Monday, 28 August 2017

Weekly Column: Summer Fun in the City

Summer fun in the city

The end of the school year has now come to pass. Many of us have looked forward to it and limped across the finish line dragging an empty lunch kit behind us. No more school lunches, field trips, hot meals, morning race to the bus or struggle to get kids to bed on time. Summer is bliss.

And, of course, summer is expensive.

At the risk of repeating myself, it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to give your kids precious childhood memories. And while most parents strive to give themselves and their kids a few momentous experiences in a year, it’s really what we do together day-to-day that creates the overall tone of our lives.

The summer months look different for everyone. Many people will continue to juggle work with parenting, with the additional cost of summer childcare. Others will find themselves suddenly bombarded by their kids who are used to being stimulated at school every day. And for those that stay home with their littles, not much will change except for a desire to enjoy the summer weather and break up the monotony of the usual routine.

No matter the differences in our schedules, we are all left with the question: how can we create a memorable, fun summer without constantly overspending in the process?

Plan weekly themes

Sit down with the calendar and organize your summer into weekly blocks, taking into consideration any travel you might already have planned. How much time is left over? If you intend to spend most of that time locally, now visit some websites to begin filling in your spare time with free activities. Don’t forget the smaller towns surrounding Lloydminster—these places have unique activities and so much to offer without your having to travel far or stay overnight.

The Community Events Calendars found on the Lloydminster Library and City of Lloydminster’s websites are also good places to start. Midwest Family Connections and the Grace United Church have free programming available for children, and don’t forget the many playgrounds and parks in and around Lloydminster.

You might choose an age appropriate book for your children and use that as a jumping off point for crafts, games and movies. Let your child’s interests guide you. Charlotte’s Web could inspire some colouring, as well as a visit to the petting zoo or a local farm. At the end of the week, review what you learned together and what the highlights were before introducing the next week’s theme.

Ask around and incorporate local events into your weekly plans. Parades, chuckwagon races, rodeos and festivals of every kind will be passing through local communities. Pick and choose where to spend a bit of your summer budget and you will soon find that empty calendar filling up with lasting memories.

Now that you have an idea of what your summer will look like, are there any broad stretches with nothing to do? You might book swimming lessons or a summer camp, but remember that those boring days also build character. Constantly entertaining children doesn’t allow them to self-sooth and play and imagine. At the same time, be wary of allowing video games and TV fill their summer hours.

Have variation

Anyone that’s spent much time with kids knows that variety and a back-up plan are essential. Is everyone tired of the same old routine? Try some spontaneous fun like backyard camping and sleepovers with friends. Sometimes an impromptu wiener roast is even more fun than a planned event, and is usually cheaper and less work at the same time.

Car pool, pot luck and coupon

No one wants to come across as cheap, but if anyone in the Midwest hasn’t admitted times have changed perhaps it is up to you to fill them in. If you have friends you prefer to travel with, adjust schedules so you can ride together when possible. Keep coupons in the vehicle for any drive-thru you may find yourself visiting. Of course, pack your snacks and plan your meals, but save on those little treats wherever possible. Communicate with other adults and see if a potluck picnic can shave any of the cost off your day-trip plans.

Embrace the summer

Summers in Canada can be dreadfully short. We don’t want to take any of the fun out of these warm weeks by discouraging our kids or pinching our pennies too hard. But the reality is, there is always another reason to overspend. Many of us are still paying for Christmas. Don’t add to your problems by going overboard this summer.


With a bit of planning, parents can bond with their kids at local attractions while teaching them that adventure is a frame of mind. Find meaningful ways to connect while still spending responsibly.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Weekly Column: Planning on a Pet?

Planning on a pet?

Pets can be an essential part of the family. Just about all of us have fond memories of a childhood pet and playmate of some sort. Beyond companionship, having a pet teaches children responsibility, encourages compassion, and may even help prevent some allergies. If your kids are begging you for an animal to care for, all of the positives make it a hard proposition to resist.

There are many benefits to having a pet, and if the right one comes your way it is wonderful to welcome a new member into the family. Too often, though, families don’t take the time to evaluate whether an animal fits their lifestyle. As well, leaping into pet ownership without fully considering the cost is folly. No matter how alluring the idea of a pet might be, there are a number of things to save for before you take responsibility for another life.

All creatures, big and small…

…cost money. Before beginning to discuss what kind of a pet to get, you must first sit down and decide what you can realistically afford. Being led by your heart, or your kid’s, can lead to heartache if you find that a huge purebred dog and his vet and feed bills are bankrupting you.

 If you’re trying to keep a low budget, you might go the route of a fish. After the initial costs of setting up an aquarium, which you might find used, remember you will still have filters to buy and a tank to keep clean. Plus, you can’t hug a fish.

Pets also take time. Have you got the time and patience to house train a puppy? Or is the more aloof and independent house cat a better choice?

Do you work long hours, and will the animal be alone too much? Before you commit to the care of a beast, large or not, have you considered how it will affect your vacation plans? Have you got someone to do your chores while you are away?

And what of containment? Will you need to build a fence, in the case of an acreage owner that desires a horse or some sheep or goats? Where will you get your winter feed? Will these animals eventually need sheared, shoed, or sheltered? Who will do this, and how much will it cost? Are you comfortable taking on these tasks yourself?

And what of transport? Do you need a trailer, if you’ve gone big? Will you need help training your pet? If your kids are horse crazy, perhaps it is best to find someone with horses and give the kids a chance to work with large animals before you commit to the work and expense of keeping your own.

Man’s best friend

There’s no denying the comfort and companionship of a dog. Before you consider bringing one into your family, though, have a realistic look at what feeding and housing the animal is going to cost.
Many breeds have had costly medical conditions bred into them. Have you researched the common problems that come with that expensive pedigree? Are you passionate enough about the dog to sacrifice vacations and shopping trips down the road if you end up with enormous vet bills? Or would you give a mixed breed from a shelter a chance at a new life?

No matter how you slice it, there are costs associated with getting a pet. If you are unsure of making that commitment, there are still ways you and your kids can get involved with animals.

Volunteer, pet-sit, dog-walk

A great way for a family to decide if pet ownership is right for them is to look after a neighbour’s animal while they are away. Do you find it rewarding? Or does the responsibility cramp your style? If the kids can’t be bothered it is a good indication of what will happen when the “new” wears off a pet of their own.

The SPCA offers many opportunities for volunteers, from helping with fundraising to walking dogs or fostering animals that await adoption. Animal-loving kids could also ask for donations to the SPCA in lieu of birthday gifts—these kinds of actions exemplify a child committed to loving and caring for a pet long-term. If your child is serious and passionate about getting an animal, it can be a tremendously enriching experience for him or her—and one that deserves a spot in your family’s budget.


There is no denying the joy a pet can provide. For many families, saying goodbye to an old pet is devastating. When considering adding to your family, you must realize the costs and sacrifices that come with the fun and games. Choose a pet that you can afford to care for over the long-term, and enjoy every minute of that special bond.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Weekly Column: Advice for the weekend warrior

Advice for the weekend warrior

When the snow melts in the spring, many homeowners look around their property with renewed energy and see a number of projects that need attention as the days get longer and warmer. Whether it be painting a fence, replacing some windows, rebuilding a deck or installing flowerbeds, it is all bound to cost money before it gets done.

Anyone who makes their living in the oil patch knows that when there’s time for these projects, there usually isn’t money. And when you’ve got the money, you are working and don’t have the time. 

Spring break-up is a great time for that “honey do” list, but when your work is shut down with no definite date of return, it can and should be a time of conservative spending.

Of course, not everyone is putting in the extreme hours and distances of the oil patch workers. If you work a nine to five job with weekends off, the last thing you might want to do is get home from work and change out a toilet, or spend your weekend off struggling with a home repair.

And then there’s the farmers. Making hay while the sun shines is more than just an expression. It’s a way of life. Those jobs around the house, no matter how big or small, have to wait until the cows are out to pasture, the crop is in, the haying is done, and the list goes on. When there’s a break from the most urgent work there are still fences needing mended, machines needing serviced, and probably some tinkering do in the shop. 

You get my point.

What everyone has in common is that home and yard maintenance often gets left until the last minute. And when it does, it can cost significantly more to do when you are unprepared and disorganized.

Gathering the supplies to do a job around the house or yard can take as long as the job itself. Also, trying to purchase the necessary tools and hardware at the last minute is bound to cost more—if you can find it at all. Save yourself a headache by making some lists and shopping around. This can not only make the job go more smoothly, it can also save you time and money.

Prioritize

When deciding what jobs to tackle at your next opportunity, prioritize the most vital ones and leave the cosmetic touches for later. Yes, it would be nice to get that fence painted, but if you have a drip somewhere that has the potential to become a costly, inconvenient emergency, deal with it first. Once you have a good list itemized from most important to least, you can begin budgeting and pricing out materials for all of what you need.

Organize

At some point, most everyone has been caught off guard by the price of materials when they start a project at home. You can lessen the sticker shock, though, if you do your homework and call around for quotes on supplies. Whether it’s lumber or windows, a large price difference might exist between stores. Leaving your shopping for the weekend, also, might greatly increase your costs if some of the competition is closed. Make the effort to shop during the week if it will save you a great deal of money.

Likewise, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Check out kijiji and online trade and sell groups before you pay full price at the hardware store. Know your prices and decide if used is right for you. As well, consider listing anything you want to get rid of. That lime green tub, toilet and vanity combo you hate might be the retro look someone is going for.

Get your supplies and tools ready for when you have time to tackle the job. If that basement bathroom reno is waiting for a day of rain, have everything on hand if at all possible. Don’t spend your precious day off rounding up the necessaries.

Lastly, know when you’re in over your head. There are many home repairs and renovations that need to be up to code. Don’t create issues that will cause you, or a future buyer, costly problems down the road.


Nothing is more frustrating than realizing you have overpaid for things. When it comes to home maintenance and repair, you already don’t want your free time taken up with difficult and expensive extra work. Do your research. Figure out ahead of time what it’s going to cost. Set money aside for the project, then do your shopping, and tackle the job in a strategic way. Getting the most urgent tasks off the list will leave time for the cosmetic ones, and maybe even some rest and relaxation when the list is completed. 

Friday, 11 August 2017

Alignment

It's been too long since I've come to this space to centre myself.

Blogging used to bring me back to my foundation, or at least it felt so. In putting my thoughts and intentions into words here, I always felt clarity and grounded-ness return. I'm not sure of that now, nor am I sure why.

It all has to do with with actually following through on what one publicly declares, and the pernicious contradiction between introversion and the online world. I'm not sure I can go on with it.

At the same time, there are things left unsaid that I feel I will need to write out to understand...about life, motherhood, writing, gardening, and all the things that make me feel whole. And I have no problem sharing that, in fact, it seems in some odd way to help me. And there's the paradox.

It's been a summer of high expectations that no doubt had to fall short in some way or another. When you have such long winters it's hard not to lay the hopes and dreams of the whole year at the feet of a couple unsuspecting months of sunshine and tell them, "work, damn you. Make it all worthwhile!"

But of course summer can't do that. A garden doesn't simply grow and produce without weeds (and oh how many weeds). You can't just hit the end of the school year and drop everything and expect that only fun will ensue. When you abandon all the personal growth you've undertaken and achieved in increments over what seems like years, mowing down on chips and hotdogs and, yes, alcohol, all in the name of summer's freedom, it is hard not to come out the other side bereft and constipated and wondering what hit you.

I guess that's where I am right now.

I began the summer by throwing in the towel on my organic aspirations and buying a jug of Round-Up and poisoning thistles around my yard. You see, the thistle problem here has morphed into a situation that feels really drastic and hopeless at the same time. I haven't taken a single picture of what used to be my pride and joy. And I've felt unable to write about it because I've abandoned a principle that felt so important. And I felt that I've taken this blog and changed it and can't really return to it now that I've broken a sacred trust.

I felt like the couple readers I have would pick up and leave me, which you might.

While I'm confessing my sins I might also add that the spending this summer has also veered from my comfort zone. We've done more camping and I'd like someone to explain to me how food that you cook over a fire is so exorbitantly more expensive than that which you cook inside your home. I suspect it's all those chips. Whatever the case, a couple of shopping sprees where I justified the binge with the statement, "this is what we save all year for, kids!" has left me feeling completely out of whack.

I haven't been living in alignment with my values and it gets me every time.

I think I expected 40 to be an age where, though I might have insecurities regarding my looks and womanhood, at least I would have my proverbial shit together in a mental sense. And lately that just hasn't been the case.

The old truck I drive just cost a bundle of money to fix and the indecision whether to fix it or nix it feels like a twenty-something conundrum. But these situations are going to arise and no amount of writing about budgets and being proactive and the like is going to make the obvious choice stand out. And I guess I thought we were above these situations and decisions. But life still happens to those who budget. And when those who budget justify some major discretionary spending blowouts, coming back to earth hurts.

I allow this to happen to myself too often. I regularly exercise, for awhile, and recognize how good I feel when I eat right. I get more confidence and my body and mind and ideals are in tune with each other. For whatever reason, I derail when faced with temptation. Often, the sweets and sentiment of Christmas. In this case, the indulgence and allure of childhood memories at the lake. Missing from those pictures is the balance that allows me some latitude while also keeping me on the right track.

I can see now, also, that it was a mistake to abandon writing for the summer. I took a class and felt I had made some progress in the winter and spring. But this was an important summer in that both kids start school in the fall, and I felt that hunkering down with them was the best way to savour these days together. I intentionally set aside my writing goals and now feel it's impossible to regain my momentum. I can also see how hard the transition will be in September and I'm already freaking out.

Luckily, there is time. There is time every day to return to exercising. I have time right now to make a smoothie and sit on the deck visiting my guys. And there's a couple weeks yet to establish a routine that will help carry me over the bump in my road where two little boys get on the bus and I am alone for the day. That's a day I've pictured for years, sometimes with longing and often with trepidation. Right now I view it with something akin to terror, because I don't see who will be here alone without them. I don't see, right now, who that person is or how she will manage.

I feel like I allowed two months of summer, with no routine or goals, to derail my confidence and intentional life I'd been living. How silly of me to allow that to happen. But it is easily rectified. A trip to the library, plenty of books and snuggles, fresh air and exercise and some gentle self-care. I really let myself go this summer and I'm disappointed in how I veered from my course in almost every way possible. But it was me who had set the course to begin with, and me that must set it right.