Livin the Dream

I think its finally safe to say that the place feels like home.
Nicole’s priority has been the kitchen and living area — we’re resigned to the fact that the main floor will be constantly covered in toys for the foreseeable future, so we aren’t putting any of our nicer furniture up there. We got a old CRT TV that Ben can bang on while he watches Super Why, and we’ve basically left the floor space open for running, stomping, dancing and rolling.
My priority has been the basement — my Bat Cave. Its going to be a kid free zone, which means its safe to keep our nice things down there. The good TV and the home theater equipment are in there, and surround sound is great to have in a decent sized room. My office is a pretty much perfect space, with a giant desk and lots of storage space. I’m re-thinking putting a wall up, because I like the extra room — and I like the fact that I can sit on conference calls from the couch! There’s a little work I want to do on the built-in TV cabinet, but since I was originally planning to rip it out, the reduced scope of the project is pleasing. The walls need some touch up paint, and the ceiling needs work in a few spots… but the room is still pretty much awesome.
The hot tub turns out to be a lot of work — not that I’m complaining. Getting the bromine, alkalanity, hardness and pH balance just right is really, really hard! We’ve already had to dump all the water once because it went all misty looking, and we couldn’t get it clear again. I’m told its an art, not a science, so I’ll just have to keep working at it.
Our bedroom is tiny… almost too small to fit everything in there, in fact. But that could have something to do with having the largest, heaviest dressers ever made! We inherited them from Nic’s grandma, and we really shouldn’t complain, because they were free and better than nothing, but it is kinda tight in there. As long as Nic doesn’t get pregnant again, though, we can squeeze in there fine.
We haven’t met any of our neighbours yet, although we’re doing our best to look friendly and open to it. It woulda been nice if someone had come by and told us about things like garbage day (which we missed, and now have to keep a giant smelly bag of diapers in the garage for another week) but I suppose people don’t do that kind of thing much these days. I know we will if someone moves in near us!
Overall, home ownership definitely comes with some new challenges, but the rewards are totally worth it. I maxed out my stereo watching Star Wars the other night, and there was no one around to bang on the walls and tell me to turn it down!
New York in a week, Alpha kick-off when we get back, and a whole bunch of cool fall evenings to be spent in the hot tub under the stars. Life is good 🙂

Throwing out our boxes

So this weekend was obviously a lot of hard work. I think that’s the most work we’ve ever had to put into a move — and we are experienced movers!
Ben playing on the back deck
Still, I don’t think we could have predicted how great it feels to be in our own house. Its incredible — there’s so much space! We kick Ben outside in the morning while Abi’s napping, and he’ll play happily for an hour on the deck by himself. Nic worked constantly to get the kitchen and living room into a usable state. And the basement is definitely my bat cave. Its awesome.
Side note: We budgeted $600 for furniture for the basement, so I went out one day saying “I’ll bet I can get a leather couch for $600 if I deal hard enough.” I ended up getting 2 leather couches for $610 (after tax.) One of them isn’t great — its significantly discoloured. But they’re so comfortable! Watching movies in HD is something you really have to do from a leather couch.
Beside that, in what is not yet, but will eventually be, a separate room, I have a giant desk that is perfect for working on.
Our bedrooms upstairs are all a little small. We’re still pondering how to arrange everything. But each of the kids is in their own room, so that’s already a wonderful change.
Oh ya, have I mentioned the hot tub? Saturday night, after working hard all day, and with the kids sleeping soundly, we slipped into the hot tub and finally, and possibly for the first time this summer, relaxed. Of course, I woke up sick the next day — which always happens when I relax. But I’d been trying to outrun a cold all week, and I’d pretty much held it off until the move was done, so I was content to take some Tylenol and sleep for a good part of the day on Sunday. In the evening we had some friends out… to sit in the hot tub with us. Its awesome… like… its this little bonus blessing from God. On top of everything else He’s blessed us with, He threw in a hot tub.
This weirdest part of this move — even weirder than moving into a place we’re allowed to renovate in any way we chose — is that we’re throwing our boxes out. Some of our boxes we’ve had for our entire marriage (incidentally, that would be 7 years today — Happy Anniversary, babe! This year, I got you a house!) since we’ve always known, no matter where we were, that we weren’t staying long. We’d become experts on squeezing our stuff into various sized apartments, and leaving room to store the boxes. But this time, we don’t need them. We’re not leaving here any time soon!
It feels weird. But it feels good! We are finally home!
Come visit us in our house — and bring your bathing suit!

Please understand: this isn't just good-bye. This is I can't stand you…

So long, crapartment! We won’t miss you a bit!
The deal is closed! Nic’s picking up the key right now, and we are home owners!!
Tonite is part 1 of the move — moving our meager temporary possession into our house. A big thanks to Brad, John, Danielle, and Jen for helping with part 1! We’re camping out in the new place tonite, not because its ready, but because we are!
Part 2 is tomorrow morning — when we’re finally reunited with our stuff, and will no longer have to sit on lawn chairs in our living room. We’ll have our own appliances, some nice new “grown up” dishes, and a real bed to sleep on. Thanks to Nic’s parent’s for storing almost all our earthly possessions for the summer, and for helping us get moved in. I’d thank the movers too, but the butt load of money we have to pay them is thanks enough.
Pictures to follow, and then, with Phase 3 over, life begins again! The new website theme is live — refresh if you can’t see it… I like to think of it as a monument to the miracle of having survived the summer. The finger print will be replaced by a handprint from one of the kids — just as soon as I unpack the scanner!

I'm like a lawyer with the way I'm always trying to make you rip your hair out

When we finalized our offer on our place, our real estate agent asked us if we had a lawyer in mind. Being (re)new to the area, we didn’t, and asked for his recommendation — aside from closing on a house, we need to get our will/power of attorney crap done, so we told him we were looking for a lawyer who did more than just real estate, that we could start a business relationship with.
He recommended someone named Cal Johnson.
After today, I would not.
A lady at Cal’s office drew up our paperwork for us, and we set an appointment to go in and sign everything. Both of us needed to be there, which is something of a trick, since I work full time, and Nicole has two kids to manage, but we figured we’d get in, sign our lives away, and get out.
Cal Johnson had other ideas.
We arrived 2 minutes early, at 1:58pm, where we were told that Mr. Johnson would be right with us. So we sat down with our two kids, both of whom needed to be napping, and we waited. At 2:30 I asked how much longer we’d have to wait. He’d be right with us, we were told. At 2:45, with both kids now over-tired, and me having been away from my job for over an hour (it takes a half an hour to get there) the receptionist finally arranged for us to see another lawyer.
He pulled out the giant folder of paper work, and started handing us papers to sign. For most of them, he offered no explanation, simply pointed at the line we were to sign on. The only form he went over in detail is the one where he explained that their legal fees were in excess of $1000.
One thousand dollars for them to provide escrow service and fill in our name on a dozen different forms, and hit print. They didn’t even do a title search — they just insisted that everyone just buys title insurance these days, since that was cheaper.
For one thousand dollars, you’d think we’d at least get some reasonable customer service. Instead we were treated like a chore — a nuisance. Made to wait in the hallway for nearly an hour, until they got around to letting us sign our paper work.
I’ve got a new business idea: I’m going to start an organization called Important Services You Can’t Buy a House Without. People will have to pay me $500 to hit them with a hammer for 25 minutes before they can have the key to their new house. This will cost less than a lawyer, and probably feel better too.
Our kids are good kids. If we’d had to wait 15 minutes, and then sign papers for another 15, there wouldn’t have been a problem. But by the time we got out of there, Ben was 2 hours late for his nap, and obviously turning into a little terror. I knew how he felt, because I was inclined to throw a temper tantrum myself.
Obviously we’ll be looking for a different lawyer to draw up our will. At one point, Cal himself bustled into the room — silk shirt unbuttoned halfway down his chest, with thick white hair poofing out. Clearly his time was too important to actually deal with us. How do people like this stay in business? How do you keep any customers when you treat them like they’re beneath you.
I seem to draw out these incompetent people who aren’t interested in actually doing their job. Thank goodness this process is almost over — I’m not getting enough catharsis from this blog, and sooner or later I’m gonna have to let some of these people know what I really think of them!
2 days left…

Love and Squalor: A Photo Journal

I’m sure you’ve read my lengthy and oft-blogged complaints about our temporary home for the summer. Maybe you’ve read them, and wondered what the big deal is? Or why I’ve been whining so much. Allow me to take you on a tour of our “home” and illustrate for you some of the finer features of our life in transition…

Above is our bedroom. We sleep on a mattress on the floor, use a cardboard box as a night stand, and share, between the four of us, one dresser — two of the drawers no longer close, and one doesn’t have a handle. We also have a selection of 12 hangers in the closet that I bought at a dollar store… for our “good” clothes.

In the corner of our room is Nic’s “desk.” From here she manages our finances and deals with the various immigration tasks necessary for our children to become Canadian citizens. Note the spacious keyboard area — if you hit the space bar too hard, the whole thing will launch onto the floor.

Next door, just the other side of a paper-thin wall, is Ben’s room. He’s afforded two suitcases for his clothes, and a tub full of toys. He enjoys throwing all of these things around the room.
Abi has no bedroom. She takes her morning nap in Ben’s room, her afternoon nap on our bed, and sleeps at night in the living room.

Here is our fine dining room, where the whole family gathers around the fold-up card table. Except we only have one pot and one pan, so we haven’t really dined on anything too fine — although Nic did pull off a roast beef one night.

And finally, my respite from the world. My little carved-out fortress of solitude, where I spend 8-10 hours a day working: the office. One of the girls from whom we’re subletting needed to leave her stuff here for the summer, so aside from the fold-up table I use for a desk, there’s a bed where we store the things that don’t fit anywhere else, and the boxes for the things we are using.
I’m sure you can see why we’re so reluctant to move… unsure if any residence could beat this one in terms of space or luxories. Why just the other day, as we moved a pack and play into the office so that we could enjoy a few quiet moments alone, I was commenting on how much fun its been to live here…
Yup, its going to be hard to drag ourselves away from here to a place with 3 useable floors, 3 bedrooms, a garage, a backyard and a hot tub. I’m sure we’ll shed a tear or two as we walk, one last time, down the 42 stairs leading up to our little apartment.
Or maybe not.

Everything old is new again


Some time ago, we reported excitedly that Ben had begun grabbing things. Those without babies probably can’t properly understand how exciting this little step is. For the first few months of life, their hands and arms are just unruly appendages. In fact, the other day, Nic reminded me that Ben used to keep his arms straight out at his side all the time when he was a baby. For no reason at all, he looked like a chubby little airplane. Abi has her own arm preferences: she doesn’t like to sleep if they can move. While Ben quickly grew tired of swaddling, Abi won’t sleep at all unless there’s no way possible for her arms to move. If she does manage to get them out of the swaddling blanket before she falls asleep, she screams loudly until you come and re-wrap them.
But despite their differences, its amazing how much is the same… and therefore not quite as exciting as the first time around. Still when Nic shot this picture of the “grabbing” milestone for Abi a few weeks back, she wanted you all to see the similarity with Benjamin’s experiences, and how cool that was. So, if you haven’t already, point your mouse cursor at the picture above for a couple seconds, and see for yourself.
When you’re done that, you can check out this video of Abi’s latest trick: rolling over! She doesn’t quite make it in this video. There’s another one where she does and then kicks her legs adorably with excitement, but Benjamin wailed all the way through that one because he wasn’t allowed to touch the camera, so I won’t be posting it…
http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=-204930108440550733&hl=en&fs=true
8 days until we move into our house! We get to go see it tonite to get some more measurements and learn how to operate the hot tub! Almost there…

Changing the Startup/ Intro movie on an AppleTV Take 2

The original AppleTV software had a beautiful startup movie (startup.mov) that I loved. It, along with many other nice features of 1.x were replaced in the Take Two update. Granted Take Two brought a lot of new functionality with it, but I still mourn the simplicity and elegance of the 1.x software. The new startup movie (Intro.m4v) particularly bugs me. So I decided to do something about it.
First, I found and extracted the original Startup.mov from my AppleTV before I upgrade to Take Two. Then I went hunting for where Apple had stashed its replacement in the Take Two OS Install. You can find it here:
/System/Library/CoreServices/Finder.app/Contents/Resources/Intro.m4v
Note that they moved from using an MOV to using an M4V file for the movie. I messed around with trying to convert the original MOV into an M4V, but everything I tried was too lossy. By the way, the “Export for AppleTV” setting you find in Mac software that supports it does not export to the highest bit rate that the AppleTV is capable of — it actually can handle up to a 6500MBPS combined bit rate.
So I tried Export in QuickTime, I tried all the different settings in FFMPEG, but I still wasn’t happy with the result. So I decided I’d try a Symlink instead, to fool the AppleTV into playing the file I wanted. Note that you could do this with any movie file the AppleTV is capable of playing, so you can customize your start-up to your heart’s content! Here’s the steps I took. You’ll obviously need a patch-sticked AppleTV to do these steps:

  • Copy over (using SCP/Fugu/WinSCP) the startup.mov file
  • SSH into your AppleTV
  • sudo bash
  • mount -uw /
  • cp ~/Startup.mov /System/Library/CoreServices/Finder.app/Contents/Resources
  • cd /System/Library/CoreServices/Finder.app/Contents/Resources
  • mv Intro.m4v Intro-Take2.m4v
  • chown root:wheel Startup.mov
  • ln -s Startup.mov Intro.m4v
  • reboot

When its done booting, you should see the new (old) startup movie! All we’re doing here is copying in the original movie, backing up the existing one, fixing any permission problems, and creating a Symlink so that when the boot process goes to open Intro.m4v its redirected to Startup.mov!
Symlinks have to be one of the coolest things about using a Unix-based OS…

The light at the end of the tunnel…

Someone at our new church (who’s introduced themselves to us 3 times now) asked us how our summer was going. I surprised myself by answering “Oh, we just want it to be over!”
But its true, everything good that we’ve been waiting for and working for comes right as the summer wraps up — not the least of which being the house! You have no idea how much we’re looking forward to getting out of this purgatory (no offense to those soon to be living here.)
Nicole and her parents went appliance shopping yesterday. An old family friend knows of a place where they sell stuff for great prices, and Nic managed to find 4 four great appliances totaling less than $2000! What a shopper!
I myself have wrangled a deal or two, and managed to get three pieces of office furniture, including a very spacious desk to replace this plastic table I’ve been working off of, for $250.
Roofs, on the other hand, seem to be a little harder to find for cheap, and as of yet we haven’t been quoted much less than $5500. This is a little bit higher than the estimates our real estate agent gave us while we were making our decision, but… we still feel like we got a pretty good deal.
The other big expense is movers. Almost all of our friends are legitamitely busy on our moving day, and this is admittedly a rather different move than the ones we usually conscript help for, so we decided to work the expense of a moving company into the budget. Its not as expensive as I’d feared, and I think it’ll be worth it just to get it done quickly, but these costs do add up.
So we’re biding our time, and counting our pennies… it’s been a long, lean summer, but the end is in sight, and we can hardly wait. Phase 3 of the transition home is almost here. And a house means a never ending supply of projects for me to work on which, given my propensity for getting bored quickly, is a very good thing…