Monday, May 29, 2006

In the name of science

Dad's having formatting issues viewing the blog - anyone else? It looks normal on my monitor, but then I use a pretty fine screen resolution, so more fits.

I suspect it has to do with the fact that two of my recent photos somehow ended up wider than standard when I uploaded them, so they poke out of the normal margins. Maybe some browsers compensate by pushing the whole thing farther down the screen, to where there's space.

Anyway, for the sake of experimentation, we'll make this a text-only post. what should we talk about? The car's not acting up (well, I mean of course it IS, but not enough to bother blogging about). The beach was fine. There's actually an anecdote about that...but it involves pictures, so never mind.

Here, how about some memorable quotes drawn entirely from conversations sustained during the past six hours:

Julia: ...I had it in my butt!
[Overheard just now from the kids' room. I'm pretty sure I'd rather not know.]

Julia [In car after school today]: Justin said he wanted to KISS me at school today. So we kissed, me and Justin.
Me: How did you like it?
Julia: I DIDN'T like it. It was YUCKY!!!
Me: Well, now you know.

Me: It's called a turn signal, and it's FREE.
[Spoken aloud on a pretty regular basis while driving.]

Robin: Julia? I'm like Bert and you're like Ernie.
[While watching a Sesame Street video where Bert sings the praises of the oatmeal box.]

So there you have it. And incidentally, the background on the butt business did come to light shortly thereafter, and has been resolved. No cause for alarm, but let's just say it provided an opportunity to review the ground rules regarding body cavities.

Yeah, that's what's going on in my life. Maybe I should stick with photos, yes?

No news

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

And that's not even mentioning the flat tire on Tuesday

So the long-awaited trip to the beach is meant to happen tomorrow. Turns out the girls actually have a half-day of school, which is normal for the last Friday of the month, but which I had understood wasn't happening this month because they had last Friday off. Anyway, it is happening and I've simplified the trip to a much closer beach, so I can pick them up at 12:00, pass them back a sandwich and hopefully be there around 3:00.

Of course, the car started making a funny noise this afternoon. Not (need I say it?) funny ha-ha. More like, funny "screeeeeeeeeeeeee" when the clutch pedal is depressed (who can blame it?) at low speeds.

So I took the kids to Yolanda and went back to see my old buddy Marvin. He pulled a hose off of something and stuck his hand in somewhere and said it looked like the same thing that went wrong before.

Oh, by the way, I never actually mentioned, but they didn't replace the engine when it went back to the House of Engines before. They repaired it - turned out it was a broken "balancín" which is one of about eight little arms that go up and down over the valves inside the engine. I know that because I got to see inside the engine today.

Here, you can see too:

Anyway, they pulled the top off the engine (assuring me that this would not void my warranty because the other shop wouldn't be able to tell they'd done it) and found that the engine had, not a broken balancín, but rather--literally--a screw loose. They checked that it wasn't stripped and tightened it back down, then Marvin did a thing where he adjusted the space between each balancín and its valve, apparently just to take advantage of having the top off.

I got the go-ahead to go to the beach (and Marvin's cell phone number) and started to back out, when I heard my funny noise again.

Oh, THAT noise (said Marvin). THAT'S nothing to worry about, just a loose spring in the clutch. Can you put it in gear okay? You can? No problem. Go ahead, go to the beach.

Umm. Great. I keep hearing these words, which I actually said to Marvin about two weeks ago: So what's left? We've done the brakes, we've done the engine. I guess the transmission is up next.

I wish I hadn't said that.

Anyway, we're apparently going tomorrow and wish us luck. I leave you with some pictures of what we did last weekend, after our original beach trip was so tragically canceled.

We ate tepid hot dogs or teriyaki veggies (depending on age)

We kicked back

We cooked marshmallows

We talked to Alex

We made passable s'mores

I had a beer (you like my self portrait?)


And then I said "Yes, it's okay to roll on it"

And then the sun set

And then the girls found the tent I put in their room

And then they slept in it

The end

Better than anything I'm likely to say tonight

Monday, May 22, 2006

The State of the Household: A bulleted list

  • We did not go to the beach this weekend, but opted to stay home and throw up instead.
  • Okay, only Julia threw up, and she only did it once.
  • In my lap.
  • Still, she had a persistent fever and we did not go.
  • This was Not Okay with Robin.
  • Who is now sick herself.
  • But not throwing up.
  • The dogs ate my cell phone and left it for dead.
  • Overnight.
  • In the rain.
  • It took two days for the phone to dry out.
  • But it survived.
  • The case did not.
  • The rainy season is underway, with torrential rain most afternoons.
  • You really need to shut the car windows during the rainy season.
  • Really really.
  • For several days, I had to sit on a garbage bag every time I drove the car.
  • Even after the seats were fairly dry, there was still a horrible smell.
  • Which went away once I realized there was moisture trapped under the floormats.
  • Which were three-deep in places (the floormats).
  • Other than that, the car has been running fine.
  • I've had to add water twice and oil once (when checking the levels in the morning, not because of trouble on the road).
  • Diesel oil is wierd.
  • It used to cost me about $42 to fill my tank.
  • It now costs $32.
  • Having gone through about half a tank of diesel, it looks like I'll be getting around 250 miles before having to refill.
  • I used to get about 190 miles out of a tank of gas.
  • Photos of the quilt retreat can be seen here.
  • Or as a slideshow here.
  • I haven't tried the slideshow link myself.
  • Because each of the promising leads I had for a good source of a new computer has fallen through.
  • So I STILL don't have DSL.
  • Which makes me sad.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Just following instructions

Well, the car feels pretty good (to me). When I got it back the first time, it felt different than before, but like something I could get used to. This time, although it's still loud like diesel, it feels completely normal. I'd like to think that's good.

When I picked it up on Tuesday, I tried to ask about the one-month guarantee, to make sure they would extend it to one month from the date of the repair. However, the owner of the House of Engines (really) is Korean and hard to understand. ("One month, one month. No ploblem!")

When I took it to Marvin, he said everything looked okay. It felt fine, and wasn't overheating or anything. I asked him to have his secretary call the other place to ask about the guarantee and she did. Marvin spoke with the guy who actually repaired the engine, but was told that they would not extend the guarantee, which still starts on the date of original purchase (12 days past, by then).

Marvin's advice is to drive the car as much as possible over the next two weeks.

The girls are off school tomorrow because of some conference, so they and I and another family with twin 6-year-olds are going to a beach where the other family has camped before.

We'll be back on Sunday evening, by which time my car will have been driven several months' worth of miles. And if I have to pay for a four-hour haul from a tow truck? Still plenty cheaper than a new engine six weeks from now.

It would make a good story, but you know what? I'm pretty tired of good stories about the car, so wish us luck.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

One of those songs with a hidden meaning

I picked up the car today. It was repaired by the shop that sold us the engine, so I had to go into San Jose to get it. For the first mile or so I was just concentrating on figuring out where I was and how to get back home. Once I got to a route I'm familiar with, I reached down and turned on the radio, which launched right into Another One Bites the Dust. I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A 24-Hour Bug

I got the car back yesterday, with its new diesel engine. It was idling when I got there to pick it up and let me tell you. That's a sound that'll have you asking, "shouldn't this thing have like 14 more wheels?"

Anyway, Marvin explained a few things - there's a funny little pre-start button you have to hold in for 15 seconds before turning the ignition on in the morning. Oil changes are at the same intervals as a gasoline engine, although the oil is different. You can get stickers that say "Diesel" at the gas station to remind the driver (& gas station attendants) not to pump gasoline into the vehicle.

Marvin said to bring it back in two weeks so he can give it a final going-over before the one-month warranty expires. It actually started to overheat before I had driven a full mile, so I went right back and it turned out that there was a thing with the new thermostat - something like, the first time the thermostat operated as part of the system, it had to fill with water, which left the overall water level lower. Maybe that wasn't it, but anyway it was a one-time thing and easily fixed. Marvin came with me for a good, demanding test drive (even farther up the mountain than my street) and the temperature remained steady.

It seemed to climb the hill okay when I drove it home that evening. I drove it around town a bit today, going to PriceSmart for a 50-pound bag of dog food, since the little 17-pound bag I had had to make do with when I was traveling by bus is about gone. I took myself out for a cappuccino and a salad at the mall.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring the DVDs that are due today, so I had to go back home before picking up the kids. At the foot of the two-mile hill up to my place, there was a large gravel truck going about 15 miles an hour, so I waited for an opportunity and passed it. It was harder to pass than I thought, but then, I'm still getting used to the new engine and all.

I've been told that if you have some momentum going uphill, the diesel engine will do really well, but that if you have to go slowly, it'll seem kind of sluggish compared to the gasoline. It was sluggish, all right.

I got up into second gear, but it just wouldn't regain the momentum. I, of course, don't yet know what's normal for this engine, but I was beginning to feel that, whatever "normal" is, it's probably not this. I got about a mile up the hill, driving slow, slow, slowly, before it died. I sat for a minute or so then tried to restart the car. It made a Very Bad Sound, so I got out and called the mechanic first, then Yolanda (to ask her to pick up the kids).

Aside: I do NOT understand you anti-cell phone people (you know who you are). Cell phones are next to godliness.

Marvin wasn't there when I called, but when I described what had happened to Cristian (one of the other mechanics), he said he'd try to get hold of Marvin and have him come out to where I was. I waited a while then called back, but they hadn't been able to get in touch with him.

A few minutes later, Marvin happened by, recognized the car and stopped to see what was wrong. I loves me a small country.

He tried to start it and heard the Very Bad Sound. He looked under the hood, tried to start it again, and decided it was a broken belt in the engine. So he drove down to his shop and picked up Cristian. When they got back I rode with Marvin and, once they got my car turned around, Cristian was able to coast it all the way down to the shop - they only had to push it from the street into the garage. Hills are nice. Every mechanic should be at the bottom of one.

They took off a cover to check the belt Marvin suspected and found it in perfect condition - obviously new and not slipped or broken at all. They conferred for a few minutes and came to the conclusion that the problem was nothing that couldn't be fixed by replacing the engine.

I had the car from 3:00 yesterday afternoon until 3:00 today. I guess you could call this the ebola of 24-hour bugs.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

For those of you playing along at home, the score is now:

Our Car: 4 (as in, 4 major repairs in 4 months)
Us: 0

We've decided it needs a personality transplant. And by "personality," I mean "engine." We spoke with Marvin, our mechanic, this morning and visited the patient to view the gaping hole under its hood. Marvin gave us several written estimates for different repair and replacement options. He and Alex are out right now (in Marvin's truck), looking at used engines.

(Several well-intentioned people have wondered aloud if our "car trouble" might not better be described as "mechanic trouble" but I am once again convinced that we've got the right guy.)

They've settled on a rebuilt 1998 diesel engine (11 years younger than our current one) for $1200 (plus labor, which will be about $300). A used gasoline engine would have been cheaper by about half, but in the name of fuel prices...

I don't know, if I educated myself, where I would come down on the gasoline/diesel issue, but I'm just happy Alex has settled on something local. I do (do! Do! DO!) want him to be the one to deal with this, but I have to admit I had a bad moment this morning when he was going over the options and they included towing the engineless shell of a vehicle home, sticking it in the yard, and waiting until his (Alex's) next trip to Costa Rica, tentatively set for two months from now, when he would theoretically bring a US-bought engine with him. (How?) Fortunately, my tried-and-true method of "wait until its a real possibility before freaking out" served me well and nobody said anything regrettable.

As it is, they're buying the engine as we speak and will take it to the shop in Marvin's truck. Yup, still grooving on the mechanic and don't try to tell me otherwise.

Sunny Day

Not surprisingly, the music they play at the gym often diverges a bit from my own personal taste. Sometimes it's quite good, but a lot of the time it tends to be...a bit high in testosterone, I guess you could say.

Today I had tuned it out and was thinking about something else when something caught my ear. It was some kind of Latinized rap or hip hop or something, and so raucous that even when I stopped and paid close attention I couldn't tell what language it was in.

But I could have sworn that the pounding beat had let up for a minute and that when the melody came through, it was to the tune of "Can you tell me how to get, how to get to...."

Nah. Couldn't be.

So I'm listening intently, still unable even to pick up whether this is English, Spanish or something else, and it comes around again. Completely unintelligible words, to the unmistakable tune of "Can you tell me how to get, how to get to...." And there it was: "Sesamé Striiiiiit"

Monday, May 01, 2006

How I know today is a holiday

I mean, I already knew it was a holiday because the kids didn't have school and the gym was on a different schedule. And Alex has been keeping up with the news of immigrants' May 1 plans in the US.

But even if none of that had been true, I would have known it was a holiday when I got on the bus to come home from the gym today. (Yes, the car is well and truly broke. I don't want to talk about it, but the word "overhaul" has been bandied about, along with the words "Now that you're here, you can deal with it...pretty please?")

So the bus, which is usually about 85% empty at this hour, was completely full and I had to stand in the aisle because I happen to live fairly near to a popular get-out-and-party-in-the-fresh-air kind of holiday place to go.

I didn't mind standing up, though, because it was entertaining. The passengers occupying the 85% of the seats that are usually free were all between 20 and 23 years old and, for the most part, seemed to know each other.

Hair gel prevalence was surpassed only by cell phone use and two of the phones were conveniently stowed in the owners' cleavage when not in use. At least ten alcoholic beverages were being consumed (this is 10:00 a.m., by the way) and a one-liter bottle of the local brew (a liquor called guaro, made from sugarcane) was flashed at one point and discussed audibly and at length.

I also spotted six non-standard piercings: two upper ear, two eyebrow, one tongue and one back of the neck (a new one on me). And that was just the boys.

Conclusion: It's good to take the bus once in a while. Keeps you in touch with the culture.

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