Sunday, January 27, 2013

What I Did on My Winter Vacation

I've been planning for a while to make a new entry about my non-biking activities over the winter.  I've been procrastinating and it is reminding me of my youth and avoiding school assignments.  And much like these assignments, I don't really expect anybody to read this.

I was off the bike for almost an entire month.  Kate, the monkeys and I went up for Christmas to her parents.  I was tempted to bring a bike on the off chance that the weather would have a break (as I've very much enjoyed riding at my in-laws in Vermont), but I didn't and the weather was consistently winter-y so it wouldn't have worked out anyway.

Kate and I bought snow shoes a few years ago with her parents property in mind.  And we have dutifully brought them with us each winter for the past many years, and yet never managed to unwrap them (let alone use them).  This time, however, we finally got motivated, got the kids (our monkeys and our niece and nephew) suited up and off we went.

"Sammy", My mother in law, and Kate carrying the little monkey. 

My niece and my big monkey 

My little monkey on my back.

Kate and I very much enjoyed snow shoeing and we hope to to it again. It probably isn't as much fun as cross country skiing on groomed trails, but it is much easier to in more rugged places with snow shoes.  And after our first time, I went out for a short distance with my brother-in-law and father-in-law along the same path that I had used the snow shoes and could really appreciate the difference.

Both Kate and I have been playing musical instruments since we were children (although her much more than I).  I played violin as a young kid, clarinet in fifth grade and saxophone from sixth grade until I graduated from high school.  In college, I started playing guitar.  At my parents house, I have an electric and an acoustic guitar.  At my house, I have a 12 string acoustic guitar that I haven't played in many years.

I was looking to get a 6 string guitar for playing.  What I don't own (either here or have stored at my parents house) is a classical guitar and since it was a good choice for the type of playing in which I was interested, I decided to see what I could get on the cheap.  On Amazon, I found an Valencia classical guitar (for $63 shipped including a bag).  The review were good, so I decided to risk it.
I'm very impressed with the quality both in the appearance and sound, particularly considering how little this cost.  Classical (nylon) strings take a lot longer to settle down than steel strings (partially because of how they are tied at the bottom), and it took about a week for the guitar to keep its tune well.  I bought a $10 Snark tuner that clips onto the head of the guitar; I do have gStrings, an android phone app that works well, but I find the stand alone tuner is much more convenient.

Looking for music to play? It turns out, not surprising, that the internet is your friend.  One of my favorite sites for finding music is This site has both text files as well as Guitar Pro tab files.  The latter is much nicer, but you have to have a program that can read them (Guitar Pro costs $60).

Enter TuxGuitar. TuxGuitar is a brilliant open source software that reads Guitar Pro tab files.

It can handle multiple tracks, can transpose music, print out the tablatures, can play the music (in a very weird midi-voice, but that's good enough to figure out how it should sound).  I highly recommend it.  I've taught myself Greensleeves (pdf or gp3 files), relearning Pink Floyd's Is Anybody Out There (pdf or gp3 files), and even transposed the accompaniment of a few pieces to my daughters cello, such as Go Tell Aunt Rhody (pdf or tg files).

There is snow on the ground this weekend, so I did not get a chance to get out riding.  I have gotten out a few times this year, but more on that in a future post.