Sunday, February 24, 2013

Thoughts On Turning 50

About this time last year, I started planning a cruise for my 50th birthday.  My friends and family seemed excited and told me they were "on board" (pun intended) for the experience.  But as the months passed, they  began bailing on me for various and mostly understandable reasons.  It was with mixed feelings that I officially cancelled the cruise following Michael's heart scare incident in Pittsburgh.  Truly, we didn't know at that point what his condition would be for a departure date of February 18.

Had so much not been going on at the time, I may have thrown a pity party for myself.  I didn't want to be selfish, but years of letting my mind go down perilous paths, I glanced toward the road of "if they really wanted to be with me on my 50th birthday, they would".  I mean, Jeff and Raul snapped their fingers and drew a large crowd for his birthday last year.  I guess I didn't have enough friends (or the right kind of friends) to be able to do that.  Poor me.

No offense to those who were still planning to go.  It would have been a great time, surrounded by a few friends and some of my family.  But it honestly would not have been the birthday I originally wanted to celebrate.  As it turns out, I got exactly what I wanted by staying right here in Kansas City!  Our friend Jack suggested a joint birthday party for me and Gerald in the "nest" at 75th Street Brewery.  It had been done before, but rather than plan nothing at all, I agreed to do it.

Little did I know it would be a catalyst for bringing all of my family together for the weekend.  It was absolutely the best gift I could ever receive!  Kate and her boyfriend, Pete, flew in Saturday morning and we spent the day with Michael and his mother.  Mom, Dad, Jay (plus surprise guest Adrian) and the Siegels arrived that evening.  Some experienced my debut as host for Downright Creepy's Remake/Rewind movie screening, but we all enjoyed brunch the next day and attended the party at 75th Street Brewery.

While that was all I could ask for my birthday, the icing on the cake (literally) was the theme for my 50th birthday.  Take a look at this beautiful cake!  While Barnabas Collins cried that he was turning 50, I cried in excitement as I opened my present.  Everyone chipped in to buy something I would never buy for myself, but would nevertheless enjoy for my next 50 years: the complete Dark Shadows series on DVD; yeah, that awesome set of 131 discs that comes in a giant coffin.


So how do I feel about turning 50?  Well, I feel like I've reached a true landmark, but not because of my age.  Instead, it's because I am perhaps the happiest I've ever been.  I've been with a loving partner for 14 years now (we celebrated our anniversary on the 19th) when I never conceived being with someone for more than 5 years!  I adore my job and, for the first time I can remember, am not even thinking about a different one!  (They seem to like me, too, and I feel truly appreciated.  I didn't think that was supposed to happen at work.)

Further, I actually have an outlet for writing!  The website has turned into more than a hobby for me and has given me great opportunities (for example, I'm going to Comic-Con again this year).  My brother thinks it's fantastic that I have something other than work in my life that I honestly enjoy doing.  I feel like I have more ahead of me and can go with it wherever I want.  (Jay and Adrian think I should become a local horror host, but I want to write a book.)

I was telling people that by turning 50 I was only "halfway there".  But that statement suggests that it's all downhill from there.  I do not feel like I am 50 years of physical age, so who's to say I'm not even halfway there yet?  No, I'm not as energetic as I have been in the past, nor is my mind the receptacle of memories that it used to be.  But I do feel like the future is wide open and full of possibilities.  In that sense, I've recently celebrated "just another birthday".

At the screening Saturday night, Tim announced to the audience that I was turning 50.  At first, I wished he hadn't said my age.  But afterwards, someone said, "You're not really 50, are you?"  "No," I said, "Tim was just giving me a hard time."  To which she replied, "I didn't think so.  You don't look anything like 50."  You know, the specific age doesn't really matter; it's the perspective on it.  I remember more traumatic birthdays on my 30th and 40th.  Maybe it's true that I'm not getting older; I'm getting better.

In any case, I can't wait to see what happens next...

With thanks to: Gene Owens, Karine Owens, Jill Siegel, Jeff Siegel, Brooklyn Siegel, Jay Owens, Adrian Castillo, Kate Owens, Pete Sahlberg, Michael Lendabarker, Mari Ann Lendabarker, Karen Hall, Jack Harris, Gerald Hughes, Jason Chaffee, Tim Canton, Eric Havens, Eric Kuhl, John Swan, Jeff Deutsch, Maria Leslie, Natalie Leroy, Cathy Weigel, and everyone who wished me a happy birthday on Facebook.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

2012: The Year in Review Pt. 1 - Movies

At this time last year, I struggled to find enough movies to compile a "best of" list.  This year, I'm struggling to choose my favorites.  While there was only one "10", there were many more "9s" and "8s" that I truly enjoyed.  Therefore, I had to create some new categories to accomodate more than twice as many movies as 2011.  From top to bottom, please consider them the top 14 movies I saw in 2012...

Favorite Movie (Period) - Sound of My Voice.  I can't get this movie out of my head.  Without a doubt, the most thought-provoking movie of 2012.  Read my full review here.

Favorite Documentary - Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope.  Yeah, I'm a geek, but this should be required viewing for everyone else.  Read my full review here.

Favorite Movie Leftover from 2011 - The Tree of Life.  When it was released, this was a very polarizing movie.  I found myself in the small camp of those who loved it.  If you don't worry about a narrative, the emotional experience is overpowering.

Favorite Movie Not from 2012 - The Loved Ones (2009). Very rarely does a horror movie come along that truly raises the bar.  It's various components may not be entirely original, but they are masterfully combined by director Sean Byrne into a gory, scary classic.

Favorite Superhero Movies (Tie) - Chronicle and The AvengersThe Avengers is a no-brainer; nevertheless, you can read my full review hereChronicle, though, was equally effective on a fraction of the budget.  I particularly enjoyed how different sources of found footage were combined to seamlessly tell the story.

Favorite Animated Movie - Frankenweenie.  Of the three animated "horror" movies released this fall, this one best fit my sensibilities.  Read my full reviews of all of them here.

Favorite Discovered "Classic" - Twins of Evil (1971). I never expected to like this movie as much as I did.  It offers perhaps my favorite performance by Peter Cushing.  I wrote about in a feature about lesbian vampire movies based on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's "Carmilla"; read here.

Honorable Mention - The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  I didn't like this quite as much as any of the others, but it was darned close.  A touching "growing up" story, it takes place just a couple years past the time I was a teenager, so I related, but didn't completely connect.

Favorite Horror Movie - The Woman in Black.  2012 may have been a better year for movies, but not necessarily horror movies.  Therefore, this imperfect movie was still my favorite in the genre.  Read my full review here.

Favorite Movie I Really Wanted to Hate - The Hunger Games.  It reeked of Twilight, but was so much better.  Unfamiliar with the series of teen fiction books, what appeared to be a tamed-down version of Battle Royale was instead a fairly dark and adult thriller.

Favorite Comedy - 21 Jump Street.  Yeah, not a good year for comedies, but I surprisingly liked this one.  Just good, silly fun that made me laugh consistently.  For me, it also proved that Channing Tatum can be funny and I can actually like Jonah Hill.

Favorite Guilty Pleasure - Total Recall.  I don't really remember why I liked this one so much, but I nevertheless include it on my list.  I gave it an "8" when comparing it to the Schwarzeneggar original; read my full review here.

Movie I Absolutely Hated - This Means War.  Chalk up another one to Reese Witherspoon.  Not even the double-hunk-whammy of Tom Hardy and Chris Pine could save this excruciatingly awful movie.

Please keep in mind that I haven't seen everything that was technically released in 2012.  Therefore, there's no mention of Zero Dark Thirty or Hyde Park on Hudson, for example.  They may come up in future blogs about the Academy Awards, or even on next year's "Best Of" list as leftovers.

Overall, 2012 was a much better year for movies than 2011.  And it got even better at the end of the year.  Les Miserables came close to being my favorite movie; and, if there were enough musicals made to have a category, it would be the best.  Also, Lincoln was not what I expected.  Instead of a long, boring biopic, it was almost a thriller focusing on getting the Thirteenth Amendment passed before the end of the Civil War.  If I were writing about my favorite performances of 2012, these two movies would appear due to Anne Hathaway and Daniel Day Lewis.

For 2013, it's going to be a tough act to follow...

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

D-Day (Decision Day) Pt. 2: Dr. Gardner

Well,  Dr. Gardner surprised us today.  For our 3:00 appointment, we began seeing doctors at 4:30!  First, Stephanie with her post-op survey.  Then _______, who took blood pressure and pulse (normal). Then a new guy, Dr. Shaffer, who helps out when neurology is overbooked.

(Who notices the typo above?  Really, they could use a proofreader!)

Dr. Shaffer quickly showed us the before and after MRI pictures, but he didn't make it clear to us what the differences were.  When Dr. Gardner came in, it all made sense.  I remember a shot from pre-op MRIs showing how the tumor was pushing the base of the brain to the side.  He found that one and then, side-by-side, showed us how much the brain is already expanding.

I don't know if you can tell below, but on the left is before: the dark L-shaped thing in the middle is the base of the brain/top of the spinal cord.  On the right is after: the L-shaped thing is "puffing out" to take up space where the tumor used to be.

This one is a couple mouse-wheel turns away on the MRI and not as clear.  Maybe you can use it to get a good look at the tumor.  I was surprised that there was still a white area where the tumor used to be.  But you can see that the texture is different and Dr. Gardner said that was fluid filling the space formerly occupied by the tumor.

I can't remember his exact words, but they were to the gist that the success of Michael's operation was "remarkable".  With the improvement he's already seen with his double vision, Dr. Gardner thinks it will for sure correct itself in the coming weeks.

But he didn't sugar coat that Michael is still in real danger of getting meningitis.  We have to watch for liquid running out his nose or feeling it run down the back of his throat.  He said if Michael was feeling well the next couple of days he would leave it up to us when to leave.  But we had to promise him that if anything went wrong, we would turn around and come back immediately.

Other than that, though, we may have seen the last of Dr. Gardner.  If all is well, we don't do anything until six months when Michael gets another MRI.  That can be done in Kansas City and the results sent here, or we could come back here to see him.

As of right now, we're thinking about getting up and heading out first thing Friday morning.  That would put us in Chicago overnight Friday and then home SATURDAY NIGHT!!!  Part of me is surprised that Michael didn't want to get in the car tonight and drive away; however, he is first and foremost concerned for his health and doesn't want to jump the gun and regret it.  If we can finagle dog sitters for three more days, I think at this point Michael, Toby and Cosmo can wait a little longer.

I asked Michael if there were any sites he wanted to see the next two days.  He replied, "Only if they're in the rear view mirror!"  We never made it to any of the museums or on a movie location tour, but I think all I want to do is make one more pass through Eide's entertainment tomorrow (new comic book day).  We've been here long enough to have a good feeling of the city; besides, if we saw it all now, we'd have no reason to ever return (ha, ha).

Again, Michael claims all his pre-surgery symptoms are gone: he can swallow, he can walk without stumbling, he can feel the fingertips of his left hand and he can button his shirt.  It remains to be seen if he's still going to be falling asleep all the time.  Of course he is now because he's just had brain surgery, but if we can extend our nightly bedtime to 9:30 or 10:00 in a couple months, then it will have been a complete success.

If nothing goes wrong, there will probably be only a few more short posts on the blog... about him, anyway.  Now that I've hooked you, please come back to read about other subjects, also.  I'd hate to put someone in the hospital again just to get readers...

D-Day (Decision Day) Pt. 1: Dr. Wang

Maintaining his perfect record, Dr. Wang saw Michael very close to his scheduled appointment time.  Actually, Dr. ______ saw him first and promptly removed the packing from his nose: 4, 6"-long blood-soaked strips.  This doctor (female) was interesting; she appeared Asian, yet spoke with an Australian accent.  Michael asked her and, yes, she is from Australia.

She scoped his nose pretty well, as did Dr. Wang afterwards.  It all looked like alien, lumpy, bloody tissue to me, but he claimed it looked "great".  I asked him how he knew that and he replied, "Because spinal fluid is not pouring out." 

In essence, Dr. Wang released Michael for follow-ups with a doctor in Kansas City.  For another week, he'll continue to spray saline solution into his nose every four hours.  Then, he'll add a twice-a-day flush.  There are two plastic "splints" remaining to be removed; they are covering areas that are healing beneath.  And he'll need occasional nasal "cleanings" to remove dry, crusty… stuff.
Michael immediately felt relief from the pressure in his sinuses.  For the last couple of days, he's experienced headaches he's described as his "eyeballs hurting".  However, he still is on the cusp of a headache post-removal, so I'll continue administering Tylenol, sometimes regular, sometimes with Codeine and sometimes "PM".
We're thrilled to be 50% "released" and hope Dr. Gardner concurs in his assessment this afternoon…

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Exploring Downtown Pittsburgh

To start where we left off, here's a better picture of Andrew and Elizabeth's edible arrangement.  It wasn't long after my last post that we opened it.  The chocolate-covered fruit is SO delicious!

That was, when, Thursday night?  We haven't done a lot since then but sit around and recover at Family House.  Michael is mostly good, with a few ups and downs.  Yesterday, he thought his vision was better and we went for a little drive to take Mari Ann to church.  But this morning, he has the worst headache since the operation and is taking Tylenol with Codeine to relieve it.  Yesterday, his appetite returned.  Sadly, it was the likes of Wendy's and Papa John's that brought it back.

We journeyed back to Presby Saturday morning for his follow-up MRI.  We're really hoping Dr. Gardner shows pictures to us on Tuesday afternoon.  We saw so many pre-op in Kansas City that we're really curious how his head looks now.

Afterwards, armed only with Google Maps on my iPhone to replace the native Maps app, I took myself on a tour of comic book stores in the Pittsburgh area.  Two of four on my list were no longer in existence; however, I got a nice little self-guided tour of downtown, an area we haven't explored at all since we've arrived.  Below is just a shot between buildings right off I-376 that goes along the west side of downtown:

You know, I keep forgetting that The Dark Knight Rises was filmed here.  I probably drove down some of the streets that were used and didn't realize it.  Here are a couple shots of those streets from the movie:

One particular building did catch my eye.  I don't know if it's the same one in the movie or not.  Now that I look, I'm guessing not.  I'm sure there's a website somewhere that would identify filming locations.  If I had thought about it, I could have planned a tour of film sites in Pittsburgh.  As it is now, I'm just too tired and want to get home.  I can't focus on such an adventurous project.

Here is a shot backwards toward the east entrance of the Ft. Pitt Tunnel.  It's the tunnel I mentioned the other day from The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  Exiting the west side, there's no sign of city.  But coming back, heading east, is a wonderful view of the city overlooking the river.

My biggest find yesterday was Eide's Entertainment, a three-level store near the bus station downtown.  Entering on the first level, you will find new comic books and music.  Downstairs, you will find a full-fledged comic shop with thousands of back issues and hundreds of toys and action figures.  Upstairs, you will find eveything related to movies: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, books, posters, soundtracks and collectibles.  Of course, it was the last place I found, but it should go to the top of anyone's list.

Not much else to report.  Remember, no news about Michael is good news!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Coming "Home"

I drove to Presby this morning, anticipating that Michael would be discharged later in the day.  Although he was sleeping soundly, they had already taken him to have an ultrasound on his arm, which was a little swollen the day before.  It was nothing; no blood clots were found.  In fact, his arm was no longer swollen.

We were then told he would have blood work at noon, and if everything was OK, he would be discharged.  It was a long morning waiting.  But some lovely flowers arrived from Lockton, which put a smile on Michael's face.

As I look at his picture above, I realize this was the most energetic he's been all day.  He must still be exhausted.  He looks sad, but when we ask if he's OK, he says he's just tired.  And he still doesn't have much of an appetite.

Pre-discharge, we received a long list or prescriptions, half of which I later learned were simply over-the-counter.  We have medication for headaches, constipation and nausea and sprays for his nose and who knows what else?  I had to buy an AM/PM pill organizer to keep him on track!  (But I'm not kidding anyone... it was great fun to put all those pills in their little plastic compartments!)

He was eventually discharged about 3:30.  Not only did he have to share a room as if he were a commoner, we had to push him out the doors in a wheelchair ourselves, not a nurse or an aid.  (When he got out of ICO a couple weeks ago, they did it for us.)  And a woman had the nerve to tell me I shouldn't have pushed him through the revoloving door!  I sassed back, "I shouldn't have to be pushing him at all!"  Yeah, I'm pretty exhausted myself.

Mari Ann and I just enjoyed dinner at Family House served by its board of directors.  Michael picked at some macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes.  And we just had a beautiful edible arrangement delivered from Andrew and Elizabeth (Brescia) Davis.  It's not a very good picture below, but I hesitate to unwrap it for fear of it immediately losing it's luster.  It will be soon, though, because I see chocolate-covered strawberries taunting us.

I have a feeling tomorrow will be a day of rest for all of us.  But it's wonderful to be "home" with nothing on the agenda until 9:00 Tuesday morning when we see Dr. Wang.  Since Michael's still recovering, I will plan to update every late afternoon or evening...