Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Where to go for your last week of Summer?

The end of summer is fast approaching but don't let that stop you from making one last trek down south of the border with the family before we all start donning clothes from our fall wardrobe. Head down during the week instead of the weekend for less lineups at the border crossings and at the zoos. It's also cheaper in terms of accommodation. Here is a transcript of our latest adventure.

Fun Center at Tukwilla
This is our second time at this facility and it's always a good time for the kids. There are arcade games indoors and fair rides outdoors. We drove the race kart twice around the track (once for each kid), did the trampoline, and sailed around in a rubber dingy with water guns on them. In the arcades, kids accumulated about 288 tickets, from winning games and by contribution from a couple who didn't care about redeeming the tickets for prizes. Kids were able to redeem about 4 different toys each with this number of tickets.


The Inn at Gig Harbor
We looked around for a decent hotel close to the Point Defiance Zoo and we decided to stay here because it was only 15 minutes away and also because the rate was reasonable at $145 per night. There is a bridge that separates Tacoma and Gig Harbor, and the view is amazing. The hotel is surrounded by dense vegetation, close to the freeway, has a view of Mt Rainier but no view of the water, and was marked a heritage building. It was like staying at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, which was quite nice and classy. There was a hot tub (which we didn't get to use), no pool, free breakfast, and places to eat at outside the hotel.  It was a very nice, cozy, relaxing stay for us.


Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium at Tacoma
Before you head out to this zoo, print a copy of these coupons for each visitor to take $2 off your entrance fees. It's good for up to 4 visitors http://www.seattleattractions.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Point-Defiance-01.pdf. The entrance to the zoo is like driving through Stanley Park in Vancouver, with winding roads through thick vegetation and a view of water (Owen beach). Parking was free and the entrance to the zoo and aquarium was very inviting. With well maintained gardens and grass, and a view of the water in the horizon, it's what kept it apart from Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, in my opinion.


The zoo layout is nice too especially the exit out of the zoo directly to Owen beach. It's a great pittstop after a day of walking around the park. Having the aquarium was nice in that we didn't have to venture out like we did during our Portland trip this year http://www.chromiloamin.com/2014/04/portland-trip-during-spring-break.html.


There were no dolphins at the Point Defiance aquarium but they had massive exhibits for sharks. First time I saw saw-like teeth on a shark. There was a shark scuba dive, zip lining, camel rides, an outdoor theater, but we only got to do the last two. It was definitely a good time, and the kids said they liked everything about this place. Hakuna Matata.



Holiday Inn at Downtown Everett
After a day of walking around, we headed out to Everett which was close to 2 hours North of Tacoma but only 12 minutes from the Premium Seattle Outlets at Marysville. We wanted to do some shopping at the outlets the next day and found this hotel to be a very reasonable alternative to paying over $500 per night at the Tulalip Resort Casino hotel. In comparison, the Holiday Inn only cost us $157 per night. It had a pool and all the amenities that my wife demands. At first we were placed in a handicapped room on the ground floor because front desk said they were all booked that night and because we had two kids with us, these were the only type of rooms with two queen-sized beds? With the Expedia booking that I made for the room, I was told that it meant we were placed in any available room, even if it was meant for handicapped patrons which I had no issues with but was not our preference because of the room layout. When I asked to be moved to a higher floor and to a standard room, they said there was none available so I asked to cancel our room but was told there was no same day cancellation with the Expedia booking that I made. I simply asked them to put me on the waiting list when a room became available, and that we weren't happy customers. A few minutes later, front desk calls back saying that a room was available because of an early checkout at 6pm, which I suppose is entirely possible. We were more than happy to move and thanked front desk for her prompt attention to out requests. Next time, I'll be more specific in our room requirements when booking through Expedia or Priceline. The rest of the night was fine. There was a Chinese restaurant within walking distance and then we went swimming in the indoor pool. Parking was free and they offered a voucher for free breakfast for kids the next day. It was fine.

Premium Seattle Outlets at Marysville
The outlets by Tulalip Resort Casino is a popular destination for many Canadians. If you haven't gone shopping for your kids'back-to-school supplies yet, head out to the outlets as you may still get bargains. We bought soccer cleats for our kids soccer game season starting in September, some swimming trunks for weekly swim lessons, and lunch bags from the Disney store. Michael Kors outlet store is now open and of course we had to go once, twice, three times to make sure before buying the watch that my wife really wanted. It's an expensive detour before heading back home.

Friday, August 22, 2014

How To Care for your Pear Tree

I noticed earlier in the year that some of the leaves in my pear tree was limp and most were starting to turn black, like someone had been playing a prank and setting the tips on fire. I noticed these green diamond-shaped bugs (aphids) on the tip of most of the leaves and I correctly figured out that those were responsible for my sick tree. I also noticed there were a lot of ants going up/down the tree trunk.


I sprayed the leaves with a strong stream of water and manually removed some by hand. This however didn't fix the problem. I talked to Richard, a friend of ours who owned his own landscaping and gardening business. He said that I should apply diluted dishwater soap in a spray bottle and spray the leaves with aphids on them, manually scraping off the aphids with my fingers. He also suggested stopping the ants from gong up and down the tree by applying some type of glue close to the base of the tree, but ensure the substance doesn't get to the bark by first wrapping the area with a plastic sheet. I didn't have that glue so I used a CLI Wasp & Hornet Killer solution which worked just as good. 



After the first day, the ants were gone and the areas that I applied diluted dishwater soap to also started to wilt. This was temporary however and by the second day, the aphids were gone and my tree was on its way to full recovery. I still decapitated some of the dead branches however as those were beyond repair. I saved the branches with pear fruits on them and it's looking like we may still be able to see them all come to fruition. Get it? Thanks Richard for helping save our tree.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Portland Trip during Spring Break

We decided to drive down to Portland during spring break to take the kids to see the Zoo, Aquarium, and do a bit of tax-free shopping. This transcript details the things we did and some advise for those of you wanting to do the same.

First of all, use Expedia.ca instead of Priceline.com when booking your hotels because you can choose to pay for board and lodging in your local currency instead of paying fees at the hotel in US Currency. I find that you save a little bit from not having to pay conversions fees especially if you don't have a US credit card. Secondly, the drive from BC to Portland is 5 hours long so split it up into two to make sure your kids get to rest up. Trust me, it's worth it. And finally, make sure you have a fully inflated spare tire available just in case. As you will find out later on in this blog, it helped get us back on track.

Ramada Tukwilla
This hotel was a welcome surprise. It was very affordable at $100/night and was a very comfortable stay. There was continental breakfast the next day and parking was free. We also had a river view room which was an extra bonus. The other primary reason we stayed in Tukwilla is of course to have easy access to Jollibee, Chow King, and Seafood City inside Westfield Southcenter Mall.
(15901 W Valley Hwy, Tukwila, WA 98188 | ramadatukwila@gmail.com | 1-425-226-1812)

Courtyard by Marriott Portland City Center
This was a very classy hotel, in downtown Portland, central to Tri MET transit systems, with restaurant in the lobby, and valet parking.

On our first day, we headed east to the Chinatown part of town and would advise anyone with kids to stay clear of that area. It was dirty, grungy, with many strip bars in corners, and homeless people on the sidewalks. Head south instead to some of the nicer restaurants, Pioneer Place Mall and plaza.

The great thing about staying downtown is that you have easy access to transit system if you wanted to go to the Zoo (5 minutes away) and/or Clakamas Town Center (30+ minutes away) for your fill of tax-free shopping.

If you drove in, there are a few cheaper parking lots a block away from the hotel for $8/day or you could have valet parking take care of it for $30/day. I would still recommend valet parking, even if we had a flat tire on the last day of our stay as the valet parking attendant drops off our car. I had to replace the tires with a spare and drive to a close by Firestone shop to get the flat fixed. The Customer Service Manager went out of her way to help me fix the flat, involving the restaurant manager when I couldn't nudge the wheels off and providing a full refund of $20 for the tire repair. On top of that, she also gave me a full refund for our 2-day valet parking charges of $60 as a token of their good will. Appreciated that a lot and would definitely stay here again.
(550 SW Oak Street | Portland, Oregon 97204 | 1-503-505-5000 | http://www.myfavoritecourtyard.com )

Portland Aquarium
We went to the aquarium the first day and were pleasantly surprised at how small it was compared to the Seattle or Vancouver aquariums. They did have a decent variety and they even let us use two fingers to touch specific marine life. This sign below "Gently Touch with Only 2 Fingers" was posted throughout and I thought it was a perfect title for a rom-com movie.

This little stingray was trying to climb out of its pool. If not for the signs above, I would have helped it.

Go and check it out for yourself as it is quite interesting to see. We were able to complete seeing all the exhibits in an hour and had time after to go to a McDonalds and WalMart across the street for some food shopping.
(16323 SE McLoughlin Blvd, Milwaukie, OR 97267 | 1 503-303-4721 | http://www.portlandaquarium.net)

Portland Zoo
We took the Tri MAX transit from downtown and that took about 5 minutes, at $5 per adult and $3+ for kids, good for a day pass. Taking transit also had the bonus incentive of getting us $1 off entrance fees at the zoo as long as you show them transit tickets as proof. The rhinos and baby elephant name Lily were the only ones we missed seeing up close because there was some construction going on for the elephant habitat at that time.

We did get great shots of these majestic felines.

And was specially excited to see this tiger blocking our trail. Good thing he was well fed. :)

All in all, it was a solid experience and was comparable to the Vancouver Zoo in Aldergrove, BC or the Woodland Zoo in Seattle.
(4001 SW Canyon Rd, Portland, OR 97221 | 1-503-226-1561 | http://www.oregonzoo.org)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Disneyland and Legoland Vacation for the Family on a Budget

We just came back from a 5-day vacation in California because of an early Catholic school spring break for the kids. If you are looking for memorable family outings without breaking the bank, then our past week's experience might help you out. For scheduling, you should fly and rest the first night, spend a day in Legoland the second day, Disneyland the third day, shop at outlets on the fourth day, and then fly back on the fifth day. We were thinking of squeezing in a San Diego Zoo visit on the fourth day but that is a 2 hours drive south of Anaheim and we didn't think the kids would enjoy an early start and a late return to the hotel. Do what works for you, but here is some insight into what worked for us:

Book a flight+hotel+car package 
Flying from British Columbia may be more expensive so look to fly from Bellingham or Seattle in the US. And go with package deals that include flight+ hotel +car. The other reason it is cheaper is that the destination airport is in LAX  which is only 30 minutes from Anaheim. I use Priceline and Expedia because the search results are quick, I like the user interfaces, and am able to compare pricing between each brokers easily. Just remember that you have to pay $25 per checked-in baggage (this does not include overweight baggages like booster seats or strollers) so try and pack light.
(http://www.priceline.com or http://www.expedia.ca)

SeaTac Super 8 - ParkSleepFly in Seattle
Flying from SeaTac airport has many advantages, the most important being cheaper fares but also equally important is the fact that it includes the many competing park-sleep-fly hotels offering cheap and secure parking close to the airport. International Blvd has plenty of these hotel and they provide pick-up service as well when you return from your vacation. 
(3100 S 192nd St, Seattle, WA 98188, United States | http://seattle.parksleepfly.com/SeaTac-Super-8.html‎)

Jollibee, Red Robin, and ChowKing at Westfield Mall in Seattle
The other advantage to using park-sleep-fly hotels by SeaTac is the proximity to Jolibee, Chowking, and Seafood City. It's only 4 minutes away and perfect for those who constantly crave Filipino foods like my wife.
(2800 Southcenter Mall, Seattle, WA 98188 | http://www.westfield.com/southcenter)

Radisson Inn Suites in Buena Park
Buena Park is home to Knottsberry Farm theme park and because of that, there are many amenities and cheaper hotels around the Beach Avenue strip. It is also only 5 minutes away from Disneyland which is a big plus. Pick a suite so you can use their microwave and fridge after a bit of food shopping at the local Walmart. Continental breakfasts aren't  usually included with package bookings so suites come in handy.
(7762 Beach Blvd, Buena Park, CA 90620 | http://www.radisson.com/buena-park-hotel-ca-90620/cabuena )

Legoland in Carlsbad 
Legoland is a 90 minute drive down South I-5 freeway. You can take the scenic route and drive through Newport Beach, Long Beach, and all the other beaches along the coast. The 1-day entrance pass is more than enough time and you don't need to squeeze in Sea life because you won't have time to enjoy it all. Also, it isn't any better than the Vancouver or Seattle aquariums if you have been to either of those attractions. You also don't have to prepay for the tickets online as the lines are decent and there weren't any waits during non-peak seasons months of January to March.
(1 Legoland Dr, Carlsbad, California | http://california.legoland.com/)


Disneyland in Anaheim
You have to go outside of peak season between January and March, and go on a weekday because the wait in line for some of the attractions isn't really magical if it's longer than 30 minutes. You don't need to prepay for tickets online either as the savings aren't that significant, unless you buy them more than a week in advance, which gets you $7 off per ticket.
(1313 Disneyland Dr, Anaheim, CA 92802 | https://disneyland.disney.go.com//)






Jolibee, Chowking, and Red Ribbon in Anaheim
These three fast foods are located right in the shopping district and has all the Filipino foods we know and love from similar franchises at Westfield Mall in Seattle.
(601 N Euclid St, Anaheim, CA 92801 | http://www.jollibeeusa.com/)

The Outlets at Orange
This place has a lot of Asian cuisine and is a nice shopping experience walking around out in the open sun. This was only 5 minutes away from Anaheim.
(20 City Blvd, Orange, CA | http://anaheimoc.org/partners/3636/the-outlets-at-orange)


Citadel Outlets in LA
Only about 20 minutes away from Buena Park and 25 minutes from Anaheim. Much busier than The Outlets at Orange and much bigger. There was a 50% off sale at Michael Kors the day we went to visit. We were more than happy to line up here, even if the wait was similar to lines for rides at Legoland or Disneyland.
(100 Citadel Dr #480, Los Angeles, California | http://www.citadeloutlets.com/)

One prerequisite is to use a GPS and a travel guide booklet provided at the hotel you are staying at. These two things will help you find the best shopping outlets and attractions to go to, and will save you tons of stress in getting to where you want to go. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

How I Fixed My In-Sink Garburator

Our kitchen garburator had been out of order for the past few weeks and I thought I would give it some tender loving care this Christmas Holidays because we'll need it. It's a Mainline Model 1900 and has been very dependable for the past 6 years. This happened a few times before and all I did was run a wooden barbeque stick through the serrated edges of the garburator blade to dislodge whatever gunk was in there and that did the trick. It didn't this time and I was ready to spend some money. 

I was tempted to call our plumber and have them fix this for me (here take my money) but I thought to myself, how hard can this be. I was also tempted to take the whole thing apart to clean whatever was causing the blade to not spin but I'm sure I would have lost a few fingers or two if I did that. What did work was using something everyone already has lying around the kitchen - a butter knife.

Take the butter knife and find the gap in the blade to insert the tip of the knife into and then try and spin the blade. It should have a punch hole beside it.  Normally, if nothing was in the way, this would allow you to move the blade back and forth. If there was some blockage, it will require a little bit of effort but just keep forcing it clockwise then anti-clockwise and once you feel it give, turn on the garburator. I was so happy to hear the familiar grinding/tearing din that it makes when it works. I think we'll have to stay away from Tilapia fish bones for a while or just not use the garburator to dispose of those.

Hope this helps you DIY when you run into the same problem. Merry Christmas.



Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Thoughts While In the Intensive Care Waiting Room

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to spend time waiting for a loved one in a waiting room while they undergo a major surgery. And the feeling of hopelessness is almost always apparent as everyone waits for the surgeon to come out and deliver the outcome. Anxiety and self-reflection often follow this feeling of hopelessness as we try to find solace and comfort in each other. We almost always put our faith in the almighty, praying often and asking priests to provide blessings for the sick. We become overly spiritual in times like these and would be nice if we kept this level of enthusiasm regularly. It is understandable however and in addition to our increased spirituality, we also question our own mortality. We ask what we would do differently in our lives to avoid the same fate. We promise to take better care of our health, to exercise more often, to eat well, to get a health checkup more often, to love and take risks, to have no regrets, and more importantly, to be at peace with ourselves.


My mother is the one undergoing an operation right now. She has a heart disease, a penetrating ulcer in her aorta. The doctors say it’s like a “ticking time-bomb” just waiting to go off so a second open-heart surgery is her best option. Her first open-heart surgery was in 2009 to bypass some blocked arteries and two years ago to insert stents on some smaller arteries. She also has renal failure and has been on dialysis now for 8 years so she is no stranger to hospitals. These two diseases and her frail body make for a very risky surgery. The medical team however is very good and I have full confidence in their skills. When combined with my mother’s mental will to live, it improves the statistics significantly that this will be a very successful operation.
The anesthesiologist or the “sleep doctor” explained the procedure earlier in the day when we dropped my mother off in the operating room. He said the he will be putting the sleeping agents intravenously and then she will be asleep at that point. Then, he will insert tubes through the veins on her neck to monitor her heart. He will also use a ventilator to help her with her breathing. This whole process should take an hour up to 2:15 pm at which points the cardiologist comes in to start lowering her body temperature, open up her ribcage, connect her to a heart-lung machine, and to prepare her for the actual operation. The preparation should take 3 hours to complete he said, bringing us to about 5:15 pm before the actual operation takes place. The patching of her aorta only takes 45 minutes to complete and the doctor said that they will use cow pericardium for the patch. That means that they will be done by around 7 pm. If they have to they will also redo the bypass work done 4 years ago which will delay the work. We may be looking at about 11 pm before we hear anything. After that, she will be moved to the ICU to lower her body temperature back to normal but will probably still be heavily sedated and may even be in a medically-induced coma. The doctor said that whenever the body is cooled and then warmed, liters of blood transfusion is required. I know I'll be donating blood when all this is over.

For now, we wait.

It’s 10:45 pm before the surgeon walks out of the operating room to tell as the good news. He said with a smile (and a can of coke for his sugar high) that everything went according to plan. They were able to stitch the cow pericardium around the calcified  parts of her aorta and seal off the ulcer, which he said has grown to the size  of a quarter.   They gave her plenty of blood, about 5 liters and only time will tell if there’s any bleeding after her body is warmed to normal levels. He said that they will be moving her to the ICU now and we will be able to see her in a bit.

Again we wait.

It's 12:15am before the ICU nurse let's us into the ward to see my mother. The ICU nurse just finished taking blood samples and she said that everything looked good. She was still hooked up to ventilation machines which the nurse will be removing around 3 am and will be examining my mother for any brain damage. She said that anyone who goes through an 8 hour operation like this could have side-effects, possibly caused by stroke, etc. The nurse will know more when she wakes up my mother. We have all left the hospital now and will likely be back to see her in the morning for more news. The first part is done now and we can expect her recovery to take some time. We will no doubt be spending more time in the waiting room which is looking a little bit more inviting and passable to me now.




Monday, September 2, 2013

Day Trip to Victoria, BC on Public Transit

I've had a few people ask about the details of our day trip to Victoria, BC as foot passengers on the ferry. Due to this, I thought it would be a good idea to write about our little adventure, outlining the benefits as opposed to taking your vehicle on the ferry.

While planning for the trip, I found that you can get some discounts by purchasing your tickets using a BC Ferries Experience prepaid card which has to be loaded with a minimum amount http://www.bcferries.com/experience_and_coast_card/what_it_is/. You start out by choosing your departure port. We took the Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay route which I was told didn't qualify for the discounts unfortunately. We drove to that port and looked for the park & ride parking lot where we parked for the whole day for only $11. A shuttle bus takes you to the ferry terminal and back every 10 minutes or so. You have to make sure you make it back by 11pm however because they lock up the gates at that time. We barely made it back on our last trip. 


The best thing about being a foot passenger on the ferry is that you are almost always guaranteed entry without having to bother with reservations. I've missed three sailings recently because I brought my car with me so leaving your vehicle behind ensures you get on the ferry. The one-way fare ticket for adults is currently $15.50 each and $7.75 for 5 year old kids. The walkway to the ferry itself looks like it could never get clogged up by foot traffic.


While on the ferry, we purchased the all day bus pass which cost us $5 each and is free for 5 year olds. The express bus (702) was a double-decker and was actually a nice quick ride to Victoria. It made one stop to Sydney and then straight on to the Parliament building in Victoria in under an hour. Unfortunately, the express bus only runs until about 5:30pm and the alternative bus routes like 702 is terrible and took us about an hour and a half to get back to the ferry. Don't forget that the last sailing back to the mainland is 9pm, sometimes 10pm on other days. If you take the last sailing like we did, you have to rush back to the park & ride parking lot before 11pm to retrieve your vehicle. Otherwise, you will get locked out until the next day and will have to take an expensive taxi ride back home that night. Although we took the 9pm sailing, the trip only took an hour and a half coming back to Tsawwassen so we didn't meet this fate and was able to squeak through to check out our vehicle. I wouldn't do that again however (be late again that is) because I kept willing the ferry to make bigger waves to speed up the trip.



How was your latest trip to Victoria, BC using public transit?