Riding High

A New Perspective

Given the recent legalization of marijuana in Michigan, the title of this article might be a little misleading. What I’m referring to is getting used to piloting my new (to me) 2014 Ford Edge. Completely sober of course. Let me explain. I have owned a Ford Fusion since 2011, so I haven’t driven a high-profile vehicle on a regular basis for many years. As a matter of fact, this goes all the way back to my Ford Windstar days. There is just something special about sitting up a little higher than the rest of the cars on the road. It gives you a completely different outlook.

This change in perspective allows me to anticipate traffic slowdowns, because of how far I can see down the road. However, the one thing I was not prepared for, was the incredible amount of SUVs on the road these days. Back when I was driving our Windstar, I wasn’t surrounded by a squadron of Suburban Troop Carriers wherever I went. Now, I fell like I’ve joined a Presidential Motorcade whenever I pull out of my driveway. I have always been a practical car owner. And, while I enjoyed driving around with my buddy Rick in his bright orange Firebird back in the day, I am not a car guy.  

During my boys’ preschool years and beyond, I constantly made the case for leasing a minivan, for the sake of my aching back. Trying to buckle my younger son into his carseat in a Saturn SL2, that was about four inches off the ground, just about put me in traction. When we finally leased the Windstar, my spinal column rejoiced. However, one of the drawbacks of this perspective change, is that by having my vision diverted down the road, I’m not really paying attention to the car in front of me. I have had to stop short a couple of times already. In the future, I’ll make an effort to keep my eyes where they belong, and not half a mile down the highway. It’s not going to be easy, but for the sake of our insurance premium, I’ll make the effort. In the immortal words of Hill Street Blues’ Sgt. Esterhaus, “Let’s be careful out there!” Roger that, Sarge.   

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The Return of The Captain

A New Hope

To be honest, the Detroit sports scene is pretty bleak these days. After a promising start, the Tigers are hovering around .500, and before long they may be hunting for an apartment in the cellar of the AL Central. The Pistons made it to the playoffs but were obliterated in four games, after drawing the best team in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks. Maybe they’ll get a better seed next year. The Lions are anxiously awaiting their annual “Super Bowl”, the NFL Draft. Where the next victims of one of the longest running championship droughts in sports history, will be brought into the fold. And, to top it all off, the Red Wings finished the season with the 4th worst record in the NHL. Ugh!

However, last week there was a ray of hope in this otherwise bleak April. There are few sports figures in Detroit who are spoken of with more reverence than Steve Yzerman. His soft-spoken demeanor and performance on the ice have placed him near the top of the list as one of the greatest NHL players of all time. After retiring from the Red Wings as a player, he took off for Tampa, and as General Manager turned one of the worst teams in the NHL into the very best. They finished the Regular Season with an unheard of 128 points, and are the odds on favorite to win The Stanley Cup this year. Last week, we found out that Stevie Y will be bringing his magic home to the pathetic Red Wings, as the new GM. If he can do half of what he has done for the Lightning, it shouldn’t be long before the Winged Wheel is once again one of the most feared logos in the NHL.

Our family has a special connection to the Red Wings. My sister, Cynthia Lambert, was the Red Wings beat writer for the Detroit News for twelve seasons. She wrote a great book about the experience. Cyndy would get our family into Red Wings practices, where Stevie, Sergei, Vlady, Lids, Ozzie, and the rest of the Wings, would be tuning up for the next game. After a while, I took having up close access to the players for granted. Just like many other Detroiters took the Red Wings streak of making the playoffs for 25 straight years for granted. Not anymore. Hopefully, now that we have the right guy in the front office, the Wings will be hoisting the Stanley Cup in the air in a few years. Hopefully, after taking his victory lap, the next Captain of the Red Wings will have the common sense to hand The Cup to The Captain, Steve Yzerman. Circle complete. Fingers crossed.

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The First Storm of the Season

Everyone Loves A Good Storm, Don’t They?

The Carpenters sing one of my favorite Christmas carols. The First Snowfall paints a nostalgic picture of that first magical snowfall of the winter. As much as I love that song, there is another weather-related event I look forward to with equal anticipation. The First Thunderstorm of Spring. I’ll admit it, I am a Lightning-holic. After being cooped up inside all winter, the first genuine thunderstorm always comes as a bit of a shock. It’s almost as if we forgot there was such a thing as thunder and lightning. Then a streak of lightning races across the sky, followed by a house-shaking BOOM!” and we’re jolted back to reality.

Ever since I was a kid, I have always loved a good storm. Since suburban Detroit has the good fortune NOT to be located in Tornado Alley, we can generally enjoy a good light show, without having to worry about our roof being torn off. Losing power for a few hours is generally the worst of it. The other night as I left work, I saw a huge bolt of lightning race across the sky. It lit up the horizon for miles. However, the promised storm never materialized. It rained a little bit on the way home, but the light and sound show I was hoping for must have had another booking in northern Ohio. Oh well, since it’s April, I’m sure another one’s on the way.

Many years ago, my sons and I headed to Metropolitan Beach for an afternoon of fun in the sun. The day began warm and breezy, but after we got to the beach, some dark clouds appeared on the horizon of Lake St. Clair. Our worst fears proved true as the storm headed straight for the beach. It was moving so fast, we barely had time to get to the Activity Center before all hell broke loose. During a lull in the storm, my son Jeff convinced me that we could make it to the car, so we made a dash for it. Our Windstar was in sight when a huge bolt of lightning struck a light pole about thirty feet away. I could smell the ozone in the air, and the hairs on my arms and neck stood up at attention. As we ran the rest of the way to the car, I chastised myself for doing something so stupid. Ever since, we prefer to do all of our storm watching indoors, thank you very much. A pretty good idea when you consider the alternative. Despite that close call, I still look forward to the next ground-shaking thunderstorm with eager anticipation. How about you?

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The Warren Woods Spring Carnival

A Sure Sign of Spring

It arrives every year on the second weekend of May. Along with dandelions decorating the lawns along Schoenherr road, there is no surer sign of Spring than the Warren Woods Spring Carnival. Last year, as I was driving home from work one night, I spotted a multi-colored tower in the distance. It foretold the annual arrival of the fair and hopefully warmer weather. This carnival is not for the faint of heart. Mid-May temperatures in suburban Detroit can still be pretty brisk. This can result in rather severe wind chills on some of the faster rides. You might have some bright red ears for a few hours afterwards. However, there is something special about trying to spot your house from the top of the Ferris Wheel.

This sight caused me to instantly flash back on all of the good times our family had at the carnival when my boys were young. We used to spend ridiculous amounts of money on games, rides, and food whenever we went. Specifically, I remember one year, when my son Jeff had been begging to go to the fair all week. Unfortunately, I got stuck working that weekend. When I was finally able to drag myself home, after an emergency in the computer room, all I wanted to do was collapse into my recliner. Even my plan of cracking open a nice cold one was shot to hell. The screaming headache that accompanied me on the ride home from work was a literal buzzkill.

So after eating a rushed dinner, and downing a dangerous amount of Tylenol, Jeff and I headed over to the carnival. This was the first year they had instituted a wristband policy, so you didn’t have to keep buying extra tickets for the rides. Ride all you want, for a price that rivaled Cedar Point! After emptying my wallet, we made our rounds on the Midway. I was hanging in there until Jeff spotted the Gravitron. If you haven’t experienced this nightmare, picture being stuck to the wall of a clothes dryer. Just when you can’t take another second, the floor drops out! It felt like my brains were leaking out of my eyes and ears, and then being stomped on by a rather large elephant. I didn’t win The Father of the Year Award for surviving that ride, but hey, at least I didn’t wind up in the hospital with an aneurysm! The things we do for our kids. I think I’ll pass on the carnival this year, but I’ll remember it fondly as I drive past.

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Living By The Scale

Don’t Let It Rule Your Life

After my Dad passed away in 2014, I resolved to make some positive changes in my life. I had been laid off the previous February, so I decided it was time to focus on the things I could control. I signed up for a weight loss program called Nutrimost. In January of 2015, I hit my weight loss goal of 40 pounds and I have kept it off for over four years. I have actually pushed my weight even lower. As of today, I weigh 224 and I’m down 52.5 pounds from my high water mark of 276.5! It’s hard to believe I was ever that heavy. However, being 6’3”, I had a lot of real estate to spread that weight around. Since then, I have learned a lot about how the body of a 59-year-old man works. How my body processes food, how diet and exercise spin the numbers when I hop on the scale, and other stuff like that.

However, that’s where the problem lies. After losing a life-changing amount of weight, I had become addicted to the scale. I am reminded of a video I saw on Facebook of a dog jumping up and down on a scale. The caption read, “How I feel after gaining weight after a healthy food day!” Boy, can I relate to that! I even started to bring the scale with us on road trips. You become so focused on maintaining your weight, you forget to actually live a little! One of the side benefits of losing weight is that you tend to lose the taste for certain foods. Cookies and donuts, whatever. However, drop a carton of ice cream in front of me, and it could get ugly. That’s why I have recently decided to shake up my diet and workout. Gotta stay honest. I’m going back to what I call my 40 Day Foods. My goal is to push down to 218, where I will set my new weight range.

For about a year, I have toyed with the idea of launching a fitness channel on YouTube. Hopefully, giving people the benefit of what I have learned over the past few years. What works, what doesn’t, and why, as far as I can tell. Plus, I’ll include some videos of my workouts. Nothing heavy-duty or time-consuming. People are often surprised when I tell them how little time I actually spend working out. I’m generally in and out of the gym in about half an hour. After that, I hit the steam room and pool to relax and do some laps. My working title for this new venture is Fugly Old Man Fitness. An inside joke between me and my wife. I look forward to getting this channel up and running in the next few months. So stay tuned!

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The Furry Intruder

Take No Prisoners!

Every family has certain stories that can be encapsulated in just one word. In our case, that word is Bumpuses! Many years ago, when my boys were still very young, our nephew Bret used to sleepover nearly every Saturday night. So much so that I told my brother we were claiming him as a tax deduction. As Bret got older, some strange things started to occur when he spent the night. Strange events that seemed to be tied to his weekend visits. One time the fireplace flue was frozen shut and this resulted in thick smoke spewing back into the family room. On another occasion, his visit resulted in a cat running into our basement and disappearing into another dimension. Here is my tale.

One evening, as I was returning a VHS tape to our local video store (I told you it was many years ago!), we had an unexpected intruder. As I opened the side door, a blur of gray fur scrambled inside and shot down the stairs before I had time to register what was happening. It was a stray cat from the neighborhood. He had been curled up on our stoop, trying to stay warm on a frigid night. Since a similar male cat had taken up residence in our garage a few weeks earlier and laid down a horrific territorial stink bomb, I was terrified he would do the same thing in our basement. The odor in the garage had lingered for weeks.

We have a pocket door, and thinking quickly I was able to seal off the basement from the rest of the house. Then, I slowly crept downstairs to see if I could locate the unwanted guest and get it out of the basement before any damage was done. Upstairs in the kitchen, my wife had organized the three boys into a posse of sorts. They were armed with leftover oranges from Christmas and yelling “Bumpuses!” for some unknown reason. They were all laughing and having a hell of a time. I yelled up for my wife to be ready to open the side door, as I tried to escort the feline outside. At the same moment I had corralled the critter with a hockey stick and was chasing it up the stairs, my wife decided to come down and “Check on the kitty”! Lord, give me strength.

The cat turned tail at the sight of my wife coming down the stairs and ran deeper into the basement. It wound up locating the secret portal to another dimension that our cat Jewel had used for years. She would sometimes disappear down there for hours. Then, around dinnertime, come strolling upstairs like she hadn’t just emerged from another galaxy. The unwanted visitor had apparently found that portal. I spent the better part of an hour tearing the basement apart looking for that stupid cat and come up empty.

Later that night, my wife went downstairs to do some laundry and found the cat curled up on a typing chair like he owned the place. I crept down the stairs and tried to shoo him upstairs and out the door. He managed to give me the slip again and dove under the basement stairs. Since I had no idea whether this cat had rabies or some other infectious disease, I wasn’t taking any chances.

Wearing a heavy coat and thick gloves, I was able to cram the cat into a duffel bag. My son Jeff was at the side door this time. My wife had been relieved of duty after failing miserably to hold the side door open earlier. I grabbed the bag full of struggling cat and met Jeff at the door. I told him to take it outside on the neighbor’s front lawn and “Let the cat out of the bag!” Haha! I was getting a little punchy by that time! So, that’s my tale. I’m sure your family has had similar experiences that are tied to one word, or a phrase. Hopefully, the telling of my story has stirred up some memories of your own. Until next time, BUMPUSES!

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Harry Potter Focus

Don’t Get Lost In The Magic

There is a certain ability that long-suffering Harry masters during his final year at Hogwarts. Unfortunately, he doesn’t acquire this skill until the Wizarding World is literally being torn apart at the seams. Any Potterhead worth his or her salt knows that I’m talking about the art of Occlumency. It’s the ability to maintain focus when someone is literally inside your head. The skill required to shut out that mental invasion, and maintain concentration, is what Harry was able to eventually accomplish.

Sports movies are chock full of examples of that kind of focus. In For The Love Of The Game, Kevin Costner is able to make the background noise and crowd disappear completely until there are only him, the batter and the catcher left. The Legend of Bagger Vance has a similar scene as Matt Damon lines up his crucial putt. Everything vanishes except for Will Smith, the pin, and the hole. To me, the ability to shoot a clutch free throw, when it seems like the whole crowd has collectively lost its mind, has always seemed like a Herculean Feat. Did you see that kid from Virginia on Saturday? He knocked down three free throws to get his team to the National Championship Game for the first time in the school’s history. Talk about having ice water in your veins!

We all have this ability to a certain degree. If you’ve ever witnessed a video gamer trying to beat an incredibly tough level, you have seen that type of focus. Or, maybe you’ve observed a preschooler, with her brow furrowed and lip curled, as she tries to finish coloring a special picture for her mommy. Many of us have had experiences when we were in the zone. I noticed this feeling many years ago at my previous job when I would be asked to write up some documentation for a new procedure. When you have fine-tuned that ability, you can truly shut out all distractions and stay focused on the job at hand. However, be careful not to get lost in that world. It’s an incredible skill to have, but keep in mind it is just one tool in your toolbox of life. Don’t forget to pick your head up, take a deep breath, and smell the roses once in a while.

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Trapped in Toronto: The Conclusion

Oh, Please Let This Nightmare Be Over!

In my previous article (Trapped in Toronto), I detailed the misadventures my wife and I went through, trying to get home from Toronto after a two-week vacation in Hawaii. In our sad attempt to bring my poor car back home, we had no idea what lay ahead of us. After finally having the Edge towed to Dixie Ford in Mississauga, I thought we would be able to pick it up on my next day off. Oh, no-ho-ho-ho! As it turned out, a driveshaft for a Ford Edge is about as easy to find as a selfie of Bigfoot at the beach! It’s the one Ford part that’s nearly impossible to locate in Canada or the USA. My brief article about this experience soon began to turn into a Russian Novel.

To make a very long story short, after piling up over a month of rental car charges with Thrifty, a driveshaft was eventually found and delivered to Dixie Ford. My car was finally ready for pick up! My wife and I made the trip back to Toronto in my trusty rented Hyundai Elantra. After arriving at Dixie Ford and having a new battery installed (which we had brought with us), we were ready to hit the road. Yeah, right. My first mistake was to let my wife drive the car out of the Toronto area. Since she had never driven the Edge before, she didn’t notice it was very hard to steer at low speeds. When I hopped behind the wheel, I felt it right away. Diagnosis: Power Steering Pump. As my friend Dawn likes to say, “Shoot me now!”

Since the car was still drivable, I spent a week turning my forearms into replicas of a certain spinach-loving, one-eyed sailor. Then, I took my car into Suburban Ford for the power steering repair. Thankfully, they were able to complete the repair in only one day. However, the next day I discovered that the steering wheel was slightly crooked. So, I am heading back to the dealer again today. Hopefully, for a quick fix. It’s really sad after two months, when your new car has spent more time at the dealership than in your garage! It’s also never a good thing when you’re on a first-name basis with your service manager.

Now that the Edge is back on the road (mostly), the real battle begins. Trying to recover the balance of my associated costs, not reimbursed by Ford of Canada. As well as somehow regaining trust that my car won’t breakdown, and leave me stranded in rural Kentucky, or some other garden spot. It’s now up to Suburban Ford to make that happen. I’ll keep you updated!

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25 Turns

We Never Know How Many Turns We Have Left    

I’m not sure when my obsession with pocket watches began. There has always been something a little magical about carrying around time in your pocket, as opposed to on your wrist. A few years ago, I came across a nice little faux pocket watch at Big Lots. It was battery-operated, as opposed to a manual-wind mechanism. After I dropped it a couple of times over the years, the case was eventually broken beyond repair. So I wound up tossing it in the trash. This past Christmas, my brother John bought me a beautiful new silver manual-wind pocket watch as a replacement.

The concept of time-travel has always fascinated me. Maybe because I’ve had my share of mistakes in life, where a do-over would have been a nice option. In the Harry Potter series, Hermione Granger used a Time-Turner, a tiny hourglass on a long gold chain, to jump back in time with Harry to save Buckbeak and Sirius Black. Per Dumbledore’s instructions, she gives it 3 turns. I thought about that the other day as I was winding my watch. I generally give it 25 turns. One for every hour of the day, plus one. As if I am somehow adding another hour to my busy day, with an additional turn of the crown.

When I wind my watch each morning, I am acutely aware of how much time I have to complete my self-assigned duties for the day. Recently, I have been listening to The 5 Second Rule and an idea struck me. I created a 5 Second List for all of the tasks I normally avoid or postpone on a daily basis. Then I used my workout watch to measure how long it took to make the bed, empty and load the dishwasher, pay the bills, etc. At the end of the day, I was astounded by how little time it actually took to do the jobs I generally dodged or put off until the next day. Tomorrow morning, as I give my pocket watch that 25th turn, I’ll remind myself to use the time wisely. After all, we never know how many turns we have left.

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