Saturday, February 28, 2015

February Sure Flew By....

At a Buddhist temple in Hong Kong
With just 28 days, February is always a short month, yet time has seemed to whizz by even faster than usual. Back to back trips such as Hong Kong and NYC--among other several destinations have resulted in more than a few times when I was not entirely sure in which city I had awakened. All these travels have been for personal business and pleasure, so I am certainly not complaining in any way. 

Back at home, I have a collection of clocks, quite a few in fact, cuckoo, mantle, carriage and various other wind-up clocks. There was one week in particular when I could have sworn they all ran fast--meaning that it seemed to me that I was having to wind them more often, suggesting to me that time was going my more quickly than usual. I don't really think there was anything different happening, just my awareness of time appearing to be fleeting. If nothing else, it was the universe reminding me to appreciate every second.

With March upon us, and Spring just around the corner things are just kicking into high gear. 2015 is shaping up to be an exceptionally lucky and enjoyable year. I hope it brings you peace, prosperity and continued good health.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Few Days at the Charming Providence Biltmore Hotel

After spending a chilly week in New York City, I flew to Providence, Rhode Island for some colder weather and even more snow. Living in Southern California for the past 18 years I've grown accustomed our mild climate. My definition of winter includes "...the need to wear a sweater at night." Of course I knew what to expect being in the north east in February but nonetheless it was a shock to my system. NYC was cold. In Providence I encountered negative degrees on a few evenings...Brrr! Fortunately I had plenty of layers, including my long underwear, turtlenecks, multiple sweaters, a long heavy coat, scarf, gloves and hat. Yup. I looked like a fool. But at least this Southern California boy was warm. 

I have always found Providence to be a charming city. It was particularly interesting to go from a week in Manhattan to a week in Providence. Very different urban experiences, yet both enjoyable. Providence has some beautiful architecture, including a visually pleasant little skyline. In the photo above you can see part of the Biltmore Hotel, where I stayed. 

The Providence Biltmore is an historic property, built in 1922 in the
 neb-federal Beaux-arts style. Over the years it has gone through several iterations, including multiple changes in ownership. Through it all, it has retained much of its charm. Today it is part of the new Curio Collection, by Hilton. I am a fiercely loyal Hilton Honors member and cherish my Diamond Member status, so when the Biltmore became part of the Hilton Curio Collection I was elated. This is a true landmark, grand-daddy type hotel in the heart of downtown Providence. In fact it is registered as one of the Historic Hotels of America.
Throughout the hotel there are interesting and unique areas to discover. Growing up in Providence, I clearly recall coming to the Biltmore with my family for various special occasions. While I miss some of the more grand days this hotel has seen, I was delighted to find it in excellent condition, well maintained and very much in a phase of renewal. The ground floor has numerous photos of the hotel through its history- worth seeing if you have the time to check them all out. One fun find is the brass water mark level in the main lobby, indicating how high the flood waters rose during the devastating Hurricane of 1954. Look for that marker on one of columns near reception.
The Providence Biltmore also boasts having " of the most elegant Starbucks in America" including a fireplace in the Starbucks sitting area. The hotel also has a McCormick & Schmick's Steak and Seafood restaurant and bar, who also provide room service to the hotel. I didn't have time to check out The Spa at the hotel, but it looked very nice. It doesn't have a sauna or steam room, perhaps something they should consider adding at some point. The hotel does have a full fitness center, which is good. I felt the hotel needed some other things for guests, perhaps a gift and sundry shop, some high-end vending machines, and some music. I wanted to linger more in the common areas but it was so quiet.
I had a very nice suite, with two Queen beds, lavishly appointed. The beds were exceptionally comfortable, with nice linens and ultra-clean, crisp bed spread. The bedroom had a huge flat screen wall mounted TV. The suite had a comfortable sitting area, with another huge flat screen TV, sofa, desk, wing chair, etc. The suite was quite comfortable and I was pleased with my accommodations.

The bathroom was small, but adequate. The bathroom amenities (soap, shampoo, etc) were very nice. That being said, it was devoid of any other amenities, such as cotton swabs, cotton balls, etc, but I got by with my own fortunately. (Mind you, I had just spent a week at the Waldorf=Astoria in NYC so I was used to being spoiled). As a Hilton Honors Diamond member, I had various guest perks that were nice to have. I do think the Curio Collection should think about upgrading some of the in-room goodies, such as a Keruig coffee maker, mini bars, etc. Also the main lobby and mezzanine need more comfy chairs and areas to sit, gather and enjoy the common areas a bit more. All in all, the Providence Biltmore is a wonderful hotel that I highly recommend. I almost wish I had an occasion to rent out the Grand Ballroom or Garden Terrace someday. Maybe one of my nieces will get married when they grow up and I can host the reception there!
The view from my 15th floor window was over the Kennedy Plaza Ice Skating Rink. The view is stunning- looking toward the east side of Providence, with views of Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), among other historic buildings. Providence is a very nice little city, a gem of New England really. Lots of character, history, great restaurants and plenty to do. I had a great time visiting Providence. I just want to go back when it is warm next time!
One note: I wrote these remarks about the Biltmore on my own with no affiliation to compensation by the Biltmore, Curio, or Hilton. It is true that I am a loyal Hilton Honors guy, but this was written out of passion for the property and nothing else.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A week in New York

My trip to NYC turned out to be both enjoyable and productive. Fortunately I was able to hold most of my meetings at the hotel, so it minimized the unnecessary travel through the freezing cold and snow. I limited any excursions to only what was strictly essential in nature-- seeing Broadway shows, dinners and trips to Brooks Brothers (ha!). As usual the Waldorf was exceptionally accommodating to my needs. Breakfast meetings, power lunches and nicely appointed meeting space. 

The Waldorf=Astoria is a truly a stunning and elegant hotel. Just being there makes you feel special. I've written about this previously, but I can't resist sharing it again. The famous clock tower in the main lobby of the Waldorf has the most delightful chime. Here is a quick clip of it chiming at midnight. Admittedly I am fascinated by clocks so I tend to stare in awe of this beautiful timepiece:

Whenever I needed to leave the hotel, I walked everywhere in the city, only taking a taxi when absolutely necessary. NYC was home to me may years ago so when I return it all just comes back to me as if it were 1985 again. Despite all the time I've spent in Manhattan the sight of skating at Rockefeller Center continues to captivate me. It is magical, exciting and surreal in many ways. It was over two decades ago when I last skated here, when I took a friend who had never been to NY and wanted the full experience. Initially I resisted, feeling as though it was "too touristy", yet when I acquiesced, rented ice skates and took to the rink, I had the best time. That night has remained with me and I have such fond memories of the Rockefeller Plaza ice skating.
New York is such a vibrant city on so many levels. I especially enjoy seeing how various buildings are illuminated in color depending on the season, holiday or special event. This most recent visit, I was there during Valentine's Day, so there were plenty of red, pink and purple buildings throughout the city were really fun to see. These days I tend to only get back to  Manhattan a few times per year, just long enough to soak up the energy of the city and always leave wanting more. Until the next time...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Happy Chinese New Year

Just a quick post to say Happy Chinese New Year! I wish you health, peace and prosperity! If you see the hashtag #CNY on Twitter or social media, you will know what it is in reference to. Today marks the beginning of the Spring Festival; in the Lunar calendar,  according to the Chinese Zodiac, 2015 is the Year of the Goat (Or Sheep, or Ram depending on translation of the character). For of the 12 years in the Chinese Zodiac there is an animal associated with people born under the year. There is plenty more written about this topic than I could or would share here. Chinese New Year is all about family traditions. Since I am visiting family at the moment, I thought it would be fun to honor a few of the traditions of Chinese New Year. I'll share some photos here tomorrow. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Westminster Dog Show Day 2

Day 2 of the 139th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was great fun as always. From the benching at the Piers to the live, televised event on Tuesday evening, it was the pinnacle of dog show sporting. Being a dog fancier myself, I have my personal favorites among the many breeds. Like any sport, there are always highs and lows when cheering on your favorites. The judges did a fine job in all seven of the groups. I was especially impressed by the gait of the standard poodle and the skye terrier, the Best In Show (BIS) judge had to make a tough call overlooking these two for the first place. 

That being said, the BIS Beagle "Miss P" was a crowd pleaser and a stunning dog. My guests at the show were beagle fans so they were thoroughly delighted.  I was reading the "history" section of the very handy new Westminster smartphone App, and found a few interesting stats about the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. This show pre-dates the invention of the light-bulb, the automobile, the zipper, the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and Washington Monument, and the establishment the World Series. Indeed, after the Kentucky Derby, the Westminster Dog Show is the oldest, longest running sporting event in the USA. It is a treat to continue to participate in this event every year. This was my 11th year attending Westminster, and it was as exciting as the first. Whether you are a dog fancier or not, it is educational and interesting to watch the dog show. They always share breed traits and information to the viewers to better understand each dog.  If you are ever considering bringing a dog into your life, be sure to research the various breed traits, and not just select on appearance. Many dogs have specific personalities, traits or inherent needs, so you should be certain to select a breed that suits your lifestyle.

Whether you buy/rescue or adopt...and regardless if it is a pure breed, mixed breed or mutt, having a dog is a big responsibility, so do your homework. Above all, please never buy a dog from a mall pet shop, they often procure their dogs from dreadful puppy mills where they overbreed, and keep the mother dogs in unpleasant conditions. Overbreeding leads to health issues, personality deviations, developmental problems, and is also very unhealthy for the poor female dog giving birth too often. Dog Show folks are responsible breeders, and follow a very specific code of conduct. If you prefer a specific breed, look online for a reputable breeder and do not buy from a retail store. 

Many pet stores do offer adoptions from various rescue partner associations. Those are also an excellent option if you want to rescue a dog (which I do recommend).

Well that's all for now from my soap-box. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Westminster Dog Show Day 1

Presently I'm in New York attending the 139th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Monday was the first of two nights of the formal group competitions, as well as the first of two televised broadcasts of the venerable Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden.  I don't intend to provide a complete summary by breed or group here-- there are plenty of other blogs who will do a much better job than I would anyway. Although I am no longer actively working within the pet industry, Westminster has been my passion for the past 18 years, so I made the trip once again to enjoy all the festivities with the dog show community.

Over the past 18 years, some of my dear friends have been in either in dog rescue, shelter groups, dog show judges, groomers, dog handlers, trainers and responsible dog breeders who share the passion for various breeds. It is such fun to be around "pet people" and the actual dogs themselves, naturally. 

Additionally, I'm old friends with the folks at Purina Pro Plan brand dog food, who is now the title sponsor of the Westminster Dog Show, so it is nice to be back to cheer on the sport of show dogs once again this year. Sadly, we've lost a few of our old show dog friends over the years...time marches on I'm afraid, and such is life. But I remember all those we've lost fondly.  Being at Madison Square Garden this evening was a thoroughly enjoyable event. The event is always first class- well produced and organized to perfection. Everyone in the audience are passionate dog lovers, cheering on their favorite breeds and cordial to one another. It is an exhilarating experience I recommend to all dog lovers!

It was also fun to participate in the live social media conversation, from those in attendance to those at home. Using hashtags #WKCDogShow made it easy. I also added on the #PetChat hashtag to connect to my pals there as well. It made it more fun for everyone. One tip: the WKC has a really good smartphone app worth downloading to follow along the show.

If you are not familiar with the Dog Show world, each breed is classified into a type, and the breeds compete within their groups. You can learn all about dog shows from WKC by clicking here.

image credit:Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show social media post
The breed types, in the USA are defined and/or utilized by both the American Kennel Club and Westminster Kennel Club, and are as follows:
1. Working
2. Terrier
3. Hound
4. Toy
5. Sporting
6. Non-Sporting
7. Herding
As a proud poodle parent, I was cheering on the poodles Monday night at the show. There are three types of poodles: 1. Standard Poodle 2. Miniature Poodle and 3. Toy Poodle. Believe it or not, despite their size differences they are all considered the same breed type. My two poodles, Sheldon and Duncan are the "Standard Poodle" size, so naturally, I was very happy when the Standard Poodle won the Non-Sporting Group. Once all the other individual groups complete their judging, the Best in Show competition is the final judging event tomorrow night. I'll be rooting for the Standard Poodle to win Best in Show.  The Westminster Dog Show is televised live on the USA network and CNBC. For streaming and Broadcast info click here.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Dame Helen Mirren in 'The Audience'

Saturday evening I attended the opening night performance of The Audience on Broadway. The Audience is a new play written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry. The play tells the story of the weekly private audiences Queen Elizabeth II has given to her 12 Prime Ministers over the past 60 years. The lead role of Queen Elizabeth is played by the acclaimed English actress of stage and screen, Dame Helen Mirren. She is no stranger to portraying Elizabeth Windsor, having done so on stage in 'The Queen', and of course the Academy Award and Golden Globe nominated film production of that play.

The play is a fictional representation of the weekly private audiences Queen Elizabeth II has given to her Prime Ministers, as no one truly knows what is discussed between the PM of the day and Her Majesty. However, over the years many British Prime Ministers have referenced the enormous value of having a trusted confidant with no political aspirations or motives in whom to seek advice or speak ones mind. It is a unique system unparalleled in modern government today. In particular, as the present queen's reign has spanned 60 years (and counting), there is virtually no one in government anywhere-- with such a unique perspective of time.  It is well known that the Queen takes genuine interest in matters of state and is exceptionally well informed regarding affairs of her British and Commonwealth nations. These private audiences, are the subject of this play.

The play masterfully crosses time of Elizabeth's reign, switching
back and forth between various ages of the Queen as she met with her Prime Ministers. The playwright does an excellent job imagining of how the newly ascended young Queen adapted and learned her role, asserting herself from the very start with Winston Churchill. While she had no experience in her first meeting, she was led by a deep belief in the sacred position as Sovereign.

Helen Mirren is superb; seamlessly shifting time, with remarkable full costume and wig changes--on stage, to emerge as a younger or older Queen before our eyes. The transitions between the various 12 PM's was far more than a mere change of supporting characters. Mirren takes the Broadway theatre audience into these private meetings with such skill, that you are drawn into the private meetings as if a fly on the wall.  Along some of the PM's conversations, at times there was a sense of desperation, baring their souls like school boys...a cathartic 20 minute meeting of sorts. It would have been unlike any other person in which they could confide with such sincerity. The Audience does a brilliant job with several PM's in particular-- those whose initial meetings were viewed with contempt, and later realized the enormous value and eventually grew fond of the Sovereign. Others remained cool and distant throughout. The author presents the viewer with the notion that Tony Blair was not one of Her Majesty's favorite ministers. A few subtle social commentaries may have been made by the author, but they did not distract from the play itself, and were quite amusing. While the Queen is constitutionally obligated to provide her support to all of her PM's she finds a way to make her views know without actually saying anything. It is a remarkable skill indeed.

Admittedly I am somewhat of an Anglophile and student of the British politics, so this play had enormous appeal to me. However, even without any knowledge of history of the 12 British Prime Ministers represented in this play, it is very entertaining. While Mirren is clearly the star of this production, it is truly an exceptionally talented ensemble cast who, in total make this a fine Broadway play of the day.

The PM's were from various parts of England and Scotland, and therefore the actors spoke with the appropriate accent, or played the  true person's manner of speaking flawlessly. The actors portraying Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill and Harold Wilson in particular seemed spot-on with the pitch, cadence of speaking and vocal style. The Broadway theatre was remarkably silent, as the largely American audience strained to understand some of the British accents. I overheard a few patrons saying they had trouble understanding some of the dialogue. Perhaps because I have spent a lot of time in the UK and watching the BBC that I had no difficulty whatsoever. 

This is a strictly limited engagement, so if you can get tickets to see The Audience, I highly recommend you do so while you can!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Skyline of Palm Springs

I took this photo with my iPhone 6
I've long had a love affair with the city of Palm Springs. The majestic San Jacinto mountain-- which looms large over the Village of downtown Palm Springs, is the backdrop of this entire city. It provides a sort of natural canvas upon which a virtual painting is created each day for residents and visitors to admire. No two days are alike when you view this virtual canvas; the position of the sun, temperature, atmosphere, the exact position from which you view the mountain, even the time of day can all affect how it looks. 

Last night I was struck by the intense beauty along North Palm Canyon Drive, just at twilight. It was an interesting combination of deep rich colors, appearing both dramatic and peaceful. The jagged edge of the mountain peaks, the deep cobalt blue sky, with stars twinkling, the hint of light still emerging from the west, and the yellow-orange glow of lights from Palm Canyon. It was captivating. The native indians here say these mountains have great energy and are grounding for ones soul. There are times when I can stare at these mountains and immediately feel more relaxed and reassured. It isn't something that can be explained easily, but you know it when you feel it. If you have ever visited or lived in Palm Springs, you will know just what I mean.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Zarhill Partners Group Expands

For 27 years, my professional career has been focused in retail and branded marketing companies. The past twelve years have been in senior executive leadership positions in sales, merchandising, innovation, product development, marketing and operations. I've been blessed to work with some talented individuals across a broad array of top companies. The most recent 18 years have been within the pet specialty industry. Over these years I've traveled to all fifty states in the USA, much of Asia, the EU & some Latin American markets. It has been a fantastic quarter-century of professional experience and hard work. 

About two years ago, I began looking to the future to think about the next 25 years. As a result, I co-founded Zarhill Partners with my business partner. 

Zarhill Partners Group is a consulting firm originally founded to assist small businesses and start-ups for success in their early years. Our mission is to share and cultivate best-in-class business practices, knowledge and expertise with emerging organizations to ensure their success. We assist companies and organizations with a range of services such as strategic business planning, brand management, retail sales development, e-commerce & digital marketing, international business platforms, and product development innovation. 
With more than 50 years combined experience working in the corporate business world, Zarhill Partners Group also owns and operates a small independent retail business: Memento Gift Shops which is a boutique retail experience located in Palm Springs, California. This keeps us true to our retail heritage and is fun too. 

During these past two years, I continued with my own professional corporate career full time, as Zarhill Partners Group gradually became established. While I was not able to dedicate much time or energy to this venture, the time finally arrived when I was able to make the decision to make a transition. 

After two years of planning and investing resources, I have joined my own consulting firm, full time. Zarhill Partners Group expands...and I couldn't be happier. 
Need business consulting services? Contact us at our website.


This blog is about life experiences & observations and stuff I am interested in. It is simply a side hobby and creative outlet; generally, with a tongue-in-cheek tone. I don't take it too seriously, nor should you. I do not profess to represent every point of view. Nothing on this site is a paid post.

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