The last part of our transition from the U.S. to Canada has fallen into place. Over 5 months since I closed up our New York apartment for the last time, and over 6 months since Nic and the kids hiked across the border. A full month since moving into our permanent residence — after 4 months of living in a very nice apartment, that was very poorly furnished. Our daugher having lived 83% of her life without it…
We now have health insurance for the whole family.
Health insurance in Ontario is on top of OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan.) While the government health plan covers doctor’s visits, hospital trips, surgeries, and even some specialists, you still need insurance if you want to do things like get prescription drugs, get glasses, go to the dentist, or visit other specialists not covered by OHIP.
While the wait for OHIP was by far the most stressful, not having health insurance was still nerve-wracking! We get a little bit nervous every time Ben pulls on his ears, and my glasses are so scratched that the value of having an HDTV is all but lost on me.
So when I called our insurance company this morning, as I have every Monday morning for the last 3 weeks, to find out if the paper work had gone through yet, I was most ecstatic to find that they would finally be insuring my whole family.
We finally have everything we need to live here.

What to do if you get pulled over for speeding…

So this post spun off the comments thread of a previous post in which I related a story about getting a ticket. Some of the specifics of this post apply to both Ontario and New York. Different States and Provinces have a different policies, but many of the general rules here apply anywhere. I have a lot of experience dealing with traffic infractions — most of it from my (air quotes) wild (air quotes) youth, so here’s a few things you may or may not know…
Dealing with the Officer
If you’re a girl, and the cop is a guy, probably your best bet is to cry. Seems to work for every girl I know. For any other situation, here are some good rules:

  • Turn your engine off, and (if its dark, or even dim out) your cabin light on as soon as you’re pulled over. Turn on your four-ways as well. Pulling someone over is very dangerous for a cop — for all he knows, you could be an axe-murderer on the run from your latest slaying. If you turn your car off, he knows you’re not going to run. If you turn your cabin lights on, he can see what you’re doing, and be confident that you’re not going to pull a gun on him. Calmly reach for your insurance and license and have them ready. Roll down your window then put your hands on top of the steering wheel where he can see them as he approaches. Look friendly, chagrined, or scared. Don’t look angry.
  • Be polite. Don’t B.S. the cop, and don’t be a jerk about it — he’s heard everything before, and you’re just going to make him mad.
  • Don’t lie, but never admit to anything! “Do you know how fast you were going?” is a trap — it may very well mean that he doesn’t know either. Say “How fast was I going, sir?” or “I didn’t think I was going that fast.” or something non-committal. Ignorance is better than incriminating yourself.
  • Once he’s established your offense, but before he walks away with your license and insurance papers, look for an opportunity to explain — if you have a good explanation. Ask “Could I just explain, sir?” And be polite. Especially now, when you’ve deviated from his normal script, keep your hands visible, your movements calm, and your face looking honest. Don’t be threatening or confrontational.
  • Once he’s gone back to his car to look up your record and write your ticket, this round is over. There’s nothing left for you to do but wait. Don’t get out of your car, or turn it back on. If you want to turn your cabin lights off so people aren’t staring at you as they drive by, that’s OK. Just turn them back on when he leaves his car again, and put your hands back on the top of your steering wheel. If your record is clean, and you haven’t ticked him off, unless he’s power tripping or having a bad day, he’ll likely cut you a break. Whether he does or not, accept the ticket, be polite, and drive away (at the speed limit.) You’ve done everything you can for now.

Dealing with the Ticket
Your next best bet for getting out of the ticket is the court system. Depending on what happened with the officer, you might want to take things to the next level.
We have the same three options here in Ontario as I was given when I got my one ticket in New York. You can chose to plead “guilty” and pay the fine, you can choose to “plead guilty with an explanation” to ask for a lowered fine (but no change in points on your licenses), and you can choose to plead “not guilty” at all.
Those last two options require you, or a lawyer on your behalf, to appear in court in the jurisdiction where you got the ticket (in New York, you can just write a letter if you want to offer an explanation)
Offering an explanation is almost always worth it — it doesn’t take much of an excuse to get it knocked down. However, it will cost you about half a day waiting for your turn before the Justice of the Peace. If you’re a student, you should do this — they’ll always take pity on you.
Getting a lawyer/paralegal to defend you as “not guilty” is only worth it if the insurance implications of your infraction are too onerous to be able to live with (or if you’re actually innocent.) Its expensive, it takes a long time (for the lawyer, but not really much of your time) but it almost always works — the courts/cops usually don’t care enough to put up a big fight.
In my most recent situation, I already got about the best deal I could hope for — pretty much the lowest ticket they can give (unless they’re really bored, cops won’t even bat an eye if you’re going less than 15km/hr (5-6 miles) over the speed limit) and a half of my day is worth more than the $50 it would cost to just plead guilty.
If you chose to plead “not guilty” the officer is obliged to appear in court to state the government’s case. Sometimes they won’t show up because they’re too busy, and the ticket will get thrown out. However, if they remember you, and what you did — or if they already cut you the best break they felt you deserved — they might make a point of being there, just to stick it to you. If he’s already given you a break, he could let the court know how fast you were really going. And, here’s where the tips above are important: anything you said during your time pulled over can be used against you — especially if you explicitly admitted to the infraction, or were verbally abusive to the officer.
If you live in a small community, as I do, you’ll likely see that cop again — especially if you have a bit of a lead foot — and he’s likely to remember you if you’ve dragged him off the streets and into court. Its never a good idea to get on the bad side of a traffic cop…
The final, and “secret” option is to look for mistakes on the ticket. One time, I had a cop put down the wrong year on my ticket, meaning it was garbage. Double-check your license number as well, since that’s a common place for transposition errors. If you find a mistake, you might still need to hire a paralegal to deal with it in court, but it’ll be a lot cheaper if the case is ready-made for them.
In some States, there’s also the option to defer the ticket, or take a driving class. Ontario has no such provisions, and our Insurance companies are a government sponsered Mafia, of sorts, that will screw you over at the first chance they get. Your best defense, unfortunately, is to keep your record clean, and your drag racing to a minimum — and on back roads with no posted speed limit!

Just because I'm sorry doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it at the time

Got the car back from the shop on Sunday. Another $600, but its running beautifully now. I gave them a list of things I wanted done, and they did them all. I drove it home, and loved every minute of it.
Monday evening I was detailing the interior, and as I was rubbing Armor-All on the dashboard something happened. I fell in love with it again.
I’m not sure if its the curves, or the way it crouches on the ground like its ready to pounce. Maybe its my stereo, that I never quite got installed properly, or the race car-like suspension. Maybe its the manual transmission, and the way it makes me feel like when I’m driving, my car and I are in tune with each other. Maybe its the way it hugs corners, and practically begs for me to open up its little engine on the straight-aways.
Whatever it is, when I was done, I had to take it out for a spin. And I had to drop the hammer going up a hill so I could rocket over the top of it… And a cop had to be sitting there in the dark, just waiting for an idiot like me.
Fortunately, he was a nice guy, my driving record has been immaculate for years, and when I explained that I just got it back from the shop and was putting it through its paces, he was very understanding. The ticket was for 95 in an 80 (that’s kilometers) but I was doing much more than that.

It came as a reminder that as much as I genuinely dislike driving the big family wagon, and reminisce about the days when Nic and I could cruise around in our little hot rod, young and stupid and free (and with really high insurance payments), my life has changed. I wasn’t ticked off at the cop who busted me, I was embarrassed because I knew better.
Its time to get rid of my race car, and grow up… some more.
So, we have a car for sale! I’m selling it for $3000. Its probably worth more than that, but the clutch is getting soft, and will eventually need to be replaced. Its up on Kijiji, and there’s a sign on the window. We’re in no huge hurry to sell it off, but the truth is, we don’t really use it. Now that I work from home, I don’t do much solo driving, and the car seats fit poorly in it, so the SUV does most of the family cartage.
Drop us a line if you’re interested!

Dear everyone,

Stop getting married. Just elope. Its nowhere near as good, but I feel it would be easier on our routine. Thank you.
OK, I wouldn’t really wish that, marriage rocks, and weddings are fun. But I’m still going to be glad when this year’s nuptials are all over with! Only one more to go, but Nic’s in the wedding party. I’ve recently become aware that its a lot more work for a girl to be in a wedding party than a guy. Save for the 1 or 2 days prior to the wedding, and possibly writing a speech, there isn’t a whole lot for a groomsman to do. For brides and bridesmaids, on the other hand…
Anyway, we do have a pretty nice routine now. So nice, in fact, that I’m starting to understand why people don’t travel as much as I think everyone should. Its just really, really comfortable here.
I set my alarm so that I’m downstairs and at work around 7am. Sometimes its 7:15, so I add that on to the end of my day. I spend an hour catching up on e-mail, making my task list for the day, managing my calendars, and reading a few tech blogs to keep up on things, then I take half of my lunch break. I do my devotions, my morning stretches, have a quick breakfast with my family (or at least shove food/coffee in my mouth at roughly the same time as them) and grab a shower, then its back to work for the morning.

At lunch time, I take my remaining half hour to eat with everyone, then take the kids for a walk down to the mailbox. Yesterday we had lunch on the back deck, with the birds chirping, the hot tub burbling, and some mellow music playing over AirTunes.
I work all afternoon, finish out my day, and I’m out from the bat cave by 5:00pm at the latest, unless there’s a late meeting. I never have to worry about how bad the commute will be.
Evenings are usually pretty relaxing. We’re a good two weeks behind on our TV content, which is a good place to be. If we don’t spend our kid-free time sipping something bubbly in the hot tub, we usually watch a show a night, on our own schedule and commercial-free, since everything is downloaded for us automatically and for free/cheap. We’ve had a steady, but not too rapid, flow of visitors out to our place to spend the occasional evening playing board games, or relaxing in the hot tub with us. Neither of us was blessed with the spiritual gift of hospitality — but that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy trying!
Wednesday nights are Alpha at the church, and while that’s proven to be more… interesting than we’d anticipated, we get a free meal, free babysitters, and an opportunity for community and challenging discussion. Sunday morning’s church service is a little longer and a little more traditional than what we’re used to, but the people are friendly, and its important to us that our kids grow up with church as a part of normal life. Sunday evenings will have a service a little more geared to our demographic, where the music is better, and there are more people our age to get to know.
I’m finally at the place where I’m starting to look forward to my projects list. Its hard to know where to start, because even though our house is “perfect” there’s still a fair bit I want to do. But I’m not going to push myself so hard that these things become a chore. They’re just supposed to be atomic little challenges to tackle if I get bored (which I’m known to do.)
Money is a little tight at the moment — having a baby, moving to a different country, buying our first house, and doing significant repairs on both vehicles, all in a 6 month span is bound to be a bit challenging. But our cash budget is back in effect, and our non-fixed costs are pretty low, now that we’re both home on weekdays. And small town life is pretty predictable, so its just a matter of waiting it out in the comfort of our home and neighbourhood while things settle down, before we go after some of our other financial goals. (Although, going to weddings does somewhat challenge the budget!)
In short, I’m not really sure how it gets much better than this. Someday we’ll need a slightly bigger place, and it would be nice to consolidate our multiple aging vehicles down to a more comfortable and practical ride. We’ve definitely got some travel goals (Europe ’09, Asia ’11!!) we’ll be working toward. But the fact is, we’re really, and truly blessed and content here. Some of you haven’t visited us yet. You need only to drop us a line and let us know when you’re coming!

Tents, Teeth and Spies – A Wedding Story

How to describe last week? It was fun, crazy and long. We’re glad we went, we’re glad to be home.
My good friend, Jon, married his fiancee, Virginia, on Saturday, at an amazingly beautiful wedding, planned almost entirely while he was at sea, aboard a submarine, and his fiancee was hundreds of miles from home. Suffice it to say, there was a lot of work left to be done last week!
There’s so many random parts of the week that are worth recording, but I’m not sure I can pull them together in any cohesive prose, so I’ll just throw out random paragraphs and some associated media, and hope you can figure out what I’m talking about.
Virginia’s mom works in a U.S. Army Arsenal, where they decided to throw an out-door wedding. The grounds are quite historic and beautiful, but the restrictions on getting on-base made for some interesting predicaments. First of all, there was the giant tent they rented for a dinning hall. It was 60 feet long, cost them $1800 to rent, and it was delivered, the day before the wedding, by a team of Guatamalens… who were pretty quickly denied access to the base. That left the truck driver, Jon, me and his cousin — Jon’s only family member who made it to the wedding — to figure out how to set-up the giant tent. As you can see from the pictures, we got it done, and it looked great!

Jon and Brooke in the tent we built

On the day of the wedding Nicole and our local babysitter, Shannon, had Ben, Abi and Alivia (our friend’s Brooke and Jason’s daughter) at Brooke’s mom’s house where we were staying. As they were packing up the vehicles to drive to the wedding, Alivia decided to ride a plastic train down a flight of stairs, where she smashed her mouth into the ceramic tile floor. You can read more about it on Brooke’s blog. Fortunately, she lost only one baby tooth — but the ensuing worry and drama was obviously a lot for everyone to handle moments before the ceremony was to start.

Ben sharing ice with Alivia for her fat lip

Nicole had arranged a complicated plan to drive an American vehicle onto the base, and hopefully avoid any questions of her nationality (as I had somehow managed to do all weekend.) They arrived late, and were questioned at an abnormal length by the guards, who figured out that Nicole wasn’t American. We had to send the mother of the bride to escort her on-base — you know, in case my little blond mother-of-two-babies was actually there as a spy from the ominous Canadian military.

Neither of these girls was a spy (they’re both American)

Eventually everyone arrived, the weather having cleared by late morning, the sun was shining, the pastor got there (without needing to be kidnapped), the bride was radiant, the groom efficient and dapper, and the party got started.
Ben loves to dance. At even the slightest hint of rhythm, he’ll put his arms up and wiggle around to the music. He was in his glory at the reception! Although we had some trouble convincing the babysitter to dance with him, he had no issues with going solo. At one point, he fell over — which he does often — but didn’t want to stop, so he started break dancing! I don’t know who taught him those moves, but it certainly wasn’t his dad!
As I mentioned, virtually none of Jon’s family made it to the wedding. The reasons for this are varied, some more interesting than others (and more valid) so it fell to me and his cousin (who turned out to be a very decent guy) to support and encourage Jon through the wedding. Being on the groom’s side, fortunately, allowed us to avoid most of the drama the ladies seemed to cook up, and mostly we were just charged with ensuring that Jon’s carefully laid out schedules and to-do lists were executed on plan. Oh, and I managed to pull off that speech, hopefully without sounding too much like a stammering idiot. Jon deserved every word of it.
We stayed with Grandma Nancy — Brooke’s mom, and one of the sweetest ladies in New York — and her husband Tim — one of the coolest guys in New York. Their house is best described as Grand Central Station. People just sort of roll in and out, eating very well along the way. This week’s activities made it even more of a mad house. Also, I don’t believe Jessie has ever cleaned her shower. Still it’s a big, warm and loving environment, where the kids felt right at home. It was a blessing to have such a nice place to crash at the end of our long days. And Ben got to hang out with his girlfriend Alivia a lot, so he was happy.
Work was crazy, by the way. I guess my boss wanted to capitalize on my presence — either that or he’d forgotten I existed until I got there — because I found myself juggling three different issues, in a number of meetings (some superfluous, others very worthwhile.) It felt good to be back in the thick of things for awhile, and I think I’ll have to make sure that happens periodically.
At any rate, we came, we saw, we conquered. It was a great wedding, at the end of a great week. We got to see many of our friends and “adopted” family in New York, and I got to honor and support a great friend.

Definitely top secret spies. Ever seen Mr. and Mrs. Smith? Ya, that’s us…

It was good… but we’re not going back any time soon. Both the Wises and their vehicles are about road-tripped out, and aside from possibly taking a short hop (relatively) over to Cleveland, we intend to stay close to our new home base for the near future. A new house and a new community are a lot of work, and we want to do our best at it… plus, we’re sick of driving. All trips from now on are going to be significant enough that we have to take a plane!
All the best to Jon and Ginny! Hope you’re having a great honeymoon in Jamaica! Jon, if you’re reading this, close the MacBook, unplug the travel router, and get back to the beach!
Lots more pictures in Flickr

The OTHER Red State vs. Blue State debate

I found this map once before, but it got lost in my sea of unorganized bookmarks. In Canada when we want a sweet carbonated beverage, we’d ask for a pop. Here in New York, if we asked for a pop, no one would have a clue what we were talking about. Now that we live in Canada, we’re having trouble not calling it soda.
Check the map to see what name they use elsewhere in the States. Seems “soda” is a bit of a minority…
In other news, the Large Hadron Collider came online today (and the world didn’t end) leading to some really cool pictures. Maybe we can hear something about the science now…

Things I actually like about working in an office

This list will be short, and strangely there’s some overlap with yesterday’s list. Some of the things that frequently bug me about office life are still advantages over working from home. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far this week…
Nice Clothes: I’m sure the novelty would wear off in a week or two, but after 3 months of working in whatever I clothes I pull out of the closet in the morning (ok, 1 month of staying in my pajamas, then after the realisation that I felt like a total bum, 2 months of wearing whatever clothes I pull out of the closet) it feels kinda nice to put on a good pair of pants and a shirt with a collar. I just feel more professional and effective.
Stand-up Meetings: While it may be annoying to over-hear these meetings, its often fun when you realise you’ve fallen into one. You get up from a frustrating problem to get some caffeine and bump into someone else who’s been pondering the same issue. Before you know it, you’ve deep in an impromptu brainstorming session in the hallway, and you’re having a grand time debating potential solutions. You don’t get that working from home.
Regular Meetings: 95% of meetings are a waste of time, with too many heads and too many egos present to actually get anything done. But there’s that other 5% where you actually solve something or come up with a good plan of action, and it feels great. You can have these kinds of meetings over the phone, but you miss out on a fair bit of the comradery — on seeing the smiles on your co-workers faces.
Social Interaction: Its definitely great to be able to see my family during the day. I usually start work at 7am, catch up on my e-mail and other administrivia, then head up stairs for a quick coffee run at 8, and get to say good-morning to my wife and kids. Lunch time is just as nice, because I actually get to sit down with them and see them. But sometimes its nice to have mostly adult conversation — even if it is often lame and awkward. I’ve been unusually friendly this week, just because its nice to talk to people that don’t smell like puke or dirty diapers. I’m sure that’ll wear off soon.
Free Food: Usually once a week some department has some meeting or customer visit that provides an excuse to order in catering. I’ve become an expert at surreptitiously snagging some food as I stroll by. And during the summer there’s usually some kind of staff BBQ a couple times a month. Free food is the best kind.
Tomorrow’s my last day at the office, likely for the rest of the year. Over all, I still think I prefer my home office set-up — I have a better desk, a better chair, a better network, and a much better place to sit during conference calls. But its been good to be back in the cube farm for awhile. Plus the TV show starts back up again soon, so I’ll get my fix of office life from a much more entertaining source.

Things I hate about working in an office…

Its odd how easily I slipped back into the office routine. After 3 months of working from home, there were a couple hours where people dropped by to say hello, and then it was like I never left. Of course, I know the difference, so here are a few things that I don’t miss, now that I work from home…
Commuting: bumper to bumper traffic on the highway along-side hundreds of other bleary-eyed office workers.
Office banter, first-hand: making lame small talk about the weather/sports with people you don’t even work with, but share a cube-farm with, so feel obligated to talk to.
Office banter, second-hand: listening to the awkward small-talk made by people who don’t really know each other, but feel obligated to talk to.
The loud guy: I’ve never been in an office that didn’t have at least one. They’re the people who, for some reason, believe you need to shout into a telephone, that swearing loudly so the whole office can hear you is OK, that laughing uproariously at anything and everything is normal, that we all want to hear them snort/clear their throat/hork/burp…
The retro guy: Tight jeans, 80s hair, half-opened shirt with chest-hair billowing out, giant tinted glasses, cigarette stained teeth/breath because he still thinks smoking is cool, jokes/catch-phrases that are ten years old, may or may not drive a Camero.
The fashion victim guy: Gold chain, bluetooth headset, designer jeans, expensive shoes, name-dropping, awkwardly obvious cultural references, trying desperately to look 10 years younger than he really is, probably has a RAZR. Knows something about everything, but is knowledgeable about nothing.
(Ok, those last two don’t actually exist as a single individual, but are an amalgam of stereotypes I’ve collected having worked in various offices over the past 10 years)
The stand-up meetings: when a members of a team meet on their way to the coffee-machine and somehow fall into a heated debate about the design or implementation of their latest project… and they happen to be standing right outside your cube.
Superfluous meetings: maybe we should get Bob’s opinion on this… and Joe, Frank, Harry, and Bill should probably be here too… I’m going to conference in Edmonton…
The interruptions: that no matter how busy you look, or if you’re clearly rocking out to music on your head phones while writing your most righteous code ever, people still believe they have an open invitation to stroll in and start-up a conversation — naturally assuming you can/want to hear them.
Fire drills: AKA the “business continuity plan”
Lunch hours: the only thing more depressing about working in a cubicle, is eating a sad little sandwhich, while sitting alone in a cubicle…
Cubicles: enough said.
Stay tuned tomorrow for things I actually like about working in an office :-p