Thursday 6 September 2012

Potty Training II: Ups and downs

OK so it has been a while since the last blog post (longest since I started these after Jeremy was born). This covers everything from April up until our recent trip to the USA (which I am hoping to get a blog out about shortly).

The full photo album is available via the following link: April - July 2012

I have found it harder and harder to write a blog post recently. This is part due to having less time due to having 2 kids keeping both of us busy and then being much more tired in the evening. In April I also had a major problem with iPhoto where it would not recognise the library file and it took me several weeks to restore everything. There has also been a restructure at my work in June and I have been very busy ever since. Finally, I had written a full blog post yesterday and for some reason Google/Blogger did not save it (grrrrrr).

Over the Easter long weekend we made a 2nd attempt at potty training Jeremy. This time he was ready and he was mostly trained by the end of the 4 days. However, he did have several lapses in the following months and even though we tried to encourage him to go to the toilet he has shouted back at us "No! Toilet!". He has also been banned from sitting on the couch due to a several accidents.

In late May we changed from using disposable nappies for Timothy to using cloth ones. Originally I thought cloth nappies were the terry towelling ones which you had to pin on - this is what was used in the hospital for the first nappy for both boys. The ones which Ruby had found were much more advanced with highly absorbent materials and velcro/snaps to join them together. In the end, the move to using cloth nappies did not add too much extra work and we have significantly reduced the amount of garbage we are putting out each week.

Timothy is developing well and is interacting with us much more. We are now getting more smiles and even giggles out of him - though he takes a while to "warm up" to anyone else (including the grandparents!). He has also started crawling several months back and he is now very quick. He can easily follow us around the house (we have been surprised that he was just behind us a couple of times). Recently he has started climbing on the furniture to try and stand up.

The moment he started climbing I disassembled his cot and moved the base down to its lowest level so he could not climb out. At the same time I took the opportunity to move the cot into Jeremy's room from the guest room. Both boys being in the same room is working ok and there have only been a few occasions when they have kept each other awake - mainly when they both were finding something very funny...

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Garage Wars: A New Hope

When we purchased our house nearly two years ago we knew that the garage and carport both needed replacing. Our house is on a corner block and we have 2 driveways into the property. The detached single garage in the backyard has a driveway onto one street and the carport is attached to the house with a driveway that exits exactly on the corner. Both are in poor repair - the asbestos garage has cracked panels and the door doesn't work well. The carport roof is rusting and falling apart. What we didn't know was it was going to take over 6 months just get council approval to replace these - let alone build anything.

The old garage
Being a good procrastinator I did not start doing actual work on this until several weeks after Timothy was born. It was then I discovered I needed council approval to demolish and construct a garage - I also discovered that council would not give yes or no based on questions over the phone or in person, they really wanted me to submit a development application (DA). Fortunately the shed company we chose would (for an extra fee) provide all the documentation for council.

We decided not just to replace the carport and garage. This project would include a replacement, stencilled, driveway going all the way to the road (the current one is old, cracked and ends at the property boundary not the road) as well as a water tank connected to the laundry and toilets. This was also important as we discovered (after moving in) that the storm water all drained into a pit under the backyard and this was not working well as the drainpipes overflowed in heavy rain. As both our street levels are higher than most of the property this required a pit - it is most likely 50 years old and full of silt which is causing the drainage issues (especially with the wet summer in Sydney in 2011/12).

As the carport is right next to the house we decided to replace that with a single garage first and demolish the asbestos garage later in 2012 - so we could get a large backyard. The new garage was going to be a very wide (at 4.2m) single garage as a double garage else would not fit next to the house. The first DA went into council just before christmas and it was picked up by council in on 3 Jan 2012 (first one they looked at by the DA number). Shortly afterwards council asked to modify the plans. They had two concerns. One was the driveway onto the corner was not in compliance with Australian standards (and therefore dangerous) and the second issue was the drainage plan was not complete.

Plan A - Simple...until council was involved
It is clear we (or the shed company) needed to update the drainage plan - this was relatively easy as we just added the new water tank and the connections to that. The fix for the driveway was harder. The council suggestion to fix this was to turn the garage around and use the other driveway. However, we did not like this as this would have replaced one corner with a bad corner in the backyard - it would have been legal for a turning circle but a real bugger to back out of. It would also have ruined our backyard by taking up about one third with the driveway. I was rather annoyed by this as the driveway was not on the original plan and we were not told of the driveway non-compliance when we purchased the house.

I did speak to the council contact to try and understand their issues and suggest a few options so to hopefully save time. The guy from council was most unhelpful and said he had only just been given the project and he would never commit to any answers. A co-worker suggested turning the garage to go directly out to the street (90 degrees instead of 180 degree turn). This seemed a better option. I called council again as I was concerned removing the tree would be a problem but they said it was generally ok to remove trees but would not commit to an answer about moving the garage 90 degrees. We submitted again to council on 18 Jan.
Plan B - Just move everything 90 degrees
Council did not get back to us until 13 Feb which was only several days before we were due to leave on our three week USA trip. They indicated there was not enough room between the garage and the property boundary for a car to fit (unclear from my phone calls and buried in their council rules). They also did not like the tree to be to removed without a aborist report - something else they did not indicate to me in their phone call. On top of this they asked for us to reply in 2 weeks or we would have to cancel the DA. 

At this point we realised we needed to go away and dream it all up again. After a chat to Mum & Dad (who were visiting just before we left for our trip) we came up with a basic redesign which was to replace the old garage and demolish the carport and old driveway. However, there was no time to do this before we left so I asked for an extension. Council refused saying that we had already had done one change (this was the third thing they had not indicated in their previous communications). So I tried to get things organised in the day before we left. In the taxi on the way to the airport council indicated that the changes we were proposing were "too large" and a new DA was required - though they would refund most of our DA money. At that point I gave up and decided to enjoy our holiday. To say I was pissed off at council was an understatement - luckily our trip to San Francisco and Seattle was a welcome distraction.

The distraction only lasted for a time. After 2 weeks in the USA I started thinking about the garage again and decided to start enquiries with the shed company and get the new plan (Plan C?) underway and to (hopefully!) learn from the lessons of the past 2 months. This new plan involved doing most of the work in one go instead of several stages as originally planned. We would demolish both the garage and carport, replace the garage with a double tandem garage, put the tank where the carport was, remove most of the concrete of the carport slab and the old driveway, extend the side fence to go through to to near the front door and remove the fence on the patio. This plan also meant a lot more money (probably double the first plan's $15K).

Plan C - just make the project bigger
After getting back from the USA I was also able to work out with our plumber that the tank could drain out to the street via a pit and this could also be used for the garage. The new DA was submitted to council on 19 March 2012. Council took until late April to get back to us (they had gone as far as notifying our neighbours of the development which contributed to 2 of the weeks). Their main issue this time was the drainage from the garage to the street and they wanted us to get an engineer to design a system for us. Instead I asked our plumber to have a look and he said a charged line would work ok - and council seemed happy with this. Council then raised a concern with the height of the garage floor above the ground level (it could not be more than 500mm above the natural ground level). So we changed the plans for this and unfortunately this meant that our neighbours would need to be notified again - 2 more weeks gone!
Plan C version 2 - Approved...sort of...
With the re-notification of our neighbours it meant we would mis the deadline for a garage price rise in mid June! Arrrrgh! Eventually in late June 2012 council approved our modified plans. A new hope? I did not get too excited as the DA was approved with conditions - mainly we needed to get a storm water engineer to design a storm water system - without which we could not get a construction certificate.

I thought we were getting closer, however this (as well as our next holiday) will delay construction...

Thursday 5 April 2012

Stinky fridges and wobbly washing machines

After our holiday we came back home nice and relaxed. However, there was an unpleasant surprise waiting for us - the house had a really bad smell when we walked in. Unbeknownst to us the circuit breaker on the power circuit had tripped a few days after we had left for the USA. This meant that fridge was switched off for 2.5 weeks. The fridge part was mainly ok as we had cleaned that out except for a few condiments - even the butter had kept its shape. However, some stewed fruit and a chicken satay in the freezer decided to call the mould mafia, have a party and leave the stinky mess for me to clean up.

The full photo album is available via the following link: March 2012

We had some interesting suggestions on how to clean up the fridge (ground coffee, vanilla) however, in the end we: take out all shelves and wash in hot soapy water, wiped off the mould off inner surfaces, wiped all surfaces with white vinegar and closed both doors and left for a few hours, wiped down again with a bicarb soda / water mix and then left halved lemons and bicarb soda to soak up the remaining smells. Only took 2 weeks! And the fridge is very shiny and clean. Luckily we had a small bar fridge to get by on.

Our garage replacement project took a turn for the worse just before we left as the council reject our 2nd attempt at a DA - 2 days before we left for the US. A lot of work was needed on the 3rd attempt (new quotes ad new designs) which was partly done in the US but a lot had to be done when we got back. The DA was sent to council at the end of march so hopefully it is third time lucky! More detail on this in a dedicated blog post.

I won't even go into my tribulations with Telstra. Gaaaahhh!

Our other problem was that our fisher and paykel washing machine was acting up, er should I say not acting! We'd put in a wash and get to the spin/dry stage and then the machine would just turn off, once or twice with a weird smell too. Normally you could self diagnose the problem with the "code" of lights on the machine display panel, but even those were not turned on. We did get the Fisher and Paykel service man to repair some parts (got a new pump!) but the problem seems to exist once again. The saga continues into April...

There was some good stuff in March too! We did our annual weekend down at Sanctuary Point - Timothy's first visit. Whilst the weather was sunny, it was rather cold so instead of going to the beach, we went to the Fleet Air Arm Museum at HMAS Albatross in nearby Nowra. Jeremy loved it! This museum was just the right size to show our toddler some really cool planes and helicopters used by the Australian navy airships. There was even a fun helicopter flight simulator game which you could fly over Sydney and "through" some buildings. It was a great day to keep the kids entertained.

Last weekend we had originally planned to go to the Zig Zag railway to ride the trains. Jeremy now has a new obsession with Thomas trains thanks to his new favourite book from Lola featuring Thomas and his friends - he wants this read to him most nights since getting back! We were also going to meet up with my parents and make a day of it. Unfortunately both the Steam and Motor trains were out of service. Luckily we had a backup plan and had our picnic at Mt Tomah Botanical gardens. Jeremy loved looking at all the plants with Grandma, as well as finding all the dinosaurs (painted cutouts hidden amongst the gardens for kids to find) and seeing the little lizards on rocks and looking at the koi in the billabong. Timothy rather enjoyed the day too as we carried him front facing in our pikkolo baby carrier.

Timothy no longer stays still. He rolls across the floor to explore and always gets out of his covers in his cot. He is also being more responsive in giving us gurgles, smiles and rasberries. We have now started him on solid food and whilst he isn't taking to it as much as Jeremy, he is doing well. Jeremy did his first poo on the toilet on 28 March and has done several wees since. Potty training II (scheduled for the Easter long weekend) might be more successful than the first attempt...

Monday 2 April 2012

San Francisco and Seattle trip 2012

On 17 Feb 2012 we flew to the USA so Timothy could meet his grandparents and for a quick holiday in San Francisco. This post covers both our holiday and the last couple of weeks in March. It has taken a while to post this blog as we were busy almost as soon as we got back and unlike last time there was no free hotel wifi so to blog on the road.

The full photo album is available via the following link: San Francisco and Seattle trip 2012

Timothy's first flight was on the A380 from Sydney to Los Angeles and for the most part both kids behaved well. Unlike the last trip Jeremy did go to sleep without too much trouble, though he really did enjoy watching his "own" tv.

When we arrived at SFO we took the BART (which Jeremy did enjoy) and walked the short distance to our hotel, the Westin Market Street. We did go out for dinner and worked out that while the weather was ok during the day it was quite cold at night. The kids had a bit of trouble getting to sleep (and it took us a couple of days to get them in sync with US west coast time).

On the second day we purchased a MUNI passport from Hallide Plaza visitor centre (on the lower level - top tip as the queue is shorter than for the one near the cable car terminus).  Since we had cranky kids and didn't want to wait so long for the cable cars, we went to Market street to catch the F-line tram to wharf 39. We enjoyed a relaxed stroll through Pier 39 to see the sea lions and had clam chowder in the bread bowl. Then we took bus to Coit Tower and enjoyed beautiful views of the city. We ended the day with cable car ride back to Powell Street.

On the third day we spent most of the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Jeremy loved the aquarium and the rainforest (ok mainly the frogs). The food place was expensive and the queue too long so a good tip is to bring your own.

Our last full day was spent at the Palace of Fine Arts (where we got some great photos). We also walked over to Crissy Field to get some great views of the Golden Gate Bridge. As Jeremy loved the cable cars so much we took the cable car again back to our hotel. Jeremy liked it so much he fell asleep halfway through the trip!

We were tired and were looking to checking into our next hotel. As the price doubled on the 4th night we only booked the Westin for 3 nights and booked in at the Hotel Milano (which was closer to our Amtrak pickup) for our last night. Hotel Milano was a mistake! They did not have us booked in for that night and had booked us for a night in January instead. The guy on the front desk was most unhelpful so we headed back to the Westin where our luggage was stored. We explained the situation to them and luckily they had a room spare for the night - at a similar price to our other nights. The new room was on the top floor which was cool. In the end we managed to sort out a full refund with Hotel Milano.

Our final day in San Francisco was spent walking around Chinatown where we had great yumcha at Yous Dim Sum on Broadway. At around 8.30pm we started the next leg of the journey up to Seattle. We were bussed to Emeryville where we caught the Coast Starlight train which would take us to Seattle the following night.

As it was after 10pm we were in bed asleep quite quickly and by the time we woke up we were already in Oregon and breakfast was being served. It was cool to sit down and watch Lake Klamath zip by. We spent most of the day in the family cabin except for lunch and Jeremy wanting to wander from one end of the train to the other.

Most of our 2 weeks in Seattle was quiet and relaxing. Both boys had a great time with their grandparents and the relatives we visited. We visited Pike Place market, though Jeremy was more interested in running around the park, and had a great coffee at Caffe D'arte nearby. Jeremy really enjoyed going to the Museum of Flight (we spent half a day there as he kept wanting to look at everything).

We had a good flight home (Jeremy fell asleep soon after takeoff) and grabbed a taxi very quickly upon arrival. Unfortunately, here were a number of surprises and unfinished jobs awaiting our arrival back home that have kept us quite busy.Those are, however, for another blog post...

Wednesday 29 February 2012

The Screaming Children Symphony

I had planned to write this post before we left on our USA trip (there will be a post on the SF part shortly) however things just got busier and busier before we left. This was mainly due to deadlines at work. So now I am writing the post on the iPad on very cold day in Seattle.

The full photo album is available via the following link: Dec 2011 to mid February 2012

and our 2011 comic is available from this link: 2011 Comic.

December was a busy month with something on almost every weekend.
Similar to 2 years prior for Jeremy we travelled into the city and sorted out Timothy's US passport. We also met up with friends who were visiting Sydney on the weekend. Both his US and Australian passports were quickly processed and arrived before Christmas.

The weekend before Christmas us and several friends gathered at a holiday house near Berry on the south coast of NSW. Even with 6 children under 5 the house did live up to its name - Serenity. Jeremy did not enjoy going in the water at the beach nearby as the water was quite cold but he had great fun building a sandcastle with me (a budding engineer perhaps?).

Timothy has been developing well. He has been sleeping through the night since mid November which is great, though he still sleeps in a different room to Jeremy. He started out as a very serious baby but started smiling back recently and on 23rd December gave us his first outburst of laughter. We have now had several occasions where both kids have caused each other to laugh.

This year we drove to Mudgee to spend Christmas with my parents - it had been a while since we had been to Mudgee and a number of years since we had Christmas there. The weather was great and Jeremy had a great time feeding the goats and running about in the yard. Dad even found some frogs for him to look at. This Christmas Jeremy was much better at opening presents and he really wanted to play with his new toys...and Timothy's!
After a few days at home, we drove back via Newcastle to visit a good friend who gave birth to twins just before Christmas.

In late January we returned to Mudgee to take Jeremy to Western Plains Zoo at Dubbo. Jeremy had a great time at the zoo and did not have to be carried too much as he wanted to go and see the next animal. His vocabulary really increased due the visit as he is now able to name more animals.

Jeremy is starting to speak to us with multiple words - we now get "No Daddy!" instead of just "No!". He is expressing himself better too - when asked does he want breakfast he says "Yup - yogo (yogurt) please". However, he is really testing our patience as he keeps on doing things when expressly told not to (such as poking Timothy in the face or touching the computer). I think that this is either for attention or that he is bored - when he is interested in something he gives it 100% of his attention.

The common denominator in the past 2 months has been car trips with screaming children - particularly when I am driving. Timothy will be hungry and yell for a while then Jeremy will start up (usually just for attention)

No news on the garage renovation just yet - that saga is going to get its own dedicated post later on...

Hmmm this was meant to be quick / short post...