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, April 30, 2008

On Hiatus

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been telling you about the difficult business decisions I've been making. As many of you know, I'm a full-time freelance writer. Making a go of it as a freelancer is not easy, but it is possible. Unfortunately, sometimes it means discontinuing projects you love for the good of your business. I'm afraid that this blog is one of those projects. I haven't decided to shut down Little Nuances, but I'm am going on a hiatus. I'm not sure when, or if, I'll return.

I'll be maintaining two other blogs on a regular basis, and I'll continue to write books and articles. And you can always catch me over on my website: www.leewarren.net.

Thank you so much for the support you've given me on this blog. I've had a blast writing it. And who knows, if things change, I may be back. But if not, then know that I've appreciated every comment and every email I've received from you.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Tidbits

This has been a stressful week for reasons I can't get into here, but the stress is mostly gone for now and I'm happy about that.

I've been reading a book called Blogging Heroes which provides interviews with 30 of the most successful bloggers in the world and it's a fascinating read. It confirms much of what I've believed about blogging for a long time. I'm about halfway through the book and nearly every blogger interviewed so far says they started their blogs because they were passionate about their subject (read: they didn't start blogging for money). And they say that the number one thing a blogger can do to gain and hold traffic is to continually write posts that matter to their target audience. I especially love reading the interviews in the book with bloggers who have niche blogs. Their passion for their topic jumps off the page.

I received a nice email from a friend this morning offering to send a package to one of my buddies who has been serving in Iraq. The woman who emailed me doesn't know my friend, but volunteers for an organization called Blue Star Moms that supports the troops by sending care packages and so much more--things like raising funds for the needs of wounded soldiers. I told my friend that my buddy just came home from Iraq, but I thanked her anyway, and I thought I'd give the organization a plug because I really think they are doing God's work.

So, last night, I was at the grocery store and I walked by a group of people who were presumably a grandmother, a daughter, and a grandchild. The presumed mother was attempting to convince the child (who was maybe five years old) that water was good for him and that manufacturers were even making water in bottles that were kid-sized. The mom pointed desperately at the packaging that said: "For Kidz!" As I turned the corner to head to the next aisle, I heard the child say, "Yeah, but water sucks." I laughed to myself because that's what I would have been thinking if I were the kid, but I also thought back to when I was a kid, and how I would have never said something like that to my mother, because I knew better.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Warsaw Ghetto

On the Saturday podcast of The Writer's Almanac [you can read the transcript here--just scroll down to April 19], Garrison Keillor told the story of the Warsaw Ghetto--the 20-block area in Poland that the Nazis forced the Jews to move into, while forcing everybody else out. The Warsaw Ghetto became a place of poverty, disease, and death...and that was before the Nazis began Operation Reinhard--the deportation of the Jews who were in the Warsaw Ghetto to  Treblinka and other concentration camps. 

Pockets of resistance formed within the Ghetto. They ambushed Nazi officials, took their weapons, and dug tunnels to hide people in. The resistance grew so big that they were able to make a stand against German troops in January of 1943. On April 19, 1943, German tanks stormed the resistance, but the resistance held. When the resistance ran out of grenades, the fought with kitchen knives and chair legs. They held out for a full month before losing the battling on May 19, 1943 when the Nazis burned down their buildings, shot most of those who remained, and forced those who were left alive into concentration camps.

At the end of Keillor's broadcast, he quoted Irene Klepfisz, a survivor, who said this on the 45th anniversary of the uprising, "What we grieve for is not the loss of a grand vision, but rather the loss of common things, events and gestures.…Ordinariness is the most precious thing we struggle for, what the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto fought for. Not noble causes or abstract theories. But the right to go on living with a sense of purpose and a sense of self-worth--an ordinary life."

In the end, that's all most of us really want, isn't it?

What an awful thing it is to know that so many people were denied the chance to live ordinary lives.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Popcorn Makers

When my sister and I were young, our family used to have a routine on Sunday nights. We'd eat dinner and afterward Mom brought out the popcorn maker. Do you remember popcorn makers? I loved those things. I did a little searching on Amazon.com and saw that they still sell them! How cool is that?

My sister and I would dig into the uncooked popcorn kernels that you could buy in a rectangular-shaped plastic bag (maybe you still can buy it that way?), and using a measuring cup, we'd drop in just the right amount to make sure the family bowl of popcorn would be overflowing when it was done. We turned on the machine and the kernels would whirl around and around and before long, the popped kernels would rise toward the top and out into the bowl, causing the wonderful smell of popcorn to fill the house. And just for good measure, we often stuck a big hunk of butter in the butter holder (how's that for an official name?) and it always melted by the time the popcorn was ready so we could pour it over the popcorn.

We'd head into the living and watch One Day at a Time and Alice. And if the Sunday Night Movie of the Week was any good, we might watch that too. Mom always seemed to laugh the hardest when Schneider, the apartment fix-it guy, would make a wise crack or when Mel would make Flo angry enough to say, "Mel, kiss my grits." I don't think there's anything as comforting to a child as hearing a parent laugh. And all of us would munch on popcorn and drink pop and have the time of our lives.

When I look back on that time, one of the things that made it memorable was the fact that everything seemed be an experience--even the popcorn making. And since VCR's weren't around yet (this was the late 70s) you had to arrange your schedule around what you wanted to watch on television. So that's what we did and oddly it brought us closer together.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Tidbits

A friend emailed me recently to let me know that all six Rocky movies are now out in one collection on DVD. I rushed over to Amazon.com and placed my order. Expect a series of posts in the future at some point. I haven't see some of the early movies in the series for many years and I can't wait to watch them again soon.

I watched Elizabethtown twice in the past couple of months. Some of you already know that it's one of my favorite movies ever and that I've written about it extensively already. But after watching it again lately, I can see at least two more posts. No groaning.

I used to be a Diet Pepsi person, but somewhere along the way, the aftertaste starting getting to me and in recent months I've become a Pepsi person. In fact, I can think of no finer drink on earth than an ice cold Pepsi poured over store-bought ice cubes (preferably cubes, not the big honkin' round things some stores call "cubes"). After hearing about my change of tastes, one of my friends said, "I don't even know you anymore." Too funny.

Last Saturday night I got together with friends to play board games. We ended up playing a game I have never played and I can't even remember the name of it now. But one of things we had to do was to write a movie description for a real movie title we were given. Most of the movie titles were obscure, so I really did have to use imagination about what the plot might have involved based totally on the movie title. At one point, one of the guys who was playing the game heard one of my movie descriptions (which is supposed to be hidden) and said, "That sounds like a Lifetime movie." I shouldn't have laughed because it sort of gave away the answer, but I couldn't help it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Junk Drawers

Are junk drawers still in vogue? Or did they go out of style with 80s hairstyles? Maybe they never were in vogue for non-pack rat types. I, on the other hand, can never remember a time when my household didn't have one. You never know when you might need something you've stored there.

Just to prove that I wasn't crazy for having one, I did a little searching online and found a blog named The Junk Drawer which I think is just a metaphor for a place in which the author of the blog records the proverbial junk from her life, which is a cool concept in my opinion. I found a college newspaper column called Junk Drawer. I found one blogger who was frustrated with her junk drawer. And I even found junk drawer organizers.

My question is, if I organized my junk drawer, how would I find anything in it?

Here's a snapshot of my junk drawer:

You never know when you are going to need a water bed kit to drain or refill your waterbed. But I no longer have a water bed. Or you never know when you might need a blank cassette tape to record your favorite song. But I stopped listening to and using cassettes nearly a decade ago. You never know when you might need a stray baseball card to complete your collection. But I haven't collected baseball cards in probably 25 years.

But wait, I see a pill box in there, and while I'm not really taking any medication right now, you never know when you might need a good pill box. And what about the thumb tacks? I don't have a bulletin board, but they might come in handy some day, don't you think? How about the light blue pill shooter I bought at the veterinarian's office as a way of getting Midnight to take her medicine? Well, I'll probably never use that again, given that Midnight spit the pill out as quickly as the pill shooter deposited it in her mouth. But I also see playing cards, golf tees, a fishing knife, a bobber, and a big tangled up mess of wire things. I could need any of those objects tomorrow.

On a personal note, if know me personally, and if you see anything you've bought me over the years as a gift that is mixed among the contents of my junk drawer, do not be offended. The fact that your artifact made it to the junk drawer means it'll be in my possession forever.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Alternate Routes

I'm the type of person who normally just likes to get to where I'm going as quickly as possible. But a week or so ago, I was driving home from somewhere and as I got close to the road I needed to turn onto to get home, I couldn't get over because the traffic was so heavy. I took an alternative route and ended up passing by my former grade school that is now an apartment building. It's a big red brick building and as I passed it, I was reminded of the many summer days I spent behind the building knocking a tennis ball off the back wall. I hadn't thought about those days in years.

A few days later, as I was coming home, I decided to take yet another alternative route into my neighborhood. I passed several houses that some of my old school buddies used to call home. I wondered what and how they were doing. Since then, I've continued to take alternative routes home. I'm driving by intersections where I used to stand in the freezing cold when I was a safety patrol. And I'm driving by old parking lots that I used to ride my bike on. I even drove down a brick road the other day that I haven't been on in more than ten years.

Taking alternative routes is always going to have to be a planned thing for me. But now that I am actually doing it, I'm enjoying it more than I ever imagined.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Familiar Phone Numbers

My home phone number has been in my family for most of my life. It's easy to remember and most people who know me well can probably rattle the number off the top of their heads in sing-songy fashion because it's so familiar. My grandparents had one of those kinds of phone numbers too. I hated to have it disconnected after my grandmother died (my grandfather preceded her in death by some 17 years) because she and her husband had that phone number going all the way back into the 1950s when they moved a house onto an empty lot and started new lives there.

Something inside of humans resists being referred to as a number, and yet, if anybody knows the right numbers, they can get in touch with us through one gadget or another. So, maybe resistance if futile. I only know that in my case, familiar phone numbers are part of the routines of life that bring me comfort.

For a couple of months after my grandmother died, I'd call her phone, knowing that nobody would pick up, but just dialing the number made everything seem okay for a minute. I did the same thing with my dad's cell phone after he died, only he had a voice mailbox. Hearing his voice allowed me to fool myself for the briefest of time into thinking he was just busy and he'd call me back.

I probably would have given up my home phone number quite some time ago if I didn't have a roommate who doesn't have a cell phone. I rarely answer the home phone now. It's been around for so long that it's on every possible telemarketer's list (even though I have indeed registered with the Do Not Call list). And it receives more wrong number phone calls than any number I've ever had. But I would still hate to give it up. It has a history and it's so familiar.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Life Triage

Triage: Sorting and allocating aid on the basis of need for or likely benefit from medical treatment or food. [WordWeb Dictionary]

Yesterday, my pastor mentioned the process of triage in his sermon and my mind started racing. Just as medical personnel need to make gut-wrenching decisions on the battle field about who to help and who not to help based upon who they believe will live or die, I began to think that I'm in the middle of life triage. The magnitude of the decisions I'm currently making (mostly business related) aren't life or death, but they are still difficult to make.

I googled the phrase "life triage" thinking that somebody probably has created an entire self-help seminar under that title, or that somebody was using it as a blog title (it would be a great blog title, wouldn't it?) and while I didn't find any seminars or blog titles, I did find a blog post titled "life triage" on a dead blog. Here's what the writer said:

"Chris and I did a process I call life triage on Sunday morning over the breakfast table. I'm not sure if he even realized that's what we were doing. Life triage is taking an honest look at your life, figuring out where you are and where you want to be, actually getting down some goals, and figuring out several tangible steps towards each of those goals. Life triage is all about figuring out what's worth working on, what's already dead, and what you can't do anything for at the moment."

Isn't that good?

If we were to divide our lives into those three areas (areas worthy of being worked on, areas that are [or should be] dead, and areas we can't do anything about right now), how much easier might the decision making process be? I still don't think it would be easy, because it might mean killing off or putting off a hobby or a dream, but it would be easier since it would seem like a necessary step in a bigger plan.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday Tidbits

As I was driving through a parking garage the other day, I slowly turned a corner and saw a familiar face--the former mayor of Omaha, Hal Daub. I did a double-take and he must have realized that I recognized him and he nodded at me. I don't know Daub. I've never even met him before.  But I've always like him. He's known for helping people. I remember listening to local radio talk show one day and a guy called in saying his car broke down the night before. He pushed his car out of the flow of traffic, which wasn't heavy since it was late, and as he was under the hood trying to figure out what might be wrong with the car, somebody pulled up behind him. It turned out to be Daub, who was the mayor at the time. He stopped to see if he could help the guy.

Today is the eighth anniversary of my dad's death. I was telling a friend over breakfast this morning that it hardly seems possible that he's been gone that long. Oddly, it's snowing as I write this. Omaha never gets snow this late in the season. The odd weather is adding to the sense that something just isn't right about this day.

This has been a crazy week for me personally. I made some business decisions that needed to be made that I didn't really want to make. I had some other things to deal with as well. But on four occasions this week I met friends and/or family over a meal and just being around people I care about helped me to deal with the other stuff. Just knowing that you aren't going life alone can make a huge difference. 

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Trip Down Memory Lane

Have you ever had a chance to go back to a former place of employment after being away for several years? It can be a surreal experience. Five years ago, I left the bank I used to work for to become a writer. I still keep in touch with several of my former co-workers and I consider them to be friends. I met a couple of them for lunch yesterday and afterward, one of them took me back up to the ninth floor where I used to work. The place looks exactly like it did the day I left.

We walked by my old desk, which is now used for storage, which shows you just how necessary I really was around there. I walked over and chatted for a couple of minutes with several people I haven't spoken with since I left. That was fun. We shared a few old stories about the way things used to be. And then I left, with promises to keep in touch with the people I've kept in touch with, and the funny thing is, even after all these years, my decision to leave still felt right.

Not because of the people. I miss seeing many of them every day. But more so because I had reached a point in my professional career in which I wanted to pursue something else and while my writing career looks different than I had originally envisioned, I'm still happy I made the decision I did. And I'm proud of the fact that I've been able to keep in touch with the friends I made while I was still at the bank. It's almost like I have the best of both worlds. I'm doing what I want to do, but I still get to see the friends I used to work with.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Going Back to Outlook Express

My life is an odd mixture of yesteryear and today as far as technology goes. Give me a moleskine notebook any day to jot down my to-do list, but yet at the same time, I love my Blackberry. I don't expect anybody to understand it. I hardly understand it myself. But the system seems to work. And that leads to one of my latest battles with technology: email programs.

I don't like the feel of webmail. And for many years, I got along fine using Outlook Express. But for the longest time, it wasn't set up to sync with smartphones, so I was forever keying contact information into two areas, and that's never a good thing.

So, I upgraded to Outlook and hated it beyond words. I have nearly two gigs of RAM in my computer, but Outlook still doesn't run seamlessly on it. And don't even get me started on the "To" field in Outlook. If somebody changes his email address, good luck getting the "To" field to recognize the change that you put into the address book (yeah, I know, I figured out that Outlook doesn't use the address book...here's a crazy question--why not?).

So I ditched that program and began using Windows Live Mail--the new Outlook Express. A word to the those who are thinking about using that particular program. Don't. You'll end up with a different inbox for every email address you have. It has an "All Inbox" feature but all of the email in it disappears every time you delete a storage folder. All you have to do is go into the regedit file and delete the HKCU\Software\Microsoft\ Windows Live Mail\SearchFolderVersion folder every time it happens. Yeah, right. I did it once and it was enough to cause me to run back to Outlook Express.

And ironically, Blackberry software now allows users to sync their contacts with Outlook Express. I won't be giving up again on this program any time soon. Funny how you try to roll with the times and upgrade to keep up will all the changes, only to realize that what you started with was better than all the upgrades.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Wine Tasting

I saw an article in my local newspaper recently about a wine-tasting gala that was going to be held in my hometown and I really wanted to go. I had something else going that weekend and the $80.00 price tag was a little hefty in my opinion. I don't really know anything about wine except that I like it as sweet as possible. I can never see myself becoming a wine connoisseur. But the experience of wine tasting sounds like a blast.

Maybe I'm thinking too much about the adventure that Miles and Jack had in the movie Sideways as they hit one winery after another on the beautiful central coast of California. Have you ever seen the movie? I'm guessing that it helped to peak the interest of more than one person regarding wine. Once in a while, I'm also intrigued by several wine blogs that I visit: Vinography, Winery Times, Girl Meets Grape, and Fermentation. I don't really understand what I'm reading, but I read anyway.

People who are into wine seem to understand the importance of stepping off the hamster wheel of life once in a while. They pour a glass of wine and sip it while watching wildlife, or listening to good music, or sitting next to someone they love and in so doing they find snippets of peace--moments when demands aren't being made and chaos isn't reining. And who among us couldn't use more moments like those?

Monday, April 07, 2008

Bullet Points

Yesterday, I sat behind a family in church, which included a little girl, who is maybe five or six years old. She had a spiral bound notebook in her lap and a pen that distributed pink ink. At one point, she held her notebook up and I could see that she'd clearly written five or six bullet points under point number one of whatever it was she was outlining--maybe the sermon? I couldn't read what her bullet points said because I was too far away, and because I'm old and my eye sight isn't as good as it used to be, but I was struck by the fact that she was already using bullet points.

One of my earliest memories of writing, or for the sake of this conversation, note-taking, was of a grade school teacher who taught us how to outline, the old formal way, using Roman numerals. I'm guessing that the advent of MS Word and maybe other word processing programs before it changed the way we format our handwriting, which if it's true, I find to be incredibly ironic.

I write in bullet format all of the time. As close as I get to an old fashioned outline is to use a numbered list, following by bullet points under each number. And now, the next generation probably has no idea about the old way of outlining. And that's okay. Someday they'll stumble across it and probably be glad that they weren't born in an era that complicated things so much.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Be Back Soon

I'm taking the next couple of days off from blogging to recharge my batteries. Be back next week.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Give Me Examples

I was glued to the television on Tuesday for Opening Day in the Major League baseball season. One of the announcers said something during the game I was watching that caught my attention. He was talking about a player who had lost 20 pounds over the offseason when he said this, "You never know whose words are going to inspire somebody to make a change in their life."

That's true.

But I find in my own life that I'm not nearly as receptive to words as I am examples. I've been inspired by all sorts of people over the years who were simply living out their lives in front of me.

My dad used to carry around one of those little spiral-bound notebooks in his shirt pocket. He'd make all sorts of notes throughout the day: books he wanted to buy, quotes he wanted to share, errands he needed to run, phone numbers he needed to call, etc. Today, you probably won't see me walking around without a moleskine notebook for all of the same reasons.

One of my sisters became a cat person (we had a dog growing up) and I saw how much fun they were, so I got one myself and I've had the same one every since.

A business owner I know from church told me about a process he uses to help him calculate how long it is going to take for his company to complete projects and my mind instantly began to race as I thought about how I might be able to use a similar formula for my own business.

On and on it goes. I love to see people living out their routines because I am often inspired in one way or another.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Creating Classics

I caught the last five or ten minutes of an interview with R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe on CBS News Sunday Morning this past weekend. I've never been a big R.E.M. fan but I'm always interested in hearing what is going on inside the head of artists of all sorts.

The last question the interviewer asked Stipe was about whether the band believed they needed to prove something to themselves (presumably the interviewer had R.E.M.'s latest studio release, Accelerate, in mind when he asked the question).

Here's part of what Stipe said:

"Our goal has always been to write one of those great classic records that no one can deny is one of the great records of all time. I don't know that'll ever happen, but ..."

"You think you've done it this time?" Mason [the interviewer]asked.

"No. But I think we made a damn good record!"

Artists want to create that one record, or to write that one book, or to paint that one painting that crosses all expected lines and becomes a standard, if not the standard. But Stipe realizes that creating a classic doesn't happen simply because you it to or because you try harder than ever before.

Classics just happen. If that weren't the case, then nearly artist would be creating them, thereby obliterating the definition of the term classic.  

All the artist can do is put himself in front of the microphone, or computer, or canvas and hope that something bigger than himself occurs. And that takes courage. And in my opinion, it takes even more courage to admit what Stipe did at the end of the interview--to recognize that your latest effort fell short, but at the same time, to never lose the desire for chasing the ultimate.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Moving On

I'm currently reading every article in a recent issue of National Review that honored William F. Buckley Jr.'s life. In the "Editor's Note" page, current editor Richard Lowry made this comment about Buckley, "No one was adept at 'moving on' as Bill. As someone wrote recently, his attitude toward life was 'always forward.'"

What a great way to be remembered.

Each new day brings it's own challenges and opportunities. If you spend too much time thinking about the past you can wake up one day and wonder what happened to the last twenty or thirty years of your life.

Of course the great irony here is that moving on means to press on past Buckley's death, and death in general. One of the things that got me through the murky days following my dad's death was the simple phrase, "Life is for the living." I don't know who first said it, but I'm indebted to him or her for doing so. It kept me putting one foot in front of the other, and doing the next thing on a list that threatened to overwhelm me.

Life itself always moves forward. It gives us days like Memorial Day, and birthdays, and Christmas mornings, and so many other days to help us celebrate and maybe ultimately to remember, but even in such instances, the day passes and before you know it, you're off to another holiday, and then, in rather stunning fashion, it's Memorial Day again, and somebody's birthday again, and Christmas morning again.


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