Saturday, 25 October 2014

Cleaning up

We had puzzles and marbles all over the floor, so the boys and I had some fun cleaning up...

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Playing at Pingle's Farm Market

Every town and city has that local attractions that folks just can't wait to go and enjoy. Around here one of those is Pingle's Farm Market. The Pingle family has created a fantastic family getaway that explodes with visitors every fall just in time for the pumpkin and apple harvest, and is open as a roadside stop year round (they seem to have pick-your-own everything there all summer too). We decided to go for a visit yesterday.

The pictures below are pretty self explanatory... until you get to the very end.

They think their tractor's sexy!

Chicken feed!

The sheep weren't hungry for straw.

Baaaaa Billy Goat!

Baby Goat - cuteness 

The Jack and Jill slide!

Sliding skills +10

Pedal Tractor Riding

Jack-o-Lantern full of balloons and kids!

Inside the Jack-o-lantern


Haybale Jumping!

Haybale Running!

Why is everyone sitting there? At 2:00 a crowd gathered at the end of the farmyard. Out in teh field there was cannon with 'Punkin chunkin' painted on the side of it. Suddenly the funding problems of the Canadian Armed Forces became clear...

The Farmer came out and got everyone to help do a countdown...

And then he pulled the handle and BOOM!! Flying Pumpkins!

The Pumpkins went really far. Right over his target.

After a few shots with pumpkins, he stuffed the cannon full of corn. We thought for sure it would make popcorn. He put in one pumpkin for good measure.

I wonder if we can make a pumpkin cannon for our back yard, but Mom says that would be a bad idea. We could shoot hot chocolate to the kids sledding on the hill then though.

When we were done at the farm, we went to the lumber store to get one more board for our pool fence. The boys were great helpers and carried it all the way to the front of the store.

But all that fun at Pingles had tired them (and the parents) out. We didn't get any fence building done when we got home. 

Friday, 10 October 2014

The Shed has Doors!

To be honest the shed had doors a couple weeks ago, I just never got around to posting about them, and they aren't completely done - they need 1 strip of wood still, and they need a coat of stain, but they are up, and the shed is full and I no longer have garbage cans in the garage, so hey - the shed is done!

Its a skinny space back there though, so no good head-on pics of the doors. Boo!

The blue thing is our solar/wind powered retractable clothes dryer. Ok, its a laundry line. It also broke the first time we used it. I think I need to replace the clothes line in it.

But anyways, the shed doors are made of western red cedar with cherrywood lattice. Weaving strips of cherrywood into a cedar frame is not as easy as it sounds. The strips really didn't want to flex and bend.

I need to get another little piece of cedar to fill the gaps in the bottom half of the doors. I'm not super worried about it, but it is on my to-do list for before winter sets in too deep. Ignore the glue mess.

Also the door closure/handle thing I'm quite proud of. It turned out really well, and was a huge savings over the closures I was going to order.

On the inside of the doors, I made a garden tool holder. The pruning shears are forever going missing, and hopefully by giving them a spot to live, I'll be able to find them. Note they are missing in the pictures below.

The garden tote has space for tools, a spray bottle, seeds, gloves and so on. All the necessities for gardening, and since they can live in the tote, and the tote can live on the door, nothing will ever go missing again, right? Now I just have to round up all the stuff to fill the tote.

I had read on a few other blogs about printing a reverse image on wax paper and then transferring the design to wood, and thought it would be fun to try here. I got mixed results. Maybe our printer doesn't put out enough ink.

With the doors pulled all the way open, folks can still get past the shed in the skinny walkway - yay!

Inside the shed I made hanging space for 3 grownup bikes and for our gardening supplies and recycling/garbage/green bin stuff. The bikes are stored in order of most likely to be needed first. To be honest it was a bit of a trick getting them all to fit, and in the end I loosened off the headset and turned the handlebars 90° to make mine more skinny.

For the blue bins, I was going to make shelves for them to sit on, but then I decided that going with a cleat system would allow the bins to be removed more easily and offer better access to the garbage cans below.

This pic shows how the blue-bin sits on a 2X4 and has a block go over its lip to hold it in place. The shelf above is garden chemicals safely out of reach of munchkins.

And here's one last look at the closure, which is quite simple really, but works great and slides oh so smoothly. I wonder if its going to freeze up in the winter.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Dolla Dolla Bills, Yo.

So back a few months ago I put up a whiney post about being on strike at work and having no cash, and generally not being sure about our financial situation. Since then you may have noticed that the blog has been light (even for me, even for in the summer) on new content.

That's because we're doing something about it.

In the time since the strike (about 13 weeks) we have tracked savings, specifically funneling cash into TFSA's in order to have a war chest/ emergency fund/ slush fund/ rainy day fund/ opportunity fund - dammit there's a million names for these things. Our goal was to set aside $25,000 in a year in order to have a nice little cushion that will allow us to avoid credit, and take advantage of new opportunities as they arise.

Checking out the savings as they grow has become a sort of strange fixation for me, and delivering pizzas is my new hobby. Trouble is, while we are fixating on our savings, we are still handcuffed by our debts.

A friend sent me a bookmark to check out - a blog by dude who works casually and calls himself retired at 30 based on lifestyle and spending decisions he calls "Financial Badassery" I liked that enough to take a closer look. I like the blog and the ideas are worth thinking about, even if I don't completely buy into all of them. I doubt SWMBO would ever get 100% on board with the things he suggests (save money and drink olive oil in stead of eating meat!) but some of his ideas are very valid - especially in our situation, and much of his philosophy isn't far from what we should be doing.

Anyways, our warchest has grown to almost $10,000 in 14 weeks, which is pretty sizeable. Most of that cash has gone in from delivering pizzas and cleaning offices, $3 at a time, a little here, and a little there. In that same time, our debts have been nibbling away at what money we could be putting into the warchest. Which is why we are about to change our focus and we likely won't hit our $25,000 goal in savings this year.

Its showtime, and MBNA is about to stop picking our pockets. As far as I'm concerned, killing off the debts is as good an investment right now as filling up the warchest, and once those debts are gone, well, we'll have that much more cash to dump into the bucket. Some time soon we are going to need to change our financial adviser. We have spoken with a few, but I'm not getting the right vibes yet. That will be a tricky bit for us.

With $10K set aside, we won't have to incur new debt as we kill off the old. We aren't bulletproof yet, but we do have a pretty strong shield up. If a car craps out, or we need to redo the backyard, or the roof starts leaking, that warchest will carry us along ways before we have to pull out a credit card. If we must dip into the warchest, we can turn our focus from debt killing back to topping up savings while we prepare for the next hit. In the interim, its sitting there making interest. The beauty of this is that we've set that cash aside without any major lifestyle changes. Sure I've missed TV nights, but paying to watch TV versus getting paid to drive around town doesn't seem like a tough decision.

Our big decision now is whether to have $10K celebration or wait and have a debt-free party. I think we need to add a new goal section to our 14 for 2014. Or maybe it will be our 15th for 2015.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Hiding Wires in Fenceposts

I wish I had a more creative name for this, but well, its a quick and cheesy post about a quick and cheesy topic, so WYSIWYG.

Waaaaay back last spring I put in a series of fence posts to one day support a fence of some sort which would protect children from wandering into the pool area. Then we did a complete backyard reno, planted our espalier, built retaining walls, and redid the pool. Through all that, the cheesy fenceposts stood forlornly.

They're still pretty forlorn.

Last year we got as far as attaching some snow fence to 4X4 posts, running conduit and wiring to them, and testing the connections with some cheap plastic bulbholders. Then we left them sit for a year with the result being the pic above.

U-G-L-Y, you aint got no alibi. You're ugly...

So I determined that this spring I would at least get those posts in order. Then I got around to it late in the summer. 

First step was to hook up the electrical properly. I got some reducers and ran the conduit up the poles. two spots were getting low-level duplex recepticals, so they were easy...

On three posts though, I wanted overhead lights for the pool. I shopped endlessly for unobtrusive lights, rated for outdoors that would cast a good light, be weatherproof, and not so big that people would be hitting their heads off them. Nothing 'designer' had the look I wanted in the size I needed. Then I saw the weatherproof utility lights at Lowes, and they were about right. I snagged 3 of them.

The first step in installing the lights was to through-drill the posts. I made a pilot hole, then used a forstner bit to go through the post. With the hole in place, I ran conduit and wiring up the posts and out the other side.

Once everything was lined up and glued in, I attached the electrical boxes for the lights, and turned my attention to woodworking. My idea was to transform my cheap pressure treated 4X4 posts into lovely cedar timbers with all the wiring and conduit hidden inside them.

I started by using a hole saw to cut an opening in the end of the boards that was about the same size as the electrical boxes, then I used the router to cut flats to match the boxes' shape. A spare electrical box was handy to use as a template.

Flipping the board over, you can see dadoes I cut to hide the seams between boards. Once I installed the boards, they would lock together on the dadoes. Although I was tempted to glue everything up, I decided not to in case I ever need to get at the wiring inside. I had to use a chisel to cut flats where the tangs for the electrical boxes stuck out.

Heading outside, I put the boards up over the box for the light and screwed it to the 4X4. The two side pieces werre installed without any woodworking at all, just trimmed to length where needed. A standard 2" X 6" deckboard, 8 ft long was all I used to cover the posts, and they extended far enough to hide the conduit and electric as well. For the last board, I cut dadoes to match the front board, and routed out a recess for the junction box at the top of the post to hide in.  

The final product is a nice looking cedar post with all the electric stuff hidden, and the lights up and over the pool. Now I can get rid of the halogen floodlight mounted to the back of the house and think about some sort of fence to go between the posts. I also need to build some post-caps, but I already have a plan to work from there. Stay tuned, I might get to it next summer...

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

When Every Leaf is a Flower

Our monthly forays are starting to sound like a conga line of camping trips in Algonquin park, but living where we do, and having such a great destination so close, and with the park being so diverse with so much to do there, well you'll just have to forgive us for returning to it over and over again, and seeing autumn leaves in Algonquin is as wonderful a display as seeing the Mona Lisa without the lines. You'll have to forgive the dozens of dozens of photos in this post. It is long and pic heavy, but two days ablaze in Algonquin is about as good as it gets.

For those who have never been, Algonquin Park is one of Ontario's largest and most accessible provincial parks. It is home to a pile of campgrounds and a handful of museums. There are art galleries and lodges, cabins and yurts, remote interior camp sites and hiking trails that go for hours or days. Since we have four distinct seasons Algonquin transforms monthly and offers activities ranging from dogsledding to sunbathing, from mountainbiking to ice fishing, and about everything between. Every season is my favourite in Algonquin, but only in the moment thereof. Its hard to imagine why anyone would visit the park in the spring when portages are filled with mud and mosquitoes are biting ferociously, but then you surge down a whitewater run while the creeks are swollen from the spring flood, ephemerals blooming along the banks, and trees flashing bright green buds and springtime suddenly becomes the very best time to visit the park. And so on for every time of year. A different adventure, a different reason to visit, but always a fantastic time. 

For this trip we decided to forego the hiking trails and fall lookouts and booked interior campsites only accessible by canoe. In order to complete the trip, we needed to rent a boat - we already had paddles, life jackets and so on. So we went rental shopping and found that renting a canoe from Mountain Equipment Coop in Barrie would save us mucho bucks but add about an hour to our drive to the park. After work we drove the old Mercedes to Barrie arriving just after dark, and loaded up our boat.

Our canoe was a Fibreglass prospector. It was heavier than I had hoped, but with only 2 portages and a price of $20 for the first day, and a mere $13 per day thereafter, it was worth it. I strapped down the canoe while momma ran next door to pick up Subway for dinner, and then we hit the road headed for Algonquin. We arrived in the dark, and spent the night unaware of the fall colours exploding around us. In the morning we woke up in a wonderland.

Algonquin is set on the Canadian Shield and has a forest of mostly maple and pines with some birch and other trees mixed in. Since the poor soil stresses the trees, they are famous for putting on an explosive show of fall colour. We had inadvertently scheduled this trip for the climax of colour change, and managed to sneak in at night when the crowds of 'leaf peepers' hadn't been out. The photo above (of our canoe!) was actually taken by a leaf peeper - we found the photo on Facebook after we got home! This was us launching our canoe at the start of our trip - you can't see it in the picture, but the highway through the park (Highway 60) is just behind the put-in.

We started this trip from Lake of Two Rivers, just near the beach on the east side of the lake, and headed down the river towards Pog Lake. While Momma and I paddled the boys watched for turtles and animal houses. We saw some muskrat and beaver lodges, some holes in the river bank, and a few flocks of mergansers. No bears on this trip though - we saw those earlier in the summer in this same area.

After a while we slipped across a corner of Pog Lake, and then down the creek towards Whitefish Lake. In the summer this area is busy with car campers on the banks and the creeks and rivers full of canoeists, but this time of year, we saw no one, and the only sound on the water was the babble of the two boys and they made up stories and songs. Eventually we reached the short (150m) Portage between Pog Lake (creek) and Whitefish Lake. The portage skirts a dam, and outflow was running pretty high. Everyone shouldered their backpack, and we headed off down the trail. We make a point of having something for the boys to carry - there are no free rides on a canoe trip!

Right at the start of the portage there was a nice big sitting rock, so the boys sortof posed for a picture. As you can see, Cuppa's paddle is a little less functional than most. Buddy was actually a pretty good paddler when he chose to paddle.

This portage was really easy to find since a float boom protects you from the dam on the upstream end. The portage is river right, with a nice gravel/sand landing and a few stepping stones. The trail is clear and flat with just a small climb at the beginning. The dam is unspectacular, but the sound of rushing water is nice. Earlier in the summer we picked blueberries and raspberries along the trail while on a daypaddle. This time of year all the berries were long gone.

We started to notice a problem with our canoe packing at this point. It felt like the nose of the canoe was ploughing the water rather than riding over or slicing it. I needed to adjust either the way I was paddling or the way the boat was loaded. I made the mistake of repacking the canoe after the portage the same way it had been packed in the morning, and we tired quickly as the work of pushing water in front of the boat continued through the day.

The outlet of Pog Creek into Whitefish Lake is a shallow, grassy area. When we arrived, we spooked a pair of Herons who were fishing in the shallows. Herons are usually solitary birds, so I figure they must have been grouping up for the flight south. Otherwise, I am not sure why there would have been two of them within 100m of each other. Another thing we noticed as we entered Whitefish was that the north shore of the lake was mostly pine and evergreen trees while the south shore was mixed with more hardwoods. The colour displays here were very good.

On Pog Lake there is a group camp site where a canoeing class was going on. We landed long enough to use the privies and stretch the boys' legs. The longer they had to sit in the canoe, the more fidgety they became. A snack of trail mix and granola bars helped a little, and then we were on our way again.

At the bottom of Whitefish Lake, we arrived at the old railway bridge where a family was fishing for bass. The boys had fun running on the bridge and the family even caught two fish while we were there. A friendly man took our picture, so we posed in the canoe for as long as the boys could stay still. They really wanted to run and play!

More granola bars were devoured, and everyone was happy.

Once we were done visiting the fish, we started paddling again, and before long we were on Rock Lake. It had been a long day of sitting for the boys, and of paddling for the parents, but the leaves and scenery on Rock Lake were fantastic. We thought about taking a portage to Penn Lake and visiting the falls and dam, but instead we found a campsite on Jean Island (campsites were filling quickly!) and got settled in.

Our campsite was on a flat shelf of rock with a cliff wall behind us. We had a fantastic sunset view, and were nestled into a bunch of cedars and pines near the water's edge. We climbed the cliffs into the deciduous trees and got views out across the lake. It was nice spot, but was very well used with absolutely no firewood, and a lot of tree damage ranging from nails driven into the tree trunks to trees sawed or chopped down. I wonder if the park will shut down this site in the near future and give it a chance to regenerate.

The view from the campsite was fantastic though. No wind to speak, and a leaf show across the lake. 

Our first order of business was a lunch - multigrain flatbreads with cheese and meat. It was delicious, especially after all that paddling! We quickly found out how tame the Chippies were on the site. They have figured out snacking really well!

After lunch we climbed to the top of the site and looked out over rock lake. All the hills were on fire with fall colours. The rage of reds and yellows and oranges was beautiful. We could have taken our gear up there and just sat and stared all weekend.

The way our campsite was set up, there was probably oportunity to put in a half dozen or more tents on the site. The rock wall behind us went up in terraces, with two or three really good tent sites on each terrace. For the boys, mountain climbing was a great pass time. So was getting wet in the cold lake water.

After a while, Momma and Buddy took the canoe out of a paddle while cuppa and I stayed on shore and played. I got a few pics of Momma and Buddy - I think this one looks like it belongs on a catalogue cover.

Then Buddy took me for a ride. He did really well paddling the canoe, but he tired quickly, so I took him for a trip around the island. We found a muskrat lodge and stole some firewood off it, and we found another campsite on the island. Just as we returned to camp, a breeze sprang up and we ducked into camp before it got strong.

After a dinner of shepherd's pie (I messed up and it was awful!) we tucked the boys in bed as the sunset, then Momma and I enjoyed the fire and watched the stars come out. The night sky was as amazing as the leaves had been all day. We decided to sneak our backpacks out of the tent and sleep out under the stars. The rock wall protected us from the breeze, our winter sleeping bags were very warm, and the rock radiated back heat it had trapped from the sun all day. We quickly fell asleep under a clear night sky, but in the morning, we woke up in a world of misty shadows.

As we got our camp organized the mist thinned and lifted, but for a while it gave the impression of a world made of crumpled velvet, printed on a studio backdrop.

We had a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon (protip - crack your eggs into a nalgene bottle and leave the shells at home!!) then packed up camp and paddled off into the mist. The blur of trees emerging as the fog lifted was fantastic.

Once the mist was burned off, mare's tails stretched across the sky, and the lakes were mirrorlike, with only our canoe to disturb the surface. It was like paddling through a dream.

In a few spots, a cloud of fog stretched across the lake, refusing to give in to the sun.

While we paddled in awe, the boys somehow managed to be oblivious to everything and focussed on watching for fish in the clear water below.

So our adventure went with Momma and I developing a rhythm, our paddles repeating a splatter of droplets across the water with each stroke, and the boys watching the bottom of the lakes slip past below us.

Eventually we reached the end of Rock lake, and it was time to complete the short portage into Galeairy Lake. This portage also goes around a dam, is a very easy path, and takes little effort to complete. The trail is rocky at the beginning, but joins a well worn hiking path, then leaves it again at the put-in.

The dam provided some great opportunities for photos, so we stayed long enough for a snack of trail mix and some drinks.

After the dam we started the long slog across Galeairy Lake that would bring us to our waiting car. Galeairy seems to go on forever, and we had been paddling through the leafs so long that their effect had started to wear off. We saw some cormorants along the way, and a few other things, but the hours-long crossing of the lake was, well, an hours-long lake crossing. 

As we went, nature took pity on us, and a tailwind built as we neared the finish of our trip. By the time we neared the end of the lake, sizeable waves were pushing toward the car, and we almost surfed a few times. We passed the Couples Resort in Whitney and pulled up to the government launch happy to be done a great trip.

Then we loaded the canoe back onto the old Mercedes, posed for a family picture, and hit the road.

Driving back through Algonquin Park on the way home, we got to enjoy the leaves all along Highway 60. We were also shocked at the crowds of people waiting at every trail entrance and lookout point. The queue to buy park permits was close to 2 km long. Canoeing through the park, we had hardly seen a soul, and thought we had the place to ourselves. I guess we were wrong!

For the next canoe trip we do, I think we will need to plan a route with more short portages. The boys really did get bored with all the paddling (hours at a time sometimes!) and we need to bring along a couple fishing poles for the boys. I hate portaging fishing poles and gear, so I usually don't bother with them.We also need to rethink our canoe rental strategy. Renting in Barrie saved us a lot of money, but made for a long drive. There must be another alternative!