Monday, July 30, 2018

When Grandpas Go Too Far

     This has been the summer of gardening and grandkids thus far.  Garden’s doing okay.  We harvested one prize zucchini and it looks like we should have a bumper crop of tomatoes and yellow squash.  But my ghost pepper plant and butternut squash have yet to show signs that they’re expecting little ones.  Lots of blossoms and vines but nothing else . . . yet.

     We watch all three grandboys, ages 1, 5 and 7, one day a week.  That’s about all we can handle at our age.  We supply lots of love, treats and entertainment.  The entertainment usually means TV shows and their kin, for example Netflix and YouTube.  But I also make it a point to get the boys outside whether it’s a car ride to the park or a local supermarket.

     One day while littlest Owen was napping, middle child Luke said he wanted some candy from the local gas station.  His older brother Grant wanted a slushie.  Grandpa himself could use a little treat so I said on one condition, that Luke accompany me.  So Luke and I drove to the nearest gas station.

      When I pulled in, Luke complained, "Not here, I said to turn the other way."  What??!!  What difference does the gas station make?  The candy's all the same.  Still, we drove west out of town to a couple other gas stations.  He said they weren't the right ones either.  Then he said.  "There it is.  It's the Dollar General gas station."

     First time I ever heard of Dollar General being described as a gas station.  We went inside and they sure had a lot of candy to choose from and Luke looked over all of it.  By the time he picked something out, we had to stand in line behind women who seemed like they had bought their weekly groceries.

      That gave Luke a chance to ask if he could pick out a toy ("Grandpa, look at this") and ask if he could get some ice cream ("Grandpa, can I have this?").  This older lady ahead of me turned to me and said, "I thought grandpas weren't supposed to say 'no.'"  I told her if I didn't, we'd be here all day.  And Grant had asked to bring him back a 'slushie', something they didn't have at the dollar store there.  So I did end up going to a gas station anyway.

     I also took Grant and Luke (Owen’s still napping) to the local park.   We passed this 'pirate ship' that the boys wanted to play on, so we stopped.  It's a big wooden boat replica that kids can climb on, pretending they’re on a big sailing pirate craft.  It has a ramp, a slide and stuff.  Big enough for me to climb aboard.  The boys were inside the main cabin so I went up to an outside porthole and yelled in my best pirate voice "This is Captain Hook.  Who be aboard my boat?"

     "Captain Hawk?" Grant's voice called back.

     "No.  It's Captain HOOK?"  I yelled back in my pirate voice again.

     "Captain Hulk?" Grant asked

     So I had to break character and go into the boat to ask Grant if he'd ever heard of Peter Pan, Captain Hook and the rest.

      Then later I was up on the deck of the boat and some little girl about Luke's age was getting ready to come up the ramp.  She had a big bag of Doritos clutched in her hand so I yelled, again in my best pirate voice, "She's got the treasure!"  Just having a little fun but she took off like a shot, running all the way to where her bigger brother was playing by a nearby swing. 

     Oh, oh.  Time to go.  Gathered Grant and Luke and we headed for the car.  I could see that girl's brother with his arm around her as they both eyed us warily heading to the car.  That's all I would need is for them to get their mom or dad.  

     “Her brother probably told her you was just playing with her,” Grant tried to console me afterwards.  Sure.  Afterall, I’m a grandpa, with grey hair even.  What do you expect?

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Mingling With Foreigners

       Back from our trip to Alaska where we hoped to enjoy some wildlife encounters.  And we did see a few moose, including a mother and her calf, in Denali National Park,.  Also got brief glimpses of grizzly bears on our day trip into the national park aboard a tour bus.  But what intrigued me more than the wild animals were the foreign tourists we encountered during different stages of our vacation.

       When we took our seats aboard the converted school bus for what was called the “tundra-wilderness tour” in Denali, we found ourselves amongst members of a German tour group.  They spoke mostly in German with very little English.  And they were quite exuberant to the point that I wondered whether they came directly from Octoberfest, never mind it was May.

      Not long after the beginning of our tour, in the forest surrounding the visitor’s center, I heard one German tourist inquire, “Where ist bear?”  It was obvious that’s what they wanted to see most, though they also became excited when we happened upon some grazing caribou, which they referred to as “moose.”  After more time had passed I again heard, “Where ist bear?”

      But we had not yet reached the tundra portion of Denali where most grizzly bears are encountered.  Then we rolled up to the entrance to that portion of the park, reserved for specific vehicles like our own.  A uniformed ranger exited from the checkpoint booth and approached our bus.

     “Inspection,” I overheard one German declare.  I thought this to be a quintessential response for a citizen who has probably heard all about the frequent inspections that occurred during the Nazi occupation, then the communist domination of East Germany.  He probably expected the ranger to board the bus and call out, “Passports and identification.”

     We were simply waved on.  Several buses almost exactly like our’s traversed the only road into and out of this part of the park.  Occasionally we would stop for a restroom break or photo opportunity, our bus parking among other tour buses.  During one of those stops we were getting ready to move out, the driver starting our engine as the last few passengers straggled aboard.

      One young Asian woman made her way to the back of our bus caught my attention because I hadn’t seen any Asian women aboard our bus before.  “Are you sure you’re on the right bus?” someone asked her.  She immediately realized her predicament but looking outside saw no other buses in the lot.  “They’re gone,” she exclaimed, seeming truly frightened that she might be booted from our bus to be left here in bear country.  We made room, however.

       At least she was quiet.  Afterwards, we DID see a mother bear and her two cubs rather close up and the Germans were ecstatic, finally able to put their expensive cameras to good use as well as getting admonished by our driver to be quieter, so we could all enjoy the sounds as well as the sights of the park around us.

       We did have a group of Chinese aboard when we entered the park on a different bus.  They also spoke very little English, one Chinese gentleman nudging me, then pointing to the floor when something dropped out of my pocket.  This same man was called out by our bus driver when he asked, “Who is in charge?”   He wanted to impart some instructions for a hike they wanted to take.

      The Chinese fellow summoned a woman to the front of the bus, but she quickly disavowed that she was the leader for this group.  Turns out there was a misunderstanding, the Chinese man thinking that the bus driver wanted to speak to his wife, since she’s apparently in charge at their home. 

     Little language issues here and there.  But it made for an interesting trip.  And this month’s blog.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

It Was Five Years Ago

    I retired officially five years ago this month.  It became a phased retirement of sorts since I worked part-time for the next one and a half years.  My last paycheck was collected three and a half years ago.  My social security starts next month.  I turn 65 in less than two weeks.

     Looking back five years ago, I blogged that I’d heard the years go by faster once you retire.  I now know that’s true.  Five years ago almost seems like yesterday in some ways.  And when I look at the bucket list I concocted back then, I see it’s mostly undone.

      A friend of mine who also turned 65 this month but is still working asked me what retirement was like and how his life might be different if he too joined the ranks of seniors on the sidelines.  His job is more rewarding than mine was, so it’s a toss-up for him whether he’ll trade his paycheck for social security.

       This friend of mine is particularly haunted by the supposed dying words of rock star David Cassidy who according to his daughter said, “So much wasted time.”  He doesn’t wanted to be feeling similarly when he’s lying on his own deathbed.

        So when I think back on the past five years, I can’t say they’ve been all that productive.  We’ve accomplished a few things around the house, I have traveled quite a bit, I made a couple attempts at publishing short stories, and I’ve kept up with my hobbies and such.  But I can’t say I’ve finally completed the great American novel, went back to school, started a second career, done a lot of volunteer work or made my home a neighborhood showpiece.

        What have I done in the past five years to make those years truly worthwhile?  The time I’ve gotten to spend with family, particularly my grandkids.  As soon as I retired, I began watching my oldest grandson Grant, then Luke and now littlest Owen.   Lots of fond memories.  I remember three-year-old Grant asking me, “Are you scared” before we watched together his favorite movie at the time, “Attack of the Crab Monsters.”

    I also remember taking him to a library around then.  Not usually the outgoing type, he nevertheless hit it off with a girl there about the same age.  They played together, chatted together in the vernacular of three-year-olds, ran from table to table, and together watched the fish in the library aquarium.  Grant even invited the girl on a date of sorts, asking if she could come over to his house tomorrow.  “We’ll eat sandwiches and watch crab monster,” he offered. 

     With Luke I remember his first go-to phrase was “Here ya go.”  He’d say that as he was handing other mothers in our book babies class sundry name-tags and toys he had picked up throughout the room.  Or he would grab a package of cookies from the shelf at the grocery store and give them to me , saying,  “Here ya go.”

      His memorable experience with a girl his age at the library turned out differently.  Since Luke was quite shy with girls, when a girl came up to the puzzle table where he was putting together a puzzle, he ran off.  But I stayed to watch the little girl play with her puzzle, hoping to coax Luke to return.  And he did!  So the two were working on separate puzzles but at the same table when the little girl lost her balance, toppling over with puzzle pieces flying everywhere.

     “Oh,” I gasped, hoping that Luke would do the gallant thing and come to help her.  Instead, he glanced over, said, “She’s fine”, and turned his attention back to his own puzzle.

     Owen doesn’t say much yet but I already know years from now I’ll remember his ever-present smile.  “Cheese” is one word he will say when there’s a camera pointed his way.

     You do hear a lot of older folk say it’s time to retire and spend more time with the family.  In that regard, I guess my retirement has been a success.

Thursday, April 26, 2018


    I complained in last month’s blog about not receiving my Michigan tax refund though it had been several weeks since I’d filed.  Well, progress of sorts to report there.  No, I still don’t have my refund.  But . . . now I know why.

    Seems that when I completed my Michigan tax return—by hand since I don’t want to pay the extra money for Turbo tax or similar program and since I don’t trust the internet in any case—I missed filling in a box.  An important box.  As in “How much of this credit do you want refunded to you.”  Instead of filling in the amount, I left it blank.

     Now I did include my direct deposit information on my tax form which should have been a CLUE to the tax people that I expected the credit in the form of a direct deposit refund.  But the latest on-line explanation I received said that it would take four weeks from the time I originally contacted them about this before I could get “a response.”   Wonderful.
     It’s tough being a senior.  We’re kicked around in so many ways.   Since I’m turning 65 this year I signed up for Medicare and Social Security.  My Medicare starts May 1 but my first social security payment doesn’t come until the end of June.  So . . . since my Medicare payments are supposed to be deducted from my Social Security, what happens in May when I don’t get my SS?

      Fortunately, there was a Medicare seminar being offered locally at no cost.  Now if I didn’t suffer from senioritis, I would have seen that freebie as a red flag.  I thought, incorrectly as it turned out, that it was sponsored by a quasi-government entity tasked with the responsibility of helping those of us 60 and north (south?) to navigate the legal technicalities of  Medicare/Social Security.

     But it turned out that it was being offered by the same folks who inundate my phone line daily with pitches for various Medicare co-insurance products.  The lady at this seminar was pitching her website as a way of finding the best Medicare co-insurance product.  I asked her how was I supposed to pay for my Medicare in May and her response?  “I don’t know; I think they’ll send you a bill.”  Wonderful.

      If the stresses of being sixty-something overcomplicate life some, one way of simplifying things is that you can listen to your grandchildren’s everyday wisdom.  Maybe they’ll tell you something that will end up being a revelation.  Just this week I took my grandsons to the park and Grant, the older at seven, confessed to me, “I like little kids because they don’t tell on you.”

      OK, I’m not sure that’s such a good thing all the time.  But if I feel like rising up in revolution against the state of Michigan for sitting on my tax refund or at the federal government for holding out on my social security check, my one-year-old grandson Owen will be the first to know.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Feeling Forgotten

     I’m still here.  But lately feeling quite ignored outside the blog world.

     I had to follow up on three fronts today as it appeared that I had been snubbed—by my pharmacist/doctor, by a home improvement company, and finally by my own state of Michigan (where is my tax refund?  I should have received it weeks ago).

     So I called the pharmacy as I’d dropped off a prescription re-fill request last Friday.  They had to get approval from my doctor but these are maintenance medications and they should know the drill by now.  It should take a day at most.  But five days later, today, the pharmacy still says they don’t have the permission necessary to do the refills.  This has happened before . . . the pharmacy blames the doctor and the doctor blames the pharmacy.  I’m thinking I either need a new pharmacy or new doctor, or both.

    Last Friday we had a contractor and a Lowe’s project specialist come to measure and give us an estimate for replacing our kitchen cabinets.   I thought we would get an estimate when they were here.  No, they said they would get back with me Monday or Tuesday.  It’s Wednesday and still no estimate.  I e-mailed the Lowe’s specialist, who took our $75 deposit, and she blamed the internet, saying she had an e-mail “resent” to the contractor asking for his numbers.   At the end of the day though, still no quote.

    But those two situations were easier than dealing with the bureaucracy of our fine state of Michigan.  They suggest, or rather DEMAND, that you find out what’s going on with your tax refund by going on-line, which I did.  There, it said that my tax return was completed and I should get my money within a couple days.

   That was last Friday.  So today, when no money arrived, I wanted to follow up further.  That’s when the fun started.   The treasury department only lists an automatic call center phone number in its tax forms.  When I called and jumped through the necessary hoops to get information, a recording said my tax return was completed on February 22 and that I owed $56.

     What????  I was expecting a refund of over $500.  Something was seriously amiss.  But try to find a phone number of someone who could help.  I checked the phone book.  There is actually a phone number listed for the state fishery office here in my hometown of Saline.  They don’t even have any sizable lakes or rivers near here, let along any sizable fish.  Lots of other state of Michigan phone numbers too but nothing for the treasury.

   Well, I had a phone number for my state representative as we’re always getting flyers from her office in our mail.  But when I called, her office spokesperson just repeated, almost verbatim, the same information that was in the tax forms that I got.  Even my own state representative can’t give me the phone number for the treasury department?   Kinda sad.

    There was an option on-line to submit an inquiry on your tax refund status, so I did that.  They actually got back to me rather quickly . . . saying I should wait to hear something in two weeks.  So my tax return was completed a month ago and I owe $56, or I should be getting my refund any day, or I should hear something in two weeks.  Take your pick.

     There’s more reasons I feel non-existent lately.  Through I discovered my wife has a first cousin that she’s never heard of, let alone met.  So I sent him a message saying, “Hello”, giving a little personal ancestry information about my wife and asking how they might be related.  That was a week ago.  No response.  Zippo.

     Then today my wife Wendy was going to send me a cute picture of our grandson, sent to her cell phone by our oldest son.  But when she tried finding me among her contacts on her phone, she had difficulty.  “Usually your name and e-mail address pops right up, but it’s not there anymore.”


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Hangin' with Owen

        I just love this picture.  It’s very unusual for me to like a picture of myself enough to post it here on my blog but this one next to my youngest grandson Owen I couldn’t resist posting.  He is such a ham too.   Loves to have his picture taken and has a ready smile each time.  “Cheese,” is one of about a dozen words he knows.

     We watch Owen one day a week, giving his parents’ other babysitter a break.   A little boy old enough to run and play but not necessarily old enough to know better is a challenge at times to grandma and grandpa.  But it’s fun hangin’ with Owen.    We have a simple routine on Tuesdays that involve naps, playtime, meals and usually an outing.  For example, we attend a library program for babies.  Owen has been going since before he could walk so at 15 months old he's a veteran now.

      What’s been most fascinating lately is watching his speech develop.   He’s a regular chatterbox though most of what he “says” is gibberish.  Or is it?  Occasionally we’ll here him say, “Yeah” or “Okay” and it seems in perfect context.

     One day my wife Wendy was changing his diaper and as he wriggled and squirmed, seeming ly distracted by the attention he was getting, my wife asked, “Are you going to pee on me?”

      “Yeah, maybe,” Owen said (we swear).

     More recently we watched all three grandsons one night.   Though we have plenty of toys for them to play with here, Owen often prefers playing with things we wish he wouldn’t handle.  Like our TV remote.  One time we discovered that we’d lost our WiFi connection to Netflix.  Who knows how that happened but Wendy blamed Owen and his penchant for manhandling remotes.

      “So blame the only kid in the room who can’t talk,” I pointed out.

      “Yeah,” Owen said, responding perfectly on cue.

      Besides saying ‘yeah’, he was for a while saying “Yay-yeah”.  With great gusto too.  During a group read at our library’s book babies session, he would suddenly call out “Yay-yeah!”  So the librarian led us reading, “Corduroy went outside to play.”  And Owen shouted out “Yay-yeah.”  He did it more than once too.  I observed that it made our group read sound more like a revival meeting.

      Yesterday, he seemed to even put words together.  I took him down the basement and he spotted a bucket of plastic toy pieces.  “What is that?” he seemed to say.  Could be another milestone in his speech development—forming sentences.  But what made me feel even better is when he called out, “Bampa.” 

     May not be ‘grandpa’, but it was close enough for me.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Lost And Found

  Mid-winter.  Jigsaw puzzle time if you’re a retiree like us in Michigan.  We have four puzzles in our to-do bucket this season including a 1,000-piece challenge puzzle—all kittens and pink flowers.  Very hard.  Ordinarily we can knock out such a puzzle in a couple days.  But this challenge puzzle took us a week.  Then when we finished fitting all the pieces together, we discovered to our dismay we were missing a piece.

   It goes without saying that as we enter our golden years, each day is a lost and found of sorts.  It’s where did I put this or where did I leave that.  Doesn’t help that as you age you accumulate stuff to the point where your home resembles a cross between a museum and a re-sale consignment store.  Stuff is EVERYWHERE.

     But a puzzle piece?  We did move the puzzle from one room to another to make space on our kitchen table for dinner and guests but still an errant jigsaw puzzle piece should stand out on the floor or the carpet.  This one didn’t.  I checked nooks, crannies, under furniture . . . anywhere I thought a piece might have fallen.  No luck.

    This wasn’t the first thing to go missing this week either.  We’re planning an Alaska trip for 2018 and I had a collection of trip documents stored away.  But stored where?  I knew I had moved them from the usual spot next to my computer as the computer had to be moved to accommodate guests over the holidays.

     But when the holidays were over and normality returned, the trip documents didn’t.  I checked every closet, drawer and storage bin in every room of the house.  My wife suggested I even try checking our cars, thinking somehow they got left in there.  Finally, I moved some poster frames that had been resting against a bookcase in the basement and there sat a plastic bag with the documents.  It’d taken me a day to find them.

     Then another day I could not find my favorite stocking hat.  This “Quicksilver” knit hat I had bought in Maine many, many years ago and I found it to be the best protection for my ears during the blast of arctic air we’ve experienced in Michigan lately.  Again, I looked everywhere I normally would have put winter outerwear.  I came up empty.

     I looked atop our piano in the living room thinking I might have tossed it up there without thinking (leaving things somewhere without thinking has become quite commonplace).  It wasn’t there but I saw an empty plastic bag atop the piano.  I recognized it as the bag that contained our challenge puzzle.  When I grabbed it, I discovered there was still a piece inside.  YES!  Our missing puzzle piece.

    And my missing stocking hat turned out to be not in our house at all.  I’d left it at a bar the previous afternoon.  When I went to the bar on a hunch it might be there, they checked their own lost and found.  There it was.