?`s and ANNEswers

Ten minutes to write. Less time to read.

Red Lobster

Today was one of those days when Earl and I zoned out, which meant he didn’t work on real estate projects (Did I mentioned he is still working as a Realtor®?) and I didn’t work on my various volunteer projects.

Instead, we spent the day mellowing together. It started with a brief walk before the heat index reared its ugly head. We opened a new jigsaw puzzle and took a trip to Costco to stock up on meat and toilet paper. I’m pretty sure the meat was more expensive in the end, but sixty rolls of toilet paper aren’t cheap either.

We usually eat lunch at Costco, because what could be more economical that an all-beef hot dog and a drink for $1.50? Particularly, if you’ve been enjoying the free samples as you shop.

But today we went to Red Lobster before visiting Costco. Once there, we chose three appetizers and split them: Lobster pizza, lobster roll, and shrimp pot stickers. All were passable – not like fresh seafood in Boston, but definitely passable. We savored mimosas as well.

Truthfully, visiting Costco on a full stomach is a great idea. We are less inclined to binge buy, although our final bill doesn’t really reflect this. But then we have enough meat and toilet paper to last us until Thanksgiving.

We came home and went to work on the jigsaw puzzle once again. It might seem like life in the slow lane, but for a lazy July Saturday it suits us well.

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Progressive Luncheon

I’m writing this early in the morning, since I’m going to Chicago for the day to enjoy lunch.A progressive lunch.

A group of us is taking a charter bus to the city where the object of the trip is to dine, dine, dine. It’s also a getaway from our daily chores. We’re leaving in a couple hours, and our first dining experience is The Drake, that famed hotel that hosted most of Chicago’s Illuminati over the years, as well as other cities’ Illuminati as well. We’re having appetizers there.

As an aside, I lived two blocks from The Drake in the 1960s and would love to wander down Elm Street for a rewind. But I also want to be back on the bus when we go to Petterino’s for the entre. So I’ll probably just visit Elm Street in my memory.

After Petterino’s, it’s dessert on Navy Pier at Riva. By then I’ll probably be comatose from food overload, as I usually eat most of my calories in the evening instead of at lunch. I’ve told my seatmate that I plan to sleep on the return to Stevensville where we’ll disembark, start our cars, and return home.

Perhaps another blog is in order regarding this excursion. But it remains to be seen.

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Ziosk is Here

I don’t know about you, but I avoid restaurants that have a little computer on the table and expect you to order from it. Or play games, for a fee, while you’re waiting for your cocktail. In fact, I’ve refused to eat at Chili’s and Olive Garden for this very reason.

But today, for expediency, I agreed to meet a friend at the local Chili’s. It was an eye-opening experience that involved our server, J, and the manager, D, whose name is on the door.

When we first sat down, I said, “Do you mind if I move this thing – prominently displayed at the front of the table – around and push it to the back.” My friend agreed. We spent a couple minutes whining about technology, even though both of us are fairly computer literate. We wanted a dining experience, not a technology one.

When the server came, we registered our dislike of the machine and said we’d prefer to give her our order. And our credit card. J said that she is encouraged by management at the local restaurant to encourage people to use the Ziosk, which is the name for this interactive machine.She also said if she doesn’t encourage customers to use it then management gets on her case. For me this was the first clue that something more intense is going on.

We had lunch, a delicious lunch except for the specter of our server being penalized because we wouldn’t use the Ziosk. Finally, we asked for more information. Boy, did we get it. The manager, D, came to our table and spent a generous amount of time and a generous attitude with us. Here is what we learned.

  1. It costs Chili’s half a million dollars per restaurant to outfit its tables with Ziosk. So there has to be a return on investment, funded by the customer. Ultimately, I suspect there will be fewer servers and more delivery persons who bring the food once Ziosk tells them.
  2. According to D, about 70 percent of his customers like the system. It enables them to order, pay, and get out of there in record time to return to the office. I suspect most of them are younger than fifty.
  3. D gets a report every day on what has transpired, because the Ziosk logs a ton of data about diners. To the point that a poor server is given fewer shifts. To the point that menu choices are determined by who ate what.
  4. It seems there is a customer survey on Ziosk, and that it counts for a lot. Personally l don’t like customer surveys, because when I’m unhappy the restaurant or the retail store or the car dealership will know it. I don’t need to fill out a form.
  5. D noted that “Corporate,” whoever that really is, loves data, to which I said, “You too are being watched.” He smiled. End of discussion.

I learned valuable information at lunch today. In the future, I’ll tell the hostess that seats us that I will not use the Ziosk and it is no reflection on the server. In addition, maybe I’ll write Chili’s corporate offices and suggest there be a Ziosk vs. non-Ziosk section in their restaurants.

Just like smoking and non-smoking.

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Apollo 11

Fifty years ago today, Astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first human ever to walk on the moon. Other crew members along for the ride were Edwin Aldrin, who also got the chance to bound over the moon’s surface, and Michael Collins, who stayed in the spacecraft doing experiments and taking photographs. (I’ve wondered how he felt, not having a chance to be as much of a household name; but in a recent interview he seemed content with his role in this historic event.)

Of course, they didn’t do it alone. There were hundreds, maybe thousands, of NASA people backing them. As well as millions and millions of people around the world watching. I was one of them.

We lived in Madison Heights, Michigan, at the time; and our first son had been born ten months before. He had recently learned to sleep through the night; and, as any first-time parent can attest, this is also an historic occasion.

So I was glued to the bulky television with its black and white screen about the size of a standard piece of paper. It was just as exciting to watch as if it were on today’s IMAX. I crossed my fingers as Armstrong descended a ladder that could have doubled for one in my garage. I held my breath, collectively with every other person watching, as he claimed the visit for mankind. And I went to bed exhilarated, not only because I knew my son would sleep through it all but also because I didn’t.

Whoever dreamed that we would be celebrating this event fifty years later with interviews of the astronauts, showings of the original footage, and analysis beyond belief! And, this time my son who also turned fifty is old enough to be there with me.

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KitchenAid and Cuisinart

Within the last year, I’ve upgraded my stove and purchased new cookware. If I had known what a difference these changes would make, I’d have done them earlier.

When we moved into our current home, I thought I’d done my homework regarding appliances. But as the years passed, it was clear I had not. It might have been an upgrade from what the builder usually installs, but it was no prize. My cookware, on the other hand, was top of the line when it was purchased. But twenty-five years of use had taken its toll.

These are the sort of things one adjusts to without realizing it. So it takes the oven a little longer to heat up. And the cookware is harder to clean. Both are scratched, but they work. Still I was becoming unenthusiastic about spending time in the kitchen.

After considerable research, we purchased new equipment. Yes, there’s been a learning curve, but the results are well worth it. My stove is once again the bells-and-whistles type; my pots and pans are easy to clean. And I’m becoming Julia Child.

The next thing I need is a fancy set of knives.

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Less is More

A year ago at this time, I subscribed to at least a dozen magazines, two of which arrived in my mailbox weekly. We also subscribed to the local daily newspaper and The New York Times on Sundays. Whoever was our mail deliverer certainly earned that salary.

I had two cooking magazines, two magazines about writing, Chip and Jo Gaines newest venture in decorating design, Smithsonian, Sojourners (the only one of the lot I’d keep forever), a couple AARP intrusions, and one or two stray publications promoting this or that.

But with all this information coming into our home, I found that most of it got skimmed. The rest was ignored. Rather than feeling informed, I felt inundated.

So over this past year, I’ve not re-subscribed when the little notice came in the mail. Not even when the second little notice arrived. The weekly magazines no longer come on Saturday; the cooking magazines have forgotten me. (And, by the way, all the issues I kept have now been reduced to pulp.), and The New York Times lost one avid reader.

But this blog isn’t really about subscriptions. It’s about what happens when you have fewer things to read. It’s about paying more attention to the items on your plate, reading every word and getting along in the world without a constant barrage of information.

I’ve always felt that less is more in many other situations; now I ascribe it to one’s reading materials too.

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Water Redux


I believe that’s pirate talk for, “D*&^% it.” And that’s how I feel right now.

Turns out the sprinkler module that we’re on (There are several of them where we live.) is out of order for the near future. Which means our lawns, our flower beds, our pots, etc. will not be watered as we go into the warmer part of summer. (See Water, July 5, for previous observations.)

There is an alternative, which is watering by hand. And, given the amount of time I’ve spent with my flowers with year, I’m more than willing to do that during this situation. In fact, it might become a mission.

Watering by hand means the water bill for the entire complex will go up, since that is covered by our association dues. I have 25 different species of annuals and perennials and take great pride in their presentation. So I plan to become the consummate waterer in this situation.

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The men’s semifinals at Wimbledon played out this afternoon. I was on my way to a friend’s house for coffee. When I arrived I asked if she and her husband had watched the match. And they said it had just ended and that Roger Federer won over Rafa Nadal. I cheered.

Roger Federer is the most poised tennis player, in winning or losing, that I’ve ever seen. I don’t watch tennis except for the big tournaments, but my son is religious about following it. So I try to snatch enough knowledge to appear intelligent. It doesn’t take much when Fed wins.

He’s considered the “old man” of tennis these days. At soon-to-be 38, he really is. Tomorrow he faces Novak Djokovic for the title. The odds are against him, since Novak is ranked #1. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if the old man had one last hurrah? Even if he doesn’t, he’ll be the most gracious person at the awards ceremony.

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Saugatuck is a boating community less that fifty miles up the road. It is charming and long been a summer tourist attraction. It’s got an inland lake, access to the big lake (Lake Michigan for the uninitiated), plenty of slips for boaters, plenty of curio stores for shoppers, and plenty of restaurants for diners of all calibers.

Today I met a friend from Chicago who visits Saugatuck every summer for a couple weeks with her husband. We met for lunch at a restaurant called the BARge. And, yes it was. A bar and a stationary barge right on the water. It was delightful. The grilled shrimp tacos were too.

Earl and I used to visit Saugatuck frequently when his daughter and son-in-law lived there. But they escaped to Mexico as ex-pats a few years ago; so we haven’t been there very often since then. It’s our loss.

I must suggest this as a day trip for the two of us.

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Today Earl and I drove to Holland to meet a potentially new investment planner for our modest portfolio.

In case you don’t know, Holland, Michigan, is home to an amazing tulip festival each May. We’ve gone a couple times, and it’s well worth the effort. We even stayed at a hotel with a swimming pool that resembles the outline of the lower part of the State of Michigan; that is, as it is often characterized as a mitten.

But today was serious business. Earl wants to change financial planners; and, while I don’t have as much attachment to this project as he does, we went together because I am the person with a thousand questions in any given situation.

We met K and spent a good portion of an hour batting questions back and forth. It was most productive, and we headed home with some homework to do before making any changes.

Holland has one more thing going for it. Before we left, we had lunch at Arby’s, one of Earl’s favorite fast food joints. It was just across the street from the investment planner’s office. And I suspect if he goes to Holland again to meet with K there’ll be another roast beef sandwich in his future.

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