Category Archives: Automotive

The Driveway

Big doings this week at our house.  After 30 years the driveway is getting re-done!  It’s looked awful for years, the cement seams filled with weeds and the asphalt part crumbling but I let it go as long as I possibly could.  But starting last year we’ve had to be way too careful driving up and down because the ruts in the blacktop were deep enough that if you just drove straight up/down, you could scrape the bottom of the car.

It turned out to be a two-day job because I decided to replace the little paving blocks in the back with a real sidewalk as well.  The first day, they demolished the driveway, moved the paving stones and dug a nice trench for the sidewalk.  Then in a very smart move (amazing how they know their own business!!) they covered everything in plastic; it poured buckets overnight.  Watching them take up the soaking wet plastic and get as much of the water into my yard and my neighbor’s yard instead of onto the driveway was almost painful.

The cement business seems like periods of very hard physical labor punctuated with standing around.  Waiting for the next phase of the job begins or waiting for some piece of the job that someone else has to do gets done.  Just as well – if they worked that hard for 7 hours straight, no one could last in the job!

The cement truck couldn’t get all the way up the driveway so they filled an intermediate container on wheels – looked like a big bug.  Then from the bug to the wheelbarrows, then the hard work of spreading it and shaping it.

All this excitement was hard on the dog and the cat.  Of course, with all the work in the backyard, Guinevere had to do all her business at the end of a leash and overnight she had to be “escorted” into the yard to make sure she stayed off the plastic.  The noise made her a bit anxious but keeping her upstairs helped a bit.  Nimue also disliked the noise and disruption; I’m never quite sure how much she picks up from the anxious dog and how much is her own crabbiness at having her routines varied.  Not that her routine actually varied that much.

There were a lot of logistics for us as well.  First there’s the car issue.  You’re not supposed to drive on the new cement for 7 days.  And after spending the last year reading about people breaking into cars or stealing catalytic converters, we were both a little hesitant to park on the street overnight.  We decided to be a one-car family for a week; hers stayed in the garage and I parked on the street during the day and then in my neighbor’s driveway at night.  Second issue was the dog – she spent three days on “house arrest” – only getting out when she was supervised or on a leash.  Third issue was actually the biggest… this was SO distracting.  YA and I both were fascinated and I think we would have easily just sat and watching the proceedings for the entire 2 days. 

It looks fabulous now and I can’t wait until the first time I can drive up it and not worry about getting all the way to the right or left to keep from scrapping!

What’s a project that you put off too long (currently or in the past)?

Infernal combustion

Husband has always considered it his job to mow the lawn. Most of the yard is flower beds, vegetable gardens, and strawberry and raspberry patches. There isn’t much to mow.

I usually mowed the lawn when I lived with my parents after about Grade 6. It was easy. The lawnmower was always well maintained by my father, who loved tinkering and was very mechanically minded. I, too, am very mechanically minded and love to tinker, but while he taught me basic car maintenance, like how to change the oil on my car, Dad never taught me the finer points of small engine maintenance.

My husband is a very scholarly fellow who can write and reason with the best of them, but who was never taught how to fix things. His father was very unhandy. So was his uncle, who somehow was an engineer in a nuclear power plant in Ohio. (He had trouble replacing blades in his own razor.)

We have not had good luck with our mowers. I imagine sitting in the garage all winter without any preparation or winterizing, and then being expected to burst into action in the spring with just a little oil added isn’t the best way to deal with these engines. Last weekend, Husband tried to mow, but the thick smoke pouring from the mower was so noxious for us and the neighbors that he stopped in disgust. We had even had it looked at last fall by a small engine repair guy, but it was not helpful.

We made a trip to Menards and Husband bought an old fashion reel mower, what I would call a push mower. Today he assembled it all by himself while I was at work, and mowed our lawn. No more smoke. No more anxiety every spring if the lawnmower will work. We just have to figure out how to sharpen the blades.

How are you at fixing things? How do you maintain your lawnmower? What are your experiences with reel mowers?

I Can’t Remember What I’ve Forgotten

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been donating blood for many, many years. And for many of those years, I did not know what type blood I had coursing through my body. I asked a couple of times and then promptly forgot it. When I decided that I just wanted to have it in my brain when I needed it, I figured I’d better come up with a good mnemonic.
It turned out to be pretty easy. I have type “O”, which is the most common. (It’s also the only blood type that doesn’t have an antigen, which means I can donate to any other blood type.) So I thought, “O = Ordinary”. I’ve never forgotten since then.

I use mnemonics quite a bit but I’m having trouble finding a good one for my new car license plate. Not that you need to know your license plate all that often, but every now and then it comes in handy. My last license plate was pretty easy. It was RDJ 430 and I used “Return to Darling Jenai at 4:30”. 4:30 is quitting time at my company.

But the state in all its wisdom decided in January that I had to have a new license plate. I’m not sure why they do this; it’s not like they wear out. Anyway, my new license is MZZ 798 and for the life of me, I can’t of anything good to help me remember it. I suppose I could just write it down someplace and not try to come up with a good memory jog, but knowing myself, I’ll forget where I wrote it down!

Any thoughts to help me remember?

Goodbye, Big REd

My most delightful coworker told me a very funny story the other day about the demise of her beloved red Honda van. It must date from 2000 or so, and has a gazillion miles on it. She has kept it going far longer than the mechanics or her husband thinks she should have. For a while , she could only get it into gear by sticking a screwdriver in the top of the steering wheel. She just had new tires on it and planned to keep driving it, when she started to have trouble with the horn.

My friend told me that she was on her way to a home visit for a client when she parked in front of the house, turned off the engine, and opened the door. The horn started honking and wouldn’t stop. She phoned her husband in a panic. He told her to drive the car a couple of blocks and see what would happen, She did, and the honking stopped until she again turned off the engine and opened the door. She tried starting, driving, parking, and stopping four more times. By the final attempt the honking wouldn’t stop at all, and she drove across town with her horn honking until she got home and her husband disconnected some cable. She said she was so embarrassed driving like that, as other drivers were pulling over and letting her pass as she drove by. Many waved at her in recognition, and others started following her to see where the big emergency was. She said “I always wanted people in town to know who I am, but this wasn’t quite what I meant!”

I commented that this was the end of Big Red, her pet name for the vehicle. She still thought she could get it fixed, but her husband put his foot down and said it was the end for the van. Now she is stuck driving the brand new Honda van they bought this winter that she didn’t like very much because of all the fancy gadgets on it.

What is the most embarrassing thing that happened to you in public?  What has been your favorite vehicle?

Farm Update!

Today’s post comes to us from Ben.

It’s the first part of May when this posts and I’ve got some corn planted and we had some rain finally. But in farming blogs, we are still back in early April and I’ve got one field of oats to plant yet.

I worked at the college, had some meetings and changed three house lights in the theater. Went out about 7 o’clock at night to work up the last field to be oats. The new LED headlights on the tractor are fantastic. Such a white color and so bright, they are awesome. Only problem is, it is so dry, there is so much dust behind me I can barely see. No breeze, so it all just hung with me.

The new LED interior light is really nice too. A nice orange to light up the controls, it’s very bright and really nice.

Rain predicted for the last two days has not amounted to anything. Sprinkles last night, about noon today it rained enough to make the cement wet. Still talking rain overnight and scattered showers the next two days. We did get .4”.

The day after the rain I did plant part of the last field of oats. Well, I started and tried. We’ve gotten just enough rain the dirt is a little bit sticky. Dirt sticks to the press wheels of the drill and builds up. (There are blades which cut a track the seed drops into, and then the ‘press wheels’ cover it up.) It’s a problem when dirt builds up on them, because that affects the depth of the seed. I planted ¾ of the field before I ran out of seed, but I really shouldn’t have been planting in these conditions anyway. But they’re talking more rain so I’m trying to rush and that is rarely helpful. I swapped a press wheel that seems to be dragging. Left the crescent wrench lay on the drill and lost it in the field somewhere. Dang. It should be easy to find; it’s shiny and silver laying in black dirt. And it should have fallen off the back so not run over or anything, it should just be laying right there. I walked the field, I drove the field with the gator, and the 4 wheeler. Multiple times. I cannot find it.

Three weeks later I found a crescent wrench in the bottom of the tool box. Hmmm… was that wrench always down there? Did I somehow put the wrench from the drill down there? Or is this a different wrench? It’s a mystery, but since I still haven’t found one in the field, maybe…? 

Most every farmer carries some tool with him. As I grew up, the multi tools, like Leatherman or Gerber, weren’t popular, or maybe not even invented yet so Dad and I carried pliers. Dad wore the pants with a plier pocket built in. I didn’t like that; I wore a belt with a pouch for the pliers and a pouch for a swiss army knife. The pliers are on my left side, knife on my rear right, cell phone clipped to my right pocket. At the college, if I’m wearing my tool belt, all the tools, including the pliers, are on my right. I have to move the phone to my left pocket and my hammer hangs on my left side too. I’ve tried wearing the hammer at my back like the professional carpenters do… still working on that; it’s not natural yet.

It takes a day or two at each place to remember where my pliers are. I’ve tried swapping the pliers at home, but they’re heavy and they pull the belt out of the loops when undone and then the pliers fall out. So that doesn’t work.

Dad wore his belt buckle off to the side, like after the first belt loop. I never understood that. He just said it’s how he learned. Maybe because he was lefthanded.

How ambidextrous are you? What do you always carry?

Farming Day 1 Part 1

Today’s post comes from Ben.

Well not exactly day one. But the first day in the field doing spring work so it’s day one from that point of view. 

Spent the morning doing my usual stuff on the computer: emails, newspaper, moms banking, our banking. A few phone calls, etc. before I’m finally out the door mid-morning. 

I needed to take a couple of tires to get fixed and the one on the grain drill I already had loose. Also had a tire on the four wheeler with a slow leak and that’s easy to put a floor jack under the back end and use the impact wrench and four nuts and that comes right off.

Got both tires in the back of the truck, loaded up all three dogs, and headed for Millville Minnesota. We’ve been taking tires to Appel service in Millville for as long as I can remember. It’s about half an hour away and you won’t find a nicer, family owned business, anywhere. Millville is a town of about 180 people and so far down in the valley you can’t get any cell phone reception. There are a couple of bars, couple of restaurants, one Church, a cemetery where I have several relatives, a gun shop, and in a better year I would’ve dropped off the tires and then gone to get lunch at the Lucky Seven Café. 

When I got to Appels, most of the crew was at lunch so I said I’d come back. They are really good at fixing your tires while you wait but I may as well keep moving. Back up the road a few miles to pick up my Oat seed. It was such a nice day, pretty amazing weather for this time of the year, and we worry that it’s so dry; all the farmers are going hard. mostly applying anhydrous ammonia- Those white tanks you see in the fields. I probably saw a dozen farmers doing that. There was a couple guys ahead of me at Meyer’s Seeds and we stood outside and talked while Meyer’s rounded up seed and bring it out on the forklift. I petted some cats (The camera snap on the phone scared them away) and I got a nice metal ‘stick’ used for checking seed depth. Always wanted one of those.


After I got my 54 bags of oats, I strapped that down in the truck, and then back to Millville. As I pulled up, they were just taking the four-wheeler tire in and the drill tire was done. There’s something pretty interesting about watching a guy change tires. The machinery involved and just the whole process is really pretty fascinating. The guy ahead of me was watching his tires get fixed, I watched them fix my tire, while at the same time trying not to get in the way or look TOO interested. (It’s kinda loud and hard to talk or ask questions).

Just a tube needed in the four-wheeler tire. The grain drill tire is kind of special. It’s about 3 feet tall, and completely smooth except it has two heavy ridges on each edge. That way, going through the field, it makes a real clear mark that’s easy to follow on the next round of the field. I had ordered two tires: they had one in stock, the second hasn’t shown up yet. And that’s OK, this one was worse than the other. $262 for the tire. $13 labor to mount both. The only thing missing was the bottle of grape pop from the café. 

The dogs love riding in the truck. And they don’t miss a chance if they can help it. Although Humphrey lays in the back and looks completely uninterested but he does spend a little time looking out the windows. Bailey bounces back-and-forth between the front seat and the backseat and she spends half the trip with her nose in my face. Allie, the queen of them all will eventually setting in some place where the others don’t walk all over her at least for the moment.

Once we are back on our driveway, I let them all out to run home. About halfway down the driveway there was a squirrel about 75 yards away from the trees and making a beeline back to the trees. The dogs were a good 200 yards away. Missed it by “that“ much. 

Do you like car rides?

Got any stories about tires? 

Fumes

My father didn’t cook.  I can’t even recall him ever making a sandwich, much less cooking.  He did chop the onions and celery for stuffing on Thanksgiving (the only time I ever saw him chop anything) and late in life he did start making bouillabaisse occasionally – a dish with which my mother resolutely refused to be associated. 

Of course, being a middle-class American male, he did the outdoor grilling (although my mother prepared anything that was going on the grill).  I can still envision my father dousing the coals, lighting the match and flinging it from as far as he could manage.  The grill would practically explode in flames; my father used gasoline, not lighter fluid to start the fire.  I didn’t even know there was such a thing as lighter fluid until I was an adult out on my own.

You’d think that having watched my father blow up the grill on a regular basis growing up that I would have a good sense of the power of gasoline.  Three weeks ago, after the last measurable snow, I got my snowblower out for the first time this winter.  It was given to me by a neighbor who moved to Chicago; he left his gas can to me as well.  As I was adding gas to the machine I noticed that the spout had sprung a leak and to keep the gas from running all over, I held the spout together with my gloved hand.  Since my glove was now wet with gas, I pulled a second glove from my pocket and pulled it on over the first.

When I got all done and went inside, I pulled off the gloves along with all my now-sweaty clothing and threw it all in the washing machine with a few other dirty items from my hamper.  Now some of you are probably already shaking your head, but I was still clueless until I opened the washing machine later to the overpowering small of gas.   If I had known I was about to do something stupid, it would have been easy to find online advice about gas on clothing.  But since I hadn’t known, now I had a washing machine full of gas fume-filled clothing.

It took me a full week and at least six washings (some with just vinegar and water, some with detergent) before I was willing to put the clothes in the dryer and even then I ran the dryer on air dry for over an hour.  Now that it’s been a couple of weeks, I’ve lost track of what clothes were in that load but I’m still feeling compelled to smell things as they come out of the washer.  (Oh, and I threw the gloves away when I realized what I had done.)

Done anything foolish recently that could have been avoided with a bit of advice?

Driving Dreams

For the most part, I love my car.  I love that she’s red, I love that she is a hybrid.  I love having a hatchback again.  I really like that she tells me when it’s time to change the oil, based on her internal workings and not an arbitrary date.  And she’s small.  No Intimida or Sherpa here; with a tank capacity of 8+ gallons, my monthly gas budget is about $30.

There is one frustrating thing though.  She feels the need to let me know when tire pressure has changed, with a big ding and a reminder every time I start the car once she has noticed a pressure issue.  This usually happens twice a year… when it first gets cold and then again in the late spring when it starts to get really warm.  I usually just drive down to the dealership; they top the tires off right away and I don’t even have to get out of the car. 

But this fall, the pressure notification has gone off TWICE.  When we had a couple of seriously cold days last month and the again this past weekend when it was warmer.  I will admit that I whined a bit to the service guy and he said that it was happening a lot this fall since the temperatures have fluctuated quite a bit.

While he was adjusting the air, I daydreamed about my fantasy car.  I’d like to have those little lights on the sideview mirrors that indicate when someone is coming upon alongside you.  I would love to have built-in GPS and a north/south/east/west display.  Heated seats would be nice.  Of course, my fantasy car would actually drive itself; of course that could only be supplanted by my ultimate fantasy car — a transporter.  “Beam me over, Scotty.”

Tell me about your fantasy transportation. 

Heavy Lyfting

There was some serious budgeting for the trip to San Diego with YA.  First off, the trip would not have been possible at all except for free airline tickets that I won last summer as well as all the award points that I’ve saved up at work over the past few years (they paid for the hotel and the zoo/safari park).  That left us with food and transportation.

We had an Excel spreadsheet for all of this and the transportation was the most challenging.  While the airport, the zoo and Balboa Park are all fairly closely clustered, the safari park was quite a distance.  Plus we were working with a limited selection of hotels due to the budget (I only had so many award points).  I initially just wanted to rent a car, but that got expensive fast with overnight parking as well as parking at many of the attractions we wanted to visit.  We used a website we found for approximating taxis in San Diego – not much better of a price point.

YA suggested we should just use Uber/Lyft like she did on her last trip and the initial research showed quite a bit of savings over rental cars and taxis.  But I was hesitant.  I’ve never used Uber or Lyft and it made me really nervous.  YA said she would take care of it all.

The first morning, the Lyft driver showed up at our house 10 minutes after she set it up.  Perfect.  Since that was the transfer I was the most nervous about, I could relax.  Uber/Lyft are just big software applications that hook drivers up with passengers.  More than once during the trip, we had a driver change while we were waiting; at the zoo the driver changed twice after we set up the initial request, which ended up getting up back to the hotel sooner than we had anticipated.  After doing a bit of research I figured out why it’s cheaper and why taxi associations are up in arms.  Uber/Lyft drivers are not employees – they are individual contractors and the software just puts them together with folks who want a ride.  No fleets of cars to maintain, no huge workforce to deal with employee issues, insurance, etc.  (I did this research because the day before we were to come home Uber and Lyft both announced they were going to stop service in California (that night!) due to a new law that the state has passed concerning the employee status of drivers.  Luckily within a couple of hours there was a stay granted so that Uber/Lyft can continue challenging the new law, so we were still able to arrange a transfer to the airport the next morning.

Really the only problem that I found was that both Uber and Lyft driver rely completely on GPS, unlike taxi drivers who actually do a lot of training and testing before getting their licenses.  So if the GPS is off, then the ride is off.  On our first full day, we headed up to Escondido to the Safari Park.  It’s a long haul, about 40 minutes and YA had her phone open to the Lyft app the entire time so we could track where we were along the route (apparently this is “how it’s done”).  As we approached the main entrance to the park, there was a clear turn off and a huge sign but our driver went right by it and turned left at the next driveway, which was exactly what GPS was telling him to do.  Unfortunately this was some sort of service entrance with a security gate; it took YA a couple of minutes to convince the driver to go back to the first entrance to the park.  Luckily, you pay upfront for your trip, not by the miles or the time you are actually in the car, so this kind of thing doesn’t jack up your price.

So every single one of our transfers was done by Lyft.  YA says she likes Lyft better than Uber but she can’t articulate why.  It doesn’t seem like the two companies can be that different; several of our drivers had both Lyft and Uber stickers on their windshields.  But whatever the difference, it worked out quite well for us, saved us money and I survived using a new technology.  Of course, we’ll see how it goes if I ever had to set up a Lyft on my own!

Any new technology that you’ve survived recently?  Or that is driving you crazy?

New Toys

Husband’s new smoker/grill arrived on Tuesday. You can see it in the header photo.  It is quite the machine, something my dad would have called a “delicate piece of equipment” given all the complexity involved in using it. It is iron, true. It took two trips to the hardware store just to unpack it. We needed a tin snips to cut the thick, wire strapping that secured its protective wrappings. Then we found it was firmly attached to a heavy wooden pallet by screws that had odd heads needing  a bit with a square head for the electric screwdriver.  I am thankful I managed to remove the screws without stripping them.  What would we have done then?!

Husband has waited years for this grill with the same anticipation as a child waiting for a long hoped-for special toy at Christmas. His first smoked sausage and country style pork ribs turned just as he wanted.  We are truly blessed with good cooking equipment.

What is the most complex piece of equipment you ever had to operate? What is your favorite cooking vessel or utensil.