Merry Bleeping Christmas

LOGISTICS

-I forgot to mention that Lindsay and I have moved.  If you want our new address just reach out to us or our families.   We continue to be amazed at all the hilarious, thoughtful and uplifting cards/notes/everything that you all have sent to us, especially all the warm holiday wishes and  the kids’ drawings (KINLEY!) that continue to be sent!  Thank you all for cheering up our days.

 -Health Update:  No statistically significant positive effects seen thus far from the Stem Cell surgery.  HOWEVER, this is normal.  I should have mentioned in my last blog that in the Israel trial, everyone appeared to stay on their same disease progression trajectory up until 2 months Post-Op.  Then in the next 6 or so months is when the data gets interesting.  Symptoms were reversed in some people (as measured by your FRS ALS score; FVC breathing scores and the strength tests) and stabilized in others for that time period.  That’s where the data ends (thus far – the Phase II trial in Israel wasn’t that long ago).  I’m 1.5 months post-op so if I did get drug (and not placebo) and it does help me out, I should start seeing some positive signs in the next few months. 

- Special shout out to Kevin Cullen, brother of Maureen (Cullen) Chmel and Randy Chmel, Uncle to one of my best friends (I call him cousin) Matt Chmel and my great cuz Lizzie (shared a drink or 100 with her at U of I J).  Kevin has allowed us to literally drain all of his Marriott points he’s worked so hard for his entire life so we can stay at various hotels for free throughout this ALS journey.  We’re talking thousands and thousands of dollars saved because of one man’s generosity.  And he does it with the same calming smile he has on his face every time I’ve ever seen him.  Just a stand-up guy and we appreciate it so much.  The Cullen/Chmel family will always be family to us.  THANKS KEVIN!

-Shout out to all my friends who have had babies this year or have become pregnant, including some of my best friends as well as my very own sister, who’s due in a couple weeks!  I am so excited for Sara and Mario (and for me!).  This little girl is going to be the best Christmas present for our and Mario’s entire families!!  These hormonal storks have been flying around like crazy birds this year.  Cuuuuz I can feel it coming in the aaaaaaiiiir tonight, oh lord.  A lil Phil Collins/Risky Business shout out.  

-I just read a story that in the United States for 2014, the #2 most trending topic on Twitter and Facebook both…. For the ENTIRE year (right after Ebola)…. Was the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  I’almos peed my pan’s when I hear’d ‘dat. You guys rock!

MOST IMPORTANT

Many of you know I’ve made a new best friend this past year. I met 11 year old Cam Schwartzberg at an MDA event last summer and quickly fell in love with Cam’s awesome personality,  his pure and innocent smile, along with his ‘never give up… fight fight fight’ attitude he displays every day as he battles a rare form of Congenital Muscular Dystrophy (CMD) in a wheelchair.  Cam, his parents and my family have become great friends and Cam always has a way of picking me up when I’m feeling down.  I encourage you to PLEASE check out his website for more information on his battle and how to help.    I would give up my life in a heartbeat to see Cam fight through his battle and come out on top.  Children have a way of inspiring that only us adults could dream of.

NEED HELP

Cam is living in a 3 story house with no wheelchair access.  He is too big now to be carried by Mom up and down the stairs to go to the bathroom (there is no bathroom on the first floor).   The poor kid is literally holding it for as long as he can before his Dad comes home to carry him.  Their Bank (not named yet) has been pathetic and refuses to work with them on selling the house (they are underwater on it).  Their home does not allow for wheelchair lifts up and down the floors.  Even if it did, they couldn’t afford to staff $20K wheelchairs on each floor for Cam.  The bank does NOT consider this a hardship.  Anyone with any connections to news outlets that may want to cover this sad story of inspirational disabled child vs. the Big Bank, or offer any other advice on to how to proceed,  PLEASE contact me immediately.  I so much appreciate this.

Now onto the blog… Christmas has forever been my favorite holiday.  Oh gosh there are so many reasons for this I can’t begin to name them all.   But since I was born, my parents always made Christmas “THE HOLIDAY.”  I have the happiest, best and funniest memories growing up from Christmas season.  So I decided this time to just reflect on some of my favorite Holiday stories for the 31 years of my life.  Some of them are sweet, some of them are funny and some of them are so far past the gross line (for some of you) then when you look back, the line is now a dot to you! Yes, that was a “Friends” quote so you can all make fun of me for knowing it.  HOWEVER, when my brother and I chose complete every-season DVD sets a few years ago for Christmas… I went for “Seinfeld” and “Cheers”; HE went for the complete “Friends” box set.  We are accepting ridicule for Josh at info@fightlikeachampion.org.

I’ve always tried to make this blog as clean as possible…. For what I’m used to anyway :) (I got comedy goalies that read my drafts and say “Hey Eric… you might want to think about your WHOLE audience before including that vulgar word/comment/story!”).  I feel like part of the hilarity is taken out once it hits the press room; though I understand it.  But this time I'm just going to tell you stories of how I remember them, with ALL vocabulary included.  So don’t have your kids read from this paragraph forward.  And if you think you might be offended or cringe, just don't read it :)  But I have ALS, the metaphoric clock is ticking (or just the actual clock?) and because of that, to be blunt, I'm less worried about offending a few people at the expense of making a whole lot of people laugh at our funny families.  Now that I've scared you, you'll realize they aren't really THAT bad.  Just mostly funny. 

1)  Josh’s Favorite Christmas

Let’s start out with one of my favorites, albeit a long one.  It was circa 2001 (I believe) and my brother Josh was an aspiring 7th grader who ran his mouth like no other (I tell you honest to God, my parents, Sara and I had several discussions about if/how Josh was going to maintain ANY friends growing up and what we could do about it.  He was so argumentative with his friends and such a prick.  Years later – I think he has more friends than any of us!  What do we know).   I was a senior in high school and finally ‘allowed’ to have a couple drinks in my home at family gatherings… nowhere else but at home... It was a don’t ask don’t tell policy.   So I got a decent buzz going and my sister Sara and I think, man we should give Josh a drink.  I think we can all probably recall the exact moment we had our first drink.  Take a moment to think about yours if you remember.   I had my first drink in 7th grade as well (hence why I thought he should have one!)… Tommy Bart and I snuck into my parents garage, pulled out 2 beers, snuck them down to the basement to FINALLY try this amazing adult apple juice that everyone devoured and told the funniest stories after drinking it.  I was pumped for this miracle milk.  I was gonna be a man.  A Miller Lite!  ONE SIP OF HEAVEN…. and I spit the whole damn thing out on my shirt…. I turn to Tommy and say “How the fuck do people drink this shit!?!”  Who knew Franzia tasted so good?!

Back to Josh…. He had seen me drink.  Sara had a couple drinks by then.  So Sara and I (mostly me) force him….ehhh force is too strong of a word…. we ‘strongly encourage’ him to have this new drink, Red Bull and Vodka.  Anyone that knows Josh knows he’s as competitive of me.  Of course, he slugs down the drink in record time (unlike my wimpy first drink experience) and he starts acting (go figure) drunk.  I’m trying to wrap my mind around the compromising situation I just put myself in - how could I be so dumb - while Josh sneaks another drink when no one was looking.  Little Joshie is now hammered but my parents are cooking up a storm in the kitchen and don’t know a thing.  My Uncle Dave Von is just generally conversing in our bar room and asks Josh about his basketball team.  To which Josh replies “Hey Uncle Dave… Go Fuck Yourself!”  The bar room goes dead silent.  Pin drop one.  Pin drop two. I didn’t know if Uncle Dave was gonna smack him or laugh   Finally he yells “WHAT?!?!?!” and Josh replies “You heard me, go guck yourself!” Everyone in the bar room realizes little Joshie is drunk, but based on all the crazy childhood stories my Uncles have told me, they just simply awkwardly laugh it off, knowing the day of reckoning is coming with my parents soon enough.  I am scared shitless now.  I mean there are likely brown spots.  I am the oldest and the culprit and my parents are going to rip my head off.  I grab Josh, drag him to the other room and chew him out.  He is twice as combative with me… Josh’s childhood argumentative style and alcohol are mixing like sharks and, I dunno, a tornado…. Sharknado? (Calling Tara Reid… Now I know where she’s been for 15 years!).  But I’ll never forget his 13 year old comment… “Alcohol is fucking awesome!”

I hang with Josh in the basement to guzzle water.  It helps some but not enough.  My Mom now knows he consumed some form of alcohol and, in true Von Schaumburg fashion, Sara and I pass the blame on him!  My Mom is yanking him around yelling at him like the sun won’t rise tomorrow but he is a little more coherent at this point.  Finally the parents go to bed and Josh goes right back to one more drink, without us seeing him.  We hadn’t had any real serious adult conversations to this point in our lives.  But we go into the spare bedroom, where he proceeds to tell me about this crazy crush he has on this girl, shows me all their exchanged IM’s (remember IM’s!?!?) and asks for my advice.  Man, I feel like a proud Dad.  He came to me with some serious questions, and I’m going to show him that I’m there for him.  I lay out the whole plan of attack for him to get this girl…and just as General Eric is going thru the MOST important part of this battle plan… I turn in time to see him barf uncontrollably all over the bed.  And were not talking Paris Hilton’s toy dog barf… we’re talking Godzilla meets Jaws barf.  I am again scared shitless…. My parents are going to kill me!  I start running around frantically thinking of what to do, and my best idea was gather up all the sheets, blanket and pillow cases, and in a t-shirt, shorts and sandals I run with the evidence as fast as I can in 3 feet of snow to the nearby prairie field and dump it all out there (animals will eat throw up right, my 18 year old mind is thinking?).  Then I gotta scrub down the bed (I told you – Godzilla/Jaws), re-furnish it all and light as many candles as I can find to hide the smell.  Mission accomplished.  We didn’t tell my parents about that for years!!

2) The Split

Since I was the first Von grandchild, my parents always had Christmas Eve at their house.  Including my first Christmas Eve ever, when my Dad was out picking up some last minute food when something caught fire in our apartment (that I don’t remember) and there was my 28 year old Mom, holding me in a small blanket, with shit in my diapers, going door to door yelling for people to get out! The fire department came, a lot of stuff burned up, but the presents were saved, and people still came over in the smoky conditions.  A tradition was born.

For as long as I can remember, both my Mom’s and Dad’s sides would come over for Christmas Eve.  That all changed about 5 years ago when we decided to split up the families and do separate Christmas parties.  There are many theories to why this happened but I do know a few facts.  The Von Schaumburg’s are a loud, boisterous crowd where many times (since ALS) I have sat down in the other room and just listened and laughed to how loud we all are!!!  It’s just everyone literally screaming and laughing over each other.  That’s just been engraved in our DNA.  We are all yellers and story tellers (always with a tad of embellishment) …. Which makes not being able to talk all the more frustrating!   Their hangout was always the bar room.

My Mom’s side is smaller, more civil, quieter and more respectful (I got a perfect mix of genes!).  They would occupy the dining room and the living room.  No one seemed to cross over much to the other rooms and mingle with the other sides… (except one consistent person which I will mention next).   My immediate family would go back and forth between the rooms but it was like mixing a shitload of vinegar with water.  Both amazing families but equally different. 

But what I personally think helped seal the deal on the Split was a few incidents over the years involving my Dad drinking with the Von brothers and my Aunt Eileen.  It is a known fact that Aunt Eileen hates onions and can’t drink caffeinated coffee.  My Dad claims for years that he put onions in all the potatoes (while telling Aunt Eileen there were no onions in it) and for years she ate them.  He tells said story to Aunt Eileen. “Hey FYI – For the past 8 years I’ve been putting chopped onions in those potatoes!” What. A. Dick.  But it gets better (or worse).  He tells Aunt Eileen he made a pot of decaf coffee when in reality it was black and bold!  She couldn’t sleep the whole night.  See what I’m saying about my family?  Just got to shake your head sometimes haha (SMH for you youngsters).  But my Dad and Aunt Eileen have always traded funnies with each other… they both know how to give each other crap yet hug, love and joke about it as they respect and love each other to death.  One Christmas Eve greeting went something like this “Hey Bob, I see you gained some weight since I last saw you…” and his response “Hey Eileen I see you got a pimple this Christmas.”  I cringed pretty hard!  And I don't think either insult was true! My Aunt Eileen and Uncle Mike have helped me tremendously throughout this journey, always sending articles, reaching out to contacts that may be of interest to us, donating and just doing anything possible to make my life easier.   These stories are what have made the Holidays what they are…. A lot of laughing, loving and cringing good times.   It was so great seeing my Mom’s side two Saturdays ago!  Big props to my parents for cooking two large meals just days apart to accommodate both families.

3) Memories

As I sit here with ALS, your mind naturally wonders more than normal on how you will be remembered when you pass.  I don’t want “Eric Von Schaumburg” to be taboo, thinking of a life shortened (if that ends up happening) and unfulfilled wishes, potential and good-will I could have done for society.  I want my name to bring up happy memories of someone that, when it all boils down, just really really really loved life. 

So it is with that premise that I would be remised if I didn’t honor the memory of my Uncle Dan Hastings, who passed far too young from a heart attack in 2006.  This really shook everyone’s world and his memory is with us every day.  Uncle Dan was one of a kind and was really the only one on both sides of the family (along with his son and my cousin Mike) that consistently crossed the ‘Berlin’ wall that divided the families on Christmas from the dining room to the bar room.   And how could you not love him?  He was just the most likeable, caring, never-in-a-bad-mood man I have ever met.  His wife, my Aunt Carole (my Confirmation Mom), has been the true matriarch of our family, reminding us what the good Lord can do for us.  She has been a mother figure to her sisters, her kids, her grand kids and us nieces and nephews.  There’s no doubt times got tough for her all-around when Uncle Dan suddenly passed away, and she’s dealt with other horrible tragedy as well.  But her positive uplifting attitude, the joy that she brings and her generosity to STILL give us all great Christmas gifts all those years– even Lindsay (and would do so down to her last penny) that makes us all feel a great sense of pride knowing her.  She is an amazing person and one that everyone in our family looks up to.   RIP Uncle Dan.  Thanks for ‘breaking the wall’ and leaving such a great imprint on our lives.  

4)  Grandpa’s Christmas Tree Farm

Another holiday tradition conjured up by the queen of holiday traditions herself… MY MOM :)  Every year we would take these “Griswold” trips to Grandpa’s farm (the name of the place, not my actual Grandpa) to cut down our tree.  These seemed like 2 day trips.  I swore we drove about 6 hours each way, but only recently did I learn it was a mere 30-45 minutes away.  Every year the frustration on my Dad’s face would increase. Finally when we were old enough to hear cursing, a common example of a phrase he might use is “Let’s just cut down a fucking tree and get the hell out of here….NOW!”  But, per early tradition, we had to walk around and see every god damn tree before dwindling it down to… I dunno… 125 trees.  This process went on forever until we found the perfect tree.  It really was a Griswold movie.  One time the tree cut and fell the other way, crushing my sister and me to the ground.  The next year, Dad tied the tree on the van…. Only to have said tree fall off the van roof while we were driving on the highway.  One other time, we got a tree way too big for our place (Only now looking back do I think…. Did you ever consider measuring floor to ceiling?  How could such a comedy of errors occur!).  Many others, the trees were cut crooked and we spent all night jamming it into the tree stand.   But the catch that always got us… was the promise of lunch at our favorite hot dog place along the ride home.  I still have dreams about those sweet, dripping, juicy Wisconsin sharp cheddar cheese fries melting in my mouth.  Finally, around my sophomore year of high school, I started putting two and two together….. I didn’t need a ‘free’ lunch anymore.  There were plenty of awesome hot dog places within 2 miles of our house.  I had some money from punching in fruit/vegetable codes as a Dominick’s cashier (thanks Mr. Atkinson), and, of course, from Mom and Dad!  As the years went on, the people that went dwindled, Sara went along for a number of years, but I think my parents agreed that this was the last year for it (it was down to only them two by now!).  Moral of the story…. You might not always thoroughly enjoy the process while doing it, but man those were fun memories looking back now.  Traditions are what make the holidays…the holidays.

5) Uncle Buck

Every year for as long as I can remember… we would always ask only ONE major question as the family started trickling in for Christmas Eve.  Was Uncle Tom drinking vodka tonight? Psss psss Uncle T…vodka…question mark.  We call him Uncle Buck for his uncanny resemblance to John Candy and for being (like Candy) one of the funniest human beings that ever walked this planet.  Uncle Buck mixed with some vodka meant Christmas Eve just got 10 times better immediately! Aunt Kayla and I would always start whispering and plotting (“How’s he been doing?  Is he gonna drink vodka tonight? How can we encourage him? Billy is driving home right? Did Dad get him something better than Smirnoff this time?).    He’s had numerous back and other issues so some years he can’t do the vodka, but when he can, and the families stay late…. Those are the best Christmas Eve’s ever haha just story telling all night long.  The guy is so damn hilarious.  Poor Aunt Georgia, thanks for driving those years so we could get a stand-up comedy show from Uncle T…err Buck!

6) Josh’s Christmas Eve After-After parties

All growing up, my friends would spend Christmas Eve with their families.  The only one that ever came over was my buddy Shep and his family.  No one would ever think of having a friends gathering on Christmas Eve. That was family…. Until Josh.  In late high school he’d have a few kids over at about 10:00 or 11:00, and the parents would be in bed shortly after.  The gatherings grew and grew each Christmas and hit his peak around his Junior/Senior year at Notre Dame.  There must have been 30-40 people there at my parents, spread throughout the house inside and outside with my parents blissfully sleeping in a warm deep haze after working so hard then getting tipsy.…. everyone was either/all drinking, smoking, gambling, taking cannabis and always…. Laughing.     These Christmas Eve after-parties are where I formed a strong bond with a lot of Josh’s friends.  And man they were a lot of fun.  These guys and girls have been there for me through this whole ALS journey… and I no longer look at them as Josh’s friends.  They’re just friends now.  There has been many ALS fundraisers I have not asked my friends to come to (these are for ALS organizations and I feel like I’m always bugging them already with all my personal shit, so awkward all around).  But sure enough, Josh will post it once on Facebook and 10-20 of his friends will be there for me on two days’ notice.  You know who you are and thanks.  Hell, Josh’s friend (and now just ‘my’ friend) Timmy Long is who came up with the whole barn dance fundraiser!  So for that as a backdrop I wanted to look back at some moments from these Christmas Eve after-hours parties:

- Scott and I playing Madden drunk and high from a cannabis brownie with me just staring at the screen watching my players barely moving and getting pummeled.  In my mind, the players would be racing around, then I’d snap out of it and realize my guys were barely freaking moving.  It reminds me of some of the police reports I’ve seen with stoned people getting pulled over for doing 5 mph in a 30 mph zone!   Then me losing money from playing every single game and trying to double down on the next game immediately.  I’m a sore loser.  What can I say?

- My sister Sara and my usual late night talks, always both the right amount of tipsy.  We always had the best talks.  Just catching up on life and going into deep thought and ponderance on many things until she’d give me a glimpse of her hilarious, mischievous smile and we’d both end up on the floor laughing.   Sara is always the best at that.  She always gets me thinking another way on things, like I believe I’m mentioned before in these blogs.  Some of our 1 on 1 talks I wouldn’t put any talks above.

-My buddy Shep who never uses cannabis, taking a hit of someone’s joint (while drunk) then going inside down to the basement and rolling on the floor like a laughing hyena.  This literally goes on for a half an hour.  I would say “boo” to him in a sudden, stoic voice and he would fall back down rolling in circles laughing.  There were about 10 of us there and it has to be one of the most hilarious sights I’ve ever seen.  I’m talking rolling around laughing so hard.  Oh Shep.  He hasn’t used cannabis since haha.

-Us taking Adderall all night long playing cards for good money, drinking all morning,  jamming out to music until we finally looked to see the sun had risen! We finally passed out at 9 AM, only to have Sara wake us up at 10 AM to open presents.   Man that was the only time in my life I would have given back presents just to go back to sleep haha.  "Ohhh yeah great (yawn) sweater Mom (yawn), I really like it (eyes close)"

-Then as the years went by, Mom and Dad started staying up later with us… everyone was of age now so there was no need to hide anything.  So my Dad and I are drinking a beer, talking life and I ask him what was it like when Mom had her issues getting pregnant.  That had to be an experience you'll remember forever.  He goes on to tell me, but in true Von Schaumburg fashion, he gives me WAY too many details… like how he had to bring sperm in to the doctor in a Tupperware container.  Stuff like that that you never ever ever would want to hear from your Father!  We look up to find that (like always) we were talking way too loud and 6 of Josh’s girl friends were just staring at us disgusted beyond belief.   But a funny thing happened once Sara, Josh and I became adults.  Our parents were no longer just our parents... they were our friends.  And that shift has continued from that point on.  I truly consider them just best friends at this point.  They parented us extremely well (I literally had no idea my Dad was so inappropriate until after high school! If I didn't come home with straight A's... there was a lot of tough explaining to do.  And damnit I better work hard at everything I did growing up).  But now, that parenting is over and we bond just like the friends we would have been if we grew up together.  It's just like hanging out with two of my best friends.  Its such a cool thing.  

-Two girls passing out on the basement floor (names excluded) with no one knowing about it.  Their Moms’ frantically call on Christmas morning looking for their girls.  We initially tell them “No we’re sorry, there’s no one here” as Josh starts anxiously making calls to see where they’re at.  Then we head down to the basement just to be confirm… sure enough, two girls passed out on the floor, no blankets or pillows, same clothes still on from the day before! Classic.

- Josh inviting a large group of people over at around 9:30 -10:00 a few years ago.  Then Josh decides to pass out in his room while people start flooding into the house and down to the basement, per standard operating instructions.  My Mom is like, what the hell is going on, who are all these people and where is Josh?!?!?  She finally solicits my Uncle Buck to go down there and kindly tell them Josh is sleeping and they have to leave.  That translates to Uncle Buck going downstairs and screaming “EVERYONE NEEDS TO GET THE FUCK OUT OF THIS HOUSE NOW!!!  I SAID NOW GOD DAMNIT (chair is slammed)!!”  Then he just starts bursting laughing… even he couldn’t hold it in.   

Crazy fun times folks.  Crazy fun.

7)  Christmas Morning Presents

Once I was old enough to know, yet my brother and sister still believed, I would listen to my Dad gathering and placing presents.  Except this was no normal gather after a night full of drinking on Christmas Eve.  I would hear shit banging all over the place, typically a few “Fucks” followed by my Mom yelling at my Dad (I couldn’t hear about what… but she was definitely yelling!).  I just thought it was the most hilarious shit ever, but was still trying to get a listen to see if I could hear what my gifts might be (like they would be discussing the actual gifts… I don’t think they had any idea what the presents were at this point!  They were just trying to…. Survive and Advance).  Then when we’d get up, my Mom would always make us wait at the top of the stairs until she took embarrassing pics of us walking down the stairs every god damn step of the way (see pic… my “NO SEE ZONE” was almost out there for the world to see… and it’s framed in my parents’ house!).  There were always hundreds of gifts… it was and still is embarrassing how much they get us.  I remember getting like $1,200 worth of stuff and visiting some friends who got like 3 things.  And my Mom is always meticulous to the last penny on spending for all of us.  I remember Sara getting a cheap-ass .99 cent pair of gloves, because she was probably 99 cents under the spending amount.  To say we were spoiled would be understatement. But back to the gift gathering.  Every year there were always a few presents nicked or wrapping paper mangled or name tags off the gifts (until my Mom got smart and just started writing our names with big black marker on the actual wrapping paper!). 

Then one year, back when Josh believed and I was old enough, we get done with presents and Josh is crying his eyes out.  My parents rush over to him “what’s the matter Josh?”  “I wasn’t good this year… Santa gave Eric and Sara way more gifts.”  Well, given my Mom’s pension for equality down to the last penny, you might as well have stabbed her instead of said that.  Without notice, my parents are downstairs with two Sega video games for Josh (one of them was Toy Story I remember) and a $100 gift card to something.  “OHHHHH Josh!  Come here…. Look back there on the other side of the Christmas tree!!  We must have missed these gifts from Santa!!”  Christmas was saved.  What a brat.

8) Thanksgiving

Every year Aunt Kayla and Uncle David are grateful hosts of Thanksgiving.  It’s always a blast, with about 15 people watching football, drinking beer and… you guessed it…. Laughing our asses off.   There always seems to be a few of us that end up feeling no pain by day’s end…. Like me one year, where I ended up taking a full, unopened pie home.  The next day my Dad felt so bad he dropped it back off at their house and, to his credit, he even told them he accidentally threw it in the trunk and saved me the embarrassment.  That’s what “Dad has your back” means!

Also on Thanksgiving after dinner each year, my Aunt Kayla started this tradition where everyone pours a Rumchata shot and we go around and say what were thankful for and then slam the shot.  Of course, we can’t be serious even for 10 minutes so there is always a great mixture of all of us trying to out-gross and out-vulgar what we’re thankful for (most every one of those comments I even can’t write in this blog),  mixed in with a portion of each person’s serious thoughts on the year and what they are thankful for.  It’s a tradition that I really look forward to every year.   Some of the ones I can write here include Josh, with a stoned face, saying he is most thankful for “my beautiful girlfriend Mel’s rack” and this year me being thankful that “my penis is not a muscle so the ALS can never touch that.”  Especially with the challenges we faced throughout the year, and this recent ALS challenge of ours (I no doubt feel like it’s ‘our’ challenge – that’s how my whole extended family and friends has made me feel since Day 1) we all shared laughter and seriousness about what family really means to us and how grateful we are to have each other.  We may be loud obnoxious buffoons sometimes, but we have family bonds thicker than any blood.  I can safely say I would die for anyone in my families.

9) Silent Night

Ahhh yes.  20 people’s eyes just lit up.  How could anyone ever forget a couple years ago when my Aunt Eileen boldly told us all to gather in the Living Room, she had a present for us.  She had a song that she was going to sing.  Was she serious (we all looked at each other and pondered)?  Was she going to announce her and “Uncle Mike” were going to make it official (they are basically married at this point)?  Was she going to be funny or silly?  She’s good at that too.  We all gather around and Aunt Eileen starts belting Silent Night like it’s no one’s business.  The first verse I couldn’t stop laughing because I really didn’t know if she was serious or not.  But to her credit she sang a beautiful rendition of ‘Silent Night’ and got a rousing applause at the end.  Then things kind of got off track when she had Uncle Mike come up to sing Jewish songs and he looked like all us other guys would have felt – get me off stage singing! Ahh what a great night that was.  It’s really a shame I don’t get to see my cousins Erin, Shelley and Shelley’s husband Jeremy more as they, along with Aunt Carole, live 4 hours out in Indiana.  It is great having family living RIGHT NEXT DOOR to my sister, though, with Mike, Leisa, Caitlinn and Grace.   When the whole family is together, we have such a blast.  I’ve always had a great, very close connection with everyone in our family.  They are some of the most fun and uplifting people I know.   We had yet another great time this year.

10) Last year for the Von’s Christmas Eve party, we decided to mix things up and do a cousins’ grab bag exchange playing a game my sister came up with (Now pass to the left, left, right, right, left, right – it truly never EVER got old doing that….and somehow we all had our own gifts most of the time lol).  We were all finally adults now.  Well I thought, the Von’s are extremely liberal, everyone’s gonna ‘spice up’ their gifts with something funny and/or Inappropriate… or as my family calls it…. Appropriate.  

So I order an XXX rated board game to be part of my gag gift.  Man, everyone is gonna laugh so hard, especially when Mario, Billy, Zach or Josh get it.  I got that grin on my face…this is gonna be great.  But as fate would have it, one of my younger twin female cousins Rachel gets it and she does not want any part of it…. There is no way she is bringing that game home! Awk. Ward.  With a capital AWK. So we did a little switcheroo and she ended up with a new gift.  Thankfully the parents weren't around for that.  Chalk that up in the “FAIL” bin for me, which I’m used to by now.  I’m glad to report I got my mind out of the gutter and bought a Panini Maker and Grill this year, which as fate would have it, Rachel ended up with it again!!  Zach, Billy, Rachel and Lauren.  The best Chicago Von cousins I could ask for.

11) The parties.  My sophomore year of high school, my parents went out East for a week, just after Christmas, so naturally I had to throw the biggest parties possible (which ended up being on the low end of awesome parties we threw at my parents’ place…. One spring break, with my parents gone, we decided to switch every light in the Family Room and Basement to a black light.  Every single one.  I had keggers every night, with a Techno Rave feel to them, and ended up pocketing $1,320 in 5 days of parties just by selling $5 red keg cups! Three of the nights I didn't even drink, just wanted the money.  That’s really where my sales career started).  Anyways, this is sophomore year, a little more risky than senior year.  There was a crazy snowstorm that year on the day after New Year’s Day  (which was when the parents were coming home).  So the night before we have a party for the ages… everyone in the holiday spirit, everyone having fun, everyone sleeping over.  Everyone just happy and loving each other and life….so full of youthful enthusiasm.   I remember that party vividly, you could feel the love, warmth and friendship in the air. 

So my parents always had this nice Nativity set of Christmas statues, all the characters including the Shepherds.   One famous story we still recall was my buddy Jeff Jesernik getting so drunk that he picked out one of the  Shepherd’s from the Nativity Set and starts conversing with the statue.  You have to picture Jeff, totally drunk, using some ridiculous combination of quasi-Mexican, quasi-European, quasi-Beavis and Butthead accent talking to this personified Shepherd and pouring beer in his mouth (which was really just beer dripping down from the statue).  “YOU MUST PROTECT MY BEER!” Jeff proclaims in that odd crazy accent.  “I FEED YOU BEER THEN… YOU MUST PROTECT MY BEER!”  “YOU LISTEN TO ME, WE FORM ALLIANCE… YOU MUST PROTECT MY BEER!”  So all night, whenever I would pass it, sure enough there would be a beer behind the Shepherd, which he was clearly protecting for Jeff. It was just something about Jeff's accent, and that we would catch him doing it alone (so he wasn't 'playing to the crowd') that had me laughing so hard.  Oh Jezzy.  Kid cracks me up.  The next day I frantically clean everything up spotless as can be, running around with 8 bags of garbage contemplating where to dispose of them in an 9 foot blizzard outside and alas…  All is good!  I can’t believe I snaked out of this one with the parents, with nothing in the house broke!  “ERIC ROBERT… GET YOUR ASS UP HERE!  WE PURPOSELY DIDN’T CLOSE ANY BLINDS ON THE WHOLE FIRST FLOOR … AND SURE ENOUGH THEY ARE ALL F-ING CLOSED NOW!”  Shit. Busted.

12) Meeting the Mustos

Every couple of years around the holidays we would try to meet up with My Dad's sister's family - The Mustos.  They lived in New Jersey so we always met in Ohio somewhere and it was always out of control weekends.  Many stories are too old for me to remember, but I do remember one night.  I was 12 or 13 and they decided it would be a fabulous idea to leave ME to babysit the 5 younger kids by myself.  We had Sammie, the youngest, barely 2.  We had my sister Sara her bestie cousin Amanda at about 7-8 years old, jumping like crazy kids from bed to bed (while I'm scared shitless they are gonna crack their heads open) and then my brother Josh and cuz Michie a little younger playing hide and go seek in and around our 2 connecting rooms.  Great game to play for your babysister.  I'm losing my damn mind trying to keep track of all of them, while my parents and the Musto's gingerly come strolling home laughing with about 30 lbs of calzones and stromboli.  As I turn to my Uncle Musto to tell him what a handful all of them were, and how could they do this to me, he simply looks at my blankly and says "Weeeee Gooooooot Strrrooooooooomboli!!!!"  I'll never forget that line haha.   And per normal procedures, my Aunt Anne was awake for all of 3 hours the next day :) We never get to see them enough so I always cherish those times.

13) Mickey Foley’s Christmas parties

Yes, this is a gross one. Sorry. Every year from high school all through our college years, my buddy Mickey Foley would have awesome holiday parties.  Looking back, these were the best.  Talking to Mr. Foley for hours and picking up his favorite saying of all time (“Don’t be a one-way Motha Fucka!”).  It is actually a line to live by.  Don’t care about only yourself, care about others more.  But to have Mr. Foley put it so eloquently to us was something I’ll never forget and still think about haha. 

So in high school, I don’t know much about tobacco and its various forms.  I truly did not comprehend the whole chewing tobacco craze and what it entailed.  So I walk over to a table of guys, Brett Frey has a bottle with tobacco juice in it.  Now in my innocent mind, I think that before you ‘chew’ tobacco there must be some juice you have to squeeze out of it or something (I really wasnt thinking).  So the guys tell me they’ll give me $20 to drink it.  I’m a little tipsy and I’m thinking… whatevs… a little tobacco juice they had to squeeze out before ‘dipping,’ no problem.  So I take a swig of this bottle (my stomach is queasy right now typing this) and immediately have the worst reaction to anything in my entire life, and still true to this day.  I run to the can and throw up for a solid half an hour.  I get home, I’m hugging the toilet the whole night.  I wake up for racquetball with my Dad, Brett Frey and his Dad.  I can’t even make it to the court I’m barfing so much.  That’s when I was informed that the bottle I drank was actually everyone’s tobacco ‘spit’ that they had passed around for a while.  Grossest. Thing. Ever.  How could I be so dumb?  We’ll save eating a frozen cat food treat for a different day.

14) THE FOG BOWL

Ahhh yes.  The infamous Chicago Bears Fog Bowl against the Eagles on New Year’s Eve circa 1988 Crazy to think I was only 5 years old but remember it like it was yesterday (Funny how good my memory is for sports and how bad it is for everything else).   We were in New Jersey, planning to spend New Year’s Eve at my Grandparents when a heated argument ensues with the Chicago sons and my Grandpa about the Bears vs. the Giants (this happened frequently).  My Dad got so pissed off at my Grandpa that he said, fuck it, I'd rather be caught dead than watch a Bears playoff game with THAT guy (pointing right at Grandpa), we are going home now.  So off we went on our 12 hour drive home, with one of those old van TV’s (you remember) that picked up network television.  The screen is foggy to begin with, throw in we’re watching the “Fog Bowl” and we can’t see a thing.  But we listen as Wayne Larrivee and Hub Arkush try to announce the game to us to the best of their own visions on the field.  I’ll never forget the 3 of us huddled around that TV, car is in park, as we “watch” the Bears beat the Eagles in one of the most famous games in NFL history.   Yes, we are a crazy sports family.

15)  Billy Jean – Man in the Mirror?

Just a couple of years ago, Lindsay and I did the Christmas Eve routine at my parents and then stayed in the spare bedroom per my usual Christmas Eve routine.  We both go in the bedroom, about to go to sleep, it’s pitch black out with just the faint ray of glow fading through the blinds from the snow-covered street light.  I forget who started it, but all of sudden we are singing “Billy Jean” and both break into a full dance rendition of M.J.’s  moves (its dark, thankfully!).  [Note: for the sake of  laziness, I will use MJ for Michael Jackson for the first time in my life.  We all really know there’s only one TRUE M.J.  And he don’t like little boys.  I just realized I could have been a lot more lazy and just wrote out his full name instead of this long note.]   Anyways… This goes on for a solid 15 MINUTES.  I’m dancing, shouting “OWW” as I spin around to point one finger to the sky and one directly at Lindsay as we attempt to moon walk towards each other “don’t go around breaking young girls’ hearts…. Oooohhhhhwwwhhhooo.”  Then we moved on to Man in the Mirror… “Gotta make that chaaaaaange” Lindsay starts belting out haha.  We laughed so hard we cried and I think we both dozed off in full out laughter.   That was one of the first times I really knew I loved this girl.  No music, no anything… just a couple of boneheads doing their best MJ impressions, whispering the lyrics as to not wake up anyone on a white glistening Christmas Eve. 

16) Santa Clause

We always got an arrival from Santa Clause at our Christmas Eve party…. I was too young to remember (as this doesn’t relate to sports) who always played Santa… Uncle Mark, Uncle Tom, a few others?  Anyways, whoever it was was clearly drinking before this Santa visit.  I was old enough, but my sister sits on Santa’s lap, asks for what he wants, comes down and drags me aside.  “Hey Eric, does Santa like beer?  I think he was drinking some tonight…. I saw a whole bunch of Dad’s beer in the garage, we should definitely leave some out there for him tonight…. You know how bad I want a Malibu Barbie House!”  Ahhhh drunk Santa!

17)  Linds and my Christmas

A couple years ago I wanted do some fun things for our alone Christmas celebration we have every year.  A little Christkindlmarket at the Daley Center for some Glug, then off to Sunda for the best sushi and sake in town.  Then, we leave and she doesn’t know a horse carriage is picking us up for a ride around downtown lit up Chicago.  But where the F is he?  It’s already 5 minutes late, I have no cell number….. let’s just start walking to a bar while I think of something.  Ahhh got it.  “Linds, stupid me, I left my ID back at Sunda!  We got to go back and get it!”  So we go back and wahhla, horse carriage has arrived!  We have one of the most fun rides imaginable with two single serving wine bottles from my bag…. Then we get dropped off at English Bar…. The place I originally met Lindsay….. Well, we’re in line for English Bar and…. GO FIGURE…. I really did leave my ID at Sunda!!!  We spent the next half an hour contemplating what the odds were that I made up that whole story just to really leave my ID there!  

18)  Wildfire Dinners

I’ll end these stories on a happy one.  Every year as per tradition, my immediate family always has a separate dinner a couple weeks before Christmas at Wildfire.  I have never not had the triple medallion filets there.  We’re talking 15 years, probably4- 5 times a year, always crusted triple medallions.  There’s something about this night that always makes me remember what Christmas is all about.  Being thankful, happy and most importantly…being with family.  As the years have gone on, the new tradition is reserving a separate room at Wildfire for the (now) 8 of us.  Now we can yell (and type!) AS LOUUUUD AS WE WANT with no one to complain about us.  We’ve even had our family Christmas picture taken there the past few years.  I realized how special this night was when catching a glimpse of the $600+ bill my parents pick up every year!  Fat. Asses.

But I think of that night as a symbol of Christmas/Chanukah/Whatever you celebrate.  Those family members that may be distant/fighting and are looking for some strength, hope and means to reconcile…. Christmas is that.  For family to gather together and remember lost loved ones - how can any of us Von’s ever forget my Grandma Von (the one that kept everything together) passing away of cancer way too early on Christmas Eve 1998.  One of the very few times I’ve ever seen my Dad shed a tear in his life…. Christmas is that.  Or giving hope to individuals in tough situations, like the one I am going through now…. Christmas is that.  To actually believing and comprehending that Jesus Christ (THE actual son of GOD) was born on this night thousands of years ago…. That’s, obviously more than anything, what Christmas is about.  That’s pretty darn crazy if you put your phone down for 2 seconds to ponder it.  This little peanut being born with fingers the size of my finger nails, Jesus Christ.   You don’t say. 

I hope I didn't offend you with these stories or vocabulary... this is just our families and inappropriate laughter is how we cope with everyday life.  It's how we survive.  But we behave when we need to and there are not more caring families in the world than ours, you really feel part of something special.  After talking with Josh, I even left off the Top 5 most vulgar holiday stories we could think of…. Some things should just be taken to our graves.  Work hard play hard, my friend.  Be happy, generous, enthusiastic and compassionate… and have fun…because it always works out in the end.

2014 Christmas Addendum 1 – This Christmas we got a special surprise as my Uncle and cousin got into the most heated argument about Jay Cutler that I think anyone could get in for a full 45 minutes (alcohol had no part in said argument).  In the middle of arguing whether the Bears should keep Cutler or not, Uncle Buck in his "why the hell are you wasting time on this" voice screams "Google It!" As in Google whether the Bears should keep Cutler.   I think Aunt Georgia and I were the only ones that heard it but I was dying laughing as "Google It" is a response us children say every day to our parents.  And this was even more heated than Scott Zoellick and my destruction of Jeff Jesernik’s “Cutler is a Top 5 Quarterback” argument that's gone on back and forth for the past couple of years.  I know Jeff, now your story changes, you were never a Cutler supporter ("from like 1.52 to almost like 2.17 years ago I haven't been"), you thought he was above average on a good day these past 2 years.   Then, why, one might ask would someone defend Cutler so passionately and vehemently if his true feelings for him are “he’s above average on a good day.” It's gotta be a lie or just a delusion.  Couldn’t you say that about every bad to average quarterback? They're  Ask my parents, Lindsay, whomever,... I was the biggest Cutler supporter (Nobody hazes our pledges but us! – Animal House).  I bought the jersey.  I bought the big-arm hype.  I bought the we haven't had a QB since Sid Luckman.  But I got to call it like I see it... when your all your turnovers are still 5 times fewer than your pouty faces and you do not command the huddle, nor are you a leader in any capacity, your backups consistently outplay you and now you're going on your 5th Offense Coordinator in 7 years,  it’s time to go Jay.  It's official, I am no longer Gay for Jay.   Just leave Kristin here in Chicago.  

(Note: I enjoy having the platform to ever-so-slightly embellish arguments to be more my sided....not that I did that here or anything)

2014 Christmas Addendum 2 – Over the years my Mother has put together quite the collection of Christmas statue houses, people, restaurants, pubs, ice rinks, coffee shops, fire and police stations, etc, and puts them all out in one Christmas Wonderland Neighborhood.  It’s really remarkable.  Here’s where it gets interesting.  My Mom tells me this Christmas Eve that she has actual dreams where she is a person in said Wonderland and is growing up, going to school, walking around Christmas caroling, eating chocolate turtles and doing 360 spins on the ice rink, all in this dreamland.  She has literal dreams about this.  That is so hilarious!  Hey, you can’t control your dreams. And its a pretty sweet city.   When all the chaos had finally calmed down, I tried to take a quiet,  few second video of her dainty Wonderland… as you’ll tell, even with only 4 of us left there, we can’t have complete silence for 10 seconds!  That was the 5th video I tried taking haha.

Lots of love, warmth and prayers to you and yours this holiday season.  Happy New Year!!

Eric