Back to School

Well, sort of. We attended our first two TechShop classes today. Our first together, anyway. My husband went to a class on Carbon Fiber last week. I am being open minded about signing up for just about anything, but I have absolutely no interest in working in Carbon Fiber. That class was taught by an Intel employee. Our classes today were taught by a Steampunk aficionado who makes his living by fabricating costume pieces and props.

Not kidding. He wore one of those top hats with the googles and metal trim. Probably plastic painted to look like metal, but very nicely done. The first class was in using the 3D printers. Our priority is to attend SBU (safety and basic usage) classes, which are required to operate the cool equipment. Which is the main reason to belong to a place like TechShop.

Unfortunately the classroom was busy, so the software demo portion of the class required us to stand around the workstation adjacent to the printer watching the instructor. After an hour of this, my feet and back were complaining. Loudly. Then we got to the actual operating part of the class, which is pretty basic. Load the spool of plastic, turn on the machine and navigate through a simple menu. The only hands-on part was loading and unloading.

Very simple, and yet the one other (older) woman in the class managed to screw it up and jam the printer. One of the class attendees was an Intel employee who uses very high end 3D printers as part of his job. They are not kidding when they say everyone needs to take the classes. The other two attendees were ASU engineering students. Typical class mix.

The second class was in silicon moldmaking and casting. The Intel employee also took this class. The other attendees were a female ASU student and an older ex-military man. I liked this class a lot more than I was expecting. We made a simple silicon mold (mine was for a TechShop keychain) and then cast it in plastic. The molding and casting materials cure at room temp. You just have to mix two liquids in equal parts and get all the bubbles out before the material sets. Which is a little trickier than you would think.

This type of project can be done anywhere, you just need to purchase the materials. You could easily learn it on your own, but it’s nice to have an experienced person teaching the technique. I’m not sure what I would every use it for, but it was a fun class. Tonight’s experience made me a little less trepidatious about our aggressive class schedule over the next few weeks. Let’s see if I still feel that way after taking Woodshop.

That Sinking Feeling

Our new faucet arrived today. It was intact, matched the (different brand) soap dispenser and, astonishingly, I think we will actually be able to open the shutters over it. Oh, did I mention that we can’t open our fabulous new shutters because our current faucet is too tall? The woman who measured for the shutters told us this might be a problem, what she didn’t mention is that we could have ordered bi-fold shutters in order to avoid this issue. The installer brought that up as he hung them. Gee, thanks for the timely information.

We also went out looking at sinks today. The store we visited didn’t carry the brand of cast iron sink I was looking at, but they did have sample colors for the Blanco composite granite sinks. So, what do you know, we decided to order that in a tan color. It’s sort of a lighter version of our wall color. One of the designers there tried to talk us into dark grey, but I am not going down that road again. Plus, it just adds another color to the black/white/red/tan scheme we currently have. I just can’t go there.

They didn’t have stock in the exact sink we had ordered online (the not white, white one) and it would take too long to order it, but they did have a nearly identical model. Which happened to be cheaper. So, hey, some good news. Unfortunately I now have to return the stainless steel sink grids I ordered (which are still in transit) as well as the white white drain. During the return process I realized that the only reason I wasn’t charged shipping on the sink is because it was damaged. I will have to pay return shipping on the other items. Shit.

But at least we now have all of the necessary pieces either on hand or in transit. We just have to pick up the sink tomorrow and bring it to the fabricator. Hopefully this all looks good when we put it all together. Sort of a major pain just to take care of a dripping faucet and a scratched sink. But only a small taste of what awaits us on the new house build.

Cracked

Prior to picking out our new kitchen countertop, we ordered a new sink and faucet online. From Amazon, believe it or not. I went through a lot of agony over the sink. It seems there is no perfect material for a kitchen sink. Some people swear by stainless, others think it’s loud, too industrial looking and too easy to scratch. Some people love granite composite and others say it stains too easily and is a pain to keep clean. I’ve had both and loved neither.

We had decided on white, to go with the white shutters over the sink. I ordered a Blanco granite composite, despite my lousy experience in Minnesota with the same sink in black. The sink arrived today and guess what? It was cracked. The box had obviously been opened and the styrofoam surrounding the sink was broken into pieces. So back it goes. (Thank you Amazon Prime for free shipping and returns) But the broken sink taught us one thing – the white composite granite isn’t really white.

You got it, our white sink turned out to be more of a soft gray. Not cool. I’m not sure if this is always the case or if this particular sink was just a dud, but between the color and the crack, I’m not willing to try ordering another one. So now I’m seriously looking at cast iron. But first we are going to visit a local plumbing supply store to view sinks in person. Sigh.

Technically Speaking

After our successful countertop mission on Friday, we continued on to TechShop to activate our lifetime memberships. But, as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself. TechShop is an organization that operates a number of facilities in the US that cater to the maker movement. If you have no knowledge of/interest in the maker movement, you probably want to take a pass on reading the rest of this post.

My husband researched the company thoroughly and we decided to make an investment in them. The investment included a lifetime membership for both of us. Which, if we live for another 15 years pretty much justifies the cost of the investment, so the stock is just a bonus. We had a tour of their facility in Chandler just after Christmas, but it took a little while to work out the logistics of making the actual investment, so by the time we were cleared to start our membership it was just a few days before we left for Australia.

The process of activating the membership was pretty simple and we left with some pretty craptacular membership IDs. Their badge printer leaves white stripes over the photo, lending a nice prison effect. TechShop has a lot of expensive equipment available, most of which requires that you attend a class before using it. The classes cost $30-$100 each, depending on the subject matter. Lucky for us, the lifetime membership entitles us to unlimited free classes for the first year. My husband signed up for his first one on the spot.

We stayed up way too late last night deciding which other classes to sign up for. All of them, it seems. Our approach is going to be taking as many classes as possible over the next four weeks, all of them together. I may not actually end up using everything, but I want to explore as much as I can while it’s free. Some of the required classes will be way too rudimentary for my husband (Woodshop 101 for the guy who’s been woodworking since high school?) but he can help me out if we take them together. I’m sure I’ll be the oldest woman in every class.

3D printing, woodworking, metalworking, welding, industrial sewing, laser etching – all of these things and more can be done at TechShop. I am positively giddy about the possible projects. I see my photography as a springboard for graphic design of 3D objects. It’s not good for a girl to have only one hobby.

Counter-intuitive

Just before we left for Australia, we were looking at doing a little remodeling in our kitchen here in Phoenix. We only wanted to replace the sink and faucet, because they are both cheap builder grade models. The faucet leaks and the sink is badly scratched. Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult to just replace those two things because the sink is an undermount and the faucet holes are drilled into the countertop. So finding a sink and faucet that would exactly fit the existing holes is a nearly impossible proposition. Not that we didn’t look into it.

So we came to the conclusion that we would need to replace the entire countertop as well. Which is kind of a drag because there’s nothing really wrong with it. We went to a few stone fabricators and even requested a bid from one. Yesterday we went to a large stone supplier to look at more slabs. Originally we were looking for something in green, which is the primary color in the quartz countertop we have now. The floor tile is beige and the cabinets are a mid-toned wood, so an all neutral replacement countertop would be booooooring.

We didn’t find anything we really liked in green. But we found something really amazing in red. Not a crazy, bright red, but a darker more subdued red. We put two bookended slabs on hold and called the stone fabricator to tell them about the switch. The stone supplier was kind enough to give us a sample piece to take home. We are totally digging how it looks. Now I am less conflicted about replacing a perfectly fine countertop, because the red granite takes our kitchen to a whole new level.

So Very Many Photos

I got through my Australia photos the other day. Woo-hoo! I ended up processing just under 200, about half of those included Nola. Total shocker, I know. When you spend two weeks largely hanging out and playing in the park, that’s what happens. I deleted a lot of them because they were total crap – mostly blurry ones due to her constant motion. But enough of them were sufficiently stunning to keep me happy.

A19A0676 (web)This is the face of pure, unadulterated joy. This is not an emotion most adults are capable of feeling. One of the many sad facts of becoming a grown-up. Something I’ve tried to avoid.

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These are probably my three favorite photos of all the hundreds I shot of Nola. The top one shows off her beautiful face. Some people would object that it’s cropped too close but I disagree. The bottom right perfectly illustrates her incredible energy and enthusiasm. I wish the background was cleaner and I hadn’t cut off one of her hands, but that’s being picky.

But the bottom left one just kills me. Between her stance and expression and the perfect pose of Banjo just behind and to her left, makes me think of a superhero and her trusty sidekick. The adventures of ONE MORE Girl. I want to turn it into a cartoon and make t-shirts.

How Many Square Feet?

We had another three hour meeting with our architect and builder this morning. I think it will take a while for my head to stop spinning. The revised plan reflected a lot of what we discussed back in early February but it still needs some major work in the master suite area. The rest of the house looked good except for some minor tweaks. Aaaand the fact that it’s still freakin’ huge. Not sure we can do much about that without compromising design.

Normally, the builder would have enough at this point to at least give a rough estimate of the cost. But this isn’t a normal house, it’s more like four connected houses. So the builder is understandably reticent to provide even a rough, rough estimate. Let’s just say the number I currently have in my head, which is double from my original hope, is now probably at the low end. I’m trying really hard to stay calm until I hear an actual number.

Part of the “problem” is that we don’t have a hard and fast budget. Just a number that I think I can l live with. Which keeps sliding up. If the number starts exceeding my (now greatly expanded) comfort threshold, We need to start crunching some numbers and making some decisions. Our hope/plan to build a (modest) house in Phoenix is already at risk. I would rather give that up than make big compromises on our dream home. Plus, who knows if I’ll be able to handle another new home build after we get through this one.

So I am currently engaged in what my husband calls “pre-worrying.” That is, worrying about something that may or may not turn out to be an actual problem. I’ve turned it into an art form. Part of the problem is that I suffer a bit from bag lady syndrome. I have a deep subconscious fear of ending up destitute. Ridiculous, I know, but there it is. This house marks a significant departure from a relatively modest lifestyle and that scares me.

When Am I?

After our snafus in departing Australia, the rest of our trip went very smoothly. We landed at LAX right on time, zipped through customs via Global Express, collected our bags and then re-checked them before changing terminals for our final flight. No one asked us any questions and no one even collected the customs form I had filled out. We had the obligatory celebrity sighting in the Delta lounge at LAX – Jamie Lee Curtis coming out of the ladies room looking absolutely stunning. Unfortunately I looked bad and smelled worse. But we only had to hang in there for about 90 minutes before boarding our flight to Phoenix.

Once there, Delta managed one final screw-up by marking the wrong carousel for the luggage from our flight. The bags did come through more quickly than normal though. There was an accident on the 51 that slowed us for a few seconds, but our cabdriver quickly zipped around it in the HOV lane. We arrived home, turned on the water and flushed all the toilets. Everything was just as we left it three weeks ago. How did it go so fast?

One of the weird effects of crossing the dateline is getting a do-over on the day. We left Melbourne before dawn on March 10 and were back in Phoenix just after 10:00 am on March 10. I wish we got the extra day going instead of coming back. It is nice to be coming back to sunshine, warm weather and flowers. I think I would find it more difficult to be going back to cold and snow after such a wonderful trip.

I tried really hard not to cry after saying goodbye to Nola. I managed pretty well except for a brief moment in the shower at our hotel in Melbourne. It’s just so hard not knowing when we’ll see her again. We miss so much. Her mom is great about sending photos and videos, but it’s just not the same. If the flight was 8 hours instead of 14 we would probably go two or three times a year, cost be damned. It’s just so brutal getting there and back. Hopefully Nola and her mom will be coming here before fall. We’ve already offered to book them tickets using some of our ridiculous number of frequent flyer miles. Fingers crossed.

So Long, Farewell

Our hotel room at the Melbourne airport was lovely. Too bad we only spent about 8 hours there. After getting some food, drinking our last bottle of Tasmanian Pinot Noir and repacking our bags for the trip home, we had time for less than five hours of sleep. In reality, I probably got less than four. I woke up 30 minutes before our 3:45 am alarm. Yes, even though we were staying at the airport, we had to be up and out by 4:30. Brutal doesn’t even begin to describe it. When we checked in we received our boarding passes for the first leg of our return (Melbourne to Brisbane) but were told they couldn’t print the other ones.

I should have seen this for the huge red flag it would turn out to be, but I was really not functioning well at this point. The Virgin Australia lounge doesn’t even open until 5:00 am and by then we were at the head of a long line of people waiting to get in. The lounge is before security, which is unusual, but they make up for it by providing direct access to a premium screening area. We left the lounge and were on the plane in about 5 minutes.

We loaded our bags into the overhead and sat down. My husband opened his tablet and was suddenly struck by the thought that he hadn’t retrieved his laptop after we went through security. He picked up his bags and saw the bag of the next passenger coming through, so he left. We almost always get TSA pre-check status in the US, so taking out the laptop is not something we normally do here. He told the flight attendant about it and she had the captain call the screening area. It turned out that he had put the laptop in a tray but hadn’t put it through the x-ray. Multiple nights of limited sleep had put us both in a fog.

They literally brought the laptop to the plane just before closing the boarding door. I think they actually held the door for a few minutes to make it. Bless you, Virgin Australia. I seriously doubt any airline in the US would have done that. When we went to check in for the next leg of our flight, we ran into another snag. They had tremendous trouble locating our reservation in their system. We stood there for 15 minutes while they sorted things out and finally printed our boarding passes. Overwhelmed with exhaustion, I neglected to look at the boarding passes until we were seated in the lounge. Virgin’s business class has a 2-3-2 seating configuration. We had been booked in the 2 seats by the window in row 1 but our boarding passes showed us in row 2 of the middle section, no longer next to a window and with another passenger right next to me.

I know this seems like a tremendously trivial complaint, but we bought these tickets six months ago and paid a premium price for them. I was not happy about trying to snooze next to a stranger on a long flight. Of course it was impossible to change the seats now, as the cabin was completely full. To make matters worse, my original seat was occupied by an obnoxious man who used the Ladies Only lavatory at least twice during the flight. I had gone to the trouble of confirming our reservation with Virgin directly because I am always wary of code share flights and it still managed to get screwed up.

Once again the Virgin Australia staff was stellar. When they heard what had happened to us they were extremely apologetic and took down our details to file a complaint with guest service. They were also extra attentive during the flight, which is amazing considering how high their standard treatment is. I’m not expecting much in the way of an explanation or apology from Delta. But they will be hearing from me.

Launceston/Melbourne Mar 9

After our magical wombat moment in the afternoon, we finished up yesterday with dinner at a tavern. It was full of boisterous families and the food was great. After dinner we made our best attempt to finish off the beer and wine purchased in Launceston. We came up a bit short, so one bottle is getting checked in our luggage for the return to Melbourne. Unfortunately, the cabin didn’t have a tub, so Nola needed to get her bath in the kitchen sink. For some reason she found it really upsetting and managed to knock over a glass in her distress. I felt so bad for her, as she’s usually such a trooper.

We had to check out by 10:00, which left us with 6 hours to make the 2 hour drive back to Launceston. So we stopped for a coffee and discussed how to best fill the extra time before setting out. There were a number of options, none exactly on the way. We decided to check out some caves about 90 minutes away. When we arrived at the first cave, we found out the tour wouldn’t start for 30 minutes. So we went to a cafe near the second cave but by the time we finished eating we had missed the start time for the second cave tour. Did I say cafe? It was more like an extension of someone’s home where they served a few things. It took forever and when I went to use the toilet before we left, I discovered it was a portapotty. Pass. My husband went to wash his hands and returned to tell me that the men’s toilet consisted of a sink and urinal, outside next to the portapotty.

At this point it seemed like a cave tour was a bad idea, both in terms of timing and how entertaining it would be for Nola. So we drove back to Launceston early and spent the extra time watching the monkeys and playing in the park. The weather was stunning and it was a much better way to spend our last few hours with Nola. We even managed to get some ice cream just before the store closed. It was a holiday in Australia, so not much was open.

After returning our rental car and checking in for our flight, we were confronted with a long line at security and about 45 minutes before our plane was due to take off. No worries, nobody misses their flights in Launceston. They pulled people to the front of the line as flights approached final boarding. It was a quick flight back to Melbourne, followed by some heartfelt goodbyes at the airport, where we would be spending our final night.