Thursday, February 14, 2019

Mountains Are Calling

Speaking of romantic fantasies...

I have come to quite enjoy a podcast that started last year. It's called Omnibus. It's basically just Ken Jennings and John Roderick sitting around discussing all manner of random trivia, but they do it in a way that is fascinating to listen to.

This week they did a show called The Bodies of Mount Everest. If you like, you may have a listen here:
Omnibus Project: The Bodies of Mount Everest

Really, though, you can glean what's necessary for this blog from the title alone. It's about Mount Everest and people have died there. That's really no surprise. They go into detail about several of the individuals who took their last steps on the mountain and who now form a part of the landscape.

A grisly scene indeed.

Listening to this awoke something in me that hasn't come out for a long time. The fact that we're digging ourselves out of an historic snowstorm here in the Puget Sound region may have something to do with it and I'll try to unpack that a little, too.

In 2002 (it might have even been during the Salt Lake Olympics) I read John Krakauers Into Thin Air. I read the first half of the book over a couple of days during times when I could fit it in, but on the third day I was so riveted that I didn't have the power to step away from the book. I sat on a stool in the kitchen of my parent's house until the last page was turned. My perception of Mount Everest was forever changed.

Mountains have always been important to me. After graduating high school in the summer of 1998, me and my friend Jeremy took a long backpacking trip to Kings Peak, the highest peak in Utah. When I returned from Brazil I began to ski as much as possible. In that period of my life I was dedicated to school and the next ski season. Mountains and snow were a big part of my life.

I loved the mountains then and I still do, although I experience them differently now. I rarely face snow and as I've said before, I'm trying to teach young legs to love the trail. In my hurried space of life there is little opportunity for me to take challenging wilderness routes.

Which brings me back to romantic fantasies. Mountaineering is awesome. I love everything about it, but in the way that a band roadie wishes he was part of the band. Before reading Into Thin Air, I thought it would be fantastic to try to attempt something like Everest. Now, to be honest, this was never in the cards for me for lots of reasons, but that's not what dreams are about. If you only let yourself have dreams that were literally attainable, it would be a sad existence. After reading Into Thin Air, any desire I might have had for that particular achievement was GONE.

Now I've still considered something more reasonable like Mount Rainier. Especially now that it's in my backyard.

So what about the snow? Well, since the snow came last week, I've been going around in my hiking boots and stomping through it. I haven't put on my hiking boots in easily over a year and the last time I had appreciable time in the snow was in 2014 when we went snowshoeing for Chelsea's birthday. It feels good to play in it. I should take the kids and find some snow on one of the upcoming Saturdays. Maybe when they're older I can get them to go bag some peaks with me.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Opportunity Cost of Cruising

We are preparing to go on our fourth cruise. Right up until the point in my life that I learned that I was going on my first cruise, I figured that my lifetime total would be zero. I don't remember thinking too much about it before that, though.

In my late teens I had romantic fantasies about sailing the world on a large yacht, but that's not the same as a vacation cruise. I've always experienced a fairly advanced case of wanderlust and that peaked in that late teens, early twenties period of life, but was greatly moderated by spending almost two years in Brazil. Of course, that shipboard lifestyle is unsustainable and middle-aged me smiles at the memory of young-adult me, but that wanderlust is not entirely gone.

I have a memory from my teen years of a group of parents from our neighborhood going on a cruise. One. And they were better-enough-heeled than our family that I thought it was nice for them, but probably not something I would do.

It seems that cruising has become much more common in the  years since then. There seems to have been lots of growth in that industry and the barrier to entry is a lot lower thanks to some floating Chuck-A-Ramas out there.

Three out of my four cruises have been due wholly to the generosity of my wife's parents, of which, the upcoming fourth forms a part.

Our first was in 2009. It sailed from Long Beach, California destined for western Mexico. At least that was the plan. A few weeks before, the swine flu broke out so Royal Caribbean elected to reroute us to Puget Sound. At this point it had been less than a year since we'd moved up to that area. So we flew from Puget Sound, rode a boat from California to Puget Sound and back, then flew back. It was a comedy. Truth be told, I think this remains my favorite cruise because I really do love the PNW. It was a great way to see the area, and certainly one I wouldn't have paid to do on purpose.

Buchard Gardens May 2009

That itinerary change made the second cruise possible. Due to the changes, Royal Caribbean gave hefty, but not complete, refunds. For our first cruise we booked the more expensive balcony staterooms. The partial refund gave us enough to mostly cover cheaper inside staterooms for a subsequent cruise. They also sweetened the pot by providing on-board credits for a future cruise (terms and conditions applied). The first one was in May 2009, the second in January 2011. This time we did actually get our Mexico cruise, once again departing from Long Beach.

Mexico January 2011

And then some years passed. In that time many adventures ensued, not least the fool-hardy undertaking of becoming a foster family. Changes like that make you see the world differently.

Sometime in 2013 we looked upon the calendar to see that in 2014 we would reach ten years of marriage. One of us floated the idea of a 10 year anniversary cruise. It was immediately ratified in the family council (one night over dinner, as our family consisted of only three at the time, including one canine). Timing was a little spotty, though. We wanted to go in the March-April time frame even though our anniversary is in October. Celebrate the day, not the date, right? Spring 2015 was set.

Then some stuff at work changed and a unique travel opportunity came up. We committed to travel to Japan from January to May of 2015, totally derailing our cruise plans, but replacing them with a different life-altering experience.

Enoshima Spring 2015

2015 was eventful. We traveled a bunch and our family grew by one. Cruise plans were on the back-est of burners.

2016 brought another family member and a full measure of related chaos at home. The "10-year Anniversary" cruise was now penetrating into our 12th and 13th year of marriage.

In 2017 we brought it up in earnest and made an open invitation to both our families, even though this was a strictly dutch affair. Spring of 2018 was set and plans were made. Our "10-year Anniversary" cruise finally happened in our 14th year of marriage.

Caribbean, May 2018

During November 2017 through February 2018 we also decided to sell the house. Due to expenses from that and the cruise fare coming due in almost the same month, while at the same time making both a mortgage payment and rent payment, we almost zeroed out our savings. It was touch and go for a while. It is not a hard argument to make that we should not have gone. I (not briefly) considered hitting the eject button but carried on anyway. It was a great trip. This time out of Fort Lauderdale.

 Labadee, Haiti, May 2018

As I'm sure you know, one of the defining characteristics of cruises is that they are expensive. One must always remember that the fare quoted on the cruise line booking page is but the tip of a dark iceberg that can't wait to sink your financial battleship. When you include your on-board expenses (many of which are non-optional), airfare to your port (if applicable), hotel stays before or after, terminal ground transportation, shore excursions, and more, the initial fare only accounts for 20% to 30% of the cost of your trip.

Therefore, though I enjoy the trip, it does not come without a wrestle.

The women I know prefer that experiential spending to tangible spending. It's good they bring me along because if it wasn't for that, I don't think I would get over the opportunity cost. I mean, could you imagine my Suburban with like $4K of mods? Pretty sweet.

In fact, for this coming trip I considered passing. It is to celebrate my father-in-law's retirement, and Chelsea's family is all going. Those with older kids are taking them. I'm going to show my support, but it's not without wrestle.

On the last cruise I began to sort out some of my feelings regarding the institution of recreational cruising. The years between 2011 and 2018 brought a lot of change to my mind and aboard the ship I felt those changes keenly. Fortunately, my brother Shaun was on the trip and we can have frank and fruitful discussions. (I can speak openly with both my brothers, but Byron laughed heartily when I extended the invitation for the cruise. I was not surprised.)

I work in maritime and there's something that appeals to the imagination about these gigantic ships. This time we sailed on Allure of the Seas which is is one of the behemoth vessels of the Oasis Class which push the envelope into what a pleasure vessel can be. At the time of our first cruise this Oasis class was brand new and I wanted to experience it.

I looked forward to it, despite the high opportunity cost, but when I finally stepped aboard I had deep emotional reactions to it. On the one hand was genuine appreciation of the industrialization of recreation as manifest in this remarkable feat of engineering. The other, which surprised me, was a visceral reaction of disgust. I came to call the ship a floating temple of hedonism in a mostly tongue-in-cheek way. It is a symbol of every kind of physical excess. Now I should make it clear that this did not stop me from partaking. I was able to stifle the feelings, mostly through multiple daily trips to the nearest soft-serve machine and frequent use of the Flowrider.

Shipboard Flowrider, May 2018

Clearly this reaction is not enough to get me to boycott (footnote 1), but it definitely enters into the opportunity cost equation. I mean, I keep thinking it would be awesome to do some long 4x4 trail rides right here in Washington. We have plenty of playground here.

At any rate, the tickets are bought, the fares are paid, and there's nothing left but to allow the march of time to carry us hence. After that I'm not likely to cruise again for a long while. I can't speak for Chelsea on this. As I said, I'd rather try some things closer to home.

1. It's like that Mumford and Sons song: "If only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy, I would have won."

Friday, August 10, 2018

Change is STILL the Only Constant

Well it's time for our annual pilgrimage to Utah to see all the folks. This particular trip is full of change. At least, it's change from my perspective.

We first visited Chelsea's family in Roosevelt. That was unique because all of her family was going to be there. It was also unique because we all knew it was the last time we would be gathering in Roosevelt. They have an annual town party called Uintah Basin in Celebration (UBIC) and some of Chelsea's siblings have been there for it. Last year somebody floated the idea that we should all go. We were all there for just over 24 hours, but it happened. Well, except for David, but I'm sure he was there in spirit. Chelsea and I decided to drive through the night so we got there first thing in the morning rather than late afternoon which had been the plan. That got us there in time for the parade and street fair with fireworks to cap it off.

Anyway, it was great to be there. I hadn't been back to that house in a long time because my in-laws had lived in a different house for some time. It brought back a lot of memories. One of the first weekends we spent there one of the kids had a certain episode with too much apple juice on the ride down from Rexburg. This was a classic diarrhea in the tub situation. Not my kid, not my problem. Of course, now I have the young kids and that kid is a teenager. It's been a long time since then and now Chelsea and I have young children. Now it's my kid, my problem.

They bought that house 12 years ago and we moved to Washington 10 years ago, so it must have been in that window. It seems like we went there frequently when we lived in Salt Lake. I wonder if we went there more in that two year window than in the 10 years since.

With so many of us there it was a free-for-all when it came to sleeping arrangements. I actually think it's kind of fun in those situations. I like sleeping with my kids on the floor. They bonded with cousins, ate too much candy, stayed up too late, and argued at length. I'm sure they loved it.

The bottom line, though, is that was likely the last time we'll visit Roosevelt. The in-laws are preparing the house to sell and they've already started buying what will be their retirement home in Rexburg. So for them the Roosevelt chapter is closing, and soon. I'm pretty sure there will be no reason for me to return there unless I'm headed out on US 40 to Vernal or Flaming Gorge. It was a good run.

Now we've moved to the second phase of our trip down memory lane. For a few days we're staying in Salt Lake City. Normally we stay with my folks but they are going through a transition as well. Around the same time that the in-laws bought the Roosevelt house, my parents bought a duplex. For the last 13 or so years they've lived in one side while renting the other bu now they have just moved out of their half of that duplex to an apartment. Due to that transition, we are not staying there. We're staying in a condo near 4500 south and Main Street in Murray courtesy of Air BnB.

The change in this neighborhood is staggering to me. I grew up only a couple of miles from here. This area is being revitalized with mixed use zoning. Basically this means apartments over street level commercial space. It has a decidedly urban feel. My parent's new apartment is in this same area. The building is only six floors, but that's enough to give you a view over the street.

This feels more like urban apartments that I've stayed in in Yokosuka, Japan or Jequie, Brazil. Since my conception of the Salt Lake valley is still stuck 20 years in the past, finding an urban neighborhood at 4500 south is proving very difficult for my mind to accept, though I realize I have no choice. From this balcony I hear the cars in the streets, people talking, the passage of the UTA light rail and I can see a city skyline. Our balcony faces north and I can just make out downtown (right in the center of the picture below). I can also see the University of Utah campus where the "U" on the hillside is NOT lit up. What is this place?

It makes sense that this would happen. The metro area is following the light rail corridor down the valley. This would be a great place to live if you worked downtown. Of course, this mixed use zoning could mean that you wouldn't have to live far from your home. If you go for urban living.

The mistake I made was moving from the Salt Lake valley to Kitsap County in Washington. In Kitsap County There is no interstate. The people mostly drive the speed limit on highway 16. There is not a Target or Home Depot in my town. Or a mall of any consequence. Chelsea and I moved away from my family and my in-laws to a place where I am wholly content to live but the draw to return to live closer to the families is strong. It's got an uphill battle because I love where I live, my job is rewarding and well compensating, and Utah and Idaho are SO DANG HOT in the summer that I don't know how people live. (I know you Arizona and Texas people can't wait to chime in here, but I don't go further south than Payson, Utah in the summer months.)

Change is happening in Kitsap County, too. Seattle housing prices are causing many of those people to seek cheaper housing across the sound. This is having unfortunate consequences for those of us who are see our housing buying power eroded at an alarming rate.

To cap off this trip I'll be attending my 20 year high school reunion. Thanks to magic of facebook, a good deal of communication has been happening with the old high school class leading up to it. I'm sure that will be good times as well as a very stark reminder of many more changes that have taken place. Maybe I'll talk about it. Stay tuned to find out.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Change is the Only Constant

As you saw in my last post I recently bought a Suburban for hauling the family on our outdoor adventuring. Well, today was the day that the Land Cruiser met it's new owner. If I had the resources to keep it, I would have, but when it comes down to it, letting go is healthy.

For me changing cars is a big deal psychologically. In my mind it's all tangled up with the life that I lead while it was a part of my life. It was especially hard this time because drooling over 80 series Land Cruisers was a part of my adolescence during the time when those cars were new. Any other car I would probably have replaced long ago, but I always decided to fix rather than replace. Over and over. To the point that I earned a few snickers from unbelievers. I bore the snickers with pleasure.

But time marches on. Family needs change and cars get old. I was planning on getting another year out of it at least, but then the siren song of Craigslist found me the Suburban ahead of schedule.

It worked to my advantage, though. Since I was planning on having it for a while longer, I had just put some new parts on it and it was running GREAT. I mean, in some ways it was running better than when I bought it in 2007. (Of course, there were some other ways that it was wearing down, too.) That translated into me selling it for more than I thought. Would you believe I sold it for only $700 less than I bought it for? 10-1/2 years later.

But now I've picked another vehicle that is unique. My Suburban is a 2500, which they don't make anymore. I'll keep it going.

So this is just another change in a growing list of changes that we've been through in the last year. We sold our house, said goodbye to a pet and close friend, and now this. There have been other changes, but by far these are the biggest. I was thinking about this the other day. The Empress Court chapter was a crucial chapter in our lives.

In January 2014 I wrote the blog post, "The Good Old Days" where I said I would likely look back on that time in my life as the good old days. Right now I feel like I'm standing at the beginning of the next chapter, looking back. Those three big changes I mentioned all started close to the same time. We bought the Land Cruiser in September 2007. Then Jake came along in August 2008. Finally in October 2009 we bought the Empress Ct house.

In about two years our life transitioned from a student/newlywed situation into an early career couple looking to build a life. It was in that house and we stayed for a little over eight years. Now, within seven months we've transitioned out of it. We're wondering when we're going to buy our second house and we're in the throes of young child rearing. (sometimes I think "throws" would be more accurate.) 

Of course, that will always be the house where our family came together. It was a hard decision to leave it, but I feel it was right. It's the same with the Land Cruiser. The time is right but change always takes some getting used to. Even good change.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Full Circle

I have come full circle.

I didn't buy my first car for myself until I was 21 years old. Almost 22 for that matter. I got home from Brazil in August 2001, but didn't buy a car right away. I spent some time driving an old truck my grandpa was letting us use, but after a while it was time for me to take the next step.

My best friend was a big fan of Jeeps and I thought I liked them too. As a result, I was looking for a Jeep Cherokee for my first car. In that search my brother and I ended up at this little mom and pop used car lot in Bountiful looking at one. On that same lot was this magnificent beast.

I don't know what it is about Suburbans that has always appealed to me, but this machine had me at first sight. It was a 1991 with a 150,000 or so miles for only $5,000. It was a steal. I loved driving it, but I probably looked a little silly driving around in a 9-passenger suburban all by myself. All the time.

Of course, for a college student working a swing shift job as a courier for a bank, this was a poor decision. I had rationalized it by saying that the cost of ownership of this would not be substantially more than a Jeep Cherokee. This, of course, is not really true. I mean, some things are comparable. Tires would be the same and gas is close (about 15-17 mpg for the Jeep and 12-14 mpg for the Suburban), but I didn't have the infrastructure to service it. Right after I bought it I got to buy a new rear end to the tune of $850.

In the end, my lucrative monthly income of just under $1,000 per month wasn't enough, even though I only had a $150 payment. I remember planning my trips for the week. I was driving kind of a lot. During this period I was attending the Redwood Campus of Salt Lake Community College and my job was at 3200 West and 2100 South. I had classes and work each day and each week I had enough for those trips which only added up to about 30 miles a day. Oh, and I also had some budget for weekend shenanigans. Of course.

Look man, that 33 gallon tank didn't fill itself (at $1.29 a gallon)!

I took only a single road trip in this truck. A group of us thought we could camp for like 5 days in Goblin Valley. We were so under prepared. It was fun though. That's also the only trail riding I did with it, so that's the only time I was able to take cool photos like this one.

You know how long ago this was? It was long enough ago that I don't have ANY pictures of it that were taken with a digital camera. None. These pictures were taken with my little 35mm Canon Owl which I still own because I can't part with camera gear.

So I bought it around December of 2001 and by June of 2002 I could see that I had to make a change. I bought an ad in Autotrader (when it was a magazine) so all the Joe Dirts in the area could check it out. Finally in December of 2002 I found a buyer and traded over to my 1986 Toyota SR5 Pickup.

Of course, that was the beginning of an odyssey that is only now coming to a close, 15-1/2 years later. I had that truck for 5 years, after which I bought my Land Cruiser which I have fawned over (sometimes to my wife's chagrin) for the last 10-1/2 years.

Truly the only constant in life is change. Everything is temporary, some things just take longer to change.

From time to time (actually pretty often) I can be found perusing the Autotrader (now in .com format) or Craigslist trolling for cars. About three weeks ago I came across this:

Now, I wasn't really in the market for a car, I just enjoy Joe-Dirting it up. but I was taken by the rarity of the package. A 2007 Suburban 2500 with many nice features at a reasonable price with very reasonable miles. If there was a truck out there that could sway me from the Land Cruiser, this was it. A true family adventure wagon.

I've continued my pattern of buying old cars that many people consider past their prime. I feel like I can save money doing this since the purchase price is less and I can leverage my own skills and enjoyment of auto mechanics to maintain a car long past when other stop striving. I got 10 years and 88,000 miles out of a 13 year old Land Cruiser and I believe I can do as well with an 11 year old Chevy.

Do you know anyone that might be interested in an older Land Cruiser that's in great shape? I might be able to set you up.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Air Conditioning Part II

This weekend I received an unexpected gift from a friend. Around 9:00 am he texted saying he was available to help me replace a section of AC pipe on my Land Cruiser. We've been trying to connect on this for about two months, so I cleared the rest of my day.

This is a continuation of my post from quite a while ago. October 17, 2015 to be exact. That post was my compendium to that date of the saga of cold air in the Land Cruiser. As you well know, no story is truly ever over and I have more to tell. Buckle up.

First let's recap. At the end of that post I had just experienced another failure of the AC compressor. I was $1435 into that process and I was a little discouraged because I didn't have much to show for it. My assessment at the time was that if I wanted to carry on down the rabbit hole, the next step would be a new compressor.

Just like Judy Hopps in the movie Zootopia, I don't know when to quit, so I pulled the trigger. Mind you, I didn't do it right away. One of the reasons this has been such a drawn out process is that up here in the Puget Sound area, the season that you really need AC is very short. That last post ended in October. AC is a very low priority in October.

According to my order history on Rock Auto, I ordered the new AC compressor in June of 2016. So I went from October 2015 to June 2016 without it. Like I said, low priority. By this point I was pretty good at swapping it out, so it only took me a little while to get it done. It cost another $220.

Current Total:  $1655

But there was a hitch. This was the first time I had to go back into the system without all the refrigerant having leaked out. I was about the learn about system evacuation (doing it on purpose anyway). That meant more tools. My friend and I decided to split a refrigerant recovery machine. My share of all that tooling was about $225.

New Total: $1880 (But we got new tools)

Once again I was back in business. There were still some issues, because after all, I'm still a n00b at this, but the bottom line was I actually had cold air.

This time my repair appeared durable. The days strung together to form weeks and pretty soon months had gone by. And then a year. A whole year. Then, in the 13th month, the air got warm again. A very slow leak had finally gotten to the point where the system wouldn't run anymore. If you're counting, 13 months from July is August. Not the time you want to lose AC. Fortunately, it was the end of August and September was just around the corner. July 2016 to August 2017 is a pretty good run, especially considering my track record.

Due to my problems I've developed the habit of charging the system with a refrigerant that has dye in it. The dye allows you to trace out the system and find the leaks. This one turned out to be a very small crack where the pipe rubs against the firewall. Guess which pipe it was? If you guessed it was the last pipe that I hadn't replaced you would have guessed right. I mean, it only makes sense.

When I had done work previously I eyed this pipe and prayed under my breath that I wouldn't have to ever touch it. It wound its way under the brake booster, behind the main engine wiring harness, and around the heater lines. To get it out I would have to open the AC system (obviously) as well as the brake system and the cooling system. This is a very challenging repair. I was able to buy the part right away from the local Toyota dealer. It was $85.

Final Total: $1965

Now it's May 2018 and the system is intact and functioning well. In the picture below you can see all the parts of my Land Cruiser's AC system. The ones shaded with red are the ones I've replaced. Basically, I've replaced all of it except for the condenser and a few short sections of pipe here and there.

I am, however, very encouraged by the current state of affairs. The system is running really well. In fact, the entire truck is running really well. In the last year I also replaced the rear brakes ($250), installed new brake pads in the front ($60), added air suspension to the rear axle ($120), and replaced all the shocks ($400, which I thought was a great value). The only part of that done by a shop was the shocks. I had them do it because I knew those were going to be a pain. Based on shop estimates I got, I saved about $800 doing it myself. I also got that satisfaction that can only be won by scraping your knuckles a few times.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Backyard Birds

 The house we're renting backs up to a greenbelt so we've been having some fun with the birds. The previous tenants left a bird feeder so I bought some seed and a bracket to put it up with.  It's been fun. 

Except for this dill nugget. He's stealing the seed wholesale. I'm going to have to figure out some way to hang the feeder differently or come up with some other deterrent. Paintball Blowgun?

 There's also this guy. My extensive internet research of the last five minutes tells me this is probably a Steller's Jay. He's kind of a numb nut too. He likes to throw all the small seed on the ground while he digs through it to get the big seeds. Pretty to look at, though.

I'm pretty sure this one has a partner. It looks like they're building a nest in a tree in another part of the yard. I constantly see them carrying twigs and grass up to a spot in this tree covered with ivy. 

I'm really enjoying this house. I'm not on the hook for home maintenance, but it is up to me to keep the yard up. As a result, I'm trying to do some different things with gardening that I've always wanted to try but for whatever reason didn't do at the last house. I just bought a hyacinth last night. I'd also like to get a couple of hostas to plant in some pots that we have. Stay tuned.