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Archive for the ‘Lifestyle & Travel’ Category

TOP 10 ‘Practical’ Valentine’s Day Gifts

In less than one week another of those often pressure-packed, gift giving days arrives: February 14th, AKA Valentine’s Day.

I can recall as a child in elementary school filling out sweet and simple cards to be given to classmates.  Starting even at such a young age, the message sinks in: this is a day to try to treat at least one other person in a special way.  Of course, as one gets older, effort and expense become more integral parts of the equation.

While an unofficial holiday of sorts for many, in terms of time spent at some point during the day, not everyone will feel motivated to treat this as a special occasion.  Particularly, those living alone will, justifiably, exhibit a wide range of inattention or involvement.  Those of us with some variation of a ‘significant other’ will likely be committed to action, although this can translate to quite a spectrum.

Furthermore, like all aspects of modern life, there’s an ever-expanding kaleidoscope of manner in which to recognize any special occasions.  Some options are more subtle or refined than others.

Let’s consider some practical gifts to bask in the glow of Valentine’s Day, 2019:

  • Mini-telescopes, to be warned of first-hand conditions of sidewalks and other pedestrian thoroughfares
  • More fit-to-size pockets, to put omnipresent mobile devices out of sight, albeit ever so temporarily
  • Artificial flowers with switches, to change the shapes and colours to the recipient’s preferences
  • Elegant appearing candies with dark chocolate coatings and inedible, collectible fillings, to satisfy both passions
  • Gas station cards with incrementally adjustable amounts, to cover swings in gasoline prices   
  • A mobile device for historians, to record the exteriors and home pages of devices the recipient has had over the last decade
  • Mini-facial expression masks, which can be applied to the face replacing the effort of displaying actual physical reactions
  • An invisible shield, which can be secretly draped over one’s body in tight crowd situations to avoid direct contact with others’ germs or prying fingers
  • An update version of the ‘cone of silence’, so that one can get away for awhile from all except one other person
  • A mini-garbage compressor one can carry, to get rid of those bits which accumulate when not around a waste bin

After all, this should be time for giving someone a gift with memories lasting beyond the end of the day.  

Wishful Tax Deductions & Credits

As we move into another February, it’s getting to that time for many of us to look at our income tax status for the previous year. 

We can pat ourselves on the back for the good actions we took to help lower taxes (such as make regular tax-deductible contributions to a retirement savings plan or contributions to charities eligible for tax credits).  We may also have some time left for catch-up opportunities, such as the 60 days grace period for contributions to an RRSP (in Canada). 

Unofficial strategies, particularly ‘creative bookkeeping’, are engaged at one’s discretion and risk.  

While these actions can reduce income tax owing, along with investing in tax-exempt or tax-reduced investments, claiming legitimate business or employment deductions, medical expense credits, and a few others, there is much room for improvement. 

Particularly, when one considers the roller-coaster ride in juggling the demands of modern life, it seems only fair that many other activities taxpayers engage in should qualify for some degree of helping reduce our overall tax burden.

Here are suggestions for tax relief, at least from a consumer point of view:

  • Credits for gas consumed in returning defective or recalled merchandise to sales outlets
  • ‘Tipping’ credits, to compensate for financially rewarding services based on empathy for low-paid workers rather than the quality of the experience  
  • Expanded definition of ‘moving expenses’ to include costs of getting away from energy/income sucking relatives
  • Credits to compensate for hours of pain and mental discomfort spent by seniors in waiting areas of government run medical facilities
  • Deductions for clothing based on their wear & tear due to being subjected to the physically challenging winter months; this includes cleaning bills for clothing constantly dirtied getting in and out of vehicles, both private and public transit  
  • Education credits for studying third party journals and reports which attempt to explain government policies
  • Deductions for home expenses incurred for environmental improvements relating to being able to cope with irresponsible or intrusive neighbours (latter’s property must be adjacent)   
  • Flat amount annual credit for office workers to compensate for monies spent for fellow workers’ coffee, snacks, etc., not reimbursed by an office fund
  • Deduction for monies spent on clothing or accessories when interviewing for a new job which doesn’t pan out
  • Credits for toys, etc. purchased to keep children from annoying other people in public

After all, compared to the manner in which governments indiscriminately throw around hard-earned dollars extracted from taxpayers, more flexibility in the latter’s ability to make more efficient use of their own monies seems only fair.    

Writing Blogs vs. Writing Books

I’ve written quite a wide number of blogs.

I’ve also recently finished the last draft of my first book.  (I did craft a full length screenplay years ago.  Perhaps deservedly, it’s sitting in a file drawer; a worthy effort, but some re-work from exhibiting film-worthy credentials.)

While it is probably obvious that there are meaningful differences in the approach and execution of the short, to-the-point, blog versus the wide, hopefully well-structured arc, of the full-length story, these are not all necessarily obvious.

Each blog, at least that I’ve written or read, tries to focus on a particular theme and mood.  Some exhibit a fairly consistent point of view.  The majority are variously effected in approach, via an extensive range of subject matter. 

For instance, I’ve posted blogs relating to financial planning and insurance; to keep the messages credible, these have had a consistently serious tone, at least overall.  These feature occasional bits of humour or a lighter touch.  On the other hand, I have also have a strong drive to incorporating humourous comments and satirical ‘tips’, such as relating to holidays or other times of the year, as evident with many other blogs.  Indeed, postings covering subjects with non-fiction themes have frequently ended with a list of twists and turns on the central topic, wherein I endeavour to be clever and amusing.

The key point here is that the blog author has a short window of fine tuning the balance of meaningful and non-serious phrasing.  Including such see-saws keeps the mind-set less confined, willing to explore a wider pool of, perhaps less defined, viewpoints.  

One of the offshoots of cognitively having such a writing mindset involves the handling of ‘Top 10’ lists.  While some of my entries have been identified as such, I have tended to move away from the ‘Top 10’ per se, in favour of simply concluding posts with this type of list, but not necessarily ten options, perhaps more, perhaps less.  This approach also means the blog can address a topic with a more worthwhile message than just a series of point form tangents.  Whatever the dimension, infiltration of humour is usually tangible.

The length of a book obviously allows for multiple variations of a theme, largely by exploring its angles and alleyways.

That said, it is also clear that some unifying direction is core to the end product. 

Many of the comments I received when sending out portions of an earlier version of my book draft identified that having a clearer understanding, or at least intention, of who is the target reader, helps define the structure.  Appropriate language and terminology provide threads holding the structure together.  Anecdotes provide reinforcement.  Revelations which move the story forward provide glue.  In other words, part of the final blueprint is likely attributable to feedback.

Valuable additions to the blueprint – so as to be easier to the modern reader’s more time-sensitive attention and discernment span – can arise from judicious subheadings and chapters.  The angles explored in these building blocks make it easier to re-set to the big picture, when diversions supporting the general direction have been explored.

One of the best illustrations of the latter comes from inclusions of episodes which are not aligned exactly in chronology, but serve a greater purpose of layering the side road taken.

Whatever forks in the road of the novel-length effort are pursued, it remains pivotal to have any such twists and turns stay in sight of the main journey.  This way, the reader has a better chance to arrive at the destination enriched, rather than unrewarded.

Indeed, one of the greatest rewards for the writer is the feeling that the reader closes the last page happy for having invested in your effort.   

In summary, if a blog likely is focused on shining light on fenceposts, a book ideally diffuses the light to lead us on a shifting path to somewhere that glimmers.   

The Write Way

I have finally finished the last draft chronicling my career in the financial services industry.  I have committed to this being the final revision: sooner or later you have to pronounce it so.  (Unless it were to become a screenplay, which would mean no end to potential changes.)  In addition to the months needed to sort through my files and records, it only took me almost five years to complete this project. (more…)

TOP 10 New Year’s Resolutions for 2019

The last year of the second decade of the new millennium is upon us; goals both new and refined remain to be clarified & charged up…

  • Lose weight by carrying fewer heavy memories and hefty resolutions
  • Cut and paste pictures of yourself on scenes of faraway places to reduce the size and expense of your bucket list
  • Resolve not to worry about stock market volatility by focusing instead on using more coupons
  • Promise yourself that the next time a fork in the road appears, you’ll take the tines necessary to consider what lies ahead
  • Establish a time capsule business for multi-generational inheritances
  • Discover a new species and become its trusted advisor in multilateral negotiations
  • Memorize the first and last lines of classic books so you sound like you are well read
  • Develop a new social networking site which functions to pass judgement on other social networking sites
  • Start up a Fisherman’s almanac with multiple choice weather predictions allowing the reader to act like a paid forecaster
  • Take a study at home course on how to interact more proactively with others

Objectives like these should set the stage for a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Toast Time

A mini presentation that the vast majority of us likely have to make at one time or another is the Toast.

Whether it’s at a family gathering, or at a send-off for a friend or co-worker, this mini-speech is one where we want to make the best impression possible: on the person or group being saluted with the Toast, and on attendees who depend on us to elevate the occasion with our words and gusto. (more…)

Socially Correct Holiday Season Slogans

Let’s put out to pasture the term ‘political correctness’!

Not only has this expression increasingly fallen out of favour based on its accumulated baggage, built on decades of use, but the word political doesn’t stand up anymore as encompassing enough to cover the inexorable intrusion of social media and expression.

Therefore, let’s henceforth categorize any relevant references under the theoretically broader, more modern term of ‘social correctness’. (more…)