Saturday, December 27, 2014

What kind of girl is Mrs. Santa Claus?

This is what I expected to see

Or this...

So we had some time while waiting to be seated at our favorite restaurant.
I asked Marc to look up some Mrs. Santa patterns and rental outfits so I could get some ideas.
Since Marc has a Santa costume I've been thinking I would make a matching costume so we could go together to little events and family parties.
The residents at the Bee Hive Homes loved their visit from Santa as did the kids who noticed him driving down the street.
He input Mrs. Santa Claus and a couple of pictures with old ladies in red dresses and aprons popped up.
I scrutinized them.
Hmmm. Not sure I like the aprons. Not sure I want to wear a wig. Not sure I want to look dowdy.
That's when the really interesting pictures started appearing.
Mrs. Santa Claus apparently is into spike heels and hip-high boots and short skirts and plunging necklines.
We were aghast and sucked in.
Every picture that came up was a little sexier than the last.
We had to shut it down before someone next to us noticed and before we saw something we needed to tell the bishop about.
I am really surprised and probably need to rethink my whole plan.
Not this...
I don't think the audience we're looking at entertaining is ready for a pin-up Mrs. Claus.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Malcolm Beck set the standard

I was spoiled right off when I started my professional writing career.
One of my first assignments was to cover American Fork City which meant I was to attend City Council meetings and write about what went on there.
I found meetings run with serious purpose and tightly organized so as to end each time at 9 p.m. There was even a little alarm clock that started ringing right at 9 so no one could say they didn't know it was time to stop talking.
It wasn't until later I discovered that was NOT the usual standard. (Sometimes, in meetings in Orem and Provo, you were wise to bring lunch and a pillow.)
Mayor Malcolm H Beck was the reason things went as they did.
He didn't mess around.
He worked with an agenda. He knew what was coming, what needed to happen and he had usually sorted out any potential troubles way ahead of the meeting.
But he didn't do things in secret, never had executive sessions and would always take a reporter's phone calls.
Over the years, I dealt with him on a number of levels; as the mayor, as a county commissioner, as a reliable source on just about anything.
Often, when Marc and I ran into he and his wife at the grocery store or an event, he would say, "Call me, I have a story for you!"
And he always did, something he knew about that needed addressing or the light shone upon it.
He was a treasure trove of information, candid and honest. He was very good at getting his way.
He talked to everybody.
He listened to everybody.
He often made people mad because he never beat around the bush.
He laid things right out.
Today is his funeral.
I read through his obituary Saturday and it's impressive even though I already knew most of what he's accomplished in his life.
I didn't know he was a twin.
I did know he'd been on the hospital board and involved in numerous civic organizations. I knew he'd made a difference with his life.
I knew he was a good guy, a guy who cared deeply about his family, this city and its people.
We were lucky to have him.
Marc and I consider ourselves lucky to have known him well.
We will miss him around here.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Trust us

"Just leave your credit card number with us and we'll let you know when the charge goes through," said the tire store guy.
"It'll be fine."
I was a touch apprehensive because first of all, I never know if I can trust a car repair garage and secondly, their computers hadn't been responsive all morning.
I had taken my car in for squeaky brakes.
Having just paid $300 for new brakes on our SUV, I was not anxious to pay for more for our second car.
So I was relieved when the technician came back and said my brakes were OK but I had "brake dust" building up and needed it all cleaned off.
"Brake dust?"
I'd never heard of it but if the guy was a crook, he would've just sold me some new, expensive brakes, right?
I reluctantly agreed to have the dust dusted and have some fluids changed out. In exchange, I would get a "free" oil change and they would check my alignment.
About $200 and a couple of hours later, I was trying to pay my bill.
The machine refused to take my card.
"Man!" said the tire guy. "The credit card machine isn't working again!" he yelled to the others in the shop.
He tinkered with the device and searched around for some help.
The machine refused to stay on long enough to run the charge even though I swiped and swiped.
Finally I offered to go home and get a check.
"Could you?" he asked hopefully.
"Could you pay with a check?"
I explained that I would have to run home since I never carry my checkbook with me anymore.
His colleague came up and said, "Just have her leave her credit card number and we'll run it when the computers come up."
I gulped. Oh. Ok. What assurance did I have that I wouldn't end up paying thousands of dollars in charges or, at the very least, the same $200 bill several times?
"We won't do anything like that," the guy promised. "Trust us."
Why not?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Merrymaking with the Bandito

I'll be completely honest here.
Marc and I are huge Bandito fans.
We've attended the Bandito shows in the Pickleville Playhouse in Bear Lake.
We've followed him to Salt Lake for his annual Christmas shows and so when we learned he was doing an original Christmas show in Logan, we asked TJ Davis for tickets.
We arranged to be in Logan on opening night so we could see "Juanito Bandito's Christmas Carol" for ourselves.
We weren't alone. The Ellen Eccles theatre was sold out with fans of every age and size waiting for the Bandito and wearing their mustaches!
The energy was electric.
The anticipation was high.
So when the Bandito and his sidekick guitar player came out and took seats on a pair of bar stools to play "I Don't Like Christmas!" we all celebrated. As he moved into "I Don't Like Christmas, I Love It Like a Fat Kid Likes Cake!" it took off.
The Bandito barely had to make a move.
Every Spanglish word he spoke, everytime he threatened to "Chute you!," it was funny.
We all hung on every word and enthused over the Banditos rewriting of Charles Dicken's classic story.
"This has three of the scariest things," he explained, "ghosts, nightmares and vocabulary words!"
The Bandito starts out trying to make sure everyone knows he's not pregnant and cannot be pregnant and is NOT a woman. (I have no buns in the ovens and

I can prove it!" he says. "What's Pinterest?")
Then Jordan Todd Brown comes into the picture as one of Santa's underpaid and overworked elves and he is insane.
He never stops improvising or cracking up both the cast and the audience.
Even the Bandito can't help laughing as Brown shudders, contorts his body into impossible shapes, mangles his lines and takes a turn at being the young Bandito.
Whitney Folkerson as Gratilda is also crazy. She's over the top in every scene and handles a rifle with ease. Her facial expressions and body language add immeasurably to everything she does: hiding under her invisibility clock, untangling the Christmas lights and climbing back into her coffin in Christmas Future.
It's a fun ride, even though the musical numbers and Christmas raps get a touch long and the chairs in the Eccles theater are spent.
"This is an exact copy of Charles Dicken's Christmas Carol," sputters the Bandito.
Not even close but who cares?
The Bandito's Christmas Carol plays at the Grand Theatre in Salt Lake on Dec. 18-20 starting at 7:30 each evening and on Monday the 22nd as well.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Social insecurity

Several months ago, looking ahead to our financial future, I decided to register for retirement benefits from the Social Security system.
I had a lot of reasons to do so, one being that I like to feel prepared and even though I will lose a little by taking retirement funds before I'm 66, it would give me peace of mind to have it in place.
I noted the instructions that told me I needed to get the application in three months ahead of when I expected payments to start.
Feeling quite proud of my attention to detail, I filled out the online form and sat back to wait.
I even got a little letter in the mail telling me my attempt to register with the system online had been a successful attempt.
But that was in October and since I hadn't heard anything since, I decided to circle back and see if all was in order.
I went online with my little "re-entry" number and tried to find my application.
I logged in all right but then I was to provide a confirmation number which I did not have. I tried my "re-entry number" but the system couldn't make it work to find my application.
I then started trying to call for help.
The system was overloaded and after numerous holds and switches, I was told to call back at a less busy time.
Then I found my application and this time, there was a little line in red that said "You may have to provide a marriage certificate. We will inform you if this is the case."
I hadn't been informed but I went back through my application and made sure there was nothing else.
I made sure the "i"s were dotted and the "t"s were crossed.
I put in another call.
This time I was allowed to make an appointment for someone to call me back.
I cancelled some plans. I sat on my phone.
When the call came, the nice lady told me that, indeed, I needed to show somebody my marriage certificate...the original, please, not a person.
That meant in Provo between the hours of 9 and 3 weekdays.
I looked at the clock. I could make it if I left now!
.....No one told me the office is open weekdays EXCEPT for Wednesdays when it closes at noon.
I fumed.
I drove home.
I drove back the next morning to join a line of folks waiting outside the doors at 8:59 a.m. When we finally got in the door, we each got to take a number and sit down to wait.
Ultimately, my number was called and it took about 10 seconds to prove I was legally wed.
Now I wait some more. My application is in cyberspace circling the planet. Once it lands, I'll join the ranks of those counting on the U.S. Government for financial security.
What can go wrong?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A cheery story

Marc and I have been contemplating the purchase of new outdoor Christmas lights for a while now.
We have some snowflake lights we bought a few years ago that we've never really liked.
They're "cold" lights instead of "warm" and they look kinda chintzy.
Since Marc is the one in the household who puts them up every year it seems he ought to get a say in what we do.
So when he found some icicle lights he liked at Lowe's we started seriously planning to buy them even though they were a bit pricey.
We shopped around and didn't find any others we liked better.
We measured the house and determined how many strands we would need.
We waited for Black Friday to see if they went on sale. (They didn't.)
We stood at the display looking them over until I got a migraine from the strobe effect.
Today we bit the bullet.
We gathered up our three boxes and headed to the checkstand.
The cashier looked over our cache and rang them up.
It came to $160 and change.
"Whoa!" she said. "Those are expensive lights."
"We know," we said. "We're replacing some we bought a few years ago that we've never really liked."
"I wish I could spend that kind of money on Christmas lights," she said sadly. "But I don't even know if my kids are going to have any Christmas this year. My sister died and there's no money for anything."
Marc and I looked at each other, uncertain as to what to do or say so we said nothing.
We handed her our credit card, took our lights and left.
All the way to the car and home we felt badly.
Should we have ditched our plan and given her $160 instead of buying lights we can't eat or share with the starving children in China?
Should we go back and ask her how we can help?
Should we feel ashamed of wasting our hard-earned money?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I need to let it go

I only needed one more Elsa doll.
So when the lady at the local Disney story said she had some, I jumped in the car and headed south.
I had an appointment at 10 a.m. but it was only 9 a.m. when I left and I figured, what, the mall is 20 minutes away, I could pop in and grab my doll, pop out and be back in American Fork in time, right?
And since I hadn't seen any authentic Elsa dolls since we returned from Europe, it warranted the effort.
I needed a match for my last Anna doll for a granddaughter.
So off I charged.
I arrived in good time. I headed to the mall doors only to find little red signs hanging on the handles.
The signs said the mall wouldn't be open until 10 a.m. and until then only the doors on the north side would be unlocked.
I sighed and headed to the north side. The doors weren't open.
Apparently there was a magic north door.
I went back and moved my car over to the north side and started trying doors until I found one that opened.
I headed inside to the Disney store which was also not open until 10.
Now I had a choice, wait until 10 and make my trip worthwhile or come back another day.
I didn't really dare leave because I wasn't sure I'd find another Elsa.
I decided to call my 10 a.m. appointment and get a delay except my phone was not in my purse. I figured I left it in my car.
So I went out and in the north door once more
No phone in my car. Apparently I had I left it home.
I returned to the Disney store. Now I only had about 15 minutes to wait so I stood there with a growing, restless crowd.
We watched while the sales clerks inside ignored us. I would have considered giving it up but I could see my prize just inside.
We waited somewhat patiently.
Finally, it was 10! But no one came to open the store.
At 10:05, a lady rolled a table up to the door and hung up red ropes to cordon off the doorway.
"What's the magic word?" she chirped at us.
The small children in our crowd looked at her in silence.
"Please?" one said.
"Nope, guess again!" said the saleslady cheerfully.
"Mickey?" guessed one mom holding an unhappy baby.
"Nope! What's a magic word that will open the store?" she said. "Think hard!"
"Abbracadabbra!" I whispered to the little kid.
He repeated the word and like magic the lights went on and the lady moved the box. It was wonderful.
We all rushed in and I grabbed my Elsa doll. I paid for it, sacked it and borrowed the store phone to call my appointment.
I was 20 minutes late but hurray, I accomplished my mission. I'm the proud owner of yet another Elsa doll and I'm done chasing Frozen ware!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Rocking in grandma's chair

I love the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
At least I thought I did.
I just didn't really know who they were.
I have a CD of their Christmas music I play over and over from Halloween through to New Year's and beyond.
I have my favorites that I put on "repeat" and listen to at full volume when I'm in the car or home alone: "Christmas Canon Rock," "O Come All Ye Faithful," "Boughs of Holly."
I just love what I thought was a choir boy singing his heart out.
So when Marc and I got the opportunity to attend their concert in the Energy Solutions Center Wednesday evening, we jumped at the chance.
It was short notice but we rearranged our schedule to be in our seats for the show with bells on!
And what we found was a visual treat with fire heating up the stage, real snow falling on us, moving towers that carried a couple of the band members high above us and plenty of rocking out rhythm.
I luxuriated in the sights and sounds and bathed in the energy they radiate.
I was interested to "meet the band" with their electric guitars, their flowing hair and their big smiles as they worked the audience and charmed the houseful of fans.
The only thing that set me back a bit (and I realize I shouldn't have been surprised) is the fact that the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is actually a heavy metal band that plays rock Christmas music.
Why was that a revelation to me?
Maybe there's a clue in the tracks I routinely skip when I listen to my CD. I thoroughly enjoy the instrumentals but I mostly skip the vocals.
So when the second half of the three-hour concert turned to more raucous and invigorating music sung by sweaty guys in leather, they kind of lost me.
I also would have preferred less story, less heavy rock and more of the familiar numbers.
But I'm the first to admit, this grandma is a little dated in her musical tastes and probably is not the best judge of this kind of fare.
People all around us were in heaven while I kind of plugged my ears at one point.
Even so, it was a thoroughly entertaining evening and I'm hauling out the CD to play while I write this!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A penny tax saved

At our house, we rarely talk politics because one of us is Republican and the other is wrong-headed, one of the few Democrats in the state.
We tend to stick to safer topics.
And, since we have both been journalists for most of our married life, we don't usually get very involved in the local politics either.
But we care about parks and the library and theater arts and recreation programs.
So when a flyer came around advertising a meeting about the proposed PARC tax for American Fork, we wanted to know more.
Marc got on his bike and rode on over.
I was at a library board meeting so I left him to gather the information.
When we got home, he told me we needed to go to a local park in the next couple of days to pick up a yard sign promoting the tax.
This tax would be a penny out of every $10 spent on goods, materials and services which is 1/10 of 1 percent. It would raise $600,000 from shoppers who live here and those who just come through.
It would go toward cultural and recreational programs, programs that seriously need the additional funding if they're going to thrive.
Salt Lake City has the ZAP tax.
Orem has the CARE tax.
They're basically the same thing as this proposed tax.
We're in favor of it.
It would cost us so little and do so much.
But the minute we put up our signs supporting the tax, our neighbors put up a sign opposing it.
And around town, the signs asking for passage of the tax starting disappearing.
One lady came to our door to ask if she could take one of our two signs, leaving the one on the main road and moving the other to a place with higher visibility.
We had no problem with that.
We DO have a problem with people taking the signs supporting the PARC tax.
Why do that?
Why not believe in and promote fair play?
Cheap shots and unfair practice just makes us more determined to prevail.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A balance of zero

It's never a good thing when you check your bank account balance and find it's at zero.
But some times are better than others.
Like today, for instance, I knew there had to be a mistake.
I was doing my routine Monday morning chores and looking at my credit union statement.
(I do that almost every day since the Home Depot and Target hackings.)
I wasn't expecting any trouble. I've not been shopping with my daughter recently.
Marc and I have been homebodies for a while.
So I was shocked to see my balance at exactly zero dollars.
And there was a little overdraft thingy of about $300.
I looked at the list of charges.
I went into "fix it" and "call about it" mode.
There was a charge of almost $2,000 for things bought and used and done in Europe in August.
I had paid that charge once already and set up automatic payments so I wouldn't forget about this card.
Now here it was back again.
I called up the Mastercard people.
After a number of lengthy explanations and security questions and a lot of listening to bland music while I waited on hold, I was connected to a nice woman.
She heard me out and confirmed my suspicions.
"Looks like you've been double-charged," she said.
"That's what I think," I replied.
"We'll give you a credit on your account," she offered.
I didn't want a credit.
I wanted my nearly $2,000 back in my checking account.
I wanted my good name restored.
I wanted the credit card company to pay any overdraft fees this might has created.
I wanted reassurance that this wouldn't happen again.
I wanted my former calm and peace of mind back.
To their credit (pun intended), they promised to send me my money...within 2-5 business days and they said it probably wouldn't happen again.
Just so they know, I will be on guard on the 24th of every month for some time now!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Up in the air

Don't look down

My grandson is courageous.
He loves to walk the ropes at the new Museum of Natural Curiosity at Thanksgiving Point.
So when my son offered to pay the way for two granddaughters and him, we naturally planned on Hayden playing in the sky.
He loves a challenge and isn't afraid of heights.
He also enjoys watching his grandma worry!
So we were dismayed when we got to the front of the line and the lady at the counter wouldn't sell us a ticket for the ropes.
"Are you his legal guardian?" she asked.
"Uh, no, but I'm his grandma," I said, hoping that would be enough.
"We need a legal guardian to sign for him," she said. "Is there one here?"
I looked around. Just me and the kids.
"What can we do? Can I call his dad and let him vouch for me?" I asked.
"You could email him and get a waiver," she said.
I wondered how I could do that without a computer, a printer and a scanner.
I looked at Hayden who shrugged at me.
"What do you suggest?" I asked the lady, trying to look sure of myself and ignoring the growing line of people behind us waiting to buy tickets.
The lady sighed, looked at me and went over to the wall.
She brought back a piece of paper with a list of instructions.
"Here," she said. "Do this."
I looked at the paper. It told me call the proposed guardian and then go online to the event website.
Then the lucky guardian was to print off  the waiver, fill it out, sign it, scan it and send it back to the website after which my grandson would be granted permission to go aloft.
I called my son who didn't really have time for this. (That's why I had the grandkids. My son needed to focus on his business.)
He agreed to follow the instructions.
Hayden and I waited. His sisters waited. Time went by.
After about 10 minutes we had scanned documents, one on my phone, one at the events counter.
"Wait," said the counter lady. "Hmmm." She frowned. "He signed on the wrong line."
Really? Did it matter? All the other lines looked fine to me.
"Yeah. It has to be right," the lady said. "Have him resend it."
I called my son again and he did everything again, this time signing on the bottom-most line.
As a result, in another 20 minutes, Hayden was in the air, having fun, trying to stay balanced and grinning down at me.
I think it was worth it,
I'm just not sure there isn't an easier way to do this.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Off the rails

We noticed a "Ticket to Ride" game in the room of one of the residents in one of the Beehive Homes we visit on a weekly basis.
The lady who lives in the room is fun and lively so we offered to come play a game with her when we had a free night.
Yesterday we dropped in on her.
"We're here to play you a game!" we announced cheerfully.
(I think she was a little taken aback. This meant she had to take a deep breath, get the game down out of the closet and turn down an invitation to a movie with her daughter.)
But she was game.
We were soon seated at the dining room table in the commons area and getting out all the little plastic train pieces which were strangely heavy.
"My sister glued magnets to all of the trains," she explained. "And we added some tracks where there weren't enough lines."
We examined the board more closely.
In her game, sure enough, there were magnets glued solidly to the board everywhere the tracks were supposed to be.
Some were painted with nail polish and others marked with an "X."
Some were carefully cut in two so the board could still be folded up and put away.
There were way more options than we were used to having.
There was obviously a lot of work that had gone into making the board a one-of-a-kind version.
But, other than the magnets covered up a couple of the city names, it was fine.
We began to play.
Our friend took a locomotive and a train car card.
Neither Marc nor I had the heart to tell her you can't do both.
She put out her trains, counted her points and drew again.
"No," Marc said gently. "You can do one or the other. Not both."
She shot him a look.
Next a fellow in the TV area noticed us sitting at the table.
"Is it time for supper?" he asked, climbing out of his chair and shuffling over. "What are we having?"
We told him dinner was a while ago. We weren't eating just now.
He was clearly disappointed but headed back to his seat.
Next, the door opened and people came in. The commotion put us back another 20 minutes.
Then "we" needed water and "we" needed to check on another resident.
The TV was on full blast. Residents came in and out needing help with this and that.
We carried merrily on.
After two hours, we were down to four trains and the end. We'd had a good time, provided some diversion for some lonely souls and I won. That's the important thing.
Not bad when you're playing a 90-year-old lady in a retirement home, right?

Friday, October 10, 2014

When in London

The outside of Ripley's
You never know when you might end up in London looking for things to do with kids.
We had been to London several times before we ended up with a 7-year-old who wanted more from life than riding in a black cab or looking at Buckingham Palace from afar.
This time around we were specifically searching for adventures that would appeal to Jack the grandson.
We started with the London Zoo which is a far cry from the San Diego Zoo experience or even the Hogle Zoo.
This is a low-key, smaller-scale zoo with lots of monkeys and a butterfly exhibit.
It's a charity endeavor so the price is a little steep unless you shop in England at their version of Costco.
It's also very English so there are quite a few things for children to do. The English are big on entertaining the youngsters with little games and puzzles all about.
Ripley's Believe It or Not is another option, again, fairly expensive but the young boy's idea of sheer fun.
creepy cow
Jack without legs
There are lots of creepy and odd things to look at, a mirrored maze to work through, magic tables, a Hogwart's Castle made of 600,000 matchsticks, the elephant with two trunks, a knitted Ferrari, an all-wooden Ferrari, shrunken heads, torture devices, whatever trips your trigger.
Go there if you have kids between about 8-14.
It's their kind of deal.
Another choice would be to climb on board the Cutty Sark and see what a tea importing sailing ship looked like.
Children can play the games that are set up here and there, figuring out how to load the ship without tipping it over, guiding the ship through the harbor.
They can try out the bunks designed for crew members who were short.
Jack and a very tall guy
They can man the wheel.
If you like you can talk with the captain for a bit.
And, if you have cash in your pocket, you can spend an afternoon in the Hamley's toy store: six stories of all kinds of gadgets and gizmos.
The marketing folks have set up demonstrators about every five feet so you can see how the latest toy works and salivate after it.
It takes a good while to see everything and even longer to make a decision about what to buy.
It took Jack a couple of hours to choose.
creepy head
If we'd had more kids with us, we'd probably still be there.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Prizefighter gramma

I was all ready to go when I thought my eyelid surgery was set for 9:30 a.m. I wouldn't have to fast all day and it would be over by noon.
Or so I thought.
I hadn't had time to really freak out about this little basel cell carcinoma that popped up on my right eyelid.
I hadn't had a great deal of time to do Internet research about it.
All I knew was my doctor on Monday took one look and said he was putting me in touch with a plastic surgeon who specializes in eyelid reconstruction.
His office told me to come in on Wednesday. They'd work me in.
They scheduled me for the procedure on Thursday.
I had time to wrap up a couple of stories and deadline projects.
My husband took work off in the morning.
I cleared my calendar but I really thought I could get to a family meeting at 8 in the evening.
That was before the phone started ringing.
Chalise from UVRMC was calling to postpone my 9:30 apt. to 11:00 so Marc and I went shopping.
While we were in Costco, she called again to move the surgery to 11:30.
While we were getting onto the freeway, she called again. "How does 12:30 work?" she asked. "We've had an emergency."
By now, we were getting aggravated.
I was way hungry having dutifully started fasting from food and water at 11 p.m. the night before.
Marc was in limbo feeling like he couldn't go to work, start mowing the lawn or go bike riding.
I fed him lunch just before noon and we gingerly headed out again, stressing every time the phone rang.
Is this the right shade for me?
We were late checking in but — guess what — that was fine since the doctor was running behind.
"Take a seat. We'll call you when they're ready for you!" said a nice nurse.
At 2 p.m. they said I was next. At 2:34, they said, "Almost!"
At 3:05 p.m. they handed me a magazine to read in the prep room.
Then I started to panic. Wait? Did I really want to do this? Maybe I could live with just a small, annoying little, itchy bump on my eye?
Too late. By 5 p.m. it was gone and now I have a bunch of tiny stitches and really pretty semi-permanent purple eye shadow on my eye.
Looks great, don't you think? 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Playing games

The Treasure Island Catan game
To pass the time, Marc and I play games when we travel.
We used to play a travel Scrabble game that had little teeny tiles on a kind of board that folded open and held the tiles — except when we dropped one on the way to the board. Then it required some serious bending and stretching to find the tile under the seats.
For the most part, though, it was great and served us for many voyages.
People all around us would offer suggestions and cheer when one of us scored a big word.
But it's a new age now and this time around Marc bought a bunch of games for his iPad: Scrabble, Carcasonne, Settlers of Catan and Puerto Rico.
Instead of toting along a game board and bags of tiny pieces, we just opened up the device and selected something to play. We usually had a couple of computerized opponents joining the fray.
The Siena sunset
It took some getting used to since we didn't have any cards or little pieces to hold or see.
It was difficult to know what the other guy had when you needed to negotiate a trade or steal something worthwhile.
But we persevered and pretty soon we were loving the fact that we didn't have to set up or take down anything.
Wherever we were when we were interrupted, the game came back at that spot.
We could play for five minutes or two hours, as long as the battery was charged.
We could play waiting for our food at a restaurant or on the plane as we waited to take off.
It didn't matter whether we had table space or not.
In Siena, we played waiting for the sun to set and in Florence in the Boboli Gardens when it was too hot to walk around anymore.
So now we're spoiled.
We're home and we're still playing our games on the iPad in our spare time — plus we've added a few, new ones, mostly variations of Catan.
It's really quite enjoyable except that Marc wins most of the time.
That's annoying.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Beating up grandpa

It wouldn't surprise me to get a call from the folks who monitor elder abuse and neglect.
My aged father currently looks like he's been going the rounds in the boxing ring.
He has a huge bump on the back of his head, cuts and bruises on both arms and on his knee and 10 stitches across his right eyebrow.
He is also sporting a couple of fractured ribs.
But we kids had nothing to do with this.
In fact, if it wasn't for a little email message I got from my stepmother's daughter, I wouldn't even know he went to the hospital — twice this week.
Seems he went out to dinner Monday night and misjudged the distance when he stepped out of the SUV.
He fell down. He banged his head and went to the emergency room in the ambulance.
He was released around midnight and went back to the retirement center where he resides, not telling anybody about it.
Then yesterday around lunchtime he was mailing a letter at the front desk on his way to lunch and fell again.
This time he apparently hit his walker on the way down because he got a serious cut near his eye and smashed his ribcage.
When I saw him yesterday he looked pretty rough.
He was sitting in the bed trying to watch tennis on the hospital TV without any sound because he couldn't find a remote. (It's on the bedside unit used to call the nurse.)
He was hungry because he'd missed lunch and looked like he would miss dinner. (I got him a box lunch from the nurse's station.)
He was unhappy because whenever he breathed in hard or coughed or laughed, it hurt — a lot. He thinks the answer is to go home, get into his easy chair and stay still.
I sat with him most of the afternoon trying to figure out what is going on and what we are going to do.
Sure, he's past 90 and can be expected to have some difficulties now and then.
But two emergency room runs in four days?
I wondered myself when the doctors asked him (and me) what was going on here?
He thinks he's fine, no worries. He's getting good care and he likes the attention.
He still believes he isn't ready for an assisted living center. He doesn't see what all the fuss is about.
I'm thinking we're in big trouble here.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Sliders for lunch

The fashion-conscious customer on an angle

Waiting on the waiter...notice the blocks
There's a lovely little place in Siena, Italy, that serves lunch and dinner.
The food is freshly cooked.
The service is good.
The view is spectacular.
It's a treat to eat there — if you don't mind sitting at a table and chairs that are in danger of sliding down the road at a moment's notice.
See, most of the roads in Siena are steep and laid with cobblestone.

The merchants in the town have to adapt.
So this little restaurant has cut the legs of the table and stools at an angle and then put down little wooden studs to act like brakes that will stop the furniture from sliding.

The typical Siena road
You have to make sure you don't move the legs out from behind or from fitting into the studs.
One has to plan one's entry and exit in advance.
The waitresses have learned to walk backwards most of the time so they don't develop shin splints during their shifts.
It's entertaining to watch and a good example of adapting to the environment.
We enjoyed our meal there.
Gives a whole new meaning to eating up  — er, out!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The drug scene

My doctor warned me a while ago that this day was coming.
He showed me a flier from a local pharmacy that said soon pharmacists would be making the decisions as to who got what drugs.
I didn't totally dismiss the prediction but I didn't worry unduly.
Well, a day or so ago I went to pick up a prescription drug that I take on a daily basis.
The lady at the counter said she only had a few pills and I would probably need to come back in a couple of days.
I was startled.
I need to take this particular medication regularly. If I don't there are fairly severe consequences.
I came back a day later and this time, the senior pharmacist came out to talk to me.
"There's a nationwide shortage of this drug," he said. "You had better call some other pharmacies and see if they have any."
I panicked a little.
However, I thought I had some reserve tablets in my 72-hour kit so I'd be OK for a few days.
Turns out I don't.
I went downstairs today to get them and apparently I had already raided my back-up supply.
The next morning I called my doctor who is a specialist for the condition I have.
He said he'd never heard of such a thing but told me my drugs have a half-life of about a week so I'd have a little time before the situation became really serious.
I really didn't want to risk coming out of my remission.
I went back to the pharmacy.
This time, the pharmacist said he had 48 tablets — not a full refill, but more than nothing.
I took them.
I came home. I'm guarding them with my life.
If this keeps up much longer, I'll have to get me a drug dealer. (My family physician says he has a contact in Canada...)
Who knew?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

My favorite things...

Jack through the porthole laying on the bunk inside the crew's quarters
People keep asking me what my favorite thing is from our English-Italian vacation.
I think over all the world-famous art we saw, the duomos in Florence and Sienna, the sunsets over the Arno River, the views from the towers we ascended, the lush Tuscan countryside, the sets and props for the Harry Potter movies, the stage show of "Wicked" in London.
I revisit the memories and the moments when I stood in one historic spot or another and I always come back to the same thing.
My favorite part was seeing Jack, our 7-year-old magical grandchild, the grandchild who ran right to me though it had been two years since we'd last seen him in real life.
Jack lives in middle England with his mum and dad and doesn't really understand why we don't pop over on the occasional Sunday for dinner.
He's happy to have us Skype him on Sundays and tell him jokes and read him stories.
He's enthusiastic about letters and presents from America but he's generally so far away that I have to settle for virtual hugs and kisses.
Ready, set, hug!
So, when we were deciding where to go and what to do for our 25th anniversary, there was really no question.
If we were going to make the arduous voyage over the ocean, we had to make sure the trip included seeing Jack.
The kid with his feet off the ground is Jack.
We arranged the schedule with his parents so he'd be out on holiday from school and so they could meet us in London for a bit. (I'm past where I'm comfortable with Marc driving in England.)
They brought in their caravan and camped outside the city.
We set up a meet at the London Zoo and a go at the Ripley's Believe It or Not museum.
On Saturday we took the tube, a train, and a walk and arrived a touch early and started scanning the queue outside the gates of the zoo.
I looked for a little tow-headed boy and his parents.
It got to be 10 a.m. and we hadn't see them yet. We walked up and down the line.
We looked over at the giraffes and tigers across the street. Maybe we'd come in the wrong way.
We looked some more.
Then, suddenly, there he was, taller than I remembered.
He started running toward us, a big smile on his face.
I opened my arms.
He ran into me and we hugged, blissfully.
We went on to see all sorts of sights. We toured the Cutty Sark ship, Jack slept in the crew quarters bunk and tried steering the boat.
Jack showed us the eels and the jellyfish and the poison frogs and butterflies that would sit on his hand in the aquarium. He played every game and he told us all sorts of things in his British accent. He sat with me in the back of the car and made up stories.
He let us buy him a racing car after taking a couple of long hours to choose just the right toy.
It was restorative and marvelous and, yes, the best part of a two-week trip!

Jack and Marc at the top of the Monument


Monday, August 18, 2014

German warfare

One of these things is not like the other

This one is for British Airways NOT Air Berlin
So Marc and I are sitting in Stuttgart waiting for our plane.
It's been delayed since there are thunderstorms and high winds in London.
Everybody around us is getting upset because not only is the plane delayed but no one is sharing information.
The lady in the gate booth came in and tidied up around boarding time but hasn't looked anyone in the eye or picked up the microphone to tell us what's going on. The crowd is almost out of control.
We don't know when the plane might be leaving or what will happen when we all miss connections.
We have already suffered through an unbearably long wait to get our passports checked, a line that started at the top of a big stairway and moved at a snail's pace through to the waiting area.
That's when it became apparent there was trouble afoot.
We also discovered that German people apparently have hair-trigger tempers and short fuses.
They were increasingly vocal as time passed.
"You don't tell us anything because you will have to compensate us then for the time and trouble!" shouted one angry fellow.
"I only live 4 miles from the airport. I can go home and wait better than here!" put in another unhappy customer.
"Yeah! Nien to this! said people with much hostility.
Marc and I watched the show.
We didn't think it mattered much to us whether we waited a long or a short time. We had flown from Florence, Italy to Stuttgart simply to catch another short hopper back to London.
We could be late without severe consequences.
After 90 minutes though, it got old.
We were almost as interested in moving on as the rest of the crowd.
Finally, we were told the flight was being rescheduled and a bus was backed up to the door to take us to the plane.
Then the bus left.
The news stopped.
The bus came back.
We waited some more. The lady got on the mic. "We're going to put you on a bus to the plane but you might have to wait on the plane for a while," she said. "But we'll start boarding."
We started through the gate. That's when the bottom fell out.
The ticket reader refused our boarding passes.
The lady tried several times.
"Oh," she said, examining them more closely. "That's the problem. You have the wrong airline and gate."
She moved to the next passenger.
Apparently there are two flights out of Stuttgart for London at exactly the same time on two different airlines. We were supposed to be on the other one that boarded 30 minutes earlier...with a gate at the other end of the terminal!
We panicked. We bolted. We practically climbed over the passport gate to get out.
We sweated all the way to Gate 343 on the south end from Gate 121 on the north end (I'm not kidding).
We made it with a nano second to spare but not before I had made some serious promises in my prayers and questioned my travel patterns.
No more German parties for me.
And I'll always check every inch of fine print on a boarding pass, even the areas I don't know matter.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bringing Elsa home...

Hey, do you think Disney has a plan?

It wasn't my intention to focus on the Frozen Elsa doll all during our anniversary trip to Europe.
It began with kind of a curiosity: Could it be possible that the doll we wanted to get for a host of granddaughters for birthdays and Christmas could be found in England or Italy?
Maybe the obsession with the Disney movie and the dolls hadn't reached across the pond just yet?
We had routinely harassed the local stores for Elsa dolls for months. (We found Anna dolls a while ago and dropped in every day to the Orem store to buy two at a time until we had enough.)
We knew we had little girls who wouldn't be happy with just one sister.
So we stopped in London at the store on Oxford Street and checked.
"Oh. We just sold out. We had some," said the sales girl.
When we looked crushed, she leaned forward to confide, "I can't promise anything but we may be getting some in the morning. If you can ring us exactly at 9 a.m., we could put your name on the list."
So it began.
My son had provided us with a burner phone for emergencies and this became one.
Every morning we rang the stores. I have three European phone numbers memorized now.
 Every time we got on or off the tube near Covent Garden or Oxford St. we stopped in to look for Elsa. (There was another one that was a long ways away. Fortunately they never got in a shipment or we'd have made that ride too.)
Nobody wants her in this dress
When we went to Hamley's toy store with our grandson for a race car, we looked for Elsa dolls.
"Finished!" said the clerks. "We are finished!" (Apparently that's the word for "Sold out!")
It became a kind of obsession that carried through to Italy.
We found a tiny toy store in Sienna that had finished with Elsa as well.
We found another in Florence that just finished a few minutes before we arrived!
On the last day before we left London, we made a final call.
Elsa is magical.
"Yes," said the harried clerk. "We may have some Elsas in the morning."
We stopped in the next day and joined a little huddle of moms and small girls in front of the store.
Once in, we all flew to the display and to our amazement, there were beautiful, 11-inch, authentic Elsa dolls. (You can get the fake ones from China on the Internet but they aren't the same at all.)
We grabbed four.
I was thrilled. Marc was happy to have resolution to this mad campaign and just as happy to drag a sack of dolls home, through customs, onto several planes and buses and trains.
More than once, I'm sure he was thinking..."Let it go! Let it go!"
But hey, it's a grandma mission accomplished.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The long way home

Stewart Falls up close

It's my own fault.
You'd think in 25 years of marriage I'd learn to be afraid when Marc says "It's fine. We'll be fine. It'll be an adventure!"
We were at the company party at Sundance.
Xactware had rented out the whole place for a day and we could do whatever we wanted...go horseback riding, mountain biking, ride the ski-lift up and down, picnic, enjoy the mountain streams, relax...
We put in for horseback rides and won.
So we spent a dusty hour riding Trigger and Gringo around the resort. That was nice even though Marc's trusty steed, Gringo, was intent on grazing and my sweet pony kept nosing up to the back end of the lead.
We came back a little saddlesore and hot and covered in trail dust.
So we jumped on the lift and rode all the way to the top from where we could see Stewart Falls off in the distance.
"We could hike over there," Marc suggested. "We have time."
"Um, how far it it? How do we get back?" I asked. "Is there a way down?"
"Of course there is," Marc snorted. "How hard can it be? And if it's too hard, we'll just come back here and ride the chair down."
He looked it up on his phone...only 1.5 miles over and 1.5 miles down. Sounded doable.
Well...I think the GPS calculates mileage differently than my feet do.
We hiked and hiked and dodged trees and rocks and slipped along on the same dust we'd just choked on earlier with Trigger and Gringo.
But it was shady and interesting and we did get to the falls where I slipped off my shoes and sat with my toes in the ice water.
We watched people with little kids and teenagers play on the rocks and in the waterfall.
Eventually it came time, though, to look for the way home.
I couldn't see any marked trails and we knew the way back the way we came would be harder than coming over.
Stewart Falls from Trigger's back
A guy told us to go "this way where it was steep for a bit and then all downhill" so off we went on the "Return to Sundance" trail.
Well, this trail fits the definition of eternity.
It wove through the bushes, over the desert sand, up the hill and around. It was in the shade here and there but mostly it was sunny and dry.
We climbed and slid and hauled butt for what I figure were miles more than 1.5 miles.
I started to gripe. I thanked Marc repeatedly for getting me into this and getting us lost.
My toes hurt from banging into the ends of my shoes. At one point my knees simply refused to handle another hurdle. I would have loved to abandon the ship and have called an ambulance but how could I tell them where we were?
We are all right now. Neither of us can walk or stand up without serious effort and pain but we're off the mountain and home.
Marc thinks we had a ball. He says he knew where we were at every moment.
I'm just not sure we didn't leave Utah for considerable lengths of time.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Checking the chicken

I usually stand up and applaud businesses that admit to making a mistake.
Car manufacturers who issue recalls and offer to pay for the needed repair or adjustment. They're doing the right thing.
Companies who tell you right out that they've been hacked help you take preventive measures.
When the credit union calls to tell me my card might have been used fraudulently it's a pain because I have to get a new card but I think it's good to know.
I think Target deserved some credit for telling us all our information may have been compromised when we shopped there last Christmas. It may bury them eventually but the alternative is to keep quiet and we all pay.
I believe it takes courage and some understanding of human nature to just take it on the chin when it's unavoidable — er, the right thing to do.
But Costco doesn't get any points from me for telling me in July that the chicken I bought in March might have been tainted "due to the presence of Salmonella Heidelberg."
Why would I want to know that now?
I guess if I still had some in the freezer that had a pull or freeze date of March 17 to March 31 I would appreciate knowing I should toss it.
But the chicken I bought three months ago is long gone and eaten and I can't recall if anybody got sick from ingesting it.
It might have upset somebody's tummy but I can't go back and say, "Hey, remember when I had you over for Sunday dinner. I'm sorry to tell you that, according to Costco, the chicken was probably bad."
I am somewhat appalled at the late notice. There's little I can do about it now except look very suspiciously at the meat display as I contemplate buying something to cook for dinner.
And how does Costco know I bought some anyway. Is there a big brother thing going on here I don't fully appreciate?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Creeping along the way

My daughter and I wanted the kids to have some adventure, some memorable experiences while we were in Midway this week.
We'd already done Grandma's Pine Canyon hike and they were really not very impressed.
It was hot, dusty and dry. The cute little hiking path I remembered from vacations past that ran alongside a gurgling stream didn't.
We had the baby in a backpack which made his mother hot and a 3-year-old and 5-year-old who wanted to know why I thought this would be fun. The 8-year-old was OK with it but when did it end, grandma? Did I mention it was hot?
So we changed our plans for another hike the next day and opted for a ride on the old-fashioned steam train that runs between Midway and Provo Canyon.
We knew it would be expensive but we figured the kids would be riding the rails as opposed to walking the trails and they'd love it.
At first they did.
They liked the gift shop and playing with the Thomas the Train display.
They like smashing a penny into a flat bit of copper for 50 cents.
They liked climbing onto the train and hearing the whistle blow.
From then on, it wasn't so much fun.
The train rumbled along at a pretty slow speed and it was hot in the train car.
The baby couldn't get out and crawl.
The windows were half open so I kept thinking 3-year-old Mia would go flying out like her hat did.
We amused ourselves for a while looking at the reservoir and the hills and the osprey in a nest off the tracks.
We walked back and forth between the cars. (Only later did I discover how dangerous that was...that behind the billowing curtain was a drop onto the railroad tracks...just about 3-year-old size.)
We bought some junk food because we weren't allowed to bring outside food or drink on the train. This is for a run that goes from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Can you say hungry children?
We were robbed at one point where the bandits gave us chocolate coins instead of taking our money. That's a minute of fun.
We enjoyed one another but it was really hard to climb back aboard after we stopped at Vivian Park for a 20-minute break. The kids have now promised NEVER to ask for a train ride again.
I love history and I like that the Heber Creeper (now the Heber Valley Railroad) is still running.
But here are my suggestions if the management really wants paying customers to keep coming:
  • Provide some free water, preferably cold.
  • Provide a little treat like a cookie? A popsicle? 
  • Reduce the price a little...It's hard to feel you've got your money's worth when it's $30 per adult and $15 per child.
  • Maybe hand out some Train Bingo cards or scavenger hunt lists? 
Make it a little more fun and a little less old-time hardship.
I'm just sayin'.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Things I learned from soap operas

Hope trying to choose Wyatt or Liam
I've seen a book titled something like "Everything I've learned, I learned from Star Trek" and "Everything I know I learned in Kindergarten."
I'm ready to write called "Everything I know, I've learned from soap operas" because although I'm not a die-hard fan (I can quit anytime I want!), there are certain directions in which the plots always go and some things the characters never seem to get.
No matter what the situation or how dire the consequences they tend to react in the same ways.
For instance, it seems to me the Golden Rule of daytime drama is: Always lie first, tell the truth when there are no other options. The baby is going to need a blood transfusion so the mother will have to admit there is more than one guy who could be the father.
The character is dying so it's time to tell the truth about switching the babies.
Belle? Maxi?
The wedding is heading to its final stage so the best man, the bridesmaid or the most nervous person in the audience has to stand up and shout "Objection!"
Another rule obviously draws out the drama and keeps the audience dangling a few more days: This is the rule about holding your face still: Look away. Look pensive. Look as if you're about to answer but wait three or four episodes before you do. Don't let on which way you are leaning.
And be aware: Recognize that nothing positive will last from marriages to business decisions. In fact, the better the situation, the more chance it will explode or go bad.
Understand that on soap operas age makes no difference when it comes to getting together.
Phyllis stopping Nick from punching Daniel
Neither does job experience. The same character can be the head of a company, a super model, a bartender and a doctor/surgeon/gynecologist/psychiatrist within weeks of "applying for the job."
And money is no object.
The characters live lavishly without having to show up for work at all.
Also note that children on a TV drama love to color with little or no supervision required. They go off to bed and to brush their teeth the first time they're told. And they grow up at an alarming rate (Especially when they go off to summer camp).
Pregnancies go quickly as well, from conception to hearing the heartbeat to the sonogram to the birth (usually in a storm or an elevator) to the paternity test in just a few weeks.
The dead don't stay dead. They come back when least expected and often with amnesia.
It's really an interesting world and one that perhaps leads women at home who aren't watching these shows to develop unrealistic expectations of life.
Not me, of course.