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.

Jim

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

Friendsgiving

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...