Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How Pierre and Stan Have Blessed Our Lives

Well, after some arm twisting, Deb has finally motivated me enough to write a few thoughts about our trucking travels. Of course, it helps that we finally have a working laptop and internet connection in the truck! Purchasing these two items is a huge milestone for us, a work of delayed gratification of almost nine months, so both Deb and I are both overjoyed to have finally approved the purchase of these two items. However, the “new” laptop and internet are not the only purchases that we have made lately. As Deb has already mentioned, we decided to invest a little money and add Al, Stan, and Pierre to our collection, and boy!, are they welcome co-workers. And it is to how they are helping us out financially that will be the topic of my first blog post.

For those of you who don't know me, I have a myriad assortment of interests, ranging from philosophical studies and discussions, to football conversations, to home remodeling and engine repair, and to, last but not least, number crunching, financial analysis, and business interests. And it is to these latter interests that I will be turning. In the trucking industry, there are some bare “necessities” which cannot be overlooked or done without, and are often associated with the romantic vision of a trucker and life out on the road. The prime two would be the coffee thermos and the trucker's coffee mug. These are indispensable items, and it would almost be an injustice to imagine a trucker in his seat, with his one hand on the steering wheel and with his other hand left empty, left without a coffee mug nearby. In fact, some of my most favorable moments out on the road so far have been when I'm cruising down the interstate early in the morning, with the sun just beginning to rise, casting its glow and shadow on the face of the earth, with my favorite cup of coffee or tea in my mug in hand, sipping away as I go. These moments are truly glorious and quite difficult to convey in a few simple words.

With that said however, coffee and tea, especially on the road, are really expensive! I mean, really expensive. The average 16oz cup of joe (or tea for that matter) will run a guy or gal a buck fifty or more for every fill up, and with several fill ups ideally a day, we're talking some serious money, at least $60 to $90 a month, and that's with some lean drinking. Well, that's an expense that Deb and I were just unwilling to pay and so I got to thinking about ways to get around this money monster. The most obvious solution would be to make our own coffee or tea, but we didn't like the idea of the hassle associated with taking care of the coffee maker, not to mention the space that it would take up, as well as its proneness to falling over (riding in a truck is a bumpy ride), as well as the coffee filters we would need and the water...you get the point. Having our own coffee maker was not much of a solution.

But—some solution was needed. Making your own cup of coffee is vastly cheaper than purchasing one retail, especially if all you're using is the coffee grounds/ tea leaves, and are mooching the rest (namely the hot water) off of the truck stops. One can make a 16oz cup of coffee or tea for as little as 10 cents (10 cents!) using the generic Folgers coffee (or Townshend's tea leaves), and for only 25 cents for the higher quality, premium Starbucks or Millstone coffee found in most grocery stores. The incentive for making our own is simply too great to overlook. And so, in a moment of creative ingenuity, I thought it best to purchase a large thermos (Stan) and a 16 oz coffee press (Pierre) for our coffee making purposes.

Stan holds about a half gallon of hot water and since he stays hot for over 24 hrs, we only have to refill him once every day or two. Thus, with him in our company, we have some hot water always accessible to make some hot beverage. Add Pierre to the mix, and we have coffee or tea whenever we want it. This becomes especially advantageous when you consider that we don't always have to park at a truck stop to get some coffee or tea or to take a break. Rest areas become a real alternative and considering how enjoyable it is to stop at a rest area (not as much traffic, easy off and on the highway access, more enjoyable settings), this is a definite improvement. Additionally, Stan also allows us to make oatmeal in the truck and he has proven to be especially useful for cleaning up any spills that we might have (hot water goes a long ways for cleaning). Adding to that how useful both Stan and Pierre should continue to be after our trucking days are over, one can easily see why we have welcomed them into our company with open arms and hope that they will continue to bless us with their presence for years to come. (If you haven't noticed, Deb and I are turning into Tom Hanks on “Castaway.”) :)

P.S. There is some even better, “great news” to come from me, but I wanted to write about this first to “break me in” on the blog post writing, and thus the other news will come in the near future.

P.P.S. Unfortunately, the great news is not that Deb is pregnant. I know, we can hear the sighs of disappointment from here, but hopefully, that will be a blog post in a year or two. :)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sunny Sacramento

Can you believe that it's not quite spring yet but the high today in Sacramento was 78 degrees? We took advantage by utilizing our roller blades! The truck stop parking lot is huge and there weren't many trucks parked yet, and it felt great to get the blood pumping and our muscles used!

Driving near Lincoln, NE the other day brought a challenge: we blew a tire! Ben was in the back sleeping and all was going well with my driving and then, POP! I look in my side mirror to see smoke coming from the driver's side front axle of the trailer tires. I immediately put on my four-way flashers, slowed down, and pulled off to the side of the road. Ben woke up and checked out the damage:

Five hours and many phone calls later, we drove away with a brand new tire and were on our way!

When we were on our last home-time, we looked into getting an up-graded laptop to use while out on the road (our present one was a 2000 model!). After a Craigslist search, we found a place in town that refurbishes "older" computers and resells them for a relatively inexpensive price. We made a purchase on an HP 4-year old laptop and are so thrilled with it! It moves with great speed, plays dvds and has awesome picture quality. Adding to that, we adjusted our cell phone plan a bit to allow my BlackBerry to be used as a modem for internet service on the computer as well! That means I can now update the blog on a real computer using more than just my thumbs to type!

We have some other really great news*, but in Ben's introductory contribution to our blog (stay tuned, hopefully it will happen in the next week), he will be the one to share!

*Mom, if you're reading this, no, the other really great news is not that we're pregnant. We're still waiting.

In other other news, we have named our little coffee/tea french press: Pierre. Our whole brood of coffee/tea related items was joined by "Stan Jr.", a smaller green thermos, gifted to me by Becky and Michelle for my birthday. Having names for them all may seem strange, but it certainly helps both of us to know what the other is talking about in reference to them.

Speaking of my birthday, I had a great day! We originally planned on getting a group together to go on a ski trip up to Mt. Hoodoo, but time and money did not permit that little adventure. Rather, we had friends over for a dinner night on Friday and a brunch on Saturday! Thank you to Adam, Kathy, Eric, Justin, Pat, Carolyn, Matthew, Sharon, Michelle W, Michelle O, Becky, Eric, Ray, Breanna and Jill for helping me celebrate! And thanks for the chocolate! :-)

In other news, we are (still) in Sacramento, picking up a load early in the morning and heading to the Seattle area. Then we'll head out to the east side of Pittsburgh! We look forward to being in that "familiar" territory, even though we'll be in that region just next month for my comps. Speaking of, please keep my studying efforts in your prayers! This is just one of three last steps to completing my masters degree, but is by far the largest chunk...

Have a beautiful weekend, and Happy Spring! St. Joseph, pray for us!

deb & Ben

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Meet Stan, Al, and Jack

Ben and I really enjoy drinking tea while out on the road. Each month we stock up on our loose-leaf flavored black teas from Townshend's Tea here in Bend. Their varieties range from Vanilla Peach Apricot to Creme de la Earl Grey, Mango Mist to Rose Petal, Ginger Peach to Assam Irish Breakfast. They have other varieties of green and white teas, but black tends to have more caffeine. Mate is another type of tea they have (a traditional Argentinian drink that is very, very planty/earthy) that we've come accustomed to. Every now and then we enjoy a good cup of coffee (Pilot Travel Centers have the best on the road), but it can be very expensive with a few refills a week. Enter, thus, Stan.

We met Stan
at Target last week and are so pleased he joined us out on the road. With a lifetime warranty, 26 hours of heat, and suitable durability, we knew he was right for us! He is shown here with some friends, but he is the one in the back. It is really amazing that even after "just" 12 hours of holding our hot water from the truck-stop tap (hey, water is free, and they have it at the perfect temperature right next to all of the coffee varieties), he will still be steaming! This helps us out with the tea, coffee, and even oatmeal.

Al was a few rows over, and was necessary to join us as we mistakenly set down our other coffee mug and forgot about it. He is shiny just like Stan! We also purchased a truck-friendly french press for these loose-leaf teas and eventual coarse-ground coffee. But, he doesn't have a
name yet.

Lastly, meet Jack. He often gets called other names, but 95% of the time, is one
of the greatest assets we have on the road. He is a truck-specific GPS device, well worth the investment. He also switches to "four-wheeler" mode for when we drive our pick-up or Jetta. Jack is just one of the many "personalities", or voices used. His cousin Lee, from Australia, comes to the fore when my mother Eileen is around. His sister Samantha is not pleasant to listen to, and if we're feeling really adventurous, we'll communicate with his French relatives. All in all, the entire family is extremely helpful, but Jack is our favorite.

These three "guys" have really made our time in the truck more enjoyable, cheaper, and without significant headaches. If anyone out there is considering a career in this field, you won't be disappointed with these additions!

A few other quick things: we're on our hometime now, enjoying great Central Oregon weather and getting a lot of work/errands/studying done. Highlight of today: I picked up my two "new" vintage Bebo Norman cd's I had ordered last month. He is fantastic! Also, please kindly overlook my spelling errors; 99% of the time I am updating this blog through my cell phone and it does not have a friendly editing page.

Have a beautiful week, everyone! God bless you!

deb & Ben

Monday, March 8, 2010

What We Listen To

Ben's trainer, Herb, was a very generous guy. He bought most of Ben's meals during their time together, and at the end of the training period, as he did with all of his trainees, Herb gifted Ben. He had recently updated his personal XM/Sirius Radio device, and gave Ben his gently used device, as he no longer needed it. And thus, enter into a whole different aspect of being on the road.

If any of you readers have XM, you know how enjoyable it can be to have virtually unlimited channels to unlimited genres of music, talk radio, sports radio, etc. For a small fortune of lifetime membership, we are able to enjoy all of these things and more! Ben had listened to XM every day in training, while my trainer's (old) truck didn't even have a cd player (a month without Bebo is hard), so I didn't much listen to anything. It took a little convincing on Ben's part, then, for us to agree to the subscription. It has made a world of difference in our spiritual lives, in knowledge of current events, of financial savvy-ness, and general mental health of not going crazy listening only to the lull of a diesel engine.

At first, I simply listened to Prime Country for 2 weeks straight and took a walk down memory lane with country hits from the 80s and 90s. Then I discovered the bluegrass channel, pops at the opera, and the message. Ben spent most mornings listening to Mike & Mike and The Herd (especially during football season), and on weekends we loved listening to numerous college games (with near hatred of USC football announcers) and NFL games on Sundays (fyi, the Colts downhome podunk announcers are so much fun).

About 3 months into trucking, we discovered the Catholic Channel. It took a little warming up for me to enjoy it, but we have gained so much spiritual growth and insight, that the small fortune spent has been 100% worth it! The Catholic Channel is sponsored in part by the Archdiocese of New York, and part of that sponsorship includes broadcasting daily and Sunday Masses live from St. Patrick's Cathedral, often celebrated by the Archbishop, His Excellency Timothy Dolan. As we're not always able to make it to Sunday Mass, participating in this way provides at least the spiritual nourishment given in the celebration of the Liturgy. This channel also broadcasts "Busted Halo" with Fr. Dave Dwyer, "Fully Alive" with Dr. Greg & Lisa Popcek, and my personal favorite, "The Catholic Guy" with Lino Rulli (he was one of the producers of "Champions of Faith: Baseball Edition"n which is an excellent piece if you've never checked it out). It has been so enjoyable to listen to this channel and so uplifting at the same time. If you are an XM listener, tune in to channel 117.

Another favorite as of late has been The Dave Ramsey Show. As you know from earlier posts, we are in this whole trucking business to pay off our many debts. We went into this careere with great ambition to get it all taken care of as quickly as possible, and discovering and listening to Dave has given us renewed vigor. If you've never heard of him, check his book out from the library or spend the $25 to buy it: "The Total Money Makeover". We are following his suggestions to become debt-free, which as our plans and compensation go, will occur three years from now. Goodbye credit cards, goodbye student loans payments, hello freedom! When callers phone in to his show to let the listeners know they are debt-free after so many payments and much "rice-and-beans-beans-and-rice" budgeting, Dave lets them scream at the top of their lungs, "WE'RE DEBT FREE!". It's truly quite inspiring and motivating and we look forward to that day in the not-so-distant future when we will be able to do the same. Our present sacrifice in "normal" lifestyle will be worth it when we have that financial peace of mind!

Do you have a favorite channel you would recommend us to check out? Let us know!

We've spent the past several days in the Seattle area, as freight is moving a little slow. We're thankful though, as we were able to find a few trails to do some walking on, in the shadows of the Snoqualmie Mountains. A highlight of the weekend, besides a fantastic 4-mile hike, was getting together with AJ & Sarah, going to Mass at Blessed Sacrament parish, and enjoying a bite to eat at Bahama Breeze. Check them out at http://west-coast-steins.blogspot.com . Thanks, you two (three!) for taking us out! It was so enjoyable to spend time with you!

Our home-time is scheduled starting Wednesday this week, so we're soon to be back in Bend, studying our brains out and celebrating my birthday. God is so good, life is great, and we are richly blessed.

God bless you too!

deb & Ben

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Nice Break

We've been spending a lot of time on the eastern portion of the country this last week with "short" runs (less than 1000 miles), from Ohio to Georgia to Kentucky to New York to Massachusetts and even Rhode Island! We had some time to spare before we dropped last night in Indianapolis, so we called up the Wilker clan and met them in Eaton, an hour or so from home. Kate, Joe, Andy and Tex visited with us as we went for a bite to eat and then enjoyed two games of bowling. It's nice to see family; we haven't since Thanksgiving. This morning we got to visit with Mindy, too, outside of Indy. Thanks for making the trek to hang out, averyone!

We're heading to Walton, KY, just south of Cincinnati to pick up a Conway load and head out to Aurora, NE. They're keeping us busy!

Have a great week, everyone!

God bless,
deb & Ben