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!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Caramel Brulee and Christmas

I'm sitting in Barnes & Noble sipping a caramel brulee latte wearing my "journalist" glasses and a denim jacket. There's no way I cannot blog right now.

For starters, this latte is sinfully good. Like, it's so good I feel like I'm committing some kind of crime drinking it. The ladies at the counter talked me into combining a caramel brulee latte with white chocolate. I'm a sucker for good customer service, so here I sit. Very happily. This drink is also somewhat ironic because I just came from the dentist. Oh well. Maybe that's why it feels so sinful.

Barnes & Noble is such an overwhelming place, in the best possible way. I literally have no idea where to start, anytime I'm here. Five different parts of me are tugging me towards the travel section, history section, children's literature section, classic literature and movies and entertainment, all at once. Even the sports section tugs at me. The crafts, art and music areas go without saying. The photography section is a fascinating browse, and this place even has a Star Wars section. I might lose track of a good hour in the poetry aisle. Or be caught buried in a Post Secret Book for half of that.

I find it hard to write about anything other than Barnes & Noble while I'm in here. Truth be told, I came here for fast internet and the atmosphere. But I rarely leave accomplishing only my objective. If I accomplish that at all.

But, in the interest of focus, I'm going to write about how happy I am that I can be openly excited about Christmas now without being ridiculed for materialism, overshadowing Thanksgiving, or whatever other reason people come up with to be angry about early Christmas celebrators. Truth be told, I'm excited about Christmas all year round. It's my favorite holiday and it has so many happy associations for me. Decorating and Christmas baking might be two of my favorite things in the entire world.

But, I still don't do anything physical, like putting up the tree, listening to Christmas music or light until the day after Thanksgiving. But the excitement is still waiting to burst out pretty much from the first day of fall.

And now, here we are! Sure, maybe stores only get "excited" about it early because it means more sales, but some of them, in fact, maybe a lot of them, when broken down to an individual level, love Christmas just as much as me. It comes but once a year, so I intend to get every ounce of enjoyment out of it as I possibly can! It's a very happy holiday, which is of course rooted in the happiest birthday in the history of the world: baby Jesus, of course.

That's the trick, I think, to remember that all this hype is preparation for the biggest and most important birthday party ever celebrated. Aaaaand...Frank Sinatra just came on singing "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas." It doesn't get any better than this, folks.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Power of Fredbird

This week is pretty special to me, for two reasons: the first (and more trivial) being that the St. Louis Cardinals are in the World Series. Anyone who’s been following the postseason, or perhaps more significantly, the regular season, knows it's more a Cinderella story than Cinderella.

The second is that Saturday, Oct. 22 will be what would have been the seventh birthday of my little sister, Tarah. Tarah, or "Sugar" as we affectionately refer to her, passed away from a rare lung disease in April of 2008. She was 3 1/2.

There's actually a pretty intimate connection between the two. I’ve been baffled before by the power of sports, but when I realize the number of memories we've built with Tarah that are somehow associated with sports, some of it makes sense.

And I'm not talking about a power that makes people lose control, scream at TVs, throw things and spend hundreds of dollars on tickets (though yes, that does happen to the best of us). I'm talking writing stories you can't script and cementing connections across zip codes and generations.

Sports gives me a happy memory everytime I see Fredbird (the Cardinals' mascot), watch SportsCenter or even pick up a football. All three have very specific connections to Tarah, and relive a moment with her every time I see them.

Tarah loved Fredbird. Fredbird is nothing more than a big cardinal in a t-shirt and baseball cap, but she loved him. He was what she noticed everytime we'd watch a Cards game with her. We were able to take Tarah to at least two Cardinals games before she passed away, and seeing Fredbird was a dream of hers. Not only did she get to see him, but my brother Joel bought her a little stuffed Fredbird when he was in St. Louis once on a seminary visit.

Two of my favorite photos I have of her were taken in St. Louis. The first was at her very first Cardinals game, two months before her first birthday. We were in the car still, just before we walked over to Busch Stadium. She was still in her car seat, but the picture is a close-up of her face. Her big blue eyes are strikingly alert. She was wearing a red shirt and white headband with a bow, her lips pursed in a coy smile so telling of her personality, even then. We have it blown up and hanging on our refrigerator.

The other photo was two years later. This time, we’re outside the car, walking to the stadium. Joel was holding her. Tarah was wrapping her tiny little arms as far around his neck as she could. She'd started having episodes at this point, but you'd never know it looking at that picture. I pulled out my camera and snapped a picture. She pulled out her cheesiest smile, pushing her round little cheeks up so high her eyes squinted shut, hugging Joey hard as ever. She used to say she was going to marry Joel, and if any picture captured that, it was that one.

Those St. Louis trips expanded into countless other stories about Imo's Pizza, Ted Drewes, Sem housing, getting lost in St. Louis and Tarah clapping at all the wrong times. Memories are made anytime, anywhere, and sports just happened to be one of the ways we created them with Tarah. And that's pretty cool.

Sports may seem a bit trivial and unimportant in the grand scheme of things, maybe even just a bunch of stats and numbers, but it's also a venue for something special. Be it universal principles, endurance, pushing limits, heroes, cross-country connections, experiencing your team'ss Super Bowl victory with your Dad or pounding backs in a sports bar or stadium full of people you've never met, or some of your best friends, a love of the game. It's a connection to people.

For me, among others, it's family. Our sports organization we created as kids. Thanksgiving football games at our Grandparents' house in Wisconsin. Every Sunday afternoon in the basement after church for NFL Sunday. Cheering for Texas A&M just because Adam went there. Cheering for Tim Tebow just because he's Sam's hero. Tossing around the baseball in the backyard with Sam. Shooting hoops in the early fall evenings. Filling out March Madness brackets together. Dancing to "How You Like Me Now" with my little brother after the Cardinals eliminated the Brewers for a "happy flight" to the 2011 World Series. Screaming so loud we scare our dog after a good play. The list goes on.

And come Wednesday, it'll mean hugging that little stuffed Fredbird for game one of the World Series and wondering how Tarah's going to be celebrating her seventh birthday in heaven. She probably wouldn't want to watch Saturday's game on her birthday, though, as inferred by one of her favorite lines, spoken anytime we opted for SportsCenter over Barbie of Fairytopia: "No spowts!"

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What a Sweet Old Mannnn...Nope.

What started as a routine trip to the grocery store for cheese, crackers and fudge sticks Tuesday evening quickly turned into the stuff of legend for my friend Elizabeth and myself.

Preparing for a visit to an friend’s apartment, we decided to drop in on our local grocery store to try and scrounge up some culinary compliments to Wood Chuck Cider and other such libations.

What we found instead was a combination of a cute old man with a charming sense of humor and the overly-enthusiastic suave of a young cad stuck in the body of a 70-year-old.

The start of our visit was as normal as anything. The entrance doors opened automatically, as usual, the store was air conditioned as usual, and the fruit and vegetables were on the left-hand side, as usual. Passing the check-out aisles,we made our way towards the snack aisle, eyeing some Triscuits.

Along the way, I spotted some Keebler Peanut Butter Fudge Sticks. I had promised our friend the food assortment would be “interesting,” so throwing in fudge sticks with cheese and crackers seemed to fit the bill.

Once we got our hands on some Triscuits, Elizabeth was suddenly struck with a cheese revelation.

“Have you ever had ‘Laughing Cow Cheese’?” she asked excitedly.

No, I replied, which sent us heading in the direction of the dairy.

Standing between us and the dairy section, however, was the baked goods area...and Mr. Smooth the Senior.

As we passed by cakes, muffins and pies, a tower of cupcakes caught my eye.

“Look!” I said to Elizabeth. “They’re teacher cupcakes! I should get you one!”

Elizabeth, who happens to be one of the greatest educators in the greater Midwest, chuckled and declined.

“You should buy the whole tower!” came an unfamiliar voice from behind. We turned to find an elderly gentleman, probably in his 70’s, grinning from ear to ear and pushing his cart towards us. He was wearing khaki pants, a plaid, button-down shirt and a completely unassuming old man face.

Expecting to pass by, smile back, maybe laugh a little and go about our business, we pressed on towards the bright lights of the dairy wall.

“Are you two in school?” he asked.

The encounter was far from over.

“No,” Elizabeth replied, “I’m a teacher.”

“Oh, a teacher!” he replied enthusiastically. “What do you teach?”

We stopped to face him, as Elizabeth proceeded to tell the man where she taught and what grades, mentioning the school was in Inwood.

This location triggered a bizarre story about an anonymous financial contributor, a pastor and hogs. Or something like that.

He then asked me if I was a teacher, as well.

“Nope,” I said. “I work for a newspaper.”

Ah, the Argus Leader, he beamed.

“Nope, a paper in Canton,” I replied, hoping he might think that there's more than one.

“Oh, Canton. Well that’s wonderful!”

So far, nothing terribly disconcerting. Small talk from an old man shopping solo, trying to charm two young girls. Happens all the time. The direction the conversation took from there, however, was hardly commonplace.

“You girls should come around here more often. I don’t get to see beautiful women very often, and when I do, my head starts spinning and I’m just full of jokes.”

Elizabeth told him he was very charming. Still innocent enough, I suppose. But he wasn’t done.

“Y’know, if I was 45 years younger...”

We giggled, amused.

“...I’d take you both out for dinner tonight. And then I’d wine and dine you until you’d say yes to everything I did.”


Yes, he said that. Our reaction was a mixture of complete horror and uncontrollable laughter.

He was not finished.

“And then, the next morning, I’d marry one of you. And if I was really lucky, I’d marry both of ya.”

Speechless, we began mentally preparing our exit route and trying to process in our heads what in the world had just happened. And we were still laughing.

His mind and tongue may have be as youthful as ever, but that was about it. His weathered skin blanketed a facial structure that probably could’ve picked up two cute girls in a super market in his glory days (though I certainly hope that was all talk). But today was not his lucky day.

When we finally managed to calm our laughter down to stifled chuckles, and the situation seemed to be closing in on itself, the silver-haired fox began pushing his cart ever so slowly in the opposite direction, keeping eye contact with us as he said how nice it was to meet us, yada yada yada, but I think his last line was my favorite:

“Now you girls remember to go to church on Sunday!”

Sunday, August 7, 2011

I Love Weddings!

One of the happiest things in the world is to see people you love genuinely happy.

This past week, I got to see a dear friend from college the happiest I've ever seen her. Granted, I haven't seen her in years, and I didn't know her nearly as well as many others, but she's one of those girls that you could not see for 10, 20 years, and would still want to meet up with for coffee if you found out you were in the same city at the same time. She's a genuine, kind-hearted, selfless woman who loves the Lord and shows it. She's just beautiful on the inside and out.

My brother and I drove to Greeley, Colorado this past week for two nights to see this girl marry the man of her dreams, the perfect lid to her pot, as our wonderful hosts, the Dissellcones (I'm pretty positive I butchered the Dutch spelling), put it.

We drove up Wednesday and the wedding was Thursday. We stayed with the lovely aforementioned couple who had hearts bigger than Texas, a sense of humor that had me laughing all weekend and the sweetest love for each other, nearly 50 years after they first met. They had meals twice the size of any normal one three times a day, treats available every time in-between, great stories and zinger one-liners.

For example, when Arlin found out we were both pastor and doctors' kids, he said: "You know what they say; if you're a doctor's kid, you're sick for nothing. So if you're a pastor's kid, you must be good for nothing!" He also said something about Winnipeg being renamed Winter-peg and some insulting Dutch phrases (poking fun at himself). They also had a ping pong table. Winning.

Anyway, the wedding was Thursday. Now, I've been to weddings before where the bride is so overwhelmed with stress and worry that she forgets to be happy, and you'd almost think she wasn't. Weddings where the brides have their priorities focused and are able to look past the little details that may not go perfectly make the happiest ones.

Now, I know weddings are potentially one of the most stressful endeavors a girl will ever undertake, but some handle it better than others. And a huge part of that is realizing what's most important.

This wedding was one of the happiest I've ever been to. Not only because the bride and groom couldn't hide the love for each other written all over their faces if they tried, but because the wedding was blatantly Christ-centered. They were grounded in a love bigger than themselves, and that was so evident in their love for each other. What a beautiful thing!

And it helps that they know how to party, too. Great food (shrimp hors d'oeuvres and a chocolate fountain instead of a cake), fantastic company, a Bob Marley sing-a-long and one wicked dance floor. ALL NIGHT LONG! Well, until midnight. Then clean-up, some good laughs, dancing out the door, singing into the night and great memories with wonderful people.

Congratulations, Becca and Konrad, and I wish you the absolute best as you continue to grow in Christ, each other and explore a whole new world of adventures ahead.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Turkish(ly) Delight(ful times)

“Let’s pause from this period of intellectual enjoyment and take a moment to ponder the meaning of friendship.”

Such sentences are not uncommon from my very dear, intellectually stimulating cousin Amanda. We’re both sitting at the kitchen bar atop two tall wooden bar stools, the legs characterized by the loving mark of Vincent’s claws. The sky outside the glass kitchen doors leading to the porch is black, dotted with the light of scattered stars.

Amanda and I are huddled over a handful of literature books, drooling over Hopkins, T. S. Elliot and W. B. Yeats. Amanda points out Hopkins’ use of nature and Christ, and the sense of excitement he conveys. I point out Yeats’ ability to transport his reader into a completely different world, time and dimension with the power of words. I like Hopkins' use of nature as well, as Amanda has me read a poem of his for the first time, and Amanda reads some Yeats and says she likes him, but he's not her favorite.

We’re in heaven. The calm night sky pours in through the windows, most of the family is filtering into bed, and Amanda and I have the run of the kitchen to discuss literature to our hearts’ content as we wait for our Turkish Delight to settle (yes, we made Turkish Delight).

The sentence that began this post, about the meaning of friendship, pleasantly interrupted our English powwow when Esther, Hannah, Tabby and Julie came upstairs to show off their new fingernail art.

“Let’s pause from this period of intellectual enjoyment and take moment to ponder the meaning of friendship," Amanda says to the girls as they fill the kitchen with the aroma of freshly-popped popcorn.

The girls, caught a bit off guard, but seemingly interested, paused for a moment. Once they'd pondered the question, a list started pouring out of the qualities of a good friend. They jumped right in. Esther told us about her friend from church that no one else gives the time of day to. It's not a pity thing, she said, but a desire not to leave her behind because she cares about her.

Why are you friends with your friends, we asked. The discussion continued, as we got a glimpse into the world of these girls' ideals and principals, probably without them knowing it. They may only be 9, 13, 15 and 16, but they know what's going on. And they know they're still learning, too. So do Amanda and I.

We asked if friendships should be rooted in obligation. We all know each other because we're cousins. But we're friends because every year we're discovering more dimensions of awesomeness. Amanda's love of literature, ballet, the simple joy of a well-constructed sentence, love of laughter and storytelling skills with seamless comedic timing. Katie's and Anna's adventurous spirits in lands of the great unknown, Katie's fashion sense, Anna's great taste in television, Emily's cool, calm and collected smarts, caring spirit and ambition, yet slap-happy ridiculousness. Josiah's easy-going nature, ever-present smile and good-natured sense of humor. His and Peter's appreciation for the Onion News Network and tennis. Peter's level-headedness, intelligence and deadpan humor. Julie's disdain for mushrooms and mad violin skills. The list goes on and on.

Needless to say, combining these personalities makes for some pretty legit shenanigans, from our intellectual discussions concerning the intent of authors and their literature and the true meaning of friendship to dappling in the world of user comments, how the Turkish Delight looked like a festering caterpillar and a nail-biting account of Amanda’s car troubles. And of course, Peter’s caution that google-ing a recipe is sketchy unless you scroll down to at least the third one.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Love is Spelled T-I-M-E

"Well, look at this!" Grandpa exclaims, scanning the front page of a copy of the Sioux Valley News, seated comfortably at the kitchen table. "Your name is splashed all over the front page! You're a VIP!" He continued gushing, shaking my hand, and eventually asking for my autograph.

I'll admit, I was pretty excited the first time I saw my name in print on that newspaper: "Laura Heckmann, Sioux Valley News Reporter." But that eventually lost its novelty, in line with a calling card for complaints on every story I write. Grandpa somehow managed to turn it into something magical again.

And it wasn't even about the paper, or whether or not I really was an accomplished writer, or that my name was all over the front page. It was that he cared because my name was on it. I have no idea if my family cares about the inner workings of newspapers, or what types of tasks fill a reporters day (probably not), or anything that paper has to say, but suddenly because I, their niece/cousin/granddaughter, was a part of it, it mattered.

Earlier this morning, I was joined around 11 a.m. by the ENTIRE crew at the newspaper office. As in, almost the entire side of my Dad's extended family. Grandma and Grandma, two sets of aunts and uncles, a handful and a half of cousins, my dad and two of my siblings.

From the second they stepped in they were wide-eyed and full of questions. Visiting my office had been put on their schedule as a major field trip for the morning. They wanted to take my picture by the cash register, in front of newspaper stacks, sitting at my desk and working the stapler. They wanted to know how the newspaper runs, how we put it together, what kinds of customers we have. They wanted to see the storage area, know what the stacks of paper were used for and marveled at the large paper cutter.

Amanda and Peter (two of my cousins) sat in on half a Commission meeting with me. The entire family has sat for hours, both nights of the reunion so far, just listening to stories from everyone else, wanting to know the intricate details of our lives and marveling at our accomplishments.

It's overwhelming in the best possible way, to know you're cared about.

I suppose it's pretty easy not to take interest in something that doesn't interest me. I can forget that relationships aren't about keeping me entertained. If someone is talking about planting corn seeds, the art of square dancing or how they once played an extra in a small budget movie, if I care about them, I'll care about what they do. I'll care about what makes them happy, or what fills their day. And I may just learn some fascinating things in the process, about the subject, but more importantly, about the person.

This family cares, and by the time they'd left my office, probably close to 45 minutes later, I couldn't help but beam and feel like I'd just gotten a gargantuan hug that hadn't unwrapped me yet. They made me feel special and in a way I rarely have, and I only hope I'll carry that genuine, wide-eyed curiosity for my loved ones beyond today. Thanks fam, for not only reminding me how blessed I am by all of you, but what can learn from you, as well.

Who knows, this may even give me a new perspective on Commission meetings.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Terry the Postman

Terry works at the post office. The post office is just down the sidewalk from the the newspaper office. I go there every morning to pick up the mail for work. I know I’ll run into Terry if I go around the lunch hour, because Beth, the postal worker I usually encounter, is on her lunch break (or so I assume). Terry is never at the counter, and I always have to wait at least a minute or two before he makes an appearance (if he’s the only one there when I happen to stop in), but it’s usually worth the wait.

Terry is on the short side, small frame, bald, no-nonsense, but not afraid to tease. His eyes are kind yet stern. Our conversations have ranged from the rubber spiders that have been hanging on their back wall since Halloween to Indian lore. And sometimes, he can be just plain ornery. Not blatantly. He’s never been rude to me. But I can tell when he’s not in a good mood. He’s especially quiet, short and mechanically polite.

That was what I encountered Friday morning. I had to stop by the post office on my way back from an interview to pick up the office mail.

Sure enough, around 11 a.m., Beth’s side of the counter had a sign pointing to the other side. I walk to the other side, shuffling around and making as much noise as I can, hoping Terry will hasten at the commotion.

I jingle my keys and set them noisily down on the counter, gazing around the small entry area. The rubber spiders still hang from the wall. One large one and one baby one. I’ve told Terry many times that they really should replace them with butterflies, at least until next Halloween. But he insists the kids like them.

A few minutes into my wait, Terry emerges from the back. He smiles diplomatically and I tell him I have a 50 cent postage charge I need to take care of. He doesn’t make his usual chatter, or ask any questions, he just takes the yellow card from me and tells me there’s another 50 cent charge. I tell him I don’t have any other change on me, so he says ok, we’ll just leave it for next time.

He cashes me out, gives me a receipt and my parcel, and sends me on my way.

It was odd, I thought. Not like his usual self. Granted, he’s never been Happy the Dwarf, but he just seemed off about something.

And for some reason that bothered me. I wanted to ask him if his day was going alright, but thought better of it, said goodbye, and he politely told me to have a good day. I told him “you, too,” and jingled out the lobby door.

I feel like if something was bothering him, or even if it wasn’t, regardless of if he wanted to explain, the fact that someone cared enough not only to notice, but to ask, would've made him feel a little better. But I’ll never know, now. Until my next opportunity, I suppose.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Google+! Woo!

Ok, this Google+ thing. I have to blog about it. I have it. I gave in. And I was curious. I’m a sucker for peer pressure when it comes to social networking. Even Twitter (though admittedly, I never use it). The great question before us now (or me, at least) is whether Google+ will become the new Facebook, or falter into MySpace status. Will it stick?

Honestly, I have a hard time imagining anything taking over Facebook, but I suppose something had to threaten it. Whether or not Google+ will make a dent, spread like wildfire, or die remains to be seen. In fact, it’s so new right now that it’s in a sort of “trial phase,” allowing curious blighters such myself in only by invitation.

It all started about two weeks ago, when rumblings of this foreign concept that was “Google+” started popping up on scattered Facebook statuses. And then the mysterious “+1” started appearing next to my Google searches.

My realization that this was an invite-only novelty just happened to coincide with a friend offering invites to anyone who so desired one. I desired. And I got. What the heck, I thought, let’s give it a shot. Besides, everyone else is doing it.

So, I launched into the uncharted waters of Google+. When the invite arrived in my Google e-mail, it sent shivers down my spine. It was new. It was exciting. It was in a trial period! It was like being a part of history!

At first glance, it appeared very similar to Facebook, only aesthetically boring by comparison. It kind of looked like the Google screen, I suppose, only with a profile picture and their own version of minifeed.

I quickly realized, however, that the claim to fame of Google+ was its friend “circles;” the ability to place different friends in different circles and share whatever you want with whomever you want, and perhaps more importantly, keep what you want from whomever you want. You no longer have to worry about Grandma and Mom seeing those party photos. And your friends don’t know who you put in what circles. So, if that friend who thinks you’re bosom buddies ends up in the “Acquaintances” circle, he'll never know.

Also, that mysterious “+1” next to Google search items is essentially, I learned, Google's equivalent of a “like” on Facebook.

I’m very new to this, obviously, so I may yet (and probably will) stumble across other novelties of the network as time goes on, but the real question will be if it stamps out Facebook. Because there really is no reason to have two social networking sites that do essentially the same thing, just in slightly different ways.

Until all is revealed, I remain a humble and ignorant explorer, learning with the rest of you noobs. It's like a great equalizer; no one knows what they're doing! I'll relish this ignorance as long as I can.

And before I close, I must throw in my philosophical slant on this new age of networking. I noticed as I was starting up my account that I used Facebook to go down my list of friends to try and think of people to look for on Google+. And in doing so, I realized I was skipping over a notably large number of them.

Google+ is like starting over. It’s a new identity in the realm of social networking. Cheesy, I know, but kind of true! I picked out the people I actually knew I would care about hearing from. I was able to reevaluate all the info I probably hadn’t changed on Facebook since I started it, my first summer before college, about six years ago! Man, have things changed.

What a nostalgia trip. And I’ll leave the rest in my head. But if anyone else has embarked on this journey, please, give me your thoughts! Obviously it’s still new and still catching on, and still has a lot coming, but the feedback at this stage is fascinating.

The way I see it, this is like any other uncertain relationship that people are either bold enough or stupid enough to jump into. You hope the initial trials and tribulations will eventually reward your trust with a worthwhile investment. It will also draw the line between bold and stupid.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Majestic Perspective

Nothing floors me flat on the ground and nothing puts me in my place like coming home on a clear night. Hi, God.

Last night, the day had been a long. Work in the morning, straight to VBS in the evening, topped off by a late night at the ballpark.

I’d been taking in the church softball games with a few friends, most of the spectators having worn thin by the last out, around 11 p.m. Those friends scattered to meet up with others and I gathered my things and headed for the parking lot.

Walking by myself, and slowly, I had a feeling of aimlessness. I’m not really sure why, but I just walked to my car feeling like I was dragging something. I looked up at the sky just before I got into the car, met with a big blur of dark blue, dotted by a few visible stars peeking off in the distance.

The drive home was dark and quiet, the radio humming softly for background noise, that heavy feeling still lingering.

After 20 minutes alone with nothing but my mysterious uncertainty, the turnoff for our dirt road came up on the left. I maneuvered my little Ford Taurus down the choppy dirt.

There’s something about the dirt road that sets the stage for the majesty of a clear, starry night out at our house. Rustic and natural. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it somehow all ties together to make something wonderful.

I pulled around the corner where the dirt road splits, heading up the hill to our house. I always chuckle to myself as I pass the “DEAD END” sign marking the fork, knowing what lies beyond it is anything but dead.

The dirt road turned into cement as I made the turn for the long haul up the driveway, pulling in right behind my brother’s black Jeep. I let the song I’d been listening to play out before I turned off the ignition and plunged the yard back into darkness.

I waited a little, sighed heavily. I let my eyes adjust to the blackness, gathered my things, opened the car door and stepped outside.

My first thought whenever I get home after dark is to look up. Today, I was momentarily distracted: the front lawn and surrounding fields were literally sparkling.

There is nothing like it in the world and no way to describe it. Fireflies everywhere. The thought of fireflies dancing doesn’t sound so childish when you look into an open field on a summer night. Because that’s exactly what they’re doing.

After I caught my breath (even though I’ve seen it a million times), I remembered to look up. WHAM. I almost couldn’t take it all in at once. One of the clearest nights I’ve seen out there.
Looking up at that sky, you feel like you can see forever. You feel like you can see into eternity, like it’s God’s window into heaven, the closest glimpse we’ll get (for now).

My dramatization may allude to the fact that the sky is my faith perspective. When I see the sky on a clear night, constellations and the milky way woven through the endless black, or a sunset, or a cloud pattern stretching beyond sight, it hits me every time: God’s an artist. And a darn powerful one, too. And that just snowballs into a whole new can of faith worms. The sky can smack things back into perspective for me faster than (almost) anything. It's beyond comprehension.

Whatever I’d been moping about on the drive back, I’d completely forgotten about. I look at the lawn and I look up at the sky, and the majesty and presence of Christ is too overwhelming to think of anything else.

Now, nights like these, during the summer, aren’t all that rare out by our house. But I can confidently say they will never become routine.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Summer of Awesome...People

Oh boy, I've done it again. My blogging consistency is about as reliable as my golf swing (I hope that needs no explaining for anyone).

What a whirlwind this summer has been. I was looking forward to April showers yesterday, and now July is around the corner. I know how commonplace revelations about the fleetingness of summer can be, but I've never felt it move by so rapidly as I have this summer. It's almost as if I can step outside of it and watch it zoom by.

The good thing about that, however, is I don't feel like it's being wasted. It's been very full, in fact, which is probably why it feels like it's flying. Reconnecting with friends in the area and having older brothers around means I'm never bored. My friend Elizabeth and I have recently decided to adopt Rookies, a sports bar in town, as our own "Cheers" location. During the NBA Finals, we were there almost five days in a row.

Fifty, sixty-plus text message conversations, overflowing my inbox, from Alyssa, about anything, everything and nothing at all.

I've been taking in more movies lately, and must say I am impressed with the caliber of the summer blockbusters, most of which I have seen go for an equal dose of brain and braun, unusual for summer flicks.

Sam (my 13-year-old little brother) and I have developed a love of "Frasier." Five hour marathons on the Hallmark channel for us to sample to our hearts' content. Sam also recently set up his own e-mail account, which means between the two of us I think we've quoted a good half of at least four different movies.

My fantastic redhead, Melissa, a long-lost (well, a year or so) med school brainiac beauty, was back in Sioux Center for the week, so I was able to take a jaunt to Sioux Center and enjoy shenanigans, reminiscing, catching up, one of our favorite movies and BLT's. Oh, and spinach and artichoke dip with water chestnuts. A new experience, for sure.

Joel's best friend, part two of Joel Squared, paid us a visit Wednesday evening and a good time was had by all. We talked about politics, J. J. Abrams and why women belong in the kitchen (or don't of course).

Two weekends ago I pulled an all-nighter, just talking, to another dear college friend, Laurissa, after a fantastic night out with her and our third musketeer, Elizabeth. A night full of fantastic memories, too many laughs and even better stories.

Next week, I'm counseling 20-some high schoolers at a church camp with some pretty cool co-counselors. Always a neat experience (well, the one other time I've had it, anyway).

The week after that, we're hosting two kids from Hong Kong and showing them the wonder of the midwest, complete with fireworks, bonfires and COWS!

Ethan and Jacob come home today, for a weekend with the ENTIRE family at home. A rare occurrence, for sure. Fun times ahead.

I could keep going on I suppose, but the gist of it is: I really can't complain. I am so blessed by the people in my life, the people that fill my time and have flown with me through this summer. I am so blessed to have friends who can pick up where we left off like time had frozen. I am so blessed to have siblings I genuinely love spending time with (and I think they like spending time with me, too;). I am so blessed to have a best friend in Nashville, Tenn., cousins scattered all over the world (for now, anyway), brothers all over the country, friends an hour away or 10 and still know without question that we would do anything for each other. I haven't even mentioned so many people, but thank you to all you wonderful people that have enriched my life beyond comprehension.

Aaaand, I cannot end on such a sappy paragraph. So here's a closing revelation: I realized today that one of my favorite country singers, Dierks Bentley, shares his last name with the d-bag from "The Bachelorette." What a disgrace, especially since I JUST (literally, maybe five minutes ago) read the lyrics to a song of Dierk's called "My Last Name," about the honor passed down through it from his grandfather, father, headstones, etc. Bentley, what a waste of a name.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Who Knew

GIS - Geographic Information System.

Ever heard of it? Neither had I. There are a lot of things I didn't know about local government until I started doing a series for the newspaper I work for on Lincoln County Local Government.

I have to admit, it didn't sound like an enthralling subject matter. One thing I didn't take into account, however, was that passionate people can make just about anything interesting.

Who knew a deeper study of GIS would reveal a connection to Star Trek and visual art.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lazy Days

Morning crept in through the slits in my bedroom blinds as I rolled over to silence my vibrating cell phone. My phone/clock/alarm has its own spot on my bed, between my head and second pillow. The proximity ensures both timeliness and laziness (I like not having to leave my bed to silence the alarm).

The vigorous vibrato pulsed through my pillow as I thought to myself, "Drat. It's Saturday. I forgot to turn the alarm off." Grabbing the phone, I realized it was not the alarm, but a text message from my brother. At 10:13 a.m., I suppose it may as well have been an alarm.

I replied to my brother and rolled over again, hugging my pillow and basking in the simple joy that I could stay in bed just because I wanted to. I had nowhere to be. It seems the last countless weekends have been eaten up by appointments and obligations of some sort. Some fun, some not so fun, but sometimes, it just feels good to do absolutely nothing.

Once I finally dragged myself out of bed, I was greeted like clockwork with a good morning from Mom, a vigorous hug from Tabby and fresh coffee, also compliments of Tabby.

I sat down at the kitchen bar and thought to myself, what shall I do today? What a wonderful question. Not out of boredom, but freedom. Sports Center is on, also a clockwork greeting in the kitchen. Tabby is coloring a United States coloring book. Educational AND fun! Mom is preparing cinnamon rolls for the Easter breakfast tomorrow morning.

Now, late afternoon, Tabby is still coloring. We're buddies for the day, since Mom and Dad are out on a date night and the rest of the kids are off playing tennis, or something. Tabby and I have frosted the cinnamon rolls, made, cut out and decorated a bunny cake, researched pig cakes, watched a terrible sci-fi movie and are currently culminating the afternoon in a viewing of "The Fellowship of the Ring" and trying to decide what to do for dinner.

I guess there really wasn't a purpose in this post, other than celebrating my purposeless day. Every once in a while, those days are nice. I'll enjoy it today, because I know it'll be gone tomorrow.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Aviator

Having just completed my second viewing of the very bizarre movie "The Aviator," three things come to mind: Leonardo DiCaprio should have an Oscar by now, Martin Scorcese is one of my favorite directors and I really want to research the life of Howard Hughes.

Perhaps not as much anymore, Hollywood used to be known for grand, sweeping historical epics. History became larger than life as studios took on periods such as ancient Rome, wars and the Old West. The "larger than life" aspect suggests that Hollywood's rendition of history tends to be a tad blown out of proportion. Not to say this is a no-no for Hollywood, because it's not any big secret that entertainment is (at least used to be) about spectacle.

Some movies will take on a single character and chart his life, or a good chunk of it, like "Citizen Kane" or "Ben-Hur." Granted, a great deal of the stories Hollywood takes on *are* extraordinary, or they wouldn't be worth immortalizing in movies (probably another idea that's more typical of older Hollywood).

Regardless of how accurate historical period movies or "based-on-true-events" movies are, they get me curious, and that seems to be a good thing, even if it took a fact-slaughtering to get me there.

What I'm getting at with all this is that watching "The Aviator" fascinated me with the life of Hughes. Whether it was true or not, I want to find out. If half of what was in that movie is true, that man was a piece of work. I know the achievements really happened, but the personal stuff? The movie depicted him as everything from brilliant, hot-headed, and womanizing to OCD (emphasis on obsessive), paranoid and just plain nuts. A series of emotionally cringe-worthy scenes in the movie have him locked in his own movie theater, stark naked (after burning his own clothes), repeating the same phrases over and over again, counting how many times he says them, and urinating in hundreds of milk jars, lined up along the edges of the room. Wahee.

I want to know how much of that is true. And how that sort of thing happens to people. Nowadays, there's a medical diagnosis if a kid sucks his thumb too long. Back then, he was screwed. It makes me wonder not only how he got so low (if he indeed did) but also how people survived mental illnesses before they were recognized. It must've literally been like being trapped in your hell.

The worlds of psychology and psychiatry are deep, dark pits that I'm only willing to go so far into, but they are fascinating. The movie reminded me a bit of "A Beautiful Mind." These types of character studies show you sides of people you may have been aware of, but hopefully also point you towards understanding them, or at least a better understanding of their unseen struggle.

Why is seeing that they struggled a good thing? I suppose it provides more appreciation for their accomplishments, but it also brings them down to earth. It turns them from a that larger-than-life persona into a flawed human being. I suppose oftentimes movies will show both.

Anyway, now...time to google!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Tuesday gets all caps because, besides the weekend, it is my favorite day of the week. And we all know that all caps adds emphasis and meaning! Woohoo!

Anyway, Tuesdays gets the coveted "Second Favorite Day of Laura" spot for several reasons:
1. It's "laid-back-day" at the office. The boss heads to somewhere, Iowa to pick up the paper (we don't print at our office), and it's just the girls back here for the day. Now, of COURSE we still work just as hard, there's just a little more laughing.

2. Taco Tuesday! 'Nuff said.

3. County Commission meetings. Whoa, did I just type that? Ok, maybe I should be more specific: the County company. The Commissioners are a stitch and the security guard is like my best bud now. Tuesday mornings always mean, like clockwork (well, except every third Tuesday) that I get to waltz through the metal detector, wish the guard a good morning, and be mercilessly teased by the Commissioners. I think storing up all this happiness is the only way I survive drainage boards.

4. I get to see ALYSSA! She's my bright and beautiful high school partner in crime who helps around the office after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but on Tuesdays she gets to come for tacos, too. SCORE.

5. I usually accomplish more phone calls at the office on Tuesdays. Why? Because I'm phone shy (great for a reporter, I know). On Tuesdays, there aren't as many people around, and I'm much more likely to make phone calls. I'm working on that, but as it stands, that's the way the cookie crumbles. Weird, right?

Ok, this list has reached completion, simply because I'm late for work. Also, first home track meet tonight, should be fun, AND I get to meet the Governor! Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Musical Storytelling

In the past, when asked what type of music I like, I've never really had a good answer. The best I could ever conjure is the all-too-vague "I like a little of everything." This isn't entirely true, but it's as close to accurate as I can ever find. But I think I've finally found a common element in the variety of music I like: I like songs that tell stories. I think this is why I lean towards country, bluegrass/folk and easy listening-types.

Not saying the pop wonders of the world can't tell stories, but I sometimes find them harder to see. So many of the popular songs today seem to be more about the sound than the content. And that's fine, if that's what you're looking for. I won't deny that sometimes I just want something to bop my head to, or tap my foot, or sing at the top of my lungs. That can be a blast (literally), but what I truly *appreciate* is hearing the heart of the musician in the music, and oftentimes even myself (sorry, cheesy, but true). It makes a universal connection. Regardless of your tastes, I think that's the test: if it connects with the listener. What people will connect with is different with every person, but that's the key.

And not just in lyrics. The musicality of a song is a completely separate form of expression, and potentially incredibly powerful (good film scores are another example of how music can be incredibly powerful in telling a story). Combine that with lyrics that actually mean something and I'm weak at the knees.

Musically, I still tend to lean toward bluegrass/folk and country, and I'm not sure how much of that is influenced by my appreciation of the lyrics and my own affinity for stringed instruments, but I think more than anything I love the tribute to the simplicities and magic of everyday life.

Apologies for the rambling nature of this post, but I get excited about things sometimes. Music is one of them.

*Note: I hope I'm not coming off as a music snob. I'm not meaning at all to demean the tastes of people who do appreciate pop style, it's completely subjective! Everyone has their own tastes, and these just happen to be mine:).

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Forgive me for waxing philosophical, or, theological (you've been forewarned), but an increasingly swelling bubble of annoyance is about to the form of a question: is being in control the same as possessing control, but not controlling? Does having the power to control everything mean you're in control?

Application: does saying that God is in control mean that he is actually controlling? Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying He isn't all-powerful. I'm not saying He doesn't possess the control. But does he use it? What does one mean when one says "God is in control"?

I hope I'm not being blasphemous. I'm really not meaning to be. I've just had an increasing annoyance with being fed anything along the lines of "it's part of God's plan" or "God is in control." That seems to imply that he meant for everything that happens to happen. I have a hard time swallowing that God was controlling a situation with the end result of a twenty-two year old dead in a car accident or a three year old dead from a one in ten million lung disease. I don't think that's Him controlling. I think that's Him allowing. But the "God allowing" vs. "God causing" dead horse has been beaten to a pulp. I'm talking about the less disputed phrase(s) about God being in control, and what exactly people mean when they say that.

Romans 8:28 says that all things work together for good to those who love God. It doesn't say everything that happens in your life was leading towards this "good" God is working out. I think it's saying God will be there to help you clean up your mess. Maybe the most concrete...anything...I can get out of that is that God won't abandon you. I believe that. The part I have a hard time believing is that He planned the mess.

Is there even a specific "plan"? I think there could be, if God wanted it that way. But if that were the case, and He did wield this control, wouldn't things be different? I cannot believe that God intentionally wrote in his imaginary "Book of Plans" the pain the world has been shouldering since Adam and Eve. I don't think God planned that. I don't think it's part of a divine greater good.

And now that I've gotten that off my chest, I may have to be content with the admittance that my laughably inferior understanding will always fall short. If I understood everything, I'd be God, right? Good thing He knows what He's doing (I believe that, too).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Commentary ala Dad

My dad's "Dancing with the Stars" commentary is priceless. He does not watch the show. In fact, I'm pretty sure he finds it to be an immoral abomination. He does, however, from time to time, encounter the unfortunate happenstance of getting home from work whilst the show is airing. And certain family members happen to be watching it. In the kitchen. While he's eating his dinner. If he's going to be forced to watch it, he'll be darned if he doesn't put in his two cents. Every five minutes. The result should be sold in DVD form.

Example: Chris Brown is performing a flashy musical number on the show (this is the results show, mind you, where pretty darn near an hour and 45 minutes of the two hour show is taken up with useless filler). Mom mentions that she thinks Tabby (9) likes the said song. Dad has a moment of perplexed and dumbfounded silence. He then responds, somewhat disgustedly, by saying, "You mean Tabby would prefer something like this to "Amazing Grace"? Or "Mrs. Robinson" by Simon and Garfunkel?"

I believe the word "salacious" was also used at least once to describe the costumes. I can't wait for next week.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pointless Pleasures

As I sit watching the gaudy glitz known as "Dancing with the Stars" with my nine year old sister, Tabby, I can't help but be a little embarrassed to admit it. But only a little. Everyone needs a guilty pleasure, right? It could be anything from video games to cheesy movies to horrible television. Something that, while maybe hitting a solid 10 on the pointless scale, gets you out of reality for at least an hour or so. That's not wrong, is it?

I was struck with a similar feeling of embarrassment as I was reading a magazine earlier today that placed an interview with the new reality TV "Bachelor" couple directly after an article on the aftermath in Japan. Hmmm. It was a little sobering. Who cares if Brad and Emily are going to stay together, or that he went broke buying her diamonds and shoes when you've just seen a picture of a Japanese woman checking a list of survivors posted on a public board to see if her family is alive?

But maybe that was the point. Maybe the article of pointless pleasure was placed right after the harsh reality of the world for a reason. Or maybe that's just where it fit best in the layout.

Either way, I think it's ok to have momentary distractions. But only for long enough to catch your breath, pick yourself back up, and get back in the game. A healthy balance of both seems to be a reasonable goal. No one can go 100% Superman (or Wonder Woman) all the time. So, for now, I'm going to enjoy watching Kirstie Alley attempt to jive.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Photographic Memory

Pictures freeze more than time.

They can instantly transport you not only to a physical place, but an emotional state. When you think about it, that's incredible. Preserving memories visually is a completely different dimension of remembering.

I remember my freshman year of college, meeting my family after my first pops concert dressed as Rafiki the baboon, face smeared in blue, black and red. I remember being certain Tarah, not even two at the time, would be terrified and not recognize me. I remember the elated feeling when she not only recognized me, but came running down the aisle of the auditorium, right into my arms. I'll remember that forever. My photo, her little arms wrapped around my neck, me in my Rafiki garb, is what triggers that story.

Christmas 2007: Tarah bravely embarks on a Christmas tree-finding expedition at a tree farm near our house. She sallies forth, in front of all of us, blazing the trail, all two feet of her. I have a photograph of her marching into a sea of evergreen trees, her little self right in the center, fearless. That photo, to me, embodies her unflinching bravery, through so much, for so long.

A photo standing on its own can be aesthetically pleasing, absolutely. But without a story it really doesn't mean much. I think every photo does have a story...somewhere.

Tarah's stories are endless, and so are the photos. I'm so glad I was so trigger happy (and still am), especially while she was with us. Those memories would've been in my head forever, but the photos preserve a unique dimension of the memories.

Yesterday I was paging through my profile photos and came across a photo of Tarah and me. We were sitting at our computer desk, playing with the newly-installed webcam. Adam, sitting on the other end in College Station, Texas, had installed it for us the last time he'd been home and we wanted to try it out.

Tarah wasn't allowed out of bed much because she needed to be hooked up to oxygen, but Mom decided that for the special occasion of talking to Adam, we could give her a little break. So, we sat at the computer and had the time of our lives. We marveled at being able to talk to Adam half way across the country. We relished the limited free time Tarah had from her tubes. And we made silly faces in the webcam because we thought it was so cool that we could see ourselves.

As I looked at this photo yesterday, I realized the date was 3/14/2008. Exactly three years ago to the day. Almost to the hour, too. That realization hit me like a ton of bricks. Just down the hall in Dad's office, from where I sat looking at the photo, was where we were sitting, three years ago, goofing off. Just three years ago. Three whole years ago. I can't even describe the feeling, but I can tell you it was overwhelming. I miss her so much, but I'm so thankful I have those photos, and more importantly, the memories.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Other Things

The time has come, the walrus said, to think of other things.

Thanks walrus, I will.

Mostly by messaging my dear friend Alyssa random facts (I literally googled "random facts") because she can't sleep. What she may not know (unless she reads this) is she's helping me as much as I'm (attempting) to help her.

I'm learning a lot. Did you know elephants are the only mammals that can't jump? Or that some lobsters are born bright blue? Or the best yet: the sound of E.T. walking was made by someone squishing jelly between their hands.

Fascinating stuff. Or at least, stuff. Stuff other than what I was thinking of before the walrus (heh, or maybe someone else) so handily reminded me I'd thought about that other stuff enough. Time for something else. For now, anyway.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

No More Magic: The Harsh Reality of Gas Tanks

Everyone has their limit. Apparently so do gas tanks.

I suppose I must've always subconsciously operated under the assumption that gas tanks are bottomless pits. I mean, I know when they get near empty, you're supposed to fill them. I know that, in theory, they won't run without gas, but I've never actually seen it happen. Somehow, the car magically conjures enough gas to get me to a gas station. It always has. The tank *says* it's empty, but it never *really* is.

Today, the magic was shattered. The pit does have a bottom, people. Thankfully, it was discovered while sitting in a driveway as opposed to a busy highway, or even any middle of any street anywhere.

A logical question about now would be, why would anyone *let* their tank get below empty? The car even goes to the trouble of illuminating a little orange gas tank directly in your line of vision when the end is near. You don't even need to read!

Well, in this case, I was holding out for my paycheck. Yep. My tank just had to work it's magic for *one* more day until I got paid, and then it'd get a very expensive feast. I supposed I've never tested the magic for an entire day, seeing as how the little gas light started blinking at me yesterday.

All I can say is thank the Lord for brothers. Although I'm almost certain this will be added to the arsenal of their etched-in-stone accounts of stupid things Laura has done that they will carry to their graves.

The magic may be gone, but at least I have slightly more sound logic to replace it with. Does this logic apply to the check engine light?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

In Good Company

A flimsy square card table sits just outside the perimeter of the Christian Life Center floor's black border, marking the outskirts of the gym floor. A hand-written sign, complete with green and yellow highlighter coloring, reads "PRESS," with the words "non-violent zone" in parentheses. A white lap top and camera case sit, very official-looking, on the table. I sit behind them.

I have exclusive coverage rights to the one and only annual Lutheran Loop Dodgeball Tournament. It's kind of a big deal, so I don't know where all the other sports media junkies were. I wasn't complaining, though. Exclusive coverage, people!

While I didn't take stats, or notes, or even many photos (and most of the ones I did get were either blurry or dark), I'd say the afternoon was a success. If for nothing else, the chuckles that my sign garnered made it more than worth it. I also got to chat with friends I hadn't seen in a while and met at least two new people. Honestly, I thought I'd sit off to the side the entire afternoon while everyone but me threw balls at each other and take photos for the first half hour and then not know what to do with myself. So yep, definitley a success.

Whether dodgeball's your thing or not (I do actually have a good time with it), my sentimental rainbow for the day is who cares what you're doing as long as you're in good company.

Next year, however, I'll try and remember my tennis shoes and actually get in on the action (still leaving some quality time on the sidelines, of course). A friend of mine told me he wants me back for the press next year, only this time with a fedora and small white card sticking out of the rim. I think I'll just remember the shoes.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Some People Care Too Much

Arguably one of the most sickening feelings in the world is a fading friendship. Not the sucker-punch from behind, stab-you-in-the-back, or even moved-away friendships, but the ones that are right in front of you and more distant than your old pen pal from Ohio who you've never even met before.

Something changed. In-depth, soul-searching tirades and intent, genuine listening turned into polite conversation fillers and minimal eye contact. The unique and shared humor has almost been forgotten and the simple yet heart-felt desire to know how your day went is lost.

There's less contact in general. But the now-rare moments of contact may be worse than the absence, because that's where the distance is most noticeable. My best friend lives nearly half a country away from me, and that never made her any less the best friend I've ever had.

With this friendship, it's not crumbling, or coming to a screeching halt, but painfully and slowly slipping.

There could be a good reason for it. In fact, I have a few sound theories. But theories they shall remain unless something snaps back into place or I force it. And by force I mean ask. I guess that's really the question: is it important enough to me?

The little devil on my shoulder tells me it isn't important enough to the other party, so why should I lose sleep over it? Oh yeah, because it is important to me. My pride just wants to say I don't care. But I know I do.

In the words of Pooh Bear, "Some people care too much. I think it's called love."

I'll keep feeling this one as it slips farther and farther away. Eventually, I'll have to decide if I care enough to try and piece it back together by asking, or if I just let it fade away and hope I eventually stop caring.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

And the Oscar goes to...

Glitz, glamour and gaudiness will be making their 83rd annual appearance on ABC tonight. That's right, the Academy Awards have finally arrived, celebrating the best in film, or perhaps, the most popular?

Last year, I have to admit, I was one "Avatar" best picture away from losing any respect I had left for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I was convinced that they'd sold out to the money-making crowd-pleasers, simply feeding the mob what they wanted. I was convinced it had become about who made the most money. The battle, for me, came down to spectacle over substance. "Avatar" represented spectacle, a term Director James Cameron seems to have made his own genre. It was the same with "Titanic," grand in terms of scale, not-so-grand in terms of writing and substance. Now, not to be too harsh to Cameron, he's good at what he does. His movies aren't bad. I just don't think they're great.

"The Hurt Locker" represented the substance for me, last year. And sure enough, the Academy shocked me by awarding the low-budget, little-known film about the psychological effects of war on one man, with Best Picture. It was a subtle yet powerful character study with strong writing and strong performances. It didn't need spectacle.

Hence, the awarding of Best Picture to this movie restored my faith in the Academy.

Now, this year, while I still think 10 Best Picture nominees cheapens the category, I at least approve of all 10 in the category. It should be an interesting race, while I think the big prize is going to come down to "The King's Speech" and "The Social Network."

If there was an equivalent to the "Avatar" of last year, I think it'd have to be "The Social Network," as far as popularity and public impact. "The Social Network," however, I feel has far and away more substance. May the best movie win.

I'm optimistic about the new, young blood they've brought in to host this year's ceremony, James Franco and Anne Hathaway. Should be entertaining. I did love Hugh Jackman, too, so we'll see how these two stack up.

And as always, gotta love the fashion watch. Really, the only hope I have for the night is an absence of bad jokes, presence of musical numbers and Natalie Portman taking home Best Actress. Otherwise, I plan to sit back and enjoy it, not as a night to worship and pander to the Hollywood elite, but a night to celebrate the reasons that filmmaking truly is an art form.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Grub and the Lost Boys (and Girls)

Who would've thought ten minutes in a tiny eight-lane bowling alley would turn out to be the best part of my Friday.

I recently had a brief conversation with a worker at the Lincoln County Courthouse about how neat my job is because it allows me to meet such a variety of people. That is the best part, the people I get to meet. The writing is my second favorite part. People put the life in the writing.

From 9 a.m. until about noon this morning, I sat at my desk and retyped old newspaper entries for a "this day in history" type thing. For three hours. It felt like the longest Friday morning of my career to date.

Thinking I would be doomed to regurgitate who was who's coffee guest in 1961 Beloit for the next four hours, my boss gave me the welcome news that I could take off early. I did have a short appointment at 4 p.m., but we decided I could just run back into town for that.

While I didn't mind starting my weekend early, I wasn't terribly thrilled about having to go back into town at 4. All I had to do was stop by the Canton bowling alley and photograph the owner and his dad, the former owner, for a story I had already written about them.

So, at 3:45, I made the jaunt back into town. I'd already met Jeff, or "Grub," the owner, but today I also had the pleasure of meeting his dad, Don, for a brief few minutes. I learned that he used to not only work for my newspaper, but also the Sioux Falls newspaper, the Argus Leader, as a printer. You know, back when they did it the old-fashioned way, by hand, laid everything out. We talked about changing technology, "funky gadgets" and the wonders of digital cameras. I got to see "Grub" interact with 30-some middle schoolers at the alley for their weekly bowling league shenanigans. He playfully told a girl shoes would cost her 10 million dollars.

When I finally got around to taking the photo, they suggested I take their picture along with all the kids. The kids, after all, are one the biggest reasons Don and Grub keep coming back to this place.

Their little family lined up in front of the bowling lanes, the kids giddy that they were going to be in the newspaper and Don and Grub playfully grumbling that people were going to have to look at them.

"Now, pretend you're normal," Grub told the kids.

We took one normal picture.

"Ok, now go crazy!" I told them. They were very obedient.

I snapped my last photo, thanked the kids, told Don it was nice to meet him and smiled and waved at Grub as I made my way out. I caught myself singing as I walked to my car.

That dingy little eight-lane bowling alley transformed into the magical equivalent of a summer tree-house, almost like their own crew of lost boys (and girls). I don't know if that makes sense, but it sure gave me a warm fuzzy feeling.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

One Of Those Moments

It's ten minutes to four. I'm in the office alone, impatiently watching the second hand tick away towards closing time.

In comes a customer. What could a customer *possibly* need to do at 3:50 p.m. on a Friday afternoon? Go out and get a life, I (rudely) thought to myself. Really, I was just spectacularly annoyed by the thought that this person might keep me here past four o'lock.

Of *course,* this person needed to make what seemed like 2,000 copies of *something,* something I was convinced could not be anything more important than my schedule. I put on a fake smile and tell the woman, of *course* you can use the copier, no problem! Take your time!

And, she did. A whole TWO MINUTES past closing time. Queen of Sheba here, I was thinking. Take your time, NOT.

As it turns out, while not the Queen of Sheba, she *was* the reason I was able to complete a story I'd been working on all week that should've been done that afternoon.

The final copy finally pumps out of the copier. The woman makes some friendly small talk as she heads towards the door, of which I remember nothing because all I recall was thinking, "Stop talking and LEAVE already!"

The second I hear the *ding* of the door closing, I grab my key and violently propel myself towards the front door and lock that sucker like there's no tomorrow. Flipping off the light switches, I briskly walk back through the now-dark office, grabbing my things and bolting for the time clock. Just as I grab my time card, the phone rings.

Now five after four, my first thought is to ignore it. We're closed, I say aloud to the indifferent walls. But then, for some reason, I sigh very loudly, as if the darkness will sympathize with my annoyance, and stomp over to the phone.

"Sioux Valley News, this is Laura."

"Hi, my name is Lisa, you had e-mailed my mom and said you needed photos for your story about my brother?"

You know those moments, when people say it was a "God thing?" This was one of those moments. I'd been trying to track down photos for a story I had written for several days, and was slightly worried going into the weekend without them. We put the paper together on Mondays, and like to have everything in order on Friday.

Had I not answered the phone, they would not have known we put the paper together on Mondays and would not have had them sent in. Had the copier lady not stayed two minutes after closing time, I would have been out that door at 4:01, missed the phone call, and had no photos for my story on Monday.

I suddenly felt very sheepish for being so childishly annoyed. And very thankful that God just shakes his head and chuckles.

It Is What It Is

It's amazing what a little perspective can do to over-used phrases.

I learned something from a Marine today. He told me war is what it is. I understood the idea of what he was going for when he said it, but it wasn't until I'd had an hour-long conversation with him that it became saturated with meaning.

"It is what it is" isn't a new phrase. But it is something I've never heard someone use to cope with a battered battalion suffering 20+ casualties and coming back, angry, to a society that complains about long check-out lines when he was thankful for clean concrete to sleep on.

But he wasn't angry. Well, not after a few days of adjustment. That's all it is, he said. An adjustment. It is what it is. He said bitterness isn't something you choose to stave off. You either let it get to you or you don't.

His ability to say that, and accept it, astounded me. His descriptions of a day in Afghanistan, what he saw, heard, felt, will never forget, would be enough to make anyone bitter. He lost close friends and even his own foot. What happened...happened.

Taking things one day at a time, one step at a time even, is sometimes easier said than done. But that's exactly what he's doing. If you dwell too much on the pain, it overwhelms you. It'd be too painful. If you get your hopes set too high on expectations for the future, it hurts too much to let go.

You don't forget the past, but you don't dwell on it. You don't ignore the future, but you don't obsess over it. It is what it is. Move with it, take it as it comes. We're in good hands.

The closest I could come to understanding his application of the phrase to war was a line from the movie Black Hawk Down: "When I go home people'll ask me, "Hey Hoot, why do you do it man? What, you some kinda war junkie?" You know what I'll say? I won't say a goddamn word. Why? They won't understand. They won't understand why we do it. They won't understand that it's about the men next to you, and that's it. That's all it is."

It might start about the politics, or patriotism, or a even a personal vendetta. While I've never been in their shoes, I think they might tell you that changes pretty quickly. He didn't over-sensationalize or underwhelm. He just said it is what it is. He came back to a God that never left him and family that never stopped loving him, with two years behind him he'll never forget.

NOTE: This outlook reminded me, while in a completely different circumstance, of the outlook needed to push forward in the wake of losing my then 3 1/2 year-old sister Tarah. Too painful to dwell on, too hard to imagine how you're going to live without them down the road. All you can do it take one step forward and trust. While I don't think I'll ever be able to chalk losing her up to "it is what it is," the philosophy behind it, and behind a loving God that isn't going anywhere, seems like a pretty good place to start.

Hello 2011!

Blog, welcome to 2011. I haven't dusted you off since before the New Year. Boy does time fly.

So far, it hasn't been too shabby. The year. Almost three months in already, I've had a birthday, visited a new city, chased bald eagles, seen my football team win the Super Bowl and gotten a hair cut.

Well, more than that has happened, but I guess mostly, things are comfortably the same. Little quirks save most days from boredom, so not a bad comfortable; life is what it is.

Nine months out of college, I'm just glad I'm not clawing the paint off the walls, bemoaning that I'm not a young hotshot somewhere living the dream. This is how the dream starts...wherever you happen to be! And I'm here, Canton, South Dakota. Well, why not?