Sunday, January 29, 2017

Slow news week but busy nonetheless.......

Blog for the week of January 29, 2017.

I don’t have much to write about this week…..While it has been a very busy week, most of my activities have been covered in previous blogs, - car sales, car repairs, working accidents, and entering the car inspection data into the computer system. The program is aptly named, CARS, and is the system each mission vehicle coordinator uses to document all that happens with each vehicle placed in the mission.
Well, I had no sooner written the paragraph above when I received a call from two of our sister missionaries reporting that someone had backed into the front of their car while they were inside of the ward building teaching a lesson. The person at fault had had to go from room to room until he found them to report what he had done. Fortunately the location of the accident was rather nearby so I researched and found the phone number for the nearest police station, reported the accident, and told the police officer I would meet him/her at the site of the accident. When Kathy and I got there we were not prepared for the amount of damage. Someone had backed up so quickly that the bumper was almost completely dislodged from the front of our Toyota Corolla. It had been T-boned, nearly knocking off the entire bumper. The bumper was just hanging by a few of the wires and so, after the policeman was done, I was able to pull the remainder of the bumper off completely so we could move it over to the side of the parking lot. The picture is below.

Our poor Corolla!
Afterward, the Sisters were instructed to remove all of their teaching materials and personal things and we drove them to their apartment. Fortunately we have a loaner vehicle which we will be able to get to them on Monday.

Like last winter, after a period of bitter cold weather, the temperatures have moderated considerably and we are enjoying melting snow and pleasant Chinook weather. As the warm breezes (yes, sometimes strong winds, especially further south) sweep up and over the mountains, it creates what is known as the Chinook Bow. While the Chinook prevails, there is a line of clouds that sits just east of the Canadian Rockies. I will include a couple of pictures of this weather phenomenon as photographed from our apartment balcony.

Chinook Bow

Canadian Rockies and Chinook Bow

I learned something last week that I had not previously known; in the greater Calgary area there are 67 wards and 7 stakes. This speaks to the strength of the Church in this area, and this is pretty much replicated in the Lethbridge, Cardston, Raymond, and Tabor areas. Many trace their roots back to the original Mormon settlers who were sent to colonize what is now the extreme southern part of Alberta, particularly in the Cardston area. Mormons moving to some of the other areas in South Alberta came about in a rather interesting way.  As the story was related to me, early dry land farmers who moved into the Tabor and Raymond areas experienced too frequent crop failures due to the inadequate and undependable rainfall. Farmers there were informed by others that they needed to bring in some Mormons to show them how to set up irrigation systems and utilize streams and rivers flowing eastward from the Canadian Rockies. They sent a delegation to Salt Lake to meet with Church leaders. Members of the Church with irrigation experience were identified and soon families were dispatched to the area to homestead the area and work with the farming communities to set up irrigation systems. This whole area now is covered with beautiful farms, and the Tabor area produces world famous corn. It is known as the Corn Capital of Canada and has an annual Cornfest celebration each year in August. We enjoyed corn from there a number of times this past summer and can attest that it is, indeed, delicious.

With completion of our mission service approaching for each of the three couples in the mission office, we are becoming somewhat alarmed that there are no replacement couples identified to replace us. We know that this condition exists for many of the missions around the world, this because the number of missions is ever increasing and too few couples are committing to serve to meet the need. So, if any of you are giving some thought to serving, please step up. It is time. We can attest to it being a wonderful experience, one we will treasure the rest of our lives.

We hope all is well with each of you and hope you will have a great week.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

So many cars in so many places........

Blog for January 22, 2017

So many cars in so many places……


What a week! This was the week for quarterly zone conferences, and with zone conferences also comes the time for car inspections. On Tuesday we (Elder and Sister Sefcik, Sister Thorley, Elder Peppinger, and I) inspected 28 cars, then 22 on Wednesday, 16 on Thursday, and 14 on Friday. The first two were done in the Calgary area and the last two in the southern part of the mission which required a trip to Lethbridge, and then on to Tabor east of Lethbridge. The visit to Tabor was our first and it proved to be a bigger community than we had expected. Tabor is famous for its wonderful sweet corn in the summer. We had it several times in late summer and into the fall and can authoritatively say, “It is great!”

Rather than have the missionaries travel in marginal weather from British Columbia, President and Sister Miles and Elder and Sister Sefcik will make the trip there on Tuesday for the zone conference. Elder Sefcik is the mission housing coordinator and has to go to Cranbrook anyway to close out one of the apartments so, lucky them, they will finish the car inspections while there. Fortunately, the weather this past week was much improved from the bitter cold we had been experiencing. We were praying for more temperate weather and our prayers were answered!

Car inspections are not very fun, especially in cold weather (or hot) but are necessary to identify what needs to be done for the upkeep of the mission cars. The inspections also hold the missionaries responsible for the upkeep and care expected of them as car stewards. Like the apartments, the care sometimes gets too casual and so both cars and apartments get inspected on a regular basis. I am typically one of the presenters at each zone conference as one of my duties is to touch on some aspect of safety and the appropriate upkeep of the cars. After my presentation, Kathy awards Subway gift cards to the winners of the cleanest car contest.

The actual inspections are just the start of the process for me. After returning to the office, I have to enter the inspection findings in to the data base for each car in the fleet. I also telephone each pair of missionaries having a car with a problem and discuss with them where to take the car and what needs to be done, then arranging for this at the service facility. This includes oil changes not caught in the regular scheduling process, new tires, body and fender repairs, etc. We take to the inspection sites an air compressor, wiper blades, light bulbs, common small repair parts, extra oil, windshield washer solution, antifreeze, brake fluid, and a battery or two to make whatever repairs we can on the spot and to top off fluids.

Continued monitoring of the condition of our cars and arranging for (or providing) timely upkeep for the mission cars is not a mystery, particularly in Church circles. As a consequence, we have a fairly long list of potential buyers. When cars don’t move fairly quickly, they go to the auction where they also do quite well. I have mentioned in past blogs what is involved with car sales and this keeps me quite busy; however, during car inspection time I have to curtail car sales as I simply can’t be here to facilitate the sale and there is more than once person can accomplish. 

The older cars are brought to Calgary to be prepped and sold when they get around 80,000 km (about 50,000 miles). Selling and replacing the cars is an ongoing process and a big part of my job. We now have several additional cars on order to replace some of the older cars and they will begin arriving in about six weeks at which time the process of replacing cars, moving cars around, prepping them, and putting them up for sale begins all over again.

So, that has been our week. I am so grateful for Kathy and the others in the office for helping with the car inspections. We work in teams; they do the inspections while I go from car to car checking all the fluids and topping them off as needed plus the minor repairs and part replacements. Needless to say, we are not in our suits and office attire when we are out doing inspections. Some time ago Kathy and I bought a shopping cart to help with transporting groceries from our car up to our 12th floor apartment. This cart also gets used at inspection time to transport the jugs of oil, antifreeze, and other fluids from car to car. The cart has proved to be a great investment.

We have one more quarterly car inspection and then it will be time to return home (late May).

Have a great week, and may your car problems be few!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Chinooks are our friend.........

Blog for January 15, 2017

Chinooks are our friend……..

After several weeks of bone numbing, sub-zero cold, cold weather we are blessed to enjoy a period of warmer Chinook type weather, and this is just in time. We can see on the schedule that we are to do car inspections at four locations as President Miles conducts zone conferences with our missionaries. Picturing doing inspections outside in such bitter cold weather is the thing nightmares are made of; however, the next several days will be the answer to our prayers as we will have above freezing temperatures. No, it won’t be balmy by any means and it will still feel quite cold as we go from car to car to do the inspections. It will take 3-4 hours to complete the inspections at each of the sites as zones are combined at each of the locations resulting in 20-25 cars to inspect each day. 

You likely know the word, Chinook, but not necessarily what Chinooks are. Chinooks are weather patterns in northern areas that occur when the prevailing breezes come out of the west and southwest rather than from the arctic and thus sweep in warmer temperatures. Some degree of wind is a common feature of Chinooks but we will take it. The above freezing temperatures will mean cars arrive with dirty exteriors due to the slushy, dirty snow on the roads and this will make assessing the cars for dings, dents, and scrapes more difficult, but we will take this over bone numbing cold.

Another reason for welcoming a Chinook is hopefully a reduction in the number of missionary car related accidents from icy, slippery roads. There have been so, so many. My job will be made much easier when I have fewer repairs to arrange and manage.

I mentioned in our last blog that Kathy and I would be making a trip to British Columbia to deliver a replacement car to the missionaries who were involved in the serious collision with a semi-truck. There are only certain cars we want out in the mountainous areas of BC so this meant needing to take one of the Chevy Equinox vehicles in the Calgary area out to Sparwood, BC, where we would meet the missionaries coming in from their area in Cranbrook, BC. In preparation for this, on Tuesday I traveled to the northwest part of Calgary to take a Subaru Impreza (one that was waiting to be sold) to the missionaries who had the needed Equinox and a swap was made. They were, of course, sad to give up their Equinox, which is a popular car in the mission. Then I had to have mountain rated snow tires placed on it. So on Wednesday, Kathy and I drove to Sparwood. The pictures above and below were taken on this trip.

Great timing, on Tuesday a new vehicle arrived which we have been waiting for as a replacement for the Mission President’s “old” vehicle. Both the old and the new vehicles are Toyota Highlanders. I called the MP to inform him we had his new vehicle and he, knowing of our anticipated trip to BC, invited us to “break in” the new vehicle for him and drive it to BC so we would have a return car. They were in the southern part of the mission during the week. Kathy followed me in the Highlander to Sparwood and then I got to drive it back. We both like it a lot. It handled very well in the ice and snow. The day was bright and sunny and we enjoyed the trip and the scenery/ We were able to treat the missionaries needing the car and the other pair of missionaries who drove them to lunch before returning. 

The new Highlander

The “old” Highlander is only a 2015 vehicle but, given the distance Pres. and Sis. Miles drive each month, it is the highest mileage vehicle in the mission. Now that we have the new vehicle, the old one will be sold. There are at least two parties wanting it (one of them is the Thorleys). Both parties will be interested to see what price it is given by the Fleet managers in SLC.

Going to a hockey game was one of the items on our bucket list of things to be done before our mission ends. Hockey (and curling) are BIG in Canada. There are 3-4 hockey and/or curling matches on TV every evening. Last night was our opportunity. 

Maintenance on the goal between periods
The Zamboni (resurfaces the ice between periods)

All three office couples met at the Peppinger’s for soup and salad, and then headed for the match. The Calgary Flames are, of course, the local National Hockey League team, however, tickets to see one of their matches proved to be so expensive that we opted to see a minor league hockey game instead since these, too, are played in the Saddle Dome. The Calgary HITMEN were playing the Prince George COUGARS. The HITMEN team is a local team that plays in a league made up of farm teams for the NHL. We had a great time. Our seats were one row back from the glass barrier so we got to see and hear the action up close and personally. 

Elder and Sis Peppinger, Kathy, Elder and Sis Sefcik

We couldn’t have enjoyed the match more had it been the Calgary Flames playing the Edmonton Oilers. All the lights, sounds, and crowd excitement were there. Calgary loves the HITMEN (as well as the Flames). The minor league teams are made up of young men between 16-20 years old who are working for contracts with teams in the NHL. They played their hearts out. There were hard hits, fistfights (more on this below), and highflying action through all three periods. The score was tied going into the last period, but, in the end, the HITMEN lost by one goal. We sat just behind a couple who are season ticket holders and are experienced hockey fans. They loved sharing the nuances of the game with us and were fascinated that we had never been to a professional hockey game (although I suspect they haven’t seen a professional basketball or baseball game so there!). I should say, however; the Sefciks, who are a local missionary couple serving with us in the office, are experienced hockey fans and they also shared details about hockey that might otherwise have escaped us.

Maintenance between periods
  Fistfights are not uncommon in hockey. They are allowed; the refs stand by and allow them to proceed, but step in as soon as one player gains the advantage over the other or is about to do serious harm. There is a two-minute penalty, however, for fighting, but this doesn't seem to deter them. Remember that the players are pretty well padded and also wear facemasks so body blows are allowed but when the masks come off, the fight is stopped. We observed a couple of fistfights and I caught one with a video clip which you will need to go to my Facebook page to see. Anyway, great fun and we will need to perhaps do it all over again. The Saddledome is a treat in and of itself. If you are ever in Calgary, you will need to see the Saddledome.

Calgary Saddledome

Stayed tuned…..more exciting action next week. Have a great week!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

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Blog for January 8, 2017

It continues to be very cold. Each day it drops a half-inch or two of snow and the temperature is 10-20 below zero (F) at night and then gets up to 2-5 degrees above zero during the daytime. The good news is, the days are getting a bit longer again but not so much that it is very noticeable, - yet. We were spoiled last year, I suppose; we had several days of very cold weather around Christmas time and then the weather became more moderate for the rest of the winter. Not so this year, at least not so far and not for the foreseeable future. We are not looking forward to next week when we will be doing car inspections at several zone conferences around the mission.

The cold and snowy weather continues to contribute to the total sliding accidents involving our missionaries. I can barely keep up with the process of what it takes to get the cars back in service. In my last blog I described this process. I currently have 15 or so open files, which represent vehicles at various stages of the repair process. Unfortunately the worst of all the accidents occurred this past Friday evening. Two of our missionaries serving out in British Columbia hit a patch of black ice, began to fishtail back and forth, and then slid into the path of an oncoming semi truck and trailer. A head-on collision was narrowly avoided; the impact was with one of the trailers being pulled by the semi. 

They escaped unharmed, at least physically. They seem to be doing okay but I’m sure it was a very frightening event which they will remember all their lives. The vehicle involved is a Nissan Rogue. They were wearing seat belts and the front compartment crumpled as designed and the curtain airbags deployed, which undoubtedly saved the missionaries’ lives. The cabin compartment appears, at least in the pictures, to have remained intact. Needless to say, the car is a total loss. Kathy and I will be driving a replacement car out to them sometime during the week. The cars serving in BC are all equipped with special mountain-rated snow tires. The replacement car (one of our older cars waiting to be sold) will be fitted with these special snow tires before we head to BC with the car.

This past week was “transfer week”. Tuesday our new missionaries arrived and we met with them for training. On Wednesday they met their trainer companions and left for their first areas. On Thursday I again drove all the missionaries being transferred to the south to Lethbridge, and then returned the same day with the missionaries being transferred to the north to Calgary. Since the departing missionaries had left the preceding week (left a week early so they could get back in school), the rest of the week was less involved then the typical transfer week.

Even before the accident in BC described above, we began putting some emergency kits together for the BC missionaries, - this out of concern for our BC missionaries who have greater risk of becoming stranded on less traveled roads. These will contain blankets, jumper cables, flashlight, extra batteries, folding shovel, and some chemical hand warmers. To the kit they will add water and some non-perishable food. Since Kathy and I will be heading to BC this week with the replacement car, I spent time at the office yesterday (our P-day) finishing the kits so they will be ready to go. We had planned to take them with us to the zone conferences but now they will get to them even earlier.

This weekend was our Stake Conference. Kathy and I sang with the stake choir. There was no visiting GA but the talks were wonderful. Our Stake President is recovering from a couple of back-to-back heart attacks but he was there and gave wonderful messages both in the Saturday evening and Sunday sessions. He is such an impressive man, - so humble and patient and kind. Also Kathy and I continued our Friday evening visits to the Calgary Temple.

It has been an eventful week. We are grateful to have some time to catch our breath, and we are so, so very grateful that our missionaries' lives were preserved.

Have a great week!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Goodbyes, New Years Eve, and more snow........

Blog for January 1, 2017

We have had to say goodbye to some more great missionaries.


It is always sad to see our missionaries go but it is important for them to get on with their lives and reconnect with family and friends. Facebook makes it easy to reconnect with many after they get home, - sometimes it is like the very next day we see a friend request! While senior couples can have Facebook pages, the young missionaries don’t, at least while they are here in the mission. It doesn’t take long for them to reactive their page once they get home. It is fun to hear through the grapevine and on Facebook of those who might be dating as a result of an initial acquaintance while serving here. We know of at least one engagement announcement between two of our missionaries. Quite a few others who have gone home are engaged and even married but not necessarily to missionaries they met here.

Like Christmas Eve into Christmas Day, snow began on New Year’s Eve day and continued into New Years Day so I fear tomorrow will begin a new round of missionary car accidents, especially since it is their Preparation Day. There is a definite connection to a spike in accidents and P-day activities.

We have had an enjoyable but hectic week. It was highlighted by picking up the missionaries preparing to return home and going with them to the Calgary Temple on Tuesday

On Wednesday we drove them to the airport on where we said goodbye. 

During the week I also sold another couple of cars, and I coordinated repair items and detailing of other cars being prepared for sale.

I mentioned missionary accidents above; almost daily in this kind of weather I receive a phone call or  two from a pair of missionaries who have been involved in an accident. This begins a cascade of events. First I guide them through the online process of reporting an incident. This generates an electronic file and then I prepare a paper file to monitor progress with the repair. This paper file will eventually end up in the car’s maintenance file when all actions are completed. The electronic file also goes to our insurance claims manager in Ontario who directs a request for an estimate and pictures. I have to arrange this. Once the estimate and pictures are received, I send these electronically to the insurance managers. They work through an independent appraiser company and a price is set for the repairs. I get a notice that the repair has been approved at which time I inform the missionaries that they can set up an appointment for the repair. Once the repair has been completed, the repair facility is paid (often I have to cosign the check) and the missionaries get their car back. During the interim they have to walk or make other arrangements for getting around to their appointments. This process takes considerable time out of my day. In the meantime I am on the phone about needed oil changes, tire purchases, windshield replacements or repairs of rock chips, gas card issues, speeding tickets, and with the end of the year, getting all the vehicle registrations renewed. Then there are all the details of preparing cars for sale, working with potential car buyers, and keeping track of where all 98 cars are and what is needed to keep them going. It is a busy job and most days I can do it cheerfully. In most missions the vehicle coordinator (AKA the Car Czar) is known by the missionaries as the grumpy one in the office. I am sure I sometimes come across this way. This is situational; for example:
            Phone rings……
            Missionary (driver), “We were driving into the Church parking lot and we slid into a bush.”
            Me: “So is everything okay?”
            Missionary: “We think we cracked the bumper.”
            Me: “Hitting a bush cracked the bumper?”
            Missionary: “Well, yah”
            Me: “So the bumper is cracked. Is the car driveable?”
            Missionary: “We think so, but now the check engine light is on…….and the engine is making a funny noise.”
            Me: “Can you describe the noise?”
            Missionary: “I think my companion can describe it best.” Companion makes a clicking noise.
            Me: “Does the clicking noise speed up as the engine speeds up?”
            Missionaries: “Yes. And it gets louder.”
            Me: “Have you looked to see if there is something broken, or can you see something that the engine is hitting as it turns?”
            Missionaries: “We’re not sure. We can’t really see anything.”
            Me: “Where exactly are you?” And the conversation continues as I determine where they are and who I can arrange to look “more officially” at the car. We determine that the car should at least get them to a repair facility that is not too far away. Once there and the mechanic takes a quick look at the car and the conversation continues…..
            Mechanic: “The bumper is badly broken and is hanging down. The radiator has been broken from all four of its mounts and the fan is hitting the radiator. The A/C condenser is broken off from its mount,”….and the list goes on for awhile.
            Me: (thinking……all this from hitting a bush.) “Elders, this is a lot of damage. Did you hit anything else?”
            Missionary: “Well, we kind of hit the curb also.”
            Me: “So what did you hit first?”
            Missionary: “The curb, - but the curb didn’t stop us. It was the bush.”
            Me: (Me - thinking, “Oh, brother!”) “Elder’s, don’t you think that the curb was what really did the damage; the curb is hard concrete. What happened when you hit the curb?”
            Missionary: “Well, we bounced up and then we slid until we hit the bush.”
            Me: (Thinking, “good grief!....Now we are getting somewhere.”) “So you hit the curb hard enough that you bounced up on to it and continued to slide until you finally stopped when you got to the bush?
Missionaries: “Yes, that sounds about right.”
Me: “Okay, Elders; the damage is going to take some time to repair. In the meantime you will be walking to your appointments. We are going to need mechanical work on the engine and the radiator, and then when that is done, it will be several more days getting the bumper fixed and whatever else needs repairing on the body of the car.” (I’m thinking, “And maybe when you finally get the car back, you will appreciate it more and be more careful.”)
            Me: “So what have you learned from this experience?”
            Missionaries: “Maybe that we need to be more careful?”
            Me: “Yes, you do need to be more careful, but you also need to learn that you cannot drive as fast when there’s snow and ice on the roads.”
            Missionaries: “Can we get another car until this one is fixed?”
            Me: “No.”

So perhaps being grumpy comes with the territory. Previously Kathy and I had been asked to speak in our Sacrament Meeting. My assigned topic today was, “What can we learn about patience from the example and teachings of Jesus Christ?” Certainly I need to learn to be more patient, but my tolerance for avoidable accidents, I’m afraid, is going down.

And finally, we had a very nice New Years Eve gathering at the home of the local couple with whom we work in the office, the Sefciks. We played games and ate Chinese take out and barely stayed awake until midnight. It was fun and the food was excellent, but as soon as the New Year officially arrived, we were out the door and on our way home. We had to drive in the deepening snow but fortunately the roads were pretty much deserted. I suspect the traffic picked up again once the revelers left their reveling and hit the roads, but by that time we were home safe in bed, which is where old folks should spend New Year’s Eve.

We hope you had a wonderful New Years Eve. It will be interesting to see what 2017 will bring to each of us, to say the least.

We love and miss you all.