Thursday, August 23, 2012

And Still, None of My Pants Fit

From May 14, 2012 to today, August 23, 2012, I have lost a total of thirty pounds.  Huzzah!  Many nights of exercise, many days of eschewing (HA!) junk food have resulted in a drop to the single digits, size-wise.  Double huzzah!

I began this whole thing because none of my pants were comfortable anymore. The buttons bit into my doughy paunch, the thighs hugged my...well, thighs.  But no more!  These pants o'mine, they would puddle at my feet were it not for my trusty belts.  Which kind of brings me full  circle, no?  Because the pants, they still do not fit. But now, it's in a good way.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

'Cause I'm Way Cool

I did it. I bought a box o' wine. It is the equivalent of four bottles of shiraz. And lo, it is good. You may not think it's a classy move, but when is long-lasting, discounted wine not classy? 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Great Car Failure Saga of 2012

I own a 2007 Ford Freestyle.  Right now, it is basically a two-ton paperweight.  That's being unfair, actually.  It starts.  It goes in reverse.  The electrical system is top drawer.  It just doesn't go forward.

Forward, as it turns out, is an incredibly useful feature in a car.

Before taking the car to any shop, I put my nerdy skills, which will not be at all useful in the zombie apocalypse, to work.  Oh, the Googling I did.  And in the Googling, found some interesting stuff.  Such as the hundreds of other people who had the same symptoms our car had:
  • Lunging/surging when the car was going less than 5 mph, on hot days, when the A/C is on;
  • 'Limping' after you've been stopped at a red light, stop sign, whatever;
  • Slowly responding to acceleration (i.e., you press the gas pedal, and the car ponders your request for awhile);
In some cases, the car owners had the transmission replaced, and it worked, and then the transmission died again.  Other folks performed much, much, much, much cheaper repairs, and those worked.  Things like cleaning the throttle body, replacing the throttle body, fixing a cracked motor mount, etc.

Anyway, when we took it to the second service repair shop, my husband explicitly asked them to diagnose the problem, but also to clean the throttle body.  They concurred with the first shop:  we should replace the transmission. The icing on the devastation cake was how they apologetically shrugged when telling us this information.  Like, $6,000, no big deal. Except it IS a big deal. A really gigantically big deal. That's daycare FOR A YEAR. That's groceries FOR A YEAR. That's comic books for TWENTY YEARS.

That last one is especially important.

I did not accept this diagnosis. Couldn't is probably more articulate.  I am not ready to face that reality.  So, more research.  It turns out that our Ford Freestyle's problems are so rampant among all Ford Freestyles that there's a class action lawsuit in California, and the NHTSA has an open investigation into the issue. But, there's no official recall yet.


I filed a complaint with the NHTSA because I have an uncanny understanding of bureaucracy, and a recall will never be issued unless the government has substantial numbers of people complaining about the same thing.  Shockingly, I got an incredibly cogent and thoughtful response from NHTSA employee, who supplied me with Ford's technical service bulletin TSB 11-10-21.

What's a technical service bulletin, you ask?

Oh, only the INSTRUCTIONS for how to perform the service required to correct the COMMONLY EXPERIENCED ISSUES.  Turns out, a dealer needs to download an update to the car's computer, and clean the throttle body.  Gee, where have I heard that before?  Oh, right, everywhere on the web.

Once I got my hands on the TSB, I called the service shop, and spoke to the shop supervisor.  I told him about the technical service bulletin, and asked him if he could detail what had been done when we originally took the car to them.  He pulled the file, and it turns out that they didn't really do much. The air filter box was not fastened properly, so they corrected that.  They looked at the throttle body, 'but it didn't really look like it needed to be cleaned.' Never mind that we explicitly asked for that.  I appreciate that maybe they wanted to save us money, and so elected not to perform the service that they didn't think we needed.  But, shouldn't we have gotten a call about that? I mean, if you take your car to get an oil change, they don't say, "Wow, you really don't need to spend this $40.00 with us today."  They do the work as requested, UNLESS it will cause other problems.


Lastly, they connected the car's computer to the diagnostic equipment they had, and it gave them a couple of error codes.  They 'didn't write them all down,' but they are 'pretty sure' it gave them  P0735, which is 'Gear 5 incorrect gear ratio.'  Further research indicates that there are all kinds of things that you can try to deal with this.  Checking fluids, replacing solenids, etc., ultimately leading up to replacing the transmission.

It seems like these computers are the auto version of WebMD.  All symptoms on WebMD lead to cancer, right? So I sort of figure that all of these error codes can lead to 'replace the transmission,' 'rebuild the suspension,' or 'just drive the car off of a cliff and claim the insurance.'

Now, I respect that these mechanics are experts, and they are suggesting the course of action that has the highest degree of success, in their experience, for this particular problem.  I am but a college grad who has a scary ability to ferret out information.  And I have a problem with the fact that they didn't:

(a) know about the service bulletin, or if they did, they didn't try the things it suggested;
(b) perform the service the customer actually asked them to do, and
(c) list out a menu of possible things they could try, with replacing the transmission being their strongest recommendation. 

I would've respected that.  Instead, I feel like they went straight for the overkill option, like a doctor telling you that if you really want to treat that pre-cancerous mole on your cheek, you should chop off your head.

So, I asked the shop supervisor to please perform the service listed in the TSB.  He gave me a flat price because we'd already paid for diagnostics, but stated that it probably wouldn't fix the car's problems.  Which was fine by me, actually, because the plan at that point was to do get the dealer to do the software download (those can generally only be done at the dealer), then take the car to my brother & sister-in-law's shop, Complete Auto Repair Service.

I know, I know.  If I have a brother who is a mechanic, why on earth would I go to the dealer, right?  Proximity, basically.  But for this?  For this I am willing to drive from southwestern Baltimore County to Harford County.  If my brother tell me the car needs a new tranny, I will believe him, and it will be a vindication of sorts for the dealers.  But I will be beyond certain that he and his crew actually did the due diligence required to come to that conclusion, rather than simply plugging it into a computer and offering up only the most extreme solution. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Today's Lesson: Don't Poke a Bear

By the time I opened the car door to ferry my kids to camp this morning, the Girl was wailing.  Now, this is not an unusual circumstance, but it still requires some gentle probing to discover the source of the problem. 

"What's wrong, honey?"

"The Boy called me fat!"  Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh.

Wait, I thought we already had this conversation?  I know the Girl well enough to know that a giant dollop of drama was swirled into her mix of sugar and spice and everything nice.  So, I asked the Boy, "Did you call her fat, honey?"

The Boy, brows knit together, answered, "I said her cheeks were fat."

This is undeniably true.  It would have been improper to call the squishy sides of her face 'cheeks' when she was born.  Nay, they were jowels, jowels to rival Alfred Hitchcock's.  I am convinced that her cheeks have never actually grown, but that her head is finally in proportion to them.  This has made for some delectable smooching over the years.

Anyway, I sighed and said, "Buddy, no one likes to have any part of them called fat.  It makes the Girl sad, and we've talked about that before.  Please apologize. And sweetie," I turned to my daughter, "please try not to have such a thin skin."

Things were calm for the three minute ride to camp, and then the Boy started saying something to the Girl that I could tell would, once again, result in a bawling mess.  (I should mention that thunderstorms woke the Girl in the middle of the night, and she did not, hallelujah, seek comfort from us.  She just put herself back to bed.  Knowing that she had a rough night -- but didn't wake us up to deal with it -- resulted in me understanding why she was an exhausted emotional mess, and giving her a huge, mega pass on her histrionics.)

"Buddy," I slid the door open to let them out.  "Don't poke a bear."

"I don't know what that means."

"When you know that someone is going to get super, unreasonably mad at you for being a little annoying, don't be annoying.  If there was a bear near you, would you poke it with a sharp stick?"

He thought about this for a second, then answered, "It depends on the bear."

"What?" I frowned. "No!  It never depends on the bear!  Never poke a bear.  Even if it's Yogi Bear and he's happy and dancing and making jokes, DON'T POKE A BEAR."

He just shrugged, slipped on his backpack, and jumped out of the car to go meet his friends.  I really, really hope there are no bears in the woods at camp.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Here Comes!

My Little Guy was not fond of the beach last year.  He was but a babe of eighteen months, and was deeply unhappy about the sand that wormed its way into every crack and crevice on his pudgy self.

But this year?

Things were different, my friends.  This year, he thrust his paw at me, beckoning me to walk him closer to the water's edge.  Beckoning is too sedate a word, actually.  It was more grunty and commanding, kind of what you'd expect from Conan the Barbarian.  All he was missing was the toothy fur pelt.  Since I always respect the commands of a barbarian, I took his hand in mine, and we stepped up to the ocean. 

As the surf began to curl in the distance, he'd look up at me, beaming, and announce, "Here comes!"  The waves would break, usually knocking my whippet-thin 8-year-old son and sparkling blond 5-year-old girl helter-skelter.  By the time the water reached us, it just kissed our toes.  At most, it would slink around our ankles.  Either way, Little Guy would thrill and dance and giggle, then tug me closer to the deep.

Next year, I'm going to have to put a leash on him.

Monday, August 06, 2012

My Husband and I Had Very Different Weeks

Many moons ago, a lovely friend of mine invited us to the beach for a week.  She and her husband have a place nestled within the sands of Delaware, and she practically lives there during the summer.  My husband and I love going to the shore, as do our children, so accepting was kind of a no-brainer.  Honestly, this invitation was a godsend because otherwise, we wouldn't have been able to get to the beach for more than a day trip this year (I know, I know, First World problems).

The truth is, money is thin on the ground for us.  Not in a destitution kind of way, but in a we-are-trying-to-live-within-our-means kind of way.  In a we-are-socking-away-as-much-as-we-can-for-retirement way.  In a Jesus-Christ-organic-milk-is-expensive way.  In an oh-God-at-this-rate-the-kids-will-be-able-to-afford-college-textbooks-but-not-tuition way.  I could go on, but what it comes down to is that we've got a decent-sized mortgage, two car payments, and three children, two of whom are in full-time daycare.  Our liquid savings is kind of a trickle.

All this means that a rent-free beach trip is hard to pass up.  My husband, however, did not have much vacation leave banked, so we decided that we would all go to the shore, he'd leave Sunday night to be at home for the work week, and then he'd come back for the second weekend.

The Friday we were to leave, he called me to say that we'd be taking my car because his check engine light came on.  Herm.  He hates my car.  He loves his car.  It must be serious, I thought, if he is proclaiming that we take the Mazda 5 over the Freestyle and all of its luscious elbow room.

We got home, packed up my car, and zipped over to Bethany Beach.  Yay for the beach!  Boo for the cloud of car trouble.  The plan was that he would return on Monday, drop the car at the closest Ford dealer's service shop, then get a ride back to my house to take my car to work.  Easy-peasy.  But then the dealer called.

And started using unfortunate words.

Words like:
  • Transmission;
  • Not in production anymore;
  • New parts only;
  • Six thousand dollars.
Gulp.  Urp.

We can barely afford a six hundred dollar repair, much less a six thousand dollar one.  That's more than we owe on the car.  Not by much, but still.  So, my husband drove home, finagled a ride from my friend, then slowly drove the won't-go-more-than-50-mph beloved auto to another dealer for a second opinion.  The second opinion matched the first one.

More gulping and urping.

Now, the plan is to get the car to my brother, who is a mechanic, to see if he might be able to scoop up parts from the junkyard and possibly rebuild the transmission.  That would likely be a bunch cheaper because a brand new transmission is pricey.  My father has loaned us his spare car in the mean time, allowing us to both get to work.  Our choices right now are:

(1) have the dealer replace the transmission (and continue the next 11 car payments);
(2) see if my brother's shop can rebuild the transmission, and hope it's cheaper  (plus the remaining  car payments);
(3) trade in the car, get very little in the way of trade-in value, roll over what we currently owe to a new car payment, but buy a lesser car so that our monthly payment doesn't exceed what it does now.

The problem with the repairs is that there isn't a guarantee that we won't go through this again.  The problem with rolling the payment into a new car is that we were SO CLOSE to being done with car payments on this vehicle.  Seriously, we have less than a year to go.  I hate the idea of extending that another four or five years.  Also, did I mention how much my husband loves his car?  And that they don't make Ford Freestyles (or Taurus X, as they were briefly rechristened) anymore?

I hate problems that don't have a good solution.  Gar.

So, while he was dealing with all of that, I was mostly making sure that my toddler didn't gt swept out to sea, as he has fallen in love with the ocean.  I had the better week, to be sure.

Diet Math

To lose one pound, you have to burn 3,000 calories.  Did you know that?  I didn't know that.  So, if you learn nothing else from this blog, you've learned that. 

You're welcome.

That is the only fact you'll find here, though.  The rest of this post comprises formulas and interpretations of my own devising.  Don't like math?  Do you tell people that you're 'not a math person'?

Tangent time!

One of my former co-workers said that the only reason that math achievement lags behind literacy rates in the U.S. is because it's socially acceptable to declare oneself 'afraid of math.'  When's the last time you heard a person say, "I'm not really a words person. I don't read that well."

You might hear that in some inspirational flick that is meant to show us the error of willful ignorance. The character arc would be the epiphany that 'tis noble to seek a skill that helps you navigate, nay, enjoy the world.

Anyway, if it was clear that that the reading-challenged person was joking, you would probably erupt with pity, wouldn't you?  You wouldn't say, "Ah, that's okay. You don't really need to know how to read."

Tangent done.

Now, please enjoy my own personal eating/exercise math formulas:

1) Actual body weight = whatever the scale tells you - clothes/shoes weight (duh) - hair weight (substantial for some of us) - breast weight (unless you're a dude).  Breast weight should never count as a problem.  Or so most men will tell you.

2) 40 minutes on the elliptical at level 5 = I can have 2 glasses of Shiraz tonight AND bread.

3) Scissor Sisters' 'Magic Hour' = activates some kind of quantum physics (or magic, take your pick) that makes time go by faster when in the gym.

4) 64 ounces of water = 1 million trips to the ladies' room.

5) An hour of yoga = 4 more muscles I didn't know I had.  How is that possible every time?

Honestly, I use more algebra at the gym now than I did in 1989, when it COUNTED FOR A GRADE. Sorry, Mrs. Saunders, but it's true.  Though, if the sample problems in Algebra II referenced diet and exercise, I probably would've been equally disenchanted.

Thank you for tolerating this; I promise, Gentle Reader, my next post will not have anything to do with diet, exercise, or lists.  It will be something equally, ahem, fascinating, I'm sure.