Thursday, August 31, 2017

Senior Thoughts

Along the lines of the last post where I had things I wanted to tell my Freshman son before he moved into UW Madison, I have a similar, though different list for my daughter. She will be entering her Senior year at the University of Minnesota and, unlike Ben, will be living in an apartment, not a dorm. So here goes another,

10 Things I'd Like My Senior Year Daughter To Keep In Mind:

  1. Enjoy this year: Yes, there may be graduate school in your future, or maybe not. Whatever the case, it will be different. The experience you have as an undergrad will never happen again, so relish the moments, and make more of them, as you go. 
  2. Try something different: This applies to extracurricular activities or things outside your comfort zone. Because you will not have access to many of the student benefits after this year, take advantage of them and push yourself a bit. Join a bowling club or a fishing club. Do something that you wouldn't do if you had to pay (or pay full price) for it. 
  3. Keep doing what you're doing: Academically you make me and your mom incredibly proud. The Dean's list every semester is fricken amazing (coming from a guy who was on the "other" Dean's list for a while. At the same time, don't beat yourself up if you come up short. No employer I know of ever hired someone based on GPA. I know no one puts more pressure on you than you, but know that your dad is okay with a B. I made an academic career out of them.
  4. Be proud of your Gopherness: There is a long history of Landwehr U of M connections, and you are now very much a part of it. Wear the colors with pride and I would encourage you to go to a few sporting events this last year. It's not your last chance to go, but it is as an undergrad, and they can be a lot of fun. 
  5. Continue to seek out new friendships: One thing that struck me while walking around UW Madison with Ben is the incredible international diversity on campus. Use this as a chance to continue to meet people of different cultures and backgrounds. I feel it makes us better humans. 
  6. Think about a career, but not too much: The time is upon you to start thinking about what's next. A new job, a place to live, etc. It's never too soon to start looking into these things, but not to the detriment of your experience. Go to some on-campus job fairs, take a short seminar on resume writing, network with people in your field. Do all of these things while remembering that the main reason you are there is to study and take advantage of the freedoms enjoyed by being a student.
  7. Don't rule out grad school: Speaking to #1 above, don't rule out graduate school just because you're burned out now. Keep it in the back of your mind. One of my few life regrets at this point is that I never got a masters degree. I still may in my retirement years!
  8. Guide your brother: You've been in this game for 3 years and Ben's just getting started. He will turn to you for advice and guidance, maybe more than you want. Be patient and helpful as he navigates the waters of juggling his academics, work and social life. (I know you'll do this, just reiterating.)
  9. Have fun: Said it before and I'll say it again. College years were some of the best years of my life. Lifelong friendships created, great memories and incredible intellectual opportunities are all to be had. I still love being around people in a learning environment. Throw good friends into it and it is even better.
  10. Know that we love you: We realize that we are a little goofy and crazy when it comes to move-in/move out and gushing about our kids. But it's only because we love you to death and are so incredibly proud of both of you. So, text us when we text you. Heck, surprise us and text us for no reason just to tell us you love us. That kind of thing makes my day. At the same time, understand that we're all busy and if we go a day or three without a text, it's only because we're deep in the crazy of life.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Thoughts Heading Into Move In Day

On Tuesday of this week, we will be moving our son into his dorm room at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He chose Madison after deliberating over UW-Milwaukee, the University of Minnesota and UW-Madison. He said he liked the feel of Madison best and of course we encouraged him to follow his heart. Our kids see things differently and their college choices reflect that.

So, as he goes off, We'll push him out of the nest and hope that the flying lessons we've given him these past 19 years have had some effect. And while I won't tell him to his face, I'd like to tell him some things that he may want to consider these next few months and years.

10 Things I'd Like My College-Bound Son To Keep In Mind:

  1. Enjoy these four years: There will be times of extreme stress and pressure, with exams, work, studies and deadlines, be sure of that. But when I look back, my college years were some of the best of my life. It is a cool time where you're juggling the balance of adult responsibilities without all the burden of full time employment, a mortgage and kids. This is absolutely the reason I took my time in finishing up with my degree. I didn't want it to end.
  2. Open your mind: During your studies you will be exposed to concepts and ideas and theorems that will shape your world view. I can still remember reading Charles Darwin's: On the Order of Species by the Means of Natural Selection, and having it blow my mind. You will come across equally as mind blowing revelations during your college career. At the same time, college is where you go to learn how to learn. Your thirst for knowledge will only be whet after these 4 years. It's just the start. 
  3. Choose your friends wisely: Some of your high school friends will remain your friends for life, some will not. Use your college experience to meet new friends - friends who will accept you for who you are. Friends who you will stay up with till 3:00 AM talking to about the world and family and religion and the cool bands. Some of these will stick and be friends you have for life.
  4. Find out what you love: Don't worry about the life/death decision about declaring a major. College is about figuring out what your passion is - what you could really enjoy doing for the rest of your life. For myself, I knew the moment I finished my first Cartography 101 class that if I could do mapping for a career, I would be very happy. 40 years later, I can still say I love my job. 
  5. Work first, then play: This is a basic tenet for all of life. Getting your work and study commitments done lets you hangout with friends worry and guilt-free. It took me a year of crappy grades before my older brother gave me advice to stay at school and study before I went to work, instead of going straight home and goofing off. It changed my effort level and that impacted my grades for the better. It's funny how I remember Tom's conversation, but that's what it took. I think you're a better student than I ever was, so this will probably be more innate for you.
  6. Get involved: Play intramural sports, march on the capital square (but don't get tazed, dude!), do research, join a school club, go to school plays, volunteer to help organize a dorm event, go to the homecoming football game, fight for a cause, take part in the student snowball fight, become a Writing Fellow,  use the student fitness centers. All of this is part of your 4 year experience. Take advantage of the opportunities in front of you. Just writing about it makes me jealous.
  7. Be yourself: If there's one thing I admire about you and Sarah is your ability to be your own people and not follow the crowd. There will be incredible peer pressure, sometimes to do stupid things. It's my hope that you will pick and choose those who accept you for who you are and the ideals you stand for and disregard the rest. Your real friends accept you for who you are and vice verse.
  8. Be proud of your Badgerness: I remember being proud to be a Gopher and part of a Big Ten school. I hope you will relish in the rivalries of big games with other Big Ten teams. Wear your red and white with pride, but respect those of us in the house in Maroon and Gold - especially when it comes to that dreaded football matchup. Have mercy on us. 
  9. Recognize your earned privilege:  I hope you never forget the statistics that the keynote speaker used regarding your status as an accepted student of UW Madison. You are in one of the top Universities and possibly the top research university in the world. You will be among 45,000 other students as lucky and smart as you. Use this time to grow in knowledge and experience. You are a top percenter for a reason - because you've applied yourself to your schooling amazingly and are incredibly talented. Use your gifts.
  10. No matter what happens, I love the young man you've become. I see it every time you engage with other adults, even the middle-aged, sometimes annoying ones, like me. You listen to people, you react appropriately and are respectful. These simple skills will take you far in life. And as I've said many times before, I don't know what we did to get such good, well-rounded kids, but I thank God for you and your sister every day.

On Wisconsin!

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 17, 2017

It Came As A Shock

Passing the age of 50 mark has its pros and cons, I've found. On the pro side, well, there are some who turn to you for advice or wisdom. If you're lucky younger folks treat you a little better than if you were 30, but not always. And sometimes on those days you look your age, you can even slide in a senior discount despite being 10 years away from retirement age.

That's pretty much where the pros stop.

When it comes to the cons, I have my body to blame. As I said on Facebook this week, after 50, it's pretty much always something. In the past three or four years I've had more nagging, irritating little gitchas with my health than I can count. And perhaps the only thing worse than me enduring them is you having to suffer through hearing about them. So, I will spare you that.

Suffice it to say that the ailments are from head to toe. None are debilitating, but most are reminders that I won't make the cut as a walk-on free agent for the Packers - perhaps ever. At least I won't have to worry about concussions - from football, anyways.

I will tell you about my most recent ailment because I think it's kind of funny.

The past few months I've had a numbness in the pads my left foot. It feels like a sock is scrunched up in my shoe. I can walk okay, but I figured I'd better get it checked out anyways. The last thing I want is someone to find a tumor on my spine after it's too late.

So I go to the Foot and Ankle Specialists clinic in town and end up with a doctor that looks just like Ben Stein of "Win Ben Stein's Money" fame. Once I got by that fact, he poked me with some poking devices and determined that I wasn't lying and yes, there was some numbness in my foot. He referred me to a radiology clinic for what is known as an Electromyogram or EMG.

What this is is a sadistic torture test for people to determine that yes, their is some numbness and loss of feeling in my foot.

This doctor had me lay on a table, and proceeded to poke me with even sharper poking devices including a "dull" poke and a "sharp WTF" needle poker. (WTF is a non-medical acronym, here.)

So after poking my feet and calves, the real fun starts.

The doc tapes some electrodes to my feet and says, "Okay there will be a series of electrical shocks that will increase with intensity."

As it turns out these are WTF electrodes too, designed I'm sure by the same company that designed the "sharp WTF" needle poker thingys.

The shocks start out not so bad, but by the third or fourth one, my leg is jumping like a meth addict at Starbucks. I'm not sure if it's jumping because of reflex or because it hurt like WTF. Then, when he was done shocking that spot, he'd move the electrodes and start shocking me in a new spot. This triggered more jumping legs and colorful internalized language generation. (or, CILG, another non-medical acronym).

This went on for about 20 minutes. I hope it is as close as I ever get to what mentally disturbed people went through with electroshock therapy years ago. Because it sorta sucked. Not unendurable, but kind of annoying. It was like a bully poking you with a needle to the point where you kinda wanted to slug the doctor.

Now, I know this is all necessary and modern science is great and all that, but near as I can tell the only thing it determined is that, yes, I do have some residual nerve damage from a back issue I had 15 years ago. And, no, there's nothing they can do about it.

Despite knowing this, I still have to schedule a follow-up with Dr. Ben Stein who's winning my money.

So, yeah. After 50, it's always something.

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Blues For All

My son and I went to an event called Bluesfest on Friday night. This is a relatively new event -the 11th year this year - held at Nagawaukee Park in Delafield. My friend Eugene Garrison and his band The Blues Harp Jimmie Band even played a set. I missed his time slot, but I've seen them before and they kick it!

My love for the blues goes way, way back to when I was a teenager. I don't know how I fell into them, but I probably owe a little credit to my brother Tom. He always loved Muddy Waters, BB King and a lot of the old greats. From there I took it upon myself and started my own journey of blues discovery.

And I found a few white guys who did it really well, like Eric Clapton, John Hammond, George Thorogood and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Something about the soul they put into the blues moved me to fall in love with the genre.

Then, these guys led me to discover the guys that influenced them. Guys that defined the genre like  Howlin' Wolf, Lightnin' Hopkins, Luther Allison and my personal favorite, John Lee Hooker. Not to be outdone, there are the female greats too like Big Mama Thornton, Etta James, Koko Taylor and Bonnie Raitt.

I can remember staying up late listening to the blues after hours show, hosted by a DJ named Alison after I moved to Milwaukee. I thought it was refreshing that there was a station that could devote a couple of hours to playing good blues, old blues. I guess the station spoke to me at the time because I was still reeling from being away from home for the first time ever. I was living the blues. 

While the Bluesfest event was largely attended by the suburban, white over-50 crowd, I am of the firm opinion that the blues transcend all ages and social classes. Everyone gets blue once in a while. Everyone has a crappy day, a crappy week or a crappy spell in their life. It happens. And while you don't have to be in that bad place at the time, listening to the blues can help you work it out. Or, if not, at least they let you know that you're not alone.

One of the better concerts I went to was to see John Lee Hooker at the Cabooze in Minneapolis. It is a small venue, but John Lee blew the roof off the place. He was well into his sixties when he played and he killed it.

We got there in time to see Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials, a blues group from Chicago. They were really, really good. I'd won free tickets and didn't want to go alone, so Ben agreed to go with me after I promised we'd only stay for an hour or two. When we got there, he mentioned that Blues moves at its own pace, and I think he needed something with just a little more move to it.

Next year, maybe I'll make a night of it.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Electronic Hoarding

There is a running joke around my house about the fact that I can't resist turning down an aging electronic device, particularly laptops.

I think I know where it stems from. As little as eight years ago I didn't have a laptop. I wasn't even really writing at that point because the last thing I wanted to do after looking at a screen all day would be to log on to a desktop computer and stare at a screen at night.

Until I bought a secondhand laptop.

The ability to sit in a comfortable chair and type (or surf the web, as the case often is) was made easy with a second-hand laptop that I purchased from Craigs List for $100.00, or so. It opened new doors.

But, it's been an endless upgrade cycle ever since. Mostly because I am drawn to newer, faster and, well, I'm frugally cheap.

The way it works is that I will buy the kids' two-year old laptops or tablets for $100 when they decide they need newer, shinier machines. Because it never fails that their "old technology" is better than my existing laptop, and so it's always an upgrade for me. And it typically only cost
s me $100, which the kids always happily take to help them out with the purchase of their new machines.

I am a technology hoarder.

So when Ben mentioned that Sarah offered to sell her 2 year old laptop to him for college so she could upgrade, I told him that if he didn't buy it, I would for $100.

To which he said, "What, so you can add it to your Rolodex of laptops? How many do you need?"

He has a point. I currently have 3. I am on Sarah's old HP at the moment, but I have an old working Dell Inspiron and a small 11 inch Acer that is little used that I got as part of a class action lawsuit.

And I have Sarah's old Samsung 8" tablet that works like a dream. For some unknown reason, I was looking forward to upgrading to Ben's Microsoft Surface tablet (For $100), until I learned he planned to keep it as a reading device for college. So why do I need a new tablet if the one I have is working just fine? I have no idea. It's like an addiction. My behavior is erratic when it comes to electronic gadgetry, especially aging technology that has considerable life expectancy to it.

It's a disorder, really. And I need help.

And you know what I've discovered? It's really weird, but you can only type on one screen or device at a time.

But that's not going to stop me from upgrading at the next possible opportunity. (For $100).

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 6, 2017

75,438 Untitled Words

Well, it's done.

Book number two, or four, depending on how you look at it, is finished. I look at it as two, but that's just me.

I'd tell you the title if I knew it myself yet, but I don't yet. I'm still waiting for it to come to me. And, like every word in the book, it will eventually. I feel like I'm zeroing in on it, with the help of friends and family.

A few statistics about the work:

It stands right now at 75,438 words. This might trend downward a bit depending on what a publisher might do to it. My goal once I saw where it was at was to keep it above 75K words. Why? Should that ever be a criteria for how to write? No. But once I hit it I was determined to keep it around that number. Okay, I'm weird.

It also stands at 240 pages - including introduction, acknowledgements, dedication, and page breaks. I'm guessing this may go up as it gets formatted by a publisher. Again, I wanted to keep it above 240 pages for some unknown bad reason. Dirty Shirt formatted came out to 262 pages which is where I think this one might land. I'm a page geek.

At the moment there is an introduction and eighteen chapters. Like everything else, this could change as the publisher sees fit.

The book is broken, figuratively, into three parts - much like Dirty Shirt. I say figuratively because there are not literal page breaks between the three. Read it though, and you'll figure it out.

It took about seven years to write - not continuous, mind you, but on and off. It would be tough to put an exact number on how long it really took if I hadn't been writing Dirty Shirt and poetry and other things at the same time. I have a short attention span.

It's about the house I grew up in with my 5 siblings and our single-parent mother. It is largely built around humor and the love that turned a house into a home.

So, from here I go on to the submittal process. Hopefully my publisher will like it and it will come to fruition in early 2018.

Whatever the case, it's done. And there's something pretty cool about that.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 3, 2017


My wife posted and interesting question on Facebook the other day. It was simple:

Who inspires you, and why?

Now, I have to admit that Facebook prompts don't usually trigger me to act. There was something a little more provoking about this one though, so I felt compelled to answer. I answered that my mom inspires me. She was faced with a lot of loss and adversity early on in her life and still managed to raise seven of us kids. She is still active in the community as a worker/volunteer and has a great friend group - all of which I think plays an important part in having a healthy senior life.

But there are lots of others that inspire me too. I'll just touch on a few.

Men and women in their forties, fifties and sixties who are actively writing. The same goes for those doing art, or trying to master an instrument. I favor this group for obvious reasons, but I just think it's so cool that people at these stages of life still see themselves as worthy contributors to the art world. 
Granted, most of them are probably doing it because they enjoy it - some with a goal of getting published, but some not. The point is not why they are doing it, the point is that they're doing it despite not having to do it. To me, people like this are the five percenters. They are driven to something bigger than themselves. This is admirable and inspiring.

Foster and adoptive parents. Anyone who is selfless enough to take on someone else's kids, whether short term or permanently, I have great respect for. They make me feel like I'm not doing enough - which is probably true. But they inspire me nonetheless.
Dawes @Pabst Theater
Musicians. Any and all. Tuesday night I saw the band Dawes, and was floored by the amazing talent of each and every member. These guys can sing, song write and, in many cases, play multiple instruments. So I admire them all, mostly because I could never master an instrument. (I may be tone deaf, but that is no excuse.) I took guitar lessons for a few weeks and gave up when my friend gave up. It's one thing I wish I'd kept pursuing. It still might be something I pursue in my retirement. Know any geriatric bands who need a bassist?

High School kids who are taking multiple Advanced Placement courses. The same principle as above applies here. These kids are for the most part not required to take these more difficult courses. But when they do, and they do well in them, well, it's even more impressive. Many of these kids take them because they like to push themselves to excel. Admirable for such a young age.

Bands that keep on rockin' into their 60's and 70's. Lots of people think rock music is for the young and that any rock star over 50 should not be doing it anymore. I beg to differ. I think if you like something, and you're good at it - and many of the old rockers are - go for it. Roger Waters on Saturday was proof, as I suspect Stevie Nicks will be when I see her in September. Why wouldn't you stop doing something you're very passionate about? If you're good, people will follow - because they're fans, but also because they're inspired.

That's just a sampling of people who inspire me.

Who inspires you? Why?

Blogging off...