I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 Reflections

My year end 2007 reflections post is going to be a little different than in years past. I hope I don't lose you.

Many years ago, during my long-haired heavy metal days, I took guitar lessons. I wasn't any good, and I'm not just being modest. After a couple of years worth of lessons from a guy (who I heard recently has spent some time touring with a major rock band), I still could only play a couple of songs all the way through. Playing guitar didn't come naturally for me. I had to work hard to hope for mediocrity--which I don't think I ever attained.

My guitar instructor, Mark, was big on teaching the scales. He assured me that once I got the scales, then I could begin to improvise and find my own style. So, I worked my fingers to the bone learning the scales. Once I got them down reasonably well, Mark taught me to listen for the key note of a song--which is the one note in the song in which the song is founded upon. And once you are into the song, the entire flow of it is always leading back to the key note. It's like you can feel the pull.

Mark would play a song on his guitar and emphasize the key note by nodding his head at me. Then he'd play the song again without any emphasis and I could shut my eyes and feel the flow of the song working toward the key note. Mark told me that knowing the key note was vital because once you find it, you can play any note within the framework of the scales and it would "go" with the song. He explained that this process was called staying in key.

If I've butchered any of this explanation or gotten any of it wrong, I apologize. I'm just explaining it the way I remember it. But this process has always stuck with me because I think life has a key note. And much like every song has its own key note, I think different phases of our lives have different key notes.

To be honest, I'm still trying to figure out what my key note was in 2007. I'm not even sure if 2007 had one. Instead, it felt like one long song that maybe even started back in 2006 and it's building toward the key note--maybe sometime in 2008. I can feel it coming and I'll know it when I hear it.

My analogy breaks down a bit because, by definition, a key note begins a song, so as a musician you should always know what the song is working toward, and in my case, I'm not so sure I know what the key note was to begin with. Maybe I will once I hear it again. If I do, I'll let you know.

Well, I hope you have a happy, safe New Year's Eve. I'll see you in 08.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Tidbits

I haven't received one free 2008 calendar yet. Come on insurance companies and banks! I don't want to spend $12.99 for a new calendar when I know you have stacks of them you are giving away. [Note to spammers: No, this is not an open invitation to add me to your mailing lists. But I will take a free calendar if you have one.]

For those who are wondering, I did complete my Christmas shopping--all in one night. I did it last Friday night when nearly every other man did it. I went to a huge electronics store and it was crowded beyond belief. I didn't experience any hostility, which was nice, and the store seemed prepared because in spite of the place being jammed to the rafters, the checkout lines were only two or three deep.

Are you as drawn to all of these end of the year top 10 ten lists as I am? I think I like them because it helps me to remember everything that happened this year. Life can be so fast that it's easy to forget things you really want to remember. If you are into such things, Time magazine has a ton of 2007 top ten lists you can browse.

I didn't have a chance to tell you how much fun I had a couple of Fridays ago when Andy Roddick put on a tennis exhibition here in Omaha. He hit booming serves (topping out at 151 mph), good clean ground strokes, and he took plenty of time to interact with the crowd during his two-set match against Sam Querry. Roddick won. It was the first time I've seen a professional match, and maybe the last, so I'm glad I went.

Have a great weekend!

UPDATE @ 10:07 AM: Wow, that didn't take long. I got my oil changed this morning and they were handing out free calendars!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

We Are O!ne

If you live in the Omaha area, then you know about the intense sadness that has surrounded the city since the shooting at the Westroads Mall on December 5, in which the gunman shot and killed eight people plus himself.

A team of people from the Omaha area are planning a community event called "We Are O!ne" [the O! symbol is the brainchild of our local area chamber of commerce as a way of publicizing Omaha] with the purpose of bringing healing to Omaha. Here are the details, taken from singer Heidi Joy's website:

Friday, Dec. 28th, 8PM
FREE Community Event
Doors open at 7:00PM
Orpheum Theater
Free General Admission Seating
Open to anyone and everyone, no tickets needed

Music by Heidi Joy
Comfort by John Beasley
Images by Tom Mangelsen
Inspiration by Mary Kay Mueller

I'm involved in the event in a behind-the-scenes sort of way and I'd love to see you there.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Thoughts

I hope you had a great Christmas. I sure enjoyed mine. I followed through on every major tradition I normally keep, including: buying a new Christmas tree ornament for the tree, watching Serendipity, going to the Outback Steakhouse with friends, seeing Heidi Joy in concert, and a couple of other things.

Unfortunately, I didn't get any Christmas cards put in the mail. I'm getting worse and worse about doing that as the years go by, but I don't stress over it as much as I used to. There are a few more things I would have liked to have done, but the season just comes and goes so quickly, doesn't it? And the older I get the more I'd rather hang out with people during the holidays than spending time doing "stuff."

I hate to see Christmas go. Some of the neatest things happen during the season. An old neighbor knocked on my door on Christmas Eve. We spent a little time catching up and he said he wanted to buy several copies of my Christmas book. He was planning to read one of the devotions in the book around the dinner table to his family that night. That's exactly what I was hoping families would do when I wrote that book, so it thrilled me to hear that it was going to happen.

Like many of you, I'm back to work already this morning, and I don't mind it. When you work for yourself, you never really stop working anyway. If I owe you an email or two, it should be coming this week. Hopefully I'll be able to stay on track with my posting here at Little Nuances. If I miss a day or two, I'm never far away, and I know that you aren't either. Thanks for sticking with me.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Break

I'm going to be taking a break from posting here at Little Nuances until after Christmas--just need to get caught up on some work (and Christmas shopping!). I hope you and your family have an unforgettable Christmas and I'll see you on the other side of it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Von Maur Memorial

This past weekend I went to the Westroads (the mall where the shooting took place in Omaha on December 5). I wanted a firsthand look at the memorials I've heard about. The gunman killed eight people that day--all of whom were either Von Maur employees or customers.

I pulled up to Von Maur and was overwhelmed by the large number of signs, teddy bears, and flowers outside the door that leads to the parking lot. It has snowed several times since the shooting, and the snow is mixed between the many memorials people have left. Here are a couple of photos:

I read many of the cards and letters. Some were from fellow retail workers who realized it could have been them. Some were from relatives and those were heartbreaking. Many were from people who never met the victims, but wanted to express their support in some fashion. As I reached the end of the memorial outside, a woman walked up, placed a sign down on the steps, and then she dropped to her knees to pray. As I left, I saw many parents bringing their children to visit the memorial. I suspect they wanted to show their children how a community rallies to overcome such tragedies.

Von Maur hasn't reopened their doors since the shooting, but the word out yesterday is that they are planning to reopen on Thursday. I'd heard that people had also left many cards and letters inside the mall on the closed gates of Van Maur so I went inside to read those too. On the various different floors, the gates were nearly covered in paper snowflakes people made and wrote their sentiments upon.

Turns out that a man emailed a local radio station with the idea of covering Von Maur with snowflakes of support. His idea caught on and the gates (and walls) on both floors are covered. In fact, people are beginning to lay snowflakes on the ground and in some spots the snowflakes are three and four deep. It's like a blizzard of love and support.

One particular scene moved me greatly. It depicts eight teddy bears sitting side by side in honor of the eight victims.

As I was reading some of the things people said, a man walked out of a nearby restaurant and placed a full page advertisement out for all to see. It was an ad from Von Maur thanking the Omaha community for its support.

Similar spontaneous acts of support could be seen everywhere. People wore serious expressions on their faces and in the seriousness I sensed a spirit of determination. In fact, just being in the mall was an act of defiance against the gunman and his actions. Visiting the place where fellow citizens fell became sacred ground that people seemed willing to protect. One sign read, "Reopen, Rebuild, Restore." Another said, "Evil shall not win."

I don't know anybody who died in the shooting, but I've taken the time to read about each of the victims. I felt like I owed it to them since we live in the same city. I suspect others feel the same way and because of their defiant attitudes and their desire to reach out to the families who lost loved ones, I suspect Omaha and the Von Maur store in Omaha are going to be just fine after we finish our period of grieving.

However, the families who lost loved ones will never be the same.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Learning to Tie

A three or four year-old little boy who was a couple of rows in front of me in church yesterday apparently got uncomfortable in the tie he was wearing, so he took it off. It wasn't a tie-tie, or a clip-on tie. In fact, I've never seen this kind of tie before, but it looked like it came "pre-tied" and it fastened around the back of his neck, much like a necklace would.

So, he got it off, then he must have decided that he better put it back on. His dad finally caught on and helped him put his tie back where it belonged. As soon as I saw his dad helping him, I had a flashback to a bowling alley some thirty plus years earlier. My dad had taken me bowling--I was probably seven or eight--and I still hadn't learned how to tie my shoes.

I remember plopping one of my feet up on his lap so he could tie my bowling shoes for me. He did so, but then he told me that it was time that I learned how to do it myself. He showed me how to make two bunny ears and then how to wrap one ear around the other and then how to tuck one under the other to complete the tie. I was pretty stoked to finally know how to tie my own shoes.

I love moments like the one I experienced in church yesterday that prompt me to remember things I haven't thought about in ions. It's like getting a precious gift--one that can't be returned, and nobody in his right mind would want to.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Tidbits

  • Eleven days until Christmas and I still haven't started my shopping yet. But I'm not panicked. Talk to me next Friday about panic.
  • My mom's new cat, Clanci, has taken up with her beautifully. She follows Mom everywhere. She lays in her lap. She sleeps next to her. And Mom's already calling her a "joy" to be around, which is a big relief given that she just lost her cat of 18 years.
  • I'm excited about tonight. I'm going to see my first ever professional tennis match(es). It's an exhibition that Andy Roddick is throwing here in Omaha, since he was born here. I'm hoping to get decent pictures, but my camera probably won't allow that to happen. It's old and not really very good for taking action shots.
  • I spent one full day cleaning my office this week. Yes, it required a full day. That tells you how many stacks I needed to sort through. I reduced it to one small stack. The rest either got filed or pitched. That was a good feeling.
  • I finished reading Home to Holly Springs by Jan Karon this week. I didn't find it to be quite as endearing as the Mitford series, but I still enjoyed it. And I'll read all of the books in this series as they are released.
  • If you are a baseball fan, then you probably spent some time pouring over The Mitchell Report yesterday--the report that named names in the steroids scandal. It was a sad day for baseball and the spin doctors are already at work. I just hope that the report is the vehicle that prompts players to think beyond themselves. The past 15 years are already labeled as the "Steroids Era." Let's hope that the next 15 years is referred to as the "Clean Era."

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Honoring Ms. Kitty

Yesterday was one of those days you don't forget.

My mom has had a cat named Ms. Kitty for the past 17 or 18 years. Oddly enough, I too have a cat that is pushing 18. Her name is Midnight. Unfortunately, Ms. Kitty has been in poor health for quite some time. Her thyroid was way out of whack. Her kidneys have been failing. She also had Diabetes and several other ailments.

Ms. Kitty hasn't been eating well so I drove her and my Mom to the vet yesterday afternoon. The vet gave us the news we've been dreading--Ms. Kitty's time had come. She wasn't going to make it this time. We gave them permission to put her to sleep and both of us left the place with tears in our eyes.

Ms. Kitty has been with Mom through many trials and seasons. Truth be told, Mom got her from me. I didn't really like her as a young kitten because she was mean. She scratched me and tipped over her food and in general just wasn't very pleasant to be around. So, when Mom watched the cat for me while I worked in Chicago in 1990 for a few months, she got attached to Ms. Kitty and somehow they got along. I gladly gave her to Mom and they've been inseparable ever since.

Mom figured out that Ms. Kitty liked to drink warm water rather than cold. And she liked to be hand-fed. She had to have a certain type of canned food. And you had to make sure you opened the drapes and pulled the shades to as many windows that were facing the sun as possible so she could catch some rays. Later in her life, Ms. Kitty developed Diabetes and Mom was diligent enough to give her insulin shots every day.

You should have seen the idiosyncrasies in this cat. When she was young, she'd run sideways down the hallway in Mom's house. She liked to be covered up completely over her head with a blanket. I've already told you about her desire for warm water instead of cold. And she often sat in her food. Mom had cat food dishes all over the house, especially late in Ms. Kitty's life, and if you couldn't find her sleeping in her plush cat bed in front of the TV, you could probably find her sitting in a bowl of tuna.

In spite of all of that, or maybe because of it, she was a lot of company to my mom. When Mom was in the hospital in July this year recovering from a stroke, she kept an 8 X 10 photo of Ms. Kitty in her hospital room and she couldn't wait to come home to see her. You should have seen their reunion when it finally did happen. Tears flowed.

Here's the picture of Ms. Kitty that Mom had in her hospital room:

Since Mom came home from the hospital, Ms. Kitty has been a constant companion. They worked well together and both benefited. So yesterday was a sad, sad day. One you don't recover from quickly.

I know that you can never replace a pet. Too much history. But I also knew that Mom needed another cat...she needed an animal to take care of and she needed to begin building new memories. So, we didn't even stop at her house after leaving the vet. We picked out a one-year old female cat named Clanci. She's a bit of a rounder and is a little timid, but she's a lover and I was so happy to see her jump into Mom's lap before I headed for home. It made it easier to leave.

I called Mom when I got home to check on her and Clanci had already taken up residence in Mom's bed. That made me smile.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Gift Cards

I was in a coffee shop the other day when a woman walked in and purchased two $10.00 gift cards. I immediately thought, "Oh, cool. Somebody is going to be happy." I've already received a gift card in the mail as a Christmas gift and I guarantee it will be used. Gift cards seem to be all the rage this Christmas.

According to this article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, "Americans are expected to spend $26.3 billion on gift cards this holiday season." According to this article on MSN.com, "Comdata Stored Value Solutions, based in Louisville, Ky., projects that in the 2007 holiday season, the average gift card buyer will spend $203 on cards, a $17 increase from 2006."

This might be the guy in me coming out, but I love gift cards--both giving and receiving them. I've heard all the arguments against them--namely, that they are "too easy," and that not enough thought goes into them. I disagree. When someone gets me a gift card to Borders, Barnes and Noble, or to one of the various coffee shops I frequent, it tells me that he or she knows me well enough to get me something I'll use. What could be more personal than that?

When I'm considering what to purchase for people, I often know what they like: music, books, restaurants, etc. But I rarely know whether they have already purchased the latest release from their favorite group or author. For that matter, I don't know which previous releases they own either. So if I purchase a specific gift--something I know they will like, I always run the risk of buying something they've already purchased for themselves.

Besides, I sort of like to watch the excitement in somebody's eye's when he or she says, "Oh, I know exactly what I'll get with this" and then the person goes on to tell you the specifics. What could be better than that?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

From the Mouth of Babes

With more snow on the way overnight, I decided to hit the grocery store during my lunch break yesterday. As I turned the corner to the pet food aisle, a little girl, who was maybe three years-old with cute dark curly hair, was attempting to hold onto four small cans of cat food without dropping them everywhere.

As she made her way toward her parents, she said, "This will last foreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeever." Then, just a few seconds later, she said, "This will last four days!" As if forever and four days were synonymous. In her mind, they probably were--especially given the fact that she's only been alive for approximately 1,000 days.

How could I not laugh about such innocence as I grabbed six cans of cat food for my own cat, wishing that it really would last forever? Perspective fascinates me. And it's one of the many things that make other people so interesting to talk to and observe. To some degree, we're all like that little girl. Oh, our perspective has more experience to call upon, but in the big scheme of things, our perspective is still greatly limited.

We don't know when we will breathe our last breath, or when we'll fall in love, or even when our car will break down (again). But we plan, and dream, and make decisions based upon what we do know. And I can't help but wonder if God doesn't smile the way I smiled because of that little girl's perspective.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Christy: The Television Series

After my grandmother died in 2002, I ran across a video tape in her things and it brought back great memories. I had purchased that particular video for her several years earlier. It contained two episodes of a television show called Christy--based on the novel of the same name by Catherine Marshall.

Do you remember the series?

It ran from 1994 to 1995 and it was one of those rare television shows that could bring an adult grandson together with his grandmother to watch it every week. I was interested in the series because my grandma said the show depicted a life that was very similar to her own upbringing.

Here's a brief synopsis about the series from Amazon.com:

Determination, faith, and optimism are powerful forces that enable individuals to positively affect the lives of themselves and others. Christy...is the story of an idealistic 19-year-old woman named Christy Huddleston (Kellie Martin) who sets out for the wilderness of the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee in 1912 on a mission to educate the children of the remote community of Cutter Gap. A well-to-do girl raised in the city, Christy is shocked and completely unprepared for the extreme poverty, ignorance, and superstitious tendencies of Cutter Gap's people, but resolves to persevere in her commitment to better the lives of her young students. Each day brings a fresh lesson for the children and a new struggle that inspires Christy to draw upon and re-examine her own faith while striving to disprove local superstitions and replace long-held animosities and prejudices with virtues like forgiveness and respect.

I'd watch my grandma watch the show and she seemed to get lost in each episode. Grandma was born in 1915 and grew up poor in a small town in Arkansas. Christy was set in 1912 in a little town in Tennessee and it depicted families that were extremely poor, but often quite happy.

Sometimes they'd have a "singin'," sometimes they'd play spoons, sometimes they'd read the Bible. Nearly always, families shared meals together, and did manual labor together, and struggled to make ends meet together. And the occasional character brewed moonshine.

Grandma would nod and point as a scene reminded her of something she used to do. And then she'd launch into a story during the commercials. I should have had a tape recording running as she spoke, but that would have seemed too intrusive. Instead, I just drank it all in, trying to get a grasp on my heritage.

A couple of months ago, I was walking through a Best Buy and I spotted the entire Christy series on DVD. I purchased it and just started working my way through it. It is even better than I remember it. And while it feels odd watching episodes without getting grandma's input, it makes me feel closer to the generations who went before me in my family.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Heidi Joy in Concert

"Music is what feelings sound like." --Author Unknown

Earlier this week, a couple of my friends and I did what we always do during this time of year. We attended Heidi Joy's Christmas concert at the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha, Nebraska. I'm not sure how many of her annual shows we've seen in a row, but we've seen at least five in a row and I'm thinking it's closer to six or seven.

We took our seats a few minutes before the show started. A man sat down a couple of seats away from me and I asked him if anybody was joining him. He said his wife had an errand to run and she couldn't make it, but he still wanted to come, so he did. He'd seen Heidi perform at various functions around town, but he'd never made it to one of her Christmas concerts.

I told him that he was in for a treat. And boy was he ever. By the second song in the first set, "Children, Go Where I Send Thee," I knew we were in for something special. Heidi has a pure, powerful, angelic voice that moves you deep inside. At times, I feel like my emotions are literally riding on the waves of her voice as they reach for the heavens.

Six songs into the first set she performed "Mary, Did You Know?" I always get goose bumps when her piano player plays the opening notes of this song because she does it better than anybody I've ever heard sing it. I've heard Kathy Mattea's version, and Kenny Rogers' version, and Mark Lowery's version (he actually wrote the song), and several others, but none of them even come close to Heidi's version.

The lyrics of the song are moving and powerful and it's one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs. And when Heidi sings it, the song is everything music is supposed to be. It's awe-inspiring and it actually seems to come to life. When music can take you beyond the performer to the essence of the message, that's when music becomes great in my opinion. And the brilliant musicians let you bask in the essence of the message once they take you there. That's what Heidi does.

A couple of songs later, she sang "Silent Night" a-capella. In between the lyrics, during those briefest of moments when she took a breath, reverence filled the auditorium. Nobody spoke. Nobody moved. Nobody seemed to breath. Just dead silence and then thunderous applause when she finished.

After she finished her first set, I leaned over to the guy I spoke with before the concert and asked him what he thought.

"Outstanding," he said. "She has an incredible voice."

He asked me a number of questions about Heidi's music and her career. I answered them the best I could. But something struck me in the middle of our conversation. I'm an introverted guy by nature and I don't usually initiate conversation with a stranger. But Heidi's music bridged that gap between us and before the break was over we were talking about Nebraska football, Creighton basketball, and all sorts of things.

Heidi came out for the second set and picked up where she left off. I particularly enjoyed one of her original songs she sang early in the set called "We Can Be Free." And I loved her renditions of "Gesu Bambino" and "O Holy Night." Her final song of the night, performed during the encore, was "Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child" and the up-tempo song was a perfect way to end the concert. Although, I don't think anybody really wanted it to end.

As I said last year, if you are looking for a way to brighten your Christmas season, I'd pick up her two Christmas CD's, "Heavenly Peace" and "Holiday Joy." But don't stop there. She has five fantastic CD's out and you won't go wrong by purchasing any or all of them. If you are interested, just go to her website, click on CD's, and order away.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Tidbits

  • The city of Omaha is still in mourning over what happened here on Wednesday. Here is a list of the eight people who were shot and killed according to the KETV website in Omaha: Gary Scharf, 48, a customer and resident of Lincoln; John McDonald, 65, a customer and resident of Council Bluffs, Iowa; Angella Schuster, 36, an employee; Maggie Webb, 24, an employee; Janet Jorgenson, 66, an employee; Dianne Trent, 53, an employee; Gary Joy, 56, an employee; and Beverly Flynn, 47, an employee.
  • Today is Pearl Harbor Day. May we never forget the sacrifices that our soldiers made that day.
  • We had more beautiful snow yesterday--about four inches worth. I didn't have to get out in it, so I'm biased, but I loved seeing it come down. Looks like we're in for more this weekend.
  • I interviewed former Major League All-Star pitcher Kent Bottenfield a couple of weeks ago for Baptist Press Sports. Bottenfield is now a contemporary Christian music artist and a good one at that. I downloaded his latest CD, "Back in the Game," from iTunes before I interviewed him and I've listened to it several times now. If you'd like to read the article, here's a link: Bottenfield: From All-Star to CCM Artist.
  • I attended a concert on Tuesday night with some friends that I'm planning to write about tomorrow or Monday. This particular concert is an annual event and it's one of the many Christmas traditions I keep. A friend recently told me that she thinks it's neat that I have so many traditions. I can't imagine life without them.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Omaha Shooting Spree

I started the day yesterday watching local television coverage of President Bush flying into Omaha. Air Force One touched down about 9:00 AM (Central). I listened to his brief speech and then he moved on to a health center about ten blocks from my home. From there he moved on to a fundraiser. He was back in the air headed for the White House by 1:00 PM.

I thought that the national press corp would file their stories and go home. Around 2:30 PM, a friend called me. He's a police officer at the airport. He told me that a shooting had taken place at the Westroads Mall. I was just at that mall last week. I met several people for lunch there that day. Anyway, I turned the television back on and saw that Omaha was in the national news for all the wrong reasons. A 2o year-old troubled male had opened fire on people at random in the Von Maur store.

I was glued to the television for the next several hours. Reports varied throughout the day about how many were injured or deceased. Eventually, city officials held a press conference and confirmed that nine people had been killed (including the gunman) and five more were injured.

I'm not naive enough to think that "it couldn't happen here." That thought never ran through my mind. Instead I thought about all the families who were going to receive a phone call letting them know that their loved one had been shot. And I thought about the heartache that many of those families would experience when they learned that their loved one was gone.

The city of Omaha is in mourning right now. Pray for us.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Family Glue

My grandma used to be the glue that held my family together. She insisted that our family get together for scheduled meals each week. She had Christmas at her house every year for the entire family. She handwrote letters to family members who lived too far away to visit on a regular basis. She made phone calls, sent cards, and did everything she could to keep in contact with our family.

My grandma died in 2002 and I wondered what would happen after that. I'm pretty good about keeping in contact with family, but not good enough to fill my grandma's shoes. I drop the ball from time to time. And I certainly not capable of cooking big dinners for family during the holidays. And in reality, in nearly every family, someone just naturally assumes the role. That's what happened in my family.

My sister Nicole in St. Louis is doing my grandma proud. She sends birthday cards to everyone in the family--including extended family we rarely see. She sends packages of goodies for any or no reason at all. She emails relatives all over the country and even the world. She makes phone calls. She organizes meals in her home. She continually invites us to visit. Her husband told me a couple of years ago that nothing in Nicole's life is more important to her than her family. And it shows.

A couple of weeks ago, Nicole sent my 17 year-old niece a huge package. My niece loves it when her aunt sends her packages and I can understand why. This particular package contained candy, magazines, and even a blanket. I glanced down at the postmark on the box and saw that it cost Nicole $18.00 to mail it. That gives you an idea about how full the box was--but most of all, it was filled with love.

This morning I received an email from her with my brother's new mailing address. He joined the Army recently and he's currently in boot camp. I don't know how Nicole keeps track of it all, or how she finds time to do it all--especially since she is married and has a three year-old running around, but she does. And our family is better because of it.

Tomorrow is Nicole's birthday and I know that somehow, during her busy schedule, she'll find time to read this. So, if you'll allow me to get a little personal, I'd like to say happy birthday Nicole! Thanks for everything you do for our family. It's appreciated more than you know.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Walt Disney: On Entertainment

A local television station here in Omaha is celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. As a part of the celebration, they opened a time capsule they created in 1957 in which they asked famous people of that time period to write letters making predictions about what life would be like in their area of expertise fifty years from then.

The station has uploaded the actual letters and you can read them in .pdf format. As I make my way through each letter, I'm finding some absolutely fascinating reading.

Listen to this insight from Walt Disney:

"People will need and demand amusement, refreshment, and pleasant relaxation from daily tasks and frets as much in your day as they have in ours and in all the generations of mankind into the remote past. What the exact nature and implementation of these mass entertainments may be, doesn't make much difference, it seems to me.

"Humanity, as history informs us, changes very slowly in character and basic interests. People need play as much as they need toil. They never cease to be fascinated by their own powers and passions, their base or noble emotions, their faiths and struggles and triumphs against handicap--all the things that make them laugh and weep and comfort one another in love and sacrifice out of the deeps of their being.

"Through historical time--and even among our aboriginal forefathers--all the races of man have been dramatizing these eternal quests and conquests of mind and heart; in arenas, around tribal fires, in temples and theatres. The modes of entertainment have changed through the centuries; the content of public shows, very little..."

Disney had no idea that people would be watching movies on DVD players and iPods. He had no idea that children would grow up watching movies in vehicles. He had no idea that companies like Netflix would one day make movies available to watch "online" on demand. The future mediums were beyond comprehension to him.

And while I'm sure he wondered about the medium, it didn't seem to matter much to him because he knew the power of story. He knew that we would still be dramatizing our "powers and passions" and our "struggles and triumphs" because that's what people have always done.

We need to see the poor man become rich, or at least rich enough to sustain his family. We need to see the sick man become healthy. We need to see the widow find a reason to go on. We need to see the boy get the girl. Because deep down, struggles are universal, and seeing people survive, and sometimes even conquer their demons, gives us hope that we can too.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Writer's Almanac

A couple of months ago, I taught at a writer's conference. One night, a few of the guys gathered around a television set to watch a little college football (I was hoping to catch some baseball as well). But before long, we were talking about books.

Two of the guys had a conversation about how much they enjoy Garrison Keillor's work. I am familiar with his name and his a few of his books, but I haven't read any of them. The guys said he had a radio show called "A Prairie Home Companion" on PBS and they told me to check it out. I checked iTunes over the weekend to see if it was available for download. It isn't, but I found another one of his radio shows called "The Writer's Almanac" and I'm so addicted to it.

It's a daily five minute show, during which Keillor talks about literature. If it's an author's birthday, or if it's the anniversary of an author's death, or if an author had a classic work released on that date in history, then Keillor gives a quick bio of the author, followed by the story behind the author's work. He usually ends the show by reading a thought-provoking poem.

I listened to one episode recently in which Keillor did a segment about C.S. Lewis (his birthday was last week). Keillor spoke eloquently about the way Lewis became a Christian. He transitioned into talking about Lewis' passion for protecting evacuee children while England was being bombed during WWII. One of those kids asked Lewis about a wardrobe he owned and that question led to one of the greatest adventure stories ever written: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

Keillor's voice is hard to describe. If I had to do it, I'd tell you to imagine Thurston Howell III doing an imitation of William F. Buckley Jr. and that would give you an idea. Keillor has one of those voices that was made for radio. It's smooth, and enticing, and I can't wait to listen to the show each day. I'm so into the show now that I set my iTunes software to download the podcast every morning.

Then at some point each day, I push the play button and I feel refreshed as I become immersed in knowledge about literature and the many writers who set the stage for writers today. A big thanks goes out to the guys who told me about Keillor's work. I owe you! Now I need to buy one of his books and dive in.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Nebraska Ice Storm

We had an ice storm last night in Nebraska, and while it made driving treacherous this morning, it also created beautiful scenery. I'm not much of a photographer, but here are a few pictures I snapped this morning (you might have to click on them to enlarge them so you can see the ice):

Beowulf

Spoiler Alert: This post discusses the Beowulf storyline. So be warned if you don't want to know any of the details before you see the movie.

The story of Beowulf is an ancient one. In fact, it's purportedly "the oldest extant poem in a modern European language" according to the Signet Classic in my library. Nobody knows who wrote it or even when, although most seem to place the writing between the eighth and tenth centuries. And it is set somewhere between the fifth and seventh centuries.

You've probably heard that the movie is animated, but it's far from the cartoons you remember watching on Saturday mornings. At times, the animation is so good that you forget you are watching animation. In my opinion, the animation in the first few minutes of the movie isn't nearly as good as it is in the rest of the movie, but maybe it just took me a few minutes to adjust to it. Once I did, I got lost in the story.

I bought the book six or seven months ago, but I haven't read it yet. According to a reviewer for the USA Today, it "couldn't be less faithful to the original epic poem" which is sort of disappointing, but I'm still intrigued enough to read the book.

The movie opens with a Danish kingdom under siege by a monster named Grendel. We find out later that the monster is the son of the king, who gave into a beautiful temptress (played by a digitalized version of Angelina Jolie), who in reality is a monster. And isn't temptation just like that? It's couched in beauty, with promises of ultimate fulfillment, only to haunt a person later.

Beowulf arrives from "across the sea" and kills Grendel. When he goes back to kill Grendel's mother to rid the land of the curse, he too falls to the temptress. After the king takes his life, Beowulf becomes king, but he finds himself in the same situation that the first king did--tormented by a monster that he fathered. Only this time, the monster, in the form of a dragon, is bigger and more ferocious. And isn't that just like sin? The longer it continues, the bigger it gets, and the harder it becomes to conquer.

Beowulf is burdened heavily with his wrong doing. Eventually he knows that he must kill the monster. After a mighty battle, he does just that, but he loses his own life in the process. And again, isn't sin just like that. Eventually it leads to death.

The next king, who knows what has happened, is faced with the same dilemma when the temptress comes calling again. The movie ends with the king sitting on the fence. I don't know if the book ends in a different way, but I thought this was a brilliant way to end the movie. It left the viewer with a very real question to ponder.

For me, it took me far beyond the land of make believe and it made me think about my own fallen condition. While that's never a pleasant thing to contemplate, it is a necessary exercise on occasion. And I love the fact that a movie brought me to that place.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Tidbits

  • Where did this week go? I can't believe it is Friday already. Maybe it went so quickly because I didn't get home from my mini-vacation at the cabin until Monday at mid-day. But it seems like life always goes into hyper-speed during the Christmas season, doesn't it?
  • Is it me, or does it seem like more people have decorated their homes for Christmas this year? With my mom still recovering from the stroke she had in July, I go to see her nearly every night and as I drive home I feel like a little kid as I look around at all the beautiful Christmas lights. I love this time of year
  • I haven't even started Christmas shopping yet, and I probably won't for another couple of weeks. If you happen to bump into a rather confused looking male who resembles the guy in my bio picture, please point me in the right direction by giving me some good suggestions about what to purchase. I usually do pretty well until I get to the bottom of my list. That's when I start to feel lost.
  • Want to read a blog post that is guaranteed to bring you to tears? Check out this post, Tough Men and Tender Romance, at Kristy Dykes' blog. Kristy is a novelist and freelance writer who just went through live-threatening surgery to remove a brain tumor and her husband Milton has been keeping her readers up to date with her progress. I don't know the Dykes family personally, but I'm praying for them. Will you join me?
  • I just heard that a church in Pennsylvania is going through The Experience of Christmas this year as a group. The church bought enough copies for every family in the church. How cool is that?
  • We have a winner in the latest Little Nuances drawing for a copy of The Experience of Christmas. Congrats to the winner!
  • Over the past few weeks, I've updated my website to include ordering information for most of the audio CD presentations of classes I've taught at writers conferences around the country. Here's a list of the CD's that are available: So, You Want to Start a Blog?, Advanced Blogging, Let's Talk Blogging, Article Writing 101, Manuscript Formatting 101, Writing for the Christian Sports Market, and Profiting from Profile Articles. If you'd like more information, please click here.

Have a great weekend everybody!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Housekeeping Items

You may have noticed that I tweaked the template here at Little Nuances in recent days. I've been wanting to upgrade my template for quite a while so I could use widgets instead of messing with HTML coding, but I had no idea if I could re-capture the look that I've grown to love.

Turns out that it is quite easy to tweak a template on Blogger these days. In fact, ever since Google took over, making changes to a blog have become easier. You'll probably notice some minor changes, but nothing major. If you notice anything weird on your browser when viewing Little Nuances, leave a comment or drop me an email.

One more housekeeping item; I'm planning to give away one more copy of The Experience of Christmas tomorrow. If you'd like to be eligible to win, then subscribe to Little Nuances by placing your email address in the subscription box in the upper right hand corner. If you are already a subscriber, then you are already eligible to win.

The Experience of Christmas is a 31-day devotional that begins on December 1. If you want to get the full benefit from the book, now would be the time to order it through Amazon.com or some other venue. I know that many of you have already ordered it and I really appreciate that. Thanks for your support.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Poetry Isn't for Sissies

I've been anxious to dive into Jan Karon's newest novel, Home to Holly Springs, for a couple of weeks. I had a chance to do so recently and I came across a passage that totally cracked me up. First I have to set the stage. Last week I wrote a post about the trip to a cabin I was about to take with three friends. Here's a little of what I said:

I suggested to one of the guys last night that maybe we could watch a good chick-flick or two and then each of us could read a copy of our favorite poem to the group. My suggestion was a joke since this guy doesn't really read and he despises chick-flicks, but I'm not sure if he realized I was joking.

"And then why don't we put on a dress?" was his response.

Early in the book, the protagonist Timothy Kavanagh, is remembering an incident that happened with his best friend, named Tommy, when he was small. Young Timothy and Tommy decided to carve their initials into a column on the town square. But rather than carving his name or initials, Timothy carved "William," because he admired the work of the poet William Wordsworth. Here's their exchange:

"That ain't yo' name, cootie head."

"Is now, pig brain."

"Who's William?"

"You wouldn't know."

"Not if you don't tell me."

"A poet," he said.

"A poet?"

"'Come forth, and bring with you a heart that watches and receives.'"

"Huh?"

"Miz Babcock made us learn poetry," he said, etching the surname.

"I'm glad I didn't git Miz Babcock, I don't want t' be no sissy."

If men wrote poetry, why was it sissy for boys to read it? He could not understand this.

Me either Timothy. Me either.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Roughing It

Three of my friends and I pulled up to a cabin in eastern Nebraska this weekend not knowing what to expect. We knew the basic layout of the place, but we didn't know what we'd find when we got there. We were pleasantly surprised. One of the guys snapped this photo of the place:

We walked in and saw a fire place that was just waiting for us city-folk to throw our duraflame log into it, which we did later:

We raced to the bedrooms next. They were bigger than most hotels I stay in. The beds were king-sized and relatively comfortable. The rooms even had sinks. We met back in the main living area and headed for the screened-in deck on the back of the cabin. If it wasn't so cold, I suspect we would have spent more time there this weekend, but it was a little too nippy for that.

After agreeing that we made the right choice to finally get away the city for a while, we unpacked the SUV and one of the guys started the grill. As you can see, we had all sorts of "dead animal flesh" as he would call it:

While we were cooking, a couple of deer wandered close to our cabin. It was dusk though and they were just far enough away that we couldn't get a decent picture, but it was quite a scene. We enjoyed a fantastic meal and then attempted to set up the DVD player. Unfortunately, the remote control for our TV was missing and we couldn't figure out how to change the video output without a remote. I was so hoping to get to see Serendipity, but I'll probably watch it this coming weekend instead.

So, we broke out the board game Scattergories. After three games I was starting to feel the pressure because I was the only one who hadn't won a game, but I should say that I was playing under protest. During one round we had to come up with something that is sold in a souvenir shop that starts with the letter "P." If you've never played this game, the pressure can be pretty intense. You have three minutes to come up with twelve answers to twelve different scenarios and when the timer nears the end the ticking noise increases and so does your heart rate as you furiously attempt to complete your sheet.

Anyway, I wrote down "pickles" because I remember canned homemade pickles being sold in a souvenir shop in Arkansas when I was a kid. My grandparents used to take my sister and I to a little town in Arkansas every summer since they were from the area. We always stopped in this one particular souvenir shop. Maybe the pickle thing is something that you only find in souvenir shops in the south, I don't know, but my friends vetoed my answer.

But during that same round, one of them gave this as an answer (that was allowed!): "Platypus Man." You don't really need to know the question with an answer like that, but if you are curious, we were supposed to name a hero that starts with the letter "P." See what I mean about playing under protest? Oh, I'm just kidding. But that gives you an idea about the type of fun we had for the evening. We laughed, we protested, we laughed some more, we totaled our scores, and I never did end up winning a game. I'm just not quick enough on my feet to win at something like that.

We played Scattergories the entire evening and then we hit the sack. After we got up and got ready, we sipped our coffee while gathered around a huge dining table. One of the guys looked out a window and said something that I thought was quite profound. He said he wished he could look out his window at home and see such beautiful changing scenery.

It reminded me of a verse I'd read that morning: "The heavens tell of the glory of God. The skies display His marvelous craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make Him known. They speak without a sound or a word; their voice is silent in the skies; yet their message has gone out to all the earth, and their words to all the world." (Psalm 19:1-4, NLT)

I love city life, but I have found that if I don't get out of the city once in a while I miss so much of what God is saying through the divine silence of a countryside, the whisper of the trees, and the surefootedness of a deer (as Psalm 18:33 mentions). I don't want to do that anymore. Thankfully, the four of us have decided to make this an annual pilgrimage and I'm already looking forward to next year.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Tidbits

I've been doing a Friday Free-for-All for a while now and I'm enjoying it. Thought it might be time to revamp the name though and simply call it tidbits.

  • The Omaha area had our first snow of the year on Wednesday. It was beautiful. I stood at the window with a cup of coffee in my hand before work just watching the snow dance it's way down to earth. I'm sure at some point this winter I'll say, "enough already" but it's going to take a lot of snow for that to happen.
  • I'm off to my cabin exertion this weekend with three guy friends. We are planning to get together this afternoon to do a little shopping for the trip. Even the shopping trip should be interesting since we're all so different. But I'm really looking forward to some downtime. It's been a while since I've had any. I won't be back until Monday afternoon, so I probably won't be posting again until Tuesday.
  • Have you seen the previews for August Rush yet? I can't wait to see it! I know, I know. The critics are saying it's unrealistic, far-fetched, syrupy, and "too silly for adults to take seriously." They probably said the same things about Serendipity and it's one of my favorite movies of all-time. I know a guy who went to see a sneak preview of August Rush with his wife, and he's giving it rave reviews. Check it out.
  • A few days ago, I used the word "hamster" in a conversation when I meant to say "hamper." I said, "Wasn't this my grandma's hamster?" How funny is that? Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself.
  • I've never seen a professional tennis match, but now I have a chance. On December 14, Andy Roddick is going to play Sam Querrey and Serena Williams is going to play Ashley Harkleroad in exhibition play in Omaha. Roddick was born in Omaha and he's never played a professional match here, so he wanted to make it happen. I so need to go see this event.
  • Today is black Friday and if it's your thing, I can absolutely guarantee that I won't be in your way. Except for a brief run to the grocery store, you couldn't pay me to fight the crowds.

Have a great weekend everybody. See you Tuesday.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm thankful for...

  • God. The One from Whom all blessings flow.
  • Christ. For his finished work on the cross.
  • Grace. Because I have so many flaws.
  • Freedom. Which is never free.
  • Bravery. Which gave us freedom and keeps us free.
  • Family. I can't imagine life without it.
  • Friends. The people who love us because they choose to.
  • Work. Can you tell I work for myself?
  • Seasons. It snowed here yesterday.
  • History. Which keeps legacies alive.
  • Books. They comfort, inform, and challenge me.
  • Laughter. Which is medicine for the soul.
  • Home. There's nothing like it.
  • Holidays. Because we need to remember.
  • Computers. My, how they've changed the world.
  • Letters. Because you can enjoy them again and again.
  • Memories. They add such a richness to life.
  • Photos. They help us remember.
  • Dreams. They motivate us to continue on.
  • Midnight. My beloved cat who still brings me joy at 17 years of age.

What are you thankful for today?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Relationships

I just finished reading The Choice by Nicholas Sparks. Wow, what a book. If you liked The Notebook, or Message in a Bottle, then this is a book you'll want to pick up. I'm not going to do a review here. As I've said before, I don't really do reviews as much as I find insight in books that makes me think and then I comment about it.

I found a passage in The Choice that I loved. Travis Parker is having a conversation with his neighbor named Gabby. He is interested in her and she is interested in him, but things are complicated because she's already in a relationship with someone else.

So, they get to the point in their conversation in which they are talking about upbringing and family life. Here's what Travis says: "I remember going fishing with my dad every Saturday morning, and even though my dad was just about the worst fisherman who ever baited a hook, I found it thrilling. Now I understand that for my dad, at least, it was all about spending time with me, and I can't tell you how grateful I am for that. I like thinking that I can give my kids the same kinds of experiences someday."

I'm not sure when I first came to this realization, but life is about relationships--with God first, and then with each other. It's not about careers, hobbies, to-do lists, or anything else. All of those things are what we do, but they aren't the essence of life, nor do they bring any lasting fulfillment. They can however become a means for building relationships.

Years ago, I began taking my niece (her mom is a single mom) out to eat once a week. She likes going to Buffalo Wild Wings, so that's where we go. When we first started, we'd spend hours there, playing trivia games, talking about her life, and laughing our fool heads off. As she grew older, trivia gave way to getting her home early so she could hang out with friends. She isn't near as open about her life as she used to be (which is expected since she is 17), and I'm learning to deal with that.

With all of these adjustments came the desire to just spend time with her and to let her talk if she wants to. I don't want her to see our time together as therapy and I don't want her to dread our time together. Many years from now, I just want her to look back at our weekly meals as a time in which she spent time with someone who loved her exactly as she was.

I doubt that I pull that off successfully very often. I have a tendency to ask too many questions about school, and friends, and everything else. And I'm guessing that her friends view me as one of those odd uncles that every family seems to have, but I'm willing to risk being viewed as odd if it means that my niece is able to look back someday with the same type of fondness that Travis felt.

Ironically, as I sit here writing this post in a coffee shop, I just got a text message from my niece asking, "What r u doing?" That led to a flurry of text messages in which we discussed the common things of life. But I felt good knowing that our relationship is more than common. How many 17 year-old nieces spend time texting their uncles when they could be texting a hundred other people?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

When I Was Just a Kid

Crystal Miller over at the Chat N’ Chew Cafe’ started a new blog recently and I love visiting it. It's called When I Was Just A Kid.

Crystal knows all sorts of different people since she reviewed books for so long and she's interviewing many of them to find out what life was like when they were kids. It leads to all sorts of tasty bits of nostalgia. I subscribed to her blog and would encourage you to do the same. Her subscription box is underneath her bio.

I’ve known Crystal for several years, first through an online e-mail writer’s group, and then we met at a writer’s conference a few years ago in Denver. We share the same last name (her maiden name is Warren), and have many other things in common, so she started referring to us as cousins—which I found to be quite funny—and it stuck.

She interviewed me recently via email and if you read her latest post, you'll probably find out more about my childhood than you ever wanted to know.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Renting a Cabin, Part 2

Almost a year ago, I told you that several of my guy friends and I were kicking the idea around of renting a cabin on a lake about 30 miles from Omaha (the city we live in). Little did we know that cabins are booked up for many months in advance. But we finally found an open date and are planning our excursion this coming weekend.

As I said before, these particular cabins aren't really cabins. They have heat, four bedrooms, nice kitchens, living rooms that are nicer than the one in my own house, and indoor plumbing (an absolute must!). So, we're beginning to plot and plan for our time away. We're already committed to bringing a DVD player, a couple of movies, some board games, and lots of food and drink.

I suggested to one of the guys last night that maybe we could watch a good chick-flick or two and then each of us could read a copy of our favorite poem to the group. My suggestion was a joke since this guy doesn't really read and he despises chick-flicks, but I'm not sure if he realized I was joking.

"And then why don't we put on a dress?" was his response.

I burst out laughing, feeling like I was getting a small taste of what's to come this weekend. So, I'm guessing that we'll grill some burgers and steaks. Then we'll settle down to watch a movie in which everything in sight gets blown up. Then we'll transition to a board game. And by then, at least one of us will be nodding off. And that'll be the end of the night.

Unless you count the incessant snoring that is sure to penetrate the bedroom walls. In which case, somebody will probably attempt to stop the snoring (and if I had to guess, I'll be the one they will be trying to stop), but it won't work and it'll be the topic of conversation at breakfast the next morning--which I'm hoping consists of more than Pop-tarts.

But all in all, it'll be a great weekend, and I'm already excited about it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Friday Free-for-All

--I had to get a new battery for my car this week, which wasn't so bad, expect that I had to also replace my printer. Well, actually I replaced my printer a few weeks ago with one of those $20.00 jobbies hoping it would see me through for a while, but it does such a horrible job, that I had to get another, better printer.

--I finally finished reading Lay of the Land by Richard Ford and I'm half way through The Choice by Nicholas Sparks. Sparks doesn't break any new ground with this book, but to be honest, I'm kind of glad he doesn't. I know that when I pick up one of his novels I'm going to read about two people in North Carolina who fall in love and that one of them is always going to be faced with a difficult choice.

--I'm hoping to get my Christmas tree up this coming weekend. I always say I want to get it up before Thanksgiving, but I rarely do. I always figure that you might as well enjoy it for as long as possible because the Christmas season comes and goes so quickly each year. For the record, I will not be one of those people who is out Christmas shopping next Friday.

--Watched the movie The Good German this week with a friend. The movie is set in Berlin shortly after WWII. It depicted mostly cold characters who were only looking out for themselves--which may be an accurate portrayal of the way things were, but I had a difficult time getting into the movie because I really didn't have anyone to cheer for. Maybe I should have just enjoyed it for its historical content. I don't know.

--Watched Reign Over Me last weekend with another friend. It's about a man named Charlie who reverts back to his teen years after losing his wife and three girls in the 9/11 attacks. Adam Sandler plays Charlie and in my opinion he does a great job in such a serious role, but the movie has some rather odd moments--including Charlie's best friend being sexually harassed by a woman and she ends up playing a major role in the film later. The movie just felt out of balance to me.

--Two signs that I'm getting older: First, I fell asleep this week during a movie. I hardly ever do that. Second, I left my keys in the lock in the front door yesterday and they were there for several hours. And it's not the first time I've done that.

--I called 911 the other night. I was exiting the interstate by my home when I saw a car turn onto the exit ramp and toward the flow of traffic. Yikes! I have no idea what happened after that, but I'm hoping nobody got hurt (including the driver).

--The final NASCAR race of 2007 happens this weekend. I'll be glued to my television to see who wins the Nextel Cup and in hopes that maybe I'll finally get to see my favorite driver, Mark Martin, win a race.

Have a great weekend everybody.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Do Men Read?

And finally, here's one more repost that I thought you might enjoy. I'm planning to be back tomorrow with a new post.

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I read an article in the August 2006 edition of Writer's Digest magazine yesterday that confirmed what I've heard time and time again in the publishing industry. The title is, "Do Men Read?" written by Maria Schneider. It's "a look at the curious reading (and book-buying) habits of guys." The gist of the article is this…"Men account for only 20 percent of novel sales—and we all know that Tom Clancy has taken that measly 20 percent hostage…Whether by cause or effect, most novels are published with women in mind."

Schneider then goes on to quote Steve Almond, an author and fiction aficionado, about why men don't read fiction: "Men don't read fiction because they don't want to deal with complicated, painful internal conflicts," he says. "They're in retreat from that, which is why they watch 'SportsCenter,' instead. I suspect this has to do with how the genders are socialized. Women are allowed to live closer to their emotions, to have quiet time, and men are pushed to externalize and not admit they're in pain."

Put me in the tiny percent of men who read fiction, who don't read Clancy, but who benefits from examining the complicated, painful internal conflicts of life. All of us are a walking contradiction of sorts. We hold to a belief system, and then routinely violate it. We say we want to chase our dreams, but often settle for simply walking behind the convenient. We long for acceptance and community, but rarely leave our couches long enough to make it happen. I'm just as guilty as the next guy.

But fiction challenges me. And it empowers me. And once it a while it shames me. When a character, who is full of flaws and contradictions (much like I am), faces his demons, I'm right there with him, rooting him on. And while I'm rooting, I'm continually thinking about my own cowardices, my own failings, and my own desire to overcome them.

Sometimes self-examination via fiction can be a bit much and I like to flip on Sports Center or a baseball game. In the end, I always forget the scores. Instead I remember certain situations in which players rise to the occasion to lead his team to victory and I remember when players fail miserably. But more than their actions, I remember their reactions—the triumphant look, the wincing look, or the nonchalant look (the only look I don't understand).

So, ultimately, even when I'm attempting to tune out, I'm never really disengaged. I can't speak for other men regarding their fiction buying habits because it appears that I'm quite different than the vast majority of them, but I have a hard time believing that anybody likes to live in a world of continual disengagement.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Greatest Generation

Here's another repost that you might enjoy:

A couple of nights ago I had a long conversation with a friend that covered many topics, but they were all related; the war in Iraq, generations, American culture, and the future of our nation. The common theme that wove these topics together was hardship, and more specifically, whether or not the current generation (the one in which I am part of) and the one that follows me is too soft to maintain our nation for the generations that will follow us.

My friend, who is about 15 years older than I am, didn't raise the question. I did. I'm well aware of the fact that the generation before me made huge sacrifices in Vietnam, and the one before that made them in Korea, and the one before that made them in WWII. My appreciation for the people who have died in uniform defending our country deepens by the day. But, as many others have noted, something about the WWII generation made them special--some call them "The Greatest Generation."

Tom Brokaw wrote a book by that title. Here's what he has to say about the WWII generation in a blurb on the Random House website: "As I walked the beaches with the American veterans who had returned for this [40th] anniversary, men in their sixties and seventies, and listened to their stories, I was deeply moved and profoundly grateful for all they had done. Ten years later, I returned to Normandy for the fiftieth anniversary of the invasion, and by then I had come to understand what this generation of Americans meant to history. It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced."

I agree with him, but not just because the men who fought there had the courage to fight the war. (Click here to listen to a 13 minute speech that President Reagan gave in Normandy in 1984 and see if you can keep from getting misty eyed by their courage.) But also because nearly everybody in that generation contained that same courage. Not long ago, as I was going through things in my basement, I came across ration cards that my grandparents used during WWII. Ration cards were issued to civilians and limited the amount of meat, sugar, coffee, gasoline, and other items they could purchase. A slogan that could be heard again and again during that era was: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

This is the same generation that endured the Great Depression, so they understood what "doing without" meant. They were tough. And after the war was over, they were even tougher. I'm of the opinion that generations are made tough through trials. And I'd like to think that if our generation was called upon to make such sacrifices, that we could. Leaving aside the argument about whether we ought to be in Iraq or not right, our current generation in America has certainly shown the ability and courage it takes to fight when called upon. But what about the rest of us?

We've had so many things handed to us. Parents who didn't push us hard. A government that hands out checks which fosters a sense of entitlement. A fascination with pop culture and a nearly total disregard for history. According to statistics released by the National Endowment for the Humanities a little over a year ago, 51 percent of American high-school students think Germany, Japan, or Italy was an ally of the United States during WWII.

What will it take to make younger generations tougher or even more appreciative of older generations? I have no idea. Perhaps the aftermath of the current war will bring us face to face with soldiers and their families who have indeed made huge sacrifices. And maybe our leaders will one day call upon us to make sacrifices rather than promising us a better lifestyle.

Thinking about the big picture is just too overwhelming though. Thankfully, much of life happens in the small picture, which means, all of us can do something. We can teach our kids to respect elders. We can make sure they understand the sacrifices previous generations made. We can read history books to increase our own appreciation. And we can still talk to members of the greatest generation. Some of them are still alive and would love nothing more than to have one person ask them, "So what was it like…"

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Private Victory

I'm buried under work this week and probably won't have much time for new posts until next week. So, I thought I'd pick out a few of my favorite posts (many of which appeared on this blog long before many of you stumbled across it) and repost them this week. Hope you enjoy them.

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I'm probably a lot like most other people who love to read or watch movies. I find characters I can identify with and for a brief period, I live vicariously through them. These characters are often willing to act, rather than sitting around waiting for life to come to them. They are willing to say things that need to be said, rather than holding their tongue and hoping things work out. They pursue their own dreams, rather than pursuing the dreams others try to impose upon them.

Real life isn't always that easy, and it requires more tact than fiction, but fiction draws us because we see the raw, unadulterated, realness of the characters and we long to live that way. In a way, fiction allows us to entire a private world in which we are freer to feel the exhilarating triumphs, and the gut-wrenching pains, and thrills of living life they way we'd really like to.

With all of this in mind, I came across a passage recently in a book called Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain that really spoke to me. The book is about how to write and sell novels. It was published in 1965, so most of the anecdotal information is so outdated that I'm not even familiar with the movies and books that Swain references, but his instruction is the best I've ever read or heard—part of which advises readers about how to make characters seem more real.

Swain makes the case that novelists must be observers of people if they expect to portray humanity properly. In his mind, novelists must understand what motivates humans and their subsequent actions. In one particular section, under the sub-heading How do you give a character direction? Swain says this:

"Each of us wants to feel adequate to his world…in control of his situation and, thus, of his destiny.

"Anything that endangers a character's sense of control indicates a lack in him…an inadequacy. If my wife nags, or my jokes fall flat, or the promotions I seek go to other men, I may eventually come to doubt myself.

"When a man becomes aware of such a lack, and even if he can't figure out precisely what disturbs him, he grows tense and restless: unhappy, discontented, ill at ease.

"To relieve this tension, he takes some sort of action…escapes from the nagging wife in work, abandons humor for books, eases the sting of disappointment at failure to get ahead by taking refuge in gossip or sullenness or hobbies. Defeated, emotionally speaking, he substitutes one kind of behavior for another, in order to achieve a private victory. He pays for what he lacks, his inadequacies, with conduct designed to make up for them."

I love his phrase, "a private victory" because it captures the essence of what we long for--even, and maybe especially, in public defeat. All of us have places we retreat to in search of our own private victory when public victory is elusive. And I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Private victory can give us courage to attempt public victory and it can infuse us with hope when our circumstances in real life look bleak, but private victory ought to never become a substitute for real life. That's the struggle that we face, but for me, just being aware of the battle, gives me more courage to fight.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Love Thy Neighbor

Back in early July, I hinted that I had a family situation to deal with and I said I'd be away for a while. I can't go into a lot of details, but I can tell you that the family issue was my mom's health. She had a light stroke on July 3rd. The term "light stroke" seems ridiculously under-named when you see your mom unable to walk or even sit up under her own power. But Mom responded better than anybody might have imagined.

She was in the hospital for nearly a month, during which she underwent a ton of physical therapy to help her rebuild her strength--mostly on the left side of her body. She worked hard and by the time she came home in late July, she was much better. She still needed a lot of physical therapy, but she responded well to it and thankfully she's on the road to recovery.

She would tell you that it's been a group effort. My sister and I helped her. Some of her friends from work have called or sent cards and that lifted her spirits. People from my church brought over meals. And her neighbors have been unbelievable.

During Mom's hospital stay, several of them came over an introduced themselves while my sister and I took care of things at the house. Since Mom came home, they've done things that I have never seen neighbors do. One guy, who lives across the street, installed a garage door opener for her. Another neighbor is taking Mom to church on Saturday nights. Another plans to fix her car. Another calls, visits, and watches her house. On and on it goes.

She subscribed to one of those services that provides a button she wears around her neck that she can push in case she falls. They needed three names of people they could call who live within 15 minutes as sort of a first line of defense. She asked three of her neighbors and they were all willing to help.

And now that I think about it, this goes back further than when she had a stroke. In March, as she was returning home from work during a snowstorm, she got stuck on the street she lives in. One of her neighbors came out and dug her car out of the snow and helped her get it into the garage.

Imagine how many problems would disappear if all of us had such neighbors. And maybe more importantly...imagine how many problems would disappear if all of us were such neighbors.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Friday Free-for-All

--Thanks to everybody who took the time to vote for Little Nuances in the 2007 Weblog Awards. Last time I checked, the voting wasn't finalized, but I was pleased with the way things turned out--especially given the number of great blogs in the Best Diarist category.

--I received several very nice, heart-felt emails from people this past week saying that they are enjoying Little Nuances. Some even shared their own common experiences with me--which I just love, by the way. Thank you for taking the time to do so.

--So, I have had this huge pile of paperwork (mostly junk mail) that I've needed to sort through for a long time, but just haven't gotten around to it. I sort it out on Wednesday night and found four twenty dollar bills in the middle of the pile. Talk about incentive for cleaning! Actually I knew it was around here somewhere, but it was nice to finally find it.

--Baptist Press Sports published an article I wrote this week about Tom Osborne returning to Nebraska as the interim athletic director. I interviewed him a week ago for the story. If you'd like to read it, click here: Osborne returns to familiar surroundings at Nebraska as interim AD.

--Went to see Dan in Real Life with my 17-year old niece the other night. I identified with so much of the movie, and more specifically with Dan, that it was a little scary. Dan is a middle-aged widower who is raising three girls. He's a columnist and author. And as the movie opens, he's beginning to think about love again. It's been four years since his wife died. He uses the word "peeps," much like I do, to my niece's chagrin. He plays the guitar, like I used to--well, sort of. He loves bookstores, and that's so me. I'm not a widower, and I'm not raising three girls, but so much of his life looked like mine that my niece commented about it.

Have a great weekend everybody!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Last Chance

Today is the last day you can vote in the 2007 Weblog Awards. Little Nuance is currently seventh in the Best Diarist category and I'd be thrilled if you'd help to keep it there. Click here to vote. I appreciate all of the e-mails of support I received this week. It's nice to know that people are reading the blog and care enough about it to say so.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Drowning in Nostalgia

"You should be warned that it becomes increasingly easy, as you get older, to drown in nostalgia. In fact, you can almost measure where you are in life by the degree to which you have begun looking back rather than ahead." --Ted Koppel, in a commencement speech to St. Mary's (MD) graduates in May 2006

It's funny how the smallest event in the present can make you yearn for yesteryear. Hearing about Martina Hingis' retirement this week did that for me. I'm not going to get into the scandal that led to her retirement. It's not pertinent to this post. Instead, her leaving the game is but another reminder for me about the continuity of life.

In the abstract, continuity is a beautiful concept. It offers hope and imagination. But in reality, it often contains disappointment and the thought that nothing is as it should be. Yeah, I know. Sounds a bit overly dramatic--especially when speaking about the retirement of a tennis player. But I don't see it that way.

As I've said here before, for a shy, overweight kid who rarely felt like he fit in anywhere, the tennis courts became like home to me. I was never great, but good enough to be respected, and respect can carry a person a long way. As I got older and was faced with the reality that tennis is never going to be more than a hobby that I'm extremely passionate about, I sort of refocused my energy on watching the professional game--namely the US Open every August/September. I tuned in to feel at home.

I remember the late 80's as people like Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, and Boris Becker captured the title. I watched as Andre Agassi won it for the first time in 1994. And then as Steffi Graf and Pete Sampras won in 1995 and 1996. I enjoyed the Patrick Rafter run in 1997 and Martina Hingis' first and only US Open championship that same year. And well...you get the idea. I watched them all and all of them are gone now that Hingis has retired.

That doesn't mean I don't enjoy the current players or appreciate Roger Federer. I do. And I'll keep watching. But the feeling of nostalgia sweeps over me when I think about the in between period--that time in my life when I transitioned from my wannabe tennis player phase to hey-I-can-still-enjoy-this-game-by-watching-others-play-it phase.

In the big scheme of things, none of this is that big a deal. I'm a sap when it comes to nostalgia. I realize that "the good ole' days weren't always good." And I'm certain that I'll loose too much sleep when the Australian Open begins in January. I'll cheer and jeer and will my favorite players on to victory (or maybe defeat), and I'll enjoy myself. But part of me will still be thinking about the in between period.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Perfect Strangers

Yesterday afternoon I decided to do some work at Starbucks, so I packed up my laptop and headed for the intoxicating aroma of java. I ordered my standard skinny vanilla latte and yes I know most men would never order such a drink, but I don't care. I love the way they taste.

I fired up my laptop and as it was booting up I saw a woman sitting by herself. She was pounding away on her own laptop and I couldn't help but wonder what she was working on. Maybe it was NaNoWriMo. Maybe it was a book. Or maybe she was working on a report of some sort. She finished what she was doing and then moved across the store into a more comfy seat behind me. She pulled out a book and began to read.

Another woman came into the store after I started working. She smiled at me briefly and sat down at the same table the previous woman occupied. I love the fact that she was willing to smile at me. I didn't take it as an overt come on. It was more just one human acknowledging another. Anyway, she fired up her laptop and dove into whatever she was working on and just like with the first woman, I wondered what the second woman was working on too.

Something struck me as I thought about the three of us. All of us were there by ourselves and none of us seemed to mind it one bit. I've always been one who didn't mind going to a restaurant, bookstore, or coffee shop by myself, but I know that some people are uncomfortable flying solo. Maybe our culture has finally reached a point in which we are more comfortable in our own skin and we aren't afraid to take on life by ourselves.

But the interesting thing is, even though we are by ourselves, we still crave the company of other humans. We want to hear the dull buzz of conversation, even if we aren't included in it. We want to hear laughter, and passion, and every other range of emotion, even if we aren't involved in the experience. We want to take in the background music, sip our lattes, and write our email in the presence of others, even if we never interact with each other directly because humans desperately need each other.

We need to know we aren't alone. That's what it comes down to. Because the thought of music and coffee and laptops that are void of humanity seems to somehow empty such things of their meaning. There is a time to enjoy such things alone. But how much better does a cup of coffee taste when sipped in the presence of a friend or a loved one? And when that's not possible, even a perfect stranger will do.

Monday, November 05, 2007

500 Words

I went through some photos this weekend for a family member and it made me think about the old saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words." Being a person who loves words, I decided to put the saying to the test--at least partially. One thousand words seems a bit long for a post, so I decided to see if I could write exactly 500 words about a photo instead.

I chose this one from my collection:

This photo shows my late father holding my niece, Brooke, in 1990, shortly after she'd been born. So many things come to mind as I study it.

Let's start with their faces. It's hard not to notice Dad's wrinkles in contrast to my niece's smooth, new skin. Dad lived a hard life and you can almost see each struggle in the crevices of his face. Brooke's life was just beginning, and while she would know hardship early (she was born with Cerebral Palsy in her lower extremities and would undergo many surgeries), her face shows no evidence yet.

They both have a look in their eyes that seems to be saying, "I don't really know who you are yet, but I'm comfortable enough to hang out with you for a while to learn more about you." And look at their mouths. Both are in a similar position--sort of like the shape that would hold a set of those goofy wax teeth that probably nobody under 35 remembers. And it sort of adds to the case that they were searching to understand each other.

Dad is gently supporting Brooke's head with his left hand--which is a good indication that he knew how to handle an infant. And like all babies do, Brooke seems quite content to let him hold her head up. It's a beautiful picture of the way older generations understand the vulnerability of younger generations and just naturally do what needs to be done to protect them. And it also depicts the way the youngest generation innocently depends upon and trusts older generations.

Their hair tells a story too. Dad's hair is still jet black even though he was 54 in this photo. (My hair on the other hand is speckled with gray on the sides and I'm just 41.) Brooke has new-born hair. It's not all the way filled in yet. In a sense, both of them have hair that is untouched by the ravages of time.

Brooke's hands appear to be on the verge of lunging out at Dad's face to grab his glasses, or one of his lips, or maybe she was thinking about sticking her fingers inside his mouth. She liked to do that. And if she did it during this particular instance, I'm sure Dad was quick to tuck his lips over his teeth and pretend to gum her fingers. I can just hear her giggle as he does it. It would have filled the entire room with joy.

Finally, I can tell a lot from the background of the photo. It was taken at my grandmother's house--the same house I spent so much time in growing up. I can see a portion of her old familiar clock on the wall. And I can see her exercise bike, which she was probably still using during this point in her life while she recovered from quintuple heart bypass surgery in 1989.

So much family history in one snapshot. So many great memories.

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