Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The new Au Pair Cometh...

The new au pair (hereafter known as AP2) arrived without incident last week. Actually there was a sortof incident but not much of one.

When AP1 arrived, her wait at the baggage carousel and customs was about 3 hours. She had arrived on a direct flight from Paris - a big plane, with overweight luggage. All this caused her to be slow getting off the plane, and her bags to be among the last unloaded. Based on our experience with AP1, we figured there was no hurry to get to the airport early for AP2.

AP2 had 3 legs on her flight (France - Spain, Spain - Chicago, Chicago - Toronto). Since her last flight was on essentially a commuter jet with only 30 people on it, it was unloaded very quickly. She also had no lineup at customs, and cleared security without issue.

We timed our trip to the airport to arrive 30 minutes after AP2's plane had landed. You can see where this is going...

When we got to the airport, and checked the boards for AP2's flight, it wasn't showing. I wondered if we were at the wrong terminal or something. SWMBO and AP1 kept watch, holding AP2's welcome sign, and I went to the information booth to find out where AP2's plane had come in.

About the time I got back to SWMBO and AP1, AP2 walked across the terminal, and shyly asked if we were us. Apparently she had been waiting for about 15 minutes. Oops.

AP1 and AP2 shared duties and stories for a couple days, and then AP1 went back home to France. At least I think she did. We haven't heard from her since she left. That's a little disappointing, but I hope she's happy wherever she is. She was only landing in Paris yesterday, so I guess she could be just getting in touch any time now.

AP2 is very different from AP1, but is very comfortable to be around. I think she is still getting comfortable with our family. She is always smiling, and speaks with a very gentle voice. AP2 is more approachable and less abrupt. I think she'll be great, we just have to get her comfortable with us.

Today is AP2's first Halloween. She has never seen the spectacle of kids running from door to door for candy and dressing up. Yesterday she picked out her first pumpkin (with help from Cuppa) and this morning she was shocked that Buddy would go to school dressed as a skunk. Apparently Halloween isn't much of an event in France.

Tonight should be fun - or interesting. Or both.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

It is FREEZIng out!

Chuck, upon arriving home from school yesterday:
"It is FREEZing out!!"
Mama looks up..... "where's your jacket?"
Chuck: "I couldn't find it this morning."
Mama: "Did you wear a sweater?"
Chuck: "I was in a rush"
Mama: "so, it's 8 degrees(C), and you're wearing a tshirt, and complaining that you are cold?"
Chuck: "Okay, I see your point."

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Back to Work, and School, and life.

SWMBO stayed home for 18 months after or last little guy was born. We are fortunate that we both work in the same office, and live in a place where an 18 month mat leave is a possibility. I know that our American friends feel lucky to get 4 months, but up here in the frozen north, family values means you value family, and that means moms have a chance to raise their kids at least until they are weaned. The kids - not the moms.

In any case, our big move happened while SWMBO was on mat leave. It gave us a chance to get settled into the new house and handle the moving surprises without being under the gun with the baby underfoot. It also meant switching between programs and libraries, and community centres. Since we moved in June, and school and work both got underway in September, we were able to register the kids and get settled in the interim.

One of the family issues with moving and SWMBO going back to work was what to do about childcare. We are too far from family to lean on grandma, and we don't know anyone in the area to drop the kids with, and daycare centres are quite expensive. We opted to do something a little different and hired in an au pair.

Au pairs are a fairly foreign concept to most people we know. The name is french, and expensive sounding. The concept is international and costs about the same as a daycare would once all costs are tallied. Au pair translates directly as "an equal" and the concept is that the au pair joins your family as an equal to your children - like an older sibling that cares for the kids. An au pair is part exchange student, part nanny, part spare kid.

We hired our au pair via a website ( that allows you to match your needs to a candidate's profile without going through an agent. this means it is up to you to do all your own leg work with regards to references, police checks, government regulations etc. Basically all the things that a nanny agency would do for you if you paid them the fees. Our hiring cost for our au pair was $50. She came to us from Paris - Champs Elysees exactly, a 21 year old just starting her career in tourism and looking for a chance to live in a Canadian family for long enough to improve her english and see the sites.  We hired her on for a 6 month term and haven't looked back.

To get our house ready for the au pair, I put a floor in the basement bedroom and re-painted. I think it looks pretty good down there. She is very happy with her room.

Having an au pair so far has been fantastic. French cooking is divine, and having the extra hands to help with kids, do some light housework, and cover for us when we go out has been fantastic. As a bonus the kids are learning a little french. its almost too good to be true. Actually...

About 4 weeks into her stay with us, our au pair came to me and confided that she had been talking to her old boss back in France. She had been offered a job and a promotion back in the hotel industry in Paris - in a convention hotel's sales group. It isn't a surprise. She is fantastic with people, extremely organized, and energetic. We wish her well. But we were left scrambling with 6 weeks to find a replacement for her. The replacement arrives tonight.

Our new au pair will be coming from a small city in the northwest of France. She is young, only 18, but we are hoping she works out well. We go to the airport tonight to pick her up.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Getting Started Outdoors

Gardens. I like gardens. I like them full of plants and bugs and critters – but I don’t want the plants to be weeds, and I don’t want bugs that eat my plants, and I don’t want the critters to make a mess. I want my garden to look like it was taken from a magazine, but not quite, and I want my flowers to look like nature put them there, not me, only a little better than nature. So I want gardens that are someplace between wildflower meadow and a Better Homes and Gardens photoshoot.

Apparently the folks who lived here 2 owners ago – the ones who commissioned a painting of the house – also loved beautiful gardens because the house was featured by local garden tours at one time. Sadly the owners we bought from had transformed those gardens to a dog run, and let things go. A lot.

Here is what the yard looked like when we bought the house:

Possibly the roughest lawn I have ever had. Don't break an ankle!

Hardly ready for a garden tour or magazine shoot. The lawn is very torn up, and the gardens are all trampled. The wooden retaining wall is completely rotted, and most of the plants are dead. The trees haven’t been trimmed in ages, and are overhanging the pool, dropping needles in the water every time you try to get past them. Basically the whole yard needs a redo to get it back in shape.

Note the goldenrods - provided by nature.
We waited for things to get worse before we set in to make them better. Basically we neglected the yard for most of the summer, focusing on tasks inside the house. But with late summer approaching, it was finally time to set to work.
Before doing anything to the back garden I had to "prune" the junipers a little. First I pruned them to ground level. Then I pruned the roots out of the ground and into the trailer. Next I’ll take them to the dump too. There is something satisfying about removing a misbehaving tree, but at the same time, those trees would have been quite nice had they been maintained over the past few years.

Well that opens things up a bunch!
We have laid in cardboardto start killing off the weeds where the garden will be expanded.

With the junipers out of the way I was able to turn the soil and get the garden in workable condition.

At some point in the middle of all this, I removed the rotted lumber across the front of the pool. The chainsaw cut the timbers into manageable pieces which were then pried out of the earth with a long bar before being carted to the trailer and off to the dump. The garden was turned and the earth sifted to remove weeds. I heeled in a bunch of rescues from our old house including some daylilies, Hardy Hydrangea, hostas, and a few other bits.

Half-way done - I like using a hand fork and going slowly to pull all the living material out of the soil that I can. No roots, no leafs, and no seeds if I can help it. I did rescue some grasses and Stella D'oro Daylily and other stuff as I went though.

In the back garden, we have now heeled in all the rest of the plants we brought with us from our last house, including Madonna Lilies, more daylilies, a rose, more hostas, rhubarb, and other perennials. In the spring we will re-evaluate the gardens and re-plant evertything in its permanent home. This fall I plan to set up an espalier along the fence, and I already have a bunch of Apple Trees on order to plant along it. I want to try a Belgian Fence pattern back there, but am a little nervous. My goal right now is to continue to maintain things back there until the apple trees are ready for delivery. Just keeping the soil barren and disturbing any weeds that get started is the goal.

We have saved all our moving boxes to use as our barrier layer for weeds once the trees come in and we figure out what the future holds for the garden in front of the pool. We have always used plain cardboard rather than landscape fabric under our mulch for a couple reasons.

  1. It works better. Nothing grows through the cardboard for at least 3 seasons.
  2. It easier to pull what weeds do get started. Since the cardboard blocks anything growing from rootstock, only seed-weeds can start, and they can’t reach soil, so they never get a hold on anything.
  3. Its biodegradeable. 10 years from now I won’t still be finding shreds of cardboard wrapped around my tools. I can’t say the same about landscape fabric.
  4. You can always add to the plantstock. 2 years from now I can add plants by simply poking through the cardboard with a trowel. With landscape fabric you need to cut the fabric, and that means extra tools.
  5. You can “lasagna garden” If you put in a layer of manure or a different mulch, you can just add another layer of cardboard to prevent mixing colours/textures, or to be sure weeds in the manure don’t grow.
I could go on. I really don’t understand why folks love landscape fabric so much. To me it is one of the worst gardening inventions ever. For mulch we tend to use wood chips, or even hot shredded wood from tree trimmers a lot. With the cardboard barrier under it we have never lost a plant to nitrogen burns or seen a huge depletion of soil nitrogen before the chips started to decay. We have also been fortunate not to have trouble with disease transmission this way, but it is a concern, especially when you consider that much of a tree trimmer's business is removing diseased limbs/trees. Sadly, we don't know any tree trimmers here who could supply us with the shredded chips.

Of immediate concern is washout of the garden in front of the pool. The wood was holding everything in place, and it has started to erode. I need to get something happening there before we loose all the soil!

Anyway, enough for now. Watch for Apple-tree planting in an update soon!

End of season 2012

The mast is down. Iris is ready for winter – more or less.

After work on Tuesday, I had SWMBO take me down to the marina, and then she left to drive Buddy to his gymnastics night. She left with the keys. Since I had no keys, all I could do was stuff on the outside of the boat. So I took off the mainsail. Then the boom. Then the power cord. With plenty of time left and not much else to strip off the boat ahead of launch day, I started to back off the rigging.

Other folks were nearby working on their boats, so I got a hand from a couple helpers, and by the time it was dark, the mast was off the boat. No crashes or bangs, no excitement. Just a nice, easy lowering, and then off to a set of sawhorses to wait for haul-out day.

I have noticed that most folks here remove their spreaders when they take their masts off. I often don’t. Maybe I’ll have to remove them just to fit in. Its not much of a task – just 2 cotter pins.

Cleaning out the interior will have to wait for another day. Everything is still in there. 

I was asked to move Iris to “the launch dock” as she will be among the first boats taken out of the water this weekend. Then I was asked to move her again so the dock can be re-positioned. Now she is sitting in the dock next to where the crane will be. This Saturday at 7:00 the club will start lifting boats. By Sunday the harbour will be empty.

Winter is coming soon.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

An Unexpected Reno

After your truck is unloaded, after your house is full of boxes and you are sitting on your sofa with wine in hand and kids in bed, you like to think that you are at least half-way moved in. You like to think that, but reality says you are not.

In our case, SWMBO’s cousins came for a sleepover on about night 2 after we had moved in. They took the boys to the zoo through the day so we could tackle the unpacking of boxes. It was a good thing. As we all sat in the living room recovering from our days – them from the zoo, us from working on the house, I noticed that the ceiling was sagging right over the piano. Not a big sag, but a big enough sag. Strange. Below is a picture from the listing of the room in question - no sag there but a water stain that had disappeared by the time we moved in...

I did what any man would do, and poked the ceiling. The belly crumbled and water poured out. We put a bucket on the piano and watched the water drain. Welcome Home.

The previous owners had completed extensive renovations in preparation to sell this house. Among their renoes were the aforementioned tile in the entryway, a new kitchen, hardwood in the family room (we use it as a dining room – more on that later) and a new central bathroom upstairs.

The upstairs bathroom had new flooring and wallpaper. New fixtures and cabinets. It looked sharp. I went up now with a more critical eye. The toilet in the bathroom showed no signs of leaking, however it was exactly over the rotted ceiling below. I checked the opposite side of the wall in the front bedroom. The shared wall between the toilet and bedroom was fine. There was a pair of bookcases along the wall that the owner had left there for us when they moved out. I pulled the bookcases away.

Under the bookcases were rust stains where filing cabinets had previously been. The carpet had water marks across it.

Back to the toilet, and on my hands and knees I looked at its junction with the floor. Clear silicone caulk ringed the connection. I lifted the toilet and found a puddle of water under it. The wax gaskets intended to seal the toilet to the floor had never made contact with the toilet bowl. The previous owner had made a $2.00 mistake that was going to cost us a bundle.

I immediately called our realtor, and our lawyer. They advised me to get a quote to repair the damage and call them back. The quote came in at $1,000 to repair the ceiling. I wasn’t worried about the carpet; we had budgeted to replace it when we moved in anyways.

The lawyer suggested that the claim would not be worthwhile to pursue in small claims court. The realtor said the same, then promptly disappeared. We would be out of pocket for the repairs. My confidence was now less than fantastic for the other work done on the house.

We hired our contractor off craigslist, and in 2 days he had the room done and back together. It took me another week or so to get around to painting it and touching up the crown molding. Now the room looks A1. there are a number of other spots in the house that could use a spiff, and a project or three waiting to be done (I want a basement bathroom, hardwood in the livingroom/dining room, and a door between the diningroom and hallway) but they can wait. A laundry list of other small scale projects is waiting for me too – I have to relocate the thermostat, build some basement shelving, and organize the garage. But all that stuff can wait for bad weather days.

Before all of that falls into place we need to tackle the back yard.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Off to an Auspicious Start – Moving Day

Every move has its stories. Ours are no different. The last time we moved, the entire trip was a whopping 7 km long, cost us $1500 to hire a crew, who turned out to be prison buddies, and we were extorted in our driveway before the truck was unloaded. This time we decided that rather than hiring professional criminals to complete the move (Did I mention they tied our clothes to the back of the truck, and drove through town with the boxes bouncing around on the tailgate?) we would do things ourselves. Sort of.

In the weeks preceding our move, SWMBO and I worked hard to pack everything we could, then 10 days before blastoff I put a call out to a couple local congregations, and asked the pastors for referrals of a family in need who I could pay $100 to lend a hand loading and unloading the truck we rented from Penske. We always rent from Penske. Penske has never let us down, unlike some other companies who I need not mention (I hate you U-Haul.)

On moving day I picked up the truck from the Penske depot a block away from my office, drove it home and met our helper. What a helper he was. This guy was used to hard work and wasn’t afraid of it. In 3 hours we had humped everything we owned out onto the truck and loaded it. We had moved a piano and solid oak furniture. Lugged the beds and tools and dishes. With the two of us loading, and SWMBO and Chuck providing childcare, and box-lugging support where possible, we had the whole job done in record time. Things were looking good. Better help was never had.

We spent the night sleeping on the floor, ready to drive to our new home the next morning.

The paperwork was delayed on moving day (isn’t it always??) so we didn’t get possession of the house until later than we would have liked. But when we did the place was spotless and we were able to start unloading right away. A quick call went to the family referred to by the pastor on the unloading end of the trip and we were told that our helper was out, but would be home soon. He would call us back.

We began unloading the truck. SWMBO’s parents arrived to lend a hand. Chuck helped, even the little guys helped. Things were rolling along quickly, but the big stuff – the stuff I needed my hired helper to move were sitting while everyone got tired working in the heat of the day. After the truck was about 30% empty the helper arrived.

The piano was the first thing off after he got here. At 20 years old or so, and lanky and lean, my helper struggled to keep up with me in unloading the piano. I used the hydraulics on the truck to get the piano to ground level and a dolly to get it to the front door. Now I needed my helper’s muscle.

I lifted, he pivoted, and whined. It was too much for him to push. SWMBO’s dad stepped in and tried to help, but he is not the young, strong guy I had asked for to help me. I lifted and dragged. The kid made a feeble attempt at the other end of the piano. Things were not going well.

We eventually got the piano into the house. The gouges across the travertine tile floor show where the piano should have been lifted by both people, but by that time I didn’t care anymore. I needed the piano to move, and I didn’t have the manpower I had hoped for. All’s well that ends.

As we continued to unload the truck, I would put all the boxes labeled ‘Heavy’ in front of the helper, and he would step aside and pick something else. It got to be almost funny that I had 2 retirees carrying our heaviest possessions in the house while this guy who was getting paid to be my muscle would sidestep them.

Things came to a head when he dropped our sideboard on the tile floor. I mean the travertine had taken a beating from the piano already, but it was nice. A nicer floor than we would have paid to put in, and I kind of wanted to keep it that way. And this oak sideboard is heavy; I mean it’s a custom piece of solid oak furniture, handmade to fit a space, and costing more than any other single piece of furniture we own.

After the kid dropped it on the floor, I man-handled the sideboard into the dining room, parked it in place, gave the kid his money and told him I’d manage the rest without him. He left. We all took a collective sigh of relief. Unloading went far better once he was gone.

Late in the afternoon we had the truck empty, all our stuff in the house, and we were moved in. More or less. Beds got assembled, dishes put away, a bottle of wine uncorked, and pizza brought in – or was it Swiss Chalet? I forget. In any case we were moved in just enough that we forgot about the mess surrounding us, returned his truck to Mr. Penske, and relaxed. We needed it. The next day would be spent unpacking.

Long Time Coming

This seems to happen every summer. Sometime around April I get all excited about the pending season, promise myself that I will blog religiously about every departure from the dock, document the minutiae of launch day and outfitting, and then, nothing.

OK, some years I get as far as about the 5th race of the season, but then, nothing. I leave everything for one recap post late in the season (yes, that would be this post) and swear I’ll do a better job next year.

Here is the recap of the summer of 2012, I swear I’ll do better next year.

After the boat went in the lake, we did pretty good about getting out on the water for the first couple of weeks, but we had already missed much of the spring racing season, and time was tight due to moving and dealing with issues at the new house. Besides that, I was worried about the rig after some of the studs were bent on launch day. Our race results were also poor. Really poor, this was a little demoralizing. Between May 20th and June 30th we got out on the boat 3 times.

We moved after that, and moving cost me a couple weeks of sailing. Between gardens to be fixed up and boxes to be unpacked, and the logistics of moving day itself, sailing took a back seat. Which is OK, because in the back of my mind was those bent T-bolts from raising the rig on launch day.

Since I was nervous about the rig, I ordered all new standing rigging at the end of May. New shrouds, forestay, babystays, and all new turnbuckles, t-bolts, etc. The only piece I left in place was the backstay, but I got a new backstay tensioner. The good folks at The Rigging Shoppe built the rig for me (around $700 in case you are wondering) and offered to fit it to the boat for an additional $100. I agreed and all was well.

Then life got in the way. I was out of town on the agreed-to rigging day, and had to cancel the appointment. I couldn’t be squeezed back into the already tight schedule. A week passed, or maybe two before I was able to get to Toronto to pick up the rig. Another week passed before I could get the mast up. I ticked off the missed weeks of sailing and grew frustrated.

Eventually, I got things re-rigged, and with a hand from SWMBO on the winch, and some fellow sailors on the docks, we raised the mast and Iris once again looked like a sailboat. I was a happy guy.

A week later, I took Buddy down to the boat for a fun sleepover. I thought about taking the boat out for a little cruise and anchoring out someplace, but then decided to just sleep in the slip. We had fun. The night passed without event.

I woke up in the morning with a stiff back, and blamed it on the hard mattress in the vee berth. I had to pee, so I got out of bed and went into the clubhouse. When I got back to the boat, my back felt worse. I laid down on the cool floor of the boat to get some relief. The pain grew in intensity. I knew I had to get myself and Buddy off the boat so that we would at least be on the ground and visible if things got worse.

Buddy is pretty grumpy in the mornings, and this morning was no different. With reluctance he got up, and dressed. We got ashore and closed up the boat. I moved deliberately to the car.

It was very difficult to get in the car and comfortable, but I managed. The two of us drove home. As soon as I got home I went to bed. About half an hour later I was curled up on the floor in pain, and puking. I alternated positions between laid out flat and the fetal position. I could do nothing to escape the strangest, most intense lower back pain I have ever felt.

I was having a kidney attack.

After SWMBO drove me to the hospital, and I was put on an IV drip with morphine and saline solution, I fell asleep. I would wake up hours later, but be bedridden for a full week. It would be 10 days before the stone passed. The urologist advised that other stones were forming and I should expect this as a regular event now, until whatever my system disagreed with passed. It could be years. Oh the joy.

It would be the end of August before I got out on the water again. But I resolved to make the most of the remaining season. Wednesdays and Saturdays have been sailing days.

We have raced all of the late summer series, and the frostbite series. We have raced the fall singlehanded series, and the Stonehaven Cup middle-distance race. If our results haven’t been great, they have at least been consistent. We will get some flags this season. Not a pile like up on Lake Simcoe, but at least some. And I have had good crew this year too. Despite hardly getting out, I have managed to sail with Chuck, ex-coworkers, teachers, our nanny, and a Billiards pro.

We have attended Friday night dinners at the yacht club. We have helped with launch day and harbour Days and made friends. We have drank beer, and spilled beer, and recycled beer. Despite the challenges of moving, and health, it has turned out to be a good season.

This week we will be lowering the mast for the third and final time in 2012. On Saturday Iris will be lifted from her slip onto her trailer. Maybe I'll even blog about liftout day, but don't count on it. Then I will have to tarp her for the winter, cart the batteries home for storage, and wish her a pleasant sleep until 2013.  

And in 2013, I swear I’ll do a better of updating the blog. Really, I swear.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Frost Begins

It started a year ago last summer. Maybe even before then if I really want to be honest with myself. We were doing our best to be a country family. 5 years living on a small rural acreage had been good to us. A woodpile provided heat through the winter (who needs a furnace!) and a flock of chickens provided eggs and meat, and ribbons from the county fair each year.

I had taken a job in town with the idea that some time in the future I would move closer. The commute, at a little over an hour each way on country roads, crossing the peak of the oak ridges wasn't unpleasant, but wasn't quick either. It was tiring enough that I had found 3 or 4 rest spots along the way, and often would pull off the road for a nap on the drive home.

In winter, there were hotspots to watch for ice and drifting snow. If there was an emergency at home, I had to hope my wife could handle it. Gas for the car was taking about $250 a week from our budget. I had a convertible I loved, and the extra miles were quickly killing it. We needed to make a change.

With a flurry of activity we finished some projects and put our house up for sale. In a month, we had sold and bought a new place. Now we have been here for a couple months and are starting to feel like we are permanent fixtures, not visitors in someone else's house. We painted a bedroom, fixed a sagging ceiling, and are in the process of replanting gardens for a showy yard in the spring. We no longer have chickens, and the dog has gone from over an acre to roam, down to a 50 X 100 ft yard.

Or two boys are thrilled to have a park next door and a pool in the backyard. They have libraries and schools in walking distance. They have city busses and garbage trucks to look at out the windows. We thought that moving from the country would be hard on them, but they seem to have adapted quite nicely.

Our eldest, and only daughter has started life in her new highschool. She has found and lost, and found romance. She has discovered the liberty of walking to school, which is good some days, and awful on others.

My wife has returned to work, we have hired a nanny. We have our first furnace. Ever.

Welcome to the House of Frost. The only house we have bought that came with a painting of itself.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Boomerang Lunch

It is amazing how quickly 'convience' snacks are made to be 'inconvenience snacks.'

Buddy's school has a program called the "Boomerang Lunch."  With a boomerang lunch, everything that the child does not consume during the day, gets returned to the lunch bag, and taken home for disposal.

The drink box half full?  yep.

The yogurt half eaten? yep.

It is no longer 'convenient' to purchase items pre-packaged... because the package cannot be closed again.

So instead, we trade the drink box for a re-sealable water bottle.

we trade the pudding cup for a box of pudding mix, made in re-sealable gladware.

Even the apple... gets sent in a tupperware, so that the core has a place to go afterwards, rather than bouncing around making a mess of the lunchbucket.

Does it require creativity, yes... but the result is, that we no longer find convenience in the pre-package, chemical-laden convenience foods that we used to, and instead, find that it is easier to pack a healthy snack in the mornings.