I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Happy League Bowler

My dad was a good bowler in his day. At one point, he bowled in eight leagues a week and he made a few appearances on a local bowling television program. He even shot a 700 while on television once. That was back when 700 used to mean something.

Today, for a variety of reasons, you’ll see an occasional 800 in league play. Even I have shot two 700s over the past nine years and I’m not that good. In the 1980s and 90s I carried a 160 average. I took some time off, bought a new bowling ball, joined a league in 2003, and my average jumped 25-30 pins.

Part of that had to do with bowling on a team of good bowlers who helped me make adjustments. Part of it was the equipment. And part of it had something to do with the lane conditions. Some houses put down a fairly easy shot to keep league bowlers happy. I don’t really find the shot to be easy, but my average has gone up, so it’s hard to argue the point.

This past weekend I bowled in the Nebraska state bowling tournament and the shot was beyond difficult. Apparently last year there were nineteen 300 games and the tournament officials thought that was too many so they added a gazillion tons of oil to the outside portion of the lanes and if pushed your shot out in that oil, your ball had no chance of making it back to the pocket. So you had to play inside, but I don’t throw enough ball to do that, so I struggled to the point of it not even being fun.

While in my hotel this weekend, I happened to read an article on The Atlantic’s website that said, “In the most recently completed United States Bowling Congress league season, nearly 52,000 ‘perfect’ 300 games were rolled. (A perfect game is 12 straight strikes over the 10 frames.) The total represents a 59-fold increase from 1970.”

It goes on to say, “Amateur scores are inflated because of more forgiving lane conditioning than in tournament play, but even among pros, the ethos of the game has changed from developing skills in converting difficult spares to getting the ball to hook consistently in a spot and at an angle at which a strike is assured.”

As somebody who is a traditionalist when it comes to sports, I find myself in the modernist position when it comes to league bowling. I don’t need to bowl well every week to have a good time. I like catching up with my teammates each week and bowling is a form of exercise. But I like having the potential to bowl well each week and the new equipment combined with the league oil patterns and the help of my teammates gives me a shot to put up a decent score.

Maybe we’re all just fooling ourselves, but I'm a happy league bowler who can’t imagine the game going back to the way it used to be. Bowling, like so many other sports, changes. You can't turn back the clock on a sport or anything else in life. You can only adapt. Maybe that means I'm not as much of a traditionalist as I thought.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

5 Items Found in My Junk Drawer

A few years ago, I wrote about junk drawers and it turned out to be a pretty popular post. What I didn’t tell you at the time was – I have three junk drawers. One in the kitchen, one in the living room and one in my office.

In the spirit of the Name 5 series, here are 5 items found in my office junk drawer:

1. My old Blackberry Curve 8330. I upgraded to a Blackberry Curve 8530 last summer and haven’t gotten around to selling my old one. If you are looking for one, drop me an e-mail and I’ll sell it to you for a good price.

2. A small pill box. It’s way too small to hold the medicine I take. It didn’t start out that way, but as the number of my prescriptions grew, I had to move on.

3. Uneaten candy – mostly red licorice. Being diabetic, I try to stay away from candy as often as possible, but licorice doesn’t harm my blood sugar. Problem is – I don’t really like licorice. So it just sits in my junk drawer. But one of these days ...

4. Various cables. Every piece of technology comes with cables it seems, but often other gadgets will run on the same cable so why clutter my desk any further with duplicate cables?

5. Batteries. No matter how many batteries I have in my junk drawer, I never have the size I need. Maybe that’s just poor planning on my part.

How about you – what’s in your junk drawer?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

2007 Columbia Crest Two Vines Vineyard 10 Red Wine

Shot this photo late at night and Latte was tired,
but she insisted on being in the photo.
“What are you looking for?” said a man who drifted away from a wine tasting group.

“Something sweet,” I said. I was in the Merlot section so I knew I wouldn’t find what I was looking for there – Liberty Creek Sweet Red wine, but I’d already asked the clerk and he said they didn’t carry it so I was looking for something else.

“I started just like you, but eventually my palette adjusted,” he said. “You should try one called Red, I think you’d like it.”

We found it and I read the back of the bottle. It didn’t sound sweet at all.

“Or give this one a chance,” he said, pointing at the 2007 Columbia Crest Two Vines Vineyard 10 Red Wine. “We had that at our wedding at it went down easy.”

I picked up the bottle and read: “The unique style of this medium bodied and soft-textured red wine is inspired by some of the best varietals grown in one of Columbia Crest’s oldest sites –Vineyard 10. This delicious red wine is a blend predominantly of Washington state Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese highlighted by aromas of strawberry and spice with ripe plum and blackberry flavors. A perfect complement to steak and pasta dishes.”

I had no idea how Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese tasted – especially as a blend – but the promised “soft-texture” coupled with the wine tasting guy’s suggestion that it goes down easy was enough for me to give it a try. I’m finding that talking about wine and sharing experiences with other wine drinkers is half the fun.

The suggested wine turned out to be everything it was promised. It isn’t really sweet, but it isn’t so dry that I had to make a face to get it down. And the various berry flavors didn’t knock me over, which is a major plus for me. If wine tasting really does go in stages – starting with the sweetest and working your way to the driest – then this is a step in the right direction. Although, I can’t see myself moving any drier than this.

I would love to hear about your latest wine adventures. Have any good stories or suggestions?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Live Life Like it is Short

Photo: Casey Fleser
I looked in the mirror on Saturday morning, in desperate need of a shave, and wondered when so many of my whiskers turned gray. Probably around the same time my hair did.

I couldn’t help but think about four letters my dad sent to me in the 1980s that I found recently.

Here’s a portion of one of them:

This letter was dated February 24, 1981, which means it’ll turn 30 this week. That caused me to do some math. My dad would have been 45 when he wrote this letter to me; I would have been 14. I will turn 45 this year, so reading this letter is like reading my life. I beat Dad to the punch regarding bifocals though. I got them a year and half ago.

I’ve never been one to stress over my own mortality. I just notice the subtle changes. My senses have been heightened even more over the past week as I’ve been reading through 1 Chronicles about the descendants of each of the twelve tribes of Israel.

At first glance, the long genealogies might seem like a boring list of hard to pronounce names, but the reality is Tola, Puah, Jashub and Shimron (the four sons of Issachar) were real people with real problems who lived and died. And their children lived and died. And so it went. Seeing the cycle of life firing by in one sentence after the other is yet another indicator that life is short and we should live like it is short.

Over the weekend, my sister and her family in St. Louis signed up for Skype so we could begin video chatting. She and her husband have two small children and I only get see them in person once a year. Skype to the rescue. We couldn’t get the audio working, but we got the video up and running. We just used our cell phones for audio. I couldn’t believe how much my nephew, who isn’t even one yet, has changed since I saw him in October.

After we finished our chat, I did the math again – when my nephew is 20, I’ll be 65 – one year older than my Dad’s age when he passed away. For me, living life like it is short means finding ways to stay in touch with the people I love. It means leaving records of the previous generations in my family for new generations. It means living intentionally, knowing how quickly 20 years can pass.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Who is Trevor Bayne?

Photo: Royalbroil
The PR person invited me inside the hauler of a 19-year-old NASCAR driver named Trevor Bayne at the Kansas Speedway last October. Bayne had just lost his ride that week with another team in the NASCAR Nationwide Series (the second highest series in the sport) because sponsorship dried up, but he landed on his feet at Roush Fenway Racing – even though they didn’t have sponsorship lined up for him.

He was busy talking with his new team when I entered his hauler. We stood close to the doorway as I introduced myself and thanked him for making the time to talk to me for a feature I was writing about him for Baptist Press Sports. I started by chronicling the whirlwind of change he’d been through that week and he laughed nervously as I did so.

“It’s pretty wild man, to see God’s plan going into action,” he said. “It’s just wild. And the weird think about it is, there was never any worry or doubt in the meantime. Normally if something like this happened at MWR (Michale Waltrip Racing – his old race team) I’d be in a frenzy wondering, ‘Oh, what am I going to do?’ But I knew that we’d had such good runs all year long – top 10s – and I knew somebody had to see that. I didn’t think it would go unnoticed and it didn’t, fortunately.

“And Jack Roush [the owner of the new team he started driving for] stepped up, even without sponsorship, and said, “Ay, we’re ready to move forward.’ So, I’m really excited about that getting started this weekend.”

Nobody had any idea that just four months later he would secure a part-time ride in the Sprint Cup Series (the highest series in the sport) and would end up in Victory Lane at the Daytona 500 the way he did this afternoon. No rookie had ever won the Daytona 500. He’s the youngest driver to ever win it. And this was only his second start at the Sprint Cup level.

His win was so improbable that he didn’t even pack a suit for the media appearances the winner of the Daytona 500 does after he wins the race. He drove his Ford F-150 pickup truck to Daytona and after the race he had to figure out who was going to drive it back home for him. He expected to do that himself, but everything changed when he crossed the finish line first at Daytona.

This week he’ll be making the rounds on Letterman and “Regis and Kelly” and anywhere else his PR team points him. My guess is, you’ll hear the same guy I did in the hauler that day – a guy who calls interviewers “Sir” or “Ma’am.” You’ll hear him talking about putting God first in his life. And you’ll hear a guy who just seems thankful for the opportunities he’s been given.

In an age when so many athletes are in the headlines for the wrong reasons, it’ll be nice to see an athlete like Bayne get a chance to talk about things that really matter.

Here's a link to the feature I wrote about Bayne last October for Baptist Press Sports.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Book of Eli

Photo: Falkenauge
My only problem with The Book of Eli is that it should have been titled “Eli’s Book.”

If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s is set in a post apocalyptic world in which nearly everything has been destroyed. Food is hard to come by and water is even scarcer. Violence is a way of life as a man named Eli (played by Denzel Washington) travels on foot across the country toward the west coast.

He possesses the last copy of the Bible and he believes he has heard from God, who told him to travel west, so he obeys, believing that somehow God will preserve and protect his Word. That’s why this movie should have been called “Eli’s Book” – it has nothing to do with anything he has written, as the movie’s title suggests.

During one scene in the movie, Eli stops for supplies. He encounters a man named Carnegie who has been searching for a copy of the Bible, believing he can manipulate people with it. Carnegie sends his concubine’s daughter, Solara, to seduce him, hoping Eli will willingly give up the Bible. Eli turns her down which gains Solara’s respect.

The Book of EliThen she sees him reading from the Bible and praying. His actions awaken a spirit of hope within her, where previously there was no hope and that prompts her to asked Eli what life was like before all the devastation.

“People had more than they needed,” Eli says. “We had no idea what was precious, what wasn’t. We threw away things people kill each other for now.”

As difficult as life can be, Eli’s analysis of life as we know it was dead on.

Sometimes, I open my deep freezer and find food I had forgotten about. Many of us have multiple copies of the Bible on our bookshelves, some of which are rarely, if ever, opened. How would our attitudes change if we lost our food, our shelter, our Bibles and our creature comforts?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

#77 Friendly Customer Service Representatives

Photo: bloomsburys
Continuing with the 100 life-enriching little nuances series …

I dialed the number, knowing I might be on the phone with a DirecTV customer service representative for a while. The power went out in three quick spurts the night before and I couldn’t get past the blue screen on one of the televisions in my house.

The representative ran me through several lists she was reading from, including the infamous lines, “Are you sure everything is plugged in?” and “Can you check the cables please to make sure they are secure?”

“Everything is plugged in and it doesn’t have anything to do with the cables,” I said. “The power went out last night and now I can’t get past the blue screen. I reset my other TV, and it’s up and running again, but I can’t figure this one out.”

Once we got past the formalities, she had me try multiple other options, but none of them worked. The blue screen was winning. Finally, after maybe 30 or 40 minutes, she offered to send someone out to fix it, saying the service call would be free.

After we hung up, I disconnected the VCR from the set up since it was no longer needed anyway, and when I reconnected everything, the evil blue screen was gone. Even though the representative couldn’t fix the problem while I was on the phone with her, I was impressed by her patience and determination to make sure I was able to get back up and running as soon as possible.

The next day, I had to call my phone/internet company because the power outage wiped out my wireless connection and I couldn’t get it going again. I was on the phone for an hour with a customer service representative who again took me through the standard “Are you sure everything is plugged in” questions before deciding to help me set up the network from scratch. She too was patient and we got the network back up.

My problems weren’t really problems as much as they were time drains, but dealing with two friendly customer service representatives whom I didn’t have to battle made my life easier, and I was thankful for that.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

5 Favorite TV Show Theme Songs

Gilligan's Island: The Complete Series CollectionEven though I rarely watch my favorite shows live, I rarely fast forward through theme songs. TV show theme songs set the tone for next 30 or 60 minutes. They are like an old friend who comes and sits down with you to watch the show. That’s why it bothers me when the producers of a show tinker with the theme song or change it completely.

I love the original theme song for One Tree Hill, “I Don’t Want to Be” by Gavin DeGraw, but this season they are using different singers every week and each performer is trying to make the song their own. It’s like having a stranger sit down next to me to watch the show. break my rule and fast forward through that particular theme song now.

Here are my 5 favorite TV show theme songs – and, as always, I hope you’ll leave your favorites in the comment section:

1. Gilligan’s Island. The show was on at 3:30 pm when I was in school, which was perfect since school got out at 3:00. Who among us didn’t bob our heads back and forth and sing along, “Just sit right back / And you’ll hear a tale / A tale of a fateful trip / That started from this tropic port / Aboard this tiny ship.” Great song.

2. The Brady Bunch. All you have to say is, “Here’s a story, of a lovely lady ...” and everybody who is 40 or over can sing right along with you. I don’t think it was very cool for guys to watch this when I was in school, unless of course you were talking about Marsha. She was a fox. If you have to ask when that means, then this list probably won’t mean much to you.

3. The Greatest American Hero. This was one of my favorite shows back in the day. The video that went along with the song was classic. If I were in danger in real life, I’d want a perfect super hero to show up and save the day, but if I’m going to watch a super hero on TV, I want him to be flawed – unable to fly straight or understand all his super powers, like the Greatest American Hero. By the way, it looks like all of the episodes are now available on YouTube.

4. The Jefferson’s. Loved the simplicity of this one – the moving van, the camera scaling the high rise, the taxi ride showing George and “Weezy” Jefferson heading for their new digs. Even if you can’t sing, you sing to this theme song when you hear it.

5. Friends. I didn’t watch this show when it first aired, but I watched all of the episodes on DVD several years after it went off the air. The opening lines of the song talk about how hard life is, but that reality is followed with reassurance from a friend who says, “I’ll be there for you ...” The video bits they play with the song are funny, but it still supports the premise that they aren’t going it alone.

Honorable mentions:
  • Sanford and Son
  • All in the Family
  • The Flintstones

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

She Calls Me Raymond

Grandma and me
I helped take care of one of my grandmothers before she died in 2002. She had congestive heart failure, diabetes and she was susceptible to bouts of various infections. Whenever she would come down with an infection, her fever would go up and she would become a different person.

She grew up on a farm in the 1920s in Arkansas and I think that’s the place she went to in her mind when she was sick. With her eyes closed, she would reach out with her hands as if she were picking cotton. After she was treated with antibiotics she would come out of it. 

Other times, when she was sick, she would say things that didn’t make any sense to me. She’d talk about hanging tools on the wall or stacking boxes in the corner of her bedroom even though her bedroom didn't have any boxes in it. She was living in another time period, and eventually I learned to go with it until she got better.

Those were tough times, but rather than trying to convince her she was in the wrong time period, I did my best to enter the time period she was living in. I didn’t always do it well, but nobody trains you for situations like these.

I haven’t thought a lot about the last couple years of my grandmother’s life since she died. Instead, I think about the Christmas gatherings, and the Thursday night meals she used to cook and the old Bible she used to underline passages in. But yesterday, I heard a song on the radio by a singer I’ve never heard of and he brought me back to that place.

His name is Brett Eldredge and the name of the song is "Raymond." The circumstances in the song are different than the ones my grandmother and I faced, but the woman Eldredge sings about thinks its 1943 and rather than trying to tell her she’s wrong, the man in the song enters her world and it ends up filling a void in his life.

I cried as I listened to the song. Here’s a link to it on YouTube (embedding has been disabled). See if you can get through it without shedding any tears.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Black Swan Merlot, South Eastern Australia (2007)

I wrote a post last month singing the praises of Red Guitar Wine (2006), Old Vine Rosé and it is still my favorite wine, but I just learned that rosé wine isn’t red wine. Rosé is its own class of wine – somewhere between red and white, but closer to white, which means the tannin level is lower. Tannin increases good cholesterol and helps to fight against heart disease. Tannin is highest in red wine – that’s why I’m after a good red wine. I need it to be as sweet as possible.

I found one in Sutter Home SWEET RED wine (2008) and I wrote about that here. I’ve been adding other suggestions to my list as you offer them. I tried Black Swan Merlot, South Eastern Australia (2007) over the weekend and, while it was a bit stronger than I prefer, I liked the mixed berry and mellow cherry flavor. The Black Swan website says this is a medium-bodied wine – which would have been nice for them to include on the back of the bottle because I’ve already determined that full-bodied and medium-bodied wines are stronger than I prefer.

My cat Latte, posing with a bottle of Black Swan Merlot
Back in October, I tried Turning Leaf Merlot (2007), but I wanted to see if all Merlot is created equal. I couldn’t tell a huge difference between Turning Leaf and Black Swan. If you forced me to, I might invent something and say Black Swan had a touch of cherry in it and since I like cherry I prefer it to Turning Leaf, but please don’t give me a taste test. I would fail.

Next on my list is Liberty Creek Sweet Red, which was suggested by one of you. Anything else I should add to my list?

Friday, February 11, 2011

5 Elvis Songs that Mean Something to Me

Elvis - Aloha from Hawaii
I used a photo similar
to this for my drawing.
Continuing with the Name 5 series ...

My grandmother used to have a picture I drew of Elvis hanging on one of her walls. During a short drawing phase I went through, I used colored pencils, trying to re-create a side-profile headshot of Elvis singing onstage during his concern in Hawaii in 1973. The drawing turned out well – better than anything I drew before or since. I wish I knew where that drawing was now.

At night, I would often slip one of Elvis’ albums out of its cover, place it on the turntable in my room and lie on my back with the speakers scooted up to both ears, getting lost in his music. His sincere delivery coupled with his back story always made me feel a connection with his music. I was only a kid, but I was shy, overweight and my parents were divorced, so I knew pain when I heard it.

Here are 5 Elvis songs that mean something to me:

1. Kentucky Rain. A lonely song about a guy who can’t understand why his girl left him so he goes after her, in a non-creepy sort of way. You can hear the desperation in the chorus: “Kentucky rain keeps pouring down / And up ahead’s another town that I’ll go walking through / With the rain in my shoes, searchin for you / In the cold Kentucky rain, in the cold Kentucky rain.”

2. Suspicious Minds. I listened to the All Things Considered podcast earlier this week that featured an interview with Over the Rhine. During the interview, singer Karin Bergquist made this comment, “Some people write love songs about what happens in the beginning of a relationship. We’ve sort of moved on to what happens during the bulk of that relationship – the work, the investment, the commitment, you know? And some of it doesn’t really sound all that sexy.” I hear all of that when I hear Elvis sing Suspicious Minds.

3. In the Ghetto. I wasn’t born into poverty like the young man who is the subject of this song, but when I heard Elvis sing, “People, don’t you understand / the child needs a helping hand / or he’ll grow to be an angry young man someday / Take a look at you and me, / are we too blind to see, / do we simply turn our heads / and look the other way” I related to the boy’s loneliness and vulnerability.

4. Are You Lonesome Tonight? Loneliness, emptiness, a fractured relationship, doubt, lies – all wrapped up in one song. When Elvis sang, “Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again? Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?” it gave me a better understanding about love. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it misunderstands. And sometimes it’s broken. But it always remembers the needs of the other person.

5. How Great Thou Art. Growing up, I never really knew what this song meant, but I always got the sense that the message was bigger than me. As I got older, Elvis’ version of the song became an anthem in my family. It was my grandmother’s favorite song – the same grandmother who hung the picture I drew of Elvis in her home. She used to tell her grandchildren she wanted this song performed at her funeral. We granted her wish.

A couple of months before Elvis died, he performed the song live and it is available on YouTube. Watch the video if you have a few minutes. Look for eternity is his eyes. And when you get to the 1:44 mark, look for it in the eyes of the woman in the crowd who is on the verge of tears.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

“Hey” is the New “Hi”

Photo: bark

Remember when every phone conversation started that way – before caller ID? You could tell a lot in that hello.

If the hello was a question, the person was open to the idea of having a conversation. If the hello was more of a statement, the person was probably busy or not really in the mood to talk. If the tone in the first syllable of the word started at the person’s normal speaking voice and then trailed downward for the second syllable, he or she was probably bummed out about something.

Then came caller ID and salutations changed. “Hello?” was replaced with “Hey Joe, what’s going on?” That progressed to “What up dog?” It seems like we’re beyond the novelty of caller ID now and have returned to less informal salutations. Even when I know who is calling, I generally fall back on the tried and true, “Hello?”

When I meet someone in person, my salutation is more casual though. I say “hey.” I don’t know where I picked that up, but I hear others using it too. I didn’t realize it might be a generational thing though until my mom asked me recently why people say “hey” to each other now instead of “hi.” I had no idea. So, what do you think I did?

Google pointed me toward a blog called Pain in the English where people had a conversation about the topic in the comments section of a post called The use of “hey” in place of “hello.” One person said “hello” is too formal and comes across as snobby so “hey” works better. A couple of people said “hey” is used to flirt. A mother-in-law confesses to being offended every time her daughter-in-law greeted her with “hey” instead of “hi,” but the post helped her realize that “hey” was the new “hi.”

Apparently I’m not the only one who reads a lot into salutations. But, as that mother-in-law discovered, we need to be careful when playing psychologist. All of us communicate via body language and tone inflection, and we draw our own conclusions about people as a result, but I’m thinking it might be better if we simply asked each other if something is wrong when we think we hear pain or sadness or discomfort in a salutation rather than misdiagnosing someone.

What are your thoughts about salutations – the way they have changed and the way we read into them?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Kids Are Our Present

Juliet, NakedI tend to be nostalgic. I find balance in that line from an old Billy Joel song: “The good old days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.” Of course, the irony of that statement is, those lyrics were penned in the early 80s, so even my balance is rooted in nostalgia.

I often wonder if my penchant for nostalgia is the result of never marrying and having kids. Kids are our future – or so the saying goes. Maybe being focused on the future would have helped me to cut back on thinking big hair, big combs, and tube socks were all the rage. I know, even my clichés are nostalgic.

But I read a passage in a novel called Juliet, Naked yesterday that made me re-consider (Juliet, by the way, is the name of an album – Juliet, Naked is the name of the acoustic re-release of the album). The novel is about two people, Duncan and Annie, who have been in a 15-year relationship that is centered around their interest in an old, forgotten singer who hasn’t put out anything new in 20 years.

When Annie realizes she is wasting her time with Duncan, she breaks up with him and she goes out to a pub with a female friend to find out what other people do. She sees people who are stuck in old patterns who are trying to re-capture old magic, which causes her to wonder, “Where was the now?” How do people who swim around in the past stand it?

She concludes that children are the answer. Here’s her thought process:
That was why she wanted children, too. The cliché had it that kids were the future, but that wasn’t it: they were the unreflective, active present. They were not themselves nostalgic, because they couldn’t be, and they retarded nostalgia in their parents. Even as they were getting sick and being bullied and becoming addicted to heroin and getting pregnant, they were in the moment, and she wanted to be in it with them. She wanted to worry herself sick about schools and bullying and drugs.
That passage really hit me. Do we yearn for yesteryear because it was the only time in our lives when we live in the active present? If so, it makes me wonder if that is one of the reasons the cycle of life works the way it does. We are designed to get married and have children earlier in life, as opposed to later, and by doing so, we are forced into the active present. Maybe people who don’t have children drift easier from the present to the past. 

I do know this – being an uncle helps. I have two nieces and one nephew and I love all three of them dearly. I sing with them. Act goofy with them. And maybe tease them once in a while. And I don’t know who loves it more – me or them. But whenever I spend time with them, we are in the present. And I feel more alive.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Gary Moore Dies

Gary Moore had me at the first few notes of "Still Got the Blues." It's still one of my favorite songs.

Sadly, Moore passed away last night at the age of 58. If you have 6 minutes and 47 seconds to spare today, watch him perform "Still God the Blues" live. It's music the way it is supposed to be.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Leopard Prints, Loud Colors and Tube Socks

Got to love those tube socks (Photo: Robbie Mendelson)
You might be a tennis geek if … you spent part of your weekend watching Fed Cup matches between Belgium and the United States. If that’s true, then count me among the geeks.

I tuned in to see Belgium’s Kim Clijsters, the reigning Australian Open champion, take on Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who recently lost in the first round of the Australian Open. Mattek-Sands played a good match, pushing Clijsters to a third set, but Clijsters did what champions do – she came through under pressure and won the match.

Clijsters is a joy to watch and I often root for her. But Mattek-Sands is the type of athlete who really intrigues me. She’s ranked 48 in the world, so she has to qualify into most tournaments (meaning, she has to win three matches before the tournament starts just to make the main draw). She doesn’t possess any huge shots, so she’ll probably never reach the higher levels of the sport, but she plugs away. I really respect that. And she has fun doing so.

She’s known for her crazy tennis attire. She wears leopard print outfits, and loud colors, and tube socks and short shorts. If you combined John McEnroe’s look in the 80s with the color schemes of the pop metal band Poison, you’ll have a good idea about the way she dresses for tournaments. As I guy who loved the tube sock era and wasn’t afraid to wear a neon green shirt from time to time, I can relate.

“There’s too many times – and I’m sure I’ve said this before – you know, players are dressed the same, head to toe,” Mattek-Sands said in an interview with the press last month. “And on TV, I can’t even tell who’s who. You know, both [have] blonde hair or something like that. I mean, what’s a fan to think? So, it’s my personality [to dress differently]. I’m like that off the court. Fashion’s always been an interest for me and it’s about it being fun and staying relaxed. I play better when I have that mentality anyway.”

Maybe all of us would benefit from embracing our inner Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

Friday, February 04, 2011

5 Bands with Strange Names

Continuing with the Name 5 series ...

You’ll have to forgive me for sticking to one era of music when it comes to naming 5 bands with strange names, but the 80s was my decade – musically speaking. So all 5 of these strange band names come from that era:

Dirty Weapons1. Killer Dwarfs. Each of the band members changed their last names to Dwarf. I remember a Russ Dwarf (the singer) and a Mike Dwarf (guitar). I don’t remember the others. Musically speaking, they had a CD called Dirty Weapons that wasn’t bad, but strangely it’s not available on iTunes.

2. Lillian Axe. I have no idea what their name means but they were a great group. They mastered the pop metal sound of their era. I think they were mostly a hit in the Midwest though. A different version of the band is still around but they have a different lead singer and they just aren’t the same in my opinion.

3. Blue Murder. You might be sensing a death theme at this point and I wouldn’t blame you, but you have to admit, the death theme does make for some strange band names. I don’t know why they called themselves Blue Murder, but they had a bluesy rock sound I really enjoyed and their moment in the sun lasted about, well, a moment.

4. Love Over Universal Destruction (L.O.U.D.). Their name always cracked me up because it seemed like they used any words possible to come up with the LOUD acronym. But later in the careers they became Christians, or, at the very least, they became more vocal about their faith, so the name seemed to work quite well. The lead singer was also quite the Excitebike arcade game fan. Whenever I saw the band play live, I often met the singer at the Excitebike game between sets to test our skills.

5. Sweet F.A. Again, I have no idea where this name came from or what it means. I had one of their CDs, but I can’t recall any of their music. 

There you have it – 5 strange band names that came to mind without looking at my iPod. How about you? Can you name 5 strange band names?

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Removing Captcha

Photo: Dominic Sayers
Captcha (the technology that uses squiggly words for security reasons on various websites) helps to keep comment spammers – people who are paid by companies to post spam in the comment section of blogs with links back to their products – at bay.

I’ve used the feature here at Little Nuances for a long time and rarely does a comment spammer sneak a comment through it. But like any other security feature, it also makes it more difficult for everyone else. I received an e-mail a while back from a radio broadcaster who wanted to comment on a post but couldn’t get past the captcha. And I’ve received several e-mails since then saying the same thing.

So, yesterday I removed the captcha feature from the comments section of Little Nuances and within five minutes someone left comment spam. Within the hour someone else left more spam. By the end of the night, more than a dozen spam comments had been left and I finally had enough, so I re-enabled the captcha feature.

As I was thinking about this though, it made me wonder if I have inadvertently enabled captcha in other areas of my life. I’m introverted and shy so I don’t show my emotions externally in groups of people. That causes some to wonder if I ever get mad. It probably also causes them to wonder if I am ever happy. Of course, I experience both emotions and I exhibit both.

I’ve been going through a difficult situation recently and when I couldn’t get answers from somebody who has the answers, but just didn’t care enough to give them to me, I got angry. And happiness for me comes from the small pleasures of life – talking to family members, reading a good book while my cat is curled up on my lap, enjoying coffee with friends; they all make me smile.

But in group settings my calm demeanor sometimes comes across as being unfriendly, or worse, standoffish. It’s captcha in real life. I don’t mean for that to be the case. My demeanor is a product of being introverted, shy and not wanting to be noticed. When you are shy, and overweight, all you really want to do is to blend in – to be normal, to be accepted as part of the masses.

The thing I think I’ve often missed though is that being part of the masses means interacting with the masses. It means engaging in small talk. It means smiling at strangers. It means searching for common ground. I’m better at searching for common ground than I am at initiating contact. I’m at work in progress when it comes to that. But we're all in a work in progress in some way or another.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Last Surviving WWI Veteran Turns 110

Local paper says America’s last surviving World War I veteran, Frank Buckles, turns 110 today. Hope somebody is capturing his story.

That’s what I tweeted and put on Facebook yesterday. And then, being curious enough to Google his name, I found out that someone did capture his story. This comes from a West Virginia television website:
A kickstarter.com campaign launched Jan. 31 with hopes of raising $150,000 for a feature-length documentary about Buckles’ life. The film, “Pershing’s Last Patriot,” is the culmination of four years of footage and interviews with the former soldier collected by [David] DeJonge [the family spokesperson and Buckles’ biographer], a portrait photographer from Grand Rapids, Mich., who began researching war veterans in 1996.
The same website says Buckles served in England and France during WWI, serving as both an ambulance driver and a prisoner-of-war escort. And amazingly, he was also a POW in a Japanese prison camp during WWII. The website goes on to say:
4.7 million American’s served in WW1 and Frank is the last voice of a generation that has slipped through our fingers without documentation and without a national memorial. Frank is the last breath and the last soul to have witnessed the Western Front of World War One.
Check out the footage of Buckles from the website:

NBC Nightly News did a story about him a while back and it captured how he felt after returning home from WWI to find that nobody even acknowledged he had been in a war:

I’m thankful that someone like David DeJonge has spent as much time as he has to listen to and record Buckles’ story. But Buckles isn’t the only elderly person with a story and DeJonge isn’t the only one with a camcorder. Most of us now have the technology to conduct video interviews with our parents and grandparents. Why not set aside some time to do so?

Two years ago, I began interviewing my mom with a digital audio recorder. We’ve done interviews about her childhood, her pets, her school years, her courtship with my dad, and we’re up to her work years. It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these interviews, but it’s time to get back to work. And now that I have a camcorder, I’m going to shoot video of the interviews as well as using my digital audio recorder.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

A Country Strong Mom

Photo: Philipp K.
We sat down in the front row of the second section of the movie theater. Mom had a small popcorn and a small Diet Coke. She looked at the seat cushion pointed at the sky and seemed to wonder how she was going to manage the pop, the popcorn and the seat.

Things have changed in movie theaters since she’s been to one. She said it had probably been 15 years. It had been much longer since we went to a movie together.

“When is the last time we saw a movie together?” I said after we were both settled in. We thought about it. “Was it Rocky? That was 1976.”

“We saw Return of the Jedi,” Mom said. “I took you and some of your buddies.”

“I think you are right – 1981 maybe?” Turned out to be 1983.

Somehow, 28 years had passed. She’s never been a big moviegoer, and time just moves so quickly. Then she had a stroke in 2007. After that, she was afraid to walk in large groups of people because she wasn’t steady on her feet. But during her recovery, I kept telling her we needed to go see a movie when she felt better and she kept saying we would.

Mom is a country music fan. When I mentioned going to see Country Strong with her a couple of weeks ago, she said it would be fun. She was right.

She put her popcorn down and I held the seat down for her. After she got situated, I pulled down her arm rest and told her it had a pop holder in it. She learned that the seats rock too.

Finally, the movie started.

I watched Mom watching the movie and if felt good to see her enjoy herself. She didn’t look away from the screen. Maybe it was because the movie is about a country singer who was trying to come back and it reminded her of her own comeback. Or maybe it was because she’d forgotten how much fun the movie experience can be and she wanted to take it all in.

Afterward, as we walked to the car, we talked about the plot of the movie. We traded thoughts and opinions – both agreeing that it was a good movie. Then she mentioned The Fighter, as if to say, “Let’s do this again soon.”

And we did. I asked her if she wanted to see The Fighter, but she said she wanted to see True Grit. She’d seen the original ions ago. So True Grit it was. Afterward she said she wasn’t afraid to go to the movies anymore. And I smiled, because at the age of 74, my mom made a comeback.


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