April 30, 2006

Happy Birthday Mom!

My mother is the coolest. And in honor of her birthday which is coming up here are two of my favorite stories regarding my mother.

During my bad years of elementary school I played basketball. Despite having not hit any physical development stage yet, I still managed to have gangly arms, allowing me to play defense very well. However, my dexterity often challenged my dribbling and shooting skills, thus landing me on the bench for most of the season. Basketball, prevented two challenges for me. One was the physical challenge I mentioned, the other was the added anxiety I felt seething from my teammates (who were also my classmates).

Being the worrier that I was at that point in my life, I was afraid at times to play, since I didn't want to be the one to "screw up" the victory. During our last playoff game of the season, I told the coach I didn't want to go in because my arm was hurting. My poor parents sitting in the stands, seeing the son not play that day...well...let's just say they were a tad upset and worried.

I explained myself on the ride home. I told them that I was afraid of losing the big game. I told them I was afraid of letting down my teammates. And I told my parents I was afraid of letting them down. This sparked my parents to dive into a very deep discussion with my mom adding "Peter, we want what you want, if you want to play basketball, we want that, but if you don't, it's ok, we will not be dissapointed."

That sentimnent actually marked the only time I can remember during the hard days of elementary school where I felt empowered enough to go against the grain (very difficult to do in a tightly scrutinized society of kids who rated your 'worth' based upon your activities). In 6th grade, I didn't play basketball. And I remember it feeling great to break away from the pack and feel ok to not have to do something everyone else did.

The second story fits. When my friend Marc and I were making movies and starting up Kick Butt Productions, and my parents had work to get my stationary, I remember when my mom got me my favorite KBP item in the whole world...my first Kick Butt Productions hat. It was a Christmas gift. I wore that hat with pride for a long time. As it is now 'retired' and sitting in the museum, I look at it and remind myself of how much of a supporter my mother has always been of my dreams.

Thanks mom for inspiring and supporting me to dream, and thanks mom showing me that to be your own person is a good thing. Hope your birthday is fantastic!

I also share this thought since I was reminded this week about how important an influential a loving parent can be to an artist's life (no matter what your art or medium). I attended a fantastic concert by Willy Porter this weekend in Stoughton, Wisconsin (see previous article entitled Passion). During the concert Willy mentioned that he lost his father last week, and that this was his first concert back.

Willy told some great stories about his dad, and honored him with the song "Available Light" by dedicating it to the "hardest working man he knew." As he performed the song, you could hear every once of love and grieving for his father. And feeling his father's presence in the music hall, Willy performed what I would consider his best solo performance ever.

To all parents everywhere who have inspired and supported their kids, thank you for showing them how to dream, and being there for them when they've fallen.


April 23, 2006


This weekend was a great weekend for some recconections. One of the things about working in college and student affairs specifically is the ability to meet and see people from all different walks of life from all over the country. Tonight I got to reconnect with two friends whom I haven't seen in a while.

My friend Art currently resides in Austrailia. A combination of finding love and working through diplomatic registration landed him there. Art, is an art school teacher. Ironic I know. Art was always one of the few people I knew in my undergrad years who could always see the bright side of life and laugh his way through most tough situations. He was also a dedicated friend who was always available to hang out whenever. No questions, no qualms. It was all about caring for other people and being invested in who they were. He is now married, with a new baby, Conner, who looked aboslutely adorable in Art's wallet photo (ahh, young parenthood).

Art and I got a chance to reconnect for only a few minutes tonight. I also got a chance to run into Art's brother Marty (always sharing a few chuckles himself) and a lady I knew little of but was a treat to talk to, Bethany. Folks that are still around, and making the most of it. Art and I did what you usually do at this stage in your life: share what news you know of other common friends. Having been out of the country, I got a chance to bring Art up to speed on what some of our friends were up to. Art also shared some perspectives from some of our older stories as we were undergrads. That was helpful, considering some other things I've gone through recently.

Soon after this encounter I got a chance to rendevous with my friend Nigel from my radio days as an undergrad. I give big props to my friend Dave who partners with me on Wednesday nights on WRST, our campus radio station. But lots of credit goes to Nigel. I would say that he was truly one of the closest friends I had in the Radio/TV/Film major as an undergrad. Nigel was an expert in the radio booth. As I learned from him many on air techniques and specific style points, I also got a chance to develop my own on air personality. Nigel has been in a band the past few years, making the most of it himself. Here's to hoping he and his band get the Sumemrfest gig.

Him and his friend John were on air tonight for WRST's 40th anniversery celebration. This was particularly cool because we all spent most of that hour sharing stories and listening to old radio shows that we put together. Nigel reminded me one of the joys of college radio is the ability to be professional without taking it massively seriously. College radio is great experience for many people, but it's also raw radio at its best. Nigel was also one of the few people who was ahead of the curve in our major. He reminded me of many of our ideas we had for television (most of which are all fad like and currently popular).

Reconnecting doesn't happen often. However with a lot of the technology and easy communication we can at least anticipate many of these occurances so even if we get a chance to see someone for a few minutes or an hour we can make the most of it. My suggestion to all of you is this: keep a calendar of birthdays, anniverseries, other events, so when you get a chance, you can send an e-mail to an old friend and say "hey thanks for being a part of my life."

And if you do get one of the rare chances to see them, make the most of it. Get up, go see them. I promise that during that time you will definitely remind yourself of some good moments in your life and remember why these people were so important in your life.


April 16, 2006

Evolution of Grocery Shopping

Growing up my friend Marc used to talk to me about his theory about getting older. He called it "Sidewalk Theory". He stated that as people got older they gravitate from one side of the street to the other at different phases in their lives. Toddlers and most kids stay on the sidewalk. Adolescents and young adults walk in the street. And adults and older people walk on the other sidewalk. Short and sweet. Of course, I was thinking of how our Grocery Shopping styles change as we age.

No chance in us really being interested in anything related to food at a store. It's more about being able to ride in the cart.

It's two levels of interest if you're not tethered to your mom. 1. The candy/cereal/toy aisles. Watch a kid stare at the multitude of cereals trying to figure out which to buy. My largest problem at the time was my memory though...I could remember that I didn't like certain cereals. I couldn't remember why. Which meant that I fell in the trap of getting them again. 2. Search and Destroy. Maybe this was only me, but I used to love running around the story trying to find stuff for my mom then running it back to the cart.

It's a simple philosophy "grocery shopping isn't cool...but mom can you pick me up like 50 pounds of snacks for me and my friends?"

College Student
When you first get to college, there's sort of that freedom of buying all the things you wanted to buy as a kid. Which meant that for the first few weeks you had an ample supply of Oreos, Twix Bars, Red Vine, and Pibb (CRAZY DELICIOUS!!!). That also meant that the Nilla wafers you once loved as a kid but not anymore sit on your shelf for the rest of the semester. And if you have roommates, it's all about buying things that no one else will eat...like liver sausage. Mmmmmm.

Young Adult
There's still some left over residue of buying things you don't need (like the gallon of Ovaltene I have in my cabinet). But this is the stage where you start to form patterns for the rest of your life. I've gotten to the point where I tend not to buy anything I know I won't eat. Doesn't mean stuff doesn't go unchecked (I have a yogurt that needs to be tossed since the expiration date was two weeks ago). But believe me my refrigerator and cabinets are stocked with things I only need.

SIDE FUNNY: I assume I'm not the only person on the planet whose mom will ask them what they are eating every time they talk. This weekend I hosted my parents on Saturday. At one key moment while I was converse with The Doctoer (my father), my mother ran into my kitchen and actually checked to see what I had in there for food.

This is the most multi-faceted shopping we will ever do in our life. We're not only shopping for multiple mouths, but we're probably also on a budget, and this has become a routine chore. Thus, you'd be like my mom, you have sixteen thousand coupons cut out, ready to go. You've got your list fully intricate and sectioned off by family member (and damn straight if you buy the wrong cereal). And there's also that tendancy to be easily persuaded into buying things you never need. My mom would come back with three canisters of Cod Liver Oil just because it was half off.

My grandmother is my only reference for this. But after the chaos of 30 some years of hard core shopping come some peace and tranquility, with some simple wisdom, returning to the days of only buying what you need. My grandmother's fridge was also simple. My favorite item was the stick of butter she could make last for weeks. She used like a sliver on each peice of toast.

You're probably waiting for some big tie in to something inspirational...so here it is...life is like grocery shopping. When we're a toddler we're just along for the ride. When we're a kid we're like a sponge soaking up all there is. As a teen we're distant because we're insecure. As a college student we return to our youth. We've got most things figured out as young adults. Mutliple worries, concerns, needs, and hopes ride our minds when we're parents, and we try to balance it all so none will fall. And when we're retired, like grandma, we just simply make sure that some french silk pie ice cream is always on hand so we can savor all that has passed.

Hope your week is full of sunshine!


April 10, 2006

Angels Part 1: My Grandmother

The following will be a monthly 'special' posting that I want to dedicate to some people in my life who have served as angels, providing guidance, support, love, humor, etc.

Imagine this: a cookie jar, shaped like a lemon, bright, yellow, and tacky as anything you'd find at a rummage sale. In fact, my father will tell you that he paid close to one dollar for this jar. But this jar, mostly due to it's owner and not just the contents inside the jar, has brought joy to 9 cousins, a handful of aunts and uncles, and countless other visitors who stop by and chat with my grandmother, Eleanor. Of course, to us, she is and will always just be, Grandma.

My grandma is really old. As I've always been bad with remembering ages, I can certify that she's pushing 90. She has lived through two world wars, the great depression, civil rights movement, women's rights movement, the cold war, and 9/11. I remember calling her on that tragic day to see how she thought it compared to countless other historical moments she'd been around for.

She grew up on a farm in north central Wisconsin with 14 brothers and sisters. The granddaughter of two German immigrants, she only possessed an 8th grade education and when she became a teenager moved to Milwaukee, where her only other friend and relative was her brother Eddie.

She worked as a nanny for a few years before taking a job where she will spin many tales and lessons learned: waitress at the Marc Plaza hotel. The hotel is still there (now called the Milwaukee Hilton) but back in the day it was the premier hotel for out of towners to stay at. She served countless celebrities and sports stars, Bob Hope among them. She worked there for over 45 years, and rarely missed a shift or was late.

Transportation for my grandma consisted of either the bus system or her own two feet. She walked twice a day (probably a total of a mile and a half and that was in addition to wherever else she needed to go) usually praying her rosary on the second walk. No trek was too big for her. She read and read, did crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, taught all the grandkids how to play cards. She was mentally quick and astute. She could follow any current event and give you a quick perspective on it in addition to being able to ask in depth philosophical questions. Her house and yard were always immaculate. She followed a simple regiment of focus and hard work.

Her simple yet deep life was not without struggles. My grandfather was an alcoholic. My grandmother can tell you some powerful stories of what happened when money got tight, or my grandfather hadn't come home because he was with another woman or found drunk in his car. Eventually they got a divorce, a struggle to her catholic upbringing, but for the better. The wounds and scars have had deep repercussions in her life, and I believe is the driving force behind her continual passion to make and see others happy.

Despite smoking for almost 40 plus years, she gave it up cold turkey. Her health has always been fascinating to watch. One moment the woman would have broken a rib. The next day she'd be outside cutting the lawn. The strength inside of her is immeasurable. She is currently battling cancer, which took some of her brothers and sisters, and is winning, despite a short and sad year where she thought it was over.

During my rough years in 6th grade, struggling with verbal abuse from other kids, my grandmother would always look at me and say "you are special and unique, you will use your talents and creativity to make others smile and laugh one day." I wish she could have seen me at GLACURH back November.

The largest tragedy she has not yet found a way to escape is her sight. She's legally blind, making it difficult for her to enjoy many of the things she used to. But I know that inside of her she keeps finding a new way to overcome (for a woman without a license or HBO she's missed out on a lot of movies...now a new passion she's trying).

I visited her the other day, and for every day she lives, she gets wiser and smarter. She still can hold a powerful conversation (our topics: sexual assault survivors, alcoholic families, and Russ Feingold). And she still laughs and finds the humor in life. She has a story for everyone and everything, a quality I'm grateful I inherited. She believes that no matter what your background or history, you have something positive to contribute.

I promise I will share some of her stories in the future, believe me, they're fantastic. For now, I just want to share the essence of her, a woman who is strong, and does small things for large heartfelt reasons. Just ask anyone who has eaten out of the lemon cookie jar.


April 01, 2006

In Honor of Alice

On walk the other day in a park in Oshkosh, I noticed a little robin. The robin was eyeing a stash of pine needles. Like most birds, this robin did a quick head jerk from one side, to the other, and back again. Then, the bird snatched up the needles. Looked again. Did a 180 in one bird like hop. Checked again. Hopped forward once. Scanned again. Hopped forward twice. Looked one last time, and then hopped into a tree.

This very intentional moment lasted less than a minute, and I had to stop because this thought was permeating through my head: What do animals think about when they do that?

I'm sure some would argue that animals don't really think about anything, that all of that movement is just instinctual. But think about the above scenario with the following internal bird dialogue:

"It's a nice day out today...wait a minute...what's that...dry needles! This is the best. This stuff makes a nest hold together stronger than anything else. Fantastic. All right...anyone looking? No geese or anything. Got it. It's mine. All right...subtle moves back. Check for predators. A couple more feet. All good? Yep! All right time for some nest building."

People who are pet lovers know that this train of thought (from human about animal, not like actual animal thought) is pretty common. Pet lovers are pretty stoked about their animal. Some do small nice things for them, always bringing them a treat. Some make time for play and attention. And yes there are those of us who definately personify our pets.

For 14 formidable years of my life I was blessed to spend it with a beautiful golden retriever, irish setter, golden lab mix named Alice. She had golden red hair, with a long patch of white down her front, and slim patch of white down her nose (and this strange little bald spot of pink right at the top of her nose). Alice's eyes were the most phenomenal brown eyes. She show just enough white to cause her looks at you to be very human.

We got Alice when I was in 6th grade, which would turn out to be a tumultuous time in my life. Like some of our previous pets (dogs, hamsters, birds, fish) I didn't think I would get attached to Alice. My dad's dog, Daisy, a collie, passed when I was about three. I remember her. I remember that I cried about her once. But it was my dad who had a big connection with her. After that time any pet we had didn't last long for various reason.

Alice turned out to be pretty special.

As a young pup she captivated all of us with her sweetness. She was always nice and friendly. I remember picking her up for the kennel once when we went away for vacation. Many dogs came through the waiting room. When she did, the whole room lit up. She was rarely an ill behaved dog. But don't get me wrong, pets, like people, are not perfect...I could definitely share some more challenging stories about her.

I became closer to Alice my sophomore year of high school. Some of you have heard the fable tale of Krissy Fisher. Essentially, trying to figure out the craziness of your first crush is pretty intense. I used to take Alice for a walk every night, in order to process out my day. Also knowing that Krissy's family had dogs, and that they walked them often, I was hoping that I'd run into Krissy here or there. Didn't happen.

By the time my crush on Krissy had ended, I was so used to taking Alice for a walk, that I just kept it up. Her sad brown eyes at times also added to the effect of "how can I say no to her?" Walks were one thing. I soon became the one who typically changed her water, filled her bowl, and from time to time bought her treats. I remember when I came home from college after a couple of months...Alice was so excited she slightly wimpered as she saw me. I spent a good hour just brushing her and petting her before taking her for a walk.

Our pets know us. They know when we're sad and happy. I will never forget when I was pretty bumbed out I would be writing on the computer, trying to get my thoughts out. She'd walk in and put her snout on my lap and look up at me. At other fiendish times, when she tried to get my attention, she'd lay on her back, and let out a slight growl. Then she'd look up at me, paws up, tongue hanging out, almost as if she was smiling at me. The second I'd look at her, she'd wag her tail.

Today was Alice's birthday. Easy to remember since it's April Fool's day (no this post is not an april fool's joke) and at times Alice definitely did some foolish things (the battle with the skunk is one of my more favorite stories). Although she is currently in dog heaven, I am thankful for having had that connection with her. I give mad respect to anyone who's had a pet that has impacted them as positively as Alice did me.

So in honor of Alice, I say thank you to Sammy, Dukey, Duke, Missy I, Missy II, Duchess, Daisy, Kate, Max, Murphy, Cheyenne, Maddy, Sadie, Chloe, Elsie, Fenway, Scully, Mulder, The Cheat, and any pet that has been appreciated and loved. Happy birthday girl!