It’s time for people to have guaranteed minimum incomes!

With the extreme inequalities between rich and poor, it’s about time that Canadians and Americans get a guaranteed minimum income geared to where they live, so that places with a higher average rent people would get more to cover it than where the cost of living is lower.

Especially in places with a high cost of living, between a minimum wage job working full time and/or government assistance, many people are still below the poverty line and barely or don’t make ends meet without help from family and friends. And many people work part time, contract, or occasional jobs. Yet many jobs expect people to have internet and cellphones, and so make far less than what full time minimum wage jobs would pay.

It’s sad, but sometimes people who work at a job receiving a small annual salary with government assistance can get the latter cut off because they supposedly earn too much from a job, yet having only one of those income sources would force them to live on half the income of what is considered the poverty line. Plus many people who don’t have health and dental coverage from work cannot afford it because it costs a few hundred a month, which many people with low incomes simply don’t have. And many jobs that expect you to read and write well pay minimum wage or barely above that!

So it’s definitely time for all Canadians and Americans who make less than the poverty line to receive an income supplement from the government no matter their age or health status, combined with health and dental plans.

How to REALLY save on your Hydro/Electricity Bills

…WITHOUT so-called “smart meters”, energy efficient light bulbs, or timing your electricity use.

  1. Live in the smallest home that fits your true needs and budget. You’ll not only save money in the amount of electricity it requires, but it will save you money in furnishing it as well as rent and mortgage payments, allowing more money for the things you really want to do. A young couple, even if they are raking a few hundred thousand a year (and most are very far from that) don’t need much more than 1200-1500 square feet in most cases (which is about the space townhouses have in many areas of Toronto), and most couples can get by on 600-800 if they’re careful about how they use the space.
  2. Forget about Christmas light displays in your windows or outside of your home if you live in a house. All those little bulbs, even with LEDs, add up, especially when you have more than a couple hundred of them.
  3. Turn off lights in rooms you are not using.
  4. Use space heaters with good safety features (eg: auto shut off if it’s tipped over) if the room is too cold if only using one or two rooms.
  5. In the summer, use fans instead of air conditioning only in the rooms you are directly using.
  6. Use the radio for entertainment and news as much as possible.
  7. Don’t use or buy a big TV, because large TVs use a lot of electricity even with energy efficient models. Particularly in a small space such as most condos and apartments which it’s almost impossible to get the appropriate viewing distance. You’ll also save money in the cost of a TV, as smaller ones (36 inches and smaller) can be as little as 1/10 the cost of a 50-60 inch TV or even less. In smaller rooms and most apartments, a 27-32 inch TV is suitable for the correct viewing distance.
  8. Don’t buy a video gaming system, which it’s easy to get addicted for hours, get little done, and consume a lot of power.
  9. Particularly if you have dark corners in your home, use reverse tall lamps (with the shade facing the ceiling) to spread the light in combination with local light sources, especially for reading, which you can use in combination with a quality battery LED reading light.
  10. Like TVs, large stereos can consume a lot of power, use a smaller system with high quality sound.
  11. Another reason for owning or renting a smaller home: use of electric devices around and near the outside of the home (eg: garage) use up a lot of power, especially in home with large yards, so go for a smaller yard or minimize or avoid use of electric devices outside your home.
  12. Turn off the TV except for possibly news reports or watching movies or TV series. And don’t binge watch for hours at a time.
  13. Go to bed earlier and turn off EVERYTHING before you go to bed. Most people need more sleep and to get up early for work, so going to bed at 10:30 pm or earlier can save you money, because you’re not consuming electricity.

These tips help my husband and I keep our hydro costs significantly lower than the average Toronto resident, to about $65 a month, which most people pay $85-$150 a month. Sometimes we are under $60/month, in a one bedroom apartment of slightly larger than average size. (though need a little more space than most people because of the space a fairly small acoustic piano requires) In addition, these tips have helped us completely avoid even notices of hydro disconnections and keep more for food and other necessities especially during a long unemployment period both of us experienced for 1 1/2 years (and surviving on government benefits and help from friends, which we were living on about 1/2 of what we used to make between us (40-55K became 20-25K a year), which hopefully will end soon with other sources of income in the near future.)

20 Tips for Civilization V players

20 Civilization V Tips and Tricks

by Meri Dolevski-Lewis

  1. With certain achievements, the easiest way to get them is to use a Duel map, Pangaea, no city-states, against the Venetians (who can only found one city and usually buy out city-states (that’s why you don’t want them), on a low difficulty level (usually 1 or 2 is best, sometimes 3 works too). Examples that this works is winning as Alexander before 350 BC, the achievement of “Two men enter, one man leaves”, and winning a cultural victory as India with 3 or fewer cities in your empire.
  1. Get the Calendar technology early, build Stonehenge, combine it with Pyramids and a Garden (or Hanging Gardens) and you’ll generate a good number of Great Engineers early on.
  2. In cities that are building Wonders, once your city gets to size 4 or 5, set its focus on Production. You’ll build wonders a lot faster.
  3. Don’t build granaries and aqueducts too early, when your happiness level is low, wait until you have 20-30 happiness to grow your populations faster, because there will be some in reserve for population growth.
  4. Unless playing for a cultural victory, use Great Writers for culture to get social policies.
  5. Open the Tradition branch for your first social policy, selecting the pyramid next, which lets you build wonders faster.
  6. If playing for a diplomatic victory, DON’T select the Venetians or Austrians with city-states, as they will take them for themselves buying them out, and you will lose a lot of votes and other benefits.
  7. Make sure at least two of your first three cities are on a coastline and/or have a mountain that is no more than two tiles away from your city, as a few wonders require certain types of territory (eg: Colossus, Great Lighthouse, Sydney Opera House require a coast, Macchu Picchu and Neuswastchstein(sp?) require a mountain)
  8. To help improve your odds of a diplomatic victory even if you do not get Forbidden Palace, you need at least 8 city states that are allies with you. Don’t select more than 8 city-states in your game if planning a diplomatic victory.
  9. Make sure you select Patronage and build Forbidden Palace even if you do not plan for a diplomatic victory, it will make it easier to pass the resolutions you want during World Congress and eventually United Nations.
  10. To make cultural and science victories easier, turn off the Time condition before starting to play, especially the higher levels of play!
  11. Especially at the higher levels, turn off the victory conditions you do not want to lose from. For me, I tend to lose cultural victory at higher levels, I usually cut out domination, and often diplomatic and/or time as well. (I like science victories)
  12. Open and complete the Rationalism branch of social policies as soon as it becomes available. It makes all types of victories a lot easier, especially science, domination, and culture.
  13. If aiming for a science victory, when it becomes time to choose the Ideology, Order has the most benefits to lead to winning the space race.
  14. When playing for World’s Fair and International Games, have as many production improvements in place as you can, and build a big reserve of gold to rush workshops and factories if need be. This also applies to International Space Station.
  15. Especially in cities that border other civilizations, have the most advanced defense system available, most important in domination victories or any game at Level 4 or higher.
  16. If you don’t have enough votes to get World Congress to yourself, give it to a civ that you like that is not the current host, they will usually stay friendly with you for a long time and less likely to go to war.
  17. When passing resolutions in World Congress, save one vote for a yes to another civ’s resolution. They will usually stay friendly for a long time.
  18. If you are not the first to select an ideology when it appears, select the one that most of the other players have selected to control problems with extreme unhappiness and possibly getting rebels in your game.
  19. Don’t bother giving gold early in the game to city-states when you usually don’t have much available to give them; complete their missions instead to eventually become allies. When you’re at least around 7-10K gold in reserve, and you’ve done the necessary upgrades in cities, then give gold to city-states.

Is having multiple income sources the way of the future to earn a decent living?

There’s one secret that more and more people are discovering that people who are in the arts, especially in music, have known for a long time: that you need multiple income sources to make a decent to comfortable living.

With the outsourcing of many high paying jobs across oceans to countries with lower employee costs in the last 25-50 years, the remaining jobs often paying around minimum wage, heavy competition for many of those minimum wage jobs, and in certain types of business ventures (such as music teaching on popular instruments and selling real estate), heavy competition for clients, it seems that the only way to make a decent to comfortable living for most people is to have multiple sources of income. Including government benefits if you need them and qualify, because you need some money to make more money!

Between my husband and I, our sources include performing for social functions, performing in senior’s homes, subbing for church services, working as a real estate assistant, selling our compositions and arrangements online, teaching private lessons, selling non-sheet music related products, doing focus groups with multiple companies, academic tutoring, editing student papers, babysitting, accompanying students of other instruments, participating in online surveys to earn rewards, among other things. All that has helped us significantly, especially the last 1 1/2 years when my husband lost his church job through no fault of his own due to cutbacks, and just recently able to get a 2 month interim position, which hopefully leads to the permanent position there, which they said they really want him to stay beyond that time. In most months our extra income sources gave us a few hundred extra per month to live on, but occasionally it gave us up to $3000 extra to survive on for two or three months in addition to the government benefits we were receiving. Government benefits alone only give us about $1800 a month, with over half going to rent, then paying for utilities and our cellphones (which are on the lowest priced plans on a non smartphone that is suitable for us), leaves us about $500 for monthly living expenses (most going to groceries) with just government benefits. With current food costs, even for two people, it is challenging to live on that much a month. But the extra sources of income give us typically an extra 300-500 dollars a month to survive on, which we are usually okay, especially since we cut our cable and internet, and rarely turn on the TV, the main power usage being the radio and our energy efficient computers after the normal lighting, and we turn off lights we are not using to save on hydro.

However, many of these income sources have the chance that they could expand the amount of income they bring in, as in sales of sheet music could eventually bring in a few hundred a month, or a sudden influx of students. Or the real estate assistant job could get to the point that even working part time I’d bring in a few thousand per month and even be able to buy my first home.

Therefore, to survive and even thrive, it’s possible that people will need multiple sources of income to live on. The days of a single employer with a single paycheque may be going the way of the dodo, and could even disappear in two or three generations.

And yet, owning a home isn’t everything to some people…

Including me. It can be significantly cheaper to rent (and more space!) in a sought after neighbourhood with lots of amenities you like, such as steps to transit, near a 24/7 grocery store and a 24/7/365 drug store, walking distance from a library, walking distance from work. To own a home the typical mortgage payment would be a few thousand dollars in that area, while to rent in the area may be a third to a quarter of that. And there is the ease of moving out and not having to worry about selling a property if you have to move.

I happen to live in Toronto’s #2 of approximately 140 neighbourhoods in a neighbourhood rating in Toronto Life magazine from 2013. In my neighbourhood, the real estate prices, for a condo that is half the size of mine and my husband’s apartment, are often over 300K, with larger units coming to 450K. And then you pay high maitenance fees on top of that which is like half a mortgage payment in some cases. I COULD live in a neighbourhood which my mortgage payment is around what my rent payment is now, but it would be far from amenities, far from transit, far from downtown, not really walkable (important when you don’t own a car and don’t drive), far from a transit subway station, far from where the fine arts thrive, in the middle of nowhere, a long commute to work in a city that’s rated among the worst for traffic congestion in Toronto just to build my personal equity and worth?

Forget it. My sanity is worth more than the financial gain you’d get from owning a home in a few years. Sure, I would LOVE to own a home for other than equity building reasons, but it would have to be pretty much where I live now or in one of the neighbourhoods nearby I regularly visit that offer comparable benefits. And to own a home in Toronto and even in many outlying areas, you need a household income of 100-150K minimum to afford a decent home, and often not in a great area for amenities and transit, which most people are making far less than that! I remember a time when you could eventually buy a starter home with a smart financial plan on a blue or even a pink collar job, like my parents did in the 1990s and my aunt and uncle did in the 1970s or early 1980s. Now many white collar workers can’t afford a tiny condo on their earnings, or if they can, it’s almost like a shoebox!

Could working as a real estate assistant be right for you?

If you have strong computer skills, strong research skills, strong literacy and numeracy skills, know how to use publishing programs to a high level to create professional looking materials, that pays very well for part-time work (starting pay is usually around $20/h, almost double minimum wage in Ontario), are creative, detail oriented, quickly learn new things, enjoy taking self responsibility to complete tasks, and don’t mind somewhat odd work hours (though almost never past about 9 pm!), then you may want to consider trying your hand at working as a real estate assistant. Basically, this is a job that pays pretty well for you to use your head in solving all kinds of challenges.

I got my first job as a real estate assistant around 2001, which gave me a lot of hours and being somewhat above minimum wage. I was responsible for many of the smaller tasks that realtors sometimes don’t like doing, such as preparing offers on a home they showed, making appointments for showings of homes, writing the listings to go online, faxing offers and counteroffers to another real estate office, writing ads for various print publications, among other tasks. I did this for about 5 years for 2 different realtors, which after that I met my husband and my musical career seemed to start flourishing.

Or so it seemed. For a long time I had at least a few students going, and my husband had two different consecutive church jobs, the second he lost in mid 2012 due to cutbacks of only wanting to keep the cheaper co-music director, which was NOT my husband. The students kept diminishing due to potential students and parents wanting super-low lesson fees and teachers willing to take them at those fees, plus many music schools, many of questionable quality, and knowing at least two of them which produce notoriously poor results with students, popping up in many neighbourhoods, despite my consistent production of high quality playing students, even among those who had disabilities, who enjoyed playing, plus some students going on to perform in the top youth symphony in Toronto in 7 years, two who won their age class in different years in less than a decade in the province wide finals competition, and some who went on past high school to study music, with large scholarships and placed in a higher ensemble than first year students in that ensembles don’t usually get accepted on their major instrument.

After searching for work while living on government benefits for over 1 1/2, nearly 2 years, (which we didn’t really make it past the third week of the month) I got my break and an improved lifestyle with a job that is across the street from home (therefore, no commuting costs for work!), with a really great person who just got his real estate licence in July 2014, and who offered the TOP of the pay range I requested! And, with the advent of new tech tools and my having already learned to use Microsoft Publisher to a high level, we have been enjoying working with each other. And getting paid every week too.

Two tips on how to make audio CDs from your computer that work in CD players…

(from someone who has burned lots of audio CDs that work in CD players)

I’ve seen this question asked on various music discussion forums, most often piano ones, and it seems that many people who give responses don’t really know how to do it the right way. As someone who’s done it many times successfully, there are two tips that apply to any CD burning program from a computer on Windows and Mac platforms.

In your program that you are using, make sure you select the feature that says something like “Burn Audio CD” (usually the only other option is something like “Burn Data CD”, which the Data CD won’t work in a CD player. The only option that actually makes an audio CD player is Burn Audio CD.

To get the tracks in the order you want, name them as Track 01, Track 02, Track 03, etc until you have reached the maximum capacity of the tracks or have done all the tracks you need. The 0 in front of the track number until after track 09 is very important, otherwise tracks 10-19 will be first and the track you wanted to be first will not be playing until later in the disc.

A miracle among my female cats…

One of my female cats gave birth almost 2 weeks ago, which the kittens are 12 days old as of the date of posting. However, the birth mother seemed to either be too scared to feed her babies or may not have had any sort of milk supply. Her younger sister by several months, was also pregnant at the time, but somehow was able to produce milk for her sister’s 2 kittens while pregnant herself, who gave birth November 29th. Those two kittens of her sister are not just surviving, but thriving, and opened their eyes at 5 days old, a little younger than most kittens.

It seems that unlike humans, pregnant cats usually produce a milk supply while being pregnant or a week or two before giving birth, so these kittens were able to survive a situation which they might have otherwise been left to die within several hours!

Some possible creative gifts you can make for gifts for friends and family (many costing $5 or less in materials, all under $10 in materials!)

  1. A favourite photo, whether of you with that friend or family member, or a favourite pet or item or plants in and around their home, framed in a nice but inexpensive frame.
  2. For females, making a braclet and necklace set, and optional earrings. One of a kind stuff is big with some people.
  3. A fruit basket, since most people forget to eat well during the holidays, with a nice basket, clear wrapping paper, and ribbon. Making it yourself costs $5-10 dollars, while commercially made much smaller ones cost $25-$30 or more!
  4. A set of mailing labels with their name and address, doing two or three different designs of things they like or favourite photos of pets, family, or their garden plants.
  5. If the person likes nuts and is not allergic to them, small jars of nuts in ones that seal tightly of their favourite kinds. Go unsalted to be on the safe side, buy the nuts in bulk to save more money.
  6. Knit a one of a kind hat, mittens, and scarf set with an image or images that are meaningful to the recipient. (eg: for a music lover, consider one with music notes and clefs or the instrument they play!)

Why I don’t participate in Black Friday/Cyber Monday, and Boxing Day shopping

(despite great bargains on stuff that I want or need even if I have the cash for them)

There are several reasons I don’t participate in these particular money-spending, potentially debt adding days (even though my only credit card is a prepaid one!).

First, I don’t like the stress of being cold, hungry, and tired waiting in line for many hours just to get one or two items.

Second, I find usually items that are usually at a major discount are usually out of stock by the time you get there, even if you get there early in the sale!

Third, I can’t stand large crowds of people. (and for this reason I do about 70% of my Christmas shopping online, and think of Christmas presents even in June or earlier!)

Fourth, AMAZON (US and Canadian sites) usually has better prices than what you’d find anywhere else, especially on hard to find or more unique items.

Fifth, violence is more likely to be serious in large crowds.

Sixth, I have the luxury of often being able to go shopping when I need to at times most people are at work because of the nature of my job.

Seventh, it distracts you away from jobs you really should be doing, like getting important things done like cleaning your home or music practice. (or being at work instead of playing hooky to go Black Friday shopping)

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