I feel like I’m coming up for a short breath after being submerged for a really long time, knowing that I’m shortly going to dive back down. I guess this is what it must feel like to be a whale, if a whale lived in a vast ocean of work instead of water.
The things under which I’ve been submerged recently include, in no particular order:
finishing up the course I was teaching this semester, including grading all the final assignments, calculating participation grades for the semester, and submitting final grades to the school
completing revisions for the new edition of my textbook1, including proofing all the revisions we did
my actual day job, which is getting crazy busy as a Really Big Thing is about to happen and we have to be ready for it
But the textbook revisions and the marking are all done now, and those were two really time-consuming things that I was having to fit into my weekends and evenings, and the time available for working in the evenings and on the weekends were abbreviated due to the fact that I’m dedicated to doing my three days a week at the gym (which really is a big part of what helps me decompress when I’m so busy!) and I’ve been working longer than normal hours at my actual day job, due to all the work of preparing for the aforementioned Really Big Thing. So now I feel like I have a few days where I can actually breathe. By which I mean “write a blog post about how busy I’ve been”.
Of course, this is just a short reprieve, as I’m about to dive back down into the deep ocean that is work craziness. As, I mentioned above there is a Really Big Thing happening at work soon. This Really Big Thing will involve my team (a) providing data to monitor the progress and/or outcomes (good or bad) of said Really Big Thing (translation: lots of people will be wanting to see the data we produce daily) and (b) having to provide support 12 hours a day, 7 days a week until such time as the Really Big Thing settles down into just a Big Thing and we can go back to our regular work days and hours. Which means that I’ll be working some early mornings and some weekends and also, since I’m the lead of the team, should any crises happen, I could potentially be called even when I’m not on site. All that stuff happens starting April 28th.
Also, I’m going to have some house guests around this same time! Dr. Dan and one of his students will be staying with me from May 2-8, as they will be in town for important work things, and then from May 8-13, my mom and my Aunt Wendy will be staying with me as my Aunt has an important conference to attend and my mom is coming along to visit. I’m very excited to see all of them, as I think it will be good for me to get some quality time with family & friends to keep me grounded when I’m not at the hospital doing my Really Big Things.
Image Credit: Whale illustration posted by Steve on Flickr with a Creative Commons license and whale tail photo posted by Vilmos Vincze on Flickr with a Creative Commons license.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned here that we are putting out a new edition. The original came out in 2012, which is like a million years ago in textbook years, so it was due. Nutrition is still a pretty young field, so there were a fair amount of things to update! It should be ready by the end of the month and everyone should buy a copy or 12. [↩]
Which I was just a co-investigator on, so I’m not saying I did the most work on it; was it was a team effort of a bunch of people and lead by someone else, but it still took up some time. [↩]
Each week in the newsletter at work, they do a short profile of someone working on the project. Just a few questions, like “What’s the last book you read?”, “What’s your favourite place you’ve ever visited?”, and “If you could have dinner with someone, alive or dead, who would it be?” A few weeks ago, they did my profile and my answer to that last question came to me immediately: My dad. He’s been gone six years now, and I really wonder what he’d think of all the things going on in the world these days. I wonder what he’d have gotten up to in his retirement years.
He’s been gone six years now, and I still think of him all the time. When I was fixing something around the condo, I was thinking about how he taught me how to use a screwdriver; when I shot two pucks just over the net in my game on Wednesday, I just wanted to call to tell him about it because I know he’d understand the mixture of pride (I lifted the puck that high!) and frustration (so close to scoring, but yet so far!); when I avoided a collision the other day on the way home from work when someone tried to change lanes without looking at their blind spot and so just swerved right at me, I thought both about how he’d taught me to drive *and* that I was screaming at the other driver just like he would have been.
Six years gone now, but never forgotten and always loved.
My mom found this teddy bear from my childhood and gave it to me while I was in Ontario for the holidays:
My sister had one like this that was bigger – his name was Mr. Moveable Bear, because you can move his arms and legs at the at the joints1. Mine was named “Baby Mr. Moveable Bear”, for obvious reasons2. I need to mend his paws, as the stuffing is starting to come out. Interestingly, his stuffing is made up of old nylons! Note to self: I’ve now found a use for my nylons once they get runs in them!
My mom didn’t find Mr. Moveable Bear, so we think he’s likely long gone. RIP, Mr. Moveable Bear. [↩]
Did I mention that I was terrible at coming up for names for things as a child? [↩]
This year’s Christmas baking was a low key affair. We’d decided to do our baking on Friday, because we had a party to go to on Saturday and wanted to bring some baked goods with us. But then my sister got booked into a meeting all afternoon because Friday was still technically a workday and we were already scheduled to go to see Star Wars that night, so me, my mom, and my niblings just did the baking without my sister1.
I made my old stalwart, shortbread cookies from my Great Granny’s recipe that was taught to me by my Aunt Wendy:
And then I made fudge because (a) it’s easy, (b) who doesn’t love fudge?, and (c) it involves sweetened condensed milk, which means that I get to lick the lid of the can of sweetened condensed milk!
My niece made peanut butter snowballs, from a family recipe that she got from her grandfather:
My nephew made Rice Krispie squares with festive rice krispies:
My mom was the most prolific baker, as usual. She made butter tart squares:
Got to spend a lovely day for my mom’s birthday! My mom, sister, three of my aunts, and I went to see the Murder on the Orient Express1 – I’d never read the book nor seen any of the previous MotOE movies, so I actually had no idea who the murderer was and I was not as clever as Hercule Poirot and thus did not figure it out. I really quite enjoyed it! Also, because it is my mom’s birthday, we decided to do the movie in style and watched it in VIP – some the tasty cocktail during the movie didn’t hurt either!
Happy birthday, Mom! So glad I got to be here to spend it with you!
My nephew asked what movie we were going to see and we told him it was Murder on the Orient Express and he replied, “Is that the one with the evil snowman?” Turns out (spoiler alert!), there were no snowmen in this movie – evil or otherwise! [↩]
Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday, so I thought it would be fun to show up unannounced for a surprise birthday visit! The conference I was at in Washington, DC ended today and, unbeknownst to my mom, I had to fly through Toronto to go back to Vancouver. So I decided that instead of having a 2 hour stopover in T.O., I would pay a few extra bucks to have a 1 day stopover so that I could spend my mom’s birthday with her! I recruited my sister to this subterfuge and had her invite my mother over tonight so that I could just take show up at my sister’s place – and she was so surprised!
The funny thing is, my sister and I came up with this awhile ago, back when I booked my flight to Washington. And wouldn’t you know it, but last month my mom tells me that she decided to go to Montreal to surprise her sister, my Aunt Maureen, for her birthday! Apparently the apple does not fall too far from the tree!
Much like the Plumbing Edition of Stuff I Learned This Year, this is a lesson I’d have been happy not having learned. It all started on my drive home from work on Friday – I was slowing down for a red light on Stewardson Way and my car jerked (sort of like it would if you were driving a manual transmission car and accidentally put it in the wrong gear) twice, and then as I stopped at the red light, it died. Like, it would not start. And I was on a busy road during rush hour! I put on my four-way flashers and called BCAA to get some emergency roadside assistance. Pretty soon, a couple of women came up to my car and asked if I need some help: “We can push your car around the corner and into this parking lot”. A guy from the business whose parking lot they were referring to, Kirmac Collision1, also came out to help push. Since I drive a Smart car, they were very amused at how light it was to push! I was so thankful that they took the time to stop and help me – no one wants to be the car that they talk about on the traffic report: “A stall on Stewardson Way is blocking the right lane, so there’s only one lane getting through eastbound and everyone just wants to be home already!”
The BCAA tow truck driver showed up in about 20 minutes, which is exactly the time the BCAA dispatcher had estimated (and was more than enough time for me to take over the Pokemon Gym that was there), and he was super nice. Here was where I learned the first thing of this adventure: the location of the battery in my car! Now, lots of things in Smart cars are not where they are in other cars – the engine is in the back and the ignition is in between the driver’s seat and the passenger seat, near the gear shifter, for example. Well, it turns out that the battery is located under the foot well on the passenger side! Also there was the tow hook for the car! I’ve never needed to check my battery before – it’s never been a problem. And the only other time I had it towed was when I had a flat tire and that time it was still under warranty, so I had Smart Car roadside assistance still, and they just took care of it. I knew the battery was working, as I could still roll up my windows and the radio was still working, but the tow truck guy tested it, and decided that I would indeed have to get it towed somewhere, because whatever was making the car not start wasn’t something he could diagnosis on the spot.
Now, I’ve never had any trouble with my car before and I’d only ever taken it to the dealership for its regular maintenance (while it was under warranty I had to take it there or else the warranty would be void and once the warranty was up, I just kept going there out of habit/being too lazy to find an alternative). Smart cars are sold at Mercedes dealerships, so you know that there is going to be a bit of a premium on their prices. But I really wasn’t prepared for how bad it would be!
First, when I called the dealership to say I was going to have my car towed there, they said it was no problem even though they would be closed for the night, the driver could just drop off the car and put the keys in an envelope with my name and number on it through the drop spot they have for just such occasions. However, the next day when the service guy contacted me, he was all “We have 68 cars with appointments ahead of you, so we can’t even look at it until Monday and I won’t do anything until you approve the $200 minimum fee to diagnosis it. Plus it is due for a major service appointment (replace spark plugs, belts, oil, etc.) and that costs $970. So with have halted everything until you approve the fees”. My first thought is “why is he making a big deal that other cars have appointments. My car died with no warning. Sorry I didn’t make an appointment for that!” And my second thought was “why would I approve $1000 of maintenance if I don’t know what is wrong the car? What if it isn’t even fixable and they just do all that maintenance on a car I’m going to throw away?” So I said I’d pay the $200 diagnostic fee, but not approve the maintenance before I knew what was wrong with the car.
On Monday, they contacted me with a diagnosis – the clutch actuator motor had died – and an estimate – $900 for the part, $800 for labour (including the $200 diagnosis fee). So in total they wanted $2700 + tax to fix my car, which is 8 years old and only worth about $4000 (if it weren’t broken!). So this made me an unhappy camper because I have a lot of more exciting things that I would want to spend $2700 + tax on, such as anything else. I would rather spend that much on pretty much anything else. Also, they would have to order the part of Toronto and it wouldn’t arrive until Friday, and that’s only if they placed the order that day (i.e., trying to pressure me to make a quick decision!).
So this is the major car part thing that I learned: what the heck is a clutch actuator motor? I knew what a clutch was from my years of driving manual transmission. When you drive manual, you step on a clutch pedal, which allows you to shift gears (or to start the car moving from a stationary position) – basically, stepping on the clutch pedal disconnects the running engine from the turning of the wheels so that you can shift gears; then you release the clutch pedal, which allows the engine to continue turning the wheels with the car in the new gear you’ve just selected2. However, Smart cars don’t have manual transmissions – they have something called a Tiptronic – with this type of transmission, you can shift the gears yourself, but you don’t need to step on a clutch pedal and if you fail to shift correctly, the car will just shift it for you so that the car doesn’t stall. In the photo above, you see that there is Park, Reverse, Neutral, and Drive, which in an automatic car and you can just drive your Smart as an automatic using those. If you want to do the shifting yourself, when in Drive, you push the stick over to the left (where the + and – are) and then you push up (towards +) and release to shift up or down (towards -) and release to shift down. I did this when I first got my car, but it just wasn’t as satisfying as driving a real manual, so I’ve driven it as an automatic after about the first month of owning. Anyway, the clutch actuator is a part that basically takes the place of the clutch pedal that you would step on to change gears in a manual transmission car. So, the fact that the clutch actuator died and was making my car not work was like insult to injury – it’s a part that my car has because of a feature I don’t even use!
Anyway, I called a friend of mine who is into cars for advice and he said, “They are likely charging you a Mercedes tax. I know this other shop run by a good guy – they know their stuff and they are straightforward and charge fair prices.” So we contacted them and they gave me an estimate for all the same work (replace the clutch actuator and do the full maintenance service): $1200 + tax! So basically Mercedes was trying to fleece me out of $1500! So I called them back and said I would not be having them do anything more with my car – I would pay their $200 diagnosis fee and then have a tow truck come to take it away. He said it would take some time to put my car back together and he’d call me when it was ready. And then he called me back shortly after, said he’d talked to his manager, and since I’ve been such a good customer, they wanted to know what I was planning to do with the car3. I said that I was taking it somewhere else to get it fixed, where they are charging me a reasonable price and where they can get the part tomorrow, not Friday. He asked what the other place was going to charge me and when I told him, the guy says that because I’ve such a good customer4, they can match the price for replacing the clutch actuator ($1000 for parts & labour, instead of $1700), but he didn’t believe that the quote of $200 for maintenance (vs. Mercedes charging $970) could be right. “Are you sure it’s a full maintenance, with spark plugs and belts and everything? Are you sure it’s not just an oil change?” And I was sure, because I’d sent the shop the list of what was included in the list of things for maintenance. But he was all “nope, we can’t drop the price on that”5. And then he also dropped in that “We’ve found the part locally, so we can have it by today instead of 5 days from now”. At this point, I was just pissed off, and I said, “Well, if you can drop the price of replacing the clutch actuator almost in half, just like that, now I just feel like you were trying to fleece me! And that’s a very interesting coincidence that all of a sudden you found the part locally, once I told you that I taking it to another shop! I’m taking my car – please tell me when you have it reassembled so I can tell my tow truck driver it’s ready.”6
So that was Monday. They didn’t have my car reassembled until the next morning, but I got a tow truck to take it to Deckers Auto in Burnaby, who had the car fixed and all the maintenance done in about 24 hours, and the cost was right on what they’d estimated! And to put a cherry on top, when I got there, the guy was super friendly and helpful, he showed me the parts that had been replaced and explained what was wrong with them, and basically treated me like I was a person capable of understanding information about cars (which many mechanics do not do when they speak to women.). He also told me that my car is in great shape, so I shouldn’t have to worry about it for quite some time! I was just so pleased with their service and I will be definitely going back to them for all my maintenance from now on. If you are ever looking for a great auto shop, I highly recommend them!
Reflecting back, I have a lot of people to thank for helping me out in this situation:
the two lovely women who stopped to help me out when I was stalled in traffic, along with the lovely gentleman from Kirmac who helped them push my car. Also, the other nice guy from Kirmac who came out while I was waiting for my tow truck to make sure I was OK
the friendly and professional BCAA driver who came for emergency roadside assistance
my friend Tig who gave me a ride to our hockey game that night!
my friend Randy who recommended Deckers Auto and who talked with me through my options
the amazing mechanics at Deckers Auto who treated me fairly and professionally and who charged me a fair price for the work they did
my Dad, for teaching me about how cars work
my sister, for pointing out that my Dad’s legacy lives on through our tendency to call people out on their bullshit
Here’s a video of how a manual transmission works, in case you are interested:
Cross section of Smart car showing engine location is from Wikimedia Commons shared with a Creative Commons license.
Gear shifter in my Smart car photo was taken by me!
Those of you from New West may be noting that Kirmac just so happens to be right next to New West’s craft brewery, Steel & Oak. And if I didn’t have a hockey game to play later that evening, I definitely would have meandered into S&O’s tasting room for a pint after the tow truck took my car away! [↩]
Here’s a simple explanation, if you are interested: http://auto.howstuffworks.com/clutch.htm [↩]
At this point, I was assuming he was going to try to sell me a Merc. [↩]
Interesting that they didn’t seem to care that I’d been such a good customer until I was threatening to leave! [↩]
Of course, he couldn’t drop the price on that because then if I came back for my next service appointment, they wouldn’t be able to charge me the hundreds of extra dollars anymore! [↩]
I was telling my sister this story and said that I wished Dad was here to help me deal with this car stuff – he is the one who taught me all the things I know about cars – and she said “It seems like he is. What you said to them was such a Dad thing to say!” I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! [↩]
In honour of what would have been my Dad’s 72nd birthday, I give you this photo of me entering a door that has a sign explicitly stating that only authorized personnel, which I am not, may enter:
And so my father’s legacy lives on every time I see a sign that says “do not enter” and I think “There must be something good in there. I should go check it out!”
In all seriousness, though, I was thinking about this the other day and as much as I enjoy the rebelliousness and hilarity of disobeying signs the way my dad liked to do, I think there are two important character traits that I learned from my dad reflected here. One is confidence. I remember him telling me that it’s easy to get away with going where you aren’t supposed to go: “Just walk in to a place like you belong there, and no one will question you.” Acting confident can often get you want you want. And in my life, acting confident often has gotten me what I wanted! The other is questioning authority. The sign may say “Do not enter” or “Authorized personnel only” – but why does it say that? Sometimes there is a good reason, but sometimes not. When I saw the signs at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland that said “do not cross this fence”, I knew that many people have accidentally slipped off the edge of those cliffs and fallen 700 ft to the death, so I thought “that’s a sign to take seriously”.
But this “no entry” sign on an open gate in Freemantle, Australia, where there was clearly no danger, not so much:
So I guess the take home message here is not to automatically not do something just because you are told not to, but to ask the even important question “Why?” Asking “why?” has also gotten me things that I want (or, in some cases, the knowledge of the reason why I can’t have what I want – but at least I know). I think these are two pretty cool things to have learned from my dad.
I wish you were still here for me to wish you a happy birthday, Daddy.
My Dad has been gone for five years now. How has five years gone by without my Dad here to tell a joke or tease me when the Leafs beat the Canucks or pick me up at the airport with a Tim Horton’s coffee in one hand and a sign that says “Dr. Snow” in the other? He never knew that I bought a home (he’d have been proud), that I got some cats (he would have been chagrined) and some frogs and fish (he would have been amused). My sister and I have both long since finished the degrees we were just starting when he died1 and gone on to get fancy jobs that he would have proudly told about to anyone and everyone. He would have loved the antics of my nephew, who was only a tiny baby five years ago, and he would have loved the antics of my niece, who’s now nearly a teenager! He would have enjoyed the tales of my mom’s world travels, which he wouldn’t have gone on himself, not being much of a traveller, but he would have wanted to hear all about it. Who knows what he would have gotten up to in his retirement, which he didn’t get nearly enough of after a life of working hard?
I still miss you, Daddy.
A Masters of Design and a Masters of Business Administration, respectively. [↩]