Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Name That Saint or Hero Challenge

Last week, I helped my kid with his homework to name as many saints or heroes from a poster of cartoon characters. It was difficult and we could only name a few like Pope John Paul II, Mother Theresa, or Joan of Arc. These characters always wore the same clothes so it was easy. It was especially difficult naming the other characters  because I had just come back home from a week long trip by bus from Seattle. I wasn't really into it and could hardly see the image that my wife took of the poster. At one point, I named rapper Tupac Shakur as one of the characters on the poster (I'm a big fan). Under different circumstances, we would have named more but apparently our efforts were good enough because my kid received a medal for it. That's awesome.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Samaritan's Christmas Child Program - Our Shoebox for the Year

My wife and kids put together this present/package for a 2-4 year-old girl to receive this Christmas. The kids didn't want to part with their red fox plush toy so we put in a teddy bear instead. On top of that, they put in crayons, a dress, toothbrushes, a story book (which took my daughter some convincing to let go), monetary donation, etc. I was late in bringing the shoebox for our group dropoff at the downtown location so I had to go to the Greyhound bus depot at 295 Terminal Avenue,in heavy rain, to drop it off personally. Happy to do it.

Monday, September 22, 2014

How to Fix Error Code F21 (Water Not Draining) on a Whirlpool Washer

We own a Whirlpool front-load washer, Model WFW8300SW01 and Serial HLT4932808. About a month or two ago, the wash cycle would not complete with error code "F21" on the console. To get around this in the meantime, I manually set the dial to drain cycle and this would fix the problem, most of the time. I called around for a local Whirlpool technician and was told it would cost $81 to just come out and have a look. It might have to come down to this but I wasn't about to just hand over my money so I googled some fixes.

The error code would also come up some times on drain cycle and am never sure which of the two troubleshooting techniques I applied really made a difference. The manuals say that error code "F21" could be caused by a kink in the drain tube or that the wall power was low on voltage. With this in mind, I tried the following: 1) unplugged the other power bar that shared the power circuit with my washer, and 2) drained water from the drain tube by removing it from the wall drain and raising it high over the my head. Neither 1) nor 2) were consistent in draining the water however, until my wife rearranged the drain tube this way (see illustration). By having the drain tube elevated above the washer, we were able to complete the wash cycle without ever seeing that dreaded "F21" error code again. Knock on wood but it's been working well like before.

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 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

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 instead of 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 | | 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 | )

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 |

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 |

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.
( or

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 |‎)

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 |

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 | )

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 |

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 |

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 |

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 |

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 |

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.