Saturday, 29 April 2017

Fairies Welcome

The Easter Bunny brought my boys a few pieces of fairy garden furniture and a gnome and a little solar light each, and some packets of seeds. Now that it has stopped snowing (hopefully!) we have enjoyed a day outside in the pleasant sun.

A pond, of course.
Located next to the cold frames on the south side of our house

The top pond could theoretically overflow into the bottom pond
via the rock stream. I'm afraid the theory vs the reality is
blowing a 5 year old's mind

Fairies welcome, mate!

A spot for tea

The foot bridge
I don't know why, but I've felt somewhat tentative about getting started in the yard this year. It's been raining and snowing for weeks, which is enough to dampen the most enthusiastic of spirits. But I've been battling a case of the overwhelms, already, at the weed control, the unfinished jobs, and, frankly,the dog poo.

But there is something so delightful about imagining a little garden for fairies to visit while we are not looking. The sheer joy the kids have felt at building a little stream and firepit, walkways and a little door, reminded me that I, too, have a magical space for tea and flowers and pretty things and peacefulness. It doesn't have to be perfect, and it won't be. But it's our little spot to do what we want with, and enjoy the sun and summer together.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Weekly Column: Practical Money Skills for All

Practical money skills for all

How many adults say they wish they knew more about, or had done better with, managing their money? Considering few things are more essential to your survival and quality of life for yourself and your family, it’s baffling that people don’t do more to educate themselves on how credit works, understanding investing, or learning to save money and budget more efficiently.

But, maybe you can’t blame people for being overwhelmed or embarrassed by their lack of knowledge. If you didn’t learn budgeting skills while growing up, it can be like someone handing you a skill saw and asking you to build a dresser. Although a basic, vital life skill, it’s not second nature for people to know how to use their money wisely. If you’ve never had a productive conversation about saving and spending, then how can you be expected to make all the right decisions?

Lack of confidence might prevent people from learning to handle money more wisely. Maybe they don’t know where to start and are embarrassed to ask. But there might be more at play than just feeling inadequate.

Apathy is the numb lack of concern borne of feeling that nothing you can do will make a difference.

It’s the feeling of not being interested, and not caring. And if you’ve been in the hole long enough, or were born there, it’s not hard to imagine giving up and expecting nothing better for yourself.

There is much research to suggest that, once a person feels their situation will never change, people give up on trying to save or make wise financial decisions. The $10 meal at McDonald’s becomes the only pleasure you may get in a world of stress and deprivation. So, although $10 worth of groceries might feed you several healthier meals, people opt for the more visceral gratification (in this case, the unhealthy, expensive junk food) first.

In a perfect world, all children would get a proper education that included practical money skills. They would have the math skills to compare prices, understand credit, calculate interest, and the reasoning skills to know when they are being sold a raw deal.

This learning and mindfulness would carry on throughout their lifetimes and they would be able to defend themselves as well as possible against market fluctuations, economic downturns and lifestyle inflation. In a perfect world.

Sadly, parents aren’t always teaching their kids money skills and it’s not something you can leave to the school system. If your kids don’t see you budgeting and saving, why would you expect the school to teach it to them? How applicable is a school lesson on budgeting if little Johnny believes there is always more money to be had? If he doesn’t have chores? If he’s never had to save his money and buy his own gadgets?

It’s as easy as discussing why you buy generic brands at the grocery store. Or saving the recycling money to go to the movies. Conversations about money and value are only one of the ways to teach your kids about budgeting.

It’s never been easier to educate yourself on all sorts of things, money matters included.  The Internet has brought the library to your fingertips, you might say. Pay attention to the sources, and switch your reading habits to learning about saving and budgeting. Include your kids on this educational path.

Although created by Visa, the site is a wonderful online resource for families and schools. This site has games for kids to familiarize them with money and saving. There are even complete lesson plans for teachers to use in the classroom.

Be discerning. Ask yourself, is this site trying to sell me anything? Are there hidden obligations or costs to this program? If so, keep looking until you find free, educational resources like or to fill in the gaps in your money sense.

Start teaching your kids the important skill of budgeting and comparison shopping. Give them a small allowance and make them save it to buy what they want. They learn far more from saving and delaying gratification, rather than being handed what they want whenever they ask.

Many people do well with their money without much advice. A basic instinct to spend less than what they make and save for a rainy day has helped them through what life throws at them. But what about talk of interest and mortgage rates? Investing and taxes? At what point does the fine print exceed our knowledge, and how willing are we to give up some leisure time to learn more about handling our money?

Many of us need to learn more about finances. Don’t be scared, and don’t feel like your situation will never improve. Dedicate some time to your financial future.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Weekly Column: Rabbits don't lay eggs

Rabbits don’t lay eggs

Image result for easter eggs

As Easter approaches, stores have filled up with chocolate eggs and all the holiday paraphernalia that comes with it. Whether it is the $40 stuffed animals or just the sheer amount of chocolate consumed, the whole thing can get excessive and, frankly, the more you give a kid the harder it is to impress them.

On one hand, it makes sense to compare prices and try to get more for your dollar. In other words, shopping online for the treasures and treats that the Easter bunny will deliver, or comparing bulk vs prepackaged chocolate, or making your own desserts rather than buying ready-made. There are many inventive ways to get yourself the same lavish, over-the-top Easter feast that you were used to before the drop in the price of oil.

As parents, it’s hard to scale back spending on birthdays and holidays because you want to give your kids the best you can. Parents might be tempted to do without at other times and still push the boat out on special occasions. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But, if you’ve been struggling to get back on your feet, is it realistic to keep sacrificing in order to keep up appearances? At what point do you say enough is enough and stop the cycle of spending money you don’t have? And when do you allow your kids to adjust to the truth, rather than hiding it from them and perpetuating unrealistic expectations? Maybe it’s time to accept this as our new normal, and adapt rather than imitate.

Easter is a holiday that, for many, has become less about religion and more about the arrival of spring. To some, it’s nothing more than a week off school and a chance to eat chocolate. There comes a time when we, as parents and grandparents, must decide if we will just go with the flow and allow all our old meaningful holidays to be swept up in the current of consumerism or if we will take a stand against it and stop buying in.

What are your favorite Easter memories from childhood? A visit with grandparents? Possibly a walk through puddles or an Easter egg hunt? Did you travel to see family or did you have relatives stay over? Do you actually remember how much chocolate you received? Does it matter now?

If buying your kids a new super hero themed Easter basket every year, along with a set of fuzzy rabbit ears, a stuffy, a toy, the list goes on, is what Easter means to you, well, to each their own. But if you can’t afford it, maybe it’s time to reconsider the memories you want your children to take with them into adulthood and parenthood themselves.

How about a walk to collect pussy willows in a bouquet? How about a trip to the library (God save ‘em) for some books and a movie which you then read or watch together, never once glancing at your cell phone?

How about your children be in charge of making the meal, or help, with supervision, depending on their age? What will they remember better, that time they made gravy for grandpa? Or the time they scored some new sneakers from the Easter bunny? It’s hard to say, anymore. Maybe kids would hate that and dig in their heels about having to help. All the more reason to make them.

It seems like the more plastic there is involved in a holiday, the more commercial it has become and the further it has drifted from the original reason for celebration. If times are tough under your roof, why not return to some more traditional customs and forego the plastic Easter that has slowly become the norm?

Buy a dozen eggs and some food colouring and dye eggs with your kids. Let them take the lead and pick their colours and designs. Set up a treasure hunt that has challenges and tests skills. Make the focus of this Easter the people, not the stuff.

Let’s become a compassionate society and forego the Facebook and Instagram pictures of all the loot your kids got this Easter. Let’s make it socially unacceptable to splash materialism across social media feeds. Let’s frown on it.

Instead, show pictures of yourself doing things with your kids. Go climbing trees. Play at the park. Let those pictures characterize your timeline. Show off what you have done for others. Instead of showing baskets of chocolate and gifts that you have received, post only images of what you have given to those in need.

People are still hurting. There are kids that won’t get much this Easter, just like they didn’t get much for Christmas. But if they are given time and attention, it might be their most meaningful holiday yet. 

Monday, 10 April 2017

Courage, my word

Image result for the tragically hip
The Tragically Hip

It's been a significant few weeks for the introverted. I strongly disagree with the budget cuts (extreme cuts that will change the functioning of our little province's library system) that have been made in Saskatchewan. It was, to me, that one issue that might draw me out of the shadows to face my anxiety demons and take a stand and say "not if I can help it".

I've circulated a petition that asks to return funding to the 2016 levels. I've approached people I do and do not know, driven the gravel roads and gone door to door. I don't want to make this sound like too big of a deal, because when it became too much for me I allowed myself to stop. And I only had a few hours to do it. But I got some signatures and I feel that, looking back on this, I will be relieved that I didn't let the opportunity pass.

I also attended the Read In outside our local MLA's office, joined by some friends and family and other concerned library supporters. We were on the news. We will likely be in the paper. All of this is exposure that I dread with every fiber. Naturally it is also a position that puts me at odds with more conservative minded relatives that disagree strongly with my stance. In short, the whole thing stresses me out and has brought to the fore some anxious emotion.

It would be easier to allow this to pass, unmentioned. Courage. It didn't come, it doesn't matter. There have been moments when I really felt the pounding of my heart in my chest and thought, "courage, you couldn't come at a worse time".  But there is never a good time to make uncomfortable decisions and stand up for what you deep down believe in. There is also never a good time to let your values slide. 

This is a song that has taken on such dimension for me in the past weeks. For so many reasons. Read up on Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip if you are unfamiliar. 

I'm sure I'm not done putting myself in uncomfortable places for issues I care about. I'm sure I'm not done feeling like a basket case when I do. But dammit all, there's no simple explanation for anything important any of us do...the human tragedy is living with the consequences (Courage, The Hip).

Weekly Column: For want of a library

There is a proverb that goes something like this:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Around the Lloydminster area, we are familiar with the uncomfortable decisions that come with reducing spending. We get it. When you’re bringing in less money, you have to spend less money. It makes sense, and it’s what this column has been preaching for over a year.

This column has also been preaching that your local library is one of your community’s greatest resources. It is a place of inclusion—anyone can walk in and read a book, borrow a computer, or sit and study. It is a place where those without a phone or the Internet can still access these tools while they apply for jobs, look for childcare, or search for a home.

It is a place where parents bring their kids to get them excited about books and reading. When children borrow books, they learn to respect the property of others, they commit to a deadline and they become aware of the community around them.

In small towns, a library is still a thing of pride—a destination for local families that prioritize reading in their homes. While Saskatchewan’s Minister of Education, Don Morgan, feels that “the future of libraries is leaning towards electronic media,” many parents would agree that there is a decline in children’s behavior and attitudes when they are placed in front of a screen for extended amounts of time.

There is something to be said for reading paper books, which is hard to afford in an economic downturn like we have been experiencing. Yes, balancing budgets is important and worthy, but cutting libraries to this extent is taking resources from the young, the unemployed, and the marginalized people that consider the library a safe place of learning.

Whatever your child grows up to be, limiting their exposure to books now surely limits their reasoning and deductive skills later in life. Sure, they can google what they want to know. And when they do, they will have to discern for themselves what is really true. The Wikipedia page that you or I could update with our own thoughts at any time? The blog or fringe website of someone presenting themselves as an expert? There are plenty of hacks that have been published in print form, but visiting a library and exposing your child and yourself to a multitude of opinions gives you an opportunity to learn together while also becoming critical thinkers. Let’s not leave this kind of instruction up to our kids, alone on the Internet.

Perhaps these cuts won’t be the end of small town libraries. That’s hard to imagine, though, with these small main street entities already stripped down to a few hours a week. And that happened during the high-flyin’ fast livin’ days of the oil boom. If things pick up and Government revenues increase, will we ever see these little libraries reopen?

With regional libraries facing a 58% cut to their funding, programs such as interlibrary loans, e-books and literacy programming may be lost. If libraries can’t do kids programming, it’s possible that kids won’t have the same lifelong love of learning and reading. People in need will more easily fall through the cracks. The social costs of these cuts might actually be more expensive for the province and its tax payers in the long-term.

If you are passionate about books and feel libraries are an important resource in our small towns and in Lloydminster, learn more at Send a letter or email to MLA Colleen Young, Education Minister Don Morgan and Premiere Brad Wall—their contact info and a petition is provided through the link.

Or join us at noon on April 7th outside MLA Young’s office by Mary Brown’s on the East side of Lloyd—unit 2-4304 40th Ave. Bring a library book and express your concern.

Taking away libraries is like stopping buying fresh fruit and vegetables to save money. Sure, you will survive for the indefinite future. But will you be better off? Or would continuing to invest in healthy things now ensure that there aren’t gaps and learning deficits that are more expensive and harder to fix down the road?

Like the proverb cautions, in a budget of billions of dollars, cutting $3.5 million from such a necessary community resource is like neglecting the feet of your horses. What will be lost for want of a library?