Showing posts with label Northern NY. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Northern NY. Show all posts

Sunday, April 11, 2010

And here I've meant to keep up

It’s been something like four days I’ve been trying to find a moment to sit down and write this entry, and try as I did I just couldn’t bring myself to fight off the rest of my life to bring it to you. Some things are just more important, and that’s all there is to it. Just the same, it’s been literally months since I’ve updated and I’ve been giving some significant thought to what I wanted to do with this page. I’m currently about 37,000 feet above Pennsylvania and barreling toward Chicago from a weekend trip to upstate NY to visit my grandmother and attend my cousin Ryan’s wedding and since they still don’t have broadband aboard planes (despite it costing $300 for a ticket and involving more security procedures than entry into the Pentagon) I’ve discovered that I’m myself a captive audience and in the perfect frame of mind to make a decision about where I want to go from here.

Some of the better bloggers I know commit themselves to updating their page once a week on a specific day, and that sounded like a great idea. I have most Thursdays off and it would be a perfect opportunity to catch up with writing my own blog along with a host of other responsibilities. The execution of it, however, just seemed inordinately difficult this week. Thursday I literally fell asleep at the keyboard trying to type this and it just didn’t work out. I usually update my status on Facebook every day or every other day and I think for a time (especially now that I have a nifty iPhone and can do it from anywhere) that I used Facebook as a sort of substitute for the writing fix I usually get from keeping this blog. At the end of last year, however, I found that the process I usually go through of searching through my back posts to see how far I’ve come just wasn’t the same. In an internet landscape currently dominated by the Twitter mentality, I felt this odd sort of emptiness that I was trying to reconstruct the last six months of my life in the form of incongruous faux-witty, three-line quips. There’s a place in my psyche, I think, for short-form remembrances, but at heart the process of blogging has always been one of narrative for me, and there’s just no narrative in that short format.


Back I come, to this. Diary-keeping. Blogging. Whatever you want to call it. It’s story-telling after a fashion, and because I’m quite certain that only a handful of my 400+ Facebook friends will even bother to read this it’s story-telling with myself as the primary audience. And I’m OK with that. I think that after some consideration that the reason I didn’t just shit-can this site is because it’s hard to do. Like I mentioned earlier, when I get myself set to write something down here, it’s almost as though life itself bends around my in order to get in the way. But that’s the very value of it. It’s difficult. It requires consternation and sacrifice. In the end, having a coherent narrative of my life has always been the goal of this page, and this it continues to be. In one form or another I’ve kept an intermittent long-form diary for almost twenty years, and I wasn’t about to just give up on that, especially since so much of my life these days feels like a disorienting blur.

Here is my promise to those small few of you who still read this: I will update this page every Thursday for six months without fail. Come hell, or high water. And that includes the promise to myself as well.

But now, onto more pertinent things. I spent the weekend in Watertown, visiting my mother’s mother, whose health is failing. I saw her approximately a month ago when I took the train to NY to visit. As many of you know, this has been extraordinarily difficult for me since for virtually my entire life she has been a guardian-angel-type presence for me. Which is not to say I qualitatively love her any more than anyone else in my family but that instead she was a person that she has gone thousands of extra miles for me and made me feel loved in a special, additional way. I’m sure you all know what this means. Even in the most loving and drama-free of families there are always those special bonds. My niece Katy has one with my nephew Charley, my niece Lucy with my son John. They are the kindred souls within families for which understanding and mutual affection are as natural as breathing. This is the sort of relationship I have with my grandmother Laura. She has been a fixture of virtually every important event of my entire life, even after I’ve spent the last decade living halfway across the country. Despite any other hardship or inconvenience it might cause me, I invariably take the time to visit her even if it’s just for an hour if I’m in that part of New York. I’ve received a Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s, and Easter card from this woman every year of my entire life, without fail, even into adulthood and right up to this current Easter.

She is quite ill now, and the idea that possibly before this time next year her phone calls and photos and holiday cards will fall silent forever has been a devastating reality check for me. Living as far as I do from the Brand family in NY, I feel constantly as though I’m living two lives. Like the protagonist of a bad sci-fi channel time-travel movie, I occasionally get into a plane like I’m doing now and warp from one to the other, only to once again experience the same halting culture-shock I did the first time I moved away or set foot in Chicago. Once I become comfortable again with Chicago being “home base”, I take a trip back to NNY and the process of wrapping my head around it begins all over again. Chicago offers the lifestyle I want, replete with professional and personal successes of every variety. Intellectual fulfillment, opportunity to burn, entertainment to fit my tastes, and most importantly, the Chicago branch of my own new little Brand tribe. Northern New York offers the people I miss most, though, and are completely irreplaceable even in a gigantic city full of virtually every convenience (for a price) you could imagine. This means my extended family, but not only them. I have friends there still, as well. Friends. That legendary class of human being that once held a prominent place in my life and have been hunted nearly to extinction by geographic distance, responsibility, and increasingly by the awful low-grade poverty imposed on my generation by the clash of expectation versus available resources.

All of these things have been sharply present in my mind for these past four weeks as I prepare to face the day when my grandmother is gone. The little kid in me whom she had such endless love and patience for in a thousand ways I’ll probably never even know about is steeling himself for the loss of his lifelong guardian angel, but the adult in me is facing an even more intimidating thought looming just out of the frame: No matter how much of a fixture a person seems they may be in your life, they are not ultimately immortal. And this also goes for a large number of other people I love dearly who seem also not to get any younger year by distant year.

Meanwhile I’m not getting any younger either, and I’m starting to feel a little bit like Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings must have felt. I’m forever showing up either just in time or at random intervals in the lives of people I love with always something pressing and important that I need to accomplish, then I vanish off to deal with something else in the other part of the story that’s happening halfway around the world. I’ve often had a thought when reading those books: how different this story would have gone if Gandalf could have just focused on helping Frodo and Sam take the ring or preparing the defense of Helm’s Deep, instead of shuttling like a badminton birdie across all of Middle Earth putting out fires. I feel like when I go back to Chicago or off to New York, I leave the people in each of these respective lives behind, scratching their heads as if to say “well that’s nice, now what?”

Despite the difficult and sometimes bluntly pointless nature of life in the Northern New York region in general, I do not judge my cousins in the least when they move away from it and move back a few months or years later. As much as I’ve said myself to a number of them “if you want to bring yourself the success you want, you’ve got to get out of this town”, I am just as vulnerable to the crushing home-sickness that it brings when we’ve been away long enough to realize how special it was to grow up in a large, loving family in a small town. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to talk to them about it, particularly the ones who have left and returned, and gotten a sense that I wasn’t alone in feeling the way I do.

As I sit here on this little commuter plane it occurred to me that ten years ago, before 9/11, I could have almost hoped for a life where I could have come to NY for a weekend virtually any weekend I wanted if I was so inclined. Wages were sufficient for most jobs I was qualified for. Homes were affordable, at least to rent, and the airfare for the last trip I took from Florida to Chicago to visit Beth when we first met was $79 on ATA round-trip. Now it’s such an ever-fucking hassle to travel anywhere for any length of time by virtually any means that I find myself scheduling trips from one place to the other around binges of caffeine, comfort food, and doses of Advil for the headaches it gives me. I haven’t for a moment stopped loving being in both places, but I’ve come to loathe the shifts between and how miserable they are in almost every way.

I don't have much more to say on the subject at the moment, and I do realize that this leaves off the blog on a down note, but hey: I promised to update it, I never said it would always be fun.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Kate's Wedding

Yes, I realize I'm posting this like a month and a half after it happened, but forgive me, I've been trying to workout on my lunch breaks and get to bed at a decent hour.

I spent much of the wedding trying to actually have conversations with people as much as possible and of course make sure people got to see John, so I didn't take a lot of pictures, but I did manage to get a few good ones.

Anyone else think my cousin Dan resembles Ray Lamontagne?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

A long absence

I haven't updated this page in nearly six weeks, and it's been long enough that I've almost forgotten the first week or two worth of updates I wanted to put on it. We've been very busy this past month and John is getting through the difficult 18-24 month stretch and heading into a much more refined, agile, intelligent, thoughtful, and interactive young fellow. He now asks for exactly (or as exactly as he has the words for) what he wants. He knows specific foods, people, places, televisions shows, toys, and activities, and he can say things like "it's beautiful" when something is delicate or visually appealing. He loves Legos (and so does dad!), and he is starting to ask specifically for "swings" or "ice cream" or "go to the park".

We took a long trip to Northern New York for my cousin Kate's wedding that involved my parents' house in Indian Lake, my aunt's cottage in Clayton, four hotel rooms, four days in the car, eight complete packing and unpackings of our station wagon, a dozen or so cans of Rockstar Energy Drink, one wedding and ten days on the open road of freedom from our daily routines. I got to see my friend Sara LePine, who just graduated from veterinary school in Scotland, and many of my aunts and uncles from the Brand family that I hardly ever get to see.

I was able to visit both grandmothers and John got to go to Grandma Thompson's house for probably the last time before she moves out. There were a lot of memories for me in that house, so I surreptitiously took a bunch of pictures to remember it by since I didn't have any. Some of the furniture and things on the shelves and walls have been there since I was John's age and spent time there with my own Grandma and Grandpa (who passed away when I was three). A row of tiny pine saplings that my grandfather planted when I was a baby are now full size pine trees that obscure the view of the railroad tracks I used to watch trains on with him on their couch sometime circa 1980, and I feel like I may have had my first haircut in the "shop" (a small hair salon) attached to the back of my grandma Thompson's house. I took pictures of all of this for a later update.

Strangely, I've been sick twice in the past month. Once with an obnoxious snot-dripping sinus infection of some sort right before we left for vacation, and again the week after we returned with a gastrointestinal bug that had me chained to the toilet and passing out with a fever and dehydration later that same day. No idea if this is something I picked up from patients or from John through his daycare, but he has had some rocky sorts of sick-y stuff lately. A few days before the intestinal bug hit me, he had some sort of super-barf stomach thing that kept him vomiting for about 8-12 hours and left him weak and wobbly but still standing. Currently, he is caughing and sputtering with a lingering late-summer cold. All of this is very strange given is long-standing string of healthy months.

As if our lives weren't going to be tossed in turnmoil enough by all of this, I decided that this was the month I was going to return to calorie counting and cutting carbonated/caffinated drinks from my diet. As of this writing, I am thirteen days caffiene free, which is something of a mixed blessing. I love being free of having to down 1-2 high-calorie, slightly expensive caffinated drinks a day in order to keep my eyes open. On the other hand, I sorely miss the ability to have easy, on-demand energy and alertness.

The most important development, however, is the fact that Beth is returning to grad school to get her MSW in Substance Abuse Counselling. She had been admitted to the program almost three years ago, but deferred her enrollment due to John being so small and not being able to make it all work. Now, however, we're going to give it a shot. I've taken the Tuesday evening shift off of work every week now (and a pay cut) in order to be home to watch John and get him fed/put down before Beth gets home somewhere around 10:00 PM. Knowing what a huge thing it is to go to school and work simultaneously, I'm completely behind Beth on this one and trying to give her all the support I can give.

And we're going later this week to see the American Idol top 10 in a town called Evansville, Indiana.

More later as I have time to update.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Trips, Part 1: Len's Wedding

I'm only now just getting around to posting these because I've been on the road or super-busy most of the summer, so it's time to post all the pics. First up is the trip that I took by train to NY to see Len Nicholas get married.

The accommodations on the train were perfectly comfortable, including huge roomy seats and a very convenient AC outlet within easy reach of my seat. All I lacked was a good wireless internet connection, but hey...
The view from the train was lousy for the most part, though the sunrise over Cleveland was nice.

I stayed at Silverthought HQ in NY with my editor Paul, who can be seen below striking a very Hunter S. Thompson pose.
We stopped briefly at my Grandmothers' houses to surprise them, as well as my sister's house during which we managed to smash a glass tabletop and break one of my brother-in-law's pieces of handmade pottery rummaging around pointlessly for old shit in the basement. Feeling completely awful about this, and in classic Mark fashion, I bolted and left them to clean it up. (SORRY GUYS!)
We skidded to a halt in the middle of nowhere, where someone had turned the highway into a single lane mountain road with a stoplight over it. Paul's coffee cup kept rotating counterclockwise with the vibration from the road, causing us to dub it "the coffee coriolis effect".

We stopped along the way to eat breakfast at a place claiming to be the original "The Sub-Way." A local patiently explained to us that they were flustered by the advent of the national chain with the same name. Riiiight. Just give me my Toasted Italian.

Len's wedding was a very classy affair and his new wife seemed like a doll. Imagine the remaining guests' surprise when these two questionable types showed up and had the hutzpah to ask for more wine (which I'm happy to say the happy couple and maid of honor quietly hooked us up with).

Len's wedding, despite having a significant vibe of careful, somber, respectful planning, came off with two notable signs of the fun-loving jokester he is. The first being the fact that the bride's wedding recessional tune as they walked out seemed to be some classical variation on the Smurfs Theme, and this:

Legos. Yeah!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

You know it's been a long miserable winter when...

- I don't post for almost a month.

- I start listening to smooth jazz because it's uplifting.

- I start taking vitamins again to stave off the inevitible Seasonal Affect Disorder that comes from not seeing the sun for weeks at a time.

- I remark to others that this is the first winter in Chicago that reminds me of NNY.

- I feel a crass, savage satisfaction at this YouTube video of George Bush throwing out the first pitch at the Washington National's game to the sound of roaring "boo"s.

Not all is crap though, John has been growing so fast it almost can't be called growing, it's more like some time-lapse version of evolving. One day he can say "2", "8", "9" and "10" and it seems like the next thing you know he can say all the numbers and most of the letters. He knows the names of most of the significant Disney characters and of course Thomas the Tank Engine. He has discovered the word "no", but doesn't really understand what it means. He'll run around and shout "no, no NO!" at random, and I'll reply by saying "Yes!" and he'll run around and yell "Yes, yes YES!" He still loves playing in pillow forts and he has taken a newfound interest in trains in particular. We bought him a combo playset with a golf club, baseball bat, and basketball hoop and several small balls and he took to it instantly. He sleeps with the tiny cudgel-shaped baseball bat sometimes. I imagine my parents are hearing echoes of Beam-Beam the rubber hammer that I used to carry around when I was his age.

I find that many experiences of parenthood that are foretold decades ahead of time by your own parents ("hope you have a baby just like you", "save these for when your own kids are grown"), are either bunk or don't happen the way you think they will. One that's about to actually happen, though, is that my parents are bringing... (drumroll)... my old Matchbox cars and Legos for John to play with. Now I haven't seen these toys in something like 20 years, so I'm sort of gearing up for what that's going to feel like. John has some of the bigger Duplo Legos that we bought him, including a set with a Thomas train, and he loves them. The smaller ones are too grown up for him at the moment, but another year or so and he'll be ready to rock with them.

And it's true what they say that suddenly your tiny little squalling bundle of baby is a little person that starts indicating or flatly telling you that they want a specific book or a specific food, and this is every bit as surreal as parents make it out to be.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Thanksgiving trip

We took a nice long trip to Indian Lake to be with my family for the first time in several years for an actual holiday, and we had a great time. My sister and her husband were able to come, as were my grandmother Thompson and my uncle Randy and his new girlfriend Sheri, and my old buddy DJ Reid even made the drive up from NEW JERSEY (whew). A good time was had by all, and John even enjoyed the 16+ hour car ride. We stayed at the Holiday Inn just east of Cleveland and John started walking. He got to play with Grandma and Grandpa Brand's cats and dog, which he couldn't stop talking about for days afterward, and even got to see some neato other animals like a couple of huge horses and some wild deer and turkey who come to my parents' house for a breakfast of sesame seeds tossed in the snow.

Four generations.

Story time with Aunt Brooke.

Hey daddy, can we get one of these for Christmas? I want a 500cc one.

John taking over my parents' living room.

I think the white fellow was wondering just what the hell I was looking at.

Holy cow, big doggie!

Everyone goes for a walk.

Does a bear shit in the woods? Apparently.

We look friendly here, but I was kicking his ass at Gran Tourismo.

Grandma and John on a walk.

This was a gorgeous house that I took a picture of as fog moved through the forest behind it.

Hello, Wilbur.

John in his cold weather hat.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Black Tea Letters

Some of my older readers will remember the time when was a self-written HTML page that was in blog format sort of before there was such a thing as blogs. I used to update it manually with the FTP to a hosted server and I would put the time and date and so forth on the posts. I was thinking today of possibly uploading all of the old entries from the diary that I kept there that I titled "The Black Tea Letters". There's some interesting old memories and thoughts about working in the medical field and dealing with living in a city and going to school and working at the same time. I'll be slowly adding the entries over the next few days. If I get ambitious, maybe I'll even enter the other journals and the old Torque DyingDays articles I wrote. This was the intro that I put on it:

At The Outset

Since my last stab at online journaling, I have kept three others in various places. One in a small notebook, one in an old palmtop Windows CE device that was most of 2002 and got erased when the backup battery failed. And finally I kept a diary in a diary program on my Palm IIIx, which I may or may not make available online depending on how I feel.

In any case, it's been almost three years since I last placed a journal online. I posted at for a while, and I did what I could for that site when I could. Paul Hughes is doing his own thing these days and I am doing mine. My webpage has been only sporadically updated for the last three years, but I would like to work on making this a priority, and I think a journal is just what it needs.

So I suppose a synopsis of the last two years is in order. When my last journal left off, I had just graduated St. Lawrence University and I was living, rather forlornly, with my parents. I had no job direction or prospects and I had given up on prosthetics as a career. I'm sure now that everyone must go through moments like this, but at the time it was most disconcerting. This translated predictably into a rather grim journal in May and June of 2001.

Happily, my life took a series of positive turns very shortly after. So here we go:

In late June 2001 I was working in a factory in Watertown, NY. I had the second shift, and the dubious honor of coming home late each night smelling of mechanical lubricants and pulling slivers of steel flash out of my hands. The previous job I had, making prosthetics, was also brutal to my hands. On the job injuries from prosthetics included repeated sanding and grinding of my knuckles and fingertips on the pin routers and drum sanders I used every day, and one particularly painful episode when two square feet of molten polypropelene foam wrapped around my ungloved hands and stuck like taffy.

Fortunately, it left only a few dark scar areas and didn't seem to cause much lasting nerve damage. I only mention it now because my hands figure ironically into the outcome of this little tale.

It was sometime in the fourth week of work at the factory that I got a call from one of my close friends from SLU who lived in St. Petersburg Florida. Hearing how unhappy I was, she invited me to move to Florida and try to get a job where she worked. Less than three weeks later, I was living in Florida, and I had gotten a low-level job with Xerox. It was not a long-term or ultimately satisfying place to be, but it was infinitely better than living in upstate, NY.

During this time, I had only limited internet access, so I moved my journaling activities to just a pen and notebook. I used my trusty green Schaffer fountain pen with which I had taken every note and written every test at SLU. I stopped this journal, sadly, later that season when I lost that wonderful old pen. This is something I regret to this day.

It was around mid July that I finally re-established my internet access through a pathetic dial-up connection. I had taken my leave of Dyingdays due to my lack of an internet connection, and I decided not to write any more Torque articles, because symbolically, that time in my life was over. I did, however, begin posting on the message board for Paul's resurrender network, and one person in particular caught my attention. A female member with the unusual username On My Back.

Conversations with this person went from open discussions to private instant messenger chats to phone-calls. Eventually, we decided that she should fly to Florida and we should meet. On August 3rd, 2001, I met Beth O'Malley at the St. Petersburg airport. It took all of about 12 hours to fall completely in love with her. Following the first thrilling and unlikely weekend, we parted tearfully as she returned to Chicago, and we swore we'd see each other soon. And we did. Every weekend almost, despite the distance and expense of air travel. Each reunion was more joyful than the last, each time together more romantic and exciting. Sometime in early September, a crew of crazy arabs decided to fly airliners into buildings on a boring morning the day after Beth had left to go home again.

I was sitting in a dull staff meeting that morning when I heard the rumors that "someone had blown up some planes". As I watched the breaking news footage on a conference-room monitor, the doughnut I was eating suddenly tasted like just so much dirt. Thankfully, Beth had made it safely back to Midway airport only hours before the attacks.

After the attacks, especially since so much shit surrounding those attacks took place near where I lived (the terrorists learned to fly planes at a nearby flight training facility and my local post office was shut down because the White House anthrax scare letters had been mailed from there.) In any case, it became impossible for weeks for Beth and I to see each other. I felt at once just as lonely as I had been in NY, talking to Beth online or on the phone, wishing I was somewhere or someone else. It was around this time that I decided to move to Chicago to be with her. The final trip that Beth made by plane to St. Petersburg, she had to make her way past several checkpoints and several dozen National Guard soldiers with assault rifles at the ready. I will never forget what that was like, and it was a crash of reality into my relatively isolated life.

Another packed car, another two-day road trip, another new and enormously unknown home. But this time I had a delightful companion to share it with. Predictably, if only to us, we took that ride right up until this very day. We are still together, and I loved her even more this morning as she lay sleepily in bed peeking out from under a heavy down blanket as I did on that day at the airport.

Of course, that still leaves a gap of about two years. What the hell happened to me in those two years? I had quite a time getting used to Chicago. I got a job working as a medical assistant in an orthopedic surgeon's clinic (a job which I have to this day). Several thousand stitches, staples, casts, and minor medical procedures later, I managed to help build a very nice life with Beth, that includes, among other things, a new Mustang to replace my old Cavalier wagon.

A country mouse like me fought and kicked against the urban norms before finally accepting them. I completed my first novel, The Prince and The Pitchman, and it was published in 2002 by Booksurge under the label Vole Books. My second novel, a sequel to the first, titled The Journey of the Tallish Ten, was completed in 2003, and is in the process of being published. I applied to Northwestern again for prosthetics, and was rebuffed a third time. With relatively little time to sulk about it, I discovered a new and unexpected interest: Massage Therapy. I applied and was accepted into the 15 month program at the Chicago School of Massage Therapy (I am writing this right now on a Dell Axim pocket PC in my Saturday morning anatomy class). Eleven and a half more months to go. Now we come to the irony of my hands, those much abused travelers of grinding mechanical work. Now I am going to make a living using my hands on other people to soothe, relax, and heal them. By the feedback I've gotten so far, massage therapy is quite natural to me, and I see a great deal of potential within myself to help others with this innate ability I've discovered.

But the most exciting development in the interim period has unquestionably been August 12th, 2003. Atop Castle Rock in Blue Mountain Lake, NY., under the Adirondack sky, I asked Beth to be my wife, and she accepted. Our wedding plans are progressing as we speak. We have hammered out many of the rough details and now we are working on the fun parts of picking out themes and colors and music. I am happy to be involved in the process though at times it is complicated and daunting work. I hope to make this process a part of this journal, along with my experiences in Chicago and with Massage Therapy.

In a very real sense, I have grown enormously as a person since 2001, and one of the most profound examples of this is that I like things now that I used to hate. Sure there's the obvious example of urban life, but the best examples are food. Mr. Used-to-eat-pizza-every-day-dipped-in-ranch-dressing now eats plenty of salads, lettuce, tomatoes, and (wonder of wonders), soup. I began eating soup for no apparent reason about a month ago. I hadn't had it in over ten years.

But overwhelmingly the most incredible example of this is my newfound love of tea. Iced tea at first, and now hot teas as well. Many of my friends and family have sat through one of my endless eye-rolling diatribes about how I never drink hot liquids because they make me queasy. Well, now I not only drink tea, I am somewhat addicted to it.

So, if there's a theme to this journal that could be predicted at the outset, it's the theme of acceptance and learning to like things I once hated. Hence, I'm titling it the Black Tea Letters.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Our Super Snazzy Trip To Evans Mills, 2007!

Hi there, John Brand here!

I've hijacked daddy's computer and I'm here to tell you we had just a heck of a good time in New York this past week.

Between Daddy's cellphone and his big camera, we had over 300 pictures to look at. Here's the best of them:

First we went to a great big place with cars that flew through the sky and smelled like feet inside. The trip was sorta long, but I made it okay because there was lots to look at. They were loud, but the clouds were awesome.

When we arrived somewhere they called "Hancock", Aunt Brooke came and picked us up for lunch. Aunt Brooke and Uncle Walter have cats! She drove us to a house in the woods that belonged to none other than my great-grandma Brand! Wow, was she excited to see us!

On the way we saw some people along the road that looked like they took a wrong turn at the year 1710. They looked like hearty folk, and they called us "English".

Then of course, Grandma and Grandpa Brand came, too, and brought their dog Raven, who I thought was really funny. Grandma and Grandpa were very excited to see me, and they gave me kisses from both sides at once. I didn't mind, though.

Daddy went for a ride on a little motorcycle with four wheels that made a big "broom" sound. He wore a funny helmet but got a really good picture of a pond in a field across the street from Great-Grandma Brand's house.

We all went out to breakfast the next morning and I got to sit next to Grandma Brand, and Mommy tried a huge pancake and egg breakfast called "The Challenge" that was originally designed to feed hungry soldiers. Man, was she hungry! Daddy helped her eat it all becase she didn't know it was a gigantic meal for two (or three).

Then we went swimming next door at a pool that belonged to Aunt Nancy and Uncle Larry. They were fun and their pool was awesome!

Now let me tell, you, I didn't know what was in store next, but it sure was a doozie!

The Brands threw us a great big party with food and beer and a swimming pool and basketball and ladderball... Gosh, just about everything you could want. Daddy had to stop after about four grilled sausages because he said his shorts woundn't fit anymore if he kept eating!

I met my cousins-

-and some other buddies that made the trip to visit Daddy.

Daddy was soooo happy to see his buddies, especially Karen and Dan who he hadn't seen since way before I was born, and his other good friends Paul, Sara, and DJ who he misses a lot when he doesn't get to see them for a long time. His friends were nice, and Karen and her husband had a little, little baby named Doug. Man was he cute!

We all took some good pictures together, with Grandma and Grandpa Brand, Great-Grandma Brand, and Great-Grandma Thompson. What a special bunch of people the Brands are, and I was sooo happy to meet them all!

Just when we thought we had tired all those Brands all the way out, we went back to Aunt Nancy and Uncle Larry's house and Whammo!-More party!

Finally, after all the food was gone and we had all swum and drunk and card-played outselves right out, after every book was read and every bottle warmed, we got ready to head back to good old Chicago.

I figured I'd take a little snooze on the way. Wake me up when we hit Evanston, Daddy.