And it Came Back

Today’s toys are loaded with technology. They simulate real settings in game modes, they move the puzzle pieces with a click of button, I can even feel like I’m out on the course playing golf. I am far from complaining either for what you have or for what I didn’t. Toys have always been meant to amuse and to inspire imagination. As technology advanced so did the toys and their effect and affect.

But what did I play with when I was young? The truth is there were countless toys and I had my share, but the question is which ones left the biggest impression on my memory? I have decided that the best way to do this is to think of it by types. I have chosen five categories and a toy for each category that I remember better than others.

My first category is Creativity and the toy is my mechanics bay and gas station garage.  Besides the fact that it had to be completely assembled metal tab by metal tab, it provided hours of imagination as my miniature cars would enter and exit the gas station and its upper level reached by the cool car elevator. This toy inspired me to learn how to assemble things, to fix things, and I guess, to travel. Unfortunately, it never taught me to stop at a gas station and ask for directions. I do feel obligated to give honorable mention to Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, and my Erector Set. Each provided hours of creativity in design, but that darn metal fabricated play gas station just had so many special memories tied to it.

My next category is Finance and the obvious choice here is Monopoly. We would play monopoly and the game would go on for long spells as anyone who has played the game will attest to. The game really was the beginning of my interest in finances. Though I never bought a rental property and certainly never built a hotel, it gave me an appreciation for banking. I would very often agree to be the banker in the game and later in my teaching career I made that banking part of my math curriculum. Honorable mention should be given here to the games of Life and Risk, but I think monopoly is my fondest memory.

For my third category, I am going with Curiosity and the toy, a weather balloon. In high school, my best friend and I decided to follow the invitation on the back of a cereal box and send away for a genuine, US Weather Balloon. I might add, we also sent some hard earned cash because we were pretty sure no parent was intending to finance us. The day the balloon arrived we were raring to go. For some unknown reason, we decided we should inflate it right there in my bedroom. As we filled it and watched the envelope expand, we failed to notice the vast number of sharp furniture corners in the room. Nearing four feet in diameter, the inevitable happened. Who knew the explosion could be that loud and more importantly, that the balloon was lined with talcum powder. Upon the arrival of my worried mother, the sight that greeted her appeared as a small blizzard throughout the room and two young lads who appeared to have spent a day in a bakery. We never did get another weather balloon and thus never sampled the weather above our farm, but certain aspects of our curiosity had certainly been satisfied.

My next category is one of Utility and the toy / weapon was my very own slingshot. Now this was not a store bought slingshot but rather a home grown version. With my dad’s guidance and his keen eye for just the right ash tree branch, my slingshot was crafted and honed to perfection. First target, tin cans. From there I stepped up to moving targets such as gophers, who conveniently carried a ten cent bounty on their tails. Unfortunately, my last target, which I intended only to show how close I could get, was the tail light of my sister’s car and eventual incarceration of my slingshot. As short lived as my slingshot days were, I still value the collaboration with my dad on the project.

My final category and the inspiration for this question will be titled Travel and the toy, my first and until today only, boomerang. Not just any boomerang, but an honest to goodness Australian Outback beauty. I grew up a National Geographic junkie. I would look at the far away lands and dream of one day being a traveling explorer. When I saw Australia and read about the Aborigines and their hunting weapon, the boomerang, I just had to have one. There in the magazine was my chance to own one. I don’t remember how much of my allowance went into the purchase, but it was worth every dime. Hours of throw and fetch eventually gave way to throw and duck and with dedicated practice, one day it not only threw, it returned and I caught it. Success was as sweet as you are imagining. The irony of this last choice of toys, is that life has come full circle. Over the weekend, my wife had bought our grandson, Jackson, a plastic sort of replica boomerang. With little success, compounded by his left handedness, Jackson and my wife were giving up. Insert a little known fact here, who knew a boomerang could be left handed but isn’t generally. This next weekend, Jackson will receive a genuine, signed Australian left handed throwing boomerang. Let the throw and fetch begin but I have faith that with practice, there will come success.

I started off with a comparison of my toys versus the current generation’s toys. What is important to understand is that I am not any worse off for not having the high tech toys nor is Jackson’s ability to enjoy all five categories any less decreased by having them. Toys are toys. They create their own aura and should almost all, one day find their way to their own Hall of Fame. My boomerang is there.

Story of a Fighter

Every now and then I just write in this blog for the enjoyment of telling a story. This is the story of a chicken named Jerome.

Jerome came to be as part of an experiment in my high school sophomore biology class. The experiment involved injecting growth hormones into several fertilized chicken eggs. One egg, Jerome’s, hatched out early that spring. What emerged was more or less this super chicken. Within a very short time, Jerome began to strut, crow, and gain weight. He soon surpassed any of the non-injected eggs hatchlings and was becoming a handful for the biology lab. Eventually fearing that he would break out of the lab and terrorize the rest of my high school, the biology teacher suggested that someone needed to take him home or he would have to be dealt with. Being the farm kid in the class and part of the team that had created this problem, I was soon tasked with finding Jerome his new home.

Within a week or so of getting him placed in our hen house on the farm, he was quite literally ruling the roost. His flock of hens cowered in the corner every time he began his strut. It became apparent that he would need his own coop and so he was relegated to an old chicken coop with an outside penned area for him to strut his stuff. This is when he determined that he could fly and soon flew the coop. We found him the next day, firmly re-entrenched in the hen house, ruling his ladies from the roost. This was now time for desperate measures. Jerome’s wings would be clipped.

Our first attempt proved fruitless and he again flew the coop and returned to the hen house. After two more clippings he was finally grounded, or at least flightless. So how was it that we found him the next morning back in the hen house? We would need to become spies. Within minutes of him believing we had left, he made his escape, not by flying but rather by literally using his beak and claws to scale the chicken wire of his coop. It was at this point that my dad threw up his hands and said “we tried, he won.” Jerome was a free bird, truly a range free chicken well before his time.

Jerome soon became infamous. He not only ruled the hen house by night, but he ruled the entire farm by day. Exaggeration at this point would be, well, pointless. Jerome so scared the locals, that the mailman, if he had to drop off a package, would honk the horn for us to come get the mail. There was no way he was going to leave the safety of his vehicle while Jerome strutted back and forth on the hood, stopping occasionally to beat on the windshield with his stubby wings. We would race out, wrangle Jerome off the vehicle and then and only then would the driver step out. At one point, while having a new TV antennae installed on our second story farmhouse, the installer very nearly fell off the roof when to his sheer horror Jerome stood inches away from him beating his wing threateningly on the roof line ridge. It was discovered later, that Jerome had found the installer’s ladder and leveraged himself up to the rooftop. The farm and surrounding buildings were his turf and he would beat back any attempt at a siege by his imagined attackers. If you couldn’t stand up to him, you were at his mercy.

And so it went around our farm that summer. But there was one person not willing to bow to his authority. My grandmother lived with us in the farmhouse and each morning, after breakfast had been cleared, she would take the table scraps out to the barnyard where they would be disposed of. This required a long walk across the front lawn and driveway and then out to the barnyard. What ensued each and every time was a battle royale between my grandma and Jerome. Jerome would meet her at the door and block her way by menacing her with the now famous wing beating technique he had mastered. She would eventually give him a kick and he would swing around and re-engage. Eventually, my grandmother would take her cane, tiring of this constant parrying, and use it like a golf club. Jerome would be knocked sideways rolling across the ground only to get back up and rejoin the fight. This sparring would go on all the way out and all the way back. None of us were sure if either one of them had won, but it was obvious that both persevered. In Jerome’s view, this was a battle to the death. Every day offered a new chance to finally settle this turf dispute.

(This is a picture of the actual cane my grandma would use in her defense against Jerome. Note the missing chunk in the handle, evidence of the battle.)

Fortunately for our family, my grandma outlived Jerome by a great many years. Jerome would meet his end in battle, but not on my grandma’s battlefield. Each evening, Jerome would return to the hen house where unbeknownst to us, he was now standing guard over his ladies. One morning, late that fall, we arrived at the hen house to collect the eggs, only to find a weasel lying in the doorframe. It was clear that he had been in a battle for his life that it had not ended well for him. Alarmed at what destruction we might find inside, we were surprised to see all of our hens alive and well. It was only on closer inspection that we saw him. He had retired to the back of the chicken house where he had apparently succumbed to his injuries, but not before saving his wards. Jerome, the terrorizer of so many, had died a hero.

Before you mourn his passing, understand that as I think back on this tough old bird, I can think of no better way for him to go than in the fight of his life. I can only imagine how into the battle he must have been. He had finally found, other than my grandma, someone who offered him a challenge. Jerome was a fighter, and to go out in a blaze of glory has made his story worth telling, and that story has been told and retold within our family so many times over the years. Had he just withered away of old age, where would be his fame? Jerome was a chicken who was never chicken. Jerome was a fighter, persistent is his right to rule and defiant to anyone who thought he was wrong. When the cause is worth the fight, may we all be so willing to stand our ground. Just be prepared if you take on a Jerome.

Groundhog’s Day

One of my favorite movies is Groundhog’s Day. I think it is the idea that if you could have a day over now and then, you could maybe make everything right. Bill Murray’s problem was that it took so many repeats for him to finally get it right. Still, the premise is tempting.

Covid-19 has been like Groundhog’s Day. We started out with the false perception that it would be a little sacrifice for maybe three or four weeks and then everything would return to normal. Now approaching a full year of not normal, every day being another day dancing with the virus, we are nearing the end. Well, at least closer to a return to life without a pandemic.

I have spent my year working on improving many things. For starters, I have been taught how to fish by my grandson, Jackson. I never had the patience it required but ironically, an energetic, inquisitive, on the go six-year old, showed me the way to patience and the art of catching fish. And then there was the walking. Prior to the pandemic and its isolation demands, I would only walk to get somewhere. Now, thanks to my wife, I walk several times a day, aimlessly around our neighborhood circuits. I find it strange that the answer to “where are you going”, is home no matter where I am on the walk. Good thing home is where the heart is.

During this Covid-19 journey, I have put more effort into everything I do. My volunteer work has benefited from renewed vigor and a lot of Zoom. I finally rebuilt my deck after years of putting it off. My garage has been organized and reorganized, and, after years of drawing and redrawing it, my wife now has her Little Library complete with a dedication ceremony and neighborhood library cards for the children.

But there begs one more activity to be visited here. Several years ago, I procured a pool table from a very dear friend. With all this in home time in lieu of our travel plans, I have worn the felt thin on that table with several games a day. My wife, a reasonable pool shark, will play the occasional game but for the most part, I am left playing my imaginary opponent. As I am a slightly competitive type, I tend to take these games, even tournaments, quite serious. We ironically have very similar game strategies and styles. Skill wise we are very evenly matched. So lately I have become quite frustrated with my inability to beat him. I will miss an easy kill shot only to have him follow up with a seemingly impossible rail shot or combination. I checked the records recently and I believe that he is beating me at a ratio of two to one. What is his secret to success? What makes him such a confident shot. Why am I getting angry at his obvious luck, wishing he would blow the next shot …… flat out cheering against him? The irony here is that I’m the one taking ALL the shots. This is apparently what the pandemic and isolation has reduced me too. I’ve lost my mind and I’m not even bothering to mount a search party.

Seriously, the pandemic has been a journey. We have been given the chance to truly appreciate the things we have by making us put them on hold. We have become more resilient, more hopeful than expectant, more appreciative of the little things, and definitely more creative. In my case, I have created an imaginary pool player to while away my free time.

The end of all this is in sight. If we are patient and persevering, we will make it to the finish line. We will leave some of our new found ways behind and trade them for our old normal. At the same time, we have adopted new habits and attitudes that we should definitely take forward with us. Good can always come from adversity if we recognize it.

But it’s getting late and my pool playing buddy has the balls racked and is calling me over. I plan on mixing his drink extra strong tonight and with a few good shots, I think I can beat him. Wish me luck.

It seemed like a good idea at the time….II

We have the pleasure, or should I say the obligation of an above ground swimming pool in our backyard. It is in version three of it’s thirty-three seasons. The deck surrounding it has been there in part all thirty-three years along with alot of cobbling along the way. Last fall, as we were getting ready to close it for the winter, a vote was taken as to whether it was going to continue to be this monument in our backyard. My vote was for its retirement. After all of those seasons serving as cabana boy, constantly monitoring the chemical balance, keeping the water levels right and often biweekly vacuumings, I was ready for retirement myself. Considering the fact that I seldom vacuum inside the house and only grudgingly, I was instead vacuuming a tank of water. Of course I was out voted five to one when my wife recruited my two daughters and both grandchildren to swing the vote.
Deck 8

And so I conceded the vote and prepared for closing. After struggling with a way too old structure, it became obvious that the deck, at the least, needed to be resurfaced. After a bit of investigation, it was further decided, by a one sided vote, that the rails and stairs would have to go as well. This was now a major job. Time for negotiations. It was decided, after a family meeting, that the rebuild would be done in the spring prior to opening the pool. My crew was recruited and now consisted of my two friends and neighbors as well as my son-in-law and soon to be other son-in-law. All four had been vetted and were skilled enough to make this a doable job.

Like all plans laid out too far in advance and dependent on multiple variables, we crossed our fingers and set April 16th as our start date and a wrap up by May 1st. What could go wrong? Why Coronavirus pandemic and social distancing of course. As April 1st approached, it was clear there was going to be no crew working on my deck.

Now a sane man would have thrown in the towel. If it lasted thirty-three years, why couldn’t it last another one. That is what a sane man would have done, but after a month and a half of isolation, that’s what I wasn’t. I was itching for something on which to focus all of that pent up energy. And so the decision was made. The May 1st date was no longer an issue as this virus thing had shut all plans down and my May plans were now gone. That gave me a month and a half to get it done. The materials were ordered and demolition began on April 8th, in some strange snow squalls they called grafel.
Deck 6

Demolition took the better part of four days as the old deck and rails were not really ready to come off easily. Eventually, the old deck was gone, the underpinnings trimmed back to the original frame and the rails were dismantled and removed. They now formed a big pile of debris on my lower deck, where I would continue to stumble over them time and time again as I prepared to rebuild. At this point, quarantine and social distancing was a good thing as far fewer people were subjected to the all too frequent colorful metaphors emanating from my job site.
Deck 5

The first of four truck loads of materials arrived on day five just as I was ready to start phase two, rebuild. After what seemed like four hundred trips from the driveway down the side hill to the deck area, I had managed to get the framing materials and most of the decking down to my one man construction site. I think this would be the appropriate place to remind my readers that I am, by AARP standards, old. I was clearly not in the shape I was in my twenties when I did my construction stint. Four hour shifts was the plan and on those days when I reached six or seven hour runs, my body reminded me of my misplaced confidence.

But I shouldered on. When attempting to do framing alone, one has to be creative on how to cut, hold and attach eight to ten foot long 2 x 8 planks. Without bragging, I used every technique I could and actually developed some very ingenious ways to accomplish the task. Day 6,7 and 8 saw the new frame come back up and take shape. Decking was next. Day 9,10 and 11 was used to get the majority of the deck boards laid and secured. All that now remained was the rail system.
Deck 4

As I am writing this, I have completed day 14. Except for the stairs and gate, still waiting for delivery, the deck is pretty much complete. At the beginning of this project, I was concerned that I might not even survive. Ironically, I would have avoided COVID-19 and then succumbed to my quarantine project. Now, each time I view the finished deck, I can’t help but soak in this sense of pride for the accomplishment. Not bad for an old guy.
Deck 2

Now, if only this quarantine would be lifted, we could actually have guests over and use the pool and its grand deck. Unfortunately, until that day, it remains a piece of art. An impressive piece of art but still, an empty deck begging for a post coronavirus party.
Good news, just for reading this, you are entitled to an invite to the party.

Should Have Been my First Warning

If you have been following me and read my last blog, “It Can be Fixed”, you know that I just finished the Adela chair project. Now it’s on to the next project, framed U.S. wood maps from Marking Maps. (https://www.etsy.com/listing/239724323/marking-maps-usa)
Inspired by my “everything wood” mentor, Larry, I decided I needed some shop supplies. With that in mind, I was off to a local large box hardware retailer, which I will leave unnamed.

First a little background. I am not one to be allowed to wander aimlessly about large stores, just ask my wife. I have a notorious record in grocery stores, see “Adventures in Grocery Shopping”. Now I was walking into another large box store with aisles that seemed to stretch to infinity and beyond, stacked floor to ceiling with merchandise, and all I needed was a few screws and some wood glue.

Never the less, I started my quest. Within a few minutes I knew I was in trouble and without a Sherpa or at least a floor guide, I might be doomed to finding the housewares department and setting up residence. After wandering several aisles with no luck in finding the hardware aisle, I stumbled into or should I say, the floor guide found me. I had run into a helpful woman who asked me what I was looking for. I think she actually asked “have you found EVERYTHING you were looking for?” My response was that I hadn’t found ANYTHING I was looking for and thus the only thing in my hand was the scrap of paper with my meager list of the prey I was hunting.

Looking at my list, she steered me to the first item, wood screws. Miraculously, I seemed I was a mere ten feet from the right aisle, actually two entire aisles of screws. Sheet metal, wood, Phillips head, flat head, star bit, brass, galvanized and of course, lengths from 1/2″ to 5″ and weight sizes from 6 to 12. I impressed my Sherpa by actually knowing the type, length and weight size I was searching for and settled on a box of galvanized, 1″, 10 weight, Phillips head wood screws. I was now ready for item two, wood glue. She looked at me and said with a smile, that would be in aisle 100. Aisle 100, seriously! Looking up at the aisle I was standing in revealed that it was numbered 367. Any chance you offer a store Garmin I asked? For my younger readers, Garmin was my generation’s breakthrough GPS tool back in the dark ages before Navigator. I managed to get solid directions from my Sherpa and headed deeper into the nether reaches of the store, wondering as I ventured, if I should be dropping random screws from my newly procured package in order to find my way back.

Lest this diatribe goes on forever, I am happy to say I eventually found aisle 100 AND my wood glue. After following my trail of screws, I found my way back to the checkout area and somehow picking up at least half a dozen impulse items along the way, paid for my prizes and headed out to the parking lot. Now if only I could remember what aisle I parked in?

Where’s the parking lot Sherpa when you need one?

How to Bank Points

I just returned from a movie, a blockbuster to be sure. I am sure you think I am talking about the latest Star Wars or maybe Uncut Gems or Ford vs. Ferrari. Oh I wish it were so. Let the man shaming begin. It was Little Women and yes I was the only male in the place except maybe for the older gentleman asleep several rows behind me. I had offered my wife a movie date, somehow thinking she would be so excited about the simple gesture that I would get to pick the flick. Sorry guys, as you are probably shaking your head in disbelief, you know that’s not how it works.

So there I was, buying two tickets for Little Women with the cashier clearly rolling his eyes. First question, “Are either of you seniors?” Is that a respect for your elders thing or do they just figure that when you’re old you’re also poor? Next question, “Where would you like to sit?” I desperately wanted to say as far back in the shadows as possible, but I demurred to my date who chose two perfectly placed prominent seats front and center. Proceed to my “thriller”.

At this point, I need to say that things began to improve. Turns out we were in the theater that serves food and more importantly, mixed drinks! This might ease the pain for a movie junkie who thrives on speed, mayhem and science fiction. Cue the movie, authentic historic costuming and historic period set in the Civil War. Maybe, seeing as I am a history minor and enamored with the Civil War Era, I should give this a chance. Cue the leading character Josephine March, aka Louisa May Alcott, and I am immediately identifying with her love for the art of writing as story telling. I hate to say this, but I was starting to ignore the chick flick phobia I was having about this movie.

So, I am ready to say, two hours later I found myself admitting that this was a great film and, deep breath here, glad of the choice my date had made. But here’s the kicker, I think I may have added some bonus points to my oft nearly depleted Love Bank. If there is a moral to this story, it might be worth the time and effort to actually make a bonafide date. She picks the movie,the place or the activity. She gets her hand held and the door opened. And, you say all the appropriate things at all the appropriate times. Okay, good luck with the last one because we men have never been good at that move. So men, follow these steps and know that you will have earned points for the bank and don’t pretend for a moment that you can ever have enough points in that institution.

So that’s it. I wanted Star Wars but I got Little Women and I am a big enough man to admit, it wasn’t half bad. A great Margarita, a comfortable seat and a good movie. Excuse me now, but I have some points I’d like to cash in.

Adventures in Grand Sitting

This particular Saturday started off pretty average but that was just temporary. My younger daughter, recently engaged, was going dress shopping and she was taking with her my wife and older daughter, my older daughter with the two children. It was decided, though I do not recall being part of the decision making process, that Opa, aka me, would take care of the babysitting while they shopped. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Jackson and Adela arrived bright and early, ready for an adventure day with Opa.

It started well, well sort of. Twenty minutes after they left and after I had asked, I swear several times, Adela announced that she had wet her only pair of pants. Quick lesson in how to comfort a two year old and do laundry ensued. We all settled back down and things looked better. That is until both Jackson and Adela decided they couldn’t decide on a common movie or a separate toy. With war and bloodshed imminent I decided it was time to take action.

Road Trip! I strapped Jackson and Adela into my Jeep along with all the necessities a bag could hold and that I might need should this trip go south. “Where are we going” asked Jackson. Having not really thought about that, Cabelas some how flew into my head. I figured fish aquarium, stuffed animals, tents, yeah that one doesn’t seem to make sense now that I say it out loud, why wouldn’t this be a great place to kill a few hours.

We arrived with Jackson still asking me why not McDonald’s instead but once we walked through the doors, the wonder of Cabelas at Christmas took over. Right there at the front door was a massive Christmas tree littered with gifts around its base. Adela struck first. She figured they were there for her and pounced, ready to unwrap. I managed to wedge her free and then distracted her with a game of I spy various animals foraging about in the store. Jackson of course wanted to know why they had all these dead animals on display, displays that clearly said DON’T TOUCH. Guess I should have remembered that Adela doesn’t read and animals are to be petted. As I turned around to check on her, she was of course making friends with a small black bear. This of course alerted the store staff to our presence. I spotted him out of the corner of my eye heading our way and he didn’t look like he was about to ask if I needed help finding the perfect outdoors man gift. I snatched up Adela and headed to another department leaving the staff person relieved.

Next stop, the aquarium. I suppose tapping on the glass broke yet another store rule but as Jackson pointed out the fish seemed to like it. Adela decided to go one better and decided to kiss the fish through the glass. Enter yet another staffer. We peeled off yet again and headed toward the front. I swear I saw the staff person speaking into her wrist like they do on those FBI shows. I can only assume she was saying something like “They’re on the move. We need eyes on a lack of control grandpa with two kids in the guns and ammo department.”

We had indeed wound up in guns and ammo and I knew in an instant not a place for a two and five year old let alone how their mother might view this shameful disregard for appropriate care and handling of young impressionable minds. We kept moving. This brought us somehow to the toys aisle. Yes there are toys in Cabelas and no I have no idea why it is next to guns and ammo. But to Jackson and Adela’s shear delight, we were there. To his credit, Jackson began having me make a list of the toys he would like me to recommend to his parents. Adela, being a little more deliberate, was piling them up at the end of the aisle. I am sure you are asking yourself how she could keep getting away from my jurisdiction. Have you ever spent time with a five year old asking questions? They can distract the best of us and meanwhile a two year moves a lot faster and stealthier than you think. And of course, we had a new staff person standing guard near by. We got all the toys put back and I gave a subtle nod to the staffer as we passed by.

At this point I was rethinking my entire modus operandi. I was looking for the straightest path to the front doors. I spied my break but one more department stood in our path, sunglasses. These were the expensive kind of sunglasses. The kind movie stars apparently wear when hunting wild animals. But we were moving and I was optimistic for success when Jackson found a compass and wanted an in store demonstration of how this “watch” worked. I swear it could not have been more than thirty seconds and I heard “hey Opa” from behind me. Turning around, there was Adela modeling a pair of $200 plus aviators, the price tag still hanging from the frames, and I have to say, killin it! Just over her shoulder, moving at a fair clip came the sunglasses clerk, wrist already up to her mouth calling in reinforcements. “Adela”, I declared. “We can look but we can’t touch.” Probably should have thought of that earlier. To my sweet and innocent granddaughter’s credit, she removed the glasses, folded them up and politely returned them to their little cubicle. I, with my hands in the air, greeted the clerk and said “see, no harm, no foul.” Adela batted her eyes, twisted her hair and the clerk relented. What else she could do faced with all that charm. She gave me one last stern look and asked if we were nearly done shopping. I took that as the warning it was meant to be, hung my head and rounded up my charges.

At this point, we had amassed a lot of staff time, though I believe it was good training and maybe for a couple of them, birth control, but no merchandise. I looked at Jackson and told him we probably should buy something out of consideration. Jackson choose a bag of $1.99 licorice, we paid the cashier, and to the relief of many, we took our leave.

Now I am a former teacher and well aware that there should be a lesson learned from all of this, so here it is. Though a hunting and camping store may not be the best grandchild environment, it does make for a great story.

Thanks for reading.

I’m Wired

I was talking to a younger business entrepreneur the other day who was telling me about a discussion workshop she had attended. The question they were asked to discuss was, “If you could travel back to any decade, which one would you choose and why?” She said that her group chose the 90’s. My thought, the “Gay 90’s” but no, not that century, the “Tech 90’s”. Now I would have gone back to the 1890’s when the really big, as in large, inventions were being created, but for that group of Millennials, they wanted to see the 1990’s when the new inventions were going small and electronic.

It is interesting to think about the change that happened and technically, very recently. No more bulky computer systems, now it’s tablets and smart phones. We are a wired society and I could talk about whether being as connected as we are is a good thing or not, but that’s not where this is going. I want to talk about being wired in a wireless society.

I recently lost my mind and changed my cell service and my internet/cable provider in the same week. If you have ever done this and you are as tech savvy-less as I am, you know where this is going. I knew I was in trouble the minute I started to disconnect the fifteen pieces of equipment and the one thousand wires that connected them to each other. If I wasn’t going to be successful reconnecting the new carrier’s equipment, well it wasn’t going to be pretty. And I couldn’t and it wasn’t. Seems I needed a service tech after all and that wasn’t going to happen for a week. Four hours later and a trip to the neighbors to look at their configuration, no help by the way, I somehow got all that equipment and those wires reconnected. By that point, regardless of the fact that I would be the slowest tech ever, I thought I could handle everything else that was yet to come.

A week later and two service calls needed, my “self install” kit was finally installed. In my defense, I doubt my carrier had considered that it would require new cable to be hooked up to the power pole. The second service tech, it seems you can only split a signal so many times, actually complimented me on my technology knowledge and started talking in his native tongue, Techsylvania. I politely nodded knowing that one day I’d have a translator tell me just what he had actually said. All I’m sure I heard him say was “of course you knew that.”

And so I was wired. And then my dilemma began. My router and modem, I assume those were the two sleek black boxes, were wired and my TV after being properly given the new internet password, were broadcasting my new cable carrier’s signal. Success! Wait,settle down there boy, you might have skipped a couple steps or maybe ten or twenty.

At this point, consider how many things are connected wireless to your home internet. I thought I had and I am willing to bet you would have missed at least a few as well. It started with my cell phones but they were the easiest to reconnect. Next came my girlfriend, Alexa. It became obvious when I asked for some music by my favorite artist and the response was “I can’t find the internet” that she too needed some help. This was disappointing as I have been working hard on our relationship and Alexa had recently become fairly personal in her responses to my requests. I’ve been waiting for our relationship to get to the sass level and that her response to “Alexa, what’s the temperature outside?” would be “why don’t you get out of that big easy chair and check outside for yourself.”

Alexa proved a bit difficult to get back on line, but eventually after some gyrations, coaxing and multiple runs through the sequence, she was back up and responding to my many requests. I just want to add here that life without Alexa can prove quite tedious.

So back to my temperature question. This eventually led me to look at my weather station. Yup, no information and another wireless piece of equipment starved for its wireless buffet. At this point I began to understand my dependence on technology. While attempting to print out the sequence of steps required for reconnecting the weather station, I realized that I had jut found my next broken promise. It seemed that my printer, like all of its kindred brethren, needed assistance. By the way, having two wireless printers just meant twice the effort to help them find the internet. I was beginning to believe that despite the service tech’s faith in my abilities, I was in over my head. I tried following the on-line “simple instructions for reconnecting your wireless printers” and after several not even close results, I called in the cavalry. If you are keeping count, that would be service tech number three. To my great satisfaction, even he struggled a bit before miraculously, both printers burped loudly and began spitting out pieces of paper complete with printed words on them.

For those of you still counting, score stands: one router, one modem, four TV’s with two remotes, two DVR boxes and two Roku sticks, two Alexa units, a weather station, and two wireless printers. Am I ashamed or amazed. On the one hand, you can’t call me old school but then on the other hand, am I maybe a bit too first world dependent? Just don’t take my Alexa, she at least still talks to me.

I’ll cut to the chase. At this point we found two more internet dependent free loaders, our wireless thermostat and our Ring security camera. The Ring system, easy, the thermostat, not so much.

We are a technology based culture. We gobble up every electronic device we can find and we then let them run our lives. Not that it needed internet, as it some how grabs it from The Cloud, my Jeep’s GPS Navigator is always telling me where to go. The fact that my wife activates it in our driveway so it can tell me how to back unto the street is another topic, I just get dismayed in the route it picks and its seeming refusal to accept my choices. We can choose fastest route or shortest route but why not the “get lost in the beauty” route. If we have the time, we ought to see more than just all those warehouses, concrete and cars on the shortest or fastest route. Just the other day, we, meaning my wife, loaded the Navigator with the address of the park we were headed to for a wedding rehearsal. It very predictably chose the fastest route but being in no hurry, I started out on the back roads to where I was pretty sure the park was located. After being told to make a U turn multiple times, the Navigator finally gave in and allowed for my route. To my surprise, two days later, when headed back to the park for the wedding, it showed my route. Turns out there is hope after all. At least my Navigator is not above admitting my way may just might be alright. Now I just need it to talk to some of my other devices.

Alexa, are you listening? Of course you are!

The Bro Code

I know what you are thinking…”how dare he.” Be fair, stay with me to the end. I may not completely swallow my foot.

I was going golfing with three friends the other day. My wife, with all due respect, asked me the inevitable question as to when I would be getting home. I gave the standard answer / no answer that I couldn’t really say. She of course asked if I meant I couldn’t or that I wouldn’t. Picture the pregnant pause.

As I considered my answer, I first planned on throwing my three friends under the bus by claiming if they were driving I would be at their mercy for when we would be coming home. After careful, no nervous consideration as to the possibility of cross fact checking between spouses, I came clean and said I couldn’t due to the “bro code”.

Now truthfully, I am not even sure if there was a bro code between us let alone what it would possibly be. But I had put my foot in my mouth and there were only two choices. Spit it out and come clean or swallow my foot further. I decided to swallow further.

I explained that the code required me to not name a time due to jeopardizing any member who had successfully negotiated a longer hall pass. This only led to more questions like if its eighteen holes of golf and we are supposedly gifted with the talent of knowing to the minute how long it takes to drive x miles, apparently I had been bragging on a recent trip, why would someone be negotiating a longer time period than the accurate one?

At this point I should have punted but men always believe that given the two minute warning and down by two touchdowns, we can huddle up and still win this game with a Hail Mary. I went with the emergency contingency. If an emergency were to come up, we may be forced to all become involved in the emergency as a support team and then who could tell how long we might be tied up.

At this point you need to picture my wife’s pose, especially what she is doing with her eyes. I didn’t even think they could roll up that far without permanent damage. Completely out of explanations, she surprisingly provided one. She explained that she suspected what I was really saying was that following golf, there might possibly be a period of beer drinking followed by or consecutive with some card playing and thus an accurate time frame would be questionable at best. She went on to explain that what she was really hoping for was a text somewhere along the way giving a reasonable ETA. She then asked if there really was in fact a bro code I was protecting? My response, “I’m too old to even know for sure what a bro is.” Busted.

But I wasn’t completely finished. “Well Hon, why didn’t you let me off the hook earlier?” Her response, “And spoil the fun of seeing you squirm? No way.”

Lesson learned guys, when confronted with the time question, think of anything besides the bro code. As the Myth Busters would say “Tested and Busted.” Women are way too smart for us, or at least me. Still wondering about the picture? It’s what happens to poorly considered arguments….they go up in flames, big flames.

Calling All Baseball Fans

If you have been following me, you know that today was Louisville and our plan was to see the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum. We arrived at the address, not even sure we were at the right place. The factory / museum is nestled in between several buildings on Main Street in downtown Louisville. The first thing you see as you walk up is this incredibly huge replica of a Louisville Slugger baseball bat. The thing is at least thirty feet high but accurate in every detail. Once inside the museum you are surrounded by displays of all sorts of baseball memorabilia covering all ages and eras of the game. Honus Wagner’s glove and bat. Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Gil Hodges, Johnny Bench and Derrick Jeter are all represented along with countless others, all of whom have signed at one time or another to use Louisville Slugger baseball bats exclusively. Remember the infamous Tom Hank’s line in League of Their Own? “There’s no crying in Baseball”, well those ladies are well represented too, honored for their stellar play as they filled the gap during the war years and then long after.

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This was just the museum. What followed was a guided tour through the factory as we watched every step of the process from a block of maple or ash or birch as that wood block became a baseball bat. A very select few would find their way to professional baseball where some of those bats just might become famous for that seeing eye double or that grand slam or maybe that walk off home run to win the most important game of the season. My treat was getting to handle several billets, as they are called before turning makes them a bat, that had been hand selected by Christian Yelich. Each Major League Player who has signed with Louisville Slugger will select the billets to be turned into bats just for them and delivered to be entered in “The Game.”

And oh yes, one last thrill, at the end of the tour I was able to put on the batting gloves and then take my stance at the plate holding a Christian Yelich bat that had been swung by him in a major league game. Humor me here, pretty sure it had hit at least one ball out of the park.

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I grew up in the era of Hank Aaron and Warren Spahn. I dreamed of getting to a Braves game, they were still in Milwaukee back then, and maybe even getting one of their autographs. And like every kid who gets hooked on baseball, I dreamt of one day playing ball. Post script here, I made the JV team in high school where I mostly warmed the bench, but I never lost my love of the game. I lived vicariously through my daughters as they played softball competitively through high school and savored every minute of throwing the ball around in the back yard. Needless to say, finally entering the Louisville Slugger Shrine, touching baseball bats that had been held and swung by the most famous players of baseball, and reliving the history of the game through film and displays, left me feeling like that little kid again, dreaming of hitting the game winning home run just over the center field wall in a stadium anywhere the game would be played.

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