Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Happy Birthday to a very special person!

A little over 10 years ago, I met my wife through a mutual friend. Soon friendship blossomed into love and just over three and a half years ago, we were married. The day I proposed to her, I knew that I had asked a very special person to become part of my life. Now that we have a son together, we are not only joined as husband and wife, we are joined as parents of Erich.

Karen is unlike any other person I know. She is my best friend and my soulmate. We confide in each other. She's my life partner, my prayer partner, and my ministry partner. She brings joy into my life. She smiles, and makes me smile. She even laughs when I tell jokes I've told a thousand times. She makes me want to cook gourmet meals for her every night. (She lets me cook gourmet meals for her even when she's starving.)

Today is Karen's birthday and her first birthday as Erich's mother. So here's to another year filled with happiness and adventure with me and Erich!

Happy Birthday, my love. :-)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Adventures with raising a five month old Erich

On our recent trip to the Sunshine Coast, we got to spend some quality time with our now five month old son. Among some of the more interesting quirks he likes to do is to play a sort of abridged version of peek-a-boo. He is just fascinated by our smiles: Every time we turn and smile at him, he lets out the most heart warming giggle. If you turn your face away momentarily and turn it back with a fresh smile, he lets out another giggle - and this can go on for minutes on end.

Erich is also getting very good at grabbing at things - anyTHING including daddy's glasses, dishes, wires, and especially kleenex boxes. We always have a box of kleenex handy nearby in case of spit up, and Erich inevitably gets a hold of the kleenex box at some point and begins to empty the box of kleenex, tearing each tissue to pieces in the process!

Another interesting tidbit is that now, thanks to Grandma "Margaret" (poh-poh to Erich in Chinese), Erich is now able to go to potty. Every morning, Erich gets to sit on the potty and without much thought goes about his business...which, had it been left to the diaper, would have been a much longer and messier affair. I guess babies don't really like to poop their pants anymore than adults do! On our trip, we were unable to bring the potty, so Erich got to try out the adult potty! Check out the picture!

The final story involves getting Erich to sleep. Because he has been teething lately, the poor lad has been suffering from some pretty agonizing pain. This can often be soothed by use of teething gel, teething rings, or simply by trying to distract him by feeding him or getting him to play with his toys rather than focus on the pain. However, none of these techniques (with perhaps the exception of the teething gel) helps get Erich to sleep when the pain keeps him up. So, we've often employed the 'age old technique' of taking him for car rides when we've exhausted all other techniques. More often than not, this works wonders, but then you have the big problem of how to transfer him out of his infant car seat into his bed WITHOUT waking him up. It's a bit like diffusing a live bomb. Enter Jonathan's technique:

  • Gently take his car seat out of the holder and away from the car. Set the car seat down and close the doors gently so as to not wake the baby.
  • Take him into a quiet, darkened room, and slowly undo the restraints; careful not to take the blankets off though. As you undo each restraint, rock the car seat gently.
  • Scoop up the entire bundle - diaper cloths, blankets and baby from the car seat and begin gentle rocking motion immediately following.
  • Carefully remove each layer of blankets as you continue to rock him in your arms until such point you have removed all removable blankets and cloths.
  • Check to see that baby is still sound asleep by doing the limp limb test - move each limb to see if it is limp. If they are, then he is soundly asleep. If not, you need to continue rocking.
  • Place baby in crib, while holding your (warm) hand on his stomach.
  • Take a deep breath and hope that the baby doesn't wake.

Well there you have it, the five month old update on Erich. He is a growing boy, and we're honoured to be his parents.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Vacation on the Sunshine Coast

It's Victoria Day long weekend again, and for the Ng family, this means it is time for our annual vacation! For some well needed R&R, Karen, Erich and I are on the Sunshine Coast for a few days. This year, of course, vacation takes on a new meaning travelling with our five month old: Gone are the days where we can hop from city to city exploring vast geographical areas. Instead, we have taken a much more relaxed approach this year - opting to stay in one place to rest and to do some personal reflection. We booked a one-bedroom suite with kitchenette at a scenic resort called "Sunshine Coast Resort" located in Pender Habour, about a 60 min drive from Gibsons.

Gibsons, BC (Day 1)

After driving to Horseshoe Bay, we boarded the 9:20am ferry to Langdale/Gibsons. Gibsons is the site where the famous Beachcombers television series was filmed. I remember watching the show when I was younger, living in Quebec - so it was quite exciting to see some of the buildings featured on the show in person.

We explored the town and soon discovered the cozy small town atmostphere of Gibsons. Having arrived after the mad tourist rush of Victoria Day long weekend, we experienced a bit of what real town life is like. We walked into this one antique store where we explored the treasures of years past. (We were almost tempted to purchase a tall and narrow antique walnut bookshelf to compliment our hallway!) We walked into another store, an artisan's store, where we found some of the most beautiful and creative creations from local artists such as Zoey Ennenberg. As we were admiring the art, a local boy on his scooter (probably the kid of the Chinese restaurant's owner next door) pops in and just hangs out with the shopkeeper as part of his daily routine. Quite the interesting community dynamic that is often missed in big cities like Vancouver.

We had lunch at Molly's Reach, the former set of the Beachcombers turned restarant/pub. The food there was so yummy that even Erich couldn't resist grabbing some of the fries and salad. We suspect that he might have actually ingested some of it because he had rather interesting poop afterward.

Photo: Jonathan & Erich at Molly's Reach Restaurant

This trip also marks the first time Karen has been able to feed Erich outside of the home for any significant length of time. For instance, while mommy and daddy were busy having lunch, Erich was breastfeeding too right in the restaurant.

Pender Harbour (Day 1 Afternoon)

After lunch, we began the second leg of our journey. We had been warned by one of my coworkers that the highway from Gibsons to Pender Harbour had many curves, but were left wondering what he was talking about all the way to Sechelt. But soon after Sechelt, we were probably hit with 15 or 20 turns all in the matter of a few kilometres! A little car sick and a few dozen turns later, we arrived at our destination.

We checked into our very cozy suite, and set up "shop": crib, swing, bedding, food, and of course - wireless internet. Yes, that is correct - the resort provides wireless access and I managed to get hooked up via an OpenWRT router set to Client mode. More on that in a few days on my technical blog.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Purpose Driven Life

The ministry that I am involved in at Coquitlam is starting a campaign of 40 days through a book called the Purpose Driven Life. You may have heard of it. Basically, for the next forty days, we are going to be reading a chapter a day and learning more about what on earth we are here for!

Now admitedly, most of this isn't new material for me and Karen, but we are in a new stage of life. With the new baby comes new challenges, and fresh perspectives. For instance, the whole notion that Paul talks about in his letters about God knowing us even while we were in mummy's tummy is seen in a completely new light having gone through pregnancy (well Karen anyway), birth and now rearing.

Over the next forty days, I will try to post some of my thoughts as I read through the book.

Breastfeeding bonanza!

Among one of the more interesting articles I read recently in the Province was one about an attempt at a world breastfeeding record. Life is already quite interesting at our house with one breastfeeding baby... let's just say that our couch is now the official breastfeeding station, so the rest of the members of the household have been banished to office chairs, dining chairs and armchairs.

We can only imagine what 3738 breastfeeding babies would do to a stadium.

Read all about it.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Great for the babe AND the baby!

Not long after we had Erich, we discovered that my Acura Integra hatchback might be a "great car for the babe but not so great for the baby". We had tried several times unsuccessfully to fit our infant car seat in the back. About the only way you can get the car seat in is through the trunk, and even when it is in place, the front passenger is left with virtually no leg room. So, we decided we needed to look for a new car.

We had several requirements which helped us to narrow down our selections:

  • Preferably 6+ seats: We wanted to have a car with room to expand; but more importantly for the short term to be able to haul both our family and Kat's (Karen's sister) family in one car. Great for carrying around grandparents too!
  • Easy in, easy out: Having driven cars of several different types (vans, station wagons, hatchbacks and sedans) we liked the sliding doors of the vans, the comfort of the sedan and the ease of getting things in and out of the station wagon. Would there be a vehicle that might combine many of these features?
  • Low on gas consumption: With gasoline prices climbing higher and higher with no end in sight, we needed bigger vehicle that didn't break the bank. So, SUVs and most vans were out of the question.
  • Manual transmission: Practically speaking of course this goes hand in hand with the "low on gas consumption" requirement. But from a usability point of view Karen and I have always been a fan of manual transmission as it gives you that much more control over your driving. Personally I believe manual drivers are better drivers as the constant shifting forces you to focus more on the driving and less on the distractions to driving.
  • Esthetics: Some cars are really practical but look hideous! We particularly loathe the new CUVs which seem like some sort of odd hybrid between a car and an SUV. Proportionate wheel base and body help to balance the overall look.
Given all of these requirements we found several vehicles that might fit: Right-hand drive Japanese domestic imports, European vehicles that aren't available in North America, and the new Mazda5. It seemed that whenever we found a vehicle that might fit one of our needs (6+ passengers) another requirement would not fit (manual transmission & gas consumption). In particular we were rather annoyed to find that they don't make minivans in manual transmission anymore!

After our trip to the UK in 2003, we were thoroughly impressed with the six and seven-seater passenger cars they had over there, but alas the selection in North America is completely different.

One of the options we seriously considered to bridge the "European" gap was to import a 15 year old Japanese domestic vehicle. These vehicles available through specialty dealers such as Japanoid and JCruiser's Auto Sales run great on fuel (mostly diesel based), use manual transmission, and most of the vans are able to accomodate 7-8 passengers comfortably. Moreover, their mileage is usually unbelievably good (less than 100,000 km for a 15 year old car) and the price is reasonable (usually under $10,000). The only drawback is that you are required to drive on the right hand side of the vehicle but more importantly the passenger sliding door would be traffic facing. A traffic facing exit is not exactly optimal for a family with a baby.

All seemed to be lost until we stumbled across the new Mazda5. We knew it (and many of its cousins) had been around in Europe and Asia for several years now which is why we were very excited when Mazda decided to sell it in North America. It boasts dual sliding doors, 6 passenger seating and lots of room to put TWO infant car seats. The Mazda5 uses a 2.3L 4-cylinder engine (great on gas) and comes with manual transmission. With a look similar to the Toyota Matrix, it doesn't look like some sort of odd squashed minivan. Getting one, though, was tougher than we thought. Apparently, Mazda had a big shortage of them and lots of demand, due in part to an early recall in production which created a bit of a back log. Nevertheless, after some pursuit and through the recommendation of a few people, we bought one (on cancellation!) through Morrey Mazda of Vancouver.

We've driven it around now for a few months and below I've listed some things we like and dislike about the vehicle:
  • Easy to drive. I've probably never had an easier transition from my Integra to this car. Apart from being higher off the ground, the car is surprisingly easy to drive considering its perceived size. It also handles with relative ease considering it is not a sports car. The clutch is amazingly forgiving which tends to lead to a very smooth ride even when your left leg is tired. We have driven the car both in city traffic as well as highway and the ride is smooth in both.
  • Clear console. Mazda must have put a lot of thought into the design of the console down to the nitty gritty details. Everything is within easy reach, and both volume and cruise control settings are available right on the steering wheel. I did find however that it took a bit of getting used to these controls as I would often instinctively put my thumb over them thinking it was the horn activation button. (This is how it was on our other two cars!)
  • Sliding doors. If there was one feature my wife and I admire the most, it would be the dual sliding doors. Although not really a van, this feature makes it very easy to get the baby and yourself in and out. The back edge of the sliding doors on the Mazda5 slide past the back of the vehicle when open giving you access to most of the cabin.
  • Hidden storage spaces. There are several of these spaces - two underneath the middle row seats, a center table, under the third row seats, a tray in the trunk and side compartments in the trunk. This is great when you're parked in a public place and you really don't want everybody to see what you've got in your vehicle. Because most of these compartments are not obvious, things stored can be made to look pretty inconspicuous.
  • Lack of big spaces. One drawback is that many of these spaces are relatively small (good for day to day stuff) but bigger contiguous spaces tend to be lacking particularly with all six seats in use. Both the middle and back row seats can be folded down to make a flat surface for this purpose, but then one loses passenger space.
  • Lots of cup holders. We were laughing about this feature. One of the common complaints about the Integra is the lack of decent cup holders. It almost seems ironic that this car is now overflowing with cup holders. On the GT model, there are count'em 8 in total. Yes, that is more than the number of seats! There are two in the front between the passenger and driver seats, one toward the back of the middle console for the middle passengers, another fold out one also at the back of the middle console. There are two on the fold out table, and two for the third row passengers. We'll drink to that!
  • Visible lights. One of my driving pet peeves is when drivers fail to signal. With this car, they can be sure they'll never miss one of my signals! They are high up, bright and definitely visible. The European style repeater lights on the side are a bonus too.
  • Anti-lock brakes and Electronic brake distribution. I've never had a vehicle with anti-lock brakes, and although I was trained on how to use them, have never really felt the need for them. (Both Karen and I are trained in threshold braking.) But this came in handy one rainy day on the way to work when proceeding through a traffic circle, another vehicle approached and decided not to look before speeding through the intersection. I slammed on the brakes, invoked the ABS system and felt the car come to a complete, short but not abrupt stop. I was impressed!
  • Baby latches everywhere. Each seat has safety features designed for infants including latch systems, locking seatbelts and even a weigh scale on the front seat should you be stupid enough to put your infant there; the front seat requires a minimum weight before the passenger airbag is activated. This is so that you don't kill your infant with the airbag.
  • Baby friendly. Apart from the obvious safety features, we have found that the third row seat is great for breastfeeding. The bench style is surprisingly comfortable and the rear row seat windows are relatively small so you are assured privacy.
All in all, we are quite happy with our vehicle. Of course, we won't know what the long term performance is like for another few years, but for our list of requirements, the Mazda5 meets them pretty well. Now if anyone wants to buy a 1996 Acura Integra in very good condition, it's for sale! See our photos of the Integra.