A small comedy of automotive errors

I woke up Thursday morning with plans.  It was a bright sunny morning, and the first thing on my agenda after breakfast was to pick up my sister’s three young children for the day so that she could enjoy some quiet time with her newborn.

I usually drive the Mustang, but since I would be buckling children into the back seat I decided I much preferred the 4 door car, so Natalie and I climbed into the little gray Lancer that Kaitlyn normally drives.  We buckled our seat belts and I turned the key in the ignition.  Nothing happened.  Although it has been a reliable car, I wasn’t terribly surprised.  We had all spent the previous evening outside, and the kids were playing hide & seek.  One of the little ones must have hidden in the car and turned on a dome light or failed to close the door all the way.  I would take the Mustang to pick up my nieces and nephew, and jump start the Lancer when I got home.

Natalie and climbed into the Mustang, buckled our seat belts, and I turned the key.  Nothing.

Apparently the little brats were playing hide & seek in both cars last night.  I decided to have a talk with them about playing in vehicles when I got home.  In the meantime, I would use the van to jump start the Lancer, then jump start the Mustang when I got home.

We moved the van into position, popped the hoods of both vehicles, and attached the battery cables.  I turned the key in the Lancer ignition.  Nothing.

Now I knew I had been wrong to blame the children for this car’s failure to start.  The ignition switch in this car had been showing signs of wear since we bought it, and we knew it would need to be replaced eventually.  Apparently, today was the day.  Grrr.  I would have to jump start the Mustang instead.

I squeezed the van into the driveway next to the Mustang, attached the cables to both vehicles.  Finally, things went according to plan.  The Mustang roared to life without hesitation.  Less than ten minutes later, I was at my sister’s house and three of her children were in my car.  I turned the key in the ignition and…nothing.

Nothing.

Perry works about 1,000 miles from home now, so I am exceedingly thankful to have a daughter with a driver’s license.  I am also thankful to have three, count ‘em three, vehicles, for those days when TWO OF THEM SUDDENLY WON’T START.

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Moby Dick

I called Kaitlyn to bring the 15 passenger van and jump start us.  She did, and I did not turn off the engine when I got home.  Instead, I kicked out the kids and headed to the auto parts store to get my battery tested.  My hope and expectation was that I would need a new battery.  I would have to turn off the engine to get the new one installed, but with a new battery I would be good to go.

Unfortunately, my battery tested good.  And my car wouldn’t start once again.  I knew this was a possibility and had already arranged with Kaitlyn to drive the 2 miles to jump start my car again, but the guys at the store gladly did it for me.  They thought I probably needed a starter, but warned me that it was not returnable once installed so didn’t want to talk me into buying the part purely on their hunch.

This time when I got home, I did shut off the Mustang.  Then out of idle curiosity, I turned the key.  It obediently roared to life.  I tried again, and again, and again.  Ten times in a row, it started.  Grrr.

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In the meantime, Kaitlyn had been researching online and learned that it was a quick and easy job to replace an ignition switch in the Lancer, even for a novice.  Excited by the idea that we could handle this problem ourselves, I rushed out and bought the $92 part.  I took the Mustang, but I also took an older child so I could leave the engine running.  Even with ten consecutive starts under my belt, I wasn’t taking any chances.

When I got home, Kaitlyn had already disassembled the ignition of the Lancer and just needed some help breaking the old switch loose.

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Naked steering column. Not pretty.

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Shiny new $92 ignition switch

Go, Kaitlyn!  She quickly got the new one in place, reassembled everything, and turned the key.

Nothing.

Nothing?  Did we just waste $92 on a piece of plastic?

But it was acting different now: the hey-idiot-you-left-your-key-in-the-ignition alarm wasn’t beeping.  We decided maybe she should put the old one back on, just to ensure that nothing had changed.  Maybe the new one wasn’t working because something was assembled incorrectly.  When she took the plastic cover off of the steering column, several small pieces of something fell down and bounced around the floorboard.  Impossibly tiny coiled springs, and little pieces of electrical-looking pluggy-things.  Bad things.

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The girls had a prior engagement, so were out of time and had to leave.  Forced to choose between Moby Dick and the Mustang, they decided to take a chance – and a pair of battery cables.  There would be plenty of pals to ask for a jump if the need arose, but all went well and they returned later in the evening without incident.

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Perry was due home in less than 24 hours and we had a busy weekend planned.  I had hoped to solve these problems for him, so at this point we left it to the experts: two friends with mechanical experience came to look at the vehicles.  One identified and reassembled the door-open sensor lying in pieces on the floorboard, and then they worked together to diagnose our other problems.  Their advice: buy two starters.  As crazy as it sounded, they both believed we had experienced two starter failures on the same day.

As crazy as it sounds, they were right.

And the ignition switch?  It turns out, that was a good call too.  The car that has always, always required a good strong 3-second crank on the key, until the little cutouts in the key pressed funny shapes into your fingers?  It now starts when you just turn the key.  Imagine that.

30 Days of Thanks, Day 24: God’s plan

Romans-8-28This morning we were running late, so we decided to drive separately.  I stayed behind to finish up a few things, while the rest of the family left for Sunday school.  I only expected to be 5-10 minutes behind them, but we were already cutting it too close.  They couldn’t wait any longer.

Once they were gone, I peeled and diced the last few potatoes and threw them into the crockpot, then did exactly what I always tell the kids not to do: I shoved a whole mess of potato peels down the drain and turned on the garbage disposal.

After about 30 seconds it became apparent that I was right when I told them not to do that.  It made all the right noises, but the water and potato bits were not disappearing.  In fact, the level was rising.  Potato things were coming UP the drain and shooting into the air.  I turned off the disposal and the water, and I waited to see if the level would go down. Maybe I could just leave it like this and deal with it when we got home.

Then I realized I still heard the sound of water.  Under the sink.  Was it leaking?  Was the sink really linking?  Now? Today?  Yes.  While it was stuffed full of food.

I ran for a bucket and a towel, and did a quick cleanup – just enough to buy to me a few minutes.  Now I was officially late so I decided not to hurry.  I drank a cup of coffee and mapped out my course of action.  Actually, the coffee was gone, but I drank a cup in my heart while the outside of me stared forlornly at the sink.  I was feeling too much like a martyr to take off my high-heeled ankle boots, so I clomped around the house gathering more supplies and set to work.

Under the sink were two p-traps, one for each side of the sink.  I started with the primary sink, the one that wasn’t leaking.  My hope was that I could just get things to drain, then Perry could deal with the leakage problem after church.  I placed a second bucket beneath this pipe, unscrewed it on both ends and eased it out.  Out poured nasty pulverized food that looked just like vomit.  I dumped it into one of the buckets, cleaned it with a finger, gagged a little, and put it back together.  The left sink was drained now and running freely, but the right sink – the one with the garbage disposal that some idiot had crammed full of potato peels – that one was still full and leaking badly.

I had no choice but to open and clean the second p-trap.  I unscrewed it from the end where it joined the other sink, and gently twisted it away from the joint.  It was packed solid.  But as I watched, the plug began to move.  In slow motion, it squeeeeeezed out of the end of the pipe.  It was gross.  I won’t lie: it looked like the pipe was pooping.  Good thing I didn’t have time for breakfast.

I used my hand – ugh – to direct the sink-turd downward into the bucket, but when the blockage broke loose it began to act like an entirely different body function: now it was projectile vomit!  The whole repulsive mass SHOT out of the pipe, splattered through my fingers, and sprayed the inside of the kitchen cabinet.  I watched helplessly until it was done.  If you ask why I didn’t just cover the end of the pipe firmly enough to stop the flow, you’re not my friend any more.

Then I cleaned it all up.  The whole mess.  In my church clothes and my high-heeled ankle boots.  With no coffee.

Why am I telling you all this?  Because sometimes it’s hard to be thankful.  Sometimes it feels like nothing is going right, and I just can’t think of anything that I really feel thankful for.  I just felt like a martyr this morning.  Yes, it was so gross it was almost funny, even at the time, but I still didn’t want to be there doing that.  Why me? Why this? Why now?  This wasn’t part of my plan for the day!

It wasn’t part of my plan, but it was part of God’s plan.  I’m thankful that no matter what happens, God is in control.  I had a good day with a few minor bumps, but I’ve had bad days too.  Even when things go really, terribly wrong, it’s a comfort to know that all things works together for our good.

See the rest of my 30 Days of Thanks 2013

30 Days of Thanks, Day 1: Awkward moments

I do all kinds of embarrassing things, but fortunately most of them go unnoticed.  Yesterday, not so much.2013-11-01 16.35.16

I came out of the grocery store with my purse on one arm and several bags of groceries on the other.  As usual, my plan was to drop it all on the passenger seat.  I don’t always lock the doors since the radio was stolen because I prefer to let potential thieves into my car without breaking a window, especially now that there is no radio for them to steal.

Anyway, I was a little annoyed to find the passenger door of my car locked – then I remembered that I had locked the doors while driving, and only unlocked the driver door when I got out.  Of course the passenger door was locked.

I stopped jiggling the handle with a little grunt of frustration.  Then a voice inquired from right behind me,

“Is there a problem?  Because that’s my car.”

Yes.

My car was 6 spaces up.

And just for the record, my passenger door was locked too.

On a similar note, and also because today is the first of November, traditionally a month dedicated to thankfulness: I am thankful to have a Mustang.  Even if it’s the most common car and color in the state of Texas.  It’s not a fancy car, not an expensive car, and not even a particularly comfortable car.  But it’s my dream car.

See the rest of my 30 Days of Thanks 2013

How to get rid of head lice

I mentioned long, long ago that we had an epidemic I wouldn’t be ready to talk about for a long time.  Now that a long time has passed, I’m ready.

Pediculus humanus capitis

We had head lice.

The fact that I was so embarrassed at the time just illustrates that I had fallen prey to the undeserved stigma associated with head lice.  I know it’s not limited to dirty people.  I know anyone can catch it, regardless of personal hygiene.  I even know that lice prefer clean hair, because it’s harder for them to attach their eggs to oily hair.  I knew all this and I was still ashamed to admit that we had head lice, because bugs crawling around in your hair are gross.

But when we received a call from a mother whose children had recently played with mine, my stomach hit the floor and I knew right away that we were in for it.  One of the kids had already mentioned an itchy scalp, and I was naive enough to brush it off as, you know, an itchy scalp.  Silly me.  Lesson learned.  These days, when I hear the words, “Mom, my head – ” I’m all over that kid with 3 combs and a flashlight.  If she finishes the sentence with the word “aches,” that’s ok.  You can never be too careful.

But my friend’s kids had head lice, and she called me to ask for tips on getting rid of them.  And her kids had recently played with mine.  And one of my kids had an itchy scalp.  Now the truth was out, and the battle was on.

We had head lice once years before, and the harsh chemicals had damaged the hair of some of the girls for years afterward, so I wasn’t eager to go that route.  Since we caught our infestation very early this time, I tried the natural approach: I checked each child thoroughly to determine who needed treatment, and started combing.  I spent hours each day combing for bugs and picking out eggs, thankful that only one or two scalps showed any signs of life at all.

We also bought individual hairbrushes and outlawed all sharing, boiling them frequently.  We wore our hair up, we cleaned bedding, we vacuumed everything in the house, and did all the standard stuff – but without poisons.

After a week, I was horrified to discover that the lice had spread to one or two more scalps in our house.  I stepped up the efforts and began researching other methods of control.  I don’t remember what else I tried, but I do remember the growing sense of desperation as one method after another failed, evidenced by the slow but steady population growth and spread of the beasties throughout the heads in our household.

Finally, I did it.  I went to the drugstore, prepared to shell out $100-200 for bottles of poison that would give my children ugly hair and cancer.  I didn’t want to do it, but we were leaving for a vacation in a few weeks and I didn’t want to risk infecting the friends and family we would be visiting.  It would take multiple doses a week apart, and we had to be done with this by then, hopefully with a safety margin.  We simply couldn’t waste any more time.

Determined to get it right, I asked the pharmacist on duty what brand she recommended.  If I had to go the chemical route, I wanted the best.  I wanted the one that would really, truly, actually do the job.

Her answer shocked me.

“You can buy over-the-counter treatments for head lice and try them, but lice have become very resistant to most of those.  If you really want to kill them, try this: mayonnaise and tea tree oil.  Really douse the hair, wrap it tightly in plastic, and leave it on for at least 6 hours.”

Really?  I was waving a fistful of dollars at her and she didn’t want them?  I was a little disappointed and a little relieved.  I was glad not to spend a lot of money on a cure I didn’t trust, but also a little nervous that this new suggestion would fail us.  Then who would get the blame?  Me?  Her?  Nobody?  And what would we do about our vacation?

I did it.  I bought a gallon jar of mayo, several ounces of tea tree oil, and went to work.  The boys had already been shaved, but every girl in the house wore a plastic-topped mess of highly scented mayo for the rest of the day.  We used about 1 cup of mayo with 1 tsp of tee tree oil for each head, and covered our hair with plastic grocery bags pulled tight like shower caps.  We repeated the process a week later, and for good measure we did it once more.

By the time it was over nobody smiled at being called Mayonnaise Head, and some of us still associate the scent of tea tree oil with head lice, but our hair was never so shiny and healthy.  And we never saw another creepy crawly head bug again.  And we all lived happily ever after.  Except the head lice.  They died and disappeared, never to be seen again.

The end.

PS. My friend decided to go the chemical route, and guess what?  It didn’t work.  They followed the instructions to a tee, and after the prescribed 2 treatments, they were still finding live bugs.  The cure that eventually worked for them: mayo and tea tree oil.  Ba-da-BING!

image credit: Eran Finkle 

Snapshot: backyard swimming

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We had an exciting morning, working feverishly to avert a flood in our sunroom, thanks to torrential downpours.

Today is Megan’s 15th birthday, so as worked we frequently paused to call out, “Happy birthday! Is this your best birthday ever?!”

Now the rain is letting up and the water level has begun to drop. Parker is enjoying the new lake in our backyard. No worries: he brought a flotation device.

How is your Memorial Day weekend so far?

Grand Caravan: our personal odyssey, part 4

A comedy of errors in which we learn the hard way to never, ever, ever take a used vehicle on a cross country road trip within 48 hours of purchase.  Please, learn from our mistakes.

part 1

part 2

part 3

The diagnosis was a bad alternator.  Perry had never replaced an alternator before but my dad assured him it wasn’t too hard.  He had done plenty of alternators on his own vehicles.  They could handle this.

On Wednesday, we bought the parts and Perry got to work with the help of my 17yo brother.  They managed to break loose the alternator without too much trouble and compared the old part to the new one.  Aha!  There was a difference.  There was a pulley on the old one that was not included on the rebuilt part they had purchased.  A phone call to the auto parts store confirmed this.  They were supposed to detach the pulley and use it with the new alternator.

This was more easily said than done.  They tried a variety of tools and positions and plans, but it just wouldn’t budge.  The auto parts store offered to break it loose for them, so they hopped in Dad’s van.  When they got there, the men on duty tried their best but had to admit defeat.  They suggested another place that would be better equipped, so Perry and Kyle headed out again.  This scenario was repeated several times over the course of the day before they finally found a shop that was able to break the pulley loose.

One simple step had turned into an all-day affair, but finally the pulley was attached to the new alternator and ready to install.  Perry and Kyle decided to call it a day and finish the job the following day.

For once, the job went as planned.  On Thursday, the alternator was installed.  The van started.  The brakes worked.  The sun was shining and birds were singing.  I may have seen a rainbow in the sky.

We all celebrated by going out to see a movie.  This was the vacation we had planned. We were all together.  We were relaxing.  We were having fun.  The van was running beautifully.

The next day, our vacation was over.  It was time to leave.

After the fiasco we had experienced, we were more than a little nervous about taking the van on the road.  It was one thing to drive to and from the theatre with Dad and Mom in their big van behind us.  It was another to set out on the 1,400 mile return trip.  We decided to leave Friday evening and drive straight through.

We drove for 28 hours, never turning off the engine.  We even filled the gas tank with the engine running.  I know, I know.  We were young, foolish, and paranoid.

But we made it home safely, pulling the van right into the yard.  It was late, and we were exhausted.  We stumbled into the house, tucked the kids into bed, and fell asleep.

The next morning, the van wouldn’t start.

We left the van there in the yard for 6 weeks while we saved our pennies, then finally had it hauled to a nearby garage.  We told him we didn’t need a complete fix; we just needed it to start so that we could trade it in.  I called periodically for updates, and each time the mechanic assured me he was trying but just couldn’t find the problem.  He tried replacing the neutral safety switch which keeps the vehicle from starting unless it is in park or neutral, but that didn’t help.  He tried a few other ideas, all to no avail.  After 3 weeks and $300 in failed repairs he finally told us, “I don’t know what’s wrong with it, but if you wiggle this wire right here, sometimes it will start.”

I proposed to Perry that we dispute the bill, but he had already had enough trouble with this van and wasn’t about to make more now that there was an end in sight.  ”He did what we asked.  Pay it,” he said.  We were going to get rid of it as quickly and cleanly as possible, and we would never make another mistake like this again.

No, we would make an entirely different mistake the next time.

Grand Caravan: our personal odyssey, part 3

A comedy of errors in which we learn the hard way to never, ever, ever take a used vehicle on a cross country road trip within 48 hours of purchase.  Please, learn from our mistakes.

part 1

part 2

We had 6 or 7 hours to go until we reached Dallas.  Since it was Saturday, traffic was light.  We decided to continue driving.  We really couldn’t afford another repair, and even if money wasn’t an issue we didn’t trust a roadside mechanic to do the job right.  We would drive to our relatives’ home and Perry could borrow the tools to do the job himself.

The rest of that drive was nerve-wracking but uneventful.  We drove carefully, leaving plenty of space between us and the vehicle ahead, using the parking brake to augment the regular brakes. We prayed that we were making the right decision.  We prayed again to thank God for our safe arrival at our relatives’ house.

It had been a very long day, and we were badly in need of sleep. We put the kids to bed and went straight to bed ourselves.  The van could wait until morning.  Bleeding the brakes would be quick and easy.  All he had to do was loosen the fitting, then have somebody work the brake pedal until there was no air mixed with the brake fluid that squirted out.

The next morning he got to work.  Did I say he needed to loosen the fitting?  The fitting was not on a part of the brakes that had been replaced recently.  It was heavily rusted.  He worked long and hard with all the tools at his disposal, but the fitting was not going to break loose.  No wonder the roadside mechanic had skipped this part of the job.

Finally, he resigned himself.  We would have to replace the brake calipers as well.  This was not going to be the cheap and easy fix we had hoped.  Oh, well. This was an older vehicle and we should have expected some repairs.

He was going to have to take things apart and do a real brake job.  That would take at least a day and a broader assortment of tools than his relatives owned.   We knew that my Dad had the tools we needed in San Antonio, a few more hours away.  Money really was a concern for us, so we made the difficult decision to push on to my parents’ house, trusting that our brakes were sufficient to make the drive.  You could make the case that it was a bad decision – financial and otherwise – to take risks like this, but we were young.  Again, God blessed us with an uneventful drive and a safe arrival.

We breathed another sigh of relief when we pulled into my parents’ house.  There were happy greetings all around.  My 4 youngest siblings are almost exactly the ages of our 4 oldest children, so aunts and uncles played happily with nieces.

The next day was Monday.  Perry was up bright and early again to work on the van.  Dad was able to supply all the tools he needed, and Perry knew what he needed to do.

Once he started, Perry decided he should do the rear brakes as well.  He spent the remainder of the day rounding up the parts he needed to tackle the brake job, and on Tuesday he replaced both front calipers, all the remaining lines, the rear drums and shoes.  He was taking no chances this time.  Since everything on that van was rusted in place, this was more easily said than done.  A job that should have take just a few hours turned into an all-day affair, but by now he knew better than to be surprised.  He took his time, carefully bleeding all the air out of the brake lines after the brakes were reassembled.

At the end of the day, it was done.  He washed up, changed clothes, and invited me to come with him on a test drive.  I smiled and joined him for an impromptu date.

The van wouldn’t start.

Grand Caravan: our personal odyssey, part 2

A comedy of errors in which we learn the hard way to never, ever, ever take a used vehicle on a cross country road trip within 48 hours of purchase.  Please, learn from our mistakes.

part 1

Perry had me climb into the driver’s seat while he looked under the van.  At his signal I pressed the brake pedal, and his suspicions were confirmed: brake fluid spurted from a break in the line on the driver’s side.

The gas station was open all night – thank God!  Even better, it had a bulletin board with a business card for a 24 hour mechanic!

This was before the days of cell phones – at least for us.  We used the payphone to call him and tell him our predicament.  He answered his phone and listened patiently, but said we would have to wait until the parts stores opened in the morning.  He couldn’t do anything for us until then.We were stuck in Bucksnort, Tennessee.  There was a hotel on the other side of the highway, but I talked Perry out of paying for a room for the few hours we would need.  The kids were sleeping and it was only a few hours until morning.

Perry and I climbed back in the van and leaned our seats back, resigned to a few hours of sleep when we had hoped to be driving.  Out of the darkness, a 5yo voice wailed in despair.  ”I didn’t want to go camping!”

Neither did we.

At 7 o’clock that morning, the mechanic arrived.  After a quick look, he confirmed that the driver side brake line had rusted through.  We realized that it would have been a good idea to replace the brake lines on both sides before we left home, since we had already learned the hard way that they were damaged.  Oh well; live and learn.  We were wiser now.

The mechanic left for parts.  The nearest store was in Nashville, almost 50 miles away, so he would back in about 90 minutes.

3 hours later, he came back.  On foot.  On the highway.  Our mechanic was walking down the highway. He chuckled self deprecatingly.  ”My engine blew up.”  We thought it was hilariously ironic, but maybe we should have taken it as a bad sign.

He was carrying the parts and tools he needed to finish our job, so all was well for us.  We were back on the road by noon with a new brake line on the driver side to match the one we had replaced so recently on the passenger side, still laughing about the mechanic’s bad luck.

We breathed a sigh of relief as the miles flew by.  The kids were restless, but we were moving again.  About 2 hours later it was time for our first potty stop.  I tapped the brakes as I exited the highway, and nothing happened.  I floored the pedal, and the van slowed to a stop in the nearest parking lot.

Perry and I traded places and he tried the brakes several times, starting and stopping.  They weren’t entirely gone this time but they were very soft.  He had done enough brake jobs himself to recognize the problem: our roadside mechanic was cutting corners with his time.  He had either forgotten or neglected to completely bleed the air out of the brake lines. Our brakes were only barely functional.

This was bad.

Grand Caravan: our personal odyssey, part 1

A comedy of errors in which we learn the hard way to never, ever, ever take a used vehicle on a cross country road trip within 48 hours of purchase.  Please, learn from our mistakes.

Years ago when our 4th child was born, we panicked.  Or rather, I panicked and my young husband indulged me.  At the time we owned 2 small cars.  They were very gas efficient but neither was big enough for our growing family.  We had to drive to church in 2 cars, and we had an upcoming cross-country trip to visit my family in Texas.  We would drive 28 hours each way, spending a total of 10 days away from home.  With our current situation we would have to drive two vehicles, making it impossible to drive for long stretches into the night.  This would never do!  We questioned whether we should even make the trip under those circumstances.

I decided that it was very important to buy a mini-van before our trip.  We didn’t have the money to do it, but since both cars were paid for we didn’t mind taking out a small loan.  That was how we had bought nearly all of our vehicles and it always worked out for us.

We quickly shopped around, looking at the vehicles that were in our very modest price range.  Time was short, and we needed to make a decision.

Just a few days before our trip, we heard about a van that my father-in-law’s friend was selling.  It was older with very high mileage but had been reliable for him.  In fact he had just taken it on a long road trip himself.  He was selling it because he was ready to update his own vehicle, and he was asking less than $3,000.  Perry was a little concerned about taking an untried vehicle on a road trip, but I was confident.  The engine and transmission had been recently replaced and had less than 50,000 miles on them, so it wasn’t really like it had over a quarter of a million miles on it.  With a solid engine and transmission, any repairs required would probably be minor.  And besides, the guy was a pastor.  What could go wrong with a deal like this?

The van was 2 hours away from us, but we asked a friend to watch the children and hopped in the car.  When we arrived, we looked over our new Grand Caravan. It had a little rust, but that was to be expected in older vehicles up north.  The interior was a little worn, but we knew our family would be hard on it anyway.  It seemed to drive very well for a vehicle with 300,000 miles, and that was the most important thing.  After all, it was Wednesday and we were taking it on the road in less than 48 hours.

We shook hands on the deal and headed home, one of us driving our car and the other in our new-to-us van.

On the way home, the brakes went out.  In retrospect, maybe this should have been a warning.

We found that the passenger side brake line had rusted through.  Oops.  We should have seen that coming in an older vehicle from the Cleveland area.  They used even more salt on the roads up there than in our part of Ohio.  The brake line was repaired the following day and we packed for our trip, preparing to leave Friday morning.

Morning arrived and the van wouldn’t start.

We were more than a little chagrined, but it was only a bad battery.  All vehicles need a new battery now and then.  This was just routine maintennance.  No worries.

The battery was quickly replaced and we were on the road in our big, roomy van, just a few hours behind schedule.  There was room for all the car seats, our luggage, some blankets and pillows, and one seat to spare.  This was luxury.  We were on our way to Texas, and we had a good feeling about this.  This van would serve us well.

Our plan was to drive all the way to Dallas, where we would stay Saturday night with relatives.  On the following morning we would drive the final 5 hours to my parents’ house in San Antonio.  Since we were behind schedule, we would have to drive through the night, but we were young.  We had done this before.  Nighttime drives were peaceful and efficient since the children would sleep.  Potty stops would be few and far between, and we knew we could make good time.

At 2AM, Perry was driving and thought the brakes felt soft, so he took the next exit, labelled Bucksnort, Tennessee.  When he tapped the brakes to slow down on the offramp, nothing happened.  He stood on the brakes and we coasted to a stop just in time to roll into the parking lot of the only gas station – the only sign of civilization – in sight.

This was bad.  This was very bad.

4 Moms: Valentine’s Day recipes and a story {linky}

4moms35kids 4 Moms: the daily schedule

When I mentioned that today’s topic was recipes for Valentine’s Day, my kids were not impressed.  I think in our house we generally agree that Valentine’s Day is for lovers (i.e. married people), and thus the day holds very little interest for children in our family.

“Who chooses these topics?  Didn’t you tell the other moms we don’t do anything for Valentine’s Day?”

“Valentine’s Day?  Who cooks for Valentine’s Day?  You and Dad usually go out and we eat macaroni and cheese.”

“I’ll give you a Valentine’s Day recipe:

  1. Take chocolate.
  2. Put in mouth.”

I’m still not sure whether I should feel guilty because I don’t do any special cooking, or relieved because my kids don’t expect any.  They like macaroni and cheese.  I’ll let you know when I decide – or maybe I’ll let you decide.  What do you think?  On second thought, I only want to hear what you think if you’re on my side.

That’s not to say that I don’t get special treatment on Valentine’s Day, and any other excuse-of-a-holiday for romance.  Last year my husband hit one out of the park.  No, you can’t have him.

Being a good dad, Perry often brings home a  box of candy hearts or a small box of chocolates for each of the girls, too.  He knows the way to a woman’s heart, and any young man who wants to marry one of our girls had better learn a few tricks from her dad first.  He’ll have a tough act to follow.

So I get special treatment on Valentine’s Day.  If you’re wondering why I don’t do special cooking for Perry on Valentine’s Day, I just might be still punishing him for Valentine’s Day, 1998.   I hesitated to tell this story, but when I mentioned my hesitation to Perry he laughed and dared me.  He dared me, I tell you.  What else could I do?

Valentine’s Day ’98

or, Why I Don’t Cook a Romantic Dinner for Two on Valentine’s Day

It had been a long and difficult winter.  Perry was gone a lot, working full time while he tried to get his own business off the ground.  I had 3 kids 4yo and under, and was 6 months pregnant with our 4th.  My morning sickness had been worse than ever this time and I was down by 12 lbs, but I was finally feeling better.

As Valentine’s Day drew near, I decided to do something special.  Until now, Valentine’s Day had been pretty low key, but I wanted to make it special this year. Money was tight and babysitters were expensive, so we usually stayed in for our dates, but that wasn’t a problem.  I planned a menu of boneless turkey breast with all the traditional trimmings, and a nice bottle of wine on the side.  I made a special dessert.

Perry had the day off his regular job but was training a friend to clean carpets, his side business.  They planned to spend the day going over the maintenance of the machines and cleaning his friend’s carpets.  I didn’t know what time he would be home, but I wanted to be ready.  As evening fell, I fed the kids a cheap fun dinner and put them to bed early.   They were all too young to object, so all was well.

I dressed for dinner and set the table with candles and our prettiest dishes, keeping dinner warm while I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

When Perry finally arrived home very late that night, the turkey was about as hard and dry as my own attitude.  He made a valiant attempt to act hungry and chew the turkey jerky, but it just wasn’t working for either of us.  My attitude only got worse when I heard his side of the story:

After working all afternoon, he and his friend realized it was dinner time and they still had a few hours to go.  They were both hungry so they drove around the corner from Dave’s house to a local diner for a bite to eat.  The special was a 2-for-1 steak dinner – perfect!  Although both were married men, neither had a clue what day it was or why the quiet little diner was completely packed with starry-eyed lovebirds – and why the waitresses were giggling at the two of them.

My husband missed my special Valentine’s dinner because he went out for a romantic couple’s dinner with his buddy.

Of course it was partly my fault for not tipping him off ahead of time, but it’s more fun to blame him.  I’m not bitter, but I still tease him about his hot date with Dave.  I’m pretty sure the waitresses teased Dave about it for years afterward, too.

Because the title of this post promises recipes, I’ll share two.  I actually have made the Red Velvet Cake for Valentine’s Day because it is Perry’s favorite cake.  I made the Bacon Roses for Father’s Day, but they would be perfect for Valentine’s Day as well.

Red Velvet Cake

From the cookbook published by the church where Perry and I met as children.  How romantic is that?  Skip the red food coloring if you must, but don’t change the icing!

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 oz. red food coloring
  • 3 Tbs. cocoa
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or milk with 1 Tbs vinegar)
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. vinegar
  1. Cream shortening, sugar and eggs.
  2. Make a paste of food coloring and cocoa.  Add to creamed mixture.
  3. Add buttermilk alternately with flour and salt.
  4. Add vanilla.
  5. Add soda to vinegar, then mix thoroughly into batter.
  6. Pour into 2 8″ pans, greased and floured.  Bake 25-30 minutes at 350.
  7. Cool and split to make 4 layers.

Butter Cream Icing for Red Velvet Cake

Rich, buttery and not too sweet.  The easiest and most delicious cooked icing you will ever taste!
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 Tbs. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  1. Cook milk, flour and salt until thick, stirring constantly.
  2. Let cool thoroughly.  Learn from my mistakes: don’t rush it.  
  3. Cream butter and sugar well.  Add vanilla.
  4. Combine with milk mixture and beat until it looks like whipped cream.
  5. Spread between layers, top and sides of cake.  Learn more from my mistakes: Resist the urge to lick the bowl before you’re done or you won’t have enough for all 4 layers.

Bacon Roses

  • 1 lb. bacon, any type
  • muffin pan (12 cups)
  • 2 bunches of cheap plastic roses (12 total)

The original instructions said to drill a hole in the bottom of each cup in a muffin pan so that the grease could drain.  I bought 2 cheap muffin pans from The Dollar Tree so I could destroy them without guilt, then I decided not to drill the holes anyway.  They worked perfectly because bacon cooks very nicely in its own drippings, so 2 years later I still have the pans.  :)

Roll each slice of bacon into a curl and set into a muffin cup, edges on top and bottom so you see a spiral when you look at it.  Bake about 20-30 minutes at 400, until crisp.  Drain thoroughly.

To prepare rose stems, pull the flower off each one and push the green base down so that at least 1″ of the stem protrudes above.  Slide bacon buds onto protruding stems, place in a vase, and give to the love of your life.  If he insists on sharing, you’ve got a keeper.

I can’t find the photo, but our first try turned out just as pretty as the photos in the tutorial linked above, and so will yours.

What do you do for Valentine’s Day?

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