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?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mike's Beach Resort is Perfect for a Family Getaway

For the past August long weekend, we went down to Mike's Beach Resort (http://www.mikesbeachresort.com) in Lilliwaup, Washington which is about 2 hours west of Seattle. Thanks to Jade, Kim, and Ava for setting up this memorable family vacation. It would have been nice if my mother was able to join us as originally planned but her health problems just made sure that didn't happen.

The resort was very popular because of all the oysters and clams. Fish and crabs were also in abundance but not as much as the oysters. They were everywhere. This was our first trip here so I have a few things that I can provide expert advise on to make your visit more enjoyable.

1) Book the Honeymoon Cabin. I know you save some money by booking the family cabins because they can house multiple guests in bunk beds but the bathrooms are very tiny and not in the best condition. On top of that, the hot water tanks appear to be shared between family cabins and the community washrooms because we ran out of hot water one morning. The Honeymoon Cabin however has a Jacuzzi, modern shower, a queen size bed, and always had hot water even when the other cabins didn't. Honeymoon cabins also only have one parking spot right outside the cabin whereas the family cabins can have a few monster pickup trucks parked on the side. Here is an official looking note on someone's windshield wiper. This car didn't budge for the duration of our stay, mind you.

2) Bring a boat. If you are serious about catching some bigger fish, you have to fish off the dock. Without a boat, you would have to rent one for $15-20 per hour. We really didn't catch any but that's what the locals said. The same locals were very neighborly and gave us a couple of their catch. Here is a view of the horizon from the anchored boat with "Mike's Beach" labeled on its side.

3) If you are taking the ferry, reserve your sailing in advance. We made the mistake of just being on standby and ended up missing three sailings. This was the most frustrating part of the trip. You just dial 511 on your cell phone to make a reservation. The fare is about $12 per person.

4) Bring a GPS. You will likely be travelling with a group and can slow down your trip if you have to constantly make sure you don't lose anyone in your pack not carrying a GPS.

5) Get appropriate game licenses. You can get these from any gas station or convenience store. We got ours from Harry's Hardware for about $18-25 per day. You'll have to keep a scorecard and send that back to the fisheries department. There would have been more to describe here but unfortunately it's anticlimactic as we didn't catch any.

6) Get shrimp for bait. Some of the local experts were kind enough to provide some shrimp for bait and this made the difference between waiting 2 minutes and 15 minutes for a bite.

7) Bring at least two logs of firewood, some lighter fluid to help start the fire, and some marshmallows to roast by the fire. You can get the firewood from a local IGA but to save yourself the trip, you can bring these yourself. You can get a campfire going right on the beach too.

8) Bring worker gloves for oyster or clam gathering, a shovel, and make sure wear appropriate footware as you can easily get cut in the rocks. I would also advise that you bring a few band-aids along too. Here is a view of the beach right outside our cabin below.

And here is a view of the clear waters. Check out all those oysters down there, ripe for the picking. One tidbit piece of information that I didn't know previously was regarding the oyster shells. Once the meat is extracted, you are supposed to throw the shells back into the water so that they can be reborn or regrow. This works as long as the the oyster are shucked without boiling them in their shells or barbecuing them. This is what I was told.

It was a great experience. Go down to the resort and check it out yourself. Or comment here if you have any questions and I'll be happy to help.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Fixing Our Microwave Oven

We had an issue with our Panasonic NN-P994SFR Genius Inverter 2.2 cubic feet counter-top microwave oven. Initially, it would draw too much power and cause our breakers to trip. At first I thought it was because we were sharing the circuit with some other appliance but that wasn;t the case. This happened twice, tripping the breaker each time but continued to work on a breaker reset. On the third time, the LED display didn't show any life and that was that.

My wife called a friend with some background in electronics and he suggested replacing the fuse. That sounded like a great idea and he said he would come over and have a look. He brought his ohmmmeter and we opened the microwave oven. Continuity tests showed that the fuse indeed blew and he asked if I had a spare. I said I would have to go and buy one so in the interim, he completed the circuit by tying thin strands of wire to the ends of the blown fuse. We put the covers back and plugged in the microwave oven. The LED display showed promise but when we put it to test, we didn't hear the familiar sound of delicious radiation nuking our food. It didn't work. I also thought that bypassing the fuse wasn't such a good idea anyway because it blew for a good reason. I remember running into the same problem a year or so ago where the LED power just went cold after playing around with the microwave door latch. I thought I would do some research into it further. We closed it up and I said I would buy a replacement fuse in the next few days.

In the meantime, we shopped around for a replacement microwave oven of the same 2.2 cubic feet capacity but found out that the biggest counter-top was now at 1.6 cubic feet. We went to WalMart, Canadian Tire, and The Brick where we initially bought this Panasonic model. Nothing. My wife really liked this NN-P994SFR model so I decided to channel my inner MacGyver and fix it myself. I reopened the microwave oven and found that there was some burnt wiring on the connectors to a switch attached to the door latch switch. Aha!

I also saw a label affixed to the inside cover of the microwave oven clearly indicating five parts to replace when we get a blown fuse. The list of parts include:

CES6 125/250V 20A FUSE

I called Trail Appliances in Surrey and they said that they go through Reliable Parts http://www.reliableparts.ca for part orders so I went ahead and ordered the three switches. The Power Relay was on back order so I didn't order that. And as for the fuse, I already purchased that from Canadian Tire for under $4. All in all, the parts totaled about $16. 

When the parts came, I sliced off the burnt portion of the wire connecter and plugged that into the new micro switches. It all came together and worked. I was ecstatic because we saved a ton of money and got to keep a a 2.2 cubic feet counter-top microwave oven which is now hard to come by. I hope we get a few more years out of this Panasonic model. Moral of the story here is: "Don't nuke your food too much, or you may become dependent on it".