Weekend Warrior

This weekend’s project was to get serious about rebuilding Beta’s 1991 Ford Explorer.  It’s 17  years old, has more than 200,000 miles on it, but other than the fact that she overheated it and blew the engine, it’s a decent vehicle with a lot of life left in it.

After looking at used vehicles for several weeks, we came to the conclusion that rebuilding this one is a better investment for the money.  So on Friday, we picked up the new engine, and set to work taking the old one apart.  This effort, of course, gave HWTFM good reason to make another trip to Tractor Supply and buy a new toy — a 2-ton engine hoist.  But we’re not to that part yet.

I got plenty dirty in this project, but that’s just because I have small hands and can reach down into the engine to pick up dropped tools, or unscrew something that he’s already broken loose.  When it came to the engine mounts though, the only thing I’m good for is holding the trouble light so he can see what he’s doing.  And, of course, documenting his amazing feats.

In trying to loosen the engine mount on the driver’s side, he had his socket extension not fully engaged with the socket, and tugged on it for all he’s worth.  After a couple of years of working out every day after work, that’s evidently quite a lot, as he managed to completely twist the end of a 3/8" socket extension.  On the left is what it looked like before, and on the right… well, we did have to go buy a new socket extension.  And a 1/2" extension, to prevent this from happening again.

The old engine is almost ready to come out… just a few more bolts.  Then we get to clean everything that we’re going to re-use (which isn’t much), and put the new one in.

This is not part of standard engineer training, BTW, but swapping out engines is apparently all in a day’s work for a farm boy (which is what he was, before deciding that engineering is far easier and usually more profitable).

I haven’t been completely useless, though; I did fix the window on the Explorer (it had jumped its track), and installed a new stereo and speakers in Alpha’s Prelude.  I even soldered all the wiring, so that I don’t have to go back and re-do it later.

I’d rather be at the pool, but once all of my driving children are mobile, I’ll have more leisure time.  Taxiing them around has already gotten old.

Letting Go

Yesterday morning, I dropped Gamma off at the airport to catch a plane to Charlotte, then on to Munich, and finally to Hannover, Germany. From there, she took a train to the town of Stadthagen.

This afternoon, I found that the town has a webcam! Of course, they’re six hours ahead of us, so it’s the late at night there now (about suppertime). I have heard from Gamma via e-mail, so I know that she arrived safely this morning, and attended the end of the school day.

School in Germany follows a different calendar (more like year-round) and schedule (half-day) than we do. It will be interesting to hear Gamma’s take on "Gymnasium" (college-prep high school) as opposed to ours.

She’s promised to send pictures, which I will promptly post. Although Gamma is a quiet child, the house is noticeably emptier without her. And, I can’t read the text on the Stadthagen web page, since my translator is there, rather than here.

I was an exchange student for a summer myself at about her age, and I know that it will be a fantastic experience for her.

The Car Curse

I think a poltergeist has taken up residence in our vehicles. Seriously.

We — hubby and Beta, that is — made an unwise purchase of a too-used Honda Prelude several weeks ago. The kid who sold it to them said it needed the clutch adjusted, but when the adjustment failed, a reliable mechanic diagnosed the real problem: first gear is gone. And, it needs a couple of electronic sensors that total about $600, even from a junkyard. The total repair estimate was $2000 — 25% more than she paid for the car.

The kid who sold it to them won’t take her phone calls, so we’re stuck with it. Caveat emptor.

Beta worked a few more paychecks, diligently saving about $150/week, and she started looking around for another car. She found another on Craigslist, an older BMW, that had a good motor, good brakes, and a solid clutch. We bought it, but stopped at a mechanic on the way home to see about fixing the oil leak. Ack — $1,300 estimate on the oil leak, which the shop estimated at about a quart per day. Much worse than first thought. Fortunately, this guy was a good bit more ethical, and agreed to take the car back, since we’d had it less than an hour.

Unfortunately, he’d already spent $200 of the purchase price, paying off his cell phone bill. I agreed to let it slide until he sold the car again (he’s a college student).

So, we’re being a good bit pickier about used cars.

Meanwhile, Alpha has arrived home, and has taken up driving the Suburban to work. Last Friday, she pulled over and called home when she noticed the smell of burning rubber, caused when the air conditioning compressor froze up and the serpentine belt was rubbing. So, off to the shop it went. Monday evening as Alpha and Hubby were bringing it home, his truck died along the way.

It’s a 2002, with only 64k miles on it. So yesterday, it went to the shop. It ended up being something really weird, like the front brakes locked up, and the engine sensed too much load, and died whenever he let the clutch out. Or something like that.

So, the last car standing was my mustang. Today I stopped at Advance Auto Parts for Beta to drop off a job application (she’s looking for a second job for the summer); when I tried to leave, nothing. No tick, no sputter, no map lights, no little bell that dings when the door is open.

Ok, it still had the original Ford battery. Six or seven years is a long time. And, I was at an auto parts store, where the nicest young man was kind enough to take out my old battery and install a new one.

Still, what are the odds of three perfectly good, working vehicles all going haywire within five days’ time? All during a time when both Alpha and Beta are looking to buy vehicles, and I’m having to run them all over the place.
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After looking high and low (mostly low, it seems), test driving junkers, and dealing with the whole gamut of car salesmen (from decent to slimy), Beta has decided that she’d rather spend her $1500 to get the Explorer fixed, and Alpha decided that Beta’s Prelude looks better than the stuff she’s finding on Craigslist for the same price or more. So, Beta’s going to get the Explorer fixed, and Alpha’s going to get the Prelude fixed, trading her futon and feather comforters to Beta in exchange.

And, I think, there’s some scheme about Alpha helping Beta get to take over her job in three weeks, when Alpha leaves for her summer research internship at UGA.

I’m beyond caring at this point. I just want the junk cars out of my driveway, and I’m tired of taxiing everyone around. So, if I’m a little cranky, there’s a reasonable explanation.

Anyone up for an automotive exorcism?

Shop Local

On Friday, we stopped by a couple of stores in the Briarcliff shopping center, on the way to a friend’s house.  I noted to hubby that it sure would be nice to have a little shopping center like that — grocery store, liquor store, dry cleaners, asian restaurant — at the entrance to our neighborhood.  Or even anywhere on our end of town.

He replied that neighborhood shopping centers have mostly gone away, with all the successful stores clustered in the center of town.  But it wasn’t always that way; I remember when Oak Ridge’s neighborhood shopping centers were very much alive and well.  As a young child, I lived off Delaware Avenue; we bought most of our groceries at the Piggly Wiggly, right there in Elm Grove Center.  Now, I think it’s a karate school and a consignment store… but I’ve lived on the west end for nearly 40 years.

Part of the reason might be that in the 1960’s, fewer families had two (or more) cars.  Neighborhood centers thrived as a result.  Now, with fuel prices jumping a dime or more overnight on a regular basis, might there be a revived need for these neighborhood centers?

From the vicinity of the Roane County line in Oak Ridge, the nearest grocery store is Kroger, about five miles away.  A new grocery store on the west end of town would draw customers from half the town!  Maybe not everyone’s business in its entirety, but they would surely get some business from the majority of west-end homeowners.

Given the rise in gas prices, most people I know are trying to combine trips and drive less.  I know that I am.  While it’s painful, it’s also an opportunity for someone.

Sales Tax Holiday

This weekend is the other sales tax holiday — purchases of clothing, school supplies, and computers (up to $1,500) are exempt from state and local sales taxes.

Around here, it’s roughly a 10% discount.  Unfortunately, what I found in the previous iterations of this event is that retailers — local as well as online — tend to back off from their normal sales and discounts on the tax-free weekend, so the end result was a higher net cost for the items I needed.

Dell Computer is a prime example.  Last August, I had planned to buy a new desktop computer for Alpha, and had been watching prices for several weeks.  Dell changes prices every Thursday at midnight (as in the beginning of Thursday, not the end).  On the day before the tax holiday began, the $1200 system I’d been watching mysteriously went up to about $1500, meaning that I’d pay $183 MORE than it would have cost with tax added onto the sale price.

So, I just waited a couple more weeks, and paid the tax once it went on sale again.  Same thing for Levi’s jeans, notebook paper (which I usually buy on sale for 10 cents/pkg during the back-to-school sale), and several other items.

I’ll probably shop a little bit anyway, since I’d already promised Alpha to help her acquire some business apparel that she’ll need for her summer internship.  However, I’m not optimistic that I’ll end up saving much.

Anyone else have a different experience?

Good Reads

I love to read. These days, much of my time is consumed by reading for information rather than for pleasure, but during a trip to Books K2, a table of "101 books to read before you die" caught my interest. Unfortunately, they don’t have the book list on their website — only in the store.

Noting that I’d already read quite a few of the works so designated, it seemed likely that the rest would be equally worthwhile. I picked up a copy of Wicked, the life story of the Wicked Witch of the West from Baum’s Wizard of Oz. Wow — it’s exemplifies the saying "there are two sides to every story," but also introduces a host of social commentary.

Admittedly, when I bought it, I thought it might also keep Delta occupied for a day or two (her book habit is voracious), but it’s really not a tale for children. Perhaps in a few more years.

Lacking the time to read as much as I would like, a distant second is audio books, downloaded and played through my iPod. That way, I can enjoy good books while doing other things (driving, cooking, sewing, folding endless baskets of laundry). Currently, I’m making my way through another of the books on the 101 list: Pillars of the earth. It’s a long one that will keep me interested through the long list of domestic chores on my list this month.

Listening is not as much fun as reading, but it does allow me to do two things at once, and to get more enjoyment out of whatever task is keeping my hands and eyes busy. For those of us who drive long distances several times per year, Audible.com is an excellent resource.

Now, on to work — but have a little fun where you can!

Monday Morning Blues

The good: I finished the prom dress.

The bad: it seems that my sewing machine is finished, too.

I just had it in for a tune-up about three weeks ago and everything was working peachy, but as is predictable, the high-tech gadgetry failed. In this case, the touch screen… just stopped responding to my touch.

No, it’s not the calluses on my fingertips (I tried using my pinky, which doesn’t suffer the familiar seamstress’ scarring).

I’m thankful that it waited until all that remained to finish the dress was the hemming — all done by hand — but I haven’t yet finished the cute little matching evening purse, for which I most definitely need my sewing machine.

Prom Hint: do NOT send your daughter with the safe, reliable little black evening purse. There will be at least 150 others just like it, and more than one couple has been sidelined when the purses got mixed up in coat check, leaving someone stranded at the prom with no car keys or cell phone (the other having left earlier in a limo or a date’s vehicle).

The Ugly: new touch screens are expensive. Having a certified technician install it is more expensive. However, it’s still much better than the cost of replacing the whole machine… and I’ve demonstrated over the seven or eight years that I’ve owned it, that this machine pays for itself.

The agony is waiting the ten days or so to have an hour’s work completed; it’s spring now, and time for new clothes for everyone. But like everyone else, I have to wait in line, and there isn’t an excess of sewing machine mechanics around here.

I guess I’ll get it back about a week a couple of days before the prom, but also just about the time that we’re expecting the bids back on contracting bus service. That’s another subject entirely, but an important one that will take some time and consideration.

Where am I?

Girlfriend called last night to ask if I’m waiting for the shuttle to land before I post again.  Not intentionally, but the fact is that I’ve got a lot on my mind — little or none of which would be appropriate for me to write about at this time.

But if I’m not writing, what am I doing? (click image to enlarge

Beta will (presumably) graduate from high school this year, and she’s been accepted at my favorite (GO BIG ORANGE!) university.  Sew, I must work diligently if I am to finish the "college quilt" promised to each of the four daughters.  It’s all done by hand — no machine-piecing or quilting for me — so it takes some time.  A few hours per day to complete one square foot, to be exact.

And, the heat’s out again.  We survived heating the house with just wood for a month, from Christmas until Jan. 29, and had the furnace fixed before we left for Orlando last week.  It survived our absence, but now the blamed thing just has to be replaced.   Or, I have to keep the fire going to stay warm… which involves some work, but doesn’t cost anything, and doesn’t burn any fossil fuels.
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Certainly, there’s a lot more going on in the world that’s important, but not much that would be changed by my carrying on about it.  But, for the sake of argument, I was glad to see that McCain came out victorious in all three primaries yesterday.  I’m just not a Huckabee fan, because the issues that are most important to him are the ones we disagree about, and the ones I think the federal government has no business being involved in.

Congress is spending valuable time today hearing (and all major news channels covering) steroid use in baseball.  C’mon now, is that really the most important work to be done today on Capitol Hill?
*  *  *  *  *
Maybe as I finish today’s square, I’ll think of something more engaging.  But for the moment, I’m focused on hearth and home and the stuff I cannot talk about.

Not meant to be.

Some things just aren’t meant to be:  kids and a clean house, teenagers and unbroken chairs (or laptops), HWTFM and tools in their proper place.  You get the picture.

My teenagers have been rough on the ten wooden chairs around our kitchen table.  They don’t fare well being rocked back on two legs, so a couple of my chairs have gotten pretty wobbly —  to the point that no one actually sits in them anymore.  But, expecting 12 for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, I have to have all the chairs in usable condition.

I figured that a couple of small L-brackets strategically placed under the chair would adequately stabilize them, and searched Downtown Hardware, K-Mart, and Home Depot.  Unfortunately, no one carries anything small enough.  When I described what I need to the nice fellow at Home Depot (who used to be a custom metal fabricator) and realized that they don’t have any such thing, I asked if it might be possible to make one from a very small piece of angled aluminum, which they do have.  He said that would work.

We have the proper drill bits for metalworking, and a hacksaw.  So, I bought the piece of metal, and set out building the thing I need.  Getting the holes done, sized to fit the wood screws I already had, wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it might be.

(Finding the drill bit was easy, because I keep them in MY toolbox.)

Getting them cut to the right length and filed down so that they aren’t dangerous didn’t take long either.  (I keep the file, too.)

Actually installing them was where the trouble began.   HWTFM had somehow misplaced the phillips bit for my cordless drill — the second one he’s lost.  So, after a cursory search in the old Radio Flyer (where he keeps many of his tools, despite having at least three large, quality toolboxes and a couple of others that are older and dirtier), I gave up and remembered that I won a set of screwdriver bits by answering a question at the recent Y-12 Safety Fair.  Those were in my purse.

Armed with the correct bit, I began.  The cordless drill, for which I have two batteries (one had been charging all afternoon), quickly ran out of juice.  So I switched batteries, only to find that the alternate was completely dead.  After switching them out a time or two, I realized that the charger simply wasn’t charging.

HWTFM suggested that he could troubleshoot it if I could get his multimeter… which he had misplaced somewhere.  Sigh.  Next, he asked for Delta’s multimeter (yes, our 13-year old daughter has her own multimeter), which was not working.  He took it apart, finding that it needs some odd-sized battery that we don’t have one of.

I can’t fix the chair because the drill batteries are dead (and neither of us can turn it hard enough to tighten it by hand).  I can’t charge the battery because the charger is broken.  He can’t fix the charger because his multimeter is lost, and Delta’s has a dead battery.

So, I asked to use HIS drill — the one that actually plugs into the wall.   But he doesn’t know where it is, and it’s not in the Radio Flyer.  Or the boat (don’t ask).

The chairs are still broken, and we’re one day closer to Thanksgiving.

In Salute

Farewell, Col. Tibbits.

The pilot of the Enola Gay — named for his mother — has gone to his reward.  I find it sad that he wanted no headstone, fearing that it would give protesters a place to congregate.  He was a soldier who dropped out of med school to serve his country; he did so, superbly.

We don’t say "thank you" often enough.