Thursday, January 31, 2019

I Cantarctica

But hey, it's sunny.
It's a little cold where I live.

Just a bit.

Most of the Midwest is in the grips of another polar vortex. These are weather events caused by aberrations in the jet stream which are caused by melting polar ice, which is caused by too much carbon in our atmosphere, which is caused by years of fossil fuel burning, etc, etc.

And I don't care what your stance is on global warming, I do know that this pretty much sucks whatever is causing it. (From my perspective, I agree it's caused by what they say it is, but that's my editorial perspective.)

Yesterday and today temps hovered around -25 Fahrenheit with a feel-like of -45.

As you may know, my house is 97 years old. It breathes like a bag of onions in the winter. While this transfer of interior air to the outside might be good for air quality, it makes it just a tad drafty in here. My workplace closed the past two days due to the temps, so I have been on modified house arrest. Yesterday I managed to start the car and run it for 5 minutes, but otherwise did not leave the house for fear of death.

Today is much the same.

So the dog is in a deep depression and has mastered doing his duty in 14 seconds on three legs. He looks at me when he's doing it with a look of "What the hell is going on out here?" I know, buddy. It sucks for me too, although I'm not peeing in a snowbank.

It also makes for some interesting dress around the house. At the moment, mine involves long underwear, a Stormy Kromer hat, lots of fleece and a scarf.
Don't judge.

Yes, a scarf.


It is not pretty.

The chair I sit in is near the stairs and the draft coming from upstairs blows right down my back. The scarf helps. Any sense of fashion has taken a back seat to what I call "gettin' through this".

When I start the car, it whines and makes noises I've never heard before. When I took it out this morning, it felt like the wheels were square. I'm certain they flattened on the edge that was on the pavement.

They were like Lego wheels.

We were also told to change our thermostat to Hold at 68 degrees. So our furnace has been running almost constantly for 3 days. Thankfully it is only three years old. At the immediate moment, I love my Carrier.

Yesterday, Wisconsin was colder than Antarctica. And not even a penguin to show for it.

We have rolled-up towels at the base of both the front and back doors to slow down the influx of frigid air. The cats are camped out in front of the heat vent, Toby the Dog is in a deep canine depression and Donna and I are living each moment waiting for the next furnace cycle to blow warm air again.

It was so cold that when I made a video of throwing boiling water to the air, some of it splashed on my hand and literally did not hurt. No damage done.

It ain't right, people.

And from an entertainment standpoint, there is only so much Netflix and Facebooking a person can do. I miss the outdoors. I miss walking. And I sure as heck miss shorts and my bike. That day might never come again.

The last time we had a Polar Vortex was in 2014 and I managed to get frostbite on my fingertips to the point where they get cold/numb fairly quickly now. So I've been here before and know to stay put.

And so I look ahead to the future. Saturday is supposed to be 40. FORTY! Four Zero. ABOVE! Sunday is 43, Monday is Forty eight. I might go kayaking! Paint the garage! Rake the lawn!

Until then though, I'll be here in my scarf.

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 27, 2019

A Pattern For Change

Yesterday I took in two hours of the 25th Annual Woodland Pattern poetry marathon. This event is a fundraiser to sponsor programming for Woodland Pattern Bookstore throughout the year.

The way the event works is people are asked to get sponsors to donate on behalf of them, then they read for 5 minutes during an hour that they sign up to read in. Personally I think it is the perfect event for someone who says they don't like poetry. The reason being, you are exposed to such a broad range of poetry styles and poet personalities, that if you don't like someone, just wait 5 minutes and you'll get to hear someone else. It's a poetic smorgasbord.

I actually read at one of their events about 5 years ago as part of an AllWriters' sponsored hour. I remember being super nervous. It was the event where I joked that I was Wisconsin's tallest poet and someone from the audience with a slightly less disjointed sense of humor corrected me and said he knew of someone taller.

Hence my moniker as "Wisconsin's second tallest poet." (Again, it's a joke. Really.)

Huston passes the torch to Rozga
This event featured the induction of a new Poet Laureate for the State of Wisconsin. Margaret Rozga was named the 2019/2020 poet laureate, replacing Karla Huston. Margaret was part of the Father Groppi protests of the late 60's and has always been a voice for racial justice and unity. As someone said yesterday, I cannot think of a better person to be holding the post at this point in our divided country's troubled present. She will be amazing.

The hours I was present featured a group of my colleagues from the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets as well as multiple past Wisconsin Poet Laureates. It was some of Wisconsin's finest all gathered in one room.

Anyway, the two hours I was there were really inspiring. It is clear that poets have a passion for the world, for our children, for the pain of life and for the beauty of all of it. There were gay and lesbian, young and old, fat and thin, and, yes, short and tall. Like anyone, I liked some better than others.

One poem in particular by Bob Hanson stuck with me. It was titled Symbiosis and it talked about the interrelated nature of everything and was very much on point.
Marilyn Taylor

But there were too many good ones to talk about There were poems on politics, the environment, death, life, social justice, gender and age issues, nature, work, travel and on and on.

The message of many of them though was we need to treat each other and the world with more respect. We need to stop hurting and do something ABOUT the hurting. We need to stop oppressing and do something FOR the oppressed. We need to stop worrying about the environment and do something to HELP it.

It is too bad that these voices were contained to a small room in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee. The messages should be required listening for every politician and military leader in the city/state/country.

And while some would argue that the words will not have any effect on changing the world, I would beg to differ. The words changed some of the people in the room, myself included, and those people can then go out and change the world in some small way.

I, for one, plan to be part of that change.

Blogging off...

P.S. Margaret Rozga will be reading from her book Pestiferous Questions at Mama D's in Wales on February 20th at 7:00 as part of their featured poet series. Don't miss it!

Wisconsin Fellowship of Poet Readers @ WP Poetry Marathon

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Cars, Crowns And Colonoscopies

So my 23 year old daughter bought her first car this week. She is in living up in Minneapolis and recently moved out of college and into her own apartment. While she was a student, mass transit worked just fine for her, but now she needs a car to get to work among other things.

Now, it's hard to say I ever had a pleasant car purchase experience. Ever.

But here's the deal. It sucks but it's part of life. It's part of being an adult. I rank it right up there with a colonoscopy or a dental crown on the fun scale. I'd sooner get blasted by a fire hose, frankly.

I hate looking for cars. I hate test drives. I hate negotiations. I hate pushy salesmen.  I hate pushier finance guys I hate the paperwork and I hate sitting in sterile cubicles of salesmen who are likely looking for another job.

Some people get a charge out of a new car. I am not one of those. To me, a car is a good way to get from here to there. Simpler is better, but hey, if I have to have seat warmers and a back up camera, well I guess that'll be okay.

For starters, she was looking on Craigslist. That was until she fell for a scam deal that was a "spoof sale" by a well know scammer. She didn't send the scammer any money but she did get a fake-O email saying how this owner was willing to get rid of the low mile vehicle for cheap because her "husband" died of a heart attack and the car gave her bad memories. To my daughter's credit, she googled the woman's name and found out other had been scammed by the same email. The whole experience was a good cautionary exercise for her. People are nasty sometimes.

So when she started sending me pictures of cars from legitimate dealers, I started to get all defensive of my daughter. I wanted to be there to help keep the salesman and finance guy from fleecing her for the "extended warranty-undercoating-seal coating-scotchguarding".

Because, she's my daughter see. She's my little girl, right? And she's a good person. Treat her nice you snakes! And if you don't I'm gonna come up there and talk to you.

But because I live 5 hours away, this wasn't really something I could do. Plus, there is the whole life skills element of it. I bought my first car at her age and got fleeced. They sold me stuff like insurance and an extended warranty that I did not need. It made me physically sick because my payment was $50 more a month than I expected when I bought the thing. I actually went back and had them take off some items to get it back to where it should have been all along.

On the night she bought it she texted me that the salesman was "a nice guy, very helpful."

To which I said, I believed her but she should wait till the finance guy talks to her. THEY'RE the problem. (Having just bough a new car ourselves a month ago.)

The next text read:

"Oh boy, you were correct, the salesman was very nice but then we got the old man strong arm trying to sell me paint coatings and windsheild coatings and dancing monkeys for my dashboard and hamster wheels for my engine."

I laughed hard! Welcome to reality, babe. May the force be with you.

To her credit, she didn't bend on any of it and got away with an affordable payment and a 2010 Honda Fit.

More importantly though, she got a life lesson in pushy salesmen and the bureaucratic nightmare that goes into a car sale.

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Kansas City Here I Come...

My friend and I have this ongoing joke about the Kansas City Chiefs football team. It dates all the way back to 1989 or so when Marty Schottenheimer was the head coach and guys like Derrick Thomas, Neil Smith and Christian Okoye (aka the Nigerian Nightmare) were making a name for themselves.

Bill in the CAD room at Intelligraphics circa 1989ish.
At the time, the Packers were pretty brutal, so I was big on watching teams that showed a little promise. The Buffalo Bills were my in-laws' team and were really good with Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith and the rest. I loved to watch them but they lived to disappoint, much like my Vikings did back in the 70's with all those super bowl flops.

But I remember seeing the Chiefs and thinking this team was really something. Back then I was working at Intelligraphics Inc, a sweatshop employer in Waukesha focused on utility mapping for phone, electric and gas utilities. I had a good friend, Bill Lee who worked there too. We went to the same gym and made jokes about our weightlifting abilities. And on those weeks where we got our dime raises for the year, we'd take it out on the heavy bag.
Derrick Thomas

One time at the gym we were talking football and I said, "KC is the team to watch. Mark my word!" Bill thought that was kind of prophetic or something and we both had a good laugh about it. As they quickly bowed out of the playoff race that year, Bill reminded me, "Hey, KC. Team to watch. Mark my word."

Well, after Bill took another job somewhere else and we sort of lost touch. On occasion when I'd run into him, he said, "Hey Jimbo. KC. Team to watch?" To which I replied, "Mark my word." We'd both have a good laugh and go our own ways until next time.

Years passed and we got back into touch through the magic of Facebook. We've gone out to lunch a few times, hung out, collaborated on a couple of book trailers and even watched a Packer game together a few years ago.

So, for every year the Chiefs have been in the playoffs, including 2010, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, I've sent him text messages saying, KC. Team to watch. Mark my word."
Christian Okoye

Without fail, EVERY YEAR they seem to find a new way to lose in the playoffs. The two of us have a good laugh and wait until the following fall. Then, when they win their opener, I start the texts again. "Hey. KC..."

Well, this year the Chiefs have ratcheted it up a notch and are one game away from the Super Bowl. They look better than all the other Chiefs teams I've seen over the years, so I think this might be the year. Mark my words.

I do know that if they win today, against the evil empire New England Patriots, I will have to go to lunch with my friend Bill, for Reuben sandwiches at our favorite deli downtown, to laugh and strategize on how we're going to pull them through the big game. Because it's been a few years since a team I cared about was playing in the Super Bowl. (Packers, 2010 for the win.)

So, today I'll say it again.

"KC. Team to watch. Mark my word."

And this time I mean it.

Blogging off...

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...