Thursday, September 30, 2010

Welcome Home, Ava

Every now and again, something happens that is so momentous--so joyous--that it has to be shared.

Today is such a day.

My friends Doug and Jennifer brought home their little girl today; not for the first time...but for the first time.

Ava's been with them as a foster child since January of 2009, and today, after a year and a half of starts, stops, frustrations, and scissors that have been too slow cutting through the legal red tape, her adoption is final.

She's been there; now she's theirs.

Ava worked her way into my heart the first time I met her. She's a wonderful, curly-haired little girl with eyes that shine as bright as her smile, both being made up of equal parts charm, glee, and excitement, with just a dash of mischief thrown in.

See what I mean?

You can't help but respond to that smile with a smile of your own.

She is mighty, in that regard; she has the power to lift you up when you don't feel like being lifted. One day recently I was feeling down, and she offered me her half-eaten Tootsie Roll.

How could I still be down after that?

She is with the parents she deserves, parents that will, and already have, love her unconditionally and unequivocally as the shining star that she is. She now has two older brothers who will love and protect her as much as her parents do.

I remember sitting next to her on the couch at their house one evening, letting her drag a comb through my hair.  She took her time, making sure that she left nothing untouched.

"Thank you, Ava," I said when she announced she was done. "Did you make me all pretty?"

"No..." she replied. "I pretty!"

Yes, you are, Ava.

You're beautiful.

And you're home now.

Thanks for reading my ranting,


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Teusday Treasures: Some Movie With Turtles In It...

By the time the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie hit theaters in 1990, I had been a Turtle fan for six years.

I'm not talking about the silly, kid-version cartoon (my little brother was obsessed with it, though), or the plethora of Turtle toys (although I did own one each of the four Turtles--I'm a geek, whaddya expect?), I'm talking about the original, black-and-white comic book series from Mirage Studios, first published in 1984.

It was never meant as a serious book; it was a parody of famous comics of the period. However, it evolved into a serious (for the most part), story-driven, grown-up, dark action comic.

And I loved it.

When the cartoon series premiered and then exploded into every kid-run household in America, I thought "Let the kids have their fun with it. I still get to enjoy the books."

When this movie came out in 1990 (a year after I graduated high school), my friends and I were there to see how it compared to our beloved comic books.

I was blown away.

The film holds onto some of the more mature darkness of the original comics, while retaining some of the kid-friendly goofiness that made it so accessible to children. It is a tribute to both the comics, which were there first, and the cartoon, which made the Turtles an international phenomenon.

This movie worked for me on a great many levels: the casting and acting were far above what you would expect of a film based on a cartoon based on a comic book (c'mon, admit it: Elias Koteas as Casey Jones is one of the coolest movie heroes ever). The storylines and themes, as well as its humor, were that sometimes-difficult-to-achieve blend of mature themes easily digested by children.

The animatronic puppets and costumes created by the Jim Henson Creature Shop were exceptional (duh--Jim Henson, folks). During most of this movie, you easily forget that the main characters are, essentially, muppets. Incidentally, this is one of the last projects that Henson personally had his hands in--it was released less than two months before his sudden death in May of that year.

As a long-time fan of martial arts movies (c'mon, I was a kid in the 70's and 80's; Kung Fu Theater was a Sunday afternoon staple), I was impressed by the first-rate fight scene choreography, made all the more impressive when you realize that the performers were wearing cumbersome Turtle costumes while leaping and kicking.

The cast and crew seemed dedicated to making a good movie, and it shows.

One of the reasons I love this movie so much is for the simple reason that it shouldn't have been this good. By all rights, it should have been as stupid and unwatchable as the sequels became (Vanilla Ice?!? Seriously?!?).

But it wasn't. It was solid, entertaining story-telling wrapped up in incredible visuals.

It was, and is, just plain fun.

My kids just watched it for the first time, and have become addicts.

Just like their old man.

Cowabunga, indeed.

Thanks for reading my ranting,


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Memories of Adventure, and a Biker Cat...

After Grammy's funeral on Thursday, my brother and I went for a walk on her property, in the woods we played in as kids.

I thought I'd share some of the things that brought me so much adventure and inspiration when I walked there so long ago...

The road to adventure

Stairs to a forgotten nowhere

My own "Wood Between the Worlds"

The old, mysterious flood gate

The gatewall, where I became Indiana Jones

These are just a few of the places to go there; days and weeks of adventure and secret places abound in Grammy's woods.

How could I not be inspired when this was my backyard?

We also got a pretty good pic of my Uncle Tim's cat...

Please put me down...

Thanks for reading my ranting,


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesday Treasures: Grammy's House

Today's TT almost didn't happen.

I wasn't really in the mood; you see, my Grammy died today.

Grammy was my Dad's mom (my Mom's mom died at the beginning of the summer), and it hurts--a lot--because not only did I love her, but it's kind of like losing another piece of my Dad again.

No, I really wasn't in a very good, sharing mood today, until I started to remember going to Grammy's house as a kid, and I realized: there's my treasure. There's my joy.

From the 1930's until just about a month ago, my Grammy lived in the same farmhouse.  My Dad and his four brothers grew up in that house.

Grammy never threw anything away, and I remember my childhood visits to her house being voyages of discovery.

In one room of her dark, spooky basement (a very powerful memory in and of itself) was a huge collection of boy's toys from the 40's, 50's, and 60's. I would spend hours down there, playing with old toys designed to last, being made of metal and wood instead of cheap, easily broken plastic.

Cap pistols that had the look and weight of real, old-West revolvers. Toy cars and trucks that were so heavy, my brother and I actually sustained injuries from hitting each other with them (we're brothers; we're supposed to do that). Rubber-band rifles that shot two-foot-long bands and would leave welts on your victim (again, my brother).

Toys from that era were apparently designed to make kids tougher.

Aside from the basement, I remember huge, home-made country breakfasts and ice cream on hot summer evenings.

Grammy owned a lot of land (it was a working farm when my Dad was little), and I would spend even more hours wandering the fields and woods around her house, letting my imagination go wild.

I became a cowboy. I became a Revolutionary and Civil War soldier. I became Indiana Jones, and the abandoned sheds and foundations of old houses that dotted her property became lost temples containing mountains of treasure and hidden traps galore. I would walk through an empty field and become Jason, fresh off the Argos, or Aragorn, fighting legions of Orcs and living skeletons with sticks that were really swords, slicing their way through the evil monsters I encountered. I became Han Solo on the forest moon of Endor and defeated the Empire countless times.

More often than not, I would return to Grammy's house after these day-long adventures with my pockets full of arrowheads or rusty 19th-century padlocks or dozens of other interesting things I found in the woods, and my Dad and I would sit at her big table and eat ice cream while he told me about some of the treasures he used to find when he was a kid, doing the same things I did.

My Dad taught me to shoot in those fields and woods.

Grammy's house was a great place to be a kid, and I always knew that a visit there would be filled with adventure.

So there are some of my treasures this Tuesday. Treasures that both make the pain of losing Grammy today a little bit sharper and help me feel better.

Grammy had a long, sometimes difficult (she buried two sons, and I hope I never have to know how that feels) but good life. She got to enjoy my kids, and my brother's son.

She loved well, and was well-loved.

Good night, Grammy. I love you.

Thanks for reading my ranting,


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tuesday Treasures: Being a Quitter...

You may have noticed that I missed last week, and I do apologize for that. I got so busy that it was Friday before I realized that Tuesday had come and gone.

This week's installment is a little bit different.

Today I am celebrating being a quitter.

I quit smoking today.

Not for the first time; quitting smoking is relatively easy--staying quit is a different monster altogether.

One of the reasons that I've had so much trouble in the past is that I've always treated it like a habit that needs to be broken.

That's not true: smoking in an addiction, and needs to be treated as you would treat any other chemical dependency. It's no different than an alcoholic who quits drinking, or a heroin addict who fights to get clean.

Another reason I've had trouble, I believe, is that every time before, I've essentially kept it to myself. I've always figured, it's my addiction, I'll fight it on my own.

Which has led to failure. Every time.

Now, I'm standing up and declaring it out loud. I'm screaming from the virtual rooftops, "I AM A QUITTER!!"

I lost my dad because of smoking, and my boys deserve better than for me to put them through that. They need me to be around as long as I can be.

And, selfishly, I have a strong desire to be "not dead".

Hunter and Blake and I just went out to the grill and set fire to my last, almost-full pack.

I'm through. I was a smoker for at least twenty-one years (to be honest, I don't remember how old I was when I started, just that I was a full-blown addict in my senior year of high school), and I am through letting something as stupid as this stupid addiction to this stupid chemical control my life.

I've wasted a great deal of time and money on this stupidity over the years, and quite frankly, I have better things to spend both on.

I'm done being a slave to this.

It will be difficult. Nicotine has ruled my system (and my life) for so long that I don't remember what it was like to be in control of myself.

I guess in that respect, I'm not really quitting. The real "quit" was when I gave myself over to this insanity so long ago.

This isn't my "quit date".

It's my "start date".

I'm going to start being the real me again.

I'm looking forward to finding out what I'm like.

Thanks for reading my ranting,


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Where Were You?

My parents' generation asked the question "Where were you when you heard the news" about the day that Kennedy was killed, and most of them could vividly remember the exact moment in history when their world changed.

The world and our perceptions of it clearly changed again on September 11, 2001, and I believe most people who were old enough to be aware of it remember where in their worlds they were when it happened.

Today, nine years later, my memories of that day are clear, yet hazy with the feeling of unreality that still clings.

I was working third shift security at the time, and had stopped at the store on the way home to get stuff to fix breakfast. Hunter was just over a month old, and I was looking forward to spending a relaxing morning with him and his mother.

The checkout clerk told me as she scanned my items, "Turn on the tv when you get home. They just said that a plane hit the World Trade Center."

Wow, I thought. I need to check that out and see what's going on.

When I got home, I told my wife to turn on one of the morning news shows so we could see what was happening.

When I saw the smoke and flames engulfing the WTC, what I had thought was going to be a small, terrible accident transformed into a gigantic, horrifying accident.

Less than two minutes after I sat down to watch, the second plane struck, and I realized, along with the rest of the world, that this was not an accident.

My world-view shattered in that instant, and my memories of the rest of that day are clear but broken and disjointed; they are images caught in reflections on shards of falling glass.

The sense of unreality only deepened as the towers crumbled and fell.

My mind literally could not interpret what it was seeing; it took several moments for reality to break through the clouds of smoke, dust, and ash and drive home that this is not a special effect.

This was reality, and I was seeing thousands of lives ending, snuffed out by hate and stupidity.

My strongest memory, however, is not the planes striking the buildings. My strongest memory is not those buildings crumbling into so many pieces.

My strongest memory is weeping for not only the thousands of lives that were being lost, but for the one life that I held in my hands.

I wept as I held my five-week-old son in my arms, looking at him and thinking, I'm so sorry. What kind of place have I brought you into?

Please, God, let his world be better than this.

Hunter is now nine years old. He has been joined by another life that I hold equally important, his brother, Blake.

It's my responsibility as their father to help them make their world better than this. To help them see past the pages in a history book that September 11, 2001 will be to them; to understand that though it is real, though it changed the world, it does not represent the world. The world is better than this.

Humanity is better than this.

I work hard every day to teach them that even though horrible things happen, life is good. It is full of wonder and joy and laughter.

My boys are with their mother this weekend, and I can't hold Hunter today like I did nine years ago, but that's okay. They're always with me no matter where they are.

I'm man enough to admit that the tears are flowing freely as I write this, tears shed in memory as well as in hope:

Hope that perhaps my sons' inevitable "Where were you" memories will be something good.
Thanks for reading my ranting,


Sunday, September 5, 2010

This Explains Everything...

Hunter: "Dad, I like this mask! It fits great!"

Me: "Somehow, I'm not surprised."

Blake: "Look, Dad! I'm as old as you!"

Me: "Ha. Hunter, let me see that pitchfork..."