Sunday, September 14, 2014

Giving the truck a little bit of a lift

I would like to think that it was something that I did to get a truck and trailer combination that are so well matched for each other, but with the way things came together, I don't think that I can take all of the credit. Never the less, we enjoy having a truck that can pull our trailer so easily, and that the trailer falls into the load and towing capacities of the truck. I haven't been concerned or had to deal with headlights pointing up or the back end sagging too much. But there is always room to make things better, which is why we decided to add air bags to the rear suspension to help improve the ride and comfort while towing.

We purchased the Load Lifter 5000 air bags (Amazon link) from Air Lift, getting the specific model for the 2012 Ford F 350. I believe the air bags themselves are the same, but the mounting hardware is vehicle specific, so if purchasing, please make sure you have the correct kit.
All of the parts laid out, coffee ready, and YouTube videos at the ready.
I read the reviews on Amazon and saw that people used YouTube videos to help with the install, which helped relieve any anxiety about installation difficulty. I even got more excited when the box that the parts came in advertised the companies own YouTube channel. I quickly went there to prepare for the install, only to find out that it is a lot of promotional videos with two videos that were not helpful for me, since the trucks that were shown were not my make or model. Thankfully, a few other searches around YouTube gave me a video of a 2013 F 350. The only difference that I had to work around was that I have the factory installed fifth wheel/gooseneck hitch and they had an aftermarket gooseneck. Click here to watch the video.

There are few items I would like to add after watching their video and doing the install myself. If you have access to a vehicle lift, use it. Walking underneath of a vehicle is so much easier than having to crawl under it. If you don't have a lift to use, take off the spare tire, it will create some much needed room. I was able to fully sit up under my truck with the tire off.

Have a few jacks handy. I used one to hold up the axle so I could get the wheel out of the way, and I used the other on the frame to lift it up and give myself some room to put the airbag in place.

Before you start the installation, make sure that you have all of the parts and pieces needed. Air Lift gives you everything you need for a straight install if your truck is factory stock, but if you have added any towing hitches or plates, you will need different hardware depending on what you have installed and some drill bits to make new holes. Speaking of holes...

Even with my factory truck that was supposed to be a straight forward install, the two main holes through the frame for the big 1/2" bolts was partially blocked by the hitch plate, requiring me to make some wiggle room.
This is where I am supposed to be able to fit a 1/2" bolt. Yeah right.

I notched the hitch plate just enough to get the bolt to slide through. Don't forget to repaint the metal after drilling/grinding.
The only other issue I ran into with the install was with some long carriage bolts running close to some lines. I didn't have enough slack to do any rerouting of the lines, so I wrapped the bolts with some rubber splicing tape that I had in my electrical arsenal. This stuff is thick and made to take some high temperatures, so I think it will hold up just fine.
I did this to both sides of the axle. 
I routed the air lines to the back by the license plate. The plastic part of the bumper made for an easy install point. I kept them separate instead of running both lines to a common fill point with the thought of one bag transferring extra pressure to the other in the instance of a load shift/unbalanced load, and didn't want the problem to be exaggerated by the change in pressure.

After finishing the install, I filled both bags to check for leaks and then went for a test drive with a few heavy tool boxes in the back. I could tell an immediate difference in the way the truck handled over bumps and the way that it absorbed the weight. I am excited to pull the house and see how much better the ride will feel.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Our Home Gets A Paint Job!

We have been wanting to paint the inside of our house ever since we bought it, but due to various time and location constraints, it has been that project that has had to be constantly put on the back burner. We have had our colors picked out for over a year and are still carrying around the paint chips. Once we decided to make our stay in Las Vegas longer, I realized that this was the time to get it done. We didn't have any pressing needs for a few days, the hardware store was close by, and the dry desert air would speed along the process. So, off I went to the store to get the supplies, and for around $80 we painted our house. We used Olympic no VOC/low odor primer + paint from Lowes. The paint went on very well, and in most spots it only took 2 coats to completely cover the walls. We got one quart of each color, and still have a little left over in each can.
The colors we used. From L to R: Master bedroom, kitchen, living room slide, kids room, and bathrooms.
Before and after of kids room. We went with a neutral color so that it won't clash with the kids' choices for their beds.

Before and after of the bedroom.
Before and after of the living room slide.
After of the kitchen area.
For those looking for some painting tips:

I put on the first coat a little light to get a base, and then liberally applied the second coat, with just a few touch ups to cover light areas.

Get a 4" roller. There may not be a lot large wall areas, but rolling goes so much faster and a more even coat than a brush.

Don't skimp on the painters tape, especially if you are a perfectionist and like clean even lines. I don't use a lot of tape, and went through 2 rolls just to mask off the areas where I had to work the brush down into crevasses and corners.

If you can paint before you move in, make it a priority. I spent half of my time just moving stuff out of the way.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Greasing the trailer wheels

One thing that we are very conscious about maintaining is our trailer tires and wheels. Explanations can be found here and here. Recently I realized that I had not checked the condition of our trailer wheel grease and brakes. I did a quick check to see the condition of these items, and was happy to find out that the brakes are still in great condition, but the wheel hubs did need new grease applied to them. I did some quick research on how to DIY, and did not find much help. I quickly learned and figured out what I needed to do, and documented the process to hopefully be an aid to others (videos at end of post).

Starting off, I gathered the appropriate tools and material. I needed to purchase a grease gun and the grease itself. I didn't go with the cheapest grease gun, but still had some issues with it maintaining its prime, so I wonder if I should have gone with a more expensive model. The store did not have enough grease in the 14oz tubes that would fit straight into the grease gun, so I had to purchase bulk cans instead. I feel that the tubes would have been an easier way to go. Everything else I had on hand.

As you can see in the photo, I have gathered:

Grease gun
Grease (1 can or tube per wheel, plus extra)
Nitrile gloves
Rubber mallet
Flathead screwdriver
Paper towels
Putty knife
Trash bucket
Bottle jack
Impact to remove tires

Begin by securing the area. Chock opposite tires to prevent the trailer from moving while working on it. Jack up the wheel to be worked on and remove the tire.

The little rubber cap in the middle has been worn out on my tires, so I went to a local trailer supply store and purchased some replacements. I removed that part and discarded, then used the mallet and screwdriver to remove the metal dust cap. It may take a few hits to get it loose. It comes right off once it is loosened.

At this point, clean off the old grease from the quick lube port on the end of the hub, attach the filled and primed grease gun, and start pumping the new grease into the hub. It may take a few minutes to really get the grease moving, but once the new grease starts to push out the old grease, things move along quickly. You will need to stop every now and then to scrape off the old grease into a container. Slowly, the grease will change color from a dull gray to a purplish red. At this point, most of the old grease has been pushed out, and it is up to you how much more you want to pump through the hub.
Once any excess grease has been scraped/wiped away, replace the metal and rubber dust caps and reattach the tire. Move on to the next wheel.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Replacing the Power Converter

For awhile now, our power converter, the device that is responsible for taking 120 volt AC and converting it to 12 volt DC, has been dying. It's been a slow, painful, agonizing death, complete with buzzing, humming, irregular output, and periods of not functioning at all. So I ordered a replacement for it, and it finally got to us.

As a side note, do not have any imperative equipment fail or need replacement around the holiday times. It will take twice as long for the replacement to get to you than it normally would, and you will be anxious and frustrated beyond belief.

The shiny new converter!
I replaced a WFCO 65 amp converter with a Progressive Dynamics (PD9270V) 70 Amp Power Converter . I originally looked at a direct replacement, but the WFCO had some bad reviews, and I didn't want to have to deal with the same issues in a year or two. The Progressive Dynamics model comes with the company's Charge Wizard circuiting, which is a multi mode operation allowing for normal operation/charging, a quick charge mode, a storage mode, and a desulfation mode. The unit is designed to automatically select the mode needed, but also comes with a remote pendant to allow manual selection.

Installation was pretty easy. I had already done the leg work of locating the old converter, which was pretty easy with the noise that it was making. Access was behind a panel in my basement, which gave ample work space.

The panel is easily removed with four screws to reveal...

...the power converter (and some plumbing. Not well thought out if you ask me).
Always remember to shut off all electricity before working on any appliance. In this case it meant shutting off the breaker in the 120 volt panel as well as disconnecting the battery. Safety first.

Removal and installation was a breeze. Remove two screws holding down the existing converter, unhook the positive and negative wires from the DC output side, and remove the grounding/bonding wire from the housing. The converter is connected to the 120 volt paned via a standard Edison plug. This was the hardest part of the process, since I had to reach my hand into the dark hole to feel where it went. Reverse the process for installation.
The new converter in place.
As I mentioned, the converter came with a remote pendant. We have a closet directly above the power center, providing a convenient place for installation.
Glad I can close the door, that green light is bright!

I'm very excited to have a consistent 13.5 volts, even with all of the 12 volt lighting and systems in use. All in all, the whole job took about 20 minutes.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Wishing You A Cajun Christmas and a Hootin'-Hollerin' New Year

Because our long-term memory is a little rusty, we thought it would be fun to take an updated family photo this fall.

For every perfect shot like the one above, we take about fifty like this one:

(See below)

All in all, as with most things in life, we do the best we can with what we've got.
And we have quite the cast of characters around here!

Merry Christmas from the Simpson Six to your family.
Here's hoping that our home will roll somewhere near yours in the coming year!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Lincoln Children's Museum

While our time in Nebraska continues into the harvest season, we've been seeking out new places to discover out here on the prairie.
A week or so ago we decided to check out the Lincoln Children's Museum. It is part of our ACM membership, so we received a 50% discount on the cost of admission. For under $25 all six of us enjoyed a fun afternoon of play and exploration. Let's look at some of the highlights of this museum, shall we?

We've jokingly observed that we're on a tour of 'Water Tables Across America', because our children inevitably find water tables to play in just about everywhere that we go. The Lincoln Children's Museum was no exception.

This particular water table is both huge and incredibly detailed. One half of it highlights the water cycle including clouds, rainfall, runoff and rivers. The other half teaches about beaver lodges and how their dams impact how water flows from rivers and streams.

You can't really visit Lincoln, NE without expecting to see a structure made of Lincoln Logs, can you? This 1.5 story skyscraper model is created entirely out of the wooden toys named for our 16th president.

Eliza and Stephanie went of a jungle safari in the animal exploration room. Looks like they picked up a little friend on the hood of their Jeep!

Caroline and Ian are piloting a simulated airplane on the flight level of the museum.

Meanwhile, Eliza was driving the baggage truck around the simulated airport.

When in Rome...
Eliza pretends to drive a harvester through the cornfields in this simulation while Ian looks on.

Again, when in Rome...
The only thing bigger than corn in Nebraska is University of Nebraska Cornhusker football. Of course, Ian got to practice his spiral throws, catches and punting on the field inside the museum!

One of our favorite stops in any children's museum is the restaurant or kitchen area. The Lincoln Children's Museum has a small pizza parlor inside where you can see Caroline is assembling the pizzas to the exact specifics that her customers have ordered.

Ian loved the auto body and maintenance shop. Here you can see him designing how he wanted to re-paint the truck via a CAD program. Obviously, he chose brown, just like our trusty truck.

Eliza can sniff out baby dolls anywhere! Here, she and the rest of the girls are taking the baby dolls through the hospital level of the museum. The girls are playing the roles of doctor, nurse and mother to the baby who is needing care.

We had a great visit to the museum and love that with our membership we can explore museums like this one across the country for a nominal fee. While each is unique and highlights the local culture and values, the consistency of similar exhibits at museums across the country is nice to reinforce concepts that our kids are learning as we travel.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Roadschool 2013-2014 with the Simpson Six

One of the first questions that we're usually asked when we meet new folks on the road is if we homeschool our children. To me, that seems like a no-brainer, since enrolling them in a dozen different schools and preschools over the course of the school year seems rather ridiculous. But perhaps that method works for some families who travel fulltime?!

We have enthusiastically embraced keeping life simple, and for us, homeschooling is the simple solution to educating our family while we travel. While there are many avenues that one can follow in order to homeschool, we've spent much of the past year working through what works best for our kids--and what doesn't work--and fine-tuning the details of how we homeschool on the road.

If you'd like to read about how we started with homeschooling last summer, you can read about that here. While the basic tenets of what we're teaching remains the same, we've refined our methods a bit and have made a few changes as our children develop.

So, for the 2013-2014 school year, the following resources are helping us provide the backbone of our homeschool program for our kids:

A sample of some of the books and resources that we are using as we homeschool this year.

Core Curriculum
We enjoyed working through Sonlight's Core A program last year, and this year we are continuing with their Core B+C, Intro to World History. This is a one year condensed study of world history from Creation through present day which incorporates our History, Geography/Cultures and Literature. We opted for the condensed curriculum so that we can pace ourselves through world history at a rate that works best for us, and also so that we might move on to the next level (American History) a little faster than if we stretched world history over two years. Since we cover a lot of US History and geography as we travel, we'd like to get to that as a curriculum focus sooner than later, but we need to cover world history first, in order to help our kids see the bigger picture of history and geography.
Our Sonlight Core also includes a Bible curriculum, but I've chosen to compile our own which is more appropriate for where our children are at in their spiritual development. Therefore, we're using the Bible resources that came from Sonlight as supplemental this year.
We really like that Sonlight presents material through lots of great literature and history books from a Biblical perspective. We use the curriculum loosely and I create a lot of extension projects and activities, depending upon what connects with our kids.

Reading and Language Arts
We have found the Sonlight readers to be a great asset to our girls' reading and comprehension development, so we are continuing with those this year. Lydia is working through their Grade 3 Readers and Language Arts while Caroline is doing the Grade 4-5 Reading and Language Arts program. The reading books are spot on with our girls' reading levels, are of excellent literary quality, and are highly interesting to the girls. The Language Arts program that corresponds with the readers is on the challenging side for the girls, so we spend about 15 minutes twice/week, on average, working through new language rules and concepts one-on-one. The Sonlight Language Arts program also includes Spelling at this level, so we are utilizing this as our resource for teaching Spelling this year as well.
Ian has also started working on pre-reading skills this year, so we are using the BOB Books readers together to practice letter recognition, letter sounds and pre-reading together. He's also working through the Victory Drill Pre-Drill book to emphasize letter sounds and practice writing his letters. Later this year he will begin with Victory Drill Book as he begins to learn phonics and moves closer to beginning to learn to read.
In addition to the Sonlight Language Arts and Victory Drill book, we're also using Queen Homeschool's Language Lessons with all three kids. Caroline is working through Language Lessons for the Very Young Book 1, Lydia is using Language Lessons for Little Ones Book 3, and Ian is starting Language Lessons for Little Ones Book 1. These short daily lessons include picture studies, narrations, poetry appreciation, copy work, phonics, and creative writing.

We have seen significant progress in the girls' handwriting skills as we worked through A Reason For Handwriting over the past year. This year they have moved onto the Transition level. While we are still working on printing, this worktext also includes cursive. Caroline will likely begin learning cursive writing later this year. Lydia will likely require a few months of additional printing practice before beginning cursive writing, in which case I am considering Queen Homeschool's Printing With Pictures to help bridge the gap for her until she is ready to begin learning cursive.
Ian has been working on writing letters with the Victory Drill Pre-Drill book, and later this year he will begin with Handwriting Without Tears Pre-K level.

Math was our greatest challenge over the past year. While we started out using Saxon, we quickly discovered that it was not a good fit for our kids. I loved teaching Saxon when I taught 2nd grade in the classroom, but for our two girls it was not a great fit. So, we abandoned that mid-year last year and I created our own math lessons to help the girls solidify their basic math skills.
This fall, they are beginning to use Teaching Textbooks Math 3. This is a computer-based program for their math lessons along with workbooks which have the lessons and practice work printed for them to use as well. The girls are enjoying it so much that I'm having to remind them that we are only doing one lesson each day. I'd say that's a good problem to have!
Ian is using our math manipulatives most days to practice his numbers, ordering, simple addition and subtraction and sorting. He has also begun using Queen Homeschool's Picture My Numbers! to help solidify his number recognition and to work on writing his numbers. It also includes picture studies that we do together to help reinforce number recognition. When he completes this, he will move on to beginning the Math Lessons for a Living Education: Book 1. This is a 5-book series of 180 daily math lessons per book and uses a story format to teach math concepts. For Ian's learning style, this seems to be the best beginning math program that I've found for him.
We are also supplementing with the MathTacular DVD series to help demonstrate some of the math concepts that we are learning in real-life situations.

We have added Sonlight's Science A program to our studies this year. It is a comprehensive Biology, Botany and Physics program geared for children age 5-7. It also includes a DVD to watch almost 100 different science experiments that correspond with our lessons, as well as 2-5 different experiments that we can do together each week.
We also are incorporating a nature study at least once/week where we are exploring the environment where we are, researching either the plants, animals or other things that we discover in the environment, and we are creating art based upon what we discover in our nature study.

While we started with using the Bible curriculum that came with our Sonlight core curriculum, I quickly assessed that it was not on par with our children's needs. So, I have created our own 30-week Bible curriculum that is based on lessons from the book Leading Little Ones to God by Marian M. Schoolland as the cornerstone for our Bible study this year. Along with the lessons in this book, we are learning memory verses every 1-2 weeks which tie into our readings and are using the Sing the Word: A New Commandment CD to help us with memorization. Our main goal for Bible this year is to answer the big questions about who God is and our relationship with God. We're working to make sense of the Bible stories that we read beyond their historical context and connecting them with the bigger picture of God's character, His works in the world throughout history, and God's relationship with his creation.

Speech Therapy
While Ian's speech and articulation have improved significantly over the past year, he is still working to close the gap between where his speech abilities are and what is age appropriate. He continues to use the Articulation Station app to help with challenging sounds. As he works more and more on his pre-reading skills, we are transitioning away from the app more and more, but he does still practice his speech using this program a couple of times each week.

While our methods of roadschooling continue to evolve, we're enjoying the journey and are thoroughly enjoying living and learning together each day. Overcoming the steep learning curve of deschooling and discovering how we each learn naturally was a big part of our first six months on the road. Fifteen months after launching, we are now much more comfortable in our rhythm of homeschooling and are looking forward to where this next year will take us as we continue learning together.