Monday, January 28, 2019

Pen Pals, Honesty and Age

      I received my latest pen pal letter from Tyler, a second-grader at a nearby elementary school.  We’ve been trading pen pal letters since the beginning of the school year.  When I signed up as a volunteer, I was told to ask questions in my letters to keep the correspondence flowing.  I assume Tyler was told to do the same, although in one letter his only question was, “What’s your favorite color?”  There’s only so much you can say to that.

       But I have to admit that I kinda took offense at a question he asked with his latest page of handwritten scribbles.  Here’s what he said:  “I stayed up till twelve on New Year’s.  Did you?”

       Now I probably took his question the wrong way . . . as an affront to my energy level, stamina and ability to celebrate on one of the premier party nights of the year.  So here’s how I wanted to respond . . .

       “Yes, Tyler.  My wife and I attended a large party on New Year’s Eve where we won a jazz dance competition for couples.  We were the last ones to leave the party at 3 a.m. and then stopped for extra greasy burgers and French fries at Denny’s.  Afterwards, we realized that the local gym opens at 5 a.m. so we swung by there to do our daily workout before going home to bed.”

      But they encourage honesty in our writing so I had to tell the truth.  I DID stay up till twelve, but only after I had taken a little nap earlier that evening around nine o’clock.  And my wife went to sleep at our usual bed-time, which is ten.  So she missed the ringing in of the new year.

     Oh well, such is life when you’re north of 65.  My curiosity these days doesn’t lead me to learn about the latest dance craze so much as I am wondering about these healing vortices I hear they have in Arizona.  We’ll be traveling through there soon in our yearly escape, brief though it may be, from the treacherous Michigan winter here.

      I’m not kidding about treacherous either.  This morning the missus took a fall while we were shoveling snow, aggravating her already arthritic knee.  I hope you don’t have to climb a mountain for that healing vortex.  Maybe it’s at a highway rest area or a McDonalds.  Better yet, maybe it’s at a hotel hot tub!

      Worse off was my wife’s pub buddy who lives in the same town we do (my wife goes to the pub once a month with a sister and a few of their friends).  She slipped on the ice today and broke her ankle.   Now she’s hospitalized with a physical therapy appointment to see if she can recuperate at home. That’s not something you want in your sixties.

       Anyhoo, where was I?  Oh, my pen pal.   I did ask Tyler about a Christmas gift he received, that “Alexa” talking machine.  Just curious what “Alexa” tells him.  I can’t remember what else I wrote to Tyler because I dropped off his letter at the local senior center on Friday and I don’t keep a copy.  So I don’t remember (I worry about repeating myself in my letters sometimes).

        Hmmmm, wonder if those healing vortices can help with my short-term memory. 

Monday, December 31, 2018

Will You Take A Check?

      As technology becomes more advanced, I’m feeling like the proverbial dinosaur, totally out of place.  Around Christmas, I feel this more intensely while shopping.  It’s like the traditional ways of paying for things when I was a kid—check and cash—are slowly becoming outdated.  So many young folks pay for things somehow with their smartphones or just by using their debit card.

      I have neither.

      When my wife and I tried to use a check recently at our favorite local grocery store, a confab of about three employees took place.  It appeared that two of the workers were new, so the more senior worker was taking this opportunity to teach them how to handle a person who wants to pay by check.  I felt as if we were paying in drachmas or something. 

      Never mind that they ran the check through their register, then handed it back to us.  Is that then our canceled check?  So how is that check information stored?  Can the Chinese or Russians hack your electronic database and write their own check against our account?  Scary financial times we live in.

     Then we encountered another first when we tried the express check-out line at Target.  After using self-service to ring up our order, we discovered there was no way to pay cash.  We had to flag down a clerk somewhere to help.  Is this the wave of the future?  “Sorry.  Your cash is no good here.”

     “Will you take a check?”

      “A what???”

      At our local theatre in town, they no longer employ ticket-takers nor ticket-sellers at the shows we attend.  What most people do is purchase their tickets, including their assigned seats, on-line at home or on one of those smartphones.  Then when they go to the theatre, they’re instructed to go directly to their seats.  I guess this theatre is depending on our honesty, right?

      My son sometimes orders coffee and sandwiches from Panera on-line from home.  He pays for it on-line (somehow), then when he goes to the Panera’s, the order is bagged and ready, waiting on a rack.  Again, he didn’t have to check with any staff.  He just took the order and walked out.  I guess Panera too is depending on our honesty.

      So I can be standing in a long line at Panera’s, waiting for a clerk to take my money and order, only to be passed over while the kitchen staff prepares an order they received over the internet.    Even my twenty-something nephew complained over this new world ordering system.

       He stood in a long line at Starbucks (shorter lines are one reason my wife and I prefer Tim Horton’s) waiting to just order his latte.  People would come into Starbucks, pass by my nephew right to the pick-up counter, tell them their name and they would be served their own latte before my nephew could even see the clerk past the people ahead of him in line.

      Apparently, Starbucks has an ap (app?) that allows you to order your coffee drink on-line, just the way you like it, pay for it, then let Starbucks know what time you will be in to pick it up.  Thus, avoiding long lines of dinosaurs.  Like myself.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

A Budding Bonnie & Clyde


     Bonnie and Clyde visited with us over the Thanksgiving holiday.  They connived, they pilfered, they conspired, they betrayed.  Nothing in our house was safe.  Nothing within their reach anyway.  For the miscreants were only two years old.

      We weren’t expecting too much misbehavior out of our grandkids Owen and Gwen.  I figured they would be cavorting with their siblings or playing with the toys we made available to them.  For instance, see the white board and crayons in the picture?  Wendy and I had to do our duties as host and hostess to our guests, which included other children as well as adults.

      When Gwen came into town, we figured out pretty quickly that she had sticky fingers.  She tried to swipe my pill case, found a pen which she used to draw on a page of my daily diary, and grabbed a handful of coins out of my bank which she tossed across the room (she even put a penny into her mouth).

      We started putting things up (way up) that we didn’t want her getting into, and just to make sure they were out of reach, we pulled out a wooden chest that she’d been climbing upon.  That we put it outside in the patio.  That still wasn’t enough.  She could climb the stairs and raid our second story bedrooms where no eyes might be watching.

      So I set up a Muppet-sized large puppet on one of the steps.  Gwen wasn’t fond of this puppet and I knew she wouldn’t try to climb the stairs with it watching down from above.  Gwen and Owen had already had a little race down the stairs but that was with me there supervising close by.  I didn’t want them to have a re-match while I was away.  And Wendy and I had to go to the store.

      When we returned, Gwen and Owen were upstairs.  The puppet had been thrown behind a couch in another room.  What happened?  I was told that Gwen recruited Owen, pointing the puppet out to her cousin.  Owen dutifully retrieved the puppet and chucked him out of sight.  Now if that isn’t a true act of Bonnie and Clyde types, I don’t know what it. 

     Later Gwen’s baby brother Davis started crying in my arms.  Gwen came over to check and I asked her if she could get her baby brother’s pacifier.  Immediately she toddled over to a table, plucked the ‘binky’ from the table, stuck it in her own mouth, and walked past me and her still wailing brother into another room.  My jaw dropped as I saw her walk off, highjacking Davis’s binky.

      Later, she was upstairs again with Clyde, er, Owen.  This time Gwen’s mom went upstairs to check on them.  She caught Owen in the act of putting a travel-sized bottle of moisturizer into an alarm clock cassette deck.  When Owen saw his aunt Kristin, he said, “She did it,” accusing his accomplice.  Gwen is a little younger and doesn’t talk as well as her older cousin so the ruse might have worked if Owen hadn’t been caught in the act.

     But Bonnie and Clyde had to eventually break up when Gwen and family returned to St. Louis after Thanksgiving.  So we can breathe easy again, at least until Christmas.  That’s when they’re due to meet up again.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Let Me Tell You A Story

     Grandpas like to tell stories.  I read to my grandchildren often, using different voices for different characters in the books. I just wish my grandson Owen’s favorite book wasn’t about Elmo, from Sesame Street.  Elmo has a very high-pitched voice.  I don’t, and it strains my vocal cords to try.

     But I thought I might put my story-reading to use as a volunteer reader at a local elementary school.  I’m already a volunteer pen-pal writer there.  Not much more effort involved in being a reader.

     So I’ve done it twice, reading to separate classes of young five-year-olds.   Of course, in this day and age, I had to go through a background check.  Then I arrived the first day to find the front door to the school locked.  Somebody told me to go around to the back door.  I did that.  Once in the back door you had to press a button to be let into the school office where you had to sign in and state your purpose in being there.  Sad to see schools so locked down.  I remember when I was in school as a kid it wasn’t that unusual to see a dog walking the halls.  Wonder how that could happen now.

     The first class I read to peppered me with questions afterwards.  The usual biographical queries:  who’s your wife, do you have any brothers and sisters, where are your parents, do you have a pet?  I told them our dog died 15 years ago, which triggered a few follow-ups:  why did he die, are you going to get another pet?

      Then today I read another story to a different class.  Since this week is Halloween, a very favorite time for me, I brought a Halloween book to read:  Henrietta’s Halloween.  This was a book my son enjoyed so much 30 or so years ago that I had to check it out of the library more than once back then.

      But now it’s no longer on my local library’s shelves.  I had to special order it through their interlibrary loan system.  When I got the book, it looked its age, over 35 years old, with a few blemishes, rips and ink stains.  Still, I felt the story would keep the kids’ interest.

       I sat in a rocking chair as the kindergartners sat all smiling and wide-eyed, waiting for me to start.  They turned out to be more critical listeners than I had figured on though.  When I described a scary dark night with clothes blowing on the clothesline, one child interrupted, “What’s a clothesline?”  Doesn’t anyone have them anymore?  I showed them the picture in the book.

       Then on another page, I described a mouse and when I held up the book, one of the kids said, “I don’t see a mouse.”  True, it was tiny on the page.  So I pointed to it with my index finger.  “I thought that was a hole in the page,” the kid said.  C’mon, this book isn’t in that bad of shape.

        Then to the climax where a group of trick-or-treaters come up to Farmer Gray’s house yelling, “Trick or treat.”  The farmer answers the door and gives them each a treat after which the children say, “Thank you” and leave, heading to the next house.  I showed the kids the picture of each of the trick-or-treaters walking away from the farmer’s house with an apple.

      “Apple?” another child questioned.  “He should have given them snack candy.”

      Maybe they don’t give out apples any longer at Halloween either.  Sheesh, I didn’t think this Halloween book was so old and out of date.  I did take comfort in knowing that the kids not only enjoyed the story, but apparently my telling of it too.

      “Can I give you a hug?” one of the children asked as I was nearly to the door.  Before I knew it, I was surrounded by eight or so kids all giving me a group hug.   I hope that’s a sign that they appreciated the story and the story-teller, even if both were a bit dated perhaps.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Dear Tyler

      I remember a while back asking a fellow retiree how she was coming with one of her hobby projects.  She said it was languishing as she undertook more pressing tasks.  I expressed some disbelief that she hadn’t enough time now that she was not working.

     She said she could not believe how busy she was now, even compared to before she retired.  “I’m wondering how I ever had the time to work back then,” she stated.

      Very strange, but I’m finding it true.  Yes, I raised a family, kept a 40-hour job not including lunch and drive-time, shepherded the kids to all kinds of extracurricular activities, and helped keep up a house and yard.  Yet I feel the demands on my time now make me feel almost as busy.

       Most of it involves pasttimes, true.  My garden produced a bounty of vegetables including a number of beautiful ghost peppers.


        They’re supposed to be the hottest pepper on the planet.  My dad volunteered to take one and later cut just a tiny sliver of it to touch to his moistened lips to try.  He spit it out when he began feeling the intense heat which continued to radiate through his mouth even after he’d spit it out.  He sat down in his chair in the living room making such a face that my mother thought she might have to call 9-1-1.

       So I harvested a few of these peppers, intending to save them for later somehow.  That’s on my to-do list.

      We also have three cars parked in our driveway right now, one of them passed down to us from a son who bought a truck.  We don’t need three cars and are going to sell the oldest vehicle.  Selling a car is something I haven’t done in a decade or so.  It’s on my to-do list.

      This past summer I received a message from a distant relative of my wife asking if we could convert Wendy’s ancestry DNA file to a GEDCOM file and upload it to an ancestry site which would allow her and other folks to better trace their own ancestry.  Not sure what a GEDCOM file is and, since it sounded complicated, I promised to do it in the fall when I thought I would have more time.  It’s fall now.  It’s on my to-do list.

     I’ve also been tasked with wrangling with an attorney to change the deed on a cabin I share ownership with my brothers so that the cabin can remain in our family for all our heirs to enjoy.  Also . . . on my to-do list.

     The calendar this month already includes a vacation for a week out east that I’d been looking forward to this spring.  We’ll be heading out of town the same day that we take our youngest grandson to a local pumpkin hunt which has been a yearly tradition for us.   I still need make hotel reservations, do a packing list, figure drive times, etc.

      Then during the summer I thought I should give back somehow to the community so I volunteered to be a reader to young five-year-olds at a local elementary school as well as being a pen pal to a second grader at the same school.  That’s Tyler.  Hmmmm, maybe I could kill a few birds with a single stone here.  Combine a letter to Tyler with this blog, and maybe he could help me with my to-do list as well.

Dear Tyler,

     How are you?  I am fine.  Do you know how to preserve ghost peppers?  Have you ever sold a car or anything on Craigslist?  Is your mother or father perhaps a lawyer who specializes in real estate?  Has Ancestry.com tested your DNA yet?

     I hope you enjoy your year in the second grade.  Write back soon.

Sincerely,

Big Dave

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Beware--I Drive

       I’ve noticed some different robo-calls to our home recently.  Before I turned 65 this year, I was getting calls almost daily from folks who wanted to help me negotiate through this Medicare maze.  Translated:  they wanted to sell me an insurance product.  There must be a ton of money in selling medical insurance plans to eligible Medicare recipients.

     But that dwindled once I hit 65.  I guess they figured by then I MUST have signed up for something in the way of Medicare co-insurance.  But now I’m getting calls of a different nature, from folks saying that I qualify for a back brace, anxiety medicine or skin condition prescription at no or little cost to me.   Of course, I hang up immediately.

     I didn’t realize that hitting 65 was such a big medical milestone in life.  I do pretty much the same things I did when I was 64 since I was retired then too.  I’m physically in the same shape, save for some minor aches and pains.  Well, my short term memory is an issue but that’s nothing new.  I’ve always pondered the hereafter, as in when I’m entering a room then stop to wonder what I’m here after.

     But I received another wake-up call that society is considering me old.  It happened while I was going over bills recently and I decided to see if I could save some dollars ‘bundling home and auto insurance’ like they’re always advertising on TV.  So I called an insurance agent who promised, indeed, that I could.  Wonderful.  So I canceled my home insurance policy with another company and had him sign me up.

    Fast forward to about a week ago and I got something in the mail from that insurance company.  My check for overpayment no doubt!  So you can imagine my UNPLEASANT surprise when I opened the envelope to discover a bill for $50.  What!?  The invoice said the increase was due to a policy change review I initiated when I bundled my home and auto insurance.

    Again, WHAT??!!  I bundled to reduce my insurance costs.  I was on the phone to customer service in milliseconds, none too happy.  The customer service representative very politely explained that the policy review discovered (drum roll here) . . . that I’d turned 65.  I apparently was now considered among the higher risk drivers in their insurance pool.  So my home insurance did go down but my auto rates increased to make up the difference.  And then some.

     I haven’t received a ticket in ages, no accidents either, and I no longer have to fight the traffic and crazy drivers during rush hour.  Still, my auto insurance rates were raised.  And not an insignificant amount, I might add.  Is it my short term memory lapses they’re worried about?  Are they worried that I may suddenly forget what side of the road to drive on?  Or blow through a stop sign I forgot about?  You wonder. 

     Speaking of short term memory lapses, I took my grandsons to the recreation center this week to swim in the pool.  Since we had to use a locker to stash our belongings, I brought my wife’s combination lock.  I’m not too good at remembering combinations but my wife wrote the number on my towel.  In addition, she went over the combination with my seven-year-old grandson Grant.

      After we swam, I arrived back at the locker and realized that I’d absent-mindedly (that hyphenated phrase describes me a lot these days) stowed my reading glasses in the locker so I was having difficulty reading the combination on the towel.   Plan B.  Ask grandson Grant.  “What’s the combination again?”

     “I had too much fun to remember it,” Grant responded.

      *sigh*   Wish I could say that was my problem.

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?