Posted on August 14, 2016
How Feeding Children’s Ambition Only Sets Them Up to Fail – Our culture is rich with esteem-boosting platitudes for young dreamers, but the assurances are dishonest and dangerous
Having no money is no excuse for bad health — 33 ways to upgrade your health for free
Posted on July 20, 2016
Slowly working my way towards becoming the Terminator
It’s taken me awhile to come to terms with the fact that I am capital D, disabled. Of course, I shouldn’t be shocked when the reality is that 1 in 4 people who are 20 today will be disabled before they retire. Still, it’s probably a good time to discuss how disability throws a wrench into things, especially financially. Here are a few examples what I have discovered:
Having neurosurgery and orthopedic surgery both within four days really messes up your ability to move and I hear it could be up to 18 months until I know the extent of the damage. Still, I am fairly mobile now but there are some hefty costs to disability – even minor ones – that people don’t think about.
Yeah, a walking cast is $150 out of pocket
Money talks but I can’t walk
*groooooan* “Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week. Try the fish!”
When I left the hospital, I was in a wheelchair for 7 weeks. In order for me to be mobile & manage daily tasks, we ended up having to purchase or rent a whole slew of mobility products just so I could live a normal life: we a rented wheelchair and bench for the shower, we bought a handle for the shower so I could lift myself in and out, we bought a bedrail so I could get into bed easily. While I have some excellent benefits, my benefits don’t cover anything above the wheelchair. So essentially, we were out almost $500 dollars.
Luckily, my need for most of the above things were temporary but I have a friend who has a degenerative disability who relies on her wheelchair daily. Although her benefits covered the wheelchair, when the remote on the arm broke she ended up having to pay almost $2000 out-of-pocket to get it fixed. Same with all the things I mentioned above: she needs a bench to shower, too, but again those assistive devices that help her with everyday tasks aren’t covered. They won’t even cover a ramp so that a wheelchair can access your house.
Built by Mr. Tucker with the expert direction of a friend for the cost of the wood
Given that I am being followed by four doctors right now, you can imagine the amount of time I have to take off work to get to appointments (and all the parking I have to pay!). Toss on the physiotherapy I am supposed to do, add my prescriptions and it’s a lot of money. Sure, my benefits cover a portion of these things but there is always a percentage that comes out of my pocket. I also am grateful that I am allowed time off for appointments and that I have an understanding boss who lets me make up the time. I took a lot of unpaid time off when I had the original surgeries as well, which cost us a lot at the time where were bleeding money (see above).
Granted, I am doing much better now so a lot of the things I needed before I no longer need. The prescriptions are done, the assistive devices returned, and I am slowly getting back into managing daily tasks unassisted. Still, there are some residual things that could continue up to 18 months (or longer).
Meet Happy Fun Bag: only partially covered!
Lifestyle choices when they aren’t a choice
Most people know that to save money you have to reduce your outgo. One of the ways to do this is to rethink transportation. For example, you can avoid driving and use your own power to get around. A bike is a close second for distances, and then public transportation. But because the physical challenges I have right now, Mr. Tucker ends up driving me to work in the morning. That’s because I only have one good distance walk in me and so I save it for the evenings when I take the bus home. Traffic-wise, the evenings are always worse so it’s better to avoid driving at that time. I did have big plans to bike to work this summer but I am just not steady enough on my feet to be able to manage that safely. So now we have to pay extra in gas, and of course wear-and-tear on the car is an issue. We did explore having me drive myself to work but the parking downtown is an extra $200-$300, so it made sense just to have Mr. Tucker drive me in the morning & have me take the bus at night.
Since I am limited in terms of mobility, I also can’t do a whole slew of other things I used to do to save money: hanging laundry on the line is out because I can’t carry heavy loads up from the basement. Gardening even the small things we usually did is out because I can’t bend over. I can’t stand for long periods of time so batch cooking huge meals and freezing them is out – not that I can access the freezer downstairs anyway. Even though I could ask Mr. Tucker to do a lot of the stuff I used to do, it’s just impossible for one person. In the end, something has to give so we could have our sanity. You are only as fast as your fastest teammate after all.
Even if I could wheel outside, the grab arm doesn’t hold the weight of laundry
Still, what I am hoping is that I will get better, sturdier, and more able to help as the weeks go on. I will get back on my feet (so to speak) and be able to do all the things I used to do. Even walking to the library with the kids – one of my favourite things to do – is not even possible because it’s a couple of miles away. I used to love that walk & would tell anyone who would listen that it was a perfect distance. Now even thinking of how long and how painful that walk would be is a daunting.
It amazes me on how much time (which is also money) it takes me to do things and how I have to consider the terrain when I am out. I used to be able to make it to the bus stop in under 5 minutes, now it is more like 12. Because I move so slowly and some routes aren’t available to me, it has completely changed the way I live my life. I have to plan these big swaths of time around my errands because I know my mobility isn’t great and that I have limitations.
I get by with a little help from my friends
Patience in all things
When you are incredibly independent having to a> rely on others, b> change your entire lifestyle, can be a huge hurdle. Financially however, it can be decimating. We luckily had savings but were also able to use a combination of credit cards and direct billing to our benefits. Credit cards were super helpful in buying us time to pay the bills until we were out of the hospital and back at home so we could take the time to organize ourselves & bill the insurance company. We were super lucky to have money set aside for emergencies, and this was the perfect time to use it.
No one ever believes that they will be disabled but people also think of disabled as some permanent condition. Oftentimes, a disability is temporary and you can go back to your life. But regardless of whether or not it is a temporary or permanent, being disabled is incredibly expensive even for people who have lots of support and great benefits. Having money set aside for emergencies helps negate these expenses and reduces the worry that comes along with dealing with a whole pile of bills at a time where you may be mentally and physically exhausted. I am grateful I get to convalesce without worrying about how we are going to manage the bills. Of course, now to build the fund back up…
“So on a scale of zero to contestant-on-RuPaul’s-drag-race, what’s your financial pain level?”
Posted on July 19, 2016
Letters of Note has a wonderful letter that Hunter S. Thompson wrote to a friend when he was only 20-years-old. While full of good advice, a few quotes stand out:
*In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires—including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.
*As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES.
*In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important.
*Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN—and here is the essence of all I’ve said—you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.
*But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life.
– Life has to be meaningful
– Use your skills to create the life you want
– The end goal isn’t as important as enjoying the process
– Find your own path
– You do you
I think that is pretty sound, timeless advice.
Posted on June 30, 2016
Summer in Canada – cottage edition
If anyone has learned a lesson this year from school, it’s me. Specifically, I have learned to SAVE FOR SUMMER CAMPS (or make arrangements). Historically I have been home during the summer – having spent the past 5 years working only fall/winter/spring & then taking the summers off with the kids. Before that I was a stay-at-home-parent who had transitioned out of owning a business. So I am sure it comes to NOBODY’s surprise that the sticker shock of summer camp almost killed me.
Let us rewind though, to the shortest – yet perhaps the coldest – month of the year: February.
While I am enjoying the fireplace and a nice glass of Chianti, I happen to notice a kerfuffle on Facebook. Camp kerfuffle. Apparently, for some of the most popular camps in the region one must stay glued to the computer and start the registration process as soon as the camps open. Museum and Gallery camps fill up in the first hour usually and parents who don’t double-down their efforts will find themselves shut out of the most interesting camps in the city.
Who. Freaking. Knew?
Not this newbie.
Of course, while I am sure these camps are incredibly enriching and interesting (and always inconveniently located outside public transportation or in the opposite direction of work) they are also out of my price range. I am also more in favour of a laid-back kind of summer, one where kids do crafts and swim in the river or a neighbourhood pool, one where you laze about with friends. If it makes me a monster that I am not sending my kid to robot-making camp at the tune of $400 a week, so be it. They will have to find enrichment in other ways, like the library or their imaginations, or something.
(I jest, I am just jealous they wouldn’t take *me* at robot camp)
…Money’s out for EVAH
Still, I did need summer childcare and even though historically we have sent them to a bunch of church camps because their friends were going, it’s usually only a part of the day and they are only held a couple of weeks a summer. Luckily for us though, our local YMCA runs summer camps in our area. They have neighbourhood camps that are run out of a local school across the street from an amazing park with a pool. The kids know a lot of the people who go to the camp and it is biking distance from our house. A week of camp is $163 a kid from 9-4, with another $17 a week for extended care from 4-5:30. Since it is exactly on my bus/bike route, it’s also incredibly convenient.
The YMCA also has an outdoor camp outside the city that is more like a traditional sleepover camp, except it is a day camp. Here kids go hiking, learn kayaking, explore nature, can do horseback riding and generally do all the outdoorsy things we associate with summer. The kids are bussed back and forth every day from a location in our neighbourhood, and although it is a little more expensive I felt it would be a good experience for the kids to be out in nature all day. I even copped for ½ day horseback riding and water sports for the eldest because I felt she would enjoy the new experiences. Cost: $189 (most weeks) – $247 (horseback riding week etc.).
The city has an excellent wading pool program
The above prices are also lower than usual because we are members of the YMCA. If we weren’t, the weekly costs for neighbourhood camps would be $180 with $17 for extended care and the outdoor camp would be $210 to $342 (depending on the program). Luckily for us though, we get a reduced rate for a membership because my current workplace has a corporate deal with them, and Mr. Tucker’s work pays $40 a month towards a gym membership for all their staff. So essentially, we pay $66 (taxes etc included) for the fancy family monthly membership to our local YMCA, which includes all our classes from swim lessons & specialty classes for the kids and all the classes the adults want to take (and towel service, ooo!). Add the fact that we are saving $26 to $95 a week on camp, per kid, and it’s a darn good deal. We make the money back in camp savings alone but since we also take advantage of the swim classes & the gym, it’s a worthwhile expenditure for us.
Of course, no comparison would be complete without pointing out that the cheapest camps in our area are city camps. Those camps are further out from our area, which would require driving, and they run about $165 a week, from 8-5pm. So while still a deal, it would probably cost us enough in gas to negate any savings. Also, it would be a huge time hassle for us to spend more time on the road. If one was closer to us, we would definitely consider it.
No more pencils, no more books
Hanging out with friends & the lifeguards from the neighbourhood pool
All the wee details aside, I remember asking fellow working parents on social media how they manage the output of thousands of dollars months before summer even started. Two comments stood out to me though. “Look at it this way, then you are off the hook with dealing with paying for childcare all summer!” and “It hurts, but it’s something you just have to do.” So naturally Mr. Tucker and I held our noses and outlaid almost $3000 dollars on summer camps during the coldest and darkest months of the year.
Obviously, we hadn’t planned this out very well when I accepted to work this summer, so it was a painful outlay. Since Mr. Tucker works from home & the kids get on the bus in the morning with him and get off the bus in the afternoons with him, we also pay no childcare during the school year, which almost makes it more painful to pay for full time care!
The ‘hood splashpad
But pay we did, and now that I hope to stay employed for the foreseeable future, I am in full planning mode for next year!
We might not go back at all!
So now that I know better, I have a game plan for following years. I can either:
a> Save extra money a month to ensure we can cover camps in the summer.
b> Mr. Tucker and I can stagger our vacation so that we cover at least six-or-seven weeks of the summer, the rest being camps.
c> We can stagger vacation & get relatives to cover some extra weeks.
d> A little bit of all-of-the-above.
Since the summer is generally 9-10 weeks, we can probably manage with a combination of strategies, especially since it would be nice to take a week or so together as a family.
Summer is for beaches
This year is a super travel year for our family and our kids are in camps because Mr. Tucker and I had planned a two-week 10-year anniversary to Italy and a Disney trip for the kids in the fall. That pretty much ate up my three weeks of vacation. Since we also thought I would be home, we booked a cottage trip with two other families in July. Mr. Tucker will be all by on his lonesome with the kids that week, as I will be working. This happened because technically Mr. Tucker’s fancy job allows him “unlimited” vacation (but we all know that’s because they don’t want you to take too much). In fact, I think this year is the year he is taking the most he has taken in 7 years at the company.
Get this man a vacation!
So given all the travel we are doing in 2016, 2017 is going to be a more low-key year for us, hopefully. My game plan is to save for camps but to also plan to stagger our vacation so that the kids will be able to stay home. I know that this summer I will miss packing a picnic every day and then hitting the park, the splashpad, or the beach with the kids. I will miss watching them run around with their friends inventing games and making crafts. I’ll miss the neighbourhood camaraderie and the lazy days of summer. It will be a tough adjustment for all of us, I think.
Still, we have huge financial goals over the next couple of years and those goals will be met with the salary I am bringing in. I also love my job and enjoy working where I work, so the tradeoff is not something I regret at this point. Still, I do know I will be smarter about arranging childcare next year!
& on that note, enjoy your long weekend!
Keeping warm walking back from the park
Posted on June 26, 2016
I am 11 weeks away from when I had back-to-back orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery and landed myself in a wheelchair for 7 weeks. If you ever want an exercise in frustration, I recommend having to have someone help you with the most basic tasks of everyday living. It’s a humbling experience, and a lesson in patience. It’s also a good way to discover that the person you married over 10 years ago is the right person as they take care of you, all the household chores, and all the childcare.
Still, I am walking without a cast now, doing physiotherapy, and generally able to try to get back my strength but it is an incredibly slow process. I am horrible at walking down stairs and slopes and I get angry at my body often for not healing faster. Patience, patience, patience.
It occurred to me this week that the lack of patience I am having with my body is also the lack of patience I have had in the past with my finances. It can get frustrating when it feels like you have put all this effort and time into making your debt go down or your savings go up and not seeing the results you want, faster. But things take time and getting frustrated and wanting to throw in the towel is normal. It’s even normal to make mistakes and go on a spending spree but the key is to stop, take stock, and move on. Throwing your hands in the air is not going make things any better, just like pushing myself into doing more is not going to make me heal any faster.
It’s been really difficult to give up things I love this spring. I couldn’t dragonboat race this spring because I couldn’t guarantee I would be an asset to the team. It was incredibly difficult to watch them on social media posting pictures of the camaraderie paddling off into the sunset with the person who replaced me. Friday night my neighbourhood book club also set out for their yearly summer outing and while they were experiencing an Indigenous walking tour of the city, I was at home with my foot up, trying to keep down the swelling. It’s heartbreaking to not be able to do the things I love with the people I love but I know deep down that pushing myself is just going to extend the amount of time I will need to heal. By staying back, knowing my limitations and being patient, I am guaranteeing my return to normal activities sooner rather than later.
Similarly, it can be frustrating to see people heading out for fancy lunches at work, driving to the office every day instead of bussing, and wearing cool new clothes. Working a full time job in an office is killer for this: it’s seeing it all around me that makes it more difficult to ignore. Still, I don’t buy fancy lunches and tend to eat lunch hunched over my desk (a horrible habit that I am changing!) but if I can keep my perspective I know that the money I am saving is going to make us mortgage-free sooner rather than later. By making the choice not to spend, I am guaranteeing I will reach my goals sooner rather than later.
In both scenarios the purpose is the same: making good choices now will help me get the bigger payoff, sooner. Sure, I could have smaller payoff now like a lot more delicious lunches or I could push myself to walk more but those smaller payoffs will not be a sweet as reaching the goal of a strong body, or a huge savings account that could, say, eventually lead to early retirement.
So this is the week I have marked my return to the dragonboat team. I am glad I didn’t try and come back sooner and I am happy that I feel strong enough to come back. I feel good that the team had someone reliable to race with for the big festival weekend and happy that now I can ease into paddling without feeling I need to perform stronger, sooner, because we are competing. It can be incredibly difficult to make the right decision but usually the right decision pays dividends that a wrong one never could.
Posted on June 14, 2016
The beauty of living in an old neighbourhood
Since I was 18 I have been obsessed with personal finance. I was young, poor, living on my own and happened to come across the Tightwad Gazette II. From there I ended up reading Your Money or Your Life, The Simple Living Guide, and a plethora of other books on frugality and personal finance. So you could say early retirement and being a stay-at-home parent were always on my radar.
When I first met Mr. Tucker I regaled him with tales of early retirement, country living, and self-sufficiency. Although we both lived in the small condo downtown that I had bought in university, we had dreams of moving out to the country to a small homestead where we could garden and raise animals. This was a dream we had for years before we actually got pregnant with the Bean and realized it made more financial sense to trade homes with my mother: she was retiring and wanted a smaller space where she could close the door and travel, and we needed a larger space for a growing family. So in the end we ended up staying in the city and moving to a post-war suburb into a bungalow my grandparents bought from plan in the 50s. When it was first built our house was at the end of the city in a new development, now it’s a central neighbourhood surrounded by amenities. Oh how times change.
Do I ever regret this choice? Nope, not for one minute.
When we first moved out here we had no car. Mr. Tucker headed off to work every day by bus and the Bean and I entertained ourselves by walking to the library, the mall, the YMCA, and to various parks and playgroups. Everything I needed was within walking distance from our house. Over time I made friends and built a solid community here in this neighbourhood. We eventually got a second-hand car and our small family grew by another wee person and life went on.
Being at home with a little person whose needs must be met 24-7 will tell you a lot about yourself. Although I always knew that I was an extrovert, I was completely unprepared for the grinding loneliness that comes from being a stay-at-home parent. I didn’t know anyone in the neighbourhood and so I used to walk up to the mall everyday just to be around other people. When I finally found some playgroups and made some friends, it was a game changer for me and it greatly increased my happiness. I am envious of people who have kids around the same time their friends are also having children: almost all my pre-baby friends are child-free or have grown kids. I had to create an entirely new group of friends who had kids in order to have people to discuss the challenges of parenting with. To be able to connect at the park or at playgroups with other parents was a lifesaver for my mental health and a gift to my children: they have now grown up in a neighbourhood with other kids the same age as them that they have known since birth.
Making friends and influencing people on the $20 wine tour with my neighbourhood girlfriends
I often think of what would have happened had we moved to the country. Mr. Tucker would have commuted a minimum of 1-hour each way, leaving me on my own for 10 hours a day. We couldn’t have afforded a second car at the time so I would have been stuck at home, alone. Although I may have made friends in whatever town we had chosen, I wouldn’t have been able to see them as much as I would have liked and social events would have required driving. I couldn’t walk to the YMCA, playgroups, or the library. For some people that wouldn’t have been a deterrent but knowing what I know now about how I deal with isolation, it would have severely negatively affected me.
Eventually Mr. Tucker started working from home and it was a lot less lonely for me overall but then I discovered another thing about myself: I hated relying on one salary. Things were hit-and-miss at Mr. Tucker’s company and although I ran my own business part-time, the insecurity of not having much on a resume for the past couple of years was slowly eating away at me. These two factors combined with the Bean starting school pushed me slowly back into the workforce. Even though we have life insurance, if something ever happened to Mr. Tucker, not having a recent resume would hurt my chances of becoming employed & supporting the girls. So I leveraged my contacts and managed to get a short admin contract that paid enough to make leaving the house worthwhile. Had we moved to the country, the commute alone would have been a deterrent to me rejoining the workforce unless it was a large sum that would pay for the high cost of transportation.
Fast-forward to four years later and I have jumped from contract-to-contract, taking summers off and now finally – as I head into my 5th year back into work – I have secured a one year-contract in a field I love, at a workplace I adore, with people who are great to work with. I am contributing to a pension, I have wonderful health benefits, ample vacation, and management who is supportive of their staff and that accommodates them if they need to make adjustments to their work life. I have, indeed, discovered a unicorn, and now that I am there, I plan to stay there long-term.
My future’s so bright…I probably should put down the shades in my office
Of course, this completely messes with any ideas I have about retiring early or working part-time but that doesn’t mean our strategy to save a lot of our money has changed. And here’s why:
1 – Mr. Tucker may want to retire early. Given the volatility of a lot of silicon valley companies, his company may decide one day to eliminate all remote workers, or it could go under, be bought, or change directions. By living off one salary, saving the rest, and investing it, if he does lose his job we are already covered.
2 – Maybe I will get sick of working. You never know when things can go sideways, and even though I work for the federal government, it has not been immune to layoffs, either.
3 – We may take a travel year. At my job I am allowed to take one year without pay and still have my job be available when I get back. We may want to take a year off and travel the world with the girls when they are older.
4 – I may want to take summers off. With your supervisor’s permission you can either work compressed hours, or take time off without pay. If I work compressed hours I would work a little more each day and take the time later on. Some people take a day every two weeks but I could save it up and take a longer time off to travel.
But get to the point
Especially when the outcome is happiness
Our dream to move the county changed because our goals changed. Partly it was introspection, and partly reality in its various forms, but we are much better suited to city life. We have a wonderful community of friends, our kids are growing up knowing their neighbours, and my commute to work is only 20-30 minutes by bus. We are surrounded by amenities and even though we could afford a second car now, we are grateful to not need one. There are hiking spots and beaches a 5km bike in either direction, we have street parties and holiday events with our neighbours, and we can walk to the store or the library in less than 10 minutes.
Did we fail at achieving our dreams? No. We changed directions once we realized that our dreams were ill-suited to our reality.
Of course, I would never tell anyone how to live their lives and if your dream was to move to the country and have a sustainable farm and you made it happen and have no regrets: awesome! I truly mean that. Know thyself, as the old adage goes.
Similarly, I wasn’t great at being a stay-at-home-parent, even though I will forever be grateful that I didn’t go back to work until my youngest was almost 2-years-old (and always taking summers off!). I discovered that I actually liked working and enjoyed the challenges I had with my various contracts. To end up in a job where I am happy and reap a paycheque has been a huge boon for the family and it has allowed us to travel and save for the future moreso than we would have if we were still living off once salary. The peace of mind knowing that I now have a solid resume and could pick up work if everything fell apart tomorrow also helps. Other people may not need that level of security but discovering that I do has made it easier for me to make the decision to stay in the workforce.
Never give up
Wrong. If something isn’t working. CHANGE IT. Perseverance down a road that isn’t serving you is sapping your energy. Do I think we failed at our dream to live in the country? Absolutely not. We succeed in realizing that we were exactly where we needed to be. I get to live in my grandparent’s home in the city with its large lot and wood burning fireplace surrounded by a greenbelt and wonderful neighbours. That is not what failure looks like. It’s about seizing a good opportunity for our family and then realizing that it paid dividends.
We didn’t originally want to live here and we balked for quite a bit before accepting the switch. We still had country dreams and it wasn’t until reality set in that we were truly grateful: we lived in a house we couldn’t live in if our family didn’t already own it, we were surrounded by everything we needed – including family and friends, and financially it allowed us to save a huge chunk of our income. By giving up our country dreams we inherited a future that was more in line with our lifestyle and our goals – and I am so glad we didn’t have to learn that lesson the hard way.
So don’t be thrown off or feel badly if you need to switch your dreams because you have changed and the old path isn’t working for you. You aren’t a failure, you are learning more about yourself and making choices with new information instead of just being stuck in inertia or being stagnant. So pat yourself on the back, make a new plan for the present, and be willing to change in the future.
– Thomas A. Edison
Posted on June 12, 2016
Our welcoming view of Lake Como
Well we are back from two weeks in Italy and even though I was super broken wearing both a neck collar and a cast on my leg, we still managed to see 95% of the things on our tour.
The day before we left I had the go-ahead to start walking on my cast the next day – our first day on our Italy walking tour. Needless to say, I was still in quite a bit of pain and Mr. Tucker had to help me stand upright. I called the tour company and told them of my woes and they went ahead and booked wheelchairs at the airports, which turned out to be the only plus: we skipped a lot of the lines. Still, Europe is not known for being friendly in terms of accessibility given that most of the roads and buildings are hundreds of years old.
Bellagio feels like you have been thrown into a pasta commercial
On being disabled
The first couple of days were slow going but I am grateful I could at least walk. Curbs and uneven surfaces were a hurdle though, and in the back of my mind I remembered a disabled friend mentioning how able-bodied people would often say things like, ”It’s just one little step.” Let me tell you: when you cannot lift your leg, that “one little step” may as well be a 100 ft wall.
Pompeii is a minefield for anyone with mobility issues
When you are disabled, every plan you make creates a plethora of more steps than it does for the able-bodied. Is there a wheelchair available at the museum? Are there elevators? Stairs? How much walking is involved? What are the crowds like? Are the ramps steep? Is transportation close by? Is transportation accessible? Are the bathrooms accessible or at least have bars? You discover very quickly that the world is a lot less accessible than you may have imagined previously. A world that disabled people have to navigate to great cost to their time, energy, and patience.
Venice is beautiful but difficult to navigate
One thing I found surprising was that in Canada 13.7% of people lived with a disability in 2012, with older people being more likely to be disabled, and women leading men in prevalence. While I didn’t dig so far as to determine which are permanent or which are temporary, that figure alone should give us pause and remind us that a disability could hit any of us at any time. Other statistics indicate that 25% of people will become disabled at least once in their lifetime. But yet, we never think about this. Disability is something we think about in terms of birth defects, or permanent degenerative diseases but the reality is way less foreign: all of us could experience a temporary disability at any time.
So back to Italy…
Quite literally under the Tuscan sun
Mr. Tucker and I had never taken a tour but had chosen to take one this time around because a> it was on super sale, and b> it crammed in a lot of stuff into a short period of time, included great hotels, and covered most meals. Given we only had two weeks, we couldn’t have seen all those things and eaten as well for the same money had we done the rent-a-car/AirBNB thing (and OMG driving in Italy is an Olympic sport that requires years of training). It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for us because not only was transportation covered, so was the carting of the luggage. We basically eliminated the toughest chores for someone who had mobility issues. Of course, because I only had limited mobility as opposed to a complete inability to walk, it was do-able for me. I still had to navigate a few steps here and there, and I did have to climb on/off a bus every day, which was incredibly challenging and slow for me. Had we not chosen a tour, this entire trip would be a write off.
The gorgeous ceilings of the Uffuzi gallery
I also wasn’t completely independent, I relied on Mr. Tucker to hold my hand and pull me up stairs and curbs. I would have not been able to do the tour without him. At times, even that was not enough. We had a wonderful gentleman named John from Connecticut who was so amazing to me, he created a wide berth around me so I wouldn’t be pushed by the other tourists or swallowed by the crowd. In Pompeii (my biggest challenge) he & Mr. Tucker each had me by one arm to help me down the oddly construct (new!) steps. As we were going down, little, old Italian ladies were clapping for them. He definitely was one of the kindest souls I have ever met and I will be forever grateful for the help he gave me. In fact, he & his wife reminded Mr. Tucker and I of us in 20 years. They were just such a fun, smart, nice couple to travel with. We really enjoyed their company.
Of course, as the days went on I got bit better at navigating things but the days were long and full of walking. One of the most surprising things I found about Italy is that how some of the oldest things – such as the Coliseum – were completely accessible, while other things – such as brand new hotels – were limiting. You never know what you were going to get in terms of accessibility and planning ahead was key to managing to see things.
More accessible than some European hotels
The most infuriating situations were ones that could have easily been taken care of by the tour company when I called: ensuring my room was accessible. On two occasions the hotels gave me rooms completely not suitable for someone with mobility problems: one room was a 4-staircase walk-up, and the second room had 6 stairs to the bathroom. If that was all they had, it would be one thing but they gave other people in our group rooms accessible by elevator, on the ground floor, or that were on one level. In the defense of these hotels, they accommodated me as much as possible once all the rooms were dolled out but this is the kind of error that could have easily been remedied at the source (and I plan to tell them this when I return their customer survey).
A quiet Venice street
Overall though: I DID IT! As strenuous and challenging as it was (to me and others), I managed to see all the things I wanted to see when I was in Italy. I navigated the water taxis in Venice (with help, of course!). I saw Lake Como, Verona, Venice, Assisi, Pompeii, Pisa, Florence, Rome/The Vatican, Sorrento, & the Amalfi Coast. I did almost all of it except for a few optional walking tours (where Mr. Tucker and slept in and enjoyed leisurely mornings). It took twice as much energy and had I been completely able-bodied I would have crammed in a lot more but overall I am happy with what I was able to see, considering I had just resigned myself to just sitting and drinking wine on patios for two weeks.
Our awesome balcony in Rome where we got beer from the store and hangout at night
(ugh, I feel like I am writing a strategy for work!)
For those of you who know me, you know I am a fiercely independent, impatient, Type-A personality. I can honestly say that this has probably not changed. However, this trip forced me to slow down, plan ahead, to not cram too much into a day, and to learn to rely on others. In a way I savoured a lot more because I created space around what I did see. Sure, it was FORCED but it still was interesting to have the experience. Having said that, I must prefer our go-go-go SEE ALL THE THINGS method of traveling that we are typically used to. For example, I would have liked to explore a few more restaurants for their food, not for their proximity to our hotel. But a lack of mobility & the fact I was easily exhausted dictated our restaurant choices. Maybe in the future a better balance would be something worth exploring.
The Amalfi coast
Secondly, while this is not news, it is funny that on our 10th wedding anniversary trip I was reminded that I married the most incredible human being. Mr. Tucker carried my bags, pushed my wheelchair, helped me get dressed, fetched me what I needed, helped me bathe (in the weirdest of European places), held my hand to keep me upright, pulled me up onto curbs and generally ensured that I was taken care of without complaint and without losing his patience with me. To experience the true meaning of “in sickness and in health,” is an eye-opening experience either one way or another. I am just glad we experienced it in a way that solidified our marriage rather than tear it apart. After 8 weeks of being an invalid and two of those weeks dragging me across Italy, it could go either way, really.
Home is wherever I’m with you
So we are home. The kids are happy to see us, the financial damage is mitigated by paying off our credit cards with savings (go us!), and tomorrow is the first day after 8 weeks where I will be walking without a cast. I went to work Thursday despite the giant sinkhole 200ft away (and our building being evacuated the day before) which of course caused more trouble for Mr. Tucker who then had to drive me to work despite the detours (patience of a saint, that one) but overall, life is generally working it’s way back to normal – whatever that is. We are gearing up for my first summer not being home with the kids and working on making sure our home life stays as calm as possible as we transition from school to summer camps. Mr. Tucker is off to a cottage with neighbour friends & all the kids in July (I’ll be going weekends, as I have to work) and we are looking forward to bike rides, swimming pools, and warm weather. While we love to travel, the thing that makes travel exciting is that you can come home to a comfortable place with friends, family, neighbours and your regularly scheduled programming. I’m looking forward to it.
Our last pink-soaked sunset in Sorrento
Posted on May 15, 2016
Unemployment is down. Gas prices are low. Why isn’t America shopping? Meanwhile, airline travel is at record levels and restaurant sales growth has been solid, suggesting that consumers are choosing to shell out for experiences instead of goods that fill their closets or their kitchens.
Choose Experiences Over Stuff, and Maybe Over Security Too This mind-blowing concept is not the choice of experience over stuff. It’s not even experience over stability. It’s experience over security. And that is a very fascinating development in our culture.
The solution to (nearly) everything: working less Excessive work and pressure are status symbols. But overtime is deadly. If we worked less we’d make fewer errors, address inequality and have a better life
Three-day working week ‘optimal for over-40s’ “Work can be a double-edged sword, in that it can stimulate brain activity, but at the same time, long working hours and certain types of tasks can cause fatigue and stress which potentially damage cognitive functions,” the report said.
Posted on May 8, 2016
My life in a nutshell right now
On April 8th – four days before I had neurosurgery booked – I slipped on a scarf in our front hall, landing full-weight on my leg. That led to a surgery the next morning on my leg and a week-and-a-half jaunt in the hospital. I do not recommend having two surgeries in four days. Nothing quite turns your life upside-down like being confined to a wheelchair and in a cast & a collar for 6+ weeks. At the very least, it’s definitely not a party.
I honestly don’t want to bang on the drum all day
Still, after two weeks I was so bored out of my skull that I practically begged to come back to work (I am supposed to be off for 6-8 weeks but I work in an office, not construction!). Luckily for me, I have a progressive director who ensures his employees can work from home and so I had the tools to start slowly working myself back up to full time hours. My logic was that I was sitting in front of a computer all day anyway, I may as well make those hours productive. My director told me to start with two hours (he’s smart) but I ended up doing half-days from the get-go and by the second week I was working almost full days, so next week I do plan to work a full week. The workload is there, I feel good and am taking breaks when I need to, and frankly, I love my job and feel really blessed to have landed in such a great place.
Since I have been relatively AWOL since I took this contract, I should update with some news: for the first time in 8 years I will be working during the summer. I accepted a 1-year-term with my current workplace and it is my hope I get to stay longer. I really enjoy my current job and there is a lot of interesting stuff coming down the pipe so I can actually see myself in this position more long-term. I am excited for all the interesting projects they have, and the people I work with are great.
On the plus side: I have benefits (kicked in 7 days before I was admitted to the hospital – talk about fortuitous!), paid sick days, and paid vacation! On the negative side, we had to outlay almost $3500 in summer camps for the kids. Considering that was not an expense we had planned for, that hurt a little bit. Still, I am working and getting paid so it will work itself out but when I had to book the camps I liaised with my working parent friends they said: yep, it hurts but then you don’t have to work about child care all summer. True, I guess. I plan on biking to work as soon as I am able and the camp is on my commute route, so you can’t beat that for convenience. Mr. Tucker can bike them to camp in the morning and I can pick them up & bike home with them in the evening.
Living the dream-I’ve-never-had of riding the electric shopping cart
Exit the dragon
Sadly, I had to give up my Dragonboat spot on the team until after the festival. Since training started May 5th and I won’t be able to join them until the first week in June, I felt it was best for the team and I to pick up after the festival. Luckily, they found someone to replace me until then. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was just until I was better but Mr. Nick and I are going to Italy for two weeks at the end of May/beginning of June so with all that time off, there is no way I’d be a good paddler for the team.
So, Italy! Mr. Tucker decided to book a trip to Italy for our 10-year wedding anniversary and my 40th birthday. Unfortunately, since the Canadian dollar was so low when it was booked, it pretty much negated the savings we got from the sale of the trip. Thankfully, we had a second income coming in or else it would have been incredibly painful. A bunch of stars lined up at the same time, which is why he decided to go ahead and book a trip:
1 – I had just been hired at my current position and since we live off one salary, we had the money to pay for the trip.
2- My parents offered to us the gift of babysitting the kids for two weeks while Mr. Tucker and I headed to Europe.
Since those two factors may never come together again, the opportunity was seized. At the time we had no idea that neurosurgery and orthopedic surgery would happen six weeks before we had planned to leave. The best laid plans…
Break a leg!
So now the only thing I am concerned about is healing. I have appointments with both orthopedics and neurosurgery a week before we leave and I hope that both appointments will lead to the conclusion that I will no longer have to wear a collar/cast and that I can go to Europe on my own two legs. I am eating well, making sure I get a lot of good sleep & I am trying to make sure I am not moving any way I am not supposed to. Fingers crossed!
Still, being confined to a wheelchair and stuck in the house is incredibly difficult, especially when you are used to being independent. I am trying to take it in stride but some days it just feels like forever. I have to rely on Mr. Tucker for everything and that is pretty hard on both of us. I will say that I am so glad I married such an incredible person. He’s risen to the challenge of not just taking care of all childcare, cooking, and cleaning but he also takes incredible care of me. Our friends have also been so amazing from offering to help with childcare, bringing us food when we were in emergency, to helping build a ramp so I could get in-and-out of the house. My parents took the kids overnight and for the weekend and made sure Mr. Tucker got a good night’s sleep when he suddenly came down with a cold. Nurture your communities, friends, it will be returned to you thousand-fold in your hour of need!
Despite having benefits and sick leave, I still had to take leave without pay during a time where we were paying a lot for things we hadn’t anticipated. Some of the mobility devices we had to rent for me aren’t covered by my benefits, we outlaid a lot for parking at the hospital, and we spend a lot on medication above our benefits. To be fair, we also had a lot more eating out over the course of April to just because we hadn’t anticipated the chaos. We tried to hedge our bets with more pre-made grocery meals from the frozen section (much cheaper than actual take-out) but with the awful hospital food it was nice when Mr. Tucker brought me in some delicious offering that hadn’t been microwaved.
Luckily for us, our emergency fund is robust and can cover these expenses. It sucks to watch the amount dwindle but this is exactly why we have this fund. It’s going to take awhile to build it back up so let’s hope we have no more emergencies over the next little while!
Overall it has been a tumultuous time for the family and I but we’ve weathered the storm. Hopefully that means we will have a relaxing, uneventful summer!
Posted on November 21, 2015
It’s so cold in this country
Every road home is long
It’s so cold in this country
You can never get warm
– The North by Stars
We’ve been pretty lucky (but not, like, in the global warming way) that it’s been a pretty mild winter so far. This time last year we were knee-deep in snow, winter gear fully engaged. Instead, I am still wearing my chucks and enjoying (mostly) above-freezing temperatures.
Still, let’s not pretend the inevitable isn’t coming – it is Canada, after all. Despite the fact that it’s winter only (only?!) about 5 months out of the year, those months always seem the longest. Even now, sunset is at 4:30pm and we are still a month away from winter solstice. It’s enough to send anyone spiraling into seasonal affective disorder (she says as she pops vitamin D like candy). What’s a northern hemisphere dweller to do?
Luckily for us, the people of Denmark have already figured it out. If I think I have it rough, they are even more north than I, and have figured out how to manage the long, cold, dark days of winter with a concept they call Hygge (prounounced hoo-ga). Hygge translates somewhat as “coziness” but it really doesn’t have the same nuance in English. Hygge is more of a feeling or attitude. The vistidenmark.com website has an entire page dedicated to the phenomenon and translates it as, “creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people.” Who can’t get behind that?
When I first discovered the concept of Hygge a few years ago, it resonated with me as I had been doing similar things already and appreciated putting a word to the concept. Especially as the kids got older, I want our home to be a haven, a cozy spot where we can all relax and take refuge after coming in from the outside world.
But what does Hygge have to do with working part-time?
When I am working, things get a lot more stressful and Mr. Tucker and I have to arrange our schedules & manage to get all our chores/responsibilities/activities/hobbies organized or else things fall through the cracks. Part of our stress reduction plan is to not overextend ourselves and to limit our engagements. Still, it’s still a lot more stressful than having one parent at home who manages the household, does the cleaning, and takes care of the administrative work of life – not to mention being home when the kids are sick or need to be ferried to appointments. It also takes the burden off the working parent to have to take time off work or deal with house-related tasks in the evening after work. It’s less stressful for the entire family when I am home, for sure. So one of the ways we try and mitigate that stress is to create a calm, relaxed atmosphere in our home on evenings and weekends.
At the end of the day after we all pile in from the cold & the sun is low on the horizon, it’s time to kick comfort up a notch. We are tired, hungry, and we need to reconnect as a family. Hygge sets the stage for that. There is a reason why hearty soups and thick stews are popular in the winter: they are comforting and warm, and your environment should be to. Here are a few ways in which we have created a warm, inviting home:
– Turn off all electrical devices: our kids aren’t allowed to watch tv during the week because there is homework and music practice to do. Mr. Tucker and I have banned all electronics from our dinner table and are working on banning them from the time the kids get home until they go to bed*.
– Down with harsh lighting: once a year we let the kids buy high-end scented candles that we place on our dinner table and buffet (the high-end ones last a year). We also purchased inexpensive paper star lights in our windows. This also serves as a beacon of comfort: there is nothing like walking up the street in a foot of snow and seeing the stars shining in the windows, welcoming you home.
– More often than not, we have a fire in the fireplace. We are lucky that my father-in-law does yard work and has managed to score us a free supply of wood. I have a family wingback chair placed in front of the fireplace and Mr. Tucker has a more modern version for himself.
– We sit down to dinner as a family and use the time to reconnect. We don’t listen to music and we don’t allow toys or electronics. We give our full attention to the meal & to the conversation. Everyone in our family takes a turn explaining their favourite and least favourite parts of the day.
– After dinner we play games or read books together. The Sprout loves the chess game she invented (whose rules change every day!) or Hi-Ho Cherry-O while the Bean enjoys card games like Go Fish and War. If we aren’t playing games then we are reading books. The kids will put their chairs in front of my wingback chair and I will read them chapters from whatever chapter book we are working on (Currently: Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder). Sometimes the kids will read their school library books or assigned reading to me.
– We play music. Ok, this one isn’t necessarily comforting because giving the kids guitars and Djembe’s is not necessarily calm on the ears but the kids enjoy playing with Mr. Tucker’s music stuff and often insist he set up the microphone and record them. I think it’s a small price to pay for us being together instead of having our noses in personal electronics.
– The kids regularly get to have bubble baths & sometimes we let them have one by candlelight. Everyone needs a little pampering every once in awhile, even children.
– Mr. Tucker and I will often sit by the fire at night with a glass of wine or a cup of tea after the kids are in bed. Often we will read books or write but sometimes we will just use the time to talk and reconnect.
Of course like other families we have activities as well. Both kids have Girl Guides in two different locations on Tuesdays, Mr. Tucker has a band he jams with on Wednesdays and I try and hit the YMCA periodically. Just because we have activities doesn’t mean we can’t still have some degree of comfort and reconnection. We still eat dinner together and even when Mr. Tucker is gone, the girls will still have their bubble bath and I will read from our current book. I walk the eldest to her Guiding activity so we get the chance to have a one-on-one conversation and look up at the stars as we use flashlights to guide us to our destination. There are a million little moments every day that we can choose the calmer route, where we can choose to connect with each other.
“Who has the time? I don’t know how you can do this?”
I get this A LOT from people who have seen pictures of our family on social media. The answer to this question is the same for any other question about where people find the time to do X: we prioritize it. Conversely, I have friends who prioritize their favourite tv shows, or going to the gym, or other extracurriculars. There is no “wrong” way to use your time as long as you are happy with the way it is being spent.
As the short days of winter come, I recommend adapting some of the tenets of Hygge into your life. It will be cold and dark no matter what happens, so light a candle, pour yourself a mug of tea and settle down and greet the winter — preferably under a blanket and in front of a fire.
Posted on November 19, 2015
Behold, the bounty of the GFB!
In the summer we are lucky enough to have a CSA drop off right down the street from our house. We get a basket of fresh veggies, eggs, and cheese weekly from this CSA and while it’s only been the first year we have done it, it’s been amazing.
Our last CSA basket was in the middle of October where they sent us on our way with 25lbs of potatoes and 25lbs of onions and told us to have a nice winter. Ah Canada, your short growing season is problematic. Still, there is no reason to give up the hope of having fresh vegetables in the house, so I looked for an alternative. I know some people like to hit the bargain bins at grocery stores or make deals with managers but I am more of the shop-for-sales type. So enter: the Good Food Box (GFB).
In all honesty, I can’t remember how I heard about this program but I have purchased it on-and-off for years. From their website, they are a “non-profit community-based initiative bringing neighbours together to buy a variety of delicious and nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables at wholesale prices. Our goal is to purchase food that is in season and is grown as close to home as possible. It works like a large buying club with centralized buying and coordination. And it’s open to everyone – with no membership fees.” So while it is designed with food-insecure people in mind, the actual purchasing is open to anyone. Besides, the more people who buy, the better prices they get and the more we all get for our money.
In our city, you have 5 options and an add-on:
Large box ($20)
Medium box ($15)
Small box ($10)
Organic box (medium only, $25)
Fruit bag ($5)
According to their website, a large box is best for families, medium for 2-3 people, while a small box is best for singles.
The GFB tries to source as many of their products locally as possible, so I have seen wonderful ripe, fresh berries in the summer and succulent squashes in the winter. Otherwise, they buy in bulk from wholesalers and pass that savings on to their clients. Generally, the content of the boxes is pretty standard fare with only the occasional new and interesting fruit/vegetable popping up in the mix when prices are right.
While the actual amount of food varies from month-to-month, for November’s basket we received the following things in our large basket + fruit bag ($25 total):
10 lbs potatoes
2 lbs carrots
2 lbs onions
Large bunch of kale (seriously the largest I have seen)
Container of mushrooms
Obviously, in the summer months when produce is at its peak the amount of value for the money increases as there is a lot more food. Still, even as winter sets in there is a good amount of food for the price here, and there is a great variety.
The only downsides to the GFB are 1) its only once a month, 2) you get no choice as to what you get, 3) the pickup locations & times can be inconvenient. I determined that a drive to the closest community centre was worth the hassle given the value of the GFB but people in other areas of the city may not have as ready access. We also eat a lot of fruits and vegetables so a box twice a month would be more ideal for our family. Since we are good eaters we don’t mind experimenting with new fruits/vegetables but if you have picky eaters in your family (or you are one) then the GFB may not be of value to you and you would be better off shopping the sales.
Still, if you have a program like the Good Food Box in your city, it may be a worthwhile venture to see if it fits your needs. People in more southern climes probably don’t have the challenges we face procuring inexpensive fruits and vegetables in the winter but for those of us up north it may be a good addition to a frugal grocery strategy. Either way, I am also a big fan of community-based initiatives so it’s nice to know that my support of the GFB is beneficial for both me and for my community.
Posted on November 18, 2015
Well that was surprising – they offered me the job. Of course, I have yet to sign the piece of paper so until I do I will be wary but barring any HR issues, I will be heading back to work within (in?) a month. So of course I am in full prep mode, especially since it coincides with the holiday season.
I am heading back to work right before Christmas. Mr. Tucker is making arrangements at work so that he can take an hour off of work to get the kids off the bus & help them with their music practice and their homework before I get home. When I get home, we will eat dinner & hang with the kids, and then when they are in bed he will work an extra hour at night (his company is on PST and we are on EST). We are really lucky he works from home and has the option to take an hour off in the middle of the day otherwise we would have to pay $40 a day in childcare. So this way the kids stay out of care, we save money, and it reduces the amount we have to run back-and-forth to pick up the kids.
Some prep stuff on my plate right now:
- Putting together a list of crockpot meals or meals made in less than ½ hour*
- Baking & freezing muffins, cookies & other baked goods for lunches
- Getting all the patching/sewing done**
- Drag out the PWP and make sure it’s well-stocked and organized for my next contract.
- Bring all my work clothes to the front of my wardrobe (bye yoga pants!) and make sure they are all clean, mended, and ready to go.
- Inventory all the food in the freezers to make sure we eat the oldest stuff, first. The key to food organization is to replenish the pantry, not buy things last minute.
- Clean the cupboards and the fridge so that we know what we have, and so the oldest stuff can be brought to the front to be eaten first.
- Go through kid’s clothes; get rid of things that won’t last another season. Donate or give these things away.
- Send out the invitations for the cookie decorating party & start prep for that event
- Finish up the Christmas shopping
*and a husssshhhh filled the room*
I know, I know: I have already been berated by a friend for doing the majority of my Christmas shopping already but I absolutely hate shopping in December. Since it’s historically been a crazy month for us, I like to get almost all of the shopping out of the way so we can just relax and enjoy the Christmas season. It’s never helped 100% and the season is still busy but it is a lot more manageable and enjoyable when all the busy things are parties and events with friends and family.
Still, while organization won’t completely alleviate the challenges of working full-time over the next half year, it certainly helps. At the very least, stocking up on baked goods helps make the morning lunch routine faster!
*This is an extremely limited list as there is only so much boiled food I can handle.
** I seriously hate the utilitarian mending to patch jeans, sew up holes in clothes etc. but I will be damned if I pay someone $8.00 to hem pants.
Posted on November 12, 2015
My home office when I am doing contract work in the private sphere
Last week I went on a job interview for an incredibly lucrative contract position within the federal government. I walked away thinking I had completely bombed the entire conversation and then ruminated all night about what I could have/should have said or done. So imagine my surprise when they emailed me asking for references. The human brain can sometimes be an awful judge.
So hopefully – if all goes well – they will offer me the position, and like that, I will be back to work. It’s a pretty good time for it, too. As the days get shorter and colder I prefer spending these days making money instead of cooped up inside. This position would also allow us to significantly ramp up our savings and my only expense would be a monthly bus pass. It’s also in a fairly decent location, so my actual door-to-door commute time would be about 38 minutes, which is manageable.
It’s true, no one actually likes commuting and as I have mentioned before, I always consider the commute before taking a new job. You see, the one thing I love about our neighbourhood is that it’s an older community in the middle of the city but it’s also extremely quiet and suburban with old tree-lined streets and lots of green space. The flip side is that the closest bus stop is a 13-minute walk away. Once on the bus, it’s a quick 18-minute ride downtown & another 7-minute jaunt to the office. Some people may dread the walk to the bus but I consider it a free 40-minutes of exercise a day. Toss in 18 minutes of reading on the bus and I call that a perfect way to start/end the day. It’s all in the way you frame it. If I had to commute by car for 38 minutes I would completely rethink taking this job as the time and expense may not be worth it.
Still, this is a lucrative position and step up in my part-time working career. The job itself is something I am incredibly interested in and it would give me managerial experience. Not bad considering my first position almost 5* years ago was at the lowest administrative level. One of the things I hadn’t anticipated before moving towards a part-time work lifestyle is that it would be much easier to jump levels professionally. Because many full-time employees are often locked into a system that requires them to jump one hoop at a time regardless of capabilities or new education, I have managed to circumvent that by not locking into a permanent position. I have even managed to flip back and forth between lower and higher positions without suffering negative consequences.
The way this has worked is best explained by the system in place by my most common employer, the federal government. Because it is a union shop there are rules in place (for better or for worse) to ensure fairness in hiring. One of these rules is that you have to have an extreme justification for allowing a candidate to jump more than two job levels. It does happen but often candidates for higher positions are told directly that the hiring manager won’t consider them if it is more than two levels higher than their substantive. This is a strike against the old adage of ”get in on the bottom, work your way up.” Unless you work in a place that has a lot of movement, it may take many years to work your way up. However, people outside the public service can apply for any position as long as they have the qualifications on their resume. They aren’t beholden to the rules that govern full-time employees. It is why I also recommend trying to work in both the public and private spheres, if possible. Consider it career diversification: you can take the best of both worlds with you to every job.
So in my case I moved up for two years in the public service and then jumped to a private company. The experience with that company now allowed me to apply for a position 4 levels higher than I would have been able to get as an insider. That job did not work out at all for me so I jumped back down 4 levels to take a job at another department (thank goodness we weren’t relying on that salary!). When that contract was over, I flipped back to private industry for a while until I was picked back up again for a position at – you guessed it – the higher 4 levels again. That last position was pretty much the highest level you can go without being management. So when I was asked if I would be interested in the current job I am up for, they wanted to make sure I had previous high-level experience, which I have. Since this current position is one level away from director and is a supervisory position, it was important to have the firm background I have in both the private and public workforce. To put it in plain numbers: in almost 4 years I have been able to increase my salary by 56%!
The flexibility of having worked 8 months of the year instead of slogging it year-round has partially meant that my resume has grown exponentially over the past 4 years. Now, some people may say it’s a detriment and that employers are looking for someone who shows dedication…blah…blah…blah (as Dracula would say). Conversely, Mr. Tucker works for a company in California where it’s extremely common to see tech workers jump from job-to-job. In that environment, constant movement is normal. For permanent employees in the public service, long-term dedication is considered a bonus but like all things: it’s all in the marketing. I am not applying to permanent positions, I am positioning myself as a consultant who comes in and fills a requirement until a competition can be run and a permanent employee found. By spinning the message, I make it look like I am a solution, not a potential problem – and it seems to be working. It’s also allowed me to climb levels higher every year, something almost unheard of for full time employees.
If I do get hired for this position, I recognize that the climb will probably end here and I may even regress a bit in future positions. Since I have no interest in becoming a director anytime soon, this will probably be the highest I will go. Also, the past 4 years have been very challenging for the public service as cuts to employees and budgets have been the norm and there has been a hiring freeze mandated by the previous government. It was in that environment that I was able to get a lot of my contract positions (the work doesn’t just go away when the people do!). With the new government now formed there is a chance that hiring will resume in the public service and it may be easier for permanent staffing to occur, which may make it more difficult for me to find contract work (or not?). Of course, there is always private industry work as well so perhaps my resume will see more of that in the coming years
*Holy CARP, I originally thought it was almost 6 years since I went back to work but it will only be 5 in 2016!
Posted on November 9, 2015
Foggy fall mornings waiting for the school bus
I know there are a ton of WINTER IS COMING jokes floating on the internet but right now the reality that it *really* is coming is settling in. It’s time for hunkering down inside, enjoying fires in the fireplace, sipping hot cocoa, and making soothing soups and stews. It’s also time for snotty noses & children bringing back every little germ from school. I often joke that raising kids is like living inside a petri dish with small, drunk people. I am only partially kidding.
So when the sniffles began …oh…the second day the kids were in school, I immediately felt I needed to ramp up my soup game. I think I made this every day for about two weeks straight, and while correlation is not causation, I never did get a full-blown cold.
It smells as good as it looks!
This soup is also my go-to when I need to use up some languishing vegetables at the same time I need to get dinner on the table in 30 minutes. It’s jam packed full of vegetables, probiotics, and taste, so even the pickiest of eaters in my house will consume an entire bowl. The version I make is with the ginger-sesame baked tofu from the Thug Kitchen book (recipes for these are available all over the internet) but if you wanted to spend a little more time you could easily use chicken combined with chicken broth in your soup or just omit protein altogether.
Since I don’t always have time to make stock, I buy Better Than Bouillon. Why? Because it is the tastiest vegetable stock on the market, easy to use, and completely portable enough to be able to keep some in a cabinet at work for emergency lunch (which will be a post unto itself someday soon). Having said that, feel free to use any stock you want, just adjust your seasonings accordingly.
Chow mein noodles are easily purchased at discount stores around here for about $1 for a pound, so I always have those on hand as well. They come in convenient squares and so I use one per person (and cook up two extras for lunches the next day.
Servings: 6 (four dinner servings, two lunch servings for the next day)
1 inch of ginger, chopped
2-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
½ large onion, chopped
1 TB avocado (or other high heat) oil
6 cups of vegetable stock
1-2 cup of thinly sliced vegetables such as a grated carrot, some red pepper slices, zucchini, mushrooms
2 cups of leafy cooking vegetables such as spinach or kale
6 slices of sesame-ginger baked tofu, chopped
6 squares of chow mein noodles (about 6/8 of a 1lb package)
2 TB of miso paste (I use brown but anything works here)
Optional: ½-1 tsp of chili-garlic sauce or Sriracha
For serving: chopped cilantro, lime wedges, chili-garlic sauce or Sriracha
Over medium-high heat in a large soup pot, sauté the onion until soft and then add the ginger and garlic. Saute the ginger and garlic with the onion for 2-4 minutes. Add the 6 cups of stock and the thinly sliced vegetables but not the leafy vegetables. Add the chilli-garlic or Sriracha, if using. Let the soup come to a soft boil.
In a second pot filled with water, boil the chow mein noodles according to directions and drain. Set aside.
Once the soup is boiled, turn the heat down to medium-low add the leafy vegetables and cook the soup for another 2-5 minutes. Remove one cup of the soup broth and set aside.
Set out 4 bowls and fill each one with 1/6 of the noodles and 1/6 of the tofu. (if you are serving 6 people, set out six bowls and divide tofu and noodles equally, otherwise leave 2 portions of noodles and tofu off to the side).
Remove the soup from the heat
Once the cup of broth has cooled a bit, spoon the miso into the one cup of broth and stir until completely dissolved before adding it to the soup pot. Stir the soup pot thoroughly to distribute the miso.
Spoon the soup into the bowls over the tofu and noodles and serve.
Mr. Tucker working at the dining room table while he eats lunch
This recipe is perfect for me because it also solves what to serve the kids for lunch the next day. It has all the things that kids love: carbs, carbs, and more carbs!
This kid had two servings!
Posted on November 6, 2015
1 – Don’t try and hard sell people. In social situations, you want to keep the conversation casual. Contrary to 80s networking wisdom, it’s not the time to beat people over the head with your amazing skillset. Considering most of the people you will be targeting are family, friends, or people one or two degrees of separation from you, you don’t need to staple your head to your resume and have a hardcore spiel. Don’t be like the USB key guy from the first post in this series! Keep the conversation casual and make sure you are letting them speak, too.
2 – Don’t bother with networking events. I have a ladies cocktail club where I was lucky enough to meet one future boss but I joined that because I enjoyed the group, not because I was looking for work. I know there are different casual meet-and-greets around the city for people in my field of work but as a parent, I can’t justify the time suck on a “maybe,” especially since most of those people are all looking for jobs, too. The people who have jobs usually stay home and potential employers rarely use this method to hire.
3 – Don’t post to unrelated social media groups. Don’t tweet at a company unless they are super small and have indicated they are looking to hire. The social media person running that account won’t be able to hire you 99% of the time, especially with large organizations. With facebook groups nothing says amateur quicker than people posting to unrelated groups begging for work. Your neighbourhood facebook group is definitely not the place to troll for work and will only serve to make your neighbours angry.
4 – Once someone has indicated you can contact them, don’t over do it! Sometimes people offer to take your resume to be nice, or maybe to get you off their back at parties (let’s hope not!). Unless you are in talks for an actual position that is perfect for your skillset and the hiring manager has indicated they would like to discuss the position further, don’t contact them every week. If it’s a generic, “yeah, I’ll take your resume,” it means they will keep you in mind if anything comes up, it’s not an invitation to harass them until they find you a job.
5 – Don’t get lazy, use your manners. Keep your resume & LinkedIn profile up-to-date, make sure your references have all agreed to speak on your behalf, and make sure you call them to give them a heads up when someone will be calling for references. When you work many part-time jobs or contracts, your references will often be contacted more often than someone who just sticks with one full-time job. Respect their time by making sure they have adequate notice and remember to thank them when you use them as references. Being organized and having good manners are the cornerstones of making part-time work, work.
There are a lot more things I could give specific advice on, including what has worked and not worked for me but this is a good primer series. Remember that networking is just your outward face to the world and not some persona you have to wear. People will hire you for more for you being easy to get along with more than they will a perfect resume. Having both helps, of course but any sign that you may be more irritating than helpful can be a detriment. It’s one thing to be confident and assertive but that can often cross the line into aggressive and irritating. Promote, don’t gloat!
Hope this series has helped you and if you have any questions or anything to add, please email me or leave a comment!
Posted on November 4, 2015
1 – Contact your closest family and friends directly. After being home with the kids and running a small business I was definitely out of office culture for a few years. Since I wanted to get back into office work, I let my nearest-and-dearest friends know that I was really looking for temporary or contract work. I asked them directly either over the phone or via email if there was anything opening at their organization. I had a 4-month contract within the month. Often companies will take a chance on someone when they know it is a temporary arrangement & if it doesn’t work out, you can part ways quickly and easily.
2 – Let old colleagues and old companies know you are looking. Often I will send an email to a few people I have already worked with and ask if there is anything available or coming available in the near future. This – again – sows the seeds in peoples’ minds that you are looking and having worked with you before, they are more likely to recommend you again. I have actually heard of positions through the grapevine where ex-colleagues have recommended me to a third organization once they knew I was available. You just never know where a job may come from.
3 – Use social media to your advantage. I have a LinkedIn page but so far it hasn’t been the job-seeking paradise that I thought it would be. Because the majority of hiring managers are my age and older, Facebook has been the perfect source of informal leads. So far 4 out of 6 of my jobs have come from making a status about looking for work & letting people know I was available. Again, this spreads out: just this week I went to an informal interview that happened because a friend recommended me to one of her friends for a position.
4 – Social events are a great opportunity to mention work. Since it’s a question that comes up often at social events, feel free to point out what field you are in, what you are currently doing, what your specialties are. Often when I get into a conversation at parties on the subject of work, I will say something like, “I’m in communications but mostly concentrate on social media. I’ve been lucky to been able to find contracts pretty regularly and work 8-9 months of the year.” People are often intrigued when I mention that I take time off in the summer. I then take the opportunity to highlight the benefits of hiring someone on contract, “It’s been great for the organizations I’ve worked for. They can hire me quickly to give themselves time to run a competition for a permanent hire. It’s a great stop-gap measure for companies.”
5 – If you have an organization you are interested in, try contacting them. A friend in university contacted a group of people who were doing research she was interested in. She went through the directory, found the person in charge, and flipped them an email asking for a chat. Although her goal was really to discuss the work the group was doing, they ended up offering her a job.
Next up: networking don’ts!
Posted on November 2, 2015
As I have mentioned before, I have made a bit of a career out of working 7-8 months of the year and then taking the summers off. For almost 5 years now I have been able to snag a lucrative contract (or 2!) during the school year by networking.
Ugh. Networking. Of course, half of you are cringing at that word and I totally get that. If you are anywhere near my age (30s-40s) you remember the 80s where networking was the buzzword of the decade and smarmy handshakes, business card exchanges, and “let’s do lunch! Have your people call my people!” Even as a super-extroverted, extrovert, it makes me cringe too much to even consider being anything like that.
It wasn’t until I was a few jobs into my part-time career that I realized that I was actually networking all time and just didn’t notice it. When I was at parties and someone mentioned they were in my field I did my best to engage them on that topic and kvetch about things that affected our industry. When I knew people worked at organizations I was interested in, I told them that I had always been interested in their company and asked them to keep me in mind if anything came up. Just conversations, no pressure, no aggressive tactics.
Conversely, I was at a party once and one of the other partygoers learned that my husband worked in the same field as him. He then cornered Mr. Tucker and berated him with questions about his job before whipping out a USB key with his resume on it – in word, PDF, and HTML formats – and insisted that Mr. Tucker plug it into his laptop (he was on call that night so was traveling with hardware) and take his CV to see if my husband could find him work. Awkward. Awkward, and super inappropriate.
With proper networking, all you really are doing is sowing the seeds and putting yourself out there. When you put the idea in people’s heads that you are available to work and that you are interested, they often remember when something comes up. I once made a joke on facebook, “Anyone looking for a bilingual person with a security clearance to lay on a couch all day?” that status turned into two healthy leads – and I was making a joke!
Over the next week I’ll post both the do’s and don’ts of networking that have worked for me over the past 5 years. I hope it’s helpful, and of course I am always looking for new tips, tricks and ideas. Stay tuned!
Posted on November 1, 2015
The eldest’s vampire pumpkin in action
So yesterday was Halloween. As parents, Mr. Tucker and I put a LOT of effort into making holidays special for the kids. Since we also don’t want to spend a lot of money doing it, we often find a small amount of money goes a long way in making big memories when combined with creativity. Hopefully, as the kids get older they will appreciate the memories and come to expect our low-key community holidays. Here are a few ways to do it differently.
1 – The pumpkin patch:
This season Facebook was inundated with families out at expensive pumpkin patches. Hay rides, elaborate mazes, shows, play areas all come together to make an expensive excursion. When I was younger these places had reasonable prices and were a good deal for families, now their prices rival amusement park fees with even kid entrances being $20 per person. All of this plus you have to drive ½ hour + out of the city to get there and you get stuck only being able to eat the food they sell on-site.
Alternatively, we hit a small pumpkin patch within city limits. It is just a small pick-your-own place with a small play area for kids and some hay bales for them to run around on. Cost? Free, or more realistically, the $5-$10 you will pay for a pumpkin. We ended up with one huge pumpkin, local apple cider, beets, and a bunch of small & decorative pumpkins for less than $20. We had already received a pumpkin in our CSA basket so we could have skipped it altogether (or just purchased one pumpkin) but we find the excitement of the trip to the pumpkin patch is money well spent. Since this money also goes to support a local farmer, I consider it a good deal.
We often dedicate one family night to decorating our pile of squashes. I will mull the apple cider in a crockpot with seasonings, we listen to spooky music and the kids decorate their pumpkins. One of the benefits of having a husband who went to art school is that often he can bust out amazing pumpkins to carve. The kids will help but mostly they like to use paint and craft stuff on the smaller pumpkins.
2 – Costumes
Dress-up costumes are one of those toys that I consider a good investment any time of year. My kids & their friends are constantly playing dress-up so we get a lot of value out of those toys. We often get gifts of props and other costumes as well – my favourite haul being the leftover props from a wedding photo booth. My mother is also the post-holiday ninja who will often pick up wonderful, sturdy costumes for $10 or less. I have also scrounged up props from various used materials and one year I even made a wig out of some leftover yarn. Since our dress-up box is huge due to all of the above factors, the kids have often just used costumes we already had.
In fact, this is the first year that we have spent ANY money on costumes for the kids. The eldest wanted a particular costume this year and was willing to pay for it herself with her earned allowance. Given this, I offered to go half with her on the costume if she raised her half. She met her goal. The bonus of having her raise her own money for the costume is that she is incredibly gentle with it and made sure to take good care of it. It didn’t land in the dress-up box this morning, it was carefully hung in the closet with the wig wrapped up properly in its bag. She told me she wants to keep it nice for next year when she plans to wear it again. For me it was money well spent because not only did I get to teach the eldest about saving to reach a goal, I also got the bonus lesson of having her respect her purchase more because she had to work for it.
This is all the effort I can actually put into carving: paint, thumbtacks, old vampire teeth from Halloween’s past
3 – Community
From the time our children were little we managed to amass a great group of neighbourhood friends who had kids in the same age range of our kids. So because of that we have been lucky enough to celebrate holidays together in our community. Every Halloween, for example, one neighbour has a Halloween potluck where we all get together to eat dinner (and the parents have a few well-needed drinks) before heading out as a group to trick-or-treat. Since historically Halloween has been on a weeknight and I am usually working at this time of year, being able to bring a sharing dish and quickly feed the hungry masses has been a godsend. Besides, the kids love to show off their costumes to one another and it’s always more fun to trick-or-treat with your friends. The parents also get to enjoy some much-needed catching up since we rarely see each other once the cold weather sets in and we no longer congregate in the park.
I made these totally badass Frankenstein Rice Krispie treat monsters for the potluck
4 – Making memories & finishing touches
Of course, all of the above serves to do the one thing we want for all our kids: wonderful childhood memories. Those memories don’t have to come a high price tag with a lot of running around, either. Our movie nights just change to Halloween-themed movies, and instead of stuffing candy in our kid’s lunches, I drag some shortbread dough out of the freezer and cook up some Halloween-themed cookies. Grab a few Halloween Ziploc bags & themed cookie cutters from the dollarstore (I wash my bags so they last forever & I managed to snag 18 Wilton cookie cutters for $3) and you have a fun, inexpensive treat for your kids with a huge WOW factor and relatively little effort. The majority of the fun in any holiday is the anticipation, so little treats during the month of October is a nice lead-up for kids whose excitement builds (and is contagious for adults, too!). It doesn’t need to be bought, either.
I decorated these with icing after but keeping a quick shortbread recipe in the freezer means you can roll out & bake some cookies for any special occasion.
So now that it is over for another year and the clocks have changed back an hour, I will give myself a couple of weeks of respite before gearing up for the Christmas season. We host the community Christmas cookie decorating party in December where the kids decorate their cookies for Santa, so I am sure to talk about that more as the weeks go on. Until then, we’ll hunker down and keep warm in our cozy house with lovely fires, big mugs of tea, and after-dinner card games by candlelight.