Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Publix Grand Opening

Some people wake up early and stand in line outside a store on Black Friday, or whenever Apple starts selling a new iPhone, or when tickets for the new Star Wars movie go on sale. Me? I'm not interested in any of that...but I am passionate about grocery stores.


Today was a VERY EXCITING DAY! The Triangle's first Publix opened its doors at 7:00 AM this morning. I got there at 6:35 AM, and that was only good enough to be 30th or so in line. One local news team (ABC 11) was on the scene, and the Green Hope High School drum line was performing while everyone waited.


I'd say the majority of the people waiting outside were women, because that's who usually does the grocery shopping in most households? I guess. Not in our household! I actually enjoy grocery shopping. Perhaps that's because I grew up with Publix, "where shopping is a pleasure". (If I grew up in a town where the only options were Winn-Dixie and Walmart, maybe I would hate grocery shopping.) I also gathered that for most of the people waiting in line before 7 AM - well over 100, maybe even 200 - this was not their first Publix experience. Chances are, more than a few of us waiting in line this morning were Florida natives.

Then, at about 6:57 AM - three minutes early! - the first person in line was awarded the privilege of cutting the ceremonial ribbon, and the store was open. Let's GO GO GO!!


By the way, there is nothing like using a brand new grocery cart. This thing practically pushed itself! (Although, if I'm honest...Kroger's shopping carts are a bit bigger. This will be my first of many Publix v. Kroger comparisons, and some of them will actually be pro-Kroger, believe it or not.)

My first stop? The bakery to get some cookies.


In hindsight, I should have used the "theme park" strategy. When a theme park first opens, the most crowded attractions are those near the front entrance, so you're better off starting at the back and then working your way from there to the front, or at the very least turning left and going clockwise instead of going counterclockwise through the park. Same thing happened at Publix this morning: The bakery and the deli - the first stops if one were to turn right upon entering the store - were where most people went first. But the bakery, deli, and other specialty areas - for example, the seafood department - actually stayed pretty busy throughout. The aisles themselves? Not that busy, yet. It seems, of all the people waiting in line this morning, I was only one a few who intended making this early morning stop a regular grocery shopping trip. In fact, I may have been the first person in the history of the Cary Publix to grab a box of cereal off the shelf. (Publix brand Corn Flakes, by the way.)

As with any blog post I write about Publix, here's the obligatory "What's so great about Publix, anyway?" section. As grocery stores go, the service is second to none, the employees are always available to help and are friendly, checkout is fast and enjoyable, and they even offer to take your cart to your car and help you load your groceries. (That's always been a long Publix tradition.) Publix stores are always clean, always have excellent selection, have a deep stock of store brands, occasionally great sales (even if overall their prices are a bit higher than a store like Kroger), and excellent bakery and deli departments. And, of course, they hold sentimental value for me, being a Florida chain that I grew up with. Publix stores all have a similar feel: it's like I'm back home!

As for whether Publix will be successful here...well, I don't see why not! Although not official, they are looking into more Triangle locations, beyond just the North Raleigh one that's been facing local opposition. I'm rooting for Publix all the way, of course...but competition is good, too, so I don't really want them to put Harris Teeter out of business altogether. And that won't happen anyway, given all the equity Harris Teeter has built up with longtime North Carolina residents. Best case scenario, in 20 years, there are just as many Publixes in the Triangle as there are Harris Teeters.

Now...about our neighborhood Kroger. I've been going to the same neighborhood Kroger for nearly 6 years now, and I know that Kroger front to back to front. It's plenty adequate as a grocery store, and it's more convenient (5-10 minutes from home, compared to 15-20 for Publix), a bit cheaper, and the pharmacists know our names. Am I going to give up on all that and start shopping at Publix every week? ... Well, not every week. We'll keep Kroger as our pharmacy of choice, and Kroger will still be the place to stock up on things that are cheaper and/or more widely available at Kroger - namely, snack crackers*, some cereals, and Kroger brand macaroni and cheese. Sorry, Publix, but Kroger's selection of store brand macaroni and cheese is superior. At the same time, there are a lot of things that Publix has in stock that our neighborhood Kroger does not, it turns out - for example, certain flavors of Lean Pockets(TM) and yogurt. Plus, Publix's bakery is a LOT better than Kroger's.

(* - That is, when they're not out of stock. Seems that every time Reduced Fat Cheez-Its are on sale, the shelf is empty.)

Well, we'll see how it goes after the first couple of months. I've only been to the new Publix once so far. Can't wait until we need to go shopping again!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fall Mountain Trip 2014: Recap

Let's get this out of the way first: road tripping with little ones is hard and can drive you crazy sometimes, but it's (sometimes) worth it, and can even be enjoyable (sometimes). The primary things we learned from our weekend overnight road trip were:
1) We might need to upgrade Marla's car seat before the next trip. (She was constantly complaining about it.)
2) Staying in a hotel for just one night isn't really that nice. We already knew that, but it's especially true now. Six trips to the car and back to get all of our stuff. For just one night!

We knew it wouldn't be easy, but we really wanted to make that annual fall mountain trip before the foliage peaked. And, it had been 6 months since we went an overnight road trip. (Duke Hospital doesn't count.) Scenes like this made it all worth it:


That was off the Blue Ridge Parkway northeast of Asheville, which is where we saw the best foliage of the weekend. Some more pictures from up there:


(These are mostly Amber's pictures, and she's already posted these on Facebook. I decided not to worry about picture taking or live tweeting the trip, because I didn't need any additional distractions.)

We also went to Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi. Bruce's first state highpoint! #5 for Marla. This is at least the 3rd time I've been here, and out of those three, I doubt the weather has been as nice as it was that day.


And aside from a stop at a playground on our way out there, and because we had to drive all the way to Greenville, SC to get to our hotel (Greenville hotels are WAY cheaper than Asheville hotels), that was pretty much all we had time for the first day. When you have two little kids with you, stops that would normally only take the two of us 15 minutes can take upwards of 90 minutes.

On day two, we first went to Caesars Head State Park, just on the South Carolina side of the state line. I think Upstate South Carolina has some underrated scenery. I'm assuming most North Carolinians probably don't bother coming down here:


Our next stop was Carl Sandburg National Historic Site in Flat Rock, NC, which was a nice setting...except that we didn't make it to the house or the goat farm itself, because we had the stroller with us, and the paths weren't stroller friendly, and we didn't feel like walking all the way to the car and back again to get the baby carrier. Whoops! (And, it was lunch time, and we were hungry.)


Finally, ice cream in Gastonia as we worked our way back to Durham. (Tony's Ice Cream is excellent, by the way.)


And, that's that! Lots of work, but it was (mostly) worth it, and we learned a lot for the next road trip.

Statistical stuff

The full weekend route is mapped out here.

This was the first time we took Bruce out of state. Bruce is now up to 32 counties - 31 in North Carolina, 1 in South Carolina. Marla's county total is now 532, including 74/100 in North Carolina. Marla had been to South Carolina before, of course, but this was the first time she's overnighted in South Carolina. (Bruce's map, Marla's map)

This was the first big road trip for the Subaru, and it handled the mountains great, although it's not as much fun to drive as a smaller car, of course. I also enjoyed getting "99.9" miles per gallon on our descent down Mount Mitchell:


About 32 miles per gallon for the entire trip, which is exactly what the Forester's highway mileage is advertised as, so, hooray!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Triangle Curling Club Championship

I haven't been talking curling much lately, because I haven't been doing much curling! The Triangle Curling Club is only having one league this fall, its final league on rented arena ice. And since Amber had been on the sidelines pregnant all year, I let her curl in that league, with me just playing a couple of times in her place.

(By the way, my predictions regarding the opening dates for the Triangle Curling Club's new building, versus the Cary Publix, were a bit off. Not because the curling club is behind, but because Publix is opening much earlier than I expected: next week!)

One thing that's nice about having your own curling building is that you can have as many leagues as you want, whenever you want! It's limited by how many people are available to curl in them, of course, but we're currently planning on something in the neighborhood of 5-6 leagues. We've got all of that outlined here: two "open" social leagues, a men's league, a women's league, and a "competitive" league. (Plus another league geared towards instruction.)

I've been the League Coordinator for the club for several years now, but with so many leagues, I'm not going to coordinate all of them, of course. Each league will likely have a different coordinator, and with that in mind, I specifically requested that I coordinate the "competitive" league. I'm really excited about it. Have been for years.

What's so different about the competitive league?
- MAKE YOUR OWN TEAMS. We've never allowed club members to form their own teams for league play before. Want to form a stacked team that can compete at bonspiels? Now you can! Want to form your own team with your friends, regardless of how much experience (to a point - see next item) you have? Now you can!
- Minimum one year curling experience, since this is the "competitive league", after all. (All other league offerings are open to everyone regardless of experience, provided they've at least done the "Learn to Curl" session.)
- The winner of this league will be declared CLUB CHAMPION for the year, and will get their names engraved on some kind of permanent plaque/trophy/something that will go on display at the club to commemmorate all of the club champions in the history of the Triangle Curling Club. (At least, that's what I'd like to see. I don't know how far my authority reaches with this.)

Speaking of which, calling this league the "competitive" league...well, it's descriptive, but I think the league needs a more glamorous name. Something simple: how about "The Club Championship"? Or even just "The Championship"? Some folks in the club may want the league to be named in honor of one of the club's founders, and/or someone who has made large contributions (financial or otherwise) towards the building of our club. We'll think on that, For now, it'll just be the "open competitive" league. ("Open" means that teams can be made up of any combination of men and women.)

Another thing that's nice about our own building: we're not necessarily limited to 8 teams per league. We can expand to two draw times in any given night and have up to 16 teams! We won't have that many teams in any one league from the start, certainly, but eventually we will, just like the Potomac Curling Club's leagues. (Speaking of Potomac, they call their competitive league the "Capital League". That's kind of what I'm talking about with the name. Something that sounds serious and prestigious and gets people talking, but at the same time is simple and elegant. Something that would sound fantastic if the late Pat Summerall were to narrate it, similar to how he always used to say CBS Sports...presents...THE MASTERS.")

We won't really be able to do this until we go well beyond 8 teams (perhaps well beyond 12 teams, actually), but eventually I'd like to institute a "tiered" system within the competitive league. Not unlike European soccer leagues, the bottom team(s) in the top tier will be "relegated", and the top team(s) in the next tier down will be "promoted", something like that. This is probably 2-3 years down the road, though, at least; probably need to have at least one full 16-team season without tiers under our belt before we can institute tiers. The benefit to tiers is that you get more games against similar competition, and it also increases the prestige of the league in general, I think. Plus, it's fun! The Utica Curling Club's men's league has promotion/relegation between four tiers, with 12 teams in each tier! If we can ever get something that deep in our club, that would be so, so unbelievably awesome.

So, yeah, this competitive league is sort of my baby. I've been thinking about it since the day we started planning our own curling facility. Can't wait! And, the other leagues will be fun, too.

===

Since I insist on documenting every single game of curling I ever play, here's the one game I've played so far this Fall season, a loss. I didn't play all that great, but this was also my first game in over three months, so...

Career game #253*: 2014 Fall League - October 5, 2014
(my team: M. Jackson)

End............ 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Jaun........... 02111010 | 06
M. Jackson..... 10000201 | 04

(* - The last game I recapped was labeled as game "251", but it was actually "252", and this game makes "253". There was a pick-up game on May 18 of this year that I never put in the blog. That game was a 7-2 win.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Green Acres Farm

Going to a pumpkin patch or farm in October is very popular these days. Has it always been this way, or am I just now noticing?

Last year we went to Hill Ridge Farms. This year we decided to go somewhere else, for variety's sake: Green Acres Farm in Cary.


It's a pretty similar type of place, with a play area, farm animals, a hayride, pumpkins for sale, etc. But they also had a corn maze, which we spent about 15 minutes in before Marla wanted out:


Maybe some other year, we'll do the entire corn maze.

We thought last year's Hill Ridge Farms was slightly better overall than this place. Except for no corn maze, Hill Ridge had a little more to do, plus it was in a rural setting. Green Acres Farm is actually right in the middle of the suburban Cary sprawl.



That makes me wonder: why haven't they sold the land? They could probably make a fortune selling their land to a developer - several million, at least. Then, they could buy new land farther out in the country for less, and keep the profits. Zillow values their property - 80 acres - at $7.5 million. Meanwhile, here is an 80 acre "recreational property" in Warren County which just sold for $200,000. What's stopping the owners from pocketing a one time profit of over $7 million?

Well, for one thing...their location is, of course, great for business, much more so than if they moved to a place like Warren County. They charge $10/person, and some of the activities (which we tried to avoid) cost additional money on top of that, so...how much do you think they rake in a given Fall season? $1 million? Maybe not that much, but certainly six figures, right? Move the farm into the country, and it would be but a small fraction of that. But maybe the best location for a place like this to be is the "exurbs": affordable, rural in nature, and close enough to a large metropolitan area to attract large crowds. That's exactly where Hill Ridge Farms is: less than 30 minutes from much of north Raleigh, and the value of their 50-acre property is an affordable $935,000 according to Zillow.

Or, maybe the folks at Green Acres are being patient and waiting for the right time to cash out. I mean, as Cary continues to grow and attract new residents, it's not like the land is going to become less valuable any time soon. In another 20 years, maybe this plot of land will be worth $15 million. At some point they're going to have to sell, right?

Monday, October 06, 2014

Bruce's First Road Trip: Medoc Mountain

Fall has arrived! Perfect time for our first full-family "road trip test". Later in October, we're embarking on a 2-day/1-night road trip to the mountains, so before we do that, since we've never done this sort of thing with two children before, perhaps we should do a mini road trip "test".

(Note: This picture was actually taken over a month ago when Bruce was still only one week old; at six weeks, Bruce is a bit bigger now.)

As for where to go on Saturday, I looked for interesting nature-y places within a two-hour drive that I hadn't been to before, and settled upon Medoc Mountain State Park. Medoc Mountain is located east of Raleigh near I-95 (Roanoke Rapids-ish), and it isn't really much of a mountain; it's just the remnants of an eroded ancient mountain. I didn't see anything really "special" about the place, other than that it's a State Park, but it provided a very nice picnic spot plus walk in the woods.

An important thing to remember when planning nature-y trips with little ones: sure, a park might have interesting things to see, but can a 3-year-old walk to them? Marla can do a 1-mile walk, so for now we limit our hikes to 1 mile or less, easy terrain only. Thinking ahead, the time will come in which Bruce is too big for a baby carrier but too small to do too much walking on his own, at which point we won't be able to do too many walks in the woods at all for a time, unless the trail is paved and we can use a stroller. (For Marla, that was between 21 and 27 months, which just so happened to be when we were in Colorado, of course. So, no major national park vacations for us between May 2016 and November 2016.)

Regarding driving with two kids, we've always had someone in the back seat to help entertain Marla during the drive, which we can't do anymore. But in some ways, Marla is actually easier to entertain when we're not in the back seat with her, because she's less demanding and more willing to entertain herself. The challenge will be with Bruce when he's between, say, 12 and 18 months. For now, he sleeps almost all of the time when we're in the car, so it's relatively easy. Better get our weekend mountain getaway in soon!

We did learn some things with the road trip test, though:
- VERY IMPORTANT: Ask Marla to go to the bathroom before we leave. I mean, this has got to be road trip rule #1, right? Right on cue, she asked to use the potty before we even made it out of Durham County.
- It's nice that we only have one kid in diapers at a time.
- If we're bringing yogurt with us for our picnic, also bring spoons.
- For family road trips, even a small SUV is a lot nicer than a Honda Civic.

Maybe the reason Marla was so interested in the hike was because I pointed out the numeric reference markers to her ("Okay, there's the 6, let's go find the 7!" "YAY!!!!"), and also the blue rectangles painted on the trees which served as the trail markers.


County statistics: Bruce has now visited 10 counties (was 4 prior to Saturday). He has not left the state of North Carolina, but that will change later this month. Marla visited her first new county in over five months (Halifax County), and my Subaru has now been to 14 counties, all in-state. Also, here is a map of the route we took, which included a little bit of roadgeeking (completing US-158 between I-85 and I-95).

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Race Is On: October Update

Back in August, I declared a competition between the Triangle Curling Club and Publix to see who would open their new building first - either the new curling facility in Durham, or the Triangle's first Publix in Cary. Both are expected to be open before the end of the year.

Let's start with the curling club. The building is starting to take shape!


Still a ways to go before we have actual curling ice in there, of course. We're unofficially targeting our traditional January 1st one-day bonspiel as our first big event in the new building, although the "grand opening" may happen sooner than that.

Meanwhile, down at the intersection of High House Road and Davis Drive in Cary...


Wow! I hadn't been down here in a while, but I didn't expect the building to be there with Publix signage and everything already. Yahoo! Have to say, it is very strange (and awesome) to see Publix signage in the Triangle.

Of course, they still have to fill out the inside of the store, and this being a large grocery store, that might take a while. So without walking up to the windows and taking a peek inside (maybe next time), I can't tell how far along construction really is, and Publix still hasn't announced anything resembling an opening date. But it does seem that Publix is closer to its open date than the curling club is.

On the other hand, Publix won't open until it's 100% finished and spotless, while there are no such restrictions on the curling club. As soon as we have functional curling ice and working bathrooms, we're opening. Either way, I think December is probably still the target for both.

I'll give another update in November, at which point maybe we'll have a better idea of when each building might be open for business.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Vasectomy

Most men probably wouldn't be too open about getting a vasectomy. All the more reason for me to blog about mine!

(This post is more graphic than usual, and nobody's forcing you to read it, but I view other guys' reluctance to talk about this sort of thing as an opportunity.)

We had our second child last month, and that is all the children we're interested in having. We've known this since before we were married, and nothing's changed. So, what's the most reliable way to help prevent an unwanted third pregnancy?

Well, REALLY, the "most reliable" way to keep from having additional children is to stop having sex. But beyond that, it's this: get a vasectomy!* It's safer and more reliable than other birth control methods (tube tying, birth control pills, condoms, etc).

A vasectomy is pretty much permanent, of course, so...we're really, really, really sure about this, right? Yep. Sure, "unforseen circumstances" could come up, such as:
- The death of a child. We discussed this, and even if this should happen, we don't wish to go through another pregnancy.
- Amber could change her mind and want a third child all of a sudden. Again, we discussed this, and she signed off on the vasectomy anyway, so...
- Apparently, many men will later regret the decision because their marriage falls apart, they find a new partner, and want to have children with the new partner. I know many 6-year-married couples feel this way only to get divorced 10 years later, but...that won't happen to us! (I suppose the only theoretical situation in which I would ever want more children is if something happens to Amber and Marla and Bruce...that, of course, would be unbelievably devastating, so let's just hope that doesn't happen.)

There is such a thing as "vasectomy reversal", but it's expensive ($10,000 and up), and it is only effective half the time anyway. Even if "unforseen circumstances" arise, I will never pursue vasectomy reversal.

So...a lot of guys squirm at the thought of a vasectomy because it involves messing with some sensitive body parts. It wasn't the most pleasant experience, but the way I see it, it can't be any worse than childbirth, right?

Presenting a timeline of the whole process:
- May: Asked my primary doctor if I needed a referral or anything from him in order to get a vasectomy. (Nope. I could make my own appointment with whoever I wanted.)
- 9/3: Called a urology clinic that does vasectomies, made an appointment for a consultation.
- 9/9: Consultation! Scheduled it for a Thursday afternoon, so that I could take Friday off, and have plenty of time to "recover" before returning to work the next Monday.
- 9/20: Pretty much the only thing I had to do in preparation was to stop taking my daily vitamin. (By the way, a lot of people poo-poo on daily vitamin supplements, saying they're not necessary. I generally agree, except that a medication I'm on has a side effect of inhibited vitamin absorption, and based on some blood tests which showed some vitamin deficiencies, my doctor suggested I supplement.)
- 9/24: Right, one other thing I had to do in preparation: shave the night before. Wee! I won't go into the details.
- 9/25: Fun time! The vasectomy itself took less than 30 minutes, and only a small part of that was uncomfortable (the cold stuff they put down there at first) or painful (the part where they inject the anesthesia or whatever into your scrotum). I felt sick and almost threw up afterwards, but drove home another 30 minutes later and took some high-level pain medication.
- 9/26: Sat at home all day watching reruns of Quantum Leap.
- 9/27: I'm always leery of controlled pain medication because of its addictive qualities, so I kept my use to a minimum (three pills total - two that day, and one the next morning). The following day, I was medication free.
- 9/28: So, I asked the doctor...should I have any problems urinating after that? He said no, but...let's just say that wasn't quite my experience. Things are (mostly) back to normal now.
- 10/2: One week after the procedure is when I can resume exercise, along with some other fun activities.
- 11/25: I didn't know this at first, but after you have a vasectomy, you aren't immediately sperm free. It takes some time* for all of the remaining sperm to flush out of your system. So, I need to provide a sample for testing in two months. If that test is negative, then I'll give another sample two weeks later, and only if that second sample is also negative will I be declared "sperm free". (This is why I got the vasectomy sooner rather than later. Given Amber's history of blood clots, birth control has always been a bit problematic for her.) Apparently, a lot of guys don't even bother coming back with a sample two months later, thanks to a combination of embarrassment and laziness, I guess.

(* - They say, it takes about 15 ejaculations to flush out the remaining sperm. NO, I AM NOT GOING TO KEEP TRACK. Even I have to draw the line somewhere when it comes to my stat keeping.)

Amber was pregnant for 18 months, so being uncomfortable for a few days for the sake of family planning? It's the least I could do.