Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Worst day evar?

Wow. Yesterday was pretty amazing. I don't have time to make a short entry, so I'll have to make a long entry with all the details.

It started with a bang! Thunder and lightning, that is. We ended up getting roughly four inches of rain with huge storm cells wandering across the hill country. I decided to be smart and wait for the main torrent to go by before driving to work, as I would be in its path for most of the trip. The first five minutes were soggy, but fine.

I get two turns out of my subdivision and my car starts shuddering every few seconds, with very little power. I manage to pull off the road into some company's parking lot and try to start my car. Nothing, but my oil light comes on. Ah! I realize, once again, that I am behind on my oil change schedule. Luckily, I have my handy and I call my wife to come pick me up. Also luckily for me, she was at home today.

Off to The Beast we go to get a few quarts of oil. Back to the car and Little Jerry Seinfeld greedily gulps it down. Amazingly enough, he starts. Now I figure would be a good time to get the oil changed. Off we go to a service place. Things might be looking up!

What's this? The car died? On the road? Not two minutes from when it started? Okay, I'll just push it off the road and repeat the oil trick, because if one quart is good, two quarts must be better, right? Wrong. First of all, the car died on a slight incline, so I can't push it off the road. Mind you, it's still raining. And I'm in a heavy construction zone. A few of the workers see our predicament (I'm pushing in vain, my wife is steering and our two-year-old is being an angel waiting patiently in our other car) and help me push it across the road.

The workers want to see what's up with the car, so I show them the oil trick. Gulp! One more quart, but no starting. They dive in and start fiddling with the engine. I'm a little hesitant, but I'm also not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. I don't know much about cars, and these guys (about six were talking while "the foreman" of the group was fiddling) seemed like they knew what they were doing. After a few minutes, they showed me where there was an electrical arc when I tried to start it. His English wasn't that great, but he managed to say something about needing to replace this part, and mentioned something about "coil."

Off we go to the nearest auto parts store and plead my case. The only parts they had in stock were some spark plug cables. As I wasn't sure what the original problem was so I figured that I would just buy them and see if they did the trick. The woman behind the counter noticed something about the cables and talked to the manager. It turns out that someone had returned old cables in the new cables box, and one of the pieces was damaged. They just gave them to me to try, as they couldn't sell them anymore! Awesome!

I take the cables back to the construction site and find Marcus, my contact. I show him the cables, and he shakes his head. It turns out that it isn't the cables that are bad, but the part where one cable connects. I have no idea what it is, and Marcus didn't know what the word was in English to describe it, but it had something to do with "coil." I tell him that I'm not sure about installing it once I get it. He says that if I bring it back, he can install it. "What about tools," I say. He has tools in the truck.

Okay, back to square one. I knew Advance didn't have any other parts, so I try O'Reilly, the next closest. They thought it might be an ignition coil, but they didn't have one in stock. Situation...worsening.

I then go home and get my camera and take a few pictures of the part in question. Back to O'Reilly, and after getting complements on my camera from multiple dudes, they are closer to thinking that it is either ignition coil or voltage regulator, but they still have neither. Ouch! Off to the next next closest place, Autozone. A high-school age-looking girl with a diamond studded French manicure came over to help me - not exactly the grease monkey I was expecting. I told her that I need a part that I don't know the name of, but I have a picture. She raised her eyebrows and started looking up my car details. We checked the voltage regulator - luckily their database has pictures and we realized it wasn't a match. Next we looked up ignition coils. Bingo! $100 later and I'm in business.

Back to the construction site. Uh oh - nobody is there. My handy installation expert is nowhere to be found. Back to O'Reilly, as they mentioned that they could come out and look at the car to see what kind of part it is. They couldn't come out to do the work, either above or below the table, so it looks like I'm it or we tow it somewhere.

I went home to get my tools and picked up my wife and two-year-old, as she had to have a parent-teacher conference with our five-year-old's kindergarten teacher just around the corner. I get all up in Little Jerry's engine and realize that the screws with which the ignition coil is attached aren't phillips, but the angle is so bad that I can't see if it is Torx and how big. I try to push my finger against the screw to get a quick imprint. No dice - the resolution of my pinky isn't high enough. Then I try to push a piece of paper against it. Okay, it looks like Torx, but I can't tell much detail. Why can't Volkswagens just have tombstones in the engine so I can get a decent rubbing? Brainstorm! I have my wife chew some gum (I can't chew gum) and we get a nice imprint of the bit and size I need. Back to Advance Autoparts.

It's still raining.

We compare the piece of gum to the Torx screwdrivers, bits, drivers, etc, and I settle on a folding multi-Torx tool that is small enough for me to access the part. Back to the construction site.

It takes me a while, but I finally get it replaced. Luckily I didn't drop anything in the engine or the mud, and I didn't shock myself - always good news. Little Jerry started like a champ.

It's now almost 3pm. I'm definitely getting my oil changed on Wednesday.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I've Switched to Decaf, and other signs the apocalypse is upon us

I know it sounds bad, but let me explain.

Someone in our family was diagnosed with what may become prediabetes. Note - it's not prediabetes, but symptoms are exhibited that could escalate, at some point in the future. We are trying to act proactively, so we started...wait for it...the South Beach Diet. One of the symptoms the book mentions is localized fat around the midsection (based on our ancestors' feast or famine lifestyle necessitating storage of fat while leaving the extremities leaner for escape or whatever), and that's something with which I've been struggling.

I've thought the South Beach Diet was a fad, or something ridiculous like Atkins. Follow the link above if you want more info, but I've read one of Dr. Agatston's books, and done some research online, so I'm satisfied with the validity.

The basic gist is to reduce bad carbs and bad fats while increasing good carbs and good fats, change eating habits, etc. We are in the first, most strict phase, aptly named Phase 1, which has the most severe reduction of carbs. I'm finding it not too bad, but my wife started out climbing the walls. Of course, this comes from both of us loving to cook, especially bake.

No alcohol of any kind is allowed during Phase 1. Now, I'm not one to get sodded every night, but I enjoy my Guinness. Sometimes I'm even known to enjoy my Schlitz! This wasn't that bad a restriction, but we stopped buying wine for dinner.

The diet recommends reducing caffeine (or eliminating it during Phase 1), since caffeine stimulates the pancrease to produce insulin. It also said that if you are following Phase 1 requirements, one cup (caffeinated) a day probably won't ruin your progress, and if it really makes you feel good, go ahead and do it. My wife and I talked about it, and then I figured if I'm in for a penny I'm in for a pound. Behold: the start of decaf for me.

We started the diet Monday (after a Sunday afternoon at Chuy's! Oh, snap!), and Phase 1 lasts for two weeks, or longer if you want to stay on it. At least for me, the jury is still out on staying on it or entering Phase 2, which is just the gradual, monitored inclusion of some carbs back in to your diet.

What's interesting is that you don't really count calories, or have really restricted portion sizes. You eat until you are full, with three meals and two snacks a day. Of all our meals and snacks, I feel like I'm eating a lot, volume-wise. I don't get that too-full, bloated feeling, and sometimes I feel hungry a little bit after a meal. What I think is happening is that I'm getting the nutrition that I need, but I'm so used to eating carbs and fats that I expect the full feeling, and something must be wrong if I'm hungry after eating a sirloin steak, broccoli and beans.

Don't get me wrong - the temptation is there. I make everyone's lunches, and I am at a point where I could probably destroy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in one bite.

It's only been a little over three days but I think I can already see a slight change. Some clothes seem to be slightly larger, but I'm not sure yet if this is just my imagination. I'll keep posting on any progress I see.