Monthly Archives: December 2016

Toys: Then and Now


Merry Christmas!

What better topic for the little kid in all of us on Christmas Day than Toys!


Now that my wife and I have been grandparents for more than two years, it has been really enjoyable seeing all of the toys that are available now. And I must say my wife has done an outstanding job of bringing home lots of toys for the grandkids to play with whenever they come over. For me, having toys in our house again has motivated a nostalgic look back to the ones our kids had 30 years ago. Upon comparison, some of the toys are very similar to the ones we were buying for our kids then but others are quite different.

One aspect, which I am sure, is literally music to the ears of battery company executives is that so many toys now are electrified for lights and sounds using small disposable and thus replaceable batteries.


For example, 30 years ago many riding toys were pretty basic. Your child climbed on and either the child propelled himself by his own legs or was pushed by mom or dad. Not much else.


Now they come with realistic sounds, horns or engine noises and with some farm riding toys, even farm animal sounds as well.


Or it might be a traveling musical band decked out with keyboard and songs for the child to sing along.


Activity centers that can be activated by any number of nobs, keys or doors to emit a cacophony of different sounds have now replaced older ones, which often just had a bell that could be clanged by hand.


A word of caution, some of these activity centers need to be switched off after the child goes to bed as we have heard them start to make noises unattended on their own. Nothing like hearing “hello” or “goodbye” or “let’s play a game” suddenly in the middle of the night.


In addition to all the sounds that toys now make, many also have lights. Some are so bright as to even light up a child’s face.


And even a toy as simple as a door now has an incredible number of options for lights and sounds that I don’t think we have even discovered them all.   It’s almost like our smart phones, which those of us of the “older generation” rarely know how to use even 20% of their features.


And speaking of smart phones, there are toy versions that come with touch-activated “apps” for providing even more entertainment. Cell phones didn’t even exist when our kids were little.

There is no question that the addition of all the electrified features can keep a child’s attention focused on the toy even longer than before. But some of the toys we have wanted to get for our grandchildren were just some of the same basic toys that we witnessed our kids playing with growing up.


For example, here is our son demonstrating safe use of a simple slide on Christmas morning…


… and here is his own daughter almost 30 years later demonstrating an alternative, less safe approach. On your bottom, please.


One toy our boys delighted in playing with for hours was this little Fisher-Price garage. We thought this would be a wonderful toy for our grandson who also loves cars. But the modern version was nothing compared to the original and although finding a vintage one in good condition online is a possibility, shipping costs alone can often double or triple the cost of the garage.

But it is good to see that something as simple as a table and chairs…


…have stayed pretty much the same.


So what will future toys for our grandkids be like?


It’s probably too early to be buying dollhouse kits for our granddaughters but I can see there is definitely some interest there.


And I’m sure Legos and racetracks are toys in our grandkids future. But will the racecars be self-autonomous by then?


So what new toys did you discover on Christmas morning? Was it something new with lots of bells and whistles? Or was it a vintage toy that maybe you played with yourself growing up? Whatever it was, Christmas is a great time to discover new toys whether you are a child, or a parent or a grandparent. Enjoy your day with lots of play!

A Lot of Things Turning 50 This Year

Fifty years is a pretty significant milestone to achieve. But for me, someone who reached the age of 60 this year, hitting this half-century mark occurred over a decade ago. However, throughout this year as I anticipated the run up to my 60th birthday and even after I had moved well past the actual date, it was interesting to discover how many things actually turned 50 in 2016.

With my own sexagenarian milestone occurring in 2016, I might have been more attentive to other things achieving a significant milestone this year since I do not recall anything turning 50 in the last few years. But this year, each time I came across something turning 50, I tried to think back if I recalled its launch, creation, or introduction. After all, 1966 was the year I turned 10, an age that I certainly can recall memories.



The first memory that I was hit with this year was Super Bowl 50. I don’t recall prior to Super Bowl 1 whether or not I even watched professional football. But I distinctly remember watching this first game in 1966. Maybe my interest was piqued with the excitement of knowing that the outcome of the game would establish a world titleholder but since that first championship game, it has been a rare Super Bowl that I have missed.



Ironically, a common advertiser to these games, Doritos was also launched nationally in 1966. I know I don’t remember this event but I have certainly enjoyed some of the chips over the years, maybe even while watching the big game.



Although I didn’t watch it at the time, the TV series “Star Trek” was launched in 1966. My memory of this show is actually watching reruns in college over 10 years later. But the show started a dedicated following that lives on through to today.



A TV show I do remember watching though was “Batman & Robin” starring Adam West and Burt Ward. With the “POW” and “WHAM” signs being flashed across the screen whenever fights occurred, it would seem pretty cheesy today.   I can even remember going to a Batman movie, which probably starred the same characters and was no doubt, just as cheesy.

The miniskirt turns 50 this year although I don’t recall if I noticed its introduction when I was 10 years old. I think at the time, I was much more interested in cars. But I suspect by the time I became a teenager a few years later, that I was certainly noticing these super short dresses. My reminder for this iconic clothing item debut was a historical fashion exhibit I visited this year at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.


Turning to cars, who would have thought the Toyota Corolla turns 50 this year. But for such a boring car, I can’t imagine why anyone would even notice.  Much less celebrate.



Now a car turning 50 this year that holds a lot more significance to me is the Chevrolet Camaro because I can certainly remember its launch just two years after its predecessor and fellow “pony car,” the Mustang was revealed. For the April 17, 1964 introduction of the Mustang, I was only seven at the time but I can still recall the paper-covered windows at the local Ford dealership in advance of the date. In contrast, the release of the Camaro did not garner as much public attention or fanfare as the New York World’s Fair inaugural appearance of the Mustang but for me then at age 10, the launch of the Camaro certainly caught my attention. Although I’ve never owned a Camaro, it is a car I have considered purchasing and one I have always admired including the current retro model.


So for this being a milestone 60th year for me, it has been interesting to learn all of the things helping me to observe it by turning 50 this year. While all of these are 10 years younger than me, it is no less of a celebration that we have shared this momentous year together. Happy 50th!

No Longer a Teenager!



The 14th this week will mark a birthday of sorts. It will be 20 years that I have owned my white 1994 Mazda Miata, affectionately known as “the Marshmallow” (so named by one of our artist friends for its toasted tan colored top over miniature white body).


This is a significant milestone for me since I have owned and driven cars for over 44 years but have never owned the same car for 20 years. But no less significant is the fact that the car itself is now 23 years old (based on model year), and just two years shy of qualifying as an antique car.


The Marshmallow turned over 150,000 miles this year, not an excessive amount for a 23 year-old car, and I thought for its 20th birthday with me that it would be fun to look back over how it accumulated all those miles.

I bought the car used in December of 1996, the year I turned 40. It had less than 10,000 miles (9,536 to be exact), which was not bad for a car that was 3-model years old when I bought her. For the next five years, she became my daily driver, providing me transportation for my commute back and forth to work as well as all of the errands I ran on the weekends. It made a couple of trips to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where my parents lived at the time but other than that, it was all local miles.


That all changed in January 2002 when my oldest son needed to replace his 1989 Jeep that had died. That was when I offered to let him “borrow” the Marshmallow and I bought myself a new 2002 Miata.


At that point, the Marshmallow moved to Atlanta with him where he was in college at the time.

While at college with my son, she made a couple of road trips, once to the mountains of western North Carolina and once to Key West, Florida. And she would also provide his transportation home from college on holidays and summer breaks. Interestingly at the time, I discovered on Google earth that the Marshmallow had been captured in the satellite image parked on our street and at our son’s house in Atlanta, giving the impression that it could be in two different places at the same time—maybe a magic car?


After our son graduated from college and he moved to Austin, Texas for graduate school, the Marshmallow went with him. Over the three years our son was in graduate school, I lost track of the trips they took together so that part of her car life remains a mystery to me. I seem to think she might have made a road trip to Mexico during that time but I don’t know for sure.

What I do know is that after our son graduated, he left her in Austin as he was moving in a U-Haul truck to the San Francisco bay area for his first job. I then had to fly down there and drive her back to Memphis, the prodigal car returning home.

With her back home, I now had a choice of “red or white” for my morning commute into work. At least that is until my youngest son decided he would like to “borrow” her for his weekend car and took her to his apartment in town. During this time, other than running around town, her big road trip was back to North Carolina in the hands of my brother-in-law and nephew when they had to return home while the rest of their family stayed with us.


Then in 2007, my oldest son decided he would like to borrow her back so he would have a car in San Francisco. That year, he rode the train home for Christmas and in January drove it back to San Francisco. This was probably her longest road trip ever as Memphis to San Francisco is almost 2,100 miles (via I-40). On this trip, she really got a chance to see the country.


While she was a California girl, I would get to drive her whenever we were in San Francisco visiting. This included multiple top-down drives on the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway), as well as trips to Sea Ranch where our family gathered for Thanksgiving a couple of years.


And one year, I even got to drive her down Lombard Street in San Francisco, the crookedest street in the world.


This was before the San Francisco Fire Department ran into her while she was parked on the street. The damage almost totaled her but not quite so. Now she has a new driver-side door, which is hard to close, a continual reminder of her time in San Francisco.

Then in 2011 after our son got married and he and his new wife moved to New York, we had her shipped back home to Memphis, the prodigal car returning a second time. The day my wife dropped me off in the parking lot after her long cross-country journey on a car carrier, I was really glad to see her again. I drove her to work that summer day for the first time in many years. But on her return home that day, she was now greeted not just with a sibling Miata, but now a 2006 Mini Cooper S as well.


So now I had a choice of “red or white” or “red and white” for my daily drive into work.

At least that is until my youngest son decided to borrow her back and keep her at his apartment. While he kept her, her one road trip was when the two of us drove up for the day to the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Almost 20 years old at the time, I wanted to see how she performed out on the road. She did just fine.

Once our youngest son had his daughter, a Miata was no longer a practical second car to have and so she returned home once again—although this time it wasn’t to home but rather to our mid-town condo where I had a reserved, covered parking spot for her.


And this is where she lives now. Whenever I stay at the condo, I use her as my fun run-around car on errands or just out for a drive. Since she is 23 years old, she certainly has her share of squeaks and rattles. But when the weather is nice enough to put the top down, I get to hear her iconic exhaust note.


My plan is to keep her at least until she becomes an antique. No longer being my daily driver, she won’t rack up the miles over the next several years like she has in her first 20 years with me. In fact, she has belonged to me for so long; I just don’t think I can ever sell her. Who knows, in a few years, one of my sons may decide to “borrow” her back. Or even more exciting, maybe one day, one of my grandchildren will want to borrow her as his or her first car. At that point she will have become a 3-generation car, all in the same family!

Wednesdays With Granddaddy

Earlier this year, I wrote about how I was all set to perform my granddaddy duties for my in-town granddaughter once her parents had both started back to school. During the fall semester, this included picking her up from Parent’s Day Out on Friday, bringing her home to spend the night with us and then having her spend the day with us on Saturday. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed having her on these days.

On a couple of these Saturdays when my wife was out of town, I had her all to myself. With nice weather, we could go for a stroll around the neighborhood.


But once the weather turned colder, we looked for indoor activities, one of which was her first ever ride on a carousel at a local mall.


Another great discovery was simply taking her to my favorite toy store, Lowe’s, and letting her wander up and down the lumber aisle where there was nothing little hands could break. And on one occasion, we even got to meet a very friendly dog, a pet that my granddaughter seems to be smitten by.


But by far my favorite granddaddy duty always came on Wednesday afternoon when each week I had her all to myself. With her parents both in school at that time and my wife working, my granddaughter and I developed a regular routine.

Typically, I would feed her lunch and then let her take a nap. As soon as she awoke, we’d jump in the car and head to the Children’s Museum. It wasn’t long after we started these excursions that we would just be waved through the gate without having to even stop as they recognized us (and my car) from previous Wednesdays.


Our first stop would always be to check out the chickens, and roosters (and occasionally turkeys). At the time, my granddaughter was learning to make different animal sounds and seemed to enjoy hearing the sounds of real chickens and roosters. Then we would hop inside.


When we first started making these weekly trips, typically we would start off in an area designated for four-year-olds and younger. There she could play in the tree house with its big slide at the bottom…


…climb on the jungle gym…


…play with a little doll house…


…or stuff scarves into the air-pipe system…


…and watch them make their circuitous journey through the pipe maze and pop out the top to float to the ground.


Near this area was also a toddler size kitchen with cabinets, back splash, and counter tops nicer than those in most of my previous homes.


Placing her little hands under the faucet would elicit the sounds of running water and the churning of a garbage disposal, both favorites of my granddaughter.

As the Wednesdays rolled by, we began to venture into the bigger kids area and eventually would spend almost our entire two hours in those areas.


The model Mississippi river proved particularly attractive as it afforded a splashing opportunity as well as good fishing.


There was also a time when she decided to play the role of dental hygienist and demonstrate proper brushing technique, having to climb up onto the willing subject to reach his big teeth.


But one favorite spot each time was the disco room with flashing lights and 1970s music to dance by.


And over the fall, it was with delight as I watched my granddaughter grow and learn to master new activities.

Like the time when, without even understanding the significance of the “Xs” and “Os”, she won a game of wall tick-tack-toe…


…or the time, always attracted to anything musical, figuring out how to make sounds emit from the laser harp…


…and even learning to get on and off the seesaw (designated for five-year-olds and older) driving herself up and down all by herself without even a second child on the other end.


Our last stop each trip would always be the painted yellow brick road just outside the exit door. With a motion detector high up on the wall sensing my granddaughter walking up, she marveled at how the song “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” would automatically start to play to which my granddaughter would begin to dance. Typically we’d have to hear it play at least five or six times before we would head back to the car. Sometimes, this activity was cut a little short as they began to lock the exit gate.


It was then a short drive back to her house where her parents who had not seen her all day always greeted her warmly.

It was often with sadness we had to end our time together but joy in knowing that we would get to repeat the experience in just one week for another Wednesday with Granddaddy!