Monday, September 29, 2008

What's for Dinner?

Well, I got most of the things necessary for tomorrow night's dinner today but I didn't do any cooking yet. That's possibly a mistake, but we'll see. I didn't get a raw turkey after all, so that simplifies things considerably.

For dinner we'll be having:

Wine for kiddush (I have one bottle each of Dalton White and Dalton Red. They're both quite nice, so long as you drink them in one sitting.)
Special round challahs (an egg bread, usually braided the rest of the year)
Apples and honey
Other symbolic foods that we make special blessings over including pomegranate, dates, carrots, fish and gourd/squash. We eat small quantities of all these.

The first course will be salmon with mayo and dill and I hope to serve it with a green salad and coleslaw as well as lemon hummus. I say "I hope" because I couldn't find prepackaged salads with kosher supervision at Safeway yesterday and the car was acting up so I didn't get to Superstore to check them out. Soaking the leaves in salted water and checking lettuce and cabbage leaf by leaf for bugs is tedious, time consuming and very hard on my eyes, so I prefer to buy it ready-to-eat.

The main course will be smoked turkey with cranberry sauce (I bought half a turkey, already smoked), mashed potatoes and white corn. If I can manage to make gravy from a smoked turkey, I will.

Dessert will be honey cake and coffee or tea, either black or with Almond Breeze instead of cream.

It's all pretty easy to get ready a bit ahead and then keep warm in the oven and/or on a Salton hot tray that stays plugged in for the whole holiday.

Everyone won't be coming after all. Number One Son and his family can't make it because they've been working on putting their 5 year old to bed early (starting the routine at 7:30 pm) and it would really disrupt the process. She's also in all day kindergarten (at a different school from my 5 year old) and seems to really need the new routine to cope with the long day. I understand, because we're having some of the same types of issues with DC (who was awake this morning just before 7 am and asleep tonight before 8:30 pm). She used to stay up late and get up about 8:30 am or later and kindergarten has been a big adjustment for her schedule too. Oh yes, and my sister-in-law is away. So there should be 7 adults and 3 children.

And it won't be a marathon meal like the Passover seder. Candlelighting is at 6:37 pm and we'll start very shortly after that and finish within an hour or two at most. I hope. After all, we have to get up to walk to synagogue on Tuesday morning.

Again, Shana Tova to all! I'll be back to posting late Wednesday night at the earliest.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Upcoming Posting Break for Rosh Hashana

That would be as opposed to the involuntary posting break I`ve had since I wasn`t able to post Thursday night. For some reason, it was taking 5 minutes or more for pages to load and I couldn`t get into Blogger. I actually fell asleep trying to read some other people`s articles (if Trent is wondering how someone could spend 6 hours sitting on his home page, um, that was me). I woke up Friday morning a little before my alarm was supposed to go off to find that I hadn`t actually set the alarm and that the computer was on beside me in Power Saver mode.

Friday was a busy day. I finally settled the issue with the gas company. They`ve reversed all the charges! That`s $115 I don`t owe! It took talking to several people over the course of a week and I probably spent a couple of hours on it, but I`ve proved that you should keep going up the chain of command until you get someone who has the authority to do the things you need to have done.

Now, onto Rosh Hashana. I`m going to have a family dinner on the first night (Monday, just after sundown) and I have to spend Sunday buying food and cooking. There`s no school on Monday, although I have to work for at least an hour Monday morning and I have the little girls all day. So I`m going to be pretty darn busy getting everything ready for dinner for 14 people at 6:45 pm. I`m not planning on posting Monday and I can`t post on Tuesday or Wednesday. I`ll probably try to post late Wednesday night after the holiday ends, unless I`m totally exhausted.

You might wonder why I`d be exhausted. Let`s see. Dinner for 14 Monday night. Walk over an hour to synagogue pushing 2 strollers both Tuesday and Wednesday. Three or four hours worth of services. Then walk another 20 minutes to the Rabbi`s house for lunch (in the opposite direction to our house, of course). The walk home takes about 2 hours. Have a fancy dinner Tuesday night (just for us this time). I need a nap just rereading that.

One of the things we do around Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is to ask forgiveness to anyone we may have wronged throughout the year. So, if anything I`ve written on my blog has offended you or if one of my comments on your blog has bothered you, if I haven`t gotten back to you on something or I didn`t comment on something that I should have, I`m sorry. Please forgive me. I`ll try to do better next year.

I wish everyone a Shana Tova, a good year, a sweet year, with health, happiness and a good livelihood for all.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Not the 100th Post I'd Hoped For

First of all, I can hardly believe this is already my 101st post! But I really didn't intend for my Stinky Dog Update to be my milestone post. I just wasn't paying attention. My bad.

So today was It Won't Wait Wednesday. Did I remember to do anything I've been putting off? Actually I've been tackling some things since Monday. I've been trying to deal with the gas company over the daily charges that have been accruing on my account for our rural place.

You see, we have a gas meter and I eventually got the gas company to come out and unlock it about a year ago. But then we discovered that the reason it was locked off was that the gas fireplace is unusable. The gas line is disconnected from it and actually is lying kind of coiled up in our side yard. But the gas company has been charging us all along, first of all for the "connection fee" (too bad it isn't actually connected to the fireplace) and then for a daily charge. Gas usage charges are over and above that but, of course, there haven't been any.

Now, I can understand the concept of paying for the potential use of the product. (I don't particularly like it, but that's beside the point.) But there's no potential here. So I tried to get the account put on hold about the time that I realized it was going to be tough to get a gasfitter to come out. I was told that it couldn't be done. Not quite so sure why, but I dropped the issue for several months and just let the charges accumulate. Now they're finally interested in talking to me about it but so far I've dealt with a front line person and a minor supervisor, neither of whom had the authority to reverse more than 10 days worth of charges. I'm waiting for the next level to call me back.

I also signed off on an agreement to pay for the Biblical Hebrew course I'm taking over the next 10 months. I wrote the cheques Tuesday night but had to finalize it all today.

The other stuff I did was work related. We're about to get very busy so I've been trying to catch up on a bunch of things I know I won't be able to touch in about a week or so.

Stinky Dog Update

Last night there was no question about it: Dog smelled bad. So did the house. I'd washed his head and face three times and the smell of Pepe Le Peu was still there. But I couldn't do any more. It was late, I was tired, we didn't have the proper deskunking ingredients so we just went to bed.

Morning came. Stinky Dog was still stinky. The house smelled like the skunk had moved in. I took Dear Child to school and went to work for an hour and a half. Then I went to Safeway and purchased three apparently everyday items in the hopes that they would change our life.

Hydrogen Peroxide.

Baking Soda.

Dawn dish soap (I bought the lavender scented one!).

I didn't use them right away. I went home, picked up my granddaughter from preschool, had lunch, took a nap with Stinky (who was still feeling pretty miserable and needed to cuddle), picked up my DC from her school and waited for Hubby to get home. Why? Because I knew from my reading that I needed to do this outside and I wanted help! Dog had cooperated well to start with last night (probably because he really wanted the spray out of his eyes) but got tired of the process after the first shampoo and rinse. If he was reluctant today I knew it would go much easier with 4 more hands.

We changed into old clothes and went outside with the ingredients and a bucket. I mixed it up (a 500 ml bottle of peroxide, plus 1/4 cup baking soda and a couple of teaspoons of Dawn) and used it right away, lathering up his entire head, muzzle and throat. We let the mixture sit on him for 5 minutes, then rinsed him off under the hose bibb. There was still some smell so I did it all again. After that the smell was very faint so we towelled him off and went inside. We sprayed the house with Febreeze and I dumped the rubber gloves I'd used last night into the garbage and threw the 2 towels into the wash.

Then I went to my class and to work. After that I stopped at Superstore so I didn't get home until after 11 pm. I walked into the house and took a deep sniff.

The house smelled almost normal. Wow. I peeled Dog off me (he was very happy to see me) and sniffed him. He doesn't stink! He doesn't smell at all. No wonder he's happy. Dogs have much more sensitive noses than we have. Imagine how horrible the past day has been for him. I just hope he's learned his lesson about skunks. He's been sick as the proverbial dog after eating chocolate a couple of times, but that doesn't stop him from trying to get it.

So, now you know. If you or your pet gets sprayed by a skunk wash the oil off with a combination of Hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and Dawn dish soap!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Eau de Pepe Le Peu

Hubby took Dog out for his late night walk and guess what? Dog took off like a maniac, pulling the leash out of Hubby's hand and ran right up to a small skunk! Hubby grabbed the leash and brought him back home but Dog had been sprayed in the face.

It's funny, but it doesn't smell like the skunk smell on the road when someone hits one. I went looking on some websites for what to do and "burning tires" and "rancid garlic" really do describe it pretty well. It's also not as strong as I thought it would be, but it's pervasive.

The best mixture seems to be Hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and dishsoap (I already knew tomato juice was a myth), but we didn't have the ingredients and it's too late to be going out for them. Instead, I dug out the mango scented dog shampoo and washed Dog's face and head 3 times, rinsing well between. I wore rubber gloves and an old Tshirt while I washed him to try to protect myself. We could barely smell it after the 3 washings but now I smell it everywhere and I feel like I have heartburn because you can sort of taste the smell. Gross.

Dog is lying here looking miserable, with sore eyes although I think all the rinsing really helped. I think he was also trying to lick it off his face and he won't even eat his favorite treats. (I probably wouldn't want to eat if my mouth really tasted like skunk. The sensation I have is bad enough.)

I'd take him to the vet if I thought that would help, but I read a lot of people's comments including what the vet told them to do, so I'm pretty sure that I'd just be told to rinse his eyes and wash him repeatedly (probably with the mixture I don't have). But the only vet that's open costs $700 and I don't think he's in any danger. I may end up buying the peroxide etc. tomorrow and giving him a full bath if he still smells really horrible but there's not a lot you can do with the house other than cover up like brewing coffee, baking spices in the oven, putting out vinegar, burning candles, etc.

Fun. Fun. Fun. I hope I don't smell like skunk but who knows?

Another Quick Trip

We made a very quick trip to the Okanagan this weekend, but it worked out well.

Sunset is coming earlier every week and we really didn't think we could make it out there before Shabbat, so we packed up the van when Shabbat ended and got to the house around 2 am. Actually, the plan was to load the van before Shabbat but that didn't happen (unless you count the 2 bookshelves I bought Thursday night at IKEA that were in there).

We got going kind of late, about 10 am, but got tons done. Hubby mowed the grass and moved boxes around. I weeded the bed where my rosemary and 2 kinds of mint were being overshadowed by grass and weeds. It looks gorgeous. I also weeded around my one and only grape vine and started thinking about how to protect it through the winter, as well as wondering whether I should prune it at all this year. I cleaned up more of the morning glory type vines that were growing on the chain link fence between our place and our neighbour's. I planted 3 lavender plants (2 in the front, 1 in with the herbs). And, amidst all this, I realized just how much I enjoy pottering about in the garden. I would have happily spent another couple of hours in the garden today. This is A Good Thing, given that I'm planning to eventually grow several acres of both lavender and grapes.

Then I put together the 2 low Billy bookshelves I bought the other night at IKEA (with part of the store credit I had) and placed them in the dining area under the smallest window. There's enough room left over on that wall that I'm going to go back for either another low shelf (but in 40cm wide this time) or take a 40 high with a glass door to use as a display case. I was going to have a display case, but I'd originally planned to have a wider one so I could display more things. We'll see.

We also took the tall bookshelf that will go in our bedroom and 4 or 5 more boxes that belong there. Once I can access my display case in the city (there's another bookshelf in front of it, too long a story for tonight) and fill it, I plan to bring the other boxes of similar fragile items to the Okanagan and create a display there. One of the boxes I brought contains the special ceramic plates with planes on them that my dad got from the airline where he worked for over 30 years. I want to display those on the wall.

DC played with the girl next door most of the day. I also wrote a cheque and dropped it off and then deposited my BC Benefit in the credit union on the way home so there will be enough money in there to cover both the electric bill and the monthly account fee.

We got back to the city just before 11 pm. I think that was a very successful day!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

What Happened to Wednesday?

Um, I fell asleep. Again.

I woke up about 2 am, turned the computer off and moved it off the bed, then fell back asleep. I was thinking about how I should have posted but decided that it just wasn't worth it. I knew I wouldn't be likely to get back to sleep again if I started typing so I just went back to sleep.

But I did do something for It Won't Wait Wednesday. I finally managed to take care of my Bell cell bill. It only took 2 1/2 months. And the bill was pretty ugly. But it's paid.

So, what happened? Well, when I first got my beloved free BlackBerry the girl I dealt with signed me up for ebilling. I got a message about my first bill being ready and tried to sign up. And tried, and tried. I had a variety of problems in doing so and discovered that Bell's weak spot is their customer service. It's not that they weren't nice. They were all very nice and tried to be helpful but they're only open business hours instead of 24/7 (as I expect a telephone provider to be) and they don't have access to external email and aren't allowed to send faxes.

About 6 weeks ago I went back to the Bell store where I bought my phone and they called customer service for me. We agreed that I'd like a paper bill but it never arrived and I never received another notice for an ebill. After further futile attempts to link to my account I let it slide for a while in my busy round of work and child care.

Then, on my birthday weekend, while we were away Bell started redirecting my outbound calls to their accounting office. The problem with that is that it was a long weekend and their office is only open regular Monday to Friday office hours. Luckily all the other features of the phone still worked. I could receive calls, send texts, receive and send email, etc. which was pretty decent.

I tried again to link the account but eventually I ended up talking to accounting, then customer service, then accounting again. The girl in customer service agreed to send me the 3 bills I'd never seen and the accounting folks agreed to wait until yesterday for me to make a payment.

That was September 8th. The bills arrived on Tuesday afternoon. I checked out the bills and paid almost the full amount yesterday. I just took off the 2 late payment fees because I feel very strongly that I cannot be expected to pay a bill I have not been able to see.

So, how ugly was it? Well, 3 bills totalling $374.10. Yeah. That's a little high but I learned something important. The first bill of $127.67 was totally expected. There was a connection fee and some adjustments based on the billing period plus a few extra days. The 2nd bill was $83.36, bang on where it should be. Then there's the 3rd bill.

Do you all remember that I went down to Seattle a few weeks ago? I used my phone several times while I was there. I called my friend, my daughter (who was there working a trade show), my hubby at home and I received 3 or 4 calls. My roaming and long distance charges for those 2 days was a stunning $76.05.

Note to self: Use the phone as little as possible in the US. Luckily, I only go down to Seattle between 1 and 4 times per year.

Anyway, it's paid. I'm current and I'm not going to be doing any roaming for a while! And, yes, I still love my Blackberry!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Thinking About the Upcoming Holidays

I can't believe how fast time is flying. September is halfway through and Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) is coming up very quickly. The High Holy Days are an interesting time in terms of work and time off. Because the Jewish calendar is lunar-based, the days that the holidays fall out on change from year to year. Some combinations seem to be more challenging than others, such as the years that see all the holidays falling out in conjunction with Shabbat, giving us 3 days in a row where no work can be done not once, not twice, but three times in a month. That isn't the case this year, but there are challenges any way it falls out.

This year Rosh Hashana begins just before sundown on Monday, September 29th and ends Wednesday night, October 1st. Yom Kippur is Thursday, October 9th. Sukkot is an 8 day holiday where the first two and last two days are full festivals and the intermediate days are semi-festivals. Its full holiday days are from Monday night, October 13th to Wednesday night, October 15th and from Monday night, October 20th to Wednesday night, October 22nd.

What does that mean? Well, for 2 out of 4 weeks we work Monday, are off Tuesday and Wednesday, then go back to work for Thursday and Friday. The first week should follow that pattern but the Monday is a Statutory Holiday (Candadian Thanksgiving) so we're off that day too. The one week that's different we're off on Thursday instead for a 25 hour fast (no eating or drinking).

It makes for a series of very fractured work weeks and school is also out over this time. For those of us who work for Jewish organizations the time off is not a problem. Our offices are closed and many of us get paid for religious holidays.

But it can be very difficult for Observant Jews who work in secular jobs. Some people take vacation days, others take days without pay and there are definitely employers who make it difficult to take one or 2 days off at a time (because they generally require people to take a week of vacation at a time). It's true that it's a human rights issue (in Canada it is forbidden to discriminate against someone for religious reasons) but it's often difficult to arrange things with employers who have never dealt with this before and who don't understand.

Then there are all the people who think the holidays are just that, days when you kick back and do nothing. Not so much. In addition to walking to and from services each day, there are 2 big meals per day on each holiday (as well as on Shabbat every week). Even when Yom Kippur rolls around there is a meal before the fast that's supposed to carry you through and a break-the-fast meal afterwards. That's a lot of cooking, especially if you have a big family or invite a lot of guests. So the food bills tend to go up at this time of the year even when our take-home pay may be temporarily lower. Since we don't turn lights off and on during holidays or the Sabbath or turn the stove top or oven off or on there is often a bit of an increase in the electric bill (which may or may not be countered by the fact that we don't run the dishwasher or laundry equipment and don't use the TV or computer).

Luckily for me, I get paid for religious holidays (4 hours pay per day) and don't have to use my vacation time for them (except for the intermediate days, if I choose to take them off). And in October I'm going to get 3 pay cheques! Right now I'm hoping that we'll spend the bulk of Sukkot in the Okanagan, which means taking either 2 or possibly 3 days off. We'll see. If I do take the days I already have the money for them sitting in an ING sub account ($50/day after taxes, based on a 4 hour day) and I have 10 days of vacation left.

Now I just have to start thinking about the food and planning when we're having family over, etc. Help!

Look Ma, No Goals

I always make lists of goals. Right now I have a list of long term goals but I'm not keeping up with creating microgoals to lead me in the right direction. In fact, I can't name all my long term goals off without checking back to the post where I outlined them.

That is what is known as: Fail to plan; plan to fail. How can I have any success if I don't keep all those goals up front where I can see them all the time. So, I've come up with an idea. I've added both my long term goals and my current microgoals as sidebars.

Now, every time I open my blog, it's there in black and white. These are the things I want to do and here's my next step for getting there.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

So Busy

We were busy today, but we're always busy and it's been even more so since the beginning of September. I haven't written about my Dear Child and kindergarten (other than mentions of dropping her off or picking her up). I didn't write a lot about my milestone birthday. And I've written a bit about my Eldest Daughter being away and having the girls but, again, more like bare bones about it.

Why? Because I'm too busy living it all to write about it for the most part. And some of it needs a little reflection. I'm not getting much time for that right now. One of the things this reminds me of (and I'll freely admit I'm too lazy right now to go look through my L.M. Montgomery books for the actual quote) is a scene where a young Anne of Green Gables and her best friend are having a sleepover. They get ready for bed, race down the hall and bounce into bed, only to find the friend's Maiden Aunt in the bed! There are apologies and further conversation where the Maiden Aunt says something to the effect that every year after age 13 time seems to speed up until the years are just racing by. I feel like that more and more every year.

How can my baby be almost 6 years old and in kindergarten all day long? Worse, how did my Number 1 Son get to be almost 30? I'm not that old, am I? I guess that's why I tried not to dwell too much on the milestone aspect of this birthday. I feel like (maybe) I should be turning 30, not 20 years more than that. But the one place where I do feel my age is when I go to the school.

First of all, my next to youngest graduated from high school before his little sister was born! I'm very out of practice with all the details of getting small people up, fed, dressed, teeth brushed, hair done and in the car in time to get to school on time. This was never my favourite thing to do in the first place and it really doesn't seem to have gotten any easier with the intervening years. I'm still a night owl masquerading as a morning person and my children are all unabashed owls.

I like to have a pleasant start to the morning and having to focus (and make my child focus) on sticking to a timeline tends to create dissention, whining, pouting and fussing (and it makes my kid crabby too!). Getting into the car several minutes late is a guaranteed way to raise my blood pressure and stress level through the roof. Traffic is always bad, we live quite far (20-25 minutes driving in traffic) from the school and every minute of the drive is excruciating when we're late. Every red light is a disaster, along with every bit of construction that wasn't there yesterday and every stalled car.

We were early once (by 5 whole minutes!), just on time once and late or later the other 6 times to date (although the on-time days have been the most recent ones, so at least we're improving). I'm pleased that DC says she likes school and appears to be getting along well with her classmates, even though almost all the rest of the class has been together already for the past 2 years. But I feel funny at the school, even though I know a few of the mothers. With a few exceptions, they seem a lot younger than I am (I wonder why) and I don't know the kids or even that many of the families anymore. Yet there's a sense of deja vu about it all.

Anyway DC looks cute, has developed some extreme climbing abilities at the playground, is now eating sandwiches and is doing very well in school. Her secular studies teacher noticed last week that she could read in English (not news to us) and she comes home each day with new Hebrew words (from the Judaic half of the curriculum). But she's tired by 4 pm and still not always agreeable about eating dinner and getting ready for bed.

I'm Baaaack!

It's not like I went away or anything. But I couldn't get into Blogger on Thursday night to post and I didn't have a second on Friday to even try. Then, of course, it was Shabbat. So now it's early Sunday morning and I'm finally back to posting.

I'm always busy but we've kicked it back up a notch. I got an earlier appointment at the dentist for 3 pm Friday and had to dash from there to pick up DC at school at 4 pm. We had some things to still pull together and then came home to cook for Shabbat/Hubby's birthday. Now, my Eldest Daughter is overseas on business for about 8 days, so I have the girls from 7 am each morning when Son-in-Law leaves for work.

Tomorrow we have a big event to go to at Stanley Park and we're going to bus there with all 3 girls. The bus is very straightforward and will save all kinds of parking hassle and cost. But bussing with 3 kids under 6 and a stroller is not the easiest thing in and of itself. I hope Boo Boo (the 17 mo old) is cooperative.

I'm tired now and I'm sure I'll be tired tomorrow. But, what are you going to do? Well, I should probably get to bed (seeing as my alarm is set for 6:30 am). I hope to post more tomorrow evening.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It Won't Wait Wednesday Returns

After totally missing Won't Wait Wednesday last week (actually I think I even forgot it was Wednesday until after the fact) what challenges did I tackle today?

I actually tried to do 2 things today, but only achieved one. Then I did 2 other things this evening. The first thing was that I was trying to make a phone call to do with one of my granddaughters and her school but the person I was calling was sick. Hey, at least I tried.

The other thing I did was to take my granddaughters to Metrotown with me this afternoon so I could return the clothes I wanted to take back before they reached the point where they couldn't be returned. This was actually quite a Big Deal. I'm a little out of practice loading up diaper bag and stroller and getting the 2 girls in the van. We got to Metrotown and parked in our special, always half empty, spot. Then I had to get both girls out and they'd fallen asleep. I really didn't care about the baby. She could sleep in the stroller if she wanted to (though she didn't) but her sister had to walk.

We walked through the mall to Old Navy where I returned a bright green skirt, a grey and pink striped sleeveless dress or jumper and a pink dog hoodie and got $36.19 refunded to my credit card. Then we walked a few yards down the mall to Gap Kids where I returned the 2 (pink) dresses I bought there. I can't see the receipt in my bag (the only light in the room is coming from the nightlight and the laptop) but the original bill was $49.33. Considering I returned both the items I bought, that should be the refund to my credit card. $85.52 is not a bad return for an hour's investment.

This evening at work I finished printing out the invoices I couldn't do yesterday when I mangled the printer. It's fine now following a visit from a tech. I think my co-worker told me it was going to cost $125 for the visit. All that for one blinkety blink piece of paper that didn't want to come out.

When I finished at work I went to Safeway and bought food for 5 meals plus an assortment of things for DC to take to school in her lunch, plus breakfast food, plus some goodies (about $87 worth of groceries in all). I've been putting off doing any kind of decent grocery shopping for over a week and things were pretty desparate in our kitchen.

So, there you have it -- my achievements for the day.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Moving on the Microgoals

I finally took some steps towards 2 of my big goals, to study religious studies and to learn Hebrew fluently.

I didn't go to the first class in Biblical Hebrew tonight (I was upstairs in my office destroying my printer, but I digress). Instead, I went to speak to the teacher when the class ended. She gave me the handouts for tonight and told me she'll get me the ones for next week (which I can't go to either because I'm going to a dinner).

Of course, I still have a couple of things to work out. I have to arrange my work hours around it and I have to figure out how I'm going to come up with another $50/month for the next 9 months. And I actually have to study and do work out of class! You know, because I'm not actually busy or anything at the moment.

Just for a slice of my life, I got DC to school just on time today, went to work for an hour and printed several thousand address labels for our upcoming mailout, drove home, took my 3 yo granddaughter to her preschool and hung out there with the baby for the single hour that school was in session. I picked her up, drove home, gave them lunch and finally got the baby to sleep after she had a screaming session. As she was waking up I could see the 3 yo was about to fall asleep, so I loaded them back into the van and drove to the school even though we were early because it was just too hard to consider having to carry her out to the van when I also had to carry the baby. We waited in the van and I did some stuff on my BlackBerry. When school was letting out I got everybody up and out of the van. The 2 bigger girls played at the school playground for a while (I mostly held the baby after she tried to climb the ladder to the slide) and then we headed home, beating my Hubby by about 10 minutes and my son-in-law by maybe 20 minutes. We had dinner and I went back to work until the building closed. (I tried to print invoices and got one hopelessly caught in the printer so badly that we'll probably have to get someone to totally disassemble it.) By the time I got home DC was asleep. I watched a show Hubby taped for us to watch and now I'm planning to go to bed after I finish this post! Busy enough?

So, maybe I'm crazy and shouldn't try to take on anything more but if I don't, it's pretty sure that I'll never achieve any of my goals. And isn't that a large part of what life's about? I could just exist but where's the fun in that? Yes, it's going to cost a bit of money but realistically $450 is a cheap way to test the waters.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

CPP and Me

I wanted to know how much money I could expect from my Canada Pension, so I asked for a Statement of Contributions. According to the government, if my earnings continue at this level until I turn 65, I could expect to get $385.91/mo in CPP benefits. It’s nowhere near the current maximum of $884.58 thanks in part to all the years I spent as a SAHM, but I can have those years “dropped out” and have the amount refigured. Or I could apply to split my ex-spouse’s CPP for the duration of our marriage. Now there’s a way to bring your ex back into your life after almost 25 years – just arrange to have the government take half his pension eligibility for a 7 year period!

I also have an annuity that was purchased for me by a previous employer that will pay me $98 or $100/mo, so let’s just say that I can count on $485.00 per month. Next there’s Old Age Pension. How much does that pay? It looks like $505.83. So, that’s a total of $990.83 per month, or $11,880 annually just for me.

My hubby should apply for his Statement of Contributions too, but I know he’ll make more in CPP because he makes more money than I do. However, he doesn’t have that handy dandy little annuity waiting for him. The average amount of CPP is currently $481.46, so let’s use that for him. Combined with OAS that would give him a monthly pension of $987.29 or an annual amount of $11,847.48. That’s a total of $23,727.48, or just a hair under the $24,000 in today’s dollars that I estimate we’ll need to live at a fairly basic level in retirement.

(It should be noted that all the money for CPP and OAS is in today’s dollars and that the amount of our CPP pensions would continue to rise if our incomes continued to rise over the next 15 years. The OAS pension amount is set annually and gets adjusted upwards.)

All of this makes it look as though my fears of us being destitute in our senior years are not based in fact. You can even go back to work after you retire and continue to receive your CPP. You just don’t contribute to CPP anymore and your pension amount doesn’t change. (In contrast, if you put off applying for CPP until your 70th birthday and continue to work in the meantime you’ll be given 30% more than the pension you would have received at 65.) Now, that’s not to say that I want to work until I’m 70, or want to retire and then start working again. I’m just stating the possibilities.

And what about our RRSPs? Well, they would give us money on top of our basic needs to do the kinds of things we want to do in retirement. Right now we have about $13,000 in RRSPs between the 2 of us and will put in another $16,800 over the next 15 years at our current (extremely low) rate of savings, for a total of at least $30,000 (ignoring interest at about 3%). At a 4% withdrawal rate, that would mean we could take out $1,200/year or $100/month. That’s not enough money for much in the way of travel, although it might improve our general standard of living slightly.

So, I’m going to say we still don’t have enough in our RRSPs. We need to improve on our savings in order to live it up just a little in our old age. But we’re unlikely to be fighting Dog for his dinner, which is good news.

Review of August Goals

August is so over. How did I do with my goals? (And why has it taken me so long to write this post?)

1. Remain at or under 129 pounds. Done! But just barely. I know I was up at 130 or even 131 during the month, but I finished it at 129 so I'm happy.

2. It Won’t Wait Wednesday Challenge. Done! Every Wednesday I tackled one or two of those items that I've been putting off. I was good about it all August but it didn't happen this past Wednesday, maybe because it was DC's first day of school and I had other things on my mind.

3. Post a minimum of 26 times in August (daily, except for Shabbos). No. I only posted 22 times because I was pretty exhausted between working full time and looking after little ones while my Eldest Daughter was away.

4. Go through at least 8 more boxes. No. I did take at least 4 boxes (and possibly a couple more) to our other house but I don't think I went through a single box that stayed here and I didn't get any of the boxes to be sold or given away out of the house. (I had said that I’d count boxes that physically left the house in the city, either being given away or moving ones to the country.)

So, how do I feel about this? Not so great. I honestly didn't even remember that going through those boxes was a goal until I looked back at this post. I also did another post on mini-goals and haven't finished with those or added more mini-goals in the areas where I did have success.

This is clearly my biggest problem with a goal list. It isn't enough to come up with goals. It isn't enough to write them down, or even to post them on my blog and tell the world I'm planning to achieve them. I have to stay aware of them from day to day. And, right now, I don't.

Why has it taken me so long to write this post? Partly I've been thinking a lot about the problem I just wrote about. Partly I'm just tired a lot of the time. Sometimes I have 2 things I could post about and I just do the quickest or easiest one. That's also why I haven't written about goals or DC going to school or whatever.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Stay Warm, Save Money

Trent wrote a great post about minimizing your winter heating bills and it really got me going. Actually, all of this started the other day when he also linked to a post on how to install a programmable thermostat. I looked at programmable thermostats last year but chickened out of buying one because neither Hubby nor I is confident doing anything electrical.

I have an oil burning furnace at my rural home. In 2 rooms and the front hall I also have electric baseboards. The furnace is 40 years old and needs a servicing before winter. Last year I had 2 deliveries of oil for a total cost of about $700. My electric bill is about $30/month ($360/yr).
My next door neighbour on one side has what I believe is called a swamp cooler. It looks like an air conditioning unit, sits outside on the ground, heats in the winter and cools in the summer. I don't know how it is in terms of cost but the big downside for me is that it's noisy. I can hear it inside my living room when it comes on.

My other next door neighbour changed his oil burner for a pellet stove a couple of years ago. He buys all his pellets ahead of time and stores them in a little shed. He loves the pellet stove and says it's much more economical than their previous furnace.

I can't switch to the pellet stove myself because we're not there all the time and you have to feed the pellets into the stove every couple of days. I don't think any kind of new furnace (or a swamp cooler) is going to be good for me economically. The upfront cost is just too high. So, as long as the oil furnace works, my best bet is to keep it and do some of the other things like sealing the windows, weatherstripping doors, installing a programmable thermostat, changing the furnace filter and looking into an insulating blanket for the water heater.

Doing all the above I should be able to knock about $600 off my heating costs. Yeah, that much. The programmable thermostat alone should account for close to $500 of that. Since we only go for one day at a time during the winter I can set the thermostat to a very low level 6 days out of the week (in the low 50's, enough that the pipes don't freeze and that the place can be raised to a normal temperature in a relatively short time in the event that we arrive at an unexpected time or have to have workers in the house). Saturday evening the heat can rise to normal and stay up until dinnertime Sunday. That means I'm heating the house to my usual levels one day per week and to around 55 the other 6 days. If I was turning it right off 6 days per week I'd clearly be saving 6/7s of my oil costs, or $600. But I think I have to assume I'll spend at least $100 over the winter keeping the temperature above freezing.

A new furnace filter will also help, as will reducing the heat loss through the windows by sealing them with plastic this year. In fact, sealing the windows will also reduce the amount of heat lost from the rooms with electric heating, saving money there too. Weatherstripping the front door in particular would also reduce the heat loss in the front hall. Replacing the front door would be even better but costs too much.

If I'm going to keep my electric hot water heater I should buy an insulating blanket for it, but it's about 25 years old and I'm wondering if some of the nasty yellow colour of the water has to do with the hot water heater because the hot water is noticeably worse than the cold and it's worse when you start running the water than it is a couple of minutes later.

Replacing the tank with a new conventional tank would cost about $350 plus installation costs. But why do we heat the water 24/7 when we're only there 1 to 3 days per week at most? And, even when we're there, it's not like we're running hot water all the time. In many ways a point-of-use heater makes much more sense. It costs about $900, more than twice what a conventional heater does but its operating costs are obviously much lower. So, what to do?

I can defer payment for 6 months by putting the water heater on my Home Depot card, but I still don't have $150/month to put aside to pay for it. Maybe it would be better to just put away what I can for a while, hope that the existing water heater doesn't die on us, and wait until I'm in a better position to pay for it. In that case, I should probably spend $35 on the insulation.

If I really can save $600 in heating costs this winter, that's 2/3 of the cost of the point-of-use heater, or the difference between it and a conventional tank. Maybe that's how I pay for the tankless version.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Let me tell you about my weekend.

There were some good parts, including some very good parts. We had my birthday dinner on Sunday night and it was great. I love lamb chops but we don't get lamb very often because it's so expensive and not always available. Grill the lamb on the cast iron grill plate over a fire in our fire pit and I'm in heaven. We had onions and mushrooms sauteed in olive oil with a splash of red wine and red potatoes with it. I meant to make green peas too, but somehow that never happened. To drink there was an Israeli Cabernet Sauvignon. It was a great meal and everybody liked it.

The next morning the little girls got up, DC signed the cards for herself and her nieces and they sang Happy Birthday to me before giving me the cards. Then I got my present from Hubby, a long black skirt with ruffles, eyelet and lace, and a black top with sequins at the neckline.

We went to the beach with the kids and I took pictures of them enjoing themselves (usually I forget and the camera just sits in my purse). The weather was nice. Sunny but not nearly as hot as normal for the Okanagan. Over the course of the weekend we got a lot of yard work done and seeded the side yard.

But there were bad things too. On Friday when I was walking from the office to the deli to pick up the meat and challah I slipped on a little mud in a depression in the sidewalk. I caught myself without doing a face plant but I jammed my big toe straight down into the bricks and I think I broke it. It's all bruised and for the first 2 or 3 days it ached all the time and sent sharp shooting pains when I moved my foot in certain ways. I've been wearing flip flops continuously and it has helped. The pain is mostly gone but I still can't clench all my toes on that foot. The big toe and the one beside it just don't bend when I try to tell them to.

The baby barfed on the drive to the house. I've discovered that you cannot mix her, a bottle of milk and a car trip with any kind of curves. She also had a screaming fit for about half an hour in the middle of the first night. Nothing was right, she wouldn't be comforted. Finally, she lay down like a newborn (on her tummy with her butt in the air) and fell asleep in about 2 seconds.

I spent all of Shabbos day suffering from serious stomach cramps that seemed to come out of nowhere, to the extent that I practically didn't eat.

We drove home fairly late on Monday (arriving back in the city at 11:30 pm) and when I woke up Tuesday morning my left arm was hurting and itching. I looked at it and was shocked. My arm is swollen and red from my armpit to my elbow. It appears to be a spider bite and I know we have black widows at the house because I've seen and killed them, so I'm kind of worried that it may be a black widow bite! My arm is warm to the touch, itches horribly and aches in a way that reminds me of when your leg falls asleep and you hesitate to move it because you know it's going to hurt in a sharp, aching way before the pins and needles sensation starts. It feels heavy and a little on the weak side, although I can still use it normally.

And then there was the ugly. We were driving merrily along on the freeway (on our way to the Okanagan) when everything came to a screaming halt. The highway was actually closed from Bridal Falls to Hope. I think it had something to do with the road flooding, but we never saw it. We had to take Highway 9 across the river and come at Hope the back way. You take a 3 lane freeway and put all that traffic on a single lane highway on a holiday weekend and it's ugly.

So, there it is. My weekend. Now I'm going to go to bed because my arm is killing me. (Yes, I'm planning to go to the doctor tomorrow.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

MasterCard, You're Priceless (Or is it Clueless?)

I had an interesting thing happen to me today with my MasterCard. It's actually been getting a bit of a workout over the past week or 10 days. I bought DC's clothes, I charged some gas, we went to the Okanagan for the weekend and bought both gas and groceries there and I used it twice today, for $10 worth of groceries that were necessary for tonight's dinner as well as my protein drink and for gas.

The first trip to Safeway was a little after 6 pm. I came home, we made dinner, ate and went to work. I finished at 10:30 pm and had to go back to Safeway since (as Hubby pointed out) I had forgotten a couple of little things like milk, cream, cold cereal for DC and sugar. I think his point was that my buying my protein drink didn't mean everybody else had food for breakfast.

So first I bought gas because I was running on fumes and then I went into the store. I bought just under $20 worth of food and had my credit card declined at the check out! Now I had $2,000 worth of room on my card 10 days ago and I know we spent a bunch, including the clothes and filling the van with gas, but I couldn't imagine that I'd hit my limit!

I used my debit card and it went through, although my paycheque doesn't get deposited until after midnight and there's a lot that comes out right between the 30th and the 5th of the month. I came home and logged onto the website for my MasterCard. Lo and behold, it told me that my account had been restricted and to call an 800 number. I did and eventually spoke with a live person who told me that she needed to verify some transactions. The gas we bought in Hope. The gas I bought tonight. My first trip to Safeway tonight.

You see, for some reason, buying $10 worth of food and $30 worth of gas looked "suspicious" to them. I politely pointed out that this is my life. I have two homes and travel between them, so any normal expense like food or gas purchased in or between Points A and B are fine (and things I've done many times in the past). Doing something out of character, like buying electronics online, would be suspicious and should be checked.

Anyway, she updated my account and it's back to being usable. But what would have happened if this had happened on our trip and I'd been unable to buy gas? That would have stranded us for the night in Hope and we'd have had to go to a motel, but we couldn't have registered because the card would have been declined there too. Sleeping in my car isn't something I want to have to do. I appreciate them looking out for fraud but small amounts of gas or groceries shouldn't seem suspicious. People keep needing to eat and cars don't run on happy thoughts. I'm just glad I had access to both the internet and my phone and could resolve this fast.