Sunday, July 22, 2012

This Is The Life

"This is the life."

...says Sam, sitting in the passenger seat of a 2011 Chevy Impala loaner with a biscuit breakfast sandwich from Burger King in his lap and silly grin on his face. It was the picture of ultimate contentment. Sam has a way of reminding me what that looks like.

This morning Sam (my 14-year-old bro) and I were charged with the privilege of driving this loaner car to church, compliments of our out-of-commission Chevy Blazer, out for break repairs.

Call us simpletons, but being able to control the radio volume from the steering wheel was like Christmas in July. The drive to church was spend marveling at the cherry finish framing the radio, the little snowflake marking the AC, even the digital temperature reader.

For once we wished the ride to church was longer. When we pulled into the church parking lot, we lingered a bit before getting out of the car and giggling like 5-year-olds when I locked the car from the keychain with the push of a button as we walked away.

The drive home only got better. With the Word of the Lord in our hearts, Burger King sounded good for our stomachs. Does it get any better? It was after we had our food and were pulling out of the Burger King parking lot in what may as well have been a limo, that Sam uttered his catchphrase: "This is the life."

Sam says this a lot. And what I love about it is how genuine it is everytime he says it. He really means it. He reminds me that this really is the life. It really doesn't get much better than riding home from church in a 2011 Chevy Impala with your best little bud and a cup holder full of hashbrowns. Or SyFy marathons on a lazy Saturday. Or getting to lay out on the front lawn on a night so clear you can see the milky way streaming through a sea of stars.

Being easily impressed can sometimes be viewed as pathetic. But really, it's finding joy and beauty in the simplicity of everyday miracles.

I hope I never lose that wonderment, that thankfulness. That's really what contentment is. Being able to see how incredibly blessed you are, and realize that every little luxury you have is a blessing. This really is the life. This family, the friends I've been blessed with, getting to drive a 2011 Chevy Impala to church with Sam. Thanks, Sam, for the reminder.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

I think I realized why I don't write on this blog more. Aside from pure laziness, it's pressure. As a writer, I feel like every post has to be a profound piece of eye-opening poetry. When in reality I just need to write.

Ok, so after that pep talk, I suppose I'd better write something.

I went to the Dark Knight Rises at midnight Thursday night. Apparently doing so was a testament to my youthful spirit of adventure, according to my coworkers. I like that. You only live once! Seize the day!

In a not-so-youthful trademark of mine, I arrived an hour and 15 minutes early. After being convinced by the extremely persuasive concession worker to upgrade my popcorn to large, I entered the batcave, I mean, theater, armed with enough sustenance to last me more than the three hours and 44 minutes running time.

I was more than ready for this movie. I've been ready for this movie since the release of Batman Begins in 2005. This movie release was a countdown widget on my phone.

You get the idea. I was excited. The rest of my posse filtered in over the next hour. We passed the time with movie banter and squeals of glee before the hour finally arrived and the adventure began.

And an adventure it was, indeed! My friend and I agreed that we felt exhausted after watching it. Both physically and emotionally. I almost feel like I have to see it again before really writing about it.

My first go-around impression was that it was a compelling, breathtaking testament to the meaning of ultimate sacrifice, and the internal struggles that bring us to what that really means. I think what surprised me the most was the attention Nolan gave to so many of the characters. Batman had much less screen time than I anticipated, but I liked that. Catwoman was very well-developed, a character I did not expect to like as much as I did. The same with Jospeh Gordon-Levitt's character (who is fighting for my favorite). Bane I expected to be a strong character, and no disappointment there.

Aside from the well-constructed characters and performances, the artistry of Nolan never ceases to amaze me. The way he constructs and tells a story is unlike any director I've ever seen. The attention to detail, the way he uses the score, the way he shoots, the editing, everything has his name stamped all over it, and that's a very good thing. Even the tones of the movie, from the color schemes to the costumes, all work together to create the lasting impression this movie leaves.

Ultimately what reels me into a movie is well-written characters. And this movie was overflowing. The story is pushed by the characters. And each character has depth that draws you into caring about them. I won't go into detail about their individual stories, lest I spoil something for someone, but what I said earlier about ultimate sacrifice is touched on in some way by each character, be it good or bad.

I think one of the reasons Nolan chose Batman of all superheroes was because he was the most human. Superheroes are generally larger-than-life characters with superhuman abilities. This is a good thing, in the sense that they are role models to look up to and can strive to emulate. But on the other hand, they can also be unrelatable, unattainable. What I like about Batman, and Nolan's portrayal of him and any character he tackles, is their struggle with weakness. They may overcome it, they may not, but you see the struggle. This is encouraging because it brings them onto a level we can relate to. And with Batman we still see the ultimate triumph, but we also get to see the journey he took to get there.

So...yes, I loved this movie. I may have something completely different to say about it the second time around, but I can't wait to figure out what that might be. Thank you, Christopher Nolan, for showing the world why filmmaking is absolutely an artform, and a medium with the power to touch and connect people in ways no other medium can.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Greatest Adventure, Is What Lies Ahead

Curses! Frustration of frustrations! Our internet is so slow that I have been involuntarily resigned from every single game of Words With Friends because I cannot load it! Outrage! Injustice! I have never resigned from a word game in my life!

Ok, in other news, I start a new job tomorrow! This anticipation, swirled together with the window cracked to a sunny, breezy, 80-degree Sunday afternoon, has created a happy place, right here on the edge of my bed. Also, I can see the floor of my bedroom. This is such a rare occurrence I'd almost forgot what color my carpet was (it's beige, by the way). And I made two frivolous online purchases of Green Bay Packers and St. Louis Cardinals latte mugs, in celebration of my tax refund (I also need new mugs for my new job!). A happy place, indeed.

Yeah, so this new job business: as of tomorrow, I will have put in my first day as a Deputy Auditor for Lincoln County. My last day at the newspaper was Friday. Here's how it came about:

Two Tuesdays ago, I was sitting in on the Lincoln County Commission meeting, as is my usual routine every first, second and fourth Tuesday morning. The commissioners, the county auditor and the Deputy State's Attorney have all come to know me somewhat, and chide me about something or other every meeting, usually involving the Packers. This particular meeting, I was somewhat surprised when the auditor left her perch at the end of the raised commissioners' row and came down to sit next to me.

"Do you know anyone who's exactly like you who's looking for a job?" she asked me. I can't remember if I chuckled out loud or if it was just in my head, but before I could answer, she continued with a description of a job opening in her office, and what a wonderful fit she thought I would be. I didn't have much time to respond, but I thanked her for the heads up and said I'd certainly think about it.

So...I thought about it. I'd known the position was open for the past two weeks, but the thought had never occurred to me to apply. I'm a writer, not an auditor! Apparently, however, it's more about having people skills and an eager young mind than possessing innate, auditor-like qualities.

Two days later, I decided to apply. I sent in the application on a Thursday. The following Monday I received a call from the Auditor's Office. I set up an interview for Tuesday.

I initially was on the fence about this job. The newspaper had its ups and downs, but at least I was writing. If I took this job, I felt as though I might be selling my artistic soul (mainly because the salary was a significant increase from the newspaper, and a highly motivating factor). I convinced myself, however, that maybe I would actually write more if I got this job. More of what I want to write. As it was, having written all day for work put a certain damper on looking at a computer screen once I got home. Maybe, with this job, I would do more writing on my own, and more of what I *wanted* to write.

The more I thought about it, the more the idea grew on me, and the more I realized I was desperately hoping for this job. Especially right after the interview.

The news came while I was standing in line at Subway on my lunch break the day after my interview. I felt my phone buzzing in my pocket, flustering me a bit as I was between the meat and condiments selection. I immediately wondered, "is it them?!" I frantically fished my phone out of my pocket and instantly recognized the number.

"This is Laura," I said, trying to sound cool and collected.

"Hi Laura, this is Paula with the Lincoln County Auditor's Office."

"Hi Paula!"

"Hi! I'm calling to let you know that we would like to offer you the position of Deputy Auditor, if you would like to accept."

Don't act too eager, Laura, I thought.

"I would love to!" I said, very eagerly.

We exchanged pleasantries and arranged for me to call her back once I'd spoken to the newspaper about a start date.

I was beyond excited. I am beyond excited. I start tomorrow. All I know is I'll be doing election-related work and voter registration. I also know I will be working with wonderful people whom I've gotten to know over the past two years, once a week, every Tuesday morning, and the courthouse is a bright, new building full of windows and awesomeness.

So, bring it on! I'm a tad nervous, as is the case when learning the ropes of any new job, but I'm also very excited. Whether or not I skewer my "eager young mind" image with some catastrophe of epic proportions remains to be seen. But until tomorrow, the air is thick with anticipation, excitement, and healthy does of nerves. Wish me luck!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Coffee Shop Observations

"I heard it through the grapevine..."

That's what I'm listening to right now. I'm being completely unoriginal and sitting in a coffee shop on a March afternoon, looking at Pinterest, sipping coffee and writing a blog entry. Really, all I'm trying to do is not waste a half day off from work. A coffee shop and a blank page always seem like good uses of free time. But somehow I always feel like I waste my time.

As I write my resume for The Onion News Network, I'm secretly pretending to be productive. I have a tab open for my e-mail, with a mental list of everyone I *should* be replying to. But I'm really just playing Words with Friends and trying to come up with a stupendous movie plot.

Looking around the room, there's a handful of hipster dudes with large glasses and sweater vests, head phones implanted, staring intently at their laptop screens. Sitting in a corner is a large, burly man with tatooed arms and a shaved head. I love the variety here. Across from him is an eldery, bearded man, staring ahead of himself. At first glance he's staring into space, but a second look reveals a book in his lap, that he no doubt lost in thought about. Two elderly ladies sit to my left discussing the zoo and what a good time of day this is to come here.

I'm realizing that when I come to coffee shops to write, more than anything, I end up people watching. Maybe because I'm always looking for my next character, or because people are just plain fascinating. It's almost like a little game, to see if I can form any kind of personality or identity for people simply by looking at them. Maybe that's just the next best thing to walking straight up to them and finding out for myself.

One of the hipster dudes just laughed out loud at something on his computer. I wish I was in on the joke. I suppose I could walk over and ask him. Maybe I will.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

National History Day and the Juggling Student

Is a high school student juggling three volleyballs in a history classroom news? In Canton, South Dakota, it just might be.

One of the wonders of my job is also its curse: quirky subject matter. When you’re a journalist in a town of 3,000, story ideas sometimes require some creativity. And sometimes people surprise you.

The fail-safe factor amid the “poultry persons of the year” and city commission stories is interesting people.

Today I got to interview two high school students working on a project for a National History Day program. Their subject was Baseball’s Reaction to WWII. While this topic genuinely interested me, the kids were far more interesting.

One was a quiet, soft-spoken introvert, the other a red-headed jokester. They were a duo worthy of their own crime series, with hearts of gold. Their description of everything from their creative process to the nerd factor of chess reminded me of a Watson and Holmes-type banter that had me laughing for half the interview.

But possibly the best part of the interview was the random third-wheel student who came in five minutes into the interview and sat down directly behind me.

I was conducting the interview in a classroom, so other students were to be expected. But this guy sat right behind me and picked up my voice recorder like it was an alien life form. The boys explained there was an interview in progress, so the kid sat back down, all ears. He just sat there, fascinated, for the entire interview. He even threw in his two cents every now and then.

At the conclusion of the interview, I told the guys I needed a picture for the article.

“Can I be in it?” asked the random student behind me.

“Well,” I said, “if you can come up with a legitimate reason as to why you are in the photo, sure.”

One of the guys threw out “moral support” as a good excuse. Another suggested he pretend to be one of them. We finally got the picture taken, with only the original two students.

“Why can’t I get my picture in the paper?” the third-wheel-student inquired.

“You have to do something interesting,” I told him.

I have to admit, I did not expect and immediate response, but probably should have. Within seconds he was in the corner of the classroom juggling three volleyballs. All I could do was laugh and produce my camera.

I now have a picture of two high school students working on a history project for a national history program...and a student juggling three volleyballs that may very well end up in the paper. Thank you, Lord, for reminding me why I love life.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Another Year

A few things have happened since my last blogging encounter, for example: a new year, I'm 24, the Packers aren't in the Super Bowl and I made my karoake debut! Everything inbetween is a rainbow-colored blur. Perhaps if I didn't wait so long between posts...

Anywho, the Super Bowl is this Sunday, and for the first time in recent memory, I DO NOT CARE. In fact, its very existence annoys me. Normally if my team isn't in the big game, I can still at least pick a side and hope for a good show. But this year, not only is the Super Bowl made more bitter by the glaring absence of my Packers due to the season and expectations they had, but the two teams that are in it I either have a suffocating indifference for or out-right animosity. Since the latter is a stronger emotion that the former, I've decided I'm going to root AGAINST the Giants (not to be confused with "for the Patriots"). And hope for some good commercials.

In other news, I turned 24 last Sunday. Twenty-four feels so much older than 23. That number is just so close to 25, whereas 23 was still "early twenties." Now I'm mid-twenties. I know one day I'll laugh at myself for thinking 20-anything was "old," but I can't be objective right now! Also, I figure if I get mildly panicky about 24, it might ease me into the panic of my mid-mid life crisis next year. But really, 24 or 42, it's always an excuse for cake and good company, and this year was no exception.

Twenty-three was a blink of an eye, but there were certainly days that seemed like years all their own. Seems like yesterday I was celebrating #23 in Nashville. Since then, another year has passed with the newspaper and I feel more comfortable in Canton, yet more restless at the same time. I've had one more year without Tarah, and learned that the phrase "time heals everything" is little more than that...a phrase. I've gotten a little more assertive, reconnected with old friends and made irreplaceable new ones. I have five new coffee mugs, a more established writing voice and a new-found love for 80's rock.

My friends and family, cliche as it sounds, have been my saving grace (which, ultimately comes from the saving Grace of my Savior). Nothing earth-shattering happened last year, but I have another chapter. It's filled with quirky nuances, snippets, trials and triumphs of everyday life, spent with the people I built 2011, and 23, with. The people who listened to me prattle on about my uncertainties, my silly little excitements, who remember I like singing Disney songs, who tell me they're sorry about the Packers losing when they couldn't care less, who are honest with me, who shared their excitement with me, and who gave me a chance to do all that for them.

What a wonderful year it has been, if I had nothing else to measure it by but the people who were in it. Now, I'm a year older, hopefully a year wiser and certainly not where I expected to be. But that's ok, for now. I know there's a guiding hand, if I have half a brain to look for it.

So, thank you to all of you who have made this past year what it was. I am blessed beyond belief, and cannot wait to see what the next one has in store for me, and how you all fit into it, and how I fit into yours.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Adventures in Omaha

Welcome to this week's edition of "Adventures in Omaha," where you will learn how to open a bottle of wine without a cork screw, navigate un-plowed, snow-covered backstreets of Omaha without a GPS, at night, and how to turn wine, orange juice and dinner leftovers into the breakfast of champions.

To start off an adventure in Omaha, you're going to want to wait for the first really nasty snowfall of the winter season. We're talking 45 miles an hour on the interstate nasty, 20 cars in the ditch along the route nasty, and fogged up windows turn to ice nasty.

Once you've planned ahead and picked the right travel day, the next step will be finding suitable company and entertaining past times for the ride. If your trip is say, oh, between two and three hours, two companions, an issue of Cosmo and two bags of chocolate chip cookies should do the trick. Just make sure you don't listen to country music, or you may lose your company. Adelle, however, is usually a safe bet.

Once you've survived the weather, and the drive, you're going to want to find lodgings. Preferably somewhere not near main roads, that would have been plowed after the torrential snowfall. In finding dangerous, snow-blanketed back roads, at night, you will ensure a healthy dose of adventure and daring. Assuming everyone comes out alive, it makes for great stories later. And if you really want to amp up the excitement, put your GPS into a non-driving mode for the rest of the night, rendering it completely useless.

While in Omaha, you have to sample some unique cuisine, no chain restaurants. Since you will not have a GPS at this point, it will be at night and the roads will be an abomination from hell, the food will really be worth it. Rock Bottom Brewery is a nice choice, as it's located in the historic Old Market District of Omaha, and near enough to your base of operations that you will probably still be able to find your way back afterward, still without a GPS.

Stop in at a local supermarket on your way back and grab a few breakfast items, and a cheap bottle of wine. But before you make plans to rent a movie, make sure your lodgings for the night has a DVD player. If not, rely on youtube and cable, either one works just fine.

Once you find your way back, settle in with your bottle of wine and enjoy whatever means of entertainment available. Don't have a cork screw? No problem! If hacking away piece by piece at the cork with a sharp knife doesn't work, and holding the bottle between your knees and whacking the bottom with a high-heeled shoe still doesn't work, fear not, you can still put that heel to good use. Smash it down into the bottle. Yes, the cork will fall into the wine, but that's ok. All you have to do is take a pen, or something long and thin, and stick it down into the bottle to hold the cork at bay while you pour the wine. Don't have wine glasses? Kids stuff! Use mugs! Throw in some Ritz crackers and a block of cheese, and you have yourself a classy, relaxing evening indoors.

Once you've have a good night sleep, what better way to start off your morning than a hearty breakfast? If your hosts' refrigerator is scant of breakfast food, and the off-brand oatmeal you purchased the night before looks like something out of Oliver Twist, you're in luck: take out that wine from the night before, mix it with some orange juice, and you've got breakfast Mimosa! Throw in the leftover donut holes from dessert last night, and you've got a breakfast of champions.

A Harry Potter marathon and a healthy dose of is a good way to ease you into the day, and then it's time to hit the streets of downtown Omaha. Nevermind if most of the places you wanted to eat are closed on Sunday; just keep walking, you'll find something eventually! And don't worry about the freezing temps and frigid windchill; the walking will warm you up.

Once you've found an open establishment, get your fill, and head out to a cultural experience, like a ballet at the Omaha Music Hall. The Nutcracker is an especially excellent choice. Complete with concessions, alcoholic beverages and a cheery Christmas prelude, the fact that it starts half an hour late won't even phase you.

Once you've taken in the Christmas classic, it's time to hit the open road and head home, but a pit stop for some puppy chow and gas on the way out will make the trip more seamless. By this time, the roads will have cleared up beautifully and the terrifying images from the day before will be but a distant memory. The past times for the road home can be a bit less rambunctious, as you'll be recovering from a wonderful but tiring weekend. Some naps, discussion about the effects of technology on the youth of today and periodic football updates should do nicely.

The hour and a half tacked on to the ETA on the way out will motivate you to take off at least 20 minutes on the drive back, landing you back home before 8 p.m.

Follow these simple steps and you'll be sure to have a memorable adventure in the land of Omaha, Neb., and planning your next trek before you know it. Safe travels, and happy adventuring!

To Live Would Be An Awfully Big Adventure