Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hot Water ... Again

Let's see, when did we buy this water heater?   Looks like April, 2003.  ~10 years ago.

It's been a bit of a saga.

This is our tankless, continuous, on-demand water heater, a Seisco RA-28.  When it works, (which it has just fine except when it has sprung leaks) it works well.  The problem has been the leaks. The plastic has been prone to hairline cracks after 3 or so years.  And the circuit board is not protected from leaks.  When it's not working it doesn't just not work a little.  You need to shut it off to protect it.  And the danged thing cost $600+ in 2003, and it's $800- $1000 to replace today.

The plastic is something Microtherm developed with DuPont specifically for this application.  It's a special kind of nylon that is supposed to stand up to the rapid temperature fluctuations inherent in a unit like this.  But a while back they apparently had some quality control problems with the plastic.  It was being formed outside the country and imported.  Last I talked to them they said they built their own manufacturing facility right in their back yard in Texas and that those problems had gone away.

We had a leak in May 2006, Jan 2007, and I want to say again in 2009, when I replaced both two-cylinder chambers with new plastic.

The worst of it was in February of 2007 (read, COLD in Missouri), when we were without hot water for about three weeks.  We'd had a leak, I got a new part, installed it, and one ... single ... solitary drip dripped onto the circuit board and *BANG*.. so I had to order a new circuit board.

Now the service department was very responsive, and shipped stuff fast ... except the circuit board came in four days later than expected (not sure why that was), and warrantied the parts.  I just paid for shipping on most of it.  They even put me in their database as a tech, so I get to real live people who know stuff when I call.  As of 2007, I was the only guy within 150 miles who had any experience with them.

When I replaced the circuit board, I slipped a Ziplock bag around it and screwed it back on to it's mounting point, with small holes to run the wires through ... to help protect it against future leaks.

Well last Friday I got a call at work.  Vicki said there was a strange buzzing noise coming from the water heater.  I knew right away.  It was the leak sensor alarm.  Dashed home, and there was a fine mist spraying out of the output pipe, which, other than the input pipe which isn't subject to the wild temperature fluctuations the rest of the plastic is subject to -- is probably the oldest part in the unit. Hairline crack. Just like the previous problems I'd had.

I tried patching it with Sugru, but it didn't stick well enough to the plastic to stop the leak.  I ended up wrapping a washcloth around the output pipe to catch the leak and force it to drip to the floor and into the floor drain in the furnace room instead of spraying on the wall.  Or the circuit board.  But I leave it turned off except for when we need it.  Called Seisco and ordered a new output pipe.  $50 plus shipping.  Ouch.  Since then the leak has gotten much worse, but it's still controlled.  I'm wondering why that output pipe can't be copper.

I've been thinking about just having some parts laying around so I can fix things as they come up with minimal outage time, but I haven't ordered parts.  So I thought ... hey, let's just see if there are any parts, or maybe used units out there.

Checked Ebay.   A store in Arizona had had five NEW RA-28's, and was clearancing them out for half price.  $400.  I bit the bullet and ordered the second to last one.

I've been turning the water heater on only when needed, and even shutting the water to it off.

This morning, the water didn't get very hot.  There is water leaking onto the output temperature sensor wire on cylinder 4 (or the input temperature wire on the output pipe.  Don't know if that's the problem.  But clearly it's not a happy unit.  The error code on the unit is "135", which the trouble-shooting manual is reserved for "future use", but also says bad heating element in circuit #2.

So I'll put the new pipe in when it comes, hopefully today.  When the new unit comes next week, I'll install it and keep the old one for parts.  That way I should have a new unit under manufacturer warranty, to boot.

So ... it hasn't been as stable as a traditional tank heater, and it's certainly been more expensive.  However, it is the best solution for our house.  We don't really have room for a traditional water heater anywhere, and we do like the continuous hot water.  It also saves on energy.  Hopefully this new one will have well-formed plastic and last us many years.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Making Magic

We had our 5 year old grandson Trenton over today, babysitting. Before he got here, I had a fire in the fireplace, frazier fir scented oil in the little oil/candle warmer, and quiet Christmas music playing by 8:00 am. The house is a tasteful explosion of Christmas cheer. Not that I expect him to consciously notice these things, I just want them to seep in. A memory he won't quite remember where it came from, but a memory nonetheless.

Vicki had a doughnut ready for him. And while we played Star Wars Legos, the Polar Express soundtrack was playing.

I had Christmas music going all day. Occasionally he would break out of whatever he was playing and he'd say "I know this song, it's _____________" and he'd sing a few lines. And keep playing.

Took him to see "Frozen" this afternoon. Disney at it's modern best.

A light dusting of flurries fell all afternoon. He tried to catch them in his hands and on his tongue.

This is what it is to pass the Christmas Spirit on. To Keep Christmas, as Dickens put it.

Yes, he does know at some level the Reason for the Season, but he IS only 5, and he probably won't get "it" for several years to come. Creating the magic to wrap it all up in is exactly the mischief I'm up to.

We were in the lobby after the movie this afternoon. They have two air hockey tables. He wanted to play. The coin taker was broken. All it took was dollar bills. Which I was fresh out of. Oh, I had a $20, and I COULD have gone to the cashier and broken it, but we needed to get him over to Mom & Dad's so they could leave for Christmas at the Carletons.

After rifling through my wallet, I said I didn't have any ones and that we should probably go anyway, and this woman, a complete stranger -- came up and handed me a $1 bill with a gracious and knowing smile. I've done the same for others, and I knew a kindred spirit when I saw one. I thanked her. We played a game of air hockey.

He won.

Imagine that.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Orla Gartland

Orla Gartland on YouTube at 14
A few ago a very good friend of mine (happens to be the Art director for Kansas City Irish Fest) sent me a link to a youtube video by a young Irish ginger lass tagged with the simple message, "You're welcomed."  That young artist's name is Orla Gartland.

I can't even remember what that song was right now.  But I was impressed.  Just a young girl sitting in her room with a yellow wall behind her, and her guitar, and a good voice with a need to share.  (By the way, I did thank Cami.)

Orla was only 15 at the time, and already you could hear a maturity beyond her tender years in some of her lyrics, in her ability to turn a phrase and in her instinctive handling of the synergystic fusion of melody and emotion behind the lyric.

In a world of pop music devoid of melody and full of kind of coarse, "in your face" attitude, she's a breath of fresh air.

Though a slew of covers out there, she's been writing originals all along.  She's done a great job on covers (Bastille's "Pompeii" comes to mind - I actually like it better than theirs) but it's in her originals that she shines.  It's all her, and it shows.  She has a sound that is distinctly "Orla".  She also has a reputation for her strained mid-song faces and goofy selfies.

Many of her originals so far have dealt with the emotions that go with those last years you're kind of stuck in the middle between childhood and adulthood, which is perfectly suitable.  Write what you know, and it'll come out naturally.  She seems full of a contagious enthusiasm for life and friends and music and even in her more moody material you can feel an underlying sense of forward-looking optimism.

Orla's material runs the spectrum from whimsical to pensive, and as examples of those ends I'll put up my two favorites of hers, "All the Little Details" -- which brilliantly captures the awkward combination of fear and excitement that goes with trying to approach a crush (plus it's one of the cutest music videos I've ever seen) -- to "The Ground", which captures the fusion of defiance and brokenness that comes with rejection -- and from there to another of her best to this point, "Ripping at the Seams", revealing how observant she is of human nature and relationships.

She's 18 now, and while she hasn't shed the sheepish goofing kid image yet, she soon will.  Judging by the quality of her studio recordings and the official music videos for her songs, she's got some good connections in the music world.  She's a savvy marketer.  I think she's a smart girl who knows what she's doing. The yellow wall will fall by the wayside, and I believe she'll break out and have real success.

By and large so far I think a good chunk of her current fans are teens and tweens, but she also a substantial number of fans who are ... errrr ... uhhh ... old enough to be her father. :-)  I've been watching her kind of like a proud uncle, which is wierd because I don't really know her and I have absolutely nothing to do with any of her talent.  Go figure, I can't help it.  It's that infectious, she makes you feel like you do know her.

Orla Gartland in concert at 19
A recent still of her in concert gave a glimpse at a grown woman quite comfortable in her own skin.  I don't think her early breakthrough (from a YouTube artist) success is a fluke.  I think she's a gifted singer and a promising songwriter.  With each new song, I wonder if she's run out of ideas like some flash in the pan -- but when I hear them it's clear she hasn't.  She's just getting started, and she'll get better.  If she can keep her head on straight and just keep doing what she loves, I think she's going places.  Give her a listen and keep an ear out for her.

Her first EP, "Roots" is available for pre-order on iTunes

Friday, September 20, 2013

Pushing 50

So, I played softball today.   Sort of.

Thought back.  I probably haven't *played*, as in gone through all the motions, since high school.  Which is probably over 30 years.  Which is literally painfully obvious.

Oh, I've slapped a few balls around with a bat, and thrown a ball around and played catch.   But I've always been sucky at fielding flies.  And apparently, it's been a long time since I've tried to literally sprint.   For one thing, I forgot to stand up after I tipped the first pitch lamely about 6 feet in front of me.  I looked at it and thought, "crap, really?"  But I then thought, "no way am I just going to give this to them."

So I started running.  But it wasn't the way I remembered.  Turns out you do need to straighten up a bit before you start running.  I almost lost balance.  Next 5 or 6 strides I spent mostly trying to accelerate while recovering my balance, which I'm sure wasn't pretty.  I tried to turn on the afterburners, but apparently they're all clogged up with carbon or something.  I was just about at First, and the throw wasn't there yet, so I tired to lean into my last step to hit the base before the ball got there (I knew where it was, I don't know how)  .... and that was a bit of a mistake.  You should really run across the bag, which I didn't.  Spent too much effort trying to push the foot down to land on it sooner.

The unexpected shorter stride (and WHY should it have been unexpected? Duh!) caused me to stumble, almost trip (flat footed?  how?  I dunno, I apparently managed) and I fell and rolled on my left arm and shoulder.  The ball beat me there, I already knew.

I'm really glad nobody was filming it.  Nobody was filming it ... right? :-)

So I have a substantial bright red raspberry on my left elbow, and a bit of a scratch through the shirt on my left shoulder.   I was out.  It was my only at bat (we lost by the 10 run rule).  My lower back hurts.  And I was generally tuckered out running around within about a 30 foot ellipse in shallow right field from my second base position.

Man.  I thought I kinda sucked in high school.   I'll be 50 in a few months.

I probably should have done more of this earlier in life.

And I should take up running a bit.  Just for practice. In case I need to get away from a rabid porcupine or something.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Neighborhood Story

Several years ago, an older single lady lived up the street from us.   She was a firecracker.  She'd been a bail bondsman, she wasn't afraid to tell you what was on her mind, and there was a young woman inside that body, breathing supplemental oxygen through a tube, that had never lost its drive, and there was some frustration and a bit of associated grumpiness apparent in her.

Every now and then she'd need some help with something, and I and/or a couple of other men in the neighborhood would go put this up or move that piece of furniture or reach something for her.  She was always talkative and appreciative.

Her health continued to deteriorate.  At one point she got one of those motorized tricycles that older and otherwise mobile impaired people get....

And then something happened.

This older man showed up.   She told us about him.  They had been high school sweethearts who had lost track of each other, married other people, had families, grew old ... and they were both single now.   They got married.

The motor-trike disappeared.  She got off the oxygen. Didn't need it anymore. She could walk around on her own just fine.  She had a new spark in her eye and a spring in her step.  They were often seen holding hands, and sitting on a concrete bench in front of their house, talking to neighbors.  She said she'd never been happier in her life.

We live in a neighborhood with an Association, and rules about paint colors.  But Joy liked yellow, and she fairly defiantly painted the trim on their brown house yellow after installing a bay window in the front.  There were a few grumblings, but I never said anything to them.  Frankly I didn't think it looked that bad.  But a few years later -- she died suddenly.  Heart attack, stroke, I don't remember.

Since then I somehow got wrangled into being on the board of the Association, and a bit later somehow I defaulted to being president when the president resigned.   And I was recently asked why the board has never pushed to have that paint addressed.

The answer is a little complicated ... for one thing it was done before I was on the board and the previous board did nothing about it.  We also have bigger fish to fry -- but the main reason I am reluctant ... is that I know the human story behind it.  These are not my subjects, they're my neighbors.  And to ask Bob to paint over that trim would be like asking him to paint over the memory of Joy, his love.  I just can't bring myself to do it.  It's a little yellow paint.  In the grand scheme of things, I think it means more to him, and frankly to anyone who knew Joy ... than it does to the curmudgeons who want it painted over.  I know they don't like that answer.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On to Silverton Ouray

Tuesday morning we slowly packed, and ate oatmeal and coffee.  But toward the end of breakfast we saw dark clouds and the fog of mountain precipitation coming over the ridge to the southwest, maybe a mile away.

If at all possible, I didn't want our stuff to get wet, or to have it raining in the middle of breaking down the popup and having the mattresses get soaked.

We scrambled.   We make a good team.   Vicki got things all put away and zipped up and out of the popup.  I got the stove and outdoor gear put away.  As soon as that was finished we took the covering off the popup, put the table and poles in the bottom, threw the mattresses on top, and folded the tent in and the two fold-out bed supports.

The rain was maybe 1/4 mile off now, and we packed the top of the camper, covered it with the vinyl tarp, sealing it as the first raindrops began to fall.  We hooked up the trailer lights and hitch to the car, and jumped in as it started coming down harder.

We stopped at the restroom on the way out.  It was raining pretty hard, but it wasn't far to run.

The idea was to take the ranger's advice and look for a place around Silverton.  Silverton he described as an old western town where they still had hitching rails on the streets, and they had the Durango Silverton Steam Engine.

It was several miles down the road before we started climbing into the mountains.   There aspens were beautiful even with the fog and clouds and rain.  Sometimes a sun even peeked through and really made it spectacular.  Before long we came to a pass and the rain turned to rain and sleet and even snow.   We were literally in the clouds at times.  Just under them at others.

I had to stop several times to take pictures, naturally.

The closer we got to Silverton, though, the less pretty the trees were.  At the higher elevations (9,300 ft), the aspens were finished.  I'm not sure any of the town's streets  It was rainy.  It was muddy.

It was cold.

We went into the Visitor's Center, which was a neat old house that had apparently been moved at one time.  They said it damaged the multiple fireplaces, so they could not be used.  But we had pretty much decided that it was not the pretty aspen grove we were looking for, and that it was way too cold.   Still, the Durango Silverton came into town as we were leaving, so we slipped to the far side of the Visitor's Center parking lot and I took a couple of shots.

As we headed down to Ouray (7,800ft) the leaves on the aspens reappeared.  The descent into Ouray took us along a road hugging the mountain on one side, and a deep ... pretty much a slot canyon cut by a mountain stream on the other side.  Breathtaking.

Around the last bend, and we could see the Victorian town below.  But to the right was  the Ampitheater Campground.  Pretty nice for a closely packed campground, but not exactly what I was looking for.  We bookmarked it and headed to Ridgway State Park, which the Mesa Verde campground host had talked up.  He said there was a beautiful view of the San Juan range.

But not today.  So cloudy and rainy, you couldn't see anything close to a peak anywhere, and Ridgway was down on the flat.   The KOA campgrounds along the way were tightly packed and completely out of the question. 

We headed back to Ouray.

We'd seen the Visitors' center on the way out of town right near the outdoor hot-spring swimming pool.  If we would have known.... we might have brought suits.

We told them what we were looking for, and the lady described a canyon up a road we had passed with two National Forest campgrounds.  Along a mountain stream.   She said the road started out a little rough but we should be able to get up it in the Taurus with the popup.   Ok.  Either there, or we'll hit the Ampitheater. 

The road WAS rough -- washboarded up the first hill and around the bend, but it smoothed out.  Dispite the rain, the dirt road was solid.  There were workers doing some drainage work and some grading on it.

The first campsite we came to (Angel Creek) was beautiful.  The first campsite I saw was stunning, right over the stream with an extensive stand of bright gold aspens.  It was also taken.

And the campground was tents only.

But we did determine that the season had ended the previous week and it was, until spring, a free, first-come, first-serve campground.

We continued up to Thistledown Campground, which had some sites that allowed RVs  ... and it was practically empty.  A tent, and a pickup camper, and a lady in an RV up at the far end of the campground.

We found a site, dropped the camper off, and headed into town to hopefully wait the rain out before we set up the camper.

Hit the Ouray Brewery.  Spent $38 on wings, a couple of beers and a sampler.  Not cheap.  But good.

The rain broke by the time we got back to camp, and set up the camper.   Soaked in a little mountain stream and aspen as the sun set, and went to bed.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mesa Verde Day 2 and Four Corners

We had to be up early Monday morning to get to our 9:00am tour of Balcony house.   Vicki woke with a bad headache and had no energy.

We ate grapenuts and protein bars, and headed out to Balcony House.

It was cloudy, and there was rain in the morning forecast.   When we arrived at the parking area for Balcony House, Vicki just felt like she didn't have the energy to do it and wanted to rest in the car.  So I took the trip "solo".

 I was one of three Americans in the group.  There were 15 French, 15 German, a couple of Brits, and I think maybe a couple of Canadians.

Our guide, Paula, turned out to be the same lady who had sold us the tickets the day before.   Like Jo, she loved being a guide but they all have to do some time behind the counter as well.

This trip started out with a long flight of stairs down, a short walk along the side of the cliff, and then up a 30' ladder to the actual structure.   This was a colder location that didn't get as much sun, and it was built to be easily defended.  The theory is that this was a place where they stored a lot of their food, which, of course was very important.

It rained off and on during the tour, but never any sort of downpour.  And after climbing back out, I looked over to where the car hand been.  No Vicki.

No car.

She had driven to find a restroom, and had to do a whole loop to get back and parked in a different spot across the lot.  Whew.

We went on to the self-guided Spruce Tree House (accessible behind the Museum we'd been to the day before), and it was great to be able to spend as much time as we wanted just looking it over ... you're not rushed along as in the guided tours.  It WAS relatively crowded.  There was a Kiva there you could go down into, but it was rather busy and I was glad we'd been to Edge of the Cedars once again.  I didn't feel the need.

We exchanged playing photographer with an older couple, and decided to go to go to the park Cafe and Gift Shop.  Luckily, we got there RIGHT ahead of a tour bus.   They had something called a "Navajo Taco"  .... which was truly something else.  Lot of food, and good.  Ate, browsed the gift shop  - I actually found a silver/onyx inlay Kokopeli ring I'd been looking to repace an old one that never fit right.

Swung by the campsite and grabbed the propane tank from the camper.  Not really sure how much we'd used, but wanted to make sure we didn't run out tonight.  We headed into town, and found a gas station that filled bulk propane.   Turned out we'd used about half of it up to that point, and it was pretty cheap to fill it back up.  Filled the car with gas as well.

It was only about 3 in the afternoon.   We had originally planned on perhaps swinging by Four Corners on our way down to Mesa Verde from Moab, but cut it out of the trip as it was getting later in the day Saturday.  I knew we were within 60 miles of it, but I thought I'd punch it into the GPS and see how far it was.

38 miles.

That's a quick trip to Booneville back home.   We decided to go.

The road runs for a while along the edge of Mesa Verde, which rises from the plain on the left side of the road.  But the farther southwest you go, the more you see the kind of landscape Monument Valley is famous for.  Which shouldn't be surprising since Monument Valley is about another 40-60 miles down the road from Four Corners.

The weather continued to be a mixture of sun and clouds with long views to the south and west .   The sky was a dynamic canvas of clouds with dark, soft rain shadows falling from many of them.  Bright white where sun touched the clouds, soft purples where it didn't, and shafts of sunlight piercing through it all.

About where 160 splits off of 491 toward Four Corners is an impressive monument structure called Chimney Rock, a lone tower rising from the desert floor not far from the edge of the cuesta behind and to the east.

After the turn the road looked even more like a movie set with the black ribbon stretching out to the west, mountains to the north, and small mesas dotting the landscape.

The turnoff to Four Corners Navajo Nation Monument arrived unceremoneously, with a couple-hundred yard drive off the road into a parking lot.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  In my imagination, Four Corners would be in the middle of an extremely flat desert with little to no vegetation, and maybe a small concrete pad with a brass marker.

It's a pretty decent sized paved plaza.  Concrete, with brick colored concrete criss-crossing where the famous quad-border point is, and the names of the four states diagonally in stone in each 'corner'.  Therw are flags of the states and Navajo Nation all around.  There isn't much vegetation in the surrounding area, and the San Juan river runs nearby through the arid landscape, which actually isn't totally flat, but has mounds and mesas and little mini-canyons eroded out of the dirt.   Small colored rocks dot the ground ... some clearly had turqoise in them, among other colored minerals, but the backdrop was definitely desert beige.

There are four "buildings", lines of permanent vendor booths for Navajo artists ... one running diagonally in each state.  And in the center, the marker.

We ran into a group from Canada, one Greg Barnes and the group he was travelling with.  They had flown down to Reno Grand Junction (correction from Peggy -- another woman in the group after I emailed her this picture. Thanks, Peggy!) , I think, rented motorcycles, and were touring the area.  Pretty cool.   We traded photo-ops.  And Vicki and I went along and checked out the booths, about 1/3 of which were open for business.   There was pretty nice stuff there, mostly jewelry.  There was a pretty nifty knife one of them had chipped from quartz.  Some paintings and drawings.  I bought a brass road runner sculpture, and I bought Vicki some jewelry in addition to what she bought for herself and her mom.  These were clearly the best prices we'd seen on anything like this since the trip began as well, which surprised me.

About the time we were done shopping, about 5:00pm ... the vendors were closing down, a sight from across the parking lot caught my eye.  Sun shafts criss-crossing with rain shafts falling in the opposite direction.  I ran across the parking lot for a better shot.

I got a few pretty cool shots, and it did rain off and on.

We jumped back in the car to head back to Mesa Verde.   A rainbow appeared in the east, so I drove across the parking lot to take a few shots of it.   We left, marvelling at the sky and the sun on the desert landscape.   I had to stop and take some shots of Chimney Rock, the road going off to the west, and several other landscape shots.

And we booked back north to Cortez and Mesa Verde, arriving about sunset.  I took a shot of an amazing scene from Lookout Point on the way back to the campsite of clouds and rain over the plain.  We heated some leftovers, had a beer, and hit the sack.

For a last minute, in-again, out-again destination, it was definitely worth the trip, especially that day with the beautifully dynamic sky enhancing the scenery.