Browse Month: April 2015

Everything including the kitchen sink

For about a year and a half, the faucet in our kitchen sink hasn’t rotated. We have two sinks, like most people, and the faucet has been stuck over the left sink for all that time. Finally yesterday Laralee said in an exasperated tone, “Why can’t we have a faucet that works?”

Since my Saturday afternoon was actually wide open (for a change), I climbed under the sink to take a look. I fiddled around a bit but didn’t see anything obviously wrong, so I decided to just take the whole thing apart to see if there was something that could be re-aligned or whatever. It turns out the faucet mount was screwed on tighter than a mere mortal could undo, and the nut was completely inaccessible to any reasonable wrench. I spent a solid 30 minutes laying under the sink wrestling with pliers, a flashlight in my mouth, to get the stupid nut off. Finally it came free (raining little bits of rust and metal in my eyes) and I was able to remove the faucet.

An inspection of the faucet showed that something was broken inside– it’s not clear what– but given my adventure in frustration, I decided we should just get a new faucet. Laralee and I headed over to Lowe’s to take a look at their selection. I think the cheap faucets are around $90; the most expensive ones are over $300. Wow. For that price, they’d better do the dishes for me.

We turned around to see an array of sinks, some of which were “complete kits” that included faucets and drains. Since our sink is 15 years old and sort of pitted and worn, we thought maybe we should just replace the whole darn thing. The price wasn’t that much different than just buying a nice faucet anyway. So we picked one, confirmed with one of the Lowe’s guys that we wouldn’t need anything else, and hauled it home.

“How hard can it be?” I said to myself. I mean, come on, you pop out the old sink, drop in the new one, hook up the water lines, and you’re done, right?

Hah.

Removing the old sink proved to be pretty simple, and we had to scrape off the 15-year-old caulk and mildew around the edge.

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That took a while, but it wasn’t bad. We then opened up the new sink and discovered that the instructions in the box were completely different from the hardware. The pictures of the parts didn’t match at all; I can only guess they included the wrong instructions. Still, with a bit of poking at the bag of parts I figured out how the mounting brackets were supposed to work.

We lowered the new sink into the hole in the countertop… well, mostly into the hole. Even though 95% of sinks are a “standard size”, it turned out our countertop was not. The hole was about a quarter-inch too narrow from side to side, and a quarter-inch too short from front to back. Also, there were rounded corners on the countertop and the sink was definitely square. Sigh.

Fortunately the countertop is a cheap laminate atop half-inch particle board. I brought out a hacksaw and took care of the rounded corners in short order. Laralee was hesitant– what if our next sink needed those rounded corners?– but I told her if this thing lasts fifteen years like the old one, we’d be long gone and wouldn’t need to worry about it. Because we couldn’t really saw a thin quarter-inch strip off the sides, front, and back, we grabbed our wood files and went to work. I think it took us about thirty minutes of filing and re-measuring before we finally had a hole big enough to accommodate the new sink.

That’s when we realized that we needed caulk. Duh. We didn’t want to go back to Lowe’s, so we dug through the garage boxes and found some caulk from a while ago. Still fresh! We caulked along the edges and lowered the sink in place. That’s when I discovered that the mounting brackets wouldn’t work on the front and back, because the countertop was inch-thick particle board there. (For reasons I don’t understand, just the front and back were thick; the sides were both half-inch.) Oh well. I slapped extra brackets along the side and tightened them down, and we’ll hope the middle of the sink doesn’t bow up.

Because the locations of the drains and the depth of the new sink aren’t the same as the old, we learned that we’d need to get creative with the plumbing beneath it. The old pipes didn’t quite fit, so out came the hacksaw again, and a few cuts and hard shoves later we had the drain and garbage disposal in working order.

The moment of truth came. I turned on the water and it all worked! The new sink looks pretty sharp, too:

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I asked Zack and Alex to take care of all the trash while Laralee and I cleaned up the kitchen. The boys took the enormous cardboard box to the backyard and proceeded to slash it to little pieces with a sword.

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Hey, if you have a sword, why not use it?

In the end, I learned two things:

1) If you start a home project thinking “How hard can it be?” you’re already in trouble. Something that you suspect might take an hour or so will end up taking four and cost twice what you thought.

2) I never want to be a plumber.

Lint towels

We bought new towels. The ones in our master bathroom and the kids’ bathroom were all many years old and were starting to get scratchy and worn. I found a good deal at Kohl’s and picked up new ones for everyone. Of course you need to wash your towels before using them the first time, so Laralee did that and then ran them through the dryer. The result: a huge sheet of lint that was like a fragile towel itself.

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This is just from the red towels for the master bathroom; the kids’ towels hadn’t even gone through the wash yet. Laralee decided to run them all a couple more times, and each time the lint was quite impressive. By the end we had a stack of multi-colored lint that was at least twice the weight of one of the hand towels. Most impressive. It’s also probably an indicator of the quality of the towels… hmm.

Cancun!

It’s been about a week since we returned from our spring break trip to Cancun, so I figured it was time to sit down and write about it. It was fully awesome and worth all of the expense. We’d never taken a vacation quite like this before; most of our trips consist of loading everyone into the van and driving a few thousand miles. While those trips are a lot of fun, it was definitely a nice change to go somewhere tropical and let someone else take care of the arrangements.

Day 1

We went to the airport, where Zack felt pretty cool because he thought flipping open his passport made him look like a secret agent.

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When we crowded onto the airplane, we were greeted by Frontier’s amazing new slogan:

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I’m not sure what they mean by “more perks”, but they found several more ways to prove that air travel can be even more uncomfortable and frustrating. First, the seats on their newest planes are all hard plastic and don’t recline at all. The lack of padding means they can probably squeeze yet another row into the aircraft, and that means dollars! Also, the tray tables are so small that they quite literally won’t even hold a paperback book.

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I’m not really sure what you could put on these trays. Fortunately we stowed them before takeoff, because you wouldn’t want to slam into them. As we were taxiing, a strange mist filled the plane. It was pumped from behind the walls. You can see it here near the top of the photo, as Kyra demonstrates the proper choking maneuver.

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When we arrived in Mexico I was amused by the prolific “exit” signs. These green signs were everywhere in the country– apparently it’s really important to know how to get out of buildings.

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One reason I was so amused is because the little stick guy running for the exit bears a striking resemblance to the dudes in the 1980 Apple game Lode Runner, which Thom and I played for untold hours.

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A van from the resort picked us up at the airport, and while we were riding we struck up a conversation with the other family in the van. It turned out they were from Longmont, live a few blocks from us, know many of the same people, and even know a bunch of the kids’ friends. Small world, I guess.

When we arrived, I was impressed. This place was easily the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. The floors were a really nice tile (predictably, for sand and water reasons), all of the linens were immaculate, and everything just looked so nice.

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It’ll be hard to go back to the Motel 6 and Super 8 places we usually stay on our trips.

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There was even a phone conveniently located beside the toilet, for those important calls to room service while you’re conducting your business, so to speak.

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They even had a team of guys whose sole job, as far as I could tell, was to scoop up seaweed that washed ashore on the beach.

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They would work in the hot sun loading the seaweed into wheelbarrows, which they rolled up the beach and stuffed into garbage bags. Because I’m a curious kind of guy, I kept an eye on it and watched them load the bags into pickup trucks and drive them off several times a day. Who knows where the stuff goes… maybe they truck it up to a neighboring resort and dump it on their beach at night.

One of the great things about an all-inclusive resort is that food is always available. On our first evening we enjoyed a really nice dinner at an outdoor cafe.

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There were several restaurants peppered throughout, room service was 24/7 and had an amazing menu, and you could walk (or swim) up to the bar and order pretty much any drink you wanted. We quickly learned that the lemonade and chocolate milk were both amazing. Yeah, that sounds weird, but it’s true.

Day 2

We took a taxi south to a place called Tulum, which is famous for its Mayan ruins. The Mayans built a fairly large city right on the beach, presumably for defensive reasons, but also because hey, who doesn’t want beachfront property?

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The buildings are in remarkably good shape considering they’re something like 1,600 years old.

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We didn’t have a guide, and all of the signs were in Spanish, so it’s anyone’s guess what some of this stuff was. Maybe these are outhouses? Servants’ quarters?

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It was pretty hot that day, and away from the beach there wasn’t much wind, so the humidity was stifling. Zack was in kind of a grumpy mood most of the time, so Alex and I couldn’t help but mock him.

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Kyra and Laralee posed in front of some guy’s hacienda.

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Laralee was a little worried about getting around, but I found the public transportation to be a breeze. There were plenty of American tourists, so there were plenty of taxis. I found myself doing the math every time we had to hand over a fistful of pesos, just to make sure we weren’t paying $200 for a 10-minute taxi ride or something.

When we arrived back at the resort, Zack headed for the pool. As it turned out, he spent a lot of hours in the pool… he loved it. Since our rooms were “garden” level, we could walk out our sliding back door straight to the poolside. It was sure convenient for Zack.

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We settled into some lounge chairs to enjoy some drinks.

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It was fun to just sit back and watch the palm trees sway in the breeze. Man, I tell you, this tropical thing grows on you pretty quickly.

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There was a giant chess board near the pool, so of course we had to play. Kyra and I started a game while Alex kibbitzed.

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Here Kyra considers a difficult move while sucking down some chocolate milk. I believe the USCF recommends chocolate milk (or lemonade) for most championship-level play.

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In the end, I had no mercy and took down Kyra’s king. She was pretty upset.

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Later in the afternoon, Kyra, Alex, and I decided to grab some kayaks and head out to sea. They were cheesy plastic things, but still a lot of fun as we paddled out past the breakers.

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We decided the sea was too calm, so we headed over to an area that had more waves and looked interesting. We learned that little waves can quickly become bigger waves, and that a plastic kayak isn’t always great for getting over them. Kyra ended up getting beached on a bunch of volcanic rock, and Alex and I went in to rescue her but were washed ashore right alongside her. We had to portage the kayaks back.

Day 3

We headed up the coast to the north to a place that had jet skis and snorkeling. I always enjoy jet skis, and I found that they’re way more fun on ocean waves than on lakes. Here are Zack and I as we head out from shore.

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As we headed out to sea and picked up some speed, I had a great time hopping waves and catching air. A few minutes into that, Zack was holding on to my life vest for dear life and asking me not to do that. I calmed down the ride a bit, but it was still difficult to avoid the occasional wave and airborne crash.

After a twenty-minute jet ski trip we arrived at a secluded beach where we donned snorkeling gear and headed out to the sandbars and reefs near the shore. It was pretty cool stuff.

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After about forty minutes of snorkeling we jumped back on the jet skis. Zack decided to ride with Laralee, thinking it might be a smoother ride. Since Alex had his own jet ski, I hopped on with Kyra, who had decided to drive. I caught a few pictures of us jumping waves.

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About halfway back to base, Kyra decided she was too freaked out to keep driving. She’d been doing fine, but okay, I offered to switch with her. Of course that’s tricky on a jet ski in the middle of the ocean– sort of like switching places in a canoe. Sure enough, as we attempted to pass one another, the whole thing tipped to the side and sent me into the drink. But I survived, climbed back on, and we continued our trip.

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One thing I really liked about the beaches was the nice warm, fine sand. It was so soft and just pure bliss on bare feet.

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Back at the resort, we ran into our new friends from Longmont. They told us about a “secret” beach on the far end of the resort, where there weren’t any crowds. Sure enough, when Laralee and I headed down there we found a bunch of empty lounge chairs and were able to lay back and watch the waves come in.

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Day 4

We had another day of snorkeling, at a different location that advertised sea turtles. Sure enough, there were a bunch of them lounging around near shore.

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I grew to love the (relatively) cheap underwater camera I’d purchased for the trip– it did a great job and captured a lot of pictures I wouldn’t have otherwise. Here’s Laralee watching a stingray or something.

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After the sea turtles we went to a cave, where we were able to swim in a cenote or underground river. Apparently there are thousands of cenotes around Mexico. The water was noticeably cooler, but we quickly grew accustomed to it. I think we were spoiled by the bathwater-temperature water in the Gulf.

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Naturally it was dark, so most of my pictures didn’t turn out so well. Here are Kyra and I getting ready to submerge.

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And here are Kyra and Laralee swimming around a cavern.

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I did my best to take some shots of the underwater stalagmites, but the flash didn’t work out so well.

After the cenote we hopped on some ATV’s for a ride through the jungle. That’s what they advertised, anyway; in fact it was riding on a dirt road that happened to go straight through an area with a lot of trees.

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Zack was stoked because the tour guide let him drive (he hadn’t been allowed to drive the jet skis the day before).

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After we’d been out for a while, we were heading back on a rough jungle trail and Alex managed to crash into a tree.

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Luckily there wasn’t any noticeable damage, since we’d declined the insurance. We recovered and made it back to catch a taxi to the resort.

The resort had a couple of catamarans that you could reserve for a little 20-minute trip out to sea. Each day I’d gone to put our name on the list, but it was already full. We were running out of days to ride the catamaran, but fortunately our new friends from Longmont mentioned to us that they had scored a reservation but wouldn’t be using it (dad and daughter had gone out, but mom and son didn’t want to). Alex and I gratefully used their reservation and had a nice trip out to sea.

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Here’s a fun shot of us crashing through a wave.

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Day 5

On our last day we had some time to kill before our flight out of Mexico, so we went down the beach and relaxed a bit. Here’s me with my lemonade.

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Laralee spotted a little hermit crab making his way across the sand. This guy was maybe an inch from end to end… pretty cool.

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As we were getting ready to grab our luggage and head to the airport, we asked someone to take our picture. Adios, beach!

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We enjoyed some overly expensive Domino’s pizza at the airport, then boarded our Frontier flight back home (don’t forget: More Choice! More Perks! More Savings!). They gassed the plane again, and we were on our way.

All in all, it was a fantastic trip. I’m sold on tropical vacations, and assuming we can get the money together, I’d love to head out to Hawaii or Florida or even back to Mexico again. Good times.

Bullseye

Our latest Zing activity: archery! Today at lunchtime all of us headed over to a local archery range and shot things. Ben and Noah have their own bows (Noah handmade his about a year ago) and the rest of us used some rentals.

Although I was hardly consistent, I did manage to hit the bullseye twice. Notice the holes in the center yellow!

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I figure another couple of sessions and I’ll be able to shoot better than Legolas, Katniss, and Hawkeye combined.