Jesus Land: A Memoir by Julia Scheeres. A Review. Book 15 out of 52

“Life may not be fair, but when you have someone to believe in, life can be managed, and sometimes, even miraculous.”

Right out of the gate, this book shook me. I was barely into reading it when I mentioned a fair amount of dislike for the path the story was going to the person that suggested it to me. She encouraged me to keep reading. So I did. Boy am I thankful. ‘Jesus Land: A Memoir’ by Julia Scheeres is NOT the book that you think it is. It is a wild ride from start to finish. Some parts brought on disgust and worry. While others brought on laughter, tears, and eye-opening realizations.

There were parts of this book that made me worry about the plans that we have for our family. Those parts were the reasons I wanted to put the book down. But many other parts made me see how lucky we are. The journey this book takes you on is complicated but easy to fall in love with as you read through it all.

I will also say that the most important part is after the book is over. READ THE EPILOGUE. Though all that this book brought to me, the epilogue had me crying in bed in the middle of the night. The book, in and of itself, is truly incredible. But the epilogue makes the whole thing beautiful.

I am giving ‘Jesus Land: A Memoir’ by Julia Scheeres a coveted 5 out of 5. Trust me, buy it, read it, do not stop when you think you should, and you will see why it gets a solid five from me.

Appointment With Death by Agatha Christie. A Review. Book 14 out of 52

“They have been in prison so long that, if the prison door stands open, they would no longer notice!”

One of the things that I have enjoyed with the Agatha Christie novels that I have read is her propensity to make the solution a surprise, but entirely logical. I have a deep love for crime novels, but I will forgo my diatribe regarding the “who-done-it” to avoid spoilers. I will say that it is a little disappointing that Christie took as long just setting up the crime. Making you see the reasons the victim met their end is essential, but this was a bit drawn out. Instead, following the journey that this reading challenge has taken me on, I want to dissect the underlying theme.

Sometimes we live in a prison, constructed by others, only to realize it when it is too far-gone to escape. We often grow content, even proud, in our assumption that we know what life is all about. As children, life is a game. There are magic and mystery, for most of us, that enthrall our minds. But, what if that was taken away as well? Instead of it falling by the wayside as we grow, it was stricken away from us like a prize unearned. I, for one, do what I can to ensure the world is filled with magic and mystery for my kids. I want them to explore its vast trappings fully. Trust me; I KNOW that this book was not written to make you think of such things. But, that is not how my mind works.

I am giving 3.5 out of 5 stars to “Appointment With Death” by Agatha Christie. Not the worst I have read, not by a long shot. But far from the best Christe novel that I have read to date.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. A Review. Book 13 out of 52

“If you are under the impression you have already perfected yourself, you will never rise to the hights you are no doubt capable of”

I love when stories have the same effect as peeling back an onion layer by layer. Be it through a thrilling crime novel, or through the eyes of discovery. Done right, it is a brilliant device in literature. In The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, brilliant is an understatement. Though it took a little to get into, to figure out what was going on, this was a joy to read. But only in the sense of one lacking introspection. Be it Ishiguro’s intent or not, taking what the protagonist is working through, and applying it to my life is what I do.

This book leaves me asking questions about potential, perception, and drive. All of this, in every aspect, is a good thing. Perhaps it is only adding to the foundation of what this year is turning into for me. This journey, my 2018 Reading Challenge, has had a sudden impact surrounding self-discovery. This book is yet another fantastic catalyst in the process. While being a delight to read, it may leave you questioning quite a bit about what you think you know.

4.5 out of 5 is what I give “The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro. Add it to your shelves, give yourself a couple of quiet nights, and enjoy the ride.

The tale of the CT scan

Many of us know, all too well, that Cranio makes our lives forever different. This week we had a reminder of this.

On Monday Zoey was playing with David on the couch. In a typical sibling outcome, she ended up getting pushed off the couch. Her arms failed to catch her, and with a sickening crack, she landed face first on the carpet. While in the middle of a meeting I received a text message from my beloved letting everyone know about this, and that she believed Zoey broke her nose.

A flurry of fear filled me, and my heart was pounding. I tried to focus on what must happen, as I was methodically tracing my next steps. I was shocked with the thoughts flying through my mind. As an adventurous boy, and adult, my nose has ended broken 20+ times. I know the game. Ice, time, black eyes for a bit, and move on. But not for Zoey. For her, ‘normal’ has a new definition. Anything involving the face or head is not a small deal. So much time, so many surgeries, and more to come, all mean that things are different.

We debated on rising her to the ER. Spending the countless hours waiting to be seen, all for an x-ray. Instead, we reached out to her Craniofacial team. We sent pictures, a narrative, and our fears. Then we waited. We waited for an email or a call. Something to tell us we were crazy, or what our next step was.

 

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It came, a CT scan was needed. I knew what this meant. Surgery, either to fix or the next one we have been discussing was rushing back to the table. My fears were only lit aflame by the bruising that Zoey had the next day. It was telltale and bad. But every time I looked at Zoey, I could see the braveness forcing itself through. I saw my sweet little girl smiling, but I saw the pain.

So, today we loaded up the family and made our trek to the hospital. Zoey was in high spirits. We told her what was going to happen. As our silver van sailed the laughter wafted from the back while Zoey and David joked. My heart was still.

Check in was fast, and our wait was short. When it came to be our time, Zoey took my hand, and we walked. The long hallway caused our footsteps to echo, click, click, click. We almost made it past a beautiful mural filled with butterflies. As I feigned exuberant excitement to point them out to her, I looked at her. And my heart fell a little out of my chest. For the first time, in a very long time, I could see a little fear poking through her eyes.

We walked into a room that, to be fair, I wanted in my home. Freshwater fish scenery adorned the walls and hid the machines. Bass, trout, otters, even a carp with moss covered rocks and flowing plants. There was a light show on the ceiling giving the appearance of rippling water on a lavender and rose summer evening. I bent down to look at Zoey. Her eyes missed all of this, and we’re locked in the machine in terror. Her little hand quickly tightened around my finger.

For the next few minutes, we had to fight her. Her strength and agility were providing a great deal of surprise to the experienced technician. Every breath from Zoey was a scream of “No!”, “Mommy!”,”Stop”, and “Daddy.” That last one ripped shreds off my heart. It was full of fear, anxiety, and hurt. I fought tears as I kept reminding her that I was not going to leave her, that I was there, that I would never let anything bad happen to her. But I know they were falling on deaf ears. Undaunted by this, I kept talking to her. Holding her, and taking my place right next to her.

The fretted bindings that were holding my heart together wholly unraveled as she fought through those that were holding her down. The technician looked at me and asked if I wanted to call it off. My heart was screaming “Yes, please stop this!”, but my mind knew better.

It’s a tough row to hoe being a dad. Our entire job is, or at least it should be, vying for the welfare of our children. Protecting them from any harm that comes our way. And as my daughter lace screaming for this to stop, writing on the table, fighting against the straps, and the hands, I knew that this needed to happen. So, we fought on.

Finally, I found a way to hold her. Though it was not soothing her in any way, I was able to contain her. In a matter of moments, the X-ray and ct-scan were over. As they pulled her bed out of the machine, I can see the streams of Tears along her cheeks. Like Jewel filled streams of water against the blackened eyes from a broken nose. I Let Go. I stepped back just take a photo of this moment, preserving it and posterity and something else that she has yet again had to fight through. Something that her adult self may look back upon as she wonders about the journey her life has been. The time that she can look back and see her little 6-year-old body strapped to a table and remember that she overcame it.

The moment that the straps were freed she bolted upright. She left into my arms and held me tight as I could quickly feel her tears soaking my shirt. I held her so damn close. Whispering to her that this was over, that she did it, and telling her how proud of her I was. It was at that moment that she finally saw the fish, the Otters, the plants, the light show on the ceiling. “Like daddy’s fish tank” for nearly hoarse voice proclaimed in my ear. With a shuttering thump, I felt my heart begin to beat. My smile matched hers as I looked deep into her eyes. That brilliant sparkle of wonder was finally returning.

A few hours later, after copious amounts of cookies and regaling of her day, who received the long-awaited email. Her nose is fractured but not displaced. No worries about surgery at this time. Reading these words brought great elation to me after a long day.

It’s my job as her dad to protect her. I do not, and will not ever, take this aspect of my life lightly. But it is also my job to remember these moments period to capture them for her and her brothers. So that some dark day, when I’m no longer here to do my job, she will remember these hard days when I did my best.

Leading up to these events I was amazed private care an outpouring of affection that we received from so many others. Before the moment when we walked in that room, crossing the threshold, I was confident that this would have been easy for Zoey. “It’s just a CT scan,” I told myself over and over again. I had failed to remember the fact that nothing is as it should be. That many of the things that many other parents take for granted are entirely different for us. I’d also done the disservice I forgetting that my daughter can be scared. By failing to remember that countless things can disrupt the brave face that she puts on every single day. But for now, and I listen to her sleep in the room next to mine, I find peace. This was only helped by finishing some fine scotch and getting these words out.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Early mornings

Here I sit, listening to the sounds of my sleepy home. Being woken up at 3 am to the sounds of my daughter crying. Sometimes the medicine she has to take to help her use the bathroom works too well in the middle of the night. Having stripped bedding, started laundry, cleaned her up and put her back to sleep, my mind is in overdrive. These morning are spent validating my role as a dad.

As I ruminate over the last five crazy years, I look at the changes that I have gone through. Culminating in the birthday celebrations of the previous four days, I now have a six year old.

A six year old.

Where has the time gone? Better yet, what have I done with this time that I have been given? As I listen to the sleeping sounds of my children, my pregnant beloved, and even our dog, I am left to wonder about it all. I see the struggles that no one else sees. The hard times we have been through. The mountains we have had to climb either dragging the kids with us, or chasing them upwards. I know, parenting, done right, is never easy.

But what about rest? What about finding time to be still? “You need to stop and smell the roses” is something I hear far too often. However, even when I try in earnest, days like today happen. Over and over again. I took a vacation to spend time with family. To get away from stress. To rest and be still. Instead, every single day I have been sleeping less and less.

But, there is time with the kids. There have been moments. Unintentionally amazing moments and memories. Laughter, tickle fights, nature walks, even lazy cuddle on the couch and watch Peg + Cat moments. So, why am I exhausted?

It has been a full five years. From the moment Zoey came on the scene things needed to be different. There were new words to learn, procedures to discuss, pain and fear to work through. All while maintaining a brave face. Not for anyone other than Zoey. She never demanded, but has always deserved my best. Such a strong and brave soul is contained in that little body.

This translated to being the dad that David has needed. He is the embodiment of the thing so many parents say under their breath. “Someday you will have a kid just like you…”. Yeah, I do. Smart, adventurous, aggressive, defiant, little version of me. Still, my little buddy. Showing me countless times that long after I am gone he will be there to take care of his siblings. I know he will do well, just have to keep him alive.

Following the twin tornadoes (seriously what David and Zoey can do to a house in five minuets is mind blowing) comes my respite. Sweet little Jacob. The most mild mannered of the three. Happy to run and play, or cuddle just the same. Quick with a smile, a hug, a laugh. But, he is nearing two, and the signs are there. This is going to be a fun round of the terrible twos.

I know not what #4 will bring. What special kind of chaos he will add to this mixing pot of a family. But, I am as ready as I can be for him to arrive.
All of this is a good kind of exhausting. But does it need to be exhausting? This is the question I ask myself over and over. I am sure that, someday, I will be able to find a pattern that will allow sleep. Though it really is not about the amount of sleep. It is about finding time to be still.

Time to go change the laundry, and empty the dishwasher.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

*edit notes: So, I tried to use speech to text, during the hours of 3 and 4 in the morning, while exhausted, to write this post. All that I have done today was fix some grammar and word use issues that were driving me nuts.

Time Traveler’s Wife: By Audry Niffenegger. A Review. Book 11 of 52

My 2018 Reading Challenge is coming along nicely. Having just finished Feist’s The Magician, I dove head first into this book, and fell for about a week.

So I may have been guilty of falling asleep during this movie. Not because it was bad, I am sure that it was because I was tired. However, I do not think that even watching the movie would have prepared me for this book. “Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audry Niffenegger threw me for a loop.  There is no single quote that could do justice to how I feel about this book. It is complex, there is time, love, loss, and more love, more time. I both read and listened to the audio book. Having two characters speak the parts of the protagonist’s was delightful.

One of the most mind blurring parts did have a quote that resonates with me today. As a father, watching my children grow up, it pulled on the heart strings a little.

“Think for a minute, darling: in fairy tales it’s always the children who have the fine adventures. The mothers stay at home and waif for the children to fly in the window”.

Okay, those of you that have read it know what that is about. It is a smaller part of the entire story. But I honestly believe that there is little that I can say about this book without giving something away about it. It is amazing, wonderful and the ending.  Well, it hit me right in the gut. But so worth it. Every page, every line. Sold 4.5 out of 5. Even if you have watched the movie, read this book.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

The Magician: Master: By Raymond Feist. A Review. Book 10 of 52

See, I have been writing, and reading, and stuff. Sigh. But I know, no time for excuses. On wards and upwards for my next review for my 2018 reading challenge.

So, I have already spoken about the first part of this book. You can read that here. But, now, let’s dive into The Magician: Master by Raymond Feist. Another good book as a standalone, but I purposely waited to write this review until I had read both. Then I waited a few more weeks. Because of time. For as great as this book may be by itself, this pales in comparison to the power that reading them both, back to back, contain.

The conflict is real and palpable. Shockingly distant from other novels of the same feel. Consumed by the authors ability to keep the story, making every sentence count. So much that I, yet again, lost sight of the love story. But, there it was, time and time again. Not in an annoying way. It helped tell the story. There was not a lost section, or something that was there just to fill space.

I am usually one that likes to leave with a simple quote, something that gives insight into what I think of the book. But for this one, it is a longer one. A few sentences that I had to read over and over again. Before I do that, I give this book, by itself a 3.5 as well. But together with Apprentice I can do no less than a 4. If you have the time, read these books.

“There are many ways to love someone. Sometimes we want to love so much we’re not too choosy about who we love. Other times we make love such a pure and noble thing no poor human can ever meet our vision. But for the most part, love is a recognition, an opportunity to say, ‘There is something about you I cherish.’ It doesn’t entail marriage, or even physical love. There’s love of parents, love of city or nation, love of life, and love of people. All different, all love”

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

The Magician: Apprentice: By Raymond Feist. A Review. Book 9 of 52

Ok, ok….. I know that I am WAY behind on these. I have been reading, but been busy getting ready for our fourth child to join us in a couple months. Anyway, here is my next entry for the 2018 Reading Challenge.

Magic, sci-fi and war all wrapped around a love story. No, I am not talking about The Princess Bride (though an amazing book that you all should read). I am, in fact, talking about “The Magician: Apprentice” by Raymond Feist. I was warned that this book was a long one, originally published as one, split into two. But it was an amazing read. I have found in my time that there are books that are long, and horrible reads. So much fluff or dry events. This book is not the case.

I did not even really see the folding in of the love story until it was already there. It was amazing.

“Some love comes like the wind off the sea, while others grow slowly from the seeds of friendship and kindness”.

But, for as good as this book is, it is lacking without the second part, Master. As a stand-alone I would say 3.5 out of 5. Worth the read.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

It all started on a hot and rainy night

I stood outside of the door, the heavy heat clinging to my skin. Though the sun had set hours ago, there was no escape from the humidity. Off in the distance the thunder rolled heavy and long. A storm was coming, and it was coming soon. On the faint breeze there was the tell-tale smell of the sweet summer pine married with the cooling freshness of the nearby rain. I knew what I was here for, and what was going to be done, or so I thought. I steeled myself, drawing in my last fresh breath for some time. As I reached for the door a cool raindrop fell on my bare shoulders, and a hiss roared from the blacktop as the storm had come.

All of the freshness left my lungs as my nostrils were assaulted by the smell of stale cigarettes, cigars, beer, sweat, and God knows what else. My heart skipped a beat as the thumping bass and screaming vocals blaring from the speakers hit me in the chest. I knew this sound, and I let it enrobe me.

“I wander out where you can’t see. Inside my shell I wait and bleed” the strained voice of Slipknot’s Corey Todd Taylor screamed at me. My eyes darted around the space. Dimly lit, with a heavy haze of acrid smoke in the air. Over the blaring music there was laughter, yelling, and a few yelps of pain. Under the music there was a sporadic and faint buzzing that you could only hear if you were listening to it, or when the CD changed songs.

What was I doing here? Maybe there is still time for me to escape. Almost knowingly, as my eyes moved to the door, a woman dressed in leather pants and a shirt about, two sizes to small, for some band that I had never, heard of reached for my hand. “You are right on time sweetheart.” she said. Her smile was welcoming, but her eyes betrayed the things that she had seen in her life. She took my hand and guided me over to a chair.

Before me sat a face that I knew, but in these surroundings it felt unfamiliar. His long, graying beard leaving just enough space for his smile, more link a sneer. He said something, but over the music I could not hear it. I leaned closer to him as he raised his voice. “Veronica, this is his first time!” he called to the woman who had just let go of my hand. Her eyes brightened as she cracked a smile. In other circumstances the smile might have been attractive, but I felt like the wounded prey being circled. “Oh really?” a devilish smile took over her face. Her eyes widened in excitment, “Don’t worry, I will sit with you. We will take good care of you”.

Ralph looked at me and asked. “Ready to do this? There is no backing out once we begin”. Veronica, now sitting next to me, took and again squeezed my hand, her other patting my thigh. I swallowed, hard, and blinked slowly. In my most confidant voice I responded “yes”. With that Ralph used one arm and leaned me back. He leaned close and there was a sting in my arm. Fiery pain wrecked through my body, and an instant cool sweat covered my neck. This quickly switched to a primal ecstasy as my nervous system went into overload.

This night from 17 years ago comes back to me from time to time. My life, and my body was forever changed. Something happened today that warranted this post, as I continued a journey started oh so long ago. After a decade away, I could not wait any longer…

I finally got some more ink added to my half sleeve. This is the first of what will be a long string of visits. Though the place I am going now is far removed from where my first encounter with tattoos began (not just by distance, but in cleanliness as well), the ride is still the same. Pure, unbridled, exploding ecstasy.

So much more to do, but things are going to come together nicely. Pictures will be posted on my Instagram later to show what I started with, and were I am now.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

 

MY WARRIOR KID

Zoey wasn’t given a choice to be a warrior. The moment that she was born our room was filled with doctors, nurses and specialists buzzing around. As a first time dad, the build up to the moment of our daughter’s birth had been epic. However, hearing the hushed tones of the support staff saying things like “what is this?” or “what are we going to tell the parents” as they surrounded her first crib, an incubator, shattered my soul. Or so I thought.

My Warrior Kid

The very first time that I walked into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, my daughter and I shared a moment. A moment that would define the relationship between myself and the warrior kid that I am blessed to have call me dad. Barely a few hours old, as I stood crying over her incubator, hand resting next to her head, she reached up. She took my finger in her little hands and squeezed. She was only a few hours old, but with that simple gesture my warrior kid was telling me “we’ve got this, dad”.

For nearly eleven days we lived in the NICU. I became familiar with words that I had never known and could barely say. Chief among these terms was Craniosynostosis. I would later come to learn, and acutely understand how this premature fusion of the joints in my daughter’s skull would make her different and change our lives forever.

Warrior Kid Staring Down Fear

Over the last five years, I have felt my heart stop and shatter 12 times as nurses have taken my daughter from my arms and lead her back to the operating room for a surgery. Many of these procedures have involved an amazing doctor skillfully removing my daughter’s skull, making 100’s of micro-cuts into it, and putting her back together again. I’ve sat next to her for days on end as she recovers in the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit), hyper-aware of each breath, listening to her cry, with the ceaseless beeping of all the monitors in the background. Zoey didn’t have a choice in being strong. She had to be.

It amazes me each day as I watch her climb trees, run, jump and play. She’s not letting anything or anyone, stop her from enjoying her childhood. For her, normal is different. But with love, joy, and true, deep strength, she shows the world that she’s not afraid. It is her embodiment of a warrior spirit that makes me less afraid. It’s a humbling experience to have your warrior kid give you the strength that you need to be their dad.

I, for one, cannot wait to show my daughter Thor: Ragnarok on blu-ray. I hope that she gets as caught up in the amazing story and vivid imagery, as I get caught up in her every move.  There’s a saying that I hear often and it always makes me smile. “Not all heroes wear capes”. Well, as you can tell from the picture, mine does. And I am thankful that she calls me dad.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I am beyond excited to have been given the opportunity to team up with @ThorOfficial on this amazing campaign. Though this is a #sponsored post, those who have been following our journey are well aware of the love I have for my daughter, Zoey, and her unyielding strength – her Warrior Kid spirit as you might say. For more information on the release of the Thor:Ragnarok blu-ray and digital download release, check them out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.