Calgary’s Wild Weather

It’s official, Mother Nature is bipolar.

North America has been receiving some very erratic weather as of late. Out here, it’s been a little more consistent than erratic … consistently bad, that is.

So far this year, we’ve had about two warm days. Luckily, both on weekends. But here we are, a month into spring, and I’m still hauling out my winter jacket. Two months ago, I wouldn’t have cared about that. Those of you who know me reasonably well know that I rather like winter. I like snow. I even like the mind-numbing cold … for short periods of time, anyway.

But this weather truly sucks.

Take yesterday, for example. I was waiting around for an insurance agent to call. (I’m looking around for quotes on mortgage insurance, as well as new house insurance. Although this particular agent is more of a favour for a friend, so I don’t know if it will go anywhere at all.) I was fiddling around with one of my own personal websites when my phone rang. It was Joanne (the agent). She asked me why I was still at work. I asked if we were still meeting (yeah, I know, you should never answer a question with a question, but it was a lead-in for an answer I never got to give). She said it was snowing.

I looked out the window. Overcast, yes. Snow, no.

Snowing? I asked. Yep — lots of it in the South East. I work in the South East. (Well, barely, anyway.) But there was no snow that I could see. But apparently the weather was getting really miserable. Joanne suggested we hold off until next week. (It was better for her, anyway.) I agreed, and figured I should head out — I hadn’t brought a winter jacket, and it sounded like it was going to get really cold.

I took the C-Train — the wind was just chilly enough to make walking uncomfortable in the jacket I had. In hindsight, it was the best thing I could have done. No more than five minutes after I’d returned to my apartment did I happen to notice something. I couldn’t see buildings a block away. It was snowing. Hard. We were having a blizzard.

It’s Spring. Or at least it’s supposed to be Spring. But this weather would make you really wonder what month it is. Were it not for the fact that it gets dark much later in the evening, you’d almost swear it was December. And even if the groundhog did see his shadow, we should be well in the clear by now.

Spring never sprung here — it’s still frozen stuck.

This is going to be a bit of an odd year for weather, I think. I’m not sure if this is an effect of El Nino (supposedly back on the rise again) or of global warming (which really isn’t proving itself out here). We’re probably going to see a cooler west, a hotter and more humid south (we should probably expect a Class 5 hurricane), and probably a few more violent weather shifts across the continent. Heck, we might even see a tornado around Cowtown.

So if you see good weather this year, get out in it while you can. If you blink, you might miss it…

Automobile Associations and Block Heaters

There are times when I hate owning a car.

My car’s been having problems this winter. We had a really cold one — from late December through to just a week or so ago, we were having some really nasty cold snaps. Seeing -20 on the thermometer became a regular occurrance. Seeing -30 was far more frequent than we would have liked, one we had the fortune of repeating a several times.

My car has been through cold weather before — Waterloo and Ottawa for a couple of winters, during one of which I had trouble starting the engine (the injectors froze, I think). But I’d never really thought too much about getting a block heater to aid starting the engine when it was cold. Normally it wasn’t an issue, and if the engine was left to warm up a bit, ran just fine.

This winter brought my lack of a block heater to a head, though. Except that I didn’t get one installed. I hesitated, procrastinated, forgot, and avoided all winter. Why? Simple — Chris and I don’t drive very much. And when we do, it’s almost as likely to get a ride from our friends than it is for us to drive. Also, living in Calgary means that you also get chinooks, which is coincidentally when we managed to get the car started.

But not the week I had to go home to Oakville for my father’s funeral. (Uh… I just realized that some of you don’t know this — I haven’t sent a log entry about it. [[Death of David Charles Sowrey|My father passed away on March 7th]], after fighting off various cancers for the past year. Needless to say, it’s been a tough year for my family.)

Anyway, that week in Calgary was cold, and regularly in the low negative 20s. Chris tried to start my car a couple of times, for a variety of reasons/needs, but was unable as the engine was too cold. The battery wasn’t strong enough to power the starter to get the engine to turn over. So the car just sat in the garage, and waited for our return.

Yes, I was kicking myself for not getting a block heater. The last month was quite cold, and the car never started once. The battery finally dropped to the point where starting the engine, even if it was hot, was an impossibility. This necessitated a jump from someone, so I could get the car somewhere.

This really became a problem though, because I haven’t exactly been the most organized person in the last little while. (For obvious reasons I need not elaborate on.) Luckily for me, there was a solution: the AMA. No, not the American Medical Association — the Alberta Motor Association. The local incarnation of CAA. Little beknownst to me, I’ve had a CAA membership for several years now … courtesy of my mother, who had not only myself, but also my sister tacked onto her membership.

The things you learn at Easter dinner.

Armed with the number, I finally decided on Saturday to give the AMA a buzz and get my car up and running again. After an hour wait (the AMA is overworked in this city), a Battery Assist (AMA’s jump service) truck showed up at my apartment. It was a (relatively) warm day — peeking above zero for the first time in weeks. It was a perfect day to spend more money to fix my car again.

The first big hurdle was just getting the truck to my car. The Battery Assist truck is a heavy-duty 1/2 ton, which sits high as a result of its undercarriage. The service guy (whose name escapes me, unfortunately) drove hanging onto the steering wheel while hanging out the door, making sure his roof didn’t get caught on the concrete ceiling. (Apparently, his partner got stuck in a parking garage the week before, and had to let the air out of his tires to get the truck out.)

He barely made it onto Level 3.

We popped the hood on my car, and he slapped on his testing gizmo to check my battery. It’s a little more advanced than my AA battery tester. Among several functions, it can also tell what the Cold Cranking Amps are. (This, apparently, is a measure of how well your battery can start an engine.) My battery read 62. You need a minimum of 160, or something like that. In short, a jump would only get me going. The battery, for all intents and purposes, was dead.

Ironically enough, this was what I had planned to do anyway — replace the battery. I’d figured it was past its due date, and was high time to get a new one. The news from the AMA guy just reinforced that a bit. I muttered a bit about how this probably wouldn’t have been such a big deal if I’d bucked down and got the block heater. The AMA guy agreed, suggesting that it should be something I might want to look into for next winter.

I was offered the opportunity to get my battery replaced by the AMA. For the same price of a Canadian Tire battery, but without the mandatory installation and testing fees that they charge to warranty the battery. I suppose I could have gone to Costco, but if I’d shut the engine off, I’d need another jump to move the car again. And considering I’d get roadside assistance if anything happened, this just seemed like a good deal.

The tech got to work, whipping out his tools and preparing to change my battery. Wonder why he drove a heavy-duty half-ton truck? The back’s full of batteries, old and new. (He never needs to worry about traction in the winter, that’s for sure!)

I think the battery was original, or at the very least hadn’t been changed since I got the car. Either way, it wasn’t easy to remove it. The battery cables were stiff and the nuts didn’t loosen easily, the bolt that held the battery in place was almost rusted shut and was very difficult to move, and the block heater cord kept getting in the way…

…block heater cord? What block heater cord?

Much to my surprise, delight, and utter dismay, the tech held out a cord that looked suspiciously like it was attached to a block heater. He followed it down until it disappeared into the engine block. There’s only one thing I know of that comes out of an engine block that requires a standard three-prong cord.

All you can do at a time like that is laugh. Which is good, because if you can’t laugh at yourself, then you don’t have license to laugh at anyone else.

The battery swapped, tested, and warrantied, I proceeded to go for a drive an ensure all was well. So far, the car’s running better. I guess the cost was worth it — my transportation actually transports again. I even got it cleaned to get the last couple of month’s dirt and dust off (it collects very easily in our parking garage). Of course, it started snowing again that evening.

I hope it really warms up soon. Otherwise, I’ll have to plug in the block heater.

Easter in Calgary with my Family

Third year running: Lots of family, lots of activity, and way too much food.

This year’s events started Thursday evening, when my mother arrived from Ontario, as did Chris’ parents for their first (and possibly only) visit with Chris in Calgary.

(A side note on that: Chris is still planning to go to Japan. The question is when. At this point, he’s still in the interview process with the company, who has suggested that they are sending four people in April. Yes, it’s now April, and we have no idea what’s going on. I’m pretty sure that this is inevitable, it’s just when the ball finally gets rolling.)

So, back to family.

I didn’t see my mother, Nana, or the Mays until the following day. (I went to an antique show at the Roundup Centre, looking for a dining room table. Without success, I might add.) Friday morning, I stumbled from bed to find Mr. and Mrs. May watching TV. They and Chris had plans (I’m not sure what), as did I — I was to go out with my family for an excursion to beautiful Cochrane.

For those of you who know Cochrane, you may now laugh at the joke. For those of you who haven’t, consider yourself lucky.

Actually, I shouldn’t be that harsh — Cochrane isn’t that bad. If you know what you want, it’s quite pleasant. But the weather wasn’t quite cooperative, and the wait for lunch (although tasty), was a little too long for some of us.

After lunch, we wandered about the “main drag” (about three blocks) for a little while, perusing the various wares in the touristy stores, before deciding it was high time to get the heck outta Dodge.

That brought us to, quite logically, Bragg Creek. We didn’t stay there too long, either, about long enough to pick up some candles for Nana, and for Jen to fall asleep in the rear of the van. Mike joined her there on our way back to Calgary. That night, we had dinner at my aunt and uncle’s.

Saturday was the great party. This was the family get together that has now become a tradition — this is the third year running (for me, anyway). My day started off rather by searching for antiques in Inglewood (specifically, the aforementioned table). This was a rather futile effort, unfortunately — Inglewood has become so trendy that most of the antique stores cater to the trendy types, and don’t carry the kinds of things I was looking for. Or, if they do, are far overpriced and the storekeeps are rather anal about people touching the things they want to buy.

On my way back, I stopped into the Cellar (a wine shop downtown) to pick up beverages for the evening’s repast. All I knew was the main course: salmon wrapped in phyllo pastry. But that was enough for the staff to help me purchase a rather large quantity of wines. I hoped it would support the large number of guests.

Now, you’re probably wondering what the deal is with the salmon. Last year (see [[Easter with my family, friends]]), we overdid ourselves at Bodega. After learning of the damage inflicted on Ryan’s credit card (some of us were not given the opportunity to pitch in), the decision was made to tone it down a bit, and have the meal at Pam’s house, and hire in a caterer. Luckily, Aunt Brenda knows of one through her guiding efforts.

Now Darryl (which I believe is his name) isn’t some hoity-toity kind of chef. He’s a down-to-earth chef who believes in talking with the people who are going to eat his meals. And he doesn’t mind and endless set of questions about how he made his food. Mostly because it was really good.

Of note in particular was the salmon. He took (rather large) portions of salmon, wrapped them in phyllo pastry with onions, carrots, and a bit of dill, and baked it in the oven until the pastry was nicely browned. In my life, so far anyway, I’ve had three outstanding salmon dishes: The Pacific Starlight in 1998 (see [[My first birthday in Vancouver, Trip on the Pacific Starlight, Porteau Cove]]), the Royal Hudson in 1999 (see [[BC Rail Royal Hudson 2860, West Coast Railway Association, Comox Airshow, and Skyhawks]]), and this salmon dish at Pam’s house. I had to go back for seconds. (Which, luckily for me, I could.)

Suffice to say, I overate.

The following dinner wasn’t much better. This time, Chris, his parents, and I traipsed up to the northeast, to my aunt and uncle’s home. There, again, we gorged ourselves on whatever we could get our hands on. In this case, it was turkey, one of my favourite meals. And as before, I ate far too much. I would have eaten more were it not for one itty bitty little thing:

We were having a blizzard.

Calgary’s weather is strange. Chris swears that the next forecast will be for locusts. (We’ve had almost everything else except the waters turning to blood.) It was into the low teens yesterday around noon, was approaching zero when we left for my relative’s, was snowing by the time we got off the train, and was full-force blizzard by 8:00pm.

I love this city.

Easter (and the dinners to end all dinners) finally ends tonight: A meal at Silver Dragon, where Chris’ parents get the unenviable pleasure of meeting all of Chris’ friends. (After this, they won’t want to come back to Calgary again.)

Hopefully I’ll be able to waddle home afterwards.