The Everything Store…Amazon

This may seem like an unusual topic for an RVer to be focused upon, but give me a few moments to share a little background and it will all start to come together, if some of you haven’t already figured it out. ¬†Also be forewarned, no pretty pictures to be found in this post. ūüė¶

Logotype is a curved arrow leading from A-Z, with the arrow shaped like a smile.
Logotype is a curved arrow leading from A-Z, with the arrow shaped like a smile.   Photo credit:  hollywoodreporter.com

“The Everything Store”¬†is what Amazon.com has been dubbed and for those who are very organized and have begun their holiday shopping, you may have already placed an order or two here with the largest e-commerce company in the world. And Terry and I ¬†may have helped to fulfill some of those orders. Yes, we have jumped into the Amazon.com pool (drunk their koolaid), like so many other RVers. ¬†The big question is, what do we think and would we do it again? ¬†I will keep you in suspense for a few minutes as I give a little background on the company and its founder, Jeff Bezos. ¬†This CEO grants few interviews, so much mystique is swirling around him, with many questions being answered by former employees or those who have survived the “Amazon culture”.

Visionary Jeff Bezos
Visionary Jeff Bezos РPhoto credit:  geekwire.com

If you have worked at one of the many Amazon centers across the country, no matter your experience, you cannot help but be intrigued.  I have read a few excerpts and a lengthy article written by author Brad Stone, of the recently published book The Everything Store:  Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, which is getting a lot of press.

“Amazon’s culture is notoriously confrontational and it begins with Bezos, who believes that truth shakes out when ideas and perspective are banged against each other.” ¬†~ ¬†Brad Stone, Senior Writer, Bloomberg Businessweek.

Bird's eye view of a distribution center
Bird’s eye view of a distribution center – Photo credit: ¬†bizbeatblog.dallasnews.com

With humble beginnings in a garage in Bellevue, WA in 1994, Jeff Bezos launched what was to become Amazon.com, named after one of the largest rivers in the world, and a name beginning with the letter ‘A’ to appear early in an online search. ¬†Even at this early stage, he envisioned his brainchild to one day be the largest online retailer in the world, and this visionary has accomplished just that. What started as an online bookstore is now a website where you can buy anything, and I do mean anything, based on what we have seen in its KY warehouse.

Jeff Bezos, former Wall Street employee, joins the elite ranks of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, and his intensity seems to fit perfectly with these other tech CEO’s. ¬†His corporate culture has been said to be one of secrecy and relentless ambition, and those who do well working at Amazon thrive in an adversarial environment with almost constant friction, not exactly a healthy way to live IMHO.

From receiving department to doorstep.
From receiving department to doorstep.  Photo credit:  webstore.amazon.com

For those of you with experience in the corporate world, and I shuddered when I read this article as it brought back some less than pleasant memories, one positive thing to be said for this CEO is that he takes customer complaints seriously, reading what his shoppers have to say through his public email address. ¬†Those emails that particularly peak his interest ¬†are forwarded on to his executive team, with only a one-character change in the subject, a question mark. It is said that a “question mark” email from Jeff Bezos is like a ticking time bomb, as you have only a few hours to solve whatever issue is being addressed before you receive a visit from the chief.

Today, nearing its 20th anniversary and approaching $75 billion in annual sales, with stock price soaring, we find ourselves working a seasonal gig as an Amazon workamper in the Campbellsville, KY warehouse, with a title of ‘picker’ and working the night shift no less. ¬†Shortly after we arrived in Ohio this past summer and felt the need to hover in this part of the country to see if other assistance would be needed with Terry’s folks, we applied with Amazon thinking it was a way to stay in the area, make a few bucks and get some exercise in the process. ¬†This decision was made prior to lots of hard work at the folks’ home and Terry’s cancer diagnosis. ¬†I must admit I wanted to pass on this opportunity after the summer we had but Terry was given the green light by his doc so we honored our commitment.

Conveyor belts, like Amazonian snakes, wind through the centers.
Conveyor belts, like Amazonian snakes, wind through the centers.  Photo credit:  articles.mcall.com

You could speak to hundreds of other workampers and all would hold different views of their work experience, given the position and shift. ¬†But one thing would not be denied by many, it is hard work. ¬†I think we both came into this feeling that, given how fit we are, this would not be too difficult. ¬†But unless you are accustomed to walking briskly on concrete for several hours throughout a 770,000 square foot maze, doing repetitive movements with a hand-held scanner, and doing lots of lifting and squatting each work day, you are not prepared for the Amazon experience. ¬†Our position as picker is that of a 4-day work week, 10 hours daily, with mandatory OT during the last 4 weeks, Black Friday until December 23rd. ¬†I wear a pedometer and have averaged 12 miles per day, topping out at 14 miles one night. ¬†Is this sounding fun to any of you yet? ūüėČ

My two BFFs are Martie, my masseuse, and Dr. Sam, my chiropractor. ¬†Having never had back problems in my life, I seem to have developed something called piriformis syndrome, where the piriformis muscle, located deep in the thigh, becomes inflamed and presses on the sciatic nerve, which presents like sciatica, with running pain and muscle spasms. ¬† So for me, having pain in my butt (hehe), I am taking it a day at a time. ¬†Terry, who has nursed a bit of a knee strain himself, believes I¬†am¬†a pain in the butt (just kidding of course), as I continually remind him that “I will never do this again” and I seriously doubt if he wants to either. ¬†Some things in life just do not have to be repeated. ūüėČ

Speaks for itself!
Speaks for itself!  Photo credit:  blogs.reuters.com Eric Auchard

From Humble Beginnings…A Visit to Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace

“If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. ¬†I cannot remember when I did not so think and feel.” ¬†~ ¬†Abraham Lincoln

A golden autumn day at Sinking Spring Farm
A golden autumn day at Sinking Spring Farm

A sunny autumn day seemed the perfect time to visit the site where one of our most ¬†influential US Presidents took his first breath on February 12, 1809, at the Sinking Spring Farm in Hodgenville, Kentucky. ¬†Abraham Lincoln’s journey, from child born to a hardscrabble frontier farmer, to occupying the greatest house in our nation, the White House, speaks to the limitless possibilities available to each of us in this country.

Bronze family statue inside the visitor center
Bronze family statue inside the visitor center

Today we walked the grounds of Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park, the very site where our 16th President took his first steps, perhaps his first sip of water from the spring that still runs here today. ¬†This very spring was most likely one of the prominent reasons for Abraham’s father, Thomas, settling at Sinking Spring Farm. ¬†However, less than fertile soil and a property title dispute forced them to move a short two years later to 30 acres at Knob Creek, ten miles further down the road, where the soil was rich and a farmer could more easily raise corn, pumpkin, vegetables to eat fresh during the summer and dry for the winter months, and herbs for medicine.

Symbolic birthplace cabin
Symbolic birthplace cabin

It was at Knob Creek where Abraham Lincoln got his first taste of education at¬†Caleb Hazel’s “ABC School”. ¬†This may be where his early views on slavery were formed, as Hazel was an outspoken emancipationist and the Lincoln family belonged to an anti-slavery church. ¬†In 1816, plagued by lawsuits over his farm titles and the slavery issue in Kentucky, Thomas Lincoln moved his family to Indiana, then on to Illinois where Abraham grew to manhood.

In 1909 the cornerstone for the memorial that now stands at Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace was laid by President Theodore Roosevelt. ¬† The building was dedicated in 1911 by President William Howard Taft and almost 100 years after Lincoln moved from Sinking Spring Farm, a symbolic birthplace cabin was placed inside the memorial building.

56 granite steps
56 granite steps

This first memorial to one of our most beloved Presidents features 16 windows, 16 rosettes on the ceiling and 16 fence posts, representing our 16th President.  Fifty-six granite steps leading up to the memorial represent the number of years Abraham Lincoln walked this earth, far too few even in those early hard times.

Abraham Lincoln’s humble beginnings likely shaped the character of the man he became. He will always be known as the President who guided our nation through the bloodiest conflict on American soil, the Civil War, and for his staunch passion to abolish slavery at all costs.

With charity for all
With charity for all

With everything he accomplished as our 16th President, it is the virtues he embodied that solidified his legacy as one of the most venerable men of all time. He stood for tolerance, fairness, equality, had a clear vision of right and wrong, the capacity to forgive, and an intense desire to help those in great need.  Sadly these seem to be some of the very same qualities lacking today by many of our politicians.

For those interested in learning more about the presidency of this great man, I urge you to read Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Panorama of the memorial and grounds
Panorama of the memorial and grounds

A Day at the Races…Keeneland

There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man. ~ Winston Churchill

Welcome to Keeneland
Welcome to Keeneland

When in Kentucky, the horse capital of the world, spending a day with thoroughbreds is a must in my book. ¬†Keeneland moved to the top of our must-see list as this satisfied my desire to see some magnificent horses and Terry’s interest to go the races for the first time. ¬†It was also Keeneland’s final race weekend of the year. ¬†In 2009, the Horseplayers Association of North America ranked this track the number one thoroughbred race track in North America so it seemed the perfect place to get our fix.

Keeneland was founded in 1936 as a non-profit, dedicated to racing and auctions, on a gorgeous piece of Lexington property that had been owned by Jack Keene. Much of the profits from the racing and auctions are used to further the thoroughbred industry and support the surrounding community. ¬†In 1986 Keeneland was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark. ¬†They have two racing seasons here, the month of April and that of October. ¬†April races contain several preps for the Kentucky Derby and October races focus on the Breeder’s Cup.

We arrived at the track early to explore the property, in the hopes of seeing some horses being prepped for the big race day. ¬†The surprise of the day was encountering Tom, one of Terry’s fellow high school football players, who worked at the track. ¬†He generously allowed us into the inner track, giving us the opportunity to watch the race from the rail, up-close and personal, right next to the winner’s circle (be still my heart). ¬†Our escort was a warm, engaging man of 86, Jim “JR”, who has volunteered at Keeneland for 20 years, and is quite the ladies’ man I soon learned.

Me and my good buddy JR.
Me and my good buddy JR.

Having purchased tickets at the last minute, our seats were in the grandstands so we thought we would be watching the races from the monitors, for which we were quite content.  Imagine our excitement to watch from the rail, horses flying by, thundering hooves reverberating in our ears.

For those who think the thoroughbreds here run on a dirt track, you would be mistaken. ¬†Although it looks to be exactly that, it is Keeneland’s own proprietary Polytrack, a mix of silica sand, recycled synthetic fibers, and recycled rubber/PVC, which they converted to in 2006.

I was ecstatic to think I would be so close to the winner’s circle, watching horse and jockey being brought in, almost close enough to touch. ¬†Riding on¬†Dream Softly,¬†Joseph Rocco, Jr. was to claim the first win of the day.

Dream Softly, ridden by Joseph Rocco, Jr. in the winner's circle
Dream Softly, ridden by Joseph Rocco, Jr. in the winner’s circle

We didn’t realize at the time that we had snapped a shot of him before entering the tunnel to head onto the track. ¬†And I was not prepared for the surprise my good buddy JR had for me immediately after the race.

JR, me, and jockey Joseph Rocco.  I'm a happy girl!
JR, me, and jockey Joseph Rocco. I’m a happy girl!

After leaving Keeneland, we decided to drive part of the Bluegrass Driving Tour, where beautiful rolling hills and pastures and the trademark black picket fences of the horse farms can be found.  It was a perfect way to end the day.

Time permitting, I would have loved to explore Old Friends Farm for Retired Thoroughbreds just outside of Lexington, an organization dedicated to giving these magnificent, gentle beauties the respect they deserve after their careers have ended, much preferred to the slaughter auctions that so many face.

Fall Colors and the Niagara of the South

A hint of autumn color
A hint of autumn color

After a couple of days of steady rains, cabin fever has set in. ¬†Yesterday I stepped outside to see a strange golden orb in the sky, not without a little cloud cover mind you, but yet I saw it. ¬†“Let’s go”, I shouted, “before the day escapes us!” ¬†It was time to see some fall color and I feared with all the rain I had missed the trees announcing the change of seasons in their own unique fashion. ¬†Until I could get outside and see for myself, there was no convincing this gal that they hadn’t already peaked. ¬†Silly me!

The truth is, central Kentucky’s trees are only at about 20% peak color well into mid-October, emerging slower than past years.  Maples, poplars, hickories, black walnuts, beeches, sweet gums and sassafras trees are holding fast to their verdant greens of summer, just beginning to turn their trademark autumn golds and reds.  It is as if they know what is to come, a quick peak that will be over within a blink of an eye, then late autumn’s chill and ensuing winds will strip them bare, a stark reminder that winter is not far behind.

A little slice of Lake Cumberland
A little slice of Lake Cumberland

We headed to Lake Cumberland, a popular vacation destination for those interested in hiking, boating, fishing, or just chillin’ on a deck of one of the various lodges overlooking the lake, with refreshment in hand.  With over 1200 miles of shoreline, this reservoir covers 65,500 acres and this time of year has a sublimely tranquil feel.

As of September 2011 the lake is about 50 feet below its normal levels due to a crack in the Wolf Creek Dam.  Engineers are keeping a close eye on this situation, as water seepage has begun to erode the limestone under the dam, causing some concern for a breach and subsequent flooding.  From my reading, no good solutions have yet been devised for sealing the crack.  One would never suspect anything was amiss, looking out over these placid waters.

Natural Arch
Natural Arch

We ventured further east into the Daniel Boone National Forest to check out Natural Arch.  Having our hearts firmly entrenched in the west, where hiking into the wilderness will reward you with many red rock arches, we ratcheted down our expectations a bit.  Yes, this sandstone arch, spanning 78 feet across and reaching 65 feet into the sky, is not as stately as those found in Arizona or Utah, but enveloped by the rich, warm hues of autumn, it was quite lovely.

Cumberland Falls through the mist
Cumberland Falls through the mist

Our last stop of the day was Cumberland Falls, known by some as the ‚ÄúNiagara of the South‚ÄĚ.¬† This waterfall forms a 125-foot wide curtain of water that plunges 7 stories into a boulder-strewn gorge. ¬†It is reputed to be the largest waterfall east of the Mississippi and south of Niagara Falls. ¬†Having seen Niagara Falls, I have to say that this waterfall (imho) cannot hold a candle to the real deal, but it does have one unique quality found nowhere else in the Western Hemisphere.¬† On a clear night during a full moon, or a few days before or after the full moon, the mist of Cumberland Falls creates the magic of the moonbow, a spectacular nighttime rainbow.

Double rainbow at the base of the falls
Double rainbow at the base of the falls

The best time to photograph the falls, other than during this phenomenon, is during the morning hours.  Unfortunately, because of our drive and many stops along the way, we did not arrive until late afternoon, but I was able to capture a double rainbow even at this hour.

And wonder of all wonders, the government is open once again so it is on to Mammoth Caves and Abe Lincoln’s birthplace. ¬†Since Kentucky is the horse capital of the world, I am chomping at the bit ūüėČ to visit some of the thoroughbred horse farms in the area.

Bridge spanning Cumberland River, near the falls
Bridge spanning Cumberland River, near the falls

Right on the Mark…at Maker’s Mark

Given our plans to go back to Ohio for the Christmas holiday, we have elected to maintain a slow pace for the next couple of months. Although our hearts are in the West, having both grown up in the Midwest we’ve decided it is time to explore some states right outside our childhood backyard. ¬†We suspect that the culture of some of the small towns we plan to visit will fit well with this slower travel pace.

Beautiful autumn day at Maker's Mark
Beautiful autumn day at Maker’s Mark

Kentucky is the first state on our list, birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, horse capital of the world, and home to the world-famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Thanks to the government shutdown :(, which has closed the gates to national parks and landmarks, we have literally been driven to drink (hehe).  Terry decided the first order of business was to hit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.   This delighted him to no end, but the prospect of sipping bourbon quite frankly made me shudder, not one to imbibe in whiskey.

Meandering down narrow country roads, we came upon Maker’s Mark, a small-batch bourbon distillery outside the tiny town of Loretto.  The grounds, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1980, are quite picturesque and a feeling of serenity sets in as soon as your toes touch the ground.

Serene grounds mark this National Historic Landmark
Serene grounds mark this National Historic Landmark

Be forewarned, should you decide to go, if you want a taste, you’ve got to take the tour, and if you are lucky enough to snag Aggie as your guide, you are in for a treat.

Quart House, designated America‚Äôs oldest remaining ‚Äúretail package liquor store‚ÄĚ
Quart House, designated America‚Äôs oldest remaining ‚Äúretail package liquor store‚ÄĚ

President Lyndon Johnson’ specifications, dubbed the “Bourbon Laws”, are the gold standard today for classifying whiskey as bourbon:

  • Grain mix must be at least 51% corn
  • Must be stored in new, charred white oak barrels
  • Must be no more than 160 proof (Maker‚Äôs Mark is 90 proof)
  • Aged at least 2 years
  • No added ingredients to color or flavor it
  • Must be made in America

Maker’s Mark is a 4th generation distillery, with an interesting family story and some very unique qualities.  William Samuels Sr. is credited with the original Maker’s Mark recipe, determined to use red winter wheat instead of the rye that most other distillers were using.  During the planning stage he didn’t have time to distill and age each batch for tasting, so instead opted to make a loaf of bread from each recipe.  The bread baked with no rye was the hands-down winner, hence no rye in this bourbon.

S IV ~ Samuels 4th-generation Distiller
S IV ~ Samuels 4th-generation Distiller

The Maker’s Mark trademark name was created by William’s wife Margie, who also designed the signature label.

It was a very hands-on process when production began in 1954, and remains so to this day.  Its uniqueness can be summed up by four W’s:

  • Water ‚Äď pure limestone spring water, absolute best for making bourbon
  • Wheat ‚Äď replaces rye used by most distillers
  • Wood ‚Äď 150 to 200-year-old cypress barrels to store the sour mash
  • Wax ‚Äď distinctive hand-dipped red wax seals

Maker’s Mark uses the same old roller mill they always have to slowly crush the grains, which are then mixed with limestone-laden water to begin the distilling process. ¬†This grain and water mix is placed into 150-year old cypress barrels to begin the fermenting process, breaking down into a sour mash.

Fingers in the sour mash?  Just all part of the tour.
Fingers in the sour mash? Just all part of the tour.

Fast forward to laying the whiskey to rest, where it is poured into white oak barrels that have been charred on the inside for 40 seconds, to open the pores in the wood and caramelize the natural sugars. ¬†These barrels are now ready for the rickhouse, a warehouse several stories tall, where they are stored for aging. Maker’s Mark is one of the few distilleries that hand-rotates its 500-pound barrels from the upper to lower levels of the rickhouse during the aging process to even out differences in temperature on the various floors.

In the rickhouse
In the rickhouse

After three years a tasting committee samples the bourbon to determine which barrels are ready to be rotated down to a more humid, cooler floor of the warehouse, to reside for the rest of the aging process.

And now for the moment most have anticipated during the tour, the tasting room.

Bourbon tasters
Bourbon tasters

After all this schooling on the distilling of bourbon, I have worked up a thirst and my curiosity has been peaked. ¬†Not bad, but have I become a spirits’ convert? Nope, give me a glass of red wine any day! ¬†Terry, however, enjoyed it so much a bottle of their special Maker’s 46 came home with us, but not before he sealed his own bottle.

Terry gearing up!
Terry gearing up!

For those who have ever played cards with Terry, dealing blackjack in Vegas is not in his future (hehe) but he may be onto something with this dipping gig. ūüėČ

Terry's dip of perfection
Terry’s dip of perfection

Some of Maker’s Mark profits go to Habitat for Humanity and the preservation and development of new public parklands. ¬†Now that is something I can raise a glass to!