Data Nerd: Mysa Smart Thermostats

With BC Hydro currently offering big rebates for smart thermostats, and winter on the way, I thought it would be a good time to upgrade our retro thermostats.

Mysa (a Canadian company based in Newfoundland) creates the world’s best smart thermostats for electric baseboard heating. I ordered 5 of them online and got to work installing them.

Mysa Installation

I wish I could say it was easy to install them. It almost was. But I ran into problems trying to figure out how to wire the ones on the main floor which had an extra wire connecting to the next unit. It was a lot of trial-and-error connecting wires and then running upstairs to turn back on the breaker. Luckily the units are well constructed and even though I kept hooking up the wrong wires, they never exploded on me.

Old Thermostat

Before: Our old school thermostats.

Mysa Happy

After: Our happy, internet-enabled thermostats.

Now I have a lot more data to nerd over, more control over our heating schedule, and the ability to control the temperature remotely from my phone. I love it.

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I still have some scheduling optimization to do, but the biggest take away so far is that our humidity levels are way too high. I might have to find a smart dehumidifier next…

Harvest Time at the Ponderosa

COVID Roadtrip

September 2020 – time for one last cross-Canada road trip to visit my parents in Manitoba before the winter weather hits, COVID cases climb, and my mom’s health degrades.

Driver Switch

Astrid was a great road trip trooper again. We condensed the trip into 3 days this time and stayed in hotels along the way. As long as they had pools with waterslides she was happy.

Waterslide

There was a lot of work to do at the Ponderosa – emptying the septic tank and refilling the cisterns; hooking up a new backup generator to the solar system; and all those vegetables.

Squash Picking

We harvested squash, beans, tomatoes, corn, and grapes from the garden.

Harvest

It was hard, physical labour and most of it had to be done before the frost hit. But it was also rewarding work. And it turns out that shelling beans is a perfect activity to keep my hands occupied while I listen to board meetings.

Canning

The ripe tomatoes were canned into tomato sauce.

Grapes

The grapes were turned into juice (they were amazingly sweet and tasty but with a lot of seeds).

Hauling Wood

Kerry and Mark came out one weekend and they hauled dead trees out of the bush and chopped them up for winter firewood.

Laying in Bed

Getting everything ready for the winter was hard work but it was the easy part of the trip. The difficult part was having all the heavy conversations. I definitely avoided them for the first week we were there. It was easier to work all day and then watch Lucifer at night.

But we did talk. I talked to my dad about his efforts to do everything possible to give mom a fighting chance. About being prepared for what comes next. About selling the Ponderosa. About how unfair all of this is. About how lucky we were for all the great times we had together. And about spending as much quality time together as possible. So many hard conversations crammed into a short visit.

Flowery Goodbye

I tried to talk with my mom too. It was hard. Not just emotionally but because she wasn’t present or interested in talking most of the time. She had good days and bad days while we were visiting. On good days, she ate breakfast and dinner with us downstairs and maybe went for a walk. On bad days she didn’t leave her room and barely ate. Even on the good days she spent at least 20 hours in bed and her short-term memory was foggy (she rarely remembered what day it was). We had a few good lucid conversations about everything from travelling, karma, health choices, going vegan, and being an environmentalist in the 80s.

Cuddles

Astrid knows that Baba is sick and has cancer. She has a vague understanding that she might die, although I’m not she fully grasps what that means. She did ask at one point if she would get a new Baba if that happens, which made me chuckle and cry. I think having Astrid around was good for Baba. The rest of us were focused on her health and kept nagging her to eat or take her medicine. Astrid just wanted to cuddle and spend time with her.

Goodbye Ponderosa, Goodbye Mom

It was hard to say goodbye but I’m really glad we visited. I love spending time with my parents and it was a beautiful time of year to be at the Ponderosa. We got a lot done and had some really great conversations. No matter what happens next, we’ll always have two more weeks of lovely memories together.

Ponderosa

More pictures from our trip.

More Summer 2020 Photos

Alicorn

As previously mentioned, summer 2020 was pretty good all things considered. We managed to sneak in several more trips to the pool, Astrid played in the courtyard with her neighbours, and we had a weekend getaway to Parksville.

Jelly Fish

We spotted a jellyfish we’ll hanging out at New Brighton Park in Vancouver. I’ve never seen one in the city before.

Water Gun Fight

Astrid and the neighbours took full advantage of our building’s courtyard. It’s nice having summer fun within a few feet of our front door.

Sand Dollars Seaweed Taller Than Her

But it was also nice to get away for a weekend. We had no problem taking the ferry over to the island (everyone was wearing masks) and stayed at a great resort. It was a short trip, but we went mini golfing, collected shells and sand dollars on the beach, and splashed in the pool.

Ice Cream on Granville Island

Astrid Update

Astrid growing and talking a lot. Her new favourite word is “awkward” and she occasionally uses it correctly. She likes to make up songs. She’s obsessed with Frozen and Princess Elsa. All pretty standard stuff for a 4 year old. But the big news is she’s stopped sucking her thumb (at least during the day). We’ve been trying to get her to stop for years and have tried everything from bitter nail polish to a Nippit arm brace. But in late August she decided she was ready to give it a go, for the right price. She loves to “make a deal”.

So we used a reward chart and ramped up the difficulty each week. At first she just had to go a few hours and try hard. Then it was all day without the thumb. Then it included naps. So far, she’s received swimming goggles, nail polish, a Frozen colouring book, and a headband for rewards. There’s an Elsa dress waiting for her once she gives up the thumb at bedtime, but that’s been a lot harder to accomplish. I don’t think she’s fallen asleep without her thumb since she was 6 months old, so there’s a lot of unlearning to do there.

Goggles

More pictures from August and September, and more pictures from Parksville.

Playing with the baby

Goodbye summer 2020.

Summer 2020 – not all bad news

Kiddy Pool

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.

Picnic in the Park

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.

Bike Rider

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.

Measuring Woodworking Helper

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.

Storytime

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.

Drumming

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.

Daddy Day

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.

New Brighton Pool

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.

Kiddy Pool

We also bought an inflatable pool for our balcony. It’s tiny but Astrid still loves splashing around in it.

Farmers Market Bounty

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.

Trout Lake

I hope everyone is finding ways to stay cool and safe this summer.

More pictures from June and July.

4 Nights Camping in the Okanagan

Okanagan

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.

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.

Happy 4th Birthday Astrid

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.

At the Beach

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.

Learning to Ride a Bike

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).

Fire Roasted Corn

For Astrid, the highlight of the trip was roasting marshmallows on the fire and eating corn on the cob.

Veg Patch Match

She also enjoyed playing her newest board game – Veg Patch Match.

Davison Orchard Farm

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.

Tractor Ride

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.

Camping Injuries

On the way home, we spent a bonus day in Kamloops. Astrid was very excited to see Jacob and Nora again.

Climbers

More pictures of camping and of Kamloops.

Social Isolation at the Ponderosa Part 2

Ponderosa Crew

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.

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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.

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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).

Outdoor Pizza Oven

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.

Baba's Little Helper

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Canoe Ride at the Ponderosa

We had a few beautiful canoe rides on the lake.

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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).

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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.

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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.

More pictures from Part 2 of our time at the Ponderosa (May and June).

COVID-19: Apocalypse Road Trip and Self-Isolation

Ponderosa Sunset

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.

No More Play

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.

Only Child Breakfast

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.

Working From Home

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

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.

Treats at Auntie Sheila's

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.

Cellar Supplies

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.

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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.

COVID-19 Social Isolation

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.

Roasting Hot Dogs

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.

Walking on Thin Ice Hay Bales Playing on the Stairs Horsey Rides Climbing a Tree Corona Cut Doing Dishes Feeding Horses Sandbox

More photos of our COVID-19 adventures at the Ponderosa.

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

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