I am the Man

After four decades of being a homeowner you pretty much learn how to fix anything.  And there is a certain degree of satisfaction in DIY projects.  I often resort to strutting around the house proclaiming “I am the Man” after a particularly impressive accomplishment.

Like today.  Our shower drain was clogged.  My experience was, fortunately, not like this one:

Previously, I had used a clumsy metal snake contraption to coax all the hairs out of the drain, and was eventually successful.  Later, I was at Home Depot and figured there had to be a better tool for such a task.  And there was!  A very simple and inexpensive plasic device.

Here is the device, with one offending clump of hair:IMG_4759

There were two more clumps, and now water rushes down the drain.  Ta da!


2017 Total Eclipse

I have never experienced a total eclipse of the sun, only partial (in 1979).  So we were looking forward excitedly to the Aug. 21 eclipse here in Oregon.  Since our home would only be 99% eclipsed we looked into travel possibilities.  To minimize the risk of cloud cover we decided to go to Madras, Oregon, on the east side of the Cascade Mountain range.  And to avoid traffic risk we booked a campsite just north of Madras, right on the center line of the eclipse.  The city of Madras organized about 5000 campsites on a farmer’s field, and called it Solartown.  We reserved it back in March (it sold out eventually) and for $150 got a 20′ by 20′ square of grass to park our car, tents, and any gear.

Some reports picked Madras (and central Oregon high desert in general) as the best viewing spot in the country, due to lowest risk of clouds.  The town of population 6000 expected to be overwhelmed by as many as 100,000 visitors.

We got on the road by 5:30AM Saturday for the 2.5 hour drive to Madras, fearful of traffic.  But it was no problem, though a bit busy for that time of morning.  My son Blair booked a site as well, and we were side by side, with 11 of us total in three tents.

We were very satisfied with the campground and facilities.  And very comfortable with all the fellow campers.  The atmosphere was electric with the anticipation.

On Monday morning, eclipse day, we were awakened early (5:30AM) by the car alarm next door.  They set it off mistakenly while packing the car.  No matter, excitement was running high.  We ate breakfast, braved the long porta-potty lines, and set up the chairs facing east.  Everybody was outfitted with eclipse glasses, including my 3 year-old granddaughter.  At 9:06 the eclipse got underway as the moon took an increasingly larger bite out of the sun until 10:19 totality.  It just got gradually darker and just seemed a bit eery.  

I had read that those experiencing a total eclipse have a strong emotional reaction.  And I have to say when the sun disappeared and the corona emerged dramatically around the black shape of the moon, it took my breath away.  It was wondrous and indescribable.  For two minutes and 6 seconds there were gasps and exclamations all around us.  It got dark, though not pitch dark.  Don’t know if that is due to the corona giving light, or the horizon w/o total eclipse.  Then the sun gradually emerged again over the next hour and some.

It has been said that the experience of a total eclipse compared with 99.9% eclipse is infinitely more powerful.  And I definitely agree with that.  It has also been reported that a common reaction of those experiencing one for the first time will immediately ask when and where the next one will be, because they want to view it.  And that is exactly what I thought.  So April 2024, Texas here I come!

Traffic was near standstill after the eclipse, so we just chilled for 6 hours before packing up and leaving.  We still encountered some very slow going, and got home around 10PM after a 4.5 hour drive.

So, was it all worth it?  Totally!  Just an amazing, memorable experience, a highlight of my life.

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Here is a video/slide show about our adventure I uploaded to youtube:

The video from 9:00 to 10:00 is from my camera on tripod facing west to catch the eclipse shadow coming at a half mile per second.  So you see the outline of Mt. Jefferson 30 miles away start to emerge a minute before our totality (as the sun no long illuminates the smoke and haze obscuring it).  I still feel the excitement and emotion each time I watch this.

Ye Are the Light of the World

I know it is a little late for a Christmas message, and this video was targeted for lighting the world each of 25 days leading to Christmas.  But really this message applies to every day, all year long.

I am impressed by the “I am the light of the world” to “Ye are the light of the world” transition.  I know I can do better in this regard.  

Car Adventures – Episode Five (transmission woes)

In late 1987 we sold the VW Rabbit and bought a new Acura Integra, with 5-speed manual.  This was a very fun car, and we thought quite luxurious for us.


In 1993 we sold the Integra in favor of a used Eagle Talon.


This car could fly, with manual transmission and 4-cyl turbo-charged engine.

In 1996 we sold the Dodge van and bought a new Dodge minivan.


Our first family trip in it (to Olympic National Park in Washington) we got a rock chip in our windshield.  Argh!  We stopped in the first city and had it repaired right away so it wouldn’t grow.  But that wasn’t nearly as bad as the next summer when the transmission failed during our trip to a family reunion in Utah.


The transmission failed and was replaced again about 60K miles later, this time at our expense.  We also had to replace the engine along the way.  Needless to say, we were done buying Dodge vans.  And for the past 10 years we have been the satisfied owners of a 2006 Toyota Sienna van, which has given us nearly zero problems.


I wrote previous blog posts about buying BMW 3-series automobiles through the European Delivery program:




There have been a few other cars sprinkled in there over the years.  There was a 1987 Honda Accord I bought in 1997 for Bridget, then Teresa to drive to school, etc.  Perhaps if it hadn’t been a salvaged car we would have experienced more typical Honda reliability, rather than losing the engine during our family’s drive to the airport (we had to abandon the car and take a taxi to the airport, and eventually spend a thousand or so on a used engine replacement).  Or the timing belt, stranding Bridget and Teresa in Vernonia on their way to a Hood to Coast Relay volunteer assignment.  I’m sure those two cute girls were the talk of the town for some time.


There was a 1994 Nissan Altima with manual transmission I bought in 2007 for Steven to learn to drive and use for school.  I was so proud of Steven for learning to drive a stick, and actually driving that car for his license driving test!  Sadly, the engine died in 2010, and we sold to a salvage yard for $280, but it had served its purpose.


There was a 1990 Honda Accord we bought for Teresa to use at college.  And in between the ’98 and ’07 BMWs I bought a new 2007 Toyota RAV4, but sold a few months later as I missed too much the driving dynamics of the BMW.  There was a 2006 Hyundai Elantra purchased and sold to Teresa, and a 2007 Elantra intended for Steven, but when he moved to NYC and didn’t need a car I sold it later for what I paid.

So, there you have my family car genealogy!

Car Adventures – Episode Four (We got a new van, buddy!)

In 1984 we moved from Idaho to Beaverton, OR.  The Chuck Wagon was towed behind the moving van.  I’m sure it was worth less than the cost of moving it, but alas, we weren’t paying the bill.  But that summer we parted with it in favor of a new Dodge van.


We now had plenty of room, and air conditioning.  We couldn’t believe such luxury.  Our son Daniel was so excited he would tell everyone “Hey, we got a new van, buddy!”  It was only a minor setback when the battery exploded a few months later, spraying acid on the paint.

This van was our family workhorse from 1984 to 1996.  So many family memories are associated with it.  I’ll relate just a few.

In 1986 I took the van on a scout outing.  I still can’t believe I did this, but I allowed one of the boys to drive the van a short distance for some purpose, and darned if he didn’t crash it into some railing by the road.  He said he swerved to avoid a dog.  We had some minor body work done, but fixed the bumper only with glue and tape.

Daniel decorated the interior of the van more than once with byproducts of car sickness.  On one trip he ate too much red licorice, which led to some long lasing redish stains in the upholstery.

On one trip home from So. Cal. to Oregon we were driving through the night and encountered snow near Mt. Shasta.  The engine sputtered, then died as I pulled off a freeway exit.  I opened the hood, looked around, and was at a total loss what to do.  Meanwhile, inside the car our young daughter Teresa suggested they say a prayer to get us back on our way.  And darned if the car didn’t start right up when I got back in, and drove us fine all the way home.

Near the end of its days with us, we filled the van to the brim with donated goods for Daniel’s Eagle Scout project, and delivered them to a migrant workers camp.

Car Adventures – Episode Three (the Chuck Wagon)

I spent two years on my mission in Germany, most of that time riding buses, street cars, and bikes.  But I was assigned to the mission office in Duesseldorf for a few months, and was responsible for the several mission cars, ranging from the president’s Mercedes, to the zone leaders’ Opels, to the office staff’s VW bus:


It took nerves of steel to drive a car in Germany.  Roads were narrower and cars drove faster than I was used to in the USA.  But I loved it.  I felt a lot of responsibility driving the VW Bus on mission errands, picking up and dropping off missionaries at the airport, for instance.  I also enjoyed taking delivery of brand new mission cars.  

After my mission I took the family1966 Impala station wagon back with me to BYU, and it was essentially mine from then until 1984.


I recall sliding down an icy street in Provo with this car.  Fortunately, I didn’t strike anything except the curb.  A memorable adventure with this car was getting a high speed tire blowout with a full car driving home from BYU in the California desert late at night.  Somebody had a dim flashlight as we struggled to change the tire.  

We moved from Provo to China Lake, CA, for my first engineering job, hauling all our belongings behind in a U-Haul trailer.  We hauled two large loads of lumber from Riverside back to Ridgecrest, CA, to build a back patio for our new home.  This was our only car when we moved to Meridian, ID, in 1978, locking our keys in the car in Bishop, CA, during the trip.  The locked door was opened easily by sliding a bar inside the door (can’t do that with modern cars, I don’t think).  

That first winter in Idaho was a cold, snowy one.  More than once I had to put those bulky chains on to get to work.  Worse, some mornings I had great trouble getting the car started.  I resorted to using that “explosive” ether spray into the carburator to get it going.  Another time I was stranded somewhere and resorted to sticking some metal gum wrapper into the shifter connector to permit the car to start.  One time we turned a corner on a quiet city street and the rear door flew open, spilling one of our tiny children out onto the icy street.  We once hauled a big load of manure for our garden in the back of the “Chuck Wagon”, as we called it (named after my father, Charles).  Suzanne says more than once she couldn’t start the car, until after a small child said a prayer, then it started right up.  One time I discovered our full tank of gas vanished, and I assumed somebody had siphoned our tank, but then discovered a small hole in the tank.  I fixed it with a metal screw and rubber washer.

One time I drove some coworkers and my boss to a dinner in this car.  Shortly after I got a nice raise at work.  I wonder if my boss felt pity, figuring I needed to buy a new car.  He was right, and in the summer of 1979 we splurged on a new VW Rabbit.  It was a very fun car to drive, with a 5-speed manual transmission, and used regular leaded gas, which was a big thing back in the days of OPEC and gas shortages.  It wasn’t quite so fun when our son Daniel applied some house paint to the car.

In late 1981 we traded for a new diesel Rabbit.


Suzanne accused me of going through a crisis turning 30 years old, but, while this diesel did get excellent mileage, it was a dog to drive.  0 to 60 in 3 minutes flat.  We made more than one trip from Idaho to California with three kids in the back seat and a luggage rack on top, driving through the night.  Near Hawthorne, NV, in the middle of the night our tank was near empty, and we crossed our fingers and kept driving.  We were fortunate to find an open station with diesel.  Another time we were just driving along not paying attention to the gas gauge, and approaching Lovelock, NV, we were shocked to notice we were empty, and pulled into a station as the engine coughed.  It was also in this car driving with the family to church on an icy winter morning we carefully approached a stop sign, and just slid right through the busy intersection, avoiding all the cross traffic.  Yikes!

The Chuck Wagon and these Rabbits were staples for our growing, young family, and they bring back numerous memories.


Car Adventures — Episode Two (Ford Pinto)

As a freshman I lived in the dorm at BYU.  Of the 50 or so students on my floor I could count on one hand the number who had cars.  Those were very popular guys, and it was a treat to go for a ride in a car (perhaps 8 of us packed into a sedan!), or, extremely rarely, to borrow and drive one.

My freshman year for Christmas break I rode a bus from Provo, UT, to my home in Riverside, CA.  It was memorable indeed to drive all that way through Utah and Nevada on clear, winter roads, only for the bus needing to stop and put on chains in the snow through Cajon Pass, just 25 miles from home.

For spring break I traveled to the Bay Area in California for my brother’s wedding, and was very fortunate that my parents let me take a near new Ford Pinto back to school with me (since I would be coming home from school in two short months).


That was a long (13+ hours) memorable drive, alone all across Nevada back to Provo, UT.  Now I was a popular guy around campus for those few short weeks.

A few years later it was this Pinto that we took on our honeymoon to San Diego and Anaheim.  Leaving the wedding reception on our honeymoon we were bumped from behind at at stop sign–the driver was probably distracted by all the decorations.


It was this same model Ford Pinto that later became infamous for the exploding gas tank in collisions.  We were fortunate not to be hit harder at that stop sign.

Car Adventures — Episode One (My first car)

I learned to drive at age 15 to 16 with my parents’ 1966 Chevy Impala station wagon.  I also had early experience driving a VW Beetle with manual transmission, and I think even some time shifting three gears on the column with Dad’s 1953 Chevy.

I purchased my first car in 1968 for $200–money I earned working for McDonalds.  It was a 1961 Pontiac Tempest–a 4-cylinder automatic transmission, with the shifting lever on the dash.


(Those are my two younger brothers by the car.)

I took great pride of ownership in that car, waxing its blue paint to an impressive shine, and carefully wiping off the dust from parking in a dirt lot next to McDonalds.  It was a pretty reliable car for its time.  I only recall doing minor repair work on it, with help from my dad.  I learned how to change oil, replace brake pads, and a few other things, skills which I have put to good use over the years.  As I recall, it required premium gas, at a whopping 34 cents per gallon.

I don’t recall if it had seat belts.  Perhaps not, as that wasn’t a priority for cars in the early sixties.  I never had an accident in the car.

I drove the car to school each day my junior and senior years in high school.  It was a real luxury at the time to own and drive a car (as a teen).

Sadly, I left the car behind when I went off to college at BYU in 1970.


Thanksgiving 2016

We enjoyed the company for Thanksgiving dinner of all our local family this year, 11 of us:


The food was plentiful and delicious.  

We were able to engage in a video chat with Teresa and her family in Idaho.  The time zones were too offset to connect with Bridget and her family in Finland, but we did get her blog post about their Thanksgiving.

Life is very good, and we certainly count our blessings.