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Thursday, February 25, 2010

#96 Dessert

Continuing with the 100 life-enriching little nuances series…

Photo: Andreas Schaefer
Some of my best childhood memories include my mom getting off work, picking up my sister and me and taking us to an ice cream shop.

I wish I could remember the name of it, but we didn’t use the name of it in conversation. We just said, “Let’s go get some ice cream,” and that’s where we went.

The structure of the place always looked shaky to me. It was surrounded by a gravel parking lot. And I remember a huge tree of one sort or another that stood proudly in front of the place, providing plenty of shade -- encouraging customers to sit around for a while to converse.

It was a small building without many places to sit inside. But it did have those round stools that were connected the floor and you could play sit and spin if there wasn’t anybody sitting next to you. It also had picnic tables outside and when the weather wasn’t too hot, people tended to gravitate toward them.

When you chose to sit outside, you could order from the walk up window through a screen. It sort of felt like a confessional -- only I was confessing I wanted a double-decker chocolate ice cream cone instead of admitting I punched my sister.

I wish I could tell you I took my time, savoring every lick, while enjoying the company of my family. In reality, I’ve always sort of inhaled ice cream. No, I don’t get head rushes from eating ice cream. But that doesn’t mean I enjoyed the experience any less. I just happened to finish my ice cream before the rest of my family did.

But it provided the perfect opportunity for us to catch up with each other, or occasionally, to do family business when my sister and I were dealing with one thing or another.

As is the case with so many of my childhood haunts, the ice cream shop is gone now. But I every time I hear tires crunching their way down a gravel road, I think of those summer days some 30 odd years ago when I would get all excited as we turned off Main Street into the gravel parking lot of the place that served the best double-decker chocolate ice cream cones ever.

I didn’t realize it then, but desserts are sort of like coffee. They aren’t meant to be necessary. Instead, they are relationship builders. They give us a reason to stop doing and simply be.

    Wednesday, February 24, 2010

    Joannie Rochette’s Magical Performance

    Sometimes, less really is more.

    If you’ve been following the Winter Olympics, then you’ve probably heard that figure skater Joannie Rochette, 24, of Canada lost her 55-year-old mom on Sunday to a heart attack. Just two days later, Rochette was on the ice for the short program.

    I don’t know anything about ice skating, but I know how it feels to work hard for a dream and I know how it feels to lose a parent, so as I watched her take the ice, I felt all sorts of emotions for her.

    She circled the ice before her program began and you could see tears brimming close to the surface. Just before she was announced, the crowd began to cheer for her. She put her hands on her hips and she took it all in. She stopped to have a moment with her coach and to take a drink of water. Her emotions threatened to burst out of her.

    She took the ice again and you got the feeling that a momentary transition had taken place. The tears that desperately wanted to spill out morphed into adrenaline.

    Suddenly, she was composed.

    She paused, the music began, and she skated. I can’t tell you many of the moves she made because I don’t know what they are called. But she was graceful and she landed her initial jumps.

    The crowd erupted.

    The drama built.

    I couldn’t help but wonder how many times her mom had seen her do this routine. Her dad was in the crowd and I felt for him as he experienced an extreme sense of loss while at the same time feeling immense pride in seeing his daughter skating so well in such a big moment.

    About half way through her program, I noticed something. NBC announcers were silent from the moment her music began. Would they have enough sense to continue their silence so we could just experience the moment with Rochette?

    I hoped so.

    She landed another jump and the anticipation continued to build. The moment was bigger than Olympic Gold. It was about survival, and overcoming, and maybe even honoring her mother. Never has the old Eagles’ lyric “Some dance to remember, some dance to forget” been truer. It was about doing what she was born to do, no matter the situation.

    She spun, lifted her leg high, twirled, and still the announcers were silent.


    Olympics Ladies Figure Skating Short Program - Vancouver 2010
    The music brought her program to a close and Rochette held her pose for a couple of seconds. Then the emotional dam broke.

    She put her right hand over her heart and made a lap around the track, no longer trying to hold back the tears. Her father applauded and cried. I think everybody else did too.

    Still nothing from the announcers.

    As she headed for her coach, the announcers finally spoke. And it was time to speak.

    “There’s no bigger stage than the Olympic games,” said announcer Scott Hamilton, choking back tears “but this skate, and the moment, means much more than the competition.”

    Rochette collapsed into the arms of her coach and wept. You can watch the entire video here.

    The judges gave her a 71.36 -- a personal best. Imagine performing at your absolute peak two days after losing your mother. She’s currently in third place as they head into the free skate on Thursday. It’d be great to see her win a medal. But either way, I bet there won’t by a dry eye in the place.

    Monday, February 22, 2010

    When the Song Doesn't Remain the Same

    Hard Rock Life single images
    On Saturday night, a friend and I went to see a band I've haven't see play live in 17 years or so. From the moment we walked in the door of the venue, everything felt out of sorts.

    For starters, ticket prices were double what the newspaper said. Then, all of the tables with chairs were full, so we found a stand up table along the back wall -- which wasn't a bad thing given that my ears don't enjoy loud music like they used to -- and we parked ourselves there.

    When it came time for the band to take the stage, another band came on instead. Turns out, the newspaper didn't mention the opening act, nor did the venue's website. The nameless opening band was loud and not good. Which, of course, means they played for a solid hour. Toward the end of their set, the singer announced they had a couple of more songs for us. They actually played five more.

    Finally, when they walked off the stage, my friend and I talked about which song the band we wanted to see would open their first set with. Turns out, they opened with a song neither of us knew, and it wasn't good. The bass was about 10 times louder then it should have been and I'm no exaggerating. Then they played a song we both knew and it sounded mediocre at best.

    The singer's voice wasn't as crisp and powerful as it used to be. The lead guitar sounded muddy. The bass guitar shook the entire neighborhood. And I didn't even notice the drums.

    A couple of songs into the set, the singer brings a couple of people up on stage to announce that it's their birthday. And it goes on forever. They play another song or two and the singer brings a mother and her adult daughter up on stage. Apparently it was their birthday too. I won't even get into the bizzaro world stuff that ensued. 

    By this point, I told my friend I already getting close to seeing enough. He was hoping to hear one particular song from the band -- their signature song. So, we stuck it out for a little while longer.

    They played one of their popular songs, but they did it reggae style. Nothing against reggae, but this song wasn't recorded in that style and they never used to play it that way and, it sounded weird. And not good. Then they played another one of their popular songs, but this one was Metallica-ized so it no longer sounded like the song I knew and loved.

    The band took a break after eight songs. We talked about leaving. I'd seen enough. But we stayed for the beginning of the second set. More bizarreness. Part way into it, we walked out. The thing is, this isn't 1993. I'm not the same person. They aren't the same band. And sometimes, it's best to just walk away.

    Tuesday, February 09, 2010

    Living a Better Story

    A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My LifeI finished reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller a week or so ago and I’m still thinking about a couple of passages from the book. But before I get to that, let me tell you about the essence of the book.

    It is about pursuing your story. By that Miller means living life as if you were a protagonist in a novel who wants something, faces obstacles, gets shot down, gets up, gets shot down, gets up, gets really shot down, faces a major decision, then decides to go for it because living life without that one thing is not acceptable.

    In the book, Miller talks about a friend of his named Jason whose 13-year-old daughter was into smoking pot and dating a guy who wasn’t good for her. As Jason told Miller about this, Miller, who had been studying the elements of story, said, “She’s not living a very good story. She’s caught up in a bad one.” A couple of months later, when the two men spoke again, everything had changed. 

    Miller described it this way:
    The night after we talked, Jason couldn’t sleep. He thought about the story his daughter was living and the role she was playing inside that story. He realized he hadn’t provided a better role for his daughter. He hadn’t mapped out a story for his family. And so his daughter had chosen another story, a story in which she was wanted, even if she was only being used.
    Children at home run by
    Jason began looking for a better story and he found one when he read about an organization that builds orphanages around the world. His wife and daughter weren’t keen on the idea at first, but after sleeping on it, his wife – who had been distant from Jason for a while – came into the kitchen, put her arms around him and told him she was proud of him. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing a woman can say to her man that makes him feel any better than that.

    A few days later, their daughter came into their bedroom and asked if they could go to Mexico to build an orphanage. Their daughter ended up crawling in bed between Jason and his wife like she did when she was little. And she broke up with her boyfriend who had been using her. Presumably, the family is living a better story now.

    What does this mean for the rest of us who are working 40 hours a week, bowling in a Monday night bowling league, attending small groups or Bible studies on Wednesday nights, and watching football on Sunday afternoons? Not everybody can, or even should, build an orphanage in another country.

    But Miller isn’t really saying that. For him, finding a better story started by getting off the couch to engage life. He took a bike ride across America. He hiked the Inca Trail in Peru. He pursued a woman. He put down the remote control and his routines long enough to take chances – to explore.

    At one point in the book, he said, “Part of me wonders if our stories aren’t being stolen by the easy life.” I don’t think I’ll ever forget that line.

    He came to life, but when he did, he had to face something that was disturbing:
    It’s an odd feeling to be awakened from a life of fantasy. You stand there looking at a bare mantel and the house gets an eerie feel, as though it were haunted by a kind of nothingness, an absence of something that could have been, an absence of people who could have been living there, interacting with me, forcing me out of my daydreams. I stood for a while and heard the voices of children who didn’t exist and felt the tender touch of a wife who wanted me to listen to her. I felt, at once, the absent glory of a life that could have been.
    Who among us doesn’t fear the possibility of contemplating the absent glory of a life that could have been when lying on our deathbed?

    Monday, February 08, 2010

    35 Suggestions for Married Guys on Valentine's Day

    Last year about this time, I jokingly made some suggestions to a friend of mine on my bowling team about things he could do for his wife on Valentine's Day -- which you have to admit is pretty funny coming from a single guy.

    Those suggestions sort of took on a life of their own as the guys on my bowling team laughed about them. Last week, the guy I made the suggestions to told me I needed to write them down. So, I did. I came up with a list of 35 things and I plan to give it to him tonight. He'll die laughing when he reads them.

    Humorous or not, I think the ideas have merit. Most aren't original, but then again, what is?

    Here's the list:

    1.      Pull out your high school yearbooks, look for pictures of each other, reminisce about your life before each other and talk about what you envisioned your family life to be like one day.

    2.      Prepare a mix CD of her favorite tunes, open a bottle of wine, turn down the lights, and dance with her in the living room as her favorite songs fill the air.

    3.      Write her a love letter telling her how lucky are to have her in your life.

    4.      Write her a poem that mentions everything you love about her. It can’t start with or include the phrase, “Roses are red, violets are blue.”

    5.      Go to the old market, rent a horse and buggy and go for a ride. Part way through, pull out her favorite poem and read it to her. Note: This only works if it is above 70 degrees—which isn’t likely in February. So, save this one for later in the year.

    6.      Send her a sing-o-gram. Make sure you wrote the lyrics of the song. And make sure the dude who sings the lyrics is uglier than you are or just perform the sing-o-gram for her yourself.

    7.      Watch her favorite movie with her and cry at all the lovey dovey stuff.

    8.      Give her a foot massage.

    9.      Take one of her grandmother’s old pieces of jewelry in and get it repaired—then present it to her on Valentine’s Day.

    10.  Buy a box of Valentine’s Day cards that kids always get and write something you love about her on each one and leave them all over the house—in her car, in the bathroom, in her purse, etc. so she’ll find them throughout the day. (Minimum of 25 cards.)

    11.  Cook her favorite meal (it’s okay to get a little help from someone if you need it).

    12.  Take her out to eat at the place you took her on your first date.

    13.  Write her a letter detailing everything you can remember about your first date.

    14.  Write her a letter detailing the moment you knew you were going to marry her.

    15.  Send her red roses—one for each year you’ve been married.

    16.  Bring her breakfast in bed.

    17.  Go through your wedding photo album and share stories about the people and the moment captured in each photo.

    18.  Have your wedding video converted to digital format, then do a voice over detailing everything you remember about each moment. Tell her how much you couldn’t wait for the minister to pronounce you man and wife.

    19.  Get down on one knee and tell her you’d do it all again.

    20.  Prepare a photo album with snippets of your life together and write a paragraph under each photo about how magical those memories are to you.

    21.  Sit down and talk about having a dream vacation for your second honeymoon. Then make it happen.

    22.  Write new wedding vows and recite them to her.

    23.  Buy a copy of the book, Love in the Time of Cholera and write your name and phone number on the first blank page. Then watch the movie Serendipity with her. After it is over, hand her a gift wrapped copy of the book and as she opens the package, makes sure she sees your name and number and then tell her she’s still the one.

    24.  Call a radio station and dedicate her favorite song to her.

    25.  Carve your initials and hers in a tree in your front or back yard. Then carve a heart around it. (Tip: if she’s a tree hugger, don’t do this one—she might freak out.)

    26.  Name a star after her. Then write a poem about how your love for her is out of this world.

    27.  Buy the book The Love Dare and begin to work your way through it.

    28.  Create a time capsule of your life together and bury it somewhere with plans to open it on another Valentine’s Day ten or twenty years into the future.  

    29.  Find out what her favorite book was when she was growing up. Then find a first edition and present it to her.

    30.  Reminisce about your song (every couple should have a song)—how you picked it, why the song suits you as a couple, etc.

    31.  If you don’t already have a song, spend some choosing one.

    32.  If she’s a NASCAR fan, watch the Daytona 500 together. What could be more romantic than “boogity, boogity, boogity” and bump drafting?

    33.  Make a video using pictures and videos of your life together, doing voiceovers that describe how much each event means to you.

    34.  Ask to see her bucket list. Make one of her highest items on the list happen.

    35.  Ask her about her favorite outdoor hideaway spot when she was a girl, then promise to take her there for a picnic lunch when the weather clears up.

    Sunday, February 07, 2010

    Super Bowl Commercials

    I’ve never been much of a Super Bowl commercial guy – usually because I’m watching the game with friends or loved ones and the commercials are the perfect time for bathroom breaks, refills on beverages and getting more chips.

    This year though, I watched the game by myself. And I had Twitter up while I was watching it, so it was fun to see a running commentary on the game and the commercials. I kept track of the commercials I wanted to comment on.

    Here’s the list:

    The Doritos bark collar commercial was clever. Animal commercials are the ones we remember and talk about. 

    The GoDaddy.com commercial showing Danica Patrick being massaged by a woman who wants to be a GoDaddy girl was ridiculous. Bob Parsons reminds me of Larry Flynt.

    The Doritos commercial with the little boy slapping his mom’s date was the funniest commercial of the night in my opinion.

    The Doritos casket commercial was sort of funny, but what happened to the TV the guy was watching in the casket after he rolled out of it? The TV was gone.

    The Budweiser commercial with the bridge made out of people didn’t do it for me.

    The David Letterman, Oprah Winfrey and Lay Leno commercial for the Late Show was kind of funny, although I didn’t understand why Winfrey was there. Any time you can get Letterman and Leno in the same room makes for interesting conversation. And, as many people pointed out on Twitter, how bad must things be at NBC for Leno to appear on a commercial for CBS?

    The CareerBuilder.com commercial in which everybody appears in their underwear because it is casual Friday was just weird.

    The Wear the Pants Dockers commercial kind of creeped me out. A bunch of dudes marching around in a field in their underwear is the best they could do? Really?

    The Dove for Men commercial that began with swimming sperm cells was a failure from the beginning; just a terrible commercial that made little sense.

    The Dodge Charger “Man’s Last Stand” commercial made fun of grown up men when the dude utters, in part, “I will take your call. I will listen to your opinion of my friends. I will listen to your friends’ opinion of my friends. I will be civil to your mother. I will put the seat down. I will separate the recycling. I will carry your lip balm. I will watch your Vampire TV shows with you. I will take my socks off before getting into bed. I will put my underwear in the basket (again with the underwear?). And because I do this, I will I will drive the car that I want to drive.” You are civil to your wife because you are setting the stage to drive a certain car? Really?

    The Dr. Pepper KISS commercial was bizarre and I just didn’t get it.

    The TruTV commercial with Punxsutawney Polamalu was funny. I love the fact that Troy Polamalu can laugh at himself.

    The FloTV commercial in which Jim Nance comments about a man whose girlfriend has removed his spine rendering him incapable of watching the game was supposed to be funny; I didn’t find it to be so.

    The Intel commercial with the offended robot – didn’t get it really.

    The Volkswagen slug bug commercial was a brilliant use of an age old game. Although I don’t remember actually slugging anybody when we saw a Volkswagen drive by like the participants in the commercial did. We simply said, “Slug bug green” or “Slug bug red” or whatever color the car was. 

    The Denny’s Grand Slam commercial showing the chickens freaking out over the upcoming free Grand Slam breakfasts was funny. It’s hard to mess up an animal commercial. 

    I liked the HomeAway.com commercial with the Griswolds in which Clark complains about hotel charges. Can’t get enough of the Griswolds.

    The “Your Bridgestone tires or your life” commercial in which the man in the car misunderstands the bandit as saying “wife” instead of life: stupid.

    The eTrade commercial showing two babies on webcams: creepy.  

    The Census 2010 commercial couldn’t have been a more confusing, jumbled mess. On Twitter, @uscensusbureau, in an apparent decision to defend their decision to spend more than $2 million of your money on the ad said, “If 1% of folks watching #SB44 change mind and mail back #2010Census form, taxpayers save $25 million in follow up costs.” I responded by saying, “What if 1% change their mind in the other direction because they see the ad as a confusing, jumbled mess?”

    The Google commercial was effective. Nearly anything the user entered into the search engine came up with solid results. That’s not quite how it happens when you really use the product, but there’s a reason Google has become a verb.

    The Dante’s Inferno game commercial ended with the tag line “Hell awaits.” Nice.

    The Budweiser ad with the horse and steer was cute.

    The Audi “Green Police” commercial makes me want to get plastic next time I’m in the grocery store; and it makes me never want to buy an Audi. Can you tell I’m against a police state.

    The Doritos commercial where the dude uses a Dorito as a ninja star was comical.

    The Bud Light commercial about the book club with the dudes who are unread morons didn’t do much for me.

    The GoDaddy.com “Too Hot for TV?” commercial was ridiculous. Noticing a theme with their commercials yet?

    Which commercials did you enjoy most? Which ones annoyed you?

    Oh, by the way, the game itself was awesome. The Saints won their first Super Bowl.

    Tuesday, February 02, 2010

    Salinger, Change and Generalizations

    Last week, I took some books to a used bookstore to cash them in. While one of the clerks was evaluating them, the clerk at the front desk asked the other clerks, and everybody else within earshot, “Hey, did you hear J.D. Salinger died today?”

    Some said no, some said yes. 

    One of the clerks offered an opinion to a customer he was talking to, “J.D. Salinger never wrote anything that changed anybody's life. And he butchered the language.” He repeated himself, almost as if to convince himself.

    “Not a fan, huh?” the customer asked.

    “No. He just never wrote anything that changed anybody’s life.”

    The Catcher in the RyeI have never read The Catcher in the Rye. I don’t know much about Salinger – other than the fact that he’s kept a low profile for a long time. (According to this article, I’m not sure he could be considered a recluse.) But I had a hard time believing that his writing never changed anybody’s life.

    And what exactly does that mean? I’ve read essays, articles and white papers that have changed my perspective. Last summer I read a white paper called “The Missional Church” by Tim Keller. In it he makes a point about a British missionary who went to India in 1950 who returned home 30 years later to discover that the culture had changed but the church had not. It was still operating with a 50s mentality. 

    One of the many problems with that mentality is, relatively few people outside the church can relate to a 50s culture inside the church. But rather than adapt, the church has created Christian sub-cultures in an attempt to maintain a culture that no longer exists. Such sub-cultures are relatively unknown to the culture at large. And that seems counter productive to taking the gospel to the masses.

    I’ve believed most of this for a long time, but I never connected the dots until I read that white paper. As a result of this, I am engaging culture differently. I find myself being for more tolerant. I find myself processing culture differently. I find myself engaged rather than detached.

    Did that white paper change my life? By definition, change can be as small as a slight alteration of course or as big as a total transformation. I don’t know where this fits on the scale, but I don’t really care. Most change is subtle anyway.

    Giving the clerk at the bookstore the benefit of the doubt, I think he was saying Salinger’s work never transformed anybody. I don’t know how he knows this, but when I got home I did a little research to find out if anybody has been writing about the ways in which Salinger’s writing might have changed them.

    I found a number of comments online from people who did indeed say his writing changed them. I don’t really understand the context of their comments because, again, I’ve never read anything by Salinger. I need to change that, by the way. But I was easily convinced that the clerk was wrong – even if he was referring to change in the transformational sort of way.

    I don't want to start a debate about Salinger's work and the way it did or did not change people or whether that change was good or bad. Instead, this incident was just another reminder to be careful about making broad generalizations.


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