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.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Catching Up

     Catching up is all I seem to be doing lately so the title is appropriate here. There is a downside in rushing to catch up, something I painfully learned recently. Hmmmm, downside is the appropriate word since what I did was fall down the basement stairs last week.

      Well, actually it was the last couple steps but darn did that hurt. My foot particularly was throbbing with pain immediately and for some reason I thought of that commercial featuring the lady who complained, "I've fallen and I can't get up."

      That could have been me. And I was home alone, so to speak. But I did manage to right myself after a few minutes and drag myself back upstairs where I could check myself for injuries. Turns out I had a sorely sprained ankle and a twisted back muscle. A week later they still bother me but they're healing.

     So what else is new? Here's a first. After close to eight years of blogs, I had one taken down because of a copyright violation. Wow. Apparently I copied a picture I found, most likely on Facebook, and re-printed it on my blog. So, did the person who took the picture and own the copyright somehow stumble across my blog? Then complained to the blog authorities? It's a mystery to me.

      Blogger is giving me the opportunity to edit out the offending material and repost the blog, but since the blog is old anyway, maybe I'll just delete.

      Crazy internet, isn't it? I have a Shutterfly account where I occasionally post photos and compose photobooks. They sent me an e-mail congratulating me on becoming a new parent. I forwarded it on to my wife. Maybe I shouldn't have done that though. I might face follow-up questions from her.

      I also got an e-mail through TripAdvisor, a service I often use to help me plan vacations, including one to Ireland next month. I reviewed a local restaurant where Wendy and I had a less-than-satisfactory dining experience. So the e-mail came directly from the restaurant itself. They kinda protested my review and invited me back to try something else on the menu, figuring I'd like that better. What's the appropriate catchphrase here? Once bitten, twice shy? Fool me once, shame on you . . .?

      I'm still working half-time as a temporary, despite being officially retired. In fact, I just this month got my first distribution from my 401k. Man, getting money from those people is like borrowing from a miserly uncle. Those financial institutions who hold your retirement monies want you to hold off drawing from your 401K until you're dead, or the until end of the world, whichever comes later.

      Back to my copyrighted picture, here's another twist on that. My grandson Grant was here for his usual Tuesday visit and he's still crazy about the crab monster from the movie Attack of the Crab Monsters. We cull through YouTube videos looking for crab monster movie clips. He also wanted to see pictures of crab monsters so I browsed Google images for crab monsters as well. As we were scrolling down--surprise!--there was a photo of Grant himself holding a picture of a crab monster. That was taken from my blog written a few months ago.

     "Hea, did you do that?" Grant exclaimed, shocked to see a picture of himself among all the other crab monster pictures.  

     Well, yes Grant, I sure did. Like I said, crazy internet.

Friday, April 11, 2014

I Wanna Be 50 Again

     Last week I called in sick to work.  Though I'm retired, I still work part-time.  On this particular day my wife went to work early, as she needed to be in by 6 a.m.  I slept in another hour and a half but when I arose, my stomach was way out of sorts for what reason I don't know.  Guess that happens when you're 60.

     So I called in sick to work, which surprised my wife when she got the news as she works in the same building.  She didn't know why I was ill, so she called to check on me.  Woke me out of a rather deep slumber, but I managed to tell her why I wasn't coming in.  But she thought I wasn't quite clear in my explanation, but who does when they're so roused.  So she hurried home to check on me, feeling that my lack of clarity might indicate a stroke.  Guess that happens when you're 60.

     Bottom line:  she awoke me again when she got home, but this time, feeling better, I decided I would return to work with her.  All's well that ends well.

     Yeah, I do wish I were 50 again.  These days my mind loves to play tricks on me.  Even my blog refused to let me in as I kept punching the wrong password.  My eye doctor suggested last visit I wear glasses when driving.  My sometimes trembling hands have caused me to hit hot keys on my keyboard that cause all kinds of funky things to happen, or, worse, delete lines that I spend much time on trying to retrieve.  Guess that happens when you're 60.

     Anyway, enough commiserating.  Hea, spell check says I got that word right.  Boo-yeah.

      Though in some ways I've lost focus, one activity where I can stay on task is planning travel.  My latest inspiration involves a trip to Ireland which we're going to do in a couple months.  I like to go places and my wife doesn't mind so long as it's someplace where they speak English.  I figure Irish should be close.

    Since my interests wax towards the macabre sometimes, I booked one of our first nights in what they say is a haunted Irish castle.  My sister's a bit nervous about this since she and her husband are traveling with us and I booked them a room too.  So I asked my sister whether she wanted the room in the remote section of the castle where hauntings are rare save for an occasional spectral light and phantom soldiers outside the window.  Or she could stay in the room where ghostly children have been seen and where strange animal noises have been heard.

     It doesn't sound like it matters though since she's bringing her eye mask and ear plugs.

     Then we're going to stay down the coast of Ireland in a farm cottage.  That sounded much more peaceful until I researched the village where we were going to be overnight.  It turned up on a list of haunted Irish spots because it was the site of a bloody battle which is purportedly re-enacted by ghostly soldiers on its yearly anniversary.

     And, wouldn't you know, that date is the same day we're going to be staying there.  Well, leastwise my sister should get good use of the mask and ear plugs she's bringing.


Wednesday, March 05, 2014

A Winter Of Discontent

     Blast this snow and cold here in Michigan.  We're used to winters here but c'mon!  Enough is enough.  Just today I slipped on the ice right near my porch.  Not long ago my wife slipped on our driveway and fell face first into an inch of snow that had fallen overnight.  And I've gone through big jugs of ice melt, taking the last one from the shelves of our local store.  And that was weeks ago!

     Our driveway entrance has so much ice and snow build-up courtesy of the local snowplows that it almost takes four-wheel drive to just pull in.  I've been approached by movie execs asking if they could use my driveway to train new stunt drivers for the next James Bond movie.

     I thought the missus and I could get a break by heading south, though that would take us around Atlanta and I remember what happened there with far less snow and ice than what we have.  The expressways became a parking lot for a couple days.

     And though it was springtime temperatures in Atlanta last week, driving through there wasn't a breeze.  Whether driving north or south on I-75, we had to dodge shutdowns on the freeway.  I thought the problem earlier was just the icy weather but maybe Atlantans just can't drive.  Or maybe I'm just discontented and feel grumpy when it comes to Georgia.

     I mean, we hit the welcome center at Georgia and I wait my turn at the customer service counter so I can ask the travel adviser if there's an Atlanta Bread Company just off I-75.  She punches something into her computer, frowns, then says, "It says there are no stores in your state.  That's weird."

     Well, yeah lady.  You think a place called the Atlanta Bread Company would have at least one outlet in their home state.  But she moved on to helping other customers.  Then before we hit Atlanta, traffic back-ups forced us off the interstate but savvy driver that I am, I followed a line of traffic also getting off and probably knowing a way around this mess.  But the semi-truck I was following pulled a lane-switch at a busy intersection, leaving me stranded in the left turn lane.  More discontent.  And I turned the corner just as the crossing gates came down adjacent to some railroad tracks.  Yet more discontent.  And for a train that never came.  Extreme discontent.

     Finally, we were meandering around Atlanta looking for the Atlanta Bread Company since I found out there was one near (they actually have over 20 stores throughout Georgia).  Stopped at a traffic light, a driver in the next lane motioned me to roll down my window which I did.  "Are you looking for something?" he asked.  I told him the Atlanta Bread Company and he pointed to a nearby shopping strip.  HE should be behind that counter at the Georgia welcome center.

    They are promising a break in the weather soon but I actually had some even better news as my beloved Michigan Wolverines won the conference basketball championship this week.  That's much to the chagrin of Michigan State fans.  My boss is a die-hard Michigan State Spartan fan.  While I was south, my Wolverines beat his Spartans in fact.  I e-mailed him from my hotel, saying that I was looking for news as to how the basketball game came out.  His response:


*expletive deleted*



I think you can imagine what he said, though he did abbreviate it rather than spell it out.  Ah, that winter of discontent is worse for some than for others.

My poor grandsons haven't been able to play much outside this winter, as deep as the snow has been and as cold as it is still.  But, watching monster movies with grandpa provides some relief from our winter of discontent.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Conversations With My Grandson

 My eldest grandson turned three this past week.  I’ve been watching Grant on Tuesdays since I officially ‘retired’ from my job.   He loves coming to bumpa’s daycare since I pretty much let him run the show.  Whatever he wants to watch on TV, I turn it on for him.  Whatever book he wants me to read to him, I do.  Whenever he wants his breakfast and lunch, that’s when I get it.  He’s a little prince in my house on Tuesdays.
     What has been most interesting in the months I’ve been watching him has been to see his communication skills develop.  He can’t tell me what he wants unless he communicates it to me.  Like last week when he was watching his favorite movie of late, Attack of the Crab Monsters, he complained that it was “too loud.”
      I knew that’s not what he meant because I had purposely turned down the volume on the TV.  So I ignored him.  Pretty soon he put his hand up to his ear and declared, “I can’t hear the monster.”  That was better.  I turned up the volume on the TV.   By the way, I’m not sure how this fascination with my crab monster DVD developed.  I got it for Christmas as I’m a fan of vintage science fiction movies I saw as a kid.  Grant spotted the DVD case lying around, thought the monster looked interesting so I put it in the DVD player just so he could see the clips that accompanied the menu screen.  He was hooked, eventually wanting to see any scene that featured the lumbering, mechanical crab.

     He has made some interesting observations on the crab.  For example, he tells me that the crab monster eats, “Apples, vegetables and an orange.”  Not people, he insists (though the plot of the movie says otherwise).  And he says, “You have to pay for the crab monster.”  That one threw me a bit.  I can only assume that had something to do with someone buying me the DVD for Christmas.
     Crab monsters aside, he sees things from his own little world, the world of a toddler.  It's just simple observations and requests mostly.  I just listen or offer a simple response—'yeah', or 'is that right', or something like that.  One time I was driving him in the car and he was babbling on and on about where he wanted to go.  Particularly, he wanted to see two water towers (like crab monsters, water towers command a particular fascination) and he wanted to go to the store and get two donuts.  The number two is another favorite concept.
     Eventually, I stopped listening as I had to concentrate on the traffic around me and he didn’t seem to be asking anything in particular.  But then he ordered, “You need to answer me.”  Sheesh.  It’s a different kind of backseat driver.  At this moment, the word "just" is frequently creeping into his vocabulary as in, "I just want to go home" or "I just want to watch the crab monster."
    He’s too young to have deep conversations with, of course.  As in why is the sky blue or will Obamacare eventually work.   He just reports the world he observes and makes requests depending on his mood at that moment, which can change the next moment.   I do remember when he saw a picture of his uncle Scott on the mantle.  He’s fond of Scott though he sees him infrequently since Scott lives in Maryland.  “That’s uncle Scott,” Grant observed.  Then after looking at the picture a few seconds he followed up with, “He come back?”

    That's about as thoughtful as his comments get.  But it is pretty touching when you think about it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

When High Tech Is Scary

Like many Americans, I’ve been following the Obamacare website debacle with some interest, particularly because at my work we’re struggling ourselves with a new software upgrade.  Is there ultimately a limit to what technology can do?  If there isn’t, should there be?
     I mean just about everything electronic now has a chip in it, from multiple parts in our car to the electronic gadgets you use to communicate, entertain and keep track of your life in one way or another.  And they say you can’t do anything on your computer anymore without somebody  being able to find out about it.
     Take my fantasy football team, for instance.   For the second year in a row, I’m at the bottom of the league.  That I blame on being cursed after a visit to Stonehenge in England last year (it might have affected my favorite University of Michigan wolverines as well but that’s another story).  Week after week, I tried changing my line-ups, acquiring new players, even using a charm acquired from an occult shop to transfer the curse to another manager . . . nothing worked.  I still kept losing.
     Then I noticed something peculiar.  When I loaded up my fantasy football team page, there’s a sidebar advertisement for Toyota that pops up with an actor smiling while he says something that's not audible but pops up later in words on a separate screen.  After my team had been doing horribly I loaded up my team page, and I see this actor looking over to my team record from his sidebar box and shaking his head.  What?!  How does he know how I’m doing?   The following week my losing streak was extended and I see this same actor in that same advertisement putting a paper bag over his head as he looks at my team record.
     How can they do that?  How does an advertisement get programmed by somebody to react to something that happens independently?  Or, at least I think it’s independently.  Sometimes . . . I wonder.  In my work, I deal lots with numbers of all kinds—batch numbers, transaction numbers, ID numbers, etc.  I was working in a particular part of my spreadsheet that involved random batch reference numbers generated by our computer software.  Then I saw this—check out the last line in this table below:
BATCH                                                          REFERENCE
I find that too eerie to be a coincidence.  

Finally, there is something that happened to me tonight.  I was typing in a Yahoo search engine and mistyped the year 2014 as 3025.  So, for the fun of it, I continued on anyway leaving 3025 and the next couple letters of the word I intended to type to see what hits I would get.  What happened next was jaw-dropping.

If you search Yahoo, you know it tries to guess what you're searching for by giving you some suggested options as you type.  What it did was give me 3025 and my last name.  Mind you, I have an unusual last name.  Everybody with my last name is at least a shirt-tail relative.  But apparently one of us has a street in Illinois named after them because that's what Yahoo suggested I might be looking for--an address on a street with my surname.  Weirdorama.

I see this is the first blog I've put up in two months.  I know I've said it before, but it bears repeating, time is just like water through my fingers lately.  But I'm not too late to wish everyone the best of the season and a happy 2014.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Don't Prey On Me

    Isn't it terrible the number of misleading advertisements or outright scams there are out there today.  I recently read an AARP article about a senior citizen who shipped almost three quarter of a million dollars overseas hoping to collect on some lottery there.  It was a scam, of course.  She tried suing the bank for allowing her to wire all that cash but she lost.

    Moral?  No matter what your age and situation, you need to be on guard.  I never thought that would be a problem with me but a couple recent incidents told me otherwise.  The first time occurred when the doorbell rang and a lady wearing a nametag and carrying a clipboard smiled and explained she was from a utility company and asked to my my recent energy bill.

     I assumed she was from THE utility company so when she told me that there was a problem with my bill and I could do something to eliminate some energy recovery charge, I figured it was legit.  Before she left, I had determined there was something a little fishy.  Turns out this outfit, which has been under investigation for its marketing practices outside Michigan here, wants to be your energy supplier.  They become THE middleman who buys energy then sells it to your utility.

    But . . . unfortunately I signed up anyway, for some reason.  I blamed it on turning 60.  I did cancel almost immediately and hopefully it didn't cost me anything to do so.

    Second time: it was the night before my last vacation and I went on-line to make a quick last-minute reservation.  I knew what hotel chain I wanted to stay with, so I went to their website to make the reservation.  At least I thought I did.  Turns out I went to a website that advertises with major search engines so their website which mimics the actual hotel's website shows up at the top of your search results.

    And that's where I ended up.  When I made the reservation, I thought the room cost seemed the normal price, but the taxes and fees were quite high.  Oh well, tourists are getting gouged more and more by taxes, I thought.  Only after I had received the actual e-mail confirmation did I realize that this reservation website had charged me a $10 booking fee.  What a scam!  Had I made the reservation with the actual hotel website, I would have been charged the same price for the room, but without the $10 booking fee.

     Right now I'm looking at a notice I got through the mail.  It looks very official.  It's from the "Motor Vehicle Division" and inside says an 'Immediate Response to this Notice is Required.'  It's addressed to my attention and lists the mini-van I bought a few years ago along with a Vehicle Code number.

     It reads, "Our records indicate that you have not contacted us to have your vehicle service contract updated."    It urges me to call during "operating hours" before October 18.  Gee, I didn't know a service contract was mandatory in the state of Michigan.  Yes, my warranty has expired.  No, I don't want an extended warranty.

     Dirty way to try to make a buck in my book.

     Has it really been six weeks since I last put a blog up?  I think some scam artist is robbing me of spare time too.  But I do spend time with my grandsons.  I took my oldest grandson Grant to a pumpkin hunt just today.  I took six pictures trying to get him to sit still and smile at the camera.  But THAT was worth the time and effort.  See photo.