Phoenix, You’re A Fine Girl

Wow. Just, wow. That’s about all I can say right now.

Since we’ve already secured me a place to live, that freed Laina and I up to have some fun the rest of my vacation week, and that’s exactly what we did today when we took Phoenix out for a 330-ish mile (530-ish km) road trip end to end today, on some of the most fun terrain I’ve ever driven any vehicle on.

We set out around 11:30 AM for Kerrville by way of Texas State Highway 16, a route I had ridden with her once before that I just knew I had to drive Phoenix through. Multiple elevation changes and twists and turns galore – some rated as low as 15 MPH “safe speed.”

15 MPH? Heh, is that some kind of a joke? Well, maybe not if you’re driving a big-ass pickup or SUV, but Phoenix in her low, sleek Jetta GLI profile? Try like 35-40 MPH negotiating those. Whatever the road threw at us she powered through consistently 20 MPH above the specced speeds, never leaving the demarcations of the lanes. Lots of down and upshifting, revving the engine hard, but never turning the wheel more than about 60 degrees in either direction. You could totally feel the G-Forces as we navigated the terrain, but at no point was she at the remotest risk of rolling over or tumbling down a hill.

We arrived in Kerrville for a nice lunch at their location of Fuddruckers (or, as we jokingly call it, “Ruddfuckers” :-P). Surprisingly, I’d never been to a Fuddruckers in my life. I went out on a limb and orderd an elk burger, on a gluten-free bun and loaded it up with various toppings. It was absolutely delicious.

After re-fueling our tanks (as Phoenix had gotten a full tank of Chevron Techron Supreme earlier in the day), we set back on the return trip, which I drove even slightly more aggressively than on the trip up. Again, she totally owned it, but we weren’t done yet!

On a total limb, we decided to take a side trip to make the loop known as “The Three Sisters” or “Texas’ Twisted Sisters” (which consists of Ranch Roads 335, 336, and 337). Let me tell you what – that name is no joke. Steep hills, tight turns, switchbacks and a hairpin all rolled into one. Once again, Phoenix never missed a beat as I dropped her into the lower gears, powered through the turns much faster than rated (including a hairpin rated at 10 MPH that she negotiated at 30 without blinking an eye), and powering up the steep grades, revving to the redline.

To say it was a total adrenaline rush would be a gross understatement. We lost cell signal in many places, leaving me wondering if we were really on the right path or we were just totally lost. I almost had a panic attack, but Laina (bless her heart) kept me focused through it all as I drove it in hard and made it stick. Sure, we had a couple of incidents of wildlife that we had to evade, as well as a construction zone, but never a hiccup through any of it.

Before I knew it we were right back to where we started, completing the loop end to end. High as a kite, and in desperate need of a piss, we stopped into a Family Dollar to relieve myself and then completed the journey back to home HQ (which I can now call it such as well).

Of course, all this going on while Laina blared her tunes in my CD as we sang along (well, she sang along and I made my pathetic attempt to, best described as caterwauling) shot the shit, punctuated by our ritual belching and throat clearing contests at times, and she totally entertained me by her facial expressions and random exclamations as I negotiated the obstacles. She even went so far as to tell me how impressed she was with my skill level, and I hadn’t even driven like that ever in my life! I guess it comes naturally to me.

Maybe I should consider a weekend gig of being a stunt driver for car commercials? You know, those car commercials that say “professional driver on a closed course – do not attempt.” I’m sure they make good money.

At any rate, needless to say Phoenix really impressed me today. This might be the first time she’s been driven for the purpose she was designed for. Make no mistake about it, the Jetta GLI is, for all intents and purposes, a sportscar even though it isn’t listed as such. It shares nothing in common with the “regular” Jetta and it might damn well be the best car VW builds (assuming, of course, the proper maintenance schedule is followed). After that outing, Laina and I ultimately agreed that despite the initial issues I had, I made the correct choice when I opted for her over the Honda Fit.

So as to what kind of trouble we’ll get into the rest of the week, we don’t quite know yet. All I know is this might be my best vacation ever.

 

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The San Antonio Chronicles: Move Date Set

Well here it is folks, I now have a move date set!

I’m on vacation this week as I had set aside a full week to devote to dwelling hunting. I figured I’d take the full week in case I did need to shop around a bit for something in my price range and in a good part of town. I was fully expecting it to take some time, and it did – maybe an hour.

After looking at various candidates and creating a “short list,” I went about prioritizing my selections and devised a plan with the help of Laina – we would start with my first choice and work down until I found the right place.

Did I say work down? Hah! Not in this lifetime. There was no working down at all as I scored a great unit at a great price at the property that was my top choice. I was in and out, done, within an hour (pending some minor verification of things, which shouldn’t take long at all).

Well guess what? I will be living in the same complex as Laina, just a few buildings down! Like how cool is that? We’ll be able to see each other pretty much whenever we want with just a short walk. I’ll have someone to pal around with whenever I want, to shoot the shit with, have dinner with, watch IndyCar racing with, you name it! Like could it get any better than that?

So when is this going down? My move in date is tentatively scheduled for October 3rd, so it’s coming up in about a month and a half. When something is the right thing, it just happens to move along rather quickly doesn’t it? This definitely does feel like the right thing too. I’ve never really felt at home anywhere I’ve lived, yet when I come down to San Antonio to visit, it just feels like I’m coming home.

Well, come October 3rd, I will be coming home and staying. I’ve already sniffed out a good little chunk of town too where I can have my entertainment. I’ve found a number of great eateries with ample gluten-free options, a few grocery stores close by, a Friday/Saturday night hangout. Now all I need is a cigar lounge to kick it at (until I open mine) as well as a couple of places to do open mic and/or karaoke at (which Laina swears she will drag me to, come hell or high water!).

Anyway, I’m still glad I took the week off because that means the rest of the week I get to have some fun. We’ll maybe take Phoenix for a road trip somewhere (there’s a stretch of road I’ve been dying to drive her on to really put her through her paces), go explore some hangouts, among other things that are way more fun than looking for a place to live. It’ll be great to “mark my territory” as it were, which is important for a big city as you don’t want to be fighting traffic to traverse the entire city on a daily basis.

While I’ll miss my family and Abilene friends for sure, I know this is the right thing for me and I’ll be in a better place. As such, even when I might be having second thoughts in my mind, I’ll push through. Getting up the nerve to make a big change is the hardest part, then the change itself. Once it’s behind you, it’s done and then things really smooth out after (after all, Laina and I already have a list a mile long of fun stuff to do). Now, I just need the inner strength to follow through.

Wish me luck during this major transitional step, I’m gonna need it.

The Beginning of a Possible End…

Well, yesterday I visited the vampires to have a tube of blood taken from me – and we will see once and for all if I am in fact reactive to gluten (or maybe even something else). Hoping for the best, but preparing for (and honestly expecting) the worst.

As I sit here nursing down an Old Rasputin Stout, maybe the last one I’ll ever get to have. Sigh. My world might be about to get shaken up in a big way.

I’m so not ready for this.

As a side note: tattoo numbing cream/gel works great for blood draws. To me blood draws are way more painful than tattoos. Ugh.

The Long Road to Pantheism

My personal religious/spiritual journey has taken a lot of wild roads over the years, from Christianity, to atheism, to Unitarian Universalism, back to pure atheism, and then finally to where I am now. It’s been a wild ride for sure, and here’s a look at that.

I’m one of a rare lucky few people who did NOT have religion forced upon me as a kid. Of course my parents let me dabble, but it was never forced on me. My great-grandmother was a Buddhist (owing to her Japanese heritage), my mother nothing in particular and my (adoptive) father a lapsed Southern Baptist but not really serious about it. For the first 12 years of my life (my Roswell days) religion was absolutely not a part of my life. We never went to church, prayed, read holy texts, etc. ever. It just wasn’t a thing for us, and probably for the better for me as I didn’t have any indoctrination to undo later in life.

Moving to Abilene at age 12 changed everything. All of a sudden we were closer to my grandmother (dad’s mom) who is a very devout Southern Baptist. She insisted my younger sister and I go to church with her, which we did and thus I dabbled in that sect of Christianity for awhile. I have to say it didn’t make much sense to me at all, but I went along with the motions of a “profession of faith” and baptism anyway, mainly for the sake of placating my grandmother. I do have to say I found the whole fire-and-brimstone ideology quite frightening, and even somewhat contradictory – how could a loving God do that to any of his supposed children?

Needless to say that phase of my life didn’t last more than a few years, even though I remained believing some of the tenets of Christianity. I just knew I didn’t jive with that particular sect, and that’s when my then middle/high school art teacher brought up an activity at her church (an Episcopal church) ¬†that I might be interested in – English-style bell ringing (or change ringing if you will), of which Abilene had one of only then 38 rings of bells in North America. The concept seemed appealing to me, so when I was able to drive myself I went up there to check the hobby out, but also to the service. I have to say I was hooked on change ringing from the outset, and the services were beautiful with the liturgy, etc. – it was something I hadn’t experienced in the Southern Baptist tradition. I was enamoured. Instead of the fire-and-brimstone focus, the focus on love, charity, the divine just kind of struck a chord with me. A year later, at the age of 17, I was confirmed an Episcopalian.

I would remain a steadfast and devout Episcopalian until my sophomore year of undergrad, deviating only with a short time dabbling with Mormonism on account of a very close friend (which didn’t last long, I should say). I went to a United Methodist affiliated institution for undergrad, so naturally we were required to take classes on religion. The first one I took was intro to Christianity, which was taught in a very non-sectarian, non-pushy way, almost from an outsider’s view – very objective. Studying Christianity from this point of view it made absolutely no logical sense to me, and as such, I began withdrawing from my faith, not entirely sure what I was.

The following year I took a world religions/comparative religion class from the same professor. In studying all the various religions we studied, I have to say none of them made sense to me. As such, I had but one default position to take, the only one that made sense to take at the time – atheism.

This is where I’d remain for the next 12 years of my life. At the beginning I was a very angry atheist too, and while that anger faded over time, it never really faded. During my grad school years I dabbled with Unitarian Universalism as I really missed the social aspect of church and such. It was a place I could be atheist and still feel like I belonged. I would be active in various UU congregations for a couple of years, withdrawing from it upon my return to Abilene and finding the one here was rather disappointing. That combined with a far-left political agenda, I was made to feel like a real outsider. When I left, not only was I an atheist, but I felt totally disconnected, bitter and detached. I was spiritually dead as it were.

And that brings me to recent events. This past March, when I went to visit Laina in San Antonio, she brought up my Sidereal chart and started walking me through it. As skeptical as I was (and especially since Tropical astrology didn’t really speak to me), I couldn’t help but notice uncanny bits of truth in it – it was like reading a book almost, except for the book was me. Of course, I would remain understandably skeptical, but as the months wore on, it would continue to speak to me in an uncanny way. I started believing it, because there was too much there that it seemed to know about me for it to be mere coincidence.

Then comes a July visit to San Antonio. Laina and I were hanging out by the pool at her complex, having drinks, cuddled up with one another and just shooting the shit. When the topic came up, she said something to me that took me by surprise – something along the lines of “and if you believe that, you’re not an atheist anymore.”

I thought about that on the trip home, long and hard. It was like “OK, whatever” but I didn’t know as though I wasn’t anymore yet, until she re-iterated it again a few days later. The more I thought about it, the more I realized she was right – I wasn’t. Of course that doesn’t mean a personal god exists, and I still don’t believe that (and neither does she). The notion of a personal god still doesn’t make the remotest amount of sense to me. However, in noting we are one with the universe, another form of spirituality started to fall into place for me – Pantheism, the belief that we are all a manifestation of the divine.

I couldn’t deny it any longer – I was, and am, a Pantheist. It’s so much more fulfilling than Christianity ever was for me, and definitely more fulfilling than atheism. As I begin to learn the ways of the universe and feel in tune with it, this becomes something that not only makes logical sense to me, but spiritual sense. Too many recent life events have taken place to dismiss as pure chance, but still impossible to chalk up to the handiwork of a personal god (which, if you look at the religions that have one, those are mostly religions of hate).

So that’s where I’m at now. Having leanred so much more about myself, that rings so true, but also much more to come. Though I still don’t refer to “god” personally (I personally prefer to say “the universe works in mysterious ways”), I feel in tune with the universe, an infinitesimal poart of it mind you. If a historical Jesus existed (a matter of debate), I think it’s safe to say he was ahead of his time. He knew he was god (or, as I prefer, a manifestation of the divine universe), as we all are. Of course, the whole virgin birth thing and resurrection 3 days later is hokey, but we know how stories get embellished over the years, especially when that whole thing didn’t come about until decades after it supposedly took place.

Hence my journey until now. I’ve still got more to learn, not only about astrology but of course the universe. I’m gradually learning its ways though, and will more as time goes on, with my impending move, to starting my business a little later on. The secrets of the universe will be paramount to making my business succeed, from finding the right business partner(s) to making smart business decisions. Above all, I finally feel like I’ve found something that brings me inner peace instead of the turmoil that I was left with for the first 32 years of my life. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Peace be with you all.

Whoa, Phoenix!!!

After an excruciating two weeks, yesterday the VW tech brought Phoenix back out to my house, after which I settled up with him (to the tune of $1,652 and change!) and we exchanged keys and he drove the loaner back to the dealership. Easy peasy.

So what have we got? Idling smooth as butter, no misfires, no nothing. All new spark plugs, ignition coils and fuel injectors, plus a carbon cleaning. We’re talking the motherfucker of all tune-ups.

So today, for the first time, I got to REALLY put her through her paces. After running to the liquor store from some wine on Tax-Free Tuesday, while talking to Laina via phone (no, not holding the phone, I swear) I decided to “dig in” and really open her up…

…I nearly pissed myself as it startled me.

Laina will be the first to tell you, too. When the turbo kicked in it caught me off guard. I got sucked into my seat and off I went. Before I knew it I was up to the speed limit on the little backwoods farm-to-market road I live on. It shocked me. I didn’t know a little 4 cylinder engine could put that much out.

OK, I’m not feeling so bad about my purchase now. LOL!

Cigar Review: Bellas Artes Maduro

This offering from AJ Fernandez features a Brazilian Mata Fina Maduro wrapper of a Mexican San Andreas binder and Nicaraguan long fillers. The size smoked for this review is a 6″ x 54RG box pressed Toro vitola.

The first light reveals a perfect draw producing thick plumes of medium/full bodied smoke. Heavy earth and black pepper dominate the first few puffs, supported by a soft creamy note.

The first third builds on the opening puffs with the introduction of a rich dark chocolate and espresso on the draw and adding a red pepper element on the finish. There’s a very subtle sweetness that ties it all together, but it’s a very heavy, dark flavor package. The smoke is very heavy on the palate also.

Getting into the second third the pepper and spice slightly diminish and the earthy note morphs into more of a leather. The final third drops almost everything but the leather and a slight spice – quite plain toward the end. Ending at 1 hour for an average burn time for the size and bringing in a matching medium/full nicotine strength.

Flawless construction throughout with an absolutely razor sharp burn line. Ash only held on for about inch or so chunks but didn’t upset the burn any. High quality self-adhesive bands that removed easily without damaging the wrapper.

I’m torn on this one. The first 2/3 of the cigar was great with lots of complexity. The last third, quite frankly, was boring. This cigar would have been much better had it been a more consistent blend (even as much as I enjoy cigars that have transition points and keep things interesting). Still a good option for a bold red wine, imperial stout beer or bourbon after dinner though. Priced fairly at $9/stick give or take. Rating: 3.75/5.

Full Review: MacLellan Revelation Bagpipes

revelations

Alright, now that I have a few playing sessions on these, I feel like I can give them a full review of this instrument (highlights, lowlights, etc.). Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of Roddy’s pipes, but I’ll do my best to be as objective here as I possibly can.

To save time, I won’t go much into detail of the unique features of this bagpipe, which you can read about in my previous post so you know what I’m talking about as far as that’s concerned. Also, for reference, my full test setup was as follows: Ross suede bag, tube trap, Kinnaird Edge drone reeds.

So let’s start off with the cellulose polymer lined drones and the silica cartridge stocks mentioned prior. How well do they really work? The answer: very well indeed. As mentioned prior, I completely removed my canister drying system and replaced with just a simple tube-style water trap. I am an oral firehose, so some kind of canister or dessicant system is a must for me, so reducing to just a tube trap was a real torture-test of the moisture resistance of this bagpipe.

After an hour long session of playing, I disassembled the bagpipe and noted the following: 1) ¬†absolutely no visible condensation on the drone reeds, and 2) only the slightest bit in the drone bores. There were no visible beads in the bores, but the polymer lining appeared to be slightly wet. Nowhere near enough to condense on the surface and dribble down into the drone reeds to cause tuning or stability problems. Though my tube trap was totally full and I dumped about a shotglass worth of water out of it, the silica and polymer did an excellent job of removing the rest. I’m so impressed I’ve decided to also just run my ABW set out of the silica cartridge stocks for the superior moisture control, thus removing the need for a bulky, heavy canister.

Drying out the stock cartridges couldn’t be easier – simply remove them from the instrument and allow them to air dry naturally. For quicker drying, a hair dryer on medium heat can be used for 20-30 seconds. You do not want to microwave these the way you would a canister system, for it could distort the shape of the cartridge and not allow it to be reinserted.

So we’ve established that this bagpipe does have superior moisture resistance, better than many wooden bagpipes I would imagine and definitely better than every other Delrin bagpipe out there. So what about the tone and air efficiency? Concerning air efficiency, it’s got the same air efficient profile of my ABW MacLellan, so I noticed no difference there (it surprised me initially when I got my first MacLellan how little pressure was required to produce a superior sound).

Tonally speaking, this bagpipe is a total winner. It lives up to the claim of sounding more like a wooden bagpipe. There isn’t any of the harsh, brassy, metallic tone that’s often found in all-Delrin bagpipes. The cellulose polymer lining does a fantastic job of tempering that, giving a more natural, wood-like tone. Compared to my ABW set, the drones aren’t quite as loud, but have more than ample presence. Maybe Robertson-esque or Lawrie-esque is how I would describe them (not quite as loud as a classic Henderson, but not as subdued as a classic Glen, MacDougall, etc.).

The bass drone features a great depth and richness of sound, which are complemented by warm, ringing, but not bright, tenors. The blend is steady, seamless and brought out many rich, ringing harmonics in the three chanter/reed combinations I tried with these pipes. Those combinations being: McCallum McC2 solo poly w/Husk reed, MacLellan standard solo delrin w/Apps G3, Dunbar/JM Aurora solo poly w/Troy McAllister reed, all 3 the same strength (about 23-24″ H2O – very light but necessary for me). The drones went well with all the chanter/reed combinations, and save for some adjustment of the tuning screws to pitch each on the tuning pins, I didn’t have to touch the reeds. Of course, each chanter/reed combo retained its unique tone and pitch, as to be expected, but all were a great blend. Though all chanters tested were solo chanters, I’m sure they would go equally well with a band chanter.

My preference was the JM, but that’s with any setup as it is slightly lower-pitched than the other two, which is my liking (probably the lowest pitched solo chanter around – Jim McGillivray and Dunbar did a great job designing it and it sounds fantastic. It also has a fairly narrow finger spacing making it very comfortable to play).

As far as downsides, there were a few to note, but I already knew these things going into it. The first thing to note is the weight. Delrin is a fair bit heavier than wood, and the pipes are noticeably heavier than my ABW set in the same drone profile and with very similar adornments. However, removing the canister system negated this effect and actually resulted in a slightly lighter setup than my ABW set with canister. The other is the blowpipe, which seems to have a small-ish bore and is slightly restrictive. In its place, as I have for the past several years, I play an aftermarket blowpipe from Peter Crisler, which is wide-bored, adjustable, and has absolutely no restriction whatsoever. Lastly, and this is very minor, but the cartridge stocks have a rather large outer diameter to accommodate the cartridge. This can make fitting to certain pipe bags with grommets/collars a bit of a challenge. I had to work to get them into my Ross bag, and I’m sure a Bannatyne or Canmore bag would be an even greater challenge.

All in all, color me impressed. Roddy really has elevated the Delrin bagpipe to heights beyond any other before it. Not only is it more moisture resistant, the sound is virtually indistinguishable from a wooden instrument, while retaining the durability and resilency of Delrin that make it the ideal material for playing extreme heat, cold, wet, dry, etc. environments that would likely damage a wooden instrument. Sure, there are production Delrin instruments from other manufacturers that are half the price or less depending on decoration, but the extra cost and wait is well worth it for a superior instrument.

I highly recommend these pipes.

PS: I tried to capture a sound clip, but I don’t have any professional recording equipment and my phone and computer mics were overpowered by the sheer volume. I’ll try to get one sometime if I can get some better recording equipment.