Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tough Day

I had one of those days yesterday where I felt off right away and it continued and escalated throughout the day. I ended my work day fuming and it seemed like nothing was clipping along smoothly and was just getting in my way deliberately.

Of course my rational mind is saying that no, it isn't all about me, it is just one of those days where I am not totally in control of all the moving parts and I just don't like that feeling so I instinctively want to quit and get on a plane and go away somewhere to decompress.

I am happy to say I don't get too many days like yesterday anymore. A large part due to prioritizing our finances thus decreasing our need to rely on every single penny of our income to live. I also find forcing myself to focus and taking a step towards a goal grounds me during an emotional time -- so I got rid of another pile of papers.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Check & Cross Check

Those of you who are customers of President's Choice Financial and file your income taxes with Ufile, PC is offering a discounted rate for UFile. Check out the link once you log online.

In other news, D bought a laptop yesterday as his side work cannot be done on his new work laptop. It is the first laptop he has actually owned whereas I've owned 3. On the other hand, he's owned 3 cars and I'm still working on my first.

I'm dangerously close to booking another solo trip. Currently doing the math on it and have spend a lot of time staring at our household spreadsheet to see if I've really got the month of April (where I'm covering most of the cash flow) figured out accurately before I pull the trigger.

How will I be paying for this? The same place D got his money for his laptop. My March income is going to generate enough extra monies to take care of most of the computer and about 1/2 of the plane ticket. The rest will come from our dream accounts.

I just want to be really sure first as I've overlooked things before. Going to give it another day or so before deciding.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Fun Times

I cannot help it. I'm drawn to positive people who are proactive in their lives and also philosophically speaking. People who are cynical, defensive and look like they are ready to growl turn me off. There is too much negativity and tragedy around us anyways, why would I want to spend the rest of my time swimming in that?

I met the boyfriend of someone I work with this weekend and he just does nothing for me. In fact he repels me. Witnessing their public interaction was an eye opener because I just don't get the picky banter that goes on between them. They seem to be enjoying it so that's all that matters, I suppose. I couldn't live with it myself. Nothing about them says warm, in love or kind. To each his own.

Other than the above strange encounter, this weekend has been a bit of a celebratory one for us as we happened to have 2 groups of friends we were hosting and seeing already scheduled. Add to it D's recent job loss and gain, it was doubly cheerful. I drank way too much over the weekend (2 glasses of wine , 2 dessert coffees and quick tastes of some liqueur) so it was back on the exercise bike this morning.

One couple started something the last time we were at their place for a dinner party. They introduced a couple of liqueurs (a crazy Russian prune thing and Aquavit) no one had heard of before and it started a trend whereby we would bring back something different from our trips so we could all taste it next time we got together.

So as we were hosting, I got to unveil my finds from Iceland. The national drink is Brennivin, something you tend to drink after eating some rancid shark meat. The other was a Red Opal Vodka Shot which was horrific and did not taste like liquorice like I thought. I won't give too much more away just in case you are interested in trying... We tried to get the tastes out of our mouths with a quick drink of Lemoncello (didn't work) and Grey Goose which did work.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Oh Well

It looks like I'm going to have to send my laptop back to HP for some testing. It is making a strange whirring noise but otherwise is working. D is pretty sure it is the hard drive and we even re-set it and it didn't make a difference. Ditto the memory card.

So the next step is to get sent a box and ship it off and hopefully in 10 days, get it back again with no issues.

Way back with my first laptop (a Compaq), I had to send it back for shorting out and they ended up replacing the motherboard under warranty. My other HP who is retiring out west at the condo has never been sent back and is still running fine (albeit a bit slow and heavy) after 7 yrs.

I have confidence they will figure out what is going on and fix it.

We are heading on a mini road trip over Easter and I want my laptop with me so I will not likely send it until after.

Today was D's last day of work and he new job starts on Monday. He is super excited about it as it will be more challenging. What we are hoping is that we will be able to ditch the monthly parking pass as he will be working remote most of the time. That will save us about $70/month. Hopefully his new boss will not have changed his mind about that.

Friday, March 26, 2010


For those who wanted some details about how easy it was to visit Iceland, here is what I have to say about that.

Keflavik airport is new. They subscribe to the whole "personal reponsibility" code as well -- which means it is a "silent" airport. They feel all the public announcements are noisy and distracting and they believe you can actually relax at an airport. I like it.

The shopping and food areas are nicely laid out, gives you an upscale feel. The public areas are not where the gates are (kind of like Heathrow but much nicer, quiet and less chaotic) and are surrounded by wine bars, cafe tables, modern comfortable chairs and coffee tables.

Screens tell you where your gates are and how long the walk will be to get there. It is up to you to keep up with the status of your flight.

They have a branch of Landsbanki at the arrivals and departures area and that is where I would recommend getting your currency exchanged. They don't charge a fee and it is easy. They will take any monies, including change back at the end of your trip.

It is also useful to map out where their branches are around the city and country, just in case. Ditto with your country's consulate. And it goes without saying, a few copies of your passport placed in different luggage/bags is a good thing to do.

When you make it to your gate on departure, you are actually sitting outside of it. When they check you in, you are checked into another room where you wait to be allowed up an escalater to the departure ramp. Again, it is up to you to pick up the required entry forms back to the US etc. which are sitting at the counter.

Upon arrival, something new for me, is the security check before the passport/police check. I do not remember having to go through that before. After all, I've been screened already twice and have never left the secured area of an airport. So that was why we all waited in line at the bottom of an escalator...they were backed up already.

This time it was more than taking out your bag of liquids and laptop. They wanted all cords and electronics out, after you take off the standard shoes, belt, watch etc. This created chaos because I (and many others) weren't expecting it so it took a long time and each person needed 4 of those plastic trays each.

I asked the agent just in case if he really did mean all electronics and he assured me he did. So I said I was going to have to empty my laptop bag because everything in there was electronic. Out came my laptop, cell phone, chargers, plug adapters, noise cancelling headphones, ipod, camera and about 5 cords. It was one big mess.

Meanwhile he had moved my knapsack into the x-ray before I got my liquids out which automatically signed me up for a hand search through my bag. What do you say when they say you were supposed to take this out separate? Yes, I know all about this but I didn't have a chance to....I don't think she knew we were rushed and was wondering why she was searching so many pieces of luggage that morning or why this plane load of people were so ignorant...the fellow behind me was next.

Getting to Reykjavik is easy. You take their Flybus which is coordinated with every departing and arriving international flight -- pretty smart! With the additional screening, I missed what was to be my bus which left 40 min after my flight arrival. By the time I got to the bus after getting currency exchanged, I was on the next bus -- no big deal.

Buy your ticket from the automated machine with a credit card. It is much faster than the line up with the agent who is more interested in selling tours.

I was expecting to go through a number of those full body scanners on this trip but didn't see any. I'm not complaining and like most people I know, I don't care what scanner I need to go through as long as I get to my flight on time.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


D got a call yesterday with another job offer. How lucky is he? Very, and we know it. He didn't burn any bridges because you just never know in this day and age.

As a general observation, it seems like lots of people around us are either trying for or expecting their first child. Some are more financially prepared for the event than others.

The ones that worry me come with stories like -- We can barely make ends meet but we wanted to have our first baby at this stage of our lives... or ... We cannot afford to live without both incomes... or ... I don't care that we have loads of debt and our careers aren't established yet, we still want to sign up for in vitro...

I understand the whole concept of the biological clock and the emotions associated with that can be overwhelming and consuming. I also believe that a solid couple relationship emotionally and financially can be the difference between a stable childhood upbringing and a stressful one. I wish all of them the best.

Lots on the news lately about the impending Bank of Canada rate increase this summer. What will it mean for us? With 2 variable rate mortgages, our payment amounts will increase as the rate increases. We will need to maintain the higher payments in order to stay on course with our existing amortization.

The goal stays the same. We do not want to renew our mortgage when our 5 year terms come to an end in 2 1/2 & 3 yrs. In order to achieve that, we are doing our best to max out the prepayment amounts allowed by the bank each year. If we are successful, then we will have paid for 2 places in 5 years -- A worthy goal.

Fun Times

For the last month or so I've started the process of clearing out my office. It has been cathartic and highly symbolic of my intent to be done with my career soon. The first pile of files were hard to let go of but today, I got rid of 1 1/2 bankers boxes worth of papers. I have plans for my books too.

In an ideal work world, I would be able to take a year's sabbatical before deciding whether I leave for good. In that way, I envy teachers who in this country can have 20% of their income held back for 5 years and then take a year off with the proceeds of their withholding and have job security a year later.

No such deal with my business nor is it entirely possible to find a replacement of me either. I kinda have to leave and hope for the best should I wish to return. I would prefer to leave knowing I do not have to come back at all. The 2 day work week is a compromise I've made with myself in lieu of a year off. Since I have caught a major travel bug, time off is really enticing right now.

As great as pictures are as a reminder of a place, I tend to remember the people I meet more because I feel I can always go back to a place but I may never see the same people again. If it weren't for D getting one of the first 3.1 MP digital camera on the market as a gift almost 7 years ago, I wouldn't have any pictures to show. My camera is a manual one and the outfit is so large I no longer wish to drag it around with me.

One advantage of travelling solo is I find I meet more people than if D and I were together. People tend to want to include singles. Also, people assume you want them to take pictures of you. I'm not a big fan of having my picture taken and it usually surprises people when I politely refuse their offer. (I already know what I look like and I'm here to see a place) The only picture with me in it was when I was horseback riding. One person joked with me and said that no one would believe I actually went to Iceland if I didn't show up in the pictures. They would think I just sent my camera on a trip!

Some fun people memories included this young guy on my first outing in Iceland whose foot got stuck in a mud pot. I couldn't help but burst out laughing at his expression when he realized his foot didn't want to follow him. There was no danger and luckily, he thought it was pretty hilarious too. And there was this other fellow who I hiked behind the waterfall with. What a great spirit he has! Turns out we went to the same university though separated by a few decades -- small world. Finally, another man who kept trying to get me to try some dried stinky fish as a snack. They have rows and rows of it for sale at convenience stores. No thanks!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mish Mash

A health look back on 2009 revealed no lost of work due to sick days. That's good considering I work around lots of people in tight surroundings. D and I cooked even more in '09 than '08 and this year, even more.

The list of things we buy pre-made is in the single digits. I really want to get even stronger this year. It is so easy to lose conditioning that strengthening has to be a weekly event just to maintain.

On a different note, we are taking a little chance this year by getting our snow tires off our vehicles this and next week. I only drove my car 4 times this winter and I am thinking I may not even bother putting them on next winter -- which will probably mean a killer winter... : )

To answer a question from "I'd rather be sailing" back a couple of weeks ago -- regarding how I handle travel related costs and if I travel scaled back too since D and I tend not to indulge in what most people consider "everyday" stuff such as monthly cell phone plans, cable etc.

The short answer is not really but everyone's sliding scale is different. My budget for a solo European/overseas trip a week to 10 days is $3000 and under. Some may think the amount is peanuts while others may say they can go away for over a month with that money. Depending on the destination, how the money gets distributed changes.

For example, if I was going to Nice, I would be eating most of it away. In Iceland, most of it went to my accommodations and excursions with very basic eating. In Paris I'd spend on food, museums and galleries in equal increments. You get the idea -- the total amount stays the same.

To round out how we live, we may not pay for cable but we have a 96" projector to watch movies we take out from the library or rent. D did pay for cable while we were out west last year with his bonus money.

As for cell phones, we have a pay as you go and it is only used for emergencies so that costs us $15 every 4 months. Our world phone cost us $150 which came with 100 minutes which never expires.

Ever since we started renting apartments, we have actually saved money while travelling. It is amazing how being able to make your own breakfast can save. Plus I've come to really like not hearing housekeeping staff moving at 8:30am.

Most of the apartments we've rented have been in places we would have a hard time affording to buy so it is treat to stay in such nice and much larger accommodations vs a hotel.

Back in my hotel days, my preference leaned to the Fairmont group. They tended to be in great locations with buildings that frequently have a lot of character. It appeals to my architectural side. But, at easily $200+ a night, it eats up my budget quickly.

When I am wanting a quick long weekend getaway and am craving room service, that is where I like to turn. I haven't gone on one of these for years -- which means I haven't been as burnt out as I used to be -- a great thing!

To fund our vacations, we do have a modest travel account. It is not nearly enough. We count on my extra income, tax refunds, bonuses, dream account and allowance. Even in a lean year, I can still count on one solo trip a year.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Humans Behaving Poorly

In light of my recent trip to and finding out about the emergency in Iceland, I found my tolerance of "humans behaving badly" particularly difficult and missing. Unfortunately, we were privy to 3 examples of it this weekend.

First one: A complaint from a "friend" (no longer the case) came via email about a visit 6 months ago about how my being tired after working took away from their visit and had they known just how tired I was going to be, they would have changed their plans. Excuse me? They invited themselves and knew both D and I were working that week....had my car to drive around in and all the food they could eat and their own room and bathroom and got to spend the weekend at our cottage. Ungrateful? I think so. Surprised that they cannot find a mate? Not anymore. I've been getting a very skewed side of the story all these years.

Second one: A complainer who sits around expecting everybody else to cater to their needs but does not reciprocate. They literally will not do their own grocery shopping even though they are able and then moves on to complain about how they have no food and how terrible their world is. This person has been a widow for 50 years and still does not drive. They love talking to you but will only do so when you call them long distance and will keep you on the phone for hours. Money isn't an issue but expects you to pay for lunch when you drive over 1 hr each way to visit. I no longer feel sorry for them.

Third one: Family members who are disrespectful to your home and are here to eat and drink you out of house and home. A tough one. They bring half dead flowers and wine you cannot drink because it is so bad. They drop food all over themselves and the floor. They start eating before everyone has made it to the table. They drink your alcohol non stop and forget to bring their own. They watch loud movies into the wee hours of the morning when they know people are trying to sleep. And they don't bring gifts when the visit was supposed to be for the exchange of gifts. But they are angry because their son got married in Mexico and no one has bothered to send a card and gift when on one was invited. (But people ought to out of respect for them...) And they leave things behind that they expect you to courier to them asap.

Well that's our 3. We are going to make sure not to fall into these traps again. Life is just too short to spend it on such ungrateful emotional and financially time wasters.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Iceland Review Pt 3 -- Holy Smokes!

(The timing of this post and this link Lizzie sent is scary and hits close to home... I had no idea when I wrote this post -- some of the pictures I posted were from there...)

The first thing my guide said to us was that there were 4 volcano alerts today and they can go off at anytime. The lot of us thought he was joking -- he wasn't. He went on to tell us that Iceland gets on average 3000 earthquakes a month.

One passenger asked if the government had a rescue plan in place for everyone -- he laughed. He said that people have 15 minutes to evacuate when a volcano or earthquake occurs and that families have an evacuation plan in place and practice it.

No one counts on someone coming for them right away. People are completely responsible for their own safety. Icelanders can come across hard as nails. Most if not all of the interior roads in Iceland over the winter are not passable and those who venture or live in such terrain have vehicles that can cross rivers without stalling.

These "Super Jeeps" can cost upwards of $200000 - $300000 and are fitted with 50 plus inch tires and sophisticated GPS systems. Iceland is one of the last countries where people believe in taking full responsibility for their actions. If you are going outside of the cities, it is your responsibility to be able to handle yourself appropriately.

You cannot blame others or the government for what happens to you. They believe as soon as a government steps in and enacts rules in the effort to "keep people safe", they are in fact making people into victims instead of empowering them.

We were told that if one wanted to die, it is very easy to do it there. You are not going to find warning signs, directions nor solid barriers. Should you fall in the mid Atlantic ridge, for example, people would say that was too bad. The waters blowing out of geysers are over 250 degrees Celsius and if you stand in the wrong side of it, you'll get second degree burns.

The reason so many Icelanders are upset about the collapse of their economy is because the ones who have leveraged the country and fled have acted in a very non Icelandic way. They ought to own up to it, take responsibility and face their people.

And those who bought into the need to live beyond their means? They will pay for their actions for what may be a long time. The owner of my apartment told me that is why they have made the apartment available to renters -- so they can pay for their mortgage.

I heard no whining or complaints about it. They are doing what they need to do and they are confident with hard work, it will all work out.

My thoughts are with the Icelanders today. If there are any group of people who are capable of getting themselves out safely, they are. I'd put my money on them. Thanks for letting me know Lizzie.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Iceland Review Pt 2

One of D's friends when he found out I was going to Iceland exclaimed "Why would she want to do that? Aren't they a 3rd world country now?" It seems like a lot of people (except me) knew about their economical collapse a few years ago.

I had a chance to ask the owner of my apartment what happened? She told me that due to corruption and over confidence in the government, the country's monies were being wasted and businesses (mainly banks) were allowed to loan money to people who really shouldn't be borrowing.

Sounds familiar. So I asked if it was similar to what happened in North America, Europe etc? She said that it is worse. The amounts that have been leveraged is higher per capita. They have been living big.

Home prices are down 50% still and their mortgage rates are now linked to inflation and are in the double digits. Their currency has plummeted. The President has been replaced and most of the known corrupt politicians etc. have left for Norway.

People were buying holiday homes on lines of credit from the European branches of their banks in Euro because it was cheaper than their Krona. People had been spending 170% of what they made. Many housing and condo projects have been left midway and some people who have bought there are living without services.

Icelanders have enjoyed a standard of living that is much higher than some of the largest cities in Europe. They like to spend and buy the best. They also have no issue with debt. They work hard and many will voluntarily continue working until they are in their 70's.

A stroll down their main shopping street showcases fine clothing boutiques, people dressed really well and lots of nice, well maintained cars. They are a people who are highly educated and literate. They publish and buy more books per capita than any other country in the world.

I got a distinct impression, right from the start at the airport, that they may not really welcome visitors and wish to keep their country to themselves. They until recently, have not been interested in joining the European Union.

All the travellers I met exclaimed the same thing -- they had not been able to come to Iceland before because it was so expensive. Without knowing, I managed to plan my trip at a time where things are a few multiples cheaper.

There is a movement back to what Icelanders consider to be the core of who they are -- Total Personal Responsibility. More next post.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Iceland Review Pt 1

Ever since I met D almost 7 years ago now, I've started to have increased trouble with going away on my own. Over 90% of all my travels have been solo until then.

In fact, 3 days after our first date, I was going to the Caribbean. Half a year after that, I had gotten a ticket to the French Open at Roland Garros through their international lottery so I was going to dust off one of my lifelong ambitions.

I remember being in tears at the airport because I didn't want to go. It was as if I was one of those crying kids that didn't want to go to camp as the parents were dropping them off. Once I got through security, I was fine. I guess I just wanted to share the experience with him.

Well, I didn't cry on the day of Iceland trip but I grumbled about being too tired to go and wanting to stay home and was questioning what got into me back in January when I booked the trip.

Meanwhile D is just laughing and saying he goes through this every year with me while I denied it. He knows and I know that there is something in me that craves the solo exploration of new places. D doesn't have this and is not interested in cultivating it but I do. Where I get it from? Who knows? None of my family travels or moves for pleasure, just for work.

By far, this trip had the most moving parts (I'm sure when I make it to India or Africa, the scale will probably expand even more). I had 3 types of currency (Cdn, US, Euro) in order to navigate and eat my way through airports, 4 by the time I reached Iceland as I had to exchange Euro for Icelandic Krona at the airport. Plus there is the whole language thing...

They just had some snow when I arrived so I didn't see what the lava fields really looked like right away. What I didn't know was that in the south, they were evacuating people out of their homes because of avalanche warnings.

By the time I transferred to the bus station and started my walk to the apartment, I was getting really weary and a bit disoriented and forgot how to use my world phone. I forgot that I didn't have to use the area code and the + sign when dialing because it links into the local network of whichever country I'm in as if it was a local phone.

So after 3 attempts and hearing a bunch of Icelandic in my ear, I gave up and decided to start walking. I was supposed to call the owner of the apartment first. Luckily, I walked by a pay phone so I tried to used it without knowing how much a call cost.

I put in change I had and the phone wasn't working right because I could hear him but not the other way around. Tried the other phone and was successful. They really ought to label their phones with the cost!

I started walking and couldn't find that pathway I was supposed to take. He recommending that I not walk on the main roads as it was not as safe because it is semi highway but I couldn't find the path due to the snow whereas the roads and sidewalks were clear.

I later found out that there are pipes under the streets and major sidewalks which carry the gray waste water out of buildings and houses and serves to melt the snow and makes snowplows unnecessary. Private homes have this technology for their driveways too -- very cool. So I made my way on the main roads and couldn't find the link to the side street I wanted.

Turns out it is common there just to walk through things to get to the street you want and make your own path. It was Sunday morning in Reykjavik and people there party seriously everything weekend til 5am so the streets were dead. Eventually I made it and my diversion cost me 15 min or so.

My apartment was located in a fairly affluent area of Reykjavik. The cars in the driveways were Audi, BMW's and where I was staying, Porsches. My original plan was to stay here until I found this apartment. Where I was ended up costing more than the hotel but the flexibility and privacy I gained made it more than worth it.

Plus I get a kick out of staying in a place that costs more than all the real estate we own added up. Even with the 50% drop in the real estate market for Iceland, the houses in that subdivision would still be listed in the 700000 euro mark. Out of my league.

When my apartment orientation was over, I fired up my computer to send D a quick email before I crashed and found out that he had sent me a frantic email wondering where I was and should he be going to Boston?

It turns out that he had gotten a few calls from Icelandair wondering where I was and asking him if he knew because they couldn't find me(?) and if I didn't show up in 5 minutes, I was going to miss the flight. D told the fellow that I've been at the Boston airport all day and I had just told him I was heading to my gate. It was impossible I wasn't there.

I had no idea this was going on. Where was I? Sitting in my seat drinking water, thinking just how fortunate I was to have been upgraded to business class! Apparently, what had happened was that they changed planes after I had checked in and printed my boarding pass the day before so my seat number had changed though no on told me.

My pass triggered an error when they scanned it but they overrode it at the gate and let me on the flight. My new seat was one row behind in economy. Once the fellow announced my name on the plane and found me and checked that my boarding pass did say the seat I was in, they closed the flight and I got to enjoy my upgrade.

One thing I didn't know was that Icelandair will not serve you a meal if you are in economy. That's a first for me as all other transatlantic flights I've been on do. I got a meal this time but next time, I'll know to eat before boarding as I am not the biggest fan of airplane food.

I'm still shocked that they would go to such lengths to make sure I was on the flight. I cannot see any North American airline bothering to do that.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


The details of D's new job are slowly trickling in. I know he is impatient for the "sign up paper work phase" to be over. There are background and criminal checks and 20 pages worth of contract materials to read etc. etc. But he tells me it is finally wrapping up.

We found out he will not get his first pay cheque until the end of April because of the way the pay cycles work. It's a bit strange as he will get paid on a Monday. Most companies pay on Thursdays or Fridays. At least the cycle falls in line with our mortgage. That was my biggest concern.

Now we just have to figure out cash flow for next month's time. We are anticipating he will be getting his final pay and severance on his last day of work but am not sure. Some emails to HR ought to clear that up. If not, we have enough cash floating around I can maneuver to cover should need be.

This just re-emphasizes to me the importance of liquidity. That is by far the biggest lesson I learned since the economy headed down. I had no real cash stores to speak of. I took for granted that monies in my non registered account (which are invested in stocks) would always make me money and why would anyone bother with simple savings? Fortunately I know better now.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Going Home

The first order of business I will do when I get back into the regular swing of things is to change back the frequency of our mortgage payments to bi-weekly. I had requested a change to bi-monthly to match my pay just in case D was unable to find work.

I've learned a lot of philosophical ideas from the Icelanders since I've been here. Also, I had no appreciation of what has happened to them financially as a nation either until I arrived, talk to people and read some periodicals. Once I get my head around it all, I'm going to dedicate a post or 2 about it.

I'm getting ready now to go home. It has taken a long time in transit to get here, to get back and I am very glad I made the effort. Now that I know how things work, it feels like another home base to me. Can't say when I'll return as there are other places I would like to see next but Iceland has a way of slowly creeping into you when you least expect it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

In Recovery

Oh, it is raining again today? Of course it is!

I'm taking it easy for the next couple of days in order to recover from the last couple of days of activity. I'm sore from the scrambling and climbing. That bruise on my foot is also located inconveniently where it gets rubbed as I walk. Luckily the places I have been have been so great I forgot about it.

The south shore areas are really awe inspiring. Also, I'm developing a great love for black sand beaches and Icelandic lamb soup (even though I've never really enjoyed lamb and am working on eating less meat).

The sheep here aren't like what I'm used to seeing. They look more like fluffy mountain goats with curved horns. I also got to hike behind a waterfall yesterday as well. It was surprisingly peaceful and quiet back there.

I'm on the last leg of my trip. Back home in a few days.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Icelandic Horse 1, Me 0

I fell of my horse yesterday. Yup, I did. (D, have you stopped laughing yet?)

Apparently, my horse had "spring feelings" for another horse that was going the other way and wanted to follow without telling me about it. She tried it again, once I got back on but I was ready this time and the rest was fine as we were ending and were very close to the stables.

The horses are so beautiful. I was on a private ride through the lava fields. So I was very fortunate I did not fall on a rock or a pile of poop either! It was one of those falls where everything happened in slow motion and I remember thinking about how slow it was while I was falling.

Luckily, as I know how to fall, I just walked away with a bruise on my foot, probably from the stirrup. Not enough to keep me away from my longest travel day yet down to the south coast today.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

D Got It!

I am very grateful and pleased to report that D got a job offer (for the position he really wants) yesterday and accepted.

He and I are delighted, as you can imagine, and he can work through the last couple of weeks in his current job in peace knowing the transition will be seamless. Thank you all for your best wishes. The universe heard it!

I had gone into the interior of Iceland yesterday and spent 7hrs being pummeled by sleet and rain with 6 other courageous souls. Man, was it not easy. I do feel a bit beat up this morning.

You really come to appreciate the value of investing in good gear. Water repellent is not waterproof and wind resistant is not wind proof and a good sturdy pair of hiking socks and boots are worth its weight in gold as some of my colleagues found out yesterday. I think they are going to hit this store today before planning any more outings.

Was going to go meet and ride some Icelandic horses today -- have a couple of hours to decide but need to wake up first! It is one of those mornings when I wish I drank coffee!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Iceland Calling

After almost 23 hrs of travel, I made it to Iceland. Got lost finding my way to the apartment and am thinking that my Icelandic course didn't prepare me well enough...

The first day is usually spent getting my bearings, finding places to eat, buying food and adapting to the new time zone. It is just past 1pm and I am finding it warm. I knew the weather wasn't going to be as cold as what I'm used to in Canada but I didn't expect it to feel as warm even though it is 7 C. I'm glad I am wearing my raincoat and not anything made of down.

I slept 13 hrs and the first thing I ate today when I got up at noon was a chocolate covered lemony vanilla ice cream popsicle! It was awesome! My apartment is fabulous. Very modern and lux and full of original art. The owners are both designers and have great taste.

I don't usually bring a computer with me on a trip but it is really convenient to keep in touch especially with D looking for jobs and also to check weather, booking excursions and flight news. I use Skype to call home. This new computer of mine and bluetooth headset has paid for itself already with respect to that and for killing time during my 6 hr layover at Boston Logan.

So far the cost of things aren't unreasonable. I'm not thinking of the currency devaluation or conversion, I'm looking at the cost of items in their dollars vs what I'm used to at home. It is more but not so much that it makes me stop or gasp or swear : ). It is definitely cheaper than what I see at our ski resort in BC. So it looks like I will come in under what I budgeted for spending. I think I'm buying some more of those popsicles!

Oh yeah, check out this week's Carnival of Personal Finance - Women in History Edition -- for some great quotes and articles, hosted by SimplyForties.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Interview Updates

D's interviews, all 4 of them went well yesterday. Two were anticipated and 2 were surprise ones that popped up last minute. He was exhausted by the end of the day as you can imagine.

It's going to be an easy going recovery weekend in anticipation of hopefully another full week of second interviews and maybe a job offer would be nice?

One position stood out for him. It is the contract one with potential of it becoming full time in 6 months. He is the most excited about it because of the scale and potential of the position. There will be some travel which is fine with him. He is hoping to hear from them next week the most.

If this position ends up being the one, it would be yet another form of contract work we have not heard of before. Apparently, this position is still expected to pay more and the company collects taxes and pays for the standard government deductions?

So you wouldn't be considered self employed and in that case, would mean unemployment insurance would still be available and it would also mean we wouldn't have to put away our own version of self insurance. Won't know for sure until an offer is on paper.

Friday, March 5, 2010

New Ideas

In all the "excitement" that was this week, forgot to mention that the Bank of Canada rate has remained unchanged. So our mortgage rates stay put.

A couple of out of province opportunities have popped up for D and we are exploring the merits of those right now -- how much it costs to relocate, what the real estate markets are like there and what job opportunities there would be for me. The next steps would be to look at the US and Europe.

Right now I'm enjoying thinking about all the neat potential places to live and work. I may change my mind about that in 6 months but for now, as we are not tied down to any area per say, it is fun to dream.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Bit of Everything

It's month end round up time for me and in February I was able to bring home $567.72 net more than projected. Pretty pleased with the bonus.

On a fun note, I will be able to make up for the cancelled driving lessons/classes last year this coming April. It will bring me one step closer to taking a rally driving course some time in the future.

D has his first interview Friday. Fingers and toes crossed that they will be a good fit for each other.

He has applied to both full time and contract positions and we have been discussing the pros and cons of contract work. The pay is higher, most often 50 - 100% more than full time salaries but you get no benefits, no security and no chance of unemployment insurance after.

So why would you consider such a beast? Larger companies may wish to see what you can do first before offering a permanent position. Some professions lend itself to contract work -- D is in one such profession.

That would also mean both of us would be self employed. There would be increased bookkeeping duties and need for more savings put aside as we would have to create D's own version of "unemployment insurance". So I for see the first year of such work to be a foundation building year.

A small glitch with respect to attaining currency for my trip. The Iceland Krona has become devalued enough whereby currency exchange places are having a hard time getting it and do not want to buy it back. I've decided to bring Euro to exchange once I arrive.

Apparently Iceland is pretty much a cashless society. People are actually known to buy ice cream cones with plastic. For foreigners like me, it may sound neat but the exchange fees that get charged with each debit/credit purchase may not be so neat. I tend to only used credit cards overseas for moderate to large purchases.

Credit Card Prep

Due in increased fraud, credit card companies recommend you give them a call when you are about to travel or when you are expecting to spend a larger than normal sum of money so that purchases won't get flagged by the security computer as being potentially fraudulent.

That was on my list to do today but I tackled it last night.

First it was Visa. They wanted to know exactly when I'd be where and if I was going to spend more than $1000 in a single transaction, where and when would that be? I almost laughed out loud. How do people know exactly when and where they are going to make a big purchase when they haven't been there before? I think the agent realized just how ridiculous that question was.

Second it was MasterCard. Their automated system include a travel notification choice. So right off the bat, they seemed to be more "with it". Once I got to a live person, it changed. It was worse than getting my teeth cleaned.

Finally it was Amex. By far the easiest call. The agent happened to have gone to Iceland before and was gushing about how beautiful she remembered it to be and wished me a great trip. I got the distinct feeling they expect people to travel and this procedure is not a big deal. I like that.

At one time, with the thought of making things easier, I had planned to pare down to just my Visa. Until a trip to France made me decide otherwise. If you forget your pin number, Visa will not give you one over the phone, whereas MC and Amex will.

It is also easier to call MC and AMEX from overseas than Visa. We found that out after 40 mins at a payphone, also in France. Thus our purchase of a world phone. Now that most credit cards are changing over to chip cards, hopefully there will be less of a need for merchants to call to verify theirs and your identity at each point of purchase.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Enough of the Talk, Reality Hits

Remember all the posts and talk about preparedness last year? Well, the rubber hit the road for us yesterday in the form of D being told that he and others are being downsized in a month.

When I got the call, I immediately got into my triage mode whereby I become very quiet and serious, ready to go. D deals with things differently and likes to make light of things when really, I know he is fuming mad and in shock.

I was waiting for him just to come out and say how he felt -- but he is a guy and I knew that underneath all the "it's ok", there is emotion there waiting to come out. It is the first time this has happened to him and I know he was hoping to go through his whole working life without experiencing this.

Meanwhile, I worked on my spreadsheet and made a list of things to discuss. We plan our life/lifestyle based on the idea that we are each other's back up. That one of us can carry the load should the other be unable to continue for any reason. This tests just how accurate we are in our planning.

So, I had to reacquaint myself with the numbers that D is responsible for, plug them into my spreadsheet after finding out just how long his regular pay, severance, bonus (yes, he did get one) will last. The point it runs out (assuming no new job yet), is the switchover point for us. I will takeover then.

It looks like it will be mid May/early June, depending on how much the tax man takes from the severance. He has been with the company 3 years and got 8 weeks as severance. I believe it to be really good as I think they only have to pay 1 week for every year of service.

Other steps we are taking to hedge ourselves include changes to our mortgage payments. I have decided to temporarily stop mortgage prepayments and keep the money as cash. Also, as I get paid bi-monthly vs. D's bi weekly, I've changed our mortgage frequency to bi-monthly just in case it goes that far.

That move increases our amortization by 5 months as it eliminates the extra month of payments but I'm hoping this will get switched back in no time. I'd rather be over prepared and not need it than be under and have to draw from our non registered savings. Don't want to do that.

As I don't like to leave any stone unturned, we also talked about cancelling upcoming trips. After looking at cancellation fees and penalties, it looks like the money we get back may not be worth it. We have time to revisit it later. My trip to Iceland is very soon and too late to change. Hate leaving at this time even though D says he is fine with it.

We went as far as projecting what we would do a year from now should things stay the same. Technically, as long as I can hang on, things would be ok. D is also learning about unemployment insurance and what that's about.

Our trump card is the cottage. This would be a good time to put it up for sale and interest rates are low and people would want to have it ready for the season. It is paid for and if sold, we would be mortgage free. We aren't ready to let it go yet, so we will revisit this option in a year, if necessary. And selling the ski condo is, at least right now, non negotiable for either of us.

Meanwhile D has applied for a number of positions and hopes to be called for interviews shortly. Also, should he find another job within his current company before his termination date, he forfeits his severance as things would just continue on as if "nothing happened".

Monday, March 1, 2010


I participated in a discussion with a couple of young professionals (I'll call them E) frustrated by their parents who did not seem to understand why they weren't getting ahead as quickly as they "should". Some interesting points came up.

E's parent's, successful baby boomers who recently retired felt that after 10 yrs of working, E ought to have more assets, more vacations, more real estate.

After all, E's parents were starting to peak in their careers and already had a family and were spending weekends on their boat by then. In fact, they were looking to buy land to build a cottage.

I'm glad they weren't my parents because I could already feel my blood get warm. I don't feel that this is a valid comparison. Here are some differences we came up with.
  • E's parents never had to attend university to secure their corporate and government jobs.
  • A base university (or college in the US) education without living on campus is still going to cost a pretty penny. As E is paying for their education themselves, they graduate with debt.
  • You couldn't get E's parents' jobs nowadays without a post secondary education and be totally bilingual.
  • An obvious point is the pension. E's parents, as they never had to save because they knew they had an iron clad fully indexed pension, were used to spending what they made so they felt that if you made "x", it meant a certain lifestyle should ensue.
  • E's parents do not know what it means or how much they would have had to put aside to create what they are enjoying as a pension. Their 6 figure pensions each are worth millions.
  • Had E's parents not have a pension, they wouldn't have been able to afford the lifestyle they have become used to.
  • Job security and loyalty isn't the same anymore. It is hard to find someone who is a younger adult who feels they are going to stay or be able to stay working for the same company for the rest of their lives.
  • In Canada, most jobs are contract ones now -- no benefits. Extended health care insurance cost money.
  • Of course there is the whole real estate growth aspect. E's parents' home benefited from the capital appreciation over many decades so now it is worth 5 times what they paid for it. Great news though not wealth they had to build with their own 2 hands.
  • E lives in the city I wrote about yesterday and the home I featured is in the price range of what they have bought and also in the range of what E's parents home is worth. It is a different reality to buy a home in current dollars with current income vs. having a home rise to that dollar value. E's parents have never had to pay that much for anything.

I'm sure after we left, the debate continued. I cannot imagine being able to spend most of our take home monies on anything we want and know I'll have even more to spend in retirement.