Friday, September 22, 2017

New Hockey Frontiers

With hockey starting soon, I think it's good for me to reflect a little on the big changes that are happening this year, namely that we've left our old hockey program with completely bad vibes (on my part, N holds no grudges) and are playing in a new program over in the big city. It's a big change and one that I didn't think we'd ever make, at least not yet.

In the past, playing over in the big city always meant being more competitive and driven. It's a stronger program and churns out more high end players, which means that the parents have high expectations, i.e., they're way more intense. Then again, hockey parents are hockey parents, right? Several players from our old program moved over to the big city in the past because they wanted various things for out of it - from a bright future in the NHL of just parental bragging rights that their kids were in a kick-ass program. For full disclosure, the level of skill seems to drop off at the level that N is playing at, probably because the really high end players move on to select teams or go play at prep schools. It's still a solid program in the big city, just not at an elite level, which suits us just fine.

So given all the crap we had to endure last year at our old program, we made the decision to move over. There were many reasons for this change, most of them spiteful on my part, but it never would have happened if N didn't agree to it. His strongest motivator was the level of uncertainty in the old program. They go through this every year, never sure how certain teams are going to shape up, or if they're even going to have a team. This is the case with N's level, and as far as I can see, they are going to have a hard time putting together a team. Besides, despite all of my juvenile bad feelings for the old program, it would be nice to see N play on a team where his teammates were a little closer in skill level (at his old program, the players were all over the map), but more importantly, came out, worked hard, and gave some semblance of effort, i.e., didn't have crappy attitudes. This was rarely the case on his old team. In fact, I think it's fair to say that most kids on his team rarely, if ever, gave 100%. It was discouraging and telling at the same time.

Finally, N will more than likely do some high school work over in the big city, just like his sister, so this is the world that he will be inhabiting. It's not a bad time to get a foot in the proverbial door of this new environment. I'm not saying this is the promised land and we're going to have nothing but warm fuzzy feelings about life in the big city, but at this point, anything is better than being “over there” at the old program. I am done with that place.

This should be interesting, and like all things in our lives, will probably be filled with drama. I can't wait. At the very least, more of our lives are stationed over in the big city, including work, school, and friends. It's easier for us to get to the big city than the “other place,” (just a quick jaunt on the highway), there's way more to do in the big city (there's nothing going on “over there,” it's the epitome of dull), and a lot of these kids that are on his team will potentially be his future classmates. Coupled with my complete disdain for the old program, one could make the case that this change is a no-brainer. Then again, I could eat my words in a few weeks. You just never know.

Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and make changes where you think they're needed, especially if you're unhappy with your current situation. Life's too short to endure people treating you like crap, don't you think?

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Preparing for Fall Surfing

I know I've been commenting on how warm it's been, but truth be told, fall is on the horizon and the water is still a bit chilly. It really takes hot weather to make it comfortable, and that occurs in a small window of time during the same. That window has closed. Last time we surfed it was warmer than I'd expected, but with the fall weather closing in, the water only get chillier and chiller with each passing week.

With this in mind, we are doing some fall surfing prep, which boils down to doing whatever it takes to stay warm. I've been told that people surf until mid-late October, which is fine by me, but I can't fathom the idea of getting out of the water and taking off a wetsuit when it's cold and windy outside. Talk about brutal.

Either way, we have our wetsuits and booties to keep most of us warm, but one area where we really suffered when it was cold outside was our hands. It's mainly because when they're wet and in the cool breeze, they take a beating. So I got us some gloves, and they were surprisingly cheap online. We were able to get a sense of what size we would need by trying on various pairs, and then I did some bargain hunting. It wasn't a rush situation because it's still tolerable out there right now, but I'm thinking that if we want to surf in the coming weeks, we're going to need to protect those hands. For the record, I look forward to the day when our surf gear is complete and I won't need to keep buying stuff. Then again, that may never happen.

One final note, I was looking at gloves for around $40 a pop at surf shops, and I got two pairs for $30 online. I love when that happens. Now we're ready to keep hitting the waves.

Until the next time, thanks for surfing.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Passport Renewal

When we fly we often need some form of identification for all of us, but at the very least mom and dad. Now when flying in the US all we need is a driver's license, but just for good measure we bring along our passports. Well, imagine my surprise when we recently flew to LA and the TSA guy informed us that my passport had expired. Boy, it was a good thing we weren't flying international because we, or rather I, would have been in trouble. Since it was just a domestic flight he didn't make a big deal out of it, but he did inform us that we needed to take care of it.

It's strange that this passed below our radar because we are usually on top of these matters. However, since we haven't really done a lot of international travel this year, the timing could have been worse. Plus, with no big trips in the works, I had time to deal with it. This meant getting a new passport photo done, which is a bit of a hassle because camera shops, where I used to get them done, are a thing of the past.

Either way, no time like the present to get it done. Then we will be all prepped and ready for our next big trip, wherever that may be.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to John Dewar for the pic.

Big Mac

Wow, this sort of came out of nowhere, but I've managed to upgrade my computer and get a good deal at the same time, all thanks to my amazing sister in law, DR. Thanks, BTW. My current laptop is about 7 years old, which is 49 in dog years and 70 in computer years. It works fine but it is definitely starting to fall apart - my hard drive crashed and I had to replace it, the track pad is losing sensitivity, and the actual case is coming loose and is being held together with packing tape. As I mentioned, it still works, but the proverbial writing seems to be on the wall, and I've been looking around for deals on used MacBooks.

I'd heard that the Dartmouth computer store sells off old laptops that departments use and then replace. By old I mean 2-3 years, which would be a huge upgrade to my computer. The problem is, they never have computers available when I inquire, and I when I inquire, I'm talking emailing them every week. At some point my conspiracy-minded brain started to think they were yanking my chain, but one of the salespeople actually told me that faculty have priority on the MacBooks and there is a long waiting list. I.e., I'm out of luck. My friend JP actually has one of said MacBooks, which sell for around $300, which is a great deal if you can get one, but you can't get one, so it's not such a great deal.

Anyway, I'd pretty much given up and thought that at some point I'd have to look to eBay or Craigslist when the clouds parted and DR came to the rescue. Woo-hoo. I am stoked because the timing is good, and it's something the entire household can use. I don't need a high tech machine, but if I'm going to get a new computer, I might as well get something nice if I can, right?

Either way, I'm hoping that one future problem has now been addressed, and I can direct my attention (and money) to other important things, like hockey equipment, snow tires, and surfboard wax.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Rocky Chen for the pic.

Splitting Like Crazy

I'd been splitting wood and trying to finish year 2 at a reasonably casual pace, but it has dawned on me that I was going to have to step up the pace because no matter how much wood I think I've split, it barely makes a dent in the wood pile. Needless to say this is incredibly frustrating because I'd like for it to just be done, but no such luck. On a bright note we do have plenty of log length wood, and I've blocked up a reasonably good-sized pile, but as I've experienced in the past, a massive pile of un-split wood is no reason to get complacent. Sometimes I'm amazed at how much wood we burn.

We were lucky to get a brief spell of cool weather (I was sure fall was here), which made cutting and splitting more bearable, but the heat has returned, and it's been a challenge, especially for a whiner like myself. Over the past week I've been splitting whenever I can, and just when I've got this big pile for stacking, I'm floored by how much farther I still have to go. The kids have been helping me and it makes a big difference, so the only thing to do is stop whining (yeah right) and just keep chopping away. The kids don't whine when I ask them to help, so I should just keep my big mouth shut.

Meanwhile, the pile of blocks that I can't seem to split keeps growing, so at some point I'm going to have to borrow JP or AM's splitter, I'm still not clear who it belongs to. Maybe I should just get ahold of said splitter sooner than later and just finish the whole damn pile. Then again, there are a lot of things I should do.

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Big City Girl

A has been quite the big city girl lately, heading down to the big city with her friends, sans mom or dad. She's so cosmopolitan. It bears mentioning that even though mom and dad are not going, parents are involved, and her friends are actually her bandmates and they are, for the most part, older and in college. I know this sounds like a potentially complicated situation, but we know and trust her friends, and as I mentioned, parents were present.

The first weekend she went down to see this band called Snarky Puppy, which is a jazz ensemble that is apparently the hot new thing. Several of them went to Boston and they later learned that other friends and bandmates were going as well. Very cool. A has begun developing an interest in jazz because her jazz band at school is encouraging it, and her bandmates are into it, as well. More on this at a later date. One of the dads, who is a music head, drove the guys down and they stayed at a relatives house in the city, which is pretty cool. They hung out in Boston, went to see the band, and had an overall really cool time. Plus, they got to see some killer live music.

The next weekend she went to Concord to do some music stuff with her band. Again, this was very cool because they are a talented bunch of musicians and they are taking their craft seriously. One of the bandmates used to live up here and now lives in Concord, so they stayed at his house and his mom prepared meals and put them all up. How cool is that?

All in all A had two amazing musical weekends in a row. It's very cool to see her so interested in music, though not just playing for fun, but taking it reasonably seriously. Who knows what will come of it but suffice it to say that she has mom and dad's support.

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

New Guitar

A got a new guitar and I'm really stoked for her because not only is it a cool guitar, but it's something she researched and picked out. First, a little background. Way back when she was first starting we got her a starter electric guitar that was reasonably cheap because let's face it, we weren't sure it was something she'd stick with (though I was hoping she would). It was recommended to us by her guitar teacher at the time, EE. He said that they were fairly well made and were a good option for a first guitar. Plus, since they were cheap (i.e., made in China), they had a wide selection of colors and body styles. She picked out one she liked, we got her a decent amp, and a rock star was born.

Well, a few years later and she's playing in several bands, if you can believe that. She's been using the same guitar and it's served her well, but it's not without it's small issues. I can't adequately explain what the problems were, but we've had the guitar guy at the Dojo do a few things with it. Nothing major but small problems that keep cropping up. At some point A inquired if she could get a new guitar, and of course she'd been doing her homework and looking into various options.

One thing that was fun about this process was that she could go to guitar stores and try them out. They are very cool about letting you try just about any guitar they have in stock, even if it's still in the package. This happened to us in LA, where we visited the Guitar Center in Hollywood. She asked about the guitar that she wanted and they unpacked the thing, tuned it up, and handed it over so she could jam. Even though we didn't buy it, they were very accommodating. For the record, I think that was the fourth Guitar Center that she'd been to.

Anyway, when we got back, she searched the internet for her guitar and found one to her liking. My mom had actually given the kids some cash as a gift and A used that towards her guitar. It came very soon after she ordered it, and she's stoked with it. I have to confess that I'm happy that she's playing with a decent quality instrument. Even though I'm a fan of cheap, I can appreciate the value of spending the money for something of good quality, especially when it involves a special item like a guitar, surfboard, skis or snowboards, or most stuff for the kids. For me, I'll generally lean towards the cheaper option. With surfboards this is not an option because you can't find cheap or used surfboards around here.

Plus, you can't deny the importance of the “cool factor” when it comes to kids. I don't mind using junk but when you're young you just can't pull it off, you need to have the good stuff, and you're usually better off in the end. Now that A has a quality guitar, she has more of the cool factor on stage, and that's important when you're a rock star.

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Updating Hockey Gear

Hockey season is right around the corner and sure enough, that means updating some hockey gear. This year there were some big ones, namely skates for N. His old skates are too small, and now we have to upgrade, so off to Stateline we go. Normally I'd look for a bargain but I've learned that with certain pieces of equipment, you just can't skimp too much. I've tried and been burned. Online shopping will only get you so far, and truth be told, I like the idea of supporting a local business, especially one that knows us and cuts us a break whenever possible.

With skates, he really needs to try them on and get a good fit. He's a good player and a big boy now, so buying cheesy or used stuff isn't really an option. Plus, for something like skates, fit is important. Over at Stateline they will attempt to expand a pair of skates with some sort of machine they have, but it had limited utility in this case, so we tried on a few options. Even with the new ones they had to heat mold them and tweak them a little, but once that was done, N said they felt good. That makes me feel better, and I think his outlook on things improves when he knows he's got the right gear. It's a guy thing.

Fortunately we upgraded his sticks last year (much thanks to MB), so with the exception of a pad here or there, I think he's good to go. It's hard to really grasp that hockey season is right around the corner, but it is, despite the fact that we're still hitting the beach to catch waves. This will surely come to an end, but until it does, I think we'll straddle both worlds.

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

Still Surfing

Even though I don't like the heat, I was a little bummed to see summer coming to an end, and naturally, summer (to me) means being hot, discomfort and whining included. Heat, however, can be a welcome thing when you're diving into the water. In fact, if it's not at least 80 degrees outside, I'm not that inspired to go swimming. Sure, a wetsuit helps, but nothing beats going into the water on a nice hot day.

With that in mind, after a brief cool spell, which for the record was very nice, the heat returned just as we were hitting the surf again after a short break. Traveling to see my mom and various other commitments took us away from the waves, but now we're back and ready to surf. We've been going at a pretty good rate, shooting for a couple times a week, even though it's a trek to get there. The trip is not as bad since we've done it so much, and now we have a killer routine where we paddle into the lineup, surf for at least an hour, ideally two, and then pick up killer burritos at Las Olas. The surf was small on Thursday but this past Sunday there were some head-high sets coming in. It was fun and our surfing is definitely progressing nicely. It would be nice to get a few more trips in before it's too cold, but we'll see.

One complication is that I'm pretty darn tired for the drive home, and eating a fat burrito doesn't help because I get so sleepy. I've found that the best thing is to eat only about 1/3 of the burrito and then sip an ice coffee all the way home. It's the only way I can keep my head clear, and even that doesn't work every time. I almost need to pull over and take a phat nap, but sometimes that's asking too much. Then again, do what you have to do, right?

For now I'm pretty stoked with how surfing has gone. N is into it, A is sort-of psyched but somewhat ambivalent, and I'm stoked. It has completely changed my POV about summer - I used to dread the heat but now it just means that it's time to hit the beach. I love when that happens.

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

Playing in the Band

A has been brought into the fold of a band that her friends formed, and it's a pretty cool thing, mainly because they are all really cool (i.e., nice) kids who are talented, motivated, and dedicated to writing their own music. I think it's a great experience and a nice addition to what she's doing with the Dojo, which is a great experience but I like the idea of them writing their own stuff.

The band is called Plum Loco and they were formed prior to when A arrived at the scene, so hopefully she'll be able to seamlessly transition in. For what it's worth, she is not the only new member, which I think is helpful. I like the other band members and they are all friends, at least for now. Somehow it seems like a little conflict drives bands to creative genius (think the Stones and Beatles), but that's not always the case. I think Steely Dan got along, but I could be wrong.

Whatever be the case, I love that they've welcomed her into the fold, and I hope that it will be an enriching experience. I think it will.

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

Driver Test Prep

I know this is old news but I just want to re-iterate how proud we are of A passing her driving test in a stick-shift car. I felt terribly guilty making her take the test in a manual, but she had no qualms about it. Truth be told she's been driving a stick from day one, and she's comfortable and confident in it, but even still, taking the test is another thing altogether.

And, getting our acts together for her to take the test was not without it's own set of drama. Kind of like everything in our lives. The problems we faced were that both of our cars had slight issues that were not a big deal in the actual performance or safety of the vehicles, but were going to be an issue for sticklers who do everything by the book. I can't say I blame them, and rules are rules. For full disclosure I didn't know for a fact that these issues would be a problem, I just assumed they would based on what I'd heard from other people.

The first issue was with mom's car, which has a crack in the windshield. Total bummer, but not anybody's fault. It happened when she was on the highway and a truck flung a rock at her. It hit her window leaving a crack that was about a foot long. The window is perfectly intact, though we are pretty sure that it won't pass inspection. It is going to cost a few hundred dollars to fix, so we decided to sit on it until inspection time, at which point we'll replace it. We assumed that the DMV wouldn't allow A to take her driving test with said windshield, which left my car.

Now my car, of course, had a minor issue, as well. Modern cars have these crazy tire pressure sensors, which make sense, except that (at least on my car) they seem to break down. I've replace three so far, and for good measure the fourth one finally bit the dust. What happens is when the sensor dies the entire pressure sensing system dies and an indicator light comes on. Technically it's not the end of the world because you can just check the pressure regularly without the sensors. The problem is that the indicator light on the dash will raise red flags, and it won't pass inspection, which I assumed meant it wouldn't be allowed for her test. The reality is, did we want to take the chance of driving all the way over there only to find out we couldn't use that car?

These revelations really came to light a day before her driving test, so I had to scramble to fix the situation. I actually had a new sensor still in the package that I had sitting around. As I mentioned three of them had gone down, so I had one on the ready, and it's a good thing I did. It was late afternoon so we were pushing our luck, but I called our friends at Tip Top Tire and they said they could fit us in. I hurried over there, they put the new sensor in, and lo and behold, we were good to go.

I'm not a big fan of last minute drama before a big event, but we managed to weather this storm. And A passed her test, despite the slew of setbacks that threatened her driving independence. Kudos to her for that. Now she's a driver, and me and mom have a whole new set of things to worry about, but for now we're just happy that she passed.

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

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Chainsaw Enlightenment

Cutting wood seems to be a constant project at our house, and because of this you can't mess around with your chainsaw. Unlike most tools I've purchased, I didn't go cheap with my chainsaw. I bought a good brand with a reasonable amount of power, which will meet with the approval of my Mentor and the Amazing PR Man. It was a little painful on the wallet, but the things scare me, so it's worth the piece of mind.

Like all fine machinery, however, they can be a little temperamental if you don't care for them properly. I learned this the hard way, and now go to great lengths to make sure I'm careful when running it and maintaining it. Even then, there's so much to learn.

Just recently I was having problems with the chain overheating. I didn't know this at the time, but if the oil isn't lubricating the chain properly, it can lead to some serious issues, and if there's one thing you don't to have with a chainsaw, it's issues. I can tell when the problems crop up because the chain seems to lock up when I let up on the throttle. I can feel the tension is way too high and it looks dry. When lubed properly, the chain looks greased, and it seems to flow more smoothly. It turns out that my blade was not properly lubricating the chain, and not only did it make the blade hot, but it stretched out the chain.

I took it in to see what the problem was and they said right off the bat that the chain was stretched out and was probably done. They checked the machine and said it seemed to be oiling properly, but that I was probably using the wrong oil. I buy the eco-friendly stuff that is basically vegetable oil and they said they've had problems with that stuff. They recommended going back to the petroleum stuff and sure enough my chainsaw was back to normal. Whew, I didn't want to have to buy a new chainsaw or pay for expensive maintenance.

It turns out that the eco-stuff is mainly used when cutting in or around water, and that most people use the conventional oil. I will say this - the conventional stuff is about half the price, so I didn't need too much prodding. Now that the saw is running better, I can turn my attention to that log pile and get some blocks cut up for splitting. I figure I still have a couple of months to split before the snow comes, and that year 2 pile is only about 10% done, so I've got some work to do.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Dan Funderburgh for the pic.

Stoked on Wetsuits

Before we left for Cali we had a problem with N's wetsuit in that it tore at the knees. Total bummer. I was going to try to fix it but wasn't sure how much I could really do. Stitching and gluing neoprene is not the same as sewing a pair of jeans. I was a little bummed because I figured since I got the wetsuits at such a good price, I was sacrificing customer service, which is often the case. Since the wetsuit tore while we were using it, they had ample grounds to deny fixing or replacing it since it wasn't necessarily a defect in the manufacturing... or was it?
Hard to say, but truth be told, the wetsuit was only about 3 months old and hardly used. I figured that I had nothing to lose in trying, and lo and behold, my efforts paid off.

I first contacted the company that sold me the suit, SwimWear Outlet, which has good customer service. They said the suit should be covered by the warranty, but that was covered by the manufacturer. I then contacted Hyperflex, and they told me to send it in and if they couldn't fix it they'd give me a new one. Wow, I suddenly went from bummed to stoked, though it meant that N would be without his suit for a couple of weeks. He actually got around this by wearing A's suit, since she's been too busy to make it to the waves.

I packed up the suit and sent it off, not really know what to expect, and within two weeks they sent it back, all fixed up and ready to go. I love when that happens. It just goes to show you that good customer service still exists, you just have to make a little effort to find it. I'm stoked on Hyperflex and SwimWear Outlet, both have been good experiences for us.

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