Friday, August 29, 2014

For Want Of A VIN

Neither Moses nor Maggie could find the VIN, either.

If I ever find the idiot who decided where to stamp the vehicle identification number (VIN) on a Honda small engine, I swear I'll strangle him.
I have an 18 horsepower Honda engine in my EZ-GO ST 4x4, which is a golf course utility vehicle. The oil fill cap disappeared a couple of months ago. Without it, oil gets slung all over the engine, causing it to smoke, sputter and die at the most inopportune moments, like when I’m pulling one of the many hills on my property. I tried stuffing a rag in the opening. That lasted about 10 minutes. 
      I tried various bottle stoppers and duct tape. The stoppers weren’t big enough and the duct tape came off when the engine got hot. In desperation, I emailed EZ-GO. The reply stated the engine wasn't in their purview, and that I should contact a Honda small engine shop. I went online and found a small engine parts house, called up and talked with a customer service rep. I was told that I needed the engine's VIN, because there are 84 different Honda engine oil fill caps in their database, each belonging to a different engine. Who would have thought?
So I contacted Honda to find out where the VIN is located.  "It's stamped near the bottom," the Honda rep said. "You've got to be kidding me!" I wailed. So my engine repair friend, Calvin, came over and crawled under the 4x4  with his flashlight. The only numbers he could find were the engine model and capacity numbers. "That should do it," Calvin said. Nope, said Honda when I called back. There are several engines with that model number. They must have the VIN, and suggested I take it to a small engine repair shop to get someone to find it. Yeah, I'll just drive it onto my non-existent rollback truck and haul it in. IF I COULD DO THAT, BUDDY, I WOULDN'T HAVE CALLED YOU IN THE FIRST PLACE, I snorted.
So back outside I went, with flashlight, cleaning rag and exercise mat in hand. I cleaned a few areas on the engine, discovering to my surprise that it has a red housing on it.  I also found a couple of metal plates with numbers. I used the mat to lie on the gravel while I peered up at the engine from beneath it, trying to read one of them. Mission Impossible, as it turned out.
A nice lady at a small engine repair shop in nearby Oneonta researched the   model number for me. She thought she had found the part I needed, but it turned out to be the oil dip stick, which is a separate entity from the fill cap. She said she would keep looking. I haven’t heard from her in three days. If she does find it, I'll dance at her wedding with a cow bell on, as my mother used to say.
While pondering my next move, I’ve stuck a wine bottle cork in the opening. It worked for the short trip to my barn and back. But with my luck, it’ll either fall into the oil well or swell so large that it won’t budge. I can just picture myself using a corkscrew to get it out when I need to add oil.
Meanwhile, I'm looking for the guy who decided that the VIN should be stamped beneath the engine. I have fantasies about choking the life out of him while Calvin whomps him up side the head with an oil can.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Processing Peru

Balloons add color to a volleyball game.
“How was your trip?” asked the friend who picked me up at the airport. It’s a natural question when you’ve been out of the country for 12 days. I didn’t know how to answer her. So I told her I was too exhausted from the 28-hour return segment to think about it. “Let me process it for a few days and I’ll get back to you,” I half-heartedly promised her.
     I went to Pomabamba to work with Southern Baptist missionaries Russ & Sherri Fleetwood, church planters among the Northern Conchucos Quechua. This indigenous Indian people group lives in the state of Ancash, Peru. The couple linked me with a group from Redmond, OR, that has been working with them for six years. We helped the Fleetwoods host a youth retreat at their home.
     Getting to Pomabamba required a flight from Birmingham and an overnight stay in Houston, then another 12 hours of flying, making a connection in Panama and sitting around airports, then an overnight bus ride and eight-hour trip by truck.
The elevation in Pomabamba is more than 10,000 feet. While acetazolamide tablets fended off nausea and dizziness, they did nothing for my lung or leg capacity. I never could catch my breath, and despite walking my own hilly terrain for a couple of weeks to get into shape, my thighs never caught up, either. 
During the first day of the retreat, I stumbled around in a haze of exhaustion, wondering what I was supposed to be doing. The group played a lot of volleyball, with balloons, beach balls and a real volleyball. The youth loved it, because it was a complete departure from their daily chores of tending sheep and smaller siblings. I never have liked volleyball. No matter what position I take, my hands never touch the ball. So when I wasn’t giving my Christian testimony or telling a Bible story, I felt lost. When our team leader noticed me taking lots of pictures, he appointed me official trip documenter. At least, I had a job.
I’ve been on many mission trips over the past 14 years, four of them to other parts of Peru. Normally, I am eager to tell folks about my experiences, and normally I’m armed with the type of information they want to hear. They don’t really want a travelogue, just to know that I had a great time and, in the case of missions, to hear the statistics.  Like most North Americans, we Southern Baptists are results-oriented. Often we allow the statistics -- how many eye glasses we handed out, how many teeth we pulled, how many folks we won to Christ -- to tell our story. 
This trip wasn’t about numbers, though. It was about relationships. We wanted to strengthen those already formed by the Fleetwoods, and to foster new ones. Did we accomplish that?I don’t know. Like an old computer whose hard drive is full, I’m still processing that.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Never Say Never

Barney on his closet pallet

After my last house cat died in 2011, I vowed never to have an indoor cat again. A couple of friends and my grandsons are allergic to them, for one thing.  For another, I got tired of clipping toenails and putting tape on carpet edges to prevent them from patting out biscuits wherever they pleased.  I had several barn cats to enjoy when I felt the need for kitty company.
What I hadn’t counted on was the casualty rate of my barn cats. Through the years, I’ve had half a dozen that I spayed and neutered. All but two have disappeared. Barney, my first, took up with a former tenant a couple of years ago. They fed him, renamed him Ming because he has so much Siamese in him. When they moved, they left him behind, knowing I would care for him.
I couldn’t get him to leave their former home, however. Twice I took him to the barn, but, as the old Sonny James song said, “The cat came back.” Finally, I hit upon a bright idea to re-acclimate him to the barn. I assembled my Mastiff’s wire cage, put a blanket, water bowl and food dish inside, along with a small litter box (it IS a Mastiff’s cage, remember), then somehow wrangled Barney inside. I released him three days later.
Low and behold, he had bonded with the barn again, so he stayed. That is, as long as the other barn cat, Mittens, wasn’t around.  It got to the point that I’d only see Barney every four or five days. He was my all-time barn cat favorite, perhaps because he was the first or just because he was such an affectionate kitty. So I decided to bring him indoors next time I saw him.
Last Saturday, I spotted him in the pasture, got him into my car, took him home and enthroned him on my bed. I put water and food bowls in my bathroom, and an old litter box in my whirlpool bathtub. I have no shame.
For a cat that has been living in outside all his life, he sure has taken to the indoors. He sleeps in my closet during the day, with me at night. He comes out for petting and rubbing against me whenever I enter the room. Sometimes, I take him to the Great Room and let him watch television with me, much to the chagrin of my dogs. Otherwise, he’d never leave the room.
Eventually, I’ll unbar the cat door and train him to use it, thus eliminating the need for a smelly litter box. I’ll also move his food and water dishes to the laundry room window ledge, which the dogs can’t reach. However, before I moved to the country, my city vet told me to keep the cats indoors for a month so they would become accustomed to the house and its smells. That’s all well and good, but I’m headed to Peru. My tenant  will keep an eye on my house, but he has enough to do without cleaning a litter box. I can’t start Barney’s kitty-door training, either, because the dogs would probably chase him out and he’d never come back.
So what do I do with him? Board him at the vet, of course. It will cost $128, plus another $50 for exam and shots. He’s a bit behind, because my former tenants never took him to the vet.

The things we do for our animals.