Friday, April 30, 2010

Water Rockets!

So, what does our family do without television? We call the neighbors out to shoot off water rockets in the street.

We can get the rocket up to 100 psi and mainly the goal is to not break anything.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Oh My Goodness!

I am now a bona fied paid writer. I get paid to write. Real money! Well, digital money as it is telecommuting, but it is money. I claim what articles I want to write about and then I do it and I get paid. I'm still amazed by this. Total shock!

I have been writing for a subscription website for a couple months now, but it is a maximum of only five articles a month and doesn't even bring in $100. It was enough to call myself an aspiring writer, but not a real one. Not anymore! This one is enough to actually have to file a tax return!

I get to be home, with my son. I get to still homeschool. Best of all, I get to write for a living! Swoon! Happy! Happy! Happy! Happy!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Another Year Turns Over

The season has officially ended in our household. Not due to the equinox, or the increases in patchy rain, or even school having about 40 days left (not that Jules is counting). Nope, the season in our household ends when the firewood ends. Four cords of wood has been reduced to one small stack in the corner of the living room which awaits a cold night.

This year has been a good one. The entire winter we only used the heat in spotty increments, mainly during the afternoon-evening transition, when the house would get a slight chill. Ten to fifteen minutes of heat every few days or so lead to 30 dollar heating bills during our coldest months. Paying $120 for heating the house an entire year seems pretty darn fabulous to us. Even when the temperature didn't get past 12 degrees for a week, we stuck true to our wood fire and loved every minute of it.

Going back to heat via the furnace is definitely not an option. There is just something inherently snuggly and warming about a fire. The sense of heat is much deeper and fulfilling. Before this I didn't have any kind of judge for what real heat felt like since a furnace was my reference point. Real warmth is much wetter than the dry furnace heat. How warmth can be wet is a bit beside me, but wine can taste dry and that seems counter intuitive as well. Firewood warmth tends to expand in a room and feel almost heavy in the air, it is not light like furnace heat. Also, the smell of the hearth in the house is so much more welcoming. Walking up to our front door you can smell the fire burning from the chimney and you just long to be inside. I don't much want to ever live again without that level of longing to be home and with my family.

The knowledge that we have cut our own fuel, made our own fire, and created the warmth with our hands causes a so much more complete feeling about our life. We can now measure a winter by firewood rack and truly have a sense of the nature around us. I could not have told you before what the teens really felt like temperature wise. Nor could I have informed anyone how long our winters really stayed cold. Now I have fully lived this experience and know very well. The teens start to make your chest a little tight if you spend much time out in them. It takes about 1 cord (1 rack) of wood to last a month. Four cords works very well, but it is a little tight for our liking. Next year we are going to up it one more cord just so that we can be completely safe.

We have walked away with a better understanding of the resources we have used and the knowledge that energy taken from the earth means equal energy spent by us. If there was any testament to the importance of lost skills our year of firewood would be it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tie One On

So what does our family do without television? Dad pulls out his climbing gear and we discuss wallnuts, peanuts, karabiners, quick draws, and technical friends while playing around with all kinds of knots in the living room.

The Barracuda has already been through all the rock climbing and bouldering classes the local parks and rec offer. We are planning on being regular residents at the rock gym when he finally gets old enough to attend.

Friday, April 16, 2010

How to Change Your Brake Pads

One of the most amazing things about our journey is the change that is beginning to take place within our perspective. If you had asked me six months before we began our simplifying if we would be culturing dairy products or changing break pads I would have exclaimed an adamant "No!" The idea wouldn't have seemed like a bad one, necessarily, but it would have been far past the reaches of our comfort. At this point, the idea of doing our own car maintenance (beyond an oil change) seems like a normal transition. Why not? It will cut the price dramatically and make you feel awesome all at the same time.

Like so many of the processes which seemed vastly complex, much car maintenance is a series of rather simple steps which add up to create a complicated machine. That isn't to say you should run out and just start taking things apart, but don't be intimidated by the idea of doing things yourself. A Chilton handbook can go a long way, a knowledgeable neighbor or family member, a few Internet searches, and you might be amazed at what you can conquer. This spring we (I should say Jules) conquered my brakes.

The front disc brakes of my car had hit the point of needing to be changed or serious damage was going to result. They weren't just squeaking every once in a while, nor were they lightly whining a bit. They were full on squealing in pain! No grinding had begun so the calipers were fine, but oh how the metal on metal made some noise.

Below is a picture tutorial of how to change the front disc breaks of my 2003 Mazda Protege. Most all vehicles have the same basic process, to some degree. Most all wear and tear on a vehicle's brakes occur in the front brakes. Secondly, most cars have front disc brakes and rear drum brakes. DO NOT TRY TO CHANGE DRUM BRAKES YOURSELVES UNLESS YOU ARE A TRAINED TECHNICIAN.First off, jack the car up and make sure it is fully supported. Remove the tire and locate the brake.

If you look behind the brake you will find the slide pin. It is more like a rather large bolt which holds the brake together. Usually the pin is covered with a plastic or spongy cap which is just pulled off to reveal the head of the pin. There is also another black rubber, spongy gasket the slide pin fits through. It is the black semi circle in within the highlighted section above. If your car has ever been in an accident, this is a part which is frequently replaced. In my car, the driver's side slide pin was a metric screw; on the passenger side it was an allen screw. In either case, you want to locate the pin and remove it.

Click on images to enlarge
Now that the pin is removed the brake can swing open and you can change the pads inside. Pry the caliper open. It will swing up to reveal the brake pads inside. Sometimes this will be a bit tricky. Jules used the handle of a socket wrench.

There are two wire clips which hold down each of the brake pads (both front and back). You will need to pop these out. They come off easily by pinching the two sides together. Don't loose them. They are small.

You can now remove the old brake pads. There is one on either side (front and back). They should slide out very easily. At this point you can see just how much you were able to eek out of the old pair by stacking them up next to the new ones. As you can see, my old pair were just about completely toast!

Anti-squeal brake lubricant is completely optional. It helps the new brake pads seat themselves within the caliper. You don't need it, but for under 10 bucks it is well worth the cost. If you are going to use it, squeeze some of the blue (I think it is purple) goo out of the little tube and smear it onto both faces of the new brake pads.

Replace the pads into the caliper.

Put the clips back on.

You are ready to pull the caliper back down over the top of the new pads. The problem is the piston head (big circle thing) has been compressed so that it could squeeze the worn out break pads. It is too snug to fit over the new brake pads. By taking a piece of scrap wood and a big, old C-Clamp you can push the piston head (big circle thing) back into place allowing you to close the caliper. Use wood to prevent damage to the piston head. Once the piston head (big circle thing) is pushed back into place, it won't come back out.
Once the caliper is put back into place over the top of the new brake pads, all you have to do is put the slide pin (big bolt) back in. In order to do that, you need to put the black, spongy, rubber gaskets in place, line up the holes, and slide the pin through. This is sometimes easier said than done. A little wiggling, some cussing, and Jules got it to work. A couple of tries might be necessary. Put the last black, spongy topper on the slide pin and you have replaced your brake pads!

Put your tire back on, slowly release your car from the jack, and then take a short trip down the block. This seats your new brake pads. Until they seat fully, they might squeak a tiny bit. This should sound nothing like the old ones, and sometimes it doesn't happen at all. Remember the piston head (big circle thing)you had to clamp down? Well, now it is having to readjust the pressure to your new brakes in order for them to squeeze the tires. If the piston head doesn't squeeze, the brakes don't squeeze. This is why seating is so important.

Warning: Do not decide to make your first trip after replacing your brake pads on an interstate freeway drive at 70 mph. Go to the grocery store down the street first at about 5 mph. Just in case. I wouldn't have my toddler in the car either. You want to be sure that all is good before you really endanger anyone else. They are your brakes after all.

In only nine simple steps you can complete a task that should cause much pride and newly found confidence in your personal ability. Not only that, it can get you some really great bragging rights! Why not try it.

UPDATE: When you purchase your brake pads, take them out of the box carefully! Some have A and B pads designated by small extra tabs which stick out. Each brake needs to have both an A pad (with tabs) in the back and a B pad (without tabs) in the front. When Jules fixed his truck brakes, he put them on with A and A on the left side and B and B on the right. The right side was fine, no extra tabs sticking out. On the A and A side however the tabs splintered off and broke the caliper. There was no writing to alert him to look for the tabs and nothing in his manual. Just be careful. In the end, the cost was still cheap, but it was an annoying set back.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Changes are a Brewin'

First Off, Thank You!
Our little blog is a year old now and after 3,200 visitors I'd say it has done quite well for itself. We never expected such interest, let alone international following. I'm not quite sure how to respond as this is a realm of experience I wasn't prepared for. So Thank You and hopefully we can keep providing whatever it is that people seem to get from our small corner of webspace. Any comments on what is working (or failing miserably) for those out there are greatly appreciated.

The original blog we started had little to no focus because we had little to no focus. Like many people we have now talked to, there was the idea that something needed to change. But what? We didn't really know what or how, but it needed to occur fast or we were going to loose ourselves (and our house) in the process. The reality was, we weren't making it. The big wave knocking us down was money, but the under current of disjointed frustration was just as strong.
Sound familiar?

A year later, our blind stumbling has lead us to a much clearer mission and a set picture of where we are headed. The new face of our blog represents a more defined picture of the life we are carving out of the big crazy world.

We believe that the overpowering machine of Capitalism and Consumerism has begun to take over lives. Gross Domestic Product is not the religion we wish to follow. The entire concept that you always need more to be better is insidious. We now see the real question as not "How can we save some money?" but more...

Rather than constantly seeking outward approval as your incentive for personal value why not just unplug?

We are unplugging (from media, from the grid, from consumer culture) to live a life that is enough. Our personal value does not need to come from a flashy lifestyle, a stereotypical prescribed mold complete with value choices, or the lastest media hyped trend void of questioning. We are enough. Our family, our household, our lives are enough. The planet has enough to sustain us. We don't constantly need more.

As much as this is a sentiment exists around us in words, we have found that the actual living of this lifestyle means significantly more. Becoming carbon neutral means that most of the current cultural paradigm doesn't work. We have to reinvent the wheel in many ways. Moreover, we need to talk about it! For quite some time I have been reluctant to really discuss the changes our family is making for fear that it would isolate us from the rest of the world. Somehow, in my mind, if we just kept looking "normal" it would all be okay. What a great message to send to our son! What a great way to find others who were struggling so that we could create a community that helps one another! What a fabulous way to not isolate ourselves by just hiding who we are! Sometimes, I am a duphus! I believe this combination of stepping outside cultural norms and a reluctance to really discuss openly is why it has taken us so long to realize the end result for much of what we want.

With this in mind, the direction of our blog will fall into the following large categories:

Becoming Carbon Neutral
Discussing the process and outcomes of our endeavors. Our family is a unique situation in just how un-unique we really are. Mom, Dad, small child, dog and cat in an urban environment, living in 900 square feet on a low-to-middle class income. Our house was built around 1950 so we are also revamping an existing structure without remodeling. We would like to show what has worked for us and the direction we took so people can see that you don't need acres in the country or a ton of money. If we can make it work, anyone can make it work!
Projects and Skills
So much of this last year has been learning everything we don't know. Slowly we are acquiring the books, websites, and resources to try and learn the skills time has lost. We have been helped immensely from the work of others and wish to forward that on by posting schematics and how to's on many of our projects.
Gear and the Outdoors with A Small Child
Reverence for the intricacy of our planet's interdependence is a major facet of our lives. If you are truly going to live with and off the land, you need to understand and respect it. Long distance backpacking and trekking have been put on hold in our family due to the age of our son. He has been slowly initiated into camping, and soon we will begin training, gearing up, and teaching him the skills necessary to live out of nothing but a backpack for months at at time with nothing but your legs to get you home.
Personal Fulfillment Without Television
We killed our television months ago when we didn't convert to digital. We don't have a single TV in our house even for movies. Talk about weird! For the first couple of weeks we didn't really know how to even talk to one another. Now, our lives are ten fold better. In hopes of helping others who wish to unplug their TV's too, we have complied a list of some of the things we do together instead of watching mindless crap. It is so much cooler!

These categories are now linked across the top of the website as to better facilitate quick reference. It is going to take me a bit to go back and link through the last years worth of posts, but shortly all will be right. Added to the above categories is my Life List. Many of the things on it are similar to Jules' and posting mine meant he didn't have to do much. (The push to get Seniors to graduate is a bit overwhelming right now.) Using the Life List as a guideline for our family's adventures has really helped shape our lives so posting it only seemed natural.

We are hoping these changes make our site a bit easier to follow and our life a bit easier to live. That being said, make your own way! Question, ponder, and really consider. What would be on your Life List? Are you fulfilled in your life? What do you really want your children to grow up with? We have spent a years worth of nights and weekends unraveling those questions and still don't have many answers. However, we are now doing it together and have really kicked our life up a knotch!

Please give us any feedback you have as we are first timers in this whole blog thing and might have overlooked quite a lot!