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.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Weekend Grocery Shopping

For a few years now, it's been my routine to do the weekly grocery shopping on either Monday or Tuesday between 5:30 and 6 PM. But, now we have two kids instead of one, and so we have to figure out our routines all over again. Trying to cram grocery shopping in between dinner and bedtime with two children at home isn't optimal, it turns out.

So...what about grocery shopping on the weekend? I've avoided doing our grocery shopping on weekends because a) it's crowded, and b) we're usually busy on weekends, with road trips and curling and bike rides and church and whatnot. But, we're currently less busy on weekends, at least for the time being. So, let's try grocery shopping on weekends! Maybe I'll do it either Saturday or Sunday morning, depending on how the weekend plans are shaping up.

Well, here's one problem with that: even though our neighborhood Kroger opens at 6 AM on Sundays, it's self-checkout only for at least the first couple of hours. Self-checkout is fine when you only have a few items, but when you're doing a full weekly trip, self-checkout ruins what would otherwise be an enjoyable grocery shopping experience, at least for me. I try to avoid it at all costs. Not unlike shopping at Walmart Neighborhood Market, shopping at Kroger at 8 AM on a Sunday is great, until you're forced to spend 10 minutes wrestling with the self-checkout machine.

Does Kroger post the times in which they staff the checkout lanes with cashiers? Not that I've seen. I think this will just come down to trial and error. Hopefully I'll be able to find a weekend time in which there are cashiers, and it isn't too busy. Also complicating things are the pharmacy hours: 9-6 Saturdays, 12-6 Sundays. We don't need the pharmacy every week, but it's frequent enough that it's an important consideration. So, maybe Saturday morning is best? Except that Saturday morning is most often when I do my longer bike rides.

Actually, this is just making me anticipate the opening of the Cary Publix even more. Certainly, Publix isn't going to be self-checkout only on Sunday mornings...right?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Sports Friday: 9/19/14

College football - Sports are fun to watch and follow, but unfortunately, some of the athletes who participate in said sports are idiots. So what if one of those idiots happens to be on a team you root for? And what if he goes on to win a Heisman Trophy and helps your team win a national championship? Are you a bad person for cheering anyway?

It's complicated. Sure, I could talk about how the media blows everything he does out of proportion (which they do), but that could be construed as defending the guy, which I don't really want to do, either. Honestly, I'm just tired of the nonsense. It'll be a lot nicer in many ways when Winston is gone, because then this nonsense will be over, and FSU will still be able to say "2013 national champions". (Assuming nobody broke any NCAA rules last year, of course.)

As for the question of whether it's "good" for someone like Jameis Winston on your team - very talented at football, but stupid and irresponsible* and always in the news for the wrong reasons - I'd say, yeah, but not for more than a year or two. After that, fatigue sets in.

* - It's important to make the distinction that being "stupid and irresponsible" is not the same as being a criminal, which...yes, Winston was cited for shoplifting and accused of rape, but technically, he's not...right, I decided I wasn't going to try to defend the guy, because you'll judge me for that, right? See why I'm tired of all this?

NFL - Just one quick thought on the recent "let's suspend everyone accused of domestic violence" crusade. If the NFL had a more lenient stance on recreational drugs, maybe that "two game suspension" would have actually seemed harsh instead of lenient, and not drawn the scorn of the populous? Because that's what started all this, right? "Smoking pot gets you suspended for a year, but assaulting a woman gets you two games??" I'm fine with these suspensions provided that the players are actually guilty, but what happens to these guys in court matters far more to me than how many games the NFL suspends them for.

So, the Jacksonville Jaguars stink again, but it's not necessarily time to put Blake Bortles out there yet. It's actually not (mostly) the quarterback's fault this time: the offensive line is awful, there is no running game to speak of, wide receivers keep getting hurt or suspended, and while the pass rush is much improved, the secondary has had some problems so far (which hopefully should be helped by Johnathan Cyprien's return this week). Let's leave Chad Henne out there a few more weeks, and see where we stand after, say, Week 6.

How many years has Shad Khan owned the team now? This is his 3rd year of ownership, and so far, no success; just really large scoreboards, fancy swimming pools, and one fewer home game in Jacksonville per year. (But hey, the Jaguars are now the 9th most popular team in the UK!) Shad Khan is obviously a brilliant businessman, and he's popular with the fans...but as the owner of two sports teams, can he produce a winner? Because so far, things haven't gone particularly well on that front. (Also see "Soccer".)

MLB - The Washington Nationals have had an incredible second half of the season, and that means I get at least 3 playoff games. Hooray! I'm looking forward to it, in part because of all the professional teams I root for, the Nationals are the only ones who have had a sniff of success this decade.

I think the team is well set up for the playoffs, too, in part because they've been fairly fortunate with respect to injuries. All five starting pitchers have been (mostly) healthy all year, and have also (mostly) produced in a big way. And the offense has been great, too, and has stayed (mostly) healthy as well, except for Ryan Zimmerman. None of the pitchers or position players are MVP candidates; instead, the team's strength is its depth. There isn't that much a dropoff as you go down the batting order or through the pitching rotation.

The Nationals could easily make a World Series run...or they could flame out in the Division Series, because it's baseball, and baseball can be pretty random. Either way, should be fun! And since I'm not as invested in the Nationals as I am the other teams I follow, I'll be able to handle a tough playoff loss a little more easily.

NASCAR - Television ratings have been consistently down all year. I was thinking, the new Chase makes the regular season even less relevant by making it easier than ever to get into the Chase, so maybe fans are losing interest in the regular season? Maybe NASCAR will see a ratings bump once the Chase starts? … Nope! Ratings for the first Chase race were down as well compared to recent years.

You can't say the new championship format is bad for the sport just because ratings are down this year - ratings have been going down for the last several years - but you can say that it's not helping, at least so far. Even if the Homestead rating ends up being huge, NASCAR will have to ask itself if it's worth sacrificing ratings all season long just to get a small ratings bump in the last race. (Although, the more they tinker with the championship format, the less credible and more arbitrary it seems; maybe the steady decrease in TV ratings over the last few years is a manifestation of that. So if I were Brian France, I'd make as few changes as possible from this point forward. Or, go back to the old system - the best driver over the course of 36 races is the champion. Really, that would still be my preference.)

What would really be beneficial for NASCAR is if their entire Chase wasn't head-to-head against the most popular sport in America. If it were logistically feasible, maybe they would consider reworking the schedule so that it ends in August, making the Chase a summer event instead of a fall event. But, it's not logistically feasible, if nothing else because the TV contracts for the next 10 years are already signed. They could try weeknight races in the Chase, but the problem there is that weeknight races hurt attendance, since so many fans come to NASCAR races from out of town. And, it may not help TV ratings anyway - back when the Daytona 500 was rain delayed to a Monday night primetime telecast, the final ratings number ended up being not that much different than from when the Daytona 500 takes place on Sunday afternoon.

All that said...I still plan on watching the Chase, at least as much as I have time for.

Soccer - So, last year, I started following EPL team Fulham, since they're sort of a "sister team" to the Jacksonville Jaguars. And, they were instantly relegated to the second division, a.k.a. the "Championship". But surely, Fulham will be able to immediately compete for promotion back to the Premier League, right? … Nope! So far, Fulham is in dead last in the Championship, they just fired their manager again, and they're in danger of being relegated again if they don't turn it around. It's still early; 39 games of 46 are still to be played. That's a lot of games.

Side note: the last team to get relegated from the top division to the third division in consecutive seasons was Wolverhampton, and this was actually pretty recent: Premier League in 2011-12, Championship in 2012-13, League One in 2013-14. (And back in the Championship again for 2014-15, along with Fulham, who Wolverhampton has already beaten 1-0 this season.)

Meanwhile, back in the Premier League...with Fulham gone, I decided to start watching Newcastle United games. Newcastle is a good "middle ground" team, at least on paper: not one of the biggest richest clubs, but big enough so that they might finish Top 6 and quality for European competition every few years, and also not all that likely to get relegated. ... Or are they? Four games into the season, Newcastle currently sits dead last in the Premier League. Maybe I should just give up and root for Arsenal like I originally planned.