Friday, September 30, 2011

Travel Clothing Update

After a couple of months of use I have some feedback on the new travel clothes I bought. I wanted to see if there really was something to them and if it was possible to find clothing that didn't look like too stereotypical travel.

At a local hiking/camping store I found a couple of items on sale made by Kuhl. They happened to fit so I came home with their "Sierra" skirt and "Kuhl Jean". Both worked really well in Scandinavia. Really comfortable and looked urban enough to wear everyday and I have been.

I then ordered another jean and skirt (same style, different colours) online from Campmor for about the same sale price as my local store had no more stock.

I found them to pack well, light as anything and even water resistant. They looked a bit wrinkled at first after unpacking but once hung they straightened out. They also straightened out well when worn. Easy to wash.

My only issue was with the 2nd pant which fitted snugger than the first even though they were the same size. But I had lost weight after that trip so the first pair seemed a bit loose. After a few minutes in the dryer it shrunk just enough to be perfect.

There are many brands available. None of them I would call cheap. You can even get travel underwear which are supposed to dry in 3 -4 hrs after hand washing. Be prepared to shell out $25 - $35 a pair.

The main thing in common with all the pieces I saw was the strong feeling of durability. I think if you are in market, you'll probably only need a few key pieces and they will likely last you "forever".

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Home Maintenance Update

Well the partial roof replacement has been done and we got the bill and it has been paid. There was a little glitch of being charged $60 more than invoiced but I believe it was just a slip of the hand when entering the amount. They are correcting it.

Yesterday we got a quote for our driveway replacement. The concrete company representative arrived first and we were pleasantly surprised at the $6400 quote. In our minds we thought it was going to over $10000.

He told us that people have this idea concrete is really really expensive when it turned out to be maybe about $1500 more than asphalt. That was his guess. The asphalt company hasn't provided their quote yet.

I just want an idea for budgeting purposes. Have not decided when to get it done. Outside of the main roof which we've already saved for, central air conditioning unit (to come someday), the driveway is the last of the big things on our house maintenance list.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Artsy Stuff

One of the things I am most looking forward to on this next voyage is seeing Arabic Calligraphy done (hopefully in person!). I love the different forms of script found all around the world.

When I was younger, I remember getting a new calligraphy kit each year and doing pages and pages of writing in all different ink colours. I would love to take a formal course on it.

Turns out there are calligraphy guilds all around the world. I'm considering contacting the nearest one to find out if there are workshops available.

A current TV commercial for Hyundai features Mozart's Sonata in B flat Major reminded me I haven't touched my piano in a very long time. I played that Sonata for my grade 10 piano exam 21 yrs ago...gosh I feel not so young... :)

Sunday, September 25, 2011


My Naturopathic appointment has come and gone. Five vials of blood and $453 later, I'm set for now and waiting for results to come back in about about a month.

She recommended a more extensive blood test to me vs what D got because I've actually gotten hives from things (food and other) meaning I've had a history of quick reactions. I'm just glad we have some extended health coverage for such things.

I'm going to be gone soon for a couple of weeks so I am just going to enjoy myself and not worry about what I may or may not be allergic to.

I only need Euro and Turkish Lira on this next trip and got the Lira yesterday so I'm set. Just enough pocket money for small meals and stuff. Anything else will be on credit card. Euro, I usually have a stash of it at home so didn't need any more.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Housing Comparables

A new organic butcher has moved into our area and I'm looking forward to stopping by to see what they have. Since our last butcher moved we haven't had easy access to organic meat so we just cut back.

Now that it looks like we may have a good option again, we are hoping to go back to organic but continue at our lower consumption levels.

D and I really like real estate shows on TV. When I see couples our age or younger searching for housing in the $800K - 1.2 mil range I get fascinated at how they do it. Makes me feel like I am missing out on something.

So D went and calculated that an $800K mortgage paid bi-weekly over 25 yrs is not far from what we had been paying. So I guess if we really really wanted to, we too can afford to own something that expensive.

In reality, if I had to spend a million on real estate, I wouldn't do so on one property. I'd own a main house, a cottage/city bolt hole and an apartment in Nice/Amsterdam.

Based on what we already know of real estate costs in those places, it is very doable and would give us more joy than just one mansion. It helps to know our home when found in a city location would cost at least $700K and up.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Food and More Free Stuff

We went over our customary 2 week food budget by around $35 due to surprise meat sales and we wanted to stock up. Now that we don't eat much meat, this shop is expected to last quite a while.

It never fails to shock us just how much we can buy if you shop what is on sale vs what you are craving as well as real food vs processed food.

Continuing on the theme of getting stuff for free, we are a bit peeved that our blue Air Miles program no longer offers the 2 for 1 movie vouchers. Really, they are the only rewards we are interested in getting from them.

As they are not available anymore, we will opt for $20 grocery gift cards instead. I remind myself it is still free...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Free and Not so Free

We received our 3rd $50 gas card courtesy of Mastercard today. It's fun to get something free, especially when the card doesn't cost us anything. Pretty much anything we can charge on the credit card we do.

The partial roof replacement has finally been done and when it gets charged on our Visa, we will be getting yet another gas card. We have been driving around more lately so free gas is definitely welcomed.

Our eyes were opened when we were at our local bulk food store to buy gluten free flour. Three scoops came to over $9! I don't know how people who have to eat gluten free can afford all the pre-made foods.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Life and Taxes

D told me his potential yearly bonus to be paid in Jan 2012 will be taxed almost 50% if we choose to accept it straight up. Don't you love Canadian taxes?

He has the option of putting it into his RSP and with his tax bracket will receive a good portion back as a tax refund. We just won't get the money until he files his taxes and the return is processed meaning March. We will go this route.

The plan for the money is still the same. Whatever we get back will go as a lump sum payment to the new consolidated mortgage as if he was still paying for the car separately. Psychologically it helps us remember the true mortgage portion rather than looking at the whole number.

My next trip is approaching fast. Barring any airline and various country strikes I am expecting to arrive on time and have a fabulous time. When I was considering this getaway, I wasn't sure I could afford the time off. Now that it is coming up, I am thankful for it.

Mentally I've made another step forward. To a place where I am believing the pressure to bring in a certain amount of income is almost all gone. I did a fun calculation yesterday to prove to myself just that.

I figured out I need to work one day a month to cover my office expenses. Any more goes to savings and spending money. It was a relief to see it in black and white. On average I am now working between 6 - 8 days a month with 10 weeks off a year.

For the next phase of personal development I want to start taking Arts courses again at the university level. A friend of mine achieved his Bachelor of Arts a couple of years ago having plugged away at it part time for years while working full time in engineering. I was so inspired by his dedication.

Other than a French course I took a few years back, I haven't studied at that level since and am anxious to get back at it. Not sure if I want things too structured meaning the degree route as there are many subjects I'd like to take just for general interest. They may not all add up to a degree.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


D and I decided to make appointments with a Naturopath to find out ways to become healthier. We were wondering about any latent food allergies.

One way to find out is via a fairly pricey blood test which D took. I haven't had my appointment yet.

Well, the results came back and they are not pretty. Turns out our eating will be changing as it has been found that D is quite allergic to dairy and eggs, two of his favourite food groups.

Re-testing will take place in 6 months but in the meantime, it has been recommend he avoid those foods.

Now I'm nervous about my appointment and what I may be finding out. It is shocking to find out you have allergies to something when you don't have overt symptoms while eating those foods.

As you can imagine, D is not impressed. Meanwhile we are off learning about food substitutes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Extreme Couponing

D and I saw our first episode of "Extreme Couponing". It was something! Foreign concept for us Canadians as we don't (or at least my area doesn't) get many coupons at all.

Once in a blue moon, we'll receive an envelope with some coupons in it for $1 off some product that costs $3.50 or buy one dinner get the 2nd at 1/2 price. And the dinner is in the $14 - 17 range.

When there are useful coupons, there is also a limit of 4 or 6. It is unheard of for us to buy things in the hundreds at a time or for stores to double a coupon or mark something down such that a coupon could cover the entire cost of an item.

Both D and I felt royally ripped off after watching that show.

I am not a hoarder but if I lived in an area that offered an opportunity to get something I use for free, I know I would take advantage of it. With some organization, you can get weekly/biweekly groceries for "free".

We don't eat a whole lot of processed food so that would cut out a lot of the things we saw people were buying on the show.

There is also no reason for me to want hundreds of hand soap or deodorant or shampoo. I'd just keep an eye for sales and coupons when I know I am getting down.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pension Thoughts

I received confirmation of my part time status at work which will mean a refund cheque will be coming for the difference in my registration fees.

It will make a difference of around $550/yr just for reducing my work hours by one more hour. Had I been more diligent with finding out about this, I could have instated this change back in July. Oh well, it is done now.

We have also decided to use D's (hopefully) annual bonus towards our new consolidated mortgage until the principle amount of what the car represents is paid off. We are not sure how much that will be until Nov of each year.

We are also suppose to receive D's first pension statement then too. I'm extra excited about that. This may sound silly but I have strange fascination for defined benefit pension plans.

Partly because I know a number of people who work for the federal government and my Dad works for the municipal government so I grew up having access to great benefits.

It has also not escaped my eyes the differences I see between retired friends who have such a great pension and those who do not.

In my experience, the ones who have the great pensions ($75K/yr and up) don't appear to be as money savvy as the ones who don't. It could be they don't like sorting out money stuff or it could be they knew they didn't have to know because they were going to be provided for.

The younger people we know who have such pensions tend to be more cautious. They are questioning whether current and future government cut backs will change their pensions. They are going to save on the side just in case.

Until D and I got together, I had no benefits of any sort so I am able to appreciate just how much that can matter. I see it as a form of income. As for the pension part, I see it as getting paid twice for doing one job.

Doesn't really make sense from a business point of view but I'd love to have one. Especially when you do the calculations on how much you'd have to save in order to make your own never ending pension.

When I mention this to my older retired friends, you can tell they haven't considered this nor have done the calculations and realized just what that would have meant to their lifestyles had they needed to put away a significant part of their income along the way.

I can just imagine what I would be able to do in the living my dreams department if I could spend nearly all I made, knowing I'll be "paid" a great amount starting at age 55 or 60 or 65.

Unless I am willing to change careers (assuming I would even get hired) and work for even longer, I am satisfied with living vicariously through D.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

D's Advice

D gave me great advice when he suggested I'd better buy my flight with AC. For the past few years we have been able to count on drastic fare reductions in the early fall, about 1 month before travel.

Nothing so far this month. In fact prices have risen a couple of hundred dollars since last week.

KLM just announced their late fall/winter sale prices and save a couple of places, all prices are in the 4 digits. Those fares aren't going to entice anyone. Have we reached the end of "cheap" travel?

I never thought I would hear myself say this but I am mentally feeling the effects of all the transatlantic flights I've taken this year. There are 4 more to go before the end of the year and I'm not actively searching for more.

In other news my TV is expected to arrive today. It will likely take D a bit of time to get it mounted and all the cords attached. It's our first LCD TV.

The back story behind the TV purchase had to do with me finding a used 22" CRT for sale ($25) on our local online classified ads.

D Absolutely Freaked Out at the thought of me going there and buying it and refused to help move or set it up if I did. I was going to offer them $20 if it looked/worked alright.

In my mind it was an upgrade since my current one was 19". And if it was in as excellent a condition as the owner said it was (they also lived in a nice part of town), it would do the job.

I was told to get with the times, get off my wallet, no one buys a tube TV anymore, he'd rather I buy nothing than to buy that, how embarrassing it would look, how ridiculously heavy they are, how much room they take up...did I get all of it D?

The irony of the whole thing? He accused me of acting like an old person. This coming from a dude who frequently makes references to sayings and events that I have no idea what he's talking about and more often than not, pre-dates my birth!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Back to AC

Because of my bonus new fall trip, I have decided to work an extra week to make up part of the time I will be away.

D & I have been talking about not going out west for Christmas this year and do 2 outings during the winter instead.

The benefits of doing that is much less travel volume as well as potentially lower flight costs and better ski conditions. I will miss the Christmas spirit of the place though so this experiment may be a one of.

A surprising turn of events where flights are concerned. I haven't flown Air Canada for a long time. Their prices, my losing a bunch of Aeroplan miles way back, didn't endear me to them.

All of a sudden I find myself with not just one but potentially 3 flights with AC in the next 5 months.

My next trip requires I connect in Rome early in the morning. My usual companies of Delta/KLM/Air France cannot get me there on time. Alitalia can but at the cost of my arm so I passed. But AC came through!

AC is also coming through on flights out west. Westjet, our normal carrier has changed their flight schedules such that coming home with them will involve a good amount of pain. D will be making the final decisions for this leg.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pros & Cons of Cruising


  • unpacking once

  • lots to eat

  • sailing to places vs bus or train or plane is really relaxing

  • cover a lot of distance in a relatively short time

  • lots of cities were built by the water for transport/trade purposes so lends itself to this style of travel

  • clean environment

  • makes you realize just how little you need in terms of space and things

  • hotel like service

  • lots of places where you don't encounter even 5 people

  • opportunity to dress up

  • laundry services

  • great overview of many countries

  • ships are amazing feats of engineering

  • lots of exercise classes to choose from

  • efficient check in & out

  • all age ranges

  • travelling with so many people made me even more determined to avoid the tourist traps as they can get over runned

  • forces you to really prepare for the ports because you don't have days to find your way around

  • locations where you'd otherwise need a Visa, like St Petersburg or Turkey you are covered by the ship's Visa


  • lots of people around top deck where the pools are -- that's where the "action" is

  • spa is pricey-- $95US for 1 hr massage

  • certain ports do require you purchase excursions

  • excursion cost add up

  • announcements can be loud

  • getting to and from the ship can be far and difficult to do on your own

  • easy to over eat

  • stateroom and dining attendants can be over attentive

  • sea sickness if sailing over rough seas or if susceptible

  • lots of people at meal times

  • lots of examples of fellow passengers over indulging (food)

  • your room key as your charge card can tempt one to spend more

Over all I found it a really neat way to travel. I am still happy to have seen so many harder to reach places for a fraction of time and cost of doing my own itinerary. I would consider taking a cruise again.

The cruise line I sailed with (Royal Caribbean) was I think considered middle of the road service and price wise. Some higher class lines offer pretty impressive 30 - 60 day itineraries that would be quite something to experience.

I'm not sure I would bother with a more expensive cruise line as I see this mode of travel as not much different than a place to sleep and eat. It just gets me to places I want to see in comfort.

There were a good number of people who would come back onto the ship for lunch or dinner (at late dept ports). I didn't get that. For me, what I look forward to on a trip is to try out the local food. Most of my spending money goes to those experiences.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

World Climates

Not only is world weather seeming more and more extreme, so are its people, especially in Europe.

Today I read of the large scale union strike in Rome which disrupted many modes of transport as a reaction to proposed austerity measures. They follow in the footsteps of Greece, Spain and Portugal and others I haven't know about.

As a person who isn't the biggest fan of change, especially ones imposed by an outside source, I can understand the backlash. But I am also a realist. If I cannot afford something, I cannot afford something. No issue with voicing displeasure but I would also be planning for the worst at the same time.

And if something I've been able to enjoy (like education or health care in Canada, for example) can no longer be heavily or totally subsidized by government monies, then I would budget for it should I still wish it in my life.

A two tiered system already exists. In Canada, if I wanted to see a Naturopath, I have to pay out of pocket because my extended health insurance doesn't cover it 100%. Heck, if someone wanted to have an consultation with me, same thing.

If I wanted to eat organic food, I pay more. It's pretty much drilled into our psyches that most if not all new jobs nowadays just don't come with defined benefit pension plans anymore. And government held plans aren't totally to be relied upon.

So what do we do? Increase our self reliance. Our ability to cut costs and live on less when needed is a powerful trait. It cuts out the whining and complaining that come from the feeling of entitlement and the belief that the only direction is up.

I sent away my travel cancellation package today. Going through the process will be educational. If the current economic and politial climates continue in areas I intent to visit, I may need to call on such insurance policies in the future.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I Bought It

My new TV is on its way. There was a Labour Day online sale at Best Buy and the TV I had my eye on was part of this sale at $130 off what we saw yesterday, with free shipping.

A moderately long discussion ensued and I decided if I was serious about it, this is the best price we have seen this year. The other option is to continue to wait as eventually newer models come out and older ones go on sale.

That can be said of most if not all electronics. So I went for it. I paid $499 (+ 13% tax) for an LG 42" 1080p 120 Hz LCD TV.

I will need to buy a DVD player and a wall mount. That will likely happen tomorrow night after supper. My old TV (19" Toshiba CRT) will not be thrown out or given away. It will have another job.

In other news I finished putting together the package for the travel insurance company regarding my cancelled trip. I'm going to send it via trackable means so I can be sure it arrived. Fingers crossed my claim will be considered valid.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Back Packs

I'm not completely convinced with my new back pack. Like layout of houses, I prefer an "open concept" design vs a traditional many walls and many smaller rooms (unless room sizes are large enough without feeling closed in). Same with packs. There isn't one that is "perfect" for me.

A large central open space that can open almost completely, like the jaws of a shark makes placing once folded clothing in easy. I'm not a roll my clothes person. I find folding clothing just once helps to keep them pressed better especially when I may not have access to an iron.

I like a reasonable width to the pack as well. It means I can slide a pair of sandals (and umbrella) down the side close to the opening so when I am arriving at a warmer destination, I can quickly locate them and change my shoes on the plane before disembarking. I don't wear sandals on a long haul flight because I'm usually freezing and need socks.

There should be one or two smaller zipped pockets as well as a side pocket. The front zipped ones are great for tissues, snacks and the bag of liquids you need to show at x-ray time. The side pocket is where I put my eye mask and ear plugs for easy access.

On a styling note, I would prefer if my pack doesn't scream "camping". So finding one that looks more urban has been a challenge. I want to look as if I'm visiting for the weekend, not someone who has come from far away and have packed to match.

My new one is 33 L, an upgrade from my old one and the shoulder straps are much better designed with a chest strap for weight distribution should you wish. The colour is in a men's charcoal grey and pretty nondescript outside of the logo. In fact this is a guy's pack so the length is slightly longer than I would ideally like.

I might look around a bit more but this one hits the requirements the best and doesn't break the bank. I can now safely find another job for my 15 yr old Eddie Bauer back pack.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Fun Days

My new trip is a go. I will be leaving in about a month. Best deal yet!

Back to work next week also. I'm ready to get back into it.

I've been out casually searching for a couple of things this long weekend -- A TV and a travel backpack. Pretty sure my wrenched shoulder had something to do with my older less ergonomic style pack.

The TV is something I been looking at for a while. Just haven't been able to pull the trigger on it yet. It's getting closer though. 40" LED or LCD TVs with 1080p and 120 Hz are coming down in price.

We also took advantage of our bonus time at home to wander around local farmers' markets and picked up some end of season raspberries, strawberries and peaches. They were delicious!

I love diners so we've gone out for breakfast a couple of times too. Wouldn't want to eat like that everyday but once or twice in a while is a fun treat.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Next week I will be signing some papers at my bank to combine the remaining portion of D's mortgage and car loan responsibilities to open up some investment (cash or real estate) options.

The LOC used for the car loan is at 3.5% and the mortgages are at 2.1% and 2.25%. The combined new rate is 2.3% with a 5 yr amortization (4 yr 6 mnth when paid bi-weekly) at no cost to us for the change.

I have to go and sign because all those loans are in my name. Total amortization for mortgage completion for 2 properties will be essentially less than 8.5 yrs because of the car loan thrown in.

Currently D pays around $1200 bi-weekly to service all three. By combining them, his payments drop to $800 bi-weekly with option to prepay up to 15% yearly.

He won't be doing that. The difference will get saved/invested.

I'm surprising good with this idea. This is as close to a "consolidation" as I've ever got and I can see why people do it now and how easy it is to get in trouble.

Take a $200000 mortgage with a 15 yr amortization and add on $80000 worth of debt and re-amortize it for 30 yrs and voila, monthly payments are easier. Do this a couple of times and you owe more than your house is worth but you have all the toys.

Friday, September 2, 2011


I know I've been suffering with some pain lately but my online MasterCard statement sent me right over yesterday in the worse way.

It has felt like I was not doing such a great job zeroing out purchases.

I'll admit some responsibility here.

When we do spend, I'll immediately pay for it out of some account or another, ofter before it even posts online. When it finally does, I've already accounted for it and I would consider it "zeroed".

What has been bugging me was something I didn't notice until my frustration boiled over and D took over and pointed out.

It takes a day or so before the overall numbers reflect the true balance. And because I was over diligent in my paying things off (so I wouldn't have to think about it), I was messing it all up and confusing myself.

It felt as if I wasn't getting ahead despite my throwing lots of payment money at it.

Yesterday the balance owing was around $300 more than I expected (zero) and that's when I lost it, gave myself a stomach ache, and assumed I forgot something somewhere.

So D saved the night by noticing that my last 2 payments wasn't reflected in the overall totals yet even though it said it did. It took him a while because in any given month our credit card statement contain about 50 plus line items.

And this morning? It reflected what I thought it should have been. All is well. I can't believe I managed to get myself crazy just for being a keen payment payer.

Have a great long weekend to my fellow Canadians & Americans!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

My Turn

I knew the day would come and it did, on the day I visited Copenhagen. I found my first grey hair later that evening. As I am not the jump up and down freak out type of person, I just stood there stunned.

It's one of those things I wouldn't think anything of on someone else but on myself I was a bit shocked. Did managed to lose it even though I thought I put it in a secure enough spot in my wallet to take home.

It became real to me that time was ticking away and I was really aging. Sure I have laugh lines and I have notice the increased need to moisturize and exercise.

But the thought of someday wanting to dye my hair to hide the grey and the increased maintenance and expense didn't excite me.

Dying my hair a neat shade because I feel like it is one thing. I've been medium blond to burgundy in my younger years. But haven't changed my hair colour for over a decade.

Maybe when the time comes I will be OK with the natural change of my hair and not want to cover it up. I don't know right now.

I just got my hair cut and told my stylist about my finding and he told me he has been salt and pepper for many years now and he is currently 45 yrs old. He also told me I wasn't ready for hair colour yet.

Not sure if he meant mentally/emotionally (I would agree) or from the standpoint of grey or both.

For the following week after my first finding, I kept seeing imaginary grey hairs which ended up being light reflections. I haven't searched for over a week so it seems I have calmed down from the episode, for now.