Sunday, September 29, 2013

Actually, a LOT of Trees Grow in Brooklyn

On this trip to Hoboken I had the idea that I wanted to do a touristy NY day. I looked in a guide book and discovered that aside from going to the Statue of Liberty (which I wasn't that interested in--especially climbing all those stairs) and to the top of the Empire State Building ($50 apiece for the express line--fuggidabowdit) I've already done everything touristy.

So I decided instead that Cynthia and I would ride the subway over to Brooklyn, roam around awhile, then walk back to Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge. I chose Brooklyn Heights as our destination because it's right on the waterfront facing The City (as it's called by locals).

Brooklyn was annexed into New York in the late 19th century. Here's a bit of trivia for you: had it remained an independent city Brooklyn would be the 6th largest city in the US--ahead of Phoenix, San Diego, San Antonio, and Dallas in the Top Ten.

It was a glorious autumn morning when we headed out. A PATH train ride into the city, a subway ride to Brooklyn, and a hour later we arrived.

By the way, these subways are even cheaper than taxis in Cuenca--$2.50 will take you a l-o-n-g way.

We were immediately impressed with how quiet and "leafy" the neighborhood is.

And were surprised to find a street that looked almost like it had been transported from our former home in Charleston.

As we wandered around we discovered beautiful architecture everywhere we looked.

After a lovely alfresco brunch we walked along the Promenade,

with incredible views of the New York skyline.

Then we took a stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge,

where we were treated to unique views of Upper and Lower Manhattan.

Thirty minutes later the walk was finished.

We stopped for an ice cream, did some shopping around Union Square, then headed home. An exceptional day!!

Saturday, September 28, 2013


You may recall that I had a bit of a struggle changing Aaron's diaper. In the spirit of full disclosure, there was an incident in the warmup round prior to us keeping the grandchildren on our own that I should probably share.

Our own kids grew up in the era of cloth diapers and safety pins. Disposables had just come on the market, but the early models left a lot to be desired. Mainly that they weren't particularly snug and pee or poop often ran down little legs.

Today's diapers have come a long way, baby. There is an extensive selection of brands, styles, and sizes for every age and situation (even for old folks--yikes!). One with which I was not familiar is the pull-up diaper. This turns out to be a sort of panty/diaper hybrid for kids like my granddaughter Addison who is in potty training transition.

She wears "big girl panties" during waking hours, a regular diaper at night, and a pull-up during naps.

The day after we arrived from Ecuador I was still weary from the journey. It was time for Addison's nap and I decided to lie down on a pallet on the floor for a siesta of my own.

When we woke up I was still a bit groggy. I put her on the changing table and pulled down her diaper for a quick wet wipe and switch to panties.

And there it was---a big, nasty, stinky glob of you-know-what.

You may also recall I previously admitted a lack of expertise and experience in this department. So I did the only thing I could think of.

I panicked.

I said, "Addison, don't move. We've got to get this thing off of you." I quickly discovered a significant design flaw with these transitional panties--they don't transition very well off the kid's body when they're full of poop.

So of course some smeared on her leg in the process of removing the diaper. I repeated, "Please don't move or touch anything, baby girl. I'll be right back!"

What do I do with this gross thing that I'm helplessly standing there holding at arm's length? Once again I did the only thing I could think of.

I threw it in the bath tub and ran back to the bedroom.

A pile of wet wipes later Addison was cleaned up. But no one had told me where her regular panties were. So I did the only thing I could think of.

I put her back in her bed bottomless and said, "Stay right here please."

I went downstairs and announced that Addison had a poop in her diaper and I had cleaned it up.

"Where is it?"

"In the tub."

"Where is she?"

"In the bed. Without panties. I don't know where they are."

At this moment my son and daughter-in-law were perhaps questioning the wisdom of asking us (I'm being diplomatic--asking me) to take care of their kids for four days. Thankfully Cynthia has ninja prowess in these matters, and I tried to compensate for my ineptness with a steady dose of fun.

Will I ever get the hang of changing diapers. Well, it Depends-----.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Toy Story

I remember when I was a little boy I had “toys” like empty spools of thread, a Bolo Bouncer (wood paddle with the little ball on a long rubber band), and a Hula Hoop. Later I upgraded to high tech gizmos like the Slinkie, and clamp-on sidewalk roller skates that made me feel like I was levitating when I removed them.

Goodness how things have changed. My son’s children have so many toys it looks like he and his wife found a toy store advertising a liquidation sale and made an offer on the entire inventory.

Every damn one of them makes a noise of some kind. Talking—singing—talking and singing—car noises—animal noises—talking, singing, car, and animal noises.

Not only when you’re actually playing with them. Just touch one and it’ll start mooing or singing a nursery rhyme. I discovered that when you repeatedly press the stomach of one doll it sounds like it’s singing a college alma mater song.

I’m convinced some of them are sight or even thought activated. You’ll be sitting there quietly reading, glance up, and suddenly a random doll will try to start a conversation with you.

I attempted to straighten up the playroom one night after the kids went to bed. By the time I finished it sounded like New Year’s Eve at Times Square. Try shushing a roomful of toys—they completely ignore you.

IPads. I admit it---I’m clueless. When we were taking care of the grandkids Cynthia asked me if I knew how to pull up one of Addison’s (the 2 year old) cartoon videos. I said, “Give it to her. She probably knows how to do it.” That’s because she called us on Skype by herself 6 months ago.

Sure enough, we handed it to her, she swiped her finger here and there, then sat down on the sofa to watch Winnie the Pooh. What can you say but, “Wow---.”

Thankfully I discovered that kids are still kids. Addison enjoyed sitting and drawing with me, or going outside to catch and kick a ball. Aaron, the little eight month old. laughed at my funny faces and played Paddy Cake with me.

I’m sure all these fancy newfangled toys and gadgets serve a great purpose teaching children and keeping them entertained. I’ll stick with making sure my grandchildren know how to play hop scotch and jacks.

And hopefully they’ll teach me how to use an IPad.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Hard Day's Night

Self-help gurus often recommend stepping "outside the box" as a way to learn more about yourself. Having uprooted our lives and moving to Ecuador over three years ago, I can certainly attest to the wisdom of this strategy. I've discovered how to live life more fully than I could have ever imagined, plus relished reviving dormant talents and interests like art and writing.

But you can also learn a lot about yourself by doing something you haven't done in awhile.

Like taking care of two babies full time after 35 years.

We had planned on visiting our family in the fall anyway, so when our son told us he and his wife wanted to attend an out of state wedding and asked if we would consider watching our oldest granddaughter(2 years, 3 months) and grandson (almost 8 months) we jumped at the chance. Up close and personal time with those babies? Absolutely! Our two children were a similar age difference and we did what we thought was an admirable job with them all the way to adulthood. How hard could four days be?


We arrived a few days early to experience the flow of daily life before we took over. We babysat part of a couple of days to get warmed up, then were on our own starting last Thursday afternoon. The rest of that day went well and we were feeling good about the long weekend ahead.

Then Friday morning arrived------.

Aaron is first to rise and usually wakes up around 6:15, so I was surprised to hear scuffling outside our bedroom at 5:30 (4:30 Cuenca body clock time, which is uncharted territory for the Staton's. We're accustomed to getting up after the sun). And that I was alone in bed. I sensed my assistance was needed and stumbled out the door.

Cynthia was standing in the hall holding Aaron with a panicked look on her face. The two dogs were scratching and barking behind the master bedroom door. "I've accidentally locked the damn dogs in there and don't know how to get the door unlocked," she hissed.

Talk about unintended consequences. She'd closed the door to keep them quiet because it was too early to feed them. That strategy had obviously failed, and now she couldn't shut them up!

Let me tell you about these beagles. They're fed twice a day, and every time they act like death row inmates awaiting their last meal before execution. An hour and a half or so before when they're fed some diabolical alarm clock goes off in their brains and they start relentlessly following you around thinking it's time to eat.

Like zombies from "Night of the Living Dead" they just keep coming no matter what you do. Ignore them--fuss at them--shoot them point blank with a shotgun--look down and there they are, hovering with a hopeful look on their faces.

So now they're trapped behind a locked door and going nuts. Cynthia's panicking, I'm half-asleep, and Aaron's looking around with a "What the hell's going on around here?" expression. Somehow Addison is thankfully sleeping through this hullabaloo.

We find a nail to stick in that little hole next to the knob and unlock the door. I quickly feed the dogs so they'll shut up then go downstairs to make some coffee.

Even with all the early action I apparently wasn't fully awake, because I find myself staring at the entire filter basket of coffee grounds I somehow have managed to dump all over the counter and kitchen floor. You don't ever want to do this so just trust me--that's a LOT of little, tiny coffee grounds. And they're everywhere.

When you spend time in someone else's home you learn where the dishes, silverware, and cooking utensils are. How about the whisk broom and dust pan? Or the Dustbuster? Uh, not so much----.

I've been up like 10 minutes and already I feel like a zombie from "Night of the Living Dead." I'm aimlessly wandering around--turning on lights--looking in closets and cabinets--rambling around in the garage. I've got to get this mess cleaned up before the kids and dogs come downstairs, so I'm on my hands and knees at 5:45 in the damn morning improvising with what I can find--a huge yard broom, cookie sheet, and a ton of wet paper towels.

Can you picture this scene? Funny, right? At the time I was not amused.

We clear those early hurdles and the morning actually goes pretty smoothly. After lunch Cynthia is putting Addison down for her nap and I'm on the floor playing with Aaron.

Uh, oh--I smell something. I know what that something is. Great, I get to change a poop diaper.

Since I was working a lot when our own kids were little I didn't participate in this gruesome activity too often. But that was way back in the days of cloth diapers and big safety pins. With these modern diapers I'm thinking, "No problem. I'll go knock this out."

I plopped Aaron on the changing table, got a new diaper ready, undid the soiled one--and stood there in stunned silence gazing at a gigantic train wreck of gag-inducing feces.

How was this possible? The poor boy just shit half his body weight. This looked like what a baby elephant would excrete.

I was frozen in disbelief. Aaron was not.

Instantly his hands shot down to--well, you know where his hands went.

Now I'm freaking. I desperately grab some wet wipes and barely stop his poopsicle fingers from going into his mouth. I get his hands clean but now what?

I need one hand to fend him off, one to lift his feet, and a third I don't seem to have to wipe his butt.

I'm trying to use my elbow like a sword to parry his constant thrusts (in my panic it doesn't occur to me to hand him a toy to keep him busy) and contain the damage. Like the morning coffee grounds, I'm finding crap in impossible nooks, creases, and crannies. By the time I get him cleaned up and re-diapered I'm pouring sweat and "pooped" in a different context.

Ah, but there's still the little pj's he's wearing that have to go back on. The kind with about 50 tiny snaps holding it together. In my inexperience I'd undone every one of them top to bottom Superman-opening-his-shirt style when all I really needed to do was unfasten the few around his legs.

I'm clumsily snapping as fast as I can and he's thrashing around like a fish out of water. At this point I'd love to give up and call for assistance but these four days are just getting started and I've got to do my part.

He gets upset with my plodding pace and starts crying. Great. If he disturbs Addison's nap this is going to be a l-o-n-g afternoon so I scoop him up half-snapped and run down the hall to the playroom. I shut the door and say, "You do what you've gotta do because I have to get you back together before Cynthia comes in here and wants to know why I'm putting on your pajamas in the middle of the playroom floor."

Sometime after 9 PM, we stagger across the finish line of Day One. We're starving and exhausted, but all we really want is a big glass of wine and some peace and quiet. We're wondering what we've gotten ourselves into. I think I ate a peanut butter and banana sandwich before collapsing into bed.

For what will be a 5 AM start time tomorrow----.

There's a happy ending to this story. It turns out that we were just a little rusty after sitting on the bench for so many years. Every day got progressively better and by the last night the kids were in bed as we relaxed on the couch watching the Emmy's and eating a bowl of peach ice cream.

Would we do it again? I assure you we would and we will!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Outta Here

In a couple of hours we leave for the States to visit our precious family. Since it's once again a chilly, overcast day in Cuenca I couldn't be more ready to leave for awhile. Hopefully this consistently miserable weather we've had for the past three months will be outta here by October.

I have to say we were rock stars in consuming the contents of our refrigerator and pantry this time. It looks like a college guy lives here. And we actually have some meals waiting for us in the freezer--all proof that when you do something enough you really do get better at it.

The bags are packed and the boarding passes printed. Only small challenge is the very beginning of the journey--our flight from Cuenca to Quito has been cancelled. Ouch. We've been assured the airline will graciously switch our reservation to another carrier once we're at the terminal, so we're gonna show up with all our luggage and crossed fingers. That's the way we roll (plus we have no other option).

This trip has a bonus in store for us--we'll be in charge of our oldest (2 years 3 months) and our youngest (almost 10 months) grandchildren for four days while our son & daughter-in-law attend an out of town wedding. It's been quite a long time since we were in that role and we know we'll be pooped, but it's going to be so much fun! Plus there's a nice, long visit with grandbaby #2 before we come back. We're looking forward to a great trip!

So we've got a granddaughter walking and talking, a granddaughter about to start walking, and a grandson crawling. It's amazing that when we visit next spring they'll all be walking and by this time next year we'll have three little kids instead of babies to play with. It's been such a joy and blessing to go back often enough to personally enjoy this truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Well, we'll be landing in NC in about 24 hours. Can't wait for some warm, sunny weather--and the warm, sunny smiles of our dear family. Wish us luck at the airport!

UPDATE: We're sitting in the terminal with boarding passes in hand. Everyone was so nice and so helpful. Looks like we're on our way!