With two kids, a dog and lots of hardwood floors, I used to spend an hour or so every couple of days running a vacuum to keep on top of the dust, dog hair and various other fluff that would hide on our floors, but show up on our socks.  It was tiring and annoying.

Ahead of Black Friday, I scored a wicked deal on the entry level iRobot Roomba robotic vacuum (model 614).  It’s the entry model that doesn’t have the ability to schedule or operate it with your phone, which is fine for me.  I just hit start whenever we leave the house.

It does an awesome job as a vacuum (even getting stuff our upright missed), but its real virtue lies in the fact that I don’t have to do much for our floors to get clean.  I press a button and I empty the little bin.  Boom.  It can go on any of our floors, cleans any area rugs and is great at getting unstuck from under furniture.

Before buying, I’d done a fair amount of research, and the two biggest cons had me worried; it’s loud and the collection bin is small, so you have to empty it often.  It’s actually quieter than most uprights, which is insane for how well it cleans, and since it’s small enough to pass under furniture and get into tight corners, it makes sense the collection bin is small.  I just empty it and start the robot away again.

For a few hundred bucks, this is an awesome timesaver and our house is far cleaner than it was before.  I wouldn’t bother paying for scheduling or smartphone connectivity as the only feature I would pay more for is if it could empty its collection bin itself and keep cleaning.

Do yourself a favour and pick one up.

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The first time I heard about “smart home automation”, I was reading a Wired magazine article in university, so sometime around 2000.  I was blown away at the potential, but it sounded like the future our parents envisioned where we’d be living in pods on the moon.  Well, it’s here and it looks like it’s here to stay.

If, like me, you aren’t sure where to start with smartening up your home, I’ve got great news; you can start small and relatively cheap.

While our electrician was wiring our house, I picked up a WEMO Light Switch for our front porch lights, and I love it.  I can turn it off and on like a normal switch, I can operate it from an app on my phone from anywhere, and I can set it to a schedule.  Mine is set to come on at sunset and turn off after midnight, then come on again at 6am and turn off at sunrise.  I rarely have to touch it or think about it.  It just works.

Since the switch requires some wiring, a better place to start would be a WEMO Wi-Fi Smart Plug.  It does all the same stuff as the switch, has a switch right on the fixture, and it only takes up one plug in an outlet.  You can differentiate between plugs and switches in the app (by names you can pick) and you can plug in just about anything.  I picked one up to run our Christmas tree lights on a schedule much like the porch lights.

My next step in automation (aside from a few more outlet plugs and switches for other lights in the house) will be a virtual assistant; mostly likely Google’s Alexa.  Then I can tell her to turn on the Christmas tree, play “Mele Kalikimaka” by Bing Crosby and brew me a tea, Earl Grey, hot.   The future is here, so engage.

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Now that the house is “done” (we still need to replace our driveway and sort out landscaping, but those will wait for spring), I find myself still fighting the “under construction” mindset that I was in for well over a year.  As I walk around the house picking up after the boys, I catch myself thinking of little things I could build to make our lives a bit easier.

A small project I’ll be starting soon is a small drying/drain rack to inset in our laundry tub for drying small articles of clothing, small containers that were used for painting or to dry shoes or boots that have just been cleaned.  Once I land on a nice design that works, I plan to upscale it a bit and focus on nicer finishing to make one for our soaker tub in our ensuite (for drying bathing suits and the like).

It’s a pretty simple design, consisting of a small box frame with a ladder of pieces of doweling inset in the box.  The frame is mounted to the underside of two longer pieces of wood that will sit on the rim of the sink, so that the draining things are actually below the rim (so no runoff comes off the wood onto the counter).  So let’s see how this goes.

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Since we packed up for our move back into our new house, our “living room stereo” has been squirreled away in a box collecting dust. Our CD collection was happily tucked away more than year earlier, and we haven’t missed them at all. That’s because, like nearly everyone else, we’ve discovered the wonders of non-solid state media.
Between my podcasts and Spotify, all I need is my phone or laptop and a good BlueTooth speaker or an AUX line into something that can play. More choice, less changing discs and you aren’t limited to the albums you already have in your library.
That being said, there’s still some stuff tucked away among those CDs that I won’t find anywhere else (U2 live bootlegs, weird remix CDs, my homemade mixes), so once we put our living room back together, you can bet there will be a place for all that stuff. In the meantime, I don’t feel like I’m missing much.
The downside to this is that I have hundreds of CDs that might never get listened to again, so why keep them? The answer to that is sad but simple; no one else wants them and tossing them in the garbage would be a huge waste. I’ve already moved them all into a series of CD books, and once I know that I don’t want to keep the jewel cases, I can at least recycle those.
Here’s hoping that CDs don’t have a second coming-of-age like vinyl did and I’m about to cheat myself out of a “retro kickback” payday.

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After a nearly two-year hiatus, I’m back. To be fair, I’ve been busy raising two young boys and less young dog and we tore our house to the ground and built it back up again, so it’s not like I had lots of free time.
Enough winging and making excuses. Here’s what’s new:

  • The boys are now both well on their way to becoming men, which is both awesome and scary.
  • We’ve moved back into the house and it’s everything we dreamed of and more. We have so much space! We still have some exterior work to finish, including landscaping, but hope to have a series of housewarming parties once we have some furniture to fill it out a bit.
  • I’m back on the job hunt, so if you know of any internal communications roles, hit me up!
  • Well, that’s probably enough for now. I already spent too much time cleaning up my old comments (too much spam) and updating all the back-end stuff here, but I’ll be back. Well, it’s likely at least.

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    It’s been a week of milestones in our house.  Chris turned one year old on Sunday, walked “for real” on Monday and started at his new daycare on Tuesday.  Sebby started Junior Kindergarten on Tuesday and is now a real boy (like Pinocchio, or so he says) and Danielle will be heading back to work on Thursday after a year off on maternity leave.

    With the boys at different locations each weekday and Danielle and I both at work, our mornings have gotten infinitely more complicated, but we should find that rhythm pretty quickly; at least in time for the morning sunlight to start disappearing, which feels like it’s still a long way off here in Toronto.

    While life has gotten busier, it’s great to move to a phase with one boy in school and our infant moving on to being a toddler.  In a few short months, we hope that they’ll be able to better entertain one another (although they’re pretty good already), freeing us up both in the mornings and evenings.

    Next up?  We start planning a fall garage sale to help clear some stuff out of the house before we start packing up to move out in later winter/early spring so our house can be torn down to the foundation.  Exciting times.

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    I’ll post some sample drawings of our revised house plans once we make some final updates, but right now we have one burning question… to dig, or not to dig?

    We’re adding a 15 by 28 foot two story addition on the back of our house.  When we first started this process, it sounded like we would be building on sonotube pilings (no digging required), but have since learned that our new kitchen would be FAR better served by a heated space under the floor, so our drawings now have a 3 foot high crawlspace.

    Since that means digging foundation walls anyway, I’ve been dreaming of that extra 420 square feet of basement, and some internet research leads me to believe that the added cost of digging it out is pretty small (in relation to the total project cost).  I’m convinced that once the house is done, I would kick myself for not digging it out, and doing so when everything is done would be a very large, expensive headache.

    In the end, I think that wasted space is just a waste.

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    After a few years of hibernation, it’s time to start resurrecting this bad boy.  Admittedly, increasing work responsibilities and the introduction of our now 4 and 1 year-old boys has left me with little time to write in here, but we’ve just started on a journey that is worth documenting.

    We are in the final stages of drawings for a full home reno that will see our 1 1/2 story, 960 square foot wartime wood house transformed into a 2,300 square foot modern delight.  We’ll basically be tearing down our current house to the foundation, digging out a 15 foot addition on the back and rebuilding both the main and second floor.  That means finding a place to live short-term (which will no doubt prove for some fun stories in here) and some pretty heavy disruption to our lives.

    Still, it will all be worth it when I stroll out of our big new kitchen, through the sliding doors to our new big back deck.

    With our drawings nearing completion, we’ll be moving on to selecting our contractor and sorting out our permits, but our current plan is to start our demolition work in the spring and be back in the house by fall.

    Stay tuned for photos, stories and hopefully video!

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