Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The first workout

After a profitable meeting with Cristy a couple of weeks ago, I did my first at-home workout on the plan she made for me. This is what it looked like:
-lunges with a twist (holding a 5 lb free weight): 2 sets of 10
-hamstring curls on stability ball (the pink one Hannah got me- thanks, sis!): 2 sets of 10
-chest flies with 5 lb weights on stability ball: 2 sets of 12
-bicep curls: 2 sets of 12
-tricep kickbacks: 2 sets of 12
-crunches on stability ball: 2 sets of 12

There was also a one-armed row using the weight bench, which I omitted because a) the weight bench is in the basement, and I'm not; and b) I didn't find it worked the muscles it was supposed to work, and it seemed like the kind of thing that could bring injury if not done properly.

Altogether, my workout took half a Starfield CD to complete (just under 25 minutes), and baby D's been napping in her crib the whole time. (It's amazing how waking up early means she takes two decent naps in a day rather than little twenty-minute siestas here and there.) A couple of things I need to do next time: first of all, wear shoes. My balance isn't as good without them, and I know it leaves me a lot more open to injury if I'm not suitably shod. Second, I have to do the requisite stretching at the end. Which I think I'll go do now; I was just so excited about this that I had to post right away!

To sum up:
At home workout...
Personal trainer: 35$/hr (I had purchased 3 hrs, for a total of 105$)
Stability ball: gift
Free weights: purchased for maybe 10$ a number of years ago
Motivation required: put on gym clothes, go downstairs, set up music on laptop
Total of 115$, good until my muscles get too used to the exercises (but I can also mix it up with the pre-baby workout I had, or any exercises I find in magazines or online)

Vs gym membership...
50$ per month
Motivation required: put on gym clothes, drive 15 minutes each way, remember to bring pass and MP3 player
Total of 600$ a year

Considering my current workout is all paid for, I think I'll take the former for 115$, Alex!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

High chair, low price

As baby D gets closer to her half birthday, we've been slowly preparing for her to start on solids. We received a lot of the things we need as gifts (spoons, dishes, bib, as shown in photo) and freebies (rice cereal from a Nestle giveaway I signed up for when I was pregnant), and we've had a lot of good advice from friends (make your own baby food, from grain cereals to vegetable purees) and one registered dietician (breastfeed until baby is 6 months old to ensure full GI tract development). The big-ticket item we still needed was a high chair.

Over the past few months, when we need something for D or for us, I try to check out lots of options that don't involve actually buying new. After establishing what we want/need specifically, I look to online classifieds and thrift stores first of all. I've had a lot of luck with Used Ottawa (like Kijiji, but I find it more user-friendly): I've found a food processor for 15$ (and I use it almost daily), a breadmaker for 40$ (and I use it two or three times a week), a gently used solid wood crib and change table for 250$ (D uses those pretty frequently). I also glance at discount department store flyers (Zellers, Walmart) to see how they compare to higher-priced retailers (Toys R Us). I think we've saved a fair bit so far by taking these simple steps.

For D's high chair, I wanted something solid wood, which was just my personal preference; I find plastic high chairs look too fussy and hard to clean. Wood is a classic, as even I had a wooden high chair growing up (which my parents still have, and which they are fixing up to use when D's at their house). The used ones I saw online were around 100$, which was significantly more than I wanted to spend. As for new, Graco makes one for 200$ and Carter's has one for 180$. Wow, what a steal. On the way home from Bible study yesterday, I stopped by a thrift store that I've driven past for ages, but never stopped in. A friend of mine had told me to check it out, as she had found some great baby stuff there. I walked into the baby section, and right away I spotted it. A solid wood high chair, painted bright yellow. The tag read 15$. I bought it and now it's in my garage, awaiting a few touch-ups, like a paint job (although really, who doesn't love a good circus tiger) and a new clip belt.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

That's what you get, folks, for being honest!

As you all know, I'm on maternity leave from my teaching job, and I will not be returning in the fall. I'm receiving EI from the government for being on leave at the moment, and it's going to help us pay the bills next year and beyond, when I no longer have money coming in consistently. I posted recently about initiatives I've taken to bring in more money, like tutoring and doing the odd bit of secretarial work. Apparently, this complicates my EI benefits more than anyone could possibly imagine.

I figured, well, since I'm tracking how much I make from these little jobs, and since I'm going to be claiming it on my income taxes for 2010, I'd better let the EI people know about it. One phone call let to completing an online report (required on the weekend, I might add), which then prompted me to call a 1-800 number to speak to a representative (during regular business hours, thank you very much), who directed me to print and fill out a form to mail to my nearest processing centre. The reason for all this? My tutoring is self-employment. Do I have equipment and premises? What are they worth? Is this my primary source of income? Would I work at this full-time if possible? Why not? And on and on for two pages.

The upshot of all this: my payments are suspended until a decision can be reached on whether or not I still deserve to get 350$ a week from the government, now that I'm rolling in 50-90$ a week from tutoring. Sheesh. It's meant to take about 21 days. Darn good thing I'm not relying on this money to pay bills NOW or anything! I could very easily have accepted the cash I was paid, not notified the government, not claimed it on my taxes, and in all likelihood, they would never know. But I would know. And so would the little person watching my every move, whom this money is going to support. Lesson learned: being honest pleases God, not men. Fortunately, my motivation to be honest comes from the former.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The only gym for me is Halpert

When I was pregnant with baby D last year, I signed up for three sessions with a trainer, Cristy. The first one was to learn some safe and effective exercises to do during my pregnancy, the second was to make sure I was doing said exercises properly, and the third was for post-baby fitness. I hadn't seen Cristy since April, until today. I had asked her to create a workout I could replicate at home using equipment I already have (free weights, exercise ball, weight bench) because I've been thinking for awhile now that my gym membership has overstayed its welcome.

It was May of 2008 that I first started going to the Y, and it was to get fit and have more energy; I didn't have any set weight goal or anything. I chose the Y because it was ridiculously close to my house at the time, and I felt better about contributing to a community-based organization than a corporate gym whose goal is to make money by pressuring potential and existing clients (not that I'm bitter at Goodlife for trying to finagle me out of money).

I generally made pretty good use of my membership: I tried to go around twice a week, and I'd stay for an hour each visit, doing a combination of cardio (via elliptical or recumbent bike), weights, and abs (with limited results). From my due date until eight weeks after baby D's birth, I suspended my membership, and from that time until now, I've been back at the gym off and on. More off than on, as it turns out. Since my monthly fee is just a smidge over 50$, I decided that money would be of more use elsewhere in our budget.

The plan now: doing my new workout at home twice or three times a week. I'd also like to try and run, which will shock anyone who knows me well. I make no bones about the fact that I hate running. Three weeks ago, I went running with the hubby and the babe (in a stroller that he pushed), and really enjoyed it, aside from the running part. Nevertheless, I'm going to give it a good shot. Our neighbourhood is pretty conducive to running, with a good amount of sidewalks (although usually only on one side of the street, with no rhyme or reason as to when they switch to the opposite side) and the odd gentle hill (which feels like a straight-up incline if you're me). I did run with my mom yesterday, and even then I felt a lot better than I did during and after the original run. As a supplement to any running, I'm also going to walk with my main girl baby D, since she loves her stroller and I love a good walk. Seriously, put me on a 5 km walk instead of a 2km run any day.

In general, I just want to incorporate fitness into my daily routine, rather than having to go to a specific place to get fit. The real kicker was this run with the hubby: he hadn't done any running since a few weeks after baby D was born, and I had been going to the gym pretty regularly since she was 8 weeks old. He totally outran me, and wasn't nearly as drained as I was at the end. That illustrated to me that ellipticals and recumbent bikes bear no resemblance whatsoever to actual cardiovascular exercise. I guess I was lulled into thinking I was fit because I did my little one-hour circuit twice a week, when really, I should be trying to get thirty minutes' exercise a day.

In other news, I just finished the lacy cowl (aka neckwarmer) I was knitting for my parents' friend B. I probably should have prefaced that post by saying that I am a knitter; it's not like I just decided to pick up the hobby in order to cheer up B. Anyway, the pattern was 61 rows, and it took me two and a half weeks. For someone who's been knitting for almost four years, that's abysmally slow. However, I am also the full-time caregiver for the cutest fifteen pounds I've ever seen in baby form. So I'm not going to beat myself up about it. The cowl is drying at the moment, and will be delivered at some point this weekend. It looks really pretty, and I think next time I'll make it in a solid colour rather than a variegated yarn.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Bringing in more money

While I don't want to work full-time, I very much like the notion of making money by using skills I already have. Exhibit A: Tutoring. I just started tutoring in French this January, and I have two students. Both are young professionals seeking to increase their proficiency in French.

One student is a family friend, and we talk over Skype, which is ideal because it's so flexible! She mainly wants conversational practice (and I speak to her exclusively in French), with some grammar exercises thrown in, so whenever written communication is necessary, we can type in the conversation box. On a number of occasions, baby D has been fussy during our sessions, so I can easily feed or rock her while continuing to tutor. I also look really cool wearing a headset, although it's been a bit of a hindrance lately as D has started grabbing at the cord.

My other student is my sister-in-law-to-be, who has an internship and is living with my parents at the moment. We have our sessions face-to-face, which isn't too hard to arrange since we're often at their place anyway. She's enrolled in a class through her work, so my tutoring is supplementing that. We do a lot more writing and pronunciations, and I speak mostly in English to explain various grammatical constructs. Again, if D is fussy, I can feed or rock her, or my parents will hang out with her.

Aside from the financial advantage of tutoring, there's also the opportunity for me to maintain my level of French and explore teaching resources. I've always found it beneficial for my own learning to explain concepts to others, so this is helping me stay sharp. I speak French to baby D, but her conversational skills, as a 5-month-old, are pretty limited. One day, I do want to return to teaching French Immersion, and practicing French will help make that a reality. Also, check out my world-travelling sister's recent blog post to discover why you need French in your life.

There are a few other money-making ideas I'm kicking around: part-time receptionist work (I've been back to my old job at my dad's office for a couple of Saturday shifts, and I always enjoy my time there), catering (which I did two summers ago, and enjoyed somewhat), set-up and tear-down for events at our local concert venue, etc. I feel a lot better about staying home, knowing that I can increase our cash flow if needed, especially once my mat leave is over.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Supporting local businesses

With my youngest sister in town this week on spring break, we've spent some time together, including a belated birthday dinner out last night and a trip to one of our local sugar bushes today. Dinner last night was at a new place in my end of the city which featured stone grilling. For the uninitiated (which included me until yesterday), stone grilling is what happens when a raw steak (or whatever meat/seafood you order) is brought to your table along with a slice of lava rock heated to 750 degrees, and you sear it to your liking. I cooked mine all at once and put it on a plate because I had also ordered seasonal veggies, and they needed to be cooked as well. Everyone else cooked a bite at a time, and that way the meat was always hot and fresh. We all found our steaks to be incredibly delicious! Our server was a lot of fun, too- he was actually a patient of my dad's. Also, we got there before my dad (who took his bike) and, having been told by Rachel that it was Middle Name Appreciation Day, we decided to go by our middle names for dinner; when we told our server, he was right on board and immediately told us his middle name (Michael) and asked to know ours. (It was a bit tricky that Rachel and baby D have the same middle name, but we worked it out.) All in all, it was an amazing dining experience.

Here's the thing: the restaurant was about as expensive as your average chain steakhouse (i.e. the Keg, Baton Rouge), but it was an unfranchised local business. This really surprised me, because my part of town is a more recently developed suburb, and almost all we have are chains. I probably wouldn't have thought to go there, but knowing that now, I'd be more likely to go again or recommend it to friends. The only snafu was that the hostesses were really inappropriately dressed, even more so than the ones at Moxie's.

On the flip side, Rachel, her boyfriend and I (with baby D in tow) took to a sugar bush about 45 minutes outside of town. After walking one of the trails, we were going to go for a sleigh ride when we saw a sign that said it cost 2$ for adults and 2$ for children (not redundant at all). So 8$ for all of us to hop on a 15-minute sleigh ride? Even my 5-month-old daughter? We decided against it and went in to the restaurant to get some food. I remembered from my last visit there (granted, a couple of years ago) that the meal prices were pretty outrageous. You'd be paying about 10$ including tax for a pancake, a sausage and a beverage. We decided against that, too. Here's what we did instead: we bought maple syrup from the gift shop, stopped to pick up breakfast sausages on the way home (oops, not a shopping week, but I did refrain from buying anything else, which was a personal victory). We cooked up our own breakfast at home (at 3pm, but really, when is breakfast ever not a good idea?).

Here's the thing: I'm happy to support local businesses, but I had a hard time with the sugar bush charging so much for meals when nearly everything else there costs money, too: taffy on the snow, sleigh rides, face painting. For a family of four, it would cost upwards of 60$ for the day, including the gas to get out there. A similar outing won't be possible for our family in a few years. All the same, I was pleased with our modified trip there, and we certainly got some cute pictures out of it!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The downside of cheap phone/internet

When the hubby and I were cutting back on expenses last year, we decided to switch internet service providers. There was a company who advertised particularly low rates, and we wanted to try them out. We looked into it and found out you had to sign up for a year, and their rate of 39.95$/month for home phone and high-speed internet would go up after the first three months (to 56.90$), but it still wouldn't be as high as our previous rate (75$). So we went for it.

I can't remember the first time we lost service, because it's happened so many times since! Certainly, the scariest time was a period of several days around my due date with the babe. Incidentally, she was born at home (planned, not accidental), but if we had needed to call an ambulance, what would we have done? From a quick mental tally, I estimated that in D's first five months of life so far, we've lost our phone and internet (because they're linked, so if one's out, well, so is the other) five times, or once a month on average. Sometimes it's for a few hours, and sometimes it's a few days.

One of the worst things about it is that we don't necessarily know right away, unless we're trying to connect to the internet. I've been at home all day and had people trying to call me, and didn't know until later. In addition, we have a shanty little answering machine that I love; I've had it since first year university, and I love that it's a physical machine (as opposed to voice-mail), it's easy to use, and it doesn't require a password. Guess what happens when our phone is out? You get our Distributel voice-mail, which we didn't sign up for, and for which we have not been given a password. So then we don't actually have access to messages people have left. We requested that the company either take away the voice mail service altogether, or please give us the password. The agreed to the latter, and gave us the wrong password. Gah!

The hubby had complained to them before, but I decided to do it for myself after our last interruption in service, which lasted a full day last week. I wrote out my talking points (so that I wouldn't freak right out and start yelling, which accomplishes nothing), and asked to speak directly to a manager. My main concern was that, being at home with my daughter all day, I was genuinely curious as to what they expected me to do in the event of an emergency requiring me to call 911, if my phone was out. The manager I spoke to was very nice, but he didn't really have an answer for me. The point of my call, aside from voicing my concerns, was to let them know we wouldn't be renewing our contract with them.

We're looking into going back to our former provider, but with a slightly slower internet connection. It's looking like it's be just over 60$/month, which seems okay, given that we've never had interruptions of service with this provider in the past. We'll see how it turns out... in May, when our contract is up!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


My profile picture, as well as the one to the left here, come courtesy of Jamie, a photography student at a local college. For a project in lighting, she needed to photograph a stranger, and she is currently living with her aunt, whom I've worked with at my dad's office. I was available for the timeslot she needed to fill, so there you have it! She did a great job, especially considering there were two other photoshoots going on in the room at the time (and their flashes would sometimes trigger hers). She was really easygoing and flexible about the time it took.

Thanks, Jamie! You're going to be a great photographer.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

On hospitality

Just a quick post today, my lovelies! For the past eight weeks or so, I've been participating in a multi-generational Bible study based on Titus 2, which, among other things, sets out what the older women in a church are to teach the younger. It's now the final week of the study, and we're focused on hospitality. One of the questions asked in what ways we've been encouraged or discouraged by various influences, including family, church, North American culture. I thought about my own family (my parents and siblings), and what immediately came to mind were friends of theirs who have come to be like family. These friends (a husband, wife, and the wife's mom) are refugees in Canada, and we've known them for about three years. The wife, B, is battling breast cancer for the second time, and is currently in hospital with an infection. It's also becoming clear that she has months, not years, to live.

When my parents went to visit B and her husband T in the hospital, B actually gave them a gift! This is characteristic of her generous nature: despite limited funds, she gave my husband and I a housewarming gift when we moved last year, and a sweet outfit for baby D back in the fall. She loves to entertain people for meals, and spends all day preparing incredible food in incredible amounts.

The last question in this week's study: can you think of one way you could show hospitality to someone at this time? I thought about B. My first instinct was to knit her something soft, warm, and pretty. Then I remembered a pattern I had seen. And beautiful wool a friend had given me. And how God doesn't require anything but a willing heart when it comes to sharing with others. So that's what I'll be doing for the next little while.