Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Gratitude

Thanks for stopping by, especially on this, the single busiest travel day of the year.  Did you see that footage of cars on the freeway in southern California yesterday?  I've driven that very road, but in mid-April and, thankfully, at off hours.

If you're traveling today or at any time during the holiday weekend, please be safe.

I'm grateful for many things, as most of us are, but want to express a few brief thoughts.  Most of all, I am grateful to my loving wife and family, and most thankful that they're all healthy and productive.  And as I've mentioned here, our family will grow by one in about a week with the arrival of our fifth grandchild!

I am also grateful for my friends.  As I've mentioned here, I have a lot of friendly acquaintances but not as many true friends.  All of you know who you are, so thank you for being my friends.  Your friendship means a great deal to me!

I'm also grateful that I have a decent job, a good roof over my head and enough to eat.  There are many who have none of these, of course.

And with that, I'll thank you again for visiting, today and always!










Thursday, November 16, 2017

It's that time again

Good Thursday morning to everyone.  Or, should I say, early Black Friday?

That's right, friends, it's already Black Friday, and I haven't even had turkey yet (though I did prepare chicken last night).  The retail industry finally figured out that they might sell more products if they go ahead and start their sales early a couple of years ago, so now the television blares announcements about Black Friday sales here and there.

Think about this....we're not that far removed from the novelty of stores opening early the Friday after Thanksgiving.  Now they're offering drastic discounts roughly a month BEFORE that holiday!  Consumers rejoice, right?

Not quite.  Experts have long said that many of the "deals" to be had on Black Friday and Thanksgiving evening are not that attractive, and while they create traffic, they don't necessarily offer significant discounts on the latest and greatest items that we want for our loved ones and ourselves.  Seems that someone analyzed the actual models of televisions that were marked down for the occasion last year and found that in most cases they were not the current versions of those products.

I honestly don't know what to even say about the state of retailing these days.  Rarely do we make a major purchase without extensive internet research and, in many cases, placing an online order rather than buying it from a store.  Time was, you'd buy stuff from people who could also provide service if something went wrong.  Now the service aspect is such a rarity that it matters little where you buy your new whatever.

Recently I read an online article about a phenomenon called "showrooming," wherein people go to retail stores to see and play with a given item (let's say a tablet, for example), get some input from a salesperson, and then go home and buy it online from an entirely different organization.  I've done this, but didn't realize there was a name for it.

My wife, on the other hand, is a traditionalist.  When we bought her a new iPhone 8 Plus recently, do you think we went to the cellular carrier's retail store?  Or an electronics store?

No.  We went to the Apple Store.  And were treated with their usual care and appreciation.  But that's my wife's approach.  If I want a GE microwave, and there's a GE store, that's where I should go.  But I could certainly go on about the current state of retailing and how I now prefer to go online to buy most things, as the people selling them are often woefully underinformed about the products or services that they represent (as mentioned here recently, Apple is a notable exception to this).  Unless it's a clothing item and there might be a question of whether it will fit, online works just fine in my opinion.

As always, buyer beware....

We already have neighbors who have decorated their homes for Christmas, too.  One young family just up the street has a little one at home and so they went all out on the outdoor decor this year.  I've spotted a handful of indoor Christmas trees, too....and let's hope they're the artificial type!

We're still thinking about Thanksgiving, as my wife and I came to the realization last night that we have not discussed where we're having our family feast or what we're having!  Lexington has lots of places to buy turkey and sides, so I'm not all that worried.  I may have mentioned this in this space previously, but growing up my family opted for ham more than turkey (never did figure that one out) and so I relish (pardon the pun) the opportunity for a traditional turkey dinner.  And lucky me, I work for a company that is completely closed on the day after Thanksgiving, so I'll enjoy the holiday more than last year!

So it won't be long before we're writing Christmas cards, wrapping presents and sharing holiday cheer, but at least we'll have the chance to give thanks to our many blessings beforehand.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Apple gang

It's Friday, people....we made it!  Well, we will have when this day is over!

Apple has been in the news a lot lately, first for their new iPhone X (pronounced "ten" if you're scoring at home) and then for problems people were and are having with their iPhone Xs.  Problems like how typing "I" in the Messages app produces a symbol and "!" right alongside.  Like how it won't operate correctly in low temperatures.  Little annoying stuff.

But I give them credit, as they figured out how to fix both of these issues and pushed out a software fix yesterday.  My wife is always astounded at how frequently we need to update our operating software, and with two iPhones and three iPads between us, it takes a little while.

I also want to share some credit for the folks in the Lexington Apple Store (or just "Apple," I think).  Over the past few weeks my wife has commented that the battery in her Apple Watch (yes, we each have those, too) was wearing down more quickly throughout the day than it used to.  Conventional thinking would be that some application was running in the background, so I went through her Watch app several times and eliminated non-essential apps and processes from operating when not needed.  Still didn't help.

I finally suggested we go to the Genius Bar to have them diagnose the problem correctly.  That way, we'd at least know if it's a hardware issue, a software issue or something altogether different.  So we set up an appointment for this past Wednesday evening at 7:15.

We went to get a bite to eat beforehand and then stopped by her preferred women's clothing store, almost making us late for this appointment, but we walked in right on time and checked in.  The nice gal at the front of the store (they're ALL nice there, really) directed us to a table near the back of the store and that someone would help us.

A young man named Trevor wearing a black baseball cap and the ubiquitous Apple t-shirt came over and verified my wife's name and introduced himself, shaking both of our hands.  He made small talk as he completed a couple of forms on his tablet.  Then asked a few questions about my wife's Watch, and proceeded to connect it to his tablet.  "Well, your battery is in excellent condition, so that's not the issue."  That's a relief.

But what's causing the fast discharge?

He said they would have to send it to a repair center, but that doing so was completely covered by the AppleCare coverage we bought when we purchased both Watches.  Said it would take five days or less to have the Watch returned to us at our home address.  Trevor added that it likely was a software or even a firmware issue, and that the engineers at this repair center would have to "open it up" and identify the problem.  And if they couldn't, they'd simply replace the Watch.  Nice.

The entire process took about fifteen minutes, and was interspersed with additional small talk about their store fixtures (I have long said that I would be very happy to have one of those light wood tables as my "desk," and he agreed), other Apple products, including the newest version of the Watch that can use your cellular account and data to place calls, stream music, etc.  And there was also a little discussion about the iPhone X.

We shook Trevor's hand and moved to the front of the store, and I picked up an iPhone X.  Nice.  Kinda heavy.  But not as overwhelmingly appealing as I expected.  I suppose that it's not revolutionary ENOUGH to make me feel it's a must-have, since I have an iPhone 6 Plus with the latest version of the software.  My camera and internal processor is not the latest and greatest but both still work satisfactorily.  And I have other devices, so my gut feeling is that this is an essential for those who rely on the iPhone as their only computing device.

I'll look at it again, but I'm not quite ready to commit to buying one and waiting four weeks for it to arrive.  Not that my hesitance will slow Apple's mammoth holiday sales quarter in the least, of course.

Word is that Apple is going to follow suit and revamp their iPad line in a similar way, pushing the boundaries of the display closer to the device's edges.  Sounds interesting.

But it's a comfort to know that if I want to keep my Apple products for a while and encounter a problem that I can't address myself, they're there to help.  Service is such a rarity these days that I really am happy when it's readily available.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

"Thoughts and prayers" are simply NOT enough

Good morning, my friends.  Once again, we have experienced yet another tragedy in the United States that might have been prevented.

I say "might" because we may never know whether better controls on the sale of guns, especially assault-style weapons, would have prevented Devin Kelley entering a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas on Sunday and opening fire on the congregation, killing 26 and injuring more.

Blaming individuals or organizations for this specific act of unspeakable violence isn't enough.  The United States Air Force, of which Kelley was once a member, acknowledges that it erred in reporting his court martial for domestic violence to federal authorities.  And he was shot and wounded by a person outside of the church as he exited following the shooting, an act President Donald Trump lauded as the action of a "very brave person."

The President also told the media that it was "too soon" to talk about gun regulations, preferring to instead focus on "mental health" as the driving force behind this horrific event.  As I recall, he said roughly the same thing after the recent shooting at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas.  This isn't a great surprise, given the constituency to which many of his policies are aimed.

I noted with interest some online comments by pundits and others that wondered aloud what the President's reaction would be if the shooter's name were Arabic.

Since that event took place, the majority of our elected officials at the national level have once again asked for our "thoughts and prayers" as we remember the victims and their families.

That's not enough.

The United States leads the world, civilized or otherwise, in gun violence and gun deaths year after year after year, yet nothing happens.  I wrote in this space after the events in Las Vegas that it appalled me that nothing happened after the Sandy Hook incident, which claimed the lives of mostly children at school.  NOTHING happened in response.

We can all thank the National Rifle Association and its seemingly endless supply of campaign funding for members of Congress for this inaction.  The NRA has so successfully cowed so many of the current Congressmen and Senators that opposition to widespread gun ownership would result not only in loss of NRA funding, but would also ensure that the NRA would back an opponent, either in the next primary or general election.

I'm sure you're wondering what I think should and could be done, aside from the undue influence of the NRA.

Well, for starters, let me say that I know people who hunt and use guns for their intended purposes.  My own son owns two guns, which belonged to his biological father, and he keeps them in his home in a gun safe, as many responsible gun owners do.  As is often stated, it's not those people who concern me.

But if I were in a position to make it happen, I'd like to see a complete ban on all semi-automatic weapons for individuals in this country.  Trained military personnel and in some instances police units should be the only entities with access to weapons of this type.  Home defense does not require a machine gun.  Hunting for sport isn't a good match for high-round-capacity ammunition clips.  Rural residents don't need bump stocks on their guns to ward off dangerous wild animals.

I also think that guns and items that can be used to modify them should not be sold online.  It is simply too easy for those who shouldn't have guns to buy them there.  And I am not referring specifically to larger gun dealers (where a quick check of a couple of sites shows semi-automatic weapons as the top "trending items") who in most cases operate within the law, but rather the individuals who are selling firearms online and otherwise without any background checking whatsoever.

And if President Trump is serious about this being a "mental health" issue, then perhaps he would put forward a plan for Congress to enact and to himself sign that would strengthen that component of the background checking process that seems so terribly flawed in the aftermath of events like this.

I don't express myself to political leaders online very often, but just after this occurred I tweeted at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (from my home state of Kentucky, no less), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.  I simply said this:

@SenateMajLdr @SenSchumer @SpeakerRyan @NancyPelosi  Leadership is needed to prevent more tragedy.  Please work together toward that goal.

I hope they'll take that to heart.

I have four grandchildren, with a fifth arriving soon.  I don't want them to be afraid to go to the grocery or to church or to school or ANYWHERE because maniacs with a cache of weapons may be lurking nearby.

You don't, either.  Call or write to your Congressman or Senator.  Ask them to do SOMETHING.  And hope that everyone comes to their senses before the next unspeakable act happens to someone that you love.

Monday, October 30, 2017

All Hallows' Eve eve

Good Monday morning, everyone.  Looks like fall is really here in central Kentucky, as reported in this space last week.  Hard freeze the last couple of nights, and spits of snow were visible while I was wrapping up some yard work yesterday.

Will you be wearing a costume for Halloween this year?  I had to think about the last time that I dressed up for the occasion.  It was probably the Halloween that I was working at a nursing home, as employees there were encouraged to dress up.  We had bought our son a replica of a classic flannel Chicago White Sox jersey, so I appropriated that (already had the hat) and went as a quasi-baseball player.  Got high marks from my associates, who assumed I was too serious to come in actual costume.

This year?  I'll probably dress as "Bruce Wayne, eccentric billionaire," borrowing that character's phrase from "The Dark Knight Rises."  My Halloween job is to hand out candy at my son's house, so that he and his wife can take their kids out Trick or Treating.  So best not to scare anyone.  Depending on the weather I may don a Reds jacket and cap, but no more than that.

But I think it's fun.  My wife and I were at the grocery last night and there was a student age male there dressed in a full gladiator outfit.  Even had a plastic sword.  I actually tried to utter the phrase "strength and honor" as we passed but never got it out.

I've been seeing some pretty neat celebrity costumes, some ridiculously elaborate, others deceptively simple.  For example, fans of the movie "Se7en" will get the reference when they see Gwinneth Paltrow wearing a cardboard box around her head.  I also saw that Kim Kardashian and a male friend dressed up as a dead-on Sonny and Cher.

On to more pressing topics....

Based on numerous press reports, it appears that we may learn today who will be the first person or people charged in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of the Trump campaign's possible collusion with the Russian government.  I have my theories about who will be named, as most people familiar with the figures and evidence that has so far come to light.  And we can all agree here, despite our political persuasions and opinions, that there is never a good time for our country to experience something like this.

It also appears that the avalanche of entertainment and business figures accused of sexual harassment is going to continue for a while, as people are now emboldened by those who've already come forward with their stories.  I applaud Jane Fonda's comments to the effect that most of those who have done so are "famous and white" and that there are far more such stories that should be taken equally seriously.

Kentucky beat Tennessee in football Saturday night, for only the second time since 1984.  In other news, ice was spotted in various parts of Hell over the weekend.






Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Now we're cooking

Good morning, friends.  It seems that fall has "fell" here in central Kentucky, so to speak as I played golf in shorts on Sunday and today I expect to wear a jacket all day.  It IS late October, of course...

I love to cook.  I don't recall mentioning that in any detail in the past in this space, but it's something I really enjoy.  Strangely, neither my mother, who was what I would call a "utilitarian" cook, nor my father, were that interested in preparing interesting dishes.

I think my first efforts to cook anything to actually be eaten came when I was ten or twelve, when my mom allowed me to heat up a can of pork-and-beans for lunch.  That was fine, but my next attempt involved adding stuff to the canned goods to the point where I was taking more time to find my add-in ingredients than to actually cook the final blend.

Fast forward to my first years post college, where I devised a recipe for chili that has served me, my family and friends well ever since.  Not going to give away a lot of details but there are a couple of unusual ingredients that make it, well, unique.  My son won a chili cook-off with a variation of that recipe, a contest that I didn't enter (I cited Marlon Brando's stance about the Oscars when asked why I didn't also enter).

My first roommate situation was interesting, as my roomie had lived on his own a couple of times previously, but I had not lived outside of my family home.  I quickly learned how to combine certain items (fresh and/or packaged) into edible, if not spectacular, finished meals, leaning heavily on things like steak and salad.

Then I met my wife.  From her I learned the basics of grilling (we didn't cook out when I was a kid, as my parents lacked the patience to properly light a charcoal grill) and that was that.  And since her kids became OUR kids, I now had an audience of three who were all interested to see what I could put together.

Inspiration came from a trip to a hibachi-style restaurant here in Lexington (no longer in business, sadly) and after watching the teppanyaki chefs do their thing and attempting to replicate their cuisine in our existing cookware, I found a wok under the Christmas tree one year.  Rick's stir-fry became a weekly staple of our meal planning.

Over time I gradually cooked more frequently for my family, as my wife and I both worked full-time outside the home in office jobs, so we each arrived home about the same time.  But eventually something shifted where I worked more flexible schedules and locations and assumed the greater responsibility for cooking.

Skills were also borrowed and obtained from television chefs, and this was well before the advent of the Food Network or the Cooking Channel.  My two primary instructors were a man named Pasquale who was an Italian on Canadian television.  One of the minor cable channels we had showed his program, called "Pasquale's Kitchen Express," in which he would cook an entire meal in about twenty minutes and then serve it to an audience member.  He sang opera while he cooked, which I found amusing.  I learned from him how to "steam saute" certain meats and how to season them for added flavor.  So now I could cook more things indoors that were not Asian, so that was a big step!

I also frequently watched Jeff Smith, known as the Frugal Gourmet, and picked up a number of things from him.

And when we got the Food Network things really took off.  Because, after all, most knowledge is shared and learned and not invented.  Thank God.

So today I do virtually all of the cooking here at the Smith house.  And my wife hasn't experienced any health issues as a result, so that's a plus.  What's for dinner tonight?  I don't know, but hope it will be tasty and won't take too long to prepare!


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

All in the family

A very good Wednesday morning to all, at least at the time of this writing....

I want to first say "thanks" to those who have discovered this blog over the past couple of weeks.  I have taken note of a much larger group of viewers than previous entries had enjoyed, and I appreciate more people reading and hopefully enjoying these posts.  Please feel free to comment as you like.

We just said goodbye to our daughter and her family, as they came to visit a couple of Fridays ago and left last Saturday.  I've mentioned here before that this branch of our family tree resides in the Denver, Colorado area, and we used to see them two or three times a year.  But between the high cost of air travel, their kids both being school-aged and the fact that I no longer travel by air for my work and collect frequent flier miles to use, those visits are now annual.

And it's probably for the best, as we heard what our "Colorado grandkids" (my colloquialism, not my wife's, as she hates the term "grandkids") are into on a regular basis, over and above being enrolled in a very good and challenging public school.  For instance, our granddaughter, who just turned 12 in July and is now as tall as my wife, is playing volleyball on her school team AND will be doing the same for a select group later in the fall.  Games and practices for both, and she also has a couple of other extracurricular activities.  Our grandson is involved in taekwondo, and really enjoys it.  He is now a green belt, but despite frequent playful wrestling during their visit, he did not use any of his expertise on me.

We helped our daughter and her hubby move to Colorado (twice) and they've called it home pretty much since she completed her education.  So these visits are very special to us.  We learned a few years ago that it works much better not to plan too much or too far ahead.  About the only thing we did wrong in that regard is we overbought milk, but we were able to share that with our daughter-in-law for our local grandkids.

I threw a wrench into things when I accepted a new job in late July, so would have been off work for the week they were here.  But I was able to shuffle my schedule a bit and ensure that I didn't miss anything really good, as my new boss was very quick to say "family comes first" and that meant a great deal.  So we attended two volleyball matches featuring the nationally ranked University of Kentucky team (they won both), the visiting party shopped for UK souvenirs and saw some of the local sights, enjoyed some good family meals and capped things off with a great dinner at a local restaurant, celebrating two grandchildren's birthdays (our "local" granddaughter and our Colorado grandson).

The most amusing aspect of all of this is watching my wife, who again had people in the house to care for (apparently I'm not enough of a challenge!).  She does this routinely for our son and his family, helping them keep up with laundry and housecleaning and picking up their kids after school.  But she was in her element with our daughter and her gang visiting, cooking breakfast and serving lunch most every day (I handled dinners that we had here at home) and just generally taking care of everyone.

So we miss them, certainly, and while we'll see them on FaceTime and on the phone and via messages, it's just never the same.  Suppose absence really does make the heart grow fonder.


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