Two-Language Packaging Done Right

An example.

I’ve always been interested in marketing. I think it goes back to a marketing course I took in college when I was a freshman. That’s when I began to realize how the choice of words in marketing copy could mislead potential buyers without actually lying. It’s also where I learned how packaging colors and styles could influence purchase decisions. I still think all that is fascinating.

The trick with packaging is providing all the information a potential buyer needs when in a store making a decision. I’ve been buying a lot of items — including small tools — as I continue working on my living space so I find myself relying, over and over, on what’s written on packages to determine which options go into my cart.

I should point out that it’s not only this part of Washington that has a large Spanish-speaking population. It’s any agricultural area in the United States. It’s also many major population areas where hispanic immigrants do the kind of labor Americans simply don’t want to do. While some folks can argue that “Mexicans are taking our jobs,” the truth of the matter is that if immigrant labor disappeared, a lot of jobs would be left unfilled and a lot of work simply wouldn’t be done. (This was the topic of the 2004 movie, A Day Without a Mexican.) I’m not trying to start a political debate on the topic here — I’m simply pointing out my thoughts on the matter based on what I’ve seen over the past few years in the farms and cities of Arizona, California, and Washington.

This area of Washington has a large hispanic population. It’s all because of the agricultural work done here. Let’s face it, Americans don’t want to get their hands dirty planting orchards, running irrigation lines, pruning trees, spraying pesticides, or culling, picking, or sorting fruit. Much of this work is done by migrant farm workers, especially in the busy picking season. But year-round there’s a core hispanic population. These folks live all around us, send their kids to our schools, and shop in our stores. And while most of them have some English-speaking skills — or even speak English fluently — their primary language is Spanish.

A lot of Americans get angry when they see a preponderance of signage and packaging in two languages. Oddly, they seem more angry when the second language is Spanish than if it’s French, but this post isn’t about the politics behind their anger. It’s about finding a compromise that provides the necessary information in both languages without putting the second language in your face.

And that’s where I think this product’s packaging succeeds.

English Packaging
The front side of the packaging is entirely in English.

Spanish Packaging
The same information is provided in Spanish on the back side of the packaging.

It’s a tool I bought in Home Depot, a pad with a handle that’s designed to paint along edges. I bought it because I need to caulk and then re-paint the area around my windows. I don’t want to get paint on the window frame. Based on the information on the front of this package — which is entirely in English — I decided that this tool would do the job and I bought it.

It wasn’t until I opened it up today that I realized the back of the package pretty much duplicated the front — but in Spanish. The name of the tool in big, bold letters (Edger = Bordes); a list of suggested uses (Doors, windows, ceilings & baseboards = Puertas, ventanas, cielos razos y zócalos) the three steps to use (Load, Paint, Release = Cargue, Pinte, Despreda); and even the tag line (A PERFECT EDGE EVERY TIME = ¡Un Borde Perfecto Siempre!). Even the actual numbered instructions were in two languages, but with Spanish played down in a smaller font size. It was all there, in black and white instead of color, on the back instead of the front.

How could that possibly offend a flag-waving, anti-immigration American? Yet it provides the information both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking people need to know that the tool is, what it does, and how it works.

Anyway, I thought I’d take a moment to share my thoughts on this great solution to a politically charged issue. Well done, SHUR-LINE. ¡Olé!

My Helicopter’s Annual Migration from California

I take a few days off and fly from California to Washington solo.

Last week, I flew my helicopter home from a frost contract in California. I took the opportunity to treat myself to two nights in a bed and breakfast I’d been wanting to stay in for some time. Then I made the solo trip home, taking a coastal route for part of the way. I thought I’d share some information about why I go to California every winter and the highlights of this particular trip.

My Annual Frost Migration

In 2013, I got my first contract as a frost control pilot in California’s north Central Valley. That year, my helicopter was still living in the winter in Arizona and, as I flew it westward with my dog, I realized with a bit of sadness that it would likely never be back in Arizona. When that contract ended, I flew it north to Washington for cherry season. I left my home in Arizona in May 2013 and bought the land for my new home in Washington before the ink on my divorce papers was dry in July 2013.

The helicopter spent that winter in a hangar in Wenatchee. In February, I flew it south again for my second season on frost. That contract required me to stay in the area, so I migrated down in the mobile mansion and stayed there for two months. I came back in April.

My helicopter moved to its new home on my property in Malaga in May 2014, at the start of cherry drying season. By October, it was tucked away inside my building, which I designed primarily to house it, the mobile mansion, and my collection of vehicles. When I got busy with construction on my place in December and needed to shift the RV into the helicopter’s parking space, I moved it back out and into a hangar at Wenatchee Airport. (Thanks, Tyson!) Then, in February, it was back to California for my third frost season. Like my first frost contract in 2013, I didn’t have to live there with it — I wanted to stay home to continue construction and enjoy the spring blooming season. But in late April, it was time to bring it home again.

A lot of folks ask me why I fly the helicopter to and from these agricultural contracts instead of putting it on a trailer. There are three reasons:

  • I don’t have a trailer that would accommodate the helicopter and I don’t want to buy one. A trailer that can support the helicopter and its blades/tailcone properly would cost about $30,000. I could fly a lot of hours for that amount of money. And I’d still have to cover the cost of the drive, although it wouldn’t be nearly as much.
  • I don’t know about you, but the thought of driving down the highway with a $350K investment towed behind me is pretty scary. All it takes is one asshole cutting me off to turn that shiny red machine into a heap of junk on the side of the road. Simply stated: I think flying is safer for it.
  • I like to fly. ‘Nuff said.

I factor in the cost of transporting the helicopter when I decide whether a contract is worth my while. I don’t take contracts that would put me in the red if I didn’t actually fly on contract. That would be dumb.

But with that said, I do often take either passengers for hire or pilots wanting to build time with me on those long repositioning flights. I’ve been doing this since 2008, when I started migrating between Arizona and Washington for cherry season. I cut various deals with various people, depending on what the market will bear. Sometimes passengers or pilots just pay for gas. Other times, they pay a rate that covers all my costs. Most of the time, I collect something in between. This helps make the contract a tiny bit more profitable, often while giving a new pilot a chance to build some flight time in an R44 and gain some valuable cross-country flight experience.

I know I flew solo from Arizona to California that first season (2013) and I’m pretty sure I flew solo from California back to Washington. But in 2014, I had pilots do the flying with me as a passenger on both flights. And on the way down in 2015, another pilot flew while I just sat in my seat, trying not to be bored.

I decided that for the return flight, I’d be be pilot and I’d treat myself to a flight up the coast.

After all, I really do like to fly.

Potential Passengers

I asked a bunch of people who I like if they’d like to join me on that return flight. I got a bunch of interesting responses.

Four people could not go because of work they simply couldn’t get out of. I’d planned my trip for mid-week, so that really shouldn’t have been much of a surprise.

One person, who is also a helicopter pilot, wanted to go but had to work. I think he would have gotten out of work if I’d let him share the flying duties with me. But I made it clear up front that I would be doing most of the flying. In fact, I didn’t even want the dual controls in because I didn’t want that counterweight. (I would have put them in for him.) Without the bonus of stick time, it wasn’t worth taking time off from work.

One person couldn’t come because his wife’s mom is seriously ill and they expect her to pass away soon. We agreed that it would be better if he didn’t come. (She hasn’t died yet, but she’s close.) And yes, I did tell him he could bring his wife.

One person couldn’t come because he didn’t want to spend $300 on a one-way plane ticket to Sacramento. He had that money earmarked for other things. “Next time,” he said. I’m not sure if he realizes that there probably won’t be a next time.

And there were the usual collection of pilots wanting to build time. When I told the ones who contacted me that I’d be doing the flying, they all passed on the opportunity to come along as a passenger.

So as Penny and I boarded the flight to Sacramento on Tuesday morning, we knew it would be just the two of us in the helicopter on the way home. I’d fly and drink up all the sights along the way. Penny would do what she always does on the helicopter: sleep.

Prepping for the Return Flight

My flight down to Sacramento didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked. I was supposed to get into Sacramento at 11 AM, but the 6 AM flight out of Wenatchee was cancelled due to a bird strike on the starboard engine the night before. The morning pilot had seen some of the damage during his preflight walk-around and a mechanic confirmed that the bird — likely an owl — had been ingested into the turboprop engine. That plane wasn’t going anywhere soon.

Through some miracle, I managed to get on the next flight out later that morning. Then an afternoon connection to Sacramento. I stepped off the plane there at around 4 PM and was driving away in a rental car by 4:30.

My whole day in the area was shot to hell. I managed to do some errands before heading out to Rumsey where I was booked at a bed and breakfast for the night. I’ll blog about that in another post.

Wednesday’s forecast called for strong winds from the north. That would cause two problems:

  • Strong, gusty winds make turbulence. I really hate long, bouncy flights, especially when I’m trying to take a scenic route.
  • Strong winds from the north when I’m flying north meant longer flight times and more fuel stops. If I cruise at 110 knots and there’s a 40 knot headwind, that means I’m only doing 70 knots. Hell, I could drive faster than that.

Penny in the Helicopter
Penny lounges in the back seat of the helicopter while I prepped it for the flight home.

So I decided to spend another night in the area and leave early the next morning. In the meantime, I went to the airport, preflighted, wiped down the windows, and prepped it for flight. I’d be taking off as early as possible the next morning.

Locally, the wind was maddeningly calm all day.

The Flight Home

Penny and I were back at the airport at 6:10 AM on Thursday morning. Although the sun hadn’t peeked up over the horizon yet, as far as I was concerned, it was daytime.

I put Penny in the front seat beside me with a cooler full of drinks and snacks in the footwell there, within reach. The back was packed with some luggage and the equipment I’d left with the helicopter over the previous two months: blade tie-downs, cockpit cover, spare fuel pump, and miscellaneous equipment. My GoPro was mounted on the nose with the WiFi turned on. My iPad and iPhone were mounted within reach; I’d use Foreflight on my iPad to navigate and listen to podcasts and music on my iPhone.

The helicopter started right up and I gave it plenty of time to warm up. Then I took off to the west along Cache Creek and opened my flight plan by tapping a button in Foreflight.

Although I didn’t often file a flight plan when flying solo, I’d forgotten to bring along my SPOT Messenger and I wanted some way of being found in the event of a mishap. My flight plan had me heading west along Cache Creek all the way to Clear Lake, then hitting the California Coast at Fort Bragg. But because it was so early and the California Coast is notorious for morning fog and I’d already passed some low clouds near Willits, I took a more northerly route.

Cache Creek at Dawn
Flying up Cache Creek just after dawn.

Clear Lake
The lower end of Clear Lake.

Willits, CA
Low clouds over Willits, CA.

Along the way, I played around with Periscope. This is a Twitter-owned video broadcast service that makes it possible for anyone to broadcast anything to the world in real time. My iPad was mounted in such a way that its camera looked right through the front of the helicopter’s bubble, so the picture wasn’t bad at all. Unfortunately, the rotor sound made it impossible to hear any narration from me, so although I saw viewers’ questions, I couldn’t answer them.

Faced with a choice of following a valley north or striking out across the hills to the coast and following that, I finally headed for the coast. I came down a little green canyon between Westport and DeHaven and banked to the right to start my flight up the coast. (I was broadcasting during this time, so my Periscope followers got to watch it live.)

California Coast
My first sight of the Pacific Ocean from the Helicopter since my trip to Lopez Island last August.

Flying Up the Coast
I flew up the coast at my usual altitude of 500 to 700 feet AGL.

I was surprised, at first, how smooth the flying was. I had been expecting some wind and, with it, turbulence. But just when I started enjoying the smooth air, the turbulence hit. With a vengeance. Within 20 minutes of arriving at the coast, I was bouncing all over my area of the sky.

I headed inland. For another 20 minutes, the bouncing continued. I tried higher elevations to avoid the effect of the wind over the hills — mechanical turbulence. This is the kind of turbulence that most often affects my flights, mostly because I fly so low to the ground. But climbing didn’t help. The only way out of it was going to be to fly somewhere where there was less wind.

Of course, while all this was going on, I was burning fuel at a higher rate than expected. That meant I wasn’t going to make my first fuel stop as far north as Crescent City. I used Foreflight to find a closer alternative. I could make Eureka or Arcata, both of which were on the coast. I checked weather there using the Aeroweather app and saw the wind was much calmer. By that time, the bouncing had stopped anyway and flight was smooth again. So I hooked up with the South Fork of the Eel River at Myers Flat, followed that down to the Eel River, and followed that down to Fortuna.

At the coast, a marine layer had moved in but was burning off quickly. I flew just below the clouds, north from Fortuna to Eureka, where I landed for fuel at Murray (EKA) and closed my flight plan. Their pumps are ancient and attendant-run, which didn’t bother me in the least. When I do long cross-country flights, I don’t mind paying more for someone else to do the pumping. I let Penny out and we went into the FBO for a bathroom break. They had a surprisingly large pilot shop there with lots of goodies. But I wasn’t in the mood to shop so I didn’t linger.

I chatted with the attendant about the weather. I really wanted to fly up the coast but I really didn’t want to do scud-running along the way. He thought it would clear up. I figured I’d head north along the coast as long as I could see, then strike out to the west. I whipped up and filed another flight plan, then added a quart of oil and fired up the helicopter. Minutes later, Penny and I were airborne again, heading north on the east side of Arcata Bay.

We stayed on the coast for quite a while. I turned on my helicopter’s nosecam as we flew up the coast past the Redwood National Forest and various other places. The views were amazing. There were sandy stretches of beaches, sheer cliffs, and rocky islands. I saw sea lions and sea birds. But I think it was the sheer number of waterfalls tumbling off the cliffs into the Pacific Ocean that really stood out for me. It was just the kind of trip I’d hoped for. It was only after I thought I’d shot at least a half hour of spectacular video that I reached down to shut off nosecam — and realized that it hadn’t been turned on. Duh-oh! I did manage to get some good shots and video later on, but not until after a fine mist started moving in.

There’s nothing quite as awe-inspiring as a waterfall tumbling off rugged cliffs into the ocean.

The mist turned to rain around Gold Beach, OR and I decided to move inland in search of clearer weather. Unfortunately, there was no joy. I took an incoming call from a pilot friend based in California who’d just gotten some bad news about an engine overspeed on his R44. We chatted for a while as I flew between green hills and low clouds while a light rain pelted the cockpit bubble. Then the call dropped and I continued through the muck in silence.

Green Hills Near Umpqua
There was no way to keep the rain off the nosecam’s lens cover. This was the view as we headed northeast near Umpqua, OR.

I hooked up with I-5 near Yoncalla, OR. From that point, it was a bit of IFR — I follow roads — flying. It wasn’t that I had to follow the road — I could see fine. It’s just that there was no reason to fly further east because mountain obscuration made it impossible to cross the mountains anyway.

I stopped for fuel at Creswell. I’d stopped there before. I pumped my own fuel, used the restroom, and checked the oil. It was still raining lightly. One of the interesting things there is a vending machine that sells aviation oil. I didn’t need to use it — I learned long ago to always carry at least two spare quarts and actually had six on board for this flight — and I wish I’d taken a photo of it.

We were there less than 15 minutes. I continued north along I-5, now in Oregon’s “central valley.” I broadcast another Periscope video just past Eugene, then peeled away abeam Harrisburg to the northeast. Although I couldn’t see the mountains at all, I still had high hopes of crossing the Cascades at the foot of Mount Hood’s north side. After all, how big could this weather system be?

Apparently, it could be pretty big. I got within 40 miles of Mount Hood and still couldn’t see it. If anything, the clouds were lower and thicker. I heard some helicopter pilots chatting on one of the frequencies about low ceilings. One was doing training and the other was doing powerline survey work. They shared information about holes in the weather but since I didn’t know any of the places they talked about, none of it helped me.

Near Mt. Hood
My track took me pretty close to Mount Hood. I never saw it. My track is the teal dots in this map capture; the red dots represent geotagged photos.

So the scud running began. I wasn’t in the mood for it at all, so I didn’t put much effort into it. Instead of following valleys to the northeast that might have got me closer to my destination, I just headed north, hopping over hills and ducking under clouds along the way. I knew that eventually I’d reach the Columbia River, my old standby for crossing the Cascades. And sure enough, just when I thought the ceilings couldn’t get any lower, I found myself at the edge of a drop down to the water. There were clouds below me, but a big enough hole to dive right through. I descended at about 1500 feet per minute and leveled out about 400 feet over the river’s surface.

Columbia River
Leveled off over the Columbia River not far from Multnomah Falls.

My reward: an amazing view of Multnomah Falls, off to my right. (Sorry — no photos. My nosecam faces forward, not sideways.)

I followed the river northeast, flying in a sort of tunnel created by the walls of the gorge and the low clouds. I overflew the Bonneville Dam and Cascade Locks and the town of Hood River, which I really liked before it got so upscale. At Lyle, one of my least favorite places on earth, I turned to a more northward direction. That eventually put me over the Yakima Indian Reservation. I don’t know if it’s pretty. By this time — more than 7 hours of travel, including stops — I was tired and just wanted to be home. But the sky gods were going to make me work for it. They threw just enough headwind and turbulence in my way to make me ready for another fuel stop at Yakima.

The FBO’s fuel guy did all the work. I got something to drink and relaxed a while in a comfy chair while Penny looked around for dropped popcorn. We’ve spent entirely too much time at McCormick at Yakima.

Fueled up and feeling refreshed, we headed out again, continuing north. Although I could have gone direct to my home from Yakima, I had a small task to do along the way — I needed to check out a possible landing zone for an anniversary flight in June. The location was off I-90 across the river from Vantage.

That done, and feeling great to be back in very familiar territory, I dropped down and raced up the Columbia River, only 100 or 200 feet from the surface. Wanapum Reservoir was full again — it had been drained for dam repairs all last year — and it was great to do one of my favorite flights. I passed Sunland, where the folks who sold me my property live in the summer months, Cave B and the Gorge Amphitheater, and Crescent Bar. I saw a huge herd of elk down on West Bar before beginning my climb to clear the wires that crossed the river between the mouth of Lower Moses Coulee and Rock Island.

Then I was climbing up toward my home and my old landing zone was in sight. I set the helicopter down on the grass and let Penny out while I cooled down the engine and shut everything down.

Old Landing Zone
I shot this from my deck while having a very late lunch.

It was almost 3 PM.

I left the helicopter outside while I went in to make myself a good meal and relax. The wind kicked up and, for a while, I thought it would have to spend the night outside. But the wind died down after 6 and I got my ATV hooked up to the platform and repositioned it on my driveway’s landing zone. Then I started up the helicopter and moved it onto the platform. When the blades stopped spinning, I locked them in place and used the ATV to pull everything into the garage beside my RV.

Recreational vehicles? Must be. It’s an RV garage, after all.

Track Log
Here’s my track log for the entire flight. I was about 20-30 minutes into the flight when I remembered to turn it on, so it doesn’t accurately show my starting point.

According to my GPS tracklog, I’d traveled about 750 miles in 6-1/2 hours of moving time. It had been a great flight with lots of different flying conditions and things to see to keep it interesting. I’d enjoyed it, despite the moments of turbulence. It’s a shame that I had to do the flight alone. I’m sure every single person I invited would have loved it.

Next time? Maybe — if there is a next time.

Super Simple Dark Chocolate Pudding

Two recipes, five or six ingredients.

Chocolate Pudding
It’s not difficult to make chocolate pudding from scratch.

I love chocolate pudding. With my new stove needing testing and my good pots and pans finally unpacked, I’ve decided to use chocolate pudding for experimentation. The trick was to find recipes with ingredients I had at home.

Why make pudding from scratch? Well, why not? It’s all about knowing exactly what the ingredients are. Neither of these recipes are much more difficult than cooking pudding from a box, but there are no mystery ingredients. Best of all, you can fine-tune the recipe you prefer to change the sweetness, thickness, and darkness of the chocolate.

The Cornstarch Version

Nutritional Information
Basic nutritional information for this recipe. Click here for the full information.

The other day, I made a chocolate pudding recipe I found online. Like most pudding recipes, it used cornstarch as a thickener. It had just five ingredients and looked pretty simple, so I gave it a go.


  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 cups nonfat milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract


  1. In a saucepan, combine the dry ingredients.
  2. Stir the milk in slowly until smooth.
  3. Cook on medium heat, stirring continuously, for 3 or 4 minutes.
  4. Stir in the vanilla.
  5. Pour the hot pudding into 4 individual serving bowls.
  6. Serve warm or chill at least 2 hours to set.

It was good, but not as good as I’d hoped. I thought I’d try another one.

The Flour Version

Years ago, when I was seriously into cooking, I used to make chocolate pudding from scratch. I found the recipe in my original Fanny Farmer Cookbook, which I replaced for some reason years later. The recipe I used for chocolate pudding was gone. This evening, I went searching for a recipe using the search phrase “chocolate pudding w/cocoa and flour.” I came up with a bunch of options, but the one I tried was on, mostly because I didn’t want to scald milk or put eggs in my chocolate pudding.

Nutritional Information
Basic nutritional information for this recipe. Click here for the full information.

I made the recipe exactly as written. I was disappointed. It was way too sweet and the “almost heaping” measurements were a bit too vague for my taste. So I rewrote it.


  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups nonfat milk
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla


  1. In a saucepan, combine the dry ingredients.
  2. Stir the milk in slowly until smooth.
  3. Cook on medium-low heat until pudding thickens.
  4. Stir in the vanilla and butter.
  5. Pour the hot pudding into 4 individual serving bowls.
  6. Serve warm or chill at least 2 hours to set.

As you can see, the preparation is almost identical. The flavor is different. It could be the butter — which I’m not convinced is needed. Just seems to make it richer. I like this version better.

If you try either one, let me know what you think.

Construction: The Punch List

And a deadline.

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 and walkthrough movies that go with many them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

About two months ago, I was driving a rental car down a perfectly straight dusty dirt road alongside an irrigation canal in California’s Central Valley when my phone rang. It was a woman named Susan who writes for The Good Life, a lifestyle magazine for the Wenatchee area. She had been to the Wenatchee Home Show (which I’d missed because of my trip to California) and had seen the time-lapse video of my home construction that I’d given to Western Ranch Buildings to show off in their booth. She’s spoken to Tanya about the place and learned that it wasn’t just a typical pole building. It would be a home and a garage and a place to store big toys like a giant RV and a helicopter.

She decided that she wanted to do a story about it for Good Life.

I was flattered, of course — who wouldn’t be? But my home was far from finished. The kitchen cabinets had just been delivered and would be installed the day after my return. Then the appliances would come. The countertops, floors, bathroom fixtures, and so much more still needed to be done. And all those wires sticking out of the walls needed attention.

I told her it would be ready in May. She promised to call back. I figured I had a 50-50 chance of her remembering.

She remembered. She called early this week. We set a date for her and a photographer to come visit and see the place. I put the date on my calendar. I had just over three weeks to finish up and move in.

Holy cow, was I going to be busy!

Still, I work best and fastest and produce the most when I have a deadline Susan had given me one. If I wanted my new home to look the best it possibly could when when and her photographer showed up, I had to stop procrastinating and get finished.

In an effort to stay focused, I’ve come up with this punch list of items that need to be done. They fall into two categories: inspection items and finish items.

Inspection Items

Although several people suggested that I build my home inside my building on the sly without getting inspectors involved, I didn’t think that was a good idea. Maybe I’m being naive, but I believe that inspections and housing rules exist for a reason — safety — and that having an inspector (or two) look over my work would help me keep my home up to standards. With that in mind, my building permit has two parts: my main building (which has been approved) and my living space inside it (which has not yet gone through final inspection). To legally live inside my building, I need to pass all inspections and get a Certificate of Occupancy (CO).

I should add here that my property will have much greater value if it includes a legal living space. I’m thinking of the future, too.

There are two inspectors:

  • The electrical inspector makes sure my electrical system meets standards.
  • The building inspector makes sure my building and home meets standards.

The good news is, I’m almost done with all items needed for the inspections. I’m pretty sure this is a final list:

  • Close up drywall in garage ceiling and fire tape. My bathroom is immediately above one of my garage bays. In order to complete the plumbing work, we needed to leave part of that ceiling open. The drywall guy provided precut panels to close it back up. I need someone to help me hold those panels in place while I screw them in. The entire garage ceiling had to be drywalled and taped to meet county fire codes and the whole thing is done except this one place. I estimate it will take about 2 hours and I’ll need a second set of hands for about 30 minutes.
  • Deck Rail
    Using “hog panels” as a deck rail solution was suggested by Bob, further developed by me, and executed/fine-tuned yesterday by the two of us. A low cost, rustic solution that doesn’t look trashy.

    Finish deck. Because two doors open onto my deck, the deck must be finished for final inspection. That includes not only the floor, but a rail and barrier around the edge with openings not larger than 4 inches. The deck is 600 square feet and the rail is 104 linear feet so it’s quite a job. Other than some assistance getting me started the first day, I’ve been doing the deck floor myself. I have about 400 square feet laid. Yesterday, a friend came by to help me work out an idea we had for the rail and barrier. I suspect I have at least another 4 to 6 full days of work on the deck, which could be shortened up with some dedicated assistance from a friend.

  • Install safety rail around loft. This is a bummer and I’m hoping I can get the building inspector to give a little on it. I have a loft over my hallway and laundry room and bedroom closet. Because it’s tall enough to stand up in the county requires a rail around it like the barrier around my deck. But I don’t even have a ladder to get up there (yet) and won’t be using it. Such a shame to be delayed for this space. It’ll take about 2 days to get this job done — once I figure out how I’m going to do it.
  • Finish electrical work. Yes, there are a few fixtures remaining to be wired. They’re all on the deck. I need to climb a ladder to do them and I figured I may as well wait until I had a deck floor to put the ladder on. There are six light fixtures: two spotlights and four sconces. There’s also the outlet I need to install for my air conditioning compressor; most of the wire has been run and I just need to put in an outlet. (Note to self: call HVAC guy to ask where he wants the outlet. And maybe encourage him to take his man-lift home?) Total time for all electrical work needed to be finished: 3-4 hours, mostly because of some additional conduit I need to run.
  • Install hand rail for stairs. I keep forgetting this one. I suspect I’ll use the dowels that were curtain rods in my old home for this job. So glad I packed them and took them with me — it’ll save me a bunch of money. Total time for this job: about 2 hours.
  • Install doorknobs and locks on fire doors. I was required to have 20-minute rated fire doors between my garage and my living space. There are two of them in the entrance vestibule at the bottom of the stairs. A friend helped me install them well over a month ago and I bought the doorknobs. Don’t know why I haven’t installed them yet. Total time for this task: 1-2 hours.
  • Finish shower stall. I’m actually not sure if this is required for the county. The shower plumbing works, but there’s no enclosure to keep the water in if I used it. This is going to be a bit of an involved task that will take at least 2-3 days. Not only do I need to erect the acrylic block walls I bought, but I need to tile the back wall. And I hate doing tile work. If this isn’t required, I’ll shift it to the list below.

Finish Items

Finish items are the things I need to do to make the house more cosmetically pleasing or functional. They’re not required for final inspection and, therefore, should be done after those higher priority items. This list is extremely long, but I’ve managed to list the ones I want done before the Good Life crew come visit.

  • Doors. Right now, I don’t have any interior doors. Even my bathroom has nothing more than a curtain — and that’s just because I assume my guests would want some semblance of privacy when using the facilities. I need the following doors: bathroom, linen closet, coat closet, bedroom closet. I would also consider doors for the laundry room and pantry, although I think both could be handled with a nice curtain. This will require me to order the doors, wait for them to arrive, pick them up, and install them. I have no idea how long this will take or whether it’s something I can do on my own.
  • Windowsills. I have eleven windows that are deep set into the walls and need window sills. I’m going to make them out of wood. I figure it’ll take me about 3 hours to measure and cut them and then a total of 3 hours to apply stain and two layers of urethane. And then another 2 hours to install them. Of course, none of the wood working projects can be done at one shot — they all need time for the stain and urethane to dry.
  • Ledge around stairwell wall. My stairs are open on top with a wall around them. The top of the wall is unfinished. A woodworking friend will be making a custom ledge to top the wall. He’s coming tomorrow to measure and discuss his ideas with me. With luck, he’ll have them finished and ready to install in a week or so.
  • Wood trim. There’s a gap of 1/8 to 1/2 inch between the Pergo flooring and the walls. That has to be covered with wood trim. I’m using 1×4 lumber that I stain and urethane. I really need to get my act together and get this done. I’m probably looking at a total of 3 days worth of time to prep the wood, measure, cut, and install. A friend loaned me his nail gun so installation should be relatively painless — if I measure and cut right!
  • More wood trim. If I don’t put doors on the pantry and laundry room, I’ll need to trim out the openings. I’ll use ripped 1x6s with 1×2 or 1×3 framing. All this wood needs to be prepped, measured, cut, and installed. I’m thinking a whole day’s worth of time for this.
  • Move in furniture. I don’t think I’m allowed to move my furniture in until I get my CO, but I could be wrong. I’ll find out for sure this week. I’d like to get most of the furniture in so the place actually looks like a home. Most important: bedroom and living room furniture.
  • Get the front yard in shape. I need to reseed and mow the lawn, put in irrigation, and plant vegetables in my front yard planter boxes. I really should get that done soon so it looks good for photos.

These are the important items — the ones I need to make my home look like a relatively finished home for the Good Life crew. There are other things I need to do as well: ladder for the loft, window treatment for the bathroom, shelves/rods in the bedroom closet, shelves in the linen closet, towel rods in the bathroom — the list goes on and on. That’s one of the best things of putting together a new home: the little projects that come with it. Once cherry season starts, I’m pretty much stuck here so I’ll have plenty of time to get these things done. My goal is to be 95% finished by September.

And, as any homeowner can tell you, you can never be more than 95% finished with a home.

Cherry Drying, Cockpit Distractions, and Safety

My thoughts.

Today I had to withdraw a cherry drying contract from a pilot who wanted to fly for me because he insisted on being allowed to have a “pilot friend” fly with him during cherry drying missions.

Because more than half of the cherry drying crashes in this area have occurred with two people in the cockpit, this is something I simply don’t allow — and I specifically forbid it in the contact terms.

Why Just One Pilot?

I blogged about this back in June 2012. There had been a crash with a fatality just a few days before. Two pilots had been on board, although the dual controls were reportedly not installed. The aircraft hit wires and crashed into the trees. The passenger was killed; the pilot sustained serious injuries. In my blog post, I raised the question of cockpit distractions.

The previous July (2011), there had been three crashes during cherry drying work. Of the three, two of them occurred with two people on board.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Although performance might not be an issue in an R44 — which the guys who work for me fly — in these flying conditions, distractions can be. Cherry drying is done in an obstacle rich environment just a few feet over the tops of trees.

Cherry Drying Near Wires
Wires and poles and trees, oh my!

So many pilots whine about the danger of flying in “the deadman’s curve.” That’s not my concern when I’m hovering with my skids brushing the treetops. My concern is wires and wind machines and bird houses on poles and tall trees bordering the orchard. I’ve struck a pine tree branch with my main rotor blade and trimmed a treetop with my tail rotor. That’s how close I can get — which is obviously too close — to obstacles that could easy damage my aircraft enough to bring it down into the trees.

Now imagine having a chatty friend on board. Or the dual controls installed and someone “following along” with you on an instructional flight. Is this a good idea when you need to keep focused?

I don’t think so. I think it’s dangerous and I won’t allow it.


The argument I hear most often about why two pilots should be allowed to fly cherry drying missions is training. How can a new pilot learn the ropes unless he experiences the flight?

Easy: teach him on a nice clear day, when weather is not an issue and there isn’t an orchard owner on the ground freaking out because he’s worried about losing his cherry crop. A day when there’s no stress and no demands to get the job done quickly and move on to the next orchard. A day when rain isn’t making the cockpit bubble nearly impossible to see through and you have to worry about the flight path of the other helicopter on the next orchard block.

Start with an overview at an obstruction-free orchard and show how you scout for obstacles in a new orchard and determine where to start work. Descend slowly and start your instructional passes high, showing the student how the downwash affects the trees. Work your way down to the point where the future cherry drying pilot should be flying.

Of course, you’re doing all this after some ground training where you’ve already sketched out how the job is done and discussed all aspects of the work.

This is how I learned to dry cherries. I spent 2 hours talking about the work with an experienced cherry drying pilot and some notepaper that we sketched all over. Then we flew for about an hour over some uniformly tall trees and practiced various maneuvers.

And this is how I teach new pilots to dry cherries. In a controlled, stress-free environment.

So the argument that having a pilot on board during an actual cherry drying mission is the only way to teach him simply doesn’t fly with me. (Okay, pun intended.)

Is This a Contract Killer?

Is the one person vs. two people on board argument worth preventing a contract agreement? Apparently, the pilot I withdrew the contract from and I think it is.

In his words, “If this is not possible I don’t see this working for my business.” That makes me wonder about his “pilot friend.”

It seems to me that a friend should understand that when you have work to do, he needs to stand aside and let you do it. I have friends who fly fire contracts and power line contracts and heavy lift contracts and spray contracts. I am one of their “pilot friends.” I’d love to experience one of these flights first hand. But I know that (1) their employers most likely prohibit fly-alongs for pretty much the same reason I do and (2) my presence could jeopardize our safety or their job. So I don’t even ask and they don’t offer.

The claim that having only one person on board won’t work for his business makes me wonder whether there’s some financial gain to be had from having that second pilot on board. Would that other pilot be paying for that flight time, perhaps as a student? In that case, it’s “double-dipping,” pure and simple — being paid by two separate parties for work on one mission. And frankly, there’s a bit too much of that in this industry for my taste.

I pay a generous per-hour flight rate for cherry drying work. The rate is considerably higher than any charter or utility rate a pilot could charge for flying the same helicopter. I pay that because the work is risky and because that’s what the market will bear. Isn’t this enough to head off any need for double-dipping?

As for me, I want my pilots safe and their flights accident-free. I can’t serve my clients when one of my pilots crashes in an orchard and his helicopter is put out of commission. It’s my goal to minimize the risk — that’s why I require pilots with at least 500 hours of flight time and at least 100 hours in the helicopter they’re flying. That’s why I don’t allow two people in the cockpit when flying in an obstacle-rich environment.

It’s not all about money and milking the system to maximize revenue. It’s about the safe and reliable performance of a mission to best serve clients — and live to fly another day.