Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A New Game

At our holiday get-togethers we often play board games. Balderdash is my favorite, though we play Cranium most often. Outburst and Taboo are a couple others we sometimes drag out of the closet.

This year we tried a new one. Telestrations is a game that tests your sketching and guessing prowess. Erasable sketch pads and cards containing words are passed out to players around a table. Each player is assigned a word to illustrate with a sketch. When finished they pass their pad containing the sketch to the player besides him or her who tries to guess the word from the sketch.

He writes his guess on a separate page in the pad, then the sketch pad is passed to the next player who flips to a new page in the pad and tries to sketch the word just written. When a player’s pad has made the rounds and is back into his original hands, then scores are tallied up. If you guessed a word right, you get a point.

Complicated maybe, but it was fun. Some of the words were easy to sketch. Bicycle made it all around the table without anyone guessing or sketching wrong. So did Michigan. Arm wrestling turned into thumb wrestling when one of the sketches appeared to feature the thumbs of the opponents.

Players learned quickly that it was better to sit by someone who could sketch. That was bad for me and those on either side of me. I’m a word man, not a picture man. I sketched what I thought was pretty clearly a “shipwreck” until wife Wendy next to me guessed my sketch to be “Mt. Kilimanjaro.”

What?? How could you possibly mistake the two? Can you see somebody out in the wilds of Africa suddenly exclaim, “Holy cow, a sailing ship just ran aground on the rocks there. No, wait. It’s Mt. Kilimanjaro. My bad.”

But that meant that my son Scott had to take Wendy’s guess of Mt. Kilimanjaro and now try to sketch that. He did a really good job sketching a mountain with wild animals roaming the plains below (all this in 60 seconds too). But my brother-in-law took a look at the sketch and guessed Mt. Fuji instead. I don’t think they have giraffes lurking in the foothills of Mt. Fuji in Japan.

Some of the original words can get twisted around pretty quickly. Like “identity theft", which when sketched became “doctorate” with the next guess after which I tried to sketch a black-robed graduate getting his diploma, so it then became “ebony and ivory” when my sister-in-law tried to guess what my sketch was. Then “ebony and ivory” became “ebony and ivory” again.

A correct guess! That's because my nephew had sketched a pretty good likeness of Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney at the piano. Now why can’t I draw like that?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Did I Hear That Right?

Here's my grandson Grant watching my brother Gary strum a Christmas carol at our holiday get-together this past weekend. The little guy is so fascinated by music and musicians.

During the party I teased my nephew that I know how they sing "Deck The Halls" in his hometown of Traverse City, the lyrics having been changed slightly to "Don we now our bright apparel, fa la la . . . " by an elementary teacher up there in the tip of northern Michigan.

Apparently, the teacher couldn't get her charges to stop giggling at the line, "Don we now our gay apparel." Of course, news of the change went viral and brought outrage upon the school. Ironically, Traverse City had just passed a gay rights ordinance during the November election.

I like listening to carols new and old. And speaking of changes, I detected one in the wintry "Baby It's Cold Outside." The version with Dean Martin has the lady relenting to staying "just a cigarette more."

But in a more recent version with Jessica Simpson, that line has been replaced by "just a half a drink more." Just as smoking has become verboten on television and movies, it's being eliminated in updated covers of popular Christmas carols.

Christmas songs are often the subject of revisions and controversy, which is too bad. I did a little research and found out that "O Come All Ye Faithful" had one of its lines changed, apparently by someone who thought "Oh Come Let Us Adore Him" was too sexist. One church changed that to "Oh Come In Adoration." I swear I've also sung it as "Oh, Come Let Us Adore Thee."

Wonder how the Latin version translates. I remember singing the Latin version in public grade school. My guess is that you don't hear "Oh, Come All Ye Faithful", Latin or English version, sung that often in public grade schools in this day and age.

Even on the radio, it seems that traditional Christmas hymns play second fiddle to songs about Frosty, Santa and reindeer. When was the last time you heard "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming" or "The Coventry Carol"? There should be a place for traditional Christmas songs among all the commercialism and pop.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Unexpected

Life’s full of little surprises—some good, some not so good. But variety is the spice of life and surprises make up some of that variety.

Wendy and I got a little surprise in our mailbox last Friday. There were two thin, postcard-size mass mailers, addressed separately to me and Wendy. Coming as it did during the Christmas season, I figured it to be some sort of advertisement.

But I was intrigued by the return address, Foreign Currency Fee Litigation Settlement Fund. I remember spending some time pulling together old credit card slips from a trip to Canada to submit for a class action lawsuit. Ordinarily I don't save credit card slips over a year old but I keep credit card slips from vacation purchases as trip souvenirs, pasting them into my trip journal (this particular trip occurred in 2005). So I filled out some paperwork and submitted it to someplace I forgot about years ago.

The wheels of justice do turn slowly but eventually it paid off for Wendy and myself. Those two non-descript mailers when torn open produced two checks for $18.04. Oh, yeah. Christmas has come early.

Not so fast, protested Wendy. How did we know this wasn’t a scam? What??? Like this check has a virus attached that’s going to siphon the funds out of our account? Wendy wanted to see proof, copies of the papers I submitted. Well, that was going to be a problem. Finding the credit card slip to a restaurant we dined at in Savannah, Georgia five years ago is a piece of cake. Finding legal documents like the deed to our house proves much more of a challenge.

But Wendy relented when I showed her on the internet how the Better Business Bureau, who responded to hundreds of similar inquiries, determined these checks not to be a hoax. I got the okay to do the deposit.

So that was unexpected, but good. Here’s something on the flip side. I arrived home on Monday to find some packages on our doorstep. I had just gathered them up and put them on a table inside, when I heard somebody insistently blowing their horn in our driveway.

My first thought was that my wife was pulling our Saturn Vue into the driveway right behind me, blowing the horn to let me know that she was home. But that really didn’t make sense as my wife is not accustomed to making such grand entrances.

I looked outside and saw no Saturn, only our year-old mini-van which was having some kind of honking fit. Why? I had no idea. But it already was drawing stares in our neighborhood, so I grabbed the remote entry key and began pressing buttons. It just kept honking.

Then I ran outside, got into the mini-van, and started it, figuring that would pacify its honking fit. No. I turned over the engine, then turned it off again. Not only was it honking at fire alarm strength decibels, the dashboard was flashing all kinds of strange lights. It’s times like this when I wish I would have read the owner’s manual.

Finally, I’d had it. I was driving to the dealer where I bought this stupid mini-van, which was only a couple miles away. I’m sure if I pulled up next to their showroom with my car, still under warranty, having honking fits, servicemen would be racing out to help. And driving over there, I imagined drivers would be clearing the road to let me by, with my car going HONK-HONK-HONK-HONK incessantly all the way. Either that, or I’d be the victim of some road rage.

But when I pulled out into the street, the honking suddenly stopped. It was as if the car was saying, “Gotcha.” *Sigh*

New saying. Instead of “More wags, less barks”, make it “More checks, less honks.”

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Old Thinking

My buddy Bob, who is the same age as I, recently declared it's official. "We ARE old." To back up his declaration, he described a recent incident that occurred while he was waiting to teach a class at a college down south.

Passing by a restaurant, he observed a notice posted on a restaurant door with the eye-catching headline, "Attention Seniors." Ah ha, he thought. Perhaps they were advertising a hefty senior citizen discount.

So he began reading the fine print, wondering what the cut-off age was and exactly what the discount would be. A few minutes into reading, he realized that the sign wasn't meant for him. It was meant for the seniors at the college next door. Adding to his consternation was the fact that he would be teaching a class of seniors in about an hour.

Yeah, been there myself. And it's becoming a frequent stop too. I recounted in response my own story. Wendy and I were in the express lane at the local grocery store when my wife wondered aloud what the daily special was this particular day.

This grocery store runs a super special each day, half off or better on a popular staple. While Wendy stayed in line, I ran for the sign. Briefly noting that the Monday special was bananas, I raced back to inform Wendy who said to quickly grab some.

Since she was nearing the checkout, I had to hurry but I grabbed a bunch and jogged back, throwing the bananas on the belt just as her turn came. Boo-yeah. But when the cashier rang them up, they rang up at regular price.

"Aren't these on special?" My wife asked.

"That was yesterday," the clerk responded.

What?? Did I mis-read the sign? I thought it was highly unlikely that the store would discount a popular item like bananas on Sunday, a busy weekend shopping day. More likely they would discount something like pineapple or baguettes.

We paid and walked away, but as we passed the sign, I tapped the Monday special with a look that told Wendy that I was right--it was the cashier who screwed up.

"It's Tuesday," Wendy said.

Oh. Oh, well. Chalk it up to age, like my buddy Bob says.

I'm posting a couple Christmas pictures to close. Wendy is responsible for the indoor decorations at our bay window, I set up the faux Christmas tree in the backyard. By the way, the yard is not tilted like that. Whatever I rested the camera on to take the picture was obviously not as level as I thought.