Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Life Lately


     Happy Halloween!

     Wait, that was yesterday.  Life's been like that lately . . . breezing by before I have a chance to recollect.  I wanted to have a new blog up before my favorite holiday.  Obviously, that didn't work out.

     The picture above is the pumpkin I carved from a stencil you could print free on-line.  Taking into account that I have absolutely no artistic still, I thought I did pretty good.  What I'm better at is decorating my yard ghoulishly to entertain the trick-or-treaters.

      Even that wasn't enough this year.  Besides the faux graveyard, besides the skeletons being projected dancing and prowling onto a screen in my darkened garage, besides the coffins lying occupied by scary dummies by my porch--besides all that, I dressed in a skeleton costume myself and sat quietly among the yard horrors.

       I wasn't trying to scare the little ones.  I'd see parents tugging on their little one's sleeve, telling them, "It's all pretend" as they viewed my macabre trappings.  But while the elders urged their progeny forward, they looked my way with an expression that said, "Don't scare my kid."  So I kept still.

      Then a large group of older youngsters approached, excitedly saying how much they enjoyed my Halloween decorations.  But one young girl couldn't keep her eye off me, not sure whether I was just another yard dummy or real.  A friend urged her to go closer to make sure.  So she approached, closer and closer.  Finally I had to move, so I flinched.

      That sent her fleeing towards the safety of the sidewalk, loudly alerting her friends that I was, indeed, real.  Panic ensued and the youngsters scattered like a frightened school of fish.  "I don't think all of them got candy," my wife handing out treats nearby deadpanned to me.  Hey.  Not my fault.

     Our grandsons had come over a couple days earlier, showing off their costumes to us.  We prepared their favorite spaghetti dinner for them;.  But I teased four-year-old Luke, saying he needed to eat his broccoli salad before he could enjoy his spaghetti.

      Very seriously, Luke informed me, "I can't eat broccoli."  His mother urged him to tell me why.  So Luke recounted, "I was at Keena's (his babysitter) and she gave me broccoli for lunch and I choked on it.  So, I can't have broccoli."  I guess it's either true or a good story.  Either way, he didn't eat broccoli with us.

     When we were shopping for this dinner at the local Wal-Mart, Wendy scanned the receipt for the  items we purchased.  Something did not seem right.  This Wal-Mart does not put individual price stickers on its grocery items so you have to rely on memory to determine whether you're being charged correctly.  Wendy swore that the six-pack of soft drinks she bought cost $3.50, not $3.98.

     She went back to the service desk to complain.  The service desk called for a price check.   A supervisor had to be consulted.  Finally, the store agreed.  They would give her 48 cents.  Not so fast though.  If there is a scanner error, which this was, shouldn't she by law get ten times the error?

     The clerk looked perturbed.  My wife hadn't asked to be reimbursed for a 'scanning error' so she wasn't given the penalty.  Wendy said she thought it should have been automatic, but she still wanted it nonetheless.  Another call to a supervisor.  More waiting.  More hoops to jump through.
 
     Big stores like Wal-Mart don't make it easy.  But when you get to be a senior, you don't make it easy on them either.  In the end, Wendy got the penalty and scored $4.80.  Boo-yeah, as I like to say.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Long Road to Jeopardy

    I've been remiss in posting here.  Indeed, I've been absent from the blogworld for quite some time.   For much of the past month we've been on the road.  We visited our baby granddaughter and her family in St. Louis, Missouri, for part of that time.  Then we hit the road in our mini-van, touring the far west with stops in Seattle, Yosemite, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

    The climax of all this was our afternoon at Sony Studios in Culver City where we sat in the audience watching a taping of Jeopardy with Alex Trebec.  Wendy and I have long been fans of the show and watch nearly every night we can.  I reserved two tickets on-line (they're free) over a month before our trip so we planned our travels accordingly.

    Neither of us had been to the live taping of a TV show; well, unless you include the local Captain Muddy show where I was among a group of kids who were lucky enough to appear.  I was five or six years old at the time.  What I remember most is getting a confectionary treat afterwards.  Nothing about the show itself.

    First thing we learned upon being admitted to the Jeopardy studio is that there is a pecking order of sort for audience guests.  There are friends and families of the contestants, production guests, VIP passes and the ordinary visitor's pass.  We were the latter, of course.

   One lady who showed up at the security check-in with her husband announced haughtily, "We have VIP passes."  Instead of a wristband like we got, they got a patch to put on their pant leg with a comment that it would be less visible if the camera panned in their direction.  This couple wanted their VIP perks too, quickly securing a golf cart ride to the studio entrance when the gentleman seemed to be asking my wife if she wanted a ride--Wendy was limping a little with her bad knee.

    But they were seated in the same section we were, only a few rows closer to the stage.  Friends and families of the contestants seem to fill most of the other section which had better sightlines and got most of the attention from Alex and crew.  Wendy had a hard time seeing over the heads of the folks in front of her.

     Very busy studio.  All sorts of goings-on with make-up people, cameramen, technicians, judges, stage managers and Alex Trebec himself who appears much as he does when you watch him at home:  very personable and witty.

     But . . . something we didn't learn until we sat in the audience, Alex does screw up.  You just never see it in the show.  Bloopers are edited out.  Once he said somebody had earned $45,000 when he'd only earned $4,500.  Wendy thinks they'll keep that blooper in.  I think it'll end up on the cutting room floor.  Besides occasionally mis-reading a word in a question, which only requires Alex to do an off-camera voice-over correction, he once read the wrong question entirely.  That really messed things up and required a "cut" and lengthy taping delay.

     So the live taping in itself was a fascinating experience.  But what made it more special is that, without knowing it when I had reserved the tickets, we ended up at the annual Tournament of Champions.  Wow!  That's like going to a professional baseball game and finding out when you get there that it's the all-star game.  Awesome!

     However, an usher beckoned to us after we had been seated awhile.  They needed our seats to make room for more family of the contestants.  What????  After spending days checking on-line for Jeopardy tickets and driving 3,000 miles, we were being ejected?

     No.  As it turned out, the usher sat us in the section reserved for the tournament of champions contestants.  In the front row too!  Using the baseball analogy again, that's like getting pulled from the stands during the all-star game and being seated in the dugout with the players.  How cool is that.  We were in Jeopardy heaven.  The Jeopardy director himself came over to make sure the new seating arrangement was satisfactory for us.

     I SO wanted to turn around, locate that needy couple who stole my wife's ride and call out,  "Who's the VIPs now?" 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Bloodlines

           I’m not sure what TV commercials are playing in your neighborhood, but it seems like we’re always seeing the Ancestry.com commercial where they urge you to purchase a DNA test to reveal your ancestral roots.

           My wife Wendy did that a few months ago.  And as Ancestry.com advertises can happen in their commercials, the results were a little surprising.  I wish I could say the results made searching her genealogical past a little easier.   But it just made me wonder about the validity of DNA testing.

           Up front, I’ll say I’m no fan of Ancestry.com.  They make researching your ancestral past very much a hit or miss affair.  For example, you can search among their public family trees to try to find other family members who have already researched your surname. That’s the easiest way to research, right?  Build upon what others have already done.

         But say you’re researching an unusual surname, for example “Kermitfrog.”  So searching through its database of public family trees, Ancestry.com says there are none of those exact surnames.  Not a surprise.  OK, try checking names “similar” to “Kermitfrog.”  Still zip.  So how about names that sound like “Kermitfrog.”  Bingo.  Now I’ve got 189,596 hits and it starts me with hits 1 through 10.

      That’s the way it is at Ancestry.com’s website.  You either get inundated with a ton of data that turns out to be almost worthless.  Or you get nothing.   To me it’s like going to the librarian and asking where to find a book on a specific literary quotation.  Either they’ll tell you they don’t have one, or they’ll tell you, “Try over there in the reference section.”

     The cynic in me believes that Ancestry.com wants to slow your genealogical research to a crawl so that you’ll be a paying customer for life.  Anyway, I use the free Ancestry.com service available at the library which, I found out, operates differently and less informatively than the service you pay for.  Wonderful.

     Anyway, back to my wife’s DNA results.  According to Ancestry.com, she’s mostly of English descent.  But according to every bloodline I traced back to the Old Country, her ancestors came from Germany.  And she herself came from Pennsylvania Dutch country, another indication of German heritage.  Her Ancestry DNA test confirms that, in fact, her ancestors were among Pennsylvania’s early settlers.  Even Ancestry.com lists of my wife’s “DNA cousins” show people whose public family trees purport that their ancestors emigrated from Germanic territories.

      Something is very odd here.

      There was a news item today that reported doubt over the Biblical account describing the genocide of the Canaanites.  The news story stated that DNA testing showed that the descendants of the Canaanites are alive and living in Lebanon.


     Well, if Ancestry.com was in charge of this DNA testing, I’d get another opinion.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Senior Moments

    At my wife Wendy’s water aerobics class recently, a 92-year-old participant ran into a problem in the women’s locker-room.  Her key wasn’t unlocking her lock.   No matter how she twisted and turned the key, the lock wouldn’t release.  Others tried to help with the same result.  So they called the building attendant and he came by with bolt-cutters and cut the miscreant lock free.

    When the elderly woman opened the locker, she discovered something else.  The clothes inside the locker were not her’s.  Yes, she had unwittingly broken into someone else’s locker.

     OK, I’m not there yet.  But I’ve had a few senior moments myself that says I’m getting close.  A couple of those incidents involve the local library.  Recently I was at the library when I searched my wallet for my library card so I could sign onto the computer.  Looked once, looked twice but both times with the same result.  No library card in the billfold.  So I signed up for a guest pass instead.

     Later when I got home I reached into my pants pocket and, voila, pulled out the missing library card.  I can only guess that I must have pulled my library card from my wallet earlier, thinking that I would need it at the library later.  Then I put it in my pocket and forgot about it.

     Telling the story later to other members of my family, they said it still doesn’t top the time I drove to the library, then walked home forgetting how’d I gotten there.  Of course, I later discovered our car was missing.  It took longer than it should have for me to figure out where our car was and how that happened.

      This week we watched our three grandsons and I took the oldest—Grant, 6 and Luke, 4—to the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum.  It was a little more hectic than expected with four stories filled with wonderful activities to do.  But I’d been there recently (see last month’s blog) so I wasn’t worried about getting lost.

     But in a way, I did.  Just as we were wrapping up a final tour of the place, Luke ran ahead and I somehow got separated from Grant.  After several frantic minutes searching, a concerned woman noticed us and said, “Are you looking for a lost boy?”

     “Yes?” I said.

    “Is his name Grant?”

     Oh, boy.  Right again.  He had been found crying and was taken to the desk at the entrance where an attendant stood over him.  He explained later, “I lost grandpa.”

     So I collected Grant and all three of us returned to the car.  After making sure they were securely fastened in their seats, seat belts and all, I noticed my camera was not in my pocket.  Dang.  Must have lost it like I did during my last trip here (though it was returned to me later).  I said so out loud too.

      I stood there collecting my thoughts, trying to figure out the best way to get the camera back, when I opened the driver’s side door and spotted the camera in a compartment there.  I must have put it there and forgot about it as I was getting the grandboys settled in their seats.

     “I think grandpa’s losing it,” I grumped loudly.

      “But now you’ve found it,” Luke responded seriously.


     I just hope so.  I really do.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Luke Versus The Tornado

[Spoiler alert:  Luke wins]

     More fun with my grandson Luke this past month, this after my being mystery reader for his pre-school class last month.  More recently I chaperoned Luke when his pre-school class ventured to the Ann Arbor hands-on museum. 

     I have to admit I was a little worried about chaperoning a four-year-old in a bustling crowded venue filled with fun activities to challenge the minds of little ones.  Afterall, I just turned 64 this month.  And it didn’t help that I was informed when I arrived at school that I would be chaperoning an additional four-year-old, Zach.  Twice as much responsibility!

  Before we got off the bus in Ann Arbor, a museum helper came out to give us the scoop:  those of us with a red dot on our name tags need to meet for lunch at 11:30.  Go through the yellow doors on the first floor down to the basement, then to the red room for lunch.  At 12, then find the grey doors on the first floor which leads you to the science labs.

     Uhhhhh, did I mention that I’m 64 now?  I can't even remember my own name some days.  That same museum helper reminded the kids and chaperones that they must keep their eyes on eachother at all times to keep from getting separated.  And no running.  Two more rules for me to remember as my preschool charges forgot both the minute they walked into the building.  Trying to keep one eye on both made me resemble the old comedian Ben Turpin.

     In the first exhibit room there was a miniature tornado on display.  A machine produces a mist which, if undisturbed, will continue to build and gather slowly into a tall but tiny swirling cloud of vapor.  Eventually over the course of a few minutes it becomes a mini-cyclone.


     Problem is that with a museum full of kids, chances are high this swirling vapor will not be able to develop properly.  Kids climb into the funnel cloud display to play in the mist, which pretty much kills any chance for  
the tornado to develop.

     However, a couple teachers and I got a few kids to circle around and just watch.  Luke, standing out with his blond hair, was one of them, standing among older students watching as this mist began to gather at the bottom of the display.


      Soon it began to rise as I reminded Luke to just stand and watch to see what happens.  Meanwhile, I believe  Zach was in another part of the main exhibit room, possibly climbing a ladder to an elevated giant listening disk.  I probably should have been spotting him on the ladder but I’m thinking he should know his limits.  He’s four afterall.

      So the mist began to build finally and then it started swirling upwards. Not much longer to wait now.   It gets to Luke’s height and he’s in awe as it dances and circles in front of him.  The older kids next to him eagerly wait for the distinctive funnel cloud to form.  It’s been a fair wait to get this far.

      Then suddenly Luke thrusts both hands into the swirling vapors and shakes them vigorously around.  The mist immediately dissipates and disappears.  I can read the body language of the older kids.  Their shoulders sag and they frown, broken-hearted that they won’t see the tornado because of the kid I, grandpa, was chaperoning.  Rather than wait another few minutes for the mist to re-form, then turn and leave.  Luke did as well.

      Luke just took the hands-on part of the hands-on museum just a little too literally this time.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

I, Mystery Reader

 Recently I volunteered to be a mystery reader for my grandson Luke’s pre-school class.  Older brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents are invited to bring in an age-appropriate book to school and read it to their little guy, or girl, and the rest of the class.  Most have limited opportunities to perform as work or school interferes.  Not me since I’m retired.  So I did.
  
   My being a mystery reader meant that I could not tell Luke beforehand that I would be coming to read to his class.  However, the teacher said that I should give her clues to my identity, clues which she would give the class just prior to my read so that the appropriate child (Luke in my case) would be able to guess the identity of the mystery reader.
     
      My clues were:  (1) He likes monster movies (2) Halloween is his favorite holiday and (3) He has a giant spider in his garage.  The last would be a dead give-away since I made a point the weekend before of pointing out to Luke that the big fake Halloween spider was still hanging from a ladder in the garage.

    I entered the pre-school at the appropriate time and the principal went into the classroom to inform the teacher I was there.   I tried to listen in as I waited in the hallway to hear the teacher give the clues but it was too noisy.  Pretty soon Luke's teacher came out with THREE little boys in tow.  "Apparently there are three grandpas who have a giant spider in their garage," the teacher said.  All three little boys thought THEIR grandpa was the mystery reader.

     THANKFULLY, Luke was one of them and when he saw me he ran across the hall and gave me a big hug.  Awwwww, so sweet.  I felt bad for the other two little boys who looked pretty disappointed.   I guess maybe I should have added that I have a coffin in the shed too?  Maybe that would have set me apart from the other grandpas who like monster movies, Halloween and have a giant spider in their garage.

     So I read The Beast in the Bathtub sitting on a chair that would be too small for a first-grader.  My time there should count for practice if I were a yoga student.  I'm gathering that not that many adults volunteer to be mystery readers.  The kids seemed to enjoy the story, though they liked the pictures more.  I had to make sure I showed each page and even then some kid would say, "I didn't see it."  Eventually I had a few pre-schoolers standing around me trying to look over my shoulder.

     When I read, "The Beast hit a can of marbles which went everywhere," and showed that page, a kid inquired loudly, "Where are the marbles?"  Hey, how would I know?  I didn't illustrate it.  Give me a break.  The marbles were on the next page actually, so I had to flip ahead to show them.

     I read one part where the little boy in the book says his prayers:  "And Bless the beast."  Some kid repeated, "Blast the beast?"  I wanted to say, "No.  BLESS the beast, not BLAST the beast.  Haven't you ever said prayers, kid?" Probably an appropriate time to start a discussion on blessings, God, prayers and such but it might be frowned upon at this public school.



    After I finished, the teacher asked the kids if they would like a beast under their bed.  Surprisingly, most said yes.  Then one little boy jumped up and said, "I would punch the beast."  Then this little boy next to him jumped up too and said, "I would punch him in the face."  Ahh, great story to stimulate discussion among pre-schoolers.  Now there was chaos, mayhem and disorder.  My job here was done.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

CENSORED!!


   Yes, I was censored for something I tried to post on-line.  Twice, actually.  Tripadvisor did it to me when I tried to post a review of a restaurant we had visited earlier this month in Boquillas, Mexico.

    The restaurant was Jose Falcon's and I even uploaded a snapshot of their menu to go along with my review post.  That's part of it above here.  But the menu photo was not the reason that my review was rejected.  At least I don't think it was.

    For the record, I have posted over 90 reviews to Tripadvisor and am proud that I consistently get helpful votes from those on the internet who read my reviews.  Last time I checked I had well over 150 helpful votes.  And, though the Tripadvisor censors did not explain exactly why my review was rejected, they pointed to a guideline that said the review had to provide helpful information so travelers could plan accordingly.

     So . . . they were saying my review wasn't helpful, even with a picture of the menu???  I had to review what I wrote.  I'd never had a review draft rejected by Tripadvisor previously.

      I had a feeling it had something to do with my sense of humor, which I try to apply in these reviews and of course here on my blog from time to time.  What happened is that we crossed the Rio Grande--legally by the way--to visit the small border village of Boquillas which is little more than a dusty street with a couple restaurants with a gift shop adjoining one of them, a saloon, some ramshackle buildings of various vintage and a few souvenir stands.

      We visited Jose Falcon's restaurant which is popular for its friendly proprietor and for its reasonably priced menu which features homemade chips and guacamole.  Delicious.  While we were there, however, a military vehicle rolled into town with serious-looking men dressed in Army fatigues, each carrying an assault rifle.  One particular fellow stood in the bed behind the vehicle cab,  holding his particular rifle as if he was expecting trouble.

       After the vehicle stopped, the soldiers got off and went to a couple nearby buildings.  Why they were there we didn't know.  But Wendy said that if they approached us and asked why WE were there, we should tell them we crossed into Mexico to collect for Trump's wall.

        It was my wife's attempt at a little humor and since it was topical, I included it in my review.  My guess is that's why the Tripadvisor censors rejected me the first time.  So I took out the anecdote, just leaving in the part where the soldiers rolled into town.  And that's when I was rejected yet again.

       WHAT!!??  I believe a posse of serious-looking and heavily armed soldiers possibly rolling into town, staring down  guests at the local diner ranks right up there with the freshness of its guacamole in the need-to-know department!!

        Frustrating.  But Tripadvisor doesn't pay me for my reviews.  The most I've ever received is luggage tags and a couple stickers but they haven't sent me anything in years.  The real reason I post reviews now is to add another pin to my travel map which is on my profile there.  And they put a pin in Boquillas even if they didn't publish my review.  So it's still all good.

       And maybe if some would-be traveler Googles Jose Falcon's restaurant, Boquillas and Tripadvisor, they'll stumble across this blog and learn the truth.  So there!