Friday, April 24, 2015

Family Fun

     One thing about retirement . . . it gives you more chances to meet up with family.  Besides the Tuesdays with Luke, my youngest grandson, within the past couple weeks I was able to spend some time with my father and, separately, with my youngest son Scott both of whom live quite far away.  But far isn’t as far when you have time, which is what you get when you retire.

    Scott and I hung out in St. Louis where his bride-to-be’s family was throwing her a shower.  My wife Wendy was among the invited guests.  With two hours to kill, I suggested that Scott and I go to a grocery store as Wendy was wondering whether St. Louis might be a place to pick up scrapple, a regional delicacy usually found in the Pennsylvania Dutch country.

     Schnuck’s grocery was within walking distance so Scott and I headed there.  Though we didn’t see scrapple on the shelves, Scott thought we should ask to be sure.  One clerk didn’t know so she referred us to the butcher, who did seem older and more knowledgeable.

     “Scrapple?” he said.  “Never heard of it.”  And the look he gave made me feel like I was asking for some delicacy from the planet Pluto.  A customer nearby suggested we try this German meat market a couple blocks down, so we walked there as well.

     “Want a beer?” the meat counter clerk at G&W Sausage Company asked us while we carefully browsed the display cases.  Scott and I smiled, thinking it was his way of prodding us to be quicker.  But turns out he was serious, handing another customer a Busch beer.  Wow!  That doesn’t happen where I live.  Turns out though that he didn’t have scrapple either however.  Still it was fun hanging out just me and Scott, something I can’t do often since he works in Washington DC.

      Less than a week later I was heading up north, this time with my dad, to open up our cabin at Hubbard Lake for the season.  Along the way he told me about his day working at the Eastern Market In Detroit.  I know about the Eastern Market, which has operated for over 150 years and comprises food and specialty businesses that attract tens of thousands of customers each week.

     But I had no idea that my dad had ever been to the Eastern Market let alone worked there.  He did so hauling potatoes for a farmer near Bay City, 100-pound sacks of potatoes which were in turn sold, I gather, to small grocers in southeast Michigan.  It was 1945 and he was 15 at the time.  Heck, I don’t think I could haul a 100-pound sack of potatoes when I was 25.

     Dad described the open market atmosphere and the colorful characters that bought and sold wares, whether it was the shrewd buyer who cut open potatoes to find flaws he could use to negotiate a cheaper price (didn’t work—the price stayed the same and they bought anyway) to an apple-seller whose boisterous self-promoting resulted in quicker sales.  Then she came over to help sell the potatoes my dad’s farm still on hand.

     That was fun listening to stories about the old days.  Then later at the cabin dad had a little fun of his own.  I was next door at my sister’s cabin, chatting with Susan and her husband Jeff.  Then Jeff looked out the window and said, “Your dad’s peeling that orange that was in our driveway.”

     That upset my sister who told me that orange had been left by the side of the road for God knows what reason.  When my dad came into the cabin, he had the orange fully peeled so my sister warned him against eating it, telling him who knows what had happened to it lying out in the open.  My dad said it seemed okay and took a bite.

     Turns out, he was having a joke at our expense.  The orange wasn’t the cast-off in the driveway; he was just standing in the driveway there peeling a different orange he had brought up north in his cooler.

     Finally, when we watched grandson Luke this week, I thought he should have some playtime fun, so we drove several miles to a combination coffeehouse/playspace where he could run, climb and play on an indoor gym.  He had so much fun, in fact, that he lost track of time.  Well, at two he doesn’t have to keep track of time.  But Wendy and I did since his dad picks him up at our house.

     We were late getting back to our house, only a few minutes late.  But in those few minutes Luke’s dad, my son Greg, had already tried Wendy’s cell phone three times, apparently worried where we were.  Unfortunately, Wendy can’t always hear her cell phone and this was one of those times.

Just goes to show that sometimes you can have too much family fun.  At least Greg probably thinks so.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

What Retirement Looks Like

     While I was working out at the local recreation center this past week I noticed a rather muscular older gentleman working out on the weight machine next to mine.  His upper body looked as if he might have lifted cars off the assembly line prior to his retirement.

      But what I noticed was the shirt he was wearing.  It was a plain black shirt with the lettering, "This is what the seventies look like."  I remember the seventies--great music, break-out technology heralding the age of personal computers and Star Wars.  So what does that have to do with the t-shirt he was wearing?

      Oh!  I get it.  His shirt and healthy biceps are both saying, this is what you look like when you're seventy.  Well, maybe him.  Not sure it will be me.  In fact, in the four months that I've been fully retired, I doubt that I could put the words on a t-shirt to characterize my life at present.

     Maybe because of that, 'anxiety' is what seems ever-present currently.  What should I do?  What have I done?  Should I be doing something else?  When I was working, I postponed many things--reading (or writing) great novels for example--thinking I would have plenty of time for that once I retired.  But now that I'm retired, I feel much less urgency about doing either.

     What I'm more worried about is accomplishing little chores around the house, a to-do list that has collected over the years and has still languished despite all the free time I'm now alleged to have.  But that was precisely what I wanted to avoid in all the years I was looking forward to retirement . . . becoming one of those gentlemen who obsesses about the state of their yard, their garden, and their home.

    So what defines an appropriate retirement mindset then?  I like the phrase my four-year-old grandson Grant used today to describe the mindset with which you approach a video game, Angry Birds for example:  "You have to watch out for things."

    Very true.  You have to watch your health and lifestyle more closely.  Then there are constant scams to avoid, taxes to dodge and investments to watch.  Just this week I received a letter from the folks who manage my 401k, telling me they're cutting my retirement income by over three per cent for next year.  What?? I haven't even collected retirement for a year yet and they're cutting it already!!??

    Oh, oh.  Here comes that anxiety again.

    There is something I have been somewhat proud about doing since I've turned in my nine-to-five card . . . I have been working out regularly at the recreation center with many others of my generations there.  I guess maybe that guy with the seventies t-shirt could be right.  Not his body but his message.  In about ten years I'll still be hanging out with other seventy-somethings at the local recreation center.



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