Welcome Summer With This Fun Treat

liam_james_in_the_way_way_back-1920x1080I try to be selective with the movies I recommend on this blog, but as I type this the end credits are rolling on one that just took me by complete surprise. I watched it because it was a serious roll for one of my favorites, Steve Carrell, AKA Michael Scott.

The Way Way Back is a coming-of-age story about a boy who’s just trying to make it through his fourteenth summer without his self-image dissipating any more than it has already.

It’s got the feel of 500 Days of Summer, and is full of 100% awesomeness. Plus, it’s got a great soundtrack to boot. I’ll be revising this movie every summer, as it is a good reminder that we can, in fact, change the things around us if we just step outside of our comfort zones.

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Our Best Friends?

PfoteThey say dog is man’s best friend. I disagree.

Let me explain.

People have had a strong attachment to animals, particularly dogs, for many years. I don’t know the history of man’s relationship with animals, and I’m not going to pretend to. But let’s just go back to the early 1900’s. Even then, people have had a strong attachment to their animals. Think Old Yeller and even The Grapes of Wrath where even the most stoic group of men mourn over a dead dog on the side of the road.

Why do you think that is?

3690_1I think I may have an idea and you can you can take it with a grain of salt.

I feel like the older I get the more compassionate I feel toward animals. I used to love going to Sea World, but knowing how it is an abuse to one of the smartest mammals on the planet, I would be hard pressed to buy another ticket. I am deeply bothered when I see a dead deer on the highway. And don’t even get me started on the movie My Dog Skip or the book The Yearling. 

I think – and I may be wrong – but I think that animals embody a sense of childhood, or innocence, that we all once had and sorely miss.

When our dog Prim does something wrong, I may yell at her for it, but deep down, I know she never intended marley-and-meharm or did anything out of malice. Or when our other dog Pixie takes fifteen minutes before finding a suitable spot to potty on the grass, she’s not doing it to be mean or waste my time – she’s just enjoying being outside for all I know.

But I think animals remind us, even subconsciously, what it was like to be innocent, and when we see Marley die, even see Dug get yelled at and called a “bad dog,” when he did nothing wrong, then it pains us greatly because it’s like a piece of our forgotten innocence has just been torn further away from us.

Dug-upIt’s like an assault on our childhood.

Or maybe I’m looking too much into it and it’s just a simple fact that we just feel a deep bond toward animals for no other reason than that they’re cute and fun to play with and beautiful to watch.

So to say that dog is man’s best friend, I disagree. I think that the pets we bring into our houses become our very family. And to lose them is to lose not only a family member and loyal friend, but also a piece of our younger selves.

The Best Easter Book I’ve Ever Read

Bottom-of-the-33rdThis may be a bit unorthodox, but here goes:

With the number of books I’ve read in my lifetime, I believe I can qualify as a book critic if I wanted to. And I, an often-tough critic, give The Bottom of the 33rd by Dan Barry a certified 100% approval rating. Why don’t you take a moment to read a couple of select paragraphs from the Prologue to see if it convinces you to get this book:

“Three thirty in the morning.

“Holy Saturday, the awkward Christian pause between the Sorrow and the Joy, has surrendered to the first hushed hours of Easter. The cold and dark cling to the rooftops in a Rhode Island place called Pawtucket. Triple-decker houses, packed with three, four, six sleeping families, loom over its empty, half-lit streets, while the river that cascades through its deserted downtown releases a steady, dreamy sigh. Yet somewhere in the almost sacred stillness, a white orb disturbs the peace, skipping along the night-damp grass, flitting through the night-crisp air, causing general unrest at three thirty in the morning on Sunday, Easter Sunday.”

“Someone not here tonight could pose quite legitimate questions to the players and fans, questions that would naturally start with why. Why did you keep playing? Why did you stay? At two o’clock in the morning, and then at three o’clock, why didn’t you just – leave? The official answer, that some umpire refused to call it a night, would be so lacking in the weight of common sense that it might twirl off like a deflating balloon before the sentence could be finished. But the truer answer might be as unsatisfying to the outsider as it is surprising to these inhabitants of this in-between place, where time’s boundaries have blurred.

“Why did you keep playing? Why did you stay?

“Because we are bound by duty. Because we aspire to greater things. Because we are loyal. Because, in our own secular way, we are celebrating communion, and resurrection, and possibility.”

Do not delay this Easter Season. Get The Bottom of the 33rd on Amazon here.

Books For Your Kids to Read This Summer

Even though, collectively my kids are just two years old, I read to them as much as I can. Now, I may cheat and read to them books I’m reading for myself, at least they’re hearing and seeing me read. I’ve listed a few books below that I’m excited for our kids to read when they’re of age, and perhaps yours are there now, so you can enjoy these awesome titles with them.

101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith

Sarabeth and I read this a few years back and still consider it one of the best fictions we’ve come across. This book is a milestone of children’s literature. It is just as engaging for adults as it is for kids. Talking dogs handling real-life problems. It’s a great ride, even if you’ve seen the old movies. There are still plenty of surprises to keep you and your kids on the edge of your seat.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

I’ve never had so much fun giving my brain a workout. This is a highly imaginative book for kids who might be turned off by the girl heroine in Alice in Wonderland. If memory serves correctly, it was the first full-length novel I ever read, and I liked it so much I returned to it as an adult, and had just as much fun.

Peter and the Starcatchers trilogy by Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry

Ever wonder how Peter Pan became Peter Pan? Find out in this adventure book loaded with short chapters and lots of pictures. This would make a good movie. There are four in the series, but I’d say the first and second are the two worth reading. And no, the author is not related to J.M. Barrie.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery 

Talk about pure gold. While your boys are immersed in Neverland adventures, pull out this classic treasure for your girls. Even as an adult I find these books to be among some of the greatest literature. It’s yet another book about an orphan who is reluctantly taken in by the Cuthberts, and how she changes their lives and the world of Avonlea for the better.

Bone Book 1Bone

Back in the days of yore (the 90’s), my parents paid for my subscription to the Disney Adventures magazine. For a good year or so, they published snippets of the first of the Bone story, and I was hooked. Yes, it’s a graphic novel, but it’s family-friendly …think Lord of the Rings meets Mickey Mouse. The books (there are 9 of them) have since reemerged and are now finding their way into the hands of kids of the ipod generation. Just good old-fashioned fairytale fun.

7007561Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins

Before there was Katnis, there was Gregor. Giant insects, dark caverns, evil talking rats, traitors, suspense, heart… these books have it all. I will say that as an adult a couple of the middle books get a little dry, but it’s all worth it for the grand finale of the entire last book. This is a series you and your kids definitely don’t want to miss out on.

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Baby No. 2

11063794_10206451241624041_1558388457619755798_nSorry it’s been so long since you’ve heard from me. Just got baby number 2 placed with us today to foster-to-adopt. He’s a cutie and Baby A. and the pups have taken an immediate liking to him. I’ve been traveling for the last week working on something pretty big, book-wise. So as soon as I get a moment I’ll update you on everything.

Sarabeth and I are very grateful for this season of life. My writing career is about to take off, the family has grown from five to six, and we are madly in love with each other after six-and-a-half years of marriage.

Just so you know, and to be brutally honest, I was not doing okay two months ago. My career was at a dead-end, Baby A.’s adoption was taking forever, and I was just basically feeling hopeless about a lot of things. I realize everything could change in a moment, but if you’re in the position where I was two months ago, take heart. Your life-changing phone call could come at any moment. I hope it does. In the meantime, work, work, work. Pursue your dreams, make time for your family (something I’m learning to do), and don’t ever, ever give up. Ever.

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Fail Early and Fail Fast

Andrew Stanton: 'Spielberg and I compared notes on ET and Wall-E'.

The advice “Fail early and fail fast” may seem a little odd, coming from a country where the best of us still value winning, innovation, and success.

But this piece of advice actually stems from one of this country’s greatest and most innovate minds, storyteller, director, and animator Andrew Stanton. You’re familiar with his work on Finding Nemo and Wall-E.

I learned this advise first-hand recently. I’m currently immersed in a book project that’s literally taking all I’ve got. While I’m excited about it, a lot hangs on the line (more details to come). While I started off making good headway, the last week or so has really brought me down.

The stamina and determination were still there – it’s not a matter of completion. It’s a matter of content. I was struggling through the material, unable to make it convey to readers and myself (first a reader, then an author). With my brain stuck in the proverbial mud of anti-creativity, and with the clock running against me, I had to think back to my heroes of the craft of storytelling and I was directed to a book I recently read by Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc. 

In it, he describes one of Stanton’s mottos while coaching his team on a film. “Fail early and fail fast.” The philosophy behind it is that we’re not perfect; we’re going to make mistakes. So seeing that failure is inevitable, fail early and fail fast. You basically have to ask yourself the tough questions early on: “Will people benefit from my work?”

“Will people really read this?”

“Is this really the best I can do?”

For me, the question was, “Am I having fun with this still?”

I had turned fun and entertainment into all work and all business. No one wants to read a book from an author who did not have fun and employ a liberal sense of creativity flowing through his/her book.

So today, I’m choosing to fail early and fail fast. I’m tearing out the last few pages I labored over. It’s better to do it now rather than later (trashing five pages instead of ten).

To put it into a picture, it’s like a maze on one of those children’s menus. You trace your Crayon through the labyrinth and, if you’re directionally challenged like myself, you’re going to hit a lot of dead-ends. Same with creativity.

So I ask you: Do you have the courage to fail early and fail fast? Back out, tear up, turn around, and start over in the right direction.

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Defeated

Man trapped in snowed-in car for two months now awake, says hospitalSo there I am, lying on my back on the kitchen floor, out of breath, hands frozen numb. My wife’s feelings are hurt, my dog’s locked up, and the baby’s crying. And I just kept thinking one word: Defeat. 

As I’m sure you’ve all heard on the news, Kentucky’s just been hit with a really bad snow storm. We woke up yesterday morning to almost a foot of snow, which was really quite awful because we just had a snowstorm and the rain just washed it all away the day before. I mean, I had my shorts picked out and everything.

So we woke up to about ten-inches of snow, and luckily it was already my day off, because I think I’ve used up all my personal time already (thanks, snow). And just like normal, I take the dogs out to go potty.

The dogs have been really good about not going potty inside on the carpet, which led me to stupidly trust that Pixie just might not have needed to go number 2 in the snow.

Big mistake.

We’re all back inside, the baby’s awake, Sarabeth’s in the bedroom and I’m in the kitchen putting away last night’s dishes. And then I hear Sarabeth yell from the living room, “Andy! Come here! Run!”

When I get to the living room, I saw (and smell) feces smeared everywhere. On the curtains, the carpet…the baby (I’m still learning that when it’s too quiet, that’s actually not a good thing).

Sarabeth quickly ran the baby to the bathroom for a bath while I pulled out all the cleaning supplies in our house and got to work. “I’m going to have to rent a carpet cleaner,” I told Sarabeth when she finished washing the baby. “I’ll just clean the living room.”

“If we’re going to spend $50 on a carpet cleaner, we might as well clean the whole house,” she said, logically.

Even though she was right, I was infuriated at the prospect of having my whole day shot to clean the entire house. If you’ve ever used a carpet cleaner before, you know how slow those things are!

And, like the gentle, loving husband I like to think I am, I yelled at her that I didn’t want to waste the whole day cleaning the carpet, and I stormed out of the house to rent the stupid thing from Home Depot.

But my feet were instantly stuck in the driveway. So I had to spend fifteen minutes shoveling the foot-thick snow from the door to my car. I dropped my keys in an effort to pry the frozen car door open and had to dig in the snow for them. (I’d been telling myself to get a pair of snow boots and gloves for so many years, but never took my own advice.)

When I finally found the keys and got the car door open, I realized I was utterly and completely out of breath and my hands were completely frozen to the point that they were so red they could have guided Santa’s sleigh.

Seeing stars, I dragged myself back to the front door and, not having the use of my hands, tapped the door with my elbow. Sarabeth was kind enough to let me back in so I could let my hands warm up under the kitchen sink. But my legs were giving out, so I had no choice but to lay down and catch my breath on the kitchen floor.

Turns out, Sarabeth had the brilliant idea of covering the living room with a giant blanket, as she knew I wouldn’t be able to drive all the way to Home Depot in that weather.

Moral of the story? Make your dogs go outside, no matter how cold it is. And don’t ever yell at your wife; she might not let you in from the cold.

I’m just lucky I married the right woman.

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