Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Birthday Party Crafts

My oldest boy, J, had his birthday party at the end of January and wanted a Lego-themed party. Kara came up with games and did a swell job of it. They built Bionicles, guessed the number of Legos in a jar, and made as many words as they could out of "Happy Birthday." My jobs were to craft a Lego cake and a Lego piñata.

It had been years since I'd done paper mache, and I had to look up a recipe, but I suppose it's like riding a bike because once I got rolling it all came flooding back.

Papier-mâché Paste
Tear several sections of newspaper lengthwise into roughly 1 1/2" wide strips. I also found it helpful to tear the strips in half crosswise too, to make them easier to apply. I found it hard to manage the full-length strips, but you may want them that long for your project so do what works for you.

4 cups water, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp sugar

Mix flour and 2 cups cold water in a large bowl--glass would be best, since it will retain the heat of the paste for longer than metal or plastic. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups water to a boil. Slowly add flour mixture to boiling water, whisking to avoid lumps. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add sugar.

You can use it immediately-as soon as it's cool enough to put a hand in it. To use it, lay a paper strip in the paste, then gently pull the strip through your hand between your thumb and index finger to "squeegee" off the excess paste. Apply thin layers of strips and let your creation dry well before handling.

I used a cardboard box and plastic cups to form this Lego piñata--first covering the box in plastic wrap to help in getting the box out when the paper mache dried. As the last step, I took pieces of crepe paper and pasted them on using my paper mache paste.

I must have done something right, because the kids each got several whacks at it and it held up just fine, but wasn't too strong to bust eventually.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Pics of Laptop Repair

I thought I'd post a pic of what I did on the laptop. As I said in my previous post, I ended up soldering leads directly to the motherboard of Kara's laptop and smothering the connections in epoxy. This is what that looks like.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

MacGyver Strikes Again!

After the whole vehicle fiasco last week, you'd think that the repairs would be over. You'd be half right. The car is okay, but Kara's laptop is not.

A few months back, I performed a ghetto repair on her laptop because the power connector in the back of the laptop wasn't mating well with the power cord, resulting in a battery at the most inopportune times. So I snipped the connector off of the cord and desoldered the power connector from the motherboard. (Don't fret, it was a cheap laptop to begin with and has almost fulfilled its life expectancy. I was just trying to squeeze a few more months out of it.) Then, I soldered the cord directly to the motherboard and slathered it with epoxy. That worked pretty well up until a week or so ago when it started sparking.

See, with the cord wired directly, when people (or babies, or inattentive boys, or cats, etc.) tripped over the cord, it would stress the wires at the joint. Everything under the epoxy held, but where the wires left, they began to fray a bit and started touching each other. Touching each other can sometimes be a good thing, but in this case it's not what I'd call desirable.

So I figured I'd need to isolate the connections and add in a quick disconnect in order to relieve some of the stress on the joints. But what to use? I just so happened to have a power adapter and brand-new matching female connector for it, but they would be awkward to employ. I needed some new heat-shrink tubing anyway, so I made a trip to my local Wal-Mart to pick up a bag. On my way, I saw an Advance Auto and thought, "Gee. I bet they have heat-shrink tubing, and they probably have some quick-disconnect connectors, too!" I was right on both counts, but I had to get creative to find the latter.

Finding the tubing was easy. But I didn't see any easily disconnectable connectors at all. Maybe a larger store might have some, but I wasn't really in the mood to go all over town last night. Then, I heard a little voice tell me to turn around. There, behind me, were the cigarette lighter-style power plugs. Aha! I picked up a Y splitter (one male end, two female ends) and raced back home to implement my maniacal scheme. Mwuhahaha!

I started by muscling open the male connector and liberating one of the female connector's leads, leaving the single male connected to one female, as God intends. ;) Then, I severed their link and soldered the male end into the laptop and the female end into the wall plug. (I didn't want the male end energized...too easy for little Mike to pop it into his mouth and BZZZT!) I closed up the laptop, plugged the power into the wall, and connected male and female once again. No sparks! Yay! Green "I'm on wall power now" LED showing on the laptop! Yay! Score one more for Mr. DIY.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Back in business

Having three major repairs to do on the van, I tried to think of a way to split them up so I wouldn't have to do them all at once--it can get tiring working under a vehicle, lying on your back with your arms over your head, lightly coated in oil, transmission fluid, sawdust, etc. So I figured I'd do the brakes on Thursday night and the gaskets on Friday. As it turns out, that was a pretty good idea.

On Thursday, I dressed up in my "grubbies," an old set of jeans and a flannel shirt, and steeled myself for a brake job. Out in the garage, I flipped through my CDs and settled on Boys II Men II, popped it in the player, and got to work.

Can I take a time out to say that I am now totally sold on hydraulic jacks now? Up until this week, I had been using the puny scissor jacks to lift vehicles onto my jack stands. Those jacks are slow, tedious, semi-dangerous, and only barely able to lift the car high enough. In contrast, the 2-ton hydraulic jack I bought last week for $20 was quick, easy, as safe as lifting a car at home can be, and lifted plenty high. Next time, though, I might raise the jack on some 4x4s before jacking the car, in order to get the jack stands a little taller.

I started on the front driver's side and replaced the brake pads; it took me one full CD and one song. The front passenger's side took me the rest of that CD to replace the rotors and pads, but I worked for about another half-hour cleaning the rims, shining the tires, and checking the air pressure. I figured if I was down there fixing the brakes I might as well do a full-service job of it.

On Friday after dinner, I changed out of my work clothes, changed back into my grubbies, and steeled myself for a night under the van. In retrospect, it wasn't that bad although I don't know that I'd like to do it every day.

The first task was to change the automatic transaxle fluid (ATF) pan gasket. Fortunately, it was easy to find, easy to remove, and easy to reinstall, with one exception.... Now, I never claimed to be a math genius, but I can add and subtract just fine. I knew from reading my Haynes manual that it would take 4-5 quarts of ATF to refill the transmission, but for some reason it slipped my mind that if that much must go in, that much must come out. So it stands to reason that when I put one #10 can (holding maybe 1/2 gallon) under the AFT pan that it would overflow substantially., which it did. I ended up with a 6' x 3' ATF slick on my garage floor right where I needed to lay to complete the repairs. And ATF is slimy, sweet-but-plastic-smelling, and unpleasant to lay in as just about anything I could think of. Fortunately, my absentmindedness would come to the rescue.

In making my Adirondack chairs, I happened to generate a substantial amount of sawdust, which I collected in my shopvac. Fortunately, I forgot to empty it because I pulled great hands full of the stuff out and tossed it under the car to soak up the ATF. It worked like a charm, and later allowed Kara and me to sweep it up easily.

The oil pan gasket, on the other hand, was a headache in-the-making. It was easy enough to find and reach, and the bolts came off easily enough. It was the shield on the part next to it which slightly overlapped the edge of the oil pan that caused the problems. Removing the oil pan wasn't even too bad--it was replacing it while trying to hold the gasket in place that took about 1/2 an hour to finagle into place. In the future, I might consider getting into the ATF pan, but I don't know that I'm going to want to ever get back in that oil pan again! Sheesh!

But the bottom line is that I saved about $1000 by doing all that work myself. And while I was working, I replaced the spark plugs which would have been another couple hundred dollars, I'm sure.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Life comes at you fast when your brakes are shot...

My Chrysler Town & Country has been leaking lately. Kara and I knew about it, and suspected it was a semi-serious transmission fluid leak. There were drops of red liquid on the sawdust-covered garage floor under the van (see posts on the Adirondack chair for the source of the sawdust), and a funny burning plastic smell permeated the garage when the van was just pulled in.

So I took it to the dealer for a diagnosis. They said that the transmission fluid pan gasket, solenoid pack(?), and oil pan gasket were all leaking; the former two transmission fluid, the latter, oil. Repairs would set me back $1000+. Oh, and while they had the car up, they checked the brakes. The pads were paper thin, same with the rotors. Another $350 or so would get that straightened out.

Or, I could change the gaskets and brakes myself and save about $900. (No parts store that I called had the solenoids, and the one former mechanic I talked to said that it'd be a job I really couldn't--or wouldn't want to--do myself.) So I got the parts, (about $250, including a new hydraulic jack--those puny scissor jacks for changing spare tires scare me!) and a Haynes manual (if I have to take something off unexpectedly, I'd like to know what I'm getting into first!) and I'll get started on it this week!

Kara asked me if I'd changed gaskets before. (She knew I'd done brake pads and rotors, several times.) I told her that I hadn't, and that that hadn't ever stopped me before. Plumbing, tiling, felling trees, building furniture, making sourdough bread, knitting...all in the "I might as well give it a shot" category. And although I have called a knowledgeable friend a time or two, I've never had to pay a pro to help me out, knock on wood.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Knitty Gritty

Over the holidays I had some spare time, so I figured I'd put it to at least half-decent use; I knitted hats for newborns. Technically, I suppose, it could be called knitting, but in reality it was easier than tying a shoe. I used a hoop loom called the Knifty Knitter, which Grandma bought for J last Christmas. It's essentially a hoop with pegs on it. You wrap yarn around the pegs, then lever one loop over another using the special hook that comes with the kit. J and I mad hats for the family last Christmas, so we were set. But any time I was sitting around this holiday season, chances were good that I had yarn in my hand.

These are six of the hats I made--I even made the pompoms!


The stuff I made was pretty simple. Surfing blindly around the net, I stumbled upon videos by Isela Phelps over at Decor Accents, Inc. She has patterns (some free, others for purchase), videos, and more for hoop looms. I had NO IDEA that you could knit such fancy stuff on a measly little hoop loom! Well now I know!