Sunday, April 29, 2018

Adventure With A Purpose

A couple nights ago I attended another book launch. I've been doing my share of this these past few years, as it seems many of my writing friends have reached the point of completion for their novels, memoirs and poetry books. I can confess that writing a good book takes years, especially if you're trying to hold down a full time job to boot. The whole "write a novel in a month" thing, well, it doesn't quite happen that way, I'm afraid.

Anyways, Friday night was the launch of an adventure memoir titled, Paddle For A Purpose, by Barbara Geiger.  It was an especially cool event for a number of reasons. When Dirty Shirt was released, I did a reading from it at a local event here called Friday Night Free For All. After my reading, Barb approached me and mentioned how she'd enjoyed the book, but also mentioned that she was working on her own outdoor paddling memoir. She went on to say it was about a trip down the Mississippi River with her husband in a homemade kayak she'd built.

I was instantly hooked on the story.

It turns out that she'd built the canoe with her dad and her son, making it an cross-generational project. Then, when it was done, her husband said, "So how about we take it down the Mississippi River?"

She laughed and said, "The whole river?"

Her husband said, "Yes!"

As you can imagine she was just a bit trepidatious.

I won't tell the whole story, but suffice it to say, it started with a frozen tent at the headwaters of the Mississippi in Itasca State Park, then moves to flipping over in the rapids and gets more adventurous from there.

But there's more.

The trip was planned around doing service projects at stopping points all along the way. Barb and her husband are people of faith and they believe in giving of themselves, their time and their resources. They worked with Habitat for Humanity and several other agencies throughout the trip.

To me, this makes for a much better story than just your average kayak adventure. As she described during her book launch, they met a number of "River Angels" along the way. People they feel God put in their way to help them along. People who gave them a meal and a bed or simply a word or prayer of encouragement. Each of these became a character in the book - albeit unintentionally at times.

Another reason it was so cool was the fact that I got to see what was basically an "idea for a book" actually come to fruition. I talked to Barb many times along the way and was curious how it was coming along. When she mentioned she was in the final editing stage, I was elated for her.

Once it was finally done, she was looking for a publisher. I mentioned Electio Publishing, my publisher, who might be interested seeing as how they gave me a shot with all of my books. I mentioned they were a Christian-based house which would make for an even better fit than mine. Well, they ended up accepting her book and the rest is history. She even asked me for a blurb, which made it to the back cover of the book. It is always an honor to be asked!

More coolness in that she put together an interactive map plotting their route with photos and links. As a map guy, I can really relate to this. While I did a Story Map for The Portland House book, Barb did her own, based on Google Maps. It works great and you can check it out Here.

Perhaps the coolest part of the whole book is that she plans to donate ALL of the proceeds from her book sales to charity. It sort of brings the whole journey full circle - service, selflessness and giving all along the way.

So if you're looking for a good outdoor adventure memoir with a noble cause to it, I'd say give it a look. It's for a good cause!

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Support Call

So we had a bit of a techno-meltdown this past weekend. My wife's phone was acting strangely. One day it started rebooting at random moments. Then, it would go into a cycle of reboots that would sometimes number in the twenties before it could she could even get into it. When she finally was able to get into it, it would work fine for a number of hours before it would cycle with reboots again.

We couldn't figure out what was triggering it, but it seemed to be worse when it was trying to connect to a new wifi connection. But not always.

Being a tech-geek, I am all about the wipe and replace method. Once I got her go-ahead, I wiped it to factory condition using the settings. After setting up her multiple accounts, it worked for an hour before it rebooted on her. Then, the cycling began again.

Also being a cheapskate, I was determined to get it working again. Nothing a couple hundred google links couldn't fix, right?

One of the suggested fixes was to delete the cache partition at the operating system level. I was sure this would work.

No dice. Reboots again. I get the look from my wife.

After some more googling I decided to give it one more try. There is a restore at the operating system level that seemed to be worth a shot. For all I know it did the same restore that the app did, but it was much more primitive in how you went about it.

This will do it for sure.

Yeah right.

Well, after doing battle for a few days, I came to the end of my rope. My time is worth something too. So off we go to Best Buy on Saturday morning. Within an hour she had a brand new Samsung Galaxy S9. Ironically enough she was literally one month into the "no payment" zone. I swear they have timers on these things.

The whole ordeal reminded both of us how stupidly dependent we are on a working phone. Donna was most concerned about losing her calendar, which has all of her work appointments on it. Luckily the backups have gotten much better so nothing was lost. (That we've found yet, anyway...)

I really feel they do more harm socially than good. There is nothing more rude than having a good  conversation with someone and have them pull out their phone and start futzing. Some people are better than others with this, but some have a real problem.

When we were at a CollectiveMKE church event a couple nights ago, one of the icebreaker questions was, "Tell us about an invention that will save the world." A friend of mine said, "I think it would be really cool to have a phone that is hooked to a wall, with a cord, that you could never take out of the house."

I think he's onto something.

Blogging off...

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Earth Year

Today is Earth Day, but you know what?

Every day is Earth Day.

I try and live my life like I actually believe that. As an avid outdoorsman, I feel connected to the earth most when I am in a natural setting. To me, there is nothing more rewarding than taking a hike, a paddle or a bike ride on my favorite path, lake or trail. When I am out in it I hate coming across other peoples' trash. I don't know how people can litter and live with themselves. I think a lot of it is in how we were raised, but that's just a guess.

One of our mantras when we're canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area is "Leave no Trace." We frequently brought out not only our own trash, but a bag full of other peoples' trash as well. In my mind, to litter such a sacred place as the BWCA is even more unforgivable than littering an urban area.

As humans we need to realize that we're renters here and we need to stop acting like we own the planet. It deserves our respect. It is our gift to our grandchildren.

One of the stupid little things I do every day when I'm walking the dog is try and pick up at least one piece of trash (as well as my dog's droppings). As dumb as it may seem, I figure, if I did nothing else for the earth that day, I did that. Now, I also walk or bike to work most every day - in part for fitness, but also because it's dumb to drive 1.65 miles when you can walk. I'm certain people think I'm a lunatic, but it keeps me in shape and is less wear and tear on the car - not to mention the planet.

Anyone who thinks that they can't make a difference or that their choice not to recycle that one water bottle that one time, well, multiply that times 6 billion. That equals a large floating island of garbage in the ocean. Bottled water is evil anyway, but that's a different story.

Today I went out and picked up trash and recyclables at a local park. I'm sure people thought I was the homeless guy picking aluminum for bringing to the redemption center, but frankly I don't care. It is my way of feeling better about the role I play in God's creation. If that's what it takes to feel good, well, I'll keep on doing it. (FYI, Unlike years past, the trash was really hard to come by this year, which gives me great hope.)

So, as always, the subject of Earth Day has made me all preachy again. I can't help it. I am an ecology nut, and not even as nutty as some people I know. I just think it's important that we realize our impact and try and minimize our footprint.

I'd encourage you to do your part, however small. Because again, multiply small time 6 billion and it becomes much greater.

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Swedish Resilience

Well, my mom turned 85 a couple of days ago, and while I will probably get in trouble for stating her actual age, I wanted to mention it because I am blessed to still have her around. A lot of my friends have lost their moms/dads these past few years and I can't imagine how tough it must be. I am also lucky to still have both my in-law parents around. Heck, these days I'm grateful to have anyone older than me around. Life is weird that way.

And while my Mom is an octogenarian, she is still more active than a lot of people much younger than her. She works a part time job, she's part of a book club and a card group, exercises when she feels she needs to lose weight and drives her car. She's smart though and knows her limits. She doesn't like to drive at night, will turn down social events if there's too much walking, and she has learned to say no to anything she's not up for. I think those are rights you get once you hit 80.

Mom continues to cheer the whole family on. Us kids are all in our fifties and sixties, but she still congratulates us, encourages us and gives us advice when we seek it. For example, she keeps asking me how many reviews I have on The Portland House. She tells people they should be leaving reviews and then tells them to buy the paperback because I get a better cut than I do from a Kindle book.

She is 85 and acting as my agent, here.

But, as a parent, I realize that's what you do. You don't ever really stop being a parent and caring about your kid. You cheer them on regardless of how old they are. You say, "Hey, that's my kid up there!" It comes with the territory.

I dedicated my book, The Portland House to my mom because, although she came and went in the book, she was the real hero of the story - of our/my life story. She bucked up when things got tough, then tougher, and she pulled us all through. She could have checked out, or given up. But her pride and resilience and faith pulled her through, with all of us in tow.

She wasn't perfect, but no one is. (Last time I checked, I have a few parenting issues of my own.) We do the best we can though, and she did pretty well given all the adversity and sadness she had to deal with in her younger days.

One last story.

At my St. Paul book signing at SubText books, Mom made it a point to introduce herself to virtually everyone in the place. She is genuinely interested in my friends and readers and how they know me. She then thanked them for coming. It comes back to the pride thing, trying to push me to the top of the book charts. Ha!

So, that is why I appreciate the ability to call my mom and find out what's new in her life. She's been there for all of us through it all.

And we're lucky to have her. Happy 85th Mom!

Blogging off...

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Artists In Bloom

It was an art-filled weekend around my community these past few days, and that's always a good thing.

I took Friday off to stay home and write, something I need to do once every couple of months just to maintain my sanity. I hang out at the library and a coffee shop and check out of reality and into my Work In Progress (WIP). It was a productive day and it brought me back down after a high energy week at work.

Then, that evening, I was part of the AllWriters Friday Night Free For All event at Cafe De Arts Roastery in Waukesha. This is a quarterly event sponsored by AllWriters' Workplace and Workshop. The event features 5 readers from inside and outside the studio to read from their WIP or, in some cases from a recent publication or book.

This one had a new twist to it in that it brought in a musician/songwriter named Carter Hunnicut. Carter's mother was a writer and was a mentor to Kathie Giorgio (AllWriters' director) when she was young.

Carter did a great job of explaining the songwriting process and his love for the craft. He's part of a couple of bands and his music is available Here. He and his band, Exposed 4 Heads perform 80's music satire. 

The music was a great addition to the many talented writers who read during the evening, including Kathie Giorgio, Kathrine Yets, Kerry Crowley and myself. There is something so cool about spoken word events. It is live art, performance art in every sense of the word.

If you know me, you know I look back with great fondness to the beat generation for their contributions to poetry and art. But there is also part of me that realizes we cannot go back to those days and that events and communities like this ARE the beats of today. This is our moment to be heard and touch people.

I had a couple of people come up and tell me how my reading had spoken to them. That right there is the reason I do it and enjoy it so much. This is the closest we can get to a beat moment for me. It was a great night.

Then, yesterday, I went to Art In Bloom at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Donna had an extra ticket and asked if I would go with her. She explained to me what it was and while I didn't fully understand what it was, I am so glad I went.

My Personal Choice.
Basically they had area florists and floral artists put together flower and plant arrangements for 46 different works of art at the museum. A sort of ekphrastic art. The arrangements are intended to evoke the essence of the painting they are built around. It was so incredible to see the work these floral artists put into these displays. The works were judged, and as the public, we got to vote on our own favorites. I chose The Wood Gatherer by Le Pere Jacques, a stunning display of flower and wood and beauty.

The rest of them were amazing as well. I have the utmost respect for people with this artistic eye. I have none of it. (Words are my gig.) It reminds me of the immensity of the human brain for creativity and beauty.

Donna and I wandered around and marvelled at some of the other fantastic pieces of art in the museum and even talked of getting a season pass. I really enjoy all art museums and would probably go more if we had a pass.

So, if you get a chance, I would encourage you to support the local arts. Be it spoken word, a musical production, theater, art or some combination of all of these.

It not only supports the local artists, but it will warm your soul. Something we could all use during this unusual spring weather.

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 12, 2018

For Whom The Bell Tolls

Last Saturday night I attended Rob Bell's "Holy Shift" presentation at Turner Hall in downtown Milwaukee. I'd never been to Turner Hall, a magnificent structure currently decked out in twenty first century-haunted house/money pit decor. Bell was accompanied by Peter Rollins another contemporary and perhaps equally controversial spiritual author/scholar.

There are folks who have called Rob Bell some hateful things. His books have been pulled from conservative church bookstores. He was run out of his home church for some of his progressive ideas.

I've read his book, Love Wins and while I'm not crazy about his writing style, I loved his message; a message of Love first, judgement maybe never. Furthermore, listening to his podcasts drove me a little crazy too. Something about his speech pattern. So, needless to say I had low expectations. I went in with a bit of a cynical attitude.

Well, he came out and smashed any doubts I had about his style and message. He told engaging stories for an hour and a half without looking at a single note. His message was about the concept of holiness in the world both its bad manifestations (holier than thou) and its good, everyday manifestations.

The message resonated with me for a number of reasons. As I have mentioned many times, watching my brother get sick and pass away changed my perspective on EVERYTHING. It also increased my sense of clarity about what is important and a recognition of things that are "holy" in life.

These includes moments of conversation with a friend or loved one, natural settings that cause a sense of awe, and even a rock concert or author reading. All of these things can be holy events if you have a sense of connection with the rest of the world and its people around you.

It was the best, most timely message I've had the privilege of being part of in quite some time. Time after time he had me nodding in agreement.

He even brought to light the role our suffering in our anxiety and struggles in life, a theme I can definitely relate to at this point in my life. Lots going on in my life right now. But for a moment at least, Rob Bell helped me understand that it is part of our holy journey. It may not seem like it, but I think what he was saying was that when it passes, we are forever changed and perhaps brought to a better understanding of why it happened, or what role it played.

But for me it was his story telling about moments of holiness that made me say "Yes! I've had that experience." Time after time he had me nodding in agreement.

These events seem random and unscripted at times and maybe the difference is some people recognize them easier than others. Maybe it depends where you are on your journey to an awareness of God. Maybe it's just a case of being awakened by a tragic event. Or maybe its just an appreciation for all of life. I don't know.

But I know I needed the good reminding I got by Bell on Saturday night.

Blogging off...

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Water Woes

As any homeowner knows, things never fail one at a time. They cascade like all tragedies, usually in threes. Each failure of course is slightly more expensive than the previous. I am convinced there is no home appliance repair that costs less than $200, with most being much more.

We experienced the start of the great cascade about a month ago. I was sitting in the living room and kept hearing like a high pitched moaning noise coming from the basement. When I went down there I followed the noise until I pinpointed it to the water softener. The box on top of it which controls the on/off cycling was howling like a ghost.

So I did what any homeowner would do. I unplugged it hoping it would reset and repair itself.

No dice.
It's the doohickey valve. That's the problem.

I tried Plan B. Hit it.


The unit is 20+ years old and is simply worn out. I know that. I also know that it is likely a $1000.00 outlay.  The significantly cheaper, short term fix is to unplug the howling unit. So I did.

There. Fixed.

Three days later I heard a knocking coming from the basement. I went down again and discovered it was coming from the water heater. When we first moved into this house we heard the same sound, an indication that there is sediment buildup in the water heater.

Now I know that it is likely just coincidence, but what are the chances that just the action of turning the water softener off three days prior would trigger sediment knocking? Nothing works that fast. It is just the dreaded cascade effect.

Well, I figured there is a known fix for the sediment issue, so I YouTube'd it. The video I found stepped me through draining our aging tank. I brought in the hose from the garage, turned the water heater to Pilot and hooked up the hose. Of course when I went to turn off the cold water intake valve, it was corroded open, requiring a Vice Grips to crank it open.

Because nothing is easy with an old house.

I opened up the drain and let the heater drain. I put the end of the hose over a piece of screening by the floor drain because I wanted to see what kind of sediment drained out. Of course, there was no visible evidence of sediment showing up in the screen.

Well, this is odd.

When I looked at the drain outlet on the water heater, it sits about 2" above the bottom of the thing. So, in essence, you would have to have 2+ inches of sediment to get it to start draining out.
"Hey, lets put the bottom drain
not on the bottom."

What genius designed that drainage system?

In any case, I let the entire heater drain out just in case. Then I put the hose back in the garage.

And as I write this blog, the heater is knockin' away.

On to Plan C.

Turn up the music!

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 5, 2018

It Takes A Village

On Monday I was instituted as poet laureate* for the Village of Wales. It marked the last day of Paula Anderson's tenure after a year and nine months.

I showed up at the Village hall and awaited my turn on the agenda. I came after a couple of zoning changes and new business approvals. Being in government, it was a process I was quite familiar with as part of the Parks and Land Use staff at the county.

Before I was brought before the board for approval, they recognized Paula with an appreciative word and after her outgoing poem, they presented her with a cake. The cake was frosted with the words to one of her short poems. Paula was a publisher of a small poetry journal and was one of my first acceptances as someone new to the craft. I always hold folks like that near to my heart. Her and Sarah Sadie, another poet and ex-laureate for the City of Madison, are two of those people.

I was introduced next and invited to speak. I felt extremely welcome and warmed up to the board right away. They seemed to like my work and even laughed at a few of my jokes about my writing and my journey afterward.

And so my tenure is one year and it involves reading at the monthly board meeting as well as some outreach activities. I've plans to do a couple of things including trying to gather signed poetry books for donation to the local high school library. Additionally I plan to help organize the poetry open mic's at Mama D's in Wales once a month.

So, while it is all part of my sub-atomic-micro-fame, it is still a lot of fun. Beats working, anyways.

More on it as it progresses.

Blogging off...

*For those who don't know a poet laureate is charged with increasing awareness and appreciation for poetry.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Shrink Wrapped

It is Easter weekend and we are blessed to have both of our kids home for the weekend. My daughter came down from Minnesota on Thursday because she was done with classes and "needed to get away." Ben was down in Florida until Friday when he was dropped off in Waukesha as his roommates continued on to Madison.

And we have been fortunate to be together as a family for much of the weekend. We had dinner together then watched Pirates of the Caribbean on Friday night - an unexpected surprise having them opt for a night home with family instead of local friends. Then, they got up on Saturday morning to go to coffee with us as an extension of Donna and my Saturday routine. 

Today they will attend church with us and then we will have an early Easter dinner with my brother in-law and his partner. 

The weekend reminds me that these moments are to be treasured. We are all healthy, happy and glad to be with one another. When we gather around a table there is intelligent discussion, gentle teasing and laughter. We talk about our crazy dog and our stupid cat who has taken to watching us as we eat dinner. We discuss the kids' school classes, their friend groups and all the adult responsibilities that they are navigating during their collegiate experience.

They hug us unprovoked at times in part for us, but I think they need it as much as we do.

When we met with old friends to watch the Loyola/Michigan game they interacted with adults in ways that made me proud to call myself their parents. I love being around them and laughing about our lives, both past and present. 

So, I've become a sentimental sap of sorts. But I miss my kids. They are an extension of both of us and I love watching them experience the beauty and nuttiness of day to day life. If I could take this weekend and shrink wrap it to preserve it forever, I would. 

But for now, I'll have to simply savor it and count my blessings.

Happy Easter.

Christ is Risen!

Blogging off...