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Category Archives: Travel

Are cars all smoke and mirrors?

I’m not talking about mufflers and rear-views.

It’s hard to imagine where we’d be today if not for the invention of the automobile. The car is truly a marvel of technology and innovation, and it’s hard to underestimate the contribution it’s made to civilization.

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The bumper is held onto the vehicle by eight of these push-on clips on top and eight more on bottom, plus 2 bolts.

I’m certainly not a mechanic, and I’m sure that the drivetrain and chassis of a modern vehicle is solid and safe. Yet whenever I do minor repairs or install something new, I’m amazed by just how little material is actually holding the whole thing together. Even auto brands that are known for safety and quality give us vehicles that are surprisingly reliant on plastic pieces that snap into place and are held together by more plastic clips.

To wit, today I replaced the headlamps on our 2005 Honda Odyssey…not the light bulbs, but the entire front headlight assemblies. This job wasn’t difficult, but it was eye-opening. To start, I had to remove the front bumper – which seems like a big, heavy project in itself, right?

Not exactly.

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The bumper is a single piece of soft, molded plastic.

The bumper itself is a hollow, single piece of molded soft plastic which covers a steel beam attached to the chassis. To remove the bumper, you simply pop out eight plastic clips on top, eight more on bottom, and one bolt on each side. That’s it. The whole bumper then peels off the front of the vehicle effortlessly.

Then, to remove each headlight, you only need to disconnect 4 bulb wire attachments, and unscrew three bolts. The assembly comes right out, and the new one fits easily in its place.

Putting the bumper back on the car is as easy as it was to remove, simply reversing the steps.

As if looking out for the other guy wasn’t enough to worry about on the road.

So just be careful out there, friends. And remember that luxury vehicle you’re riding in might just be held together by 10-cent plastic clips.

Well, at least we have new headlights.

Well, at least we have new headlights.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2013 in Random, Thoughts, Travel

 

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It should be called “Pretty Good” Wolf

Thinking about taking the family on a road trip to Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, TX? Here’s what you need to know.

Crowds are the enemy of places like this and can quickly sap the fun out of an otherwise enjoyable experience. IF AT ALL POSSIBLE, try to plan your trip midweek and avoid holidays. Otherwise it can get very crowded and you could be stuck driving around the parking lot looking for spaces, standing in long lines for water rides, and at the mercy of the worst manners you’ve ever seen at the buffet.

Still, there’s a lot to like about Great Wolf. You have to hand it to them: they have put a lot of thought into what families with kids need. Namely, comfortable accommodations and activities for children of all ages (though teenagers are probably too cool for most of it)…including the water park, the Magiquest wizard game, story time with animatronic and costume characters, coloring stations, and more.

What that means is there are kids everywhere. Literally. So if you’re the type of person who gets upset at the screaming baby two rows behind you on the airplane, this is probably not the place for you.

But for families there are lots of little touches that you just don’t find at other resorts…covered power outlets for wandering toddler fingers, rounded corners on the furniture and large spacious room with sleeping options. And there is just enough for the adults too – a decent bar, Starbucks, hot tub and a spa. As this was our 3rd visit here, we felt comfortable letting our 11-year old and his friends roam around most of the day without much supervision, checking in occasionally, though some parents will want to stick closer by.

Here are a few more pros and cons…

PROS
– Everything under one roof
– Nice bar, Starbucks for adults
– Older kids can go around on their own
– Life guards are very good and alert
– Free wifi (not very fast but solid connections in most locations)
– Lots of activities
– Can be reasonable if you wait for a good deal

CONS
– Kids running around everywhere (well, what did you expect?) including the hallways outside the guest rooms
– Chlorine smell is overwhelming as soon as you walk in the water park
– Very loud inside water park
– Water is tooooo cold! You might get used to it eventually but it sure is less enjoyable than it could be. Almost everyone agrees it’s just too cold, especially for an indoor water park.
– Food is adequate, but will not blow you away. It’s basically equivalent to a Golden Corral or similar. And overpriced for the quality. But it’s convenient and edible.
– If you have a room at the end of the hallway, you will be in for some very long walks.
– Crowded at times

So what do you think? Have you been to Great Wolf? How was your stay?

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Posted by on April 1, 2013 in Family, Travel

 

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Ocean + Mountains = Great Wine

The Santa Cruz mountains may not have the mystique and popularity of Napa Valley or Sonoma, but the unique ocean/mountain climate here produces some great wines without the fuss and crowds that you can find elsewhere.

And, of course, getting there is half the fun. We loved breathing in the 79-degree mountain air with scents of pine, as we navigated the endless wild twists and hairpin turns up the mountain roads.

There are more than 70 wineries in the region, most family-run small-to-medium operations. In our short time here we were able to hit four of them while driving by several more.

First on our self-guided tour was Testarossa. This is the oldest continuously running winery in the Santa Cruz mountains and the Bay Area. The property used to belong to Jesuit monks who still live nearby but no longer do the wine work. The ambiance still reflects this influence with a higher-end feel. Tasting fee was $10 and the 2006 reserve Pinot Noir was the best, though none of the 5 pours were sources from grapes on the estate.

Inside Testarossa Winery.

 

Next up was Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyard, which had more the feel of an old fashioned dude ranch. Half of the property is a horse stable, so we saw kids breaking young horses, doing stunts on bareback, and walking horses all around. Inside the main cabin was the tasting room. For $5 each we got 5 pours, mostly estate grapes. They had Chardonnay and Pinot and Cabernet Franc, which was the best.

Tasting at Cooper-Garrod.

The next day we went to Savannah-Chenelle Vineyards, which has one of the most beautiful properties of any winery. Romantic and rustic, the wine tasting included estate and non-estate grapes, including an unusual un-oaked Chardonnay, which was nice and fruity. But the Pinot Noir was delicious — even for me, since I usually prefer the drier Cab. The property is sprawling with a Villa on top of a hill, clearly marked varietals of grapes on the hillsides and areas for a quiet picnic. Views of the mountains and valley below are fantastic. Tasting fee was $10 for six good-size pours.

The Zinfandel grapes at Savannah-Chenelle.

Finally, the best for last…the Mountain Winery is not only a vineyard but also a quaint outdoor amphitheater where we saw (and met backstage) the Barenaked Ladies, and also Blues Traveler. Perched high on a mountaintop, breathtaking views of the Bay Area from San Fran to San Jose made it easy to see why the locals were “tailgating” in the parking lot with actual crystal glasses, vintage wines, olive trays and cheese boards. Truly a unique sight to behold. And the locally sourced Cabernet reserve capped off a great experience.

What a venue for a concert at the Mountain Winery!

So next time you’re seeking out wine country, don’t overlook the Santa Cruz mountains. They don’t produce large quantities here, but the rich flavors make this area unique.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2012 in Thoughts, Travel

 

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Suburban creep

I enjoy traveling. And I like living the suburban life. But when I travel, I don’t want to visit suburbia.

Recently we traveled to New York City, and while visiting the borough of Queens, I was struck by how suburbia is encroaching on the character of places like this. Next to the row housing and tenaments is a brand new CVS store (with parking!). Alongside the subway tracks, street-front delis, and bagel shops are Home Depot and Best Buy.

Is it just me, or is it getting harder and harder to find places with pure character and original vintage? What’s next – Starbucks in Philly’s Independence Hall?  Walmart at the bottom of Niagara Falls? A mall next to the Alamo? Oh wait, that already exists…

While modern outfits like these are sometimes convenient to have, they drain the appeal of visiting a place that’s supposed to be a getaway – different from home.

After all, I could save a lot of time and money by going to the Target down the road instead of the one on the volcano of Hawaii’s Big Island.

On one side is the housing you’d expect in Queens, NY…

…and on the other side is a CVS store tucked under the elevated tracks of the subway.

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2012 in Random, Thoughts, Travel

 

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A snowboarding primer for skiers

I’ve been skiing for about 20 years so I consider myself a pretty decent skier. I usually eat blue slopes for breakfast and occasionally shred some black diamonds with moguls. So when our 10-year-old son begged us to take him snowboarding this year, I figured it would be an easy transition.

Boy, was I wrong!

The first thing you need to know is that snowboarding and skiing are two totally different things. The muscles are different. The technique is different. About the only similarity is that you’re sliding down a snow-covered mountain. Where skiing is about coordination and rhythm, snowboarding is all balance and footwork. Snowboarding is to skiing what rugby is to touch football.

And here’s the proof, a quick video of our first snowboarding trip…

So if you’re an experienced skier interested in making the leap to a board, let me break it down for you…

Equipment
Boots: Ski boots are extremely rigid, hard plastic shoes that transfer every subtle movement to the ski. Snowboard boots are more flexible shoes that lace up like heavy duty mountain hiking boots. Ski boots are storm troopers to snowboard boots’ Michelin man. Advantage: Snowboarding.

Bindings: Skis are designed to have your boots snap into place, and release when you twist or fall. Snowboards require your feet to be strapped in without releasing upon wipeouts. It’s a somewhat awkward movement to have your lead foot strapped in while your back foot is loose. This is necessary when getting on and off the lifts and for moving along flat landings. In addition, on skis, you exit the chair lift and immediately start down the hill. Snowboarding requires you to literally sit on the snow to strap your other foot to the board after the lift. Every time. Advantage: Skiing.

Boards/Skis: Obviously skiing uses two skis and two poles, which makes carrying and walking in those boots really challenging. Skis are also heavier than snowboards. Carrying a snowboard is easily done by holding the flat side next to your body and grabbing the board right under the top binding. Advantage: Snowboarding.

Technique
Downhill: The act of skiing involves basically aiming your feet in parallel, and turning in in a big ‘S’ pattern. As you get more advanced you can point straight down and grab your edges into the snow to slow down. It’s closer to standing and leaning, while you traverse the mountain. Because both feet are on a single board in snowboarding, the same method doesn’t translate. Instead, balance is the whole thing. You either lift your toes to dig your heels into the snow, or lift your heels to slow and turn, depending on which way you’re facing. But dig too deeply either way and you’re going down hard. Advantage: Skiing.

Lifts: As I mentioned, snowboarding is tougher to get on chair lifts, because you have to unstrap your back foot and slide into place. At the top, you still have only one foot in, so you have to get off the lift and get yourself out of the way before finding a place to sit and strap the other foot. In skiing it can sometimes be difficult to move yourself into position for the lift, but not having to adjust or unstrap every time, makes it more efficient. Advantage: Skiing.

Overall
Most skiers I talked to said they had a rough time trying to snowboard, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will. Both sports are fun and have their pros and cons. Overall, it just depends what you want to do and what you enjoy. Just know that ability in one doesn’t automatically translate to the other. Advantage: You decide!

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2012 in Family, Thoughts, Travel

 

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