Thursday, December 27, 2007

Digital Hydro Meters - watch your bills!

So... we're Toronto Hydro customers. yippee. So what? Well, I just want to get that out of the way, because I'm not sure if the following is a reflection on the company, or the meters (which are employed by hydro companies throughout North America).

I used to pay our hydro bill, but 3 bills ago, D took over paying them. That doesn't have any bearing on the story, other than to say that I wasn't quite as aware of the amounts on the bills recently.

We had a fairly 'usual' hydro bill amount. Obviously, it would be slightly higher in the summer (A/C) than in winter (lights on timers, so the more hours of darkness weren't a big impact for us).

The last bill I paid was in June (based on a late May reading).

Then they changed our hydro meter from the old analog ones to a new digital meter. Very fancy, supposedly more accurate... and no requirement to have someone come out to read it.

The next bill (based on a late July reading, usually) was listed as an "estimate"... probably because of the change in meters. Ok... it was about $40 more than our 'usual', but it was also summer, we'd had a couple of heat waves... possible it was accurate, I suppose.

The next bill (based on a late September reading) was about $125 higher than 'usual'... but I didn't see it for it to raise flags with me.

The most recent bill (based on a late November reading) was about $300 higher than 'usual'!!!! WTF!?!?!? Umm... no. Well, we paid the damn thing because I don't want my credit rating to be screwed (the bill's in my name), but we did some investigation before calling them.

Here's the thing...

The bill says the meter reading of November 26th was 6770... D did a visual check of the meter on December 22nd (nearly a full month after the bill's reading) and it showed 4515. Ain't no way in hell that meter ran backwards or rolled over in that month, so obviously the damn thing is pooched and 'called home' with the wrong number... or their billing system pooched it.

So I called Hydro this morning to try to sort it out... and I don't think I quite got my point across to the woman I was dealing with. Although, I did get across that there's an issue with the last 3 bills, that the reading one month after the current bill is LOWER than the one on the bill, and that our lifestyle has not changed significantly since we moved into this house over a year ago, but the last 3 bills have been getting increasingly higher out of our 'usual' range.

They're sending someone in person to look at the meter within the next 7 days, but we won't see any adjustment (if there is one) until the next bill... which I expect to see sometime mid-February... stay tuned, and in the mean time, Keep an eye on your bills if you've been switched to a digital meter!!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Traffic Lights and Devious People

Yeah... I know... strange title for a blog post. But those are the subjects of the day.

First, the traffic lights. This was just odd. So, I've been off work or working from home every day so far this week, so this was my first morning heading to the GO station to catch my usual train. To get there, I hang a left at a stop sign, hang a right at some traffic lights, hang a left at some traffic lights, and then a right into the parking lot (with straight lines of varying lengths between them all, obviously). The problem? The traffic lights at which I turn left were red. And not changing. At all. After 4 minutes trapped in line, I finally got a break in traffic turning right and ducked into a plaza that also feeds out onto the cross-street. Made my left and sailed on through the green light. Which stayed green. In my rearview mirror, I saw several other cars pulling out of the plaza or turning right and pulling a u-turn. Very odd. I feel kind of bad for the people who were on the bus I was behind and trying to catch the train, because when the train pulled in 12 minutes later, that bus still hadn't managed to turn.

Now on to the devious people.

The house beside us was sold at the end of May. In mid-September it was busted as a grow-op (nice... you'd think they'd do some research, since the house directly across the street from them was busted 2 years ago... so now the neighbours know what to look for ;) ). Over the past couple of days, a For Sale sign has appeared on the boulevard outside the house. Odd. They city hasn't been by to inspect and do necessary post-grow-op renovations (which they're required to do). So I hop on and look up the listing. Interesting... the picture is the same one used back in May (different agent, though). I can tell, because it's nice and sunny and green... the front door is red (that was the first change... the door got painted white)... and there's lots of plants out front (that was the second change... all the plants in the flower bed got razed... looked like they just started mowing and kept going). The listing says the house is being sold in "as is" condition. First alarm bell. The house is listed at $349,000. Second alarm bell... and third, actually. Second because that seems pretty high for a house that was sold 7 months ago with no significant upgrades listed in the listing... plus it's a bungalow (we paid less than that for our back-split). Third because that price is completely at odds with the words "as is condition". Deduction: either the seller is trying to pull the wool over everyone's eyes... or the listing agent is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of potential buyers. Not cool... and I feel bad for whoever buys the place.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Trip to St. Lucia

Ok, so I’ve tried to write this darn blog entry about our trip to St. Lucia a half-dozen times already, and it always ends up too long. But, I’ll give it another shot… bear with me. And while we’re at it… be warned that it’s going to be long. Very long. And all text ‘cuz I don’t have my pics online at the moment.

Trip: November 10 – 17, 2007
Destination: St. Lucia
Resort: Sandals Halcyon Beach
Review in a nutshell: Beautiful Island. Avoid this resort like the plague (actually, you might end up with the plague…)

I can hear you now… “Whaaaaaaaaaa??? But it’s a Sandals!!!” Yeah, that’s pretty much what we thought, too. Had our opinion been based purely on this resort, Sandals would never get another penny of our money. However, having seen two other of their properties while in St. Lucia, we’re almost willing to give them another chance. Maybe.

We booked this trip last-minute. Fairly literally. We decided on November 3rd that we were going and booked on November 4th, to leave November 10th. We chose this resort based on the website for it… the text and images on that site (having examined the site more closely since we returned, the inconsistencies in information between pages and the “sound stage” look to some of the pictures should perhaps have set off the suspicion alarms, but at the time, we had other things on our mind). Of the properties on St. Lucia, this looked like the best fit for us.

We’re not beach people, per se. The website said this beach was pristine white sand beach. Nothing about this beach in reality tempted us to become beach people. What the site failed to mention was that this is a PUBLIC beach. As such, setting foot NEAR the beach (you didn’t even have to go ONTO it) resulted in being accosted by local beach bums, peddlers and drug dealers. Yes, drug dealers. Nice, no? I should also point out at this juncture that these people were also benefiting from the all-inclusive bar aspect of the resort free-of-charge thanks to the resort’s bar-tenders. Maybe that wouldn’t have bothered me so much if D and I were drinkers *shrug*. But getting back to the beach.. it was short, dirty brown, and ‘pristine’ is not a word I’d remotely consider applying to it.

The beaches at the other two properties, on the other hand were beautiful… and private.

We booked a “Luxury Ocean View” room. It was dark, dank, had a crack running most of the height of one wall, had no screen in the bathroom window, had no doors on the ‘closet’, had an elderly ceiling fan we were afraid to turn above ‘low’ in case it fell on the bed, and the window A/C which was the only way to control the dank smell was constantly being turned off by housekeeping. As for the ocean view, if you stood in exactly the right spot and the wind was cooperating, you could see a small sliver of blue that might have been water. Maybe. Primarily our view was of our overhung patio (a little pruning goes a long way with clematis), and pedestrian traffic between the other rooms and the main complex (lobby, taxis, busses, restaurants, main pool, administrative buildings, gift shop, etc.). I was particularly fond of the parades of housekeeping carts, luggage carts and ice carts. Oh yes, did I forget to mention that the ice was kept in insulated bins scattered around the gardens? Located every 500 metres to make up for the lack of refrigerators in the rooms.

The site mentioned 24 hour food availability. Nope. No room service. Breakfast from 7:30 – 11:00, lunch from 12:30 – 2, dinner starts at 6:00. From 10 – 5:00, I think, and again from 10 – 3 a.m. (I think… I’d need to confirm those times) there WAS a “grill” open… primarily for it’s bar, but there were offerings of seafood pizza (scary), and a few grillable items (burgers of questionable food safety and hot dogs, primarily). There was afternoon tea at the lagoon pool.

The pools bore no resemblance to the website. The food was mediocre at best (and it didn’t get to ‘best’ too often). The service was abysmal. There were feral cats with the run of the main restaurant (and the rest of the resort, but they stayed off my dining table elsewhere), birds crapping on the tables. Every time we went for a meal something was missing from our table… napkins, glasses, cutlery, salt shaker (not that it would have done us any good anyway… exposed 24/7 to the humid sea air had turned it into a salt-lick more than a salt shaker)… and almost always missing from our table, no matter how many times it was requested: D’s morning coffee. Maybe I have unrealistic expectations, but I figure if you ask someone if they’d like coffee, tea, or a mimosa… and they say they’d like coffee… it’s reasonable to expect that coffee would be forthcoming, no? Apparently… no. There’s no alcohol in coffee, so why serve it? Of course, if you’re not going to serve it, perhaps you shouldn’t offer it, either.

And then there were the bugs. I don’t particularly like thinking about the bugs. I mean, I recognize that bugs exist… that they’re a bigger issue in humid areas… and that I am the preferred snack food. But the biting started as soon as we stepped off the mini-bus from the airport (oh yes… the trip from Toronto to the resort and back again is a whole other story for another entry)… and didn’t stop until we left. And, worst of all, I woke up some mornings with more bites than I’d had when I went to bed *shudder*.

I think our favourite spot at the resort was the shuttle bus to the Grande St. Lucian. And only because it took us to the resort that DID look like the one on the website. And had food I could eat (allergies to shellfish, peppers, and grapefruit meant that I couldn’t eat most things… including most of the fruit due to cross-contamination). Honestly, access to this resort is the only reason we’d even consider giving Sandals a second chance. The service was great… the public areas looked awesome… (the pool tables were indoors)… they’ve got a pub… and they room keys are key cards (as opposed to our resort where we discovered at checkout that all the rooms have the exact same key… thank goodness we’re security paranoid and deadbolted and chained the door at night… and locked up or hid our valuables when we weren’t in the room).

So yeah… While I’d recommend the island to beach bums, adventure tourists, and just folks who like a pretty view, I wouldn’t recommend that particular resort to anyone I liked even a little bit.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Did you know....?

... burning teeth smell a wee bit like cinnamon?

How do I know this? Because yesterday I had the joy of a root canal. Yup... lots of fun. Especially the bit where the endodontist told me that the roots of my teeth are really long. No, smart-ass... my teeth just aren't fully erupted. Think about it... I'm 6' tall and fully mature, but I've got tiny little teeth. *shrug*

Anyway... at several points in the process (I tried to tune out) there was a whiff of scent vaguely reminiscent of cinnamon... but warmer. Turns out it was when she was using a tool inside the tooth that applies localized heat. Not sure if it was to cauterize something, or fill the roots with molten metal (a la soldering iron), and I really didn't want to ask.

Other adventures of the process: 4 sets of x-rays (really, Lady, the tooth hasn't changed position or structure in the last 20 minutes... honest... other than you filing the insides out of it, anyway), the metal frame holding the latex shield over the tooth in question popping off and flying across the room to the tune of "oh crap" from the endodontist... and 90 minutes in the chair with my mouth stuck open.

Joy. But on the plus side, I think this takes care of both teeth that have had the most dental work on them in the past... so I should be good for a while now *laugh* Stupid hereditary weak enamel.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Winter's here...

Yup. In spite of the calendar, winter is most definitely here. While not the first snowfall/storm of the season, Saturday night/Sunday is currently winning for least pleasant.

The adventure started thusly:

On Wednesday, I contacted a friend of some 21 years (21 years!! Yikes! How'd that happen? Now I feel old!) to ask about a mailing address for another friend of ours who I had sadly lost touch with (although he promised in my wedding guest book that he'd email ;) ). I knew this friend had moved, so in an effort to actually get Christmas cards out to people this year I thought I'd update the mailing list. Anyway, long story short(er), I discovered that he and his fiancée (and their assorted kids ;) ) were having a housewarming party on Saturday night. In Kitchener. Oddly, about 6 blocks from where D lived when I first met him. So, of course, I wanted to seize the opportunity to see C again, see his new place, meet his future wife, etc. etc. etc.

Then I heard the weather forecast. Saturday night was supposed to bring a storm after 2 days of rain. Hrm. So I didn't email C to let him know we'd be there... partly to surprise him... partly because I didn't know if we'd make it.

Saturday dawned and we started the mad scramble to get all the things we wanted to get done this weekend done. D was actually off this Saturday, so that was a nice change... gave us a bit more time to work with for the things that needed both of us. Off I went to do the usual singing thing at church (not sure how much longer I'll be doing that... they're really starting to irritate me)... then mad dash home to grab D, the housewarming gift, some emergency supplies (just in case... having been through the Ottawa Ice Storm in the winter of '97/'98, I figure better safe than frozen) and hit the road. We took my car... it's less "sporty", more comfortable, and I just feel safer in it in bad weather (no offence to D's car... it's the same kind I originally wanted to buy when I got Zippy, but I couldn't afford to insure it so... *shrug*). I had decided that Milton was going to be our 'drop dead' point. If we got to Milton before meeting the snow, we'd go the whole way... if the snow started at any point up to there, we'd turn around. Well, we actually made it all the way to Kitchener with no snow. Yay!!! We had also figured that, worst case, the in-laws are only a short way further out the road from there so we could over-night with them and try the trip home in the morning.

Anyway... much fun was had... it was great to see C again (and maybe this time we'll actually manage to keep in touch). A couple of rough moments for D and I... but that relates to certain other events in our lives recently and is entirely our own problem *shrug*.

At about 10:45 (give or take), P (the friend of 21 years) showed up and said the storm was coming. Actually, the snow had started. So D and I saddled up for the homeward trek, hoping to beat the worst of it.

Next time remind me of two things: D is much better at night driving, especially on stretches of highway with no street-lights; There's no point in trying to beat a storm home from KW.

Now, I'm a decent driver. While I've been known to be a bit of a speed demon at times, I don't take stupid risks (especially if there's someone else in the car), and I drive for the weather conditions. Sadly, I cannot say the same for others. It's a freakin' miracle that we didn't see anyone spin out or in a ditch on the way home. And I have to say, the worst were the truckers. Now, I know some truckers... great guys... helpful folks. But oh my gawd the truckers on Saturday night were psychotic and wrapped up in their own universe. If the speed of traffic is 80 at best because of road conditions, don't whip by in the fast lane (where they're not supposed to be in the first place) at 120 throwing snow all over everyone, blinding other drivers, and whipping cars around in your wake. It's just not cool. Frankly, I don't care if you have a deadline for your shipment... I just want to get home alive. Thankfully, once we got the hell off the 401 and on to the 407, there were practically no truckers. Of course, there WERE pseudo snowplows. And I say 'pseudo' because they were really only making the situation worse. There was no salt going down behind them, so the thin sheet of compressed snow and ice from where the heat of the friction of blade on road melted things was MORE dangerous than if they'd just left it well enough alone. But that's ok... most of them were on the other side of the higway anyway.

I think we lucked out. The normally hour-and-a-half drive took about two-and-a-quarter hours. Considering that for quite a large stretch at the beginning our speed never topped 60, that says a lot for road conditions closer to, and across T.O..

It was great seeing C again, meeting his new (well, new to us) family unit... now that he's closer to the in-laws, the chances of us visiting again increase significantly, too ;)

Then on Sunday, after the snow came the freezing rain. And after the freezing rain came the blackout. Yeah... several hours in the dark. Not fun. So we used our "über candle" for both light and warmth (it's a huge 3-wicked bee's wax thing... throws a fair amount of both light and heat), since the fan on the furnace is electric, and the fans on both gas fireplaces are electric. Luckily, we could at least make dinner, because the stove top is gas. And wouldn't you know it? As soon as I was done making dinner the power came back on (literally... I turned off the burner on the stove and the lights came on at almost the same moment). Well, at least we didn't have to ask my parents for a warm place to sleep (they're only 3 blocks away, but on the other side of a major road, and their part of the grid was still on).

And, as winter is quite comfy where she is, we're still dealing with snow, freezing rain, and my personal fave, really strong freakin' cold winds. Which brings me to my Question of the Day:

Why do people so often fail to consider the weather before choosing their footwear? I can't count the number of people I saw this morning with leather-soled (or otherwise traction-less) shoes. Slip slidin' away... slip slidin' awaaaaay... you know the nearer your destination, the more you're slip slidin' awaaay. ;)

Have a great one, folks! Still working on the St. Lucia experience post.