Friday, June 19, 2009

Adventures with Grandpa – Episode #4

This is my fourth and final episode of my most recent adventures with Grandpa. Stay tuned, because I’m sure there will be many more in the future!

In our last episode, Grandpa and I had just returned from our trip to Arizona. We left St. John fairly late in the day, so we didn’t get back to Las Vegas until around midnight that night. We staggered inside, Jimmy helped us unload the car, and we all fell into bed. As mentioned earlier, Gina was already in Vegas to cover Lincoln County High School’s track and baseball state competitions for the Caliente Blab. The plan was that Dad and Gina would be spending Sunday with us and then go home early on Monday. Church doesn’t start until 1:00 PM, so we could sleep in a bit before having to get ready, but of course Dad doesn’t do the sleeping-in thing. At least he didn’t bring his violin this time, so we didn’t have to wake up to a rousing rendition of “Turkey in the Straw.”

A mishap had occurred in Arizona that I haven’t mentioned yet. All of “the boys” were helping April change the oil in her car on Saturday morning. The car was jacked up and well-propped on a tree stump and various other implements to keep it from squishing the person who was lying underneath it. Anyway, at some point Dad decided to bend over and look under the car (probably for coaching purposes). His glasses fell out of his shirt pocket and one of the lenses shattered on the pavement. We are all well familiar with Dad’s lack of hearing, and now his seeing abilities were also badly impaired. He has always had really good vision and was fine for driving (at least I hope he was), but he couldn’t see to read. This had already caused problems on the drive home, because at the Kingman mini-mart restaurant I had to read the entire menu to him at the top of my voice. That was fun for me and everybody else in the building and adjacent parking lot.

Anyway, the lack of glasses also caused a problem that Sunday morning because Dad couldn’t do what he normally does when he gets up on Sunday mornings – read his scriptures and/or church magazines. When I got up, I found him wandering restlessly up and down. Thank heaven for the BYU channel. I turned it on for him and he was set for a while. When the program changed to something he didn’t want to watch, I put on some of the BYU Education Week recordings on my DVR. It kept him busy and out from under foot (either listening or dozing or – as he puts it – “resting his eyes”) for the rest of the morning.

We went to church and came home for a nice meal prepared by Gina. It was Jill’s recipe for Chicken Enchiladas. Anyway, as the evening wore down, I started thinking about whether or not I wanted to hang my pot rack in my kitchen. I have always liked pot racks, and I loved having one in my old house. I had even taken it with me when we moved. I thought Dad had gone off to bed, so I brought it in from the garage and laid it on the kitchen island in different configurations, trying to decide if I wanted to hang it there and if so, where. Centered? On one end? Vertical or horizontal? Would it even look decent? Would it ruin the look of my new kitchen? Decisions, decisions. Well, Dad returned to the kitchen unexpectedly and caught me contemplating the installation. Game over, we were doing it, and he couldn’t leave town until it was done!

The first job was searching through the boxes in the garage, looking for the rest of the pieces and parts. Eventually they were found, but the search may have been slowed by the process of Dad holding up every item he found and asking if I really needed to keep it and the subsequent debate on why it was necessary for life. I’m sure my neighbors appreciated my lengthy, top-of-my-voice explanations (complete with many repeats) on what I planned to do with every gadget and bottle of miracle cleaner (I’m rather fond of both of those categories). I was glad to herd him back into the house after the miraculous discovery of the pot rack pieces and parts.

We returned to the kitchen and Dad began the process of looking for beams in the ceiling to attach the pot rack. Of course I couldn’t locate my stud finder, so he was using the old “tap it with a hammer to listen for solid places” method, something that may be a bit dicey when your hearing isn’t top notch to begin with. Add to this the problem of my dogs misinterpreting the taps as somebody knocking on the front door, producing a mad rush to the front door and a lot of barking. After a lot of tapping (and barking), Dad used my drill with a tiny bit to establish the presence of the beam, and guess what … no beam was found. So, more tapping, barking, and drilling. At some point I finally convinced Dad that we could finish the project in the morning and we all staggered off to bed. Even the dogs were exhausted.

Of course Dad was up early Monday morning. By the time I dragged myself downstairs, Dad was gone to Home Depot. He was gone for a very long time. He later admitted to me that he missed the store down the street and ended up driving across town before he found one. He bought four large eye bolts to attach the pot rack and came back. Of course he had done more tapping and drilling before he left, and I was shocked to see my new ceiling literally covered with small holes. After Dad returned, a small hole became a large one, but there was no beam after all. Another large hole was drilled, and still no beam. I began to fantasize about the Mormon woman’s alcohol alternative – the Hershey bar. Another large hole was created, and my fantasy Hershey bar became a REALLY big one. When we finally found a beam (well recessed, it turned out), the eye bolts Dad had bought were too short to reach it. Another trip to Home Depot was required.

Dad and I climbed into the truck and headed for the store. We bought longer eye bolts, a stud finder, a super-size can of spackle, and a couple of things Dad needed for his surveying business. They only had small Hershey bars, so I bought two. As we started to get back into the truck, I spotted a very large grasshopper on the ground. I have an aversion to bugs of all kinds, so I gave it a wide berth. In my experience, grasshoppers are especially risky. One year we had a pretty big grasshopper infestation here in Vegas, and the short cut through a break area that I take from my car to my office was full of them. For a while I actually thought it was kind of fun walking through there. As you walked along, they would fly in all directions, and it sort of felt like the parting of the Red Sea. Then one day, one of them landed on me. After much screaming and dancing around, I got rid of it, but that ended my walks through there! A new route had to be established. (I’m sure the people whose windows faced that break area had an amusing sight to begin their day.)

Anyway, back at the Home Depot parking lot, Dad spotted my minor detour and instead of unlocking the truck door so I could get inside, he walked around to see what I was avoiding. He stomped his foot, and I swear he tried to make it land on me. It missed, but there was a minor reenactment of the scene outside my office. I had to drive us home because Dad was too weak with laughter to drive. The fun never stops.

We got back home and the project continued. Dad tried using a pencil to mark where the studs started and stopped, but then couldn’t see his marks. Finally I gave him a dry-erase marker to outline the stud locations. I thought it would wash off easily afterwards. A stud was finally found, but then we couldn’t drill through it! The holes were made larger, but we still couldn’t get through it. It appeared that we were hitting something metal instead of wood. Before long, Dad was getting so frustrated with trying to get the eye hooks into the ceiling that he began to try to hammer them in. That's when my recessed cam lights started falling out of the ceiling.

After many holes, large and small, and many, many blue lines criss-crossing the ceiling, the pot rack was finally hung. I pushed the cam lights back up into their little holes and I hope they stay there. The Hershey bars were long gone. We all went out to eat at Dave’s Barbecue and Dad and Gina left. It was 5:00 and the day was gone! I went home and got out my super-size can of spackle. Much to my dismay, I learned that dry erase markers don’t do well on flat paint. The bright blue marks would not wash off. I spackled and painted and painted and painted. Finally I bought a can of “Killz” to cover the markers, and after a couple of coats of that, the blue lines are gone. The pot rack is there to stay and I’d better love it!

Jimmy’s opinion? “I never liked it in the old house.” Well, who asked him?!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Adventures with Grandpa – Episode #3

As I mentioned earlier, I was in charge of picking out the audiobooks for us to listen to on the trip. I belong to an audio book club and I have hundreds of them to choose from. The first one I produced was one of my favorites, “All the Best – My Life in Letters” by George H. Bush. Unfortunately, Dad had already listened to that one. Of course, I can listen to that audiobook over and over again, but once Dad has listened to something, he’s ready to move on! My next selection was “How to Talk to a Liberal – if you Must” by Ann Coulter. Of course I have all her books, but I think that one is the funniest. He liked it, but before too long he was complaining that she talks too fast and he was missing half of it. I have to agree she’s a little hard to follow when she gets on a roll, so we made another change. I pulled out a Ronald Reagan biography that I love by Michael Deaver, “A Different Drummer,” only to be told that he already listened to that one, too! So my next selection was “Sarah” by Orson Scott Card. I love his books about the women in the Old Testament. Well, I’m afraid it’s a bit too “girly” and not fast-paced enough for Dad. After listening for quite a while, Dad asked me how long it would be before Ishmael would be born. At that point in the audiobook, “Sarai” was still ten years old and hadn’t even married “Abram” yet. We did listen to "Hostage: The Jill Carroll Story," which is a series of articles written by the Christian Science Monitor reporter who was kidnapped in Iraq a few years ago, but that was relatively short. After that it was obviously time to give up on the audiobooks and find something to talk about! (Or more accurately when Dad is concerned -- yell back and forth!)

We had a fun time in St. John and enjoyed seeing all of LR’s family (except Sarah, who couldn’t make it). We went to Angela's graduation on Friday night, toured the high school on Saturday, and helped LR and Rhonda arrange their stuff in a storage shed. Dad is quite good at directing traffic on this type of thing. “If you turn that chair upside down on that bin, you can squeeze that small box on top of it, and don’t worry, the table top will hold it up.” There was much discussion about when we would be traveling back home. I didn’t want to stay until Monday because it would use up my whole weekend and I would get nothing done at home, let alone any rest. Dad didn’t want to drive on Sunday. So that left leaving on Saturday. Dad kind of wanted to drive through a nearby town called Snowflake, but didn’t say anything more about it when he found out it was a little out of the way. Nevertheless, when we left St. John, he got behind the wheel first and guess where we headed … Snowflake! As the designated navigator, I missed a turnoff, which made the side trip a little longer, but it was a cute little community anyway.

I can’t describe the return trip without mentioning the snack situation. I had visited a grocery store in St. John with LR and had restocked our supplies. The next problem is that Dad must not look at the packages that closely when he opens them because he opened the bag of banana chips on the bottom. I picked them up from the top and dumped them on the floor. He picked them up and returned them to the package; they were all his, once again.

It was the Memorial Day weekend when we took this trip to Arizona, and I was concerned about the “dam traffic” (meaning the traffic backup when you cross Hoover Dam). For those of you that don’t often travel that route, it can get really bad, especially on a holiday. They are building a new bridge to make things better, but if you ask me it’s still a long way from completion.

There was really no trouble crossing the dam on the way down to Arizona, but going that direction isn’t as bad because you can decide to “bail” and go through Laughlin (an extra 30 miles) only five miles or so from the dam (just north of Boulder City). That way, you can turn around and take the Laughlin route without having wasted too much time. Going from Arizona to Nevada, though, is a different story. You have to decide “to dam or not to dam” just outside of Kingman, and if you have to turn around, it’s a long way back, over 70 miles. Usually the traffic gets backed up just because there are a lot of people crossing the dam road to take their dam pictures and stuff. If there’s an accident on that long, windy, two-lane dam road, though, you could get dam stopped for literally hours at a time. (And yes, I am having fun referring to everything like that.)

Jimmy and I drove down to visit Jill and Jared (and the kids!) in Arizona in April and we had the same concerns coming back (also a holiday weekend). As we were driving along, they had some of those electronic signs up with a phone number you could call for dam traffic information. It’s one of the most frustrating signs I’ve ever seen, though, because it changed screens too fast. One screen would say, “Dam construction ahead” and the next, “Expect long delays,” then “Traffic information,” then “Call toll-free 1-888-248-1259.” By the time all that stuff scrolls by, you’ve passed the sign. (If you’re stopped in traffic and can read the whole thing, you already have your answer.) It also goes by way too fast to get the whole number and if you’re the one that’s driving, forget it! The first time I saw a sign on that trip with Jimmy, I let out a yelp and jolted him out of his Ipod-induced stupor. Of course neither one of us remembered any of the numbers on that pass. Another sign came up further down the road and as we waited for the screen with the number to come up, we tried to split up who would remember which part, but first we had to argue about whether it started with 800 or 888, which made me forget my numbers. The next time we finally got our assigned numbers and tried it with both 800 and 888. We eventually got a recording that wasn’t much help, but we thought we had the dam traffic problem solved forevermore.

Not so. When Grandpa and I were on our way back to Nevada, I whipped out my trusty cell phone and dialed the saved number – and it was the exact same message that Jimmy and I got in April. You would think that if they made the effort to post those electronic signs, they would change the recording from time to time – say, when there’s a major backup – but no, the message is the same. We have since found no way to check dam traffic without being there to see it for yourself. And that’s enough to make you use the other version of that dam word!

We stopped in Kingman on our way back to fill up the gas tank and get some real food (we finally maxed out on the snacking). I asked the woman at the checkout counter about the dam traffic and she confirmed that the recording is always the same and there’s no way to check traffic status. I asked if she had heard anything about the traffic that day, and she said that everybody said the dam traffic was BAD. I said okay, I guess we’ll go through Laughlin. She said that she heard that the Laughlin traffic was also bad. Great news! I moved on to the adjacent restaurant to order some food for us. Dad came in and started loudly questioning me about whether or not I’d be able to make it back to Vegas without going to the bathroom again (catching the interest of all of the bored truckers in there), so I gave him an assignment: Go and interview people coming into the mini mart and find out if they have just come from the dam direction. See what they say about the traffic. Off he went without complaint.

He came back with the report that the dam traffic was really bad. Of course, everybody he talked to was coming towards Arizona instead of leaving it (like we were), but they said the backup going towards Nevada looked worse than theirs. We decided to go through Laughlin. As we left the mini mart, we got a merry wave and good luck wishes from several groups of people. That’s Dad for you. Quite the sociable guy. If only he had more time, I’m sure he would have distributed a few Book of Mormons.

Of course, nobody told us that there is major road construction between Laughlin and Las Vegas, and it’s a single lane going each direction most of the way. But we eventually made it home and were happy to make it!

The trip to Arizona was over but the adventures with Grandpa weren’t. More still to come!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Adventures with Grandpa – Episode #2

One thing you must remember when traveling with Grandpa – no matter whether you’re driving or letting him drive, you can’t win. If you get behind the wheel, he thinks it’s because you doubt his abilities, think he’s getting old, or just plain don’t trust his driving. If you stand back and let him get behind the wheel, he wonders why he has to drive when you know where you’re going better than he does and besides, you got more sleep last night than he did (and who doesn’t?).

Heaven help you if you are driving and you let him hold the navigator (GPS). The first time I took a trip to Utah with Dad after I got mine, we were driving around one rainy night in heavy traffic, trying to find Jill’s new apartment. I was exhausted and getting a little cranky (I know, nobody has ever seen me get like that), and the navigator was telling me to turn here, turn there, and make a U-turn when I thought I knew where I was. I finally dragged my eyes away from the road to see what Dad was doing, only to see that he had been rotating the navigator every time I made a turn, making the navigator “think” that we had gone the wrong way. It would recalculate the route and instruct me to make another turn. At that point, Dad made the comment that “this thing really isn’t much good.” I was ready to snatch it out of his hands and toss it out the window, with him right behind it.

Anyway, back to the current trip.

It started to rain shortly after we left Vegas, and we had varying degrees of rain the whole way. In some places it was raining really hard, mainly when I was driving. I began to get concerned about the cedar chest in the back of the pickup, along with the stuff in our suitcases. I mentioned it to Dad, and he said that there was nothing to worry about. He said that at our rate of speed, the water would just fly backwards off the truck at an angle that would prevent the stuff in the back from getting wet. Besides, the cedar chest had so many coats of sealant on it that he didn’t think some water would harm it. In case I forget to mention this later, he was right. In spite of the many hours of rain we drove through, nothing got wet.

Anyway, I found that like many other men I have known, Dad doesn’t like to turn on the windshield wipers until you have already had your nervous breakdown and are ready for the straightjacket. Picture this: it’s beginning to rain. He doesn’t seem to notice. More and more rain is clouding up the windshield, and he doesn’t turn them on. Now you can barely see, still no wipers. It’s raining harder and you think, okay, any minute now, any minute now … when you have gone around the bend, he finally turns them on – to “mist.” And then he wonders why you are banging your head against your window.

Something happened as we were exiting the freeway onto the highway that eventually goes to LR's house. I was driving, and it had been pouring buckets of rain for a long time. A river of water was running off the highway. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous. I worried about hydroplaning, but I hoped that the truck was heavy enough, especially with the cedar chest in the back, to keep it on the road. As we were exiting the freeway, though, I felt a complete loss of traction under our wheels and we began to glide. Our momentum kept us going, but I had a sensation like I had years ago when I was idling our boat on a windy day in Lake Mead harbor, waiting to put it back on its trailer; like we were drifting towards danger and I had no brakes to stop it. I mentally prepared for the danger and tried to remember if you’re supposed to turn into the slide, away from the slide, whatever it is you are supposed to do to try to regain control. The thing is, though, we didn’t slide. Although I could feel nothing under our wheels, we exited the ramp, went straight down to the bottom, and I managed to pull the truck to the side of the highway to get traction again to stop at the bottom. I can still feel the strange sensation that I felt, and it felt like we were gliding on angel’s wings. And maybe we were. Come to think of it, maybe even Angel Ardyth, my mother.

Dad, who had been napping, stirred and asked, “Are we there yet?”

Stay tuned for the next episode …

Adventures with Grandpa -- Episode #1

I’ve decided that it’s about time I started documenting some of my fun times with my dad, aka grandpa. We have our ups and our downs, but in the end we have fun, and there’s usually a story to tell!

Our most recent adventure was going down to St. John, Arizona, for Angela’s graduation. Dad had been promising LR and family that he would go visit them down there, and I decided to tag along. Gina needed to be here in Las Vegas for the Lincoln County High School state playoffs for track and baseball (I think that’s what it was) because she takes pictures and writes articles for the Caliente Blab (more officially known as the Lincoln County Record newspaper), so she couldn’t go with him. I had initially resisted going because I would have to take a day off work, and I already burned up a lot of vacation days this year for Joanna’s wedding. But it was all for a good cause, right?

Anyway, Dad needed to take his truck this time because he had built a cedar chest (oops, almost called it a “hope chest” – how politically incorrect!) for Angela that he needed to take to her. At first he said that we would be taking the old truck, which would have been a bit dicey, considering its lack of air conditioning, no cruise control, unreliable speedometer, and loud engine noise (attempting any kind of conversation with Dad in that vehicle would be a bit challenging, to say the least), not to mention the dusty smell that cannot be removed from a truck that has been driven down many a country “road” with the windows down. Thankfully, Dad eventually decided that we would take the “work truck.” I was in charge of finding some audiobooks for us to listen to while we were traveling. I’ve done this many times in the past, with a few successes and many failures, but I was ready to give it another try!

We got up (fairly) early on Friday and started for Arizona. The first thing you need to know about traveling anywhere with Dad is that snacks are not an option, they are a necessity! Dad always says that he isn’t hungry, but he can polish off a bag of nibbles like nobody’s business! Actually, I’m quite good at it, myself. One of his favorite things to bring is grocery bags filled with popcorn he's popped himself, usually well coated with yummy butter. He has a tendency, though, to add too much salt for my taste, causing me to guzzle my Diet Dr. Pepper, further causing more needs for “pit stops” along the way, prompting Dad’s memories of traveling with Mom (and making him wonder if I need the “Detrol Discussion” with my doctor). I SWEAR, it’s the salty popcorn!

Advantage of being in Dad’s truck: It’s his truck and I don’t get irritated when he tosses his popcorn “old maids” and miscellaneous trash on the floor.

Disadvantage of being in Dad’s truck: It’s his truck and anything edible that accidentally falls on the floor is “ruined” (in my eyes) and “still good” (in his). Case in point: one of my favorite treats is Teddy Grahams, especially the chocolate ones, and I usually get a box or two for us to nibble while driving. This time I had only the one box, so when I passed it to him while I was driving, I gave him strict instructions not to spill any! He faithfully attempted to obey, but when we stopped for gas, it tumbled to the floor and some fell out. He immediately scooped them back into the box. Needless to say, that box was now his and his alone!

This is getting a bit long, and I’m just getting started, so I’m going to do this in several sections. More to come later!