How not having to work for money helped me build a career at 40

As I have mentioned before, I ran a small business when my kids were quite small. By the time the Sprout was born though, it was too difficult to try and do that and run a business. I threw in the towel and prepared myself for being a full-time stay-at-home-mom.

I will always be grateful for being a SAHM. It was wonderful to be able to be there for my kids when they were younger and plan our days with our energy levels and moods in mind. No rushing out the door at 7am to get to daycare, no long commutes with only seeing the kids before bed. I am so incredibly grateful we could do that, even though it was financially tight for our family for a long time.

One particularly difficult winter saw Mr. Tucker’s work environment become more stressful and there was a lot of uncertainty as to whether or not he’d lose his employment. Being a type A person, this uncertainty made me incredibly stressed out, and having not worked an office job in awhile, I was concerned about my ability to get back into the workforce.

We all know how this ends: I end up spreading the word that I am looking for any level of office work. Within a couple of weeks I had myself a contract for 4 months.

Back to the grind, now with extra caffeine

Of course, I started at a low salary and to be quite honest, we were only marginally ahead financially after my bus pass and daycare were paid. But I was more concerned about rebuilding my resume than I was about the money. Since Mr. Tucker and I lived off one salary, everything I made was gravy.

The rest is history, as they say. I took the summer off, and then started to look for work at the end of the summer. By October I had a job at one level higher than my previous one. Then a friend who runs a local communications company hired me to do part-time work doing social media. The pay was low, but the experience was crucial and I could work from home. This job made me want to get back into Communications work, so I geared my resume towards that, and reached out to all my friends in Comms, asking them to consider me if they have a contract available. Low-and-behold: the contracts came.

One of my office mates, Palmela (I know, I know, I kill me!)

In the end I have jumped in salary 55% over the past five years by putting out the word, taking the jobs that people offered me, finding out what I wanted to do, and then tailoring my networking to focus on getting those jobs. I also did 5 years of contracts with summers off. Amazing!

But I couldn’t have done it if we were dependent on the money. If our lifestyle had incorporated both salaries and we were budgeted to the hilt, I wouldn’t have been as free to take summers off, or to tailor my job search. Had we needed the money, I would have panicked and made my resume more generic, and taken whatever work was thrown my way. When you are busy surviving, it’s harder to make long-term decisions.

Now I am happily in a dream job in my dream career. I have a pension (and I can buy back those years I worked when I wasn’t in the public service), benefits, a great work environment, and an ability to work from home. I couldn’t have done any of this had I not flipped in-and-out of private and public sector jobs, and definitely couldn’t have done it if we were dependent on the cash. Even today, Mr. Tucker and I are living on one salary for the most part (but spend a lot more on travel!) and this habit is laying the foundation for Mr. Tucker’s early retirement.

Pay it forward

Of course, having lucked out in my career I am more than happy to help others who are also looking to get back into the working world. Since I have put out the word that I am also always looking for work, more people contact me for contracts than I can take. But, since they know I know other people looking for work, they usually shoot me a note, asking if I am available or if I know anyone. Typically, I can connect them to someone who is looking but more than a couple of times, I have had people hem-and-haw about taking obviously lucrative contracts, and they have lost out.

For example, a childhood friend lost her job earlier this year and took to social media asking people to keep an eye out for some work. She had a family, she said, she needed to work as soon as possible. Since I knew she worked in marketing, I told her about this amazing contract at the government that had a chance of becoming permanent. I had been offered the job but I was already working so I couldn’t take it. I thought it was perfect for her! She needed no French (often an issue in Canadian government jobs), and it paid more than $20k a year than she was making at her old job.

I sent her a quick note asking for her resume and told her that she could probably be working within a couple of weeks – what a relief for someone desperate for a job, right?


She emailed me back and told me she was going to send me a resume & that she was really excited for the opportunity. She promised to get her resume to me the next day. I told my contact I had someone perfect for the job they were looking to hire, and that I would send a resume to them the next day! But the next day I heard crickets and no resume came, so I messaged her. She switched gears and told me that she wasn’t going to send me her resume; instead she was going to take time for herself. A mini vacation. Then after that, she planned to take French classes to help her chances of getting a better job in the future. I was gobsmacked. It was a unicorn of a job, and she didn’t want to even explore it.

I was not going to push, people make their own decisions for their own lives. But I will never help her with work again. I don’t have time for people who are unreliable like that and I don’t want to burn any bridges with my contacts. Don’t bother even saying you are looking for work when you really aren’t, especially if you are in no position to be rejecting work (been fired, long time out of the workforce).

Sadly, a couple of months later this friend realized that she couldn’t live off employment insurance and contacted me again, looking for work. I didn’t know of any contracts at that time but even if I had, I wouldn’t have recommended her. Naturally, she was bummed to learn that the person they did end up hiring for that previous contract also had been hired permanently. An amazing job with a pension, benefits, time off, and work-life balance went right through her fingers because she wanted a mini vacation. In the end, she took a job in retail, making no money with no benefits and shift work because she ended up desperate and had to take the first thing that came along.

Here is the thing, if you are behind the 8-ball and have gaps or issues with your work history, it pays to take whatever comes your way. I always took any good office job that came my way, from administration to communications. My logic was that if it was truly horrible, I could always give notice and leave. Nothing is forever! I only fine-tuned my resume when I was certain I had enough recent work experience to be able to do so. Having started out with a few years out of the workforce, my logic was: beggars can’t be choosers. I even went back salary-wise after a nasty experience at one contract, and an opportunity came up to work at a really cool place came up but that paid much less. I didn’t consider it a step back – I considered it a small bump on the road to a better career. It gave me valuable experience and was one of the references that led to my current job.

It’s all about options

Now I am in a position where I have a set of skills that are in pretty good demand. I also work really hard and have great references. I couldn’t have done that unless:

1 – We were living off one salary already. Having money in the bank means you can step back and build a career. I didn’t have to choose cash over other things such as great work experience or a great work environment.
2 – I took everything I could when I first started out after a gap in my resume from being a SAHM.
3 – I didn’t wait until a financial crisis to react. I took a pro-active view of getting back into the workforce.
4 – Because of the above-things, I was able to start working towards positioning myself as a senior person in my field, which led to my current, amazing, job.

The no-brainer here, of course is: MONEY GIVES YOU OPTIONS*. So you should take advantage of a good financial plan combined with frugality to buy yourself options. One of the reasons I went back to work was due to the uncertainty of Mr. Tucker’s employment. Now I stay in because we can save one entire salary. That entire salary will allow Mr. Tucker to retire early (I hope!) as the interest from our savings should cover our basic household expenses. During this time, I hope my career continues to flourish but even if it doesn’t we will still have that money and it will give us some breathing room as we figure out what to do.

At the point of my career I am in now, I enjoy my job and like going in every day. I currently have dreams to progress further in my career, and I hope I do. Still, it may not always be like this. A change in management, of policy, or direction could make me throw in the towel much earlier than planned. By squirreling away our money for a rainy day, it will give me the option to quit if I want to, and that’s worth its weight in gold.

*Caveat: this example is from a family of four who lived off one salary, which at this point is relatively high. I know someone will point out that this is not available for single people or people with less means. That may be true in some cases, but when Mr. Tucker and I had two small babies at home we were also paying child support for my amazing stepson and his salary was $60k at the time. So if you do the math that is not exactly a huge amount of money for 5 people. Conversely, I know people who make minimum wage or less and people who work only seasonally and they manage to work out options for themselves.

Is fresh bread worth it?

The jury is out on the entire convenience appliance thing. I try and stay away from most “convenience” appliances (ask me my opinion on rice makers…go on…it’s definitely colourful) but you will pry my beloved bread maker from my cold, dead hands.

A quick Ciabatta to accompany our soup & cheese

There was a time where you could get a loaf of whole wheat bread at a reasonable price. Now, you are lucky if you can get a 2-for-$5 deal on commercial loaves. I truly don’t understand it because actual whole-wheat flour can be bought cheaply all year round with the regular price of 10kg at Costco being about $6.50 (and that’s in Canada where grocery prices are ridiculous). So essentially, $6.50 worth of flour makes me 29.5 loaves, or about .22 cents worth of flour in one loaf*.

Of course, I also use yeast, sugar, salt, water, and electricity so that would push the price up, for sure. Given all that, the reality is that I would be surprised if a loaf costs more than $1.50. A quick calculation with my electricity provider tells me that running the bread maker off-peak costs about. 34 cents per loaf. If I run it on-peak, it would be .71 cents.

But where my bread maker really shines is when it is making a bunch of different kinds of breads or doughs. It has a quick loaf setting if you suddenly find yourself needing fresh bread in an hour and a bit (hello, last-minute guests!), it has a dough-only setting I use for pizza dough and pastry dough, and often I find myself whipping up a quick raisin bread for breakfasts, which bakes overnight while we sleep.

(my bread maker even has a mini-baguette setting and has a recipe book full of alternative uses such as pasta and jam – all of which I don’t use).

Need something quick for the bake sale your kids told you about 20 minutes before bed? Look no further!

I know some naysayers are thinking, “BAH! When I was your age I stone ground my own flour, collected yeast from the air, and made it all by hand.” To this I say: congratulations! If I had to do that, I would just buy all my bread products at full price. Other people are saying to themselves, “why not get a Kitchenaid, it does so much more!” I will admit, I have Kitchenaid dreams but when my mind floats back to planet earth the reality sinks in: it costs too much, it’s too hard to store, and it doesn’t bake. Since the last thing we do Sunday night before bed is toss in a loaf of bread. We then wake up to a fresh loaf for the week. I can’t do that in a Kitchenaid.

The other thing is that it proofs dough in a way other appliances don’t, making a finished product that is light and fluffy like store-bought baked goods. When Mr. Tucker used to make our breads by hand, they tasted dense and overly-yeasty by the time they cooled down. I never really grew an affinity for them. But the loaves we make in the machine stay fluffy. They typically also keep for about a week if wrapped(if they last that long).

Of course, we have to consider the cost of the appliance weighed against its lifespan. I got mine as a gift but I have had it for four years and its original price was $200. Naturally, you can reduce this cost by buying second hand or on sale (I am amazed at the amount of un-or-under-used bread makers there are on the secondhand market). But for our purposes, let’s assume that I make a loaf of bread a week, and then twice a week I only make the dough and then bake in the oven (all my breads take less than 30 mins in the oven which the appliance calculator tells me would be .08 off-peak, .13 cents mid-peak, and .17 cents high peak). Since my bread maker has lasted 4 years and I fully expect for it to live for another year, that means that it costs about $40 a year to own my machine. I wouldn’t be surprised if it lasted longer, either. My previous bread maker I got as a gift when I was 24 and lasted more than 10 years. But let’s assume a 5-year replacement. I divide it by the amount of times a week I use the machine (two dough-only cycles, one full loaf) that means that it costs approximately .27 per run of the machine. So let me make this simpler through an example.

Friday night is typically pan pizza & a movie night at our house

One loaf baked in the machine, off-peak. We’ve already determined that the flour itself costs about 0.22 and then on top of that I have to add sugar, salt, yeast **and water. Since I can’t nickel and dime myself down that far so I am generously giving ingredients a total of 0.50 cents.

One loaf
Ingredients: 0.72 cents
Electricity: .34
Depreciation: .27
Total: $1.33 per loaf

Of course, there are other reasons:

1 – Bread is absolutely fresh, and can be made at anytime. You don’t have to run out for bread last-minute if you run out, which wastes time and gas (if you need to drive).
2 – You can make a wider assortment of things (pizza dough, banana bread, focaccia, baguettes, buns, pastries, rolls) with minimal hands-on time.
2 – You control the ingredients. Often with store bought bread there are a bunch of extra ingredients designed to preserve the bread. When you make it at home, you don’t add those extra things you don’t need. We also make 100% whole grain recipes.
3 – It’s cheaper. It saves $3.50 a week or $182 a year. Sure, it’s not millions but at least you can say it does save!
4 – It’s also part of my strategy to not grocery shop as much as possible. I only have to pick up bread making ingredients once every couple of months.
5 – If it stops you from buying one take-out pizza a week the thing pays for itself in less than a year. A dough cycle is about an hour, so you can whip up a last-minute pizza dinner LIKE A BOSS.

An herb-y Focaccia is great with pastas

If course, while my machine is super fancy and has a price to go with it, you can drop your overall costs by buying a model with less fancy settings. Really, you only need a bake cycle and a dough cycle. I am not saying that it is necessary to buy a bread maker, you could very well enjoy the hands-on aspect of baking, or you like to just stick to no-knead breads. But part of my overall food strategy is to make sure we eat delicious, wholesome food that surpasses anything we can get in a restaurant or take-out. Fresh bread just makes everything feel fancier, and you are saving money in the process. So if you do like fresh bread, do a lot of baking, or if you are like me and just want to shop the least amount as possible, a bread maker can be a welcome tool in your frugal arsenal.

*Flour: 88.5 c in 10kg/3 cups in a loaf = 29.5 loaves
**Yeast: $12 for 93 tsp or 0.13 cents/tsp

Bookmark it – The Earth Awaits!

Sometimes I go down a financial blog rabbit hole (much like a wiki-spiral) and end up discovering the coolest new blogs to read.

Firstly, lay financial bloggers are my favorite because I love reading about the myriad of ways people go about challenging current conventions. You can see parts of yourself in them and usually you can gain some cool tips and tricks and different ways of looking at various problems. Secondly, they tend to tackle questions that are out of the mainstream, questions you probably had yourself.

So I was incredibly stoked when I came across The Earth Awaits, a tool researched and designed by Frugal Vagabond. For anyone who loves travel or has considered retiring abroad for part or all of their retirement, The Earth Awaits will give you an idea of how far your money will go in different geographical areas around the Globe. You can even eliminate continents that are of no interest to you.

You choose the parameters from the amount you can spend, the crime rate, pollution, the standard of living you want to have, and the website will spit out locations where your needs can be met. There are even advanced settings for people trying to drill down a little further.

I really recommend you play with this tool if you are a lover of travel, like we are. If you are looking for a retirement where you plan to stay in places a bit longer, this tool will allow you to plot out various scenarios that will let you see the world on your budget!

Sunday morning reads

I finally got around to reading a bunch of articles I had saved on my phone. Some are bigger reads than others, some are on the mark, some are off the mark. It’s just a compilation of money-or-life-related reads I have been hoarding for a post.

Given the choice between more time or more money, which would you pick? What Should You Choose: Time or Money?

In a culture obsessed with productivity, the hobby has become the next venture. Our parents discovered leisure. We killed it.

The Danish Way: the world’s happiest people share their parenting secrets.

Maybe by doing this: Volunteering after age 40 ‘may be more meaningful for mental well-being’, you can negate this hilarious hypothesis Stop the CPP before it kills more Canadians.

A long but decent read:The 15-hour working week predicted by Keynes may soon be within our grasp – but are we ready for freedom from toil? The golden age.

What it feels like to be the last generation to remember life before the internet.

Backyard Shenanigans or, How We Saved a Fortune on Landscape DIY

For people who do not enjoy landscaping, we have a ridiculous amount of outdoor space. Our front lawn is huge and our backyard is 30 ft by 50 ft. When our kids were smaller we actually used the backyard regularly but now that they are older, we meet up with friends at the park more often than not.

So it’s no surprise that the backyard fell into chaos. Weeds were everywhere, the patio furniture has been destroyed after years of neglect, and the dog had dug craters to the centre of the earth. When we had first moved in we had tried tilling it and laying grass seed & installing an almost-free patio but we didn’t have enough to level the yard and so it ended up being a mishmash of hills and holes. Since the space was incredibly shady to begin with, the additional disarray made it even less inviting to us and so we spent less-and-less time out there.

Starting from scratch

This summer however we were asked to host a mini-reunion with Mr. Tucker’s birth family as well as host an end-of-summer for our families. Because our house is only 1200 square feet and because it was summer, it made sense to host outside. One problem: the backyard was no place anyone wanted to hang out. So taking a look at the space, Mr. Tucker decided to call around and get quotes from landscaping companies.

Those of you following along at home may wonder why his first inclination was to call around to get quotes. The truth is, given the fact I have been less mobile this summer has left Mr. Tucker with a huge chunk of running the household. Tack on the two of us working full-time plus having to get me back and forth to work, it made sense to at least investigate farming the task out. It was also a good starting point for comparison.

The considerations

We didn’t want anything fancy, pavers were fine for the patio, the real issue being leveling the backyard and laying sod. Given how basic our request was, we thought it would be somewhat reasonable. It wasn’t. The quote? Ten thousand dollars – before tax.

$10000, really.

So Mr. Tucker dug deep and started to do research. We didn’t have time to wait for free materials to come our way, nor time to wait for grass seed to grow. We also had a timeline of three weeks. Often if you have time and patience you can save a considerable amount of money by scrounging and waiting for sales but in this case we needed to throw money at the problem.

Luckily, we did find some great deals anyway. Since we wanted to do a huge patio (10 x 30) that was definitely going to cost, even considering we were going with pavers. We also needed gravel and sand to complete the job. Then we needed topsoil and sod (enough to level a 30 x 40 space) and the tools to complete all the work – oh and it had to be completed with a minimal amount of manpower.

Sweet dreams are made of…

…a massive amount of hard work combined with time. Our project was given a 3-day timeline to include a weekend plus another day Mr. Tucker took off to lay the sod. We had four people drop in/out at various points on one weekend where they completed 90% of all the work.

The drop-off

Friday afternoon: Mr. Tucker had all the tools & the sand/gravel/patio stones delivered. My father-in-law came over and he removed all the tree stumps from the backyard. They moved/tossed the old play sets (too rusted to reuse) as well as cleaned out the yard.

This rental has everything you need to do a patio/lay sod from a stamper for patio stones to a sprinkler and hose for the sod

Saturday: Mr. Tucker and his Dad did the largest amount of the work starting early in the morning and ending late at night.

The first day they managed to dig up the section for the patio, lay the gravel and start laying the stones.

Sunday: SURPRISE! The next morning, we woke up to a torrential downpour but given that everything was rented and time was of the essence, Mr. Tucker and his dad trudged on. Of course, the best-laid pavers…I mean plans…and the original tiller would not till through the hard ground after a summer of drought. Mr. Tucker ended up taking it back and giving up on tilling. We ended up paying extra for that mistake. In the end we just ended up leveling it with a combination of topsoil in the largest holes & a barrel roller.

Working in the rain

The rain stopped about midday when a couple of more helpers showed up. So with everyone pitching in, the patio section was finished and the rest of the backyard leveled with topsoil

Monday: We had the sod delivered and Mr. Tucker, his Dad, and my dad’s girlfriend laid all the sod as well as installed some extra pavers by the door that leads to the garage.

Onto plan B

When all was said and done we had extra topsoil for our gardens, and enough pavers and gravel/sand to do a path alongside the garage that led into the backyard (about 20 ft). Mr. Tucker’s dad also scrounged us up a used gate to replace the crumbling fence that was on that side of the house. Using the old poles, he attached the gate with a couple of dollars of new hardware.

Leveled & pressed

Show me the money

All told, the entire project came down to 1/3 of the cost of the quotes from professionals AND we got patio furniture, a gazebo, and lights for the gazebo as well!

Here is a breakdown of the costs:

It’s obvious that the manpower is the largest cost of any large renovation project. If you are willing to handle the work yourself, you can save considerably. We could have saved even more money had we scrounged/borrowed the tools, had more time to lay grass seed instead of purchasing sod, and had more time to watch for sales. We lucked out on the pavers, which were on super sale, but other than that we had to work with the constraints of time and money. But this just goes to show that when you look for alternatives you can still save money even if you end up paying top dollar for supplies. Sometimes just thinking about a problem a little longer helps you tackle it in a better way.

Final thoughts

We started this project with absolutely no knowledge of landscaping. Mr. Tucker and I watched a bunch of youtube videos and spoke extensively with landscaping supply companies to determine what we needed to get the basics done. In the end, we managed to do it all in three days and our costs included new furniture!

I had given Mr. Tucker a budget of about $3000 and so we were not far off the mark. To be fair, he came in under with the landscaping job being $2317.59 but we ended up buying the gazebo and furniture, which put us over by $11.41. We would have been under had we not made the mistake with the tiller ($2945.53). So I am going to be ok with the $11.41 as in the end we got way more for the amount we ended up spending (thank goodness for end-of-season sales!).

We luckily saw a lot of rain after this

The biggest boon from projects like these is the proof that with a little research and a little hard work most projects can be tackled by laypeople. While that doesn’t encourage me to lay the wiring throughout my house, it does encourage us to take on small household projects that can save big bucks. Every single project you tackle may not be perfect and some may outright fail but the savings should be such that you can cover the odd failure.

Since next year we will be staying close to home so we can save for the house, having a nice outside space to host friends will be our primary source of entertainment in 2017. The girls can also spend time outside in the backyard helping with some gardening, playing in the sprinkler, using their scooters on the patio, or just generally enjoying being outside. Our vacation time will be spent staying home with the kids (and save on summer camp!) so our new, beautiful outdoor space will be a great place to enjoy those lazy days of summer together.

The almost-final product

Three walls – documentary

The inventor of the cubicle – Robert Probst – ended up hating his creation in the end. As a Gen Xer, media railed against cubicle life when I was a teenager/in my 20s so now cubicles will get their revenge as open concept workplaces are all the rage. Having worked in both, given the option I would take a cubicle any day. Having said that, not working at an office would be even better.

They see me rollin’ they be hatin’

Some charitable elves from my book club felt sadness at my spilly mug

Strangely, after having neurosurgery AND orthopedic surgery in the spring, just having orthopedic surgery seems like a treat! I ended up having a ridiculous whirlwind of an experience that included messed-up surgery locations, a 24-hour wait before getting my surgery postponed, and an overnight stay in the hospital. Still, I was well taken care of and I came out of the OR feeling pretty ok given the circumstances.

Of course now the real trial begins as I learn to live in a wheelchair again. I am sad all the work I had put into physiotherapy will regress but I am trying to stay positive in the knowledge I can get it back. So now I forge ahead trying to make sure I have everything arranged for our Disney trip. It’s still amazing to me that in 2016 airline customer service still panics at the idea of disabled travellers. Luckily, their medical line was a little more informed and I seem to have that ironed out (knock on wood?).

I am still having challenges with Disney who want to charge me $1000 for an accessible room because it apparently has a view. Seriously, I don’t care if it is a broom closet as long as I can shower in dignity. I don’t give a crap about a view! The travel agent assisting us is still working on it but if worse comes to worse, we will deal with it when we get there. I don’t know what is so hard about getting a bench in the shower & a removable showerhead (that would take care of 50% of clients with mobility issues) but it is what it is.

Like I mentioned before, I fully intend to work starting next week. I feel pretty good right now but I did tell my boss I would let him know if I didn’t feel well. He’s really concerned I will push myself (what? Me? Type A?) I know he’d rather see me home and convalescing but as it is, I am feeling good and I am so grateful to be working half days in the office and half at home. I much prefer using my brain and being useful rather than sitting around. Now that the pain is subsiding, I should be good to go.

Despite this year being the most challenging I have ever faced, I couldn’t have gone it alone. From Mr. Tucker’s unwavering support and hard work keeping the family organized and functional, to my family’s assistance with childcare, I am so lucky to be surrounded by such love and help. My community is also right behind me, with my amazing friends helping with everything from playdates to building me a ramp to my phenomenal book club nerds dropping this off today:

A new travel mug! Warm un-spilled coffee for all! (Don’t know what I’ll put on my Xmas list now though)

Not having to really go alone through this experience is what has made it bearable. While no one wants to rely on others, it’s comforting to know you have people you can rely on. So mad thanks to everyone in my community who have gone out of their way to make sure that Mr. Tucker and I know we have people to lean on. Your continued friendship is worth its weight in gold and I am grateful for your love and support.

Nurture your community, it’s the greatest investment you will ever make.

Cancel the housecleaner (and get your kids to help)

Picture this…Sicily…1913…just kidding. I am channeling the spirit of Sophia Petrillo from Golden Girls. Mr. Tucker and I have been binge watching old episodes for the past couple of weeks (read: I am making him watch them with me). Still, this is a tale from the past so get out the wayback machine. So picture it…Canada…2005…after a stint working in the corporate world and watching my life crumble all around me as the organization I worked for lost its funding, I decided to go an entirely new direction and so I started to clean houses for a living. How’s that for a life story (and run on sentence)?

For many years before we had kids, my income was based upon manual labour, and I loved it. I needed to get as far away from the corporate world as possible when I did and I needed the security of determining my own future (as much as one can) by starting my own business. I loved being a housecleaner. I had the most interesting, incredible clients, I could say yes or no to whomever I wanted and I could make my own hours. What is not to love?

Learning how to make basic meals is a part of this complete childhood

Of course, as soon as you have kids life changes immensely. I managed the business until the second child was born & I realized that I was making more money being a dependent with the kids than I would be by working (particularly because I did everything above-board including carrying insurance and paying all my taxes). It wasn’t until the youngest was 2 that I decided to dip my feet back into the corporate world.

Naturally, having been a housecleaner, I knew the value of having one. Although many people consider having a housecleaner a frivolous expense, I consider it a lifesaving one, especially if your children are young. So soon after I made the decision to head back to work, I made the decision to hire a housekeeper. In fact, my first kick in the butt came the weekend after my first paycheck came in. Exhausted from the work week, we mustered the troops and headed to a restaurant for dinner. I couldn’t muster the energy to face the chaos of the house so that we could make dinner, so instead we threw money at the problem. When the bill came however, the reality set in: I just paid a fortune for dinner and I STILL had to go home to my messy house and deal with it tomorrow morning.

Sometimes you make a mentally positive, not financially positive, decision

Of course, when your children are 2 and 4 and haven’t seen you all week, they don’t want to let you spend the two hours it will take to clean the house. So a job that should have taken us absolutely no time in fact took us almost four hours. No one got what they wanted that day and we all just ended up miserable. It was then that I realized that I could have taken the money we had spent on dinner the night before, hired a housekeeper, and instead happily eaten Kraft Dinner (Mac’n’cheese to you Americans) for supper in a clean house as opposed to eaten dinner out and still coming home to a pig sty. So we interviewed a bunch of potential cleaners that following week until we settled on the woman who would eventually work for us for four years.

I am not going to lie: we had her come every week while the kids were young, and there was nothing more glorious than coming home on a Friday night to a spotless home. Our weekends were our own, with only laundry and meal prep to contend with. As the kids got older, we moved on to a biweekly schedule since the house was less messy. At every step of the journey, a housecleaner was money well spent. No regrets.

Still, there were a few things that started to change. Our housecleaner started becoming unreliable, especially during the summer months. We would have plans to have people over on the weekend only to find out last-minute that she couldn’t make it. Most times she would make up the time the following week but we found it difficult to plan because of it. We tossed around the idea of saving the money and just cleaning ourselves for a while, but never could quite make the leap. Inertia is a powerful force, especially when it means NOT having to do something.

It wasn’t until we had a huge party planned – and she bailed again – that we made the decision to let her go. Since we were left panicking, I sent Mr. Tucker to the store to buy a plethora of cleaning products. That day, the whole family chipped in and managed to clean the house within 1.5 hours. After that, Mr. Tucker and I looked at each other and silently decided: it was time to let the housecleaner go. The cost had outweighed the convenience.

The benefits of chores

“Parents today want their kids spending time on things that can bring them success, but ironically, we’ve stopped doing one thing that’s actually been a proven predictor of success—and that’s household chores,” – Richard Rende

You may be amazed to hear that I was not brought up in a household where I was expected to do chores, outside of cleaning my own room (which, more often than not meant my mother just closed the door). To be honest, when I left home I felt I spent a lot of time teaching myself basic life skills and I always swore that if I had kids, that they would learn the life basics before leaving the house.

So no housecleaner + an 8 & a 6-year-old = life skills time!

Early years

When my kids were toddlers, we used to put on music and dance around, teaching them to tidy the living room as they went. It wasn’t perfect but it did set the expectation that what you mess up, you clean up.

As they got older, we had more of an expectation of tidy. The kids actually are pretty decent at cleaning up after themselves but that is mostly because Mr. Tucker and I have been diligent about staying on top of them to make them do it. We also started drilling in the basics from a young age, starting with the things they had to do when they got home after school. At first, it was just asking them to put their lunch bags on the counter & any communication from school on the table for us to look at. As the eldest got older, she came home to a sign that said she had to do the three H’s: Homework, Harp, Helping (lunchbag). I even posted a sign at her level with pictures to remind her.

Chores today

Over this summer, I have taught the kids how to fold and put away their own laundry. It is the one chore I hate the most, so teaching them how to do it will pay dividends over the next couple of years. Of course, the youngest is horrible at it but with encouragement from the eldest or a parent, it gets done…in a reasonable time frame.

Then, once we let our housecleaner go the kids had to step up to the plate and help us with cleaning on the weekends. It’s definitely been slow going but I encourage them to finish their work in 1.5 hours (or less). I constantly point out that the quicker we do it, the quicker we get to do fun things but they still insist on the mess-around-and-avoid-tasks method, which is infuriating. Of course, it would be easier to just give in and do it ourselves but by getting the kids into the habit, eventually they will get better at it, making it easier on the whole family.

I have to say, living in a small 1200 sq ft house makes getting all the work done much easier. I tackle the bathroom and the parent’s room, Mr. Tucker starts in the kitchen, and the kids are responsible for cleaning their room by putting the toys away, changing their sheets, and then sweeping/mopping their floor.

Once they are done their room, I am usually done the bathroom so I tidy the dining room while the kids tidy the living room (usually their toys) & we wipe down all the surfaces. Then I put the eldest in charge of sweeping the living and dining rooms, while I get the youngest to help me gather the laundry to take downstairs. I then change our sheets, sweep and mop the floors in our bedroom, & then Mr. Tucker helps the eldest finish sweeping/moping in the living/dining areas and the hallways.

That seems difficult to read, so to simplify, this is what it looks like in chart form:

What about allowances?

My kids are two years apart but they are pretty close and they share a bedroom. I know that current wisdom says to give them a dollar per year, based on their age but for us it’s been easier for us to give them each $6 this year. The money isn’t tied to their chores but they only get paid after they clean the house. Since they have an issue turning off lights, every time I find a light hasn’t been turned off, I dock them .25 cents. The jury is out on whether or not this works, as they seem to have a hard time learning this lesson.

Colour-coded for little people who can’t quite read yet

We also make the kids put their money away: $2 in save, $2 spend, $2 share. I want them to get used to saving money for the future, and we use the share money to sponsor a family at Christmas or for any charity work Girl Guides or their school does. We bought jars from the Dollar Store & had them decorate them so they knew which jar was which and they know they are expected to contribute to every jar, every week. If they have a reduced allowance (those pesky lights!) they have to take it out of their spend jar.

The school year begins

A new school year, and a new sign has to go up in the vestibule to remind the kids that they have things to do as soon as they get off the bus after school. Since Mr. Tucker gets them off the bus in the afternoons, it will be his job to get them into the habit of completing the things on their list. I’ve even come up with a new acronym now that the youngest will also be starting music lessons: CHAMP.


My poster may be silly looking but it gets the job done

This poster has pictures beside it to remind the kids what is expected of them every day before dinner. Since they get home at 3:30 it is more than enough time to accomplish these goals before we eat dinner around 6pm.

Final thoughts

Cleaning and chores with kids is an uphill battle. I would be lying if I said it was in any way easy. However, what we are trying to do is lay the foundation of having every member of our family contribute to the smooth running of the household. Also, kids do well when they know what to expect and thrive when they have a schedule. Soon enough they will know what to do when they walk in the door in the afternoon, and know what we will be doing first thing after breakfast on the weekends. As these things become habit for them, we can then add more complicated chores and jobs to their every-growing roster of life skills.

Oh, and on a positive note, we will save over $2000 by cleaning the house ourselves this year. As I pointed out to the kids: that’s a nice two-week cottage vacation, or money for ½ a trip to Disney for the family. When you put it into terms they understand, they are more likely to be able to understand the benefits of doing things yourself.

Life’s random setbacks

WELL, because 2016 is going to be the year that I suffer greatly and appreciate my support network mightily, here is some news: more surgery. Tuesday.

So we meet again

Last Monday in physio I hurt my foot and assumed that the broken screws were causing issues, as they sometimes do. When I last saw my orthopedic doctor we knew the screws in my foot were broken and I could have had them taken out earlier. However, they weren’t bugging me and so we agreed to revisit taking them out in the fall. I felt that I had already taken quite a bit of time off work as it was, so I figured we could push it off. Well after the pain I experienced on Monday I managed to get myself a last minute appointment where it was discovered that it was more than the screws and that they had to go back in for another surgery. It was super quick, the timeline being:

Thursday: appointment
Friday: call with surgery date
Tuesday: surgery (Monday being a holiday, after all)

So naturally, it was a whirlwind of having to make arrangements for a myriad of things. My boss was on vacation, so I had to send him an email. My kids start school on Tuesday and since I won’t know until Monday night what time I have go in (yay long weekend!), I had to make arrangements to have my mom stay over just in case. Mr. Tucker and I have to prep for being down an adult in the household, and currently the entire family is working on cleaning the house and getting ready for the school year.

The timing is pretty bad, but I guess when is it a good time to be an invalid?

Suffice it to say I am rather crushed and I would be lying if I said I didn’t randomly burst into tears every time it gets brought up. I will be in a wheelchair for 6 weeks, AGAIN and of course the family has a Disney trip planned at the end of the month. I would be full-on engaging in self-pity all day long if there wasn’t a ton of stuff that needed to be taken care of.

I have no intention of taking 6 weeks off work, despite what my doctor’s note says. One does not social media with ones’ ankles, so Mr. Tucker and I have a plan for him to drive me to work. I figure I will be off one week, go back to work a week, and then take off on vacation for one week. On a positive note, the happiest place on earth is also the place that is the most wheelchair accessible. I won’t be able to do everything, but the kids and Mr. Tucker will, so that is what is important. So thank goodness for small miracles, as it were. Once I am back, I only have another 3 weeks of being in a chair, so at least it’s broken up a bit (much like me, BADDABUMP!).

On a positive note, we still have the ramp that Mr. Tucker built with the help of a friend, it ISN’T winter, I will be an old hand at wheeling myself around, and we have our emergency fund built up enough to cover parking at the hospital, the initial outlay for the assistance devices (and payment for the ones that aren’t covered), and extra gas for the car now that I can’t bus anymore. I can also work from home if need be, so that is a plus.

My only wish right now – I mean, given my circumstances – would to be more mobile this weekend to help the family out more. We did manage to get the house clean today, and we are having a family BBQ tonight so we have to prep for that, but I can’t stand very long, which means Mr. Tucker & the kids have to take on more of the work. Tomorrow our goal is to prep the front vestibule for fall (out with the summer, in with the cold weather gear), finish all the laundry, and get some food prep done to simplify our week this week. Since I have to sit down a lot, I have to plan for extra time to get everything done, or do as many tasks as possible from a seated position.

However, today instead of hyper-focusing on the worst, I will prep for our end-of-summer BBQ with family. It will be nice to have the family come over and enjoy our newly-redone backyard (Mr. Tucker’s summer project, which I will surely blog about soon). I won’t worry about the money or the time or the energy it will take to convalesce over the next six weeks, instead I will be grateful for the relationships we have cultivated as it has given us the unwavering support of our family and friends when we need it most. I will also be grateful for my good job and my awesome boss – Mr. Tucker’s as well. Our jobs have allowed us to save up an emergency fund, as well as provide our family with good benefits, and comprehensive care for when we are sick (sick days, and long term/short term disability). I am grateful that for all the years I could have had this happen, it happened during a year where I had amazing coverage. So in light of that, happy labour day weekend, indeed.

Buying your way to happiness or saving your way to freedom

The best thing about working downtown is all the action. There are museums, great greenspace to enjoy, it’s a great place to people watch, and it’s convenient to run errands during my lunch hour. Conversely, it’s one of the worst places to work because you are constantly inundated with the sights and smells of amazing food stalls, cute retail stores and original crafts. In fact, just to get to work I have to walk through a high-end mall that’s full of all the fancy things that money can buy, like this gem that caught my eye the other day.

We live in a world where even our accessories are tired

The price tag? $200. TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS. For a purse. For the costs of this purse I could go away for a weekend and recharge with friends. The irony was killing me, so I knew I had to post about it.

Spend to save!

Then this facebook ad caught my eye this morning:

Is this a trick question?

This bank technique is to encourage people to spend so that they earn more rewards. Or, I could not spend the $4 on a fancy coffee, and instead keep the money invested, & tote around my .50¢ coffee in a travel mug. You’d earn even more by saving, I am willing to bet.

I am busted and I leak a little but if you hold me upright I still work

(I know, I know, I should buy a functional travel mug. If it makes you feel better, I am putting one on my Christmas list.)

The coffee equation is pretty divisive, I know, and it’s also an overused analogy but that is because it is a good one. I have friends who insist that they don’t give two flips about penny pinching and would much rather not have to think about their spending and instead enjoy all the fancy coffees and artisanal lunches their money can buy. They like to post articles about how not buying lattes is oppressive and sucks the joy out of life. That’s cool, I am not here to harsh anyone’s mellow but for me spending $1000 a year on coffee when I can spend $130 for fancy coffee I make myself at home is ludicrous. It may be splitting hairs to some but if I stick that $870 into an index fund making 7% a year, after 10 years of bringing my coffee I will have $12572. Add in that fact that most lunches around here are $10 and I can make a lunch for $3 or less, that will save me 26,351.06 over 10 years. Bringing coffee and my lunch over 10 years will save me $38392.

THIRTY-EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARSI could essentially take a year off of work by just not buying food at work. Amazing.

Never say never

All this isn’t to say that I never buy things I like, or never eat out, or never pay for entertainment. I do all these things. The difference is, I try and do them consciously and not constantly.

Since it is summer, my workplace is full of students gaining valuable work experience & making money for the first time this school year. The two who sit next to me often buy both breakfasts and lunches at one of the fast food places nearby. Buying a $10 sub every day doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest, however, I have no problem heading to one of my favourite restaurants and paying $50+ for a decent meal. I don’t do it often, and I do try and watch what I spend (I am looking at you, delicious cocktails!) but when I do go out, I make sure to spend consciously to maximize my enjoyment. To me, a $10 sub that can be replaced with a $3 meal is not as valuable as going out every couple of months and enjoying a $50 experience. I’d like to say “maybe these kids get value out of eating out every day, so good on them if they enjoy it and can afford it” but I have noticed as we get closer to the summer the realization that the paychecks are going to stop has settled in. Now they are bringing in their own coffee, sugar, and cream and most of the time, I see them eating their brown bag lunches.

I’m like, “Yo – that’s fifty dollars for a T-shirt.” Limited edition, let’s do some simple addition, fifty dollars for a T-shirt – that’s just some ignorant…

Nothing epitomizes the punk ethos like $265 t-shirts “crafted of black brushed Japanese cotton-cashmere.” If Henry Rollins were dead, he’d be rollin’ in his grave.

All this to say, the above is just an exercise and the real world isn’t as simple (I don’t actually work 52 weeks a year) and investments aren’t guaranteed. Still, I find it helpful to periodically do these calculations to remind myself that small decisions made every day get big results. Since we buy good food and we cook things I enjoy, it’s not a hardship to bring my lunch every day because it is always delicious.

But this post isn’t about judging people on what they choose to do so much as outline that in 10 years I want to have enough money saved to retire comfortably. Part of that process depends on me making good choices every day. So it’s not so much the idea that I am going to nickel and dime myself to death, instead I am making deliberate choices to choose one equally as good alternative over the more expensive choice. If I make just three good choices a day, I am well on my way to reaching my goal.

It certainly is, ridiculously-expensive-purse. It certainly is.

“The goal of marriage is not to think alike, but to think together”

(Robert Dodd)

Ganked from the internet somewhere

Mr. Tucker and I enjoy an extremely compatible marriage. Generally speaking, we are on the same wavelength and that allows us to decisions together with little fuss. Unfortunately, this compatibility can also mean we’ve sometimes made bad decisions – together, happily – but decisions that were still detrimental to us. For example, quitting smoking – it took us way too long to quit together because we spent many years agreeing to give in and smoke when we had a beer, or when we were out socially. One of us would say, “Just the one…” and the next thing you knew, we were back smoking full time. It was never good cop/bad cop with us: no one was ever the cop!

Mr. Tucker and I slipped into a comfortable pattern where our responsibilities were divvied up according to aptitude and interest. He does a lot of the cooking and cleaning; I do the finances and manage the schedules for the family. That is, until recently. I sent an email to Mr. Tucker with the title “You could retire in 5 years,” with a compound interest calculation I did being the body of the message. That piqued his interest! I am guessing that the fact that he was going through an incredibly busy and stressful time at work probably sweetened his interest even more than usual but for the first time in our marriage he wanted to sit down and talk budgets.

Oh the sweet, sweet sound of the word “budget” to my ears!

In all fairness, he let me run with the budget for this long because I enjoy it, everything got paid, and we were saving and having a good life overall. I’d always consult with him for the big decisions and so it was easier for him to just let me manage it. But I think that having me incapacitated this spring nudged him more in the direction of learning about our finances and when I sent him the compound interest chart, it pushed him into wanting to learn more. Here are some compelling reasons:

    – If I died tomorrow he would have to take over the finances. It’s in his best interest to learn how I manage things, what we budget for certain things, and to know where our investments and important papers are.
    – Although he gets the girls on the bus in the morning and off the bus at night, we both want to have a parent home when the girls are in high school. Our life was definitely much calmer when a parent can take over the administrative life tasks of the family.
    – He went and requested the status of his investments from his two previous companies and was pleasantly surprised to see their growth over the past couple of years.
    – Given that I am a public servant, my job will have more security and more benefits (including a pension) than his job has, making it more lucrative for me to stay in my position & have him retire early first (caveat: if I become permanent, I am currently only a term). My job also has more options for flex-time and I can do compressed work hours*.
    – I was home with the kids for years while Mr. Tucker worked full time. He also works super long (yay IT!) hours and could use a break. That’s an exciting prospect to him.

Our strangely inexpensive beach wedding

But wait! There’s more!

I may have not mentioned it, but we live in a relative’s house and that relative is looking to sell the property when their mortgage comes up for renewal in spring 2018. As this person is older, they are looking to tie up their financial affairs. For a bit of background, I own a condo and they own a house so when they retired and I got pregnant, it seemed logical to switch residences (and mortgage payments!). Because this house has been in our family since it was built in the middle of the last century, it is in a great location, and it’s in a neighbourhood where our family has put down roots, we are definitely keen to buy it! It’s also being sold to us at a good price – lower than market value but still fair – which sweetens the deal.

On top of that, Mr. Tucker and I have a unique opportunity to be completely mortgage-free if we can save $50 000 in 2017. So we are hunkering down more than usual and our goal from January 2017 to January 2018 will be to get that amount in the bank. It’s a lofty goal, and given our other financial responsibilities from now until the end of 2016, we won’t be able to really start until then.

Look for our updates on that, starting in January.

A six-year timeline

Given that we need to spend next year saving for the house, we are giving ourselves a 6-year timeline for getting Mr. Tucker retired. We’ve run the numbers, and since we can live off one salary and still have a pretty great existence, this will be our overall goal. The first year – 2017 – will be for saving for the house, and then the next 5 years will be hunkering down and getting that money in the bank for a 2023 retirement date.

Naturally, this only works if things stay the same or get better. It depends on Mr. Tucker keeping his current position for the next 5 years unless something phenomenal happens such as his company being bought out and his stocks going through the roof. But we aren’t hoping for miracles for this plan, we will use the turtle plan: slow and steady wins the race. A million and one horrible things could also happen but that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t have a plan. I am pretty sure no one EVER has said that they saved too much money to deal with the emergencies thrown their way.

A goal without a plan is just a dream

Because I am a super cheeseball (something Mr. Tucker is definitely not) I have set up a visual chart on the back of our bedroom door to mark our progress. Of course – because I am le fromage – I have peppered the door lightly with fun images and sayings we will have to see once a day. My reasoning is that if the chart and goals is one of the first things we see in a day, we may be more likely to make good decisions. I am not above pulling out all the psychological stops to get our brains in gear to achieve our goals.

I will say though, the fact that we have always only counted on one salary and that we’ve always had our investments come out of our accounts like a bill, has helped us immensely. Since we have never used the extra money for day-to-day lifestyle inflation (our money went to travelling as much as possible) we aren’t used to having a huge amount of cash leftover. When we were living on one salary things were incredibly tight because there was not a lot of room for extras, and when I picked up a part-time job we earmarked it for travel, childcare, and (for awhile there) paying off debt. Now that I am looking to work full-time for the foreseeable future at a much higher salary than I have experienced previously, we can take that money and stick it all away, allowing to imagine a future where our money will make money for us.

It’s like the cards know us?

I am sure it will be a rocky road with plenty of challenges along the way but I would rather have this goal than to just take the money we will be making and boost our current lifestyle. In all honesty, I don’t think there would be any value-added in boosting our current lifestyle because we already have so much we pay for on one salary that we enjoy: a YMCA membership (subsidized by Mr. Tucker’s work, and that gives us discounts on childcare & free swimming lessons and activities for the kids and the adults), skiing in the winter, music lessons and Girl Guides for the kids, dragon boat for me, jam for Nick. We are also walking distance from the library, a wonderful park with a wading pool in the summer and a skating rink in the winter, and neighbours who enjoy a night of card games in the ‘hood over fancy dinners regularly. While there will always room for improvement in the savings game, our life is pretty full in terms of stuff and activities.

So hopefully over the next little while I will document our trials and tribulations here. I don’t anticipate perfection but it will at least be an interesting and creative journey.

A fun way to get moving in winter

*This is subject to manager approval but generally means I can work extra hours in order to take more time off in the summer, or take a longer period of time off to travel etc. I also have work-from-home flexibility.

Some Sunday morning reads

The Great Affluence Fallacy

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

How to Live Frugally When You Have No Time

How being disabled will cost you

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?”

Life advice from Hunter S. Thompson

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.

School’s out for summer

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

The incredible heaviness of healing

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.

John Oliver on pension plans

While not perfect or free from criticism itself (as these sorts of videos go), it does snappily explain that the only person who has your best interests in mind is you.

…and if you don’t believe me about failure

Chris Guillebeau says it more succinctly than I did the other day: Winners give up all the time.

Are you a failure?

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 a relative who was retiring and wanted a smaller space where they 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 family 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.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
– Thomas A. Edison

Arriverderci, Italia. I’ll wheel myself out…

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

Lessons learned
(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