Letters to my daughter

20160511_000720My Nan used to be a pretty regular letter-writer. She would send handwritten letters to Reader’s Digest about her subscription, to Publisher’s Clearinghouse about contests or about whatever oddity she had purchased from a magazine advertisement. She also wrote letters to family out of province and even sent handwritten notes along with newspaper clippings to my brother, cousins and I.

Near the end of her illness, she was lamenting the lost art of letter writing and the associated difficulties she was having getting her hands on a nice set of letter paper. She angrily growled that she had bused to a handful of card stores only to be told that they no longer carried letter sets. At the time, her legs were so swollen from the lymph fluid building up in her extremities that she would often fall or have to rest frequently. Getting to those card stores represented days’ worth of outings for her. I knew what I had to do.

In the age of Google, my Nan was a steadfast “do-it-in-person”er. I saved myself some time and looked online for a likely place. And found one. A small specialty shop downtown that I knew would have what she wanted.

I made a trip down to choose a patterned paper set for my Nan. The one I picked had 4 different patterns of paper. All were floral and one had gorgeous big strawberries on it. It came with matching envelopes in a box neatly packed. I felt connected to my Nan in a deeply personal way as the lady behind the counter slid the box into one of the shop’s branded plastic bags- I had found this small but longed-for item for her. I felt like somehow I was beating back the march of her cancer to give her this bastion of normalcy- this tool for her voice in the world.

My Nan never got to use the paper. She loved it when I gave it to her. She sat it on the bookcase she used to hold all her assortment of Kleenex, pens, crossword puzzle books and newspapers yet to be clipped.

The day my mother and I went to her apartment to go through her personal belongings, the patterned box of letter paper was sitting where she had left it. My eyes darted to it the moment I entered her crowded little livingroom. Of all the things she left behind, I took a couple rings I remember her wearing through my childhood, a few knickknacks I had given her growing up, and the box of letter paper. I had no earthly idea what I would do with it.I sent my mother a letter, just to try it out- everyone loves getting something besides a bill in the mail after all. Then the box of floral paper and matching envelopes sat forgotten in my closet in a box of my Nan’s things.

I got pregnant some time after Nan passed away. It’s one of my regrets that my daughter never got to know her Grand-Nana. Nan would have doted on her. I think she secretly always hoped I’d have a baby…

When I was as certain as a woman can be that this baby was safely growing and would make her way into this world, I went to Nan’s things in my closet and pulled out the box of letter paper. I never really realized before how youthful, sweet and innocent those patterns were until I looked at them with my daughter in mind. I would use Nan’s letter paper to introduce myself to my unborn daughter.

I began writing letters weekly to her after that. I would tell her about our doctor appointments, about my prenatal yoga classes, my last days of work, our baby shower, and her father. I wrote to her about how much I loved her already and how big she was growing. I told her when she was the size of an eggplant and when she grew finger nails. I even wrote to her from our delivery room- before the contractions made coherent thought impossible!

I have continued to write to her, although we have long since exhausted the supply of Nan’s letter paper. I look at the pile of sealed envelopes and feel a surge of love and pride. In a way, Nan will get to meet my daughter. She has become for us the opening to a lifelong conversation. I will tell my daughter how these letters started- and maybe, when she moves away or goes to college, these letters will go with her. A piece of her past before she even drew breath. A reminder of my love for her. Small snapshots of our life together before she could remember for herself. Maybe someday her daughter will be reading those letters, seeing my handwriting, learning about her mom as a baby,as a little girl and a young woman. You see, I plan on writing to my daughter for years to come- I imagine her reading these letters any time she feels lonely or homesick.

Nan gave us that. The power of words, gifted lovingly on patterned stationery.

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5 Things Veterinary Medicine Has Taught Me

1. We are not all playing the same game

Some of us are moving through life to accumulate- wealth, renown, relationships, experience; these folks tend to reduce everything to that common denominator. Some of us move through life to push our boundaries; these folks like to be uncomfortable and tend to shake up the “norm” for those around them. Some of us move through life seemingly at the whims of circumstance or the decisions of others, falling “prey” to the whimsy of fate. Often these folks bemoan their lot, never fulling owning their own power.Some of us long for connection and spend all our days reaching out to fill a void inside ourselves that we feel lovers, friends, children or pets could fill. These are just a few examples.

Our motivations in this life have an undeniable way of shaping our experience of our time here, and our relationships with others on this journey.

2. You can’t force others to share your values or priorities.

As you would expect, therefore, you can not change the driving force of others you encounter. If connection is your raison d’etre, you will struggle with the boundary pushers, or the accumulators. You may find your relationships with them a challenge. You may feel like you are speaking different languages and that common ground is hard to come by. What we must realize is that these people do have values and priorities that resonate with them and to truly connect, it is the job of the evolved among us to recognize and speak to those values. Each of us has our own thought habits to overcome to allow us healthy and prosperous relationships based on mutual appreciation and non-judgment.

We may feel misunderstood, or frustrated when we try to appeal to others based on our motivators. That frustration is a foolproof indicator that we are not communicating in the ways the other person needs. This is not to say you should manipulate others feelings to get them to view things your way, but rather true communication can only occur when you are willing to occupy the other person’s thought space.

3. Sometimes the cost of doing the right thing makes the right thing impossible

In veterinary medicine, as in many areas of life, cost can be monetary, or emotional. To provide the highest quality of medical care, one must assume a sometimes not insignificant expense. And sometimes that expense is more than our financial reality can bear. We are forced to choose between paying for utilities or following the treatment recommendations for our dear furry friend. Other times, you may be asked to end the suffering of a friend although you are devastatingly, and gut-wrenchingly unprepared to do so.

Whether financial or emotional, we may find ourselves paralyzed by the “cost”.

4.  There is often more than one right thing to do

This requires the kind of thoughtful appreciation of another’s values and priorities we have already discussed. We may offer an option that we feel is medically, financially or emotionally sound only to have the other person respond with “I can’t”. It is our job as empathetic people to dig a little deeper. We need to understand the motivating factors that drive the way others think and make decisions. We need to find out what is really important to them- carefully, and compassionately- through dialogue as equals.

In veterinary medicine we must consider: Do they want to ensure a pain-free end of life? Do they need to be strict with their money and make decisions based on other outside pressures? Are they uncomfortable with invasive or extensive medical procedures and treatments? Is there another family member whose desires they are trying to anticipate?

Remember- we are not all playing the same game… We have to allow that in any given situation, there may be more than one way to proceed.

5. You can’t care more for others than you care for yourself

One of my favourite analogies is that you can not pour from an empty vessel. You can not give to others when there is nothing left inside you. Veterinary medicine, like other caring professions, can take a huge toll on it’s professionals. They are placed in constant flux between the joys of new pet ownership, and the heartbreak of goodbyes bid to elderly companions. Many times we have been on the emotional roller-coaster of life, illness, treatment and passing right alongside the pet owners we serve. This job is very personal and can leave us exhausted, angry, jaded and even seriously depressed.

You must take the time to nurture your spirit. You must feed your body with healthy foods and replenish it with quality rest and vacation. You must seek help and support to navigate the ups and downs and you must always put yourself at the top of your priorities- regardless of the outside pressures to sacrifice yourself on the alter of Caring.

 

Above all we must remember that people- all people- have a deep desire to feel loved, appreciated and valued for their differences. By extending yourself just a little, you may change someone’s experience in ways you could never predict. Be willing to embrace that responsibility. The life you change may just be your own.

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The beginning of the end

When my daughter was placed on my chest moments after her birth, I knew we were in this thing together.

She latched pretty well right off the bat from what my inexperienced eyes could tell- and the parade of nurses who checked on us did nothing to dispel that idea. Sure, our doctor told me she had a tongue tie and we would have to watch her feedings for the first few days, but she was happy to wait to do the procedure to rectify it in case it wasn’t necessary.

So we went home on day 3 thinking we were on the way to breastfeeding bliss.

Then the crying started. And I never got that big swell of milk coming in… maybe it was the Cesarean, or maybe the fact we were induced 10 days early. Maybe it really was just the tongue tie. Or my hormones, or GMO food in my diet…. who knows? Whatever it was we were in for the battle of her young life just to keep her fed.

I latched her every 2 hours at least, and when she was latched, she would suck for ages, fall asleep and then wake up crying and hungry all over again. The public health nurse started my worry about my daughter’s weight gain. Then the formula was added- and increased. The pumping took over much of my days and nights. I started every pill and supplement I could get my hands on. I drank the tea and manually expressed.

By the time my daughter was 3 months old, her life had become a blur for me- nursing, pumping, sterilizing, nursing, bottle-feeding, and always the crying…

My lactation consultant finally showed up after our 3rd tongue/lip tie procedure at about 4 months and said the words I longed and dreaded to hear- stop trying so hard! You are doing everything that could reasonably (and unreasonably) be expected of you. You will burn out. You are enough. One bottle of formula- or 2, or 3- are not the end of the world. Give yourself permission to release the guilt and fear. Give yourself permission to sleep, and breathe….

So I did. Slowly I cut back the pumping session frequency and duration. I kept formula and breastmilk in alternating bottles on the top shelf of my fridge- feeling that it was a win if I could keep enough breastmilk in the fridge to equal the number of formula bottles. It was a win if she finished a feeding and actually fell asleep. It was a win if I could keep going for another day…

This became our new normal. I counted the days when she only took one formula bottle and my body could provide the rest. I rejoiced with every gained ounce and every full tummy. I thought to myself,”This is okay. We can do this. We can get to the benchmark 12 months like this. Some nursing, some pumping , some formula…”I even managed to start freezing some breastmilk occasionally.

Then she turned 6 months and started showing interest in what we were eating.

She took to the spoon and finger foods with gusto. She was so much more easily satiated and stayed happier for longer… I was still feeding her 2-3 feedings of breastmilk a day- whether nursing or from the pumped bottles in my fridge….Then I started noticing that I was getting ahead of her in pumped milk and I found myself freezing more and more of my breastmilk every week. Then the doctor said she could start having water. She drank even less milk. She actually stopped breastfeeding except first thing in the morning when she woke up. She is so curious and so strong- she wants to watch the world and sit up, not lay back to nurse. No position brought us any more success… so I virtually stopped trying to put her to the breast and replaced those unwanted nursing sessions with more pumping sessions. After everything we had been through, I didn’t want to lose what milk production I had wrested from my body. I wanted her to still be getting nourishment- at least in part- from her mother. I felt so attached to the process; so identified with our breastfeeding saga…. I couldn’t just give it up.

She is now 8 months old. She still nurses first thing in the morning as we lie side by side in the bed. The rest of her day, she eats solids and drinks maybe 1-2 bottles a day if I really get on her to do so. The soreness in my breasts has lessened. I’m producing less now when I pump. She goes 11 hours overnight without waking so the only time I really feel full is when I first wake up.

I still find myself feeling anxious and looking at the clock through my daily errands and activities. Should I be pumping right now? When was the last time I tried her with her bottle? If I haven’t pumped, and am away from home, I feel very stressed and sad. I need to get home. I need to pump. I need to keep my body in this game. I’ve fought so hard to get here and I feel unprepared to quit…

I know the time is fast approaching when she will refuse the bottle. She already requires coaxing. I have a fridge freezer filled with frozen milk I desperately hope we will use, but fear I will end up having no use for. I fear the process of releasing this bond and allowing my breasts to dry up. I fear having to throw that milk away.

I never expected to feel so much of my identity and value as a mother caught up in breastfeeding. I had wanted a positive and empowering breastfeeding relationship with my daughter to begin our life together. It has not always been positive, or empowering, but we have been in it together. Maybe I now need to hear her when she says, “It’s okay,Mom. We have tried this long enough. I’m happy. I’m healthy. You did everything you could- everything I needed. It’s okay to let this go now. I’m ready”.

If only I was ready

 

Let’s talk money

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I have been thinking a lot about my finances lately- my current reality, my options, my concerns and limitations; I know many of you are doing the same thinking.

Finances are an intensely charged and personal topic. Fear is a natural response to a feeling of loss of financial security. Many of us want to deny there is an issue. Many of us feel overwhelmed and poorly prepared to make these “grown-up” choices. Many of us just put our heads down and hope it all works out. I would hazard a guess that all of us wish we were in better shape financially.

I do not write this to be “holier than thou” or to make you feel like I am patronizing you. I am writing this because I feel like at this point in my life, having dug myself out of some pretty deep holes, I may be able to offer some insight that can help you decide where to go from here. At the very least, I hope this blog gives you a starting point to feel more in control of your financial reality and financial future.

When I first faced the fact that I was over $21,000 in debt and was sinking fast, my gut reaction was to give up, declare bankruptcy and live with the consequences to my credit and my life. It was a very attractive option and I felt like it was my only choice. How could I possibly make all those minimum payments let alone get ahead on the principles? I had already given up my car to save on gas, monthly payments, registration, insurance… what more could I do?

Before I did that though, I needed more information about what other choices I may have. I was young and new at this whole financial independence thing. What if there was an option I had not considered? So, I made an appointment with the bank. I needed someone who spoke money to assess my options with me. I had no collateral- no house (I was renting), no car, no RRSPs, no investments…nada. I figured they would just laugh at me.

But they didn’t. And that’s when my life began to change.

I took all my outstanding bills- Wells Fargo, MasterCard, Visa, a line of credit- so we could see my total obligation monthly. We sat down and saw how much I paid in all my rent and utilities and how much I earned monthly. Then we looked at how much money I lost every month to interest on those payments. In the end, I agreed to give up the MasterCard, lower the Visa limit to $1000 and do away with the line of credit. I consolidated all my debt in one personal loan. I was able to get a MUCH better interest rate (9.5% instead of 12-25% on the other bills) and only had to make one monthly payment. And that payment was about 1/2 of what I was paying out to the bills individually. AHA! I had freed up some money monthly for food and expenses so I didn’t have to use my Visa for those things anymore.

As time wore on, I also made other hard choices to improve my cash flow. I saved about $100/month by cancelling cable and my landline phone. I switched my cell phone plan. I put a moratorium on clothes spending and a serious limit on going out expenses. I won’t lie- I felt the squeeze. But I kept my eyes on the prize. Over time it got easier and I kept looking for ways to save more money. Not spending any coin and using it to start a savings account, for one. Anticipating upcoming bills like oil in my bi-weekly budget and putting money aside in advance. I also kept a very detailed bi-weekly budget for myself in my day planner. I based this budget on all my expense due dates.

As many of you know (who are on my Facebook) all this hard work paid off just this year. After nearly a decade of changing the way I think and act about money (and even freeing up enough to buy a house!), I have paid off that consolidation loan. Now I am faced with the new challenge of keeping myself to the system that worked. I feel better able to manage this new challenge after what I have learned. I have already begun taking new steps to safeguard my newfound financial freedom.

Below I am going to list all the questions I asked myself and all the information I gathered that allowed me to create a strategic budget- and stick to it! I will also include a budget worksheet based on bi-weekly pays in case you want to know what my thought process looked like. Hopefully this may help some of you feel more secure and prepared. Maybe it will give you something new you hadn’t considered. Please let me know if there is anything else I can answer about how I got here. If you just want to toss some ideas around, I would be happy to talk. I care deeply about your success and happiness and wish someone had been available for me 10 years ago to help smooth this process out and lower my stress levels!

To Prepare:

  1. What are ALL my financial responsibilities? (visa, mastercard, loan, line of credit, rent/mortgage, power, water, cable, internet, cell, home phone, car payment, car insurance, life insurance, bank fees, oil, average groceries, pet insurance, monthly vet bills for meds or food etc). Try to be as specific as possible. Where necessary look at billing history to get an average per month.
  2. What are all my sources of income? (payroll, pet sitting, nail trim business, secondary business income like Scentsy, Mary Kay, Avon, alimony, child support, GST rebates, shared rental expenses etc)
  3. When is each bill due? Get exact billing dates to determine when these bills need to be paid. This will help determine which of your two pays should cover which bills.
  4. What bills have the highest interest rates? These should be your first priority to eliminate where possible.
  5. What is my total outstanding debt in dollars? (Loan, LOC, credit cards, etc.)
  6. What luxury expenses can I reduce or eliminate to free up cash monthly to reduce my debt? (cable, internet, home phone, vehicle expenses, memberships etc.)

 

To Consider:

  1. Once you have all this information, book an appointment with a financial advisor at your bank. They will help you find lower interest rates where possible on credit cards, as well as reviewing your bank accounts to make sure you have the right account types to minimize administration fees.
  2. Consider asking for either a line of credit or personal loan to consolidate all outstanding debts on higher interest rate accounts to a lower rate and single monthly payment.
  3. Lower credit card limits and overdraft amounts- get rid of the temptation to spend money you don’t have.
  4. Reduce total number of credit products to perhaps one main credit card that maximizes your benefits like air miles, RBC points etc. and minimizes monthly fees.

 

Building your budget:

  1. Using your bill due dates, plot out which pay each bill should come from. Sometimes we overload one pay period and leave ourselves short causing us to use credit cards and overdrafts to get us through to next pay. This just increases the financial pressure to pay off those borrowed funds with the next pay.
  2. Divide your mortgage or rent into two equal parts and spread them between your two pays. This will mean a large sum is not taken all out of one pay. Either move this money to another account or save it as a minimum balance in your primary account until the rent/mortgage is due.
  3. Create a budget worksheet that has both pays and all bills due in those pay periods. This will let you see where your money HAS to go every 2 weeks and give you an actual amount of money you have available for extra expenses and entertainment.
  4. STICK TO THE BUDGET!! I know this is the boring and un-fun part. But if you have calculated this correctly, and done all the groundwork beforehand, this WILL WORK.
  5. Keep your budget bi-weekly. Add any unexpected expenses to your budget as they come up so you know how to shift your available funds where necessary.
  6. Try to budget a small amount for savings or RRSPs. This is your feel-good money. As the balance creeps up (even $10 at a time) you will see the personal benefit of your new thinking. It becomes measurable as your debt is reduced and your obligations are met.

The budget worksheet attached is an excel document with some active formulae in it. If you need help editing it to match your expenses, just let me know. I’d love to help