Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sunriver Weekend Get-Away

Sunriver Cabin
Earlier this year Jessi and I attended an event put on by Friends of the Family Ministries. Friends of the Family Ministries is a non-profit, non-denominational organization committed to building healthy relationships and healthy homes in the Mid-Willamette Valley of Oregon. They provide a variety of services including counseling, workshops and seminars teaching and coaching. It's a really cool organization.

Kitchen Area
During this event they had a silent auction where all the items were donated and the money went to support this organization. One of the items was a weekend trip to Sunriver near Bend, Or. We bid on the item and ended up winning! It was very exciting. It was a 4 bedroom cabin with a hot tub, big-screen TV, kitchen, and plenty of couches. Here's a video of Jessi giving a tour:

Living Room
We invited another couple to join us. The entire weekend was one of relaxing and simply taking it very easy. I accomplished lots of reading, multiple naps and ate really well. We also went on walks, played some board games and watched a couple episodes of CSI (Jessi loves it). All and all, it was relaxing and it sounded like everyone had fun.

On the way home, Jessi and I decided to check out Smith Rock State Park in Terrebonne, OR. We hiked up to the top and then went back down the other side. Here's a video of us at the top:

Lots of rock climbers come here to take on one of the many surfaces available. We saw at least a dozen people making their way up the rock. Here's a fun little video of Jessi climbing down a rock:

Here are more pictures of the trip:

On Top of Smith Rock

Enjoying our view up top

Inside a rock cavern - these are all over!

Looking back up the rock

A beautiful view walking around Smith Rock

Monday, September 20, 2010

Man Moment: Fixing A Car

I got to experience a man moment last week. Jessi's car wouldn't start Monday morning and I was able to fix it by Thursday night.

It's funny, I remember helping my dad fix cars while growing up. I remember there also being more than a couple tense moments either because a screw wouldn't move, we couldn't see properly, something else breaks, or a whole myriad of things not going smoothly. I think being on your back, getting dirty, and having sore arms from cranking on screws leads to much of the frustration. I also clearly remember thinking I didn't want to put myself through that same anguish. Funny how things change when you grow up.

So, Jessi's car wouldn't start. All we heard was a clicking noise. Who knows what that means. This is my first official car problem after all. I try the obvious: grab the jumper cables. Nothing. Next, I switch our car batteries. My car still works, Jessi's still clicks mockingly.

It's at this time we decide to give my dad a call. His prognosis is that it might be the starter. The clicking sound is it engaging, but it's now turning the engine over. I hop online and figure out where it's located: Right under the engine, a little to the passenger side. Oh wait! Before I can even get to the starter I need to figure out how to get under the car. It's at this point that projects start to get out of control...
My home-made ramp

I go to Home Depot and buy a 12'  2"x6". I cut it up into smaller pieces and create a ramp. Of course, Jessi's car can't start, so we need to jack it way up into the air to fit the ramp under the tire. Using her car's jack and my truck's jack we lift the car high enough to fit the ramp under the wheel. We meet our first mile stone.

By the way, notice the straw on the ground? We had just finished our yard project the night before and hadn't even cleaned up yet. Projects are starting to pile on top of each other!

Then Oregon happens. Yep, it started raining. So, we once again got diverted from the project at hand. We grabbed the tarp we put under our tent when camping and throw it over the car. We then use the straps in my truck, which are normally used to tie down objects, to pull the tarp into the air. If you could imagine, it's really starting to look like a work zone. We've got the car in the air and a tarp covering the front of the vehicle. Now we can actually get down to work on taking the starter out.

Taking the starter out is relatively easy. There are only two bolts holding it in, two wires connected to it, and a small plastic case protecting the gears from the elements. If it wasn't for the front axle being the way, this would be a slam dunk. Still, this being our first time ever doing this, it took quite a while to get it off. I might have, possibly, yelled a couple times during the process. During the process I also managed to break my socket wrench. I'll admit it wasn't the highest quality wrench, but I was kind of shocked at how easily I broke it. Though, now I have a brand new one, with a lifetime warranty, so I can't complain too loudly.
The starter

Oh yeah, there were also a couple bolts my sockets couldn't reach so I also got a new 10", 6" and 3" extender set. Now that I think about it, I might have actually come out ahead on this project.

Anyways, we bought a new starter and installed it. I also cleaned off all the ends of the cables. There was a little bit of corrosion around the battery's positive terminal and we wanted to eliminate all possible problems.

Since I had to work during the day, I could only fit in working on the car a couple hours in the morning and then a few hours in the evening before it got too dark. Because Jessi drove my truck to work I also had to wait until the evening before we could get parts. So, it took until Thursday evening before we got her car working again.

It was a great feeling to hear it start up. We were able to diagnose the problem and fix it. Since we have a car maintenance budget, this didn't cost us anything out of ordinary to fix it, which was really nice. I'm sure if we had taken it to a mechanic the total cost wouldn't have been so reasonable (I wouldn't have gotten any new tools). It's now, after being an adult and paying my own bills with my own money, I understand why my dad put up with fixing his cars himself. The difference is material. Cars are just simple enough that with some advice pretty much anyone can fix basic issues.

So I'm now officially in the DIY car fixer-upper club. Depending on how big the next issue is, we'll see if I decide to stay in the club or buy my way out. Right now, after stepping away for a little bit, I feel confident I might be able to handle it. Or, at the very least be able to diagnose the issue with the advice of others like my dad.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Yard Re-Grading Project Completed

A little while back I blogged about starting our re-grading project. I am happy to report after many, many!, hours of work it's completed.

The whole reason for the project revolved around drainage. When we started, the slope of the yard went towards the building. Now the slope falls away from the building, or in some cases is flat, which is still better.

Here's what we ended up doing:

  • We didn't water our lawn and let it die. Then we cut it super short so we didn't have grass everywhere.

  • We borrowed a friend's rototiller and did a quick first pass over the yard. Then we did a deeper pass along the edges. This took a while.
Rototilling the edges
  • Then we rented a tractor. Before we could do that, we had to ask permission from our neighbors to drive the tractor on their land to get to our backyard. It's a farm where the owners rarely ever seem to be around. We wrote a letter explaining who we are and what we wanted to do. A few days later I got a call from a nice gentleman who gave us permission to drive the tractor on the corner of their land.

    Running the tractor
  • The tractor had a huge rototiller on the back and a bucket on the front. First we rototilled the entire yard. Then I used the front bucket to move the dirt around to change to slope to falling away from the building. This, not surprisingly, is harder than it looks. I have a new found respect for how easy my dad makes it look. Here's a video of Jessi running the tractor:

  • Then we used an AC rake (image) my dad let us borrow to smooth out the ground and add the finishing touches.

  • We then bought grass seed, a seed spreader, and a banana sprinkler (image). We spread the seed everywhere.

  • We also bought straw from a neighboring farm down the road and spread it all over the yard. We read online that using straw can be helpful:
    • It protects the seeds from birds
    • It stops the seeds from blowing away
    • It traps moisture in
    • It provides nutrients when it starts to decompose
The straw to cover the seed
  • Now we are in the watering stages. Since we're just starting to head into fall & winter, the seed should get enough water. For those dryer days I'll be moving the sprinkler around to make sure the ground stays moist.

      Watering the ground
      That was our project. It was a lot of work, but hopefully it will result in less water getting under the building. We also bought new downspouts which kicks the water a couple feet away from the building instead of a couple inches. We'll find out this winter if it all worked. Here's another video of us admiring the yard:

      Tuesday, September 07, 2010

      Chrome Nanny

      I'd like to share one of my new favorite extensions for Chrome: Chrome Nanny. I'm always on the lookout for programs that will help me be more productive, and this one definitely accomplishes that. First, a quick primer on Chrome.

      Chrome is a web browser, which is the program used to view web sites on the internet. Windows comes with Internet Explorer and Macs come with Safari built in. Other popular browsers are Firefox and Opera (the Wii uses Opera for it's internet channel). The difference between each of these browsers is the code used to render a web page. Each group has their opinion of the best way to show a webpage. Some, like Chrome, focus on speed. Other might focus on features. Each browser also has add-ons (or extensions), made by third party developers, which you can install to change how the browser works.

      I use Chrome for three reasons. First, it's super fast at loading webpages. When I think about how long I spend on the internet, those seconds start to add up. Second, I like the minimalist look of the browser. This lets me see more of the page at once. Third, it has almost every other add-on other browsers have so I'm not missing out on features. So that's Chrome.

      One add-on I really like is Chrome Nanny. I was finding that I'd have periods of time when I would spend too much time reading news or goofing off. It wasn't horrible, but I'm constantly looking for ways to improve. Most site blockers, like parental controls, block sites all the time, but I only wanted sites blocked part of the time. When I learned about this add-on, I decided to give it a spin. It does exactly what I want while being relatively easy to use.

      In the picture above you can see I have a bunch of sites blocked at the time I took the screen shot. I can specify the day of the week, the time period, and the total amount of time I can visit the sites when they're not blocked. As you can see in the second section, Gmail is allowed but I only have 58 minutes left during this day (I allow myself 1 hour each day). You can also track the amount of time you spend on a site. It's currently empty since I haven't visited any of those sites yet this morning. I track how much time I spend on Pandora, Hulu and Netflix.

      As I first mentioned, it's really useful for productivity. I block all entertainment sites from 7am - 10:30am and 11:30am - 4:30pm on week days (yes, I consider news as entertainment). When they're not blocked, I can only spend a cumulative 2 hours on these sites.

      I've found that's enough time for me to keep up on news/friends while staying focused when I'm supposed to be working. In the mean time, I do what I'm supposed to do - which is work. I highly recommend trying it out if you find you sometimes get stuck goofing off when you should be working.

      Wednesday, September 01, 2010

      Playing Hard in August

      And August happened.

      The beginning of the month Jessi spent a week in Colorado hanging out with her family. It was a time to simply relax and be around them. The last time we were in Colorado she didn't have enough time with them, and this trip made up for that. She literally arrived without a schedule and spent time hanging around. Jessi said it was very relaxing and a fun time. During the weekend she was gone, so I went over to a friend's house and played games all weekend.

      We then participate in a church event called Beach Olympics. The high school and middle school kids are put into 8 teams and taken to the coast. On the beach they compete in 8 different events during the day. The first even was called "China Dig". The goal is to create the longest distance between a hole and a mound of sand. There is also a tug-a-war, a relay, steal the bacon, and an event requiring the kids to run out into the ocean. It's a great outreach event because students invite their friends and at the end of the day we have a BBQ and the gospel is presented to them. The kids love it.

      As I've talked about before, Jessi and I started our back yard re-grading project. It is proving to be a long task like I thought, but I think we might actually finish it in a reasonable amount of time. Having Jessi around during the summer gave us a great start.

      We also embarked on the second annual Parry-Furlo camping trip. I've set the date in November to remind me to start looking for yurts. They're available 9 months in advance and they're usually taken fast. Hopefully by being on top of it we'll get one for next year.

      Finally, Jessi will be starting school today which makes for an official end to her summer. I'm getting to spend it down in California with my family through Labor Day. It's fun to work in the kitchen and just be around family.

      As you can tell, we've done a lot of playing this last month. It was a blast, and I must admit I'm ready for a semi-calm and regular fall to start. Though, I've joined a football fantasy league, so I doubt it'll be too relaxing.

      With so much going on this month I did manage to find a couple items worth sharing. The first is a guy who is summarizing the Bible one chapter a day via Twitter (@biblesummary). It's fun to see how he summarizes each chapter. He's still only in Genesis, so it'll be easy to catch up.

      The second item is this video about PowerPoint: