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.

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.