My Friend Drew

drewMy friend Drew went to Heaven yesterday. At seventeen, he was definitely one of the youngest friends I’ve ever known. When I call Drew my young friend, I don’t mean in a “hey buckaroo” kind of way, but a TRUE friend full of valuable insights and opinions, questions and answers. Drew’s thoughts and opinions were not typical of many seventeen year olds. To be honest, I doubt that I was even thinking that much when I was seventeen.

Drew had the mind of a grown man and some of the strongest faith in God I’ve ever seen in my life. A conversation with him always left me wanting more, and I left each verbal exchange a little jealous of how well articulated his thoughts had been.

We discussed musical groups we both enjoyed, swapped book recommendations, and even touched on some movies and television shows. Reading is one of my all time favorite activities in life. Drew seemed to “get” that, and some of our best conversations resulted in a slight bit of “geeking out” over certain books. I’ve always respected someone’s opinion of something (critical OR positive) if they have some sort of rationale behind it. Just saying “I didn’t like it” but not giving any concrete reasons why, in my opinion, seems to cheapen the criticism. Drew was able to pinpoint exactly how and why he felt a certain way about something he liked or didn’t like and that was a great quality of his. My conversations with Drew about reading were some of the richest I’ve ever had.

Drew first was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2012, after some migraine headaches were giving him pain. We didn’t know Drew or his family all that well back then, but over the last couple of years we have been blessed to enjoy various outings with his parents, have him babysit our son a few times, sit on our couch for some catching up of a tv show (we had one of the shows he liked saved on our DVR), and just enjoy various conversations with Drew.

I hesitate to use the word “beat” when talking about his first round of cancer three years ago, but his initial tumor shrank in size and blew the doctors away. This latest round came back with a vengeance and moved quickly. Toward the end of June, Drew and his family let everyone know that it was back and was larger than the previous tumor.

As a fundraiser a couple years back, the church sold rubber bracelets to show support for Drew’s fight. The verse Drew picked to be referenced on the bracelet was the following;

Psalm 56:8 (NLT)
You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.

I sit here typing and although the word “conflicted” comes to mind, it doesn’t seem to fully capture my feelings. As strong of a believer as Drew was, I know he is done with this earthly pain and sitting up there next to the God he followed faithfully until his last breath, but I am broken to know that the world will be robbed of everything he had to offer in the way of his opinions, creativity, and unending devotion to Jesus. I am broken that his parents, older brother, and younger sister will forever have a Drew-sized hole in their hearts.

So yes, I’m broken. There are so many people broken with the loss of this incredible young man. Anyone who had the pleasure of knowing Drew will be missing him dearly.

I am nearly forty years old. I have lived in many places and have met countless people in my life.

There are only a handful of people whose absence from my life will leave a long lasting emotional scar.

Drew is one of those people.

2015 in Books (Part 2)

shelfTo make it a tad bit easier on the eyes for anyone out there reading this (Helloooo??? Are you there???), I’ve broken the list down into a couple of postings. I’ve been quite diligent in pursuing my reading goals the last couple of years and I enjoy sharing what I’m reading with you, as a fellow nerd. With no further ado, here’s what I’ve been reading from March until early July (Part 3 to come later).

The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin
Read from March 09 to April 10, 2015
-Really enjoyed this one and wrote a “review” previously on here.

Phantastes by George MacDonald
Read from March 24 to April 10, 2015
-Recommended by the same friend who told me about “The Everlasting Man” last year, this is another heavy one. I don’t mean heavy in the sense of the storyline; it’s mostly the dialect of the narrator (a result of being published initially in 1858). It had some high points for me, and the narrator is INCREDIBLY descriptive throughout.

Tinkers by Paul Harding
Read from April 08 to 09, 2015
-I can respect what the author was going for, but this was so uneven I can’t rate it any higher than a 2.5 or 3. When it hits, it’s amazing. For me though, it was more miss.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Read from April 07 to 08, 2015
-Really enjoyed this one. Good sense of creepiness all throughout. Definitely made up for the previous Shirley Jackson I read. Had a few “hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-my-neck” scenes. When you are visualizing what someone else has written and it creeps you out, that’s some good writing right there.

Tell No One by Harlan Coben
Read from March 31 to April 07, 2015
-I had a love/hate relationship with this book. The best analogy I could come up with is if Lifetime Movies could be turned into books, this would be a prime candidate. Initially published in 2000, the references to dial-up modems and clicking on “hyperlinks” made it feel quite dated. I can’t think of any other way to describe it, but it was almost like having the internet explained to me by my grandmother.

The story about a missing wife and a crime that may or may not have occurred is semi interesting, but the delivery was hokey and hackneyed in my opinion. I would read more of this author, definitely, because I could see some potential in his imagination. This book was my first option, though, since the ebook selection at my local library is depressingly limited (I can get my digital hands on a ton of romance novels though!).

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
Read from March 27 to 28, 2015
-Wow. Now THAT is how you write a thriller. Short and to the point. Most excellent. Not a single word wasted throughout.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven by Sherman Alexie
Read from April 9 to 16, 2015
-After really enjoying Diary Of An Indian earlier this year, I wanted to read more of Sherman Alexie. Friends recommended this as my next foray into Alexie’s work and I have to say that it is definitely quite a bit different, tonally. This may have a lot to do with the fact that although humorous, “Diary” hinted at the annoyances of living on a reservation while “Tonto” showed the author’s downright disgust with the Native American’s lot in life. There IS humor here and several chuckles to be had, but there is more frustration and anger than anything else. A collection of short stories, I found it a bit disjointed. Not terrible, but not necessarily one of my better reads so far this year.

The highlights (for me) include the following;

“The Only Traffic Signal On The Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore”, a sad but humorous tale of two guys discussing who may make it out as a basketball star and who will be left to deal with alcoholism. A great blend of humor and sadness, one of the few that I thought provided a good balance.

“This Is What It Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona”, the story that “Smoke Signals” is based off. Very witty, with two characters you can’t help but enjoy reading about as they deal with the loss of one of their fathers and the trip to Phoenix.

“Imagining The Reservation”, a hypothetical “what if” about the different ways that Native American life would/could be different if history had played out differently. Heavy, but a very interesting and well-written one.

One thing I noticed that I thought was very cool, was how Alexie made small word additions that turned a simple sentence into so much more. A passage mentions the dinner of macaroni and cheese, but changes the cheese to “commodity cheese”, completely altering my visual of those delicious little neon orange noodles. A simple dish usually, specifying the fact that this is “government” cheese shows the disparity between the Mac and Cheese I would eat and the mac and cheese of Alexie’s characters. Several other places discuss leaving the character’s “HUD house” vs just stepping out of the house. Alexie definitely knows what he is writing about, and he does a great job of portraying the malaise inherent in reservation living.

Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
Read from April 16 to 22, 2015
-My son and I both love The Gaffigan. As a father, I got a kick out of a lot of his stuff in here. Now, I only have one child so I couldn’t necessarily relate to his having FOUR of those little buggers, but this had quite a few chuckles throughout.

Searching For God Knows What by Donald Miller
Read from April 11 to 28, 2015
-I read “Blue Like Jazz” previously and it resonated deeply with me. This one had high points and low points, but I’m sorry to say wasn’t as powerful as “Jazz”. Not a bad read, by any stretch of the imagination, just not as good as the first Donald Miller I read.

Night Falls Fast by Kay Redfield Jamison
Read from April 22 to May 3, 2015
-As someone who wrestles with depression from time to time (I’d imagine there are quite a few more out there that do, without mentioning it to people), this one was interesting. I’d read some Jamison before and wasn’t all that impressed, but this one was fascinating. A fairly objective look at what drives people to suicide and how they accomplish it, this book is not a feel-good read at all. Still an interesting one though, and recommended.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Read from May 6 to 23, 2015
-Really enjoyed this one. A fantastic creepy book about a vampire, done in an unconventional way. The main character IS a vampire, in the technical sense of the term, but not quite how you may think. Great read from Stephen King’s son.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
Read from May 26 to June 1, 2015
-Absolutely fantastic read. Somber, yes, but still an incredible study on how modern medicine has become more about checking a list of boxes than realizing the importance of allowing people to have “quality of life” even if it means less time spent here on Earth.

I truly, truly liked this book and Dr. Gawande’s anecdotes. Highly recommend this one.

Part 3 will be coming a couple more months down the line.

The Children’s Blizzard

blizzard_cover“The 12th of January, 1888, is, and long will be, remembered, not only by Dakotans, but by many in the northwest, not for the things we enjoy, love, and would see repeated; but for its darkness, desolation, ruin and death, spread broadcast; for the sorrow, sadness and heartache that followed in its train”.
-Caleb Holt Ellis, 1909

Considering that horrible events transpire on a regular basis, each and every one of them relative to one’s direct involvement in them, I’m not sure if many people remember this event and/or continue to discuss it’s impact on turn of the century Prairie life. This is not a derogatory sleight by any means, only more of an observation.

We remember the things that matter to us, plain and simple.  Unless you have a vested interest in the history of the weather service, the advent of frontier pioneering, or your bloodline includes someone effected by this tragedy, you may have no idea that it even happened. As for me, I’ve heard the story through the years of the school teacher who roped her children together (turns out this is actually disputed on both sides as to its veracity) to traverse the snow storm but had no idea this was “that snowstorm”.

This book, although tragic, was an incredibly rich read. The author, David Laskin, has created a narrative for this tragedy that intertwines the stories of multiple people involved. From the immigrant families attempting their luck at homesteading to the military officers in charge of weather forecasting (in its infancy here), this is an absolute page turner. Laskin does a fantastic job of breaking down, in layman’s terms, the conditions that both led to the storm and continued to feed its ferocity.

As a quick summary, this book is about a  blizzard that occurred across the Midwest on January 12th, 1888. Striking fast, and without warning (one of the sharply contested arguments about the weather service and it’s shortcomings back then was the inability, for a multitude of reasons, to relay the danger in time), over two hundred people froze to death. Referred to as the “Children’s Blizzard”, due to the large amount of school children unable to make their way home from school before being overtaken, this was a tragedy that had not been expected or seen before.

As a gift a couple Christmases ago, I finally got around to reading this. For those whose To Be Read list is ever expanding (like me), you know the struggle of not having enough time to read all the books you’d like and the “SQUIRREL!!!” moment when you get distracted by a book that must be read immediately, skipping to the front of the line.

Bottom line is that I would definitely recommend this one if you can get your hands on it.

In Defense Of Reading

hammockIn a world where technology has improved our lives and continually increases its own ability by leaps and bounds, humans have had to adapt to living at a constantly moving pace. With the instant accessibility of information now, reading a good paper-and-glue book seems to be less and less given its proper due (not that I have a problem with ebooks; on the contrary I enjoy them even though you can’t sniff them). I felt moved to declare my love affair with reading and point out the glaringly obvious fact that people do a good amount of reading, whether they will admit it or not. Now, you may think that reading doesn’t need anyone to defend it, and you may be right, but I have to get it off my chest. To anyone who knows me personally (or even has read this blog for any amount of time, just look at the previous blog post), you know that I am a firm believer in the power of a good book. I have been reading since I was a child, and have always preferred the company of a good book to a reality tv show (or most television for that matter).
Continue reading In Defense Of Reading

2015 in Books (Part 1)

shelf

So last year, I decided to get some thoughts down on each and every book I had finished reading. Since I started a little late in the year, I had to do a reverse chronological order and work my way back to the beginning of 2014. It was a pretty major task, trying to remember in December what I’d read twelve months prior.
Continue reading 2015 in Books (Part 1)

Devil’s Knot

d-knot-coverDuring one of my six month cruises in the Navy, I read American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. I’m not necessarily going to pontificate on that book in detail, other than to say that some of the violence in its pages was graphic enough for me to set it down periodically and go find pictures of rainbows, butterflies, and unicorns to remind me there is good in the world too.

Devil’s Knot is the first book since then to receive the same treatment. I am in no way demeaning the book and actually would recommend it to anyone interested in the following subjects;

1) True Crime
2) Miscarriages Of Justice
3) Wrongful Imprisonment
4) Freedom of Speech
5) Societal Outcasts
6) Artistic Expression

Continue reading Devil’s Knot

Destiny Of The Republic

dotr_coverAs a lifelong reader and writer, I have had the opportunity to read books of nearly every genre, length, and caliber. Although I planned on including each of the books I read this year in my summary (2014’s summary), this biography of one of our lesser known Presidents left enough of a mark to warrant its own individual thoughts. As we might say in Internet speak, it “got me right in the feels bro“.
Continue reading Destiny Of The Republic