Friday, June 25, 2010


If you are one of those at-home workout people, you will appreciate this one. As I’m sure you have figured out by now, I live in a part of the country that does not have the conveniences of a city. I can’t say that I live in the middle of nowhere, because I don’t really believe that to be true. I actually think that my town has a lot going on, it’s just not a lot of the type of going-on that city-dwellers are used to. If you crave the outdoors, where I live has it all. If you are looking for fine cuisine and high culture, the pickings are a little slim. They are not completely absent, but you have to really search, be willing to drive a distance, and wait around for the Central NH stop on the performing arts tour. There are, interestingly enough, about 8 different Chinese restaurants in about a 15 mile radius, but other than that one is hard pressed to find anything other than Italian or bar food. There are no upscale pet stores, no fancy restaurants, no spontaneous “hey let’s go to the theatre” nights and no running down to the store for some milk without getting into your car. There’s a university and a hospital 7 miles south, a Staples 15 miles north, and a smattering of bars within spitting distance in any direction. There’s a lot of fresh air and clean water and a few moose. There is no good gym. There are several gyms, but all the ones that are within 20 miles, pretty much suck.

I spend a decent amount of time travelling to various larger cities for work, and so I get my fill of “culture” such as it is. I get to experience the crushing throng of humanity, the litany of restaurants and ethnic cuisines and the convenience of city living. I get to sit in the traffic and have the distinct luxury of periodically being flipped off for crossing the street. I also get to use a “real” gym which is usually within walking distance of where I am temporarily located, or at least under five miles away. At these times I am grateful for my city experience. In a gym, people are usually happy, not flipping anyone off and pretty much keeping to themselves. Just the way I like people.

All that said, since I don’t always have the convenience of a fully functional, large fitness facility with decent hours nearby, I am often left to my own devices. To assure that I can get a good workout no matter where I am, I have multiple at-home fitness products and one of them is the SelectTech 552.

You may have seen the infomercial for these babies. The SelectTech is a Bowflex product. They are the dumbbells that give you the flexibility to adjust the weight to what you desire. There are 2 SelectTech products. The 552 and the 1090. As the name implies, the 552 can be adjusted to weights ranging from 5 to 52.5 lbs per dumbbell. Using the same logic, the 1090 can be adjusted to weights ranging from 10 to 90 lbs per dumbbell. Because I am not that strong, I have the 552s, which I might add are plenty heavy enough for your average at-home weight lifter. BowFlex claims that the SelectTech product line replaces 15 sets and 17 sets of weights respectively. This could be a true claim if you were to purchase every set of dumbbells out there from 5 to 52.5 lbs in 2.5 lb increments (or from 10 to 90 lbs in 10 lb increments), but most people don’t actually do that. I suppose you could, but unless you are opening a gym, of your own, you probably wouldn’t.

The SelectTech weights (weight plates, actually) and bar sit in a cradle. The ends of the bar spin and are marked with the different potential weights. The weight plates are notched so that as you spin the end of the bar to a particular weight, the notches on the bar engage with the notches on the plates and you end up with an adjustable dumbbell.

Its’ quite ingenious actually. It means that you don’t have to buy multiple sets of dumbbells to have decent workout. If you have limited space, don’t want to look at a full weight tower or don’t have a plethora of doors to prop open, it may be the answer to all your ills.

The only issue I found with the SelectTech dumbbells, is that they are a little large. The bars are a good size for an adult hand, but the plates themselves are a little large. This is not a huge problem with most exercises, but I find that I need to do bicep curls with one hand at a time because the two dumbbells together force my curls apart, causing bad form. The other element to be aware of with the SelectTech is that if the plates are sitting backwards in the cradle, the weight adjuster-spinner on the end of the bar won’t spin. I actually had this problem once and it took a good 30 minutes to figure out what the issue was. I thought the spinning mechanism was broken, but instead it was the stupidity of someone who wasn’t supposed to be in my house using my things.

All in all this is a durable, quality product that makes getting a good workout at home pretty easy. Completely utilitarian, fabulously compact and completely adjustable for a complete upper body workout, SelectTech is worth the price tag ($399 for the 552, $599 for the 1090). Given how little in this world can actually be relied on, this is a product that won’t let you down.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Bobo spends a lot of time running. She runs through fields. She runs around the yard. She used to run through the streets. And she runs in the woods. When she runs, she runs very far and very fast. When we hike, she goes 15 miles to our 3. She runs because she loves it, she’s good at it, and she can. She’s a German Shorthaired Pointer after all, she runs because it’s in her blood. She was bred to be the perfect hunter’s assistant and can run all day every day. It’s in her nature, there’s no stopping it. The best we could hope for is to make her running safe for her and less frightening for us.

Bobo knew the “come” command,” but being the sophisticated problem solver that she is, she often chose to ignore it. When she didn’t choose to ignore it, she was often far enough away from us that when she did head back our way, it was a good five or ten minutes before she arrived, making us think that she was ignoring us even when she wasn’t. Although we knew that she enjoyed the running and would almost always return to us at some point, our little Bobo also had a tendency to hurt herself. Running that far, that fast through the woods has its downside which includes cuts, scrapes and the occasional puncture wound. Our biggest fear was not that she would get lost, but that she would get hurt and disoriented and we’d never be able to find her. So after one scare, we decided to bite the bullet, spend the money and get her a GPS collar. After much research and $599, we ended up with the Garmin Astro DC 30 GPS Dog Tracking System.

This system has a hand held GPS unit and a receiver on a dog collar. The collar has a giant rubbery antenna which is always humorous when attached to a dog, bobbing through the woods. The system is designed for hunting, so it’s waterproof, extremely durable and good for a range of up to 5 miles. The handheld GPS unit can be used while not attached to a dog which is helpful for those who like to do things apart from their canine companions. The handheld unit can also track up to 10 dogs. You would need to purchase 10 collars in order to do that, but you don’t need 10 different handheld units. Because the system is designed for hunting the handheld provides information for a number of hunting-related elements such as, best hunting times, sun rise and sun set. In addition the handheld unit provides information not only on your dog’s whereabouts but also their actual physical position. It will tell you whether your dog is pointing, treeing, sitting or running. It doesn’t have signifier for swimming, but other than that it’s been pretty accurate thus far.

The most interesting thing about the GPS is that upon receiving and using it, we quickly discovered that Bobo was rarely further than 80 yards from us. Apparently she’s more stealth than we give her credit for. Her coloring is great camouflage, but we figured since she is anything but graceful, we would have heard her if she were close by. Apparently we were wrong.

Notice I said that she was rarely further than 80 yards from us. Not never more than 80 yards from us. One day we were out hiking and we turned one way and Bobo turned the other way. In the 2 minutes it took to figure out she was not with us, she had already run almost a mile in the other direction. Without the GPS we never would have found her. When we did find her, she was far off trail, at the bottom of a hill on the banks of a rapidly flowing river. She was hurt, disoriented and scared. She couldn’t tell where our voices were coming from as evidenced by the fact that as I climbed down to her, I saw her running in circles trying to figure out where my voice was coming from. The sound of the water in the valley did something to the sound waves making the direction my voice was coming from nearly impossible to decipher.

After a little bit of both canine and human stress, the pack ended up back together with no major losses or injuries. And that you just can’t put a price tag on.

Friday, June 11, 2010


We had this need for a truck that could pull, and being the type of people we were at that time, we went for comfort. Might I recommend that you do not make the same mistake that we did. Although the Chevy Avalanche is, without a doubt one of the most comfortable trucks I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting in, the Z66 model has about as much usefulness in inclement weather as a broken umbrella.

I’ll preface this review by saying that when we bought the Z66, we were living in sunny Tucson, AZ so inclement weather was not something we were altogether worried about. I will state however that the giant, black truck with heated seats in that particular environment was a little absurd, but in Tucson it’s either hot and dry enough to fry and egg on the hood or raining torrentially enough that you shouldn’t be out driving anyway. In the hot, dry, one does not need to worry about how well their car operates in mud or snow, and in the torrential rain, well either you make it though the flooded washes or you don’t. And if you’ve ever been in the dessert during a monsoon, you should really know to stay out of the flooded washes. Any way, the upshot is that the Z66 was fine for our driving-only purposes in that environment, what it wasn’t all that fine for was our towing need. Of course if I knew then what I know now, we never would have made this particular purchase, but I didn’t, and we did, so instead of a truck that did what we needed it to, we got a good story.

The Z66 Avalanche is the 2 wheel drive, tricked out version of the truck. It is basically a really hot looking vehicle with little usefulness outside of a city environment. Our Z66 had leather interior, power doors, windows, locks and seat adjustment for the driver, adjustable pedals, and just about every possible luxury element that you could think a truck to have. The problem was that it wasn’t powerful enough even with the V8 engine to pull what we needed to pull (shame on us for believing the sales guy) without causing us both to learn forward in a misguided attempt to help get up the hills. Additionally, although this may be different now the fuel economy on this vehicle was horrible. On a good day we got 15 MPG on the highway and when we were towing it was something like 6 MPG. No lie. Our ownership of this particular vehicle overlapped with the $4/gal gas prices and therefore it cost over $100 every time we filled the tank. Add that onto the over $20,000 we paid for the used vehicle (the 2010 models are over $40,000 new), and what you have is a very expensive endeavor.

On the positive side, the very expensive ride was also a very comfortable ride. The trips taken across the country in it were done so in great luxury. The back seat is roomy enough for an average sized woman to lie down and sleep. This particular feature came in handy on more than one occasion. Even my in-laws are convinced the Z66 Avalanche is the most comfortable vehicle in the universe. Unfortunately however it is not a model meant for anything other than pavement. In AZ, not a problem. In NH, a big problem.

This truck does not operate in the snow. It also does not operate in the mud. I would have thought that the weight of the truck alone would have made it capable of driving up a muddy driveway. I wasn’t talking about going off-roading, just getting into our condo parking lot. Alas, it was not meant to be. Many a day went by that, taking her life into her hands, my lovely wife, accelerated wildly in the hopes of hitting the left turn at speeds elevated enough to make it up the hill. She usually made it. If it were me driving I would have ended up in a ditch. Since in NH the road conditions from November to May range from snow to ice to mud and back again with a great deal of regularity, a vehicle that does not operate in these conditions, will leave you walking…a lot.

We decided after one winter in the Northeast that we should sell it and get something useful, but apparently everyone in NH and MA already knew what we had just found out. The Z66 Avalanche is not the most appropriate vehicle for these here parts. We ended up selling it in SC where the weather is accommodating to a truck with those features 364 days out of the year (unless you go mudding in which case you need to reconsider). I am happy to report that we sold the Z66 Avalanche to a lovely woman who was as excited to buy it as we were at first. Here’s hoping she stays in SC, because should she ever have occasion to move north, I have no doubt we’ll be able to hear the disappointment from here.

Monday, June 7, 2010


So in an attempt to find the greatest mascara available to all woman-kind, I thought I’d give Lash Stiletto a go. I like lashes and I like stilettos so I thought “how can I go wrong?” I thought the television ads rather alluring with the big shoes and such. Stilettos really are quite sexy and it would stand to reason that any length-related association with stilettos would by extension also be sexy.

The package is not entirely sexy, but not entirely unsexy either. The booted legs are vaguely reminiscent of my sudo-dominatrix days with the thigh-high black patent leather boots. OK, you can’t actually see the thighs, but you get the impression that the boots go on forever. And they are not the kind of boots that you step easily into. They are the kind you have to douse yourself in baby powder to don. And then there is the mascara tube itself. Maybelline, in all of their marketing and packaging wisdom decided to make the mascara tube look like a stiletto. More tapered on one side than the other. Clever. Useless, but clever.

But then there is the issue of the product. Not the packaging, but the actual product. Because as we are all well aware at this point that the only makeup that I can apply without dire consequences is mascara. I am a sucker for it, its appeal and its claims. Lash Stiletto claims 70% longer lashes and a shiny patent finish. This would explain the patent leather boots on the package, but I’m a little unclear as how you can tell that an eyelash has a “shiny patent finish”. I mean an eyelash averages 7-9 mm in length. This is not much surface area on which to have a shiny patent finish, but I was, as always willing to give it a try.

Application was simple; 1-step, which is always a plus, but to be honest, I didn’t see anything that looked even remotely like a stiletto sticking out of my eye. That’s sort of a gross thought, but you know what I’m saying. No stilettos. My lashes looked good, but I wasn’t seeing anything to make this product stand out in the crowd of mascara (except for the sexy boots on the package). I’d give the product a 5 out of 10; perfectly mediocre as far as aesthetic.

The fun part came when I went to remove it. In much the same way that I don’t use a lot of different makeup products, I also don’t use a lot of makeup removing products. Actually I use no makeup removing products. I use one cleanser on my face and if it doesn’t work to remove whatever I have applied that day, I just scrub harder. 50 grit sandpaper couldn’t have scrubbed this hard enough. I had raccoon eyes until I scrubbed so hard that really soft, sensitive skin under my eyes was red. (Maybe they do that on purpose so you’ll buy the eye wrinkle fixer-cream.) In Maybelline’s defense, they do tell users to use Maybelline New York Eyes Moisturizing Eye Makeup Remover to get the stilettos off, but I think they should make removal easy for the average consumer, not just the Maybelline groupie. Maybe that’s just me though. Perhaps I have it all wrong and in order to look my best I really must have the entire product lineup, application and removal. No way, I don’t buy it.

The stilettos were a bust as far as making my lashes look like a pair of boots out of a NY nightclub, and removing it was worse than getting out of a latex bodysuit, but in a pinch I suppose it’ll work. There’s no real reason not to use Lash Stiletto, it did just fine as far as mascara goes, it just didn’t live up to its 70% claims. Go figure.