Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Pool Dudes Came!

When I got home from work the other night, a shocking discovery was waiting for me - someone had stolen the pool!

The guys from the pool place (we switched teams and Ewing Pools is doing this work for us) had come while I was at work and stripped out hte liner to get ready to put in a new liner. So Exciting. In other news, I need to get the rest of that concrete outta there in preparation for the pool guys to do the rest of their work.

Not sure how my back feels about that.

At the same time that the pool dudes arrived, I booked a new air conditioner for the house. That should arrive next week, which will make me super-happy. Yay, good news rocks.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Let there be heat!

Dear God,

I know you have a sense of humour, I mean, you gave me kids and all that, but this is getting to be too much of a comedy act. I mean, the boat has only been out once so far this summer, and I've been slaving away like a little worker bee on the yard, and here we are in the middle of a heatwave and the AC Dies.

Now I could normally handle an AC crisis, but really, did you have to time this to coincide with a pool that is being revived from a TKO?

Not funny dude. The kids are hiding in the fridge to escape the heat, the dog is barely moving, and everything in the gardens is playing dead a little too realistically for me right now.

So here's the thing, since I moved about 3 tons of concrete in the past week, and I have a contract signed (in blood) for the pool work, I'm going sailing tonight. If its hot out there, I may go swimming or something. And as for that AC breakdown, I need you to find a way to send 2 grand my way, on top of the 10 grand going into the hole in the ground we call a pool.

Really dude, this is a pretty weird way to make me like winter. You better not touch the fridge.

See ya on the water.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Life with Au Pairs

Childcare can be a tough choice. First of all there is the concern with quality of care, and the hassles of morning drop-offs and afternoon pickups, and dovetailing that into the already busy schedule of family life. We have a live-in au pair.

When we tell our friends we have a live-in, 2 things seem to get blurted out – “OMG – you have a stranger living in your house!” or “OMG – you must be rich!”

Neither is true.

An au pair is a young person willing to care for your children in return for lodging and meals and a reasonable stipend. The amount you pay is determined between you and the au pair. Our au pairs have all been happy to be paid around $150 a week to care for the 2 boys, with weekends and free time to themselves. Most have come from France, but our current au pair is from Ontario, about 4 hours down the highway.

Most reading you do on au pairs says to treat them like an older sibling to your children and to think of them as a babysitter rather than as a nanny. Have low expectations and be prepared to be surprised. In our experience, this is a good approach. We treat our au pairs like young adults, and expect that they will party on weekends and travel and explore. We hope they will join us on family outings and share their joys and experiences with us.

Most of our au pairs have been a great success. We have had one that we had to let go quickly (one week after arriving we sent him packing) but that experience was a lesson in itself and no one got hurt. The au pairs are excited to live in a different country with a local family. They want to learn the language and cooking and daily routine. In return our children have been enriched with stories of faraway places and learned a little French.

Here are some examples of our au pair experiences:

AP 1 – Marjolaine came to us from downtown Paris where she worked as a booking agent to a hotel on the Champs Elysees. She loved perfume and beautiful clothes. Every morning she would come upstairs and set the table before we were even out of bed, then sneak back to her room for the boys to 'wake' her. Marjo absolutely doted on Cuppa. Both boys still sing the song she taught them, “Pomme D’Annette et Pomme D’Api” although she has been gone for months. Marjo was precise, timely, and accountable. She was fantastic from a systems management and scheduling perspective. Her old boss in Paris called her with an offer for her old job back, with an increase in pay, and she couldn’t turn down the opportunity. We lost her too soon. She was only with us for a couple months.

AP 2 – Agathe had big shoes to fill when she arrived from a smaller city in the North of France. She was very young (only 18) but had spent a previous summer with friends in America, and was determined to continue to improve her English, and enjoy our culture. While here she took weekend trips to Quebec City, Algonquin Park, New York, Toronto, and about every other place nearby. She worked hard, but struggled a little with James. She did a good job of keeping the house clean, and she was very dedicated to the boys. Agathe was studying for her entry exams into a culinary school in France. She wanted to be a chef, and often cooked delicious dinners for us. When she returned home to write her entry exams, the cost to travel back to Canada was too much for her to bear, and so she too cut her stay short, opting to find a job in France rather than come back to Canada. The winter weather may have helped with her decision. Agathe stayed with us for about months.

AP3 was our nightmare. He also came from France, and was on his way to Canada already when we contacted him. Since we were in a bind with losing Agathe, we accepted this young man as an interim placement for a couple months while we searched for a long term person. Since he had a flexible start date as an au pair with a farm family in Quebec, it was mutually agreeable that he come to Canada early to work for us, then head off to the other family when we had our next au pair arranged. Sortof an early start for him, and a bridge for us. When we discovered that he was closing the boys into the playroom, then going spending the day in another room altogether, we decided his idea of childcare and ours were so completely different that we couldn’t have him. He smoked (thankfully not in the house), he was rude, couldn’t cook, didn’t clean up, and was just a really bad choice. A week after he arrived, I told him we were through with him, packed his bags into the car, and drove him to Union Station.

Our current au pair is fantastic. We were pretty desperate to get someone quickly to replace AP3, but didn’t want to make the same mistakes. We briefly discussed switching to a home daycare or other arrangement, but in the end decided to give one more kick at the au pair can. We found AP4 with a family in France, looking to return to the familiarity of Canada. Since her contract with that family had ended, she needed to get home quickly, and so things were mutually agreeable. We told her to get on the next plane, and she was here within a week or two. AP4 loves the boys, cooks with them in the afternoon (she makes great cookies!) and helps Chuck with homework and studying – Chuck’s grades have gone up by about 10% with AP4 in the house! AP4 focuses on keeping the children happy – which is what her key role is meant to be, but she also takes time to prepare lunches and tidy up. She spends loads of time with the family going to community events and festivals with us, but also finds time to visit friends and even do charity work in the community. Every day she calls her parents and shares their stories with us as well. I have never met someone who is so chronically happy.

This fall when Buddy heads off to Senior Kindergarten we will see the end of our au pair adventure. Cuppa will go to a preschool then, and we will be back on a more ‘normal’ path. Overall though, I think having these young people in our home, and the things our children have learned from them has been very positive, and it’s an experience I would encourage anyone to try.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Free is my Favourite Colour!

While thumbing through online ads the other day, I came a across an ad where someone was offering a free wood-burning fireplace insert if the taker could manage the removal. The insert was from Elmira Stoveworks, and was a 2-door insert, the same as we had in our house when I was a teen.

I got all tingly. I love a good wood fire, but our current fireplace has a few issues. It allows a lot of cold air into the house when it isn't running due to a damper that isn't superfantastic, and it allows a lot of warm air out of the house when it is running since it draws the air out of the dining room.

A good fireplace insert counter-acts this by forming a mostly airtight enclosure around the fireplace, and controlling airflow when it is burning. As a bonus, the insert will have a built in fan to circulate air around the firebox and more effectively heat the room it is in.

I answered the ad, and was fortunate to be invited to remove the insert. The folks disposing of it were new homeowners with other plans for the fireplace.

The insert was VERY heavy. I estimate its weight at a gazillion. Units are not important.

Step one to removal was to take off as much trim as possible. The side screens popped off to reveal bolts holding on the backplate. Firebrick was removed from inside.

Very carefully I slid the insert forward and out of the fireplace.

I removed all the insulation to allow better access to the insert and started dismantling in earnest. A number of bolts held the back plate on and it took a long time to get them undone. Eventually, everything came apart.

I planned to slide the insert off the mantle and onto a four-wheeled piano dolly, but it had other plans. it rolled off the mantle and left a big dent in the floor! I was in shock and must have apologized a million times. The homeowners laughed it off - they had a new floor coming in the next day. Whew. Lucky!

With some effort, I managed to roll the insert onto the dolly and roll it to the front door.

The front steps of the house provided another challenge, but a stand-up appliance dolly took care of that. Pretty soon the fireplace was loaded up and in the trailer. Now it is sitting in the living room at our house, waiting for installation day.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

A Smashing Good Time

I present the next installment in the backyard chronicles... At this point I am finally ready to work on the pool proper. its kindof like Indiana Jones finally reaching the Arc of the Covenant.the first task in this phase is to cut back the concrete deck from the pool. I marked a cut line 10" back from the coping, and set to work with a rented walk-behind saw... The water is lovely, dive right in...

There was hardly any dust, but the saw was very noisy, and the mix of water and concrete grindings left a slick slurry on the deck. After about 5 or 6 hours, I had cut through the concrete deck all the way around the pool, and made a couple extra passes on the side of the pool with all the hardware and the worst slope.

This slab was poured in 1978, which puts it at 35 years old. It is over fine sand. Wire mesh was laid on the sand for the pour, but the wire mesh / concrete interface is patchy. in some spots the wire mesh is embedded in the concrete by about 1" in others it is lying in the sand just below the concrete.

The concrete itself is actually quite good with few cracks. I believe the 'chemistry' in the pour was good. Today a colony of chipmunks has moved in under the slab and is vigorously tunneling  They need to be eradicated, but the neighbour's bird feeder is a good food source for them so I don't see them moving along without a pile of encouragement from my side.

The failure mode of the concrete appears to be that the sand washed out from under the slab. On 3 sides of the pool there is a gap between the bottom of the slab and the sand ranging from  2" to 8" or more. These gaps run the full length of the pool (16' X 32') and extend back from the pool wall by 18" to 2 ft. The edge of the slab away from the pool has settled by 4" over 3 ft on the worst side. Adjacent to the pool, the slab is sitting on the pool wall.

After I was done with the saw, I pulled out my sledge hammer and mattock, and set to work removing the concrete.

You can see a 'cave' under the slab in the last photo above. It turns out that the entire deck was being held up by the pool wall since the sand had all washed out from underneath. Here is what it looks like of you stick  a camera in there:

After about 12 hours with the sledge and mattock I have only another 20 sf of concrete to remove. Yay. All of this had to go so the pool company could come in and remove the coping and liner to replace it all. Once they are done their work, it will be time to really get excited. In the meantime, here is what it looks like on each side of the pool...

North side:
South side:

East side:

And my favourite... West Side:

I think I drank my body weight in water, and sweated it all right back out again. Busting up concrete is some hard work!For my next job, I need to get some wood to use as form boards, and set up what the edge of the pool deck will look like, all ready for backfilling with gravel.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Canada Day!! Sailing to Cobourg

This year our family took a WHOLE WEEKEND to celebrate Canada day. I think it is only the second weekend this summer that I didn't work on housey projects and the break was very nice.

The weekend officially started on Friday night when Chuck and I headed down to the boat and loaded it up with stuff.

Since it was very late and we were very tired, and there were storms in the forecast, we went straight to bed after everything was aboard, and promised ourselves an early start on Saturday morning.

Among the supplies and provisions we brought aboard were all the usual boring stuff (clothes, food, beer) and 2 very critical items - a 2.2 kg brick of red licorice, and a plastic clamshell of 40 two-bite brownies. 

On Saturday morning we got up at oh-mi-god-its-early and slipped out of the harbour while the world slept. There wasn't a breath of wind on Lake Ontario, so we didn't even think about raising a sail. In fact, we left the sail covers on, and didn't even bother to get a jib anyplace near to ready.

We nosed out of the breakwall behind another boat headed out for the long weekend, got a mile offshore, set compass course for 90° magnetic and puttered along at 5.5 knots for the next 6 hours, munching on licorice and brownies the whole time. I drove, and Chuck rested, then Chuck drove, and I rested.

 Lake Ontario's shoreline is a mix of high sand bluffs, industrial uses and small farms as you travel to the east. The scenery was nice, but not remarkable. Being out on the water was a really nice break.

Eventually, we reached the town of Cobourg. And these guys scrambled aboard and found our licorice stash...

Of course, Mama came with them. 

A bunch of other boats from our club were also there for a cruise event, so we met friends for lunch, and shared stories. It was a great day.

Cobourg is an older historic town settled by United Empire Loyalists way back when the USA and Canada were at war. The USA ordered any families loyal to the UK out, and the nearest British soil was here. There are a lot of beautiful old homes and a historic jailhouse (converted to a restaurant) I should have gotten pics of all the history, but I for got my camera on the boat every time we went out.

Cobourg's marina is separated from a beautiful sand beach by a big breakwall. You'll never guess what was on the breakwall, right next to the marina where we stayed...

The boys thought it looked great, so we made sure that we spent some time on the rides, and some time on the beach, and some time walking through the old town. Chuck really liked the vendors and the market, so she went shopping and got a henna tattoo on her wrist.

Oh, and we spent some time pretending we were sailing off to the end of the world...

And at bedtime we said goodnight to the rides and games before we went to sleep.

After the weekend, Chuck's book was done, so we headed home. 

We motored a mile off the breakwall, then raised sails, and shut the engine down. With a course of 270° magnetic and light winds we managed to keep our speed up over 4 knots most of the way home, and started getting surfy just as we got to Oshawa, pegging just over hull speed a few times as our trip came to an end.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

TPOH - A Giving Project

Ms. Parish teaches computers in the Bronx, in a newer inner-city school, in an impoverished area.

I don't really know who Ms. Parish is. I have never been to the Bronx, or any other American inner city for that matter. Well, I did spend some time in De Kalb County in Georgia, but I don't know if that really counts. I went to pretty good schools up here in Canada, and I managed to find my way into college and then on to the career field with only a few minor hiccoughs.

I imagine the kids in Ms Parish's class are mostly the same as I was back in grade 10. Mostly interested in girls (or boys) and sports, sitting through class because they have to, but with a few 'cool' teachers who hold their interest in a subject or two. Maybe there are a few keeners who really excel, and likely a few slow ones who struggle. I think Ms Parish might see some differences though.

I bet that teaching kids in the Bronx is a lot more challenging. I am betting that poverty and 'life experiences' make it a struggle to just stay in school in Ms Parish's class. I bet that more kids end up pregnant, or stoned, or beat up, or hungry in a given semester, and I bet the school itself has some pretty big crises to handle beyond funding Ms Parish's class with spare computers.

Yeah, that was the 'funding' word. Ms Parish can't get it from the board, and yet she needs supplies. Actually she needs computers so she can teach computer ed. In the Bronx. In America. Home of Apple and Microsoft and Google.

No this isn't the third world we're talking about here. This could as easily be up north in Nunavut where homeless native families are going without heat and bread, or in Toronto where recent immigrants are confronted with a language and culture barrier making them eligible for only the most infantile positions. The difference is that Ms Parish doesn't have a family that will suffer because of poverty in her neighbourhood, she has a class of 30 kids. And she has another one next year, and the next year, and the next year. allows individuals and corporations to consider different classroom needs across the USA and choose one to help out. Maybe soon they will include Canadian institutions as well, but for now, this charity is calling out to help with classroom poverty close to home, in the States. I like that.

For one thing, if we give the kids tools to succeed, it means we might lift them out of the cycle they are trapped in. For another, a classroom gift will circulate through years of use, potentially touching hundreds of kids. A teacher who enters in to a program like this isn't in it for money or gain, they are in it because they actually care and are trying to improve the student's experience. Finally, we all see payback if these kids are enabled to go on to careers, breaking generational poverty, and brining innovation and new ideas to the workforce.

Unlike other charities that take a hidden percent of your giving, this organisation is very upfront about how much of the money received actually goes to the school, and dictates what supplies a donation will purchase. You could choose to help a kindergarten teacher get markers or a middle school class buy a microscope. You know exactly what is being bought, by whom, and for how much. In Ms Parish's case, about 81% of the money raised goes directly to buying computers, with the remainder to fees (creditcard and paypal fees eat up 2%), a donation back to Donors Choose (at the teacher's discretion), and $30 in administrative costs (ie. mailing thankyou notes and cards).

Lets help Mrs Parish out. Her Grade 10 class is staring down life and career choices, and without computers to use at home, its kind of hard to build skills, research careers, or even look into what life has to offer beyond the streets of their neighbourhood. When I was in school Bill Gates donated computers to our library. Here's a chance to pay it forward. Mrs Parish wants to buy her computers before the end of the summer. Lets aim to get them there.

If enough of us hit the donate button and send $10 her way, Mrs Parish should see those computers in a heartbeat - don'tcha think? If Ms Parish's project doesn't appeal to you, browse the site, there are literally thousands of other teachers calling out for help on their projects. Choose one. Send them a few dollars. I'd love to hear your stories here if you do. Just hit the comment button below.