Have Spices Will Travel

The steak we got from the Winn-Dixie on our Florida trip was not that great. Almost every bite was one of those where you chew it and realize it’s not going down so you try to politely take it out of your mouth and hide it somewhere on your plate

Thankfully, this particular meal was just me and Alex, and even more thankfully, the spices she had put on the steak could have made a paper bag taste good. So at least we got some flavor out of those steak bites.

See, Alex doesn’t leave home without her spices. She’s got different size portions for shorter or longer trips in either a 15ml conical tube, or a 50ml conical tube, depending. Sometimes it’s just enough to fit into her purse pockets, other times it’s a whole ordeal. This trip was a long one, so she took both sizes, plus some regular off-the-shelf bottles, and put them all in a large Tupperware for transport.

We’ve done this same sort of thing from Kauai to Positano, and everywhere in between. When we’re somewhere more exotic than North Fort Myers Florida, Alex will add local favorites to her travel spices like Herbes de Provence from the south of France, or Fleur de Sel from the Camargue.

I’m not sure what the North Ft. Myers spice might be, but if it smells anything like the car wash scent they sprayed in our car when we splurged for a “deluxe wash” here the other day, I think I’ll pass. As Alex described it, “it smells like coconut suntan oil from the ‘80’s, combined with rotten fruit, and used cat litter.” We had to drive with the windows down for the rest of our trip.



Del Boca Vista, Phase 3

My parents have been snowbirds for the last half decade or more. They escape their cold Minnesota winters and “fly south” like so many other old birds.

The place they nest is nice, but generic and geriatric. We dubbed it “Del Boca Vista, Phase 3” as a nod to the show Seinfeld. It’s got all the HOA infighting and shenanigans; people know everyone’s business; and rascal scooters are considered ATV’s, used for everything from a trip to the grocery store to  taking out the trash.

Our first trip down to Boca 3, the talk around the community was all about how they were going to fire their grounds crew. Alex and I looked around and saw green grass and colorful flowering bushes with maybe an errant weed or two, but I guess when you’ve got nothing else to do but watch the grass grow you notice every out of place blade.

This trip, we’re the ones watching the grass grow, since the parents left early for doctor’s appointments up north. We couldn’t let a Florida condo sit empty, especially one that’s paid for.

Day 1 we had breakfast on the lanai and tried to map out our time here. We realized we were further from the beach than we had remembered. North Fort Myers is not Naples. There seem to be more Dollar Stores than Starbucks. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: We picked up some great stuff for our stay, and all for $1 each!

Day 2, breakfast on the lanai. Ducks waddling by. Herons floating overhead to perch on the edge of the community pond. Life slows down. Books are read. This isn’t so bad.

Day 3, breakfast on the lanai. Humidity of Florida summer starting to creep through the screened porch. A commercial on TV advertises the Hurrycane: a three-pronged hybrid cane/walker thing. I find myself comparing this to the regular old cane. Am I becoming one of them? No, I’m too young for this, I tell myself as I enjoy a strong coffee out of a cup that my dad must have gotten when he joined AARP, and a book perhaps presciently titled Cabin Fever.


Wine “Kuntry”

We drove past homemade wooden signs scrawled with crooked letters that spelled out things like Boiled Peanuts and Pork Rinds. Not the types of things you’d associate with wine country. But we weren’t in wine country, we were in wine kuntry; north Georgia mountain style.

I had found a coupon to a place called Yonah Mountain. My wife was skeptical, since the only Georgia mountain wine she’d tried was some Muscadine that could have doubled for grape jelly. But the pictures of Yonah Mountain online were nice and the price was right, so we decided to do their guided tour.

About an hour or so in the car from our house in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, we pulled off the road and through the entrance. There were some vines on a slope and what looked like a trailer-home on a hill. Alex looked at me like she did after trying that Muscadine.

We then drove past a giant old tree and over a hill to see mountains that looked like Mother Nature lying on her side holding the Yonah Mountain vineyard in front of her. This could have been Italy, France, or California if you substituted chestnuts for boiled peanuts, and prosciutto for pork rinds.

The tour was led by the owner, a character, who started the tour on the grand piano in the tasting room. He was a true storyteller and said that he and his wife had to live in the trailer, since they spent all their money on the vineyard. Besides the vines, they had constructed a tasting room, cellars and event space that looked transported from Napa. In fact, he said their wine-making skills were gotten from California, and they grew Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay grapes among others. My wife and I looked at our empty glasses in anticipation.

The wines were good and the tour was funny and informative, but we passed on taking a bottle home with us as it was expensive for us coupon cutters. We drove home thinking how it was nice that there was some class in the “kuntry”.


Springsteen, Freud and Notes From Mom

My mother’s handwriting is so perfect, you think you’re getting a wedding invitation anytime you receive a letter from her. This made it really hard for me to skip school when I was a teenager… until I saw my little sister’s handwriting, which was identical to my mom’s, and fortunately my little sister had no problem writing me notes to get out of school.

This was back in the Springsteen Born in the USA days when he was singing “we busted out of class, had to get away from those fools, learned more from a three minute record baby than we ever learned in school.”

Nothing against current music, but there was a lot more of a thematic, didactic tactic to records back then. Because those records weren’t just singles, they were part of an album. Now I’m not sure how much I learned, but I sure listened to a whole lot of three minute records and albums while skipping school back then thanks to my little sister’s perfect cursive.

Then I went to college, Paris, New York, LA, got a real job, and got married to a beautiful woman who’s handwriting could of gotten me out of school too. Her perfect curves and sharp lines of cursive look just like my mom’s! Only difference is, Alex is left-handed so she has to be careful about smudging her text.

I’m not sure what Freud scholars would say about all that, but we sure had some great looking wedding announcements!


OG Style Label Making

After my last post about label makers, my brother texted with some photos of my mom’s OG style label making.

My mom did not mess around with her handmade labels. They were often accentuated with all caps, double-underlines and exclamation points. Sometimes they were taped onto things, but other times she’d just whip out a Sharpie and write directly on whatever needed extra instructions: Cutting board that she didn’t want anyone to cut onions on for some reason? She kept it straight and to the point with a  “No Onions!” in permanent black ink on the top corner of the cutting board. People dragging mud into your house, or using up too much of your electricity? Got to go OG on those labels. My mom, who would correct me if I used I wrong, and has not sent a text in her life, wrote “Plez Wipe Your Feet!” And “Plez Turn off Lites!”

Maybe she wanted to make sure everyone got the message, millennials and Miller Lite drinkers alike. Come to think of it, that last one could have been to get my Miller Lite drinking attention.

Put a Label on It

When we first got the label maker, I thought we’d officially jumped onto the obsessive-compulsive train for good. Sure, we’d taken rides on that train before: trying to alphabetize our joint CD collection after we’d first moved in together and realized just how many CD’s we had collectively (thank you Apple for figuring out that one for us with the first iPod); trying to color coordinate the clothes in our closet after realizing just how many clothes we had; and don’t get me started on shoes- we both have too many and no real system for keeping them organized.

So when Alex brought home the label maker, I held my tongue. Would this be just another gadget that collected dust in our closet?

It’s old technology, reminiscent of a Polaroid camera, but it spits out labels instead of pictures. I’ve got to admit there’s something very satisfying about typing out a short description of something, and watching a sticker wiggle out of the machine like a newborn.

We labeled large containers of spices and condiments in our pantry. We labeled our Christmas stuff, now neatly organized into different bins. We labeled all of our different charger plugs that look alike but are just different enough to have to be used with their designated gadgets.

There’s almost a tendency to over-label. My wife’s parents, for example, would be dangerous with this thing. They make their own labels with scotch tape and little pieces of scribbled paper for seemingly obvious stuff already….

Come to think of it, this might just be the perfect present for them. I mean why should we have all the fun?

All aboard!


Connecting the Apps

The first time I talked to Siri was in a bar in San Francisco. This French guy who was friends with my brother and worked for Netflix had the newest iPhone. “Watch zis,” said the guy in his thick French accent. The bar was loud and buzzing with techies, so I was kind of surprised that Siri could hear and understand him.

Siri was smart, funny, and a little bit sexy. She sometimes ignored me or pretended not to hear me, but my wife does that too, so no big deal.

Then along came Alexa. I had high hopes for Alexa but at the end-of-the day, she wasn’t as smart, funny or sexy as Siri. Her voice was more strident and I don’t think she’d be able to decipher my fairly clear English in a noisy bar, much less my brother’s French friend’s. Good thing Alexa never leaves home.

The only thing we really use Alexa for now is shopping lists, since the list shows up on both my wife’s and my phone. Only problem is when we’re out and we think of something to add to the list. Sure, you can type it in the app, but what fun is that? My wife tried asking Siri to tell Alexa to add milk to our list while we were in the car the other day, but we got the bloop sound.

Our “intelligent personal assistants” as they’re called should really be able to communicate with each other. If mine did, they’d probably say how they wished I’d quit calling Siri Alexa and Alexa Siri.

Hey, it’s hard having three women in your life.


Gold Medal Sports

I walked into Gold Medal Sports as a young Junior hockey prospect. The sound of a skate sharpener emanated from the back of the shop. Two young towheaded boys ran past wielding wooden hockey sticks like light-sabers. From out of nowhere came a stocky man with the same blond hair as the two kids and a mischievous grin. This was the owner of the shop and my new coach, Bobby Suter; he of the 1980 gold medal winning US Olympic hockey team.

The gravity of meeting someone that was part of such a historic moment, didn’t hit me right away- maybe since I had just been to my own Olympic training camp- but it would hit me later.

I arrived in Madison, Wisconsin that summer of 1985 driving past two large lakes on either side of the city. A dock with boats and college kids walking around in shorts and T-shirts made it feel like one big giant summer camp. This was the end of the heavenly slice of thin summer pie that Madison was served yearly as a kind of treat for putting up with such long hard winters.

With the good weather, we began our training outdoors. Coach Suter’s brother Gary joined us for dry-land drills. He had just signed with the Calgary Flames and was using this opportunity to prepare himself for the NHL. He was only a couple years older, but he seemed to be more of a grown man than any of us. His solid physique was a lot like his brother’s.

It was probably bitter-sweet for Bobby to watch Gary’s playing career take off, just as his ended. But Bobby wasn’t alone: many of his Team USA mates didn’t make it to the NHL.

With the change of seasons came our first game. Madison’s lakes weren’t yet as frozen as the sheet of ice in our home rink, but they would be. We lined up for the national anthem. I looked at the flag, then over at Coach Suter who’d stood on a podium some 5 years earlier listening to this song with 19 other amateur hockey players who had done the impossible by beating the professional Red Army team from Russia and taking gold from the Fins. As the song soared I thought I saw a tear in my tough coach’s eye.

Years later, when I started at Easton hockey, I was at an LA Kings practice the day before a home game against the Nashville Predators. The Pred’s bus pulled up and off walked a kid that looked just like Coach Suter. My boss introduced him as Ryan Suter.

“I met you as a little kid in your dad’s hockey shop,” I told him. “I almost had to call you out for a high-sticking.” He then gave me the same mischievous grin as his dad’s—the same one they both would flash on the ice just before taking someone hard to the boards.

Like father like son.


Call Me Ishmael

When I was a pro hockey rep, there was always one player on each team that was a whale. If you could lure that whale in and get him to use your product, you could live off of that for a good long time.

Ilya Kovalchuk was my whale on the Atlanta Thrashers… a Russian white beluga whale; very elusive.

I’d tried to spark up a conversation or two with this whale on many occasion, but he was either being paid handsomely to use the competitor’s product, didn’t like me, was too full of himself to give me the time of day, or didn’t understand English as well as I thought.

Easton however had supplied me with some really good bait, and after dangling it in front of a few other fish on the team, I got a bite from my whale Ilya. These were our newest S17 sticks: light as a feather, and as responsive and powerful as a pistol.

Ilya handed me one of his current sticks to match. I looked at the banana curve and thought “how is this thing even legal?” Sticks can only be curved to a certain degree, and if found to be too extreme, can be illegal. I found out later from my plant manager that Ilya got around this rule by putting a slight indention in the heel of his blade, right where a referee’s tool would sit to check for an illegal curve. The indention would make the tool read a slightly smaller curve than was actually there. A Russian bent of the rules, but if that’s what he wanted, that’s what we’d make.

I received a batch of 12 sticks from my plant: 6 of the explosive new S17’s and 6 of our more mainstream and softer Synergy models. We’d been burned by only making S17’s for another Russian beluga named Ovechkin, and he couldn’t seem to handle the puck with it. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the softer Synergy as a backup on that fishing expedition, and we lost our catch.

I drove across Atlanta with my precious cargo of sticks that morning, looking over at ladies applying makeup in their sun-visor mirrors, and guys fixing their ties. How many of these folks even knew who Ilya Kovalchuk was, or cared for that matter, I thought? But this was an exciting day on the job for me.

My whale was being extra elusive that morning and made me wait until the end of practice before trying the sticks. Everyone else was off the ice and it was just him and me. I wish I had my skates on, but alas I was shoe-bound.

He took a few shots with the S17, then asked me to give him some passes… in my shoes. He then tried the Synergy. He seemed to be pleased, but his was a hard demeanor to read.

The team had a home game that night. I didn’t go, but I got the play-by-play from the team’s equipment manager the next day. Apparently, Ilya tried to use the softer Synergy for regular game play, and the explosive S17 on power plays. This was not a normal thing to do, especially with such different-playing sticks.

Well Ilya was on a power play and wound up to take one of his signature one-timers, a slapshot taken right off a pass, and he totally whiffed. He missed the puck like a beginning golfer misses the ball.

I lost my white whale quicker than you could say Ishmael.


Hometown Pride

I guess we’ve lived in Atlanta long enough now to feel some hometown pride. There was a skit on SNL last Saturday that proved that point. They were trying to make fun of typical people from each city vying for Amazon’s new offices.

Boston had its thick accented tough-guy and tough-gal types, offering up Fenway seats and Dunkin Donuts stuff. Miami had Latinas and Pit Bull (ironically who once lived in our suburb of Atlanta). And for Atlanta they had a man and woman from City Hall and Paula Deen.

Paula Deen isn’t even from Atlanta, she’s from Savannah. That’s a world away. About 4 to 5 hours by car, depending on traffic and where you’re starting from. And the two people representing City Hall were about as uninspiring as, well, City Hall.

Later that night in bed, where we tend to do our best thinking, my wife looked at me and said, “that’s all they could come up with for Atlanta?”

I know SNL is supposed to be comedy and all, so what about any one of Atlanta’s more relevant characters: Zombies from the Walking Dead? Tyler Perry dressed as Madea? Danny Glover (not the one from Lethal Weapon, but from the show Atlanta) dressed as his singing persona Childish Gambino? The Spanx founder giving out Spanx? Usher dressed as an Usher? QB Matt Ryan fumbling a Super Bowl trophy? And a bit dated, but still relevant: Captain Courageous himself, Ted Turner, of, well everything Turner… Broadcasting, Network Television, Classic Movies? You get the gist.

We may not have the Hollywood sign, but we’ve gotten a lot of Hollywood’s business lately. We may not have The Statue of Liberty, but we’ve got the Martin Luther King Center. We may not have Wolfgang Puck, but… okay, we’ll still claim Paula Deen.