on heavy boxes, sciatic nerves, and minivans.


That coffin-shaped thing in our backyard by the vehicle gate is a Thing of Great Surprise for the kids, destined to be put together by the handymen while we’re on our trip to the South. There is a Tarp of Deception on top of it for counterintelligence reasons, to keep the Great Surprise as such.

The Thing of Great Surprise comes in a single box that is eight by two feet and weighs in at over 300 pounds. Your humble correspondent, not being the brightest bulb in the cupboard, backed his minivan up to the vehicle gate and then unloaded that box all by himself, to stage near the area where the Thing of Great Surprise will be assembled. Your humble correspondent had to pop an 800-milligram Ibuprofen a little while ago, and will be doing very little in the way of bending at the waist for the next day or two.

Because our road is still muddy, it has a 6-ton weight limit on it. Because the freight service delivering the Thing of Great Surprise sent it in a semi, your humble correspondent had to chug out into town and take delivery of the goods in the Home Depot parking lot.  Once again I am impressed by the cargo-hauling abilities of that Grand Caravan. I have on occasion hauled a bunch of standard 8×4 drywall sheets in the back without trouble. I’ve hauled cargo and passenger groups with the minivan that I couldn’t have transported with any other vehicle. When the time comes to replace the Grand Marnier, I may just forego the AWD and buy another one of these. AWD is useful three months out of the year, while seven seats or 160 cubic feet of cargo space and a flat-load floor are useful year-round.


vat is vay-cay-shun?

Looks like Team Munchkin Wrangler is going to go south for a family visit again. That means a 1,000-mile drive, which in turn means getting the Grand Marnier’s AC fixed. Right now, it’s not AC-ing due to a leak in the system somewhere. I am NOT going south of the Mason-Dixon in early May without some freon-cooled air at my disposal.

One of our friends is going to house-sit for us while we are gone, so the doggies have company, the chicks will be fed, and the Intertube spigot won’t rust shut from disuse. (Did I mention we’re getting chickens in April? Fresh eggs for all the Castle residents!) We are going to be gone for a week and a half, with a few days scheduled to recover from the vacation.

Anyhow, I have two items for you today, Internets. The first is for the east TN/western NC crowd: I’m thinking about getting a table at some eatery down in Knoxville for a little get-together. Anyone up for a meet-up of sorts? It would be in the first week of May. We will also be in the western NC area where Robin’s family lives, and I might be able to meet up in Asheville.

Second item: I know that there are quite a few car nuts among you. I need suggestions for a replacement for the Grand Marnier. It’s still doing fine, and will probably serve its function as kid hauler for a good while longer, but I want to get a few ideas for its eventual successor.

The criteria:

  • AWD or 4WD drivetrain.
  • Sufficient amount of cargo space (doesn’t have to beat the minivan, but should have ample space for five people plus luggage without feeling packed.) That means crossover, SUV, or really spacious wagon.
  • Decent gas mileage. The Grand Marnier gets 21 city/27 highway, and I’d like something that does as well or better, which may be a tall order to fill when coupled with AWD.
  • Price tag of under $30,000.

For reference, my current short list includes the Subaru Tribeca, VW Tiguan, and Jeep Compass. The Subie gets lousy gas mileage and is expensive, the Tiguan looks a bit small, and I am not sure about the build quality of current Jeep models. I love the Mazda5 concept, but that one isn’t available as an AWD. I’d like to get an AWD minivan, but the only option there is the Toyota Sienna AWD, which is north of thirty grand. in the end, I may just say “fuck it” and get a Subie Outback, but I wanted to make sure I don’t overlook any viable contenders.

So, anyone have any ideas for a new AWD family hauler that fits the bill?

on the road again, and (another) ode to the minivan.

Last Saturday, I drove for ten hours to deliver a dog down to southern Connecticut. Today, I get to do the drive again, to pick her up from her Week of Loooove.

Yes, I will have the kids with me.

Let’s just say that this week’s Dadcation (which will take place either Friday afternoon or Saturday morning) will be particularly well-deserved.

The Grand Marnier is now in its sixth year–we got in in December 2005. (Hey, I blogged about it back then…revered excrement, I’ve been doing this Interblogs thingie for a while, haven’t I?) In its five and a half years, it has been almost entirely trouble-free, which is undoubtedly attributable to the fact that we purchased the 70k miles extended warranty. Other than regular wear-and-tear items like brakes and such, it has needed no parts replaced other than a passenger side window motor (under warranty) and a tailgate latch pressure switch. Six months ago, it carried us all the way down to South Carolina in our Epic Family Vacation and Family Visit without a hiccup.

Now, a lot of guys knock minivans, but I wouldn’t want to make a trip of that length with anything but a Grand Caravan or similar vehicle. We had enough luggage for two adults and two kids, a ton of wedding and family presents, and provisions…and not only did everything fit into the cargo compartment behind the third row seat, but we still had the third row available for taking naps, changing diapers, and so on. We also had enough space to hang up the fancy wedding clothes in their garment bags so they’d arrive wrinkle-free. The sliding doors make it easy to load and unload little kids in crowded rest stop parking lots, and the seats are comfy and offer lots of leg space in every row, even for people who are six feet plus.

In everyday utility use, the folding seats are incredibly handy, because you can switch the seating configuration around as needed, turning the van from a seven-seat minibus into a two-seat cargo hauler “pickup with a roof” without ever having to take a seat out of the car. I’ve hauled bedroom furniture, bales of insulation, renovation debris, bookshelves, a dozen eight-foot 4x4s, and a hundred other items in that minivan without trouble. For sheer utility and flexibility, it’s handily the best vehicle I’ve ever owned.

The best part is that we made the last payment on it a few months ago. It’s still purring right along, and our intention is to drive it into the ground. At my current rate of mileage accumulation, I’ll probably have the Grand Caravan for another five years at least, by which time I probably won’t need a minivan anymore. But you know what? One of those Siennas with all-wheel drive would be a slick upgrade…and by that time, they’ll probably come with all kinds of Star Trek gadgets that will make the current models look like 1970s panel vans. With the way air travel is going, I foresee us driving everywhere we can, and the minivan is a long-range family cruiser without peer.

That doesn’t mean I don’t still want that Porsche 911, but there’s no law against having both…yet. <cue Rush’s “Red Barchetta”>

the million-dollar garage.

This article about high-end luxury car picks for lottery winners reminded me that my Taxachusetts-based friend Jay often has Top 10 lists featuring cars on his blog.  Because I want to be just like the Kool Kidz, I figured I could take that baton and stumble off with it, too.

So, you just won a cool $300 million in the Multi-State SuperMegaBux.  You build a swank new mansion for the family, with a big-ass garage.  Your challenge is to pick five brand new current-production automobiles to fill that new garage of yours.

Here’s my list:

1.) Porsche 911 Turbo–because that’s my “Fuck You Money” dream car, and has been for a long time.  The current series of the 911 (997) packs a twin-turbo flat-six 3.8l at 493HP in the Turbo S version.  I’ll take the all-wheel drive Turbo S, because it’s a beast, and because, hey, New Hampshire.  (Not that I’d have much of a prayer with a 911 on our dirt road or in the snow.)

2.) Ferrari 458 Italia–because every luxury car collection needs to include a Ferrari.  The 458 sports a mid-mounted 4.5l V8 with 560HP output.  I would need to order it with an extra-large glove box to accomodate all the speeding tickets I’m likely to collect with a Ferrari, which looks like it’s going eighty above just standing parked at the curb.

3.) Aston Martin DBS V12–because it’s British and has twelve flippin’ cylinders.  Also: James Bond.  The V12 in the DBS has a displacement of six liters, and puts out 510HP.  Plus, it’s a sexy beast of a car.

4.) BMW 760i–because I’m a big fan of the Bavarian Motor Works with a history of satisfied previous ownership (a 323i and a 325i), and because the stable needs at least one large, comfortable car for extended trips.  I’d pick the top 7-series engine just because. You can’t argue with a six-liter twin turbo cranking out 537HP.

5.) Cadillac CTS-V.  Because it’s a station wagon with a Corvette mill–a 6.2l, 556HP V8.  Because my brother lectures me about American gas-guzzling excess on occasion, and I would gladly part with the sixty-five grand for that car just to pick him up at the airport in a 556-horsepower station wagon with an engine that would cost me a five-figure amount in annual vehicle taxes over in Germany.  (They’re taxed by engine displacement over there, which is why a 2.0l four-banger is considered a pretty big engine.)  Seriously–read the article, and tell me that wouldn’t be an awesome kid mover, a spunky parenting duty successor to the Grand Marnier.

Those are my picks.  What are yours?  Feel free to leave your choices in the Comments, or swipe the whole thing for your own blog entry.

(BMW 7-series pic courtesy of Rudolf Stricker. Ferrari 458 Italia pic courtesy of Anthony Joh. All other images are public domain.)

the cheeky little minivan.

This afternoon, I was giving the minivan a long-overdue cleaning.  While I was vacuuming the Grand Marnier, the kids were playing around on the seats, pretending the car was Thomas the Tank Engine.

At some point, Quinn asked me if we could paint the van to look like Thomas.  You know you’re approaching critical limits of parental sanity when you consider such a request, and your brain finds no objections.

If I end up giving the Grand Marnier a custom paint job, I’ll complete the slide into madness by cranking the Thomas & Friends theme song from the stereo at top volume every time we go out for groceries.

While we’re on the subject of large, boring family vehicles: the Dodge has only a few more payments on it.  Current mile count: 65,000-ish.  Major mechanical failures: none.  Minor mechanical failures: one inoperable passenger window lifter, surfaced three days after taking delivery back in 2005, fixed under warranty.  All major and most minor parts still firmly attached, and working as intended.  The A/C needs to be recharged, but that’s about it.  Considering my previous experience with Dodge products (see also: The Dodge Avenger Disaster, or This Fucking Piece of Shit Is Trailing Parts Like Some Sort Of Fucked-Up Comet, A Lamentation in Three Volumes), that’s downright amazing.

Anyway…now I need to find a paint shop that can mix Pantone 298-299, and some place where I can get the raw materials for a fake funnel and some traction rods.  The little engineer wants his conveyance properly customized, you see.

those wacky germans again.

When parking your vehicle without permission on the lot of a private company for five days in a row, blocking the spot for legitimate users, make sure the company in question isn’t one that specializes in building fences.


That’s a recent picture from Germany.  The company employees put a note on the car, asking the owner to move it off the private lot.  After a few days, they decided to do what they do best: build a fence.  Towing costs would have to be eaten by the company if they called a towing service to remove the car, so they decided to go the alternate route.  Since it’s private property, they are of course free to build a fence on it anywhere they want…

we’re schtuck in ze schnow.

The snow is falling.  The weather people are telling us to expect 12-24″ locally.  My snowblower is gassed up and ready to do battle with Nature McHitlergaia.

I found just the thing for fetching groceries in a New England winter storm:


Now I just need to convince Robin to let me trade the minivan in on one of those.  I’d hug it and squeeze it, and call it my Goremobile.