Thursday, January 17, 2019

Dealing With It

It seems I'm approaching that angsty time of winter where I exude my discontent with darkness and cold weather. Yesterday I saw the forecast calling for snow and possibly some sort of "Polar Vortex Split" that is going to throw parts of the country into a deep freeze.

This is not happy news. Neither item.

Now, understand that we have had a weak winter thus far. A little cold in November and December, but almost no snow. Literally none on the ground right now and it is mid January. So, what am i griping about? I mean really, it could be worse.
January 17th, 2019. Wha?

These past few years have been adjustment years for me. I have begun to give into slowing down during the winter months. For eight months of the year I am outside as much as I can be. It always made me angsty to be cooped up like this, but I'm growing into it. I think the winter season is a reminder that we need to rest and recoup.

One of the biggest adjustments has been heading to bed and shutting the lights out earlier. I have this warped sense of needing to "be productive" until 10 o'clock every night, particularly in regards to my writing. So, giving that up at 9 o'clock to go up and read has taken some work. You know what though?

I really, really like it.

Besides, I think to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. I'm just doing what I believe in, right? I need to stop feeling guilty for slowing down for a few months.

I've also learned that I can still be active (weight lifting instead of biking) without being outdoors. Lifting weights is about as benign and boring activity ever invented, but I had to do something or gain thirty pounds instead. (Step away from the eggnog!)

And if nothing else, it IS staying lighter with each passing day, so that's some serious hope I'm going to latch onto and run with. There's something like 63 days till spring, so yeah, that's another point of light.

I'm also trying to appreciate the here and now a little more. We talk about it every week at coffee, both my Thursday group of guys and my Saturday coffee with my wife. As much as it's hard to see in the day-to-day grind, every day really is a gift. How we use it determines our happiness, so I'm going to try and take each one as far as I can and quit my grumbling.

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Other Peoples' Kids

I don't often talk about my nieces and nephews, but I have a whole lot of them. One of them, Alison, just graduated from Winona State University and it spurred me to think of how much I appreciate them. Each has their own unique gifts, personality and demeanor.

Because my sisters started their families first, with quite a break before my brothers and I did, there is almost two generations of nieces and nephews. My sisters' kids are all in their thirties and forties, while my brothers and I all have kids that are twenty-somethings.
The coolest thing is they all get along great. My kids love their cousins and really enjoy being around them. They grew up together. They are like the siblings you visit a few times a year. My son Ben even went so far as to say that at Christmas Eve he felt cheated, that we all had to leave by 10:30 PM, so he didn't get enough time with his cousins. That is when you know you did a good job exposing your kid to their cousins.

3 of four of my sister's kids live in California. Because of this my kids don't know them as well as their "Minnesota Cousins." But when Ben and I went out to San Diego a couple of years ago, Ben clicked with Erin and Johnny like he'd known them his whole life. I remember him saying "Johnny is hilarious. He's cool. I really like him."

And the "first generation" of cousins sort of raised this second generation. Now that they are all adults, they can reminisce about those trips to the cabin, or their own college years or whatever, with their younger cousins. It does my heart good to see them get along so well with so much love.

So as this second generation of cousins all go through their college years, it is fun watching them interact and share their experiences. One is in South Dakota, one in Illinois, one in Minnesota and my son is at Madison, Wisconsin. All unique experiences, but all sharing a common goal.

On the other side of the family and the other side of the country, we have nieces and nephews in New York. They also grew up with our kids and are very close in age. The whole college experience is shared by them at the moment. When they get together there is a lot of reminiscing about trips to Myrtle Beach, the Adirondack Mountains and other places. Their friendships are as close as their Minnesota cousins.

While I had some good experiences with my Minnesota cousins, fishing at White Bear Lake being primary, it was nothing like the relationship these kids have with their cousins. I'm not resentful, just happy that they have each other to lean on and share life with.

Blogging off..

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Oneness, Meditation And The Zen Of Paper Straightening

In the past I've mentioned that I have a group of guys I have coffee with at Cafe De Arts for one hour every Thursday. I once jokingly called them the Thursday Theologians because often times our talk is religious or spiritual in nature, though not always.

They're a hard group to summarize, really.

I would call them my "best-friends-for-an-hour-each-week" but that would be sappy and besides the name is too long.

They are friends though. Most of them are part of my church CollectiveMKE, but not all. It certainly isn't a requirement, though as I said, our conversation often drifts into spiritual discussions.

We usually pretend to be sort of a book study, though we're all slow readers and take forever to get through a book. The book is more of a reason to show up than anything we really delve deep into. If we didn't purport to have anything "in progress" there might be impetus for someone not to show. We need an anchor, so a book it is.

Our discussion is willy-nilly and meanders on random tangents and rabbit holes. Today was a good example when we started down the path of meditation. It led to a sidetrack of "paper straightening" and how a certain level of that is healthy, or even meditative, but if you do it too much, it becomes an unhealthy OCD thing. It is these sorts of extrapolations that make the conversations interesting.

Then I asked if anyone in the group had ever meditated. It met with a lot of head shaking. Some guys offered alternatives that they would consider meditative. Methods I'd never thought of that cleared their minds, which is part of what meditation is, I suspect.

Later, one of the guys today asked "How do you know if God is speaking to you?"


It was the source of some deep discussion. Everything from people not hearing God to those hearing him in nature, to those experiencing him when they're in their friend group. But we also concluded that we can't really refute someone when they say "God told me," because, well, how do we know he didn't? It is really a personal thing, if it's a thing at all. We also agree that people may even be using the "God told me," line to justify something they don't feel comfortable about. Maybe, maybe not.

We are currently reading a book by Ram Dass, titled Grist for the Mill. It is about experiencing oneness. Dass was kicked out of Harvard in part for hanging out with Timothy Leary and, well we all know what he was famous for.

In any case the book is one we're just getting into. We're all looking to expand our worldview in hopes of increasing our faith, and this book is an extension of that exploration. In the past, if we don't like a book, we sort of agree to move on. Maybe this book will do that to us, I don't know. So far, I like what I've read.

Anyway, I digress. What I started out this post wanting to say is how fortunate I am to have this hour every Thursday to talk about everything from automotive maintenance, to engineering feats, to political postulating to paper straightening.

We are literally all over the map.

We're not a Bible study, but the Bible comes up almost every week in some capacity.

We're not a book study, but we touch on the book almost every week.

In fact, I'm not sure what we are. I do know that each week I come away asking a new question or in some way challenged or enlightened. (No, not like Timothy Leary enlightened. Just drug-free  enlightened.) I also know that I look forward to my Thursdays more than any other day during the week (except Fridays, of course.)

It is my one hour, caffeine fueled, mind-bending, deep dive. It's cool!

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Art Appreciation 101

One of my latest obsessions is art. Don't get me wrong, I've always appreciated it and I credit my college Art History 101 class with helping shape that appreciation. Art is one of those things that helps me appreciate the human race. Our innate desire to create accompanied by some wildly talented people makes good art happen.

Now while I claim to be a writer, I lay no claim to any artistic skills outside of words. I not only have no sense of proportion or depth, but when it comes to thinking of something to create/draw/paint, I kind of draw a blank. It's certainly a gift that God gave to some and skimped on with others. I would fall under the latter category.

My wife and I like to support local authors and have a few friends who are crazy talented in that realm. Names like Sara Risley, Jill Kenehan-Krey, Walter Jack Savage, Stacey Ball and others come to mind. Because the best way to support artists is to buy their work, we've made it a point to try and do just that. When a coworker pointed out that my office walls needed some art, I took it as a chance to get some prints and class the place up a bit.

Here's a few of my latest acquisitions and a little about why I like the particular piece.

Birch Forest (My title) Tape Art by Sara Risley
Sara Risley is an artist and friend whose style has always captivated my interest. Her styles change over time. She was once into using photography as her base. Then for a time she moved into using tape as a medium. Since then she has branched into using alcohol inks, another amazingly colorful technique. The piece above, a tape painting, was one that captured my eye as well as my wife's. She mentioned it looked like birch trees. As with all of the art on this blog, the picture doesn't do the piece justice. Her website is Here. Check it out.

St. Paul Skyline, by Walter Jack Savage

Walter Jack Savage is a friend I found on Facebook. His artwork has appeared on several magazine covers and books. When I saw this piece, a downtown St. Paul scene with the familiar 1st National Bank building, I knew I wanted it to remind me of home.

Fishing by Walter Jack Savage
Savage is retired and is also a prolific writer as well as a Vietnam Veteran. He hails from the Twin Cities and now lives in California. 

I've followed his work and so when I saw the piece with a fisherman show up in his feed, I knew I wanted that one as well. Because he's sold or given away many of his more popular pieces, I was only able to obtain a copied print. Because I love to fish, this piece holds special meaning for me. It puts me in the boat. Walter Jack Savage's website is here. Check it out.

And finally, there is a piece by Steve Kilbey. Kilbey is the lead singer and bassist for the Australian prog-rock band, The Church. I wanted his piece in part because they are my favorite band and also because I admire artists who are adept at more than one art. Kilbey is a singer/songwrite/artist and poet. This piece is psychedelic and reminds me of the dreamy nature of their music. His website is Here.

So, while I'm not an art collector - far from it - I don't think you need to be to appreciate the talents of artists. Like writers, they pour a little bit of their soul into all of their work. I'm grateful that they do and my way of showing my appreciation is to support them 

They make the world a little more beautiful.

Blogging off...

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Fighting Back At Winter

Well, it's officially 2019 and we are in the dark cold months of winter. If you know me, you know I am a shorts and t-shirt kind of guy. I like to come home from work, get shorts on and take a 45 minute bike ride to decompress. In the spring/summer/fall months I do that as often as I can.

So when winter rolls around, I go into a sort of inner-funk. It's not a depression per-se, but I can certainly see it from here. There's something about the dark/cold combination that wears on me. If I had an unhealthier nature, I could become a real slug and never do anything from November until March. I've found I have to work at staying active or pay the price with pants that are too tight and butt prints embedded in my living room chair. Not good, either of them.

In an effort to keep my sanity and not sleep for 15 hours a day, I do a few things. All of them are "fake it till you make it" solutions to staving off the blues. So far so good.

  • I walk to work pretty much every day except Thursday. This is largely because if I didn't I literally wouldn't see the sun for more than 10 minutes a day. This way I get at least an hour.
  • I take a vitamin D tablet every day. I call it my happy pill. I don't know if it helps anything, but it is sort of my sun replacement. Once we're past the Winter Solstice, my mood improves ever so slightly. Knowing we're on the upside, is motivational.
  • Because my pants were tight at the waist,
    I started lifting weights in my basement. My basement is a dank, cold place, so you get a feeling for how desperate I am to have to resort to going there to get a workout in. I don't do gyms because the only place I'd be less likely to go to than my basement is a gym where I'd have to get in my car and go workout.
  • I've become a fan of going up to bed nearly an hour earlier than I do in the summer. From there I'll read for a bit and then sometimes shut the light out a half hour earlier than in summer. I've decided its OK to not have to stay up and "be productive." Rest is okay and I think in some respects that's why God gave us winter. A time to slow down.
  • A friend gave me a Lambeau Field Stormy Kromer hat that I have taken to wearing indoors when the wind is bad. It is very warm and despite looking like a 6'4" Elmer Fudd, I've come to love it.
  • I drink a fair amount of herbal tea, egg nog and dark beer in these months. Part of this habit has triggered the need for working out and I understand that it's cyclical, BUT I NEED IT! Ha!
  • This weekend I will attend the All Canada show. It is an indoor expo where I'll go with a friend to plan that trip for 2020. Sometimes just looking at pictures of unfrozen lakes and people holding big fish to keep a person going.
  • I surround myself with lots of friends on occasion. It helps.
  • I count every day without snow as a blessing. 
  • Same for every day above 32 degrees.
  • If it does snow significantly, I plan on getting out cross country skiing. If it doesn't though, I am really okay with it. Really, I am.
  • Wool socks. Big fleeces. Slippers. They help.
So that's a little of what I do to keep from putting my head in the oven during the dark months. If you've got additional ideas, I'd love to hear them. Because we're still about 90 days from any kind of relief.

Blogging off...