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
-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


and with them went
beautiful smiles
dinner conversations
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.

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