Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Mozilla Thunderbird is the only major email client that makes a portable version – at least as far as I know. Why is that? I’m not a Thunderbird fan but at least the designers understand the needs of modern email users. Who does email on just one stationary computer anymore? Of course, the problem with using the portable version of Thunderbird is that it won’t sync with my Blackberry (see the previous paragraph).
I bought a desktop computer in 2001 and it is still running – quite slowly, but it is still running. That surprises me. It’s been on its last legs for four years but it just isn’t ready to go to computer heaven yet.
The number of people who still put two spaces instead of one space after a period at the end of a sentence surprises me. This practice changed many years ago but lots of people didn’t get the memo. I know, some habits just die hard. I feel your pain. I’m old too.
The number of people who use the word “that” instead of “who” when referencing a person. (e.g. It’s not, “The lady that sat next to me on the plane talked my ear off,” but rather “The lady who sat next to me on the plane talked my ear off.”)
I’m surprised by the phrases people google and end up here at Little Nuances. Every day somebody googles some variation of the phrase, “Does the dog in Gran Torino die?” Apparently the dog touched a lot of people. Most days, at least one person googles “big comb in the back pocket 80s” and he or she finds this blog. Brings back the memories, doesn’t it?
The way I feel when I drive past parks, restaurants, houses and empty fields that have changed drastically or morphed into something else since my childhood surprises me. Life moves on. Generations do their own thing. But something about seeing a house sitting where the pitcher’s mound used to be on the baseball field I played on as a kid really bothers me.
The way I’ve embraced the digital mediums of music, books and movies surprises me. I’ve always had this thing about needing to hold a tangible object in my hand to get the full experience. What I failed to realize is, even the digital files are played or read on a tangible object.
What surprises you?
Monday, March 29, 2010
By Wednesday morning I had a real case of the yucks – just a common cold, but bad enough to keep me from wanting to be around people. I hate passing on an illness.
So, for most of last week I lounged around. I got more sleep than I’ve had in a long time. I skipped my small group church meeting on Wednesday night, rescheduled my dental appointment on Thursday, stayed home on Friday and Saturday night, and slept in on Sunday.
Finally, by yesterday afternoon I was feeling quite a bit better. I’m still probably a day or two away from being complete recovered, but I’m getting there.
Sometimes, sickness can be a blessing in disguise. I probably don’t get enough sleep and I know I get enough down time so illness is a good reminder to slow down.
Friday, March 26, 2010
I’ve never had a retirement party, but I’ve heard other people talk about them and they sound like a combination of joy and great sorrow – the place where completion meets either a silent dread of the unknown or zealous optimism.
Maybe non-retirement going away work parties are just a mini version of the retirement variety. I’ve had one of those.
When I left the bank I was working for in 2003, my department presented me with a plaque (pictured – and yes, my first name is Jerry). Yeah, there was some sadness. I’d become quite close to several co-workers. How could that not be the case?
One of them was the first person to whom I spoke the words, “My dad just passed away.” She asked me if I was okay to drive. I told her I was, but I should have taken her up on her offer to drive me home because I was a mess.
I shared an office with them on September 11, 2001. We gathered around in cloisters, wondering internally and out loud what, exactly, was going on.
We also wondered about our jobs on several occasions. We attended each other’s weddings. We picked up the slack for each other when one of us was going through a difficult time. And some of us developed strong friendships that exist to this day.
I hated leaving all that behind. But my going-away party felt like a commissioning of sorts. Several of my co-workers knew I had been dreaming about doing more with my writing and having their support meant a lot to me.
The plaque says it all, “Best wishes with your writing career. We know you can do it!”
I haven’t arrived, even seven years later. In fact, I struggle to pay the bills each month, but I’m doing what I love to do while patiently waiting for a break – knowing it could come with the next email or phone call.
But these little celebrations we do for one another – the going away parties, the congratulations parties, the celebratory dinners – they matter. They encourage, they linger and they make memories that sustain us.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Have you heard about the 2,500-mile “March Across America” that 12-year-old Zach Bonner started yesterday? He’s walking from Florida to Los Angeles in 12-15 mile increments, stopping along the way in churches, homeless shelters, and other community centers, to address the issues of homeless children.
“‘March Across America,’ I hope, will give voice to the millions of kids that do not have one,” Zach said before he left yesterday.
It should take him 178 days to walk across the country. An RV dealership is allowing Bonner and his mother to borrow an RV for their journey. And the Office Depot Foundation is donating one backpack for every mile Bonner walks.
This isn’t the first time he’s done something like this. He handed out water and supplies to neighbors when he was 6 to hurricane victims. He walked 1,225 miles for the homeless in 2007. And last year, he completed a walk from Atlanta to Washington, D.C., where he met with senators and representatives. You can read more about his story here.
As I read Bonner’s story, I couldn’t help but think he has a better understanding of compassion than many adults do. Compassion isn’t demanding that somebody else needs to spend his or her money, or energy, or time. Instead, it’s doing something yourself and maybe even inspiring others to get involved.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Until this season, I’ve never watched an episode of American Idol. But early this season, I caught an episode in which a contestant named Didi Benami told an emotional story about auditioning in memory of her best friend, Rebecca, who died in a car accident four years ago.
“Rebecca is absolutely the reason that I pursue music,” said a teary-eyed Benami. “She believed in me, you know, when I didn’t even know if I could believe in myself.”
I know the power of such belief.
More than 10 years ago, I had a friend who believed in me, even when I didn’t know if I could believe in myself. She encouraged me to pursue a writing career. And I did. In the dedication of my first book, you’ll find these words, “To Joy, for believing in my writing before I did.”
Benami sang “Hey Jude” at her audition and she displayed a raw, emotional, moving voice and she was handed a ticket to Hollywood.
Since then she has gone on to sing songs such as “The Way I Am,” “Lean on Me,” “Rhiannon,” and “Play with Fire,” and “You’re No Good.” Sometimes she’s knocked the judges out with her performance and other times they’ve been highly critical. I don’t know a lot about music, but her voice moves me, so I’m a fan.
I also don’t know much about how the show works, other than to say it sort of looks more like a popularity contest than a singing contest because contestants advance based solely on the number of people who call in or text their support for the contestant of their choice if I’m understanding the show properly.
If I have all of that right, then it seems like there are more popular contestants than Benami and that makes me think she doesn’t have much of a chance to win, but I don’t think that matters at this point.
She has advanced far enough to launch a music career I would think and I’m guessing that would make Rebecca extremely happy.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Over the weekend, a friend and I traveled a couple of hours west to a small town called Clarks, Nebraska to visit another friend we grew up with. I get out there two or three times a year just to hang out and get caught up with my friend and his family.
The day always flies by, but we always have great time. After sitting around and talking for an hour or two, we piled into my friend’s truck and headed for Grand Island – about a 30 minute drive. I love that drive because it’s a beautiful representation of small town life.
We had lunch at a sports bar, and watched a little NCAA basketball and talked a little more.
Couldn’t help but snap a photo of this napkin while we were there.
I didn’t get too adventurous with my food order. I had 12 wings with BBQ sauce, but I did try the fried green bean appetizer one of the guys ordered and it was much better than I expected.
Since it’s a sports bar, one of its novelties (which sort of grosses me out) is a cleat on every table. It serves as a holder of sorts.
After lunch, we went to Hastings bookstore. I love going there – especially since we don’t have one in Omaha. I picked through used CDs and found a number of them I ended up purchasing. Then we stopped in the store’s coffee shop and relaxed in throne-like chairs.
Afterward, we made the 30 mile drive back to Clarks where my friend’s daughter, who is 9 I believe, had the Wii set up and waiting for us. She cleaned our clocks in Mario Kart and then in most of the other games we played.
Finally, my friends and I posed for a couple of pictures:
Pepper, the family dog, posed for a picture as well.
About that time, the aroma of homemade pizza began filtering it’s way to the living room from the kitchen. My friend’s wife was nice enough to cook dinner for all of us. The pizza was great and we scarfed it down pretty quickly. No word on whether Pepper had a piece or not, but I’m hoping he did.
The day was as close to perfect as possible.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Nancy Ring, the woman has been blogging at Anchors, Signposts, & Wanderings for the past few years, died recently. I never met Nancy in real life, but I read her blog, we traded tweets on occasion and she left comments here at Little Nuances.
Crystal Miller has written a tribute to Nancy and she's also posted several other tributes.
After I learned about Nancy's passing, I went back to read some of her posts again. I clicked on her archives and read her first post from September of 2006. Here's a portion:
"As a writer, my job is to discover new portions of the landscape of life and add them to my map. I came up with the tagline 'Exploring the Path Home' to identify the theme that weaves through my freelance writing. Actually, the phrase now serves as a focal point for my whole life. You see, my real home is a place I haven’t been to yet. I look forward to getting there, but truthfully, I hope it doesn’t happen for some time."
Even though it is sooner than she wanted, Nancy is home now. But, I'm thankful she left a piece of herself here with us in the form of her blog. In fact, she left 466 pieces of herself -- that's how many posts she wrote. In the months and years to come, her friends and loved ones will have a treasure trove to dig into whenever they choose to. I hope Nancy's gift to them is a balm to their hurting hearts.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
I have two letters to write this weekend. One to a man who is dying and the other to a woman who shows incredible compassion. Email won’t suffice in either occasion and I’m really glad it won’t.
In 2002, I met a book editor named Dan Penwell at a writer’s conference in Florida. My intention was to pitch a couple of ideas to him to see if he liked them. To be honest, I can’t even remember what I pitched. But what I do remember is him taking the time to write down my name and ideas and then he took my picture as I sat across from him, saying he wanted to be able to put a face with the name he jotted down. He did that for everybody he met with at the conference. That told me a lot about who he was.
In 2003 (maybe it was 2004?), he sent me the nicest rejection letter I’ve ever received. It was for my singles book. He wrote a two-page letter telling me that I’m a good writer and that my idea had merit, but that he already has an author who writes singles material for his publishing house and they really weren’t look to expand.
I saw him a few weeks after that at another writer’s conference and thanked him for the personal rejection letter. Then I told him my agent had found a publisher for the book and that genuinely pleased him. That’s just the kind of guy he is.
Ever since then, every time I see him – once or twice a year at various conferences – we talk. Not really about working together, but instead about the industry. He’s passionate about the written word. More specifically, he’s passionate about the written word that clearly articulates the gospel and all it entails.
He was diagnosed with cancer a number of years ago. But he still shows up at more conferences than imaginable. He pours himself into writers – teaching them everything he knows. And once in a while, I see on Facebook that his wife has taken him to the hospital for treatment.
This past week, his wife posted a different type of message on Facebook saying his doctors have given him three months to live. The news broke my heart, but I knew that I needed to write him a letter to tell him how much I see Jesus in him.
So, this weekend, I’ll tell him that, and a few other things, and then I’ll mail it – knowing we may never talk again. It won’t be an easy letter to let go of, but I’ll be praying I can exhibit the same grace he extended to me all those years ago when he wrote a letter to me.
The other letter I plan to write this weekend is to a woman who shows compassion in a remarkable way and I just want to tell her that. It’ll be a professional letter for a professional relationship and I’m hoping it means something to her.
Letter writing might be a dying art form, but I’m still planning to keep the practice around for a while.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
If you aren’t a writer, I won’t bore you with a lot of details, but the best definition of this rule I’ve found comes from a book called “Writing A to Z” by Writer’s Digest:
“It [show, don’t tell] is the difference between actors acting out an event, and the lone playwright standing on a bare stage recounting the event to the audience.”
One of the best ways I know to show, rather than tell is to be alert to the small things in life and then use your observations in your writing.
One of the examples I used is my fascination with silence. Not silence in the contemplative sort of way, but instead in the intimate sort of way. I love being able to sit in a room with somebody without either person feeling the need to fill the silence. Silence is a means of communication. It can be good or bad, but I’m talking about the good.
Let me show you an example of this particular type of silence. In the novel “A Window Across the River” by Brian Morton, a woman named Nora is contemplating calling a former boyfriend named Isaac whom she hasn’t spoken to in five years. She doesn’t know if he’s married now. And she doesn’t know if he’ll be angry for calling him at 3:00 am. But something drives her to dial his number anyway.
After three rings, he picked up the phone. She could tell from his thick hello that he’d been sleeping.
She didn’t say anything. Maybe this was all she’d wanted. To hear his voice was enough.
She didn’t hang up, though.
“Hello?” he said again.
She just kept breathing.
“Nora?” he said.
After five years.
“How did you know it was me?”
She heard him laughing softly. “I recognized your silence. It’s different from anybody else’s.”
It’s a perfect example of a guy who knows his (former) girl so well that he could recognize her silence. I love that.
In recent years, I’ve experimented with silence. When I worked in a bank, I often wore headphones and listened to the radio. When I started working from home, I tried putting the radio on in the background, but it distracted me. I think it distracted me because I was learning to love silence. It speaks to me.
This morning, I looked out my window to see how much snow melted overnight. Just a couple of weeks ago, we had between two and three feet of snow on the ground, dating all the way back to December 8. But temperatures have warmed up and the snow has vanished rapidly.
I took note of the new snow level, but then I saw a thick, green moss covering the tree in my front yard (see photo above) – probably the result of tons of moisture in recent months. It seemed to be saying, yeah, it’s been a tough winter, but spring is on the way. I love the contrast between the green moss on the tree and the defiant pile of snow next to the tree.
If you look at the grass in my neighbors’ yards, pictured behind the tree, you’ll see more resilient green.
Spring is a beautiful picture of Easter. After long, cold wintery days in which everything seems to die, along comes spring and conquers death. Being able to see the conquering in little pieces is inspiring. Witnessing the conquering in silence makes it even better.
Friday, March 05, 2010
When I was young, Fridays were the grandest of days: Mom’s payday. I waited anxiously to get my $2 allowance so I could run down to the local drugstore and buy more baseball cards – always looking for that all elusive Bombo Rivera or some other obscure player’s card.
My obsession with baseball cards grew as I got older and my mom carted me around town to baseball cards shows. I thought they were the greatest thing ever invented. Thousands upon thousands of cards – all organized in long rows – just waiting to be sorted through by a kid hoping to strike gold.
I was never big on trying to obtain the high dollar cards. I didn’t have the money for that anyway. Instead, I wanted the cards that would complete that particular season’s set, or I wanted the cards depicting my favorite players, or I wanted to cards with the cool actions shots.
Baseball cards were never an investment for me. They were to be handled, flipped over to absorb the stats and facts about the players, and traded with friends.
One day, my mom told me Royals’ pitcher Paul Splittorff was coming to a nearby JC Penney store to sign autographs. I grabbed one of my Splittorff cards and stood patiently in line for him to sign it. If you look closely at the photo above, you can see his autograph on the actual card he signed that day.
He also signed a photo and a baseball for me. Here’s the photo, on which he wrote, “To Lee, Best of Luck. Paul Splittorff.”
Many, many years later I met Splittorff in the press box at Kauffman Stadium. He is a television broadcaster now for the Royals. I didn’t remind him of the day at JC Penney. It would have been too corny.
After I accumulated a couple thousand cards, my mom let me send away for baseball card lockers – a holding case for the cards with multiple slots that would hold maybe 40 cards each. Each locker probably held 1,200 or so cards.
The lockers came with stickers of the team names and I think they came with alphabetical stickers too. Early on I favored separating the cards by team. As players would get traded or sign with another team, I would move his cards to his new team.
My best friend and I spent countless hours on the weekends going through each other’s collections to pull out cards we desperately wanted to add to our own collection. Then the haggling began.
“How about I trade you two Ron Cey’s and a Johnny Oates for this George Brett?” I said.
“The Johnny Oates card is pretty cool and I really want this Ron Cey, but this is George Brett’s rookie card,” he said. “I don’t know. How about if you throw in Robin Yount’s rookie card and take back one of the Ron Cey’s?”
“If I throw in a Robin Yount rookie card, there’s no way I’m including Johnny Oates in the deal,” I said.
I think I had to sweeten the deal quite a bit and I don’t remember how many cards I traded for that George Brett card, but eventually I got it.
We never traded on book value. We didn’t even know that cards had a book value. We traded on personal bias, personal desire, and coolness of the card.
Eventually we picked up the price guides and learned the actual monetary value of the cards, but it was never quite the same after that. After I lost interest, I sold the entire collection to another friend. Of course, now I wish I hadn’t done that, but foresight doesn’t come naturally to young people and I was no exception. At least I had the sense to hang on to the autographed Paul Splittorff card.
The thing about hobbies is, they keep your mind sharp and you’re never bored. You’re always dreaming about the next break in your schedule when you’ll be able to dig back into your passion.
My experience with the young today is limited, but when I hear them say they are bored, I often wonder if they lack hobbies. I don’t mean entertainment. They have plenty of that. Instead I’m talking about immersing themselves into something so deeply that hours pass and they have no idea where the time went. And afterward, they feel fulfilled.
I think even adults confuse entertainment with hobbies. While it’s not always the case, often times, entertain only works one way. We take it in. We enjoy it. We forget it. Hobbies allow for both give and take. We invest time in something we are passionate about, we learn about the nuances of the subject, we interact with the tangible, we tell like-minded people what we’ve learned, they tell us what they’ve learned, and the hobby becomes part of who we are.
I haven’t collected baseball cards in 25 or 30 years, but I can still see the cards I used to flip through on a regular basis. The stories are still in me. And every once in a while, when I glance over at the Paul Splittorff autographed card, I’m transported back to my childhood.
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
According to the Holiday Insights website, Old Stuff Day is a day set aside to “recognize the boring nature of your daily routine, and make some exciting changes.” It goes on to suggest finding new activities, projects, and hobbies.
Before I get into what I think about this, I have to point out that this holiday is not aptly named. Shouldn’t it be New Stuff Day since we’re supposed to shun the old stuff and embrace something new?
The Holiday Insight website says the day got its name from the common response to the question, “What’s new?” Most of us say, “Nothing really, same old stuff.”
But I still think it should be called New Stuff Day.
Getting beyond the name of the day, I have mixed emotions about trying new stuff. Sometimes it works out well – like when I gave NASCAR, skinny vanilla lattes, and owning a cat a try (not necessarily all at the same time). Sometimes it is a disaster – like the time I tried a nasty iced coffee concoction, or the time I tried Chinese food, or the time I tried boneless chicken wings from No Frills.
I guess the conclusion I should come to is, you have to take chances if you want to find out whether you like something new. But two objections come to mind.
Number one, I hate paying $4.40 for a cup of coffee I can’t drink. Number two, I already have so many things in my life I enjoy; I don’t have room for much more.
And really, if a skinny vanilla latte is the bomb, why would I try to improve upon that by ordering some other frou-frou drink in the hopes that it’s going to better than the bomb?
But don’t let me spoil your Old Stuff Day. If you are tired of your routines, give something new a try.
I’ll be sipping on a skinny vanilla latte.