Saturday, June 19, 2010

Eek! Ack! or I hate money.

So, we finally asked for professional help with our whole debt and spending problem, and got the cold shower version of a reality check. I guess when you keep telling yourself it can't be that bad, it stings all the more when a stranger has to come out and say, "Yeah, it's that bad."

My husband and I are the clear product of disconnection from money. I don't have money, I have numbers. You can spend all the money you have, and then keep spending numbers, thanks (or no thanks) to credit cards, lines of credit and overdraft so-called protection at the bank. And we have spent numbers we don't have, more numbers than we bring in combined in a month, and that excludes respectable debts like car loans and our mortgage.

Ick. My parents are good with money. My siblings are all single, and doing well. Couples that I know who I am sure bring in less money per month than my husband and I do are replacing their fences and having laser eye surgery. We feel like the only ones trapped in the spiraling quicksand of debt.

Something has to change drastically if we hope to get out of this situation. In three years, my husband hopes to buy the business he is working in now, and we hope to get into a bigger, single family home. If we keep living the way we have been living, our reality-check professional told us that we will be lucky to keep the home we have, nevermind upgrade. Ouch.

I know that she's right. I hate that she's right. I was brought up with all the right rules: Pay off your credit cards every month. Count your pennies and your dollars will look after themselves. Money can only be spent once. I know these things are true, and that frugal is the way to go, but something gets lost in translation. And when you've moved to Spending-Justification-Land, it is really hard to muster up your courage and return to Reality-land. Consider it mustered.

Goodbye credit cards. Hello tight budget. I am looking to make good friends with meal planning, and to break off connections with the pizza delivery guy. We'll cancel our cable, and make better use of our movie collection. And I am making a long list of all the fun things we can do for free. With summer coming, the list should get pretty long without too much effort. Hooray for hiking, wading pools and the beach! Hooray for the library, and gift museum memberships! Hooray for a house already full of video games, craft supplies, movies and toys!

Maybe this massive cut back will help me realize how rich we are, instead of how poor. At the very least, it will adjust my perspective to living a way we can actually afford to live. Wish us luck! I'll keep you posted.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Out with the old - Manitoba Children's Museum

Living in a city with some 6 months of winter (more some years), some of the greatest treasures are indoor locations for kids. The primary one in Winnipeg has been for years the Manitoba Children's Museum, which first opened it's doors in 1986. When I was a kid, the Museum was located in an old warehouse in the Exchange District, and I will always remember the old blue locomotive, the grain elevator, and the wheelchairs you could race around in. Today, the Children's Museum has none of those things, but it does have a real diesel engine, a giant tree and nature area, and a cool construction exhibit with trucks, gravel and spraying water.

The Children's Musuem opened up in it's current location in 1994, located in an old train repair building at The Forks Historic Site. It's main, and most impressive, exhibit is a 1952 diesel train engine and a 1910 Pullman coach car. Consequently, this is the only exhibit destined to survive the Children's Museum's huge renovation and update planned for this fall. Because the Manitoba Children's Museum won't be around much longer as we know it, I wanted to make it the subject of the first of my "Love my Winnipeg" postings.

So what is there to love at the current Museum? First up, a great mix of gross motor and fine motor play areas, with lots of adaptability for different age levels, and many benches for moms and dads to hang out on. Great bathrooms complete with kid sized toilets and kid height sinks. A coat area with hooks, hangers, or pay-to-lock lockers. Lots of snack tables, chairs and high chairs, and it is fine to bring your snacks from home. That is one of my favourite things about MCM. It is not a money grab. There are some vending machines and a gift shop, but they are both slightly off the beaten path, so you don't feel like you need to spend more than the admission cost to get in. What is more, memberships are really reasonable, so if you think your family may be a frequent visitor, that is definitely the way to go.

The Manitoba Children's Museum also has classrooms/event rooms that are used for field trips and birthday parties, and sometimes house temporary exhibits like the one about bugs showcased below, where I have fallen victim to the world's largest tick.

At this particular exhibit, sitting down causing the tick to inflate, as if it is filling up with blood. I know you're thinking, "yuck", but 9 year old boys everywhere will think it is awesome.

Visiting the Children's Museum gives me the opportunity to expose my son to a lot of different subjects, and see what he gravitates towards. We can sort of test drive materials, to see what may be a good investment for our own home. We don't have a piano, but the Museum does. They also have a fish tank, a train table, piles of costumes and a felt board. There is chalk and chalk boards, Duplo tables, big wooden blocks and many types of art supplies to experiment with. My son can have all these things without my having to buy all of Toys R Us and move it into my house.

Of course, the best things at the Museum are the ones that no one has at home, like the giant tree slide, the TV studio, the train, and the traffic light. With so much to explore, it is no wonder that Nik suggests most mornings, "Let's go to the museum!"

If you are interested in checking out the Museum yourself, you better get there before doors close for renovations this coming September. Visit their website for more information.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Love me, Love my Winnipeg

Portage Avenue

This is where I was born and raised. This is where I went to school and to University. Here I had my first job, my first love, my first child. This is where I was married, and it is where I hope to be buried. This, my friends, is home.

I have read that at some point in your growing up years, you look around at what you see, and that is what you love for the rest of your life. This must be the case with me. Raised on the flat, flat prairie, next to a dirty river, in middle class neighbourhoods in gritty city bursting with culture, history and character, that is what I know, and that it what I love.

I have been other places. One summer we took 3 trips out to the Fraser Vallery area of British Columbia, an area that my fellow Winnipeggers talk about wistfully, far more glamourous than our home. Full of tall, lush evergreens, rolling hills and mountain ranges... I missed the sun. Even on days when was not raining the sky there seemed smaller. They took me to the ocean. Twice. Both times I could see land on the other side of the water - Vancouver Island. I missed Lake Winnipeg at home, where you can look out over the blue-green water, and see dots of green islands, canoes, loons, and the flat watery horizon. I like flat.

Prairie land is the way everyone wants their land, you know, even if they don't realize it themselves. Even if they deny it with their dying breath! When you build a house, or a store, or even a parking lot, what do you do to the land, to the floors? Level. Even. Flat. As people build their hallways, so we build our roads on the prairies. As people build their rooms, so we build our pasturelands.

Now, of course, I never grew up out on the prairie land myself, but flat landers in the city have advantages, too. Cycling is much easier without the pesky up and down that other communities have to deal with. And on a clear day, you can see from the edges of the city, straight to the skyscrapers downtown, with nothing to obstruct your view. Seeing the buildings rise up out of the earth like that is like looking at the Emerald City, without the sparkle. We in Winnipeg have very little sparkle.

And that is another thing about home. I am an oddity in Winnipeg in that I love this place, and want to tell other people how great it is. Most people from Winnipeg are quiet about their city. There is no arrogance here, no bragging about our origins when we are in other North American cities or abroad. When people from exotic locales move here, we are always surprised. When young people pack their bags for Toronto, Calgary or Vancouver, we are not. We are not the jet set here. Fast-paced, glittery, brand-name lives await you in a city other than this.

In Winnipeg, most of us are content to just live out our lives, working for a living, keeping in touch with old friends, maybe raising a little family. We bundle up in the winter and go camping in the summer. We coupon clip and go out for dinner once and a while and try to make ends meet. When we can afford it, we get out to the festivals, and concerts and performances nearby and sing and laugh and drink with friends. We extend a hand to our neighbour when he needs it. We talk about the weather.

We are ordinary people in an ordinary place. But don't be fooled. There are treasures here and around this place, and although they may attract little more than a handful of tourists, they are an enrichment to those of us who live here. I look forward to sharing many of them with you in upcoming posts. Because I love this place. It is part of me. Love me, love my Winnipeg.

St. Boniface Hospital by the Red River on a cold, cold night.
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