December 12, 2008

The Challenge of Caregiving

I've talked to a lot of people in the past month about Melissa's disease, and about my role as a caregiver for her. Yes, it is grueling at times, she does require assistance at night frequently, and it takes a lot out of you. But if someone were to ask what the most difficult part of taking care of Melissa is, I could sum it up in one word:

LUNCH.

Allow me to provide some background. ALS can do some weird stuff in your brain, including re-wiring your taste buds for some odd reason. Many people lose the taste for certain foods they've always loved, and have odd cravings in their place. Melissa, for example, lost the taste for ANY dessert about a year ago. Let me say that again for emphasis: SHE CAN'T EAT DESSERTS. (And you thought the whole not-able-to-walk thing was bad!) Anything sweet like chocolate or pie makes her nauseated. The only thing that I've been able to get her to eat was a small teaspoon of vanilla ice cream, and that was only once.

In its place, Melissa has cravings for certain... non-dessert stuff after dinner. For a long time, she'd eat a bunch of green olives. Yes, without the martini. In the past few weeks it suddenly changed to pickles. She told her dad to pick up a jar of sliced pickles out of the blue one day, and threw a fit when I brought her the nightly bowl of them. She informed me, quite pointedly, that what I had were pickles sliced in cross-section, or pickle CHIPS. What she really wanted was pickles sliced longways, or pickle SPEARS. The fact that she had left off this oh-so-crucial bit when she asked for "sliced Pickles" was dismissed.

These cravings do bleed over into other areas, namely Lunch. Now her mom is Betty Crocker when it comes to cooking, so the fridge is constantly full of single-serving leftovers and the pantry is always stocked with assortments of cheese, deli meat and chips. We never had a problem with lunch before, but now every day when I come upstairs at noon and ask her what she wants to eat, she gives me that look that says "What *IS* this 'Lunch' thing that you speak of?" as if she has never been faced with this dilemma in her life. Then she spends about 10 minutes pondering what her body craves and might possibly be within driving distance.

"Come on, Mel, you KNEW that this was coming. You had lunch yesterday, and every day before that most likely." She nods smiling, and I usually make my sandwich downstairs while she decides. "Perhaps tomorrow you can think about this before Noon? That way we can have it ready to actually EAT at lunchtime?" She looks up and thinks for a second and replies "Nah. This is fun. This is good quality time that we have together."

So aside from Lunch, most everything else about taking care of her is not a big deal.

October 10, 2008

July 28, 2008

Literary Product Reviews - LitterMaid

"I've got an idea for a new invention!" said the short gentleman. He had the pale skin of someone who didn't leave the house much. And not for something even marginally cool as addiction to PlayStation.

"Everyone hates cleaning the litter box," the man said, not waiting for the sarcastic response I had just thought of. As a service, I try to think up new ones for each customer. Personal touch and all.

"This is the LitterMaid!" He even spoke the name in bold lettering. "Every few hours, this motorized arm will come out and scoop the... stuff.. in the litter box into this receptacle on the end, leaving the box clean! Then all the owners need to do is empty the receptacle bin once a week or so."

For a man who builds cat toilets, he was unusually uneasy about saying the excrement-related words. But I had to admit, it was a good idea. Margie had one of those white over-haired cats that James Bond villains have a penchant for. "Fluffles." Thing hated me and it was mutual. He gets to sit around all day, eat and sleep, and I had to clean out his shitbox. Pleasantly imagining less time inhaling cat ass, this idea was striking a chord with me.

We looked over the papers together. It would retail around $100, be available at all the pet stores and WalMarts, good. But it was too simple. We'd never make money on it if it was a one-time sell. The shut-in guy said we could sell disposable replacement plastic receptacles, but most people would probably just empty them and put them back to save money. I needed to add a design flaw, so the thing would break. Not right away, or it would be perceived as cheap. But having it fail slowly, after months of getting used to the convenience of it...

I looked over the schematics and had a thought. "Look, what if we put the motorized arm in the BACK of the litter box instead?" Mr. Pale just looked at me and blinked. "Sir, cats use the back of the litter box about 80% of the time. If the motorized arm started there, it would cause a jam almost immediately. Sure, my design allows for some reversing when it comes in contact with an immovable... mass... but Litter boxes are often in garages or out-of-the-way areas where people won't hear the process, and it'll be left to grind away for hours, maybe even days! Over time, maybe 12 months or so, the motor could burn itself out due to stress."

Smiles didn't often cross my face. It was a novel feeling.

Whitey didn't understand, and kept going. "I had a configuration like that in my early designs, but the motor burnout caused me to change it. That and the constant NOISE of that thing grinding to a halt every hour or so. Nearly drove me mad. That's why I changed the design to what you see here."

I shoved his plans back across the table. "Move the motor to the back. And add some useless bit of electronics on it to add some cost. Like some minuscule fan on the arm. Call it.. dunno, an 'Ionic Air Cleaner' or something. Something to make a Deluxe model so we can jack the price up $20. Then we'll have a deal, Mr. ..." I extended my hand, and realized that I still didn't know the guy's name.

"Casper," he said with the tiredness of a tour guide at the end of a long week. "Casper Fluffles."

July 07, 2008

Brief Updates

  1. Wall-e
  2. 5 Word Review: Oh Hell Yeah It Rocks. Slighty Longer Review: Never before has so much social commentary been put so DIGESTIBLY into a film, and most of that message is never spoken with dialogue. PIXAR has shined their "2-layer film" Formula (The kids get it on one level, the adults get the deeper message) to a mirror finish on this one. Not just an immensely enjoyable film, but a cinematic accomplishment with the way in which it is told. Only drawback: WTF with the live-action scenes? Didn't really seem to have a reason. And to quote Maddy: "Only Pixar could make us love a cockroach."

  3. Doctor Who
  4. We speed-watched the entire 4th season with the assistance of a friend, and there were some really good episodes this season. Best of the bunch were the Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead two-parter and my personal favorite breakout, Midnight, which was like no other episode I've seen in the new series. There was minimal special FX, pretty much one set, and played out like a classic Twilight Zone episode, relying more on character and tension than technological whiz-bang, and it was INCREDIBLY good. And to boot, it was written by Russell T. Davies, who usually turns in the cheesy, overly-convenient coincidence-ridden episodes lately, so it was a nice surprise that he could do MIDNIGHT, which could almost be considered a "Period Piece". We saw the season finale episode last night, and it was an incredible 2-part finale. They really did their homework in the episodes leading up to this, and it was quite well executed.

  5. DragonCon
  6. With some help, Melissa and I are slowly fleshing out some ideas for costumes that could incorporate the wheelchair. Thanks to some feedback from Shawn, we might have nailed one down! No spoilers yet, we still have planning to do.

  7. Transportation
  8. We need to get rid of both of our cars and buy a wheelchair-accessible van for Melissa (which run about $18-25,000! ouch.) I'll be posting the cars on Craigslist and probably the AJC. If anyone is looking for dependable transport, comment for more info on them: - 1998 Ford Taurus SE - Hunter Green, 190k, New A/C, Alloy Wheels - $2000 - 2001 Mercury Sable - Tan, Premium Wheels, 134k, small swipe on rear - $3500

TTFN!

July 01, 2008

Walk to Defeat ALS - Join Fiver's Team!

We're back from a brief hiatus! And we've been scheming in our absence to get people involved with ALS Advocacy in our own particular... Um...

"Idiom, sir?"

Yes, Idiom! Thank you. So here is the deal:



Fiver and I have started a team for the annual Walk to Defeat ALS, sponsored by the ALS Association of Georgia. This is the big fundraiser for ALS, since we don't have a telethon, and Mel wants to put our own Geeky spin on the event:

It's common to have people dress up for the walk, but I don't think they've been inundated with full-on geek cosplayers yet! Imagine if we had whole casts of movies and shows marching ?



The walk is Saturday, November 8th in Centennial Park in downtown Atlanta. Registration opens at 8:30 AM, and the Walk starts at 10 AM. The walk isn't long, only 5k, which most can complete in an hour. Heck, the DragonCon Parade is probably more of an effort than this!

Melissa and I would really appreciate people turning out for this event. The ALS Association has been a lifesaver in these past months. They provide counseling and equipment loaning for families with ALS. They have provided Mel with a roller-walker, a stair-chair and wheelchair, without which she would have been shut in and practically stranded upstairs in the house. The people are so very nice and helpful, and they seriously need your help. Just a few people are staffed for the whole state of Georgia, and they have to drive this equipment from their Atlanta headquarters to ALS patients from Savannah to the border of Alabama-stan, and you can imagine what that costs in gas these days.

So please consider joining us in the walk, or donating to sponsor Melissa. If you know anything about us, you can bet there will be lots of fun hanging out afterwards, so it won't be just a 1-hour deal.

Join Fiver's Team and Walk with us! (Select "Fiver's Team" from the drop-down menu on the page and register)

OR:
Make a donation to Sponsor Melissa in her walk. (And remember: Talk to the HR Department at your workplaces! They often will match your donations!)

Thanks to everybody that has helped so far, and we'll have more details on the walk later.

June 26, 2008

Japan Snapshot

Melissa and I are back from Japan. Here's a taste of the Trip Report (forthcoming):

June 25, 2008

88 MPH, Sherman!

This shirt has renewed my faith in T-shirts in general. I must have this.
And I think Wade should love it as well.

May 19, 2008

PROJECT FIVER - Contact with New Zealand!

I'm sure most of you are familiar with PROJECT FIVER, a petition I created to get Melissa cast as an extra in THE HOBBIT. Well, Melissa and I have been going back and forth on how to break the news, but we're just going to cut to the chase.

A Production Liaison has contacted us, and they want to make Project Fiver happen in the next year or so.

To quote someone famous: "There is no emoticon for what I am feeling." Apparently your letters of support and our story have really affected them.

We did it, folks. We really did it. There is no variation on "Thank You" that would begin to express the gratitude that I owe all of you. No words can do it justice. This is something incredible that you all have helped me accomplish, that I could never hope to accomplish on my own. Melissa is just over the moon about the whole thing, it still seems like a dream.

Want to know the funny part? The first thing the guy does is apologize that they weren't in contact sooner.

SOONER? This thing has only been live for three months! This was still Phase 2 of the Project (getting a metric buttload of signatures). I figured that once we had a huge number (5000 was my ballpark figure), we would launch Phase 3 - Direct contact. By then our geek social network would likely have made contact with someone inside, who could put the petition in the right hands. And with 5000 signatures it would be taken seriously. And I had planned a timeframe of collecting this many signatures through this fall. I was considering reserving a Fan Table at DragonCon as one last push.

I expected this to take six months to lay the GROUNDWORK, and he is apologizing for waiting three months to contact us!

Apparently, I had wildly under-estimated the power of Geek Social Networking. 4200 signatures in Three Months and enough letters and emails written to convince Wingnut Films to make this a reality. The outpouring of concern is just amazing.

But this is not the end of the story. It is a beginning. PROJECT FIVER will continue. We now are on the road to the goal, and the journey has yet to be written. Filming will not begin until sometime next year. Our mission is the same: To have Melissa be a Hobbit extra in the film. We now have the company's support, but it will still be a hard road to get her there in a year. We don't know what kind of shape Melissa will be in by the time Filming starts. It will be a fight, but we will be fighting together.

Project Fiver will continue. This site will change over the next month. The Petition will be closed, and a Guestbook will be created for people to check in and send well-wishes and greetings to her. Our son, Matthew, will have this, to know how his mother lived. The Blog will continue, and we will try to use the attention we have garnered here to promote ALS Awareness and support for the ALS Association of Georgia, who has been so very good to us in our time of need.

So thank you from me, from Melissa and from our family. You have accomplished something truly incredible. Now it is our turn to rise to the challenge of it.

Stay tuned.

May 13, 2008

Evolution in 5 Minutes

Pretty awesome stuff. And the soundtrack rocks. (Nine Inch Nails from the '300' soundtrack)

May 07, 2008

Why It's Awkward Living with your In-Laws #31

After the ceiling fan in Matthew's room decided it REALLY wanted to know what gravity was and took a swan dive, we replaced all the fans in the upper rooms. Ron-In-Law chose these ones with a remote control to change the fan speed, turn on & off the lights, and dim them. Pretty cool feature: (1) Mel can change the lighting and fan in her room without asking for help, (2) the old fight about who gets out of the warm bed to turn out the light is now moot, and (3) when we tell Matthew it's Lights-Out time, with a press of a button we can ENSURE that the light doesn't come back on.

I was putting Matthew to bed last night when Brenda-In-Law handed me a fan remote, telling me that Matthew was trying to hide it under his pillow. I put it back in our room on the desk. Fast forward to 12:30 last night when we're turning in. I grab the remote off the desk and push the light button to click it off.

Nothing happened. I clicked it again, and nothing. Pointing directly at the fan and Ten more clicks and still nothing. Hmm, is this the remote from Matthew's room? I decided to look. On my way, I glance over and see that Ron & Brenda's light is on. "That's odd, they go to bed at 11 PM. Hope we didn't wake them with our talking," I think, and head over to Matthew's room.

Click Click Click Click Click Click Click Click. Weird, it doesn't work here either. Thing must be out of batteries.

*blink* Oh no.

I retraced my steps to Ron & Brenda's door, the light still on. I pushed the button one more time, and sure enough, their light goes out.

Hoping that they were already fast asleep, I quietly place the remote by their door and tiptoe back to our room where I find an identical-looking remote on the dresser.

Melissa stifles her laughter as I tell her what just happened. Ten seconds later Brenda appears groggily in a bathrobe at her door and glances over to us. "So it wasn't your remote he stole then."

"No, apparently not. Sorry."

As of this morning, all three identical remotes are labeled.

May 02, 2008

Tony Stark Done Right

Dear Sweet Holy Ghost of Stan Lee. IRON MAN has just unseated SPIDER-MAN as my favorite comic book movie. And I didn't think that could be done. While Spider Man is a milestone of Superhero movies done right, IRON MAN overtakes it in the end. And while the CG is schweeEEEEEEEET, what really makes this film is Robert Downey Jr.

I knew he was just the right pick for Tony Stark. Because Tony Stark isn't some guy who accidentally gains a superpower and has to learn to respect it: He is a man who has made something of himself, and then discovers that all he has worked for has been thwarted. He has to make the decision to change his life and become something great in order to undo his own folly. This is no easy task for an actor, because not a lot of this can be written into the script. It has to be subtext, reaction, expression, measured silences and thoughtful glances. And you completely believe that Robert Downey Jr. IS going through all this. And in the complete production, even with its comic relief moments and fight sequences and CGI robots, the gravitas of the CHARACTER rises to the top.

Craig and I caught a 9:00 showing tonight. I can't wait to see this again.

PS: The "Talk to the Repulsor" T-shirts are available from NightLight Press.

May 01, 2008

Disney Tech

I have to give credit where it is due for a moment here.

Melissa can no longer walk without someone helping her. Either I have to "drive" her by her shoulders, or she can use the roller-walker with someone behind her. This has severely limited her mobility, and she spends part of the day in our room reading stories and watching movies on the computer. We were just about to cancel our NetFlix subscription when we discovered that "PLAY NOW" option that lets you watch lots of movies and TV shows instantly on the PC. She's just finished the entire 7-year run of "Law & Order:Special Victims Unit".

We were looking for a laptop that she could use downstairs, so she could spend time where most of the family was all day. Someone from her father's job donated a laptop to us, but it was about 10 years old, and was running Windows 2000 on an old P4 processor with 500K RAM (not very good). I asked Craig (Tech Support even to Geeks) to confirm my suspicions that it would probably take more money upgrading this to specs that could handle streaming video than it would to buy a cheap one new.

Craig had a better idea. He had a spare ThinkPad laptop with decent specs, so for the cost of an OEM Copy of Windows XP, we have ourselves a REAL laptop. Then he started "Tweaking" it. Anyone who knows us knows that Melissa is an absolute Disney NUT. He asked about Melissa's favorite Disney characters, and I told him that although she has many favorites, she probably loved FIGMENT the dragon from the EPCOT park best.

Disney IconsAfter a few days of tweaking, Craig presents her with the finished laptop:
  • Instead of the standard XP loading screen, it starts with a picture of Mickey Mouse and reads "XP Disney Edition"
  • The startup sound is the "Please stand clear of the doors.." message from the Disneyworld Monorail.
  • The wallpaper changes on boot-up and every 30 minutes to one of dozens of DisneyWorld pics
  • The Icons are Disni-fied (see left) and the pointer is mickey's white glove.
  • The screensaver is a video loop that was played at the On-Site Disney hotels' TV channel. ("It's the Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah... Tip For To-Day!")
    I could go on, there are dozens of little touches that made Melissa smile, and I'm thankful for each and every one. He delivered it and set it up on our wireless network. He pre-installed all Melissa's applications, and imported her bookmarks. Everything a Tech would do for a CEO, and so much more. So Craig, Thank you so very much. Melissa loves it, and will think of you whenever she uses it.
  • April 29, 2008

    Prank

    Okay, who's the smartass who signed me up for an AARP card? I just got a membership card in the mail Saturday. I'm only 34 for pete's sake!

    I'm tempted to keep the card though, and try to see if anyone would question it. "One Senior Citizen Ticket to IRON MAN. Yes, I have an AARP Card. Yes, I'm Chris Kern, here's a photo ID..."

    April 18, 2008

    JuJuBes: Evil or just Dangerous?

    Yesterday, my Mom-In-Law just delivered a trio of easter candy that she forgot to give me. A box of Dots, Good & Plenty and JuJuBes. Dots were fine, G&P are always good, but I had to throw away the JuJuBes after one handful. These are just as awful as I remember.



    If I had to explain JuJuBes to a foreigner, this would be it: "Imagine a sweet, colorful gummy candy that looks like a mini-marshmallow. Now your first inclination would be to pop a whole handful of these things in your mouth, like you do M&Ms or any other small candies, but that would be the last thing you ever do with your original Jaw intact.

    Once they enter your mouth, your first thought will probably be "Wow, these candies aren't soft and gummy at ALL. They're more like chewing the little yellow rubber BB pellets that I used to shoot with my plastic Baretta when I was a kid." The "Gummy" part is actually encased in a semi-plastic satin-finish shell of cornstarch and shellac. You can eventually penetrate the shell and find the malleable center by sucking on them for about 2 hours. So good luck eating a box of these things if you bought them in the movie theater (unless you're settling in for a marathon showing of the Lord of the Rings Extended-Edition Trilogy)

    Here lies the danger hidden in the Jujubes: If you just spit-marinated a handful of these little epoxy pills and attempt to chew them, you will be delightfully amazed to find that you cannot open your jaw after one or two strokes. Because a softened handful of Jujubes has roughly the consistency of SEA-BOND denture adhesive. Dentists tell you to steer clear of sweets because the sugars will slowly rot your teeth, but every DDS office should have a whole PAMPHLET on the dangers of Jujubes. Because once softened and attached to teeth, these little bastards can pull your teeth clean out. And while you might prefer the Jujubees Method of tooth removal to a dentist yanking with a pair of pliers, I can assure you that a SURPRISE tooth removal by means of candy could not be more unwelcome.

    If, after twenty minutes of furious use of a Water-Pik and careful application of force with a pocket knife, you manage to reopen the jaw and dislodge the amalgam of fruity goodness from your dental work, you may be tempted to swallow the lot of it, just to be rid of the foul stuff. "I've done all the work to make it soft now, and there's nothing for it to stick to once I swallow it, so it should be safe," you may think to yourself. And that's where you'd be wrong. Because once compressed in the smaller space of your throat, the gooey mass effectively becomes a cork and seals up most of your airway. I say "most" because, much like the man-feared Candiru fish of the Amazon, it needs to keep you alive in order to drink your essence.

    For the next hour, no amount of drinking, hard swallowing, or manipulation will dislodge this clot of rainbow-colored sweetness. You simply have to wait for your saliva and the natural ebb and flow of your esophagus to slowly commute the mass into your stomach, where it develops a half-life similar to that of Polonium-209.

    The curious thing about this is that after this ordeal, the snacker will attempt to eat MORE of them. Perhaps it's that American Stubbornness, but people will regroup and make another attempt at eating the box of Jujubes, since they paid good money for it. Strategies usually include eating only two to four at a time and (for taste reasons), only eating like-colors. I've even head of people who soak them in a glass of water before attempting to eat the little bastards. But after one or more strategic retries, people usually realize that eating candy shouldn't be more work than tiling a medium-sized bathroom, and give up. I know I did.

    I hope this refreshes your memories, and saves one more healthy Jaw out there before it's too late. How does the company stay in business if most mortals can't even get through an entire box of these things? Probably rebound-buying: After paying $3 for a box of Jujubes and hating them, I'll bet a lot of people go back to the snack stand and buy a box of another candy like DOTS. That must be it... those tricky bastards.

    April 17, 2008

    "Wet Christmas"

    A little late, but some SMALL things have kept me from doing my usual editing projects in the evenings. can't imagine what!

    So here it is. My first choral arrangement, and my first music arrangement since about 1996, and that was a failed attempt at "Buddy Holly" by Weezer for my UGA A Cappella group The Accidentals.

    I wanted to make a song with a real message for Christmas in Atlanta. So here is my message. I give you "Wet Christmas"-- Tune by Irving Berlin, Lyrics by Chris Kern



    Thanks to my church choir for singing it, and CarLaLa, our fearless director for arranging the piano part.

    April 07, 2008

    Birthday #34

    Thanks everyone, for the great birthday wishes. I had a very busy day, it happens.

    Getting Melissa and Matthew ready for church on Sundays is busy in itself. We arrived late for the pre-show choir practice and they told me I had a solo in a song we've done before, so I thought I was set. Only they didn't give me the solo in the same spot as last time. Heh. So I ended up leaving an empty space in one verse (where I should have sung) and singing over another guy's solo. By the time I realized this, I figured it would draw less attention if I just kept going and make like a duet. *facepalm*

    As soon as service was over we high-tailed it over to Decatur for a brunch meeting with a couple of reps from the Decatur Book Festival, which runs Labor Day Weekend (Same as DragonCon). Melissa was helping represent the DCon Young Adult Lit Track. After that, we went straight to Marietta for the second Anime Weekend Atlanta (AWA) Staff meeting. Melissa has worked Security and I've worked the Video Track for the past two years. They're being very supportive of Melissa, and we're working out a schedule that we can both work. Many people there hadn't seen Mel since September, so there were a lot of hugs and lots of kind sentiments.

    After that, back home, picked up Matthew and the In-Laws for dinner at Ippolito's, a very good Italian Joint. They have a great linguini dish with broccoli and sun-dried tomatoes that is just TO DIE FOR. Don't know why, but I just can't get enough of it. And for my birthday cake, Brenda made a reeeeeealy good Carrot Cake with cream cheese icing (my favorite!).

    And on Saturday, our friends Kris and Jim took us out to see Ron White at the Fox Theater. (A combination Christmas/birthday gift). Hilarious show, but we could tell he was really drinking scotch on stage, because the second half of his show was a bit more... error prone and rambly. And we're no prudes, but we could have done without SUCH a long exposition on the topic of giving a hummer to a grizly bear. And the phrase Mel and I can not stop repeating? "Flick the Frenulum"

    And to answer Bonnie, I do have an older brother.

    (He's the one on the left). He's a Lawyer living in Las Vegas, Dating a Cosplayer presently. He'll be coming to DragonCon this year, so he might be able to meet some of my friends.

    Since Justin's Birthday is Tuesday, We'll be getting together later in the week for a joint family B-Day dinner.

    March 11, 2008

    *Project Fiver* goes Public

    Many of you may know my wife, Melissa Kern. She has helped out with the Tolkien and Young Adult Literature tracks at DragonCon. She even appeared in a well-known DragonCon TV commercial.



    Mel has been a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien since she read The Hobbit as a child, and has always loved books. Her heart leaped when she saw the preview for Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of Lord of the Rings, and she has been involved in organizing like-minded "Ringers" in the Southeast for many years now.

    The hard truth is that Melissa has just been diagnosed with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Essentially, it causes all the motor neurons in the brain to shut down, gradually making the muscles unable to function. It’s very rare (1 in 1 Million) for someone who’s only 34 years old to come down with this, as it mainly affects people between 50 and 70. Life expectancy is 3-5 years from diagnosis. (She’s had the disease for about a year already.) The disease progressively takes away movement and coordination. In September, she marched with fellow LotR fans in the annual DragonCon parade. Six months later, she is barely walking, and needs my help to climb stairs or get dressed.

    She is excited about the filming of "The Hobbit" sequels, but was apprehensive about the release dates of 2010 and 2011: She doesn’t even know if she’ll still be alive when these movies are released. I told her to make that her goal : to be around to see these films in the theater. But we don’t know how this disease will go.



    The goal of PROJECT FIVER is to deliver a petition to Peter Jackson, New Line, and whoever takes the Directorship, asking that Melissa be cast as a costumed hobbit extra in the film. Even if she’s not there when the movies are released, just being part of the production of The Hobbit, even if it’s just sitting at a table in the background, will absolutely mean the world to her. It would be her reason to hang on.

    Melissa has done an incredible amount to promote Tolkien Fellowship. She has been a key member of the Tolkien Track at DragonCon for several years, and has also volunteered with the Young Adult Literature track there. She has been an active member on TheOneRing.net, co-leader of ArmsOfMiddleEarth.com and member of numerous LotR-Related Moots, and Meet-Up groups in the Atlanta area. Additionally, she has helped organize local Release Parties for the Harry Potter books and coordinated with movie theaters to have a crew of costumed Pirates raise money for the AMC Stars of Hope Charity at the Pirates of the Caribbean movie premieres. Many in these groups have been asking what they can do to help her out and lift her spirits, and PROJECT FIVER is my best answer.

    If you wouldn't mind, please Go to ProjectFiver.com and sign the petition.

    This petition has been going on in secret for a couple of weeks, and I just revealed it to her this weekend at her birthday party. Over 1000 people have already signed it, and she was moved to tears. We have "Gone Public" with this now, so feel free to share the link with others openly.

    I have just added a blog on the site, and I will keep posting developments. Thanks for helping us out.

    February 25, 2008

    New Respect for Kimmel and Silverman

    I've always been kinda lukewarm to Sarah Silverman and Jimmy Kimmel (Who are a couple, I now find out). I just never found them all that great. Well thanks to a friend of Melissa's and YouTube, I they each have gone up a peg in my book.

    This is what Sarah did during the Writer's Strike:


    And THIS is how Jimmy Kimmel responded on the Oscars Post-Show last night:


    I'll give you three guesses as to which part of video #2 made me do a spit take with my morning Earl Gray.

    February 20, 2008

    Catching Up

    The Strike is over, and nothing truly remarkable is happening on a day-to-day basis here. However, we recently re-established contact with the Nash family in Northamptonshire, UK, whom we haven't spoke with in nearly two years. They asked what's been going on in our lives.

    This forced me to think back and how much has changed since 2006. I'm attaching the text of the email here, as a CLIFF'S NOTES version for the rest of you. I haven't posted a lot of the events of the past four months on the blog, but we've come to a better place with things now, so I think I'm ready to share it. Here goes:


    NASHES! We though we'd lost you all in some cross-atlantic mail-forwarding accident. Needless to say, happy to hear that you are all well. There is much to catch up on with us since we last spoke ... April of 2006 I think.

    We have to start with some bad news I'm afraid, because that caused a lot of other changes. Either our house in Flowery Branch was built over top of some ancient Indian Burial Ground, or an attempt at the Guinness Book of World Records' "Largest Herd of Black Cats" crossed our path, because we've had a crap run of luck lately. I'll try to summarize.

    Melissa had some neck & Nerve issues later in 2006, 3 or 4 bone-spurs in her neck, which pressed on her spinal cord and had to be removed. She had surgery in November of '06 to remove them and fuse the 3 vertebrae that were affected. She bounced back from this in two months, but was having some balance issues and trouble with her hand and eventually, walking. We got the run-around from the doctors until December of 2007 when they diagnosed her with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), sometimes known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease" after a famous baseball player that developed it.

    Some info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amyotrophic_lateral_sclerosis

    It's very rare to see it in people under 50, so Mel having it at 34 is a 1 in a Million. (At those odds, we would have MUCH preferred to win the lottery.) Most people with the disease pass away in 3-5 years, but Melissa's symptoms lead the nurses to believe she'll be at the longer end of the spectrum on that estimate. She walks with a cane now and needs help with dressing, stairs and showering, but her mind is still sharp. The disease only affects the motor neurons, not brain cells, as Stephen Hawking (poster-boy for ALS) shows.

    [Added: Oddly enough, even with this worst-case scenario diagnosis, it's a relief just to know what it is. Now we know what to expect, and there is a great ALS clinic at nearby Emory Hospital that is a godsend. She is participating in a Clinical Drug Trial for a drug that's shown some promise in early testing, as well as taking other medications to help with her symptoms. ]

    We're living with her parents now, in Lawrenceville. We'd planned on just staying with them until we sold our house, but we're probably here for a long time now. I can help her some, since I work from home, but I can't fully take care of her and Matthew without help from her mother and father. Due to the Mortgage Crisis we're having in this country, the market is flooded with foreclosed houses now, and it's hard to sell the ours. The only bite we've gotten is from some jokers offering $40,000 less than the asking price.

    Matthew is in Kindergarten now (Before 1st grade). He's happy, but the move and Melissa's illness have shaken things up for him and he's having some behavioral issues at school. He just turned six last week. He's happier here now, since he has lots of kids in the neighborhood to play with.

    We've been keeping up with DOCTOR WHO and TORCHWOOD with some friends and are pleased with it. We like David Tennant and the new show very much.

    They tell us to travel while we can, while Mel is still mobile, so we're actually going with a tour group to Tokyo, Japan in late May. She's always been fascinated by the Japanese culture, so this is one more thing to check off her "Things To Do" list. Revisiting England is also on that list, but due to financial constraints (and current travel eating up all my vacation days), that will have to wait until next year.

    As far as what's new with me: I now have a short beard. That's about it.

    Oh, and Melissa had the amazing fortune of finding a Nintendo Wii console last Christmas, and Matthew and I have been having loads of fun with that. In other news, we have a new cat named Stormy, which Matthew adores, and Melissa now a snake named Crispin. (Another "Thing to Do" checked off Mel's list.) Also in the attached pictures: Melissa and I were part of a group that costumed as the Chudley Cannons Quidditch team at DragonCon this year. (I was the coach.) The team ended up being an makeshift security squad for Matthew Lewis ("Neville Longbottom" from the Harry Potter movies) when he decided to stop by DragonCon's "HP Yule Ball" party, attended by a few hundred squeeing fangirls. Fun was had, and he autographed our Quaffle.
    New Pet Stormy & Matthew Neville and the Cannons

    I think that's the highlights. How are Alex and Liam doing? Is one of them driving yet? (Besides driving you mad?)

    Kind regards,
    - Chris & Mel

    January 08, 2008

    Solidarity

    Just so you know: I have not written here in a month to keep solidarity with my writer brethren in the Writer's Strike.

    Not that I make a cent on this page, but I do feel strongly about defending the right to be paid a small amount for your works by greedy media corporations.

    That and I haven't had much to say recently that's been funny or interesting.