Sunday, April 29, 2018

New Bern foodie tour

OK, the original idea was for our Davidson County Civil War Round Table to take its annual spring campaign to New Bern to visit the battlefields there as well as nearby Kinston last weekend.

And we pretty much did that.

Full disclosure: The last time my wife and I were in New Bern was about 25 years ago. Things have changed. The city of about 31,000 has gone through a nice revitalization where downtown (or is it uptown?) buildings have reinvented themselves, utility lines have gone underground, and historic sites (like Caleb Bradham's shop where he invented Pepsi, or Tryon Palace, or the 200-plus-year-old Episcopal Church with its painted glass windows and 1717 King James Vinegar Bible), are proudly brought forward.

My wife didn't make this trip, but 15 or so of my alpha male friends did. Some of us (mostly the retired guys) arrived on Thursday, and the rest of us showed up on Friday, finally coalescing as a full round table at the New Bern battlefield for a morning tour.

Quick history lesson: the battle of New Bern was a small but significant action that happened in 1862, early in the war. It was a Union victory that captured a Confederate seaport, which it never relinquished. Today's battlefield features some pristine earthworks and clear interpretative markers that make the place a real asset.

In Kinston, about a half hour away, rests the remains of the CSS Neuse, one of only three Confederate ironclads still in existence (the others being the CSS Cairo in Vicksburg and the CSS Georgia in Savannah). All that's left of the Neuse is its water-damaged wooden hull and about 10,000 artifacts that came out of the Neuse River when the boat was finally raised in 1963. But the hull and the artifacts now reside in a state-of-the art museum in downtown (or is it uptown?) Kinston, protected for all to see.

Our round table field trips are great because they offer reasonable doses of history while leaving us enough time to explore other options. When we went on trips to Chattanooga, Richmond and Charleston, for example, we were able to take in some minor league baseball games in those cities. Our trip to Charleston also offered us an opportunity to visit the Eight Air Force Museum in Savannah.

This time, not only did we take in Kinston, but also Morehead City, where Fort Macon has stood guard since 1826. That was cool until about 600 middle school kids showed up for their get-out-of-class free field trip. Sigh.

Anyway, the nice surprise on this trip were the food options. Places like Beer Army, Craven 247, Morgan's and Persimmon's, all within walking distance of each other and all spectacular in their own way. Even Morehead City gave us Southern Salt, where I had some of the best crab cakes I've ever had outside of Baltimore.

Each day when I called Kim, the first thing out of my mouth was what we had for dinner the previous night. Oh, yeah. The battlefield was nice, too. So much for history.

Clearly, it's time to start plotting our next foray.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Spring cleaning

For the past 10 days or so, I've found myself in spring cleaning mode.

Thank goodness this happens just once a year. Usually around spring.

It starts with weeding our vast garden areas, which somehow become more vast with each year that I get older.

The weeding is necessary, however, since what I am really doing is preparing our gardens for the layer of hardwood mulch that I throw on them.

The backyard garden area is unending. It's a scalloped garden that runs on both sides of my yard, which I figure is about 30 yards deep, from my back porch to the alley. It's a lot of garden area. I take my trusty mattock and run through fields of dandelions, wild (Indian) strawberries, poison ivy, ground ivy, crabgrass and other weeds I can't identify, digging up most anything that has no eye appeal. I am a dangerous man with a mattock.

It also means raking up all the leaves that I didn't collect last October.

The garden in front of our house is what I call our "English cottage garden", although I doubt it resembles anything English at all. But Kim has tulips, snapdragons, columbine, black-eyed susans and things that grow tall and green (not weeds) that fill our beds, which are usually lined with impatiens or begonias (when in season). It looks great.

Anyway, after the weeding comes the mulch. We usually order four Bobcat scoops of mulch that gets delivered and dumped in a rather large pile in our garden area next to the alley (the dump truck pile somehow gets larger with each year I get older).

I distribute the mulch by shoveling loads into a wheel barrow, then throwing the mulch out by hand. But I recently learned a valuable lesson. I was told that it was a lot easier to load the wheel barrow by using a pitchfork. Ha, I said. That makes no sense. The tines of the fork are about two inches apart; the mulch will simply slip through the tines, I figure logically.

But, no. The pitchfork was a Godsend. I decided that the pitchfork is not the devil's tool after all – the shovel is (at least for moving mulch). The pitchfork has saved my aching back. It only took me 67 years to learn this.

There's also indoor spring cleaning involved.

We were having friends over to the house, but before Kim would allow anyone through the front door, we had to clean the place up. My job (even though I've been mulching) was to dust and vacuum. I usually do the dusting and vacuuming anyway to keep the house-chore load off Kim, but my idea of dusting and vacuuming is surface centered. I clean what I can see.

Kim's idea is more detailed, requiring me to get down on my hands and knees to clean under sofas and chairs, under end tables and secretaries, and into corners and crevices to get rid of the cobwebs and spider dirt.

Oh. That kind of spring cleaning.

Anyway, we got the place clean. It looks great and will probably look great for another couple of hours before real life and more dust settles in.

Then we can do it all over again.

Next spring.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Masters plan

I love this day in golf – the final round of The Masters.

While some people fail to see the drama that can arise from hitting a little white ball with a crooked stick into a gopher hole, the day almost always brings me to the edge of my seat.

Part of the reason, I think, is because of the golf course itself. Augusta National, as golf courses go, is nothing less than a glorious work of art, carved out of the Fruitland azalea nursery in the 1930s by none other than Bobby Jones his own self.

I've had the great privilege to attend two Masters practice rounds in my life, thus twice fulfilling an item on my bucket list when once would have been amazing enough (Other bucket list check marks: I've played at Pinehurst No. 2 twice; I've flown in a World War II era B-24; I've hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and I sang "Rocky Mountain High" while actually crossing the Rockies. I once swam with barracuda in the Florida Keys, but that was more of an accident of crossing paths with fish with sharp teeth while I was snorkeling than a bucket list quest of mine. It'll do, though).

Anyway, Augusta National without golfers on it would be thrilling enough. Now throw in world class professionals and you enter the realm of legend: rallies, comebacks, epic collapses, epic shots – it's all there.

Another reason I love this day is because I usually pick somebody I want to win, and so it becomes a little more personal. I usually get serious about this after the cut, when it' a little clearer who's leading the field or has a reasonable chance for victory.

For example, I've never been a big Sergio Garcia fan, but I pulled for him to win The Masters last year and was happy enough when he finally put on his green jacket.

The usual suspects also tend to come into play here: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson. I can pull for any of those guys if they're in contention. But if they're up against the dreaded best player never to have won a major, I generally pull for the guy seeking his first title.

Compelling story lines don't hurt, either. Rory Mcllroy can complete his career Grand Slam (Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, PGA Championship) if he wins today. It'll mean Patrick Reed, another solid golfer I like, will have to choke on his three-stroke lead, a development which could become something of Masters legend a la Greg Norman, if that happens.

I also like Jordan Spieth because his mom went to Moravian College and his dad went to Lehigh University, which are landmarks within my old stomping grounds when I was a kid growing up in Bethlehem, PA. So there's that. It's part of my six degrees of separation from Jordan Spieth.

This year's leaderboard looks pretty interesting going into the final round. I'm ready to settle in, immerse myself in sandy white bunkers and smell the azaleas.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Cable guy

For about a week – eight consecutive days – our house was something akin to a third world country: we had no Internet; we had no email; we had no landline telephone service; and, oddly enough, while we did have access to most of our cable TV stations, we did not have access to some of the upper tier stations for which we were paying.

That's some bundle.

I went into panic mode, which is usually my basic go-to option when things go wrong. My first impulse, of course, was to curse out Spectrum, our cable provider.

The cable service went out a week ago Wednesday, after the mini snow storm we had that didn't even shut down the school systems. When my cable acts up, I usually reboot the modem/router, and everything comes back to life. But this time, nothing happened.

On Thursday morning, I began the first of what turned out to be a flurry of trips to the Spectrum office on Caldcleugh Road, near the community college.

We had to wait until Saturday before a technician came out. He had this handy iPad that tells him where the hot cable lines are, whether individual routers and modems are up, and neat stuff like that. He determined that there was nothing wrong in our house, that it must be in the lines, so he called maintenance. A van arrived shortly, a cable guy got out, fiddled with some wires on a pole, and left.

Still no service.

So I talked with my neighbor on Sunday, an employee of Spectrum who is out on medical leave. He, too, was without service, although he had his own hot spot, thanks to his iPhone. We don't have an iPhone – we still use a flip phone. We're dinosaurs. In fact, I guess we're the kind of dinosaurs that die in meteor strikes and turn into future tar pits or gas reserves.

At any rate, my neighbor called for a maintenance guy, who arrived shortly, climbed a different pole, fiddled with a couple wires, and left.

But still no service.

I saw my neighbor again on Wednesday, who was shocked to learn that I was still down. That was weird, because his line was now up and running. So he came to my house with his iPad. Yep. We were down. In fact, he showed me that we were about the only house in the service node (about 1,000 devices, I guess) that was down. Great. Wehrle luck. So he put in another call.

This time, the cable guy who came out located the tap to our house, which was on a pole across the street and about a half block up the road. He climbed up, cut off a piece of cable line, replaced it, and came down.

"That should do it," he said, showing me the four-foot piece of cable he'd chopped off. It looked like it had been in a knife fight. "Squirrels," he said, showing me numerous gnawings in the line, including one area that exposed the copper wire, which tends to disrupt service when the elements hit it.

But we were back online.

Well, almost.

Our printer still wasn't working. The Spectrum guy, who took 15 minutes to get us online, spent a half hour trying to figure out how to get our printer connected. He left in frustration.

But I had an ace. I called my friend and former colleague at The Dispatch, who is something of an IT whiz in his spare time. He came over Friday morning and spent at least 90 minutes trying to outsmart the system, evade my cat, and not bump his head on our low stairway overhead to the second floor. But he was up to the challenge and the printer was miraculously working when he left.

So we're finally online, our lives back to normal as we rejoin the technological revolution. At least, until the next squirrel attack.