Sleep, wondrous sleep.

Sleep 2

I yawn as I type this, which is an irony in and of itself. If there’s one thing where our society has gone downhill, it’s in getting enough sleep. With the kajillion different ways we now have to stay up and the endless parade of more information and games and tasks, it’s easier than ever to stay up that extra hour and play another game of Facebook Scrabble.

Sleep 4

Prior to the late 1800s, adults got around 9 hours of sleep a night. That dropped by an entire hour within less than twenty five years. Why, you ask? The invention of the light bulb suddenly made it possible to finish that novel after dark without having to burn through your supply of candles. And that was just the beginning. The OECD had a report in 2006 which said that Canadians sleep an average of 8.5 hours/night, but no one I know actually gets that much. The US Center for Disease Control considered it an epidemic, according to a report they issued back in March.

Sleep 3

Sleep needs are made up of your basal sleep need, which is what you actually need every night, and your sleep debt, which is that massive wall of snoozing that you haven’t gotten because of that great new book/Candy Crush/watching too much late night TV.

What are the effects of all of these missing zzzzzzs? Lots. Here are just a couple:

Transport Canada estimates that 20% of fatal collisions are caused by fatigue, and that the most problematic times are around your body’s circadian rhythms (sleepy times, in laymen’s terms) of 2-4am and 2-4pm. So there’s that. Driving sleepy is apparently as dangerous as driving drunk.

Not getting enough sleep impairs your immune system, has been shown to have a correlation with weight gain, and is terrible for your skin. When you’re sleep deprived, your body releases more of the sleep hormone cortisol, which breaks down collagen and ages your skin.

Being tired makes me (and others that I know) crabby. Which affects not only people I work with who like me more when I’m not so tired, but also my relationships with family and friends. I find I have much more patience for K attempting to bring all four of her stuffed friends into the car (Donkey, Monkey, Teddy and Eeyore) with a full eight hours behind me than I do if I’ve tried to squeak by at 6.5.

Sleep 1

So what can we do to get more (and better quality) sleep? There are a million (and that may be literal) websites that have sleep tips, so I’m just going to tell you what’s worked for me personally.

1) Have a routine.

Humans are built on routine. If you do the same thing at roughly the same time every night, it will begin to trigger your brain to start thinking ‘zzzzz’. I have an evening shower, and the warm water cues my melatonin to start kicking in.

2) Stop checking the Internet and playing on your phone an hour before bed.

This is the hardest one, and I’m not always roaringly successful at it. The blue light that emits from all of our beloved gadgets also makes it harder for your body to get into sleep mode. I’ve found that the nights where I’m playing those last few games of Scramble right before bed are the nights when my sleep is the most choppy.

3) Wear pyjamas that are the right temperature.

It’s kind of a Goldilocks thing. Not too hot, not too cold. I can’t sleep unless I’m just the right temperature. This sometimes leads to midnight pyjama changes, to the bemusement of my husband.

4) Have a snack half an hour before bed.

Preferably something like cereal or toast with peanut butter. I Iike to think of it as a warmup for breakfast. That way, your tummy is full and you won’t wake up starving at 2am.

5) Swap off with the other parent.

This applies only if you have small people. You should each get a day where you get to sleep in and the other person takes over baby duties. It can be the same day each week or flexible based on job schedules, but everyone deserves at least one day where they can catch an extra hour or two.

6) If you can’t sleep, try one of these: listen to piano music. Recite the alphabet backwards. Count down from 100 – in French.

What do you do to get shut-eye, folks? Enquiring minds want to know!

What are your

On luck, and making your own.


(note that the clover is three and not four)

We’ve kind of had a string of unfortunate events around here. We had to get the roof fixed (at an astronomical cost), to find out the rafters were rotted (adding to astronomical cost). I made a poor furniture moving decision and my right wrist was completely out of commission for a week, which is a huge issue when you have a computer job as well as a 25 pound toddler who isn’t docile about diaper changes. Things at work have been less than fantastic, my purse got stolen, necessitating a huge hassle of getting new ID and rekeying the car and house, etc etc.

All of this has led me to think about luck. People have always told me that I’m naturally lucky. And generally speaking, things do tend to turn out the way I want them to. How much of that is luck and how much of that has its basis in personality traits?

So how does this run of bad luck play into all of this? How have I managed to keep from having a ‘my luck is so bad’ breakdown? I tend to reframe a lot…the thief took my purse, but we managed to get our locks changed before they used the housekeys. I had enough ID in a different location to replace my ID and the baby’s ID. We paid a zillion dollars for our new roof, but it was in time for the CRAZY torrential rain that we’re getting right now, so we prevented a house leak, which would have been disasterous and far more financially damaging. My wrist was functional again after a week of not being able to use it AT ALL (which was maddening), but I managed through a combination of daycare and help from family and friends. SO yeah. All about the silver linings over here.

I’m of the opinion that luck is preparation meeting opportunity. Opportunity often knocks softly, so I take a lot of calculated risks, and I’m always looking for new and interesting things. I’ll throw an application in for a job that I don’t have all of the exact qualifications for, just in case they end up needed to go a little further afield. I enter every contest I see – someone has to be the winner, and at least I’m in the running. I volunteer to help in random situations, have a variety of weird hobbies, and am very good at staying in touch.  I’m always open to meeting new people and making new friends. This is both endearing and maddening, depending on your viewpoint. I ‘adopt’ people who are new in town and introduce them to my friends, because I’ve been in places where I knew noone, and know how much a friendly face to contact ‘just in case’ is worth. I’ve also, however, been known to bring a random new person I met on Skytrain to a birthday party at a pub, which might verge on the slightly weird. I meet a lot of people and keep in touch , so have a larger social circle than most. This, in turn, means that when I post about looking for something or wanting to get in touch with someone in a given field, a much bigger and more varied batch of people respond, and I tend to find a way to acheive my outcome  How much of that is ‘luck’ and how much of it is personality and knowing a lot of folks?


I do win. A LOT. But I enter 70 contests a day, every day. So with an average of 2100 contests a month, it seems realistic that I would win fairly often. Is that actual luck, or just opening myself up to lots of opportunities for luck?

Genuinely going into a situation expecting the best result has also always been something I do…and I think that because I tend to be pretty open minded going in, I don’t start out defensive and negative, which has better results. There’s an old proverb somewhere about how you get the behaviour you expect. I expect good things and tend to get them, but whether that’s due to my expectations or not is hard to quantify.

And then there are lucky charms…

I don’t have one in particular, but research has shown that lucky charms do work, in a placebo kind of way. Believing that you’re lucky (due to your four leaf clover or what-have-you) makes you happier and more optimistic, which makes you more aware of new possibilities and more likely to act on information when you come across it. So while that stuffed bunny may not be lucky in and of itself, it could genuinely cause you to have better results.

In a completely and delightfully ego-centric way, I also consider the new year beginning on my birthday…so in my world, the year resets at the end of June. And a brand new year is going to be lucky!

In summary:

*believe that the outcome will be how you want it

*meet lots of people and have a large social network

*do what you can to help other people, just because it’s a nice thing to do.

*find the positive, even if it takes some looking

*say yes instead of no every once in awhile … it can lead you to some interesting places.

*open yourself to opportunities

What’s your take on luck, readers? Are some people just ‘luckier’ than others, or do they have personality traits or habits that make things go their way?


Some interesting articles about luck:

Contests: the ultimate lifestyle upgrade!


Courtesy of Stuart Miles &

Back in my early 20s, I entered a contest online on a local magazine. Totally forgot about it and life went on. A few weeks later, I got a notice for a package from Canada Post. I was somewhat perplexed – I hadn’t ordered anything, and didn’t have any special occasions coming. When I opened it, it was a prize pack from the contest I had entered. Nothing spectacular – a book about a girl boxer movie (not the Hilary Swank one, WAY prior to that), a CD, a $5 gift card, and a couple of pens. I know – not exactly the lottery, no?

I gave the CD and book away, used the gift card, and put the pens in my purse. But a light went off in my head. I hadn’t done anything for this. I didn’t have to work for it, pay for it, trade for it. I had just filled in a form online, and then free stuff magically appeared at my door. This was just a few odds and ends…but what else was out there??

And so, my friends, it began. Those of you who know me know that one of my catch all phrases, and something that encapsulates my lifestyle, is ‘what you do all the time matters more than what you do once in awhile’. And what I do all the time, you see, is enter contests. Somewhere around 70 a day. Every day. Weekends and holidays included. You know what this girl was doing Christmas Day, before she was allowed to have her turkey? That’s right.

And you know what else? It pays off. Big time. 70/day works out to approximately 2100/month. It’s a simple numbers game that when you enter that often, consistently, you’re bound to win. A lot.

What have I won?  A flat screen TV, when they had just come out. A new computer, which, naturally, I used to enter more contests. My honeymoon, where we ended up going on a trip to New Zealand when we had figured on going camping with the meagre funds we had. $7500 in travel credit to go anywhere in the world, which culminated in three glorious weeks in Tuscany, staying at the nice hotel rather than the one we would have chosen, and a stopover to see friends in London.

Bits of Italy

Front row concert tickets, enough movies that I rarely pay for them anymore, and lots of truly random stuff. An NFL player signed football, wrapped in brown paper, was delivered by our very confused mailman one year before Christmas. It went to the toy bank for some very needy, likely very delighted child.


Other people get bills in the mail. I get random packages, and am known to call home when I’m away to see what came that day. I probably win once every week or two, anything from a DVD to a fabulous trip somewhere or tickets to a concert I’ve been dying to go to but can’t afford.

I see entering contests as an investment in the lifestyle that we want but can’t juggle financially alongside our mortgage and toddler. Yes, it’s 45 minutes less sleep in the morning. Yes, it’s INCREDIBLY tedious. And yes, I get a TON of junk mail. But since I get to go through it on glamourous vacations that I could never otherwise afford, I’m totally okay with that.

You want to do this too, you say? I get that a lot! It can work for you too. The key is persistence.

Here’s a synopsis of how I do it. Note that there is a whole underground community of contesting folks and everyone has their own style. Find what works for you and do it.

To find the contests to enter, I use (which is a pay site – $25/year – but has a free one month membership) and, which is a free site that has a good blog contest section. There is also another good site at

I also use a form filler called Roboform which is free to download and you can find it with a Google search.

Some of the local ones** I enter (fewer entrants = better odds to win!) are the online sites for the local radio stations, newspapers, magazines and TV networks.

**most of these require you to create an account – you only need to do it once.

There’s no magic formula, and no ‘blessed by the fairies’ type of luck. It’s basic, dogged, unflamboyant persistence. What you do all the time matters more than what you do once in awhile. It’s like working out…if you do it every day for six weeks, you’ll see some amazing results. If you enter 70 contests a day, you will win. Simple as that. If you get bored two weeks in, when you haven’t won anything yet (and most of the contests haven’t even closed yet), you will not win. You need to keep doing it, day in, day out, even if the payoff isn’t right before your eyes right away. It’s hard in our instant gratification society, but that’s what you need to do.

Please note that first and foremost, (PAY ATTENTION NOW!!), contests in Canada are *FREE*. The only thing you might pay (depending on the contest) is air taxes, and that’s AFTER you’re in touch with a bonafide travel agency and AFTER you’ve gotten your e-tickets. If you get a call from a US number saying you’ve been ‘chosen’ and they need your Visa number, hang up. .(Once you know contest law in Canada better, you can lead them on and traumatize them, which is what I do).

If you’ve legitimately won something, you’ll get it in writing, usually with a release form (either by email, fax or mail), and if the prize is over $200, you’ll have to answer a skill testing math question. Those are some of the Canadian contest regulations, and they apply to any contest for residents of Canada, regardless of whether the company is Canadian, American, or international. Feel free to email me with questions –one thing I know a lot about is winning! (And the inverse, which is contest scams).

Here are some tips:

*pick a time of day and always enter at the same time. It creates a habit and then it’s easier to continue.

*if you don’t know what the company does, makes, or sells, you probably shouldn’t enter. That way, scammers live.

*do something else at the same time…it’s really very, very boring. Talk on the phone, listen to the radio, whatever works for you.

*pay attention to the rules. If it says you can enter once a day, enter once a day. Or once a week. Or whatever. If you need to be a certain age or doing a certain job to be eligible, make sure you meet the criteria. There’s no bigger bummer than getting a win only to be disqualified.

*don’t enter for things you don’t actually want. It’s bad contest karma. (And for those of us paying attention, the football I won and gave away was a third runner-up prize. I genuinely wanted the grand prize that I didn’t win – a trip to the Superbowl!)

*set up a separate email address, check it religiously, and make sure to keep your filters low so that you don’t miss anything.

Happy winnings!

I want to know, readers – what have you won (if anything)? And if not, what would you like to win?

Someone else making dinner without breaking the bank! (AKA Mystery shopping madness)

Image courtesy of Imagerymajestic /

Image courtesy of Imagerymajestic &

I love eating out. Love it. I’m a passionate baker, but slightly apathetic about making my own meals. Going out for dinner has always been my favourite way to catch up with friends – food that I didn’t have to make and good company, how can that go wrong? Now that I have a husband and a baby, there’s a bit more of an immediate need to feed us all – my previous life of having a bowl of cereal if I didn’t feel like figuring out what to make is no longer feasible, but going out for dinner on those no cooking nights is a huge finance buster!

So how does one eat out when there’s a budget to be met and bills to be paid?

Two words: mystery shopping. I remember the first time I heard about mystery shopping – I had read a book about unusual ways to make money, and it was one of the suggestions. I had, in the dim recesses of my memory, heard about it before, but in the context of a scam scenario where someone had paid money to ‘join’ with a company. I’ve since learned that they pay you and it’s an independent contracting situation, where you pick up jobs according to your preferences and location.

The synopsis on restaurant mystery shopping is this: you go to XYZ restaurant with a friend. You generally will have some parameters on what categories of items to order (often it’s an appetizer to share, two entrees, two drinks from the bar and a dessert to share), but other than that, it’s really up to you. As you have lunch with your friend, ordering whatever you want from each category required, you’re taking mental notes on the food, the service, whether there are fingerprints on the glasses and how long everything takes. I find having a smartphone makes this process much easier.

You have dinner, pay your bill, tip as you usually would, and leave, all the while just being a regular customer out for dinner with a friend or partner. Once you’re home, you fill in the online report and scan and attach your copy of the bill and credit card receipt. About six weeks later, you’ll be reimbursed via Paypal or cheque, depending on the company, whatever the agreed upon amount of the shop was. Often it’s around $75 or $80 dollars. Depending on what you order, this makes for either a really cheap, yummy multi course dinner, or an entirely free one!

I’ve been doing it for several years, and it means that steaks and martinis can happen whenever we have the inclination to go out and can find a babysitter.

There are also other mystery shops for retail items (some entail a small purchase which you are reimbursed for), oil changes, clothing, shoes – you name it! There’s a whole lifestyle that awaits!

Please note, in big, bold letters:

You do not pay a fee to join a company, ever, and anyone who wants you to is not authentic. You do have to pay for things like dinners or small purchases in advance and then you get a cheque or Paypal 4-6 weeks later, depending on the company.


Here are some of the companies that I use:

(restaurants, retail and the odd automotive)

(Casinos and banking) 

These are some other ones that are legit: (
Gas stations, usually require (and reimburse) a small purchase)

Good luck – let me know if you have any questions and what your experience with mystery shopping is, or what you think it might be! What do you do to keep up things you love doing when your budget stages a protest?


Running away: Vacations

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee /

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee /

Who doesn’t dream of lying on a white-sandy beach,  with a pink drink with an umbrella floating in it in one hand, and the latest sci fi compendium in the other? (While the former is nearly universal, I recognize that the latter may not be – insert your literary poison of choice).

The question is, how do you manage to dovetail the urge to run for sunnier, less-responsibility filled hills for a week or two, once or twice a year, and still pay the rent/mortgage/groceries/iPhone data plan?

Here are a few suggestions to making those sunny shores less a dream and more a reality:

Here’s the big one: Plan ahead

If there’s a dream destination that you’ve always wanted to go to, make it happen. You aren’t going to look back in ten years and regret making the dream a reality. But I guarantee you’ll sigh wistfully and wish you could go back in time and actually do it. So pick a date, and spend an hour researching how much time you would need and what an actual budget would look like. If the Eiffel Tower is your must-see, start with airfare.

The best time to go is usually ‘shoulder season’ , which is right before or right after the busy season. Oftentimes, it will be spring and fall. My favourite time to travel is usually May or October – weather is generally nice, things are cheaper and there aren’t hordes of people. Pick some rough dates, and search a couple of airlines directly, and before you calculate the airfare, open a second browser window and type in ‘coupon codes Air Canada’ (insert airline of choice) and see what pops up. You’d be surprised how often you can save 10% in less than five minutes – and 10% of a $1000 bill is a substantial amount of croissants in a patisserie!

Once you’ve narrowed down your airfare costs, then you can mull over your lodging choices. There are more options than you think, from online apartment rentals such as or, to couch surfing, hostels, house swapping, and of course, the usual charming little French hotel. The fastest way to stretch your dollar is to have cooking facilities available. If you’re staying for more than a few days, it’s worth the extra money to get an apartment or a room with a kitchenette.

In addition to giving you more flexibility in terms of what to have for breakfast and being able to pack a proper lunch so that you don’t have to duck out of the Louvre at a crucial moment only to stand in line to buy a $15 baguette (true story), it also means that you don’t have to go out if you are temporarily travelled out and just want toast. There’s also the fun of wandering around a foreign grocery store attempting to identify the vegetables and thinking ahead about what to make.

Some of my best travel memories are of making dinner together with my husband when we were one place or another, in the little apartment kitchen in Budapest, or the kitchenette in the castle in Tuscany where we had rented a suite. The additional cost of the kitchenette was made by staying in for only one dinner, and over the five nights we were there, it was a financial boon. The money we didn’t spend on a breakfast that was just a matter of meeting a need was money that we splashed out on a dinner in the little bistro that was slightly out of our budget.

Once you’ve gotten your airfare and transportation divvied up, make a list of five major sightsthat you want to see, whether that’s the Louvre or the Sacre Couer, or a side trip out to Versailles. Spend half an hour and go to the websites and see how much the train will cost, what the admission rates are, and if there are any discounts for being a student, or youth under 26. Note those numbers.

Next, add in your spending money. Here’s where you need to prioritize. Figure out what your true love is, and concentrate your funds on that. If you’re a huge art fan and your dream is to bring back a little oil original of the Seine, painted by a man in a beret on a sunny Tuesday morning, great! Be aware that you will need to make allowances elsewhere. You can absolutely meet your priorities for your trip, with a little give and take. If you’re a huge foodie, figure in for one or two truly fabulous meals and do a lot more walking than taking the Metro. To continue with our example of France, most French cafes will note the price of the price fixe outside the restaurant. It’s usually a set meal and comes with no real substitutions, which is something that takes some adjustment from our North American mindset. They’re usually quite good value, though, and if you go for your main meal as lunch rather than dinner, you can do quite well. Figure for 50 euros or so a day, providing that you’ll skip the madly overpriced hotel breakfast and go to a local patisserie or cook your own, and that you’ll make lunch or dinner at least once or twice in the five to seven days that you’ll be there.

Once you’ve spent some time dreaming and getting your trip priorities aligned, add it all up. Add 15% for the ‘just in case’ fund. Divide that number by 52, and that’s how much money you need to set aside every week. Now, that money can be money you’ve pulled from other spending (David Bach’s ‘latte factor’ springs to mind), or additional money that you’re bringing in (more on that topic later).

Pin a picture of the Eiffel Tower by your bed or beside your computer screen…somewhere where you’ll see it and remember often that you’d rather be sitting at a streetside café in Montmartre than buy another pair of ballerina flats or another video game involving tanks (depending on your priorities).

Happy travels!