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?


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