Saturday, December 31, 2011

She Made Me Cry...

I got a very special gift at Christmas this year.

It came from Casey and Richard and the kids, and before I could look at it, I was told to read the note first, and here is what it said:

    Grammie, this is an angel baby for you to wear for Taylor.  It is handmade with wings that glow on your chest when the sun is on them.

When I read that, my eyes welled up, and when Casey saw my reaction, hers did too.  Then Lindsay came over and we made her read the note, with the same reaction.

Now to explain, for those who don't know the history.  Taylor was my first-born and he died from meningitis 28 years ago at ten and a half weeks of age.

Always a baby in my memory, I look at my 'children' all grown up, and wonder at the man Taylor would have been now.

Lindsay, Casey and Micah all loved the brother they never met, even crying themselves to sleep on occasion when they missed him. And I know exactly how they felt / feel, because my brother Royce died at birth, before I was born.  Lindsay has used Taylor's name for her oldest son's middle name, and Casey's oldest son has Taylor's middle name as his first, Evan.

Though Taylor lived only a very short while, at what is becoming a time so long ago, his love still lives in this family, and can still stir us to smile through tears.

Thank you again, Casey, for this very special gift, and thank you again, God, for all four of my very special children.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Soaking It Up!

Grammie Time!  I only get it by Skype while we are away cruising, so I am enjoying the lovely chaos of this Holiday trip.

This is a line-up of all seven grandkids on Christmas morning. Left to right:

  • Milo, 16 months
  • Evan, 3
  • Emrie, 2 and a half
  • Madalyn, 5
  • Ranger, 4 months
  • Troy, 7 and a half
  • Ryker, nearly 5

We have enjoyed the generosity of friends loaning houses, beds and cars, and a Thomason Christmas Eve followed by Christmas morning with the grandkids and their parents.

I am waiting to get a picture of Micah in his Navy uniform, and there will be an opportunity on Sunday, as he becomes Ranger's godfather at the baptism.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Busy, Busy, Busy....

I thought Al had made another post since we arrived in Portland area, but I see it is still in the 'Draft' folder....I will give him a reminder.

In the meantime, we have been busy since travelling south from our winter home in Friday Harbor.  Travel went without a hitch.  We are grateful to our new friends Art and Rae, who helped us by loading our bags in their truck for the ferry ride, gave us a tour of their boat Baylee Rae at Anacortes, and gave us a ride to the car rental office.  We made good time driving the rest of the way.

Al says he likes 'getting a new car' every six months or so.  (Rental)

We have ridden on a Christmas Ship, attended a double birthday party, visited grandkids, and had dinner with a son.  Today we will do some errands (spend MORE money) and ride another Christmas Ship in the last parade of this season.  Tomorrow will be a day for visiting friends.

Micah (Petty Officer Spangler) will arrive on leave from the Navy tonight, so I hope to get a one-on-one visit sometime soon, but certainly will see him on Christmas morning at Lindsay's house.

Already I am feeling like I am running out of time to do all and see all that I wish.

We had an issue with our phone, and Al got that worked out yesterday morning, after an hour with customer service.  Seems cell phones, or OURS anyway, don't like the 1- .  Glad we got that resolved!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Merry Christmas to Us!

Al and I will not be exchanging gifts this year, but we HAVE been spending a lot of money!

This year we are 'giving' each other health care.  The past six weeks we have been busy with doctor, dentist and optometrist appointments.  Lab work, prescription refills, fillings, dental cleanings, exams, and glasses.

This morning we finished up our dental care, and a summary was printed for us, to help with tax records.  We have spent over $2800 for dental care alone.

This afternoon I sat for a third refraction in the past six weeks.  I have another appointment for the week we return to Friday Harbor in January.  I have a 'beam splitter' cataract in my left eye, and my vision has fluctuated by over a diopter.  Likely, cataract surgery is in my NEAR future.  The good news?  It is entirely possible that I may not need glasses post-surgery.  The bad news?  With our catastrophic health insurance policy, the surgery would be an out-of-pocket expense for us.  More THOUSANDS of dollars.

(We are still paying for Al's appendectomy.)

I have a mammogram scheduled for January.  It has been three years since my last one, when my sister was diagnosed and began treatment for breast cancer.

And I am now 50 and due for that 'procedure' we all dread.  We have decided, with all our other care in the past year and pending, that this 'gift' can be postponed for now.

Yup.   This is our most expensive Christmas yet.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

D. Jones

I had been led to believe that Davy Jones' Locker was at the bottom of the sea, but here it is in Friday Harbor!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Can you hear me now?

Modern life is so simplified - providing one follows the ‘conforming’ ways.   As an example: want to make a phone call?  Back in the day with Land Life we just picked up the phone and dialed!  It always worked and call quality was always good.   As technology progressed an additional step was added:  one needed to FIND the ‘cordless’ phone.  Once found, providing the battery was not dead, we could make our calls. No Fuss, no Muss.

Progressing even further, the last few years Kristi and dropped our wired home phone line (POTS in the trade) and relied 100% on cell phones.  When we moved to the boat we added internet access to the phone service, and that worked well for several years.   Providing we stayed around major cities.

Relocating up to the Puget Sound area things got a bit more dicey.  Over the summer we mapped out where T-Mobile would, and would not, work.  This was needed primarily in support of my consulting contract – I make 2-5 hours of phone calls a week.  Plus sending and receiving Emails.  We made it work but felt rather restricted at times with planning around calls.  And to be honest, even in those areas where we could get some phone service, many of the places we liked to go had marginal phone service at best.  I might have had to sit up topside, or dinghy in and walk over the hill to a far shore…   I even started dialing in two cell phones to each call so I could quickly switch over if one dropped.

And then T-mobile decided to make some changes to our Plan with no grandfathering.  Even despite being very long term customers.  That was enough, connection quality was on the edge, costs were going up.  We needed to make a change.

Talking to cruisers up here everyone said Verizon.  Talking to folks who worked up here, many said Nextel (now Sprint).

We ended up doing both, and more.

We carry two cell phones:  Our ‘primary’ one is a pre-paid ‘Boost’ phone which is Sprint’s Prepaid service using the old Nextel (Motorola iDEN) network.  The 2nd one is a Verizon pre-paid phone.  On a quick run through the islands we found that when one of the services started to drop off, the other was still viable.  So, it is a good approach and the cost is very low for the limited times we actually use them.

Ways to connect to the outside world.
(Click on image to make larger)
For the bulk of our calls we use Skype on the computers.   We can connect to the internet either via our WiFi repeater, or using a Verizon MiFi service.  With only a month or so of testing throughout the islands it looks promising.  As a fall back, if the Verizon MiFi is not working the Boost (iDEN) service is there. (On a side note:  it appears the MiFi and the Verizon cell phone use the same network, unlike T-mobile which at times used different wireless network for voice and data - there were times when we could text/access the internet but not make a reliable call.  And vise versa.  So, I am thinking the ‘backup’ Verizon cell phone likely will get little use.)

All these options lead to a rather complex system which you can see in the attached chart.  Will comment that just this week I ordered the  cell amplifier and external antenna for the MiFi card.  Other than that, all the rest is in place and working well.

In future posts will put up the details of the WiFi repeater and the MiFi amplifier.  And will also document our experiences ‘out in the islands’ with this system.   Here in Friday Harbor we turned off the MiFi and are using a local WiFi provider (via the repeater).  We did the same last summer in Fisherman’s Bay where T-Mobile did not work.   Using internet based communication as our foundation gives us a lot of flexibility.  In fact, am looking into using this approach for trips into Canada.  Telus seems to have fair data access at least part of  the way up Vancouver Island.  And the external antenna / amplifier used on the MiFi card will also work with their service.  I picked up a low cost PCMIA adapter card for the laptop and will let you know how it all works out when we end up crossing the border.

Making a phone call.  Just one more example of how almost everything is more complex when living a boat which is actively cruising.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

End of the line? Good bye Willamette Falls Locks

Nearly 139 years ago a ‘state of the art 4 chamber’ lock opened in the Willamette river allowing passage round the falls at Oregon City.  As is often with developments during that time, there was a bit of controversy with the construction of these locks – which seems to have been centered on one group's interest in overcoming the then stranglehold of the railroad (and an inefficient portage system) around the falls.  And that continued for many years after as different parties battled for control of the lucrative shipping in and out of the Willamette Valley.  You can read much more here:

The Willamette Falls Locks was the first multi-stage lock in the USA, and at just only a month shy of 139 years,  is also the oldest operating multi-stage lock in the entire USA.  Or was.  Though they were re-opened during the summer of 2010, this year the locks were operated only once per month and allowed limited commercial traffic.

Last Friday the Army Corps of Engineers ceased that with the announcement of an ‘indefinite’ closure.

Despite over $2M in ‘stimulus’ money being spent to refurbish the gates themselves in 2009, other parts of the locks are in poor condition and time has just caught up”

The Willamette Falls has an interesting history in the development of the west.  The initial government seat of the Oregon Territory.  Site of not only the nations 1st ‘long distance electric power system providing lighting to the streets of Portland Oregon 14 miles away.    Initially built using Edison’s DC design,  in 1890 a competing AC system from Westinghouse was brought online as the 1st AC power distribution system in the world.  (There is no evidence of Elephants dying as a result of this monumental event – will leave that one to the History Nerds among us).  Paper mills, Log Mills, Salmon Fishing.  Lots of activity has happened around these falls.

Kristi and I have been through the Locks several times over the years, and have enjoyed each trip.  The old locks are quite a contrast to the new ones we passed through on the Columbia and Snake.  In size, fill rate, and how you ‘fixed’ yourself during the ride up/down  (No floating bollards in the Oregon City locks, just hand lines passed down).  To be honest, this has the feeling of truly the end for these locks.  There is very limited commercial need for them anymore, and even recreational usage is limited as ‘safe’ navigation up the river ends not too far above the falls.  (One can actually navigate all the way to Salem Oregon, but it is tricky, requires good local knowledge and charts are published for only part of the way).  We made our passages to enjoy the locks, and the wonderful park at West Lynn

Guess this is a Goodbye to the locks, we did enjoy them and are sorry to see them go – but also understand the realities.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Cost of Cruising - A summary list of other cruisers.

I just ran across SV Estrellita 5.10b's blog and they have a nice list summarizing other vessel's costs summary.

It is interesting to look at these and see where the costs are in line with what we (so far) have been seeing, and where they are different!

Fish ON – Happenings around Friday Harbor

There has been a bit of activity here in Friday harbor the past few days.  It started when a HOUSE docked Wednesday on the outside of the breakwater, right in front of our view.  (House in this case is a 72’ Yacht. . .  Wow, this thing is bigger than most the places I lived on land in.)  Thursday brought oodles of smaller boats (the house had one side tied to it) as the last event in the Northwest Salmon Derby was getting underway.

It was fun to watch them mill around in the dark just off the breakwater Friday morning awaiting the firing of the starting canon.  FLASH/BOOM and 100 or so boats were off!  Later that day they started to trickle in with their days catch.  As Kristi and I went up to watch the Friday Harbor Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting Ceremony we noted the biggest catch of the day at 22+ lbs on display.  Nice Fish, and already bigger than last year’s winner.   This morning boats mingled out around sunrise (no canon start, just follow the WDFW rules) for the 2nd and final day.  Will be interesting to see what comes in today.

As to the Parade, it is without a doubt the shortest and smallest parade I have ever seen.  Beating even the Paisley Mosquito Festival Parade I remember from the 80’s (where they ran it 3 times around the 3 blocks to make it last a bit longer).   Friday Harbor’s also spanned 3 blocks but was run only once – consisting of one Fire truck and 5 Christmas characters (Rudolph, Gingerbread man, a couple of Elves and Frosty) + Santa.  It clearly set a new short bar.  Caroling, announcements of building decoration winners, and tree lighting completed the evening.  It was fun to get out and participate.

Things that . . . Work: Tornado Rotary Tank Rinser

A few days ago we installed the Tornado Rotary Holding Tank rinsing system, a small ‘nozzle’ we purchased at an RV store last spring for around 2 boat 'pennies'  ($20).

Yesterday we had the chance to use it.

Our holding tank had built up a layer of sludge on the bottom over the years that just would not pump out no matter what we tried.  At the prior pump-out we were only able to get the level gauge down to ‘3’, as opposed to empty.  So it was really kind of a stinky problem and I was in no way looking forward to any sort of ‘open up the tank and clean it out’ process…

Yesterday we motored over to the pump-out dock, pumped the tank and then hooked this baby up to the dock water supply and let her rip.  Got to tell you, it worked great!  We could instantly see more sludge coming out and over a period of a half hour it kept getting less and less brown!  So nice!

Added in a batch of KO enzymes and we are all ready to go once again.