Thirty-Seven

It’s my birthday today. How do I reflect on the past year? With this calendar decade coming to an end and a reminder with this birthday that I’m quickly approaching forty, how do I measure my life so far and the goals I had and have?

When I was a teen, I never expected to be here at thirty-seven. When I was a young man in my early twenties, I thought that I’d be in a much more financially comfortable position by now. As I approached thirty, my life swerved again and my expectations of being unencumbered and able to see the world stopped being a priority. Everything I had expected has either taken longer or pushed me down a different road than I had intended.

When I look back on my life and think about where I expected to be at this point, I’m super hard on myself for the things I haven’t achieved, the goals I haven’t met, but what really surprises me is how happy I am in my life as it exists today. I think that’s the thing that my younger self would not be able to comprehend. I don’t own a house. I am not raising children. I haven’t traveled to a bunch of exotic places (though I did go to the Philippines, somewhere I never expected). But, despite all of that, I feel very lucky, very fortunate.

I have an amazing wife. I probably have the best relationships with a larger number of family members than I ever have previously. I have an extended family that has helped me not only to be better, but let me lean on them when I wasn’t doing well. I have a career where I get to do something I enjoy and get paid well for doing it. I have an adorable dog that always wants my love and attention and returns it a thousand fold. I have wonderful friends that are understanding, patient, and supportive. Sure, I still struggle with my mental health, but for the first time since starting dealing with this disease, I feel like I have a much better handle on it than I ever have.

This is not the life I pictured for myself, but this is a good life.

While I am very uncomfortable celebrating my birthday, I am also extremely grateful for the wonderful messages that I have received not only today, but over the last year and beyond. The amount of support I receive from so many wonderful people has helped me more than my words could ever say. I am here because of all of you. I am successful because of all of you. I am happy because of all of you.

Thank you for the birthday wishes, thank you for your love and support! I hope in the year ahead we will all continue working together to keep improving our lives and increasing our collective happiness, come what may.

Coming Back to The Forgotten Vanir

Over the last few years, I’ve been slowly, in spurts, writing The Forgotten Vanir, a novel about runic tattoos that enable certain people to cast magic.

I am currently back working on the book and have added a few thousand words the last couple of days. My hope is to get the majority, if not all, of the first draft completed this month, during NaNoWriMo. What I’m doing is not part of NaNoWriMo, but I’m trying to use it as inspiration to write creatively again.

It took me a bit to get back into the story and I had to go back and re-read what I’ve written so far as well as reviewing my planning document and inspiration images. It feels good to be back in this story. The characters are coming alive in my imagination, and I’m enjoying the process, despite not being able to get as much as I want from my fingers to the story… I was hoping to average over sixteen hundred words, and I’ve been averaging around half of that.

I don’t know how career writers do it. Creating a world with words is so difficult.

If you are interested in reading the first draft, the first twenty-thousand or so words of the raw first draft are available online at TheForgottenVanir.com.

A huge thanks to my wife for reviewing my first draft and providing suggestions for my second draft, as well as anyone that has or will take the time to read my writing.

Understanding Food Through Documentaries

I have been listening to some documentaries while working and I feel like there should be a documentary that focuses on the media’s influence on eating and food choices as well as the quality of food that exists today. I’m concerned that most documentaries and diets overlook the societal issues and current food quality thus creating a false narrative.

Imagine a documentary that analyzes the current amount of nutrients and vitamins and health factors in different foods and compares that to historical data, as well as looking for unhealthy factors in foods like lead and pesticides and other concerns. Maybe it could also be fair and talk about human evolution and how food companies play on different factors that are more likely to get us to consume their products. 

I often feel like I don’t have any good choices. I can find documentaries and videos about the positive effects of any diet as well as documentaries and videos about the negative effects of any diet. With this wealth of information, often times with people having a specific agenda (I see you Keto and Vegan people as well as you dairy lobbyists!), it becomes hard to make a decision regarding what is best which causes me stress, frustration and apathy. 

I sometimes feel like if there is no good choice then I might as well eat whatever I want. Or I’m tired from a busy day, I don’t feel like cooking, ready-made meals at grocery stores are all too processed so I’ve failed at nutrition and let’s have McDonald’s.

I recently watched a documentary that focused on whole food, plant-based eating and was intrigued. I don’t know that I could ever completely give up meat or dairy, but I’m open to trying to eat healthier. At first the documentary seemed to be going in a direction that I could get behind. It covered why a growing number of people are obese, even starting to talk about how our brains, stomachs and hormone systems work. Then it felt like they threw all of that away, never touched it again and moved on. Around the mid-point of the documentary, one of the people they were interviewing basically gave a short spiel about how eating healthy is like opening a combination lock to a box full of money, and if you don’t eat completely healthy, you don’t get some of the money within the box.

Anyways, after watching the documentary, I did some research on eating a whole food, plant-based diet only to find information countering many of the things said in the documentary, such as issues with pesticides causing negative health effects as well as a decrease in the nutrition available in much of the produce available in North American grocery stores today. There were people pointing out that some of the “experts” in the documentary lacked a depth of knowledge, were themselves backed by or financially incentivized to promote this diet or were cherry-picking studies to prove their preconceived point.

Add to that the feeling of increased cost, whether that point is legitimate or not, a personal feeling of rapid spoiling of fresh produce creating a waste of food and money, and a busy daily schedule, it becomes hard to find the time, money, and willpower to make better food choices. That is if we can even figure out what better food choices really are beyond reducing consumption of processed foods, something most documentaries seem to agree on.

In the end, maybe then this imaginary documentary could give some advice on avoiding some of the tricks that companies play, provide insight into how to bolster our willpower when it comes to our food choices, as well as providing some advice on how to get access to reasonably priced food that will benefit your health. Can someone put that together, please?

Electric Car Options

A family member recently experienced a major issue with their vehicle, a vehicle that is a one year older version of the same make and model that we have. It got me thinking about our next vehicle.

We haven’t yet paid off our current vehicle loan. We got zero percent financing from Kia when we traded in the Kia Rio lemon that they sold us only a few years before. This meant that we were upside down on our car loan (owed more than the new vehicle was worth). I don’t recommend anyone doing this. If it wasn’t for the high trade-in value we received for our previous vehicle and the zero percent financing, we would have gone elsewhere for our new one.

I am a bit of an Elon Musk fanboy, and have been keeping on top of the developments in all of his companies the best that I can. Of course, that means watching Tesla and their vehicles. Since the Tesla Model S first came out, I’ve been salivating over that car. When the Tesla Model 3 came out, I switched to thinking that maybe that would be our next vehicle. The announcement of the Tesla Model Y made me think that it would be an even better option than the Model 3, despite being a bit more expensive, it would likely have more cabin space and a more comfortable driving position. Of course, all of these vehicles, are premium in terms of cost, especially if you want any of the upgrades from the stock/standard versions that they often don’t even sell.

So when my sister-in-law let my wife know of the issues their car was experiencing, it got me thinking about what we would do in their situation. They were looking at a big, off-warranty, repair that would cost as much as one-third of the current used-value of the car.

Of course, we would pay it, but not be happy about it. What else can you do, especially when you are still paying off a vehicle? When you buy a vehicle with a six or seven year financing plan, you expect the vehicle to last at least that long, but if it doesn’t, and you are out of warranty. What do you do? This is the kind of problem that we see all over North America. Of course, the snide response is that you shouldn’t be financing for such a long term or to only buy what you can afford to pay for in cash, but those kind of responses aren’t really helpful or even realistic for some people.

The whole thing got my brain buzzing, and Annie pointed out that I should create a spreadsheet of all the current full-electric vehicles being sold in Canada and see which one would best fit our needs.

My gut instinct was to say that we are buying the Model 3 or the Model Y depending on what we can afford at the time.

But I jumped into Google Sheets, and started looking through lists of vehicles. I configured vehicles how I would want them using the tools that the different car companies provide and found out both the base-model and my-configuration prices. I looked at the expected range and calculated an expected winter range that was seventy-five percent of expected range. I also noted the financing terms that the different companies currently listed.

With all this data, I came to some conclusions:

  • Premium brands like Audi, BMW, and Jaguar are way too expensive with Audi and Jaguar having configured prices over $100,000 and BMW having a $65,000 vehicle with half or less range than the competition.
  • There seems to be three “standard” ranges of all-electric vehicles: around 200 KM, near 400 KM, and Tesla at around 500+ KM.
  • Most all-electric vehicles aren’t focused on self-driving features. Tesla seems to be leading the way here.
  • The typical financing interest rate seems to be around 4% for 60 – 96 months.

So, am I going to get a Tesla? Well, the Model 3 might still be in the running because I’m a fanboy, but with the longer range and the self-driving features, it would be a monthly financing price of over $800 for eight years. That’s no small amount and puts us at almost twice what we are paying now.

The three vehicles in true contention would have to be the Hyundai Kona Electric, Chevrolet Bolt EV, and the Kia Niro EV .

Kia Niro Ev

The Niro is a crossover vehicle that isn’t much larger than most mid-sized cars, but it looks like it might have a decent amount of head height. It has a range of around 385 kilometers which should be more than enough for most driving situations, including visiting family on the other side of Toronto.

The big advantage here is that Kia has been decent to us and would probably give us the best deal out of the vehicles listed here. Unfortunately, I worry about their quality control. It seems like Kia has become the budget brand for Hyundai.

If you didn’t already know, Kia is 51% owned by Hyundai, which is why many of their vehicles look similar.

The Kia Niro Ev starts at $44,995 but when I configured it with reasonable options, it came out to be $56,129. It is still eligible for a federal tax rebate, but who knows for how much longer.

The Kia website lists the finance price of my selected model to be $766.96 per month at a 3.99% interest rate for an 84 month (7 year) term.

Chevrolet Bolt Ev

It always confused me that the Volt is a hybrid and the Bolt is the electric vehicle, but also in contention after comparing variables is the Chevrolet Bolt EV, a compact hatchback looking car, provides up to 383 kilometers of range, only two less than the Niro.

I’ve watched a ton of reviews on this car, and the consensus is that the seats are uncomfortable, it sounds and looks cheap, but drives well. I think that description might cover most of Chevrolet’s non-premium offerings.

Interestingly, it seems to have more backseat room than the Kona, making it more comfortable for taller people like myself to sit in the back. Why would this matter? Well, on our trip to and from Florida this summer, I found myself in the back for a long time and realized just how small our Kia Forte is, and I didn’t like it. So having additional leg room in the back would be handy in rare situations like that.

The Chevrolet Bolt Ev starts at $44,800 and my configuration came out to be $54,230, so a little cheaper than the Niro. The Chevrolet website lists the financing for my configuration to be $691 per month at 1.99% interest over 84 months.

Hyundai Kona Electric

Listed as a sub-compact SUV, the Kona looks similar to the Niro in many ways. The Kona is a gasoline vehicle design that was converted to be an electric vehicle and the reviews that I watched seem to be impressed with how little they had to change externally and in the cabin to make that work.

The Kona Electric states that it has a range of 415 kilometers on a full charge. This is thirty kilometers more than the Niro, and thirty-two kilometers more than the Bolt. With an electric vehicle losing a solid chunk of range due to heating the cabin in the winter, or cooling it in the summer, having more base range means that after these reductions are taken into account, you still have an advantage over the others, and we don’t want to suffer too much range anxiety to switch to an electric platform.

This might seem a bit silly, but the Kona has ventilated front seats. That means that it can blow cool air on your torso, cooling you down faster on a hot day. For someone like me that runs hot, this can be a real treat. I bring this up not because it would make or break a vehicle purchase, but instead, it provides a little bonus if we went with the Kona.

The Kona starts at $44,999, which means it has the highest starting price, but after I add in all of my options, the vehicle ends up being $52,326.20, which is more than $2000 cheaper than the other two competitors in this post.

The financing listed on the Hyundai website for my configuration comes out to be $650.13 per month at a 3.79% interest rate over 84 months. This means it is over $100 cheaper per month than the Niro, and over $40 cheaper per month than the Bolt. So not only does it have more range than the other two, it is also less expensive and it comes in a turquoise looking blue that my wife and I both like.

In the end, the Hyundai Kona Electric would be our front-runner if we had to purchase a vehicle today and felt we could afford an electric one.

Conclusion

But, I hope that we don’t have to purchase a new car any time soon. We still have a few more years of paying off our current car, and then we hope to not have car payments for a little while so we can build up a solid down payment on a new vehicle. Our plan was always to run our current car into the ground, which means getting to the point where repairs are more costly and common than the value of the car. This might happen this year or next year, if my sister-in-law’s vehicle is any indication, or it might be three, four, or even five years from now when the car is a decade old.

When the current car ends up being replaced, we will definitely want an electric vehicle, but we aren’t willing to compromise too heavily on features, range, or price.

Ideally, we would get something like the Tesla Model 3 or Model Y, but at more than $20,000 more expensive than the vehicles listed above, I just think it is too expensive for us and will have to remain a dream car unless or until we have the financial means to make it happen.

CUPE Job Action and Strike – My Thoughts

This is one of those times where I have a fairly strong opinion on something that is happening, so I figured I had to write about it.

In one word, the job action being required by the CUPE members is outrageous.

Before you pick up pitch forks or raise me on your shoulders, I need to explain.

My wife was an Educational Assistant for seven years and in that time she had her clothing ripped, was bitten, her phone broken, came home with multiple bruises, endlessly verbally assaulted and so much more. During the summers, she was laid off, unpaid and told to apply for Employment Insurance through the government. She loved making a difference, but knew that with the salary she was earning, it would be near impossible for her to afford her own place. She lived with her mother while an EA until moving in with me.

My brother-in-law is a custodian. He cleans up vomit, tampons, and so much more. During the summers, he often works normal shifts cleaning up after interest groups using the school space, or preparing it for the next year of classrooms. His work is often very physically demanding. When I first met him, he was on various shifts, sometimes working overnight to help prepare the school for another day. He cares about his job and wants to perform well. He was so passionate that he actually convinced my other brother-in-law to hunt for an opportunity to do the same job.

So when they, as a collective, speak up to say that they need more funding for more staff or resources, I take notice as they are doing work that most of us would never want to do.

The average salary in Canada in 2017 was $51,000 per year according to Workopolis, and in a Global News article from 2017, it states that median salary in 2015 was $70,336.

So how much do CUPE members typically make?

According to GlassDoor, Educational Assistants make between $49,00 and $53,000 in Toronto and Neuvoo puts the median Educational Assistant salary in Ontario at $41,184 per year. I should note that my wife didn’t make this much while working as an EA, even after seven years in the position.

I’ve seen a massive number of people pointing to custodians and saying that mall custodians make less than school custodians, so school custodians are just greedy.

According to GlassDoor, school janitorial staff makes between $57,000 and $61,000 in Toronto, and Neuvoo puts the median school custodian salary in Ontario at just $39,839 per year.

For what they do, I don’t feel like these salaries are outrageous in any way. I think there should be a path for all full-time workers to earn a median salary once they have some experience under their belt and any organization not making that path available to their employees is exploiting them.

If you are earning less than these salaries, you might think it unfair that they are earning more than you, but I think that you are looking at it incorrectly. You should be fighting for higher wages for yourself, not trying to tear down the wages of others.

Do I think it is fair that custodians in other roles make even less? No. Do I think it is fair that most full-time people don’t earn a pension or have benefits? No. But that doesn’t mean you should fight to make sure anyone else doesn’t have those things. I appreciate that it means a heavier tax base, and I agree that there are some spending efficiencies that need to take place in our educational system, but fighting against CUPE isn’t the right move.

So what did I mean by outrageous when I started this post? It is outrageous that their resource funding got cut. It is outrageous that the government is not providing the budget to replace these key people. It is outrageous that they have to go so far to get their voices heard, and it is outrageous that they aren’t getting everyone’s support!

Support CUPE and pressure your local MPP to act!

Giving Points to Points in Federal Election Platforms

So, as I mentioned yesterday, I’m very interested in politics. I’ve taken the time to go through both BNN Bloomberg’s and Maclean’s federal election platform guides and I scored each party on their different platform points.

I gave a zero if they didn’t have anything listed at the time I read the article, and then depending on which parties were identified, as the PPC wasn’t listed on the Maclean’s article, I gave a range of points going from one to the number of participating parties in that section.

For example, in the Deficits & Debt section, four parties had answers listed.

So the maximum points any party could get from my system for that section was four.

For the Bloomberg post, I went through it a few days ago, so some information has likely changed since then and I should probably re-do it, weigh it differently or disregard it, but when I completed that task, I had the final scores of:

PPC – 2
Conservatives – 19
Liberals – 30
Greens – 39
NDP – 39

So the Greens and NDP tied at the time that I did this.

I discussed my results with my wife and she told me that I should weigh different sections that are a priority to me so that I could come up with a true winner. Thankfully, thanks to the release of the Macleans article, and of course the releases of the complete platforms from most of the parties, I was able to take another go at it and proceeded to comb through the Macleans post with the same scoring method.

I should note that my leanings are definitely more progressive and I have voted for the Liberals, Greens and NDP previously. I don’t have any specific party allegiance at this time. I am not anti-conservative, but I don’t feel that either of the conservative parties currently represent me.

So for the Macleans article, I came up with the following scores:

So this puts the Greens, a party that has no chance of winning the election and basically no chance of winning my local riding, ahead of the others. So how do I vote? Do I vote based on these results?

Kingston and the Islands has been voting in Liberals since 1988, and the current candidate is well liked and has already served for the last four years after winning with 55% of the local votes. So does it matter if I vote for him or vote for one of the other parties?

One of the things I always tell myself is that there is a per-vote subsidy that the parties get for their next election, but I recently found out that it only makes up a bit more than a third of their total budget and as such, it is unlikely that the per-vote subsidy that they get from my vote will make much of a difference.

So what do I do with the information I have? It is hard to not feel disenfranchised with federal politics when you look at the situation I’m in. The only good news is that Mark Gerretsen, from our limited interaction and what I’ve seen on YouTube, seems like a pretty good guy.

Update: I reached out to my local Green Party candidate, Candice Christmas asking her why, in the situation I find myself in, should I vote for the Green Party? She responded less than an hour after I emailed her in a very personal and professional way.

One line that she wrote really stuck out to me, and I hope she doesn’t mind me publishing it here, was “imagine if everyone voted for the party they thought best represented their interests”.

Some other points she made, and I’m paraphrasing here:

  • Ian Arthur was elected as the NDP MPP after more than twenty years of Liberal MPPs, so you never know how an election might go.
  • The Greens are trying to attract young voters from both the Liberal and Conservative parties with their climate promises and their fiscally accountable costed platform.
  • We need electoral reform.

I really appreciate the prompt nature of her response as well as the details that she put into it. While it didn’t solve the fundamental conflict I’m experiencing, it does give me some small hope that politicians can be approachable and human, and reinforced what I already knew – it is better to vote than not to vote.

Interest in Politics

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned, but I am very interested in politics. I spend far too much time tracking what is happening in the U.S. and as we are in election season now in Canada, I’m spending a ton of time tracking what is happening locally for Members of Parliament and federally.

I often think that I’d enjoy participating in politics as I have strong opinions and views on things and while I’d likely never be elected to a position due to how strong my opinions are, I would be interested in sharing those opinions with others.

I don’t even know how to get started in the space, but I can’t shake the feeling that I could add a unique perspective.

What makes people get into politics? How do people get started outside of taking a Political Science degree in school?

I’ll definitely have to take time to learn more about it. I’m also hoping that if I reach out to local politicians that I might get some insight from them. If you have any insights into how people start in politics, or are interested in discussing the much taboo subject, please feel free to reach out.