Sunday, March 26, 2017

Homeschooling Life Skills: Budget

I wanted to start a series of blog posts for homeschoolers and perhaps even for parents that just want their kids to be prepared for the world when it smacks them upside their face.

And it will, we all know this.

I polled many of my Facebook people and asked what they wished their parents had taught them when they were young and that helped build my list of topics. One of the highest on the list was money. How do we deal with money?

So, here's what I did.

Today's subject was Michael. Michael is ten, almost eleven. I thought he would be a better candidate than Max, who at eight, sees money only as a way to get more toys.  His turn is coming. 

Thanks Michael, for being the oldest child I can experiment on.

I asked Michael to pick an occupation. I told him it wasn't a life choice, just something we could use for a lesson.

He couldn't think of anything. So, we had a brainstorming session. I had him think of ten or so occupations he could see himself doing, which was easier. Then, he picked one.

Animal trainer.

Sounds like a good choice, fitting for his personality.

We looked it up on the Occupational Outlook Handbook.  If you don't know about his little gem, you're welcome. 

Animal Trainer

The median pay for an animal trainer is $21,260 per year. I subtracted ten percent for taxes (I am a generous overlord) and divided that number by twelve.

We had a monthly income.

Next, I asked him where he wanted to live. He decided Seattle was a good location. So, I had him look up one bedroom and efficiency apartments in Seattle. This was a great time to talk about room mates and the problems and benefits of living with someone.

Next came transportation, groceries, insurance and so on. He realized pretty quickly that he couldn't afford a car on that paycheck in that apartment. So, he decided a bicycle and a bus pass were the way to go.

We worked the budget with some basics. The real lesson was about to happen.

Next, I asked him to look up another occupation he had mentioned in the brainstorming session.

Computer Programmer

The median annual pay for a programmer is a bit better at $79,530. I subtracted twenty percent for taxes (I am a benevolent overlord, but also somewhat realistic) and divided by twelve for a new monthly income.

Michael said he could probably afford three cars if he wanted them.

Then he noticed something. The education requirement for a computer programmer was a Bachelor's degree minimum. The animal trainer didn't require a degree.


So we looked up some other professions, nurse, doctor, accountant. And he discovered that the more education you had, the more you likely made.

Suddenly there was new light shed on all that math and science stuff we keep trying to teach him.

Then, we had a talk about value. Is it better to do something you love and get paid less or something you might not love and get paid more? Is there something that you think sounds fun that pays well? 

It was a good lesson, I think.

Round one in the books.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Still going

Just a bit more slowly.

Turns out the frenetic pace of getting the siding done before the rains started and getting the truck fixed before Sarah started yoga teacher training really takes it out of you.  Oh yeah, and winter here sucks about this time of the year. One dreary, rainy day after another. The only thing that sounds like a good idea is staying in bed.

Rainy, snowy, po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe

Motivation has been lacking.

Some motivation has been lacking. Some has been just fine.

Some small things are still getting done though. We are still working.

Spring is right around the corner and we have lots of plans.  It is about time to start some things that will be cool for summer.

So, after a rest period, things are still going.

One of our neighbors gave us some golden and red raspberry starts

We dug a trench, coated the bottom with compost, and planted.

The cardboard is to keep the grass and weeds from growing up around them.

Fingers crossed for yummy raspberries.

Oh yeah...

Michael got some walls.  A good start.

 Hopefully we can get some garden prep-work done.  I'll keep posting.

Winter is long.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

That was nice.

Enough work.  Time to get outside. 

It's been too long. 

Tumwater falls and some spring rain.  Enjoy the pictures.

But first, our barn cat Smokey dressed in the pelts of her enemies.

The water is up a little compared to last time we were here.

First long exposure waterfall of the year. May it not be the last.

The river was angry that day my friend

Caucasian totem pole

Camo kid

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Writing and other projects

Any time I have been engaged in a big project, especially a creative one, I have reached a certain point. 

At that point, it feels like I can look back and see the starting line way closer than I hoped. When I look the other direction, there is neither a finish line nor a guarantee that there even will be one. For all I know, the path ends after a blind corner and a steep drop. 

It's miserable. 

I doubt if I can finish the project. And then I go ahead and doubt if it will be worth a damn even if I do manage to finish it. 

I just want to quit. 

There are a thousand more enjoyable things I could be doing. I could sit back, pop open a tasty adult beverage and watch TV. I could go see a movie. I could take videos of the cat and post them on the Internet. 

These moments, and there are many, are the reason why most people never write a book or run a marathon, or climb a mountain. Because these things are hard, really hard. At various times they suck profoundly. 
This is where I try to think about the long game. I think it will hurt more to someday wonder if I could have done than it would to try, even if I fail, and find out.

So what can you do to get past these times? What can I do?

One positive thing. 

One more word written. Sure it's a terrible word that obviously doesn't go there, but write it anyway. Sure the pace for that last mile was well behind goal marathon pace and it's only a five miler, but run it anyway. One positive thing. 

Just enough to say you are still doing it. And, if it turns into a full sentence or another mile or another climb, awesome. 
After all, how do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Lessons learned.

Today I finished putting everything back together after fixing a small coolant leak that was the result of not torquing down a nut well enough. 

Oh yeah, and I turned the steering wheel back to normal. It looks like I chose well because I went to the stops both ways and got no airbag message. Mostly that was luck.

I am not a mechanic. This is, by an overwhelming margin, the most ambitious mechanical repair I have ever tried. I'm not quite ready to call it a success yet, but it's close.

For those of you who might be tempted to try this type of repair yourself, I want to give you some lessons I learned.

Lesson 1:  Mechanics are awesome.  If you can afford a mechanic, pay one to do this. There were times during this process that I wanted to blow up the truck, the garage and anything associated with them. There were some extenuating circumstances in my case that made it a little more frustrating, but you'll have your own set of those too, don't worry.

There are times when you will need special tools, nimble monkey midget fingers and a little bit of magic to get that one bolt or nut on. Mechanics might not have midget monkey fingers, but they have lifts and space and assistants and special tools. Oh yeah, and experience.  Mechanics are awesome.

Lesson 2: You don't have enough tools. Unless you are a mechanic reading all of this for a good laugh, you probably don't have enough tools. If you are a car guy, this will be a great excuse. If you aren't, you will be buying some tools.  Perhaps you can get away with renting them, but that has its own problems. When you realize you need the tool it will be a very inconvenient time and cost you a good chunk of your day to get it. This will be very frustrating, especially if you are on a deadline. See Lesson 1.

Lesson 3:  Organization is key.  I didn't have the cash to fork out for the shop manual for this truck.  Yeah, $500 bucks seemed a little steep.  So, I had to organize carefully. For each part I took out, I tried to take a picture of how it went in, label it with white electrical tape and a sharpie, put the bolts in a labeled bin, and wrote it down in a notebook. Tear down took a long time. But, with this organization in place, rebuild went a lot faster. Still, the shop manual would have been nice. You know who would have had a shop manual? See Lesson 1.

Lesson 4:  Take lots of pictures. Even with careful organization, it's easy to get on a roll and forget to take a picture of something. Or label something or write it down. If you take lots of pictures, you might be able to see how it looked before in a picture of something else.  I spent some time studying the top right corner of a picture of one things in hopes that I could make out how something else went. See Lesson 1. 

Lesson 5: Read the forums and take their advice. Ask the question. I'll give you an example. The whole steering wheel clock spring thing. I thought that it was related to the thing that causes the wheel to swing back to center. I didn't know what a clock spring was or what it did. So, the idea of running the seat belt through the steering wheel seemed silly to me. I just made sure nobody was in the cab at all and nobody touched the wheel.  You know who would have known all about that?  See Lesson 1.

Lesson 6:  If you have read this far and still want to do this, screw Lesson 1.  You can do this. It will be frustrating, it will be hard, you will invent new curse words. You will also become more confident about your ability and more familiar with your vehicle. BE CAREFUL. Be organized and take lots of pictures. I am a nurse, not a mechanic. I managed. You can too.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Or her.  The truck is named Flo, so yeah.  The Mortal Kombat joke kind of falls flat.

You can learn how Flo got her name in the new book.

I'm getting better at this whole product placement thing.


I finally finished everything.  I spent yesterday getting the final touches ready. Things like the battery tray and the airbox tray and so on. Once everything was hooked up, I got the batteries put back in and it was ready.

And no real leftover parts!
I did have one leftover nut of the type that holds brackets onto posts. I didn't see anything loose though.

So I hopped in and turned the key.

It turned over.

No big clangs or bangs, nothing exploded. No explosions in the cylinders either though. It wouldn't start.

I could tell by listening though, that the batteries had lost quite a bit of oompf sitting on the shelf in the freezing weather. I knew I would have to crank it for a while just to get the fuel back into the system.  I cranked and cranked until the battery was essentially dead.



I had to go to the auto parts store again and buy a battery charger.  I set it up for a slow charge and left it for the night.

Next day, today, I went out and cranked it over.  The batteries were much stronger.  Still no start.


So I hopped out, strapped on the old headlamp and started investigating.  I had done lots of research the night before about possible causes of not starting and almost all of them were because fuel pressure wasn't getting built up in the rails enough to open the injectors. So that's where I started the investigation.

I found a fuel leak.  On the driver's side fuel rail, the line that crosses over to the passenger rail had a leak.

Right under that piece of tape I forgot to take off.
I started pulling things off. Amazingly, I only had to disconnect the blue flex hose, the crossover tube, the super connectors and a few other things.  When I could finally reach the connection, I found it was only hand tight.

How the?


I fixed it, reassembled everything, and tried again.

The engine cranked and cranked and cranked and


It started up!  Nothing exploded or anything.  The truck was running again. I shut it down and opened the door to look at the engine.  That's when I heard the sound of lots of a liquid hitting the ground.


I dropped down and looked underneath. On the passenger side, something was pouring onto the ground. I ran over and looked... Diesel.  Damn.

I couldn't see anything actually leaking though.  I hopped back into the truck, turned it on, it fired up, and ran back out to see.  Fuel was spraying out of the end of the fuel rail, the opposite end of the tub I had just tightened.

I shut it down, cleaned up the fuel I could reach, and started looking at what had to come off.  Unfortunately, it was a lot more this time.  The line I needed to reach sat straight under the big fucking metal thing.  So much stuff had to come off.

Yeah, that one in there. Right in the middle.
It too was only hand tight.  I must have adjusted that one a second time and forgotten to torque it down again. Too many shiny things distracting me.

Many of the things I had to pull to get to the rail were a pain to get in and out of place. I may have accidentally spilled coolant from the cooler into the crossover tube, contaminating the oil. I'm changing oil and filter again anyway. I just want an hour of runtime or so to corral any contaminants that may have found their way in while everything was open.  But, I got it back together and started it up again.

This time it ran without any leaks I could find. It was late in the day and I had to go to the boy's jiu jitsu class.  I will put the wheel shrouds in place tomorrow.  I don't think the truck goes back into service until this weekend though. I want a full day to shake it down and check things out.

I think there will be one more post in this series: Lessons learned.  Then, assuming nothing else comes up (HAHAHAHAHAAA) that will be it.

Whatever will I do with all my free time?


If you have found this series helpful, please do consider buying my book. I priced it at $2.99, which is way less than a 16mm 12-point socket. Ask me how I know.

This was actually when I found the leak

Friday, January 13, 2017

Serious Progress.

Book link. 

Yeah, every time.

Man, I got a lot done over the last few days.  I thought the rebuild would be the harder part, but it hasn't been as bad as I thought.

When last we spoke, I had just magicked the y-bridge back together. 

If you don't believe in magic, go ahead and try it yourself

Working back out and trying to go in reverse order according to my notebook, it was time to rebuild the fuel system. 

A couple of pointers.

Don't torque anything until you are sure you have everything where it goes. I forgot to put the bracket that goes on the driver's side common fuel rail and had to pull it off.  Take detailed notes, better than mine, about the order in which you removed the fuel lines, it will help.

Clean everything.

I think the coolant line to the turbo (the one with tape on it) should be first.

The line from the CP3 pump to the driver's side rail is a good next. Note the bracket that attaches with the rail
Right about here, the pictures start to get a bit spotty.  Two things: First, the lines only go on one way and if you were good about labeling things as you took them off, putting them back on is pretty straight forward.  Second, it has been cold here... Really cold.  Temperatures inside the garage were probably high twenties. Stopping to take pictures just didn't always occur to me.

Not sorry. 

This is the next picture I took.  Fuel system is largely put together and I had the air intake tube in as well as the thermostat housing on.

Stay busy, stay warm.

The wires to the right of the thermostat housing were hanging down. Make sure to put them up before attaching the thermostat housing.

At this point I was just following the sequence in the notebook.  I took a couple pictures when I remembered to.  They were somewhat random. Hypothermia will do that to you.

I'll try to remember what I was thinking.

In this first one, you will see the glow plug controller bracket and sub bracket on. Not that I connected the fuel lines. That was premature. I connected them before I put the bracket in place, then disconnected them to put the bracket on and reconnected them. Then, I ended up disconnecting them again later to get the lines to the controller.  Just leave them disconnected until the entire glow plug controller is on and connected.

Premature connection.
 Then there was this one.

Fuel filter bracket.
Just pretty I guess.
This next one gets an explanation.

I put in the glow plugs. Then prior to installing the ignition wiring harness, I pulled the retaining nuts off. Notice the heat shield surrounding the exhaust manifold?  There is a gap between the manifold and the shield. It's a pretty small gap. There is really only one nut in the entire engine bay that could fall into that gap and cause you to pull off the heat shield to get it out.

Guess which nut.  Go ahead.
Things were progressing pretty well.  Using the pictures from the tear down and the order from the notebook, it went pretty well.  Then I go to the wiring harness.  The hydra.

Looks easy enough.
It wasn't as bad as I had feared.  I labeled the glow plug wires and injector connections. With those in place, everything else fell where it was supposed to. The engineers were pretty good about making sure that no connectors were alike so things couldn't accidentally be plugged in where they didn't belong. 

Like an octopus attacking the engine.
Then I started putting on big things. Things like alternators and AC compressors. I also put on the thing I labeled The Big Fucking Metal Thing. I could probably give the technical name, but I like TBFMT better.  Oh yeah, another interesting note. I didn't know what things were when I pulled them off a lot of the time. So I called them one thing without realizing until later, they weren't that at all.

Take lots of pictures.

The big fucking metal thing in question

As I left it today.
 Tonight I go out and get a new serpentine belt, seems sill not to change it. I also get oil and coolant. I should be ready to try to fire this thing back up on Monday or Tuesday. I could probably try tomorrow or Sunday, but I work and I want a full day off to account for the inevitable unforeseen contingency.

For those playing along with the home game, these are my notes.  I won't call this a how-to article until it fires up and works. Until then, this isn't what to do so much as what I did.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A tale of frustration

And no, I'm not talking about book sales.

Yeah, I'm mentioning the book again. I wrote a book, you would mention it too.  Get used to it.

I'm talking about working on the truck.

Where were we?  Oh yeah, freezing cold, snotty and working on the exhaust manifold.

I managed to get the manifolds and gaskets back on, after trying for way too long. The trick for me was to get the top-rear bolt in first. Once that one was started, the rest went in pretty easily. Still freaking cold though.  I got the passenger side manifold hung and then I got started on the driver side. Somehow, I discovered, I was missing three of the huge washers that go with the bolts to get the manifold on.  No problem. It was the Monday after New Year and I just went out to the auto parts store.

Of course, O'Reilly's, Autozone, and Advance Auto didn't carry anything that big. They referred me to a Fastenal store and a local place called Tacoma Screw Products. Both of them were closed for a holiday.


Try again the next day.

Fastenal was a no go, but Tacoma Screw had some washers that would work.
Big, beefy washers.
With those on, I consulted my notebook and started on the valve covers. I never took off the upper covers, so I just had to make room for the full set up.

Just as much awkwardness reaching some of the bolts going on as coming off.

The hardest to reach, not too bad though.

You won't find that in an auto parts store. Try a step aerobics class.

This is a helpful contraption
 The next thing on the list was the injectors. I have brand new injectors from Injectors Direct.  They are shiny. I tried to make every other fuel component equally shiny in the areas that count.
You have to attach the hold down bracket to the injector before sliding it into place. You can either push it in hard enough to make it seat of let the bolt do the work for you.

Another frustration. After putting in all the injectors and getting them torqued down, I realized that the little plates the hold down brackets clamp on to had come off while I cleaned the valve covers and I had to pull four of the injectors back out and put them back in.


Injector and bracket. Caps stay on until business time.

Again, driver's side rear is awkward to get at.
Dang, starting to look like an engine again.
 That's when I realized I had forgotten to put on the bracket for the heat shielding. I probably should have put it on the head before I installed it and I definitely should have put it on before I put on the valve covers.


It took some extra time and gymnastics, but I got it on there and torqued to "As tight as I can get it".  I don't have an open torque wrench. Some things you just can't reach.

Bracket in place.

Yeah.  No torque wrench fitting back there.

The next thing up was the CP3 pump. I looked up lots of stuff and it looked pretty easy. Just put it in. The hardest part is getting all the stuff out of the way and I think I'm pretty good on that note.

Just one thing.

It wouldn't go.

I tried for two freaking hours to get that thing in. I pulled, I wiggled, I cussed, every mechanic thing I knew how to do.  I pried on it and tried everything.  I resisted the urge to hit it with a hammer.

But oh, what and urge.

Eventually, after anguish and anger and a sandwich, I puzzled it out.

Look here.

These are the gears inside the housing into which the pump installs. Notice that, for some reason, there are two gears together instead of one.  They were imperfectly aligned and the pump gears were hitting the face of the second set of gears.

What the hell?

So, I manually turned over the engine a few times, watching the gears as I did. When I found a section that seemed a little more together, I tried the pump again.

It slid right in.  Four hours later.


Next on the list was installing the Y bridge. Yeah, that should go well.

First, I cleaned it.  If you will recall, it looked like this.

Yes, the entrance into Deep Water Horizon there in the center.

Well, I figured it was probably fine, but then Sarah's voice came into my head and told me everything was better if you cleaned it.

Happy wife...

So I cleaned it.

And installed new gaskets that came with the kit from Merchant Automotive.

New gaskets

Oh you be quiet, it is too cleaner.
 Reaching the bolts and nuts for this was pretty much another pain in the ass.  At least it was an expected pain.  The four on the front were easy. The top, driver's side, rear was easy. The other three were not.

How could this be difficult?
 So, with the one above, I put my right pinkie finger under it and my left angled in from the top. Meanwhile, I had a flat blade screwdriver prying the piece into place which I was pressing down with my right forearm while I was laying across the top of the engine.

Did I mention it was below freezing?

I should have just paid someone.

But, I got it.

Top two in.  Now the bottom two.
  For the bottom driver's side, I used a magnetic bolt retriever to push the nut toward the post. Then I met it with a 10 mm socket on an extension just over the post and screwed it on

Piece of cake.

Pictured: Cake

The passenger side bottom one was another thing. There is this metal coolant tube in the way. I couldn't get the socket on it at all.  So I used the magnet to hold it on the post while I used a flat blade screwdriver to push the nut edge and turn it on.

This took a while.


But it worked.

Then I put the heat shield on, the common fuel rails and the pipes to the injectors, but man, that was enough. I was too busy and it was too late to fool around taking pictures.  You'll get them on the next installment.  For now, whiskey.