Shrapnel Hill

Let’s Hit It!

When was the last time you went sledding? When did you last feel your face turn into a block of ice, as you rocketed down that hill towards certain death? Or at least a severe bruise? I know, it’s been a while for me too. However, when my boys were young and fearless, every Snow Day we headed to Shrapnel Hill. 

I gave the sledding hill behind Madison Heights City Hall that nickname for a reason. Once you huffed and puffed your way to the top, all you could see were shattered pieces of sleds at the bottom. God only knows what happened to their passengers. It was a pretty terrifying sight. However, after applying the required logic to the situation, you were good to go. You didn’t see any blood on the snow, and there wasn’t an ambulance carting off the latest victim, so you rocketed face-first down that hill.  

The Flexible Flyer of yesteryear has given way to saucer, and multi-rider sleds that have no pretense of steering at all. To be honest, I never understood how to use the crossbar on the Flyer to steer either. Let’s face it, you were a missile with no control whatsoever. That was all part of the thrill! Would you reach the bottom alive, only to do it all over again? Give it a shot and find out! If you reached the base of the hill in one piece, you had to have your head on a swivel. The next daredevil was right behind you.

It’s amazing to me that sledding hills haven’t been outlawed in this litigious, politically correct society. It says a lot about the quest for fun. Plus, the fact that helicopter parents don’t make their babies wear bubble wrap snowsuits while sledding, speaks volumes as well. There must be enough belly-whoppin’ kid left in these adults to allow their offspring to risk life and limb. All for the rush of making it to the bottom of Shrapnel Hill in one piece. Way to go, mom and dad. Well, we made it down alive, let’s go again!  

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Old Days

Everyone Has Them

Have you ever found yourself longing for the simpler days of your youth? Back when the biggest problems you faced were tiny by today’s standards? Getting home before the streetlights came on, or finishing up your homework before Batman aired on ABC. Or, how about calling that cute girl from school, without your brothers and sister finding out? Yep, those were the days. Needless to say, life has gotten a lot more complex since then.

I remember when I was a sophomore in high school, the song Old Days, by Chicago, hit the airwaves and it made me nostalgic for my elementary and junior high school days. I find that comical now, that a kid in high school can be moved by a sentimental song to pine for the Old Days. I guess it just goes to show, it doesn’t matter how old or young you are, we always tend to view the past fondly.

My wife and I used to crack up when our son Kevin would say, “Back in the day,” to describe something that happened when he was little. He was only ten years old at the time! We all have a tendency to look back fondly on the past, glossing over the crappier parts. I think that’s why pondering the future sometimes causes us a little trepidation. After all, we know what happened in the Old Days, but the future remains to be seen.

There are a lot of very old (at least in my book) gentlemen at our local community center gym. They referred to me as a kid, when I told them I just turned 60. I appreciate the thought guys. However, I know if I dared to break out the phrase, “Back in the day” it would be greeted with raucous laughter by these old farts. Everyone has their own definition of the Old Days. As we head into this holiday season, hopefully, it will stir up some fond memories of your Old Days. Happy reminiscing.

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The Neighborhood Networks

Old Time Technology

Just a minute ago, I was trying to remember the name of a street a couple of blocks down and for the life of me, I couldn’t recall it. I had to cheat and use Google Maps. This illustrates how technology has disabled us to a certain degree. Take away our cell phones, iPads, and computers, and we’re just about helpless. We’d actually have to LISTEN when somebody gave us directions, instead of saying, “Just text me the address.” Now that I think about it, that has the makings of a great Reality TV show. Pick a random group of ten millennials (no oldsters allowed) and take away all of their technology. Then put them in a car in a strange city and hand them a map and an address. The first person to reach the finish line wins one million dollars! Sounds like Must See TV to me!

My inability to recall the name of a street that’s just two blocks away reminded me of being a kid. My buddies and I didn’t need any stinkin’ Google Maps! You surveyed the topography of the neighborhood on foot and stored it in your brain’s geography section. When you were old enough to ride a bike in the street (twelve years old in Detroit), the ‘hood became your oyster. Once you reached that magic age and didn’t have to curb-hop at every intersection, you could really get into some serious mischief. My friends and I knew every street from Rossiter, all the way west to Kelly, then back east to I-94, and beyond. Since my sons grew up at the dawn of the cellular age, they had to develop their street skills as well. To this day, they both have an encyclopedic knowledge of the streets surrounding our house.

However, there was another neighborhood network that we all tried to avoid. The Parental Network. It was designed to keep tabs on us hooligans by turning every parent in the area into a kid-monitoring node in the system. It was almost as if our parents had implanted trackers on us in our sleep. If you went to the movies after your mom said no, busted! If you rode your bike a ridiculous distance to visit a cute girl, your dad knew about it. We couldn’t get away with anything! If we somehow managed to slip by this parental police state, we celebrated like master criminals after a successful heist. However, we knew that any victory was short-lived. When the vulnerability in the parental network was patched, we knew we’d all be back under 24/7 surveillance once again. Oh well, we got away with what we could and had a lot of fun doing it. If today’s kids ever ditch their technology, parents will be helpless without their own parental network as a backup system. A pretty terrifying thought. All those kids running loose. What a blast!

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Bring On The Leaf Show

Enjoy It While You Can!

The other day as I drove into work, I noticed the leaves were finally starting to change. It’s about time! That’s one of the few benefits of working thirty-one miles away from home. A lot of freeway driving, alongside some very colorful trees. However this year, along with most of the country, we’ve had an especially brutal summer. This has resulted in a late color change all over the nation. I was watching the Iowa vs Indiana game on Saturday, and all I saw were green leaves! It was October 13th for crying out loud!

When I was a kid, I never gave much thought to the Autumn Splendor. My focus was always on Halloween, that and palming off leaf-raking duties on my younger brothers and sister. It wasn’t until I was much older that I really started to appreciate Mother Nature’s Fireworks Show. Now, a whole industry has sprouted up around the annual event. There are bus tours and festivals that never existed when I was a kid. Throw in the Oktoberfest that have sprung up, due to Michigan’s Craft Beer industry, and the Leaf Show has become quite an event here in Michigan.

As I have mentioned before, Fall is my favorite time of the year. Even though collecting all those little pieces of art can be a chore, it’s one I gladly take on. The smell of wet leaves is a scent I eagerly anticipate during the dog days of Summer. Add in the smell of wood smoke from neighborhood firepits and I am in heaven. Once I’m done with all of the raking (for the weekend), I love to grab a couple donuts, a hot mug of cider, and hop into my favorite recliner with a good book. Oh Fall, where have you been? We’ve missed you! It won’t be long before the wind and rain strip the trees bare, and November’s chilly fingers start to creep down your spine. So get out there and enjoy the show while you can!!

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The Magic of Halloween

It’s Just Around The Corner

I wish I could say it feels like Halloween is just around the corner, but this week hit a high of 83 degrees.  Can somebody get ahold of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and ask her to drive a stake into this horrible summer already?!  It’s had more comebacks than Jason or Michael Myers. It’s really hard to enjoy hot cider and donuts when they cause you to break out in a sweat!  I guess there’s nothing we can do about it but soldier on, and pray for a cold snap. Anyway, it’s now Thursday, October 11th, and Linus will soon be prepping his pumpkin patch with sincerity for the arrival of that Magical Gourd.  

I have to admit, I’m as big of a sucker for Halloween as I am for Christmas. I don’t go overboard with lawn decorations, mainly because I realize, unlike some of my neighbors, that we still have to mow the lawn until December.  That said, on Monday I pulled out what decorations we do have and put them up. I like to go the spooky music route when it comes to Halloween night. The latest advancements in Bluetooth Technology have turned this into a breeze. In order to spook out the neighborhood, I used to have to park one of my giant stereo speakers on a milk crate in front of an open window. Now I can get the job done with a speaker the size of a Snickers bar. You gotta love technology! Throw in some motion activated strobe lights, and welcome to Creepytown.

When I was a kid, Halloween blew my mind. For one night each year, virtually every house on the block was handing out FREE CANDY!  The idea that I couldn’t possibly get to all of it drove me crazy.  Once upon a time, on that magical night, my friends and I concocted a plan to ride our bikes from block to block, hitting as many houses as possible. However, the logistics of such an operation became problematic. Where do we park our bikes so some other kids don’t steal them for their own candy spree? They could wind up dumping the bikes blocks away, and we would lose valuable candy-collecting time looking for them. That hiccup prevented us from executing a brilliant plan. I still think about what could have been. Candy all the way until Easter!! Ah, to dream. Happy Halloween, everyone!!

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( I saw this on YouTube and I couldn’t resist sharing it.  I calling “Winning Halloween”)

Peeling Away the Layers of Time

How to Access Your Personal Time Machine

Have you ever noticed when a building or business in your neighborhood has just been torn down, you can’t seem to remember what was there a moment ago? A dry cleaner? A jewelry store? A hair salon? Even though you drive past that corner every single day, now it’s just an empty lot. However, if you travel back to a favorite spot from your childhood, you can easily picture every business on every corner.

This past weekend, my wife and I rented a tiny cottage on Clark Lake, in Irish Hills, Michigan. We were there for a family reunion my brother was hosting at his cottage across the lake. I mixed up the days and wound up missing most of the folks. I’m sure I’ll catch up with them all at Christmastime. Anyway, my wife and I wound up going out to dinner at the Beach Bar. For me, that place is in a time bubble. Not much has changed since my family used to go there over 50 years ago. On the way back to our tiny cottage, we passed a market named Mugsy’s. I told my wife it used to be called the Town & Country.

That reminded me of a wonderful sensation I always have whenever I visit this area. It seems like the layers of time peel away as I drive through “town”. I point out a cottage our family always rented when we were kids. How my mom and dad ever fit four kids and a dog in there I’ll never know. A chalet-style cottage across the street from my brother’s place used to be painted a nice redwood color and is now a dull gray. I have always been fascinated with the concept of time travel. Now it occurs to me that we all carry a time machine with us. All you need to do is visit a well-loved place from your youth to access it. Suddenly you’re back at the Town & Country, with some pocket change in your sweaty little hand, ready to buy some penny candy.

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