Thursday, June 28, 2018

Gettin' Cranky

I ride my bike nearly every day in the summer. Lately my pedal crank has been sounding a little funky. I figured the bearings are probably shot and it might be time to start looking at taking it in. I figured I'd put it off until after July 4th before I went on a trip.

So I'm out biking the trail today and the crank didn't seem to be making noise like it did. It healed itself, I thought. I love it when that happens.

Well, at some point when I'd gone 3.8 miles I turned around. A couple tenths of a mile later, I noticed my crank looked like it was unscrewing from the frame. Maybe it's supposed to look like that, I thought. I'll nurse it home just in case.

Then, for some reason my bike shifted to the smaller front sprocket. By itself. When I tried to correct it it made a racket. At this point the only sprocket that worked was the middle one. When I thought about why the highest gear now fit around the middle sprocket, the fact that the crank was pushing everything to my right made sense.

Well, soon enough everything jammed and I couldn't pedal at all.

Of course it was 3.5 miles from home, because these things never happen in your driveway.

So I started walking with my bike. Several bikers rode by without stopping, which is fine, because I'm a stubborn, stoic Swede and I don't need any help, thank you very much.

After walking for a quarter mile I thought maybe I could stride the bike like a bike with no pedals. So I did. I got the bike up to about 8 MPH for most of the time. But let me tell you, it's not the most efficient way to travel. Plus it tends to hammer on your nether regions, if you know what I'm saying. It truly is why God made pedals, to allow us to one day procreate.

So I strode away looking like a weirdo. At street crossings I walked it because I didn't want to look like a complete dork. But let me tell you it totally beat walking. I'd still be out there walking if I hadn't of resorted to it.

Well, about 1/2 a mile from home a friend drove past and asked if I needed a ride. Luckily he had a pickup truck so I threw it in the back and he gave me a ride the rest of the way home. It was a lifesaver because I was pretty gassed at that point. Not to mention I looked like Fred Flippin' Flintstone on a bike.

We all have our bad days.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Seeking Light

I'm not one to get too bent out of shape by negativity on Facebook. I see it all the time and most of it rolls off my back.

This week was different for some reason. 

There was just one thing after another. People fighting about everything from the message behind Melania's jacket to separated families to the evident corruption all throughout the US government. 

And I can't deny that all of it needs attention, they're all big issues. I was just overwhelmed by how much vitriol was there everytime I looked at Facebook and Twitter. 

So I want to focus this post on some of the positives I've seen in the past few days and weeks.

  • Our school district was enforcing a stupid rule that students that had outstanding school fees couldn't even walk across the graduation stage. A woman from our church felt that needed addressing so organized a fundraiser to see that a number of students could walk and get their diplomas. People helping others feel their true worth.
  • Purple Door Ice Cream has and continues to donate free milk to a number of shelters and pantries around Milwaukee. Furthermore, they would hate me for calling them out for it. They are super humble business owners. The business has always given back to the community which is part of why my wife likes working there so much. People giving selflessly of their profits to help others.
  • A local poet tapped into a Bards Against Hunger initiative and made a call for poetry to go into a publication called the Wisconsin Chapbook Against Hunger. I submitted a poem and lo and behold it was accepted. I will be buying a copy for myself and one just because the cause is so cool. Poets lifting their heads from the page to see a need, then helping.
  • Another writer friend of mine is donating 100% of her profits from her book sales to charity. Writers writing for love and giving more of themselves to help others.
  • I continue to donate $1.00 from my The Portland House book sales to the Guest House men's transitional housing agency. Writers helping people rewrite their stories.
  • A half dozen people donated money and food to enable my wife to assemble five meals for the guys at the Guest House - all because there was a gap in meal serving that she saw and filled. People helping foodies do what they do best. 
  • People starting up spontaneous funds to help the children separated from their families at the border. People recognizing their common humanity and doing something to help.
These are the stories you don't hear enough about. These are the stories that give me hope. They help me realize that the world, at its core, is not a bad place. There is light and beauty and graciousness. 

And I would encourage everyone to see it next week. Along with that, call it out instead of some useless political meme. 

The world will thank you for it.

Blogging off...

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Fishing Knot That Binds

This past Father's Day, I got a text from my daughter wishing me a good day. She lives in Minneapolis and is settling into a new life up there by my blood family. In the text she mentioned how she misses us and that we really need to go fishing again soon.

This melted my heart a little bit.

Last night at a poetry open mic, I read a poem titled Queen. It is a piece about fishing with my daughter up north. Between it and her text and my son's latest interest in fishing I have been thinking about all the great times we've had as a family in pursuit of finny critters.

The activity requires a lot of patience but also allows lots of time to talk about life. It also gives you "fish stories" that will last a lifetime. Times like:

  • When Sarah crouched on the doc at 4 years old and fished until we pulled her away. She caught over a hundred fish in 3 days one year (Not that we fisher folk track these things.)
  • When Uncle Tom caught a huge bass in the Boundary Waters Canoe area and let Ben reel it in. That is a true fisherman there, letting someone younger than you take your fish because you want them to have the experience and also because in your lifetime, you've had your share.
  • When everyone caught their first trout in a reservoir in Rapid City South Dakota. A fun day!
  • Catching Walleye in the BWCA with Sarah (The full story is in Dirty Shirt)
  • Ben catching his first Muskie last summer.
  • Sarah catching a nice Northern Pike off shore in the BWCA after being frustrated the night before.
  • Countless stories of fishing with their cousins. 
  • Both Sarah and Ben fishing with my friend who they call "Uncle Steve."
  • Taking Ben or Sarah along with my friends' young kids to fish a local pond. Here were my kids teaching the next generation how to do it.
  • Hearing stories of Sarah fishing up north last summer as she worked her intern job near Eagle River. (They're doing it on their own now!)
  • Same thing for Ben taking his buddies fishing at Devil's Lake last summer. This makes me most proud of all, my kids teaching other how to do it.

The list goes on and on. And I guess fishing is an acquired taste - not for everyone. But for me it is meditative and relaxing and nothing but fun. I think I've passed on the love for it to my kids and hope to one day get them up to Canada where the best fishing in North America happens, in my opinion. Perhaps that is a retirement goal. Because we would have a blast - of that I'm sure.

Until then, local lakes as often as we can will have to do.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Portal To The Past

It is a warm August evening in 1989 and my girlfriend and I are sitting at the bar of Wolski's Tavern on the lower East side of Milwaukee. We are awaiting our friend, Bill, for a couple of drinks and maybe a game of darts, the real steel-tipped kind with chalkboard scoring. The music system, complete with octagonal shaped speakers that hang from the ceiling, belts out hits of the day by REM, New Order and The Cure. Flags of foreign countries and other places cover the ceiling in parachute fashion and the cash register is the old fashioned kind whose keys requires a two handed forceful push, followed by the drawer opening and a ca-ching. Everything about the place has an old Milwaukee feel to it and it is a recent favorite haunt of mine since I moved to the East Side.

I am drinking a Point Beer because it's cheap and a nice change from Miller products. Donna is on her second or third Gin and Tonic and is getting that dreamy look in her eyes. She has a bit of a grin on her face as she gazes at me. We're in love and infatuated with each other, something the gin is amplifying, apparently.

Wondering what her grin is for, I ask, What are you thinking?"

"I don't know. I just love you and want to marry you and have babies with you." She replied.

Sitting there a bit shocked having been taken off-guard, I laugh a little and say, "Are you proposing to me at Wolski's Tavern?"

"Well...yes, I guess I am." She answered.

"Okay," I said, not sure what she would remember.

My friend never shows up and after another half hour we head back to our cute little apartment on Lake Drive.


The next day as we were driving to St. Paul, Minnesota to visit my family, I asked her if she remembered what she asked me.

"Yes, I do. And I remember what you answered too."

It is June 15th, 2018 and the temperature is beginning to heat up on the edge of an approaching hot spell. My wife and I are sitting at a table at Wolskis Tavern in celebration of our 28 year anniversary. The music is a mix of '80s favorites including the Replacements, The Cure and New Order. In fact, other than a new floor and the absence of a cloud of cigarette smoke, the place is nearly as we left it. Same speaker system, same pictures on the wall, same flags on the ceiling.

All of it. 

I am drinking a Lakefront beer made a mile away, and Donna is drinking a Guinness, what she calls her "safe beer," mild, smooth and coherent. We await our longtime friends who represent the longest friendship we have with anyone in Milwaukee. Eventually they show. We have a ton of laughs and do a bit of reminiscing about our past and our hope for the future.

In every sense of the word, Wolski's is like a portal or time machine for us. It's unassuming interior doesn't allow for people to put on airs. It's a working class bar, but all are welcome. It is part of our story and in a world of constant, fast paced change, it is timeless. 

We met the owner as he came to the table to see how we were doing. I told him our story and he said he was probably there that day. Of course he was. His presence completes the picture beautifully. I asked him if we could get a couple of their world famous, "I Closed Wolski's bumper stickers and he kindly obliged. One of them was an old favorite and it reads, "Wolski's Tavern: Adventure, Danger...Romance."

I, for one, can attest to the romance part.

Happy Anniversary, Donna!

Blogging off...

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Portland House Pays Itself A Visit

So a while back, I sent a copy of The Portland House: a '70's memoir to THE Portland House. It was a suggestion by my sister, Jane. She thought it would be a cool idea to surprise the owners and let them know that their house was famous in a sub-atomic micro fame sort of way.

I sent them the book with a short note basically telling them that it was the house I grew up in  and I thought they might enjoy reading some of its history. I also told them that if they felt compelled, they could leave it for the next owners or even share it around the neighborhood. I sort of hoped for a response, just to see what they thought.

Well, today a card came from The Portland House family.

The card was written by the wife of the current owner - the same owner who bought it from us over 32 years ago. She said that they did a big renovation five years ago, including a new garage from what I can see. They also removed the open porch and put on an enclosed one. She said they had 3 boys and that the grandchildren love coming over.

The card closed with an offer to show me the house any time I was in town. She also gave me her email address. I will definitely follow up with her and possibly take her up on her offer.

As I've said during some of my readings, our houses represent a vicious cycle of move-in, live, move-out, repeat. And within the structure we create the memories, we take those memories with us along with the couch and kitchen table.
The Portland House was where us kids became who we were to become, if that makes sense. It formed the framework for our identities that we carried into our own homes as adults.

And looking at the love, success and joy in the lives of each of my siblings, Mom and that old house did our family pretty good.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Watching For It

Like most people, I go through peaks and valleys from week to week, month to month. Unlike some, I am fortunate that the peaks far outnumber the valleys for me. I sincerely believe that part of that is because I try and focus on the positive. Negative people and thoughts bring me down, so I try and minimize them in my sphere. I've been known to hide Facebook friends who are continually negative or crass. People griping in person are hard enough, I don't need to see it on social media. 

Anyway, this week on several occasions (usually while walking the dog) I was overcome by feelings of gratitude for the direction my life is going. By this I mean the people I call friends, my beautiful wife and kids, my job and my church. A few encounters I had this week served as reminders.

  • On Monday, I went before the Village of Wales Board for my monthly poetry reading. This is a great privilege for me - something I look forward to. This appointment to Poet Laureate was brought forth by a poet friend/contact of mine. 
  • Tuesday, I went back out to Wales, across the street from the Village Hall at Mama D's Coffee. This was to meet with a (relatively) new friend who asked to meet and talk about writing. She would like to write her memoir and wanted to pick my brain. We talked a little writing and a lot
    about our upbringing and our pasts...for two and a half hours. Her story was heartbreaking and redemptive all at the same time. All it took was for me to show up. And it made me realize how far I've come with recognizing that we need to lean into people's lives to make our own richer.
  • On Thursday I had coffee with my normal Thursday guys at Cafe De Arts. These outings sometimes start slow, but by the end of them I am always disappointed that we have to leave. We talk about deep topics on God, culture, politics and how we are supposed to interact with the world. Great guys who challenge me to think and press my faith to new levels. Oh, and coffee that rockets me through my morning.
  • I never cease to be amazed by the fact that I have four books to my credit. This week I saw a preview of my cover for my forthcoming chapbook, On a Road (10/21/2018) and it just kind of hit me that here I am doing what I'd always wanted to do, and low and behold, it's actually working. I still tell people I'm just kind of making it up as I go, because I am. I don't know what the hell I'm doing, but it sure is fun.
  • Last week was spent training a new employee. With the recent retirement of my boss and the moving on of another employee, our office was decimated to half the staff it once was. At first it was initially incredibly stressful and overwhelming. Recently though, I have come to realize that I am as happy as I've been at the County in a long time. We are developing a new GIS team, a new rapport and an overall healthier work environment. What I once feared and dreaded has turned out to be all good.
  • The people in my church community never cease to amaze me. Always watching out for one another. This week when my mom was admitted to the hospital, they made a point to pray for her at a Wednesday meeting. I've been to all sizes of church, but the one that makes me feel the most connected to other people of faith is this one. Small, house based communities of people who care about one another and the world they live in trying to make a difference.
So, sorry this post was so happily positive, but like I said, I try and focus on what's right in my life, because there's enough wrong out there without me adding to it.

Keep your eyes open for the good in your week, this week. Because it's out there.

Blogging off...

Thursday, June 7, 2018


It's that time of year where the Summer weekends start getting booked up and before we know it we'll be at Labor Day and staring Fall in the face.

I am determined to make the most of the nice weather while it's here though, so have already squeezed in a couple of outings and am looking to get a lot more in before the end of Summer.

Last Sunday I made use of a gift certificate for golf that a friend gave me a while back. I went to Moor Downs with Ben and we golfed nine holes. There were several memorable moments or comments.

  • When Ben pointed out how ludicrous the sport is and what it must have been like when the Scotsman told his friend, "Yeah, see this little ball? Well there's a hole in the ground to hell and gone over there, and you have to hit it into it." We laughed about how it probably took them playing a hole or two to determine that having a flag in it would make it easier to see. 
  • In a 9 hole outing, between the two of us, we must have lost a dozen golf balls. We were being pushed a bit by the "capable" golfers behind us hacks, so we never spent more than a couple of minutes looking for a ball. We have a zillion of them in our basement, and we both determined that life is too short to spend more than 5 minutes looking for a $1.00 golf ball.
  • That a golf cart for two golfers, one with a hook and another with a slice, is really a waste of money. 
  • Scoring is for people who care or are good at golf.
  • When you think you've cleared the water, you probably did not.
  • Golf is a rich man's sport and is 98% a mental game.
  • Life is too short for a really bad drive. Take as many (up to 3) until you're happy with one. If you can't do it in 3, move along.
  • One sliced drive he had managed to send one of his balls a fairway over. When we golfed the next hole, lo and behold there was his ball. Bonus! Take away one stroke.
The best part of the day was being with my son for a couple of hours. I love his wit and his laugh. We were a bit like Bill Murray and Rodney Dangerfield out there. It helps that neither of us will likely ever take the sport seriously, but it sure is fun farting around on a nice day.

Blogging off...

Watch and Learn

Sunday, June 3, 2018

A Nod To Those Before Us

I spent Thursday at a GIS conference in Delavan, Wisconsin. One of the speakers had a fascinating presentation about the prehistoric Native American burial mounds that dot the state and the region. His description of the purpose, makeup and art involved with these sacred places was captivating.

He mentioned that over 200 of them had been excavated and destroyed by people looking to study and/or loot them of grave goods - which they tended not to have. The vast majority of them contained human remains of one person, usually a person of nobility among the tribe.

Delavan oval mound
The thing about his talk was that after it, we were able to go outside onto the Lake Lawn Conference Center grounds and see a few of the mounds. They were simple in shape, one oval, another shaped like a reptile or turtle.

The speaker spoke with reverence and respect about all of the mounds he detailed. He made it abundantly clear that the way they were disregarded and disrespected in the years after white contact was nothing short of a travesty. He reminded us that the very place we were congregating was occupied by people thousands of years before us.

Man Mound - Near Baraboo
He even talked about "Man Mound" near Baraboo that is in the shape of a man. It is right outside his house and he has taken to painting the legs of the Man that were destroyed when they put a road right through them. He said there was a Native American woman in the community who will no longer drive the road that cut through them, out of respect for her ancestors. I think that is so awesome.

We have our own set of mounds in Waukesha, a couple of which are just up the street from where I live, on the campus of Carroll University. There are others outside the library. The whole talk spurred me to revisit these and read the plaques that had been placed there. I've included a few in this post to give you a sense of the magnitude of them. I also removed a discarded water bottle someone had left on the big one at the library. People are so irreverent. It bothered me. I have nothing but shame about the injustices done to the Native Americans in the past. The least we could do is respect what they left behind.

I studied archeology in my college years, so this kind of thing fascinates me for some reason. I get fairly obsessed thinking about people of the past, hence my memoir writing passion, I guess. At the same time, I think we need to understand the past to understand our place in the present day too.

In any case, I can't stop thinking about these now. It will fade, but every time I see one, it will make me think of those who went before.*

Blogging off...

Cutler Park Mound near WC Library
*On a writing-related note, my poem, First, will be published in the WI Fellowship of Poets 2019 Calendar. It is a poem about these very mounds and how we are immigrant visitors to this place. They were here first.