Monday, November 29, 2010

Eyes

We don't get to see her pretty eyes much since she prefers sleeping.





Sean loves his new sister

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Isabel is here

Isabel Kathryn arrived in the world this morning at 8:05 after a few hiccups (clerical) and is all we could ask for. She is healthy, cute and has been an angel so far.


She was 7lbs 1 ounce, 20.5 inches













Sunday, November 21, 2010

Greasy

Ever had a bad experience with some part of the car industry (sales, service, and insurance)? Most can answer yes. I will apologize right now to those I know that work in some sector of the business as this may offend you. I often wonder if all industries are as slimy as the automobile business; perhaps our experiences are more frequent due to Americans dependence on the car. It seems as if the automobile industry realizes the quandary of our situation and knows we need their services. Whether buying a car or getting it serviced, if not vigilant about getting a "good deal", most will take the opportunity to help themselves to your wallet. Why am I so bitter you ask? 2010 required a car switch-up for the Armstrong family in addition to the usual car maintenance. Let me start with my recent experience.

We purchased a Toyota Sienna all-wheel drive (AWD) minivan earlier this year as a compromise to hauling our brood of children and the ability to transport them in the Utah snow. The AWD isn't nearly as effective without snow tires to give grip so I decided to purchase snow tires. Knowing that tire dealers can be sleazy, I did my homework, calling around to find the best tire price before making the trip to a tire shop. I was turned off by one shop before entering the store since they failed to mention additional shipping charges for tires when agreeing to price match over the phone. Lucky for me, I requested a detailed quote when the tires arrived the following week and found their hidden cost. After this "oversight", I moved on to another dealer.

Dealer #2 had the best price I could find in town without any price match and had the tires in stock. I took the van to them early the next morning and walked in the store to seal the deal. I did mention my call to them the day prior but didn't mention the price quoted. Oddly enough the total price quoted in the store was over $100 what I was told over the phone. The customer that doesn't do their homework knows no better and opens their wallet for the thieves to loot. Interesting that a $50 rebate mentioned the day prior wasn't included with their in-store quote. Once I mentioned my prior call and brought my notebook out with the person I spoke to and the price quoted, I was given the lesser price quoted. Already feeling the filth, I wanted to walk out the door at that moment. However, I knew this was the best deal around town and the forecast of snow that afternoon pushed me to complete the purchase.

And again back to my point of being too dependent on the automobile, thus easily taken by dishonest businesses. I left the van and got a call two hours later from the shop. The alignment was out a few degrees and should be corrected to ensure the longest life. Funny how these things aren't mentioned up front. I understand that alignment may not always be required but how often do they tell someone putting on new tires that they don't require alignment. After some haggling on my part, I got the price down to $50 and agreed to the service. I went to retrieve the van a while later and paid for the service. Upon reviewing the bill, I realized they threw in an additional $50 for a tire protection plan. What the F^%# is that I asked. Oh, that's in the event of catastrophic damage to a tire, they will replace it for no charge. For a tire (run flat) on a minivan that is only rated for 20k miles to begin with? If I'm driving a jeep wrangler off road, this insurance might make sense. But I think I will take my chances that Sarah won't gash the sidewall while driving in the next year and a half.

My experience buying the car wasn't any better, requiring endless haggling and head games to complete the sale. Sarah was ready to divorce me (not really) over the purchase cause I didn't back down with the used car salesmen tactics. Let's just say that we walked out of the dealership once and it still took three hours to finalize the deal upon returning. All this after half-assed repairs were completed, though different things were promised before the paper signing. I've yet to see the second set of keys that allegedly existed for the car before we signed. Keep in mind that a new "smart" key costs at least $100. Need I mention the dead battery experiences one week after receiving the car? Shouldn't "Toyota certified" include a check of the battery and the ability to see that it was near death?

Are all businesses run like this? There are many other industries where prices changes depending on how many questions are asked and the amount of pressure applied. Though if I were a man with no kids or lived in a warmer climate, you better believe I would ditch the automobile and rely on my legs (bicycle). It would be one less thing I have to spend time researching before making a purchase. Tired of my automobile industry rant? Me too.

Just be sure that the next time you plunk down money on this "need", you do your homework before walking in their door. If you don't, go ahead and walk in with your wallet open cause chances are you just put a smile on a salesperson's face and fattened their paycheck.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Madsen Kg271 Bucket Bike Review

Upon seeing the title of this post, you might begin to wonder how many bikes a man needs in his garage/man-cave. The answer: you can never have enough if ridden regularly.

My Madsen purchase actually occurred earlier this fall but I just got around to reviewing the bike after getting some time in the saddle. I first came across the Madsen this summer and knew I must have one after test riding the 2011 prototype at Madsen headquarters. Following lots of impatient calls and waiting, the 2011 model finally arrived for distribution to waiting customers like me. The Madsen is designed for hauling up to 4 kids at a time or whatever your creative side can dream up. I've yet to fill the bucket with water for a bubble bath, a keg on ice, or other unusual objects but I have managed 4 kids in the bucket.

The Madsen is designed for a family with younger kids that is tired of driving around a minivan with the other soccer moms/dads in the city. It has a bench seat on either side with two seat belts to keep the kids secure (or from beating the crap out of each other). Its a great build with solid components that aren't over the top (internal hub); keeping costs reasonable. Last time I checked the 2011 model was retailing for $1485. The only modifications I've made thus far are comfier lock-on grips, Schwalbe Marathon XC tires and the forte campus pedal to allow SPD use.

I have managed over 100 miles on the bike in two months and have no regrets with my purchase. Most people's first question is "isn't that hard to balance?" The Madsen is amazingly easy to ride with the bucket sitting low to the ground and well placed over the rear wheel. I can feel some wobble when the kids throw punches at one another but otherwise feels like riding a heavy cruiser. It's obvious that weight wasn't much a factor in design and the bike provides a workout when pedaling up the steeper hills in SLC. For those that ride often, its a fun challenge to see what you can conquer with kids loaded in the bucket.

Eight gears allow the rider to take most hills with ease. I eventually plan to swap the front chainring to get the gearing a little higher as I've only really needed the low end a few times. I often find myself "geared out" on anything with a slight downhill grade. Most will find the stock gearing sufficient for their needs. The combination of a front disc and rear v-brake provide enough to stop the bike quickly if needed. A dual leg kickstand keeps the bike stable, even keeping it stable when the kids climb in and out of the bucket. The coolest feature of this bike might just be the integrated front wheel lock. Easy to operate and provides another level of comfort; knowing your bucket isn't being carted off while in the grocery. Though I do carry a cable lock for added security when leaving the bike unattended in public.

The Madsen is not only cool but provides children a totally different experience from riding around in a minivan watching Disney DVD's. It's a great feeling to have the kids observing the elements around them; pointing out birds, squirrels and odd looking people (just kidding). The kids often wave and flash their cute smiles at cars as they go by. I look forward to many years of grocery getting, park hopping and taking the kids to school in what has been dubbed "the bucket".

Sunday, November 14, 2010

New Camera

After years of using a point and shoot camera, taking twenty pictures to get one worthy of posting, I decided it was time for a digital SLR. I've been researching DSLR cameras for a while and decided on the Sony A33 due to its ability to capture 7 frames per second along with HD video. It has more settings and tools than I can figure out at this point but I hope to understand them all with time. I haven't taken too many pictures thus far but managed to capture a few around the house this weekend.

Sean found Sarah's tights and gave them a try.
Good Fit


Big Cheeser


Sarah getting Gracie ready for a night out at the theatre

Monday, November 8, 2010

All Business on the Trail

Most would presume a guy that only works 30-45 days a year (airline pilot) could conduct business when off the trail. Apparently not.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Rocky Mountain Altitude 50 review continued

The first week of November brought really warm temperatures allowing further testing of my new bike. Even better is that I got to ride my usual route, dry creek to shoreline to bobsled, allowing easy comparison of my recent purchase to last years Rocky Mountain SXC 50. I'm about to get used to the steering change and it feels good now. Another hurdle I'm working to overcome is the difference in the down-shifting setup between the SRAM and Shimano.

The biggest difference between these bikes aside from weight is the frame geometry and rider position. The Altitude frame puts the rider closer to the front and lower to the ground, allowing more efficient and easier uphill pedaling. I love the feel of climbing with less effort and easier steering. The SXC rider position left me constantly fighting the front wheels desire to wander when riding uphill. On a positive note for the SXC, I felt more confident descending when further back, especially when things get technical.

I've mentioned it before but can't say enough about the weight difference. The Altitude has about 4 pounds less weight and I can feel it, pushing the bike through the flats with ease. I'm also noticing the ability to pull the bike off the ground and over obstacles with less work. The loss of some travel with the Altitude is somewhat noticeable when descending bobsled but still gets the job done. A ride like Porcupine rim in Moab will feel different but still tolerable for the weight loss. All in all, this bike rocks but being faster on the uphill means a longer wait for my friends at the top. Time to find faster friends or start riding with weights.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Crackin' me up

Sean is such a smart kid, always asking questions and surprising us with his knowledge and personality. He also says and does some pretty funny things I wanted to document. I started this post mid-summer and am finally posting.

Sean and I got out of our car and were walking across a parking lot when a car with windows rolled down drove up within earshot. We needed to cross paths with the car so it was either him stopping or us. Sean looked at the driver and said "excuse me, could you please stop for us?" The driver and his female passenger kinda laughed and said "sure." After getting across the street, Sean looked back and waived them on while saying "you can go ahead now, thank you."

Sean got into my truck and took some of the Skittles candy I have stashed in the door compartment. I didn't realize he had done this until seeing him walk over to his sister and give her a few before putting the rest into his mouth.

Sean and I were looking at his work from school and I was commenting on how great his artwork was. His reply "you know I'm a regular Van Gogh dad"