Monday, April 28, 2014

Travels and tales

Good rainy Monday morning, everyone.  Hope the weekend was good where you were.

My wife and I returned from one of our periodic weekend getaways last night.  We customarily travel the short distance to Cincinnati, which is about ninety minutes from our home city of Lexington, Kentucky, for some time away.  We enjoy these little sojourns quite a bit, as we're in a pretty different environment than at home, and the cost of traveling there (both in travel and time) is pretty small.

Had a couple of novel experiences on this particular trip that I thought I'd share.  The first was a visit to an establishment in downtown Cincinnati that I'd always wanted to experience, Batsakes Hat Shop.  I'd heard of this place for some years, as I'm a great hat fan (would be hard pressed to count the number of hats and caps that I own for various purposes and activities) and it's the nearest "traditional" hat shop.  If you Google that business name, you'll see newspaper articles and all kinds of other entries, including reviews on Yelp and other such websites.

So I knew a little about it, and knew they were a very old-line, traditional business.  So on our way north Saturday morning, I mentioned to my wife that I had always wanted to go there.  She was on board with the idea rather quickly, so we ventured into the downtown Cincinnati area to find this local treasure.  Found it with little difficulty, although finding a parking spot at a meter presented a bit more of a challenge.

We entered the shop and were immediately greeted by a mature man who operates a shoe-shine stand inside the store.  That pretty much sums up the idea behind this store....the way things used to be.  I can imagine in the days when this shop first opened that a man who stopped by to shop for a hat (or to have his existing hat steamed and blocked, something these folks also do) would also want to have his shoes shined.  Anyway, the next person to greet us was an elderly lady with a very pronounced accent, asking what brought us into the store.

I explained that I had always wanted to treat myself to a "good hat," a fedora (traditional hat like men wore routinely fifty years ago) and she asked if I was interested in high quality.  I said that I was, so that clarified how she could help me.  I told her that I wanted something that would look appropriate with my head size, which I noted is probably 7 7/8 or 8.  She produced a couple of hats that looked like good possibilities, and while I won't go into how much I ended up spending, let's just say I won't buy a hat at this price very often!

Tried several colors and two different brim sizes, and surprised myself for choosing a pretty neutral color (fawn is probably the best description of the color) and a two-and-a-half inch brim (I honestly thought I'd pick the broader one).  Wife approved heartily, so that was that.  While in the shop I also took advantage of their good selection of Tilley Endurables hats (make sure to check this line out if you spend much time outdoors playing golf, gardening, etc., as their hats provide the BEST sun protection out there) and with my wife's help picked out a broad-brimmed olive-colored model.

My new fedora was then cleaned and steamed, and placed in a very heavy protective box for secure transport and storage.  This was done by a very interesting fellow named Gus Miller, the proprietor and the nephew of the founder and original owner.  He's Greek (I suspect the lady who waited on us is, too, and may well be related to Mr. Miller).  He told me he hoped I enjoyed my new hat, and I simply said, "You're Gus Miller, aren't you?" and extended my hand.  He then entertained us for ten minutes about how he got started there at the age of fifteen, with the idea of becoming a "big wheel," as he put it, only to have a broom and dustpan provided to him.

Great establishment, very nice people and high quality merchandise.  Retailers, is it so hard to produce all three at the same time?

One more quick anecdote from the trip....we were having dinner at Mitchell's Fish Market, another favorite stop of ours when in the area (part of the Cameron Mitchell restaurant group, none of which have arrived in Lexington.....yet) and our server, a very nice woman who obviously sees a lot of people, asked toward the end of our meal how long we had been married.  I smiled and said that we had been married nearly 28 years.  She nodded and smiled, and said how great that was to see, that we clearly were not only a couple but were also friends and still enjoyed each other's company.  So nice of her to notice, and we were impressed that she was that perceptive.

We had perfect weather, too, which was great.  This is particularly true because this morning it's raining here in Lexington (no complaint, my latest attempt to grow new grass in the front yard needs all the help it can get!) and is due to continue for the next day or two.

A great couple of days.  Hope they were good for you, too, and that the next few are as well!


Monday, April 21, 2014

An intermediate phase

Top of the morning, all.  I hope that you enjoyed Easter, Passover or just the weekend, depending on your perspective.  Our gang celebrated Easter well, with egg hunts, church and some great family time.  So I hope that you had the opportunity to do the same.

I'm in the fourth week of my "sabbatical," as I begin a new position on May 5 (Cinco de Mayo, if you keep track of that sort of thing).  At this point I wish I had played more golf and done less work on my lawn, but that's how it goes whether I'm working or not.  This morning we're making our latest attempt to persuade grass to grow in the space in our front yard where a tree formerly stood.  Bought a product I've used before that contains seed, mulch and fertilizer and it works pretty well.  Just hoping that it will produce at least some grass in these bare areas of the front yard!

I have also had the privilege of performing some volunteer work with a fine organization here in my home area called Jubilee Jobs.  Their sole mission is to help underprivileged persons find and retain employment.  I've only done a few small things for them, but I know that the sum of what this organization does will help their clients become productive members of our local community.

Speaking being productive, the Cincinnati Reds are producing some runs finally, and their record reflects the improvement.  They're in the midst of a ten-game road trip and have regained the services of a three key players who began the year on the disabled list, so that appears to have spurred some of the turnaround.  That, and all-world slugger Joey Votto was moved to the second spot in the batting order, and began to hit the way that all Reds fans knew that he would.  My greatest hope for the Reds is that this upward wave continues for a bit.

Before beginning this entry I perused the internet for a while, reading from various sites that I visit from time to time.  One consistent theme is that there apparently is a pretty good demand, perceived or otherwise, for musings about "Mad Men," the AMC television show that's now airing part one of the seventh and final season of the show (and why this season is in two parts is a good one all to itself).  I didn't initially watch the show, but a couple of friends spoke well of it and advised that I would like it, and I caught up and watched pretty regularly until about the middle of the most recent season.  At that point I concluded that this was basically a workplace soap opera and was becoming more than a little predictable (and, boy, I'll get some comments about that, I'm sure).  So I stopped.

But what I discovered in conjunction with that is that one doesn't have to spend the time watching the show, when he can read the many, many, MANY reviews dissecting various plot points and divining meaning from how someone holds a drink, etc.  And the reviews and recaps seldom agree in their interpretation of the plot points on the show itself, which I find amusing.  Come on, it's a TV show, there's nothing metaphysical about "Mad Men," is there?  I say "no," and will continue reading these far-reaching attempts to glean cosmic significance from a television show.

Remember the old adage that "the captain goes down with the ship?"  I have always believed that to be the case in business as well, but on the high seas, that apparently no longer applies.  We now know that the captain of that sunken ferry in Korea was among the first off the ship.  The only interview that I know of with him was conducted while he was wearing a hooded garment that hid his face.  And like the captain of the wrecked cruise ship in Italy a couple of years ago, he should face some significant charges once all is said and done.

Have a good week and keep your fingers crossed for my lawn....



Thursday, April 10, 2014

Almost

Friends, if you didn't watch the NCAA men's basketball championship game or just don't care about sports, you wouldn't know that the University of Kentucky Wildcats went down in defeat to the University of Wisconsin Huskies by a scant six points.  Analysis is futile at this point, but let's just say that a number of things that plagued the Kentucky team earlier in the season made an untimely return, and UConn played a VERY good game and deserved to win.

And since my last entry, my beloved Cincinnati Reds have won only three games.  They've played three series so far, three games each, and that's not a good average to this point.  A week and a half does not make a season, of course, but it may foretell some eventual patterns that emerge as the long baseball season unfolds.  There are people that say the baseball season is too long, but I feel that it's the appropriate length.  A person wiser than myself once wrote that each team will win a third of their 162 game schedule, and they'll definitely lose a third of them, too.  It's the remainder of the games that will define success or failure.  Worth remembering that the Los Angeles Dodgers were in LAST place in their division in June last year, and came back to run away with their division at season's end.

Another season is dwindling fast---the traditional network television season.  I believe I have noted here that my wife and I only watch a handful of programs.  And there used to be a pretty predictable pattern of new episodes vs. reruns, but now, with cable shows starting their seasons in April and mid-season replacements airing new episodes, all bets are off.  One mid-season startup, "Intelligence," had its "season finale" almost two weeks ago.  Two others that we're watching, "Believe" and "Crisis," are chugging along through three or four new episodes apiece, but there are already reports that they'll both be cancelled due to low ratings.  So we've found it's probably not wise to get too invested in new programs, because invariably the ones we like don't seem to attract enough viewers to stay on the air.

I keep thinking that I want the "a la carte" approach to cable TV, pick the specific channels I want to watch and pay only for those.  But once in a while a channel we don't watch much comes through with something worthwhile.  For instance, the rebooted "Cosmos" airs on Fox on Sunday nights and again on National Geographic on Monday night.  I record the Monday night replay, after midnight, so that we don't tie up our cable box when multiple shows that we like are on (ironic, isn't is, that we watch relatively few shows and that there are a couple of nights per week where two are on simultaneously?).

I also keep thinking that I should simply do away with cable TV altogether, but cobbling together the requisite alternatives (Hulu, MLBTV and perhaps Netflix) presents some challenges.  And that leaves many live sporting events out completely, like Kentucky football and basketball.  But I continue to explore that alternative.

I'm in my second week off work, in between the end of one job and the start of a new one (I got word yesterday that I passed the background check with flying colors, so I've apparently covered my tracks sufficiently, as I told a friend upon hearing the news) and continue to stay busy.  Today I'm attending an educational session at an organization dedicated to assisting the disadvantaged in securing employment.  Also still have a few yard projects to attend to,  and mowed the lawn for the first time this spring yesterday.  One more tidbit on lawn care:  I did what the experts have always said I should, used up all of the gas in my lawn mower before putting it away for the winter.  I filled it up with fresh gas yesterday, and it started on the first pull.  So if you have doubts, the experts are right on that count.

Speaking of gas, the speculators apparently aren't even motivated by current events when their actions drive pump prices sharply upward.  There was a time not so long ago that a report of unrest in some Middle East country would cause a spike in prices.  Now, no news is needed to elicit a price hike.  Thanks a lot, guys!


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Up to date

Good morning, gang.  Thought I owed my loyal following a few updates on some things that I have mentioned in recent blog posts, so here goes.

Looks like we finally have our washer fixed.  We've replaced the drain pump, then the motor, and now the drive belt.  Not much else in the way of moving parts to replace, and we're hopeful that we won't experience any more of that horrible burning smell.  The technician was pretty confident that the smell was caused by the old belt becoming too smooth and spinning on the drive spindle. Hope he's right, or else we'll have to buy a new machine.

Remember when I mentioned my experimentation with homemade popcorn?  Two very nice folks whom I've known for some time (we used to work together) generously sent me a pan specific to the task of popping popcorn on the stovetop.  It's called a WhirleyPop and does a very nice job.  Just a little practice and I was able to prepare some very tasty popcorn.  No more microwave corn for us!

We continue to struggle with our front yard, as we had two trees removed from it last fall and between that and something that killed a lot of our other grass, there were a lot of bare places.  I'm happy to report that my fall and subsequent spring seeding-and-feeding processes produced new grass in many places, but there are still is a substantial area of naked dirt.  So once again, I scraped it up and placed grass seed and water.  Hoping the third time is the charm and that we have a luxuriant yard in no time flat!

I'm sure you also recall that I was a little down that Kentucky's men's basketball team had not played up to their potential during the regular season.  You probably also remember that they played encouragingly well during the Southeastern Conference tournament.  Well, they've won four straight NCAA tournament games and will play in the Final Four on Saturday in Arlington, Texas (which the national media has apparently decided to call "North Texas").  Nice turnaround by coach John Calipari and his crew.  Hope they can keep it going!

The Cincinnati Reds began their season on Monday.  In a most unexpected turn of events, my son happened into tickets and we were able to attend the game!  And Opening Day is a BIG deal in Cincinnati, which is undoubtedly why it's such a big deal in my family as well.  Beautiful day, but the Reds went down to their rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, by a count of 1-0.  They'll go at it again tonight, and, while I won't be there in person, I'll be watching.

I was able to go because I'm experiencing another career transition.  I left my old job at the close of business last Friday, as I had already agreed to go to work with a different company.  I start my new position in May, so I have the month of April pretty much off work!  In addition to the afore-mentioned yard projects (I'm sure we'll also think of a few things to plant, too), I plan to do some volunteer work with an agency that helps underprivileged individuals find and hold employment.

So that's what's new with some things you've heard before.  And that's no April Fool.

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