Sunday, December 9, 2018

Shockingly Normal

So I will turn 57 on Tuesday. This is both a non-event and a shock to me.

I say a shock because it is hard for me to believe that I am on the far side of fifty. I tell my wife that most days I feel like I'm twenty eight. On those days I do too much around the yard, house and on my bike, I am quickly brought back to reality that I am every bit of my 50 plus years. Those days are usually followed by mornings when I wake and every joint needs a little encouragement to get moving.

But I can't complain. My weight is the same as it was 20 years ago. Ever since I turned 40, it has been much more difficult to keep at a constant weight, but I've managed fairly well. It's an ongoing goal of mine not to increase my waist size on my jeans, (like Jerry Seinfeld) because, well, it's a slippery slope. Before you know it, it's sweatpants all the time, including at the grocery store.

And I am fairly healthy too. Sure I have some chronic things, like numbness in both my feet caused by a back injury at 40. But I suspect most people do, and considering some of the issues of this age, well, a little numb foot ain't so bad.

I say it's a non-event because, except on the decades and to a lesser extent, the fivers, birthdays are just another day. As I get older I have a harder time thinking of something I don't have that I would like for a gift, so it's low key from that perspective. My wife's birthday is on December 7th so we usually agree to not get each other gifts.

Instead, we've made it a tradition to go out to dinner with a couple of friends, whose birthdays are near ours. We used to go to the same restaurant every year, but that got old, so now we switch it up.
Last night we went to a classic Milwaukee establishment called Thistle and Shamrock. The establishment was rated one of the top 10 places for fish fry in Milwaukee, so we thought we'd check it out. It was a delicious fish dinner with great service and even live R&B music in the bar area. The owner even gave us each a bottle of wine. He said it was what he did every year to recognize his customers in lieu of having a full-on Christmas part. The place was old-time Milwaukee cool and was everything we'd hoped. It made for a really great meal.

So, it may be tell-tale when you start looking at birthday experiences like this as a bigger deal than cake and gifts. It's probably a sign that you're old, but frankly I don't much care. We talked and laughed our heads for a few hours together. It was one of those nights that made me realize how rich our lives are and how lucky we are to be able to enjoy a good meal in December with longtime friends. 

Today another old friend of mine sent a quote from GK Chesteron that kind of sums things up.

“Here ends another day, during which I have had eyes, ears, hands and the great world around me. Tomorrow begins another day. Why am I allowed two?” - GK Chesterton.

At almost 57, this is my new mantra.

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 6, 2018

A Confluence Of Adventure Stories

A week from tonight I will be in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I am headed back for a couple of reasons, one of which is to co-present with another author at Subtext Books. Barb Geiger and I will be presenting our books, Dirty Shirt: A Boundary Waters Memoir and Paddle For A Purpose.

This promises to be a fun event as we discuss our adventures on, off and IN the water. Most of you know that Dirty Shirt chronicles trips I took up to the area in remote Minnesota with friends, brothers and, later, our children. Barb's book has a similar adventure theme to it. It is the story of how her husband's idea of paddling the length of the Mississippi River went from an half-joking crackpot idea to the actual pursuit of carrying it out.

But their journey takes on a noble purpose when they decide to volunteer for service projects at various stops along the way. While the boat carries just what they need to live on, at many of the stops, they put their hands and feet to work for non-profit and church-based agencies.

During the process they discover that in trying to bless others with their work, they in-turn are blessed. One of the ways this manifests itself is in the form of what they call "River Angels." These are complete strangers who open up their homes and offer food, money and resources to the Geigers as they progress. These angels seem to come along at opportune times and make the trip easier to bear for Barb and her husband.

When Barb was writing her book, she was part of the same writing studio (AllWriters) that I was. I was fascinated to follow her progress as she got closer to finishing it. At submittal time, she asked if I thought it would be a good fit for my publisher, Electio Publishing. I replied that I thought it would be a PERFECT fit. Electio accepted her book and Barb was ecstatic.

I had the privilege earlier this year to speak at Subtext Books for my second memoir, The Portland House. I am hoping we will pack the store and have a good showing of support. Small bookstores make a community more vibrant and Subtext is proof of this.

The format for the evening will be loose. There will be introductions, readings from our books and short interviews of each of us regarding the writing process and how our books came to be. Then we'll open the event up to questions from the audience. Of course we'll have books to sign afterwards.

And nothing makes a better holiday gift than a book signed by an author. But that's just my opinion.

I hope to see you there!

Thursday, December 13th, at 7:00 PM
Subtext Books
6 West 5th Street
St. Paul, MN, 55102

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Littlest Brother

So it is my brother Paul's birthday today. He's three years younger than me so let's just say he's in his early fifties and I'll leave the math up to you.

In our family of seven kids, Paul is the youngest. He always touts, correctly so, that he was at the absolute tail end of the baby boomer generation. Of course, the youngest kid always get called the spoiled one, the one who had the road paved for him by their elder siblings. With seven kids, there was plenty of road paving in our family. There wasn't much Mom hadn't seen by the time Paul was in high school, so the leash was probably as long there as any of us.

Like any of my siblings, I owe much of who I am to Paul. He taught me a lot over the years. Because of our age difference, we didn't hang around much in high school, but I felt we got closer in our college years as we both muddled our way through the University of Minnesota.

If I had to narrow down the thing that I learned from Paul that stuck with me the most, it would have to be the love of music. Paul was always bringing home new albums and pushing the edge of new styles and forms. A good example of this was on the porch of the Portland house one day. Paul had this strange music blaring out of his big boom box. It was unlike anything I'd ever heard. When I asked him what it was, he said it was a kind of music called Reggae and it was by Bob Marley.

Being a rock and roll fiend, I was skeptical. I wasn't sure what to think. After I gave it a chance though, I was hooked.  And, in an instant I was opened to a brand new genre of music - world music -of sorts. It led me to later follow UB40, Black Uhuru and, more recently, Stick Figure.

But Paul also taught me a little bit about how to turn a wrench. Unlike me, there wasn't much that he was afraid to take apart. He spent most of his high school days with a dirt bike in stages of tear-down and reassemble. He helped me with a couple of motorcycles I had and with each task, my confidence grew. These are some of the intangible benefits of being raised in a big family.

One sort of hilarious story about Paul took place right after we were married. I was slated to go out with Paul and Rob and some other friends while Donna stayed home for the night. For some reason, Paul was worried about her protection. So, before we left, he got an unloaded shotgun out of the closet. He showed her how to pump it and fake like it was loading a shell.

"All you have to do is pump it like this, and the sound will send the bad guy running for his life. Jim will kill me if something happens to you." Paul said.

Donna was both equally shocked and humbled that he cared enough to show her how to work a gun. It's when she knew she was a valued part of our family and she has never forgotten that about Paul.

When my brother Rob passed away, it was a terribly traumatic time for our whole family. One of the few positives it brought forth though was a greater appreciation of the siblings we had left. The four of us boys were always tight, and this tragedy brought us even closer together.

And I feel there is a little bit of Rob's character and influence in each of us kids, just like there is a little bit of Paul's personality and character in me. I'm lucky to have the siblings I have and I thank God every day for them.

And while I have to hate him just a little bit for being in Florida as I sit watching the snow in Wisconsin, I do have to say...

Happy Birthday, Brother!!!

Blogging off...