Today is my niece Madeline’s 13th birthday. Thirteen! A teenager!! Amazing!
I hope you have a fabulous birthday, Madeline! Wish I were there to celebrate it with you! Can’t wait to see you at Christmas time!
Today is my niece Madeline’s 13th birthday. Thirteen! A teenager!! Amazing!
I hope you have a fabulous birthday, Madeline! Wish I were there to celebrate it with you! Can’t wait to see you at Christmas time!
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!
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:
Here’s a video of how a manual transmission works, in case you are interested:
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”.
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.
My grandpa died today. He was 94 years old – would have been 95 in March. He had family with him when he went and my mom tells me that the care providers at the facility he lived in, despite him having only been there a few weeks, knew him and were very kind to him and to my family. It’s always hard when someone dies, but at least when they are 94 years old you can say that they had a good long life. And he wasn’t doing well of late – hence having moved into a care facility that could take care of his increasing health needs – so I am grateful that he didn’t have to experience prolonged suffering.
When I think about my grandpa, I usually think of him as being about 65 years old (despite that actually being 30 years ago!). I remember going out tobogganing for his 65th birthday. The whole family, laughing and careening down the hill on our various types of toboggans. All wearing orange and white toques with the Howard Johnson logo on them1, as that was where my grandpa worked at the time. I also remember eating venison that he’d hunted. And the jokes he would tell. And drinking tea at my grandparents’ house. I have a duck that he carved – a male buffelhead to be specific – in my home office, next to my Dad’s french fry cutter and one of my Granny’s china tea cups.
I didn’t get to see my grandpa when I was in Ontario for the holidays. A combination of a short trip, bad weather, and being sick (and not wanting to bring germs into a facility full of frail elderly people) kept me away. The last time I saw my grandpa was the previous year, on Boxing Day, at my Aunt Wendy’s house, watching World Juniors hockey. He loved hockey, as do many in my family, including me, so it’s a nice memory to have to add to a lifetime of other memories.
You will be missed, Grandpa.
The following was written on a plane earlier today.
I’m on my way home from my whirlwind Christmas holidays and realized that I have to do 9 blog postings in the next 2.5 days to achieve my goal of publishing 116 blog postings in 2016. So I figure I better get writing! I have a few year-end blog postings that I typically do that will fill out a number of these, including:
So I just have to write all of those, plus this one, and mission accomplished!
I guess before I get cracking on writing all of those, I can tell you about my whirlwind Christmas holidays! We arrived back at my sister’s after our four days in NYC on the night of Dec 23. Happily, we got in earlier than expected, as we had whizzed through security because we got TSA-Pre clearance so we made it to our gate before the previous fight to Toronto had left and we were able to get three seats on that flight. This meant that we got home before my niece and nephew had gone to bed, so I didn’t have to wait until the next morning to see them!
The next day was Christmas Eve and we woke to pancakes that were made by my nephew, Thomas. He got a cookbook from the school library on the last day of school specifically so he could make those for everyone and they were delicious (I should add that Thomas is 5 and a surprising good cook (and baker) for his age.. with a wee bit of assistance with the stove part). After that, we mostly just lounged around, though I did wrap my presents and about eleventy billion trips were made to the grocery store for various things that we remembered we needed (as the stores would be closed the next day!), each thing being remembered only after the last shopper had returned to the house. I should note that I didn’t make any of those trips because it was cold outside and I am a delicate west coast flower. Christmas Eve dinner was a cornucopia of appies – crackers and breads and spreads and jalapeño poppers and shrimp thingys and chicken fingers and various things wrapped in various pastries and we were all stuff to the gills will deliciousness.
Christmas Day was as Christmas Day should be – awaking early to see what Santa had brought for the kiddies and what everyone had gotten for each other and the biggest winners of the present getting were my niece’s three guinea pigs and my cats. That is not to say that the rest of us were deprived, as we spoiled each other rotten, but the fluffy members of our family got some pretty sweet gifts. My mom made fritattas and a hot potato salad for breakfast (I was supposed to help, but she got up at the crack of dawn while I was still in dreamland1, so my contribution consisted of the sophisticated work of toasting English muffins and crumpets.). My sister made an amazing turkey dinner and for dessert we had individual-sized banoffee pies made by my mother and I (I actually did help make those!) and they might now be on my list of top desserts ever2. There may also have been a PokéWalk3 before dinner for my niece, my nephew, and I, as I figured that I should probably leave the house at least every other day. It was cold, but worth it.
On Boxing Day, we were supposed to go to my Aunt Wendy’s place for an open house, but a combination of icy conditions and that fact that all of us had a pretty nasty cold (that we didn’t really want to give it to the various babies who would be there) kept us away. Boxing Day consisted of lounging, building Lego things, playing various games, and eating our weight in leftovers.
On Dec 27, my mom, sister, and I went to the spa for pedicures (a Christmas present to us from my mom), followed by lunch with my Aunty Eileen and Aunty Lynn. That evening me and Nancy met up with Dr. Dan, Rick, and Rob, another guy we’d all gone to high school with that Dan keeps in regular touch with but who I hadn’t seen in 20 years. We stuffed our faces with Mexican food, drank margaritas the size of our heads4, and then went to another restaurant and stuffed ourselves with more drinks and desserts.
Yesterday Nancy, Jeff, Madeline, Thomas and I went to see Rogue One. I won’t say any spoilers in case you haven’t seen it yet. My mom is not a Star Wars fan, so she stayed back at my sister’s house and made a trip to the bakery, because clearly we hadn’t food shopped enough! That evening, Sarah and Dave and their munchkins came over for dinner. Their munchkins seemed to have a pretty fun time playing with Madeline and Thomas and I had a pretty fun time catching up with Sarah and Dave!
At some point in all of that, Nancy, Jeff, my mom, and I found time to watch the first season (all 10 episodes) of The Man in the High Castle5. Or as we called it “The Man in the High Tower”, “The High Man in the Castle”, “The High Man in the Dark Castle Tower”, and “Professor Plum in the Library with the Candlestick Holder”6. If you haven’t seen it, you are missing out. I can’t wait to watch season 2, which I only just learned existed yesterday.
And now, it what feels like a blink of the eye from when I left, I’m on a plane back home! It’s always so sad to say good-bye to my family, but I am excited to see my kitties. I have a suitcase full of presents for them.
Hey, remember that time I said that my sister and I were going to take our mom to New York City for her birthday? Well, that trip was Dec 20-23 and we had a pretty amazing time! Of course, 4 days is really only enough time to scratch the surface of the Big Apple, so while we had an amazing time, we clearly have to go back because there were so many things we didn’t get to do!
We stayed at the Hudson Hotel, which was lovely and had a decor that I would characterize as lots of textures but barely any light.
On our first night, we had a bite to eat at the Hudson Common (their beer bar) and then went for a walk, whereupon we stumbled upon a Christmas market! Given the recent attack at the Berlin Christmas market, there was high security at the one we stumbled upon, include police vehicles lining the road in front of it and cops with assault rifles guarding the place.
Drinks at the Hudson Commons:
Duck fat fries:
On day 2 we set out to see a show. We’d been told when we got our tickets to see the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular that we had to arrive an hour in advance of our 11 am show to get through security so we grabbed coffee and a bite to eat on our way and headed to RCMH. We went through the security, which included one person who searched your purse and then another person who searched you with a metal detection wand, and then we got to the guy who scanned your tickets… and it turned out we were there on the wrong day! We actually had our Christmas Spectacular tickets for Dec 22 and for Dec 21 we had tickets to see Wicked at 2 pm2! So we went off for a walk and stumbled upon the Rockefeller Centre Christmas tree. I was less than impressed with the tree itself (though perhaps it looks better at night).
But I was impressed with the people soliciting donations for the Salvation Army3, especially these two guys who were really giving ‘er:
I had wanted to go skating at Rockefeller, but the lineup was too long, so I just took this picture instead:
I also saw this:
I felt like I should take a photo of that before it gets taken away, given recent events in US politics.
We stopped in at a pub for lunch:
Then went to see Wicked!
Wicked was fantastic! They had the understudy playing Elphaba (a.k.a., The Wicked Witch) and she was incredible! I didn’t know anything about the play other than that it was a re-telling of the Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the Wicked Witch, who maybe isn’t so wicked after all. It had a cool story, fantastic performances, and the costumes and sets were amazing. Here’s what the stage looked liked before the show started (no photos allowed during the show):
And here we are waiting for the show to start:
That night we went for a pre-dinner drink at Ascent:
and then the most amazing dinner at Porterhouse, where we started with the burrata (we may have dug right into that so fast we forgot to take a photo:
My mom had the Porterhouse Porkchop with a glass of Sancerre:
My sister had the filet mignon with a Malbec:
and I went for the chili rubbed rib eye, also with a Malbec:
On Day 3, we went to see the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular! We moved expertly through the security line, having done it all the day before, and got inside with plenty of time to spare4
The show was pretty spectacular. The precision with which those dancers dance is amazing! The music was fun and there were a variety of different acts, including, among other things, a very cool instrumental version of the 12 Days of Christmas where the number of Rockettes dancing represented the number of days of Christmas and We Three Kings with actual camels.
After the show, we walked to the MOMA, but the lineup was so long that we weren’t able to actually go in and had to make do with just checking out the gift shops. I bought myself this lovely necklace:
On our way, we passed by Trump Tower:
We were on the opposite side of the street, but anyone who wanted to go right in front of the building had to go through a security screening. And apparently Trump wasn’t even in town – I can’t imagine what it’s like when he’s there.
Next up was dinner at Bar Boulud, including delicious cocktails:
Salmon for my sister:
And my mom and I both had scallops:
After dinner my sister had an Elixir au Chocolate, which she declared the best drink she had ever had:
And we all shared profiteroles for dessert:
On our fourth and final day, we decided to walk to the High Line Park, and along the way we saw Times Square:
and my mom met her favourite snowman, Olaf:
and the New York Times:
and Madison Square Garden:
and the big post office:
and we may have stopped for a treat at Doughnut Plant:
The High Line Park is a park built on an old elevated train track:
As you can see, while we saw quite a few things, there is a tonne of stuff that we didn’t see! Clearly, we need to go back!
Happy 12th birthday to my fabulous niece, Madeline!
A few more years and we’ll be cheers-ing your birthday with real champagne!