Sunday, September 30, 2018

Looking For The Light

Finding Joy in Turbulent Times

In a country that sometimes seems like it is coming apart at the seems, it is important to keep one's eyes wide open for moments of light and joy. Every day has some, if you look hard enough. Here are a few of my own from the past week.

  1. Talking to my son or daughter on the phone and just hearing their voice. They're only 60 and 300 miles away, but I miss them like its 3000 miles.
  2. Having a church home that is literally a church in a home and a church family that is like a family.
  3. A kind word on Facebook. A week ago a friend complimented me and I've stashed the words away to call upon when I need a lift. It doesn't take much to help someone out, so be generous with kind words. 
  4. Having a team of coworkers that are competent, respectful and fun to work with. It makes going into work easy
  5.  A couple of friends who have two boys had their third baby this week. A girl! 
  6. It's refreshing to see the outpouring of support people have had for women who have experienced sexual assault after the bravery of Dr. Ford this week. Let the investigation reveal what it may, it does not reduce the wounds others have had brought to the surface by the events of the week. 
  7. I'm not a big baseball fan - barely one at all. But I have to admit it is a little exciting to see the Brewers actually poised to be playing in October. If they make it past the first round, I might even start watching. Yep, I'm a bandwagoneer and proud of it.
  8. A framed print I bought in London gives me a little happiness every time I look at it. A trigger of great memories.
  9. Laughing with my golfing buddies so hard I thought I might choke. These guys are like brothers to me and we razz each other so much it's ridiculous. We keep each other loose and humble as we drive golf balls deep into the forest or the creeks. I'd take a bullet for these guys.
  10. Re-hashing stories of London with my wife and our friends. It was a trip that brought us closer together and gives a shared experience that we will never lose.
So, as the days get shorter and current events get ugly and the dreaded W seasons approaches, I encourage you to look for moments of lightness and laughter. If you can't find any, make some. The world needs it more than ever.

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Highest of the Highlights

This past Tuesday we returned from our London vacation. There were simply too many good things to recount in a single or even multiple blog posts. It was phenomenal. And because I know how painful it can be to sit through other peoples' vacation pictures and stories, I thought I'd give a synopses of the high points. In no particular order, here's what I remember as moments I will never forget.

  1. Sitting in the Quire at Westminster Abbey for Evensong.  We made it a point to get to the evensong service at 3:00 on Sunday. We were 8th or 9th in line, so when it came time to be seated, we asked if we could sit in the quire section. (They spell it funny, but it's probably more correct than choir.) The attendant said sure and seated us in the front row. We were feet from the boys and adults doing the singing. It was an absolutely spiritual experience. The music echoed off the walls of history as we sat there thinking of the possible nobles and royalty that may have sat in our same seats. As a religious person, this one was top of the list.
  2. Tower of London/Crown Jewels. I am a bit of a history slouch, so to hear some of the history that took place at this old castle/fort was eye opening. To hear that men and women accused of being traitors were dragged up to tower hill and publicly beheaded was shocking. 
  3. Stonehenge. There is just something mystical and cool about this site and I can't explain why it meant so much to me to be there. The site goes back to 3100 BC, so there's that. When we got there the winds were pretty steady at about 30 MPH. It was chilly, but I couldn't get enough.
  4. Roman Baths: As part of the Stonehenge Tour, we also got to spend about 4 hours in Bath. It is a small town about 2 hours from London and is the site of an ancient Roman Bath set on the site of a mineral spring. This place was built in around 35 BC, so was not as old as Stonehenge, but provided its own mystique. To walk on rocks that the ancient Romans had before the days of Christ, was pretty cool. After the tour was done, we actually got to sample some of the spring water. I may have increased my life span by a few years, who knows?
  5. St. Paul's Chapel: This building, like so much of London's archictecture was over-the-top beautiful. Stunning building inside and out. We climbed the 528+ steps to the top lookout platform. The view of London was worth every step.
  6. Abbey Road: In a goofy side-trip we went to the crosswalk where the Beatles shot the Abbey Road album cover. Pop culture is not near as important as ancient culture, but it was a fun diversion from the many tours and museums we saw.
As I mentioned, there were too many good things to cover in one post. It was our first time abroad and it whet our appetite for more. On a related note, I can't say enough about the London Transit system. We found a train/subway that took us wherever we wanted to go and we were never more than a 20 minute walk from anything. 

I love London!

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 16, 2018


One of the unexpected benefits of my affair with this writing thing has been the events and the cool people I have met along the way. This includes peers, colleagues, readers, proprietors and fans. 

For example, at my reading last Wednesday, I was part of a panel that involved a good friend (Julie) and someone I'd never met (Connie). Both of these women had difficult (and, at times, unimaginably horrific) childhoods. Had I not chosen to follow my writing muse about 9 years ago, I would never have met them and my life would be that much less rich. 

Furthermore, the store proprietor, Lisa, is a great light and a beautiful person. She is all-in for promoting local and national authors. 

So, during the panel discussion, Lisa asked an interesting question of us. I can't quote it verbatim, but it was something like "What, if any, are the intangible benefits of writing your memoir?"

I started by mentioning the time a gentleman told me that he loved to go up to the Boundary Waters every year and he also had a brother who died of cancer. We ended up having coffee and talking as I signed a book he was buying for a friend. Add to that any number of the emails or book reviews I've received, and those are the feel-goods that I hadn't planned on when I wrote the book.

Julie mentioned that the book represented the end of a long road of therapy for her. The writing of it alone was therapy - getting it out into the open. She also mentioned that when the first person told her they'd purchased the book, she sort of panicked. The reality of her story being out there for the whole world to see, caused her some internal angst - at least initially.  She eventually got over it and has come to realize that it was a story that needed to be told.

I mentioned that I shared that feeling of concern that my words will harm someone, when that is never my intent. Many of my stories are humorous, but are not written to make anyone look bad. They are for entertainment only. But the downside of memoir is that it's all out there. Part of the process is dealing with the fact that you think your story is worth being told. 

Lisa asked a couple of other great questions and the three of us answered as compelled and enjoyed hearing what the others had to say. The audience was engaged and rapt which made the evening so much more than just a simple book signing. It was more like an intimate gathering of people showing up to talk listen and share. The night itself was one of those intangibles that Lisa was asking about. 

And I was privileged to be a part of it.

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Fan Mail

I had a really cool thing happen at my panel discussion/reading last night at Books and Company. At the signing portion, a woman approached me and introduced herself. She said she was a 5th grade school teacher and that as part of her English class she told the kids about the authors that were going to be at the bookstore. She told them a bit about each author and our books.

Then, she told them to write letters to each of us, which she then brought to the reading and gave to each of us. She mentioned that one girl even wanted to be my friend (according to the letter.)

I thought the whole idea was great. It was humbling and touched my heart. I then told her I would write each of them back. I also mentioned my own series of 4th grade stories that I've blogged about here before. I plan to send her the scans of those stories so maybe she can read them to her class.

It was a neat exchange and one of the many intangible benefits of being a writer. The event was a roaring success and reminded me again how lucky I am to be doing what I'm doing. The closet extrovert in me loves those events and I can't wait for the next one.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Rage: Blinded By The Light

Try as I might to be upbeat and positive, yesterday was not my best day ever.

I had the greatest of intentions to get a lot done, but every time I started something it was thwarted.

It started with my usual routine of going to the Public Library and trying to write and catch up with some other tasks. Well, the WiFi wasn't working - at least on my computer, or my phone - so after struggling with it for 10 minutes I packed up my laptop and headed home. Argh! My time would be better spent on chores and errands, I figured.

I had a piece of art I wanted framed, so I went to Target. Of course the size was odd and there were no frames to be found. Argh!

I know, I'll by local and help a local merchant out. So I drove to the  shop in downtown Waukesha.  Upon arriving, I found a sign on the door saying, "I'm up the street changing out some art, call me at 555-1234." Well, being in a hurry, I thought I'd check back after going to Home Despot (sic) to rent a carpet cleaner.

So I go to Home Despot to rent a carpet shampooer to do a few rooms in my house. When I get it home and start it up, it appeared to be leaking a little out the back. Thinking it was just a minor leak, I continued on. As it went, the leak seemed to get worse. I was determined to finish though, so toughed it out and finished in about 3 hours. When I went to clean it up, I found a hose that was fully unhooked behind the receiving container. Argh!

When I took it back, I let the clerk know that the thing was a source of great angst. He was nice enough to refund me 1/2 the cost of the rental, which frankly I thought was a bit cheap. I thanked him anyway and left.

I went back to the frame shop thinking the owner must be done by now. Instead, I see a sign that says "We're closed. Please try back again," despite allegedly being open until 6:00. Argh! There were a few choice words muttered under my breath at the sight of this sign, and they might have even been harsher than Argh. Needless to say I won't try back at that store again and I encourage no one else to. Ever.

At this point in my day of frustration I'm seeing a trend, so I thought I needed a win.

So I took on a project involving hanging a new LED work light above my workbench to replace the fluorescent light that had gone bad. After removing the old light I literally had the new light up and working in 15 minutes.



My work here is done.

It was the only thing that went right all day, so I basked in the glow of those LED tubes and might even have said a prayer of thanks for something actually going right.

Some days are like that. If you need me, I'll be in the basement.

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Fortune Takes Many Forms

I was a little too young to fight in Vietnam. I think my older brother might have had a draft card, but I can't recall for sure. I remember hearing that our neighbor a few doors down was caught at the draft office trying to burn draft cards, but again, details are sketchy.

I do remember seeing snippets of video on the nightly news. Soldiers walking through swamps with guns, Huey helicopters and battle scenes. They say it was the first war to come into peoples' living rooms...every night.

I also remember a protest march going from West to East down Summit Avenue sometime in '71 or so. I didn't understand enough to grasp what the marchers were marching for, but it seemed weird to protest something that we were supposed to be trying to "win," if that's what you call bringing a war to an end.

As the years have gone by, I've gained a deep respect for the veterans of Vietnam. These guys were put into an unjust, unwinnable war and when we withdrew from South Vietnam, many of them came home to angry, disrespectful crowds.

Along those lines, my wife read a powerful Instagram post by Elizabeth Gilbert yesterday about the War vs. the Protest. Check it out here

Well, a writer friend of mine just wrote a book about his experience in the war. And while it is fictionalized, it gave me a good taste of what it was like being an unwanted stranger in a strange land. The book is titled "The Dragon Soldier's Good Fortune," by Bob Goswitz. It is a worthy read and I highly recommend it.

Anyway, last week Bob held his book launch at Books and Company in Oconomowoc. During it he mentioned he hadn't really talked or written about it in 45 years. But he thought it was a story that needed to be told, so he started writing. Many years later, he finished and had it published.

His launch reading and talk was riveting. A couple of times during it though, he had to stop because he was getting emotional. It goes to sho
w you that wartime experiences have long lasting effects, and this was no different. I was also humbled to see my blurb for his book made it into the print copy.

Bob and I go back a few years as he's followed my writing successes fairly closely. We've had coffee once and I will be interviewing him at the Southeastern Wisconsin Festival of Books in November. I am fortunate to know him and am super excited for his book release. I am also looking forward to hearing more about his story and his life.

Bob's book is available here.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't thank all the Vietnam Vets out there for their service. So, thank you!

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Cabin Speed

It is Labor Day weekend. I sort of love/hate those words.

This is the weekend we typically end up as a family at a cabin up in Mercer. This year, it is just the two of us with our friends Steve and Jill, hanging out in Mount Morris at another friend's rental cabin.

Things are moving at "cabin speed," as expected. The days are long and full of flip flops, good books, adult beverages and the occasional nap. Of course there is fishing, and lots of it. Lots of little Bass in the boat, and just as many lost at retrieve.

And while I'm obviously not totally off the grid, I wanted to post because this end of Summer is always hard for me. I know there are warm days ahead yet, but the cold days loom heavily as well. So I will finish off this mini-vacation the best I know. At cabin speed.

But as I am here, a couple of my extended family are at cabins of their own. My brother is up in Mercer at Pine Forest Lodge with his daughter. He is pursuing the "big one" again, that we all know is in that lake somewhere, but mostly he is doing it to "get away." Get away from time and social demands of home.

Get away to cabin time. Where listening to the blue jays and loons is considered productive time.

Meanwhile my sister is up on Lake Winnibigoshish in Minnesota. Again, us Landwehrs have a thing for cabins in August. I know mom would be at one too if she was feeling a little better. My brother Tom is talking of taking her to Duluth and Grand Marais. It's hard to keep her down.

This trip again reminds me how important it to slow down and breathe.

So that's what I'm going to do right now.

Blogging off...