Showing posts from 2015

The Year In Pictures

As we say goodbye to another year, I always find it best to look back a bit before heading into a new year. This time I'll do it with pictures. When I take pictures, I put them in folders by year with sub folders by subject underneath those. For this exercise, I went into each folder and grabbed a picture from each that meant something to me. Here is what I ended up with. It is not every great moment of the year, but is a good overview of some of the best. Our Memphis/Nashville trip. In June we celebrated 25 years of marriage. As part of that celebration, we treated ourselves to a road trip to Memphis and Nashville. One of the most moving parts of the trip was a tour through the Civil Rights Museum. The museum tour finishes by a walk through of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's hotel room. It was something everyone should see. My niece's graduation from High School. A fun trip to upstate New York to celebrate a graduation. Great to see family and it even included a tri

January's Challenge

Back in November, I was invited to help a fellow writer/poet as she participated in a writing challenge for the month of December. The challenge was a fundraiser for Tupelo Press , a nonprofit independent literary press. My friend, Sarah Sadie, was faced with writing a poem a day for 30 days straight. As part of the fundraiser, she offered several different levels of support ranging from $3.00 to $129.00 with varying levels of giveaways to those who sponsored her. I've found that sponsoring her was a fun way to follow along her journey. I  liked the idea and challenge of it so much that I checked into doing it myself. The thought of pushing myself creatively to come up with a new poem every day for a month was too good to pass up. After I inquired about it, I was selected for the month of January. And so, I'd love it if you'd join me and support Tupelo Press at the same time. The details are below. In prepping for the challenge, I've put together a list of ideas or

Christmas On The Continuum

Today is Christmas Eve, which for my extended, Minnesota family, is the "real" Christmas from a celebration standpoint. Everyone gathers at my sister Jane's house for a meal and kick-out-the-slats present exchange. We have been gathering at her house for almost twenty years now and today we will will gather one last time. Jane will be selling her house this spring in an attempt to downsize before she retires. And while I know this will be a hard event for her, it will be hard for me as well. There are a ton of good memories from that house, most of them built around holidays and special events. When I first brought my girlfriend Donna home to meet my family, we were met at the door of this house by my niece Stephanie (5 or 6 at the time) who, when she saw Donna, asked "Who are you, and what are you doing in my house?" How's that for a welcome to the family? At that same event, my nephew and godson, Nicolas when introduced to Donna as "his futu

Looking For It

Christmas is almost upon us. For me personally, every year it's a slightly different take on the same themes: November denial stage Early December awakening Methodical procrastination Post Birthday wake-up call Frantic online button pushing Frenetic shopping on Saturday before Christmas Hasty wrapping and egg nog chugging Driving a zillion hours either east or west Catching my breath at Christmas service Enjoying the fruits of all the labor at Sister/Sister in-laws' house. (Jane K, Jane T, or Jill K) My experience started of course with the tree purchase and lighting that I talked about in a previous post.  Well that ended up working out great. Once the tree was decorated, it looked fabulous.  Then, last Sunday night as I was watching the football game, I got to watch the tree of beauty crash to the carpet. It made a tinkling, smashing sound and I think I made a slightly different sound. Not so much tinkling but more on the smashing kinds of sounds. The only

Swimming Upstream

As I mentioned in a recent post, my seventeen year old son decided to join the swim team this year. I was a bit surprised because he has never really swam in a competitive mode before. We always had him in various swim lessons as a kid, but that was long ago and was far from structured. It was still more than I ever had as a kid however. We were taught by the old school three step method: 1. Get in your suit 2. Get in the water 3. Flail until you figure it out. This is not a knock on my mother in any way. I'm sure trying to raise six kids was hard enough without making certain that each one had mad swimming skills. I remember her sending my step-father down to the water's edge once to help teach me some strokes. I was pretty hopeless though and likely the worst swimmer in the family. To the point where my sister Pat has dreamed on a number of occasions that I have died by drowning. Well, I've made it this far. That's not to say I haven't been pulled out o

Running Laps

I finished my fifty third lap around the sun a couple of days ago. It's a race I've been in since birth and while I hope I'm around for many more laps, I feel I'm probably closer to the finish line than the start. Maybe not. There's some people out there who are 108, right? In order to keep in "running shape" for this race, it takes a little more effort each year. While there's not too much I can do about my mug and hairline - which is more a rumor than an actual line - there are certain things I do to keep it all together on the inside. My weekday 20 minute yoga routine keeps the muscles from drying out like leather and snapping when I least expect it. I also now take three different pills every day. Twice a day fish oil pills which cure everything from heart disease to hardening of the arteries, or so I'm told. Also twice a day Glucosamine which is supposed to help sore joints. This is my latest snake oil treatment, as most days, either a kne

The Ambush Of Gratitude

There have been several instances lately where I have become almost overwhelmed with gratefulness, joy and momentary elation. They seem to be happening more as I get older and I'm not quite sure what that means. Is it a natural middle age thing? Am I getting too introspective lately? Am I choosing to stick my head in the sand with regards to all the world problems? Most often the moments come upon me while I'm walking and listening to my iPod. If you know me, I do a crap ton of walking. I walk to work every day in winter, I walk the dog every night - twice a day on weekends, and I walk to class and the library to do my writing. When I walk, I almost always have my headphones in. What I've found is that the songs trigger memories of specific times of my life. In many instances they are times of my life I don't think much about during the rest of the day. Music has a way of triggering a part of your brain that way. I remember one summer my wife and I were painting o

The Season Of Light

Well, just like that, the Christmas season is upon us. For me, it's a little hard to believe. Part of this is because of the weather. We'll hit 40+ degrees today and throughout the week, finishing at 50+ on Friday. And I am totally, completely, undeniably fine with that. Seriously. I may even take a bike ride today. With the holiday, comes the preparation. Last weekend, I put up our outdoor icicle lights, which constitutes the beginning, middle and end of my outdoor decorating. It involves a ladder in winter which comingles two least favorite things: heights and cold. Fearing the weather turning, I put them up last weekend when it was 32 and windy. Today it is 40 and calm. If this was baseball, we'd call that a swing and a miss. Anyhow, prior to hanging them, I plugged in the lights to make sure they were all working. This is always a crossed-finger affair. Nothing causes me such angst during the Christmas prep as non-functioning lights. A few years back, I even b

Gift Ideas and a Giveaway

Gift Ideas and an eBook Giveaway Unfortunately, it's that time of year for shameless self promotion. Below are all of the books that feature my writing in one spot for the readers on your Christmas lists. Click the links to purchase them in time for Christmas. For putting up with this shameful blog post and to help me celebrate a great year in writing, I am hosting an eBook giveaway! The prizes are eBooks of: Memories from Maple Street, USA: The Best Christmas Ever   (1 eBook) and Memories from Maple Street, USA: Leaving Childhood Behind   (1 eBook) Here's how it works. To enter the drawing, you just need to: 1. Like this post on Facebook (Earns one entry) or, 2. Share this post on Facebook (Earns two entries) or, 3. Like my Author page (Earns one entry) (New followers only) or, 4. All three of the above. (Entries are cumulative) Then, on Saturday, December 5th, I'll draw two winners and send them the information on how to get their free eBook

Ten Dollar Trip Around The World

Last night as a family we went and saw the new James Bond movie, Spectre. A couple of years ago we all went and watched Skyfall, so it was kind of a family tradition that our time together over this holiday made possible. I don't get to many movies these days, so when I do it's a treat. After watching it, I now remember how much better seeing a movie is in the theater than watching it at home. For me, it is two and a half hours of escapism. In the opening scene, at one point James Bond is fighting a villain inside a flying helicopter. When he finally defeats him, he then moves on to fight with the pilot. As they wrestle and punch, the copter zigs, zags and even flies upside down for a bit. And in the midst of all of this action, there I am. An hour before I was feeding the dog and hanging Christmas lights. Now, I was in an upside down helicopter over Mexico City. Not physically, of course, but in a wild fantasy sort of sense. The movie transported me out of my dull, mun

Reasons for Thanksgiving

Giving Thanks is Day to Day It's the holiday we all take a moment to think of things we are thankful for. I have many. Here's just a few. Faith . I was blessed to be raised in the parochial school system where religion was part of the curriculum. I was even luckier to be pulled along in my faith years ago by people like my friend Pat and continually challenged to seek deeper faith today by people like Brandon, Claude and Nick. Wife. We celebrated 25 years this summer by taking a trip to Nashville. She is still someone I laugh with daily, sometimes doubling over. And while we snip and snipe at times, she is still the best thing that ever happened to me. She taught me how to love. Kids . I don't know what we did right, but they came out pretty good. After years in the trenches fulfilling physical needs, then years meeting emotional ones, they're finally starting to find out who they are. Good students, compassionate hearts, smart and funny. I can't wait to s

Sporting Lessons

My son has decided to join the swim team at Waukesha South this year. He's a junior and hasn't played a sport in high school. He played football back in 6th through 8th and a host of various sports before that. When faced with the prospect of being small with little chance for playing time as a Freshman football player, he opted out. I've always thought that my kids should play a sport in high school. I think it's important to be part of a team, if only once.  I felt strongly enough about it that we encouraged Sarah to play volleyball as a freshman. She did. She didn't like it very much, but to her credit, she finished it. She actually would have probably made a better swimmer or track person, as those are individual/team sports instead of just team. You work for a personal best in those sports and no one challenges Sarah worse than Sarah. Alas, she did what we asked, hated it, and maybe came out knowing more about herself, her abilities and her role within a gro

Coffee, Canaanites and Comaradaerie

"A mechanical engineer, a metallurgist/tradesman, a GIS analyst, a bi-vocational pastor/photographer, an attorney, an optical salesman, and a stay at home father of eight walk into a coffee shop and..." This is either the start of a great joke, or it comprises what has become one of the best hours of my week, every week. Any combination from two to six of these guys show up every Thursday morning at Cafe De Arts, a local coffee shop in downtown Waukesha. The group started 3-4 years ago and I have been part of it for about two years now. I was asked to be part of it by the pastor/photographer, but having just left a "Bible study" group that went rogue on me, I wasn't ready to commit. The funny thing is, not two weeks later the metallurgist/tradesman invited me to the same group. I figured it was God's way of smacking me upside the head and saying, "What are you waiting for?" The group was originally built around studying a book usually, but no

Homework Again?

It's been a while so maybe a writing update is in order. There is always something going on from a writing, publishing and promotion standpoint, it seems. You can only share so much on social media, so a good synopsis goes a long way. First of all, as of tomorrow, I'm back in class at AllWriters . It has been about 15 weeks since I was part of the "Mighty Monday Nighters," so it's high time that I return. This isn't to say that I haven't written since I left, I have. It's just that being accountable to my peers as well as getting great feedback from them makes me better. Every week we bring in from 1-10 pages and after reading it front of the group, people tell us where it excels and where it sucks. (Well, that might be a bit harsh.) It is a very encouraging climate and I really miss the banter among the group. The best moments are the "word of the week." You don't want to be the person who gets called out for writing a word a half

In The Trenches

My daughter turned twenty this week, which makes me about thirty nine as I figure it. Twenty is one of those strange milestones as a kid that you kind of look forward to and dread all at the same time. Leaving your teens behind is probably a good thing any way you slice it, but at the time, as I recall, there is a bit of remorse that you are finally "grown up" in a way that even the age of 18 didn't bring. There's something about that number two digit. As part of wishing her a happy birthday on such a landmark date, I wanted to put together some short videos of her as a child. I broke out the DVD's that my father in-law had dumped from videotapes and started my search. I came up with three defining videos that took me back to my days of early fatherhood that I look upon with both great fondness and hesitant nostalgia. The first video is of the two of them dancing to Trisha Yearwood's "Under the Rainbow." Back then, Donna was selling Pampered Ch

Trees for Tots

If you've followed me at all recently, you know my wife and I are part of starting a new church, called CollectiveMKE . At the moment, we're still fairly small, though growing two people at a time lately. I have come to really look forward to our Sunday morning "home church" meetings where we gather as 12-15 people and half as many kids. We have the greatest discussions about our faith, Biblical stories and just life events. We were talking this morning about the story of the widow who gave only a couple of pennies. It moved us to talking about what it takes to change how we view the world. Person after person gave accounts of instances where doing something selfless or sacrificial led them not only to feeling better about themselves but also how blessings came back to them in some sort of circular flow. It's hard to explain. Actually, it's easier to just do it and see for yourself.  An example from my own experience happened this past weekend. A guy fr

Plumb Broke

We finally broke down and called the plumber to fix a laundry list of issues in our 93 year old house. Being brutally aware of the charge out rate of plumbers, we made sure we had exhausted all other measures; namely me plunging the sink and shower until there were no curse words left and my shoulder was like a wet noodle. (I didn't really curse. Okay, maybe once. On the inside. In a whisper.) The guy was scheduled to come yesterday "around 8 o'clock." The first thing to realize is that plumbers get their watches from the same place as cable guys, appliance repair guys, and teenage children. So I stay home from work to meet the plumber at the appointed hour (of 8:48). To their credit, they were upfront with their charge out rates. It's $120 to show up, then, $120 an hour. Now, when I'm paying that kind of coin, I think I should be able to just point to stuff and he, being a plumber should be able to deduce what the problem is. Kind of like plumber sign lan

Seclusion Elusion

These past four days have been what I will term an introvert's nightmare for me. Lots of people, interaction, face time, small talk and networking. For a private person and a confessed introvert, it was a string of events that would make you cringe - I know it did for me, as the days unfolded. Usually I'm good for one social event a weekend, and if pressed, two. When faced with four in four days, well, I grind it out and deal with it. Here's what I was up against with my thoughts in italics. Thursday to Friday Morning:  ( This will be good, but I'll need some downtime afterwards. ) For work, I was at a two day regional conference in Oshkosh. Like most conferences this is wall-to-wall networking and socializing. Great stuff, all of it but I always come away from them wiped out from long days in sessions, lots of standing, walking, talking, restaurant food, late nights and early mornings. This one was especially good, as I met a couple of GIS guys I'd never met befo

Down the Trail

My son Ben is going on a backpacking trip to the Porcupine Mountains tomorrow with a friend and his brother and father. After a single night in a tent, they are hiking in about 5 miles and staying in a "cabin" shelter that has no electricity or running water. It's basically just a roof over your head. It's a few steps above the tent, especially given as cold as it will be. I have to say I'm a little jealous. My wife reminded me that only two weeks ago I was fishing up north, so would have a hard time justifying another trip. At the same time, I like the thought of a trip where you're not hiking X number of miles per day, but rather a single, long hike to a cabin. Furthermore, it'd be a chance to get one more snowless (relatively) adventure in before winter.  Needless to say, the trip was planned they'll go off tomorrow. But tonight as I helped Ben pack, it occurred to me how big/mature he's getting. One of his packing techniques involved