Monday, June 29, 2009

Foto Fun

My blog has a more visual look to it this week. I hope this doesn't upset my legions of fans (ha ha). I must have a fan club though evidenced by the pretty young model types infatuating over a blown-up poster of me (ha ha again).

More interesting is the following series of photos I took on a trip this past weekend to my parents' cabin in Alpena. We witnessed a dragon fly hatching, certainly a first for me. Tens of ugly bugs climbed out of the water and up a seawall where they, um, did their thing.

You can see the dragon fly emerging from its bug shell in a process that took probably a half hour or so. Then the little guys had to wait for their wings to dry and strengthen before they could fly off.

It did illustrate how fragile life is. A few dragonflies fell back into the water where they perished. Birds swooped in to take some more. And others just never managed to get airborne. And then they need to eat, ward off predators, avoid being stepped on, etc.

I told my wife Wendy that these bugs have to in effect physically deliver themselves, then teach themselves how to fly very quickly before heading off on their own. Imagine what it would be like if humans did that--pulled themselves out of the womb, righted themselves, then walked off after a little while to start looking for a job. I wonder about our youngest son who is living with us as he nears 24. Why can't humans be more like dragonflies.?

Or even like that deer in the last photo here. It's a fawn with his mother nowhere to be found. He's actually in the yard of my parents' cottage looking at me and Wendy inside through a window just a few feet away (my brother-in-law took this photo from next door).

While we wondered if the deer could make it without his mother, my sister opined, "He's okay. He's just dumb." Either that or just showing the naivete of youth. Can you spell v-e-n-i-s-o-n? Hopefully, he'll learn to hide better come hunting season.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Travel Memories

I'm having a difficult time writing my weekly blog, so I thought I would post a couple pictures of my current hobby project. Next to writing, the love of my life is traveling. And I keep souvenirs from pretty much everywhere I go.

From matchbooks, to menus, to brochures, to tourist booklets . . . I had been keeping them in a giant Tupperware container. Not good organization. So I bought a two-drawer file cabinet at Ann Arbor's "Recycle-Re-use" facility for $10 and am finally getting everything organized.

Of course, as I'm sorting, I'm also reading and remembering. I created a Mt. Washington newsletter to fire up the boys for our climb up the tallest mountain in the White Mountains. The boys ended up not only summiting, but making their way down as well. I made it up but took the shuttle down.

On a map of Isle Royale, I re-traced our hiking route the time we did a father-son backpacking trek with my boys, my brother and his son, and my dad. The only time we got lost was when we followed a group of Boy Scouts who ended up going the wrong way off trail. We discovered this before we followed them too far into the underbrush, and turned ourselves around to find the right trail. Never did find out what happened with the scouts.

Not sure yet what is going to happen this summer. We're going to Silver Lake by Lake Michigan in July, a tradition going back over a dozen years. Wendy would like to journey to California once school is back in session. She's never been. I haven't been there since I was a kid with my parents (for a long time, they had a leftover "E" ticket for Disneyland).

I tried to convince my boys this week that when I pass on, all my own travel souvenirs might be worth keeping, the memories and all. They didn't sound too enthusiastic. Most likely the file cabinet will go back to Ann Arbor Re-Cycle and Re-Use and the contents there discarded after a cursory glance. Oh, well. That's probably the way it goes with most things after we're gone. Memories like these don't transfer well to future generations.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I Apologize--NOT!!

My youngest son Scott recently sent me an e-mail with a link to a Wall Street Journal article. Scott added a personal comment: "I accept your apology."

Apologize? Me?? For what? So I clicked on the link.

It was an article about how college commencement speakers, mostly notable baby boomers, were apologizing for the collective behavior of their generation. Some excerpts from the article:

--"Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, 60 years old, told the graduating class of Butler University last month that boomers have been "self-absorbed, self-indulgent and all too often just plain selfish."

--"New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, 55, told Grinnell College graduates in Iowa that his was "the grasshopper generation, eating through just about everything like hungry locusts."

--"Sen. Michael Bennet, Colorado College commencement, May 9, 2009: "We have limited the potential of future generations by burdening them with our poor choices and our unwillingness to make tough ones."

Of course, my son knows how to push my buttons. It doesn't take much to get me involved in an argument over politics. So I e-mailed back:

"There's certainly another side of the story. We're the sandwich generation, supporting both the lifestyle of our parents who are generally living comfortably on pensions and benefits that we will be lucky to see (as pensions are disappearing and social security/Medicare will soon be under attack) and the lifestyle of your generation with its Ipods, cell phones, and generally carefree attitude towards debt and personal responsibility.

Remember, your mother and I had to live on a strict budget when we were young. We had to count pennies to save enough money for a down payment on a house, if we ate out it was mostly at McDonalds, we made sure we paid our credit card bill in full monthly so we wouldn't have any debt., etc. How many young families do that nowadays?"

Ha, I told him. But the more I think about it, the more it rattles me. We're from the generation where mothers were expected to work outside the home to support the family, rather than stay at home. Is that something I should apologize for too? We're the generation that has had to deal with hordes of shoddy imported goods from overseas, while good jobs in this country are getting exported there. Should I apologize for that too?

We're the generation that has had to deal with sharply escalating costs in health care, education and housing. My parents bought our family home in a nice Bay City neighborhood for less than $10,000. Our family home cost more than $100,000. And unlike the value of homes in previous generations, the value of our home is going down fast. We just paid it off last month and now can start putting some of those funds towards our own retirement.

I know where this is going . . . all this rumbling about baby boomers allegedly crashing and burning the economy. It's politicians and their cohorts trying to guilt us into accepting a big tax increase, or several big tax increases. We need to work longer in life, for less money, with fewer government benefits so to share with others who more than likely don't contribute as much as we do, never have and never will. Retire? Don't even think about it.

But speaking of retirement, I paid a visit to the company that handles my pension funds. I was surprised to find the heavy plexiglass door locked. You had to be buzzed in. I wonder if that had something to do with a lot of folks angry that the stock market crash cleaned out their 401K. Anyway, the pension adviser strongly suggested I contribute more out-of-pocket to a new, separate retirement account in order to keep pace with the expected sharply rising costs of basic necessities in my golden years..

And taxes too, I guess.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Adventures In Snipe

I went on a snipe hunt once. It was when I was a fifth-grader and a cub scout on an overnight outing at Bay City State Park. Our scoutmaster split us into two groups, each in a line with one line marching towards the other through the brush making lots of noise to herd the birds into our trap.

My line laid low, camouflaged, large bags in hand, waiting for the wily birds to fall into our clutches while fleeing the ruckus. Alas, we came up empty-handed. One of our group almost caught something, his excited shouts for help bringing a few scouts and a couple assistant scoutmasters running to his aid. But whatever it was, it escaped.

When I reported our adventure to my parents after our return, they snickered. They said it was all a joke. There was no such bird as snipe. Not true. Fortunately, my parents had purchased a set of World Book encyclopedias and I was able to show them the article and a picture of the wily bird itself. They were unconvinced, however.

I was reminded of that incident when wife Wendy and I recently saw the Pixar movie Up. In the movie, a curmudgeonly elderly fellow tries to shoo from his porch a young Explorer seeking his final merit badge, which must be earned by assisting the elderly. The senior citizen finally relents, sending the youth out to find a snipe that he falsely claims has been lurking around his house.

Though Up appears in previews to be a kid's movie in the Toy Story mold, this joke, which probably went over the heads of most of the kids in the audience, resonated with me. As did much of the rest of the movie, I must admit.

I found the movie's opening particularly touching, where a young boy and girl meet as fellow explorers and form a bond that lasts a lifetime and beyond. Their dream is to fly off together to Paradise Falls in South America. They even have a large jar where they throw spare change so they can afford to go some day. But other emergencies always intervene. And time has a way of slipping away unnoticed as we all know.

I'm not sure young children would connect with the adult themes the way I did. And I suspect many others whose lives are largely past them. Anyway, I give both thumbs up to Up. It makes you think about what's important in life. For example, the adventures you can spend a lifetime planning often aren't as memorable as the adventures that just happen. And that you're never too old for a new adventure.

Kinda makes me wonder if there aren't some snipe lurking in that wooded, vacant lot by the library. Where's my adventurer's hat? I haven't worn it since the last family canoe trip. Time to don it once more.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Wine, Wine, Wine

Check out the wine in the picture. Though Wendy and I are not wine drinkers, we do have family members who are definitely wine connoisseurs. So we bought some, having been in New York wine country this past weekend. The Millenium pictured is a champagne, bought to celebrate mine and Wendy’s 29th anniversary this past Sunday.

My wife Wendy and my youngest son Scott traveled this past weekend to Ithaca, New York, so Scott could check out Cornell University, where he is supposed to do his Master’s work next fall. Since Ithaca is in the heart of the wine-producing area there in New York, we thought we should check out some wineries as well.

We toured the Pleasant Valley Wine Company which at one time bottled the Great Western brand of champagne. It’s not bottled there anymore and I had the feeling this winery has seen much better times. They had a large parking area for tourists and a wonderful visitor’s center but the tour comprised the three of us and the tour guide. And when we finished our tour, tasting and purchases, there was not another tourist in there.

But I learned lots. Like Dom Perignon invented champagne. That working in a wine cellar, according to our tour guide, was as dangerous as working in a mine because of exploding bottles. That during Prohibition, the winery stayed in business by selling grape juice with specific instructions to buyers on how NOT to let the grape juice turn into wine. Like “do not add yeast to this product or else . . . “ (with a “wink, wink”). That you can mix different wines to get a unique flavor, like pouring a snifter of Chocolate Lab with Blackberry Merlot. Chocolate wine? Yes, they do make it.

Later, we drove along Seneca Lake—one of the so-called Finger Lakes—where we must have passed over a dozen wineries and vintners. Many groups travel this so-called “wine trail”, stopping at one or more small estates to sample the offerings.

At Hazlitt Vineyards, one of the oldest having been established in 1852, I ran into a party of young women clustered around a tasting bar. From the veil worn by the lady who appeared to be the center of attention with them, I gathered this was a bachelorette party. They were an unusually happy bunch of women but I was most impressed when they occasionally burst into song, which they did more than once.

They broke into their own version of the old Dixie Cups classic, “Chapel of Love” featuring what sounded like the same three-part harmony like in the original. Perfectly in tune. A flawless performance. We heard a capella groups at the Ithaca Festival later who did not sing as strongly or with such gusto.

Wendy thought that perhaps this was a group of women who sang together in the choir. Perhaps. Just so long as it wasn’t in the church choir. There would be something ironic about a group of church ladies celebrating an impending nuptial by dousing themselves at the local winery.