Saturday, February 27, 2010

recycled column on Traveling Animals

Terry Stephan

Changing Lanes:TravelingCircus,
I’m always surprised at the number of people who take their pets with them on vacation. They make sure their animals see the sites and have a good time. We’ve had a menagerie of house pets and goats, pigs, rabbits and chickens over the years. Finding someone to care of so many animals often made vacationing a luxury we couldn’t afford.
Later, when we reduced our stock to just dogs and cats, we arranged to have them kenneled and cared for when we traveled. I always felt Emmy and I needed a vacation from our pets as well as other day-to-day rigors. The animals probably didn’t mind a vacation from us as well.
We most often travel in a small pickup camper. The limited space in our little RV tends to make us covet what little room we have. A litter box or a dog taking even a small percentage of floor space isn’t something we’d consider no matter how much we liked our dog or cat.
There are definite advantages to taking a large dog on the road. If I traveled alone, I would take one for company, possibly protection (Emmy’s job now). I also talk to myself a lot. If I traveled with a dog, I could pretend I was talking to it and strangers wouldn’t know just how deranged I really am.
Even without animals, our own ‘excess baggage’ slows our forward progress. I have a two-nap-a-day habit and, while I am driving, I feel the sirens’ call of a comfortable bed just over my head in the camper. When I pullover for a quick snooze, Emmy not only doesn’t object, she is happy about it. She enjoys traveling in theory, but likes stopping better. She loves to do beadwork, which she can’t do while moving - when the truck stops, she starts beading.
If Emmy had her druthers, we would never hit a four-lane highway. Moving at an average speed of 20 or 30mph in slow-and-go traffic is enjoyable to her. With all the foibles between the two of us, we sometimes lose sight of the concept that we have to keep moving to get somewhere. We travel so leisurely, we often take three days to make the 6 hour drive to Boston Mass. We have fun anyway.
While I am sure pets on the move aren’t right for Emmy and I, a vast variety and number of them travel with their owners. At a trailhead or other tourist attraction, more than once I’ve noticed a couple pushing a baby buggy, only to find a dog in there, sometimes leashed in, so it couldn’t actually get out and walk.
I’ve seen people carry large, thick, snakes around their neck and shoulders, and a few years back you saw as many pet ferrets in public places, as you did teacup-sized dogs.
At the trial head/parking lot for Malign Lake in Jasper National park, we saw a young couple adjusting what we thought was a carrier for a baby, worn on the chest, similar to a “baby Bjorn.” It was obviously hard to fine-tune, to figure where the straps went on the young woman. The openings at the top, where you might install the baby, and the front where the legs of a child might come out were covered with screen and zippers.
They fetched their ‘baby’ out of some sort of strapped-in safety seat in the rear of the car. Out came a big green and yellow parrot. They dropped the bird in the zippered top. The bird hung on fiercely to a perch several inches from the bottom as they hiked down the rough trail. The parrot was out front and had a perfect forward view.
Maybe the young couple was making a statement about rights for birds, or maybe they were practicing child rearing for future offspring. Possibly the two loved the bird so much they could not leave home without it.
In any case, I just couldn’t stop thinking of all the poor ferrets and toy terriers sitting at home twiddling their thumbs, nothing to look forward to, just wishing they could be as well loved and traveled as a parrot.
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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Terry and the Pirates

Terry Stephan

Changing Lanes:muchograndkids
My earliest memories include adults asking me if I was ‘Terry’ of “Terry and the pirates”. That cartoon strip apparently had a huge surge in popularity back then, but I was disappointed anyone would think it was the inspiration for my name. To me, pirates were not interesting. An eye patch, a hook instead of a hand, big deal, Dick Tracy had a wristwatch video and audio communication device. I even liked Beetle Bailey better with his cartoon jeeps, army fatigues, and goofy observations.
Over the years, the ‘pirate’ moniker has popped up less and less, but occasionally, someone will greet me with something like, “Hi you old pirate, how ya’ doing?”
Flashing forward, Emmy and I went to visit our kids and grandkids near Boston Massachusetts a few weeks ago.
My grandson Tate is three and it has been decades since I spent any time with a three-year-old. It brought back to mind my own boys at that age. It all came back to me; the most charming thing about a three-year-old is that they act like a three-year old. The most annoying thing about a three-year-old is - THEY ACT LIKE A THREE-YEAR-OLD.
Our visit allowed me to spend hours with Tate, several days in a row. At the start of our visit, his jabber seemed that of a miniature drunken adult, just rambling, but the content soon became a bit disturbing to me.
Tate told me he has an imaginary Grandpa and Grandma. He referred to them as his ‘evil grandpa and grandma,’ “Fire rocks” and “Nancy.” Tate’s sister, our sweet six-year-old granddaughter and Tate’s number one interpreter, matter-of-factly confirmed my understanding of what he said. I found it troubling he referred to any grandparent as ‘evil’, especially Emmy or I. “Fire Rocks” was just weird.
On our previous visit, when he was only two, Tate couldn’t understand that his grandparents were different entities. He called both of us ‘grandma’, kind of disconcerting for me. When I did get him to call me ‘grandpa,’ he referred to Emmy as grandpa also.
Even though he is hard to understand, I realized he was saying that the evil grandpa and grandma were neither Emmy nor me.
When asked who his real Grandmother was, he indicated Emmy. Pointing to myself, I asked him if I was Grandpa Fire Rocks and he said ‘no’ and he asked, “What’s?”
I said “Grandpa Terry”.
Tate looked as though the name made no sense, I was in a hurry to replace ‘evil grandpa’. Still pointing to my chest, I said “Terry Terry and the Pirates”.
His face lit up, he said “Terry and Pirates Grandpa?”
He then added, with a big grin, “King of Pirates.”
I thought that was the end of it. That evening we watched a movie our grandkids had not seen all the way through called “Coraline”.
It is a ‘stop motion’ animated movie. I only watch animated movies with my grandchildren, but this movie was fascinating. The plot includes Coraline, a young girl who dreams of an alternate family and neighborhood. The alternate parents are perfect at first but in the end they, and most of their alternate universe turn evil. Yup, it is a terror movie for the young’uns.
At one point, a character in the movie who is a neighbor and trapeze artist in Coralines’ evil alternate universe appeared. Tate jumped up, pointing to the screen excitedly saying “Grandpa Fire Rocks”. He was as happy to reveal the “evil grandpa” mystery, as I was to have him show it to me.
Now I’m “King of Pirates Terry”, or “Pirates Grandpa”. How could I object to that? So much for “Terry and the Pirates” being a dull comic strip.
Next visit, we will try to unravel the mystery of “evil Grandma Nancy.” Emmy might like some answers.

Monday, February 15, 2010

bad or good day?

My sweetie had an accident today. My computer crashed and I had a screaming telephone fight with Dell who wanted me to pay them to unlock my two day old computer.
Betty totaled the car but she was unhurt. I guess it was a good day.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Missing Grandkids

Terry Stephan

Changing Lanes:computervision
Emmy and I have been chatting online lately. For my fellow computer illiterates ‘chatting’, on the internet is a kind of fast form of email. If you don’t know what email is, you’ve just woken from a long comma, congratulations!
In a two-person chat, both people are on line at the same time, and have a written (typed) conversation. In the old days, you dialed up a person to chat, their phone rang, and they answered. Now both people find themselves online at the same time. In my love/hate relationship with computers and the internet, one thing I love is the communication. I think something almost mystical is at work.
You could be minding your business, doing something important on the internet, like finding out how many people recorded specific rock and roll and blues hits from three decades ago on You-tube. A little balloon window will pop up in the corner of your computers’ screen and tell you someone you are acquainted with is online and ‘available’.
Knowing that someone is willing and waiting for a chat interferes with my concentration. It forces me to put some thought into a talk with a person I may not have been interested in chatting with in the first place. If I ignore the little window, I begin to feel guilty. After all, how many different video versions of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” can I possibly enjoy? (The number is vast)
If the ‘chat’ person went on line for some companionship and I sit like a bump on a log will they feel rejected? Maybe no one will talk to them. Maybe they are having a bad day- personal crisis; maybe they need to talk to someone.
I try to think up something intelligent to say, I type in, “What’s up, dude?”
A little balloon pops up claiming the person is no longer available. I wonder if the person is ‘not available’ because I am the one who responded, maybe I should feel rejected. What I really feel is relief– I don’t have to think up any more great lines like, ‘What’s up, dude?’
If my granddaughter is the individual on line, ready and available, we are always happy to chat with her.
Our son Jon sets up the chat session from their home, and Paige continues chatting as she pleases.
We travel for business, in our little truck camper. The last trip we took was six weeks. The chats with Paige lift our spirits, bringing a third person, a favorite one at that, into our small space. We use Emmy’s computer and she types in my comments as well as her own.
We have a lot of patience for our granddaughter; at six years of age, Paige doesn’t have a long attention span nor is she a fast typist. She sometimes wanders off in the middle of a chat, only to return minutes later. There is a lot of hang-on time between sentences.
In the camper, on our end of the conversation, Emmy spends the wait-time sewing beads onto fabric and leather; I read and write and watch videos.
Though not speedy, our granddaughter most often replies in full sentences with perfect spelling and grammar. She already has a sense of humor and often makes some very adult observations. At one point we were chatting and there was a longer than usual wait.
Emmy typed, “Are you there, Paige?”
Paige wrote, “No.”
I told Paige, I wished I had a mail delivery owl like those in the Harry Potter novels, a nice, fluffy solid white one.
Paige said, “Grandpa, you do know that is only fiction don’t you?”
She was so serious, I couldn’t answer.
Even if she doubts my knowledge or my sanity, Paige will always be welcome in any chat of mine.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Recent column

My cousin was recently on the show Jeopardy he tried to get on for the past twenty plus years- when he finally was succesful he was very much so..

Terry Stephan

Changing Lanes:Jeopardy
A relative of mine was on Jeopardy recently. Jason won a bunch of money in less than a week. His mother Kathy and I share grandparents and half a century of friendly camaraderie and light spirited conversation. Kathy is clever and funny and she, Emmy, and I have made each other think and laugh through the good and bad years. It is no surprise that all three of her kids are super smart. Jason’s father is no slouch when it comes to mental dexterity either.
I suppose it is a bad habit, but I comment or talk to my TV, usually but not always in a derogatory manner. From my living room chair, I talked at Jason while he was on Jeopardy, trying to be helpful. In the beginning, he didn’t seem to be pushing the button to answer the questions. I mostly yelled, “Push the button” then louder, “PUSH THE BUTTON”. It didn’t seem to have any effect on whether or not he pushed the button, no matter how loud I yelled.
I always knew Jason was a smart young man, but as I watched the show, I couldn’t believe just how smart and fast he is.
In any conversation that turns adversarial, or in any argument, my snappy retorts make less and less sense along the lines of, “so is your mother” or “up your nose with a rubber hose.” Sometimes I just slip into overused repetitive profanities. If given the chance to sleep and regroup my thoughts, muttering to myself overnight, I can come up with a great reply. They don’t give you that much time on Jeopardy.
As I watched the show, I knew few of the answers. When I did know answers, the contestants had pressed their button and replied (in the form of a question), long before the answer made it from the ‘I know that’ stage in my brain to actually verbalizing the words with my mouthparts.
Early on, I was pretty happy with myself and a bit disappointed with Jason because I knew the answer to a question having to do with the planting of our flag on Iwo Jima and an old Johnny Cash song. The song is about superior achievements of persons from which the rest of society would not expect that much. The answer was “Ira Hayes”, more appropriately, “Who was Ira Hays.” It was one of the few questions to which Jason didn’t have an answer.
A line from the song in a time when political correctness was a bit less correct than it is today is, “…call him drunken Ira Hays, he won’t answer any more, not the whiskey drinkin’ Indian, or the marine that went to war.”
That turned out to be the only answer I knew well enough to have pushed the button first and placed in the form of a question.
After that, the questions got harder. Jason won Jeopardy money knowing the names of various Norse characters, some of which I thought he made up. He knew lines from George Washington’s inaugural speech and sports terms I never heard of. He also showed a wealth of knowledge from movies, the serious to the amazingly frivolous. In the TV department, he knew three stooges trivia and daytime soap opera characters. He knew the answers to questions when I didn’t even understand the question.
Jason’s education has been and still is, his own hunger for knowledge. On Jeopardy, most of the competitors Jason knocked out were well-educated, degree holding professional types. He won over $150,000, not bad for an engine assembler from right here in Western New York.
I always wanted to be on a show like Jeopardy, maybe I could do well if they limited the questions to old Johnny Cash lyrics..
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