The following entries are based upon true events, sometimes mingled with a "little" fiction.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Damnazon: Secret Shopping

I’m not a huge fan of buying things online. I need to touch, shake, examine, pinch a product before buying. But, this year, my dread of consumer crowd combat overrode my online apprehension.  It was my first venture into the Amazon, meaning  I browsed around and found three items that would make great gifts. One was for Jan, the other two were family presents. OK, the other two were really presents for me but, because I’m unselfish, I will share them with my wife. I still wanted to keep them a secret though. Primarily because if Jan knew I had purchased these she would demand I cancel the order. Once she saw the rapturous joy that beamed from my face as these were unwrapped Christmas dawn it would be difficult for her to ask I send them back.

I felt all stealthy while searching for these items. That was until I left my search for a while then returned in the evening to find that when I went onto Amazon there was a complete view of everything I’d been looking at. At first I thought this was very convenient but then I realized if Jan went into Amazon she would see my entire Christmas shopping list displayed in photographic full color wonder. So much for surprises.  Our marriage relationship is very transparent; we share everything -no secrets. Our checking and saving accounts, though separate, are still accessible to either of us. We don’t have separate email addresses. Shoot, I can even wear her slippers- that’s if she doesn’t notice I’m wearing her slippers.  So for me to set up my own log in account for Amazon was difficult for me. I didn’t want her to think I was hiding something but I also didn’t want her to see that I was hiding something.  Yes, that sentence means what it’s supposed to mean. 

By having my own account I could search and shop freely. I was pleased when I clicked on the check-out button and knew my purchases were on the way. Oh, I felt so sneaky. That was until I began receiving confirmation emails from Amazon. It’s nice to get a receipt and all but in the subject line of the email it states, “Thank you for your purchase of (named the item)”  Other emails soon followed stating “Because you searched for or purchased (name of the item) you might also be interested in…” Then there were emails letting me know that “other people who searched or bought (name of item) also purchased these items,” followed by a list of sometimes totally unrelated products. Then the emails that boldly stated: “JAN, GREG WAS TRYING TO SURPISE YOU WITH THE PURCHASE OF THE FOLLOWING CHRISTMAS GIFTS…”  That last email really wasn’t there but it may as well have been!
Now I had to scurry and cover my tracks. I realized that this email would be appearing on multiple platforms, through our desktops, IPhones and tablets. I raced to delete the message on the devices she usually used to browse our email. Almost daily there’d be an email from Amazon telling me of the progress of the items and when to expect them.  This was much more work than I had bargained for. I couldn’t sleep for fear that I’d missed something- that somewhere a lingering email would be found, spoiling my Christmas surprises. I finally just had to confess I’d purchased some items from Amazon and warned her most sternly not to look at any emails from them.

So, Amazon, I am done with you for secretive purchases. When you squeal on me like the virtual pig that you are how can I trust you?  I’m certainly not going to buy anything that I’d like to keep private- like that hair restorer goop you keep emailing me about.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Road to Xenia

On August 15, 2013, we departed from Medford to Dayton Ohio. We returned on August 24, 2013. This is our report:
My kidneys and bladder shift into overdrive when flying. I don’t know if it’s nerves, altitude or my body knowing that I will never, ever, use a rest room while flying. As soon as I step off the flight I need to find the restroom. Speaking of restrooms Jan told me about automatic toilet seat covers they’ve installed in some of the airports. You can ask her about those but they haven’t worked their way to the men’s toilet yet. Maybe it’s because the seats are never down.
Friday morning I went shopping with Brittany to buy meals for the week. I’m not sure why Brittany wanted me to come with her. I thought it was due to my shopping skills and that perhaps I’d pay for the groceries, which it was my privilege to do. Then I found out that it was because she trusted her mother more than me to watch the kids on her own. She probably had a point there.
Whenever we go to our kid’s homes we find something in their pantry that we like and that we purchase for ourselves when we return. Brittany had several boxes of granola that came in different flavors she had gotten from Target; Coconut Macaroon, French Vanilla Almond Crunch, Chocolate Chunk Cherry, Hazelnut Biscotti and, you know you’re eating health food with a granola named Pecan Sticky Bun.  We are now the proud and slightly heftier owners of several boxes of this goodness.
As I was growing up and relatives were going to come to our house for a visit in San Lorenzo I waited with high anticipation. As the time for their arrival came closer I’d be looking out my bedroom window constantly to see if their car was coming down the street. Or I’d wander in the front yard, scanning the block for any out of state license plates coming our way. I was sort of the same way waiting for Jordan and Christina to show up Friday evening at Brittany and Clay’s home. I kept looking out the door, down the street, searching the horizon for a van with Delaware plates. One time I opened the door and there they were, just getting out of the car. They thought it was great timing but they didn’t know I’d been looking out that door every 2 minutes for the past two hours.
Saturday morning I got up earlier than everyone  so I could make my “I’d probably win an award if ever nominated” pancakes.  They are pretty good and I’m honored that all my children ask me to make these for them whenever we’re together.  Seems like all the grandkids like them too.
One purpose of our visit there was to witness the blessing of little Teagan.  She’s a cutie. I find that with newborns you sort of have to wait until they’re sleeping to see their real features. When they’re awake they make all sorts of funny and unsettling contorted faces.  As they get a little older those faces settle down and their true cuteness arrives. So, whenever I’ve said to one of the kids, “you’re pretty cute, when you’re asleep,” that’s where that comes from.
But back to the blessing. When our families filed into the chapel Clay told the men who were going to help with the blessing that the bishop wanted to see our temple recommends. That’s what a bishop is supposed to do but I’ve never been asked before. However, for the first time ever, I left my wallet back at Brittany’s home, you know, the wallet with my recommend in it.  I think Clay did some fast talking to the bishop on my behalf, probably telling him about the brain injury and early onset of dementia. I did get to participate but I felt oddly like I didn’t really belong there.  I told Clay the bishop kept slapping my hands away whenever I tried to put them underneath Teagan during the blessing.
Also following a Smith family tradition Brittany and Clay have a trampoline. All the grandkids loved it. First thing every morning Ty would get up and say, “Ty Ty jump!”  Jordan showed off that he can still do a back flip. However, I think his body is still trying to recover from the twisting wrenching move.
The Air Force Museum was interesting.  Walking around with little kids you don’t get a chance to read all the exhibits but the museum had planes from the Wright brothers, the plane that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki Japan along with stealth fighters, missiles and space craft. The UFO and mummified remains of aliens exhibit were my favorite. Just kidding. There were no mummified remains, the aliens were all working in the cafeteria.
Whenever I visit my kids in an area I’ve never been before I like to get a sense of what their lives are like. I like to see where they shop, kids go to school, go to church with them. I like to walk around the neighborhood and get a feel for their community. I inhale deeply the Nebraska, Utah, Delaware, and Ohio air trying to catch a wisp of the area’s aroma. I like to taste the uniqueness of the areas foods. I’ve had a Runza, Philidelphia Cheese steak, Water Ice, and in Xenia, Ohio- frozen custard. I thought it was a great alternative to ice cream. But then I learned that frozen custard has the same cream and sugar content as ice cream but with egg yolks thrown in to make it creamier, richer and fatter. It was delicious though.
Probably the highlight of the trip for most was our visit to King’s Island amusement park, just north of Cincinnati.  Clay and Brittany had warned us about the long lines, that they had only gotten to ride a few in one Saturday excursion. Brittany thought Thursday would be a better day to go because most of the kids started school then. We arrived just prior to the park opening and there were just a few cars in the  lot. We got right in and some of the adults ran off to get in line for the most popular coaster. We expected huge snaking lines but they got right on. In fact, that was the story of the day. We never did need to wait for any of the rides. One park attendant told us that the coaster some were getting on had a three hour wait just the day before. Imagine going to Disneyland and there were no lines. There were so few people there I kept looking for the Zombies who must have been somewhere in the park eating the brains of all the other missing visitors. But there were no Zombies, well, towards the end of the day we were like unto the walking dead, but no one was sucking brains, just wind.
My grandchildren all got tattooed. Their dads wrote their cell phone numbers on the inside of their forearms in case one of them got lost. That way whoever found them could  call and demand a ransom.
Jan’s a roller coaster demon. If there was a coaster to ride she was on it. The kids were amazed! Even Jordan and Brittany had to bow out of a few rides but Grandma, she just kept on rollin’.
The other part of this story is that I no longer trust my wife when she coaxes me onto a roller coaster by telling me that she rode it earlier and it doesn’t have any big dips and was pretty smooth. I don’t like roller coasters because they beat me up. I feel like I’ve been mugged. Well, I actually scream in high pitch wails so I’m a little embarrassed.  So I get on this coaster and as it starts to head upwards she apologizes as she explains that this isn’t the coaster she thought it was. Yeah, this was bad.  I told her afterwards I’d never follow her onto another ride. My back, neck, and head hurt. I felt like I had a concussion and every bone had wiggled out of joint.
It was a great time. Just one more lesson to share.
While listening to some music Tia started pounding the carpet with the palms of her hands. Maeli told her to stop- pounding the carpet with your hands wasn’t allowed in their house. Tia and I were a little puzzled. I asked Maeli why. She explained that one time she had poured baby powder onto the floor and was pounding it with her hands. Her mom told her to stop, that wasn’t allowed. I then explained to her that I think it was the fact she added a pile of powder to her pounding was the problem.
There’s some lesson to be learned there but I haven’t figured it out. Let me know if anyone else can draw some analogy here.  Maybe there is no lesson. Maybe there’s just a bunch of cute there. I have to admit, my grandchildren are all extremely cute, especially while they’re asleep.
And that’s the end.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Amazing Mr. FOX

I like amazing things. It gives life a little pulse; something unusual I’ve experienced or seen engraves a memory. Last Thursday was an amazing experience. Sure, I saw a cardiologist for the first time in my life but I actually have known Dr. Lightheart for years. So, that in itself wasn’t so stirring.
 When I came home from the doctors I stepped into the backyard to check on how wet the grass was so I could assess if I wanted to tackle mowing the jungle. I glanced over toward some movement along the south fence and saw an animal trotting toward the corner of the yard. I feared the rats were eating really well this spring and had a gargantuan growth spurt. I was pleased with myself that I remembered I had my phone which has a camera in my pocket. So I used my stealth moves and peeked around the corner and saw what I instantly identified as a Grey Fox.  I snapped a few photos then banged on the kitchen window to get Jan to come out.
Then followed an event just like Abbott and Costello movies where Costello sees Frankenstein and yells for Abbott. Costello tells Abbott about what he saw and takes him to where Frankenstein was. Naturally, Frankenstein is nowhere to be found and Abbott hits Costello with his hat for wasting his time. So, Jan comes out and I tell her that I think there’s a grey fox in our yard. She wants to know what makes me think it’s a grey fox. I tell her I know my foxes and this fox is grey so it’s not a red fox. So she peaks around the corner of the house and just like Abbott, sees nothing. She’s about to hit me with her hat when I pull out evidence I’m sure Costello wished he always had, my phone. I flip to the photo and show her. Jan thinks it’s a coyote.
So then she comes in and Goggles grey foxes, coyotes and… quilting borders. Jan gets distracted easily. I yell for her again because this foxyote is on the move. Well, barely moving actually.  When Jan had looked the first time it had hid behind my wood pile. Now it was moving into the open. She too was amazed.  I’d never seen a fox in the wild before.  We learned grey foxes are nocturnal and shy and if we see one around people during the daytime there’s probably something wrong with it.  We kept an eye on it for a while. It would take a few steps then plop down, rest for a while then stand again. It walked gingerly and when standing it would  tilt it’s head into the air and appear to have facial seizures. There were flies that circled the fox like miniature buzzards.
Our first thought was rabies and we called Animal control. I was told they don’t handle wild animals and was instructed to call Fish and Wildlife. The receptionist then followed by telling me Fish and Wildlife rarely answer so I was then given the number of the Sheriff’s Department. She was correct about the Fish and Wildlife department. Their voice message stated they were on unpaid furlough due to budget cuts. So I called the Sheriff. I was told someone would contact me shortly. Time, space and distance must have a different definition in the Sheriff’s department because after two hours we still hadn’t heard from anyone. We called again. A half hour later we received a call from a Medford Police officer who told Jan he was trying to get a hold of someone at the Fish and Wildlife department to find out what he should do about this fox. We wished him good luck with that.
He did mention though that he’s had several calls each evening for two weeks regarding a grey fox or raccoon in someone’s yard acting strangely. This is the season when these critters apparently come down with the distemper virus. It’s always fatal. In fact he’d never seen a live grey fox; they had always died before he arrived.
When he showed up we took him into the back yard. It was now getting dark but our flashlight illuminated this little fox curled up just a few feet away from us with his eyes closed. The officer said there wasn’t anything he could do until it died. He ruled out shooting it because it wasn’t attacking pets or people and just said call them back after its departed and someone would come out and pick up the carcass. Carcass is such a crude word, devoid of any life or humanity.
Jan and I went out back before we went to bed to check on Mr. Fox one last time. He was stretched out from head to tail, not breathing. The virus had completed its work. At least I felt better he died before the night turned cold.
I don’t know why the fox showed up in our backyard or how it even got in. One daughter suggested he thought our yard was more peaceful than others he’d stumbled into. Jan suggested since our yard is in a more natural state, maybe he felt at home. I hope he felt safe during his last hours.  I think we felt an attachment because we often commented on how Kiska, our white  American Eskimo, looked like a fox.  This little grey fox reminded us of her.  I appreciated the visit and another amazing thing to write about.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Give Your House a Name

I heard a brief story on the radio this morning on how naming your house will get you a higher price when it comes time to sell. Quoting an apparently snobby realtor the reporter finished by cautioning you should only name your house if it’s worth over 20 million. The realtor thought it would be pretentious to name your house if its worth was below that.
Over the years I’ve named plenty of houses, but none of them were my own. Growing up we knew most of our neighbors, at least their last names, so their homes were always referred to by the owners. The original owners could be long gone but we’d still refer to the house by using their name.  If we didn’t know the owners we called the house by a feature of the home or property. For example, there was a house a few blocks away that was known as the fountain house because there was a drinking fountain attached to an outside wall.  My sister Shauna and a friend found a home in San Leandro whose yard was paved over. No yard, no grass, just pavement. Guess what we called it? Totally original:  the cement house.
When we moved into our new home the kids named several of the houses in the neighborhood. There was Mustard Man’s house across the street, named for the color of his house, not by what he put on his ham sandwich. There was the angle house a few doors down due to the many corners and angles the homes design has. Some houses were named because of events like Dead Tony’s house. Tony was a single elderly man who was best known in the new neighborhood for watering his weeds. He died shortly after we moved in. A second man died in a house on a few doors down in the other direction. It became known as the other dead guy’s house.
Naming a house seems like a charming thing to do.  The last James Bond movie SkyFall was the name given the boyhood home of the famous spy.  In fact, there’s actually a website that will help you come up with your own house name. Here’s a link:
The site provides names of houses in various languages along with some of their meanings. Somehow other languages seem to have one word, that when translated into English, is actually an entire phrase. Because of this many names of homes are in a foreign language, usually a very obscure language.  For example, the Zwengalii word “Coluellala” translated into English means  “the man in this house eats lots of pizza and likes to sing funny songs to his children during the night of the full moon.”  OK, I did just make that up but it sort of proves my point.
On this website some of the best house names were of Australian Aboriginal origin. There’s Alawoona: meaning a “Place of hot winds.” Most likely named for the hot air that comes from the owners. Bundala means “A Large Person.” If you lost some weight you might have to change the name. Culgoa: meaning “a river running through it.” Probably named for a plumbing disaster. There’s  Edibegebege referring to “Plenty of Fleas” a home I’m sure we’d all love to own.   Then for the house with lots of hungry kids there’s the name Maradana, meaning  “animals grazing.”
There’s also a Gaelic term, “Cairn” meaning” a mound of stones marking a gravesite.”  And there’s the Latin: Nessun Dorma meaning “none shall sleep” that was found on a home that was next to the train tracks.
Finally, here’s my personal favorite. In fact, I think I would name my house this if only I knew how to pronounce it. It’s Maori- Titirangi. The translation: “The Fringe of Heaven.”  A house name like that just makes you feel safe, secure and protected, a place that would be home.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Where Old Cars Go To Die

The make: Mercury- messenger of the Gods. The model: Sable- a large African antelope known for its swiftness, courage and long curved horns.
The make: Mercury- a highly toxic metallic element. The model: Sable- a weasel like mammal found in Russia.
Take your pick on the definition Ford used to name this line of vehicles.
At times our 1991 Mercury Sable could act like it was on Godly errands, other times air inside could become toxic causing me to sneeze uncontrollably and it’s paint  shed like weasel fur in spring.
Regardless of the name, it’s now gone. Actually put down last November after a bout of smoke, fluid ruptures and general sluggishness, like in- not moving.
We reminisced a little as we stared at the hulking reddish chunk of metal parked on the street, lime colored fluid puddled beneath. I don’t know why we sometimes treat cars like they have life. Maybe we feel the vehicle is the body and we become the spirit element that makes it move. Or, since horses were our main form of transportation a hundred years ago we’ve genetically transferred our compassionate care and love to our cars.
We never officially christened it but I did call it a few names over the years. Now as I thought about how the car was about to be returned to its fundamental elements I felt guilty.
We remembered how excited we were to get this car, purchased from an older couple who kept it shiny in the garage. We packed two adults and 4 kids into it and crammed boxes, suit cases and shoes into the trunk on vacations to Utah, Las Vegas, Portland, the Bay area and Disneyland.  How we all fit I don’t know but everyone seemed to get along.  This car was steps ahead of our previous Dodge products where miles per gallon were replaced with parts lost per mile. The Sable was very comfortable and had a smooth ride. It was my first car with cruise control.  Over the years it hauled papers, kids back and forth to soccer practices, rehearsals, school, and church activities.  Our children learned how to drive behind the Sable’s wheel.

My most memorable moment was when our family was stranded overnight in Fallon Nevada after the water pump ruptured. It’s seen its share of hauls from tow trucks and mechanics probing and wrenches.  As the years passed the cloth covering the roof inside rotted and shred. It would hang from the ceiling like a curtain until we bolstered  it up with duct tape and pins. The once shiny Ming finish wore off and began to peel. Everyone around town recognized our leprous car.  People buy cars so they’ll get noticed. But new cars all look alike; it’s not until they begin to rust and dent that we can identify one car from another of the same model.  Character marks we’d call them. They were really age spots.

We watched out our front window as the tow truck hauled the Sable up the street one last time. As it turned left onto North Phoenix Road we waved remorsefully, sighed then turned away. The car was twenty years old with 180,000 miles.  It was going to the scrap heap, where old cars go to die.

A few hours later we hopped into our little Corolla for a shopping excursion. As we came to make our turn onto N. Phoenix we noticed something metallic in the middle of the street. Thinking it might be something that could damage tires Jan got out and retrieved it. She smiled as she held up the object. It was the front license plate that had fallen off the Sable.  The old car had left us one more memory. Either that or else it was leaving bits and pieces along the road Hansel and Gretel bread crumb style hoping we’d follow and rescue it from its impending demise.

We never had room in the garage to park the Sable in there. Now at least the license plate can stay warm and covered from the elements until we move, the house burns down or we die.