Sunday, December 30, 2018

A Guest Appearance

Well, it's almost new years eve, and all of my teams have ungracefully bowed out of the NFL playoffs. I've watched less football this fall/winter than I have in recent memory mostly because the Packers and Vikings were playing such mediocre ball this year. I am of an age that barely has time for good football, let alone mediocre. Thankfully I was part of something bigger today.

Today I was part of a Guest House meal assembly with eleven other people. This is an event organized by my wife, funded by donors and assembled by volunteers. She sets up about four of these assemblies every year and because I'm a bit of hack in the kitchen, I never really took part in one.

As I've mentioned before, the Guest House is a transitional housing agency for 86 men. They provide job training, help with residency, AODA counseling and health care for homeless men.

Donna assured me she could use my help, so I went along. I was put on sandwich duty with my brother in-law. It was so cool to see the kitchen buzzing with activity. These are folks who gave up a Sunday afternoon to help others and you'd have thought it was a party. People who'd never met were getting along like old friends. Everyone was helping and within two and a half hours we knocked out five meals for 86 men.

It feels good to give back. It feels good to help. And it beats the heck out of bad football.

I love so much about our work with the Guest House. And I hope to do more of it in 2019.

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 27, 2018

2018 Put To Words

Today was the start of the second half of my Christmas/New Year break. I took advantage of it doing what I love to do most during down time, namely writing. I managed 1500 words over a few hours at it, not too bad for a day's work. I know to some 1500 words seems measly, but I'll take a 5 page day anytime.

This time of year I always like to look back on my writing accomplishments. I never really know what to expect from year to year, as I still look at this as a part-time gig, fitting it in around the edges where I can. That said, any and each published piece is a small victory in my eyes, and in that respect 2018 was a pretty good year, maybe the best yet.
Journals, magazines, books and
newspapers with my work.

From a book standpoint, any year where I have two books released is a good one. In January The Portland House was released by Electio Publishing. I tell people it is the second memoir I never dreamed I'd write, let alone get published.

Then, in October, my third poetry collection/chapbook, On a Road was released by Unsolicited Press, my third different publisher. (What?)

If you'd ever told me I'd have two books and three poetry collections within 10 years of starting to write, I'd have said you're nuts. Seriously. Frankly, the whole journey seems like a really long, really good dream. It also feels so out of control that I'm just hanging on for dear life. And when people ask me how I do it, all I can say is that I just throw my all at it - my heart and soul - and then I just let what happens, happen. Most of it is good, but like anything that is good, there are some downers too. It's all part of it.

It was a good year for getting my work into magazines and journals. I had nine poems, two nonfiction stories and one flash fiction piece accepted for publication in a number of different journals. I am grateful for each and every acceptance, and take none for granted. These acceptances fuel me. It's hard to explain, but I can't imagine not doing it, submitting that is.

I try buying at least one copy of every publication I'm in, so I can keep a visual log of what I've done. It's shaping up to be a body of work, I guess. And while it's important to look back every once in a while, I can only think about the works I have in progress.

Which takes me back to where I started this blog. I'm currently 56,000 words into Cretin Boy, a book about my high school experience. I had big aspirations for finishing it in time for my 40th class reunion in the summer of 2019, but I can safely say that is not happening. Nonetheless, the book has become my latest obsession - the cute new girl on the block, if you will.

Throw into that my appointment as poet laureate for the Village of Wales, a few book signings, this ongoing blog and a couple of co-authored events and, well, it doesn't get much better for someone of my sub-atomic micro fame. As best I can, I'm livin' it.

So I press on, hoping that 2019 is at least half as successful as 2018 was. Even if it isn't, I am having fun just sorta winging it. And that's all that matters.

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Christmas Together - Wherever

Christmas celebrations have been an evolving thing in our family these past several years. As kids get older and houses are bought and sold, we move things and people and dates around to accomodate everyone as best we can. Our BIG family Christmas has moved from;

  • Aunt Helen's house in White Bear
  • Portland Avenue
  • Mom's new house on Larpenteur Avenue
  • Tom and Patty's house in Shoreview
  • Rob and Jane's house in Shorveiew
  • Sister Jane's house on Sterling
  • A Maplewood community center
  • Sister Jane's new house

So the location changes, but the occasions are steeped in family togetherness. Over the years we've had boyfriends/girlfriends who became spouses, and some who did not. We've had friends who had no family in the area that we've invited in over the years.

But the strength of our holidays has always been that everyone knows Christmas Eve is reserved for getting together with mom and the aunts and uncles. This year brings three new babies and two new boyfriends to the mix, so it stands to be the biggest gathering in recent history.

It will be chaotic and loud and joyful and, most of all, filled with love. We have been incredibly blessed over the years to still get along with one another. The death of our brother Rob seven years ago only served to strengthen the bond. We are all grown now, successful with beautiful families and each of us is flirting with the idea of retirement in the next 5 years.

So we continue to meet at this once a year holiday gathering because we know how important it is to laugh and catch up with one another. We know that every year with good health is a gift, so we celebrate that while we celebrate the birth of our savior.

I'm fortunate beyond measure to have both my immediate and extended family my life. I look forward to tomorrow's gathering with both a fondness for past Christmases as well as hope for future ones.

I'll leave you with a poem I've written about the holiday that speaks to these thoughts.

The Visitor                 by Jim Landwehr

If the ghost of my Christmas past
paid me a visit
what would I see?
I’d see ribbon candy and mixed nuts
and a living room buzzing with relatives.
I’d smell rib roast and potatoes
beneath a haze of cigarette smoke
I’d taste pumpkin pie with cool whip
and egg nog from a dainty glass.
I’d hear shouts of “Thank you, Mom!”
“It’s perfect!”
and “Save the bows!”
And I’d feel like I was enveloped in love,
I’d feel safe and warm, and I’d feel
like I never wanted the night to end

If the ghost of Christmas present
paid me a visit
what would I see?
I’d see my two twenty-something kids
in their pajamas on Christmas morning
I’d smell coffee and ebelskivvers
and the scent of evergreen.
I’d taste the marshmallow and fruit
of our chocolate fondue tradition.
I’d hear carols seeping from the stereo
Bing, and Perry and Nat King Cole.
And I’d still feel enveloped in love,
I’d feel grateful and fortunate
like my heart was given a great gift.

If the ghost of Christmas future
paid me a visit
what would I see?
I’d see that family always comes first
I’d smell the victory in Christ’s birth
I’d taste the sweetness of a life well lived
I’d hear the call to be present and love big
and I’d feel like I’d lived a beautiful dream.

Merry Christmas to you and your family!

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Friends Of Old

Having had three days in Minnesota during my concert visitation/book signing, I made it a point to reconnect with old friends.

The day after the Bob Seger concert, my friend Pat and I went out to eat at Perkins. Back in the day, we spent many late nights at Perkins, usually after a night out. It was our go-to location to catch up on life and share a meal. Our discussions over food were always deep, but were also sprinkled with lots of laughter. Neither of us knew what our future life would look like, so all we could do was talk about what was going on at that point in time, give advice and show support. But most of all what we did was listen. Neither of us needed to dominate the conversation, so we went back and forth as friends do.

At this particular outing, we pretty much picked up where we left off, even to the point of Pat ordering his trademark Omelette and me ordering a strawberry croissant french toast platter. It seems the more we'd changed, the more we were the same.

We talked and managed to go through the usual pot of coffee.

After breakfast we went to shoot a little pool at the place we used to play. When we were in high school and our early college years, we spent hours in Lee's Billiards shooting pool. It was our way of killing time back then and Pat thought it would be cool to revisit the place.

The ownership has changed and now it is called Al's Billiards. When we walked in it was like going back in time thirty plus years. The place hadn't changed much at all. The tables were the same and as I chose a cue, I laughed at the thought that it might be the same one I used in 1982.

I can't say enough about how fun it was to spend the day with a friend doing the things we did as a couple of young guys so long ago. I'm a nostalgic nut, so these kinds of things resonate with me. We put My Sharona and George Thorogood songs on the "iTunes" Jukebox and it was like getting in the Delorean and going back to '82.

Fun stuff.

The next night I spent with a bunch of friends I used to work with at Montgomery Wards. One of them owns a Tiki bar in Stillwater called the Tilted Tiki. We met there and reconnected with each other. It is a fun establishment with lots of delicious tropical drinks and cool decor.

This was the first time a couple of us had seen each other in years. It felt so good to talk about where we were, what had happened over time and what our kids were up to. These guys have always been a fun group, so we had some laughs - to the point of near tears at times for myself.

With both of these outings, it was like picking up exactly where we'd left off last time we were together. I think that is how you can tell a good friend from a more casual friend.

On my drive home I reflected on how lucky I was to have these friends. We share a past that wasn't perfect, but it made us who we are.

And I can appreciate each of them for who they've become. Old friends!

Blogging off...

Friday, December 14, 2018

Still The Same

These past couple days have been one of connecting with an old friend, Pat. I've talked about him in the past. He and I were best buddies in high school and much of our college years. He was in my wedding in New York, and I was in his in Tulsa.

Over the years, as we were growing our families and living our lives we dropped out of touch. There was an occasional letter, and then an email, but for the most part we drifted.

This last reconnect was driven by a text exchange we had last summer. He was texting about how a Bob Seger song, Like A Rock, had a big impact on him one night on his deck. We'd seen Seger together in 1980 and, like our friendship, we just sort of lost touch with his music over the years.

Well, just for grins Pat looked up to see if Seger was still even alive. When he did he saw that he wasn't only still alive, but he was in the middle of his "Final Tour." Pat was always "spontaneous" so he pulled the trigger and got tickets for us, mine as a birthday present.

We found a lot right across the street from the Exel Energy Center. On an interesting side note, when we went to the show at the Met Center in Minneapolis in 1980, two tickets cost $24. This time, parking alone was $30! The two tickets were $258.00.

Times have changed.

We went to dinner at Patrick McGoverns on West 7th and had a great time catching up with one another.

When we got to the concert, Pat was a little shocked at the age demographic of the crowd. He hadn't been to a concert in years, so was unprepared for the old, grey, balding crowd that made up 70% of the audience. I told him we might be part of that demographic, but I wasn't sure. Ha!

We found our seats which were the equivalent of where we were in 1980, namely, upper level about 5 rows from God.

The concert was awesome. I'd venture as far as to say it was better than the 1980 show, though memories fade things. Seger was in good voice and is still a great performer, playing acoustic guitar, piano and of course his gravelly vocals. As I said, I've sort of fallen away from his music over the years, but it was so great to hear the songs that I grew up with. This was a greatest hits show and did not disappoint.

The whole thing was just cool. It was a step back in time, with a foot clearly in the present. Both Pat and I have become brutally aware of the brevity of our time on earth, and we are of an age where you just don't let things like this pass by. You jump on them. We were both well aware that this $400 venture was a frivolous luxury. But we also knew that life is too short to miss something like this. And in doing it we created a memory we will both have and cherish the rest of our lives.

We might have both been part of that over 50 crowd, but for a couple of hours we were both 18 and carefree again. To some it probably seems sappy and nostalgic, but to me it was moving, powerful and epic. During my stay with Pat we talked about what we might have changed about how we grew up. We both kind of agreed that while we were not A students and not perfect kids, we were the best we knew how to be.

Our pasts shaped our present.

And our present is pretty dang good.

"I was eighteen
Didn't have a care
Working for peanuts
Not a dime to spare
But I was lean and
Solid everywhere
Like a rock

My hands were steady
My eyes were clear and bright
My walk had purpose
My steps were quick and light
And I held firmly
To what I felt was right
Like a rock"

-Bob Seger from Like a Rock.

Blogging off...

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...