Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Time For Summer Fun

Summer's here. Time for some fun and frolic. I'm always up for a trip, whether for a day, weekend or longer. We just got back from an overnight camping trip to the Silver Lake sand dunes of western Michigan. This is an annual event with our family and my wife's sister's brood. But I always like to try some new adventure.

Recently I saw some teams of young teenaged girls involved in a beach volleyball doubles tournament. Looked like fun the way those youngsters glided about the court, jumping here, diving there. So I found the court dimensions on-line, cut some rope to length to form the boundaries, and we played doubles volleyball, tournament style.

Now I know what you're thinking. Is it a good idea for somebody who goes by the moniker of Big Dave to be playing doubles beach volleyball on a tournament-sized court at age 54? Probably not. Today I feel like I need a double hip replacement. Probably wouldn't hurt to throw in a new knee as well.

We have played volleyball before. But with a ball that resembled a three-year-old's birthday present and usually with more people on the court. This was the first time we had something approaching an official looking volleyball, and an official looking court rather than lines drawn in the sand.

But instead of gliding and diving like I had envisioned us doing, it was more like flopping and flailing. My eldest son Greg looked afterwards like he had taken a bath in the sand. If any of us had signed up to challenge in that teenaged girls' volleyball tournament I had watched, they would have had their way with us.

Still, it was an adventure. That's what I like. Next up? The same cast of characters is supposed to camp in the Upper Peninsula in July. I'm pushing for an all-day canoe trip with portages in a county where bears outnumber resident humans.

OK, so I remember when my boys and I joined my friend Bob in an overnight canoe trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Minnesota. We ended up dehydrated, savaged by mosquitoes, and lost when I led our canoes into a waterway dead end. Afterwards, I noticed Bob had pulled out his own compass to verify my wayfinding--he of little faith. Well, I did learn a lesson there. This time I'll bring two compasses myself.

My boys trust me, though. For Father's Day, Greg got me a card that read: "A childhood full of adventures . . . one heck of a tour guide. Thanks, dad."

Think that one I'll put that in my scrapbook.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

My Fatherly Influence

Happy belated Father’s Day to everyone out there! If you’re not a father, I’m sure there is a father or a father figure in this world or the next who is special to you. Remember them kindly.

Though my own two boys are now adults, I still hope my influence as a father to them was positive. This past week, while cleaning out an old store-room, we came across a typewritten letter my youngest son Scott must have composed when he was a mere child, probably fifth grade.

Perhaps it was a classroom assignment, as it appeared to be a letter written to his hero. I thought it timely to re-print it here, not only because of Father’s Day, but because the letter mentions Spiderman from the movie that’s out now, as well as the incredibly evil arch-villain Venom (that’s Venom with Spiderman in the accompanying artwork here).

Here is what he wrote (I corrected spelling, punctuation, etc., but the words are his):

“Dear Venom,

“I am a fan of yours. I have your action figure and a poster, and I draw you all the time.

I have a question for you. Who do you hate the most besides Spiderman? What do you plan to do after you have killed Spiderman?

If you have extra of some of the Promethium X, can I have some? And if you have some of that web-slinging stuff left over, can I have some of it also?

I’ll trade you a very good picture of you strangling Spiderman for some of that Prometheum X stuff or some of the web-slinging stuff (with instructions) . But I’d prefer the Promethium X stuff. OK?



By the way, I looked up Promethium X and it’s a powerful energy rock, more power than Plutonium. I’m not sure what he intended to do with the stuff—not sell it to Iran or North Korea, I’m sure. But since Scott is in Russia right now, I can’t ask him.

Awwwww, I’m looking down at this old letter here and I see Scott must have borrowed my “Thank you” rubber stamp, since there’s a big red “Thank you” stamped at the bottom of his letter to Venom.

Politeness and gratitude. My influence as a father shines through.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Water, Water, Everywhere

A comedian once described a meeting of foreign entrepreneurs that must have happened many years ago. These business types were talking about the gullibility of the American consumer as they discussed what they could get us to buy. A Frenchman named Perrier said, "You want to know how stupid I think ze Americans are?"

That was the punchline, but I don’t think many people would get it today. Long after Perrier was synonymous with popularizing bottled water in this country, there are more brands of bottled water than just about anything else in the supermarket. I was amazed to discover while grocery shopping with my wife this week that nearly the whole side of one aisle was stocked with something you get free out of your faucet.

Besides Perrier water from France, you can also get water from Italy, England, Scotland and New Zealand. Artesian spring water from the Fiji Islands is particularly en vogue now. I discovered steamed water designed especially for infants as well as fluoridated "water beverage" for older children. Calcium fortified, vitamin enhanced, carbon filtrated, ozonified, fruit flavored, carbonated, or cured by ultra-violet light. It’s all there for a price.

Not that I don't appreciate good old H20. Heck no! Canoeing in the wilds of Minnesota years back, my high school chum Bob and I became dehydrated when our canteens ran low. Then I remembered packing a couple plastic bags of ice in our coolers to keep our food from spoiling.

Sure enough, the ice had melted and I slaked my acrid thirst after first poking a hole in the plastic, promising Bob he could drink his fill from the other bag. Believe me, water never tasted so good. But when we opened the second cooler, we discovered that the second bag of ice had already developed a hole of its own. The water had leaked out into the cooler, becoming a muddy, silty mess.

Poor Bob. To this day, he bitterly remembers wanting to call for our rescue, or at least a parachute drop of a gallon or two of fresh water.

My son Scott, studying in Russia and living with a host family there certainly has a better appreciation for water now. The tap water in Volgograd is brown and undrinkable. Not only that but the apartment where he stays has been without hot water for going on two weeks. So his dirty clothes are piling up in the corner, much to the chagrin of his "Russian mother."

To make matters worse, a broken pipe in the neighborhood this past week meant NO water of any kind. In the middle of 100-degree heat. In a small two-bedroom apartment with Scott and his Russian family, and one bathroom. I don't even want to consider the implications of that.

Back at home, all our spoiled pooch Doogie has to do is to scratch at his empty water dish to get a fresh supply. Often I'll re-fill his dish singing, "Cool . . . clear . . . water." He responds by giving me a deadpan stare as if to say, "So what?"

If he only knew.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Meaningless Milestone

A little over a week ago I turned 54 years of age. With that, I reached another milestone. My age and combined years of service at work (80 years) enables me to retire with benefits. I may retire. It doesn’t mean I can. Certainly doesn’t mean I will.

Yet I was a bit miffed that my milestone came and went unnoticed by all. I expected some workplace communication of congratulations, maybe some offer of options, a retirement seminar--SOMETHING to tell me that I no longer HAVE to work there. But no, nothing.

Since I’m become fond of conspiracy theories lately—my wife says I’m just becoming paranoid—I believe there is a concerted effort to prevent this generation from retiring. AARP is among those behind it. Quoting from their most recent newletter: “AARP research shows that 70 percent of people who have not yet retired plan to work into their retirement years or NEVER retire (scare caps mine). Almost half indicated they envision working into their 70s and BEYOND (again, scare caps mine).”

What’s wrong with these people? Not retire? Ever??!!

Anyway, I checked out the AARP website it advertised for older workers seeking employment. There were jobs in retail, in healthcare, in temporary help, in assisted living, etc. In otherwords, pretty much the same jobs you find in the want ads of your daily newspaper.

However, it appears that these employers are more willing to offer part-time and seasonal employment to their workers. At least that’s what they say. That might be a big benefit if someone were going to semi-retire. But that paranoid, er, conspiracy theory side of me also is guessing something else about these jobs I see listed. They would pay less and offer fewer benefits than the job I have now.

So I will continue on here. Part of the reason is that there also seems to be a conspiracy out there trying to convince us baby boomers that we need a million dollars set aside in a pension fund in order to safely retire in comfort. After all we, as they say, “Can’t depend on social security.”

And then there’s inflation, higher medical expenses, and of course long-term care which runs about $50,000 a year right there in itself. My pension fund people say that a $1,000,000 pension paid out at 5 per cent a year, their favorite figure to use, will produce a $50,000/year annuity pay-out. Of course, I’m nowhere near having $1 million in my pension.

Oh, well. Why worry about it? It seems like I’ve paid about a million dollars in taxes so far in my lifetime, I figure. Why can’t the folks I’ve been paying taxes to most of my adult life worry about it? Makes sense, doesn’t it?

So I have a new motto for us baby boomers: live long enough to become a burden to your government.