The “R” word

It started innocently enough.

I was in the middle of my annual October staycation, which I use as a breather to prep for winter. Snow tires. Furnace cleaning. Slow trip through IKEA to fantasy furnish the funky apartment I want someday when I get too tired or too old to be a homeowner. A lot of general running around and not having to worry about scheduling what needs to be done around a workday and commute.

But at some point around midweek it dawned on me—I’m getting closer to retirement and someday, not really all that far from now, my October breather won’t be necessary.

When I started my current job (15 years ago in early November, 13 years in the same job as of this coming Halloween) I remember getting a booklet marking my 60th birthday as a potential retirement date. But I was 43 coming into this job and that date had absolutely no meaning. I generally didn’t last more than a couple years in any job, I’d get bored or worried about being perceived as stale. That was the way of the ad world then. Who knew where I’d be 16 point something years from then?

Give me a little more than 20 months and I can answer that definitively.

At this point, questions of “when” and “what’s next” tend to loom.

I’ve been working since I was 15, when I lied about my age to get a summer, then part-time job at the local paper. Earlier if we count berry picking, tomato grading and babysitting. Before that, I hooked up with a company I found in the back cover of a comic book and for years sold enough Currier and Ives Christmas cards door-to-door to scent my entire family with Old Spice and Evening in Paris. The summer I was eight, I ran a pop bottle cartel until my parents realized I was exploiting the labour of every kid in the neighbourhood and shut me down.  I waitressed my way through university and wrote book reviews for clothes money. Side gigs aren’t a millennial invention—I’ve always had some additional source of income to fall back on. I lack trust.

So working? That’s what I do. I don’t have hobbies. I don’t belong to clubs. I don’t do sports. I work. And I like what I well enough that I’ve always been fine with that.

I used to say I never wanted to retire. But I used to be tireless and obsessively competitive. I don’t say that anymore. The turning point was when I started looking online to see what my work pension would be at several different stop points. And figuring out how long I’d have to make up the difference before my government entitlements kick in six and a half years from now.

Just six and a half years from now.

The math proves that I’m going to need those side gigs. I expected that, and it’s not like I’d ever be able to come to a dead stop anyway.  I’m lucky I made and maintained all those contacts along the way because I’m going to need them. If not to save my mortgage, then to save my sanity.

I know I’m not alone in asking these questions and working the numbers. Sometimes it feels like a waiting game, wondering who among my colleagues is going to be next. You wonder how many Christmas potlucks are in your future. How many team breakfasts? How many more times you’ll say goodbye in a bar near the office? And you ponder what waking up the day after zero-day is going to feel like.

Seems like unraveling a career might take as much thought and planning as building one.

The point is that for me,  “if” and “someday” are becoming  “when” and “this day” circled on a calendar in my mind. That in itself means buckle in, because my life is going to be changing once again.




Blood. Gore. Triumph.

Been awhile, hasn’t it?

I’ve been busy building a company while working full time, too busy to keep this blog at the level I need it to be.

But all that busy-ness will come to a crashing halt next Wednesday as I’m wheeled into the operating room for a total knee replacement. This time my left. My right follows suit after the first one heals.

First surgery. First experience of staying in the hospital. Then a longish three month (minimum!) recovery.

I’m excited about walking pain free and cane free. Eventually. I’m curious about the surgical procedure-the plan now is to avoid a general anesthetic and do it via a spinal block and a “cocktail.”  I told them to make it a double. And I can’t imagine what having an entire three months or more to focus on getting better is going to be like. I’m the woman who dictates emails to Siri from the shower. I’m writing this during my commute. I’m accustomed to doing at least three things at once.

Focus on me? Seriously?

Thing is I’ll need an outlet or two, for recording this journey, for thinking aloud, for pondering what comes next.

And while what I have to say may not always be joyful–or at times loud enough to be noise, you’re welcome to stick around to how the story goes.


Work sucks…

That got your attention.

And yes, I do have a better vocabulary than that. But trust me, it’s the appropriate word.

Hopefully you didn’t click here because you know where my day job is, you’ve been reading the papers, and you might think you’re in for some inside dirt. Same goes for those who thought this was going to be a confession of laziness. And for colleagues who thought they might catch me in a crime against the social media policy…got ya!

Maybe what I should have said is…jobs suck. Not my job, but what appears to constitute a job these days. I thought it was only me, but a major Canadian bank has validated my opinion.  

I am a want ad/professional call for candidates junkie. Even if I’m happily employed or otherwise booked up, I can’t help myself. I have to check out one, some or all the myriad of job sites out there. Doesn’t even matter if the jobs aren’t in my field, I’m compulsively interested in what other people are expected to do for a living. I wrote recruitment communications during the tech boom when there were more jobs available than people to fill them—and got hooked.

 But I have to admit these days, I read the ads with a certain amount of repugnance. From my vantage point, it does appear that most of these jobs… well, like I said, they totally suck.

To some degree, it’s a moot point for me. I’m nearly 53-years old in a town where a lot people retire at 55, thanks to what was a good federal pension plan—until shortsightedness and volatile markets doomed it. Thing is, I have come to the conclusion that if something were to happen to the job I have, the reality is I have aged out of the market and will have to survive on my own. And I’m ok with that.

I don’t think I’m too old to consider going after a new job; I just think that over the years, I’ve developed an allergic reaction to the kind of crap a lot of companies expect their employees to swallow. When I started working nearly 30 years ago (…back in my day…) having a degree and a reasonable set of skills in a particular discipline was enough. You kept your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open, learned to think on your feet and picked up the rest on the job. Now that’s not even close to good enough. For example, in my field, I’m convinced that today, famous ad men Bill Bernbach or George Lois could walk into an interview for a junior marketing writer and not get the gig because they didn’t know “desktop publishing” or “CRM” or couldn’t use 54 industry-specific software programs, 49 of which no one’s ever heard of. And since they wouldn’t have worked for under $30,000 a year in 1955, chances are they wouldn’t do it now.

In this job market, near rabid enthusiasm and a light smattering of non-related abilities seem to be more in demand that actually mastery of a craft. Then too, one must be willing to quaff the corporate Kool-aid®, work late, be glued to the Blackberry when not in the office, be cooperative (a push-over), flexible (refer back to “cooperative”) and giggle. A lot.

There’s my allergy acting up again. 

Perhaps the sorry state of the workplace today is one of the reasons why so many women my age are becoming entrepreneurs. Men do it too, but according to Faith Popcorn, Carol Orsborn and Martha Stewart, women in their late 40s and 50s are far more apt to open a business than men. And they do it differently…they play to their passions, put their personal stamp on every aspect of the company, keep start-up costs skinny. (With equipment I already had and a never-used dining room, I opened seed for under a grand. My ongoing expenses are well under 10% of my revenue.)

There’s a theory that one of the reasons so many post-middle-age women get the entrepreneurial bug is that as the years spend out our value as sexual beings with the ability to reproduce, we become disconnected with the mainstream (read “ignored”), which offers a certain freedom to finally do our own thing. I’d like to think that our energy, our blossoming individualism and enthusiasm for taking our destinies into our own hands has a grander source than the state of our ovaries.

I think being ignored makes us restless. And dealing with life’s ups and downs all these years makes us brave.

I’d wager a bet that bravery isn’t a particularly desirable characteristic for many jobs these days. But you’d be amazed at just how valuable a quality it is when you choose to determine your own destiny by writing your own job description.

That’s just perfect!

One of my deepest personality flaws—or charming idiosyncrasies, depending on your point of view—is that my reach always exceeds my grasp. I want everything to be perfect. I want my house to look like Martha Stewart’s more contemporary country retreat (I don’t share her love of pastels and earthy woods); I want my wardrobe to look like I stepped out of the pages of W or the Vogue or at least a J. Jill catalog. I want every meal I cook to resemble the cover story of Saveur. On the professional side, I yearn for the day when my little but growing content company is a success story featured in Inc. or even Fast Company (there’s a trend here, perhaps I should just stay away from newsstands!). I want a perfect relationship and fantastic, supportive friends, great hair, a well-behaved dog and skin that glows like a Benefit model (and oh how the copywriter in me loves their product names).

The thing is, while the details might change, I know I’m not alone in this quest for perfection—I’m just willing to admit it.

My rational side tells me that operate at this level in every sphere of my life is exhausting, frustrating and darn near impossible. Note that I had to qualify the impossibility. Besides, I work all week, first at my job, then at my business, I’m helping to found a new magazine in my spare time (hah!) and I spend my weekends playing catch up on errands, chores and pending deadlines. But nowhere does my dream of perfection and my frustration in not achieving it show itself most clearly as in my garden.

The garden in my head is a lush and bountiful landscape of colour and fragrance. A light breeze makes the perennial beds nod gently in the shade. My rose garden is heartbreakingly beautiful, with slender buds and full blooms of pale peach and silvery mauve perfumed floribundas, the rare chemise/flesh-tone Marilyn Monroe hybrid tea nestled next to the pure white of the J.F. Kennedy, just for fun. Plenty of ground cover, lemony evening primroses scenting the stark white curtains of the pergola at dusk, peppery nasturtiums, devil-may-care impatiens and velvety deep purple pansies. There are vibrant red and golden yellow heirloom tomatoes in the back garden, growing next to jewel-tone peppers and heady sage and basil. Mounds of morning glories in an ocean and sky palette gently embracing the fences and trellises. Somewhere, there’s a fruit tree bursting first with blossoms, then glossy bug-free apples or juicy cherries. Sigh. That’s the dream.

That dream begins anew every February when the seed carousels start appearing in stores. I love seeds. I love seed packages and catalogs…I even named my company after them. I love the promise they suggest, the potential they hold within. This year, my love bought me a tiny greenhouse and set it up in our summer room and I’m armed and ready (with seeds, seed starter, starter soil, little peat cups and a full supply of determination) to make the dream come true. And no, I know, once again this summer, the garden in my yard won’t match the garden in my head, but there will be flowers everywhere and a good crop of tomatoes and peppers on the way. And that’s good enough. For now.  It’s the reaching towards the Plato-inspired image of garden perfection in my mind that’s important. Staying on course. And blocking out those who think I should settle. Never.

Because frankly I don’t plan on tempering my goals or reducing expectations—not when I’m perfectly content in my aim for perfection.

This year's seed stash ready to be transformed into the perfect garden.

This year’s seed stash ready to be transformed into the perfect garden.


You can take this to the bank

I was brought up that it was rude to talk about money. How much someone made, what something cost—it was right up there with religion on the list of things tacky people talked about. No doubt that’s why it took me years to figure money out, to feel comfortable dealing with financial issues.

I consider myself selectively cheap. I have a full time job and own what is fast becoming a full time business, but I refuse to hire housekeeping help. Been there, done that, it’s not the money, it’s that no one can come close to my expectations of clean. I read the grocery flyers religiously every Thursday and clip coupons with such dedication, it’s as if a dollar off sour cream is going to make the difference between having a roof over my head or not. I hoard sale toilet paper and dry pasta. On the other hand, I think we just picked the second most expensive carpeting in the store for our bedrooms. And I’m been romancing a certain classic Michael Kors tote in a way that borders on the obsessive.

Yes, I could afford it. And since it doubles as a business bag, I can probably even write it off. But the fun part is in the wanting, not necessarily the getting. I don’t need everything I want—and need it now. I’d rather spend time thinking about something nice than spend the money to get it.

Maybe that’s why I cringe when I read the news articles about how collectively, Canadians are in debt—personal debt that doesn’t include mortgages—at a rate of 163% of their income. Basically for every dollar they make, they owe $1.63. I feel a bit blessed – for most of my adult working life, I’ve made enough to cover the necessities and have some left over for the niceties. I remember being shocked when I realized that I actually had a reasonable net worth and that somehow, over the years, my love and I had become comfortably middle class.

But I know how people get in over their heads so easily.

Forget 22% compound interest credit cards and “Don’t pay a cent until Hailey’s Comet passes” deals at the local furniture chain—those are the obvious pitfalls. No, it’s the trusted authority figures, those blue suits at the banks that you don’t see coming.

Last year, when my love and I were debating renovating versus moving (renovating won—for now), we did the responsible thing and got pre-approved. We don’t have any personal debt beyond a zero interest car loan—no credit card balances, no line of credit—and if we were to sell our current home tomorrow, we’d walk away with about half the value in our pockets. We both have decent jobs, some investments, some savings; I’m good for a small public service pension. We’re the people banks love. Perhaps too much. Because it took every ounce of self-control for the two of us not to fall into a heap on the floor of the loans manager’s office, giggling uncontrollably and gasping for breath when she suggested with a totally straight face that we were good for a mortgage of a couple grand shy of a half a million dollars. We waited until we got into the car to let loose.

This is not bragging. Yes, I’m proud of how we’ve ended up, it took hard work and smarts and the fact that my love has the money management skills of a Wall Street tycoon. No, this is about the sheer nuttiness that happens in mortgage and loan departments. It’s the avoidance of reality that seems to hang in the air in bankers’ offices. Mathematically, we could have made the payment that such a gargantuan loan required provided neither of us ever got sick or lost her job or the interest rate didn’t increase so much as a fraction. And provided we were willing sacrifice luxuries like the occasional movie. Or a new pair of pants. For 25 years. On paper, in theory, it was affordable. Barely. In practice, it would have been more stress than either of us would want to deal with to end up with far more house than we needed.

One would have thought that a bank would recognize this.

Thing is, this wasn’t our first rodeo. We’ve bought houses before, had loans and mortgages. We know better than to believe a report spit out of the bank’s computer. But there are many people out there who would. After all, they’re banks. They’re money experts. If they don’t know what you can afford, who does?

It’s not just mortgages—my love and I spent the better part of last Saturday morning sitting in the office of my bank’s small business specialist signing papers and setting up seed’s business account. After all the questions—and there are a lot of them when you set up a business account—had been answered, my love’s POA authenticated, the special silver business debit card handed over, and phone and online banking services set up—I was asked three times if there was anything else the bank could do for me. Was I sure that was all I needed? Wink, wink. Nudge nudge.

The poor guy seemed at a genuine loss of what to say when I didn’t ask for a company credit account or small biz loan. And just a little hurt.

Too, a few years ago, I applied for a personal line of credit when I realized I had none in only my own name and if anything happened to my love, I’d have to work up an individual rating all over again. I asked for $10,000. Seemed reasonable. Excessive even, considering I had no plans to use it. The bank apologized, saying they couldn’t approve that amount. I’d have to take $15,000.


I’m not absolving anyone who is in debt of all blame. The banks and credit card companies can make the offer, but no one is forced to take it. Ultimately, everyone has a personal responsibility to know what they can afford and recognize when they’re living beyond their means. Even if that means taking what some loans officer says you’re good for with a grain of salt.

That’s where the problem lies. Believing the abstraction of the math and not the reality of the income. Because it feels good to think you can afford more than you can. At least for a little while.

But money management skills have to be taught. And for a lot of families, it’s still a taboo subject. Maybe we could shave an hour a week off volleyball or soccer time in the school system to teach kids about handling money. Perhaps a financial component could be part of the math program?

Let’s face it, few of them are going to be a professional athlete or end up solving equations for CERN.

But they’re all going to need a bank account.

Be choosy…

Ever notice how the people who criticize what you do and how you do it tend to be those who have accomplished very little in their lives. You know the type; we’ve all got one or two in our past. Those whose lives have been an absolute waste; whose only success has been in making those around them miserable.

I’ve also noticed that the people in my life who are the most supportive—sometimes to the point of gushing (it’s ok, sometimes you need that) are those who are the most productive and accomplished.

It’s a confidence thing.

People who have done well with their abilities and their circumstances are simply secure enough to enjoy and celebrate the accomplishments of others. Those who haven’t been able to summon the effort or the determination or the talent to take their lives somewhere lack that confidence…and the only way they can feel any sense of superiority is to cut others down to their size.

How can someone respect or appreciate effort and hard work, commitment and determination, sacrifice and ambition if they’ve never experienced those things.

Both of these kinds of people are going to be in everyone’s life. Hopefully we get blessed by more of the confident supporters than those mean spirited ne’er-do-wells. Sometimes that just comes down to luck.

But we all have the ability to determine how much the attitudes and commentary from both groups are going to affect us. To achieve anything, you have to fill your life with those who support you. Their confidence in infectious. Granted, no one accomplishes anything by blocking out all criticism. You need to go when you’ve gone off track so you can figure out how to get back on.  But learn the difference between constructive advice and someone who is faulting you for trying to achieve something they can’t. They’re limiting, fearful and lack direction—and no one who wants to succeed at something can afford to keep this kind of person close. They simply aren’t worth your time.

Be choosy. Choose those who will lift you up to reach your goals, not those who plot to pull you down.

So universe… what have you done for me lately?

After a rather hellish week, with my love hitting the road each morning at 5 a.m. to work an early shift, a stifling heat wave that reached 42C with the humidity (that’s close to 112 F for my US readers) doctor and vet appointments and a dryer with mood swings and random labor stoppages, today—Saturday—was practically idyllic.

I slept until it was almost light outside, called my mom, then my love and I did a mad tango in our PJs in the backyard trying to hang queen size sheets on the compact but lifesaving umbrella clothesline we were forced to buy. See dryer situation above. I noticed how thickly the roses are climbing up the walls of the house. That is not a metaphor. I shared a whole-wheat blueberry bagel with Zoey—she’s a fan of grains and fruit. I love a dog that understands the importance of plenty of fiber and antioxidants. I got to town early before the crowds and after just five stores, confirmed that the new paint works with the new wallpaper, which works with the new curtains, which match the new furniture for our living room. (I failed to mention previously that we’re redecorating the entire house as well—at least plotting and preparing and buying what’s needed, holding off until Zoey is old enough to not want to help.)

It was a light at the end of the tunnel kind of morning.

Then I got thinking that while we may focus on all the things that go wrong, a lot of stuff goes right. Or at least right enough.

It was about two weeks ago that I announced in this blog that I was ready to at least begin to take my destiny into my own hands—and start the company I had been thinking about. At least part-time. Since that revelation, I’ve purchased a URL, registered a Facebook page and Twitter account and bartered with a designer friend to get my logo, business cards and website created. I’ve talked to three people who are quite convinced that they want to be clients. And last night, while I was at the supermarket, somewhere between the cereal aisle and the meat department, notice of an impending assignment—the perfect kind of gig for my new venture—sailed over the transom. Actually, it beeped in via my Blackberry, but my publishing background makes me love that old expression.

Whew. The irony is I have to put off writing the website I need to get good gigs—because the gig I got was so good.

Once I stopped grinning, which lasted several hours, it dawned me that everything about putting my plan into action got a lot easier—and much less “what the heck do I think I’m doing” scary—as soon as I made the decision to stop thinking about opening a business and actually do something about it. It’s like I told a friend last week—I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know for certain nothing will happen if I don’t at least try.

While I’m not much for new age stuff—I think crystals belong in earrings and antique radios, and I’ve really got too much on my plate in this life to worry about how I perished in my past ones—maybe there is something to this “putting it out to the universe.”  Or perhaps, it’s more like the famous quote from film producer Samuel Goldwyn, who said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

All I know is that I needed a good Saturday and I got one. I needed a sign that I was doing the right thing—and I got plenty.

Now if only I could do something about that dryer…

NOTE: Just a warning that due to my upcoming renovations, evidence of impending success and the fact that it is summer, time to take it a little easy, Her Joyful Noise may get a little more random in the next few months.