Recently I read a question online from a man who was asking whether he was too old to get a tattoo – at age 40! Every comment I saw reassured him that he wasn’t too old at all. (And that it both costs less and hurts less than he had imagined.)
I found this discussion particularly interesting because my husband and I both waited until we were over 60 to get tattoos. I started getting mine (I have three) approximately seven years ago. Dan got his first one just this month. My tattoos are two punctuation tattoos that are linked to mental health issues and one that represents my lifelong love of books. Dan’s is a bear paw, which represents his “spirit guide.”
(I know that non-native people who say they have spirit guides is problematic, as they are part of Native Americans’ spiritual beliefs and religious practices, which shouldn’t be appropriated by outsiders. I discussed this with my husband, and he said that he considers the bear his spirit guide because of a dream he had in which a bear literally led him out of danger. But I digress.)
Both of us are considering at least one more tattoo – a peace sign with doves for him and a compass rose or a yellow rose for me. Tattoos are sort of addictive. I never expected to get another tattoo after my first one, but here I am.
I’ve heard various theories about why people get tattoos. Some say it’s a form of self-mutilation that flouts God’s law of respect for the human body. Some see it as one point in a spectrum of “body modifications” that include piercings and whatever those things that stretch earlobes are called. Others say tattooing is a practice that indicates membership in a “tribe” – bikers or chefs, for instance. Still others see tattoos as a sign of rebellion – a statement of defiance against social mores. (This claim is particularly often voiced when the tattoo-ee is a young person.) Then there are those who believe that a tattoo is an outward sign of an interior belief – love for God or for one’s mother, for example.
What’s the motivation for me? Aside from the punctuation tattoos, which have a specific meaning related to mental health, I consider my book tattoo purely decorative (although I guess it also proclaims my membership in the tribe of bibliophiles and writers). Dan’s is more of the interior-belief sort, a reminder of an experience that was deeply meaningful to him.
Some people scoff at tattoos because of aging. They say that tattoos acquired in the heedlessness of youth will be regretted when the skin becomes distorted by age, and elastic and crepey skin. But I don’t mind. The aging of my skin is a fact of life, one that I am not fighting off with expensive creams and lotions. That the tattoos will change too is a given. Neither of these facts is something to be mourned, however, at least not by me. In fact, the reality of change is a part of every life and I would be foolish to think it wouldn’t affect my skin art. Since I got my tattoos late in life, that also means that they have less time to fade than ones acquired at a younger age would.
But so what if my tattoos age? My stack of books will crinkle like the pages of an old book. That’s appropriate. And not enough reason not to get tattoos.
Last week I wrote about our trials and tribulations getting to and from Ireland. This week, I’m going into the more enjoyable parts of the vacation. And there were many.
In the Boyne Valley, we wanted to see Newgrange and Knowth, two ancient stone tombs. We had booked a tour in advance. Unfortunately, we got lost on the way there and missed our appointed time. Dan was able to get a picture of the Newgrange monument from the road. When we go back to Ireland (whenever that may be), we want to spend several days just in the Boyne Valley so we can see everything at our leisure. We could also take a bus into Dublin to see the Book of Kells and other historic sights and sites.
(We also never made it to the Giant’s Causeway for the same reason. We had a drive into Northern Ireland, though, where they take pounds and pence instead of euros. Someone told us it wasn’t all that great or interesting anyway. I would have liked to see for myself. The pictures of it are pretty spectacular. But I digress.)
After the Boyne Valley, we stayed at Brook Lodge in Donegal, probably my favorite of the hotels and bed-and-breakfasts that we were booked into by our travel company. It was a very homey place, where we could sit at the dining table and watch the host make us an Irish breakfast while she and Dan discussed gardening.
One of our excursions while we were staying in Donegal was to Arranmore Island. We drove to Burtonport and took the ferry over. Once we were on the island, I wanted to find a pub and get lunch, but Dan insisted that he wanted to see something, such as the lighthouse on the island. We got thoroughly lost again. What we saw were sheep, one of which ran ahead of our car down a one-lane, rocky road. (In addition to sheep and lambs, many of them apparently newborn, we saw cows and some horses in fields throughout the country. We also saw a lot of wind farms, which makes sense because Ireland is usually windy and rainy, though we had excellent weather for the first six days or so of our trip. Even the locals remarked on it. But I digress again.)
We never did find the lighthouse that allegedly existed on Arranmore Island, but we did find our way back to the landing in time to have a drink and a snack in a pub and catch the last ferry back to the mainland. I considered the jaunt a success for those reasons, lighthouse or no.
Our next stop, on the way to Galway, was in the small town of Cong. You may never have heard of it, but it was the place where the John Wayne-Maureen O’Hara movie The Quiet Man was filmed. That’s one of my husband’s favorite movies, so I made sure we would have time to see the place, and on his birthday too. Dan tramped around the town and took pictures of the commemorative statue. While I checked out a local inn, he went shopping. He had sworn that while in Ireland he was going to buy a walking stick and a clock.
(Dan has a history of buying clocks while abroad and managing to pack them well enough in dirty clothes to get them safely back to the States. He brought a clock back from England once. But I digress some more.) He found his walking stick in Cong, and a nice tweed Irish cap. (Getting the walking stick out of the country was another matter. It had to be inspected for insect life at the airport and stowed in the overhead compartments on the planes, which was a challenge. But I digress yet again.)
The Cliffs of Moher, about an hour from our b-n-b in Galway, was one of the scenic locations we didn’t get too lost to see. It’s a spectacular set of cliffs with a great view of the Atlantic Ocean. (It was a foggy day, so we didn’t get good pics. We bought t-shirts and mugs instead.) Being somewhat mobility-challenged, we were able to get a ride to the viewing area in a golf cart type of vehicle, cunningly called “The Lift of Moher.” Our guide told us that scenes from one of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movies were filmed at a cave at the base of the Cliffs and that the Cliffs themselves were featured as the “Cliffs of Insanity” in The Princess Bride.
Next we stopped in Shannon, about half a mile from Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. We had booked the Medieval Banquet at the castle and saw part of the park while on our way to that. It featured replicas of thatched-roof cottages and other relics of Irish ways of life in the olden days.
I knew the banquet was sort of hokey and definitely touristy, but I had been to it on a previous trip to Ireland and also knew that it was a lot of fun. They welcome you with a cup of mead (honey wine) and present you with a lavish dinner that you have to eat with only a knife and your fingers. And one of the dishes was ribs. (They did let us have actual utensils for the dessert, but it was apple cobbler, so they kind of had to.)
Our visit to Ireland wouldn’t have been complete without a stay in Dingle, thought by many to be the most beautiful place in Ireland, or maybe in the world, according to National Geographic Traveler. Dingle is another seaside town and had some of the best seafood we had in Ireland. There was a little hole-in-the-wall looking place across from the plaza in this photo, but I had an enormous bowl of amazing mussels there. Actually, the seafood was terrific all through Ireland, which makes sense given that it’s an island. Fish and chips were served at nearly every restaurant and you could have smoked salmon every morning for breakfast if you wanted to (which we sometimes did).
We also went to see the Uragh Stone Circle, which we had high hopes for. But it turned out to be not nearly as impressive as Stonehenge, which we saw on our trip to England a number of years back. The stone circle was only eight feet in diameter and the standing stone only ten feet tall. Still, we had an enjoyable day tooling around the countryside and chatting with a couple who were collecting stones and shells in Dingle. We didn’t do the entire Ring of Kerry because it takes five hours, plus stops for photos, and by that time we weren’t enthusiastic about driving for five more hours, no matter how scenic the trip.
Then it was on to Athlone, not a well-known city, but one I remembered from a previous trip. We were put up there in another swanky hotel. The view out our window of Lough Ree was spectacular. There was a small island that contained a stone said to mark the exact center of Ireland. Athlone gave us access to some of the most beautiful ruins, one of my must-see stops, and one of the most historic establishments in all Ireland. It was a perfect way to round out our trip.
Clonmacnoise is one of those sites where churches, monasteries, and other sacred buildings were erected, attacked, destroyed, rebuilt, raided, destroyed again (and again). Because of that, there are a number of impressive ruins. There is also a great museum with examples of imposing Celtic crosses and stone carvings, and the history of Clonmacnoise. I waited there while Dan tramped around the site because the day was very cold and windy and I hadn’t worn enough warm or waterproof clothes. We also toured Athlone Castle, another historic site.
Near Athlone was one of the destinations I most wanted to visit – the town of Tullamore. It has historic connections with a canal that linked the town to the rest of Ireland in the 1700s. It was also the site of perhaps the first aviation disaster, when a hot air balloon crashed and started a fire that resulted in 130 houses burning down.
But what really made me want to go to Tullamore was the fact that it’s the location of the distillery of my favorite whiskey – Tullamore Dew. (Sorry, Jack Daniels. For some reason, Tully is the preferred spirit of many attendees at science fiction conventions, which is where I learned to appreciate it. Yet another digression.)
Of course we took the tasting tour. They welcomed us with an Irish coffee made with the local tipple, and then it was on to view the fermentation tanks and the aging barrels. Along the way, there were more tasting sessions, including one of the various styles of the whiskey that I never even knew existed. The gift shop was also impressive. I now have a Tullamore Dew t-shirt and a Tully shot glass. Dan bought a ceramic crock of Tully, which he also managed to pack and transport safely to the US, and which we’re saving for a special occasion, or maybe another science fiction convention.
Also in Athlone is Sean’s Bar, which bears the title of the oldest continuously operating pub in all of Ireland. I had a pint of lager while Dan went to the antiques shop next door. There he purchased his clock for the trip, a really lovely Art Deco piece which also made it home safely. (I was dragged over to the shop to see it and to help Dan bargain down the price.)
That was our last real stop in Ireland if you don’t count the Dublin airport and a Dublin airport hotel, which I don’t.
Our recent trip to Ireland was a combination of the sublime and the ridiculous. Ireland is a marvelous country and our time there was sublime. But getting there and back was ridiculous.
It all started (or didn’t, actually) when we got to the airport in the evening to discover no one was behind the airline counter. A few phone calls later, we discovered that the airline had changed the flight time – back in December – and we never got so much as an email from them about it. So we missed the flight to Ireland by approximately four hours.
There were no other flights out that evening, though they had one the next day. Unfortunately, since we were officially no-shows, we had to rebook and pay more money. I spent considerable time on the phone with our bank and credit card company too, trying to shift money around so we could still go.
We had already stowed our car in the non-airport long-term parking and didn’t feel inclined to retrieve it and go back home. So we had to get a hotel room and spend the night. Even that was a trial. None of the hotels that had vacancies had shuttle service to the airport and one of them didn’t even have hot water. So it was Uber for us both that evening and in the morning. At last we got on our way, but we had missed one day of our vacation, spent it in a Best Western instead of an Irish bed-and-breakfast, and already cut into our less-than-extravagant budget.
When we finally arrived in Dublin, we rented a car and set off to our first hotel. The vacation company had booked us into swanky hotels for the first and last stops, presumably on the theory that we’d be exhausted at those points. We didn’t stay in Dublin, because I was dubious about driving on the left in a big city the first day we got there. Instead, we went to the Dunboyne Castle Hotel, which is a little bit away from the city and just as impressive as it sounds.
Our first real b-n-b was in Donegal, and it was in many ways my favorite of the places we stayed. Brook Lodge was a regular house with a comfy bedroom (and en suite bathroom, which all our accommodations had) and a lovely woman who cooked us breakfasts while we watched and Dan chatted with her about gardening.
Our first real stop was a ditch on the way to Brook Lodge. It was 11:00 p.m., we were spent, and we ended up on a one-lane road that stopped at a cattle gate. We managed to get turned around, but went off the side of the road. Fortunately, we had a small flashlight with us (Girl Scout training came in handy there) and Dan took off down the road to find some help. I waited with the car.
Within half an hour, Dan was back with a great couple who drove us and our luggage to Brook Lodge, then came back the next day to pull the Toyota out of the ditch and magically remove the dent so that Hertz wouldn’t make us buy a whole new car when we turned it in.
(The Tom-Tom GPS that came with our rental car was useless and for most of the trip we used Google Maps on my phone. Dan did the driving as I was too nervous to do it, and I did the navigating as he wasn’t able to do both at once. But I digress.)
It was another ridiculous story when it was time to return to Ohio. When we went to catch our plane (after far too long driving around the airport trying to figure out where to leave our rental car), we arrived at the counter only to find that we couldn’t board the plane. Naively, we had thought that our COVID triple-vax cards would be sufficient for travel to the US as they had been going to Ireland. But no. We needed an antigen test. Since the testing site was in another part of the airport and our plane boarded in 30 minutes, there was no way we could get the test in time. There were no other flights that weren’t booked solid for four more days.
I got on the phone with the airline and spent a good hour and a half with them trying to figure out a solution. Eventually, we achieved one. There would be a plane that we could take – from Dublin to Newark and Newark to Chicago and thence to Ohio. And it wouldn’t take a four-day wait. Only two.
Again, we had no choice but to find a hotel room. And just as the flights were booked, so were most of the hotel rooms. We found one that had two rooms left and quickly snagged one. (It was an accessible room, with all kinds of extra equipment in the bathroom. We didn’t need the pull cord for the nurse, but some of the other accommodations proved handy because my husband and I are somewhat mobility-challenged. But I digress again.)
So we spent two days in a Dublin airport hotel, except for taking the hotel shuttle to the COVID testing site at the airport. (Need I say that we both tested negative?) I suppose we could have taken buses to explore the city, but by that time we were both beyond fatigued and demoralized, not to mention out of money. We spent the time playing Mille Bornes, which we had for some reason brought with us, and reading and playing solitaire on our Nook e-readers. And trying to get a charging cable for my phone in case I needed another marathon session with the airline. The hotel provided one. They kept the cables people had left behind for six months, then handed them out to anyone who needed them.
We were enormously relieved to get home and retrieve the kitties from the vet where we had boarded them. We immediately started saving to go back to Ireland, though with a few lessons learned.
There’s lots more to tell and show, but I’ll leave the more sublime parts of the story – and the photos – for next week’s blog, when I’ll no doubt digress again and again. More sublimity and more ridiculosity to come…
I hope when you see this post, I’ll be out of the country, in Ireland. (I say I hope because I’m not altogether convinced that the WordPress schedule-your-post-for-later function will work the way I want it to.)
I’ve traveled to Ireland twice before, once with my mother and once with a group of Catholic writers and editors. (Why? The company that sponsored our tour wanted us to round up our readers for a tour of our own.) They were both epic tours in different ways.
Now I am going back to Ireland with my husband, who has never been there. It’s kind of a second honeymoon for us. Our first one was when we were rather poor. (We paid for our wedding cake with food stamps and our reception was a potluck. But I digress.) Our honeymoon was spent camping and whitewater rafting and sleeping in a treehouse, which is another story.
Since then we have traveled a lot together, including to England, Croatia, and Benson, AZ. (That last trip was inspired by a song of the same name which was the theme song (about special relativity) for a low-budget science fiction movie, Dark Star, that practically no one has ever seen. But I digress. Again.)
We scheduled our Ireland trip last fall when we could lock in plane fares. My husband’s nephew is a travel agent and he made all the arrangements for us, up to and including getting the airlines to send one of those beepy cart things to our gate so we could make our connection without having to run while carrying luggage. He also took care of renting us a car in Ireland and making B-n-B reservations in places we wanted to stay. We’re going to be driving around and visiting lots of scenic and historical places, which his nephew was also kind enough to send us notes on and how far each is from where we’re staying. The nephew’s name is Michael Reily and he’s on Facebook, if any of this inspires you to book a trip.
Since then I have been planning like a madwoman. I’ve written about this before in my post “Preparing for the Normandy Invasion.” And that was about a three-day trip. This time I looked up directions for getting to every town, castle, or spot we want to see, plus a scenic tour by boat. I even emailed a pub to ask if we needed to reserve a table. (No.) I booked reservations for eight different sites and events and printed out confirmations. I even paid for them beforehand, never knowing how much I paid because I can’t (yet) convert dollars to Euros in my head. And I got compression stockings for the overseas flights, as they give me cankles.
One of the things I made sure to tell Dan’s nephew about was that we wanted to go to the town where the movie The Quiet Man, one of Dan’s all-time favorite movies, was filmed. His nephew even arranged it so we could visit the town on Dan’s birthday. I may stake out a seat in a pub while he explores, since that isn’t one of my favorite movies. (I wonder if I can get a map of the area so he doesn’t miss anything.) We’ve even booked a very touristy but entertaining Medieval Banquet that I enjoyed on one of my earlier trips. For culture’s sake, we’ve also booked the local Folk Park as well, which has replicas of thatched-roof cottages as well as gardens. It sounds like a great place to take pictures.
Speaking of pictures, I found out that my iPod and my phone will post them directly to Facebook, so you may have already seen some of them by now. (I wasn’t afraid to give away this little bit of information about us being away from my home, since none of my Facebook friends are burglars, and most live in some other state. But I digress. Again.) The photo included here is not one I took. It’s of the Giant’s Causeway, which I hope we will have seen by now.
So far, the most difficult part of the trip was getting both our cats to the vet for boarding. We have one that escaped from his carrier when tried to take them for their shots. So it’s buy another, sturdier carrier or ferry the cats in two trips.
The only thing I wasn’t able to overthink was how to practice driving on the left side of the road. I hope I’m doing it right – I mean left.
Help me pay bills while I’m away! Make a one-time donation.
We talk about shopaholics the way we talk about alcoholics – as though it were some sort of addiction, presumably one that can be treated through a 12-step group (though I’ve never actually heard of Shop Anon). Alas, that’s not the case. Those of us who have spending problems largely have to go it alone. Our friends are more likely to enable us than to talk us out of it.
In the past, I’ve had spending sprees that focused on music. I still buy CDs occasionally, despite the fact that most music is now in the form of downloadable mp3’s. I tried to fight my urges by, first, buying CDs secondhand and second, dividing them into columns, or rather, stacks.
There was a previously-owned music shop (the music was previously owned, not the shop) in town called Second Time Around. Way back when, they sold vinyl record albums. My high school friends and I haunted the place and picked up music by our favorite artists. (At the time, we never considered that we were depriving those artists of royalties. Later in life, I was once inspired to send a quarter to an author I knew because I had picked up one of his books in a used bookstore. But I digress.)
I wandered through Second Time Around, picking up everything that caught my eye (or ear) and piling it up in my little basket. Then I would retreat to a window ledge and sort the CDs into different piles: Must Have, Would Be Nice, and Don’t Really Need. I would buy the Must-Have discs and a couple of the Would-Be-Nice ones, but abandon the Don’t-Really-Needs. Using this strategy, I arrived at a total that, while not totally within my budget, missed it by only a little.
This strategy has served me well over the years. Now the baskets are virtual, but I still fill them up with whatever attracts me and delete as needed (or not needed).
Over the past months, though, my overspending has kicked into overdrive and my doorstep has filled up with Amazon and UPS packages. Nowadays, I over-buy items we may need for our trip abroad (planned for the spring), such as power converters, sweaters, scarves, umbrellas, and guidebooks.
The other item I’ve been jonesing for is pajamas. I work at home, at my computer, so pajamas are my daily uniform. I have shelves of pajamas in my office closet and a few more upstairs in my dresser. I have nightdresses, nightshirts, flannel pajama sets, fleece pajama sets, shorty pajama sets for the summer, and a number of pairs of pajama bottoms that I can pair with the nightshirts for in-between weather.
Pajamas are one purchase that works well with the “stack in the basket and weed” strategy. My husband has been helping me curb my spending. He asks helpful things like “Is there enough money in the bank account?” and “Do you need more pajamas?” I explain to him that the pajamas, particularly out-of-season ones, are on sale at really good prices.
One thing that does keep me from buying pajamas with such wild abandon is the shipping prices. If the shipping costs more than the pajamas, I wildly abandon them – though with regret. I suppose I could rack up the total to where I’d get free shipping, but that feels like cheating on my attempted shopping abstinence.
Travel items and pajamas, I tell myself, are not really so bad. I used to have a thing for jewelry. Now that I work at home, I never go to places where I need to wear necklaces or earrings. So, really, I can skip the jewelry and just buy pajamas. Or else found my own Shop Anon group – perhaps with my husband, who has a comparable problem with seed catalogs.
Help me pay for pajamas! Make a one-time donation!
It isn’t that our marriage is bad. But we had been growing apart. That is to say that my husband and I like different TV programs. I like cooking shows, though I never actually make any of the recipes. He likes classic movies from the ’30s to the ’70s, especially science fiction, the cheesier the better. (One of his favorites is Robinson Crusoe on Mars.)
I’m a big fan of science fiction, but not generally the movies. They all seem to involve superheroes, comics I’ve never heard of, the alien threat of the week, or mindless high-tech violence. (My distaste for superhero movies was challenged when I discovered I love Deadpool, which contains plenty of low-tech (though scarcely credible) violence. Deadpool is really an antihero rather than a hero anyway. But I digress.)
It’s not that I dislike all movies from the early days. I think My Man Godfrey is good, Arsenic and Old Lace is the best serial killer movie ever, Harvey is funny and touching, and Twelve Angry Men is superb. But so many old movies contain rapid-fire dialogue that I can’t make out (think Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby) or women with high-pitched, shrill voices hollering (as in Born Yesterday, which is otherwise a really terrific movie).
Dan objects to my cooking competition shows (such as Top Chef, Chopped, and Beat Bobby Flay) both because they bore him and because they sometimes drop live lobsters into boiling water (he still calls Emeril Lagasse “the evil cook” because he once dropped live crayfish into a hot skillet and joked about it). My husband’s tender-hearted. What can I say?
There is a competition show that we both like – Forged in Fire. I don’t know why I like this, but I do. I tend to like competition shows where the contestants have to make an actual thing that requires skill (which may be why I like Project Runway, too, which Dan doesn’t).
When Forged in Fire comes on, we retreat to my study to watch it, instead of being in separate rooms watching separate programs. (We go to my study because there is something wrong with the Roku in the living room and it doesn’t get all the same channels.) I also got him to watch Ink Master with me. He didn’t want to like it, but he got hooked on it.
Recently, though, we’ve been binge-watching a few series, generally a few episodes a week, which is our version of binging. I’ve selected the shows carefully to entice Dan into my study. We started with Star Trek: Picard, which we will watch weekly once it starts up again (unless episodes with Q are a major factor). The same with Star Trek: Discovery. Recently, we’ve begun watching Resident Alien and The Orville. Both of these are comedy sci-fi series, so they satisfy my husband’s needs and are perfect lures. And we both like some documentaries. Occasionally we watch a movie, or Dan watches one while I fool around on my computer – at least we’re in the same room.
There are some drawbacks to meeting in my study. There are only two chairs and one of them is my desk chair. Dan is more amenable to joining me if I let him sit in the comfy chair. And he has to have snacks (popcorn and/or nuts), crumbs of which get strewn about the carpet.
There are also some pluses. Dan is always too hot and I am always too cold. Fortunately, the study has a window he can open and a blanket I can wrap up in. There is a little tray table to put beverages on and a Mr. Coffee machine if either of us wants tea or cocoa (neither of us is addicted to coffee).
Carefully chosen TV programs and a comfortable study have thus brought us together, ending weeks of separation in the evenings (or in the daytime on our days off). I suppose that separation was the price we were paying for having TVs in two different rooms.
But now, we are closer than ever, both physically and emotionally. It’s rare to find TV shows that can do that.
My husband is the last person in the universe who still doesn’t have a smartphone. He says it’s because he doesn’t want a phone smarter than he is. Personally, I think it’s because he likes to flip it open and yell, “Beam me up, Scotty!” just to confuse the telemarketers.
Not that he gets calls from telemarketers. He always gives my phone number when asked for his, making me effectively his secretary. Confirm a doctor’s appointment? The mechanic says the car is ready? Someone from work? I take a message. Sometimes it’s his own mother who calls me, if Dan’s not answering his phone (he usually isn’t) or she can’t leave a voicemail (he doesn’t know how to retrieve them).
But, as usual, I digress. I meant to talk about the evolution of watches and what we call them.
Once upon a time, a very long time ago, it was simple. There were watches. You kept them in a pocket, usually attached by some sort of chain. Then someone invented a watch you wore on your wrist, so someone else had to coin the terms “pocket watch” and “wristwatch,” just in case you couldn’t tell from context which kind was meant.
Watch technology was far from reaching its zenith, however. The next innovation was the digital watch, which lit up numbers the way your bedside clock does (at least until we got rid of the ones that had numbers on little cards that fell over as the minutes and hours changed). Some bright person realized we needed a way to tell that kind of watch from the kind with hands. Thus were born the “digital watch” (which has sort of died out) and the “analog watch,” the kind with hands that people under a certain age can’t read. Neither of the new watches made that comforting ticking sound.
Next came the mobile phone, which were actually really phones, not watches, except you could use them to call the time and temperature line, which still existed. At first, a mobile phone was a rich person’s toy, anchored somewhere in the car to impress passengers. Then completely mobile phones were invented. They began as big, blocky things with an antenna sticking out, which you can sometimes still see in old movies or episodes of Ab Fab. They got tinier and tinier, until they could fit in your pocket (assuming you were a man and had pockets in your good clothes).
That’s when watches began to morph into phones. Flip phones, such as my husband has, featured the time on the outside panel. Watches were on the way out. Larger watches still existed, aimed at teens. These were in bright colors and were called “Swatches.”
Suddenly, watches were obsolete. Everything now is done by phone. We’re up to smartphones, which everyone except my husband has, and which can tell you not just the time, but the weather in Istanbul, how to say “What’s the weather in Istanbul?” in Turkish, “What’s the best restaurant in Istanbul?” and how to get there. Unfortunately, smartphones can no longer fit in a pocket (unless you’re a man in a suit). Women have to carry them in their purses, where it’s almost impossible to hear them ring, unless you’re sitting near them in a restaurant. Fortunately, these phones take messages for those who, unlike Dan, know how to use that function. (To be fair, I hardly ever look to see if I have voice messages, which I guess makes me little better than Dan on that point. But I digress. Again.)
Now, however, there’s an even newer kind of watch, which you wear on your wrist (how retro!). I suppose it will tell you the time, if you ask it nicely, but its main function is to keep track of your bodily processes as you jog, walk, sleep, or whatever. It keeps track of your heart rate, your breathing, your oxygen sats, the quality of your sleep, your body mass index, your blood sugar, your exact position on planet Earth, and how much you’d weigh on the moon. (And probably some other parameters I don’t know – and don’t wish to know – about.)
I think these are called fitwatches, by analogy with fitbits, a trend from ages past (last month, I think).
But I call them snitchwatches. And I’m not getting one. I swear.
Help my husband buy a watch from this century! I’ll teach him to use it, if only so I don’t have to be his secretary!
Back in the day, I used satellites to find Tupperware in the woods. It was called geocaching.
Basically, you get a GPS unit and go to the Geocaching website. (No, you don’t need the GPS to get to the website. Just a browser. And a computer or mobile device.) Satellites in orbit around the Earth send signals that help you pinpoint a location and an approximate route to it. (They’re not dedicated geocaching satellites, of course. They perform some other function like mapping or spying.)
When you go to geocaching.com, you enter the zipcode of where you live or are traveling to, and it will tell you whether there are geocaches in that area and where they are. The trick is, you only get latitude and longitude coordinates.
You make your way to the site, which usually involves car travel and some walking, through city streets or neighborhoods or woods or swamps or off overpasses or in parking lots. When you reach the destination, you find…something.
And what is the cache? Well, it can be a Tupperware container or an ammo box or a film canister or a pickle jar or anything waterproof. Depending on the size of the container, there may be trinkets inside. The rule is take one, leave one. There is also a sheet of paper where you list your name and the date you found the cache. Then you return to the website and log that you found the cache – or how many times you tried and failed.
What makes any of this fun? You get to feel clever if you find the cache. You get out in the fresh air and walk around, while still avoiding other people. And you get to rack up points on the website boasting of the number of caches you’ve found. You can geocache alone, with a partner, or even a group.
What types of geocaches have I found?
First, there are the regular caches – the ones I mentioned that come in Tupperware and ammo boxes. These are usually relatively easy to find, located in hollow trees, dense brush, and once under an overpass. That one I missed at first, but a moment later realized where it had to be. I used the excuse of accidentally dropping my keys over the railing as an excuse to go back for it, so that no one would question why I was rooting around down there.
Another popular cache is the mini-cache. These are the ones that come in small containers. The smallest mini-cache I ever saw was a mouthwash-strips container that held only a log for leaving your name. That one was in a shrubbery in the median of a residential street.
Then there’s the micro-cache. These are so small that no trinkets can possibly fit within – just the log. I once found one of these logs wrapped around a 10-penny nail loosely stuck in a fence post.
Hide-in-plain-sight caches are often attached with magnets to some metal thing at the destination, such as an industrial station near a street or highway, or a lighting fixture in a parking lot. The back of the magnet or a strip of paper hidden behind it is where you leave your name.
Photo caches. For these caches, you take a picture of the location that corresponds to the coordinates – usually a scenic or historic building. You don’t post the picture on the GPS website, just the fact that you found it and the date.
Foreign caches. When my husband and I vacationed in Eastern Europe, we took along the coordinates of some caches there and we brought some trinkets to leave. One cache we absolutely knew the location of, but were unable to get to because a pile of snow intervened.
Puzzle caches. These may involve solving a code to get the coordinates or knowing (or looking up) the answer to a clue. Some are even more elaborate. One I remember was an acrostic made from the names of a series of books.
Wheelchair-accessible caches. There aren’t a lot of these, but they do remind us that the pastime isn’t just for the able-bodied.
Dan and I haven’t geocached lately, but our days of indulging may not be over. We intend to place a geocache in a nearby park. Will we use Tupperware? Maybe, but more likely a film canister with a scroll log and a pencil stub.
Too bad our GPS unit is as ancient as we are. We could also relive our glory days of hunting and finding.
I used to work third-shift at an alarm security company. At the same time, I was going to grad school and teaching English 101 at the university. The alarm company job was both vaguely interesting and supremely boring.
Basically, I was the person on the other end of “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” as well as monitoring business openings and closings and calling the cops or the fire department if an alarm went off in the middle of the night. I had to call the business owners too, and some of them were well beyond rude, especially when the call proved to be a false alarm.
I liked the job for the solitude – I was the only person in the building on third shift. (As you’d expect for a security company, the building was thoroughly locked down tight at night.) It was pretty quiet most nights, so I could read my assignments for the master’s degree and grade papers for English 101 while waiting for the alarms to sound. But on windy or stormy days there would be loud beeping from the machine spewing out false alarms and then the clack-clack of my IBM Selectric as I created the nightly reports.
One of the worst things about the business was that, what with both the job and grad school, I was frequently so short on sleep that I was afraid to drive myself. (Another worst thing was that the bosses would grant other workers time off for their kids’ school activities, but I couldn’t take off to study for a big exam. Or for any family-type holidays, like Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. But I digress.)
What does this have to do with bunnies, you may ask? The bunnies were an after-work, early-morning bonus.
My husband, saint that he is, would sometimes drop me off at the security company late at night and come to pick me up early in the morning, to drive me to the university. Often, he got there a little early and parked behind the building to sit in the early morning light for a few minutes while I neatened my area and punched out. Sometimes, he got there ten or fifteen minutes early, just to look at the small field between the security building and the house across the way.
When I finally got to the car, if we had a few extra minutes, we both contemplated the field and counted the bunnies. The field was a place where they gathered and ate and hopped.
The thing about bunny-counting was that you had to pay close attention to the field. The bunnies were well-hidden in the long grass. Only when a bunny moved did you really notice that it was there. A wiggle of the ears. A movement towards another clump of grass. Bright eyes looking around for potential predators.
Some mornings we spotted only one bunny, and that was okay. Sometimes, if we waited a little longer and really concentrated, we saw more than one. We took the number of bunnies we saw as an omen for the day. The more bunnies, the better luck we would have. A three-bunny morning was a pleasant way to start a pretty good day. Some days we saw four or five bunnies and felt ourselves blessed. Once we even saw seven bunnies. It was a spectacular day.
Now we live in a house where there used to be woods, but the trees are not there anymore. Still, sometimes we see baby rabbits in the spring and well-fed rabbits in the fall, making their way across our walkway and devouring things my husband has carefully planted. (We also see many squirrels, a very fat groundhog, the occasional deer passing through, and multitudes of birds and butterflies.)
Bunny-counting days are long gone. I don’t even know if the security building and the house with the bunny-field still exist. I miss the days when we would have a leisurely bunny stakeout as we waited for the day to begin. The morning light, the calm expectation, the excitement of spotting a bunny’s ears, the three-bunny morning – these are things I miss.
Over the years I’ve had some pretty terrible birthdays. Ones with surprise parties that flopped. Ones with unwanted presents. One when I woke up in excruciating pain from a back injury.
Usually, however, I have small, quiet birthdays, with my husband giving me thoughtful gifts that he has sometimes hidden away for almost a year. (If he can remember where he hid them, of course.)
But the absolute worst birthday I ever had was one when my husband wasn’t even there. He had gone to Pennsylvania to visit his mother. He had also sworn that he would be home by my birthday. One would think he meant that he would leave the day before and would be home for my whole birthday. One would be mistaken.
My husband likes to drive at night when the highways are less crowded. By this theory, he should have been home early on my birthday and been able to spend virtually the whole day with me (after, perhaps, a nap). That theory, also, would be incorrect.
Instead, what he proposed to do was leave Pennsylvania early on my birthday morning and be home in time for a nice birthday dinner. This theory was incorrect as well.
By this time, I was getting agitated. My birthday rendezvous with Hubby seemed to be slipping away.
It slipped even more when on the morning of my birthday, it turned out that he had to stay longer and do a few more handyman chores for his mother (in my opinion, the main reason he goes to visit her). That would have him leaving Pennsylvania at lunchtime (or after) and arriving before I went to bed. Technically still my birthday, but I tend not to do much celebrating after I’m in bed.
Eventually, he got on the road. The snowy, slippery road. (It was December.) He called me from along the way – though he knows I hate when he talks while driving – to report his progress. Passed through the tunnel. Over the mountain. How many miles closer to me.
Then I got the phone call that meant he wouldn’t be home on my birthday at all – and that immediately became the least of my worries. He had crashed his car on a bridge covered with black ice, going through a guardrail somewhere near a tiny town in PA, and was at the hospital.
In other words, I had to bundle up on my snowy birthday night and drive to Pennsylvania to meet him at the hospital. He couldn’t remember the name of the town, but he was able to tell me what exit it was just after.
Now, I’m not the best at driving in a raging snowstorm at night in the first place. Add the stress of knowing that my husband was in a hospital – somewhere – made me forget all about my birthday. Instead, I had to drive about 300 miles just to find out what had happened.
Once I found the town and once I found the hospital, I found Dan sitting up in an office, chatting pleasantly with a social worker. Not that he needed a social worker’s services, he was just wandering around the hospital, bored. There was not a scratch on him and his nerves were much steadier than mine.
We found a local hotel, since there was no way I was driving all that way back to Ohio in the snowstorm. We were hoping it would clear by the next day. And the hotel gave out chocolate chip cookies, so there’s a plus. Not a birthday cake, but at that point, I was satisfied.
When I finally did get a chance to see the car, I was amazed that the front of it was so smashed in, yet Dan was unharmed. I’ll say this for Jeep, they really know how to build in crumple zones and passenger capsules.
So, in a way, I can thank Jeep for the best birthday present I ever got, even if it was the worst birthday of my life.