Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tying It All Together!

Recently I posted about the aquisition of my free pressure washer and the subsequent pressure washing bonanza I've been on.

Also recently, I posted on my adventures with Bonnie the tuna-can pedal car.

And now I get to neatly tie the two together. With pictures, no less!

Bonnie is many things, but clean was not one of them. Bonnie is functional. Bonnie is fuel-efficient. Bonnie is blue (in color). Bonnie is green (in earth-friendliness). Bonnie is a blessing. But Bonnie was FILTHY! Because Bonnie is a work horse, not a prima dona!

So, Bonnie got a good, thorough scrubbing. And Bonnie got pressure washed. Inside!

Somehow the pressure washing bug borrowed deep into my brain and convinced me that I could figure out how to take the seats out of Bonnie and pressure wash them. Why not? I pressure wash furniture at the car wash regularly. This is only a few bolts and a socket set different from that. Right?

So I huffed and I puffed and I finally got the bolts loose. And the seats weren't that heavy because Bonnie, as previously stated, is a tiny little thing incapable of carrying big, heavy seats. And I sprayed and I washed and I took Before and After pictures because (as you may have noticed and, if you haven't, you eventually WILL!) I LIVE for Before and After pictures. Or, at least, I get great motivation from them. Often, the only thing that gets me started is the promise of great contrast and proof of accomplishment that will be evidenced in photos when I'm done!

Bonnie's front seats. Before on the left. After on the right. We through they were taupe but it turns out they're BLUE!

Bonnie's back seat before.

Bonnie's back seat after.

Hooray for pressure washers!

Auto Mechanics 101

It seems the cosmos always has an education for me! Lately it's been Auto Mechanics 101. Which is exponentially better than the crash course in Cancer and Chemotherapy or the correspondence course in War and Famine, but is not fun nonetheless!

No one ever gave me a syllabus, but, in the past month or so I've learned WAY too much about transmissions!

First the transmission in my beautiful, beloved 2004 Toyota Sienna minivan with only 130,000 miles went out. Tears (as my daughters might text). There is no money to fix it. But, if I'm lucky, I've learned, it might just be the throttle body or the throttle cable instead. Pray for me!

So then Mark let me drive his 2000 Dodge Grand Caravan (he drives the truck most of the time because he's always pulling RVs). I was blessedly only 25 miles out of Enid (on the 250 mile trip back to Fayetteville just as dusk was settling in), when that transmission gave out. Am I transmission jinxed OR WHAT? No money to fix that one either.

So Mark and his sweet mother got together and loaned me Bonnie (see previous post). And, despite her shortcomings (like no power steering or A/C and having to shift gears), Bonnie has been a true blessing! I LOVE getting 47 miles per gallon and, unlike the other cars, Bonnie actually GOES places!

But I got up one morning and Bonnie wouldn't start. Dead battery. Out of the blue.

I jumped the battery and she started up but wouldn't go anywhere. And I completely panicked because that's so very TRANSMISSIONY and I've been traumatized by transmissions lately, as you know! But then she decided to go and I guess I had the parking brake on or something just to freak myself out.

Just to cover my bases, I cleaned off the battery connections (which had voluminous and ominous-looking turquoise chrystals growing on them -- did you know soda pop is a good cleaner for battery connections?). In the process, I noticed a fan belt was missing. Lesson: Alternator Belts. For $9, a replacement was purchased and Bonnie is back up and running!

In the meantime, I was driving Emily's 1988 Honda Prelude that she's trying to sell. And the oil light starts flashing at me. I added oil and the light went off. Whew! No big problem lurking and no blown motor because I neglected to add oil (which is something I would TOTALLY do!). Simple fix but a big deal for me because boys usually do that sort of thing for me!

I have also learned that when Emily's 1995 Firebird makes that horrible sound and loses it's power steering, it needs power steering fluid. The cute teenage boy at Auto Zone even refrained from more than a slight chuckle at having to walk out to the parking lot to show me where to pour it in! For the record, I had figured out where to pour it in. I just didn't want to find out later that I was wrong -- thus getting an additional, unwanted auto mechanics lesson!

So, let's hope the semester of Auto Mechanics is over! But I guess I could also use the lesson on Air Conditioning that Bonnie might teach and the subsequent climate control benefits!

I've decided: I think I might like knowing more about cars than just how to turn on the ignition and how to put in gas. In fact, if I had time on my hands and a good pair of greasy coveralls, I might just wander down to the Vo-Tech and enroll! Really, I would dearly LOVE, someday when I'm somewhere in my early 90's, to have my progeny say about me, "Yeah, Grandma's out in the garage rebuilding a transmission again"! THAT would be cool!

Oh! And, by the way, I have also learned how to remove the seats from a car. But that's the next post!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My Labor Day Weekend Labor

Somewhere in the course of Friday it occurred to me: I could spend THREE whole days on my house over Labor Day Weekend! For me, that's a concept akin to what a tropical vacation might be for others. While I'm running around trying to survive and maybe make some money somewhere, somehow, someday, my house gets very neglected. I may be a professional home stager but, as the old saying goes, "the cobbler's children have no shoes"! I can make anyone else's house look spectacular but mine suffers from the curse of familiarity.

I flew out of bed on Saturday morning and went to work! I got out the paint and went after the doors with a big dose of faith. You see, paint isn't in the budget. But I did have, sitting in the cabinet, left over from a renovation we did a few years ago, nine quart-size cans of different test shades of red paint. The winner of that color contest was a shade of cranberry called Apple-A-Day. These were the losers. So I mixed them. And trusted that THIS is the color the doors are cosmically destined to be. I'm still trying to figure out if the cosmos likes me or not. It's either really good or really bad. I guess the test is if people drive by and point and laugh. Or if I can stand it. Someday, when I have money, one coat of the "perfect" shade will cover it and this shade can count as primer (ALL 4-5-6 coats of it!). But I'm dearly hoping that the cosmos has already smiled upon me and chose the right color which I so faithfully trusted it to do!

If you've ever used red paint you know (and if you haven't you don't!) that red paint looks totally HOT PINK when it goes on. It has to dry down to the shade of red it's supposed to be. Recently, the neighborhood was horrified when my neighbor topped-off his months-long renovation with pink. It was just primer but most people didn't know that. And then, the next day, the red went on over the primer and it was even MORE pink! I'm sure my tattletale neighbor seriously considered reporting it -- or maybe they couldn't figure out just whom to report it too! But then it dried and it's all orangey-red and it looks gorgeous. I have painted with red paint for three days and I am SO tired of seeing pink! I don't even know what color it is in the end anymore. I just have to trust the cosmos. Or that perfect shade that will go over the top when I find it.

And then there's the door hardware. We bought this house new in 1995. Brass was the thing then. I was never really a brass person but at least brass was respected and dignified. Now it's just dated (coincidentally, I'm waiting to see WHEN brass comes back and exactly HOW it can be made cool again -- it can't be far off in the cycle of trends!).

I wanted oil-rubbed bronze hardware but the handset alone is $130! It would cost $200 to re-accessorize the door. So I took off the door knocker and the kick plate and sprayed them with a $6.74 can of hammered bronze spray paint. And I think I like it. There is also I door knob and dead bolt that are newly bronze (formerly brass) that have yet to be installed. It will be interesting to see how the doorknob stands up to wear!
I also invested $5 in several cans of 96 cent spray paint. Mother's antique white wicker rocking chairs (my mother was very contemporary but she did invest $125 each in these wonderful old rockers that were always more me than her) are now a sophistocated shade of jet black. And I LOVE them! You can't go wrong with black (or white or pure red, for that matter!).

I kept stepping back and looking and finally decided that something was missing. The cosmic red needed to be tied in a bit more.

Years ago I designed and built wood window boxes for the upstairs bedroom windows. Over the years they gradually rotted and disintegrated until there was only one intact that I saved to use as a pattern (lest I have to design them again).

I don't know what came over me but I found myself making new window boxes yesterday. I think it was because I didn't think about it long enough to talk myself out of it. I prowled around in my scrap wood without even really planning it and found just enough to make four window boxes. They were REALLY ugly before the paint went on (gray weathered wood mixed with chippy white paint mixed with dirt-stained wood mixed with newer wood). But the paint dressed them up! And then I decided that they needed trim so I prowled around again and was painting trim in the dark last night and nailing trim on at 6 a.m. this morning before it was even light. And I think I like them. They might need another strip of molding along the bottom. And they may need to be repainted "the perfect shade" when I find it but I'm glad to have window boxes again after wanting to build new ones for YEARS!
I recently found a miraculous thing while dumpster diving: a pressure washer! The cord was cut near where the plug once was but I put on a new plug (also free because I had it on hand) and it works perfectly! So I pressure washed the front of the house and the front porch and the sidewalk and everything looks SO much cleaner!

And I did something very smart with the window boxes this time. From past experience, I know that I cannot fill my window boxes with soil and plant living things in them. The wood deteriorates more quickly and they're impossible to water on the second story and they end up just being boxes full of dead plants. I have found two types of fake plants that look so real people (even up close) always ask me what kind of plant they are. One is lavender/salvia-looking and the other is greenery that looks to be in the boxwood family. I stuck these fakes in the dirt once when the real plants died and they looked great. But the dirt was a bad thing. This time I nailed a 1"x2" board across the box from end to end, drilled five large holes in it and stuck some fake greenery that I had laying around in it. Not bad. Not the plants I want but those are $100 away so I'll live with these for now.

So, for a grand total of $12 in spray paint (black and bronze), I revamped my house. Painted doors, new window boxes, updated hardware color, refreshed rocking chairs, and CLEAN everything. And no pesky, expensive, momentum-disrupting trips to the hardware store for supplies!

I am very proud and satisfied with all that I accomplished. The thought "I don't have any money to put into this" didn't stop me and, in fact, I used up supplies that had been taking up space and going to waste. I must confess that, in the back of my mind, I'm wondering if I'm fixing the house up to sell when I can't make make the payments or pull it out of foreclosure (again) but I'm just glad it's on it's way to looking nice enough that someone might buy it in time to save me if it comes to that.

Please leave me a comment and rate the paint color on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being hideous and 10 being glorious). And feel free to suggest "the perfect shade"!

Before: "Spruce" green.

After: "The color the cosmos chose"!
(Sorry! I can't get the pictures to go where I want them! Argh!)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Their Loss!

It's SO easy to say. The words just roll out: "Just go get a job".

I've heard it. I've said it. Doing it is another thing entirely.

The classifieds are full of jobs -- IF you are bilingual, have a nursing degree, have many years of experience in a specialized field, want to work in some remote place, or can get by on minimum wage. I have literally found NOTHING viable in the classifieds.

I signed up with an employment agency months ago but have never heard anything from them. I guess I'm a little behind on my office software skills. Too bad they don't give points for being a quick learner!

There was one interesting job on Craigslist but it quickly became evident that it was a scam.

And then I found it: the perfect job! "Full time leasing consultant at a busy property management company" and located half a mile from my house! I ran a copy of my resume over immediately. They said they'd call later that day to schedule an interview. They never called. (The ad specified "no calls" so I respected that rather than harrassing them with pathetic "why didn't you hire me" calls.)

Just for the record: I have a Master's degree and a real estate license. I owned and managed rental property for many years. They will not find a more qualified applicant. Or someone more eager to work for them.

I suspect they thought I was over-qualified and wouldn't stay long. Over-qualified doesn't pay the bills. A regular paycheck is a glorious, glorious thing. I think it would have been a long time before I was willing to cut myself off from that brand of security.

Their loss. Ok, and mine too.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Tuna Can Pedal Car Odyssey

I'm not sure what I did to anger the transmission gods but they must be REALLY ticked! The transmissions in BOTH of our minivans have gone out in just one month! And there is no hope of fixing or replacing them anytime in the foreseeable future.

This is particularly painful because my 2004 Toyota Sienna should NOT be dead after only 130,000 miles. A hold-over from more prosperous days, I bought it new because I was willing to pay big bucks for side-curtain air bags. In 2004 you could only get them in the Sienna and the $60,000 Volvo SUV. So, I paid $36,000 for my dark blue Sienna. I made five years worth of painful $600-a-month payments which is totally against my principles. And now it's dead.

Ok, I'll admit some fault. I didn't maintain or service it well. But, when you're paying for gas with coins, you kinda can't afford several hundred dollars worth of maintenance costs. Or even an oil change. The last time I took it in for maintenance the final bill was $1150! NOT in the budget lately!

So, my sweet husband and his sweet mother loaned me Bonnie.

Bonnie is a 1995 Ford Aspire. It belonged to my beloved late father-in-law. He obsessed on fuel prices and hated to pay for "petrol" so he LOVED Bonnie because Bonnie is a teeny tiny little thing that gets 47+ miles per gallon!

Bonnie is a zippy shade of metallic eye shadow blue. It's cute in a teeny tiny way. The "Aspire" emblem has fallen off the back so, in the course of wondering what it was I was driving, I conjured up a new name and dubbed it a Ford Gnat! I do like "Aspire" though. Because Bonnie, with all her zippy enthusiasm, clearly does aspire to be something else. I think she aspires to be a Bug (as in Volkswagen)! But she has some serious growing to do to be even that!

This morning I was driving Bonnie when we came upon a two-door Geo Metro driving down the street. We passed it like it was standing still as I cheered, "Laugh at it, Bonnie! Laugh at it!"

My intimate association with Bonnie came a couple of days ago when I drove her the four hours back from my home town. Boy did I get an education!

First, let me explain that my nerves were a little hypersensitive as I was leading my 16-year-old daughter in her "new" car (a really hot-looking 1995 Firebird that she paid for herself) on her first ever 4-hour road trip. The most she's ever driven is an hour our so and I've never let her drive through big cities or anything. So I was pretty anxious.

And then there I am in little Bonnie feeling scared and vulnerable and very, very MORTAL in this little tuna can. No one would be surprised if it was pedal-powered, believe me! I can grasp the entire thickness of the driver's door comfortably in my hand. Try that on your Suburban! As I drove, I felt a keen awareness that I could easily be squished and that being squished would probably HURT!

Bonnie also lacks air conditioning. Well, actually, she has air conditioning, it just doesn't hold coolant so, therefore, it is not cold and, therefore, useless. So, it's the middle of a sunny summer day in August and it's 90-some degrees and I'm driving with the windows open, sweating, getting buffered and beaten up by the wind. There is a distinct hurricane-force wind in my left ear and I can't hear well enough to talk on my cell phone which is how I usually spend long drives so as to take advantage of the uninterrupted expanse of time. And forget listening to the radio (which, Bonnie actually does have, it just doesn't display the correct time or pick up any stations).

So, pummelled by the inside winds, I was also pummelled on the outside by actual meteorological winds in the 40+ mph range. Every time I went under an over pass or across a bridge or passed a semi or came alongside any sort of windblock, I was rocked by the sudden change in wind speed and felt the kind of on-the-verge-of-losing-control that causes one to freeze and pray that the precarious moment passes safely. Which it did, thank God (the real God, the big God, not those hateful transmission gods!)

Bonnie also lacks a properly-functioning speedometer. A label my father-in-law left on the dashboard says, "SPEEDOMETER READS 10MPH SLOWER THAN ACTUAL SPEED". Actually, based on my calculations from the toll booths' automated speed read-outs, it's more like 17-18. Which makes for complicated mathematical calculations while rocketing down the road at a high rate of speed. If the speed limit is X and the speedometer says I'm going Y, then solve for Z as my actual speed. It would be SO much easier to just subtract 10mph! By the end of the drive I would have kissed any highway patrolman that might have pulled me over out of sheer gratitude at being able to ask how fast I actually WAS going. My daughter's car didn't help any in this dilemma because her speedometer is off too (though only by perhaps 5 mph but I wasn't about to let her lead so I could find out!).

So, as I drove out of my hometown for what I hoped was NOT the last time, I felt keenly aware of my current in-the-grips-of-the-financial-Anaconda status. And the jealously began to creep in. Envy bred in my heart as I was passed by shiny, detailed, hermetically-sealed, climate-controlled, leather-lined, surround-sound equipped luxury vehicles. But, you know, I get better gas mileage and am spared the gargantuan car payment and the painful depreciation! And, after the first hour, as my husband always says, I acclaimated. And Bonnie became an extension of me. And I was somehow past caring that people were laughing (or worse yet, PITYING!) me in my little clown car and wondering how I fit my gigantic shoes in it.

I realize now that, in cars, as in many, many financial things, the less fortunate have a whole host of things to worry about and struggle with that others don't even think of. The fortunate just get in the car and drive with a full tank of gas and listen to music and adjust the air and focus on stupid details like that one bug speck on the windshield and know that they could pay the ticket or the tow truck if the need arose. And then there is another category of people who just feel lucky to have wheels underneath them that actually GO. And they have to worry if the coins they spent bought enough gas to get them where they need to go. And if there are enough coins under the seat to get them a few more miles down the road if it didn't? And how far the walk to the gas station might be. And what a gas can would cost? And how they would ever be able to pay for the ticket if they did the speedometer calculation wrong and got pulled over for speeding? And how much more heat can they take. And are the children and the dog in the back seat getting enough air? And will they get there at all? And what if they don't and have to miss a day's pay? And exactly how much ARE those other drivers looking down their noses at me?

I was getting more than an uncomfortable drive. I was getting a lesson, AND a blog post, and a new category of compassion out of the experience that I hope I will not soon forget.

And I learned something else along the way too! Did you know (and I hope you are fortunate, hermetically-sealed, and climate-controlled in your vehicle enough NOT to know!) that, when you drive with your windows open, you can SMELL things? Really! The river smelled like motor oil (unfortunately), the water slide smelled, amazingly, like an array of everything from SPF40 to deep tanning oil, Arkansas smells at times like the earthy livestock aroma of chicken houses, at one point the smell of freshly-sharpened pencils wafted through the air (I can't explain that one but it DID!), a roadside restaurant smelled like hamburgers, and road kill smells like, well, road kill (unless it's a skunk which is self-explanatory)!