Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sleepover Camp

This past week A has been away at sleepover camp, and it’s been a new experience for us, as I’m sure it is for her, as well. She was so excited and thrilled at the prospect of being away with her friends for a week, and I don’t blame her for one second. It’s been a little harder on our end because we sure miss her.

This is the first time that A has been away for this long, and I think it’s a great experience. It’s probably a little too early for N, though when we dropped A off, you could tell that he was a little envious. Plus, he really misses his sister, she’s such a big part of his life. Then again, it’s good for him to develop his own things because at some point their lives/interests will seriously diverge.

A benefited from having several of her friends at the camp, and they were all bunk mates. We drove her over and got the whole informational lecture from the staff. Afterward, we said goodbye, but you could tell she was already off and running. I’m glad she’s excited, and hope that this will be the first of many camps that she can enjoy.

In the meantime, we can all sit here and pine away for her. Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Sporty Weekend

Sports seem like such a way of life for kids these days, it’s rather unusual. I realize kids have played sports since the beginning of time, but somehow the culture up here is all about sports. It’s all people talk about.

Of course, we are part of this jock culture, so maybe it’s just the company we keep. Either way, with hockey over, our kids are doing spring sports, and it’s fun going to the events because it usually involves nice weather and being outdoors... usually being the key word. A couple of weeks back, we got a little crazy and went to both events, and though it took a lot of legwork, it was fun.

N had his first lacrosse game down south, and A had her first track meet across town. Now when I say first, I mean first one attended, because we missed the first few games/track meets because of time conflicts with our vacation. Kind of a bummer, but things work out in the end. For N it was tough because his season is so short, missing two games, the first two no less, meant missing nearly half the season. To his credit, he handled it well, and didn’t complain at all. A missed her first three track meets, and she was a little more vocal in her discontent, not that I blame her. That, too, worked out because one of the meets was cancelled because of weather, and I’m not even sure if they attended another.

Either way, we finally made it to each, and it meant driving an hour down south to watch N’s game, which they dominated, then driving back to town, getting mom, then driving across town to the big city to watch A’s track meet. It was fun, and the timing was good because right after A’s second event, the relay, it started pouring rain. I’m talking serious downpour. Good thing we were allowed to leave.

It was a busy weekend, but loads of fun, as usual, and that makes it all okay. Until the next time, thanks for reading.

BMX Ready

When we were on the tail end of our trip, one thing that N couldn’t stop talking about was getting home and trying out his new BMX bike. In fact, he was talking about it from the moment we left for our trip, he was that excited, and while in PR, he kept tracking his bike online. I can’t say I blame him because there is something special about a boy and his bike. I asked HH to keep an eye out for it when she was feeding the cats, and she put it in the mud room for us.

As soon as we got back from our trip, N was ready to rock and roll. We pretty much assembled the thing the moment we returned, and even that wasn’t quick enough for N. I was a little wary of putting the bike together because when I read reviews of certain bikes, the one issue that kept cropping up was people complaining of how hard it was to assemble the bikes. This was, however, not the case with this bike. If anything, it was a piece of cake because it came about 50% complete, so I didn’t have to make a fool out of myself. Best of all, N wanted to help out, so we did it together.

It took about half an hour, and then he was ready to rock and roll. Talk about excited. It will take a bit of an adjustment to ride it because it’s bigger, but it’s also faster and a much better fit. Plus, the most important thing is it’s way cooler. What else matters?

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Reflections on Puerto Rico and Vieques

People have been asking us about our trip, and I have to say, it was a nice one. In fact, when I give them the details, they all say, “Sounds like a great trip.” I have to confess, it was a nice trip, and I would encourage people to check out Puerto Rico is they have a chance. There are many positives: beautiful beaches and rainforests, warm weather, they speak English and take US dollars, and plenty of nice people, though we tended to interact with ex-pats rather than what I would consider to be true locals. In that sense, it’s probably not the most genuine experience, not like going to a small village in Italy or France where nobody can or is willing to speak English. There is value to this experience, as well.

Probably the highlights of the trip were surfing in Rincon (for me) and then the island of Vieques. It was really beautiful over there, and such nice beaches, perfect for the kids to swim in. The kids loved playing in the sand, and they got to do some killer snorkeling, which is a first for them, mainly due to a combination of age and location. We also had this really nice house in Vieques, and it kind of made it that much better. What a nice place, so beautiful and comfortable, and even though the weather got hot (I can’t imagine what it’s like in August), there was ample breeze to keep us cool. If anything, it was very pleasant. The house was huge, too, and could easily accommodate 10 people.

We got a huge amount of beach time, but what makes trips like this so enjoyable is all the down time we get to spend together. Our lives were crazy this winter with hockey, and it continued with more of the same with track and lacrosse, then musicals and drama. You really have to get away to have some quality down time and just relax and hang out together. Otherwise, there is always something that needs to be done, and you never stop moving.

On that note, now that we’re back, I’ve got a ton of things to do, so I have to go. Thanks for reading.

Obtaining Plants

We saw JM and BM the other day at the garden, and they were offering all sorts of vegetable plants for the taking. JM had obtained them from a program he was working with, and wanted to pass them along to the community. Naturally, we were there and scored several plants. In fact, we have so many plants, we don’t know what to do with them.

I was looking for tomatoes since I didn’t start seeds on time, my bad. I wanted to grow a specific tomato that I loved from last year called an Opalka. I saw the seed in Fedco, and could have ordered them, but like the dork that I am, I didn’t want to pay $5 shipping for a $2 order. Now if I’d planned properly, I could have added my order to the big Coop order and gotten free shipping. Or, I could have organized a bigger order with other people and gotten my small order... yada, yada, yada.

Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve, but didn’t, as my kids like to say. Anyway, I knew there would be opportunities to purchase/obtain plants as Memorial Day approached, so I wasn’t too concerned. When JM sent out an email saying he had plants to give away, I jumped at the chance, and he had tons of plants. I’m talking hundreds, all for the taking. Interestingly enough, nobody else showed up to get them, so we had our pick of the litter.

I ended up getting dozens of tomato plants, but foolishly forgot to label some of them, so there is a bit of uncertainty as to what types I got. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, I would take whatever, except that I really wanted to avoid cherry tomatoes. I am not a fan.

Oh well, we’ll see what happens. In terms of the ones I wanted, Amish Paste and Roma, I think I’m in good shape. It’s the others I’m not too clear about, but in the end, is it such a big deal? Sort of, but no sense in whining. It’s looking like our garden will once again be heavy on tomatoes, with some squash and peas, maybe a pepper or two. That’s good enough for me.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Done Burning

I know several families that stop burning wood in April, but we are not such a family. In fact, until a couple of days ago, we were still burning wood, if only in the morning to cut the edge. Personally, I find the mornings a little chilly, even though it warms up a considerable amount during the day. Typical New England spring, cool in the AM, and warm in the day.

Either way, most of the people we talk to say they’ve stopped burning wood, and I must confess that it was a little embarrassing to admit that we still were, though I know we weren’t alone because I could see smoke coming from people’s chimneys.

Now that the days are really warming up, we’ve joined the club, and the stove is going dormant until winter. We may have to do some maintenance, some of which I will tackle, and other things that we may have hire a professional, but we’ll see. In the meantime, we’ll be a little cool in the morning until summer kicks into full gear, then we’ll be sweating like you know what.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

AWOL

Not that it should surprise me, but our current contractor has once again bailed out on us. I am a bit surprised, I gave SH more credit, but he’s AWOL, and hasn’t said a word. It’ll be awkward when we finally do see him, and it will happen because we know the guy and travel in similar circles. We asked him repeatedly if he was still interested in this project, and he answered repeatedly that he was. He’s a young guy, just getting his footing in the business, and it’s a good way to establish some references. Oh well, so much for that.

He said he’d do some work while we were away, and he never came by. If there’s a bright note to this, it’s that we saved some money because I ended up doing the work myself. Even still, it’s hard for me to dedicate a solid block of time to the work.

Now the question is, do I call him and ask what’s up? Or do I just leave it at that and be done with the guy? I know what I’d like to do, but that’s not always the best option.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Plumbing Matters

Well this is sort of embarrassing. We had a plumbing issue and I contacted JH and his magic bag of tools, and it turned out to be something really simple. So much so, that had I looked into it further, I could have easily solved the problem and not wasted everyone’s time. Live and learn, or not.

We have outdoor faucets that you have to be careful with in the winter. They have recessed valves that are supposed to be protected from the cold because they are inside the house, but as a precaution, you’re supposed to shut off the water source and then drain the exterior faucet. In years past, I didn’t know this, and left it on. What happens is on really cold days, the water freezes, makes it way into the interior of the pipes, and if it reaches the faucet valve, can compromise the seal and cause a leak. This happened to both of our exterior faucets.

Last summer, JH came over and helped me replace both of them. He has a propane torch and could solder them, what a guy. He told me how to prepare the pipes for winter, which I diligently did, but it involves opening a drain plug and letting the excess water drain out. Then you’re good to go for the winter. Well, this spring, I turned the water back on, and it started spraying all over the place, leaving big puddles on the basement floor. Not good.

I looked at the pipes, and as far as I could tell, it looked like a crack in the pipes because the water was spraying out in a thin stream. I figured a soldered joint had cracked, so I shut off the valve and called JH. He came over and after carefully looking at the pipe, deduced that it was coming from the drain plug. He took it off, noticed it was missing its gasket, and then found the gasket (which is about the size of a lentil) on the floor. He put it back in, tightened the plug, and voila, we were back in business.

I felt a little (a lot?) stupid, I could have taken more time to figure out what was wrong, but instead jumped the gun and panicked. On a bright note, the fix was easy, and I got to re-connect with JH and his magic bag of tools. I also thought he could come over again and help out with the barn, since JH has completely bailed out on us. This could work out, after all, but we’ll see.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Getting a Foam Gun

I finally bit the bullet and did what the Amazing PR Man would have done from the get-go, and that’s getting a serious piece of equipment rather than going the quick, cheap, and easy route. Actually, the cost will probably even out in the end. There is a ton of spray foaming that needs to be done, and it’s probably cheaper to just buy the disposable cans and toss them when I’m done. The disposable cans are single use, and clog easily. It used to be that you had to finish the can once you started it, because once it clogged, it was finished. Now they’ve improved the nozzle so it doesn’t clog and you can take a break and then come back and use the can.

The can’s don’t cover a lot, though, and it takes a bunch to get the job done. They aren’t expensive, from $3 to $5, but you just need about 30 of them. The alternative is to get a gun, and then buy the cans, which are more expensive, but last much longer. The benefit of the gun is that it doesn’t clog, and you can adjust the spray. Plus, it makes you look like you know what you’re doing. I borrowed a gun from my friend, JP, but it’s so badly clogged, I couldn’t use it. It had been sitting for years.

Now I know the Amazing PR Man would have gotten the best gun possible, but then we’re talking over $150. No thank you. I got the cheaper one, around $40, and it works fine. Good enough for me, but that’s not saying much.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to red_5_rogue for the pic.

Barn Movement

Despite the fact that SH has completely dropped off the face of the earth, we are inching along on that barn. The ceiling is getting to the point (thanks to SH) where maybe in a month we can bring in the big guns and finish the insulation, and once the downstairs is done, we can think about dry-walling it. SH talked about starting on the exterior siding, but again, he’s been AWOL, so I’m not sure what the status of that is. I can’t worry too much about it because there is enough for me to do so that I don’t have the luxury of sitting around feeling sorry for myself.

I’m about done insulating the exterior space between the joists on the gable side, and once I get the other gable done, we can finish putting in the soffit. The insulating is a little tedious because it involves inserting three 2” foam pieces (for a total of 6”) and then foaming around the edges. It’s the foaming part that makes it hard, because not only is that stuff a nasty mess, but it’s in a tight space, and it’s hard to get the foam up in there. It doesn’t help that you have to hold the darn spray can upside down.

I also have to seal the edges of the interior insulation on the ceiling, which is a boatload of sealing, but at least it’s easier than working between the joists. Once that is done, I can contact the insulation guys and they can put in the cellulose, which is a huge step. From there, we finish the walls, and then it’s drywall time in the not too distant future. Then again, don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

Meanwhile, we have to think about siding and getting the heating system in, which could take years, but hopefully not. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Mdrn~Mrvls for the pic.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Happy Mother’s Day

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day, and we had a nice day, as usual. A was over at ES’ house for a sleepover, so I went to get her, and from there, we stopped en route to get mom some flowers, with A doing the choosing. We didn’t have a set plan, but R mentioned that she wanted to do our favorite hike and have a picnic at the top of the summit, which has a great view of the Valley. In the meantime, we had planned on clearing the garden of weeds and fertilizing. I contacted BS about getting this killer tomato she gave me last year, but she said she didn’t have them this year and couldn’t find the seeds. She did, however, mention that she and JM were bringing tons of free plants to the garden and we could help ourselves. Then, of course, there was ultimate frisbee right afterward.

We headed over after lunch. N wanted to ride his bike, so R and A drove with all of our garden/ultimate frisbee stuff. The weather was colder than I anticipated, and the wind was howling, making it worse, but we forged on. The garden was a bit of a mess, especially in contrast to the other plots, which were beautifully groomed. There are some serious gardeners in this town. We pulled weeds and worked the soil, then we used up the organic fertilizer that we had stored in the shed. Our plan is to use up the kitchen compost when we do the actual planting.

JM gave us a bunch of plants, tomatoes, squash, peppers, etc. We have more plants than we know what to do with, but that beats having nothing, right? The next step will be to transplant them. After working the garden, JM said it was too windy to play ultimate frisbee, so we went home and planned for our hike/picnic. We decided it was too cold and windy to eat outside, so after our hike, we were going to have a picnic on the floor by the fire. How’s that for New England adaptability?

The hike was nice, and though it was cool and windy, the skies were beautiful and clear, and we had a glorious view of the valley. Afterward, we stopped at the store and bought some bread and cheese, and then headed home for our Mother’s Day feast by the warm fire.

Once again, a nice end to a wonderful Mother’s Day. I even called my mom, but she wasn’t home, so I left a message, which for the record will get me in the doghouse with her, but what else is new?

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

New Wheelbarrow

One of the first pieces of equipment that we bought when we moved into this house was a wheelbarrow, and believe me when I tell you that not only did it get a lot of use, but hard use. Hauling wood, tools, compost... you name it. I even transported the kids into town on the ski trails way back when we only had one car, which for the record was not easy.

After about 6 years, our old friend is finally showing signs that it’s the end. I’ve changed a couple of wheels, shimmed the frame because the bed was being pounded in by the load, and replaced countless nuts and bolts. The final straw was when the rust in the bed was causing the metal fall apart, and that’s something I can’t fix. I went to the hardware store and got the same one, and it wasn’t that expensive. Talk about a deal.

Best of all, with N being the engineer that he is, he wanted to assemble the thing, so I left him with the tools and let him at it. He did a great job, and now we’re back in business. Good help is hard to find.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Focus

One of the big issues that holds me back from finishing a project is focus, or lack thereof. It doesn’t help that I have so many projects, and as anyone around here knows, life in New England entails a constant stream of new endeavors that demand my attention. Factor in being a parent, making meals, cleaning, teaching the kids, and getting them to their various activities, and it becomes clear that this isn’t going to be easy.

I’m not going to make excuses, however. I’m merely pointing out that things either take a long time to get done, or they don’t get done at all, leaving both R and myself frustrated, though I think R beats me in the frustration category. With this in mind, I’ve found that I really need to focus on one area, and literally ignore all the others. I find myself stumbling when I start something and then notice that something to my left needs to be taken care of, only to realize that something to my right also needs my attention.

Boy, life sure ain’t easy when you’re easily distracted. This should be interesting, not only because it will take enormous amounts of effort to counteract my distracted nature, but also because things will move along and get done, and as many of you might know, I love when that happens.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Michael Dales for the pic.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Better Late Than Never... I Think

I’m not sure what to make of this, but in the spirit of trying to look at the bright side, I’ll give my brother credit. The other day a big box came for N and it was a late birthday present for N. We’re talking really late. N’s birthday is in October, and this is April. Never mind that he also forgot A’s birthday, which is in March.

My brother has neglected our kid’s birthdays almost every year, though just recently he’s started to send presents. I don’t think he’s ever sent R or I anything for our birthdays, and for the record, I always send him a card on his even though he’s completely unworthy of the effort. I usually send it late, but I send it nonetheless.

What is interesting with my brother is that he embraces the idea that you can make up for being absent of thoughtless by sending bigger and better things, as if money makes up for being absent and insensitive. I’m not sure if his interaction with his daughter is like this at all, but it’s good to keep in mind that money and material possessions can’t replace the time you give to your family, and can’t replace your presence.

Then again, maybe I should look at the bright side and appreciate the fact that he did anything at all. After all, my mom didn’t do a thing.

Sorry to be cynical, I just can’t help it when it comes to my family. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Express Monorail for the pic.

Back in Green

One thing that really struck us when we returned home from our trip was how green the area was, especially our yard. When we left two weeks back, there was still the residual brown from the end of winter, and then when we got back, the whole state was green. It’s really pretty, spring is here full force, it’s just sort of funny to look out the window and see an entirely different world. That’s life in New England for you.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to CubaGallery for the pic.

Bioluminescent Fun

I realize we’re home and back in the swing of things, but I wanted to reflect on one of the highlights of our trip, and that was kayaking the bioluminescent bay in Vieques. What was really cool about it was that they realize what a jewel they have, and go to great lengths to preserve it. Chalk it up to the National Park Service.

The bay is located on the north side of the island (I think), not too far from us, though the island is small and everything is close by. We were debating whether or not to do the actual tour, which is not cheap, but the kids were excited, and it’s a pretty darn cool thing. The bay contains plankton that glows when agitated, i.e., it is bioluminescent. The actual biology behind it is identical to science that we use in the lab with luciferase, the chemical reaction that makes fireflies glow.

The guy who actually owns and runs the tour lived right next door to the house we were renting, so we just walked over and put our names on the list. Easy enough. We met up with the group at the beach around 7:00PM, and the first thing the guy told us was to put on bug spray. They use some sort of homemade concoction, and I wanted to ask what it was, but they seemed mum on the whole thing. Trade secret. The stuff had baby oil in it, and we put it on every inch of exposed skin, including our face, neck and ears. Yuck, though the bay is known to the locals as “Mosquito Bay.” Great.

I figured we’d be the only ones there since it was quiet season, but the group was huge. There must have been 30 people out there. We broke up into pairs and headed to the water. By the time we got the kayaks, it was dark, and we paddled out to open water. It was really cool, because you could see the water glow. The way it works is the plankton, dinoflagellites for the claedists in the group, glow when agitated, and all it takes is dipping your hand or oar into the water, and they light up.

They said that the Bioluminescent Bay in Vieques has the highest concentration of glowing plankton in the world, so it was truly a unique experience. Plus, there was a lightning storm way off in the ocean, which added to the spectacle. It was clear where we were, so the stars were amazing. N and I had fun just paddling around the open sea, as well.

Definitely a must-see experience on the island, and I’m glad we saw it. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to justinpocta for the pic.

Missed It By That Much

As I mentioned, we missed our bus from Boston back home, but it sure made for a great story. We landed in Boston way too late to make it home, so we stayed at an Embassy Suites in the city, which for the record was a great hotel. They had the most amazing breakfast buffet. After eating, we had a lot of time, and figured catching the bus at the airport would be no problem, but of course, things got sketchy.

We usually catch the bus at the international terminal, where we stand at the end of the terminal where all the buses stop. When we left the hotel, the shuttle driver said he’d take us to terminal A instead, which is the first stop. We figured why not? Well, the bus actually picked up in a different spot, about 50 feet away, but enough for us to be standing there like idiots while the bus stopped and then took off without us. I ran screaming for him, but he just kept going. We were so bummed, but then hatched a plan.

The bus runs according to a schedule, and the final stop was South Station, the train station. We missed the 11:00AM bus at the airport, but it was departing South Station at 11:30, so we had 30 minutes to get to South Station, which seemed like a piece of cake. We could have caught a cab, but we were flat broke and pressed for time.

There happens to be a bus service that runs through all the terminals and then stops at South Station, and it pulled in within minutes after we missed our bus. Plus, it’s free. Say no more, we jumped on. We figured we had 25 minutes to get to the train station before our bus. No problem.

Well, that darn bus took so long to get there, because not only did it stop at all the terminals, but it made stops in the city, as well. I wanted to scream. At one point, we were stuck at a traffic light for what seemed like an eternity, and then the bus converts to from gas to electric, which took another 5 minutes. By the time we pulled into South Station, we had about 7 minutes.

We bolted out of the bus, ran into the train station, and then had to figure out where the bus picked up. It turns out it was in another building. We took off running, bags in hand, bolting through passengers. It was crazy. When we finally got to the bus terminal, we had to run up two flights of stairs, and then find the bus gate. There are dozens of buses that leave South Station. We asked around and kept running.

When we got to the actual departure gate, the bus was pulling out of the parking space and leaving. I dropped all my bags and chased after him, waving and screaming. The bus driver looked at me and threw up his hands with futility. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but needless to say, it was a mixture of anger and frustration. What the hell was that all about?

I actually talked to the manager at the bus station and he explained that the situation was out of the driver’s hands. Once he closes the bus doors, he can’t open them again, and once he’s pulled out of the space, he can’t stop, or for that matter, open the doors. Sure, the situation is flawed in that all the stops are not located in the same place, but the airport is a messy place, and things don’t always go smoothly.

I accepted that, what choice did I have? We did learn an important lesson, however, and learned, once again, that like in life, when you travel, things don’t always go according to plan, but it’s not the end of the world, and if anything, it’s usually not such a big deal. There is an important lesson in there.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to bhwkns85 for the pic.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Long Road Home

Traveling is always a challenge, especially the road there and back, but this time around, our road back was especially trying, though the idea of getting back home is what helps you get through it.

We started our return trip home on Tuesday, and it seemed like one long, difficult two-day journey home, with complications on the way. We really enjoyed Old San Juan, and would have liked to have stayed longer, but at least now we know. We spent one night, though it was dampened (no pun intended) by a torrential downpour that went on for most of the night. Since we had packed for a beach trip, we didn’t have any rain clothes to speak of.

Now we had a rental car that we were returning to the airport, and we had until 12:30 on Tuesday before they started charging us for another day. This made life a little challenging because our flight didn’t leave until 5:00PM. That meant long hours at the airport, which can be a drag. It’s nice to have some time and not be rushed, but at some point the long hours can be a drain.

We dropped off the car around 12:00, and then had a load of time. It was too early to even check in, so we headed over to the food court for more greasy food. Talk about a burden on the GI system. The food wasn’t half bad because we stuck to the beans and rice, but you couldn’t find fresh vegetables or fruit if your life depended on it. That’s airport food for you.

After a couple of hours, our flight finally showed up on the board, so we went through security and to our gate. One benefit of having so much time is that it’s no big hurry to get through security. When you’re pressed for time and standing in the awful line, you can feel the stress stripping the years off your life. The plan was to tough it out and get lunch in Newark, where our connection would be. At some point, however, it dawned on me that we wouldn’t make it to Newark until 6:00, and then there wasn’t much time to make our connection. I.e., we wouldn’t have time to eat. The airlines don’t offer any food on flights anymore, and you’re lucky to even get a drink, so we had to find food.

We didn’t want deep fried junk, so we inquired and learned of a Subway in the other terminal. I ran over, got some sandwiches, and ran back just in time to board. Once in our seats, we chowed down on the sandwiches and then sat back for the flight to Newark, where we would catch our connection and land in Boston around 11:30. From there, we’d get a hotel and then catch the bus in the AM.

Of course, things don’t always go according to plan. Our connection was late, and we ended up departing getting to our hotel around 1:00 AM. We went straight to bed, had breakfast, and then proceeded to miss our bus back home. We spent a few hours in Boston South Station and caught the next bus, but needless to say, it was a long trip home.

One bright note was that the hotel we stayed at in Boston was outstanding, we loved it. We hope to visit the city again and will most definitely stay there.

Now we’re home, getting back in the groove, and it sure feels good. I will say this: it was a great trip, a great beach vacation, perhaps one of the best. I think PR has a lot to offer, and I think we’ll go back again one day.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to me'nthedogs for the pic.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Positive Island Vibes

We are finding Vieques much to our liking, and it’s sad to say goodbye as this is our last day. The place has an excellent island feel, very laid back with a warm weather groove. The people are nice, and the island is not so rustic as to make life that much more challenging than back home, the beaches are some of the best we’ve seen, and there is a lot to do. Add in the use of dollars and the English language, and I for one am sold. Oh yeah, I heard they surf here, too, and have seen some boards pass us by.

We have been to several islands in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Pacific, and I have to say, Vieques rates high up on the list. The beaches were really pretty, not crowded at all, and the water was beautiful and very warm. The swimming was great, and we got some great snorkeling in. It was just right for a family vacation because the kids could do all they wanted on the beach without having to worry too much. The snorkeling was pretty good, in my opinion, but I’m not an experienced snorkeler. According to R, who has done it all over the world, it was good, so that’s good enough for me.

We lucked out with the weather, it was warm and sunny, with a few patches of heavy rain that lasted less than half and hour. That’s what keeps the island so green. The two drawbacks that I found were that it was hard to find healthy food, everything is fried, and there must be some sort of crime element because everyone has bars on their windows and we’ve been told not to leave valuables in the car and to leave the windows open and doors unlocked. It’s not unlike many tourist places, maybe with just a touch of urban concern.

Either way, I give the island two big thumbs up, and as I’ve said many time before, have positive vibes overall about Puerto Rico in general. I think PR suffers from some image problems, but it’s a really nice island, in some parts. There are ugly parts, no question, but that applies to everywhere.

Anyway, we are leaving today, catching a plane to the big island, where we’ll make our way to the capital and then head home. Stay tuned for more details about Vieques.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Going Island Style - Days 8 and 9

I’ve lost all track of what day it is, which when you’re on vacation, is the goal, right? We are in Vieques and I have to say, it’s very nice. Everyone looks for different things on vacation, and naturally I want to have waves, but again, I think for surfing to really work, I need to get the kids involved for it to be a true vacation. If the whole trip is about my own self-interest (i.e., surfing), I can’t seem to enjoy it because I worry if everyone else is having fun. I also realize that in thinking this way, I am an anomaly because I’ve noticed that most people couldn’t give two hoots about how everyone else is feeling. Oh well, such is life.

We landed in Vieques on Thu and are spending five days on the island. My first thought was, “What the heck were we going to do for five days?” As it turns out, plenty. We are renting a beautiful villa in the middle of the island, it even has a name, Casa El Dormilon, Sleepyhead House. The house is huge, and so cool, you have to really see it to appreciate it. There are two wonderful decks and because we are high up on the hill, we get a constant breeze. The house has doors all over the place that open up and let the wind keep the house cool, which is really nice.

The best thing about this situation is finding your groove and making the most of it, which is what we’ve done. Basically it’s embracing the island groove, and when you’re a busy New Englander, it takes a few days. There is a full kitchen and even a BBQ, which have yet to take advantage of, though we bought meat to make burgers.

We wake up in the morning to beautiful warm weather, with the breeze so it’s not sweltering, and then have breakfast of cereal or eggs or bread and some fruit. We hang and read while the kids run around the grounds, then we head to the beach to snorkel and swim. The beaches are amazing, right out of a movie, with palm trees and gentle water, perfect for the kids and adults to swim in. The snorkeling is amazing, and we’re all are having a blast. Kids don’t need much in the way of a beach to love it, just sand and water. We have found that mornings are good for snorkeling, and evenings are good for just hanging in the water and sand.

The island itself is really cool, as well, with lots of places to check out, and good food. In fact, we ate our best meals in PR here, at Cafe Sol, where we had killer empanadas, carnitas tacos, and pulled pork sandwiches. Really good stuff.

There are several national parks here, so the beaches are unspoiled and undeveloped. In fact, one of the beaches here was, Sun Beach, was awarded a Blue Flag for being ecologically sound and environmentally unspoiled. Apparently it’s a really big deal, and we found one on the Greek Islands, as well. Either way, as you can imagine, the beach was beautiful, and the water is really warm. All I need is to find some waves.

We are really enjoying our time in Vieques, and part of it is having a really nice home base to plan our days and finish in comfort. We have found just such a house, so we are in good shape.

More on Vieques later. Until then, thanks for reading.

Winging It, Literally

Our itinerary after the Yunque rainforest was to head to the island of Vieques, which has a bit of history with the US, especially the US Navy. The island is about seven miles from PR, and from what I understand, is not actually PR, but an independent entity. Whatever be the case, it’s supposed to be really nice, and fun to visit.

There are two ways to get there, either by ferry or plane. The ferry is ridiculously cheap, about $3/person, so naturally we gravitated to that. The only problem is, the ferries are all going bankrupt, and there is some question as to whether any of them are even running. You sure get what you pay for. I recall in Greece there were all sorts of problems with the ferries, not to mention Croatia. Something about boats that adds all this complication.

This was the deal. There were three ferries, one of which went under. That left two, and they were both slated to shut down their operations, apparently around the third week of this month. We needed to get to Vieques in the first week, then return on the second week, so if they shut down in the third week, we were in business. We just had to hope our timing would work out.

By the time we were ready to leave Luquillo, we still hadn’t figured out how to get to catch the ferry. We were supposed to leave the rental car in Ceiba, and then have the rental people give us a ride to the ferry in Fajardo, the neighboring town. We weren’t even sure if they would do this, but heard they would. Then there was the issue of whether the ferry was even running. Then someone recommended that we just fly, saying it was cheap and reliable. After doing some investigating, we learned that it was cheap, and the flight was about 10 minutes.

So we had shifted gears and came up with a new plan. We were no longer going to take the ferry, but were going to fly. We just needed to figure out how to do it, and return the rental car at the same time. It turns out the rental car return was at the airport, right down the road, and they were happy to give us a ride back to the terminal.

We purchased our tickets, returned the car, had them give a lift back to the terminal, then caught our flight to Vieques. The flight was cheap ($30), pleasant, and quick. We landed in Vieques in no time, and then picked up our new rental car on Vieques.

All in all, things ended up nicely even though we really didn’t have much of a plan. Plus, we shifted gears and adapted to our new situation, and it worked out for the best. I love when that happens, because it seems like our lives are run by fear. It’s nice to know that in the end, there’s nothing to be afraid of, and even if there is, it all works out in the end. Is it ever really that bad? Usually not.

We are now on the island, suffice it to say that it's beautiful, if not idyllic. A bit off the beaten path, a lot of unspoiled beaches, really cool people, and somewhere I'm told there's good snorkeling and even surf.  More on Vieques later.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Jungle Fever, part 2 - Days 7 and 8

I don’t know why PR isn’t a more popular tourist destination, or maybe it is and I just don’t know about it, but it’s a really nice island. There’s world class surf (most important), it’s a fairly cheap trip, with numerous flights out of NYC or Boston, the weather is nice, it has a lot to offer, they speak English, and you don’t need a passport. In fact, I think it’s considered a state, sort of.

I realize there are some elements that aren’t so great, like crime, and some places are nicer than others. In fact, some places, like Luquillo (at least in sections) are a bit of a dump, but there are really beautiful beaches and rainforests.

I’ve been told that there is a bit of crime on the island, especially in the capital, and you can sort of see why. It’s very urban, reminiscent of NYC, with a beach flair, like going to Coney Island. Whatever be the case, the last time I came 15 years ago, I wondered why more people don’t come here, so they must know something I don’t. I did notice that wherever you go on this island, not just San Juan, every place has bars on the windows. That’s a telling sign.

We are a week into our trip, and it’s been a lot of fun. The kids are enjoying their time in PR, and R and I are enjoying the warm weather, relaxation, and quality time spent together as a family. You just can’t put a price on that. It would have been nice to get more surfing in, but I’m glad I got to surf for one day. Have to be happy with what you have, right? Again, it would have been nicer if the kids could have surfed, but that’s for another time.

We spent a couple of days outside of Luquillo, in the Yunque rainforest, and as beautiful as the rainforest is, I have to confess, the town of Luquillo was not so nice. In fact, it was a bit of a dump. Since it’s so close to San Juan, I’m guessing it’s more like a town beach, where the people in the city go. We wanted to get a bite to eat, and the woman who owned the room told us to go to the beach and eat at the kioskas, which are small huts along the beach that serve food.

We headed down and couldn’t find a thing that wasn’t fried. It was a bit much. There was no variety, and I’m not sure how people choose one from the other, but it’s literally fried this and fried that. I ordered a chicken taco, which was chicken dipped in batter and deep fried. I had made up my mind that I wanted to eat just rice and beans on this trip, but even that is hard to find. When I could actually find the stuff, it was rice with a few beans tossed in for good measure. I was looking for something maybe more along the lines of Cuban food, a bowl of black beans that you pour over the rice. Food for the soul.

When I ordered rice and beans at the kioska, it was nothing like I had hoped for, and greasy as heck, to boot. We at the food, and A commented that she felt like she needed to go home and take a shower. I couldn’t agree more. Another downer in this town is that it must attract a lot of people, because the beach right behind the kioskas was filthy, with garbage everywhere, and it smelled like sewage. It made it hard to eat our greasy food. Plus, there are birds everywhere trying to forage for garbage. Kind of depressing.

We went to the other side of the beach, where it was less populated and the waves were breaking nicely, and it was nice, but still dirty. When you see garbage on the beach, it’s a bummer because people are really abusing the privilege of being on the ocean. Oh well, what are you doing to do?

I will say this, the rainforests are beautiful and worth a visit. It’s nice to be out of the hectic city, especially when it involves being stuck in traffic. There is nothing worse.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Jungle Fever, part 1

We spent a couple of days in Rincon, then drove back through San Juan to get to the rainforest on the east side of the island. I have to confess, I really liked Rincon and would love to go back, maybe when the kids are older and a little more accomplished in surfing. The drive was a bit long and brutal, mainly because there was so much traffic. There were times that we were slowed to a crawl, and it never seemed to end. The worst of it was in San Juan, and the trip took us several hours. The kids were miserable, I felt bad.

We arrived in Luquillo in the afternoon and had to meet up with the woman who owns the house in jungle. She’s an expat from who knows where who has been living in this area for 30 years. Amazing how people end up where they end up. Her husband is a surfer, and for the record, the waves were pretty good on this end of the island. I didn’t know they surfed here, I figured the surfing was isolated to Rincon. Good to know.

We spent a couple of days in the rainforest, and believe me when I tell you, it’s the real deal, pretty impressive stuff. I felt like I was in the Amazon, not that I’ve ever been there. It was actually pretty impressive, and you don’t really think about it, but PR is pretty darn lush. The rainforests are pretty extensive, and there is a lot to see. Plus, because we aren’t in South America, it’s pretty manageable, and we don't have to worry about cannibalistic warriors, malaria, or piranhas. The forest is overseen by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, so the roads are well maintained, which may diminish the authenticity of the experience for some, but that's fine by me.

We were only there for a couple of days, but that was enough to get a sense of the place. It rained quite a bit, and the cacophony from the wildlife was amazing. The first night I couldn’t sleep because the noise was deafening. The coqui frogs were going off. The last time I was in PR, some of the locals were telling me that the coqui is sort of the national animal. There are several specie endemic to the island, and coqui is the popular name for them. The moniker represents the sound they make, and once the sun goes down, they go crazy, and believe me, it was loud.

As I mentioned, between the frogs and the thundering sound of the rain, I couldn’t sleep, though I guess we were getting our full rainforest/jungle experience. It reminded me of living in NYC, the constant noise that you eventually drown out.

We woke up the next morning to very pleasant conditions, with a cool breeze to tone down the heat. I think we are on the cusp of the hot season, so the weather hasn’t been too bad. If anything, I think the weather has been nice, both in Rincon and in Luquillo. We had some food for breakfast, and then went for a little adventure in the jungle. The roads are winding and steep, so we had to take them slowly, but we found some beautiful scenery. The jungle is amazingly lush, and there are beautiful waterfalls and rivers.

We found a nice spot along the river and went for a swim. The water felt great, and the kids had fun climbing the boulders and skipping rocks. We were getting the most of our rainforest experience. Now I’m guessing the rainforests are pretty extensive because PR is fairly mountainous and we were only on a small part of the island, but it was really nice.

After a long swim, we jumped back in the car and headed up the road to see waterfalls and explore more of the forest. After our big rainforest adventure, we headed into the town of Luquillo to get some food and check out the beach, but that’s a story for another time.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Surfing USA, or Rather PR

I finally got some surfing in (that's me paddling out), and there was a point where I was ready to chicken out and just stand on the sidelines and be a spectator. Surfing is probably the greatest sport in the world, but it’s also hard, challenging, and intimidating, especially when you’ve been in situations where you’ve feared for your life. Believe me, it doesn’t take much to be there.

In light of this, when you haven’t surfed for a while, you’re painfully aware of your limitations, and realize you can’t shake it like you used to. When I first looked out into the waves, my first thought was, man those waves are bigger and rougher than I thought. Another problem was that there wasn’t much in the way of sandy beaches, just a massive reef. This same reef that gives the waves their killer shape also makes for treacherous surfing, because if you fall into that reef, it will cut you up like a knife. This, of course, meant that I was on my own, and it was too dangerous for the kids.

I rented a board on the beach from some seedy underhanded surfer who was not warm and fuzzy. He warned me to really be careful where I went out and came back in, because the reef would rip me to shreds, but more importantly, might damage his board. Great. For the record, the board was a piece of junk. One thing that was nice was that we were right at where I had surfed 15 years earlier, at Domes. The surf spots are all within a mile stretch along the coast, and the waves looked good, maybe too good. I was hoping for Florida ripples on a nice, gradual sandy beach.

We walked for a bit and found a nice shady spot on the beach, and then I scouted for a good spot to paddle out. I watched one guy who was clearly a local go out, and the way he did it was to walk out along the reef, wait for a wave to come, then jump off the reef and start paddling like crazy before the next set came in. The guy had a major gut, as well, but he was on a longboard, which can make all the difference.

I decided to follow in his footsteps, and it wasn’t so bad. In fact, I found the surf spot to be very manageable, and even though the waves had some size to them, they didn’t destroy me and they were very surf-able, reminiscent of my former home break in Malibu. I even caught some waves, not many, but I managed to surf, and the kids were witness to it. Good enough for me. I spent some time in the lineup getting acclimated, and my lack of conditioning was a factor, but all in all, it was a successful surf trip. I got some waves, got on my feet and actually surfed the waves, and felt good. The water was the perfect temp, and as usual, I got surfing fever back in my blood. Now I’m scheming how I can get a new board and get back to the surf.

The ideal situation would be to go to Daytona Beach and rent a house for a week. Then I could surf in the early morning then take the kids out and surf during the day. The waves are much mellower and the beach is gentle. That way we could all get some surfing in. Plus, Florida is very affordable. Something to aspire to.

At some point the swell started to get choppy, and all the while that I was out there I stressed a little (what else is new?) about how the heck I was going to get back to the beach. As I mentioned, the entire coastline is a reef, so it’s not very easy to just walk out of the water. Plus, if you don’t time it right, the waves will thrash you against the rock, not to mention damage the board. Who cares about your body, it’s the board you worry about.

I did what I always do in these situations, and that was to ask several of the other surfers out there. Because the break was challenging, there weren’t too many tourists, and they were all fairly competent surfers. They explained to me where I had to go to get out, and that’s what I did. I survived.

All in all I felt good about my time surfing, but wished that it could have been for longer, and that the kids could have joined me. Oh well, better luck next time. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to RIC for the pics.

Mofongo Fever

As I mentioned, we ate PR food in Rincon, and it was tasty, though we had a bad reaction to some of the fish. The dish in question is called mofongo, and it's a national dish or PR, sort of. I'd never heard of it, but it's all over the place. It's based on fried (of course) plaintains, to which they add a stew, and it's killer, it's just that we got some bad fish. It wasn’t your typical food poisoning, but more of an allergic reaction, which can be worse. It wasn’t, thankfully, but it was a bummer, nonetheless. We did a little research on Google and found out that there is a name for it, scombroid. It stems from eating fish that is a little spoiled, and is specific to bigger fish like tuna, shark, swordfish, and mahi, which we had. Apparently when the fish spoils a little, it develops allergans (histamines) that are not degraded by heat, so even if it’s cooked thoroughly, you will still react, which we did.

We should have reported the incident, but left it at that. No more fish for us on this trip, that’s for sure. We’ll stick with fried meat and dough. We also had a bit of a GI incident drinking smoothies, which again, took us by surprise. There is a smoothie shack that got rave reviews so we checked it out, and I have to confess, they weren’t that good. The guy was all “probiotic” about it, trying to promote all these macrobiotic additions, which for the record cost more.

The smoothies were good because they were fruity and cold, and it was hot outside, but the tastes were just okay. And we got sick, so scratch that one off the list, as well.

Boy, we sure are taking a beating on this trip. Maybe we should go with a vegan diet, though raw veggies are the main source of food poisoning, so you have to just roll the dice.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to keeeeegan for the pic.

Like Being in L.A.

As usual on our vacations, we end up in the car for long stretches trying to get where we need to go. I have to assume part of the blame on this one because we went to Rincon for my surfing needs, and then headed back to San Juan to check out the rainforest. The drive was a bit rough, and in pockets along the way, we hit major traffic. The worst was in San Juan, it was bumper to bumper, and we crawled along for miles at a time. It was just like being in L.A., and it reminded me what a drag it is to live there.

The traffic was pretty impressive, for lack of a better word. Then again, I’ve found the traffic is bad in almost every major city that we’ve visited, including thoughout Europe. You just can’t escape it, but somehow the San Juan/L.A. traffic is the worst. It just sucks the life out of you, and I can’t imagine having to deal with it every day, though we get whiffs of it in W. Leb, which is why I try to avoid it like the plague.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to riclopes 2008 for the pic.

Healthy Eating... or Lack Thereof

One thing you find when you travel is that it’s hard to eat a healthy diet when you’re on the road, but we’re finding it even more so in PR. When we were in southern Europe, it wasn’t bad because they eat the Mediterranean diet, so wherever you go, it’s fresh fish, fruits and veggies, splashed with olive oil. I’ve notice that when you travel in the Caribbean, it’s a completely different game. The Caribbean diet is all about fried starch with absolutely no fiber whatsoever. They don’t try to fake it. Just meat, meat, and more meat, battered and fried. I have a high tolerance to unhealthy food, and even I was fed up.

In Rincon, we got some fresh fruit at the guesthouse, but eating out and getting lunch involved, you guessed it, meat. I think we’re all going to have a dietary crisis. We headed out to the rainforests on the east coast, and stopped at the beach side huts (kioskas) that serve food, and it was even worse. I have been searching for a good serving of rice and beans, and it has thus far eluded me. At the kioskas, I asked for beans and rice, and got this really greasy fried rice with a few beans thrown in for good measure. Add in some fried chicken, and you got a meal. Not quite what I expected, and afterward, I felt like I needed a shower in bad way. A commented on how she felt like all the grease was oozing out her pores, and I concur.

I even asked some people on the beach if they knew where to get some fresh fruits or vegetables, and they had no clue. The one guy lived there and said to try the gas stations. We actually found a grocery store, and a nice one, to boot. We got a bunch of fruit and cereal and bread to eat, but it is interesting how the people we have encountered eat. Not a very healthy diet, and truth be told, it shows. There are some very large people out here, and it must get brutal in the heat. I think the situation feeds on itself, you eat a crappy diet, gain weight, the heat makes you sedentary, and you gain more weight eating a crappy diet. Kind of a drag. Unfortunately, as well know, the unhealthy stuff is tasty and cheap, so I can’t see the situation changing any time soon, despite what we know about nutrition and health.

Oh well, you just have to do the best you can. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Princess Fancy Hen for the pic.

Just Like Home

As I mentioned, we really liked Rincon, and not just for the surf, which for the record was too rough for them. It was almost too rought for me, but once we all get a little more time in the waves under our belt, we’ll be ready. I think the best way for the kids to learn how to surf is in Florida, in Daytona, where we went for Thanksgiving. That was perfect, and Florida is manageable. Cheap flights, deals on rentals, and miles of beaches. We don’t even need to be right on the beach.

Either way, I digress (what else is new?). One thing I really liked about Rincon is that we (or I?) felt right at home from the get go. The vibe is so laid back, and everyone speaks English and the place is half American, if not more so. Many of the businesses are fun by expats, and they are really cool. As you get away from the beach, it definitely becomes more local/native, but we never encountered any bad vibes, and you get a sense that you could just pick up and move here, though I couldn’t deal with the year ‘round heat.

For the hockey players in this family, and even those that aren’t, we even found an ice skating rink. As improbable as that may seem, they not only have an ice rink in the neighboring town, but it’s open year ‘round. That’s more than our local rink back in New England. The guy who runs the guesthouse said they go now and then and skate in shorts until they get cold, then come outside to warm up. I was floored, and even considered going skating, but mom gave a big thumbs down to that. Nothing even remotely hockey related on our beach vacation. How funny would that have been?

We were in downtown Rincon for a bit and it was a pretty happening place, crowded and busy. One thing that really spoke to N was the indoor skateboard park and the BMX track. Traffic was really bad so we couldn’t really linger and stare, but it looked pretty impressive, and I could tell that N was thrilled about the idea of getting on that track, but it wasn’t meant to be. Oh well, maybe another time.

It’s really funny how you can travel so far from home but find the same interests in other places. Sort of makes you feel at home.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to I am Leicamoron for the pic.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Thoughts on Rincon

We are having trouble finding an internet connection, so I can’t post until we do. For the most part there is internet wherever we go, but we are currently in the rainforest and there is no internet.

We spent a couple of days in Rincon, on the west coast of the island, and loved it. I really jive with this place, mainly because it’s total surf culture. It reminds me of being back home near the beach, and the area is reminiscent of Mexico, with lots of expatriots who have transplanted to the area and surf and drink tons of beer. I can do without the drinking, and the thought of being drunk in this heat is completely unappealing, but the area is cool.

We stayed at Dos Angeles, a guest house that was just right for our purposes. It was about a 5 minute walk to the beach, the guy who owned it was from Jersey and was really cool, and they had a pool. Say no more. We arrived in the afternoon and got settled, then took a walk to the beach. I had been to Rincon about 15 years before, but needless to say, I don’t remember a thing. I really wanted the kids to have a chance to surf, but the waves were rough, and there were not a lot of kid friendly beaches. It really is a surfer’s area.

I recall surfing a place that was a former nuclear reactor called Domes, and it was really close by. We looked out at the surf and the waves were rougher and bigger than I thought they would be, so surfing was going to be a bit of a chore. We would have to locate a board first.

We were hungry and tired, plus it was cooking hot, so we had a dip in the pool and then went to get some food. There is a local Puerto Rican restaurant called the Red Flamboyan that serves PR food. We all had a local dish called Mofongo, which I had never heard of. Apparently it’s a very common PR dish, so we all got it. The dish is made with plaintains that are chopped up and molded into a bowl with butter and spices. Soup or stew is then poured in, and it’s really good. We got chicken, pork, and fish, and unfortunately, the fish made some of us sick. Not in the usual way, but more on that later.

We went to the local bakery and got some chocolate cake, and I was stuck by how afforable food was, almost cheaper than back home. Plus, it’s a community so you get that local feel, which I like. The busy season is Christmas to Easter, so we were hitting shoulder season, and you could feel the heat. It must be much milder during the winter, when all the Americans come. It’s like the east coast Hawaii, or Mexico. Cheap flights out of NYC.

All in all, I really liked Rincon, mainly because it’s all surfed out. People go there for one reason, to surf. Even I managed to get through my trepidation and fear (for my life) and surf, and it sure felt good. The water felt just right, cool but warm enough so that I thought I could have surfed for several hours, but more on that later, as well.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.