Helicopter Flight from Washington to Arizona: Logistics and Flight Planning

Planning my last big cross-country flight before overhaul.

Posts in this series:
Logistics and Flight Planning
– Day 1: Over the Mountains, IFR
– Day 2: Desert Heat and Familiar Terrain

Last week, I flew my helicopter down to Chandler, AZ from Wenatchee, WA with Penny the Tiny Dog and my friend Jeremy. I needed to deliver it to Quantum Helicopters so they could get the helicopter’s first overhaul started by November 1. I’d need it back by mid-February at the latest and overhauls typically take 9 to 12 weeks.

Here’s the story of my two-day flight to Arizona, split into three parts for readability. It’s surprising how much I had to say about the flight — and how many photos I have to share. Enjoy.

Logistics and Flight Planning

With various activities scattered all over my October calendar — including a weekly wine tasting class on Wednesday nights and a weekend-long mushroom foray at Mount Rainier — I didn’t have many options to make the trip. I wound up letting Alaska Air pick the dates by searching for the best deal on a return flight to Wenatchee that would fit my schedule. That return flight was Wednesday, October 19, at 6 AM. Since I wanted one last oil change before I headed south and my mechanics usually don’t work weekends, that meant leaving late Monday morning and getting to Chandler before Quantum closed at 8 PM on Tuesday.

Some folks wonder why it was so important for me to get an oil change before making the long flight. After all, it was going in for overhaul. Surely it wouldn’t matter how dirty the oil was when it arrived. But only 8 flight hours before, on a 50-hour inspection, my mechanics had found more metal fragments in the oil filter than usual. (They had begun finding very small amounts of metal from the aging engine about six months before, but nothing to cause alarm. This was different.) Yes, the helicopter had gone a full 50-hours between changes so the amount of metal would likely be higher than usual. But was it critical? The only way to see how bad it was was to get one more oil change and take a look at the filter. They’d do this the morning before my departure and if things looked bad, I’d scrap the flight plans and arrange to trailer it down.

Fastest Route
The fastest route from Wenatchee to Phoenix. There aren’t many fuel options and there’s a lot of empty desert.

The fastest route between Wenatchee and Phoenix is a nearly straight line with fuel stops in Burns, OR; Elko, NV; and Mesquite, NV. I’ve taken this route several times and it can get me to Sky Harbor in eight hours with a light load and a nice tailwind. But at least 50% of this route is over empty desert, miles and miles from any road or town. There’s one stretch in particular where for 90 minutes all you’re flying over is grass and sagebrush, with herds of wild horses galloping away at the sound of your approach — no roads, no buildings, nothing else. If the engine got iffy, we might have to land someplace where getting help would be difficult. I honestly didn’t want to deal with it.

Planned Route
Our planned route was at least four hours longer with a handful more fuel stops along the way.

So I told my passenger, Jeremy, that he could pick the route. He got very creative. He suggested an overnight stop at Sacramento with friends of his on Monday night, then stops at the Hiller Museum at San Carlos Airport (south of San Francisco), and Santa Barbara for lunch with his daughter. That lengthened the route considerably, but kept us near roads, towns, or cities for much of the flight. I started working up a plan. Sacramento before sunset was doable — I’d done it in less than a day more than a few times — but we’d have to leave early and skip the San Carlos stop to make it to Santa Barbara with enough time for lunch before heading east. By that time, I’d also made early dinner arrangements with some friends in Wickenburg, AZ, and we needed to meet them by 4 PM to have an unhurried dinner and get to Chandler by 7 PM. (I had to chat with the mechanic and unload the helicopter before they closed and I certainly didn’t want to hold anyone up.) I plotted the new route, trying hard to find airports with decent fuel prices. Tuesday would be a long day, but I kind of looked forward to flying through the high desert north of the Los Angeles area, which I hadn’t done in several years.

Meanwhile, the weather wasn’t looking good. A pair of storm systems were due to arrive in the Pacific Northwest on the Thursday and Saturday before our trip. Cliff Mass, the Northwest weather guru, was predicting a storm equal to the famous Columbus Day Storm that had hit Seattle back in 1962. Jeremy, who lives on that side of the mountains, was getting nervous. While I was aware of the storm — heck, we were supposed to get a ton of rain in the Wenatchee area on both days — I also knew that storms come and go. The forecasts had it clearing up by Sunday and we weren’t due to leave until Monday. Monday’s forecast called for just 20% chance of rain and forecasts for our entire route, which I began tracking on Friday, looked pretty much the same. Worst case scenario was that we’d fly through some rain. And I’d done that enough times not to worry about it.

The storms came and went, pretty much as predicted. We got over an inch of rain here. Seattle and the coast got hit harder, but not nearly as hard as the weather folks expected. There were some scattered power outages and downed trees, but not the catastrophic storm damage expected.

Sunday was mostly cloudy here but there wasn’t any rain — at least not to notice. I picked up Jeremy at the bus station — he took a Greyhound (!) from Seattle — we had a late lunch, and headed home. I spent some time prepping the helicopter for the long trip, getting my GoPros hooked up and pulling out any equipment I wouldn’t need on the trip or after I picked up the helicopter in January or February. Jeremy made Manhattans and opened a bottle of wine he’d brought for dinner. My friend Alyse came for dinner — I cooked up some ribeye steaks and we had them with garden potatoes and carrots.

Eventually Alyse went home and, after chatting for a while, we turned in for the night.

A Change of Plans

I woke up early, as I usually do, and immediately used my iPad to check and file my flight plan. That’s when I got my first surprise: It would take more than three hours to reach our first fuel stop at Bend, OR. That wasn’t right. I woke up a bit more and took a closer look at the flight plan. The plan accounted for 25 knot headwinds.


I checked the rest of the flight plan. High, gusty winds from the south were predicted for much of our route to Sacramento. Chances of rain had increased a bit, too. I started exploring other routes that would take us to Sacramento before nightfall. The high winds stretched far to the east, into the empty desert I’d been hoping to avoid. To the west, near the coast, rain was likely and, I knew from experience, visibility would be poor. The weather briefing backed this up, forecasting moderate turbulence inland and mountain obscuration along the coast.

So if we took the route I’d planned on, not only would we be bouncing all over the sky, but we’d be in the air an extra hour or more because of headwinds, with at least one additional fuel stop. I was looking at a miserable day of flying with a passenger who was already worried about the weather. It would not be a good day — certainly not the kind of pre-overhaul flight I was looking forward to.

At breakfast, I reported my findings to Jeremy. That only made him mention his previous weather concerns more. But it wasn’t as if I could call off the flight, or even postpone it. The flight was doable and I already had all my plans made for a return flight that would still get me back for my wine tasting class on Wednesday. (I do have my priorities straight.) I decided that we’d depart on schedule and see how things looked to the south.

So a while later, I was spinning up the helicopter while Jeremy watched from my front yard. I took off and headed to the airport for that oil change. Jeremy drove my truck to the airport so I’d have a way to get home from the airport on Wednesday.

I did treat myself to a nice tour of Wenatchee before heading into the airport. I needed to warm up the oil, after all. It was a beautiful morning with scattered low clouds. Through a gap in the clouds, I could see snow at the top of Mission Ridge. It was the second snowfall they’d gotten up there and I knew my ski-loving friends would be thrilled.

At the airport, the three mechanics of Alpine Aviation were waiting for me. I shut down and we pushed the helicopter into the hangar. They did the oil change while I chatted with the folks hanging out in the FBO lounge and consulted ForeFlight on my iPad for options. There was stormy weather to the east, near Pendleton and Walla Walla. One route I’d taken in the past climbed the Green Mountains near Pendleton and followed I-84 through the mountains and Boise beyond. It was a good route, but I’d also been stuck at the foot of those mountains, blocked by low clouds. It would be a time-wasting detour if that happened again.

The oil filter showed some more metal fragments, but not enough to cause serious concern. The engine was, after all, 2068 hours old. (And that’s based on the collective-based “maintenance” Hobbs — it likely had well over 2,200 hours of actual engine running time.) The engine would not cause a flight cancellation.

Penny on a Box
Here’s where Penny would sit for the entire duration of our trip south. She sleeps most of the time.

By 11, I was fueled up, paid up, packed up, and ready to go. I put Penny in her travel bed behind me on top of an empty wheeled box I’d brought along for storing helicopter equipment during overhaul. (I couldn’t bring all of that stuff home.) Jeremy’s wheelie bag and camera bag and tripod filled the space behind him. I shoved my day pack and jacket in the foot space behind my seat. Jeremy climbed into the passenger seat with his camera ready and buckled up. I got the front GoPro’s wifi fired up, climbed into my seat, buckled up, and started the engine.

We felt very heavy when I pulled pitch — was the engine really that tired? — but had no trouble lifting off. Soon we were heading southeast along the river. Our trip had begun.

More to come…

Helicopterless (Again)

I take my R44 down to Chandler, AZ for its first overhaul.

N630ML at TorranceHere’s the first photo of me with Zero-Mike-Lima on the day I picked it up in Torrance, CA.

It’s hard to believe that it was nearly 12 years ago that I took delivery of my second helicopter, the R44 I usually refer to as Zero-Mike-Lima. That January 2005 day ended a two-plus-month period where I was “helicopterless” — I’d sold my R22 (Three-Niner-Lima) in late October 2004 and was waiting rather impatiently for its bigger replacement to emerge from Robinson’s Torrance, CA factory.

I bought the four-place Robinson to grow my flying business by adding Part 135 charter services. It was a good thing I was still making good money as a writer because it took a long time for that business to take off (pun intended). It wasn’t until 2008 when I discovered a few good niche markets — wildlife survey and cherry drying — that the helicopter started making enough money to pay for itself. Until then, my writing work subsidized it. I’m so glad I stuck with it, though, despite the enormous costs. My writing career went into decline around 2010 and my flying career picked up the slack. This year, 2016, was my best year ever, even topping my best years as a writer.

Unfortunately, although Robinson helicopters have relatively low day-to-day operating costs, they do have a bit of a cost “time bomb” set to go off at 12 years or 2,200 hours of flight time. That’s when they need to go back to the factory or to an authorized service center for overhaul. The current price tag for this is about $240,000 (depending on core values). Ouch!

Smart owners who expect to keep the helicopter past overhaul will start saving up for this huge expense as soon as they can. I started saving when my flying business became profitable and had socked away more than half of what I needed by 2012. Some unexpected expenses unrelated to the helicopter put bit of a drain on those savings, but I managed to replenish everything I spent and more, leaving me in good financial shape for overhaul time. I’m pleased to say that I needed to borrow a lot less than I expected to and had no trouble securing the financing I needed at good terms.

Of course, it isn’t January and the helicopter doesn’t have 2,200 hours on it. Although I was primed to reach 2200 hours in the eleventh year — I flew almost exactly 200 hours per year from 2005 through 2012 — When I stopped ferrying it between Arizona and Washington state and left it idle during Washington’s dreary winter season, my annual flight hours dropped off considerably. That enabled me to stretch it out into the twelfth year.

Right now, as it sits waiting for overhaul, it has 2,068 hours on its Hobbs meter. I didn’t quite reach 2,200, but I came pretty darn close.

You’re probably wondering why, if I didn’t reach 2,200 hours, don’t I wait until January to bring it in for overhaul? The reason is simple. Overhaul could take as long as 3 months to complete — after all, they strip the helicopter down to its frame, rebuild the engine and transmission, and replace many important components. If I dropped it off in January, I wouldn’t get it back until the end of March. But I need it back sooner, in February, for my annual frost contract. (Another niche market I picked up in 2013.) And since I don’t usually fly much in the winter months anyway, it made no sense to wait and possibly lose out on the frost work — which also gives me an excuse to hang out in California for part of the winter.

I flew the helicopter down to Chandler last week. It was a two-day flight that I did with a friend. I’ll blog about it and share photos in another blog post.

Into the Hangar
I watched Robinson helicopter mechanic extraordinaire Paul Mansfield roll Zero-Mike-Lima into the hangar where it will be overhauled around sunset last Tuesday.

So now I’m helicopterless, at least until the end of January.

There is a silver lining, however: there’s an extra 576 square feet of empty space in my garage. I’ve already begun filling it with boats and RVs that I’m storing for friends and others for the winter. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s how to turn assets into money without selling them.

In Defiance of Logic and Reason

My thoughts on a photo that sickens me.

I’m trying very hard this election cycle not to blog about politics. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, I don’t want to alienate readers who come to read posts covering the wide variety of topics I write about but may disagree with me on politics.

Second, I know damn well that the folks who have been paying attention to the presidential elections this year have already made up their minds and there’s nothing I can say that will change them.

But sometimes a push comes to a shove and I’ve been pushed a few too many times this past week.

Where We Are

If you have been paying attention, you know how crazy this election cycle is.

On one side, we have a qualified, politically experienced, and knowledgable candidate who has been in public service in many different roles for about 30 years. She’s been haunted by conspiracy theories that focus not only on her but on her husband. She’s been battling investigations and insinuations for years, with a patience and fortitude I find amazing. And although most of the dirty rumors about her have been proven false, many Americans continue to believe that she’s some sort of evil monster that will take away their guns, abort their fetuses, and send them to death panels.

On the other side, we have a “successful” billionaire — if you consider six bankruptcies a sign of success — who clearly has very little knowledge about the Constitution, world affairs, or the global economy. He got his start in life with a million dollars from his rich father, who, along with various banks, has bailed him out of more financial trouble than the average person can even imagine. He’s bashed minorities, immigrants, veterans, African Americans, Muslims, and women — what he says about each group depends on who he’s speaking in front of. He incites violence at his rallies, hinting at one that “second amendment people” — gun owners? — could stop his opponent from nominating Supreme Court justices they didn’t like. He sees conspiracy theories everywhere and has even promoted one of the biggest: the so-called racist “birther movement.” And he’s already planted seeds with his supporters that if he doesn’t win the election, it’s because it’s “rigged.”

You can find articles online in reputable publications that support everything I’ve just said. Just Google and be mindful of the difference between investigative journalism like you might find at the Washington Post or New York Times and opinion pieces you might find at Fox News.

Of course, if you’re a Trump supporter, you’re not likely to trust any of the media since your boy Donald told you not to. You’ve drunk his Kool-Aid and all I have for you is pity.

“Locker Room” Talk

But that’s not what I’m writing about today. I’m writing about “conservative” women supporting predatory sexual harassment and assault.

Let’s get this straight: Bragging to an acquaintance that being a star lets you kiss women or touch (or grab) their genitals without their consent is not locker room talk. Not the locker room talk of men who have any amount of respect for women. Such talk is crude and lewd and clearly indicates an attitude of misogyny far beyond what should be tolerable in civilized society.

But what’s worse is that it indicates an attitude that says sexual assault is okay. This is a prime example of the rape culture that keeps making its way into the news

I cannot tell you how my blood boils when I hear women who call themselves “conservatives” claim that their men talk like that. Really? Your men really talk about forcing themselves on random women, about grabbing them “by the pussy”? Then what the fuck are you still doing with them? How can you possibly tolerate life with someone who thinks so poorly of women that they’d talk about women in such a way? And what are you teaching your daughters about women’s roles and rights? Why are you holding them back in your sorry backwards world?

I feel sorry for the women who honestly believe that “all men” talk like this. They don’t.

And with Trump, it’s not just talk, ladies. It’s actions. Since the release of the “bus video” last week, women have been stepping forward to tell their stories about how Trump kissed them or touched them or groped them against their will. Or walked into beauty pageant dressing rooms to gawk at young women while they changed their clothes. Every day, more women come forward with more stories or confirmation of those already told.

Donald Trump is the new Bill Cosby. Presidential material? I think not.

About the Photo

But I’m not really writing about that, either. What I’m really writing about is this photo, which has been circulating around Twitter, Facebook, and the rest of the Internet for a few days.

This Makes Me Sick
This makes me sick.

This photo makes me sick.

Here’s a woman proving to the world that Hillary Clinton was right: half of Trumps supporters are deplorable. How else could you label a woman who wears a shirt like this in public?

How can a woman think so poorly of herself that she invites sexual advances from a 70-year-old pervert?

How does she explain this to her children? Or grandchildren? What is she teaching them?

Do women like this one realize how they are degrading all women? How they are holding back other women from being taken seriously in school or the workplace? How they’re dirtying the rest of us with their appalling behavior?

(This is even lower than women who use lingerie photos of themselves to attract men on dating sites, but we won’t go there.)

And does she not see the irony in this? Does she not realize that Trump’s disdain for women who are not “beautiful” and for women who are overweight would likely make her a target for his ridicule?

Is she really that dimwitted and brainwashed?

What is this fucking country coming to? It’s gotten to the point that I ask myself this every day.

Comments Are Open

Comment are open — at least for now. The discussion is about this photo and the bus video that started this chapter of Donald Trump’s campaign. It’s not about Hillary Clinton. It’s not about Bill Clinton. It’s not even about Bill Cosby. It’s about this photo of this woman and the message she sends to the world about herself, Trump supporters, and the rest of our country.

And yes, I do realize that there are third party candidates. This isn’t about them, either.

Stay civil. Comments are moderated; you might want to read the comment policy before wasting your time posting something that won’t be seen.

Comments about anything other than this photo or the bus video that prompted the subject of this photo will not appear here, even if they do get through my blacklists and junk filters.

Prepping for Winter

I get started on my winter preparation chores.

Thought I’d write up a quick blog post to review a few of the things I did yesterday to prep for winter and maybe list a few that still need to be done.

Winter in Wenatchee

I should start off by saying that winter in the Wenatchee area, where I live, isn’t as cold and nasty as you might think. Yes, Washington is in the northwestern corner of the country and I live at about 47.4° of latitude there. But as surprising as it might seem, our winters are just about the same as the ones I experienced in Northern New Jersey years ago, which sits at about 41° of latitude. Here’s some data from Sperling’s Best Places:

Climate Comparison

I’m finding it hard to believe that we have fewer sunny days than the New York Metro area, but that’s likely due to the winter when we get cloud cover 4 out of every 7 days (my estimate). In the rest of the year, it’s sunny most days. The rainfall numbers (8.8 annual inches in Wenatchee vs. 42.6 in Harrington Park) and precipitation days (64 vs. 113) tell the tale. We even get less snow.

One of the two main reasons I left New Jersey back in 1997 was to get away from the cold winters. (The other was financial; I can have a much better lifestyle out west for the same or less money.) So I think it surprised a lot of people when I made the move to Washington State. But there are a lot of things beside the weather to attract and keep me here — I’ve mentioned a lot of them elsewhere in this blog.

Still, the weather does dip below freezing in the winter here and, like in Arizona, it does it earlier than it did back east. It seems that the coldest days here are right around Christmas. (Back east, it started getting coldest around New Year’s day and didn’t let up until mid February.) I’ve experienced freezes here as early as November, which is why I start winterizing as soon as we get our first frost.

That was this past Tuesday morning.


Because of our “high desert” like environment, the only way to get a garden or leafy trees to grow is to put them on irrigation.

I’m a real pro at setting up drip irrigation — I did it at my Arizona home not long after we moved in and were able to do some sort of landscaping there. (Long story; not worth retelling.) The benefit of drip irrigation over sprinklers is that you can bring water directly to the plants that need it. That saves water and cuts down on weeds.

I have four irrigation systems at my Washington home:

  • My vegetable garden was the first one I set up. It runs from a battery-operated timer and provides water to the raised garden beds, a flower garden beside my shed, and the flower garden at the entrance to my driveway. I also ran the line under my driveway to deliver water to the first trees I planted on the south side of my driveway, including a handful of fruit trees (cherry and apple).
  • My front lawn was the next one. The only reason I have a lawn is because my dog likes grass. The lawn is small and is bordered by rocks and my driveway on three sides and a row of lilac trees I planted right in front of my home on the other. This system also runs on a battery-operated timer and it includes three pop-up sprinklers in the law and a bunch of drip lines for the lilac bushes and some marionberry bushes a friend gave me.
  • Two professionally installed irrigation lines on a programmable 4-zone timer provide water to the trees I’ve planted along the road and all the way down in my bee yard. I have over 1,000 feet of road frontage and the lines run almost that entire length. I add drip emitters every time I plant another tree.

The main thing to worry about with irrigation lines in the winter is that if you don’t drain them, they’ll freeze and possibly crack. That means tracking down leaks and doing a lot of repairs in the spring. I obviously want to avoid that.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been cutting back on the water being delivered to my garden, lawn, and trees, mostly by adjusting settings in the irrigation systems. When the weather finally turned full autumn last week, I shut most of them off completely. A friend in the area suggested giving everything one final soaking before winterizing. Mother nature is doing that for me: there’s a double storm system coming through the area that should be delivering lots of rain. So I shut everything down yesterday and winterized it.

What does winterizing entail? Here’s what I do:

  1. Shut off the water source at the source. Three systems run from the “frost free” valve at my shed; the one from my lawn is a spigot at the front of my house. which has an internal shutoff valve.
  2. Disconnect the water lines. This makes it easier for them to drain. Or for water to expand if there’s any left in the water line and it freezes.
  3. Use an air compressor to blow out the lines. I bought all the equipment to do that last year: male and female hose fittings that can connect any hose fitting to my compressor. My compressor is a huge affair on wheels that my friend Bob gave me. I have it connected to a very long hose (also from Bob) on a reel I bought and installed my car garage. The hose is long enough — if you can believe this — to reach my shed about 100 feet away from my front door. So it took only minutes to run the compressor hose out there, hook it up to the various lines, and blow out each line. Then I cranked the compressor hose back in. Done.

Th only other thing I need to do is gather up and drain the hoses I’ve used around my yard, coil them back up, and store them in the shed until next spring. I’ll likely do that next week when the weather clears up again. They’re not at risk of freezing.

Water source
This Frankenstein’s monster is where the water comes into my building and goes all kinds of places — including a hose for the inside of my garage. I designed this crazy setup so I could actually drain all the water out of my pipes from one place.

Inside my garage, under the stairs where the water comes out of my slab and goes up into my home, my water lines also need a bit of prep. That’s easy. I have a ceramic heater that I place in front of the PEX pipes. I plug that into a Thermo Cube — a temperature sensitive outlet that turns on at 35°F and turns off at 45°F. So if temperatures get down to freezing inside my garage — which is possible once in a while — the heater will turn on and keep that area warm. No chance of pipes freezing.

The Garden

My vegetable garden this year was better than ever before. Until the tomatoes took over.

I planted and harvested sugar snap peas, beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, peppers, onions, okra, eggplant, beets, corn, zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, various herbs, and potatoes. Everything except the brussels sprouts provided me with a good harvest. The sprouts were attacked by aphids and grasshoppers that I was simply unable to keep under control. The zucchini, yellow squash, and cucumbers were attacked by squash bugs, but I managed to get a good harvest before they came.

My Garden
Here’s my garden in the spring, before the tomatoes and sunflowers took over.

I also planted just four tomato plants. Unfortunately, some “volunteer” tomato plants also started growing. These were from seeds of tomatoes that had fallen to the ground, likely at the end of the previous season. At first, I pulled them out. Then I potted some and gave them to neighbors and friends. Then I pulled more out. Then I thought, well, what’s a few more tomato plants?

I went away for a week in the beginning of August. When I got back, those volunteer tomato plants had pretty much taken over one side of the garden, making it impossible for me to reach the second batch of corn that I wanted to harvest.

And then the spiders moved in. Big yellow and black ones that an entomologist friend assures my are not harmful. There were at least two that I saw. Who knows how many more lurked in the jungle of tomato plant leaves? I made sure I always wore gloves when picking tomatoes.

And then I started taking pruners with me when I picked tomatoes. Ever time I picked a basket full, I’d lop off huge branches of the plants. I eventually regained access to my eggplant plants, which began producing again. The peppers were a complete loss, as was the corn. If my chickens hadn’t met an untimely end, they’d likely be eating back the plants. But because they’re gone, the tomato plants soon invaded the fenced-in chicken yard.

Out of Control Garden
Out of control tomatoes and sunflowers in my garden. At this point, I’d already harvested much of my garden’s crops.

I should mention that there comes a point when your neighbors and friends stop taking tomatoes from you and you feel as if you eat another bowl of gazpacho, you’ll die of tomato poisoning (if there is such a thing).

When the frost set in the other day, I have to say that I was glad to see frost damage on some of those plants. I’d finally get rid of them.

But I will eventually have the task of cutting them all back and putting the plants in a compost pile. I’ve already been doing this a bit with grass clippings and other tomato plant cuttings. I put them in the raised planters I’ve already harvested from. When the snow falls, it’ll form a heavy blanket over each planter’s pile. Snowmelt will help break down the plants. In the spring, I’ll just use a rake to loosen up the previous year’s soil and new compost. Then I can add a half bag of fresh garden soil, work it in, and plant.

This year’s chore will be difficult. As soon as the frost kills the plants, I’ll get to it. I figure an hour or two a day through the rest of October will finish it up.

I almost forgot about the invading sunflowers. They grew all over my garden area and at the corner of my front walkway. They’ve been dying and I’ve been pulling them out for the past month or so. Still have a few to go. They go down to my big yard waste pile, which is a low area alongside the road just past my windsock. The quail are having a field day on the seeds that are dropping. I guess I’ll be fighting sunflowers next year, too.

Potatoes from my Garden
The last of the potatoes from my garden.

In the meantime, I harvested the rest of my potatoes yesterday. This was the first time I’d ever grown potatoes and I started with a few from my pantry that had grown “eyes.” I followed the instructions I found on the web and put them in their own pallet planter. I never put that planter on irrigation — I just watered it occasionally. Next year, I’ll irrigate; I think I’ll get more potatoes that way.

The Lawn

Bad Lawn
Here’s what part of my lawn looked like this spring. The top part of this photo shows the dead grass raked out; the bottom shows what long grass looks like if left under snow for months at a time. Lesson learned.

I learned my lesson about the lawn this spring: if you don’t cut the grass down short before the snow comes, you’ll start the season with an ugly brown patch that requires a ton of raking to prepare for spring growth.

Even though I’ve turned off the irrigation, my lawn continues to grow — although more slowly than it did in the summer. So I’ll keep cutting it.

It’s not a big deal because it’s a small lawn. I have an electric mower that works very well. The whole job takes about 15 minutes, including prepping the mower and then dumping the grass clippings and putting the mower away when I’m done. I suspect I’ll keep at it until either the first snow is forecast or I go away for the winter.

My Lawn
Here’s what my lawn looked like this summer. Not perfect, but I’m proud of it. It’s the first lawn I’ve ever planted, grown, and tended to in my life. (And yes, that is a pesky volunteer sunflower along the gravel area.)

My Cheat

Oh, yeah — maybe I should have admitted that at the top of the post: I don’t stay here for the winter. I actually never intended to — even when I first saw this homesite and knew it was what I wanted. As far as I’m concerned, this is a three season place. When the temperatures begin to drop and that cloud cover moves in like a cold winter blanket, I’m out of here, headed to points south: Arizona and California.

I’m lucky to have a very good house-sitter who comes with her Doberman to keep an eye on things for me. She’ll be here for most of the time I’m gone and has family nearby to help her if anything goes wrong.

Still, I want to prepare my place so it’s easy for her to tend to — and worry-free for me. That’s why I winterize.

Construction: The Windowsills

Something a little different for a different kind of home.

On May 20, 2014, I began blogging about the construction of my new home in Malaga, WA. You can read all of these posts — and see the time-lapse movies that go with many them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

I’ve been living in my new home for about a year and a half now and although I’ve had my Certificate of Occupancy since this past spring, I’m still not quite done with the finishing touches. The windowsills were one of the projects I recently finished. I documented my work with video as I finished up.

The Backstory

Most people have their homes built by builders who are managed by a general contractors. At the end of the project, the general contractor hands over a set of keys to a finished home. For my home, I was the general contractor. Whatever I didn’t hire someone else to do, I had to do myself. While this saved me a bunch of money, what’s better is that it gave me an opportunity to add custom design elements that most general contractors couldn’t be bothered with. My windowsills are a very good example of this.

My building is a “pole building” built with post and beam construction. That means the building’s frame literally hangs on a series of thick, pressure-treated 6×8 or 8×8 posts. When the framers came to frame the inside of my living space, I had two options: frame just the inside walls and allow those wooden posts to appear on inside walls or frame the entire living space so the drywall would hide those posts. The posts weren’t very attractive, so I chose to hide them. This means that they had to frame a secondary wall inside the outer wall, creating a relatively wide space between the inner and outer walls. This was great for insulation purposes — I could fit much thicker insulation in that wall than was required by building codes. But it also left deep wells at each window.

Framed Windows
This photo was shot back on December 29, 2014 when I was working on interior wiring. It’s a pretty good illustration of how the framers framed my interior walls inside my building shell. This is my living room; my TV is currently in that corner.

Insulated Wall
This is one of my living room windows after the insulation was put in place in mid January 2015.

When the drywall guys came, I had two choices. I could have them drywall the entire window well, including the bottom part, or I could leave the bottom part unframed and install wooden windowsills later on. I thought back to my old home, which used the first method for its relatively shallow window wells. When windows were left open in the rain or windows leaked — which was a problem with one window not long after we bought the home — the drywall windowsill was damaged and required a professional drywall guy to patch. I wanted to avoid that, so I went with installing wooden window sills later on. I should mention that my four clearstory windows, which are high on my south-facing walls, do have finished drywall window sills. But they’re rarely opened so I’m not worried about damage.

Drywalled and Painted
Here’s one of my living room windows on February 15, 2015, not long after being drywalled and painted. (If you’re interested in seeing what the drywall work looked like as it was being done, be sure to check out the walkthrough video in this blog post. And this blog post includes a video of my kitchen, after installation but before the windowsills were installed.)

So this was what I was left with. Ugly, huh?

The Solution

My first attempt at wooden windowsills used 1×10 and 1×12 lumber that I cut to fit. This turned out to be a difficult job, mostly because the framer (and the dry wall guy) hadn’t created uniformly sized or shaped window wells. Getting the wood to fit perfectly and look good was a nightmare and, as you might expect, I procrastinated about getting the job done. When I finally did it, it looked like crap — at least in my opinion. I started regretting the wooden windowsill decision.

First attempt at a windowsill
This is my first attempt at a windowsill back in March 2015 — it’s the original one in my office area. There were no right angles in the window wells, making cutting the wood to fit perfectly nearly impossible.

Time went on. I cut wooden planks to fit most of the window wells as best as I could. I didn’t like the way it looked, but it looked a lot better than nothing at all.

More time passed. Lots of time. My friend Don built a custom wood cap out of driftwood logs for my stairwell that got rave reviews from everyone who saw it. I asked him to build some furniture for my living room: end tables, a TV table, and a coffee table. He used reclaimed wood and left natural edges. He finished everything with tung oil. They looked great; you can see them in a video in this blog post. He told me about some logs he’d had planed into planks. I talked to him about my windowsills. He asked me how many planks I needed. I told him eight — one for each of my great room windows. He came by one day and delivered 8 raw planks of wood.That was sometime in the autumn of 2015; I don’t know the exact date because I don’t have a photo of the delivered stack of wood, which lay across a pair of sawhorses in my garage. For months.

The trouble was, I didn’t know what to do with the wood. So when Don asked me this past summer how the project was going, I told him I was waiting for his help. So he set a date in July and when that date rolled around, we got to work.

The Job

Don did the first two windowsills for me, start to finish, while I watched and learned.

Wood Plank
A typical wood plank. We began working it by closing up cracks, then cutting off a live edge for the back of the windowsill, trimming its length, and shaping its front edge.

Repaired crack
One of the cracks after gluing it. After scraping away the solid foam and sanding it, the crack disappeared.

The process began with repairing cracks in each piece of wood. The wood had arrived wet and had been stacked horizontally on sawhorses with each row of planks separated by some scrap lumber so they could dry. Cracks along the grain had formed in some of the logs. Don wasn’t concerned. He’d already developed a workable solution for this problem, which he encountered quite often. We wet down both sides of the crack, filled it with Gorilla Glue, and then used clamps to close up and hold the cracks together. Overnight, the glue would set, leaving orangish solidified foam on the outside, That would be scraped away and sanded down with the plank later in the process.

Then we needed to match a wood plank to a window. The planks were all longer than they needed to be, but they came in two basic widths. The wide ones needed to be used for the five north-facing windows while the narrower ones could be used for the east-facing windows, which weren’t quite as deep. We had to pick which side should be the top and which edge should be on the outside, facing the room.

Then Don made a template out of cardboard pieces for a specific window. This had the exact length, including the weird angles, and the depth, including the outer edge. We’d bring that downstairs and he’d lay it on the chosen plank, outline where he needed to cut. Then, using a circular saw, he’d cut off one live edge of the wood to form a straight back edge. He’d also trim the length of the plank and then, using the circular saw and a handsaw, cut the shape of the front with an overhang past the edge of the windowsill area.

Then we’d go back upstairs to see if it fit. And back downstairs to make some adjustments. And back upstairs to see if it fit. Repeat as necessary. When Don was satisfied, we came back downstairs to finish the live edge. That required using a special cutting tool to carve away the bark and shape the exposed edge of the wood. This is where it got artistic and Don did a fine job (as I expected). Finally, he used an orbital sander to sand the top and outer edges of the plank.

When it was just the way he wanted it, we brought it back upstairs, fit it into place one more time to be sure, and then removed it. Rather than use screws or pegs to affix it into place, he took out his trusty Gorilla Glue and spray bottle, moistened the wood, applied glue to both the unfinished windowsill area and the bottom side of the new windowsill, and slipped it back into place. We used a combinations of rags for padding and lengths of wood to hold the windowsills down until the glue could cure — at least 12 hours.

Don did two of these that first day. I paid close attention. He came back the next day and did the rough cuts for a few more, leaving all the finish work to me. A week later, he dd the last two. I paid him for the wood and his time. The rest was up to me.

Two Windowsills
This photo shows two of my windowsills. The one on the left was completely finished and installed by Don. All it needed was to be oiled. The one on the right is cut to size but not finished. I had to carve out the live edge (removing the bark) and sand it down before gluing it into place.

With the window framing exposed again — we’d taken off my makeshift windowsills — I was motivated to finish up. So although I had a bunch of other stuff going on — including the end of cherry season and a vacation in my new truck camper — I went to work at it and eventually got it all finished up. Along the way, I shot some video clips of the work I had to do. I put them all together in this video, so folks could get an idea of what had to be done. It’s a little long, but it covers all the steps I took.

By the way, I’m finding that creating and saving these videos in my blog is a great way for me (and others) to look back on the progress I’ve made in building my home. As I wrote this blog post, I stopped to watch some of the videos I linked to here. It was not only great tp see things partially done again, but interesting to hear my narration of plans — some of which changed over time. What a great way to document the evolution of this challenging and lengthy project!