Not To Be Trusted With Knives

The Internet’s leading authority on radicalized geese

By

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! []

By

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. []

By

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. []

By

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.

By

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. []

By

Can’t Stop Learning

As previously mentioned, I recently started taking some hockey lessons, because apparently 2 years of MBA school on the weekend got me addicted to learning stuff on Saturday mornings. The lessons are going great – the coach is excellent at breaking skills down into easy-to-understand parts and because we only have 5 people in the class (and not everyone shows up to every class), we get to do lots of reps of the different drills. Repetition is very important to learning new skills – you have to do something enough times that it’s just hard-wired into your brain and you aren’t thinking about it anymore1.

Well, apparently I’m not content with just learning stuff on Saturdays mornings. Because, as you may recall, my MBA classes also included Friday nights2. And, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, I’ve signed up for a Friday night class. Starting this week, I’m taking beginner’s salsa dancing lessons.

This will be me soon:

The Perfect Moment

Image Credit: Posted by Vineet Radhakrishnan on Flickr.

Footnotes:

  1. So, really, in addition to the lessons, I need to get out to some stick-and-puck sessions to work on these different skills that I’m learning. []
  2. As well as Sundays, but I’m hoping that learning stuff on Fridays *and* Saturdays will fill my learning needs! []

By

Things I Learned in Ireland

This is a *really* long posting about stuff I learned on my vacation. Like, really freaking long. You should probably take a vacation day or seven to read it.

Given that my holiday was meant to be a break from work and school, it was somewhat surprising that I chose a holiday that included an 11-day tour of Ireland, during which I had to get up early every morning1 and we spent all day learning things. Our tour guide, Martin, often gave us fascinating lessons on Irish history as we drove through the country2, but we also visited a number of places like factories where they taught you all about how they make their wares.

First of all, before this trip the political set up of Ireland was always a bit fuzzy to me. I knew it was an island where the north was part of the United Kingdom but the rest was its own country, but it wasn’t exactly clear. So here’s the 411 on that:

  • About 5/6th of the island is a sovereign state, known as the Republic of Ireland, while about 1/6th of the island is Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK.
  • Ireland is made up of 32 counties – 26 in the Republic of Ireland and 6 in Northern Ireland. People often refer to towns and cities by also saying the country they are in (Like, “I was in Killarney, County Kerry.”)

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counties_of_Ireland

  • You also hear about the 4 provinces of Ireland:  Leinster, Ulster, Munster and Connacht – but these are not actual political entities, but rather are based on historical kingdoms.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ireland_location_provinces.svg

Another thing I learned about Ireland is that the population is about 6 million people, but about 70 million people worldwide have Irish ancestry. As we learned when we got to Ireland, they have a big tourism push for 2013 called “The Gathering“, which is meant to encourage those 70 million people to go to Ireland to find their roots… as well as for anyone else who loves anything Irish to go to Ireland to check out the country… and for those in Ireland to join in on the celebrations of all things Irish too! I think it’s kind of cool that my mom, my aunts, and I decided to go there to explore our roots this year without even knowing that was a thing!

Now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s look at all the things I learned as I traveled around this beautiful country!

I learned how to weave, at Foxford Woollen Mills in County Mayo:

IMG_4143

and Avoca Woollen Mills in County Wicklow3:

IMG_6403

IMG_6406

IMG_6415

IMG_6416

IMG_6422

I learned how to thatch a roof at Parkes’ Castle:

P8124586

I learned how marble is processed at Connemara Marble in County Galway:

IMG_5438

IMG_5441

You can see the seashells embedded in the black marble.

Also, I bought this beautiful ring at Connemara Marble:

Day 34

At Rathbaun Farm in Ardrahan, County Galway, I learned how to shear a sheep:

IMG_4187

And how to feed a lamb:

P8103636

And I also learned how to make the most delicious scones, though me and both my aunts appear not to have taken any photos of said scones4

I learned how to make crystal at the Waterford Crystal Factory:

IMG_6321

And, of course, how to make – and drink – Irish whiskey at the Old Jameson Distillery:

P8155705

I learned about hurling – the national sport of Ireland, which seems like a combo of rugby, lacrosse, and Quidditch – from Conner (son of Tina the harpist!):

P8103907

I also learned about peat bog:

P8124500

Peat is used as a fuel source – and I have to say that we went to a few places that had peat fires and they smell amazing! The problem with peat though, is that it takes a looong time to form – digging down one foot into the peat represents 1,000 years of formation. So once you harvest it, it takes a long time to come back (certainly not for many generations to come!)). Peat bogs are also an ecosystem, so harvesting the peat can result in destroying habitats for various plants and animals. Because of this, there’s an EU ban on harvesting peat bog, but it’s being resisted by people who see harvesting peat as part of their traditional way of life and whose families have been harvesting peat for generations.

Here’s some peat we saw drying out in a field:

IMG_5386

P8093429

Also, of note, apparently they occasionally find preserved bodies in the bogs, though sadly we didn’t see any of them:

IMG_5933

The one thing I didn’t know when we were learning about peat – and specifically about the ban on harvesting peat – but I learned later at the Old Jameson Distillery is that scotch gets its peaty flavour from the fact that the malted barley is dried by a peat fire. So, if they stop harvesting peat bog… is that the end of scotch making?

Another thing I learned in Ireland is that every year in September, there is a matchmaker festival in Lisdoonvarna, Country Clare:

IMG_4218

You know, in case you are looking for a nice Irish husband5. Mind you, my Aunt Eileen didn’t need a matchmaker, as Billy the jaunting car driver6 in Killarney proposed to her within about a minute of us getting into our jaunting car in Killarney:

IMG_5740

I learned about all kinds of roses at a rose garden that we went to, the name of which I don’t think I ever found out! I think these ones might have been my favourite:

IMG_5643

Or this one – it’s called the Tequila Sunrise rose:

IMG_5684

At the rose garden, I also learned what was inside this thing7:

P8114196

Another thing I learned about was the Celtic Tiger. I knew that Ireland was in recession – and had been for quite some time – but, like much about Irish history, I didn’t know much about it. In Ireland these days, they often talk about the “Celtic Tiger” or “Tiger times”, which refers to the late 1990s during which Ireland’s economy was growing rapidly. Fuelled by foreign investment and cheap money, the whole country went crazy with building stuff, but after things like a banking scandal and the real estate bubble bursting8, the country went into a deep and lasting recession. Throughout Ireland we saw lots of homes and commercial buildings that had been built in Tiger times but then were never used, because the recession hit9 and no one could afford them. Here’s one example – a shopping mall that was built and has never been used:

IMG_6344

I learned about the Potato Famine – which, in the 1840s, killed a million people and resulted in another million people being forced to emigrate lest they also die of starvation. Remember how I said that the population of Ireland is about 6 million? In the 1840s, it was 8 million – it dropped significantly due to the famine and then kept dropping as people continued to emigrate, dipping to about 4 million around the turn of the century, and then starting to rise to where it is today.

There were a few places where we learned about the effects of the Great Famine. One was the Dunbrody Famine Ship (in New Ross, County Wexford), a replica of a ship that was used to take Irish emigrants to the US and Canada.

IMG_6371

Those who were well off could afford a “first class” ticket, but most traveled in steerage:

IMG_6357

Steerage meant that you and your entire family (and possibly another family, if your family was small), plus all of your luggage, would be crammed into a bunk like this one:

IMG_6386

And you would have to stay there for 23.5 hours per day, as you only got 1/2 hour per day up on the ship’s deck, to empty the bucket that was your family’s toilet and to cook your meagre food on the fire. And this trip lasted for months. Well, it lasted for months if you were lucky and actually survived, as the survival rate was only 50%. Could you imagine spending probably every penny you have10 to leave the only place you’ve ever known because you are on the brink of starving to death, with barely any belongings because you can only take what fits on your bed with you and your whole family, where you sit for months and months, and you only have a 50% chance of surviving?

In Dublin we saw the Irish Famine Memorial, which was a stark portrayal of those forced to emigrate due to starvation:

IMG_6450

IMG_6454

And in County Mayo we walked along the road where many died in the Doolough Valley:

P8093371

Another place where I I learned a great deal about Irish history was at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. This is going to sound odd, but Glasnevin Cemetery was one of my favourite places I visited in Ireland and I wished I could have spent more time there!

IMG_6647

Under the penal laws, Catholics were not allowed to practice their religion, which meant that they could not have Catholic cemeteries and so, at that time they would bury their dead in Protestant cemeteries with limited funerals, as the performance of Catholic ceremonies, including funerals, in public was against the law. Daniel O’Connell – a man known as the “Catholic Emancipator” for the work he did to gain rights for Catholics – pushed for the creation of a cemetery where people of all religions or no religion could be buried with dignity. Glasnevin Cemetery, which opened in 1832, was the cemetery that was created for that purpose. Among the 1.5 million people11 buried at Glasnevin are many famous Irish people, including Michael Collins, Irish revolutionary and the first head of the provisional government of Ireland (who was assassinated); Maud Gonne, Irish revolutionary (though she was born in England) and the muse of W.B. Yeats and mother of Nobel Prize winner Sean MacBride12; many other Irish revolutionaries, many of whom were executed, and Daniel O’Connell ((Fun fact: Daniel O’Connell’s non-violence resistance was an inspiration for Gandhi!)) himself.

O’Connell is buried in a crypt in a round tower at Glasnevin. On our tour, we were able to go into the crypt where his coffin is sitting inside a sarcophagus:

IMG_6669

As you can see in the photo above, there are holes in the sarcophagus that allow access to the wooden coffin, so that visitors can touch O’Connell’s coffin. Which I did13.

O’Connell died in Genoa, on a pilgrimage to Rome. Before he died, he said “My body to Ireland, my heart to Rome, my soul to heaven”, which you can see written here on the walls of his crypt:

IMG_6667

IMG_6668

This statement was taken literally, so when he was embalmed they took out his heart and sent it to Rome. There it was placed in a silver casket which was put in a vault in a church in Rome, then later placed in the wall of the church behind a tablet… and then disappeared! In 1927, when they went to move the church to a new location, they took the tablet off the wall and O’Connell’s heart was gone! To this day, no one knows where it is!

In rooms adjacent to O’Connell’s coffin are coffins containing other members of his family:

IMG_6677

And outside of his round tower are a bunch of other crypts14, where people who were willing to pay a lot of money to be buried near Daniel O’Connell are buried:

IMG_6681

Also, in Glasnevin Cemetery, we saw Michael Collins‘ grave15 He was a leader of Irish revolution, the Director of Intelligence of the Irish Republican Army, part of the group that negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty (which created the “Irish Free State” – i.e., the Republic of Ireland as a sovereign nation), and the first head of the provisional government of Ireland that was formed after the Treaty. He was assassinated in 1922 at the age of 31.

IMG_6692

In the museum part of the cemetery, there were exhibits with information cemetery-related things, like body snatching:

IMG_6653

IMG_6652

And this neat fact that my mom found:

IMG_4244

My father was cremated and his urn rests in a niche in a columbarium at the cemetery in my home town. Given that my dad was a pigeon racer16, we like the connection of his final resting place to doves and pigeons.

In non-cemetery-related learnings, I learned the story behind this awesome Children of Lir that we saw at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin:

P8155745

The statue is based on an old Irish legend about 4 daughters who were much beloved by their father Lir, which made their new stepmother jealous, so she turned them into swans. In the legend, hundreds of years later they are turned back into women. The statue was created using the idea that the four swans represent the four provinces of Ireland – Leinster, Ulster, Munster and Connacht – which were, like the swans, not free for so many years while England ruled over Ireland. The reason there are only 3 women in the statue is because, after the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which created a sovereign Irish state of three of the provinces, one province – Ulster (a.k.a., Northern Ireland) remains in chains.

In conclusion, Ireland is awesome. It’s culture and history are fascinating, its scones are delicious, and I learned a crazy amount of stuff for someone who was on vacation and trying to forget that I was a student.

  1. Breakfast at 7:30, on the bus by 8:30! []
  2. And now I totally want to read more about Irish history! []
  3. Some of the looms they use at Avoca Mills are more than 100 years old! []
  4. Probably because we were too excited to eat them! []
  5. Or wife. []
  6. On our way to the jaunting cars, our tour bus driver, Martin, told us that Billy was looking for a wife. Upon meeting Billy, he elaborated: “I’m looking for a wife. Any man’s wife will do. If they are small, I’ll take two!” []
  7. Which, not surprisingly, was nothing. Mostly I just thought that was a funny picture. []
  8. Sounds familiar, eh? []
  9. Interestingly, it was announced on one of our last days in Ireland that the country was coming out of recession. I don’t think this was just coincidental to the fact that my shopaholic mother and aunts were in the country at the time! []
  10. Some people’s landlords would pay for their ticket just to get them off the land, since the land was producing nothing useful due to the potato blight. And some people would receive money from relatives who had emigrated and found a way to make a living in the new world. []
  11. Which is more than the 1.2 million people *living* in Dublin! []
  12. Interesting story – Yeats proposed to Gonne four different times and she always refused him; he later proposed to her daughter, Iseult, but she also turned him down. []
  13. Come on, you had to know that I would! []
  14. 42, to be specific. Which makes my Douglas Adams’ loving-self smile. []
  15. And now I really want to watch the movie Michael Collins, starting Liam Neeson. []
  16. To clarify, he own pigeons that raced against other pigeons. He did not race against the pigeons himself. Because I have been asked that! []

By

You Can Do *Anything* You Want?

I’m involved in a program where scientists go to elementary schools to teach science to the kids. It’s super fun to see how engaged the students get in the experiments, to see them thinking critically and learning that science is fun.  Last week, I went to meet the classes I’m going to be working with this year – grades 3 and 4.  I told them a little bit about my background as a scientist and, after wowing them with the fact that I went to school until I was in grade 23, we got to talking about what university is like. I told them that unlike elementary school, where you have classes in all the different subjects – science and math and English and art and gym and music and history, etc. – when you get to university, you start to specialize, you decide what you like and then you take most of your courses just in that area.  If you decide you like science, then you can specialize in science and take mostly science classes. If you decide you like art, you can specialize in that.  And this one kid’s eyes just go so big and the expression on his faced showed that he’d just had the most amazing revelation.  “You mean you can do *anything* you want?  You get to pick *anything*?”  I think it was the first time he’d ever heard this! “That’s right,” I said,”You can decide to do whatever you want!”

And then today I was talking to one of the students in the university course that I’m teaching, answering some last minute question about tomorrow’s final exam, my student said that even though this is her last term of university, she was really excited by research methods (which is not something you hear very often, by the way. Research methods tends to be something that many students feel they just have to suffer through, something that they won’t ever engage in again).  “It’s really exciting,” she said, “with research, you really can do anything you want!”

And isn’t that a nice thought?  Whether you are a grade 3 student looking to your life ahead or a fourth year university student whose eyes are being opened to the possibilities of research or [insert your own life here] – you can do *anything* you want!