May 14, 2017

Long-Overdue Update

In no particular order, highlights since my last blog post include:

  • Archery hunting for elk in the Missouri River Breaks,
  • Buying my first firearm,
  • Shooting a mule deer while hunting with my sister and good friend, Jeff, with said firearm,
  • Moving to Truckee, CA,
  • Starting a new job,
  • Buying a house,
  • Going on a 3-1/2 year delayed honeymoon,
  • Gaining a nephew, and
  • Adding a canine member to our family.
I spend most of my time working, which has the dual consequences of me doing fewer blog-worthy things and having little to no time to write about the few blog-worthy things I manage to squeeze in. That hasn't changed, but I will attempt to post more frequently nonetheless. Below are a few more details on the events listed above.

I spent a week during archery season elk hunting in the Missouri River Breaks with Jeff. We hunted a few days from the river/reservoir out of Jeff's boat before experiencing motor problems, limping our way back to the put-in, and hunting from the roads for the last few days.

Hunting elk from a boat - a totally new experience for me

Classic terrain of the area we hunted

One of the few bulls we saw, and the biggest. Photo taken from about 550 yards.
I heard the bull above from about a mile and a half away. I quickly closed the distance to about a mile where I got my first visual, and saw about 10 elk milling around and feeding just on the other side of a major drainage. It was getting late and I didn't have much time before dark. I continued to close the distance anyway, using gullies and land features to hide my presence as I moved. I took a quick video from near the bottom of the drainage, after running out of good cover at about 550 yards. I could see a route to stay hidden and get within about 200 yards, but then I wasn't sure how I could quickly get close enough to seal the deal. I executed my plan and ended up backing out just after dark from about 200 yards away.

The next day, Jeff and I went back to find the herd, which we eventually did after hearing a bugle around 2 pm. The bull and his harem were slowly working there way down a draw toward where I saw them the previous evening. We planned an ambush and both set up at different locations in hopes that the elk would continue down the same drainage. Long story short, the elk veered up and out of the drainage until they winded Jeff, at which point the spun around and ran back up hill. As it turns out, I was up hill of Jeff and the elk were running right at me as I sat under a lone pine tree. The elk didn't come into view until they were about 20 yards away. I had an arrow nocked, but couldn't draw as the elk were facing me and very close. About 12 cows ran by me at 8 yards followed by the bull in the rear - nostrils flaring and breathing hard. I planned to draw after they all passed, call, and hope the bull would stop. He did, briefly, but he was in direct line with a branch from the tree I was sitting under. It was truly amazing seeing all those elk so close, and them having no idea I was there. I would have loved to come home with meat in the freezer, but that's as close as we came.

Rifle season approached and my meat supply from the previous year was dwindling fast. I broke down and bought my first firearm in preparation for a boomstick-assisted meat harvest. My sister, Molly, and Jeff joined me on the first day I was able to get out during the rifle season. Three hours later, I passed on a small whitetail buck. Five hours later, my new Browning X-bolt in .270 Win had done its job. Thanks to this amazing animal for its unwilling sacrifice. The fact that Jeff and Molly were with me made it very special. Molly had yet to be with someone when they took a big game animal, and she got to experience everything from the hunt to the kill to the meat in the freezer.



After a couple of years spent working for NOLS, remodeling, and working as a carpenter, I accepted a job offer with an engineering firm in Truckee, California. On the up side, Truckee is in the mountains, surrounded by mountains, and close to Ava's family. The only real negatives are that I'm now a Californian and elk hunting is virtually non-existent in this state.

The job's going well. Compared to other engineering positions, I've been given more trust, more responsibility, and more work. The firm, Holdrege & Kull, has about 50 employees in three offices. Only 5 of those are year-round, full-time employees in the Truckee office. About a week and a half ago we were purchased by a larger, publicly traded engineering company (NV5). It's too early to tell how that will affect things for me, but it doesn't seem like anything notable will change in the near future.

Planning to be here for a while, Ava and I decided to buy a house. We did so just in time to get buried for the winter, as the Sierra set some new records...and we're in the area that gets less snow than anywhere else around Truckee. At one point, the snow berms on the side of the driveway were about 12 feet tall, causing me to seriously consider purchasing a snow blower.



In February we temporarily left the snow for a luxurious trip to Baja California. We spent most of our time relaxing and eating good food at the resort we stayed at in Pescadero (Rancho Pescadero). We did escape the black hole of luxury for a day to travel across the peninsula to La Paz, where we spent the day on a boat in the Sea of Cortez, swimming with whale sharks. We didn't take any pictures, but there are several on the internet like the one below. Just imagine snorkeling next to a 30 foot long fish in 10 to 20 feet of water where the fish looks like it's just sitting there and you have to swim relatively hard to keep up with it, all while trying to remember to breathe and convince yourself you won't be eaten.


We spent enough money on the trip to justify calling it our honeymoon, which we promised each other we would do, eventually. It ended up being an excellent escape from both the snow and our very busy lives.

Shortly after we returned from Baja, Turner Iluka King was born. Congrats to Maiya, Turner, and Shaun! I'm super excited to have a nephew who lives in the same town as me, especially if he's as crazy as those videos suggest Shaun was when he was little.


Last but not least, we acquired Ethel from the local humane society. We've had her about 6 months now, and it's often hard to tell if we love her more than she loves us. In a few words, she's adorable, highly submissive, very energetic, a great running, skiing, and mountain biking partner, and she hates riding in cars. We often call her Ethel Sue, but her whole name is "Ethel Susan B. Anthony Holliott, first of her name, relocator of sticks, queen of flopping, lover of all beds and people".





And in case you're still reading, I'm hoping to post again soon regarding my renewed commitment to home brewing.

May 30, 2016

Shed Finished

After recently painting and staining the shed, my 5x14 foot shed is officially complete!  I built the doors from scratch, put in a reclaimed window on the south side, and included a 2-foot overhang on the north side for wood storage.


The shed sits in the corner of our lot, so I envision the fence lines eventually tying in to the edges of the shed.




The north side also includes a small ladder door so I can slide a 24' extension ladder in and hang it on the back wall.  The shed is topped with a corrugated, galvanized metal roof.  It is built from about 70 percent recycled material, which largely contributed to keeping the total cost down to $961.

I had a blast building it from the foundation to the roof.  I love the way it turned out, especially considering that this was my first piece of new construction.  Now I don't have to carry the lawnmower up and down the stairs into the basement each time I mow the lawn!

May 27, 2016

Westward Ho!

As I eluded to in my previous post, Ava and I will be moving to Truckee, California in about a month.  I received an engineering job offer that was too good to pass up.  I'll start working on June 20 as a geotechnical engineer for Holdrege and Kull in their Truckee office.  H&K have a few offices, with the main one being about an hour away in Nevada City, CA.

The Truckee office is small, with about five to ten people depending on the season.  The people I met there while interviewing a couple of weeks ago all seem to have a great perspective on the elusive work-life balance that matches my own.

I find that I'm filled with equal parts excitement to move and resume my engineering career, and sadness for leaving Missoula.  It'll be great to be closer to Ava's family and I'll keep my fingers crossed that this works out and I'll finally get to settle in a place long enough to become a legitimate part of the community.

May 22, 2016

Bathroom Finished

Despite my lack of recent posts, I've been quite busy.  Between working 40 hours per week as a carpenter and putting in up to 30 more working on my own house, finding time to take pictures and write blog posts has been difficult.  Without further ado, here's the best before and after picture comparisons.

Before

After

Of course, that's just one side.  The shower took the most work.

Before
After
 And a little paint and pallet wood accent wall really spiffed up the toilet alcove.

Before
 
After
The major pieces of this project were re-plumbing everything, redoing all the lighting, installing cabinets, tiling the floor, refinishing the tub, tiling the tub surround, and building the accent wall.  If it wasn't for a handful of termites discovered in some of the pallet boards and the mank discovered in the wall behind the shower, everything would have gone real smoothly.  As it was, I had to rebuild both mirrors and part of the pallet wall.  I also used pallet boards as base molding.  Other than having an electrician help out with some of the wiring and the countertop supplier install the countertop, I did everything else.  The total cost of the bathroom remodel was $6,815, which includes all new appliances, and fixtures.



So, we've got a beautiful new bathroom, finished just in time to move to California and rent our house out (more on that in the next post).

February 20, 2016

Bathroom Remodel - Phase Next

After installing the cabinets, countertop, and sinks, the next committing move was to tear out the old, plastic tub surround and redo the shower area.  This turned into a multi-phase project that was more work than anticipated.

The old shower, complete with pink bathtub and leaky, plastic surround
After removing the surround, I discovered two layers of wet, moldy drywall with complementary smell.


With the drywall removed and mold damage assessed, I decided to plane down the studs that appeared affected by mold and mildew.  This brought clean, fresh wood to the surface, convincing me the mold issue was surficial as far as the wall studs were concerned.  As an additional precaution, I hosed down the studs, twice, with mold and mildew killer/preventer.

With that unexpected issue dealt with, I began some framing modifications to accommodate a built-in niche for the new tub surround.

Framed out niche for 
 Prior to rebuilding the surround, I planned to turn the hideous, pink tub white.  Using a $95 refinishing kit from Bath Works, I made this happen.

White tub!
Next task, plumbing.  I installed a new valve, tub spout, and shower head and connected it all up with PEX.  The instructions said to use copper pipe between the valve and tub spout, but the "expert" I spoke with at Home Depot said PEX would be just fine (and I desperately wanted to avoid soldering).  So, I went with 1/2" PEX all around (more on this later).

Plumbing complete (sort of)
 With blocking in at all planned board edges and transitions, and the wall framing planed as flat as I could get it, I was ready to start rebuilding the surround.


 Rebuilding the surround would consist of installing 1/2" backer board up to about the level of the shower head and waterproofing the backer board layer prior to tiling.

Backer board installed
 I had originally attempted to leave the existing drywall above the back board in place.  This turned out to be noticeably thicker than the 1/2" backer board, so it had to come out as well.

Upper drywall removed and replaced
 Next, the waterproofing.  I taped all joints with 6" fiberglass tape and covered all backboard surfaces with Hydro Barrier waterproofing membrane.

Pretty, blue membrane
Once the membrane dried, I installed the fixtures in order to temporarily use the shower while we wait for our ordered tile to arrive.  In doing this I discovered that water would come out both the shower and bath outlets when it was only supposed to be coming out of the bath outlet.  Further research into this issue led me to the conclusion that it was because I didn't use copper pipe between the valve and the bath spout.  While there is nothing magical about the material itself, 1/2" copper pipe has a larger inside diameter than 1/2" PEX.  The reduced flow through the smaller diameter PEX causes a pressure build up that ultimately raises the column of water between the valve and the shower head high enough to allow water through the shower head.  My planned solution, waiting to be implemented and tested while I wait for a couple of PEX parts to show up, is to increase the PEX diameter from 1/2" to 3/4" between the valve and bath outlet.  With the back of the wall still completely open, this should be a relatively simple and non-invasive fix while still avoiding and need to solder copper pipe.

The entire process described in this post took me one week.  I worked mostly evenings as I've been working full work weeks as a carpenter with Confluence Construction for the last five weeks.  As my hair is still long and I'm now working as a carpenter, the low-hanging-fruit of a joke is that I look like a modern-day Jesus.

Provided this plumbing fix works, the main tings left to finish the bathroom are to tile the surround, tile the floor, finish up some drywall installation, texturing, and painting, and some minor trim work.

December 30, 2015

Cuba

After working a winter skiing course for NOLS in early December in the mountians of western Wyoming, I had about two days before heading to Cuba with Ava's family.  The adjustment from living in tents and snow shelters to all-inclusive resorts in the humid tropics couldn't have been more abrupt.  I'll try to keep this post in summary form as the prospect of recounting all the events and experiences we had in Cuba is far too daunting.

Rick, Nancy, Maiya, Shaun, Ava and I traveled to Cuba with Backroads on a People to People visa.  There were 20 participants in our tour group, including the six of us.  We had two amazing Spanish guides and a local Cuban guide who was employed by the state.  We spent seven days in Cuba; three near the town of Matanzas, and four in Havana.

The Hollidays (sandwiched by an Elliott and a King) at the Dupont mansion, Xanadu

A requirement of our People to People visa was that we needed to spend all of our time engaging with various locals and generally learning about Cuban culture.  This made for a highly educational trip as well as giving the trip a pretty intense "go, go, go!" vibe.  The following list provides an idea of how we spent our time:

  • Visited an organic farm
  • Visited tourist attractions such as the Dupont Mansion and Hemingway's house
  • Listened to lots of live, local music, and speaking with the musicians
  • Ate at several private restaurants, many of which also served as art museums
  • Toured some limestone caves
  • Spoke with a former professional baseball player
  • Spoke with Marc Frank, an American born Cuban who writes for Reuters and Financial Times
  • Visited several art museums and spoke with artists
  • Had many great and enlightening conversations with our Cuban guide, Oscar, who encouraged us to ask any and all questions
  • Walked the streets of Havana, visiting Catholic churches and a synagogue
  • Hiked through a reforested coffee plantation
  • Visited a small town in the forest with a commune vibe
  • Etc., etc.
Rather than recount all of these experiences and more, I'll summarize my overall impressions and learnings.  I think the biggest thing I got out of this was a first-hand impression of what life in a communist/socialist country is really like.  The US media loves to demonize communism and socialism doesn't fare much better.  We always hear the negative side associated with these types of societal structures, but never the positive.  Speaking for what I observed in Cuba, it's true that people tend to have very little expendable income.  However, you don't need much expendable income when education and healthcare are free and housing and food are highly subsidized.  The education system is so good that one of Cuba's main exports is educated people (e.g., doctors).

Old Catholic church in Matanzas

Of course there are problems with this system, just as there are problems with any system, but my point here is that it is not all bad.  In some ways (education, health care, lack of xenophobia, equity), Cuba is far ahead of the US.  Other than the occasional theft, there is almost no crime.

The cars, and much of the rest of the country, seem to be stuck in the 50's.

The next major learning I'll talk about is my impression of the general state of contentment of the Cuban people.  In the news, we hear about Cubans risking their lives to escape Cuba via raft, directly implying that life in Cuba is so awful everyone wants to leave and some people are willing to risk their lives to do so.  Based on what I observed, this is the exception rather than the rule: akin to saying that everyone in the US wants to shoot up a school because there have been so many mass school shootings.  Everyone we spoke to seemed content with the system and actually had quite a bit of pride in their country, while at the same time recognizing that there is substantial room for improvement.

A sample of the somewhat morbid art that was fairly common

I have many other thoughts pinging around in my head that have yet to land and solidify.  Suffice it to say that I learned a ton and think I will continue to learn as I process my experiences and filter media coverage of Cuba through a realistic lens.  I'll finish with a smattering of pictures, but before I do, I'd like to give my sincere, blog-public thanks to Rick and Nancy for making this trip possible.

We found many adorable dogs, and at times wished we were on a People to Dogs visa

Invasive bamboo, a cow, and a cow reflection at a sustainable farm/restaurant/art studio

Classic Havana

Streets of Old Havana

Cuban National Bird (Cuban Trogon)

Hiking through a former French coffee plantation

Totes adorbs

Also totes adorbs

Baseball practice near Hemingway's house, by far the most popular sport in Cuba

Kitchen Officially Finished

With the delivery of our new refrigerator, the kitchen is now finished (in just under a year)!  From the new floor to the new lighting and everything in between, we're super happy with the way things turned out.  Sure, it looks a lot better, but it's also way more functional and fun to cook in.  Take a look at the before photos to gauge the improvement for yourself.