Big Decisions

There are points in my life where I’m faced with big decisions even though I feel largely unqualified to make the right choice. Two of those came up recently.

The first was “Where should we send Elijah to school?” Proximity to school through grade 8 was a big reason why we bought this house. It would be so nice to just walk out the door and be at school instead of dealing with traffic and commute time. But on the flip side, we’ve really been enjoying our experience at our church preschool and kindergarten. Tyla and I both attended WELS grade schools and we have reaped the benefits both spiritually and intellectually. There are some great WELS schools in the area but they are too far away to make them work.

At the marriage retreat last fall, we talked to a Pastor from our area who mentioned Zion Lutheran School up in Lake Stevens. It’s an LCMS school and after visiting it, we felt like God was nudging us in that direction. It will mean a ~30 minute commute one way to school, but it’s doable and we’re going to give it a shot. We don’t love it as much as we’ve loved the WELS schools and we’ll need to pay closer attention to the doctrine he’s taught, but we’re going to give it a go.

The second big issue arose after I popped my head up into the attic for my annual (well… less than that because I’m lazy) check of the crawl space and attic. I discovered obvious mold. I stared at it for quite a while before acknowledging that there was no way to ignore this and hope it went away. Thankfully, we found a contractor who has been great to work with and the remediation plan is well underway. We caught it plenty early so that no structural damage was done and there were no health concerns. Once we finish the remediation plan, there will be a lifetime warranty that gets transferred to future owners so I feel pretty good about the situation.

During the decision making processes, there was no avoiding the fact that both choices could have dramatic and long-reaching effects on our future. The school one was obviously more important, but making the wrong choice with the house could easily cost us tens of thousands of dollars in the short term or when we sell the house. Through it all, my prayer was always “Lord, you know the path I should take. I feel like you’re leading me to this choice. Please make it obvious if I’m supposed to choose something different.” God has it all planned out for us and it can feel like a shock when he reveals some of the bumps to us, but there’s comfort in knowing that he’s going to make it all work out for the best. (Romans 8:28, Jeremiah 29:11)

Cord Cutting the Super Bowl

We canceled cable last summer and for the most part, our antenna has filled our needs. We get great reception on FOX, but not great on NBC. CBS and ABC are somewhere in the middle. Since we host a party every year, reception of the game is kind of important.

CBS had been working fine in the days leading up to the game so I wasn’t too concerned, but then it started snowing (for the first time this year) a couple hours before the game. Since we’re kind of on the fringe with our reception, the snow was just enough to start messing with the signal a little more. If it was just me, I wouldn’t have worried about it, but it’s not fun having 20 people watching a glitchy signal.

Thankfully CBS was streaming the game for free and they even supported Chromecast so I used that on the projector. Our experience there was generally good but it probably buffered 10 times and once I had to restart the stream completely. Downstairs I needed it on the Roku so I signed up for a free trial of CBS All Access. (I used a temporary credit card number so that I don’t have to worry about forgetting to cancel my subscription!) I didn’t watch that TV but the people downstairs didn’t ever see it buffer and didn’t realize that it wasn’t a “normal” TV feed.

So it was definitely not as easy as traditional cable, but it was pretty good. I think next time I’d use my Xbox to stream the game through a paid service (like CBS All Access) instead of using the free stream from the website and I suspect that would have gotten rid of the few problems that we did have.

Leavenworth Condo

Last weekend, Don kindly let us use some of his timeshare credits and we all went over to Leavenworth for the weekend. Thankfully there wasn’t any new snow in the pass so it made the drive relatively quick and easy.

It was a quick trip since we arrived Friday evening and left Sunday morning. Saturday was our big day and we got things started with sledding. There was a great U-shaped hill right behind the condos. Even those the snow was hardpacked and icy in spots, we were able to find a gentle slope that was just right for Elijah. I figured he’d be bored after a couple runs but he must have made 20 or 30 trips up that hill by himself to come ripping down.

Later in the afternoon we walked around the shops and then we had dinner at Andreas Keller Restaurant. I’ve never been to German so I don’t know how authentic it was, but it sure tasted good! Watch out for the $10 draft beers though. That was a surprise when we got the bill.

Elijah really wanted to go sledding again so we did a little more on Sunday. Unfortunately the run had changed a bit overnight and it shot him off the side head first into a park bench. OUCH. Tyla and I were pretty nervous about a concussion but he showed now signs for the rest of the day and even got back on his sled and tried it again. Note to self: teach my son how to bail out.

It’s always a lot of work traveling with a family, but it was a nice weekend. Thank you Don for sharing your credits with us!

Ecobee Thermostat Plate

After making a simple zero clearance insert with my new Shapeoko 3 XXL, I wanted to try something else fairly simple but slightly more challenging. Ever since I installed our Ecobee 3, I’ve wanted to replace the white plastic plate that goes around the thermostat. But building something that has a nice shape and fits well would be a challenge so I dropped it in my “if I ever get a CNC” project list.

To get started, I grabbed a photo of my model online (there are a lot of slight variations through the years!) and traced around the outside in Inkscape. I used some cheap 1/4″ MDF as test pieces on the Shapeoko and after 4 attempts with tweaks in between, I had a good fit around the thermostat.

Then I added a lot more complexity. Instead of just being cut out, that original hole that I designed became a pocket in the material. I added in a hole all the way through the back for the wires and two more for the mounting screws to pass through. That all went pretty smoothly but the tricky part was making room for the vent on the bottom of the thermostat to exhaust air but not making the vent bigger than it needed to be. I’m still not convinced I have that designed as well as I could, but it got to the “good enough” point after 4 attempts in 3/4″ pine.

For the final cut, I milled up some walnut and put it on the CNC. The first attempt went ok but ended up failing near the end. Despite slowing down the program to account for hardwood, I think I was still a little too aggressive and I might have had the router carriage adjusted a little too loosely. The second attempt went slower (about 35 minutes instead of 20 minutes in pine) but it came out perfectly. I finished up with some sanding and routed a chamfer around the outside using the router table. I finished it with a coat of boiled linseed oil and mounted it on the wall.

This project really made me feel the value of the CNC. It was awesome to tweak my design by fractions of an inch and have a completely new part in under half an hour. It’s a lot easier to experiment than if I was trying to do this all carefully by hand.

Fun fact: about 80% of the way through this project, I was installing a test plate and when I put the thermostat on, it didn’t turn on. Of course this was the last thing I was doing before going to bed. After some panic and opening up service panels on my furnace, I found a fuse that had blown. The next morning, I called my favorite HVAC expert, and verified that replacing the fuse would work. After a quick trip to the store and $2, I was back in action, but boy was that a cold and stressful night! Always turn off your equipment before working on it!

Navy Clock

When Tyla’s dad was in the Navy, he served on the USS Hector fixing clocks. He ended up with one of the clocks from the ship and for his birthday this year, the kids got it fixed up and running again. It sat on a counter in their house until I snagged it and mounted it for his Christmas gift.

I was able to make it with some scrap walnut and maple, but just barely. After I had it all done I realized that I should include a place to hold the winding key. It was kind of hard to work that into the design so I carved out a spot on the top where it can rest. I took the piece of maple to work to use the laser engraver there. The clock has two keyhole mounts routed into the back so hopefully that will be enough to hold the heavy clock onto the wall.

Merry Christmas, Don!