The air was cold and had a certain bite to it. I managed to crack my eyelids for brief moment before being assaulted by the tiny humans sleeping in the make shift beds next to me. The kids love Utah and visiting the grandparents. Even though our plan for the day was pretty much set, they still began verbally abusing me with their onslaught of “I wants” and the relentless requests for me to get out of bed. Despite their enthusiasm for the day, I had barely been able to sleep.
Like the professional father I am, I shrugged off all of their requests by definitively stating “you’ll have to ask grandpa.” This is a classic shifting the pressure and eliminating any responsibility for the day. They took to it instantly like untrained dogs rushing a bowl of food. They ran off up the stairs to accost them and gave me a few minutes to collect myself and finally take that hot shower I had been needing just to thaw out from the night before.
Ready for action
Showered and ready for the day I sluggishly made my way upstairs. Jen was sitting at the table with the kids while my father worked in the kitchen. The smell of pancakes wafted through the air and was reminiscent of the old days at the fire station. I sometimes wonder if this is my dads way of holding on to his past life while reliving a classic fireman’s pancake breakfast event or it was just the easiest thing to make for kids. Either way, it was a welcome and comforting feeling to sit at the table and not have to entertain the kids for a few.
I sat back and watched as the kids began to explain everything they wanted to do. My father carefully explained how it is important to make a list of everything they wanted to do and to then figure out everything they could do. The first item up for debate was obtaining a christmas tree.
Every year we try to head out to Utah and cut down our own tree instead of getting them at a store. We do this for multiple reasons. It helps with the carrying capacity of the forest and also turns a mundane shopping trip into a memorable family outing with some physical activity sprinkled in. We worked out the logistics of where the good trees were this year based on maps provided by the forestry department.
Many people do not understand there are several types of Christmas trees out there. They all have their pros and cons including needle type, shape, fullness, and of course the color. With the overwhelming number of categories describing trees there are only two that really matter. Which one does the wife want and which one can I safely and sometimes legally obtain.
Anything is better than shopping
We have always been partial to the White fir or the Subalpine fir species. The Dixie National Forest has a website for obtaining permits to cut down a tree as well as maps. I highly recommend you review the information and educate yourself on types of trees before setting off on your adventure. As of the writing of this story permits for 10′ and under are $10 and $20 if over 10′.
We always measure our ceiling height and find a tree that is slightly bigger than what is needed. We have 8′ ceilings, so we try to find a 9′ tree. This allows us to cut off some of the trunk when we get it home and some adjustment off the top to modify for any ornament such as an angel or star. Cutting off the trunk is important to maintain the viability of the tree and to ensure it takes up water from your stand.
Hunting for the tree has always been my favorite part. It’s much more difficult than cruising through a tree farm where they all look the same. I have always liked a tree with a little character. This year, it was about the kids. We let them have the final say in finding a tree. After wandering through the woods lugging a chainsaw, this is the tree they all decided on.
Back at the Ranch
We managed to pack up our newly found tree and head back to the house. The next item on the list was to try out the new horse cart grandma had purchased recently. Jen took the kids to the coral to meet the new addition to the ranch and go for a quick ride. Unfortunately, I had to stay back in the shop and try to solve the problem with the heater.
I like to believe that being a father means being able to solve problems. Unfortunately, the older I get the more people I meet that have zero ability to repair things. It makes me sad for the future because we are taught to consume and replace as opposed to rebuild and repair. If you have been reading our prior stories you are already aware that I love teaching my kids how to use tools and repair things. I hope these lessons will one day serve them to be great leaders when no one else knows how to solve a problem.
On our drive up, the heater stopped working. This made for a very unpleasant drive and almost lead to an existential crisis. Luckily I am able to fumble my way through most problems and find a practical solution. In this case, I was able to recognize that the van had begun leaking coolant on the shop floor.
The most basic part of problem solving is identifying the problem. Naturally, I crawled under the van to see where it was coming from. Luckily I was able to see a few of the hose clamps were leaking from the fittings. I tightened them up, cleaned them off, and then proceeded to test the heater again.
How Things Work
Many of you out there are probably scratching your heads and wondering why a coolant leak would make the heater fail. In most automotive setups the heater is a simple transfer of heat from the cooling system into the air from a fan blowing over some type of heat exchanger. Basically, the engine coolant takes heat from the engine and travels to a “heater core” under your dash. A small fan then blows air across the heater core and the hot coolant warms the colder air. This air then is directed out your vents.
In my situation, the coolant lines have a second heater core for the RV setup that warms the passengers in the back. Those lines travel from the front heater core to the back heater core and travel underneath the van. One of the hoses began leaking which caused air to be sucked inside the coolant line. The air forms bubbles and effectively blocks the coolant from traveling through the heater core. This prevents the heater core from ever getting hot enough to warm the air.
By fixing the leak, I stop the air from entering the system. The next step is to remove the air from the system so the coolant can flow freely once again. To do this, you have to purge the air or “bleed” it out by creating an obstruction in the coolant line. Using a pair of pliers I was able to clamp the line. This forced coolant to flow differently and with more pressure behind it. It was able to force the bubbles out of the heater core and thus make the heater work again.
The repairs on the van reminded me of pretty much every christmas movie out there. The ones where santa’s sleigh breaks down and only the grumpiest elf can fix it. I suppose that makes me the grumpiest elf as opposed to santa in this equation. Either way, we had a functioning vehicle once again and could make our planned destination of “trunk or treat” at the Duck Creek Village.
Duck Creek is a small mountain town nestled off of Highway 14 in Southern Utah. They offer numerous family adventures, small bed and breakfast hotel, and rentals on ATV’s, Snowmobiles, and other outdoor activities. It is also only a few minutes from the ski resort at Brian head. They give a small town feel with true small town charm for the holidays. This is one of our favorite places to visit friends with my father. He knows pretty much everyone that lives there and is very active in the local community.
Trick Trunk or Treating: Round 1
Officially, Halloween was on a Monday night this year. Duck Creek was celebrating halloween on saturday night with their annual trunk or treat. This involves local residents decorating the back of their cars and passing out candy to all the children in the area as they walk down the main street in town. The kids absolutely loved it and brought in quite the haul.
One of my favorite things about the people in town is the sense of community. Out here in California we have a tendency to wall ourselves off from the world due to the sheer volume of the local population. In small towns across America there is still a sense of community and people take an interest in each others lives and wellbeing. This is a big reason why we love taking our kids out to see what rural America looks like. It is a constant reminder there are people out there that do things out of kindness instead of greed.
If you are looking for family oriented activities that still maintain a sense of wonder without the pressures of consumerism, I highly recommend visiting places like Duck Creek. Experience the holidays in a new place and go outside your comfort zone. You will find that the adventure alone is worth it but will also be overwhelmingly rewarded by living out your personal Grinch story when you visit the proverbial “who-ville”.
Trick or Treating: Round 2
The next stop on the same day was to make our way over to the local church. They were putting on a halloween carnival and chili cook off. Unlike EVERYTHING in california, this carnival was 100% free, inlcuding the games, prizes, chili, face painting, cookies, candy, drinks… you name it, they had it and it was FREE.
The kids had an amazing time. Josh naturally gravitated towards the throwing type games while Lily opted for more of the arts and crafts. Alex on the other hand found the chili to be the highlight. Mom and I mostly spent the time meeting everyone else in town and making fun of my dad.
Our initial plan for this trip was to make the typical drive up to my dads, get a tree with the kids, ride horses, trunk or treat, and then move on to Arizona to visit a block party at my brothers for Halloween. We woke up Sunday morning and I began to prep the van for the trip over the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Jen got the kids ready and fed them something other than sugar, or chili in Alex’s case.
I received a late text from my brother just before we were about to load up and head out. The text indicated that two of his three kids were sick and on antibiotics. I instantly knew what this meant. I pictured myself walking into the kitchen and telling Jen and the kids that we were not going to be in Arizona for halloween… Thats it, halloween is cancelled. I then imagined they would all act reasonably and we would spend one or two more days in Utah exploring.
Reality began to sink in when Jen told me my brothers wife was so excited for us to go out there for halloween. I was now placed in that awkward situation where I had to deliver bad news with a positive spin. Unfortunately, I was at a loss on how to deliver the fact that we had driven 9 hours on friday, spent saturday in Duck Creek, and now looking at driving another 9 hours home on Sunday. Lets do some math on this one – 18hours driving + 16 hours sleeping = 34 hours of time “wasted” in a 48 hour weekend. Only 14 hours of the weekend were utilized…
At times like this it is important to remember the reason WHY we did this trip. We wanted to “road trip” and I wanted to spend more time with the family together. You honestly cannot get much more “together” than being locked in a tin can barreling down a freeway at 80mph for 9 hours but I digress. There is a massive difference between quantity and quality when it comes to spending time with someone. Again, as a father, I asked myself how do I solve this problem?
I approached Jen cautiously without letting the kids know what was going on. I decided to consult her as opposed to “tell” her what was happening. She came to the same conclusion that we should avoid Arizona for the safety of everyone. Jen and I then decided we should still return home so the kids could still have their halloween experience in our usual neighborhood. Jen and I could then still hangout with the neighbors and enjoy sleeping in our own bed.
With our plan in place, we said our goodbyes and explained to the kids what was happening. They were admittedly sad but surprisingly upbeat about the return home. I believe this is because we have made it a point to be honest with our kids about life. We try to talk to them and explain things instead of telling them to do things. Most of the time this creates an open dialogue and takes way more effort than the alternative but it has paid off massively over the long run. Our kids genuinely seem to understand that things happen but we can adapt to changes in life by talking them through.
Filling the Void
The drive home went as expected. Driving through Vegas on a Sunday afternoon, back to southern California, was a slow monotonous grind. Luckily we had enough movies and games to entertain everyone the whole way through. We arrived late in the afternoon and had enough time to unload the van in the daylight. The kids were able to unwind and get some energy out before bedtime. Jen and I began to scheme for the next two days since I already had them off. We knew Monday was halloween and were planning to clean up the house and van during the day. In the evening we would take the kids for round 3 of trick or treating.
Tuesday however… that is a different story entirely. Stay tuned to see what happens next. Spoiler alert: it was more expensive than going to Arizona.