Friday, August 29, 2008

Documentary group

I'm talking about the film, The Beauty Academy of Kabul, one of my favorite documentaries we've shown at the group so far.

Jet ski

I took Silvi out for her first jet ski ride last week. She loved it until we hit some pretty big wakes. As we hit the waves, I asked her if she liked it. "Noooo!"


I've been following the coup in Fiji over the last few weeks and months, mainly because I was a cameraman on a video shoot to the capital city of Suva where I got to interview Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase (in the news today) and President Ratu Josefa Iloilo.

That's me and one of the Secret Service agents in the Presidential Palace. (You can see how hot it was by the sweat on my shirt!)


It's been a dickens of a week.

I called up the guys and asked them to meet me at Brit's Pub for a pint and to watch Aston Villa get spanked by Manchester United. I don't care how impetuous Rooney is, he's worth the grief.

One of our favorite places in town to catch a good soccer match, I left there feeling renewed and ready for whatever the weeks ahead may bring.


Our first date since Ian's birth, and I think the smiles say it all. Twenty thousand fans, watching Beckham bend it, Alexi Lalas and Cobi Jones in the crowd, five dollar hot dogs, an unseasonably warm night and an hour-and-a-half alone with my wife.


Family Picture Time

Annie's parents, brother and sisters and the rest of the bunch.

Weekend at the cabin

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Downtown Detroit in the fountain

Vacation pics

Silvi and her cousin, Emily.

Ian likes rolling under couches and step ladders.

Ian and his cousin, Sammy, pose for the camera.

Silvi and Emily cooking up an awesome dessert.

Friday, August 22, 2008


Our family vacation begins in one hour! We're driving to Detroit to visit my sister then to Chicago to visit Annie's relatives.

This afternoon we're doing a short stint over to Wausau, Wisconsin and staying in a hotel with a pool for the kids to play in. Then we catch the four hour ferry ride across Lake Michigan at noon tomorrow and drive down to the Detroit area to be with my sister until Friday. From there we drive to Chicago for the three day weekend with Annie's aunt, then a final night in Waukesha, WI to visit some of the places where Annie lived as a child. My posts will be a bit sporadic, but I'll try to throw up some pictures when I get the chance. (And keep an eye on my Twitter feed over on the right; I may text in some updates from my phone. If you care, that is. I know you do.)

Offense Taken

George, who has a daughter with Down syndrome, lives here in Minnesota and just found my blog. He let me know about a documentary that's recently come out that addresses the "R" word. (You can see an interview with George in the beginning of the clip.) In the interest of keeping an important dialogue going, here's the trailer:

For more information, check out their website at

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Benchmark - 5 years

I've finally worked somewhere for a substantial amount of time - five years! To complement my post on all the moving I've done in my life, I thought I'd jot down some of the jobs I've held:
  1. Sold Grit Magazine door-to-door
  2. Delivered newspapers on my bike
  3. Hardware store clerk
  4. Drug store clerk
  5. McDonalds (for a few days - too greasy)
  6. Maintenance department (try looking cool in front of your classmates while picking up garbage on the college campus)
  7. Gardener for a wealthy artist in Chicago
  8. US Army Infantry
  9. Dunkin Donuts delivery driver - midnight shift
  10. Surf and Skate shop sales and skateboard assembly in Florida
  11. National Guard
  12. Tree trimming in North Carolina
  13. Pizza maker at Chuck E. Cheese, as well as Chuck E Cheese mouse
  14. Dishwasher at hotel restaurant
  15. Ballroom dance instructor (for one day)
  16. Busboy in Colorado
  17. Short order cook at small breakfast dive
  18. Landscaping crew member in Boulder, Colorado
  19. Wait staff at nice restaurant in Minneapolis
  20. Assistant manager at another pizza joint
  21. Worked on an assembly line
  22. Office assistant
  23. Scuba diving shop sales
  24. Freelance writer for "starving children profiles"
  25. Science video script writer
  26. Educational video cameraman and editor
  27. Director of video department for Christian organization
  28. Documentary video freelancer in Europe, Seattle and Fiji
  29. Short-term missionary
  30. Bookstore clerk
  31. Corporate video producer
  32. Owner of video production company
  33. Husband and Father


My buddy John looks deep in thought as he's being interviewed by a newspaper out in Virginia. For you arm chair travelers, you can read all about his latest adventures to East Timor in Southeast Asia here.

A little France in MN

Last night Annie surprised me by arranging for her sister to babysit the kids. She took me on a date to a trendy little French bar/restaurant called Salut then to a French film - Ne le dis à Personne - playing right around the corner in one of my favorite theaters.

Annie's feeling her freedom now that Ian has moved on to solid foods and formula; she went all out and got a steak chased by a Cosmopolitan, which she said made her tipsy but I think she was hamming it up a bit. The film was a tad heavy and left me feeling like I had sand in my bathing suit, but it was excellent being able to stay out late on a warm summer night with my best friend. And you just gotta love that quote in the picture. (You have to click on it so you can see who said it.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Kind of tying into yesterday's post, when I get antsy, I wander. Like over lunch today. Started off going for Chinese by the bookstore, changed my mind as I drove, decided to go to a different bookstore, got on the freeway, only to decide to go to a used bookstore and eat a hot dog. Listening to MPR and an interview with Barack Obama, I missed the exit, so decided I didn't want a hot dog but was going to eat healthy today.

Healthy, healthy, health. What's healthy? Forget healthy, maybe I'll go revisit my old neighborhood. Pizza. Too much traffic. Why's this lady riding my tail!? Burrito at the convenience store? Yuck. Didn't there used to be a Chinese restaurant over there? Noodles are healthy.

Grocery store. A sandwich, pasta from the deli and a diet root beer. Semi-healthy. And it only took me 12.7 miles to decide what to have for lunch.

My actual route - using Gmaps Pedometer.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Benchmark - 3 years

I have finally lived in the same house/ apartment/ farm/ dorm/ barracks/ cabin for longer than 3 years!

Maybe I really will settle down - eventually. My moves: (I consider it a move if I move somewhere and stay there for longer than a month without really knowing where I'm moving to next. I'm sure I'm missing one or two. My mom keeps track for me.)
  1. "The Treehouse Apartment" - Columbia, South Carolina
  2. Parsonage - Columbia, South Carolina
  3. Mission Guest house - Santa Cruz, Bolivia
  4. Spanish School Apartment - Cochabamba, Bolivia
  5. (Cow Dung) House - San Javier, Bolivia
  6. Guest house with Ayore Indians - Poza Verde, Bolivia
  7. Temporary House waiting to go to US - Santa Cruz, Bolivia
  8. "The Little White" House - Columbia, South Carolina
  9. House with a pool - Santa Cruz, Bolivia
  10. House by the botanical gardens - Santa Cruz, Bolivia
  11. Grandparents house - St. Albans, West Virginia
  12. Farmhouse - Racine, Wisconsin
  13. Trailer Park - Warsaw, Indiana
  14. House by the plaza - Santa Cruz, Bolivia
  15. House with the garage - Lexington, KY
  16. Aqua Motel for a few weeks - West Palm Beach, FL
  17. "The Pines" townhouse - West Palm Beach, FL
  18. The Hot House - Lake Worth, FL
  19. College dorm room - Chicago, IL
  20. House with the pool - West Palm Beach, FL
  21. Army Barracks for Boot Camp - Ft. Benning, GA
  22. Army Barracks - Ft. Riley, KS
  23. Two months in the desert - Ft. Irwin, CA
  24. REFORGER (Return of Forces to Germany) - All over Germany
  25. Jungle Training - Panama
  26. House with the pool - West Palm Beach, FL
  27. College dorm room - Chicago, IL
  28. Shack by the beach - Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
  29. Parent's apartment - Denver, CO
  30. Apartment while going to another college - Denver, CO
  31. Apartment with Mr. K and the syrup - Minneapolis, MN
  32. First apartment with Annie - Richfield, MN
  33. Apartment on Sunny st. - Colorado Springs, CO
  34. Tiny, tiny, tiny cabin on the hill - Manitou Springs, CO
  35. Friends house - London, England
  36. Spooky Chateau - Outside of Paris, France
  37. Friends Apartment - Paris, France
  38. Friends Apartment - Barcelona, Spain
  39. School Dorm - Lisbon, Portugal
  40. School Dorm - Athens, Greece
  41. Guest house - Pristina, Kosovo
  42. Farmhouse - St. Louis, France
  43. Friends house - Weir, Germany
  44. Apartment, Colorado Springs, CO
  45. Living with my inlaws - Plymouth, MN
  46. "Retirement Home" Apartment - St. Louis Park, MN
  47. Across from the Locks Apartment - Seattle, WA
  48. Living - again - with my inlaws - Plymouth, MN
  49. "Wife beater" (not me) apartment - Minneapolis, MN
  50. Current awesome apartment - Linden Hills, MN
Sometimes when I'm driving home from work, I forget where I live. No, really, I do.

Props all around

Sometimes you can go for weeks without much good news, then it seems to hit all at once. The Starkey Hearing Foundation is going to give Ian his two hearing aids for free. And I have to thank my mom for this. When she found out that the hearing aids, which aren't covered by insurance, would cost us between $7000 - $9000, she sent out a plethora of emails to many of her friends at church, including some who have children with disabilities. A friend of a friend of a friend knows the son of the owner of Starkey and they immediately agreed to help Ian out. So thanks, mom, for jumping on this.

Second bit of good news; some family friends who know how hard it is for Annie to juggle all the doctor visits and getting me to work are giving us their second car, a 1993 Camry. We are definitely stoked about that.

You know, most of my prayers of late would fall in the "bitchin' and moanin'" category; I definitely have to give props to God for continuing to care for Ian in spite of having such a whiner of a dad.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Final thoughts on Tropic Thunder

I started off addressing each of the comments on my previous posts concerning Tropic Thunder. It started to feel a little tit for tat, so I chucked the idea.

Tropic Thunder was number one at the box office this weekend, and that's a shame. Not because of the controversy, but because it just wasn't that good of a movie. I also went to see Woody Allen's latest film, Vicky Christina Barcelona, a much better - if flawed - film. I left the theater thinking about how much work it takes to keep a marriage vibrant and full of life, about art, about travel, about the difference between love and being in love, about how easy it is to make a mess of our lives. It also inspired me to take Silvi swimming in the evening, then out for fish tacos and ice cream as the sun set. If a film can move me emotionally and also cause me to take a step - do something - once the lights come up, then I count that movie worth the price of admission.

Tropic Thunder has had that effect on a lot of people. Moving many to action. It caused me to work hard to frame my thoughts, read differing opinions, research philosophical articles that might give words to my emotions and then write about it. My view is definitely in the minority. And I'll be the first to admit that I might be wrong. Despite all the anger and differing opinions surrounding this film, I'm still glad the film was made. It was a discussion that needed to happen in the public arena.

Will this debate help make life better for people like my son? I don't know. Maybe. But I think there will be - have been - a lot of "casualties" along the way. Friendships have been strained, battle lines drawn and people have chosen one "camp" over another. "You're either with us or against us," seems to capture much of the prevailing thought.

But I have hope that good will come out of all of this. A friend emailed me and asked, "Why does our society give disabled people so much support, yet actively aborts 90% of our children (with Down syndrome)?" The world is much kinder to children like my son than at any other time in history. If they are allowed to be born. So how do I actively make it known to the world that my son has every right to exist, that without him there would be a loud silence more deafening than any protest?

I named my blog "Narrow Ridge" after a quote by one of my favorite philosophers, Martin Buber, who talks about walking the narrow ridge between certainty and uncertainty, between knowing and not knowing, between you and between me. At the heart of his philosophy is the desire for dialogue.

How do we stand up for what is right without completely tearing down others in the process? (And satire walks this fine line.) How do we "win" the argument without losing the person? How do we advocate for our kids without letting anger rule the day?

I'm just starting out on this journey with Ian. I hope you'll keep following this adventure as he and I stumble along that narrow ridge.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Why I went to see Tropic Thunder - Part III

First, a word about the Perry brothers. Their in-your-face style of humor isn't for everyone. I like much of it, but they can definitely be offensive, sometimes downright jerks (if you keep reading, you'll see why I think it is justifiable for me to call them "jerks"). Which brings me to my final point: "Is it OK to laugh?"

Andrew Terjesen, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Rhodes College, tackles the subject of offensive humor by asking, "Why is it not OK to laugh at mean-spirited humor (like racist jokes), but it is OK to laugh at parodies of it?" He says that it's because "parodies of mean-spirited humor are at the expense of mean-spirited people."

So is it OK to make fun of mean-spirited people? I think so. If it's for their own good and the good of those around them. Making fun of people is only acceptable if the people at the butt of joke have the potential to change. That's why it isn't ethical to make fun of people with intellectual disabilities or because of the color of a person's skin. They have no way of changing who they are. But a person who makes fun of a disabled person can change, and humor is a powerful tool in helping bring about that change.

Terjesen also says, "Since parodies of mean-spirited humor target mean-spirited people we ought to laugh at the parodies. By laughing at them we are reinforcing the idea that no one should be like them."

Ben Stiller has repeated over and over that Tropic Thunder is not mean-spirited. How can we differentiate between parodies of mean-spirited behavior and those that pretend to be? To do this, we have to look at Stiller's intent as well as his past treatment of humor.

Stiller says that the Hollywood system and narcissistic actors are the butt of the joke. And if we accept that it is OK to make fun of those who can change their behaviors, and we also agree that it is good for them to change their behavior, then we should be able to agree that Stiller is justified in making prima donna actors the butt of the joke. For their own good, and the good of society.

What about Simple Jack? Is Stiller making fun of people with intellectual disabilities, or is he making fun of actors who go too far in their portrayal of those with disabilities? If he is indeed making fun of the disabled, then he is wrong. I assert that he is doing what he says he is doing and to back this up, we have to look at his past.

Stiller has been making parodies since the 1980's when he did The Ben Stiller Show. His parody of 90210 is a classic and rightly mocks those who are self-absorbed. There's Something about Mary, Meet the Parents, Reality Bites, The Heartbreak Kid, Zoolander, Night at the Museum. While much of the humor in his films is crass, I think you would be hard pressed to make the argument that they are mean-spirited. So after nearly 20 years of parody, is it fair to make the claim that Stiller has crossed the line? I think we should give him the benefit of the doubt.

I've read many posts that say, "So what if it's a parody? Lots of people won't get it and will think it's OK to make fun of people with Down syndrome or intellectual disabilities." But Terjesen asks, "Does it mean that because some people will laugh at something for the wrong reasons that you shouldn't do it?" In other words, if something could possibly be misunderstood, does that mean it shouldn't be done? There is always going to be potential for abuse. There are going to be a lot of people reading this post who will misunderstand me. Does that mean I shouldn't write it? Of course not.

A last thought from Terjesen, "Without parody, we lose an effective way of not only making fun of the mean-spirited (and therefore of publicly disapproving of them) but also of getting them to realize their own folly (as they begin to realize what they are really laughing at)."

What about the word "retard?"

Now that we understand (if you agree with what I've said thus far) the world that Stiller has created on the screen, we have the proper context with which to correctly interpret how the word "retard" is used. "Never go full retard" is uttered by a delusional actor (Downey's character) who is referencing other "serious" actors (like Tom Hanks and Sean Penn). Who is the butt of the joke? The "retarded?" Or the actors (Hanks and Penn)? I assert that it is the latter, thus the term, in this context, is justified.

That said, I do take the film to task for one damning scene that is mean-spirited and crosses the line (based on the butt of the joke being someone who cannot change who they are.) The scene(s) both involve Matthew McConaughey. I'm sure you've read about them. McConaughey, who plays Stiller's agent, shows disappointment with having a child with apparent Down syndrome. I especially take Stiller to task for the final scene in the film, which received a huge laugh by the audience when I saw it. McConaughey is sitting on his private jet and gives an obvious look of disappointment in the direction of his son, who is sitting looking out the window quietly.

Why is this mean-spirited? Who's the butt of the joke? True, McConaughey is portrayed as a shallow, money hungry, insecure agent so the argument could be made that we are laughing at his lack of character. But it doesn't play that way and needs to be challenged.

Why have I devoted so much time and thought to this movie? I felt I had to since I am in the minority. I understand the motivations behind the boycott; please believe me that I do. How many times have I seen that frozen smile creep onto a stranger's face when they suddenly sense something is "different" about Ian. I want the world to see what a neat little guy he is, want them to know how he's changed my life for the better. I don't want him to be called "retard," but I also don't want him to be called "jerk" or any other disparaging word (unless he's being a jerk). And I can't help but feel that this boycott will alienate Ian even more. Now people may fidget even more around him or avoid him altogether for fear of offending him. People on the other side of the protests may avoid me even more because they aren't sure how not to offend me.

We need laughter. We need satire. And we need Ben Stiller.

Tropic Thunder thoughts

There are so many excellent posts on blogs concerning Tropic Thunder, but two people that have really affected me are Chris and Nick. I hope you'll pop over and have a chat with them. Nick said he has treats.

Why I went to see Tropic Thunder - Part II

I was all set to write a long post about not giving power to certain words, about letting people with Down syndrome speak for themselves, about how I believe the boycott is further alienating people with intellectual disabilities from others, about how the use of over-the-top parodies can reveal hidden truths. But then the Perry brothers stole my, err, thunder.

While I don't agree with their mostly playful call to "boycott the boycotters," I do agree with their assertions that words only have the power we give them what Ben Stiller intended has been misrepresented. (I edited this because I think that words possess a power beyond what we give them, which I hope to expand on another day.)

I wanted to make up a shirt for Ian to wear on the Buddy Walk that said, "Does this shirt make me look retarded?" but Annie threatened to boycott me. Besides, I'll wait until Ian is old enough to make his own statements.

Next, "Is it OK to laugh at that?"

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Why I went to see Tropic Thunder - Part I

(It didn't start out this way, but this is turning into a three-part post. So if you find yourself getting upset with something I've said, I hope you will indulge me until the end. If you're still upset, well, we'll take it from there I suppose.)

I went to see Tropic Thunder last night. The theater was packed, the majority of the audience young guys, probably in their twenties, many with dates. There were also groups of girls sprinkled here and there. I saw a few "older" people, like, in their forties (we're so old), but not many. It was approaching 9pm, after all.

I've been following the call for a national boycott on most of the blogs that I frequent, as well as many of the excellent links provided by Patricia Bauer's website. I watched the interviews with Ben Stiller on Good Morning America and on Nightline, as well as watched the various reports on CNN concerning the protests. The editor of the online magazine that I just started contributing to also called for a boycott, as did all the other contributors. I read how the Special Olympics, ARC and many Down syndrome organizations support the boycott, and have even launched a new campaign to help bring an end to the use of the "R" word, as it's often called.

I've also read literally dozens of well-written, thoughtful, provocative and heartfelt posts on blogs that I subscribe to via Google Reader, many of them angry, others hurt, most just wanting to support their children, as I do.

But after seeing Tropic Thunder, I still cannot support the boycott. Nor can I sign a petition calling for a ban of the "R" word.

First, my thoughts on the film. I did laugh. It is funny. Robert Downey Jr. is amazing to watch, Ben Stiller's "straight man" comedic timing is spot on and Tom Cruise, well, his performance will haunt me for quite some time as he conjures up one of the funniest characters I've seen on the screen in a long time. Aside from his performance on Oprah, of course. But the film wasn't that funny. Not side-splitting funny like I've read in some reviews. Maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind, or was wondering how I was going to pay for Ian's hearing aids or maybe it was just after 9pm and past my bedtime.

And the satire? I'm sorta-kinda in the biz; I've worked with many local prima donna actors and producers. Shot some behind the scene footage on some low budget films. So I got all the film industry references, and they were mostly funny, but more "Yeah, I know someone like that" kind of funny. I got the references to big budget films, to sequels, to high-maintenance actors, etc. But the use of irony and parody were, well, a bit weak. The Family Guy is much better satire; it's tighter, smarter, more self-aware and sheds more light on hidden truths, which is what comedy and satire aspires to do. At least good comedy. The film's saving grace were the performances, the high budget feel and just enough laughs to keep you wanting more.

I give the film three out of five Rambo knives.

(Next: Simple Jack and "retards")

More challenges

I did go to a nearly sold out screening of Tropic Thunder last night, feeling very much like a scab crossing the picket line. Since the issues surrounding the film are so important - and wrapped in emotion - I want to think over what I really thought about it a little more. I'll probably get to posting about it tomorrow.

The sleep test conclusions show that Ian does in fact have hearing loss in the 25 - 50 decibel range, which unfortunately is where most conversation lies. (The doctors classify this as "mild to moderate" hearing loss, but I don't think those terms are very helpful.) In other words, 50 to 100% of average spoken conversation will be missed without hearing aids. (On this chart, if you look at the left-hand column you'll see the dB ranges and what Ian will misses in that range.)

Next steps? Get molds made of Ian's ears, have hearing aids fitted, run tests to make sure the amplification is only amplifying the sounds he is missing and not other decibel ranges, starting speech therapy and then trying to help Ian keep the little $5000 buggers in.

I'm so glad we caught this sooner than later. I know it's going to be a major hassle for Ian - and for Annie - who spends enough time in waiting rooms as it is, but I can't wait for the day when I get to hear Ian compose his first sentence.

Even if it is, "Dad, I flushed my hearing aids down the potty."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Ian meets with the ENT at 11:00 then has his ABR test an hour after that. Because the test requires the use of anesthesia, he hasn't been able to eat all morning. And because it's a sleep test, he hasn't been able to take his morning nap either.

Silvi stayed the night with my parents and Annie's trying to keep Ian's mind off food and sleep with a walk in the park. I'm at work and haven't heard from her so I'm hoping he's not too uncomfortable.

An ABR at noon? Nuts.

Update 3pm: Ian is still in an anesthesia-induced sleep and everything is going well. One little boy is going to be famished when he wakes up, which should be in an hour or so.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Thursday, August 07, 2008

A year with Ian

You can read my monthly post over at 5minutesforspecialneeds today:

Ian will be a year old in a couple of weeks.

I’ve been asked to write once a month about raising a son with Down syndrome. To be perfectly honest, this is going to be difficult for me. If I had been asked to write about my thoughts and experiences just a few months ago, I would have had a lot of things to say. If you visit my blog and scroll back through the first few months of Ian’s life, you can read about many of my struggles and feelings.

Ian’s Down syndrome was a surprise, completely unanticipated. More shocking than jumping into a cold river in springtime. I wrote and blogged and talked about Down syndrome, so much so that I just ran out of things to say on the subject.

But I can tell you lots about Ian. He’s started giggling every day when I get home. He laughs easily and heartily. He won’t stop squealing with delight when we go for walks in the evening, so loudly and continuously that it’s kind of embarrassing. He loves the pool and goes into a trance as he floats in his little blue tube, when he’s not splashing and laughing. He can’t crawl yet, but is somehow able to quickly roll across the living room floor in order to pull our cat’s tail. And he loves his big sister, even though she swipes his pacifier.

I could talk about how this past year has been a huge adjustment for our family, but if you’re visiting this website, you already know that. I could tell you about Ian’s health, his heart surgery, his hearing challenges, numerous visits to the countless doctors, but again, you know all that too.

So what can I say about raising a son with Down syndrome?

Ian, I’m glad you’re here. I count it my greatest privilege to be your dad.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Long Way Down

Went to see a special screening of Long Way Down in the theater last night before it's released on DVD. Follows Ewan McGregor and his friend Charley Boorman as they ride motorcycles from Scotland to South Africa. Favorite part was when Ewan visited the site of the original Star Wars film in Tunisia and stood next to his poster without being recognized by any of the many passing tourists.

Six degrees of separation: My documentary filmmaker friend John who I sometimes blog about was shooting for another program in Africa. He is a fan of the first film Long Way Round which followed the two as they circumnavigated the globe. Anyway, John was in an airport in Africa and saw Ewan and Charley at the end of the terminal, dressed for the ride. He shouted their names but couldn't get their attention.

Don't know if that really qualify as "six degrees..." but it's a fun story nonetheless. I recommend both series of films for some good vicarious travel.