Christmas 2019

Christmas Cookies

Christmas was a bit hectic this year. We moved a week before Christmas and barely had time to get up decorations before the 25th. But we did find time to do some festive stuff.

Festival of Lights

We went to the Festival of Lights at VanDusen Botanical Gardens, luckily on one of the few dry December evenings. Astrid had a blast riding the carousel multiple times.

Santa

We went to Christmas parties at my work, Astrid’s daycare, and Christina’s house.

Christmas Eve dinner

We had have a lovely Christmas Eve/Hanukkah/Winter Solstice dinner at grandma’s place.

Matching Pajamas

We started a new tradition with matching Christmas pajamas.

Opening Presents Over Skype

We opened Christmas presents with Baba and Gigi on skype and Astrid had a blast playing with her new toys and games. We try to minimize the focus on presents, but she still enjoyed the ones she got from her family – like her fort builder, binoculars, and new books.

Bathrobe and Fort

More pictures

Christmas Ornament 2020

Vancouver ISP Search

There’s a game you have to play if you want to want to pay a reasonable price for internet. Every 2 years you need to shop around for promotions and switch service providers (or at least threaten to). We’ve been lucky to avoid the game for the past 8 years with Novus, which offers affordable fibre connections but only serves dense condo developments. When we moved I got ready to play the Telus vs Shaw game.

Back in November, I started looking for Black Friday promotions and found Telus offering Internet 75 on sale for $50 (normally $70). I signed up and scheduled the installation for December 9. But that failed when the installer couldn’t get access to the telephone room in our building. After a game of broken telephone between Telus, myself, and the property manager, a second technician was sent out 10 days later. He ran into the same problems because the first tech hadn’t recorded the updated lock box instructions. Our installation date was pushed back until December 29. Upset about not having internet for Christmas and worried this frustrating cycle would never end, I searched for alternatives.

I found Freedom Home Internet, a repackaged Shaw offering with a simple router that could be self-installed. It was offering 150 Mbps speeds for $55 a month without any contract or price jumps after a year or two. It sounded too good to be true, especially right before Christmas. I was skeptical it would just work, but the woman at the Freedom store said I could bring it back within 2 weeks for a full refund. I took a chance knowing I could always go with Telus if it didn’t work out.

Turns out it was really easy to install. I just plugged the coax cable into the wall and powered it up. For 10 minutes a little yellow light blinked at me while it configured itself. I wasn’t sure it was working, but the the LED turned solid white and it was done. I had a fast internet connection without needing a technician to visit.

The wifi antennas on the router aren’t quite powerful enough to send signals to all the corners of our 3 story townhouse, so I spent a day tweaking settings and adding my old router as a 2nd access point upstairs. Now I’m really happy with the setup.

With Freedom Internet 150, I’ve been consistently seeing speeds of over 170 Mbps.

After 10 days on Freedom (via Shaw), I was sufficiently satisfied and convinced the download speeds were good. I cancelled the Telus appointment and closed the account. Telus was offering me a pretty sweet deal with $250 in account credits (details below), but it wasn’t worth the installation stress or frustration in 2 years when the price jumped.

Continue reading Vancouver ISP Search

A New Home

After almost 9 years renting in Olympic Village, we’ve moved into a new home. Yes, we are now property owners in Vancouver’s ridiculously overpriced real estate market.

Keys to our new home

We spent most of the summer looking for a large house to co-buy with good friends of ours. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out but it got us mentally prepared to buy (after all the time we spent going to open houses, creating financial spreadsheets, and exploring East Vancouver neighbourhoods). We found a 3-bedroom townhouse near Trout Lake that we could afford on our own and put in the offer in October.

Signing the New House Paperwork

Buying a house was scary. It’s the largest purchase we’ve made by 2 orders of magnitude. We spent a bit more than we wanted (it was a competitive bid situation) and had to compromise on a few things (there is no garden or personal green space) but it checks almost all of the key requirements we had, like:

  • There is a good, seismically upgraded elementary school a block away.
  • It’s a tight-knit community with a bunch of kids Astrid’s age.
  • The neighbourhood is highly walkable with vegetarian restaurants and grocery stores nearby but without a lot of car traffic.
  • It’s biking distance to downtown Vancouver. Our commutes will be longer than before, but less than 30 minutes.
  • There are 3 bedrooms, so we have a guest room and a bit more space.
  • It has a dishwasher. We lived too long without one.
  • We can see ourselves living here for the next 20 years, with 3 floors of living space to give privacy to a future teenager.

We took possession on December 8 and immediately got to work replacing the carpet on the 2nd and 3rd floors. My dad flew in from Manitoba to help and it took us a week to install new engineered hardwood flooring. It was exhausting work but I’m really happy with how it turned out and it was fun to work with my dad.

Little Helper
First Pieces
Installing Hardwood Floors
Job Well Done

We moved in just before Christmas and are still working on unpacking boxes, but slowly we’re organizing our new home. On Boxing Day we picked up two sharp-looking lighting fixtures for the entryway and living room, and we made the trip to Ikea to get some accessories for organizing.

Installing Lighting
New lights

Astrid and Boo have been handling the transition as well as can be expected. Astrid still misses her old home and neighbours but is excited to meet all the kids in our new building. She loves her new room with it’s big window seat, but wishes her bedroom was closer to ours and has asked if we can put our bed in her room. We’re all dealing with sore muscles as we adjust to 3 flights of stairs and Astrid had a muscle strain in her hip after the first week.

Window Seat

Boo spent the first week exploring all the nooks and crannies and getting into mischief with moving boxes. Now he is aching to get outside and we’ve ordered a tagged collar so he can explore the neighbourhood a bit. I’ve seen two other cats roaming our the courtyard so he’s going to have friends/competition for turf.

Longing for the outside world

The process of buying a house was a bit daunting in the beginning, but we had a good realtor and mortgage broker that helped to break it down into manageable steps. If you’re looking for recommendations, I can highly recommend Naomi Morrison (our realtor) and Leo Addington (our mortgage broker).

Story Time with Naomi
Naomi reading to Astrid at a house showing

We still have a lot of little things to do like putting up shelves and pictures. I’m hoping to have everything on our long to-do list done by the end of January when our first house guests arrive from Kamloops.

More photos

Astrid – Fall 2019

Astrid at the Playground

Astrid has been a bundle of 3-year old energy and emotions. She can be imaginative and creative, grumpy and volatile, and silly and energetic. She’s quite the character.

One of the biggest achievements is she can now recognize most letters and even type her name on the computer (video evidence).

Astrid loves doing puzzles and playing board games (not as much as she loves watching Peppa Pig but we try to keep her away from the tv as much as possible). The best games we’ve found so far are Robot Run, Richard Scarry’s Busytown, Cranium Seek and Find puzzles, and Pete the Cat: The Missing Cupcakes, but we also like pulling out some of our older games (like Blokus) and just playing with the pieces.

Blokus

For Halloween Astrid dressed up as a dragon this year. I was happy she didn’t want to be a princess. We went trick-or-treating in our building and in the co-op next door and Astrid had a blast. This is the first year she was really into Halloween and collecting candy (most of which we sneakily took away after).

Halloween at Daycare
Tick or Treat

Astrid is now old enough to do swimming class on her own and we get to sit beside the pool and watch. It’s great. She’s also getting more comfortable in the water.

Swimming Class

On the health front things have been pretty good. Astrid’s asthma is under control and we haven’t had any recent hospitalizations. During our last visit to the respirologist at BC Children’s, they did an allergy test and Astrid didn’t react to any of the main allergens (dust mites, pet dander, pollen). Things are going so well that Astrid has been discharged from the respirology clinic and our pediatrician will be managing her asthma now, and we’ve started talking about a plan to scale back her medicine next summer.

Skin Prick Allergy Test
Skin prick test

The only cause for concern was a spell in early October when Astrid was waking up a few hours after going to sleep in extreme pain in her left hand. It happened for 10 straight nights and then a few more times over the following weeks. It really freaked us out the first few nights and we ended up going to the hospital but by the time we got there she was fine and we waited over an hour before going home without seeing a doctor. We visited a walk-in clinic on the 3rd day and got x-rays after a week, but nothing was physically wrong. The only symptom during the day has been reduced hand strength in her left hand in the morning that goes away after a few hours. It doesn’t seem to be night terrors or growing pains and some doctors we’ve talked to have suggested a few possible causes (like possibly childhood arthritis) but more tests will have to be done (if it comes back again) to confirm.

More photos from:
September
October
November

Peanut Butter Pals
Ready for Daycare

Time to Vote

The election is 10 days away. Advance voting starts today. You know what you need to do. Get out and vote.

After much deliberation, I’ll be voting NDP. I considered voting Green to really reinforce the idea that climate change is the most important issue facing Canada right now. Both the Greens and NDP have great platforms and are aligned on a lot of issues.

The biggest difference is the leader. I’ve been really impressed with Jagmeet Singh. He puts up with a lot of racist crap, but he’s still filled with optimism. I haven’t seen a federal leader with so much personality, conviction, and compassion since Jack Layton. Elizabeth May is a great environmental champion, but I don’t see her having the energy and charisma to bring people onside to tackle the problems we’re facing. Jagmeet Singh can.

Jagmeet and Me
And I got a Singh selfie before he became super popular

Looking beyond the party leaders, I’ve also considered policy and my local candidate. On the policy side, CBC, Macleans, and Gen Squeeze have good summaries of the party platforms. Personally, my top 3 priorities are climate change, housing affordability, and health care.

Climate Change and the Environment

The Greens have the most ambitious plan, the Liberals the most achievable. The NDP is in between on both measures. All three parties have commited to banning single use plastics. Check out CBC for a comprehensive comparison of each parties climate commitments.

Liberal Party
๐Ÿ˜‡ Introduced a federal price on carbon
๐Ÿ˜ก Bought a pipeline for $4.5 billion
๐ŸŒฒ Plan to plant 2 billion trees

New Democratic Party (NDP)
๐Ÿ˜€ Expanding the carbon tax to industrial emitters
๐Ÿ˜ Ending fossil fuel subsidies
๐Ÿ˜ $15 billion for retrofitting buildings

Green Party
๐Ÿ˜ Most ambitious carbon targets (60% reduction by 2030)
๐Ÿ˜ Halt all new fossil fuel development projects
๐ŸŒฒ Plan to plant 10 billion trees

Conservative Party
๐Ÿคข Plan to scrap the carbon tax

People’s Party of Canada (PPC)
๐ŸคฎThink climate change is a hoax

Housing Affordability

Housing affordability is a hot topic, especially with millennials in Vancouver and Toronto. The federal government has a role to play in building affordable housing and purpose built rental, and ensuring speculation from foreign wealth isn’t distorting our housing markets.

Liberal Party
๐Ÿ™‚ 1% Foreign Buyers Tax
๐Ÿ™‚ 100,000 affordable housing units
๐Ÿ˜’ Useless First-time Home Buyer Incentive (at least in Vancouver)

New Democratic Party (NDP)
๐Ÿ˜„ 15% Foreign Buyers Tax
๐Ÿ™‚ 500,000 affordable housing units
๐Ÿ˜– Reintroducing CMHC-insured 30 year mortgages

Green Party
๐Ÿ˜ 25,000 affordable housing units
๐Ÿ˜€ Tax incentives for building purpose-built rental housing
๐Ÿค” Get rid of the first-time home buyer grant

Conservative Party
๐Ÿ˜– Reintroducing CMHC-insured 30 year mortgages

Health Care

Last election, health care wasn’t that important to me. But now I have an adventurous, asthmatic child and work for a health software company.

Liberal Party
๐Ÿ˜ด Will continue to study pharmacare

New Democratic Party (NDP)
๐Ÿ˜ Universal pharmacare
๐Ÿ˜€ Basic dental for families earning < $90,000 (first step toward universal dentalcare)

Green Party
๐Ÿ˜ Universal pharmacare
๐Ÿ™‚ Dental care for families earning < $30,000

Conservative Party
๐Ÿคฅ Promises not to cut any health spending

People’s Party of Canada (PPC)
๐Ÿ˜ฒ Give provinces full responsibility for health care
๐Ÿคช Cut all federal funding

Local Candidates

In my riding of Vancouver Centre, the NDP candidate Breen Ouellette was endorsed as one of the 35 environmental champions in Canada committed to bringing in a Green New Deal. I highly recommend checkout out this list (and LeadNow’s battleground champions) to see if anyone in your riding has been nominated. It’s a stellar crew.

The NDP has some great candidates in this election, and they reflect the diversity of Canada. 49% are women, 25% are from racialized communities, and 12% are from the LGBTQ community. You can really see the NDP’s commitment to fight inequality and racism comes from the top. Jagmeet Singh has been tremendous this campaign dealing with racist hecklers, responding the the Trudeau blackface incidents, and standing up for first nations access to clean drinking water.

By comparison, the Green Party is unfortunately still very white. Their candidates are 42% women but only 5% are visible minorities.

Strategic Voting

In a close race between the Liberals and Conservatives, you may feel tempted to vote strategically. Don’t. For two reasons.

  1. The Liberals lied about proportional representation last time. They don’t deserve another strategic vote.
  2. If we end up in a minority government situation (highly likely), we need as many NDP and Green MPs as possible to push the Liberals to act on important issues like climate change, pharmacare, and electoral reform.
  3. If you’re debating between the NDP and Greens, I’d recommend choosing the party with the platform that speaks to you or the local candidate you like the best. If you still can’t decide, you can look at polling data and riding level predictions form sites like 338canada.com but beware that riding level predictions are often garbage.

Vancouver Addendum

In Vancouver Centre, it’s an easy choice for me to vote NDP. In some of the other Vancouver ridings there are candidates from other parties that I might vote for.

In Vancouver East it’s a toss-up between Jenny Kwan (NDP), the incumbent MP who’s been a vocal environmental advocate and Bridget Burns (Green), who runs the Vegan Night Market.

In Vancouver Granville, it’s an easy choice to vote for Jody Wilson-Raybould (Independent) – former Liberal Justice minister who was kicked out by Justin Trudeau for standing up for judicial independence in the SNC-Lavalin affair.

In Vancouver Kingsway, it’s a toss-up between the incumbent MP Don Davies (NDP), who’s been a tireless advocate for pharmacare and dental care and Tamara Taggart (Liberal), who has really involved in local politics since retiring from broadcasting, advocating for rental housing and removing lead from school drinking water.

In Vancouver South, I’d be tempted to vote for Harjit Sajjan, the Liberal incumbent. He’s been a good Defence Minister and he’s running against Wai Young (Conservative) who used to represent the riding and is a toxic, anti-cyclist troll.

Let’s Go Fly a Kite

Fly a Kite

Summer is slowly fading and the first colds of back-to-school season are kicking in. We had a great summer with waterpark trips, biking along the seawall, beach parties, a lot of popsicles, and happily no wildfire smoke or asthma hospital trips (hurray!).

Family Reunion

In July, right after Astrid got her cast off, we spent 4 days in Kamloops and Chilliwack with my sisters and Astrid’s cousins. We were grateful the cast was gone because we spent almost everyday in the water. The kids had a blast swimming at the lake, riding the water slides at Cultus Lake, and eating ice cream at Harrison Lake. Photo album here.

Cousins
Ice Cream

We also hosted two playdates – one with daycare friends and one with the Hirtles. The key to a successful kids playdate appears to be rainbow popsicles, fresh cucumbers from the garden, playdough, and a big empty box.

Rainbow Popsicles
Carrots and Cucumbers

It’s hard to believe, but Astrid is even more proficient on her balance bike and has started to wear out the toes of her shoes as she skids to a stop after flying down hills.

Our little girl is really growing up, she’s now in the 3-5 room at daycare. She transitioned very smoothly and handled the change well. Her gradual entry report card included these gems:

  • Enjoys risky play and exploring her boundaries.
  • She will say she needs to use the bathroom when others are going even she doesn’t actually have to.
  • Sometimes takes big bits and needs reminders to take small bites.
Rooftop Garden
Risky play
Eating Cucumbers from the Garden
Big bites

More photos from August and a few from September.

Seawall Sunset
Umaluma Ice Cream

Camping – 3 Nights at Porpoise Bay

Breakfast

For our summer camping trip we spent 3 nights at Porpoise Bay Provincial Park on the Sunshine Coast.

BC Ferry Ride

Porpoise Bay is a great family-friendly campsite close to Vancouver. It only takes 2 hours to drive there, including an hour long ferry ride in the middle where the kids can run around.

There are a few things that make it stand out from the other BC provincial park campsites.

  • There are more tents and less RVs. Probably because the ferry is expensive with a RV.
  • There are no campfires in the campsites. Instead there are communal fire pits.
  • It feels like you’re in nature, but you’re only a few minutes from Sechelt which has restaruants, grocery stores, and other conveniences if you need anything. They also have a great little farmers market on Saturdays.
  • The beach is along the ocean, but because it’s a sheltered bay and shallow. The water is pleasant to splash in at high tide and during low tide there are lot of tide pools to explore.
Low Tide

On the less possitive side:

  • There is an active float plane terminal nearby and you can hear float planes taking off during the day. It’s not too bad, but it’s noticeable especially in the morning.
  • The southern edge of the park backs onto cottages. Campsites 76-84 are right next to the backyards and are not very desirable.
Communal campfire

We thought the communal fire pits would be a downside but it turned into a great way to meet other campers. In the evenings, a lot of families would show up to roast marshmallows. Astrid enjoyed running around with other kids and we got a chance to chat with the parents. Before we knew it, Astrid was running off with the other kids to play in the woods. And during the daytime, kids were coming by our site to play with her. One kid even came to say goodbye when we were leaving.

Leaving with a Friend

The communal fire pits are small and there are only 3 of them, so they’re not great for cooking on. We managed to roast veggie sausages and corn but I would be prepared to do all of the cooking at your own site using a propane stove.

Smugglers cove

There aren’t any hiking trails in Porpose Bay Provincal Park, but there are a few good trails nearby. We hiked the trail at nearby Smugglers Cove. It’s an easy 1.5 hour hike out to a sheltered bay with nice views. Seemed like a great place to jump in for a swim on a hot day.

Starfish

We visited Smugglers Cove back in 2007 and were amazed that there were starfish everywhere. Sadly, we didn’t see a single one this time. In 2013 starfish wasting disease wiped out almost all of the starfish and it the population hasn’t recovered. It’s really sad. We did find a single starfish on the beach in Davis Bay, but it was the only one we saw all trip.

Night in the Tent

Camping was made a bit more difficult this year because of Astrid’s cast. She couldn’t go in the water, she didn’t sleep well at night, and we had to watch her a bit more closely at the playground, not that it discouraged her from climbing. Having a cast wasn’t ideal for camping but Astrid’s a resilient kid.

Bikes

Like most campgrounds in BC, Porpose Bay was full of kids getting around on bikes. We’ll have to bring Astrid’s bike next year (assuming she’s not in a cast).

The sunshine coast is a beautiful area to explore and Porpoise Bay is a great campground to use as a base. Sechelt, Davis Bay, and Smuggler’s Cove are all close by.

Logs

We’re looking forward to finding a new campsite for next year. Maybe something in the Okanagan. Last year we did 2 nights at Alice Lake and in 2017 we spent 1 night at Golden Ears. Tradition dictates that we do a 4-night camping trip next year. We’ll see if that happens.

More photos here.

Sechelt
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