Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Hope everyone has a great Christmas filled with joy and love!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Gone Fishing...

Been gone for a bit and will probably be gone for another bit. Just started a new job and now I have to work like crazy to get up to speed and to catch up on all the bills that have piled up.

Hope to be back soon...in time for some holiday fun.

Till then, take care all!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Imprecise beings

I wonder what thoughts would cross Flaubert's mind were he here today. Gustave Flaubert - the author of Madame Bovary and other novels - was a French writer who was apparently obsessed with finding the perfect words for expressing particular thoughts,situations or descriptions. I can relate on a small level. There are times when the perfect word is used in conversation or writing and I get a giddy burst of excitement. Fortunately, most of my good friends share this little love. It's not uncommon for one of us - in the middle of a conversation - to nod, grin, and say, "Nice...good choice."

Flaubert is a writer that other writers tend to admire. It seems that every great literary figure from his time until now has written about him or expressed their admiration of him.

A good portion of the admiration that he reaps is due to his devotion to the craft of writing. He wrote, and re-wrote, and tore out hair, and re-wrote until a phrase turned just so, or a description finally clicked into sharp focus. And maybe even more important than this dedication, is the fact that it wasn't something that was easy for Flaubert to do. He wasn't a writer who could toss off a handful of pages and head down to the pub for a quick one knowing that those pages were just what he wanted to say.

Flaubert was also - well - a bit of a conceited prig too. He was disgusted by the lack of intelligence, contempt for beauty, and baseness he saw when he looked at his fellow men. The bourgeois were particularly appalling to him. One quote seems to sum up his disdain:

"To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost."

But this cynicism didn't decrease his ability to clearly see the world around him - and to comment on it - and to see himself. Clues to that come out in quotes like this:
"That man has missed something who has never left a brothel at sunrise feeling like throwing himself into the river out of pure disgust."

Surely, no prude could say something like that. Obviously there was some brothel visiting in Flaubert's life.

Anyway, I was surfing about the internets and one tube led me to some Flaubert quotes. As I read some of them it made me wonder what Flaubert himself would have made of them. There were quite a few from a passage in Madame Bovary. They were all in English - so they were obviously translated from the original French. The irony of the words of a man obsessed with finding "le mot juste" ("the precise word") being translated in so many different ways struck me like a sharp clap on the shoulder. I don't think there's a clearer example of the imprecision of our communication to be found. Not even the the myriad translations of "the sacred, perfect words of God" in the many different publications of The Bible have struck me in the same way.

"...exaggerated turns of speech conceal mediocre affections: as if the fulness of the soul might not sometimes overflow in the emptiest of metaphors, since no one, ever, can give the exact measurements of his needs, nor of his conceptions, nor of his sufferings, and the human word is like a cracked cauldron upon which we beat out melodies fit for making bears dance when we are trying to move the stars to pity."

"Language is like a crack'd kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity."

"The human language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out a tune for a dancing bear, when we hope with our music to move the stars."

"Human speech is a cracked cauldron on which we knock out tunes for dancing bears, when we wish to conjure pity from the stars."

I think that those words simply brushed onto canvas would make for a great painting. The original French surrounded by the many ways of translating it - nothing fancy, just words - would perhaps be enough to convey the irony.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I love good bookstores

So...instead of picking up the trade paperback of 'The Exterminators', I ended up with something completely different. This is the risk you run when you shop your local bookstore instead of the mega-box near the mall. Don't get me wrong - I'm not taking sides on this one at all. I love both kinds of book stores.

What is it that makes a book store awesome though? Is it a huge selection? A hyper-specialized selection? Great staff? Awesome prices?

I'm pretty much of the opinion that it's all the above. The more a store has all of those qualities, the more awesome it is. But can a store really have all of them?

Ummmm...yeah. And that store is Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon. If you're ever, ever, ever in the Portland area you must stop there. It is Mecca for book lovers. I would stack Powell's against any book store in the world and it would never let me down.

First off, the place is enormous. It's a city block large with multiple floors. They give you a color-coded map when you walk in and you'll need it. Big can be daunting, but in the case of Powell's it's more of a wondrous marvel. Everything is just where you would suspect it of being - which is a very nice surprise indeed.

All those books also means that you're very likely to find what you're looking for. Out of print? Probably not much of a problem - they'll likely have it stocked.

They have both new and used books too. And, unlike most places, they shelve them together. Looking for Tom Sawyer? You'll have your choice of buying a new copy or picking one of several used copies. You have no idea how cool that is until you're standing there picking books off the shelf - adjusting your running total in your head as you go. You can often double or triple the amount of books you walk out with just by buying used.

They're also the place to go if you need to find a book on - let's say - the structural engineering specifications for bridge building, or how to build your own sailboat, or the collected writings of some obscure romantic poet.

The staff is great too. They all know books and they know their store. I've never had rude treatment there in my many trips either. There are a lot of places that could take some lessons in customer care from Powell's.

They're online too and every bit as slick as Amazon, but I would rather give my money to Powell's. In my mind, Powell's is the original and everyone else is a pale imitation - including Amazon, I might add.

Anyway, this whole spiel came from nothing more than starting with the idea that I bought a book by Ethan Hawke - 'The Hottest State'. I'm not done with it yet, but I'll let you know. So far, it seems to be a nice little story about first love. It's got angst and all that good stuff, so we shall see. One of the links I found for it was Powell's site. So, there it is - a rather imperfect circle.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Markets, floods and comics

Went down to the farmers market this morning. There was certainly a harvest time feel this week. We're well into the autumn bounty now - pumpkins and squash leading the produce parade.

Picked up a bag of veggies and wandered around.

I was particularly proud that I remembered to bring down my own bag this time. That made me feel just green enough. Add to that the fact that most everything I picked up - lettuce, striped red peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots - came from the organic stand, and I'm practically a hippie.


Went disc golfing last weekend. I would say that I threw like a girl, but it was pointed out on the course that I was indeed throwing worse than a girl.

Most of the way through our second round, though, I switched to throwing sidearm. Turns out that's the way I should have been tossing all along. It was far more natural for me.

Now, I just need to get some more practice with it and perhaps find I don't suck completely.


Had an ever so wonderful experience yesterday. About 20 minutes before I had to leave for work, I had a deluge in my bedroom.

The radiator heater in the place upstairs started a gushin' and I was the lucky one to receive its bounty. A torrent - and I'm not stretching things to call it a torrent - poured through my ceiling.

'You have got to be kidding me!' might have come from my mouth. There might have also been some other rather colorful words. I'll leave that to your imagination - think sailor or trucker and multiply by 100.

It's still wet in there and my clothes are in a heap on the far side of the room. The wet stuff is out on my porch. It looks hillbilly out there now, but I can't say I care much about that. The neighbors can complain as soon as they come over and help dry the carpet.

Thinking about hopping in the car and driving to the book store. I want to pick up a graphic novel or two.

I really want to read a new book that collects the first issues of The Exterminators - a really cool sounding Vertigo book.

I downloaded issue one and it's as crazy as I imagined. The story is basically about a whacked out exterminator and his equally whacked crew. Toss in a bit of Scully and Mulder and you'll get the idea.


Still waiting to hear about any jobs out there. Interviewed the other day for a job in town. It went well, but you never know with these things. Hopefully, I'll hear on Monday. I'm tired of waiting - and very impatient.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

This and that...

Went on a pub crawl on Saturday. I sometimes forget just how fun the big city can be.

Drove down to my friend Gregg's restaurant - the Anaba Tearoom - and had a tea up on the garden rooftop. It was a beautiful day for something like that. We decided it was too nice to pass up the chance to do some wandering about in Milwaukee. So we started a trek through the city - starting on the south end and working our way up north.

Found some great little spots early on. That was a lot of fun. There's a great joy to be found in discovering cool little spots you never knew about before. Had a margarita and some rice and beans at a dumpy little Mexican restaurant to start out and then had some outstanding wine at a tapas place.

Along the way, it became important for me to try Pimm's cups at as many places as possible - just to see how they stack up to my local bar. Just so you know...I didn't have a good one all night, but that wasn't the point anyway.

We stopped at the 'longest bar east of the Mississippi'. It's at Buck Bradley's and it is pretty damn long. On an interesting note, it's only about six or eight feet longer than the one at my pub here in town. So close...and yet so far away.

The Hofbrauhaus next door was a good stop too, but the bartender there didn't know anything about the Hofbrauhaus in Cincinnati and only a little bit about the original HB joint in Munich. That seemed like something he should have known - you know, part of the basic course.

There were a couple of other stops, but it got a bit hazy after the HBhaus and didn't clear up much until after the worst gyros I've ever eaten. I can say that a fun time was had though - although a question that sounded something like, 'what kind of retard leaves his wallet in a bar?' was asked. I'm going to point out at this point that I don't actually carry a wallet. You can do the math.


Two Days in Paris was an okay movie. I was going to sort of review it, but now I realize it really doesn't need much of a review. It was a quirky little romantic comedy that was entertaining but never really went beyond that.

The best parts of it were Julie Delpy, her parents, and the fact that two old couples actually walked out of it. It was an early show, so I was the only one there under about 60.

Apparently, the sex talk was tad too raw for the oldsters in the theatre.


I've been looking for a new job and have an interview tomorrow at the local newspaper. It's a sports job and sounds pretty positive. We shall see. It would be nice to feel both challenged and rewarded at my job - things that have been sorely lacking where I'm at.

I've got a couple of resumes out - including a couple of foreign ones - but I don't want to jinx them, so mums the word.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Big day?

"The cock is crowing
The stream is flowing
The small birds twitter.
The lake doth glitter...
There's joy in the mountains;
There's life in the fountains;
Small clouds are sailing,
Blue sky prevailing."
- Wordsworth
It's a nice day out today. My bird is whistling the the theme from the Andy Griffith Show in the next room. My coffee tastes pretty good. The sky is looking clear and blue. I think I will hop in my car, make the trek into Milwaukee, grab a bite and maybe catch a movie.

I really want to see Two Days In Paris. It's only in limited release, so I have to go into Milwaukee to see it. But, since I'm a sucker for the chick flicks and I love Paris and Julie Delpy, I guess I can jump through a few hoops to see this one. It looks like it will be a lot like the Before Sunrise/Before Sunset movies that Richard Linklater did. Delpy co-starred in both of those. This is her directing debut and it looks like she shares some movie making sensibilities with Linklater. I was also kind of interested to find that her parents in the movie are really her parents. I'll let you know...

Now...if I can just get moving, maybe I can get this day going.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The opposite of hate is love, the opposite of war is peace

"Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive."
- The Dalai Lama

"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible."
- The Dalai Lama

"My message is the practice of compassion, love and kindness. Compassion can be put into practice if one recognizes the fact that every human being is a member of humanity and the human family regardless of differences in religion, culture, color and creed. Deep down there is no difference."
- The Dalai Lama

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Some things are bigger than us

Sometimes the world seems really big... Does realizing that it isn't very big at all just make us feel that much smaller? It sure makes it easier to understand that we're all just small pieces in a much larger puzzle. Is any piece of a puzzle ever more important than another? Maybe it's good to feel small sometimes.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Strummin' my six string...er...four string

It's been years since I've played any music. Playing it on my iPod, Boris, doesn't count.

Back in the day - way, way, way, back in the day that is - I could sit down and bang some things out on a piano. I also used to play bass - the big ol' upright and electric. Didn't much like the electric bass, but that was more to do with not being able to find one that fit my hands than anything else.

So, I've been wanting to pick up an instrument for a while. I like the idea of sitting around with a couple friends and playing some music. Just the thought of strumming and picking with buddies sounds neat to me. The ability to do that - sadly - doesn't magically appear overnight. Apparently, there are some important steps like learning how to play an instrument and practicing and such. I really don't like complications like that, but some things can't be avoided.

For a long time, I've had my list narrowed down to either guitar or violin. I know, that's to ends of the spectrum, but that's just how I am sometimes. Guitar is the more versatile of the two - obviously. You're much more likely to know someone with a guitar laying about than a violin. And people are just more apt to let you play their guitar than to play their violin.

A few years ago, I added the mandolin to the list. I really like the way they sound. They're really cool looking too - perhaps one of the most beautiful looking instruments ever. They're not the simplest string instrument on the planet however and that prettiness is sort of a barrier to busting it out in a crowd of people - many of whom are likely to be drunk.

Not too long ago, the list was lengthened by the addition of the ukulele. What could be simpler to play and easier to carry around. It's only got four strings, so there's not too much to learn to work with. The ukulele also doesn't span a bunch of octaves, so things are further simplified.

They can create a neat sound and - let's face it - they're just a happy little instrument. Who doesn't smile when they hear a ukulele? The ukulele has got to be the nearly perfect summer instrument - the very embodiment of sunshine, sand and the ocean.

Today, I jumped in. I bought myself a cute little ukulele. It has no name yet, but that will surely come. It's a Lanakai LU-21C - classic length and sort of middle of the road, beginner quality. It looks just like the picture up top.

It's going to have to suffer through a lot of terrible sounding practice sessions, but I think it can handle it. I've learned a couple of nice, little chords already - C major and G7 major. Lo and behold, you can play 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat' with nothing more than the C major chord. So, I guess you could say that I've already learned a song. If you add the G7 in, you can play 'Skip To My Lou'. Who knew? I haven't mastered the sliding back and forth between the chords yet...but it's my first day.

Anyway, it would be nice to at least get a few chords down and learn some basic strummin' along technique. Then it's down to the Sugar Shack with a longboard strapped to the Woody and my ukulele sitting in the back seat. Strum that little baby around the bonfire and watch the Bettys flock around.

Till then...A hui hou! Don't be a Kolohe.


Important update:

Thanks to SME for pointing me over to YouTube to check out some uke clips. I will never get that time back, but it was worth the expenditure. Just so you can get an idea of how I can't play - and may never be able to play - here's a nice little clip:

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

From the mouths of poets and drunks...

Sometimes wisdom comes in small tidbits. Here's a little taste of the wisdom pie from the mind of novelist, poet and great American drunk, Charles Bukowski.

Known for his raw style and oftentimes profane behavior, Bukowski's words are fitting for the time we're living. Not one for bullshit, Bukowski had a way of boiling his words down to their simplest and most direct form. Brutal honestly in a bitter pill.

There are more than a few politicians, pundits and hacks that could use a few ample doses of raw Bukowski.

This one seems hopeful:

“If you're losing your soul and you know it, then you've still got a soul left to lose” - Charles Bukowski

Maybe we could all use a dose, or at least a reminder:
“You begin saving the world by saving one person at a time; all else is grandiose romanticism or politics.” - Charles Bukowski

Or, maybe we just need a little bit of bar wisdom:
“Sometimes you just have to pee in the sink.” - Charles Bukowski

Anyway, wisdom can come from anywhere, but it has to be found. If it's just handed to you, it's probably not wisdom at all - but something else entirely.

Friday, September 21, 2007

What do you say to the younger you?

Ever stop to wonder what you would say to the younger you if you could go back in time? I know I have. Pretty much every time I've wondered about it, I've thought in terms of the me now teaching the me then a few things - you know, sharing my wisdom with the younger me.

A couple days ago, I had reason to wonder it all again. I got in touch with an old friend - Heather - that I haven't really talked to or heard from in years. Don't know why I got hold of her now, but I did. She's running a maternity shop in Alice Springs in Australia. That just seems perfect for her - it's not the least surprising that this would be what she's been doing.

Over a decade ago - god, has it really been that long - Heather got hired on at the frame shop I worked at. She was a welcome addition - especially as the girl she replaced was beyond terrible at the job and only lasted about a week or so. But I digress.

Heather was engaged to Nick. He was the mysterious Aussie she always talked about. And I truly do mean always. The weeks went by and finally the wedding was around the corner. The man of her dreams was coming over to the states and they were getting married. Of course, that's never been a thing that has ever curtailed my flirting nature and I have to admit that I did do more than a little of that back in those days.

Maybe it was her nerves that made her do it - or maybe it was my strange, animal charm - but she couldn't stop herself. She cornered me at the store one day.

"You know Nick will be here in a couple of days..." she said.

"Yeah," I replied, a little unsure where this was going.

"Well, can I ask you a really big favor?"


She paused, obviously nervous, her youth leaving her unprepared to deal with this kind of moment.

"Ummm. It's a huge favor..." she said. "You can say 'no' if you want. I would understand, but it would mean a lot to me."

"I'll do whatever you want Heather," I said. "You know how I feel about you."

She paused again - longer this time - and looked at me as if gauging my sincerity. She always had trouble believing that my sincere moments were real. It was obviously hard for her to ask what she wanted so badly to ask. I tried to smile.

"Ummm... Nick doesn't really have anybody here that he knows very well," she said quickly. "Do you think you could be his best man?"

Of course, I said yes. It was a big honor that she thought enough of our friendship to ask - where did you think this was going? This is a nice story and here you are thinking terrible thoughts. Shame on you.

Anyway, got to drink with Nick before the wedding, so all was good. He was a really nice guy and I was happy for them. We all were - despite the months of hard times we had given Heather for her dreamy preoccupation with her wedding plans.

Then they went over to Australia. I heard from Heather a couple of times. It was nice to get the occasional postcard from the bottom of the world. Her mother and sister stopped in from time to time and kept us up to date too.

The years take their toll though. And eventually we lost touch. Every so often, a moment would make me think of Heather and wonder how she was - but, I'm a pretty lazy person and I seldom got past Googling and letting it drop.

After all this time, would she even want to hear from me? Would she think it weird that I looked her up? I decided to just do it and left a message on the store's guestbook. I was happy - totally silly happy - to get an excited email the next day.

Her story has gone a different way than I imagined it had - who's hasn't come to think of it. A life lived is nothing if not unpredictable. But it sounds like she's figuring out her path. That's not for me to say, or judge, or anything like that, but I can still be interested and even a bit proud.

Anyway, to be honest, this whole thing sort of tilted my world a bit for a few days. I guess memories will do that. It was strange to find myself travelling back so many years ago, looking at myself, and her, the people that came and went in the frame shop, and that whole world with much older eyes.

I always thought that if I could go back and meet the younger me that I would give him plenty of great advice. As it turns out, that me was the one who imparted some wisdom. There are so many things that are easy to lose - dreams, friendships, our direction - and they are all worth holding on to.

That younger me reminded me of some of those things and I feel like I let him down along the road. But the good news is...it's still not to late to recapture some of those dreams and to track down old friends and reconnect. Life doesn't have to be a fairy tale, but you don't have to give up hoping for one.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Check it out...

Phoenix has a great Youtube find up on his blog. U2's Sunday Bloody Sunday done with George W. clips. It's brilliant.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

An open note to terrorists and other not nice people

Dear Terrorist and Other Not Nice People Guys -

I'm sorry if you're pissed off about stuff or you just want to hurry things along and get to those virgins waiting in the sweet-ass garden for you, but some of us are kind of into hanging around on this world. So, could you kindly not blow stuff up anymore? Frankly, it's not very cool and it really cuts into the Britney/Kevin, Brad/Angelina, Tom/Katie news coverage.

I would also sort of like it if you could maybe refrain from using any nuclear or radioactive stuff. You see, I just got an amendment to my insurance that says:

'There is no coverage for loss to any vehicle that results from:
a) nuclear reaction
b) radiation or radioactive contamination from any source
c) the accidental or intentional detonation of, or release of radiation from, any nuclear or radioactive device.*

I'm also apparently not covered for mold or mildew injuries either. And - if that's the case - I suppose nuclear mold or mildew would be doubly out of the question.

As you can see, I'm a bit concerned about the new car. I don't mean to be a dick, but I worked hard for the money to buy it. Also, I think if you look closely, there might be something in the Koran about not being total asswipes and blowing shit up - especially not with nuclear mold.

Anyway, thanks and have a great day.


Some Random American Dude Guy

*There's no mention of 'nucular' stuff though...so, I might still be covered for that. I sure hope I am.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Some of the things I did on my summer vacation...

It was a good summer, cut short by the week of deluge and crap weather...but good nonetheless. For the first time in several years I actually got out and enjoyed a summer before it was over. Yeah me!

Moved in June. It was just across town, but a hassle anyway. Not that it didn't go smoothly - it did - but any move is a drag and this one was certainly that. The best part of it was getting a dish hooked up. I like it so much better than cable - better channels, cheaper and great service. I have to admit that I spent a lot of time just going through all the cool channels and getting caught up on shows that I couldn't

The new place is a couple of blocks from a big park. Not the best park ever, but the river runs through it and it's where they do the Fourth of July fireworks. So the fireworks were going off a couple blocks away. It was pretty cool. I love the boom of fireworks show.

Done a bit of disc golfing this year. It's a good time, but I well and truly suck at it. My friends don't seem to mind too much and they put up with me doubling up their scores. No pictures of any outings - I'm not sure why, but carrying camera around a course is a hassle and that might have something to do with it.

Watched Live Earth this summer. Is it just me, or was that the biggest event that should have made an impact, but didn't really seem to? Huge event. Huge issue. But barely made a dent in anyone's conscious. How much better would the world have been if Al Gore had become president instead of George W? Well, I'm guessing we wouldn't have had 150,000 troops mired down in Iraq and the trillion dollars spent so far on the 'war' wouldn't have been tossed out the window, the response to Katrina wouldn't have taken nearly a week, and the rest of the world wouldn't be wondering what kind of douche bags would elect someone like George W. Bush - twice. Just a thought or two...

Germanfest was another summer winner. Okay, more of a fun diversion than anything else. My favorite gyro cart was there again so I got to feast on them. How they always manage to have cute foreign girls working there every year is one of life's mysteries, but I'll never complain.

There was a rainy day, but it didn't dampen the party mood amongst the oldsters this thing draws out every year. They just polkaed with umbrellas.

I've been down to the farmers market almost every Saturday this summer too. It's only a few blocks away and is a great reason to get up on Saturday morning. I go down, grab a coffee and buy some local produce. It's nice - a bit of European flair for my terribly American life.

Went to a Packers preseason game a little while back. That was - of course - a good time. There's not much that compares to a football game at Lambeau Field. It's just a great vibe. Saw my old neighbors out front. Odd? Why yes it was. But this is Wisconsin and it's almost commonplace to run into people halfway across the state. What can I say? It really is a Wisconsin thing.

Bought a new mountain bike shortly after the move and I love it. It's a Trek and it is really a beautiful piece of rolling fun. Did a lot of riding around town this summer. It was nice to get some much needed exercise. It was especially nice to save a ton on gas too. There was also the added benefit of cutting down my personal contribution to the pollution level. I did indeed feel a bit smug riding my bike to the grocery store and to work.

But, the weather is turning. And with it, I had to buy a new car. Well...new to me.

Got a terribly practical used Pontiac GrandAm in a sober shade of metallic tan. I know - crazy. That's just how I roll. At least that's how I'm rolling now. It's a nice car with low miles and is in great shape, so I can't complain. I'll love it more when I walk out to it in the dead of winter with snow all around, turn the key and hear it start. My love will know no bounds then.

So, there it is. The Reader's Digest version of my summer. Feel free to flesh it out with some nights at the pub, some days laying out in the sun, and with a visit from my friend Eileen. Toss in some bold experiments with cooking and the discovery of two new favorite drinks too.

Till later...tchuss!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Just blowing the dust...

off my computer and testing out the new internet connection. Wow...did I miss having the tubes hooked up. Lived through it though...so I suppose there's hope for net addicts after all.

More later...cheers.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Going back under...

It was fun while it lasted. I was housesitting my Mom's place while she went on vacay, so I had the internets tubes to play with. But, now that's coming to an end. Back to my tubes-free existence.

It was nice to see you all and catch up on your lives a bit. Hope you all keep on plugging away and fighting the good fight.

Also, I got to sponsor three little loans - one for a weaver in Paraguay, one for a woman who collects recycleables in a small cart, and one for a guy with a small glass shop in Azerbijan. Hope they all make a step up the ladder and that my little bit in some way helps.

Oh...and I won an eBay auction too - it's not all noble causes and selflessness here. Better get that paid before I'm off the tubes.

Cheers till next time...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Kiva is cool

Looking for a good way to help people trying to work to better their lives? Check out kiva.org. It's a website that allows you to make small micro-investments in loans to individuals for their small businesses around the world.

Micro-investing is a quickly growing service that reaches people who have no access to large banks. They are typically men or women in developing areas that are running small businesses like selling or making clothing, selling groceries or other similar endeavors. The loans are usually around, or under, $1000 and are made to meet modest needs.

Anyway...kiva.org lets you be part of these loans. You can click through the people asking for loans and select one of them to be part of their loan. A bunch of people donate a small amount to a loan and then when it's filled it is granted. All the loans are handled through reputable groups that deal in micro-banking. Your loan donation is handled through PayPal. When it's paid off, your portion of the loan is credited to your account and you can cash it out or reinvest it.

Cool deal. Check it out for yourself and take part if you want. You might find it satisfying.

Now...I'm going back there to pick someone to loan to.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Radio Silence...

The move is mostly done. Phewww. I hate doing the moving thing. Frankly, it sucks. That is - however - how it goes. Moving is one of life's little adventures. It was only across town though - so that's not too hard to live with.

That means I'm not going to have any internet for a while. I was on a cable hookup, which was nice. But, with the move, I'm switching to the dish for my television needs. That leaves me searching for a different internet connection. It's too expensive to do it through the satellite and I'm not putting in a land telephone line.

There's a new company that's hooking up wireless connections in town and that's probably the way I'll be going. It's actually faster or about the same as my cable now, but they don't throttle down on you when you download. We'll see if that will do the trick. But, it will be a while. So, see you all when I become plugged in with some tech.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

This car isn't safe

“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.” - Winston Churchill

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” - Winston Churchill

What the hell is wrong with this country when we continue to allow the squandering of goodwill in the world? When we allow an arrogant administration and the party that backs it, walking in lock step with it, to weaken our position as leading example for the world?

And why, why, why, is a former leader of the former Soviet Union a far better spokesman for reason, democracy and freedom than the current president of the United States?

Today there was a very good interview with Mikhail Gorbachev on CNN International. It was interesting to hear a reasoned international figure talking about the arrogance of the United States right now. It was clear that he wasn't talking about the country as a whole, but the Bush administration. Despite that, it was also clear that much of the world is beginning to tire of trying to discern the difference.

Bush has cost us a lot already. His administration is a series of failures with no real successes to show for all the bluster and bullying. I asked a conservative friend the other day to name one member of the Bush administration that was competent, much less good, at their job. He had no answer. There's a reason for that. The reason is that this president has chosen cronyism over competence.

And here we are, more than half a year after a resounding rejection of his policies across the board. Has this administration listened to the will of the people? Hell no. The only people this administration cares about are those that are closely allied with it. Those people are the same ones raking in record oil profits, pocketing billions that are supposed to be rebuilding the infrastructure of war-torn Iraq, or socking away much of the money that should be rebuilding our own city of New Orleans and helping those who lost everything in hurricane Katrina. This is an administration with policies built on deception, an administration led by incompetents at best and criminals at worst, and an administration that is making our country less and less safe.

Meanwhile, there are still many in the President's party who refuse to stand up for America and Americans. It's more important to them to help shove the broken ideas of the Bush administration forward despite the obvious lack of wheels, engine, or steering wheel.

This is the wreck of a vehicle that the Republican party wants to tie us to. Screw that. It's time for a new car. And screw the shysters that keep trying to sell us this lemon. Shame on them. Shame on the Republican leadership.

Anyway, back to Gorbachev's interview.

Maybe the most important thing he said was when he was talking about the surplus of goodwill that the United States built up with the then Soviet Union in the 1980s. It was the spirit of partnership that was offered that allowed the Soviet Union to make moves toward democracy, not blustering threats. Keeping that in mind, ask yourself what it means when one of the two men most responsible for ending the Cold War says that the United States has squandered away much of the goodwill it had built up in past decades. He also mentioned one of the above quotes by Winston Churchill - the one about counting on Americans to do the right thing, after they've tried everything else.

Maybe it means nothing. Maybe it's very telling.

Either way, the arrogance and carelessness of the Bush administration and his staunch Republican supporters - several of whom can be found in the Republican primary race - is hurting this country's prestige abroad. It's eroding the moral authority we once had. And it's making the world less safe. Is this a path we should continue down? Should this unsafe vehicle be allowed to stay on the road?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

You don't have to say the N-word to be a cracker

To set the stage, Charlie Sykes is conservative radio host here in Milwaukee. He has an ongoing feud with several black politicians in the city, particularly a specific member of local government who actually deserves to be feuded with. In addition, he likes to bash the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal, the local metro paper - this isn't such a bad thing as the J-S sort of deserves to be bashed for bad coverage. He's also been successfully sued for libel.

And, while he seems to enjoy playing moral arbiter for the greater metro area, he's an adulterer who left his wife and children for another woman. You can bet that didn't slow him down when Bill Clinton was being bashed for getting a blow job though.

Anyway, the other day the J-S ran an editorial saying that felons should be allowed to vote. They even went so far as to say that people released from prison on probation should also be allowed to vote.

I happen to believe that once a person's time has been served, they should be allowed to integrate back into society - and that means being allowed to vote or not vote if they choose. By no means do I believe that those serving time should be allowed the privilege of voting while serving their punishment. That - to me - seems reasonable, but I'm perfectly willing to listen to other viewpoints because there are many sides to an issue like this.

Here's where Charlie boy and I diverged. He was clearly intent on eliminating any real conversation on the subject - most subjects actually - and felt it important to toss out handfuls of bilious statements.

Going from a relatively reasonable point of believing it's not right to allow felons to vote and certainly not those still on probation, Charlie Sykes asked repeatedly who do the listeners think is behind this massive push to enroll felons as voters? Never mind that there hasn't been any push of the kind and the editorial was the lone voice on the subject.

I'll save you the suspense, of course it's the liberals.

So, after several minutes of Charlie Sykes and some callers talking about how 'those people' would all vote Democratic and it's all a jaded move by liberals to topple the righteous regime of conservatism, I had to call in.

Of course, I never get past the screener.

"What do you want to say?"

"I want to say it's a bit disingenuous to not express what Charlie is really trying to say."

"What do you mean sir?"

"I mean, when we're saying that felons will most likely vote Democratic, we're really saying black people."

The screener boy responded with a not-to-surprising 'define sexual relations' statement that Charlie never said black people. He was right of course. Charlie never did say that black people released from prison shouldn't be allowed to vote because they would vote liberal - but you don't have to say the 'N-word' to be a cracker.

Why is it so hard for people to logically defend their arguments?

The screener went of to say that there have been studies done by the Democrats that show that a majority of felons would likely vote Democrat if they had the chance and that's why the liberals want to sign them up.

Huh? What study was that Barney Fife?

Never mind the bullshit about all these major studies done by the Democrats, how about the common sense of the freakin' argument? If the majority of felons would vote liberal, and the majority of the felons in our system are black...does it not stand to reason that we're most likely referring to blacks.

Anyway, that's really all I have to say. I'm just so very tired of the hate-spewing right wing. But, I'm not surprised by the cowardice of Charlie Sykes and his screener boys.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

This and that...all adding up to not much really

Business abounds. Last week was downright brutal. Not an amazingly huge amount of hours, but the fact that it was all switching back and forth between nights and days. Grrrr.

Well, what are you going to do? I have a job and that puts me ahead of a lot of people.

Weather has been pretty nice...until this weekend, of course. I've had a couple of days off and it's been somewhat sunny for short bursts in between the torrential downpours that have been what passes for excitement around these parts.

The crap weather has not been too helpful for the local Seafood Festival. It doesn't break my heart though.

This is one of the ridiculous festivals that communities toss up every year. It has nothing to do with seafood - how could it in an area known for it's blue-collar manufacturing, not it's fishing. We're not part of the Lake Michigan fishing scene and the river that runs through town is only good fishing if you like three-headed carp.

In fact, the only fish you'll find on the menu is some fried, battered cod freshly pulled from the freezer. There's plenty of hot dogs though.

Oh yeah, we've got crafts too. If you need a lovely, homemade candle, let me show you to the stall with the sorry looking woman displaying her fine selection of 10 candles. Not your thing? Then maybe a dreamcatcher made with flourescent yarn? I swear to Great White Buffalo Calf Woman, you could raid the art room at my nephew's elementary school and present a better selection of wares.

Okay, I feel better now.

On another note, Gregg and I are writing a movie. It's a great concept and could really make a good film. More on that later, but for now it's under wraps. Both of us just want to end up with a finished screenplay and see what happens from there. We're both sort of slackers, so teaming up will keep us working a bit more than we would alone.

And, on an even different note, I'm going to be moving across town in the next couple of weeks, so I might be in an internet free zone for a while. Maybe I'll get everything hooked up quickly though. We shall see, we shall indeed see.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Take yer HT and shove it up yer ML...

Only a computer dork would care...but I just realized that IE now properly recognizes and displays PNG images. That means it can handle transparent images. Earth shattering news? Hardly. But it is somewhat nice to see that the major browsers are slowly getting closer to actually following the rules that allow websites to be read.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Telling the tale...part three

Haven't been feeling much like tapping fingers on keyboard lately. But, in an effort to once again prove to myself that writer's block is nothing more than laziness, I'm going to wrap up my reader's digest version of my trip.

It wasn't all Danish countryside and bike rides to the shore. The main reason for my trip was to visit Steffi. We didn't have as much time as I would have liked, but we had fun anyway. It was nice to meet Rudiger and Steffi's little girl Lilly. We had a few walks and we all had some good times around the table with some nice food, wine and beer.

One of the best parts of the trip was having Lilly come in, jump on my bed and wake me up. She's a vivacious little girl and likes to play. We hit it off great and were instantly the bestest of pals. That picture of her up above is with her Mom...she's wearing a pair of my boxers that she dug out of my bag and decided would make an excellent dress. Who was I to argue?

At two and half, she speaks both German and English. It was adorable to hear her little, tiny voice pointing out flowers, birds and cows in both languages. It was a bit overwhelming to face that kind of energy when you're used to the quiet house of a single guy, but it was good to be taken out of my own selfish routines by the needed attentions of a little girl.

Oldenburg is a nice city. There's a cool old town area that's nice to walk around and where it's great to watch people. I spent a couple of hours in the city one evening when Steffi was teaching a Pilates class. I wandered, she taught, and later we met for a stroll to a cafe for a coffee.

I got to wander around again another night with Rudiger. We had a dinner in the cafe and a beer while we waited to meet Steffi. It was cool to get to talk to him a bit with no one else around. He's a really nice guy and it was nice to get to know him a bit. I really admire how Europeans seem to be able to shed the weird baggage that most Americans seem to carry around. I was friends with his wife - so, I was friends with him too. If there was any strangeness to it in Rudiger's mind, he never showed it. That's pretty rare.

One evening we all drove to a little beach area along a nearby river. It was a relaxing way to hang out. I was proud that I got one of the boat captains to give us a toot of his horn. There were several big boats heading up and down the river - to and from the harbor at the coast. Finally, after much effort, the last boat we saw as we were getting ready to go gave us a few blasts of his horn. The captain stepped out and gave us a wave and the crew joined in. Sometimes it takes a crazy American to get the Germans to step out of their routines - I think they secretly like us for it.

Also, got to spend a couple of nights in some big cities. Stayed overnight in Hamburg on the way back from Denmark. That was a night of debauchery - but, I'm single and have no one to explain myself to, I guess. Let's just say that a couple of gorgeous, young blondes may have ravaged me in a room above the Reeperbahn and the Prince cigarette afterward may have tasted outstanding in the tawdry glow of the neon lights streaming in the window. Or, maybe not...you decide.

Met a cool bartender in Hamburg. She was from Poland. Her boyfriend works on large ships as a welder, but times are tight for shipbuilders and he was out of work. Met a couple of cool guys at the same seedy little bar by the harbor. It was fun to talk politics and hear their veiwpoints.

Hamburg is a party town, filled with party people. It was fun...but a bit too much for me.

The next day, I saw a May Day parade starting and wandered down among the crowds of socialists, workers, and communists. There were quite a few people out - probably a few thousand. Signs, music, and slogans were all about.

It was a beautiful day, but I couldn't help but remember that it was traditionally the day that American specialists would gain the intelligence about the Soviet Union that we based much of our policy on - simply put, they would analyze photos of the May Day parade in Moscow and see who was sitting in the prime spots to see who was in and out of favor. Scarey to think that nuclear war literally hung in the balance.

Went to a good museum in Hamburg. Saw some great artwork. But sometimes museums just don't get me excited. This was one of those times.

On my way to Frankfurt to catch my plane home, I stopped in Koln for the night. Koln is a party town too...but in a classy way. It was beautiful and the people there were really nice. Met a couple of older guys who told me some good places to go that night and one gave me his email and said to email him next time I was coming to Koln and he would arrange some sightseeing and a bit of beer drinking with some friends. Another example of how open a lot of Europeans are.

Had one of the best pizzas ever in Koln, by the way. Who would have guessed? It was awesome and got me many offers of comradery as I carried it back through the streets to my hotel. It's easy to make friends in Koln...just go out drinking or carry a pizza through the streets - or both.

Got up and looked at the Dom the next day. It's the gorgeous cathedral in the middle of town. Had some breakfast, took a shower and walked around a bit before catching the ICE to Frankfurt and my plane home. The ICE is fast and smooth and terribly cool. There's nothing like sitting in a first-class car in the front of the train, sipping a coffee from a real china cup and watching the country roll by. I love the trains in Europe.

The flight home was long...long...long...and I had to take a bus from Chicago to Milwaukee to avoid staying overnight...but I still managed to stop at my local pub when I got back. I'm nothing if not a trooper.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Telling the tale...part two

So, Wednesday found me in a new country and a whole new set of experiences to come. Per had met me at the station. As my journal tells me, it was something like this:

"Stepped from the train in Thisted and saw a concerned older man looking at the faces of people getting off at the station. I knew it was Per when I saw him look more closely at a man with facial hair. By then, I had walked around the bike racks with the ever present mob of bicycles and was able to call his name. A quick smile confirmed that it was indeed my host, Per."

We had the lovely dinner I mentioned last post and drove north to Bulbjerg. It's a hill on the coast that had a German bunker built on it during the war. The bunker is still there and it's a bit freaky to go inside it and feel the ghosts of the war there with you. There's only a long horizontal slit to look out of, but the view is pretty amazing.

Gulls of some North Atlantic variety nest on the cliffs below and we wandered down there to see them guarding their own little pieces of the white cliffs.

Then, we returned to Per's farmhouse. It's beautiful - low and white and sporting a thatched roof. It's very Scandinavian. He showed me my 'room,' which was really more an attached guest cottage than a room. It was originally a sheep barn, but now feels like a bed and breakfast.Very nice indeed.

We had some wine and conversation that night which was just the beginning of some interesting tales. Per is an interesting fellow who once did business across Europe, including the former East Germany. As a youngster, he met Karen Blixen who had a home nearby. He said he was always a little frightened of her because she always wore black and stayed mostly covered up. She was pale and sick at the time too - adding to her frightening look.

Thursday - "Today was a full day, but also not so full at all. It was simple and basic, but full of life."

Awoke at about 8 a.m. and fell back asleep until 9:30. Late for breakfast - the story of my life. Ate a nice European breakfast with bread, honey, jam, cheese, and coffee.

Rode the bike to Lild - the small fishing village by the water. Walked the rocky beach and found a piece of amber.

Came back and joined visiting family at lunch. They were all very nice and made me feel welcome.

Conversation, good food and some wine rounded out the day and I again went to bed content.

Friday - Did some sightseeing and then made our way down to Sonder Nissum - the small village where my Mother's brother is buried. He was shot down during the war. He was a pilot officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force and flew in a Lancaster bomber. He was only 21 when he died just months before the war ended in Europe.

Found the cemetery and the grave. There were several other Allied soldiers buried there as well - all next to each other in one part of the cemetery.

The Danish people do a beautiful job of maintaining and caring for their graves and they take great care of the soldiers' graves as well.

Came back by a different way and stopped at a shipwreck museum in Thorsminde - on the coast. Had another great meal at the restaurant there - St. George (it's named after a big British ship that wrecked there. Had a traditional Danish dinner of two pieces of fish - one boiled and one fried or baked and served on a piece of bread with a nice sauce and some asparagus hearts. Had some great Danish beer too. It was very good in the way only very fresh fish can taste.

Took the ferry on the way back. The air was brisk and the water was nice. The water here is still very cold - so the wind was chilly.

Went for a short bike ride when we returned - almost to the shore, but the ground was still too wet to make it all the way.

Came back and had dinner and then we all walked to see the sunset. Stood on a hill where you could just see the sea between the big dunes.

The day birds slowly went quiet as the sun sank into the water behind the hills, leaving the evening to the night creatures.

"There was mist rising from the small ponds and I learned there is a Danish expression for it that means 'the old woman is brewing beer.' It was a nice thought."

<more to come>

How to tell the tale?

There are so many different experiences, thoughts, sights and sounds to describe that there's really no way to do it...but to do it. So, the Reader's Digest summary it shall be.

Friday - Saturday - Flew from Milwaukee to Chicago to Frankfurt. That's a lot of flying if you've got a back that hurts. It's even longer if you have no patience for sitting in a cramped seat next to a fellow traveller who absolutely refuses to surrender any of the common armrest between you. So, I fidgeted a lot and got up and down quite a bit too...it was semi-sweet revenge.

The airport in Frankfurt very nice. It's easy to find your way around, pretty clean and the people working there are very nice and helpful. Caught a train right there at the airport and continued the long trek to northern Germany.

The train, a high-speed ICE, took me through Hannover and Bremen and on to Oldenburg. The girls in the the Hannover Hauptbahnfhoff are very cute...or at least a lot of them are. Believe me - I checked. Called Steffi along the way and told her my estimated arrival time and agreed to call when I got to Oldenburg.

Steffi and Rudiger picked me up at the station and took me to their home. Steffi's Dad was also in town, so it was nice to see him again. And I finally got to meet Lilly. She wasted no time in climbing all over me. Nothing wakes you up from travel stupor like a vibrant two-year old climbing on you, wanting attention.

Went for a walk with Steffi in the countryside, stayed up for a bit, and finally crashed into the soft mattress for some sleep.

Sunday - We all went for a walk on the moors, outside of Oldenburg. Yes, they really were moors. There were still trenches in the landscape where they used to cut peet to burn and build with. It was a beautiful day and a nice walk.

The beautiful weather stayed around for the entire two weeks I was in Europe. They're in the grips of an unusually nice spring this year - which sounds great, but is terrible for the farmers.

After the moor walk, we drove to the coast and had cake and coffee at a place by the water. That was the home of the giant penis in the sand. What beach is complete without a giant penis protruding from the sand?

Came home, had dinner and watched a Sting DVD while drinking some excellent German beer.

Monday - The jet lag hit me on Monday and I slept in until 1 p.m. Everyone worried that I had died in my sleep, but an occasional snore proved that I was still alive.

Went swimming with Steffi and Lilly. I haven't gone swimming in a pool in a long time. It was nice and warm...and not too crowded. Did a few laps.

Wandered around Oldenburg while Steffi taught a Pilates class in the city that evening. It was nice to just wander a bit. Used some of my bad German to get a coffee and to find batteries and a new bathing suit.

We met up later and had another round of coffee and some desert at a restaurant by the old church in the center of the old town.

Tuesday - Lazy day. Got up and had a great German breakfast - some cheese, some bread, some spread, and a bit of meat. The girls went for a long walk, so I went for a short walk around the neighborhood.

Bernhard built a fire in the fireplace on the patio at night and we sat around it with some nice red wine. There's something primal about a fire and combined with the wine it helped the conversation flow.

Wednesday - Got up early and B. took me to the train station in Oldenburg. He walked me up to the platform and was - I think - a bit impressed that I could get a schedule with all the stops and changes printed up at the ticket office.

Went to Bremen, then Hamburg, then onto Denmark. Switched trains once in Denmark on my way to the end of the line in Thisted.

Per, a friend of Steffi's, met me there with his daughter Nina and his German Shepard Heidi. We had a nice meal at a restaurant by the water, dining and while watching the boats and a couple of frolicking girls.

<More to come>

Monday, May 07, 2007

Trail to the Sea

This is the little double-track trail I took to the beach in Denmark. It went from Per's farmhouse to the little fishing village called Lild. It made for a nice bike ride through the forest and down to the sea.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Walking with dead Vikings

I've done a lot of things in my life, but I have never hung out with dead Vikings before. I have now.

We stopped at an old Viking cemetary in Denmark by the fjord. I know...how cool is it that I was able to say fjord in such a casual way - as if I've been wandering around them for years? Pretty neat, huh?

Anyway, back to the Vikings. They were pretty rough and tumble back in the day, but they're much quieter now. Perhaps it has something to do with being dead, but I like to think they've just mellowed a bit.

I'm sure you're probably thinking that I'm making up the whole Viking thing.

Maybe you're thinking, "Hah, I've caught you in your web of lies now Shawn...I saw that movie with the Vikings and they get sent off in flaming ships, not buried!"

Well, I can assure you that many off them did indeed get buried. I've seen it with my own eyes. Plus, the signs told me so - or they would have if I read Danish, but it was pretty obvious that they would have told me that all the little piles around the field with big rocks on top were Viking graves. They would have also let me know that the rocks were arranged in such a way as to represent a ship - or at to appear to be a shiplike rock to the trained and perceptive Viking eye.

It was really a neat place and made you think about how little we've actually changed in the last thousand years.

The thing about dead Vikings though, is that they don't really talk much. So, our conversations were a bit doomed from the beginning. It might have been the language barrier, or maybe they had a hard night the night before, or maybe it was just that they were - well - dead.

Despite that, I would definitely recommend going to hang out with some dead Vikings if ever you're in Denmark.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

I'm in Denmark now...

Been in Denmark for a few days and it´s pretty amazing. Definitely should be on everyone's list of awesome places to visit. I'm staying on a farm right near the North Sea. The farm is home to Per, Nina, Heidi the German shepard, and a bunch of Icelandic horses.

I've been to the water and walked the rocky beach (most other beach areas are more sandy) near a small fishing village called Lild. Looked at the little boats pulled up on shore. There are still fishermen who go out from there and catch some fish. There used to be more, but - of course - the changing conditions of the ocean and the world have cut those numbers dramatically.

Met a nice lady who was searching for lucky stones. They are rocks that have a hole worn through the middle and look like little donuts. I was lucky and found a nice piece of amber. Per, my host here, told me there is a name for people who can find amber easily and perhaps I am one of those. That wouldn't surprise me since I do notice things and I have a bit of an affinity for the sea.

I've gone walking or bicycle riding during the day and we take an evening walk before sitting down with a glass or two of wine and some conversation. Per is full of amazing stories and be a great spokesman for the Danish tourist board, he loves it here so much.

Yesterday, we drove to find the grave of my Mother's brother. He was shot down in the late days of the war and washed ashore south of here. He was buried in S√łnder Nissum, a small village south of the Nissum Fjord. We found the place and Per bought some flowers for me to plant. I took some photos for my Mom so she could see that it was well-tended spot. There were several soldiers buried there next to one another by the lovely old church.

It was quite emotional for me, even though I never knew my uncle. Maybe it was knowing how much it would mean for my Mother. Or maybe it was looking at his stone and realizing that he was so young - only 21 years old - and his life held such great promise.

Speaking of churches, the one in Per's village has ancient carved stones built into it. They are very old and one of them - the cock (a rooster, you dirty minds)- is on the 100 Kroner note.

Per pointed out - during our driving - some little burial hills from Viking times and earlier that held the remains of local chiefs. After he pointed them out, I started seeing them everywhere. It's really quite amazing how many there are around here. And although many have been lost, there are a lot still intact - intact and possibly untouched. The people with them on their land are now trying to preserve them for future generations. It's really a wonderful country like that - they are very conscious of their effects on the land and try hard to minimize those effects. We would all do well to follow the Danish example.

I don't know what my plans are for the next few days. I might head to Copehavn for a little look about, but I'm not sure. I'm supposed to be back in Oldenburg, Germany on Monday in time for the ballet that evening. The ballet - gasp - and I haven't a thing to wear!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

you try typing on a German keyboard

No...I'm actually really serious. It took me a good three minutes to figure out how to get the at sign to work. Throw in letters in the wrong spots and you have a disaster brewing.

After about 4000 hours on the plane and trains, it was nice to get here and relax. Went for a walk with my friend Steffi last night. We went out in the country a bit. She´s sort of a nature girl. It was a nice walk.

Went for a little walk today. There are a lot of moors around here. Very pretty. Then we went to the seaside and had cake and coffee. Of special interest there is the giant penis statue on the beach. Yes, you read that right...a giant penis. Hard as a rock too...literally and figuratively.

It´s been beautiful weather too. Nice spring weather over here.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Indian bling time

It's probably best that I'll be on my way to Germany Friday. It will distract me from the bummer of yet another beautiful woman being scratched from the list. Not that I'm saying I was going to be going out with Aishwarya Rai anytime soon, but at least when she was single...

Anyway, India's Aishwarya is getting married Friday and it's going to be the big whizbang party of the decade over there. There's going to be some serious glitter, shine and flash going on - that's for sure. Rai is the top of the pile in Indian film, the closest thing to royalty left in the country once known for the lavishness of it's princes, princesses and other royals. I've been watching her in Bollywood films for years. My favorite was probably 'Devdas' - it's long, but worth the watch. I also liked her in 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam' - try saying that five times fast.

So, as I'm winging my way to Europe, yet another dream is disappearing - going the way of my Olympic medal aspirations - destined to never come true. The march of time goes on.

Come to think of it though...curling is an Olympic sport and Europe is filled with beautiful women. So all hope is not lost. Take that march of time.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tee minus two days...

In just over a day, I'll be winging my way to Europe for a couple of weeks. After sitting beyond the horizon for the last couple of months, the reality of taking off is suddenly breathing down my back. I guess that's not to untypical.

The long stretch of being away for two weeks seemed like so much time not too long ago. Now it seems like it won't be any time at all. That's probably a common feeling too. I'm only going to be in Germany and Denmark anyway, so I suppose two weeks is going to be long enough.

Spent part of today shopping for some things I needed - or wanted. Bought a charger for my iPod, Boris, and an adaptor for the European plugs I'll be running into. Also picked up some gifts for Steffi and the rest. Got my Eurail pass by FedEx yesterday. That was a load off.

Really, all I have to do is pack, stop for a few small things at the store and take my bird, Joey, to be boarded.

Monday, April 16, 2007


Screams erupt as shards of hot metal rip into human flesh. Some die so quickly that a scream never leaves their mouths - the grim lethality of the uncaring tool of destruction striking so quickly that their brains never have the chance to tell their mouths to yell in pain and terror.

No, the screams come from those who are spared. Those who are spared from quick death by an accident of feet, inches, or millimeters. Those screaming are the ones who may just live. They will be carrying scars - inside and out - but they will be granted a few more days, or weeks, or years here. They will be able to call parents, brothers and sisters, and friends to say that they are okay. Well, maybe not okay. But they are alive.

The fear born on this one spot - a speck of a spot no different than many other spots - radiates out. Those nearby run for cover, seeking any safety they can find in a world suddenly unsafe.

The word travels farther afield. Something just happened. Something terrible, horrific, heinous. Death is lose and striking people down in less time than a blink.

Cel phones ring.

Those dialing them are calling out for aid. Something terrible has just happened and someone needs to come right away. Right away. Please come fast.

Everything is confusion. Chaos is all around. The order of life has been violently shattered. There is never anything normal about violent death. Or maybe there is and that is what is so frightening. When the thin veneer of control and culture is stripped away so forcefully, can it ever be repaired? The answer is, of course, no. Nothing is ever the same after such a terrible thing.

Farther away, the event is picked up by news outlets. Reports are confused. One person has been killed. No it's 15, 20, 30 dead. People turn from what they've been doing. Where was that? What happened? Why doesn't anyone know anything?

For many, it's just a horrible act. It's terrible and awful, but it's not hitting their lives. But for others, one second has changed everything. The girl with the impertinant smile and quick wit is lying in a pool of blood, her dark hair matted in a congealed puddle of red. The shy boy with the good grades and funny glasses will never worry again about his grades - there are no grades in death. The husband who was just going to work can't console his wife or explain what happened to his children - the life was blasted from him, maybe at the very second he took in a deep breath and marvelled at the wonder of life.

Do those who die so quickly care if the day was sunny or grey? Do they have enough time ask why this has happened to them? Or, is the only word that comes to mind - fuck!

On Saturday, a car bomb exploded in Karbela, Iraq. 50 people were killed. There was no warning, no reason beyond someone's dark and twisted need to destroy. Today, someone took the lives of at least 30 people in Virginia. There was no warning and no reason for this massacre either.

Stop for one minute and ask yourself if either is more horrific than the other. Stop and imagine the terrible way that lives have been shattered. Stop and ask yourself what if it was your family.

Think until the understanding dawns that suffering is the same in Iraq as it is in Virginia. The parents of young people killed in Virginia and the parents of young people in Iraq, or Africa, or anywhere violence strikes, all share the same tears. And then pause and say a prayer for those everywhere who are suffering right now. And say one for yourself too - that you will always remember to have compassion and to feel for everyone.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I've got yer easy pieces right here

Sometimes the tubes of the internets are pretty awesome. Just when I was beginning to wonder what ever happened to well written pieces of journalism, I read this one. Someone read it and sent the link to someone who sent it to Ottmar Liebert and he posted the start of it on his blog with a link. It's really kind of interesting and - like I said before - well written. Bravo Washington Post Magazine for going with it amd thanks Gene Weingarten for writing it.

Monday, April 09, 2007

"Before we beg, our begging bowl has to be emptied..."

-Chogyam Trungpa

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Big Orange Moon

The moon - orange and large - danced at tree-top level as I drove out to do a job last night. Sometimes to the left of the asphalt path I was on and sometimes to the right - shifting with each curve in the road. A bit to the left, a bit to the right, but always there in front of me, bobbing like a boxer.

Thoughts crossed my conscious, coming in Chandleresque bursts like slugs from an automatic. That's just how I am. The latest reading seeps into my being and sweats it's way out of my pores.

Of course, it wasn't really reading at all that was clipping my inner dialogue shorter than a drill sergeant's cropped hair. It was 'The Adventures of Philip Marlowe' on my iPod that was doing that work. Episode after half-hour episode, LA's best-known private detective was seeping into my head.

"Damn you Marlowe! Let me go. Let me go I say...or else."

"Or else what? You've had me locked up in there for long enough. Now I'm long on time and short on answers, and you're going to change the answers part. And if you don't give me the answers, you're gonna at least do some listening. Brother, have I got a story to tell."

He had me. I bit like a hungry small-mouthed bass on a warm summer evening.

It wasn't till I sat through a marathon of his stories that I realized what a chump I was. Yeah, he played me like a patsy and I sat there and took it. Took it and kept coming back for more.

I couldn't get enough of his stories. The Orange Dog, The Panama Hat, Red Wind - his stories filled my night.

And when the I finally dragged myself home early this morning - just beating the sun and chirping birds, the bane of all drunks and night workers - the moon was still there. Higher in the sky and bright white instead of orange, but there.

Was it laughing at me? Maybe, but I was too tired to care and just smart enough to know I couldn't do anything about it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

This and that...and a couple other things too

The light, citrus tones of my Kenya blend coffee aren't changing the fact that the sun has once again been hidden behind a blanket of grey. On the bright side though, it's still pretty warm and nice out and the coffee tastes pretty good.

It's my day off and I want to get moving but my paycheck is in hiding - perhaps it's in the back pocket of the missing sun. Anyway, it's got me tied up waiting since a lot of the errands I need to do are - well - tied to money.

Most important - after doing some laudry - is getting online and ordering a rail pass for my trip to Germany. I'm sort of wavering between a two-country pass and a three-country pass. Either would save me a ton o' money since a round-trip train ticket from Frankfurt (where I'm flying into) and the city up north where Steffi lives costs just about as much as a pass. It would make things easier too. Just ask Josh and Eileen how speedy quick I am when it comes to buying train tickets - they've both seen it live.


I defy anyone to listen to Francoise Hardy's 'Message Personnel' and not be filled with the desire to bust open that dusty box of old letters on the shelf in the closet.

It's got me wanting to. But - in a weird 'this goes against the natural order' kind of way - I'm just don't feel like tripping down memory lane. That's right, the nostalgia train is leaving the station and I'm not on it.

Toot! Toot!


Okay, any of you who know me too well can just skip this part. I folded. How could I not? A box full of dreams, wishes, what ifs, and what weres...you had to know I would dive in.

It was interesting to remember that in 1987, my friend Nancy was in deep in her third year at Princeton and I was - well - not at Princeton. My friend Eric's girlfriend was writing to me - it still weirds me out that she was hitting on me by mail. And I was still talking to Jennifer - my childhood crush - pretty regularly.

I really only teared up a bit thinking about Nancy. She was so very much a girl I would have married. I still wonder what might have been if my family hadn't moved my senior year.

Oh well, I wouldn't have met any of the other people that have touched my life since then. And her life went a way that has made her happy too - so, I wouldn't want to change that. Some things are left in the past I guess.


Still waiting on my money. Grrrrr. This is more annoying than when I used to do freelance writing and waited around for checks to show up in the mail. Come to think of it, I sort of miss those days too. I don't miss the feeling of rushing to the mailbox only to find that an expected check hadn't arrived though.


Anybody have any memorable firsts? I just remembered my first published photo. It was in an equestrian magazine called 'Horseplay'. I was so excited. Not only was my photo in a national magazine, but I was also getting paid for it.

They sent me a couple copies of the magazine and a check for $25.

I tore into the magazines like a four-year old on Christmas morning. And there it was in all it's glory. About two thirds of the way into the magazine, slightly larger than a quarter, was my picture of a broken English saddle. It's likely that a new father would be more proud, but I wouldn't have believed it at the time.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Just another day

Woke up today before noon with more than eight hours of sleep to see another nice day. Blue sky, warm air. What the hell? Warm days strung together in a series...I vaguely remember the last time that happened.

So, now I'm drinking African coffee, listening to bad French music, thinking about sailing around the world and watching squirrel bounce by - all the while trying to ignore the fact that Joey, my bird, joining in the singing doesn't improve bad French music in any way.

Talked to Steffi yesterday. It brought my upcoming trip to Germany that much closer. It's going to be nice to see her again. It's been more than several years now.

So much has changed and so much is - ultimately - the same. In anyone else's life, taking a trip to see a German girl met at a yoga ashram in California who still holds a piece of their heart despite being married and having a delightful child and cool-sounding dog might be considered odd. Just another unexplained phenomenon in my life and not at all out of place.

Maybe it's a flaw - living life a bit out of synch and in slightly dreamy way. I don't really know any other way. Yeah, I fall in love 50 times a day, let my mind go off on vividly imagined tangents, and lack the practicality that drives the majority around me to buy new cars, live in a houses they can't afford and give up on actually enjoying life - but I think that might just be okay.

Also got a call from Jimmy yesterday. Went over to his new place - which is actually Barb's old place - and hung out with a bunch o' people. It was so warm that we just had fun hanging out of the front porch with plenty of beer and cigarettes.

Later on, we all went over to hang out on Phil's roof. He's got an apartment in an old building on the main drag in West Bend - and access to the enormous roof. It was a great night.

Now...off to work. Eeeeegads! Man, I don't want to go do this.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

SXSW delivers some good tunes

People around here like to brag about Summerfest and tell you it's the biggest music festival around. They're right about it being nifty and there are lot of good bands that come to Milwaukee during the week and a half run of the 'fest. But, I would much rather go to SXSW in Austin.

SXSW is a big ol' bunch of shows spread around the clubs and venues of the city. There are a ton - no really, a ton - of bands and musicians that make appearances. And, while there are plenty of well known names, it's mostly about up and coming or indie talent. This is out of the mainstream stuff - but the music is far from radical, it's just pretty darn good.

SXSW also features movies and interactive stuff too. I reckon you really just need to be there to enjoy those gems though. It looked like there might have been some interesting movies showing too. There's a bit of an interesting movie-making scene in Austin, so i'm guessing they draw a lot of talent.

Anyway, at the SXSW site, there's a listing of all the bands that were playing. Many of the bands have a free track up that can be downloaded. I went through and downloaded a bunchity bunch of them, stuck them in a folder and made a playlist. I can already tell that this is going to get some heavy listening - it's just that good.

My current faves from this batch:

Melissa McClelland
The Hudsons
Jo Mango
Joshua James
The Comas

Go take a listen if you like and you might find that you do indeed like.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sunday hoops fun...

Decided to go to Chicago on Sunday for Round Two of the NCAA tournament. My brother really wanted to go, so we went. It was even more fun than the first day. Not so great for Wisconsin fans, but fun nontheless.

The Badgers played a pretty sucky game again and it cost them a trip to the Sweet 16. They did mount a run in the second half and held the lead for a while, but ultimately they were outplayed by UNLV.

That's the common analysis anyway. I know it all came down to cheerleaders. UNLV simply had cuter cheerleaders. Oh sure, Wisconsin had some cute cheerleaders and they were a lot more athletic than UNLV's, but it clearly wasn't enough.

We could have tipped the scales back with our fans, but there simply weren't enough cute Wisconsin butts to turn the tide.

Some might scoff at such analysis, but they should maybe check out the results of the other game on Sunday before they start making their loud scoffage. Believe me, I know what I'm talking about. I'm an expert on cute girls and I used to be a sports editor.

The Kansas - Kentucky game was much more exciting. Kansas ran away with it, but it was exciting.

Met some cool people in the stands. They JayHawk fans were pretty nuts. There were a ton of them too. I would have hated being in Kansas this last weekend though. All the cute Kansas girls were in Chicago. It was almost enough to fool a guy into thinking that Kansas would be an awesome place to live. I - however - am not just any guy. I've been to Kansas before and I remember it all too well.

Michael Jordan was the game. He was in a booth a couple sections over and below us. That's kind of neat. No Ashley Judd though. That would have been even cooler. I would trade a Michael Jordan brush with greatness for an Ashley Judd brush with greatness any day.

Anyway, a fun time was had all around and it was a great little experience to put into the collection of stuff that I've done.

P.S. - Chicago traffic blows. It's bound to be bad news when you put that many crappy drivers on overly packed tollways. Sure enough, Illinois drivers didn't let us down and proudly maintain the world's worst drivers title.