Thursday, November 28, 2019

Beyond Turkey and Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving has always been a little bit of the prologue holiday for me. The warm-up act before the headliner Christmas. The holiday with a dash of a letdown. I remember as a kid, appreciating the fact that we were all together as a family, but when all was said and done, what was the point of a big, delicious meal, if there was no gift exchange afterward. Of course, my thinking was antithetical to what Thanksgiving was all about, namely being thankful for everything. Your family, your house, your school, your government and even the food before you.

As a kid, those holidays were always big affairs. Of course everything seems bigger when you're young. A couple of times we held it at my grandmother's community room at the Lexington Apartments on Jefferson Avenue. She had some of the affair catered and for some reason, my wife remembers the chef in charge of cutting the turkey had a missing finger, victim of his own knife skills perhaps.

My cousins from White Bear Lake came to these "off site" Thanksgivings and between the two extended families and kids, it grew into a mob affair. The football game was always on the TV and one year even featured the Vikings and Cowboys - It may even have been Herschel Walker years - it's unclear. In any case, it never felt completely the same as when mom or Aunt Helen hosted the holiday.

Thanksgiving on those years at the Portland house set the bar for how to do a  big family dinner, and Mom did it with middle-class elegance and grace. She'd put the bird in the oven at 10:00 it seems, sometimes maybe earlier, it's unclear. She always cooked the dressing inside the bird with sausage and spices that made it moist and delicious - a point of contention amongst those that prefer it cooked separately. I'm sticking with what I know - inside the bird deliciousness.

Everyone invited to Thanksgiving was charged with bringing a dish of some sort. In the later years when we were all adults, my sister Pat became known for bringing the "Green Stuff", a Cool Whip, marshmallow fluff, pistachio pudding concoction with maraschino cherries and other surprises in it. It's a dessert/non-dessert travesty of a recipe, but for the sweettooths in the family, it is a favorite. I love the Green Stuff and eat mountains of it every time I get the chance.

My other sister Jane has built her Thanksgiving notoriety on her dessert selections. She not only overwhelmed the table with a selection of goodies, but she always made enough so everyone had their fill + seconds. The display was photo worthy and a bit of a miracle considering she had three kids to take care of and keep out of dipping into them before the trip to Mom's.

Younger brother Paul always brought his trademark vegetarian lasagna, offering a meatless option for those so inclined. I think it was the product of a spell where he was vegetarian, but I think he's since reverted back to his carnivorous tendencies (though somewhat more selective).

The rest of the family filled in around the edges. Grandma Dagney always brought the much dreaded oyster casserole, an unsavory combination of oysters, mushroom soup, green beans and Lord-God-in-heaven knows what else. My stepfather, Jack, once complimented her on them and she took that as a sign to bring them every year. The adventurous among us would dip into them only if coerced by Mom out of courteous obligation. We recognized that they were prepared with love and good intentions, despite the appearance otherwise. After she passed, they've become the running joke every year.

In the years since Portland, the affair has moved around the family, from sisters to brothers. It has landed squarely at the eldest brother, Tom's house the past number of years. He has a split level house that is conducive to breaking up the mob a bit and spreading the noise and chaos to two levels.

And it seems no matter where the affair is held, it is always shrouded in the love of family, siblings, cousins, grandkids, in-laws, outlaws and friends. There are conversations on who's graduating, who's pregnant and the trials of young parenthood. The uncles tend toward job issues and trials. the fishing season of the past year, the Vikings playoff hopes and the environmental cause of the day. No real problems are solved, but it feels good to have someone who's been there listen for a while over a beer or pumpkin pie.

Because that's what Thanksgiving is really all about. It's not so much the food as it is the person across the table from you. It's taking a few hours out of our frenetic lives to say, these are the important people in my life. And from year to year, the faces change. As a family, those of us in Wisconsin only make it every other year. This year my nephew Nick is in the Middle East in service to our country in the Air Force. He will be missed, especially by his wife and new little boy, Roy, named after his great grandfather, another soul not around the table.

So as you gather with your own family this year, be sure and look around and take it all in. Because if we are not thankful for what we have today, we are probably doing it wrong.
The Green Stuff!
Happy Thanksgiving All!

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Having Fun With It

Yesterday I launched my two new books into the world. In a sense, I had a twin birth. Though these twins are as different as my own two biological kids. One serious, self-motivated and introverted, the other creative, whimsical and a socialite.

I've been looking forward to debuting these two books since about June when I found out I would have two released at the same time. By the grace of God, I received my copies of Genetically Speaking on Wednesday of this week, just in time for the Saturday event. My publisher assured me they would be here probably by the 21st. I worried myself sick until they came on the 20th. God has a sense of humor sometimes.

There was a great crowd at Cafe de Arts, I'd estimate there were more than for The Portland House debut. I was pleasantly surprised by a few faces I had not expected to show up. These are the little joys one needs to focus on in our day to day life. People coming out to support you on a hugely busy Saturday before Thanksgiving.

One of these was a fellow author and colleague, Nancy Jorgensen. She and her daughter Elizabeth both co-wrote a book, Go Gwen Go, about her daughter Gwen who won a gold medal in the Olympics for the triathlon. I've run into one or another of them at three different events recently and was so happy to have Nancy there.

There were so many other surprise showings as well as the faithful dozen that show up to all of my signings. It was a great reunion.

I was humbled by Kathie Giorgio's heartfelt introduction. At one point she referred to me as a "reluctant hero" which I thought was an interesting term. I'd never heard it before, but it seemed appropriate, I guess. I never expected to have one book to my credit, so these last couple have come as sort of a wake up call to the fact that I've built writing into my life. She and her studio got me into this whole writing gig and I've never looked back. I think I'm a better person and have a richer life because of it, so am grateful to the AllWriters community.

The reading went really well, save for a spilled bottle of water that I clumsily tipped over during my talk. The poems were well received  and the audience seemed engaged with their laughter and attention. I first read from Thoughts from a Line at the DMV and finished with half a dozen books from Genetically Speaking: Poems on Fatherhood.

There was a mix of humor and heart throughout the reading, something I like to do to keep interest, but also to show people that I have a serious side to my writing. One never knows what people really think until it's over or until weeks later when they say, "I really enjoyed your reading a while back." We writers perseverate on the perception of people, so to hear a positive comment after the fact is uplifting to say the least.

All in all it was a fantastic afternoon with friends over coffee. Great thanks go out to all of those who showed as well as those who wished me luck despite not being able to make it. A gracious thank you to Ayhan Munzur for opening his shop, Cafe de Arts Roastery for the event. Purveyor of the best coffee in Waukesha, and always a gracious host.

To anyone looking to get books, please email me and I will mail them for the cost + shipping. They make great holiday gifts!

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Performance Art

Last night was the monthly Poetry Night at Mama D's in Wales. These affairs have grown in size over time, and depending on the featured poet, there can be a problem finding a place to sit.

Well, last night we had a poet, Colleen Nehmer, who has quite a following. She had a number of fellow supporting poets come from Milwaukee to hear her read as well as reading their own stuff. It was the most eclectic gathering of personalities we've had there since I've been coordinating it.
Tim Kloss and The Fall of the House of Usher

I was surprised to see Ken Woodall there. Ken is a Milwaukee poet who I saw at a GIS Day event a few years back. I had a great chat with him and found out about his own poetry night at a coffee shop in Riverwest.

Then, there was a 16 year-old who'd never read her stuff in front of a group before. She nailed it and did it with confidence and conviction. Very cool.

But the capper on the night for me was watching Tim Kloss, a well known Milwaukee poet, recite the first several paragraphs of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher." He did it without reading a line, all from memory. It was nothing short of amazing. I admire people who can do that kind of thing, as I can barely memorize my PIN number for my debit card most days.

Like I've said before, these spoken art events, like sand art on a beach, are cool in that if you weren't there to experience it, you miss it forever. That's true of any concert or theater event as well. Being there when the energy is good, well, there's nothing better. So, I'm glad I was.

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Poetically Speaking

As many of you are aware, I have two new poetry books that were recently released. The first, Thoughts from a Line at the DMV, came out in late September. This is a collection of 50+ poems about all sorts of subjects. It is the culmination of about three years worth of work, and I love everything about it.

But it is accompanied by a more recent release, Genetically Speaking: Poems on Fatherhood. This is a much smaller collection of 30 poems, called a chapbook. It was the product of last April's NaPoWriMo, which stands for National Poetry Writing Month. NaPoWriMo is a challenge to write a poem a day for the entire month of April. I entered a challenge by Local Gems Press where, at the end of the month, we were to submit our manuscripts for consideration for publication. Well, mine was one of the ones selected and suddenly I had two books "in-process" at one time.

So the publication process began, and proceeded along at the pace these things usually proceed. Ever since I submitted the final edits, I've been checking Amazon to see if it was up there for sale yet.

Well, at last, on Friday I found it was. (Get it here.)  And though this is my seventh book, there is still a wave of excitement that comes over me when I see my work out there. There is nothing quite like either seeing your book on Amazon or getting that first shipment of books in the mail.

Because of the subject matter, this book holds particular significance and meaning for me. You all know my family story by now, and this book touches upon all the sensitive touchstones of fatherhood for me. Every level of fatherhood is touched upon in it. Biological father, stepfather, father in-law, father figures and, of course, my own fatherhood experience.

Without giving away all of it, suffice it to say the book revealed some deep-seated emotional issues for me, for every level I mentioned. It is not all happy stuff. There is some deep sadness, a little anger and other fun emotions that I don't usually express well. I don't know where it came from as I wrote, I only know I wrote it from the heart. No one has, or is, the perfect parent(s). So, the book addresses the good the bad and the ugly. It is a little outside of my stylistic tendency, but that's maybe what I like about it. It shows the joy, the rawness, and the beauty of fatherhood.

I might add that I am ecstatic about the cover. When the publisher asked for images, I sent them three, two pictures were of the cabin we go to every year, and the third was a picture of my dad with 5 of us 7 kids. The one chosen was my favorite and it came out great. I'd love to know what you think of it.

So, this Saturday, November 23rd, I'll be launching both of these books at Cafe De Arts in downtown Waukesha at 3:30 PM. It will be a lot of laughs and I hope you can make it out. If not, I am also willing to ship one or both signed books for the cost + shipping. Just send me your address.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 14, 2019

GIS For Everyone

Yesterday was GIS Day. For those who don't know, GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems. And if you don't know what that is, you probably don't know what GIS Day is. Well, I'm here to tell you.

GIS Day is a day focused around getting the word out about GIS, what it is, what it can do and why we need it. The running joke is that it is an ESRI sanctioned holiday. ESRI is the company that makes the most-used GIS software in the world. They are based in Redlands California and I actually have a niece and nephew that work for ESRI out there. 

The owner of the company is Jack Dangermond, a  Forbes billionaire who is as down-to-earth as they come. I've had the opportunity to meet and talk to him on a few occasions. In the GIS circles, he has a cult-like following and he makes it a point to meet as many users as he can at their annual Users Conference in San Diego. He's a big deal - at least to us GIS folks.

Anyway, I decided we should do something in recognition of GIS Day at work. Sometimes people remind me that we are a little known entity at the county, so I wanted to make a point of getting the word out. So, my team and I put together a weeklong event called GIS Awareness Week. It features daily presentations on a variety of topics and is aimed at getting the word out about some of what we do in the Land Information Office. The presentations showcase applications, maps and data. 

So far we've had a great week of interacting with other GIS users at every level. I have said it before, but I LOVE my job. I love telling people about GIS and using it to help people do their jobs better. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be able to say I have spent my entire career in mapping and GIS. I have met a ton of great colleagues, smart folks who love the business as much as I do.

So, Happy GIS Day/GIS Awareness Week! 

Hug a GIS professional today!

Blogging off... 





Sunday, November 10, 2019

Figuring It Out

A few things have become apparent during these four days alone in my house. They are things that I might have already known in the back of my mind, but they became clearer as the weekend went along. Some are a-ha moments, others are just petty observations that bubbled up during my moments of painting or in the quiet where all I could hear was my tinnitus.

Some of the things that I've found.

1. Getting unlimited free time does not mean I'll finish my book, write 10,000 words or seven new poems. As much as I would like to devote eight hours of each of these days to writing, it just never seems to happen. My writing coach once said that life tends to get in the way with writing more often than not. In this instance, I had a painting project that beckoned me away after my morning write session. Sometimes I got back to writing, other times not.

2. Regarding that painting project, I realized that, like my mother, I get fairly obsessed with a project once its started. It is a bit of our work-ethic at play, but also some sort of weird OCD-manic-wet-paintbrush syndrome. As long as there is good music on the wireless speaker, it's hard to make myself stop.

3. I miss my kids. I was blessed to have Sarah and her boyfriend Sam come down and stay with me a couple of nights on their way to Chicago. I don't often get time alone with either of my kids, so it was a nice chance to hear what's going on in her life. Having them in the house took away some of my loneliness that usually sets in after my wife being away for 2 days or so.


4. I am fortunate to have an outstanding friend and colleague network. I spent Saturday night at a poetry reading of three poets who I highly respect, Cristina Norcross, Stephen Anderson and Dewitt Clinton. Though I only know them through my writing/poetry channels, they feel like old friends to me. They ask about my wife, kids, writing and even my fishing. We are a tribe of creatives, and we support one another when sometimes it seems like no one else does.

5. My house stays incredibly clean when I'm the only one here. Nothing moves out of its place. It's magical.

6. I miss laughing with my wife. We've had some serious changes to adapt to with having the kids move out, and one nice change is our ability to laugh with one another about our crazy day. We've rediscovered what brought us together and it has been all good.

So, these weekends alone are good for more than just projects and writing time. They remind me of who I am, how much I am loved and what a great network of people I've surrounded myself with. I am a lucky man.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Paint and Pablum

My wife went home to New York with her brother today. They are going to visit their mom who is suffering from dementia, as well as to see her dad, sister and brother in-law.

Meanwhile I have been tasked with painting the bedroom the two of us will be moving into this winter. When our daughter went to college, we decided we wanted the "big bedroom" she was in, because we thought it would be an upgrade. It's funny because over the past six or seven years we've been in it, we've never really taken to it. I guess we got used to the smaller bedroom and in a way it will always be our bedroom. So, we decided to go back to it.

Before we do, we are giving it a coat of fresh paint. I've lamented in the past how much I hate painting and it still stands. I might qualify it with not hating interior painting as much as exterior, but it's still not a favorite activity of mine. Some people say they love the fresh look, etc., that a coat of paint provides. Well, you know what? So do I. I just hate what it takes to get there.

But I realize it has to come from somewhere, so I paint.

As part of my prep for painting the ceiling, I put down tarps all across the floor. These are the plastic, crinkly kind that you get at Menards.

So, last night I was sitting downstairs and I kept hearing this crashing type sound, and I had no idea what it was. It came and went, wasn't consistent, so I wrote it off to the neighbors being noisy. I'm half deaf without my hearing aids, so I thought nothing of it.

Tonight as I was waiting for my dinner to cook, I heard a crashing again. I followed the noise up to the bedroom and saw a lump under the tarps. After a few seconds, out popped Isabelle the cat. She looked right at me like she'd been caught doing something horrible. If cats can look guilty, she was doing it.

I don't know what the point of all of this is. I do know that my house takes on a weird vibe when my wife goes away. The animals get all moody, I get manic after a couple of days and, well, it's just different, and not all in good ways. I always look forward to alone time, but after day two, I'm about ready to have her back on the loveseat across from where I sit every night.

29 years of marriage will do that I guess. You get to a point where you can't imagine life without someone in it. I guess that's what love does. I'm not going to fight it. I can be as happy alone as anyone, but we all have our limits. Talk to me in a couple of days and I'll let you know how it's going.

Until then, I'll paint to pass the time.

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Festival Of The Bookish

Yesterday was day 2 of the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books, arguably one of my favorite days of the year. This was the 10th year of the festival and it featured over seventy authors presenting about their work, the writing process and what's next.

This festival always starts on Friday by hosting a series called Authors in the Schools. It features sending over a dozen authors into area high schools to talk to students about writing.

I've been a part of this for about four years now and have come to really enjoy it, despite my loathing of the spotlight. It's become clear to me that if you do enough of this you can achieve a comfortable level of discomfort in front of a crowd.

Laughter from the crowd helps.

This year I spoke to 55+ students from an AP Composition class at New Berlin Eisenhower High School. The talk went very well. I spoke for 55 minutes and took questions for 5 minutes. Students were courteous and engaged and none fell asleep, a plus for sure. The coordinator was kind enough to treat me to lunch as well. Perhaps the coolest part of it all though was the fact that they bought 5 of my books and put them into the library system.

Then, Friday evening and yesterday, I spend the day with colleagues, friends, authors and poets from all around Wisconsin at the book festival. Friday night featured Andre Dubuus III, author of House of Sand and Fog. He was an incredible speaker and I really enjoyed his keynote. He talked about how his tough upbringing in a violent, poor, lower middle class area of Massachusetts turned him to writing. He also described how he has a soundproof studio where he goes to write for 3-4 hours a day and starts every session by reading a poem to get his creative juices flowing.

Saturday was a full day for me. I started at a session on memoir by Lila Schwenk, Julie Beekman and Nancy and Liz Jorgensen, mother and sister of Gwen Jorgensen, the US Olympic Gold Medalist at Rio in 2016. It was fun listening to the struggles of other memoir/nonfiction writers. It's good to know I'm not alone out there struggling to tell the story correctly without offending family and friends. I also bought Go, Gwen, Go, the book about the Gold Medalist because the story sounds so compelling.

The rest of the day was filled with words and friends. I had the privilege of moderating three accomplished poets, Angie Trudell Vasquez, Fabu, and Drew Blanchard, who read from their books and talked about their inspiration.

It was interesting to hear their stylistic differences. The poem that hit me hardest was by Fabu and repeated the line about an "Unnamed negro from Green Bay..." that spoke about the death of one of the first black residents in Wisconsin. She spoke about the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first slaves on American soil from Africa. Some tragic visualizations and powerful words.

The day was filled from end to end. The last session myself and others read from the Bards Against Hunger poetry anthology put together by Ed Werstein. Again, some heart wrenching poems about hunger and poverty at the local level. Poetry speaking the truth and seeking social change.

A lot of thanks goes out to the many organizers, sponsors and volunteers of this great festival. I sat on the program committee and saw firsthand the amount of planning that goes into it. It is a credit to Barry Wightman and the rest for putting on a first class festival.

I can't wait for next year.


Blogging off...