Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy Trees & Happy New Year

I am ending the year stronger than last and am excited for the year to come. 

Wishing You All a Healthy, Happy and Joyous New Year!

Leaving you with some Winter Inspiration.  It has been a great snow season up here.
 








Sunday, December 30, 2012

More Munich Food & Drink

Go to the Christmas market for the food.  Who knew it was going to be an all out street food festival?  I love strolling and eating and being drawn to enticing smells.  We only ate at a restaurant 4 times that week and I had originally thought it would be mostly if not all restaurant meals like it was in May.  No way. 

You can eat all 3 courses easily pretty much everywhere.  There were so many different types of wurst and beef sandwiches but if you go, try the potato pancakes.  They were the best hash browns I've ever had (fyi has egg in it and they serve it with apple sauce(?) or tzatziki).  And the waffles were light as air. 

Didn't take to the gingerbread cookies (Lebkuchen).  They were good and soft but I prefer a cookie with more ginger, enough to warm you up inside.   Don't leave without trying a Splitterball -- A giant dark chocolate covered homemade marshmallow with waffle pieces inside.  Quite sweet but addictive!

And don't worry if you didn't like the Gluhwein.   There were at least 5 more colourful alternatives -- Burgundy, orange, clear (looked like a mojito), purple etc.  Don't ask me their names.  The only one I know is "Eierlikoer" or German egg nog.  It is not as thick as what I am used to at home but had far more depth of flavour, likely due to the vodka and brandy in it -- No rum. 

And the best part?  They served it from what looked like a frozen drink dispenser but was medium warm, in a white wine glass topped with whipped cream!  I'm supposed to be off eggs and dairy but I cheated and took 3 gulps.   It tasted wonderful.  Because the dispenser was sealed, the alcohol stayed in and was the most potent drink I had that week.   Ended up getting a hive but was so worth it. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Update From The Mountain

I have more to say about Munich but we are dealing with Internet issues (we are using a neighbour's connection for the time being) and am waiting for a technician to arrive.  Not impressed as this is the 3rd time in the last year we've had issues. 

They are the only game on the mountain and for some reason we are getting "kicked out" by the system when they are doing maintenance on other accounts.  I don't know what's really going on.  D needs Internet to work remote. 

In other news, remember how D's bonus last year ended up getting fully taxed because the paperwork to get it sheltered didn't get confirmed properly?  It has been corrected for this year so we are set.  D's yearly review went really well and because his performance "rating" went up, so did his bonus by 30%.   He calls it blood money as this was the toughest year he's ever had in his career. 

Since the money is going to be sheltered, the tax refund will serve as additional savings to be sheltered again.  We've also decided to stop saving money in a non registered account for the time being and concentrate on maxing out D's tax sheltered account as he has a lot more unused room than I do.

Visibility on the ski hill is not so good today due to low clouds so I'm staying put to deal with administrative stuff while D is out giving it a go anyway -- Not surprised.  He's much more intrepid than I.  It's a busy day as many people are still off for the holidays as kids won't be going back to school until Jan 7th. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Glühwein

Originally I thought Christmas Markets were going to be all about small handicrafts and ornaments, gingerbread, roasted chestnuts and this thing called Gluhwein or mulled wine. 

Being not much of a drinker I was curious to try it out but we didn't have great expectations of many more than just one as sweet and wine weren't our favourite combination.  Wrong again!  I think I had about 6!  Not all at once...D was totally surprised with my response and his own too.

So the biergarten culture switches over to gatherings around the numerous gluhwein stands throughout the city.  What fun it was!  After lunch, after work, we saw loads of people just taking their time, talking to others, standing and leaning on the stands, watching the crowds and passing time.  Though our German wasn't so great, we smiled and nodded and raised our mugs with others.  Universal.

At first we drank the stuff too fast (a warm drink outdoors on a cool day is so good!) until we kinda learned to slow down and savour it.  Because the wine isn't boiled, the alcohol stays in and for a lightweight like me, you can get tipsy!

The recipes differed from stand to stand and so did the mugs.  They were often custom to the stand and people could keep them as a yearly memento.  We brought home 2 different ones.  Part of the price included a deposit for the mug so if you turn it in at the end, you get it back.  Costs varied depending upon the style of the mug.  My mug deposit was 5.50 Euro whereas the one D kept was 3 Euro.  The gluhwein itself ranged from 2 Euro - 4 Euro.

The incentive was there to go from stand to stand to try out the different brews.  We quickly learned which flavours of the hot stuff we preferred (the more citrus and spicy ones) and looked forward to our daily dose of enjoyment.  The different stands were so creatively decorated with custom signs, we wished we were able to understand them all.  So we resorted to the simple method of ordering things we didn't recognize and it served us well. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Münchner Christkindlmarkt























Munich In The Winter

We arrived to find Munich covered in about 3 inches of snow.  The first thing I noticed was that they don't seem to clear snow or use salt on their sidewalks or train platforms.  Instead they used cut gravel the size of pea gravel.  People were sloshing around going about their business.  The only time we saw a sidewalk plow was on a day when it was pouring rain and everything was melting.

Upon further inspection, the gravel made for good traction and when stepped on by many, served to break up the snow.  Made walking noisier than normal though.  Coming from Canada, we are used to public snow removal once accumulation reaches 2 inches and salt/sand mixture applied pretty much everywhere. 

Along the same theme, long boots were worn by most women, understandably to shield from the splashes from walking through slush.  Coats were also longer than what we tend to see in my neck of the woods -- Just above knee length.  Again made sense since most people walked everywhere. 

Wearing a coat that covers one's behind and part legs makes such a difference in heat retention.  Before this trip, I bought myself a longer coat and even though it doesn't have as much down fill (550 vs 700) as my regular jacket, I felt warmer and more comfortable after being outside for hours. 

We stumbled upon the nicest sporting wear and goods store ever -- "Globetrotter".  Ranks right up there with how a luxury goods store is designed and layed out.  Unfortunately their website is pretty utilitarian.  D fell for a line of ski wear sold there-- Bergans of Norway

As a fan of most things Norwegian (new coat is by Helly Hansen) I wasn't surprised.  In fact all the sports stores we visited in Munich carried Norwegian gear as its higher end offerings.  When D found a few Dale of Norway sweaters at one shop, he realized what a deal I got on the ones I lugged home this summer.  They were priced at 450 Euro and up.

Despite the snow and slush, people were still riding their bicycles all around.  And they didn't have any special tires or anything.  Most are sporting a granny or a not too technical bike.  When you think about what a prosperous city Munich is, it made no sense. 

But then again, maybe it does.  Perhaps we are too gear conscious here.  We wouldn't consider riding our bikes in the winter without proper tires, proper gear etc.  Whereas seeing well dressed people on commuter bikes that were bought for the express purpose of being exposed to the elements without worry is actually really practical.  Made us feel like we were too fussy or coddled. 

Being that Munich is the headquarters for BMW, it is no surprise that you see a lot of them -- Mostly 5 series sedans and wagons.  D, being a huge fan of the "old man wagon", feels very much at home in Munich.  A few months ago, he test drove a 5 series and I wouldn't be at all shocked if that will be his next vehicle.  Again we didn't end up making it to BMW Welt.  I have a feeling one visit will cement D's decision.

Something I didn't notice when we were here in May were the number of smokers.   A lot of people were smoking, standing outside bars and restaurants, while walking.  How could I have missed that?  No answer for you.  D remembered seeing and smelling a lot of smokers the last time around but I didn't and I have the sensitive nose in the family.   Losing my touch.

Smokers were very aware of the people around them especially when moving as they made a point of making sure their cigarettes did not contact anyone nor blew smoke at anyone as there were crowds pretty much everywhere we went.   That was much appreciated. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Return to Munich

My usual jet lag has me up much earlier than usual.  After about 20 hr of travel we are home.  We are lucky the storms in the Midwest did not adversely affect our flights home.  There was thick fog in Amsterdam and were delayed because of it. 

It was a real treat to have been back to Munich especially this time of year.  We stayed at the same apartment and the owner greeted us with a big smile.  He went through the improvements on the apartment since our last visit and a funny moment occurred. 

A feature wall was painted in the living room, new shower head, sink etc.  We weren't expecting any changes so they were pleasant surprises.  It was the way he described the renovations that made us stop for a few seconds until we got it -- "I did some pimping in the bathroom". 

Remember those early viral ads that Volkswagen did?   

I'll be back with a review post and some photos.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Holiday Time

It's time to forget for a little while our regular life.  My work for the year has been completed.  The office is organized for 2013.  Our home is in good hands. Everything else can wait. 

The bags are packed.  Checking in soon for our flights to Munich.  Christmas markets and magic here we come.  Back in time to spend Christmas at home.  Then off we go out west for some mountain air, skiing and skating. 

Wishing You All the Very Best this Holiday Season.

I leave you with videos of beautiful hand writing and Calligraphy.  A lost art. 

Peter Unbehauen at book signing

Start at 5:22

I write with the next size up, the MB 146

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Trap Is Set 2

Maybe my novice violin playing and our noise making (same difference depending on the day...) helped?  We did not hear any sounds from below the last couple of nights.  D hung a LED flashlight in the crawlspace as that is supposed to make things uncomfortable too.  The trap door sprung the first night but nothing.  The sardines around the trap were eaten.  D reset it and no action the second night.

We have done all we can do for now.  Our wildlife guy will take it from here as we won't be able to head back up until the new year.  And over the winter, everything depends on the weather.

The plan is he is going to install a one way spring loaded door today if our guest has not been trapped yet.  Then he will be digging along the foundation to lay some kind of impermeable cloth so nothing can dig through again.  Once he is sure the raccoon has left (has to go out sooner or later), then the door will be removed and area sealed.   Other than having take up part of deck to do the work, he doesn't feel it will be too big an issue.

It has been a busy last 3 days.  Because I am the way I am, I also had fireplace contractors, township personnel, natural gas contractor and our realtor come by too.  We're not selling yet but wanted an idea of market value as we will be appealing our property value assessment for both the house and cottage this year.  More on this process another time.

Our gas got turned off as part of the cottage closing without our permission.  They have never done that before so luckily we had another source of heat or else we would have been even more mad and cold.  So we obviously had a new person assigned to our place.  We are grateful this new person brought to our attention the animal thing even though it ended up being a coincidence that the real problem is in the other half of the cottage (The crawlspaces aren't connected). 

The fireplace guys were redoing the caulking around the chimney as we found a couple of drip marks on the floor.  Their work was tested shortly after as we got a good dose of  rain/freezing rain.  No issues.

And finally the township fellow was over to discuss ideas about managing random pieces of furniture we've found by our garbage box twice this year.  Because we and our 2 neighbours are at the end of a quiet street with 14 acres of wood behind and to the side, it is a good place for people to dump their stuff instead of bring it to the dump and paying the $6.  Or waiting until the once a year large item pickup where 5 items are picked up for free which is what we've done with our finds.  Turns out our neighbours have had that happen too and I guess it is our turn. 

Here's the kicker.  Should the township pick it up while on their patrol, whoever's garbage box it is beside gets charged -- 1st time warning, 2nd time $125, subsequent times $350...You can probably guess my reaction to that news. 

So we are going to start a neighbourhood garbage watch amongst the 3 of us and cover for each other to help avoid those fees.  I just can't believe people would do this in the first place.  Talk about not taking responsibility for yourself and your stuff.  Plus it is really bad Karma.

The township fellow was really understanding and nice.  Apparently it is happening all over the place.  He has written it up as a littering violation and offered to remove them (lawn chairs) for us. 

We came up with something better.  Because we rarely use our garbage box and are used to taking our garbage and recycling home (due to animals) anyways, we decided to store our box away in the garage.  So it will no longer be a sitting duck for someone to lean something else against.  The township can only send letters to box owners they can identify. 

We've left messages with our neighbours telling them what we've done and I know the one will likely follow as he rarely leaves garbage out either.   Our other neighbour comes up more often and has someone maintain her property so she will probably continue to use her box.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Trap Is Set

So we do have something living under the cottage.  Not in the same area as where the plumbers were but underneath our bedroom.  We just loved being woken up at around 4 am by what sounded like something was playing around with the copper pipes.  Great.

D called the wildlife animal control guy again and was lucky he was able to come out the same day.  Now we have a trap set -- For a raccoon.  We will be keeping an eye on it until we leave to go back home and he will take it from there.  The next step will be to seal the entrance once the culprit is caught. 

Each visit by our wildlife guy costs $50 and he estimates the rest of it including clean up will be in the $400 range.  I'm not concerned about the cost but I asked him why now after 9 years of being intruder free?  He didn't have an answer for me.  We joked that the bacon we eat must smell too good.

We went out shopping for a new smoke detector, plumbing antifreeze as well as a radio today.  The radio in combination with a timer is supposed to irritate the animal encouraging it to leave.  We couldn't find a suitable option so left it for tomorrow. 

When we got back an idea came to D.  We didn't really need a radio.  Why don't I play my violin in the bedroom?  Surely it would aggravate the raccoon enough for him to want to leave!  I rolled my eyes at him but couldn't disagree with the concept.  So practice I did.  We also made a point of walking loudly on the hardwood floors.  We'll see if it amounted to anything tonight. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Keys

I had a 10 minute fit (felt much longer) the other night after coming home from art class when I thought I had lost my keys.  D drives so I usually put my wallet and keys in my art bag as back up.  My car won't lock unless the keys are out of the car whereas with D's car, you can. 

What to do at 10 pm?  I was ready to call the school to see if there was anyone in security I could talk to.  All I could think about was "How am I going to get into my office tomorrow?  Crap, a new key to my car is going to cost $$$!  OMG, someone has keys to my house, cottage and shed!  Lucky I have the ski condo keys in a different place...where are they again???"  One thing led to another and I was driving myself crazy. 

I have all my lessons on one day now.  So we started retracing my steps.  Got home from music OK.  So obviously had keys to get into the house and make it to ballet a few hours later.  And got home from ballet OK and I know I put the keys in my art bag like I have done the past 14 weeks. 

My "art bag" is actually a laptop case.  All the compartments work great for separating ruler from brushes from packs of pencils and other stuff.  My keys were in a sub compartment I didn't use.  One that was padded and velcro shut (middle) from the main ones so when I emptied and felt around, I couldn't hear or feel them.  They had dropped in there by error. 

What a mental emotional nightmare.  Losing a wallet is a big deal but losing keys would be too.  Knock on wood neither have truly gone missing.  Being more diligent will solve this problem as I cannot see a way around keeping keys together to mitigate potential loss.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Confessions

I had 2 colleagues confide in me yesterday.  One (A) I've known for over 10 years but wouldn't consider "close" and the other (B) I had just met for the 2nd time.  Both women.  A is 50 and B around 27 years old.

"A" wanted to run something by me.  It was a work dilemma at her part time job.  She works full time and part time.  The terms of her contract were up for review and what was being proposed is a significant pay cut.  The original rate was set taking into consideration it was a fledgling business requiring a moderate commute.   I guess it is still struggling financially (huge overhead) and the owner wanted a bigger cut. 

What was being proposed would still be considered reasonable but obviously not when compared to what she is currently being paid.  So the question was, "Am I being unreasonable?".  To which I asked "Do you need this job?  Does he need you more than you need him? Why are you doing this?"  I'll get to her response shortly.

"B" is new to work, almost 5 years into it.  Am starting to see the financial potential and enjoying the first real burst of consumer power.  Bright eyed and bushy tailed, she does good work and is well liked.  The conversation started with "I haven't told anyone outside of my boyfriend...".    I wasn't sure why I was hearing this when we didn't really know each other. 

Turns out she has decided to buy something expensive but was feeling shy about sharing her indulgence with family and friends who would not likely understand.  The item was a luxury automobile (first vehicle)... 6 figures.  And she thought I would understand because I drive an expensive one too.  I think she thought she was following in the footsteps of seasoned colleagues?  She had saved all year for the down payment towards the lease.

I didn't know how to feel -- Insulted?  Sure made me wonder what type of vibe I was giving off!  I don't know if she was looking for encouragement or congratulations.  Leaving my opinions aside, I congratulated her on her new lease, asked a bit about the car (she didn't know much...which really surprised me) and was told about the "great" deal ($1500/month, down from $1900 because she knew someone who knew someone).

When it was my turn to talk, I told her I bought my car used, 2008 with 35K on it.  I think I burst her bubble.  I didn't tell her what I had been driving for the 14 years prior as it was a used one too.  That would have probably done her in.  There is obviously no glamour with buying a used vehicle in her eyes and our reasons for buying a performance vehicle differs.  I don't think I'll be privy to many more confidential talks like this.

The person who would understand would be A.  The reason why she is working 2 jobs is because of debt -- 300K line of credit of which roughly 1/3rd is mortgage.  Scary right?  We aren't close because I just don't find talking about going shopping and buying new clothes every month fun or exciting anymore.  I used to when I was much younger.  Now I channel my monies towards travel and education which in turn really doesn't excite her.

I'm scared for B.  It is likely her income will stay strong but what if her relationship doesn't?  A large lease would compromise her ability to qualify for a mortgage.  And what about maintenance?  Everything costs more on a vehicle like that.  I doubled our "car" working account when I decided to buy mine just in case.  And should something happen and the cost of repairs sickens me, I will have no problem going back to a less expensive vehicle. 

So A needs the job but her pride is hurt.  I told her to go over the numbers and see what her gut says.  It isn't a bad deal, just that what she has been getting was an ultra good one. 

B is picking up her new ride just in time for Christmas and she is over the moon with excitement.  I can certainly understand the excitement part but hope she doesn't become A in a few decades. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Wildlife Update & Another Documentary Recommendation

Relief washed over us when the first words out of our wildlife animal guy was "I don't know what kind of plumber you have working for you...". 

Apparently we have plumbers who are afraid of spiders (been there for as long as the cottage has been around we're sure) and ones who cannot tell a real animal threat from a false or old one.

There were no signs of anything living in the crawlspace.  There may have been a mole at one time who dug underneath the foundation and got in (based on some really old poop) but no tracks in the snow or anything current that required a trap or plugging of holes. 

As for spraying for spiders, it can't be done because of our proximity to 2 streams.  He would lose his license.  He didn't even recommend us using Raid under there for fear of seepage and we agreed with him. 

The plumbers we use are the biggest outfit in the area and after 9 seasons of openings and closings we have decided to look for someone new not solely due to this incident but because we would prefer to work with a company that doesn't come across as abrupt.  I have less patience than D so when he has had it, I know it is time. 

On a much scarier note, here's a link to another documentary for you, about genetically modified foods, their origins, the politics around them and their (our) developing future.  A great place to start if you are wondering what they are about and if you would want to eat it.  The film was made a number of years ago and what it showed was frightening enough.  Can you imagine what is going on now?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Man vs Nature

It has been an "interesting" week so far.  We got a message from the plumbers who usually close up the water at the cottage.  Apparently we have something living in the crawlspace -- porcupine or raccoon?  They didn't actually see it and didn't stay long enough to figure it out.  But they will not return until we get it handled.  Which doesn't leave us much to go on. 

The cottage is built on a concrete foundation so we aren't sure how anything of that size could get in.  The most obvious way would be from a loose ventilation vent.  There are 4 around the perimeter.  There is also a trap door leading to the crawlspace that something might have eaten through so we really won't know until we see it for ourselves. 

Until we can get up there, we have a local animal guy on the case and hopefully he will find signs and can set a trap.  It's somewhat easier right now as they just got a good dumping of snow (tracks).  With any luck, we might have good news by the end of the week.  Nature is strong willed, especially at this time of year when it is getting cold and everything is looking for shelter.  Basic survival 101.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Arm Yourselves: Food Resources

Here's a small list of Authors to read as you start or continue on your own journey towards Food (World) Awareness:

Pamela Rice does an excellent job introducing the main issues.  If you are new to this information, it will be shocking and embarrassing and sickening that humans are capable of such behaviour.  Highly moving and motivating. 

Michael Pollan is so calming to listen to.  Nothing seems to phase him.  And he knows his stuff.  He has numerous books and DVDs under his belt.  I would recommend anything of his. 

Lierre Keith changed my mind about going vegan.  Read "The Vegetarian Myth:  Food, Justice and Sustainability" whether you eat or never want to eat meat.  It's a book for everyone.  She takes the highly charged issues presented by Pamela Rice and weaves it together into much larger and often surprising pictures.  I would recommend you run, not walk, to get your hands on her book and make up your own mind.  You can read Chapter 1 for free.

Joel Salatin is a champion farmer.  He is so passionate about sustainability and runs his farm in such a logical way, you'd wonder why the heck isn't this the norm?  Well spoken and grounded, he has authored a number of books about farming and his struggles against the industrial machine.  I would spend my food dollars at his farm if I lived in the area.  Luckily we have some pretty great ones around here who follow the same sustainable philosophy. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wisdom from An Organic Farmer

We recently spent some lovely time with an area organic farmer.  His farm was not flashy and upon our first hand shake, we knew we would get along. 

Originally I thought we were just going there to check things out, buy some produce and would try it over the week.  We ended up staying for an extended visit.  He was very generous with his time. 

Here are some of the things we learned:
  • "The chickens are like humans.  They come in all different sizes".  Wow, what a simple phrase that symbolizes so much.  Factory chickens are bred to uniform sizes.  Having since tasted the meat, I would have to say it is much denser and flavourful.  De-boning a chicken is normally relatively easy for me but I had a struggle with the organic one until I realized it was because the ligaments and tendons and muscles were so much stronger.  Probably from all the roaming around they do.  And the stock the carcass produced was much darker than what we are used to -- Dense bones perhaps?
  • Laying hens have been modified to pump out one egg a day.  While free range hens will lay once every 3 days or so.  They are also about double the size of caged laying hens which are a shocking half a football size.  He named the different breeds of livestock he has raised over the years and which lines were ending etc.  We aren't familiar with any of them so the info went way over our heads.
  • When we asked if he had any pork in stock.  His answer was "I do have some pigs, but they are small right now."  The number of animals he raises is completely dependent upon the amount of feed he can grow.  So the timing of when products are available is cyclical...Another Wow moment.  Aren't we so used to being able to buy bacon anytime? 
  • The beef we bought was so tender!  We also found that we didn't need to eat as much to feel full for longer.  Also, the omega 3:6 ratio is great when beef cattle are fed hay.  When they are fed corn, the omega 3 pretty much disappears.
  • His farm switched to organic in the early 70's because of the amount of chemicals that were being used and from his own physical reaction from being exposed to them.  His gut told him he didn't want to do things that way anymore. 
  • An "aha" moment occurred at the bank while asking ("hat in hand") for a bridge loan to pay for feed because the money from a produce sale had not yet come in.  The bank wouldn't approve it and instead authorized a loan based on acquiring more equity from the farm.  He immediately went home and told his Wife that they were selling their pigs until all their debt (including mortgage) has been paid off and if there were any pigs left, then they'll continue.  If not, they will do something else.  They haven't owed a bank money since the early 80's. 
  • Organic farming was rare back then.  There wasn't any support outside of a few other farmers.  They learned as they went.  It has been consumer demand that has brought the biggest shifts. 
  • The numbers of weekend farmers' markets have impacted his farm shop sales.  There are fewer people making the drive out nowadays.  He believes it is still important to meet the farmer and see the farms but can understand times are changing. 
  • It costs a lot of money to run a large operation as quotas have to be bought.  He opted not to go that route because it would mean owing money for pretty much the rest of his life.  He farms at a volume that he can sustain which means saving seeds each year.  Freedom is more important.  He worries about the current generation of young adults who are strapping themselves to large mortgages and having to have 2 incomes to "keep up" with everyone else. 
  • It has been about 30 years since he had to use a vet for a sick animal.  His farm goal is to improve the soil and natural habitat, provide healthy well balance food for people while maintaining a livelihood for his family.
  • He acknowledged how overwhelming it can be to want to do "everything right" as he too gets fired up over many issues but advised us to pick our battles and go from there.  Every change to a better direction is a good one.  We can't wait to see him again.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Start Where You Are

We thought it was easiest to tackle the area of food first (not!).  The learning curve has been steep as we attempted to identify the sources of the products we consume.  At first we just figured it was as simple as increasing the budget to pay for "organic", "non GMO" etc.  Then he discovered the middle zones of non certified organic or natural farms and grass fed or grain fed and the pros and cons of each...Confusing!

It's easy to be overcome and overwhelmed trying to do the "right thing".  So it was also necessary to take a step back to recognize and acknowledge incremental steps in the "right" direction as also valid.  Not everything can be done at once with giant leaps and bounds...I've always had a tough time with that one.

Turns out that in our province (Ontario), meat raised and sold has to be growth hormone and antibiotic free.  We are more in line than I thought.  They will use antibiotics in cases of illness but are supposed to leave enough time for residues to leave the system before processing.  We've also been told that antibiotics exist in feed, especially with turkeys.  And yes, we have CAFOs in Canada.

There are a number of area farms that run an organic vegetable "produce box" pick up or delivery service.  Some will give you a break on the cost if you are willing to roll up your sleeves and help out at the farm.  My only concern is wastage.  I know we don't eat as many vegetables as we'd like so getting a whole tub full weekly freaks me out a bit.  They will provide recipes to help you out with cooking new to you veggies. 

I think us driving around all over the place to various organic farm stores may not be the best answer either.  I've been busy identifying both certified and non certified organic farms within a 50 km radius of where we live as an FYI.  We had the pleasure of visiting one (learned so much!) over the weekend and I'll be writing a post about our experiences shortly. 

In reality, purchasing medium or large orders at once or having them delivered is actually cheaper and more efficient.  We've also found a service that works with area organic farms and stores (within 100 km) so you could actually do most if not all of your weekly shopping through them for a very minimal delivery charge ($5).  I've set up an account and will be giving them a go. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Early Thoughts -- Grateful / Not Grateful

I'm Grateful for:
  • my luck in being born when and where I was -- I could have been one of 15 people living in a hut with no electricity, water or toilet, doing back breaking work all day -- Instead I've been blogging about being sore after dance and music lessons
  • for reliable and plentiful water supply -- The water documentary said it best -- It doesn't matter who you are or how rich you may be, after 7 days without water, your eyes too will bleed... 
  • being able to afford to support farmers who are doing it "for the right reasons" -- Good reminder that nothing worthwhile is always fast or inexpensive -- D wants to learn how to farm
  • being able to have an affordable education -- Coffee farmers in Ethiopia who maybe make cents a day value education so much they are willing to sell the shirt off their backs and put the funds into building a community school for their kids young and old

I'm Not Grateful for:
  • being given so much choice in a supermarket because it leads me to believe getting all that produce any time of year is no big deal when in fact it costs too much -- I'm guilty of wanting strawberries in the winter and recently, I had a very large papaya sitting on my kitchen counter in an attempt to eat more fruit
  • being told something is "good" for me when in fact it has been genetically modified with harmful consequences -- And law suits are going on pressuring farmers who don't want to switch over
  • the cheapness of water as it lulls me into thinking it isn't worth much when in reality it is in extremely short supply -- How Coke is less expensive to drink than water in Nairobi -- Do we really need to be loading people up with sugar and caffeine?
  • how it is "necessary" for large corporations to "always" show a quarterly profit when not exceeding expectations can still mean millions in profit but often results in stock price drops -- D asked if we need to start looking into investing in more ethically run companies as our "want" of ever growing investment income comes into play here... 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Recommended Documentaries

D managed to throw his back out and we took the forced down time to watch some documentaries. 

Normally he can't handle more than one or two but surprised me, partly due to him not being able to move all that well for a couple of days (luckily it was the weekend) and also because the subjects touched us both deeply. 

Books on the matter are great and I've read my share of them but seeing and hearing the issues hits home in an entirely different way.  I would highly recommend the ones below:



We are committed to doing even more to ensure we are buying products that are fair trade, ethical, organic, local and non GMO.  The above programs made us feel extremely uneasy (nauseous). 

Our budget will be changing to reflect our increased commitment to our environment and to improving the lives of our fellow humans.  I plan to elaborate a bit more on those changes in future posts. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Adventures in Adult Ed

My ballet and violin classes have recently gotten delayed (not on my part) for different valid reasons.  Part of the frustration I'm feeling stems from not wanting the momentum to wane as well as the difficulty I encountered with even finding lesson opportunities in the first place.

Most schools cater to kids and for good reason.  To become proficient in something like music, sport or dance usually requires an early start for developmental reasons.  Those larger sized classes are often the bread and butter of the schools. 

So when an adult calls or emails looking for availability, the times offered (if there are teachers with openings) are understandably what is left after the core classes are taken in consideration.  Looking for lessons during the day is even more challenging as instructors often have "day jobs" too. 

Some schools don't taking adult learners seriously.  One place actually told me it would be OK to show up to a ballet class in yoga pants...Huh?  Maybe they get their share of "mid life" crisis people who just want to have fun and are tired of it.  Try finding a violin teacher willing to teach an adult beginner and you'll see what I mean.  I had to pass an "interview".

Nabbing a good learning spot has become a big deal.  The reason I haven't continued my ballroom lessons was because I lost my lesson slot when I broke my wrist learning how to figure skate 5 years ago.  That's why I was so stunned and excited when my recent dance opportunities came about and why I was tempted (still am) to do both.

I favour private lessons because you learn faster and more.  The costs are often double or triple.  It's not because I'm a snob when it comes to group classes.  It's just that group lessons times are usually in the evenings and I'm too tired and hungry on work nights.

Now that D and I are doing art one evening as well, there are limited other nights available when you add in us heading up north on a week night.  Also, we look forward to and enjoy our unhurried dinners, after dinner walks and evenings together. 

I get that my requirements aren't the easiest to accommodate either.  When it does work out, I'm uber anxious to get going, making any deviations feel that much more difficult. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cards & Thoughts

I don't know if I ought to feel ashamed for this or not, but I haven't bought a card outside of a package of Thank You cards (which doesn't count) for years and years.  You know the type where you actually spend some time browsing a Hallmark Store for? 

Traditionally I've never been a fan of cards (can admire beautifully made ones though) as I found them to cost way more than the value I placed on it.  Personally it makes more sense to spend more on the gift than on the packaging. 

D used to buy me cards, quirky handmade ones for all occasions until he realized I wasn't really into them so he pretty much has stopped.  I have enjoyed getting the odd really cool one as he knows I'm a huge fan of the "Where's Waldo" books. 

Last week I found myself at a card store looking for something to accompany a "care package" for the buddy of mine who sent me the gift of the BB app.  He is going through some seriously difficult times (which made his gesture to cheer Me up that much more touching).  I'm sure he had a good laugh when I shared just what it took for me to be ready to buy that app.

It makes me squirmy to not be able to help solve a problem as I'm such an action person.  I'm one of those people who when asked if I'd like to donate to such and such a cause at the check out line or outside of a store or when travelling, the answer is Yes. 

If we lived in the same city I could offer to baby sit, take him out for a meal, meet for a drink, have them over for dinner etc.  But from this far away, email and the occasional phone call when time zones and schedules match up, end up being our primary mode of communication.  The last time we saw each other was 4 years ago.  It's tough to not be able to do anything concrete when I can so clearly hear his pain. 

So I decided to send a package filled with snacks and treats appropriate for grown ups -- Something to remind him of fun times.  I have been tracking the delivery and am thrilled it had finally arrived and been signed for.  I hope receiving it brings on a smile even if the contents may not be exactly to his taste.  Either way, it's nice receiving something by mail and be reminded that someone out there is thinking of you. 

Speaking of which, have you ever tried to find a "Thinking of You" card for a guy recently?  And if so, were you able to find anything that wasn't floral or twirly?!  Writing an exam seemed easier.  I finally settled on the least feminine one they had at a whooping cost of $8.19 taxes in...Inflation has definitely hit the card sector.  HE is worth it and I can afford it, but the card itself really wasn't.  Next time I'm going the homemade route.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Goodwill

We awoke to a scraping noise Sunday morning.  To our surprise we saw a couple of girls on our sidewalk stuffing leaves back into our paper leaf bags.  A vandal decided it would be neat to empty out all 7 of our large full bags of leaves overnight. 

It was our neighbour across the street's daughter (B) and friend (who slept over) who were busy fixing the wrong doing. 

D flew out of bed and put some clothes on to head outside.  They were all done by that point.  We were so touched by the thought and act of kindness D asked if it would be OK if he paid them.  Their reactions were priceless -- Complete surprise.  That said it all. 

A few minutes later, B came knocking wanting to return some money as we paid them too much.  D told her we didn't and that we appreciated their willingness to help so much we would not be taking any money back.  And D trying to be "smart", told her to just keep it and not tell her parents...To which she replied she could not do that!

I was upstairs getting ready for the day and when he told me that, I told him you cannot say things like that!  You have just told her to lie to her parents!  This is not an adult you are talking to.  Kids aren't going to get it as a joke.  So off I went across the street to thank B myself and to tell her parents what a great job they are doing.

Turns out my neighbour have had a number of rough incidences recently including a car accident, job transfer to a neighbouring city requiring a long daily commute and a death in the family.  Also turned out they have had a number of Halloween decorations stolen over the years. 

B and I discussed how often people who do such things may not know what it means to own a home, pay for it for a long time, take pride in it thus not be able to empathize with what it feels to wake up one morning to find a deliberate mess.  We revisited the morning payment thing after I thanked her again and suggested she donate what she felt the overpayment portion was to a cause that was meaningful.  She liked the idea. 

Goes to show you just how human our collective experiences are despite appearances and the happy hellos you may hear from each other every week.  This act of goodwill has brought us closer and I am real grateful for it.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Music & Dance

Almost every thing or situation (outside of nature) I can think of can be improved with music. 

When working out, music is a must.  I choose tunes reflecting my energy level.  A couple times I didn't do that and the results were painful.  Both involved listening to much faster music than appropriate for my run. My body ran faster to match the beat and the result was I could barely crawl up or go down the stairs for the following 2 days.  D had a grand ole time laughing at me.  He doesn't need music to run.

Last art class, the instructor, who usually plays classical music during, decided to mix it up with a great album to make sketching still life palatable -- Keane's Hopes And Fears.  The first track is one of my favourites.  It made all the difference as drawing fruits and vegetables isn't the most exciting thing.   

I'm emerging from my "quiet period".  The last 7 years have been pretty devoid of music -- Playing, dancing and listening.  Too much thinking instead.  I've happily explored new areas but missed a lot of old favourites.

You may be hearing of a lot whining shortly as I will be regaining something I haven't done for decades.  A couple of my new leads came back and I got the opportunity to take private ballet and ballroom lessons!

It would be just like me to do both but having earned some wisdom over the years, I've chosen ballet.  I was doing leg stretches on our staircase in preparation while D (wearing my Afro wig and his Elvis glasses) handed out candy Wed.  The kids likely thought I was part of the whole set up.

If a 28 min library Tinkerbell Studio ballet DVD wearing me out is any sign of things to come...it won't be pretty.  There is nowhere to hide in a studio full of mirrors wearing leotards. 

ps.  It's Snowing!!!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Canning

Don't you love it when you stumble upon an idea or new way of doing something that not only is loads better but can save you money at the same time?

D cans dill pickles, jalapeno peppers and raspberry jam and we are enjoying the homemade products immensely. 

It's been 2 or 3 seasons for the pickles and he has experimented with other peoples' homemade recipes as well as online ones.  I think this year's hybrid recipe batch is the best out of the bunch.  When it is that time of year to buy cukes, I'm always amused to find farmers thinking it's me (I'm the official family produce picker) canning and then see their faces when a guy steps up.  

And you should have seen D's face when we got him his very own canning kit...Can you imagine Daniel Craig canning or getting excited about a canning kit?  That's about how surprised I was. 

The jalapeno peppers started as a lucky find -- A giant buckets' worth at a greatly reduced price caught our attention.  D had been buying jarred ones for years and just paid the money for what really isn't an expensive product at all.  And like with a lot of things, a bit of education destroys the perception that something is really really hard and beyond an average person's grasp.  So off we went to buy more jars.  And the results have been pretty awesome.

The raspberry jam was new this year partly due to our over abundant soft fruit season as well as the shear price of homemade jam and the volume that gets consumed.  D loves jam and again we are used to buying it from farmers' markets and specialty stores vs the commercial brands which are too sweet for us.

He found a recipe that didn't need pectin as apparently raspberries have enough of their own, the jam will just set.  We were a bit apprehensive but figured it was worth a couple pints to try it out and it was a winner.  More fruity tasting than anything we've ever bought with half the sugar.  So now we have a whole set of smaller jam jars.

The process of learning the above didn't come without challenges.  The first year of pickles shorted out our gas stove or so we thought.  I wasn't totally on board with all the moving parts of canning and didn't really like having all that humidity in the house etc.  So when the stove stopped working, I had a little freak out as it is an expensive gas range...

Turned out it was a safety mechanism when temperatures got too high.  D had all the burners on full blast in an effort to sterilise all of his jars and the stove shut him down in self preservation.  We didn't even know there was a built in range fan on top of an oven fan until that happened.  Once the temperature dropped enough, everything came back online.  I remember being so mad looking for warranty information and D being so scared he killed the stove for $20 worth of pickles...

Next season, the jalapeno peppers went off without a hitch.  (Thank goodness!)

The jamming created a lot of tension in the house because the raspberries brought home families and families worth of fruit flies and I had to buy an extra fly swatter to manage them all.  Seriously, I couldn't even eat lunch in peace or get into my car without swatting as they were in our garage recycling area too.  And it is irritating and dangerous trying to kill bugs while driving.

Oh what did we do before Google?  Within a few hours of setting up a couple of fruit fly traps made of apple cider vinegar and a bit of detergent, it caught the rest of them.  Just wished we had found it a week earlier.  I have a pretty extreme aversion to bugs so they were driving me crazy and causing anxiety as I swear they were biting me. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Educational Trends Pt 3 -- Arts

We don't know any friends' kids who are learning music or art.  It appears not to be in favour.  Personally I find that shocking and disappointing. 

So what is in?  Group dance classes to the tune of about a thousand a month.  Plus all the makeup,  costumes, competition fees, travel and overnight stays.  Some would call it more "show" than "true" dance but nonetheless, it is a huge industry.  The group mentality and the pressures that come with it are alive and well. 

We know of 2 families who spent between 26K - 30K each to travel to the London Olympics (2 families of 4, for a week) to dance with the group.  When we were told, I just thought WOW!  To be 14 years old and be able to dance at the Summer Olympics!  How do you even go about getting an opportunity like that?

As one mom put it, "We got there, had a day to settle in and S spent 45 min dancing at an out of the way industrial parking lot where no one was watching.  No sign, no stage, no organization...We quickly realized it was a ploy for the school to be able to write off a trip to the Olympics."  They did get tickets to see one round of fencing.  Afterwards the family just did our own thing and enjoyed London.

On the other end of the spectrum we know of parents who are waiting for a "sign" from their child of their "leanings" before signing them up for anything.   And they are honestly hoping it won't be the piano as they don't want to make room for one in their house.  The TV takes priority.  You should have seen my face when I heard that. 

As well as parents who have openly declared they are not going to provide any opportunities outside of what's available at school or summer school because they are just too busy and tired to bother.  Money is not the issue.  I feel bad for the kids and hope they will keep their interests alive inside and pursue it when they are able to fund it themselves.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Timing

It appears my timing for having to miss a trip was a good one.  I was supposed to be heading down to NYC for a couple of nights after spending 3 days in Maine before catching my flight home.  All flights home have been cancelled for the next 2 days.  My thoughts to all the people caught in the storm.

Being mostly at home for vacation is still kinda new for me.  The longest I've ever hung out here was about a week.  And D reminded me that I told him to never let me do it again as I did too much work and not enough vacationing.  My attempt at a staycation last time wasn't very successful.  Whereas this time I am quite enjoying it.

I'm more than half way through my time off and have almost worked through the stuff that necessitated my stay in the first place.   One project I did do on the house didn't turn out so great.  It is too late in the year to wood fill and paint windows and it just isn't wanting to dry properly.  So 3+ hours down the drain as I will have to redo it next summer.

Had a couple instances where I felt a bit bored.  Didn't feel like practicing violin or piano anymore.  Art class stuff completed.  Had dinner already cooking and cleaning was under control.  Caught up on emails.  Even raked leaves a couple times.  So went back to the office to do paperwork for a few hours.  Shocking the heck out of D.

Funny thing was early on, I started feeling "guilty" for just sitting around.  During a regular work week (12 - 15 hr), I would never feel guilty on a day off even on days where I didn't feel like cleaning or making dinner.  But at zero paid work hours, I felt like I had to justify my time at home. 

That lasted for a couple of moments and has subsequently cleared.  I can get used to vacationing at home more. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Educational Trends Pt 2 -- Sports

We are seeing around us a whole world of recreation that never existed in our time.  Kids currently have to start training at a young age in order to be able to compete for a varsity spot one day. 

D, being pretty sports aware is shocked at how intense the rec system has become.  We have been told that in order to play grade 9 volleyball, training has to start in grade 5 with the right coach and camps?!

In our time, anyone who showed up pretty much had a decent chance of getting on the team.  Kids are now training 3 -5 times a week and playing throughout the year.  And their goal isn't to make it to the Olympics or win a scholarship or to become a professional athlete or just to stay fit.

They are attending special camps all over the States and on multiple leagues in order to build up a strong enough resume to make varsity.  I'm sure you can imagine the costs associated as well as the little down time for both kids and family.  Plus it makes it impossible for youth summer jobs. 

This training intensity has led to multiple injuries at a young age like compression and stress fractures, small bone breaks and chronic muscle strain.  Believe me, that kind of stuff comes back to haunt you.  Maybe I'm not seeing it but where is the fun?

Because of the huge time commitment just one sport demands, I'm noticing the development of these kids/teenagers/young adults seem skewed.  Whether parents are a huge proponent of a liberal arts education or not, the reality is, once in, kids basically have no time to do anything else.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

How Far Would You Go?

My friends don't all know I'm a luddite.  So when I received a gift from a buddy yesterday in the form of an Interac e-Transfer (that was not the issue) of some money to buy a BB app, I cringed at what it will likely take to make this wonderful gesture into reality.

I just spent almost 2 hours downloading, upgrading software, syncing my phone with my laptop, getting IDs set up and rejected, and finally buying this app that is supposed to remind me of our youth.  I'm still not sure just how I'm going to get billed for this as I chose paypal and never did log in with any info but was told I've bought it and am listening to it right now.  I'm assuming it will show up on my monthly bill. 

The app I bought was for a German techno radio station.  And the buddy who was trying to cheer me up was my perennial clubbing partner back when we were in school.  He lives at the other end of Canada with his family and we've been reminiscing about the simplicity of our student days and catching up on our respective life challenges and struggles. 

D is going to send him an email saying "Thanks...MW is wanting to dye her hair burgundy now after listening to that station..."  To which I replied that R has seen my hair many different colours so it wouldn't surprise him.  To which he said "But I've never seen that...".  True.  That feels like many lifetimes ago. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Back So Soon?

No, the trip wasn't shortened, it didn't end up happening.  Some stuff came up last minute that required both our attentions and such as life...It resulted in some loss of money and gained some travel credits as the cancellation was not something that qualified for a travel insurance claim.  You win some, you lose some.  Am pleased at least the timing is such I was going to be off anyways. 

So obviously no thoughts about potentially living out east to share other than I am quite content where I am right now.  My life feels full and challenging (in a good way) which helps to balance the times when it is not.  I'm also not itching to get away or antsy because I couldn't go which for me is rare.  Things are evolving inside. 

Instead relief was what I felt when the news came as I was scrambling to pack.  I didn't want to be dealing with stuff via Blackberry and computer while away.  The last time I did that was when I was in Iceland.  Despite it turning out to be a phenomenal trip, I felt torn and didn't wish to experience it again.

I will have an opportunity to finish up some small projects at home which have been pushed aside way too frequently especially this year with the amount of great travelling (super grateful!) that did happen.  Plus get a sense for what it feels like to actually stay at home while D works.  See if I like the novelty of being a pretend 'kept woman' for a couple weeks...

Friday, October 19, 2012

On The Lighter Side

A couple of funny things came across D's radar recently:

An email gathering info for D's annual review was cc'ed to him incorrectly resulting in a joke review:

"Re:  Areas Requiring Improvement -- Needs to buy a car that is better than his wife's...something that isn't conducive to Tilley hats and Birkenstock wearing..." (remember D drives a Subaru Outback aka "old man wagon")

Last weekend, D wondered why the subtle background music choice was so poor while watching a foreign film, set in India, with his noise cancelling headphones.  At first it seemed appropriate but when it continued on, he took his headphones off and realized it was me trying to get acquainted with my violin...

Speaking of violins...Holy smokes are the tips of my fingers sore and arm achy!  There is a lot of awkward coordination and arm twisting involved with learning to play the violin, not to mention the mental exhaustion.  It looks natural when watching someone else (that's because they are good) but it really isn't.  There is a serious spatial requirement for this instrument.

Trying to keep the bow "straight" (perpendicular to strings and centered) with your head tilted while looking at it at an angle is challenging.  Plus you have music to contend with in front of you.  The violin is held by your chin and jaw, not your hand. 

And the bow hand?  Who knew you didn't just hold it but have to almost clamp on it with sides of bent fingers?  Nothing about it is natural.  And your hand either cramps up or just exhausts and bunches together limiting the amount of playing time until it wakes up again.   

I'm sure it will become second nature in no time?  I almost forgot to bring my violin the first lesson.  Not used to having to provide my own instrument, tune it, wipe it and rosin it.  Despite all my fumbles, my brain and I are really enjoying the challenge. 

Having a music background (good ear and ability to read music) helps tremendously.  I'm so glad I scrambled to get my piano tuned.  I don't know how you could just pick up this instrument without being able to confirm pitch (I'm sitting at my piano to make sure I am reproducing the right notes) or having to learn to read music at the same time as I am staring down my violin and arms constantly right now.  I need another set of eyes!

My teacher thinks I'll progress fairly quickly so that was nice to hear but I'll believe it when I hear it.  D may end up putting his foot down and relegating me to the garage.  I already have a lot of homework.  More than I would have given a beginner.   My next lesson won't be for 3 weeks and he expects I'll have time to practice and work ahead...

On that note, the east coast beckons and I won't be bringing my violin.  Crossing fingers for reasonable weather.  Hurricanes would not be considered reasonable...  Back in 2 weeks.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Art Class Characters

It is an eclectic mix of people in our art class.  Six of us who have various jobs/careers.  One retired lady and the remainder, all full time art students.  With any new group, we are likely scouting each other out wondering what the respective stories are and who is capable of what.  At least I am. 

I thought we'd be asked to introduce ourselves on the first night but it never happened.  Been out of school too long to know what is done nowadays.  So I am still not sure what everyone's names are (names are not my forte to being with).  People are friendly enough so lots of "hellos", which is fine.  The class is pretty much silently sketching for most of the 3 hours so not conducive to conversation anyways.

Depending upon the subject matter, we are either in a room with the oldest drafting tables I've ever seen or in a room with large desks covered with drawing mats.  It's great to see all the art work featured on the walls.  Very inspiring.  Some people have real talent.

One fellow in the class caught my attention early, not because he was consistently late but because he is an architect and I wanted to find out more about what he is working on.  I've seen him work on floor plan renderings in class time which were obviously his work. 

After a couple classes, he stopped keeping to himself and started wandering around, looking at everybody's work.  It didn't seem to bother him that he was the only one doing so.  So we finally made contact but not long enough for me to find out what type of architecture he did for a living. 

As art is quite personal to me, I've never been a fan of someone standing beside me staring so whenever he came into my work area I'd ask him if he was looking for something or if I was in his way etc.  I'm happy to discuss my drawing but he just smiles and says no.  (I'm starting to get over it a bit as the instructor has asked all of us to start going around to see how differently everyone approached drawing.)

And of course there is always one person who monopolizes the instructor's time.  And one who broods and dresses like an "artist".  And ones who "know it all" and openly flaunts their sketch pads and art materials and speaks in a way that makes me think it would be difficult for them to get a date. 

And when it came right down to it, the "braggy" ones aren't as "great" as their body language puts out and have since mellowed.  I know what you're thinking -- Look who's talking, the trouble maker from first class...   :  )

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New Educational Trends?

D's friends' kids are pretty much all about to go to or already are at University.  Whereas my friends' kids are much younger reflecting the difference in career options of the parents as well as our age differences (D is 45, I am 40).  Ongoing conversations about parenthood has garnered some trends in education "norms" that have surprised us.

It seems like all of D's friends have accepted that one degree is no longer adequate in today's work world, regardless of program of choice.  They have already geared up for the extra educational costs.  None of their kids will have to pay a dime towards their education nor are they required to get a part time job throughout the school year.  Most of them have chosen out of province or country schools. 

In Canada, where public education is subsidized by the government, parents are currently paying in the vicinity of 22K a year (includes residence but no spending money etc).  We know a family of twins who started this year and despite their good dual incomes, have had to dip into their lines of credits to pay their Sept bill as fees are required to be paid in full.

On my side, parents with younger kids have them in a myriad of activities and they tell me it is costing 1K per kid per month to keep them in golf, hockey, dance and various camps.  Not to mention the amount of driving and divided family time during the week and weekends on top of hotel and gasoline costs. 

We often get tired just listening to all the tournament and competition locations our friends get to go to each week.  They thought once full time daycare was a thing of the past they'd have some financial breathing room, but nope. 

Let me be clear and say none of the kids mentioned above are performing or competing at a high level.  We are talking recreation here.  Other than one parent whose son won a sports scholarship to an Ivy League school where the financial output to get there was many many times beyond the above, all the families we know are doing what is considered "normal" in our neck of the woods. 

To be cont'd...

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Productivity

I am concerned my overall productive capacity has shrunk.  Now that I seem to have some more time on my hands, it has become grossly apparent I am accomplishing just a shadow of what I remember being capable of and it disturbs me. 

You know the old adage of "use it or lose it" as applied to fitness, mental endeavors etc.   It really does hold true in many instances.  I can only sit around being zen for so long.  (Not criticizing meditation, just recognizing my own needs and limits)

Our art classes have reminded me of just how much I can accomplish and gain without being tired.  And just how tired I can get when only using (exhausting) one small portion of my brain over and over again, thinking that's the most important and forgetting there is more available. 

When I first started my career I was working 36 hr a week, teaching piano for 16 hr between Fri - Sun (1 1/2 hr drive away) and doing a Masters degree full time.  Believe it or not, that was an easier schedule than when I was in school full time.

One can argue the above was just nuts but I was thriving.  Tired but happy.  Alive.  Though it may look like it from the description, I'm not a workaholic.  I wasn't that busy at work yet and had a responsibility to stay with my students until their final exams.  The extra schooling allowed me to pay off my students loan interest free.

Nowadays, getting a consistent work out in is an achievement.  I have gotten "soft" but I refuse to believe it is permanent.  It's just that I've just gotten way out of balance with work over the last decade, making it more of my life than I ideally want.  The restlessness also explains why an income alone has never been enough despite work being fulfilling on a number of levels. 

I need to push the boundaries of my brain again as it has developed some not so lovely handles.

As my ballet lessons did not pan out this term, here's what I've decided to take on next (sadly, not helicopter -- but a bigger commitment in a lot of ways)...Hint (1995 -- So young then!).   She's all grown up now.  And no worries, I will not subject you to any examples of my efforts.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Lessons From Art Class

Last minute, I talked D into taking the studio class as it was suitable for beginners.  He was terrified to put it mildly.  I told him he was scared of things that made no sense to me!  You cannot get hurt in an art class, unlike skiing where I'm the one terrified as trees could be hit!  He pointed out one could get jabbed by pencils...

I was ready to quit after the first class because drawing boxes was just not my thing.  D, on the other hand, loved it!  The step by step perspective lesson was right up his alley.  Whereas I was used to learning as I went along vs via lecture.  Starting with the end in mind.  Kinda how I approach life really.

Feeling rebellious, I drew a perfectly fine box...just not the box in front of me.  I even did 2 other renditions of "the better box in my head" from different angles just for fun as I was so bored.

By the time the instructor got to my desk, I was just sitting there.  He asked how things were going and I answered with "I'm all boxed out" (wasn't trying to be funny, just stating fact) .  He laughed and proceeded to tear my work apart.  I deserved it. 

He did tell me I drew nice boxes but the point was to draw the perspective in front of me.  I could just hear him think in his head "trouble maker".  I really am not.  Just had a rough day and was hoping for a class that was more inspiring.

Having had a number of classes since, I now look forward to them.  I've redeemed myself and am following the rules.  The instructor and I are getting along quite well.  He says I have a bold drawing style and I'm working on developing a gentler approach.

D is freaking out with higher intensity as the box, cylinder, triangle subjects are over and we have moved onto actual things to draw which makes me finally feel "at home". 

I forgot how much I love the quietness of being in a room for 3 hr with a dozen others with just the soft sound of graphite on paper.  Oh so peaceful.  I look over and see D's gradually reddened face.  We are onto figure drawing and were supposed to sketch from as many different angles as time would allow.  He leaned over and told me he'll wait for me in the car...

It is the after class talk on the drive home that has been really enlightening.  I have been used to doing stuff outside of my comfort zone (sports) since being married.  Now that D has ventured into another one of my confident areas (second time, first was latin ballroom dancing...not so great for D), we have gotten to see each other in a different light. 

I leave the class totally relaxed mentally and physically.  And D comes out complaining of a sore arm, neck and hand.  Now he understands how I could come back from a ski lesson tense when he who doesn't need lessons can come back grinning.  We have developed a new found empathy for each other.

You see, we are quite different and would have never dated each other had we met in University.  He wouldn't have been serious or intense enough for me.  I would have labelled him a "slacker" back in the day.  And he would have labelled me as "way too much".  The chances of us ever running into each other would have been slim as our areas of study were totally different.  (commerce vs science)

As he has never seen me in anything close to an academic setting he wasn't sure if I was for real when I said with total seriousness during our first walk to the classroom, "Alright, we are going to achieve the 2 highest marks in the class...".

More to Come...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Cottage Life Update

We had said a number of years ago that we would no longer go to the cottage on Thanksgiving weekend.  Oh how soon we forget just why...

Our drive there and back was horrific!!!  This is the first long weekend home for all the university students.  And it showed in the quality and quantity of not great driving.  High numbers of young people piled into cars stuffed full of stuff.  Lots of them were texting or talking on their phone while driving (subject to $155 fine out our way) with frequent slamming of brakes.  Perfect recipe for road rage, if you ask me. 

The weather up north was cool.  We both felt more normal after four nights of 8 hours of sleep.  We got over an inch of snow Sunday night to our surprise.  It didn't last long but still!  D packed up all liquids to bring home as we may not be up again before the plumbers come to close it up.

I noticed we had a wet mark underneath the elbow joint of the gas fireplace.  Upon closer inspection, there is a rust stain right at a seam.  D went up on the roof to inspect the chimney and couldn't see any obvious signs.  He concluded it could have been a weird angled rain that just happened to hit at the right place.  We are going to keep an eye on it before calling a professional. 

One of our neighbours has been contending with some major cottage issues over the last year and we think he may have finally turned the corner with them.  He is a contractor by trade and being "old school" by nature, feels he ought to be able to figure everything out himself instead of hiring an outside "expert". 

Being a contractor in a major city center doesn't always translate to being able to fix well and septic issues.  That's my thought.  Over the last year we've seen multiple areas get dug up, multiple contractor friends up to help out, them never staying overnight, a sump pump get installed and finally a month ago, the first "real" water contractor was seen. 

D has a marginally better relationship with him than I do (ever since he took down a couple of trees of ours without permission...) so he has been the one getting updates on what's going on.  His well went dry and his septic is getting filled too quickly so there must be a leak.  Our water table is high being within a stone's throw to a major body of water as well as multiple streams.

It will cost many thousands to replace both.  My estimate is at least 12K as he will have to comply with current environmental standards.  All cottages septic systems are currently subject to testing every 3 years with repairs or replacement within a mandatory time frame.

And his water pump also needs replacing.  I know that will cost around $800 alone assuming his holding tank is still good.  We got ours done a couple years ago.  (Knock on wood our system has tested excellent all three times)

Because he has access to a stream, water for toilets is possible.  He buys his drinking water anyways so
nothing new there, just more for cooking etc.  Until he gets running water again, he has a camp site.  The issue we foresee is difficulty with finding a location for a new well. 

His property is quite developed with multiple outbuildings and water may not be found in what he considers a "convenient" place.  Without water, his property value will plummet.  I'm sure he knows that.  The wait and see approach hasn't garnered a solution.  Digging deeper in the same spot isn't always fruitful as another neighbour has found out.  It's Man vs Nature over there.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Rentals 103

Some final misc points worth noting:
  • Double glazed windows are a must for us when fronting a busy street.  Street noise can be significant and not being able to open doors to balcony or windows can take away from the holiday experience.
  • Might seem great to be near the local square with Cathedral or Ancient Church.  But the bells may be strong enough to shake your pen off your night table.  We previously stayed in a great apartment in the wrong area.  Hourly bells that shook your mind from 7 am to 9 pm...
  • Being near a bus or train station may seem convenient but those places (depending on the wealth of the city) are typical hang outs for the unemployed, homeless, pickpockets and drug dealers.  We tend to transit out of those areas quickly.
  • Laundry facilities in Europe are typically found in kitchens.  Ease of plumbing perhaps?  Sometimes in the bathroom.  The machines can be combo ie. washer and dryer in one.  As a warning, it will take about 4 hr to wash a load???!!!  We still haven't figured it out despite reading many manuals.
  • WiFi is something we are finding more and more.  It's nice to be able to check flight status and check in.  Saves time at the airport.
  • As you will not be given unlimited paper products in your rental apartment, be prepared to buy and transport toilet paper that may be pink and packaged in the largest possible footprint!  Kleenex isn't commonly found by default in a lot of places either. 
  • Check reviews of the apartment to glean valuable info re:  nearby supermarkets, quality of walking streets, safety etc.
  • Some European city rentals will insist on charging for utilities, taken out of the security deposit at the end of your stay.  We tend to avoid such rentals.  I like one price.
  • Black out blinds in the bedroom can make a huge difference in your quality of sleep.  Same with having a bedroom that faces an inner courtyard.
  • We prefer apartment locations to be in areas where we can walk to almost everything.  It's usually cheaper to stay 30 min by bus or train ride away but after a long fun day, do you want to commute or stroll home?




    The infamous Church and its deafening Bells. Nice, France.

    I wasn't lying about my old hotel pen habits.  Not any more!


    Well I'm off to start my long weekend.
    Happy Thanksgiving to my Canadian Readers!