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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Reflections

In my 2007 reflections post, I was off kilter. I felt certain that big changes were coming in my life and that they were just around the corner. I don’t know why I felt that way, but the changes never materialized. At least not that I could see. 2008 was a lot like most other recent years in my life. I worked hard, I played hard, I stayed in touch with close friends, and the year simply flew by. I’m wondering if I should start writing a summary of each month as it passes—just for personal reasons—so I can see where I’ve been and where I’m going. Thankfully I have the Little Nuances archives to help remind me about some of the events.

Professionally speaking, I was quite busy. I compiled a small book of facts for Barbour Publishing called Fun Facts for Sports Lovers. It is set for release in July 2009. I also compiled two perpetual desk flip calendars for Barbour: 365 Inspiring Moments from the Great Outdoors (due out in February 2009) and 365 Days of Inspiration for Football Fans (due out in July 2009). I continued to write for Baptist Press Sports (you can find links to many of the articles on my Christian sports blog). And I wrote a number of articles for other publications. I also did quite a bit of editing for a Christian publishing house. And I co-founded a new writing business called A Write Start that is designed to help people who want to be published but aren’t sure how to make it happen.

Personally speaking, I was a bit disappointed in myself. I didn’t read as many books this year as I have in years past. And I didn’t do a good job of keeping track of what I did read. In fact, in general, I did a poor job of keeping track of my life. I didn’t journal as much as I would have liked to. I didn’t take as many photos as I would have liked to. I didn’t blog as much as I would have liked to. And I didn’t spend as much time in reflection as I would have liked to. When you own your own business, it tends to bleed over into your personal live and that was definitely the case for me in 2008. I’m thinking through steps I can take in 2009 to avoid that from happening as much as possible.

Way back in January, I bowled a 297 game. I have no idea how. My first game of the series was a 128 and my third game was a 165. What happened in the second game is still a mystery but for the first eleven frames, every ball I threw found the pocket and all the pins went down. On my final ball, I thought it was going to be a good shot when I let it go, but it just didn’t make it back to the pocket quickly enough. Of course, I blogged about the event. Here’s a link.

In February, William F. Buckley Jr. died. That really bummed me out because so many of those in the old guard are passing away. I had a great deal of respect for Buckley, and as you’ve probably guessed by now, I blogged about him here.

In April, I put Little Nuances on hiatus, thinking I probably wouldn’t return. But I couldn’t help it. I missed it, and you, too much.

Around August, I started feeling a little off. It was hard to describe, but when I tried, I told people that I felt like someone turned my awareness down a notch or two. One Saturday morning I woke up feeling that way and once I felt a little better that day, I drove to an emergency room and told the nurse that I was pretty sure I had diabetes. Many people in my family have it and I have always thought I would get it one day. Turns out I was right. I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. That took some adjustment, including a meeting with a nutritionist, but I’m happy to report that my blood sugar is completely under control and I’m feeling better.

I immersed myself into more technology in 2008 than ever before. I switched from a Blackberry 8703e to a Treo 755p for various reasons—one of which is, I got used to the Palm OS when I used the old fashioned Palm Pilots of the early 2000s, so I wanted to go back to the familiar. Those who know me won’t be surprised to hear me say that. I bought a new digital camera in 2008—a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10. It takes stunning photos. This is the third digital camera I have owned and it takes the best photos by far. So, as you can imagine, I was inspired to take lots of photos at Thanksgiving and Christmas to make up for my lack of picture taking for the rest of the year. I continued to overwork my iPod in 2008. I have it loaded with every song I own as well as television shows and many podcasts. It’s one of the most practical pieces of technology I’ve ever owned. It’s already many generations old (in iPod years), but it’s holding up just fine.

I engaged in more social networking in 2008 than in previous years—primarily through Twitter, which I’m really enjoying. It doesn’t take a lot of time, but it’s an easy way to stay in touch with people you share common interests with. I even added a Twitter section in the sidebar of Little Nuances.

This is probably more information than you’ve ever wanted to know about me, so I’ll stop. I’m looking forward to 2009 and to continuing our conversation here at Little Nuances. Thank you for visiting. Here are links to my previous yearly reflection posts:

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008 Weblog Awards

A couple of weeks ago I told you that I’d let you know when I heard something about the 2008 Weblog Awards. For the past two years, Little Nuances has been a finalist. This year, competition was tough. Nearly 5,000 blogs were nominated and as I perused the list of finalists, there are some major heavy hitters among them.

Little Nuances didn’t make it this year, and that’s okay. There are a ton of great blogs to vote for, and more importantly, to read. If you get a chance, check out the many finalists. It’s a great way to find new blogs to add to your aggregator.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Where the River Ends

A couple of months ago, I picked up the latest novel from Charles Martin called Where the River Ends. I’ve never read any of his books, but this one really caught my attention. It’s a love story that seems to be cut from the Nicholas Sparks school of story-telling, in that it’s about a husband who is is trying to help his wife, who is dying of cancer, to accomplish the things she most wants to do before she dies.

As I read the introduction the other day, I knew that I would eventually read every novel Martin has ever written. Let me show you why. The introduction depicts a mother talking to her ten-year-old son (who grows up to be the man in the love story). Their life is chaotic because she’s with the wrong man (not the boy’s father), but she feels trapped for financial reasons. One day, she’s looking for a way to encourage her son about the future as they sit on a bench next to a river. She knows he has a talent for painting, so that’s what she targets:
“People come to this river for lots of reasons. Some of us are hiding, some of us are escaping, some of us are looking for a little peace and quiet, maybe trying to forget, anything to ease the pain we carry, but . . . we all come thirsty.” She pushed the hair out of my eyes. “You’re a lot like this river. In your fingertips, you got what people need. So don’t hold it back. Don’t dam it up. And don’t muddy it.” She flipped my hand over and spread her palm against mine. “Let it flow out, and one day you’ll find that people from all over will dive in and drink deeply.”
Imagine how different the world would be if everybody received such encouragement at a young age. I think the woman did more than just encourage her son to paint though. She also gave him a lesson in studying humanity. If he were to paint a picture of a man sitting by the river, he would paint him differently after thinking about what his mother said, depending upon why the man came to the river. If the man was there to hide, he might be under a tree. If he was there to escape, he might appear to be lost in some little detail—like a fish jumping out of the water. If he was there for peace and quiet, he might be lying on his back in the grass with his hands behind his head. Understanding motivation adds layers to art.

And that’s what Martin has done in this wonderful introduction. I can’t tell you anything about the rest of the book because I’m only in chapter one, but I still have a feeling that I’m going to end up owning every book Martin has ever written.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

VHS and Instant Film Coming to an End

I read two articles recently that made me feel rather old.

The first article was about the end of the VHS video tape. The last shipment from the last major supplier went out recently. The remaining stock will end up in a landfill according to the article.

The other article was about the end of Polaroid instant film. Avid users of it have been anticipating its demise and have been buying up reserves—causing prices to go up to nearly $2.00 per photo.

Technology has rendered both video tapes and instant film irrelevant. They will be gone, but not forgotten. Like most people, I was an avid user of both.

My grandmother used to have one of those huge camcorders—the kind that looks like the cameras that television news crews use. I recorded Christmases and birthdays for the better part of a decade with it and I still have those video tapes. I pop one into my VCR/DVD player once in a while. Some of the people in the videos are gone now, so the videos are priceless. I need to take the time to figure out how to get the videos transferred to DVD before all of those memories are lost forever.

I also recorded many memories with my Polaroid instant camera. I remember one instance quite clearly. I was 12 years old. My sister was 9. My grandparents took us to the Black Hills in South Dakota. I snapped several photos of my family with Mount Rushmore in the background. I still have those photos. I also still have a photo that someone took of me holding my niece shortly after she was born. I still had long hair (see photo below). In 1998, I took my instant camera to a family gathering. I ran through a package of film quickly and my Dad handed me the money to get more film saying that capturing moments like these were important. You can see him and my sister in one of the photos below that I took that day (he’s in the jean jacket and my sister is in the grey shirt with a maroon stripe). Over the years I captured moments such as blizzards, church plays, birthdays, and various other moments on instant film. Thankfully, I flipped many of the photos over and wrote the dates on the white strip at the bottom.

Dad turned out to be right by the way. Even though the film was expensive, failing to capture moments like these would have been a huge mistake.

DVD technology and digital cameras are far superior to VHS tapes and instant cameras, but you have to use the technology that is available at the time, and I used it for all it was worth.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Hope you have a great time today with family and friends. Take lots of pictures, eat lots of food, and enjoy the people you were with. And somewhere in the middle of it all, say a prayer for people who are spending the holiday alone and for people who are experiencing the season for the first time since the passing of a loved one.

Photo credit: monmart

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Department Store Conversations

I finished my Christmas shopping yesterday. It’s probably a record for me to be done this early. Yeah, I know it’s Christmas Eve, but usually I’m one of those crazy people who are out on Christmas Eve trying to figure out what to buy. Not this year. I finished on December 23rd.

As I stood in line to pay for my item, two little girls and their grandmother were talking about the gift that the girls were going to give their mommy. Grandma handed the oldest girl, who is probably five, a twenty dollar bill so she could pay for the gift—a couple of bottles of perfume in one of those packaged gift boxes.

The girl turned to her younger sister, who is probably three, and waved her hand in front of her own nose. “This stuff stinks,” she said. “I was playing with it one time and some of it got on me.”

“You were playing with my perfume?” Grandma said, trying to conceal a smile.

Busted.

I guess the girl figured that turnabout was fair play. Without missing a beat, after hearing her grandma cough, she said, “Are you gonna pretend to be sick tomorrow so you won’t have to go to work?”

“I only did that once,” Grandma said. “And shhhh. Don’t tell anybody.”

“Are you gonna do it again tomorrow?”

“No. You sound like my grandma. You know that?”

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Simple Instructions for Setting Your Watch

I go through watches like some women go through romance novels. Pretty quickly. I either break them or lose them or the battery dies and since I buy the cheapest watches possible, I just buy a new one any time my old watch disappears or stops working. I bought another watch last night. It was $7.50. I don’t care about the features when buying a watch. I just want it tell me the time. And I prefer a Velcro strap, even though I feel like an eight year old for preferring such things.

Anyway. I bought the new watch. I got into my car, pulled the watch out of the sack, and attempted to set the time. I usually have no problem doing that, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure it out—so when all else fails, read the instructions, right? You will not believe what you are about to read. Here’s what the instructions say about setting the time:

In normal time, push S3-Button three times. Tuesday flag + second digits will flash. Push S2-Button and Second will be reset to zero. 1 X Push of S1-Button: Minute digits flash and advance by depression of S2-Button. 2 X Push of S1-Button: Hour digits flash and advance as above. 3 X Push of S1-Button: Date digits flash and advance as above. 4 X Push of S1-Button: Month digits flash and advances as above. 5 X Push Push of S1-Button: Flag of weekday flashes and advances as above. Push of S1-Button and second will start for setting again. If S3-Button is pushed during any time change Normal Time will resume on display.

Huh?

With no help from the instructions, I finally pushed enough buttons to figure out how to set the time, but by default, the watch is on military time. Here are the rather simple instructions about how to change it to civilian time:

You have the possibility to change from 12 to 24 hour system, when adjusting the hours of the normal time (description please see above) one after the other the hours are displayed in the 12 hour system, then in the 24 hour system and then again the 12 hour system, i.e. please push S2 so many times, that the hour is displayed in the required system. In the 12-hour system hours are identified by “A” for 24:00-12:00 and with “P” for the 12:00-24:00 whereas in the 24 hour system all hours are identified with “H.”

I love the part that says, “please push S2 so many times, that the hour is displayed in the required system.” First off, why is there a comma in that sentence? Second off, why isn’t there a comma in some of the other sentences? Third off, you cannot be serious: push the button “so many times”—could this be more vague? And what in the world is a “required system”? I think a person could literally pull words out of a dictionary at random and they would make more sense.

See ladies—this is why men don’t read the instructions. They don’t make any sense.

I finally gave up. I really only needed a new watch band anyway (and they cost about as much as my new watch does), so I removed my new watch face, with it still showing military time, and tossed it into my junk drawer where it’ll never be seen again. Then I attached my old watch face to my new band and I finally had a functioning watch.

Maybe I should have just paid $20.00 or $30.00 and bought a better watch to begin with, huh?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Baseball Dartboard

Last night, I visited my mom. I went down into her basement to get something and I saw something that took me back in time—a dartboard in the shape of baseball diamond. I yanked the darts off the board, stepped back about ten feet and as the darts soared through the air I felt like I was 13 again.

Back before I ever played a video game, I used to play baseball darts with my best friend in his basement. The premise was simple, you threw darts at the dartboard and if you hit the “1” your team got a single, a “2” your team got a double, etc. You can see from the board below [a picture I took at my mom's house last night] that you could also hit stolen base, double play, and so on.


I can still see my friend’s basement. We hung the dartboard on an old grey wooden door that led out to his back yard. We didn’t always hit the dartboard, so the door had plenty of holes in it. We spent hours down there playing that game. He had a notebook and kept track of every hit, out, or run we scored. He could go back for months and recount previous games we played.

We even took it a step further. He was a big Dodgers fan and I was a Royals fan (some things never change). So, in his notebook, we would fill out our favorite team’s line up and then work our way down the line up, as if each at bat belonged to someone on our favorite team. The funny thing was, George Brett seemed to have just as much of a knack for doubling in the dart game as he did in real life, even though I was the one throwing the darts. Maybe I tried harder when I glanced over at the notebook and saw that he was up. We also played the part of a pitcher on our favorite teams.

It’s amazing how much fun a couple of kids can have with a little imagination. If I told this story to a 13-year-old today, he would probably think I was nuts, given his opportunities to play X-box or PlayStation 3. I’m not knocking technology. If my friend and I would have had it back then we would have been immersed in video games. But I’m not sorry that we came along before all of that.

Friday, December 19, 2008

More ALF Quotes

And here are some of the funnier ALF quotes from the movie PROJECT: ALF:

“Last call. Anyone want the runny white part? Going, going, gone.”

“How shall we handle the sleeping arrangements? I should get the bed seeing that I’m already on it, and I’m shedding.”

“I’d like a melmacian martini. If you don’t have fresh cat juice, you can substitute ferret.”

“I get first dibs on licking the windshield.”

“How do you feel about dating outside of your species?”

In case you missed the other posts in this series over the years, here are the links:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

PROJECT: ALF

Okay, I'm excited.

My PROJECT: ALF DVD just arrived in the mail and I finally get to see how the series ends. At the end of season four, ALF was captured by the Alien Task Force. What a horrible way for a series to end! But this movie picks up where the series left off and ALF finds himself on lock down on a military base.


Does he escape?

He better.

The weather is supposed to turn nasty here in Omaha tonight. Guess what I'll be doing? Go ahead, say it, I'm a dork.

I don't care.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Steve Brown Dies

A friend sent me a text message yesterday that really bummed me out. He asked me if I’d heard that Steve Brown died on Saturday. I hadn’t. I quickly opened a browser, and read about his death. Brown was just 68 years old. Turns out, he died in his home on Saturday getting ready to leave to do his new radio show. While it seems like he left us far too early, he left us doing the thing he loved the most, and that seems fitting.

Brown is a radio legend in Omaha, Nebraska and he was part of my daily routine during the late 1980s and most of the 1990s. He had a talk show called “Talk of the Town with Steve Brown” that started in 1989. It aired on KKAR in Omaha [all of the pictures you see of Brown in this post appear courtesy of KKAR station director Neil Nelkin who graciously emailed them to me at my request]. From the first time I heard Brown’s show, I was drawn to it. He had the proverbial radio voice. Not the exaggerated Top 40 radio voice, but a deep, calm, soothing voice that made you want to listen to him.

I discovered his show shortly after it started on December 1, 1989. I was 23 years old and was on the verge of huge changes. I was at the tail end of my partying days—days I look back on now with mixed emotions. I certainly had fun, but I was also incredibly immature—living for the moment without regard for the future or anything else. I made some horrible choices leading up to this point in my life, but that started to change in 1989 and on into 1990. Christian radio caught my attention for the first time and so did talk radio.

Over the next two years my views on nearly everything changed. And as they changed, Brown was my constant companion. He helped me to make sense out of the world. I listened to him at work every morning. He spoke about politics from a conservative perspective (he called himself a “concernative” because he was more concerned about truth than he was partisanship), but he was about so much more than politics. He spoke about local issues, local culture, and local happenings.

In fact, he started using a phrase that caught on: “Live and local.” That was his emphasis. He thought Omahans had a right to know what was going on in their community and he felt like the media had a responsibility to bring them in depth coverage.

One of the things I liked about him was his ability to bring context to a discussion. He had a wide variety of interests and he was around the movers and shakers of his interests. He said he just got lucky. Being in the right place at the right time never hurt anybody, but I don’t really believe in luck. If I did, I would tend to side with the Roman dramatist Seneca who said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” That seems to be what happened with Brown.

One of Brown’s claims to fame was introducing the Beach Boys to the Beatles back when he was a concert promoter. He had programs on three of the largest and most well known radio stations in Omaha over the years. He was a fisherman. He was good friends with Ted Nugent and Senator Ben Nelson. If you follow politics, then you know that Nugent is a staunch conservative while Nelson is a middle of the road Democrat.

I heard Brown tell a story once about a barbeque he had at his house in which Nugent, Nelson and his family, Congressman Lee Terry and his family, several musicians, and a number of other people sat around on his deck for five hours enjoying each other’s company. Brown had a way of moving past partisanship and really listening to people—even if he disagreed with them—maybe even especially if he disagreed with them. More than once, I heard him change his mind on the air while speaking with somebody.

I have so many other memories of Brown.

I loved the bumper music he used on his radio show. He often used Nugent or ZZ Top at the beginning of each hour or to come back from commercial break. Whenever I hear their music, I think of him.

I remember Brown doing his show from Washington D.C. after the 1994 election. He interviewed several politicians and then Sonny Bono walked by while Brown was on the air. He’d done some work with Bono during his early days of broadcasting and they had a brief, impromptu discussion live on the air.

Over the years, I wrote to Brown on a number of occasions. The first time I wrote to tell him how much I enjoyed his show—this was early on—and he read my letter on the air. I sent him a couple of emails over the years. I met him a couple of times at trade shows in town. And back in 2003, he read a post on the air that I wrote for one of my former blogs, about Christmas.

His local morning radio show was on the air for about 15 years. Sadly, radio stations became more focused on national talk radio shows and eventually the market for “Talk of the Town” dried up. But Brown didn’t complain. He recently landed another show on Saturdays on another radio station and he seemed to enjoy it. Now that his voice is silenced, talk radio in Omaha will never be the same.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Diaper Drive

This past weekend, some friends and I continued more of our Christmas traditions. I don’t know how long ago we started this, but we decided to stop trading gifts at Christmas and instead pool the money we would spend on gifts for each other to use it for the needs of the people in our local rescue mission. Some years we’ve purchased food and taken it to the mission. In more recent years we’ve bought diapers for the mission’s annual diaper drive.

You’d think that after doing this for a few years we’d have some clue about the diaper buying process, but really we don’t. We’re three single, 40-something year-old guys, none of whom have ever been married or had children. We just know that we need to buy different sizes of diapers because there are difference sizes of babies.

On Saturday, we were in Wal-Mart, probably looking rather confused, when a family came down the aisle. The mom came to our rescue and told us which diapers were best and that diaper packaging has numbers on it ranging from 1-5. The lower numbers are for younger babies and so on. We even learned that “NB” stands for new born.

Who knew?

Here’s a picture of me pointing to the number “3” on the packaging, after we’d received the new revelation:

We ended up with a trunk full of diapers:

Then we took them to the pick up point, sponsored by a local radio station, and we stopped long enough to have this photo taken (I’m on the far left, my friend Bob is on the far right, and my friend John is in the back with the back Nebraska hat—the rest of the people were workers from the radio station or members of a local football team):

Friday, December 12, 2008

Heidi Joy’s “Holiday Joy” Concert

Last week, a friend and I attended Heidi Joy’s annual Christmas concert, called Holiday Joy, and, as always, it was a beautiful way to kick off the Christmas season.

Joy started performing this concert in 2000 and I’ve caught all but a couple of the shows. I asked her recently how it felt to know that her show had become a tradition to so many people.

“It was my intent after seeing how successful the first Holiday Joy show was, to keep it a tradition for my fans who attended,” she said. “I also wanted it to grow so that other community members could enjoy the music of the Season. I can’t explain the joy and gratitude I feel at being able to share my gift and use my talents on a daily basis. I am so pleased to know my favorite hobby is also my career.”

She opened with a playful song from the 1950s called “Man with the Bag.” Then she transitioned into “Winter Wonderland.” The stage had several Christmas trees on it that were wired to change colors as she sang. The stage was trimmed with lighted greenery and ten large, lighted snowflakes that hung over head. They changed colors as well.

As is always the case with Joy, her song selection this year was quite varied, which always makes it fun. And she had a few new local musicians this year as well—some of whom included members from another band she is in called Riverside Anthology. She enjoys sharing the stage with local talent.

“I like to keep things interesting for my audiences, so I perform a variety of musical styles and am accompanied by various musicians,” she said. “This year, I enjoyed singing with each group. It also keeps it fun for me to know that a harp and vocal duet might be followed by a soft song. Then a few minutes later, the audience is enjoying an upbeat holiday favorite. And I love showcasing local talent. It is abundant in Omaha.”

Half way through the first set, she sang “Gesu Bambino,” a song from the early 1900s. I can’t imagine anybody else signing these words more powerfully:

When blossoms flower e’er ’mid the snows,
Upon a winter night,
Was born the child, the christmas rose,
The king of love and light.

Armed with an operatic voice that seems to be able to touch the heavens, Joy caressed this song for us and brought us back to the first Christmas Day, and then she let us linger there a while.

A couple of songs later she sang a moving original song called “Snowflakes,” which is a song about the journey all of us take. The song has taken on new meaning in Omaha since the tragic shooting at Von Maur last December. A few weeks after the shooting, she sang it at an event called We are O!ne, meant to bring healing to the community.

Here’s how the song begins:

When we begin
We play on the wind
Softly coming down
When we fall
We feel so small
As we look around
When our journey is done
We will be as one
When we reach the ground

Toward the end of the first set, Joy sang an old spiritual called “Children, Go Where I Send Thee.” Yeah, she’s that talented. She can transition from opera to an old spiritual without you even realizing what just happened. To her, good music is good music, and she covers the gamut. She also enjoys digging for old songs that are out of circulation and she breathes new life into them. One of them is a Stevie Wonder song from 1967 called “One Little Christmas Tree” which she sang in the second set.

“A few years ago, I made a point to search out old Christmas songs that I could bring to life on our stage,” she said. “There are fine songs with beautiful messages that seem to have gotten lost through the years. ‘One Little Christmas Tree’ is one of these songs. The message is clear that anyone can make a difference in other people’s lives and ‘throughout the world.’”

In years past, Joy performed my favorite Christmas song, “Mary, Did you Know?” early in the show, so I kept listening for the opening notes of the song throughout the first set and then the second, but it wasn’t there. She left the stage and came back for an encore and thankfully it was one of the three final songs she played for the evening.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again, I’ve heard many recorded renditions of this song and none of them can touch Joy’s version. Once in a great, great while a musician does a song so well that something magical takes place. The music takes you past the performer, past the stage, past the concert hall—and into a sacred place that you never want to leave. That’s what happens every time I hear Joy sing “Mary, Did You Know?”

Can you tell that I’m already looking forward to her concert next year?

Joy has two Christmas CDs available. Pick up both of them. You won't be sorry. Here's a link to her website. Just click on CDs.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

An Old Courtship Letter

Photo: Jose C. Silva
I can’t remember what I was googling one day when I ran across a website devoted to old letters, but I was hooked the minute I clicked on and read one of them. The website contains letters, mostly from the 1800s, from and to people who never became famous, but who lived fascinating lives nonetheless.

One of the letters I read recently is from a man named Bennie Thomas who lived in Tennessee. He wrote to a woman named Addie Jones on January 5, 1866 in an attempt to win her heart.

Here’s a little of what he said:
I have to acknowledge a deep, warm attachment for one who has ever been my truest, kindest friend. For the friendship I am truly grateful, how cold the term friend is to the warm and loving heart. It requires much, very much more than this, and can only be satisfied with a passion not only as warm, deep and tender, but equally as pure. You, dearest, are constantly in my thoughts, and every throb of my heart is for you. My every thought but some new wish for your happiness. I offer you a heart warm and loving. Will you and can you accept it, and my heart is too full to say more. Would that I possess the pen of a ready writer, to pour out in burning words, or that “Holy muse” would linger for me to inspire me with a song worthy of the subject, that I might at last finally express my devotion for you.
You can read the entire letter by clicking here. You can even see an image of the letter.

Even though Mr. Thomas didn’t believe he had a way with words, I think it’s pretty clear that he did. I love how he told her that every throb of his heart was for her and that he was consumed with finding new ways to wish her happiness.

He set the bar pretty high for the rest of us who are still seeking a wife and I’m glad he did.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Serendipity and the Matching Gloves

Do you have Christmas traditions that you postpone until later in the season simply because you want to savor the idea of the tradition just a little longer? I do. One of them is watching Serendipity—one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s set at Christmas time and it’s an epic love story—well, maybe not epic, but it’s epic in my mind. And I never get tired of watching it.

I received an email from a dear friend last week asking me if I’d watched the movie yet this year. He knows that it’s part of my annual Christmas routine. I told him that I hadn’t watched it yet because I wanted to wait just a little bit longer. Well, I couldn’t take it any more and I watched it last night, and how can I not write another post about it?

The movie opens with a pair of gloves being grabbed simultaneously by a man named Jonathan (played by John Cusack) and a woman named Sara (played by Kate Beckinsale), who ultimately end up deciding to split up the gloves. Jonathan takes one and Sara takes the other. The gloves become a symbol of their relationship.

Gloves aren’t meant to function separately. Then can, if you are Michael Jackson, but they aren’t supposed to . . . and even he didn’t pull off it off very well.

Jonathan and Sara did not become a couple when they first met due to their circumstances, but they were never able to get past the feeling in their guts that things just weren’t right without the other person. Sara admits this to her best friend many years later when they fly back to New York to look for Jonathan:
I’ve just spent the entire flight starting at the sky thinking—not about my fiance, but about this mystery guy I met a million and a half hours ago—a guy I don’t even remember except for this vague picture I have inside my head. It was just a few seconds—a fragment really—and it was like, in that moment the whole universe existed just to bring us together.
At the end of the movie, Jonathan is lying down on the ice at Wollman Rink, inside Central Park—the place where he and Sara ice skated on the magical night they met, and with snow falling down all around him, he sees the matching glove tumble from the sky.

He knows she is close.

He reaches for the other glove—his glove—and sees that the one that just dropped from the sky is a perfect match. He sits up, cuts his eyes both ways, and then he turns around. And the two gloves that have been separated for far too long finally become a matching pair once again.

By the way, the little tidbit of information about Wollman Rink—I included it in a perpetual flip calendar I compiled for Barbour Publishing that is going to be released in February called 365 Inspiring Moments from the Great Outdoors. You can find that factoid on December 26 in the calendar.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Little News

I found out over the weekend that my singles devotional book, Single Servings: 90 Devotions to Feed Your Soul, has gone into a second printing. I’m excited about that because it was my first book.

The 2008 Weblog Awards announced recently that the finalists will be revealed on Christmas Day. I’ll be sure to let you know how things go for Little Nuances—good or bad.

Baptist Press Sports has published a couple of articles I wrote after interviewing NASCAR driver Eric McClure and NASCAR Sprint Cup chaplain Tim Griffin. Here are the links if you are interested in reading them:

I went to see Four Christmases with a couple of friends over the weekend. It was hysterical—a bit crude in some places—but a good study in human nature. I loved how Brad (played by Vince Vaughn) and Kate (played by Reece Witherspoon) gradually changed over the course of the movie from people who thought that the most important thing in life is to live without any commitments or responsibility, to people who rightly understood that life doesn’t mean much when a person doesn’t make commitments to and take responsibility for doing the hard work the comes with being in relationships with loved ones.

I’m still waiting for the first good snow here in eastern Nebraska. We’ve had a couple of small ones that didn’t amount to anything, but it is Christmas time, so I’m ready. Let it snow!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Literature Discussion Groups

The New York Times published an article this weekend that caught my attention. It was called “Fought Over Any Good Books Lately?” written by Joanne Kaufman. It’s about how and why some people have become disillusioned with book clubs. Kaufman points out the reasons you might expect: one member takes over the group; tastes in books differ too much; a ban on discussing or reading about certain topics; etc.

In the middle of her article she says this though:
Today there are perhaps four million to five million book groups in the United States, and the number is thought to be rising, said Ann Kent, the founder of Book Group Expo, an annual gathering of readers and authors.

“I firmly believe there was an uptick in the number of book groups after 9/11, and I’m expecting another increase in these difficult economic times,” she said. “We’re looking to stay connected and to have a form of entertainment that’s affordable, and book groups are an easy avenue for that.”

So, in spite of the disillusionment, more and more people are joining book clubs, and they are doing so because they want to be connected with other like-minded people. Sounds like a great reason to me.

A couple of years ago, ten or fifteen people from my church started a literature group and I really enjoyed it. We read poems, plays, and short stories. Many in the group had literature backgrounds in college. And even the ones who didn’t were extremely well read. I loved listening to their insights.

We read and discussed a poem called “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell (1621 – 1678) once. My knowledge about poetry is as close to nothing as one can get, so I didn’t have much to offer after I read it. But listening to those who had a deeper understanding than I did helped me to grasp what Marvell was getting at.

Essentially, the poem seems to be about a man attempting to seduce a woman—trying nearly every trick in the book. But it isn’t hard to find opinions that have a slightly different take. This study guide seems to take a more innocent view in saying that the poem has more to with courtship and how slow the process can be, and how the man in this poem doesn’t want to lose any time with the woman he loves. He wants them to enjoy each other while they are still young.

Those are the types of nuances we discussed in our group and doing so helped to bring the pieces we were discussing to life for me. Unfortunately our literature group eventually disbanded, but I’d really like to get back into another group at some point.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Remembering Von Maur Shooting Victims

Today is the one year anniversary of the shooting at the Von Maur store in my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska that claimed the lives of eight people: Gary Scharf, Maggie Webb, Beverly Flynn, Gary Joy, Janet Jorgensen, Dianne Clavin Trent, John McDonald, and Angie Schuster. What a horrible day that was. But I was so impressed by the way the city pulled together to support the victims’ families.

I visited the store about ten days after the shooting. It was still closed at the time, but I just wanted to pay my own respects to the deceased and I wanted to see the memorial that people were building outside the the store.

People wrote their heartfelt sentiments on cards, letters, poster boards, and snowflakes cut out of paper and they hung them all over the doors of the store—both outside and inside the mall. When the doors were full, they started plastering them on the walls. And when the walls were full, they started laying them on the ground. In some places, it literally looked like a blizzard since the ground was layers deep in notes of various shapes and sizes.

Thankfully I recorded my thoughts in a post here on this blog. Here’s a little of what I said:
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.”
That same post contains pictures I took of the memorial. Here’s a link if you’d like to see them. The Omaha World Herald is running a series of stories right now. Here's a link to the page on the World Herald's website that contains a photo and a brief bio about each victim. And their website contains many more photos of that day and the memorial. You can see them by clicking here, and then clicking on the photo gallery.

Today at 1:30 PM, Von Maur will stop business in Omaha as the employees, our mayor, and lieutenant governor will gather on the steps for a moment of silence. It sounds like the World Herald is planning to carry the live video of the ceremony. Here’s a link to the front page of their website. It sounds like the video will be available there.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

I'm Gonna Win

I love looking through “This Date in History” websites. I was looking at one particular website for December 4 and saw that in 1981, one of the “chart toppers” was a song called “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” by Foreigner. If you are 35 or over you probably remember the song. I’m old enough to have owned it on a 45. If you don’t know what a 45 is, then I’m way too old.

Anyway, I loved the song “Waiting for a Girl Like You” and I listened to it frequently. I was 15 years old in 1981—just starting high school. I had this thing about 45’s back then. I would listen to the popular song on Side A, but I always liked to give the song on Side B a chance. I found some real gems over the years. The flip-side of “Waiting for a Girl Like You” was a song called “I’m Gonna Win.”

I loved that song the first time I heard it. It has an edgey feel to it and it is one of a myriad of rock songs that round up the troops for some imaginary battle. Here are a couple of lines from the song:

I was not born, to be a fighter
But now’s the time I have to learn
To keep my head, above the water
Gotta play with fire, but not get burned

Of course, at the age of 15, I didn’t really have any real battles to worry about. Oh, I was overweight and got picked on once in a while, but it was never anything I couldn’t deal with. My battles had more to do with getting a girls’ attention or winning a starting infield position on my baseball team than they did anything else. But a battle is a battle and this song gave me all the inspiration I needed.

I wish that iPods had been around back then because they keep track of how many times you listen to each song. I would love to know how many times I listened to “I’m Gonna Win.” Certainly more than I listened to “Waiting for a Girl Like You” on the A-side, and probably just shy of the numbers of times I listened to “Urgent”—another great song on the Foreigner 4 album, which I didn’t own until much later in life.

That makes me think of something else.

Back when I was listening to 45s, I didn’t own a lot of albums. 45s were ninety-nine cents and it just made more sense to buy singles instead of albums. That changed with cassettes and then CDs. A person could still buy singles singles in either medium, but they were harder to find. Then came the iPod and MP3s and now I’m back to buying one song at a time, unless I really like an artist.

Wow, the name of one song can bring back a lot of memories.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The New Diet Pepsi Look

When I went to buy groceries last week, I stopped in the pop aisle to pick up a six pack of 24-ounce Diet Pepsi bottles. I looked on the shelf they normally keep the Diet Pepsi and I couldn’t find any. What in the world? My eyes scanned the shelves again and I saw regular Pepsi, and caffeine free Diet Pepsi, and wild cherry flavored Diet Pepsi, and some new freaky looking Pepsi, but no regular Diet Pepsi.

I could stomach the caffeine free or wild cherry Diet Pepsi if necessary, but I don't do new freaky flavors of pop. At the risk of alienating 98% of my audience, I’m going to quote the rock group Head East here and say, “There’s never been any reason . . . ” Just give me the real stuff and I’ll be on my way. Thank you.

I took a closer look at the new freaky stuff and it turned out to be Diet Pepsi. They changed their look, to this:

Just last week, their bottles looked like this:

So, I'm a bit dense. And yeah, I know I'm getting old. But I've never really saw the point of changing packaging on an established product. That's a discussion for another day.

This got me to thinking and glancing through my Picasa photo album. I was looking for even older styles of Pepsi or Diet Pepsi cans or bottles. They weren’t hard to find. Different eras of my life flashed before my eyes. I found one picture of my dad from 1997 with a full beard, which he rarely wore. Next to him was an even older style can of Diet Pepsi. Can you tell that my family is loyal? I found another photo of my Mom. She was busy in the kitchen during Christmas (probably 1998). Two old style Diet Pepsi cans sit on the kitchen table in the background. Right next to them you can see a cassette tape rack full of cassettes. She always likes to put music on in the background during Christmas.

It’s funny, I’ve always consciously marked eras of my life by decade, or by songs, or by movies, but I never thought about marking time by the ever-changing Diet Pepsi bottle or can.

Obviously, it can be done.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Dewey the Cat

I started reading Dewey: The Small-town Cat Who Touched the World yesterday. It’s about a kitten who survives a bitterly cold winter night after somebody shoves him in a library book return slot in Spencer, Iowa and then goes on to become the library cat—touching everybody he comes into contact with during difficult times.

The book opens in the late 80s with the farm crisis when nearly everybody in Spencer was affected by it. People were coming to the library to look for a new job on the library’s fancy new computer, or to pick up a book to help them with job skills, or to learn how to put together a new resume.

Early on in the book, when Dewey (who was named Melville Dewey, the creator of the Dewey Decimal System that libraries use) was still recovering from frostbitten feet, librarian Vicki Myron makes this observation about him:

All I knew was that, from the moment we found him, Dewey believed everything was going to be fine. And when he was around, he made others believe that too. It took him ten days to get healthy enough to explore the library on his own, and once he did it was clear he had no interest in books, shelves, and other inanimate objects. His interest was people. If there was a patron in the library, he’d walk straight up to him—still slow on his sore feet but no longer hobbling—and jump into his lap. More often than not he was pushed away, but rejection never deterred him. Dewey kept jumping, kept looking for laps to lie in and hands to pet him, and things started to change.

Dewey was still a young kitten at this point of the story, but his focus on people rather than objects made him wise beyond his age. I get frustrated with myself sometimes when I realize that I am putting my schedule or work or other things ahead of people. Of course, I’m not free to roam around all day like Dewey did, void of responsibility, but putting people first should be a priority.

I’m also moved by the way Dewey never let rejection deter him. He kept looking for new opportunities with people and he kept jumping in people’s laps and eventually things started to change. Myron goes on to talk about how things changed. When the older patrons started paying attention to Dewey, they started coming to the library more often and they stayed longer. Some of them even dressed better. But something bigger than all of that happened—they began to build a relationship with the staff of the library.

One man who was out of work finally gave in and allowed Dewey to sit in his lap and it brought a smile to the man’s face. Dewey didn’t solve the man’s problems, but he eased his pain for moment.

I think all of us could learn a lesson or two from Dewey’s life. In fact, we could go one step further and be a Dewey for someone in need.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Christmas Traditions

I was glad to open the blinds to the window in my living room yesterday morning and see a light dusting of snow on the ground. It seemed like the perfect setting in which to put up my Christmas tree in the afternoon. After I got the tree together, my beloved cat, Midnight, did what she does every year—she began to chew on the lower branches before I could even get the bulbs on the tree. When she finally settled down, she posed under the tree for me, just like she does every year, so I could get a decent photo of her under the tree:

After the photo, she resumed her regularly scheduled chewing of the branches. It was hard to get a good photo of her in action. Here’s the best I could do:

I finally got the rest of tree decorated without further incident.

I cleaned my home office yesterday afternoon after putting up the tree. It was a nightmare. Now it’s just a bad dream. As I cleaned, I noticed that I needed to flip the calendar to a new month. As I did, I saw a beautiful picture for the month of December of an old general store in some out of the way place, with two pickup trucks parked outside and snow falling steadily around the place. You can see inside one of the windows—where a Christmas tree shines proudly.

And then I got excited as I thought about the Christmas concert I’m going to tonight. Heidi Joy is performing her annual Holiday Joy concert and it’s always one of the highlights of the Christmas season for me. I’ll be posting more about it later in the week.

And one more thing happened. I remembered that the Christmas devotional book I wrote starts on December 1. I always imagine families sitting down around the dinner table with the book and working through one of the devotions, and then hopefully singing the corresponding Christmas carol I included with each day.

Yeah, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Unrequited Love

On Friday night, I could feel a cold coming on. It hit me full force overnight and by Saturday morning, I had a sore throat and was sneezing repeatedly, which pretty much made it the perfect day to stay home and watch a movie or two. I recorded The Holiday a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been wanting to see it for a couple of years now. Turned out to be an awesome move. [By the way, Amazon.com is selling this DVD for $6.99 right now, so you might want to pick up a copy.]

The plot is about two women, Iris (played by Kate Winslet), and Amanda (played by Cameron Diaz), who decide to swap homes for two weeks during the Christmas season. They are both coming out of relationships, or in Iris’ case—an attempted relationship, and they both just want to get away from their relationship problems for a while. So Iris travels to L.A. and Amanda travels to England.

As I’ve said here before, I don’t really do movie reviews here as much as I do scene reviews. That’s what I want to do this time as well.

Early in this movie, as Iris narrates for the viewer, she is lamenting the fact that the man she has loved for the past three years doesn’t really love her in return. Here’s how she describes how she feels:

“. . . and then there’s another kind of love—the cruelest kind; the one that almost kills its victims. It’s call unrequited love—of that, I am an expert. Most love stories are about people who fall in love with each other, but what about the rest of us? What about our stories—those of us who fall in love alone? We are the victims of the one-sided affair. We are the cursed of the loved ones. We are the unloved ones. The walking wounded. The handicapped without the advantage of a great parking space.”

Iris has a point. I love movies in which love is requited, but you don’t see many movies with unrequited love. Yet, how many of us deal with it on a daily basis? I certainly have in the past. I’d be embarrassed to tell you how many years of my life I’ve spent waiting for one person or another to finally see the light when I should have known that if the light was going to come on, it probably would have happened much sooner.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it always happens quickly. But after somebody you love makes it clear that he or she just isn’t interested, it is so hard to walk away. That is what Iris faces. And she finally makes the right decision. And in it, she finds freedom.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pre-Thanksgiving Day Thoughts

I thumbed through a recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine recently in which they named the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. These types of lists can be so subjective that you have to take them with a grain of salt. And you have to take into account that all of us have different tastes. Elvis Presley is listed as number three of all time. Not sure I agree with that. And Axl Rose is listed ahead of Steve Perry. Seriously?

Have you ever explored Google Trends? I find it fascinating. It lists the 100 most popular searches for any given hour. As I write this, Siri Pinter is the hottest trend. I’ve never heard of her, so I clicked the link on the Google Trends page and it turns out that she is Carson Daly’s girlfriend and apparently she’s expecting a baby. How in world can that be the hottest trend? You can tell I’m getting old.

Speaking of trends, I’ve been noticing a trend in the blogosphere that isn’t all that pleasant. Several of the blogs I enjoy reading every day are receiving nasty comments that seem to be coming out of the blue. We’re not talking about people leaving nasty comments on blogs that are talking about controversial topics. But even if we were, it saddens me that civil discourse isn’t prevailing. But times are tough right now and maybe those who are hurting most don’t have any other avenue to vent. I don’t know. I just wish they would consider how damaging harsh works can be before they hit the “publish comment” button.

I’m looking forward to some time off over the next few days. I have one major deadline that I should hit late this afternoon, then I’m off to pick up the turkey and all the trimmings for my family’s Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. On Friday I’m planning to watch a little football. And on Saturday I’m driving to central Nebraska to spend the weekend with a friend I haven’t seen for a while. I should be rested and ready to go on Monday morning. Not sure if I’ll be posting again before then or not. If I don’t, have a great Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Brenden Foster

I started this blog because I honestly believe that little things add meaning and depth to our lives. Brenden Foster of Bothell, Washington made the case far better than I ever have. Mix in some pure motives, and you have all the makings of a story that will bring you to tears.

Brenden died last Friday of leukemia. He was just 11 years old. But before he died, he had a simple wish. And it had nothing to do with himself, even though he knew he would die in two weeks or less. He wanted to feed a group of homeless people he saw one day as he returned home from one of his visits to the clinic.

He wasn’t able to do it himself, but his selfless attitude inspired 15 volunteers in nearby Seattle to make 200 sandwiches  and take them to the homeless in the downtown area. If the story ended there, it would be enough to move you. But it doesn’t. People from all across the country began hearing about Brenden and tens of thousands of dollars were raised and truckloads of donations flooded into food pantries.

What started as a simple wish turned into a reality on a bigger scale than any 11-year-old boy, or any adult, could ever imagine.

Here’s a link to an article about Brenden on the ABC News website. And here’s a link to a video about his story from ABC News.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Convoy by C.W. McCall

I caught a few minutes of a hilarious television program currently running on CMT called 20 Great Redneck Moments.

One of the moments centers around the success of the song “Convoy” by C.W. McCall. If you are older than 40, then you remember the song. It went to number one in January of 1976 and it featured McCall carrying on a conversation over a CB radio in an almost rap-like fashion. The started a CB craze across the country. One of the guests who was interviewed on the CMT show said that the CB was the redneck’s Internet.

The funny thing is, I totally got into CBs for a while. My dad had one in his work van and I would try to talk to other people on it. First I had to learn the lingo. “Breaker breaker” meant that you were trying to break in on a channel. If you were really cool (or a redneck—it’s all about perspective, isn’t it?), you included the channel number like McCall did, so you’d say, “Breaker breaker 1-9.” Then you’d give your “handle” to identify yourself. Your handle couldn’t include any part of your real name. I was 11 or 12 at the time and since my favorite football team was the Steelers, I became the “Pittsburgh Boy.” Yeah, it was lame, but give me a break. I was a kid. So you’d say, “Breaker breaker 1-9, this here’s the Pittsburgh Boy.” Then you would ask if anybody had their ears on—which simply meant that you were asking if anybody was available to talk. If somebody responded, you’d ask them their twenty (which meant location).

I once reached a kid who referred to himself as the “Cincinnati Kid.” The connection was full of static and we didn’t talk long, but it was nice to make a connection nonetheless. Once in a while I’d hear a female chatting and of course, that caught my attention. Dad wasn’t crazy about that though. He later explained that prostitutes sometimes used CBs to set up their future “engagements.” I don’t think he used that word, but you get the idea.

Dad eventually paid to have a CB radio installed in the house I lived in with my mom and sister (my parents divorced when I was eight). He even had a huge antenna put on our roof so I could get a decent signal. I jabbered on the CB for a couple of years—probably never getting out of it when dad put into it. But, as a shy kid, it was my first attempt to break out of my shell to connect with people. And while it never really led to any real friendships, it always gave me hope.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Experience of Christmas

With Christmas just around the corner, you might be interested in picking up a copy of The Experience of Christmas—a Christmas devotional I wrote with families in mind. The first devotional starts December 1 and the book will take you and your family all the way through the month.

Unfortunately, Amazon.com doesn’t have any copies available right now, but thankfully I do—although my supply is pretty limited (28 copies as of this writing). So, if you’d like one, send me an email along with your name and mailing address and I’ll put a signed copy in the mail to you.

Cost is $6.00 and that includes shipping.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What’s in a Brand Name?

I’ve never really been much of a brand name person, but I can think of a few exceptions. I put up a fuss as a kid when my mom first brought home plain labeled Oreo cookies. What in the world? There really is no substitute for Oreos in my opinion. And when I played on my high school tennis team, I had to have Nike canvas tennis shoes. Oh yeah, and I’ve always used a Head tennis racquet. But after that, I don’t much care about brands.

As evidence of that fact, I went out and bought a new set irons for my golf bag ten years or so ago and the brand name was Backfire. Every time I hit a ball, I half expect one of my irons to make a backfiring noise and even when it doesn’t, my golf game seems destined to backfire after buying a brand name like that. But they serve the purpose I bought them for. They allow me to hack at the ball on the rare occasions I actually play golf.

I own a couple of pair of sweatpants that are made by Starter and a few that are no-name brands. Every time I wear a pair of the Starter pants I wonder who the people at Starter think they are kidding. As if I could be a starter in any type of sporting event. But hey, it’s a nice illusion.

Not long ago, I picked up a new pair of slippers. I am a total slipper person, by the way. I hate going barefooted, and even walking around the house in socks feels like I’m barefooted. And I really don’t like wearing shoes around the house either. They are too formal and often cause my feet to hurt. So slippers it is for me, whenever possible.

Well, I didn’t notice this when I purchased my new slippers, but the brand name on my them is Fireside. That totally invokes an imagine of reading a book while sipping coffee in a rocking chair in some out of the way cabin as snow falls outside and the fire in the fireplace crackles across the room, doesn’t it? I don’t have a cabin or a fireplace or even a rocking chair, but owning these slippers sort of makes me want all of them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

As You Are

“Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be, because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose, and then where are you?” –Fanny Brice (1891-1951), actress, comedian, singer

Ran across this quote the other day and jotted it down because I was struck by the profound truth of it. Hardly anybody would disagree with it, but how many of us really let the world know us as we are?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Desecrated Tennis Courts

One rainy day last week, I ran a few errands during lunch. As I got close to the park I used to play tennis in as a young boy, I decided to stop for a minute and see what condition the courts were in. I’ve blogged about these courts before. Here’s a little of what I said about them in one post:

They were dark green, with a chain link fence disguised as a net. A basketball hoop hung on one of the fences that bordered the courts and often weeds sprouted through the cracks on the courts. One of the courts was set in the side of a hill, so it was surrounded by a cement wall. We preferred that court for some reason. I think it was because the ball made a cool echoing sound every time we struck it.

I should have added, “And at twelve years old, cool matters.”

The last time I stopped by these courts, a sign hung from the fence letting the public know that no guns were allowed on the court.

Yeah, it’s in that type of neighborhood.

The “no guns” sign was no longer there (it was probably stolen), but I was upset by what I ran across: spray-painted vulgarities all over the courts and the rock wall surrounding them. I took photos and planned to post them here, but then I thought it would be ridiculous to give thugs free advertising for their gangs, so I refrained.

I probably should have expected to see the vulgarities and the graffiti. A number of gangs frequent the area of town I live in and seeing graffiti on road signs and the sides of buildings is commonplace. But seeing it on the tennis court I spent so many summer days on really bummed me out.

My mom didn’t think anything about allowing me to play tennis on those courts for hours at a time with one of my friends. My friend's parents didn’t have any concerns either. I wonder how many kids play tennis in that park now? From the looks of things, very few. And I certainly understand why.

Yeah, the era I grew up in was different. But still.

Seeing this makes me want to do something about it--like cleaning up the court and working through an organization to give free tennis lessons to kids there. My time is so limited, but it would be worth the sacrifice.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Loosen Up, Lighten Up Day

I find it ironic that on Loosen Up, Lighten Up Day, I’ll be working ten hours to try to keep pace with a writing project I’m working on that is due on Monday. But that doesn’t mean I can’t loosen up a little while I’m working, does it?

I’m a serious person by nature, but I get into my crazy moods once in a while where I’ll let my once inch high hair down. I have to know you pretty well for that to happen, but if I do watch out.

Years ago, I watched an episode of Alf with a few guy friends. Somebody came into Alf’s room and scared him and he screamed and threw a flashlight in the air. I have no idea why I found that so funny, but I completely lost it. My face turned red as the laughter continued to build. I started to lose my breath, but still the laughter came. Eventually I got it under control, at least for a minute or so, but then I’d start laughing again—almost just as hard.

My friends were starting to get concerned that I wouldn’t be able to drive home, fearing that I might be pulled over for driving under the influence of Alf. Their concerns were probably justified, but I figured out a way to keep it together long enough to get home.

So maybe I should find about twenty minutes in the middle of the day to watch an episode of Alf and then go back to work?

That might loosen me up a little.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

National Reread Old Letters or Magazines Day

This is one of those holidays in which it pays to be a packrat, and I certainly plead guilty to that. I can remember a time in my life during which I never threw a magazine away. I had a shelf in one of my closets that I piled them on. When the piles got too big, I eventually bought magazine holders and I kept adding to my collection. This was before the days of the Internet and online archives. I always had a fear that as soon as I threw a magazine away, I’d need the information.

Eventually, they took over my shelves and I had to make a decision. Do I throw them all away and make room for something else, or do I just pare down? I opted to pare down, getting rid of many of my sports magazines and current event publications. I held on to my Writer’s Digests though, not having any idea how much the market would change over the next twenty years. Much of the information is obsolete now, but I’m sure if I went fishing through my old copies that I’d find some writing inspiration or just some good old fashioned instruction about the craft. Problem is, I don’t think I’ve ever gone through them once they made it to my shelf. So, in recent years, I pitch magazines once I’ve read them.

But I’ll never do that with old cards and letters. I have a huge file folder full of correspondence my dad wrote to me. I’m glad that email didn’t exist back then because I don’t think I would have been as good about saving it. Something about seeing his handwriting on an old sheet of paper moves me.

I just reached into my file and pulled out an old newspaper dated February 24, 1999. In the margin Dad wrote “Lee, Good reading” and he drew two arrows to editorials he wanted me to read. He always loved discussing politics with me, so I guess he figured he’d give me something to read so we’d have something to discuss the next time I saw him. I’m glad he did that.

Next, I pulled a birthday card out of the file. Dad jotted three paragraphs in the card. One of the paragraph reads:

Thanks for taking the kids out while they were there—hope they weren’t too much for you. Time flies doesn’t it son! Hope to see you soon. Dad.

Dad has been gone for over eight years. And when he wrote those words the children of his second wife were kids—at least in his mind. Now they are both adults. One is married and has a child.

You are right Dad. Time does fly. And I’m so thankful that I have your cards and letters to help me re-live a few moments.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Shallow Persons Awareness Week

Admittedly, Shallow Persons Awareness Week is the silliest holiday I’ll be blogging about this week. According to the Blue Mountain e-card website, this is a holiday set aside to “acknowledge and embrace your shallowness.”

If you’ve ever seen an episode of The Tonight Show in which Jay Leno does one of his Jaywalking segments, then you really have to wonder if we aren’t already wallowing in our shallowness.

Here are a few of the questions Leno asked, followed by the answers he got during his October 15 and October 28 segments:

Q: What street is the New York Stock Exchange on?

A: New York Boulevard.

Q: If I gave you an English pound, what would that be?

A: A pound of money.

Q: Whose face is on the one dollar bill?

A: The president.

Q: Whose picture is on the Susan B. Anthony dollar?

A: I have no idea.

Q: How much is the Susan B. Anthony dollar worth?

A: Ten dollars.

Q: What does Bush 43 mean?

A: Is it a drink?

Q: Who was the last president to get inaugurated?

A: Oh, that’s a good question. I don’t know. I don’t know.

Q: What war was John McCain a POW in?

A: The Cold War.

Q: Barack Obama has a slogan, what is it?

A: All the way.

Wow. These answers are stunning. It really makes me wonder if the producers intentionally look for people who clearly don’t have a clue. That has to be the case, doesn’t it? At least, I hope it’s the case. Let’s assume that it is and make this conversation more abstract.

Is ignorance the same as shallowness? One of the definitions of shallow is “lacking depth of intellect, emotion, or knowledge.” But lacking depth in intellect doesn’t necessarily mean a person lacks character, or drive, or compassion.

But what in the world does it say about ourselves when we have a holiday that encourages us to embrace our shallowness?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

National Wild ‘n Crazy Guys Grow Up Day

If you watched Saturday Night Live during the late 70s, then you remember the “Two Wild and Crazy Guys” skit that Steve Martin (who played Georg Festrunk) and Dan Aykroyd (who played Yortuk Festrunk) used to perform.

They played two middle-age brothers from Czechoslovakia who wore tight pants and polyester shirts that were unbuttoned down to their navels. Oh, and of course, they lived in a bachelor pad. You can read a couple of transcripts here and here. They hit on every woman possible; believed they were cool—even though they were far from it; and in general, simply refused to grow up.

Their shtick was funny because it held an element of truth. And I suspect it’s more true today than it was then. If you wonder where I’m going with all of this, then wonder no more. According to this website, today is National Wild ‘n Crazy Guys Grow Up Day. 

I stumbled across an article on the City Journal website recently called “Child-Man in the Promised Land: Today’s single young men hang out in a hormonal limbo between adolescence and adulthood” written by Kay S. Hymowitz. In the article she says this:

Now meet the twenty-first-century you, also 26. You’ve finished college and work in a cubicle in a large Chicago financial-services firm. You live in an apartment with a few single guy friends. In your spare time, you play basketball with your buddies, download the latest indie songs from iTunes, have some fun with the Xbox 360, take a leisurely shower, massage some product into your hair and face—and then it’s off to bars and parties, where you meet, and often bed, girls of widely varied hues and sizes. They come from everywhere: California, Tokyo, Alaska, Australia. Wife? Kids? House? Are you kidding?

No doubt about it, single men are putting off marriage and children much longer than we have in the past and it’s largely because we have little desire for domestic life. Too many responsibilities.

Hymowitz goes on to point out that 48.2 percent of American males between the ages of 18 and 34 spend two hours and forty three minutes per day playing video games—which, as she points out, is thirteen minutes longer than boys who are in the 12 to 17 age range.

As a forty-something year old single male, I hear what Hymowitz is saying and I think her points are completely valid. Does that mean I believe that marriage, children, buying a house, and not playing video games is the mark of a true man? Certainly not always, as evidenced by the men who do all of these things but still put their own needs and desires first, but by and large, it’s a pretty good checklist for adulthood.

So, am I indicting myself and others like me? I can only speak for myself when I saw yes—at least partially. I do believe that some people are supposed to remain single for life, but I also believe those people to be far and few between. I wish I could tell you why I haven’t found a spouse, had children, and bought a house. I don’t know for sure. I do know that I’ve spent a large amount of my life care-giving in one form or another and to be honest, as I look back on it, the time I spent doing so feels right. But I’ve always seen it as seasonal work and I believe the seasons are about to change.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time justifying my actions, or lack thereof. I just want to be honest with you. I don’t know if I’ll marry any time soon, but I know I want to. Maybe that is evidence of growth; maybe it just a simple recognition that one chapter of my life is over and another is about to begin. I don’t know.

But I do know this: I like the idea of having a National Wild n’ Crazy Guys Grow Up Day because it prompted me to think about where I am and where I want to be.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sleep Dangerously Night

So, tonight is Sleep Dangerously Night, which sort of sounds like you better keep one eye open just in case your spouse plans to attack you in the middle of the night, but according to this website, the holiday is “a night to switch sides of the bed with your spouse.”

That’s not nearly as exciting, but I imagine it could be traumatic.

I’m not married, but I do have a certain side of the bed that I always sleep on at home. I sleep on the right side of the bed, rarely even moving to the center, and I sleep on my stomach. I’m used to swinging my right arm off the bed like a floppy noodle as I smack at the snooze button on the alarm clock when it goes off the first time, and the second time, and sometimes the third time before I finally get up.

But I just realized something. When I stay in hotels, I almost always sleep on the left side of the bed. Maybe it’s because most rooms have two beds and I usually choose the one on the right—which means the alarm clock is on the left.

I’ll be in town tonight, so in order for me to sleep dangerously, I’ll need to sleep on the left side of the bed. But how will I turn my alarm clock off? And what will my beloved cat Midnight think if I alter my routine? She’s still recovering from me being gone for so long during my recent work trip.

Okay, I guess I’m not going to sleep dangerously tonight. How about you?

Photo Credit: Andrew Richards

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Obscure Holidays

All week I’m planning to write posts about national holidays that don’t exactly make the official US list of federal holidays. Here’s my plan of attack:

  • Monday is: Sleep Dangerously Night (switching sides of the bed)
  • Tuesday is: National Wild ‘n Crazy Guys Grow Up Day
  • Wednesday: Shallow Persons Awareness Week
  • Thursday is: National Reread Old Letters or Magazines Day
  • Friday is: Loosen Up, Lighten Up Day

Friday, November 07, 2008

Sometimes Happiness Hurts

A few weeks ago, I told you about a novel I've been reading called How to Kill a Rock Star by Tiffanie Debartolo. It's about a woman named Eliza who makes her fiance believe she's having an affair so he'll leave her and go on tour as the opening act for a popular band. He's a budding rock star who wants (almost to the point of need) her to travel with him, but she won't fly because her parents died in a plane crash and she's terrified at the thought of stepping on a plane. So rather than having him cancel the tour and ultimately his chance to hit it big, she turns him loose in sacrificial fashion. I haven't finished the book yet, so I don't know how it turns out, but I was struck by something Eliza said during this process.

One of the ways she copes with life is music, specifically by listening to an artist named Doug Blackman; more specifically by listening to her favorite song by him called "The Day I Became a Ghost." Eliza is a music journalist, so she meets Blackman for an interview early in the book. Later she meets his son, Loring, who falls in love with her. On her birthday, Loring gives her the original sheet of paper (in a frame) that his father used to write the lyrics for "The Day I Became a Ghost" and Eliza begins to cry. When Loring tells her he was only trying to cheer her up, she says, "You did. It's just that, well, sometimes happiness hurts."

Sometimes happiness hurts. These three words seem like they belong together. Happiness comes in brief spurts and it often sneaks up on a person. Pursuing it rarely leads to capturing it and even when it does, it doesn't stick around long. But when happiness sneaks up on a person, especially when it comes from the actions of another person, it can feel so good it hurts. But actually I don't think it's the action itself that touches us so deeply as much as the thought that someone knows us so well that he or she is able to do something for us that strikes at the heart of who we are. Loring knew Eliza so well that he knew how to move her to the depths of happiness.

Sort of makes you want to go out and find a way to give someone you love a moment of happiness today, doesn't it?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Rediscovering Sass Jordan

In 1992, I bought a CD titled Racine by Sass Jordan and I played it dozens of times over the years from start to finish. It was one of those rare CDs that doesn't have a bad song on it.

The first track is a song called "Make You a Believer." It was the single from the CD and it got quite a bit of airplay. I love that song. It has a catchy rock/blues sound to it and it is hard not to sing along with the chorus. The third track is called "You Don't Have to Remind Me,"--a heart-wrenching song about not being able to be with the one person you know you were born to love. The seventh song is called "Goin' Back Again" and it includes these lyrics:

On the east side of St. Laurence Blvd.
There's a whole different world
People talking and laughing at anything
In the summertime whirl
Nobody's asking questions
'Bout who you are and where you've been
Just willing to live and let live
Whatever state you might find yourself in

Who among us doesn't hope to to find such friends?

I still listen to this CD from time to time--well, actually I don't listen to the CD. I listen to Racine on my iPod. I knew Jordan put out another album after Racine, but you know how it is when you find a nearly perfect album. Why ruin it with music that can never live up to the original (even though Racine wasn't Jordan's first album), right? I eventually lost track of her career. Last night I had a desire to listen to Racine again. As I did, I was curious enough to look up Jordan's website and I saw that she has eight CDs out. Wow. Then I learned that she is (or maybe she was) a judge on Canadian Idol (the Canadian version of American Idol).

I browsed through her other CDs and listened to snippets of many of the songs, many of which seemed to contain the same magic that I loved about Racine. One of them really grabbed me. It's from her latest CD called Get What You Give. The song is called "Trouble." Here are a few lines:

The last time I looked back
There was trouble on my trail
There were ghosts and broken hearts
And a beat up Ford for sale
The last time I looked back
Before I closed the door
I saw trouble sitting tight
Now I don’t look back no more

I don't know what I was thinking. I should have never stopped following her career or picking up her CDs. While it's true that none of them will ever be Racine, that's not a good enough reason to miss the experience of some great music.

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