Sunday, September 15, 2019

Fixing The World One Cup At A Time

Every Thursday morning I have coffee with 2 or three friends at Cafe De Arts in Waukesha. I look at this time as some of my favorite discussion time every week. It is a group I was invited to years ago by one of the regulars, and thinking it was another myopic Christian men's Bible study, of which I was still in recovery from, I rightfully declined. Within a week, I got another invite after running into another regular of the group at a different coffee shop.

I took this as a sign that maybe I should give it a shot.

Well, suffice it to say it was not at all what I feared. When I first joined, I found out that these guys sometimes did a book study, but with very loose rules to it. If you didn't get to the reading for the week, there was no shame, heck some guys never got around to buying the book. That's about as loose as you can get.
A few Thursday Coffee Guys. -Photo Courtesy of RoostMKE

It is not always a religious book either. We've read books by Buddhists, hippies and recovering evangelicals. Put another way, we are NOT reading the likes of Purpose Driven Life.

Anyway, sometimes it's not a book at all, like the current moment. We are "between books" and just get together to talk, laugh and have coffee. And it is interesting the subjects that come up from week to week.

This week, one of the guys expressed his guilt at having just traveled to Scotland for vacation. He said he was feeling guilty for the "irresponsibility" of the air travel he'd just undertaken in the name of personal entertainment. Now, to be fair, this guy drives a hybrid vehicle that gets 50 miles to the gallon. Despite that he was still feeling guilt because we are all dreadfully aware of all that is going on with the climate and carbon buildup.

It was then that one of us pointed out that a plane burns 17 gallons of fuel a minute. 17 gallons a minute!* I was horrified. How could anyone travel internationally anywhere with a clear conscience I wondered?

Well that led to how we take car travel for granted and that the real problem is too many cars. We noted that in the 70's, a 20 minute ride across town was a lot! A distance that made you think twice, not due in part to gas prices. Now, people think nothing of a 40 minute commute. Daily!

The discussion digressed from there, as they sometimes do and turned to how we all should resort back to ship travel if we're going to go international. It is at least more economical.

I mentioned how the president of ESRI, the software company we use at work, donated enough a few years ago to plant a tree for every person at the conference, thereby offsetting the carbon used to get people there. I thought that was a novel concept.

I told them that I have environmental guilt too, but that now that I've been to London, I have a travelling bug and want to go back to Europe. So, basically, while I feel bad about what it takes to get there, I still want mine. That is the way entitlement feels. I know it and I'm not sure I'm ready to give it up. I am, therefore, the problem. I shoudl ideally bend to my guilt and stay in my neighborhood for the rest of my life. And wow, that is so fun.

So, instead of flying as a tourist or even taking a ship overseas, my friend said I should go to Africa, and plant some trees when I get there. When I asked if I could do it in Scotland or Italy, as I'd rather go there, he said, "They don't need trees. You have to go to Africa."

So that is how the conversations go from serious "How to save the planet" to lightening it up in the name of keeping our sanity. I am at least happy to be among company that thinks at this level. One week we are talking about micro-plastics in our water, the next about the military war machine, and the next about solar arrays that will one day soon will provide 7% of a California city's power need. Not only that, but you can plant crops in the shade of these solar arrays, that could not formerly be grown there because of the sun. Ideas on top of ideas.

I told these guys if we met for coffee every week, we could achieve energy independence and global peace.

And I believe that, if only everyone else in the world would listen.

Blogging off...

*(I later looked it up and it turns out it a 747 burns one gallon a second. One a second! At the same time, when spread over a 500 person plane, it turns out to be more efficient than a car. Well, who knew? I feel slightly better. See the article here.)

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Working Up The Food Service Corporate Ladder

In my work in progress book about my days at Cretin High School I talk a little about another job I had at The Lexington Restaurant in St. Paul. The manager of the place at the time, Don Ryan, actually lived across the street from us. His kids were pretty good friends with our family, so pretty much any of us who wanted to work there had a job if we wanted one.

I think it was late in my sophomore year that I applied and got the job as a dishwasher. Dishwashers were also called pearl divers, for some odd reason, but it was pretty much the starting position for any teenager at the place. You could work your way "up" to salad chef, busboy or even waiter if you worked hard and didn't piss off the management too much.

It was hard work, especially on busy Friday nights. Busboys brought in trays stacked with dirty dishes almost faster than you could clear them. There was always two dishwashers and a pot washer. The dishwashers would split duties, one working trays and the "clean end" of dish runs, the other was relegated to the hole, as it was affectionately called. The hole was where all the dirty dishes went and were rinsed and the resulting garbage sent into the garbage disposal.

I worked the hole enough and occasionally pulled some interesting things out of the garbage disposal. Bottle caps, bones and cocktail forks. The best find though was a pair of dentures. Well, it was the bottom ones anyway. It sorta skivved me out to tell you the truth. I can see how it happened though. Probably took them out to eat and wrapped them in a napkin that got shook out to the "hole."

Good times.

I remember the industrial dishwasher that sent dishes out the clean end at about a zillion degrees. We had to quickly stack them and get rid of the rack because another rack was usually right behind it. It  was a little like Lucy and Vivian n the chocolate line. Between the heat and the industrial detergent, my hands peeled, cracked and dried.

But the job taught me a good work ethic. You had to work fast, hard and long hours. Some weeknights they'd stay open till 11:30 or so and after running our last load, we'd go home and try and get 6 hours of sleep before school the next day. It was brutal, didn't help my grades any, but the money was good.

I eventually worked my way up to Salad Chef. It was an upgrade from the heat and garbage of pearl diving, but had stress of it's own. I worked there a few months and then went over to "the dark side" as busboys and waiters were called. The kitchen help always called them that. As a busboy I made great tips, but again, it was stressful. Lots of heavy trays of food and dirty dishes. Then there was the time my armload of soups got caught in the "automatic" doors that were finicky to open and time your walk-through.

My days at the Lexington helped pay my way through Cretin, which was not cheap. And while it taught me that hard work can make you rich(ish), it also taught me that there was no way I wanted to work in the food service industry. It also taught me the value of getting a good education so I wouldn't have to.

The restaurant still stands today. Check out their website here.

And if you should go there, tell them busboy Jim sent ya.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Thoughts From A Cover Reveal

So here is the cover to my forthcoming poetry collection. I can't say enough about how happy I am with it. It is perfect!

For starters I have to give full credit to the artist. His name is W. Jack Savage, a fellow native-Minnesotan now living in California. I have touted his work on my blog before, right here. You should check out his work if you get a chance. He is also a prolific writer and a Vietnam Veteran, making him a hero at many levels, in my eyes.

His artwork has always fascinated me and I am lucky to have a couple print copies that he has sent. One is in my office at work, the other in my home writing office. I'm not sure what you would call his style, but it looks Impressionistic to me, and I've always favored the impressionists. I don't claim to be an art expert or historian, but I know what I like.

I approached him and asked first for some pieces for ideas and secondly for permission to use one for my cover. He was gracious enough to both requests. He sent half a dozen images all with the theme of a line of some sort. I had two that I really liked but ultimately chose this one.

It has been a goal of mine for some time to collaborate with either a graphic artist or fine artist friend of mine with a book, so this fits that goal nicely. The fact that we both hail from Minnesota makes it a little more special as well. His work has appeared on many magazine covers as well, so I am fortunate to be able to share his work as part of my own.

Once I sent the images to the publisher, Kelsay Books it was only a matter of a couple days before they had something back to me. The text alignment on the cover fits with the "line" theme and the back cover blurbs speak to the books content nicely. I'm just so pleased with all of it. Kudos to W. Jack Savage and the team at Kelsay Books for everything.

The book marks my sixth since 2014, with number 7, another chapbook (Genetically Speaking) pending for later this fall on Local Gems Press. It's funny, but what keeps coming to mind through all of this are the lyrics from the Talking Heads' song, Once In A Lifetime:

"And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?"

How, indeed. LOL.

The book is not due out until November, but as I've said before I am so excited about the breadth of poems in this collection. It is my best work. A number of them have been previously published so are road-tested so to speak. When the date becomes firm, I will let people know where it is available as well as where I'll be promoting it with readings. Looking forward to all of it.

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 5, 2019

That First Job

My memoir in progress (MIP) is coming along well. I'm just over 70,000 words into it andI've got the chapters roughed out. Now the hard part of slogging through edits comes into play.

Tenatively titled, Cretin Boy, it is about my teenage years in an all-male, Catholic, military (JROTC) school in the late '70s. The book is not solely about the school, but also about all that comes with being a teenager and all the changes that life brings.

One of those changes of course is a kid's introduction to the working life. Once you hit 15 back then, you were expected to start looking for a part-time job. It was in part to keep you off the street but also a way of teaching you work ethic and helping take the load off of Mom and Dad's need to supplement your income (or lack of it).

In the book I talk about my first job at Tu-Way Car Wash on Cleveland and Randolph in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was a freshman in high school and my brother Tom worked there and got me the job. I think it paid about $3.85 an hour or so, but was decent income for the work.

The job required pumping gas when people drove up to the pump, back in the day when that was the way gas stations worked. Now it's "Do it yo-sef, chump!"

The other part of the job was running the car wash, which was the equivalent of the automated ones you drive into now, except it required some human intervention. Well, there was something wrong with the switch that stopped the upper brushes from spinning. Or maybe it was just me. But it seemed every time I tried to stop the brushes, it didn't work.

This operator error usually meant the car aerial was wrenched to new, ungainly angles, or in some cases snapped off altogether. Aerials were mostly hard mounted to the frame and not nice and flexible like they are today. I'd prefer to call them less-forgiving. In some cases, they could be bent back to their original tilt, but in others, the owner of the station got a phone call the following week.

Of course there were some folks that, if I didn't tell them, didn't notice the aerial pointed toward Shanghai, China, and that was okay with me. I'd rather deal with it after they had some time to cool off and fire a letter to the owner or come back and chew me out the next day.

I didn't much care for the job actually. It seemed like a lot of responsibility to dump on the back of a 15 year-old, especially at the end of the night when you had to reconcile the gallons pumped with the money in the till. I was grateful when track season rolled around and I had the perfect excuse to bail on the job and just practice my high and long jumps.

I figured there would be plenty of work ahead of me later in life, I might as well get one last shot at a life of relative leisure. It didn't last long as I took a job at a restaurant late in my sophomore year.

In any case, there's all of this and many more tales in the book of my days at Tu-Way and Cretin. It's been fun recalling them and I can't wait until it's done.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 1, 2019

August Fondly Remembered

Another August has gone by and the unrest has settled upon me again. This is always a weird time of year for me. If you know me, I am happiest in shorts, a T-Shirt and sandals, so any time that fashion feng-shui is threatened by the dreaded long pants and flannel shirts, well, you're going to get some blowback from me. If you're one of those "I love the cool fall weather" people, we probably can't be friends. It's nothing personal, oh, wait, yes it is.

Don't get me wrong, I love fall as well, all 3 weeks of it. The problem lies immediately following fall. Namely the 'W' word. In my eyes, Fall and Spring are equals, only spring holds the hope of summer following it. Winter, well, I'm going to stop saying it for now.

But as I said, Labor day weekend is the stake in the heart of summer. Around here. the Carroll University students are back in the neighborhood and with it, increased foot and street traffic. I don't mind that so much, in fact in a lot of ways it is nice to have more people around. (Although my dog barks at anything that moves outside, so that gets annoying.

So I am trying to live this season one day at a time, appreciating it for what it is without thinking too much about what lies just a few months ahead. There will be more warm days for a few more weeks, and I am committed to taking advantage of each one, as I can. I'll get out on my bike, walk my dog, and get outdoors as often as I can. Tomorrow there's talk of going for a hike along Lake Michigan, so I look forward to that.

At the same time, I will miss those nights sleeping with three fans blowing and the windows wide open. I'll miss the sun staying up until nearly nine o'clock every night and all the long shadows that come with it. And believe it or not, I'll miss changing my shirt because it's been sweated out over the course of my day.

Back in the day in Minnesota, I had a friend who called me "Beach boy." It was a backhanded nickname he gave me because I was often the shirtless kid trying to soak in the sun when I could. I think there's still part of Beach boy in me.

Unfortunately his season is waning, and I'll be back to "Fleece boy" before too long. Until then, I'm going to take what I can get.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 29, 2019

A Week Of Everything And Nothing

It has been a week of randomness around here, so rather than focus on a single subject, I'm going to do some free thinking and see where it takes me.

Random Thoughts:

1. Monday mornings are always harder when you wake up to rain. They get infinitesimally harder when you step in a puddle of water by your kitchen sink on your way to the fridge. We had a leaking faucet which we traced to a spot that couldn't be reached without replacing the whole faucet. That was tonight's job (Yes, we lived with it for 3 days, that's how we roll.) and I completed it with good results. Running water is good.

Menomonee Falls Landfill Hillshade/Alcohol Ink by S. Risley
2. I got word that my publisher is starting on my poetry collection formatting and cover design. That's the good news. The bad news? Its release has been pushed back to November. Nonetheless, it is all good that they are starting to look into it.

3. I got my "GeoArt" (my term) artwork from artist Sara Risley and finally got to hanging it in my office. It looks really good and I am super pleased with the way it came out. The art was created using a hillshade model of various county landmarks that I created with ESRI software. Then, I sent the image to Sara and she added her artistic flair to it using alcohol inks. She is an amazing artist and has said that she'd be willing to do more of these if people have specific geographic regions in mind. If you're interested, contact her Here

4. You know it's a bad week when you visit a Physical Therapist and a Dermatologist in the same week. I've got issues with rotator cuffs and some skin blemishes (benign) that have required me to recognize that I'm not 28 any more. I continue to dispute this fact as I do my PT exercises and cover my gaping flesh wounds.

So, on the upside, I do have some good things coming up this weekend to make up for all of it. 

1. Tomorrow is a Fish 'n' Paint vacation day. Fishing in the morning, garage painting (or prep) in the afternoon. The days are getting short, have to take advantage of that.

2. Saturday night is the Mark Knopfler concert at the Riverside. I love his guitar work, so cannot wait. Live music in a great venue after a nice dinner with my wife. The good life.

3. Monday afternoon we are slated to go up to Lion's Den park near Port Washington. It is a beautiful area for hiking and Donna's said we need to get up there for a while. So be it.

It figures to be a good weekend. I hope you enjoy yours!

Lake Country by S. Risley

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 25, 2019

My 4 Years Of Military Service

This past weekend was my high school class of 1979's 40th reunion. The event was held in St. Paul and because of recent travels and other commitments, I was unable to attend. A couple good friends from high school did go and kept me posted via text and phone calls on how it was going. There were two events, a social on Friday at a bar on Grand Avenue, and a multi-school social/mixer at The Lexington Restaurant, a place where I worked many hours in order to pay tuition and afford movies, records and all of the other things a 17-year-old finds to use his money for.

I've only made it to two reunions in 40 years, my 5 year and my 30th year. Because I am working on a memoir about my years at old Cretin High, it would have been nice to make it to this one and talk the book up a bit. As it turns out, I left any promotion of my writing and my books to my good friends Pat and Peter who did an admirable job of plugging for me, from the sounds of it.

My years at Cretin were not bad in any way. I'm sure there is no one alive who would say their high school years were the best of their life, and I am in agreement. It was an awkward time of puberty, change and discovering who we were and what our life pursuits would be.

Cretin Father/Son Banquet
L-R Me, Timmy (Step bro), Pat Kopp
Some people come away with a few lifelong friends from their high school years and I am among them. Two of the tight-knit group of five of us friends have reached out and reconnected with me on a couple of occasions. (One of them has even blogged about his Cretin Years. Check it out here.) It appears our friendship lives on one chance meeting after another over the years. Also, the power of Facebook has brought a few of my old classmates back into my world view after having lost touch for years.

There are many things that I remember vividly about my days at Cretin. Things like

1. The fall mornings on the football field marching to the timing of a snare and bass drum.

2. The awkward excitement of "mixers," dances held in the auditorium with the intent of mixing the boys of Cretin with the girls of Derham.

3. Religion and Military classes in the same day - a strange mix of church and state.

4. Pizza Fridays at the cafeteria, Proms, Inspections and so much more.

When I was in high school, long hair was still around and as military students we were forced to keep it short. So much of my identity at that age was tied to my hair and I wanted nothing more than to grow it out. Then, when I graduated short hair was back on the way in. Just my luck. As fate would have it, during my late college years, I started losing it altogether. Today it is just a fleeting memory - all of it.

My friend Pat termed my nostalgia for the past and my regret for missing the reunion with a beautiful acronym, FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out. He pretty much nailed it. Because, despite my tendencies toward aloneness and introversion, I do have an extroverted side that needs feeding occasionally. Plus the fact that in 5 years when the next reunion happens, one or more of us may not be around. I take none of that for granted anymore.

So to those of you that did attend, I hope it was a good time of reconnection and a great look back. They weren't our best days, but they are part of our story - a story I intend to revisit with my book,Cretin Boy, when it is finished (2021?)


Until the next reunion, (2024) we are all tasked with continuing to write our story and hopefully give something back to the world we get to live in.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Sub Atomic Micro Fame

So, it's been quite a month from a writing standpoint around here. It started with a couple of acceptances by a cool little publication out of Chicago called Coexistence. I'd heard about the journal from a Facebook friend of mine who is fond of my writing and made a point to reach out to the editor. He was then kind enough to reach out to me with a free copy of the journal and a nice personalized note soliciting my work. It's not often that an editor does something like that, so I was sure to follow through. I sent him a fiction story from my work-in-progress memoir, Cretin Boy, as well as a couple of new poems.

Within a couple of days, he wrote back accepting all three. Two for the September issue, and the third for a future issue. I was both grateful and a little shocked. He seems like a straight up guy, so I respect his judgement and am elated to be part of his publication.

Today I found out my poem, Unqualified, received an honorable mention for the WI Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters annual poetry contest.

Then, yesterday, I got some really great news. Big news. But news that will have to wait until the first of September, to announce. Again, the editor called me to tell me about it and was really forthright and nice. I'll post about it on Facebook when I've been given the green light.

And about a month ago I found out one of my poems was nominated to be included in a "Best of the Net Anthology." This is the closest I've come to a major recognition, so of course I was ecstatic. It is so nice to be recognized.

But this post is not intended to be all boastful. Rather, all of it is causing me to ask, How did I get here?

I am just incredibly lucky I am to be where I am with my "After 5:00 craft" these days. Trust me, I do not take for granted for one minute all the good fortune I seem to be having. I work hard at both my poetry and nonfiction, and part of that involves a ton of submissions. It is hard, sometimes thankless work. For every one of my acceptances, I receive on the order of two rejections. Frankly, if I was selling refrigerators, I'd be broke. (Well, I am anyway, but I'd be even more broke.)


All of this comes at the expense of other things and responsibilities in my life, but I feel led to push it as hard as I can. I am still trying to catch up for lost time. Time is precious, no one lives forever. My writing instructor has a coffee mug that has a quote on it that I sort of live by. It reads, Write like a M*****r F'er That's pretty much what I'm doing in my free time. Some might see it as kind of sad, but for me it is escape. Some escape in TV or sports, for me, it's right here in the glow of the laptop. If that makes me a loner/loser, well I'm okay with that. People like different things.

And finally, at the poetry reading last night at Mama D's it occurred to me the other intangible benefit of my writing, namely, the huge network of poets and writers that I've been exposed to. I am sworn to this pastime for the long term, if for nothing else, the great people that make up my peer network. So much support and encouragement. My life is immeasurably richer because the words I put to paper have brought me to this incredible resource of friends and acquaintances.

So as cliche as it is, and as much as some hate the term, I feel blessed to be able to write, rewrite, submit, and succeed. As always, my only regret is not starting sooner.

Instead of looking back with regret, I'll write like a...

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Natural Restoration

Just back from another week at Pine Forest Lodge with family. This trip saw the four of us plus Sam, my daughter's boyfriend, and Van a friend of my son's.

We've been going up to this cabin on and off since about 2003 or so. Lots of great memories over the years, fish, fun and family.

This one came on the day after my son's 21st birthday, so we celebrated with a birthday apple pie, a gift opening and a few drinks because, well, 21!

The week was full of lots of reading too. Four of us had books we were well into throughout the week. My wife actually finished more than one. It is refreshing to have so much downtime that you can read without guilt or interruption. It is a habit that I am happy our kids have adopted. Even Sam commented how much he'd enjoyed reading a book instead of peoples' crap on Facebook.

What struck me most about the trip was the continuous outdoor quiet. There's something healing about the wide open spaces and the way it seems to muffle the few sounds there are. It is also comforting to be away from the noise of traffic that is so much a part of our life in the city. I don't know of a way to fix that short of moving up north or out in the country, but it sure was nice.

The fishing was about what we expected. Spider lake is tough to fish and never fails to disappoint. The good news was everyone got something, albeit sometimes tiny.

The highlight of the fishing was on Thursday night at dusk. The bugs had just started to come out, so I was beginning to think about going in to shore. As I was tending to something else, suddenly my fishing rod jerked. I thought we were snagged, and when I grabbed the rod, I realized it was a fish. A big one. The scramble for the net was hampered by the fact that it was under the leech bucket, a beer can and a tackle box. The whole thing was a comedy of errors actually.

When I got it to the side of the boat, I realized it was a big Walleye and determined I could get it in without a net. At 23", it turned out to be the biggest fish I'd ever pulled out of Spider Lake. I've caught larger ones in Canada but my son and his friend were stupefied by the size of it. The biggest Walleye they'd ever seen. It capped off a relaxing week rather nicely.

All in all, it was good to be around our kids for a week. The best times were dinner meals together. Lots of goofiness and laughter. It's weird to relate to our kids as adults, but we have a ton of fun laughing with them over food.

The highlight of the outdoors element was our hike along the Presque Isle River in the Porcupine Mountains wilderness. Trees over 400 years old, waterfalls, lots of cool rock formations and plants and flowers. It makes a person feel really small.

So tomorrow is re-entry into reality. It's good to be refreshed though and being out in our natural world was a good part of helping it happen.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 15, 2019

My Personal Woodstock

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, "three days of peace and music." Much like the Green Bay Packers Ice Bowl, I would love to say I was there, but I wasn't. At 7 1/2 years old, I couldn't find a ride. Even my older brother was only 14 at the time, so none of us was of the age to go.

If you know me though, you know I am a music lover. I tend to romanticize big events like Woodstock and its California equivalent Altamont. From what I've seen of the history of the event, it was a poorly organized, understaffed and underprepared event, set in the middle of a rainstorm. There have been some good articles about it recently, as well as a PBS special that was well done. Both talk about how it was about more than the music. It was a community of sorts. More importantly, though, it was a statement about a generation. Hedonism? Probably. Hippies, for sure. But a gathering in the name of peace, by any standards, is something worth striving for.

So, feeling that I was denied the chance to participate in a little bit of history, I had to try and think of my own version of Woodstock. There were a few close candidates:

1. The Grateful Dead at Alpine Valley in 1987. The parking lot was a "community" of its own. The concert itself had a tinge of Woodstockness to it with the trippin' naked guy running through the lawn seats. I'm glad I went with my friend Allison, because there's nothing quite like the Dead at Alpine.

2. George Thorogood, Robert Cray and Short Stuff at Trout Air in 1984. Rock n Blues in the open air with throngs of people.



Night, The Cars and The Doobie Brothers, 8/17/1979

But if I had to call one my own personal Woodstock, it would be this concert at Midway Stadium on August 17th, 1979. Part of what makes it significant is that it was exactly 10 years after Woodstock (and incidentally, 40 years ago this weekend!)  This was a mega-venue, totally outdoors and was a little poorly planned itself. For starters it was General Admission, except for the field seats which required a special ticket (if I remember correctly.) I vividly recall there were not enough bathrooms and featured, like most rock concerts of the day, a few ladies crashing the men's bathroom because they were sick of waiting in the women's line which was typically 3X longer than the men's line.

In a look at how concert tickets have skyrocketed, the whole event cost $11.00!

I was an absolute maniacal Cars fan at the time. Even though the Doobies were headliners, for me, it was all about the Cars. Besides, at this point I considered the "Michael McDonald Doobies" a bit of a sellout. I loved their old stuff, (China Grove, Jesus is Just Alright, Black Water, etc.) but the "smooth jazz" sound of McDonald was not for me. But, I was willing to put up with it to hear my favorite band.

It was a pretty great concert. The cars played about 15 songs after a warm-up set by a relatively new, obscure group named Night. It was the first of 5 total times for me to see the Cars over the next 8 years or so. They actually put on a dull stage show, don't really play to the crowd, but I loved their music enough that it didn't matter.

The Doobies followed up with a decent show of their own. I vaguely remember fireworks shooting out of stacks during China Grove, near the end. And as a nod to Woodstock, I also remember it beginning to sprinkle near the end of their show.

So instead of three days of peace and music, I had to settle for 5 hours of people, traffic and music. Instead of brown acid, we altered our minds with overpriced monster cups of budweiser. Thank goodness for small blessings that way.

I realize even the suggestion  that this is anything close to Woodstock is musical heresy, but I am nothing if not a sap for nostalgia. That night was far from anything historic, but memorable to me as a teenager trying to rebel and rock out for a bit. And at the time that's all that mattered. In that way it was really groovy.

Here's links to the 8/17/1979 set lists from

The Cars
The Doobie Brothers

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Legal in 50

Tomorrow my youngest turns 21. We will celebrate it together as a family on Saturday in one of our favorite places on earth, Pine Forest Lodge in Mercer WI, aka, "The Cabin." We have gone to this resort on and off for almost 20 years. We took a year off last year, but missed it so much that we booked it again this year.

Ben has said that one of the things he is looking forward to doing is ordering a beer at the bar in the lodge. I guess I can't argue with that logic anymore. He is 21 after all. It's as legit as it gets.

But nevertheless, it is weird to say I have two adult children who are relatively self-sufficient. You slog it out in the trenches for so many years, then deal with elementary, middle and high school, and before you know it you're watching them navigate college and adult life.

There are too many good memories of Ben as a young kid to put in a single post. One of the forever memories will be when he was a little over a year old, he'd walk past the oven and catch a glimpse of himself in the oven window. Then he'd stop and admire himself and mug a little and keep walking past. He was always a bit of a ham, big with a cheesy smile when a camera was pointed his way. He's a photogenic kid too, so it was a good combination.


His dramatic episodes of injustices laid forth by his sister earned him the title of "airhorn." It wasn't so much a nickname as a term for his behavior, "Ben's airhorning right now," Donna would say to me on the phone at work. The video below is a good example of what it sounds like.


Ben always liked sports too. Like his father he was a solid 2nd or 3rd string football player, and an apt soccer player. His best sport though was swimming. He took it on as a sport his junior year and I swear it helped him grow up. He suddenly was more disciplined with his time and energy. I credit his swim coach and his teammates for that.

So now he is in turning 21 and we will be spending a week fishing and kayaking with him and the rest of our family. My wife and I have both come to the realization that having adult kids is a whole lot of fun. When they start relating to you as adults, you laugh about things you never could before. I do a whole lot of that with both of my kids.

Our family has nothing if not a similar, sarcastic sense of humor. And at the cabin, I am looking forward to lots of laughs this next week.

Happy Birthday, Benjamin!

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Current Situation

After a day like yesterday in our country, it's a little hard to put together an upbeat, funny or positive blog. Nothing is funny in light of what appears to be a systemic problem with guns and racial divisiveness in this country. And while I place much of the blame on the fear-rhetoric of our current administration and the spinelessness of our congressional leaders to face up to it and do something about it - everything from gun control to condemnation of the Twitterer in chief fanning the flames with his thumbs on his phone - the spineless swamp is wide and deep in Washington.

Sorry, it's been a tough go for me lately.

The worst part of it is the sense of powerlessness and the resulting despair that comes with it. It seems all I can do is wield the power of the pen. So, I'll keep it short and leave this post with a couple of poems I wrote on the subject of guns a while back during, oh, I dunno, the 39th mass shooting of 2019, or so. We're up to 249 in August for those keeping score. And I can't help but ask God's mercy on this country. I'm not so sure He's all about blessing America right now.




Named            by Jim Landwehr

Each kid had a name
and a story to tell
now stories untold
because these bullets
lead to nothing
but screams of grief
an ocean of sorrow.

Bullets 1-3 hit Matt
who would have been
a programmer
while 4-6 hit the whiteboard
and 7-12 took
out Kristi, a future
mother
-a great one at that-
if not for those six bullets.

13-23 were used
to terminate forever the
friendship of Charles, Justin
and Miguel who
were talking about
the coming weekend
just a minute earlier.
a weekend that would pass
without them.

Rounds 24 through 27
were errant shots of mercy
splintering the desktops
of higher learning
once graced by those
of generations where
assault rifles were
weapons of war
not a means for
violent revenge.

Bullets 28-33
entered Mr. Goldman
killing him for
shielding Na’Quala
a survivor
scarred for life
who would never
emotionally recover.
She’s still dying
a different sort
of death.

Bullets 34-86
took from this earth
eleven other
bright lights

Willie
Stephanie
            Maria
            Tosha
            Ben
            Mia
            Isaiah
            Rachel
            Ignatious
            Celia
            Shanequa

and with them went
beautiful smiles
dinner conversations
graduations
birthdays and
weddings never held
goodbyes unsaid

Last I love yous missed.

These children
were taken
from us
by an assaulting
weapon of war
good for
one thing.

Killing dreams.



Talking Around The Problem                     by Jim Landwehr


When geometry takes a backseat
to active shooting drills
and lockdown exercises
We could have us a gun problem.

Or, when the student body
means one lying in the classroom
instead of the corporate whole.
We may have a gun problem.

Maybe when the suggested solution
to stopping the next school assassin
is to arm the English teacher.
We might just have us a gun problem.

If people speak about knives and bricks
as potential weapons of mass murder
“So are we going to ban those too?”
We certainly appear to have a gun problem.

When students become survivors
and stand up to NRA politicians
but still laws don’t change.
It’s safe to say we have a gun problem.



Blogging off...

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Of What Is Seen And Unseen

I managed to lose my glasses last week. I don't know how it happened or where I lost them. I came out of work a week ago and when I got home I realized they weren't in my backpack. I frantically searched my backpack about a dozen times then drove back to work and checked to see if I left them there.

No dice.

They've got to be around, I thought. I never lose-lose things like glasses, keys or wallets. Of course I misplace them around the house all the time, but I never lose them. (Is there a difference?)

Well, I've been looking for a week straight. It's weird what losing something will do to a person as obsessive as I can sometimes be. I start looking in the strangest places. Last week I actually looked under my hat hanging on a hook by the back door.

Because that's where everyone puts their glasses, right?

I checked the lost and found at work and have retraced my steps to and from the car several times, checking in the flower beds and parking lot stalls to see if they got brushed under a car. (Like that happens all the time.)

Anyway, after having given up on them, my wife said I should look online at Warby Parker. They have a 5 pair try-then-buy deal where you get 5 pair of frames sent to you for free, you try the frames on and if you like one, you send all of them back and buy the pair you liked for less than $100. You need a copy of your prescription, but that is all.

It seems too good to be true, but hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. My vision doctor can't even get me in for an appointment for 3 more weeks, so I did what I needed. I ordered them tonight and figure I'll have them by Monday afternoon. Not a bad deal. This is a classic case of the internet changing everything.

And, hopefully I'll have seen how it has a week from now.

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Living Out The Ninth Life

So our house got just a little quieter yesterday. We were forced to put down our nearly fifteen year-old cat, Chester. Chet, as he was affectionately nicknamed by my father in-law, had been losing weight for the past six months and we all knew the end was coming. When he lost function of his back legs yesterday, we figured this was it. We've had other cats and knew that the typical lifespan is about 15 years. (He would have turned 15 tomorrow.) So none of this was a surprise.

That it wasn't a surprise doesn't make it any easier when the time comes.

We took him to the Vet and were present when he was peacefully laid down. It was sad and painful, yes, but being there when he died was a form of closure for us too.

That's not to say that the rest of yesterday wasn't hard, as I suspect the next few days will be. Death of anything close to me always hits like a gut punch. This was no different. Last night I was walking the dog and dragging my own corpse around the neighborhood feeling the weight of death in all its heaviness. Everything takes effort. Death saps a person.

And even though this was just a cat, it dredged up feelings I'd not had since the loss of my brother in 2011. Death re-reads stories you'd finished and hated. That bottomless pit feeling of loss is soul crushing and you don't realize how a small fur-covered animal can stir up memories of people and other past pet deaths.

At the same time, Chester had a good life, a good run, if you will. He was a polydactyl cat with one extra toe that made him look like he had little baseball mitts on his paws. We think that was the reason he was one of the last of his siblings left when we adopted him.

Like every pet, he had his quirks and rituals. He loved to lay in the bathroom sink when it got over 80 degrees outside. It was probably the cool marble that attracted him. He also waited outside the bathroom every day for when I finished showering. Then he'd slink into the bathtub and lick up the water. He was a fresh(?) water junkie and liked it anywhere outside of his very available water bowl.

He loved his sister Isabelle, and the two often slept curled around each other sometimes forming a cat heart. His latest trick was to sit in one of the two kids' chairs at the dinner table and watch us eat. Once in a great while we'd feed him a bit of meat from our plates and he'd chew it and wait for more. We'd become the weird cat owners, but we knew his time was not long, so babied him a bit.

As with any cat, he came at a price. There was the endless vacuum containers full of hair, the countless cat yaks found everywhere around the house and, more recently, the naughty boy pissing around the house. We hated that more than anything.

So with the passing of him and eventually his sister Izzy and probably his brother Toby the dog, in the next few years, our house will grow quieter and more lifeless. My wife always said that cats - love them or hate them - do bring a life to a house that would not be there. She is right about that.

And Chester, with his big paws and his sweet face will be missed greatly.

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Sorting Through The Quiet

This empty nest thing has left me lots of time and headspace to do some thinking about how I got to this point, where I've been and where we're going. When we had kids around you sort of crash through life putting out fires, meeting physical and later, emotional needs and falling into bed at the end of the day. With our daughter in another state and Ben 70 miles away, it's all over now, except for the worrying...a lifelong thing, of course.

Thankfully I had a significant change in my work situation in the past year, which occupied much of my time and thoughts. Even that has settled down now (a bit) and I have even begun to assess how I got to this place in my career. Don't get me wrong, I still love my job, it's just, like most people, you never know where your career path will take you. It's a winding road.

I think about the series of events that brought me to Wisconsin. I think about the twists and turns that brought my wife to me from NY. I think about friends that have come and gone and come back again.

Every Saturday morning, my wife and I go for a coffee date. It has become a ritual I cherish, but the topics have become significantly different than they were even two years ago. Lately we've been talking about our future together, where we want to live, what we want to see (travel-related), our expectations for personal growth, post-retirement and even what would happen if one of us died. It is a great source of reconnection and gives me someone to talk about the deeper things in live with.

I just find it a little odd talking about old people things when I'm not old. (Sarc.)

It is a coming to terms with the fact that life is a vapor and we need to seize what's left of it. I am more conscious every day of how lucky I am to have it. And while the struggles of the day, (people, money, job stuff, cars, kids, dealing with this godawful political climate, etc) are not to be ignored, I know that there is a higher purpose to all of it.

So I do what I can. I am increasingly cognizant of my face-time with others. At the end of the day, it is one of the richest parts of life. Coffee with friends, a listening ear, a word of encouragement. I refuse to fall into the negative social media crap that is SO prevalent these days. (If you're doing it to "help raise awareness" you're doing it wrong. I don't go there to get a hard shine on my world view. That is set and you aren't changing it. -end of rant.)

I don't know when the introspective effects of our empty nest will taper off, but I am using them for reflection and forward looks. I realize I am incredibly lucky and blessed to be alive and doing fine in middle class America. I take none of it for granted and am aware that all of it could change in one heartbeat or unfortunate accident. So I plan on continuing to live it hard and make sure people know how much they mean to me. Because in the end, they're all I've got.

So thanks to each of you. You bring depth and richness to my life and I'm lucky to have you in my life.

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Bee Wranglin'

This time rolls around every year, and every year it's the same story. As I lay there in backyard hammock, looking skyward in hopes of maybe an afternoon nap, I inevitable see the activity I dread most with an old house.

Bees!

I lay watching them come and go with great flurry from either their current nest, or their nest in progress. Every year they seem to find a new nook or cranny to roost, and with an old house, nooks and crannies are the norm.

Two weeks ago I found a few paper wasp nests-in-the-makes in my garage eaves as I was scraping the trim readying for paint. I grabbed my ever-present can of wasp killer and set to work. It is a dance of aim, spray, adjust, duck and, sometimes run.

After I'd done away with the two small honey combs being started on the garage, I looked at the flat roof area outside our back door. There was a sizable nest there, on the order of a small cantaloupe.

Well, dangit all!

So I fetch the extension ladder climb up to the flat roof, and blast away. Let me tell you, all of the chaos that ensues on the ground when eliminating these buggers is ever-more perilous when you're on a ladder 10' off the ground.

Once they were convinced there was no entry to the nest, I blasted it with our hose and pulverized it to bits. I know honey bees are good, but these are not those. These are the ornery stinging kind that annoy. If I was more environmentally conscious about them, I would surely get a bee outfit, some smoke and bee-whisper them all to a safer, less house-attached area.

But a hose works too.

So after a couple weeks of no bees, I'm laying there today and lo and behold, there's activity into and out of the soffit/roof above my back door.

Well, dangit again!

I get out of my hammock and carry out the routine. The bees are confused when they return to a poisoned opening. I then went to the basement and got my caulk gun and ladder. I climbed a couple of steps and started filling the entry hole, thereby sealing in those that would be dead from the spray, and sealing out the ones out annoying people at their picnics.

So I figure I either have to stop taking hammock naps or get a new house with zero potential beehive areas to it.

For now though, the naps need to happen, so I'll have to settle for caulk and spray. 

Note: No bees were killed in the making of this blog.

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Black And White Moon

Tomorrow we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of landing on the moon. It's hard to believe it was that long ago because that would make me old. There are a number of celebrations around Milwaukee and Waukesha as well as the rest of the country, I imagine.

For example, my wife's employer, Purple Door Ice Cream is selling their "Purple Moon," ice cream at UWM on Saturday for a Lunar Party. More locally at Retzer Nature Center, they are having a festival called Apollopalooza. These parties are justified in revisiting the incredible feat of actually landing a spacecraft on the moon.

I remember the night the moon walk took place. I was only 7 years old at the time. We had a black and white TV set and I can remember watching the lander sit on the surface for an hour, with nothing much happening except a lot of bleeping and some commentary from the news crew. As the wait for the astronauts to get out of the Lunar Module went later and later into the night, I grew antsy. 

And the record gets fuzzy from there. I'm not sure, but I recall being told to go to bed, because no one knew how long or late it would be until they deboarded the module. The other possibility is that I just didn't have the patience to watch nothing happen for another hour or two. I'm not sure which story is correct, and while I didn't resent it too much at the time, looking back, I guess it would have been cool to say I saw it live, but I didn't. I guess the one thing I can say is I saw the LM sitting on the surface of the moon in all its black and white, (with static) glory. I remember the night, just like I remember the night MLK was assassinated. One doesn't forget events like that.

Space was all the rage back then. I remember my brother Tom buying and building an Apollo rocket that stood over a foot tall. The thing was amazing, but everything Tom managed to spend time on was amazing. I remember having an Apollo coloring book and seeing moon/Apollo stuff everywhere. It was a world changing event.

A number of years ago I went to Huntsville, Alabama to the NASA Museum down there. The software company we used was based in Huntsville and they threw a big party every year at the Space Center. It was fascinating walking through the exhibits and seeing just how small and tight everything was for those men. It gives a person a real feel for how miraculous the whole thing was, especially given the technology of the times.

Of course I remember the Apollo 13 near-disaster as well. I remember hearing that these astronauts could end up orbiting in space forever. And I remember the relief the country had when they made it back down.

And I recall where I was for each of the space shuttle disasters. One was at my first apartment out of college, the other was at a men's conference for church. Both incredibly sad events in our space history. Unfortunately cutting the edge of our reach to the stars requires loss of lives.

So as we look toward Mars, maybe there will be a day my great grandchildren will be sent to bed before we walk out onto the Martian surface. I hope not, but if they are looking for people to head that direction in the next 10 years, I'm in line.

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 14, 2019

On Deck

I've been thinking a lot lately about what's next from a writing standpoint. I realize I have two forthcoming poetry books, Thoughts From A Line At The DMV, and Genetically Speaking and ,another major memoir in the works, but like any good writer, I'm always looking ahead.

Of course finishing memoir #3 is first on the agenda. The Cretin book is at 65,000 words or so, and just in need of some attention and commitment. I may have sent it to its room for misbehaving. I'll let it out when I've had a chance to step away for a bit. It's going to be quite good, but right now I'm thinking the book and I should see other people. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and all that.

While I don't want to commit just yet, my ideas are threefold.

My first idea is to write another memoir about Milwaukee, my move to it and the life I've built once I got here. It would be in large part a book about moving away from Minnesota, finding out who Jim really is, establishing a career, and my blooming relationship and eventual marriage to Donna. I've already got a couple of stories started there, stories that could serve as standalone stories if I decide to start submitting them.

The book would certainly give me plenty of material and thus is my first choice. All I need to do is start hacking away and see what happens. If it becomes something, I'll follow through with it. If not, I might have some decent stand alone stories.

My second idea would be to re-work my uncle Jack's book and try and get it published as a co-authored book. It is an intriguing idea, but would take a whole lot of work, with all of it being in the fiction genre, which is not my area of great experience.

And finally, my other thought is to work on an entirely new fiction novel. Not having done much fiction writing though, this one seems the most daunting of all. It would probably be a dark humor sort of novel - possibly science fiction with a humorous twist. Lots of possibilities.

So, like an unfocused kid, I can't keep my train of thought on any one of those for very long. I think I will just start hacking away at #1 and see where it goes for now.

I've often said my only regret is not starting my writing sooner in life. Now I'm trying to catch up for lost time and writing like a maniac.

And that's a good place to be. At least for me.

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Coffee And Lightning

As usually happens at my Thursday coffee discussions with my buddies at a local coffee shop, the conversation took twists and turns that one couldn't have predicted if they tried.

In this particular case, the conversation started at a discussion of reparations for Native and African Americans, but ended with a discussion of hearing the voice of God.

It was a winding path, to say the least. I can't recreate the thread that got us on to that topic, but it was an interesting one indeed. Basically, one of the guys said that if the Bible is the only way some people say we hear from God, does that mean He's not talking to those people, or are they just not attributing a moment, an experience or an emotional reaction to perhaps being the voice of God. The whole discussion started on the topic of the Originalists with regards to the Constitution and went on from there.

But the best part about the conversation was how these two guys and I all told stories of our artistic pursuits, music, art and writing that led us to have either emotional reactions or a feeling of unwarranted inspiration. The question for all of us was, was that God moving in some form? The answer is, who are we to say it isn't? If you put God in a small box and say He doesn't operate that way, then, you're talking about a different god than me, (and my friends would probably agree.)

We talked about our old days as more conservative people of faith when we had God (and God's word) boxed up pretty tight, mostly out of fear of the lightning bolt. (Some of which still exists, mind you.) We joked a little about the days when a friend said they didn't like to do Christian book studies because it was just someone else's thoughts about God, and why shouldn't we just stick to scriptures?  (Wow, okay)

We kick around our understanding of the Bible and all of its good and bad. We talk extensively with both reverence and a bit of healthy questioning about what the "Good Book" really is and should be used for. Because none of us claims to know what it really is, and most are a little scarred by the way it was used to drub us in the past. We know its good, but we also know it can be used for harm. {Waits for the lightning bolt...}

I could go on and on, but the crux of my story is these guys, every Thursday, help me work things in the world out. We talk politics, world issues, religion, family life, art, and pretty much anything else. I would say it never ceases to go way deeper than any conversations I have the rest of the week. And for one hour a week, I am challenged to look at my faith, my country, my world and myself.

And I've said it before, it is one of the best hours of my week.

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Genetically Speaking

While I don't have too many memories about my dad, I do have several of my stepfather, Jack. He and my mom dated for nearly 10 years before they married in 1979. While he was by no means a perfect father, (I mean, who is?) he was all I had growing up, with maybe the exception of a few father figures that played various roles in my upbringing.

Perhaps Jack's most redeeming quality was his sense of humor. He was nicknamed Happy Jack because of it. It carried over into his drinking where he was known as a happy drunk. (Believe me, I've seen both happy and mean drunks, and I'll take a happy one any day.)

But his sense of humor was what carried him through life. It made him more tolerable and someone whom people loved to be around. I credit much of my own lightheartedness to him. One of his famous phrases was "Not to worry," said with a hint of an Irish accent. I use that as my mantra most days of the week.

I bring Jack up because this past week, I had a poetry manuscript accepted for publication. It is centered on the theme of Fatherhood and is a product of a 30 poems in 30 days contest that took place in April. As part of the contest, we submitted our final 30 poem manuscript for judging. Mine took an Honorable Mention so was offered for publication as a chapbook (chapbook = a short collection of poems).

Frankly, I am ecstatic about it because as a collection about fatherhood, it is intensely personal yet, I feel it will resonate with practically anyone who has had (or been) a father. (Which about covers the whole world, right?)

In the book, I look at Fatherhood from all different angles including stepfathers, fathers in-law, godfathers, father figures and would-be fathers. Of course I build in plenty of my own fathering experience, having recently entered the empty nest phase of life.

The book was incredibly inspirational for me, causing great introspection as I wrote it. My experience as a young boy with the death of my natural father and the introduction of a stand-in surrogate for 10 years, then formal stepfatherhood provides plenty of diversity in my reflections. It was both healing and revealing for me, and not all the poems are happy-shiny fun. Some are raw and tough to chew. But the sum total of these makes for an interesting collection that I think people will love.

So, stay tuned as I await publication time frames and details. This will be my 5th poetry collection and my 7th overall book. And like all of the rest, I feel it's important and represents stories I think need to be told.

And I can't wait to see it in print.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 30, 2019

You Can See Kansas From Here

We had what some people might call a weather event here on Thursday.

It happened right after work and I was going to try and sneak a ride in before the rain came. I could see the skies were dark to the west, but that always happens. I really look forward to my rides, so was determined to get one in quick.

As I went west down College Avenue, the dark cloud covered the entire western horizon. It had a definite front line to it, so I thought I'd go to the edge of that front line and then turn around.


Well, every block I got closer to the death cloud the more I began to think I love my wife and kids and I should probably turn around. This cloud looked different. Menacing. So, I didn't even reach the bike trail and decided to double back.


I got my bike in the basement and within 10 minutes we had us a good old whippin' going. I've only seen wind come up that fast one other time. In 1998 we had straight-line winds blow through the city that had a similar intensity. That one was different in that it had a definite sound to it. The old saying "It sounded like a freight train," held true for that storm of '98. I see where everyone gets the correlation now.

This one didn't have a sound, but I was able to witness the whole thing. The storm of '98 was spent in the basement, because the sirens were going off. To watch the trees shake and bend and twitch like they did this year was pretty frightening. Wind speeds were estimated at 60 MPH.

Then, when I noticed our planters were tipped over and running the risk of blowing away, I opened the door to grab them. The door ALMOST got ripped right off the hinges...along with my arm, I might add. I've never experienced wind that strong. When I asked Donna to help me, she couldn't because she was fighting to close the porch door to keep the dog (who was going ballistic) at bay. But because the open screen door was creating such a vacuum, she had to pull with all her might to get it closed. It literally took both hands and all my strength to close the door once the planters were in.

The two of us looked at each other and said, "What just happened?" After we'd secured everything we had a good laugh, but there was a moment there when I was channeling the Wizard and Dorothy.

As it turns out our immediate area was among the hardest hit in this part of the state. Carroll University had a number of trees down and a few electric poles were bent to unsafe angles, to say the least.

It was all over in an hour or so, and the cleanup and post-mortem began in earnest. Carroll University had kids and staff out there picking up branches, rerouting traffic, etc. The city had work crews clearing trees and closing streets off immediately following. Police and fire were super responsive as well. It was a testament to the community's ability to work together.

Lucky for us, we only lost one major branch. Our neighbors weren't so lucky but it could have been worse.

The whole event was an unpleasant reminder of how loosely we should hold onto things.

Because at any given moment, the wind could blow it all away.

For more Photos click here.

Blogging off...

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Prairie's Own Companion

My son has taken a summer job working for an environmental lab in Madison. It is a full time gig for the whole summer and involves working underneath a graduate student working toward his PhD. The job is a perfect fit for Ben as he is an environmental science major. This work is right up his alley.

The job near as I can tell, involves two days a week in the field collecting data and samples in a large prairie owned or leased by the University of Wisconsin. The area is near Viroqua, nearly an hour drive from campus. They are studying prairie plants, insect and animal life and the impact of various practices and climactic changes upon them. For instance they do controlled burns on some areas to see if that helps or hinders seed growth, output etc.

So as part of it, he frequently sends messages to us via text with pictures of the things he's encountering. Suffice it to say, it makes a desk job look as boring as heck. And while I know it's not all daisies and fields of gold - there are bugs and heat and poisonous plants - I do envy his experience a great deal. The closest thing I had to that was an archeology field school at the U of M where we were digging up the foundation of a house from the early 1800's.

In any case, as you can see from the pictures, it's pretty spectacular. Having just been in the driftless area a few weeks ago, I can testify to the awesome serenity of the place. It looks like he is enjoying time away from the bricks and mortar of campus life.

As with my daughter who is in her first "real job" at the University of Minnesota's Supercomputing Institute, I am elated to see my kids getting real-life experience and enjoying it along the way. It is setting the stage for a career path for both, or at least a good stepping stone to something else. It seems like it was just yesterday when I was in their shoes, stepping into my first job.

I realized how lucky we are to have these opportunities and am grateful that I've got kids who look for them.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Pedaling For Life

I have enjoyed biking pretty much my whole life. Ever since my sister Pat taught me how when I was seven or eight, I've always liked the sense of freedom and wandering that a bike provided. I've written short stories and poems centered around the pleasure of pushing pedals.

My first bike was a gold stingray knock-off that my mom got at a Super America gas station, I think. I loved the bike with its 20 inch tires, metallic gold flecked paint and a banana seat. Unfortunately, a year or so after I got it someone stole it virtually right in front of me. A couple of teenagers were walking down the street, one on a bike, one not. The one walking just hopped on my bike while I was playing in the yard and they both sped off. It was an early lesson in how people are capable of brazen theft and meanness.

A couple of years later, I got a much bigger bike, a 26" 3 speed Huffy. It was a big, geeky bike that I made geekier by adding a battery operated headlight, odometer and a flag to the back. I was always jealous of other kids' cool bikes, but Mom always said, rightfully so, that I was too big for a bike like that. This was a much better fit.

Ever since those days I have owned a bike of one vintage or another. I've also owned a heavy lock as well. One doesn't make that mistake twice in a lifetime.

My current bike is a Trek mountain bike that I have grown to love. However, I am beyond the years where a lot of trail-crashing off roading seems appealing. I think if I were to get another bike, it would be a cross-bike - a hybrid between a mountain bike and a road bike. Get me to work and out on the paved trail, but keep me in an upright riding posture as well.

Today I went down and watched a little of the bike races in downtown Waukesha. It is a sport I enjoy watching but never aspired to do. I am not a group rider. I am not a team rider. I ride alone and I ride to be alone. I told some friends once, I don't even like to say "On your left," when passing a rider. I ride to think, to be introspective and to relax. Having someone pacing me or cheering me on is not what I need. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

But watching these guys gave me an appreciation for all the training and discipline they have to partake in. It's a grueling sport of speed and finesse and position. I give them credit, they're better people than me.

And I'm okay with my 10 mile rides after work. It keeps me sane.

Blogging off...