Quote of the Moment

"It's never wrong to hope, Byx," said my mother. "Unless the truth says otherwise."
- from Endling #1: The Last, by Katherine Applegate

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Keep cool(ant)

Simmer down, simmer down
Keep cool, keep cool
Worry, worry, worry, worry!
Worry, worry, worry, worry!

Just a little childhood jingle I've been running through my head, lest I do irreparable damage to something or someone.

Okay, you know how the Mighty Taurus just got back from the mechanics on Thursday afternoon? If not, the Mighty Taurus just got back from the mechanics on Thursday afternoon. I took it in because I was smelling antifreeze when I shut it off, and because it's been having intermittent rough-start issues. And, of course, the RPM dip.

According to the bill, they declared the RPM dip normal, and they couldn't replicate the rough-start issues. The antifreeze leak, however, was found and diagnosed: a small temperature-sensitive leak. It had to be small, because I've only had to top the thing a quarter-odd inch every three or so weeks.

So, anyway, today - Saturday, the second full day after it got back from the mechanic after having its coolant leak fixed - the car was running as usual as I made a quick jaunt to a couple stores in town. When I got out at home, however, I smelled that syrupy-sweet smell. Just for the heck of it, I popped the hood.

I noticed two things right away:
1 - The smell of antifreeze definitely seemed to be coming from the engine area.
2 - The antifreeze level was down over two inches.

Two inches down in two and a half days, as opposed to the old leak rate of a quarter inch every three weeks. As a topper, I went out and looked at the car this evening, about six hours after I topped it off originally. It had dropped nearly half an inch. So it's leaking even as it's sitting, which it never did before.

This, according to the mechanics, is "fixed."

I don't think so.

It goes back in on Monday, and they had better do it for free.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

One Might Think It's Still Winter...

This morning, I woke to snow. An inch and a half had fallen in the wee hours, a fine, powdery snow that erupted into blizzardlike cascades with the slightest breeze. Throughout the region, schools were delayed or canceled, cars spun out, garbage service was interrupted, and widespread panic ensued.

"Winter has returned," many a meteorologist grimly announced.

Evidently, meteorologists don't know how to read a calendar... I was under the impression that spring didn't officially start until March 20, so the winter they claim is returning hasn't actually left yet.

The snow was mostly gone around here by noon, though it lingered in shadows and on mountaintops, and we saw attempts at flurries this afternoon. I wouldn't be entirely surprised we got a dusting tonight, though I'm sure most people around here would be.


Last weekend marked the first time I've ever used an ad jingle to remember a phone number. Grandpa's living room carpet was pushing 40, and looked it. A sad, lumpy fabrication in dark green that resembled nothing so much as algae on stagnant water, it was worn through to the backing in several spots. It had to go. For some reason, last weekend was the time we decided to do something about it. So, our uncle (Mom's brother, who in many ways is the unofficial caretaker of Grandpa as age turns him into someone who needs a caretaker) called Empire, after we all spent some time thinking about the ubiquitous ads on TV and singing the phone number to be sure we had it right.

We had it right, evidently. On Tuesday, a rep was supposed to come out between 11 and 1 to show what they had. Since Uncle Bob was busy, Mom, my sister and I volunteered to be there. (As I said, Grandpa isn't quite who he used to be, and between that and hearing issues we figured someone ought to be there to be sure he didn't wind up getting pushed into something he didn't need.) We got there a little before 11 and expected a long wait past 1, with some manner of excuse. We also expected a quick-talking, oily young salesguy steamrolling us into a high-end product and extras Grandpa didn't need or couldn't afford. We were proven wrong on both counts. The lady who showed up was middle-aged and more of the soft-sell kind. We said what we were looking for (low-maintenance, good at hiding stains), and she brought up some sample boards. After a brief explanation of what cost what, she left us to pick out color and product while she measured the space to be carpeted. We wound up going one level up from the cheap sale stuff, in a nice neutral gray-brown called "Milky Way."

When could they install? The ads say next day, but that never happens - it's a popular color so it's sold out, or they only have one installation team, or they don't work on days ending in a Y. Again, we were surprised. They could indeed come out on Wednesday, and they'd handle everything from furniture removal to hauling off the old carpet and putting everything back. They were supposed to call an hour before they left the warehouse. We asked them to call us instead of Grandpa, because he doesn't hear so well and we thought we should be there while the carpet people did their thing. (Well, "we" excluded me, as Wednesday's a work day, but the rest of the family would be there.)

There was a bit of miscommunication on the time - we asked them not to do it before 9, so we wouldn't be fighting rush hour traffic - and who to call - us or Uncle Bob (who wasn't there, but who had called Empire originally, so his name was still on the sheet.) Bob called at 8 to say Empire was on their way, and the whole family had to hustle to get over there. Evidently, the carpet installers had been told to do it first thing in the morning. But it all worked out, and in about 3 hours Grandpa had a new carpet. He's very happy with it. I'm looking forward to seeing it on Sunday, when we're supposed to get together for a family lunch.

All in all, I have to say I'm impressed with our vicarious Empire experience. So I suppose sometimes ads are useful.


In other news, the Mighty Taurus came home this afternoon. (Yes, it's still the only car in the household with studded tires. Fortunately, I didn't need them this morning.) The shop finally found a small coolant leak that only activated at a certain engine temperature. Though they officially saw no cause for the rough starts, since those happened only on a warmer engine I'm hoping against hope that the temperature-sensitive coolant leak was directly related, and was fixed at the same time. They also changed out the oil, because we needed the oil changed anyway. As for the RPM dip, they claim it's only when the AC's on and it's "normal." I've been driving that car for several years, and I think I'm a fair judge of what's "normal" and what isn't - and that RPM dip sure as heck isn't. Anyway, that's another near-two-hundred bucks out the tailpipe for that...

And I still have to change the wiper blades on the darned thing. (I have new ones - they've been sitting in the back seat for almost two weeks now. It's just such a pain to wrestle the things on and off...)

Oh, and a month and a day after Mom's stairway fall, she's doing much better, but isn't completely over it yet. She still gets dizzy on occasion, especially when she moves her head too fast, and she still gets very sore around the ribs and midsection where she hyperextended on the way down. It's just going to take a while...

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Disconnected Thoughts on a Crisp Afternoon

The Taurus recently had some hard-start issues. It's also been having moisture condensation issues, but I figured that was due to the door seals being shot in lousy weather. In any case, having to keep a window cracked lest the windows fog up was a minor issue compared to the fact that, on the third or fourth start when the engine was warm, the engine either didn't want to engage or ran exceptionally rough. It did this before its last major repair stint, so I didn't want history to repeat itself.

In the hopes of heading off trouble at the pass, we (Dad and I) decided to poke at the fluid levels and such to see if we could figure out what was wrong before it started dying in traffic again. While I was running the car in neutral (so he could look at the transmission fluid - car has to be running for that), Dad asked me to "take a look at something." So I got out and looked, and I see what appears to be a split-open hose in the engine. The split was so clean, though, we couldn't be sure if it was something normal that we hadn't noticed before or if it was Something Bad. There was no give on either end of the hose, no fluid or staining to speak of, nor was there any other indication of what the hose did. I even consulted the engine diagram in the owner's manual, and we popped the hood on my sister's Sable to see if there were any open hoses there. No luck in either place. We apparently had a mystery hose in our engine.

Just for the heck of it, I started up the engine while Dad blocked the split with his thumb. The car died. We did it again. Once more, dead engine. We decided to run the thing down to a mechanic to see if it was normal or not. Evidently, no, it wasn't normal. The next day, we got the hose fixed. And, no, the mechanic couldn't say for certain what the hose did or why it was there, but he was certain that a vacuum leak like that "had to affect something." While coming home, Dad stopped off at several places; following the old pattern, the Taurus should've had a hard or rough start by the third stop, but it ran smooth as could be.

So, great. Maybe that's why we've been having hard-start issues. I counted myself lucky this time. No need to be pushed out of traffic by a police officer. No waiting for a tow truck. No month spent waiting for the car to die on the mechanics, only to give up and have it die on us again before the problem was bad enough to diagnose.

The day after the hose fix, I noticed that my moisture issues seemed to have resolved themselves. Great! Two birds, one stone!

Then came today. We made a run to Half Price Books in the Taurus... at least, that was the plan. Then we idled at a stoplight for a while.

When you use a car for several years, especially an older car, you know its quirks. You know, for instance, that it idles at a certain RPM, that if the little digital indicator drops below three marks for any reason, then Trouble's on the way. Well, the Taurus started fine. Ran fine. Idled fine... until it dipped. A hard dip you could feel through the frame and hear in the engine. I killed the AC and it bounced back, but my nerves were on edge all the way to the next stoplight.

Again, the dreaded RPM dip at idle.

I don't like playing the Dead Car At The Light game. It's not much fun. So we swung the Taurus around and came home. It behaved perfectly all the way... until we hit the driveway. It tried to die at idle when I put it into park.

The Taurus is going back into the shop as soon as it can be arranged.

So I'm starting to suspect that 19 years is about the maximum lifespan for a used car. Can I afford a new (or rather new-to-me) one? I figure that anything remotely reliable will probably run me at least five grand, not counting bare-bones insurance. I've glanced at figures and done some guesstimating, and I figure that I have two options. One, I could drain my savings account in one fell swoop and get a decent-enough car, and with some exceptionally creative cutbacks I can probably swing insurance payments. Or, two, I could try to get a second part-time job and get a loan. If it's a small enough loan and cheap enough insurance, I shouldn't need a major second job to cover it... but, of course, that presupposes that I can land a decent second job and that it doesn't interfere with my current one. And that the credit union will give a loan to a loser like me, even for a car under $10,ooo. (I don't want to spend more than that if I can help it...)

I suppose I ought to start paying more attention to the classified ads again.


In the Toyota, off we headed to Half Price Books. With me were my sister and my mother, the latter recovering decently from her fall a week and a half ago. She's still not back to pre-fall shape yet, and she still gets dizzy when she turns her head, but she's getting there.
Also with us were four bags of books deemed unworthy of rereading, but in decent enough shape to tempt the buyers. (We also had a bag of books in more questionable condition to toss into one of those "Books for Charity" boxes; still usable, but not quite up to HPB standards.) Considering the rate at which we accumulate books, we ought to be able to fill bags more often, but such is the way of book hoarders.
We have better luck at the Redmond Half Price Books than the Crossroads HPB, so even though it's a bit of a trek around the lake, that's where we like to go to sell when we accumulate a decent pile. It's a pretty drive, though it was prettier before they overbuilt so much.
I got twenty bucks for four bags of books, which isn't that bad of a turnaround for HPB. This netted me one essentially free book and twelve-odd bucks in change. It's always nice to get paid to buy a book. It's better when the book you buy looks better than the ones you gave up to get it.


After Half Price Books and lunch, we stopped off at DQ for treats, paid for by the good folks at Half Price Books. It's the (one week belated) two-year anniversary of my employment with the local library shipping center. As the economic news grows dimmer, I'm all the more thankful for my job. It's decent pay for part-time and I enjoy it. (And yes, I see the irony, buying myself a Peanut Buster Parfait to celebrate my job at a library with money obtained from selling books I purchased at a bookstore.) Even as I contemplate secondary employment options and silently curse the gremlins under the hood of my car, I'm grateful for what I have. Especially when what I have at the moment is a DQ Peanut Buster Parfait.


On the way back around the lake, the sun burned through the haze of the day. As the trees and hills and further reaches of the water lay in indistinct shades of silvery blues and greens, a brilliant flash of silver sunlight danced on the lake. For a scant few minutes, the world was aglow.
It's moments like that, those impossibly brilliant and beautiful seconds one stumbles across in life and in one's mind, that make me want to paint. Or draw. Or sketch. Just something to pin it down in a way that mere words can't.


Home again, and I make myself head out on a walk, to give myself a fighting chance at hitting my exercise resolution quota this month after failing to do so last month. I hit my art goal in January, but I fell short on my plan to walk at least three days a week. Even knowing that walking is one of the best things a body can do for almost every cell, organ, gland, and system in one's body, I still have to push myself out the door.
The sun's going down and the valley's in shade, but the sky is still a cloud-streaked pastel blue, and the upper slopes are still aglow with sunlight and bands of mist. Only a couple other people about, so nobody infringes on my inner ramblings. (It's ridiculous, but my mind doesn't like other people hovering around when it's trying to work. Or play. Or function in general.) In other words, a good day for a walk.
I'm seeing more birds, and some fresh shoots from bulbs in people's gardens. There's a bite in the air, but spring is on the way. Traditionally, spring's the time of renewal and awakening. I wonder, as I walk, what it will bring to me.
Maybe I'll finally be able to stick to my walking routine.
Maybe my artistic efforts will start paying off, and I'll see some progress.
Maybe I'll be able to corral my wandering brain and get back into writing.
Maybe I'll land a second job.
Or maybe I'll finally be able to start my car and not worry about whether or not it'll die at a stoplight.

If only...