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.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Creating New Chapters

On Sunday afternoon, a few of my friends and I took our nearly annual cabin excursion to a state park located about 20 minutes from the Omaha metro area. We did a little exploring this year. A couple of us climbed an observation tower and the view was worth the climb, even if I was out of breath by the time I reached the top. Here's what I saw:P1040688

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It was super windy out (40 mph), which caused the tower to sway quite a bit at the top, so I hung on to the railing for dear life as a friend snapped this photo:

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After we checked in to the cabin, we explored a little more. This is the view from maybe 50 or 75 feet behind the cabin we stayed in:

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Then it was time for fire and food:

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We found this stuck in the tree you see in the photo above and it didn't freak us out in the least:

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After we ate, we got a nice fire going in the fireplace and then played a few board games. Before we knew it, the night was gone. I got up the next morning, hoping to spot a few deer. Sure enough I saw several. Here's a picture of one of them, who seemed just as intrigued by me as I was by him or her:

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After I got home and downloaded all of the pictures and videos I shot, I compared them to our last cabin trip. Twenty months had passed since our last trip – which all of us decided was too long between visits. The pictures from the previous trip looked similar, with the exception of an inch or two of snow that was on the ground at the time.

Even though these trips don't happen frequently enough, they are still clear markers of time for us. They feel like chapter titles in our lives – more opportunities to say, "Hey, do you remember when … ?"

Monday, November 29, 2010

Rekindle Your Dreams

Rekindle Your DreamsI met Trish Porter, an Olympian who represented the US in the high jump at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, at a writer's conference a few years ago. She was working on a book to inspire women who think they might be too old to follow their dreams.

A publisher at the conference hooked us up and I wrote an article about her journey called Leap of Faith you can find at Christianity.com and kyria.com (both are Christianity Today International publications).

She continued to work on her book – one I believed would be published one day – and then, about a couple of years ago, she sent me an email telling me she had just signed a contract for her book called Rekindle Your Dreams. I was so happy for her. The book was published earlier this year. 

As of this summer, she was still competing in the high jump and still inspiring others. Here's an interview she did in May that tells more about her story:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Latte 1, Christmas Tree 0

I don't know what this thing is, but put it up again. This is fun!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Take Five

Last night, I interviewed a 20-year-old boxer who just turned pro and won his first fight. I also interviewed his dad and the man who runs the boxing club where he trains. This morning, I'll be writing a feature about the boxer for a newspaper and once I'm done, I'm on a five day vacation. I can't wait!

I picked up a 3 1/2 foot Christmas tree after finishing the interview with the boxer last night and I plan to put that up this afternoon. I'm not crazy about having such a small tree, but given the rambunctiousness of my new cat, Latte, I'm thinking a tree that comes in one piece is much easier to pick up and put back together after she has performed a flying leap into it.

Tonight, I'll be picking up a pre-cooked Thanksgiving meal for my family. The hard part is finding room in the refrigerator to store it. My family always eats late on Thanksgiving, so I'm planning to read and watch a movie or two until it's time to head to Mom's to help get everything ready.

The next few days will be full of football games, nice meals, movies, hanging out with friends and hopefully getting caught up on a little rest. See you on the other side of my mini break.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lars and the Real Girl

LarsAt the suggestion of several of you, I finally watched Lars and the Real Girl over the weekend. If you've never seen it, it's about a lonely man named Lars who develops a delusion in the form of a life-sized doll he orders online. Her name is Bianca and in Lars' mind, she couldn't be more real.

The first two-thirds of the movie, Lars' friends and family can't help but struggle to accept Bianca. But slowly, the begin to accept her because they love Lars and by doing so, they give him the support he needs to face his internal demons – loneliness, not wanting to be touched by anyone and the pain of never knowing his mom, who died during his birth.

As they accept him, he begins to change. I love one particular scene in which Lars is in the lunchroom at work, sitting across from a co-worker named Margo, who has eyes for him. He has eyes for her too, but he just can't bring himself to act. As they sit across from one another, Margo is upset. She's just broken up with her boyfriend and a co-worker has put a noose around her teddy bear's neck and declared him dead.

Margo begins to tell Lars why she broke up with her boyfriend while Lars begins to check the pulse of the teddy bear. Margo looks up, with tears in her eyes as Lars puts his head close to the teddy bear's nose to see if it is breathing.

Margo  smiles and places her hand over her mouth.

Lars begins doing CPR to bring the bear back to life, during which he asks Margo why she chose her boyfriend.

"I get lonely." Margo looks the other way – too vulnerable to look Lars in the eyes.

Lars continues his work on the teddy bear, saving its life.

Margo laughs and thanks him.

"Hey, what are you doing Friday, night?" she says.

"Um, ah, I have this school board meeting," Lars says. "Bianca got elected, so …"

"That's great!"

"Yeah."

That scene sets the stage for their first date and ultimately, a step toward healing for Lars. You can't help but wonder what might have happened to him if the people around him hadn't loved and accepted him. And after you are done watching the movie, you can't help but wonder if you are loving those around you in the fashion Lars' friends loved him.

Monday, November 22, 2010

In the Company of Others

In the Company of OthersI'm always thrilled when another book in the Mitford Series/Father Tim Series hits the bookstores. In the Company of Others, was released recently to mixed reviews, which didn't deter me in the least from purchasing a copy on my Kindle – which, by the way – I'm especially grateful for since Jan Karon's books always have such a girly look to them. This one isn't quite so bad though.

Early on in the book, I was reminded why I love these books so much. In one particular scene Father Tim wakes up at 5:00 am, slips out of bed at a bed and breakfast in Ireland, pulls the covers up around his sleeping wife, grabs a notebook and pen and heads for the dining hall where he's hoping to find coffee waiting for him. Along the way, he takes mental notes of what he sees.

And there, hanging on either side of the door to the dining hall, a display of early sepia photographs he hadn't noticed last night. Groups of men in rough coats and trousers, formal in the act of holding aloft silvered fish; knock-kneed boys displaying their own prize catches – a way of life he'd never known, given a father who believed fishing promoted sloth. Sloth – right now, he'd like a double shot of it, straight up.

He goes on to have a conversation with a Jack Russell Terrier, which prompts thoughts about his own dog, Barnabas. He pours his cup of coffee and then he sits down to right a letter to his brother.

He warmed his hands on the mug and inhaled the oily, slightly sweet scene of dark roast. It was nearly impossible to trump a blank page, a good pen, strong coffee.

I'm only four chapters into the book, but I feel right at home as I flip the electronic pages.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Great Thanksgiving Themed TV Episodes

I watch many of the same Christmas movies every year and I imagine many of you do too. But what about Thanksgiving? I can't recall many Thanksgiving themed movies, but there have been some great TV episodes with Thanksgiving themes. Here are my favorites. Would love to hear yours.

1. Felicity (First Thanksgiving): Felicity, Ben, Julie, Noel and the whole gang celebrated their first Thanksgiving at college, away from their families. They were strangers just a few months prior, but here they were breaking bread together. I still break it out on DVD and watch it every year.

2. WKRP (Turkey Drop): If you are old enough to have seen this episode, all someone has to say is "Turkey Drop" and you start cracking up. Les Nessman's on the spot reporting of turkeys being dropped from the WKRP helicopter is one of the funniest TV moments ever.

3. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving: What says Happy Thanksgiving more than sharing a meal with friends on a table fashioned out of a ping pong table? Although, I have to say, I always found it a little odd that all of these kids cooked and ate the meal without any parents present. Then again, parents were never present in Peanuts from what I can remember.

4. Friends (Joey Gets the Turkey Stuck on His Head): One of the funniest moments of this episode is when Monica insists on pulling the turkey off Joey's head so she can serve it to 20 people. Yuck!

5. Friends (Football): A hilarious episode in which a friendly game of touch football gets a little competitive, thus making it an extension of the Geller Bowl tradition.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

#85 Windows

Continuing with the 100 life-enriching little nuances series …

Max waits patiently for Latte to notice him
The window in my home office feels like my own TV channel. I sip my coffee in the mornings, trying to wake up enough to start my work day and I check out what's playing on my channel.

Fall is playing this morning.

The first thing I see is a rogue branch from the hedge bush in my front yard that blocks too much of my view. It sticks up defiantly knowing I don't have a saw or hedge clippers to keep it from doing so. But one of these days …

A squirrel sits in the barren tree in my front yard and munches on something. He appears to be a rebel squirrel. Somehow he's figured out a way to flip his tail all the way up his back to make it look like he has a Mohawk. I envision other squirrels walking on the other side of the street to avoid him. I pick up my camcorder and shoot a video of Mohawk squirrel. Who would believe me otherwise?

video

Across the street, a neighbor's tree is full of vibrant, red leaves – none of which have fallen to a nearly perfectly manicured lawn. Even though the lawn is well kept, the grass is green on one side of the lawn and mostly brown on the other side. It's a losing battle, but someone has to fight it.

The people in the house next to it have given up the fight. I feel their pain. Leaves are piled high and more continue to float downward.

I'm keeping an eye out for a cat I have named Max. He hasn't made an appearance yet this morning. He's a neighborhood cat who visits my cat, Latte, once in a while. He's into her. He'll lay underneath the window she is sleeping by, hoping she'll notice him. I'm okay if she flirts with him a little, but he looks sort of wild, so I always make an appearance just so he knows to mind his Ps and Qs.

I'm fully awake now. Time to get to work. But I think I'll leave my window television on. I like the background noise.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Tale of Two Kansas Cities

My GPS insisted I take Highway 54 out of Tucumcari, New Mexico on Sunday afternoon as I headed home from the writer's conference I told you about the other day. Problem is, I'm an interstate guy.

I like not having to pass people on two lane highways. I like not having to think about drivers ride my back bumper because they want to exceed the speed limit. I like not having to worry about traffic pulling up onto the highway from a gravel road or a neighborhood located just 50 feet away.

But Garmina (yes, my GPS is a Garmin and yes, I call her Garmina) didn't care about any of that. She wanted to get me home sooner, so I obliged. I traveled Highway 54 from Tucumcari all the way into Liberal, Kansas by the end of the day. The next day, I think I figured out why Garmina wanted me off the beaten path.

She took me through two towns I wouldn't ordinarily travel through and they both gave me a little treat.

Meade, Kansas

IMG00386-20101115-0957In Meade, I pulled up to a stop light. I turned to my left and there sat a small town café. On the window someone wrote "Happy 57th Chester & Phyllis." You probably can't see the little tag line in the picture that says, " … and they said it wouldn't last … guess you showed them!!"

Imagine driving by a Denny's in your nearest big city and seeing such a sign on one of the windows. It wouldn't mean anything because the chances of knowing the subjects seems slim. But in a town like Meade, I'm guessing many or most people know Chester and Phyllis. And their anniversary is a big deal as a result.

I like the fact that the window doesn't say, "Happy birthday Faith Hill!!" While she might appreciate the effort if her tour bus traveled through the city enroot to a concert nearby, I bet Chester and Phyllis appreciated it more.

The only thing that bums me out about the little café is the "For Sale" sign in the window. I'm hoping the place doesn't shut down. This world needs more small town cafes.

Great Bend, Kansas

IMG00387-20101115-1210A couple of hours later, Garmina told me to take Highway 56. That led me to a town in the middle of Kansas called Great Bend. The first thing I saw as I entered the city limits was an old fashioned "Merry Christmas" banner stretched all the way across the highway.

I'm not one of those Christians who rails against our culture for wanting to secularize Christmas. We live in a post modern era in which large segments of the citizenry are two or three generations removed from the church. Why would they want to celebrate a holiday like Christmas in the same fashion as someone who is a follower of Christ?

At the same time, when I find pockets of people – apparently like the people who live in Great Bend – who do want to celebrate it in the fashion I do, it gives me an instant connection with them.

I did a search about Christmas in Great Bend and I found the Trail of Lights website. It made me want to celebrate Christmas there with them. If it turned out to be anything like it is advertised, it would be the perfect setting to write a Christmas novella.

Thanks Garmina for giving me two great experiences I would have missed if I would have chosen to ignore you and barrel up Interstate 35 instead.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Vast Expanse

IMG00371-20101114-0642I pulled into the parking lot of a hotel in Liberal, Kansas last night, happy to be half way home, while at the same time, still coming down from a writer's conference high.

The picture you see at the left shows my room and the beautiful setting I walked out into each morning at the Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico at the CLASS Christian Writer's Conference.

The Ghost Ranch has limited lighting as you roam the campus at night, requiring conferees/inhabitants to use flash lights to navigate. That might sound a little rustic – and it certainly is for someone like me – but it can also provide moments that otherwise might be easy to miss.

Every night, as I reached the top of the mesa, where my room was located, I looked to the sky. The view made every planetarium I've ever visited (which, admittedly, is limited) seem like a Hot Wheel version of a race car. The vast expanse of blackness, decorated with star constellations and star clusters and other things of which I know nothing about made me feel small in a flawed human sort of way and big in the God who made all of this loves me sort of way.

That contrast set the stage for what happened during the day as flawed humans from various backgrounds and theological beliefs gathered together to worship the Creator, sharpen their writing skills, and learn how the publishing world works – all done with the hope of bringing God glory through the written word.

I can't wait to do it all again next year.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Making the Case for Cats

I’m not anti-dog, but I’m pro-cat. Found these two contrasting videos on YouTube over the weekend that further solidifies my positions:

Friday, November 05, 2010

Remember When Blockbuster was a Place?

Blockbuster

I'm making final preparations for the CLASS Christian Writer's Conference next week in  Abiquiu, NM, so a few scattered thoughts seem appropriate today.

Remember when Blockbuster was a place? It has shrunk to the size of an ATM.

Someone googled "good alf quotes" this morning and ended up here. Melmacians of the world, unite!

It's a good thing I have email. If I didn't, I wouldn't have been notified by several people over the past 24 hours offering me a total of $43 million. Now I just have to figure out why these great offers keep going to my SPAM folder.

If you haven't already seen Secretariat, go. Yes, reviews at CNN, NOLA.com, EW, and probably a dozen other places say the movie is hokey. I didn't see it that way.

Conan returns to the air next week. I might be the only person on the planet who is lukewarm about his comedy. But I'm always impressed with his attitude. I loved what he said about not being cynical on his final Tonight Show all those months ago and I love what he's saying now about his new show.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Nerf Footballs, Spitballs and Great Memories

Boy (9-11) holding football, grimacing, portrait
The football spiraled past my office window yesterday afternoon. I had to get up and take a look. Three boys were tossing the ball around in the street – in the exact same spot that I used to play catch with friends 30 years ago. I live in the house I grew up in and my neighborhood has changed since I was a boy.

There aren't a lot of kids around. And I certainly haven't seen any playing catch on the street in which I spent so many hours working on my own spiral as a kid. But seeing it happen yesterday reminded me of two incidents I haven't thought about in years.

The first one occurred when I was probably 15. We were playing two on two touch football in the street in front of my house. My best friend and I were matched up against a couple of other friends from my neighborhood. I was always the quarterback for my team – not because I had a great arm, but because I had a big body and that doesn't make for receiver material. My best friend was always the receiver.

Nerf Turbo Football Jr.I don't remember the score. I just remember my friend running a post pattern. He ran track in high school, so he was fast, but we'd played together often enough that I could judge his speed well and I knew how to lead him. I launched the Nerf football high in the air, envisioning him running under it and snagging it for a touchdown – just like we'd done so many times in the past.

I took a couple of steps back after throwing the pass and then I glanced at the place where I thought he might snag the pass. I didn't like what I saw – a parked van. About a second later, my friend ran into it, injuring one of his knees. He shook it off, because that's what kids do. And after we realized he wasn't hurt, we laughed. How could we not? Although, I wonder if he still feels the effects of that play? I hope not.

Me & The Spitter The candid Confessions of Baseball's Greatest Spitball Artist (or How I Got Away With It)Around that same time period, I played baseball in the street in front of my house with a friend who was a few years younger than me. I'd been reading a book called Me & The Spitter by Gaylord Perry, in which he confessed to throwing a spitball when he pitched in the major leagues. He even went so far so to explain how he got away with it. If he got away with it in front of all those suspecting eyes, then surely I could too, especially in a friendly neighborhood game.

I donned my hard plastic Kansas City Royals' batting helmet the next day, but not before dabbing a little Vaseline on the corner of the bill. As I tugged on my hat, Vaseline rubbed off on my thumb and I worked it into the ball before delivering the first pitch. We used a soft rubber ball, so it wouldn't take much to make it slippery, which would make it difficult to hit.

My friend fouled one pitch back, he swung and missed another one. Around the third or fourth pitch, with Vaseline beginning to accumulate on the ball so much so that it began to shine, my friend went to toss the ball back to me and that's when he got suspicious.

"Hey, what's on the ball?" he said.

I shrugged.

"It's all sticky."

"I don't know," I said. "Toss it back."

"There's junk sticking to it."

"Just toss it back."

I "adjusted" my cap again and added yet another layer of Vaseline to the ball. He popped the ball up, rather weakly, and I caught it.

"Alright," he said. "What's going on?"

I didn't think I could hold my laughter in much longer. I was right. I eventually let the cat out of the bag and again, we both laughed.

The old street holds so many memories. There was a large, tar-like defect in the cement in the shape of the pink ribbon you see for breast cancer awareness. We used that as home plate. We used the tree in my yard for first base (we simply touched it).We used a little twig of a tree in a neighbor's yard for third base. It didn't exactly line up with the first base tree, but nobody cared. We only needed to supply second base. Sometimes it was somebody's shirt or unused baseball glove. Whatever we had, we just tossed it in the middle of the street – somewhere close to where second base should be. We just made due.

I don't know if we had the time of our lives or not. I hate to over-romanticize the past. I do know we had fun. And we laughed. And we made great memories. I just hope the three kids I saw tossing the football around on that same street yesterday had as much fun as my friends and I did.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The New Era Jotter from Ireland

P1040456The New Era Jotter doesn't look like a notebook that will stand the test of time. All four corners are tattered, the pages are dog-eared. The cover is ripped and wrinkled. The two staples holding it together are rust covered. But the "fine cream laid paper / Irish Manufacture" held up just fine.

On the second to last page, a history lesson is dated – in pencil – March 1920. As I gently flip through the pages, it is clearly a school notebook. A note we received in the package from Ireland from a relative says the Jotter belonged to Mickey John O'Connor – the brother of the man who fathered my mother.

The first page, written in beautiful, sweeping cursive, chronicles the geography of Ireland, broken into four parts:

(a) Northern Ireland

(b) Ireland east of the Shannon

(c) Ireland west of the Shannon

(d) Southern Ireland

The second page is from a history lesson about King George IV. About half way down the page, my uncle makes these comments about the king:

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Reign of George IV marked a long period of reform. Government attention on Europe. Peace at the Industrial Revolution, necessitates a change of energy in the direction of home affairs. Progress was made in matters of free trade, religion and the extension of the liberty of the subject.

A few pages into the Jotter, my uncle recorded a French lesson. In between the geography and French lessons, he figured arithmetic:

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Unfortunately, my uncle didn't record any personal thoughts in the Jotter – probably because he wasn't allowed to. The Jotter was reserved for school work, but I would have loved to read his take on Ireland in 1920 – especially since Ireland was in the middle of its war for independence. But I'm just happy to be able to read any handwriting from a relative from that era.

Included in the package was a geography book, a grammar book, a "war work" ledger, an algebra book and a picture of my great grandmother Mary as a little girl – whom I never met, nor even heard of until now.

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The war work ledger "commenced 1st May 1917." According to note enclosed in the package, the ledger belonged to Matthew O'Connor, my great grandfather, who I never had a chance to meet.

I really can't understand a lot of what I see in the ledger. Take for example, these rather detailed diagrams:

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And the ledger contains page after page that looks like this:

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Then I ran across these two pages and my throat tightened. It's written in pencil and extremely hard to read since it is so faded. Here's a couple of pictures of the pages, followed by my attempt to figure out what it says:

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Sir,

We the undersigned beg to bring before you the inadequately low rate of pay most of us are on, in fact it cannot be described better than starvation wages at this present juncture for we cannot buy the food necessary to supply energy for the work.

A man with a family of 6 to 8 cannot support them without going on short rations himself and it would be less than human if he took from his family what they wanted more than himself.

We would not take up your valuable time by enumerating the different prices of food and clothing. Suffice it to say that [some indecipherable dollar figure] before the war is not equal to [some indecipherable dollar figure] so that a man on [some indecipherable dollar figure] now is only equal to a man on [some indecipherable dollar figure] in war time and we need not inform you the average man had not much to spare at any time no matter how frugal he may be inclined.

We are in a bad way here and accept you can do something our case is hopeless but we look forward in hopes of help from you.

I don't see any names listed after that, so I'm wondering if this was a rough draft. And I'm wondering if it was ever sent. And, of course, I'm wondering if these men ever received a response to their plea. It's gut wrenching to think about – especially knowing that this is my great grandfather's ledger.

A page or two further into the ledger, is an "artillery map" of Dublin. It's not really a map as much as it is a listing of last names followed by a time period (9 1/2 days, 6 1/2 days). Do those time periods represent the amount of time each man has served in a particular campaign? Do they represent how long it would take each man to reach Dublin from his currently location? Do they represent how long it has been since he last ate?

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It's hard to know, but even though I don't understand a lot of what I see in the package, I'm so grateful to have a snapshot into the lives of my relatives from Ireland – some of whom were born in the late 1800s. It would be the equivalent of one of my relatives from another country stumbling across this blog in the year 2,100. Seems crazy to even think it's possible.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Two Weeks Notice

Woman writing
Dear Doctor, I'm writing to give you
your two weeks notice.
Helen was tall and slender and full of smiles as saw my mom walking down the aisle. They hadn’t seen each other in months. Mom had been off work after having a stroke and this was her first return visit.

It was just a visit, but Mom was letting her co-workers/friends know she would be back. Tears flowed that day. And why wouldn’t they? Life is hard and bad things happen to good people and that's all the more reason to celebrate the victories.

I think Helen recognized my mom’s fighting spirit. She recognized it because she possesses a ton of it herself. Her life has been full of hardship.

She has heart problems – partially blocked arteries. One of her sons was killed years ago in a train accident. Another one of her sons has physical challenges as a result of the injuries he sustained during that same accident. And her marriage did not end well, through no fault of her own.

Recently, she was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx. For the past four weeks she’s been undergoing radiation treatments. She cannot afford to miss that much work (who can?), but cancer doesn’t care. Thankfully, many of the people who know Helen do care and they held a couple of fundraisers for her.

This past weekend, I asked Mom how Helen is doing. She told me a great story. In spite of undergoing radiation treatments for the last month, and being unable to speak, and spending a lot of time in bed when she’s not receiving treatment, Helen wrote a letter to her doctor. She gave him his two weeks notice.

She isn’t replacing him. Instead, she was telling him that the medical profession has just two more weeks to attack the cancer inside her. She didn’t write the letter out of spite, but instead, she did so out of a spirit that says she will endure the full six weeks. But no more.

Apparently it moved her doctor so much that he is going to frame the letter. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he doesn’t point future cancer patients to the letter, saying, “This won’t be easy, but you can do it – just like the woman who wrote this letter.”

Monday, November 01, 2010

#86 Fireplaces

Continuing with the 100 life-enriching little nuances series …

We had a fireplace in the first house I can remember living in. We lived in a wooded area, so periodically my grandfather and I would jump into his GMC pickup truck and drive down into the field to look for large branches that had fallen.

When we found some, my grandpa started his chainsaw and made quick work of the branches – cutting them into firewood size chunks. Then we'd fill the back of his pickup and head back to the house.

I only remember doing this a few times, so I have no idea how the firewood got there normally. Maybe my grandpa rounded it up without me. Or maybe my dad handled it.

During the winter, my mom drug the firewood in and to start a fire. The noise made more of an impression on me than anything. Is there a more soothing sound than the crackling of a fire?

The house I live in right now doesn't have a fireplace, but I think I'm going to order a fireplace DVD to play on my TV this winter. It sounds sort of hokey and city slicker-ish, but I found this fireplace video on YouTube yesterday and I let it play all the way through twice and it was calming.



I'm already imagining myself sitting down with a good book this winter while something similar to this video plays on my television in the background.

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