Monday, April 9, 2018

On April 10 Daily Getaways offers Choice Hotel points for a half-cent each; run don't walk for this deal

    If you like to travel on the cheap, offers heavily discounted hotel points along with other travel offers starting today. The annual promotion goes on for five weeks, which is two weeks longer than previous years.
    Points on offer include those from Hilton, IHG (Holiday Inn), and Choice. Marriott isn’t included in the first two weeks, but will likely be added later. If you want to buy some of these really cheap points the first thing you need to do is have a membership in the corresponding loyalty club; so do that right now!
    In my view, the best offer by far is the Choice Hotels points being offered for just under one-half cent per point; this is almost a 20 percent increase over last year’s price, but these are still a great deal. The Choice brand includes 11 mostly down-market hotel chains, although included in that is the semi-luxury Ascend Collection and the usually reliable Comfort and Sleep Inns. On the lower end are the EconoLodge and Rodeway Inn. Yes, you can earn points for staying at an EconoLodge.
    Even though the Choice hotel brand doesn’t include the most luxurious hotel brands, this point offer (and their loyalty program) offers great value. I’ve been buying these points since 2011, when I paid just over a third of a cent per point, thanks to a no-longer-offered American Express discount. That summer I was able to book four rooms in Venice, Italy for 10,000 points per room, or $35 per night. To understand what a value this is, do a search for Venice hotel rooms.
    Not every hotel offers rooms for only 10,000 points, as redemptions cost as much as 30,000 points per night, and 25,000 per night is common. But on the top end rooms in New York City at a Cambria or Comfort hotel go for 25-30,000 per night, so with these discounted points the cost per night would be $125 to $150 per night. For New York City that’s not a bad deal. Last fall I booked a room in Tuscaloosa on a ballgame weekend for 25,000 points when the going rate was roughly $350 per night. Choice frequently puts one or two European countries on “sale” for lowered point amounts. Right now rooms in Paris can be had for as little as 12,000 points per night and rooms in London near Hyde Park for 16,000. At $5 per thousand points that's $60 and $80.
    The Choice points go on sale tomorrow, Tuesday, April 10, at Noon Central time. In past years these points were so popular that they were sold out within a few seconds of being offered, although you could repeatedly try to buy them and get lucky when someone else’s sale fell through, either because their credit card didn’t process or because they didn’t have a valid membership number. I would open three different browsers in order to get as many points as possible. With this year’s 20 percent increase in price comes a 10-fold increase in the number of point packages offered, so odds are that lightning fingers won’t be needed, and the points might be available for several hours if not days days. But if you want these points it’s still a good idea to be sitting at your computer at the crack of noon!
    Also being offered are IHG points (formerly Priority Club) for $5.80 per thousand on April 11 and Hilton points at $5 per thousand on April 12. I have purchased a small number of IHG points every year and manage to put them to good use, although the savings aren’t nearly as extreme as those from the Choice points. Hilton points at a half-cent each are a pretty good buy, but I wouldn’t stock up on them unless I had already priced out a trip and could see the savings up front.
    There are a lot of good deals being offered during the Daily Getaways promotion, but I’m going for the Choice Hotel points; that’s where the savings are.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Gun control proponents keep denouncing semi-automatics; do they know what they are?

    In all of the grab-the-guns hysteria going on right now it’s clear that a lot of gun critics don’t know what they are talking about. Again and again I read or hear people say that semi-automatic weapons should only be used by the military, that there is no need for any private citizen to own a semi-automatic weapon, and that they need to be confiscated.
    These people apparently aren’t aware that the majority of guns in this country are semi-automatic weapons. Most hunting weapons are semi-automatic. Most pistols are semi-automatic. Revolvers aren’t semi-automatic, but they might as well be. A semi-automatic weapon shoots one round with one press of the trigger, at which point the energy from the fired round automatically ejects the spent shell and loads another round; but the gun will not shoot again until the trigger is depressed for a second time. A non-automatic weapon requires the manual operation of a bolt or pump to eject the spent round and load a new one, or else the manual reloading of the gun.
    An automatic weapon is most commonly known as a machine gun. They have been essentially outlawed through taxation and regulation for the better part of a century. If you want to own a machine gun you will need around $40,000, a very clean record, and a lot of patience.
    What are popularly called "Assault rifles” are hunting weapons that have been gussied up to look like military weapons. But they still fire just like hunting rifles; if anything, they are less accurate. They are often fitting with extended magazines holding 10 to as many as 30 rounds of ammunition. At one time magazines holding more than 10 rounds were illegal under federal law, but this law expired. Many, but by no means all, hunting rifles can accept larger magazines.
    It’s possible to modify some semi-automatic rifles to act in a manner similar to an automatic. For example, the Obama administration issued a ruling that bump stocks were legal. These stocks cause a rifle to bounce against the finger and act as an automatic weapon, albeit with terrible aim. The NRA has urged the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to ban these. I believe the ATF also has the authority to ban any gun designed so that it can easily be modified to become a fully automatic weapon, and they should.
    I'll save my Second Amendment arguments for another day. But if the issue of gun control is to be debated I do think it is important for people to understand the difference between an automatic and semi-automatic weapon.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Holly Springs Methodists to celebrate reopening of sanctuary after wall collapse threatens church

Click to Enlarge
    The Holly Springs First United Methodist Church will return to its home this Sunday, Feb. 25, after six months of repairs due to the collapse of a wall. Congregants have been meeting at the Rust College chapel while the church has been under repair. The announcement was made on the church's Facebook page.
    Whether due to Divine Providence or luck, two priceless stained-glass windows were nearly lost in the wall collapse but sustained no damage. I don’t know the exact construction date of the church, but it was standing at the time of the War Between the States as Union soldiers used it as a stable for horses. I would assume the windows are as old as the church and always find them a sight to behold whenever I visit.
    You can see in the photos above just how serious this wall collapse was. The church wall collapsed on August 22 following heavy rains caused by Hurricane Harvey. Church members rushed to protect the church with tarps following the collapse, as rain from Hurricane Irma was on the way. Because of the age of the building there were fears that the entire wall might give way, destroying the church.
    The Holly Springs United Methodist Church is one of the few churches these days to have a traditional service. For those who prefer the “Old Time Religion,” this is the place. I hope to join them on Sunday and everyone is welcome. Sunday School is at 10 a.m. with Worship Service at 11 a.m.

Photos taken from Facebook posts by Susan Kemp Jones and Lacy Horton Tollison.

Monday, November 13, 2017

No one aware of abuse would say nothing about high-profile politician for years; I know this

    I have a big problem with the Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore's accusers: I simply don’t believe them. A big part of this is because I don’t trust at all allegations made at the end of party primaries, when it is too late for a party’s candidate to drop out. These women could have made these allegations five months ago, but of course then it wouldn’t have thrown the election to a Democrat.
    There are serious problems with a number of the stories that these women have related. In some cases they clearly have lied; in others they have lied or have had very faulty memories. I'm not going to address the details of these lies other than to say they are legion; I just have a huge problem that these charges have been brought up at the very last minute.
    I will say that I can believe these women wouldn’t report a sexual impropriety from their teen or young adult years. As a pre-teen I was aware of a situation in which a number of people were homosexually abused. I never said anything. None of the victims ever said anything. At least a dozen of us knew what had happened, and no one ever said anything (I found out years later that one kid's parents did find out but did nothing. Prosecution could have ruined their kid's life). My recollection is some of us kind of talked about it and agreed that parents weren’t really capable of hearing this type of news. Through the years I’ve only told a few people about the whole mess; I’ve told my wife. So it is true that people don't report abuse.
    It’s very difficult to explain the dynamic. But what I can say is that if I were ever aware that this sorry, piece-of-shit abuser – wherever he may be – was a candidate for public office, I wouldn’t wait for him to get his party’s nomination to come forward with reports of his abuse. I wouldn’t wait for him to be repeatedly elected to office for years and years. I wouldn't rush out and hire Gloria Allred to represent me. The notion that these women would allow Roy Moore to be repeatedly elected to various offices while saying absolutely nothing is preposterous. If these charges were true, they would have been made long ago. And if they were afraid to go public, they would have told their friends; not one or two, but dozens or hundreds, anyone who would listen. It's simply not possible that these women would be abused and do nothing until Moore had secured his party's nomination. It's not possible; there's not a chance in a thousand that what they are saying is true.
    People lie, sometimes for money, sometimes for attention, and sometimes for what they believe is justice. In the case of Roy Moore, someone who helps stop him By Any Means Necessary is viewed as a hero. When this story first came out the Washington Post said none of the women had any tie to any political campaign. Of course it turned out that one of the primary sources was a Hillary Clinton employee and rabid Doug Jones supporter. In fact, the Alabama Democratic Party is all wrapped up in all of these charges. The stories have been filled with lie after lie after lie, but everyone seems to just ignore these. These are people with every incentive to lie and they are clearly taking advantage of it.
    In the previous election campaign, global elitists spent $1.6 billion in an effort to put Hillary Clinton in office. Donald Trump's enemies -- both Republican and Democrat -- financed the compilation of a "Russian Dossier" filled with lies that justified illegal wiretapping by the Obama administration. Does anyone doubt that the same people willing to spend $1.6 billion in an effort to destroy America might be willing to spare say a few hundred thousand for some women to make some incendiary claims against Roy Moore?
    Is it possible that these stories are true? Everything is possible. Were Roy Moore’s admitted -- and very legal -- dating patterns a bit creepy or at least outside the ordinary? Perhaps. That's why these outlandish stories have traction. Do these stories pass the smell test? Not in the slightest.

Friday, November 10, 2017

French society 'Les Fleurs de la Memoire' adopts graves of fallen American servicemen

French heritage group members honor John Paul Hurdle's grave
    A couple of years ago I got a call from a lady up in Missouri who had visited Normandy on or around the D-Day anniversary. She saw some people in uniform paying honor to one of the graves so she took some photographs. She then returned home and tried to find some relatives of the deceased soldier.
    The soldier’s grave being honored was that of my uncle, John Paul Hurdle, who died when his plane was shot down in the run-up to D-Day. The lady who took the photos found me I think through my postings on In any event, she called me and shared the story and the photos with me.
    It seems the men in uniform honoring the memory of various fallen soldiers were members of an organization called Les Fleurs de la Memoire, or Flowers of Memory, which encourages individuals or families to adopt the grave of an American solider and honor it with the placement of flowers, since this can’t be done by their own families. NPR has a story on this organization back in 2008.
    I found a website called “Together We Served” that had all of the details of Uncle Paul’s military service. It’s pretty interesting. They have done a lot of work to put this information together for so many soldiers.
    Three or four years after the war, one or more of the crew members from Uncle Paul's plane made a courtesy call on my grandparents and told of the events on the day Paul died. They said their plane's engines were knocked out and that everyone bailed out of the plane, with Paul being one of the last to leave. He was shot while in the air parachuting to the ground.
    Russell Gray Houston told me an interesting story about the day the news arrived of Paul's death. He said he was good friends with the son of the manager of the telegraph office and was in the office the day the telegram arrived. The manager called my grandfather and told him he was delivering a telegram about Paul and that it was bad news. The kids rode with him to my grandparent's house and my grandfather was on the front porch crying when the telegram was delivered.
    As we remember our veterans, living and dead, let us share some gratitude to these kind and patriotic French citizens who are honoring our dead servicemen who never came home.

This photo was always in my grandparent's living room
John Paul Hurdle is fourth from left

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The power of friendship: In four days, Stella review becomes my most read blog post of all time

    People who love Oxford love good restaurants. My favorable review of Oxford’s newest restaurant, Stella, was published Wednesday morning. By midnight Saturday it had been directly accessed 7,160 times, making it the most read blog post I’ve ever written over the course of almost 10 years.
    I’m able to see how many people view my blog and I couldn’t figure out how or why so many people were reading the Stella review. Then I visited restaurant owner Johnny Kirk’s Facebook page and saw where he had not only posted it, but that it had been shared more than 40 times. It pays to have friends!
    Coming in second, with 7,102 direct page views, is a post I wrote several years ago about PSAT National Merit estimated cutoff scores. There is intense national interest in this, so I got a lot of hits from Google.
    My third most-read blog post of all time tells about Wild Bill Schneller thumbing nose, starting fight at 1938 Arkansas game. I wrote this post a number of years ago about the father of a friend, and each year before the Arkansas game it starts to get hits on its own. I made a point of posting it on Facebook this year, as did several others. It has 4,826 lifetime hits, but more than 3,000 of those are in the past month, again due to the fact that a number of young Bill Schneller's friends shared the blog post.
    Some of these “hits” may be from web “bots,” of course. On the other hand, quite a number of people access my blog directly. I still get one or two visits a day from people who click on the link on the late Tom Freeland’s old blog, At one time I got 15 or 20 visits a day from Tom’s blog.
    To put all of this in perspective, I sometimes write blog posts that get fewer than 100 direct hits (sometimes I don't post them on Facebook). But the hit numbers are really all over the place, from a few hundred to just over a thousand. Only a few posts have gotten over 2,000 direct page views.
    It’s interesting to see the power of social media. But it’s also interesting to see the power of friendship and the desire of people to share good news. Friendship is powerful stuff!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Stella, Oxford's newest restaurant, has the potential to be its very best

Stella's Caesar salad is art on a plate

    I’ve never been to a restaurant on opening night, but I read on about the opening of Oxford’s newest restaurant, Stella, and decided to try it out. Stella is located where Smitty’s used to be, just off the Square on South Lamar; for old-timers, Grundy’s.
    Here’s my short review: If opening night is any indicator, Stella is an outstanding fine dining establishment. It has the potential to be the best restaurant in Oxford. Oh, and it’s fairly expensive, too.
    Now for the longer version, with one caveat: Stella is outstanding, but everyone likes and dislikes things. Any negative comment I make should be taken as a quibble and nothing more.
    After reading about the opening we tried to call to ask about availability. Stella doesn’t have a phone number on Google yet, and while they have a web page, about 50 percent of it is dummy copy. The mobile version of the website had no phone number (actually, it’s listed as 111-1234), so Jinny and I just decided to try to walk in.
    I was sure the restaurant would be packed with people wanting to be first in line for a new thing, but there were a number of empty tables visible as we drove by. We were able to get a table right away. Most tables were full, but I would guess that having a few empty tables was a blessing on opening night.
    When we arrived we were seated immediately in banquette seating on the north wall. I hate banquette seating, but they only had seven tables for two with plenty of space between the tables. I’ve been in restaurants where the tables were narrower and they would cram 10 tables into the same space, so all in all it was plenty roomy. If every place with banquette seating was like this I might learn to like it.
    At present Stella has a pretty limited menu. My understanding is that they plan to expand it once they get the place up and running on all cylinders. This is a wise choice; better to do a few things exceptionally well than a lot of things poorly.
    There were, as I recall, five starters, three salads, and five entrees on the menu. We didn’t get a starter, but they included a crab cake, fried oysters, stuffed quail, and two others. I’d love to see the crab cake and stuffed quail stuck on a plate as a main, but I don’t know enough about food to know if they would pair well.
    Entrees included salmon with a crust that included horseradish, a pork chop, a filet, scallops, and a semi-cheap chicken breast. Jinny loves scallops, but the description of all the other things on the plate, including capers and cauliflower puree,  scared her off. So Jinny got the filet and I got the pork chop. I kind of wanted to get the filet, too, but knew Jinny wouldn’t eat all of hers. I really regret not taking a photo of the menu so I could accurately describe the way these dishes are presented.
    We started with salads, which are priced high enough that we started not to order them. A Caesar Salad costs $11 and the cheapest salad was $9. We each ordered the Caesar’s though, and I have to say the Caesar Salads were a work of art. I love baked Parmesan, and there was a large arch of baked Parmesan over a salad of uncut romaine lettuce leaves, topped with a white anchovy (mine only, since Jinny asked that they keep her anchovy for another lucky customer). It was only after the salad arrived that I decided to take out my phone and snap a photo, because they really were beautiful. They tasted good, too.
My pork chop and peas, minus a few bites
    After the salads came the entrees. Jinny’s filet was closer to medium-well than the medium-rare ordered, but was nevertheless quite good. The filet was melt-in-your-mouth tender with a great flavor. It was served with a “Balsamic Demi Glace” on top and “Hoseradish-Lemon Aioli” on the side. I refer to this as a sumpin-sumpin sauce. I loved it, although I usually only like Lea & Perrins on my steak. My pork chop was served atop a bed of black-eyed peas mixed with chopped celery and other stuff, kind of a dry, crunchy relish. The pork chop was good, but I think I would order the black-eyed peas as a main course if I could.
    For desert we had coffees and split a molten lava cake with an anglais sauce. I don’t know what the rest of the desserts on offer were because when I heard “molten lava” the decision was made. Dessert was great. My second cup of coffee was cold, and when I asked the waiter to microwave it for me for 40 seconds he took it to the back and brewed more coffee. He said the restaurant doesn’t have a microwave, which I find odd, since sometimes things just need to be heated a bit. I’d rather have a microwaved cup of coffee in one minute than a freshly brewed cup in five. Only a quibble, as I promised above.
    Stella also offered a cheese plate for dessert, which is my usual dessert choice when offered. Cheese for dessert is kind of a European thing, but I hope they get enough demand for this to keep offering it. I plan on ordering it next time.
    Now to the wine list! Stella only had one “wine by the glass” of each type, which was a bit of a disappointment, although their one choice of each type was a quality wine. Their sparkling wine is Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Cava, which Jinny had on a business trip and came home raving about, so that's what she got. I started with a glass of Pine Ridge white wine, a blend consisting of 80 percent chenin blanc and 20 percent viognier. The Pine Ridge white was very grape-fruity, which I usually hate, but I liked this wine. I also got a glass of Benton Lane pinot noir which was quite good; at $14 a glass it ought to be! Although Stella's wine prices are a little on the high side, they offer a generous 6.25 oz. wine pour; they bring the wine in a small carafe and pour it at the table. I call it the Disney World pour, since all of the Disney restaurants have a similar serving size, which is almost exactly one-fourth of a bottle. Many (most?) restaurants squeeze out five glasses to the bottle. The extra little dab is easy to see in the glass.
    In the future I’d love to see more wine-by-the-glass options, and perhaps wine flights. There are wine dispensing systems using argon as a preservative that will keep a bottle of wine fresh for 30 days, which allows restaurants the option of serving obscure or expensive wines by the glass. This would be a great thing to have.
    The worst part of every restaurant meal is the check, in our case $157, which is more than we usually spend on dinner. We knew it was coming; part of me wishes we hadn’t enjoyed the meal so much, because we are eager to go back but our budget is screaming “No!”
    I asked our waiter to tell the owner that we really enjoyed our meal and thought his restaurant would be a great success. I then added that he should tell the chef as well, at which point I was informed that the owner is the chef. That’s a good thing.
    I suspect Stella will soon be slammed with customers. New restaurants often have problems dealing with a full house, leaving first-time patrons with a bad impression. I hope the owners will keep their crowd down – removing some tables if necessary – for the first few weeks until they get their sea legs. Our meal was nearly perfect, but my gut feeling was that if every table in the place had been full there would have been some problems.
    In any event, I’m glad to see that Oxford has a new fine-dining establishment. Stella has the potential to be the best restaurant in Oxford. I wish them well and look forward to visiting again when my budget allows.