Friday, November 27, 2015

Becoming My Neighbor

      I remember when contemplating retirement around ten years ago I tried to envision what life would be like without a structured workday.  That’s rather difficult to do when you’ve toiled eight hours a day for decades but something I vowed I would never do is become one of those fussy seniors who obsess daily over their garden and yard.

     Fast forward to present.  I am retired now and find myself recalling those earlier vows with mixed feelings.  To be honest, my yard does not compete aesthetically with those of my neighbors.  They have lush green weedless (not a word Microsoft says, maybe weedfree?  Nope. Oh well)  thick sod that could easily replace the fairway on hole number nine at the master’s course in Augusta.

     My yard is, well, more diverse I like to say since diversity is a buzzword nowadays.  Sure, there is grass.  But there’s lichen, moss, dandelions, clover, wildflowers, and numerous other species of weeds, er, plants that are still green, but nearly as appealing to curbside onlookers.

     But . . . it’s looking better since I retired.  I’ve trimmed dead branches, pulled weeds from around the house, kept the grass cut and the leaves raked to the point where I don’t think my neighbors shake their heads when they look in our direction.  In fact, I think my efforts may have unnerved one of my neighbors.

     He always cuts his grass twice to my once and is constantly out manicuring his own personal greenspace.  He almost takes offense if my grass is shorter than his.  Once when I cut my grass, my wife and I noticed he was cutting his own lawn after dark, so as to keep up with Big Dave we thinks.

     I’m still not that obsessive.  But I’ve learned that yardwork is something simple, easily fits in with other daily activities, provides some pride when things look pretty, and is good for your heart.   I still avoid using chemicals or noisy machines like leaf blowers and gas-powered edgers.  Call me an environmentalist.  Or that’s my excuse anyway (can’t be that I’m just cheap).

     In the past I’ve been a season behind in my yardwork, trying to run the gas out of my mower when the temperature already has been freezing, or pulling out the remains of my garden when there’s snow about.  But I’ve become more pro-active all-round.  My snow shoveling and outside holiday decorating had been tardy in my working years.  Not so much now.

     In fact, as I was shoveling snow off the walk this past week I looked around the neighborhood and thought to myself, “Something doesn’t look right.”  Then I figured it out.  Nearly all of the walks around me were still snow-covered.  I was among the first to shovel.  That is a good thing . . . I guess.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Halloween Indoctrination

     I’ve blogged before about my enthusiasm for all things Halloween.  Now that I have grandchildren, it would follow that I introduce them to the thrills and chills of the season.  OK, since Luke is just two I have to tread lightly there lest I get reported to some agency of some sort.  But he’s enjoying the spooky season now as much as any two-year-old, I think.

     Here are the photos to prove it.  Whether it’s holding up the pumpkin he found during a local pumpkin hunt, admiring the creepy spiders on the side of a house at a Crossroads Village ghost and goodies event, or playing with the Halloween display in our bay window, Luke’s interest and appreciation is obvious.
    If you say that two-year-olds should be engaging in less things macabre and more things developmental, let me add that there’s education bonuses to horror, even at the age of two.  Luke’s favorite Halloween creature  is the spider and he particularly likes monster spiders like the gigantic arachnid in the movie Tarantula.

    When he watches the movie trailer from our DVD, he reads aloud the phrases he recognizes as they come on the screen:

    “Bullets can’t stop it.”  “Dynamite can’t kill it.”  “Tarantula.”  Man, if he isn’t pre-school material already.  I can see him zombie-walking into pre-school (he’s learned to do a good zombie walk too), then speaking up when the teacher pulls out a stuffed animal—“Dynamite can’t kill it.”

     Not only word recognition, but our Halloween fun develops leadership skills.  A couple weekends ago we took our grandsons to the Crossroads “Halloween” Village near Flint.  It’s relatively tame fun with a train ride down a track among some painted wooden spooks and adults in costume passing out treats in the village.

     They also had a straw minion maze built in a Despicable Me theme.  We coaxed our pre-school grandkids into the entrance, then I went around the straw-bale labyrinth to the end to wait.  I could see over the top Grant leading Luke around this corner and down this or that path.  Using their problem-solving skills, they were.  Never mind that most parents were in there themselves to help their own kids through the maze.

     I was confident they could do this themselves, even when Grant took a wrong turn and started back the opposite way they came.  I noticed Luke even took over the lead at one point.  I knew they’d make it out before dark and they did.  Now Luke leads his grandma and I down wooded paths near our home.

    Luke, pointing down the path:  “This way.”

    Me:  “This way?”

    Luke:  “Yep.”

     I can’t say nothing scares Luke, though.  We were playing a music video of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which is scary enough in itself, when Wendy and I broke into our own version of the zombie dance.  Luke covered his head and said, “No dance, grandpa.”  Guess there’s some things even scarier than Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Wildlife Of The Upper Peninsula

Wildlife  is what we always hope to see on our jaunts up north in Michigan.  This month’s trip to the northwoods involved retirement tent camping in the upper peninsula of Michigan.  But there’s something wrong with that sentence.  “Retirement” and “tent camping” should not appear together, at least not for us.

Sleeping in the campground at Taquamenon Falls State Park required lots of bending, stooping and twisting, sometimes reaching poses that would challenge a yoga instructor . . . with aging joints that are not as flexible and which at any time might issue forth shooting pains.  Still, I could not pass up a lovely weather weekend so late in the summer.  What better way to enjoy the wilderness experience you can find up north. 

I had looked forward to this expedition for most of the summer and practiced setting up and then sleeping in our two-man yellow nylon tent in our backyard one night.  Since rain was not predicted, I didn’t even bother with the rain fly, wanting to sleep with the stars shining brightly above me.  That lasted until the wee hours of the morning when I began to feel damp inside my sleeping bag.  My tent was as wet as if it had showered briefly.  But this was all dew gathering into droplets on the netting above me, then dripping like so many leaky faucets onto me as I slept below.

Oh well.  Better to keep the rain fly on anyway.  Better not to see the woodland creatures, a bear perhaps, looking down on us in the middle of the night.

So we pitched a tent next to the woods and a gurgling brook below us, not quite close enough to hear the roar of the falls.  Despite being after Labor Day, there were lots of campers, mostly housed in the stainless steel mobile home kind.
There was a small tent in the campsite next to us, about the same size as our’s.  However, that turned out to be a bit suspicious, at least for my wife.  There was nobody there when we originally set up, though a car was parked nearby.  Then an older man and younger woman arrived in another vehicle, regarded Wendy cautiously as they sat together, then embraced eachother fervently before striking their tent and quickly leaving in separate vehicles.  Hmmmm.  All kinds of wildlife.

Well, no, we actually didn’t see any exotic wildlife.  There was a squirrel and a chipmunk that chattered and scurried around us, especially when we were eating a couple donuts.  In fact, the chipmunk bravely approached us and stood up on hind legs as if to say, “Can you spare a crumb, please?”  Uh, sorry, no.

We saw more dogs than anything here.  I hiked up a trail along the rapids and on the way back noticed that a gentleman in front of me was having difficulty pulling his powerful looking mutt that looked like a cross between a boxer and a hound from Hell.  The dog was trying to pull his master into reverse after he spotted me coming up behind them.

“Lucky,” he called to the dog as I approached.  “He wants to go south instead of north”, he added to me.  No, no—I think he wanted to eat me.  The dog was muffling something to me under his own breath that sounded like, “C’mon, buddy, come on over here and let me give you a sniff.”

    I passed Lucky as his owner struggled to contain him.  A little ways farther and I passed more dogs going the other way.  As I skipped down a side path devoid of other hikers, whether four or two-footed, I heard all the dogs engaged in a rather vehement discussion, about rights-of-way I assumed.  Pretty soon, I heard a guy calling out, “Lucky” over and over.

     Turning around, I saw Lucky had broken free with his leash and had also taken the side path and was now behind me.  The hellhound was still muffling something that sounded like, “C’mon back here guy, I want to nuzzle your pant leg.”   Lucky for me, Lucky the dog was re-captured by his owner before he could muffle or growl any further invites at me.  

     Other than that, the only wildlife encounter of note occurred when Wendy climbed out of our tent and cried out when a frog tried to hop past her through the open tent flap, trying to join me still lying on our camping mattress.  That's okay.  I'll take a frog over Lucky any day.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

One Big Happy Family

      Back when my two boys were growing up, I frequently used the term “one big happy family” to describe our family bonding adventures, whether that involved camping, road trips or a night out altogether.  Now that my two sons are married with one living near Washington DC, those adventures seem so far in the past.

     But a couple weeks ago we re-lived those days, kinda.  My wife and I rented a condo at Ocean City, Maryland that could accommodate everyone including our two grandchildren.  We could all stay together for a week—one big, happy family—just like days gone by.

     I loaded up our mini-van with lots of toys for kids and adults—a metal detector, kite, an old boogie board which my boys used an a previous beach vacation over ten years ago, a restored ‘geezer golf’ game, lots of DVDs, a couple board games and an oversized flashlight to spot crabs on the beach at night.

     My oldest grandson Grant is a huge fan of crabs and has been since he got hooked on my old sci-fi movie classic Attack of the Crab Monsters.  I brought that DVD but for some reason neither he nor my other grandson Luke wanted to watch that, preferring to watch the “ogres” battle humans in another sci-fi classic, The Time Machine.

     Grant and I found a park in Ocean City where they were catching crabs off a pier.  One fisherman had a half-dozen Maryland blue crabs in his bucket.  I also bought Grant a soft-shell crab sandwich so he could say he’d eaten crab.  “That’s really gross,” he said, refusing the seafood treat I’d bought.  

But Grant liked the crab I’d found on the beach and put into a makeshift aquarium.    Never mind that it was dead.  Neither Grant nor my other grandson Luke knew that.  When my wife Wendy complained the next day that the crab was beginning to smell, I told Grant it was time to release the crab back into the ocean to join his family, which Grant helped me to do.  “Do you think he has a son?” Grant asked as a big wave carried it out to sea?
      The boys were wary of the heavy ocean surf, never having experienced that.  Two-year-old Luke was knocked down by a big wave and was content to play in the sand from then on.  Grant would play catch-me, running from the big waves as they rolled in.  For the adult children and their spouses, the surf, sun, shopping and sand all sufficed.

     What about the toys I brought?  Our old boogie board was ripped to shreds by the second or third wave it was ridden on.  I asked Grant if he wanted to help me look for treasure with my metal detector.  “No.  But can I have some of what you find?” he asked.  He has future as a tax collector for the government, I’ll bet.

     I flew my kite once; the boys weren’t really interested in helping with that either.  The geezer golf game never left the back of our mini-van.  Grant did accompany me with my flashlight one night on the beach, but he insisted that I shine the light into various holes in the sand dug earlier with plastic shovels and pails.  I knew we weren’t going to find anything in any of those.  And we didn’t.

       Luke’s version of vacation fun was more skewed.  He enjoyed locking himself in the bedrooms at the condo.  “Open the door, Luke,” his dad commanded to no avail.  Luke would appear at a patio door, also locked, and make half-hearted attempts to unlock it as the rest of us urged him on or tried to find a utensil to pick the other bedroom door lock.  Luke seemed to be enjoying the attention, running from the bedroom door back to the patio door and back.  Eventually Wendy found a tomato peeler which worked as a lock pick.

      So at the end of it all, I asked Grant what his favorite part of our Ocean City vacation was.

     “The ogre movie,” he responded.

     Thought he might at least say the crabs.  Well, at least we were together as one, big, happy family.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

You're A Senior When...

We’ve been suffering through a stretch of days with temperatures in the high 80s and the low 90s here in Michigan.  It almost makes me long for the days in an air conditioned office, toiling on my computer.  For now, when I’m on my computer, I depend on a personal Honeywell fan. 

So it seems like I’ve been doing a little of everything and a lot of nothing here.  That may not be all because of the weather though.  It seems like it’s a symptom of being retired and getting older.  Here are some other symptoms of ‘senioritis’ as I’ve noticed them:

1.        --Your favorite TV programs all include commercials for prescription drugs.

2.        --You are no longer offended when given a senior discount without having to ask for one.

3.        --When you go to your favorite places, whether a coffee shop, gym or favorite dining spot, you seem to be in the company of fellow seniors.  Remember, millennials supposedly outnumber baby boomers.  This may be true, but they’re not at the places I frequent, or maybe just not at the same time.

4.        --You answer correctly a history question on the TV quiz show Jeopardy that stumps the TV contestants because you remember it happening in your youth.

5.        --You like flowers in your yard more and more each year, and weeds less and less.

6.        --You can’t understand why anybody would NOT want to hear funny stories about your grandchildren.

I’ll probably think of more as the months and years go on.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Betting On Ring-Bearers

      My wife and I recently returned from St. Louis where our youngest son Scott just got married.  Both our boys are married now.  It was a wonderful, memorable wedding with all the trimmings you could imagine.  I got together family members to entertain a family tradition . . . there must be polkas.  I played the accordion, my brother and nephew played sax, while my nephews played drums and guitar.

     But as an aside, what’s this world coming to when there are more people on the wedding dance floor for a Taylor Swift number than for a chorus of the Beer Barrel Polka?

     That was somewhat stressful organizing my Polka Monsters to play a few numbers.  But the wedding itself held a few other stressful moments too.  My grandsons Grant and Luke, ages four and two, were supposed to play a large role in the ceremony as ring-bearers.

     I know from personal experience that being a ring-bearer is not as easy as it may seem.  I was a ring- bearer myself for the wedding of an aunt and from what I hear, since I'm too young to remember myself, it didn’t go well.  I got tangled up in the bride’s dress and on my trip up the church aisle I decided to bail, heading instead to a pew where I spotted someone I knew, leaving my young female accomplice to walk up alone.

     As you can see from the formal wedding photo, it was not a happy time for me.

     So how would our own grandsons perform?  Family who know them were laying odds, and the odds weren’t too good on them completing their task. 

     Grant is old enough to follow directions but he’s subject to a four-year-old’s version of a panic attack.  And he absolutely hates to be part of anything that puts him in the spotlight.  Even taking formal pictures can produce a meltdown, tears and all.  And Luke?  He’s two.  ‘Nuf said.  See him pictured below at the church prior to the ceremony.  Would you bet on this little guy?

     The rehearsal actually went okay.  But Luke refused to walk and had to be carried by his mother Lindsay, who also took Grant’s hand, escorting him up the aisle where he gave the box with the rings to his dad, the best man in all this.  Grant acted like it was no big deal.

     So the wedding day came.  Luke and Grant looked dapper in their tuxes.  But as they stood at the back of the church waiting for the ceremony to begin, Grant realized that this would be no simple walk up the aisle of an empty church.  He refused to wear his boutonniere and forcing him to put it on could send him over the edge.  So they didn’t.

    Then the wedding procession began, bridesmaids walking slowly up the aisle to be met at the front by their appointed groomsmen.  After the last bridesmaid had walked there was a pause.  Then Lindsay came up the aisle holding Luke in one arm while taking Grant by the hand.

    That worked until they were almost halfway.  Then Grant fell into tears, holding onto his mother, seemingly refusing to take another step.  This is partly why Lindsay said she was more stressed out for this wedding than she was for her own.  Lindsay quickly improvised, getting on one knee to put Luke down and telling him to take the ringbox to his dad.

    And he did, very quickly proceeding up the aisle and delivering the box to his dad who held his arms out for him.  A collective “Awwwww” emanated from the onlookers.  Success!  Kinda.  With his deed done, Luke flopped onto his back there on the altar.  That brought a little laugh from the congregation.

    All in all, what happened wasn’t really too predictable.  But I wonder who won the wager. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Bucket List Revisited

     Two years ago when I first retired I wrote out a bucket list of things I wanted to do.  Now that I’m 62 and more officially a senior--at least according to the local movie house that offers discounts beginning at that particular age--I thought I’d revisit the list.

     Scratch off the Ireland trip.  Been there, done that . . . though it was kinda planned at the time I’d composed my original bucket list so not a big deal.  My other major travel goals aren’t likely to come to fruition anytime soon, however.  We haven’t bought a camper yet and the trips we are planning right now, to an oceanside condo this year and Alaska next year, were not on my original bucket list.

    My writing efforts thus far have been anemic.  Though getting something published was on my list, I’ve done a few short stories but nothing truly significant.  Even putting up one new blog a month seems a chore at times.

    I have rationalized that some of the videos I’ve made with my grandsons could be counted as creative efforts since I used the Microsoft Moviemaker program with editing, sound effects and music.  Maybe someday one could go viral though I doubt it.

    Speaking of my grandsons, I discovered that my ‘bucket list’ blog of a couple years ago included a picture of my newborn grandson.  So I thought I might as well include a then and now picture of Luke here.  He’s a big boy now but I can still see the resemblance to his newborn photo.

   I did kinda scratch off another item from my original bucket list:  9. Learn to golf.  I've never done it.  But I figure it's never too late to learn.”  Coincidentally, my son Scott wanted to play a round of golf for his final bachelor’s fling before getting married next month.  And last weekend we did.

    My other son Greg loaned me an extra set of clubs so I could practice my swing.  I “honed” my skills at a couple local driving ranges.  Then it was tee time.  I was surprised the fairways weren’t wider; I was expecting more hitting space like at the driving range.

    Almost immediately, my ball went off into the woods somewhere.  Also, almost immediately after the five of us started, I discovered there’s somebody else on the golf course besides golfers and caddies.  He’s called a course ranger, an employee whose job it is to keep things moving.

    I did appreciate that this ranger found my ball in the woods, but his demands that we “go faster” seemed impossible.  Heck, it took me 13 strokes to get my ball in the first hole (is that a quintuple bogey?).  And that’s not counting penalty strokes since I gave up trying to get out of the woods when the trees kept getting in the way.  Throwing the ball got me farther.

    We ended up playing ‘best ball’ which meant we all played the ball which was hit closest to the pin, or cup, or whatever they call it.  I had very few of the best shots.  One time I did have a nice straight drive down the fairway.  Everyone else in our party had hit their ball into the woods.  No wonder we were constantly shadowed by these rangers.  We should have told those guys they need to cut down some of these trees.

    Anyhoo, when I found my ball in the middle of the fairway, there was another ball ‘better’, about ten yards ahead.  It was from my son Scott whose shot had caromed off at least one tree by the sound of it.  But it pinballed back into play and ahead of mine.  Such was my day “learning to golf.”

    A few days later I had monster bruises down my right arm.  My son Greg told me, around about the seventeenth hole, that I was swinging the racket, er, club with my forearm when the power should be coming from my backhard.  Maybe that’s why my forearm was so bruised.

    Well, I figure I can scratch learning to golf from my bucket list, one way or another.  Wonder if I have something similarly physical on there.  Oh, oh.  Waterskiing. 

    New plan.  Every two years I do a new bucket list.