Monday, October 15, 2018

A letter to my best friend Sirius Beagle

Dear Siri Beagle

From the first day I brought you home from Stevens Point in 2014 to the walk we took this morning, you have been my best friend. That spans 5218 days, which to a human is 14 years but in the dog world that means you are well over 100 years old.

Every day in between, I have made sure that you have lived the grandest of all lives. Because every 52 days for me, is like an entire year for you, so I wanted you to see the world and experience everything. Often I have put your needs well above my own; that is how much you mean to me.

As a pup, we spent countless hours together where learned to obey, listen and do several tricks. I don’t know if it is a beagle trait, but the way you lay down by pushing your face onto the carpet and then flopping your butt down before happily accepting a treat as a reward is priceless. You are super smart which means that you are very stubborn! Sometimes I think that you were training me, and not the other way around.

I named you after the Harry Potter series, with your full name being Prisoner of Azkaban, Sirius Beagle. You were Siri before Steve Jobs and Apple ever thought of the name Siri. You were the first.

You’ve had dozens of nicknames over the years, including Prissy Paw because of the way you sat as a puppy, with a slight bend in your front right leg. For awhile I called you Abby when I wanted to talk about you but didn’t want to use your name because you were wake up. But you have always been Siri Beagle.

We’ve been on hundreds of miles of walks together in the neighborhood. Your personal best distance is 11 miles when you were a younger pup. But you really love being a beagle and running on single track trails. Your nose drops to the ground and you gallop with the greatest of ease. For the longest time I wasn’t able to keep up with you, but you would always stop and look back, waiting for me to catch up. In those miles I’ve shared my inner thoughts with you on long walks, and together we’ve solved all the worlds problems.

At 100 years old, you are still walking 10-15 miles a week; That is more than most humans. I know you don't know what miles are, but you know the smiles that you get from being outside.

And when I wanted to go on longer walks and you weren’t able to, I started pushing you in a dog stroller, stopping to take you out from time to time. You love being in the dog stroller, holding your head out the front as the wind blows in your face and making your ears flair out like you are an airplane taking off.

The good doctors at Valley Animal Hospital have taken care of you like you were their own since we moved to Huntsville. They welcome you with love when you go there to play and they recognize your howl when I show up for you to come home. I truly believe that it is because of Dr. Wilson MacManus and others that you have had such a long and health life. They have said that for all these years you were the healthiest beagle in all of Huntsville and I truly believe them.

It is a good thing that we have Dr. Mac, because along the way, you had your share of health issues. They started with your incurable allergies as a pup back in Wisconsin when we discovered you were allergic to grass and dust mites which meant you could not go outside or stay inside. Luckily you out grew them!

We were worried that you had ruptured a ligament in your hind leg when you were a few years old, but that was hundreds of miles ago and it healed without surgery.

But you have had a number of surgeries, including the most recent back surgery after some age-related nerve damage that caused your back right leg to stop from working. With the best medical care and the surgeons were able to get you back to running and walking.

After your back surgery, I sat in a cold bathtub with you, so you could work through your rehab. Swimming was non-impact and the icy cold water helped with your pain as you built of the strength in your leg. So, I sat in there with you, holding you just right so your legs would make the swimming motion. You were able to get back on your feet, literally and today you walked 4 miles pain free.

Earlier this year you lost your hearing, but because we spent time training all of those years ago, you still know hand signals. And nothing can take away your sense of smell and you know what your dad smells like. You know when I hold you close.

You were there for me after I had me known knee surgery, with the torn meniscus during Mountain Mist 50km. I was in so much pain in the recovery, that I remember hobbling on crutches for a ¼ mile walk, and crying the entire time that I would never run again. But you walked next to me and gave me hope that I could come back, which I did, qualifying for the Boston Marathon on the final race of my career.

You welcomed a new baby sister when you were just 4 years old yourself. And you served as a great big sister for her. Even when she is a pesky little sister and refuses to lay next to you on the couch, but wants to lay on top of you, you didn’t just tolerate her but you love her back. You even welcomed another sister when Lyla moved six years ago. With Rachel as the mom of all three girls, we formed a family.

We’ve driven across the country together countless times where we spent summers in Michigan. You love to sneak off down the stairs and swim in the Menominee River. You are loved by my parents as my mom refers to you and your sister as her grand doggies. She had pictures of you on her desk at work.

When I wanted to start sharing my thoughts on running with the world, I created a blog, aptly named SiriusUltraRunner, after you. You’ve had your own email address, Facebook page and Twitter account @SiriusBeagle ever since.

When I come home, you have welcomed me lovingly with a bark and a face lick every time. Even if I had to be at work all day and you peed on the floor before I got home, it is hard to be mad at you for very long. Even if I was only gone a few minutes, to you it was like welcoming me home after I had been gone for a week.

So I want you to know that I don’t have a single regret about anything with you in the last 14 years. Everyday I have told you that I love you. I have not once walked past you and not stopped to pet your head. I have given you the best care and shown you the best dog life imaginable.

And now, we face the greatest challenge of your entire life. A recently discovered growth on your right cheek warranted a trip to the vet where they said that they did not like what they saw. We don’t have all the answers yet, but the doctors are being aggressive with your diagnosis. On Thursday we will head to Blue Pearl in Nashville to have the mass looked at by a surgeon and meet with an oncologist. I promise you that they will take good care of you and I will be there with you every step of the way.

Siri you have so many miles left in your legs. You have a million more wags left in your tail. You have enough barks and howls left to drive the neighbors crazy. You are still a vibrant, healthy, active and beautiful little beagle and it is not your time to leave us. You are a tough old girl and will put up a very good fight. Please know that you have a lot of people praying for you.

Please also know that if the time comes when you are in pain, or can no longer have a quality of life, we will have to have a very difficult talk about what will come next.

I know that you may not understand all of what is going on; it is difficult to understand. I tried to explain this to you during our walk on Sunday, but a combination of your loss of hearing and my shaky voice and falling tears, I don’t think that I did a very good job.

But until that day, we will do everything we can to give you the best care known to man’s best friend. Because you are my best friend. You are my daughter. You are my family.

I love you Siri Beagle. Yesterday, today, tomorrow and forever. You will always be my girl.

Your Dad

Sunday, September 9, 2018

My Favorite 42 Actors of the Last 42 Years

What is the best part about making a list?  The reader is at the mercy of the writer!

This is my personal list of the top 42 actors within the last 42 years, representing the span of my lifetime.  You can argue that my first movie watching impressions were not made until the mid-80's, but this is my list, so it's my rules.  Let's call the time period of 1975 to the present, the "Modern Era of Movie Making."

I tend to watch more drama than comedy.  More action than horror.  More adventure than sci-fi.  So, while I do enjoy a good Dan Aykroyd and Billy Murray movie, not many actors who focus on the comedy genre made my list.  It is comprised mostly of movies that have had some sort of impact on me in my younger, impressionable years.  The list involves mostly movie actors, but there are some actors I nominated because of tv roles they've played, and some who did both movies and tv, excelling at both.

The best part about my list, is that it is my list.  I can guarantee you that no one on earth has the same list, in the same sequence.  That is because each person has their own movie watching history, and while you may appreciate what I have assembled, you will likely disagree somewhere along the way.  The uniqueness of each person in this world is one of the many things that fascinates me. It's what makes lists of this nature, so much fun.

With any list, there are going to be snubs.  Despite endless hours of research on this project, I inevitably overlooked or forgot someone.  And it is probable that if I start over, the sequence of the list may change.  But eventually you just have to drawn the line in the sand and call it done. I've drawn my line.

Before you start leaving comments about my choices, note that I am able to separate the craft from the person.  I am not looking for role models in my movie stars.  So, if they lean one way or the other politically, or have had other issues off stage, I've put those things aside.  And I am sure that someday I will take the time to create an actress list, but there are only so many hours in the day and I had to start somewhere.

Without further ado, here is the list of my 42 favorite actors from the last 42 years.

42. Heath Ledger

Reasons why: A Knight's TaleThe Dark Knight.  His portrayal of the Joker is one of the best acting performances I have ever seen.  It is likely how much he got into character for this that brought about his demise.

41. Mel Gibson

Reasons why:  MaverickBraveheart.  While I enjoyed his ability to play an insane cop in the action and adventure series Lethal Weapon, it was his role in Maverick opposite James Garner that I preferred.

40. Al Pacino

Reasons why:  HeatInsomnia.  Watching Will Dormer try to stay awake, while hiding secrets in the Alaskan thriller, Insomnia, was one of Pacino's most masterful performances and it totally flew under the radar.

39. Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Reasons why:  Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, 500 Days of Summer.  With a host of credits from his youth that include 3rd Rock from the Sun, Roseanne, and Family Ties, JGL has been at it for a long time with his best roles to come.

38. Andrew McCarthy

Reasons why: Mannequin, Pretty in Pink, Less Than Zero, St. Elmo's Fire.  An original brat-packer, McCarthy's role as the rich kid falling in love with the girl from the wrong side of the tracks in Pretty in Pink earns him a nomination.

37. James Spader

Reasons why:  Blacklist, Stargate, Less Than ZeroPretty in Pink.  One of the actors who played such a bad boy in his youth, then went on to reinvent himself later in life with his role in Blacklist, which is must watch TV.

36. Donald Sutherland

Reasons why:  Without Limits, A Time to Kill, Outbreak, JFK, M*A*S*H.  Ironically the movies that earned him a spot on the list are mostly in supporting roles like JFK which he plays so convincingly.

35. Jon Voight

Reasons why:  The Rainmaker, Mission: Impossible, Deliverance.  Jon Voight's career was mostly before my lifetime so I've seen him play the role of dad (National Treasure) quite a bit, but some of his early stuff like Deliverance is A+.

34. Christian Slater

Reasons why:  Pump Up the Volume, Gleaming the Cube, Heathers, Young Guns II.  Always playing the rebellious teenager during my rebellious teen years meant that I couldn't get enough of Christian Slater.  

33. Richard Gere

Reasons why: Unfaithful, The Jackal, Primal Fear, Pretty Woman.  I will be honest that I have never seen An Officer and a Gentleman (*gasp*), which I've read may have been peak Richard Gere, but otherwise his resume is stellar.

32. Ben Affleck

Reasons why: Changing Lanes, Gone Girl, Runner Runner, Argo, The Town, Good Will Hunting. Ben really should be ranked higher on this list, but has a series of bad movies from Gigli to Batman, which are forgettable roles.

31. Anthony Hopkins

Reasons why: Fracture, Silence of the Lambs.  Sir Anthony's role as Dr. Hannibal Lecter makes my skin crawl just thinking about it.  While he has had other good films, Lambs is one of the most epic acting performances of all time.

30. Tommy Lee Jones

Reasons why: The Fugitive, Double Jeopardy, Blown Away, Lincoln.  Chasing down Dr. Richard Kimble, Tommy Lee Jones as Samuel Gerard in The Fugitive has some of the best 1-liners as that character was written for him.

29. Kiefer Sutherland

Reasons why: Flatliners, A Time to Kill, A Few Good Men, Young Guns, Stand by Me. Kiefer from the mid-80's to early 90's are what trip my trigger, especially playing bad ass roles like Lt. Jonathan Kendrick and Ace Merrill.

28. Nicolas Cage

Reasons why:  National Treasure, Con Air, The Rock, Gone in 60 Seconds, Face/Off.  Sure it is an 8 to 1 ratio of bad movies to good, but when Nic was in his prime fighting bad guys, no one did it better.

27. Kevin Spacey

Reasons why:  The Usual Suspects, A Time to Kill, Se7en.  Who better portraits the criminally insane than Kevin Spacey?  The twist (spolier alert) at the end of The Usual Suspects is one of the great movie endings of all time.

26. Edward Norton

Reasons why:  Fight Club, Primal Fear, Rounders, The Italian Job.  When someone with an innocent smile can play the role of such a bad guy, it is such a rare combination that you just never see coming, aka Tyler Durden.

25. Mark Wahlberg

Reasons why:  Lone Survivor, The Departed , The Perfect Storm.  I couldn't believe it either until I started the research and realized all of the movies that this former New Kid was in I really enjoyed--Thanks Marky Mark!

24. Tom Berenger

Reasons why:  Last of the Dogmen, Platoon, Major League.  Probably an actor that is left off many lists, Berenger was meant to wear a cowboy hat.  His role as Lewis Gates in Dogmen opposite Barbara Hershey was one of his best.

23. Daniel Day-Lewis

Reasons why:  Lincoln, The Last of the Mohicans, Gangs of New York.  Day-Lewis doesn't do it often, but when he is aleading man, prepare to be blown away.  I really thought I was watching Abraham Lincoln for 2 hours and 28 minutes.

22. Brad Pitt

Reasons why:  Spy Game, Money Ball, Fight Club, Sleepers, Se7en.  Screaming "What's in the box?!" before shooting John Doe was a great movie ending, but Pitt has countless other roles (Tyler Durden) that earn him a top 25 spot in my list.

21. Andy Griffith

Reasons why: Matlock, The Andy Griffith Show.  I could watch Ben Matlock with his southern charm crack murder mysteries in an Atlanta courtroom all day long and twice on Sundays.

20. John Krasinski

Reasons why: 13 Hours, The Office, A Quiet Place.  Definitely a newcomer to my list, but John proved his versatility as he went from goofy Jim Halpert playing pranks on Dwight in The Office to a six-pack of muscle in Benghazi.

19. Sean Connery

Reasons why:  Medicine Man, The Rock, DragonHeart, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Hunt for Red October, James Bond.  The list is never ending for Connery, but I love him most as Indiana's dad in Last Crusade.

18. Tom Hanks

Reasons why: Saving Private Ryan, Apollo 13, Big, Splash.  Hanks was the go to leading man in Hollywood for two decades, and deservedly so.  But I think it was his crossing dressing role in Bosom Buddies that helped launch his stardom.

17. Robert De Niro

Reasons why: Heat, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, The Deer Hunter, Taxi Driver.  Most people didn't know that De Niro played the Creature in Frankenstein, which was far and away the best adaptation of this story.

16. Matt Damon

Reasons why: The Departed, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Saving Private Ryan, The Rainmaker, Good Will Hunting.  The story of Will Hunting makes me want to go out and conquer the world.  Thank you for writing and starring in it Mr. Damon.

15. Neil Patrick Harris

Reasons why: How I Met Your Mother, Doogie Howser, M.D.  The original blogger and child doctor prodigy with a crush on Wanda Plenn went on the play a womanizer in HIMYM.  Two totally different roles showing great diversity. 

14. Billy Crystal

Reasons why: City Slickers, When Harry Met Sally, Throw Momma from the Train.  Watching Mitch Robbins yell "moo cow" in a river during a mid-life crisis while he search for the meaning of life on a cattle drive with his best friends = priceless.

13. Robin Williams

Reasons why: Insomnia, What Dreams May Come, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, Good Morning Vietnam.  A life cut tragically short, I have never been so moved (queue the tears) as I was with his role as Sean in Good Will Hunting.

12. Bruce Willis

Reasons why: Die Hard, Unbreakable, The Sixth Sense, Armageddon.  Known as a blockbuster movie guy, it is the roles of David Addison on Moonlighting and Paul Stevens on Friends that move Demi Moore's ex-husband near the top of this list.

11. Alan Alda

Reasons why: Murder at 1600, ER, Blacklist, MASH.  Alan Alda's laugh is utterly infectious and his portrayal of Hawkeye Pierce is one of my favorite on screen performances.  Goodybe.  Farewell.  Amen.

10. Morgan Freeman

Reasons why: Kiss the Girls, Se7en, Unforgiven, The Shawshank Redemption, Batman Begins. The old joke is that if you could have anyone narrate your life, it would be Morgan Freeman.  Ellis Boyd 'Red' Redding for the win.

9. John Cusack

Reasons why: Love & Mercy, Runaway Jury, Identity, Serendipity, Con Air, Say Anything...  His role as Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys is so stunning that it took this top 25 guy and vaulted him into the top 10 for me.

8. Harrison Ford

Reasons why: Star Wars, Raiders, The Fugitive, What Lies Beneath.  Maybe the one actor on this list who has been on top for all 4 four decades.  When they killed him off in Star Wars, I shed more than a few tears.

7. Kevin Bacon

Reasons why: The Following, Mystic River, Stir of Echoes, Wild Things, Apollo 13, A Few Good Men, Footloose.  No one else can claim to have a "six degrees..." game named after themselves, but Kevin Bacon.  He is Kevin-freaking- Bacon.

6. Scott Bakula

Reasons why: Quantum Leap.  The highest ranking of any actor largely known for a single role.  Yes, yes, yes, I know he has a few other credits, but leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong is legendary for me.

5. Kevin Costner

Reasons why: JFK, Tin Cup, Field of Dreams, Dances with Wolves, The Bodyguard, Bull Durham.  "If you build it, they will come."  And as long as Kevin Costner keeps making movies about my passion, I will be in the front row.

4. Patrick Swayze

Reasons why: Ghost, Point Break, Road House, Dirty Dancing.  Three of my favorite movies of all time.  Swayze is the first person on my Mount Rushmore of actors.  Nobody puts Bodhi in a corner.

3. Matthew McConaughey

Reasons why: Lincoln Lawyer, A Time to Kill, Dazed and Confused, Sahara.  If there is such a thing as one man having a man crush on another man, I have one on Mattew McConaughey for his role as Jake Tyler Brigance.

2. Tom Cruise

Reasons why: Top Gun, Mission Impossible, American Made, Rock of Ages, The Last Samurai, Minority Report, A Few Good Men, The Firm, Risky Business.  Jump on as many couches as you want Tom.  You've earned your ranking.

1. Leonardo DiCaprio

Reasons why: Shutter Island, Inception, The Revenant, Titanic, The Beach, Growing Pains.  Team Leo has starred in more of my favorite movies than another other actor, putting him on the top of the mountain for this list.

Editing credits courtesy of Rachel Charette.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Top 20 Cereals of the Last 40 Years: The Mount Rushmore

Unless you have been sleeping under a rock for the last month, you have been on the edge of your seat waiting for the day to come when I would reveal the best cereal of the last 40 years.  By now, it is highly likely that you have scrolled to the bottom and ruined the surprise.  But, if by chance you are a purist when it comes to lists and have stuck with me for this long, maybe you will stay just a little bit longer.

This was never about the cereal.  Okay, maybe it was a little about the cereal.  But in reality, this was always about the journey that I wanted to take the reader on.  This was a way for me to let you peer inside my childhood years and see why I developed a lifelong passion for cereal.  Not many things other than Star Wars have encompassed my entire life like cereal.  It likely taught me to read, having spent every morning staring at the side of the box wondering what riboflavin was and why the cereal inside was providing me with 20% of my daily requirements of it.  This list also reflects the quirkiness of my nature in the fact that I made a list of my top 20 cereals of the last 40 years.  Who does that?  This guy.

And this was also about the writing.  Having started writing about the same time I started eating cereal, this was a chance to return to my roots.  I wrote my first novella at age 16,  But the years that followed were more filled with engineering technical pieces and running race reports than with the type of writing that I truly enjoy.  I have dipped into that passion from time to time over the last few years with my series on the rare virus that attacks my vocal cords and how it has changed my life, but you have to be close family or my mom to enjoy reading those words.  This was an opportunity to write for the pure joy of writing.

Write what you know.  Seems like the golden rule of writing.  Well, I know cereal.  So thank you for joining me on this journey and hope that you have been entertained along the way.

Let's start with a recap of numbers 20 through 6 from my three previous blogs.

20. Cap'n Crunch

19. Cocoa Puffs

18. Kaboom

17. Crispix

16.  Cookie Crisp

15. Honey Nut Cheerios

14. Zucaritas

13. Cinnamon Toast Crunch

12. Coco Wheats

11.  Sugar Crisp

10. Lucky Charms

9. Banana Bugs 'n' Mud

8. Honey Comb

7. Teddy Grahams

6.  Marshmallow Krispies cereal

And now, the top 5.  Thank you for reading along.

5.  S'mores Crunch

By now you have likely realized that many of my favorite cereals were produced during my peak cereal eating years of 1980 to 1984.  S'mores Crunch made a debut in my cereal bowl in 1982 which was during the same time I was watching Super Friends, Shirt Tales and the Richie Rich Show on Saturday morning cartoons.  It basically was Golden Grahams on steroids, as General Mills flavored the graham cracker pieces with chocolate and added tiny marshmallows.  Until creating this list, I never knew that I had such a passion for tiny marshmallows in cereal but apparently it is a real thing.  Like so many other cereals, S'mores Crunch was retired too soon, as production was stopped in 1988.  But maybe this is actually for the best?  Just like going back to watch a movie from the 80's that I thought was so good (then) and turns out to be not good today, S'mores Crunch may be better left in the 1980's. 

4.  Apple Jacks

Not many fruit flavored cereals survived the rigorous process I went through to create this list.  Is it possible that my strong diastase for Fruit Loops has clouded my judgement for other fruity cereals?  Apple Jacks makes a strong entry on the list at number four.  Originally just orange colored loops, it was not until the late 90's that the green circles were added to provide diversity.  Apple Jacks is the perfect balance of crunchiness, robust flavor and nutritional goodness.  But it truly reigns supreme as one of the best cereals to provide drinkable milk at the bottom of the bowl, along with Apple Cinnamon Cheerios. 

3. Grape Nuts

My number three entry likely does not appear on any other top cereal list other than a list where people confuse dog food for cereal.  Grape Nuts can literally taste like gravel if eaten straight out of the box.  But when combined with two scoops of sugar and skim milk, this concrete cousin transforms into gritty goodness.  Before this metamorphosis, it is clearly the healthiest cereal to make the list.  The third and final entry for Post, Grape Nuts has tremendous scoop-ability for getting the most amount of cereal onto a single spoon.  And if you want a totally mind blowing experience, try substituting microwaved evaporated milk (for cold skim milk) and you may just replace filet mignon as your last meal on earth.

2. Golden Grahams

I have previously admitted that some cereals may have been ranked higher than normal due to pure sentimental value.  When I think about my dad eating cereal, I think of him eating a bowl of Golden Grahams.  But unlike my approach of simply adding milk, my dad goes about this a little differently.  In fact, in his bowl of Golden Grahams, there are very little Golden Grahams.  He adds granola, fresh fruit from the garden, nuts and an occasional raisin which in other cases may be a grounds for disownment, but that is another list.  He also prefers warm(er) milk and if my mom will allow it, he would want it to be whole milk.  I have to eat mine in ice cold skim milk and have been known to actually add ice cubes.  A box of Golden Grahams will last my dad for a month, whereas it may not make it to the end of grocery day for me.  But regardless of our methods, it is something that we share as father and son.  This honey and brown sugar flavored cereal narrowly missed top billing.

1. Ice Cream Cones

I believe that 1987 was the greatest year of all time.  I was 12 years old.  Pour Some Sugar on Me by Def Leppard was on the radio.  I was an all star first baseman for the First National Bank little league team at Lodal Field.  I was dating the older sister of a team mate.  We went to school camp and my friend Ryan Milkey made me much cooler than I actually was.  I had my first Mark McGwire rookie card and life was good.  I was in the advanced math and reading classes at Garden Village School and life could not be better.

In that same year, General Mills introduced Ice Cream Cones cereal.  It was a combination of sweetened puffs with sugar cone-shaped pieces sweetened with waffle cone flavor.  Do I really need to say anything else?  Our local grocery store in Kingsford, Michigan only carried the vanilla flavor, while the big cities were treated to chocolate and chocolate chip varieties.  Before adding milk, you could make tiny ice cream cone replicas by carefully balancing the ice cream puffs atop the waffle cones.  Though I will never mention it under oath in a court of law, this cereal was actually two sugary to be eaten right out of the box.  But the milk would actually cut though the sweetness and produce an amazing result.  An occasional cone might pierce the roof of your mouth, but it was worth the risk.

Peddling on a bicycled shaped ice cream cart, Ice Cream Jones battled life threatening conditions like man eating cartoon bears and falling trees in the woods to deliver Ice Cream Cones to kids.  He also manged to sing a catchy jingle where he chimed "No storm keeps Ice Cream Jones from bringing you, your Ice Cream Cones."

What is beyond comprehension is the fact that this cereal was discontinued in the same year in which it made its debut.  General Mills did bring this cereal back in 2003 for the 100th anniversary of the ice cream cone, but I refused to bite on this gimmick.  For me, Ice Cream Cones cereal is what 1987 was all about.  Eating something that made you feel good without worry.

If there was a Mount Rushmore of cereals, Ice Cream Cones would be the Abraham Lincoln, cut down before their prime.

Until next time my cereal eating friends...