Oddly, buying this pen and paper didn't make me start a new writing project.
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Miraculously, the key to starting a new piece of writing is to start a new piece of writing

For the past two and a half years, I’ve been so caught up with finishing a project (a co-authored book that I also typeset and which will be printed this month) that I’ve forgotten how hard it is to start one. Presently, starting a new writing project is about as hard as convincing a perennially single friend to try online dating just one more time.

It’s exhausting to think about.

In an effort to get out of the starting block, I’m trying to break some habits. “Trying to break” is what people say before they’ve really committed to changing a habit. That’s where I’m at so far. Writing instead of watching another episode of Call the Midwife might be a good start. There’s that word again. “Start.”

I keep telling myself that reading will help me write, but that’s just another wily excuse for not writing.

I bought a new notebook and pen, bargaining with my psyche that the pages of 90-lb ivory vellum were the only thing between me and my next finished product. Riiight. Nice try, Zoey.

The thing about writing it that it doesn’t happen until you do it. That’s like a lot of things. Writers, though, we’re especially good at telling ourselves we’re working on our writing when we’re not actually.

Sometimes when I’m avoiding actually writing I think of my brother, a sculpture student about to graduate from school, and think how painless it must be for him to hone his craft by spending 9 hours in a woodshop. Would he agree that it’s easier than my requirement to slouch at a desk for a few minutes every day and write? I’d ask him, but he doesn’t answer his text messages when he’s working (which also seems like a useful way of getting things done).

I talk to writers all the time who have trouble starting (or continuing once they’ve finally started). I think the failure to launch comes from the same place for all such writers: Fear. Fear that whatever we write won’t be good enough, that we’ll never write something as good as our previous best work, that we’ve lost our touch and it’s never going to come back. Ugh. This preciousness about writing drives me crazy, and yet here I am, feeling as precious as a giggling baby in a cotton headband.

The solution is obviously to write. And rewrite. And rewrite. Then publish the blog post and move on to the next thing you’re going to write.

Eau Claire Distillery's tasting room.
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Cocktail Talk: A gin-soaked tour of Alberta’s first craft distillery

Turner Valley, Alberta, 99 years ago was an intoxicating place to be, I’m learning from the founder of Alberta’s first craft distillery. I’m not using that adjective—intoxicating—to be playful. There is booze to be discussed here, but even more beyond that, David Farran explains to me as we begin a tour of his Eau Claire Distillery.

The town was electrified with the discovery of oil in 1914—one of the most important finds to the early of Alberta’s oil history. The onset of the war in 1916 ushered in foreign oil workers to town when local boys went to fight for Mother England, David tells me.

And on July 1, 1916, Prohibition began in Alberta. You might not have known it in Turner Valley though. David gestures out the front door of the distillery toward what was known as Whisky Row, where the local Speakeasies operated. Then he thumbs out the back way and tells me Whisky Ridge is where folks hid their stills to brew illegal spirits.

It’s in this rich bit of Alberta history (in a former brothel and movie theatre, specifically) that David and his co-founders planted Eau Claire Distillery. It’s Alberta’s first independent craft distiller, where they pride themselves on turning a local bounty into small batches of handcrafted spirits. David took me on a tour of the Turner Valley operation recently, giving me a peek into the world of distilling and a thirst for the single-malt whisky that won’t be ready for another five years still.

Keep reading over at my cocktail blog, Zoey Sips!

Just black, please.
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We spent all our grocery money and now we’re out of coffee

We’ve done a great job of spending all our grocery money every week of the magic jar experiment (we’re in Week 3). Routinely, we just pluck a few bucks from our “Entertainment” jar when “Grocery” runs dry. This works because we planned for a lot of money to be spent on Entertainment. I guess we imagine ourselves as big partiers.

This week we spent all the grocery bucks in one go at Co-Op. I blame this partly on shopping right before dinner (I bought pizza pops and a bottle of Yop), but also we were victims of not shopping the sales as well as we could have. For example we bought frozen lunches that often go on sale for 50% off at full price of $4 each. Very budget unfriendly.

But another big hit to our food budget were the non-edibles like toilet paper and kitty litter. (Our cat likes both).

We need to plan ahead for those larger expenditures by socking away a little grocery money each week instead of spending it all. Alternatively, we could adjust our grocery budget and entertainment budgets so they better reflect where our money is going. Once the month is through we’ll see about that.

Overall though, the experiment is going well. I’ve reigned in my spending, which was necessary post-Christmas, and we’re more thoughtful about where our dollars are going when we leave the house. Being self-employed means I can adjust my schedule to hit Happy Hour for cheap tacos, which I think is very smart budgeting.

If only we had some coffee…

How we fared budgeting using Gail Vaz Oxlade's magic jars for one week
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We blew all our magic jar money this week, but it was a good thing

I knew when we started the jars last week that I would have to spend some of our booty on my trip to the optometrist.

I hadn’t bargained on the eye checkup and contact fitting to cost nearly 50% of our entire budget for the week (maybe one day Alberta Health Care will cover eyes). We technically completely blew our budget this week because of it. But because I didn’t bring that much cash to the eye doctor, I stuck the bill on my debit card and chalked it up to a learning experience.

Because lucky for me, we’re in the learning stages of budgeting, not the eating vs. paying bills stage that we hope to stay away from forever. However, it was a stark reminder that in another scenario going to the optometrist would be out of the question without a proper savings account in place.

Eye appointment aside (and I’m totally happy with my new optometrist and contacts, by the way), I think we did well with our budget jars this week. Sometimes money evaporated quickly, but other times jars stayed full because we were more thoughtful than usual. Here’s a breakdown of where the money went and what we gleaned from it all.

Where our money went this week

  1. We efficiently dispensed of our “Food” jar by Day 5. The best thing we did was making a grocery list, so I spent $50 at Superstore instead of the usual $[inaudible shame of not planning ahead]. I think we could have kept this budget tighter, though, because we were a little loosey goosey with our grocery planning outside of that Superstore list.
  2. Since I’m the only one driving to work right now, our “Transportation” jar was only dipped into once for a gas station trip. I filled up before gas jumped back up to 93 cents a litre, so we still have a few bills in the jar. This is a good thing, because Jason is in the market for new tires.
  3. Our “Entertainment” jar, which held about the same amount of cash as “Food,” became a bit of a fallback jar if we needed tortilla chips for homemade nachos or a croissant from the bakery nearby because I was grumpy that I had to go to the doctor. It was also where we pulled cash for a drink with friends at the pub. If we had to, we could cut way back on our entertainment budget, and I dunno, go to sleep earlier.
    You call that a cell phone?
  4. Speaking of the doctor, I used moolah from “Everything Else” to pay for antibiotics, another unexpected expense, but at least a more manageable one than the optometrist bill. We still have some left in there, too. I might have to dip into it for an outing this evening.
  5. Finally, our “Clothes/Gifts” jar remained relatively untouched. This makes sense, as such things tend to be larger purchases. Jason bought me some chocolate from here just because, and those might even last into Week 2! I’ll also be drawing from here for his V-Day gift, but he’ll probably end up with a homemade card. Can’t win ’em all.

Did we learn anything about budgeting this week?

Oh did we! A few things Jason & I noticed:

  • Seeing how much money is available for the week made us think twice about every purchase. I think it saved us a few frivolous indulgences. Sometimes thinking twice just reminds you how clever you are, though!
  • You can’t plan for every cost that will arise, whether it’s getting sick or a flat tire. So just plan for all unexpected costs by putting aside emergency fund money so you don’t have to forego essentials (like eggs and Internet, not so much fresh-baked croissants) in a bad situation.
  • Plan expenditures whenever you can. Our grocery list was useful, but if it was tied into a menu plan for the week, it would have been way more efficient. Planning=saving. Plus, planning meals ahead might save us from going out to eat one night, which in turn could save us $50 really easily.
    Homemade pizza date
  • If we’re spending most of our budget on food, we may as well make it entertaining. Homemade pizza night gave us an hour of date time in the kitchen together and delicious pizzas just for the cost of mozzarella and olives (which we paid for with a Christmas gift certificate) as everything else was in our pantry or fridge. We’re probably pizza snobs, so this was important.
  • It is possible to leave the house and not spend money! Shocking though it may seem, you can achieve this with such things as thermoses filled with coffee and a granola bar in your purse.
  • When you do go out to spend, there’s always a $5 lunch option you could choose instead of the $10 one. Most meals out are bigger than what you’d serve yourself at home, right?

What’s up for magic jars week 2?

The worst TV shows are those where characters don’t learn anything and keep making the same dumb mistakes week after week. We’ll endeavour to not be those dummies. I see more planning in our future so we can keep socking away our extra dollars for fun things like RRSPs and bagels in New York City.

Tune in next time for more! Got any tips for us? Please, do tell.

Budget jars full of money
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We’re turning to magic jars of money in hopes of socking away a few bucks

We put the money in the jars today.

It’s part of a budgeting exercise popularized by Gail Vaz Oxlade on her show Til Debt Do Us Part and it’s a devastatingly simple to spend more wisely, or at the very least understand your spending better.

In case you’re not familiar, let me give you a quick run down. You plug in some numbers into Gail’s spreadsheet (i.e. your monthly earnings, your monthly expenditures) and her calculations spit out how much money you can/should allot for each of five jars. It’s a bit like a vending machine, except instead of giving you a bag of Hickory Stick-flavoured regret, you get financial planning.

It can be jarring at first to see how much money you have to spend on each area of your life in any given week.

It can be …jarring… at first to see how much (or little) money you have to spend on each area of your life in any given week. Above is a dramatization. We have more than zero dollars this week.

Her calculations come with handy “shoulds” like how much you should aim to spend on housing (no more than 35% of your monthly income) and how much on debt (15%) and savings (10%). It’s a quick way to see whether you’re spending, for example, a little too much on “Life” (should be 25%) and nothing on savings. If you need a reason to start saving 10% of your income, just Google yourself to your bank’s retirement calculator and find out your chances of retiring before age 95. Or don’t and just spend that 10% on wine instead.

Our version of the magic jars

In a flurry of optimism Saturday, Jason suggested we give the jars a shot for February. I must have finally subtly mentioned a budget enough times for him to narrow his options to: capitulate or distract me with a Downton Abby marathon.

He agreed to jarring up our funds for the next month just before realizing February was pretty much upon us. But that didn’t dissuade him. We tallied up some approximations of our spending for Gail’s spreadsheet and he volunteered to gather the cash while I was at work today.

I came home to an envelope of crisp, maple-scented polymer bills just waiting for me to tuck them into their new vessels.

I did this jar budget a few years back when I was living the single life and trying to spend more consciously. This time around, my goal is even less defined. Naturally, there’s the nebulous end-game of wanting to have a little more money in my account between paydays. But there’s also the spectre of a shaky Alberta economy (oil at $48.24 a barrel and the Canadian dollar at $0.79—not a fun way to celebrate Throwback Thursday) and tax season looming (just in time for me to finish paying my 2014 taxes). It just seems like a smart time to get on top of our money before… it gets on top of us, I guess? And evaporates?

Day 1 on the magic jars

Our jars aren’t especially lean. We’ve started with numbers based on what we think we spend in a variety of areas, like groceries, entertainment, clothes and gifts, and our vehicles. It shouldn’t be hard for us to keep our spending within the world of the jars. Shouldn’t. Maybe we’ll slim them down in subsequent weeks.

We mostly tapped into the Food jar today. We spent on such essentials as Soy Milk, Miso Gravy and a brownie. No feelings of deprivation to report! Before we went on our brownie mission (decided we needed something to assuage the windchill after temperatures have dropped about 20 degrees Celsius since last week), Jason momentarily forgot we were drawing our loonies and Bordens only from the jars. If nothing else, we’ll probably save a few dollars on debit fees this month.

My guess is we’ll have some serious bank left at the end of the week. No promises on what we’ll do with it. We do have an empty Bulleit bourbon bottle where we’ve been stuffing our small bills as a makeshift, rye-scented piggy bank. Maybe an RRSP would be wiser? Or just more bourbon?

Will keep you posted. Anyone else ever try the magic jars? Did you have success?

Tweezers ought to be found in every woman's toolbox.
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Advice from my mother (on tweezing)

I found a black hair growing out of my chest after a shower today. It was just a wisp of a thing. Downy soft but so dark it stood out against my pasty January skin like a vegan at a salami festival.

My initial thought was, “ugh, not again.” While it is the season for letting hair explore new frontiers, I have no interest in managing another crop. My second thought was more pensive.

What would my mother say?

I never intend to tell my mom about such personal things. I know she’ll show interest in anything I bring up, because of all that time I spent in her womb, but she’s a busy woman and my self-indulgent stories can drag at the best of times. Yet somehow things like what is growing out of my chest inevitably come up in conversation, especially if she’s plied me with a so-called “quick drink and hello after work.”

But it’s worth bringing up the little things with mom. She’s always got something to say to put life’s little annoyances into perspective.

So I thought about what mom might say, were I to tell her about my follicular visitor. Imagined responses include:

“Was it grey? No? Nothing to worry about.”

“That’s just your Italian side showing.”

“Tell me about it when it’s two inches long and growing out of the side of your neck on your first date with the first guy who answered your phone dating ad.”

I wondered what she would actually say. I asked. I was not disappointed:

Texts with MomBut mom wasn’t done there.

Texts with mom

It’s almost like she’s done this before:

Texts with mom