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...

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Keep On The Sunny Side

So I achieved a bit of a writing milestone this week.

For a while now, I've been trying to get published in one of my favorite magazines of all time, The Sun.  A few years ago when they were only accepting submissions by mail I sent a story or two only to get polite rejections back by mail a few months later.

More recently they have started taking digital submissions for their issues. This makes the submission process much easier, though I am guessing it makes the acceptance percentage much lower. Most of these magazines get hundreds if not thousands of submissions for each "Call for Submissions." Because of this their rejection or, "slush pile" as it is called, probably gets much bigger.

The Sun features a section called Readers Write, devoted to a topic that is structured entirely around readers' stories. Most of these stories are only two to four paragraphs long and take different twists on the theme at hand.

The topics are posted months in advance of the publication date which allows the editors to filter through the submissions. The theme for July of 2019 was "Smoking," so I thought I had the perfect story for it. Click here to link to the story.

So, I typed my submission and sent it in. Because I am submitting my work to multiple places at a time, I sort of forgot that I had sent this one in. It happens.

Then, on Monday of this week, my wife got the mail and said "Why are you getting a manila envelope from The Sun?" I wasn't sure, frankly, so I opened it up to two copies of the magazine and a note informing me that my piece, had been accepted and I was awarded a free year to my subscription! I remembered that I had submitted the article and I can't say how happy it made me.

Now, it was a short article, and not a feature story. But when you look up to a publication, like I do to The Sun, it's sort of a big deal as a writer. It's a decent source of validation for me. I am probably making more of it than I should, but hey, cut a guy some slack.

My next step, I guess is getting a full featured story into it. I've got a few ideas, but no time at the moment. It would only be like the biggest accomplishment of my writing life to have it happen, so I think I have to keep trying.

I have a bunch more submissions out and about, so I hold hope that they will get recognized.

But for the moment, I'm going to rejoice in this one a bit. Maybe I'll even celebrate with a cigarette.

Blogging off...



Sunday, June 16, 2019

Fathered By Inspiration

My Dad and Mom. 
I thought it might be relevant to post a poem for Father's Day. I'd recently taken part in a 30 day "Poem a Day Challenge" where I'd chosen the theme of Fatherhood. I figured I'd go back to that collection and pull one from it.

As I sifted through the 30 poems, the emotions were a little all over the place. The whole exercise at the time was fairly revealing about some deep seated perspectives of the various fathers in my life, as well as my own experience. Having been away from the collection for a couple of months, it was weird looking back through them.

Father in Law, Dick

They were about my three fathers, blood, step and in-law. Each hits their own nerve or dredges up feelings of joy and angst.

There is even reference to my mother-as-father as well as other "fill ins" like older siblings, uncles and the like. When you don't have a steady father, you tend to find other ways to fill that void. And finally there are a few that address others in my life who have lost a father.
My stepfather, Jack and Mom
And I am waiting to see if that collection wins/places/shows in the contest that comes after they were all written and submitted.

The thing is, if they don't I have a decent feeling that they will get published elsewhere. It is too relevant and universal of a topic to not have broad appeal. Not to mention I think some of these are really strong works. They certainly came from within and from the heart. I can't wait to find a home for them. I think they need to breathe.
My whole heart.

To be sure, some of them cut to the core. I don't mince words, when maybe I would have in the past. But I think that's what makes a good poem a better one. As I said, I was a little taken aback looking back through them. Some real hurt coupled with tons of joy and good moments.

So on this Father's day I'll be spending it with my wife and son serving ice cream at the Purple Door Flavor Contest in Milwaukee. And I will appreciate every moment with him - as I do these days - recognizing that neither of us is getting any younger. I can only say that being a dad is the biggest legacy I can claim to leave the world, namely two great kids. I am filled with pride every time I speak their names. I love you Sarah and Benjamin.

Here is one that speaks to that.

114 Reasons I Love Being A Dad               

I saved a school assignment of
my daughter’s that reads
114 Reasons My Dad is Super

It ranges from the obvious
He reads to me.
He nice.
He takes me to the park.

To the hearfelt
He dances with me
He’s a speisal dad
He takes care of me

To the admittedly hilarious
My dad sings in the sower
My dad fixed our toilit.
He reads adult books.

And even downright fabrications
He makes me cookies (Lie! Ask my wife)
He jogs with me (I did?)
Dad feet smell. (Hey!)

These 114 memories of hers are
now memories of mine and serve
as a reminder that the days are
long and the years short.

Never underestimate your
actions as a parent

they are watching.


Blogging off...

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Rebel Without A Bike

A buddy of mine recently joined a motorcycle gang. Well, it's not what you think. The gang is titled Rebels On A Mission (ROAM). The group is centered around advocating for kids that have been bullied. I didn't get to talk to him at great length about it, but it sounds like they seek out kids that have been bullied or physically abused in school or at home.  Then they will do things like escort them to school on their motorcycles or other protective things.

They recently had a call for a used (pedal) bike donation so they could give away bikes to inner city youth at an event later in June.

It is a great cause, but it got me thinking about a motorcycle again. My brother recently sold his Harley Davidson, and so the subject keeps coming up. I used to ride a lifetime ago, though my bikes were all small, Japanese things, Hondas and Yamahas.

Tall man on a little bike!
And while I haven't ridden in years, I won't go so far as to say I'll never ride again. I used to REALLY love the feeling of freedom I had on a bike, the wind in my hair, when I had it. Yes, I know they're dangerous. I still stand by the argument that anyone who says, they won't ride because it's dangerous has probably never experienced the exhilaration of riding one. Because there are some dangerous things in a lot of things we do, one just has to weigh the price.

A few of my old friends still ride. One who used to own a Japanese bike back in the day finally  bought a Harley that he'd always wanted about 10 years ago. I give him credit for following through. And while I don't necessarily have to have a Harley, I would consider a large imported bike or maybe an Indian or Victory motorcycle.

Of course any pursuit of that aging dream will probably have to wait until I retire. There's still too much on the line to risk it.

But there are days when it sure would feel good.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Slaying Dragons

I gave a presentation at Muskego High School last Tuesday. The daughter of my ex-boss is in charge of the Media Center and recommended my books to a teacher of Applied Composition an English elective for seniors. She gave the kids three options for memoirs to read, one was Lucky Bastard by Joe Buck, there was my book Dirty Shirt and there was a third one. Six of the students chose Dirty Shirt and so the teacher asked if I would be willing to come in and talk about the book.

Now, any time I have an audience where people took the time to buy, then read my book, I always jump at the chance. This is how you build an audience, but for me its as much about the personalization that comes with knowing an author. I know the readings I've gone to with some big authors have allowed me to put a face and a personality to the book. That takes the author/reader relationship to another level, in my opinion.

So I brushed off my PowerPoint presentation for the book, updated it and brought it into the classroom. There were probably 18-20 students whose attention I had for 50 minutes. I ran through the slides and inserted my jokes, stories and reading snippets throughout the presentation. I also showed the book trailer that we made for the book five years ago (Yikes!).

I can only say I was very, very impressed with the level of attention and engagement I had with the students. They were quiet, respectful and courteous. (And no one fell asleep, a bonus.)

But what occurred to me is how far I've come with regards to presenting in front of a group. What once struck the fear of God in me is now just another gig. As I've been forced to do it more and more with both of my books and my poetry, it has become much more natural and relaxed for me.

Sure there are anxious moments here and there, but overall, it is almost always a very positive experience for me. Part of it is being hyper-prepared. I always have a script or PowerPoint to go from and I work through the event in my head before taking the podium. Then, as with most of my public persona, I try and lighten things with a little humor. It warms up the audience and lets them know that this will be no TED talk, but it will be a lot of fun.

So while this may seem like a little thing to any of you who are energized or super proficient at public speaking, know that it is a huge thing for me. I still feel I am an introvert even though my wife claims I have moments of ambivert in me. For me it still takes everything in me to get up there and talk.

In the past, when the presentation was over, I was usually drained. That has changed a bit to where I am now almost a little energized. That is a huge shift for me.

At the same time, while I may seem totally comfortable talking to people, I am much more in my element alone on my laptop with my ear buds in writing the story I am telling you about. I fully realize though that the public speaking part of the craft is completely necessary and I'm committed to doing it the best I can.

It's a dragon I will slay, one talk at a time.

Blogging off...


Sunday, June 2, 2019

Driftlessly Appealing

It has been a whirlwind week of travelling for me. After a two day conference in Eau Claire, Donna and I took a vacation in the Driftless Area of Southwest Wisconsin. For those unfamiliar, this is a hilly region of the state that was "missed" by the last glacial period. It is one of those areas I've only really visited once or twice, and then it was just to go camping at Wildcat Mountain and Canoeing down the Kickapoo River.


In a nutshell, the place is absolutely stunning. Hills, coulees and valleys are dotted with idyllic agricultural vistas, horse and cattle in pastureland and lots and lots of streams. There is a fairly high Amish population in the region and it was so cool to see them farming using a team of horses and a sit-plow/tiller. The area was green, and lush, and fertile. Frankly the whole place gave me a sense of hope and made me ashamed of the whole concept of mega farm agribusiness. I know these places are not the norm, nor could they feed large populations, but it sure seems like they're doing everything right. The cows looked happy.

The proprietor of the cabin we stayed in said there are over 250 miles of Class A streams in the driftless region. Now, I'm not a trout fisherman, but with all of the Class A Trout streams in the area, I had to give it a try.

So, I took my non-trout fishing ultralight rod and spinning reel out yesterday with the goal of catching a fish. One fish would have been one more than I expected. Trout are hard to catch, and stream fishing is difficult and tricky.

Well, I successfully landed 5 fish and lost a couple more. A couple of the ones I managed to bag would have made a good meal, but alas, I am a catch and release guy. If I knew more about how to prepare them, I'd have given it a go, but I had no bag, nor a stringer. As I said, I'm not a trout fisherman.

But the whole experience was so much fun. I think of trout fishing as a "thinking man's fishing." It takes a special breed to strap on waders an whip a fly rod hundreds of times to catch the elusive trout. But that same challenge makes catching one even more special. I did all of my fishing from shore, but I think I still would like to learn how to fly fish and see what the secret is. I've done most every other kind of freshwater fishing, so maybe it's time.

I do know that I've fallen in love with a new part of the state. The resort we stayed at was the Kickapoo Valley Ranch near La Farge, Wisconsin. The host Cowboy Joe was gracious and helpful. His partner Cowboy David, is a baker and makes phenomenal cookies, among other bakery. I can't say enough good about the place.

To top off the trip, we had dinner at the Driftless Cafe in Viroqua. I have one word of advice. GO! I had the beef tenderloin with potatoes, gravy and kale and it was off-the-hook! Certainly one of the top five meals I've ever had dining out. I enjoyed it with a traditional Wisconsin Old Fashioned that was dang good too.

All in all, it was a really cool couple of days. It is hard to put into words what the experience meant to me. Some quality quiet time with my favorite travelling partner, Donna. It's trips like these that rejuvenate a marriage - a reminder of why we chose each other.

They are also a reminder that it's good to be alive.

Blogging off...