Michael Czarnecki Returns to Baraboo!

Join us at the Baraboo Public Library for a special Palm of the Hand led by Michael Czarnecki himself! He’ll be leading a memoir-writing workshop at 12:30pm on Tuesday, April 14 at the Baraboo Public Library.

That evening, Michael will be presenting Poems Across America, a travelogue of his quest to read poetry in each of the lower 48 states, accompanied by stunning photography of all the places he visited.


Baraboo PAA flier

Library Poetry Series and Palm of the Hand Workshop

Join us at the UW-BSC library as Michael Czarnecki presents There is No Other Life on Tuesday, Sept. 9th. This presentation is part of the Library Poetry Series.

Later that evening, Michael will be leading a Palm of the Hand memoir-writing workshop at the Baraboo Public Library.

Both events are free and the public is welcome.

Czarnecki No other Life



I grew up near the Milwaukee River in Glendale, WI.  There was a wonderful bunch of woods between our house and the river.  We lived on a hill and the slope going down to the river had several paths from my brothers, myself and my friend Patty often going down to the river to build bridges, rafts and finding clams and golf balls amongst other wonderful things.

Right before the mosquitos would come out, was the time the undergrowth would be filled with May Apples and Trillium.  For some reason, those two plants seem to always grow near each other.  I remember how beautiful those white flowers were, and walking with my Mom to see the brand new growth coming up from the earth.  I remember my Mom telling me that Trillium was endangered or something and that it was illegal to kill them.  I have no idea if that is true or not, but to this day, I still believe it and am apt to say it whenever I see that gentle flower growing somewhere.

The trees starting to bloom and the grass starting to grow was so wonderful – it meant the baseball season had just started and that school would be ending soon.  I mostly remember the beautiful beech trees that for the most part had lived their long lives without anyone carving into them, except the one that said that Paul would love Debbie forever.  I can tell you that I have been in two of Paul’s weddings, and neither of them were to Debbie, so that tree continues to carry on that untruth – I sometimes wonder if either of them remember carving that message into that beautifully smooth bark.  I doubt it.

Springtime also meant that my parents would get the itch to redesign the yard.  For some reason, they never seemed to be content on the layout of the lawn and the much paths.  Every year as we got older, I guess we needed less yard to play in so we would spend hours removing the sod and walking wheel barrow after wheelbarrow of much from the front driveway to the back yard.  I hated it when the dust of the mulch would get in my eyes as I shoveled it, but I could never seem to stop it.  I was however always astounded at the heat that was generated in the piles of that mulch – smoke would  come up as we would shovel deeper into the pile – I half expected a fire to start, but it thankfully never did.

I loved the rebirth that came with the coming of the short Springs which led to the long summers – I can’t believe it was so long ago…

Michael Czarnecki Returns to Baraboo

Save the date!

The Baraboo Public Library and the UW-Baraboo/Sauk County Library have just scheduled a poetry reading and Palm of the Hand workshop with Michael Czarnecki for September, 2nd, 2014!

Stay tuned – more details will come closer to the date.

Big Tent

The first time I went winter camping, I was in my late 20’s and even though I had never gone winter camping before, I figured everything would be ok – my friend Ben and I were resourceful guys who liked this kind of adventure.

We decided if we were going to undertake such an adventure, we would try to find a part of the national forest that was as close to the northern part of the state as we could.  After looking at a map, we pinpointed our intended destination – the Chequamegon National Forest about 35 miles south of Ashland.  We had to leave quite early in the morning if we were going to arrive in the area, scout out potential places to set up camp, unpack, put up the tent and get enough firewood to last the evening.  We did make it in time, and after travelling up and down several different logging roads, we were able to find a spot where we could park Ben’s parents minivan and create a path roughly a half  mile up a trail to a clearing where we thought it would be a perfect place to set up camp.

There was probably about two feet of snow already on the ground and it was getting colder by the minute.  At this point in my camping career, I had always relied on Ben bringing the various tents, and although we had seen several pretty bad mishaps, we somehow always made it through.  However, we learned that day that winter camping requires a much higher standard of equipment and endurance.  The tent that Ben brought this day was a big canvass army green tent that took all kinds of metal poles and we could almost stand up completely without having to bend over.

After setting up the tent and unpacking the gear, we spent the last of the sunlight gathering dead wood to build a fire – a fire that we both knew would provide the heat for us to get through the night that was becoming increasingly colder.

The fire was wonderful, and we had dug out a pit in the snow, so we had two feet walls surrounding us – helping to keep a bit of the cold wind away.  The problem was going to be getting through the night and we both knew it.  The longer we stayed up, the longer we could keep putting wood on the fire.  However, we knew we had to try to get some sleep if we were going to make it through the weekend.  We decided to try to keep the fire burning throughout the night in case we needed to warm up, so we built a big fire and went into the tent.  I had the sense to bring along a tent heater, but only had a limited amount of propane tanks, and we had used one and a half tanks on the lantern – we only had 6 hours of propane left to power the tent heater.

That night the temperature got down to negative 15 degrees and the wind was blowing fiercely.  We learned right away that we had brought the wrong kind of tent.  What we really needed was a much smaller tent, made out of something more wind resistant.  The tent heater only provided a small bit of relief and we kept it on a low setting – trying to make it last longer.  We tried to go to sleep with the tent heater as between us with out heads as close to the unseen flame as possible.  Sleep was hard to reach, and would only last for short periods of time.  Finally around 2 in the morning, Ben could no longer feel anything in his toes – it was the only time camping with him that I have actually felt the sense that we’ve gone too far.   We were so cold we were panicking now whether we were going to be able to make it.  Going back out in the outside to try to rekindle the fire to provide life saving heat seemed straight out of a Jack London novel, but that is exactly what Ben did.  I stayed in the tent until the last of the propane ran out.  We ended up staying a second night – after making a run to Ashland to buy more propane, but what we really should have done was to buy a different tent, which is exactly what I did when I got back home to Ripon.  We’ve been using that ‘new’ tent every camping trip since, and haven’t come nearly as close to losing appendages as we did that cold night in 1998.  We both look back on that camping trip with a sense of pride, although the thought of going through that cold again makes me shiver just thinking about it – this next time we’ll have learned enough to be able to make it much more enjoyable.

First Mite Game

My son has played organized hockey for three years.  He turns 7 this next Saturday.  His first two years he was on the Ice Mite team, where there are no goalies.  Even with no goalies, it is still hard to score – since many of the necessary skills are not yet developed at that age.

This year, he moved up to the next level, Mites.  Ice mites play cross ice, but the Mites play half ice and WITH goalies.  Speed picks up dramatically at his level, and the skaters now have more of an idea of how to put together multiple actions to score a goal.

My son is a very conscientious player.  He listens to the coaches in practice and always looks for someone to pass to rather than just plowing forward towards the goal.  He is not a ‘bully’ on the ice, but plays in a more cerebral way – that is to say he doesn’t ever skate out of control, and he seems to know where he is supposed to be on the ice.  I’m not saying he’s a genius out there, in fact, when he has the puck and someone takes it away from him, he is prone to a few seconds of pouting – until his coach (me) tells him to get his head back in the game.

One of his greatest skills is moving the puck along the boards – out of the 28 or so kids in the Mite program, he is probably the most proficient among them at moving up the ice while controlling the puck.  Again – this skill does not typically lead to scoring a lot of goals because it means you are along the boards, and NOT in front of the net.  However, it IS great for defense and getting assists by passing to others.

This past Saturday was his (and mine) first game ever as a Mite.  We even cut our family vacation down so that we could make the game.  We were both pretty nervous, but once we got on the ice, the jitters went away.

In the first period, he took the puck along the boards behind the net of the opposing team and attempted a wrap-around, which was unsuccessful, but there was a scrum that ensued in front of the net.  Before the goalie could cover the puck (their goalie was MUCH more experienced than ours) he tapped the puck in for his first ever goal as a Mite and his Dad was the proudest coach/father in the rink.  It was amazing – he didn’t do a victory dance like some of the kids do, he just gave me a high five and skated back to his zone – ready for the next play.

The poise, attention and control that he showed were way beyond the typical Mite – he’s never going to be an all-star or probably even make the high school team, but I am so proud of the way he carried himself that day – it’s almost like I scored that goal myself.

My Brief Recruitment into the Military

During my  senior year I kept receiving calls from military recruiters.  They wouldn’t stop calling.  One of the kids who had been in my Freshman science class was going into the Marines, and he worked it out with his recruiter to bring me in to the recruiting station – apparently they thought that since I didn’t know how to say ‘no’ that meant I was a possible sucker.

I went to the recruiting station with him after school one day and the recruiter sat me down in his office and had me take some form of standardized test.  At this point I still had absolutely no intention of ever joining any military branch, let alone the marines.  He scored the test and told me that I did extremely well and that would mean I would have my choice of what kind of role I wanted to play in the marines.  When I tried to tell him I really liked my friends and my life in Milwaukee he asked me – and I remember this very clearly – ‘Who are you going to listen to regarding your own life yourself or your friends?’ As if he had somehow made the statement that my personal choice was going into the military.  My answer was that I would listen to my friends – partly because at that point in my life, that was probably true, I was very close to a group of people and I didn’t want to leave them.  However, I saw that as my way of finally being able to tell this recruiter that I really wasn’t interested.  Well, that’s at least how he took it.  He looked at me with a disgusted scowl and told me that I wasn’t fit to be a marine anyway.

The entire time – from the start of the calls to that day in his office, I felt that the recruiter really didn’t care if I wanted to go in or not, he just wanted to meet his quota.  It made me feel very uncomfortable and I still feel that way whenever I see recruiting stations.

After that day I would still get calls from other military branches, but not the marines. At the end of each call they would always ask if I knew any other kids who would be interested, and these guys were so pushy I felt I had to give them names – kind of like the Hollywood Blacklist.  So I would give them names of kids I knew – NONE of which would probably have any interest at all in the military.  I often wondered  if those kids had the guts that I didn’t have to just tell those guys that I simply wasn’t interested.

Tea Leaves

We gathered around the kitchen table that Saturday morning: my mother , my sister, Elsie, and I. A breeze blew through the white cafe curtains. Sunlight slanted across the tea cups. “Now,” began Elsie, “who wants to be first?”

“Me.” I yelled.

“Wait,” my mother said, “I’m not sure about this. It doesn’t seem right.”

“Now, Leone, it’s perfectly respectable. People have been reading tea leaves for centuries. }l

“Oh. I suppose it can’t hurt anything.”

Elsie spread the loose leaf tea from the bottom of the cup on the saucer before me.

“Oh, I see a nice long life line, but this piece shows trouble with childbirth.”

“Childbirth?” I sputtered. I’m only thirteen. What kind of reading is that?”

“Oh, there’s more,” Elsie assured me.

Elsie came to visit her husband once a month for the weekend. He worked at the Army Ammunition Plant, and was one of my mother’s “war roomers,” as she called them. Since he lived up in Baron County, he stayed at our house all week. Then one weekend a month, he drove home, and one weekend his wife came to Baraboo. The war had disrupted us all.

It was impossible to find a place to live in our small town after the Plant opened, so many people were opening their homes to strangers. I clearly remember the day my mother broached the subject of having roomers to my father. He was a private person and was most opposed to the idea. He liked his quiet evenings and puttering in the garden and fishing after intense work all week as the city engineer.

“Well, it’s our patriotic duty,” my mother continued. “Don’t you think Bob would be proud of us?” Bob, my oldest brother, had enlisted in the Coast Guard at seventeen and was stationed somewhere out in the Pacific Ocean.

My father, the ultimate patriot, was caught. “Well, just for this one year,” he sputtered.

My sister and I had to pack up our personal things and leave our twin bedded room. We temporarily took over the second living room with two cots. I took my writing stuff with me and slid any finished piece under my pillow each night. I was going to be a journalist and had high aspirations. Ernie Pyle, the war correspondent was my idol.

We were intrigued by the different “guests”. Though we were admonished to never enter a “guest’s” room, we’d sneak in and take a peek when all were gone. One guy had an elaborate coin collection in a box next to his bed. We rummaged through it, but never took anything. We wanted to ask him about a couple of really strange coins, but couldn’t because then we’d be letting the cat out of the bag.

Another fussy type older man would wash out his sox and underwear every night and hang them in the bathroom. It was the first time my sister and I had seen men’s underpants up close. After all, we all shared the same bathroom.

Elsie Schiedel, bright red hair, slim, flighty and exuberant shared breakfast with us on the weekends she came to visit her husband. About forty, and we thought worldly, she brightened our mundane lives. Returning to my tea leaves, Elsie bent over the pile again. “Oh, I see adventure and travel in this group of leaves,” she announced.

I grabbed her, gave her a hug and ran from the kitchen. I’m on my way I thought. I will be a great international journalist, writing from all comers of the world. The leaves had spoken.

Link Between Writing About Emotions and Health

This article, published in 1986, explores a ground-breaking experiment by American social psychologist James Pennebaker. Pennebaker’s research demonstrated that simply writing about one’s emotions can significantly improve one’s health. His work on expressive writing revolutionized how emotions are viewed within psychology.

Article link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01blrcp


Drinking From The Cup

Written by Jean Funcke

If you entered the Kemnitz’s house through the garage, which only the family members and two little neighbor kids from down the block would do, you would enter into a short hallway, snugly fit with a washer and dryer and a laundry basket or two, perhaps some shoes and boots lining the wall.  At the end of this hall was a small bathroom, its wallpaper a bold explosion of flowers in orange and golden brown.  On one side of the sink was an orange plastic drinking cup.  You‘ve probably seen the type.  It might have been Tupperware—I’m not sure.  On the other side of the sink was a bar of soap.  I haven’t been there in over thirty years, but I can still see that soap as I washed my filthy little hands, sliding the bar through my palms over and over to make a brown froth.  Many times at that sink, I splashed water over my sweaty, grimy face and gulped down cup after cup of water, so many times that in my memory, it feels like a part of my own home.

This was part of every summer in my young childhood:  standing shoulder to shoulder with my friend Mary, taking turns before or after her brothers as they drank water and wiped their sweat and washed their hands.  We washed away dirt from the bike jump at the end of our dead end road, dirt from the worn path into the field, dirt from building forts or climbing trees or catching grasshoppers and caterpillars or picking up discarded soda cans…or dirt from simply digging in the dirt.  Every summer day, it seems, we’d ride our bikes on the trails through the “big field,” all the way to the baseball diamond, or just around and back to the Kemnitz’s lawn, where we’d drop our bikes down to run on the next adventure.  Let’s start a haunted house!  Let’s go swimming!  Let’s build a clubhouse!  We’d visit the neighbor’s dog, play kickball, or baseball, or investigate a new home construction site, and scramble away when a dinner bell rang and our moms’ beckoning voices carried just far enough to reach us.

After supper we’d return to the street, to the yards and trees of our neighborhood.  Twilight was the best time for playing Hide and Seek or Kick the Can, when our calls echoed in the street and the fireflies twinkled over the dark grass, and our world was shadowy and mysterious and wholly intoxicating.

The freedom of summer invigorated and nourished us, and we ran and flew and tumbled all the way into fall, stopping only when our mothers finally summoned us, or when somebody needed to pee, or when someone realized they were really thirsty.  (And then we’d all realize we were really thirsty!)  So we’d run through the Kemnitz’s garage, and in through the back door, into that little flowered bathroom, to share in a long, glorious drink from that little orange plastic cup.