Thursday, July 11, 2013

Rite of Passage

Today was a happy and somewhat bittersweet day. Four weeks ago, my engine disintegrated while driving home after climbing one night. Upon hearing the price to replace the engine, I went out and bought a new car. It was the third time I've bought a car, but the first time I didn't need help with the financing. I even chose a practical car with less power, concerned instead with things like safety features and mileage. Perhaps I was finally maturing.

I've joined the Subaru club. Bring on the snow!
For over two years now, my parents have been getting by with one car. It worked since they worked (relatively) near each other and could carpool, but things like shopping, errands, and shuttling grandparents around made life difficult. Even on his day off during the week, dad would have to get up and drive mom to work so that he could do his errands during the day, then go back and pick her up. It was a crazy shuffle. When mom got laid off and found a job further away, dad started taking the bus to work. It was madness and it couldn't go on.

Through some good fortune, my insurance decided to cover my car as a flood loss and put in a used engine. Finally, they had their second car! Along with the engine I had some other repairs done (7 years on the clutch that I taught myself to drive stick on), trying to get the car into as perfect shape as I could for them. I had just replaced the struts (remember that time lapse?), the tires were a year old, and with the repairs there shouldn't be any major work needed for a long time.

Tonight we went to pick up the car and put dad's new plates on. I remembered the day I bought that car, how happy I was. It was such a great car and I have so many fond memories. With that car I became a cyclist, a kayaker, a climber, and a business owner. Unlike the MINI, I never had a single issue with it. It just went, and went well. It was the first car I ever paid off, and the first one I cracked 100k with.

Seriously, why the hell was my hair that long?!
I really thought I would drive this car into the ground. Now, nearly seven years and 107,000 miles later, it begins its second life. There was no guarantee insurance was going to cover the repairs, so I'm glad I got the other car. More importantly, it's going to people who need it more than I did. I can only hope it treats them as well as it treated me. I guess that's another sign of growing up, being in a place where you can help your family. Goodness knows I needed my share of help over the years; it's good to give back.

Farewell, Mazda. May you live another 100,000 miles (and more!). I'm glad I'll get to see you continue on in your faithful service! :)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Am I supposed to have a bruise there?

I certainly pushed myself this week! Outdoor climbing on Sunday, climbing again Tuesday, a nice hike Wednesday, more climbing Friday, and today I topped it off with some tree climbing. Remember how much fun it was to climb up a tree? If you were like me, you would climb, look down, and start crying until dad came to get you down. I know I'm not alone in this. Well today I was able to go to the tippy top and not have to worry about falling!

The Fairfield climbing Meetup hosted this event at Tree Climb Connecticut. Our guides, Gary and Mike, host this course and help train professional landscapers and arborists to get their certification. We just took the adventure course which didn't go over all the knots and cut right to the fun part - climbing trees!
I'm glad I didn't have to do all of that
To say we climbed the tree would be misleading. We actually climbed the ropes which were hung in the tree.  A lot of the same principles as climbing are used, but it was still different enough to challenge us. There were several different ways to ascend/descend and we got to try them all. We all started off the hardest way, by having to pull up both a loop for our foot as well as the top knot. The idea was to slide up your foot loop so your knee was bent, then stand up while simultaneously sliding up the other knot. It took a LOT of effort and you only moved a few inches at a time. My arms were certainly exhausted by the time I got anywhere near the top! The next way was to use a device that pushes the knot up for you, so you only had to pull the rope down. I also decided to ditch the foot loop and do it the old fashioned way by locking the rope with my feet. I actually found that method to be very natural and was able to go up the rope much quicker. The final time involved a device that pulled the knot up as well as let you descend when you squeezed it. It seemed to make going up slightly easier, but was by far the easiest way down.

Of course we weren't going to put in all that effort of lugging ourselves up just to go right back down. Once we reached the top of our rope, each of us spent a good deal of time just hanging out enjoying the view. One of the ropes went quite high, 50 or 60 feet, and even though I was tied in much like I am while climbing, for some reason I felt less comfortable with it. Occasionally the wind would spin me so that I wasn't facing the tree, and that seemed to enhance the feeling. By seeing the tree right in front of me, I guess it made me feel more grounded.

Just chillin
It's a looooong way down!
There was a nice picnic table and Gary surprised us with burgers and dogs and sodas, which we happily ate after a few climbs. Well, except poor Despina who has to go vegan until Greek Easter. We spent as much time asking about their gear as they did ours. Gary was a character and made the day very enjoyable. We were also happy to learn that our fee for this course would be applied to the full class should we ever decide to take that. I know I plan on it!

I also learned (the hard way) that there's a big difference between climbing harnesses and tree harnesses. A climbing harness will support your weight but the leg straps are fairly small as you're not sitting in the harness for very long. Most of the time your weight is on the wall and you take occasional breaks. Today, my weight was entirely on the harness and I quickly felt the straps digging into my legs. I tried one of the tree harnesses and immediately noticed how much more support it offered. It was much more comfortable while in the tree and allowed for hanging around a lot longer. But the damage had been done. I have a pretty spectacular bruise on my thigh, as well as up and down my leg from the rope.

Once we were done, I took a trip the the nearby REI. I now have rope and webbing for my own top rope rigging. No more waiting around for everyone to use one rope when we go climbing! If I'm not too sore to get out of bed tomorrow, we're supposed to be climbing at Chatfield again. I have no idea how I'll manage to grip anything, but I'll give it the old college try!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

What are you waiting for?

Today I took advantage of the spring-like weather to take a hike on the Supply Pond trails. I took the time to reflect on the events that have occurred over the past month. Things really hit the fan around home, and I haven't quite been sure of how to take it all in. Last week it was all put back into perspective when a coworker passed away in a car accident.

Tabitha and I started on the same day at UI, and immediately bonded over our sporting endeavors, as she was training for her first triathlon. Over the last two years, she was seemingly always training for some new event, and always raising funds for some charitable group. Just last Friday she had a very successful fundraiser for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation. It was hard to imagine someone so full of life gone just like that.

In a lot of ways, it reminded me of Ed's passing. Someone so full of energy and a childlike enjoyment of life shouldn't have been taken from us so soon. We feel robbed. But why? Obviously we mourn the loss of our friend and all the good times we shared. But what was it that made them so special, so different? For Ed, it was the way he always made time for his friends and was willing to try anything. On more than one occasion when I wasn't well, he'd take a "lunch break" and we'd go out for lunch and some duck pin bowling. We'd be gone for hours and he would saunter back into work without a care in the world. My favorite was when he drove up to New Hampshire for lunch with friends, and then back, again on a "lunch break". Spending time with Ed was equal parts laughing until it hurt and cringing while you waited for security to escort you out. His motto was "What's the worst they can do, throw me out?"

The way he treated his family and friends was truly special. While he never got to meet the MINI group in England, he spoke frequently with them online, and on one of their large events arranged to pay for a round of drinks at a stop on their route. If I ever posted anything that indicated I was stressed or upset, there was always a phone call and a heart-to-heart over ice cream at Mortensen's. His children were wonderful people, a testament to the quality time he spent with them. When he was suddenly gone, there was a gaping hole in my and many other's hearts. The one bit of solace I had was that he lived without regrets. It was at that time I decided to honor his spirit by living as he did.

So many of us get wrapped up in our lives and set things aside for some special time. But what if that time never comes? Do you want to look back on a lifetime of things you wish you'd done? The first question everyone asks when I announce my next destination is "Why?" I say "Why not?" The worst that happens is I go through a few days somewhere I'm not fond of. But it's also supplied me with a wealth of happy memories, great stories, amazing sights, and lifelong friends. I couldn't imagine living any other way. However, this week reminded me yet again that I still need to do more. I'm probably more guilty than most of getting wrapped up with work, be it my desk job, N'oap, or the pizza cart. I don't spend enough time doing the things I truly enjoy, and certainly not enough time with my friends. It's so easy to say "We have to get together soon", but what needs to be done is to set a day and just do it. Grab a coffee, go for a walk, invite them to dinner, it doesn't matter, just do it. And then before you leave, pick a day to do it again. We make dates with our hairdressers, doctors, dentists; why not our friends?

So get out there and start living! Really living. Go try something new. Take that trip you've been thinking of. Try a new restaurant. Visit a new park. And spend time with the people dearest to you.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

So much work, so little time

Today was another busy one. I had to be in Groton for 8:30 to meet with Scott. After way too long, we were finally going to replace my useless struts. Back in October 2011, I had to work the storm center for that freak snow storm that caused so many problems. I left work at midnight after 16 hours on the job, and wasn't far from the office when I drove through a puddle. Only it wasn't a puddle, it was a massive pothole filled with water. The noise made me think I had blown out the right front tire, but I realized that my suspension was jacked. After that driving was somewhat uncomfortable, but I got used to it. Hard right turns were particularly tricky, as my tire would just skip over the pavement rather than stick to it.

"Yeah, that's not supposed to do that."

Where did you go? What the hell am I supposed to do with this?!
After some asking around, I decided on the Koni FSD's over OEM replacements. I plan on driving this car into the ground, so I should get my money out of these. Scott got us onto the Subase (I learned today that that's the correct way to spell it, not "sub base" as one would expect), and we got a spot in the shop garage. It was a pretty cut-and-dry job, once we figured out the right method. That right front strut just didn't want to come out, and then the new one didn't quite want to go all the way in. Several prybars later, we got the strut to go in and the rest went with no problem. I took it for a spin around the building and immediately noticed how much smoother the ride was. Total cost: $9. Try getting a complete set of struts installed at 3 hours in a garage for that amount.

We were done by 11:30 and I took Scott out for lunch to repay him. I enjoyed a smooth ride home and decided it was time to tackle some of the mess here. I put a bunch of clothes away, did some laundry and changed the sheets. Then the day caught up with me, and a nap was needed. I was awoken by a hungry and pestering Ruthie. While she knows the automatic feeder provides the food, she hasn't caught on to the fact that I don't control it, and still bugs me to feed her.

I figured that was as good a time as any to run to the store and get some groceries. I never get around to shopping during the week, so if I didn't go tonight I knew it would mean a week of eating out. I got pretty lazy about the whole cooking situation last year and despite burning some serious calories climbing, still managed to gain weight. At the beginning of the year I finally cracked down and started being better about bringing lunch to work and making dinner. I'm not sure if I'm saving any money, but I've lost weight and have been more conscientious about eating healthier. I miss the days when I cooked all the time and made all sorts of delicious meals, using a lot of homemade and local-grown foods. Starting N'oap put an end to that, but I want to get back on track this year. I think I'm going to join a CSA, it's just a matter of finding one that's reasonably priced and provides a good selection.

Healthy? No. Amazing? Yes.

The cat laying across my arms tells me it's time to stop typing. This week heralds my return to climbing after a bit of a break, plus bowling and soap/lotion making.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Sugar Shackin'

It was a long week at work, definitely a hard one after being away, so I was super excited when my friend invited me over to a maple syrup making party at her house today. Fire, food, alcohol, and syrup: sounds like the recipe for a perfect Saturday!

I know several people that make syrup, so I knew the process. Stand around, watch it boil, add more. It's not the most exciting thing in the world. But if you invite people over and make a party out of it, you can make the time pass quickly. Make no mistake, making your own syrup in no way saves you any time or money over buying it. Forty gallons of sap needed to make 1 gallon of syrup. Boiling down 40 gallons is not a quick process, and with the amount of wood you go through, you could have easily bought plenty of syrup from your local sugar shack. But that's not the point, is it? It's nice to say you made something, it's nice to know the process, and it makes you appreciate the way things used to be done.

I always have great ideas and intentions, but I'm either too busy or disorganized to pull them off. My friend is me with focus. There was a wonderful brunch, thoughtfully selected to include foods that went well with maple syrup. Homemade hard cider was on tap. Handmade and wrapped salted maple caramels, and maple sugar cookies kept us going through the afternoon. There was even a hand-drawn mural in the mudroom and print-outs of maple leafs that you had to color in and write your "sugar" name on. That's the type of thing I would think was cute to do, but would never get around to putting together. Best of all were the whiskey teas, a wonderful combination of whiskey and syrup from the most-cooked tray in the fire. Cures what ails ya!
Can you say "Perfect Saturday?"
This was one of the more organized set-ups I've seen. Fire blocks creating an area to place the fire, just long enough to fit three pans. One end was open so we could feed the fire, the other end had a chimney. The idea was to have different levels of cooked material in the pans. The one closest to the opening was fresh sap from the buckets. The middle one had been cooked slightly longer, and the one by the chimney was the good stuff, the most boiled-down material. As that tray boiled down, you would then add a few scoops from the middle tray, then replenish the middle tray with sap from the first one, and restock that with sap from the bucket. There was also a strainer so you could skim off the foam, in theory increasing the surface area of exposed sap which should make it cook down quicker.

The challenge seemed to be in getting the fire spread evenly. The middle pan was always boiling at a good clip, but the outer pans were hit-or-miss. You really had to be diligent about moving the wood around and keeping it hot enough to really boil. It would be going well and then you'd walk way to grab a drink or play some cornhole, and all your work would be undone. We definitely went through a good number of buckets today, so I think good progress was made. They said they would probably have it going again tomorrow, as there was more to boil off and still buckets hooked up to the trees.

I had a grand idea of hooking the GoPro up and getting a neat time lapse of maybe the syrup cooking down, or everyone around the fire. Knowing the batteries were crap, I brought my solar charger thinking I could keep the camera going. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans and we had neither the warmth nor the sunshine we were promised today. So the camera died after almost 2 hours, and it was the 2 hours right before all the action started. A little disappointing, but what's to be done?

Now I'm all warmed up again, reeking of maple and smoke, and there's a sleeping cat on me. I'm oddly sleepy considering I did nothing more than eat and drink today. But it was lots of fun to hang out, and I got to spend time with a friend I don't see nearly enough of, as well as meet some new ones. That's a pretty good day to me!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

No rest for the weary

It's been a busy week since returning home. Work has been non-stop, with reviews, reports, and projects aplenty. I've only partially unpacked, and everything is strewn about my living room. I've been going to work later than normal so I can sleep a little extra, but by the time I get home I'm wiped and don't have the energy to tackle what needs to get done. The good news is that all this laying around means I can work on going through my photos and getting things posted, always a tedious task after any trip. This year, I found that I took fewer photos because I had the GoPro running through the most interesting stretches. And until the last few days, most of the scenery just wasn't all that interesting. So my job is a little easier this time.

The first thing I wanted to tackle was the time lapse of the ferry ride from Newfoundland. I tried GoPro's software and was getting an error after the conversion step. Nothing seemed out of place, as all of the files had images with them, and you could even watch the time lapse within the software, but trying to export it in any way caused a crash. After a day, I gave up on that route and figured my fancy new copy of Photoshop must be able to help.  I found a tutorial somewhere and followed along, but found I could only add 1000 photos at a time, and then I was still having issues getting it into a video. Worse, my brand new high-power laptop was maxing out and having all kinds of issues. Then I realized I was following a tutorial for an older version of PS, so I found one for PS6, and had an easier time of loading all the photos. But there was still an issue somewhere and it told me there was a gap. Some more Googling (seriously, what did we do before that?) told me I should try renaming the files. Did a batch rename and before I knew it I had a complete, functional time lapse. I even had a song picked out, and popped that in, worked out the timing, and was exporting within minutes. This was a good learning exercise and will make my life easier in the future.

There are still hours and hours of other videos to go through. I'm not sure how I want to tackle those, either as separate videos for that day, or try to make some kind of compilation video combining all the videos and some photos. I think I have a song in mind for that, as well, but the task of putting it together is daunting. One clip I did get up was that one of us nearly hitting the plow on Esker road. It's not my smoothest work, but anytime someone stuffs a car in a snow bank it's entertaining.

So far I have up to Wednesday loaded on my Smugmug site, and may even get Thursday up tonight. That's good progress for me. Hell, I think I still have a day or two from last year's trip I never got around to uploading. You can view what I have so far here: Labrador photos.

Much like last year, I came back from this trip with a desire to do something greater with my life, and more importantly, to do a better job of strengthening the relationships I have. I do think I took that to heart last year and spent more time with my friends. If that means I have to be the organizer that tracks everyone down so be it, because in the end we're always glad to have spent the time together. This year, there were several people from CT on the trip, so there really is no excuse to not get together. I look forward to seeing what this year brings. I also hope to do a better job of updating the blog with the smaller outings I take. Maybe it will inspire you to explore what's around you :)


Monday, February 25, 2013

So who's going to clean this mess?

Sorry about the missing post yesterday, we were busy driving. The timing of the ferry meant that we were now 12 hours behind schedule, and had some catching up to do. I'm happy to say that I'm typing this from the comfort of my couch in Branford, and I'm eagerly awaiting sleeping in my bed tonight!

The second ferry ride was very, very different from the first, and even from my last time crossing this channel in 2006. After verifying that we weren't trying to start a black market Newfoundland potato farm with smuggled soil and potatoes, we pulled up to the dock to find what appeared to be a small cruise ship. Also of note was that this boat opened on both ends, meaning we didn't have to replicate the elaborate turning around and backing in process of the previous day. Not that it would have been a problem, as there was all of 20 cars on the boat, and 5 of them belonged to us.

Now that's a ferry!
When we got up to the main level, we were smacked in the face with luxury. Computer center? Check. Lounge complete with coffee and snack bar? Check. Gift shop? What ferry is complete without one? There was even a first-class reserved seating area whose lone passenger was kind enough to let us into to snap some pictures. I don't know what animal had to die to make those buttery-soft seats, but it can rest knowing it wasn't in vain. Not only did they recline, but they had a leg rest as well. Both lounges had multiple TVs, each tuned to a different channel that you could listen to ala airline headphone style. There was a second lounge that was closed for the season and we couldn't get into, plus a third one that was a smoothie/ice cream bar, also closed. Then there was the formal dining area, where we could get lunch. There were several options, but I went with one last taste of cod since I figured it would be cooked properly and finally wasn't fried. We were all rather excited by the option of a side salad. Greens! Fresh, wonderful veggies! Plus it came with strawberry shortcake, complete with real whipped cream. There were two major disappointments: 1) Where the hell was all of this when I was stuck there for 32 hours the last time? and 2) The bar would not be opening.
I'm pretty sure these are made with unicorn, they're that awesome.

Dessert is part of the meal!
There was a seating area with a great view ahead of us, so we commandeered a few tables and chairs and quickly mounted our GoPro's. I went with a full time-lapse of the voyage, Blaine shot a time-lapse in facing our table, and Ben moved his around several times. As soon as I can figure out how to speed up the time-lapse and output it, I'll post it, but so far it looks cool.

Blaine and Ben set up their equipment
It was smooth sailing with not much to look at for a long while, but then we started getting into the ice again. This time I got by a window early and was rewarded with a few seal spottings. Soon, though, the ice thickened and there was less and less water visible. The ship didn't even slow down. Clearly, this was a heftier hull than the previous day, as this was the same type of ice that delayed us as we steered around it. This boat just plowed on through, creating some interesting sounds as the bergs banged and ground against the hull. It was really impressive, but most locals said this was an unusually warm winter and the ice wasn't nearly what it should be. I can't even imagine a normal year!

Proving it's what's below the ice you should worry about. Look how big it is!
One of 3 bald eagles spotted
20 hours on boats and these are all the seals I get to see
Before docking we said a few goodbyes as some of us would be driving on while others would get rooms somewhere. Ross was able to book a flight home and found a hotel near the airport, several hours away. All of 5 minutes after leaving the boat, of all people, Dave got tagged for speeding. Blaine and I were in front of him and saw the cop driving in the other direction turn on his lights, wait for traffic to clear, and swing around to catch up. It was a bit of a trap as they pegged him on an uphill in the passing lane as we went around a semi. Thankfully, they let him go with a stern warning and a message to his friends that Nova Scotia wouldn't tolerate that kind of driving. Yeah, I'll keep that in mind.

There were some gas and bathroom stops, and then Ross, Brian, and Sarah left us. While the remaining cars were all heading in the same direction, they indicated they were stopping for coffee, and frankly I just wanted to get a move on at that point. So we took off, and embarked on a very boring drive through New Brunswick. Driving in the pitch black with no other cars and nothing but the road lines is a sure fire way to nod off at the wheel, and soon I was getting very sleepy. Thankfully, Blaine woke from his nap just in time to start talking, which perked me up a bit. We also reached St. John's, and there were finally other things to look at. Just before the border we swapped seats again, as he knew the roads home well. The guard seemed like she was going to give us a hard time, but eventually let us through and we took off, just 3 hours until we were at his house.

About an hour in, we hit some black ice and called the other group to warn them. We were shocked to hear they were just crossing the border at that point. They had fallen behind quite a bit, and I was glad for having not hung around as we were both exhausted and couldn't deal with an extra hour on the road. Blaine knew every bump and twist in the road and got us back with ease around 3 am. We didn't even bother to bring anything in, we just walked in the door and crawled into bed. Unfortunately, my stupid internal timer went off at 6:30, so on not much sleep, I loaded my car and headed home. It was an easy drive and I was back by early afternoon. Just enough time to order a pizza for lunch! Oh, it was so wonderful having flavor again! I shared it with Maggie, who was thrilled to hear about the trip. Feeling an exhaustion migraine coming on, I left and headed to the chiro. After an adjustment, I went up to my parents where I was "greeted" by a suspicious Ruthie. When I hopped into bed, she curled up right next to me, and I knew I had been missed. I woke up to the smell of sauce, and dinner was waiting. Another good meal in me, I showed them some pictures and gave them their maple goods, and managed to grab Ruthie for a return home. The house is a disaster, but I'll tackle it a little at a time. It will take a few days to catch up on sleep, especially since I have to jump right back into work tomorrow. Plus there's the arduous task of uploading pictures and figuring out what to do with all this video. Welcome home, Annette.
Hi mom. I'm going to eat you in your sleep.