Friday, July 19, 2013

Roadside Ransacking

The other night we ventured off to Toronto to see a slapped together 'reunion' benefit show of the Kids In The Hall.  If you don't know who the Kids in the Hall are you should check them out on Youtube.  I truly don't think you'll be disappointed.  But basically they are a Canadian sketch comedy group formed in 1984, consisting of comedians Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson (my personal favourite, though it is hard to pick one).  Their TV show ran from 1988-1995.  They basically played all the main roles themselves even if they were playing women. great.

Anywho, back to the post at hand.  Following the show on our way home as we neared our house we drove (slowly I might add) past another house with a ton of 'junk' piled at the curb waiting for pick up the following morning. Since Pinterest entered my life I find it difficult to casually drive past these piles without wanting to look.  This was a magnificent pile too (the largest I've ever seen), how could my curiosity not be piqued???  In those ruins one treasure simply must lay!   So we got home, grabbed the dog and off we went into the dark night to stalk through someone else's garbage.  An event I'm not terribly fond of performing I might add.
We found not one treasure but four (though one turned out not to be such a hot score, another turned out to be an amazing find)!  We rushed back home to grab the van (thank goodness for stow and go seating) and headed back to claim our finds.  Of course, I made sure to dim all the interior lights to draw less attention to ourselves as we picked through another man's garbage.  We salvaged quite a large seaman's trunk, a smaller version of a seaman's trunk, a white, wicker dresser and a square, wooden table. 

When we lifted up the large trunk to put into the van we noticed it was full of 'stuff'.  It was locked though so we couldn't open in on the spot and I'll be damned if I was standing out there any longer than I had to be to try to open it.  I told Eric to put it in the van, we'd pick the lock when we got home.  No big deal.  We loaded up our other finds and quickly, though limpingly (as I hurt myself during the process - of course!), headed home to excitingly go through this locked container.  

Within three minutes Eric had the lock off and we were getting our hands dirty.  So many little treasures and yet none of them seemed to be related to the next.  Here's a link to pictures of all the crazy stuff we found in the trunk when we opened it.  Click it, it's a pretty neat-o montage.

This gave me a teeny, tiny insight into what it would be like to go through a hoarders house (which I genuinely think I would love to do!) but obviously on a much smaller scale.  The crazy old bag of weed was a fun find!  And the money and hockey cards....oh so many treasures!

What a great, unexpected way to cap off an already decent night!  I love me a good find.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

You Just Got Schooled. In Dying.

I find I'm losing patience when it comes to common sense.  Well to be more to the point I'm getting fed up with listening to ignorant people offer up an opinion on a subject they can only speculate on or know absolutely nothing about!  I don't ever offer my opinion about what's right and wrong about a subject I honestly know only snippets (if even that) about.  However, I've read a few 'articles' recently relating to the death care industry about the high, exorbitant costs to die as well as the downside to pre-arranging ones funeral.  I don't think I'm being extreme here when I speculate that likely 10 out of 10 of those times the opinions are offered up by someone completely removed from the funeral industry (maybe they had to arrange a funeral ONCE) or a very disgruntled former funeral director ("who all of a sudden got a conscience?"  Puh-lease!).  So here is a little bit of my opinion on a subject I actually know TONS about, since I live it every day.  Of course I'll probably only skim the surface so if you have read this and have ANY question about the industry at all, please leave it for me in the comments.

Okay, lets take a gander at a situation that has occurred in Nova Scotia (I'll speak mainly from a Canadian standpoint because well...that's where I live and work.  Seems like a good enough reason.).  The actual article is linked up there in the sentence above if you want to make yourself more familiar with the circumstances (it's not long), but I'm just going to zero in on the comments made about the negatives of pre-arranging.

Here's a quick synopsis:
The couple interviewed for this article invested $10,000 (five thousand for each of them) into a CO-OP Funeral Home (pretty much a first of its kind, hence an experimental endeavor/investment) that has since gone belly up.  They, at the time of their investment chose NOT to pre-fund their funeral expenses/plans but rather were relying on the shareholder agreement that upon their death the money they each invested would be refunded back to them to cover the majority of their funeral expenses on top of a 30% discount.

Are we clear on what I just wrote?  Maybe this will help, so lets say their funeral upon their demise would cost $10,000 just to make the numbers easy...they would get 30% off, so that takes them down to $7,000 and then the $5,000 they invested would be returned back to offset the remaining costs, so now their estate just owes $2,000 for the funeral.  Simple right?  Yup!  Provided the Co-op Funeral Home was managed properly and was making money.  Unfortunately that was not the case and they have since gone into receivership and all the investors are out their initial investment.  Recently, the Co-op Funeral Home was sold to another funeral director who already runs four other funeral homes within this Region.  He has AGREED (though he most certainly didn't need to) to offer the investors who did NOT pre-pay their funerals a 35% discount and of course for those that were smart enough to pre-pay their arrangements, their contracts will be honoured completely.

So what have we learned from this dear friends and readers?  Well I'll sum it up for you in a couple sentences.  Investing is risky.  Entering into a legal binding contract (such as a pre-arranged funeral agreement) is safe.

Now lets look at a couple of the ignorant comments that readers of this article felt they needed to share. One suggested that a pre-arranged funeral is similar to buying extended warranties which end up being, frankly, worthless (in his opinion).  Except that a pre-funded funeral is legally guaranteed and protected financially, by the governing bodies of all funeral homes (if the funds are mishandled).  Which basically means that the consumer is protected 100% of the time.  There is also no time limit on pre-paid funerals.  You don't have to die before you are 75 to get it (like term life insurance), you don't have to use it within 5 years (like car warranties), it doesn't matter if you die from an accident, suicide, murder, natural causes, an undiagnosed illness, etc., there will not be some loop hole you have to dance through to get it (again, like life insurance). You just simply have to die!  It really is that easy.  AND, holy shit are you ready for this?  It can be transferred to any other funeral home, like anywhere!  Whoa!  So if you move, you aren't tied to that original location.

Another reader followed up with, "Why bother paying everything years or even decades before your death when you could be investing the money and making a profit?  There will always be cash when you keel over to put you in the ground in some manner."   Oh you stupid, ignorant man (I don't really know that it's a man, I'm just presuming.).  Let me educate you a little.  Funeral costs tend to double every 10 years.  So again, for the ease of math, lets say the average cost to die is currently $10,000 (I can assure you this number is not the real average for a funeral in Canada, it's actually much lower - but that's an entirely new blog post).  That means, for those of you who failed math, that in as little as 10 years (I know I plan to still be around in 10 years, don't know about you.) the same funeral will be more like $20,000.  If you pre-funded your funeral when it cost $10,000 in 20 years you/your estate will have only paid $10,000.  But for Joe Blow who thought pre-arranging was dumb, he's gonna pay $30,000 for the same thing!  Who's dumb now Joe??

You know how that works?  It is because once you pay for your arrangements the prices get LOCKED in at today's costs and your money is invested in an account/policy in your name until the services are rendered.  The funeral home doesn't get the money until you die.  The reason funeral homes practice this is because it secures future business.  The interest that accumulates (and it's quite small) on your invested money is used to offset the rising costs of funerals.  That being said though, if there is excess money in the invested funds than what the funeral costs at the time of death the excess is refunded back to the estate.  On the other hand (which happens more often than not) if the funds come up short, the funeral home absorbs the costs and the estate is not asked to pay anything more on what was pre-funded originally.  Why would a funeral home do this you ask?  Cost of doing business and a chance they are willing to take.  They would rather take a $1000 hit than not do the business at all.

Now since I mentioned the constant increase in funeral expenses, does your life insurance pay-out also increase every ten years to cover these rising costs?  Nope!  Not ever.  So I've heard the old rebuttal of "my insurance will cover my expenses" many times, but if you only have an $8,000 policy it won't (Remember folks, if you make it past 75 years, your term life is kaput)!  Or, the longer you live the less you are leaving for your family after they pay your expenses.  Also, did you know that most funeral homes require a substantial payment up front at the time of your death as a deposit or to cover their out of pocket disbursements they'll conveniently make on your behalf?  Not all do, but most.  It's a sound business practice.  (You wouldn't drive a car for a month before you paid, or use your fridge for three weeks before you paid.)  So who's going to have that extra cash laying around to put out until your insurance money comes in?  If it's pre-paid, the funeral home works directly with the investment company to secure their guaranteed funds. One less thing for your family or executor to worry about.

I am also eager to challenge the comment about there "always being cash around when you keel over to put you in the ground in some manner."  I call complete and utter bullshit!  In today's economic times and the high costs for EVERYTHING, not just dying, more and more people are dying without funds to bury themselves.  More and more pressure is being put on our Regions and tax payers to cover these expenses and more and more funeral homes are taking a great loss on these funerals because the Region will not pay the full expenses.  The funeral homes absorb the remainder of the cost.  A thankless gesture I might add.

You will die.  There is no debate or refusal allowed on your part.  Like it or not, it's really the only guarantee in life.  I can choose to skip out on paying my taxes, I can continue to evade the IRS, but I will die. Eventually.   When my time comes I can choose to sponge off the system (and there are a lot of people out there who are completely okay with this option - they are pieces of shit.  Don't get me wrong there are lots of people who have no other option and I can, 100% of the time, get behind the Region paying for those particular people.), I can leave my family to struggle with what to do with me and come up with the money to cover the costs, or I can prepare for the inevitable and pre-arrange and pre-fund my own wishes.

Funeral homes have made it so much easier to complete this task too.  You can pre-pay it all at once, over 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, 15 years or 20 years.  And if you choose to pre-pay over time and come into a windfall of money, you can pay the remaining off.  But aside from that, just another snippet of information....most of the investment carriers work it similar to an insurance product.  For example, if you make your first payment and unexpectedly die, you are covered 100% completely the amount you pre-arranged.  Doesn't matter that you only made one payment.  Your estate is covered.  In the worse case scenario and you have an existing (existing at the TIME of arrangements not at some point during the payment period) terminal (long term or short term) condition, you only need to make it two years into your payment plan before that same scenario works for you.  So if you have a pre-existing condition and you live two years + a day into your 20 year payment plan and you die around the 5 year mark, the rest is paid off for you.  Extra win now!   Oh pre-arrangements you are so terrible, bad and wrong!  (I'm being sarcastic!)

I could go on for 10 more paragraphs on the many other emotional reasons one should pre-arrange and pre-fund their own funeral but I mainly just wanted to tackle the financial naysayers.  Now of course, I work in this industry so I'm more educated on the benefits of pre-arranging, but I have actually pre-funded my wishes, Eric's and both Gage and Roan's wishes.  I am walking the walk, not just preaching the benefits. A small payment comes out of my bank account every month, just like my RRSP's, my Life Insurance payment, my Car Insurance payment, my Mortgage and Home Insurance can see where I'm going here right?  It's totally feasible and responsible!  You can play devils advocate in whatever warped way you can find to twist this and suggest I'm pro pre-arranging because funeral services is what I do for a living, and while that is partially true, I preach it because it makes sense!  Stop sticking your head in the ground and pretending the inevitable outcome doesn't exist.  But more importantly be educated.  Don't listen to the naysayers if they don't have a clue what they are talking about.  Ask a professional.  No funeral home will charge you to ask questions and get information. And if they do, walk away, you do NOT want to deal with them.

So friends and readers, if you are sitting on the fence, jump off and get'er done.  If you were ignorant, consider yourself more informed.  If you were a naysayer, I hope I've educated you.  Do the right thing, don't leave it for someone else to clean up.

Got more questions that I haven't covered, feel free to ask away.  I'm an open book but if I don't know the answer, I'll find it.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Banana Split Ice Cream Sandwich Cake

Last weekend we were invited to a BBQ at a friend's house and staying true to my nature (recently that is) I perused Pinterest and found an ice cream cake recipe I thought I could mimic or alter.  Not being a fan of peanut butter anything, unless it's lightly melted onto a piece of hot toast, I decided to use the gist of her recipe, but make my own (Holly) edible version.

So I bought two 12 packs of traditional ice cream sandwiches, some local strawberries, some bananas, some ice cream toppings; strawberry, caramel and chocolate to be exact and two tubs of Cool Whip (though I only needed one).

First I layered the bottom of the pan/dish with ice cream sandwiches. I had to cut them to fit properly.  Then I covered those up with a layer of Cool Whip and tossed it into the freezer while I prepped by strawberries and bananas (and by prepped I mean washed and sliced).

I then put down a layer of strawberries and topped those with a layer of bananas.  Upon completion of this I  drizzled on some strawberry sauce.  Here's a photo up to this point.

Next, I added a second layer of the ice cream sandwiches, again cutting them so they'd all fit (see diagram).  

Then I topped it with Cool Whip again and drizzled all three sauces on top (I'm crazy like that)!  I tossed it in the freezer for a few hours before we ate it, but I'm sure you could make this the night before a party and pop it in the freezer. I'd assume you'd need to leave it out for 15 minutes or so to allow it to soften up for cutting.  It's a goobley, gobbley mess, but man this Banana Split Ice Cream Sandwich Cake was uber delicious!

Of course you can pretty much use any thing for the centre.  Chocolate bars, white chocolate, peanut butter cups, fruit, flavoured Cool Whip....anything your imagination can come up with I'm sure.   Mmmm, white chocolate and raspberries would be amazing!  Maybe next time.  What would you use???

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Mud Pies and Memories

I'm all about the silver linings lately.  Which is highly unusual because I used to be the most pessimistic person you would have ever met (I still can be from time to time).  But for a while now I try to find at least one good in every bad or 'meh' situation that confronts me.  A few months ago the vacant lot immediately next door to us was sold.  A house is being built in its place and I will soon have a next door neighbour.  No, like literally butted up to my drive way, next door neighbour  Up to this point, it has been so nice not feeling like I have anyone living next to me when in fact I do.  Oh well, what's done is done.  We've been lucky enough to meet the new neighbours and they seem lovely thus far and I'm 100% confident that they'll take care of their property, blah, blah, that's good!  And, I've come to find out that they'll be putting a fence up between our properties, which was currently on my list of things to do anyway, 'cept now I don't have to pay for it!  Silver lining right?  Ya huh!

So, they broke ground a couple weeks ago.  Now there is a huge pit and a mountain of dirt right next door to me.  No big deal, turns out I like to watch big machines scoop dirt.  But here's the silver lining (besides the fact that the new neighbour said I could take some of the dirt and I got to top up all my gardens with mass quantities for free), for the past couple of days I've gotten the chance to see the little Gage who currently lives in his 16 year old body. I'm catching snippets of the little boy he once was.  I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to convey my feelings about this properly or not, but I'll try.

Gage antagonizing the dog.
For the past couple of evenings, Roan and Gage (and their buddies) have been scaling this mountain and ascending into the empty pit to partake in sword and light saber battles.  They have emerged, after hours of play, so dirty we've had to hose them off in the backyard.  Please keep in mind, I'm reminded daily, that Gage is closer to being a man than he is to being a child, so it's been so nice to see him pass up Call of Duty on the Xbox 360 to play with his brother (and sometimes not even with Roan) and friends in the dirt.  Seeing three 16 year old guys playing on a mountain of dirt with a couple of 12 year old kids, not worrying about their clothes (as they are caked in dirt) or giving a shit about what people in their cars are thinking when they drive past, warms my heart and makes me long for years past.

We've all heard the cliche about kids growing so fast that if you blink you miss it,  and we all know that's not actually true, but they really do excel and grow up so quickly.  These days it seems they grow up even faster, often before they're ready.  They get pressure from their peers, social media, the actual media, and even us parents to give up the childhood 'delusions of grandeur', the silly dreams, the make-believe friends, etc., and step up to reality...the real world.  It's actually disheartening how little time we allot children the chance to be children.  Everything is about readying them for the real world.  When did we start to believe that that was better then letting them enjoy their childhood and allowing them to get their hands and feet dirty every once in a while?

So I'll put my anxieties aside while I watch the mountain of dirt slowly make its way over onto my driveway. I'll silence my frustrations as I clean out my mud covered bath tub each and every day.  I'll not worry about the sludge of soil caking the hoses of my washing machine, eventually they'll run clean again.  I'll look forward to a summer filled with imagination from Roan and I'll cherish the glimpses back into his childhood I will get occasionally from Gage.  Something good has to come out of a summer of construction immediately next door right?!

Aw, there's the teenager emerging again.

 And the irony of all of this is that not a couple weeks later I put Gage on the Go bus/train to Toronto on his own (with friends) for three days to attend The Warp Tour (concert).  It's both a scary and proud moment to watch him set out, quite literally, in my exact footsteps. Sigh...such a confusing period in life for any teenager (not quite a kid, not quite a man) and his mom!

Compromises or Sacrifices?

Sometimes being responsible and making a not so pleasant decision sucks.  That being said, I'm pretty sure I'm making the decision to postpone our family trip to Mexico, slated for November.  And, I'm finding myself quite bummed out about it.  I really, really enjoyed my time there with Margaret a couple of years ago and I really love the idea of sharing a similar experience with my kids and Eric.  Sadly, we've just had too much going on with home renovations to be able to fund all of these endeavors in one year.  And while I do love to travel, I really like getting stuff done around the house as well.

I have only put a deposit down which I'll be able to get back but I'm going to still try to set my sites on next year.  I figure I'm running out of opportunities to travel with both of my kids now that Gage is 16 and working, so I need to stay on top of this.

We've spent a fair amount of money and time this year on building a bedroom in the back, unfinished part of our basement.  We started out with an open ceiling, concrete walls and an uneven concrete floor (sadly I forgot to take before pictures).  Yikes!  But we're finally rounding up now on completion and I think all three of us (Eric, myself and Gage) are breathing a huge sigh of relief for three different reasons!   Eric because he did all the work (with a little help from me), me because my wallet funded it, and Gage because he's been living without real privacy for almost a year now.

It really is a proud moment to see a finished (or quasi finished) room/project.  It's funny how much a little trim completes the look.  We still have to put the trim around his door, install a closet door and trim for that and close off the electrical panel, but other than those small things (which we will likely do this weekend), we're done!  Frankly, he didn't wait for those final tasks to be completed before he started moving stuff in anyway.  He's got a decent little set up in there now.  I managed to find him a used bed frame from Ikea on Kijiji for $15.00.  We scored a solid wood end table originally manufactured in Quebec at a garage sale last week for $2.00 that Eric sanded down and painted a deep grey.  He even created a false bottom drawer for Gage and all the stuff he's not supposed to have.  Yeah, we're cool parents (plus I now know exactly where to look!).  I also managed to secure a really super comfy love seat for his bedroom from Kijiji for $50.00 to make it a better hang out spot to play video games for him and his friends.  Hey, keeps them out of the rest of my house.  Teen-aged boys are not the neatest or tidiest living beings.  We put one of the large screen TV's in there with his gaming systems, so now they're somewhat contained.  And of course, my sweet duct tape remodeled chair I did months ago was added to the decor as well.  I've found him a new bed spread and some darkening drapes, so I'll make him a blind for his window and he's literally all set.

So while all of this means my trip down south has been postponed, it sure is nice to have added another finished room to my house.  And the smile and appreciation emitting from Gage is nice too...I suppose. Next up?  Basement bathroom...or Mexico???  Oh man, back to these responsible and sometimes not so pleasant decisions.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Movie Star in the Making

I think recently we have gotten the chance to really see some of those benefits of A.D.D. that I keep reading about start to pay off for the Roanster.  One Saturday morning during breakfast at our favourite restaurant, Triple D's, on Saturday there happened to be a film crew out front scoping out future diner location sites.  Roan being the nosy-parker he is slithered his way out of the restaurant to snoop around and watch the proceedings.  As they walked away to shoot the building from another angle, he followed and nosed around (close enough to be obvious but far enough away to not intrude).  Worked to his advantage this time (the freckles and flow in his hair probably helped too) as one of the film company employees gave him her contact information and asked him to have one of his parents (me) contact her about him playing a small role in a movie they are shooting in the Niagara Region in September!

Of course to ease the constant pestering I emailed her as soon as we got home.  I heard back immediately.  She mentioned she was looking to have him play a small role in their diner scene and that she loved his freckles.  She said she'd be in contact with us closer to September but we were also welcome to email her back as the summer comes to a close.  He has officially been added to her list!  I don't think he quite understands what an extra is or how they don't get paid because he's already inquiring how much money he's going to rake in for this.  I keep telling him the experience alone will be priceless.  I'm not sure he's falling for it though.