Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pictures Missed and Taken

It feels so good to be home and finished with vacation! Ah, Michigan. No sooner did I get back this weekend and old man winter dumped ten inches of snow on my doorstep. I just LOVE shoveling snow.

Ok, sarcasm off. Actually, I miss Florida already, even though it wasn't as warm as I'd hoped. All I have are my memories and my pictures. Soon the memories will fade and as for my pictures . . . well, could have done better.

For example, check out the lady feeding the giraffe at Lion Country Safari. You could pay a couple bucks for a cracker to feed the big guy. I did that. My wife Wendy took a close-up shot of Mr. G. taking my cracker. But when we checked later, no picture. What happened? Who knows. So you'll just have to imagine my mug instead of the lady's in this photo.

At the Safari, you drive around and take pictures of the animals who can venture really close to your car. But the only animal who ventured near enough for a close-up was the ostrich pictured. I could almost hear the bird say, "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr DeMille." But neither Wendy nor I are any Cecil B. DeMille. So just imagine the ostrich's head atop his body here. *sigh*

When we took a hike on a boardwalk in the Everglades, some lady confided to me as we passed by, "There's a turtle on a baby alligator further down."

Oh, that sounded too cute. Pulitizer prize-winning photo for sure as I hurried along. But, no, I misunderstood. She said there's a turtle AND a baby alligator further down. I took a picture of the alligator anyway.

How about pictures of a seagull drinking a Coke? I found this bird trying to get what was left in this cup on the beach. Maybe I could sell it to the marketing firm for the soft drink giant. "Coke: the favorite of party animals everywhere."

Maybe. But there were other photos I wish I could have taken. At a wildlife viewing perch, I saw a sting ray leap vertically out of the water a good three feet. Never knew they could do that. But it happened too quickly for me to snap a picture.

Then there was the time on the beach when I was set upon by a flock of gulls determined to steal an ice cream cone I had just purchased. It was like a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. I was practically nose to nose with one gull who hovered just in front of me.
If only I had a picture to prove it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How's The Weather?

So last night my wife Wendy and I are in this bar here in Dunedin, Florida, on vacation and while watching the winter olympics on television we note that the temperatures there in Vancouver are only going to be about ten degrees less than they will be here.

I tell ya, there's a lot of people down south that would like to have a few words with Al Gore, that Nobel prize-winning proponent of global warming. Sure, it may be a little warm in Vancouver, but when it's unusually cold down in Florida, that's not global. Global means EVERYWHERE!

Last Friday, when we were driving down from Michigan, I breathed a sigh of relief once we hit the Tennessee border. *whew* I hate white-knuckling it on wintry roads and it had been clear and dry up to now.

Then we hit Atlanta. And it began to snow.

It was funny at first with a few flakes tumbling down. Then the real snow squalls started and kept on and kept on. Past Atlanta, past Macon, almost all the way to Florida. And the south does not do snow well. They canceled schools in the Florida panhandle. Not because snow had accumulated on the roads. Not because it had snowed at all. But just because it MIGHT snow. Those dudes need to spend a winter in Michigan.

And the drivers had no respect for snowy roads like we do up north. They kept treating I-75 like it was their own personal NASCAR track. So we passed a two-car pile-up off the shoulder, and another driver who just slid off the road and was stuck in the mud.

Here in Dunedin, I asked the waitress at the restaurant about the Mardi Gras celebration in town. She expressed doubt about the attendance because of "the weather." What?? Because of 50-degree temperatures? Hea, in my hometown of Michigan we will have thousands of folks out for the St. Patrick's Day parade AND a foot race in temperatures that very well could be in the 30s. Buck up!!

Oh, well. So much for sunning myself on the beach here. Instead of relaxing by the pool, I paddled a kayak deep into the mangroves. What's it they say--life isn't so much about Plan A, but how you handle Plan B. Something like that.

They have great fishing here. Could try that. But after making my way to the water's edge through the tall grasses, I see a sign that says "No fishing." See picture. Arghhhh.

I have a new philosophy. Michigan winters aren't so bad.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Can You Keep A Secret?

My father celebrated his 80th birthday last week. My wife and I decided that we would surprise him and chance the 100-mile trip over Michigan's wintry roads.

I knew that would be no easy task. Not the driving part. I could handle that. Surprising my father would be a little tougher.

You see, most of my family could never work for the CIA or any other governmental entity that handled national security. They just can't keep a secret. That includes me, as my wife knows all too well. And especially my mother.

So when my wife first proposed that we go to Bay City for my dad's party, I let my sister Sue know first. And I told her not to tell our mother until we were sure we could get the time off. But when I did inform my mother a week or so later, she responded, "I know. Sue already told me." Betrayed already by my sister.

But my mother was careful not to let anything slip. She even waited until my father had left the house to pick up a newspaper at the store before discussing details for the party. We were grilling steaks. Mmmmmmmm. Sounded delicious as there are many great meat markets in Bay City.

As my dad's birthday approached, I was sure he still had no clue we were joining the party. I found out that my mother had almost let the cat out of the bag though. When my sister and brother were over to my parents house, Sue asked about the upcoming birthday lunch, "When are we going to eat?"

"It depends on when Wendy and Dave get here," my mother responded. She immediately realized her mistake. But my father, whose hearing isn't the best any given day anyway, was so involved talking to my brother that he didn't catch what my mother had said.

I figured we still could spring the surprise. On Thursday, dad's birthday, Wendy and I both planned to work a half day, then leave around noon to head north. So we made sure we both e-mailed my dad a happy birthday greeting from work, to further ensure our surprise. My son Greg who works in the same building as we do also sent my father a birthday greeting. Greg got an e-mail response thanking him for the message. Wendy and I did not.

Oh, oh. "I think he knows," Wendy said.

We made the two-hour drive anyway, pulled into the driveway, and I walked into my parents entryway first, seeing my dad busy in the kitchen. He turned to look at me.

"What took you so long?" he dead-panned.

Guess our plan to surprise was busted the previous day. My mother set a plate out on the kitchen hutch cabinet, remarking aloud, "I need to remember to give this to Wendy."

My father who was passing by at that moment on his way to the basement and his computer, stopped in his tracks. "Is Wendy coming tomorrow?"

Yup, busted. If there's anything my mother can't do, besides keep a secret, it's trying to lie after she's let the cat out of the bag. She had to confess the truth. So much for our surprise.

Guess we'll have to try again on his 90th birthday. He has a way to go to catch up to his mother, my grandmother, who turned 98 this year. Here is a picture of her and her three living sons, including my father at upper right. It was taken at her own birthday a few weeks ago.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

I'd Like To Be These Losers

The missus and I are fans of some of TV's most popular reality shows. We both enjoy Survivor, Amazing Race as well as Top Chef. Wendy has one more reality favorite, The Biggest Loser.

So when our employer sponsored a roundtable featuring four former contestants from that show recently, my wife signed us up to attend. Fine with me. I could use some inspiration as I try to get into shape for our upcoming trip to Florida. If I lay on the beach down there, I don't want some animal rescue group trying to roll me "home" into the surf.

Just seeing these four former contestants sitting together at a table in front of an audience of a hundred or so was inspirational enough. You would never guess that these people had serious issues. Helen boasted that she had just run a half-marathon (she lost 140 pounds during her competition). Pete, the lone gentleman, appeared to me to be toning up for a boxing match. And not as a heavyweight either (he lost 185 pounds during his stint on the program).

I suppose members of the audience were there for their own reasons--some were family, some were curious, some were fans of the show, some like us were there for inspiration. And each one of us had their own personal take on the proceedings, generally a question-and-answer session.

Here's what I got out of it . . .

Contestants for a reality show like this, and I believe for most any reality show, are definitely not shy. Nor are they afraid to give their opinions in front of an audience. Let me do the math. They were there for one hour. Other than giving a brief introduction of themselves, they each took two questions from the event organizer. And two questions total from the audience. And that easily filled the hour. They certainly enjoyed telling their stories.

What I found most intriguing was that, despite losing up to 100 pounds or more on a national stage and getting down to a weight where they felt energetic and healthy, the temptation to splurge and put it back was still strong. Pete talked about a post-program feast on a box of 10 fudgsicles. But since they were only 40 calories each, it was still much better than his pre-program snack of a pint of Haagen Dazs while watching the Pistons (1,300 calories).

Helen told her own entertaining story of having a craving for carrot cake--one of my favorites as well. She explained how big holidays meant a large spread for her Polish family. Facing a buffet like that was still a challenge.

The night before our program, Helen said she was staying at the local Weber's Inn in Ann Arbor and in a common area nearby a fellow guest was throwing this huge party with lots of party and comfort food. Maybe they even had carrot cake, she wondered.

Then Helen ran into one of the party hosts while eyeing up the dessert table. Helen heard the host say to her, "You like the sweets?"

Helen professed, "Oh yes, I do. Do you have carrot cake?"

The lady looked at Helen a bit confused, then said once more, 'Do you like the suite?'"

Funny story. And there were many stories like this with which we could all relate to. Hopefully, the inspiration I got from their presentations will keep me away from carrot cake too. And Lays potato chips. And Mcdonalds Big Macs. Double whoppers. Regular Coke, creme-filled long johns, Cheezits, root beer, White Castles . . .