New Shoes in the Rain

Monday, January 7, 2019


Happy Monday, friends.  First full week of work for many of us in, oh, at least a couple of weeks.  Hard getting back into the swing of things, isn't it?

Since it's a new year and I had mentioned displays of things to help us organize our homes and our stuff in my last post, I wanted to continue on that theme today.

A while back our daughter told my wife and me about an organizational expert from Japan named Marie Kondo.  She wrote a book entitled "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," and espouses what she calls the KonMari Method, which indicates that you should discard items that do not "spark joy" but it's also necessary to thank your soon-to-be-jettisoned stuff as it departs.  This has apparently turned into a lifestyle brand, and, yes, now, there's a Netflix series featuring Ms. Kondo (and an interpreter).

My wife and I were always pretty neat in our overall habits, but as I've mentioned in this space in the past, moving to our current home (smaller than the previous one) required some adjustments in how much stuff we could have in hand.  Not only is this home a bit smaller than our former house, but we also don't have quite as many designated storage spaces here.  So transforming from pretty good organizers to ruthless ones was essential.

Our newly formed habits have served us well, but we still find the odd closet or storage area that needs help.  To wit, we were trying to put something into a cabinet we keep in our garage over the weekend.  This is our spot for storing seldom-used kitchen items, like electric skillets, griddles and waffle makers, among other things.  Anyway, I attacked this and spread out many of the items on the hood of one of our cars (with towels to keep all items clean, of course).  My wife and I agreed quickly on what could be tossed and suddenly my biggest problem was carrying all of it to the trash.

After that, we decided to give Ms. Kondo's program a look and watched the first episode.  It seems that the format is much like these shows where someone comes into a house that the owner wants to renovate or improve, and works with them to get it the way they want.  But in this case, it's a top-to-bottom analysis of what a family might have in its bedroom closets, its kitchen counters and cabinets, and its garage.

Drama ensues, as one would expect, but it's interesting to see how people adapt to the process and the outcome.  It really is, if this first episode is any indication.

And, no, this didn't make me want to charge up my attic steps to clean more stuff out.  I know what's up there, and there's not that much of it these days (in fact, every time there's a neighborhood garage sale I do a visual scan of that and other storage areas to see what we might have to get rid of, and am satisfied that we have too little to bother with).

So if you're a Netflix subscriber and have an interest in organizing a little better, this might be for you.  If you're not, I would think there are videos on YouTube or elsewhere.

Good luck.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Undecking the halls

Happy new year to you and yours!

Today's one of those days.  If you are one to make resolutions, you begin the year with something to accomplish or at least something to prove.  If not, you go on, knowing that the calendar has turned over and the slate is clear.

In my case, it's back to work tomorrow.

I've been off for most of the past two-plus weeks, working two days last week.  It's been a wonderful break from travel, e-mails, conference calls and the like, but we'll get back into the swing of things tomorrow with a two-day business trip.  Luckily the flights both ways are direct and relatively short!

I titled today's post to correspond with how we spent part of our Sunday.  We un-decorated our house!

To be fair, we live in a smallish patio home, so we don't have lots and lots of decorations for Christmas.  We have a prelighted tree, which saves some headaches, wreathes on our entry door and the door from our garage, and some other tabletop items.  That doesn't sound like a lot.

But when I took it down, it involved something along the lines of five or six storage containers, plus a  box and large bag for the tree.

The type of tubs we use has evolved since we bought this house some twenty-two years ago, and mostly it's dictated by the size of the opening to our attic space, above our garage.  Luckily I continue to fit through the opening, or we'd have an entirely different problem!

Anyway, we used some tubs we bought at Sears just after moving here for some time.  They were a little thin but were the right dimensions to fit through that opening, plus they were tall enough to hold a fair amount of items.  As they cracked and split (thin materials) we replaced them with Rubbermaid Roughneck tubs, which held up much better.  But somewhere along the line a couple of those were also ruined by temperature extremes and we wound up with a variety of shapes and sizes of containers, the majority of which coming from my mother-in-law's former house.

After wrestling these larger tubs through the opening to remove the contents and to then put them back in the attic empty until after the holidays, I told my wife that we would have to find some better-sized alternatives when we packed it all up.

Thanksgiving weekend turned into the week after Christmas pretty suddenly, it seemed, and I hadn't done a thing toward swapping these out.  So I went to run errands one day last week and stopped by a discount store in hopes of finding the Roughnecks, my preferred container.

Alas, they were nowhere to be found.  Online searches all showed "out of stock" or "not available," although one brave Amazon-connected retailer was charging more than double the original price for his limited stock.  No, thanks.

Before leaving that discount store I bought a stack of another brand of tubs, all of which seemed to be constructed well enough.  But when I got them home I discovered that getting them through the attic entrance would also require the kind of contortions that I was determined to avoid.

So I put them back into the car with the intent of returning them.

Meanwhile, my wife and I decided to go ahead with the purchase of a car seat for our youngest grandchild, as we no longer had the last one.  We had spotted one at Costco on a previous trip, so off we went.

Amazingly, they had a large display of all things organizational, including, you guessed it, storage containers.  Luckily I had the dimensions of the Rubbermaid items that fit, and a tape measure, so measured the options and settled on five tubs (with integrated lids!) that met the size requirements.

Put it all away the following day, and was delighted to find that they worked beautifully, thus making the undecoration project a success with less angst than the previous couple of years!

So I suppose the moral of the story is to persevere, don't settle, and you'll find what you want.  I did!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Shoe business

Friends, it's now a week until Christmas, if you celebrate that holiday with your family and friends.  Hope you're ready--I think that we finally are!

Was thinking the other day about shoes, particularly about my personal history of shoes and foot issues.  When we were kids, both my older and younger brothers were diagnosed by the doctor as needing "corrective" shoes (do these still exist?) and my parents dutifully bought them--once for each boy.  None after that.

As I recall, my older brother seldom wore leather dress shoes after that.  His shoe of choice for many years was the original Converse Chuck Taylor basketball shoe.  He generally had multiple pairs to allow time for them to dry between wearings, which is actually something that folks in the know suggest.  My younger brother often wore whatever shoes one of us no longer wanted, to the point where I never actually knew what size shoe he wore.

And then there's me.

I had long feet as a kid, but they weren't particularly wide and there never seemed to be any real problems until I was an adult.  I wore inexpensive shoes of all types, without issue, and when I got an after-school job I began to buy better shoes, at least of the athletic variety.  Back then I played tennis, so I went through a series of white leather tennis shoes, starting with a pair of the original Adidas Stan Smiths (you know, the ones with a dark green suede patch on the back of the shoe).  Continued that for a long time, because white shoes go with everything!

I began working after college in more professional and traditional jobs, so I found that wing-tipped brogues were the way to go.  They were durable and fit well, and provided some support that I needed.  I continued wearing this type of shoe for my working hours for many years, eventually graduating to the top-shelf Florsheim Imperials.  Expensive, yes, but they could be resoled and continue to provide wear for many years.  I eventually went contemporary and had them resoled with Vibram outsoles, thinking that this would provide more cushion and comfort.

Then I began to develop foot problems.

Health issues prompted me to begin a regular routine of exercise (which I continue when my work hours and circumstances allow) and then I began to have what I simply thought were tired feet.  I now think that I had developed plantar faciitis, a painful malady which is often mistaken for heel spurs.  Feels like a knife is being poked into the sole of one's foot with each step.  A nurse who lived next door suggested that I buy some New Balance running shoes, that had helped a nurse friend of hers to combat a similar complaint, so I did.  Big difference.  I added a Powerstep orthotic and really felt the difference!

But that didn't help much at work.  Gradually I moved away from the heavy wing-tips and began buying a variety of "comfort" shoes.  A succession of this type of footwear led me to a German brand called Finn Comfort, handsewn shoes that are best described as a cousin of Birkenstock sandals (also of German origin, I believe).  Finns have a cork and leather insole that conforms to the foot of the wearer, offering excellent support that's pretty close to custom.

All of my work shoes and most of my leisure shoes were Finn Comfort for the last fifteen years or so.  Until the past year, when I went to buy a replacement pair of a Finn model that I had worn for some time.  They didn't fit anymore.  I don't know if my foot changed, or the shoe did, but I could no longer wear them comfortably.  Now I had a real problem!

I eventually went to SAS Footwear, which operates stores in a lot of cities throughout the country.  This is an American company, shoes are all handmade, with a variety of styles and insoles.  They make what my mother used to refer to as "old lady comfort shoes," but luckily they make more than that.  Right now I have three pairs of a quasi-dress shoe of theirs, plus a pair of sneakers.  All have been augmented with Powerstep insoles, and I've been relatively pleased with the results.

I have to remind my self that I'm older now, that I have more aches and pains, and that there will be times when my feet will simply hurt, despite whatever else I might be doing.

Recently my wife and I were at one of those discount shoe places, the ones that have big long aisles of self-service shelves and a myriad of brands and styles.  I saw Florsheim as one of the brands, and while I didn't try any of their shoes on, I was intrigued, and that led me to do a little checking.  Because their stores had gone away over the past twenty years (owing mostly to the demise of enclosed shopping malls, I think) I really had lost touch with the brand and didn't really know if it still existed.

It does.  In exploring the current makeup of the company, it's back in the hands of members of the Florsheim family, and they now stock many traditional styles as well as contemporary models plus some old favorites that have been updated for today's men's shoe market.

Which brings me to my current point of interest.  A scan of the Zappos online shoe sales website showed the Florsheim Kenmoor traditional wing-tip dress shoe in a couple of colors.  I thought about that, and remarked to my wife that my foot problems seemed to have begun when I decided to resole my original Florsheim Imperials with synthetic soles.

Thought about it a little more, and decided to take the plunge, so I am sitting in my house wearing a spanking new pair of Kenmoor wing-tips in their Cognac color.  Stiff, firm, but supportive.  Break-in does not seem quite as severe as the last pair I bought, which were very painful.  Slick on the bottom, too, so each step is a little of an adventure, at least until I scuff the sole bottoms.  I had to carry some things down the stairs yesterday and wisely took them off, so as not to lose my footing on the steps with no ability to hold on!

But based on my indoor experience thus far, they're keepers, I believe, and I'll probably add a black pair at some point soon.  No arch support or foot discomfort yet, except from the stiffness that I would have expected.  Will probably get brave and wear them out of the house in a day or two.

So the moral of the story appears to be that everything old is new again.  Fashion is cyclical, but, it seems, so is function.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Just the beginning

Happy Tuesday to all....hope you're not digging out from a foot or two of snow, as some of my friends in the East/Southeast are today!

I have to say that I caught a major break on the path and pace of that winter storm.  I made my annual trip to my company headquarters in south Florida for meetings last week and was due to fly out late Friday afternoon, just as I did last year.  This year, the weather in Atlanta was workable and so my flights left and arrived on schedule, delivering me home on time.  Last year a similar winter weather system caused a virtual shutdown of the air traffic system from Dallas to Charlotte, which prevented folks with connections from traveling through to their destinations further north.  I was delayed an extra 36 hours, but finally made it home on Sunday afternoon.

And as a resident of the northern part of the southeastern US, I can vouch.  Despite efforts to prepare and to keep up, our home area is woefully unprepared for harsh winter weather.  And for good reason.  Seems that each winter we receive probably two or three notable snowfalls.  Otherwise it's cold but relatively clear.  But there have been times that it's been worse.

I recall the winter of 1978 pretty easily, as it was my senior year of high school and we missed over a month of school.  Why?  We had deep cold and heavy snow, and every time it began to thaw, we'd get another snowfall and be right back where we were.  With the schools, it's not the urban areas that cause so many closures, it's the rural routes where so many kids are who rely on school buses for transportation.  And if the buses can't run safely, there's no school.

I can only imagine how long the schools in Virginia and North Carolina will be closed.

Worth remembering that this is simply the tip of the iceberg, if you will, as there's lots more of the cold season to come.  That was quite a shock to return from sunny and warm south Florida last week to temperatures hovering around 30 degrees.

So if you're stuck by heavy snow, try to make the most of it, particularly if you have power and heat.  Play with your kids.  Make a game of shoveling the driveway (and be careful, too, since it's easy to overexert in cold weather!), enjoy some family time.

I hope that by the next time you stop by your roads are clear!

Friday, November 30, 2018

These hotel rooms

Friends, I hope you're ready for a good non-Black Friday and an even better weekend!

Have been compiling this morning's post for a while but only now had the opportunity to complete and post it.  As I think I mentioned a while back, I'm again traveling frequently for business, and that means hotels.  Lots and lots of hotels!  I'm not going to lavishly praise or freely bash any particular brand or chain of hotels.  In my experience they all have their pluses and minuses, as one would expect.

The first, and nowadays for me, most important component of a hotel room is a comfortable bed.  Not too firm, not too soft.  For me this is made worse by the fact that at home I sleep on a TempurPedic bed.  Don't see those in hotels too frequently.  So the right firmness will determine how soundly I'm able to sleep, but also how many aches and pains will be with me when I wake up.

The number of comfortable beds has been small over the past three months.  Usually beds are rock-hard, with no give, and I wake up repeatedly with my arm or hip tingling from a lack of circulation.  Doesn't make for a restful night.  In a few cases I've encountered those "just right" beds, and thoroughly enjoy them.

The next issue for me is generally the availability and condition of an indoor pool.  I find this to be a better alternative to a fitness center workout, for a couple of reasons.  Swimming is very good exercise and it's no-impact.  Along with that it requires only a bathing suit, which makes packing a lot simpler.

The only catch is that in many cases, the pool is not functioning correctly and is closed for repairs, or worse is in operation but it's not heated sufficiently to allow someone to swim comfortably when it's cold outside.  That's almost always the norm, unfortunately.

Then there's breakfast.  Ever noticed that the less expensive hotels are the ones that offer a free breakfast?  It's not free, of course, but rather it's included in the overall cost of your room.  My son, the lawyer-in-training, mentioned to me not long ago that he knows of instances where people have eaten food from hotel buffets and become ill.  That's not happened to me, but I try to be somewhat selective about what I eat when offered a buffet for breakfast.

My son and I took two of his kids out of town a couple of weekends ago to a hotel that included breakfast, and they thought that was the greatest thing in the world to have food choices readily available.  I found the same buffet to be so-so and in line with what I see otherwise.

And I generally don't have a lot of interaction with the staff at these places, beyond check-in and check-out.  I entered a hotel this week and commented about the brand-new Starbucks Coffee shop right next door.  He smiled and simply said "I know, right?"  Appropriate reaction from his highly caffeinated generation.

Before you ask, I'll just say that, no, I've never considered using a bed-and-breakfast for business travel, but if anyone from the hospitality industry is reading this, contact me.  Glad to tell you more!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Thanksgiving done differently

Happy Monday-after-Thanksgiving to all!

I hope that if you had to travel home from visiting with family and friends over the long holiday weekend that you made it home in one piece!  I didn't travel over the weekend, but am leaving on a business trip later this morning, so wish me luck!

My wife and I had an interesting Thanksgiving this year.  Our son and his family traveled out of state to spend time with our daughter-in-law's family.  We tentatively planned to visit with my mother-in-law on Thanksgiving but for a variety of reasons did not travel to see her.  So, for the first time in many years, it was just my wife and me for the holiday.

We inquired of one restaurant that had endlessly promoted their Thanksgiving dinner and found that seating was very limited.  So we resigned ourselves to visiting another restaurant that was open for their regular hours and serving a meal especially for the holiday.  Not a bad option, but not quite the special occasion we would have preferred.

Thanksgiving Day in central Kentucky was sunny and somewhat mild, so I decided to mow our lawn one last time, mostly to pick up the leaves deposited by two trees in our neighbor's yard (we no longer have any trees, so it's a little annoying that the house next door, a rental, is currently vacant and therefore the yard untended).  When I came into the house after completing the job, my wife asked me what I thought about going to Shakertown, more formally known as Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.  I responded that it would be very nice to go, but were they even open?

A phone call and we learned that, indeed, they were open and serving a preset menu of turkey and ham and all of the trimmings, so we made a reservation and off we went later that afternoon!

I should explain that Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill was a colony of Shakers in the 1800's.  The Shakers were strictly religious and believed that men and women should not live together, but they were very skilled artisans, producing well-crafted wooden furniture and other household items.  They also were known for their farming abilities, as they grew large crops to make their settlements self-sufficient.

I went there once as a child on a school field trip, which was interesting but difficult to understand.  Upon meeting my wife I discovered what a special place it can be for a family meal built around a special occasion and it's still a favorite in our family.

Anyway, we made the forty-minute drive there about an hour prior to our dinner reservation, and walked around the historic and well-manicured grounds.  It was already decorated for Christmas and I took a few photos:

Dinner was as good as we expected, featuring turkey with gravy and dressing, country ham, mashed potatoes and a host of other side dishes.  Plus a dessert of your choice, which meant the Shaker lemon pie for me!

Perhaps the best part was the unexpected nature of our visit to Shaker Village, as we had not planned that until a few hours before actually visiting.  So my wife and I were very thankful for a special way to celebrate our gratitude for all of the blessings that life has bestowed upon us.

Now, back to work!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

After the shouting

Friends, did you vote this time last week?  If you did, you were part of a very large turnout nationally, one of the largest volumes of mid-term election voters in quite some time.

I'm not going to replay what happened, or tout who won because of what reason, but this will make things in Washington very interesting come January.  I read somewhere that when current Congresswoman and former/likely future Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi first arrived in Washington that she was among something like twelve women serving.  Now she will be among more than 90 women in both houses of Congress.

That's great, but that's still disproportionate to our population.

There are Muslims who won the right to represent others in the House.  There are openly gay and bisexual persons who won the right to serve.  And there are many others with uncommon traits who will be in the next Congress.  And that's great, and better represents the population of this country.

But let's face it, there are still too many mature white men, and that needs to continue to change.

I was in a hotel room in northern Ohio on the night of the mid-term elections, and initially it sounded as though the experts who predicted a "blue wave" were somewhat disappointed by the overall results.  But now it seems that the disappointment has been tempered by the finalization of vote totals in more states and more races, so the net gain of Democrats in the House is much larger than it first appeared.

And while Democrats lost numerous seats in the Republican-controlled Senate, they gained a few that were surprising, such as in Arizona, where a Democrat was elected to the Senate for the first time since 1976.

Meanwhile, our President went to Paris apparently to participate in marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, but he did not attend all of the scheduled events that were held to commemorate the occasion and left prior to a large conference designed to address world issues.

He also did not travel the short distance to Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, perhaps the first time in my memory that the sitting President failed to do so.

We all need to brace ourselves, as the dismissal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the first of what will likely be many whiplash moves to distract the public from the actions (or non-actions) of this White House.

All the while, Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team continue to work quietly in the background to determine what illegal acts were committed during the 2016 campaign and afterward.

If you were motivated to act by the midterms, please remain motivated to stay informed about what's happening in Washington in all three branches of government.  It's our country, and we should all try to act like it!