Saturday, October 31, 2015

Allie the Alligator

Before relocating to South Florida in 1973, I assumed that wild-life other than assorted birds and earth worms lived in zoos just like in NYC. I never saw a live snake slithering anywhere I lived in New York with the exception of my childhood summers spent in the Catskill Mountains. It wasn’t until after we moved to West Broward in South Florida and I was greeted by a rat snake on my walkway that I realized my new home was, according to the map, in the Everglades. As far as the natives, meaning snakes, assorted lizards, humongous frogs, and the grandest Everglades’ beast of them all, the alligators, were concerned, I was poaching on their turf, and they weren’t relocating.
            Shortly after moving into our home, my then young sons came running into the house screaming, “There’s an alligator in the storm sewer.”                 
After visual confirmation of what I hoped was a prank, I called 911. I was told not to stress because the “gator” would find its way back through the drainage pipe into the lake opposite my home. Because this beautiful body of water was really part of the South Florida Water (Everglades?) system, it is home to beasts that liked humans for snacks. Experts assured me that the chance of Allie the Alligator leaving the lake and crossing my neighbor’s property and then the street to my front door was slim. However, my lush greenery was home to the other Everglades inhabitants like possums and snakes. During one hurricane, my husband and I sat safely in our living room and watched in horror as the wind blew snakes out of the Areca palms that lined our property.
It took about 10 years for me not to care if a lizard dashed in through an open door. They don’t bite and are more afraid of me than I them. Also, they usually die within a day. If a small frog invades, and I hope I don’t gross you, I put a plastic cup over it. The next day I use corn prongs to remove the almost lifeless creature and toss it onto the grass.
            Whenever I see a snake near my house, I head to the supermarket and buy boxes of good old moth balls. Google says they are the same as snake repellant products and much cheaper. I sprinkle the balls around all my entrances and throughout the garage. Friends know that if they approach my home and smell the camphor, I spotted a snake on my property.
The active-senior community where I now live, about 40 miles north of our first Florida home, is near two nature preserves. Many of the retirees who are from northern cities incorrectly believe all the alligators in this area of Palm Beach reside in those two locations. Neighbors who fish in our man-made lakes claim they have seen small gators. As of yet, I haven’t spotted one, but you’ll never catch me walking near the water.
Unlike my previous home, my present home is on a lake (that is also part of the same system linked to the “real” Everglades). The first time my Atlanta family came to visit, my grandson tied his dog to the palm tree near the lake so it would not wander.  His father, who was sitting on the patio, sang, “alligator bait” repeatedly. My grandson has two parents raised in South Florida. He needed no explanation of his father’s song. The pet was quickly brought into the screened area.
            Recently my granddaughter visited me during her spring break from college.  She likes to jog at night.  We have guard gates, and supposedly it is safe for young girls to jog alone in our community, but I always worry about potential danger. My heart rate soared until she returned and immediately informed me the jogging path was filled with walkers and joggers. She knows of my propensity for worrying for what is supposedly “nothing.”
            The next morning an email came from our property manager with a picture taken around sunrise that day of a 6- 8 foot alligator. It was in the middle of the main road that borders our jogging trail—the very trail that my granddaughter was on just a few hours before.  As of yet, Allie the Alligator hasn’t eaten the bait in the trap that has been set. However, my granddaughter did her evening workouts in the gym for the rest of her stay. Who would have thought an alligator would reduce my stress!  

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Electronically Challenged


I was one of the last of my peers to buy a Smartphone. When I posted the news of my purchase on Facebook almost two-years ago, my Atlanta son who never comments on my stream but monitors my posts for my infamous spelling errors, wrote, “Return it IMMEDIATELY.”

            Those friends who didn’t know of my total lack of fine motor and electronic skills as he did, objected. One wrote, “I’m ten-years older than your mom, and if I can learn how to use it, so can she.”

Unlike them, my son also knew I didn’t read directions that showed anything more than the location of the on/off switch. Almost two years later, I will admit I’ve only mastered a few features, so my son and friends were both partially correct. I can take pictures—sometimes—and then post them on Facebook, a socially acceptable way to brag because here friends can ignore the post if they chose or hit “like” if they truly care.

It took almost one year to learn how to enter phone numbers, but I still can’t delete old ones even though I have even been shown twice. I’ve learned how to text, but only individuals, but I can send one email to multiple people.  I still have yet to activate the phone’s voice and probably never will. If the computer that types my dictated text or email can’t understand me, I’m not sure it is worthwhile to turn on the voice feature. This morning when composing an email, I said “all okay” into the phone’s microphone; however, “ooo k” appeared on my screen.

            My husband and I bought the car I am driving before we purchased our cell phones. Our dinosaur phones were compatible with the car’s Bluetooth device. They worked faithfully, and the driver’s phone was automatically connected. Not so with our new phones. Keeping them connected was like attempting to stand still while inside of a revolving door. The phones somehow adversely affected our navigation system. We were making more trips to the dealer than the doctors—and neither is a great way to spend the day. After replacing three car radios—thankfully under warrantee—one mechanic at the dealership finally found the cause of the problem. My husband’s cell phone, a Window’s model, was incompatible with the car’s radio/Bluetooth/navigation system. The mechanic then disconnected my husband’s phone from our car’s Bluetooth device. Hubby looked as if someone told him he could no longer have permanent custody of our television’s remote.

As soon as we were home, he researched and found out no “cure” was available for his phone’s incompatibility problem. Hubby had no choice but to remain “bluetoothless” until our cell phone contract was up.

Ironically, even though his phone is disconnected, somehow when he is behind the wheel, the screen on the navigational system/radio keeps changing. Even worse, my phone is automatically disconnected. It makes me wonder if electronic devices can be haunted by bad electronic memories.

 I have mastered the Words With Friends app, but the music and communication apps frustrate me. Once I had the music on, I had so much trouble turning it off, I never used it again. Our alarm clock broke, and I attempted to use the one on the cell phone. It actually worked the first time, but not the second. No clue what I did wrong, and since we almost missed an early morning appointment, I bought a new, old-fashioned alarm clock.

Recently, I took the reading list for my community’s Book Club to the library only to discover that most of the books were on hold, or they didn’t stock them. The librarian said some of them might be available to check out electronically. I thanked her, too embarrassed to say that I didn’t own a Kindle.

I drove home thinking that perhaps it was time I purchased an electronic reader, after all, “everyone” else I knew swore by the electronic books. My fear of not being able to learn how to use one was preventing me from partaking in Book Club.  “After all,” I said to myself, “I am learning to use my phone—slowly, yet learning.”

That night, after researching on Google, I decided to purchase the Kindle with the fewest gadgets and did so the next day. 

I would like to say I have mastered al the in's and out's of using the Kindle, I would like to ....but can't. Give me another year and I'll let you know.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Hometown? Hm


            “Where are you from?” my neighbor asked my visiting cousin.
           “How far back do you want me to go?” he responded.

             My cousin lived in three states before settling in the Midwest about 50-years ago. So where is he from—the city listed on his birth certificate or the place he lived most of his life?  Living parts of your life in multiple geographic areas is quite the norm for many folks, including me. Today my knee-jerk response to the “where are you from” question is “South Florida,” but obviously once someone hears me say “worta” instead of “water”, they know it wasn’t always that way.

In the late 1960’s, my husband and I moved from Queens, New York to the same area on eastern Long Island as my brother. A new, mutual friend of ours looked puzzled when I told him I was from Queens.
            “But your brother is from Brooklyn,” he said. “Didn’t you live together?”  

            Big Bro was ready for college when our family relocated to Queens, but I still was in grade school. My earliest vivid memories take place in Queens, my brother’s in Brooklyn. Hence our very different responses to, “Where’re ya from?”
            My husband and I moved to Plantation, a city in South Florida in 1973 along with our two young children, so I’ve lived here for well over half of my life. Our sons were raised there, and I collect a Florida teacher’s pension. I haven’t thought of myself as a New Yorker in decades. A few years ago, a comic who entertained in my “seniorville”—a community made up of probably 90% or more transplants from northern states—justified my current response as to my hometown.  
            “You’re a native Floridian,” the performer told his audience of retirees,” if you were here before ninety-five.”
            The “natives” in the audience howled because we realized he was referring to I-95, not someone’s age. The bulk of the audience in my over-55 community, relative newcomers to Florida, had a blank look on their faces. They were clueless that I-95 wasn’t completed thus connecting our area to the rest of the highway until the late 1980’s. 

            Shortly after we moved to Florida, years before Google Maps or a GPS, we asked a new neighbor for directions to a museum in Miami. “Can you drive on a highway?” the person asked.

            After my husband nodded, our neighbor advised us that our destination was very far—almost an hour’s drive. My husband replied—without cracking a smile—that he felt our family could handle the excursion.

That day I learned two interesting things about most of our new neighbors with respect to road travel. First, only those few who learned to drive on highways or parkways on an almost daily basis didn’t fear getting mowed down by a tractor trailer while merging onto I-95. My driving skills were honed on The Interboro, a narrow, curvy road connecting Brooklyn and Queens. Hubby received his training on the roads and bridges connecting the Bronx with the rest of the city.

Second, I became aware of the fact that to many people living in Florida a long time, anything more than 45-minutes in a car each way constituted an over-night trip to people who didn’t grow up spending half of their Sundays in traffic to and fro visiting relatives 50 miles away.

Forty years later, neither my husband’s nor my driving outlooks have budged. However, even though we insist our hometown is Plantation, we credit the city of our birth with giving us the skills needed to drive on South Florida’s highways, especially the fifty-mile trip from Palm Beach to Miami. We have no trouble crossing— in less than a mile—the five lanes at the southern end of the Florida Turnpike which lets us then merge onto I-95 South and then immediately cross five more lanes and enter the express lanes without either of us going into cardiac arrest.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Google It
Almost ten years ago, my critique group, (writers who edit each other’s works), had just finished reading a chapter in my manuscript.  “You wrote that snakes sleep at night as part of the dialogue. Is that true?” a well-published author questioned.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “The words suited the situation, so I used them.”
“You can’t give misinformation especially in children’s’ books,” she warned. Her next words didn’t exist when I was teaching a few years prior. She said, “Google it.”
 In the early 1990’s,  the time the internet arrived in my home along with “Ask Jeeves,” a search engine. They foreshadowed ending the need for updating my World Book Encyclopedia with a costly year book. I grew up with encyclopedias at my fingertips, as did my sons. No need to head to the library for research. Google still eliminates my need to leave home for research.
            Need a phone number, correct definitions or spelling or words, research on anyone or any event, self-diagnose illnesses, cure for gnats in your home, simply Google it. Voila! The answer appears on your screen. If I had realized how Google would eliminate privacy, I would not have written under a pen name.  Google was in its infancy when I submitted my early works for publication. I wanted anonymity in case my work bombed—no need to ruin or mar my maiden or married names. Google has made anonymity a thing of the past.
 All a search engine does is list information. Wise researches learn to check the source of the article or even the information. However, even knowing the source isn’t always helpful. If a restaurant only has one bad review, remember, no one can satisfy everyone all of the time.  The infinite numbers of customers, patients, and/or clients who are satisfied rarely take the time to say so on various Google sites. I am beginning to think that there should be a limit to bad reviews remaining posted.
 Once, I Googled my father’s name only to discover information on Ancestry Dot Com also is not one-hundred percent reliable. Their site had him born in Russia years before his real birth in Brooklyn. His marriage and death information was correct, which is why I knew the researcher never knew my father. After calling them, I learned that if someone posts false facts on a family tree, and then copyrights it through Ancestry Dot Com, the incorrect information shows up on a search.
 Two map sites, Google Maps and Map Quest, do not always suggest the best routes. I had to go to Miami Beach recently. I am familiar with the area, but Googled the address I needed. Both sources advised me to exit the parkway too far north. I called a friend who gave me the correct exit from I-95. My GPS was wrong by one exit, not two like the Google sources were. All routes were technically correct, but mine was at least 15-minutes faster.
But most of the time, if I check the source especially with respect to researching the facts behind a docudrama or foods that can help or hurt certain physical conditions, Google has become my “right arm.” My husband gets annoyed with what he calls my Google addiction, especially if it ruins how a television series (he prerecorded) ends—which I recently did.
The day after that fiasco, I could not find my glasses. I asked him to help me. He did—kind of. “Google it,” he said, and left the room.
            I guess there are some answers, right or wrong, not yet posted on Google.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Keyless Nightmare

At one time, every key I needed was on one ring, including the key to my classroom.  This helped me avoid having to spend hours each day retracing my steps, looking for my keys. I could not start my car unless I had all my keys, so there was no chance any needed one would remain in a purse I used the previous day. If I had to get into my parents’ home and eventually my children’s, there was no chance the key wasn’t with me.

Throughout my teaching career, I had a spiral stretchy on my key ring. After I parked at work, I opened my belt—those were the days my tops were always tucked into my pants—and slipped it through the stretchy. I was able to open every door and file cabinet throughout the day without once having to search for my keys. Never were my keys left in the ladies’ room or in the teachers’ planning room. They did not come off of my belt until I returned home at the end of the work day.

The only snag to my plan for a stress-free life with respect to my keys was the whereabouts of them within my home. I had (and still haven’t) disciplined myself to put them in the same place when entering the house. Since this was an ongoing problem, like finding my car in the supermarket parking lot, I made sure the keys were on top of my purse before turning in for the night otherwise I risked being late for work.

I shed the stretchy when I retired for only one reason. Friends said it didn’t make a positive fashion statement. After I drove to my destination, the keys were tossed into my purse. When departing, it was not unusual for me to have to dump the contents of my bag to find my keys. However, once I realized that what goes in eventually must come out and provide me with the necessary tool to start my car, I no longer fretted about my keys.

Last year, we needed a new car. My husband insisted we purchase a keyless one which meant I would need a fob to start the car. As long as it is near the vehicle, it could to start. Hubby’s rationing was that this engineering was the wave of the future, and if we bought an old-fashioned car that used keys, it would have less resale value. Cars come under his domain in our home—cooking and laundry is mine—so I listened. Big mistake.

First, the fob feels like a one pound lead weight. When I did my daily power walk with it attached to my other keys, it felt like I was walking with a weight in one pocket. Obviously, it had to come off the ring. For the first time in the 53 years I am driving, my house keys and car “key” are no longer on one ring. I keep the fob in my purse, but this in itself causes a problem. I have lost count of how many times I have left the house, locked the door, got in the car and it would not start. Angrily, I had to retrace my steps and retrieve the purse I carried the day before where I would find the fob nestled in a pocket.

Reverse the above frustration. I drove to our community’s clubhouse only to discover my keys needed to open the locked door never made the trip. Things have gotten worse, not better.

The other day I went food shopping. When done, I exited the store and headed for my car. I placed my hand on the magic spot near the trunk and nothing happened. I stood in the blazing South Florida summer sun and searched my purse to no avail. I dumped the contents into one of the plastic shopping bags. How on earth was I able to drive here?  Then I remembered Hubby Dearest was standing next to the car when I started it and backed out of the garage…






Thursday, August 1, 2013

Words With Friends Friends

Words With Friends Friends

During my lifetime I have developed different categories of friends, as we all have. Like most people, I have family friends, social friends, work friends, organization friends, and neighborhood friends. There are inner circle friends—the ones on the wedding and special occasion celebration lists—and outer circle. They are people you like, but for a zillion reasons never you invited each other to dinner, but will send get well cards if needed.

During the last decade, I developed a totally new class of friends—social media friends. My Space was where I got my feet wet. On this site few folks used their real names for fear of the unknown. As my “friends” on this site fled to Facebook, our aliases were discarded. Clever folks found ways to circumvent the false names and eventually most of us “friended” each other on Facebook. These people became my core group of the newest category of friends, Facebook Friends. Not only did I have these fantastic literary friends to share with, but the best part of Facebook was allowing me to renew contact with relatives I otherwise would have lost touch with. Seeing their families as they grow, gives a new closeness that otherwise might never have developed. The highlight of my day is when my grandkids post pictures or are tagged in pictures. It gives Hubby and me the feeling that even though they are grown and miles away, we still actively share their lives.

About a year ago, Facebook introduced a new category of friends to me: Word With Friends friends. The scrabble-like game has become addicting. Even as I write this, I stop every few sentences because I am playing games with my Atlanta son and two of my friends. Luckily, none of us has a boss that can look over our shoulder.

Words With Friends has reunited me with a cousin’s ex, someone in a zillion years I would never even think of calling. (This cousin doesn’t read my blog, so cousin who does…it isn’t your ex J ) This gal is a Words With Friends “high scorer.” I’m getting there, but still have a bit to go. Anyway, I play Mah Jongg with another WWF high scorer. I handed her my cell phone—the one I bought so I could play WWF no matter where I am—and asked her to play against this person for me. She put in a 42 point word allowing me my first win. (But there have been others that I have won without cheating.)

I’ve also reconnected with friends from the past, some who were just acquaintances, others outer circle, but through this game, it seems like we were and still are BFF. What amazes me the most about this game is people who have no time to make phone calls, spend all night playing. I even sent an instant message to one friend during a game who I haven’t spoken with in months. “Time for a chat?” I wrote.

“Too busy,” she replied.

Facebook, which shows who is connected, showed me that this friend didn’t turn her lights out for hours. Communicating for her, like other loved ones, is best done by playing the game.

Last week it rained all Sunday, both here and I think Atlanta. For one hour back and forth I played WWF with my son, just as we once did on rainy days when he was a child—only then I had to pretend I “goofed” so he would win. Now when I win, I think he is pretending he didn’t see he opened a triple-word score for me.

Words With Friends has answered the question that has perplexed me about the younger generation since texting became the rage. How can we communicate without communication? (I know this is from Flower Drum Song) It’s a common complaint my generation has about the “texting generation.”  But now I know how—start a WWF game. When the player responds, you know he or she is alive and well. If not, if they are friends who have crossed over the border to phone friends, you can call and inquire about their health. Otherwise, assume the obvious—they played too well for you or you to well for them.

I would make a dinner party for all my WWF friends, but I’m not sure we would have much of a conversation now that we spend hours each night communicating with mainly two or three letter words, some even ending in “q.”


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Camp Paws and Post Menopause

A friend just told me that the local Humane Society has a one-week day camp for elementary school-aged children. The experience gives the students an opportunity to  learn the needs of animals and how to care for pets.

 As I listened to my friend tell about the things her grandchild learned, my head was spinning with ideas. I thought that it would be a great idea for active senior communities like mine to run a day camp for local children. It should be done in conjunction with the Humane Society where the children would spend the first week.  By the end of the second week, which is the one spent in Seniorville, the young ones would realize that both pets and folks on Social Security have a lot in common.

Pets and old folks have unconditional love for little ones who are kind to them.  Pets give sloppy kisses to humans. Seniors give candy kisses (when parents allow) and real kisses also, unless of course the children are at the age where it will mortify them. It’s weird they never mind Fido’s kisses, but somehow Granny’s and Papa’s hugs can be embarrassing to preteens. 

Another thing seniors and pets have in common is we don’t like to be confined.  Dogs like going for long walks or to Dogie Parks. Children can accompany hosting seniors to local amusement parks or game rooms that permit children—or even on a neighborhood walk where they can share experiences. Verbalizing might be hard for some youngsters who usually only text the old folks in their lives. I’m sure they learned at Camp Humane Society that they had to talk to the pets because Fido doesn't text. After a week, the kids might even enjoy the archaic way of communication.

Pets love attention and have their spirits uplifted after an afternoon or evening frolicking with their owners. Likewise, grandparents glow when showered with attention from children…of any age. True, few grandparents can run as fast as Fido does after a ball, but many are still capable of shooting baskets or playing a decent game of tennis  with the visitors. For those “campers” who prefer water sports, they can join the elders who are participating in water aerobics or pool volley ball.  

Seniors who use a walker or cane don’t want to be excluded from fun just like a limping pup wants attention too. There are lots of table games that youngsters could enjoy playing  with their elders—and these games aren't restricted to those gray-haired folks with aches and pains.  Like pets, plenty of people of all ages and physical conditions prefer being in air-conditioned comfort. There are numerous other non-physical games for children of all ages such as Gin Rummy, Dominoes  Chess, Bridge, Canasta or Mah Jong. These games, like rules pets must learn, are filled with rules players must master.

In Camp Humane Society, Fido gets the treat at the end of each activity from the “campers.” The roles are switched in Camp Seniorville.  Here the visiting children would be receiving the instant gratification rewards from their “owners. “ In fact, in this one category, camping with the elders is quite superior to Camp Human Society.  In Camp Seniorville, the children can be taken out of the community for a treat at any time during the day, be it ice cream or an indulging shopping spree. I know firsthand, the hosting seniors will gladly spring for the bill!  Now y’all know that is something Fido would never do!