Never Weight

January 2nd, 2017 by Potato

I’ve gained a crapload of weight in my life. I started undergrad as skinny and ended a touch on the pudgy side. But the final year of my MSc was the worst — I was depressed, my experiments failed so I had to repeat a number of experimental runs, and my nominal two-year master’s took over three to finish. Plus I got a kidney stone and was bed-ridden for over a week, and had trouble even making the 20-minute walk to work for several months afterward. In that short span of time I gained so much weight I blew right through fat to obese. Over half that weight was packed on in a span of just a few months, weight gain so rapid it left me with stretchmarks.

But I had work to do — thesis to write, experiments to science, thorium to mine. Losing weight takes willpower and mental energy (and moreover, can’t be done while also powering through consecutive all-nighters on the power of caffeine and refined carbohydrates).

After I defended my MSc, I managed to lose a tiny bit of that weight (not much) and get in a bit better shape (not much). As my PhD was coming to an end, I knew that I might backslide a bit, but set a “never weight” for myself so that I wouldn’t go through another round of that kind of damage to myself as I finished my PhD, especially because at that point I had (somewhat) figured out that I wasn’t destined for an academic career and science wasn’t worth the sacrifice. If at any point I hit my never weight, I made a deal with myself to miss deadlines or whatever it took to keep that under control. I managed to finish my thesis with minimal weight gain, and lost that and then some after Blueberry was born (having a kid is a great impetus for changing bad habits). I figured ok, this is just my life now: I’m overweight but have held steady here for a few years running.

Then I hit a few busy periods at work, and again all-nighters and 100-hour weeks became a central part of my life. Here’s a hot bio-hacking tip: you can survive on just 3-6 hours of sleep per night for up to 2-3 weeks of insanity if you just keep eating. Can’t fall asleep while you’re mid-chew!

I gained 10 pounds in just a few weeks for one big project (my “Discovery Frontiers” weight), managed to hold the line for a year, and then gained another 10 lbs over a few weeks (the “CFI Innovation Fund” bonus gift). By then I let some bad habits form (esp. eating at my desk at work), and got really run down from chronic sleep deprivation (many causes), so even holding the line became hard, let alone losing that weight after the crises passed. But as long as I had shown I could work so intensely for someone else, I decided that rather than simply throttle back after those busy periods and focus on recovery, I would keep it up and work for myself. I wrote The Value of Simple. I started developing the Practical Index Investing for Canadians Course, both brought to you by the letter C for chocolate, chips, coke, and caffeine, and the number 5, for the hours of sleep I averaged most nights.

Then in the last big project (that ended in early October) I gained some more weight and hit my never weight. I was about to put up this post and commit to focusing on my health as soon as the investing course was done, but then Wayfare got sick, which was not exactly a stress-free time. But now it’s a new year, and the course is done, so this seems like a good time to commit to making this year all about improving my health. I started already, skipping any bound-to-be-disappointing New Year’s Eve stuff to just get to bed by 8 last night :)

I don’t have a diet/exercise plan sorted out precisely yet, but I’ve got some ideas. My first priority is to fix my sleep schedule, as that alone will close some positive feedback loops.

And that’s it for the year’s goals: I’m not writing another book, I’m hoping that now that the course is done I’ll have put myself out of the investment coaching business, and I don’t have plans to take on many freelancing projects. A few speaking gigs will likely be the extent of my non-daddy, non-day-job stress-inducing activities.

Emergency Funds FTW

December 1st, 2016 by Potato

I don’t want to risk having my personal finance blogger license revoked, but I haven’t been paying attention to our budget as we deal with Wayfare’s recovery. I’m pretty sure we’re spending a bit more than average — we’re certainly eating more pre-made food, and spending more on drugs and parking and a walker, but much of that pre-made food is brought over by family and friends.

I actually haven’t been thinking or worrying much about money the past few weeks, which is as it should be. Early on my mind would wander to the topic and I’d try to crunch numbers as I rode the subway, without the benefit of a proper spreadsheet. But at some point I internalized the message that we’ve got an emergency fund and we’ll be ok. So I stopped worrying and focused my energies elsewhere.

And really, that’s what emergency funds are for, so you can make it through these completely random, crazy events without also having to worry about money in the short term.

TTP is a very rare disease, with an incidence of about 3 in a million. But that means that next year about 100 families in Canada will be hit by this. Another 200,000 or so will face a cancer diagnosis. Some others will be hit by a job loss, or a major repair bill.

As financial literacy month draws to a close I just wanted to quickly underscore how important it was to be savers when times were good, so that we could make it through a trying time like this. Yet many Canadians don’t have an emergency fund (here’s one survey that says a quarter have less than $1000). I mostly focus on investing stuff — it’s important too, and where I can actually make a difference — but emergencies can strike at any time. I don’t know what to say to all those people to get them to start, but having an emergency fund is important. I don’t know how we’d be handling this situation without it.

Out of the Hospital, Not the Woods

November 2nd, 2016 by Potato

Wayfare just got home after 14 consecutive days in the hospital (plus 3 of the 5 before that). It’s a serious disease and she’s doing much better than she was two weeks ago, but that’s mostly a reflection of how sick she was — there’s still a long way to go to full health and stamina. As an illustrative example, she can walk a few steps unaided now, but still feels the need for someone to support her going up and down the stairs.

Though it was a long stay in the hospital, she’s glad to be back just in time for the trick-or-treaters. She couldn’t get up and walk to the door each time, and didn’t want to catch anything with a suppressed immune system, so she bundled up under about a hundred layers, added a stethoscope to her face mask and gown to look like a doctor, and planted herself on a chair at the door to hand out treats. Priorities, you know. She’s also amazed that fall waited for her — here in Toronto I still haven’t had to rake yet as most of the leaves are still on the trees, some still green even.

But enough about her. I’m exhausted. Everyone has been great at offering support, especially her parents, who have been there in the hospital with us every day, and picking Blueberry up from school regularly. While we spent hours waiting at the pharmacy before getting to leave the hospital, her mom came over and cleaned everything, and then went out to help restock groceries and hand sanitizer, etc. But there are some things you just can’t outsource — Wayfare really didn’t want other visitors, especially when she was barely lucid and had tubes coming out every which-way. So I went downtown every day, tried to get an hour or two of work done to keep my job, and tried to hold it all together. Near the end of the hospital stay, Wayfare was thanking me for doing all the things, and said that perhaps the worst part of it all was that I had to commute down on the weekends too. And I think that is definitely part of why I feel so worn out right now — at least with big projects that lead to 80+ hour weeks, I get to work from home on the weekends.

Anyway, we’re not quite out of the woods yet. Fortunately, I should be able to work from home for the next little while to be here while not getting fired, and her parents continue to be awesome. We’re going to have to spend a day every week in the hospital for follow-ups to monitor her recovery. Unfortunately (and touching wood, spitting and turning around three times, etc. as I say this), this disease has a staggeringly high recurrence/exacerbation/relapse rate. So almost any instance of Wayfare not feeling well will be a trip to emerg to check things out, just in case. Though she finished her plasmapheresis, her central line will stay in for a few more weeks because of this danger. And that is itself a pain to manage (not to mention the creepiness factor — though in the right light it’s good progress to a rockin’ Borg costume).

And with her energy levels so low she’ll need someone here basically all the time, and it will be a while before she’ll be able to pick up Blueberry from school.

Blueberry has been just amazing through all of this. She’s written/drawn so many little get well soon notes and cards for mommy, and she’s been quite good with me (and fairly understanding when daddy’s patience is a little shorter than normal). And she’s been so good being gentle and helpful and considerate with her mom. One good thing out of all of this has been all the time I’ve gotten to spend with her. I’ve been walking her to school almost every day since she started kindergarten (for other somewhat related reasons), and now I got to pick her up most days too — and will continue to have that for a while yet. Though as much fun as all the daddy-daughter days have been, she’s awful glad to have her mommy home again.

Every now and then my mind wanders to what will happen long-term (particularly through the PF blogger lens). We have a good emergency fund, so I know at this point I’m just borrowing trouble, and there’s enough to deal with now. I’m glad money doesn’t really have to be a big concern, and that we’ve had so much support from family, which gives us the freedom to push these kinds of thoughts off until after the medical stuff is resolved. But still — we are not one of those PF uber couples that can live off just one salary. It’s been a while since I’ve done a detailed budget, but for the sake of argument let’s say that we need about $1.5-2.5k/mo (depending on how much we cut lifestyle spending, and not counting savings) from the 2nd person’s salary to live here. A friend recently moved, so on Facebook I saw the posts about her house and I was like “yeah, we should move to London!” — lower costs of living (nearly to the point of fully living on one salary), and instead of being an hour+ away at work, I’d only ever be at most 10 minutes away (20 if there’s a fucking train crossing) if something happened, and I’d get that much more time with Blueberry on all the days when nothing happened. Of course, then the thoughts spiral to how much help we got from family through this, and they probably wouldn’t follow us out (though Blueberry is the only grandchild on both sides, so maybe??). Anyway, we can put that crazy thought process on ice for a few months at least — and while it may take a few months, Wayfare should eventually be able to return to work.


It was tough trying to keep everyone in the loop. Social media is good for that sort of broadcasting thing, but Wayfare didn’t want me broadcasting too much to too many people online at first. She wanted to write something herself, but was too foggy to be able to write. So many people knew she was “sick” (esp. with cancelled events and the like), but didn’t know she was in the hospital with a serious condition. We were getting messages like “should I bring over soup?” Finally I asked her how much murdering she would do to her friends if one of them disappeared into the hospital for days and didn’t update her, and she let me send a message out on her account.

Other than that I didn’t really provide much detail to too many people — lots asked, and I gave brief answers (or pointed to posts), as keeping other people in the loop much beyond “this is a thing and it is happening, chat later” was not very high on my priorities. The old-fashioned social network also worked well — I told my mom what was going on, who told my aunts, who told my cousins, and on through the phone tree.

I alluded to being short-tempered above with Blueberry (only a tiny bit, but I’m usually super patient with her) — I was much more so with other people. One text message exchange went like this: “Happy birthday!” “OMG FUCK OFF right now.” [exaggerated] Imagine driving to the hospital and your phone pings. Is something wrong? Do you have to stop and pick something up on the way? Is there a safe place to pull over and read it? Is it worth the safety and ticket to try to read it while driving? Maybe just risk the ticket at a red light… Oh great, a birthday wish, like I care about that now.

Quick Update on Life

October 21st, 2016 by Potato

Sharing bad news of a personal nature is sometimes easy on a blog (especially if there’s a good story behind it or its cathartic), and sometimes hard. Today it’s hard, but I want to let people know why I’ve dropped off the face of the earth. I’ll likely tell a fuller account of all this at some point in the future (esp. after I run it by Wayfare).

The short version is that Wayfare has been very sick, in-and-out of the hospital over the last week, until on Tuesday they figured out that she has an incredibly rare and mysterious blood disorder and admitted her to the ICU. She will be in the hospital for at least another week, likely longer, and even once out she’ll be making regular trips back downtown for specialized treatments that will take hours at a time.

Because I can’t seem to turn off the personal finance blogger in my head, I can’t help but be glad that we have a big emergency fund. There may be existential issues ahead about the cost of living in Toronto and the loss of several months worth of income (or possibly permanent changes to work structure) for at least one of us (and likely both), but we can afford to just deal with the crisis phase of this now and not worry about money for a few months — we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. I’m also glad that I have a fucktonne of time banked at work, so I just walked out when this was happening. I’m sure there’s some kind of compassionate leave program that would have helped out here, but it’s just easier to say “surprise vacation!” and put off having to look into any policies or do any paperwork for now.

For those enrolled in the course, unfortunately it is not looking good for timely completion in November. I had originally booked a few days off work over these couple of weeks specifically to finish shooting video for the course — so in terms of timing for such a tragedy, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been (though never would have been the preferred timing) — and obviously that’s not happening right now, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to make up the lost time in November.

Blueberry has been just fantastic at dealing with all of this so far, though we’ve all been spoiling her rotten when the grandparents pick her up from school or I let her get away with murder at tuck-ins.

I think I have managed to respond to all the emails sitting in my inbox, even if it’s only with a quick “I have not read this and will get back to you later.” If not, this post will help explain where I’ve disappeared to.

I Got the Shot But Got Sick Anyway

February 3rd, 2014 by Potato

“I got the flu shot but got sick anyway!”

I’ve heard that line so many times. Without running off on too long a rant, people call any bad cold “the flu”, but I haven’t heard of anyone who said “I had a laboratory-confirmed diagnosis of influenza A or H1N1 even though I got the shot!” The flu shot will protect you from a few strains of the flu for that year. You can still catch a cold, or strep throat, or a bacterial sinus infection — or even a less-common form of influenza that wasn’t included in the shot. Indeed, I’m sitting here with a nasty cold even though I got the flu shot. Fortunately, I’m currently participating in a study that seeks to test these types of claims, so I should know in a few weeks what the results from my nasal swab are, and whether I actually have the flu or some other nasty virus. Right now in Toronto, about a quarter of monitoring nasal swabs are coming back positive for influenza; I don’t know how many of those people had the shot, but it makes for a lot of sick people who really just have colds.

I heard of a very clever, tongue-in-cheek test to see whether you have actual influenza or just a seasonal cold called “the fifty-dollar test.” Simply go to a sick person’s bed, and put some money at the foot of it. If they say “fuck it, I am too sick to reach down to the foot of the bed and get that money” for anything under a $50, they have the flu. If a $20 bill will motivate you to move your stuffy, feverish head and aching body enough to grab that free money, you just have a cold.

This year’s flu season seems a bit worse than usual, with H1N1 reappearing and striking the young and otherwise healthy people who usually skip through flu season. Many people are now (belatedly) rushing for their flu shots, leading to supply issues. If getting vaccinated at these higher rates becomes more habitual for the years to come, that’s going to help increase herd immunity and make the average future flu seasons less severe.

As our regular flu season becomes tamer, with more people vaccinated and fewer people infected each year, we might be at an increased risk of hearing “I got the flu shot but got sick anyway!” Because of course we could have one bad year where the scientists determining which strains to include in the vaccine miss a big one, and it runs through the population.