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Jon on the beach at Laguna with Daisy

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Thursday January 20th 2011
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Today the crowns go on, so I have to be in Tijuana at one.

I drove to the border, parked and walked across at around eleven.  After all the time I spent researching alternatives, I had decided on the same old method -- walking.  I crossed, then hung around the border shops a bit and then caught a taxi to the dentist.  I arrived an hour early, said, "Hi", then spent the extra time walking the area.

The dental work took an hour or so, then I took a cab to the border.  Today there was no line at all and I was through in five minutes!  I got on the 805 and was in Laguna Beach at 5.

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Friday January 21st 2011
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Two more months of winter

My dental work is done and the teeth feel just fine.  Katrina is home from school today, I assume she has whatever Kalle had yesterday.  Jon is off to Temecula for the day, so I guess I'm it.

Saturday January 22nd 2011
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We all went to the Santa Ana Zoo for the afternoon.  It is a small zoo, but quite a lot of fun, and close by. The weather is hot and we all needed sunscreen.  Jon got a bit of a burn anyhow.

On return, I had a one and a half hour nap.  Jon had a nap as well.  We were both beat.  The kids were not tired.  They had had something and each been home from school, for one day, and I guess Jon and I caught a touch of whatever it was, too.  I know I had a slight sore throat Friday and have been tired.

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Sunday January 23rd 2011
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Jon and I are planning to go to Mount Baldy today for a day of skiing.  The kids are at their mom's, so we can ski as hard as we like, assuming we are up for it.  We're both a both out of shape and also we both had some slight virus yesterday and the day before.  My digestion is giving me some concerns this morning as well. Imodium again.

*    *    *    *    *    *   

With the kids at their mom's, Jon and I, and Daisy, the dog, drove up to Mount Baldy to ski.  Jon and I are both quite aggressive skiers and have spent a lot of time skiing together over the years.   The drive took a little over an hour and, on arrival, we discovered they do not have performance rentals at the hill -- and that everything is up the chair.  The ski resort is apparently up steep chute and is serviced by one ancient double chair from the parking area.   The parking area had not a hint of snow.

From what we learned at the base, it would cost us $20 each just to ride up to the rental shop and be disappointed.  We both know that there is no point trying to ski on standard rental skis.  We have tried it.  It is no fun and could even be dangerous for expert skiers since these detuned skis do not perform as expected when challenged by steeps.

I recall that I took my skis off one time half way down a black diamond run (Tipi Town) to do something or another and discovered I could hardly even stand on the slope, let alone maneuver.  Good skis make such places seem safe.  Bad skis are a hazard.

I had examined Mount Baldy on trail maps and on Google Earth and been puzzled by the terrain, but at the bottom, looking up, the approach appeared just as improbable as it did on the LCD screen.  The runs actually look pretty good, if there is snow up there, but we interviewed the people coming down to leave since we wondered why people would be quitting at 10:30 in the morning.  The snowboarders all said conditions were poor and icy.  The one skier we saw quitting said it was fine and there were very few people on the slopes.

We asked around and found that there are few or no options for renting equipment nearby in Pomona or Rancho Cucamonga and that one good place was back at Alicia Viejo, right by the Wal-Mart I visit often and near my favourite Stater Bros store near Jon's place.

We decided to give up on skiing, since by then it was getting late to go for an afternoon at Bear Mountain, well over an hour away, and decided to check out the sports store for next time.  We arrived at Alicia Viejo and found the store.  They have a few pairs of skis and discount Mount Baldy tickets, but the staff knew nothing as far as I could tell.   The equipment they had looked OK, though.

We decided to spend the rest of the afternoon at the beach, so we went to Ritz Beach near Dana Point.  No dogs are allowed on the beach itself, we discovered -- after we paid for parking, but we took a walk down and back.  We watched some surfing, but the break was mushy and waves closed out all at once.  Ugggh.

From there we went to my favourite beach, at Alicia Creek, stopping for a burrito along the way.  There the surf was magnificent and the skim boarders were having a ball.  Some were hardly older than Kalle.

At sunset, we returned home and watched the Leslie Nielson version of Dracula on Netflix.  Then I packed for an early departure tomorrow.

At this time tomorrow, I should be home.

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Monday January 24th 2011
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I'm off to SAN for my direct flight home, lifting off at 12:40.  I have a drive of a little over an hour, the car rental to return, and should be at the airport two hours early.  That means I should leave here by 8:40, but I'll leave an extra hour early due to traffic and to allow for contingencies like breakfast at McDonalds once I am sure I have cleared the traffic jams.

*    *    *    *    *    *

I arrived at the car rental three hours before my flight and was at the gate two and a half hours early. I entertained myself with my tablet.  I love the long battery life and free internet at airports.  They make arriving early quite pleasant.

We landed at 4:40 and I was in Airdrie bit a little after 5.  After buying groceries, I drove home.

It is a shock to be back to snow and cold, even if it is around zero now.  We're having a warm spell.

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Tuesday January 25th 2011
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Eleven months until Christmas!

This is my first day home.  The weather warmed up to the point where I was working outside blowing snow in shirtsleeves.  The driveway was quite a mess.  Ellen had called a neighbour to clear it after the drifting so she could get out and it seems he was unsure where the driveway actually was, so he plowed off on one side on the south portion and turned up gravel in other places, then left heaps on the travelled portion.  I got out he blower and cleaned up as best I could.

Ellen's kiln also arrived in the morning and the driver unloaded it on the driveway since I had not yet cleared the path to the dock.  After clearing a path, I started the forklift and brought it inside.  As readers may recall, the forklift has a shifter cable that freezes due to water having gotten in, so I had  disconnected it.  I have to lie on the ground each time I want to shift gears.  That works, but I will have to rig something more permanent.  I think I'll get rid of the cable.

Now that the darkest two months are gone, it is bright and cheerful here at home.  we have a large open space and huge windows on all sides and the sun streams in.  This, along with the Chinook,  compensates for the snow and shorter days up here in the land of ice and snow.

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Wednesday January 26th 2011
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Increasing cloudiness then 60 percent chance of rain this morning. Clearing this afternoon. Risk of freezing rain this morning. Wind west 20 km/h gusting to 40. High plus 4.

I see we are expecting warm winds and rain today, so the snow will be soft and some will disappear.  This should present an opportunity to finish the driveway clean-up.

I also have a few bills to pay and think I should hit the ski hills one of these days.  A sunny, warm day would be best.  A fresh dump of powder would be nice, too.  I have to plan to catch up with our friends, and have a dinner soon as well. 

I've been away for exactly three weeks, from the 3rd to the 24th of January.  Looking back, that was a good three weeks.  I enjoyed Galveston and would go back again, keeping in mind the distance from the main Houston airport and the need to have a car.  My time in Laguna Beach was wonderful, and I really enjoyed my three trips to the dentist in Tijuana.  This was the best dental office I've visited in Mexico and I had no complications.  I had the full attention of the dentist and he worked very diligently and gently.

I had four crowns installed, two upper and two lower at the back on my left side, plus a filling and a cleaning, and paid only $1,150 for everything.  In Canada, I was quoted $1,150 for one crown and charged $75 for the quote!  I figure I saved about $3,500 if we don't include the cost of the airfare and car -- less than $750 total.  I'd also rather drive the 90 miles from Laguna to TJ than the 75 miles from Swalwell to Red Deer or Calgary for the dentist appointments any day.

I'd recommend Alvarez Dental to anyone.  The office is downtown at 3045 Mision de Loreto, and a mile or more from the border.  Getting there for a norteamericano or canadiense non-Hispanic can be a little intimidating since the taxi drivers don't all speak much English, but it is a four or five dollar trip and can be done quite easily.

For anyone who is less adventurous and wants some reassurance and hand-holding, but needs enough work to justify the trip, there are companies which pre-select dentists in Mexico, provide transportation to and from airports and manage payments.  They do not appear to cost extra, since the they get discounts from the dentists when they pay them.

Check out this podcast, which you can hear on your computer.

I see that Synergy has an update.  I use this software every day.

This afternoon, I blew snow for an hour or so, then decided to put the SIM card into the Galaxy Tab so I canuse the Bell 3G+ system when not at home.  I did, and then had to call Bell. 

For the iPad and Rogers, I merely inserted the SIM card and was offered a chance to subscribe to data immediately, right from the iPad.  With Bell, I had to call them up to activate the card. 

I called bell, and, amazingly, got thru right away.  The woman on the other end started off wanting my name and I told her, then she wanted my address, etc..  I told her, "Enough already, I don't want a relationship with Bell, I just want to get this card active buy data as I go from the Tab".  "OK", she said, transferred me to a tech who activated the SIM, then said, "Thank you for choosing Bell", and started to hang up.

"Wait", I said, knowing that things are never quite this simple and having a seemingly intelligent being on the other end of the line, "Hold on until I verify it works". 

An hour later, and after going through all the settings, I still did not have a 3G+ connection and the tech decided I have a defective SIM.  Back to Future Shop or Bell store for another SIM card, I guess.  No matter, I really do not need 3G+ data right now.  I am near Wi-Fi pretty well all the time and that works just fine for me.

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Thursday January 27th 2011
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I have been catching up and filling in the blanks in my January posts, adding pictures and additional information.  While I was travelling, I did not have quite as much time or the same computing resources.

I figure I'll clean up my desk and plan a ski trip.

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Friday January 28th 2011
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It is snowing and dull.  I was thinking of driving to town to do a few things, but it is a long drive and this fluffy snow may start to blow.  I'd like to go skiing, but I figure I'll wait.  I'd rather ski on the snow than though it as it falls.

I decided to drive to Red Deer to meet Chris and get in on his family cell plan.  We met at BestBuy and had a good chat with the salesperson there.  I discovered I could do as well or better without attaching to their plan. 

I was ready to buy a phone when the question of coverage came up.  It turns out that the plan i preferred was on TELUS, but there is rumour that TELUS does not have as good coverage as Rogers in the parts of Ontario that I spend time in and that Rogers has poor coverage in Alberta.  Also considering that I was looking at a three year plan  and that there years is an eternity in these days of technological and pricing flux, I decide to put off the decision.  I hardly need a Canadian cell phone anyhow at this time of year.  I already have a US phone, and figure I'll have my Tab and a pay as I  go, no-term data plan for it when I travel, so I can text or email or maybe even Skype.

We decided I'd meet Chris at home in Lacombe and I had a stop at the bank, then followed on up the Number 2.  I spoke with Ellen on the phone and she mentioned they were saying on the radio that it is slippery.

Usually if it is slippery, I see cars in the ditch.  I wasn't seeing any and the road to Red Deer had been fine.  Minutes later, passing the visitor centre, in fairly dense traffic, I went into a skid.  The rear wheels just broke loose.  I recovered, and went a few hundred yards, and alls seemed well, then the car went into a four-wheel skid.  This time, there was no recovering, and the car did a 180, ending up against the guard rail.  Fortunately, I try to stay a decent distance from other cars and I was in the clear.

When all was said and done, I was facing two lanes of oncoming traffic.  I put on my signal, pulled forward and turned into the traffic, which had slowed to allow me to turn, did a U turn and proceeded north.  On arrival at Jeans', I confirmed that the guardrail had broken the turn signals on that side and done some minor damage to the body.  Mike had commented to me recently about the stupid design of the guardrails and that for some reason no one could understand, every other post was on the inside, not the outside away from the traffic, guaranteeing damage to vehicles grazing them. Now I have proof.

I had noticed that my tires were showing some wear a while back and had mentioned it to the tire shop.  Clint had looked at them and told me that they were still OK, but I had wondered.  On leaving the yard today, I had also noticed a lack of traction, but not given it any more thought.  The lesson here is to pay attention to warnings and to trust my hunches.

I was lucky and unlucky all at the same time.  My experience on the road to Jean's could have been better, but it also could have been very much worse.  I don't know whether to laugh or cry.  I injured my car and my pride and I got a cheap lesson.  I hope I learn something from it, but if history is any indication, I probably won't.

Now I don't have to do the work I was planning on the car, but I have to find another.  Ellen has been saying it is about time for quite a while.  This decides the matter.

I stayed at jean and Chris' for the night, not really wanting to push my luck.

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Saturday January 29th 2011
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I headed home around noon, stopping in Red Deer to look at new vehicles.  I have not bought a new car since 1967 and only bought one from a dealer in all that time.  Everything else has been private sales. Now I am considering buying new or nearly new because I've noticed that  the recent and ongoing recession caused the auto companies to redesign their products and we are into a whole new product generation.  In addition, they are offering a $8,500 incentive on new units.  The choice is to go new or to go old.  In between is too pricy for value received.

I've always compared new and 10-year old vehicles, and the value for the older units has always prevailed by a factor of 2 to 1 , especially when there was no essential difference in the basic features.  At this point in time, though, it is hard to compare old and new.  The newest units do offer significant advantages in efficiency, convenience, and comfort.  That said, though, the brand-new Alveo I recently rented was about as bare-bones as anything I have driven in a while, so I guess there is a divide also between upscale and base models.

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Sunday January 30th 2011
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Today Snow. High minus 18.
Cloudy. Becoming cloudy periods late this evening. Low minus 29.
Monday Sunny. Wind up to 15 km/h. High minus 19. Wind chill minus 32.
Sunny. Low minus 28. High minus 12.
Sunny. Low minus 13. High minus 1.
Sunny. Low minus 11. High plus 3.
Sunny. Low minus 4. High 8.
A mix of sun and cloud. Low minus 4. High plus 2.

We are now back in the deepfreeze and Swalwell has about a foot of new, fluffy snow.  There is lots in the mountains, too, but it is too cold, for enjoyable skiing.  Anything below minus ten is less than totally enjoyable, although I have been on the slopes on days a cold as minus forty.

I'm thinking I'd like to get out and blow off the driveway, but am wondering if it is too cold.  I'm also thinking that if we get wind, that it will drift and contemplating whether there is any point.

I need the exercise, though, and I'm getting cabin fever, even after visiting Jean and Chris yesterday and the day before.  I sure miss the warmth and sunshine of California and Texas.  I'm contemplating getting back on the treadmill.  Exercise has certainly worked for Chris.  He reports that he was on the verge of needing drugs for cholesterol and since he has begun working out daily for a half-hour or more, his chemistry has become normal.  I have plenty of excuses, though.

I need to get back into shape.  I've let myself get weak and fat.  It seems that regular exercise is increasing important for health and happiness as one ages.  Living in a cold climate tends to discourage activity during winter unless one has outdoor work or sports.

*    *    *    *    *    *   

I got on the treadmill this morning and did about a mile.  I had decided to watch "Groundhog Day" again -- I like the part about breaking all the rules -- but the DVD skipped several times and required some fiddling, interrupting my walk.  I think a good AV setup is critical to staying motivated during boring exercise, at least until the "high" kicks in.  It is easy and pleasant to walk a mile or two while distracted by a movie.

Some people watch TV while working out, but I am offended by TV's insulting commercials and that won't work for me.  I think I need to work on getting a computer linked to a screen so I can select, start, stop, and generally not have to fool around.  DVDs are also annoying: they have mandatory intros and warning screens which waste a lot of time, and when re-started, tend to run the same time-wasters each time, and get scratched, which results in freezes and skips at critical times in the story.  With a computer, the content can be ripped out and watched from any point in the programme.

I felt good after walking the mile in 12 minutes.  For a bit more exercise, I also went out and blew the snow off the driveway.  That took an hour or two.  It was cold out, but I did not have to bundle up too much.  The sun mitigated to cold and the breeze was gentle.  The snow blower has proven to be a good investment; it keeps the driveway clear and provides a moderate to heavy workout chasing it and maneuvering it in deep drifts.

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Monday January 31st 2011
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From the looks of the forecast, we are facing another day or more of frigid weather.   When it breaks, I plan to hit the slopes.

I also plan to buy a vehicle.  My Merc has about had it.  It needed a bit of work before it scuffed the guardrail, but now the cost of getting it shipshape exceeds its value when finished.

The '93 Merc has been an excellent car and served me for 6.64 years and 104,000 km (65,000 miles) for a $4,500 investment plus gas and maintenance.  Economy has ranged from 22 to 35 MPG with 27 MPG (10.6 L/100 km) looking to be the median number.

My detailed records show 10,400 litres used, but there are a few gaps when I lent the car, so maybe I'll estimate 11,000 litres or 2418 gallons.  (I use Imperial gallons for calculating).  Maintenance has been under $600 a year, on average.  With gas at $1 per lire or $4.55/gallon, I spent $11,000 for fuel at today's prices.  Ergo, a 10% improvement in mileage to 30 MPG would save roughly $1,100 or a 20% improvement to 34 MPG, $2,200 over 6 years, assuming prices don't skyrocket, which they could.

In addition to fuel economy and maintenance costs, I have to consider comfort, and utility.  I have sorely missed having roof racks on this car, since I could have carried my sailboards around and did not.  I also need a trailer hitch to haul boats and utility trailers occasionally.  Climate control is a must, now that I am spoiled, and an electric 8-way drivers seat and cruise control are essentials.  Having seen and driven Jon's Chrysler Town & Country, and rented new cars, I have seen some of the features which make driving much more pleasant.

The latest Town & Countries with the 4.0 engine and 6-speed transmission boast 34 MPG, but the previous models only a year or two previous claim far less, so one has to weight the advantage of buying newer and getting warranty, improved mileage and a newer machine against the additional cost.   These new machines are full of gadgets which could fail and be expensive to fix.  From what I have seen, though, this has not been a huge problem.  There are huge incentives on the new machines as well, so unless I choose a much older machine, there is little advantage to buying recent models compared to 2010, of which there seem to be quite a few around.

Our neighbour had come this morning, looking for a coal supplier, since he was taking care of this dad's place and found the bin empty, so we called Tracy.  He agreed to bring a load, and since the neighbour only needed a partial load, we agreed to take the balance.  I cleared the snow from the road to the bin, and he showed up around bed time.  The neighbour helped him unload and he was gone again.

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