Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Write a Bad Song

Of all the wonderful gifts I've received from my wife over the years, one of the best was songwriting lessons from the Milwaukee roots rock treasure John Sieger. Who is John Sieger? Mr. Sieger writes catchy tunes that serve as the backbone of what makes the Milwaukee music scene unique. He's partnered with Paul Cebar, rubs elbows Bodeans, and - OMG! - is friends with one of my personal music heroes: Robbie Fulks! I implore you to visit John Sieger's MySpace page at

Anyway, John's songwriting wisdom runs deep and he gave one of the best pieces of advice ever. Seriously. On day #1 of our songwriting class, he gave an assignment. The assignment? Write a bad song. "What?!" said I. "You haven't taught me anything yet! How am I supposed to write a song??" He followed with "Just start and don't stop. You'll see."

He was right. Before that assignment I'd start writing with the intent that I was going to pen the best song ever. Remember "Yesterday" or "Stairway to Heaven"? Yeah, those weren't good enough; mine was going to be better - or, at least, that was the initial intention. But then I discovered it was hard - real hard. So I gave up. After 10 years, how many songs did I write? None. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

John's point was that you've got to start somewhere. Plow through one - it may not be great or good. Hell, it's probably going to be terrible, but at least you started becoming a songwriter. You can work on it from there. I suppose it's like a sculptor with a mound of clay - at first the nose on your Thinker looks suspiciously like a fist, but you can keep pinching and squeezing until it resembles a nose. And while you're turning that fist into a nose, you're learning.

After writing my first bad song, I couldn't wait to write the next one. The fire was lit. I understood what he meant! I took something that had never existed before and brought it to life! It was so cool. I  wound up writing 5, maybe 6, songs during the classes - every one successively better than the one prior. One of them I'm actually quite proud of. Once I get the chorus the way I want it, I'll probably sing it out loud, but it's not quite ready for prime time.

The lesson here doesn't only apply to budding songwriters, but to all disciplines. Do not stop yourself! Let it flow and just get started. This can be applied to so much: artistic endeavors, fitness goals, education, cooking - anything! Once you start, you'll be anxious and ready to take yourself farther. I have done this with my profession and fitness (running), and with very mixed success - singing.

To satisfy your curiosity, here are the lyrics to my bad first song. It is sports themed because the last thing I heard before starting was a sports report about an athlete being day-to-day. It was probably Ben Sheets.

Title: Aren't We All Day to Day?

Aren't we all day to day?
Aren't we all day to day?

Verse 1:
The star power forward
or the football champ,
the wealthy first baseman
with the deep leg cramp.

Starting QB
or the 3rd-string guard,
the pitching ace
with the healing arm


Verse 2:
The fast wide receiver
or the sporting chap,
the boxing contender
with the smarting back.

The first-round free agent
or goal defender,
the bullpen whiz
with an elbow tender.


This phrase has been stolen
by the sporting few
but even broken hearts
take mending too.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Free Beer!!

I did it! 110 running miles in December (114 actually). Now it's time for me to put up my end of the bargain - FREE BEER!! To commemorate the mileage and all of the support that the #PushMike campaign garnered, I'm buying at least $110 worth of beer (and soda) from the best place to buy beer in Milwaukee - Blatz Market & Liquor ( Please join me at the Blatz Condominiums' party room (just a few steps from Blatz Market & Liquor off the condo's main lobby) on Saturday, January 23rd at 7 o'clock. I'm going to mix it up with an easy drinking domestic (probably Lite) and a good mix of locally brewed craft beers. Come early for the good stuff! I'll have some soda available too. Once it's gone,  who knows?!?

If you can, please RSVP at See you there!!

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Beet Runner (A Beer Runner Sendup)

There's a popular misconception about the consumption of beets and a healthy lifestyle. Many think it's not possible to maintain fitness while regularly indulging in a few primo beets. Well my friends, nothing could be farther from the truth. As an avid runner and aficionado of good beets, I'll explain...

I've always been a big fan of beets. It doesn't matter the color: red ones, white ones, dark ones - even those strange orange ones popular in Chicago, but I wasn't always a runner. As I hit middle age, I realized all beets and no exercise made for one fat Jack. So I began to run. And run I did all though 2009. My weight at the beginning of 2009 was 208 pounds, but by year's end - without ever curbing my daily beets - I had lost 18 pounds!  I now feel the fittest I have in 20 years and I can enjoy fresh beets completely guilt-free.

Some activities are only enhanced by beets. Take one of my favorites: golf. Is there anything better than hitting the links on a summer Saturday afternoon with a couple of buddies, turning off the cell phones, and knockin' back a couple of beets? I think not. It's a blast! Every 4th hole is the beet hole. The loser of the hole has to pay for the next round of beets. Let me tell you: the beet cart girls LOVE us! I've seen beet cart girls actually get in fights over who gets our back 9, because the more beets we consume, the more we tip! Bowling is another activity made more fun with beets. But don't spill your beets on the lane or you could twist an ankle.

Of course, there are pitfalls with the consumption of too many beets. One common one is beet goggles: that belief that every member of the opposite sex is the most beautiful creature you've ever laid eyes on. This is a common affliction in Sheboygan - where downing a few too many beets is frequent. The first symptom of beet goggles is a purplish hue in your vision. If noticed, I recommend putting the beets down for a while and getting something to eat.

Amateurs often suffer from beet muscle disorder - one too many beets and they think they can take on the world. Usually they're wrong. On more than one occasion I've seen a beet-breathed rookie get the snot knocked out of him. One of the more notable beatdowns I witnessed was at a beet party in college. You paid $5 for a cup at the front door and then it was all the beets you could ingest until gone. I miss those days. < sigh >

It's been a long time since I've endured either of the above, but I have - more recently - discovered another pitfall: cheap beets. These are the kind of beets you usually see advertised during a NASCAR race; they're commonly available in large quantities - 18 packs or larger. They're okay when they're ice-cold, but as soon as they're warm they taste awful. I've got a buddy who keeps a chest full of cheap beets. Whenever he comes to my house, he heads right for my fridge a grabs one of my craft beets from the Pacific Northwest (you know these beets, commonly bitter with a strong floral essence). However, when I go to his house, all he's got is those sticky sweet, cheap beets. Oh man, one too many of these and you will really pay for it the next day. So, in fact, will your entire office! If you can afford it, it's my advice to spend a little extra on good beets.

Popular today are those light, low carb beets marketed towards people with active lifestyles. I avoid 'em like the plague. They taste thin and watery. Plus you've got to consume a ton of them to feel the slightest effect. Life's too short.

A British pal of mine keeps his beets at room temperature. "Whoa!" said I the first time I had one. "What's with the flat, warm beets?" He explained that we Americans kill the subtle flavor of our beets by chilling them to sub-Arctic temperatures. I've since come to understand what he was getting at and now regularly meet him down at the corner establishment for a couple of warm English beets and a bowl of root soup.

In summary, it is possible to possess an active, healthy lifestyle and consume beets regularly. Avoid common mistakes and enjoy beets in moderation. Until we see each other again, I nod my head and raise my beet to you!

Note: This blog post was inspired by Joe Woelfle's typo in a tweet to Tim Cigelske. If there's anyone to blame, it's Joe. I just picked the ball up and ran with it. For more information about Joe Woelfle and his fine selection of cold beets visit For more information about Tim Cigelske - The Real Beer Runner - visit


Monday, January 4, 2010

Looking Back at 2009, twitter, and New Friends

Well 2009 is in the rearview mirror. I know it was a tough year for many, but for me it was quite remarkable - I made a great number of new friends and actually kept a New Year's Resolution! What made it so significant? In a way, I'm embarrassed to say, but it was the social network twitter! twitter? How so? Read on...

I opened a twitter account in mid-December 2008. My wife was already using twitter before then, and I made a lot of fun of her for doing so. Like many uninitiated, I didn't understand how the communication concept - 140 characters at time - could be useful or expressive! Nonetheless, with my account opened, I started clicking around. I had no idea what I was doing, but with my interests in Milwaukee, golf, music, food, and travel, I started looking for people that shared my hobbies. Sure enough, I found people who I found interesting and, remarkably, they found me interesting back! I also discovered a new hobby or interest: composing funny, thought-provoking, or - at the very least - properly punctuated tweets.

For the first couple of months, my twitter friends were only virtual, but I didn't have a lot of interest in keeping digital pen pals. Meeting and getting to know real people is what life's all about! By year's end, my free-time and social life was significantly affected by the new friends I made on twitter. I hesitate to write the next part of this blog, for fear that I'll leave someone out, but there are some folks who have proven just too important to not mention.

First and foremost has to be the social media power couple Tom and Marjie Snyder (@triveraguy and @triveragirl). The reason I have to put them at the top is Tom is possibly the most responsible for unleashing the beast within! My wife dragged me to a tweetup where I met Tom and Marjie. Tom showed me twitter's ropes and how I could more easily access information and find people that shared my interests. Since then we've seen each other a number of times over the year and it always makes my day to see this übercool twosome. They even let me sleep on their couch when I got really, really tired ;). That couch is still available on Craigslist. It's nearly free and there's not even been an offer! It's like my drool is toxic or something...

Anne Munkwitz (@bananza) for helping me keep 2009's resolution and for being a lot of fun. Like many New Year's resolutions, I needed to improve my fitness in 2009. January 1st, I tipped the scales at 208 pounds! I started watching what I ate and began a regular regimen of running a couple of miles a week. I ran into Anne (figuratively) minutes before the East Town Association's Storm the Bastille 5K run - I recognized her from her twitter avatar! We ran the 5K with a group of friends and since then she has kept pushing me to continue running. The big boost came after October. October is typically a lousy workout month for me as it is usually dominated by business travel and tradeshows. I've fallen out of my workout habit on more than one October, but this time, Anne sent me a message on dailymile: "I miss seeing your workout postings." - or something like that. That was just the push I needed. Here's proof: 47 miles in September, 10 in October, 56 in November, and 114 in December! Without her reminder message, there's no doubt November and December would have been 10-mile months. She even challenged me to run 110 miles in the month of December. It was a challenge that I had a lot of fun accomplishing and even ran 4 more than I needed. Thanks Anne!! (BTW - Now 190 lbs.)

Sara Meaney (@SaraMeaney), Mike Brenner (@MikeBrenner), and the Raggle Taggle gang at Brocach. Sara and her husband Mark have organized a regular open music session on Tuesday nights at Brocach. I've been a basement guitarist and singer for many years, but have seldom played out. They welcomed me into the session and gave me the support and confidence to at least try. I am sure there are sessions when they regret it (my singing needs work - lots of work!), but I think my guitar-playing at least doesn't hurt anybody's ears.  And the session is always more fun when Mike joins in with his accordian, drum, and cuíca. Well maybe not the cuíca so much, but it's still a good time! Thanks guys. It's meant a lot to me and I'm really looking to future sessions. My goal is to be good by 2015. Hang on!

Joe Woelfle aka @BlatzLiquor. Joe is significant because just before I started writing the above paragraph, he tweeted me and we went out for a beer at Leff's Lucky Town. Well, there's other reasons too. Joe is an all-around good guy and sort of a Ground Zero for the Milwaukee twittersphere. I've had a blast hangin' out with him at a couple of different watering holes and somehow, with Joe's help, we're gonna celebrate those 110 December miles. I'll keep you posted. And Joe's got a big year planned with his upcoming wedding to his lovely fiancée Claire. Join me in wishing them a joyous wedding and a fulfilling lifetime together.

Bruce Dierbeck (@BtotheD). Bruce is one of the first people I met from twitter. Bruce got together with me and Kay on Memorial Day at the the Hi Hat Lounge and Garage. We were going to meet for "one". You can guess how that turned out! We had a great time and Bruce is just as funny in person as he is on twitter. Since then we've gotten together a number of times and it always winds up being a barrel of laughs. Bruce also has been a regular pusher of mine on Dailymile and I greatly appreciate it. I also greatly appreciate that he lets me make fun of Bread (the band). I'm not sure he really "lets" me, but he hasn't yet tried to maim me for doing so.

Sara Santiago and Agustin Santiago (@SaraSantiago and @AgustinSantiago). At the risk of plagiarizing Anne Munkwitz's blog, Sara and Augie are just two of the nicest people I'll ever know. We've only hung out a handful of times, but Sara's support of me and Kay after Kay's New Year's Day Asthma attack was just wonderful. We appreciated it so much. It's the kind of thing that'll put a lump in your throat and make you appreciate the power of good people and - it's really all owed to - twitter! I think if I heard somebody say something bad about the Santiagos I'd punch 'em in the throat. I'm looking forward to cigars and cook-outs in the summer of 2010!

Where to stop this blog is not an easy thing to determine. There are so many wonderful people I've met - and many more that I haven't - who have made 2009 a wonderful year. To those I've met, I look forward to seeing you again; to those I haven't, I'm looking forward to meeting you out for "one". :)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Not Exactly the Way We Planned to Ring in the New Year

I had an idea to use today to author a new post looking back at 2009 and what a significant year it was for me, but that'll have to wait.

Throughout 15 years of marriage, I'm not sure my wife - Kay - and I have ever gone out for New Year's Eve. It's hardly because we don't go out - we go out/get out more than most couples! We just find this a good evening to Zig when everybody else Zags. However, this year the NYE celebration at the Riverside Theater with the band Spoon was an opportunity I did not want to pass up. I'm a big fan of the band and it sounded like a great way to ring in the New Year.

We started the evening at Cafe Hollander in Wauwatosa and had a nice meal before catching Bus 31 downtown. Kay felt a little odd and a little dehydrated at Hollander, but it wasn't anything that looked too serious. We arrived at the theater and ordered our first Pabst. Walking to our seats in the balcony Kay got a little winded, but once we sat down, things seemed to settle and we were able to enjoy the rockin' first act: Jay Reatard (pronounced RE-ah-tard). At intermission, we went for a stroll to the theater's lobby and met a couple of friends. Again, Kay was feeling a little out-of-breath, but it wasn't something totally new, and, while uncomfortable, it didn't seem like anything that was going to stop her/us from having a good time. We took the elevator back up to the balcony to avoid the stairs. That helped and we comfortably got to our seats to enjoy the Spoon show.

Kay never felt well during the concert, but I think she was able to at least enjoy it as long as she didn't move around too much. I, on the otherhand, felt great with Pabst in hand watching a band I really appreciate. It was a great show. Spoon timed the show such that at the end of the set it would be New Year's Day. Their timing was perfect timing: the last song, balloons droopped, and everybody applauded loudly for the encore. Kay - drinking water not Pabst - said she needed to use the restroom. Having a good time for the last hour, I kind of forgot about her Asthma condition, and anxiously anticipated the return of Spoon for the encore set. I figured she'd be okay - that's where I was wrong.

The band came back out and I loved the song, although, for the life of me, I can't remember what it was. My phone lit up to let me know I had a call coming in. It was Kay. I tried to answer, but there was no way I could hear. I went down the steps and searched the balcony's lobby for Kay. Nothing. At the same time, the show ended and the lobbies were filling with revelers. I called Kay numerous times and could not get through. I can't remember how many minutes passed - maybe 10. Finally I saw her standing in the main lobby. When I got to her, she said, "I need to go to the hospital - NOW!" I ran outside to see if I could see/hail a cab. There was none. Back inside, I tried to retrieve our coats; the line was soo long [Seriously Riverside, this needs to be addressed; that was chaos]. Another 10 minutes passed while I got them. Kay was still standing in the lobby. This time, however, there was no more waiting. Kay was hurtin' and hurtin' bad. Time to call '911'.

Within 5 minutes an ambulance pulled up in front of the theater on Wisconsin Avenue. Paramedics went to work and asked me questions. At this point Kay was trembling. I felt so sorry for her. After another 10 minutes or so we were off to the Froedtert Emergency Center. Wheeled in, doctors and nurses quickly ascertained the situation and administered some immediate medical attention. I can't remember all that was going on nor can I remember the names of the all the substances they were putting into her bloodstream, but it seemed to be working. Slowly.

A number of hours passed. Soon it was 3 a.m. and we then knew Kay was going to be able to leave in an hour or so. Earlier, when we went to Cafe Hollander, I drove my truck to the public parking lot. My expectation was that we would cab it home after the show and walk to the village on the 1st to retrieve my vehicle. Instead, at about 3 a.m. I told the attending doctor or nurse (I couldn't quite tell what he was) that I was going to walk to the village to get my truck. I think he thought I was a bit nuts to do that in single digit temps, but I do stuff like this all of the time. "No problem," I said. Within 25 minutes I was back at the hospital. Kay was feeling much better, but New Year's Eve chaos ruled the Emergency Center and I could see it would still be a while. I can't say enough good things about the men and women who work Emergency Centers - they deserve high praise dealing with the traumas they do. Finally, sometime after 4 a.m. she was discharged. Still wheezing, but no longer in urgent crisis.

At some point last night I tweeted, "At Froedtert Emergency. Hello 2010!" I cannot express how grateful I am to our twitter friends and family for the outpouring of concern that we received. It's rather remarkable and I'd like thank you and wish you a Happy New Year! Here's hoping the rest of the year can only get better!