Friday, April 11, 2014

I Wanna Be 50 Again

     Last week I called in sick to work.  Though I'm retired, I still work part-time.  On this particular day my wife went to work early, as she needed to be in by 6 a.m.  I slept in another hour and a half but when I arose, my stomach was way out of sorts for what reason I don't know.  Guess that happens when you're 60.

     So I called in sick to work, which surprised my wife when she got the news as she works in the same building.  She didn't know why I was ill, so she called to check on me.  Woke me out of a rather deep slumber, but I managed to tell her why I wasn't coming in.  But she thought I wasn't quite clear in my explanation, but who does when they're so roused.  So she hurried home to check on me, feeling that my lack of clarity might indicate a stroke.  Guess that happens when you're 60.

     Bottom line:  she awoke me again when she got home, but this time, feeling better, I decided I would return to work with her.  All's well that ends well.

     Yeah, I do wish I were 50 again.  These days my mind loves to play tricks on me.  Even my blog refused to let me in as I kept punching the wrong password.  My eye doctor suggested last visit I wear glasses when driving.  My sometimes trembling hands have caused me to hit hot keys on my keyboard that cause all kinds of funky things to happen, or, worse, delete lines that I spend much time on trying to retrieve.  Guess that happens when you're 60.

     Anyway, enough commiserating.  Hea, spell check says I got that word right.  Boo-yeah.

      Though in some ways I've lost focus, one activity where I can stay on task is planning travel.  My latest inspiration involves a trip to Ireland which we're going to do in a couple months.  I like to go places and my wife doesn't mind so long as it's someplace where they speak English.  I figure Irish should be close.

    Since my interests wax towards the macabre sometimes, I booked one of our first nights in what they say is a haunted Irish castle.  My sister's a bit nervous about this since she and her husband are traveling with us and I booked them a room too.  So I asked my sister whether she wanted the room in the remote section of the castle where hauntings are rare save for an occasional spectral light and phantom soldiers outside the window.  Or she could stay in the room where ghostly children have been seen and where strange animal noises have been heard.

     It doesn't sound like it matters though since she's bringing her eye mask and ear plugs.

     Then we're going to stay down the coast of Ireland in a farm cottage.  That sounded much more peaceful until I researched the village where we were going to be overnight.  It turned up on a list of haunted Irish spots because it was the site of a bloody battle which is purportedly re-enacted by ghostly soldiers on its yearly anniversary.

     And, wouldn't you know, that date is the same day we're going to be staying there.  Well, leastwise my sister should get good use of the mask and ear plugs she's bringing.


Wednesday, March 05, 2014

A Winter Of Discontent

     Blast this snow and cold here in Michigan.  We're used to winters here but c'mon!  Enough is enough.  Just today I slipped on the ice right near my porch.  Not long ago my wife slipped on our driveway and fell face first into an inch of snow that had fallen overnight.  And I've gone through big jugs of ice melt, taking the last one from the shelves of our local store.  And that was weeks ago!

     Our driveway entrance has so much ice and snow build-up courtesy of the local snowplows that it almost takes four-wheel drive to just pull in.  I've been approached by movie execs asking if they could use my driveway to train new stunt drivers for the next James Bond movie.

     I thought the missus and I could get a break by heading south, though that would take us around Atlanta and I remember what happened there with far less snow and ice than what we have.  The expressways became a parking lot for a couple days.

     And though it was springtime temperatures in Atlanta last week, driving through there wasn't a breeze.  Whether driving north or south on I-75, we had to dodge shutdowns on the freeway.  I thought the problem earlier was just the icy weather but maybe Atlantans just can't drive.  Or maybe I'm just discontented and feel grumpy when it comes to Georgia.

     I mean, we hit the welcome center at Georgia and I wait my turn at the customer service counter so I can ask the travel adviser if there's an Atlanta Bread Company just off I-75.  She punches something into her computer, frowns, then says, "It says there are no stores in your state.  That's weird."

     Well, yeah lady.  You think a place called the Atlanta Bread Company would have at least one outlet in their home state.  But she moved on to helping other customers.  Then before we hit Atlanta, traffic back-ups forced us off the interstate but savvy driver that I am, I followed a line of traffic also getting off and probably knowing a way around this mess.  But the semi-truck I was following pulled a lane-switch at a busy intersection, leaving me stranded in the left turn lane.  More discontent.  And I turned the corner just as the crossing gates came down adjacent to some railroad tracks.  Yet more discontent.  And for a train that never came.  Extreme discontent.

     Finally, we were meandering around Atlanta looking for the Atlanta Bread Company since I found out there was one near (they actually have over 20 stores throughout Georgia).  Stopped at a traffic light, a driver in the next lane motioned me to roll down my window which I did.  "Are you looking for something?" he asked.  I told him the Atlanta Bread Company and he pointed to a nearby shopping strip.  HE should be behind that counter at the Georgia welcome center.

    They are promising a break in the weather soon but I actually had some even better news as my beloved Michigan Wolverines won the conference basketball championship this week.  That's much to the chagrin of Michigan State fans.  My boss is a die-hard Michigan State Spartan fan.  While I was south, my Wolverines beat his Spartans in fact.  I e-mailed him from my hotel, saying that I was looking for news as to how the basketball game came out.  His response:


*expletive deleted*



I think you can imagine what he said, though he did abbreviate it rather than spell it out.  Ah, that winter of discontent is worse for some than for others.

My poor grandsons haven't been able to play much outside this winter, as deep as the snow has been and as cold as it is still.  But, watching monster movies with grandpa provides some relief from our winter of discontent.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Conversations With My Grandson

 My eldest grandson turned three this past week.  I’ve been watching Grant on Tuesdays since I officially ‘retired’ from my job.   He loves coming to bumpa’s daycare since I pretty much let him run the show.  Whatever he wants to watch on TV, I turn it on for him.  Whatever book he wants me to read to him, I do.  Whenever he wants his breakfast and lunch, that’s when I get it.  He’s a little prince in my house on Tuesdays.
     What has been most interesting in the months I’ve been watching him has been to see his communication skills develop.  He can’t tell me what he wants unless he communicates it to me.  Like last week when he was watching his favorite movie of late, Attack of the Crab Monsters, he complained that it was “too loud.”
      I knew that’s not what he meant because I had purposely turned down the volume on the TV.  So I ignored him.  Pretty soon he put his hand up to his ear and declared, “I can’t hear the monster.”  That was better.  I turned up the volume on the TV.   By the way, I’m not sure how this fascination with my crab monster DVD developed.  I got it for Christmas as I’m a fan of vintage science fiction movies I saw as a kid.  Grant spotted the DVD case lying around, thought the monster looked interesting so I put it in the DVD player just so he could see the clips that accompanied the menu screen.  He was hooked, eventually wanting to see any scene that featured the lumbering, mechanical crab.

     He has made some interesting observations on the crab.  For example, he tells me that the crab monster eats, “Apples, vegetables and an orange.”  Not people, he insists (though the plot of the movie says otherwise).  And he says, “You have to pay for the crab monster.”  That one threw me a bit.  I can only assume that had something to do with someone buying me the DVD for Christmas.
     Crab monsters aside, he sees things from his own little world, the world of a toddler.  It's just simple observations and requests mostly.  I just listen or offer a simple response—'yeah', or 'is that right', or something like that.  One time I was driving him in the car and he was babbling on and on about where he wanted to go.  Particularly, he wanted to see two water towers (like crab monsters, water towers command a particular fascination) and he wanted to go to the store and get two donuts.  The number two is another favorite concept.
     Eventually, I stopped listening as I had to concentrate on the traffic around me and he didn’t seem to be asking anything in particular.  But then he ordered, “You need to answer me.”  Sheesh.  It’s a different kind of backseat driver.  At this moment, the word "just" is frequently creeping into his vocabulary as in, "I just want to go home" or "I just want to watch the crab monster."
    He’s too young to have deep conversations with, of course.  As in why is the sky blue or will Obamacare eventually work.   He just reports the world he observes and makes requests depending on his mood at that moment, which can change the next moment.   I do remember when he saw a picture of his uncle Scott on the mantle.  He’s fond of Scott though he sees him infrequently since Scott lives in Maryland.  “That’s uncle Scott,” Grant observed.  Then after looking at the picture a few seconds he followed up with, “He come back?”

    That's about as thoughtful as his comments get.  But it is pretty touching when you think about it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

When High Tech Is Scary

Like many Americans, I’ve been following the Obamacare website debacle with some interest, particularly because at my work we’re struggling ourselves with a new software upgrade.  Is there ultimately a limit to what technology can do?  If there isn’t, should there be?
     I mean just about everything electronic now has a chip in it, from multiple parts in our car to the electronic gadgets you use to communicate, entertain and keep track of your life in one way or another.  And they say you can’t do anything on your computer anymore without somebody  being able to find out about it.
     Take my fantasy football team, for instance.   For the second year in a row, I’m at the bottom of the league.  That I blame on being cursed after a visit to Stonehenge in England last year (it might have affected my favorite University of Michigan wolverines as well but that’s another story).  Week after week, I tried changing my line-ups, acquiring new players, even using a charm acquired from an occult shop to transfer the curse to another manager . . . nothing worked.  I still kept losing.
     Then I noticed something peculiar.  When I loaded up my fantasy football team page, there’s a sidebar advertisement for Toyota that pops up with an actor smiling while he says something that's not audible but pops up later in words on a separate screen.  After my team had been doing horribly I loaded up my team page, and I see this actor looking over to my team record from his sidebar box and shaking his head.  What?!  How does he know how I’m doing?   The following week my losing streak was extended and I see this same actor in that same advertisement putting a paper bag over his head as he looks at my team record.
     How can they do that?  How does an advertisement get programmed by somebody to react to something that happens independently?  Or, at least I think it’s independently.  Sometimes . . . I wonder.  In my work, I deal lots with numbers of all kinds—batch numbers, transaction numbers, ID numbers, etc.  I was working in a particular part of my spreadsheet that involved random batch reference numbers generated by our computer software.  Then I saw this—check out the last line in this table below:
BATCH                                                          REFERENCE
I find that too eerie to be a coincidence.  

Finally, there is something that happened to me tonight.  I was typing in a Yahoo search engine and mistyped the year 2014 as 3025.  So, for the fun of it, I continued on anyway leaving 3025 and the next couple letters of the word I intended to type to see what hits I would get.  What happened next was jaw-dropping.

If you search Yahoo, you know it tries to guess what you're searching for by giving you some suggested options as you type.  What it did was give me 3025 and my last name.  Mind you, I have an unusual last name.  Everybody with my last name is at least a shirt-tail relative.  But apparently one of us has a street in Illinois named after them because that's what Yahoo suggested I might be looking for--an address on a street with my surname.  Weirdorama.

I see this is the first blog I've put up in two months.  I know I've said it before, but it bears repeating, time is just like water through my fingers lately.  But I'm not too late to wish everyone the best of the season and a happy 2014.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Don't Prey On Me

    Isn't it terrible the number of misleading advertisements or outright scams there are out there today.  I recently read an AARP article about a senior citizen who shipped almost three quarter of a million dollars overseas hoping to collect on some lottery there.  It was a scam, of course.  She tried suing the bank for allowing her to wire all that cash but she lost.

    Moral?  No matter what your age and situation, you need to be on guard.  I never thought that would be a problem with me but a couple recent incidents told me otherwise.  The first time occurred when the doorbell rang and a lady wearing a nametag and carrying a clipboard smiled and explained she was from a utility company and asked to my my recent energy bill.

     I assumed she was from THE utility company so when she told me that there was a problem with my bill and I could do something to eliminate some energy recovery charge, I figured it was legit.  Before she left, I had determined there was something a little fishy.  Turns out this outfit, which has been under investigation for its marketing practices outside Michigan here, wants to be your energy supplier.  They become THE middleman who buys energy then sells it to your utility.

    But . . . unfortunately I signed up anyway, for some reason.  I blamed it on turning 60.  I did cancel almost immediately and hopefully it didn't cost me anything to do so.

    Second time: it was the night before my last vacation and I went on-line to make a quick last-minute reservation.  I knew what hotel chain I wanted to stay with, so I went to their website to make the reservation.  At least I thought I did.  Turns out I went to a website that advertises with major search engines so their website which mimics the actual hotel's website shows up at the top of your search results.

    And that's where I ended up.  When I made the reservation, I thought the room cost seemed the normal price, but the taxes and fees were quite high.  Oh well, tourists are getting gouged more and more by taxes, I thought.  Only after I had received the actual e-mail confirmation did I realize that this reservation website had charged me a $10 booking fee.  What a scam!  Had I made the reservation with the actual hotel website, I would have been charged the same price for the room, but without the $10 booking fee.

     Right now I'm looking at a notice I got through the mail.  It looks very official.  It's from the "Motor Vehicle Division" and inside says an 'Immediate Response to this Notice is Required.'  It's addressed to my attention and lists the mini-van I bought a few years ago along with a Vehicle Code number.

     It reads, "Our records indicate that you have not contacted us to have your vehicle service contract updated."    It urges me to call during "operating hours" before October 18.  Gee, I didn't know a service contract was mandatory in the state of Michigan.  Yes, my warranty has expired.  No, I don't want an extended warranty.

     Dirty way to try to make a buck in my book.

     Has it really been six weeks since I last put a blog up?  I think some scam artist is robbing me of spare time too.  But I do spend time with my grandsons.  I took my oldest grandson Grant to a pumpkin hunt just today.  I took six pictures trying to get him to sit still and smile at the camera.  But THAT was worth the time and effort.  See photo.



Friday, August 30, 2013

How I Spent My Summer

    It's been quite a while since I put up a blog.  For whatever reason, the summer just got away from me.  Me?!  And I'm semi-retired???!!!  So let me explain in pictures what I've been up to.

    Of course, being a grandpa, I spend some time with the grandchildren.  In fact, on one of my days when I play the retiree, I become grandpa's day care for Grant, the eldest grandchild in the picture above.  No way could I handle both Grant and his baby brother Luke, shown with his prison green stripes in the picture above.  More on Grant later.

     I'm also trying to get a handle on my garden.  Some vegetables, such as the pumpkin below, thrived while others literally never got off the ground.  And I neglected to label some of my vegetable plants so now I'm not sure if they're a pea or a pepper.

    And this pumpkin is growing in the middle of my backyard.  Pumpkins need their space, lots of it I found out too late.  So it was either having a nice, neat manicured lawn back of our house or two pumpkins, both like the one pictured.  Since I love all things Halloween, I picked the pumpkins.

     Grandson Grant really gets a kick out of my pumpkins and I hope he got a treat out of watching them grow.  He has his favorite routines at bumpa's day care:  check out the 'lawnmower house', turn my bike over so he can spin the wheels with cardboard pieces making motorcycle noises, play at the 'castle'--an elaborate play structure at the local park, and engage in long coloring sessions of Oso the bear.

    He loves all things Oso, a character on the Disney Junior channel.  Just when I thought I was on easy street with 20 episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse recorded for playback, he decided he didn't like Mickey any more.  Oso was his new fav.  So I have 20 episodes of Special Agent Oso recorded and spend almost as much time drawing him on whiteboard as we do watching him on TV.  Grant draws him too.  See if you can tell which Osos are mine and which are his in the above picture.  "Draw Oso," he tells me.  If I had a nickel for every time I've heard that . . .

    Wendy and I did manage a couple Michigan trips too.  I mentioned one in my previous blog.  Our second trip took us to the Upper Peninsula where I took the picture below.

     What happened was that while we were driving on a busy, tricky road in the U.P. a bug landed on our map of Michigan which was open on Wendy's lap next to me.  Wendy hates bugs and panicked, quickly opening her passenger side window and pushing the map to the open window to get rid of the bug.  Both bug and map got sucked out the window, and it was too dangerous to try to retrieve it on this stretch of highway.

     As far as the picture above, here's the caption I put on it in Facebook:

When your map gets sucked out the car window, you rely on a free tourist map. When you rely on a free tourist map, you go down unfamiliar roads. When you go down unfamiliar roads, you end up in Bigfoot country. Don't let your map get sucked out the window.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Pure Culinary Michigan

  The state of Michigan is heavily marketing itself as a tourist destination under the catchphrase 'Pure Michigan.'  No doubt most of the ‘Pure Michigan’ TV commercials we’ve seen narrated by comedian Tim Allen, himself a Michigan native, are only seen here in the state.  They want us Michiganders to vacation at home.  “We’re on a Michigan adventure,” used to be the sing-song jingle that accompanied these marketing efforts.
       So Wendy and I decided to do a weekend Michigan adventure of our own so to speak, hitting some culinary hotspots between Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids.  We’re always looking for a trendy new restaurant or an out-of-the-way diner that’s a hidden gem so to speak.
       The Grass Lake Diner placed third in the state for best breakfast, according to the newspaper chain M-Live which sent its own culinary experts out to find the best breakfast spots throughout the state.  Wendy and I stopped there first.  Grass Lake is a just a village and the diner reflects that.  I’ve seen living rooms that have seated more people than this place.
      The few people waiting in line with us stood next to the wall overlooking the diners themselves.  I’m sure those eating were conscious of me and Wendy watching to see who was close to finishing so we could grab their table.  While in line, we could study the menu which was on a blackboard behind us.   Their Elvis French toast is supposed to be their hit menu item.  But neither of us likes French toast, so I had a pulled pork hash while Wendy did the traditional bacon and one egg.
     The verdict?  My hash was spicy, made more so with tiny jalapeno peppers.    They listed peppers on the blackboard menu, but maybe they didn’t know how to spell jalapeno so they left it off.   Other than that, breakfast was fine if a bit disorderly with the waitstaff huffing and squirming to reach all the diners.  Grumbled one waiter, “We’ve had more diners in the last two months than we’ve had in the last two years.”  That’s the price of fame, bro.
     Watching over all of this from her post by the cash register was a woman we judged to be 80 years old.  She helped to clean up tables and spills, seated diners, and answered questions besides cashing people out and wrapping fresh silverware in napkins.  Wonder if she was the bouncer too if there were unruly patrons.
     That night, since Wendy and I are big fans of the burgeoning Michigan microbrewery scene, we visited the Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids.   We tasted various ales and artisan cheeses, to the detriment of our pocketbook.  I think “artisan” is to food what “designer” is to clothes, just an excuse to jack up the price.

  One unique aspect of this microbrewery is that it’s located in a former church.  That gave me mixed feelings.  The rotating tap of current brews was listed on what obviously used to be a hymnal board.  And the bar itself was strategically placed on the former church altar.  Wasn’t there a story in the Bible about Jesus throwing people out of the temple for selling their wares?  Can you imagine what He would think about this?  They had outdoor seating here but I’m glad I didn’t sit under the darkening skies there, lightning bolts and all.
     Finally, on the way back from Grand Rapids we stopped at Joe’s Gizzard City.  If anyone’s heard of the Food Network’s Guy Fieri, then they probably know of his popular Diners, Drive-ins and Dives book and TV program.  Joe’s  restaurant was featured in a TV segment, one of the few Michigan eatieries so honored.  

This is one place you do NOT want to stop on the way to your doctor’s for a cholesterol check.  Most everything is deep-fried here from the featured chicken gizzards to desserts.  Yes, desserts.  Deep fried cheesecake anyone?  I settled for some onion rings and some fried gizzards which actually weren’t too bad when you dipped them in the proffered side of cocktail sauce.  Though I worried what my doctor would think, I’m glad I wasn’t the lady at the adjacent table who ordered a whole plate of deep fried gizzards as she received assistance breathing from her bottle of oxygen sitting on the floor next to her.
      I'll stay away from greasy fried foods when I'm on oxygen.  When it comes to Michigan culinary adventures, you have to draw the line somewhere.