Monday, December 21, 2009

Olson Christmas letter 2009



Season’s greetings!

So tell me, how was your decade? That's right, 2009 is the last year of the “oughts”, the “noughties”, the “Oh-oh's”, the “Zeros”, the “Zips”, the “two-thousands” or my favourite, the “iDecade”. Our lives have changed in almost every conceivable way in the past ten years, and these changes have all been entirely positive and welcome. The one thing that hasn’t changed is our love of travel and, as usual, we spent a lot of time away from home this year.


It was a great year for beach holidays. We started the year with a week in the Dominican Republic with my Dad and Loretta at an all-inclusive resort in the Punta Cana area. We learned that it is possible to eat three gigantic meals per day and still pack in thousands of empty beer calories between feedings. This was actually the first time we’ve spent a week at an all-inclusive as we usually try to find local accommodation for rent. It was definitely a good value, but to be honest it started to feel like the movie “Groundhog Day” as one day slipped into the next and before long it was over and you couldn’t really remember actually “doing” anything, besides getting a great tan.


We made two trips to Florida, one in April to the Fort Myers area, where Ana's folks John and Maria joined us, then another trip in December to the Fort Lauderdale area with our neighbours Andrew and Jess, which was superb. While there we squeezed in a day at Disneyworld, which was...interesting. Stella loved having her photo taken with the Disney Princesses, while Magnus liked the jungle safari ride and all the kids play areas. Ana and I had to experience the joy via the children as it seemed to us that all we did for the entire day was queue up and wait. Let's just say that a single day in Disney was plenty! The weather for the beach part of the trip was a bit of bust - overcast but warm, but definitely better than the long weekend trip to Bahamas we took in November which was actually cool. To make it worse the kids were both sick so that little holiday was a bit of a bust. I guess they can’t all be zingers.


In what seems to have become an annual event, we rented a cottage for a week on Lake Huron with Ana's extended family, this time in the town of Port Franks. We have become very fond of this area of Ontario and have made numerous trips there, each time discovering something new. Like any good family event, the highlight was the drunken soccer match, with the only rule being that participants must be exceptionally unfit for physical activity and inebriated well beyond the point of feeling physical pain. The catalogue of injuries included sprained knee, broken toe, gashed leg and broken ego. We also managed to get in some quality fishing time. Ana’s cousin Glen caught a five pound catfish, which we kept and subjected to an autopsy on the cabin’s ping pong table. After an hour of exploring catfish bone structure (or lack thereof) we finally extracted several pounds of meaty fillets, which we battered, barbequed, and consumed. The taste and texture was universally declared as “better than expected” which is hardly a ringing endorsement, but hey, it’s always good to try new things.


Speaking of new things, I did my first Great Lake crossing on water this year. Our neighbour Andrew, who has been hinting all year to be mentioned in my annual Christmas letter, bought a beautiful 32 foot Sea Ray powerboat in Cleveland. We drove down there in April to pick up the boat and we piloted the boat across Lake Erie to Port Dover on the Canadian side. It was about an eight hour trip, including a quick stop to refuel in Erie, Pennsylvania, where we met some of the local crusty sea dogs. Andrew has become a sort of fixture in our home. We have this informal arrangement where we provide him with hot meals and rum and his dog with exercise and bathroom breaks, while he, as a hotel manager, gets us cheap hotel rooms. Oh, and he also helps us haul gravel and dig trenches for our yard projects, but you need to give him extra rum for that.


October and November were spent doing a massive back yard project. Where was once grass and concrete patio stones is now a backyard retreat complete with covered, brick patio, lights, music, wood burning fireplace and a large lighted deck with composite decking and a built in hot tub. It took a lot of early mornings, late nights, sore backs and heated arguments, but in the end, it turned out even better than imagined. If you happen to stop by our place, and we don’t answer the door...you know where to find us. The best part of our projects is that we encourage visitors during the critical times so we don’t have to pay for labour. In fact, Dad and Loretta and my mom and Rick were there at different points during the project and they were put to work. Of course, Ana’s folks were an integral part of the operation, which is good for everybody because if John is not kept busy he goes berserk and starts smashing things.


We made a couple trips back to Saskatoon this year and actually spent a full week at our cabin at Fishing Lake in August. In what seems to be the theme for the year, the weather was atrocious and we spent most of the time in winter jackets. On the bright side, my aunt Tammy and her family joined us there for a few days, which was the first good visit we’ve had with them for years. The other trip to Saskatoon was back in June, when my brother Marty was also there. We spent a couple days at the lake for a ”family friendly” fishing trip in lieu of the yearly extermination mission up north. The fishing was okay, but the beautiful weather (which was practically the last nice weekend of the summer) made up for it. Both Magnus and Stella came out fishing and Magnus even caught a nice walleye! Stella was more interested in the boat ride.


This was finally the year that we made it to Las Vegas. Ana’s folks joined us and we spent a hectic, exciting, overwhelming few days there in September. I was last there over 15 years ago and the changes were amazing – everything was bigger, louder, faster and brighter. We visited most of the casinos on the strip and walked for miles each day. Ana’s folks joined us and were quite impressed, especially since you didn’t have to gamble to have fun there. Actually, in the airport while waiting for our flight home, John finally succumbed to the peer pressure and spent five dollars in the nickel slots so now he cannot honestly claim he’s never lost money to a casino!


As for the update on the kids, I found these two posting on an online kids forum that I came across:


My name is Magnus, I’m a five year old warrior living in south eastern Vinland. My preferred weapon is the short sword, but I also keep a dagger in my boot, an axe in my waistbelt and a pack of throwing stars hidden in my shirt. I know the alphabet and can count to thirty in both French and English. I am forever accompanied by my faithful legion of plastic animals, numbering in the hundreds. I like biking, throwing spears, computer games, cartoons, hot tubs and protecting my little sister.”


Stella is my name and if you don’t like it we can meet out back later. I dislike ponytails, following instructions, speaking quietly and going to bed early. I am stunningly beautiful and have a lovely collection of pink clothing and fancy shoes. I feel no physical pain though my feelings are easily hurt if I feel I’m not getting my way. I love giving hugs, headlocks and my favourite drink is milk. My best friend is my brother and if you try to hurt him you will pay. My hobbies include colouring, playing with Barbies, singing and picking scabs.”


They sound an awful lot like our kids, though I don’t know how they got so proficient with the computer. It’s the “Net” generation, I suppose.


Ana is doing very well, busy with work, busy with the house, busy hunting down the “ultimate deal” and especially busy keeping her three kids happy. Her only real hobby, besides retail warfare, is keeping up with celebrity gossip. She has become very close with her cousins since we’ve moved to Ontario and we spend a lot of time with them, usually eating, drinking and having fun, but also participating in the most ancient of Portuguese traditions; gossiping.


As for me, well, I can’t complain. I have two beautiful children, a gorgeous and perfect wife, a great home, good job, zany family and exceptional friends. Work, traveling and maintaining our real estate properties leave precious little spare time, but when I do find some I try to keep up with some writing. I have a book in progress.....slow progress, but there’s no rush. I continue to receive my five dollar weekly allowance, which I usually spend on comics. By the way, did you hear that Archie finally got married?? He chose Veronica. I always knew he would.


To finish off we wish you all health, happiness, love and a gigantic, double shot of karma for 2010!


Kris, Ana, Magnus, Stella


Monday, December 14, 2009

Paradise Island to Disney

With Christmas almost upon us we finally stopped for a breather this weekend. In the past month we've been on two trips; the first to Bahamas and the second to Florida, in our continual attempt to avoid Canadian winter..even though winter has hardly yet hit southern Ontario.

We returned to the same resort we visited last year on Paradise Island in Bahamas. But this time, damn the luck, the kids both came down with a fever and cold the day we left. To sum it up...it was a bust. Try as we might to keep jovial, the two sick kids had the upper hand and did their best to thwart all attempts at relaxation and calm. It didn't help that the weather was cool and windy, in fact, it wasn't even nice enough to spend much time in the pool. We can't blame the kids for getting sick, but since we had already paid for the accomodation there was no way we were going to stay home so we just made the best of it. Fortunately, we did get an afternoon away at my favourite bar in the world - Hammerheads, which we followed up with conch salad and fried fish at Arawak Cay.

The trip to Florida was a completely different story. The kids were back to normal and traveled like champs. We flew into Orlanda and spent a day at Disneyworld with the kids then were met by our neighbours Jess and Andrew who flew in the next day, after which we drove to Pompano Beach, just north of Fort Lauderdale. Disney was about the last place in the world Ana or I wanted to go but Jess' mom had three tickets she didn't need which she gave to us. It was nice to go for a day to see it, but any longer would have driven me crazy. I cannot believe how people can go there for entire weeks, just not my thing I guess. It was probably the six dollar cold hot dog that turned me off. Or maybe it was the standing in lines all day long. The kids thought it was okay but I think they are still a little young to know what most of it was about. At least Stella got to have her picture taken with a princess!

The place we stayed at in Pompano Beach was excellent - right on the ocean with miles of beach. My old buddy Stillman lives in the next town over so we met up with him a couple times...and finally got to meet his girlfriend, which was long overdue. Once again, though, we didn't exactly luck out with the weather. It was nice and warm, but overcast most of the time with a little bit of rain. Nevertheless, we had a great time and explored some parts of Florida that were new to us. We also did some hunting around for real estate...but didn't find anything too interesting. We're still wary of owning anything in the US due to the distance, administration and tax issues.

As a final word, our big backyard project is COMPLETE and has already hosted a party or two. It turned out spectacular, if I do say so myself....

Stay tuned for my annual Christmas letter.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Autumn is a great time for work

Our home has been a beehive of activity this past month. We’ve had visits from two sets of grandparents – Diane and Rick then Peter and Loretta as well as my nephew Leif while his parents were in Spain on vacation. We also had a spectacular Sunday brunch last week joined by even more family – Mark, Linda, Megan, Michael and Anna.

During this amazingly productive month, upon arrival each visitor over the age of 16 was issued a pair of gloves and a tool – usually a shovel but at times a drill, nailer, trowel or Wacker gravel packer. Young Leif was issued plastic varieties of the aforementioned items for his safety and ours. Work orders were given and the toil proceeded at an amazing clip. Dirt was excavated, grass was trampled, holes were dug, cement was poured, gravel was packed, pavers were laid, frames were built, hot tubs were purchased, roofs were raised, fireplace was assembled, lights were wired, surfaces were finished and firewood was hauled.

The final product is shaping up to be a wonderfully weather resistant, cozy, fresh outdoor living space. The numerous test “sit-ins” have been a success, leading me to believe that the launch party will be tremendous. We haven’t actually scheduled the launch party yet, but we should be ready for it very soon. We are still trying to decide whether we should fill the hot tub for a couple weeks usage before the winter hits, which I am hoping will be mild to make up for the cool summer we experienced here.

Now let's get back to work.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pillowfoot

The other day young Magnus asked me why he was called Magnus. I explained to him that his name "Magnus Antonio" was taken from the names of two of his great-grandfathers - Magnus Olson and Antonio Borges. The exchange then went like this:

"Do you like that name?"

"Yes, but I'd like a new name."

"OK, if you could pick a new name, what would it be?"

"Pillowfoot"

I really have no idea where he got that name from, but I must say it is very unique. I tried calling him Pillowfoot for a while but it just didn't seem to suit him - silence generally eludes the young gentleman. He generates noise at all times; sometimes a whistle, other times a whinny, but most often a musical soliloquy - usually his unedited thoughts sung to the tune of Mary Had a Little Lamb, Max and Ruby or various System of a Down pieces. He is an excellent singer and it seems like his sister is well on her way in developing this skill too. I try to encourage this development by holding daily air band practice in the basement where the three of us alternate between drums, guitar and mic (Playstation 3 model....though we don't actually have the console - just the instruments, which allows for much more artistic interpretation). I've demonstrated most of the classic rock guitar maneuvers for them including the "windmill guitar strum", "one legged Chuck Berry hop", "flying V stance", "guitar flip over the back" (though I bagged myself trying this one), plus a few of my own that are much too complicated to describe with words. I also gave them an intense demonstration of guttaral thrash metal screaming, but I had to stop when they both started sobbing, "daddy, you're scaring us!!". I'll save those advanced moves for when they are older.

In other news, our backyard deck project is well underway. After massively underestimating the amount of labour and materials required to prepare the ground for a concrete paver patio, we are finally at the stage of actually laying down bricks. The weather has been ruthless, alternating between awe inspiring downpours and brief moments of light sprinkles. I think we've seen the sun once.

I am taking daily pictures of our progress so will likely post those on our website upon completion. If the momentum continues, we expect to be finished by the end of October which will be a perfect time for a autumn backyard party - complete with fireplace and hot tub!

Onward and upward.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Shift Home in Saskatoon

My brother Curtis will soon be finishing his latest development project called the Shift Home, located in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. It's an ultra modern, super energy efficient urban dwelling that is now available for sale. I've attached a link to his website which has all the details - also at http://www.theshifthome.com/TheShiftHome-SalesSheet-Sept18.pdf.

...and if that doesn't do it for you, our cabin at Fishing Lake is still for sale and has been dropped by 20k to 139,900. That price includes all the geese and ducks you can blow away with your shotgun from the back patio.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Las Vegas

We finally made it down to Vegas for a long weekend, what a time we had! As usual, the kids were star travelers, we consistently find that they are much better behaved when we are on vacation then when we are at home. In fact, Stella admitted to Ana that she much preferred hotel beds to her princess bed at home. Princess, indeed.

As expected, it was hot - just short of 40 each day. The dry, cloudless days were a much needed relief from the wet and cloudy Ontario summer we've lived through this year. Fortunately for the folks back home, the Labour Day long weekend was warm and sunny, which obviously made our escape less enviable, but enviable nonetheless.

I haven't been in Las Vegas for 15 years and the changes were astounding. All the glamorous new hotels I explored last time were now eclipsed by mind bending new behemoths built upon the demolished remains of old mobster casinos. Among our favourites were the Venetian and Paris. Of course the older casinos were still amazing, especially the Luxor pyramid, which was Magnus' favourite. That little boy was a real trooper, he kept up with us the whole time as we walked miles each day exploring the strip.

We are now down to one vacation on deck (sailing in January) so we really must plan something else. Our family policy is "two vacations in the hopper at all times"!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The summer?

All in all, it's been a disappointing summer in southern Ontario. The rain will just not let up, except, it seems, for back to work Mondays which have been generally dry, hot and clear. Thank god I don't have a window in my office. Did I just say that?

We had a week long trip back to Saskatchewan at the start of August. The weather didn't cooperate much there either - most days were spent either wearing jackets or looking for cover from the rain. Thankfully, the first couple days were very nice but it all went to seed after that. The worst is that the forecast for the week had been hot and sunny so our expectations were much too high. Man, am I sounding like a complainer or what?? Not usually my style.....but that's what happened!

We've been back to the border States a couple times looking for sailboats, seen a few beauties, but nothing has come together yet. We are not in a rush, so will wait for the right boat at the right time at the right price.

This week Magnus turned 5 and Stella turned 3 so we celebrated with a big party last Friday night with family and friends. I'm still not convinced Stella knew what was going on...she kept saying "happy birthday!" to everybody else. But she did like her presents.

Now for a bit of self-promotion. I had a second article published in the Canadian Money Saver magazine, this one was actually sort of a book review of the Nassim Nicolas Taleb "Black Swan" series. My uncle Gerry turned me on to that magazine, it is an excellent resource for Canadians who are interested in earning, saving and investing money.

That's about it for now, sorry so dull, but it is the lazy days of summer....

Monday, July 27, 2009

Hail to the Power Weekend

June 23
Over drinks with friends Andrew and Jess (People of the Cul-De-Sac) we decide a summer weekend trip is in order. The only July weeked free for both of us is July 25/26. Date is set, promises made, and the destination brainstorming begins.

July 6
Destination decided - Boston and other nearby salty, fishy sites of interest.

July 9
Watch Perfect Storm for the 10th time to brush up on local dialect and customs.

July 10th
After checking map and talking to cousin, Ana finds out it's at least a 9 hour drive to Boston. Shortly thereafter, plug is pulled on Boston, new destination planning begins. Emails circulate in earnest.

July 21st, Tuesday
Cul-de-sac meeting called. Charges of procrastination are exchanged since destination has yet to be decided. Team congregates around internet explorer browser and begin googling. After Chicago (too windy), Kingston (too much traffic), family cabins (already full), Niagara Falls (too close), New York (too far), Cleveland (already went there), are considered and dismissed, we finally decide on Rochester, New York with day trip to Ithica. It is a good compromise. Meeting dismissed, people of the cul-de-sac disperse.

July 24, Friday
Disaster strikes. Andrew has to work Saturday night as his food and beverage manager as gone awol. Rapid brainstorming ensues. Within moments a new plan emerges like a summer mayfly. Hotel in Toronto Friday night, followed up with a trip to the Woodbine horse racing track on Saturday. Disaster averted. Weekend trip back on.

Friday, 6 pm
Jam bags in car. Take a week's worth of luggage along for the night just in case. Kids narrowly miss being run over by Andrew's 4x4 as he rallys into the cul-de-sac. Everyone in van, depart.

Friday, 7 pm
Arrive at the Keg in Hamilton, eat big juicy steaks. Andrew manages to get them to comp us the meal, what a star. Pile back into van, crack a beer, head to TO and battle traffic all the way.

Friday, 11pm
Arrive at downtown Marriot. By some miracle kids are both sleeping. Haul kids and bags to ajoining rooms, dump kids in bed, proceed to drink heavily, say lots of bad words, and enjoy the spectacular view over downtown Toronto.

Friday, 2am or thereabouts
Lights out.

Saturday, 7:40 am
Awoken by two very alert looking children ready for action. A flurry of plastic animals ensues and the room is soon alive with the roar of blowdryers, which ignites the morning headache.

Saturday, 10 am
Breakfast at Eggspectations, delicious as expected. Talk of life, children, choices, dreams and bowel movements.

Saturday, 11 am
Walk to Andrew's single brother Kyle's super cool downtown condo. Find multiple specimens of women's underwear laying on bedroom floor. Fondly reminisce of the "good old bachelor days".

Saturday, 11:30 am
Leave Kyle's place with his entire Playstation 3 set of Rock Band gear, a well received donation to spark my children's future musical career. It's really not for me at all.

Saturday, 12 pm
Drinks at a scummy downtown Toronto bar. Stella for me, Rum and Coke for Andrew, Margarita for Jess and Diet Coke for Ana. Jess complains of strange and offensive odours in ladies toilet. Leave shortly thereafter.

Saturday, 1 pm
Arrive at AGO - Art Gallery of Ontario (http://www.ago.net/). Elongated heads, little ships, squirrel heads, furry cubes and ivory carvings intrigue, inspire and amaze us.

Saturday, 3:00 pm
Leave Toronto in a blinding rain storm, fight traffic, drop Andrew off at hotel in Hamilton for the evening shift. Along the way, we decide to go to Cleveland after he's done work to look at boats. No sense stopping now, the weekend is not even half over.

Saturday, 5:00 pm
Arrive home, have a nice dip in the hot tub, eat dinner, put jammies on kids. Jess spends quality with Bell the dog.

Saturday, 9:30 pm
Pick up Andrew in Hamilton, proceed to drive to Cleveland. Along the way Andrew suggests trying to find a ferry to take across Lake Erie Sunday afternoon. Idea well received.

Sunday, 1:30 am
Arrive in Cleveland, only one 15 minute stop required for entire trip, must be a new record. Get checked into hotel. Too late to embark on drinking session, feel the ravages of old age.

Sunday, 7 am
Wake up. Get kids and women moving. Jess "does" Stella's hair and she looks like a beauty queen. Mental note that the "ragamuffin" is not the only look Stella can pull off. Investigate ferry options. Quick brekkie in hotel lobby. Leave hotel. Note that it's a gorgeous day.

Sunday, 10 am
Arrive at National Liquidators boat yard after driving through the inner city slums of Cleveland. Feel good about our situation in life.

Sunday, 10:13 am
Find our ultimate dream boat. 1996 Catalina 40 foot, pristine condition. Call broker to make offer. Find out boat already sold that week. Feel bad about our situation in life. Andrew continues shuffling through Sun Rays, Rinkers, looking for the ultimate deal.

Sunday, 12 pm
Arrive at WWII submarine, right between boat yard and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Women stay outside and sun themselves while kids join the men inside and cause trouble the whole way through. Amazed and astounded that 97 men could live on such a vessel. Imagined smells are overpowering.

Sunday, 1 pm
Depart for Sandusky, 40 miles west of Cleveland. Arrive, buy tickets, eat lunch and drink beer in shabby but cool downtown pub.

Sunday, 3 pm
Ferry departs for Pelee Island. Lovely ride on a beautiful day. Girls mix us deadly strong rum and cokes.

Sunday, 4:45 pm
Ferry arrives. Clear Canada customs. Drive around island to public beach. Remove shoes, play in water, skip stones. Magnus picks up dead fish and brings it over. Later, inspects flattened garter snake on roadway. Nature trip over, back in van.

Sunday, 5:15 pm
Arrive in the southernmost tavern in Canada. Listen to country music, drink OV, eat greasy stuff, watch the strange people.

Sunday, 8 pm
Ferry departs for Kingsville, Ontario. Much larger ferry this time, retire to canteen to drink, eat popsicles and talk about life. Conversation gets very serious. Andrew is barely talked out of a career as a low paid pilot.

Sunday, 9:30 pm
Arrive Kingsville. Grab a Timmy's. Girls take over driving duties while boys make obnoxious comments from back seat. Kids watch movies. Along the way, try to figure out why on earth we weren't able to fit a blimp ride into the weekend.

Sunday, 12:15 pm
Arrive Paris Ontario. All hail the Power Weekend.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Global warming on pause

Seems there's not much statistical weather ammo being generated in Canada for global warming buffs.

It's been an odd summer. Besides back to work Mondays, which have been consistently beautiful, the weather has been unseasonably cool and rainy. Of course, by cool I mean low 20's, which is actually a great temperature for being outside, but far from the 30 degree July heat we normally get.

We spent a week in late June at a cool house in Port Franks, which is on the shores of Lake Huron and less than 90 minutes from our home. It was spent with a pile of Ana's cousins and aunts and uncles, basically the Portuguese Mafia and me. We lucked out with two hot days to start the trip then it turned cool and rainy, but that didn't stop us. There were several early injuries in the trip, limited mainly to purple toes, ripped knees and intense bruising, all due to the outbreak of two vicious games of barefoot soccer. As usual, participants were highly energized, highly intoxicated and physically unfit for any sort of exercise, especially high octane European style football. In the days that followed, physical activity reverted to much less strenuous activities, such as bobber fishing, hot tubbing and synchronized beer swilling.

This past weekend we visited my brother, sister-in-law and nephew in Ottawa. While my most understanding wife looked after the kiddies, Marty and I went to a Cake show at the Ottawa Bluesfest. As expected, it was outstanding. The nice part of the weekend was that we decided to fly instead of suffering through that grueling drive.

We're planning a trip this weekend to Windsor then across the border to cover some new ground in Michigan. As Ana says, our goal is to not let a single summer weekend go to waste!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fear and greed

As the stock market roars up magnificently I again feel the forces of fear and greed. I think, “Why didn’t I invest everything I had when the market was down?” I think, “I can’t invest anything now, what if the market tumbles again!” Today I even considered, “Maybe I should short the market and make a fortune!”

This investing is hard business.

In other news, I’m happy to report I finally finished up all our personal and corporate tax returns, what a great feeling that is. I celebrated the other night by drinking a nice cold Carlsburg while sitting in the hot tub with the kids and Ana. We celebrate all victories, accomplishments, occasions and special events, no matter how small - this is one of the most important traits of the Olson clan!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Prairie love

Ahhh, the prairies! Everytime I go home I realize I've forgotten how huge the sky is.

We visited our cabin out at Fishing Lake after a two year absence. We lucked out with beautiful, hot weather and the company of many friends and family members. On top of all the beer drinking and tractor racing we even found time to catch a few fish.

We are so excited about the full week we plan to spend there in August, that should really give us time to kick back and enjoy.

Just a short one this time...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Trip to Rochester

Last Friday evening, after pouring a concrete pad for the shed we are going to build in the backyard, Ana and I discussed the plan for the weekend. We soon realized there wasn't a plan. To us, it's a tragedy to be sitting there on Friday night with no plan or commitments for the weekend. Once we realized our terrible planning error, we got to work!

Ana chose Rochester, New York as our weekend destination. We blasted off early Saturday morning, making a brief stop in Brantford to pick up Ana's folks and a dose of T-ho coffee. Three hours later we found ourselves in the town of Pittsford, where we enjoyed a nice stroll along the Erie Canal and a delicious lunch. Oh yes, and Ana bought this incredibly ugly wire wagon wheel trolley for a dollar at a knick-knack sale. I nearly threw it in the canal when I saw her walking up with it but since I'm such a nice guy, and didn't want to get kicked, I just hurled verbal abuse.

After that we drove up to Rochester and discovered the Strong Museum of Play located downtown. In we went, parents, kids and grandparents, to see what treasures we could discover inside. I loved it! More than anybody else, perhaps even all of them put together! This was chiefly because of the giant video game arcade that housed at least a hundred vintage arcade games, games like Donkey Kong, Crystal Castle, Track & Field, Q-bert, Gunfighter and a whole bunch of others that propelled me back in time and turned me into a 10 year old boy with a sticky quarter in my hand, walking into the arcade at the plaza in Fairhaven, Saskatoon.

Besides the arcade, they had toys and games of all descriptions. There was a magic, crystal ball, kid-sized wizard robes, magic wands, king and queen costumes, building blocks, crayons, miniature grocery stores, interactive games, funny mirrors, thousands of books, plastic hamburgers, sandboxes of silicone and an extraordinary butterfly garden.

After this we drove to the hotel and John and I took the kids for a swim while the ladies went shopping. For dinner, we found an Uno steak house and manjayed some meaty sirloins after which, we retired to the hotel and I managed to stay awake for about 20 minutes of Escape From Alcatraz.

The next day we had a quick tour of downtown Rochester, including a stop at a large waterfall encased by crumbling factories - a very strange sight indeed. We then drove north to the southern shore of Lake Ontario and continued west towards the Canadian border. We were surprised at the lack of development - most of the lake front cottages were actually just cottages...instead of unneeded mansions.

We cut across the border and continued to the town of St. Davids where we stopped for lunch at Mike and Ana's bakery/cafe called Olson Foods & Bakery - Ravine. They were actually off for the day, which doesn't happen often, so we settled ourselves at one of the tables and had a yummy lunch of bbq ribs. It's a lovely place, very vintage, evidenced by the odd collection of beaten up chairs, no doubt scavenged by Michael at garage sales and auctions across southern Ontario. Stella helped the depreciation process along for one of the chairs by breaking off a lower crosspieces while attempting to climb the chair to accost her mother. Just before leaving, Ana walked over to check out the items for sale and was delighted to see the lofty prices of the Le Crueset pots, as she had recently picked up a set of three at a garage sale in Paris for $30!

We then took the long, winding road home, avoiding the highways and instead getting a lovely tour of the fruitlands. As luck would have it, we found a flea market along the way, just outside of Jordan, and the "adults" did some shopping while us kids stayed in the car.

We arrived home by about 6pm, tired, happy, and very satisfied with our decision to turn an otherwise dull weekend into an adventure!

Friday, May 22, 2009

What to do with our website?

Our treasured, packed, interesting, rugged and extremely worn website has been on our minds lately. We've been running http://www.lifeisgrand.org/ for almost 10 years now which, in internet terms, is mind boggling. I've been reading up on Web 2.0 technologies and am amazed at how much the technology has moved on.

For instance, we've been writing a journal on our site since Oct 5, 1999. When we started, there was really no such thing as a social networking site, so we used our website as a tool to keep in touch with our friends and family as we travelled around the world. Of course, it was "one-way" communication, which is really what Web 1.0 was all about back then. We posted pictures, stories and journals which were available for anybody in the world to read, and it worked great! Over the years, we've built up a substantial readership, in fact, we still attract over 10,000 unique visitors per month, mainly looking for travel related information.

Now, the internet world is much different. The name of the game is "interactivity" - the days of a static website are pretty much over. Which puts us in a bit of a spot. During the past year we've been kicking ideas around about what we can do to derive some income off the website, as the original purpose of the site has been pretty much replaced by Facebook (what we're up to), online photo sharing (where we've been), instant messaging (communication), wikipedia (information on countries) and Linkedin (networking for business/projects). We have really struggled with what to do with it. The first problem is that neither of us have kept up our web development skills, so any attempt to freshen up the site would probably just end up in a mess. We are also extremely cheap, so the idea of paying somebody to redo the site for us is not appealing, unless there would be a good return on investment. Which takes us to the second problem: what exactly is the purpose of our site?

The most successful websites out there have a clearly defined function or purpose. They offer specialized information, specialized products, or a unique way of getting required information. The same is true of the popular blogs - they are narrow in focus and keep a readership by focusing on a particular subject of interest. Our website and blog is all over the place!! I like to write about things that interest me, such as investing, travel, finance and politics. But I doubt that there are many people out there who are interested in the same wide span of topics that I am so my blog is really just a replacement for a personal diary.

Let's take the travel aspect of our site, which draws the most visitors. There are thousands or maybe even millions of travel websites out there, many very focused on one particular country or even regions or towns within a country. If you want to get detailed information on a specific place, our site is definitely not the place to come, as many of the countries we've written about, we only visited one or twice years ago so the information is not up to date. What we do offer is a very personal opinion on places, which is sometimes difficult to find on the web as it can be hard to tell if there is an "advertising" aspect to a website's opinion. It's a trust issue.

Ana and I have brainstormed various ideas, looking for an angle, trying to figure out what we have to offer that isn't available elsewhere and what we've come down to is this: we have struck an amazing balance between employment, business, travel, raising kids and having fun. We don't know anybody else who has been able to balance all these things as well as we do.

That's our angle. Now, we just need to figure out how (or indeed "if") that translates into a successful website.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Analyze a boat purchase

A great deal on a sailboat has come to our attention so we're now in the process of deciding whether to pursue this purchase.

Whenever we face a life decision like this, our first step is to decide "why". Last night we came up with this list of reasons why we'd like a boat:

1. We love spending time on boats

2. We want the kids to grow up around boats and water

3. We want to develop our own sailing skills to enable us to do a year long sailing sabbatical

The next step is to figure out the real costs of owning a boat. We contacted the marina where we would keep the boat and got the prices for monthy berthing, haul in/out, winterizing, etc, then spoke with our friends to get an approximate cost of insurance. If we spread that out over the entire year it worked out to be about $230/month. If we then add in maintenance costs, which are high on older boats, we get another $166/month(based on a $25,000 boat, mid 1980's, 8% maintenance/year).

That makes a total of almost $400/month per year to own a sailboat. Hmmmm.

If we decide that we can afford that cost, we then need to decide what activities our new sailing hobby will displace. As you can imagine, our life, like most peoples', is extremely busy, so when we pick up some new activity, then something has to give. It seems the area most likely to give would be the impromptu weekend trips courtesty of our favourite airline, WestJet. We're okay with this, especially considering we'll be spending the time sailing, fishing and swimming.

More to come, stay tuned.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Florida real estate

There was a business aspect to our weekend trip to Florida, namely, to check out the state of Florida real estate and the prospects of getting in to an investment property.

The verdict on real estate prospects? Poor. I've read that the Fort Myers area of Florida is one of the worst hit real estate markets in the US. Knowing this, one would expect to see some signs of slowdown in economic activity, but this was not to be found. Everywere we looked was a parade of new cars, motorcycles, and people spending money. The shopping malls were packed to the point of hardly being able to find a parking spot. Restaurants were full, people looked happy, and there were few building vacancies to be seen. There were more "For Sale" signs up than in recent years, but nothing like what we were expecting. While it's true that you can buy a house for under a hundred grand, this will still only buy you a beaten up house in an undesireable suburb, miles away from the ocean. The premium properties are still commanding premium prices, though not as high as a couple years ago. Properties that were selling for 750k are now a steal at 600k. To me, the prices still seem well out of range for the average person and far, far below what I would consider to be a great deal.

It makes you wonder, how bad is this recession really? This past weekend every single WestJet flight to southern destinations, and most in Canada too, was 95% full. This is not a sign of penny pinching consumers and the populace facing economic oblivion. Maybe people are just enjoying their unemployment and spending their severance pay on enjoying life for a while.

Is it possible the real pain is yet to come?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Weekend in Fort Myers

Ana's been on a mission to plan us a long weekend getaway and it's been quite an adventure. The first choice was Nassau, Bahamas - we were hoping to go back to the same cool all-inclusive we visited last year but the price was much higher this year so we decided against that. The next idea was Barbados but the flights were too full and the accomodation prices were ridiculous. Next up was Newfoundland...which seemed like a great idea until we looked up the expected weather for this time of year and it was wretched. Plus the flights got filled up anyway, obviously a bunch of masiochistic tourists or homesick Newfies headed to St. John's. So then we set our sights on Las Vegas. Brilliant idea - the flights were available and the accomdation was reasonable. Plus Ana, nor her parents had been there before, and I hadn't been there for about ten years so it seemed like a great plan. We booked the hotel and watched the flights.....slowly fill up until this past Wednesday when it was quite obvious they were going to sell out. At that point, desperation was setting in. Not on my part so much, but more Ana. Once she sets her signts on a vacation weekend, it's like a crocodile snapping it's jaws down on a wildebeast's leg. In other words, the crocodile will not go hungry.

By this point, we were down to looking at what flights were available....going anywhere. The rapidly filling flights made us wonder, "Recession.....what recession??". It's not that often that every single flight leaving Toronto on a Thursday or Friday to anywhere remotely interesting is almost completely filled. Ana looked at Victoria (too full), Phoenix (nope), Fort Lauderdale (full), Orlando (okay coming back but full going down), and those are just the ones she told me about. By this time, I had practically resigned myself to spending a quiet weekend at home. Besides the desperate flight situation, the weather forecast for Brantford was looking remarkably lovely with highs of 25 and 26 over the weekend. Finally, from the depths of our home office, came a sort of cautious victory tone from my sweet wife.

"Fort Myers! Fort Myers is clear! And we can come back through either Tampa or Orlando, we're good to go!"

With that, accomodations and flights were booked and Ana was happy once again.

The only minor hiccup was that our sweet little girl Stella broke out in a most unusual rash, something looking very much like chicken pox. There was just enough time to get her to the walk-in clinic before we left, where the doctor admitted he really had no idea what it was, but it was not likely chicken pox since that affliction is very rare these days. Since Stella was feeling fine and in a great mood, though slightly itchy, we decided to push ahead with the trip.

So here I sit, Friday night, with a chilled Presidente beer in hand, commiting my thoughts to cyberland, with the kids in bed together watching a Diego video while Ana and her folks are out shopping. When it comes to the decision between going shopping and doing anything else, I almost always choose the latter, unless there's a nice cafe or cold beers or cigars or preferably all three included in the shopping picture.

Here's to another Olson-style power weekend!

Monday, April 20, 2009

From Cleveland to Port Dover

My friend Andrew bought a whoop-ass boat from a repo liquidator in Cleveland a few weeks ago. With the ice completely gone from Lake Erie it was time to go pick up the vessel and transport it back across the lake to Port Dover, where had had arranged a slip for the season. He asked me and another friend, Justin, to come along to give him a hand piloting it back to Canada. The boat is a 33 foot Sea Ray with twin 454 V8 engines and every onboard amenity you can imagine including tv, refrigerator/icemaker, stereo, electric toilet, gps, radar and free alcohol, though no topless servers this day, as it was very early in the season and a little chilly.

We had Ana, the kids and Andrew's girlfriend Jess drop us off in Buffalo, where we rented a car and drove to Clevelend, then stayed overnight at a hotel. We stopped en route in Erie, Pennsylvania for a burger and beer at TGI Fridays, which promptly put me to sleep in the passenger's seat for the remainder of the ride.

A planned early departure turned into a 12 noon kick-off due to several unforeseen circumstances such as missing supplies, marine stores that don't open until 10am, bad navigation in downtown Cleveland, and a small mishap at the fueling dock which resulted in 25 gallons of petroleum pumped into the waste tank of the boat instead of the gas tank which had to be suctioned out.

One we were finally underway, we found lake conditions to be absolutely perfect. It was about 17 degrees with a minor wind of 10 kph and hardly a boat to be seen. We began working our way up the US shoreline, about 2 to 3 miles offshore. We kept the boat at 3,000 rpm which, Justin advised, offered the best tradoff of speed versus fuel consumption. At that rate we were doing about 21 to 22 mph which was a nice steady comfortable pace.

Upon the approach to Erie, which was about 5 hours after leaving Cleveland, Andrew decided it would be best to fill the gas tanks before making the run across the lake to the Canada side. After several cell phone calls we learned that the pumps at the regular marina were having issues and the only place that had fuel was the private Erie Yacht club, who only reluctantly agreed to sell us gas. After 45 minutes of waiting for them to find somebody to turn on the gas pump, during which time we paid a visit to the club bar and caught some lip from a drunken sailor, we finally got fuel and were able get back underway.

This was the part of the trip I was originally most nervous about, as Lake Erie is home to hundreds of shipwrecks and known to turn deadly with fast changes in weather. Luckily for us, the wind was steady and smooth and gave rise to waves that were no more than 5 or 6 feet at the highest. The trip across took about two hours and was interrupted only twice, first by a strange engine noise which didn't reoccur, and second by me nearlying running the boat into two feet of water at Long Point.

The final two hour trip across the lake culminated in our triumphant entrance into Port Dover harbour, evidenced by nobody as the marina was almost completely devoid of boats. The ladies and kids arrived shortly after our landing, and after a few minutes of phone chatter with Canadian customs, we were cleared and free to go! We all squeezed into the van, stopped at Callaghan's for a quick fish feed, then drove back to Paris, nicely finishing off a relatively uneventful Lake Erie navigation- which is exactly what you want when crossing large bodies of water!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sell that stock!

As the market wavered, then dropped, then climbed, then held steady, then fell down, then popped up....I decided to sell that little stock referred to in my previous posting. Made a nice profit, not a huge profit, but a nice profit. Of course, as soon as I sold it, it went up another 30%. Emotions of lost opportunity wash over me like a sickness. But I hold to the old maxim that you'll never go broke taking a profit.

This has been a good exercise and has reinforced these two beliefs:
1. Fear and greed are overwhelming strong emotions and nearly impossible to control once you let them out of the box
2. Active market trading takes a lot of time and energy, and is generally a losers game

The market has been climbing steadily as I watch. Job losses mount and the news is mostly bad, except for real estate whose descent has somehow slowed. I still fully expect the market to tumble again and present new buying opportunities. I'm thinking by June there will be carnage once again.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pure emotion

I get to work, read an investing newsletter from my uncle Gerry, log into my trading account and immediately make a blindly emotional buy in the first minute after the opening bell. How's that for not following my own advice? I broke the following rules:

1. Never invest on emotion
2. Never invest during beginner hour (the first hour after the market opens)

In a remarkable break with history, the markets went roaring up today, including my stock, a leveraged financial ETF called ProShares Ultra Financial, which went up 25% today. Do I feel like a star? Yes I do. Is it completely stupid to feel like a star when your short term success is due completely to blind luck? Of course, but it still feels good to be on the winning side of a trade for a change.

Actually, I consider this "gambling money" and since it was a small amount I was willing to take a risk. So I submit that this was a Monday morning trip to the online casino, likely brought on by the lack of excitement over the weekend (we were laying flooring in a rental unit).

Next thing to decide.....do I keep it or dump it for a profit at the end of the week?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sucker's rally or the bottom

I felt compelled to do a quick entry on the markets. I want to use this blog to develop my investing skills and part of that is learning how take your emotions out of the investment process.

The tsx has been on a tear, up almost 15% in the past ten days. Oil is up over $50 from $34 a couple weeks ago. With volatility like this, makes one feel like you're living in a casino!

At the last market bottom I invested about 20% of our "investable" money (in other words, the amount I put into Ana'a rsp this year which I've kept in cash awaiting good entry points). Now my emotions are telling me, "why didn't you invest more, dummy, what the hell were you thinking?" That's called the greed emotion - the feeling that I've lost out due to a bad decision. My emotions are also saying, "put more in the market now, if you don't it will just keep going higher and you'll miss out on more". Well, I'm trying to look at this objectively. The markets are leading indicators of an economic turnaround, normally (and I say "normally" with a clump of salt) six months ahead. I honestly think that you would be crazy to think there's any sort of economic recovery coming in six months. In fact, I think the pain is just now starting to be felt and the downstream multiplier effect hasn't even really kicked in yet. Let's say Chrysler pulls out of Canada putting all those uncompromising, union buttheads out of work. That massive job loss will be immediately tragic, but will also lead to all sorts of pain down the road. Most people can hang on for months on savings, liquidating investments, selling unnecessary toys, but once that runs out then we'll be seeing defaults on mortgate payments which, in turn, starts to effect the banks. But this takes a very, very long time.

The way I see it, I could be sitting here two months from now with my emotions telling me, "you idiot, you never should have invested that 20%, now the tsx is down to 6000 and you've lost even more money. Sell it now while it's still worth something! In fact, you should have shorted the market back in March when it went up to 8600, what a lost opportunity you bozo!"

Our emotions can be so insensitive.

For now, I'll just track my feelings, watch the markets, get in when I think the time is right, get out when it seems prudent, be happy with my good (lucky?) decisions and learn from the bad ones. If I can do that, then I'd say I'm doing an excellent job investing no matter what happens.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Weekender in Saskatoon

Considering we normally visit Saskatoon every couple months this trip is a long time coming. We haven't been back to Saskatoon since last summer so it was definitely time. We left Thursday after work and arrived here around 8:30 pm, which gave my brother Curt and I plenty of time to get good and smashed - in fact the nightcap consisted of half a bottle of fine port, which was like a sledgehammer to the cranium the next morning. Well, like the tshirt says, "The liver is evil and must be punished".

It's always a busy trip visiting Saskatoon. This time we're staying at my brother Curtis' funky new Hay Loft (http://www.saskatoonhayloft.blogspot.com/) where the kids are having a most adventurous time exploring all the nooks and crannies of this exceptional house.

Well, time to blast - we're heading out to Mom's greenhouse to help them plant some tomatoes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What's wrong with this apartment?

So we've got this apartment we've been trying to rent. This was the previous residence of our worst tenant, a loser-supremo who we inherited when we bought the building. He caused us more grief, stress and wasted money than all of our other tenants combined. We've been trying to get rid of him since we bought the building, and in the process learned a great deal about the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act which seems to have been custom designed to encourage and develop a strong population of deadbeat tenants at the expense of decent landlords and honest renters.

Through some unexplained miracle, he actually moved out of his own accord at the end of January, producing tears of joy and moments of unbelievable happiness in the Olson household. The first part of February was spent renovating and it was available for rent by mid month. Well, it's still empty. We've shown it at least ten times to over 20 or 30 potential tenants and have only received a single application, from a 17 boy with a 16 year old girlfriend, new baby, and no job. You have to realize that Brantford is a seriously blue collar town with a lot of transient people. A friend of mine who's been a landlord here for many years told me the quality of tenants used to be excellent but is now absolutely terrible, as anybody who had any inclination for owning their own house, has done so during the past decade, likely because of low interest rates and easy credit. He now faces the same problems finding good quality tenants.

This property, unfortunately, is not in the best area. Though it's close to downtown and in the middle of a commercial district with all sorts of shops, it's an area that is not look too well upon. It is far from the worst area in the city, but is definitely in the lower half.

Try as we may, we've not been able to rent it. So we're changing tactics. Step one was to shorten our application form and remove some of the more penetrating questions, so we're now down to two pages instead of four. Step two is to replace the carpets with laminate flooring. We didn't want to spend money on this, but we've had a couple comments from people about a lingering smoky odour in the apartment, which is surely coming from the old carpets. Mr. Wonderful, the previous tenant, and his roommate each smoked a couple packs of cigs a day and about a bale of marijuana per week between them. Seems that two bottles of Febreze was not nearly enough to eliminate the stink so removing the carpet is the only option.

Patience is the name of the game. We're not going to make the mistake of putting a bad tenant in there, that will only cause us problems down the road.

Just another day as a greedy landlord...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Family business planning

As I sit here at our home office desk, looking over a table full of stacks of invoices, I think to myself about the extremel level of organization it takes to keep yourself from drowning in a sea of administration. For example. we currently own two corporations (actually, just dissolved one so we down to one now thankfully), six properties, two vehicles, four mortgages and at least a dozen individual bank and investment accounts. I do all of our own corporate and individual taxes as well as tax returns for about eight other family members. This results in a great deal of time spent in opening mail, filing invoices, downloading banking and monitoring and reviewing investments. How much time? Probably about five to ten hours per week on average.

I think back to when Ana and I lived overseas and owned nothing besides one bank account and can't remember what life was like without all the administration - though I think it must have been pretty good! I've realized since then that the amount of administration in your life is directly proportional to the number of things you own. This accumulation of "things" for us has been very deliberate, though. Our overriding financial goal, as a family, is to direct our resources into owning things which generate income even while we are not there. We have been though a very steep learning curve since moving back to Canada and have learned an great deal about business, finance and taxes and it has been and continues to be a great ride.

Last night, I was here in the office, with bank and credit card statements spread over the floor (because the desk was full of receipts), attempting to sort and arrange them in chronological piles. Stella walked in and said, "Daddy, what are you doing?". I said, "Organizing our money". She said, "Why you organizing our money?". That's where I got stuck. One of the things I truly dislike having to do is balance my time between taking care of business and taking care of family. I would much rather be spending all my time with Ana and the kids instead of shuffling paper but at times like that I try to remember that we are doing this for a reason. We don't want to be like most people, who are utterly dependent on a paycheque from some employer who really doesn't give two hoots about them. We want to teach our kids the importance of being independent but to do that properly, we need to really learn it ourselves first. Independence means taking responsibility; for your finances, your job, your investments, your taxes and your business.

Though it's tough to devote this time to administration, I know that it is paying off now and will certainly pay off in the end.

(ps. after my discussion with Stella, I dropped what I was doing and went to play with her for a while...that was a lot more fun than piling invoices!)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Obamarama

President Obama's first big foreign trip was to Ottawa yesterday where he was welcomed by hordes of cheering Canadians, a snowstorm, freezing cold temperatures, a happy Harper and about ten thousand cops, security personnel, mounties and military snipers. I suppose that indicates he is fairly high value target.

The Canadian news reports of the visit were overwhelmingly positive and the trip seems to have been quite a success for both leaders. Stephen Harper actually looked happy, which is an emotion he surely hasn't felt for months. During the press conference Ana and I were trying to imagine how it would have been different with Stephane Dion up there and the image was not pretty - something along the lines of "the Messiah meets Forest Gump". Thank god that didn't happen.

There has not been such an outpouring of affection for a US president by Canadians since Kennedy so I see this as a potentially huge turning point in Canada-US relations. The anti-Americanism in Canada isn't just an embarrassment, it is an insult to our collective dignity. I think that Obama will give Canadians a reason to leave much of that crap behind and instead focus on the overwhelmingly positive aspects of our relationship with our neighbour to the south. One thing Harper said yesterday really struck a chord with me - he said that we often concentrate on the differences between our countries, and even when Canada "wins" a dispute with the US, we lose. That's some terrible paraphrasing on my part, but the idea is so true.

Thanks for visiting us, Mr. Obama! Here's to a productive US/Canada partnership as the collective economic shit hits the fan!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Economic disaster - time to buy a boat?

We took a drive to Cleveland last weekend. If you're as geographically challenged as I am you probably haven't got a clue where it is or why you'd go there. Cleveland, Ohio is about a 5.5 hour drive from our home in Paris and the route takes you through steely Hamilton, past splashy Niagara Falls, across the border at wingy Buffalo, then west across the spooky south shores of Lake Erie until you hit Cleveland, home of the Rock & Roll Museum and I'm not sure what else. Our friends Andrew and Jess put a bid in on a repossessed 34' Sea Ray powerboat and we went down there with them to check it out in person before sealing the deal. Of course, spending a couple hours poking around beautiful, bargain priced boats certainly puts you in a "retirement fantasy mode" and we of course started scheming for our own boat purchase.

We've been thinking that we'd like to spend our 40th birthdays on a sailboat someplace warm. And since our 40th birthdays are six months apart, it really gives us no other choice besides spending a full year away. My original calculations produce an estimated departure date three years hence but when I checked with Ana to see how old we were, I found out that I slipped a year somewhere and was a bit older than I thought. So we may have to do our 41st or 42nd birthdays on a boat. Regardless, we still need to get a boat beforehand to actually learn how to sail. The last time I owned a boat I nearly destroyed it on several occassions, which is a tremendous way to learn, but this time around I think it may be a better idea to take things somewhat slower and try not to sink it.

If anybody hears of a person with a 37' to 40' mint condition sailboat manufactured in the late eighties who is desperate to sell for a ridiculously low price due to job loss, divorce, mental instability, boredom, grief, fun, or whatever, give them my email.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Market value of rental properties

Ana and I have been discussing selling one of our rental properties in Brantford that we currently rent to students. It's a 3 + 1 bedroom house that we originally bought to renovate and resell but were not able to sell it for what we wanted so decided to keep it and rent it out to students, since it's close to the university in Brantford.

I've been wondering if we should sell it now in case the local real estate market takes a tumble. The house now is cash flow positive, especially since the variable rate mortgage payments have been tumbling, but it is not our best performing property. We discussed this last night and came to the following conclusions:

1. If we sold it now, we wouldn't make a substantial amount of profit after realtor fees, mortgage penalties, etc so it wouldn't result in a large amount of equity to put into another project
2. Our student tenants are excellent and are taking good care of the place
3. We've done a substantial amount of maintenance on the house making it pretty much maintenance free now
4. We haven't been finding many opportunities in the market, prices are still very high and there's not much quality stuff coming available
5. The local universities are expanding like mad and since university attendence usually increases in a recession, we should have no trouble keeping it filled for the foreseeable future

Since reveue generating real estate value is based on cash flow produced, it may make this particular segment of the real estate market hold up okay in a major correction. Landlords are normally very wary of reducing rents so hopefully the rental market remains strong and we'll just keep collecting that monthly cash flow!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Introduction

This is year two of our website redesign project. Year one didn't go so well - we came up with lots of ideas to improve and modernize the site, but then life got in the way!

One area to update is our journal. We are now in the tenth year of logging journal entries and during the time, the internet has come a long way to say the least. Our current system of adding journals is very manual so I decided to set up a proper blogging account and link it back to our website. Now that I have it set up I am really amazed by the functionality available, much more than I was anticipating. Just being able to add to the blog from any computer or even mobile phone will be a major improvement.

Recently, I've been wanting to do more writing on the various thoughts I have on other topics, such as investing, real estate, landlording, and raising kids. I find it very interesting to look back at old journal postings on our website, which are mainly travel related. To help develop my investing skills I think it will be good to log how I'm currently viewing the markets and my current investment strategy then look back in a year and see if they were the right decisions at the time. This should help in making me a better investor.

I'd also like to use this to start building up our lifeisgrand mailing list. I am currently working on a book and once it's done it will be nice to have an email list ready to help in marketing the final product.

Welcome to the new lifeisgrand blog!