‘That’s all, folks’

After re-reading my first blog post of the semester, I have come to the realization that I am a stubborn writer.

I had such high hopes at the beginning of the semester to approach my writing with more organization, however, no such luck. My big red tub continues to be the metaphor for my style.

But then again, no one has ever declared that plans and outlines are the keys to successful writing. I suppose as long as I can manage to clean up my spills well, then careful planning ahead of time is not a complete necessity. However, I may find that if I try the organization technique eventually, it may save me a lot of time in the long run.

Things I’ve learned this semester:

1. I have officially found the record button on a video camera. (I had a bit of a rough start with my first attempt at shooting video; however, I feel I know the basics now at the very least).

2. I can actually enjoy blogging. (At first, I frowned at the idea of it, but I’ve found that once I begin writing a post, it can be a very satisfying experience from start to finish. I’m starting to realize more and more the importance of reflection in my life, and these blogs have been the perfect canvass for that).

3. Don’t choose subjects for profile stories involved in 58 different outside activities. (It will only lead to a muddied mess of a story. Enough said).

4. Take good notes in an interview just in case your recorder fails. (Yes, I learned this from experience).

5. Be the first penguin (This one I need to continue exploring. I need to learn to take more risks  with my writing).

I’m sorry to see this class come to an end. It has been a great semester, and I do believe my writing has improved. My main goals were to become more succinct and clear with my stories and to write more captivating leads and endings, and for the most part, I believe I have been successful. However, I think I could have written better stories this semester if I would have chosen more creative and “outside the box” story topics. That is one area that needs the most improvement  in my writing.

Thanks for taking part in my writing journey these past few months. When I go home for Christmas break, I’m going to look for my old red tub of Lincoln Logs in my basement.


Finding inspiration in unexpected places

My cousin, Adam, sporting his sheriff badge and enjoying an ice cream cone

Being friends with my special needs cousin, Adam, on Facebook has become one of the best things about having an account on that site. The thoughts he decides to share with the rest of the world always manage to put a smile on my face. Some of his most recent status updates:

“Please beware of strangers during the holiday shopping season. This is the tip of the day from Adam.”

“Oh wow dad hooking up the new driyer. It has been my favorite thing, a timer with a buzzer. I always wanted one in my whole life.”

“So guess what  happened today? It’s something that makes me go crazy. At 1:00 p.m. they tested the fire alarm system. Luckily it wasn’t as bad usually.”

“Eat my shorts I have 101 friends so eat my shorts because I am thrilled”

The best part is that the rest of my extended family read his updates, too, and will sometimes make comments on his thoughts of the day. His siblings, especially, have the most fun with them.

His sister, Jill, commented on his holiday shopping post saying: “This is a good tip to follow, Adam. If someone tries to talk to me while shopping and I don’t know them I will run in the opposite direction.”

No one ever intends to offend. I think everyone comments to show the rest of the family how much of a kick we all get out of Adam.

One of the things I look forward to most about family gatherings is getting to spend some quality time with him. Though his disability inhibits him from having the same kind of lifestyle as everyone else in the family, in many ways, it has been a blessing to all of us. No other family can say they have someone as special and unique as Adam.

None of us ever know what he will say next or what his next obsession will be. Recently, we’ve shared many conversations about megaphones, ceiling fans and yachts–all things he would like to own some day.

Adam is also a very faith-filled individual. At every family gathering, he is the official prayer leader before meals and his intentions often include his siblings, St. Louis sports teams, and up until recently, his support dog, Louie, that passed away just a few weeks ago. His Facebook update on the day Louie passed away sent a tear down my cheek.

“Well I want to let everyone know that I lost my doggy Louie and roommate tonight. He passed away this evening. He lives with Jesus and St. Francis now. Thanks to all for your prayers.”

Adam’s constant faith and his ability to recognize importance in some of the simplest things has taught me to always keep my eyes open to find inspiration in every single part of life, even in life’s most mundane activities, and I am very fortunate for that.

One of the world’s worst dogs

My dog, Casey, captured during one of her finer moments.

I am a certified dog lover. There is no question about it. If a dog would enter a room in the middle of a earthquake, I’m convinced I wouldn’t notice the room shake. Whenever a dog is in my presence, I can hardly focus on anything else going on around me.

On occasion, my roommates and I will go to the Nebraska Humane Society on Saturday afternoons to peruse the canine selection and absorb their cuteness. Even though it is entirely against school policy to keep a dog in an on-campus apartment, I’m afraid one of these days we won’t be able to resist the temptation to purchase one.

I stumbled across a video today on the Los Angeles Times website featuring River and Trout, two yellow Labrador retriever brothers, sledding down a hill. I can’t help but smile watching it because they make me think of my 13-year-old yellow Lab, Casey, back at home in St. Louis–quite possibly the world’s worst dog.

We picked Casey out of litter of 10 puppies when I was in third grade. She was deemed the “chosen one” for our family because she fell asleep in my dad’s arms while the rest of her siblings rolled in the mud on the farm and bit our shoelaces.

I’ll never forget how excited our family was to bring her home for the first time. All five of us loaded up in the minivan to pick her up, and the whole car ride home she slept in my brother’s arms. I remember all of us commenting, “She’s so sweet. Look at our perfect little dog.”

But then the car door opened when we got home, and there was turning back.

Immediately she awoke from her nap and darted full speed ahead out of the minivan and into the backyard. Meanwhile we looked like five imbeciles chasing our new puppy around in circles.

At one point she stopped in her tracks and and got low in the grass. She proceeded to push off the ground and sprung head first toward my shoelaces. The next thing I knew, I was standing on a patio chair.

“She’s a monster,” I yelled.

Well, it turns out my feelings about Casey changed over the years.  She lost her monster title; however, her mischievous side was something she never learned to put past her.

After reading several pointless puppy training books, spraying numerous bottles of lemon juice and eventually failing out of obedience school, we gave up on training her and accepted the fact that Casey was not meant to be a well-behaved dog. Since then, she hasn’t let a day pass without running around with a shoe in her mouth, ripping up a newspaper or stealing food off the kitchen table.

Over the years, however, these things have become quite comical to all of us. She has provided many laughs for my family especially during serious moments when we’ve needed comic relief the most.

I had a moment over Thanksgiving break in which I realized Casey won’t be around much longer to provide those little moments, and I began to wonder what it’s going to be like when she’s no longer in the house.

Just then, she walked into my bedroom with a piece of lingerie in her mouth. I laughed so hard I almost started crying.

She may be the world’s worst dog, but I realize now that she was brought to our family for a reason. I would never trade in the humor she has provided in her worst moments for the world’s most well-behaved dog.

My life philosophy: Moderation

(…No image needed today. It’s time to be a minimalist)

To follow up my Black Friday post, I came across a website the other day called mnmlist.com written by a man who has a very strict minimalist lifestyle (hence the word minimalist without the vowels in the website’s address).

The author’s website has no fancy designs. It consists of all black and white text, and the subtitle reads, “live more, need less…the more I focus on living, the less it seems I need.”  His goal is to move away focus from material things and start focusing on actual life, which for him, includes long walks, eating simple food, getting active and talking with friends. He posts various monthly tips on how to slowly embrace the minimalist lifestyle from “5 simple rules to declutter your closet” to “eating less to be lighter.”

I read through a hand full of his posts, and I must say, just reading some of them already makes my mind feel a little less cluttered. After a stressful last week and an equally busy week ahead, the author provided some good food for thought, especially in his “the only thing you can change” post:

1. “You can’t change your life. You can only change your next action.”

2.” You can’t declutter your entire life. You can only choose to get rid of one thing right now.”

3. “You can’t change everything. You can only change one, small thing. And that’s all it takes.”

A part of me wants to think this guy is a little self-righteous since he claims to follow the” ideal” lifestyle, and I also would like to make the argument that this idea of having to constantly plan your entire life to make it more simple does not seem minimalistic. If I were to follow every one of his tips, I’m afraid my days would be consumed with thoughts such as, “I just ate a big brownie. Oh no, I just fell off the minimalistic plan.” or  “I sent an e-mail that’s more than three sentences. Now the recipient is going to think I am a long-winded fool.”

Personally, I’d rather enjoy my big brownie and send off my five sentence e-mail and go on with my day instead of constantly thinking about making things simpler.

I am a firm believer in the simple life, but in my opinion, the simple life works best without a lot of planning and thought: Don’t want more, but also, don’t try for less. You’ll drive yourself mad in both scenarios. I’ve found that actively seeking happiness often leads to disappointment but also constantly trying to rid my life of the things I think I shouldn’t enjoy (like dessert, TV and facebook) leaves me empty satisfaction as well.

My one piece of advice to the world: Moderation in everything you do. My mom has been telling me this since I was a kid, and I believe it’s some of the best advice I’ve ever received

The Final Salute: A necessary read for all

You can’t help but wonder how it must feel to open your front door and automatically know you’re about to receive the most devastating news of your life.

Jim Sheeler’s “The Final Salute,” is one of the most powerful and emotionally difficult pieces of writing I have read in a long time. I believe it is a piece all Americans should be required to read no matter what their views are of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m afraid too often I get caught up in hearing about the efforts of the wars themselves that I forget to take into account the people who are affected by them on such a deeply personal level.

I have a hard enough time saying goodbye to my family every time I leave them behind in St. Louis and come back to Omaha, but I can’t even fathom the thought of saying goodbye to one of my older brothers knowing he could arrive back home in the cargo space of a plane (I almost deleted that last sentence; it’s unbearable just to type out that thought).

And then I think about Katherine Cathey. When she said goodbye to James for the last time, did she have any instinct that she would only be able to see him again in the eyes of her son? Or did she picture the two of them happily raising the child together in the near future? What words do you even say to the person you love the most in that situation?

One of the most emotional parts of the piece for me was Katherine spending her final night with James before his burial the next day. What surprised me the most was her openness in allowing the other Marines to keep watch all night with her. That proves the unbounded trust she built with them from the time she received the news about James’s death to the final hours before his burial. She recognized that the Marines formed more than just a comradeship with James; they became brothers but also guardian angels for one another. James’s fellow marines watched over him on his final night before his burial, as I’m sure they assumed James would return the favor for them in the years to come.

‘Bah, Humbug!’ to Black Friday

To carry on my annual Black Friday tradition, I decided to sleep in while the rest of the country braved the crowds and the cold. And once again, it appears Black Friday madness lived up to all its expectations.

CNN reported that three women in West Point, Fla. bought $1,000 in merchandise at Best Buy only to find  out later that someone had broken into their car and stolen the merchandise after they returned from a shopping trip at JC Penny. The women had been camping outside Best Buy since Wednesday night and were the first people to enter the store on Friday.

Additionally, Lanessa L. Lattimore, a Wisconsin woman cut in front of a long line of Black Friday shoppers at Toys R Us, and she allegedly threatened to shoot those ahead of her in line.

“I just wanted to get my daughter the toy that she wanted for Christmas, which probably won’t be there when I go today” Lattimore said.

How can you not feel the true spirit of the holiday season with these stories?

Call me a Scrooge, but I’ve never gotten into Christmas shopping and all the hustle and bustle that goes with the holidays. I can guarantee I will get my shopping done in one day, and I will break out of the mall like a fire truck as soon as I’m finished.

If it were up to me, I would cancel my Christmas shopping to open up my own station in the mall offering back rubs, pet therapy and Santa dolls (similar in fashion to “Rock ‘n Roll Santa;
however, instead of dancing to “Jingle Bell Rock,” this one would do a slow sway to “What a Wonderful World” ) just as a reminder that life does not have to be so stressful.

Let’s all try and remember (myself included)  the most important part of the holiday season. Take the extra time you usually don’t have in the year to enjoy your family and close friends. We never remember the gifts we receive from year to year, but we can always recall the happiness we felt the previous holiday season in sharing laughs and good memories with the people who matter most to us.

Black Friday morning 2011: you can guarantee I’ll be in the same place again if you need to reach me.

Check your sensitivity with your bags

After reading the countless stories in the past week of the battle between the American people and  TSA officers and their big machines, I held my breath as I waited in line at Eppley Airfield’s security check point Tuesday. With my pride and personal dignity at stake, I was ready to fight any TSA officer who dared to invade my privacy.

I was more than prepared. I made sure not to wear a single ounce of metal jewelry, and I bypassed a belt that morning. Before I reached the tables in front of the conveyer belt that sends the gray tubs through the X-ray machine, my shoes, coat and scarf were off and my plastic bag of 3-ounce bottles were in hand. I may have looked ridiculous carrying my load, but I wasn’t going to let any devious TSA officer suspect I had anything to hide.

When it was my turn, I confidently pushed my gray tubs and backpack through the X-ray machine and walked through the metal detector with a little smirk on my face as I handed my boarding pass to the TSA officer.

“Thank you,” the TSA officer said.

“No, thank you,” I said. “It was my pleasure to defeat you today.”

When I reached the other end of the conveyor belt to collect my items, I didn’t see my gray tub. I waited…and waited…. Finally I spotted it. However, it was not on the conveyor belt. It was in the hands of another TSA officer

“Ma’am, is this yours?” she asked.


“Yes,” I murmured.

“Ma’am, we’ll have to send this through again,” she said.

“I’m doomed,” I thought to myself. “If this makes them even remotely suspicious, could this lead to further security measures? Like, (cue thunder) the full body scan?”

Hold it! I’ll admit not all parts of this story are true. The series of events are true; however, my character has been altered for dramatic purposes and to represent a large portion of the American public.

If my character seemed a little extreme to you at any point in the story, keep in mind that many Americans are thinking and acting no differently with these new security measures.  The late night talk shows, especially, have had a field day with the issue. David Letterman

In many of the comments I’ve been reading online about the new body scanners and pat downs, people keep mentioning that Americans are losing their “freedom” with these new measures.

First of all, the term freedom contains a large amount of gray area. What does it mean to be “free”? It’s a term Americans always throw around, and yet, I’m afraid none of us can give a clear definition as to what the term provides for American citizens. Secondly, how can we be so-called “free” without first being safe. Yes, it is a little unsettling to know that TSA strangers now have access to our bodies’ most sensitive areas; however, if these new measures could prevent even one person from concealing explosives, then I would consider these new measures a necessity for flying. Holding onto my “pride” is not worth risking a plane filled with over 150 people going down.

And America, let’s settle down and not feel so sensitive about how we perceive our bodies. We all are human beings  and are all equipped the same way. If we could embrace that idea and be comfortable with it, these new safety measures wouldn’t even be an issue.

For the record, my gray bin passed on the second time through.

Don’t be a ‘dodger’

I can only imagine the outcome if Joshua Bell were to play violin on the Creighton mall on a regular school day.

As I walk to class most days, one of my favorite things to do is look around and watch the activity around me. It’s fascinating to observe the ways some people avoid having contact with their present world.  There are the ones who take out their cell phones the minute they exit a classroom and proceed to talk all the way to their next class.  Then there are others who plug into their iPods and pull their hoods over their heads to let the world know that they are currently in “escape” mode.

And then there are the ones I like to call the “dodgers.”  When they walk past a line of fraternity/sorority lettered-shirts sitting behind a table on the mall, they dodge (usually slightly to the right if walking westward on the mall) in order to avoid any solicited requests to take part in a pigskin game or to throw a pie in a sorority girl’s face.

If Joshua Bell were to stand on the “Bean” and play his violin, I can guarantee he would have the same reaction from people as he did at the Metro station in D.C. and most likely would have equally as many “dodgers.”

As much as I would like to say I would be one of the few to stop, I know myself well enough to admit that I would be one of the hundreds of students who would pass by. Even though I’ve had my fair share of times when I, too, have felt like “elevator music” at various singing events I’ve done, I’m afraid I would be too focused on getting to my next location.

However, I will make a pledge from here on forward: I will try my best to avoid being a “dodger” when presented with an opportunity to take in something that delves into the greater beauty of life (However, this pledge does not apply to pie throwing or pigskin tournaments).

Thank you, Gene Weingarten, for helping me realize one of my flaws tonight. As a society, we need journalists who can help us realize the harsh truths about the downfalls of our human nature.

Who cares? Not me.

It seems David Foster Wallace proved his point. After finishing his piece, I’m reaching the point where I don’t care either.

Over fall break, I was reminded of how much I despise election season. It was impossible to turn on the TV and not see an ad with a candidate  attacking his or her opponent for the upcoming Nov. 2 election. The same political tactics are used every election, and yet, candidates and their team of supporters fail to understand that most educated voters know how to look past all of the senselessness.

When I say I don’t care, that is not to say I don’t have an interest in government and political discussion. I have always been intrigued by how the political system works, and I’ve enjoyed the politics classes I’ve taken in my life. However, what I don’t care for is the election process. I certainly don’t have a solution for doing away with it, but if people could find a way to focus less on parties and more on the people running, we would be on our way to a new approach.

Although I found Wallace’s writing to be a little superfluous at times, what I particularly liked about his piece was the way he found a balance between describing McCain the person and McCain the candidate. At the beginning of his article, I was afraid it was going to be a piece glorifying McCain as an individual, but by the end, the scale shifted to an even balance with the bit about him as the salesperson (which lately is how I feel about most political candidates).

Wallace also did a nice job capturing the near-superhuman qualities of political candidates on the road. One of my favorite parts of the piece was seeing the visual of a 63-year-old man practically “Rockette-kicking” onto the Express every morning, and after the powerful Vietnam description, I can honestly say I have a newfound respect for McCain and his ability to keep up his energy at his age. I found a video of him on YouTube from a high school Q & A session in which a student asked him if he was too old to be president. McCain explained his good genes and work ethic and told the student, “Thanks for the question, you little jerk.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2zx3-0zOPs

I have often wondered what it would be like to travel as a press member on the political trail, but after reading this piece, it is safe to say I will never be found on one of those buses. Wallace’s clever use of campaign-trail vocab and his “straight talk” descriptions of the other people, especially of “The Twelve Monkeys,” captured a most unglamorous lifestyle on the road.

For now, I’ll stick to the 18 to 35 age demographic views and pursue other things nonpolitical.

Helping the homeless with. . .origami?

CNN began a “Be a Hero” campaign a few years ago in which they challenge everyday people to make a difference in the world. Recently, some people have found ways to fight homelessness through this campaign. Instead of  providing the usual blankets and warm clothes, some iReporters have come up with less predictable ways to help the underprivileged.

Tina Hovespian decided to incorporate origami (or rather, “Cardborigami”) in her plan.  As a student at the University of Southern California School of Architecture she explored the principles of origami and came up with an idea to provide a portable shelter for people she saw sleeping on the streets at night.

Her final design she created consists of an origami, accordion-like shape, and because of the folding design, there is more sturdiness in the overall structure. The “cardborigami” also can be folded flat to be easily transported by one person.

I like the fact that CNN is raising awareness about domestic issues still prevalent in our country, and I admire people like Hovespian who take the time to try and alleviate some of the difficulties our most underprivileged citizens must face. However, manufacturing these “cardborigami’s” in mass quantities would not improve the already tarnished image of our nation when dealing with socio-economic issues.

Manufacturing these boxes and having the more privileged citizens hand them out to the homeless would indicate that the more privileged individuals are content with some of our citizens spending the nights on the streets. Although Hovespian created the boxes with the idea that they would be temporary solutions until the homeless could find more permanent shelters, she failed to consider that these boxes seem to encourage a longer street life for some people. With a new and fancy box, some homeless people may think, “What’s the rush in finding a permanent solution when I have protection?”

Instead of cardboard, let’s start using concrete and brick to build real structures so that all people can have a place they call “home.”