Thursday, May 23, 2019

North Of Wausau

In a matter of minutes I will be heading north to go fishing with a couple of longtime fishing buddies. It's hard to describe how happy this makes me. It has been a brutal winter and a not-so-nice spring, so this entry into God's country is well timed.

The species of the day will be Smallmouth Bass, though, like most good fishermen, we will take whatever will bite. There will be much smack-talk, a little solving of world problems and an adult beverage or two along the way.

It is my absolute happy place. Sprinkle some of my ashes up there if I don't make it back. (JK!)

Blogging off...


Sunday, May 19, 2019

Small Things

Ed Werstein
Yesterday I was part of a gathering of poets in Riverwest. It was an event called the Bards Against Hunger. It is a Wisconsin version of the movement that was started in New York.

The story behind it is the Bards Against Hunger solicited poems about hunger and poverty from poets all over the U.S. It turns out a large number of poets from Wisconsin submitted poems to the anthology. Through some connection with the editor, Ed Werstein a poet from Milwaukee felt moved enough to take on the task of creating a Wisconsin anthology for the Bards Against Hunger.

I submitted a couple of poems, and the poem, The Guest House, was accepted for publication. While it is nice to have my poem in a book, there is an even greater cause to it.

Ed has made it a point to hold several readings around Southeastern Wisconsin where the contributing poets are invited to read their work. As part of the reading, the poets and the people in the audience are asked to bring either 3 food items or make a small donation. The collected food and money then goes to a local food bank or pantry.

This was my third time reading at one and it was as moving as the other two. The organizer mentioned that over $200 and two bags of food donations were raised through contributions and book sales. I realize this isn't a big deal. At the same time, it IS a big deal. I love the idea of people coming together for a cause, big small or otherwise.

People might say poetry can't change the world, but I would argue different. Yesterday was a small example of a group of people trying to impact the city in a small way. In a conversation with one of the poets there, she said something to the effect that she noticed poets always seem to gravitate toward social issues and social justice. I said I think it's due in part to the empathetic nature of poetic people.

I think there is an element of compassion that goes into writing poetry, and that compassion organically comes out in our actions toward others as part of our common humanity. Maybe I'm making more of it than it is, but I've seen it time and time again. Just this week I talked with Truth Thomas, a famous poet living in Washington DC who has written about social justice - especially with regards to racial relations, and he and I concluded that as a culture and a country, we have to do better. It was a refreshing email discourse.

So, while this is small, small things add up. With as many issues in the world it's hard to find hope. But I find some solace in doing one small thing at a time in hopes that it can have an impact.

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Corporate Laddering

So my daughter got her first "real" job out of college this week. She will be working for the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute at the University of Minnesota. It was one of two U of M jobs she interviewed for last week. She was offered both, and took this one, as it seemed more challenging and like a better fit. As a parent, there is nothing more satisfying than the sound of your kid getting a job. (A paraphrase from a friend.)

That first job after an education is always the hardest. Convincing a potential employer that you are better than the part time job you're currently working is the tricky part. Once you do that and successfully land a job in a career field, you have a leg up as you begin to build experience. You're "in the system" so to speak. It's all skill building and networking after that.
My friend Bill in the CADD room at Intelligraphics Inc. in 1988

My first job out of college was not nearly as lucrative as my daughter's, but it was equally rewarding. I was dating a girl who saw an ad for a mapping job that paid $5.00/hr. I was making more than that at Montgomery Wards, but I saw it as a great opportunity to get some experience.

My friends thought I was a little out of my mind to take a job for so little out of college. They were probably right, but I have not one regret about that job, and here's why.


  • I loved the work. At the time Markhurd Corporation was doing a lot of Department of Defense mapping for the Federal Government. I was manually augmenting contour maps for a warm place in the Middle East where political tensions were high. (Iran). It was the manual process on the front end of a resulting 3D digital map.  
  • It provided the experience I needed to get the next job I got in Wisconsin, doing digital mapping. It didn't pay much more, but as I always told people, I loved mapping so much I joked that I'd do it for free. That job got me the next job and the next one, etc.
  • It grew my network of fellow Geographers. In fact it was one of the guys from Markhurd that gave me the lead on the job in Wisconsin. He and I ended up working three different mapping jobs together, Markhurd, Intelligraphics, and SEWRPC.
Having been blessed with working in a field that I went to school for - a longshot field, at that (Geography) - I am a huge advocate for people doing something for the love of it rather than the money. As the saying goes, if you do it for the love, the money will follow. 

With almost 35 years of experience in the field of Mapping and GIS, I can say that that saying is nothing short of truth. Because, while doing something you love for little pay is nice, a little cushion is even better.

Blogging off...

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mother Love

So, it's Mother's Day, and I am reminded again how lucky I am to still have my mom around. She is 86 and still going strong. I know this because I called her three times last week and she wasn't home. When I finally talked to her last night on the phone to wish her happy mother's day, she said that last week was so busy! She had cards on Monday night, work on Tuesday, cards with church on Wednesday and book club somewhere in there, too. While I talked to her, she was talking to a neighbor about bringing the brats to the cookout. On the go again, so we had to cut our conversation a little short.

It's funny, but it reminded me of the Harry Chapin song Cats in the Cradle. "When you coming home Dad, I don't know when. We'll get together then." (I joked about this all the time with my kids when they would go out with their friends instead of staying home with the parents.)

But don't get me wrong, I'm not saying her busy lifestyle is a bad thing. Frankly, I think it is awesome. It is something to strive for. Forget wanting to be "Like Mike." I want to be like Mary when I get old.

When I was at a preparing for retirement seminar a few years back, they said the single most important thing in retirement is staying engaged socially. It is key to keeping mentally sharp and fundamentally engaged and happy. Well, if that's the case, Mom's going to live forever.

There are many stories of mom's thoughtfulness - too many to count - but one in particular comes to mind. After Donna and I were engaged, we got a small apartment on the East side of Milwaukee. Donna was still out in New York, and I was trying to settle our apartment. Mom and my sister Jane drove down to visit me. When they showed up, she had brought a braided rug, a wastebasket, some cleaning supplies and a few other household items. "It's a housewarming gift, sorta," she said.

Now one would say that any mother would do this, and maybe that is true. I only know that as the "kid that moved away," I had done life on my own and was stubbornly independent. So it meant a ton that she would travel 300 miles to help me and my fiance start our life together. It was proof that you can be a 28 year old adult, but you're still someone's kid. And family is family. You help each other.

If you know my story, or have read my books, you know the background behind my mom and our family. She faced a lot of adversity as a young mother and it fueled her will to persevere and raise us despite it all. When I think of the grief I went through losing my brother, it makes me even more cognizant of her strength to carry on.

And while she had help along the way from my stepfather and other family, there were still incredible stresses she faced when none of them were around. If you ask her how she did it she will say it was her faith, and I can't deny anyone that claim. I would add that she was just doing her best as a mother to set the bar for the rest of us to stretch toward.

I can only hope to do half as much for my own kids.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Postpartum Impressions

It is an interesting time in our lives with both of the kids being out of the house. Things are quieter around here lately, that is usually good, though some days I miss the din of activity that kids bring with them.

But they go on with their lives, living separate young lives, one in Minneapolis, the other in Madison. It is exciting watching them navigate the life of young adults, one in the workforce the other in college. I try and emphasize that these are some of the best years of their lives and that they shouldn't take it for granted, but I think they know. They seem to be making the best of it.

My daughter has not one but two interviews this week, both for positions at the University of Minnesota. One was yesterday - a secretarial job, and the other as an administrative assistant for a supercomputer consortium of some sort. Both look like steps up the employment rung, so we hope and pray for her success. So much of that first real job out of college hinges on getting into a system. From there, one works their way up building experience and employability.

So we cheer from the sidelines and try and get text updates as they happen. As parents, we know the potential of our kids, so we hope and pray that they do well to boost their position in life. When I look back on my own employment journey, I owe much of it to a woman I dated a few times in college. She pointed out an ad for a mapping job in Minneapolis that sounded too good to be true, albeit for a pittance of a salary. I followed up on it and got the job. We broke up shortly thereafter, but I feel God puts these people in our lives sometimes to move us along. Strangely enough, I've been in mapping ever since, going on 34 years now.

My son finished his last final at Madison for his sophomore year. He had four classes, a fairly full load for a student at UW, and did well in most of them. I swear kids have it much harder than we did as students, but maybe I'm not giving myself enough credit. I do know that his GPA last year made me incredibly proud. These kids are WAY better students than I was. It's a different time though too.

Meanwhile my wife and I continue on with our lives, reacquainting ourselves with each other after raising kids for 23 years or so. It has been a weird adjustment, but we've actually done better than I thought we would. One of our standing dates is going for coffee every Saturday morning. It orients us for the coming week and gives us a little undistracted time to work through life. Frankly our discussions of travel and downsizing our house are very attractive subjects for us, so I really look forward to those hours every Saturday.

Despite the sadness that goes with having a kid-free house, we've adapted well. Thankfully we have so many ways of keeping in touch with our kids, that they're never too far. I guess you never stop worrying and cheering for your kids, but we've got a couple that seem to have good heads on their shoulders.
Photo by Roost Photography

I can't wait to see where their lives take them.

Blogging off...

Sunday, May 5, 2019

The Good Fatigue

Well, it was a weekend that provided some hope for the coming of summer. Waukesha actually experienced two consecutive days of high 60s and low 70s. This is a Wisconsin equivalent of two months worth of San Diego weather, where 72 is the norm.

This weather is energizing for anyone with a pulse in these northern states. After five months of wooly sweaters, long pants and hats, we can - at least momentarily - venture out without debating whether we should take our heavy winter coat or our medium weight one. I was even compelled to break out my sandals. This is likely a curse, but it happened.

Our grass is getting unruly and our mower of 20 years use is about beat, so I was tasked with getting a new one. There is something satisfying about a brand new mower. When I mowed today, I didn't have to stop mid cut and tighten the back wheel.

Furthermore, the oil replacement nozzle on the mower is actually in a logical place which should  make the whole maintenance job easier. Like any aging tool or appliance, you kind of get used to accommodating the quirks of a beat product, so it is nice when you just use it the way it was meant to be used, with no hassle. What a concept.

Other than that we've been busy getting the backyard ready for summer. Adirondack chairs are out, hammock stand is setup, picnic table with umbrella is ready to go. Bring it.

My wife laughs at me because when it gets warm like this, I sort of turn back into a kid again. I want to wear shorts, go fishing, go for bike rides, walk the dog and be outside as much as possible. I am even writing this from my backyard because the sun called me out here. It is heavenly.

So as we scurry around "getting stuff done" we end up at the end of the day feeling a fatigue that doesn't happen during the winter months. That is a different kind of fatigue, usually a lethargic, food-coma fatigue that comes with too much darkness and not enough physical exertion.

Now, I hope to get a few more things done before the rain sets in at 7:00 PM, so I gotta go!

Blogging off...


Thursday, May 2, 2019

Sunday Sadday

Sunday was a bad day for me. I woke up sad and despondent for no good reason, and sort of stayed that way all day. I kept trying to bust out of my funk, but nothing seemed to work. I searched around for what I was sad about and couldn't really find anything specific. I was sad about everything. 

I hated my writing and labelled all my successes as a sham, I was sad about my kids being out on their own, I didn't like my house, I hated the weather, felt bad about my aging pets and was even sad that I was still a ways from retirement. I hated everything.

Like I said, I was in a funk. And I never get in funks.

There were a few times during the day I was near tears. For no reason! What the hell is that all about?

Sundays, especially near the evening, are typically the worst day of the week anyway, so this was not a complete surprise. There is the looming Monday morning rat race gun that creates an angst that isn't there the other days of the week. That certainly played a role, but what was weird was the fact that I had NOTHING to be sad about. I have about the best life going a person my age could hope for. 

I have a forever wife, two amazing kids, a job I love, a house, a loving extended family and friends that I would kill for. So, why do I feel like a blanket of despair is over me? Why so sad?

The answer is, I don't know. I chalked it up to "well, these things happen once in a while."

At the same time, there was part of me that knew it was only a temporary state. I am too positive a person to let that kind of thing linger. I knew Monday would be better - as much as that sounds like an contradiction in terms.

And to be truthful, it was. It started a little like a Monday, but got significantly better as the day went on. It piqued with serving the guys at the Guest House, the high point of my day. A bit of advice: If you are ever feeling sorry for yourself, serve dinner to a bunch of guys in transitional housing once. It is an instant attitude adjustment.  

The whole sadness experience made me realize how fortunate I am to never have struggled with depression. I know people who have and I feel for them. I can't imagine being that way for more than one day, let alone so despair filled you can't get out of bed. What a horribly debilitating affliction. 

The good news is I had a decent week. Every day has it's ups and downs, but I have a sort of happiness middle ground line that I walk most of the time. It is my healthy place and I aim to keep walking it. 

Because the other end of that spectrum sucked. It's not me and hopefully never will be.

Blogging off...(Happily)