Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Summary

I like ending the year with a review of my day timer. The monthly layout is the one I prefer as I like a bird's eye view. By the end of the year, my book is well worn and thoroughly covered with scribble notes of all sorts.

It never fails to amuse me just how much I managed to forget about what happened throughout the year. Most years I realized I did too much and vow to do things differently the following year.

Here is the snapshot of my 2008 month to month: (I don't know where the bullet feature went...)


-- figure skating classes started (1st time back since wrist break)
-- saw my aunt through her mastectomy (very relieved that it was benign)
-- worked extra shifts for my associate who injured herself (this was a very very dramatic injury as she managed to tear 95% of her quadriceps tendon -- believe me when I say that this is not easy to do)
-- started half course in Spanish
-- hosted 4 dinner parties
-- went out for lunch twice
-- went to Vancouver to catch up with a couple of girlfriends (one from Vancouver, the other from Tahiti) for 5 days
-- massage and chiro appts
-- made 3rd of 4th mondo landscaping payment


-- D went on a guys' ski trip
-- aced my first Spanish oral exam
-- went out for lunch and dinner with girlfriends
-- hosted 2 dinner parties
-- 4 day mini vacation to the Bahamas
-- massage appt


-- D's car acted up -- mondo repairs
-- filed taxes
-- hosted 2 dinner parties
-- canceled trip to South America (50% penalty), rebooked for Feb '10
-- booked ski trip out west
-- fell in love with resort, bought a ski condo
-- took 4, 2 hour ski lessons, nearly killed me, won't be doing that again!
-- massage appt
-- quarterly tax payment


-- not having fun with out of province real estate transaction
-- got certified in next level work course
-- 6 dinner parties
-- got married
-- got our wills done
-- 3 lunches out
-- massage and chiro appts
-- movie night out
-- paid 4th of 4 mondo landscaping bill
-- cancelled Newfoundland trip, re booked for July
-- supported Hospice and Room to Read


-- had the worst notary public experience ever
-- ski condo transaction closed successfully
-- cottage opening weekend
-- treated myself to reflexology and reiki treatments (pretty cool stuff)
-- got my hair cut
-- dental check up
-- watch repair
-- 2 dinner parties
-- went out west for 5 days to set up ski condo
-- supported War Amps and World Vision


-- high school reunion (many yrs)
-- grad school reunion (10 yrs)
-- 3 dinners out
-- massage appt
-- saw 2 plays
-- was tempted greatly to go to girlfriend's stag in Amsterdam (but alas, could not swing it)
-- supported cancer association
-- quarterly tax payment


-- saw 1 play
-- 2 dinner parties
-- redecorated cottage with new blinds
-- 2 movies out
-- replaced cottage water pump $$$
-- cancelled Newfoundland trip
-- supported autism association


-- massage appt
-- more blinds for cottage
-- haircut
-- my car acted up, replaced ball jt $$
-- 2 dinner and lunches out
-- canceled trip to Alaska (another 50% penalty) **will not be paying any more penalties... re booked for May '09
-- spent 2 weeks at home and cottage instead


-- paid for appt stay in Nice
-- exchanged euro for trip
-- quarterly tax payment
-- massage appt
-- bought season's passes for skiing
-- started blog


-- work photo shoot
-- mortgage rates are dropping (yeah!)
-- started my Artist's days
-- cottage closing
-- paid off line of credit (down payment for ski condo)
-- laptop had a big hiccup and lost my bookkeeping for the year, had to redo
-- went to Nice, France for 2 weeks
-- meeting lots of great bloggers


-- got winter tires on
-- went to 3 art exhibits
-- out for dinner 2 times


-- signed up for next level ski lessons in January
-- mortgage rates fall again
-- massage appt
-- 2 dinners out
-- secret santa at work (I was sent on a treasure hunt by mine)
-- 2 lunches out
-- used up all flight credits
-- flew out west for 2 1/2 weeks off
-- loving the views of the mountains and skiing runs that take min 1/2 hr to come down

Phew! Looking forward to 2009!

I wish each and every one of you and your loved ones my very best for the New Year!!!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Time Out

Today was a no ski day as I was feeling tired and did not want to risk skiing without 100% energy and concentration.

Instead I got to looking at next year's calendar and my 2009 distribution of non work time.

This year the year ended with my longest chunks of time off work whereas the first half of the year had a smattering of 4 - 5 days off. Thus I am ending the year more tired because of it.

As I aim to keep monthly numbers of working days as consistently as possible (in order to maintain steady cash flow), it can be quite the exercise trying to put in a week here and there.

There is a large part of me that doesn't want to be so practical and just book trips whenever the opportunity should arise...

How do you plan for holidays/time off? Do you spaced them out evenly throughout the year or just go for it?

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Couple of Quotes

A couple of quotes from Martha Beck worth pondering about:

"To liberate our minds enough to begin seeing alternatives, we must realize, prosaic as it seems, that we are physically capable of not doing almost everything we think we have to do"

"The key is to trust your non verbal, felt experience. If a thought causes suffering, it isn't true"

She also encourages, through an exercise, to go through a "to do" list and feel with each item, whether the thought of doing said item creates what she calls a "shackles on" or a "shackles off" sensation ie. whether you feel freer of less free from the action or decision.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Boxing Day 2008

The day after Christmas is known as Boxing Day here in Canada (and probably other places too). It is customary to expect good sales at the shopping centers. Because boxing day landed on a Friday this year, I had a feeling that this weekend would be horrendous at the malls.

Yesterday we took a day trip into the city for a change of pace. I cannot believe I've been off work for 1 week already! It still feels like I just finished (not sure if that is a good sign or not...). My main goal was to visit the 2 British ladies that owns a runs a very yummy fish and chips restaurant. We stumbled on their little spot in the spring and vowed to return as soon as we could.

To my disappointment, the restaurant was closed until the new year. To our surprise, we found many restaurants and shops posting the same messages. I have never seen so many businesses closed and parking lots so empty.

Upon reflection, I feel it is a very healthy sign for this community. It isn't all about the bottom line. Isn't that why I am off too? Sure it is! So hurray for them. Hey, I could be riding up the ski lift with many of them and not even know it!

We ended up at a shopping mall where I did spend about $200 on clothes -- $170 bought me 5 items of clothing for work (paid by a main working account) and $30 got me a neat casual top (paid by my allowance).

I have become pretty practical with my clothing. Gone are the days where spending $1500 for an outfit was no big deal. I shake my head even thinking about that phase of my life. Mind you, I still value quality and I know what is the minimal I need to spend for something to last.

My current wardrobe consists of fancy clothes from my olden days, work clothes bought on sale from the Gap, Banana Republic, Esprit, Mexx and Jacob and casual clothes. Yesterday's purchases came from Esprit and Jacob.

On a completely different note, we did some grocery shopping as well and found our resultant grocery bill outrageous! It came to over double what it would cost at home (thanks to my price book). We deliberately wanted to grocery shop in town because we thought the prices on the mountain were really high. But it turned out we didn't save anything at all.

That is definitely one budget point that will have to be considered should we move out here for an extended period of time.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Two Things

Two things today!


Today I started reading Martha Beck's book Steering by Starlight, Find Your Right Life No Matter What.

The introduction was enough for me to recommend it. I won't give it away and it is looking like it will take me a while to get through it because of the interactive process it will require.


Yesterday I wondered how much it would cost to live at the ski condo full time. Today I applied the same thinking to the cottage. Here are the fixed cost numbers.

-- property taxes -- $1000 / yr
-- utilities -- $480 / yr
-- insurance -- $600 / yr
-- internet -- $600 /yr

Total -- $2680 /yr

Not bad either.

How and where we would spend our retirement/early retirement has been on our minds lately.

Do we sell the main house (by far our largest and most expensive home), pocket the gain and use it as retirement savings (would mean earlier end to paid work)? Or keep all three? Would we still want to be in the same city if neither one of us were working anymore? Do we want more homes in neat locations?

I certainly do not have all the answers right now but it is a nice "feeler" exercise to do once and a while.

How many of you are planning to stay in your current home and or location when retired?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Post 2008

Merry Christmas Everyone!

I'm taking the morning off from skiing as I am nursing a few sore spots courtesy of a pretty spectacular wipe out yesterday during ski day #2. I would classify it as a 3/4 yard sale!

D is out carving the slopes as I type. I'm going to head out after lunch to see how things feel today.

It's only the 3rd time I've been up here and as per usual, I ask myself why I do not move here full time? Then I get out my trusty pen and paper to calculate how much it would cost (or how much I need to have in the bank) to afford to retire here.

Here's the breakdown.

-- yearly taxes = $420
-- condo fees = $1608 (includes utilities)
-- high speed wireless internet = $200
-- seasons passes = $1355

Total = $3583 / yr

Not bad for mandatory expenses. Of course I would have to add car, travel, food and household expenses. We opted not to insure contents for this property because it wasn't worth it. The condo fees includes structural insurance.

All in all a pretty tempting proposition for compact living.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The 157th Festival of Frugality

This week's host is Miss Thrifty. She has taken a neat take on the theme as she is British. Check it out! My link is still not working for some reason so here is the url again.

There are no accidents

My husband is supposed to arrive this evening to our ski condo. He has to take 3 flights in order to do so.

My journey this past Monday took about 17 hours with each one of my flights having been delayed, with the last one cancelled and having to fly standby. My luggage has taken a different journey and hopefully it will find its way home to me soon. Luckily, we had the foresight to bring our gear and some clothes here in the spring.

I was in good spirits through it all and met a number of excellent people who like me, were en route home.

It reminded me of something I believe -- There are no accidents in life. I am where I am supposed to be.

My original departure day was supposed to been last Saturday. Leaving on Monday meant I was able to partake in 2 turkey suppers (yummy!)that popped up last minute. I saw the Christmas movies favorites, made some Christmas phone calls and wrote an extra blog entry. It was great.

When I was in the customer service line up in Vancouver, I struck up conversations with people in front of me and behind me and it made the time passage fly by. I felt so bad when I got the last seat on the standby flight and had to leave my new found cohorts behind.

Yesterday I got my picture taken for my season's pass, got my skiis tuned up, notified the central reservation office to be expecting my luggage and got groceries to make pad thai for dinner. I even have a chance to ski a short run before dinner.

The above took a good part of the day and I enjoyed it all.

A gentleman in the season pass line behind me was complained for the duration of the wait to his wife via cell phone. He was upset that he had to wait for his ID badge to printed up because he already paid (so had the rest of us in line). He was yelling at his wife for not doing it for him since she didn't work and all...He threatened that this was the last year for season passes because he was tired of the hour long drive up and carrying of all the gear each year...that he has missed all the good snow, the day was ruined was too late.

Funny, all I saw were people having a great time drinking hot chocolate with their cheeks pink from the cold...Santa was their posing for picture with families...everyone in their gear excited to hit the slopes.

This is my opinion -- but I feel that if one can see their own life as one fluid continuum instead of classifying sections of life as "good" and "bad", we can do a lot toward ending our perceived suffering. An inordinate amount of energy can be spent focusing on all the little "bads" that can be perceived. If you really want to, it can be endless. But why would you?

Let's make a pact to fill the rest of our time here with graciousness and joy regardless of where we are in the continuum!

Monday, December 22, 2008

184th Edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance

Saving to Invest is hosting this week's Carnival of Personal Finance. It is a big one, so check it out! The link tab was not working for me this morning so the url is below.

I'm happy to report that my article "Security Breach" is part of the group.

It looks like all systems are a go for my flight later this morning -- Have a wonderful holiday everyone!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

New Traditions

I experienced snow for the first time when I was 6. My family immigrated to Canada in March 1978. Having been born on a tropical island, it was certainly a lot of fun (up to a point) to be able to play in the snow.

My first Christmas was later that year. I didn't really "get it" -- the stockings with oranges, little toys and chocolate in it -- the gifts under a pine tree... I never grew up with that holiday being part of my life. For my family and culture, it is New Years where everyone gets a week off to visit and spend time with family.

So it was a bit of a culture shock moving to Canada. I didn't understand why people get so stressed out every December. I didn't understand why there is such a push to see everyone each December. I didn't understand why presents were given in such quantities in December? (Bible study filled in the real blanks)

I was brought up literally by my grandparents, aunts and uncles alongside my parents. So I saw and lived with extended family right from the start. There was no need to gather everyone together at a time where it is potentially very dangerous to be travelling because I saw them pretty much all the time.

Because my family didn't have a lot of money, I grew up making cards and crafts and gifts to give it to family and friends. It was just something I did. I would get little surprise treats throughout the year that gave me more joy than a big pile to open up on 1 day each year. How much each gift cost never came into the equation.

When there was a special occasion ie. birthday, holiday day etc, we would celebrate by all going out for dinner and the cost was split amongst the families. The evening would end with the cutting and eating of a cake from a local bakery.

There was no expectations of gift giving, gift receiving or spending lots of money.

Having grown up like that gives me a neat perspective on each holiday season. I've integrated aspects I feel are good and have rejected other things that I feel take away from the real meaning.

To be honest, it has not been the easiest for me to integrate into D's family's fairly "traditional" take on Christmas celebrations.

The driving 4 hrs or flying 4 hours to whomever is "hosting" that year. The pressure to spend money on lots of gifts (D's family really spend a lot) to reciprocate gifts received. The 3 nights spent in someone else's house. That one is the toughest for me.

I feel I've done my best to maintain a cheery demeanor and to be a great guest/appreciative family member. It is just not exactly "my thing". D doesn't come from a close family so there is not a whole lot of talking and 4 days spent in front of a TV is difficult for both of us (remember we do not have cable/satellite).

Some days I think my mother in law thinks I'm strange -- because I don't like to spend 8 hrs a day shopping -- because I don't want a house full of children -- because I don't come downstairs to greet everyone each morning in my pyjamas...

She, however, is fascinated with my travelling and how I am willing to do alone. She thinks that's really cool. She says she is really inspired by me. D's family live out in the country and they are considered the "world travellers" of their community because they have been to Cuba AND the Dominican. D's dad and I get along pretty well I think because I happen to like fishing, Guinness and putting together bbq's. We have an understanding.

I have seen my husband's family change in the last 5 years they've known me in ways I feel that have brought more joy, fun and less stress to Christmas.

They now will make one gift to me a charity donation. They have done away with the Christmas List. Instead, more quality time together has allowed them to understand one another well enough to come up with surprise gifts with a per person budget!

They are not "hung up" on the "day" anymore -- enough to be downright excited for D and I to be spending the holidays at our ski condo as our new Christmas tradition.

We now celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas in late November and have our gift exchange and big family meal then (with no overnight stays).

It's working for me!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I'm Still Here!

What a morning!

I was supposed to fly out this morning but several provinces in Canada were hit with snow storms creating a domino effect in flight delays and or cancellations. Though the weather at my end seemed fine, the plane I was supposed to be on was coming from a not so fine weather area.

So after 2 hrs on hold with Air Canada starting at 4:40 am, I got an agent who was kind enough to reschedule my flight for Monday. We decided that in light of more snow storms on the west coast for tomorrow, hopefully Monday will be a safer bet.

Because I have a flexible timing, it made the decision much easier. I feel bad for families traveling that have set reservations and plans.

I think I need a nap now!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Holiday Time!

Today is my last work day of the year. Barring inclement weather, I will be flying off tomorrow to start my Christmas and New Year's skiing holiday.

Blogging has opened me up to a world that has far exceeded my expectations. I've had opportunity to connect with so many wonderfully spirited people from all around the world! It has been a true blessing.

I wish all of you a fabulous holiday season!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Work Beef

One of the toughest aspect of my life in the last few years has been my workplace. I've said before that I am self employed but I actually have an arrangement that isn't too common (that I know of).

I "outsource" my hiring, advertising, training of staff, the entire administration process. What that means is that I am able to walk into work where a printout of my day is ready for me, work, then go home. The administrative team take care of everything. There is the occasional error but mostly runs well. My overhead runs at 35%.

Here is my beef.

I don't feel that the staff hired are treated very well nor paid enough for the amount of work they do. I feel that the very "male, corporate model of business" is becoming "harsh" and is moving away from the "humane".

In their effort to maximize rental income, there is now a problem with parking availability. I feel there is a optimal size for certain businesses and that when you cannot adequately house everyone, then you've gotten too big.

Maybe I don't think big enough? Maybe I'm too idealistic?

I have a problem with work schedules that keep changing. I wouldn't want it and I don't know how people can plan anything when every week is different. I feel bad for my staff! They have lives outside of work!

Because I pay for an all inclusive service, I feel I only have a say. I've voiced my opinions seemingly to no avail. Last year, I went as far as getting pre-approved for a mortgage to buy my own office.

Opening my own office wasn't something I had wanted to do because of the time and energy it would take. But,I am willing to take it on if it would mean that I would be able to provide better working conditions for others, even if my overhead increases (I calculated it to be around 42 - 48%).

In the end, after many hours of meetings and negotiations, I heard their side. I voiced my side. I needed to know if the direction of the business was in line with my business. I feel it is a human rights issue.

I will not trample on the rights and work conditions of people in order to run my business. I do not feel good about that. They were adamant that our philosophies are online.

In my quest to live a fulfilling life (what I blog about!), I want others to do the same. I feel that the money I pay for my administration service ought to allow my staff to live better too. It is not different from wanting to buying fair trade.

This year, I have seen some improvement. Only time will tell if it is sustained and enough.

Like with any relationship, I know the signs of when it is time to cut loses and go.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Guess the location?

The photo tag the other day got me rummaging through my photos -- great memories! So I decided to round out 2008 with some of my travel highlights.

I have given up fighting with the editing of my photo post! So here are the captions that ought to have accompanied the pictures.

Kudos to those who correctly guessed the locations!

1) Horseshoe Bay Beach Bermuda -- One of my very favorite places to go. (yes, the sand is pink!)

2) Sorrento, Italy -- I had the best spaghetti and clams here.

3) Florence, Italy -- It was a beautifully hot day over the Arno.

4) Villefranche sur Mer, France -- We ate at a wonderful Michelin starred restaurant.

5) Promenade des Anglais, Nice -- I never tire of the view.

6) L'Art Gourmand, Artisan Chocolatier, Nice -- I frequently hang out here.

7) La musee Rodin, Paris -- Can you believe this is carved out of marble?!

Photo Journey 2008

So, what about 2008?

It is easy for me to feel like I'm not achieving enough. That I'm not paying off debt fast enough. I can be pretty hard on myself. To a lesser extent now but when I was younger, I wanted things at least a week before yesterday.

My husband, in an act of self preservation, decided to start tracking how much debt we had paying off since May '08 so that he would have some facts to pacify me with the next time I would start getting down about money.

I didn't know that he was tracking. What he revealed last night was that from the period of May '08 to yesterday, the amount we have payed down in debt is $34151. I wasn't in a down mood yesterday but he brought it up as an end of year "look how far we've come" surprise.

That's pretty cool I thought, and definitely in line with next year's projections.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I've Been Photo Tagged!!!

I just found out I have been photo tagged by Lizzies HOMEWorld. What I am to do is to post the 6th photo of my 6th photo folder!

It is the view from the bedroom window of the apartment we rented in Nice, France this fall. Great to be reminded of our trip.

Thanks Lizzie!

I love pictures so would appreciate it if Everyone Reading would give this fun game a go!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Savings Goals 2009

More today from my magical spreadsheet!

As I have mentioned before, the amount of yearly saving is dependant on my income. For 2009, I have approached my income projections conservatively. What I decided to do is use my slowest month this year as the starting point for next year.

I certainly hope I will beat my minimum monthly projection but it was a great exercise to see whether or not our current lifestyle can be maintained.

In light of what has and still is happening to world markets, increasing our cash position thus liquidity next year has been heavily favoured.

Here are our savings numbers for '09.

Non tax savings acct -- $10000

(this is the new acct announced by the Canadian gov which allows $5000 to be invested each year whereby monies earned will not be taxed)

Workings accts --

Home $1500
Travel $1500
Car $1500
Properties $1500

(these accts have been an evolution to combat cash flow issues, provide a quick way to track how much is spent per category and also as specific "emergency" accts for what can happen in life -- eventual goal is to have $5500 in each acct -- enough to pay for new roofs / furnace / car issues or enough to make a dent in the most costly unplanned thing that can happen)

Dream acct -- $5520

(this is my fun fund -- where I draw from to take my solo journeys -- my husband's fun stuff is budgeted each year as an expense in one lump sum)

Real estate fund / Entrepreneurial -- $5520

(towards creation of a side business -- some form of passive income -- or towards the next property -- mid life celebration fund -- or towards a new office for me if my work conditions deteriorate)

RSP's -- $2500

(this is a sheltered savings vehicle for Canadians that allows monies made to be tax free until mandatory withdrawal age of 71 yrs)

Total savings 2009 $ 29540

I consider extra payments towards the mortgages "Savings" as well.

Extra mortgage payments -- $ 15600

Grand Savings Total 2009 $ 45140

Sunday, December 14, 2008

How much does our Life Cost?

I don't usually post on Sundays but if I don't get this out, I'll be fine tuning the thing until I give myself a headache.

What I've been working on is a calculation of how much we spend each year. It sounded simple until I got started. You would think that with my spreadsheet, it would be easy but it wasn't quite the walk in the park--considering this is THE number you need as a jump off point for retirement planning!

I have a ballpark figure in my head but have never bothered to actually tally up how much I spend on clothing each yr, the other "smaller" things etc. So that bugged me.

Finally, here is what I came up with.

To Fund our Life as we are currently living -- $ 64868 / Yr

(3 properties, 2 trips skiing, 1 trip to France, 2 cars, work expenses, entertainment, eating out, lessons, utilities, food, extra income tax etc.)

To Fund our Life with no mortgages -- $ 45428 / Yr

(we have accelerated mortgage payments and plan to have the smaller one completed in 4 yrs and the larger one done in max. 6 yrs)

To Fund our Life with no more work -- $ 38866 / Yr

(our work involves paying parking, association and licencing fees as well as liability insurance --all of which will be a non issue at this stage of our life -- we will likely save on clothing as well)

In reality, I'll likely continue working 2 days a week because I enjoy it -- which will mean that we would not be needing to draw on any savings to fund our "retirement".

My current guideline had forecast a retirement "income" of $ 45000 / year. So we are not off by too much. We will likely build in a larger margin.

None of our retirement savings goals (more in future post) requires us to sell any of our properties. I want that to be decided if and when we no longer wish to use them, not because they are part of our money pool.

We have been fortunate that the cottage has almost doubled in market value (even in the current slowdown -- we bought it for a tremendous deal...) and this would be the property that would be chosen first to sell as it will likely be the easiest and quickest to sell.

As you, my readers know, I have a huge love for real estate. My personal philosophy of property purpose is one of life enhancement. I am not in it to flip. Ours are homes that are well used and allows us to live uniquely due to its location and living environment.

That is why they have never been rented out. That is also why I don't worry about how the real estate markets are doing because I do not plan to sell for a long long time. At this point, the only useful info I gather is with respect to where else would be a great place to buy!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

How We Do It

I spend a good hour or two each day staring at my spreadsheet. (I know I should probably see someone about that...) I blame being a bit of a control freak plus being self employed for my behaviour! As my income fluctuates each month, I feel like I'm constantly having to gage cash flow.

It isn't as bad as I maybe making it sound because most of the time, I have a reasonable approximation of monthly income simply based on how many days I work. The most I have been "off" has been 15% this year a couple of times which definitely creates a ripple effect throughout the rest of the year. So I go and adjust the rest of the year's numbers and modify savings goals etc.

My husband, who is salaried, takes care of all of the automatic monthly bills (utilities, insurance, taxes, food, everything that keeps everything running). I take care of the rest. How I do affects how much savings we put aside, how much prepayment on the mortgages we make each month, if we can get to go skiing or to Europe, if there are house, car, cottage, condo repairs etc. etc.

Each summer, I anxiously await the next year's day timers to come out so I can plot my holidays etc and orchestrate my working days so that my income can be as evenly spread out as possible. (ok, now I'm really embarrassed!)

I know how many working days I need to work each year to end up within a salary band that works for our financial goals. 2009 will be the 2nd year I'll be following this method. I will re-evaluate if absolutely necessary but I feel I've built in enough of a margin to make it work.

For a less "fly by the seat of your pants" approach to family finances, check out Money Minder's post!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Be Nice, Clear your ice...or snow or sidewalk...

It's been snowing pretty good this morning. Every year around this time, I am reminded of a scene emblazoned in my memory since I was 11 yrs old or so.

It was Christmas Eve and my family was gathering at my aunt and uncle's house to share some food, laughter and presents.

My mother and father were unloading presents out of the trunk of the car and my brother and I were inside visiting.

All of a sudden, we heard a scream.

It was my mother, pinned in between our car bumper and the bumper of a neighbour's car who had backed out of their driveway (from across the street) and managed to keep backing up until somehow, they were directly bum to bum with my parent's car which was parked alongside the curb on the other side.

They didn't know they had hit anyone until my mother banged on the trunk of their car with her hand. My mother hadn't seen them coming as she was bent over in the trunk trying to reach the last of the gifts.

I don't think you could have orchestrated that if you tried. The kicker was that they managed to do that without being able to see as they had decided not to clear the snow off their car outside of what their windshield wipers were able to do--not even the side mirrors!

Inside their car was their whole family--mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, kids. My aunt and uncle knew them and had always thought of them as kind people. Needless to say, the accident kinda ruined their Christmas too. The ambulance came and took my mother, father and uncle with them and hours later, they came back.

My mother, luckily, only sustained a strain to her knees but it still bothers her when the weather gets damp.

Ever since, I have had a extra pet peeve about vehicles that are not well cleared of snow.

I will not drive my car if it hasn't been cleared of snow and ice. I don't care if I get totally soaked or if it takes 1/2 hr to get all the ice off.

So please, please, please, take the extra time to make sure that you can completely see out of your vehicle before driving this winter!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

WOW -- Not in a good way.

As I was preparing for this morning's post, I received a call from my girlfriend who is a sales manager for one of the largest home builders in my area. She was distraught.

The second in command of her company hung himself yesterday. He was found by his assistant in the basement of the office building. This is a 45 yr old man with a stay a home wife and children under the age of 10.

The company just won an award and posted record sales this year.

Everyone in the office was detained by the police and forensic squad for the entire day for questioning and grief counselling. The Christmas cocktail party that was supposed to have been last night was obviously cancelled.

There is a lot of speculation as to why? Was it the job? The company has recently downsized a number of its divisions. Was he ill? A number of people felt he hadn't looked like himself lately. Was it personal? They didn't know.

What would drive someone who outwardly lived such a successful life and seemingly had so much to live for kill himself?

Suicide can be interpreted as the ultimate "escape". Barring any mental illness, it is usually premeditated.

My girlfriend and her colleagues felt that one lesson they will take away from this tragedy is that no job, no relationship or anything is worth getting yourself to a place where you have given up all hope for life.

So, if your outward side doesn't match your inward side, maybe it is time to question that and do something about it.

My thoughts go out to his loved ones.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mind Games

I'm not quite sure how it happened but I'm going to take it. We got our hydro and water bill yesterday and we finally got it below $120! It came to $88.77! (actual reading, not estimate)

For those who aren't sure why I am so excited about this--I wrote a previous post complaining about why this particular utility bill seemed so high when I felt we were utilizing the latest know how for saving energy. I still don't know what happened but we'll continue on as usual.

Anyway, I digress.

I wanted to talk about how my mind likes to play tricks on me today. I fancy myself somewhat logical minded so when the rubber hit the road and I was pulling up some of my data from the daytimer the other day, I shocked myself.

As you know, I've been working to the possibility of getting rid of my car. Since I hadn't driven to work since mid Oct, my mind made a leap and decided that I didn't need it anymore.

Here is what my denial hid from me.

After some digging, I found that I for sure drove my car at least 55 times so far in 2008. The number is higher because I know I did drive to work over the winter months since we had just moved in not long before and I was still running a lot of errands that required the car. The final tally may very well be in the 80's.

I forgot that my ski lessons and skating lessons I take are on weekday afternoons. I take my aunt who lives an hour away out for lunch during the week. I have another hobby that takes me out of town in the afternoons...Talk about selective memory.

Once I stopped shaking my head until I made myself dizzy, I proceeded to figure out if I could arrange all my afternoon, non work day activities on days my husband worked at home.

He would have to change his work at home days for me to accomplish it but I'm encountering resistance with this idea because the days he has chosen works best for his schedule...

So where does that leave me? My action plan is to track things fully for 2009 and to keep working on finding a solution with respect to my husband's work schedule.

Until then, I am coming out of the closet and admitting to driving my car!!! My first step towards recovery!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Mish Mash of Everything

Today's post is a bit of everything and anything that just happened.

I woke up this morning to our Bank of Canada rate decreasing by 0.75 pts. If the banks follow suit, our mortgage lending cost will drop to 2.35% !!! In real terms, the rate change translates to about a 6 month reduction on my overall amortization, just like that!

During my daily morning online check routine, I found out that the cost of my trip to Alaska next May had dropped because the travel company has decided to drop its fuel surcharge in light on lowered oil prices !!! Savings = $ 70

My husband just sold a portable air compressor we longer needed for $ 50.

I got an email letting me know of a significant source of referrals for my business who wanted more of my business cards! I'm going to do one better and provide a one page article detailing how my services apply to their clients needs.

The mailman delivered 2 free paperback novels to my doorstep courtesy of Random House Canada. I had put my name in for a promotion in the fall and forgot all about it.

Scotiabank (where my Visa comes from) announced a chip upgrade to my next credit card that will mean that any purchase made will require a signature and a pin. Right now that's pretty common in Europe but it is nice to know we are going that way too, especially in light of my recent fraudulent experiences. I'm going to stop by the bank on my way to work to confirm the set up of my pin.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Security Breach!!!

Not the type of present I wanted this year or any year for that matter.

Very recently, we received evidence that our once "secure bubble" had burst. I do realize that in this day and age, there is no true "security" but it was very nice to have been shielded from the harsher realities of ID theft and credit card fraud for so many years.

Here's what has happened. (Apparently, when it does happen, it comes very fast and frequent. It was like our bubble number was up...)

We received in the mail a new Visa card for no reason--the primary card holder was myself and it was a card only for my husband. Strange, I thought. So I called Scotiabank. I was told that they have suspicion that our security has been breached and for safety reasons, they have issued a new card.

There were no transaction in question. Why, I asked, did I not receive one too? They said that my card was fine. But it is the same account...they assured me that I did not need a new card number. Anyways, I thanked them for their diligence and thought nothing of it.

We have 3 credit cards--a Visa, a MasterCard and an American Express. The Visa is our most used card (for gasoline and travel). The Amex at Costco when needed. The MC is used if the other 2 fails for some reason (They are the best in Europe as the banking can be really different. They have twice made my life so much easier, I am in awe of them).

I am a financial hawk when it comes to credit card transactions. I know what I bought, I track when it posts online and I pay it off, often before the statement even comes out.

So, when I was doing my usual online look up of credit card statements and transactions, I stopped. There was a sole transaction on my Capital One MasterCard that didn't make sense since I knew I had not used that card for over a year and it had been in France. I have never used this card to purchase anything online and the item in question was a plane ticket worth close to $900.

I call MC and they were great. A file was started about the fraudulent charge. It was taken off the statement until the investigation was completed. I was sent something to sign and it was going to be between them and Air Canada. They sent me a new card.

Now, I do have a online profile with AC. However, that does not include any credit card information. When I do buy tickets online, it is with my Visa.

I had a fairly long talk with AC because the transaction on my MC had the ticket number printed so I was able to find out where the ticket was purchased, what the name was etc. It was bought online by someone in the Philippines who never showed up for the flight. Because it is common to buy tickets for other people, the name difference didn't trigger a security alert for AC.

They were also able to confirm that it wasn't me that bought the ticket--don't ask me how because they wouldn't tell me. The agent was very kind about it and told me that they deal with hundreds of these cases a day and the person who bought it probably used a fake travel name and wanted to see if the transaction ended up going through because the next thing they buy with my card will likely be much more expensive.

Ok, I'm not done.

I get an email from PayPal. I haven't logged into my PayPal account for 2 years. To be honest, I had forgotten about it. I originally signed up for it in order to pay for a holiday rental. It seemed easy enough to use and its premise was that it is "safer" as the other party never sees your credit card number.

So this email tells me that they have reason to believe there has been fraudulent activity going on and they have frozen my account until I sign in and change the security info. I do that. Then I see that there are 4 transactions posted. Total value less than $100 but they were from online telephone companies.

PayPal had reversed 2 of them and the other 2 required that I answer some questions. They were more evasive with how they were able to cancel the first 2 and not the other 2 but were professional and sympathetic to my situation. This one made to pause and think hard as we had just bought our world phone but it didn't make sense as it was paid not by PayPal nor with a credit card of mine! They did confirm that it wasn't anything to do with my Visa so I didn't need to get call my bank and get a new card.

My husband's turn. He has his own Visa as well and he got a call from CIBC saying that they suspected some recent charges were fraudulent. He had a transactions from Napster for $1. Ironically he doesn't even have an account with them. He has since instructed them to cancel the Visa altogether once the investigation is over.

Overall, I must say that none of the companies even seemed phased when we called. Maybe they are trained to sound crazy calm as if I was calling to inquire about the price of yams?

Everything was resolved very quickly. I received written confirmation and email updates and confirmation usually within days. That impressed me and worried me at the same time because such an efficient system for anything is strange in today's society. I wonder if they do see so much of it that it is second hat? We are still awaiting the resolution for my husband.

Hopefully whoever these people are will realize that we are not worth bothering with. We'll continue to use our shredder and pay with cash when we can.

Anyone else with similar experiences? How do you keep your financial information "safe"?

Saturday, December 6, 2008


I'm not one to make myself stand out. The idea of "tooting my own horn" in front of other people makes me feel uncomfortable. That is why only my husband and other bloggers knows about this blog. I'm working on stretching my comfort zone.

I work with a number of people who are very versed in announcing every single event in their lives as the most significant that could possibly be happening. That behaviour is a turn off for me though it has served as a mirror revealing my most opposite stance.

Rallying for public support of my ideas has not been where I've spent my life energy. Perhaps I am afraid of rejection. Perhaps I'm too busy living and building to worry about it.

So on the surface, I probably give off an intensely serious energy that I'm all business, especially at work. The pockets of people I interact with as friends, colleagues, bloggers or others I meet through my extra curricular activities would get to see the different facets of me.

What got me onto this topic were a few recent comments.

At the office, we've had a number of new staff start and they are just getting to know everyone and their practice style. One of them offered me a ride home the other night and commented that she has seen me walk home and she goes right by there.

I told her thanks very much, but I enjoy walking. The look of pity was unmistakable. It never occurred to me that walking was something to be pitied. Perhaps she thought I did not own a car. Even if that were the case (I'm working on it...), I would not think to pity someone because they didn't own a set of wheels either.

Those who know about our leisure lifestyle (my husbands colleagues) find it really strange that we would opt for no cable, cell phone plan or satellite service. It seems to create a lifestyle disconnect for them.

Perhaps in order to own vacation properties and a nice house means I have to have all the "rest" of the "normal" stuff as a prerequisite to the "bigger dream"? Seeing someone doing it any other way would not make sense? Or is it simply that no one does anything they feel is wrong? So one feels challenged when faced with difference?

A coworker of my husband's (someone I've never met) asked him if I had a busy practice. D answered yes, it is fairly busy. She is working the hours she wants (part time) and makes enough to support our lifestyle. She replied that she would have a problem going to a health care practitioner who drove an old car like mine (1997).

Her dentist's parking lot is apparently littered with Porsches, Audis and BMW's owned by the group of dentists. Until now, I had never considered what cars my health care practitioners drove. If anything, I would think a bigger, glitzier place would mean higher fees to pay for higher rent and lifestyle of the practitioners!

Normally, I do not think about how I am perceived by those who do or do not know me. I tend to be most comfortable operating in stealth mode. I don't flaunt what recognition I do get.

When faced with differing views, I just look up temporarily from what I am doing, register the comment, get amused by the interpretation (most of the time) and continue on my way.

Have you experienced other people's resistance to your way of life? If so, how did you handle t?

Laura at Move to Portugal wrote a guest post about how she didn't tell anyone about their plan to pay off the mortgage quickly in order to realize their dream.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Fly WestJet if You Can!

I would like to commend WestJet Airlines for exemplary service the other day. I receive the Travelzoo (Canada) top 20 by email each Wednesday and this week featured a 50% off 2 day seat sale.

In November, we purchased our spring skiing flights at what we thought was a sale but this week's deal was even better. In fact it was $200 per ticket better. So after I calmed down (I don't like being on the short end of a deal...), I decided to call them to see if it would be to any advantage to cancel our tickets and purchased them again at the lower price.

The whole transaction took less than 5 minutes. We were charged $50 per ticket (taken off the $200 savings) to cancel but still came out $150 x 2 ahead, held as a fully transferable flight credit for a year.

Those of you who have flown with Air Canada know that their cancellation fees are a lot more and had our tickets been with them, it would not have been possible to do the same transaction. I would not have even bothered trying.

So kudos to WestJet and Travelzoo!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Getting Closer

Right now we are a 2 car couple. I am revisiting getting rid of one of them. So, I've decided to calculate how much my car and cell phone is costing me. (If it were not for my perception that I need a cell phone because I own a car, I wouldn't have a cell phone at all)

My 1997 car cost $ 710/yr for insurance and licencing.

Gas costs are approximately $ 1863/yr. (I walk to work so my car is only used for cottage runs and some weekend outings--which is about the same km as he puts on his car with driving to work) I do find the gas costs high as my car is all wheel drive. I was told that had I been driving something like a Honda Civic, my gas costs for similar mileage would be halved.

My "pay as you go" cell phone cost $ 67.80/yr. (It's never on and used for emergencies. Most of the time, the time gets wasted--I guess that is a good thing that I do not run into emergencies much!)

Maintenance this yr cost $ 512.91 (ball jt replacement) and $ 50 in oil changes.

Total $ 3203.71/yr or $ 266.98/month.

Do the above numbers make you cringe too? Or do you think I am trying to cut corners where there are none? Would you pay that amount to stay mobile?

My husband drives the identical yr and make of car. He doesn't feel that it is worth getting rid of one. It would mean doubling the mileage on the other car and increasing the wear and tear. The only thing we would save is on maintenance, cell phone and insurance. The total gas costs would be the same.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Giving Back

Volunteering has been a part of my life for as long as I remember. First it was with my school then local library then decades with the Red Cross started when they refused to allow me to donate blood because they were concerned that they would have to transfuse it back into me because I was underweight (according to their charts back then). I felt totally rejected but they gave me the blood drop sticker anyways for trying.

When I started working, I started replacing volunteer time with money (I'm working on changing that back). Each Christmas, I would send an email to my friends and family who still participate in the gift exchange about my charity pick of the season and encourage them to donate the value of my gift instead. Some have listened. Most have not. I know you cannot force these things but I do my best to communicate and educate.

Because we do not have dependents nor family that requires financial assistance, we have opted to leave our estate to our favorite charities. Here are a couple of our latest additions.

  • Room to Read -- I had an opportunity to listen to and meet John Wood last year. He left a lucrative job with Microsoft to build libraries in impoverished areas after a hiking trip in Nepal where he toured a school of bright children who had no books. He made a promise to bring books like many others have before him but he really did. Being a library geek myself, I am looking to tour one of his projects soon. There is no mistaking this man's dedication and purpose.
  • Central Asia Institute -- I bought Greg Mortenson's book "Three Cups of Tea" at an airport bookstore last year (using my allowance!). I was sold right away. Greg was climbing K2 when he helped a fellow climber in trouble and ended up not reaching the peak but instead getting lost and stumbles onto a small village in Pakistan. He sheds light on a country that is wrought with violence in a way that makes sense and dispels the bits and pieces of info provided by world press. He is now building schools all over the countryside of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the book, there is a picture used for a family Christmas card of Greg, his wife and baby at the Khyber Pass holding Uzis (borrowed) with the caption "Peace on Earth". What a sense of humour from a man who has been a victim of a gut wrenching abduction by militant forces in the country he has come to call his second home.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


I've fought the "root building" part of my life for a long time. It has been only been in the last 4 years that the foundation has been put in place for where I call "home".

For the longest time, I questioned having a "home base". The world was my home, I thought. Wherever I hang my hat was home, I decided.

Perhaps I didn't have a great model of "home" as I was growing up so I didn't have anything of true value to aspire to?

I am getting "itchy feet" to go somewhere, to see new things, to do something "big". At times, my yearning to escape gives the semblance that I am not content when I feel it is the opposite--that I come back full of contentment for having gone. Am I making sense?

I am grateful for what I do, my practice and for the people I meet and have the opportunity to help. My spirit, however, yearns to have less of a schedule and to live according to its cycle, whatever that may be. Sometimes I do not feel that I am doing enough with my life.

I say that because the years of regimentation has taken its toll. It is no coincidence that I am feeling this way after coming home from the cottage because it is the quiet that draws these thoughts and desires out of hiding.

At times, I feel like I've lost something--the ability to see through the eyes I once saw through. That scares me. I don't want to lose that.

I've had a couple of strange things happen to me, both times in Arizona, resulting in a big life shift. Perhaps what they say about the vortexes are true?!

The first time was when I had just graduated and my reward to myself was a hike down the Grand Canyon. I was caught at 8900 ft in a freak snowstorm whereby I ran off the road through a fence, into the ditch and then back out onto the road, crossed the other side and down the other ditch, then back onto the road and stalled across both lanes of the highway. The oncoming cube van also ran off into the ditch. I was alone, in a white Altima, with snow so heavy I couldn't see out the windows or windshield, in shock, couldn't start the car and worried I was going to be broadsided by another car.

Anyway, I got the car started, couldn't find the cube van anywhere and made it back to Flagstaff (driving on the wrong side of the road when I could so I could hug the rock face--there were no railings for most of the highway--it was a sheer drop). When I called the canyon to ask about the weather forecast, they were surprised. They had no snow and a tour bus that has just arrived took the same route as I was on and wasn't even wet. I had decided to forgo my hike and head south to Tuscan when a burly man came into the lobby and asked if there were anyone for the canyon. I looked up and decided that I was going to make my hike. Getting my gear from my rental was when I realized that there wasn't any damage to the car?! I knew I had hit fences but not even a scratch!

The driver must have sensed something strange about me (or I looked sufficiently strange!)because he told me that everything was alright, gave me an clean used shirt to cover my shoulder with when I got lower down on the hike and convinced me to take the steeper, with no water available, South Kaibab Trail and I would come up the Bright Angel Trail. The hike was tremendous. I never saw him again to thank him for the advice.

Throughout the hike, for the first time, I had a deep knowing. I decided to forgo my associateship opportunity in Chicago and take the rest of the spring and summer off. I knew what I wanted. I wanted to be in a smaller city center where I didn't have to work full time hours to afford a good life. I wanted to be able to afford a place to hang my hat and my travels easily. My career was not all that I could be. This came as a shock to everyone because I had spent the last 1 1/2 getting everything in order (visas, bank accounts, apartment, one way plane ticket and many trips back and forth).

"The" opportunity came over lunch with a girlfriend who was busy setting up her own office. She had toured around visiting various offices and came across one who was looking for a female associate. I had no idea where this place was. I've only lived in large cities. So I rented a car and went for a look see. By this time I had interviewed with 13 offices but didn't get that knowing feeling. Within 10 mins of being in this start up office, I knew this is where I was to be.

I feel like I've done the work building the foundation of my life a la Maslow. Because of the amount of energy and focus spent on it, the voices representing the upper levels of the pyramid are starting to call out again--thankfully--I was starting to wonder where they had gone.

I will write about my second incident in Arizona in a future post.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Winter at the Cottage

I had a relaxing weekend up north. What I like about wintertime at the cottage is the silence.

In late fall, we shut off the well water, attempt to drain out the pipes (this is our first year doing it ourselves), and survive on big jugs of municipal water provided by our friendly township. It makes me feel like a pioneer.

We have 3 large water containers that we haul out to the public taps (they keep it heated with heating cables so that it works throughout the winter), fill them and voila, water to drink, cook, clean and bath with. We boil water to mix with the cold water and fill our camping "shower bag", hang it from the shower head and water comes out of a nozzle/hand held sprayer. When we are done for the weekend, we just pour some plumbing antifreeze into the kitchen and bathroom drains.

So what about the toilet, you ask? I'd like to say we use an outhouse but we don't have one (we have a septic system) plus I'm not sure about freezing my behind... Really, the only reason we are able to use the cottage in the winter because we have a couple of year round streams on the property.

In fact, a selling feature for me was that you get to walk across a mini bridge over the stream in order to get to the cottage! So, what it means is that with a couple of buckets tided to some rope, you can get water to pour into the toilet tank for flushing!

The first winter, we employed the crawlspace heating system (so that we could keep water running) that was set up by the previous owners and almost fainted when the hydro bill came. So we had to come up with a far more economical way to make it work. I kinda feel like I'm living a bit of the "Little House on the Prairie" life without the prairie.

Heating is taken care of by a thermostat controlled gas fireplace (with blower) and baseboard heating in all the rooms. Because the cottage has insulating technology from the 40's, it does take about 1 1/2 hrs to get to 70 degrees F. So by the time we unpack, make the bed, vacuum, read the Friday flyers under an electric blanket, it is warm again.

So what do we do up there? There isn't a land line, internet or tv. We do a morning run to a couple of favorite bakeries to buy donuts and meat pies, tour the local harbours to see if the ice flows have come in yet, lunch at a local diner, decide on what we would like for dinner, read a lot, walk along the beach, reflect on our week and catch up on sleep.

I'm consistently amazed at how content I am up there.