All posts by Robyn

MiniPalooza 2011

We attended MiniPalooza again this year, although this time was a little different since we both have MINIs now. The event itself has changed as well. Last year it started in Old Salem and went to West Bend Vineyards. This year it started in King, NC and went up to the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia before heading south again to Shelton Vineyards near Dobson, NC. This year they also combined the annual club cook out into the event.

Last year we had to get up early and rush to Old Salem to get there for the 9:30 departure time. We ended up getting there at about 9:32 to find only one MINI in the expected location, looking just as lost as we were. As it turned out the group had become too large and they moved to a different area, then left a couple minutes early. We still had a lot of fun running the course on our own, but we didn’t want to miss the group again. So, this year we decided to spend Friday night in Old Salem, then drive the 20 some minutes north to King on Saturday morning.

Therefore we were able to spend Friday night relaxing at the Augustus T Zevely B&B, and had a nice late dinner at Old Salem Tavern. When we got up Saturday we actually ended up sitting around killing time until breakfast was served at 8:00, then leisurely headed out to meet up with everyone. So much better than our rushing around last year!

I am not sure how many MINIs attended; seems like I heard it was over 70 from someone. Everyone congregated in a church parking lot, which had more than enough room for all of us. It was easy to see why they chose this as a meeting spot over the cramped Old Salem area like last year. Once we all had received some brief instruction, we headed out in a few groups.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before it started raining. The beginning of the run was pretty good, but soon it was literally raining on our parade. The roads quickly became too wet to trust traction, so we all had to slow down and give extra space between cars. Between the rain, fog, and the lazy nature of the Blue Ridge Parkway it wasn’t the most exciting run. We found it a little disappointing, and I was soon glad I had chosen to leave my Clubby back at the B&B and just ride along with Sean.

The run ended at Shelton Vineyards, which is NC’s largest. It was a little amusing as we were directed to drive along what appeared to be a paved foot path meant for a golf cart at most. The MINIs fit perfectly though, and soon everyone was parked on the grassy area in front of the main building. The food was already cooking and it smelled great. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite ready yet, so we headed in for a wine tour and tasting.

The tour was a bit laughable because of a lame guide, but it was still interesting to see the winery. The accompanying wine tasting included tasting 5 wines each, but we teamworked it and tried nearly every wine they made. I just took small sips, while Sean finished off what they gave us. This of course meant I was the one driving back to Old Salem!

Thanks to the tasting we ended up with three bottles of wine (one of which is huge!) and a box of awesome truffles from Nancy’s Fudge Factory. I have been trying to pace myself on those truffles, they are quite yummy… and large enough I don’t even want to contemplate the calories.

After consuming what probably was about two glasses of wine with only a handful of oyster crackers and a couple truffles, we headed back outside to discover we were probably among the last to eat. There was still plenty of food though, and we had a couple tasty burgers before wandering around to check out MINIs and socialize a bit. Upon finding Mel (who was the lone MINI driver we found last year) we learned that her group had hit a bit of bad luck. They had gotten split up a bit, and even had a minor accident on the wet roads. One MINI rear-ended another, causing minor damage to the left rear (photo in gallery) section of the car. The offending MINI had to be towed away though, as they had cracked their radiator.

Once we were done lounging about, we headed back to Old Salem so we could hit the Winkler Bakery before it closed. We were feeling pretty wiped out, so after acquiring various baked goods we went back to our room to relax a bit before our dinner reservation. We ended up falling asleep and had a nice little nap, although it made it difficult to sleep that night.

The next morning we again awoke bright and early so that we could head out in time to make it to VIR by 10. Last year this part of MiniPalooza was rained out, but thankfully this year it was a dry and beautiful day. Although we left a little later than planned, we made it to VIR with plenty of time to spare. What a relief!

There really isn’t much to say about VIR aside from the obvious about how fun it was. We ran three parade laps on the north course, which basically means no passing. It was quite fun to be able to drive without worry of speed limits. I definitely want to go back up there for another go, three laps were far too short.

In all it was a pretty good weekend, even if it was very tiring. It was nice to get out of town for a few days, explore some new places, and revisit others. Definitely looking forward to MINIs Slay the Sleeping Dragon next month!

MINIs On The Dragon

Last weekend we went up to the mountains for MINIs On The Dragon (MOTD). MOTD is a huge annual event, one of the biggest events (if not the biggest) on this side of the country. Sorry it took a week to write this. Time has just flown by!

This year there were 543 MINIs and 823 people pre-registered; no clue how many of those actually came or how many more registered when they got there. There were MINIs everywhere! This was much bigger than MINIs Slay the Sleeping Dragon (MSSD) which we attended in October.

As with MSSD, MOTD is based at the Fontana Village Resort. We weren’t able to stay at the resort though, since rooms are usually booked a year in advance. We didn’t even have MINIs this time last year. At one point there actually was a two bedroom cabin available, but at $240 a night it just wasn’t worthwhile. However, we were lucky to find a cabin nearby through VROB.com for the much more reasonable $50 a night plus a $30 fee. We are so grateful to have found that! The cabin was nice, and it was large enough to also help out a couple club members that needed a place to crash as well.
The only downside to that cabin was the road leading to it. You had to turn off the nicely paved Hwy 28 (aka Hellbender) onto an incredibly bumpy and narrow county road. From there you turned onto a private road. Private roads in the mountains are always an interesting experience.

Coming off the county road you had to take a very sharp turn onto a very steep gravel road, steep enough you had to go to first gear if you wanted to make it up. About halfway up you could switch to second gear, but that was it. It varied from paved to gravel, and the steepness also varied. It was narrow enough that we were glad we never met another car while we were on it. The turn into the cabin’s driveway was another sharp turn onto a very steep grade, but at least it was paved. Although the transition from gravel to pavement was teeth jarring. Here is a video shot with an iPhone of the descent, although it doesn’t really convey how steep it was… you can hear the engine braking though. The video is also pretty bouncy.

We went up Thursday night, getting there just before dark… which was a good thing considering the road we had to traverse. The only sign that it was time to turn right into the cabin’s drive was a dark brown pump house on the left. You couldn’t even see the turn until you were already next to it. A friend (with a lowered MINI) from the club came to stay with us the next night. When we asked what he thought of the drive up he said, “No, no, no, no, no…” And that is a direct quote!

Since it was late and we were unfamiliar with the area, we decided to head to Fontana Village for dinner and explore the small towns around us later. I climbed in the driver’s seat (Sean had driven to the cabin) and happily hit Hwy 28. Love that road! It felt good to be zipping along the curves with my Clubman. I had wondered how it would handle compared to Sean’s hardtop, since it is a bit heavier in the back end. The answer was that it handled great, but had a little bit of understeer. We later fixed that with a new sway bar though!

We shared an excellent dinner of a porterhouse steak that had been smoked in apple wood, then blackened. Tasty! Fontana Village definitely has good food, but it is pretty pricey.

The whole time we were at dinner, Sean was pretty quiet. After some prodding I found out he was not looking forward to another climb up that private road in the dark, so I volunteered to drive. I was quite happy to have another run at 28, and didn’t really mind the private road that much. Maybe I am just a little desensitized to roads like that after seeing plenty of them when I was a kid visiting my aunt in the mountains. It didn’t take long before he got over the road though, but we are both very glad to have never met an oncoming car on it!

Friday morning we woke up a little early so we could make it out to the dam by 8am for the MINI Parade. This is a run of a LOT of MINIs going down the section of Hwy 129 known as “The Tail of the Dragon.” The parade was pretty fun, for the most part. In the beginning we were behind a Justa Clubman that wasn’t keeping up with the rest of the pack. Thankfully the driver eventually pulled off and let the rest of us pass. After that we flew down the dragon to catch up with everyone else. With so many cars traveling as a pack, the 30mph speed limit seems to have been forgotten. Definitely the most fun I have had on that road. Generally it is crowded and you spend most of your time trying to stay within the speed limit, but the MINIs ruled the road that day!

After the parade most of us gathered in a lot on the TN side of the dragon. There was some milling about and car ogling, then a few moments of “so, uh, what now?” before we decided we were hungry and wanted food. I took advantage of the opportunity of knowing there were no cops and plenty of MINIs to do another dragon run, so we once again ate at Fontana Village. Then we hit the vendor tents!

The first order of business was a sway bar. As I said, the Clubby is understandably heavy in the rear compared to the hardtop. I have been intending to add a sway bar ever since I got it and MOTD was the perfect opportunity. I am so very much in love with my sway bar, and Sean seems jealous so that makes it even better. In addition to the sway bar we also picked up a stubby antenna for mine, a torque arm insert (I already have one) for Sean’s, and a few other things like badges, wheel cleaner, and t-shirts. It was hard not to walk away with more!! There were so many things there on my list of wanted mods!

The rest of our time there was spent having fun on the twisties, relaxing in the cabin, and exploring local stuff. We have come up with several things we are interested in seeing on future trips, of which I am sure there will be plenty. We took lots of photos of MINIs… I posted some of the more interesting ones in the ‘photos’ section of this site.

Stuff

We haven’t posted in a long time. Sorry. There hasn’t been much to say really, but I feel like I should post something… so here goes.

As for the MINI, I am still in love with it and am still plotting all the things I want to do with it. With the job situation though, money has been a little tight so I haven’t been able to do much yet. I did add a KP Technologies One Touch sunroof module though, which allows me to open the sunroof without holding the toggle button. I also added an NM torque arm insert, which is nice. The plan was to add a sway bar and rear end links before MINIs on the Dragon, but now with the unexpected water heater expense I am not sure that will happen.

The above picture is of the water heater spewing water. Luckily it is in the garage, so the water damage was minimal. We knew it was going to need replacing soon, but we were hoping it would make it a bit longer. Basically, the top of the unit was rusted out and the expansion tank was no longer functioning properly which, from what I gather, means there was a build up of pressure in the water heater that caused the weakened rusted area to give. Apparently you have to replace those expansion tanks about every three years. This would have been good to know a couple years ago, especially since the service guy said that tank was most likely the original one. Fortunately I was offered the chance to leave IBM a couple days early, so I was home when it happened. And it seems like I caught it before it spewed water too long. So all in all this could have been much worse. As it was, we had to remove a portion of the drywall behind it in order to pull out wet insulation. Looks like we will be doing some repair work on that this weekend. But, it was caught before water soaked through the wall and damaged our floor in the kitchen. A little insulation and a sheet of drywall is definitely not bad at all compared to the expense of repairing/replacing hardwood floors and painted interior walls.

On the job front, I will be starting at the new company tomorrow. I am excited about it! And I am so glad I am excited about it. The last years at Mo were terrible, I hadn’t realized how much I hated it really. I mean I knew I was miserable, but somehow the full extent of it didn’t really sink in. It was to the point where I considered changing career paths after I was laid off. It is part of why I dragged my feet a bit about looking for a new job. However, for this new job, as a test I was asked to write a few test cases from requirements. It was actually fun!! I realized I still really love software QA and I really miss doing actual QA work. The past couple years were this terrible downward spiral where nearly all the actual work was offshored and it was a fight to do anything meaningful. By the end it felt like I was reduced from “engineer” to “button pushing monkey.” So right now, for the first time in years, I am looking forward to going to work in the morning.

Overshadowing my happiness at starting the new job though, is the news from Japan. Luckily all my friends are safe, but I can’t comprehend the images of the devastation in northern Japan. The enormity of loss is unimaginable and it seems the news is worse every day. I keep wishing there was something I could physically do to help, but there isn’t.

Stripes!! – Robyn

As you probably know, I got a Clubman two weeks ago. Immediately I started agonizing over what stripes I should choose. I hadn’t even owned the car half a day when I was posting on the club forum about it, which is how I got in touch with a couple members of the club that do stripes.

After a week of surfing the net for ideas, looking at tons of photos, and chatting about stripe options I finally made a decision about what I wanted to do. And that was double stripes with pin stripes on either side. Of course then Sean made me doubt myself and I almost dropped the pin stripes, but I stuck with them in the end and I am so glad that I did. I also wasn’t going to do roof stripes in the beginning, but at the last minute stumbled across a photo of a blue Clubman like mine with the blue stripes on the roof and it looked much better than I had imagined… so with Sean’s encouragement I went for it.

This past week, waiting for word on the vinyl and install date was hard. I spent most of it daydreaming about what it would look like, with sporadic moments of fear that it would turn out horribly. Then, Thursday, I finally got confirmation that we could do the stripes Saturday (today!) and then of course time slowed to a standstill the rest of the week in anticipation.

This morning was the day! We dropped the dogs off with Sean’s mother and headed to Winston-Salem, where the two club members I mentioned live. It was not hard at all to spot the house… it was the one with six MINIs outside! I think they had done a run out to some vineyard this morning, scouting possible club activities, and then just hung out a little while we were doing the stripes. So it was sort of a tiny club meet!

We started out by doing Sean’s car since it would be easy. I had suggested he have the boot striped to match the bonnet while we were doing my car, and he agreed. I think he is happy with how it turned out, it looks nice with the extra stripe! His car only took like 30 minutes, and then it was on to my car… which took about four hours. Originally we had planned to leave and do some motoring while my stripes were being installed, but then we ended up enjoying the install and just hung out while they worked on it.

The end results is great! There are a few bubbles that I will have to keep an eye on and work out over the next few days, but that is to be expected. I can’t wait to see it on a sunny day! So far I have only been able to see it in garage lighting and at dusk/night. Plus it was cloudy and cold today. Once the weather cooperates I will take some more photos, but for now I will post a few of what I have in an album on the photos tab.

The Rest of the Story

I know the last post was really short, so I thought I would elaborate. I was quite tired when I wrote that one, didn’t feel like going into the whole story.

We have been going back and forth about trading the Rav4 for another Mini for months. I really wanted one, but the rational side of me said “No, are you an idiot?” and I usually listen to the rational side.

With the introduction of the Countryman, we decided to just wait for that and see if we liked it. I also wanted to try out the Clubman. At first I didn’t like the Clubman, but after a few club meet ups it had really grown on me.

The Countryman sounds and looks great, but the driving experience just wasn’t what I was looking for. The Mini Cooper is just so fun to drive! But the Countryman… Well, it was a very nice car. If you are looking for Mini styling and a 4WD hatchback it is great. But I wasn’t looking for that, I wanted the fun. I wanted the same driving experience that had me stealing Sean’s car every chance I got.

Saturday was a long day. We were scheduled for a 10:00 test drive with the Countryman. I tried the automatic AWD version and was kind of bored. It was a nice car, it handled well, and it was pretty… but it just wasn’t clicking. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. As an afterthought (a much too late afterthought) maybe I should have tried it with a manual transmission.

Next up I asked to try an automatic Clubman S. They didn’t have a demo automatic S, so they put me in the regular Cooper without a turbo. As soon as I pulled off the lot I said “no way” and just made a loop and parked it. It was terrible without the turbo! I don’t know why they couldn’t just let me have an S right away. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if I wasn’t accustomed to my Rav4’s v6 and the Cooper’s turbo.

Next they gave me an automatic Clubman S to try off the lot. It was Chili Red. I liked it, but didn’t really want red so I ended up finding an Eclipse (dark) Gray one on the lot that had some nice options and I really thought it was the one I was going to buy. We sat down to talk numbers on it and everything. But I just wasn’t sure… and I was starving because we hadn’t eaten all day and it was past lunch time. So they gave us a 96-hour pass and we left them to run credit and such while we went to the mall to eat and then drove around a bit more.

I just wasn’t 100% on it. I drove around for about 30 minutes trying to figure out why I didn’t love it as completely as I should have. At first I thought I really liked the dark color, but I began to realize that it just wasn’t a “happy” look that I associate with a Mini. Plus it is a short car and I was afraid it would be invisible to other drivers. My dark green Rav4 was much larger and people were constantly trying to pull out in front of me or switch into my lane like I wasn’t there. And I mean more so than usual for the idiot drivers around here.

I also wasn’t really digging the steptronic automatic transmission, although I didn’t realize how much I disliked it at the time. I was thinking that it was just a little slower, but it was okay… I would get use to it. But Sean saw me waffling and suggested I try a manual. So, back to Flow Mini we went.

I parked the Gray and started looking around to see what they had on the lot that would be in the running with a manual transmission. There weren’t many options really, but I managed to find a few. Our salesman was busy, but one of the managers we were working with spotted us and we told him what we were thinking. He brought the key for a Laser Blue Clubman, and we hopped in.

Immediately I could tell the clutch was different from the 2010. I think I stalled it twice in the fifty feet it took to leave the lot, but then I figured it out and was off. I don’t have much experience with manuals! The Cooper is the first one I had to drive since I learned in a few family-directed driving lessons 15 years ago. But once I got it going I knew I had found what was wrong with the others. The transmission! We hadn’t even made it a block before I told Sean he was right, the manual was the way to go.

I can’t believe I actually bought a manual car. I have never owned one before, always preferring the simplicity of an automatic and never caring about the so-called advantages of a manual transmission. But I think the Mini is just meant to be a manual car. It is probably why they don’t stock many automatics! Or maybe Sean is right and anything less than a v6 should be manual.

After driving the blue one around for a few minutes (it barely had any gas) I returned and said I wanted a manual, I just had to figure out which one. I really wanted to order one with the exact features I wanted, but I would have had to wait 60 days and I knew there would be no chance of making a deal on it like I could with the ones on the lot. I ended up choosing the Laser Blue one that I had tested out, even though at first I didn’t want such a common color. I am really loving the color now though, so I am happy I chose it.

By this point it was pretty late in the day, and we still had to deal with the haggling and paperwork. I know they always try to make you feel like you got a good deal, but I feel like I earned it this time around. They wanted a lot more down and a lot more per month than what we ended up agreeing to. I had to tell him a firm “No” a couple times and both times it earned what I wanted. It helped that I really was willing to walk away.

It was nearly dark by the time we got home… a long long day of car shopping when we thought it would be a couple hours that probably wouldn’t even end with a purchase. Not to mention most of it was spent in the freezing cold, complete with intermittent snow and wind.

I have owned it for a few days now and am still really happy with it! Today I went back to Flow to pick up a cargo area liner so the dogs don’t mess it up too badly, and while I was there I picked up some Union Jack valve stem caps for the tires. And when I got home I removed the annoying rings around the rear headrests that didn’t allow them to lower fully. It is a safety feature I suppose, but I think being able to see out my rear windows is safer! So I guess you can say I have already made my first small modifications. :)

Happy Holidays!

Yeah, yeah, I know I am a little late on wishing everyone happy holidays. Maybe at this point I should just say “Happy New Year!” instead.

Sorry for the silence, can’t believe I haven’t written anything since October. I kept meaning to, but life was pretty busy and strange for a while and then there just wasn’t much to write about after everything settled down.

So, to recap the past couple months…

A couple weeks after my last post I was laid off, and have been unemployed since. It hasn’t really felt like it has been that long though. My official last day was November 15, but I had planned to take that time off anyway so at first it pretty much just felt like vacation. And a much needed vacation at that. I hadn’t taken any real time off from work since our honeymoon, just a few days here and there.

Sean had a gastric bypass November 17, which is why I had already planned to take that time off. He was in the hospital for a few days, coming home November 20. The surgery went well and I think he has been happy with the results, although it has been a big lifestyle change and he is still adjusting.

November 20 also happened to be the day of a Ben Folds concert we had tickets for in Charlotte, but since Sean obviously couldn’t go I took my mother. I felt a little guilty about leaving him alone on his first night home, but he assured me it would be fine. Plus his mother was with him for a few hours.

The concert was great, but we had to leave early because my mother fainted. Her blood pressure was low and she hadn’t really eaten that day. Those factors combined with a warm room and standing up for hours resulted in a fainting spell. Just to be safe she opted to go to the hospital there in Charlotte, so we got to spend the night in the emergency department and didn’t get back home until 6am. She stayed with us a couple more days just so she could be sure she was okay to drive, then headed home.

By this point it was the week of Thanksgiving. Of course, Sean couldn’t really eat then; he was still on a liquid diet. Because of this we just had a friend over for a small turkey dinner, nothing special. I really just wanted some home-cooked turkey and cranberry sauce. The friend had to work on Thanksgiving, so we did it a couple days early… then on Thanksgiving Day we went out to eat with Sean’s family at Cracker Barrel. I must say it was the most stress-free Thanksgiving we have had in years.

See what I mean by things being busy and strange for the first couple weeks of unemployment? Those first few weeks were gone before I knew it, and with Sean being home as well it really did feel more like a vacation.

Finally at the end of November I got my last checks from Mo, and was officially done with them. At this point I was able to file for unemployment. Can you believe they still haven’t processed it a month later?? Well, I guess it isn’t too hard to believe. I bet they are very busy right now. By the time I get my unemployment backpay I will have started a new job!

Christmas was pretty good this year. Surprisingly good actually. I say “surprisingly” because neither one of us had much Christmas spirit, we didn’t even get a tree or decorate this year. Money was tight for everyone, and we were being cautious since I didn’t have any job prospects until just before Christmas. On top of all that, my Grandfather was sick this year and he is the one that normally organizes our family gathering. So my family just did a small get together with the local people back home.

We ended up just doing a few small things with Sean’s family. Having dinner with a different family members on the 23rd and 24th, then cooking lunch for everyone and doing a small gift exchange on the 25th. It wasn’t anything big, but it was still nice.

All of the gifts we acquired are things we can both enjoy. There were parts for the Mini, new Staub pots, a new Shun knife, a second TiVo, and an awesome espresso machine. Some will obviously be used/enjoyed more by one than the other, but I think we can both appreciate each gift and that makes it better. The best parts were spending time with family though. I loved having a four day weekend with Sean, and miss him now that his break is over.

Soon I will be starting a new job. It isn’t really what I was looking for salary-wise, but it is better than unemployment (assuming they ever pay me!) and it will allow me to learn new skills that will help me find a better job later on. I look forward to it, but I know it will be a lot of new things to learn.

I hope everyone had an excellent Christmas, and I hope that 2011 will be a great year!