Friday, October 26, 2012


I miss having a pet. 

I always lived with at least one cat until Ken (Mr. Allergic) moved in.  Since then I've had to make do with houseplants.  There was that one winter when a snail lived in one of the potted plants that we brought in from the patio.  Sammy.  He was a good boy.  He went back outdoors in the springtime and we never saw him again.

Then there were the Sea Monkeys, but they were neither cute nor cuddly.  They were mainly a pain in the rear.

If Ken and I move into a bigger home next year, I'll be able to have a pet.  We can designate a room for my hobbies, and Ken can stay away from it if there are furred or feathered creatures in there that make him sneezy.  I've been considering my options.

1)  Guinea Pig

Oops - wrong picture!
I meant:

Aw, isn't he/she cute?  GP's are adorable, and unlike some other rodents they are sensible and do their sleeping at night.  They are social animals, so if you want happy guinea pigs you need to put at least two together in the cage.

2)  Bird:

I like the idea of having a really smart bird and teaching it to talk.  On the other hand, I'd feel bad leaving such an intelligent creature locked up in a cage with nothing to do all day. I wouldn't be as interested in having a bird of ordinary intelligence.  I prefer a pet that I can interact with.  If I can't snuggle it, it had better be able to chat with me.

3)  Hedgie

These guys are super-cute, and have some very handy qualities.  They're not rodents, so you can let them out of their cage to have a stroll without worrying that they're going to make a beeline for your computer desk and chew through all the cables.  Also, some of them can learn to use a litterbox.  (Unfortunately you can't tell until you try if your hedgie will be cooperative in that department.)  Also unfortunately, they are nocturnal, so you don't get much facetime during the day.  Fortunately, however, they are solitary animals, so they don't mind hanging out all by themselves.

4) Chubby-face Fish

I just want to moosh this guy's blobbulous cheeks.  I'm not sure how much I'd enjoy keeping fish.  I'm a little concerned that the novelty might wear off pretty quickly and that tank-cleaning duty would be a hassle.  On the other hand, they are beautiful and soothing.  They are quiet, they don't scratch or chew, and they don't shed.

You tell me: which pet should I get?

Sunday, October 21, 2012


I almost got involved in a real estate investment.  Last month I was hyped and ready to sign off on it, but Ken felt squeamish.  Thank goodness for that.  I mean, I don't think it was a scam, but it probably wasn't as good as it looked either.

This was the investment opportunity.  The company, let's call them Big Grin Sales Inc., buys up oldish concrete high rise apartment buildings.  They make some improvements to them, legally divide them into condo units, and sell the units to individual investors at a profit.  It's the same idea as buying a large pizza for $5.99, dividing it into 12 slices, and selling the slices for $1 each.  That's where BGS Inc. makes their money.

The units are legally transferred to investors, however the tenants who live in them remain.  The tenants shouldn't notice any difference in their experience of living in the building, except maybe the lobby's a little spruced up.  The tenants continue to pay rent every month, and that rent goes to pay off the investor's mortgage.

There's also a Rental Pool agreement.  Let's say there are 100 condo units in the building, all owned by investors, and lived in by tenants.  Everyone gets 100% of their rent every month.  Then one tenant moves out, and that unit sits empty for 2 months until the management company finds someone else to live there.  Instead of that one investor missing two months of rent while everyone else continues to collect, the loss is shared amongst all the investors.  Everyone gets 99% of their rent until the vacancy is filled.

I had saved up some money and was looking for a safe place to invest it.  These days you can't even keep it safe stuffed under your mattress, because inflation will eat away at its value.  I'm totally over mutual funds.  I held some in my RRSP for several years, and the value kept dropping.  Every year I would complain to my bank and every year they would throw fancy phrases back at me.  "Long haul investing!"  "Dollar cost averaging!"  Whatever.  After the third year in a row of losing value, I cashed out and switched it all into GIC's.  It's earning a pittance of interest, but at least it's not shrinking.

I get really annoyed with my bank.  I'm a saver by nature, and when they see that they can't wait to get their hot little hands on my money.  Every time my chequing account rises over a certain limit, I get a phone call from the bank.  Some honey-voiced woman called "Melissa" or "Katie" helpfully wants to talk me into buying, you guessed it, mutual funds.  It makes me want to punch them through the phone.

Anyhoo, due to Ken's reluctance, I looked into this real estate opportunity a little further.  Amazingly, I found a couple of real estate lawyers willing to spend time giving me free advice over the telephone.  Lawyers?  Working for free?  *shrugs*  Just when you think you've seen everything...

The bottom line was that the rental pool condos don't tend to be a very liquid asset.  Because they're just rental units, without their own washer and dryer, and lived in by tenants who may not take very good care of them, they're difficult to sell.  You have to find someone else who wants in on the investment scheme.  Either that or you take your chances ending up with a scruffy, cigarette-smoke-smelling unit that you could lose money on in a sale.

So I've pretty much given up on that idea and instead Ken and I are going to do our real estate investing by moving to a bigger home.  We want to move from a two-bedroom flat into a three-bedroom townhouse in our current condo complex.  Maybe sometime next summer.  I'm already planning how I'm going to use all the extra space.  So exciting!  :-)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Soft Skills

One of the "soft skills" I wish that we all learned in primary school is how to check in with each other on how we're feeling.  It doesn't seem to be common knowledge in this culture we're living in.  That's a shame, because it could help us to avoid a lot of stress and conflict.

Here's an example.  I was at work, speaking with a woman to has a tendency towards sarcasm, and she made a comment which I wasn't sure how to take.  I didn't know whether or not she was being sarcastic.  I slept on it overnight, and when I woke up I still felt irked by what she might be implicating.  So I asked her to speak with me in my office.

I said "Remember the other day when you said [insert ambiguous phrase here]?"  She remembered.  "Were you being sarcastic when you said that?  Because I wasn't sure how to take it."  She claimed that she was not being sarcastic.  OK, I'm her boss, so maybe she had been sarcastic and wasn't owning it, but I still felt better for having spoken with her.  I got my bad feelings off my chest without attacking her for them, and she had a chance to either clear up the misunderstanding, or gracefully take an out while still getting the message that I wasn't happy with what she said.  It was a win-win situation, and when we were all done there were no more ugly feelings kicking around underfoot.

Whenever possible, I train my staff to check in with each other.  Sometimes when I have to facilitate a conflict that involves a long history of people getting on each others' nerves, I simply have them both agree to call a time-out when things are starting to escalate.  Either one of them can say "Hold on a minute.  I feel like you're getting upset with me.  What's going on?"  or  "Woah, you just raised your voice.  Do you want to take a break and come back and speak with me when you've calmed down?"  The point is not to be condescending, but to be genuinely concerned and helpful.  If it doesn't work, they can get me involved.

Just the other day I discovered that sparks had flown between Employee X and Employee Y.   X was in Y's office, doing something that was a part of her job.  Y felt that X was not respecting Y's personal boundaries.  Y therefore felt justified in speaking to X with an offensive attitude.  X hadn't had any intention of causing offence, therefore she felt unjustly attacked, and snapped back.  Y, who felt that X had it coming, didn't back down.  It ended with bad feelings on both sides.

When the exchange was reported to me, I assured Y that, while I could see her side of the story, I knew X well enough to vouch for the fact that she would not deliberately cross Y's boundaries.  I explained to Y that X is one of those people who doesn't naturally have a good sense of boundaries, but that once they are explicitly explained to her, she'll respect them.  I said to Y that X would probably put her foot in it again, because she's done that regularly around the office, but if Y could just approach her gently next time, and check in before attacking, I was sure things could be resolved peacefully.  Y agreed to give it a try.  I assured Y that if X was uncooperative I would personally sort things out.

We could all benefit from taking a breather before going on the attack.  We could all benefit from checking in with others before acting on the assumption that they meant to push our buttons.  It's as much of a benefit in one's personal life as it is at work.  I don't manage to do it all the time, but when I fail, there's always that other technique: offering an apology and asking for a do-over.

Can you imagine if we all learned these things in primary school?  I didn't pick up the techniques until I was a student at a psychotherapy school a few years ago.  It's so blindingly obvious once someone shows you how to do it, but until then, we struggle and get hurt.  Spread the word!

Saturday, October 6, 2012


My workplace is in transition from being a small, family-owned business to becoming a proper, corporate environment.  We are having some growing pains.  To help us out, my bosses hired a consultant to offer helpful suggestions, and brainwash the employees.

Note:  Names of people and programs in this post have been changed to protect... me.

The consultant, I'll call him Barry, gave a long presentation to the entire company about his program of improvement, which is called "Think Like a Boss".  The goal of the program is to improve the business's profitability while at the same time improving the workplace environment for the employees.  Everyone is supposed to have loads of FUN implementing the Action Plans.

Barry had some sensible ideas to offer.  For example, he made the point to everyone on staff that "entitlement" is a problem  He defined "entitlement" as "feeling that one deserves a reward without having worked for it or otherwise fulfilled the criteria of being deserving of said reward".  For example, the employee who feels it's unfair that he didn't get the promotion to a management position, because he's been working for the company longer than the person who was promoted.

Maybe working for some companies is so much like being in jail that "time served" is all it takes to move ahead.  Not where I work, thank God.  There are a few other items to consider, such as organizational skills, the ability to stay calm under stress, communication skills, patience, etc.  So that was a point that I agreed with.

Other points, not so much.  For example, in a smaller meeting with the Key Personnel in the organization, Barry gave us guff for not having a marketing plan.  We do have a marketing consultant who does work for us on an as-needed basis, but there's no plan in place.  Barry looked at all of those assembled, expecting someone to put up his or her hand to volunteer as the leader of the Marketing Plan Team.  We all sat on our hands.

When Barry didn't get the message that none of us had the time or expertise to take on the project, I stated this directly.  "Oh," he said, "marketing's easy.  There's nothing to it!  I can give you the four main points of marketing right now."  I sat up in my chair, prepared to be enlightened.  "All you need to know is Who, Where, When, and How!"  proclaimed Barry.  And that was all he had to say to me on the subject.

Um, say what was that now?  Some flaming b.s., is what it was.  I shot back at him "But you could say that about anything!"  I mean, heck, why don't we plan a trip to the moon?  After all, all we need to know is Who is going (us), Where we're going (the moon), When (a.s.a.p.) and How (with some metal, a soldering iron, and team spirit).  Right?  

The other thing is that he wanted us to give cute names to all our Action Items.  For example, we could call a paper-saving plan "If a Tree Falls in the Forest, We Hear!"  Because, as all y'all know, that's how to make things FUN!  *epic eyeroll*

Anyhoo, the bottom line is that I believe the program will be good for the company, if we can get past the goofy parts.  I also like Barry a lot.  His enthusiasm is genuine, and he was very patient with the Key Personnel and our huge collective load of cynicism.  The proof will be in the pudding.  (Mmmm.... pudding...)