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The First in the Deck Series

Our most recent DIY experience through the process.

Out With The Old, In With The New

Gotta love a new beginning, right?

Peppermint Shortage

Just a funny afternoon.

Coffeyville, KS

I loved this experience so much that I had to write about it. Then, through e-mails it spread to Coffeyville itself.

Photo Restoration

I had a lot of fun with this "old school" photo. It turned out too cool to not blog about it.

Kitchen Remodel (part one)

This is the first of a nine-part series documenting the remodel of our 50-year-old kitchen in our 100-year-old home!

I pledge allegiance... or do I?


I recall citing the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in school at the beginning of the day. I can't recall exactly when we stopped doing it, though. I am certain that I was in elementary school when the cease took place but the exact time alludes me.

Over the years since, I have heard many discussions concerning the Pledge and many opinions stated about how we were better off as a nation when we did it. Many people talk about how different our youth are today and speculate that the lack of citing the Pledge has much to do with these changes.  I don't know how many times I've seen something on Facebook about it, but certainly enough.

I saw a meme shared on Facebook today that asked the viewer whether school children should be made to cite the pledge.  It then instructs to 'Like' it for a 'yes' or comment on the photo for a 'no'.  At the time I viewed it, there was more than 600,000 'Like's and just over 20,000 comments.  I skimmed some of the comments quickly and saw that many of those were in fact affirmations from people who clearly don't follow instructions very well.

So, with the majority of people vocalizing their agreement that children should be made to cite the Pledge of Allegiance, the following may not be too popular.  But, that's alright.  Popularity is highly over-rated, I assure you.

I've never been against pledging my allegiance to the flag before.  However, I also grew up doing it and never gave much thought to what it was that I was being directed to do.  When I did give thought to what the Pledge is and what it means, I actually objected to it.  Do let me explain.

My allegiance is to my Lord and when asked about taxes and thus allegiance, Jesus responded with the answer to give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's (Matthew 22:21).  He was referencing to give the money to Caesar since Caesar's image was on the coins.  Without spelling it all out for them, Jesus was also implying that we, as the image bearers of God, are to give ourselves to Him (Genesis 1:27).

Jesus spoke tirelessly of the Kingdom of God.  That is where my allegiance lies.  I cannot give my allegiance to any single earthly nation as this would be in direct conflict with and forsaking my allegiance with the Kingdom of God.  Suppose the U.S. went to war with another country, a country in which Christians lived and were threatened by such war.  How could I pledge allegiance to the U.S. without forsaking the principles of the Kingdom of God?  Now, we can stop supposing.  Because the U.S. has already provided weapons to be used against Christians in many places and continues to do so.

Now, I love my neighbors.  And, I am blessed to have been born here in the United States.  I pay my taxes.  I obey the laws.  I am thankful for all the brave people throughout the centuries who have fought for the life and freedom that I enjoy.  But, they didn't do these things so that I would give my allegiance to them or any other group of people.  They did these things so that I could choose to give my allegiance to God and thus be used and empowered by Him to help my fellow man.

We were never promised by either God or our government that the laws of our land would line up with the laws of God.  Quite the opposite, the early church found themselves imprisoned much of the time for breaking the law of the land in order to spread the good news of the Gospel.  I will give to the U.S.A. what is the U.S.A.'s but it didn't create me and therefore has no ultimate authority over me to require my allegiance.

Rounded Deck Stairs

I saw these photos on my news feed on Facebook last week.  They showed up there since the person unknown to me tagged a friend of mine.  I suppose that they had been in a previous conversation about them and the person posting the photos was trying to show them as an example.  Just speculating.

I really like the rounded steps and it has me reconsidering my planned deck design.  As you can see in my mock-up below, I was planning on having a set of long deck stairs, but with two 45 degree angles in them to get them to wrap around and make the corner.  I think what I'll do different is replace these stairs with one set of rounded ones instead.  I won't quite get the same deck area from doing this since I'll only be able to bend these out so far.  But I think that it will be a nice custom touch that will help add a little calm to the deck design.  It will also tie in to the rounded brick patio area.

Another thing I realize that needs changing about my design is that the height is not at all to scale.  This design comes from a 3D version of my house that I built using Google Sketchup.  I began this project for the sole purpose of seeing what the house would look like in different color schemes.  My intention was to just build the house pretty basic and only focus on the front and one side so that I could show my wife as many different color schemes as her heart desired from the one angle.  However, one thing led to another and before I knew it, I was searching the web for 3D versions of some of the most needless detailed additions to my model.

The benefit is that I can use it for things like this to help me design the perfect deck.  Concerning the unscaled height I mentioned earlier, there's no real way to fix it on Sketchup without completely redoing everything from the foundation up.  What happened was that I just guessed at the height of the foundation when I started the project.  In reality, my house sits about 18" taller than what this design shows.  In turn, my deck only shows three steps coming down into the yard, but it'll be more like five or six.

To remedy this partly, I may add a couple steps from the back door to the deck.  This will lower the entire deck height and allow me to only have three or four steps from the deck to the yard.  If I do this, I can also make those steps rounded and help tie in the deck design to the house a bit.

I don't yet know when we will start this project but I'm certain that, with at least 4 years of planning already under our belts, we'll have all the bugs worked out when we do.

Hot Off The Press!

While in Virginia, we stayed with our good friends, the Andersons.  We're coffee drinkers and they evidently aren't.  But, they are great hosts!  They didn't have a drip coffee maker but what they did have was infinitely better:  a french press.

I didn't actually have any experience with a french press so to make some coffee I had to resort to the wisdom of YouTube.  Within minutes, though, I was well on my way to making some of the tastiest coffee I have had in a long while.  Why has someone not turned me on to these before?!

It was pretty much just as easy to make coffee with this thing than a standard drip coffee maker.  It actually took less time to make it.  And, yet, it is way better than what I have waited impatiently for to come out of my drip coffee maker at home.  The best part was that Jodi helped Chena reorganize her kitchen over the course of several hours.  And, they discovered that they actually had two french presses.  And, they sent us home with one of them.  Yay!

Coffee will never be the same at the our house.  Even away from our house for that matter.  Now, we're all set up to make coffee while camping.  If you're a coffee drinker and you haven't tried one of these, I suggest you go buy one.  You won't be disappointed.

The Moral Argument

"...I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts..." - Hebrews 8:10

The moral argument is a logical argument that goes something like this:
  1. If objective morality exists, then God must exist.
  2. Objective morality exists.
  3. Therefore, God exists.
I love the moral argument for its simplicity and ease of use in conversation.  Intuitively, we all agree, atheists and theists alike, that there is such a thing as objective morality.  However, some atheists do try to deny it for the sake of argument despite the fact that they secretly live by it.  Their attempts to argue it usually miss the point by circumventing it.

A common rebuttal goes something like this: "You're saying that atheists cannot be moral and I personally know some atheists that live to a higher moral standard than even some theists I know."  The problem with this argument is its completely misdirected basis.  First, the moral argument makes no assertion about one's ability to live morally.  Rather, it's discussing objective morality.  Of course, an atheist can live morally.  They have the same objective morality standard that theists have.  The issue is not whether atheists can be moral, but rather that they have no standard to which to attribute the morality they live by.

They'll claim subjective morality.  They claim that some action is either right or wrong because they or society or both deem it either right or wrong.  Subjective morality is subject to either personal or popular opinion.  But, subjective morality is not a standard at all.  It's a moving target.

So, what is objective morality?  It's a standard or a basis of right and wrong independent of our opinions or beliefs.  Undeniably, we all carry objective moral beliefs. For example, strangling babies is always wrong.  It just is.  No one will argue against that.  But where does this morality come from?  Surely, it has a source.  Why do we feel bad when doing wrong?  What internal force restrains us from the carnal survival instinct by which evolution theory suggests we should be driven?  Why do we inherently know right from wrong?  Where does our conscious originate?

Bible-believing Christians have an explanation for all objective morality.  We believe Hebrews 8:10 and know that God has written his laws on our hearts and in our minds.  We know right and wrong from the start.  Any parent can attest to that.  Objective morality is not a learned thing, but rather it is ingrained in each of us.  (We don't teach our children morality, we appeal to the objective morality they already possess to shape their behavior patterns.)  Objective morality is a code that is there whether we choose to live by it or not.  Atheists have no satisfactory logical explanation for objective morality.  And, certainly, evolution and natural selection don't offer up any suggestions.

Matching Travel Trailer

I created this Mazda5 trailer digitally with GIMP today but someday I think that it would be pretty awesome to create one for real.

On my way down to pick up Jacob from Louisiana, I managed to get 28.75 mpg in the car.  Almost all of that driving was on flat stretches of highway on a beautiful, still day with the car fully cleaned out in preparation for our road trip the following day.

Coming back from Virginia, I was checking our fuel consumption with every fill up.  And, at one point it actually got down to 14.5 mpg.  The difference was that we were driving east to west (into the wind), we had 5 passengers, we were traveling over the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains, and we had the top of the car loaded down with my DIY roof rack, all of our luggage, a running stroller, and some more stuff given to us that we were bringing home from our friends' house.  We pretty much lost all aerodynamics with the return trip.

This is why I would like to have a trailer such as the fictitious one pictured above.  It's unique.  It's stylish.  It's already equipped with the proper lights.  It's roomy.  It's lockable.  It's long enough to sleep in on a camping trip.  With two sliding doors, it's very accessible.  And, it's aerodynamic.  I found a pretty cool resource that would help me find one for cheap, too.  It's called Salvage-Cars-For-Sale.info.  This site helps me search for a wrecked Mazda5 or whatever make and model I choose.  With a cutting torch, some sheet metal, a welder, some primer and paint I could have myself one of these bad boys.  Plus, I could potentially salvage the motor, electronics, seats, etc. and either sell them to reduce the cost of the salvage purchase or save them in case I might need them for our vehicle.

I don't know if my wife would approve of such a purchase.  But, I sure would like to get one if we ever intend to do something like this trip again.  After all, we traveled a whopping 3,382 miles in total in only 10 days time.  Once out of the mountains, I was still only getting 17 mpg with all of our weight and stuff on top.  I estimate that if we were pulling a trailer like the one shown above, we would likely get about 23 mpg instead of averaging around 17.  The 6 mpg improvement would've equated to $181 in gas savings.  And, I'm being realistically conservative with these numbers.  I'll concede that we would likely never travel so much as to have it completely pay for itself.  But, the usefulness of it on the trips we did take it I believe would make it worth the cost.

Here are some real world examples that I found of people doing the same thing but with different cars.



Parking Ticket Extortion


Extortion is defined by Wikipedia as:
Extortion (also called shakedown, outwresting, and exaction) is a criminal offense of unlawfully obtaining money, property, or services from a person, entity, or institution, through coercion. Refraining from doing harm is sometimes euphemistically called protection. Extortion is commonly practiced by organized crime groups. The actual obtainment of money or property is not required to commit the offense. Making a threat of violence which refers to a requirement of a payment of money or property to halt future violence is sufficient to commit the offense. Exaction refers not only to extortion or the unlawful demanding and obtaining of something through force,[1] but additionally, in its formal definition, means the infliction of something such as pain and suffering or making somebody endure something unpleasant.
While on our vacation, we visited Washington D.C.  It was a pretty cool trip and we enjoyed many of the things we saw and were able to check out while there.  I would do it all again if given the choice to redo that leg of the trip, but one not-so-little annoyance came into play during our short visit: a parking ticket.

Mind you, we were very diligent about parking in the correct places and utilizing public transportation.  As a matter of fact, during the two days we were there, we paid $42 and some change to park our vehicle in various places.  I pumped change into parking meters, swiped my card at electronically-controlled parking stalls, and even downloaded an app on my phone at one point to pay for parking.  And, we paid just over $50 to use the local subways.

I feel like I was awfully responsible and budgeted for these expenditures even before our trip.  But, one place got us.  Just before leaving D.C., we ate at a Fuddruckers.  We parallel parked in a 2-hour parking zone but upon using the app to pay for the parking it told me "This zone does not accept paid parking at this time."  So, we read the parking signs which mentioned two periods of time during the day but didn't include the time period in which we found ourselves parked there.  We asked an employee at the Fuddruckers about the parking to which he replied, "If it won't let you pay for the parking then it must be the 'free parking' period."

I still didn't feel good about it but I decided to trust the local's opinion over my own.  After all, the photo here depicts very similar signage to what was being displayed at our location.  The contradiction of the top sign to the bottom one is not cool.  It's clear that Washington D.C. is preying upon people in order to bring in undeserved gain.  If I, an English-speaking vacation planner, can get confused by the signs and the lack of a clear message, then what chance do the rest of the non-English-speaking tourists have?  And there seemed to be far less English-speaking tourists than not.

But, it's just a parking ticket, right?  Well, it's a $100 parking ticket.  That's not cool at all.  That risks leaving a very bad taste in my mouth for having visited there.  And, this is our nation's capital?  I looked up to see if this would be something that I would have to pay.  And, I found many a forum discussing the implications of not paying such a ticket.  It's just municipal, not criminal.  But, what they'll do is double the fine after 30 days.  Then, they send it to a collections agency.  One person reported having their credit score drop from a pretty nice 810 to 710 over one such parking ticket.  Others reported being denied tag renewal in their home state until the ticket is paid with fees that brought the ticket to over three times the original (and excessive) amount.  All people I found discussing these ticket issues in D.C. have reported that talking to someone is useless as the only people you can reach claim that there is nothing that they can do.  And why should they help?  Washington D.C. collected $92.6 million in 2012 from parking tickets alone.  It's clearly their business to collect money, not to fix an obvious problem.

All this is ridiculous.  The whole point of a parking ticket is to keep automobiles from being parked where they shouldn't be.  The easiest way to do this is to have signs that make sense.  In our example, it should have read "No Parking from 4:00 to 6:30." Or at the very least, the downloaded app and the electronic parking payment station should have said it.  But, they didn't.  The app said that there was no PAID parking.  Leaving out that word would have been more clear.  The signs made no reference to the time period we were there.  And the screen on the electronic parking payment station was damaged and illegible, no doubt from an unhappy driver who received a ticket they didn't deserve.

So, if the point of a parking ticket is to keep me from parking in that spot again during that time period, then why must I pay a $100 ticket?  I live in Missouri.  Guess what, I'm not going to park there again.  Why must it increase to $200 after 30 days?  Why must it triple after 90 days?  Why must my credit rating be affected?  What does my credit worthiness on repaying borrowed money have to do with it?  Why must they enlist the help of Missouri's DMV in denying me future car registrations?  This seems an awful lot like a shakedown by a very organized crime group.

So, in revisiting my initial provided definition of extortion, it's clear that only one word in that definition is keeping D.C. from fitting the bill.  That word is "unlawfully."  See what they did?  Washington D.C. has made it the law and thus lawful to do as long as it is them doing it.  So, my question to you is this:  If some entity has the power to make themselves exempt from criminal activity by altering the law, does this remove them from the moral implications?  Or, are they still criminals just acting with the law on their side?

Secret Vacation

I love going on vacation.  But, then again, who doesn't?  It's seriously hard to contain myself.  As I write this it's the Wednesday before we leave for our trip.  Only I can't post this blog.  Why not?  Because I'd rather not announce to the world that I'm not going to be home for a week.  I'd like to come home to a house that's in the same condition we left it.

And this is my dilemma.  I might as well already be on vacation since my mind is already there.  But, I can't talk about it at all with anyone except my wife. And, this I have done quite a bit.  She's very excited, too.

The excitement is not at all just that I'm off of work.  Though, I'm glad to get a break.  The real excitement is that we're doing something that we've never done before.  We're taking a family vacation.  Honestly, we've never done that before.  All five of us will be loading the car down with all of our travel gear and be heading to the east coast to see friends, tour our nation's capital, and enjoy a road trip for the first time.  I even built a DIY roof rack out of EMT electrical conduit on top of the car to hold all of our luggage so that we can stretch out and be more comfortable inside the car.

Jodi and I have been to Myrtle Beach, SC for our honeymoon.  And, we recently came back from Haiti for a vacation/mission trip.  We've taken a few trips with our children to visit family.  But, we've never gone on a trip for the purpose of vacation with all our children.  So, we're super psyched up about it.  It will be a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, if you're reading this, that means that we're actually done with our trip and we're home already since I have to wait to post it until we get back.  The good news is that shortly after this blog should be plenty of posts showing many of the things that we did.  Pictures.  Stories.  Memories.  :)

DIY Auto Roof Rack

One of the things that we lost when we sold the 7-passenger Ford E-150 van and bought the 6-passenger Mazda 5 was space.  Not that I'm regretting the transaction, I'm not.  But, the space was pretty nice.  Too bad we paid for that space with every trip.  The van got about 14 mpg versus the Mazda getting about 26.  I could go on at great length why I prefer the Mazda over the Ford, but there's no need for that.

With three children, we needed a third row.  Yes, some families pull it off with only two, but I am willing to bet that those families would love the extra row and the extra personal space that goes along with it.  Children get along a lot easier when they're not forced to rub elbows.

With the third row folded down, there is cargo room galore.  The downside to the third row, however, is when it is flipped up for use, the cargo room goes from "Sure, we can move that recliner for you" to "Honey, you'll have to put the gallon of milk in your floorboard because the hatch won't shut with it behind the backseat."

So, an alternative was needed.  I priced aftermarket roof rails at $153 + shipping.  But since that would just be two cross rails, I'd still need something else in order to actually put anything up there.  So, I looked around at the vast inventory of random stuff at my house and this is what I came up with.  Here's my material list:
  • (6) 3/4" x 10' EMT conduit     -     $3.87 each     -     $23.22
  • (6) 7/8" rubber feet (pkg. of 4)     -     $.99 each     -     $5.94
  • (4) 6M x 3/4" bolt     -     $.30     -     $1.20
  • (4) 1/4" lockwasher     -     $.05     -     $.20
  • (4) 3" corner brace     -     $.90     -     $3.60
  • (20) 1/4" x 2" bolt     -     $.10     -     $2.00
  • (20) 1/4" nut     -     $.03    -     $.60
I already had the items in blue so it only cost me $9.94 + tax to make this.  And, to get the angle I wanted, I substituted some old piano foot pedal braces I had in lieu of 2 of the corner braces.  But, even if I hadn't had any of it, it still would've only totaled about $40 with tax.  And this is going to be much more useful than any aftermarket set of rails.

I think that it turned out pretty good.  I doubt a person could come up with a more stylish, equally useful alternative for less cost than this.  And, it's easy to remove with just the four mounting bolts.  It's surprisingly light and yet super strong.  Those cross bars don't hardly move even with me sitting on them.  Yes, I tried it.

The next time we all have to hit the road with luggage, we'll be able to stretch out and ride in comfort while our luggage is safely secured out of our way.

Restored Headlights

I bought some headlight restorer compound this week.  I thought that I'd give it a try.  I had heard some really good reports about the stuff and knew that our car was in desperate need for it.  Our car is 7 years old and the plastic headlights had become pretty yellowed and clouded.

I have to say that I wasn't all that impressed with the way that it turned out.  I mean, yeah, it looks a lot better.  But, I was sort of expecting to have my expectations blown away with the results.  Wait... does that sentence even make sense?  How could I be expecting the result to exceed my expectations?  My head just exploded.

Anyway, I'm certainly no color expert, but I'd say that about 95% of the yellowing is gone.  As for the cloudiness, it's more like 65% cleared up.  Without the yellow tint, the cloudiness is a great deal less noticeable.  I will give it that.  But, 35% or so is still there.  I guess when I was done I wanted it to look brand new.  Is that too much to ask?  Besides, what ever happened to glass headlights.  Those were the good ol' days, weren't they?  Back then, your headlights would be restored to new condition every time it rained.  {scoff}  Advanced technology.  {eye roll}

Maybe I did it wrong.  I saw that some of the more expensive kits come with a buffer attachment for a drill.  I just used a cloth.  My results certainly don't look like this product image.  But, then again, they cheated.  They overly contrasted the "after" image.  This can be seen if you compare the blacks of both images.  The "after" image has much darker blacks which means it also has much brighter whites. {scoff}  Cheaters.

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