Monday, February 23, 2015

Cold? It's All Relative.

     As my home state of Michigan continues to post record low temperatures, I'm reminded that the cold is relative.  I remember many years ago being in the Florida keys during a particular cold stretch down there (for some reason cold weather seems to follow Michiganders EVERYWHERE) when some local commented, "I can take 50s, but when it gets in the forties, that's just way too cold for me."

     Really?!  Forties right now would seem like a heat wave when temperatures are dipping below zero.  Heck, even thirties would make us feel like we're in Florida right now.  Well not quite, but hopefully you get the picture.

     So my wife and I had it with this winter wonderland.  When you go outside, draw a breath of fresh air, then feel like it's not warming up at all inside your lungs, that's take-your-breath-away cold.  Too cold.  We decided to take a mid-winter's break, hoping that by the time we put in ten days worth of vacation down in Florida, Michigan would have warmed up.

     But as anybody who has been following weather reports knows, even the south has been enduring unseasonably cool temperatures.  We were at a pub down in sunny Florida.  Among the patrons were other snowbirds from up north, but the temperatures barely reached 50 degrees in central Florida.  The waitress apologized for the unseasonably cool temperatures as one group was leaving.   "Don't apologize," one guest said as she walked out the door.  "We're from Massachusetts."

    A collective "Ohhhhhhhh" response emanated from those still in the pub, myself included.  Anybody watching the news knows how terrible this winter has been on Boston and Massachusetts.  As bad as Michigan's been, it's worse in the northeast.  As I said, it's all relative.

     Wendy and I stopped at Ponce De Leon State Park during our trip down there.  The park, home to the fabled fountain of youth, was empty.  The waters of the natural spring there maintain a year-round  temperature of 68 degrees, not all that cold.

     Hmmmmmm, I could quickly change into a swim suit, take a dip and let the rejuvenating waters return me to my youth.  But the air temperature wasn't even 50 degrees.  Getting yet another cold shock to my body would be the price of turning back the ravages of 60 years of aging.  I decided to forgo the dip.  An eternity of youth could wait.

     We returned to Michigan, our winter wonderland.  As if to welcome us back, we had to drive through several snow squalls in Ohio.  These created white-out conditions but drivers here are used to that, slowing down immediately and putting their flashers on.  Once traffic came to a dead stop on I-75 but we were at an exit and just took side roads for the next ten miles north.  Driving was dicey at times, but again drivers here are used to that.

    So we returned to Michigan last week.  Did temperatures warm up just a bit?  Nawwww, it was the same as when we left.  I took the picture above just outside the city limits of our hometown as we returned home, a winter wonderland still.




Friday, January 16, 2015

The Purge


Retirement is a good time to review the lifetime accumulation of stuff one's collected.  So my wife and I have been doing that.  We've been pulling boxes out of closets where they've sat for a couple decades; gone through old pictures, keepsakes, souvenirs and papers; and made the call whether to continue saving it for our golden years.

For example, check out the napkin in the picture.  It's from our wedding almost 35 years ago and we had a box of these napkins, unused.   Chances are we're not going to repeat our vows and throw ourselves another reception.  So we're using them right now in place of our everyday napkins.

It's amazing how much paper one can collect if not careful.  We filled our 200-gallon recycle bin with reams of old documents, magazines and personal papers.  Anything that had to do with work and employment, I purged.  There were old resumes, tips on  interviewing, important documents pertaining to my job and application for job transfers with carbon paper still attached which tells you how old those must have been (does anyone use carbon paper anymore?).

As I went through decades of collected paraphernalia I could see my life in various stages.  There was; my chess-playing phase with Chess Life magazines, game notations, even a 30-year-old post card from my old chess-playing college chum with whom I'd played a few correspondence games after we'd graduated.  He explained with his post card that not only did it include his latest moves, it doubled as a Christmas card since it was written in green ink.  I kept that.

There were also coaching notes from my days helping out my kids' soccer teams, boxing magazines and ticket stubs from days when I was a big fan of the sport and the same with youth wrestling.  Some stuff I kept; some I threw away.  Of course, there was some stuff that didn't jog my memory at all--newspaper clippings, magazine articles, notes of various sorts.  Those were easy to pitch.

All the while I was purging, Wendy was doing the same.  Her old handmade wedding dress went to charity, along with her handmade bridesmaid's dress, nearly as old. Lots of old clothes.  She also put aside one of her two turkey roasters.  It's an event when we cook just one turkey and we've never cooked two simultaneously.

We've been at it for almost a week though we've also been cleaning and re-organizing as well.  But the purge continues since we haven't touched the volumes of books, magazines and photos that also have accumulated throughout the years.  And after we finish with the basement where most of this stuff has been stored, there's the garage attic too.  Somewhere up there I even have a time capsule squirreled away, something I bought in the year 2000.

That I can't open until at least 2020.  So that will have to stay, I guess, until the next purge.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Those Senior Moments

     Kaching!  Kaching, kaching, kaching, kaching, kaching, kaching, kaching!

     It was like being at a slot machine as it was paying out--the old-style ones that actually pay out in real coins.  Except I wasn't at the casino.  I was at the local library, the antithesis of the type of loud and rowdy establishment where such sounds are welcome.  At a library, it's just annoying to those quietly reading nearby.

    What I was trying to do was to pay for print copies of my annual holiday newsletter.  The library has a very nice color copier where my Xmas letter photo collage could actually feature people with real flesh tones, and not chalk-faced zombies or blue-green aliens from another galaxy.  But for some reason the printer didn't want to take my money and spit it back out coin by coin into the returned coin slot.

     The printer displayed a specific set of instructions that appeared on a small screen for those wanting to make copies.  You had to enter your library card number, your "pin" number, the print job you wanted, your method of payment--and you had to do it in the correct order.  I thought I was.  So . . . I tried again, putting my money in more carefully at what I was sure must be the correct order in the procedure.

   Kaching!  Kaching, kaching, kaching, kaching, kaching, kaching, kaching!

   When I collected my eight quarters from the return coin slot I noticed someone next to me.  It was the librarian.  "Can I help you?" she asked.  So I explained my dilemma.  She pushed some buttons, the same ones I'd pushed but she did it more quickly and in a different order.  Then the printer took my money and gave me my copies.


     It's moment like this that make me feel that I'm joining the ranks of seniors.  When young people are accomplishing ordinary tasks in such a manner that makes you say to yourself, "Now what did they just do?", it's distressing.

     Now that I'm fully retired as of a couple weeks ago, and my wife is going to join me herself in less than a week, I guess those senior moments will become more commonplace.

     I'll be one of those guys I see at the library muttering to themselves as they try to figure out something on the computer.  I'll be one of those guys I see at Tim Horton's, enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee while discussing topics ranging from the olden times to politics of today.  I'll be one of those guys working out at the recreation center, either chatting up the pretty receptionist or discussing who's missing from their daily workout and what medical maladies that may have instigated their absence.

     And I'm speaking from experience, just the experience I've had the past two weeks since I left the part-time, temporary job I'd had for about a year and a half.  I'm not trying to be critical here.  The older gentlemen I mingled with were not annoying, crude or unsociable.  But I'm just not ready for all that yet.

     Maybe I'll just go back to work.




Thursday, October 30, 2014

My Favorite Season

     Fall always has been my favorite season.  Michigan provides a colorful backdrop for this time of year with its array of scarlets, golds, and crimsons adorning our trees.  Then there's that crisp autumn air that provides just the right sleeping weather at night.  And Halloween!  It's the holiday I look forward too the minute summer ends.

    About the only bummer this year is the collapse of my once mighty Michigan Wolverine football team.  They seem only a shadow of their former selves of late.  But I don't let that dampen my spirit . . . too much.

     Oh, there's fresh Michigan apples which seem more in abundance this year than last year when our favorite orchard didn't even produce enough to sell in quantity.  This past weekend we ventured to the orchard and picked our pumpkins and bought a peck of McIntosh apples, big, ripe ones.

     My mission this fall was to find one of those caramel apples dipped in chocolate.  Supreme decadence.  Usually they carry those supermarket but not this year.  The hunt was on.  I tried See's Chocolates which had an outlet at an organic supermarket in Ann Arbor  They said they didn't carry them presently but would take my phone number in case they began making them.

     No thanks.  I wanted one sooner.  I checked Kroger's and they carried something similar, toffee-covered apples.  Good, but not quite what I was looking for.  I did pick up a pack of Newcastle "Werewolf" beer on impulse.  You never know when you might be entertaining the wolfman this scary season.

     Speaking of scary, when I arrived back at the parking lot, I slid opened the passenger compartment door to stow my beer when I saw a children's DVD lying there.  What??  I didn't remember anyone giving me a DVD for the grandkids.  Wonder when that happened.  Then I saw some  beads I didn't recall having either as well as other stuff stewn about.  And, hey, who swapped out the carseat I had for something else?

      Ooops?  Wrong car.  Guess I should have figured that out before I opened the door.

      Wendy and I stopped by a chocolate factory up north that has chocolate covered blueberries, potato chips, marshmallows, pretzels--pretty much anything edible in fact.  But when I asked about chocolate-covered caramel apples, the proprieter said, no, they didn't have those.  He admitted it sounded like a good idea and said if his equipment were fired up and ready, he'd make one for me right then and there.  But, no, it wasn't.

    . . . sigh.

      I settled for Kilwin's in Ann Arbor, which is the same place I got my chocolate-covered caramel apple last year.  I don't like to do repeats though.  So instead of the dark chocolate-covered sea salted caramel apple I got last year, I got one with milk chocolate instead.  Guess that'll do for this year.

      Here's a couple pictures illustrating some fall fun.  First is my grandson Grant playing in a big pile of leaves I created just for him up north.  You can tell he enjoyed it.  Next is my creepy yard display which this year features a new coffin.  It's heavy duty too as you can tell.  Not sure what to do with it when Halloween is over.  Maybe it could double as a child's bed.  Don't know how that would go over with the grandsprouts though.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Round Two

     I've written more than once here about watching my eldest grandson Grant on Tuesdays since I've semi-retired from my job.  Well, Grant's in pre-school now so I've got his younger brother Luke on Tuesdays.  That's him rummaging through my collection of Mardi Gras beads.

    At first I was a bit nervous watching this one as he's only seventeen months old.  Grant was well over two years old when he started at bumpa's daycare.  He was able to communicate for the most part.  The only time Luke puts more than two words together is when he says, "Here ya go."

    Example . . . I prepared my absolute favorite lunch for him this week, a ground bologna sandwich.  Even  cut it up into small pieces to make it easier to eat.  I put it on his high chair tray and he wouldn't touch it.  What???  As you can tell from the picture, he doesn't turn his nose up at much in the way of edibles.  But he did my ground bologna.

     As I began plucking the pieces from his tray, and eating most myself, FINALLY the little guy picked one up himself.  Ah, so NOW you want to share grandpa's favorite sandwich.  But instead, he handed it to me and said, "Here ya go."

     So I signed him up for a "Book Babies" program at our local library.  His mother wondered about that, thinking it might only provide him with an opportunity to piledrive the other toddlers.  I thought it might prove enlightening, at least to me since I wondered what kind of masochistic librarian would try to instruct a room full of charges all under the age of two.

     There were about nine other moms in the children's reading room.  I was the only grandpa (the only guy as well).  The moms all spread out on the floor.  I took a chair.  Luke actually behaved quite well.  He only tried to ransack the reading room after the structured reading program had ended.

     I was surprised that most of the babies actually were respectfully quiet while the librarian demonstrated hand games and read a few books.  Luke wasn't quite as respectful when it was time for us all to read along with the librarian.  First it was a very loud raspberry.  Then he'd shout very loud whenever the librarian would finish a sentence.

     Finally, he decided to join in and actually did a pretty good job of reading along in the book, translating from English to more familiar baby talk.  But he also began gnawing on the library book when I was distracted.  That's a definite no-no.

     C'mon, Luke.  Can't you demonstrate for the lady that you belong in this class?  There were a few toddlers actually talking rather plainly.  And others who participated in the games and followed instructions.  And then there was Luke who grabbed the staff phone, opened drawers and put a basket for a beanbag-toss game over his head.

     Then the librarian was collecting her books back from all the moms and me.  Luke held the book out, saying, "Here ya go."  WOW!  Did you catch that?  This kid IS a prodigy, miss.  Unfortunately, her back was turned when Luke followed the one instruction to the letter.

     Well, there's next Tuesday


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Connecting, Re-connecting And Not

     What is it now, August?  September in a couple weeks???  When my grandson announced to me--as he has been telling me for several months now--that Halloween is over, I had tell him that it’s coming again.  That really floored him.  Guess he thought it was one and done.  I don’t think he’s mastered the concept of annual holidays yet at his tender age of three and a half.

     This summer my wife and I have been busy with first-time events.  We had a first annual family re-union with my side of the family, an engagement party for my youngest son to be married next year, and a big wedding of a second cousin.

     There's nothing like these kind of events to remind you of the passing of time.   At the wedding, I saw cousins I hardly recognized, older relatives previously hale and hearty who looked frail and hobbled, and heard stories of younger relatives going into fields like engineering when the last I recall their previous engineering experience, it was dropping clothespins into a bottle or some such holiday kids' game.    I got hugs from cousins I'd never hugged before.  There were promises to get together soon but sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn't.

     Our family re-union a week or so later included my folks, their kids, their grandkids and their great-grandkids.  My parents now have five great-grandchildren.  My 84-year-old dad remembered how much fun we had playing volleyball at similar family gatherings and he felt he had another volleyball game left in him.  So we played.  My dad played pretty much the same way I remember him playing in the past; I sure hope I inherited some of his genes.  After the game he claimed he made a great save that kept the ball alive on the winning point.  I didn't see that myself.

    Then last week Wendy and I ventured down to St. Louis to meet my son's future in-laws.  Neither my wife nor I are that outgoing socially.  And the only ones we knew there would be my son and his fiance.  But  I felt we did okay.  I tried to be a good listener at the engagement party thrown by my fiance's dad.  And my wife knows that listening and paying attention is not my strongest attribute.

    The party was in a wine cellar, yet it was still a little warm and sticky inside, particularly with the people mingling.  Eventually we went outside, being Michiganders we're used to a more cooler climate.  What I really wanted to do was to go into the refrigerated area where the dozens of wine bottles were kept at 50 degrees.  But hanging out there probably wouldn't have been cool . . . in the social graces department; it most certainly would have been cool in temperature.

     Finally, with all the connecting and re-connecting, there was one miss.  I wanted to visit with my old college classmate who lives in Kansas, where we had already planned a stop to visit my wife's sister's family on our way to St. Louis.  I've traded Christmas cards and letters with my classmate's family for nearly 40 years since we graduated together from Central Michigan University.  But we'd never done a catch-up face-to-face in all that time.

    So I sent her husband a message on Facebook, taking him up on a three-year-old invitation to stop by if we were ever in the area.  I soon received a response saying that they would be available and could treat us to lunch or dinner.  Wonderful, I wrote back.  Just give us a particular time and we'd be there.

     But then . . . nothing.  No response at all.  I send a subsequent follow-up e-mail but still nothing.  You have to wonder--did they change their mind?  Did something urgent come up?  Did my or his messages get lost somehow?  I don't understand Facebook all that much and trust it even less.

     I guess with the age that I'm at I like to take opportunities to catch up with relatives and old friends.  You can't always count on a chance encounter or being invited to another big wedding.  It's not as dependable as Halloween coming every year.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Will There Be Ghosts?

 AGAIN, trying to play catch-up after being gone most of two weeks in Ireland.   I went with my wife Wendy, sister Sue and her husband Jeff.

     Now Ireland's a country where you can relax.  It just seems like the pace is slower there for some reason.  That’s great, though we Americans are used to somewhat quicker service at restaurants.   Just have to follow that axiom:  when in Ireland, do like the Irish.  Guess that means eat and drink slower.

     So I had my sister all nervous about staying in a haunted castle.  I actually noticed this castle originally when planning another vacation several years ago, but the only way you could get to it was to drive.  It’s a little over an hour’s drive from Dublin.  But since we, er, my brother-in-law was driving this trip, I thought . . . go for it!

     It was our first day in our rented car and we navigated northwest to county Meath, where there are more than a few castles and ruins.  My brother-in-law Jeff had his GPS set and we were on our way.  I don’t do GPS.  Compass, the sun and a decent map are my wayfinding aids.  And the GPS took us up some farmer’s driveway before announcing, “Arrive at your destination.”

    Uh, no.  This isn’t the castle, GPS.

     Luckily, the GPS allowed us to backtrack to a town where we followed the more traditional navigation method of map and detailed directions.  As we pulled into a quite narrow country road—they have a lot of those in Ireland—another car followed behind us.  Turned out they were also castle guests who had been lost.  

    As our party  gathered around a dining room table at the castle, my sister asked, “So what’s the history of this place?”  As if on cue, a door to the outside opened by itself.  Sure it was probably the wind, but I never knew the wind to have such incredibly spooky timing. 

   My sister Sue had resolved not to eat or anything after 6 p.m. so she wouldn’t have to make a middle-of-the-night bathroom trip, especially since her bathroom was located down a dark hall in the castle.  But our dinner was served late, and as Sue was enjoying seconds on some wine offered with dinner, my wife reminded her of her promise of a post 6 p.m. fast.  My sister’s draw dropped; she’d obviously forgotten.

    I had planned to roam the castle (roam is not really the right word since this was a small castle) at night to take some pictures in hopes of conjuring up a few ghosts but the bed-and-breakfast crew worked late into the night cleaning up from dinner and preparing breakfast for the next morning.  When I did venture out from our bedroom, I discovered the owner’s daughter watching the movie Bewitched in the main room.  Not until later did I ponder the irony of her viewing choice.

   So I fell asleep, though I did awaken during the middle of the night.  I discovered something about sleeping in castles.  They’re incredibly quiet.  Our old wood-frame house creaks and groans so often that you’d swear the place was alive.  But I’m used to that.  The castle with its stone foundation and walls hardly produces any noise.  And any noise you DO hear, a dripping faucet for example, is amplified ten-fold.  It provides a very unsettling atmosphere. 

   And I did near shuffling noises in the hall outside our bedroom.  That made it a little too spooky for a midnight stroll about the parapets. 

    Besides, I certainly would have passed this fellow who was scary enough in the light.

    Actually, turns out nobody experienced anything paranormal during the night.  My brother-in-law  made a trip to the restroom, so I’m sure that’s who I heard shuffling to the bathroom down the hall.  Jeff actually said he heard something crawling on the roof overhead.  I figure that was the daughter I heard watching Bewitched on TV.  She probably had broom in hand, ready to make a couple passes over the countryside before turning in.

   So the next morning, we packed up and headed out for more Ireland adventures.  Below is a selfie I took at the Rock of Cashel.  With a hat that was purchased for me so I'd fit in with the locals. Now THAT'S scary.