Thursday, March 26, 2009

Spring in the Details...and Dirt

Spring, of course, means different things to different people. I like to think of spring as represented by the bright yellow crocus pictured in a previous post. Bright, cheery, hopeful.

Troy, however, has had to think of spring in quite different terms. I don't think there's a lawn implement that he hasn't had to change the oil, etc on. The lawn tractor/mower wouldn't start. The log splitter needed a new hose. Gas cans need to be checked, cleaned, filled. Our barbeque is out of propane. These are the things that have been filling his days...instead of drywall.

This project [shop/house] is big enough that we can't just put the rest of our lives on hold and get it done. But this means the project only takes longer. That's just how it is: as I've said before, it has become a way of life as opposed to just something we're doing for a little while. Now, the idea is not that this is a way of life forever, but it sure is right now.

One of the things Troy is unwilling to put on hold is gardening. Whenever he talks about it, I jump immediately to the thought that he's so busy already, how can he add this too? But it's what he wants to be doing and he doesn't want to keep putting it off. (Plus good gardens don't just happen one day when you've got the time; you've got to build them up over years.) I've finally been able to put it in these terms and am no longer so surprised when he does something like this:
instead of drywall.
These are pics of our west "lawn" after Troy tilled it (with the little push rotor tiller!). There is not a blade of grass left. Not that there was much grass there anyway. Troy has been planning all winter for a garden, and apparently, this is just the beginning. I also suspect this means I'm going to be doing more canning than I ever wanted.

As for crops, he is focused on ones that will keep long and grow in shoddy soil (which is what we're starting with). Potatoes, chili peppers, beets (good for greens and storage), tomatoes (2 kinds: good fresh and good stored), carrots (an old Dutch variety), muskmelon, cabbage (also Dutch), popcorn (butter flavoured), kohlrabi, snap beans, sunflowers just because they're pretty and tall, and cover crops (clover, hairy vetch, rye).

Troy had mentioned to me a couple days ago that he had done all this tilling. But it's dark when I leave, it's dark when I get home, and I had not taken the time to go out and look at it. Imagine my surprise when this evening, I run by the upstairs window glancing outside and see this field! I felt like Dorothy in reverse; like the house had been picked up and dropped in the middle of Kansas.

There's no place like home.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why I love car dealers and car companies, rant mode on.

We made some good headway on the vapor barrier and drywall. I have a load of drywall sitting in the bed of the pickup just begging to be put up. And yet, I have not done it. The reason is my possessions and their maintenance. I sometimes envy those branches of the clergy who take vows of poverty and essentially own nothing. I can see how it could be a very liberating experience.

I decided to work on my car, the 2004 VW diesel jetta. The reason I decided this, was the fuel leak. Some stuff I can put off and ignore for a long time, like a squeaky door. A fuel leak on the other hand is something to be addressed immediately. If this were a gasser, I probably woudn't drive the car until it was fixed. Gasoline is extremely volatile and is just looking for an excuse to catch on fire or blow up and burn your car to the ground, maybe taking you with it.

Diesel is much less volatile and very difficult to set on fire, relatively speaking. Still, it did not want to be ignored for long. Plus, I have been tracking my fuel economy quite closely the last few tanks and haven't been quite able to break the 50 mpg barrier. This is probably due to the cold weather and the winter formulation of fuel. But a fuel leak certainly won't push that number up higher.

I could have just dropped it off in the morning at the VW dealer and it would have been done that night, freeing up some time to play with drywall. But the dealer is not your friend or mine either. In the old days, up until the 60's perhaps, the car companies made most of their money on the sale of the car. Parts and repairs did generate some profit, but not a huge amount. Ditto with the financing. These days, it's totally upside down.

The dealer HATES the customer that comes in and knows what they want and has the cash to pay for it. The current business model puts most of the profit in the financing and the parts/labor. In a recent story that made national news, a man in his early 20's decided he wanted a certain model of Jeep. He also had all the money saved up and ready to go. He walked into the dealer and attempted to buy it. He really wanted to help Chrysler with their current financial difficulties. Seriously...

When the sales person heard he had cash money, he became very ominous and concerned. "Well, we won't be able to give you the big promotional rebates and the "special pricing" if you pay cash. Tragedy had struck. But in less than an hour, he had talked the young man into financing the vehicle and then just "pay it off early".

When they checked his credit, they discovered he didn't even rate a credit score of any kind, because he paid for everything with cash. In reality, your credit score is an "I love debt" score. You could be a multi-millionaire and still have a credit score of zero if you don't borrow money regularly. See how the system is biased against savers? The young man couldn't get a loan of any kind.

Eventually they decided to have his mom co-sign for the loan so he could get all the "special" promotional deals. Wink wink! Mom had the presence of mind to ask about exactly how much additional fees and interest would be added to the transaction to get this "special deal". It turned out to be several thousand dollars. Humph! The sales person had not really mentioned this number before. I am shocked to hear it! Both mom and the son left the store disgusted and angry. He tries to do the right thing to help a struggling company, and in return Chrysler tries to cheat him. And they wonder why they are in trouble. Leasing a car is even worse. The cost per mile is the highest with a lease, almost without exception. Never ever lease a car, ever.

So, back to the VW. I actually called the dealer and asked how much the parts would cost. The two rubber hoses that connect the fuel injection pump to the fuel filter were getting worn out and seeping at the "fuel filter" end. These were specially molded rubber hoses so they followed the contour of the engine and could be nicely clamped in place, etc. I know that the special part that you can only get from the dealer is going to be somewhat more expensive than the generic hose from a parts store. Mentally, I had figured out that I could make the repair for about ten bucks worth of generic parts. If I could get the factory custom stuff for less than $30, I would do it. Hey, it's custom. It should cost more.

Imagine my surprise when the parts guy at the dealer mentioned the heady sum of $177, just for the parts. That's two rubber hoses about the size of your little pinky and a foot long. Labor would be about the same. Holy polymer rip-off Bat man! I was so shocked by this number that I asked him of he was kidding. After a short silence, he said no, he was not.

I was a little off with my estimate for the cheap generic solution. I bought all the parts for less than nine dollars, including tax. I replace both rubber hoses, at both the filter end and at the fuel injection pump end. I also replaced both metal pipes/lines (1/4" flexible metal break lines make awesome fuel line by the way) and re-routed them to a more user friendly location to make future inspection and maintenance easier. NINE FREAKING DOLLARS! It took a few hours including the time to wash off the engine compartment to clean up the fuel mess. So this saved me, at a minimum, $177, and with labor more like $300. Plus tax. So I made about $100 per hour in after tax dollars.

The gear shift had also gotten very stiff, which concerned me greatly. If the linkage was messed up, that could run a few hundred dollars for a new shift linkage. If the transmission was messed up, that would be a few thousand dollars. It turned out that the rubber accordion boots that protect the ends of the shift cables from dirt and whatnot, had turned into a sticky gooey mess a lot like glue. This was slowly working its way into the cable sheath and making shifting a downright nuisance. I scraped and cleaned all the nasty rubber gluey mess off and just greased the cables with wheel bearing grease for a total cost of about eight cents. I'm sure the dealer would have replaced the whole shift cable assembly, and it would have cost hundreds of dollars in parts and hundred of dollars in labor.

The shift cable job took less than 30 minutes, so that's some crazy high number of dollars "made" per minute. It now shifts like a Porsche again. The great irony is that when the car was virtually new, the tandem pump (part of the fuel injection pump system) had a defect and sprung a leak. The dealer replaced the tandem pump at no cost, but would not replace the rubber parts soaked by the diesel fuel sprayed all over the engine compartment. Including the rubber boots on the shift cables. I told them at the time it would damage the rubber, but they seemed unconcerned.

Did I mention that the dealer is not your friend and the system is designed to be hard to work on and expensive? They will suck money out of your wallet at a prodigious rate if you let them.

The moral of the story is you should learn to do the basic stuff yourself and join an online owner's group if you are motivated at all to do this sort of work. The online support group can teach you and walk you through even fairly complex repairs. Even if you don't do most of the work yourself, they are universally excellent at spotting the BS repair that the dealer wants to do that could be repaired by a small independent mechanic for less than half what the dealer wants.

My ultimate solution to this problem is to build my own car. I am more and more determined to do this because of all the designed in overly complex and unnecessary electro-widgits. My car will be far easier to work on and with better reliability and longevity. I have HAD IT. True, it might not have a voice activated ignition system, but I can live with that loss.

OK, back to drywall and firewood splitting.

Finest regards,


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Signs of Spring

It's definitely that time of year. We've had some beautiful weather, and they've promised us more until at least Wednesday. The sunshine is making me feel human again. Mmmmm...

As for signs of spring, let me start with the absolutely obligatory first flower of spring:
One brave yellow crocus which has still avoided being eaten by local feral rabbits.

Second sign of spring:
I hung my laundry out on the line. [I blurred out the undies to protect my modesty. Ok, no, I'm kidding you, but I bet I got you to double check!] It's slightly disturbing just how much I love hanging laundry up. But I do. I guess there are worse things to be obsessed with.

And the third sign was the loud and raucous yelling and screaming coming from the neighbour children who put down their WII and XBox controllers long enough to get outside. If they were having what sounded like good harmless fun, I wouldn't mind so much. But it's all so mean-spirited and threatening, vaguely violent. Not pleasant to listen too. I laugh when people ask how I like living in the quiet country. Not quite.

But I will pay that price if it means I can sit in the sun on my south porch. I had myself settled in nicely yesterday with my knitting. It makes me sigh blissfully just recalling it...


Friday, March 13, 2009

Shop Follies & Judgment Time

Finally more progress was made. I shouldn't say "finally." Troy has done some work without me. The interior walls, for example, are now firmly attached to the roof (ceiling? trusses?); and more ceiling has drywall. But tonight we "laid" another course of plastic to prepare for even more drywall. We are getting quite good and quick about it now. Just in time to finish strong.

Except for how we started the night. I'll let you be the judge of whether I just messed up...or whether I was led astray.

We unroll the plastic to mark 12' so we know where to start. (Do I need to explain more so you can picture this? We start stapling where the wall meets the ceiling, so we need to know how much plastic to leave hanging toward the floor. So we measure 12', add a couple inches, draw a line, and put that at the ceiling and off we go.) So anyway, I'm measuring 12'. I mark it with my Sharpie. Troy asks, "Do you have your square?" Yes. I mark a straight line. Troy asks, "Do you have your knife?" Yes. And I proceed to cut along the line.

Do you see what just went wrong here?

This was not the case where I was to cut a piece for the wall. This was the case where I was to mark the top of the wall. Just draw the line. Draw, not cut.

But do you see how that might have happened because Troy asked if I had my knife?

When I pointed this out to Troy, he claimed he was just checking if I had all my tools and it was completed unrelated to the task I was attending, or to whether he was thinking I would be cutting the plastic. Really?

I'll let you decide. Please post a comment on whether you think I just brain-farted my way into that all by myself, or whether I was perhaps pushed by the bad smell of someone else's brain flatulence. Your opinions will stay on the blog, and will in no way influence how well or poorly I treat you in person, or even what I think of you as a person. (Promise.)

Cast your vote now, if you dare...

Signs of the End Times

In the middle of the cold snap in Jan/Feb, we had a day or two of a little nicer weather. I was home for the day and at some point was debating with myself whether to start the woodstove. I glanced at the thermometer in the living room which read 52^. Having gotten used to 42^ in the mornings, I decided it was warm enough not to bother.


Yesterday I was home for the day. When I was hauling in more firewood, the living room felt exceedingly hot. Glancing at the thermometer (wondering if it was actually in the 80^ range), I saw that it was all of 66^.


Who am I and what have I done with the real Christina?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Progress Continues

Check this out, the shop is starting to look like a real room:
These shots are looking east (northeast above, southeast below).
Check out all the drywall! Troy has been able to actually get some of the ceiling done now that the lift is working. He got 5 (five!) sheets up last night after work, and some more this afternoon while he was waiting for me to come out.
I was out there to help hang another course of plastic. Troy was running out of room for drywall and he wanted to get the opening in the north wall covered so he could install the window. The last course only covered it half way so we had to do another. If he can get the window installed on Tuesday as planned, the shop will be completely secured. Another milestone!

Lest you think we are almost done, here is a view of the west end:
I had a happy thought when I realized that three more courses of plastic will get us to the west wall. Yeah! I can handle three more. Doing three of almost anything is definitely running down the homestretch. 3, 2, 1, done! Then I had a sad thought when I realized that didn't include the west wall itself. But then Optimistic Me retorted that the west wall will be easy because the ceiling will be done (no overhead work) and there are no obstructions on the wall at all. I was back to "Woo hoo! We can do it!"

Another thing I did today was paint a few more markers at the studs. I try to keep ahead of the plastic. The yellow can crapped out, so I went for a new colour. No more yellow to match (first choice), so I used white (second choice). Troy was dubious and justifiably so. It didn't show up very well, and with just a little wear and tear would not show up at all. So next up was a very look-at-me red. (Third's the charm.) It looks so good it makes the painting fun. I may have to redo all the yellow ones. Because, you know, they might not show up after a little wear either. :wink: That and, as everyone knows, everything looks better in red.

All for tonight. Think good work-hard thoughts for us,

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