During a scene in the film Up In The Air, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is listening to his coworker Natalie (Anna Kendrick) recount her decision to decline a significant employment opportunity for the sake of following her boyfriend to live Nebraska. As Ryan rapidly repeated her words “To Nebraska!?! in utter disbelief…

…the entire Lincoln audience chuckled with agreement.

This is one thing I like about the place I call home. Hollywood can make fun of us and we can take the joke. We realize we aren’t the Mountains or the Beach or the Big City. It’s obvious that weather is not the alluring factor about our state.

No, ours is the Good Life, ridiculed by those seeing the moniker on the big green sign posted on the state line on the ribbon of highway known as I-80. We rate ours on a scale that will not make sense to the average passenger in the fly-over jet, whose perspective could easily assume those round circles were made by aliens, since they have no earthly idea what a center pivot system is, let alone what it does.

Call it foolish justification. Call it blind loyalty. Call it a lack of drive to do something better. I prefer to call it the ability to find the beauty growing in the ditches beside the road less traveled.

It has been bitterly cold these last few weeks. Colder than I can remember. Temperatures in the minus digits, even without a factor of windchill. My drafty door jams and leaky windowsills whisper a reminder of the season’s outdoor brutality. My toes disagree with the thermostat, and my wife’s hands argue with the reading on the dial. We cope by putting on a sweater and layering on another blanket.

So why cope? Why put up with it? What makes people stay and endure year after year?

It dawned on me Sunday as I took my beagle out for some much needed exercise. She seemed oblivious to the negative symbol on the car’s external thermometer. She ran with boundless energy through the field of snow, finding the scent of every foolish rabbit that ventured across the boundary between the city wilderness and the fenced dog run. Her happiness made me smile.

Bundled from head to toe, walking across the acres of snow covered field, trying to keep the condensation of my breath from fogging my tinted Smith eyewear, I was brought to a word, one that would require explanation if anyone ever asked me to describe what I love about Nebraska. It is the word, diminution.

Winter’s natural result has a diminutive effect. Step outside after a heavy snowfall and you will easily hear how it reduces the amount of noise of both urban movement and the exchange of natural wildlife. All of a sudden, it’s quieter and a little more peaceful.

In certain cases, it can bring movement to a halt altogether. The snowfall of Christmas 09 will be remembered as the holiday we couldn’t get anywhere. Granted, some will recall it as the holiday the family got on each other’s nerves, but some will retell the story of how great it was to be forced to slow down and be together, and enjoy the moment.

Winter reduces your visual color palate by several thousand Pantone numbers. A few months without shades of green, orange, red and multiple permutations thereof, gives relief to the eye. Limiting the ocular field, it creates appreciation for the nuances of white and gray, as well as the eventual return of spring, when the first signs of yellow daffodils speak reassurance that the season is coming to an end.

I, by nature, don’t sit still very easily, at least not without project or purpose. Winter pushes me inside, away from the garden, away from the duties outdoors and reminds me to put it in a lower gear, let the engine run slower, and not be in such a hurry.

But the diminution of winter leads to abundance in other regards. I read more, write more and cook more for personal pleasure. The winter ales I brew are bigger and more lavish with complexity. Granted, I have no backyard garden from which to harvest fruit, but the limitation gives me more reason to be creative with what I do possess, and that’s never a shortcoming.

The Slow Meal is another example of the compensation of winter’s diminutive effect. Our first Slow Meal of the season is scheduled for Saturday, January 16th at 6:30pm. Two and a half hours, five courses, four wines, a few good friends, and plenty of time to savor and converse. The menu will be sent out via our member email list (you can subscribe in the upper right hand corner at www.breadandcup.com). Call 402.438.2255 to make a reservation for this special winter event.

We’ll set the table; You bring the conversation.

Maybe I’m just an optimist…