Tom’s Posts Archives


The loss of Ellie this spring has been an abrupt reminder that there is more than meets the eye to most lives. Each summer Ellie was known for singing Frank Sinatra tunes while wearing splendid outfits in front of the Town Hall in Provincetown, MA. Ellie pulled a wagon with a sign that read 72 years of living my dream the first time we really took notice. Over the years the number on the sign changed.

This spring Ellie passed away, leaving a silence in Provincetown that will forever be known. In memory of Ellie THE FRONT PORCH TIMES will serve as a means of getting to know the many aspects of Monona residents…because there is always more than meets the eye to most lives lived.

Suggestions of local persons readers would like to know about, or know about, are welcome.

There’s more to a life than meets the eye. We were always encouraged to live our dreams by Ellie during our visits to P-Town.

Here’s a video tribute to Ellie:

Ellie December 1, 1931 – April 7, 2011 | local Obituaries

Left Behind…Again

   The rental house across the street from our home has made me accustomed to being left behind.  Once again I have been abandoned by our temporary  neighbors, the way furniture their lives no longer have room for has been.  On the curb looking down the road in the direction that they have gone I find myself left behind…again.

      For nearly twelve years now a series of renters have occupied the home across the street from us.  Each time we have marched over with a welcome basket or flowers to greet them.  These brief encounters in the scope of our neighborhood lives always end with a U-HAUL in the driveway before we wave them off.

       A few years back the renters were college students, a young couple.  That was different.  We did not imagine we would have anything to share with them.  When we brought a basket of apples over to welcome them that autumn they moved in they returned a week later with an apple pie they had made–for us.  The time they lived there was spent like this, homemade cookies on holidays and always someone to help push a car during a snowstorm.  I lent out my lawnmower to them.  It came back to me in better condition than it was when I lent it.  Alas, the time came when they moved on.  When they did I vowed to my family, who barely listen to my mutterings these days, that I was finished getting involved with the renters in the house across the street.

      The couple who followed the college students had a baby.  Their second child was born in the rental house.   Of course we had to go over with a baby gift.  There were grandparents to meet.  We shared conversation at swim lessons.  Their yard came alive with bright plastic toys.  The autumn air swelled with the noise of children playing.  These people needed to buy the rental home, end the revolving door we had come to endure, I told my family.  They nodded.  With the first snow I find myself on the curb with their furniture, left behind..again.

     In the back of my mind I tell myself that I am finished with the occupants of the rental home across the street.  I don’t even bother to say it to my family members this time.  We all know that there will be baskets or flowers to be brought over, the thing called life will draw us close.  It is why we live together in a neighborhood. 

       I will be here when the new tenants arrive, waiting with the excitement of a child opening a present on Christmas Day to get to know who they are.  In the end the U-HAUL truck will pull out of the driveway.  More than likely it will run over my lawn or smash into my snow fence they way that it has when the last few renters left.  Renters–no.  People who were neighbors, enriching our experience, who have become part of the tapesty of the life I have lived here in Monona.

Then Came November…

Sign of the Times…

Weather or Not…

 Remind me that I can’t complain!  No matter what happens, bad weather or not. 

  I always complain about the weather.  Too much snow in the winter.  The spring was too cold.  Summer was beyond WET. 

This autumn Monona has been graced with a long stretch of beautiful weather.  Perfect days that have seemed to be endless made up September and October.  We have been so gifted this season that I have come to expect views like this of the lagoon each morning– a mix of autumn colors, rising sun and misty fog from a slight frost. 

    It won’t be long.  I will bemoan a wet weekend or comment that it is so cold.  Who knew it would get cold in autumn in Wisconsin?  I KNOW I will complain about the snow as I shovel it, after the magic of the first one is gone.  That moment will come very quickly for me, I am afraid.  I will complain.  No matter what happens from this point on remind that I can’t complain because Mother Nature has given Monona a perfect autumn this year.

Autumn Walks Along the Lagoon…


At a time when the media is concentrating on Education Nation, and the documentary WAITING FOR SUPERMAN is spreading like a slow building fire into an inferno across the states, teachers at MGHS are not writing college letters of recommendation for students–a result of the dispute between teachers and the district it appears.

When our oldest son graduated from Monona Grove High School last June a neighbor who saw us returning from the graduation asked if teachers were protesting the graduation, because of the dispute. I told him they were not–teachers in Monona would not do anything to hurt the students. How innocent I must have appeared to that neighbor in the warm sunshine of June. Now, as autumn and college application season are upon us, I had to eat those words as I spoke to that same neighbor while raking leaves this past weekend. He reminded me of the conversation that we had in June as he told me teachers are not writing college recommendations. We are in a new season.

As a rule I always side with teachers. They are not paid enough. Very few teachers that I know work 8a.m.-3p.m. each day. They do work nights and weekends on their own time,without pay. Volunteer work–I suppose. A large majority of the teachers I know pay out of their own pockets for things their students and classes need.

Education Nation and WAITING FOR SUPERMAN bring to light many issues. One that seems to be a hot topic is ‘Bad Teachers’ and tenure. I have been lucky enough, or innocent enough perhaps, not to encounter many ‘bad teachers’ in my own education or the educations of our five children here in Monona. I hope that experience does not change the way the seasons tend to.


Treat Yourself: Enjoy a few moments each morning on Lake Monona.


It’s time for me to leave Wisconsin. Last night I dreamt about snowfences. When you are dreaming about snowfencing in August it is time to leave Wisconsin.

All around me people are gathered in excited groups over autumn and winter. They can’t wait to put on sweaters and boots. What fun it will be when the leaves change colors. Some even are anxious for that dirty word–snow.

I am not part of these groups. The dream about the snowfence was a nightmare that I had forgotten to put one up before the ground froze, leaving me doomed to a season of fighting drifts in sub-zero temps. Such panic it caused me. The thought that, no matter how many nice things like warm cookies and chats around the fireplace, the mean season had found me not prepared was too much.

When I woke up it was August. Wonderful August when the days are warm and long still. A once-a-week mow is all that is needed to maintain the property this time of year. The pool is still open. School has not begun yet. Wonderful, wonderful August!

But it still lingers in me. When I start dreaming, with dread, about snowfences in August it is time to leave Wisconsin. Time to flee to warmer temps somewhere far from Monona. But that isn’t the life I live yet. All I can do is possibly make reservations for somewhere nice and warm in December or January–or sit back and enjoy all the great things Monona has to offer right now, while it is still August.


While I was on the way back to Monona from vacation, to the life that I live– waiting for a flight at Boston’s Logan Airport– I caught sight of the life I should be living. The one I always imagined that I would be living.

Late this month Jonathan Franzen’s much anticipated novel, FREEDOM, is being published. TIME Magazine had his photo on the cover. Inside was an article reminding me of what a great Author Franzen is. Since our flight was delayed because of yet another summer storm over Wisconsin I had plenty of time to consider the life I wanted to live when I was younger, Jonathan Franzen’s, and the one I live now.

I think Jonathan Franzen was born outside Chicago. I was born in Chicago. We both write. TIME stated he goes to an empty office to work where there are no distractions. He has even removed the internet, any possiblity of it, from his computer. I write in my office each day. Okay, sometimes my ‘office’ is the laundry room or the kitchen. But I do not ever check email when I write. Our subjects are the same. He writes about families. My WHOLE life is about family.

I wondered how good Jonathan Franzen’s new novel could be. When I read blurbs and excerpts from it I knew. It seems like it’s pretty darned good. Nothing that I ever write reads like that. That’s why he is in the company of a few good men–the likes of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I have read Hemingway and Fitzgerald. AAAAHHH, the differences between myself and Jonathan Franzen began.

In the end I found myself back in Monona, after a flight in which I watched a summer storm rage beyond the plane window with my fellow passengers. It felt pretty nice to be home.

At home, in this life I live rather than the one I imagined in college–the one that included my own photo on TIME Magazine with an article claiming I was a great author perhaps–I was consoled by certain things as I mowed through the jungle our lawn had become while we were away. A wave HELLO from a neighbor or a phone call with a loud welcome back. Our family fell into a familiar routine that felt right.

For years I have been protected from the imagined life I might have lived by friends at the Monona Library. When novels classmates of mine had published came out, while I was lucky to get through the day  changing diapers and pushing a stroller filled with young children a few blocks from the house to the park or the pool–even the library, a friendly librarian would whisper to me that the novel in question I was checking out was not very popular–only a few people had checked it out. That helped a great deal.

The last time Jonathan Franzen had a great novel come out, THE CORRECTIONS released right before September 11th nine years ago, I was able to tell myself that I, of course, had not produced such a work. Our five kids had drained me of every sane thought I had ever had. Now I have no such excuse. In hindsight, our kids have given me more than I ever put out.

So, with a bit of healthy envy but a great deal of awe, I tip my hat to Jonathan Franzen and his new work. In the meanwhile I continue to write what I write, where I write it, in a place called Monona–surrounded by the company of very many good men and women.

 Page 1 of 4  1  2  3  4 »