1 Million Calories Final Summary

Well, as I write this, 2019 is ending and so is the year I spent tracking my calorie intake for my 1 Million Calorie Challenge.

I fizzled out on a bunch of parts of the project that I thought I was going to enjoy, like recording videos, taking photos of food and really sticking hard to making better food choices within the calorie limit that I set myself, but life and my ability to persist on long projects got in the way a little. I am thankful though that I continued to track all year long, so I consider it a small victory.

How Did I Do?

In the end, I ended up with 142,461 calories remaining out of the 1,000,000 calories that I started with. This means that I ate 857,539 calories over the course of the year, or approximately an average of 2349 calories per day.

If I was wrong by around ten percent on my tracking, we get a likely more realistic number of 943,292 calories used for 2019, still short of my 1,000,000 calorie limit, but not nearly as impressive.

If I was wrong by around 500 calories per day, a number that a 2018 article from USA Today reports that calorie counters are off by, then my total for the year goes to 1,040,039. A full 40,000 calories over my goal!

I tried very hard to make sure that I was tracking high each day so that my numbers would be more representative of the year that I had, so hopefully, I am not off by ten percent or more.

I started the year weighing 295 pounds and ended the year at 276 pounds. A total loss of 19 pounds or what amounts to a loss of 1.5 pounds per month. I should note that at my lowest I did get to 266 pounds, a further ten pounds lighter. But with many days over my calorie goal in the second half of the year and a larger number of calories coming from carbohydrates, specifically processed sugars, I’m not too surprised.

Some Data

I skipped breakfast 121 times, lunch 75 times, and supper 26 times. I had only 81 days without a snack. My median calorie spend for breakfast was 380, for lunch it was 640 and for supper it was 924. My median snack was 400 calories.

The most calories I used in a single day was 4118. The lowest was 0, when I tried a short fast a week before Christmas to see what it was like. I had ten days where I had less than or equal to 1,000 calories. I had sixty-eight days where I went over my daily limit of 2739 calories.

The first month where I had a day where I went over my daily limit was February around my mom’s birthday. The only months where I had zero days over my daily calorie limit were January, March, and April.

The month with the most calories spent was October with a total of 81,599 calories and the lowest was April with 63,660 calories used.

For most of the year, my weight hovered around 275 pounds.

What Did I Learn?

A big takeaway from 2020 was that it is easy for me to overeat and I often oscillate between over and under eating. Instead of having a relatively consistent amount of food each day, I find myself naturally going between around 1800 and 3000 calories per day. In retrospect, that doesn’t seem like a good idea and I need to do more research on this to better understand why I naturally do this and what it means for my overall weight and health.

My wife and I traveled for a month out of the year and I still tracked my calories, though being outside of my routine definitely made it harder to manage what I ate and there were days where I went over calories but I know it was due in part to my body trying to compensate for the amount of exercise I was getting walking around in the summer heat.

I also learned that food tracking seems frustrating to most people because they think they have to be perfect. I tried to track everything, often overestimating size or selecting something with higher calories in MyFitnessPal so that I could feel like I was on the right side of tracking. Tracking doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be a strong guide.

I was also reminded of my inability to stick with things when doing this project. Yes, I completed tracking, but all of the secondary things that I wanted to do with this project all fell to the wayside. I also really didn’t think I would have so many days where I went over my calorie limit and looking back at all the red highlighted numbers in my spreadsheet make me feel like a failure, despite the other results.

Lastly, I learned that people wanted to see me succeed. Throughout the entire year, even after I had stopped posting on social media about the challenge, people continued to ask how it was going. Some people were apologetic, assuming that I had given up, others were openly curious, and still others just looked to make small talk, but it felt nice to be asked how things were going regarding this, and no matter my response, everyone was so supportive and encouraging. I think we all need to celebrate health victories, even the small or temporary ones, so that those that are struggling can hopefully be more open to sharing, more open to collaborating, more open to challenging themselves publicly.

Heading into 2020

So, I am sure you are wondering what I’m going to do in 2020. Will I continue to track calories? Will I do a more restrictive challenge?

There were times that I thought that my next step would just be making the challenge more difficult for myself and roll into 2020 with 200,000 fewer calories and do a challenge focused on staying under 800,000 calories for the year or maybe something like 750,000 to make it the three-quarters of a million calories challenge, but I decided not to do that.

I had a difficult time constantly tracking my calories, not because it was difficult, but because I was sick of making it a priority. I lost passion for this project about half way through the year, and decided around the same time that in 2020, I’ll be doing much shorter challenges in hopes of keeping my interest higher to improve my health.

I think that in 2020 each challenge will be between one and three months long. Each challenge will be focused on health. This means that I can go beyond just focusing on calories and work on my mental health, improving my general fitness through exercise, and/or continue to work on eating challenges.

My January 2020 Challenge

I am thinking that January will be intermittent fasting. I am considering a schedule of having 18 hours of fast time per day and 6 hours of available eating time. I’ll continue to track things like my mood, my weight, and other notes in hopes of learning new things about myself and seeing what I can take going forward.

Annie has said that she may try to join me on doing intermittent fasting, though her school schedule might make it more difficult to be strict on timings as we don’t want her to be in class and thus miss her opportunity to eat.

Other Challenge Ideas

Some other ideas I have in mind include:

  • No processed sugar for a month
  • Whole food, plant based diet with nuts and legumes for a month
  • 1 hour of meditation and mindfulness per day for a month
  • 5 Data points of emotion/mood tracking per day for a month
  • 1,000 push-ups in a month
  • 5 KM of tracked movement per day for a month

If you have other suggestions on things I could try, I’d certainly be interested in researching it and maybe adding it to my rotation. I know some of these might seem super easy to some of you, but I want 2020 to be more approachable, more flexible in what it lets me do, so that I can give more creativity, more energy to other pursuits but not completely lose track of needing to continue to learn more about my body and how to sustain a healthy self.

I hope you’ll all join me and find some small way to make 2020 a better year for your own health and happiness. Thank you again to everyone that took the time to encourage and support me in 2019!

Affordable Houses in Canada

My wife and I are struggling to own a home and have been for some time and I recently saw an article that compares places to live at a $600,000 price point across Canada that made me feel inadequate and frustrated.

My first response was, “what does something more reasonable look like?”

What is reasonable?

I took a look at the median household income across Canada and then found the average of those reported numbers. It came to $88,368.57 per year. This number seems rather high to me, but not impossibly so.

I jumped over to the Realtor.ca Affordability Calculator and punched in that income with zero expenses and got the following numbers.

So if you have $106,325 saved up, you can get a $531,624 house. That’s still almost $70,000 short of the $600,000 homes that the article I read looked at.

On the right side, you’ll see a $400,00 house as an option if you have $20,000 for the down payment. I put these values in to see what the calculator would give for only five percent down.

My wife and I have been looking at houses in the $275,000 to $360,000 range.

What is the current average price of a home in Canada? According to a CBC article from April 15, 2019, it is around $481,745. Again well short of the $600,000 comparison despite the article saying that places like Toronto and Vancouver skew that number higher due to their more competitive markets.

Some fun rules:

  • In this post, I’m not going to include condos (apartment condos, row house condos, etc…)
  • The house has to already be built, as houses to be built typically end up costing more than their listed price as a builder’s minimum specifications at the “low end” of the market tend to be fairly crummy.
  • I am also going to filter out mobile homes and modular homes as their resell value can end up being rather weak and they are typically on land leases that end up being like condo fees.

Houses Across Canada for $400,000

Of course this doesn’t take into account houses that are listed for a few thousand over $400,000 that could be sold for under that line.

British Columbia

You aren’t going to get something in one of the major cities for this price if you want to meet the criteria I’ve put in place, but outside of that, there are still opportunities to be found.

Chilliwack

$389,900 – 2 Bedroom, 2 Bathroom, Single Family home. It is 1196 sq ft and in a 45+ gated community.

Penticton

$389,000 – 2 Bedroom, 1 Bathroom, Single Family home. It is 860 sq ft and allows for a 1000 sq ft carriage home.

Alberta

I am impressed with what’s available in the big cities in Alberta. They went through a hard financial reset and are still in recovery, so their houses seem to be a strong value.

Calgary

$384,900 – 3 Bedroom, 3 Bathroom, Single Family home in Evanston, Alberta. It is 1442 sq ft and only nine years old.

Chestermere

$399,900 – 3 + 1 Bedroom, 4 Bathroom, Single Family home. It is 1688 sq ft.

Edmonton

$400,000 – 4 Bedroom, 3 Bathroom, Single Family home. It is 1394 sq ft and has a gourmet kitchen.

Northwest Territories

There wasn’t anything listed in the Yukon or Nunavut for the filters I’ve put in place, but there was something in the Northwest Territories… Just one though.

Yellowknife

$399,950 – 4 Bedroom, 2 Bathroom, Single Family home. Built in 1967 and has two separate living spaces and a commercial shop.

Saskatchewan

At first, with my search selections, I couldn’t find anything in Saskatchewan. I realized that the filters I was putting in place for the type of houses I was looking for was causing the tool to filter out everything.

Saskatoon

$399,900 – 3 Bedroom, 3 Bathroom, Single Family home. It was built in 2019 and has 1472 sq ft of floor space. The basement is legal suite ready and open for future development.

There were a ton of newly built homes in Saskatoon for around $400,000 and many of them list that they can be used to rent out to people, either with a basement suite or houses setup as more than one unit. It seems to be a major focus of the market.

Regina

$399,900 – 4 Bedroom, 3 Bathroom, Single Family home. Built in 1972, it has 1805 sq ft of floor space. The basement, of course, has a second kitchen and is ready to be used as a rental suite.

Manitoba

Winnipeg seems to be a mixed bag. You can get a little bit of everything at this price point.

Winnipeg

$399,999 – 4 Bedroom, 3 Bathroom, Single Family home. Built in 1958, it has many renovations, especially in 2019 as they got ready to sell. It has 1514 sq ft of floor space.

Winnipeg

$392,500 – 4 Bedroom, 2 Bathroom, Single Family home. Built in 2017, it only has 990 sq ft of floor space. It is set-up as two units with the lower unit having 708 sq ft.

Ontario

My wife and I live in Ontario and so this section is the most interesting to me. I know that in some locations, a really nice house can be had for $400,000 but in the more populated areas where the jobs are, it can become quite difficult to find something fitting the criteria I’ve set.

Thunder Bay

$399,900 – 3 + 1 Bedroom, 4 Bathroom, Single Family home. Built in 1990, this house has 2312 sq ft of floor space.

Sudbury

$390,000 – 4 Bedroom, 2 Bathroom, Single Family home. Corner lot, granite counters, and a cozy breakfast nook are the main selling points of this house.

Windsor

$400,000 – 3+1 Bedroom, 2 Bathroom, Single Family home. Basement apparently has a marble and hardwood floor.

London

$399,999 – 3+1 Bedroom, 2 Bathroom, Single Family home. Built twenty years ago as a model home.

Cambridge

$399,000 – 2+1 Bedroom, 1 Bathroom, Single Family home. Separate side entrance to the basement.

I tried to find a place in Kitchener/Waterloo but was unable to under the criteria I’ve put in place near the value I’ve selected. There were some houses under $400,000 but they were handyman specials that almost needed to be knocked down.

Guelph

$395,000 – 2 Bedroom, 1 Bathroom, Single Family home. They talk more about location than the house and note that it is being sold in ‘as-is’ condition.

As you can see thanks to Guelph, as we get closer to the GTA, the house you get drops quickly. Land is more expensive as you get there, but is labour also more expensive? What about building supplies? The pricing change due to supply and demand, this far out seems huge!

Ajax

$369,000 – 0 Bedroom, 0 Bathroom, Single Family home. Property being sold ‘as-is’ due to a previous fire in the house.

This was one of the closest to GTA single, detached family houses you could buy under $400,000. Amazing, right?

Oshawa

$399,900 – 3 Bedroom, 2 Bathroom, Single Family home. Another property being sold ‘as-is’, but it has some recent upgrades like it’s shingles in 2017.

A little further out in Oshawa, you start to get more choices again, but they all seem to have some serious problems or weird compromises.

Kingston

$389,900 – 3 Bedroom, 3 Bathroom, Single Family home. It is on the west end of town and has a fairly long lot at 181 feet.

As I said, we live in Kingston, and the prices here have gotten fairly high, competing with large areas like the edge of the Greater Toronto Area and Greater Ottawa Area. There are many homes in Kingston under $400,000 but they are old, small, in disrepair and/or right on the busy railroad tracks.

Ottawa

$389,900 – 2 Bedroom, 1 Bathroom, Single Family home. The listing says the house needs a lot of TLC, but it is on a 150 x 100 foot lot.

Quebec

Longueuil

$399,999 – 4 Bedroom, 2 Bathroom, Single Family home. Built in 1987, it looks well taken care of and updated, but no listing information is really shown on Realtor.ca

Quebec City

$399,000 – 3 Bedroom, 1 Bathroom, Single Family home. Built in 1951 with a sunken garage and laundry in the kitchen.

I feel like the province of Quebec has some really great house pricing, especially for the size of the cities and towns they are in.

New Brunswick

Fredericton

$399,500 – 4 Bedroom, 3 Bathroom, Single Family home. They call it an executive home with an attached double garage.

Nova Scotia

Halifax

$399,900 – 3 Bedroom, 4 Bathroom, Single Family home. Built in 2010 and interestingly it lists a public price history showing it sold in 2011 for $319,900.

Prince Edward Island

Charlottetown

$399,000 – 3 Bedroom, 4 Bathroom, Single Family home. Built in 2007 in what the listing calls the most desired neighborhood.

Newfoundland & Labrador

St. John’s

$399,900 – 3 Bedroom, 2 Bathroom, Single Family home. It comes with a detached garage, the house has nine foot ceilings and was built in 1970.

Conclusion

So, there you go.. That’s a cross-section of houses in Canada for under $400,000. If your family earns more than $90,000 per year and you have around $25,000 saved up, you can buy something out in the market, but depending on where you look, you’ll end up with something of a small size and/or low quality. If you are okay with that and feel a strong need to own your own place, then hopefully this helps give some ideas and thoughts.

If more people were able to take advantage of remote work, then maybe more people could spread out over our wonderful country instead of concentrating into a few large metropolitan areas.

While I do work from home, I need to wait until I’m done my taxes for 2019 before I could qualify for a mortgage. We also need to save up more as our expenses are rather high, but we are making progress.

Why do we want a home of our own? It is a nice forced savings program and there’s a nice sense of control in home ownership. I hope you enjoyed this post. I think I’ll be writing more about housing in the future.

Christmas Letter 2019

What a year it has been!

At the end of December 2018, I decided that I would challenge myself this year to track my calories and make sure I ate less than one million calories. It was a fun challenge, at first, and then the grind set in. I managed to keep tracking, but the real spirit of the challenge was lost along the way. In 2019, I plan on doing shorter challenges, but always focused on improving my physical and mental health.

We are still living in Kingston, in the same apartment that we first moved into when we came back here in early 2017. In less than two months, we will have been here for three years. This is one of the longest times in recent memory where I’ve stayed in one spot, and not only is it a record for not moving, but also for my career. I’ve been with PressTitan almost two and a half years, and it is officially my longest single continuous job.

Speaking of PressTitan, it is doing rather well. I still love what I do, and working with my co-founder, David, continues to be great. I feel like we continue to fill any gaps that the other has and we work well to keep us both from going too far off track with our creative ideas. We are growing, albeit slower than we would have liked, and we are constantly learning and improving our processes. We are definitely more ready today for a jump in clientele than we have ever been before.

We have some ideas of how to make 2020 our best year yet, but as we all know, ideas are easy, execution is hard. There isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t think to myself, “I hope I get to do this forever…”

One of the coolest things from this year is that I finally got to meet David in person. Annie and I went to the Philippines for three weeks. It was amazing. The more I travel, the more I feel connected to the world and grateful for the opportunities I’ve had. There is nothing better than expecting a huge amount of culture shock, only to realize that even on the other side of the planet, people are mostly the same.

I will say that the outlook of the average Filipino on our North American style of life made us laugh more than once. More than once we were told that they think that the treadmill we put ourselves on with acquiring stuff and having larger and larger bills we are required to pay is dumb.

Luna, our dog, continues to be a huge joy bringer in our lives. As it gets cold outside, her washroom breaks have us a little exhausted from the winter weather already, but her demeanor, intelligence, and more has really improved our lives. It was hard leaving her with family during our big trips this year, but we super appreciated the opportunities that our family’s care of her afforded us.

I said trips with an “S”, didn’t I? We also went to Florida this past summer. One of Annie’s nieces and one of her nephews, both adults, both able to drive, came with us. We drove down and back as quick as we could, taking shifts and going through any kind of weather so that we could enjoy as much time in Florida as possible. We went to Universal Studios, and did a few other activities to fill the time. Mostly, we enjoyed the beautiful weather, scenery and just getting away.

Two of the major highlights for me were seeing people. I got to meet a younger friend of mine that I play video games with. His family welcomed Annie and I in like we were their own, and his dad took us out to an air boat ride. It was a great visit. The second person that I got to see was a boss of mine from a previous company I worked at. She was a strong mentor to me, despite how short of a time we got to work together. She helped me refine my sense of order and build some true project management skills. She wasn’t afraid to highlight my shortcomings or compliment me on the things I did right. It has always been very powerful to me that I got to experience that, and so it was amazing to be able to spend time with her. We went to a fondue restaurant that was amazing, but probably a once in a lifetime thing as it was fairly expensive.

The medicine the doctor prescribed for my depression has continued to work well. It has helped me maintain a good control over my emotions and that has given me the energy to manage my anxiety a bit more.

My personal blog finally got over the 1,000 post mark. I didn’t do as much writing for myself as I had hoped, neither on my blog or my creative writing projects. Most of my time and focus has been on work more than anything else. I did make some progress on The Forgotten Vanir first draft, but it isn’t done yet and doesn’t look like it’ll get completed until sometime in late 2020.

Annie finished a successful year at St. Lawrence College working on her Bachelor’s of Psychology and entered her second year of the program. She is excited to continue forward and has continued to develop and cultivate friendships at the school.

We’ve also been spending more time with my family. Going to my aunt and uncle’s place for dinner around three times a month seems to be the new norm. I love visiting with them and they make such great food. I hope we get to continue spending time with them often in 2020.

In 2018, I also found the confidence, in part thanks to Annie, to start working on changing my name. I have assumed the name Malcolm for more than a year and a half at this point and feel good about it. I have the paperwork pretty much complete to make it a legal name change, but things like travelling and other things have come up that have delayed the change. It will happen in 2020! I hate needing to remember which name I’m using for what… That’s getting old real fast.

Annie and I are looking forward to what 2020 brings and we are hopeful it’ll be our best year yet, from her education to our heath, our finances and our families. Thanks to everyone that has supported me over the past year and continues to do so. Thank you to everyone that has reached out over this past year, your love and support made 2019 the best for me in recent memory.

NIT vs Basic Income: My “Basic” Thoughts

I want to preface this by saying that I am no expert in anything related to politics, the economy, finances, social structures, etc. I am just a regular person trying to provide my personal view on these topics and that as my understanding increases my opinions may change.

So I recently had a comment on one of my previous blog posts (UBI: A Transitional Economic Tool) where invertedlogicblog proposed that Negative Income Tax or NIT would be a better, more fiscally responsible way to provide people with an income floor. I haven’t done as much thinking or research on the idea of a negative income tax as I have basic income, so I read through their article and then started reading others. Some things bugged me about NIT right away…

NIT is Cheaper?

The numbers I’m seeing for comparing a Negative Income Tax to a Basic Income only show the total cost outlay of the money that each “qualified” person would get. In a NIT solution, only those reporting incomes under a certain threshold would receive what basically amounts to a cash refund from the government to be used as stimulus and everyone in UBI would get the same amount of money no matter how much or little they made. These differences create a false narrative.

Let’s say that we have a NIT that provides $10,000 to any person making less than $40,000 per year and take away $0.50 per additional dollar earned. So at $60,000, the person doesn’t get any further “tax refund”.

So it seems like that makes NIT a great way to go because those making $60,000+ don’t get anything from the program.

Over on the basic income side, if we provide $10,000 per year to everyone, then people making $60,000 get $10,000. People making $250,000 get $10,000. So the UBI program is more expensive, right?

No.

With a progressive tax system, the government claws back that money in the same way as the adjustment system tracking NIT payments is done. We adjust tax rates to compensate for the payouts in the system.

So for argument’s sake, we adjust the tax rates so that those at $50,000 of income ($40,000 + $10,000 UBI) don’t pay any additional tax. Then, the bracket above that is adjusted to recoup a certain percentage of the UBI payout until at $70,000 of income ($60,000 employment and $10,000 UBI) the person pays back the full UBI amount they receive. Thus, anyone above that point wouldn’t receive any net income transfer from the government.

Now UBI and NIT start to have similar costs.

Note: I am not saying that any of these numbers are the right way of building out this system. I’m using simple numbers for easy comparisons.

Update: My wife wanted more commentary on this part… So I’ve added the next few paragraphs.

Another big thing that people talk about is giving money to the wealthy and how that is dumb. I get it. It does seem dumb to give to people that don’t need it, but if UBI deposits are managed/executed by computers since it is universal on reaching adulthood, then it doesn’t matter how many payments are sent out, that doesn’t create additional administration burden and since the money comes back through taxes, it doesn’t create a true financial burden on the system.

Also, people talk about the rich avoiding taxes or creating systems where it looks like they have no income so that they can pay less taxes, no taxes or even qualify for more money, but both of these systems, as well as our current one, are vulnerable to this kind of abuse. We can continue to add layers of oversight to try to mitigate this kind of tax avoidance, but at the end of the day, NIT and UBI are more about creating an income floor and not focused as much on trying to solve income inequality. Other systems and tools need to solve that issue.

One Time vs Monthly

A Negative Income Tax typically is setup as a one-time payment to those that qualify and only after their need has been established. I think this is the greatest Achilles heel of NIT.

NIT Story

Say that John lost his really great paying job in October. Tax season is in April. John’s industry has been gutted for one reason or another and finding a job in the same or adjacent fields is next to impossible. He applies to minimum wage jobs, but so many of his colleagues and the colleagues of his competitors have flooded the market.

John gets some money from the social assistance programs that exist, but some turn him away because his last tax filing tells them that he should have had more than enough to save for this rainy day. John sells everything he owns that has value to make ends meet. He wants to work. He needs to work, but there’s nothing currently.

Tax season comes and John files his taxes. The government takes a look at his high earnings from the previous year and he doesn’t qualify for a refund. That Negative Income Tax that everyone is always talking about isn’t going to help John this year.

Thankfully, after maxing out all of his credit cards, and receiving very little support from the government, he finds a job in June. John was unemployed for almost nine rough months, but he made it to the other side. No thanks to NIT.

UBI Story

In another country, UBI has been set-up. A very similar situation occurs, where Mary loses her job in October. But this time, Mary gets a payment transfer at the start of November. Their UBI transfer. She uses it to feed herself, to continue paying rent and to continue looking for a new job.

Tax season comes around and she puts in her numbers. The government got paid taxes by Mary’s previous company at a rate that fit the expectations of her salary, so with the drop in earnings she’s had over the last three months of the year, she doesn’t owe anything additional, in fact, she is due a small refund from their yearly taxes.

Mary didn’t max out her credit cards, she didn’t have to sell everything of value to cover the gap in employment. While she did increase her debt over the year by paying for the gap between her expected lifestyle and the lifestyle that UBI could help her afford, she is able to look around at her small apartment and feel safe, comfortable and happy.

Overview

In my opinion, a one-time financial transfer has all kinds of limitations and doesn’t deal with edge cases very well. It also seems very reactionary, creating situations where people have to prove they are worthy of an income floor. This disconnect creates the potential for a negative perception towards those that are getting the Negative Income Tax.

How Do I File Taxes?

The other concern I have with the Negative Income Tax solution is that it requires people to file their taxes. While most of us think this an easy thing, thanks to the various accounting services or computer programs that we use, for those without similar resources, navigating the paperwork and terminology can be quite difficult and when mistakes can cost you the ability to get the money you need or to get more than you deserve potentially creating a situation where you can be penalized, it could end up being more messy.

Sure, under a UBI, there will be people that don’t submit their taxes and they’ll make money under the table and thus get more than they deserve, but the same issue can occur with NIT. Both of these systems don’t have a great way to address fraud or waste. That has to be expected. We can put in place various solutions and systems to reduce this to a manageable level but it can be difficult to balance protecting money and making it easily accessible for those that need it.

People Will Stop Working

Good. That should be the goal of our society.

We weren’t built to work eight hours per day, five days a week. Work should be a source of fulfillment and a source for “more”. If you want to drive a nicer car, own a nicer cell phone, have more land, a larger house, then you work, make money and have those things. But any article or person that believes we should be okay with anyone starving, being homeless, being constantly sick, or lacking the opportunity to have a reasonable quality of life is messed up in my opinion.

And if you think it is unfair that they don’t have to work, then once one of these systems in place…stop working too. Join them. I don’t care. It opens up a position for someone that wants to work. If there are a bunch of people leaving the job market and it hasn’t been completely automated or outsourced away, then competition in an industry to get qualified candidates may mean an increase in salary and/or benefits.

People always joke about no one wanting to be the garbage man or clean toilets, but if those jobs end up being high paying, very rewarding jobs with fairly short shifts, then I think people might take them on, at least until they can be automated…

Conclusion

I still need to do a ton more research on these topics. My understanding of them is still very limited, but I hope that this article gave you some new ideas, a new perspective to explore. I don’t have the solution for our society, but I do know that it is going to require some radical changes if we want to maintain a somewhat comparable quality of day-to-day adult life that the last two or three generations in North America have experienced.

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.