Thursday, June 29, 2017

Chasing Aging Rockers

If you recall, last year we saw the loss of a number of iconic rock stars. Prince, Bowie, Glenn Frey, George Michael and two thirds of Emerson Lake and Palmer with Greg Lake and Keith Emerson turning over to the "show that never ends."
The Church, 2016

For some reason, these deaths always come as a shock. I don't know why they do, because the majority of them are pretty old and, well, everyone's gotta go sometime.

But part of the shock is that in many cases they are someone I saw 30 years ago, and that's how I'll always remember them. Prince is a great example. He was a phenomenal showman and one of the best guitarists I've ever seen, but now he's gone.

So as an answer to this apparent epidemic, my wife and I are committed to attempting to see more aging rockers before they kick the proverbial bucket. Sure there's plenty of new talent out there and we see/listen to many of them as well. But when it comes to the classics, we figure, see them now, or never.

As a result, in the next few weeks, we are seeing some good ones.

This afternoon for example, we are going to Summerfest to see The Church, who are definitively my favorite group ever. The two remaining core members in their early 60's and still recording new, great material. In a couple of months they are coming out with a new album and probably a tour to back it. So why not just wait and go then?

Because you never know. Especially lately.

You know they are my favorite when I am willing to deal with the hassles of Summerfest to go see them. In fact, depending on the crowd, I may just go, watch them, and leave. Last time I was at Summerfest was probably 20 years ago. But I can't miss this.

Then, in a few weeks I will be going to see Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame. He is 73 years old, but still rocking it. I actually saw Pink Floyd at County Stadium in 1987 for $5.50. There is a great story behind that transaction. Be sure and ask me about it sometime.

So, I am going with another huge fan and my son, Ben. And I actually prefer Waters' cohort, David Gilmour's songs - he tours himself at times, but I didn't want to miss this chance.

Because if I were to skip it, the question is:

What if?

And finally in September we are going to see Stevie Nicks at Ravinia. Now, I saw Fleetwood Mac in 1984 or so, but I have always been a Stevie fan. But she is 69, and, like the others...

you never know. 

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Rainbow After The Rain

I last posted about a place that I and many others just refer to as "Up North." It holds a special place in my heart and the hearts of my family, both immediate and extended.

As I mentioned, I had a chance to fish with my daughter, Sarah, when I was up there. She was looking forward to getting out on the water in my buddy Steve's boat to hopefully catch some bass and spend time with us. 

We met at the launch of Eagle Lake in Conover, hugged and got ready to launch the boat. Once we got it in the water, Steve struggled a bit trying to start the motor. On the fifth pull, the engine started and Steve stood there with the ripcord dangling in his hand. 
Like any good motor, the ripcord is supposed to retract and, more importantly, it's supposed to stay attached to the motor. 

Steve looked at me like a deer in the headlights. Sarah and I looked at him and laughed that tragic sort of laugh when something so bad happens that you can only laugh. I think I may have said, "I don't like the looks of that!" 

Shortly after that it began to rain. Because, like the old saying, when it rains it pours.

Luckily, he brought his tools, which he went and retrieved. In a half hour he had the thing running like it should. 

So we set out in the rain and fished for 3 hours. 

We had some great laughs and the only one who caught fish was Steve. But the thing that struck me most was that I did not hear one complaint from my daughter the whole time. Not about the broken motor. Not about the rain. Not about the fishing line snags. Not about the cold. By the end of the afternoon her jeans were soaked, but she kept on fishing. 

Because she's my daughter. Like me, she's obsessed with fishing. Like me, she's experienced the adverse conditions of remote places like the Boundary Waters. I think she even said "A little rain never hurt anyone."

She told me a story about her roommate Nate who is working with her at her internship. She said the two of them went fishing in the canoe and needed an anchor. She corrected Nate on how to tie a rock to a rope so it would hold. She said "I've seen my dad do this a hundred times in the Boundary Waters."

It kinda made my heart soar with pride. You work with your kids to raise them right and show them the beauty and majesty of the great outdoors. You teach them to try and be no-nonsense/no drama kinds of people. You tell them to be polite, engaging and work hard.

And when they come to be adults and begin to reflect many of the values you try and instill and you see that they've become all grown up, well, there's nothing much better than that.

Blogging off...

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Way Past Wausau

I am writing this on Wednesday evening and by the time this is posted on Thursday, I will be 300 miles north. It is another fishing trip for me in my favorite part of the state, namely, "Up North."

As part of this trip we will be visiting my daughter who is up there working on an internship for the Clean Boats/Clean Water program. It is focused on invasive species awareness and education. She will be spending the wholes Summer there. While I originally feared she'd be homesick and bored, all reports are quite the opposite.

She says she's never coming home.

I can't say I don't envy her. She basically has a dream job that is 4 days on, 3 off, spent at various boat landings. On her off days she fishes, reads and hangs out at her cabin.

Yesterday she texted me a couple of fish pictures, and while they were small, she was fishing and I was not. In fact, her friend/roommate from the cabin actually went back home to get a canoe so the two of them could get out on the water for better fishing. It's these kinds of things that make me think I've instilled the love of the outdoors in my kids.

It's hard to explain what makes this place we call "Up North" or "The Cabin" so special in out family. We've been going up there nearly every year for the past 15 years or so because we are drawn to it. There's something about the slow change in the terrain once you pass Wausau. The trees get taller, the sky gets bigger and the air gets cleaner.

Once we're up there, the noise level drops and you become aware how noisy your life back home is. If you're on a lake, you have access to beautiful sunrises and sunsets. I can feel my blood pressure lower the minute I get out of the car. It is a magical place.

And for the next three days, I'll be part of that magic.

Off the grid.

Fishing pictures pending.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Making It Up As I Go

Today is Father's Day.

There are lots of theoreticals that I could formulate about things that my father would have done for me had he not been taken at a young age. The places he would have taken me, the values he would have instilled and maybe even the things he would have failed at. But these would be just that, wild ass guesses as to what might have been.

Instead, I'd rather focus on the job I undertook when my wife and I decided to raise children - only two - just like we'd told to our pastor when he was giving us our "pre-vows" marriage class.

It has been twenty one years of the craziest movie anyone could have ever written. Our lives  switched from scene to scene as they progressed from dependent infants to terrible two-year-olds, to grade schoolers and finally to adults who we can talk and laugh with on an adult level.

There are far too good times and memories to list, but here are a few things I will always remember as a dad:

  • Loading Sarah's baby seat into my Honda Civic on our way home from the hospital after delivery and realizing I was suddenly responsible for this third being. It felt like a great weight upon me, but it was also the moment I realized that a two door compact car just wasn't going to work.
  • Seeing Ben get whisked away to infant ICU after cutting his umbilical cord. He'd had the cord wrapped around his neck and his blood pressure and heart rates were dangerously low. What a helpless feeling.
  • Seeing both of them off to their first day of Kindergarten. I have to admit, I got a little weepy with both. I'm just a sentimental sap sometimes.
  • Watching Sarah's violin recital at Randall Elementary in 5th grade. Squeaky and pitchy, yes. Beautiful and heart warming, absolutely!
  • Watching Ben play Upwards basketball all season only to get his first and only basket in the last 5 minutes of the last game of the year. 
  • The look on Sarah's face when we turned the corner at Custer State Park and came upon a herd of bison standing in the road. This came after being told the buffalo were all in pens, to which Sarah said, "I don't want to see buffalo in pens." One of those timeless family moments.
  • Ben coming back to help me with my Duluth pack as I struggled on the BWCA portage when he was 16. This is when you know your kids have turned the corner from thinking only of themselves. 
  • Sarah burying her head in my mom's shoulder as she cried after watching the video of my brother Rob at his celebration of life party. Her heart is huge and the reality of our reality was hitting her hard. 
  • As we were driving out of the Adirondack Mountains, my wife got a text that Ben's friend Andy had passed away after battling cancer for months. Ben cried as hard as I'd ever seen and before long everyone in the car was crying. 
  • Watching both of them get baptized at church. Their faith is strong.
  • Seeing both of them graduate with high honors and get accepted at Big Ten Universities.
As I said, there are far too many moments in fatherhood where I am stopped in my tracks and think to myself,

"So, THIS is what it's all about? Now I get it!"

But it's also in the moments that are less than spectacular. The worrying, the hand wringing, the correcting, the encouraging, the restless nights when they were sick, etc. Those are part of it too and it is the collective sum of all of these moments together that make a family strong and united. And now they will be off to face their futures alone in a few months and the worrying and hand wringing will start up again. 

And while I wish parents would get handbooks about how to raise healthy, happy, successful kids, I now understand that part of it is that we're learning too in the hopes that they are learning from us. You only get one chance to raise your kids, so you better make it good. I learned what I could from my mom and from there pretty much made it up as I went along. 

The whole fatherhood ride has made the craziest movie ever into one I wouldn't trade for anything.

Blogging off...

Thursday, June 15, 2017

We Closed It At Wolski's

Tomorrow marks 27 years married for Donna and I. It's one of those "tween" years, maybe a date that means less than the others that end in 5 or 0.

But still.

Twenty seven years is a long time. With the divorce rate still around 50%+, I'm tend to take each anniversary I hit as a victory, not that divorce was ever in my thoughts - it wasn't - but I'd like to hope that after 25 years it gets easier to stay on the good side of that statistic.

So what's different at year 27 than at 1?

We live in a different city, work different jobs, live in a house not an apartment and somewhere along the way we raised two kids.

In fact, it would be easier to quantify what is the same; namely, us.

Because while the circumstances in our lives seems to change with every passing day, we evidently love each other enough to be there and serve as a foundation for the other to lean on when the rest of the pot is boiling over.

None of  this is meant to brag or boast, I'm just looking in the rear view mirror to see where we've been and try and figure out what's worked for us. While there's certainly no magic bullet, I can say that laughing together goes a long way. So does having a common faith, a family that loves us and friends who are cheering us along as we go.

So tomorrow we will celebrate with our usual low-key fanfare. We always agree to save the money we would spend on those $6.00 Hallmark cards and use it towards our dinner out. We will go out to a nice restaurant and have dinner - maybe with a couple friends - and then, as part of our newest tradition we'll go down to Wolski's Tavern in Milwaukee and have drinks.

For those of you who do not know the story behind Wolskis, it needs a little background. When we were dating, we lived on Milwaukee's East Side. One of our occasional haunts was Wolski's, a bar in the middle of a neighborhood, with narrow streets and an old time Milwaukee history to it. (Their trademark is giving out bumper stickers at closing time that read "I Closed Wolski's. Milw. WI" These bumper stickers have been seen all over the world, but I digress.)

Anyways, we were supposed to meet our friend Bill there that night, but he never showed. Donna had about 3 Gin and Tonics and suddenly, out of the blue said, "I just want to get married to you and have babies."

To which I replied, "Wait a minute. Are you proposing to me at Wolski's Tavern?"

Or course she looked me in the eye and said, "Yes, I guess I am."

I said "Okay," and figured that was the end of it.

I assumed it was the gin talking, but the next afternoon as we were driving to Minnesota, I said "Do you remember what you said to me last night?"

She said, "Yes, I do. And I remember what you said too!"

So the rest is history, and as a recognition of another trip around the sun as Donna and Jim, we go to Wolskis and celebrate. (Donna's not the fan of Gin and Tonics like she once was however. LOL.)

We have some interesting times ahead. This fall our nest will be empty 9 months out of the year, so it will be a period of adjustment for sure. We will be forced to re-discover each other in some ways, something we've been working toward with our weekly Saturday coffee hour at the Steaming Cup.

But we've been through changes before and are richer and more loving because of them. It's my hope and prayer that these changes will lead to something even deeper.

Here's to the next 27 years.

For those who don't know how we met, there's more HERE.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Commencing Countdown

Well, the graduation has come and gone. The last cooler is dried out, the chairs are all put away - but still need to be returned to their owners, and the leftovers are socked away in one of our two refrigerators. It was a great, great day.

If you've been following me, the focus of many of these last few blogs has been the preparation going into the big event - Ben's high school graduation. To say that Donna and I have been maxed out these past four weeks in preparation is an understatement. There was an ongoing "list" of things that needed tending both indoors and out. We clicked them off one at a time and I'll be danged if we didn't hit them all.

When GO time arrived, everything came together. Thankfully a friend loaned us a pop up tent and we were able to use it to keep the sun off of us. The weather cooperated and, as I said, it was a great day.

I counted on today being a day of rest/recuperation, but it too has been busy. An oil change and car wash for Sarah before she heads back to her internship in Vilas County, followed by a run to Gander Mountain for some fishing gear for Sarah (and me) to insure she gets enough fish this summer. (She's having a blast, so this is as fun for me as it is for her.)

From there it was back home and putting the house back in order in preparation for more family coming in tonight. My sister in-law and her two girls are coming for an overnight on their way to visit colleges for Mandy, her youngest. The house is presentable again and ready for another brief celebration.

In the process of all of this work, I've been re-enlightened as to the rigors of parenthood. We work and work and work to give our kids a leg-up. We want them to be happy, fulfilled and successful. You think once you're out of the grade school years it gets easier, and in some ways it does, but you're still a parent. Then, high school sets in and there's the emotional/intellectual growth and struggles that go with it - work in a different sort of way.

Then, senior year it's all about prep for the next chapter, college, tech school, work or military. You hound and nag because you want them to have what you had. Parenting is a full-time, lifelong, exhausting and fulfilling labor of love.

And when the graduation day came and I watched my son interacting with his friends, I can safely say, it was all worth it. He is courteous to everyone, well liked, engaging and kind.

And on that same day when he reached out and hugged my wife and thanked her for all she's done for him this past year, I kind of got a lump in my throat.

And later when he hugged our good friend Jill, and told her he loved her and uncle Steve, well, I think to myself, who told him to do that? After some though I realize it was now part of his nature to be grateful for what he has been given. And being grateful requires humility - if you're doing it right.

A bit later he walked away from his friends for a bit and took time out to come up and talk to the adult circle. He was working the crowd, part out of obligation, but partly because he loves each and everyone that came to recognize his accomplishments.

I don't know what the next four years will bring while he's away at Madison for school, but I'd have to say he's off to a great start in life. While we will continue to worry, and work, and pray and encourage him, because that's what parents do, I think he's going to prove that the foundation we've set will help him reach for the stars.

Blogging off...

Thursday, June 8, 2017

High School Exodus

As you probably well know, my son graduates from high school this weekend. He is certainly ready to move on with his life, has been for about 6 months now. He keeps asking why he can't just go to college and skip these last few weeks of senior year.

So, today marked the last morning we had to wake him up for school. And I say we, because it is a corporate affair. Donna starts the process about 7:10, and hammers him every five minutes or so. I interject and shake the bed when I pass his room during my morning routine. For all the sadness that goes with having your kids grow up and eventually move away, this wake-up routine is not part of the experience I'll miss, nor will my wife.

Not that he won't be around, but there are some moments from his school years that I will always treasure - moments between father and son, as well as family moments. Here's a few:

  • During our years in Elmbrook's Boy's Club, we took a trip up to Waupaca every summer for a trip down the Mighty Crystal River. (Not mighty). They equipped father and son with ridiculously small canoes and we spent a couple hours floating down the river. One time we flipped in the rapids and both of us came up laughing. It was a great adventure in 3 feet of water.

  • I took Ben to a few Brewers baseball games over the years. On one memorable night we had really great seats down low. Ben was too cute as a four year old, so I told him to go and see if the ball girl would give him a ball. She couldn't resist his dimples and gave him one. We also managed to get a couple player signatures on his glove too. A cool night!

  • There were countless soccer, T-Ball, football and swim meets we sat through as Ben learned the importance of teamwork and physical activity. He's now enrolled at a gym and I think the physical work ethic is solidly ingrained in his psyche. 

  • Two summers ago we were in the BWCA on a long, bug filled portage. I was laden with a pack and the canoe. Ben got to the end of the portage then came back and asked me if I needed any help. He took my pack and finished the portage out for me, while I wrestled the canoe. It was one of those moments where you go "Hey, he's growing up!"

  • Last summer I gave him a sledge hammer and told him to break up the sidewalk we were slated to replace. He threw his whole body into the project. After that he helped with pouring concrete, digging post holes and drilling deck boards. Helping out his old man - something I never got to do.
I guess everyone's kids grow up. It's what we do as parents. And for those who can't or choose not to parent, there's nieces and nephews to call their own too. As they grow we cheer them on, correct their course, hover - then back off - and finally push them out of the nest. We've rented them from God for 18 years is more like it.

As Khalil Gibran said so eloquently:

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and he bends with His might 
that His arrows may go swift and far.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 4, 2017

View From The Lido Deck

The Madness Of House Projects Continues...

About 15 years ago or so, some friends and I tore down a shed that was attached to our one car garage. The shed was beat and the floor was caving out from under it, so we took chainsaws to it, busted her down and put it in a dumpster all in an afternoon.

Because my wife and I are YFP, yard fail people, the resulting square footage sat unused like that for the next 15 years. Oh, I did build  a terraced garden out of some of it about 8 years ago, but the bulk of the area became our RGWB, rock garden weed bed. Every summer we'd let the weeds grow until I couldn't stand it any more and then I'd spend an hour doing a job I hated more than anything. Weeding.
Weed barrier prep

Over those same 15 years we talked about a few possibilities for the area. We basically came up with about three options.

1. Break out the surrounding concrete frame and just seed the area.
2. Build an expensive deck on the area. Having helped a friend build a deck, this was my last choice.
3. Put paver stones in.

None of these appealed to us and, like most homeowners, other projects beckoned, so we got real good at weeding and pretending the area would create itself.

Then we saw a friend's patio that was made from crushed and compacted "Spardust" a colored granite. We got some advice on how they did it and I even helped them re-compact it this spring to see how the process went.

So, with the graduation of our son looming, this project took priority this summer. I have been working hard on all phases of it for the better part of a month. This included building a flagstone wall, removing dirt and shifting the remaining around in an attempt to level it.

Once that was done, I put down some weed barrier, which I got from one of my three trips to Home Depot. Because, no project is complete without at least three trips to Home Depot/Menards/Lowes.
Compactor man.

Then, I spread the first layer of Spardust and rented the compactor from, yes, Home Depot. Today, with the help of my graduating son whose graduation is the catalyst for the craziness, I compacted it, added a second layer and compacted it again. I returned the compactor to, wait for it....

Home Depot and purchased a "manual tamper" to help with the touching up of areas that need it.

In all, I think it came out pretty good, despite the resultant hernia and spinal compaction I endured moving rock and 200 lb compactors.

These past few summers, I've taken to sitting out back with my dog, Toby while I write and have my decompression beer of the evening. There are cardinals, swallows, squirrels and rabbits. It is a nice change from the noisy street out front. I've grown to love my back yard and I hope to spend even more time there now that this area is done.

And when it was all done, my wife and I looked at each other and said, "Why did we wait 15 years to do this?" We agreed that things like raising kids and other home projects got in the way of this and many of other projects.

But mostly we agreed it was because we are yard fail people.

Don't judge.

Blogging off...

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Cats In The Cradle

As the days wane on having kids around the house, I seem to get more and more wistful about them flying the nest. I'm a sentimental sap, so not only do I dwell on what used to be, but I also worry about whether we've properly equipped and prepared them for life beyond our doors.

I worry that we've over protected them at the same time I worry that we haven't protected them enough.

There is nothing any parent wants more than a child who is successful, socially adept and, most of all, happy. And when I think of my own life, I think I've hit all of those. Well, I'm still working on the socially adept part, but hey. At the same time, I cannot live their lives for them. There is a time and a place to set them free and see what happens. That is when you hope that the values you instilled kick in and while you encourage them to be their own person, you hope that they make good choices and decisions along the way.

I continue to be surprised by their successes and accomplishments - all of it done with little fanfare. (I seem to be the one with the boasting problem, not them. LOL). My daughter makes the dean's list every semester, and I am the one who has to look it up. She never tells me. Ben continues to get good grades despite (his past) swimming and now working at his new job.

It's almost like they expect more from themselves than I do.

And while I was never as good a student as either of them, my mom instilled enough of the core values that matter to allow me to succeed as well. She's 83 now and I think she still worries about each of us in different ways. I guess that just never stops.

So, as she's 300 miles away for the summer working the landings in northern Wisconsin for the Clean Boats/Clean Water program, I am getting reports that she's having a great time and some fun new experiences. This makes me so happy in a living-vicariously-through-her sort of way. These are the college experiences she will always remember.

At the same time, Ben grinds out the last days of his senior year in high school, and he cannot wait to graduate and get to this next phase of his life. Having been in the shoes of a kid with senior-itis, I remember this feeling well, and know he will do well at UW Madison next fall. I still say my college years were some of the best years of my life and I'm sure he'll follow suit.

And when it's all said and done, I need to spend more time being grateful and less time worrying. Because I think we're all going to be fine.

Blogging off...