the Authors in the Schools event, as we talk to students about the writing process.  
  • I recently submitted another chapbook titled, Wading In, for publication consideration to three different small presses. For those of you who don't know, a chapbook is a small collection of usually around 20-30 poems. This submission is a different collection than the On A Road chapbook that is being put on the back burner while I figure out what to do with it. These kinds of side projects are great fun.
  • My work with the next memoir about my Cretin High School experience continues as well. I am still on the fence about whether to fictionalize it or make it another memoir. It is really kind of weird digging up these old high school memories, but the people in my writing group say my experiences are unique and engaging enough that they will appeal to people. 
  • The Portland House book trailer continues to move as well. I've tightened up the voice over script and my musician friend has developed a rough take on the soundtrack. Again, this stuff is the fun part of promotion. 
  • And finally, Humble Apparel Company has asked to keep some of my copies of Dirty Shirt so they can package them with a hat and sweatshirt as part of a BWCA holiday gift pack. They are a great company and I am happy to be part of their offerings.
So, that's pretty much it. All busy, but all good.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Off the Grid - In Pursuit

If you are reading this on Thursday, I am on my way off the grid. It is that time of year again. Muskiefest!

This is the one weekend a year completely dedicated to searching for Esox masquinongy - the largest of the pike species. I wouldn't say it's a weekend I can barely wait for every year, but it really is. If you know me, you know that this is my latest obsession.

This will be my eighth consecutive year going up to the Manitowish Waters area with a couple of buddies, one of whom owns a place up that way and graciously lets us crash for the weekend. I was fortunate enough to catch a muskie up there five consecutive years in a row. These past two years I've been skunked, so am super revved to get one this year. They are the fish of 10,000 casts, so they are hard to come by, but if you don't try, you'll never get one, right?

The occasion falls on the weekend of a couple of significant birthdays as well. My nephew and godson Nick's birthday is Friday the 13th. Then, on Saturday the 14th, it my brother Rob would have turned 54. There is extra incentive on both days to catch a muskie, with Saturday being an especially relevant date.

I sometimes talk about a couple of regrets I have with regards to my brother. One was that we never got up to Canada fishing together. He went on a couple of trips with others and I went on a few with Steve and another guy, but we never went together.

The other regret is that I never got him up to Muskiefest. He would have loved it. Part of it was a space issue and another was a boat issue. But had I to do it over again, I'd make it happen for both this and the Canada trip. I learned the hard way that life is too short to mess around. Get it done.

Knowing those regrets, I am going with two close friends who are like brothers to me. They taught me how to fish muskies and fed my obsession. On top of that, they put up with my constant banter in the boat and while enjoying adult beverages afterward. They let me be me for the weekend and the three of us always to have a ton of laughs. These guys make it all worthwhile and take away the sting of my loss a little bit, especially on this meaningful weekend.

Not to mention, both of them would go the extra mile to see to it that any one of us got a fish.

So, stay tuned and say a little prayer for me. LOL.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Back To School.

In a little less than a month one of my favorite festival comes back to Waukesha. The Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books is a two day gathering of authors, speakers and readers that celebrates books and all they add to our lives. 

In years past I have been a participant on a couple of different author panels centered around a theme. I've really enjoyed these opportunities. Typically we're introduced and then given a series of questions by a moderator. After these panels, we're moved out to the signing area where people can purchase our books. They try and schedule authors who have been published during the year, so this year I did not really qualify. With the release of The Portland House in January of 2018, I hope to be back as a participant again next year.

This year, they are starting a new event where authors go into area schools and talk to students about the writing process, publication, inspirations we might have and answer questions. I will be going with another AllWriters student Colleen Glatzel. She graduated from Waukesha South, the school we'll be going to. Of course, both of my kids graduated from South, so it will be even more relevant for me to be speaking to these young men and women.

I've never done this kind of thing and so I'm not sure what to expect. I've taken questions from the audience at readings, but this is more than that. We are left to kind of wing it I am told, so that makes it easy. One thing is sure, I really enjoy being in a learning environment, so I am really looking forward to being around kids that are there to learn (and a few that likely could care less). 

One person on Facebook even went so far as to say it will be interesting who my colleague and I inspire during our talk.I guess I don't give myself enough credit to say that I could inspire anybody. But writers tend to do that to themselves. I'm just kind of making it up as I go.

My writing instructor began a critique of one of my recent sets of pages and wrote something like,

"Let me begin by congratulating you on your fourth book. That is quite an accomplishment for a guy who started this class just wanting to write stories for his family."

Again, I guess I never thought about it that way. I've stood on the shoulders of my writing colleague giants to get here and maybe I can even help a student who is thinking they'd like to start writing. 

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Words For A Change

Last Saturday I had the chance to participate in an event titled 100 Thousand Poets for Change. It was held at Books and Company in Oconomowoc, a store that has among its offering my book, Dirty Shirt. I was asked to be part of it by a poet friend, Cristina Norcross, founding editor of the online poetry journal, Blue Heron Review. I have long been a fan of her work, and in the past year have seen her at a handful of events.

Anyway, the event was not just local. It was billed as an international event with locations in a bunch of different countries. Knowing that it was happening on the same day across the world was pretty cool. A local musician Jacqueline Nicholson warmed up the event and as a side benefit, donations were accepted and put toward money to buy children's books for the Oconomowoc Public Library. and books! It was a win-win.

The theme for the event was poetry centered around world peace, social justice, environmentalism and healing. People were invited to bring up to three poems focused on any of those four issues. I brought two, one on the environmentalism theme titled, Looking for Muir, which is from my book Written Life. The piece documents a fishing trip I took to a southeastern Wisconsin suburban lake one morning.

The second poem, Reciting From Memory, by the ebook of the same name was centered around the handful of memories I have about my dad and spoke to the healing theme.

I know this gig is not for everybody, but I can't say enough how hearing the work from the other poets moved me. People read work about a better, more peaceful, sustainable world. They talked about pain and change and beauty. They pleaded for social justice in an unjust world. And in a moment of reverence, a couple of poets even paid tribute to Susan Elbe, a well respected local poet who passed away two days prior to the event.

As I was sitting there I was wondering what, if any effect this event could have in the world. Then one poet reminded me that to change the world, we have to change ourselves. And along those lines, it was one of those moments that you sit and reflect, and listen and most of all ignore your phone and your problems for an hour and a half. There is a peace in that.

And as Cristina said, maybe the energy of the evening will go out into the world and change it in some way. I can't argue with that, given all the pockets of negative energy in this day and age. Maybe it all adds up somewhere.

We gotta keep trying anyway.

Blogging off...