Archives for posts with tag: Family

Three years ago my step father, Frank, passed away from complications of ALS. The disease robbed him of his speech, his ability to eat, and the use of his arms before it eventually took his life. I’m still not very comfortable talking about how cruel ALS proved to be when it struck my family.

As the #alsicebucketchallenge grows exponentially it seems necessary pin down how I feel about this social media madness. I feel annoyed that my newsfeed is overrun with these posts. I feel embarrassed for all the people that drop the bucket on their heads. I feel a pull at my chest each time I hear or read those letters “ALS”.

That’s where I get stuck. That pull at my chest. ALS feels like a swear word. I don’t like saying. I don’t like hearing. It doesn’t sound like any other disease to me. It sounds hopeless. People forget when they post these laughing and shrieking and even stoic declarations of support that real people have ALS. Friends and family members of ALS victims see these posts.

This man doesn’t know ALS will take him before he turns 60: Frank

On the other side, as I’m sure Frank would argue, this has generated a tremendous amount of money and support for the cause. For all the pulls at my chest and all the annoyances, that’s certainly worth something.

If you’ve been challenged or you’d just like to donate to a good cause let me suggest donating to the Robert J. Packard Center at John’s Hopkins University. Their focus is research over awareness and that research is damn impressive. 

Who says silliness can’t benefit a good cause?



Yesterday I only left the house to shovel. The poodle helped. She lunged after each scoop of snow, chasing them into the yard where she sunk above her neck before racing back to catch the next scoop mid-air. When she was thoroughly snow covered I sent her inside. She watched in style as I finished the front walk:


The sky was blue in Minneapolis – that winter kind of blue, sharper than seems normal – but the wind howled and drifted snow steadily over my morning’s work. We curled up to nap and read, the poodle pressing every possible inch of her body against my wife’s leg, absorbing her warmth. The wind rattled our windows and crept through crevices. For a moment I could imagine that our house stood alone on the prairie, nothing to protect us. Only for a moment.

We were warm.

My mother told the story of my birth, as she does most Thanksgivings. She didn’t feel well. She thought it was indigestion. Alas, I was born after two enormous Thanksgiving dinners and lots of family advice.

Great story right? Even better when you get to hear it over a turkey dinner each year.

Beyond the story time, my tradition is Rainbow Chip Cake (if you haven’t had it, please go buy it and make it now):

Nom nom

…and the birthday decorations my mother puts up for everyone. Streamers. Some shiny foil birds. A Happy Birthday banner. The decorations sit in a box in the closet and have for years until someone’s birthday rolls around. When they show up again I feel a little corner of my heart become a kid again. I love that we use the same ones. Now those silly little birds mean birthday to me, they make me smile.

Maybe next year, when I’m the 3-0 I’ll grow up, but I hope not.

This book has been sitting on my shelf for almost a year:

Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, in case you haven’t heard, is mostly narrated by the nine year old son of a man who died on 9/11 in the Twin Towers. Yeah, it’s heavy. A variety of forms – pictures, single lines of text, letters – offset the subject matter a bit. But just a bit. You can’t run from the grief of a child.

Or grief in general.

Safran Foer handles grief in a way that might bother some folks. Described but not discussed. A background more than a subject. Then again, maybe I only notice the grief because I have been thinking about it.

I bought this book to give to my uncle while my aunt went back in the hospital with breast cancer. She slept a great deal. He needed a book. Or, I thought he needed a book. I bought this novel because I saw it around; it seemed like a title he would have heard about. Christmas came and went. My aunt moved to hospice.

How could I give him a book about grief now? I couldn’t, I can’t.

Comedy Central’s Roast of Roseanne aired last night. One of the best I’ve seen. Jane Lynch was a perfect host. Amy Schumer was at the top of her game (I can’t wait to see her special and listen here to why she’s a standup human being). Carrie Ficher took down everyone. Katey Sagal looked amazing. Just watch it. The lineup was great.

Like so much of life, the roast only works when the room is full of respect. These young comedians and seasoned actors truly respected Roseanne and her career. They saw through the crazy and remembered what groundbreaker she and her show were. Plus, Roseanne took all the shit-talking like a champ. She tossed it back. She laughed. There is nothing worse on roast then the roastee looking uncomfortable. Not Roseanne.

I’d forgotten how much nostalgia boils to the surface when that theme song plays – that gritty sax and warbly harmonica. All I want to do is sit three feet from the TV with a bowl of mac and cheese and giggle at jokes I don’t really understand. Back then, the Roseanne’s sitcom made me feel like my divorced family (the only one on the block) was normal. They were dysfunctional but funny above all else so whatever we were was OK.

Thanks, Roseanne.

My brother wanted to go to his first legal rated-R movie so we slipped into the new Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis flick:

Lately I’ve been judging popular movies by whether or not I’d be comfortable seeing it with my mother (30 Minutes or Less fails, Sherlock Holms passes). The movie theater was packed so my mother sat one row back while my brother and I sat together. It’s that kind of movie on the mom scale. When the dick-jokes and nip-slips start, it’s a little easier to laugh with a few feet of buffer room.

The movie is good but not great. (They sold me with no less than three Price is Right jokes) Maybe it’s all the real life campaigning that makes me such a grump. See it for yourself; I don’t think you’ll regret it.

My brother turned 17 yesterday. We ate his ice cream cake today.

Yes, there’s a bit of an age gap. That gap means I will always think of him as a five year old. Even as he applies for college. Even though he’s almost six foot tall. When I think of him I think of a little freckled kid who memorized more movie lines than I’ve ever heard.

Also, my mom’s dog heard something scary outside.

She can’t deal with thunderstorms, fireworks, car horns, distant gunshots, chainsaws, and any new loud noise. Poor girl can’t be soothed. We tried a thunder-jacket to no avail. She has something from the vet for the worst storms. But most of the time her coping technique – if my mother isn’t nearby to knock over – is to shimmy into a corner. Small spaces. It’s sad and cute all at once.

Three little birds buzzed over my head as I mowed my mother’s lawn this afternoon. Bold little bastards. They kept fighting over the feeder when I came back outside to walk the dog.

Turns out these tiny little birds are a bit territorial – so says my neighbor, the “bird-guy”. Then again, maybe my mom just makes some badass bird food.

When kids in my high school swore they would never live in Iowa again, I swore I’d never leave. I’ve always loved Iowa and the Midwest. The weather, the people, the space.

Central Illinois = as much sky as land.

Look at the sky. It’s as much of the landscape as any town or lake or field or forest. When we talk about the weather in the Midwest we aren’t avoiding anything, we aren’t making small talk. We WANT to talk about the weather. It’s fucking intense. I remember my mother calling home once to tell my brother and I to run to the top of the hill to see a thunderstorm rolling in. We raced out and stared at the purple-black clouds like they were our own personal fireworks show.

That’s the kind of childish awe I want my kids to have.

Just the other day, a storm rolled through Illinois with the kind of lighting that seems to stick to the ground and the kind of malicious rain that seems intent on blinding drivers. I bounced in my seat, smiling, as the girlfriend clutched the wheel. How could we not talk about that?! Sticky lightning. Fuck, yes!

It’s not a place to visit – I must be clear on that- it’s a place to live.

Back from vacation today to find that my little tomatoes have grown in upside-down. As protest? To show off?

I’m impressed.

The North Shore was idyllic and much cooler than the twin cities. Great for photo ops and reading to the sounds of Lake Superior.

The dog would rather be with ‘grandma’.

I went up north a couple of times in my childhood but it’s been years. We hiked and ate at roadside diners and I felt trapped by my family. Going as an adult was different, better. I’d highly recommend you visit. The cell signal is poor. Internet is hard to find. You’re forced to just be. We read and ate meals together and stared at the water. It was nice. I miss it already.

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