Thursday, December 27, 2007

Frentz & Sons Hardware - Just about the best hardware store anywhere!!

As ever, I like to write about things that make me happy.

There is a hardware store in Royal Oak, on Gardenia and Main, called Frentz and Sons. It's a store that carries all sorts of hardware, modern and obscure, but, more importantly to me, works in an old-school 100% customer service focused way.

I borrowed this one from their website. Will replace with one of my own soon.

To get to it from where I live, I have to drive past one medium hardware chain, and if I go an extra couple of miles, I can have my choice of either Home Depot or Lowe's. However, almost always, my first stop (and usually only stop) is Frentz and Sons. Perhaps if I go to the chain store i might save a couple of pennies - I really don't know and don't care. The Frentz way is certainly worth it.

Example - today I was doing a little work in the house - hanging some coat hooks. As per most anything I go near, it was a wee bit irregular - the pre-drilled holes were ~18.5 inches apart. Anyone who knows anything about hanging these things knows that they should be screwed into studs and not just plaster - wet coats are heavy, and as studs are generally 16 inches apart center-to-center, I was only going to get one screw fixed to a stud. So, not being too savvy in the fixing to plaster worlds, I took meself to Frentz and Sons, and explained what I needed to one of the young guys working there. No problem, in less than a minute I was leaving with what I felt I needed - plasterboard anchors and screws. I headed home, drilled the wall and hammered the anchors in.

Unfortunately, due to my own lack of pre-planning, I did not take into account the thickness of the piece of wood I was fixing to the wall - the stupid screws were too short. So off back to Frentz's again. I was thinking I needed to pull the anchors, and put bigger and longer ones in there - nope. The young guy suggested the blindingly obvious - just use longer screws! I left there with the screws, and only a tiny bit out of pocket due to my error. And the coat hooks are now up.

You see, had I went to one of the other more well known hardware stores, I would have ended up winging it and buying pre-packaged screws. I doubt if I would have got the advice I got from Frentz, nor the feeling that I am supporting a small local business - to me, that's pretty important in this day of mega-stores - small businesses made Royal Oak what it is; unfortunately, this is changing, but I for sure hope that Frentz & Sons stays around. They will for sure, get my support.

There is something to be said for being able to walk into a store, explain what you are looking for, get asked the right questions and walk out with what you need - as many times, I had no clue what I needed on the way in.

And, they don't make you feel like an idiot for not being a fully qualified contractor.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Central Park Hotel, Modena, Italy

There's a lot more about my recent trip to Italy here; this is a brief account of my stay in the Central Park Hotel in Modena.
This was a nice hotel - apparently 4 star - with staff that spoke good English. And a little tiny bar. The hotel was located on the fringe on the old city center, well within walking distance of all ends of the old city. I know, because I walked it. Parking was on the street, but that is the norm there. The hotel is across from (I think) the library, and a really old beautiful church.

Unlike the last place I stayed in Italy, this was 100% smoke free. Which, at least to me, is a really good thing.

The rooms are European - small and functional. I had a trendy bedroom, well trendy by my standard. And the bathroom - Oh, the bathroom - so trendy I didn't want to leave it!

A door view of my room. See - narrow!

A space-age shower

Look! A toilet sticking out of the wall. And a place to wash yer socks! hehhehehe

And the room. Look - wee beds!

The breakfast there was nice too - a usual buffet - not as elaborate as some of the German or Austrian places, but good none the less. Cereal, rocket-fuel coffee, cold meats, really good cheese, fruit, bread, yoghurts, cake and other stuff.

And to top it off, lots of Pavarotti playing in the breakfast room. Makes for a nice start to the day.

Overall, a nice place.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Modena, Italy.

Again, work took me to Europe – this time to Modena, Italy. It’s a kinda different place – very old and known for different things. For example, it’s the home of balsamic vinegar, the birthplace (and final resting place) of Paveroti, and the center of Ferrari and Maseroti. The city also has Italy's only military academy - a building which is grand, and pictured above.

We flew into Bologna, got a car, and took the non-motorway route to Modena. We passed the Ducati factory (not much to see), then some ladies who would have been more suited to be out at night – it was 11 in the morning. The Bologna to Modena trip is across some untypical flat land for Italy.

After finally finding Modena we then had the monstrous task of locating the Central Park Hotel. It took us about an hour of driving around in circles through narrow streets to locate it, but we did eventually.

After checking in and shaping up, we headed out for a walk through the city. Cobblestone streets and old, old buildings. People on bikes and mopeds. It was a bit of a shift from metro Detroit.

Starving, we went looking for a café to get some pizza or a roll or baguette or something. We eventually stumbled upon a little place that sold some really delicious slices of pizza for about eu2 each. And a little glass of Tuborg to go with it. Very nice. The guy working there spoke no English, and we spoke no Italian, but there were no problems.

The ancient cathedral, pictured below twice – one side and one front showing the steeple all covered in scaffolding – was impressive. Work on this fine building started in 1099 – and even before that, 2 churches stood on the spot. This cathedral recently made the news – it was here Pavarotti’s funeral took place a few months ago. More on it later.

From there we went to a couple of shops – not buying. Everything there seemed incredibly expensive. And the shops all seemed to be closing around 3pm. So, back to the hotel.

Later, we headed out to dinner. What we quickly learned was that restaurants in Modena do not open until at least 7pm, and that all the shops had re-opened. Four hungry and thirsty guys were not in a mood for shops, so we wandered around until we found a bar that sold beer on tap. The bar we found had a name that I can’t remember, a modern little place that sold beer, wine, coffee and pastry snacks. So, a couple of half-litres of Nastro Azzurro were ordered and drank. A nice unexpected touch was the complementary plate of sandwiches, small pizza slices, and other unknown pastry thing that was served with the beer. All good!

Thereafter, we headed to the Ristorante Belvedere Da Danilo – a really nice little place – I’d been here before on my last flying visit – but being wet and miserable last time, I was in an unappreciative mood then. Different this time – I was hungry and more alert. We had a shared starter, antipasto, which was a big plate of cold meat – prosciutto, parmesanno reggiano, salami of the mountains (?) and others, and some puffy pastry things – delicious! For the pasta course, I had Ravioli di Modena – hand made ravioli stuffed with cheese, coated with balsamic vinegar. The vinegar added some sweetness, which I was not expecting – interesting! We skipped the meat course – all full up and happy. For 4 people, the bill was $100 – and that included a bottle of wine. The service was good to – out waiter talked us through everything he served us in pretty good English.

Then, back to the hotel and sleep.

So that was day 1. Day 2 was spent working until late in the afternoon. And then, hotel, and off out for dinner – a little later this time. We took a recommendation from the hotel, and went to Ristorante L'incontro –a small little place down a bunch of narrow cobblestone streets, past a bunch of operational cobblers (or, I guess, shoemakers). The restaurant seemed to have a brick ceiling, similar to the arches outside, and was family-ran. Our waitress, upon realizing we were not Italian, fetched us English menus, so some of the mystery was taken out of it all. The antipasto was the similar to the night before, cold meat and cheese, only larger in quantities. On our waitress’s recommendation, we also had some kind of toast, one lot covered in a mushroom and port topping, the other had what we were told was lard. It wasn’t lard as I know it – just some other kind of cured pork. We skipped over the pasta section after this, and went straight for meat. Or, Meet, as it was listed on the menu. Our waitress recommended a mixed meat selection, and we happily accepted. It consisted of small lamb chops, a huge steak that had been hung for quite a while judging by the rich taste, and veal – The Cruel Meat – which I avoided. The other meat was great. We finished off with a coffee each. Unfortunately, the bill reflected the quantity. Not my call that night, thankfully.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped into a bar we’d seen on the way to eat – I can’t remember the name. But, it was a trendy kinda place with a big screen TV, showing soccer, and Hacker-Pschorr Hefeweizen on tap (along with some other lesser beers). So we drank, people watched and went back to the hotel.

Day 3, my final day in Modena, was spent for the first part like Day 2, except my colleagues had run out of town to another appointment elsewhere. So I was on my own. After a day’s work, I went off out for a walk through the evening city. It was pleasant, and to make things better, there was Mass going on in the cathedral, so I wandered in. All the singing, and prayer (none of which I could understand) was nice and peaceful, and the building inside was beautiful. There is something very special about being in a place like this that had stood there for so long. Well, I liked it anyway.

I wandered the streets, as it was not dinnertime yet. Eventually, I thought I could not leave Italy without having a pizza. I found a restaurant selling pizza eventually (remarkably hard to find, surprisingly), had a beer and ate a delicious spicy pizza with salami, anchovies, mushrooms, garlic, and peppers on it. It was really good – and not too filling. These people know a thing or two about making a decent pizza – it tasted nothing like Dominos! hehehe in that it didn't taste like cardboard.

Dang shadows!

After this, I headed back to the hotel, packed, slept, and arose in the middle of the night to catch a taxi to the airport, driven by a non-English speaker, but he got where I wanted to go and I got how many euros he wanted for the privilege.

From there, I flew to Amsterdam, then Detroit, stopped flying and came home. Bye Italy for now! I will be back - it's a cool place.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Holiday Magic in Royal Oak - Christmas Parade - Miracle Madness - SANTA'S FIRST STOP IN MICHIGAN!!!

UPDATE: 2008 Parade HERE!!

OK, I had some issues picking a title for this post so I used them all.

Last Saturday, we made an appearance at the annual Christmas parade in Royal Oak. This was our third one; we missed last year as we had a pre-booked trip to Cereal City - the Kellogg's attraction which has since felt the Michigan squeeze. Well, no apparent squeeze around here, as the parade seems to be getting bigger each time I see it.

On a personal level, there was a difference this year. All the little uns in out family were part of the parade, so me and my wonderful wife got to watch the parade on our own - well apart from the other couple of thousand people, of course.

As we had to deliver the kids to where they needed to be, we were early to find a space to stand on the curb. Good thing too - people were all over the place booking their spots with chairs, blankets, dogs, babies. It was cold too - thankfully we were strategically positioned near to Pronto's, who had a coffee and cocoa table in operation.

Anyways, here are some pics of the parade.....

Pre-parade street-level view.... ok, I thought it was cool.

A float getting all psyched up for the big event

Some sorta clown....

A fire truck.

Now that is one big flag

Not to be outdone, the Canadians turned up with a big flag too.

And some Canadian ladies riding horses in an unconventional way. Funny Canadians!

It wouldn't be a parade without a mob of cat-stranglers.

Or the world-famous Candy Band!

A car.

Another car.

And a dung cart.

The Wizard Of Oz! There was me thinking he played in goal for the Red Wings.

And people riding bikes. Or should that be ikes? Yikes!


The Miracle's Dancing Entourage. Obviously not feeling the cold. Although they do look a little blue!

And the man himself. It's a miracle! Or 2.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

D-Bar-A Scout Ranch - Another fun weekend - this time in November

We recently took a weekend at the scout ranch - been here many times before - and as always, it was good. The weather was a wee bit cold, but overall it was nice. We were guests of another pack - who were attempting to introduce us to the fun of boy scouting 9instead of cub scouting). It worked.
We had a great time hiking (for miles), eating plants that look inedible, and eating (or avoiding eating) semi-cooked chicken.

Nice reflections..

Yep. It's Jack Lord of Hawaii Five-O. Apparently he donated a load of the land to the BSA.

The dreaded Pedro Trail - Feared amongst Boys Scouts.

We ended the Saturday evening by building some trebuchets (or Scout Catapults) to launch water balloons at each other. Below is a simple plan for the type of things we built -

Tree-mendous fun for all involved - our catapult was by far the best. We took out pretty much every other group. Sometimes engineers are useful!