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.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Falling Short

There is no shame in falling short – at least I don’t feel any.

I set a goal in early August to walk 100 miles by December 31. As of this moment, I’ve walked 74.58 miles. But I figure that is 74.58 miles farther than I would have walked without a goal. And I had a lot of fun along the way.

Several people with dogs stopped and chatted with me over the past few months.

One woman had a dog that just wouldn’t leave me alone as we met lap after lap (she was walking clockwise around the track, while I was walking counterclockwise).

“I’m a cat person,” I said. “She probably smells my cat.”

She nodded, but apologized anyway.

An elderly man who was out walking his dog on the trail one day tipped his cap at me as we passed. Not enough people tip their cap anymore. I felt like I was in Mayberry, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Every time I walk, I see something new.

One day I marveled over the energy that kids had as the ran from one end of the field to another, playing soccer. Another day I watched a similarly dressed, similarly talented couple play tennis. I also saw a teenage girl with the arm of Derek Jeter throw out an adult man at first base from the shortstop position. As fall set in, I marveled as the leaves changes colors. And I worshipped as I walked on numerous occasions.

More than once, somebody significantly older passed me on the track. I don’t feel any shame over that either. We’re all walking for different reasons. I’m not in a race with anybody. I’m simply out to improve my health and breathe a little fresh air.

So, in 2013 I’ll set a new goal – maybe 200 miles. We’ll see. But I’m also hoping to interact with more people. And if I do, you’ll probably hear about it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

An Unorthodox Christmas

A white Christmas ... a new(er) car ... and the grill (note:
the fire isn't as close to my car as it looks in this photo).
I need a white Christmas.

I don’t think it has anything to do with childhood memories, or even falling prey to Hallmark Channel overload (I watched 13 Christmas movies this year) during which every movie has a snowy Christmas Eve scene thirty seconds after everything has been resolved.

Okay, maybe subconsciously childhood memories or perfect movie endings have shaped my desires, but thankfully we had a snowstorm last Thursday, so I got my white Christmas. We even had a little snow on Christmas Eve, so maybe I am trapped inside a Hallmark movie.

Other than the snow and a few other instances, this Christmas was a bit unorthodox for me. Not in a bad way. Just in the truest sense of the word – it broke with convention.

It started last week when my mini-van was dying. I’m not really a mini-van sort of guy, but at the time I bought it, it was the best vehicle on the lot in my price range. So I became a soccer single guy (doesn’t quite roll off your tongue like “soccer mom,” does it?). But it’s been sputtering over the past month or so and the perpetual check engine light wasn’t just for Christmas decoration. So, I traded the mini-van for a new(er) Ford Focus with a warranty.

When I drove it off the lot a day after the snowstorm, evening was setting in. The melting snow was turning to ice and that’s never a good time to drive a new(er) car for the first time. I was also late for a Christmas party. And I had to drive across town to pick up a friend first.

I crept along the icy streets and was a nervous wreck by the time I picked up my friend. But we made it to the Christmas party safely and I was laughing in no time.

So, unorthodox situations aren’t always a bad thing.

On Christmas Day, my family gathered at Mom’s. We followed our orthodox annual routines – I grilled steaks and chicken in single degree weather, we ate a huge meal and we opened gifts.

Afterward, we went unorthodox.

Rather than watching football or a Christmas movie, I popped in a few home videos (yes, videos) of Christmases past and we oohed and awed over hairstyles, tight jeans and various other fashion faux pas of the 1990s. But once we got past those, we shed tears of joy and sadness over seeing and hearing loved ones who are no longer with us. 

As I watched the videos, I realized how poor my memory can be sometimes. My parents divorced when I was eight and after that my sister and I spent Christmas Eve with my Dad’s side of the family and Christmas Day with my Mom’s side – or so I thought. One video showed all of us together on Christmas Day. I have no memory of that, but I’m thrilled that we recorded it.

After the celebration was over and I was back home, I decided to watch “A Christmas Story.” So many people make it part of their annual tradition, but I’ve never seen it. At the risk of offending nearly everybody, I turned the movie off at the halfway point.

I expected a nostalgic, corny, cheesy trip down memory lane. But the movie stepped over all three lines, into the ridiculous. The scene in which Ralphie envisions himself going blind one day because his mom made him wash his mouth out with soap that contained a dangerous chemical did it for me.

Overall though, I enjoyed the mixture of unorthodox and orthodox Christmas moments this year. How about you? Have anything unusual, or even usual, to share about the way you spent the holiday?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Classic Christmas Toys

Here I am in 1970 or so unwrapping a gift while my dad
looks on from behind me with interest. By the way, I
still have that Santa you see hanging in the window.

“Yes! You touched the side. My turn.”

“No I didn’t. I got ripped.”

Five minutes after my sister and I opened our Christmas gifts as kids, we could be found playing Operation because invariably one of us would receive it every year. Remember that game? You had to use tweezers (which would seem to give females a distinct advantage now that I think about it) to remove body parts from a cartoon guy.

I saw a piece on the news the other day about the types of gifts kids used to receive versus the ones they receive today. The video panned past the game Operation and boy did that bring back memories. And that made me want to write a blog post about my favorite toys I received as a kid at Christmas. 

Maybe some of your favorites are on this list. If not, by all means, list your favorites in the comments section below. Here are mine, in no particular order:

Operation. The guy’s “spare ribs” were always the most difficult to remove because they were so tiny. The poor guy had some rather comically named body parts: broken heart, actual butterflies in his stomach, a bread basket, a pencil which symbolized writer’s cramp, etc. The game not only buzzed when you touched the sides with the tweezers, but it also vibrated and the guy’s nose flashed bright red, leaving no doubt that your turn was over. Although, you could always claim someone moved the game, which caused you to touch the side, or that the sensors weren’t set correctly.

Etch-a-Sketch. Somebody recently called this the iPad before the iPad. It allowed a kid to explore his imagination as he twisted and turned the knobs, trying to create something recognizable. I usually created words rather than images, which I guess makes sense since I went on to become a writer.


Hot wheels. My best friend Willie had the largest collection of hot wheels of anybody I knew. Whenever I would get a new one, I would head for his place and we would set up two parallel hot wheel tracks using extensions so they would go all the way down his front porch steps and onto the sidewalk. We raced our cars against each other, recording the results in a notebook. He had a hot wheel with the No. 43 on it that could not be beat. I learned later that it was modeled after Richard Petty’s car. No wonder it was undefeated!

Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. Before video games, we had a game that featured a green robot going up against a red robot. You could move them around the ring with the controller, hoping to land the perfect shot that would send your opponent’s head skyward. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like knocking your opponent’s head off (or up, as the case may be). There was a flaw in this toy though ... sometimes, if you moved your robot around violently enough, the other robot’s head would pop up without being touched. That made the entire game suspect in my young mind.

Nerf basketball (or football). Nerf basketball hoops didn’t last long around my house. They had a hitch on them so you could hang them over a door. I would invite a friend over and we would go to war in the kitchen. Of course, we had to try to prove how manly we were by trying to dunk on each other – hence the need for a new one every year. Nerf footballs were the bomb as well. When you are a boy, you can’t grip or throw a real football. But a Nerf football made you feel like you were Terry Bradshaw, and that reference probably dates me, but that’s okay.

Thinking about all of these classic toys gives me an idea for Christmas parties in which adults who are over 40 are gathering. Somebody could make a list of maybe 50 or 100 classic toys and all of the secret Santa gifts would come from the list. Imagine how much fun it would be to see two 45-year-old co-workers doing battle Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot style at the company Christmas party. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Renewing a Christmas Tradition

John (left) and I (right) posed with
the 1,735 diapers last year
On Friday night a couple of my friends (Bob and John) and I will be continuing a Christmas tradition in which we pool the money we would ordinarily spend on gifts for each other to buy diapers for our local rescue mission instead.

The tradition has taken on a life of its own. Sometimes, as people we know hear about it, they offer to chip in to help.

One year the rescue mission was low on turkeys, so we bought turkeys instead of diapers. Since so many people we know tossed in a few dollars, we ended up buying every turkey Hy-Vee had in stock. The freezer at the mission was looking pretty thin when we pulled up. Fifteen turkeys certainly didn’t fill it up, but it was a good start.

The last few years, we have gone the diaper route. Last year we were able to pool our money, and the money others donated, and we ended up with enough to buy 1,735 diapers – requiring two shopping carts, which made us pretty happy.

John and Bob (right) posing with the diapers
One year, one of Bob’s co-workers told him she was going to suggest foregoing gifts to her group of friends so they could do something similar. 

The three of us aren’t anything special. We’re just three single dudes who decided it would be better to meet the needs of a couple of people in the community rather than getting another NFL stocking cap or calendar from each other as a gift.

And now I couldn’t imagine doing Christmas with my friends any other way.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

What's Your Theory About Gasoline Usage?

Remember when you used to pull your car up to a gas pump and an attendant would pop his head in your window and say, “Regular or unleaded?” If not, you are probably younger than 40.

Some cars ran on regular (leaded) and some on unleaded, so it’s not like we really had a choice. The attendant was just asking which type of fuel your car required.

Getting gas was simpler then.

After we learned leaded gas wasn’t the wisest choice, manufacturers built engines that only ran on unleaded gas, but somehow we ended up with three blends. I never know which one to use.

But as I talk to people about gas prices, gas usage, etc., I’m amazed at how strongly opinionated they are about which blend to use and why. Some even have strong opinions about when you should fill up and when you shouldn’t. And others have opinions about which stations you should frequent and which ones you should not.

Here are the opinions I’ve heard about the three different blends of unleaded gas:
  • Leaded gas with ethanol is cleaner, and therefore better for your vehicle. Since ethanol is also the cheapest, it seems like a no-brainer to use ethanol then, right? Well, not so fast.

  • Regular unleaded (non-ethanol) doesn’t burn as quickly as ethanol. If that is true, the question that always comes to mind is, how much longer does it last and does the additional expense at least even itself out? And if it only evens itself out, what’s the difference?

    As a side note, calling a blend of unleaded gas “regular” is confusing for those of us over 40. Regular used to mean something else. Yes, my tongue is in my cheek. But only slightly.

  • Premium unleaded prevents engine knocking, so it’s the way to go. It also supposedly has more detergent to prevent engine build up. It’s ridiculous price tag keeps me from testing either theory.
Is it wishy-washy to so say I don’t really have a strong opinion about which type of unleaded gas to use? I tend to go with ethanol because of the price, but if my vehicle seems to delay or knock, I go with regular unleaded (that phrase still seems like an oxymoron to me). I never use choose premium.

Here are two theories I’ve heard about when to fill up:
  • Never go below a fourth of a tank because it is hard on the engine. Easier said than done when a tank of gas costs $50.00 or more.

  • Always run the tank as close to empty as possible because if your car starts acting weird, you’ll know who to blame. The theory is, you’ll be able to go back to the gas station to complain, or you will know not to use their gas in the future or you will know which blend of unleaded not to use in the future.
For me, this decision is an economical one. I put gas in my vehicle when I have the means to do so. When I don’t, it gets a little closer to empty than I would prefer.

Additional theories/opinions:
  • Always buy gas from the same place. You know what you are getting, and presumably it should be the same every time.

  • Never trust discount stations because their gas isn’t of the same quality. I’m not sure what people mean when they say discount stations, but doesn’t 87 octane mean 87 octane no matter where you go? Maybe not. I don’t know.
I rarely stop at the same station twice in row. My stops are based on convenience and means.

So, I’m dying to know your theories/opinions about gasoline usage. Share away in the comments.

Friday, December 07, 2012

A Ghost of Sorts

When my oldest niece was a young child, I began singing “White Christmas” to her every year around this time in my best Bing Crosby voice.

“You sound like a ghost,” she said to me one year.

I kept singing.

“Ghost,” she said.

And then I lost it. I laughed so hard I had to stop singing. If a ghost could sing, he or she probably would sound like Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas.”

For the next couple of Christmases, she would not let me get any further than the first bar of the song without yelling, “Ghost!”

After she entered adulthood, she stopped doing it. I’m guessing it stopped being cool. But I have tried every year since then, to no avail. What I wouldn’t give to hear her say “Ghost!” again. I think I’ll try again this Christmas.

The funny thing is, I’m sure she hasn’t ever heard a ghost sing, but even as a kid, she picked up on the hollow, haunting way in which Bing/I delivered the song. They don’t make music like that anymore. The song just feels like Christmas, doesn’t it?

Crosby recorded his version of “White Christmas” in the 1940s. Those three minutes and eight seconds are frozen in time and they allow us to step back into another era – one in which U.S. involvement in WWII would start and end, full-scale commercial television broadcasting was in its infancy, Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers and “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams opened on Broadway for the first time.

All of this was before my time, but I can still imagine it. As I do, it helps me put the stories my parents and grandparents told me about that era into perspective. So I guess one of the reasons I sing “White Christmas” to my niece every Christmas is because it connects me, and her, to the past and I think that is important.

And I guess that makes me a ghost of sorts.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

From One Generation to the Next

I flipped open a used copy of Mark Levin’s book, Ameritopia, at Half Price Books last night to read the table of contents, and a handwritten note fell out. You can see a picture of it on the right. You may need to click on the photo to make it big enough to read.

The note is from a mother who is writing to her daughter, Holly. Holly’s mother gave her the book because she feels a duty to our ancestors who fought in the American Revolution. She wants Holly to learn about and understand what is going on in the world right now in light of what the founding fathers taught.

You can feel the mother’s passion, but apparently she didn’t get through to Holly with her gift, given that Holly sold the book to a used bookstore, note and all, for a dollar or two. It makes me wonder if Holly even opened the book. If she had, why would she leave her mother’s note inside?

And check out the date on the note: October 29, 2013. Mom got the year wrong. She must have meant to write October 29, 2012 (the book came out in 2012, so it couldn’t have been any other year). If she gave her the book at the end of October – just a little over a month ago, then Holly’s reaction appears to have been a visceral one.

Maybe she is tired of Mom harping on her about why she should care about the founding principles of our nation and she got rid of the book as quickly as she received it. Or tragically, maybe Holly died recently and her possessions, including this book, were dispersed.

I don’t know how the book ended up at Half Price Books, but the note inside makes me feel squeamish. The tone has a hint of condescension and none of us respond well to that. Teaching foundational principles about government, or anything else, has less to do with teaching them, and more to do with showing them.

Think about the best teachers you’ve had in your lifetime. Before you allowed them to shape you, they had to earn the right to do so. In high school, I had an English teacher named Mr. Martin who inspired me to write – partially because of his passion for the written word and partially because he wrote (you can read more about my experience with him here).

He didn’t tell us to write, or try to explain the importance of writing. Instead, we traveled to exciting worlds created by authors and he read some of his own writing to us. Eventually, he started a journal called “Fine Lines” and encouraged us to submit to it. By igniting a passion for the written word inside me, he earned the right to teach me how to write.

Ironically, the introduction of the book Holly’s mother gave her includes this quote from Ronald Reagan: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on to them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

My heart aches for Holly’s mother because her note implies that she didn’t hand on the principles of freedom to Holly as Holly was growing up. Or maybe she did, but Holly just was not open to learning them. Maybe Holly’s mother was late to the party, only coming to an understanding later in life and now she feels desperate to pass along what she has learned. I don’t know. But this post isn’t really about Holly and her mother, nor is it intended to be critical of either of them.

Instead, it prompts this question: how do we pass along the type of freedom Reagan spoke about – one that the founders used to refer to as responsible freedom, rather than one that is self-focused – to the next generation? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Practically speaking, I think we do so by talking about the issues of the day over dinner with our kids. We use our freedom to help others in our communities and we involve our children. We look for teaching moments in pop culture, rather than simply consuming or avoiding it. We get involved and stay involved in the political process, without assassinating the character of our political opponents.

What else?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I know this is a little late, given that Thanksgiving was last week. But we always need reminders to be thankful. My pastor showed this video during worship a couple of days ago.

Sure puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Experience of Christmas

Many of you picked up a copy of my Christmas devotional book, “The Experience of Christmas” when Barbour Publishing released it in 2006. I’m extremely grateful for that.

Recently, I attained the rights to the book. I redesigned a cover for it and for the first time, it is available on the Kindle.

Here’s a little about the book:
This unique family devotional highlights key aspects of Christmas often overlooked in our holiday busyness – the fulfilled prophecies, the names of the Messiah, the symbols and traditions, the worship of the Child, and more. 
Specially designed for families with children of all ages, “The Experience of Christmas” provides food for thought, prayer and discussion starters, and ideas for meaningful family activities. Don’t just “do” Christmas this year ... experience it!
I wrote this book hoping families would use it around the dinner table during the month of December. I’ve been thrilled to hear from families who have done so. If you are looking for a family devotional book to work through this Christmas, I hope you’ll consider downloading a copy.

And if you end up doing so, would you consider leaving a review on Amazon.com? Thanks!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Nothing Is More Important Than Family

Photo: Neale A.
I met a friend named Ken last night at Jake’s Cigars & Spirits. We both run our own businesses and are busy with family so we only see each other a couple of times a year. But we always pick up right where we left off the last time we saw each other. That is one of the marks of a great friendship. It can sustain long periods of silence and not miss a beat.

As we talked last night, I couldn’t help but think about C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and others who met at The Eagle and Child pub in the 1930s and ‘40s to discuss literature and life. They called themselves “The Inklings.” When Ken and I get together, it is usually in that same spirit. Last night we talked about our businesses, economics, theology, health, books, and we also spent a lot time talking about family.

None of us are getting any younger. As Ken and I contemplated where we are in life, we came to the same conclusion. Nothing, on this earth, is more important than family. Our families look markedly different (he has a wife of 30 years and kids, while I am single and send a lot of time visiting my mom and other family members), but family is family.

Kids won’t always make the decisions we hope they will. Spouses will disagree with us sometimes. So will other family members. And extended family dynamics can be difficult. But as we get older, we can look back and laugh at the purple Mohawks our kids chose to get. We’ll conclude that our spouses and other family members had our best interests at heart when they disagreed with us. And those difficult extended family dynamics weren’t nearly as difficult as we thought they were. Or maybe they were, but after some of those family members passed on, we realized we could have broken bread together without as much angst.

Neither Ken or I said this, but I think we were telling each other that we want to finish well, especially in regards to our family. Not that either of us is in the fourth quarter, but we’re in the second half, and we know it. We’ve made mistakes with our families and we took what we believed to be corrective measures. Sometimes we inadvertently took the wrong corrective measures and adjusted again. But no matter where we have been on that spectrum, nothing satisfies either of us like sitting down with family over a meal and hearing how they are doing.

This morning I heard from another friend whose son is in this hospital with liver failure, which means their Thanksgiving plans have changed. They are praying for a miracle. Another friend is mourning the loss of his father. Everywhere you turn, people are hurting.

Here’s the thing – all of us have a finite amount of holidays and various other get-togethers to spend with loved ones. We never know when the next gathering will be the final one for us or one of our family members. Don’t let your next opportunity to spend time with your family pass for something you think is more important.

Nothing, on this earth, is more important than family.

Friday, November 16, 2012

When You Don't Fit In

Photo: Alisha Vargas
On my long drive home from New Mexico a couple of weeks ago, my mind raced – jumping from topic to topic.

As I mentioned in my recent previous posts, I hit the record button on my phone and processed aloud. This will be the final audio post from that trip.

This one takes on a serious tone – taking on the topic of fitting in, and what happens when you don’t. As a big guy, I’ve been in that situation most of my life. Here are my thoughts on the subject.

If you cannot get the audio player below to work, you can listen by clicking this link.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Serving One Another

Photo: John Hritz
In an age in which ignoring strangers, rather than greeting them, is the norm, I had a pleasant experience on my recent road trip in which someone offered me free coffee and a little conversation.

Her name is Laverne. She works (or maybe volunteers) at a rest stop/vistors center in northern Colorado. She and two other elderly people were working on a jigsaw puzzle when I walked in. She got up and welcomed me.

That is what prompted this eight-minute audio post.

If you cannot get the audio player below to work, you can listen by clicking this link.

Friday, November 09, 2012

The Value of Road Trips

Road trips are usually more stressful than we remember. We have schedules to keep, people to get along with and differing agendas with the people we are visiting. But the road trips themselves are memorable for a reason.

They force us to converse with one another. They provide ample downtime to pray or process. And they give us a chance to listen to a book, album or sermon we’ve been wanting to hear, but just hadn’t had time.

During my most recent trip from New Mexico to Nebraska, I recorded my thoughts about my own road trips and how they have shaped me. As you listen (it’s about eight minutes long) to this audio post, I hope it will spark your own road trips memories from days gone by and that maybe you’ll even share a story about one of them in the comments. I would like that.

If you cannot get the audio player below to work, you can listen by clicking this link.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Our Representatives

Photo: Peter Martorano
I know I’m a day late in posting this. I returned home from a writers conference in New Mexico on Monday night, so I took Tuesday off to recharge my batteries.

Since I did not have much time to blog at the conference, I pressed the play button on my cell phone on my drive home and recorded several messages that have been floating around in my mind as possible blog posts. They are raw and you’ll hear some background noise (such as static from my car stereo), but they are also honest.

I’m calling this first one “Our Representatives,” which is fitting given that election day was yesterday. This isn’t about politics though. It’s about the people we choose to represent our neck of the woods to the rest of the world. I hope you enjoy it. [If you subscribe to this blog via email, you won’t be able to listen to the audio post without clicking through to the blog.]

The first couple of words of this audio post were cut off because I started speaking too early, but you will still get the gist of the message. If you cannot get the audio player below to work, you can listen by clicking this link.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Have You Had Deer?

Photo: Paul Downey
Remember when Super 8 used to be the same price as Motel 6?

Somewhere along the line, Super 8 must have rebranded itself because I just paid $77.00, including tax, to stay in one in Fort Morgan, Colorado. It’s the first time I have been in one for years because their prices have been inching higher and I can usually find a Comfort Inn, or something similar, for that price.

But I am surprised by the quality of this particular Super 8. I have a refrigerator, a coffee maker, a nice TV, a comfy chair, fast Wi-Fi, and my room is extremely clean. The man who checked me in was friendly and helpful, but since I have a rather difficult time with foreign accents, his friendliness led to a comedic exchange between us.

“Ha you ha deer?” he asked.

“Deer?” Is he asking me if I hit a deer or if I saw a deer on the interstate? Or is he actually asking me if I want to eat deer? If so, am I going to be eating roadkill?

“No. Deer.” he said.

I tilted my head in wonder. What in the world is he asking me? 

“Deer?” he asked again.

I squinted my eyes, hoping the extra concentration could help me interpret what he was saying. How could I possibly ask him to say it again? I didn’t have to.


This time I detected a slight “n” in the middle of the word (Dener).

“Oh, dinner! No I haven’t had dinner yet.”

We both chuckled.

He drew me a map of nearby restaurants where I could receive a 10% discount. I went to one of them and the server said the discount doesn’t apply to what I ordered because it was already discounted.

I’m planning to explain that to the clerk at the motel if I see him when I check out in the morning, and that could lead to another post. No telling how that conversation will go down.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Headed for Beauty

The Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico
Photo: Marc Davis
As you read this, I’m en route to a retreat center in Abiquiu, New Mexico called the Ghost Ranch for a writer’s conference. Georgia O’Keeffe found inspiration to paint there for fifty years and it is easy to see how.

It is set far enough off the highway that you cannot hear any traffic. In fact, you rarely hear any noise there. Rooms don’t have phones or televisions or Wi-Fi. Cell phone coverage is nonexistent. The gravel roads on campus are not illuminated by artificial lights at night, which means when it is dark, it is dark.

From the mesa, you might hear a coyote while star gazing into a sky that is so vast it makes you feel small. Trees sport wonderful shades of orange, red, and yellow. A snow flurry occasionally makes a presence this time of year. If you are really quiet, you might here a mouse scurry through the walls of your cabin or mule deer scamper in the field. I’m looking forward to all of this (well, not the mice, but all the rest) more.

I won't be posting again this week. But I'll be back next week.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Plea for Political Passion and Humility

One of my neighbors recently put up a yard sign for the Romney-Ryan ticket. Another neighbor put up a yard sign for a Democratic senate candidate. My Facebook and Twitter feeds are filled with passionate people supporting their candidates.

I’m glad people are passionate about politics because the political process matters. If you don’t believe that, consider how much of your earnings go toward property tax, income tax, automobile tax, gasoline tax, sales tax, communications tax, “sin” taxes, and nearly anything that moves tax. And then there are inheritance taxes, capital gains taxes, and the like. Also, consider the regulations your political leaders set: gun regulations, market regulations, banking regulations, insurance regulations, food safety regulations, employment regulations, trade regulations, environmental regulations, rental property regulations, airport regulations, zoning regulations, licenses and permits and there’s no way to include an exhaustive list here, but you get the point.

Taxes and regulations are necessary, and, dare I say good in many cases. We want safe roads, food, and airports and we need tax money to make that happen. But, everyone would agree we have to draw the line on taxes and regulations somewhere. That’s where our political leaders step in. If you choose the wrong ones, they might draw the line somewhere other than where you prefer or somewhere other than where the U.S. or your state constitution allows.

So, yes politics matter.

But for one reason or another, some of us never got involved in the political process. Some of us have become jaded by the political process and checked out. Some of us believe our political party left us, leaving us as political nomads. Some of us only listen to one side of the argument. In fact, too many of us only listen to only one side of the argument. Some of us vote based on sound bites, likability or political advertisements rather than doing the research ourselves. Some of us are new to the political process and have no historical reference points to realize where our political movement came from, so we have no idea if it is heading in the right direction or not. And some of us have never read the U.S. Constitution or our state constitution, so we have no idea what our political leaders are swearing to uphold.

We’re all in different places. I respect passionate, well informed, kind people who are in process, even if I disagree with them politically, but I cringe during the election season when I hear passionate, sometimes informed, sometimes uninformed, vitriolic people who cannot have a dialogue with people on the other side.

It is possible to be confident and firm in your belief without being mean-spirited. Just as a soft answer turns away wrath, a spirit of humility in a political conversation builds bridges and if a bridge exists, both sides have somewhere to meet to continue the conversation.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My First 50 Miles

If you haven’t listened to worship music
outside, then you haven’t experienced
its full power
I’ll hit the halfway mark of my 100-mile walking goal this week. I set the goal on August 7 with the intention of hitting it by the end of the year. As I have walked, a number of truths have solidified themselves in my mind.

The power of an extra tenth. I have an app on my phone called Endomondo (that Arthur Fonzarelli must have designed: correctamundo?) that tracks my walking using GPS. I hit the start button the second my feet hit the ground and hit the stop button when I arrive back at my van. The four laps I walk, plus the five tenths of a mile to and from the track usually total 1.10 miles. That extra tenth adds up. Every ten times I walk, I gain an extra mile. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere.

The power of music. My taste in music has varied over the years. That has led to an eclectic collection of songs on my iPod and it comes in handy when I’m walking. If you haven’t listened to worship music outside, then you haven’t experienced its full power. If you haven’t listened to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” during a workout, then you’ve probably never fully experienced an adrenaline rush. And if you haven’t listened to Metallica’s six-minute minute version of “Turn the Page” while traveling by vehicle or foot, then you are missing the power of shared experience. There is a time to listen to music passively, but when you listen to it in motion, it becomes a soundtrack for your life.

The power of encouragement. Many people have sent me encouraging messages since I set this goal. Most of those people are more confident than I am that I’ll reach my goal, but that type of encouragement fuels the fire. I was sick last week and just didn’t feel like walking, so I’m behind schedule now. And next week I’ll be on the road, so I’m not sure how much walking will happen then. But I have this week, and I can hear people cheering me on.

The power of community. The neighborhood I live in is racially diverse, which means the park I walk in is too. I’m enjoying seeing so many people with different skin colors interacting. Once in a while a group will bring a grill and cook out next to the basketball court. They also bring coolers of pop, condiments, and chips and they make an event out of it. And they invite others to join them. There’s nothing like food to bring people together.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Three Reasons I Dig The American Bible Challenge

My mom is a huge GSN (Game Show Network) fan.

Over the years as I have visited her, we have watched hundreds of episodes of various game shows, including The Pyramid, Whammy, 1 vs. 100, Lingo, Deal or No Deal, Minute to Win It, Family Feud, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? and most recently The American Bible Challenge.

I love The American Bible Challenge for several reasons.
  1. It provides a great opportunity to talk about eternal matters. My mom and I have different faith traditions. But the Bible is common ground and watching a TV show in which the Bible is front and center leads to natural conversations about what it says.

  2. The contestants aren’t playing for themselves. Instead they are playing for the charity of their choice. The team that won the first season (Team Judson’s Legacy, which you can read more about here) won $100,000 for an organization that is fighting the disease their child died from in 2007. That made the grand finale emotional to watch.

  3. It is humbling and challenging. During some episodes, from the comfort of a recliner, I get as many as 75% of the answers correct. During other episodes, I get less than half correct. But I love seeing people who are passionate about God’s Word trying to process the correct answers under pressure, since so much of life is lived under pressure.
Have you seen the show?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Glamping, Knork and Suburgatory

Here is what glamping looks like.
Photo: Stephanie Chapman
I heard three more new to me words this past week: glamping, knork and suburgatory.

The in thing is to combine two known words into a new one to more accurately portray a concept as we live it out in the twenty-first century. I’m a word person, so I find this fascinating. Here is a breakdown of the three new to me words.

Glamping. This one isn’t so new. The NY Times did an article about the trend in 2008. Glamping is glamorous camping. Rather than sleeping in a tiny tent in a sleeping bag on the ground in the woods, people who go glamping sleep on a real mattress (often on a real bed) in a huge prepitched tent, tepee or yurt on a resort or campground and the structure contains modern day amenities (e.g. dresser, nightstand, lamps).

As with everything else, there are websites dedicated to glamping, such as Glamping.com, GoGlamping.net and Glamping Girl.

From what I can tell, glamping is expensive – so expensive that I would rather just rent a cabin somewhere. But I do like the idea of glamping since I’m not the most outdoorsy person you’ll ever meet.

Knork. Not to be confused with a spork, a knork is a knife and fork combined into one eating utensil. The premise is, if you buy the product, you can eat with just one hand, cutting and eating your food with the same utensil. About.com goes into detail about why this might be a good invention:
I was pleasantly surprised that the design of the Knork® actually works well, much better than a standard fork. The beveled edge combined with a rocking motion cut smoothly through every cooked food I tried it on. It’s perfect for stand-up parties, when you have to hold your plate in one hand and the utensil in the other. You only have to juggle one utensil, instead of a knife and a fork.

Aside from lazy eaters like me, the Knork® can be a valuable tool for the temporarily-injured or physically-challenged. Those who can only use one hand due to broken bones, strokes, or similar medical conditions will find this utensil quite useful.
Before I read these two paragraphs, I wondered why in the world we needed another eating utensil, but what the writer said makes perfect sense.

Suburgatory. I saw an advertisement over the weekend for an ABC sitcom that goes by this name. I have never heard of it, but it is going into its second season. Obviously, the word is a combination of suburban and purgatory.

The series is about a father who moves his daughter from New York City to the suburbs so she’ll have a better life, but his daughter is creeped out by how perfect everything (and everybody) seems to be in their new location.

Several people online have described the series as “The Stepford Wives” meets “Mean Girls,” which makes me wonder if even the description should be combined as, “The Mean Stepford Wives.”

How about you? Have you heard any new to you words that combine two existing words? Share them in the comments.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Grand Gestures

Clanc-meister turns six today
My mom’s cat, Clanci (whom I affectionately call Clanc-meister), turns six today. I plan to make a big deal out of it, complete with a little cake and a birthday card.

Why do I even know when Clanci’s birthday is and why go to so much trouble for an animal that won’t have a clue why we are singing “Happy Birthday”?

Because making a grand gesture toward Clanci – the cat who keeps my mom company during her routines – will make Mom smile, and laugh.

She will say we are both nuts, and that Clanci is spoiled. And I’ll agree. We’ll enjoy some cake, take a few photos, talk about our favorite Clanci moments and cement another shared memory.

We’ve gone through this routine in the past, but I never really saw it as a grand gesture until I watched the movie Due Date (see the previous post). Peter, who wasn’t all that fond of Ethan early in the storyline, convinces Ethan to toss his father’s ashes into the Grand Canyon by saying, “He deserves a grand gesture.”

Peter didn’t mean Ethan’s father had done anything special to merit a grand gesture, even though he probably had. Instead, he was saying Ethan’s father deserved a grand gesture simply because he was Ethan’s father.

Grand gestures are rooted in love, in the verb sense of the word. It is easy to use the word “love” as a noun – a strong emotional feeling toward someone or something. But using the word as a verb is much more powerful because it shows us what that strong emotional feeling looks like.

Romans 12:10 is a great example.The writer says, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” In context, the writer is referring to fellow believers in Rome, but the principle still applies – one way of loving one another with brotherly affection is to outdo one another in showing honor.

We can honor one another in hundred different ways – birthday celebrations, anniversary celebrations, cards and letters, a phone call on the anniversary of the death of a loved one, flowers, gifts, plaques, certificates, toasts, an invitation to meet for coffee to celebrate an accomplishment and yes, sometimes even buying someone’s cat a birthday cake.

Most grand gestures are simple to pull off. Sometimes though, I get so caught up in my own life that I forget to do the little thing for someone else. Maybe you do too. But God’s mercies are new every morning.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Amazing Grace, Rod Stewart and Bubbly

Usually Latte will pose with the bottle of wine, but this
time she was more interested in the wine than posing
On my quest to find good red wine (and by good I mean somewhere between Kool-Aid sweet and Merlot), I picked up a bottle called Bella Bolle’, Sweet Red.

Bella Bolle’ is an Italian bubbly. I didn’t know it was a bubbly when I bought it, but maybe the design on the bottle should have given it away. Unfortunately, I’m just not that astute.

It looks like Bella Bolle’ only makes Sweet Red and Moscato d’Asti.

Less is more sometimes.

On Sunday night, I poured a glass of the Sweet Red and sat down to watch the movie “Due Date.” Synopsis from IMDB: “High-strung father-to-be Peter Highman is forced to hitch a ride with aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay on a road trip in order to make it to his child’s birth on time.”

I took a sip of wine as the movie started and was reminded of Wild Cherry Pepsi, which makes sense since it is a bubbly and has a combination of ripe cherries and raspberries flavoring. It’s not over-bubbly though, like a champagne. Instead it’s more like a hybrid.

Toward the end of Due Date, Peter and Ethan pull up to the Grand Canyon where Ethan wants to spread his father’s ashes. These two men could not be more different. Peter is a by-the-book kind of guy who doesn’t stray to the fringes of life. Ethan lives in the fringes.

Peter can’t stand Ethan and the way he lives, but he has softened toward Ethan by this point of the movie. Ethan is a loner who is looking for solace after his father died, and while he knows Peter isn’t fond of him, he is hoping Peter will just listen to him to help him get past a difficult time in his life.

They get out of their vehicle at the Grand Canyon and Ethan approaches the edge. “Amazing Grace” plays softly in the background while Ethan eulogizes his father (you can watch the scene here).

Wait a minute – is that Rod Stewart singing “Amazing Grace”? Wow, that is unexpected, but it works.

Ethan tosses his father’s ashes into the canyon as the song winds to a close. And it hits me – this scene is like the wine I’m drinking. I found beauty in the unexpected in both cases.

If you are looking for a unique sweet red wine that isn’t over the top sweet, Bella Bolle’ is a nice choice. And If you are looking for a dramedy that is so silly it is serious, Due Date is a nice choice.

Friday, October 05, 2012

A Bizarre Licensing Agreement

Photo Credit
For several years, I’ve been using a free software program called WordWeb. It’s a dictionary that sits in your system tray and it comes in quite handy for someone who writes and edits every day.

Once a year, a question will pop up when I open the software asking if I have flown in the past twelve months. I check no, and move on. But when it happened again this week, I was curious enough to find out why that would matter.

I ended up on the licensing page and found the most bizarre licensing agreement I’ve ever read. It says that if a person takes more than two commercial flights a year, he or she is not eligible to use this software. Their reasoning?
Global greenhouse gas emissions are currently around 5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person per year, and probably need to be reduced by at least 80% have a good chance of avoiding dangerous warming. Most computer users are responsible for far more emissions than is sustainable. For example two short-medium distance return flights can be equivalent to over 1 tonne of emissions1: more than an average person can safely emit over an entire year.
This doesn’t make sense for a couple of reasons.

First, what does being a “computer user” have to do with emissions on flights? I don’t understand the connection. Maybe one of you can help me.

Second, if computer usage is so evil from this company’s perspective, why in the world are they in the business of producing software?

It gets better, or worse, depending on your perspective. The agreement goes on to say:
The licensing model is designed to allow relatively non-wealthy people to use the program free of charge, and to provide a small incentive for other people who fly a lot to cut down.
So, the implication is, only wealthy people fly. That is ridiculous.

Look, WordWeb Software has every right to charge for its product, but to impose a charge that can only be seen as a penalty for people who fly (I don’t) is bizarre. And you get the feeling that they don’t have any idea what they are talking about.

Here’s the footnote to the agreement:
Flights are particularly bad because of additional non-carbon emissions and cloud formation at high altitude: the short-term warming effect is estimated to be many times worse than the same CO2 emission at ground level, perhaps a factor of two worse on a twenty-year timescale, but it could be worse than this – the science is not well understood.
The science is not well understood? Then how can WordWeb Software make any of the claims it makes? And who wrote this agreement?

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

If Someone's Love Can Make Us Better ...

The plot for the movie “One Day” intrigued me when I first heard it. Still does.

Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) meet on July 15 – the day of their college graduation, and then reconnect every July 15 for twenty years to talk about where they are in life before finally realizing they should be together.

A few years ago, I went to see the play, “Same Time, Next Year,” (based on the 1978 movie of the same name) and it had the same premise (which a blog called Movie Smackdown explores). It had a fatal plot twist though in my mind since both George and Doris were married and were renewing their affair on the same day every year.

I watched “One Day” over the weekend. Unfortunately, it was a bit disjointed. But it is still the better of the two productions.

One particular scene in the movie stands out. But it’ll take a minute to set up. Stop reading here if you don’t want me to spoil the ending. Okay, you’ve been warned.

Emma is more likable than Dexter. You feel her wandering pains more. And you get the feeling that she’s just going through the motions without Dexter. She takes a job as a waitress and settles for a man (Ian) she doesn’t love.

Dexter has his own demons – all the usual suspects. And the truth is, he doesn’t show Emma the respect she deserves.

At times, it’s hard to understand what Emma sees in him, other than twenty years worth of history. With history comes familiarity though, so I can see why she pines for Dexter. He’s the only one who really knows her.

Finally, they realize they are better together, so they get married. But then, she dies. After Emma’s death, Dexter is lost. He provokes a fight in which he gets beaten severely. And he ends up at his father’s (Steven) place, where they have this conversation.

“So, is this going to be an annual festival, do you think?” Steven says. “Every year, fifteenth of July?

“Well, I hope not.”

“I don’t want a heart-to-heart. Do you?”

“No. No. I’d rather not,” Dexter says.

“Except to say that I think the best thing that you could do would be to try to live your life as if Emma were still here. Don’t you?”

“I don’t know if I can.”

“Of course you can,” Steven says. “What do you think I’ve been doing for the past ten years?” [His wife died of cancer.]

Dexter glances over at his dad who has his face buried in a bowl of soup. He nods a couple of times knowing his dad has found a way to go on.

Later, Ian visits Dexter and he is gracious. He tells Dexter that Emma made Dexter decent while Dexter made her happy. There’s a certain sadness in this admission from Ian. He knew Emma’s heart was never his, but he has moved on and found someone else.

Steven’s wisdom, combined with Ian’s observation, provide clarity.

If someone’s love can make us better, then it has the power to keep making us better ... even beyond the grave. Maybe that’s why reminders of people after they are gone help us heal, transforming our tears to smiles of recognition.

Friday, September 28, 2012

You Don't Really Own Any E-books

When you click the "Buy Now" button,
you aren't really buying an e-book.
I met a friend from church on Wednesday for lunch and I gave him a copy of one of my favorite books. Not long ago, I purchased the e-book version of the same book for my Kindle, so I felt free to pass my hard copy along. But as I drove away after lunch, a couple of questions popped into my mind.

What happens if I just want to give somebody an e-book I purchased? The technology should allow me to transfer an e-book from my Kindle to somebody else’s e-reader. So far, that is not an option. And what happens to my e-books after I die? Is it possible to pass them along to somebody?

I did some research regarding both questions and I didn’t like what I found.

The AARP did a story recently called, appropriately, “What Happens to Your E-books When You Die?” In part, the article says, “What many people don’t realize is that with most digital content, you don’t actually own the content when you buy it. Instead, your purchase simply gives you a license to use the books or music.”

The article references Amazon’s license agreement for the Kindle, which says, in part, “Kindle Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider.” The agreement goes on to explain what that means: “Unless specifically indicated otherwise, you may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense, or otherwise assign any rights to the Kindle Content or any portion of it to any third party.”

Finally, the article connects the dots, saying, “In short, that means Kindle content can’t be resold or left to an heir – it cannot even be given away or donated.”

By the way, this applies to the Nook (see provision number three) as well.

I know this will prompt e-book naysayers to jump in and say, “This is just another reason not to get a Nook or Kindle! Death to the e-book craze!”

First off, calm down.

Secondly, the e-book craze is here. Book publishers know it, retailers know it and authors know it. Avoiding it or pretending it doesn’t exist is naive, at best. If you are an author who submits a book proposal and then lands a contract with a royalty publisher, your book will be released in electronic form.

Thirdly, the goal of an author is to write a book that moves, motivates or informs readers. Who cares what medium they choose to read your words? The point is, they are reading your words.

Enough of that. Now back to the real topic – our current inability to pass along e-books to heirs. The problem isn’t e-books, it’s the licensing agreements. They need to be changed. Take a look at the screen capture above. It comes from a page on Amazon.com for an e-novel I am going to order. Notice that the purchase button says, “Buy now with 1-click.®”

That is completely misleading. If I click on the button, I’m not buying the book. I’m buying a lifetime rental of the book.

I do not accept that.

How about you?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Naming Inanimate Objects

“Gigi told me to tell you she forgives you for setting her down a little roughly last week,” I told a friend in my bowling league last night. “She wanted to text you to tell you that, but she doesn’t have thumbs.”

“Umm Lee, if you are wondering why you are still single …” my friend’s wife said without finishing her thought. It was all in good fun.

I frowned. “What does that mean?”

“It’s just kind of creepy that you name your pen.”

I bring a G-2 pen to bowling each week, and really, everywhere I go because you never know when inspiration is going to strike and you might need to jot down something. I’m a little particular about my Pilot G-2 pens and my friends kid me about it, probably justifiably so.

The Gigi idea is new and it just came to me last week after bowling, thinking that G-2 is like saying the letter “G” twice. So G-2 becomes G-G and that becomes Gigi. Maybe you just had to be there, but I thought it was funny.

“How is naming a pen creepy?” I said. “I think it’s endearing.”

She wasn’t buying it.

I’ve never been one to name my car or other possessions. But a few years ago I bought a GPS and during a trip with a friend, he began calling her Garmina (which is just a take on the Garmin brand name). I liked it, so it stuck.

Once in a while, I’ll tell Garmina that I want to go to Starbucks. She’ll lead me to a building that used to be a Starbucks but is now a Hardees. When Garmina leads me astray like that, I get a little upset with her and her call her out by name. It’s more fun that way.

The used van I bought last year is beginning to have some mechanical problems. As I was thinking about those problems a few days ago, a name for her popped into my head: Samantha.

I don’t know where it came from, but it seemed to suit her. When I looked up the meaning of the name for this post, it made even more sense. According to this website, Samantha is Aramaic and it means “listener.” What car doesn’t know a lot about its owner – from the music we like to the conversations we have?

Yeah, it’s all a bit silly. But it is one of the ways I let my hair down around friends. Does that make me creepy? I hope not. What do you think? Do you name inanimate objects? I’d love to hear a good story from you about names you’ve given your cars or some other possession so I don’t feel like I’m off my rocker.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Nougar, Manscape and Photobomb

Photo: Stickpen
I’ve been out of touch with young people’s culture for a long time. That was never more apparent than when my 15-year-old niece asked me to buy her some air heads and bug juice in 2005. Yes, I blogged about that.

This past week, I learned three new terms – all of which have more to do with my own generation. I’ll try to keep up as long as I’m able. But at some point, I’m guessing I’ll throw my hands up in the air, and wave them around like I just don’t care. [How’s that for dropping a little 1979 culture on you: “Rapper’s Delight“]

Here are the new terms:

Nougar. According to this blog post, here’s the definition: “Typically in her early to mid-30s – about ten years younger than your average cougar – the nougar (which stands for new cougar), refuses to grow up, ‘take dating too seriously and thinks that because she’s still living like a 20-something she might as well go out with one, too.’”

I’ve never been fond of the term “cougar.” Can’t say I’m particularly fond of “nougar” either. Movies are made (“Failure to Launch“) and songs are sung (“Forever and Always“ by Taylor Swift) about men who are “scared little boys” and refuse to grow up, but I don’t think we’ve hung a demeaning label on them yet.

Maybe we should all just grow up, huh?

Manscape. Somehow, the definition of this word has already made it into the Oxford Dictionary: “The removal or trimming of hair on a man’s body for cosmetic purposes.”

I first heard about this when Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan were talking about it earlier this week on TV. Apparently he shaves his chest hair. I’m not going to judge.

I will say this though, I inherited my dad’s inability to grow chest hair. He used to say he had three hairs on his chest and he made sure to keep one hand over them while in the shower to protect them from falling out.

So, other than an occasional ear or nose hair that goes rogue, Warren men do not need to manscape.

Photobomb. The Urban Dictionary defines it this way, “To drop in a photo unexpectedly ... to hop in a picture right before it is taken.”

Here is a website with a bunch of examples. The photo in this post is another. Somebody intended to take a photo of some sort of weird looking green fish and the orange fish got in on the act as well.

If you have 20 minutes to waste spare, then Google “photobombing.” You’ll laugh at most of the pictures and be creeped out by others.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Third Lap

Last week I reached the one-third mark of my 100-mile walking goal from August 7 to the end of the year. The first 33 miles have not come without difficulty.

One overcast day I got up early and my body wasn’t all that thrilled about walking a mile. My back hurt, my hips were sore and I walked with a slight limp since overcast days tend to aggravate my bad leg.

I popped my headphones on, pressed play on my iPod and walked anyway.

The park was empty except one middle-aged man. He was on the softball field, taking practice swings in preparation for an apparent game or practice.

On my second lap, the man had moved to a spot close to the walking track where he was tapping a tree with his softball bat. I had no idea what he was doing. Simulating contact? Steadying his swing? Preparing to attack me?

I was cautious as I passed him. Once I knew I was in the clear, I stopped trying to figure him out. My body was still protesting my decision to walk. I pressed on anyway.

Half way into the third lap, my pace picked up and my arms began to swing a little harder, and mysteriously, the pain in my back, hips and leg were gone. The final lap and a half were easy. I just had to push through the first two and a half laps to get to that point.

A former co-worker once said I spend too much time talking about what needs to be done and not enough time doing it. After considering what she said, I knew she was right (note: I had to spend time thinking about what she said before concluding she was right). But knowing she was right and doing something about it are two different things.

Contemplation is in my nature.

I need information and then I need to process it before I act. I mull over major decisions from every angle. And I like getting feedback from people I know and trust. I talk myself into beginning every new work project – not because I’m lazy, but because I want to do it well, and to do it well, I need to figure out my approach.

But when I finally do push past the point of contemplation to the third lap, I always find a rhythm. I just need to make sure I get there as quickly as possible.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Touching Wounds

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. —Henri Nouwen

Jillian Jensen’s audition on the season premier of the X Factor USA on Wednesday was memorable for so many reasons. She was bullied in middle school and she carried the pain with her as she walked on stage. If you have twelve minutes, here is what happened:

Jensen chose the song “Who You Are” by Jessie J. The lyrics, and the way she delivered them, are haunting when you know her story (more on that in a minute):
I stare at my reflection in the mirror:
“Why am I doing this to myself?”
Losing my mind on a tiny error,
I nearly left the real me on the shelf.
No, no, no, no, no...

Don’t lose who you are in the blur of the stars!
Seeing is deceiving, dreaming is believing,
It’s okay not to be okay.
Sometimes it’s hard to follow your heart.
Tears don’t mean you’re losing, everybody’s bruising,
Just be true to who you are!
I did a little digging to find out the story behind the bullying Jillian endured. I found a website she started called Overcoming Bullying on which she shares her story about her first day in middle school when a classmate tried to sell her drugs and she turned him in. She was no longer known as Jillian. Instead they called her snitch.

She says other rumors, which were not true, spread throughout the school. She began crying herself to sleep every night while attempting to hide her torment from her parents. She was embarrassed and didn’t know what to do. “How I wish that I would’ve had someone like myself to talk to about everything that KNEW exactly how I felt,” she says on her website.

The bullying led to her “hurting herself.” Cutting, probably. Words and music were her only true refuge. But as you watched her X Factor audition, you got the feeling her refuge had not led to healing. It protected her, allowed her to survive and gave her a safe place to create. But she still needed someone to touch her wounds with a warm and tender hand.

The audience did that when they made the heart symbol with their hands and swayed back and forth to her song. Demi Lovato did that when she left her judge’s chair and embraced Jillian onstage. The other judges did that by the compassion they showed her.

And the power of the human touch began its healing work.

“I feel like I can just push away those ... those ... those terrible things and really just go on and do what I want to do, and really be happy and not think about it anymore,” Jillian said after the audition.

Maybe if we stopped trying to offer so much advice, solutions and cures, and instead touched more wounds, as Nouwen suggests, we could see real healing

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

On 9/11 and Filling in the Gaps

Photo: Kenji Ross
The boy, who looked to be about four, tugged on his Chicago Cubs cap and took several practice swings. A man moved in close and tossed him an underhanded pitch. The boy swung and missed.

He missed the next four pitches as well, but did not appear the least bit fazed.

While this appeared to be a competitive game of softball, showcasing talents of people of all ages, exceptions were made for little ones – no strikeouts allowed.

On the sixth pitch, the boy made contact – a dribbler toward the shortstop.

The girl who was playing short, who looked to be maybe 13, was thin as a rail, but she has the arm of Derek Jeter. She threw out grown men on several occasions. So, the play looked to be routine for her.

All of this took place as I walked around the park and I was screened from the play, so I didn’t see what happened next, but the girl with the cannon arm didn’t field the ball cleanly or the ball found a hole. Either way, the boy slid headfirst toward the first base bag, barely beating the throw.

People cheered from the stands as the cloud of dirt settled. The boy stood up, tugged on his cap again, and got ready to advance to second as the next better stepped into the box.

I’m just guessing, but I got the feeling that this was a church group out enjoying a Sunday afternoon at a local park. People of all ages, races, shapes and sizes played. It was beautiful to see. There was something so innocent about it. And then it struck me.

The little boy has no recollection of the events of September 11, 2001. He wasn’t even born yet. And the girl with the cannon arm would have just been two. So, she probably doesn’t have any recollection either. That’s good and bad at the same time.

When they reach an appropriate age though, the people around them will need to fill in the gaps about what happened that day. Otherwise, the events that changed our country will not seem real to them.

My grandmother used to keep a photo of her husband on a stand by her front door. He died 17 years before she did, but she always kept his memory front and center. One of my nieces was born five years after my grandfather died, but she will tell you that she feels like she knew him. The pictures and the stories we shared made her feel that way.

Filling in the gaps for the generation behind us our is responsibility. If we don’t do it, the stories, dreams, beliefs, struggles and triumphs of all the previous generations will die with us.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Dance in the Moment

Sometimes you just have to pull away from
everything so you can dance in the moment.
Photo: Aunt Owwee
I flipped through the radio dial on a road trip a few years ago and stopped when I heard “Hotel California,” by the Eagles. I’m not a huge Eagles fan, but one particular line from this song has always intrigued me. I listened for it that day.

Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends / She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys she calls friends / How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat / Some dance to remember, some dance to forget

Some dance to remember, some dance to forget.

That line brings back memories of high school dances gone by. In those days, I danced to forget that I was an overweight shy teenager who had little confidence that I could ever attract a member of the opposite sex. Even when I did, I always had the feeling I wouldn’t be able to keep her. But there I was, dancing to a Billy Squier tune in a Catholic high school gymnasium with my girlfriend.

When we get older, we dance (both physically and figuratively) to remember those high school dances, or some other period in our lives when things seemed simpler – better somehow.

We take photos to remember. We listen to music to remember. We journal and write and blog to remember. We read to remember. We celebrate to remember. We drink to remember. We gather with friends at backyard barbeques to remember. We upload photos to Facebook to remember.

Of course, there are times in which we also do those things to forget. I certainly do both, depending on the mood I’m in.

But we shouldn’t forget to dance in the moment.

In the movie Elizabethtown, Claire sends Drew on a 42 hour and 11 minute road trip by himself to deal with his self doubt. She provides him with a scrapbook that includes a map, some photos, and a set of pre-recorded CDs with songs about her and instructions about where to go and what to see. As Drew escapes the pressures he is facing, he begins to relax, and that allows him to get beyond himself and his concerns. 

He talks to a man who has owned a sundry store in Memphis for 38 years. He stops for a bowl of the world’s best chili. He visits national landmarks. He gazes at the stars. And when he is tempted to get drawn back into the cycle of dancing to remember or dancing to forget, Clare makes this statement on one of the CDs, “Sadness is easier because its surrender. I say make time to dance alone with one hand waving free.”

Drew pulls off the road, finds an empty path among some trees and he heeds her advice. He dances alone with one hand waving free. And for those brief moments, he finally seems to understand what it means to dance in the moment – no trying to remember or forget, just a state of being.

There is power in that.


For the record, I know that Mercedes Benz is spelled with a Z, but every lyrics website I visited spelled it the way you see above.

Oh, and if you missed the series of posts I did about Elizabethtown a few years ago, here are the links:

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Why Going Positive is Inspiring

Don't tell me how bad the other guy's
mountain is ... inspire me to reach
new heights on your mountain.
Photo: Cristian Bortes
Most of us say we are tired of political candidates who go negative. We say we would rather hear about what they want to do, not what they say their opponents want to do. “Give us substance,” we say. “Give us a reason to vote for you rather than against somebody else.”

I’m in that camp.

But why stop with politicians? Aren’t they just doing what so many businesses do?

Here in Omaha, Cox Communications routinely runs a commercial that shows a family with DirecTV attempting to watch television, but are unable to do so because of a storm. The ad shows a fuzzy screen and a frustrated family, and it ends with this voice over: Really? Satellite TV? In Nebraska? [Our weather is all over the place.]

And conversely, DirecTV runs commercials showing depressed men who won’t be able to watch their favorite football teams because they have cable. But if they had DirecTV, and $200.00 for the NFL Sunday Ticket, then all of their football watching dreams would come true.

Wendy’s is running a commercial in which Wendy Thomas is touting the “Wendy’s Way,” saying, in part, “Some places use beef that travels halfway around the world. Frozen. On a cargo ship. Not Wendy’s.”

A commercial for Advil PM starts with a man saying, “I’m doing my own sleep study. Advil PM or Tylenol PM?” The commercial shows two men in a room – each covered in a blanket with the names of the respective medications. “The Advil PM guy is spending less time lying awake with annoying aches and pains, and more time asleep,” continues the man who is supposedly doing a sleep study. The actor under the Tylenol PM blanket grabs his shoulder and rubs it while the Advil PM actor is crashed.

Contrast those commercials with this one from Brawny:

I’m not inspired by Cox’s running down of DirecTV (even though their negativity is true – storms do disrupt my DirecTV service) or vice versa. I’m also not going to rush out to buy a burger from Wendy’s or a package of Advil PM based on their commercials. All of these ads are self-serving, at best. But the next time I’m at the store, there’s a good chance I’ll buy Brawny paper towels.

Friday, August 31, 2012

#69 Thunderstorms

Gavins Point Dam on a day that looks eerily
similar to the one described in this post.
Photo: U.S. Army Corp of Engineers
Continuing with the 100 life-enriching little nuances series …

We both thought it would be best if Jim drove the little fishing boat, although, neither of us was the most experienced. Okay, I had no experience since I was a young boy sitting on my grandpa’s lap on a lake in Minnesota. That probably doesn’t count.

The boat puttered painfully slow – no more than five miles per hour. As we went across the choppy waves at Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota, the boat we rented would rock back and forth. Jim, one my best buddies from high school, was in total control though. A cigarette hung from his mouth as he steered the boat with one hand while straddling the back seat so he could see where we were going.

We traveled several miles up the shoreline, found what appeared to be an ideal place to fish and dropped our lines in.

Neither of us are great fishermen, but that didn’t matter. We were there for a weekend of fun and fishing. No tents for us either. We stayed in a hotel. And we certainly were not dependent on what we caught for dinner. Thankfully.

As is typically the case for me when I go fishing with friends, we had our share of bites as the morning wore on, but no success in landing the big one.

Me (left) and Jim (right) on the night before he
shipped off to Iraq for a year-long tour of duty in 2007.
A huge storm front was moving in and appeared to be nearing the dock where we rented the boat. Fishing is supposed to be better in the rain – at least that’s what real fishermen say, right? What’s a little water among friends? We decided to keep fishing.

A few minutes later, the waves began to get more violent. Our choices didn’t thrill me. We could do nothing and try to wait out the storm. We could pull to the shore, out in the middle of the boonies, and try to wait out the storm, but there was nowhere to take cover. Or we could try to putter our way back to the dock, driving straight through the storm.

Keep in mind that The Perfect Storm had not yet been released. If it had been, we may have chosen one of the other two options.

No matter which option we took, we were going to get soaked. So, we pulled in our lines and headed for the dock in the slowest boat in the history of the world. I wasn’t even sure if the motor could navigate the increasingly choppy waves.

Rain began to fall shortly after we headed for the dock – which we couldn’t even see yet. Then the heavens opened up and I was expecting to see Noah’s Ark come floating by. Thunder rumbled overhead. This could get interesting.

The rain stung our faces as the boat fought against the waves. A third of the way into our trek, a much larger boat with official lettering on it sped by us in the opposite direction, and one of the men on board pointed us back toward the dock.

Yeah, we figured that one out already buddy. You want to give us a hand?

They must have had more confidence than we did in the boat because they kept going.

As the dock came into view, Jim and I laughed – partially out of relief and partially out of the silliness of the situation. Our clothes were stuck to our bodies. All of our possessions were drenched. And we both knew that if you added up our experience with boating on such a big body of water, especially in conditions like this, it would still equal nothing.

We made it back safely, pretending like it was no big deal, but happier than ever to see wet land. We drove back into town and had a nice meal, talking about the storm the entire time and knowing this would be a story for the ages.

And even though this happened a good twenty years ago, it really was one for the ages. But the funny thing is, I still love a good thunderstorm.


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