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.

Monday, January 31, 2011

5 Good Things About Getting Older

Photo: Dimitar Nikolov
Knowing my friends were planning a couple of board game nights a while back, I picked up a new (to me) game called Name 5. The premise is pretty simple – players advance on a game board by naming 5 items on a list from a card they draw.

A timer is involved, so that pretty much kills my chances of doing well because my brain just can’t recall specifics when a timer is ticking, but the game is a lot of fun.

We’ve played it a couple of times since I got it and both times I heard several topics that would be good blogging fodder, especially since I wouldn't be on the timer. Over the weekend I jotted down quite few of those topics and plan to blog about them.

The first one is – name 5 good things about getting older.

1. The lows aren’t as low as they used to be. I’ve never been an overly emotional person, outwardly, but internally, when I was younger, nearly every bump in the road felt like a crisis and when a genuine crisis occurred, I didn't think I would survive it. I'm just talking about the typical teenage angst – girls, popularity, sports. With age came perspective though. By surviving previous trials, I know that somehow I'll survive new ones too.

2. Having a core set of people you can trust. More than half of my closest friends are the result of friendships formed in high school. I know they are going to be present when I need them to be and I think they can same the same about me. We’ve seen the best of worst in each other, but still, the friendships remain. That’s not often the case younger in life – when so many relationships are based on performance.

3. Entertainment is more about the people you are with than the activity. The question that never changes is – what do you want to do? In high school, we went cruising, attended dances, went to football games and listened to music together. The event was necessary. Now, I go to coffee shops, go to movies, go to sporting events and a few other things, but mostly, the events are just the backdrop.

4. Having the ability to look backward and forward. I had a conversation with one of my niece’s the other day. She’s 20 and trying to figure out her place in the world. I told her about the hardships the previous generations in our family endured so my generation and hers would have more opportunities. I wanted her to know that her generation doesn’t exist in a void.

5. Digging deeper instead of wider. When I was a boy, I wanted to become a football player, a tennis player or a rock star when I grew up. I was also into stamp collecting, rock collecting (for about two hours), coin collecting, baseball card collecting, and lots of other things. My passions aren’t spread as thin anymore. Today, I read every book a favorite author writes. I listen to entire albums, not just the hit songs. I put my feet up and turn everything off sometimes, just to think. Depth is more satisfying.

How about you? Can you name 5 good things about getting older? Take all the time you need. I won't even start the timer.

Friday, January 28, 2011

In Sickness and In Health

Steven Tyler in action (Photo: Daigo Oliva)
If you’ve been around church culture for a while, you’ve probably heard the phrase “that’ll preach,” which means the topic being discussed has a pertinent message that could be used in a sermon. I have adapted that phrase and in my mind whenever I see or hear something I want to blog about that I think will matter to somebody else, I think, “that’ll blog.”

A couple of nights ago, I had one of those moments while watching American Idol. You’ve probably already seen it or heard about it too. A contestant named Chris Medina told a story about how his fiancée, Juliana, was in a horrible car accident not long before their wedding date. Juliana barely survived the accident. She sustained a brain injury and she requires a lot of care, which Chris and Juliana’s mom provide.

So, Chris takes the stage to audition and a video clip plays, in which he says, “I was about to make vows, just two months from the accident – through thick and thin, ‘til death do us part, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse. What kind of guy would I be if I walked out when she needed me the most?”

That’ll blog.

That’ll preach too.

Chris killed it in his audition and the judges asked to meet Juliana. After Randy Jackson and Jennifer Lopez greeted her, Steven Tyler approached her in her wheelchair and shook her hand. “Hi girl. I just heard your fiancé sing and he’s so good,” he says to her. “You know ‘cause he sings to you all the time. I could tell.” Tyler leans over, kisses her on the cheek and continues, speaking directly into her ear, “Oh baby, that’s why he sings so good ‘cause he sings to you.”

Here’s the video:

It was a powerful and beautiful segment. I’m not sure how anybody could watch it and not shed tears. Chris made it through to Hollywood and we’ll see what happens next.

Through my own tears, I thought about the other families who were watching who have experienced something similar – maybe their loved one suffered a debilitating stroke or has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or is incapacitated for some other reason. Their stories will probably never make it on American Idol or even the local news. Steven Tyler will not knock on their doors and whisper something true and sweet to lift their spirits.

But we can.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

#78 Helping Someone

Courtesy: Kansas City Royals
Continuing with the 100 life-enriching little nuances series …

My uncle from Kansas City got me hooked on the Kansas City Royals when I was a kid. Every time he visited Omaha, we’d go out on my grandparent’s front porch and listen to the Royals game on the radio. He’d talk to the radio as if the players could hear him giving them advice or cheering them on.

Somehow, my mom scored enough tickets for our family to travel on a bus to Kansas City to see the Royals play one year. As I single mother, I have no idea how she pulled that off. But I sat in Royals Stadium (now called Kauffman Stadium) marveling over the fact that I could actually see my favorite team play in person.

Something magical happens between a parent and a child at a baseball game. The senses are already on overload – in a good way – with the crack of the bat, the smell of cotton candy, players sliding in the dirt, the potential of catching a foul ball as a fan. But having a parent place his or her arm around a child to point out all of these things cements a bond in a child’s mind.

In 2009, I saw a message on Twitter from someone who worked for the Royals saying they were having a Kids’ Day at the K (meaning Kauffman Stadium) and they were raising money so kids from local Boys & Girls Clubs and various other children’s organizations could come to the game. For every $10.00 that was donated, one child would get to attend the game. If $250.00 was raised, the Royals would match it so 50 kids could attend the game.

I wrote about it on my Royals blog (on a site no longer active, but I do cover the Triple-A team on a site called Omaha Baseball 360), trying to raise support for 10 kids. The most popular Royals blog, Royals Review, joined in, really fueling the effort, and within a few weeks, people had donated enough money for more than 100 kids to see the game. I’m not exactly sure how it all worked out, but from what I understand, many of the parents came as well.

Afterward, the team sent me several photos of the recipients of the tickets, showing parents enjoying the game with their kids (see one of those photos above). I smiled and remembered my own experiences as a child at the ballpark.

In my previous post in this series, I wrote about a neighbor who helped me even though he was experiencing a trying time in his own life. It was an act of kindness I won’t forget. I don't care if the kids who attended the game in Kansas City that day remember or even know about our efforts to get them there, but I do hope that 20 years from now some of them are still talking about how attending a baseball game with a parent on a hot summer day in 2009 is something they will never forget.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Problem with Popular Highlights

Photo: liveandrock
When I was in college, students had a theory about buying used text books in the campus bookstore. Not only were they cheaper, but many of them also contained huge sections of fluorescent yellow highlighted text, which obviously meant you wanted to buy those books because some other poor sap already spent her Saturday evenings in the campus library, studying. By purchasing her book, you were purchasing her study efforts.

Part of me wanted to believe that – because, what college student is looking for a shortcut? – but I always wondered what would happen if the former owner highlighted the “wrong” passages? Or what if the previous owner was a poor student? Or what if this book had been sold more than once and the multiple owners added their own highlights, turning entire pages into one fluorescent yellow blur, which would mean you’d have to read the entire book anyway?

I bought a couple of these books, even though I was skeptical. The highlights ended up distracting and annoying me more than anything else. I had a running monologue going on in my mind: Why in the world would a person highlight that? Holy cow, why not just highlight the entire page? Eventually I learned to look for used books in the campus bookstore that were as clean as possible.

That was 25 years ago.

Recently, I was reading a book on my Kindle and that old familiar feeling swept over me. For some reason, parts of the book I was reading were underlined on the screen and each underlined section listed a number of highlights (e.g. “109 highlights.”). What in the world? I had never even opened this e-book before. Who was highlighting my e-book?

One day it hit me. These were the underlined passages of other Kindle users who had already read this book – ah, the wonders, and irritations, of modern technology. A quick trip to Google confirmed my suspicions. Amazon calls this feature “Popular Highlights.”

Beyond being big brother-ish and therefore automatically suspect in my mind, seeing what others had highlighted robbed me of the joy of highlighting/underlining the text for myself. In fact, the contrarian in me avoided underlining text that the masses had underlined. And then it sent me searching for a way to turn off this feature, which I was able to do. Why the default is set to “on” is a mystery.

Here’s something Amazon needs to learn. Reading is highly personal. I like to record dates next to passages that speaks to me. I like to record questions or thoughts about specific passages. I like to connect passages. Neither Amazon, nor anybody else, has a right to view those dates, questions, thoughts, or connections without my consent. If Amazon tries to pull something like this again, Nook here I come.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

That's How They Get Ya

Photo: dmdonahoo
I’m not a coupon person.

I’m not anti-coupon, I just hate the hassle. When I do plan to use them, I forget them or can’t find them or they’ve expired or the clerk will tell me the item isn’t exactly like the one in the manufacturer’s coupon so she has to call a manager or, in order to get the discount, I have to buy a gallon of milk, a block of cheese, and two other items of the same brand just to save fifty cents.

The whole process gives me a headache. I’d rather just buy the store brand without a coupon and save fifty cents that way.

There are exceptions. Just not many.

I know and love coupon people. You might be one of them. Take no offense when I say this, but sometimes coupon people are paranoid. They’ll talk about how a store has a limit on the number of items you can purchase with a coupon, limiting the amount you can save, knowing that once you get into the store, you’ll buy more things at full price.

“That’s how they get ya,” they say.

Well, okay, but I might actually be out of milk and if I buy the store brand, I can often find it on sale. Like last night. I bought a gallon for $1.98. No coupon. So, I don’t really think they suckered me into anything. But I was faced with a dilemma during my shopping experience.

The store had Healthy Choice Roasted Beef Merlot Café Steamers for $1.68 – with a coupon and with the purchase of 10 items. Knowing they normally cost around $3.00 without a coupon, I piled three entrees into my cart and went hunting for a stinking coupon at the front of the store.

I found one and as I checked out, the coupon wouldn’t register when the clerk scanned it.

“Didn’t you buy 10 Café Steamers?” she said.

Who in the world is going to buy Café Steamers at once? And the store only had three of the Roasted Beef Merlot entrees and I bought all three. I certainly wasn’t going to buy seven entrees I don't like just to “save” a couple of bucks.

“The sign said you have to buy 10 items,” I said. “I’m pretty sure it doesn’t say Café Steamers.”

“No, it has to be Café Steamers.”

That’s how they get ya. They make the sign obscure. So, I became a paranoid coupon user. 

“Okay. Just charge me the normal price.” Stupid coupons.

When I got home, I looked at the receipt. The clerk charged me $1.98 per entrée – far less than normal price. I don’t know why. Maybe she could see I was just posing as a coupon user and I needed a break.

Yeah, I doubt it too.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Journalism is Literature in a Hurry

Photo: Katie Tegtmeyer
My dad had a small printing business. He wanted me to become a classical musician. My mother wanted me to be a novelist. They were 0-for-2. So I became a reporter. Not quite a novelist, but as we all know, journalism is literature in a hurry.

The quote is from the movie, Runaway Bride. Ike, a reporter who is doing a story about a woman named Maggie who keeps leaving grooms at the altar, is driving in a car with Maggie shortly after she had to rescue her alcoholic father again. She asks him not to write about her father, saying his drinking got worse after her mother died.

Ike, it seems, has a different sort of parental problem – he isn’t living up to his parent’s expectations, as he described in the quote above. I love the line he uses at the end, “but as we all know, journalism is literature in a hurry,” which is a quote attributed to Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), a British poet.

I don’t know the context of Arnold’s quote, but the context of Ike’s usage of it shows our natural inclination to want to live up to the expectations of our parents. Even when we don’t, we try to convince ourselves that we have in a different sort of way. Of course, just because Ike’s parents wanted him to pursue certain professions, it doesn’t mean either path was right for him. Even so, he felt the weight of their expectations.

My parents never tried to point me toward any one profession. They divorced when I was young and maybe that had something to do with them going easier on my sister and me, but I doubt it. Our family was broken and we experienced all the hardship that comes from brokenness, but both of my parents were supportive of my interests and I’m grateful for that.

With that said, I still think I know how Ike felt. A while back, I wrote a post about one of my earliest memories of wanting my dad’s approval. I was around 10 at the time and my parents had split by then. Here’s a portion of the post:
My grandmother pokes her head out of her front door asking me if I want anything to drink. I tell her not yet. I’m in the middle of game.

With sweat dripping down the sides of my face, I tap the tennis ball into my baseball glove in my grandparent’s front yard and throw my next pitch toward the steps leading up to the side door their garage. When you don’t have anybody to play baseball with, you make up your own players and you make up your own rules. In this case, the steps served as hitters. After throwing a pitch, the steps would shoot the ball back in my direction – sometimes on the ground, sometimes over the front porch awning.

If I fielded the ball cleanly and could throw and hit a nearby tree, the runner was out. If I caught the ball on the fly, the runner was out. If the ball got past me on the ground, it was a hit. If it got away from me it was a double or triple. If it went over the awning, it was a home run. I was always aware of how many ghost-runners were on base and my goal was to keep as many of them as possible from scoring.

I didn’t feel sorry for myself. I was having the time of my life. But negative thoughts can creep up on you when you play baseball by yourself. Was I good enough to play against other kids without them making fun of me? I was athletic, but overweight. Would Dad be proud of the way I could throw and catch the ball if he could see me? Was I missing out on something by not having my dad out there with me?

I had no idea.
Fast forward some 35 years. If I were in the car with Maggie and shared that story with her, I think I would have told her I never became a baseball player, but as we all know, sports writers are former athletes who know how to capture the thrill of the game.

And I envision her nodding her head and saying, “You know, your dad really would have been proud of the way you could throw and catch a ball when you were a kid. And he’d be proud of the way you write about the way other people do it now.”

Friday, January 21, 2011

Q & A with Mike Royce, Co-creator of 'Men of a Certain Age'

Men of Certain Age is one of my favorite TV shows. If you aren’t already familiar with it, it stars Ray Romano (as Joe), Andre Braugher (as Owen) and Scott Bakula (as Terry). They play middle-aged friends who are beginning to sense their own mortality and it heightens their sense of urgency to pursue everything they want to pursue.

The series, which airs on TNT on Monday nights, was co-created by Ray Romano and Mike Royce. Royce was also a writer/producer on the hit show Everybody Loves Raymond and he has numerous other writing and producing credits.

Royce was kind enough to do a Q & A interview with me recently via e-mail and I had a blast picking his brain about the Men of a Certain Age characters. Here is the interview:

After Everybody Loves Raymond, I read that you sat down with Ray Romano with the intentions of doing a movie together, but as you spoke about mid-life issues, you gave those issues voices in the form of Joe, Owen and Terry – the three main characters in Men of a Certain Age. First, is that accurate? Second, did you wonder if a show that explores the way middle age men think and feel (from mostly a dramatic, non-comedic point of view) would find a significant enough audience?

That is an accurate description of how Ray and I went about creating the series. As far as the audience, honestly we mostly worried about making the show good. We figured if it was something that we might want to watch, then hopefully there were also an audience out there too. One thing we realized was in our favor was that there was no show portraying this age group of characters in the way we were hoping to. We figured there’d be people who could relate.

Also, while the show’s premise involves middle age, I feel like the way the show has evolved really expands that premise into relationships in general: family, friends, romance, work ... a lot of relatable parts of life.

The restaurant scenes seem so natural. It’s typical guy banter, giving each other the business about women, hobbies, and various other things. How much of that is scripted and how much of it is three actors who are staying in character and just letting the conversation flow naturally?

All of the scenes in the show are scripted, including the diner. The only thing we encourage the actors to do is make it feel as conversational as possible. That means sometimes they talk over each other, or add a word or phrase here or there. But even in those cases it sticks pretty close to what’s on the page. The actors are just really damn good and make it seem like natural conversation.

The guys are willing to challenge one another during these conversations in the restaurant. They almost always deflect the challenge, but they take it with them and think about it, usually concluding that their friends were right. This really rings true to me. Apparently it rings true to you as you write these characters as well?

That is a dynamic that happens a lot on the show, yes, although we try to avoid the “friend gives advice and other friend takes advice and his life is changed” simplicity that can be a trap. Most of the time the guys are just musing about the events of the day, which are whatever their stories happen to be in that episode, and of course friends will always give other friends advice but much of the time 1) that advice is totally ignored and 2) the advice is bullshit! (It’s easy for somebody to say “here’s what I would do.”) However these guys have been friends for a long time, and so things they say to each other will reverberate in their heads and potentially affect how they act going forward.

Owen is diabetic, has sleep apnea, and struggles with his weight. Joe’s bookie is dealing with cancer. In the most recent episode, the guys made a weekend out of getting colonoscopys, which caused them to consider the possibility of a positive diagnosis. Mortality is becoming more real to them and it seems to be motivating them to pursue their dreams harder. Is that a fair assessment?

Yes, absolutely. Without getting too maudlin, part of being middle-aged is becoming aware of your own mortality. And that feeling manifests itself in lots of interesting ways, comic and otherwise. Of course much of the time it is subconscious but it can ignite a “shit or get off the pot” feeling. It can depress you sometimes. It can make you take your life seriously for the first time ever. Lots of manifestations.

Both Joe and Terry are unfulfilled, professionally speaking. Joe has an unsettled feeling about owning his party favors store – as if he should have done more with his life – and that has led him to think seriously about pursuing the senior golf tour. Terry’s acting hasn’t worked out well enough for him to make a living, so he’s changed careers and become a salesman. So much of a man’s identity is wrapped up in his work, but at the same time, most of us never reach the pinnacle of our dream job. Talk about that dynamic in Joe and Terry’s life.

Definitely on our show we explore how the characters deal with what the hell happened to their life over the last 30 years in comparison with what they thought would happen after they left college. And we feel like life is so interesting at this point because a lot of great things have happened. It’s not like they sit around going “woe is me.”

Owen and Joe are both successful businessmen in varying degrees and even Terry has what he considers to be a happy life because he’s doing what he wants to do even though he’s not as successful as he wants.

The conflict comes, as it did in our pilot, when each of the guys kind of wakes up to the fact that maybe they ought to reevaluate and make sure they’re headed in the right direction before they all become old men. This is the time when you have to do that. Work-wise you’ve accumulated a bunch of skills and moved up the ladder so the question becomes “is this what I do for the rest of my life? Because if it’s not, I better get started with the change RIGHT NOW because time is kind of running out.”

That’s what all 3 guys are dealing with ... making sure they’re headed in a direction in which they will be satisfied when they are all in rocking chairs at the old folks’ home.

In the first season, Owen seemed lost. His father didn’t respect him. Even his wife, at times, seemed to shows signs of disappointment in him. But after his father retired, he stuck up for himself as the rightful heir to his father’s dealership and it worked. Now he seems to be coming into his own, even though his dad won’t let go of the reigns. Talk about his character arc and how far he’s come.

I don’t think Melissa ever showed disappointment in Owen beyond the fact that she wishes he would stand up to his father more. And I think we’ve seen that he is growing in confidence and stature in that department. But Melissa and Owen have a relationship that is pretty rock-solid in that she just wants him to be happy (and vice-versa). They are a good team and love their family life together.

However, Owen’s work success has always been tinged with dissatisfaction because he is in a place he never wanted to be: at the dealership working for his father. He tried to get out from under after college but the business he started failed and he had to come back and knuckle under for the old man. Who was of course harder on Owen then on any of the other salesmen. But at the same time, Owen was successful, made a good deal of money and providing for his family.

Now ... Owen has the opportunity to finally make the place he always hated actually be someplace he wants to go to work. Because he’s being allowed to lead, and that’s a different thing than he’s used to. And I think we see he’s got the potential to be a really great leader, but that growth comes not all at once and with a good amount of growing pains and setbacks.

We’re at the midway point of season two with six episodes in the can and six to go. From what I understand, the season won’t resume until summer. Is that correct? How are the ratings this season and what can you tell us about the final six episodes of the season?

The ratings have been okay, although it’d be nice if they were a little higher. The reason we’re airing the other six this summer is because last year we had a ratings drop-off over the last few episodes because as you get into January, TNT has deals with NBA on Monday nights, and we have to be pre-empted and it screws with people’s heads. Last year a bunch of people thought we were cancelled even though we had four more episodes to go!

So the plan this year was to split the season in order to get some episodes over to the summer where the ratings are always a little higher. TNT is very very pleased with the show and all indications are we’re going to be fine. But uh ... tell people to watch! : )

You can follow Mike on Twitter: @MikeRoyce

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Most Popular Songs

Give Me Your EyesTechnology has a way of telling on you. I found that out yesterday when I synced my iPod and noticed I had listened to one song far more often than any other song. That made me curious enough to see what my two other most listened to songs were – here’s the list:

1. “Give Me Your Eyes” by Brandon Heath (14 plays)

Give me your arms for the broken hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me your eyes so I can see

In 1990, I lived/worked in Chicago for a few months. The company I worked for in Omaha at the time was purchased by a company in Chicago and the new company paid me a fair wage to come and teach people how to do my job.

As I walked around the city, I felt like a gnat who was lost in a swarm of gnats the size of, well, Chicago. So many people, so many stories. It was all so overwhelming. I was young and shy and had long hair with bleached tips and never really did find a way to connect. At least I had a few co-workers to hang out with at night.

I think of my Chicago years when I hear this song. I sing the lyrics as a prayer, not wanting anybody to feel as disconnected as I did.

2. “Ohio” by Over the Rhine (10 plays)

Hello Ohio 
The back roads
I know Ohio
Like the back of my hand
Alone Ohio
Where the river bends
And it’s strange to see your story end

I wrote about this song in the past. Here’s part of what I had to say about it:

This first verse is chilling to me. Karin Bergquist is singing about watching life as she knows it come to an end on the back roads of Ohio. For the record, her husband Linford Detweiler wrote the song, but the sentiment is the same. And you get the feeling she’s going to camp out and reminisce for a while because that’s what humans do when we want to make sense of change.

A picture flashes into my mind when I listen to this song – a picture I took on the back roads of Arkansas, which is where my father’s side of the family is from. As a kid, I traveled with my grandparents and sister to Arkansas most summers and we would meander down one dirt road after another visiting relatives. When I got older, I drove my grandmother down those same dirt roads.

On one of those trips, in 1993, we stopped at an old cemetery to visit the graves of family members. Before I got back into the car to leave, I snapped this photo of the dirt road that went past the cemetery.

I think I took the photo because I wanted a clear reminder about how much life, and ultimately death, existed on the back roads of my heritage. I needed the tangible proof because my mind doesn’t do an adequate job of remembering.

3. “In Color” by Jamey Johnson (8 plays)

I said, grandpa what’s this picture here
It’s all black and white, it ain’t real clear
Is that you there? He said yeah, I was 11

Times were tough back in ‘35
That’s me and uncle Joe just tryin’ to survive
A cotton farm in a great depression

If it looks like we were scared to death
Like a couple of kids just tryin’ to save each other
You should’ve seen it in color

Family heritage means more to me with each passing day. That’s why I’ve written 90 posts for this blog about the subject (click here or see the “heritage” tag on right side of the blog, under the title “Food, Family & Fun Posts”). I want the generation behind me to know the sacrifices the previous generations made.

When I hear this song, I think about my mom who was a little girl during the Depression. Clothing was hard to come by and food was even more scarce. She lacked the basics – including milk. And I think about my grandpa’s paycheck stubs from 1950. My grandparents, wanting to flee farm life, moved from Arkansas to Nebraska that year after my grandpa found work in a factory. He made 40 cents an hour.

My nieces and nephew need to know these stories. And I need to hear them again too.

How about you? What are your most listened to songs on your iPod and what are some of the stories behind the songs?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

#79 Receiving Help

Trees were pulled up by their roots (Photo: Jo_n_1970)
Continuing with the 100 life-enriching little nuances series ...

On June 27, 2008, around 5:00 pm, the sky got dark in Omaha – so much so that I turned on the television and heard we were in for a doozy of a windstorm. The weatherman was trying to get viewers to warn people who were outside, saying they needed to find cover quickly.

The sky turned black. Debris slammed into my house. And I took cover with my cat in the basement. The storm didn’t last long – a couple of minutes maybe, but I couldn’t believe the devastation. Trees were pulled up by their roots. Power lines were down. And the city was a mess.

Neighbors flooded out of their homes to inspect the damage. I joined them. We chatted, shook our heads, and pointed to the damage. I walked across the street to check on an elderly neighbor to see if he still had electricity. Thankfully, he did. Most of the rest of the block didn’t.

[This YouTube video is a good representation of what the city looked like.]

Later I heard winds were estimated to have reached 80-90 mph and 126,000 people were without power around the city. The power company said it may take a week before the power was restored to all of its customers. Candles, batteries and flashlights became a premium at local stores. I had a hard time finding any of them, but I had a few candles and I was able to find one flashlight that came with batteries at a nearby Kmart.

One of my next door neighbors said he was going to try to find a gas generator. If he did, he said I could tap into it. My roommate and I spent the night at a friend’s apartment and the next day, I went to visit my mom. Knowing all of my food was spoiled and wondering where I might crash that night, I called my neighbor to see if he had been able to track down a generator.

He sounded anguished on the phone, but he said he found one and I was welcome to plug into it when I got home. As I approached my neighborhood, police cars blocked my street so I parked quite a ways from my house. As I walked toward my house, police officers were spread out all over my neighbor’s yard.

My neighbor saw me coming and said he couldn’t talk about what was going on, but he helped me run an extension cord from the generator into my house. He said he and his family had overloaded it already a couple of times, causing it to shut off, so he was cutting back on his usage. And he asked me to minimize my usage to one lamp – two at the most. I plugged in one lamp and it was plenty to make the house livable again.

The next day, my neighbor told me his son (who was an adult) had died and that’s why the police were there the day before. I’m not going to go into details here, but no foul play was involved. I cried with my neighbor over his loss. We embraced. And then it hit me. He not only took my call and agreed to help me during one of the darkest moments of his life, but after I got home he actually took time while the police where there to help me plug into the generator he had found.

It was an incredible act of kindness that moves me more every time I think about it. I couldn’t offer him anything in return, other than a heartfelt thank you. And that was enough because sometimes, people like my neighbor simply want to help another neighbor.

There is beauty in that.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fairbanks California Port Wine

I have a bookshelf in my living room that is six feet high. The top of it is perfect for taking photos of items to place on eBay because it’s easy to keep the camera level with the items. Lately I’ve been using the top of the bookshelf to also take pictures of the bottles of wine I’ve been trying and writing about here. My cat, Latte, likes this spot as well. Several times a day, she hops up there to stretch out.

The two worlds collided the other night when I tried to photograph a bottle of Fairbanks California Port wine for this post. Here is the result:

Pretty cute, huh?

Wish I could say the bottle of wine was as much fun.

I read somewhere that port wine is sweet, and as I’ve mentioned in other posts about the various red wines I’ve been trying, sweet is what I’m after. Fairbanks California Port doesn’t have any fancy marketing blurbs on the back of the bottle about how it’ll enhance your meal or outing or life. That might have been my first clue that this was a “real” wine, but I didn’t catch that until I tried a glass of it.

The label says it is superbly rich and full-bodied. I now know that those adjectives describe a taste that is much too strong for my palate. My first taste made me flinch. After the overpowering “full-bodied” taste overwhelmed me, I tasted the sweetness, but it was too late by then. And, if it is possible, it was too sweet.

Two ways of describing the taste came to mind and they both fall short, but I’ll give them to you anyway. For the initial full-bodied shock factor, think about how the first sip of black Starbucks coffee tastes (yuck! pass the cream and pink stuff please), followed quickly by the taste of Kool-Aid with twice as much sugar as any human has ever consumed in one glass. Combined, the two tastes are enough to rattle your eyeballs.

At least I learned something. When I went to the store on Sunday afternoon to pick up a few groceries I notice a few bottles of wine that said they are medium-bodied. So, that must mean light-bodied wines exist, although I didn’t see any. I did find a website that talks about the three types and it compares full-bodied wine to cream, medium-bodied wine to regular milk (I’m not sure what that is), and light-bodied wine to 1% or 2% milk. At the very least, I learned not to get full-bodied or medium-bodied wine.

How about you? Have you been experimenting with different types of wine? Or do you have a favorite you’d like to tell me about? So far, I’ve jotted down the following suggestions from the comments section: Liberty Creek Sweet Red, Kenwood Pinoir Noir and Benzinger Pinoir Noir.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Outcasts, Weirdos and Freaks

Photo: Maja Dumat - flickr.com
I went to hear a lecture on Friday night about the transcendental movement of the early to mid-1800s. As the lecturer spoke about the beliefs that grounded the various movements before and after transcendentalism, he touched briefly on southern fiction (Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, William Faulkner, etc.), saying those authors often used characters who were outcasts, weirdos and freaks to speak the truth into a situation.

He quoted O’Connor as saying, “Whenever I am asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.” I found a fuller context of this quote on a blog called The Reformed Reader, where O’Connor goes on to say, in part, “To be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man. And in the South, the general conception of man is still, in the main, theological.”

In other words, they recognized freaks because their theological understanding of man drove them to examine their own hearts and on some level, we’re all freaks, so it's easy to spot another one. Some of us are freaky looking. Some of us have freaky mannerisms. Some of us have freaky beliefs.

Usually, we find other freaks of the same ilk to hang out with so we can let our freaky hair down and pretend we aren’t freaks. They don’t have to agree with us about everything or even look like us necessarily; they just have to accept us – think Cheers, Friends, Seinfeld. Who among us hasn’t wanted to live in one of those worlds?

While I’m not a Lady Gaga fan, I’m intrigued by her story and her fanbase, whom she refers to as “little monsters.” According to a story in New York Magazine, she began working with a record producer to find her sound, style and look. One of those experiments led her down the Michelle Branch-Avril Lavigne singer-songwriter route, but it didn’t work.

Wendy Starland, a singer who was responsible for connecting Gaga with the producer, pointed out why it didn’t work, “Those artists are usually classically beautiful, very steady, and more tranquil, in a way.” At this point, she wasn’t into fashion. She wore leggings and sweatshirts and she came into the studio a couple of times in sweatpants.

Wanting to be a star, she eventually went on to study trends in pop culture and she re-made herself as a performer rather than a singer. After she became a star, she began referring to her fans as “little monsters,” which she means in the most affectionate way. She knows how it feels to not fit in. She even wrote a manifesto of little monsters, and she closed it this way:
When you’re
I’ll be lonely too,
And this is the fame.

Lady Gaga
Notice how she put the word “lonely” way out by itself? She knows how many of her fans – the outcasts, weirdos and freaks – feel, and while they, like other outcasts, weirdos and freaks find comfort in the company of one another, they also feel the same isolation the rest of us freaks of different stripes feel when they aren’t together.

On some level, we’re all freaks. Some of us are freaky looking. Some of us have freaky mannerisms. Some of us have freaky beliefs. Acknowledging that might help us to cut our fellow freaks a little slack once in a while.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Happiness List

Photo: Joe King
Over the years, a number of variations of the bucket list have appeared and they all contain the same basic premise – make a list of things you want to accomplish, track them, and check them off as you go. It’s intentional living rather than reactional (I think I just made up a new word) living. 

I first heard about the idea in the movie, A Walk to Remember. Jamie had a list of 100 things she wanted to do before she died. Then I heard about 43 Things – a website where you list 43 things you want to do and you interact with others who are working toward the same goals. Then, of course, there was The Bucket List movie. More recently I read about The Mighty Life List. Just yesterday I read about a variation of these ideas called a Happiness List. It is similar to some of the other lists, but it also contains a twist.

This might be Rainbow Rowell overkill, but I read about the Happiness List in her latest article called New year’s disillusioned? Resolve to be happy. It is about a guy named Nicholas Schnell who chucked the idea of making an annual resolution list in favor of a happiness list – a list of stress-free items. On his list, he wrote things such as watch the original Freaky Friday with two of his friends and re-read Pride and Prejudice so he could read the zombie version.

But here’s the twist, he suggests getting friends to make lists, so on some lazy Friday night, when you can’t think of anything to do, you team up to help each other check something off your lists. If one of the items on a friend’s lists is, “try the new Italian restaurant downtown” and another friend’s list includes “check out the independent film festival,” you make a night of it and do both.

I love this idea for so many reasons.

First, for me and my friends, it would mean not going to Borders for the 43rd consecutive Friday night because we couldn’t figure out what else to do. Second, it means getting involved in activities our friends enjoy which will give us a view of who they are in their element. You can learn a lot about a person when he or she is in her element. Third, it would expose us to new things. Most new hobbies and passions begin after someone introduces us to them. I’m also thinking it would make for some great memories.

As a variation, I’m thinking it would be a good idea to list 50 items that could be done with one or more friend and 50 items that could be done individually. 

What do you think?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

#80 Weather

Photo: Dave Morrison
Continuing with the 100 life-enriching little nuances series …

If you are from Nebraska, you learn to adapt to changes in the weather. Temperature can change as much as 50 degrees or more from one day to the next. One day it might snow and the next day, the sun might shine. We joke about the drastic changes, but the truth is, I sort of like adapting to the weather.

As a kid, my friends and I used to shovel the basketball court at the park just so we could shoot some hoops. We bundled up in our coats, stocking caps and gloves and played the game as if it were mid-July.

Of course, in July, we never had to deal with slipping on the ice while driving to the hoop or having to dribble the ball harder because it didn’t want to bounce, but we had the benefit of never having to chase the ball too far during the winter because the snow around the perimeter of the court would stop it. In mid-July, the ball often bounded away and someone would have to chase it for a country block.

The practice of shoveling the court carried over to my backyard where a couple of my friends and I would shovel the small slab behind my house so we could shoot some hoops when we didn’t have a big game going at the park.

In my 20s, I used to go fishing pretty often with a couple of friends. We were never very good at it, but we enjoyed it anyway. We believed the old adage that fish tend to bite more frequently during the rain. So rather than running for cover, we’d sit on the bank in a heightened sense of anticipation. I don’t ever remember catching more fish during the rain, but I always attributed that to us having no idea what we were doing.

The thing is, I’d rather deal with all the wacky weather than live in a place where it’s always 70 degrees and sunny. I like making due. I like the funny situations it creates and I like the memories it makes. I’m not as quick to shovel a basketball court or fish in the rain now (although, now that I think about it, I’d still do that), but I’m making due in other ways when the weather changes.

A good snow storm is the perfect reason to forget about all of the appointments and meetings and other obligations to settle in with a good book.

Brutal heat tends to drive me indoors – anywhere the air conditioning is cranked on high. That usually leads to more conversations with people.

We had a windstorm a couple of years ago and were without power for a couple of days. That lead to neighbors leaving their homes and that lead to neighbors talking to one another and that lead to them helping one another. One of my neighbors stepped up big time and helped my roommate and I (more on that in the next post in this series).

Changes in the weather often leads to a change of plans. And sometimes that’s a good thing.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Red Guitar Wine (2006), Old Vine Rosé

On Sunday one of my pastors told us it was a good thing to be snowed in every once in a while. Snow was already falling and we had the promise of quite a bit more. I totally understood what he meant.

After church, I stopped at the grocery store. As I finished up my shopping, I meandered through the wine section looking for something new to try. I found a wine called Red Guitar – Old Vine Rosé from 2006. I’ve been wanting to try a red table wine for a while, and I liked the name because I used to play guitar and music has always meant something to me, so it seemed like a perfect fit.

I flipped the bottle over and read this:
Centuries ago, the Spanish added a sixth string to a little recognized instrument, bringing to life what we now know as the guitar. For countless generations since, music, food and wine have been the fabric of the Spaniard’s joyful and vivacious existence. Put simply, la buena vida (the good life).

Our prized Garnacha vines grow deep in the gravel soils of Navarra. Rosé is a classic wine from this ancient kingdom and our lively version is a fresh mouthful of raspberries with a crisp refreshing finish.

Red Guitar Rosé; a refreshing celebration of the Spanish lifestyle.
As the snow continued to accumulate on Monday evening, I popped in my Holiday Fire DVD, poured a glass of Red Guitar and plopped down in my recliner to read The Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks. Latte, my cat, made the scene complete by curling up in my lap where I rubbed her belly, causing her to purr.

The fire crackled and I’m pretty sure I felt it warming my feet. The wine went down easily. No bitter aftertaste and it wasn’t overbearingly sweet. Maybe that’s how raspberries taste? I have no idea because I’ve never tried one. But this wine quickly became my new favorite.

Ironically, the novel I was reading while enjoying my Red Guitar contained a scene in which two friends shared a bottle of wine, making the evening even better. Like one my pastors said, it is a good thing to be snowed inside every once in a while. But the scene ended when my roommate walked in the front door.

"Want a glass of wine?" I asked.

"No. I'm not highfalutin like you, with the fake fireplace and $7.50 bottle of wine," he joked.

"What are you trying to say?"

"It speaks for itself."

He’s probably right.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Not All Romantic Comedies Are Created Equal

Photo: jmscottIMD
A local columnist named Rainbow Rowell wrote an article that appeared in the Sunday edition of the Omaha World Herald saying all romantic comedies are terrible. She still watches them, but they are terrible.

“The number of romantic comedies that aren’t terrible is statistically insignificant,” she says. “We’re talking less than .09 percent here. There’s one When Harry Met Sally for every 3 million Katherine Heigl movies.”

My first thought was ... but what about The Notebook, Notting Hill, Elizabethtown, A Walk to Remember, You’ve Got Mail and Serendipity? Just those movies alone change her statistics. My second thought was ... why is comedy tied to romance in this particular genre of film? It has always bugged me. My third thought was ... the “romantic comedies” that use natural humor rather than slapstick humor are much better.

Maybe that’s where so many rom-coms have gone astray.

Love is funny and scary and invigorating. It provides for natural comedy – the kind that makes you giggle on the inside and maybe outside, not the kind that makes you slap your knee. It’s the moment when the guy stammers for something intelligent to say as he tries to win the affections of a woman. It’s the nervous laughter over a meal as each person drops their guard an inch at a time. It’s the embarrassing giggle that results from good friends seeing two people falling in love and saying so.

There’s a scene in The Notebook in which Allie and Noah, who are on their first date, go to a movie with another couple. Noah spends more time watching Allie than the movie, so it’s pretty clear where he stands. Allie notices, and smiles. As the four of them head for the parking lot afterward, the couple gets into the car while Noah whispers “You wanna walk with me?” into Allie’s ear. She says she does.

“What’re you guys doing?” the guy says. “Get in.”

“Yeah, what’s going on?” the girls says.

“We’re gonna walk,” Noah says. 

“Do you guys love each other?” the guys says.

Noah laughs and bends over in embarrassment. Allie approaches the car and hugs her girlfriend.

“Oh, I get it, you guys do love each other,” the guys says.

“Okay, goodbye,” Noah says.

In that one scene, Noah stammers, has a nervous laugh and shows embarrassment. And all three reactions ring true. Those are the movies I want to see over and over.

Compare that to a slap your knee type of rom-com like Paul Blart: Mall Cop about a security guard who rides a mall on a scooter trying to win the affections of a woman who works there but is unable to do so. Lucky for him though, he must have seen all of the Die Hard movies because he single handedly defends the mall from robbers – at one point putting a Hello Kitty Band-Aid over a tiny cut he gets from falling through an air duct.

The movie has its moments, but for the most part, it makes you laugh and then you forget about it. The plot is too goofy to make you care. But there’s value in laughing in the moment. And like Rowell, since I’m sucker for rom-coms, I’ll go see that type of rom-com because it does make me laugh, but it’ll never be a movie I want to see over and over.

That’s the difference for me.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Can I Have $5.00?

Photo: IndyDina
I’m a big guy, but for some reason, that doesn’t stop strangers from approaching me in parking lots for all sorts of crazy reasons. It happened again a few days ago.

But let me back up a little.

Maybe five years ago, I came out of a Hy-Vee and a kid, who was probably 19, approached me. He had a pamphlet he wanted me to take. The edges of the top page were dark – as if he had made photocopies from photocopies. As he attempted to hand it to me, he said he was from the Communist Party USA and I needed to read what they had to say. Umm, no thanks.

A couple of years ago, a guy who was maybe 25 and clearly intoxicated, stumbled toward me in a Walgreens parking lot. He said he wanted money for cab fare because he had to get to his sister’s house. I refused him, politely, not at all convinced his intentions were honest.

“You’re going to do me that way?” he said.

“What way?” I said.

“You’re just going to punk me like that?”

“I guess so.”

“You’re a big guy, but I’m not afraid of you.”

“I’m not afraid of you either.”

He hesitated and seemed as if he were about to give up. As I opened my car door, he lifted one of his legs as if he were going to kick my front corner panel. I started toward him, prepared for a fight if necessary, but before he could even complete his kick, he stumbled backward and was unable to complete his mission. I think that embarrassed him, so he gave up, hurling insults at me as he left.

Last year, as I was putting groceries in my trunk at the same Hy-Vee parking lot where communists do their recruiting, a couple approached me. The man had long gray hair, pulled back into a neat ponytail. The woman seemed younger by maybe 10 years. He did all the talking. They didn’t have a penny to their names and they coasted into Omaha on fumes. If they could just get enough money to fill their gas tank they could live in their car until they figured things out.

I offered to call a local homeless shelter for them so they would have a place to eat and sleep for a while. The man gave me the stink eye and said, “We’re not going to a homeless shelter.”

Not long after that, a woman approached me in a different grocery store parking lot, desperate for cab fare. She needed to get to her sister’s house on the other side of town. I offered to call her sister, but she refused. She just needed the money for the cab fare. I declined.

Not long ago, an intoxicated man approached me in the parking lot of a Dollar Tree store. He wanted $5.00, no excuses given. The answer was still no.

A few days ago, the same woman who needed cab fare to get to her sister’s house on the other side of town approached me in the same grocery store parking lot with the same story. I just shook my head.

I’ve been approached many more times than I’ve listed here and in every case someone wanted something from me – even the communist, who wanted my time. The thing is, I don’t wonder if I’ve missed opportunities to be a Good Samaritan. The Good Samaritan had compassion for a man who had been stripped, beaten and left for dead by robbers. He wasn’t approached by a man with a suspect story.

I do, however, wonder about the real stories behind the suspect stories whenever I'm approached. Don’t you?

Friday, January 07, 2011

The 2011 Bloggies

Photo: Mykl Roventine
The 11th annual Weblog Awards – affectionately referred to as, “The Bloggies” (not to be confused with the Weblog Awards that Little Nuances was a finalist for in 2006 and 2007 – those awards are now defunct) – began taking nominations for the best blogs in various categories on January 1. The nomination process ends January 16.

Only one ballot per person is allowed, but each ballot must nominate at least three different blogs (one blog can be nominated for multiple categories, but you still need to nominate at least two other blogs somewhere on your ballot). I’m going to spend some time this weekend working on my ballot and I hope to encourage a few fellow bloggers in the process.

While I tend to believe good blogs are found and read as the blogger builds a solid body of work, sometimes bloggers get discouraged when the numbers aren’t where they think they should be and they pull the plug. Being nominated for a blogging award is the equivalent of a boss or a co-worker saying, “Good job!” and you know how far that can take you.

If you’d like to submit a ballot, here’s a link. Just start at the top, read the instructions, and work your way down the page – nominating at least three different blogs (total) in the various categories – and at the bottom of the page, you’ll find the “Submit your nominations!” button.

Don’t feel at all obligated to nominate Little Nuances. There are a ton of great blogs out there. Pick a few and nominate them. If you want to nominate Little Nuances, the best fitting categories are probably: best topical blog, best designed blog, best writing of a weblog, best-kept secret weblog, lifetime achievement (for blogs that began before January 1, 2006).

Thursday, January 06, 2011

#81 Completed Goals

Photo: Horia Varlan
Continuing with the 100 life-enriching little nuances series …

The idea of writing an 80,000 to 100,000 word novel seemed unattainable to me when I attended my first writer’s conference in 1998. Thankfully, I wasn't the only person thinking that.

I took a comprehensive novel writing course at the conference taught by Nancy Moser. Somebody in class asked her what her writing schedule looks like – how does a person go about writing 100,000 words?

Her answer was pretty simple. She looks at the total word count she’s shooting for and she divides it by the number of writing days she has on her schedule for her first draft. That number becomes her daily writing goal. That made the process seem a lot more doable to me.

A couple of years later, while working at a bank, employees had a chance to work a flex schedule. I re-arranged my work schedule to have Mondays off. That gave me 52 full writing days available that year. My goal was 90,000 words. That meant I had to write 1,700 words a day. I could do that.

By the end of the year, I wrote 85,599 words – 371 pages. That's where my story ended so my goal was complete. Hitting my goal gave me the confidence to write a second novel. I didn’t sell either of them. But by the time I had a marketable idea for a non-fiction book, I knew I could write it if a publisher gave me a contract (non-fiction books do not need to be written before pitching them to publishers, but novels do need to be written if you are a first time novelist).

In 2004, a publisher did offer me a contract for my non-fiction book idea – a book called Single Servings. I put my formula to work and completed the book on time. I still use that formula, depending on the project.

A Christmas book I wrote in 2005, called The Experience of Christmas, was supposed to be in the 33,000-35,000 word range and it was broken down into 31 devotions. So each devotion needed to average a tick over 1,000 words. I wrote one devotion a day and was able to complete the book in about five weeks.

Slow and steady wins the race for me because it keeps me from straying when I’m writing a book. It answers questions for me. Do I have time to take on an article due next week? I look at my word count spreadsheet and see that I’m barely staying on schedule and the decision has been made. I’ll have to pass.

I really need to carry this practice over to the rest of my life though. The mountains of unfiled paperwork that sit by and around my desk could be handled if I just did 15 minutes a day. My laundry might actually be caught up if I did one load a day. And so it goes. But, like you, I’m a work in progress.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Mining the Word "Friend"

Photo: Bruno De Regge
Yesterday, I told you I was motivated by a novel called The Cyberspace Letters by Allen Palmeri to mine certain words for gold. After saying that, the word "friend" began to beg for attention. I thought back to a post I wrote in 2006, which I've re-written and expanded upon here.

On a golf outing with three friends in 2000, I found myself on the fringe of the green on the sixth hole. Missing greens is a fairly common occurrence for me. I'm not a good golfer. Typically I use a five iron to chip onto the green from the fringe because the blade is relatively flat while having just enough lift to pick the ball out of the grass and send it rolling somewhere in the vicinity of the hole. My friends were already on the green as I reached for my five iron that was tucked away in my bag. Then I saw it. My dad's one iron.

This was the first time I had been on a course since my dad died earlier that year. I inherited his clubs and I placed a couple of them in my bag. We spent so many hours on golf courses together, how could I not take a piece of him with me after he died? But I wasn't prepared for what came next.

My knees went weak when I saw his one iron in my bag. The reality that he was gone hit me full force and I was overcome with emotion. I did what guys do. I fought back the tears, but I lost the battle. I turned away as best I could, but one of my friends caught me, and he came over and put his arm on my shoulder. I pointed to my dad’s club and whispered “It was my dad’s.” But I didn't need to tell  him that. He knew. He lost his own father several years prior, so he knew how quickly the simplest memory can sneak up and overwhelm a person.

As sad as it made me, having a friend who knew what was happening and who cared enough to show that he knew, eased the pain. During one 30-second span of time I experienced the gut-wrenching pain that comes with loss followed by the euphoric high that comes from knowing a friend knew me well enough to understand my pain. It was one of the truest expressions of friendship I've ever experienced.

A friend is intuitive like that. He knows your fears, your failures, your struggles and your dreams. He's heard you say stupid things and he let you say them. He's seen you do stupid things and he didn't abandon you. He laughs with you. He gives you the business. He texts random movie or song quotes knowing you'll get them. He gives you a place of safety to be yourself without fear of being judged. He isn't quick to correct you, but he's not afraid to challenge you when the time is right. But most of all, he remembers your history and that drives him to put his arm around you on the sixth hole of a golf course when you are on the verge of a breakdown.

In the age of Facebook, where it's not uncommon to have thousands of "friends," the word seems to have been cheapened. But I'm not so sure it has. I learn so many little nuances about my real life friends there -- nuances that I store away and hope to use with them in conversation. But the truth is, I don't think the average person has room in his life for more than a handful of close friends. In fact, Jesus himself seemed to prefer spending time with just three guys -- Peter, James and John. I think that's a good model.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Cyberspace Letters

"As simple as it may seem, we must pick up one word at a time, clean up each of those words as we go and set them one by one on a true foundation, in a context where people will actually take the time and the thought to read them. This must be the business of the authentic communicator of the 21st century. It will be gritty, necessary work."

This is the advice of Scriptura (a 40-something year-old former sportswriter), as written in a letter to Skateboard (a 20-something year-old sportswriter) in a novel called The Cyberspace Letters, written by Allen Palmeri, who is a good friend of mine.

The first third of the book borrows the format of C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters." The mentor and mentee discuss theology and psychology and a number of other meaty topics, but early on in their communication Scriptura wants to make sure they are speaking the same language, so they can, in turn, communicate with each other and their audiences more clearly.

One of the words they discuss is "beauty." Here is a portion of the way Scriptura defines it for Skateboard:
There is beauty in sports. I find it in those tightly contested games where defense, or the art of countering one's opponent, is elevated to a place of prominence that is normally reserved for those who get rewarded so handsomely for creating movement on the scoreboard. In other words, I like games of baseball, hockey and soccer that finish 1-0, and the occasional game of football that ends 3-0. We are talking about the beauty of pitching, goaltending and punting. In this I find true art.
Do you see the irony in this? In an age when someone, anyone, can sit down before his or her home computer and fire off hundreds of words in a series of e-mails to friends, we still have the 1-0 baseball game. Is that delicious or what? As much as the fan would want to come up with all kinds of fantasy methods to generate more excitement, it still comes down to a summer night in Yankee Stadium with two of the better pitchers in the American League taking care of the hitters.
Scriptura goes on to say:
When games turn out like this, it brings to mind the axioms that less can mean more, that subtraction can mean addition and that one is sometimes all it takes. In other words, in a general sense, it is not necessarily true in our culture today that more communication, or more information in its various forms, will mean more success.
I love this idea of discussing words -- one at a time, mining each one for gold. As I read the book, I found myself wanting to mine words I've been thinking about, such as "simplicity," "silence," "love" and so many more. Don't be surprised to see a post about each of those words in the near future. And, in the spirit of The Cyberspace Letters, I'd love to get your take on each of the words.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Whatever Happened to Simply Playing UNO?

I started noticing it a couple of weeks ago. While I was Christmas shopping, I looked for UNO -- the card game, thinking it would be fun to play after my family had Christmas dinner and opened our gifts. But Kmart didn't have the original UNO game. They had some sort of revamped version. The cards didn't look the same. Why in the world would anybody want to change UNO? The game was the bomb.

Original UNO Card GameSo, I get home and search Amazon.com. I find UNO Attack!, UNO MOO Preschool Game, UNO Flash Game, Disney Princess UNO Card Game, UNO Deluxe Card Game, UNO Stacko, Charlie Brown Christmas UNO, Diary of a Wimpy Kid UNO, UNO Spin, UNO Card Game - Toy Story 3 Edition, SpongeBob Squarepants UNO Card Game, and so many more versions of UNO that you wouldn't believe it. Or, maybe you would -- if you are more enlightened than I am.

I eventually found what I was looking for -- the Original UNO Card Game. But even that doesn't look right. Check out the picture on the right. The wild card looks funny. I left Amazon.com thinking I would try to find the real "original" game on Ebay.

Ultimate Stratego
This weekend, a few friends and I gathered to play some boardgames. One of my friends told me that he and his 10-year-old daughter have been playing and enjoying Stratego recently. I haven't thought about that game in years. My cousins and I used to have some epic Stratego battles.

As my friend and I began to talk about the strategies we incorporated in our quest to dominate the world, my friend's daughter said she always knows where her dad's flag is when she runs into a group of bombs.

"That's when you send the miners to take care of them," I said. "Right?"

"Nope," my friend said. "You send a scout."

"No, you send a minor -- he's an 8."

"Not in this version. You send a scout -- he's a 2."

"A scout is a 9."

I felt like Ray Barone who often said, "Whaaaaaaaaaaat is haaaaaaaappening?" when his world was being turned upside down.

Turns out my friend was referring to Ultimate Stratego. I guess the original wasn't good enough. And, it turns out that Stratego has gone the way of UNO. There is Stratego Star Wars Saga Edition, Stratego - Chronicles of Narnia, Stratego Nostalgia, and -- unbelievably -- USAopoly Democrats vs. Republicans Stratego

Again, there is a version that sort of looks like the original, but several customer reviews warn people like me to stay away from it, because it is an impostor. I like what one customer review said about the Ultimate version, "When I first found this item on Amazon.com, I was ecstatic. Four-Player Stratego was a dream. I opened the box and found out that the pieces, rules, and board are all different from the original Stratego. This game is nothing like Stratego so stay away."

I know. Capitalism is a good thing, the only thing that is constant is change and I should be able to adapt to new versions of beloved classic boardgames. Maybe I will once I get over the initial shock. But in the meantime, I think I'll visit Ebay when it comes to time to buy a boardgame. I just can't trust Kmart anymore.


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