Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Car Part Edition

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.

IMG_4775On 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:

Image Credits:

  • 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!

Footnotes:

  1. 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! []
  2. Here’s a simple explanation, if you are interested: http://auto.howstuffworks.com/clutch.htm []
  3. At this point, I was assuming he was going to try to sell me a Merc. []
  4. Interesting that they didn’t seem to care that I’d been such a good customer until I was threatening to leave! []
  5. 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! []
  6. 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! []

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Stuff I’m Learning This Year: Politics edition

I started this posting ages ago, but haven’t gotten around to finishing it until now. So it’s pretty old news at this point, but I am posting it as part of my chronicling of the stuff I’m learning this year. #YouHeardItHereLast

So eighty billion years ago, we had a provincial election in BC. Politics in BC tend to be weird, and I think we may have outdone ourselves on the weirdness front this time. There are a number of things that I already knew about how our government worked, but the weird situation provided the opportunity for me to learn a few new things!

The BC provincial legislature has a total of 87 seats, which means in order to have a majority, a party needs to win 44 of those seats. On election night, the results ended up being:

  • 43 BC “Liberals”1
  • 41 BC NDP
  • 3 Green Party

BC LegislatureThis meant that no one had a majority and this situation is referred to as a “hung legislature” (this term is the first (#1) thing I learned). But there was an additional weird thing at play – after the votes were counted on election night, there were several very close ridings, including one where the BC NDP won the riding by only 9 votes! But any absentee ballots and ballots cast in the advanced polls are not counted on election night, and with thousands of those ballots outstanding, it was entirely possible that the numbers of ridings could change. If that riding with a 9-vote margin were to end up going to the BC Liberals after the final count, they would have the 44 seats needed for a majority. But if other close ridings changed, it was theoretically possible that the NDP could gain a few seats and end up with a majority (although the odds of that were slim, as the other close ridings weren’t nearly as close as 9 votes). To add even more weirdness, the riding with the 9-vote margin includes a military base (and any deployed personnel would have had to have cast absentee ballots) and the BC “Liberal” candidate in that riding was the former boss of that military base. As one TV commentator put it on election night, the election could end up being decided by whether or not this group of people liked their boss.

IMG_4772At any rate, we then had to wait two weeks for the absentee ballots were counted. This leads to the second (#2) thing that I learned – why it takes so long to count these ballots! When I heard it would take two weeks, I thought, “It’s only ~180,000 ballots. Get a team of volunteers and you could count those up in a day!” But what I didn’t know, and only later learned, was that every advanced poll and absentee ballot has to be sent to its riding (e.g., if you live in Vancouver, but happened to be miles away in another town during the election and voted in a poll there, your ballot would have to be sent to your riding in Vancouver!), where it is counted and then checked manually against the records to make sure that no one voted twice. Because you could imagine a situation where someone votes in by absentee ballot and then shows up at their own polling station on election day and votes again. Hence the manually checking.

After all the ballots were counted – and in some ridings, recounted – the results stayed the same with a hung legislature. What happens in this situation – and this is something that I already knew – is that the Lieutenant Governor (LG) (who represents the Queen of England, who is the head of state in Canada) asks the leader of the party with the most seats if they will be able to maintain the confidence of the house – i.e., will they be able to get enough votes to pass legislation, including budgets, and win votes of non-confidence (where someone in the legislature basically says “I don’t have confidence in this government, who is with me??” and then the legislature votes and if there are a majority of votes in favour of “no confidence”, the government falls. If that leader feels they can get enough votes from the other party/ies, the can say “Yes I can!” and then they can try to govern and thus test out that theory. If they don’t think they can get the other side to vote with them, they can say “No, I can’t” and basically resign, which can either end up as the LG asking another party leader if they can govern or the calling of an election. So the LG asked the leader of the BC “Liberals”, Christy Clark, if she will be able to maintain the confidence of the house. During the time where all the votes were being counted, both the BC “Liberals” and the BC NDP were negotiating with the BC Green Party to see if they could strike a deal to get their support. If the BC “Liberals” could get the Greens to support them, they would have the majority of votes (43 + 3 = 46) and if the BC NDP could get the Greens’ support, they would have the majority of votes (41 + 3 = 44). After negotiating with both sides, the Green Party agreed to a “confidence and supply agreement” with the BC NDP. What is a “confidence and supply agreement” you ask? That is what I asked as well, and it is thing #3 that I learned – a “confidence and supply agreement” is where a party (or individuals) strike an agreement with a governing party (or, in this case, a party that will become government) to vote in the government’s favour on votes of non-confidence and on budgets, ensuring that the government will be able to continuing governing. This other party (or individuals), don’t become a part of the governing party, nor are they in a coalition with the government. They merely agree to vote to keep the governing party in power. In exchange for this agreement, the governing power agrees to stuff that the other party (or individuals) want. So by entering into this agreement, the Green Party effectively demonstrated that the BC “Liberals” would not have the confidence of the house and the BC NDP did. So when the LG asked the leader of the BC “Liberals” if she could govern, she should have said “no” since she knew she would lose the vote 44-432 (and she herself admitted she knew she would lose a vote of non-confidence), but instead she said “yes”, waited a while before she called the legislature into session, and then called the legislature where she lost the vote of non-confidence. She then had to go to the LG’s house to say “My party does not have the confidence of the house so I can’t govern”. She is then supposed to make a recommendation – either that the LG ask the party with the next most seats (i.e., the BC NDP) if they can govern or to call a new election. She went to the LG’s house insisting that she would not make any recommendation because she was not going to ask for a new election and that the LG should decide for herself. The LG told her she *had* to make a recommendation so she recommended a new election, but the LG asked the BC NDP if they could govern and they said “yes” and now we have a BC NDP Premier. Of course, he has a slim one seat majority of votes, but another wrinkle to the whole situation is that one of the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) has to be a speaker of the house and thus doesn’t vote unless as a tie breaker  (thing #4 that I learned – I didn’t realize that the speaker of the house doesn’t vote3 – I feel like I’d be upset if I voted for an MLA to represent me and then they didn’t get to vote on stuff!) and traditionally when they do the tie breaking vote, they vote to continue debate up until the last vote, at which time they vote to “keep the status quo” (or vote against proposed new legislation). So effectively you’ve got a government that has 43 votes in favour and 43 votes against. This, of course, assumes that no one is sick, away, has to resign due to a scandal, chooses to resign to run in an election in a different level of government, or any of a myriad of other possible reasons for being absent. Since the new NDP government has been sworn in, they’ve been busy working on a number of things, but the legislature won’t sit until the fall. Should be interesting times!

Image Credit: Photo of the BC Legislature building was posted by David Gasson on Flickr with a Creative Commons license. The “voting place” sign photo is my own.

  1. For the uninitiated, the “BC Liberal” party has nothing to do with the federal Liberal party, nor are they liberal. They are actually conservative. There is a BC Conservative party, but they run few candidates and don’t win anything. []
  2. Assuming all members of the legislature were present to vote []
  3. I feel like this is something that I should have known. []

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Goals 2017 Check In

We are more than 5/12 of the way through 2017 and first of all, how is that even possible? It feels like it was just New Year’s! But secondly, it seems like a good time to check in on my goals to see if I’m even remotely on track before the year completely gets away from me.

Let’s dive right in, shall we? Below is a list of the goals with notes on how I’m doing on each one. I’ve also colour coded them: green for those that are done or on track, orange for those where progress is made but the goal needs a bunch of work to get back on track, and red for those that are seriously in danger of not getting completed (or are already failed), plus grey for one that has been superseded.

1. Learn 12 new things (1 per month). So far I’ve learned: plumbingfolding a fitted sheet, strength trainingsewing, and growing balcony potatoes – I’ve also learned about one more thing but haven’t written it up yet, so I’m actually ahead on this one!
2. KonMari my condo. I have started this one, but have gotten a little stalled after I got through all my clothes and shoes (still have jewelry and purses to do before I can consider the “clothing” category done). Got a little distracted by teaching a course for the past 6 weeks, which took up a lot of my spare time, but that’s done now so I can get back to making giant piles of my belongings to decide which things bring me joy and thanking the ones that don’t make the cut for their service (lol!)
3. Do yoga at least 2x per week (either at home or in a class). Haven’t done it even once this year!
4. Establish a weight training program and actually do regular weight training, where “regular” = at least 2x per week for at least 3 out of 4 weeks per month. I’m doing excellent on this one! I have gone to the gym 3 days a week, every week, since I joined Strong Side on March 3. Hooray for me!
5. Get back to journalling regularly (where “regularly” = once a week). I forgot this one was a goal. I should really do this! Good thing I’m doing this check in to remind me!
6. Travel somewhere awesome. Scott and I are doing a road trip next week1 and one of the places will be going is Jasper. Though it’s not far away, I do believe it constitutes awesome.
7. Get gum graft surgery done.  Booked for July 4!
8. Get a Nexus card Oh yeah, I should do this!
9. Send an actual physical birthday card on time to all my family members and close friends Already failed at this one! Maybe next year…
10. Bring my lunch to work 80% of the time. I’ve been tracking this on a weekly basis, but hadn’t looked at the actual percentage until just now. I’m only at 56% Clearly I need to up my lunch game when I get back from my holidays!
11. Complete the 100 push up challenge. This goal has been superseded by my joining Strong Side. Hopefully I’ll start to get better at pushups – I’ve managed to make great improvements in my strength, but pushups remain tough for me.
12. Submit 5 papers for publication. I’ve gotten one submitted, I’ve got one that is about 85% of the way done, I’ve got one that I’ve planned out with my co-authors (but we haven’t yet started on), and I’ve got one in my brain. Better get working on the lesser done ones (and also come up with the 5th one!)
13. Read 17 books. I’ve only finished one so far this year (Maria Kondo’s book), but I’m in the middle of reading 4 different books at the moment, plus I have my friend Cath’s new book sitting on my coffee table waiting to be read. So I’m rather behind on this one and I mostly blame the fact that I spend my commute doing my Pokemon inventory management rather than reading
14. Make 17 new foods and/or drinks that I’ve never made before. I’ve only done 6 so far, but I’ve got some good ideas for other things, so I think I’ll manage this one.
15. Write 117 blog postings! Counting this one, I’ll have done 26 blog postings so far this year. I better step it up!
16. Finish the plan for mystery thing #1. I’m actually working on this in earnest this week – my mystery collaborator and I have the week off work to focus on this, so this goal is well underway.
17. Finish the letter of intent for mystery thing #2. I did finish this, so technically I completed my goal. Doesn’t look like this mystery thing is going to go anywhere, so let us never speak of it again.

So I’m doing OK on several, have quite a few that are not on track, and a few on which I’ve made progress. So I guess now it’s time to turn some of those orange and reds into green!

  1. Attention would be robbers: My cat sitter will be here, so don’t even think of trying to rob me! []

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Stuff I’m Learning This Year: Growing potatoes on my balcony edition

Last year when I made my herb garden, I learned that one could grow potatoes on their balcony. I didn’t get to try it out last year due to travel and balcony power washing that happened, but decided I would do it this summer. Fast forward to the May long weekend – Scott and I set out to buy some seedlings to plant this year’s herb garden and while at the store, I remembered the potato thing! I hadn’t remembered early enough to actually sprout some potatoes on my own, but fortunately one can purchase “potato seeds” (which are little potatoes that have been sprouted).

Potato seeds

Basically, you cut a bit off of the potato, put some dirt in a bag, and bury the potato cut side down.

Potato seed

Cutting the potato seed before planting

Growing potatoes on my balcony

Growing potatoes on my balcony

After about a week, you see the plant sprouting above the surface, and then you dump more dirt on it to cover the sprouts and let it grow another four weeks. And then you have potatoes!

As you can see, my potato plants are sprouting quite nicely:

June 4:

Potato plants are growing!

June 10:

Potatoes

June 14:

IMG_5865

Also, the bag that I bought to grow the potatoes in has am opening, which I’m assuming is to make it easier to harvest the potatoes when they are ready. However, such a bag also doubles as an excellent astronaut costume (as long as it is before you put the dirt in it):

Potato growing bag doubles as a spacesuit!

Since I still had more potato seeds, so I decided to get myself another bag to grow a second batch. But since the space suit potato bag appeared to be made out of the same material as Ikea bags, we decided to just buy an Ikea bag for less than $1 and cut a hole in the bottom of it!

Planted on June 4:

Planting balcony potatoes - second batch

June 10:

Potatoes
June 14:

Potatoes
In addition to growing potatoes, also picked up a bunch of seedlings to make this year’s herb garden1. For the record, this year’s garden consists of:

  • chives
  • cilantro
  • dill
  • marjoram
  • mint
  • oregano
  • rosemary
  • sage
  • tarragon
  • thyme
  • tomatoes
  • jalapeño
  • strawberries

Balcony Herb Garden

First strawberry of the season

Strawberries

Balcony Herb GardenDoes anyone know why this tomato is called a “mortgage lifter?”

Also, while we were picking up seedlings, we discovered that the garden store was selling  cat grass seedlings. And seedlings of variegated cat grass. And cat nip seedlings. So guess who got their own little garden?

Watson & Crick love their new cat garden

You can’t see it in the photos, but the cats are wearing harnesses and leashes because I don’t want them falling off the balcony!

I also toyed with the idea of growing a hipster garden when I saw that you could buy kale, quinoa, and stevia seedlings, but decided that the cost in money, effort, and space on the balcony would outweigh the joke. Of course, if I had, I would have to have bought the “craft” compost:Hipster dirt

Anyhoo, like last year, I’m enjoying having fresh herbs to cook with, as well as enjoying watching the garden grow! And I’m really excited to get to harvest some potatoes!

  1. I didn’t find a way to bring last summer’s herb garden inside, given that my cats would eat it all and that I really don’t have anywhere to put it all, so I had to make a new garden from scratch. []

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Stuff I’m Learning This Year: Sewing Edition

Knowing about my goal to learn one new thing every month this year, Cath suggested we try out a sewing class at Spool of Thread in Vancouver1. I’d never sewn anything using a sewing machine before, and Cath hadn’t sewn since high school where she used a machine from the Stone Age, so we took the introductory how-to-make-a-tote-bag class. Our other friend, Stephanie, who has a little more experience than Cath and I, also joined in the fun.

Fabric at Spool of Thread sewing shopI have to say, Spool of Thread is a cool little business. They sell sewing supplies, hold sewing classes to make things of varying levels of difficulty, and you can even rent time on their sewing machines (along with use of the associated space and equipment – a big table to cut out your fabric, irons and ironing boards, and all the pins in the world). The renting of the sewing machine time is a particularly good idea in a city where everyone lives in tiny condos (because who has room for a sewing machine?) – and also for people who have curious cats that love to sit on whatever you are working on at the moment (because who wants to end up sewing a cat into their tote bag?).

Fabric to make a tote bag at my sewing classYou could bring your own fabric to the class, but we all elected to buy some fabric there. There was an extensive range of options and I spent an embarrassingly long time trying to choose. The tote bag is reversible, which meant we had to pick two fabrics, and every time I picked one that I liked, I couldn’t decide on another one that would go with it. I. The end I decided to go with a black and white theme and picked ampersands on one fabric and stars on the other.

The sewing teacher, whose name I completely forget, explained all the parts of the sewing machine, took us through how to thread the sewing machine, and then step-by-step through how to make our tote bags.

As it turns out, the easiest part of sewing is the sewing part. Threading the machine, cutting your fabric, and pinning it together correctly take about 99.9% of the time and effort, but the actual sewing is relatively easy, at least as far as sewing a tote bag where you only need to sew in straight lines. And while not all my lines came out perfectly straight, they came out straight enough and Cath and I agreed that we are both better sewers than we are painters.

Here we at with our fabulous tote bags:

Cath, Stephanie, & Beth at sewing class

Cath, Stephanie, and me with our new tote bags!

During the class, when we were cutting our fabric, the teacher mentioned that we’d have enough leftover fabric to take the how-to-make-zippered-pouches class – we’d learn how to sew a zipper and have pouches to match our totes! He also mentioned that since we get the pattern and instructions for the tote bag, we probably should come back to rent a machine to make another one to reinforce our learning. Sewing machine and Fabric to make a tote bag at my sewing classAnd when Cath inquired into it later, apparently the zipped pouch course is more advanced, so we’d need to take at least one more introductory level class before we do zippered pouches. So they’ve really got a good little system set up from a business perspective because all of that does make sense – I do want to have pouches that match my tote and I want to learn how to sew more things and I kinda want another tote bag – and it all just so happens to increase their sales!

All in all, I really enjoyed my sewing class! I got to make something useful (I often use my tote bag to bring stuff to work), I learned something new, and now I want to do more sewing!

  1. As usual, I have no relationship with this company other than that I am a customer. []

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It’s time for a bulleted list!

As usual, I have so many things I’d like to blog about and so little time, mostly because all of the aforementioned things taking up all of my time1. So, in the interest of getting all these things out of my brain, I give you this brain dump in the form of a bulleted list:

  • After a year and a half, all the hard work of the organizing committee (of which I was a member as a program co-chair) led to a highly successful Canadian Evaluation Society conference at the start of May. I’ll be writing up more specifics on the conference content on my other blog2, but I do have to say that I am so happy that the conference was extremely well attended and everything went off without a hitch. And also that I’m relieved to have a lot fewer meetings in my calendar going forward!
  • The week before the conference my team and I had to make a surprise move to a temporary new office space3. It’s just four blocks from my old office space, but it’s surprising how many new restaurants there are to discover that I never realized were so close by4! Also, one of my coworkers brought a breakfast sandwich maker to the new office and now I live in heaven.Breakfast sandwich maker
  • The temporary new space in which I’m working lacks a phone, so work is getting me a Blackberry. So now I live in 2006. Even more sadly, Pokémon Go is not available on BB (at least not in a very functional state from what I’ve read) (or else I’d be able to double my productivity when it comes to evolution binges when I have a Lucky Egg!).
  • Speaking of Pokémon, I have caught all of the Pokémon from the initial release in Pokémon Go that are available to catch in North America, plus the Australia-specific one5 + all the babies. The last of the originals that I caught was the one I wanted the most: this Flying Spaghetti Monster Pokémon: Tangela
  • Of course, before I caught all the originals, Niantic released a bunch more Pokémon, so I still haven’t caught them all! I have caught a fair number, including this tree: Pokémon
    This communist6 teddy bear: Pokémon and this thing that really needs to pee (both male and female editions. You can tell she’s a girl because she’s wearing lipstick) UntitledUntitled
  • And one more thing about Pokémon. Among the new group of Pokémon that were release, there were two that allowed me to test the question of “If there were a Pokemon that looked like a spider, would my fear of spiders or my love of catching Pokémon win?”
    Pokémon
    Pokémon Given that I’ve caught 151 Spinaraks and 15 Ariados, I think I have my answer.
  • I took a sewing class with Cath and Stephanie as my thing that I learned in April (towards my goal of learning 12 new things this year). There’s a whole blog posting on that which I have partway written, so stay tuned! I’ve also learned something new in May, so that will be another blog post!
  • I’m co-teaching a class in the summer intersession (read: a 12 week course that’s taught in 6 weeks, so I’m extra glad to be co-teaching it!). I don’t really have anything to say about it, but it’s taking up a bunch of my time, so I thought I should probably include it in this laundry list of random things.
  • I’m still loving Strong Side! I’ve just started my third program. The first program was 5 weeks of building a foundation, then there was 5 weeks of hypertrophy (i.e., building muscle), and my new program is 5 weeks of intensity that is probably going to kill me. I’ve only done the instructional week, where the trainers teach you all the exercises in your new program, but you don’t have to do nearly as many sets as the following four weeks. Thursday is my first day on my own for this program where I will have to do eleventy billion sets of all kinds of things that will surely make me exhausted. But I can really see some significant improvements in strength since I started going there, so I’m going to trust the program!
  • There was a provincial election in BC on May 9 and it ended up in a hung parliament. The BC “Liberals” (which I put in scare quotes because the party that goes by the name “BC Liberals” are not liberal at all – they are conservative) won, on the initial counting of the ballots on election night, 43 seats in the legislature m, which is one seat shy of a majority. However, there are more than 170,000 absentee ballots that weren’t counted on election night and some ridings had very slim margins that could easily flip based on absentee ballots – including one riding where the NDP won by just 9 votes! They’ve started the count of the absentee ballots and the NDP are now up by 101 votes in that riding, but there are still more that have to be counted tomorrow, so it’s still possible that the “Liberals” could win that one. If that flips to the BC “Liberals” and none of the other ridings change hands, there will be a majority government and things will continue on as they were before the election, but with fewer MLAs in the ruling party7. But if everything stays the same as the election night results, or if seats flip to the NDP, we could end up with BC “Liberal” minority or, if more seats flip to the NDP, we could end up with an NDP minority, and in either minority scenario, the Green Party holds the balance of power. Needless to say, we’ll be waiting with baited breath for those absentee ballots to be counted!
  1. In fact, as I’ve sat down to take these notes from my phone, where I’ve been writing this blog posting in bits and pieces on my Skytrain commute, I noticed that I haven’t posted anything March 31 and it’s somehow the end of May now!! []
  2. Which I am sure are far too boring for anyone to want to read! []
  3. I actually have two offices and to clarify, this is for my non-hospital office. []
  4. I bring my lunch to work most days, so it will take me awhile to try all the ones I want to try []
  5. I caught the kangaroo one that you can only catch in Australia when I was there last fall. I did not catch the Asian one when I was in Hong Kong (due to not having a data plan and there being very limited free wifi around) and I haven’t been to Europe since Pokémon Go started. Clearly I need to book a European vacation! []
  6. I keep calling that bear a communist because the crescent on his reminds me of the sickle on the Soviet flag. Scott thinks it’s more of a Turkish teddy bear. []
  7. Unless a BC Liberal MLA dies, crosses the floor, or resigns due to a scandal, and a riding is subsequently lost in a by-election. []

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Stuff I’m Learning This Year: Strength Training Edition

As you know, one of my goals for 2017 was to learn 12 new things – an average of one per month. First, I learned some basic toilet repair. Then I learned how to fold a fitted sheet. In that second posting, I alluded to the fact that I’m learning something else that required a bigger blog posting – well, this is that blog posting!

This goes back to the old time-y days of 2016, when I was injured so bad with bursitis that I had to walk with a cane for 2 weeks and I had to spend all of the dollars on physiotherapy for months so that I could walk again and I haven’t been running since then. When I was walking with a cane, one of my work colleagues told me that the best thing she ever did was after she got injured, when her physiotherapy was completed, she got a personal trainer. A personal trainer was able to help determine which of her muscles were weak and which were compensating for the weak ones and was able to give her an interesting exercise routine (as opposed to the super boring stretches you have to do when rehabbing an injury) that helped her get stronger so she wouldn’t get re-injured. And while I had made doing regular strength training one of my 2017 goals *and* I have a weight room in building in which to do said strength training, I spent the first two months of 2017 never lifting a single weight. And then I remembered that I suck at weight training because I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing when I walk into a gym – I need someone to tell me what to do1. And then I remembered that I don’t really do any exercise unless I have some external motivator2. And I also remembered that I dislike doing exercise if it takes much more than walking out of my front door to do it because I begrudge the time it takes to drive to a place to exercise and then drive back afterwards3 – it’s one of the reasons I like running! So I joined a gym with personal trainers that is about a block from my place. It meets my needs of being super-conveniently located, it has someone telling me what to do, and I’m externally motivated because I’m paying money for it (and I have to show up 3 days a week to follow my plan!). The place is called Strong Side Conditioning4

Strong Side ConditioningBut it wasn’t just the super-convenient location that convinced me to go to this place. I did a free assessment there where I got to learn about the gym and their business model, to go through an assessment and hear what a plan for me would be like, and to meet some of the staff5. The business model of the gym is that it’s sort of halfway between a gym membership and a personal trainer. With a regular gym membership, you would pay less but not have assistance in creating a plan or assistance with your training (like making sure your form is correct or helping you decide when to go up in weight or number of reps). With a regular personal trainer, you get all 1-on-1 training sessions and pay by the hour (and then maybe do some other training sessions totally on your own, following the plan they’ve created for you) – and the hourly rate is not cheap. At Strong Side, they come up with a training plan for you each month and at the start of the month, you get a week’s worth of 1-on-1 sessions to learn your exercises (in my case, I chose 3 days a week, so I got 3 training session to learn my 3 workouts) and after that you have 3 weeks where you drop into the gym at your convenience to do your workouts, but there are a bunch of trainers circulating to help you if needed. You record your workouts and the trainers can see how you are progressing and then they make up a new training plan for the next month and repeat.

I started on March 3, and so far I’ve had my three training sessions, and done four solo sessions. My assessment had shown that I basically use my diaphragm and my quads for everything and all my other muscles don’t do anything. So I’m working on releasing the tension in my ribs and quads and strengthening my everything else so that my everything else will stop being such a bunch of freeloaders. I do exercises with a variety of resistance bands, free weights, kettle bells, machines, risers, sliding thingys, and more, so I’m learning the proper form for all kinds of exercises and what muscles should be doing stuff during those exercises. There are always plenty of trainers around watching during my solos sessions to tell me if my form is right or needs adjusting and I’m already seeing some improvements (in that I can do more reps of some things and squat lower than I could two weeks ago). And the trainers I’ve met, which I think is most of them by now, are all really friendly and helpful and down-to-earth.

The only thing that I can say that I don’t like is that I wish they had longer hours – they open at 6:30 am on weekdays, so if I want to do a morning workout, by the time I get through my workout, go home and shower and get ready, and then head into Vancouver, I’m not getting to my office until about 9:30 am, which is a bit later than I’d like (and on many days, too late as I have meetings at 8 or 9 am). Similarly, they close at 9 pm on weekdays, which means that if I don’t want to have to rush through my workout, I have to get there by 7:30 pm, which can sometimes be difficult for me on a busy day. I get that the hours of operation are constrained by the need to have enough trainers around and it doesn’t make any business sense to have the gym open at 5:30 am and close at 11 pm on the off chance that I might want to be there extra early or extra late once in a while. All in all, having to get to the gym within their set hours is a small price to pay for what I’m getting out of my membership!

Anyhoo, so far so good. I’m sure I’ll blog more about my exciting strength training adventures as the year goes on!

Strong Side Conditioning

  1. Similarly, when I’m running, I always have to be training for a race, because I need a plan to follow as without one, I can’t seem to make a simple decision, like how often I should run or how far should I run on a given day. []
  2. Unless it’s hockey, but that doesn’t count because it’s so fun in and of itself that I don’t even think of it as exercise. []
  3. Again, hockey excepted. []
  4. As always, I haven’t been paid to blog about them, nor have I even talked to them about the fact that I’m writing a blog posting – I am blogging about them because I like them! I’m actually paying lots of money to go there! lol! []
  5. I also did a free assessment with a personal trainer whose gym is literally across the street from my office (Did I mention I need something conveniently located?). He seemed nice and all, but he charges by the hour for training sessions, so it would work out to a lot more than Strong Side (though in the end I’d get less service) – I liked the business model of Strong Side better and I clicked more with the staff. Also, the trainer near my work said he was a Philadelphia Flyers fan and said “I have to have a Canadian team too, so I’m a Leafs fan.” I’m not saying that I decided I couldn’t work with a Flyers/Leafs fan – but I’m not saying that I could. []

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Folding Edition

One ofmy goals for 2017was to learn 12 new things – an average of one per month. In January I learned some basic toilet repair. In February I learned nothing. Ok, I probably did learn some stuff, butjust stuff that I would have learned anyway even without this goal (I learn new stuff at work all the time – it’s sort of the nature of my job). So to make up for it, I’m going to learn two new things in March. I’ve already started on the second thing – it will be a longer blog posting on another day (and it’s way more interesting than the thing I’m about to talk about). But tonight I decided to tackle learning how to fold a fitted bedsheet! Usually I just sort of roll it up and stuff it in apillowcase with the much more nicely folded flat bedsheet (and then leave it on the bed for the cleaning lady to change the sheets). And I usually do this on the morning of the day the cleaning lady is coming (and up until that day, the sheets have been sitting, unfolded, in the “clean” laundry bucket mixed in with all the other laundry I haven’t bothered to fold. Because I have more interesting things to do in life that be a responsible launderer. But then it’s always kind of bugged me that I was being shown up by fitted bedsheets. Surely I could master folding those things right? And on those rare occasions when I actually did fold my laundry, I’d end up with a big lumpy pillowcase in my linen closet. Boo-urns. So tonight I decided to actually just learn how to do it.

I followed these instructions from the Internets and lo and behold, I have folded a fitted sheet! It might not be perfect, but this isthe best folding job I’ve ever done (and probably will ever do!) when it comes to fitted sheets:

I folded a fitted bedsheet

I’m pretty muchMartha freaking Stewart.

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Plumbing Edition

One of my goals for 2017 was to learn 12 new things – an average of one per month. I didn’t decide on what those things needed to be – I figured I’d be inspired throughout the year with things to learn. And my first source of inspiration was the discovery of some water on my bathroom floor, which turned out to be coming from a leaky toilet supply line. The toilet supply line, for the uninitiated, is the tube that runs from your wall into the bottom of your toilet tank and it’s how the water gets into your toilet tank so you can flush your toilet.

It looks like this:

toilet supply lineIMG_5016

So anyway, mine was dripping water, which is not a thing you want your toilet supply line to do. I did some googling and figured out that (a) that tube is called a toilet supply line and (b) it’s relatively easy to replace. You just need to turn the water off with that handy dandy handle on the bottom, flush the tank so there’s no water left in it (and it won’t get refilled because you turned the water off), then unscrew the metal nut at the bottom and unscrew the white nut at the top, and then replace it with a new tube, which you can buy for $7. So I thought “Excellent! I can fix this myself for $7 (as opposed to having to pay for a plumber’s visit) and I’ll learn something new in the process!”

New toilet supply line ready to be installed

A shiny new toilet supply line, ready to be installed!

I followed the instructions and while the metal nut at the bottom was hard to unscrew, I managed to get it undone after some hard work.

Step 1, unscrew the bottom part of the toilet supply line

Step 1: Unscrew metal nut at the bottom

The white nut at the top, however, was a much tougher job. I tried and I tried and I tried… and then instead of the white nut becoming unscrewed from the toilet’s fill valve, the fill valve just cracked right off! I guess my toilet supply line was just so old that it had pretty much fused to the fill valve!

Step 2, try to unscrew the toilet supply line, but break the toilet fill valve instead

Step 2: Break things

At this point I may have freaked out a bit, because I had only googled how to replace the toilet supply line – I had no idea what that piece I just broke was and, since I like having a toilet that can flush and I only have one bathroom in my apartment, I needed to figure out how to get this fixed quick! I did some googling and managed to find a company called GVA Plumbing1 that had a good rating on Homestars.com and the main guy happened to be heading into Burnaby (from Langley) for a job and was able to drop in to fix my issue for me that same day!  Mehmet was super friendly and even, upon my request, explained what he was doing as he replaced the toilet fill valve. It was actually not that complicated and I probably could have done it myself, had I not been too freaked out by breaking something and thus afraid I would break something more. At any rate, after $200, I had a newly installed toilet supply line AND a newly installed toilet fill valve, and now nothing is leaking. Hooray!

Also, I would like to point out that the exact wording of my goal was to “learn 12 new things (1 per month). They can be small things, but just something I didn’t used to know!” It does not say anywhere in the goal that I have to successfully execute the thing that I learned. So I have learned something about toilet repair: how to replace a toilet supply line and a toilet fill valve! And now I only need to learn 11 more things this year to achieve my goal!

  1. As per usual, I have no affiliation with this company other than that I paid for their service and I thought they did a really good job. []

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Goals for 2017

I’ve been hemming and hawing about what to do about my goals for 2017. I typically do a lot of the same things – earn a certain number of race medals, knock a certain number of items off my 101 list, and perennial favourite goal that I never manage to achieve (run a sub 2-hr half marathon), but given my abysmal performance on my 2016 goals, I’m wondering if I should shake things up? I do have my three things that I’m not prepared to blog about just yet (two of which lend themselves to goals) brewing, but since, as you may remember from earlier in this sentence, I’m not prepared to blog about them, I can’t really set them as publicly stated goals on my blog, now can I? #VagueBlogging. Wait. Unless I write #VagueBlog goals (and then I’ll have to write myself a private note somewhere else as to what those actually mean!). Of course, this plan means that I’ll officially be the most annoying person ever for the 7 people who actually read my blog1. So perhaps I’ll write some specific ones and some vague ones and I can either fill those vague ones in once I’m prepared to blog about such things, should I become prepared to blog about such things at some later point in time.

OK, here goes:

New goals:

  1. Learn 12 new things (1 per month). They can be small things, but just something I didn’t used to know!
  2. KonMari my condo. Just started reading Marie Kondo’s book on organizing and I think it’s worth giving it a try.
  3. Do yoga at least 2x per week (either at home or in a class). I think I’ve done enough stretches to rehab my injured hip and it’s time to work on building up my strength and flexibility.
  4. Establish a weight training program and actually do regular weight training, where “regular” = at least 2x per week for at least 3 out of 4 weeks per month. Building up my strength should also be helpful to prevent re-injury (not to mention improving my running (when I get back into it) and hockey!)
  5. Get back to journalling regularly (where “regularly” = once a week).
  6. Travel somewhere awesome. Haven’t made any vacation plans yet this year. Need to get on that!
  7. Get gum graft surgery done. I’ve been putting it off – I should just bite the bullet it and do it already!
  8. Get a Nexus card. Been meaning to do that for a while.
  9. Send an actual physical birthday card on time to all my family members and close friends. Step 1 will be to make a list of when everyone’s birthday is!

Classic goals:

  1. Bring my lunch to work 80% of the time.
  2. Complete the 100 push up challenge. See above re: getting stronger!
  3. Submit 5 papers for publication. I have one that is almost ready to go and another one that I’ve done a lot of the research for (plus I have someone who said they are willing to read it and provide suggestions for me), so then I just need to come up with 3 more!
  4. Read 17 books.
  5. Make 17 new foods and/or drinks that I’ve never made before.
  6. Write 117 blog postings!

Vague goals:

  1. Finish the plan for mystery thing #1.
  2. Finish the letter of intent for mystery thing #2.
  1. If you are one of those people and actually want to know what the hell I’m talking bout, feel free to email me 🙂 []