Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A family from Fair Havens found out yesterday that the father has liver cancer and there is no treatment. I don't know how much longer he's expected to survive, but it doesn't seem long, perhaps only days.
Ken and Jean are friends of my mom and their 16 year old daughter was a beautiful little girl I remember teaching in children's chapel. (She's still beautiful).

Please pray for them.

Update: Ken died around 5am, Saturday, February 2nd,

Organizing, Digital Camers and Going Organic

Monday, January 28, 2008

I'm feeling organized today.

I cleaned quite profusely (I was going to say, like a maniac, but that seems a little extreme) on Saturday night, so my house was still looking good by this morning, since we're never home on Sundays. The basement is still looking nice from our full frontal attack last weekend. Still a few more things to organize there, but I need some baskets from the dollar store and I don't have any dollars right now.
The dishwasher is on, the washing machine is on, one kid is napping, one is having quiet play in his room and one is working on an activity book at the table here with me. I'm wearing some comfy-new-(loaned)-to-me maternity clothes from my friend, so I'm excited about that. Less early morning searching for clothes. At least, until I get behind on the laundry again. I know, I should think positively.
I have choir tonight, and I actually got my plan made and sent out to my 'staff' by my deadline, Fridays. So now I just have to gather up stuff...oh and maybe I should look at some of the music I don't know....

Oh, have I got a story. So, if you've been reading, you might remember that our digital camera (Christmas 06 gift from my parents) was lost/stolen last summer. I searched everywhere....or so I thought. We gave up and bought a new one last month as our christmas gift to each other.

I was inspired to start scrapbooking again yesterday and hauled all my stuff to my parents. Besides my usual two bags of stuff, I had a few other bags of miscellaneous stuff that needed to be sorted and hopefully some thrown out. I hadn't scrapped since last summer, so I hardly remembered what half the bags had in them.
I ensconsed myself on my moms living room floor and opened the first bag to see what it contained...some blank pages, some page protectors, some cutting tools.....

And our lost/stolen digital camera.

In the words of the Genie....I feel sheepish.

Anyways, I got all my scrapbooking stuff organized so now I can get back at it and maybe get somewhat caught up by the time the baby arrives. At least enough that I can make a book for her too. I'm still determined to make sure baby #4 gets something comparable to baby #1.

And onto another topic...our great Organic Adventure.

Last summer, I read a couple books that really got me thinking about our food. Now, eating better, with less chemicals and all that is something I've been interested in for a few years. But these two books kickstarted me back into a much more intense effort to make changes. When the fall arrived, I had decided to start doing a few things differently
  • I was going to start buying our meat from an organic farm in rural Ancaster.
  • I was going buy our fruits and veggies organic, and all other things as much as possible, at our friendly neighbourhood Goodness Me, over on Upper Gage.

So that's what I started doing. After a few shoppings I started realizing what an impact this was making on our budget. Reluctantly, I altered the plan, and we started buying our fruits and veggies at Hamilton Produce, on Upper Ottawa. Although not organic, it was local produce, and pretty darn cheap.

The next thing to go was cereal. We are big cereal eaters in our family--always for breakfast and it's not uncommon for James and/or I to have another bowl at bedtime--especially me these days. The only sizes of cereal available at Goodness Me were itty-bitty. We'd buy 4-5 boxes, at about twice the price of similar sized boxes at Food Basics, and be out in a week. Back we'd go for more. James grumbled about this and compare nutrition labels. He was not convinced we were getting anything better at Goodness me.

After another month or two, we were still decimating our food budget. I had known that going organic would be more expensive, but I guess I just didn't think it would be that much, and that somehow I could compensate. It just wasn't happening. Every payday, when I would fund the food envelope, I'd first have to put some in to take care of the deficit and bring the envelope to zero. This was eating up alot of our overtime. I mean, Jamie's overtime.

So I made a few more concessions. I began going back to the Food Basics for a few things. This meant we were now shopping for our food at 4 different stores. 3 of them we'd try to hit in one night, and then the organic farm had to be a separate trip (by me) during the day. It was about 45 minutes of driving round trip.

Still spending too much.

I started buying all our produce at Food Basics too. I had realized that Hamilton Produce was NOT local stuff, and the extra trip was just too inconvenient.

Still spending too much.

We now limited our Nature's Goodness trip to dairy products only. I had early on decided that I disliked organic butter, so I was still getting that from Food Basics. This left cheese, eggs and milk, although we'd often get the same brand organic from Sobey's over in the Meadowlands, or Shoppers Drug mart nearby.

Still totally overspending.

Then came the new year and my finance reassessment, that I've already posted about. I did a report on the food budget for the previous months and was shocked at how much more we'd spent over those months. Anywhere between 30-50% more for the food budget.

Fortunately, by now, my intensity for the necessity of organic had waned. My alarm bells were not constantly going off. Besides the cost, it's just difficult to ensure that your family is NEVER eating non-organically. Snacks at church and friends houses, meals away from home--either at a restaurant or others' homes, I was making exceptions every time I turned around.

And now it seemed pretty obvious that we just could not afford to buy organic. How sad is that? That an average family who earnestly wished to eat better, without all the chemicals, additives and processing by-products simply could not afford to do it.

I still have one hold out...but that will probably stop too. I tried to replace our organic meat with the no-antibiotic meat at Sobeys. However, it's still more expensive, for smaller packages of meat, and with a very small selection. Out of 6 meat products I bought last grocery trip, there was only one to be found from that 'better' group. I ended up buying regular meat, at Sobeys prices, when I could have saved some by getting it at Food Basics.

So that's our sorry saga of trying to go organic. I suppose the bottom line is still that I'm preparing as much as I can without using processed stuff, and including fresh produce everyday in as many meals as possible.

But man, that family on the hamburger helper commercial sure looked happy and healthy.

It followed me home, can I keep it?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

When I was a kid, I had this t-shirt that had a big dinosaur drawn on it. It looked like a little kid had drawn it, and written across the front and sides were the words, "It followed me home, can I keep it?"
It was my favourite shirt and people would stop me all the time to read it and chuckle. I think that's why it was my favourite shirt. I liked the attention.

Well, now I've got a dinosaur following me, and I've tried everything I can to get away from it.

It's spam.

I know lots of people live with this and just write it off as a matter of living in the computer generation, but I really thought I could dodge it.

I technically have 3 emails. One is my 'real' email, that I get the majority of my correspondence on. One is my 'business' email, the one on my business cards and I set it up mainly for JK Soundstudios business, back when I was doing a little more with Jamies business. Then I opened up a yahoo account for all those times you have to submit your email for something halfway important--like opening up an ebay or paypal account. That one, I have no privacy expectations for, I regularly hand it out for this and that reason on the web (nothing frivolous, of course) and it gets loads of spam. Curiously, yahoo does a great job at winnowing out the spam and my trash folder is usually full of it. Once in a blue moon, I empty it just to feel organized.

Somewhere along the line, my 'real' email was leaked. I started getting spam for rolex watches and online pharmacies. Then it progressed to so called personal ad responses (as though I had something posted on a dating site), and then finally to the.....personal enhancement products for my husband.
When it got to the personal ad spam, I decided I'd had enough. We route our email through Jamies website (see sidebar) and that package comes with like, 20 email accounts. So I altered my address slightly, sent out notices to my address book and thought I had licked that problem.

Sigh. Not quite.

About 3 days ago, I was shocked and chagrined to see a spam come through on the new address. Shocked, because, I'd only had it for maybe 2 weeks and I was 99% sure I hadn't given it out anywhere that wasn't absolutely necessary--like my bank. Even more puzzling, was that the same spam was now coming in on my business email, and I am 100% sure I've never given that out, especially not in the last 2 weeks.

So all my finagling was for nothing. I'm still getting that small rush of pleasant surprise when I see Outlook downloading 5 messages....only to plummet to the depths of disgust when 3/5 are spam. And all they are is a single line with a link. As if I'm going to click on the link and go there. What is the point for these cyber-terrorists? Do they actually see some measure of success from this intrusion? Who are the people who click on the link and encourage them to continue? I'd like to whack them as much as the spammers.

But then, the ultimate in privacy cozy little home here on the web. Now, I have to admit, being here on blogger, where anyone and everyone could read what I write should not exactly ensure me of any kind of privacy, I realize this. But what happened after my last posting really caught me by surprise.

As you can read (and hopefully did), my last post was more of a rant against the bank1ing/m0rtgage system. (I put numbers in there in my paltry attempt to dodge the spammers).
Not 10 minutes after I had posted, I checked back on my dashboard and was pleasantly surprised to see that I had a comment that needed moderating. Someone was reading my blog already!
What I was astounded to read however, was not a comment, but an ADVERTISEMENT. Some realt0r in Toronto had 'found' my blog and posted that perhaps I should give her company a call for help with my impending relocation. Which if any actual person had read my post, would have realized that moving to TO would be absolutely NOT the answer I was looking for. This is when I realized the depth that marketing has gotten to.

I'm only imagining how it works, because I didn't even know such systems existed a few weeks ago. So this realt0r has some lackie in her office who's job it is to run searches everymorning---or maybe her computer just does it automatically---perhaps she's subscribed to a service that does this for her, and then spits out a report of all the blog posts that have mentioned something using the key terms of her business. Perhaps she then checks the list and chooses which ones are truly suitable (or perhaps that part again is all automated, considering how innappropriate her contact with me was) and sends out autoresponse comments to all those blogs. Oh, you've got this problem? Well, friend, I have a solution for you. Can you believe this!?!?!?!?

I's inescapable. Unless I just got off the internet entirely. I gave up facebook--

---I could do it, you know.

(sinister chuckle)

And yet, I am blessed

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Then, there's always something to remind me how insignificant my problems are.

Hold on, this here's a whopper

I've wanted to post something new for a while, but just haven't gotten around to it. Kind of like I haven't gotten around to laundry, getting the tree down, picking up all the junk all over my floors....k, so it's getting harder to bend down. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it....

I wanted to be able to post pictures of our little reno project, but it's not quite done yet. Unfortunately, the only before pics I have really, are ones we took when we were buying this house, so it's got all the previous owners furniture in it....well, when I get them up, you'll probably still see what an impressive change has been wrought...

I wanted to post this really funny homeschool-version of the 12 days of Christmas....maybe I still will.

I wanted to post some funny pictures of Verity as she's been toilet training...but they wouldn't be rated for general audiences.

I wanted to talk many things.

The thing most occupying my mind right now is our current housing/financial state. Without planning to, I suddenly one night started a reassessment of our finances. Maybe it was an end/beginning of year kind of housecleaning thing, but one night off the top of my head I just made a comment to James that we needed to take a serious look at our money, and we sat right down and did it. It was not such a nice picture.

Ever since starting to use the Mvelopes system, our finances have never looked the same (in a good way!). I crow about it to just about anyone who has the misfortune (not really, as being introduced to Mvelopes would be a great thing for just about anyone) to mention any kind of financial problem. Unfortunately, budgeting well is not the cure for all ails.

First of all, we had a number of cuts to our income last year. A few in particular have to do with the various Child tax benefits we get. I probably posted when the Universal child tax benefit was cut when Jairus turned 6, because I was just so annoyed about it. What exactly changed in our finances, or Jairus' need for clothes, food and housing, from March 29th to March 30th is beyond me. Why the age of 6 was arbitrarily chosen is a mystery equal to the Caramilk bar.

Some of the other cuts I don't really want to go into, but on the opposite end, we also saw some rises in a few key expenditures. For instance, our property taxes. Well, Leslie, you say, property taxes go up, it's a way of life. Yes, but our taxes didn't go up due to the natural inflation (or whatever economic term determines taxes going up), but because the bank screwed up. When we moved in 2006, instead of porting our tax account from one house to the next (keeping in mind that we kept the same bank so this shouldn't have been a huge problem from my perspective), they for some reason added the significant balance to our sale profit and handed it over as part of the cheque we got from our lawyer. Happily, we spent it on new hardwood floors and a new Ikea kitchen....having no idea that we were spending money that should have been going to the city of Hamilton 2 months later.
Come 12 months later, the bank finally realizes that our overdrawn tax account was just not magically refilling itself. So out comes a notice that they would be raising our tax portion to the tune of 100$ a month.

Shortly after that came another large cut in our income (the one I don't wish to discuss). We did see some small help throughout the fall with James training in the reserves, but it didn't cover the operating deficit.

I kept telling myself I needed to sit down with my excel spreadsheet that maps our income and reassign some stuff, as every month through the fall our mortgage plus taxes payment was always overdrawing the envelope from whence it comes and I was scrambling to cover the deficit. But I didn't get around to it until last week. The total numbers I was staring at, considering the cuts to income, and raises in expenses made for a depressing evening.

I went to Crown to use some of their calculating tools to try and figure out where we could improve. Instead what I found out was that despite living in what I believe is a fairly modest home, we are using about 20% more of our income for housing then Crown recommends in order to keep a balanced budget.

How could we have reached this point? Why were there no indications before this? I laid awake that night, and woke up early that next morning with those questions burning in my mind. And moreover, what could we do about it?

Well, first off, I set about cutting a few corners here and there. I called our internet company and switched our phone service over to them, taking advantage of a bundle deal. That saved 40$. I called the bank and asked if we were in any position to lower our mortgage payment. We do pay biweekly, which is a plus in the banks eyes. I breathed a sigh of relief when she said it could be done without penalty. Another $100 a month freed up.

The immediate problem of our deficit taken care of, I turned back to the long term issue of living beyond our means. I thought we had dealt with this particular downfall. I love to tell people how when we started budgeting, we disovered we were spending 1000$ more per month then we were making. (Why I love to share that, I'm...not...sure). That was a huge you-are-living-way-beyond-your-means kind of slap in the face. Since then I thought we had nipped that. Finally the question of who came up. Who told us we could afford to live in this house.......?

Why, the bank, of course.

We did what every responsible couple does when starting to look for a new house, we went to the bank and got a pre-approval. And what did the bank base this on? What they always do, our debt-to-service ratio.
Well, it so happened that after a few years of careful budgeting, we had manage to lower our debts. We had actually been quite pleased with the amount the bank told us we could afford on a new home. Considering the prices on the west mountain where we had decided we should live (mainly so James could quickly hop on the 403 to get to London), the number the bank told us was great. We'd surely be able to find a home for that price. And we did. In fact, I was quite smug that we had found a house for about 15 thousand less then what the bank said we could spend. Surely we'd even have extra money now. Hhhhyeah.

This line of discovery only solidified something in my mind that I've been slowly discovering about many industries in our world: they are not on our side. They do not have our best interest at heart. You'd think someone in the banking world would have looked at the thousands of people declaring bankruptcy and losing their houses and figured out that this could possibly be a reason. I'm sure they have. And they've done nothing about it.

So now, it seemed, the solution was that we needed to move. This certainly seemed drastic. I mean, we just moved a year and a half ago. It's a huge deal. Honour was traumatized for months and still to this day will once in a while announce that she liked our old house better. Moving would involve consideration of many things. We'd still need to live close to the 403 so James could get to work. A job in Hamilton would be amazing, but we've been looking for years and nothing has worked out. This would limit our housing area. And the purchase price would need to be significantly less then what we paid for this house, to lower our mortgage. And while we could likely determine beforehand how much a monthly mortgage payment could be, the other housing costs could be more or less depending on many aspects of the new house: we put a new furnace in last year--that's made our gas bill less. Property taxes could be higher, insurance costs could be higher, electricity costs could be would be almost impossible to foresee an accurate monthly housing amount before we actually bought another house.

Why is our system set up this way??!

I still look on mls just to imagine. Last night I found maybe four possibilities, but all had significant problems. There was only ONE house on the entire mountain that fit into the up front purchase price range. It had no basement. Hmmmm, been there, done that. West Hamilton seemed a possibility, that yielded two-three possibilities. But resale in that area, my mom pointed out, is getting difficult, as so many houses are being turned into student housing. In fact the 3 houses listed were former student housing....which was why they needed significant repairs.

I don't know where this leaves us, except frustrated.