Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Research Assistant for Bizarre Questions

I think I mentioned that I'm doing a personal challenge within a group, that challenges each of us to post every day for 30 days.  I've completely "failed" at this challenge, but I'm ok with that.  I posted for the first nine days. I then missed the next ten days due to a crazy work schedule, family visiting, and then getting sick as a result of trying to combine work and family at the same time.  I am going to try to post until the end of the month though!

The organizer of this group is Julie, who's blog is entitled 3 Chickens and a Boat.

Today she wrote the following at the end of her blog.
"So, my simple question to you today… what is it you are good at?  What do you do BEST? If you could spend your day DOING anything, what would it be and how can you build THAT one nugget into a business that you love?"
Here's what I am really good at. I know how to find info, and where to look for it.  If I am given a question that somebody can't find the answer to, I can find the answer.  Even if I know very little about the topic in the first place.

I love looking up information so much that if I were to ever go back to school, I think I would pursue a Masters of Library and Information Science.

I do use this skill quite a bit while doing taxes.  There is always something new, whether it be a new policy change, or a new client with circumstances that are just slightly different than the norm.  I am easily able to research and find the information that I need.

I love helping people by being able to find obscure information! I might never think to ask the questions that others do, but once they let me know they are stuck, I can find the answers!  I wonder how I can market this skill in and of itself though?  Obscure Information Finder For Hire? Research Assistant for Bizarre Questions? Is this even a marketable skill??

This is a picture of me while on holidays this summer. Exploring the books at a restaurant! 

On a side note, when I was pregnant with our second son, we met with the doctors from Sick Kids, Before our first meeting with the doctors, I had emailed a list of things to discuss including some groundbreaking new experimental treatment methods, The doctors (who were great) were not aware of these new methods.  It was only because of my research that the team looked into it for us and the potential of being part of this new treatment became part of our plan. It included flying us to the States for treatment, and our doctor worked out all the details for us, including the funding for us to go to and stay in the States during the treatment.

As a kid, I used to read the vintage books with vigour learning random things. In high school, I remember both using micro-fiche, and also using the new Encyclopedia on CD that made research projects a breeze! And as an adult, I'm great at scouring government documents and StatsCanada tables for info.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Income Tax Changes Resulting From New Majority Liberal Government Policies

As an income tax E-Filer, I decided to go through the platform of the new Canadian Federal Liberal majority party to be able to tell people how these changes will affect their income tax returns when they go to file their income tax returns. Since it's a majority government, these policies will pass fairly quickly.

1) Family Tax Cut that was on income tax returns for the first time in 2014 is being taken away to fund the new Child Tax Credit (see #7).  This was a maximum real dollar amount of $2000 of savings.

2) The current 22% income tax rate for middle incomes is being lowered to 20.5%, and there is a new tax bracket of 33% being added for those individuals with incomes over $200K.

3) No more education and textbook credit. Tuition will still be deductible, but the $465/month credit for full time students, or $140/month credit for part-time students, to account for textbooks and education will no longer be available.

5) New refundable Teacher and Early Childhood Educator School Supply Tax credit. (Purchase up to $1000 of school supplies and get up to $150 back on tax return) Starting this tax year 2015, claimable when you do your 2015 taxes in spring of 2016. 

Hey teachers, did you keep your receipts for supplies you bought this year? You'll need them to claim this credit.

6) There will be an increase in Northern Residents deduction. I don't have any clients who live this far north though.

7) The taxable Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) and non-taxable Child Tax Benefit (CTB) are being replaced by a new non taxable Child Canada Benefit.  The new amounts will start in July, just like the old program, so you will still receive your UCCB and CTB until the end of June, when it will be replaced by the new system.

Starting in July, you will have an amount calculated for the new Child Canada Benefit, paid monthly, just like the old amounts for UCCB and CTB were.

For children 0-under age 6, the maximum amount is $6400/child ($533.33/month). 
For children 6 -17 years old, the maximum amount is $5400/child ($450/month).
If your family income is less than $30000, you will receive the full amount.

If your family income is higher than $30000, there will be deductions from these amounts, in varying percentages based on if you have 1, 2 or 3 or more children.

If you want full details on how these deductions will be calculated, take a look at page 6 of this Liberal document.  If you are confused, send me a message and I can calculate for you.

8) Not a direct result of the new platform, but there will also be no Child Tax Credit deduction anymore either (line 367 on your tax return). This was a deduction of $2255 for each child under 18.  The Conservatives replaced this with the expanded UCCB, but this is now being replaced with the new Liberal Child Tax Credit.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Screw Etiquette During Grief

I love old etiquette books.  I have a couple of them on my shelf, just to peruse through, and occasionally, to laugh at in light of current social customs.

What is the old etiquette for writing thankyou notes for funerals?  Well, take a look at this, from my vintage Amy Vanderbilt's Everyday Etiquette book.

Q&A from vintage Amy Vanderbilt's Everyday Etiquette

Cover of vintage "Amy Vanderbilt's Everyday Etiquette"

I have zero idea what the older-than-my-now-vintage-book "black bordered mourning paper" is, but honestly, after my boys died, writing thankyou notes was NOT on my list of things to do, especially in return for cards and notes that I received.  Just getting through the day was hard enough without pressure to do thankyou notes.

I was surprised to see that a current etiquette website still tells people that thankyou notes should be written for condolence cards that were sent.  From

I’ve received almost 300 notes of condolence. Do I need to write a thank you note to each person who sent me a note?
 Notes of condolence should be acknowledged with a handwritten note. The only exceptions to this obligation are when the expression of condolence is simply a printed form with no personal message, or when the writer asks that his or her note not be acknowledged (a thoughtful thing to do when writing a close friend, or when someone you know well will receive a great number of condolences).

Although writing cards for cards sent was not on my to-do-list, I did try to write thankyou notes for people who brought meals, gave flowers, donated money to charity, gave money for expenses directly to us, or did other various things for us as a family. 

But you know what? It was HARD. Every time I got the energy to write notes, it would put me into a tailspin of emotions and I would break down crying.  The only ones I really got done were the ones that I completed by email and Facebook message to those who I knew wouldn't be offended by receiving a digital, but personal, message.

I finally vented to a few people about the obligation of writing out thankyou notes and how I wasn't succeeding due to breaking down every time and that I was getting stressed over it.

My husband, friends, and pastor gave me the following advice.

1) SCREW ETIQUETTE.  Nobody who has done anything for you wants you to feel any worse than you already do, so stop writing the cards out.  BEST ADVICE EVER.  It gave me permission to not do what was obligatory in my head, and yet causing me major stress.

2) ACCEPT HELP. By saying yes to people when they offered to do anything specific for us (as opposed to the general "I'm here if you need anything", it not only took things off our list and allowed time to grieve, but allowed the person giving/doing something the benefit of feeling helpful in a time that they didn't know what else to do.

What do you think of these models of etiquette? Do you expect a thankyou note a) for a condolence note that you sent or b) for an act of service in a time of grief for a family? 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day Oct 15th

I've had two deaths of newborns.  The first, in 2003, died at 3 days old.  We knew during the pregnancy that he was affected with Ornithine Transcarbamylase Deficiency (OTC Deficiency), which is a Urea Cycle Disorder, and I am a known genetic carrier of this disorder. At the time, there was not any viable treatment available to us.  

With this genetic disorder, protein is not metabolized properly, and the infant boys who are affected end up dying from ammonia poisoning. The entire body gets poisoned. Protein normally gets metabolized into ammonia, which then gets turned into urea, but this disorder doesn't allow the transfer into urea to happen properly.  

We did Care By Parent with our first son Colin. We stayed at the hospital and cared for him and loved him.  He appeared to be perfectly normal during the first 40 hours or so, but then lost his ability to suck (brain damage from the ammonia poisoning), then started seizuring, and then his breathing system shut down over the next 12 hours.  We were told ahead of time that he would probably go into a coma, but this never occurred.  Many of our family and friends came to visit with us and him during those few days while in the Care by Parent room at the hospital.

Medical advances happen all the time, and in 2011, pregnant again with a boy affected with OTC Deficiency, the treatment for newborns with this disorder is to have a liver transplant.  In between birth and transplant, the infants get fed high amounts of glucose, and essential amino acids, which is a portion of already broken down protein, along with drugs to keep the ammonia levels low, because high ammonia levels will lead to brain damage. 

Despite the treatment itself working, and numerous people applying to be a living liver donor, our son Kyle ended up with a hospital acquired E-Coli infection which spread through his entire body during dialysis, resulting in the infection causing complete brain damage. Kyle lived for 15 days.

You can read a bit more about this time period through reading these three posts in order.

First Post

Second Post

Third Post

These are really just the bare bones of our story. I've had two miscarriages as well as my two boys deaths.  I'm going to blog about different aspects relating to this topic over the next week, in commemoration of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Food Insecurity: What Is It?

Food Insecurity.  This is probably not a term that most people are familiar with, and yet, once described, everyone understands.  Food Insecurity is when you don't have enough money to buy healthy food.

Food Insecurity Infographic from Peterborough City Health Unit

I actually suspect that this number is higher than what is reported, because a number of years ago, grocery stores started accepting credit cards as payment.  I suspect that there are many families who are "accessing healthy foods", but only by going into debt by doing so.

Have you ever been "food insecure"? I have. University comes to mind. I ate terribly. Food was expensive. In my last year of university, I lived with a couple of single women who were in their 30's, and had much higher disposable income than I did. We all made our own meals, and we weren't typically home at the same time due to our school/work schedules.  The one lady in particular would buy delicious, luxurious food and cook it at home for herself.  I remember being very jealous of what she was eating!

My typical meal was often a 1/2 cup of  parboiled rice cooked in chicken stock, but I remember her commenting one day that I must really love rice because I ate it so regularly.  I simply said "yes", because I was too embarassed to say that I ate it because I couldn't afford to buy other types of foods that I would also enjoy.

My major weekly splurge during that time period, was that once a week, I would go to Tim Horton's and buy a soup combo.  Soup, roll, donut, and beverage.  The cost was $3.52 in 1997!  But it was definitely a splurge. I usually went before going grocery shopping so that I would be full before going into the grocery store.

Our local college has a food bank just for it's own students in need. Our church collects food weekly for this food bank and contributes to the college food bank.

But that's not really enough, is it?  How can we as individuals, or as a city, or as a province, or as a nation, or worldwide, make sure that people have access to healthy food?

If you are interested in reading more on Food Insecurity, National Geographic put together a fascinating article about Food Insecurity in the United States.  You might be surprised about who is food insecure.  It might not be the people you are thinking about.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Personal Connection: #DayOfChange for Ronald McDonald House Charities

Most people have heard of Ronald McDonald Houses across Canada (and the US as well).

Toronto's original RMH was almost always at capacity.  My family was on the waiting list while we spent time at Sick Kids hospital with our son, but it didn't have any openings for us while we were there.  Multiple weeks of hotel stays became very expensive.  The new house was being finished during that time, and they opened a substantially larger house in two weeks after our time at Sick Kids came to a close.

I know how helpful it would have been to us.  I'm so glad that the newer house is open.  It is three times larger than the old location, and has 96 bedrooms for up to 81 families.  I've even had another family member who has been able to use the services of the new Toronto Ronald McDonald House.

Take a look at the video above.  One of the families you will meet in this video is The WEIGHT Family.  This is my cousin Jonathan and his wife Amy.  They spent nearly all of the last year at Ronald McDonald House while their son underwent a bone marrow transplant for Aplastic Anemia. Jonathan and Amy (and the grandparents!) shaved their heads in support when their son lost his hair.
They are home now, but still have regular appointments at Sick Kids Hospital.

I know they are very thankful to have had the use of Ronald McDonald House over the last year.  So, remember this video next time you are McDonalds grabbing a snack, and throw some change into the bin. #DayOfChange :)

If you are interested in donating to Jonathan and Amy in helping them with the expenses they have amassed over the last year, head on over to their GoFundMe page.

I am not being compensated in any way for this post.  It is just a charity that I believe in, and feel strongly about. I wanted to share the experiences of my immediate and extended family with you!

Monday, October 5, 2015

70's Sears Girls French Provincial Furniture Makeovers Upcycling

There are some things that I am REALLY good at. And there are others that I am NOT.

I am not a crafty person.  There are times that I wish that I was.  Perhaps if I was someone's underling/minion/very jr apprentice, and was walked through a crafty project step by step by step by step with them right there with me, I might be able to do it, but other than that, well, pretty much forget it.

Today, I sold one of my childhood furniture pieces through Kijiji.  It was part of a the French Provincial girls furniture collection from Sears in the 1970's.  I still really like this furniture.  I sold the bed and desk and hutch a few years ago. My daughter upgraded to a larger bed, and the desk was never really meant for anyone older than age 5 to actually use.  My daughter is still using one of the dressers, and I sold one of the identical dressers today that we were using in the spare room, as we are trying to make the room more useful to us.

The lady who picked it up is going to redo it, which I'm super happy about.  Look how beautiful these pieces turn out when they are redone!

This is a picture of my piece, and then a couple of pictures of redone pieces from the collection from the Pinterest board

Although I'm not crafty enough to do these furniture makeovers on my own, I'm really glad that someone else is going to do it.

1970's Girls French Provincial 9 Drawer Dresser from Sears

Redone French Provincial Dresser

Redone pieces from the 70's Sears French Provincial Collection