Car project (entry 2 of 4)

By kate on January 22nd, 2010

(mouse over pictures for captions and click for bigger versions)

Before this project, I knew very little about cars. Looking under a hood, I could identify only a few things like the dipstick and fluid reservoirs. The most advanced work I’d done to date was to replace my headlights a few times (a very simple procedure).

One of the 1200+ manual pages (we constantly referenced it)We equipped ourselves with the PDF version of the 1200+ page Honda Civic Service Manual. One version was all over the internet, and it was very inconveniently missing three pages from the engine replacement section (just what we needed). I had to go to the downtown library to photocopy the relevant pages!

Then, we spent a weekend in coveralls and disposable gloves, getting coated in all manner of synthetic gunk (sometimes at unexpected moments). Grant patiently let me do all of the actual work, removing bolts and clips, labeling parts, etc. By the end of the weekend I was pretty good at estimating the size of a bolt head. I can also name a lot of the parts under my hood, and understand at least how they fit together (if not all the details of how it actually works).


Me wearing my face shield, which was perfect for protecting me from falling bolts and gunk

I experienced a minor shop injury when my thumb got jammed between a pneumatic wrench I was using and a foot of the hoist. Luckily, Grant sprang into action right away and was able to reverse the wrench to free my thumb. For a little while I was afraid it was serious, but by the next day it was already a lot better.

My engine, being hoisted out The big fish I caught... er.... my engine.

As far as the car, it does not yet have a new engine in it. Both engines are sitting in the garage as we consider our next step. Once my engine was removed, some complications emerged. (The new engine was a manual transmission, and lacking power steering.) These could be fixed by moving a bunch of pieces to the new engine. However, we noticed that my existing engine was (visually) in great shape. The hoses and belts appear almost new. We realized that we had just done all the intensive labor that makes head gasket replacement so expensive. The only part of the process that we can’t do is to resurface the head, and if we take just the head to a machine shop, it’s pretty cheap. Then, we need to buy a new gasket kit and should be good to start reassembling everything. (I’d return the “new” engine, which has a 30 day warranty.)

The hole left once we removed the engine My engine, removed

I feel pretty confident with the engine at this point. I realize that this is a false sense of confidence because taking everything apart is the easy half of the job. The real test will come when we start to put it all back together. I’m excited to see how challenging that will be, and if I remember it all well enough.

Filed under: handiwork, learning | 1 Comment »

Car project (entry 1 of 4)

By kate on January 21st, 2010

I have taken my engine apart, reassembled it, and lived to tell the tale. Not only that, but I’m left with a nicely running car that I can finally drive again. I’ll get into the details shortly but I have to say I’m feeling pretty proud of myself at the moment. I feel knowledgeable and capable, and I’m looking forward to the next car project. Here’s how it all happened.

(mouse over pictures for captions and click for bigger versions)

My car just before I bought itIn the fall, I bought a car to help facilitate my separation. After a morning of intensive shopping (up and down Aurora Avenue), I found a 1992 Honda Civic 4-door that was a good deal. I paid $1700 for it (plus fees). I had a good feeling about the car, and it served me well for a few months.

Then, on Christmas Day, trouble began. By the next day, white smoke poured out of the exhaust pipe and the car idled really roughly. It was obviously serious. I took it to a mechanic, and got the dreaded diagnosis: broken head gasket. The repair cost for this (and associated work) would be about $1700, what I paid for the car!

Leaking head gasket - the source of all my problemsI retrieved my car from the mechanic with a “no, thanks.” Luckily, Tim has a second car he’s not using, and kindly allowed me to borrow it for the time being. This gave me time to consider my options.

Grant suggested that replacing the engine entirely would be cheaper and simpler than getting into the head to replace the gasket and resurface the head. And, this would be a procedure he’d be comfortable doing himself! Having always wanted to learn more about engines (and knowing next to nothing at this point), I jumped at the chance to take on this project.

We found a used engine on Craigslist with low mileage for the year, and a good price (because it was missing a distributor – something I already had). It was delivered this week and I worked with the delivery guy to get it up on the hoist. All is in place for a weekend of greasy work.

New engine, delivered and up on the hoist

Filed under: handiwork, learning | Comment now »

A Sad Announcement

By kate on November 12th, 2009

[Also cross-posted to Steve’s blog at]

Steve and I would like to share some sad news: we are separating. For almost two months, we’ve been doing a trial separation while (mostly) staying in our house, staying in separate rooms and switching off weekends as we figured everything out. At this point, it looks pretty certain that we’re headed apart, and we’re now talking about how to make that transition in the best way possible. Kate will be moving into a new place towards the end of November, and Steve will stay in the house for the time being. Ruby will split her time between us.

Although this has been a very difficult period for us, we’ve discovered that it’s helpful to be open about our situation. Sharing the story with our friends has rewarded us with a lot of support and interesting stories, and deepened some of our friendships. We believe people should talk about these subjects more often, and we’d be willing to share more details with you (or hear your own story) over a cup of tea or pint of beer.

It’s a natural inclination at a time like this for friends to tend to take sides. We’d like to strongly discourage you from doing this. Both of us are working very hard to maintain a strong friendship through this separation, and neither of us is looking to win points by rallying our friends to our cause. Don’t be worried about inviting us both to the same event; we still very much enjoy spending time together and won’t spoil your party.

Also, suffice to say that at this point our most important priority is providing a loving, nurturing path for Ruby through the transition, and we’re both fully engaged in that process.

Filed under: about, family, life, relationships | 2 Comments »

Why I don’t text much

By kate on June 10th, 2009

It comes down to cost. Either I must pay my cell phone carrier a monthly fee for some number of included texts (which is more than I’d ever send), or pay $0.15 each. I might be willing to do that, except I get unlimited data on my phone, a Blackberry. I came across this recent piece from NPR about texting, and I have to say I agree with most of it:

If we all expect each other to receive text messages, and we all expect that people prefer to be texted rather than called, then we are all more likely to send text messages. And if we are likely to send text messages, the carriers can charge us monthly rates for doing so. AT&T, for example, has packages ranging from $5 a month for 200 text messages to $20 a month for unlimited. And by “text message,” they mean any message sent or received. This really irritates me! (whole article)

I don’t have quite the militant stance that this journalist does… I’ll send or receive the odd text with good friends who are inveterate texters. But every text costs me money.

Can I suggest that, if you’d like to text me, just send me an email if you can? I get them both on my phone with equal urgency.

An even better text-to-data bridge is Twitter. Direct tweets can be sent by your own preferred method, and received by the recipient’s preferred method. It’s the most elegant answer to this problem I’ve found.

Filed under: technology | 1 Comment »

The pernicious pinkification of little girls

By kate on May 29th, 2009

This vehement guest column from the Times Online UK had me raising my arms and shouting “amen!”

“All the Disney princesses are there in a terrifying tableau of simpering, gurning girlishness. Why are all these princesses, the apotheoses of modern girlhood, clasping their hands together in front of them, in an expression of coy submissiveness?” (whole article)

I’m relieved that Ruby has thus far been able to hold onto her own opinions, more or less, after joining preschool. She actually seems more tuned into “boy characters” like Batman and Spiderman, who she has brought up by name, than any of the princesses (or Dora, or whoever). Her stated favorite color is a sophisticated-for-preschool purple, rather than pink.

While she does enjoy dressing up, dancing around and being “fancy”, she does it with her own crazy tastes and ideals, rather than conforming to the princess standard. This is a kind of girlishness that’s just fine with me.

Filed under: life, parenting, pop culture | Comment now »

How I choose my SIFF movies

By kate on May 18th, 2009

Every year, I try to go see some movies at the Seattle International Film Festival. I’ve had a few off years lately, but I had a great time in 2004 and 2005, so I’m ramping it back up this year and planning to see fourteen films. A few years ago, I described my film selection process this way:

“The process is very instinctive (and random). I’m basing my choices solely on the paragraph-long blurbs in the festival program, which is pleasantly limiting and challenging. It’s a lot like a puzzle, to try to figure out the most optimal viewing schedule based on the movies you REALLY want to see, and the movies you ‘kinda’ want to see.”

I thought I’d expand on that a bit in case anyone is looking for guidance. The SIFF schedule can be an intimidating thing to get started on. I use the Seattle Times SIFF Program Guide (mostly because it comes out early and comes right to my house with the paper).

First, I sit down with the guide (a tabloid-style section about the size of the weekend entertainment section) and three colors of highlighter pen. I quickly read through the paragraph-long film descriptions. After each blurb, I mark it in one of four ways: no mark if I have no interest in the film, one color for films I MOST want to see, a second color for films I’d like to see, and a third color for films I’d see if it were convenient. These are usually quick, almost instinctive decisions.

Next, I turn to the schedule grid. I highlight all the films I’d previously marked with the same color, making sure to highlight every showing of each.

SIFF schedule

Then comes the puzzley part: I eyeball the grid and try to identify a handful of days containing a clump of films I want to see that are showing at the same theater. I circle potential days. I check over the films I most want to see, and check if they’re included in those days (or decide if they’re worth seeing on a separate day). I re-read descriptions for non-marked films sandwiched between ones I want to see and decide if they’re worth seeing. I cross-reference the potential movie days with my real-life calendar to avoid conflicts.

Finally, I check with my husband and make sure it’s OK with him that I spend so much time away from the family in the upcoming month. I try to cluster as many movies together as I can to minimize the number of days involved, and remind him that May is an unusual month.

Then, it’s just a matter of buying tickets (single tickets for matinee showings, cinematic six-packs for non-matinees). It’s too hard to try coordinating other people’s schedules with all this, so I try to drum up company after I’ve already bought my own tickets. I don’t plan to post my schedule publicly, but I’m more than happy to share it with you if I know you.

Note: there’s a new site called b-side festival genius that purports to help you with your SIFF schedule. I tried it after the fact but didn’t find it as useful as I had hoped. Your mileage may vary.

Filed under: film, seattle | Comment now »

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