How to survive a midlife crisis on a budget


I’m closing in on 47 years of age and to date I have not had the midlife crisis I’m entitled to. I think that may have just changed.

My midlife crisis was brought about by a transportation dilemma.  My oldest daughter turned 16 this year and we had not adequately saved to buy her a car. That means she is driving my vehicle a lot these days. When she has my vehicle and my wife is out with her’s, I am left stranded at home.  We live in a community that is pretty much self-contained in the foothills of South Mountain in Phoenix.  Since I work from home most of the time, I don’t need a car on a daily basis.  However, when I need to run an errand or meet up with the guys at church or just get out of the house for a while, sometimes I need a set of wheels.

1979 Honda CT 90 trail bike
The cure for my midlife crisis: A 1979 Honda CT90 trail bike.

For the last year or so, I have been watching Craigslist for an opportunity to buy a scooter at a good price.  It wasn’t until recently, that I stumbled upon an ad for a Honda CT 90.  The 90 in the bike’s model means it is a 90 cc engine.  Not much power by modern street bike standards, but it is plenty to get me from my home to the points I tend to travel.  I’ve done some research on the bike and discovered that they stopped making them in 1979 –  the model year I bought. Nevertheless, there is no lack of popularity with the bikes.

It turns out there are cliques of people who buy and collect and ride these bikes just like there are for Harley Davidson motorcycles. People buy these post the bikes for all sorts of reasons, such as nostalgia, convenience, economics and so forth. For me, the appeal is budget. The truth is I’ve never desired to ride or own a Harley Davidson.  But once I discovered the CT90 and did a little research, I was hooked.

Thanks to Craigslist, I was able to find one of these trail bikes of the 1979 vintage for only $1,600. Here’s the beauty: it has only 1,400 miles on it and is in near mint condition.  It’s almost as if somebody locked it away in a time capsule and preserved it for me to have today. With no clutch and only four speeds, it’s very easy to ride and gets about 80 miles per gallon of gas. The perfect cure for my midlife crisis.

AZ Bucket List: The Grand Canyon like you’ve never seen it


On the last weekend of May, 2014 I bagged the proverbial elephant on my Arizona Bucket List: A hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. This 3-day, 24-mile round-trip on foot adventure was arranged by our church and I was immensely blessed to be a part of it. It would do no good to try and put the experience into words, but I took some photos to share a glimpse of it with you. Below is a sampling of the photos and the full album is on my Shutterfly site.

 

How I sold my truck on Craigslist in 15 minutes


I won’t bore you with all the details leading up to the moment I decided to sell the truck I loved on Craigslist. Let me just say it was a painful process and a difficult reality that took me far too long to embrace.

The truck’s title arrived in the mail earlier that day, three weeks after I had paid off a small title loan. In all honesty, with over 215,000 hard-earned miles and repairs becoming routine, it had become a liability to our tight family budget. I no longer needed the truck and we really needed the money.

Sidenote: We had also been experiencing major issues with my wife’s vehicle, as in the engine seized up when the shop neglected to put oil back in it during a routine oil change and we had to have the engine replaced. When you get a minute, read How I got a new car motor for the price of an oil change.

Finally, it was go time. At about 11:45 p.m. on a Tuesday evening, I sat down to compose the ad, complete with a dozen or so photos and just enough of a description to sell it without exaggerating. I clicked the “Publish” button and made my way out to the hot tub for a little stress relief.


Related blog post: how to write a Craigslist ad that sells.


About 15 minutes later, just a little after midnight, I heard my phone ringing inside the house. I sprang from the spa to see who was calling. It was a Phoenix number I did not recognize. The call log showed it was his sixth attempt to reach me since I published the ad. I also had three text messages from him, and two from others interested in the truck. He wanted to meet me right then so he could buy the truck. Surely he was a scammer, I thought. Who asks a seller to meet for a test drive in the midnight hour? So I turned off my phone, pulled the ad and went to bed.

2001 Ford Explorer Sport Trac
2001 Ford Explorer Sport Trac

The prospective buyer resumed his pursuit at 6 a.m., with both phone calls and text messages. Let me remind you the ad was no longer visible. Finally, I responded with “Sorry, I inadvertently published the ad too soon. I’m not ready to sell the truck yet.” I just wanted this huckster off my back.

We exchanged a few more messages and agreed to meet at his bank, just down the street from me, on Friday morning. He showed up alone, with cash, and we made the trade.

Selling the truck has been a HUGE weight off my back, and has brought great peace to our home. Since this was my fastest Craigslist sale ever (basically 15 minutes), and maybe the fastest anyone has sold a vehicle online, I feel compelled to share my secret.

There is one thing I did before posting this ad that I have never done before, and I believe it made all the difference. I prayed. In the days leading up to my posting the ad, I caught myself griping about what a pain the truck was becoming. When I heard how negative I sounded, I nipped it and turned myself around. I began to thank God for the awesome experiences I had with that truck over the previous six years. Eventually, I asked God to deliver me from the truck and bring forth someone who can benefit from it. And that’s just what He did.

If you are a non-believer, you may choose to discount my explanation as hogwash. However, there are all sorts of stories in the bible of God providing ample blessings to his faithful believers. The moral of my story is summed up by the guidance in Chapter 21 of the book of Matthew, verse 22: You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.

How I got a new car motor for the price of an oil change


Recently I took my wife’s Jeep Wrangler into the shop for a routine oil change.  It was a couple thousand miles overdue and much as I despise the practice, I knew it had to be done. The engine had over 225,000 miles on it and we’ve been starting to come to grips with the fact that we should start putting a contingency plan in place for the day when the inevitable happens.

2001 Jeep Wrangler
My wife’s Jeep Sunshine

When I went to pick it up, everything seemed fine.  I was in a hurry to pick up my daughter from school, so I jumped in his driver’s seat and took off down the road. A couple miles later it began to sputter and lose power. Beneath the sound of the air conditioner and stereo I had not heard that the car stopped running.  Once I noticed it lost power, I shut everything off and realized that engine was no longer running. So I put the car in neutral and tried the ignition switch.  No dice.  It was not going to start.

I coasted onto the shoulder and face the reality that something major was wrong. Long story short, I had it towed back to the the shop where I placed the burden of proof on the shop manager to convince me they put oil in the engine. He couldn’t do it.

“Don’t worry,” he told me. “We will make it right.”

For me there was only one way he could make it right, so I asked him to elaborate. “We’re going to have to put a new engine it. At no cost to you.”

It took about a week, but they made it right. The shop found the identical engine from another Jeep with only 70,000 miles on it.  For the price of an oil change, the Jeep that my wife fondly named Sunshine was transformed from a tired old hen to a lively spring chicken.

 

I have witnessed the Phoenix lights


In the 10 o’clock hour of Monday, April 14, 2014 while the eyes of many were focused on the eastern skies for the lunar eclipse of the blood moon, something unusual and unexpected was happening in the sky west of our home.

It had been a long day for me, so I turned in early and was sound asleep by 10 p.m. Around 10:30, my wife came to the bedroom and woke me up in somewhat of a panic. She had trouble coming up with the words, but she was adamant that something strange was happening in the sky.

Eager to continue my slumber, I murmured a quick explanation of the eclipse and tried to return to sleep.

“This is not an eclipse,” she said. “There are some strange lights shining in the sky behind our house.”

She first saw the lights from our kitchen window downstairs. The angle was just right for her to see the glowing lights between the trees and rooftops situated between our home and the open desert an eighth of a mile to the rear.

After waking up and taking a quick look, I knew she was right. The heavy shade screens on our bedroom windows distorted the view somewhat, so I trotted out to the patio for a clearer view. There they were just like so many other had described before.

My wife and I are faithful Christians and generally categorize UFO sightings and the like as fiction. About a month earlier, I had heard a blurb in the news about the anniversary of the Phoenix Lights – a phenomenon of unexplainable lights that thousands of Phoenix residents reported seeing about the same time of night back in 1997.

After the lights “turned off” we returned to bed and broke out the iPad to do some research. The most recent post of any sort relating to the lights was from March 20, 2014. A gal reported seeing exactly what we saw as she returned to Phoenix from San Diego on I-8. Her view was from the south and the lights were over the same vicinity: the Estrella Mountain – Gila River Indian Community area.

Here is an excerpt from her blog post:

We noticed that 4 more of these orbs appeared in a line. They were bright orange orbs floating in same spot radiating intense light. For the next 2-5 minutes these orbs continued to appear and disappear across different positions in the sky. Out of nowhere once again, it was as if someone flicked a light switch when they just disappeared.

We never saw the orbs move to a position other than a vertical line. However, her light switch analogy perfectly describes how the light left the sky.

I was struck by the fact that the orbs could hold their straight-line position considering that on the night we witnessed them, the wind was blowing hard enough that the palm trees were swaying around pretty good. Another memory that stayed with me was that there was absolutely now sound, as we experience when planes or helicopters fly overhead.

The following day I did a little more research. Two things convinced me that there is more to these lights than meets the eye:

  1. In the Phoenix Lights documentary on YouTube, dozens of people who previously didn’t believe in UFOs detail accounts very similar to what my wife and I experienced. The documentary clearly rules out that what we saw as being any part of military operations.
  2. There are several articles that point out the native people who inhabited this area before us have reported similar sightings for hundreds of years. Some historians believe that even the notorious petroglyphs etched in rocks around South Mountain Park in Phoenix tell of visits from celestial beings.

This experience has completely opened my mind. I don’t believe we have been invaded by aliens and I don’t think that what we saw is cause for alarm. But, I will forever be on the lookout for objects in the sky that take me back to that night in April 2014. I still cling to my faith that there is only one God and that Jesus is the key to my eternal salvation. However, I am now convinced that some of us on earth have and will experience things that are not of this world and not explainable by man.

3 reasons why MLB Opening Day should NOT be a national holiday


I have seen numerous pleas by Major League Baseball on social media asking fans to sign a petition that would make Opening Day a national holiday. As much as I love baseball, there are three good reasons why I feel opening day should not be a national holiday.

1.  Ballpark attendance will not increase

Ask any fan of their city’s Major League Baseball team what the biggest challenge is with Opening Day and they will tell you it is getting tickets. Most MLB teams require fans to sign up on a waiting list about six months before the regular season begins in hopes that their name will be drawn from the lottery to buy tickets for opening day.

In other words, every team that has a solid fan base is currently selling out their stadium on Opening Day. Sold out is sold out, and declaring a national holiday won’t change that.

2.  Viewership will not increase

In most MLB markets the local media creates more hype and it generates greater anticipation around Opening Day than any other game during the year. Of course, there is at least one local station in each market that is likely to broadcast the game. So many of the people who were unable to buy tickets will be watching on TV. Even if they are working, in this day of cable sports TV and digital recorder’s most real fans can watch the game at their convenience after work.

3.  More people will suffer than benefit
In America, a national holiday usually means that federal offices, banks and in many cases schools will be closed. While it seems that this may be a benefit to Major League Baseball since more people are free from other distractions to focus on the nation’s pastime, my hunch is that more people will be affected negatively than will benefit. Think of the people that you know that work at any of the institutions that normally close on national holidays and how their income is affected when they cannot work. And think of how many business transactions cannot take place when banks are closed. Now you see what I mean.

Don’t get me wrong. I love baseball and I wish I could be off every year on Opening Day to take part in the festivities. However, we should keep in mind as a people that Major League Baseball is a business and they will continue to do just fine without Opening Day being declared a national holiday. Our government should not declare a holiday for the benefit of one industry at the expense of the general population.

Play ball!

AZ bucket list: Carefree


Carefree wasn’t on my Arizona Bucket List before I visited the town, but it should have been. I took my parents and my teen daughters to Carefree in mid-March 2014 as our impromptu Plan B. You see, my parents were visiting us in Phoenix from deep in the heart (more like lower extremities) of Texas. Before their arrival, Mom mentioned that seeing the desert in bloom was on her bucket list.

We had planned to visit the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix on the free day they offer the second Tuesday of every month. Just us and about half the people in Phoenix! The morning of our planned visit, the entry line (of cars) was backed up about a mile from the place. It’s at that point we were greeted with a sign that read “Free Day lots full.”

That’s when we resorted to Plan B. I remembered that in my search for desert demo gardens online, I stumbled onto an article about a garden in the Town of Carefree – about 25 miles north of Phoenix. So, guided by the GPS, off we went. The drive into town was unexpectedly rural and beautiful, with distinctive rock outcroppings and native plants lining the highway. Starting about five miles before the town of Carefree, you see interpretive signs identifying various plants growing in their natural state.

In the center of town is a meandering 4+ acre demonstration garden with water and shade features, along plenty of places to sit down. Adjacent to the park is a row of unique business that cater visitors. (See photos below – click for larger view.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I had visited the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix a couple weeks before we drove to Carefree, so I had a good frame of reference. The gardens in Carefree were every bit as beautiful, just on a smaller scale. The best part of our visit: It was FREE and we parked right next to the garden walk with absolutely no lines or hassles.

A remarkable display of patriotism


My wife and I have been looking after an elderly 30-year U.S. Air Force veteran whose service spanned the entire Vietnam era, and then some.

Recently, he needed some concrete and tile work done in the main bathroom and he expressed to my wife that he was worried about the cost.

A contractor named Efrain came over to see what kind of work needed to be done and returned the following day. While waiting for the concrete to set, he took time to ask the Vet about some pictures from the retiree’s flying years that my wife arranged neatly on the wall just a few days earlier.

As Efrain finished the job and headed for the door, the elder asked how much he owed.

“Thank you for your service,” was Efrain’s reply.

Remarkable!

I would love to hear your stories of how you honor veterans or remarkable displays of patriotism you have witnessed.

Cruising Arizona’s Apache Trail


I had a free weekend in mid-January 2014, so my oldest daughter and I took to Arizona’s open roads and checked the Apache Trail off our Arizona Bucket List. The roughly 5-hour loop begins just north of the town of Apache Junction on the eastern edge of Phoenix metro. Most of the drive consists of fairly navigable two-lane blacktop. It’s the 25 or so miles of dusty, washboard road that will keep me from rushing back.

Prior to moving to Phoenix in 2012, I spent 17 years in the Denver – Boulder area of Colorado and did plenty of driving in the Rocky Mountains. So, I am fairly adept at handling steep, winding roads. However, I wasn’t prepared for just how steep some of the sections on the Apache Trail would be. In particular, Fish Creek Hill requires you to ride the brakes almost non-stop as you descend over 1,500 feet in elevation in just a couple miles. Even riding in my vehicle’s lowest gear, the decline was too steep to cruise without the use of brakes. As a result, many drivers, including me, pulled off about two-thirds of the way down the hill to let the brakes cool off – and take a few pictures.

I will let the pictures below tell the rest of my story; however, if I had to name a highlight it would be the awesome splendor of Apache Lake – a Goldilocks sized reservoir sandwiched between Roosevelt and Canyon Lakes along the Salt River. At one point, we backed my truck onto a small driveway on a bluff overlooking the marina area and sat on the tailgate to chow down our picnic lunch. As we resumed the drive, I was awestruck by the towering cliffs shooting out of the glassy, narrow channel on the lake’s eastern end. The visuals ignited dreams of bringing my family back in warmer months to cruise the lake in a rental boat.

Views from the Apache Trail (click any image to enlarge):