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


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


  • 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


  • 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):


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.


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