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.

Friday, December 31, 2010

End of the Year Thoughts

I'm looking forward to spending the evening with some friends in central Nebraska – weather permitting, playing a few board games, grilling some steaks, drinking a beer or two and laughing our fool heads off at some of the creative answers all of us are sure to come up with when put under the pressure of a 30-second timer. For the record, I hate those things, but all in all, it'll be a great way to ring in the new year.

Thanks goes out to so many of you who frequent this blog and leave comments. It has been said that comments on a blog are its social currency. They are also high motivating to a blogger – myself included. With that in mind, I hope this little cubbyhole in cyberspace feels more like a coffee shop than a classroom with a lectern in the front. As I talk about the books, movies and music that move me, I love hearing about what you are reading, watching and listening to. I take your recommendations seriously and I follow up on them – and they often lead to more posts. Keep the comments and suggestions coming.

A few of you have told me recently that you are no longer receiving Little Nuances posts in your e-mail inbox even though you subscribed. About a year ago, I changed subscription services. I sent out an e-mail to everyone on the list, but your spam filter may have eaten it. If you enjoy Little Nuances and would like to begin receiving e-mail notifications when a new post goes live, you can click here and enter your e-mail address. After subscribing, you'll receive a confirmation e-mail in your inbox. Just click the link in the e-mail and you'll be all set. While the full post is offered in each e-mail, you might want to click through to the blog periodically so you won't miss anything that is happening here – like the comments at the end of each post.

If you were able to help support the Salvation Army through Little Nuances this month, thank you. We raised $55.00 to help people in need. It won't change the world, but it might have kept one family from going hungry for a little while.

I'd still love to have your feedback in the survey I posted a few months ago regarding the type of posts you'd like to see here in the future.

Have a safe New Years Eve and I look forward to dialoging with you in 2011.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Let's Have Some Carp!

I had a craving for carp last night. Not just any carp. Joe Tess Place carp. I know it sounds gross. Nobody eats carp. But somehow, Joe Tess Place carp is different. It's fresh, not real fishy tasting and people drive to Omaha from miles around just to experience it.

The restaurant started as a neighborhood tavern in the 1930s. According to its website, "The main attraction became the Famous Fish Sandwich itself. Cut carp portions were fried in a skillet, placed in a cookie jar and sold for 15 cents. Ever since, the humble carp has been the driving force behind Joe Tess Place."


When I was young, my family used to eat there a lot. It was still a neighborhood tavern, so it wasn't very big. Best I can tell, the original bar is still intact. But they've added on to the building so it can seat 250 people now. Old photos decorate the walls, depicting old fishing adventures. I wrote about one of the photos a few years ago:

My mom and I were lead to a booth along the back wall of the restaurant—not a section we are normally seated in, and I was quickly drawn to a black and white photo positioned on the wall over our booth. It depicted three middle-age women, in rather plain looking dresses that hung to their ankles, fishing along a river—presumably the Missouri River. Each woman held a fishing pole in her hand. They were positioned about eight or ten feet apart and all of them had a rather serious look on her face.

Unfortunately, the photo doesn’t have a caption. All sorts of things ran through my mind. Were they fishing for leisure? If so, they hardly looked to be having fun, but maybe they were just the serious types who were locked in a competition of some kind. Were they fishing out of necessity? Were their husbands away at war or working in a nearby factory? Or were they single? Who knows?

As a writer, I feel like going to management to get the stories behind each of these photos. They would probably look at me like I'm crazy though. 

Beyond the photos, the place has other nuances. When you first walk in, you'll see fish swimming around in a large concrete tank. Every kid who has ever visited is tempted to dip his or her hand into the water, in spite of the sign that says not to. And the famous fish sandwiches aren't really sandwiches. They are pieces of fish, a little smaller than the size of your hand, that have been placed on a piece of rye bread. The area of town in which the restaurant is located used to have a large Polish population, so polka music fills the air from a jukebox in the corner. The place feels like 1965 and that's part of its charm.

My family still frequents the place and the fish is just as good as its ever been. Word must have spread because Guy Fieri from the Food Network recently did a segment about Joe Tess Place and I'm glad because it'll help preserve the restaurant's story. Check out the video segment, and if you ever get to Omaha, check out Joe Tess Place.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

#82 Radio

Continuing with the 100 life-enriching little nuances series …

A long time ago, in a galaxy very close to home (okay it was my home), there lived a teenager who didn't have cable TV (because it was invented yet). His TV only had three channels, plus something called PBS that seemed quite stuffy. As a sports fan, he sat at his kitchen table with a radio, a notebook and a pencil and he jotted down stats as he listened to the Creighton Bluejays play basketball and the Kansas City Royals play baseball. And some nights, he inched his way across the radio dial trying to pick up sports from across the country.

Cable TV eventually found its way into his living room and he loved it. But there was always something missing – a certain intimacy that only exists between a radio announcer and his or her audience. All of the stats were on the screen and the calls made by the announcers were still exciting, but the myriad of announcers coupled with the medium of TV just never made me feel as if I knew the announcer. I simply heard him make the call.

Steve Brown had a radio talk
show in Omaha called "Talk of
the Town" (Photo: KKAR)
As I got older, I worked in several office environments and they all allowed employees to listen to the radio at their desks. I branched out from sports to local talk shows and then to Christian radio. A couple of years ago, I wrote about one of the local radio show hosts named Steve Brown who became part of my life during those years. Here are a couple of paragraphs from that post:
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 met Brown a couple of times at functions around town and I wrote to him a few times too. Twice, he read what I wrote on the air. When he died in 2008, I felt like a friend died. I even went to his funeral. That's the type of bond that can develop over the radio airwaves and that bond is the reason I'm a radio guy.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Santa of Christmases Past

"Is this gonna make me cry?" one of my nieces asked when I popped in a DVD of Christmases past.

"I don't know. Why?"

The DVD opens with a short video of my dad and my niece – the same one who was afraid she might cry – from one of our Christmas celebrations at my grandma's house in the early 90s. My dad is sitting on the floor, and my niece who is probably 3 years old at the time, is sitting on his lap while clutching her Raggedy Ann doll she used to affectingly call Dee Dee. Dad tells her to give him a hug and she throws her arms around him and squeezes as tight as she can. He closes his eyes.

"Oh, that's a tight one," he says.

I thought he was going to rub his whiskers on her face because he loved to do that. Instead he kissed her and set her down gently.

I was afraid to look over to see if this scene from the DVD caused my niece to cry. My mom, my sister, my niece and I watched in silence as the DVD transitioned to old photos from the early 70s of Christmases past. Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" played in the background as one beloved memory after another appeared and then disappeared.

The DVD, which is just over 20 minutes long, progresses toward more modern family Christmases. It isn't perfect. I could have done a better job of editing and re-adjusting the photos to fit the lyrics of the songs better, but it was the best I could do in two hours. When I woke up on Christmas morning, I was thinking about how nice it would be to connect our previous celebrations during the celebration we would have later in the day. The idea for putting together the DVD popped into my head and I got right to work.

Watching our hairstyles and clothing styles change before our eyes led to some laughter. But I hope it led to more than that. I hope it led to reminiscing, appreciation and a sense of continuity between the generations – meaning, when one generation dies, its stories do not die with them. 

Early in the DVD, there is a picture of me opening gifts on the floor at my grandparent's house. I was probably 4 or 5 years old. As I unwrap the gift with my dad looking over my shoulder, you see a plastic bust of Santa hanging from one of the windows.

I'm guessing this was taken in 1970 (notice Santa in the window)
Forty year later, that same plastic bust of Santa hung from a railing at Mom's house as we watched the DVD. Seeing it on the DVD hanging over my head when I was a kid and then on Mom's railing all these years later probably helped my 20-year-old niece connect the generational dots better than anything I could have ever said. In a way, Santa testifies about the truth of family Christmas stories past.

Here is the same Santa in 2010
I often wonder how I can help the younger generations in my family know about and understand, on some basic level, the generations who went before them. The question seems enormous in the abstract, but not so big if I just do the little things – like putting together a DVD of Christmases past, setting the tone for our current celebrations that will one day find their way to another DVD for another generation to see.

For the record, my niece said the DVD got to her, which I think means, she might have cried a little. I did too. But they are good tears because they seep into the ground, water the roots of family heritage and make the ties stronger.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Three Single Dudes and a Diaper Drive

105_2295Years ago, two of my friends – Bob and John – and I stopped giving each other Christmas presents. Instead, we pool the money we would have spent on gifts for each other and we pick up items for a local homeless shelter.

A couple of years ago, we picked up diapers for the shelter's diaper drive. Last year, with the help of a bunch of other people, we were able to buy 15 turkeys and quite a few non-perishable items for the shelter. This year, the shelter sent out an email saying they had an urgent need for larger sized diapers, so that made our decision for us.

We were more experienced this time. Two years ago, a woman saw us struggling to figure out the numbering system on the diaper packaging and she came to our rescue, explaining how it works. That knowledge came in handy. We knew to buy diapers with larger numbers on them since the shelter needed larger sized diapers. But we also picked up a few packages for smaller babies too.

John (left) and Bob (right) pose with the cart full of diapers

Me (left) and Bob (right) pose with the diapers
Two other people donated some money for the cause and we ended up spending $108.00 for 596 diapers. That prompted me to do some math in my head. If the average baby goes through 10 diapers per day – and that's what several websites say – then our 596 diapers would be enough to get two babies through a month or so, or eight babies through one week. Not staggering numbers, but collectively, it all adds up.

Loading the diapers into Bob's vehicle

We dropped the diapers off in a craft store parking lot, where a local radio station that was sponsoring the drive had a small semi-truck waiting to take all the diapers to the shelter. We were met there by an on-air radio personality and several other people who work at the station. We stopped for a couple of photos and then they asked us to go on the air for a minute, which we did.

Lee John Bob
Me, John and Bob

A view of the 300,000 diapers in the truck

As we chatted with one of the radio station workers, he told us they collected about 300,000 diapers so far. You can see from the truck above, they still had plenty of room for more. A slow, steady stream of people dropped off diapers while we were there. There was one more day remaining in the diaper drive and I'm hoping they were able to fill the truck completely. A full truck of diapers for families in need won't solve all the problems in the world, or even in the city, but it'll make a difference. And that means something.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Collateral Damage from One Chicken Wing

"If you eat one of my wings, I'll watch whatever movie you want."

"They look weird, and I can't imagine they'll taste any better."

"Just give it a try. Try something new."

"I rarely like anything new."

"Just try it."

My friend Shawn told me Buffalo Wild Wings recently began offering a "dry rub" substance on wings. It looked like someone rubbed red powder all over them, but the thought of Shawn being subject to any movie in my collection was too much of a temptation to pass up.

I reached over, picked up a wing and bit into it. Several things happened simultaneously.

First, some of the dry rub fell on my shirt. Dropping food on my shirt is nothing new. I think I have a reputation for doing it. If not, I probably should have such a reputation. But this time, it really wasn't my fault. Is it even possible to keep powdered food from falling on your shirt?

Second, the dry rub was hot. I don't do hot, so, with my mouth hanging open, I started whispering "Ha, ha, ha," and no, I wasn't laughing, but Shawn was. I was low on Coke, but thankfully a waitress saved the day by bringing another one.

After Shawn called me a wuss – because we're tight like that – my right eye began to burn. Then it really began to burn. Somehow, the powder not only fell downward on my shirt, but in that one bite, it also found a way to drift upward into my eye. I had to work that night, covering a tennis event for a local magazine, and I envisioned walking into the auditorium with a red eye and having people wonder all sorts of things about me.

Not only had the new thing not been something I enjoyed, it actually burned my mouth and caused collateral damage to parts of the rest of my body. And that's why I don't try new things.

Here's the kicker – it was all for naught. We met another friend and ended up playing a board game instead of watching a movie. But Shawn owes me big time and I'll pester him until our dying days to get him to watch The Notebook or Serendipity with me.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Latent Christianity

Photo: summonedbyfells
What we need is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects – with their Christianity latent. – C.S. Lewis

Years ago, when a writer shared this quote from C.S. Lewis with an email list I belonged to, I printed it, cut it out and placed it under my see-through plastic desktop protector. It's still there and I read it often. It's an odd quote to hang on to for a writer who spends so much of his time writing for the Christian market, like I do. But the quote resonates with me, so much so, that it's the driving philosophy behind this blog.

The quote from Lewis comes from an essay he wrote called "Christian Apologetics." I did a little research recently and discovered the essay appeared in a number of published works over the years. One such place is in a compilation book of his essays called "God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics." I recently downloaded a copy of it to my Kindle. In context, the quote about latent Christianity comes as Lewis is discussing science.
I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more by that than by any directly apologetic work. The difficulty we are up against is this. We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so; but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted.
He goes on to say this:
It is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him [modern man]. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian.
I don't know when Lewis wrote these words, but he died in 1963, so it's safe to assume his message is at least 50 years old and it seems to me his words are even more relevant today than when he wrote them. By definition, if Lewis' words were to be taken seriously, Christians would be writing about every topic under the sun and their faith would be inherent, not necessarily explicit, in everything they write.

Why do such a thing?

Because the gospel is comprehensive. It applies to all areas of life. Until a skeptic can see that, Christianity is just a religion without much use, except to mark births, marriages and funerals. But when Christians present and live out a comprehensive gospel – one that not only speaks to the culture where it is, but also loves people where they are, then Christianity no longer looks like a religion. Instead it looks like purpose, and depth and redemption.

Of course, the irony of Lewis' words is, he wrote them in an essay to Christians. But I don't think he was saying Christians shouldn't write to encourage, build up or challenge each other in the faith. Instead I think he was saying we should also write for the culture at large. That's what I try to do here. So, whether you are Christian, a believer in some other faith, a skeptic or someone who is trying to figure out what you believe, I hope you find something here at Little Nuances that speaks to you.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

#83 Teachers Who Inspire Us

Continuing with the 100 life-enriching little nuances series …

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires. –William A. Ward

The day I received the letter, I hadn’t written anything in several years. I recognized my high school English teacher’s name on the envelope. I hadn’t seen or spoken with Mr. Martin in nine or ten years. It was hard to believe so much time passed since I sat in his classroom, drinking in his enthusiasm for reading and writing.

I’ve always been shy, but at the same time, passionate about what I think and believe. As he encouraged us to write about our thoughts, our struggles and our beliefs, I finally felt like I had an outlet to express myself.

After high school, I drifted for a while, but, thanks to Mr. Martin, I always had writing. I wrote poems, songs and essays as I processed my life. Then, I became a Christian and for several years, I didn’t write anything. As odd as it sounds, it didn’t make any sense to keep writing because I finally found meaning in my life. Losing my quest for meaning meant losing my muse.

Then Mr. Martin’s simple, handwritten, one-page letter arrived and changed everything. He wanted to know if I had quit writing. Somehow, he knew. He said he always enjoyed my writing and he encouraged me to pick up my pen again.

By the time I received his letter, Mr. Martin was teaching at a different high school and if he taught 150 students per year (5 classes of 30 students), then 1,500 students had passed through his class since I was one of his students. Yet somehow, he remembered me and my writing.

I began to write again and I haven't stopped. Somewhere, packed in one of my storage boxes in my basement, I still have Mr. Martin's letter. If I were more organized, I would have never packed the letter in storage. I would have framed it and posted it next to my computer so I could see it every time I sit down to write.

But I don't need the letter in front of me to be inspired by it. I received it 15 years ago and it is still working its magic on me. I often wonder how many other students Mr. Martin influenced. He publishes a journal called "Fine Lines" and on its website, he tells the story of a student named Jack who wouldn't speak in class, but eventually found his voice through the written word. If you have a few minutes, read the story. It's movie-worthy.

I don't know if Mr. Martin is the exception or not. I only know that I can name just a handful of teachers I had in high school and he is one of them. And I can name them because they inspired me. They made me care about something because they cared about that subject, and more importantly, they cared about me. Those characteristics should define teachers, vocationally speaking and otherwise.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Laugh of Recognition

The Long SurrenderThe liner notes of Over the Rhine's latest release, "The Long Surrender," suggests readers "surrender 55 minutes of your life to the songs in full sequence/real time." I can't imagine listening to a new CD from what has become my favorite band any other way.

Technically, this CD isn't available until February 8, 2011, but it can be ordered through the band's website and immediately after ordering it, you can download the songs while waiting for the CD to arrive in the mail. My copy of the CD arrived last weekend, but I've been listening to the songs on my iPod for a couple of weeks, and even though it is the Christmas season – and I love Christmas music – I've listened to "The Long Surrender" four or five times, all the way through.

I'm not a professional music critic, nor do I play one online. I can only tell you what moves me and why. One of those songs, the first one on the CD, is called "The Laugh of Recognition." It contains these lyrics:

Come on boys
It's time to let it go
Everybody has a dream
That they will never own

We're all dream chasers. We put varying degrees of effort into our pursuit of those dreams based on a number of factors – our willingness to make sacrifices, our queasiness factor regarding risk, voices in our heads from people telling us it cannot be done, our own voice telling us it cannot be done, fear of failure and maybe even fear of success. But there's been a lot said about all of that.

One of the many books I'd like to write in the future would be about people who had a dream, but then, as the song says, let it go. My theory is, many of those people would tell stories about stumbling into new dreams. But I think I'd be more interested in talking to people who found a way to press on in spite of never seeing their original or rabbit trail dream realized.

Recently, I interviewed a documentarian named Tony Okun for a baseball website I run called Omaha Baseball 360. Okun shot a film called "Time in the Minors" in which he followed the careers of two minor leaguers. One of them is named Tony Schrager. At the time, he was a 28-year-old infielder who had spent his entire career in the minor leagues. Like every other minor leaguer, he dreamed about playing in the major leagues, but it never happened.

Okun shot footage of Schrager leaving the minor league clubhouse after his final game of the 2006 season. As he pulled his bag behind him, he walked through a group of 20 or 25 fans who were waiting for autographs. One guy asked how he was doing. One said, "See you later." And another patted him on the back. It was the final walk Schrager would ever take from a clubhouse to the parking lot. He retired the next year, at the age of 29, when no teams showed interest. He returned to college, finished his degree and began work as a real estate developer.

Of course, a few minor leaguers will see their dreams of reaching the major leagues realized, but they'll dream new dreams – about becoming an everyday player, or an All-Star, or a household name – and many of those dreams will go unrealized.

Everybody has a dream that they [sic] will never own. There's no shame in that.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Unused Gift Cards

Amex points means free $50 gift cards!
(Photo: diaper -- no I'm not kidding)
I drove by Honda Cycles of Omaha the other day and I couldn't make eye contact with the place. I felt too guilty. In fact, I try to not even glance in its direction.

The building used to be the home of a ski shop and years ago a friend bought me a $10.00 gift certificate to use there. I never got around to it and now the business is gone. They took my friend's $10.00 and ran. I always hoped my friend wouldn't ask me what I got with the gift certificate because I'd have to admit I never used it. Thankfully, she didn't. Now I'm hoping she doesn't read this post.

As I pushed my guilt behind me and drove by the Honda building, I wondered how many gift cards go unredeemed each year. If I am guilty, then I know others are too.

A recent blog post on the Time magazine website says:
According to one study from not that long ago, some $6.8 billion worth of gift cards goes unused annually. In another survey, 27% of Americans said they still had gift cards they'd received last year but hadn't yet used.
A 2007 article in the NY Times says:
The financial-services research firm TowerGroup estimates that of the $80 billion spent on gift cards in 2006, roughly $8 billion will never be redeemed — “a bigger impact on consumers,” Tower notes, “than the combined total of both debit- and credit-card fraud.” A survey by Marketing Workshop Inc. found that only 30 percent of recipients use a gift card within a month of receiving it, while Consumer Reports estimates that 19 percent of the people who received a gift card in 2005 never used it.
So, between $6.8 and $8 billion worth of gift cards go unused each year and between 19% and 27% of people who received a gift card either never used it or never got around to using it a year later. Those numbers seem staggering to me, but I bet more people use gift cards than the gifts they receive at Christmas. I could be wrong.

But all of this non-use does make me wonder if the time and money we spend chasing gifts for one another at Christmas could be used more wisely.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fastest Rising Searches on Google in 2010

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - JANUARY 21: A sign is posted outside of the Google headquarters January 21, 2010 in Mountain View, California. Google will report fouth quarter earnings today. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Google released its "fastest rising searches in 2010" list over the weekend. I'm not sure why they didn't release their over all top 10 searches like Yahoo did -- maybe because "BP Oil Spill," "World Cup" and "iPhone" aren't as curious as "Chatroulette," "Friv" or "Myxer."

Here's the list:
  1. Chatroulette: I have never heard this word, so I added to the trend by googling it and I found out it is webcam/chat website that matches up random people. I don't get the allure.

  2. iPad: I get this one. iPads are popular. I don't have an iPad though and can't see myself ever getting one. And it's ironic that I'm typing this post on a netbook, given that iPads were supposed to kill off netbooks.

  3. Justin Bieber: No comment.

  4. Nicki Minaj: Added to the trend yet again since I've never heard of her. Turns out she's a hip hop artist.

  5. Friv: Never heard of this either. Now I know it's an online game, but I'm completely lost when I visit the website.

  6. Myxer: Still out of the loop. Never heard of it. A quick search says the website is "the best way to get the stuff you want onto your mobile phone." That could be useful. Will have to check it out.

  7. Katy Perry: I don't get the craze.

  8. Twitter: Ah, something I know and love. If you aren't already following me, follow along at @leewarren. As long as you aren't a bot, a spammer, or a company focused on spamming me, I'll follow back.

  9. Gamezer: Haven't heard of this until now, but I see that it's a multiplayer online game website. Looks like it could be fun.

  10. Facebook: Why are people googling Facebook? I don't get it. Why not just go to www.facebook.com?

Friday, December 10, 2010

God in a Nursing Home

My small group of maybe 18 people from church stepped into the entryway of a nursing home a couple of nights ago. The leader of the group handed out a set of lyrics and we paired up to share them. Our nervous laughter probably told the residents, who were sitting nearby watching TV, we had no idea what we were doing. But it was time.
Deck the halls with boughs of holly,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
'Tis the season to be jolly,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Don we now our gay apparel,
Fa la la, la la la, la la la.
Troll the ancient Yule tide carol,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Some of the fa la las were just a little too high for me to hit, so I exercised my right to remain silent in those moments. A few people clapped, including a woman who appeared to be a nurse. Later, I learned we had some competition. One of the people in my group told me a Victoria's Secret ad was on TV while we were singing "Deck the Halls" and some of the male residents weren't exactly paying attention to us.

We moved down one of the hallways, where some of the residents live, and we were just about to launch into "Jingle Bells" when a woman who lives in the facility approached us in her bathrobe.

"Thank you so much for coming," she said, clapping her hands. "Can I sing with you?"

"Of course!"
Dashing through the snow
In a one-horse open sleigh
O'er the fields we go
Laughing all the way
Bells on bobtails ring
Making spirits bright
What fun it is to laugh and sing
A sleighing song tonight!
It was a holy moment – seeing the joy in the woman's face as she sang with us. Our group of 18 became 19. She stayed with us for the remainder of our visit.

Doors began to open, residents peeking out. I kept wondering if we were interrupting somebody's favorite TV show, but other than during the brief Victoria's Secret ad, we seemed to have everyone's attention. As doors opened, residents began to wave at us. We waved back and kept singing as we migrated down the next hall.
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace
A door creaked opened behind the woman and I who were sharing a song sheet. At first, I thought one of us leaned against it and caused it to open, but it was another curious resident. He waited until we were finished singing and then thanked us. Another holy moment. The power of music was literally opening doors and causing strangers to acknowledge one another.

The resident who joined us from the previous hallway said, "Let's go upstairs! I have the code." Our leader nodded, saying her contact at the facility told us we could go up there. The woman punched in the code and away we went. She punched in another code at the top of the stairs and we began to fill the second floor hallway. Before all of us made it, an alarm went off. Apparently the door could only stay open for so long. The alarm went off a few more times before we all finally made it.

Surely, an angry resident would storm out of his or her room at any moment and tell us to keep it down or to go away. But that didn't happen.
The first Noel the angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields where they lay, keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter's night that was so deep:
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.
"Thank you, thank you for coming," a man said from his room. He sat facing us in a wheelchair. "Merry Christmas to all of you."
We wish you a Merry Christmas,
We wish you a Merry Christmas,
We wish you a Merry Christmas,
And a Happy New Year.
Good tidings we bring to you and your kin
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Somebody from down the hall told us we couldn't go any further on that floor because residents were sleeping. So, it seemed as if the Lord brought us to the second floor for the man in the wheelchair. Another holy moment.

And, as is so often the case, a funny moment followed the holy moment. We had to figure out how to get through the door without setting off the alarm over and over. The resident with the code punched in the numbers and six or seven of us at a time filtered through the door, shutting it before the alarm went off. When it went off toward the end of the line, we groaned in unison, but at least we improved.

We repeated a couple of the songs as we headed back to the main entryway, toward the front door. We stopped in the entryway and sang "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" to the same residents we serenaded when we first entered the building. In God's providence (my attempt at church humor) the Victoria's Secret ad was no longer playing, so we had the full attention of all the residents seated around the TV.

The man who was closest to us sat in his wheelchair and clapped along as we sang. When we finished, he smiled and applauded, along with the other residents. Another holy moment. Residents wished us a Merry Christmas and we wished them the same. Their wish has already come true in my life. My Christmas is already merry because of what God did among us that night.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

#84 Maps

Continuing with the 100 life-enriching little nuances series …

I traced my fingers down I-29, along I-435 around Kansas City and over I-70 headed east to St. Louis. I'd never taken a trip by myself, but how hard could it be to drive from Omaha to St. Louis? I was 17, fresh out of high school, armed with a cooler full of RC Cola and a plan to simply follow the map that led to the city Dad lived in.

As I left Omaha, southbound on I-29, my road atlas sat confidently in the passenger side seat. I consulted it often, especially as I approached small towns, wondering what life might look like on the average Saturday night. I learned that the exit numbers listed on the map worked in conjunction with the mile markers. Every lake and river on the map appeared right where the map said they would.

I had no problem finding the outskirts of St. Louis, but Dad was a little harder to find. You can read the rest
of the story here. Maps became not just a tool that took me where I wanted to go, but also a treasure trove of unexplored places. I still see maps as such today.

I have a GPS now and I've come to depend on it when I travel. I don't have to do so much pre-trip planning, but the funny thing is, I still bring an atlas along. I like to see the big picture, wonder about the small towns off the beaten path and see how close or how far I am to monuments, state parks, and bodies of water.

My current road atlas is ancient and one of these days I'll buy another one because I can't imagine taking a long trip without one.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Turn Out the Lights

Monday Night Football. No matter who was playing, I couldn't wait to watch it when I was a teenager. I thought about the game all day at school. After we had supper, Mom would make some Jiffy Pop popcorn and we'd gather in the living room for three hours of football bliss. I couldn't wait for the opening music to start.

If you are close to my age and shared my love for MNF, you can't forget Tony Dorsett going 99 yards from scrimmage against the Vikings in 1983. Or William "The Refrigerator" Perry scoring a touchdown as running back for the Bears in 1985. Or Bo Jackson going 91 yards from scrimmage against the Seahawks in 1987, running through the end zone and into the tunnel, and seemingly, out into the parking lot.

Those were good times.

But every bit as much as I remember those plays, I remember the guys in the broadcast booth too. Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford and Don Meredith made the broadcast interesting. Cosell has been gone for a while now. He died in 1995. A couple of days ago, Meredith died. The first thing I thought about when I heard he was gone was his signature moment in the broadcast booth each week when one team put the other away – the moment he sang, "Turn out the lights, the party's over."

Yesterday, I wanted to hear it again. Maybe you do too:

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Chasing Moe

Maybe Moe just wanted to say hi.
(Photo: Ludovic Bertron)
The mouse must have felt brave. And why wouldn't he? He could probably sense I have no mouse catching experience.

He sat there on my friend Kathy's kitchen throw rug, nose twitching, surveying the area to figure out his next heist while Kathy and I sat in the living room. I could see clearly into the kitchen from my vantage point. Kathy could not.

"Did you know you have a mouse in the house?"

"Yes, but I haven't seen him," she said.

"He's sitting right there on your throw rug in the kitchen."

"Are you serious?"

We got up and the mouse scurried across the kitchen floor and up the baseboard leading to the cupboards on ground level. Apparently the baseboard isn't completely enclosed, giving our new friend access to everything inside the cupboards.

"He's been in everything," Kathy said. "He even chewed the wrappers off the cough drops in the top drawer."

The mouse's little tail hung out of the baseboard. I couldn't help but think about the mouse story Rush Limbaugh tells about the time he captured a mouse in a trash can, and not knowing what to do with it, he reached for cooking spray, thinking he could kill the mouse with it. The mouse loved the buttery spray so much he rolled around in it. So, rather than killing the mouse, Rush made the mouse feel like he was in mouse heaven – a place where buttery spray falls from the sky.

I felt about as helpless as Rush did.

"What do you want me to do?" I said.

We decided to grab a bowl to see if I could capture him in it. How hard could it be? When Kathy shut the cupboard door I took the bowl from, the mouse shot out of the other cupboard, crashed into the nearby wall and dashed into the living room.

Kathy screamed and danced a little jig. I laughed.

The mouse, who has since been named Moe, got away. I looked under and behind furniture in the living room, but Moe was long gone. So, I still haven't caught a mouse.

Kathy is blogging about the incident over on her Caring Bridge journal (check out the entries for December 3, 4 and 6). Since I left, Moe reappeared and Kathy found a way to place a large bowl over him. She left him there for two days before her son-in-law finally came over and got rid of Moe, who was dead.

Kathy lost her husband just before Thanksgiving 2009. She has also been fighting cancer. On her Caring Bridge journal she said someone asked her if all the excitement caused by Moe lessened her physical pain. She said she wasn't sure, but the diversion did take her mind off the cancer.

If that's true, then Moe had a purpose. And I'm glad he found it.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Making a Connection

Bowl of Soup with Bread

"Enjoy your soup!" said the Panera Bread sandwich artist to the elderly man yesterday afternoon.

The sandwich artist tells her manager, who has joined them at the counter, that the man is a regular and he always waits for his soup at the counter, rather than having it delivered to his table.

"There you go, Sir," the sandwich artist said. "I hope you enjoy it."

The man took his soup and sat down at a nearby table. He and I sat face to face with a couple of tables between us.

A few minutes after he dug into his soup, the sandwich artist wanted to know if it was good. He had a hard time hearing her. She repeated herself, her tone just as cheery as the first time. He still couldn't hear her. She said it again, still cheery, and he simply nodded.

I wondered about his story. Is he a widower? Is he never married and comfortable enough to eat alone in a restaurant? Or is he married and simply carrying out a routine he established long ago – just enjoying some time alone? 

I don't know why, but I wanted to strike up a conversation with him. But he didn't waste any time. He ate quickly and got up to drop his his tray off so he could leave. I refilled my pop, hoping he'd make eye contact, but he put his head down and walked out. I didn't think of it until later, but I should have asked the sandwich artist about the guy.

Hours later, on the other side of town, my mom and I sat down at Village Inn for supper. No, I didn't see the same man from Panera there. Instead a different man approached our table. An elderly man who moved slowly. He recognized my mom, but he had a hard time speaking. A stroke victim? That was my first thought.

"Hi Jim, how are you?" Mom said to him.

He nodded as if to say he was okay. He whispered something and then sat down in a booth by himself. Mom said she used to work with him. He had a heart attack a while back and he isn't able to work any more.

There is so much struggle, heartache and loneliness around us. And I know from experience that even the simplest of gestures can make a difference – not in the project sort of way, because people are not projects, but rather in the connection sort of way, because we all hurt and connections ease the pain.   

"Let's invite him to sit with us," I said.

I can't say it felt like a second chance because I didn't feel like I failed with the first guy. There just wasn't an opportunity to talk to him and, in reality, he sort of had a "leave me alone" vibe. I can respect that.

Mom and I were just about to leave Village Inn, so rather than have Jim join us, Mom went over and talked to him. I couldn't hear what they said, but it didn't matter. They acknowledged one another and that meant something.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Robin's Nest

Robin's Nest
Photo: Evelyn Wackett
Yesterday, I was honored to be the first man to do a "Let's Chat Friday" with Robin Prater on her blog, Robin's Nest. We discussed "aha" moments in my life, struggles I've faced, the best advice I ever received, the legacy I hope to leave behind and more. Thanks for the invite Robin. I enjoyed the chat.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Part of the Family

I read these verses in 2 Samuel 12:1-3 yesterday:
And the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, "There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him.
Of course, Nathan was setting David up. He wanted him to become incensed after learning that a rich man killed a poor man's pet lamb because once David grasped the enormity of the rich man's injustice toward the poor man he would be overwhelmed by his own sin of taking another man's wife.

A couple of things struck me about these verses that I have never seen before.

First, they seem to confirm how important a pet can be to people in need. In this case, it was a poor man who couldn't afford even one more animal.

That caused me to think about modern day examples of people in need, like a widow who decides to get a cat to fill the silence and stillness in her home, a man who retires and buys a dog to establish a new routine and residents of a nursing facility who aren't visited by anybody, but find comfort in the resident pet.

Second, this passage seems to confirm that a pet really can be "like a daughter" to people in need. I wonder how people who make fun of pet owners who say their animal is part of the family would respond to these verses?

As many of you know, I lost my beloved cat, Midnight, earlier this year. She was 20 years old, so I knew the end had to be near, but that didn't make losing her any easier. I struggled to put my pain into words. All I could say was, she was all I had.

After two weeks of a cat-less home, I couldn't take it anymore. I got a new cat and named her Latte. She was wild and I knew we were both in for a period of adjustment, but even in the first couple of days, something magical happened.

Latte climbed into the same kitchen windowsill Midnight used to sleep in and plopped down on the same towel I'd placed there for Midnight to sleep on. It still had Midnight's fur on it, but Latte didn't seem to be phased in the least. And then she found the place on the living room carpet Midnight used to sleep on, and like the windowsill, it was still covered with Midnight's fur. Latte plopped down on Midnight's fur as if to say, "If she meant something to you, she means something to me."

Midnight enjoying the windowsill in 2004

Latte in the window
Latte enjoying the same windowsill, and towel, in 2010
Those two moments brought healing.

Not only did I not replace Midnight, because you can never replace pets who are part of the family, but I found a new pet who accepted Midnight's place in my life while also slipping into her own place in the family.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

20 Bowling Personas

Photo: Jonathan Keelty
I've been bowling with a group of guys every Monday night for nine years. You both see, and do, a lot of funny things in those nine years together.

Just so it doesn't sound like I'm making fun of the following list of 20 bowling personas I've witnessed, let me tell on myself.

During those nine years, I have bowled on the wrong lane a couple of times, threw my share of gutter balls, slammed a Styrofoam cup of Diet Pepsi on the table in frustration – causing the cup to break and pop to go everywhere, and bowled a 297 game while not even reaching a 600 series that night. I am also sweatpants guy. I can't imagine bowling in jeans or dress pants.

With all of that said, here's the list of 20 bowling personas you might see on any given night:

1. Shorts guy: This guy bowls in shorts year round, even when the temperature drops below zero. I understand wanting comfort, but not at that cost.

2. Backward surfer guy: After he releases the ball, he begins to surf backward – arms extended, unsteady on his feet, attempting to direct the ball with this awkward body english. I'm always afraid this type of guy is going to fall or drift into my lane when I'm in the middle of my delivery.

3 Spider-Man guy: Two weeks ago, we bowled against a guy who would release the ball, go down on one knee and do all sorts of hand motions in celebration every time he struck. During one such instance, he turned his palms toward the sky and pretended to shoot spider webs out of his wrists, a la Spiderman – only I think he believed he was shooting lighting bolts instead.

4. One-handed delivery guy: This type of bowler will not touch the ball with his non-delivery hand during any point in his set up or delivery. Why? I have no idea, but it makes for good conversation.

5. Leaning Tower of Pisa guy: He releases his ball and leans one direction or the other, believing his body has a direct connection to the ball and it will obey. When I bowl next to these guys I'm always afraid he is going to lean across my lane, creating a collision that would not be pretty.

6. Towel over shoulder guy: He's confident in his bowling ability and you can see it every time he slings his towel over his shoulder. I've never seen a bad bowler who does this.

7. Two lane courtesy guy: He's convinced he's on ESPN and therefore deserving of at least a two lane courtesy, preferably though, you will give him four lanes – to which I'm always thinking, "Dude, this is a Monday night bowling league and your average is 156. Just bowl." 

8. Backward hat guy: This guy is serious about bowling, but that doesn't mean he is good. Unlike when you face towel over shoulder guy, you can't tell if you are going to be demolished that night or not by simply looking at him.

9. I got ripped guy: He's convinced that every time his ball comes close to the head pin, every pin should fall, every time. 

10. Phone on belt clip guy: I don't know how in the world this guy ever delivers the ball without coming into contact with his phone, sending it halfway down the alley, but he's skilled at avoiding his phone. I've never seen one of these guys make contact with his phone on his delivery. That's impressive.

11. I won't look at splits guy: So, the I got ripped guy buries one in the pocket, or so he thinks, but he's left with the 8-10 split. I won't look at splits guy, who is bowling next to him, turns his back on the split in disgust. He will not bowl next to such a mess no matter how many stares other bowlers who want to be home by 9:30 pm give him.

12. The stand and watch his shot guy: He releases his shot and he's afraid he's going to miss something, so he stands at the line for five seconds after his ball has made contact and all the pins that are going to fall have fallen, just in case an earthquake hits and knocks the rest of the pins down.

13. The can't wait his turn guy: You are standing on the in-between step waiting for one of the guys next to you to bowl, hoping he won't be a backward surfer guy, Spiderman guy, Leaning Tower of Pisa guy, or stand and watch his shot guy and when it's your turn to go, a guy on your other side walks right by you, picks up his ball and stands on the approach – all because he can't wait his turn, something he should have learned in kindergarten.

14. The yell a teammate's name guy: This guy is usually drinking pretty heavily and he gets louder as the night goes on, yelling the first name of teammates from the back of the alley every time they release a shot. "TOOOOOMMMMMM."

15. The unsolicited teacher guy: "You're not following through. When you release the ball, slap yourself in the forehead with the palm of your hand. That way you'll make sure you are following through." Ummm, okay, but who are you and why do you care if I bowl better or not? 

16. The punch the machine guy: He's usually an I got ripped guy, although not every I got ripped guy is a punch the machine guy. The punch the machine guy throws what he believes should be a strike and since he got ripped he is going to take it out on the ball return or the scoring monitor. Then he's going to visit the ER.

17. The cranker for the sake of crank guy: He can put a lot of spin on the ball and he wants you to know it, so he puts 9 million revolutions of spin on the ball per square foot. Of course, he has no idea where the ball is going, but at least the ball is spinning and he's pretty sure you are going to be impressed.

18. The throw the ball as hard as possible guy: His backswing says it all. He winds up so he can throw the ball through the back of the bowling alley with hopes that it'll still have enough juice to make it down Main Street so everyone can marvel at his power. He is bowler; hear him roar.

19. The scowl faced guy: He might be mistaken for ultra competitive guy, but competitiveness might not be his motivation. He could be looking to pick a fight or he could be the victim of the hot dog that has been circulating on the wire dispenser all day.

20. Ultra competitive guy: Combining elements of Spiderman guy, two lane courtesy guy, I got ripped guy, I won't look at splits guy, can't wait his turn guy, yell at teammates guy, unsolicited teacher guy, punch the machine guy, scowl faced guy and maybe a couple of others, he talks trash within ear shot of his opponents. He pumps his fist every time he strikes. And he is often the loudest guy in the place. Bowling is life and life is bowling.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Virtual Red Kettle

Personal fundraising widget for 2010 Red Kettle campaign
After seeing how my niece, who has Cerebral Palsy in her lower extremities, benefited from the work of a couple of charitable organizations many years ago, I told my dad it made me even more aware of the needs of charities and it made me want to do more for them.

"Never pass up the opportunity to drop something into a red kettle," he said. I think he was speaking in general terms, but I heard his message loud and clear.

With that in mind, I signed up for the Salvation Army's online Red Kettle program and set a goal of raising $150.00 this Christmas season here at Little Nuances. It seems like a lofty goal, but if one person donates $5.00 per day for the entire month of December, we'll exceed the goal.

Don't feel any pressure. Times are tough and I understand that. But if you feel like dropping a five dollar bill into the virtual red kettle, I'd appreciate it. So will the families who receive help from the Salvation Army.

UPDATE: I removed the previous graphic linking to the Red Cross because it wasn't updating as donations were made. I'll keep everyone up to date on the graphic on the top right hand side of the page. Thanks for participating. 


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...