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.

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.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hoping Lightning Strikes Twice

Photo: momovieman
John Elway had “the drive.” Jimmy Connors had “the play.”

Some call it the best point in tennis history.

The 39-year-old, 174th ranked Jimmy Connors was doing the unthinkable – making a run to the quarterfinals of the 1991 U.S. Open tennis tournament where he was matched up against Paul Haarhuis. Tennis fans were on the edge of going berserk and Connors was about to send them there.

After returning three Haarhuis overheads with defensive lobs during one particular point, Connors gained control of the point, ripping a forehand cross court. Haarhuis hit a decent slice that went deep to Jimmy’s backhand side. Connors approached the ball with reckless abandon and ripped the ball down the line for a winner.

He pumped his fists at the standing crowd and they went crazy – clapping, laughing, and some even pumped their fists in return. [Here’s a video of the point. Even if you are not a tennis fan, watch it. You’ll get caught up in the moment.]

It was everything a great sports moment is supposed to be – thrilling, electric, joyful, exciting, and a dozen other adjectives. But it also shines as one of the greatest points of the open era, because, for one point, athlete and fan were one. Connors gave us exactly what we wanted.

He never gave up on the point (or in any point for that matter) even though his 39-year-old legs probably wanted to, and by going all-out he honored the game.

Connors won that match. His miraculous run ended in the semifinals at the hands of a young Jim Courier, but twenty-one years later, that point against Haarhuis is still shown on U.S. Open preview shows and during rain delays every year at this time. It’s held up as the standard for the way the game ought to be played.

Since that moment in 1991, the tournament has had many thrilling moments.

From Todd Martin’s big-eyed crazy look after winning incredible points, to Pete Sampras puking his guts out at the back of the court and still finding a way to win, the tournament still delivers.

And who can forget Andre Agassi’s defeat of James Blake, 7-6 in the fifth in the 2005 quarterfinals in a match that became an instant classic? Or, Agassi, with an ailing back, defeating Marcos Baghdatis in five thrilling sets in the second round in 2006 in what turned out to be his final win at a major?

But a moment like the one Connors and Haarhuis had is one of the reasons fans tune into the tournament every year. We are hoping lightning strikes twice. We want to cheer for another player the way we cheered for Connors. We want to put our hands in the air, scream with delight, and lose control for a minute.

It makes all the other restrained moments of life worth it.


Can you tell that the 2012 U.S. Open started yesterday and that I was camped in front of my TV?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Schedule Changes and Comments

Little Nuances turns seven next week.

So much has changed in the blogosphere since 2005. I went from hearing, “What is a blog?” to “How many blogs should a writer maintain?” during that span of time.

Frequency of posting has changed in the blogosphere. Posting every day used to be the norm and it still is for blogs that deal with current events. But more and more, bloggers are choosing to post once or twice a week on scheduled days (much like a newspaper columnist) and it seems to work quite well. It gives the blogger a chance to offer only his or her best material and that in turn is a win for readers.

Starting next week, I’m going to begin posting here on Tuesdays and Fridays. That doesn’t mean I won’t pop in once in a while with a surprise post, but two posts a week seems like enough.

Too much of a good thing is still too much. And too much of a bad thing is annoying.

Little Nuances has a small but faithful audience and I’m thankful for every single one of you. I know many of you were not in the habit of reading blogs until you encountered this one. Some of you still only read Little Nuances. Thank you so much for doing so.

If I could be so bold as to ask you a favor, I would ask that if you see a post you like here, click on the comments section at the bottom of the post and let me know. If you have more to add on the subject, like a great quote or valuable insight, please leave it in the comments. And if the content makes you think or if it reminds you of a good story from your own life, I would love to hear about it in the comments section.

Blogs live and die by comments. I’ve known bloggers who gave up because their blogs didn’t receive comments. When nobody is commenting, the assumption by the blogger is that the content is not resonating with anybody. I certainly make that assumption.

Even if you’ve never left a comment on a blog before, give it a try. If you need help, I’ll be glad to walk you through the process. Just send me an email.

And if you are an email subscriber who tends to read posts in your email inbox rather than on the blog, I would appreciate it if you would click the title of the post in the email and read them here, unless, of course, you are reading on a smartphone or a tablet. Clicking through to the blog will give you the chance to comment, to join in the community of other commentors and to see what else might be going on here.

You may have noticed a couple of recent cosmetic changes. I changed the tagline to, “Pop culture through the eyes of a 40-something.” I believe it better captures what this blog is about than the previous tagline. I’ve also added a “Featured Posts” section on the sidebar. These are posts you might have missed from the past.

Thanks for sticking with me.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Find a Mitch

Sometimes dreams die of natural causes.

The 30-year-old minor league baseball player has a sudden realization that he’s never going to get the call to the big leagues, so he finds a job as a scout or a coach, or he joins the business world. 

The singer who gained a local following, but was passed over by every record label understands deep in her gut that her big break is never going to happen – with her finances dwindling and her opportunities drying up, she finds a way to stay in the industry by teaching or in some other way.

The man who opened his own auto repair shop during a down economy finds financial stability early on since people tend to hold on to their cars longer when money is tight and therefore need to have them repaired more often. But when the economy improves and they trade them in for new ones, his business takes a huge hit and he has to close his doors.

Sometimes we kill our own dreams.

I’m reading a novel called Unconventional by J.J. Hebert. It’s about a writer named James Frost who spends his free time working on his novel and the rest of his time as a janitor in a school. He battles the notion that he is not good enough to be published. Nearly everybody around him tells him so. His dad is doubtful too, but his doubt is rooted in his own regret. Early in the novel, James notes this about his dad:
He was a talented baseball player, an all-star in each league in which he participated. He could have gone somewhere with baseball, maybe the big leagues, but he quit. He withdrew because he didn’t believe he was good enough. Every time he watches baseball, I see pain etched in his face, the anguish of an abandoned dream. He’ll never get his prime baseball-playing years back. One can’t reverse time.
James’ dad found it easier to walk away than to find out he really wasn’t good enough.

Understanding the difference between a dream that is on the verge of dying of natural causes versus a dream that somebody is about to abandon prematurely can be tricky.

Be careful who you talk to about your dreams.

Some people just aren’t risk takers, so they impose their mindset on people who are willing to take a risk to chase a dream, but their doubtful tone causes more damage than they realize.

Some people failed in pursuit of their dream because they just didn’t have the talent or finances and they are bitter to the point of not wanting anybody else to succeed.

And some people just abandoned their dream prematurely rather than hearing they are not good enough and they think you should too.

If your dream has died of natural causes, take some time to mourn and then find a way to morph your old dream into a new one. But if you are on the verge of killing your dream, you need to find a Mitch.

Mitch is a friend of James. He invents sporting equipment and sees his profession as similar to what James does as a writer. Here’s a conversation Mitch has with James in a restaurant:
“Being different all the time,” James says. “It’s like an automatic strike against me. I feel so alone sometimes.”

He nods, understanding. “The greatest and most inspiring achievements are not produced by those who conform to society’s idea of normal, but by those who courageously adopt the unconventional.”
If you can’t find a Mitch, become a Mitch. It may come full circle.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Remembering Phyllis Diller

Photo: Public domain
Phyllis Diller always reminded me of the woman in the neighborhood who never changed out of her nightgown but still roamed around in her yard, talking to passersby as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Every neighborhood has one.

It’s beautiful to live that way.

When I heard that Diller passed away yesterday, at the age of 95, four memories of her came flooding back – her crazy hair, her unique laugh, her self-deprecating humor, and that long cigarette holder she waved around during her routines.

As a boy, my mom took my sister and me to my grandma’s on Saturdays. All of us headed to Kmart where I ended up with a cherry Icee with one of those famous bubble top lids, or a milk carton full of chocolate malted milk balls. Saturdays were glorious as a result.

After the shopping was complete, we went back to grandma’s where she would cook a meal (the best pot roast in history, potatoes and green beans) before we settled in to watch the Carol Burnett Show and other variety shows.

I was too young to remember any of the bits specifically, but I do remember Burnett’s signature ear tug, Tim Conway’s portrayal of a character named Dorf, Flip Wilson dressing up like a woman, and Diller making fun of herself as she appeared on these various shows. Of course, that was the same era in which Johnny Carson was the master of late night television.

It was a golden era of comedy and it became part of who we were as a culture.

If I got out of bed with crazy hair and failed to comb it, Mom was sure to say something like, “You have Phyllis Diller hair.” If somebody did something wrong, he or she would invoke Flip Wilson theology and say, “The devil made me do it!” Conway’s “Dorf on Golf” became a video that was a connecting point between my dad and me.

We can never go back, and that is probably not a bad thing. Oh, it would be nice to experience good, relatively clean humor like the old guard used to produce. But we have Bill Cosby, Jeff Foxworthy, Mark Lowry and others. The thing is, a good comedian knows herself and the culture she lives well enough to find humor in the mundane of that era, so every generation needs to produce new comedians.

Every generation needs a Phyllis Diller, a Johnny Carson, a Bob Hope, a Lucille Ball, a Tim Conway, a Flip Wilson or a Carol Burnett. We were just fortunate enough to have all of them at the same time.


I’ve been combing through YouTube videos this morning looking for some gems of Diller in action. This seems like a perfect one to share with you – it’s from the Ed Sullivan Show in October, 1969:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Shooting 100 While Avoiding the ER

From left to right: Shawn, Bob and me
I had one goal on Saturday – avoid the ER.

A friend, Shawn, was driving in from central Nebraska to spend the day with a group of friends I’ve had since high school. We pulled up to the golf course close to noon and the rain began to fall. Maybe I was going to be saved by the bell.

I had not golfed in five years. 

The thing is, I tend to pull muscles rather easily and I could imagine myself taking a mighty rip at the ball on the first tee and going down in a heap.

As a kid, a friend and I once dueled with toy lightsabers. I ducked out of the way and something happened to my neck – the pain was so bad my friend’s mom had to call an ambulance. They put me in a neck brace and I had to wear it for several weeks.

I once pulled a muscle playing Wii tennis.

I even pulled a muscle sneezing one time.

So on Saturday, it wasn’t too farfetched to think I could end up in the ER before the end of the day. My goal wasn’t to shoot under 80. Or to beat my friends. Or even to make perfect contact with the ball at least once. I just wanted to avoid the ER.

The rain continued when we teed up on hole No. 1. I took out a five-iron on the 253-yard hole – not because I thought I could hit one that far, but because the smaller first cut would allow me to get back into the swing of things and hitting a five iron would allow me avoid the parking lot on the left since I tend to slice heavily with my woods and therefore have to aim directly at the cars.

I lined up, wiggled my club as I addressed the ball (because that’s what golfers do), and took a swing. The ball went relatively straight and it went further than I would have imagined.

Nothing to it.

My second shot – a pitching wedge – went way over the green and hit a fence. That felt more familiar. My third shot landed on the green and rolled off. Oh yeah, I have a terrible short game – it was all coming back to me now. I don’t remember what I shot on that hole, but I figured it couldn’t get any worse when I teed up on the 141-yard, No. 2 hole.

I hit a six iron into the forest behind the green. My next shot went over the green. Noticing a pattern yet? My next shot missed the green again. I was on in four, and then disaster struck. I six putted and took a ten on a par three.

Right on cue, the heavens opened up and poured on us.

“We’re making a great memory,” I told Shawn. He didn’t seem all that convinced.

Shawn played well the rest of the round. Bob, who is so good that he will probably earn his PGA certification soon, played well too – given the conditions. Another friend, John, rode along with us, but he didn’t play because he has a bad shoulder. We’re all in our mid-to-late forties and our age is showing.

After we finished nine, we made the turn and played again.

Why not?

I improved the second time around. Of course, better is relative. I ended up shooting 100 for 18 holes. But it was a blast anyway. The rain kept most people away, so we had the course to ourselves on the back nine. That allowed us to stop and snap some photos. And we just took our time.

I met my goal – no ER for me. About an hour after we finished, my back got so stiff I could barely move but by the end of the night, I felt pretty good.

And I wasn’t even sore on Sunday.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Paying the Price to Eat Healthy

Photo: catsper
“I’ll take the Texas BBQ brisket sandwich from your lunch menu, and can I get a salad instead of fries for the side?” I asked, attempting to squelch my growing irritation over supermarkets and restaurants that charge more money to eat healthy than to eat fried, fatty foods.

“It’ll cost extra, but yeah, you can do that.”

And there it is again – it costs more to eat lettuce, a little cheese and salad dressing rather than a mound of French fries. Why is that?

Turns out that it cost quite a bit extra. The brisket with fries would have cost $6.99. The brisket minus the fries with a salad was $9.85. Throw in $2.40 for a beverage and it’s more than $12.00 for something I ordered off the lunch menu, which is supposed to offer specials.

Fast forward a few hours and I’m in Walmart to do some major grocery shopping. Lean Cuisine meals are nearly three dollars. I look across the aisle and see Banquet meals for less than a dollar. Sugar free ice cream is nearly four dollars. The Walmart brand is less than two. Lean hamburger is eighty cents more per pound than fatty hamburger. Low-fat cheese is more expensive than regular cheese. Wheat tortillas are more expensive than flour tortillas.

On and on it goes.

I visit the diabetic section in the pharmacy to see how much Glucose control drinks cost – a six pack costs nearly $10.00. I could easily pick up a six pack of a sugary drinks for a fourth of that price. Snack bars in this section are way overpriced too. I make a mental note to avoid this section in the future.

Healthy foods, especially those that are packaged, are more expensive to manufacture because, presumably, there isn’t as much volume so sales are lower. More research goes into creating those products as well and they need to recoup the costs. I understand all of that. But the idea of paying more – much more in some cases – for food that is healthy, rather than food that is full of sugar, salt and all sorts of preservatives is ... well, irritating.

I need to get past the irritation.

I’d rather pay an extra $30.00 per week in groceries and be healthy than the alternative. But I would love it if a restaurant or two would cut me a break and substitute a salad for fries without charging me extra.

Would love to hear your thoughts and stories about the cost of eating healthier.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

#70 Jokes

Laughter leads to a joyful heart, and a
joyful heart is medicine for the soul
Photo: kidsire
Continuing with the 100 life-enriching little nuances series …

What do you call a deer with no eyes?

No-eye deer (as in “I have no idear”).

You sort of need to shrug your shoulders and tilt your head sideways when you give the punch line for the other person to get the joke, but once it sinks it, most people laugh hysterically.

I told it to one of my sisters years ago and she texted it to her boyfriend, who, I’m told, nearly lost it during the middle of a business meeting when he read the text.

That’s the magic of a good joke.

A few days ago, I had this exchange of text messages with a friend:
Friend: Hulk Hogan turns 59 today. What you gonna do when hulkamania runs wild on you?

Me: I am gonna rip off my shirt, body slam him and then give him the ole’ leg drop for the 1-2-3! Or, I will just stay inside and enjoy the AC. Haven’t decided yet.

Friend: Early results in the polling I have conducted has AC in the lead.
It was my turn to laugh.

Not long after that, I saw something that was so funny I had to put it on Facebook: “Not a good sign when you pull up to an ATM & the person in front of you is standing next to her car, smacking herself in the forehead.

One of my cousins, who lives in Florida, saw it and said, “LOL! I’ve had a rough day at work, and I work for a credit union, but regardless this is just a perfect picture in my mind! Thanks for the laugh!!

I don’t have a great sense of humor, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to develop it. Laughter eases tension and it can make a bad day seem like not such a bad day. And it can make a mediocre bad day seem like a good day.

Memorize a joke or two and use it as salve on somebody who is hurting. You might not have all the answers he or she needs, but your joke might lead to laughter, and laughter leads to a joyful heart, and a joyful heart is medicine for the soul.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Birthday Reflections

My niece doesn't have to look all that
hard anymore to find my gray hair
“There’s one. There’s one. There’s one. There’s one. There’s one.” On and on it would go as my oldest niece, who was probably eight years old at the time, pointed out my growing number of gray hairs.

“I only have two or three – you’re just making that up.”

And she would start counting all over again.

I miss those days.

Now I have hundreds of gray hairs. I even have gray whiskers.

I turned 46 yesterday. That’s 14 years from 60 and 24 years from 70.

Life is short, isn’t it?

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is to read between the lines. People aren’t always direct. In fact, we are rarely direct with one another. That’s probably a good thing in most cases.

Over the past few days, this blog has lost a couple of subscribers and nobody has left a single comment regarding my walking posts. I’m not lamenting either fact. In fact, I’m reading between the lines that you aren’t all that interested in hearing about the music I’m listening to on my daily walks. So, I’ll stop with those posts. But if I see something interesting along the way, I’ll be sure to blog about it.

Something else I have learned is to be prepared. I recently visited the bank to review my safety deposit box. I pulled out my life insurance policy, property deeds, birth and death certificates of family members, and various other paperwork to review it. That led to me updating my records and then putting them back into the safety deposit box.

Finally, I’ve learned that I need to operate somewhere between the stone age and the most current technology available. I tried to move away from my Moleskine notebook this summer, using an app on my phone to take its place to keep track of my life. It just didn’t work. If I can’t see everything all at once, I can’t process it. So, I’m back to carrying around a Moleskine and my smartphone. It might look ridiculous, but that’s okay with me.

I am getting old after all.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

100 Miles of Music: Mile 9.58

My blood sugar has dropped more than 200 points
since changing meds and re-starting a walking routine
Photo: Michael David Pedersen
So far, so good.

The combination of walking and prescription medicine is doing the trick. My blood sugar is dropping into a range my doctor will be happy about. Yesterday afternoon it was 128. I feel better physically and find myself looking forward to walking each evening.

I didn’t have a lot of time on Sunday evening, but I still took a short walk – just over a mile.

Here are the tunes that played randomly on my iPod:

Just for You by Lionel Richie. Love this song. It’s not one of his early hits, but it’s a good one nonetheless.

Let Me Go by Scott Stapp. A depressing tune that declares, “We are lost and all our hope is gone.” All of us feel lost sometimes, but we always have hope.

More Love More Power by Various Artists. I think this was originally a Michael W. Smith song that is a strong contrast to the previous song. This one leans on the source of all hope and asks for more of Him.

Nobody’s Fool by Cinderella. Always loved this song, but it is yet another breakup tune.

The Best of Times by Styx. A sappy love song. Have I mentioned that I like sappiness?


I returned to the walking track on Monday night and a rather odd mix of songs popped up.

Spark by Over the Rhine. This particular line always pierces me, “You either lose your fear or spend your life with one foot in the grave. Is God the last romantic?” I wrote more about this song here.

Headed for a Heartbreak by Winger. Another breakup song. Wow.

Baggage Claim by Miranda Lambert. A sassy little pick me up. I like it.

Twisted Angel by LeAnn Rimes. A song about consequences. There are always consequences to bad decisions.

Damn by LeAnn Rimes. This song has always been a curious one for me. It’s about a woman who hates how well a man knows her. Maybe she hates feeling so vulnerable. To me, that’s what love is all about – secure vulnerability.

Cryin’ in My Sleep by Zurich. Some 25 years ago, I used to go see the band play live quite often. This song was always my favorite from the one album they released (to the best of my knowledge). I was stunned to see that they made a video for this song and that is available on YouTube.

I Don’t Wanna Waste Your Time by Over the Rhine. Wrote a post about this song a few years ago. I love this line, “I’ve got a different scar for every song, and blood left still to bleed. But I don’t wanna waste your time, with music you don’t need.” We all have different scars for every story we have to tell, and we’re all looking for someone who really wants to stick around and listen to us bleed. Bleeding leads to healing. But we don’t want to waste someone’s time with stories they don’t need.

Distance walked: 1.21 miles and 1.60 miles
Total distance since August 7: 9.58 miles
Goal = 100 miles by December 31

Monday, August 13, 2012

100 Miles of Music: Mile 6.77

The softball diamond has two first bases,
which probably helps to prevent injuries --
great idea!

A group of men my age, or older, swung for the imaginary fences on the softball diamond. The walking track surrounds the park, with the softball field tucked inside the track’s western boundary, which means the track itself is located about where a left field wall would be.

Everything in me wanted to grab a bat and give it a try.

But I also couldn’t help but wonder how many of these guys were going to wake up on Sunday morning with sore sides and back muscles, or worse.

I know about worse.

In 1997 I played on a softball team for my church. I normally played second base, but one day the coach wanted me to play first base. When the shortstop fielded a ground ball and came up firing in my direction, I could see that it was going to be over my head. I jumped to try to catch it, was unable to do so, and somewhere along the way I felt something snap inside my right leg.

I ruptured my Achilles tendon.

To make a long story short, after surgery I developed a blood clot which turned into a pulmonary embolism and that landed me in the hospital. After surviving that, I began the difficult road of physical rehabilitation. I worked hard and regained the use of my right leg, but it still isn’t right. It swells and my flexibility is limited.

That is frustrating for somebody who loves to play sports. I’ve haven’t played softball since that day in ‘97, but I would sure love to – especially when I see guys who are older than I am who are still playing.

As I walked around the park, these songs on my iPod seemed selected for just this occasion, even though they played randomly:

Jesus Name Above All Names by Various Artists. Nothing like hearing these words to bring perspective: “Lord, You are more beautiful than diamonds. And nothing I desire compares with you.”

Never Been to Spain by Elvis Presley. I used to listen to this as a boy on my record player. Always loved cranking up my “Elvis as Recorded Live at Madison Square Garden” LP.

Jump Then Fall by Taylor Swift. This isn’t even funny. Yes I jumped and yes I fell, but you don’t have to rub it in.

Forever & Always by Taylor Swift. My softball incident happened on a Tuesday. The opening lines of this song are, “Once upon a time, I believe it was a Tuesday ...” Hmm.

Whenever We Wanted by John Mellencamp. Hard to believe that this tune is 22 years old. This album, also titled “Whenever We Wanted” is one of Mellencamp’s most underrated.

What a Man’s Gotta Do by Living Proof. An original from a local band that played bluesy rock in the Melissa Etheridge vein. I bought their cassette at least twenty years ago and converted the songs to MP3 a few years back. Nice to see this one pop into the rotation.

Suddenly by LeAnn Rimes. I sang along with the chorus, “Suddenly you’re in this fight alone. Steppin’ out into the great unknown.” I sort of feel that way about walking and trying to get my blood sugar down – which by the way, seems to be working quite well. I’ve had numerous readings within the target range my doctor set since I started this routine.

Something to Believe In by Poison. Who doesn’t love a good power ballad from the ‘80s? Well, technically this is from 1990, but it’s close enough.

Distance walked: 1.60 miles
Total distance since August 7: 6.77 miles
Goal = 100 miles by December 31

Sunday, August 12, 2012

100 Miles of Music: Mile 5.33

A picture of the trash / check stub/ check,
which has been doctored to remove the
account number
It looked like a piece of trash on my first lap.

It looked like a check stub on my second lap.

It looked like a check on my third lap.

I picked it up on my fourth lap and discovered it was a $200.00 check a woman named Kim wrote to a local vendor. The vendor cashed it and I’m guessing the bank returned the check to her. Apparently, after she disposed of it, either a dog got into her trash or someone stole it out of her trash can.

Should I put it in an envelope and mail it back to her with a brief note about where I found it or should I destroy it? If I send it back, she might be freaked out and accuse me of stealing it. If I destroy it, she might never know about the possible risk the check posed while lying in the park about a foot away from the walking track.

I decided to return the check to her. We’ll see what happens.

You never know what you are going to see when you walk. You also never know which songs are going to show up when you hit shuffle on your iPod while you are taking the walk.

Here’s the list of songs that showed up on mine Friday:

Never Grow Up by Taylor Swift. I like Taylor Swift. Don’t judge me.

When Am I Gonna Get Over You by LeAnn Rimes. I had no idea how many breakup songs I had on my iPod until I began this series.

I Don’t Want to Wait by Paula Cole. A song about seizing the moment. This one needs to stay in my rotation.

Fire and Rain by Badlands. Six years ago I wrote a paragraph about Badlands performing this old James Taylor cover live that I’ll repeat here. Read the entire post for the context:
The hair on the back of my neck stood on end as [Ray] Gillen sang the following lyrics with more passion than I’ve heard before or since from any performer, “Won’t look down upon me Jesus, You’ve got to help me make a stand. I just can’t make it through another day...” Standing in the middle of a bar, listening to a band most Christians have never heard of, I felt closer to God than I’d ever felt before.
Since I wrote that post, someone uploaded this video of Badlands performing this song in 1990. The sound isn’t great, but seeing it still made the hair on the back of my neck stand up:

Blessed be the Lord God Almighty by Various Artists. As I said in a previous post, you really need to be outside to fully experience a worship song.

Five Feet High and Rising by Johnny Cash. A beautiful song about God using adversity in our lives. You know that standard Johnny Cash guitar riff? It provides a perfect rhythm for walking. Give it a try. 

I Love You This Big by Scotty McCreery. Not my favorite song on his debut album, but it was his first single – the one that got him going. So, it’s fitting to be listening to it at the beginning of my 100 mile walking goal.

The Story of Us by Taylor Swift. I like Taylor Swift. Don’t judge me.

Distance walked: 1.44 miles
Total distance since August 7: 5.33 miles
Goal = 100 miles by December 31

Saturday, August 11, 2012

100 Miles of Music: Mile 3.73

If you think kids are so involved in their gadgets that they aren’t willing to chase a ball around a park like we used to, then you might want to check out Churchich Park in Omaha.

Thursday night the temperature dropped enough to take a walk in the park and there were probably 20 to 30 kids playing soccer, 15 or so on the playground, a dozen playing tennis, 10 on the basketball court, five or six playing volleyball and several practicing softball.

These kids were much more prepared than we were when we used to spend all afternoon in the park as kids.

The soccer players had orange cones to mark the goals. When we played football in the park, we usually used a couple of shirts. The softball players had a dozen softballs, so they spent more time practicing than chasing errant softballs. And nearly every group had a cooler with water inside. We used to drink out of garden hoses at a nearby friend’s house.

As I made laps, I just had to be mindful of all the activity so I could avoid being drilled in the side of the head by a ball. But that’s a good problem to have. While I prefer walking in empty malls, I would much rather walk in a full park. 

I pushed play on my iPod, and here are the random songs that came out:

All Your Life by The Band Perry. Last year about this time I declared it as my new favorite song. It’s still right up there.

Won’t be Lonely Long by LeAnn Rimes. The anti-lonely song. That’s a relief compared to the songs that randomly came up during my last walk.

Jackson by Johnny and June Carter Cash. Have you ever visited songmeanings.net? It’s a fascinating website because passionate fans gather to debate the meaning of their favorite songs. One person said this about Jackson, “It’s about a married couple whose passions may have waned a bit (fire went out) and the man is forever talking of going to the bright lights of Jackson (TN? Famed at the time for its entertainment offerings and as the home of Casey Jones, then the subject of a popular song).”

It is Well by Rebecca St. James. A modernized version of the Horatio Spafford classic hymn. As I rounded a corner on the walking track and came out from under a few trees, St. James sang these words, “And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll; The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, even so, it is well with my soul.” You need to be outside to fully appreciate these lyrics.

The Trouble with Girls by Scotty McCreery. Didn’t really have a lot of relevance to my walk, but a couple of thoughts did come to mind about 18-year-old McCreery singing, “Spent my whole life trying to figure out, just what them girls are all about.” First, this song is too old for him – I have CDs that are older than his “whole life.” Second, I’m not sure any man has figured out women.

Streets Cry Freedom by Badlands. One of my all-time favorite bands, whom I’ve written about in the past. I especially like these lines, “There is no reason, for livin’ in sin. I don’t believe when they say hey boy, you better give in. You know I’ll fight for what I know, till the day that I die. Cause I'm better off dead, then buried along with my pride.”

Little Things by Shannon Curfman. It’s not my favorite song by her, but the title is fitting for this blog.

Distance walked: 1.49 miles
Total distance since August 7: 3.73 miles
Goal = 100 miles by December 31

Friday, August 10, 2012

#71 Routines

A routine double play is only routine
because the shortstop and second
baseman have been turning them for
so long that they look routine
Photo: U.S. Navy by Ensign Caleb White
Continuing with the 100 life-enriching little nuances series …
Last Saturday was a nearly perfect day.

I slept in, which felt nice.

After showering, I spent some time reading Psalms 142-144, focusing on these two verses: “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands” (Psalm 143:5) and “Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift my soul” (Psalm 143:8).

It was a good combination of looking back at what God has done in my life while also trusting him as I move forward.

The heat wave finally subsided so I was able to take a walk outside, which reminded me how much I missed walking and that, coupled with a blood sugar that has been too high, sparked a renewed interest in a walking routine again – even if that means walking indoors due to the high temperatures. I have since set a goal to walk 100 miles before the end of the year and I’ve invited others to join me. So far, four others have.

As I walked, a couple played tennis in the park. I know they were a couple because they dressed alike (blue sweats, white t-shirts). They also played similarly – standing by the service line and dinking balls back and forth while gripping the rackets as if they were ping pong paddles. As unorthodox as their styles were, the back and forth, give and take, was still beautiful to watch.

From there I picked up a few tacos and took them to my mom’s for my routine Saturday afternoon visit. We watched the Olympics (water polo and men’s rowing) and talked about Mom’s cat. Before I left, I climbed on a latter and changed a light bulb that burned out above her garage.

On the way home, I tapped my left foot to the music on the radio, noticing a sense of contentment that has been missing for too long.

I picked up a friend and we went to the three dollar theater to see People Like Us, which led me to think about my relationship with my father and ultimately about how I interact with my nieces and nephew. And that led to multiple blog posts this week.

The word “routine” gets a bad rap. Just because it is a routine double-play ball or a routine checkup at the doctor’s office doesn’t make it any less important, or ultimately, satisfying, when the results are what you are hoping for.

A routine double-play ball is routine because the shortstop and second baseman have been turning them for so long that they make them look effortless. But if you or I attempted to turn a double play, it would look anything but effortless.

A routine checkup at the doctor is routine only if you have gone to see your doctor on a regular basis. Doing so offers the hope and confidence that you’ve done your part to catch any potential problems early enough to do something about them.

I am happiest when I follow a routine. Sometimes I allow the pressures of life to pull me out of those routines and when that happens, I drift. Not only do I drift, but I struggle. So I needed a day like I had last Saturday. It set the tone for the next several days and hopefully many more after that.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

100 Miles of Music: Mile 2.23

A picture of the actual mall --
not a soul in sight.
A group of 10 women approached me in a desolate mall yesterday where I went to take a walk, which is probably not the worst thing that can happen to a single guy. At least I know I’m not invisible. 

I pulled out one of my earbuds.

“Is there another mall nearby?” said the ringleader.

“You mean one with people?”

She laughed. “Yeah, there’s nobody here.”

“They are tearing this one down soon. But if you go west on Dodge Street about three miles you’ll find a mall with lots of people.”

I picked this desolate mall on purpose. It has great AC, and since nobody is there, I do not need to dodge shoppers as I make laps. I chose the busier mall the day before and on several occasions had to take evasive action as several teenagers cut across the flow of traffic without even looking up from his or her cell phone or iPod.

After conversing with the ring leader, I turned my attention back to my iPod “walking” playlist, hit the shuffle button, and continued my four lap journey. The songs ended up being mostly about living without someone, which is probably not the most motivating music to listen to when you are mostly alone. But that’s the luck of the shuffle.

Breathe by Faith Hill. A sappy love song about being caught up in the moment. But I like sappy.

What Becomes of the Broken Hearted by Didi Benami. An old Jimmy Ruffin tune that has been remade more times that I can count. This line struck me as I was walking the empty corridors of the mall, “I walk in shadows, searching for light. Cold and alone, no comfort in sight.” Okay, maybe I’ll take this one off the playlist.

Tough Times Don’t Last by Bad English. So, we’ve gone from sappy to lonely to some sort of encouragement. That’s a good thing.

After Midnight by Matt Mason. A country tune that puts the words of mothers everywhere to flight when they warned that nothing good happens after midnight. Good thing it was only 6:00 pm when I took my walk.

Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not by Thompson Square. More sappiness, which is probably why it is on my iPod.

With or Without You by U2. I usually only listen to this song if I want to brood a little. I wonder if everybody has one particular person who comes to mind when they listen to this song?

How Great Though Art by Elvis Presley. Marvelous song. Gives me goose bumps. And there’s nobody who can sing it like Elvis.

It’s My Life by Bon Jovi. “This ain’t a song for the broken hearted,” sings Bon Jovi. “No silent prayer for the faith-departed.” Finally, a little balance. 

Almost Lover by A Fine Frenzy. And we’re back to the broken hearted theme: “Goodbye, my almost lover. Goodbye, my hopeless dream. I’m trying not to think about you. Can’t you just let me be?”

Definitely time to tweak the playlist before my next venture.

Distance walked: 1.20 miles
Total distance since August 7: 2.23 miles
Goal = 100 miles by December 31

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Dad's Six Rules

My sister Nicole and my dad at a family
gathering on March 10, 1998
A couple of days ago, I wrote about the six rules that were passed from a father to a son in the movie People Like Us, who in turn passed them on to his nephew. Today, I want to pass along the rules my dad shared with me and my siblings.

I consulted with them for this post and was not surprised that we heard many of the same rules/truths from him – even though we didn’t necessarily grow up in the same household (my day married twice and had two children in each marriage).

But we also heard a few different rules, based on our situations. I’ve chosen the more general ones for this post.

Dad had many failings, but he also had a compassionate side. That’s how I choose to remember him. He has been gone for more than twelve years now, but I can still hear his voice as I ponder his life lessons:

1. There are two types of people in the world – givers and takers; be a giver.

He had a theory that you only needed to sit in a room with someone five minutes to determine which type of person he or she is. Dad didn’t have much tolerance for takers. I don’t think he avoided them as much as he kept an eye on them.

2. Never pass a red kettle.

Continuing with the theme of giving, after seeing how one of my nieces, who has cerebral palsy in her lower extremities, benefited from the work of a couple of charitable organizations many years ago, I told my dad it made me even more aware of the needs of charities and it made me want to do more for them.

“Never pass up the opportunity to drop something into a red kettle,” he said, referring to the Salvation Army’s red kettle at Christmastime. But I knew he was talking about more than just the Salvation Army.

3. If somebody asks you for something, give it to him or her if you can.

Sounds amazingly consistent with what I read this morning in Proverbs 3:27: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”

“And he abided by that rule,” one of my sisters told me. “Almost every time I asked for something (a new piece of clothing, a few bucks, to go out for dinner, to spend the night with a friend, a toy or some candy at the store) his answer was ‘I don’t see why not’ and he made it happen.”

He once pulled three hundred dollars out of his pocket to offer to buy me a laptop at a computer trade show when I was beginning to express an interest in writing. I knew it was all the money he had in the world. The laptop wasn’t worth it, so we didn’t buy it, but I never forgot that.

4. Keep spare change in your pocket so you can make a phone call if you need to and a dollar in your glove compartment so you can buy gas if you run out.

The specifics are dated, but the sentiment is timeless. Always try to keep a little in reserve, just in case.

5. The system is fine – it’s the people who run it who are broken.

Underneath Dad’s compassion was a healthy suspicion of people who seemed to operate with little or no regard for others.

6. Take a lot of photos. The older you get, the more important they will become to you.

In 1998, I had an instant camera. The film cost nearly a dollar per photo. As my family gathered at one of my sister’s houses that year, I shot a few photos and then ran out of film. I didn’t plan to shoot more that day because of the cost. Dad handed me a ten dollar bill and said, “Go get more film. You can never shoot too many photos – especially in a situation like this.”

He was right. I shot the picture you see above of my sister and dad that day. I treasure it.

I would love to hear some of the truths or rules your father expressed to you. Share them in the comments section.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

100 Miles of Music: Mile 1.04

Photo: Thomas Beck
Over the past few weeks I've been working with my doctor to get my blood sugar down. He adjusted a few prescriptions and it is helping quite a bit. I've also been walking and that helps drive it down too.

I track the walks I take on a smartphone app called Endomondo (it's free). It uses the GPS in your smartphone to track the mileage, calories burned, etc. I just started a challenge for the casual walker on Endomondo. The challenge is to walk 100 miles by the end of the year. With 145 or so days left in 2012, that leaves quite a few "free" days. I would love for you to join the challenge.

It's 100 degrees out this afternoon, so I drove to a mall to do my walking and was met with the scent of perfume and cologne the second I entered. That made me think of the '80s. Not a day passed in which I didn't squirt a little Drakkar on before going anywhere.

As I started four laps around the mall, I took advantage of my iPod's shuffle feature and that led to one of the strangest mixtures of songs anybody has probably ever listened to. Thought it might be fun to list the songs periodically in a series called "100 Miles of Music."

The Good Life by Casey James. It's ironic to begin my walking challenge with a song title that is also the motto of the state I live in. And, I suspect, if I keep up with the challenge, I'll be walking toward the good life, metaphorically speaking.

Believe by Stryper. Hey, there's nothing wrong with a little Stryper. Yellow and black attack baby. You have to be at least 40 to even know what I'm talking about.

5150 by Van Halen. Van Hagar rules.

I Will Celebrate by Various Artists. Nothing like a good worship song to provide motivation.

Northern Sky by Nick Drake. This is from the Notting Hill soundtrack. It's the song that is playing as Jonathan sprawls out on the ice at the end of the movie. Sara hurls a glove from across the pond and it lands perfectly on Jonathan. No making fun of this scene or this movie. It's one of my all-time favorites.

Gonna Come Down by Zwarte'. Not one of their better songs.

Workin' On It by Casey James. A song about doing our part to make improvements, which makes it a perfect walking song.

Don't Let Me Down by No Doubt. Forgot I even owned this song.

The Nightingale by Trisha Yearwood. Don't think I have ever even listened to this one. Probably won't listen to it again any time soon.

It's Never Easy to Say Goodbye by Wynonna Judd. No it's not.

Distance walked: 1.04 miles
Total distance since August 7: 1.04 miles
Goal = 100 miles by December 31

Monday, August 06, 2012

Six Rules from People Like Us

Most doors in this world are closed
so if you find one you want to get into
you better have an interesting knock
Photo: Evan Bench
People Like Us flopped at the box office. I often like flops though.

I still think Howard the Duck was a great movie. Just because a movie flops doesn’t mean it isn’t good. It simply means not enough people cared about the storyline to go see it. Or maybe the movie wasn’t marketed well enough for its potential core audience to even know it exists. Or maybe movie critics tore it up before moviegoers had a chance to make up their minds.

I don’t know why People Like Us flopped, but it kept my attention throughout for a number of reasons. It’s about a salesman named Sam who discovers he has a sister, Frankie, and a nephew, Josh, while he is settling his father’s estate and that causes him to rethink the way he is living.

As somebody who is single and will probably never have children, but does have two nieces and a nephew, the uncle-nephew storyline resonated with me. Josh is picked on in school and is forced to fend for himself much of the time as his mother attempts to put food on the table. As Sam gets close to Josh, he can’t help but want to be a part of Josh’s life. Josh feels the same way.

Sam’s relationship with his own father was contentious, but throughout the movie he hints to Josh that his dad had six rules he lived by and that one day he might share them with Josh. It’s funny how closely a son is tied to his father, even if he doesn’t want to be. When Sam believes Josh is ready for the six rules, he lays them on him.

The Six Rules

1. If you like something because you think other people are going to like it, it’s a sure bet no one will.

Great advice.

2. Most doors in the world are closed, so if you find one that you want to get into, you damn well better have an interesting knock.

True. Every writer needs to heed this advice.

3. Everything that you think is important, isn’t. Everything that you think is unimportant, is.

Deep, but often true. We chase all sorts of lusts expecting fulfillment when we finally indulge them, when in reality, only sacrificial living will satisfy.

4. Don’t s*** where you eat.

Crude, but good advice. It’s an old saying that means you shouldn’t do something that will jeopardize something or someone you care about. If you want to keep your best friend, don’t steal from her. If you want to keep your workplace free of drama, don’t date your co-worker.

5. Lean into it. The outcome doesn’t matter. What matters is that you were there for it, whatever it is – good or bad.

I love this one for a couple of reasons. We rarely control the outcome of anything we do. But leaning into it means we were fully present and we gave it our best shot, and that leads to no regrets.

6. Don’t sleep with people who have more problems than you do. [This one was cut out of the movie clip above by whoever posted it originally.]

This one is moronic for more reasons that I want to get into, but five out of six isn't bad.

It’s ironic that Sam’s father is leaving a legacy through these rules, not only to Sam, but also to Josh, even though he was a deeply flawed man. His own family had a hard time respecting him, but the lessons he learned about life live on in his family anyway.

As I listened to these rules – which are basically truths – being passed from one generation to the next, I couldn’t help but think of the rules my own father passed on to me. I’ll share those in my next post, hoping you’ll share some from your own father as well.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Don't Miss Your Life

The older I get, the more I am drawn to country music. I love the stories and the messages. Phil Vassar's "Don't Miss Your Life" is a great example. The song is changing people. Here's what a few have said about it on Twitter recently:
@aFIOrini13: "Don't miss your life" by Phil Vassar really changed my whole perspective on life. The smallest things in life are the most valuable.
I love that sentiment. It's the reason I started this blog.
@WorleyFbabyy: Every time I hear "Don't miss your life" I think about how much I miss out on because I work so much. is the money worth it?
I feel for her. All of us need to work, but this song is prompting people to wonder how they can do a better job of balancing work with family. 

And then there are these heartbreaking words (read the hashtags):
@Jackie_Corco: Don't miss your life by phil vassar makes me cry hysterically...just chillin in the backseat sobbing.. #remindsmeofmydad #youmissedmylife
#youmissedmylife is the saddest thing I've read in quite a while. 

If you haven't seen the video, I advise that you watch it alone because you are probably going to cry:

But, as Vassar says in this video interview about the song, the beautiful thing about the message is, it is not too late. He says he hears from children who tell him they asked their dad to listen to the song and now he comes to all their games or cheerleading events.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

St. James Winery Velvet Red

Apologies to my cat, Latte, who normally
proudly poses with the bottles of wine. I
was out of town when I took this photo.
How good can a bottle of wine be if you purchased it in a gas station out of a cooler that also contains energy drinks, bottled water and pop?

I was about to find out.

When I visited Missouri a couple of weeks ago, I picked up a bottle of St. James Winery Velvet Red, which advertises itself as sweet red wine, in Kingdom City. St. James is a local winery and I always enjoy trying something local whenever possible, but I was skeptical for a couple of reasons.

First, I bought it in the aforementioned gas station – the same place hot dogs have probably been rolling around on a metal rack for eight hours. Second, I don’t really trust wines with twist tops. I’ve never seen a bottle of expensive wine with a twist top. Of course, I haven’t really seen all that many bottles of wine since I’m new to the lifestyle, but something about a twist top just screams beginner. Maybe I just don’t like to be reminded that I’m a wine novice.

Velvet Red is advertised in the following way, “Tastes and smells like ripe, just picked Concord grapes. Velvet Red is fruity, sweet and velvety smooth.”

I have no earthly idea what a just picked Concord grape looks, tastes, or smells like, so that didn’t help me. I do agree that it is fruity and sweet. The velvety smooth part would probably be true if my palate wasn't changing. I used to prefer the sweetest red win possible. But now I prefer a semi-sweet or just a simple red table wine.

Given my changing taste, Velvet Red won’t make my favorites list. But that doesn’t mean it is bad – especially at $7.99 per bottle. I would buy it again if I were traveling through Missouri and I didn’t want to go out of my way to find something else.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Food with a Message

When a bottle of wine contains a story about the heritage of the family who started the vineyard, it adds to the wine drinking experience. It makes me feel like I understand the wine I’m drinking and therefore I appreciate it more.

I’m beginning to notice more food products with stories attached. Rachel’s potato chips packaging contains a story about a grandma who passed her recipe on to her granddaughter who is presumably still using that recipe today.

Yesterday, I came across a bag of Brim’s popcorn. It didn’t have a story attached, but it had the text of Isaiah 26:3, which promises perfect peace to those whose mind is stayed on God.

The journalist in me had to know more. Do the other products of this Memphis-based company contain Bible verses?

I found this blog post that shows a bag of Brim’s pork rinds with Psalm 100:5 printed on it. So apparently they do. And then I went to the company’s website and found an Everlasting Life page that lays out the plan of salvation.

The Bible verses and the plan of salvation page may irritate some, but they are part of Brim’s story. In fact, the company’s mission statement ends with, “May our actions and words honor God.” So the packaging is consistent with who the company is and what it believes.

I’m interested in your take on food with a story or message. Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Do you like knowing a company’s story or hearing a message they want to convey to their customers? Or is this marketing overload?


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