Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Merry Month of May

The celebration season starts tomorrow, and I for one am stoked about it. For some reason our family is just full of special days over the next ten weeks. May starts and almost ends with dual birthdays. Tomorrow my son Ben turns 40 and our dear friend Shirley turns something else.

I have never been too fussed about my age. In fact for everyone who has told me that I am younger than I look, there's another person who says, "I would have never guessed you were that old." I choose to take it as a compliment. But to have my firstborn turn 40. Somehow that really makes me feel 0ld, but, as my mother said the other day, "You think you feel old having a kid turn 40, how would you feel having a grandson turn 40?" She makes a good point.

Anyhow, the merry month will continue with Mothers Day, of course, and this year Jason and Laura are getting married in the last week of the month. And on the 30th my mother celebrates her birthday, along with Brenda, who was my best friend before I even went to school and is still like an adopted daughter to my folks.

Then June sets in with a frenzy. Linda starts the first week out by retiring, and ends it by celebrating her birthday. Somewhere in there we also have the Queens Birthday holiday, which is not the queen's actual birthday and further proof that Aussies can make a holiday out of just about anything.

The middle of the month sees Tom's birthday, my birthday and then on the 25th Lily turns 7. That will be officially named The Princess's Birthday, and I am going to try to start a movement to make that a holiday, as well. In the US, June is also the month for Fathers Day (it's later out here). But since that's where my father is, I guess that's the one we celebrate.

Our 25th anniversary follows a couple of weeks after that. (And all of you who bet me we couldn't do it back in 1984 should prepare to pay out. I remember each of you and the amounts you wagered.) Matt's birthday is a week later and then, exhausted from all the celebrations we will board a plane to begin our fantastic See the USA trip.

But before Matt's birthday comes one of the great celebration days - Peg's 90th birthday. We won't get to the US in time to celebrate it, but we plan to make up for it when we get to Rochester.

So there you have it. Ten weeks of celebrations followed by ten weeks of travel. At least I shouldn't run out of blog topics for a while. Let the parties begin.

And finally, LK is pretty sure I have left Jordan's birthday out. Sandy, a little help there please.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My Generation

Why can't they be like we were,
Perfect in every way?
Oh, what's the matter
With kids today?

Kids, from Bye Bye Birdie
Lyrics by Lee Adams

Now I've gone and done it. I looked up those lyrics yesterday, and now the song has taken permanent residence in my head. When I woke at 3am to have a wee, I awoke to the tune of Kids playing at full volume somewhere between my ears. At least it seems to have replaced I Dreamed A Dream, which had been holding court since I joined most of the world to watch Susan Boyle sing.

I was checking on the lyrics to Kids because I read an astonishing report in the news yesterday. Figures from a National Drug Strategy survey showed that Aussie Baby Boomers are drinking, smoking and taking more illegal drugs than younger people. That's right, the original counterculture, hippy, sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll generation is apparently still so much into their own hedonism that we're outdoing the kids.

Just look at the figures. Australians over the age of 50 are five times more likely to drink alcohol daily than their younger counterparts. Smokers in their 50's smoke an average 125 cigarettes a week, compared with 84 for people between 14 and 39.

And in the past four years, the use of illegal drugs has risen among people in their 50's despite going down for the general population. No wonder Cheech and Chong are reuniting and going on tour. Nothing's changed except our waistlines.

I think of this as the Family Ties effect. In that old sitcom a very young Michael J Fox rebelled against his ultra-liberal parents by becoming conservative and straitlaced. While I wouldn't say that Generation X and Y have gone all right wing on their aging hippie parents, they clearly have adopted a more sensible and healthy approach to their life.

Listen, kids. This is how legacies are squandered. The Baby Boomers didn't just protest against war. They celebrated doing all sorts of things that were fun but unhealthy. We are still doing our bit to continue this tradition, but it seems pretty obvious that we are leaving it in the hands of a generation that just doesn't get it.

But on reflection, maybe that isn't such a bad thing after all for most of us plan to be partying like it's 1999 until it's 2039 or later. So it's probably just as well that most of you will be healthy and strong and able to help us out when our arthritic hands can't get the cap off the scotch bottle.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Your Test Results Are In, Sir

Thank God this is the last progress report. I have not fared very well - and I am the one giving the grades. Think of me as the French judge in figure skating. I can only imagine how bad the results would have been with an impartial judge.

Anyhow, this final list of things to do was written with only one more day to work, so I set goals for things I would do in the first five days of my retirement. Sounds easy to meet those goals, doesn't it? If you think so, then I will play a great Ray Charles song for you - "You Don't Know Me".

On September 29, I came up with the following list of things to do:

1. Wednesday:
Start my walking regime by walking to the club next to my (former) company, where they are throwing a farewell party for me. Later start my stumbling regime by trying to walk home from the party.

Although I drove to the party, I did walk home and walked back the next day to get the car. As I recall, it was really a series of mini-walks - take a few steps, bend over at the waist, catch your breath, take a few more steps. But I did do it. So come on - I've had so few As in this process, that I want all of you to do your best impression of a soccer announcer - "GOOOOAAAALLLLL!!!!!!" Thank you, now we can return to my normal results.

2. Thursday:
Apply for my Senior Citizen's Discount Card. Grey power rules, and there are discounts and bargains galore. And I swear, this is no joke. When you go the website and check out what discounts are available, the first one that comes up is for 10% off on funerals and memorial services.

GRADE: F I will get around to this. I've even bookmarked it in my web browser.

3. Friday
Start being financially responsible by organizing our accounts, setting up the software to do Linda's company's books, arranging a meeting with a financial advisor and scheduling an appointment with the bank to discuss better interest rates. Alternatively, play online poker.

GRADE: C Thank God I put that alternative in at the end. Otherwise, it's a big F.

4. Saturday
To the hardware store! Time to get all the gear I need if I intend to take over most of our gardeners' work -- a new weed whacker, hedge trimmers, edger, pruning shears, one of those big noisy air things that blows all the crap off the pavers, aspirin, Tiger Balm, vodka.

GRADE: D I got the aspirin, Tiger Balm and vodka, but it wasn't at the hardware store. Still have to get those other things.

5. Sunday
A day of rest, so I will begin to catch up with friends I haven't caught up with lately. They will, of course, recognize it as my blatant attempt at filling up long retirement days with little to do. But if I cared what they thought, I probably would have been in touch with them before this. In fact, if that's their attitude, I don't want to catch up. I will play online poker instead.

GRADE: C Saved once again by the online poker option. Do you think I knew even then that my retirement would be marked by good intentions poorly met? So do I.

So there you have it. Eight progress reports, very poor results overall. Looks like I am going to have to repeat the first seven months of retirement all over again. Only, no more goals this time.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pulling Out All the Stops

Hey, give me a pat on the back. Today's progress report is a little better than the last couple. Of course, that's like saying when Vesuvius buried Pompeii it was a little better than when Krakatoa ruined so much of Indonesia.

On September 22 I set as my goals five things I would stop doing. As my Wii keeps telling me, "Not perfect, but pretty good . . ."

1. I will STOP writing about the meaning and origin of words. Why? I believe most people don't give a rat's arse about this. (By the way, it's extremely interesting to look at why the English and Australians use arse, while the Americans use ass. OK OK, this type of discussion will stop but not until I'm retired.) Anecdote: Susan Searle once told me I had a large vocabulary. I told her it was because I had a big dictionary.

GRADE: A I have avoided it , even though the other day I thought it was quite interesting when I discovered that the word paraphernalia comes from the extra things a woman had that wasn't part of her dowry and therefore could be given to her children because it didn't belong to her husband. Oh, all right. GRADE: B

2. I will STOP telling the same stories over and over and over and ...... Why? Stop me if you've heard this one before, but Linda is fond of saying that people who tell the same stories are rude because they aren't bothering to remember what they said to you earlier. Anecdote: Susan Searle once told me I had a large vocabulary. I told her it was because I had a big dictionary. See!!!!!!

GRADE: A I think. Since I wasn't aware I kept telling the same stories, it's a little hard to know if I've really stopped. But I think it's been sharply reduced now that I no longer sit at the Big Kahuna desk and the staff have to listen to me and act at least a little interested. Wait. You mean using the stuff I wrote in August and September for this week's posts counts? OK, GRADE: C

3. I will STOP eating Indian food. Why? There's no delicate way to put this, but that in itself is probably a pretty good clue. As I grow older, things I used to love have started not loving me. Come to think of it, that happened fairly frequently in my earlier years, as well. Anecdote: Just listen to Johnny Cash sing, "I Fell Into a Burning Ring of Fire".

GRADE: A You're welcome, Linda.

4. I will STOP reading newspapers. Why? This may be startling coming from someone who has spent the last 25 years of his life publishing trade newspapers, but there are a couple of good reasons. First, I get more info than I need on the Internet and I really don't care if I see it on a piece of paper. Second - and probably more important - the major newspapers here are very poor quality and they don't justify the cost now that I am being more careful about money. Anecdote: A couple of weeks ago, reporters went on strike at Fairfax, our leading newspaper publisher. The reporters said they were striking to ensure that quality, independent journalism was not imperiled by proposed job cuts. To guarantee their independence, they urged supporters to write to the Federal Government and urge them to intervene to prevent Fairfax from implementing the cuts. Yep, asking the politicians they cover to help them out in a labor dispute is the sort of independence I want from quality journalists. I think I can safely save my bucks.

GRADE: B+ We still get the weekend papers, but I can live without them because I have Sudoku on the computer. I can officially declare that print is dead.

5. I will STOP buying things I already have. Why? Well, the equation is simple: Fixed Income - Unfixed Spending = Cat Food by the age of 70. Anecdote: I don't know how to describe the feeling of getting to page 80 of a book I have just bought and realizing I've already read it. Recently. Or I could tell you of the albums I paid for at the Itunes Store only to realize I have the CD.

GRADE: A Easy! Don't buy much of anything any more.

Only one more progress report, but I am really glad to see this exercise end. It's becoming clear to me that I am a huge procrastinator, which by the way comes from the Latin word crastinus, meaning referring to tomorrow. You know, Susan Searle once said I had a large vocabularry.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Inaction Items

When I was the Big Kahuna at the company, I used to get a kick out of any meetings I held with the sales team. It was totally predictable that they would all bring a notebook to the meeting and meticulously make notes of whatever it was that we decided to do (which in most cases was really what I decided to do). Action Items, they are called, although I would have become a very wealthy man predicting which Action Items the sales types would act upon. Let's just say that if you took zero in the pool, you'd win lots more than you'd lose.

For most of these folks, it seemed that they took the attitude of "I've taken notes. You don't expect me to actually do something about these things, do you?" I don't know if my note takers were insincere, just taking notes to make me think the things I said were important enough to them that they wanted to remember them for a very long time. Or if they had good intentions to follow through at the time of the meeting, but didn't quite possess the determination to actually do so. Or perhaps they had no intention to follow through but wanted it to look like they did. Of course, it's equally possible they took notes to avoid either A) eye contact or B) falling asleep.

At first it annoyed me, but fairly soon it began to amuse me. And finally I learned to ignore most of them as fully as they were ignoring me. Underlying it all, though, was my belief that this not-following-through stuff was a pretty fundamental personal flaw.

It may very well be a personal defect, but I have to tell you that if it is, I am guilty of it as well. And in spades.

As I continue this now-ridiculous review of the goals I set for myself prior to retiring, I have yet another dismal and failed collection of Action Items to review today. Trust me - if I had bothered to look at the list of goals and realized how poorly I have fared in meeting them, I never would have started this week out so confidently announcing that each day I would make a progress report. Really, trust me. Even I am capable of being embarrassed about this stuff.

On September 16th, I wrote about the white elephants we had, the large number of items that we had used very little, and some times not at all. My goal was to look at five of the pricier ones and either start using them or sell them. I made the decision an Action Item seven months ago, and today I am officially labeling them Inaction Items. Because I haven't done a thing about any of them.

For the record, this is what I wrote then:

1. Item: An espresso and cappuccino machine. Works well. Missing the little piece that tamps down the coffee.

Why keep: It makes really good coffee.
Why sell: Linda doesn't like espresso and I don't like cappuccino.
Decision: Sell. When we bought this for several hundred dollars, we forgot that we don't drink much coffee.

2. Item: A bread maker. Good condition. The loaves it makes are kind of on the small side.

Why keep: The smell of warm bread when you wake in the morning.
Why sell: The South Beach Diet.
Decision: Sell it. To hell with the South Beach Diet. Use the money to get another one that makes bigger loaves.

3. Item: Hands-free telephone car kit.

Why keep: Hands-free driving and talking.
Why sell: Hands-free talking and driving. As Linda will gladly share, I have enough trouble paying attention to traffic as it is.
Decision: Sell it. Since I bought it four years ago, I haven't once wished I had installed it.

4. Items: A man's and a woman's bicycle (the latter with a bell and plastic ribbons in the handles). Ridden a total of 10.5 miles while going to wineries in the Hunter about 10 years ago. Tires need inflating.

Why keep: Exercise is good.
Why sell: Five years ago we sold the car with the bicycle rack attached (used once).
Decision: Keep. If I ever get around to assembling the bike I bought Lily eight months ago, we can go pedaling together.

5. Item: Treadmill. The whole deal with lots of dials and a heart monitor. Barely used (of course)

Why keep: Exercise is good.
Why sell: Detect any trends here?
Decision: Sell. With so much more free time it's easier, cheaper and more interesting to just hoof it outside. Besides, isn't the point of retirement to get off the treadmill?

There's no sense in grading them singly. It's just a big group F.

Oh, and in re-reading this, I should tell you that I also never got around to assembling the bike I bought Lily now 15 months ago. It's still in the box in the garage, and she's outgrown it. I am seriously starting to feel like a salesperson who has filled up a huge notebook,

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The F Word

OK, enough of the Sally Fields imitation ("You like me! Right now you really like me!") Sandy and I have had a good old weep. Time to get real as these progress reports continue. Real, as in - complete and utter failure.

I am beginning to wonder why I decided to review my goals. No, I will go further. I am beginning to wonder why I set the goals in the first place. I for one have never understood why a man's reach should exceed his grasp. Seems like a pretty frustrating way to live your life. But then I go and decide I will list five goals every week until I retire and here are the entries for September 8, the five digital talents I will develop in retirement.

The marks speak for themself:

1. Learn How to Sell Stuff on eBay
Why: We have too much stuff - waaaay too much. For example, our walls have little space left for pictures. Hence, the 14 or so just sitting on the floor leaning on the wall. I will be bringing another 12 home when I stop working. And those are just pictures. I will post a separate blog some day about the nearly infinite number of things we own that we have used once --- or never. Believe me - waaaaaaay too much stuff.
Major concern: Linda nods yes when I bring up the concept. Tends to not even blink when I discuss the implementation.
Solution: I think I will be selling my stuff first.

GRADE: F If this were an exam, I would get a zero, nada, not a thing. We still have way too much stuff. I still should be selling it on eBay. And I've lost the best excuse - that I don't have enough time.

2. Learn How to Edit Video
Why: Now on our third video camera, we have never produced anything worth watching because I have never figured out video editing. Even those videos of Lily as a two-year-old get a bit long after 25 minutes. However, we have great footage of family and places, and it would be worth the effort to get them into watchable format. YouTube beckons.
Major concern: Movie making may not be my forte. I once filmed Ayres Rock from the same spot for about 30 straight minutes. It never moved once.
Solution: I think I will need to involve Linda and her stronger artistic sensibility in the finished product.

GRADE: F If this were an exam, I would get a zero, nada, not a thing. I haven't done a thing about this. And I've lost the best excuse - that I don't have enough time. Oh, I'm sorry, does this sound familiar?

Why: No, that isn't me being rude. It's an accounting package for small businesses that Linda uses in her business. Besides house cleaner and gardener, bookkeeper is to be one more of my duties as I work my way back down the career ladder.
Major concern: I don't think the Tax Office will be quite as understanding as my current company is if I forget to include some of the entries.
Solution: I had better do this before I open the bottle of white wine.

GRADE: F Oops, I forgot to learn it. LK is back paying someone to do it. The less I write about this the better.

4. Learn to Play the Keyboard
Why: Quite a few years ago I bought an electronic keyboard with every intention of becoming at least adequate playing it.
Major concern: My parents had me take accordion lessons when I was younger. This means I am pretty good at songs that only require the right hand. It also means, I find it easier to play if I lie on the bench and reach around to the keys to play. However, I do look odd stretching my left hand in and out as I do it.
Solution: One-handed polkas to begin with.

GRADE: F It's hard to play the keyboard without one in the house. On the other hand, it's in a storage unit half a mile away and I could go get it any time. Oh, what is the matter with me?

5. Mobile Phone Texting
Why: I want to be able to continue to post blogs while I am travelling and without an Internet connection. Every time I log on to write one of these posts, Google offers to show me how to post from a mobile phone, so I am assuming it won't be that hard.
Major concern: Big, clumsy thumbs and fingers on the phone's tiny keypad. Add in eyes that have trouble focusing on the words on the screen.
Solution: Patience. And a pretty firm idea that anyone reading a post that starts "Wfdhfo dfh hfhejkh !!" will just assume I'm drunk.

GRADE: F I typed SMS messages to Davy and Jason this week. It took so long my coffee grew cold. However, in a brazen attempt to get some extra credit, I joined Twitter last week. No one is following me. If they were, they would get only dead air.

OK. I am not proud of this report. I can either blame my lack of results on my laziness, or I can blame the list I made in the first place as poorly conceived. In either case, my mantra today is: Sandy says I'm A-plus. Sandy says I'm A-plus. Sandy says I'm A-plus.

Son Shine

There's a new Kennedy in the family, and we could not be more pleased to welcome him to our family. Well, actually, he's been in the family for 25 years, but he hasn't been a Kennedy.

Yesterday my stepson Jason legally changed his name to Kennedy. It won't make him any more successful, any richer or any more popular in bars. But with his Yank accent, he can now expect to regularly answer the question, "Are you related to those Kennedys?" The proper response is, "No, I am from the eccentric side of the clan."

Jay had first broached the idea of adoption on New Year's Eve a year and quarter ago. He said words to the effect that I had raised him and loved him most of his life, and that was what he wanted to do. The seventh day of Christmas will always be special to me for that reason alone.

I told Jay I would get the process underway with the lawyers and what ever agencies it took. A year later, Jay checked on my progress and said he would get the process underway. Honestly, I even procrastinate about things I really, really want to happen.

Anyhow, Jay discovered most of the stumbling blocks I had. The adoption process is really set up for minors, and the steps you have to take are all a bit too hard or irrelevant for adults. Besides, adoption is symbolic at this stage since all four of our boys are equal in our family, so Jay suggested he could at least show his intent by legally changing his name.

I have been lucky enough to have four sons - two biological and two by marriage. I am even luckier in that all four have turned into outstanding men of whom I am very, very proud. Best of all, not one of them is very much like the others, so each brings a unique personality to the family and each is special in different ways. And as I told Jay yesterday, I love them all and it doesn't matter what their names are.

But I have to say, when Jay officially changed his name, it surprised me how moved I felt. It's not every day that someone tells you they love you in such a spectacular way. I think I have been around Sandy too long, because I actually got tears in my eyes when he told me. And I am still feeling all warm and fuzzy this morning as I write about it.

So please welcome the newest Kennedy to the family he's been in for 25 years.

On the progress report side, it's a quickie. On September 1, I wrote about five destinations I wanted to visit in my retirement:

1. The American West. Apparently there's more than LA, San Francisco and Las Vegas out that way. We haven't explored New Mexico, Colorado, the Big Sky country and they sound fantastic.

2. Iceland. Seen it on TV, read about it. Want to check it out.

3. Iguazu Falls. Haven't been to South America, really want to go. Need to narrow the itinerary down, but Iguazu Falls beckons as the top spot to see.

4. Egypt. The oldest - and only remaining - Wonder of the Ancient World. How can you not want to see it?

5. Africa. We've been three times. I would love to do just one more visit.

Pleased to report that we are doing #1 in a couple of months, with a driving trip across Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, South Dakota and some other states I have never visited.

We are also seriously investigating Egypt in about 18 months, especially since our friends Jon and Caroline have both recently visited and report that it's fantastic. Best of all, LK has discovered a tour that shoots down from Egypt into African safari country, so we can kill two birds with one stone.

I tried my best to have the last international company meeting I organized in Iceland, but they didn't have a hotel available with enough rooms, or that one would have been ticked already. Just as well it fell through, because by the time of the meeting Iceland businesses could not accept credit cards due to their economy's collapse. That would have been an interesting mess. Anyhow, we will get there some day, probably on an around-the-world ticket when we go to the US for a family visit.

No plans yet for Iguazu Falls, but we've got millions of frequent flyer points and there is talk that United Airlines might not exist next year. Gotta use 'em up fast, I would say.

And so, after four of these progress reports I am detecting a strong, discernible trend. Anything that seemed to smack of work or effort has not quite been addressed. Those things that fall into the pleasure and self-satisfaction category are progressing quite well. Frankly, I doubt if many of the people who know me are terribly surprised.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Book 'em, Donno

"You know what Don? Across the board you are an A+ to me so don't worry about all the other stuff, Love You, Sandy"

My sister-in-law Sandy Wigg may be the sweetest person I know. When I was giving myself F's yesterday for not doing things I set as goals, she wrote back with that comment. OK, here's the payback, Sandy. If I ever do get around to writing a poem, I will make sure you're in it. And given how easy it is to rhyme your name, I promise not to write a limerick!

As it is, I have used Sandy's maiden and married names in my novel to create the ad agency Dyer & Wigg. I like the sound of it, even though it would automatically become D&W in the real world.

Which is a long, rambling way to avoid today's topic, grading myself on my third set of retirement goals. However it is really hard to do at this stage because these were long-term book writing projects, and I wouldn't expect to have finished any of them yet. So I guess this report will be about the early stages of the projects.

On August 25 I wrote about five books I might try to write.

They were:

1. The Cracks in the World, a travel book inspired by Simon Winchester, checking out the places with major fault lines, volcanoes, etc

PROGRESS: We're going to Yellowstone to check out the Super Volcano site in a couple of months. It's a beginning. Give this a tick.

2. Teachers, a book about how we can get and keep good teachers

PROGRESS: Don't like the idea as a book any more. Love the topic, but it sounds more like a magazine article than a book. No tick for this one.

3. Cousins, a book about the 50+ first cousins I have

PROGRESS: When I am home I will try to at least get most of my cousins into some sort of communication through the web. Half a tick.

4. A True Crime book, subject to be determined

PROGRESS: Why bother? Throwing this one away

5. A Facebook mystery, where there is no plotline as such, but you can figure out what's going on by drilling down through the Facebook pages of dozens of people.

PROGRESS: Haven't given it a thought since August. Still sounds like fun, but no tick here.

While on this writing thing, though, I have surprised myself by starting work on a novel. I hadn't even thought of writing fiction since I was in my 30s, so this has surprised me. I am discovering that it is a lot harder than I thought and progress is slow. It seems that I spend much more time rewriting than writing, and I have discarded days and days of work when I decided to move in another direction. (Mind you, my retirement definition of a day's work is a couple of hours.)

This need to keep reworking the first chapter is either Nature's way of telling me not to write a novel, or my way of treading literary water. Anyhow, I am pretty comfortable with the first chapter now, and if you want to read it, I am posting it here for a week or so. I should tell you that the language is as bad as The Sopranos but not as bad as Deadwood, so if the f-word bothers you don't read it.

I will shut down the blog with the novel in a week or so because I don't think I could stand the idea of having to actually produce something regularly and on schedule. But I am showing it to put enough pressure on me to keep going at it.

And to show that I have been doing something other than Wii Fit and toaster repair.

(Lack of) Progress Report

Today's progress report on how well I am meeting my retirement goals should come with a note:
"Donald is a well-intentioned lad with much potential. He has set reasonable, yet admirable, goals for his retirement. His failure to achieve many of them, though, shows a lack of discipline and in broad terms, he is just not trying hard enough."

Too hard on myself? I don't think so. As I reviewed the five goals I set for my retirement on August 18, I had to admit to myself that what seemed like good ideas back then remain just that now.

I suspect I really didn't have plans to do most of these things, but thought it would impress everyone if I said I was going to be a community-improving, kid-teaching poet with a love for new music and new knowledge.

Unfortunately, today's grades show me for the poker-playing, video-gaming watcher of reality TV that I really am:

These were the five bright ideas I came up with back then.

No 1: I will write a poem.
Advantage: They don't have to rhyme any more
Disadvantage: Does anyone read poems any more?

I am being generous with this grade since I haven't really written a poem. What I have done is written part of a novel, and in it I have re-written the silly poem I did about The Underpants Man. And before you say it, No, I do not think that is really writing a poem. And by the way, my father has completed several poems in that time so I can't blame the genes.

No 2: I will teach kids
Advantage: I know lots more now than when I was certified to be a teacher
Disadvantage: Do the kids care about any of it?

I have taught Lily how to cheat at cards and use the Wii, but we all know that wasn't what I was thinking about. Does mentoring a guy in his 30's count? No, I didn't think so, either.

No 3: I will learn something new that is totally unrelated to the career I am finishing
Advantage: Aging slows if the brain is active
Disadvantage: The brain slows as you age

I have studied how to repair our toaster. I just have not quite "learned" how to do it, but at least the effort saves me from an F. Can I count learning The Downward-Facing Dog? Yep, I know.

No 4: I will listen to new singers and bands and fall in love with some of them
Advantage: This is a bit of a cheat since I have already started doing it since I bought the iPod Disadvantage: Turning the iPod volume up enough to hear in my left ear is likely to render my right ear almost as deaf pretty soon

I have indeed starting to listen to new singers and bands. Some are new in the sense of young (Beth Rowley) and some are new in the sense that they are old, but I didn't listen to them before (Waylon Jennings). Listening to lots more music is probably the best side-effect of walking, and I didn't expect it at all. Please note, though, that this was perhaps the easiest goal I could have set for myself. Kind of like taking Conversational English for English-Speaking People.

No 5: I will get involved with a community association
Advantage: That is probably a good way to meet lots of other old farts
Disadvantage: That is probably a good way to meet lots of other old farts

Unless you are willing to count Full Tilt Poker as a community association, I am afraid I have not quite started in on this one. So that means that my two noble plans - teaching kids and working to make the community better - have been delayed so I can work out on the Wii, play online poker and try to fix the toaster. I must now repeat three times: It's OK, Don. You're not really selfish. It's OK, Don. You're not really selfish. It's OK, Don. You're not really selfish.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Progress Report: A Solid C Average

This morning I passed the 5,000th hour of my retirement.

That seems like ample time to have accomplished or at least started work on most of the goals I set in the lead-up to leaving work. However, as some of you may have tweaked, I am very good at setting goals and a lot less effective in actually doing anything about them. It's the thought that counts, is how I look at it.

Way back in the early days of this blog I posted lists of the things I intended to do, and this seems as good a time as any to assess how well I am doing on the path from working to - well, we all know where this path ends up, don't we?

So this week's blogs will grade the progress I've made on my goals. I will do my best to be impartial and honest, but since it is me judging how well I have done on my projects we all know how impartial it really is.

On August 11, I set the first five goals for my retirement. Here's what I wrote then and the grade I am giving myself today:

1. I will walk 60 minutes a day.

The Positive -- This will help me lose weight, make my muscles and joints work better, and improve my heart.
The Negative -- I've never done it in my life, and nothing has been stopping me. What makes me think I will really do it now?
Plan B --- If it is all too hard, I will at least walk 60 steps a day and mumble when I tell people about it.

GRADE: A. I don't necessarily walk every day, but back in August I had not anticipated the WiiFit. I do exercise at least 60 minutes a day. My Wii even congratulated me for not missing a day of training for 8 straight weeks. In addition, I have conclusively proved that it is the wine and food that is keeping me fat, not my sedentary life.

2. I will earn at least $60 a day.

The Positive -- Isn't it obvious?
The Negative -- It's hard to do it every day playing online poker.
Plan B --- Would you like fries with that?

GRADE: C- I am slightly ahead in my poker winnings right now, but I still get twitchy whenever we drive by a MacDonalds. I am probably averaging $20 a week instead of 60, and the evil specter of a run of bad luck looms all the time.

3. I will diet until I lose 60 pounds.

The Positive -- The clothes at the bottom of the storage bin will fit me again.
The Negative -- I may not like the way my feet look.
Plan B -- Belly bands and liposuction.

GRADE: F It's not fair with all the exercise I am now doing that I still pack on the pounds. It must be genetic. I'm just big-boned. I have a hyperactive thyroid. I retain fluids. There was a thin man inside me crying to get out, but I killed him.

4. I will write to 60 people who have written to me and never received a reply.

The Positive -- Some of them may forgive my rudeness in not answering.
The Negative -- Most will wonder who I am.
Plan B -- I will only write to the four people I actually know, and not bother with the 56 trying to sell Viagra, insurance and Russian brides.

GRADE: D I have written to three people. Then they wrote back and so now I still owe them a letter. As for 60 people, I blew my chance by not doing a family Christmas letter and spamming anyone whom I had ever known.

5. I will post 60 pictures of my granddaughter Lily to Shutterfly.

The Positive -- She is beautiful, and family and friends will love looking at them.
The Negative -- It is so difficult to know what to do with the remaining 1,200 pictures.
Plan B -- Does Shutterfly have limits on how many pictures you can post?

GRADE B+ The last big Lily upload to Shutterfly was her graduation in December, and the pictures are here. I've run a couple of pics of her on this blog, and it's early days. Should pass the 60 mark easily in the next few months.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I Brake for Animals - and Zombies

There are zombies walking the streets of Sydney. You can spot them easily, walking in the middle of the street, staring vacantly, unaware that cars are having to brake to avoid hitting them. Oh yes, and they are always holding a cellphone to their ear.

Three times this week alone I have had to brake because someone had walked into the street while having a conversation on the phone. They were totally unaware that I had had to stop the car. I am not even sure if the zombies were aware they were in the street.

OK. I am not Woody Harrelson. I know they're not really zombies. Nope. What they are can be described in one word - stupid. If you want four more words, you can add selfish, rude, ignorant, and so-far-up-their-own-butt-they-can-see-their-tonsils. (Hyphens make that one word.)

There is an absolute epidemic of stupidity on Sydney roads right now. It is a very rare day when either a pedestrian or driver doesn't do something stupid. And it's often both. And more often than not, it happens more than once.

Just this afternoon, in a drive of about 8 minutes from the store back to our home the following happened: I had to brake for one of the cellphone zombies in the road (in the middle of the block) and two blocks later, while making a turn, I had to brake for a woman who decided to pull out of the street where I was turning even though I had the right of way. Oh, and she quickly discovered that there was nowhere for her to go because there was a line of cars waiting at a stoplight. So she ended up blocking the other side of the street for oncoming cars, as well. And yes, she gave me a dirty look as if my desire to turn into that street had caused her foot to hit the accelerator pedal.

A block later we pulled into the small parking lot of our dry cleaner, only to contend with someone who decided it would be OK to park diagonally, thus preventing other cars from getting to the parking spots. Leaving there, I turned a corner and had to quickly swerve to avoid a double-parked car. A few blocks further on we saw an SUV decide it needed to do a U-turn at an intersection and it nearly ran over a couple of pedestrians. It's not even worth mentioning that a block from the house a car in front of us slammed on its brakes and turned right without a signal.

What's really bad about all this is that it is so typical that I have come to assume it will happen. And because this was on a Saturday, we didn't have to deal with all the tradesmen, couriers and others who use vehicles in their work. You can safely predict that they will slam on their brakes, double- and even triple-park, reverse, u-turn and basically do whatever they want. I am sure their attitude is, "I'm at work. Time is money, and I don't have time for all this road-rules crap."

Now I have been in some cities like Saigon, Shanghai and Rome, where you could not pay me enough to get behind the wheel because the drivers there are basically insane and operating on the principle that rules are for suckers.

And when we lived in Boston, I found out later that the boys had a standing bet on how many seconds would go by when I was driving before I cursed at someone. But those drivers were just hyper aggressive. They were not - at least in most instances - like Sydney drivers. Which is to say, stupid.

I am fairly sure this stupidity is just the product of plain old-fashioned selfishness where the dolts do whatever it is they feel like doing because, well, I guess because they just don't care about anything or anyone else. But now that I've written it, I realize it can be summed up in one sentence: It's soooo Sydney.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Downard-facing Don

Today I became, for the very first time, Don the Downward-facing Dog.

I have been doing many of the yoga exercises on Wii Fit for about 8 weeks now, and today I added the Downward-facing Dog pose. That's a picture of it above.

This yoga regimen is a mixed bag for me. I excel at Deep Breathing, mostly because it is the first exercise I do after climbing up the stairs so I have a head start. This pose isn't really as easy as it sounds because it requires keeping your balance for about a minute, not necessarily one of my strong points when I started out. But I am pretty good at it now.

I am top rated in The Hunter and The Triangle, which means those big thigh muscles supporting this super-sized torso have grown pretty strong over the years. I am OK with the Single Leg Lift, even though I almost fell over the first dozen times I tried it.

I avoided The Tree for ages. That's the picture above, with one foot resting against the other leg's inner thigh while the arms reach skyward. I probably don't have to explain to any of you who know me why I avoided it, but let's just say the TV was new and I didn't want to have to replace it.

Anyhow, once I was able to do OK with the single leg lift, I figured my balance on one leg was good enough that I could master The Tree. I was wrong. Even after more than 20 days of trying it, I still find myself swaying as if the pose should be renamed "The Tree In A Hurricane". My animated Wii Fit trainer (that's him in the pictures) inevitably comes on with a line like, "You were pretty unsteady" or "It doesn't appear your left leg is supporting you properly." No kidding, jerk. I thought I was falling off the balance board because there was an earthquake a moment ago.

I have avoided exercises that involve getting on the floor. Or at least, deliberately getting on the floor. With all the troubles I had with my knee last year, I have been reluctant to push it too hard. But I have been doing exercises to strengthen it. The Chair (which involves sitting in a chair without the chair) and the muscle exercise Rowing Squats. The latter involves squatting 15 times in a row. At about the 12th or 13th repetition, you can start to hear the knees popping louder than the grunting I am doing. Nonetheless - and certainly no surprise to LK - I am a natural at squatting and do very well with this one.

Add in that one of my best yoga poses is Sun Salutation, which involves touching your toes (OK, ankles count!), and I figured I was at the point where I could start to push the knees a bit more by doing the Dog. So on all fours I went today. Then hands on the balance board, feet flat to the ground and bum as high as it could go. (In that pose, by the way, mine already starts out quite high.) I became The Downward-facing Dog. You have to hold the pose for 30 seconds, by which time I am pretty sure my form most closely resembled The Fatally Wounded Rhino.

No matter, I survived. The knees are a tad sore, but my Wii trainer commended my first effort and urged me to try it again tomorrow. How could I disappoint him?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bank on It

My sweetie possesses many wonderful traits. She is bright, humorous, generous, hard-working and passionate about things that deserve passion. That must be why she just doesn't have room to add patience to her finest qualities.

I need to share a story that A) illustrates why I said that and B) serves as a parable that more or less shows the results of cutting off your nose to spite your face. It also shows C) how crappy Australian banks are for customer service, but then I doubt that anyone felt the need for proof of that.

It all started when we received unexpected letters from a bank we will refer to as Westp*c. This bank sent us new Visas telling us that our other cards had been compromised overseas and we needed to start using the new cards as a security precaution.

The letter also indicated that, if these were cards for a new account, we would soon receive a letter with our PIN so we could use the money machines and EFTPOS. However, they did not actually change our account - despite their carelessness in letting bad people get a hold of the details. Instead, they just changed the expiration date, figuring this would be enough to prevent crooks from using them. (Interesting that they were good enough to get all the details of the cards but the expiry date will grind them to a halt.)

Anyhow, this meant we had to trudge over to the bank to get PINs for our new cards. This is the sort of thing we would normally put off for a year or two, but not being able to get cash out of the ATMs did kind of spur us on. I went within a few days, and I accompanied LK when she went on the 8th of April.

Unfortunately, the problem with going to a bank branch is that you encounter bank employees. Or in our case, you see them but they choose not to encounter you. Being snubbed and ignored is something I am learning to adjust to in my retirement. LK isn't there yet.

So, when she finally was told that someone would see her soon but that person then walked off in the other direction, she had enough. "I am taking my money out of this bank," she said.

I think she expected some sort of reaction from the manager or the customer service rep or at least the janitor. But no one really cared. So she closed down the account for her business. (Mind you, that process took about 15 minutes and we would probably have had a new PIN by then. But when my bride decides something has gone beyond the pale, there is no turning back.)

Now, I am going to make this already long story cut to the chase. She made a few mistakes by closing out her business account.

1. That account had nothing to do with the Visa. So two days ago she still had to go back to another branch and spend about 10 minutes waiting for someone to help her change the PIN, at which point she went to a teller demanding that some customer service rep at least come out of wherever they were hiding. And then another 15 or more minutes actually getting it done.

2. She had to open another account at a bank I will call Commonweal*h. There we had great service, but it took about an hour -- that's right, an hour! -- to open a cheque account for her business.

3. The truly lovely customer service rep there forgot to tell us our client number, which is required for us to do online banking, which is how LK pays for many of her company's bills. Today I called up to get that info. I was on hold for 4 minutes until a real person answered me. She said I needed to talk to Net Banking people. Hold for 12 minutes. The really nice person who finally answered there needed to know my telephone banking password. I had no idea. Hold for three minutes as she consulted with her supervisor, who finally devised a series of questions to prove I was who I said.

I finally got my client number. And so, let's tally the amount of time we've spent because they left us waiting about 5 minutes:

15 minutes or so closing down the account
60 minutes opening a new one
20+ minutes for LK finally breaking down and getting the PIN that started this all
20+ minutes for me to get the client number to do online banking.

And if you think karma isn't coming into play once in a while in our lives, I need to tell you that when I finally got my client number I asked if Linda could use the same one. "Oh no," said the customer service rep at the new bank. "Her number is entirely different. She will need to call up and get that herself."

I can only hope they answer on the first ring and give it to her on the first request. I don't think I have the stamina to move the account one more time.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Turn of a Friendly Card

This past week has been a great week for Lily fixes. I picked her up after school on Wednesday, and she stayed through dinner. And she came over with her parents for Easter brunch and stayed here with Matt until evening.

I know most grandparents think their grandchildren are the best/brightest/cutest/wittiest kids in the world. But let's be honest - they're biased. And besides, they haven't met Lily. And no, I for one am not biased.

I do have to tell you that she is starting to pick up some dodgy habits when she plays cards. Her favorite game is War, and she currently stands at the top of the leader board with a record of something like 150 - 0.

Now War is a simple game in which such an unprecedented streak of luck would seem unbelievable. Matt and I were talking about it yesterday and we discovered that we both had been found out cheating when we played her and she insisted we stop.

Since we were cheating in her favor, it did pose the question of what would happen the first time Lily lost. You had better believe that neither of us wanted to be the one to do it.

Yet miraculously, even though we were no longer literally dealing some cards from the bottom of the deck, Lily has continued her unbeaten War streak. It turns out that she doesn't need our cheating help because she is more than willing to cheat on her own behalf - and do it quite well in the process.

She insists on splitting the deck in half after it is shuffled. She also has figured out that grown-ups don't pay much attention to the stuff kids do. So it was quite unexpected when I finally happened to notice at our last game that she was not only splitting the deck, she was stacking it. All the aces and kings ended up in her hand. Guess who got the 2s and 3s.

That reduced our chances of winning considerably. Even more so was the fact that she somehow ended up with about ten more cards than the adult. It would take some very freaky turns for her to lose with that advantage, but don't worry. She's even more prepared.

The line of the week had to be on Wednesday when she was playing Linda. They got into a war. (Just in case you've forgotten the rules, this is where, if you both play a card of the same value, you then count out three more. The one with the highest third card takes the lot.)

Lily loves wars. She squirms and giggles. She wins most of them, of course, and takes great delight in scooping up so many cards at once.

But playing her grandmother, she was genuinely shocked when LK showed the highest card and won the war. "But Armagh," she shouted, "that wasn't supposed to be your third card!"

Give her credit. though. When Linda asked her how she knew, she was savvy enough to clam up.

At some point, I suppose, we are going to have to teach her that it's OK to lose a hand of cards. Or at the very least, teach her not to blurt things out that give it away that she is cheating. But one of the great joys of grandparenthood is that this is one of those things we can just leave to the parents. Let's just say if someone is going to be the first one to beat her, I am definitely stacking the deck to make sure it ain't me.

Monday, April 13, 2009

I DO Like Mondays

Today is Easter Monday. As you would expect from a country that shuts just about every business down on Good Friday, somewhere along they way they decided it was such a good thing that they made this a national holiday, too. However, stores and the like are open because absolutely no one could really plan well enough to still have food and grog at the end of a four-day weekend.

Having Easter Monday off is a great Australian tradition. This may be the only holiday in the world apparently designed to give the nation a day of rest after having had a three-day weekend. Somehow that seems so right here.

Actually, according to Wikipedia, there are more than 100 countries that treat Easter Monday as a holiday. Easily my favorites are Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, which call this Wet Monday (Dyngus Day in Polish). But I will leave it to the Wikipedia entry to explain to you what may be the most remarkable holiday observance I have ever heard of:

In Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic traditionally, early in the morning boys awake girls by pouring a bucket of water on their head and striking them about the legs with long thin twigs or switches made from willow, birch willow or decorated tree branches

OK, guys. I want all of you to take just a moment. Close your eyes and think of the woman in your life. Now imaging starting this holiday out this morning by pouring a bucket of water on her head while she's sleeping and then hitting her legs with willow switches.

OK, gals. I want you to imagine how you can still collect the life insurance without being found guilty of manslaughter. Given the extenuating circumstances, I suspect even a fairly mediocre attorney should be able to help you with this.

So it's probably just as well that we tend to celebrate Easter Monday here in Oz primarily by going to the bottle shop to replenish all the grog we drank over the weekend when there was nothing else to do. Oh yeah - and a bag of corn chips with that because there's no food in the house, either.

Anyhow, Happy Dyngus Day to all of you.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Long Good Friday

The Long Good Friday is one of my favorite movies ever. It is brilliant, moody, and is one of the few movies in English that has English subtitles.

It introduced me to Bob Hoskins. And it featured Pierce Brosnan in one of his first roles as a gay terrorist.

But this post is not about the movie, but about today.

Today ended up being another long Good Friday when our best friend Shirl came over for lunch. There is not much more to do around here than have lunch with friends because Australia makes believe it is a serious Christian nation once a year and shuts down everything on Good Friday.

I say "makes believe" because Aussies are not particularly religious. Oh, we have our Hilltoppers and Christian Conservatives like the Reverend Fred Nile (pictured), but as a country Australia does not buy into the hyper-religious trappings the way, say, America does. Our leaders don't feel the need to make their religious beliefs public, and our spam seldom feature prayers which will lose their power if you fail to pass them on to seven other people.

Yet curiously we shut down everything but Asian groceries and BP service stations on Good Friday. Mind you, we don't do the same on Easter. Which only goes to show that the Friday holiday is much more important to Aussies than the Sunday holy day.

Most Australians start their Good Fridays out wondering why there is no newspaper to read. They then move on to realize that our newspapers aren't all that good and it is probably a good thing not to have to pay for one today.

Those who forgot that nothing is open today soon wonder how they will survive the day with no milk, no bread, and - basically - not much else in the larder. At some point we all learn how to survive on black olives and frozen corn, and we never repeat that mistake the next year.

Smokers and drinkers, of course, run the risk of becoming born-again if they don't prepare. But those who didn't prepare soon find out that cigarettes are for sale at the BP and vanilla extract has enough alcohol to let you survive the day.

Anyhow, we are now watching a HORRIBLE movie on pay-per-view (The Mummy 3, if you need to know) and Shirl has finally found a cab that is working to take her home. The Long Good Friday for 2009 is ending. But lunch was really good, Shirl was great as always, and the wine lasted the whole day. Give it a tick and on to Saturday.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tools of the Trade

I am not quite sure how I have ended up writing so much about tools in my retirement. About the only time I even thought of them until this year was usually when someone called me a "tool", but I don't think they meant in the handyman sense.

Now my friend Robert is sending me pictures of his tools, obviously trying to let me know he is the alpha tool guy in this relationship. He suggested that I would probably do a lot better fixing the toaster if I were to get the proper tool. But if you look at his tool boxes, it's clear to me that what starts out as getting this or that tool for a project probably ends up with a massive collection of stuff that I still would have no idea how to use.

Anyhow, Robert wrote:

I see how a great mechanic always uses the proper tool for the job at hand. I noticed in one of your blogs that you did not want to go to the hardware store for more tools. Well a guy cannot have enough tools, see attached pictures. I have wrenches in one box that are inch sizes left and metric on right. Take the toaster to the hardware store and get the right tools for the job.
Then you won't hurt your self soooo bad.
The other option is for LK to have a person from USA to come fix her toaster that doesn't mind going to the hardware store to buy tools. I just happen to know someone who would be available in a few months.
And with that e-mail, Robert has given me a brilliant idea. We will start a tradition where people can come to visit us, but they have to fix something while they're here. Because - and I bet you're not going to be surprised by this - there's lots of things around here that need fixing. And many don't even require tools, just things like balance and dexterity.

For example, we haven't had an overhead light in our bedroom for about two years. It's not that it's hard to replace the bulb. What's difficult is that the light is directly over the bed, so to change the bulb you have to stand on the bed (also known as the "very high bed") while you do it.

Needless to say, standing on a mattress poses its own sort of challenges for someone with my dexterity and balance. Well, let's just say the last time I tried to change the bulb I was lucky I landed on the bed. If I had gone in the other direction, I suspect parts of me would have been in pretty bad shape for quite a while.

And let's add that I was also lucky the bed had metal supports bolted to the frame. I doubt that wooden slats would have survived me bouncing on them from a (more or less) standing position.

There are actually lots of little things like that which need to be done around here. And it's becoming more and more obvious to me that I am not the person to do them. So I like the idea of having friends visit and all they have to do is fix a toaster or replace a light bulb for me. And the tradeoff will be that when I visit them I promise not to try to fix anything at their place.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Trip Planner

See the USA in your Chevrolet.
America is asking you to call.

Sung by Dinah Shore in 1952 (Want to see it? Click here.)

It's starting to get cool here, and on the days when it rains it feels quite chilly. Mind you, that is by Sydney standards. I still wear shorts and a t-shirt, but have started adding a sweatshirt on the odd occasion. (I write things like this primarily to annoy the folks living in the snow belts who actually have weather where they need to factor in things like wind chill.)

But with autumn at full throttle here, this a perfect time to start planning our next great adventure, which will be a Road Trip in the northern summer. We've talked about this adventure for quite a while, and promised ourselves that when LK retired and we both had time we would A) see parts of the US that we had never seen, B) revisit friends, many of whom we haven't seen enough of since we moved here more than 20 years ago and C) instead of just popping in for a couple of days on the back-end of a business trip, we would spend enough time with our families that they would begin to wish we'd head back home.

So, from mid-July through early September, we will be driving across America from California to the East Coast. We are going to check out cowboy country by going across the northern part with stops in Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Iowa. We will see geysers at Yellowstone, real-life props from Spielberg movies at Devil's Tower and the Grand Tetons, mountains probably named by a Frenchman who knew our friend Shirley.

Of course, our timing is, as usual, about as bad as it can be. LK read that the hottest places for vacations this summer will be the very ones we're planning to visit. Oh well, can't let heavy traffic and long lines ruin this adventure - at least not in advance. We will just consider ourselves trendsetters.

We thought about a side trip to South Dakota to see Deadwood and Mt Rushmore, but right now, that's out. And I have been fortunate to convince LK that there's no sense in going to Minnesota because the Mall of America is closed for renovations those months.

From the northwest we will escape to the central part of the country, which is mostly known as the rather uninteresting bit between the two coasts. And then on to friends and family in New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and a side trip into Canada.

But the very best part will be seeing so many of our friends, starting out with our new friends Robert and Jaki in northern California, and ending with folks we've known so long that they know what I look like with hair.

Being retired, we are going to tackle this with as many freebies as we can figure out. My next challenge over the coming week is to figure out how many points I need in the various hotel programs and move my frequent flyer points into them. For a trip this long, I suspect it will be an all-day affair to get it right, but given how much it can save it is worth it.

It's three months away, but we booked our flights a couple of days ago and now I am getting stoked. As The Cars sang, "Let the good times roll."

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Loose Ends Wrapped Up

OK, Mr Meatloaf, I know that two out of three ain't bad. But what about one out of three?

This post started out as a weekend wrapup, but the results are not all that impressive.

Let me give you the good news first. As you can see from the picture, we now have a litter box in our bathroom. And if you look carefully, you can see that Streak has left her marks in the tray.

I am so relieved. Thank God, the cat is willing to start using the litter box. The alternative, with the cork and the cross-stitch, was not something I was looking forward to.

So, you say, you have a win there, so why are you lamenting that you only had one out of three?

Bear with me. Saturday night for the past 10 or 11 weeks has been the night we watched Groomer Has It with our favorite contestant, Jorge. Even though Jorge was eliminated in third, we were ready to watch the final between Jonathan and Artist.

Only this is Australia. And after showing every episode for the past three or four months, the stupid network forgot to show the finale. So on Saturday, we had to go to the Internet to see who won, rather than the full show. It is great that the Internet today lets us catch up, but I have to tell you. I read some blogs about the show and there are small countries in Africa that have seen the final episode, but our bozos forgot to put it to air.

OK, it's even. One good, one bad. What could make it two out of three in the negative? Well, let's just say that I decided Sunday was as good a day as any to tackle fixing the toaster. On Saturday I had gone into the drawer where we keep our most important records and lo and behold there was a pair of needlenose pliers. (Well, where would you keep them?)

Wow, I thought, these are what I need to loosen the nuts on the toaster! Problem solved.

So I took the toaster out on the deck, removed the bottom and then pulled out the needlenose pliers to remove the small nuts. I got a good grip on one of them and started turning sharply. That's when I realized my finger was actually inside the pliers and I was giving myself one godalmighty blood blister. In fact, you can see it in the picture of the litter box at the top.

Funny thing is, the nuts didn't budge.

So, let's just all agree. I am not going to fix the toaster because I am in physical danger if I try to.
There's nothing wrong with one-side-soft toast. And I will never again write about fixing the toaster.

So the weekend ends a little down. But we are starting to plan our big trip. so there's lots more good stuff than bad coming down. First of all, you will never have to read another post about the toaster. And tomorrow - the Road Trip!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Cat People

There comes a time in the life of most animals when they disappoint you. No matter how much you love them. No matter how fondly you recall them sleeping on your shoulder when they were young. Doesn't matter. At some point, they crap on the carpet.

Our cat Streak is 11-years-old, which in human years is more or less my age. Since I don't crap on the carpets - yet - I don't think it is time for her to start, either. Without actually holding therapy sessions, I can't be sure, but both LK and I think this sudden bad form has started because one of our neighbors has introduced a new black cat to the neighborhood. And this dude is an alpha cat, taking over territory from any animal he meets.

So Streak is suddenly driven indoors to do her duties, because this alien black cat has taken over her territory in our back yard. Which may explain why she's doing it, but it doesn't mean we are ready to blithely get the paper towels and can of carpet cleaner a couple of times a week just because she's intimidated.

What to do? Linda suggested we get one of the cat carrier boxes, get the cat in it, remove its license so nobody knows where it belongs and drop it a couple of miles away. I thought it made sense but then found out she meant the black cat, and I was thinking she meant Streak. But rather than catnapping, I thought of another solution.

Sure, Streak hasn't used a cat box since she was a kitten but maybe that would be the easiest solution. So off I went today to buy a cat box and kitty litter to see if Streak would choose dishonor before death.

They were in the car when I picked Lily up after school. She is in love with Streak and was quite upset when I told her yesterday that naughty Streak had pooed in the house. Lily was very happy that Bampy had come up with a reasonable alternative. She wanted to help me set up the cat box and introduce Streak to it.

The good thing about cat boxes is that there is nothing complex about them. About the only question to be resolved is where to put them. That's where the debate began. Lily suggested near Streak's food bowls, which are just behind the table we eat at every day.

Don't think so, I told her. I don't think we want cat poo near us when we're eating. Let's just put it in the bathroom next to your bedroom.

No, she said, how about the hallway.

Nope, I said. I don't think we want people having to walk around cat poo when they visit us. How about the bathroom next to your room? After all, that's what bathrooms are for, isn't it?

But Bampy, if you put it there I have to smell cat poo when I wee, she said.

I finally convinced her I would remove any remnants of Streak's dinner every time Lily had to use the loo. We settled on the spot furthest from the toilet, brought Streak in to show her her new box and are now anxiously waiting to find out if Streak is smart enough to use it, even if she isn't smart enough to know that she should just tell the black cat to piss off.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Broken Fairy: A Picture Story of Handyman Bampy

Author's Note: My worst fears had come true. Lily broke the legs off her fairy doll while trying to see if it could swim in real water. Now, my family and friends all know about my shortcomings in the do-it-yourself arena, and I can handle that they know I am not perfect. But Lily? Never. So I tackled the legless doll and documented my progress. In the end, Lily was frowning when I explained to her that I didn't have the proper tools.

Start of a New Season

I've had fun with this blog, but it's really eating into my time for serious writing. So sadly I am going to have to shut this baby down after this post.

There. I just had to get my April Fools joke out of the way early. There won't be any more, I promise. And I realize as jokes go, it wasn't even a particularly funny one. More the sort of lame joke I try on Lily where she ends up rolling her eyes, shaking her head and sighing "Bampy!" You cannot imagine how easy it is to be devastated by a 6 1/2-year-old critic.

Also, it's important to get this April Fools joking out of the way pretty quickly, because here in Oz - unlike America - if you try a practical joke after midday, you become the April Fool yourself. Not that being called a fool is that bad. Trust me, I know.

Checking out Wikipedia, it looks pretty obvious that lots of people have theories about why there is such a thing as an April Fools Day. It's also pretty obvious that most of them are just guessing.

The beginning of April isn't just about hoaxes and jokeses, of course.

When I was teaching poetry at the university in Binghamton, I always had fun this week having the class pick their favorite from duelling April 1st poems. The first is the famous line from Chaucer's prologue to the Canterbury Tales:

When that April, with his showers sweet,
The drought of March has pierced to the root

(Trust me. It rhymes in the Middle English Chaucer spoke, and the meter is right. And it sounds much, much better that way, too.)

And the second was T.S. Eliot's 20th Century reply starting The Waste Land:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

It was kind of an ink-blot test to determine the personalities of the kids in the class. If they liked old Chaucer, they were probably fun and sunny - the sort of kids you would happily give As to even if they were dumb as a rock. If they liked gloomy Eliot's better, they were probably quite bright and would deserve their As, but you would make sure to lock yourself in the men's room if they came to school one day in an overcoat with funny bulges in it.

And if, like me, you liked both of the poems? Well, if the Good Lord didn't want us to ever sit on the fence, he wouldn't have given us such a big crack in the butt, would He?

Of course, all this stuff about April is very Northern Hemisphere. Down here in the Antipodes those April showers may come our way, but they don't necessarily bring the flowers that bloom in May. That's because we've kissed summer good-bye and are heading down the road toward winter.

Which brings to mind another pair of duelling poems I used to teach. Both use the word icumen, which is just an old word for what we now say as "a-coming":

You might prefer the traditional:

Summer is icumen in.
Loudly sing Cuckoo.

Or you could opt for another type of cuckoo, Ezra Pound's take on it:

Winter is icumen in.
Lhude sing goddam.

No contest here. Crazy Ezra wins hands down. Anyhow, Happy April to you all.