A Slow Down Of Sorts

I promised I would keep up a report for you of our various preparations for the summer season and I intend to keep that promise no matter how boring I may think developments are.

Not a lot happened the past couple of days, mostly just cleaning. Lots of cleaning. The mountain of laundry on top of the dryer is a symbolic reminder of the mountain we’ll be living on for the next six months. And that’s just the clean laundry, the dirty pile is a picture of Everest itself.

Not my laundry pile but from my Steemit post yesterday. I got mountains on the brain ya’ll…

There was also some schooling and some calling around looking for medical records from our retired pediatrician. Did you know they recommend that pediatricians keep records for 28 years from a child’s birth? The things you learn from Googling all day.

In fact it has been so calm I have had time to contemplate matters both political and religious. When I have time to head down those rabbit trails, watch out!

I might make some posts about those thoughts once things settle down some more. Perhaps it’s a little too calm…

I will say this though: I am so glad that this year we actually get to go out as a family. I was never made for the bachelor life and despite Nicole’s introversion neither was she. We need each other for so much. Companionship is one of the best blessings of marriage.

Even though we travel in separate vehicles, there is something to be said for shared experiences, especially the difficult ones. There is no one I would rather be stranded in Savannah, GA with a peeling trailer roof than her.

Did I mention our temporary tag also blew off?
When stranded in Savannah, get sushi!

No one else could keep me as cool and collected as she did when we had to hunker down for a day in the parking lot of the Artesia Wal-Mart while waiting for spark plugs to soak.

And with outfits like this, who wouldn’t want to be stranded at a Wal-Mart with her?!

When I am alone I think too much. And it’s always worst case scenarios. Thank God for the sanity of a companion.

Oh look, Hobby Lobby. It’s like she planned it…
It’s always the Ford isn’t it?

Enough of this deep stuff, I have a mountain to… fold?

Mending Of Broken Things

‘Twas the fuel pump that did her in.

Almost a month to the day and we fixed the broken truck!

Over the past two days I’ve completely emptied and cleaned our trailer, did several loads of laundry, organized some very irritatingly cluttered tools, and replaced a fuel filter.

That last one was no small feat. Thanks to some brilliant engineering, the fuel pump of our “trusty” Expedition is buried inside the fuel tank. With much wrenching (and a couple fuel soaked shirts) I managed to get the tank down and out.

Then came the fun part…

The same brilliant engineers (I assume) decided that a rusty piece of steel was needed to hold the pump in place. According to the Haynes manual one should use a special tool to get this off. Or… a brass tap and a hammer.

Why brass? “To prevent sparks.”

I was not deterred! Armed with a hammer and very non-brass screwdriver I laid into it.

Thankfully no death occurred.

The ring popped off and the old pump was removed. Determined to make sure it was the pump that died, I plugged it in and had the wife turn the key just to see what happened.

Nothing!

Aha! It was the pump!

After running the same test with the new pump and finding it in working order, in went the new pump. With the same deadly hammer and screwdriver combination the ring was tapped back on.

Again, no death. I think those Haynes folks are a bit too cautious.

After the successful pump installation came lots of cussing and bruised knuckles as the tank was reattached to the dead truck.

Then: The Moment of Truth.

Sputter, sputter, give it some gas…

It’s alive!!!

I have not been this happy in a long time. Not that I showed it. But you know, there was a moment where I danced a little on the inside. It was awesome.

This was going on… In the fuel tank… Eek.

And then I was thoroughly exhausted. The wife suggested that I do a manly thing and take a bubble bath and drink a little wine to celebrate.

So I did (minus the wine). Then to be really manly, I enjoyed a cigar and a Kentucky Mule (the only good kind of mule IMHO).

No shirt to boot. Oh so manly!

Not a bad way to end a day.

The best part of the experience was my very excited nine year old exclaiming “You fixed it! Now we can get out of the ugly house!”

She’s looking forward to western adventures.

As am I.

Ownership of Broken Things

Fixing a broken thing…

It’s official: We are now the proud owners of a broken vehicle!

It’s tax return time, which in the US means that with five children and a low enough income you get enough money given to you to pay off a truck. (Commentary on this eventually…)

Said truck is still currently not running. I think I have it narrowed down to a fuel pump issue. So while the new fuel pump is in transit I get the fun task of removing the fuel tank to get the old pump out. Good times.

After several hours of frustrating work attempting the tank removal (i.e. siphoning the tank and not much else) the wife informed me that the alternator on the other owned vehicle was officially kaput. Yay. So yesterday instead of finishing the pump removal it was alternator replacement day. Thankfully the wife has small hands and I didn’t have to do much wrench turning.


You should have seen my hands.

After a successful replacement we spent our core return money on new spark plugs, oil, and some entirely-too-fancy wiper blades (apparently seeing is important to driving). Those are all today’s jobs. After pizza delivering. And schooling the kids. And cleaning up something.

Come to think of it, this is going to stretch out over the whole weekend…

Even though things break, it does feel good to own something instead of dealing with payments every month and trying to make money stretch. Instead we just become mechanics at the YouTube School for Those Who Can’t Mechanic Good and Want to Do Other Stuff Good Too.


There is more to life than really really really ridiculously good mechanicing…

A Haynes manual is helpful too…

We have done the summer season out west twice already. Both times we had to travel separately and spend weeks apart while waiting for issues to resolve. The first year was a horrific RV experience, last year was a terrible buying experience for a truck to pull our trailer. This year we hope to beat our record and actually leave together. I plan to document the experience as much as I can this year, just so I can look back later. And maybe entertain some folks in the meantime.

It’s a slow adventure, but it’s happening. At least I don’t have to make any more car payments… For now.

Sit Rep February 21st

I haven’t done much since my last report. Panic set in a bit and induced me to turtle a bit. After a good shouting match with the wife and some tears (and a great makeup) I broke the coma and actually accomplished some things.

I replaced the fuel filter. That was a ridiculously tough job. For some reason Ford thinks that pulling and pushing at the same time is a physical possibility. After much yelling and a few chemical burns the old (rusted) filter was wrestled off and a new one installed.

I finished the spark plug replacement. Again, no simple car repair task is ever simple for me. The 5.4 Liter motor in Fords is notorious for having the plugs break during a change. Thankfully we had the tool to get the broken parts out. Of course the tool did this:

For those of you unfamiliar with Ford’s brilliant “100,000 mile” spark plug, this is missing a bit of the tip. We had a fear that the tip bits might be down in the cylinder. So we bought a shop vac and sucked away on the plug holes, occasionally stopping to check the vacuum for metal bits. No metal bits were to be found.

Somehow we needed to inspect the cylinder for the bits. Enter cheap endoscopes on Amazon! If you are not familiar with endoscopes, basically they are tiny cameras on the end of a cord that you can shove in any hole and see what’s going on (usually these are holes in the body, but we won’t go there).

I ordered a cheap one with Prime shipping. It came in two days. This was the image I got:

Well… That’s helpful…

As far as I can tell those metal bits aren’t there. So everything was out back together. Then the moment of truth came.

And nothing.

The engine won’t turn over. After some troubleshooting we narrowed the problem down to the fuel system beyond just the filter. Stay tuned for updates on that…

We did get some good news though. After working out pretty much every day for a month we got our fat levels and weights checked. I have lost over two percent of my body fat and three pounds to boot. It pays to have a wife who needs to work out for her job!

Anywho. Today is cleaning the trailer day and getting fuel pump stuff sorted out.

It’s always an adventure around here! Keep checking back for more updates. This should be a good one.

How Am I Doing? A Self Evaluation

12794957_606729339481271_4354189481332581264_oNo music and art this week. Just a bit of a sit rep.

People love a story. Most of my blog posts have not been stories though. I don’t always start with a problem, keep my readers on the edge with some rising action and tension, and finish with some well learned lesson about life dictated perfectly to make people feel warm and fuzzy inside.

No, my prose is more blunt, beating my readers up and leaving them feeling dreary and worrisome. That is, if they make it to the end.

So how is this blog going? Well, I can’t say it’s as good as I want it to be. But things never should be. It’s going about as well as to be expected on a free site and un-promoted.

My Steemit blog is doing well, thanks to photo contests and the ability to take advantage of the generosity of others who resteem my posts. I’m up over 580 followers as of right now. And it’s making me a little bit of money that one day I’ll be able to buy a coffee with.

My Studio blog has gotten quite a few hits and likes. Eventually that may turn into print purchases. Eventually. May.

But I don’t care. I don’t blog for popularity. I blog for catharsis. As soon as I start blogging for numbers my writing suffers and my few readers are left bewildered about where the quality went. You may notice a few weeks here and there where my posts don’t come with any regularity. Those are the weeks where anxiety has shut down my mind and a concern for impressing others induces a writer’s block from hell that cannot be cured except by a shot of liquor or a pipe.

How am I doing personally? Well. That is a daily answer. It depends on what you are measuring. I suppose I could say overall I am better than I used to be, but most people should be. If I wasn’t I would be concerned.

If it is my health you’re concerned about, I have been working out, I’ve lost some weight, and I haven’t been sick for awhile. I did just buy some reading glasses and I have a few more grey hairs, age is beginning to show.

If it’s my progress in trying to get more focused that you are concerned about, that answer is a bit more complex. In some areas I am achieving focus. In others I am not. It seems to be a teeter totter: when one increases the rest decrease.

Right now I have three weeks to get a truck repaired, a trailer roof fixed, a house cleaned, a trailer packed, a van running, and all the nonsense packed for a summer on the other side of the country.

I am stressed to say the least.

So you may not see much from me in the next few weeks except for a few status reports on our new adventure.

Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) and Birth Control, A Dangerous Combination

From “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler

From my previous posts you have learned that I don’t oppose all forms of birth control, but that I urge caution about hormonal birth control.

I have two reasons for this: the first is the fact that hormonal birth control can be an abortificant. The second is much more personal, hormonal birth control can really create havoc on your body and mind.

Shortly before we were married, my wife went to her gynecologist for a routine check and pre-wedding screening (not like she needed it but whatever). While there, the doctor told her she should start taking birth control a couple of months before the wedding. “You don’t want to be inconvenienced by a baby.” she told her. Being young and naive my soon to be wife acquiesced and started taking what the doctor prescribed.

The side effects began her first week on the pill. At first it was a near constant nausea which kept her in bed most of the time. Next, a nearly insatiable libido disappeared. Then came the depression and anxiety. She reported these to the doctor and was assured they weren’t side-effects, she was probably just nervous about the wedding.

Reluctantly, the doctor switched her pills for the patch. Her nausea abated slightly, but the rest of the symptoms remained in full force.

By the time the wedding came, she had very little interest in sex. There were a few nights on the honeymoon where she cried for hours because she couldn’t understand what was happening to her. She didn’t want me anymore. What sort of switch happened that would cause her to suddenly stop her interest in me?

Upon our return, my new wife reported these problems to the doctor only to be told that she was probably just regretting her decision to get married so young. “Depression is not a side effect of birth control.” Nonetheless, her doctor agreed to change the medication again, this time to the Nuva Ring.

While the ring was better for nausea, the depression worsened dramatically. There were nights I would wake up next to a sweating, rocking, tearful woman. Sex was nearly impossible. She contemplated suicide.

All the while, the doctor insisted it was in her head.

I don’t remember exactly what clicked in my mind, but one morning I told her to quit the birth control. While the side-effects weren’t spelled out on the packaging, it was too suspicious to me that they would coincide with her first dosages. She quit taking them, much to her doctor’s chagrin.

Within a month her mood was vastly better. Her nausea disappeared. There were still incredible mental and emotional scars that made sex difficult, but her appetite for it returned in force. Two months after quitting (three months after the wedding), she was pregnant.

After our first daughter was born we ignorantly decided to try the BC again. Breastfeeding was a hellish nightmare (thanks to a lack of lactation consultants) and parenting did not seem like something we wanted to do more of at that point.

Side effects came right back full force. She was told “oh, those aren’t side effects” yet again.

Funny how they disappeared shortly after she stopped taking the pill for the second time.

The labels did vaguely mention that you could have suicidal thoughts as a side-effect. But it was listed as an almost unheard of side effect. Our only guess is that women who do not suffer from Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) rarely have those side effects. Or that doctors simply don’t care.

She was never screened for PMDD, we didn’t know she had it until almost ten years later. But the diagnosis made everything make sense. Any fluctuation in hormones brings about emotional and mental changes in her. Birth control, pregnancy, and breastfeeding each had their own effects, whether nausea or severe depression or decreased libido. Like clockwork she gets severe depression about ten days before her period and starts feeling better immediately upon menstruation. Then she is healthy for a week or so after, before plunging back down again.

Most doctors don’t even know what PMDD is, it’s just not on their radar. They are convinced that BC simply doesn’t have any emotional side effects. They barely listened to her about the nausea.

It’s almost like they have an agenda to push. Hence the “you don’t want to be inconvenienced by a baby” comment.

Needless to say, hormonal birth control is definitely not for us. Since this happened to us we have talked to dozens of women who had similar experiences, even ones without PMDD.

If you decide to use it and you experience similar side effects, don’t let the doctor tell you that you are crazy or that you should just switch until you find one that works. Get your hormones checked and talk to a doctor about the possibility of PMDD. It took a general practitioner about ten minutes to make the diagnosis and prescribe medication and other therapies. Now she is healthier emotionally than she has ever been.

It’s not worth living in misery when there are other ways to go about preventing pregnancy.

Making Money Like a Millennial: Instacart

Instacart_logo_and_wordmark.svg

For this one I had to interview the wife. She did this. Not me. So here’s what she had to say, paraphrased of course.

What it is:

Instacart is a grocery shopping and delivery service that saves its costumers time and energy by allowing them to order groceries online.

On the shoppers end Instacart is an app which allows you to choose blocks of three hours to work in specific neighborhoods in your area. You can either sign up as a full-service shopper who shops and delivers or an in-store shopper who shops for orders within the store for pick up by the customer.

Whatever floats your boat.

How to get started:

Sign up as a shopper and download the shopper app from the Instacart site. Answer some questions, and wait for what seems like forever for them to accept you and send you the Instacart card.

General experience:

Unlike Uber where you can just jump in your car and start driving, Instacart requires you to apply for 3 hour time blocks in specific geographic areas.

Get in the zone…

The blocks are opened up every Wednesday and are first-come first-served. If you have “early access status” you can sign up for hours the Sunday before.

This screenshot sponsored by Uber.

When you are scheduled to work, drive to the geographic area you signed up for and wait for a call. Usually it makes sense to park at the grocery store you most expect an order from. This is not an exact science, sometimes you will get an order from a store on the other side of the “zone” you are working and you’ll have to spend time driving there.

Once you get the text you have a certain amount of time to accept the request. If you don’t accept it in time the request cancels and you get a ding on your rating. Before you accept it, you can click on the request and it will tell you how many items are in the order, how far away the purchaser is, and how much time you will have to complete the order. This can help you decide whether or not to accept it (though it is in your best interest to take it).

Then you shop. During shopping you can communicate with the customer via text if there are any items you need to substitute or anything you are unable to get.

Each list is divided by product type and in theory by store aisle.

Once you finish shopping you pay with the prepaid Instacart card. Then you load up and a drive to the customer’s house. You unload the groceries for them usually, but sometimes they will help if it is a particularly large order.

Make sure you inform them that the “service fee” is not a tip and the shopper never sees it. The customer will need to click on it in the final total screen and erase it before completing the transaction. If they want to leave a tip that has its own section.

How much money are we talking here?

During Thanksgiving week she made $500, but that was a super busy week. Usual revenue is more around $150, it really depends on tips. If you are nice, and you explain the “service fee” nonsense, folks are a lot more willing to tip.

People are so generous at holidays…

What makes it particularly difficult to make money is the fact that it is hard to get hours with the free-for-all system that they use to distribute them. We have heard that it has gotten easier recently though, so you may have a different experience.

General tips:

Try to get two orders at once. That doubles the money per hour.

Make sure you jump on the app early during the hours selection period every Wednesday. If possible qualify for early access by working 90 hours in 3 weeks or 25 hours in the past three weekends.

A rare day with hours available…

Bottom line:

Instacart is fun, you get to meet some cool people and enjoy the challenge of shopping on a time schedule. Money wise it’s not the best if you don’t jump on the hours when available, but when combined with other shopping services like Shipt it can be a great way to supplement income.