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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How We Got Our Daughter Part 2

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Click here for Part 1 of our story

The next two days seemed longer than the last year in some ways. We were told that they would call back to tell us to come meet our foster daughter. We spent our time  wisely, running across town picking out newborn girl clothes, baby bottles, blankets, and a plethora of pacifiers.

And then no call came. We were under the impression that they’d call us back that same day. That night must have been the longest night of our lives. Our little girl was alone in a hospital basin and we couldn’t be there for her. We spent the next day with our phones turned all the way up clutched tightly in our hands. Every sound caused us to answer them. All the while the nursery remained barren and silent. We lost even more sleep that second night. Was it all a misunderstanding? Did they call the wrong people?

Sarabeth and I were by each other’s sides the entire weekend while we waited for permission to see our little girl. Exactly one year ago today, at Target, picking up more baby stuff, Sarabeth and I split up so she could grab the paper towels at the back of the store while I began checking out.

The phone rang in my pocket annoyingly loud just as I was swiping my Target Rewards card. For the first time ever I blew someone off by answering it while they were talking to me (I don’t envy retail workers). I panicked because Sarabeth wasn’t nearby to take notes and I had a terrible memory, especially under pressure. I waved and jumped up and down to get Sarabeth to hurry back with the 12-pack of Downey. She started jumping up and down too when she reached me and we both started crying like little school girls in the middle of Target on a busy Sunday morning.

I drove fast enough to the hospital to merit getting yelled at: “You don’t want to die before meeting your daughter, do you? SLOW DOWN!”

There are three things in my life I’ll never forget as long as I live.

1) How terrified I was all four times I saw Jurassic Park in theaters.

2) Meeting my wife (even though I still get some facts wrong). And,

3) Seeing my daughter for the first time.

She. Was. Beautiful. I generally don’t think babies are that cute, but this one, she was perfect in every way. The first thing I thought was that ironically, she looked exactly like Sarabeth (no jokes, please – I’ve tried). Seriously, even the nurses were saying it and people still say it today. And the other thing I thought was that even though we were just fostering this beautiful little girl, I knew we’d keep her forever.

We’re hopeful to adopt her this summer.

Oh, and that was Sarabeth’s birthday. I know I’ll never be able to beat that gift. And we stayed with our daughter at the hospital that night and for the third night in a row, we didn’t sleep. But for a much better reason.

Happy birthday, Sarabeth, and happy “Hi Day,” little girl. We love you more than you can ever imagine!

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How We Got Our Daughter Part 1

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A year ago we met our infant foster daughter for the first time. Below is the epic saga of how it all came to pass. And, you’re welcome.

Sarabeth and I had been married for four years while everyone around us was popping babies out like gum ball machines gone haywire. We applied to be foster-to-adopt parents in February of 2013 thinking that would be a quick fix to a deep void. Come Christmas morning eleven months later, we still had no kid to lavish with gifts. Every Christmas was becoming harder and harder and only brought us more devastation.

It’s one thing to want a bike for your birthday or yearn for a promotion, but to have an ever-empty nursery in the house to welcome no child is a pain that even Hemingway couldn’t describe.

Enter bitter cold January of 2014. No child. Our background checks for the foster program had been lost. Again. Redo, resend, repeat. Goodbye, January. Hello February 6, five years into marriage and one year after applying to be foster parents, a day that would forever change our lives.

It started with an email from our assigned social worker: “You’ve been approved.”

My ever-optimistic thoughts: Oh, good. Now we just have to wait another year while they find us a kid. 

My phone rang. I scan my calls, so I didn’t answer it.

A minute later I got an email from the same social worker: “Can you answer your phone? We have a baby to place with you if you’re interested.”

My thoughts: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I pressed Call Back and immediately I was told that there was a newborn baby who needed a home and would we be willing to accept her? I was already emailing my wife. The frantic message looked something like this: Were aprived! They have a gbabya. Y or B?

Her response: Yes! Yes! Yes!

“We’ll take her!” I screamed into the phone as though I were at an auction.

The funny thing is, even though we had no idea what she looked like or had ever heard her cry, and knew very little about her, Sarabeth and I had already fallen deeply and madly and hopelessly in love with her.

Tune in tomorrow for the rest of our story…

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