Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Car Update

So, the car drama continues, but we've made some progress. I just want to point out here that we still feel like no one is a straight shooter. I understand mechanics have a trade most of us normal people don't know and they need to make money. However, as with any trade or service, there should be some amount of honesty expected by the consumer.

I do not feel like Sallie and I have gotten much honesty here.

So, to recap, the first place we brought it to for safety and emissions wanted us to pay this:

- Swaybar is busted - $110 - A legit fix
- Side view mirror has a crack - $80 or go to a glass place and get a new one cut
- Battery - $120 - This was laughable. I can get a battery for $70 and put it in within 10 minutes.
- Failed emissions because they couldn't hook the computer up to the OBD connection - $300 just to fix the connector. That's not to pass emissions, just to fix the connector so they could run emissions.

We took the car to Nick. He was unable to fix the sway bar because it was rusted, but the OBD connection, he fixed with a piece of tape. That's right, a piece of tape. It's not perfect and he has a little bit of work to do still, but he saved us $300.

We took the car to a second emissions place, they said we failed because the check engine light was on and it was a manufacturer's code. So we had to take the car to... duh DUH DUHHHHHHN.... the dealership.

Dealerships are notoriously the shadiest of all mechanics. Unless you have a full warranty, they will probably screw you.

They turn the check engine light off and tell us to drive around for a few days and see if it comes back on. They didn't know if anything was actually wrong with it, but they charged us $75 to get the light turned off.

We bought a sway bar kit when we thought Nick could fix it, and thank God, the mechanics used our part. They said it wouldn't be under warranty, but it saved us $60 on the part alone. (First place wanted to charge $75 for the part, we bought it for $12.99 at O'Reiley's Autoparts.)

They then said they couldn't pass us for safety inspection because, and I quote, "the ball joints on the suspension are starting to show signs of wear." So first off, the ball joints are starting to show signs of wear. They aren't showing wear, they aren't worn, they are starting to show signs of wear. This car is 12 years old, the entire car is starting to show signs of wear, but it still drives.

Second, the other place didn't notice this on our inspection.

Third, they want $524 to fix this and said it will take about 3 hours.

Sallie takes the car from the dealership and drives it to the place we got our original inspection. Passes without issue. They even overlook the side view mirror this time.

So, we have now saved about $964.

The unfortunate thing is, the Check Engine light came back on today. Which means we have to take it back to the dealership so they can start troubleshooting our emissions system. Yesterday, they said the might require them driving it around for 3-4 hours.

So Sallie might have to use more of her PTO and who knows what's wrong with this. Could be as simple as a worn out hose or something not being as tight, or it could be a crack somewhere in the system.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Best Saturday EVER

Yesterday truly was one of those days of marvel. The definition of what a weekend should be. We shed any responsibility for the day and just had fun.

Let me give you the run down starting with when I woke up.

8:00 a.m. - Got the coffee pot going, a nice Chilean blend, smooth, but rightfully filled with caffeine. The pot brewed and filled the house with its spiced luster while I brushed my teeth.

8:05 a.m. - I settled into the large comfy chair, opened up The Punisher #5, and sipped coffee while I read about Frank Castle killing a group of mobsters.

8:40 a.m. - Minor annoyance, I didn't bring enough comic books downstairs. I went to the office and grabbed a few Batman comics, and returned to the chair, where I soon had a cat in my lap, and one on either arm rest.

9:00 a.m. - Refill on my coffee. I realize that I'm living the definition of man-child right now. I put the comics down and move to video games. Against everything I've learned in my past, I put in Call of Duty, where every 12-14 year old that got an Xbox for Christmas screams racists slurs and calls me a cheater. I do however, have a very good session and end up winning 5/7 matches. Sallie wakes up at some point during this. She talks me into getting into the shower so we can go to the Schalfly Cabin Fever, a beer tasting festival.

11:33 a.m. - We leave the house and go to Schlafly. We're handed our sampling glasses, and start drinking the beer. We briefly fun into the guy who invented the Schlafly Wheat IPA. I thank him for his contribution of great beer to the world and he humbly nods and thanks me for the recognition.

Basically, Cabin Fever is a four hour long festival with 32 beers (you get to drink 18, 2 oz samples) where you wander around, make friends with strangers, have great beer, and stand by barrel fires.

At some point we're handed pretzles on necklaces. This is pretty much the greatest idea ever.

Sallie and I end up drinking the Pumpkin Ale, Southern hemisphere IPA, Pilsner, Coffee Stout (X2), Scotch Ale (X2), Smoked Porter, Singel, Quadrupel, American Pale Ale, Christmas Ale, Grand Crew, Black IPA, Blackberry Mead, Biere de Garde, American IPA, Irish Extra Stout, Barley Wine, Strawberry Cocoa Porter, and Chocolate Milk Stout.

If you bothered to count that, it's more than 18 beers. People stopped marking our punch cards after 7-8 beers. To sober up, Sallie and I ate dinner at Schlafly

We then headed downtown for the Blues game where our boys in Blue took out the Buffalo Sabers in a 4-2 win.

I sleep like a baby last night. The only fear I had as I went to bed was that I would not be able to re-create the greatness of Saturday.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Car Trouble, Know What I'm saying?

I rarely hear people talk about cars in a positive light. Even my brother, a gear head, is always cursing his latest pet project as it drops him further and further into debt.

Sure, we can get around more easily. The car allows us to travel to different cities, see all the sites, not have to sit next to disgusting strangers on a bus. The suburbs are even designed around the idea that you will have a car to get from point A to B. There's no way you could walk around in the burbs and do most of your errands.

I'd kill to just have a nice subway/light rail system that could get me to anywhere. Unfortunately, the closest Metrolink stop is 4 miles from my house, and even then, it doesn't go far enough to St. Charles for it to matter most the time. That was my favorite part of Britain, there was always a public transportation answer to anywhere we needed to go.

Then there's the dreaded plate renewal. The time where everyone curses at their cars the most. It's a time where the godless find God and pray that their car is going to pass. It requires you to see mechanics (who I don't trust) and go to the DMV. (Who no one likes)

Sallie and I are going through that right now.

So we thought we'd be proactive and take the car to a place two weeks ago that could do both the inspection and emissions. We left it with them for a good hour and a half and when we returned, they had a laundry list of things they wanted us to fix. I stared at the grease covered man that refused to make eye contact with me as he read down the list.

- Swaybar is busted - $110 - A legit fix
- Side view mirror has a crack - $80 or go to a glass place and get a new one cut
- Battery - $120 - This was laughable. I can get a battery for $70 and put it in within 10 minutes.
- Failed emissions because they couldn't hook the computer up to the OBD connection - $300 just to fix the connector. That's not to pass emissions, just to fix the connector so they could run emissions.

I don't like Dane Cook, but he was pretty spot on here.

We felt like we were getting screwed.

So, I called Nick. He said he probably can fix the sway bar and OBD connection, and if we got a mirror cut, he could fix that.

So we waited a week for when Nick was off next, went and bought a sway bar from O'Reillys, and drove out to St. Chuck. Nick couldn't fix the sway bar because it was rusted, but he did save us $300 when he found out that the OBD connection was fine, just needed to be reseated.

Went to an emissions place in St. Chuck and they were able to get a reading this time, but they failed us because the check engine light is on and its a manufacturer's code, so they can't do anything to fix it.

So we're already out about $75, haven't actually gotten anything accomplished or fixed and now we have to go to the dealership to get this code read.

Sallie is taking another day off work to do this. We've decided at this point, we've wasted too much time. We're going to pay whatever ransom they hold our car at, get it fixed, and get new tags.

Usually, I think people are too dumb to take care of themselves, but this is one of the few times where I think there needs to be much less government. In this situation, a quick safety inspection and updated insurance should get your plates renewed. Emissions, personal property tax receipts, this running around to no less than 3 different places is ridiculous. The brief time I lived in Columbia, where you don't need emissions test, was fantastic. Everything was taken care of in two places, and we were done.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Resolutions - 1 week later

Things got really busy immediately after my resolutions blog from 10 days ago, so the start of completing things wasn't looking so great.

Sallie and I did manage to go out to a new place in St. Louis that was on our list, the Scottish Arms. They obviously are a Scottish pub and restaurant.

We didn't get to the restaurant until about 8:45, which worked out because the people we were meeting there had been waiting 45 minutes for a seat and the table we needed ended up clearing about 10 minutes later.

Of course we were ravenous by the time we got to sit down and eat, but hunger aside, I'm pretty sure the food was fantastic. I ended up having the Berkshire Pork Burger, which is strange, cause I really don't like pork very much, and I can't remember ever ordering pork at a restaurant before. I washed that down with a Scottish beer I'd never had before, the Belhaven Wee Heavy. I tasted much like a Newcastle to me, maybe a little sweeter. Wasn't bad, just nothing to write home about.

Other than the 55 minute wait for a table, and the 30 minute wait for our check, I enjoyed the place enough to give it a second chance at a less busy time.


Since insurance kicked me outta therapy, Sallie and I ended up joining a gym.

We went after I got off work one day around 8:30 pm, and there were probably 200 people working out. It was a sweaty, crowded nightmare.

So we planned on going in the morning on Wednesday (which didn't happen because we were so tired) and went this morning early. (Had to go this morning, Sallie had an appointment with her Greek, male, incredibly handsome, personal trainer. I had to just watch as he stretched her out, and massaged her muscles... well back to the story) Got a great workout in, I'm feeling rightfully sore.

The best news is I stepped on a scale (which is usually against my beliefs) and I weigh like 10-15 lbs less than I thought I would after so much inactivity and heavy holiday food. So Huzzah!


On the house project front, I've been stripping paint from this bathroom window all week. We found that at least 4 generations of people didn't do this window right. Layer after layer of cheap all purpose paint, stretched by moisture.

I can't even imagine the chemical cocktail of deadly poisons that are probably in my lungs from these paints. If all goes well though, we will at least have the bathroom completely painted by the end of our 4 day weekend.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


I don't typically like to do the New Year's resolution, at least, not in a traditional sense.

The artificial time stamp we created signifying a new year has this weird effect on people where, while usually drunk, they make unrealistic expectations to become a better person.

While I fully support becoming a better person, most people set unrealistic goals and pile too many of them on to actually complete this. Sure, they might hit the gym for a few weeks, but generally, by May, those gyms are just about empty. Most research shows that only about 60% make it past the first month and less than 50% make it past 6 months.

So instead of just saying, "I'm going to get into shape and quit smoking" here are my more realistic goals.

1. Lose Weight
Yes, I know, a little hypocritical based on what I said above. But to me, I'm not going to say, "I'm going to go to the gym 5 days a week all year" Or "I want to get down to my high-school weight." I simply wish to become what I was before I injured myself. This is going to take more than just gym time and has several sub-resolutions.

1a. Workout 
Just last week I started weight training for the first time in 4 months. Not working out for that long takes it toll on a man. I still can't do the aerobics I would like to do, but I can do certain sit-ups and arm exercises. I'll have to bust out my 25 lb weights and start doing at least a half hour workout a few times a week.

1b. Eat better.
Things have been so busy lately and I've been so tired just by the nature of my injury, that Sallie and I have just been eating what's convenient. We typically don't eat fast food, but its so easy to pick up some Taco Bell on the way home and not deal with it.

This is also true for dessert snacks, potato chips, and candy that have been left here from our various holiday parties. I normally don't eat that stuff, but when I'm hungry, I'll throw a handful of Cheetos and some brownies in my mouth until Sallie procures said fast food.

1c. Posture 
My posture has never been great, but spending the past few months mostly sitting down has made it even worse. I noticed this in pictures from holiday events. My neck might as well just come out of my chest.

Not only does a better posture make you look skinnier, but it strengthens your abs and helps with back problems.

2. Languages
I want to have a basic knowledge of another language.

I have the foundation for Spanish, but I always found Spanish to be sort of boring and ugly. So I'm abandoning the six semesters of Spanish I took in high-school and college.

I'm thinking French might be the way to go. With how much I love cooking and how often the French come up in cooking, it's only natural. Plus, next time I go to Europe, France is on the short list of places we want to visit. Now, I'm not planning on being able to have a conversation in French, but I want to have a basic working knowledge: "Where's the restroom?" "Another bottle of wine please." "We saved your asses in World War II." Phrases that will come up often.

3. Frugality
Sallie and I have been forced to be fairly frugal the past several years, but we still have a lot of luxuries we could do away with.  

July is marked on our calendars for when all three of our surgeries will be paid off as well as a personal loan we got from our credit union 2 years ago. By May, the sewer company debacle will be paid off. That'll free up almost $500 a month, but until then, its time to tighten the belts and get aggressive on some of our debt.

I've taken a few steps to save money immediately.
3a. Gamefly, although was a great and relatively in-expensive service, has been cancelled.
3b. We will probably turn Netflix to the streaming only option.
3c. We're also going to close off parts of the house that we don't use much, make sure nothing is left plugged in, plant some bushes in front of our house, plug up our fireplaces, etc. Just do things that will shave a few dollars off of our utility bills.
3d. Go out less. Sallie and I are huge foodies, which will make this one hard, but we are going to try and cut down on going out to eat by at least 10%.

4. Make our living quarters ours
We've kept putting off home improvement stuff for money reasons, time reasons, laziness reasons, but that list just keeps getting longer and nothing is getting done about it.

So to start, Sallie and I are taking a 4 day weekend in mid-January and we are going to strip and paint the upstairs bathroom and the future site of the Story office. (Large upstairs bedroom)

Once it gets a little closer to spring, the yard is going to get seeded and we're going to grow proper grass and try to choke out the crab grass.

And this will be the third time making this promise, but this year, we will have a fully functional garden.

5. Take last years resolutions a step further
This is part of my building on last years complete-able resolutions.

5a. Become more than an amateur baker. Last year, I wanted to know how to make bread in an old fashioned sense. I wanted to kneed the dough with my bare hands, not use any machinery other than the oven. But I still rely on recipes.

This year, I want to come up with some of my own bread recipes. Not only that, but I want to expand my baking into other realms like cakes and pies.

5b. Become a brewmaster. Well, that's really the ultimate goal. I'd love to be a brewmaster at a brewery. I know how beer is made now. I've gone 8 or so recipes. This is the year that I start making my own recipes, modifying ones I find, and once I'm able to walk again, I'm going to try to get an apprenticeship at one of the local breweries around here so I can see how beer is made in large quantities.

6. See more of St. Louis
I love my city. When people come into town, I want to show them why this city is so under-rated. At the same time, I feel like Sallie and I go to the same dozen places over and over again.

Our goal this year is to eat at each of the places on the St. Louis originals list at least once. We want to participate in community events more whether through a church or a local institution like Schlafly. and in general just get out more. Go for walks downtown, take advantage of Forest Park, or explore areas we've barely been to.