Wednesday, 29 March 2017

What Does the Library Mean to You?

I've found, in my little blog universe, a like-minded group that has saved me, saved me, at times, from feeling utterly alone in seeking the life I want for myself and my family. Just knowing that so many people are on the same path, be they near or far, has been a comfort when I didn't feel my own passions and interests reflected in my immediate surroundings. I am so grateful to have these connections to people that I can "speak to" and, happily, I can visit their blogs to learn and commiserate and cheer them on in turn. This sense of community, albeit virtual, has been a turning point for my emotional well-being and overall sense of place and happiness.

Another thing that has been paramount to my adjusting to becoming a mom, my struggles with depression and anxiety, and my maturity as an adult has been the local library, wherever I have lived. I have lived in the city (not a big one, didn't love it) where I basically lived and worked and breathed the university library and archives as a student and research assistant. I was even in charge of a small college library in one of my former positions. I have tutored literacy and English as a Second Language at various local libraries and I'm here to say that the safe, welcoming space of a local library is essential to making connections between the literate and those who need assistance. If not for the local library, where will the working person who needs help with their English meet a literacy tutor? At a noisy coffee shop?

When I worked as a life skills and employment support worker for a developmentally delayed young lady, the library was one of our favorite stops because it was a place where she could access the computers, flip through her favorite magazines and check out books that we used in our weekly lessons. The local library is a place of inclusion, empowerment and learning.

More recently, the local library has been a lifeline for me as I navigate writing a weekly column in the local newspaper. I check out books to research much of what I write about, and I encourage my readers to visit the library rather than spending their money on books they can ill afford (it's a frugality column, and though I want to support writers as well, my advice is from the saving money standpoint).

More personally, the library has been a place for me to teach my kids about literacy, community, responsibility, diversity and public service. We use the local library almost weekly. Monthly, for sure. We attend the craft and story mornings and we visit to borrow books and movies. This teaches them to look after someone else's property and keep track of deadlines and respect rules. When we go to the library my kids see people of colours, religions and economic backgrounds they are not familiar with. This is a good thing. We see people that are out of work, using public computers in a determined quest to better themselves. Without these public spaces, where would all of this activity, learning and mingling of cultures take place?

In a world where we are increasingly afraid of each other, how are two farm kids going to be exposed to people that are different? And will they grow up to believe that different is bad, strange, scary or dangerous?

I write a column in the paper about making lifestyle cutbacks to counter the loss of work and wages that many local people have endured in the last several years. I am a firm believer in examining your spending, tracking it, and making painful, uncomfortable choices to bail yourself out. And I can see that the Saskatchewan Government feels it is making those same types of choices when it cuts funding to libraries. But I would ask, on behalf of the people who are out of work, who have possibly lost their jobs and homes and have reduced their cell phone bills and internet bundles, where are they going to go to look for work, improve their resumes, or read a book rather than give in to despair?

With an accountant's eye, one might look at provincial libraries and see a non-essential public service that can be pruned or, in the case of Regina and Saskatoon, eliminated completely (the Province cut all funding to the two largest city libraries, leaving it up to municipal taxes to support those major city libraries). But what will the ripple effects be throughout small communities who have only been able to remain open a few mornings a week? What about the town where we used to live, which only has a k-gr 8 school with no library, whose students traipse across town once a week to the tiny library we used to visit? Will that town lose its library, and thus the school lose its library as well?

If I recall correctly, that little library was only open 10 or 15 hours a week. But it was the community hub in a town of 200 or so people. There were kids crafts, a book club, a place for the town and surrounding farm families to borrow books. It was a place where a tired, depressed new mom went to connect with other grown ups. And it helped immensely.

I want to do something to raise awareness of what's happening. I also need to really sit down and read what the exact situation is. For now, I 'm wondering if anyone out there has ideas what Saskatchewan can do to protest and turn this around. If you are a resident of Saskatchewan, there is a letter writing campaign you can join. Please pass it on to like-minded people.

 Save Saskatchewan's Libraries

Please leave any suggestions you might have in the comments!




Sunday, 26 March 2017

Weekly Column: Girls just wanna have fun(ds)

Girls just wanna have fun(ds)

Did you know that, in their lifetimes, women need to save more money than men? Statistically speaking, women are likely to live longer, and therefore need to plan for a longer retirement. Not only that, many women take time away from their careers to have kids. While some women are comfortable staying home to provide their own childcare, others return to work and find that they’ve either been passed up for promotions, missed training opportunities or have otherwise fallen behind in their field.

In the event of a family emergency, it quite often falls upon women to take time off to help. Whether it’s a family crisis, helping with aging parents or helping the kids adjust to becoming parents themselves, women are more likely to sacrifice their wages and promotions due to family responsibilities. Most would say that being involved in their community and family is well worth it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it affects how much money you will make in a year and over your lifetime.

Additionally, in most industries, women are still not paid the same amount as men doing the same jobs. While there’s been progress in wage parity, it’s still harder for women to get promotions and raises no matter how hard they work. So, what’s a girl to do?

Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you

No matter your financial plans, don’t wait for someone else to get them started. Get professional advice on the most effective ways to save and invest, whatever your age. The strategy of a young lady fresh out of university won’t be the same as that of a 50-something divorcee or a widow facing retirement alone. A newlywed young mom has a vastly different reality than an upwardly mobile businesswoman. What they all have in common, though, is a right and a responsibility to plan for their own future and the future of any dependents they support.

Plan for debt

There are many different debts that a woman might incur over her lifetime. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, don’t let it stop you from saving a down payment, finding a property and purchasing a home. Get a roommate or turn the basement into a money-making suite if possible. Taking on student debt is quite likely an investment in yourself and your future. Sit down and plan how you’ll be able to pay for extra education.

When shopping for a vehicle, keep in mind the depreciation that happens the moment you drive a new car off the lot. Consider whether a used vehicle might suit your needs just as well. Do your research and watch for a used vehicle that still has warranty if you’re more comfortable having that security. At all times, think about how the interest you are paying on “stuff” might otherwise be going into savings. Don’t let your lifestyle choices of today eclipse your financial security in the future.

Diamonds (and gold) are a girl’s best friend

Not only women are intimidated by the stock market. However, if feeling that you don’t understand prevents you from building an investment portfolio, you are selling yourself short. Websites such as gogirlfinance.com and financialwoman.com can help boost your financial literacy. Meet with several financial advisers to discuss how you want to put your money to work for you. Don’t hire anyone who condescends to you—it’s your money and you should be comfortable talking to your investment professional.

Life is not a fairy tale

Things get complicated when you go from being a working woman, earning your own pay and deciding how to spend and save, to being a partner in a relationship. Combining incomes and households, whether in a marriage or common-law situation, is a serious endeavor. An honest discussion about financial goals seems a no-brainer, but not all couples know each others’ expectations or beliefs.

It’s true that many families have struggled to pay for necessities these last few years. Beginning a conversation about a woman’s financial needs might, at this point, seem moot. But, if you have some control over your household spending, perhaps you should start thinking of places to cut costs to save for your long-term future.

Perhaps you can educate your daughters or nieces on being financially independent. No matter whether you are single and working or in a committed relationship where all your needs are met, things change and unforeseen emergencies arise. The question is, will you be ready?

Having a solid safety net in place, for retirement and emergencies, only makes sense no matter your gender. But with lower wages and many factors drawing them out of the workforce, women need to be even more diligent and prepared. It’s never too late to come up with a plan.


Sunday, 19 March 2017

Weekly Column: The thing about sales...

The thing about sales...

End of season clearance sales are upon us. Savvy shoppers everywhere are sharpening their pencils and making a list of things they will need for next winter. Some things to consider are: what size do you expect your kids to be wearing? What do you have that can be reused or handed down? Sold?

Do you normally receive hand-me-downs? Are you comfortable checking with friends to see if the right sized winter clothing is coming your way? Doing some queries before you go shopping might save you a bundle, even if what you are shopping for is on sale.

Gifts and useful things

Other things you might find on sale right now are winter-themed dishes, bedding and knick-knacks that might be given as gifts over the coming year. Scarf and mitten sets, lined jeans and the like are cozy Christmas gifts and can be stored until next winter.

But don’t forget you’ve already purchased these items! And don’t continue to buy more gifts next year, just because you have forgotten how much you paid. If your price limit is $50 and the regular price of the item is $50, you have done your part. Even if the item was priced significantly less, don’t feel tempted to continue spending—commit to spending as little as possible.

Don’t be swayed

As the days get longer, displays of summer tops and bright new dishes might feel like a reward for making it through another winter. But what use have you for more stuff? Yes, you may want a few new summer things, but they’re likely to be full price at this time of year. Learn the value and price of things—if you don’t know the regular price you may easily be fooled into thinking a so-called sale at one store is a better deal than the cheaper, regular price at another.

If it is a cheaply made piece of clothing, why would you pay full price when it is probably going to be on sale before the weather is nice enough to wear it? Stores display full price inventory in the lead up to the new season—soon we will be bombarded by new summer trends. 

Dig out your last year’s wardrobe before deciding you need to shop. What fits, and what doesn’t? What will you do with the clothes you aren’t going to wear? Having a “one in, one out” policy helps some people curb their spending. Don’t allow yourself to bring any new articles of clothing into your home unless you can part with something you already have. 

Of course, donating to one of the worthy local second hand shops or swapping with friends is a good use for your discarded clothing. Or, if you’re really ambitious, you might plan a spring garage sale and try to recoup some of the money you have spent on items you no longer want.

Do your research

If you’ve been waiting to purchase bigger ticket items for your yard, say a lawn mower or garden tractor, compare prices at a number of different stores. Inquire about sales and warranty. 

Don’t jump into an impulsive purchase before you have read customer reviews and asked around. You may find a great bargain advertised on social media or kijiji. Take your time and wait for the best deal to come along.

Test yourself

If you are shopping for some new spring and summer things, don’t go over board. Ask yourself some questions before you pull the trigger on those purchases:

Will you still want this item in six months or a year? How about two years? Five? 

If you decided not to buy it today, could you be bothered to drive back to the store tomorrow to get it? 
They say that once a customer has held an item they’re much more likely to buy it—avoid handling the merchandise that you are browsing through.

Also, ask yourself if you might find the item used. Many things built years ago were better quality. If what you are thinking of buying is not something that you have been waiting and watching for, it is by definition an impulsive purchase. 

Choose to sleep on it. Decide if you wouldn’t be better off putting that same amount of money against your highest payment.

Shopping seasonally


Shopping for Christmas decorations after the fact is only one example of how you can save drastically by shopping off-season. To some, it might negate the excitement of the holiday, but for the frugal it is an opportunity to save. 

To be truly and completely frugal, though, you have to ask yourself if buying something because it is on sale is wise at all. If you don’t need it and won’t use it, your money is better kept in your pocket.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Back From the Deep

A few of you might remember that I was starting a writing class this winter. It's into the final week now, and what a fabulous experience it has been :)

Naturally, our Internet went kerplunk as soon as I was immersed in an online course. So it was both a challenge and a blessing to lose our contact with the online world. Posting to the class was a pain--definitely! But I think I maintained as much of a presence as my busier classmates did. The Internet came and went, you see, in drips and infuriating drops, wasting more time trying to log on that just. going. to. write.

So it turned out that losing the Internet for a month was helpful, in that I had to quit checking email, reading American news (!), and trying to log in to my blinkety-blank online course site and just go do the work of writing. And, let me tell you, that's harder than it sounds.

Does anyone out there remember the days of staying with a task from beginning to end, uninterrupted, for hours? Looking up at the clock and being shocked at how much time has passed? I do! Mind you, it was years ago, before I had kids. And also before the Internet and smart phones reduced my attention span to that of a gold fish.

After a month of very little connectivity, I managed to regain some of my work ethic and attention span. I'm now able to work for an hour, even two, at a time without checking email, logging into my class to check for new posts, or just taking a break to browse news sites. I have to wonder--how productive of a writer would I be if I could keep up this forward momentum? If I could make writing, real, nose to the page writing, my priority instead of turning on my phone to feed my brain more smut and intrigue from the online headlines?

I'm not saying we shouldn't keep abreast of what's happening. The worst thing we can do is bury our heads in the sand, now more than ever. But feasting on every detail of Trumpism, right down to the fact that he obscenely eats ketchup on his well done steak, is distracting me from this very important moment in my life where I set out on a journey of learning, discovery, and achievement. I'm not saying I'm going to selfishly ignore what's going on so that I may improve my writing. I want to refocus my attention on the certain issues that most worry me, and let those concerns inform me as a person and a writer and do something about it.

The ability to shut off the noise and concentrate and invest yourself in what you are doing is being lost. I go on social media rants all the time, so I'll spare everyone that. But in my constant sense of crisis these last months, I felt my ability to cope being threatened. I'll admit I've had issues with anxiety and depression in the past (who hasn't, really!) but it surprised me, and scared me a little, to have the old hollow, panicked feeling return. Racing thoughts, avoiding social situations, the works.

Then I sent a draft of a story to a friend for feedback and was disappointed with I what I heard. It affected me far more than it should have. But I am at the beginning of this learning curve and my feelings were hurt. Frankly, it was hard to get back in the saddle. But when it is hardest, I know this well, that is where the most learning is taking place.

I can't say for sure if the way I was feeling was due to a cold February, Trumpism, the headlines, social media (I'm not on FB, twitter, instagram), the emotional process of writing and editing a story over and over, or just depression rearing its ugly head, but I can say this--whenever I feel the panicked, untethered feeling of not knowing what to do or how to manage, it is time to sit down and talk myself off that ledge.


A quilt for my friend. See any yellow butterflies?


I had to take a break from working on my story. I knew that I wasn't giving up, exactly. Just that my mental health needed a reprieve. I worked instead on a quilt I've been making for a friend (after a day in bed. I actually didn't have the energy to move, and Husband was home to look after the kids. I had a good cry, milked it for awhile, then put on my big girl panties.But in my defense, I also came down with a brutal flu!)

This quilt is significant in many ways. My friend and I have been very honest with each other about our separate journeys through depression. She has done so much better since reading that it helps to give yourself a symbol to watch for--that reminds you of something good, or that you will be fine, whatever. That's my understanding of it, at least! But she began to notice yellow butterflies around her, everyday. And I can attest to this. I have been with her every where and noticed yellow butterflies appear out of nowhere in the air, or on paper, pottery or photographs. It's uncanny.

My own process is the careful sewing and pressing of fabric. It brings me back to earth, out of the flights of anxiety that seem to take me off my feet. As much as I didn't feel like getting started, it helped me immensely this February to return to a project I abandoned in the spring once I got gardening.

And while I was sewing and pressing, sewing and pressing, I had time to ask myself what is at the root of my anxiety? Why, oh why, after years of calm, am I so shaken?

I always ask myself if my actions are in sync with my beliefs. As soon as they are not, I spiral into a bit of a funk. I just really can't stand how I feel in the pit of my stomach. And this is possibly because in the past my actions were out of line with my beliefs. I can't tolerate it now. So if it is a social situation where I find myself behaving differently around certain people, whether to impress or to show off, I am a basket case. I have to step back from some interactions but I am still processing and figuring out how to do it.

And in my forwarding a draft of a story around, and getting my feelings crushed in the process, I have to admit that I was searching for an "atta girl" rather than truly seeking growth and learning. It was tough but to be a writer one must find a thicker skin. I'm going to get better at detaching!

Over and over again, when my belly tells me something is not right in my world, I ask myself whether I seek meaning or approval. Have I been hoping to get noticed? Would I like recognition, praise, admiration? Or would I like to work on myself from the ground up, from the calloused feet to the greying hair, and be the very best version of myself that I can be? Because I won't find my best self in someone's compliment. I'll find it when I unplug from distractions, keep my family close and let into my world people that are on the same journey.

If you have ever suffered from anxiety, I hope that it helps you to find a hobby, activity or symbol that comforts you when it gets bad. Retreat from the noise, if possible. Practice things that calm you down. Talk to someone. It may help to explain to your kids what is going on, if you have them. They may end up traveling a similar path and it can only help them to remember the ways you coped and were open about how you felt. At the same time, don't burden them with too much information. Keep it age appropriate. I'm not a professional, so seek out professional advice. My situation is mild and only pops up from time to time. But there's no reason to be ashamed.

The other night, with Daddy going back to work for 10 days in the morning, I explained to my 7 yr old that I always make us special food the day that Daddy leaves. To make us feel better. Because it is sad when he leaves. And it's okay for us to feel sad. But it is also important to realize why we feel sad, and do things to make ourselves feel better. For us it is board games and stories, chicken nuggets and popcorn. Hey, whatever works, right?

I'm out of my February Funk. Rising back out of the Deep. At the same time, I'm ready to face the year with renewed determination to unplug from what distracts and upsets while still learning about and fighting for causes that are important. I can't fight every battle for every person and remain whole. But I can fight for some and save myself in the process.







Friday, 3 March 2017

Weekly Column: A Routine Saves You Money

Routine saves you money

Have you ever had a day where you spent far more money than you had planned? Of course, there are always days where unexpected things happen—break downs, accidents, unplanned-for expenses. That’s a reality of life. But what about the days where you leave the house as usual and yet, every time you turn around, you are opening your wallet for unnecessary, incidental spending?

Why did you end up spending on those days? Could it be because you were in a hurry, flying from one obligation to the next, without time or energy to properly plan how to get through the day without overspending?

A disorganized morning might lead to sending the kids money to buy their lunches. While you’re rushing around, a coffee and breakfast sandwich from a drive thru might get you through your stressful morning. Why not treat yourself to lunch? After all, you woke up behind the game and by this time your breakfast has worn off, leaving you feeling hungrier than ever. After work you meant to get groceries but forgot about junior’s practice. Just grab a quick ready to serve meal and rush on to your evening of obligations, leaving groceries for another day. You will have to repeat this process in the morning because there’s no food for a proper breakfast or to make lunches. Does any of this sound familiar?

The fact is, it costs money to be unorganized. Everyone has days where a whirlwind suddenly takes over, so don’t feel guilty. But it’s a simple fact that frugality takes effort. Yes, some people have a natural tendency to watch how much they are spending. But they do the work to back it up. And most of them would admit that they don’t like chaos, and being prepared helps them cope with what life throws at them. While this preparation might include savings and retirement plans, it also includes small daily things like having meat thawed to cook for supper or keeping some meals frozen for hectic days. It might entail keeping a bag of trail mix in your glove compartment rather than zipping through the drive thru whenever someone gets hungry (which is all the time if your kids think they can talk you into it!).

Late payment charges, take out meals, unnecessary trips to the store (or town if you live in the country) could mostly be avoided or eliminated by getting organized. Please note—missing a payment because you don’t have the money is different than missing a payment and being charged interest because you forgot about it. If you wish you had more time and money and feel that you should be doing better with the money you earn, perhaps it’s time to take a serious look at your routine.

It pays to get organized

In many cases, sticking to a regular routine prevents splurging and overspending. If you can plan a weekly grocery day rather than popping in to the store whenever you think of something you need, you are likely to leave with fewer impulse buys. Likewise, keeping a list of what you need and running most of your errands in one or two trips every week also curbs the temptation to stop for a coffee, grab a bite, or check out a store while you are out.

Essentially, putting some thought into what you need beforehand helps you stick to a plan (and budget) while you do your business around town. A benefit of being more organized is that you might have more time at home doing things that you might otherwise hire out, like lawn mowing, snow shoveling, dog walking or house cleaning.

Prepare your morning coffee the night before, lay out the kids’ clothes, do a ten-minute tidy-up before bed. If you can eliminate a bit of chaos from your routine, you will allow yourself the time and clarity to make better decisions through out the day, including how you spend your money.

Write it on the calendar

Many businesses give away calendars or day planners at the start of the year. Look around for these freebies, or try setting reminders on your phone or computer. Only spend money on a day planner if you really intend to use it. Remember, all of the little gadgets and apps you buy to help organize yourself add up. Commit to using one and check and update it daily.

Add work meetings, kid’s events, bills and paydays to your schedule. Plan around the most hectic times by getting prepared beforehand. Schedule in your grocery shopping. Make menu plans. Keep daily and weekly lists of what you must get done. You might find there is more time for fun, too. Be more efficient with your time, and efficiency with your money will follow.