Happiness is . . . working out with the ball machine

I worked out with the ball machine yesterday.  It was great!  I just love how you can set it to keep on feeding you forehands, or backhands, or volleys, with whatever kind of speed or delay or spin or anything you choose.  And then you always know what’s coming.  That’s a really nice feature, don’t you think?  I mean, when I knew exactly where the ball was going to be, I could watch it all the way to the strings.  I could hit it to the same target five times in a row.  I could slam a volley down the line.

There were some much better tennis players on a nearby court, and that was great, too.  Just being near them and feeling the vibe of their higher-level game gave me a boost of confidence.  A couple of them even waved hi to me!  I mean, I know I’ll never play tennis as well as any of them, but it’s nice to think of myself as a member of the club, as someone who works out at the same time as better people are playing “real” tennis matches.

I also love the fact that, when you play against the ball machine, you always win.  Now one of my favorite pros pointed out to me that, considered differently, you always lose to the machine, but I disagree!  When you play against the machine, YOU are the one keeping score, and you are the one who is winning — unless, of course, you are super-tough on yourself.  It’s silly to tally how many balls make it over the net versus how many are left on your side when you’re cleaning up, as everyone knows that numerous balls are wasted in fine-tuning the machine’s placement of balls before you can move over there and hit any of them.  Not to mention the ones that are dead and don’t bounce correctly in the first place. . . . Plus, didn’t you set up the machine to practice that tricky new shot that you’ve been afraid to try in matches?  Any time you can execute it successfully, you’re one step closer to using it against an opponent when it will count.

So go ahead: spend a few dollars on a ball machine workout.  Not only will you get to focus on the shots that have been giving you trouble, or shots that are “weapons” you want to perfect, but it’s a quick way to perk up your self-confidence, on and off the court.  Between you and the machine, you’ll definitely be the winner!

My grandmother’s bread pail

Every so often I pull out this bread pail that was my grandmother’s.  She mixed bread in it for her family of six children, plus two of her husband’s younger siblings who lived with them during the Depression.  I think at one time she owned several of these, but this one is the only one I know about that’s still left in the family.  I continue to use it, but obviously I don’t make as much bread as she did.

The bread pail’s official name is the Number 4 Universal Bread Maker by Landers, Frary & Clark of New Britain, Connecticut.  It won a gold medal in the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the St. Louis World’s Fair.  Winning a gold medal at the World’s Fair was a big deal — Landers, Frary actually put it on the front of the bread pail itself.  This particular World’s Fair celebrated the centennial anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase (1803), one year late.  You can read lots more about it here if you’re interested.

Anyway, the bread “machine” was one of many products that came out around the turn of the twentieth century, all of which were designed to make women’s home-making jobs easier.  According to the National Housewares Manufacturers Association (see this reprint), the company who manufactured my bread pail produced goods under the trademark “Universal” from the 1890s until GE’s Housewares division acquired it in 1965.  In addition to the Universal bread maker, they produced a new type of food chopper that chopped vegetables as well as ground meat, and even more significant for us caffeine lovers, they designed the “Universal” coffee percolator.  Remember, electricity was just becoming available to the masses at that time: the first percolators were designed for the stove, and they made coffee that tasted better than people had ever made at home before.  [Read more…]

Wimbledon fashion largely disappoints

Grand Slam matches provide a worldwide stage for tennis stars and their sponsors to flaunt their newest gear and clothing lines, with lots of free advertising.  Unfortunately, however, there is little to celebrate by way of fashion at Wimbledon this year.  Rafa and Roger are stunning as always, but both are unusually subdued, even classical in their attire.  After causing a stir last year when pulling a “15” gold-trimmed jacket out of his bag for the awards presentation that marked his record-breaking 15th Grand Slam victory, Federer is setting an understated tone so far.  Not sure about the mesh bag, though.

Things are a bit more interesting on the women’s side, but not much.  Mercifully, the all-white Wimbledon regulations prevent Venus from pulling another “French Open” fashion faux pas, where the bright yellow dress and flesh-colored panties caused many to wonder if she was truly “going commando” or just trying to play the part of provocateur.  However, her self-designed outfit must be one of the worst on Centre Court: a low cut top and frilly skirt that looks more like Miss Muffet, or perhaps one of those exfoliating body puffs, than actual tennis attire.

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