November 29, 2018: There’s a new pickup truck sitting in our driveway these days, and while it isn’t exactly brand new from the factory, the 2008 Ford F-150 is certainly new to us and will undoubtedly be getting a workout in the years to come. It wasn’t something we planned on, but sometimes life happens and you roll with it.
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Adding a truck to our vehicle stable was about the farthest thing from our minds before Oct. 30, the day Glenn received a text message from his brother Sean asking if we’d be interested in buying it. The truck belonged to the company Sean worked for and had been used mostly for field work. But the firm was in the process of shutting down its Bay Area operations and Sean was preparing to move to a new job come the middle of November, so as one of his last duties for his employer he had to find a new home for the Ford. The asking price: $3,000. This would require some careful consideration.
We’ve never thought of ourselves as a truck family, although we’d be lying if we said we never considered owning one. There was a time when Roni was staffing information booths for the Delta Science Center at area fairs and festivals that it would have been great to have a truck to haul all her gear, and then there were frequent runs to Oakland to collect large print jobs — newsletters and calendars that required us to rent U-Haul vehicles so we wouldn’t overload our passenger cars. Glenn often wished we had our own truck whenever he needed large sheets of plywood or drywall from Home Depot, because there is no way to fit a 4-by-8 sheet of anything in the back of a Toyota Corolla.
We briefly looked into pickups while we were shopping for Roni’s car back in 2014. We even test drove a fire-red Toyota Tacoma up into the hills east of Livermore, disappointing our salesman who eagerly tried to part us from $27,000 of our hard-earned cash. As much as we liked the versatility a truck could offer, we couldn’t justify the higher cost of the gas it would consume or the insurance it would require and the $6,000 premium in purchase price versus a smaller passenger car. Roni couldn’t see herself driving a truck every day around town, while Glenn didn’t like the idea of using it for his work commute. Ultimately practicality won out and Roni opted for her Corolla. Less than three years later Glenn left his job and there was no need for an extra vehicle at all, let alone a truck.
But when the price is right, even a skeptic eventually comes around. Sean had presented us with an offer that was too good to pass up, so after a couple of days to mull things over we texted him back and made an offer of $2,500. We had no idea if his company would accept our low bid; even higher-mileage vehicles from the same model year are going for around $9,000 or more online. But the company seemed more interested in closing out its operations than haggling over price, and with Sean negotiating on our behalf with his bosses we were able to close the deal at the price we wanted. Sean’s work paid for the smog certificate and we just needed to shell out an additional $434 for the sales tax and registration. The Ford was ours.
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EAN DELIVERED THE truck to us Nov. 15 and we signed off on the title transfer. The next thing we did was perform the driveway equivalent of musical chairs. For the past four years we have been a three-car family. Although we retired Roni’s 1998 Corolla when we bought her 2015 model, the old car has been a fixture in the middle of our driveway. We thought Ben would eventually drive it once he got his license, but instead he inherited Glenn’s 2001 Corolla while the ‘98 just sat around taking up space, its battery pilfered to keep the ‘01 car running.
We widened our driveway a year ago with the idea that the three-car situation was only temporary. Eventually Ben would leave home or Glenn wouldn’t need a car and we’d be back to two cars. We didn’t count on adding the truck. Now we needed a place to park it. Sean, Roni and Glenn pushed the ‘98 closer to the garage while Ben steered, then we pulled the tuck into the space usually inhabited by Ben’s Corolla. Ben had to park behind the truck, doing his best to keep the car off the sidewalk and far enough to the right-hand side of the driveway so Roni could get her car in and out.
This couldn’t last. We had planned to get rid of the ‘98 after the start of the new year, once Glenn’s car passed its biennial smog test and we transferred its title to Ben. But with the truck’s arrival we decided to hasten the process and donated the car to Autism Speaks. They provide a minimum $500 tax deduction or more if the vehicle sells above that. With its age and condition, we’ll be surprised if it goes for more. The towing company confirmed our appointment for Nov. 28, and around 10:30 a.m. that morning they came by with their auto hauler and put the car on the hook. They even got it to successfully start with the help of a jumper cable, so it was able to drive off our property with a little dignity. Roni hung on to the personalized license plates for posterity.
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N NOV. 17 we took the truck for its maiden voyage to Lowe’s. Not so much because we had to, but because we could. We needed some more lumber for our never-ending kitchen remodel project, and while carrying a few 8-foot sticks of 1x4s is certainly within the capabilities of the Corolla, it was nice to know we could load up the bed with our purchase and not have it squished between us in the front seat. Just for kicks, we decided to buy some 10-foot sections of door moulding we needed, mainly because they wouldn’t have fit easily in the car and would justify using the extra gas for the truck.
Despite its 10 years and almost 98,000 miles, the F-150 handles like a dream, its V8 engine generating more than enough power for our simple needs. It came to us as-is, and although Sean did give it a quick wash it still bears the scars of its years as a hard-working field vehicle — a few dents in the body, scrapes in the paint, a crack in the windshield. Mostly minor defects. We were lucky enough to inherit the tool chest bolted down to the bed behind the cab, but we aren’t sure yet whether we’ll keep it there or store it away in the garage. It obscures our view through the back window and consumes a chunk of space in the already short 5½-foot bed.
We don’t anticipate using the truck too often, but it is sure to come in handy when we get back to our garage cleanup sometime in the new year. Roni is already eyeing a few dump runs. Both of us want to reclaim some storage space in our small house, and now we have no good excuse to not do so.
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ARS HAVE BEEN on our mind a lot this month, as it is once again time to get Glenn’s old Corolla smogged. The check-engine light has been on for more than three years, and while we admit this isn’t a good thing, it has avoided the expense of having it fixed for a car that is already 18 years old. Through some coaxing, Glenn barely managed to get the car smogged two years ago, but this time around he has determined there is no avoiding the repairs. The trick is diagnosing the cause of the problem. Ben is pulling for him because he relies on the car to get him to and from work, and because he will inherit full title on the vehicle once it is registered for next year.
In an effort to troubleshoot the problem Glenn purchased a live scan tool called BlueDriver. It connects via bluetooth (hence its name) to an app on the iPhone and enables the user to see data from the car’s on-board computer system. You can drive with the program running and check such things as fuel trim and voltages of various sensors to see if they are reading correctly. The one thing we have discovered is that Glenn’s Corolla is using a lot more fuel than normal, which likely points to a vacuum leak in the engine or exhaust system.
The cause of the problem could be anything from a cracked hose to a bad fuel pump. To rule out some of the many possibilities, Glenn plans to hook the car up to a homemade smoke machine that can help ferret out any leaks. He’ll have to do this soon, however, because the registration is due in early January and if it needs to be sent somewhere for repairs then we’ll have to figure out how much is worth putting into it. In any case, this is likely the last time it will face a smog check. We are encouraging Ben to start saving for another car within the next two years.
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AVING IS SOMETHING that we have been trying to do when it comes to our own finances, and this month we discovered that we have incredible powers over the economy — we possess the ability to send the stock market down by merely putting our money into it.
Yes, just as we decided to finally invest a bit of the inheritance cash we’d been sitting on that was gathering dust in savings, thinking we’d buy the expected October dip in equities, it seems the rest of the world has decided the bull market is over and is continuing to pull its chips off the table. We apologize in advance to all the other holders of Apple stock, for two days after we bought into the company it announced that it would no longer report iPhone sales and expected a weaker Christmas season, and its shares have been on a roller coaster ride straight down since the first week of November. We’re down about 15 percent on our AAPL position as of this writing, but we bought in for the very long term so we’ll hope the market comes to its senses eventually.
Fortunately we’ve had better luck with AT&T and a closed-end fund we also purchased this past month, so those two holdings have offset much of the Apple agony. Glenn is focused on dividend investing and hopes to slowly build a portfolio to bring in some additional cash as we near our golden years. We’ve long held mutual funds in our retirement accounts, but this is the first time we’ve delved into individual stocks. It is also the first time in a few years that we’ve paid close attention to our portfolio, having left things mostly on autopilot while Glenn was still working. Now we are in the process of moving all our accounts to Vanguard so we can keep better tabs on them, including Glenn’s abandoned 401[k]. Who knows? Maybe one day we’ll actually figure out what we’re doing.
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UR NEVER-ENDING kitchen project is nearing the six-month mark, but for the first time we’re starting to see some light at the end of the home-improvement tunnel. We started off November on a productive note as we finally installed the blue pearl granite tiles on our sink and stove counters. We waited until after Halloween for this messy phase because preparations for trick-or-treaters distracted us from the project, and you don’t have time to be distracted when you’re playing with hydrated mortar.
Glenn had spent much of October “grading” the tiles we had purchased and making paper templates to see how they would fit together on the countertops. Given the problems we’d had with our tile orders and finding enough pieces that weren’t cracked, scratched, unevenly polished or otherwise damaged, Glenn made sure to save the best specimens for the most visible areas of the project — around the sink. After cutting everything on our tile saw and test-fitting the pieces, it was time to literally set it all in concrete.
The final step before tiling was to readjust the farmhouse sink basin to the correct height, which meant a bit more sawing and sanding of its cabinet. We had moved the heavy sink basin in and out of position so many times that it was getting scratched on its sides, and we feared eventually our luck would run out and something important would get damaged. Glenn had wanted to mortar the tiles without the sink in the way, but once he was satisfied with the adjustments he decided to leave it in place.
The tiles went down reasonably well. We’re amateur tile-setters, so there are a couple of rough spots we could have done better, but once the grout was added it helped disguise some of our mistakes. The most important goal was to keep the tiles at the correct height around the sink basin, and we accomplished that; the sink sits flush to the counter. We used a pewter-colored caulk that matches the color of our grout to fill in the gaps around the sink area, and once the wall tiles are installed we will also caulk at the seams between the walls and the countertops. We buffed off all the haze from the grout and then coated the tiles with granite sealer. They look pretty. For the trims along the counter edges we installed lengths of Rondec and finished them with blue pearl accent tiles. We did not do the counter next to our refrigerator yet because we still have cabinet work to do there and didn’t want to risk damaging the tiles after going to the work of placing them. Probably will get to that side in December.
Once the sink counters were done we still had to hook up the new farmhouse sink. We had been without water for more than a month since tearing out the old double basin in mid-September. Glenn had already done all the prep work for the new single basin, rebuilding the drain trap and attaching our existing garbage disposal to it. The new sink does not include holes for faucets, so those have to be drilled into the countertop. Given all the work we’d done to install these troublesome tiles, the fewer holes the better. We planned to use our existing faucet, but Roni worried that it was too small for this gargantuan basin, so it was back to Home Depot to shop for a new faucet.
Just for the record, sink faucets are insanely expensive. The one we got is a $200 Glacier Bay model with a satin nickel finish that has a detachable spray head and conveniently needs just one hole to install. Roni liked it because it also has a sensor that turns on the water with a wave of the hand, and it shuts off automatically after three minutes so you can just leave the valve set to open and basically forget it. We bought a special abrasive wheel that you attach to a cordless drill and used it to bore a hole in the counter. The faucet installed quickly and seems to work like a champ.
The sensor feature proved its worth immediately. We have long agonized over how to keep our cats Phoenix and Phyre off the kitchen counters, as they love to look out the window at the neighborhood cats that wander through our yard. The first night of the new faucet, both cats were curious and came up to the counter to explore. Phyre was the bolder of the two and actually crawled into the sink to check it out. All went well until he triggered the sensor and got an unexpected shower. We’ve never seen him bolt out of the kitchen so fast! There have been a few more close encounters, but both cats seem to have at last gotten the message that the water will go on if they enter the “forbidden zone,” and so they have been avoiding it.
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AVING A WORKING sink again certainly makes the kitchen feel like… well, a kitchen. Roni has been able to do some cooking and the dishes are getting cleaned now that water has been restored to the dishwasher — no more eating off paper and plastic plates. Now we are looking forward to finishing off all the cabinetry.
Glenn shifted his focus from cutting tile back to building doors and drawer faces. He decided it was easiest to make them in assembly line fashion, so he spent several days just cutting boards and gluing and screwing frames together in his makeshift woodshop on the back patio. This phase went quickly not just because he is getting tired of the time it is taking to complete the project, but also because we knew rain was on the way and he would have to pack all his tools back into the garage for a while.
For the sink cabinet, Roni didn’t want to return to return to way it was with a couple of doors closing off the area. The sink has long been a cluttered collection of cleaning supplies and junk, all of which has to be moved aside to access the water shutoffs or if you heaven forbid need to find something hidden at the rear. We decided to solve the problem by converting the cabinet to a large pull-out drawer. We bought a pair of heavy-duty 20-inch tracks and then Glenn built a shelf with low sides from plywood. He attached a false front to the shelf so that upon casual glance it appears to be a couple of regular cabinet doors, but the whole thing slides out as one unit and is very convenient.
The smaller drawers were easy to retrofit. We pried apart the sides to remove the old faces, then constructed new faces from solid pine boards. We also updated the cutting board, which after more than 30 years was looking pretty ragged. The original one was made from three-quarter-inch plywood that had lost its outer layer to years of chopping and slicing. We looked for something more stylish, such as a hardwood butcher-block surface, but found them all to be either too thick or too expensive. So as a temporary solution we bought an unfinished, laminated pine plank from Lowe’s and cut it to fit our specs. Glenn rounded the edges with his router and seasoned the wood with a special mineral oil so it can be used for food preparation. It is beautiful and functional, and cost roughly $25 to make.
As the month ends we have turned our attention to the cabinets on the opposite side of the room above the refrigerator. Glenn is extending them by about a foot to level off with the top of the partition wall between our kitchen and living room. The top box is built, its face attached, and the whole thing primed and sanded in preparation for a final coat of paint and the doors that have already been constructed. Once this is done and the remaining countertop is tiled, we move on to tiling the backsplashes and adding shiplap to the remaining exposed walls. By Christmas, Santa may not recognize it.
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HE RAINS HAVE finally arrived, and while that may not be good for continued work outdoors during the kitchen project, it is exactly what was needed to help cleanse our air of the smoke that has been a constant presence during much of the summer and now into fall. The source of the latest smog to pollute the Bay Area was the Camp Fire that destroyed most of the town of Paradise earlier this month. Before that, we never realized how many people we know have connections to that little community of 27,000 in the Sierra foothills.
The smoke from the fire drifted southwest and raised our pollution count to extremely unhealthy levels. Our Air Quality Index numbers were above 200 and 300 for days when they should be less than 50. People were advised to wear masks if not stay indoors entirely. Schools and a few businesses in our area closed on the worst days, including our bank branch and the Antioch AAA office on the date we had originally planned to register our truck.
The smoke just compounded any other breathing problems we might already have. Glenn says only half in jest that the dust he has inhaled while sawing and sanding in the kitchen has probably been much worse than the fires.
We’ve made it through Halloween and Thanksgiving and are now getting ready to embark on Christmas season, even though our house is far from being holiday-ready. The kitchen isn’t the problem; it’s the construction-related objects that have found their way into the living room, dining room and entryway. Roni periodically makes an attempt to straighten the clutter, but all that does is cause Glenn to lose the tools he needs for the project. So we’ve basically decided we just have to finish as soon as we can, and hopefully there will be an unoccupied patch of the house to raise the Christmas tree.
Despite the disarray, we still managed to have an enjoyable Halloween. Ben had to work, but Roni still made a few of her fun Halloween-themed dinner items, including “mummy dogs” (hot dogs wrapped in Pillsbury dough) and “werewolf in the waldorf” salad (a waldorf salad made to look like a werewolf with glowing red tomato eyes.) We had just enough time to pull some of our decorations out of the garage and throw a display together for the front porch. Glenn carved a Jack Skellington jack o’lantern in about half an hour as the sun went down. Then we waited for nearly an hour before the first trick-or-treaters arrived. It seemed like we would have an unusually light year for candy handouts, but the crowds rolled in toward mid-evening and we wound up being quite busy.
We managed to get out of cooking duty on Thanksgiving by taking up invitations to visit family. Normally this would not have been our year to spend the holiday with Glenn’s folks, but with his dad still down in Hemet indefinitely we thought his mom would enjoy the company. Roni made up some Hawaiian-style candied yams and Ben baked a batch of Mrs. Fields cookies to share. We were the first to arrive, for a change, when we got to Hayward. We were later joined by Glenn’s brother Sean and then sister Jennifer with Tom and the kids. Tom is still coming down from his recent defeat in the Hayward City Council election, but we’ve all congratulated him on his strong fourth-place finish out of eight candidates. During dinner we got to say hi to Dad and Grandma Sorenson via video chat, but it’s just not the same without everyone being around the table.
Two days later, we joined in on a post-Thanksgiving feast hosted by Roni’s sister Jacki and brother-in-law Kevin at their house in Antioch. It was a large gathering consisting mostly of folks from his side of the family — three sisters and their elderly parents, plus three spouses and a half-dozen kids. The oldest of those “kids,” our niece Kristy and nephew Robert, are now into their 30s and hitting their stride in the grown-up world. Robert brought his wife of nearly 18 months(!) Rebecca, and Kristy is still beaming over her recent raise and promotion to store manager at Walgreens.
Ben had the day off, so he came along with us even though he was a bit nervous having to socialize with a group of people he doesn’t know well. He has missed out on the past couple of family gatherings in Antioch because they conflicted with his work schedule, so it was great he got to visit with his cousins. Jacki and Kevin smartly set up a banquet table inside their garage, so there was plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the buffet-style meal and desserts.
That’s a wrap for November. Hope things don’t get too crazy during the busy Christmas shopping month ahead, but always remember the reason for the season.