Getting Back into My Books

The past few years, while living up north, I made it a habit to read a lot. I was a voracious reader growing up, but, like most adults transitioning into working life, the habit fell by the wayside.

The north was a perfect place for reading. Lots of time, lots of silence, lots of solitude. And with my full time job as a high school teacher, it was helpful to have enough disposable income to afford an Audible.com membership. I found a lot of new books through this company and got into books by comedians (i.e. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Jim Gaffigan, Mindy Kaling). I consistently surpassed my goal of 15 books a year, and marked it on GoodReads.com:

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And then 2017 rolled around.

I struggled with reading. I couldn’t sit and get through a single book within 2 weeks. I kept seeing more books and would start them without finishing the others. Soon I had a giant stack of half-finished books and a wave of anxiety that there was no time to read them all. Needless to say, I felt frustrated.

I attributed it to bad habits. I had trouble focusing. Well, it’s probably because I’ve got so much going on this year – new job, moving out of the north, moving to Waterloo, adjusting to a new city, etc. etc. The excuses went on and on.

Deep down, I knew I had time. I always had time for a book because they so beautifully fill in the cracks to our days, but I blamed my lack of focus and left it at that.

And then I read this page out of Manoush Zamorodi’s Bored and Brilliant* and it – figuratively speaking – scared the poop out of me:

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So it wasn’t just me.

Even famous journalists, writers, literary artists, scientists, politicians and neuroscientists were suffering the same fate. I wasn’t the only one who was having issues with deep reading. I was not alone in this.

And a couple of weeks ago I vowed to dive back into reading.

Deep reading. Everywhere reading. Reading on a daily basis. Reading for short bursts. Carrying my books to read when I was waiting in a line. Reading when I was waiting to be addressed at a service desk. Reading during a meal. Reading in the morning. Reading before bed.

And magically, I felt my focus come back.

It was alarmingly fast and yet noticeable. It was shocking the difference I felt. Not only that, but the wave of anxiety was not replaced by a wave of great relief. Relief that that part of me didn’t die or disappear altogether. Relief that I still love reading. Relief that I learn so much from these books and that I get joy from it.

Well, I better damn well get my act together if I am going to get through Lena Dunham’s Not That Kinda Girl, Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist and Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers before the end of November. 

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Gotta run, I have a book to read.

*The book is based off of a series of interviews from the WNYC podcast, Note to Self

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Indian dish of the Day: Rajma

Back in January, I bought the Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen cookbook. I’ve made spiced roasted tofu and vegetables (p. 48)*, Dad’s favorite cauliflower potatoes (p.60) and easy curried green beans (p. 84). Tonight, I tried making rajma for the first time, otherwise known as kidney bean curry (p. 124).

Unfortunately, I was missing amchoor, dried fenugreek leaves and carom seeds. Several websites I found suggested that carom seeds can actually be substituted with thyme instead!

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I used canned kidney beans and canned tomatoes, since I didn’t have time to soak beans and fresh tomatoes in the north are very expensive. The preparation was fairly straight forward and the final product was still tasty; J. was a bit fan and had a hearty serving. This was a success – simple and nutritious. I could easily make a big batch of this for my workweek.

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I’ll have to retry this recipe with all the ingredients, just to see the difference.

*I made this recipe with cow’s milk yogurt as I didn’t have vegan options

 

Aloo Gobi and Raita

Decided to try a new recipe from the Vegan Richa cookbook, which I had purchased back in January. Last month, I tried two recipes, but had been busy the past while and hadn’t touched the cookbook again.

Flipping through the cookbook, I wanted to make sure I had every ingredient for any recipe I tried. Generally, I enjoy aloo gobi at Indian restaurants, but had only attempted to cook it using random recipes off the internet. On the couple of occasions, I’ve  not had success with a solid recipe that I really liked.

I was cautious and not feeling confident that this would be any better, but this recipe was pretty spot on!  Here is the end result, with garam masala and fresh cilantro sprinkled on top:

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I also ended up making some (non-vegan) raita too.* We made some brown rice, plus some (microwavable) pappadums and sliced cucumber as an informal salad. I also wanted a second dish and not having the energy, just heated up some instant vegetable curry from a bag. It was a pretty good spread!

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*Argh, I forgot J. doesn’t really like raita and the fact that this has black salt, which makes a sulphury/eggy smell, he definitely was not going to eat it. Guess I will have to finish it on my own.

New Indian Recipes

On Sunday afternoon, I tried two recipes from Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen cookbook, which I purchased from Indigo a few weeks ago.

First, I tried to make Spiced Roasted Tofu and Vegetables, which uses a tandoori-like yogurt marinade*. It is then oven-baked (or grilled) to get the flavour into the tofu and vegeables. I didn’t end up making the dipping sauce, but the yogurt marinade itself was amazingly delicious and I found myself dipping everything into it!

Secondly, I made the Easy Curried Green Beans, which was fairly simple and fast. Both recipes turned out well and I must admit that the flavouring was quite spot on.

For now, I don’t think I’ll repeat either of the recipes. They were alright but I wasn’t in love with it. I’m just happy to find more recipes that require black salt because I had only ever had it on hand to make tofu scramble!**

It was a pretty chill evening, since I finally finished my Additional Qualification course last night (around 2 a.m.). J. and I ate our dinner while watching the first episode of WestWorld.

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*Ashamedly, I ended up unveganizing this because I didn’t have non-dairy yogurt on hand. 

**Black salt has a strong sulphurous smell. In Indian cooking, it can also be used to mimic an egg-like smell or create a sour taste in dishes.

Taking Steps Towards Budgeting

On Wednesday night, feeling restless and unable to sleep in the wee hours of the morning, I sat on the couch with my laptop and stumbled across Cait Flander’s Mindful Budgeting Planner ($40).

I recently heard about Cait through one of Jessica Moorhouse’s podcast and was also impressed with Cait’s articles, namely one on the privilege of financial advice; I’ve since admired her and have been following her on Twitter.

Even my personal definition of what minimalism means to me is a privilege. Being able to decide what adds value to your life and letting go of what doesn’t – how fortunate am I to be in the position to apply that to any area of my life!? If my diet is making me feel bad, I can walk into a grocery store and buy better food. If the work I do is leaving me unfulfilled, I can find other work. If I need/want to learn a new skill, I can take a class. The list goes on and on.

Since then, her blog has intrigued me.

And seeing her planner, I suddenly wanted it. At the moment, it felt a bit like a sleep-deprived impulse buy, but given the impeding changes coming up in 5 months, moving back south, I’m going to have to start budgeting … soon.

I’ve never really budgeted and hated doing so. I really just spend as much as I feel is necessary, occasionally buying a treat for myself (i.e. leggings, bath bombs). Even when I travel, I don’t budget.

Anyway, I ended up ordering the planner, which is printed on demand and then shipped in Canada. With the shipping charges, it was a bit steep at $58. I balked when I saw the price and nearly changed my mind, but the biggest draw for me is to have an online Facebook community where I can share thoughts and tips as I being using the planner.

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Other the past month, I’ve really been enjoying participating in Jessica Moorhouse’s Facebook group, Money. Life. Balance. and also got included in a recent group chat with some old high school friends on investing (I got roped in due to the posts I’ve been sharing on social media). It’s the social support that I need the most. I also occasionally bounce ideas with family and friends, but love the diversity of information that comes to me when I can connect with people of different backgrounds, situations and privileges.

Really looking forward to the planner. It should, hopefully, arrive here by next Friday. Fingers crossed!
 

New Annual Goal: Media Expenses

Two things I really like to spend money on are Cody App fitness plans and books. I know that while I don’t go crazy, I will have to cut back if I move down south.

For this year’s set of annual goals, I thought I would try to track how much I spend on these two things. I thought I would put a personal budget of $750 and added this to the financial trackers on the side of my page.

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I didn’t plan on spending money right away, but on the weekend, I did a bit of shopping on Indigo and bought these books:

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I’m hoping that my friend will give me her old Kobo and that I can figure out a cheaper way to access books (without stealing them from authors, still paying them so that they make money). I might also have to cut back on buying audiobooks, as I have a stash right now that I need to work at.

If you have any tips on how to purchase, please let me know!

Considerations for Leaving the North

Lately, I’d been considering whether I should leave the north or not. I’ve had a few students ask me if I am staying on for next year and have told them that it wouldn’t be likely.

While I know I am seeking new challenges and know that one will never truly be ready for change, there are many aspects of the north that I know I will miss.

  • Cheap rent: I pay about $1000 a year as my housing is mainly subsidized.
  • Minimal commute time: It takes me less than 5 minutes to drive to work and only about 12 minutes to walk. It’s easy for me to pop in on the weekends or the evenings if I’ve forgotten something or would like to catch up.
  • Lots of free time: Related to having a minimal commute time. If J. is running late, I could still walk home or just head to the gym by myself.
  • Accessible and affordable gym: The gym is literally the building next to my school. For my membership, I pay approximately $120 for the entire year. And mind you, I drop a lot more dollars on Cody app fitness plans, but those have always been an investment in my health and knowledge. The other thing is that I’ll never have again is a fairly unused squat rack where there are no line-ups.
  • Being able to sleep in: Again, related to the short commute, I can sleep in pretty late.
  • Having time with J.: Since we currently work in the same building and have the same start times, we travel to and back together. We are able to have lunch together and eat dinner at the same time.
  • Being able to save money: There is no place to spend it. If you spend money online and order items, you have to put some thought into it. There is no place to buy alcohol, so going out for a cinq-à-sept after work instead of the gym isn’t something that happens.
  • Having a big, fat classroom budget: I am currently able to spend $2200 a year for my classroom. That’ll never happen again in a public school “down south”… sigh.

Ultimately, I have to finalize a decision by the end of February. I have to sign a piece of paper and give it to my principal to declare whether I am staying or not. I’m trying to screw up the courage to do it, but at the same time, map out my future with J. It’s tricky and am just trying to figure out how we are going about things.

So just to support myself emotionally and mentally, I’m reminding myself that people quit their jobs and do new stuff all the time. Even awesome and inpsiring ladies like Jessica Moorhouse is able to take the leap and quit her job to try something new and that sometimes you just have to put yourself out there.

I’ve also been re-listening to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. I’d read it a few years ago, but since my friend V. got me listening to the Dear Sugar podcast, I decided to revisit her book. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, it’s about a woman who decides, during a very difficult period of her life, to do a solo hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. Reading about all the hardships of hiking in the wilderness alone – not stepping on rattlesnakes, running out of water, losing a hiking book off the edge of a cliff – helps me put into perspective my own hardships (which there are very few of).

Anyway, it’s still Thursday. I have a spare first period, so it was nice to find this time to blog, but I need to keep my feet on the ground and head out for work soon!

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How to Have Crucial Conversations – Part 2

In the last blog post about the book, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High, I explained what makes a conversation crucial and also highlighted the main two “styles under stress”.

Chapter 6 describes the narrative that we often inaccurately tell ourselves in heated moments; these “clever stories” drive our emotions and subsequent actions. Often, we don’t even realize we are creating these stories, as they happen so fast. There are a few different types of stories that occur:

  1. Victim stories – We create ourselves as innocent victims. We are the good guys and the other person is the bad guy. Everything that they do is evil. The tales that we tell make us look weak; sometimes we might even omit important details to paint ourselves as a martyr. We want others to see ourselves as completely innocent.
  2. Villain stories – These stories make the other person look like an evil villain. We create motives and ill intentions; any possibility of neutral or good intentions may be omitted. Labeling the other person with insulting names devalues the other as a complex person.
  3. Helpless stories – This third form of “clever story” is a method of framing our situation as one where we have no options left. Ultimately, it creates justification for our actions. We create excuses that free us of guilt or responsibility of negative consequences.

Why do we tell ourselves “clever stories”?

Because they let us “off the hook” and allow us to create psychological distance from the situation. Therefore, it’s important to be able to analyze the stories and return to pure facts. Here are some of the suggested questions and frame of mind that can help us tell the reshape the story more accurately:

  • Am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem?
  • Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this?
  • What do I really want?
  • What would I do right now if I really wanted these results?

Looking into Investment Vehicles for RRSPs: Part 1

Back in March, I started reading Bruce Sellery’s The Moolala Guide to Rockin’ Your RRSP, and when I got to this page, I felt like I got a much-needed figurative slap in the face.

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I have a RRSP savings account. And I do have more than $25,000, but never even figured to look at my interest rates. I checked and found that it was an appalling 0.8%, not even matching the average rate of inflation, which, in Canada during 2015, was 1.13%. Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out how I should invest my RRSPs.

Investing is one of my biggest weaknesses, and I now I drag my feet when it comes to researching investments, therefore, it’s a task that I have to hit head on. Sellery suggests, as a rule of thumb, that the percentage of your RRSPs allotted to fixed income investments should be similar to your age. The remainder should be dispersed amongst equities.

This morning, I mapped it out in my new Rocketbook*, then digitized it to Evernote through my mobile app.

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While I need to do some research for the equities, I decided to start with a 2-year GIC with a return of 1.6%. Yeaaaaahh, it’s not very high, but it’s decent** and I’m forcing myself to, within the next 24 months, to research better options. And setting this aside first also allows me to put my energy into the harder task of finding where to invest in equities.

More work will need to be done, but I figure this is a start and I was able to complete it fairly quickly. The next five days, I’ll be packing and wrapping up some work projects, so I won’t have much more time for this before I head down south for my vacation. Anything else will have to be handled when I come back to work in May.

Now off to make some Red Lobster cheddar biscuits for a dinner party tonight!*** These are definitely not vegan, but they are delish!!

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*A cloud-connected microwavable notebook from Kickstarter.

**Taking a quick look at GIC options through Bank of Montreal, there’s nothing that matches Tangerine’s 2-year term.

***Costco sells these in packs of 4.

New Book: The Moolala Guide to Rockin` Your RRSP

Earlier in the fall, I started a subscription to Money Sense magazine. I admit that I don’t read it from cover to cover; there are a lot of terms and articles that make me feel completely lost, but I am forcing myself to be regularly exposed to more money management ideas.

Already, I’ve picked up some interesting “life hacks”, including setting a “money date” with your partner to discussing planning and budgeting, and have a list of recommended finance books to check out. I ordered a couple last month (and got a wee bit o’ cashback on Ebates.com to boot) and last week, started Bruce Sellery’s The Moolala Guide to Rockin’ Your RRSPs. 

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His book gets you to frame your retirement savings through 3 C’s: context, consequences and complexity.

  • Context: When it comes to retirement, what is your money for? Traveling the world or settling quietly in a small home? Create a vision that is relevant and realistic for your desires and goals.
  • Consequences: What will be the consequences of your current method of retirement savings? What will be the consequences if you don’t save for retirement?
  • Complexity: Do you have too many investments spread out in too many places? Or do your money plans lack complexity and depth? Do you know how much you need to retire?

The book is quite well-structured. It`s easy to read and set up in a way that helps you understand why retirement planning is so critical.

I spent a good chunk of Sunday completing the exercises, making notes in Evernote and calculating – for the first time in my life – an estimation of a nest egg that I’d need for retirement 30 some odd years from now, using a Retirement Savings Calculator from TD Canada.* The results are always shocking and most people realize that their current projections don`t necessarily match the daydreams that they have. Bruce reassures us that most people feel anxiety, depression and confused after this exercise. I definitely did, and it`s a good kick in the seat of your pants!

I don`t talk about money a lot with people – I wish I did more – but after chatting with a few coworkers my age (late 20s to early 30s), what shocks me the most is that a few of them** have not even started their retirement savings. AT ALL. It thought I was being lazy for simply maxing out my contribution room each year and not doing any additional research, but, but … not starting at all?! That’s insanely silly and foolish considering the fact that the job security that existed for Baby Boomers no longer exists!

I’ve heard excuses that RRSPs are “just a way of deferring your taxes” (this is true) and that “you’re going to have to pay it later anyway” (this is also true), but uhhhh hello, Home Buyer’s Plan? Or Lifelong Learning Plan? Having security that you will be able to have a home and feed yourself with you`re 72? Or even just getting a nice tax return seems like an incentive enough in itself!

So yes, you are deferring your taxes, but there are many reasons why you should contribute to an RSP even if there is a chance your income could be higher in your 60s. For the coworkers who haven`t started, I`ve offered advice, I`ve offered help and given them tips, but there`s only so much I can say before it falls on deaf ears.

I`m glad at 33 I`m learning more about retirement planning. I wish I had started sooner, but when I was underemployed 5 years ago, I stuck with TSFAs, just as my mom told me. I did the right thing then, deferring contributing to RRSPs when I was still in a lower-income bracket. Now that I’m working full-time, this is a perfect opportunity to keep learning and playing around with my money so that bad luck doesn’t play with my retirement!

*If you’re curious, check out some of the resources that are listed on the Moolala website.

**Sadly, all female coworkers, which drives me even more insane!!!