Yes, it’s a crappy summer, but let’s try to ignore all of the bad news and focus on the positives for a few minutes.
We went camping for 4 nights in the Okanagan and we’ve had lots of opportunities to enjoy small picnics in the park with friends and family in Vancouver.
Astrid is learning to bike and picking it up remarkably quickly. The balance bike definitely made learning to ride a real peddle bike easier. Based on some great advice from neighbours, we skipped training wheels and just used a scarf around her armpits to give her some extra support. But now she’s zooming along with only a little help starting and stopping. Pretty soon I’ll be going for runs with her biking next to me.
We’ve greened our balconies with herbs, flowers, and vegetables in pots. We started too late for a big garden this year, but we constructed two large planter boxes for next summer following this design.
Astrid loved her time at the Ponderosa, but she’s been very excited to see other kids again. She spends most of her free time at home playing in the courtyard with the neighbours or begging to play in the courtyard with her neighbours. The adults are good at keeping a distance, but the kids have no such restrictions on them. With all the real kids to play with, Astrid’s imaginary friend Mayka now spends most of her time in Mexico.
Each night at 7pm, our neighbours gather for drumming in support of healthcare workers. Astrid loves it. And it’s great to see all the kids singing and drumming along, lead by a retired nurse who lives next door. Astrid is a constant fixture at Aline’s side banging her wooden spoon and plastic pail.
Astrid has been happy to see her daycare friends again, but it took a few weeks to get used to being away from us. I had one drop-off in her second week when she just cried and cried. Instead of trying to force her to stay (she probably would have calmed down eventually), we had a special Daddy-Astrid day. Luckily I wasn’t too busy at work, so we went to a park, rode her peddle bike for the first time, and had a picnic lunch.
Summer finally arrived a week ago. We’ve been beating the heat with lots of lemonade and popsicles. Last weekend we booked a “pod” at one of Vancouver’s outdoor swimming pools – New Brighton. I was hoping for something more futuristic but our pod was just a painted square on the concrete pool deck. Still, it was a very kid-friendly pool and it wasn’t too crowded.
We also bought an inflatable pool for our balcony. It’s tiny but Astrid still loves splashing around in it.
We’ve been visiting the nearby Trout Lake Farmers Market on most Saturdays. COVID rules mean you usually have to line up for 30 minutes to get in, but it’s great getting fresh local produce. We’ve been eating as many berries as we can get our hands on – buying flats of blueberries, raspberry, and strawberries. Astrid and I even picked some blackberries we found along the trail when we went for a run last weekend.
I hope everyone is finding ways to stay cool and safe this summer.
We’ve made it a tradition to go camping every year for Astrid’s birthday. One night for each year she’s been alive. And every year something tries to get in our way. When she was 2 it was hand-foot-mouth. Last year it was a cracked elbow and a cast. This year it was COVID-19. But we persevered and got lucky with the timing, and were able to spend 4 nights camping in the Okanagan at Ellison Provincial Park.
We booked our campsite back in February, before COVID-19 was a problem in BC. Fortunately our reservation wasn’t cancelled and campgrounds re-opened (for residents at least) only on June 1. There were a few signs reminding people to keep their distance and some extra cleaning, but camping was the most normal thing we’ve done since the pandemic began. The only issue was the Montana license plates on the vehicle we borrowed from a friend, which prompted a conversation with the park warden and got us plenty of dirty looks. We were careful to cover it up when the car was parked.
I was a bit worried it would be hard to find things to do to fill 4 days, but the time flew by. We didn’t get the legendary Okanagan heat, but it was warm and sunny on Astrid’s birthday, so we spent the entire day at the beach. It was still a bit too cold for swimming, but we built sandcastles, moats, pools, and stick art.
It rained off an on, but we had a big tarp to keep our picnic table dry and our tent never leaked. Astrid also slept through the nights and our thermorests didn’t leak, so we were pretty happy campers.
Astrid got a new peddle bike for her birthday, and she spent a lot of time learning how to ride. We skipped the training wheels and followed the advice of some neighbours and just used a scarf around her waist to help her balance. By the end of our trip she was biking on her own, with the occasional scream and assistance starting and stopping (without smashing into something).
For Astrid, the highlight of the trip was roasting marshmallows on the fire and eating corn on the cob.
She also enjoyed playing her newest board game – Veg Patch Match.
Ellison Provincial Park is right next to Vernon, and we took advantage by spending a day visiting Davison Orchards and the Honey Bee Farm. Davison Orchards is a kid paradise, especially for one pining for the freedom of the country. She got to climb up old farm machinery, feed the goats, race rubber ducks, and go for a tractor ride. When we finished the tractor ride, Astrid ran up to our driver and told him all about her COVID-19 visit to the Ponderosa and how Gigi let her drive the tractor.
I had the only injury of the trip. When we were at the beach I took Astrid to a little rock island. On the way back I slipped on the slimy rocks. I protected her, but destroyed my foot and leg. I couldn’t feel it at the time because my feet were too numb, but when I got out of the water I saw that I had completely ripped a toenail off. Once the numbing wore off, it was very painful and very bloody.
On the way home, we spent a bonus day in Kamloops. Astrid was very excited to see Jacob and Nora again.
Our COVID-19 isolation bubble got smaller at the end of April when Kelsey, Jacob, and Nora left the Ponderosa (you can read more about the month we spent with them here). It was sad to see them go, but it also gave us the opportunity to settle into a simpler routine.
With only one child running around, things were quieter and easier to manage. Astrid usually slept in and I was able to start running in the mornings. My parents have a bunch of beautiful trails around their property and I ran them all. I saw deer and rabbits and almost stepped on a beaver one morning.
The weather was all over the place. We had a windstorm that ripped siding off the house. We had one last snowstorm – in May! We had one of the most amazing prairie thunderstorms I’ve ever seen with hours of sheet lighting. But it did get steadily warmer and we got to enjoy a lot more of the outdoors (while trying to avoid the ticks and mosquitoes).
The highlight of the warming weather was getting to use the outdoor pizza oven. It baked the best focaccia and pizzas. My mouth waters looking back at the pictures.
Astrid spent most of the day following Baba and Gigi around. She was Baba’s little helper, watering plants in the greenhouse and planting in the garden. And Gigi took her into town almost everyday once the Sandy Lake playground opened up.
It was great seeing how outdoorsy Astrid became. She learned to identify birds, the call of the loon, and the tracks left by deer and the droppings of the coyote. She loved to go for walks and pick up flowers and rocks.
Without having to leave our property, we saw deer, coyotes, foxes, snakes, frogs, woodpeckers, and prairie chickens. When the national parks reopened, we visited Riding Mountain National Park and saw a black bear and the large bison herd that lives there.
We went horseback riding and Astrid fell asleep in the saddle 10 minutes into our trail ride. I had onto her so she didn’t fall off the horse.
We had a few beautiful canoe rides on the lake.
We did a NYT crossword puzzle almost every day (a tradition Dad and I are trying to keep going on Sunday mornings). And in the evenings we always watched an episode of Lucifer and Community on Netflix (if we missed watching Lucifer Gigi got very cranky).
It was great seeing my mom get steadily better while we were there. She had good days and bad, but I really enjoyed spending time with her and seeing Astrid and her have so much fun together. With her energy levels rebounding, she was out gardening, hiking, and kayaking with us. Her first round of chemo was punishing and we’re not sure what the future holds, but we’re hopeful she continues to fight and we’ll take any miracles we can get.
COVID-19 has been really hard on a lot of families, dealing with a scary new disease, hospitalizations, deaths, and social isolation. I’m grateful that for our family, it gave us the perfect excuse to spend a long stretch of time together. We were at the Ponderosa for 2.5 months. It was hard to leave and we kept extending our stay, but with daycare opening back up and Mom going through chemo, it was time we moved back to Vancouver.
Welcome to our new reality. COVID-19 has upended our family just like everyone else. But unlike most, we’ve decided to take refuge 2000 km away from where we normally live.
Working From Home
Emily and I are grateful to have jobs where we can work from home but it’s been hard juggling work with childcare. Astrid’s daycare is still officially open, but is now an emergency facility for parents who really need it. We pulled Astrid out on March 18 and spent a week looking after her at home, and quickly realized it wasn’t sustainable.
Normally, we would ask Grandma for help or spend time outside playing with neighbours, but neither were possible with the coronavirus rampaging around. When they started shutting down playgrounds, our options became even more limited and our townhouse felt smaller everyday. Astrid’s closest companion became her stuffed unicorn.
This also corresponded with very busy periods at work for both of us. At ArtStarts, the executive director resigned after 9 years and Emily was taking on more of those responsibilities while trying to figure out how their organization would deal with school closures and new physical distancing rules.
At Thrive Health, we’ve had the busiest and most intense month in the company’s history. We were given 2 weeks to build the official COVID-19 app for the province of British Columbia (check it out at bc.thrive.health). We cranked out an early self-assessment website that had 1 million hits within the first 24 hours and built a decent app within 2 weeks. A minor miracle for our small team. But there wasn’t any time to rest, because we agreed to create a fully-translated version for everyone in Canada in partnership with Health Canada (check it out at ca.thrive.health).
The pace of development has slowed a bit in the past 2 weeks, but our team is still working 6 days a week and we’re trying to manage burnout among our employees. But it’s been extremely rewarding being part of this and building something with hundreds of thousands of users. The big challenge has been convincing our government partners to let us push more content out.
Amidst all the craziness, my mom got sick and we made the decision to travel halfway across the country to isolate with them in their rural Manitoba property called the Ponderosa.
Apocalypse Road Trip
It was a weird road trip. The highways were nearly deserted, most restaurants were serving take-out only, and the only washrooms we could reliably find were at gas stations. We drove to Kamloops first and met up with my sister and her kids. We were lucky my aunts in Calgary and Saskatoon were happy to host our convoy. Considering all the uncertainty around COVID-19, it wasn’t a small ask. They gave us dinner and beds, and we gave them rolls of toilet paper as payment. 4 days later we arrived at the Ponderosa.
Self-Isolating at the Ponderosa
My parents have a huge off-the-grid home in rural Manitoba that feels like it was designed as a shelter from the zombie apocalypse or a global pandemic. It’s the perfect place to be right now. We’re physically isolated from the rest of the world, Manitoba has very few cases of COVID-19, there are enough beds for the whole extended family, we have a huge cellar full of food, solar panels provide our electricity, and rain barrels collect water.
The only downsides are the satellite internet is slow and laggy, and the weather has been unusually cold with sub-zero temperatures most days since we arrived. Luckily I think winter is finally over here and most of the snow has melted.
We’re 4 weeks in now and this is the longest I’ve spent with my family since I was 18. We haven’t killed each other yet, even if there have been some heated discussions about lifestyles, conspiracies, which tv shows to watch, and taking games too seriously. The kids have had a blast playing with each other and are basically siblings now. It will be a big change when they are split up again.
It’s been easier working here than it was in Vancouver. I usually start my day at 9 am, get 3 hours of work in before most of my co-workers start their day, and then have meetings all afternoon. Kelsey has been great about looking after the kids during the day and doing a lot of the cooking. Emily has gone down to half-time at her work so she can help out more with the housework. My mom got out of the hospital 2 weeks ago and has been getting stronger every day. It’s been great having her around again. I try to help out when I can, but I’ve been working a lot. I’ve made a few pizza dinners and an Indian feast one night. I miss being able to go to restaurants, but Emily’s sushi dinner was a big hit.
The kids have been having a blast and what little they will remember of COVID-19 when they are older will probably be positive. They have a ton of room to run around inside and their own playroom full of toys and costumes. Gigi (my dad) likes to wrestle with them and watch cartoons. And now that the weather is warmer they have had even more space to explore.
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.
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.
We went to Christmas parties at my work, Astrid’s daycare, and Christina’s house.
We had have a lovely Christmas Eve/Hanukkah/Winter Solstice dinner at grandma’s place.
We started a new tradition with matching Christmas pajamas.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 😇 Introduced a federal price on carbon 😡 Bought a pipeline for $4.5 billion 🌲 Plan to plant 2 billion trees
New Democratic Party (NDP) 😀 Expanding the carbon tax to industrial emitters 😍 Ending fossil fuel subsidies 😁 $15 billion for retrofitting buildings
Green Party 😍 Most ambitious carbon targets (60% reduction by 2030) 😁 Halt all new fossil fuel development projects 🌲 Plan to plant 10 billion trees
People’s Party of Canada (PPC) 🤮Think climate change is a hoax
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 🙂 1% Foreign Buyers Tax 🙂 100,000 affordable housing units 😒 Useless First-time Home Buyer Incentive (at least in Vancouver)
New Democratic Party (NDP) 😄 15% Foreign Buyers Tax 🙂 500,000 affordable housing units 😖 Reintroducing CMHC-insured 30 year mortgages
Green Party 😐 25,000 affordable housing units 😀 Tax incentives for building purpose-built rental housing 🤔 Get rid of the first-time home buyer grant
Conservative Party 😖 Reintroducing CMHC-insured 30 year mortgages
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.
New Democratic Party (NDP) 😍 Universal pharmacare 😀 Basic dental for families earning < $90,000 (first step toward universal dentalcare)
Green Party 😍 Universal pharmacare 🙂 Dental care for families earning < $30,000
Conservative Party 🤥 Promises not to cut any health spending
People’s Party of Canada (PPC) 😲 Give provinces full responsibility for health care 🤪 Cut all federal funding
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.
In a close race between the Liberals and Conservatives, you may feel tempted to vote strategically. Don’t. For two reasons.
The Liberals lied about proportional representation last time. They don’t deserve another strategic vote.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.