Dear Chuck

Posted by: LuAnnin Nebraska-isms

NebraskaismsOh, Chuck. I am glad to see you again. It has been a long time since you graced me with your presence.

Seriously, we started going steady when I was what, a sixth grader? I first saw you in the shoe section in the basement of the Brandeis store in downtown Lincoln. It was a Saturday, game day in the heart of Husker nation, and there you were, flashing your school spirit in all its red and white glory.

That’s when I knew we belonged together.

I asked my parents if I could bring you home, but they refused to get involved. No, if I planned on making you a part of my life, I would have to find a way without their assistance so I devised a plan to make you mine.

The next weekend, I returned to the place we first met, happy to find you were still available. I brought my stash of babysitting money I had been saving and forked over – if my memory has not faded – an Andrew Jackson and change.

Life with you was good. We survived playground battles, neighborhood hide ’n seek games and daily life.

By seventh grade, you started to break down and I knew I would need to find a replacement. When your parental unit, Converse, came out with an upgraded version, the one-star, I brought home three versions of you: red, white and black. Yes, it meant I spent a lot of time babysitting so I could own you, but Chuck, you were worth it.

Fall faded into winter which blurred into spring and hot weather. Twice. Your white cloth faded to a dingy grey, the red shoes lost a bit of luster and the black pair spent a lot of time in the back of my closet.

By the time I hit high school, my taste in shoes changed. Sure, my parents tried to sway my affection by presenting me with a new version of you – the pro leather Chucks – and even though you were my favorite color, I preferred something dressier.

You sat in my closet, out of sight, out of mind, for years. After finishing college, mom demanded she be allowed to clear the clutter and you fell victim to her cleaning spree.

I will admit: I had not thought about you, Chuck, until a little over a year ago when I saw you on the clearance rack at Target. Maybe I was going through a midlife crisis, but I felt this longing to feel young again, or at least have a comfortable pair of what had once been my favorite shoes, so you came home with me once again.

And now, there’s a new, updated you, released by your new parental unit, Nike. After 98 years, you still have that iconic patch, but inside, you have been upgraded for comfort for my tired and stress-fractured feet.

Oh Chuck, I am fighting the urge to rush out, wrap my arms around you, my trusted friend, and carry you home; fighting the urge to feel like an All-Star, again.

Losing Touch

Posted by: LuAnnin Nebraska-isms

NebraskaismsA thousand various thoughts swirl in my head today, shoving and pushing for attention, each vying for center stage and top priority.

One clear caveat shines through: life is precious so make the most of it.

I awoke to a message from my childhood next door neighbor, informing me that one of our classmates died. He’s the second of our 24-member class to leave this earthly life.

It gives me pause, makes me think about relationships and life, love and death, and how time alters or strengthens or smothers friendships.

Yes, I’m sad that Richard died. It’s like the closing of a chapter of my life. We grew up a handful of blocks from each other. His younger sibling and my sister were in the same class, his mom was in charge of the school cafeteria. We were from the same ‘hood and our ‘rents kept watchful eyes on us.

We were part of the neighborhood gang that gathered at dusk to play kick the can along the oak-lined street where my family lived. There were birthday parties with games like pin the tail on the donkey and freeze tag that eventually morphed into those awkward junior high get-togethers where spin the bottle and truth or dare were the games of choice, where the primary challenge was avoiding the dare and escaping embarrassment. There were bus trips and high school dances, play practices and athletic events, where for the most part, we became one big family.

Then, graduation day arrived and we went our separate ways. Since then, I’d seen Richard twice. The first time was four years after our graduation, at the funeral of my sister’s fiancé, a utility lineman who died at work, a tragic loss at age 21. The second time was 27 years later, in 2010, at our high school’s final alumni gathering, before the school merged with a larger district down the road.

The truth is, to borrow from the movie, The Big Chill, “a long time ago we knew each other for a short period of time; you don’t know anything about me. It was easy back then.”

The truth is that I don’t know much about the last 35 years of his life, except that he had married, divorced and remarried; he’d battled a few health problems the last couple of years but seemed to be on the mend.

Otherwise, I know relatively little about Richard’s life, his hopes and dreams, constant worries, most dreaded fear. Undoubtedly, all those elements had changed since we proclaimed our idealistic goals and walked away from the comfort of our homes and life being easy.

The truth is, the chapter that I thought closed yesterday actually closed more than 30 years ago, when a close-knit group of 24 gained independence and individually set out to conquer the world.

That makes me sad, too.

Rest in peace, my friend.

Community Journalism

Posted by: LuAnnin Nebraska-isms

Nebraskaisms“A newspaper is a circulating library with high blood pressure.”

I would have to agree with those words, penned by sports journalist and long-time humor columnist, Arthur Baer. During the past month, I have had the opportunity to judge several segments of the Arizona Press newspaper contest. While it has been a rewarding experience, judging has been stressful, at times.

Why? High quality work makes it difficult choosing a winner. Work that gives me pause and makes me want to sit back and savor each syllable, each nuance, each sense of place. Articles filled with investigative reporting, loaded with facts and figures. Personal interest stories that tug at the heart or introduce new subject matter.

More often than not, I’ll catch myself perusing the non-contest entries filling the tearsheets, cursing when an article is jumped and that tearsheet isn’t included, causing me to scour the paper’s website until I locate the article to find out ‘the rest of the story.’

I’ve learned a lot about article selection, writing style and layout. Good writers are good readers and take note of what does or does not work. It’s interesting to read a story lede and consider how I would have written it if I were on that beat. Writers take different paths to lay out the groundwork, but the ultimate finish line is the same: present factual information by capturing the reader’s attention.

Noting differences in design style hasn’t caused my blood pressure to skyrocket, but it has made me think more about what ends up on the page, which fonts do or don’t complement one another, why it’s important to maintain consistency and why an updated style gives a paper an edginess, a contemporary vibe.

One contest division required three full-page examples dated throughout the year. Watching one paper transform its look by several simple changes – font style and consistent story placement – was eye opening.

Several of the newsrooms that submitted work operate with a staff of two covering the outlying areas, while others are staffed with an arsenal of journalists, photographers and videographers. Bottom line: quality journalism results when journalists write with integrity and adhere to strong journalistic ethics, whether it’s from an office of two or 20.

The main lesson reinforced is that whether we live in Nebraska or Arizona, many issues have universal importance. The difference: the personalized elements from the people who live in the area. Residents in both states are concerned about water rights, immigration reform, the state of the almighty dollar, the rising costs of education. I read articles that created analogies to current issues we Nebraskans face.

That’s the thing about community journalism: it’s a never-ending newsfeed that replenishes itself on a weekly – and daily – basis. Sometimes news is positive; other times, well, the truth isn’t always a glossy Hollywood interpretation. Sometimes, the news is difficult to hear; it causes readers to face realities, it’s a reflection of the area and ourselves that we may not want to look at logically.

Community journalism works because it’s consistent, it’s honest, it’s valued.

From what I read as a judge, it’s here to stay.

Since She’s Been Gone

Posted by: LuAnnin Nebraska-isms

NebraskaismsIf a butterfly is a glimpse at the soul of a loved one, then hundreds of beautiful souls floated in the air Saturday during a remembrance ceremony my family and I attended.

I had never drawn the comparison between life on earth and the hereafter with the life cycle of the butterfly, a resurrection story, of sorts. Somehow, that second grade science lesson seemed so – well, basic – that it failed to cross my mind.

It was clear as I watched nearly one hundred monarchs take flight, floating and flitting across the midday sky, that something more powerful was at work, that even in death, an element of beauty and majesty shines through.

Two and one-half months stand between the day my mother departed her earthly existence and now. A single day never passes that I am not reminded of her death or its impact on those of us left behind.

In that short span, I’ve rediscovered several elements of life that are worth remembering. And, I’ve been surprised at a few moments when, suddenly, mom’s words slip from my mouth or the grandkids mimic her “thumbs up” sign, signifying that, for the moment, everything is fine.

Yes, I still refer to the ‘rents place as mom’s and dad’s house and many times, I have caught myself saying, “My parents …” I do the same thing with grandparents, so I don’t expect that to change any time soon.

What I’ve discovered is that even in death, there is laughter. Lots of healthy laughter. Stories from long ago, reminders of incidents while she was in hospice care or the hospital, comments from her former students. They blend into a narrative worth sharing and repeating. I doubt I’ll ever tire of hearing them.

I’ve discovered that documenting the daily grind of life is important. For the most part, mom agreed. She kept totes filled with photographs and memorabilia, important items left by a documentarian. I am definitely my mother’s daughter. I photograph everything, reminders of both good and bad days, raw emotions and the constant swirl of life.

I’ve discovered that every now and then, I’ll tune in to one of the jazz stations on satellite radio, listening to sharp ragtime syncopations she enjoyed, wondering if she fell in love with those swaying rhythms during a trip to New Orleans.

I’ve discovered that I value quiet time more than ever. Hushed tones awakening the morning while I’m on a walk at dawn. Silent moments at the end of the day, watching the orange sun fall behind purple-black clouds. Time to reflect on the day and the world.

And, I’ve discovered to value time with parents and family. I’ve been dragging Dad to his great-grandson’s baseball games, a throwback to the countless hours we spent at the diamond watching Legion games. Despite his protests, I am certain he has been having fun watching those games. It’s sparked a great deal of conversation, too, about family vacations centered around St. Louis Cardinals games. Good times.

We’ve celebrated birthdays and attended family reunions. Each event seems to have taken on a new meaning, a new sense of purpose.

Those butterflies solidified the importance of family and the meaning of time … and we remember them.

NebraskaismsA few times this winter, when the blur of grey-blue skies played over and over, the five-year-old grandson told me school – at times – was stressful.

“Why?” I questioned, wondering what someone who’s only lived a nickel’s worth of years knows about stress.

He related how he wanted to play in the puzzle center but his teacher thought it would be better to work on an art project or he preferred listening to the story of Goldilocks and The Three Bears but the class heard about Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf instead.

Stressful? Wait until kindergarten, buddy, when you’ll have to choose between 27 shades of red to color an apple.

His reasoning made me think about teaching and the number of students who had complained at some point, about the trying times they experienced. Granted, some students were in the midst of tension. Then there were quite a few who created drama on their own.

Deadlines. Unrealistic expectations. Uncertainty of the future. Fractured home life. Money concerns. Poverty. Anxiety.  Fear. Bullying. College essays. Scholarship forms. Activity practices. Homework. It’s no wonder some students feel the suffocating crush of stress.

What are schools doing to instruct students how to handle the pressure?


Take a deep breath, close your eyes and exhale. For the next 12 minutes, no talking, no fidgeting. Just clear your mind and let the stress flow out and the pent up anxiety exit with its partner in crime.Your time begins with the ring of the bell.

Now I can imagine what many of you might be thinking. In an already crowded school day, where creativity is cut and left on the floor, the aftermath of meeting the demands of statewide standards and federal mandates, who has time to sit and think quietly? Shouldn’t students be immersed in core subject lessons? And now you’re telling me this takes place at the beginning and the end of the school day?

Are you out of your stressed-out mind?

Not at all.

Meditation, a means to combat stress and overstimulation, is growing in popularity when it comes to instructing students how to deal with daily pressures. A study conducted at John Hopkins proved that eight weeks of meditation training “was as effective as medication in treating depression, anxiety and pain.”

Programs, like Quiet Time or Headstand, often-used meditation curriculua, have been linked with improved self-control, positive attitude toward classmates, a stronger climate within a school and increased teachers’ moods.

It makes sense. An effective educational setting isn’t possible if stress isn’t addressed since it directly affects a person’s neurophysiological system.

Admit it. Aren’t there moments during the workday when you close your eyes, inhale deeply and let out a cleansing breath that sends negative energy all the way to Texas?

Shouldn’t we be instructing youth how to handle stress productively, how to battle a storm before it blows out of proportion? Otherwise, how can we expect them to understand and navigate peace and calm?