Thursday, May 21, 2009

The car stays.

Thanks for the responses to my post about the car. I had some good responses here and elsewhere, and almost all said that the small cost of continued car ownership is probably worth it. Also, as my wife pointed out, if her car had to be in the shop for a week, that's a year's worth of "savings" from having only one car blow in a week.

So I will be keeping the car. Of course, if something happens to it that requires repairs, all bets are off and it will go to the salvage yard!

Vegas & Wedding Pictures

Thanks to my lovely wife for posting pics! Here are our goofy Vegas tourist pictures, and Chris & Suji's wedding pics.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Girls are roosting!


I know, I know, you have all been patiently waiting to see pictures. My skill at posting pictures has been proven(or disproven?) so I have avoided this. Sorry!

But here is one adorable picture, complete with fancy blue tarp roof (A la post hurricane Katrina) which works until we can finish the roofing(this weekend?)

Notice that as a true chick (ha!) I opted to plant flowers around the yard on Mother's Day weekend instead of finish the roofing. I do have priorities, and cuteness is number one. We also added a mulch walkway that leads to the door into the yard and the clean out door, so slogging through the mud is not part of the fun.

When I went out to close the hatch tonight, after the girls had wandered inside as the sun set, I found the most exciting sight. All 6 of the chickens were roosting (or their best attempt at it)! I am not sure when this started, but it must have been within the last week. I am not sure why this tickled me so, but it did. (It made me happy enough that I interrupted Dr Who)

I have to say that the Chickens cost way less than cable tv, but are endlessly more entertaining!

So we think we have settled on the names of Blondie(she has a true punk rock hairstyle), Viper (which is a ridiculous chicken name but is our 13 yr olds lacrosse team), Elvira, Annie (little orphan..) and two that look alike who are Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.

I am sure more tales will follow! Stay tuned folks.
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Monday, May 18, 2009

One Less Car?

I am struggling with a dilemma. Should I get rid of my car? I expect that many people would answer that question in various ways, from "Why?" to "Why would you hesitate?". I would appreciate your comments on this!

This is not as easy a decision as I thought it might be. I have been enjoying the virtues of bike commuting since last summer. Since I've deliberately commuted to work by bike for almost a full year now, through blazing heat and winter snow, I feel confident that I can handle it. And there's the fact that I enjoy it. Nearly every day I look at my car taking up space in front of our house and think, "Why is it there?"

We are a two car family. My wife drives the all-purpose minivan, and I (rarely) drive the same little car I've driven for the last 12 years. I'm the second owner; I bought it from my mother, who bought it new. It's a 1990 Mazda 323, 2-door hatchback. No frills, meaning no A/C, no power steering or brakes, no power windows, etc. It did have automatic seatbelts until the driver's side broke. The interior is rough, the body rougher still. It has a number of dents, scratches, and the bumper is smashed in front, but there's no rust. The engine (with 176k miles on it) runs like a top. I've rarely had to put money into repairing the thing, it just keeps going like the Energizer bunny. It's valued at $550

Insurance costs me $404 per year on this car. That's sure to go up as soon as my teenage daughter gets her driver's license. I put no money into maintenance aside from the bi-annual oil change. Altogether it costs me roughly $40 a month to own, plus gas. 

MPG is about 32, which is quite good. It is an extremely fuel-efficient car. I don't find myself at the gas station so much. 

It's not a particular comfortable car to drive. Manual transmission, with no power steering/brakes/windows. It gets far too hot inside in the summer, it's like a sauna. No A/C, of course. 

I find myself needing to drive the car for work about 2 days per month. I find it convenient to drive probably 4 days per month on average, on top of that -- either because the weather's not friendly or I'm feeling lazy and not wishing to haul a bunch of things to work. (A bike trailer would mitigate that.) Of those days I need to drive (required for my job to visit some remote facilities, too far to bike in a timely fashion), I could arrange with my wife to borrow her vehicle. So not a big deal. However, there are always those times when it's very convenient for the parents to have 2 cars for 3 kids. 

I'm not even considering the argument of how much cheaper it is to use a bike for regular daily travel versus a car. I already do that. The bike's bought and paid for, as is the car. There's no question of investment. I've committed a couple of years ago to not putting any money into repairing this car, and the darn thing just keeps humming along happily with no problems. If a major problem came up, I wouldn't fix it and would get rid of the car. I've been halfway hoping this decision would be made for me, but it seems unlikely to happen any time in the near future. And if I sell it now, while it still runs, I could get a bit of cash for my trouble.

What I'm balancing is the cost of convenience. $40 per month keeps me (and my family) in a second car. If an emergency or priority comes up, it sure is handy. And that seems quite cheap for a second car. If I had to rent one, that's the daily rate for a similar car. 

The bit of cash I could get for the car now would pay for a used road bike, or a bike trailer, or perhaps both if I'm lucky. These are things I've been wanting badly, and go a long way toward replacing a car, so it seems almost a fair trade. Plus, I could put that $40/month into a bike fund and plan on upgrading my bike from time to time.

What would you do?

Viva Las Vegas

My wife and I have returned from four days in Las Vegas. Wow, what a trip! We (who do not take many vacations, especially not without the kids) had a wonderful time together, exploring this glamorous tourist destination and gawking like the tourists we were. We'd come out for a wedding of one of my wife's best friends. To be honest, I'd thought I would never have visited this place, except jokingly talking about having our wedding vows renewed by an Elvis impersonator there. (We were, in fact, going to take this opportunity to do so, as our anniversary is next week, but the cost even for a wedding vow renewal was prohibitive. As a lark, it wasn't worth it to us.) Nonetheless, we had great fun, enjoyed ourselves tremendously, and the wedding was beautiful.

I have heard Las Vegas described as "gleefully unsustainable", and that seems to sum it up perfectly. The city that shouldn't exist, if human dwellings were based on natural resources. It likes in the middle of a desert and yet the waste (not just the use) of water and energy is tremendous. Waste in general happens on a staggering scale, from the litter on the ground to the massive light displays of the Strip that go on all night to the massive water fountain displays. Coming from Fort Collins, this was an immense ecological culture shock (not to mention the social culture shocks). We live in a semi-arid region and water is acknowledged by all who live here as precious. We have constantly evolving water rights issues, grass watering restrictions, and anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that water needs conserving. Not in Las Vegas, oh no. The land is truly a desert, and resources of all kinds (not just water) need to be pumped in from elsewhere on a massive scale. Yes, it makes for great dramatic effect -- there is nothing like the Las Vegas Strip, anywhere in the world -- but in the end I was so turned off by the wastefulness it was difficult to enjoy the moment. Perhaps I'm hyper-aware of the waste and the need for sustainability, but surely I'm not the only one. At some point I think that despite all the benefits it does for the tourism, something will have to give and Las Vegas will need to grow up and shrug off the cheap tarnished veneer it has carried for its entire existence. Perhaps it will be able to reinvent and thus save itself, for it has nothing but that false glamour.

That being said, we didn't wander far from the Strip. We didn't have a car and although we talked about hopping on the bus, there was no real need for us to be anywhere else. We did take the bus that goes up and down the Strip, but found that the Strip itself was so pedestrian-friendly that we didn't need to, much. Besides, for us our entertainment was all about walking and gawking. Our expenses came mostly from food, though we caught a variety show and Madame Tussaud's wax museum, and didn't gamble (except on the penny slots).

I counted the number of bikes I saw in these four days in the city: 10. Half of them were bicycle cops. (A lot of the cops also used Segways.) I saw that many bikes within the first four minutes of returning to Fort Collins. I kept thinking that a bike would be so handy for us, as our hotel was just off the Strip (about 3/4 mile).

Our hotel was the Wild Wild West, which I don't recommend. I chose it because it was cheap, and yep, it was. The rooms were clean enough, the shower worked, the walls were paper-thin but the door lock held. They neglected to leave soap for us and it took three times asking the front desk, and a Spanish-language call from my wife to the housekeeping staff to get us a bar of soap. Like nearly every hotel, there was a casino attached, but unlike all the others, this one was so smoky that we couldn't stay in there for more than a few minutes. Twice when we returned from our outings at night, we found police cruisers with flashing lights visiting our hotel. It didn't compare with the luxury hotels on the Strip, and I halfway regret my choice to save a bit on lodging, since I doubt I will visit again.

Still and all, I am happy. Visiting Las Vegas make my home seem like less of a desert, more progressive, cooler, quieter, and sustainably happy. Oh, and much less full of addictions. My wife got kissed by Elvis. A number of firsts for me: Got to ride in a double-decker bus, tried squid, ate at a Brazilian buffet, and of course gamble. I had fun while I was away, but it's good to be back.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The girls are home!

The chicken girls that is. We finished the work on the chicken coop and yard that had to be done before they moved in just last night. (Though there are some details left such as painting touches and roofing material.)

Unfortunately one of the great polish hens (one of the ones with a great tuft of feathers on its head) seems to have been a rogue rooster and will be sent to live on a happy little farm outside the city limits. (No, that is not code for some other means of getting rid of a rooster.)

So here we sit, all in a row, watching the small door that is the hatch out of the coop. One of the girls keeps poking her head out, almost stepping onto the ladder down to the ground, then changed her mind. I figure they will all come flocking out in about 10 minutes, when it is just cold enough for me to call it a night and go inside.

We just heard a melody of baby bird cheeps. A family of birds (finches? I will have to ask my neighbor) have built a nest in the bamboo window shade over the neighboring house. They must have just been thrilled to get some food. It will be fun to keep tabs on how they develop in the coming weeks.

The excitement here can be cut with a knife, really. Suspenseful happenings here, as we watch from the tree!