Friday, October 28, 2022

World Series

My favorite baseball team, the Houston Astros, is playing in the World Series. I am writing this Friday night during Game 1 of the best-of-seven series against the Philadelphia Phillies, who squeaked into postseason play in the Wild Card position but have played spectacularly since doing so. 

The Astros have become a regular in postseason play and have been to the World Series four of the past six seasons. 

They won it in 2017, but there is a huge virtual asterisk by their name due to a cheating scandal uncovered the following year. That year, 2018, Wife, Younger Son and I went to the ALCS (American League Championship Series) in Houston to see them play the Red Sox, and they lost. That was my first and only time to see postseason play, and it was a lot of fun, even with the loss.

Not long after that, however, all the stuff about the cheating came out and was verified. This broke my heart, and had I known about it beforehand, I would probably not have gone to that game. 

I was bitterly disappointed and angry over the cheating scandal. I had followed the Astros since I was eight years old, and I felt betrayed and robbed. 

They went back to the fall classic in '19 and lost to the Nationals, and in '21 when they lost to the Braves (which pleased everyone in my family except me). 

It took me a couple of years to get over the cheating scandal and fully forgive them. But the truth is I've never been one to hold a grudge. I'm back as a fan. 

I thought the Astros would surely hit the skids as an organization after it was revealed what happened in '17, but thanks to manager Dusty Baker, some key players who stayed around and some others they were able to acquire, they've remained a force to be reckoned with. This year was remarkable as they led the AL West the entire season and won it decisively.

Long story short: I'm boarding a plane for Houston tomorrow (Saturday) morning and will meet my two sons for World Series Game 2. I don't like the term "bucket list" because I think it's an overused buzz phrase, but this definitely fulfills a desire I've had for a long time -- to go to a World Series game. And going to see my favorite team play makes it even sweeter. 

The Phillies just won Game 1, so we're not off to a good start. But tomorrow will be great no matter the outcome. 

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Something new

I have recently referred to the weekly column I have written for a local online publication for the past 11 years and how I suspected that was coming to an end. 

I was correct. My last column posted August 26th. The last one I submitted, a week after that, never ran. That publication is obviously "going in a different direction" (a classic line used when an employer is letting an employee go); they simply never bothered to tell me. 

I was not paid, so I supposed there was no reason to tell me it was over, but I think it would have been the courteous thing to do. 

There was one other columnist, and he was having the same experience I was. He finally got someone to respond to him, and we learned much of the staff dedicated to this publication had been let go. He was told we could continue submitting columns but there was no commitment to running them. Uh, yeah, right. 

That made it a no-brainer for me. I was done. 

That brings me to the next chapter. I will continue to write the column, but now it will be in the form of a newsletter, using the platform Substack. I will post new material there, and subscribers will receive an email when new content is posted. 

I retained all of the emails and comments I have received from readers over the past 11 years. Earlier this week, I sent an email blast to all of those who had communicated with me, explaining my new venture on Substack and giving them the opportunity to subscribe. I've sent a couple of other smaller mass emails to others I thought might be interested, and I have received a positive response. 

I thought about combining this new gig with this blog, but I will not be doing so. The blog, which I began in 2008, has become a place where I communicate with the friends I have made here, and I enjoy it a great deal. I plan to continue the blog in its current form. 

The Substack newsletter will be a continuation of my column -- Everyman life observations, often (but not always) with some emphasis on local issues. I have described it on the welcome page as "Everyman. Life Observations. Occasional Opinions." 

Readers here, of course, are more than welcome to subscribe and I would be thrilled to have you! You may simply skip over the content that is of no interest to you. 

I totally get it if you have no interest in having another email hit your inbox, but if you would like to subscribe, simply click on the link below, or copy and paste it into your browser, and hit Subscribe when you're prompted. You'll receive an email when there is a new post. Wish me luck!


Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Trip Pics - Vol. 2

 More pictures from our trip: 

The Cotswolds

The Cotswolds

The Cotswolds

The Cotswolds

Honfleur, France

D-Day Tour, Normandy

On Omaha Beach, Normandy

Mont St. Michel

Monet's Gardens, Giverny

Monday, October 10, 2022

Trip Pics -- Vol. 1

 As promised, here are some pictures from the recent trip to U.K. and France. I'm going to divide these into two posts. Today's are all from Scotland. 

Old Course at St. Andrews

Highland Cattle

Where we stayed in Portree (pink building)

The ill-fated rental vehicle

Highland Games
Glamis Castle
Blair Athol Distillery, Pilochry

Iona Abbey
Wife on Staffa Island
Seashore along Isle of Skye

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

More about the trip

As promised, I am going to share a little more about our recent trip to the U.K. and France. I don't delude myself into thinking you want a play-by-play, so feel free to skim or skip as you see fit. Pictures to come in the next post. 

Our first stop was St. Andrews in Scotland. Our friends W (Mr.) and C (Mrs.) had arrived the day before and got what would become our ill-fated rental car, which was a Ford pickup truck with a camper cover. It was a hideous copper color, and we'll get back to it later. W and C explained it was all the car rental company had to offer (which was pretty lame, since a six-passenger van had been confirmed). It was quite comfortable, however, and all of our bags fit in the back. 

Wife and I took a tram from the Edinburgh airport to downtown Edinburgh (catching a glimpse of Edinburgh Castle), where we caught a train to a small town near St. Andrews where W and C picked us up. We arrived at St. Andrews mid-afternoon and checked into our hotel. 

Wife and I got a quick bite to eat before re-joining W and C for a walk around the "Old Course" which was just steps away from our hotel. I'm not a golfer, but thoroughly enjoyed seeing this famous site. We visited a pro shop where we bought souvenirs for our golf-playing sons and son-in-law and enjoyed drinks in a clubhouse overlooking the course. After a lovely dinner at a restaurant W and P had picked, right on the water, Wife and I slept well as we shook off our jet lag. 

We loaded the truck early the next morning and set out for the town of Pilochry, where a version of the Highland Games was taking place. This is where we spent much of the afternoon, and this was the warmest we were the entire trip. The sun shone brightly and I'm guessing it was about 75 degrees. W and I stood in line for pints while Wife and C got sandwiches and chips (fries) for us from a vendor. All food and drink were from the Scottish equivalent of food trucks.  

The atmosphere was carnival-like as locals and visitors witnessed competitions of hammer throwing, tug-of-war, Scottish dancing, bagpipe playing and relay races, among other games. It was the perfect indoctrination to this wonderful country, and we found the locals warm and friendly, including our bed-and-breakfast innkeeper. 

After the games we visited a local distillery where we got our first taste of authentic Scotch. While my companions were not particularly impressed, I found it quite tasty. (When in Scotland, you know!)

Our destination the next day was the Isle of Skye, the largest island that is part of the "Inner Hebrides archipelago," where we would be for two nights. It is accessible by bridge, and we stayed in the charming seaside town of Portree. The water was only a few steps from the door of our hotel. 

We spent a day driving into the surrounding hills and mountains. The weather was gorgeous (as it was our entire trip) and we experienced only a few drops of rain at one of the higher altitudes. W did a great job driving as Wife helped him navigate the narrow roads. Sheep were in abundance (we were told there were more sheep than people in this area) and I asked W to stop numerous times so I could take pictures to send to the grands. We also saw the quite-interesting Highland cattle. 

Backing up a little, on our way to Skye, we made a stop at Glamis Castle, which was the family home of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and where Queen Elizabeth and her sister Princes Margaret spent much time during their childhood (and where Margaret was born). This was our first exposure to the high esteem in which the Scots held the Queen, and the extent of the grieving that was taking place there and throughout the U.K. following the Queen's death. 

From Skye it was on to the Isle of Mull, the second-largest island (after Skye) of the Inner Hebrides, accessible by ferry from the town of Oban. The copper-colored truck was driven by W right into the bowels of a massive boat. We left the car there and headed upstairs for the ride across. 

Prior to boarding, I had my best meal of the trip at a walk-up fresh seafood counter just steps away from the ferry port. I had fresh shrimp and a crab sandwich that were exquisite. (My second favorite had been at a hole-in-the wall seafood shed on Skye that a cousin of mine recommended, just up the hill from the Talisker Distillery. Fresh steamed scallops and lobster were prepared on site and consumed standing around barrels. This kind of thing speaks my language!)

We were on Mull two nights, and we stayed at a great hotel a few miles from the town of Tobermory where we had dinner in a delightful pub our first night. 

Our big day on Mull was spent taking another ferry that took us to Staffa, an uninhabited island about six miles out, and the Isle of Iona. On Staffa, we left the boat and walked onto the island, which a layperson like me would simply describe as "rock" but which consists largely of columnar basalt and from a distance looks like a cupcake! We walked along the edges, holding onto a guide rope, and it was spectacular. (I hardly do this justice. Look it up on Wikipedia if you would like more information.) 

From Stafford it was on to Iona, a tiny island accessible only by ferry, and inhabited by about 200 people. The main landmark on the island is a beautiful Abbey where we heard the story of the origins of Christianity in Scotland. It is now home of an ecumenical Christian community where pilgrims visit from the world over for periods of time to work and to serve. We had a tour guide who was fantastic and made it all come alive. 

(This all began to sound familiar to me and not long after arriving home, I found a blog post from blog friend Jeff -- Heading to Iona - From a Rocky Hillside -- who visited and served in this very place in 2017. It is now one of my goals to return to Iona and do the same.) 

Our time in Scotland coming to a close, we drove south, crossing the border into England, our destination being Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds. This was my second visit to this charmingly beautiful area of lush, green rolling hills, lovely streams and picturesque towns and villages. Here we met our friends R (Mr.) and P (Mrs.) who had been in London several days and shared with us their experiences seeing one of the processions when the Queen's body was being moved. 

It was the next day that we would have the problem with the car/truck. My plan that day was to hike a segment of the Cotswold Way, a 102-mile national trail that takes walkers through rolling hills and pastures and by centuries-old landmarks. I had mapped out an eight-mile course my friend R and I would do, and we would take a bus back to Stow. 

Wife and P (R's wife) would take us to the start of the hike in Winchcombe, about 20 miles from Stow. Wife was the driver for the day. C and W were hanging back and doing their own walking and sightseeing during the day. 

I won't go into all the details, but suffice it so say, after we stopped for gas, when Wife commenced to restart the vehicle, it was a no-go. Through consulting with a couple of locals, we learned an additive was required for this diesel-powered truck, a fact of which the folks at the rental company had failed to inform W and C when they first obtained it in Edinburgh. Once the additive was used up, a visit to a Ford dealership for a diagnostic and a reset would be required. We were not interested in doing that. 

So, rather than hiking the Cotswold Way, R and I (and our wives) spent the better part of the day dealing with this. We ended up abandoning the truck and getting another car in a nearby village. This one was procured from that company that says, "We'll pick you up," which they were glad to do, but it was near 5 p.m. before they could do so. R and I ended up hiking about a mile on the Cotswold Way (not what we had in mind!) back and forth into town twice (to join our wives, who had hitched a ride) for lunch, and back to meet the tow truck that would take the truck away. 

(We had been in touch with W and C, in whose name the car was rented, and they spoke with the rental company, telling them we were done. They reported it was not a pleasant exchange, with the company insinuating we should have known about the required additive. In our view, it was time to cut our losses.)

The silver lining of the day was Winchcombe being another charming Cotswold village. We found a great place for lunch and after our walk back to the car, then back into Winchcombe, R and I found a splendid pub where we sat with locals as well as other visitors to the area, enjoying traditional cold beer we Americans are accustomed to, as well as cask ale served at room temperature (an acquired taste, but made enjoyable by the atmosphere we were in). 

The next day was spent with a driver/tour guide who drove us around to various sites and towns. Wife and I had done this on our previous trip to this area and it's well worth the expenditure to be with someone who knows the area. 

The next morning, a Sunday, our friends W and C left us for their second leg of the trip to Ireland. R and I did a modified Cotswold Way hike that morning before the remaining four of us drove to London, with a drive-by in Oxford on the way. 

We turned in our car near Heathrow Airport and took an Uber to a London hotel near St. Pancras Station where the next morning we would take the Eurostar through the "chunnel," the underground train route across the English Channel that would take us to Paris. 

In Paris we picked up our next car, which was a manual transmission Peugeot SUV. Although I can drive a manual, I am not interested in driving in foreign countries. Neither Wife nor P had ever learned to drive a manual, so R was elected driver for the French portion of the trip. He was glad to do it and did a great job. 

We headed north to the beautiful harbor town of Honfleur where we spent the night in a hotel near the water. We had a wonderful dinner there and spent the next morning walking around the town. We left around noon for Bayeux, where we would see the incredible Bayeux Tapestry which chronicles the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings. 

The next day was spent on a D-Day Tour of the Beaches of Normandy and surrounding areas. A French guide wife had met when she was there in 2016 drove the four of us on an all-day journey that ended with a visit to the American military cemetery where nearly 10,000 American soldiers are buried. 

Wife had sung the praises of the guide and this tour for nearly six years, and she said she always wanted to take me. All I can say is I am glad she persisted. It was an emotional experience, thinking of what happened there. 

From Bayeux it was on to Mont-Saint-Michel, a tidal island that is home to the Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey, the main attraction that sits atop the island. The visit here was the only time I felt crowded. The crowdedness is not hard to understand, however, as it is a remarkable site. 

We spent the night on the island and drove the next morning to Giverny, home of Claude Monet's home and gardens. This is another charming village, and the gardens are breathtaking. 

The next morning it was back to Paris and our flight home. 

I have given a very scant summary, leaving out detailed descriptions that would take too long. I covered the high points. Suffice it to say it was another great trip planned by Wife and I am grateful we can occasionally travel like this.  Overseas travel has its challenges and as I said in my previous post, you can count on changes of plans. But for me it is all well worth it. 

We enjoyed traveling with both couples. I've always said there are people you can be friends with and people you can travel with.  These friends are both and I would travel with them again.