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


   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!

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Little Coffee Clasp

   I once asked my old high school classmate and current e-mail buddy Bob at what age guys like us could be considered “creepy old men” to much younger women we just might encounter socially. 
   Bob, who as a professor at a college is more in tune with the younger generation, would be a perfect person to ask.  Or so I thought.   But he bristled at the thought that he ever could be considered a creepy old man.  OK, forget it then.

    So recently I had a rather amusing encounter with the Tim Horton cafe lady who was taking our money and giving us coffee at the drive-through.   We ordered our usual:  “two coffees, both with one cream and one Sweet ‘n Low.”  I told her I also had one of their roll-up-the-rim coupons for a free donut.  I wanted a vanilla cream which Wendy and I could split.

    Anyone familiar with Tim Horton’s also will know their winter promotion which involves rolling up the rim on your empty throw-away coffee cup which may reveal a “Win Coffee” or “Win Donut” prize.  You tear that part of the rim off the cup, then on a future visit redeem it for your free prize.  They have other prizes advertised ranging from a donut up to a new car.  But the most we’ve ever won is a free coffee.  And the donut too, of course.

     Since we go to Tim Horton’s probably every day, we know the price for two coffees ahead of time.  It has been $3.39 for years.  That allows us to have the exact change ready almost every time.  And this time we did have the exact change.

     I pulled up to the drive-through window where the young pretty clerk opened the window and asked for the $3.39 and the coupon.  Carefully I reached in through the open drive-through window and placed the coupon in the open palm of her hand, along with three dollar bills, and several coins.   While I did this she asked, “Do you want sleeves on these?”

     As I answered, “No, we don’t need sleeves,” I curled her fingers around the cache of coins I’d just given to her, worried that she’d lose some out of her hand and let them fall to the drive outside.  That gesture must have made an impression on her, or at least disrupted her concentration because she put sleeves on our cups of coffee anyway, despite my JUST saying we didn’t need them.

     When I drove away my wife said, “What was that about?”

     I explained to her my reasoning behind what looked like an older man trying to hold hands with a much younger coffee-house barista.  She said it looked like I’d just given one of my grandsons some money, then curled their fingers around the coins so they wouldn’t lose the money I’d just given them.  Obviously this lady was old enough to know how to handle money given her.

       I had a good laugh over it down the road.  My wife didn’t think it as funny though.  She said it was like I was a dirty old man or something.  Maybe the young barista thought so as well.  Let’s hope her memory isn’t good enough to remember me next time I come around.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Big Dave's Not Here

Contrary to the title of my blog, I’m not “Big Dave” anymore.  No, I haven’t followed in the footsteps of Bruce Jenner and made any drastic changes to myself.  That is unless you count weight.   Following doctors’ suggestions (finally) I’ve lost a little over ten percent of my body weight.  Now my wife says I’m skinny.  She exaggerates but I don’t think many people would refer to me as ‘big’ anymore.

     Part of that weight loss has come as a result of regular workouts at the local gym here.  My goal is to look like Jack LaLanne, founder of modern fitness whose physique at 60 years of age could still inspire awe and respect.  

Alas, my weight loss is leading me towards a gaunt, wiry appearance, a body image more likely to resemble actor David Kelly who motorcycled naked in Waking Ned Devine.

     Maybe Jack is yet in my future.  It takes patience.  Working out in a crowd at the gym requires patience.  Lots of characters there.  Today this young man was doing some kind of gymnastic calisthenics on the treadmill next to mine, this while jogging there too.  I was just hoping with all the gyrating that neither he nor the machine, or both, would topple over onto me. 

     Young women are less dramatic in their own workouts.  Yet their own concentration is sometimes divided, jogging on the treadmill while  texting on their phone.  Once in a while one of them will drop that phone.  POW!!  Sounds like a gunshot when it drops on the plastic shield.  My heart which is already operating at peak capacity to keep pace on my own treadmill doesn’t need that extra shock.

      Early in the morning it’s the senior men’s social hour.  You’ll always see a few clustered around one of the weight machines—chatting amiably, not working out.  This usually on a machine that I’d like a turn at.

     One older gentleman is there almost every day, at least every day that I’m there.  Yet he still retains the same portly body type that would cause doctors like my own to shake their heads.  I overheard one gentleman in the locker room speak to him of another regular who hasn’t lost a pound despite going to the recreation center for years.  “Too many Big Macs,” the man opined to his portly friend, perhaps a back-handed suggestion that he too should watch his diet along with working out.

    “Maybe he works out so he CAN have those Big Macs without gaining any MORE weight,” the portly one responded.   Good point maybe?

     I guess I could build up a home gym here so I wouldn’t have to trek to the local recreation center.  This week I saw my brother’s own basement home gym set-up which involves multiple heavy duty elastic bands, including a punching bag anchored between the floor and ceiling.  I did a boxing move and punched the bag which in turn flung itself back at me, requiring some nifty footwork on my part to avoid getting hit.  “It hits back,” my brother warned.  No kidding.

     With elastic bands tied to a ceiling beam he can grab them, then lean over to add resistance to the bands while doing a number of gymnastic-style arm exercises.   There is an air mattress on the floor in case something fails and he falls.
    We have another brother who after seeing this elastic band-based gym said it was dangerous.  I might agree.  Spiderman would probably love it though.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

An Unexpected Christmas Gift

     The title of this particular blog entry is a bit misleading.  We knew we were going to get our first grand-daughter.  She was due on December 15th.  This was our younger son Scott and his wife Kristin’s first baby.  They were excited for her arrival.  So were we.

     We had just celebrated the arrival of our third grandson, born to elder son Greg and his wife Lindsay in November.  Owen has been to visit us a few times and like most babies enjoys a good cuddle.  We have plenty of those in stock here at grandma and grandpa’s house.

     Owen just has to share grandma and grandpa hugs with his older brothers Grant and Luke.  Entertaining three grandboys at once is a challenge at times.  I had Owen and Grant on my lap as I read the children’s book, “How to Babysit a Grandpa.”  Pretty soon Owen began to fuss a little.  “He thinks it’s going to be a long book,” five-year-old Grant explained.  Grant’s pretty good at interpreting his baby brother’s moods.

     So when our granddaughter’s due date came and went without her arrival, Wendy and I startled at every phone call, at every new text alert.  It could be the news that our granddaughter was on her way.  Any time I called my own folks then, I could tell they were awaiting the big news too.  But no news.

     Pretty soon a week passed and still no baby.  We heard that they would induce labor if another week similarly passed.  The mid-wife who tracked the pregnancy admitted that it looked like the baby would not be born before Christmas.

     “This is the same lady who said the baby would be born before December 15th,” Scott complained.  “She was wrong about that.  She’s probably wrong again.”

      Well, she was right, just barely.  Gwyneth was born early morning Christmas day, seven pounds, nine ounces.  Wendy and I hit the road the day after Christmas to drive down to St. Louis to see our new grandchild. 

      And as you can imagine from her picture below, she was worth the wait.

    Perfect way to end the year.  Happy New Year to all in the blogosphere.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Me Versus Squirrel

 As a Thanksgiving treat to our neighborhood feathered friends, I hauled out my bird feeder this past week.  I usually put it up on the cusp of winter, then take it down in the spring when I figure the birds can forage for themselves. 

     Squirrels I’m not worried about.  Particularly the squirrels around our yard who seem fat enough already to last three winters, let alone one.  Yet there’s one squirrel who regularly raids my feeder despite my best efforts to shoo him off.

      Mind you, the feeder is right outside our kitchen window.  Birds take flight as soon as they detect motion inside our kitchen.  They’re skittish that way.  Not so the squirrel.  I rap loudly on the window and the squirrel just turns and looks at me as if to say, “What’s up?”

      Now if I open the window and say, “Get the heck out of here” in a voice resembling the cop who shouts in the song Your Mama Don’t Dance, “Get out of the car longhair”—then that squirrel flees like he was shot out of a cannon. 

     I guess I should have considered that there might be young kids walking or biking on the sidewalk beyond.  My shouting could have a similar effect on them.  Probably get me a reputation for being a lunatic among my neighbors too.

      Anyhoo, back to the squirrel.  If I figured my scaring him off meant the end of him, I’m sorely mistaken for soon he will be back.  I tried spraying him with a garden hose with similar results.  He hightails it out of there as if somebody had just given him a hotfoot.  Then, before too long, he’s back.

      After watching him outside our kitchen window for a bit this past week, my wife Wendy noticed that he rested on a small branch under the feeder while eating his fill.  Cut off the branch and the squirrel could no longer reach the feeder, she suggested. 

     It was worth a try, so I did.  Next time the squirrel climbed up our little tree to the feeder, it was as if his little world has been turned upside down.  He tried holding onto the small trunk of the tree and reaching for the feeder without success.  Finally he climbed up the tree farther and sat on the branch from which the feeder rested.

      He couldn’t reach the feeder that way either.  Then he sat and turned to look in our kitchen window.  He sat for a while, staring at me.  I almost felt bad for the critter.  It as was if he was saying to me, “Dude.  Why??”   Then he left.

      Score one for big Dave.  But that didn’t last long.  See picture below.