– Ben Martens

Tips for Visiting the San Juan Islands

The San Juan Islands are a gorgeous place to visit and half the fun is the 1+ hour ferry ride that it takes to get there. However, the islands are a popular destination and it can be a bit of a challenge to plan a trip there. Rather than write this up multiple times in various emails to people, I thought I’d capture it all on a single page that I can share in the future.

1. Plan Ahead for the Ferry Ride

  • Ferry Costs: The ferry ride to the San Juan Islands isn’t cheap, but keep in mind that you’re paying for a round-trip ticket. You’ll pay to get to the island, and the return trip is free. Check the fares ahead of time to avoid surprises. We recently paid $90 for a car, two adults, two seniors, and one child.
  • Anacortes Ferry Terminal: The Anacortes Ferry Terminal is busy. Multiple boats operate from here, so expect queues. Reservations are highly recommended! You can make a reservation for free, and there’s no charge for canceling up to 5 pm the day before. Just ensure you’re in line within 30 minutes of the scheduled sailing time to avoid a no-show fee. Remember, you pay the actual ferry fare when you arrive, not when you make the reservation.
  • Ferry Schedules: The ferry schedules are limited due to the approximately 1-1.5 hour ride each way and multiple destinations. Sometimes, your ferry might even stop at another island along the route. Check the schedules in advance to plan your trip effectively.

2. Timing Your Day Trip

  • Be Prepared for a Long Day: With less frequent sailings, it can be challenging to make a day trip. For instance, we left home at 8 am, got back at 7 pm and had about 4 hours on the island.

3. Transportation Options

  • Driving vs. Walking On: While it’s cheaper and easier to walk onto the ferry and park your car at Anacortes, this option limits your mobility on the other end. If you drive your car, you’ll have more flexibility to explore the island, but be prepared to carry your supplies.

4. Choosing Your Island

  • Shaw Island: Shaw Island is more rural. I’ve never been there and I don’t think that it’s generally a day-trip tourist spot.
  • Lopez Island: We once stayed at an Airbnb on Lopez Island. It’s a bit busier than Shaw but still maintains a laid-back vibe.
  • Orcas Island: This is a big island with plenty of tourist activities, but they’re not very close to the dock. Figure out your transportation in advance. (We always drive our car onto the ferry.) There’s a decent-sized town and a state park with great camping but make your reservations for the campground early.
  • Friday Habor: Friday Harbor, technically part of San Juan Island, is full of tourism options. Many attractions are within walking distance of the ferry terminal. If you have a car, explore three excellent park options. Don’t miss learning about the “Pig War” historical event. There’s a National Historic Park on both ends of the island (one American camp and one British camp). Additionally, Lime Kiln State Park in the middle is renowned for whale watching from shore. Right by the ferry terminal, you’ll find food options. San Juan Island Brewery is a favorite stop for us, offering a variety of good beer and a substantial food selection (including pizzas, soups, burgers, chicken, and sandwiches). They have around 10-15 beers on tap, and it’s kid-friendly. Most entrees are priced at about $17-20.

I had no idea about the incredible Washington State Ferry system when I moved out here, but it’s the second busiest ferry system in the world (second only to the British Columbia ferry system.) They make for fantastic day trips!

Sports Streaming Costs

I haven’t regretted cutting cable in 2018. We’ve saved well over $3000 by not having that bill. I thought I’d miss it for sports, but honestly, I found that I was happy not watching as many random sports. Rather, I found specific sports I wanted to watch and paid for their streaming services. It’s interesting how much the price of those services vary though! I did some research to try to figure out how much it would cost to stream various sports leagues. I expect this will be out of date even before I finish researching it.

SportFull Season CostComment
Formula 1$85If you watch the races delayed by a day or two it’s only $30.
NFL$350 (out of market games)
$400 (in market games)
Out of market through NFL RedZone and in-market through Fubo for 5 months.

NFL+ is an interesting option too for only $40/year. You get access to replays of every game shortly after it ends plus live local games, but it’s only on a mobile app.
MLB$130 (out of market games)
$480 (in market games)
Out of market through MLB+ and in-market through Fubo for 6 months.
NBA$150 (out of market games)
$480 (in market games)
Out of market through NBA Leage Pass and in-market through Fubo for 6 months.
NHL$70 (out of market games)
$560 (in market games)
Out of market games through ESPN+ and in-market through Fubo for 7 months.
MLS$199All games through MLS Season Pass add on to Apple TV Plus. This price includes 10 months of Apple TV Plus.
Golf$960All events through the Golf Channel on Fubo for 12 months
NASCAR$800All events through Fubo for 10 months
Disc Golf$130Alternatively, you can watch many of the events for free with commentary on Jomez Pro’s YouTube channel.
MotoGP$135All events through MotoGP VideoPass

Existing laws and contracts make it difficult to stream the major US sports because in almost all cases, in-market games are not available on the league’s streaming service. That requires you to buy into something like FuboTV which is combines all the braodcast and cable sports channels. Alternatively you might be able to use an antenna to catch your local games as long as they are on a broadcast channel. Leagues that completely control their TV writes are in a much better position (F1, MotoGP, MLS, etc.)

I currently pay for the F1 TV package and then I watch disc golf tournaments for free on YouTube. Every once in a while I’ll toss in a Seahawks game recorded from our antenna or a Purdue basketball game streamed on our free (through Comcast with ads) Peacock subscription.

A big key in all this is deciding whether you want all the games in the whole league, all of the games for your favorite local team, or just some random sports to have on in the background while you take a nap. The prices for those three can vary wildly.

Come to the WELS

I belong to a national church body called the “Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.” Every month, they put out a video called “WELS Connection” to share what’s happening around the rest of the synod. The videos are short and are usually shown after church. As a kid, it was always fun to see the TV wheeled out and the VHS tape popped into the VCR. Each video started with a very 90s song called “Come to the WELS.” (Any of you fellow members over the age of about 25 now have this song stuck in your head.)

The videos use a different song today, but it got me wondering how long that song was used. It’s fairly difficult to find any information partly because there isn’t much available and because there’s a more popular Counting Crows song called “Come to the Well.”

After searching around on YouTube for more time than I’d like to admit, I realized I should check the WELS website and sure enough, they have an archive that goes all the way back to 2009. In September 2009, the videos switched from “Come to the WELS” to “Jerusalem the Golden” and then in June 2013, they switched to “In Christ Alone” which is still in use today.

But I still have unanswered questions. Who wrote “Come to the WELS”? Who sang it? Who decided to replace the flutes at the end with kids singing? Was the whole song rerecorded for that change? What does Pastor Rosenau think when he looks back at his Jan 2009 appearance? What’s Pastor Bill Burnhardt up to? What would happen if you listened to that song for an hour straight?

Now that pretty much all entertainment is available to be streamed at a moment’s notice, it has become increasingly hard to keep track of what we have watched. We also try to only have one streaming service at a time so when we switch to a new one, we’ll sometimes stop in the middle of a season. I started keeping track of this in the Just Watch app but it bothered me that the data was not exportable from their app. Enter is a platform specifically for this purpose. Anyone can make an app on top of their database so you just make one account with them and then pick whichever app you like the best. You’re in full control of your data.

I ended up paying for a year of “VIP” service which, among other things, removes adds and lets me see which services are streaming a specific show. We’ve had it for a few months now and I expect we’ll keep paying for it. (Note that they do have a free option which is very good too.)

You Don’t Need More Bandwidth

Here’s a tip: the next time you’re on the phone with your internet provider and they say “For $10/month, I can offer you X bandwidth”, just say no. You almost certainly don’t need it. Another common way they start this conversation is by asking what you do with your connection or how many devices you have connected. No matter what you say, they’re going to explain why you don’t have enough bandwidth.

I have over 30 devices connected to my network, work from home, do frequent video calls and screen sharing, stream multiple TV shows at the same time, and play online video games, but I’ve lived for a couple of weeks with 10Mbps down and 10Mbps up and it didn’t impact life at all. (My service was busted and it took them a long time to figure out why.) But of course, as soon as I was back to the 240Mbps down, 10Mbps up service that I was paying for, the sales guy insinuated I was dumb for not paying $10/month more to get 400/10 service. They’ve overselling you. Basically the only time you’ll notice that extra speed is if you’re trying to download enormous files like new video games or operating system ISOs. I’d only pay for more than the base package if a slight increase in price would get me higher upload speeds. That’s rarely an option though.

So go for whatever the cheapest package is and I bet that the only difference you’ll notice is that you have a little more money in your account each month. And even if you decide I’m wrong and you need more speed, they’re always going to be happy to bump you up to a higher package with no change fees.

2023 Year In Review

Didn’t I just write one of these? Do I really have a years worth of events to summarize? Let’s see what that looks like…

I felt like I had a lot fewer blog posts this year , and while it was down about 20% from the previous years, it wasn’t that far off the numbers I’ve done since coming off my “post every week day” routine. I think the difference I’m feeling is that a lot of my posts this year were on a single topic (Tesla.) I have no plans to change anything about my posting schedule here. I’ll continue to post when I have something that I think is worth sharing/documenting and I’m not going to worry much about gaps between posts.

The first thing that comes to mind for 2023 is all the driving we did. Our big family vacation was a ~2000 miles road trip to and from Moab. That trip exceeded my expectations. The scenery felt like the complete opposite of what we get around here, the weather was great, the hike planning worked out perfectly, and the excursions were a blast. So many things could have gone wrong and changed our plans but the whole trip “just worked.” I came back itching to get on the road and do something like that again… which was good because we got the chance again quickly when Tyla’s grandma passed away. We made another ~2000 mile round trip drive to Glasgow, MT. God kept us safe again over all those remote roads and we enjoyed our quick weekend with Tyla’s extended family.

Those two big trips weren’t the extent of our travel though. We also spent a week visiting my family in Indiana, drove to Canada, and went to an airshow at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. We had two camping trips, Lincoln Rock and Grayland Beach, but neither one of them involved our tent. We stayed in a cabin and a yurt which were both an enjoyable way to camp. Next year we’ll be getting the tent out again though. We also did a couple family hikes to Cedar Butte and Sheep Lake.

Usually all of our vacations are taken as a family, but this year I took one by myself to attend the PacNW Christian Men’s Retreat across the sound at Fort Flagler State Park. Men from all our affiliated church’s in the area get together to study, socialize, and relax. The speaker this year was Professor/Doctor/Pastor Mark Paustian and he was a joy to learn from. The whole experience was so good that I’m already signed up for next year’s event.

My list of projects is quite a bit shorter this year, but some of that is because I worked on some bigger/longer projects. There was the custom LED panel, the completion of an 18-month aerial timelapse, a segmented cherry bowl made on the CNC, a walnut wall clock, Halloween boxes, bandsaw deer, and a family sign.

Other than woodworking, my hobby time was mostly consumed with more disc golf, a surprising amount of 3d printing, and a LOT of piano playing. I have been playing more often for church services, and it takes me a long time to practice. I do feel like playing for services has gotten easier as I’ve gotten back into the groove of doing it regularly.

Church was very busy this year too. We now have a fully documented mission statement along with core priorities and goals. It has been great to see people rallying around our defined strategy and contributing to our shared efforts of spreading the good news of Jesus to our community. God has blessed us with a huge number of visitors walking through the door. I’m excited for even more improvements in the coming year as we work on a new constituion and new bylaws. Those new documents will streamline our organizational structure and help get even more people involved.

So that wraps up the “clip show” of my year. I’m very thankful for all the blessings we’ve been given and the relative easiness of this past year. Let’s see what 2024 will bring!

Previous Year In Review Posts: 20032004200520062007200820092010201120122013, 20142015201620172018201920202021, 2022

Family Sign

In 2019, I made a sign for my mom that showed how her family was spread across the country. It was kind of a quick project without a lot of foresight, so as soon as someone moved, it was obsolete and there was no way to update it.

I liked the idea but needed something that I could keep up with logistical family changes. I decided to attempt a sign that would use magnetic states that could be attached/detached as needed. Here’s how it turned out:

The states are 3d printed and have magnets in the back. I sprayed them with multiple coats of filler primer to get rid of the printing marks, and then sprayed them with white paint. The stands were also 3d printed. You can see the metal bars in the back and they’re just held in with hot glue. I made the wood there as thin as I was comfortable with so that the magnets would hold. It’s kind of an odd layout as I was experimenting with how many magnets I would need to hold the states on. I’d have a much easier time if I did this again, but it all looks good from the front so I didn’t think it was worth scrapping to start over. (Plus I didn’t have any walnut left!)

Merry Christmas Mom!

Bandsaw Reindeer

Years ago, I added “scrap wood bandsaw reindeer” to my project idea list, and this year I finally got around to making it. One of the big reasons I hadn’t made it before is that the plans call for a big Forstner bit and my old drill press really didn’t like those. This project felt like a fun way to see how well my new drill press would do with it. (Spoiler: it was awesome!)

I bought the plans from that linked video, mostly to support the creator, but as I dug in more, I realized this could have also been done without the big Forstner bit. Using the bit does result in less sanding so that’s a win. The process is a little hard to explain in text, but maybe you have heard the old saying: “How do you carve an elephant? Start with a block of stone and chip away everything that’s not an elephant.” This project is a lot like that. Imagine starting with a 2×4 about 7.5″ long. After drilling two holes in the face at specific points, you glue a template onto the narrow side of the 2×4 and cut it out on the bandsaw. The cutout pieces get taped back into place, the blank is laid flat, and a template is applied to the face. That gets cut out on the bandsaw again and then all the pieces fall out and you’re left with a reindeer.

I first made one out of a scrap 2×4 and then I made a fancier one with different species of wood glued together at specific points. The antlers are mahogany, the body is cherry, the hooves are walnut, and the nose is padauk. I didn’t have a big enough block of cherry so I had to glue one up. The lines are pretty visible but it was still a fun project. I’ll have to do it again when I have some thicker scraps. They require a lot of sanding, but I could see batching out some of these for gifts.

Merry Christmas


1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.