Sunday, March 22, 2020

Isolation Innovation

I've noticed a number of positive attempts at keeping people engaged or connected or just looking up during the Coronavirus isolation that we're all working through. Here's a rundown of 10 of them, some I've heard of, some I've participated in.


  1. Visual and Word prompts for writing. A friend posts a picture and an inspirational message and people are encouraged to write a paragraph, story or poem about it. Great for writer types and writer wannabes
  2. Art: A friend posts a digital blank picture and friends are encouraged to color it using MS Paint, Photoshop or real art materials.
  3. My digital art!
    Hatpy Hour where a bunch of friends all get a hat and a drink and hang out on Zoom.
  4. Virtual Church gatherings using Google Hangouts
  5. 5:00 Happy Hour outdoors & "meet your neighbor". A friend parked his lawn chair on his lawn with a couple on either side 6' away or more, in hopes a neighbor would sit down and chat.
  6. Virtual writing critique groups using Zoom. Writers share work by email then talk about them in Zoom. Same thing for Book Groups.
  7. Video sharing of an angry love song lyric as a recited poem. You take an portion of a famous love song and speak the lyrics in an angry voice. It's like poetic karaoke. Fun!
  8. Mini Concerts: Someone on Facebook posted that once a day at 6:00 PM or so, they put their big speakers on their porch and blast one song really loud. The neighbors all go outside and wave their phones like it's a concert. As long as the music is good, sounds fun!
  9. Musicians that were schedule to do live events at bars are broadcasting them on the web instead.
  10. Family Connection Groups. My extended family created a temporary facebook group that anyone of us can post to. It is a way of checking up with one another, encouraging family interaction and story sharing.
Despite all of the bad that this isolation is bringing upon everyone, it is also bringing about some innovation by people in order to stay connected (and sane, I would add.) Some cool ideas to go along with all of the hilarious memes I'm seeing and sharing on social media.

If you have any other ideas, share them with me on Facebook. I may or may not need them.

In the meantime, hang in there. We'll get through this.

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 19, 2020

This Is Not A Drill

I can't seem to fathom what is ahead for all of us over the next several weeks. Working from home, everything under the sun is closed, no gathering, no social events, and on and on.

If I think about it too hard, I want to go fetal and rock in a corner. Of course, as an introvert, the ability to say no to everyone without guilt is sort of freeing, so that part is welcome. But beyond that, the seclusion, isolation and distancing are not even the hardest parts. It is the loss of routine and balance. It is the ripple effects of a stagnant economy. And, maybe most of all, it's the unknown - the not knowing what's coming next. No one seems to know, so here we sit. Alone.

On Tuesday, most of the Parks and Land Use employees who could work from home were told to do so. I quickly set up a home office and after changing out some old equipment, have made myself comfortable upstairs. And these first two days have been strangely productive. It's amazing what a person can get accomplished with no one else around. So, in that respect, it has been good.

Work aside, I take daily walks outside during which I am occasionally overcome with a sense of apocalyptic dread. The reduced traffic (added to by the construction on Barstow, a main street near us) makes everything eerily quiet. There seems to be less planes in the air as well. Streets are empty or close to it.

Much of this is a good thing, don't get me wrong. It's opened up my eyes to how frantic we've become as a society. With no where to go, life slows down. If nothing else, it has made me aware of how packed my schedule was - and I'm not even that busy most days. It is nice to kind of chill and not fret about where I need to be tonight, next week or next month. It is freeing.

There's no place like work...from home.
This seems like the world's biggest social experiment, and people are stepping up to the plate. I do see more people out walking and running, which is refreshing. I have also seen more online activities and social networking than ever, much of it involving creative endeavors. The social media memes and videos are hilarious in the midst of the plight we're all in. Everyone is pulling together, figuratively at least, and when this blows over, we'll all have a better understanding of who we are.

In the meantime, keep your distance, wash your hands and slow down.

We'll get through this.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The View From The Bunker

Typically today I would post a "Picture My Life" post on this blog. Those posts started as a creative exercise a few weeks back and I've had fun with them.

But I'll be honest, like many of you I've been sorta obsessed with the impending doom of the coronavirus pandemic we're all facing.

It has occupied my mind space worse than anything ever has, I think. I google about it. I check Twitter and Facebook for updates about it. And worst of all, I can't not think about it. It's right there - all the grim reports and updates - staring us down as a country and a world.

The closest thing I think I can compare it to was Operation Desert Storm, when I would come home from work and watch the war on Kuwait on the news. EVERY NIGHT. We had not had involvement in a war like that in a while, so I was fairly obsessed.

So it goes today, except with Coronavirus. 

I am of an obsessive enough nature that I know I am going to have to find something constructive to do with my time, or I will go insane. Especially if we are told to work from home. That really sounds like a mixed blessing at this point. I love my work. But just as much, I love my workplace, my coworkers and the environment. 


But I realize in order to save lives, we will be asked to not do what we once did. We will be encouraged to isolate and distance ourselves from people. 

More anxiety and dread with your salad, sir? Oh, yes. Heap it on.

I hate what this pandemic has revealed about the humanity we have become. A selfish, panic stricken bunch of toilet paper hoarders. Me first. I got mine!

So it will be my aim in the coming weeks and months to remain level-headed, compassionate, and as calm as I can. I need to limit my news, maximize my creative outlets and make the best of a horrible situation.

This weekend my daughter surprised us by coming home from Minnesota with her boyfriend, Sam. My son Ben was down from Madison as well. It was SO good to be together with them again. It was a reminder that no matter what happens out there, we are a strong, loving family. We've got each other and a half a dozen ways to keep in touch. I aim to do more of that as we all weather the storm together. 

Because right now, that's about all I've got to lean on.

Stay safe, stay home and stay strong.

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Picture My Life - 2004

As part of a creative exercise, I'm taking a picture from every year of my extensive photo collection and writing about it. I use the month and date to determine the folder # and picture #. This random but measured system will provide a glimpse into the people and places of my past.

This shot comes from 2004. It was taken by a stranger because I wanted to capture the moment together with Ben at a Brewers game. We had a seat in left field - not sure how I got tickets, but it's not like me to go to a lot of games, so I probably got them free. 

I do remember that Ben Sheets pitched out of his mind and threw at least 11 strikeouts, if not more. 

The picture reminds me of my days in the Big Brothers program in the late 80s when I had a "little brother" that absolutely loved the Brewers, and the game of baseball. We went to a ton of games together because BB/BS always seemed to have free tickets. This kid, Michael, was a baseball nut. He quoted stats and knew the history of most of the guys on the team. All during a time when the Brewers were brutally bad. It's  nice to have them back winning, though, as I said, I'm not much of a baseball fan.

I'll always treasure these moments with Ben, though at the time, I think he had as much or more fun at the little playground they had at the stadium, than he did watching the game. I remember another game that he and I and my father in-law attended where the kids got to run the bases, which was another pretty cool moment for him, his grandfather and me. 

And now it seems with all the mania that is coronavirus, the season may never start. I'm not sure what to think of this whole hysteria, but I do know that going to a stadium with 45,000 other potential carriers is probably one of the worst ideas ever. So it goes.

Blogging off... 

Sunday, March 8, 2020

International Women's Day

With today being International Women's Day I'd like to call out a few that have impacted my life in significant ways. There's really too many to count, including Elizabeth Warren who just dropped out of the Presidential race. She was my first pick in part because I think it's high time we give a woman a chance at running the country. Lord knows there's been enough middle of the road or downright inept men running it at times in our history. Well, evidently we're not ready for that yet, so maybe as a VP.

I'll start with the obvious, my mom. She'll be 87 in a few weeks and is still kicking. In fact when I typically call her on a Sunday evening, she's usually entertaining or on her way out the door to some social event. She almost single handedly raised 7 of us right and lived to tell about. A feat of human strength if you ask me.

Of course there's my wife. The past three years we've been adapting to an empty nest around here with both our kids out on their own. I was a little worried about the transition and how we'd fare, but it's be nothing but good as we've rediscovered what brought us together in the first place. She keeps me sane and puts up with my need for creativity, exercise and fishing. I am blessed.

My daughter, one of the kindest, smartest and funniest souls I can think of. I am incredibly proud of the woman she's become and can't wait to see where life takes her.

I'd have to say my sisters and sisters in-law for all they've done in their part as the village that helped us raise our kids. They love our kids like their own, and much like we did with their kids on college, they helped ours out during their time at the U of M and UW Madison.

My nieces with kids for the mothers they've become.

The women I work with at the County, whether behind the scenes or on the forefront, their work is as important as the highest elected official.

The women of my writing community. They cheer me on and call me out when my stories go astray, which is like every fourth sentence or so. I appreciate their attention to detail and their cheers when I have success.

The women of CollectiveMKE, my church community. Strong women muddling their way through their faith walk with the rest of us. I love laughing and learning alongside them.

All of the women politicians who stand up for what is right and just. Those who question the patriarchy and keep them accountable. Our country needs good, strong leaders from both male and female.

My mother in-law as she courageously battles dementia. For all she's done in the past to raise her kids, I am forever indebted. I miss her laughter and connection but know she's still doing the best she knows and loves us all.

So, to all of the women in my life, thank you for all you do!



Sunday, March 1, 2020

Picture My Life - 2003

As part of a creative exercise, I'm taking a picture from every year of my extensive photo collection and writing about it. I use the month and date to determine the folder # and picture #. This random but measured system will provide a glimpse into the people and places of my past.

The picture for this post came from 2003. It was taken at my in-laws house at Christmas time. There is so much to like about it. So much joy. So much energy. So much happiness. So much anticipation.

Back when the kids were young, we used to drive out to New York every other year or so for Christmas. It was always a grueling 12 hour drive across 6 states, a feat of strength when you're toting 2 kids in a car or van. But when we arrived, it was all worth it. Just watching the cousins play together was payment enough. 

The photo shows my sister in-law, Jill flipping her daughter Halle over her head in what looks like a dangerous move, but is actually harmless. As a gym teacher by profession, she was always active and rough and tumble with our kids. It was all good as you can tell by the line of kids waiting for their turn at the maneuver. 

Some other things I like about the picture is the sparkle in the kids' eyes. They shine with the twinkle of Christmas and excitement. This moment is an escape from the wintry weather and the struggles of school. Kids need play and horse-around time and this game embodies both. I used to treasure wrestling on the living room floor with my kids when they were younger than this. Nothing better.

The matching shirts is another noticeable thing in this photo. There was a day when my parents in-law had matching sweatshirts made up that had a Christmas tree and a Cornucopia stitched on them. We all wore them during our time together known as "Thanksmas", the weekend after Thanksgiving when we celebrated both Thanksgiving and Christmas together either out here or in New York. When the kids outgrew the sweatshirts, we went with a single matching color, namely Christmas red. (Though these shirts look pink, they were really red.) It was one of those quirky family traditions that I'm glad we had. One the kids will always remember.

There are times I'd like to go back to these moments for just a few hours. They were hard times as a parent, but rich times in the memories department. 

We did our best, and from the looks of this photo, the kids were happy to be there.

Blogging off...

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Picture My Life - 2000

As part of a creative exercise, I'm taking a picture from every year of my extensive photo collection and writing about it. I use the month and date to determine the folder # and picture #. This random but measured system will provide a glimpse into the people and places of my past.

This photo comes from the year 2000. It was taken on a city bench outside a favorite restaurant of ours in Myrtle Beach, the Sea Captain's House. The kids on the ends are my own, Sarah left and Ben right. The two in the middle are my nieces by my sister and brother in-law. 

For a time when the kids were growing up, Myrtle Beach was an Easter weekend destination for us and our New York family. They drove down from Rochester and we drove 20 hours from Wisconsin. We rented a condominium across the road from the ocean beach. It was an escape from the long winter and cool spring for both families as well as my Mother and Father in-law. 

If you put me in front of a beach, I'll sit there all week, so Myrtle Beach was a bit of heaven for me. Of course the kids loved it because they had a week together with their cousins, as shown in the picture. 

The picture says a lot about where we were as parents. Sarah never liked having her picture taken, so many of her shots look forced. Ben, on the other hand was at that distractible age of almost 2 years old. Halle and Leah in the middle are doing their best to smile in hopes that it will all be over soon. 

But the picture also reminds me of how much work it was during those days. The lifting, and diapering and dressing and feeding and consoling was a relative constant. This is not to say it overshadowed all of the joy and love that was part of it, only that the endless, sometimes exhausting duties sometimes tempered the ability to soak it all in.

There are days I'd love to have my kids back at this age for a couple of days, just to remind me what it was like. I miss so much of it, but I'm sure a couple days back at it would change my perspective in a hurry. I do love my college and college-graduate kids as much as I did these little ones. 

But still, that picture though...

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 23, 2020

A Statewide Network: WLIA v.2020

I spent late last week in Middleton at the Wisconsin Land Information Association's Annual Conference. This is a statewide gathering of Geo/Map Geeks that features keynote speakers, GIS presentations, workshops and networking.

For a number of reasons, both organizational and personal, this year's conference was one of the best yet.

For starters, one of the Keynote speakers was Jack Dangermond, president of the Environmental Systems Research Institute, better known as ESRI. While this doesn't mean much to the average person, he is sort of a hero in GIS circles. He pioneered GIS back in the '80s and went on to startup the most successful GIS software company in the world.

Jack was gracious enough to attend and present a keynote address. I was fortunate to be granted a short conversation with him and a couple of my peers while he signed a few books. The four of us talked about the esri User Conference, esri products and a little about what we were working on at the statewide level. For a man of his notoriety, he was gracious, humble and down to earth. A pleasure to chat with. The books he signed were used for the silent auction and 50/50 raffle and, in some cases, sold for more than the cover value.

I was in charge of the silent auction and 50/50 raffle again this year and due to the generosity of the donors and bidders, we raised over $6,000 toward scholarships for college students pursuing degrees in GIS and Geospatial Studies. It was a conference record from that standpoint.

Because I was busy chasing around for the auction/raffle most of the time, I really didn't get to many sessions. But those really are the heart and soul of the conference. A ton of content and some fantastic sessions (I'm told), including a couple by colleagues from my office.

The map contest was a fun event as well. This year it featured the judges doing an exercise where twe had 5 minutes to draw a map of Wisconsin on a small sheet of paper - essentially the size of a cocktail napkin. It was a test of ad-hoc artistry among a bunch of people who were in charge of judging the maps immediately following.

The map contest ended well for myself as my maps took second place in the "most unique map" category. My entries were a Map/Art collaboration with artist Sara Risley who took a 3D surface model of Landfills and Lakes in Waukesha County and added her artistic touch to them. There were a ton of other amazing maps in the contest as well. Colter Sikora does a fantastic job with the event year after year.

One of the highlights from a supervisory standpoint was watching my colleague Chris Dickerson receive an Emerging Leader Award on stage near the end of the conference. This is a new award category that seeks to recognize GIS professionals that are making an impact in the first 7 years of their career. I am incredibly fortunate to work with three very talented GIS professionals in my office and so it was nice to see this kind of recognition. Another one of them is a board member charged with organizing much of the conference. Waukesha County is nothing if not engaged within WLIA.

My only regret about the conference was not getting to talk to a number of peers that I'd hoped to talk to over the course of the event. I tend to turn on my inner-extrovert at these conferences and can't get enough of people. Time never allows me to talk to those I want to, and if it does, it's never for long enough. So, if I missed you or was in the middle of rushing to one thing or another, I apologize. Let's get a beer or coffee soon!

The biggest surprise of the whole conference though, was an appearance by a small contingent of the UW band. They marched in during the Thursday social event and played a few songs in the exhibit hall. It was a treat and meant even more to me being my son is a junior at UW Madison.

On Wisconsin! 

Overall it was an amazing conference from both a personal and professional perspective. I often say I love my job and this conference was a reminder of how lucky I am to be surrounded by such a
supportive group of people and peers. I'm just grateful to be a little part of it.

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Picture My Life - 1999

As part of a creative exercise, I'm taking a picture from every year of my extensive photo collection and writing about it. I use the month and date to determine the folder # and picture #. This random but measured system will provide a glimpse into the people and places of my past.

This picture was taken in Hackensack, Minnesota, which not only has a great placename but was also the source of my Minnesota family's cabin for a few years in the late '90s. My mother was always good about getting the whole family together at a cabin for a week every year. It started in
Forest Lake, then moved to Aitkin for many years, later to Hackensack, and finally up to Mercer, Wisconsin.

This week away was always highly anticipated by both adults and kids. It was a chance to fish, swim, read and relax for 7 straight days. The tradition continued until about 8 years ago when the kids were starting to get jobs and such that made justifying the trip a little harder. Now it's dwindled to single families going up, usually on different weekends when they can.

But this trip in 1999 was when everybody was in. We drove 8 hours from Wisconsin to get there, which is no small feat given the ages of our kids in this picture, Sarah (4) and Benjamin (1). I remember those car rides - feats of strength and stamina. 

One of the things I love about this picture is how young and happy we look. We were just starting up into the hard years of parenting where it seems that some days, all you do is meet the physical needs of your kids - eating, dressing, pooping, repeat. Oh, to have some of that energy back. Young kids are nothing but energy and happiness and tantrums and work. It's amazing that we actually got them to sit still for this shot.

Pictures like this make me miss their littleness. I used to love putting them on my shoulders or carrying them around on my hip. The tickling and the snuggling and the wrestling. Loved the wrestling. The time goes so fast. I know I made the best of it at the time. I made it a point to be there for my kids, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't give a few days of my life to go back to this time for a bit. I guess that is what grandparenting must be about.

There are a couple of things that caught my eye about this shot. Donna is wearing a Myrtle Beach T-Shirt. Myrtle Beach was another vacation destination for our young family every few years. We met Donna's family down there and we all hung out on the beach and by the pool. 

I am wearing a Geomedia T-Shirt which was a GIS Software from a previous life. A year later, in 2000, we switched to ESRI's software, so now I wear those T-shirts. Ha! I was three years into my "new job" at Waukesha County and beginning to build a legacy there. I am fortunate to still be there 21 years later. 

Those days at the cabin with young kids were good years. Fishing on the dock with them, swimming, catching frogs, boat rides and lots of time with cousins and aunts and uncles. The adults would get together over some well-earned adult beverages while the kids played together. I specifically remember getting a 2-hour reprieve from kids on the last night and going fishing with my brother Rob. The only reason I remember it was because we laughed so hard in that boat over the difficulties of parenting. I almost split a gut. It was cathartic. I miss that boat time with Rob.

I sincerely feel that those times together with extended family brought all of us closer together. It gave us the chance to get below the superficialities of life and laugh a little while we all relaxed and had smores over the fire together. I highly recommend it. 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Picture my Life - 1989

As part of a creative exercise, I'm taking a picture from every year of my extensive collection and writing about it. I use the month and date to determine the folder # and picture #. This random but measured system will provide a glimpse into the people and places of my past.

This post's picture is of my wedding day, obviously. We were married in June of 1990, so I'm not sure why this picture was filed in the 1989 folder, but it happens.

The occasion was certainly one of the happiest days of my life, despite the 93 degree mid-June heat. After months of planning from 750 miles apart, we were finally in the midst of our day. 

My whole family made the trek out to Canandaigua for the wedding. Many of them continued on in a sort of east coast vacation afterward. I can't say enough about how much it meant that they all made it out. 

We were married in a beautiful, quaint Methodist Church in tiny little Gorham, New York. It was like Mayberry without Andy Griffith. The church was warm and my best man saved the day by handing me a Bounty paper towel to wipe my brow every few minutes. He knew I was sweating for more than one reason. Ha!

After the wedding, we drove 15 minutes to the Geneva Rod and Gun Club. It was situated on Seneca Lake and the lake breeze gave a little respite from the heat. After a meal and some speeches from the wedding party, the DJ took over and we all cut a rug. As you know, dancing is my thing. I love it. Until I see myself on the videotapes of that day when I get a little horrified. But, as I said in the past, the dance flo' is where I lose all inhibitions. That's what it's for. It's cathartic.

But I digress.

When the reception wound down, a large boat pulled up and Donna and I boarded. We motored across the lake to Donna's Chevette (A bit of a reality check, here.) From there we drove to the Taughanook Inn where we spent a couple nights on our honeymoon. The whole day was dreamlike. 

This summer we will celebrate 30 years together. It all started in a small town on a hot day surrounded by family and friends. Life is crazy.

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Picture My Life - 1987

I'm taking a new approach on my blog posts for the next while. As a creative exercise, I've decided to write about a picture. I'm calling it the blog series, Picture My Life. I will try and write how this photo, this moment captured in some cases decades ago, has made me who I am, or changed how I look at life.

I keep all my pictures on my laptop ordered by year. And because I have a zillion photos on my laptop, I decided to walk my way through with a method to my madness for determining which one is chosen.

To choose it I will take the date of the post and use it as my criteria for which picture is chosen. For example, I'll use the month as what drives the subfolder I choose, so February would be the second folder. Then, I'll choose the picture from that folder as the day of the post, so the 9th would be the 9th photo in that folder.

So, starting with my first folder, the year is 1987, and the photo is me and my godson Nicolas, goofing around with a Jack in the Box at Christmas.

This picture was taken by my mom. It was around Christmas time, if not on Christmas Eve and I think it almost speaks more for itself than I can put into words.

Nick and I have always had a good relationship. As his godfather, he was favored over some of the other nieces and nephews, but I have always loved all of them. They were my "kids before I had kids."

At times he had anxiety issues to the point where he'd work himself up to an upset stomach. I remember one time at Como Zoo, when I was with him and my niece, Erin, Nick told me he wasn't feeling good. Knowing his history I hustled him over to a garbage can, picked him up and held him there waiting for him to puke into it. He must have had stage fright, because it never happened.

It was one of those uncle/nephew bonding moments, you could say. Ha!

But, as I said the good times we've shared over the years have far outnumbered any bad. There was the time I took him kite flying on a hillside in Maplewood. I just remember him running with the kite in jeans and some new cowboy boots, which he'd taken a recent liking to. Simpler times, but for some reason the memory has stuck.

We've had many other great moments together, including paddling and camping in the BWCA and sharing a cigar in Cozumel where he married his beautiful bride, Janet.

But probably the one story my wife remembers about Nick was the first time she met Nick. She and I were engaged at the time and went to Nick's house for a visit. When his mom told him that this was Donna, who was going to be his aunt, he stormed away and said, "She's not going to by my aunt!"

It seems Nick and I were so close, he didn't want to share me. Ha!

Needless to say, he got over it the same day and realized she wasn't so bad. The ironic thing is, about 6 years later, we chose him as our daughter's godfather.

So the relationship came full circle.

In any case, Nick grew into a fine man and now has a son of his own. He's an airman in the Air Force and just returned from a tour of duty in the Middle East. And I hope there may come a day when he's sitting with his own son, scaring the hell out of him with a Jack in the Box. (One of those toys I sorta love/hate.)

Blogging off...

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Attention Deficit

Some random thoughts, because I'm finding it difficult to stick to a single train of thought today.

  • It is a weird time of year for me. That first week after the Super Bowl is always a little disjointed. I don't watch like I once did, but I really don't watch any other sports, so it seems like something is missing. It's a first-world problem though, one that will pass soon enough.
  • Speaking of Super Bowl, I thought it was a phenomenal one to watch. A back-and-forth affair for 3 1/2 quarters until it got out of hand. I was glad to see KC win.
  • Like everyone else in the world, I have my opinion of the halftime show, but unlike many others, I don't feel the need to express that opinion. 
  • I was invited to take part in a Poet Laureate reading in Sheboygan at the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Conference in May. I consider it an honor just to be in the same room with some of the others that will be there. My 8 minutes of fame.
  • I am halfway through season 2 of Outlander. What a great series.
  • This empty nest thing is growing on me. The house is quieter, my wife and I have more mind-space, and we have discovered what brought us together in the first place. Getting very used to it.
  • The writing slogs ahead. Working my way through my work-in-progress for the third time. Some days I hate every word and think it's dreadful, some days I think it's really good. I'm getting good feedback, so I think the latter is more true than the former. So, I will continue to slog onward.
  • The job goes extremely well. I am blessed with an amazing staff and great leadership.
  • Each day gets a little lighter when I come home. Spring can't come soon enough.
Blogging off...

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Walking Toward It

It is a tough time for our country politically. An  impeachment hearing is probably as divisive an event as a country can go through. People get ugly about it. I know I am guilty of spending entirely too much time on Twitter lately which from a political standpoint is a toxic wasteland. All it does is enrage me. I need to stay off. I've always said I'm not a politically outspoken person, but in these times, it's hard not to speak up.

I'd be better served to notice the points of light and goodness around me than contributing to the cesspool of vitriol.

For example, on Friday morning of last week, as I was walking to work, the first two people I encountered said, "Good morning." It immediately changed my mood from nondescript to cheery in a matter of four words. The next person walked past looking down, but the next two I passed both said good morning as well. Altogether, 4 out of 5 gave some sort of greeting. Just a day prior it was only one of three.

Just to be clear, my rule is, if I establish eye contact I will initiate a greeting. If they are looking down or distracted, I don't bother. This is partly my introversion, partly respect for peoples' privacy. In fact, it's not that I'm even looking for people to say hi to as much as to assure them that I am not a threat. I realize a 6'4" white male walking anywhere in this day and age can be perceived as such, so my intentions are noble.

With regards to that, I respect when a woman walks by without looking up, because they've got to be on guard much more than men, which pains me and is a sad statement for our world. Everyone should be able to at least walk the streets without fear, but alas, there's crappy, creepy, bad people everywhere you go, I guess

At the end of my walk that day I realized how those little interactions - something as simple as someone saying "Good morning" with a bit of a smile - can make the day lighter. We need more of that in this ugly world and it doesn't cost a dime.

So, as bad as this political crap is - and it doesn't look to change real soon, in this an election year - I urge you to look for the light in people. At the same time, look inward and see where you need work as well. It's easy to jump on the name calling wagon, just look at both sides of the political aisle and you'll see our "leaders" stooping to middle-school level name calling. It's embarrassing to say I voted for any of them.

Instead, find something good to say to someone tomorrow, the next day, or next week. The world
could use a lot more of it about now. Compliments look good on you.

Blogging off...

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Stout Faith

My wife and I have a small group of friends that take part in a bi-weekly book study. This group is unique in a couple of ways. For starters we are focusing on books of a spiritual nature. The book we are currently working through is Universal Christ, by Richard Rohr. Father Rohr comes from the Franciscan tradition of Christianity whose focus is mysticism. His concepts make a lot of sense at this point in my faith life. He kind of blows up the simplicities within the, say-the-prayer-and-be-saved-and-that's-all mentality.

The other part that makes the book study unique is we meet in a bar or brewpub. We were meeting at Raised Grain, a local microbrewery, but have moved to a smaller, quieter venue. Raised Grain is cavernous and hosts a lot of corporate events that get a tad loud. The House of Guiness is a much tamer venue, lending better to conversation.

But anyway, the book study is always relaxed and fun. Rohr's concepts are thought-provoking and paradigm shaking enough to spur great conversation. Much of his precepts are built on the thought that if God, or the Christ, created the world, the essence of God must be part of everything and everyone. This ripples into the fact that when a friend grieves, we grieve as well, because we're all connected as humanity. I'm way oversimplifying it here, you'll just have to read the book.

The real beauty of these study-sessions is the combination of friends, good beer, bars and books. Throw into that an exploration of our faith, both individually and as a group, and well, it doesn't get much better. We typically focus on the book for an hour and spend another hour solving global problems and airing our grievances. Things are generally over by 9:15, so it makes for an early evening, something we all agreed was a good thing.

I look at the group as another outgrowth of my friend group that are all in the throes of an empty nest. When we were all raising kids, we could never do these kinds of things, especially on a weekday. But, now things like this are possible and make a nice break in the week.

Much like my Tuesday coffee with the guys, this has become something I really look forward to.

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 26, 2020

January From The Bright Side

Well, we are in the heart of the winter season and so far, so good. I always get a serious case of dread in October and November knowing what is in front of us, namely darkness, snow and cold.

So, this winter I was determined to make things better, determined not to hate every day of it. And maybe it's because it's been a fairly tame winter thus far, but I also think a lot of it can be credited to attitude and some other adjustments I've made.

Probably the biggest problem I had with it in the past was the early darkness. I'm an outdoors person so being cooped up indoors after work every night cramps my routine. What I've done to remedy some of this is come to the realization that there is a season for high activity and a season for rest. I've come to look at winter as my season to dial my outdoor sports back a bit.

The problem with this is it typically means I gain 8-9 pounds every winter which makes me feel like a fat boy. To remedy this, I try and walk to work on any day that the weather is above the teens. The 3+ mile round trip keeps me in some shape.

This year though, I felt that wasn't enough, so I bought a bike trainer. On days I don't walk, I try and put 30-45 minutes on the trainer. I do it while watching Outlander on my laptop with headphones, so it works out well on all accounts. It pales in comparison to road riding, believe me, but it helps get the heart and lungs working hard.

I've also taken to trying to meditate for 5 minutes twice a day. I've heard many good things about meditation, so use it to try and clear my head. One quote I read said meditation will never leave your head empty, but it will leave it emptier. That is what I'm hoping. So far, so good. More on that in a future post, perhaps.

When I walk the dog, or walk to work, I have been trying to see the good parts of the winters day, one day at a time. Maybe its the fact that it is a windless day, maybe its above 32, or maybe its the sunset - albeit at 5:15 PM. There is beauty in all of it, sometimes you just have to look harder.

I've also resolved to getting a little more sleep preceeded by a little more reading time. Between these two and bingeing on Outlander on Netflix (a mindless habit, I'm brutally aware, but I'm hooked), I've determined that life goes on if I'm not up until 10:15 "writing" (i.e. cruising Facebook with occasional sentences of writing). It's okay to not be productive 24/7. The memoir/poem/fiction story will wait.

And finally I will take on new activities when I can. Studying a Richard Rohr book while drinking beer with good friends every other Thursday night is one. I also went cross country skiing today, another benefit of winter I do enjoy.

So, winter ain't all bad. I just have to keep telling myself that.

Blogging off...

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Demise Of The Corner Grocery

Since today marks 2 years since the release of my book, The Portland House, I thought I'd take a walk back to the old neighborhood.

I saw a post recently on the Old Saint Paul Facebook site that triggered some great memories. It was on the subject of Corner Grocery stores. This post will likely date me because these places are a thing of the past. The Woodmans and Walmarts and Krogers of the world made sure of that. 

We had one near us when we lived on Portland Avenue in St. Paul. I'm not sure, but I think it was even called Corner Grocery. It was on the corner of Grand Avenue and Dunlap, about 3 blocks from our doorstep. 
Site of former Corner Grocery on Grand Av.

As kids we spent many summer days walking to Corner Grocery with our allowances or other change we'd begged from Mom by leaving her a note to read before she left for work everyday. We bled her dry one quarter at a time in the summer - nickle and diming she used to call it - all in the name of a sugar fix. Sometimes it required a chore like weeding the gardens for a dollar, but sometimes it was just out of sheer exhaustion she'd leave change.

The store was a mom-and-pop owned place, I'm sure, not much larger than the ground floor of my current house. It had shelves stocked with a few cans and boxes of everything. The place was a fallback whenever Mom needed a loaf of bread or a half gallon of milk in a cardboard carton. Gallons were too heavy to carry the full 3 blocks, plus back then, they were only packaged in carboard too. 

But more often, we never got too far past the front area near the register which was where the candy was kept. They had it all at Corner Grocery, candy bars, licorice, Dots, Whoppers, Boston Baked Beans, candy cigarettes, tootsie pops and Charms suckers. 

I remember the Charms the most, They kept them in a vertical holder and if you picked one that happened to have a red mark on the bottom of the stick, you got to pick another free one. I didn't really care for Charms much, but being a cheap kid, I managed to try my luck at it a few times. 

Along with the candy were the sports cards and collectibles, like Wacky Packages. This was my little heaven. At a quarter a pack, I almost always spent at least a portion of my money on football cards. Some marketing genius figured that one out early. Tease kids by putting one player from their favorite team in every 5th package or so, so they buy them until they're broke. I held up my end of the bargain for sure.

It's funny what you remember about those old places. I remember the smell and the cramped aisles and the friendly clerk who put up with our .50 sales one kid at a time, almost every day, as there was always a kid from the neighborhood doing the same thing I did. 

So it's kind of sad that these places went the way of the video stores and drive in theaters. I think they were a sort of cornerstone (pardon the metaphor) for our communities. They brought kids out of their homes and were a draw from blocks around for what they had to offer. This particular place was bought by a hairdresser, Ernesto. He styled Mom's hair once a week for years and probably did a much more lucrative business than Corner Grocery. 

Ernesto's was eventually bought out by something else, further proof that nothing is forever. It's a shame these places don't exist anymore, but it sure is fun looking back at them. I'm grateful they were a part of my childhood.

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Battle Of The Bays

Between the two teams I cheer for, Minnesota and Green Bay, today will mark the 17th NFC Championship game that I've watched actually means something to me. The Packers will meet the Forty Niners to determine who goes to the Super Bowl as the NFC representative.

Seventeen. That's a lot of games.
My copies of the XXI & XXXII Super Bowl programs

Of those games though, I've only been on the winning side six times, three each for the Packers and Vikings. That means my disappointments outnumber my euphoric moments by a margin of almost 2:1.

There have been some heart breakers for sure, almost too many to list.

For the Vikings there were:

  • The Cowboys Hail Mary pass
  • The Gary Anderson missed field goal in the Randall Cunningham years
  • The 41-0 stomping at the hands of the NY Giants during the Randy Moss years
  • The infamous Brett Favre interception versus New Orleans
  • The recent beating at the hands of the  Eagles
And as a Packer fan, I've had my heartbreaks too:

  • The pounding by Emmit Smith and the Cowboys
  • The infamous Brett Favre versus the NY Giants (I see a trend here)
  • The Seahawk meltdown of 5 years ago. What a disaster!
  • The 44-21 thumping laid on by the Atlanta Falcons
For the Vikings, their NFC Championship victories were so many years ago, I barely remember what I felt, but I am sure as a young boy, I was thrilled. I lived and died by Tarkenton, Foreman, Osborn, Gilliam, Washington, Eller, Page, Marshall and the rest. It was idolatry at a young age. 

I remember my mom, stepfather and sister once met Gary Larsen at a bar in northern Minnesota when we were at the cabin. (Gary Larsen was the relatively unknown "fourth" Purple People Eater lineman for the Vikes.) He was sweet on my sister and I was introduced to him. I shook his hand and stood there relatively awestruck. But I digress.

Because they are more recent, I do remember vividly the Packer NFC victories however. The first one was when they beat the Carolina Panthers to get to the Superbowl with Brett Favre, Reggie White, Edgar Bennet, Andre Rison, Don Beebe and Desmond Howard. I'd lived in Wisconsin for 10 years and most of them were with brutally bad to mediocre teams, so this one seemed like it was for real. 

That win over Carolina was a fantastic feeling, eclipsed only by the eventual win over New England in Superbowl XXX1. 

This year's Packer team has surprised me again and again. I picked them to go 9-7 this year and they proved me wrong, finishing 13-3. 

And while I realize it's a boys game played by men and the Packers are underdogs today, I will still watch in hopes that they can pull out an upset. They did it against Chicago in 2010 to go on and beat Pittsburgh in Superbowl XLV. Besides, I have a win/loss ratio that needs to be evened out.

Go Pack!

Blogging off...

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A Booking Of Revelation

I was the featured poet last night at Mama D's in Wales. I've been looking forward to this evening for a long time, as it was a chance to showcase my two latest poetry books to a new audience.

When I scheduled it, I took the month of January for myself because I figured that if turnout was low because of the weather, I'd be the one to take the hit. I'd rather the other poets I schedule get a decent crowd than myself.

Well, as expected, the event was lightly attended. Don't get me wrong, I appreciated very much those that did come out, but to be truthful, as I started, it stung a little to see so few people.

But by the time I left, I had a different take on the evening. Like so many of these events, the best part of the evening came in the connections I made. For example, a middle school teacher I'd worked with on a student writing camp last year. Her name is Nancy and she came because she'd seen my posts on Instagram and had always wanted to come to a reading. She brought her kids and we had a wonderful chat about writing and its importance in the early years of students. I was touched that she thought enough to come out on a rainy night to hear me.

Another surprise was a woman, Grace, who's come to a couple of my readings now. She is looking to get into writing more poetry herself, so we had a great chat about the intricacies of getting a poem published and how that can pave the way for a book. A great connection with a person I hardly knew a few months ago.

Then, later, my friend and fellow author, Bob Goswitz came up after the reading and we caught up on his writing endeavors. Bob is a Vietnam vet who published a fictionalized account of his experience in the war. In talking to him about the ups and downs of writing, we both concluded that although we are both fledgling authors, we wouldn't trade any part of our lives. While we both are working on our next book, we agreed that if nothing ever came of them, we'd still exceeded our expectations by getting that first book published. He's a great guy and it was so great to see him.

On top of these folks - friends from my literary circles - the poetry reading experience is always one I treasure. With these small groups of people the setting becomes even more intimate, like people gathered in a living room. To me it is art of the spoken kind, meant to be enjoyed, and then it vaporizes. I love being a part of that process.

Furthermore, there were the familiar faces, Sara and Ed, Colleen and her husband, who come through thick and thin and support whomever is behind the microphone. They are the ones who keep me going when these doubts creep in.

As I said, I walked in with a set of hopeful aspirations. But, after the interactions transpired., I walked out with an entirely different outlook. Poetry has never been about selling the books. I need to get past that. It is about the art and creativity and immediacy of it all. It is performance and interaction and beauty and friendship and connection.

So, in that respect, it was a memorable night and I'm glad I had the opportunity to be part of it.

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Showing It, Not Acting It

Evidently, I'm not 23 anymore.

I sometimes forget that I am closer to sixty than to college. Sometimes this reminder comes on stronger than others. I'm not ready to admit my limitations yet, but the other night was a good example of the difference between my cerebral age and my actual physical abilities.

As part of our church's holiday party, we were allowed access to a gymnasium on the old Concordia College campus in Milwaukee. I'm told that the Milwaukee Bucks used to practice in this particular gym back in the early 70's when they won their championship. That statement piqued my interest knowing that I might be playing in the shadow of Kareem Abdul Jabbar - a long shadow indeed.


Anyway, I've determined that something in my brain snaps when I get in a gymnasium. I don't quite drool, but I feel an instant rush and a need to prove my basketball prowess. I was NEVER a good basketball player, but that didn't stop me from trying. People always assume with my height that I must be good.

Well, ya gotta shoot good too.

So after a half hour of random bucket shooting, I challenged Ben to a game of PIG. The game requires you to make the shot of your predecessor from the same spot, or suffer a letter. First one to spell PIG is out.

Ben and I are equally bad at hoops, I discovered, it must be a genetic defect of some sort. We struggled mightily and went back and forth. I decided to try a reverse layup, a bit trickier than a regular layup but nothing I haven't done a hundred times before.

As I approached the basket at top speed, my foot got caught underneath me.

This was the start of what seemed like a 3 minute fall. My ankle twisted and I landed hard on my butt, with limbs crashing all around me as I spun and fizzled. I broke my fall with my good shoulder and a shock wave went through my whole upper torso. My glasses fell off and skittered across the floor, as I narrowly missed landing on them. I lay there in an inglorious heap of humanity.

And the only thing I could think at the time was, "What is happening? It was only a simple reverse layup!"

Ben and a friend who witnessed the fall came rushing over and asked "Are you okay?"

I jumped up quickly, embarrassed by my ungainly shot, and said, "Yeah. Oww. I think so, yeah."

I went on to shoot a few more shots, but they were much tamer. To be truthful, I'm still a bit sore from the evening, some of it the result of the fall.

Now, in my defense, I was in bad sneakers, jeans and a long sleeve shirt, hardly the attire for a hoops star. But at the same time it was a humbling wake up call that I need to temper my enthusiasm and remember that I am closer to an AARP member than a Bucks practice squad member.

The hardest part is, I've always loved sports, ball sports or outdoor sports. So, I think I have to come to grips with the fact that I can't just go from 0 to 60 when I see a court like I could at 23.

Part of the issue though is recent effort to lose my winter weight. I have about 10 pounds to lose, which you may not see, but I do, and my clothes remind me.

The moral of the story is, while I've come to recognize my need to move in the winter months, maybe a better way to do it is to get a bike trainer, which I did. I've set it up upstairs and have used it the past couple of days. I feel better already, and chances are I won't break a hip putting my miles in. This makes my wife happier than crashing to the gym floor.

Blogging off...

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Raising The Literary Art Bar

Last night I attended a book launch for a poet friend of mine. Kathrine Yets' chapbook is titled, So I Can Write, and it is her first published book of poetry.

The event was held at Art Bar in Riverwest. I'd never been there, but I love the whole Riverwest scene, so was glad to be able to attend. Having lived on the East Side of Milwaukee many years ago, I miss the nightlife and eclectic crowds that were part of living in that area. The suburbs are so blase' in comparison.

The Art Bar features a lot of art within it, obviously, and was hoppin' busy when I got there at 6:15 or so. It was a diverse, youngish crowd with a great vibe. I'd say these are my people, but I'm probably a bit too old and suburban to get away with it. It's fun trying though. Despite my age difference I felt comfortable enough - I think the Riverwest crowd is cool with you no matter what your makeup is, old, white, bald dudes included. It sure seemed that way to me.

Anyway, I wanted to be there for her launch because she has supported me over the years. She is a talented poet currently teaching at the university level. I can also attest that a first book is pretty huge for any author/poet, so there's that as well..

She read from her work and then held an open mic downstairs afterward. There were a handful of people that read, young and old, including me. It is my hope to get down to the other open mic poetry venue in Riverwest, Linneman's sometime. Anyway, it was a cool evening all the way around. I'm glad I went.

If you're interested in her book, you can get it here.


And, finally, she and I will both be reading at the AllWriters' Friday Night Free for All event a week from tomorrow. Check it out here.

Blogging off...


Sunday, January 5, 2020

Comings and Goings

I have some public appearances and readings lined up that I am pretty excited about. And frankly, 10 years ago, I never would have thought that would be something I would be saying. I once was a shy boy - still am actually - but duty calls and part of being an author/poet requires reading/signings, so I try and honor that. Every time I do it I get a little more comfortable, so it's not as terrifying as it once was.

The first will be on January 15th at Mama D's in Wales where I'll be the featured poet. As you may know, I organize that event every month and after a few years since I did it last, my turn has come up again. I scheduled it after the release of my two new poetry books, Thoughts from a Line at the DMV and Genetically Speaking: Poems on Fatherhood

Mama D's is a quaint setting and a cool coffee shop in Wales. Attendance has been really good at the past few readings, but this being January in Wisconsin, I'm not sure what to expect. The event features an open mic afterward for anyone who wants to read a poem or two of their own work. There have been some memorable moments from some notable performers here, so it is a lot to live up to.

The second appearance will be a couple of days later on Friday, January 17th at Cafe de Arts for the AllWriters' Friday Night Free for All. I'll be reading with other local published authors and poets from AllWriters' studio.

The focus of my reading there will be my 2018 book, The Portland House: a '70s memoir.  Each of the readers at this event have different credentials, like first published book, first accepted manuscript, etc. My category is multiple books. I'm flattered to be part of this event and again, if you'd told me 10 years ago that I'd be featured as a multiple book author, I'd have laughed you out of the room.

The last event I wanted to share is actually an international reading. I will be part of a multi-poet event at The Poetry Cafe in London in September! When my publisher, Kelsay Press, mentioned they were forming a group to read in London, it piqued my interest, because we were thinking about taking a trip to Scotland anyway. As it stands now, we (my wife and I) will be flying into London for 3 days and then taking a train up to Scotland for 10 day afterward.

This trip is still being planned and fleshed out, but I am very excited about the prospect of saying I'd read my work in London. It is a bucket list item I'd never put in the bucket. The event happens on Saturday, September 26th at 2:00 PM. Stay tuned for more on that.

So, my writing life is busy again and that is good. I'd love to get a few more readings scheduled, so lets hope something cracks that way. Until then, I'll keep writing and working away. This gig is rewarding in ways it is hard to describe. When I'm not weeping and gnashing my teeth, it is a sort of Zen-like experience. LOL.

Blogging off...


Thursday, January 2, 2020

A Return To Routine

I returned to work today after a 9-day vacation for the holidays. I always look forward to those "break" weeks every year, but every year, by the end of them I'm pretty much ready to go back to work.

It's not that I don't like being home, nor is it that I wouldn't like retirement. It's more a matter of having a more complete plan for the break than "writing as much as I can". That goes great for the first seven days, but after that, I get sort of lost.

This past break I binge-watched the Netflix series The Crown. Well, when I say binge-watched I mean a couple of episodes a day for a few days. Watching TV is something I rarely do except when I have nothing else better to do. This week seemed to be a good chance to knock some of them out.  The thing is, I don't like myself when I do something this passive. It's not who I am. At the same time, I had to admit that it was a nice break from the things/goals I had set for writing and house projects.

The other thing I discovered is I have a bit of a vacuum obsession. I typically vacuum the whole house on Saturday morning, so it's always been my job. But when I'm around the house like every day is Saturday, I always see it as an opportunity to touch up the living room with a quick once-over with the Shark. I'm glad I know this obsession about myself, but it might be something to watch over time.

Dirty dishes in the sink is another habit I can't take too much of. All things must go in the dishwasher. So I scrape and rinse and load as I make them. It's not a bad habit, but again, something worth keeping in check.

I got some decent, normal, fun things done over break too - it wasn't all aprons and pearls. I managed to get to see the new Star Wars movie with my son, which was really good. I finished some poems and a bunch of edits as well as entering a few poems/books in contests and/or journals, and managed to get two late December bike rides of 10+ miles in. I slept in a couple of days and took an occasional nap as needed.

But it was a 9-day reminder that I need a plan for retirement - still a handful of years away - before I can safely say I'm going to retire and not drive my wife mad. I have lots of goals that way, guitar, fly fishing and maybe even pursuit of an MFA, but none of those are hobbies I much have time for until that day I hang up my real job.

So, while it was tough to go back to work today, in a little way, it felt pretty good.

Blogging off...