January 2007


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Beautiful sunny day today, if a bit cold…

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Charles Petzold is quite the interesting guy.  He’s a minor god among Windows programmers, and yet in his blog he writes more often about arts than computers.  Yesterday’s post about Visionary Directors from Mexico has me wanting to watch most of what he mentions.  The previous day’s Bach via Barenboim hasn’t made me run to Ticketmaster, but it’s still neat to feel the excitement in his description of The Well-Tempered Clavier.  Last week he compared XAML (a new approach to user interface programming) to screwball comedy.  In December he wrote a hilarious entry apologizing to the world for having given his mother a Mac.

Disclaimer first:  we’re not broke!  Not even worried.  But with Helen’s health problems we’ve gotten pretty far in debt and this year we’ve decided we really need to tighten our belts and make our way back to financial health just as we’re slowly making our way back to physical health.  So when our church offered a class called “Reaching Your Financial Goals”, presented by the Credit Counseling Services of Alberta, we sunk money into the class and a babysitter decided to go.

Trouble is, all the good tips this guy had, we’re already doing them!  We need a class called “Reaching Your Financial Goals When You’re Already Doing Everything Right”. 

Well I’m exaggerating a bit.  We did pick up a few good pointers.  And if nothing else we got some affirmation that what we’re doing is the right idea.  Here are a few pointers we particularly liked (in no particular order):

  • Put aside some “his and hers” money that each of you can spend on whatever you want without being held accountable, without having to feel guilty.  We’ve been doing this every time I get a bonus at work, giving each of us a part of the bonus.  Also any cash gifts we get (like Christmas/birthday gifts) we resist the temptation to put in the line of credit, and instead put them in our own accounts.
  • Get rid of “dirty debt” as he called it.  Credit cards, car loans, that kind of stuff.  We never carry that kind of debt to begin with.  If we can’t cover our full credit card balance we’ll borrow from the LOC.  5% instead of 18.5 baby!
  • Start a budget in small pieces.  We were great budgeters for years, and then kids came along and it all fell apart.  It takes too much time!  So it was suggested we don’t try to budget everything, just start with one area, like groceries or transportation (the two areas most people have most control over).  Take a few months to track spending in that area, find ways to cut back (eat out less often, etc), and then add another budget area.
  • Don’t try to be perfect.  Give yourself money in the budget to eat out once a week, or to get that double-double at Tim’s one morning a week, or whatever your weakness is.  If you tell yourself you can never eat out you’ll feel like a failure that first time you do, and abandon the whole budget.
  • Check your credit report.  This was new to me–and I think is new period because I researched this several years ago when someone applied for a credit card in my name.  Apparently now in Canada both credit bureaus (Equifax and TransUnion) must send you a copy of your credit report by mail for free.  You can also get it online for around $15 if you don’t want to wait.  Their (extremely poorly designed) websites explain how, and also show how to make corrections.  (The U.S. has an additional credit bureau, Experian.)
  • Set short-term goals you can accomplish in less than a year (e.g., $25 from each paycheque will go into a separate account for car repairs).
  • Set medium-term goals you can accomplish in one to three years (e.g., pay off our line of credit in two years by putting 80% of each bonus toward it plus $400 each month).
  • Set long-term goals you can accomplish in four to 24 years (e.g., put $50 a month in RRSPs plus 25% of any raises I get).
  • Keep paying a loan after it’s gone.  If you’re used to paying $200 a month toward your loan, then when the loan is gone keep taking that $200 out of your account every month, putting it in a savings account.  You’ve gotten used to living without it.
  • When you get a raise, have most of it automatically transferred to your savings account.  Like the loan, you’ve been living without it, so get rid of it before you get used to it!

I’m generally quite solidly annoyed with CitiBank and put their myriad offers of pre-approved credit directly in the shredder, but I happened to read one of their pamphlets recently and liked this quote:

Money is not worth loving.  Unless you’re talking about those little chocolate coins.

Go and owe no more!

A fascinating story of bringing the past to the present. 

Back in 1918 there was an influenza outbreak that killed thousands of people.  Also in 1918 scientists had only just discovered the existence of viruses in general, and the influenza virus in particular wasn’t identified until 1933.

Fast-forward to 2006.  Using the genes of victims of the 1918 outbreak, Canadian scientists have reconstructed the virus.  Not just a model of it, they’ve made a fully-functioning virus!  They even infected some monkeys with it (in the lab of course), which suffered the same fate as those thousands of people nearly 100 years ago.

The next trick is to extract genes from fossilized dinosaur bones.  Or has that been done already…?

“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”  James 2:10 (NIV)

 Shana and I were studying this verse for Awana, and it necessitated a lot of explanation.  Somewhere in all the explaining I said something like, when you ask God to cover up all your badness with his blood then He can only see perfect goodness like Jesus, and you can be in Heaven with him.  Shana replied, “Can we do that right now?” Well, sure!  I didn’t even have to prompt her.  So we have a new member of the Family of God. 

It’s a lot easier to write about a vacation while it’s happening than in midst of the whirlwind of unpacking, laundry and schedules of “real life”.  On top of all the “real life” I also caught a cold or flu and missed my first day of work.  So this will just be a quick summary.

Our favourite beach by the Sanibel LighthouseOverall we had a very good vacation.  Probably the best we’ve ever done in terms of being relaxed, not trying to cram in all the activities we possibly could.  Our week on Sanibel Island was very relaxing.  A typical day involved a leisurely morning bike ride, lunch at some quaint local restaurant, building sandcastles at the beach, and lighting the hannukah candles back in the luxurious condo. 

Shana’s favourite activity was the bike rides.  She had one of those single-wheeled bikes that hooks up to the back of an adult’s bike, and she felt SOOO grown up!  Kenan’s favourite was playing in the living room with the Thomas train set we borrowed from friends.  Helen enjoyed eating out at a different restaurant every day–lots of fun local places to choose from, like the Bubble Room with its goofy waiters and thousands of nicknacks, the Island Cow which was just udder fun, and the Mermaid Kitchen with a delicious selection of cakes (and mermaids).  Mine was definitely building sand castles–Helen bought me Sandcastles Made Simple, and it was fun to try something bigger or fancier each day (and to try to involve the kids without destroying it).  We made a sandcastle, a dragon, a lighthouse and a sea turtle family.  Unfortunately with our computer out of commission our camera’s memory card filled up before the real sandcastling began so I captured them only in my carbon-based memory cells.

Aaah! He's escaping!The Gorilla’s escaping!
Sand dragonOur first large sculpture (note the life-like expression on her face).
Movie star materialMovie star material.
Playdough menorahWe couldn’t pack a menorah so we made one out of playdough.
Pool timePool time.

We saw tonnes of wildlife “lifers”:  alligator, manatee, a little tree frog that hopped onto Kenan’s arm, iguanas, dolphins, raccoons, a black snake, lots of little lizards, pelicans, lots of white heron-like birds and other long-legged and long-beaked birds.  We didn’t see the no-see-ums but they apparently saw us–Kenan was the most attractive to them, his legs were covered with bites.

The last week in Florida we were back in Orlando, staying at the Thousand Trails RV park in a tiny cabin, with Palm Tree Grandma and Grandpa (as our kids know them) across the way.  This cabin was TINY!  But it seemed that every detail was meticulously thought through and planned out to encourage renters to upgrade to the Getaway Cabins on their next visit.  From the sharp little screw sticking out just far enough to shred the toilet paper as you unroll it, to the bunkbed’s ladder that only fit snuggly if it blocked the door, to the fridge that could only be accessed by walking away from the kitchen and squeezing past the table into the corner of the room.  Oh well, we’d spoiled ourselves on the beach, we could rough it for a week!  🙂

The kids had fun times with G&G, Shana finally (and unexpectedly) got over her fear of water and would swim for hours in the beautiful large heated pool if we’d let her (with water wings), Helen and I got time to ourselves to watch Santa Clause 2 at the club house…  We all celebrated the last day of Hannukah (a day late) with Helen’s aunt/uncle/cousins/cousin’s kids, and all the kids hit it off great.  

Nate and JillianNate and Jillian
Lisa and KenanKenan and his girlfriend Lisa
Shana and LeahShana and Leah were inseperable
Kenan and ZachZach was great with all the kids

Later Shana would keep asking to see Leah while Kenan kept asking for Lisa!  I celebrated my first traditional Jewish Christmas:  a movie (Charlotte’s Web) and a Chinese restaurant–the only two establishments open on Christmas Day. 🙂

The flight home was long and tiring but uneventful.  We came home to a beautiful new house, as it was being painted while we were away.  Now we just have to get pictures re-hung and furniture moved back in place, but we’re nearly done.

Bedtime for the kids, I’d better go.