Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Opinion: Kids and Trades and the National Economy

In high school my parents steered me away from trades courses and encouraged me to focus on maths and science. Luckily for me, I was involved in Sea Cadets, and there I got exposure to marine engineering (think of a train's engineer, but on a boat), and I worked in a hardware store which meant I got to puzzle my way through tonnes of stuff and learn from tradespeople who came in for supplies. I was inquisitive and curious and took things apart. After high school I found a job in a machine shop and paid the bills by turning big pieces of steel into little pieces of steel. Today I work in engineering. I also have a ticket as a marine Engineer thanks to cadets, and as a CNC machinist.

But its different for kids today. When Chuck entered high school, I actively encouraged her to take a trades course in grade nine. She took an 'intro to the trades' class where they learned CAD, and talked about production, but never actually made anything. She watched a lot of movies in that course. She still doesn't know how things are made, has never run any shop equipment, and can't fix a broken whatzit, but she has all the trades classes she needs to graduate high school. To be fair, I had the same amount of school training in the trades when I graduated high school.

I remember being in the hunt for my first job, and my friend Jim showing me how to spin a wrench so that a bolt would be tightened faster than normal. I remember him proudly telling me the story of competing for a job, and being able to assemble a machine faster than anyone else in the room. I remember how proud he was of what he could do with his hands. For me Jim was a role model. He still is. If its broken, Jim can fix it.

While working in the shops, I watched as buyer after buyer came from India and China and bought up our equipment. We watched presses and shears go out the door, and get replaced by laser and hydraulic driven technology. An engineer would sit in the office and program the new equipment to make parts and then the equipment would spew out hundreds of parts until something went wrong. Then the labourer would call in a trade to reset the machine. We had a handful of tradesmen and dozens of labourers. Eventually, the shop began outsourcing the CNC coding, and we were left with a bunch of workers who didn't understand the voodoo behind the machines they were running. Tradespeople would be on the phone with engineers far away to get help deciphering code when all the notes were in a foreign language. Eventually, tradespeople servicing the equipment were also coming from far away as our skilled people left, and weren't replaced.

Our schools seem to be producing kids who at best, will be labourers - if we even have the equipment for them to run. In Chuck's school there is no talk of shop classes. They still offer auto shop, but I don't think they offer woodshop or machine shop - at least not to the intermediate and advanced level kids. Maybe those classes are reserved for the basic kids so they can be the best at something. Maybe the cost of maintaining the shops is too high. Rumor is the liability is too great to have kids working on machines. I don't know. I do know that the thinkers of tomorrow can't think if they don't know how a big piece of steel becomes a little piece of a machine, and how those little pieces will work together to become the machine itself. You don't learn that by watching movies. You learn that by playing with Legos, then Erector sets, then making things with wood and steel or bricks and mortar. Maybe the techno-equivalent - Minecraft - is teaching the same skills electronically. I don't know, I've never played it.

Since we are shipping so much equipment and so much knowledge away, I fear what jobs will be left for our kids. Manufacturing is a shell of what we could be producing here, and the remaining jobs are not pulling in an income to support a healthy economy. Even our health and lab jobs are moving away. Kids seem to be being trained in human services and soft-skill based careers - which are needed, but again, how much does a personal support worker actually make? How about a daycare teacher? As we erode the skilled labour and income base, we undermine the buying power of individuals, and ultimately shatter the foundation of our own economy.

It would be great to have an entire economy of bankers and lawyers, but who is going to fix their cars and make their office furniture? I guess the free market will take care of that, right?

Recently it was pointed out to me that if China was to shut down trade with the west, we wouldn't have the skills or equipment to make the parts needed to keep our basic lifestyle. Without being able to maintain our roads, communication and commerce we wouldn't last long as a society. No one is left in North America that makes consumer electronics. Computers are obsolete in 2 years. A 2 year trade embargo would give China the technological edge to swamp us. Think about that for a minute.

All of this is fed by our ongoing lust for cheaper, replaceable goods rather than quality items that will outlast ourselves. And retailers like Home Depot, Target, and Walmart thrive on low value, imported goods because they know we live in a minimum wage society where we want more stuff now, and cheaper is always better.

If our schools can't and won't give smart kids a shot at learning skills that will allow them to change a tire or replace a headlight, then we better take those kids out into the garage with us and show them what we know. We may be labelled "irresponsible" when our kid slips with a screwdriver and needs a couple stitches, but to me that's a whole lot better than our kids becoming adults who have no idea how to be productive.

Chuck is working on making her own marshmallow shooter right now. I need to get her involved in more projects. I worry for her. I worry for her generation. She wants a 'cool' job, but not a trade, and I support her. At the same time, I fear that without understanding the mechanics of how things work, one day she'll go to flip a switch at her job, and find that the switch just won't be flipped anymore, both literally and figuratively.

Her generation is in an exciting time, one where things could go in any direction. I hope she is prepared whichever way the opportunities come. How on earth can we get them there?

Monday, 27 January 2014

Insta-shelves for Paint Storage

I need to introduce this post by giving you a feel for what its like working out in the garage right now with snow blowing in under the door, and the digital thermometer reading "low" since it just doesn't work out there in these temperatures.

In the words of Robert Service, the balladeer of Canada's north:

"You know what it’s like in the Yukon  (Toronto) wild when it’s sixty-nine below;
When the ice-worms wriggle their purple heads through the crust of the pale blue snow;
When the pine-trees crack like little guns in the silence of the wood,
And the icicles hang down like tusks under the parka hood;
When the stove-pipe smoke breaks sudden off, and the sky is weirdly lit,
And the careless feel of a bit of steel burns like a red-hot spit;
When the mercury is a frozen ball, and the frost-fiend stalks to kill —
Well, it was just like that that day when I set out to look for Bill."

Now on to today's project... Quick and easy storage on the cheap.

We used a set of IKEA shelves to come up with essentially this same storage solution in our last house, and then built them again here to store Momma's canning and pantry stuff in the basement. Our plan uses a little more lumber, and is quite sturdy. We tied this shelf to the basement framing to hold everything square and in place. Ikea uses steel crosses to keep things from moving too much.

Here is one 4 ft rack of our version of simple shelving - you can see we need more of it by all the junk in the pic:

So I find myself making shelves.

This round of shelving will need to be a little more heavy-duty than the stuff we built in the past - mostly because it needs to house all the paint cans we own. We own a lot of paint cans.

So without more noise, I present, the paint-can shelf build...

Materials for a 6 foot long shelving unit, 16" deep and 6 ft high with 6 shelves. This list could make anything up to 8ft long and high with additional uprights:

  • Uprights - 1" X 4" X 8ft - 6 pieces (I prefer to avoid finger-jointed lumber but the staff at the box stores say its just as good as 'real' wood - local lumber yards still carry non-finger jointed lumber)
  • Shelf end bars - 2" X 4" X 8ft - 3 pieces
  • Shelves - 1" X 3" X 8ft - 30 pieces (see note above on finger-jointed lumber)
  • Approx 200 small nails to hold the shelf planks to the end bars
  • Approx 72 - 1/4" X 2-1/2" lag screws to hold shelves to uprights.

  • A chop saw (AKA Compound mitre saw)
  • Hammer
  • Drill and bits to match lag bolts
  • Wrench for lag bolts

I start by cutting the 2" X 4"s down to 16" lengths. Each 8 ft board should make exactly 6 pieces.
Once done cutting, there are 18 boards, or enough for 6 shelves. (3 boards per shelf).

Now we can start cutting shelving. I ended up making a custom fit for a tight corner in the basement and cut everything a little shy of 6 ft, but that's the beauty of making your own shelves, you can custom fit them. This materials list will work for any length of shelf up to the full 8 ft, but you may want to put in extra uprights and 2" X 4"s if the clear spans are too long.

I saved all my offcuts for a future project.

Nail the boards to make shelves as shown below. A couple tips...

  • If you will ever be extending the system, leave yourself an inch or two of space on the end 2X4 to rest the next shelf's boards on. This will save you from having to make a double post.
  • Also, keep the shelf boards inside the 2" X 4" by about a half an inch to allow room for a jig to fit over the 2" X 4" - more on that soon.
  • Use a scrap or even the next slat to create even spacing between all the boards on your shelf.
spacing the boards with scraps - building the first shelf square and to size - all the rest will be based on it!
Both Buddy and Cuppa came in with their hammers and helped me drive the rusty old finishing nails through the boards. It was fun.


As you build the shelves stack them atop each other so you can be sure all the 2" X 4"s line up. The shelving being perfect isn't critical, and there is some wiggle rooms with the 2" X 4"s, but you want it to be as close as possible.

With all the shelves built, its time to do some layout work for the risers. It is critical that all the risers have the same layout for their lag bolts, and that all the shelves have the same receiving holes for the lags to go into, otherwise the shelves will be out of square, and want to lean.

In order to overcome this, I built a T-square type of jig with holes where I want the bolt holes for the risers should go.
Just in from the garage - its cold out there! Running the T-square and lining it up with the layout lines.

All lined up and drilling.

I measured out 1 foot spacing for the shelves, then used the T-square to set the holes in the first riser board. Then I set the T-square jig aside where I wouldn't lose it.

Once the first board was laid out and drilled, I had my template for all the other riser boards for the shelving unit. By clamping the boards to the first one, I could be sure they would be an exact match when it came to assembly time.

All warmed up - no more coat and hat! Using holes in board #1 as my guide for another riser.

With the boards all drilled, I turned my attention to the shelves. In order to match the holes on the shelves, I would need to make the jig work on a corner with an end stop. this way, all the boards would have the holes aligned on both the X and Y axis. I added a simple fence to the jig.

T-square modified to become end-drilling jig

Now I would set the shelf board in the corner of the jig and drill through the holes to make a perfect match to the holes in the uprights.

Lag receiving holes - be sure to make them a little undersized. Pine is forgiving and the lags need some bite!

With the holes drilled we can start to lag together the shelves and supports. For this unit I used 2 lags for every shelf to upright connection. That meant about 36 lag bolts per side. It was probably overkill, but this unit is rock solid. You may be able to get away with fewer lag bolts, but at $10 for 50 bolts, I figured it was worth it.

I like to put on the bottom shelf and one about halfway up to start. This holds things off the floor, and lets me check to make sure everything is going together square and straight. Once all the uprights are attached to all the shelves on one side, flip it over and start on the next side. Note the lack of sanding and attention to detail - this is storage, not a showpiece!

Once all the uprights are bolted on, its a lift and push, and the shelves go in place.

You should bolt the shelves to the wall, or find a way to tie them into the house framing. Also, its a good idea to find a way to add in some diagonal bracing at the back of the shelves. I managed to escape that by building these to exactly fit a little corner of the foundation in the basement, so they are locked in in two directions, and cannot fall.

Time to put something on the shelves. I decided to try storing boys...

Cuppa said he didn't want to sleep up there. Instead he wanted to go to his own bed. So I loaded the shelves up with what they are meant to hold. Now I just need to get all the camping stuff organized!

These are a good afternoon project. I started at about 1:30 this afternoon (missed lunch because I was buying the wood) and had it done after dinner. I likely could have pushed a little faster, but I wanted a tight fit, and to keep things lined up nicely.

Let's see your basement storage solutions!! Post up a link to how your shelves look in the comments! I need ideas for our camping & sailing gear!

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Hang Bifold doors in only a year!

You may remember that just before Christmas (a year ago - not this Christmas) I stumbled upon a deal on a pair of bi-fold doors, and was all excited about them, although unsure of what finish to put on them. In case you don't remember, here's that post... Bi-fold doors post from a year ago.

Well, since the weather has been so brutally cold this past week, and since there was nothing else on the "things to finish" portion of my 14 for 2014 list that could be accomplished without going out to the garage, I finally found myself backed into a corner and forced to do the doors.

I spent the better part of the week putting a clear gloss finish on the doors. Since there was only room to lay out 1 set of doors at a time, and there were two doors to do this became time consuming. Each coat took 1/2 hour of sanding and painting, and then 2 hours of drying time before the next could be applied. I did four coats of polyurethane on each face of the doors, and most doors I was able to do in a day if I could sneak down to work on them before work, at lunch, and again in the evening. That's a lot of work. But I had help...

First we took the doors apart so we could get at all the faces...

Buddy worked the screwdriver, but Cuppa was just there to learn. I was actually a little surprised at how well Buddy did with the screwdriver. he took out a bunch of screws without any help from me at all.

Once the doors were apart, we had to sand down the wood so that it was ready for painting. The soft pine would clog up the sandpaper really fast, but I found that soft sanding sponges worked well and didn't clog. We switched after the first face we did, and never looked back.

Sanding is lots of work, and it makes a mess. Once we were finished sanding, we would use the vacuum to clean up all the sawdust, and then we wiped everything down with a dry cloth. When there was no more dust, it was time to put on the 'paint.'

We used a high gloss, clear polyurethane because I am old school and cannot bring myself to hide the natural grain of wood. I need to overcome this compulsion.

After the paint dried, we had to sand it again, and then paint it again.

After enough painting and sanding was done, we were able to turn the doors over to do the other side. Then you had to start all over again.

Eventually the doors were done being painted and we could put them up in the boys' room.

First we had to get the closet ready though. The old closet doors were hollow core, flat paneled bifold doors. Unfortunately none of their hardware matched, so we ended up swapping everything out. In a nod to the previous owners of Frosthouse, here is hit-n-run remodeling at its finest...

A coat of paint over a porcelain knob does not hide the pattern on the porcelain knob.

Three colours of paint on the edge of the door. You can see the progression of design! Inside the closet is all dark green. I had to paint the door opening white since only half of it had been painted. Why not paint the whole thing? I mean, its not like it takes That Much  more work to open the closet door when you paint the room. Maybe paint the bottom 3" of the doors doors on both coats too.

Anyways... After prepping the door opening and removing all the hardware from the old doors, I laid out the hardware package for the new ones.

Following the instructions, we installed the track for the new door onto the top of the door opening.

Then we put the pegs in the corners of the doors.

And the bracket in the floor. We had to cut the carpet a little bit here.

And then the doors were ready to go up!

Yay! New closet doors! Now we need to order some knobs. The boys are quite distressed that the closet doors have no knobs, and I can't bring myself to reinstall the porcelain ones we took off. I'm thinking I'll get some fun boy ones from Lee Valley. Like these.

Or maybe these:

Or even these:

We'll have to place an order then wait and see when they arrive!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

On Potty training.

As parents, I think we have done a pretty good job with our boys. They are engaged and interested, respectful and have good manners. They set the table and play nicely and can sit still if taped to the couch, but there is one area where, as parents, we have some learning to do.

It is not uncommon for our boys to not feel like peeing in the toilet. We'll be sitting at dinner, and that aroma starts to rise, and I know right away that someone is enjoying their meal more than they'd enjoy a trip to the loo (my darlin'). What is more mystifying is that between the two boys, the older one is the most likely to make an appearance with a circle of shame in his crotch. The younger one is more likely to yell "HAFTA PEEEEEE!!!!!!!!" as he goes charging down the hall. I can't figure out where we've gone wrong with the potty training.

I would expect that most people's five year olds would struggle with counting backwards, but have mastered going to the bathroom. At our house it is the inverse. We've got smart kids who just don't care about pee(r) pressure.

We have tried nearly everything on this front. Rewards, hugs, treats, privileges, negative reinforcement, shaming, etc. and we just can't get that breakthrough to our kids that this actually matters. Especially in the privacy of our own home where they are comfortable and unjudged. If you want to see wet pants, come watch TV with us for half an hour.

What has been successful was the most ridiculous reward of all. Points.

At some point, when Cuppa was on the toilet, I gave him a high five for peeing and shouted out "Ten Points for Cuppa!!" He beamed from ear to ear, jumped down and ran to tell Buddy that he had ten points. After that, the kids would come to me soliciting and negotiating how many points their pee or poo was worth. I don't know what the points are supposed to add up to. I don't think the boys know either. As long as they go pee in the toilet, I don't care. We negotiate a point value, have a high five, and everyone is happy.

At bedtime, whoever has had dry pants all day gets to snuggle in Dad's bed for a book and a treat. Most nights one boy snuggles with me. We are still working through the Halloween candy we collected back in October. It makes good treats. Advent and Christmas undermined this tradition since there were Christmas specials and stories and treats galore all through December, but I think things are starting to get back on track.

We've been reading Captain Underpants for our bedtime stories lately, and since they are chapter books (with much silliness) the boys are hooked on finding out what happens next every night. I think that missing a chapter is an issue to them. Last night Buddy said, "I better have dry pants tomorrow!" after a particularly suspenseful end to a chapter. I guess they know what's supposed to happen, but its just not clicking.

Night training is a complete and utter loss right now. the other night poor cuppa soaked his 'bedtime underpants" (pull-ups) and his sheets and comforter. I heard him whimpering in the night, and when I reached his room , he was shivering away on a corner of his bed, curled up in a ball, trying to stay warm. We changed him and his bed, Momma snuggled him for a while, and in the morning he oblivious to the whole thing. So much for the school of hard knocks.

I have no idea how to get into night training when we can't get decent traction through the day. We've tried sleep-pees and timers. We've tried with and without pull-ups. They just sleep right through the event(s) every night.

This is frustrating to me. When Chuck was toilet trained, she was 3. We sent her to Grandma's house for the weekend, and she came home wearing big girl panties and proudly peeing in the toilet. In a weekend, dammit! No night time issues, nothing. The only time she wet herself after that was on camping trips when she couldn't get out of her sleeping bag. And she was embarrassed and woeful then, not ambivalent - even proud, like the boys. Maybe I suck as a parent. Grandma tells me she just told Chuck to pee in the toilet and that was that.

I worry for the boys. Cuppa is starting to show signs of skin problems like rashes and eczema, and sleeping in urine can't help that. Buddy is hiding wet underwear and finding ways to sneak away when he pees himself, both at home and school, and I don't want sneaky kids. Momma is up to 5 baskets of laundry a week. The 2 boys make up 4 of those baskets.

So I'm looking for input. After 2 years of trying, how do you move your kids to a fresh start, or get them to understand the need for decent bathroom habits? What worked for you and what were your challenges? What strategies are there to get kid with a chronic bedwetting problem to move into the world of the dry? Please share - I'm getting desperate!

Monday, 20 January 2014

Cobourg in January

Christmas was great, and we love our kids, but sometimes its nice for parents to just escape and go hide. Which is what SWMBO and I did this past weekend. For our escape we drove about an hour to Cobourg (you may remember Cobourg from this post). Cobourg is great because while its close, it is also a lot more relaxed than the city.

We booked into The Inn by the Mill a B&B run by Toni and Shelly, which offers a fantastic suite. The suite includes a living room with a stone fireplace, private deck, big screen TV, microwave, and bar fridge. The bedroom had a nice canopy bed (sans canopy) a pullout couch, cedar lined ensuite bath, and windows on 3 walls. Beautiful bright and sunny! Attached to the suite was a private indoor pool, heated nicely for a January swim.

Sitting Room

Private Pool!
The wonderful thing about Cobourg is that there is always something going on there. This weekend there was a women's hockey tournament, which apparently had every hotel and restaurant hopping!

For dinner we went to Marca's Restaurant which was divine! (Thanks to our B&B hosts for a great recommendation!) Hand made crab cakes, veal stuffed with rosemary and pine nuts, and hand made lasagna were devoured. We returned to our B&B with bloated bellies and feeling divine. Fine dining sans kids is a treat in itself! After a quick swim, we stumbled back upstairs, and to bed for the night.

Cobourg was one of the jewels Canada came out of the War of 1812 with. Of course it was ours before the war with the States, but when the United Empire Loyalist were forced out of the land of the free after the American Revolution, they formed the town and it prospered as an early port in Upper Canada. In the 1850's the British influence continued to be felt in its Victorian architecture and a flourish of building in the city centre resulted in beautiful homes and commercial buildings, most of which have been restored or maintained well.

Shop windows

The Firehall Theatre

Main Street
Sadly, the boom of the 1850's lead to a bust in the 1860's and the excesses of the previous decade lead the town to bankruptcy. The railroad and port would lift the town again in the early 1900's and today it is on the brink of prosperity with exquisite restorations and crumbling old homes.

Today, Cobourg is attempting to maintain its architectural jewels while hosting a variety of festivals and events to attract visitors interested in its artists and nearby wineries. For folks like us, interested in getting away from mainstream, and enjoying handmade and local stuff, it is a great fit.

We wandered along the main street enjoying coffee shops and relishing the question "what are you looking for" with the best answer of all - "Nothing in particular." We had a great day. SWMBO found British sweets in two shops, and weighed one against the other before making the excruciating decision to get chocolate. I found a used tool store and picked up supplies for our summer roofing project.

Bar on the left, fine furniture on the right

View down the main drag

The crown jewel in Cobourg's architectural collection is the city hall. It took four years to build, and is a display of the prosperity of the time:

Victoria hall - Commemorative plaque

The hall features intricate stone carvings, a clock tower and weather vane with a lookout, and an imposing terrace. You can see it from blocks away, and as you get close, the details are as fantastic as the outline you first spotted. Today it is being closed in by condominiums, but i wonder how that tower would have looked to mariners approaching from Lake Ontario years ago.

Victoria Hall
Stone carvings and copper downspouts

An imposing facade from street level

A balcony fit for Royal Decrees

Victoria Hall window detail

After we exhausted ourselves with such decisions as whether to walk on the sunny or shady side of the street, we returned to the B&B to find the room all made up and the pool waiting for us. We lounged, watched TV, and snacked on chipnuts we had picked up at the Picards outlet in town. Picards is like kryptonite. You will eat the entire bag.

Picards - your samples are such sweet evil!
Once our peanuts were gone, we headed to our traditional Cobourg dinner at the old jail. I have a Swiss Cheese & mushroom burger and SWMBO had wings. For dessert she had a choco-tini and I had beer. We watched the first period of the Habs-Leafs game, then headed back to the B&B to settle in for the night.

On Sunday we slept until 10:00 (Decadence!) and then woke up to breakfast waiting for us. we packed our things, bid farewell to our hosts, and headed back home. Chuck and the boys were waiting for us when we got there just after lunch. Everything at home was fine, even tidied up a bunch. A great escape weekend for sure!