Sometimes The Best Advice Is No Advice

My mother has a talent for offering inappropriate advice at the absolutely least welcome time.  We have a regular conversation about how difficult it is for me to save money.  This conversation has been repeating itself many times over the last 10 or 15 years.  It seems that every time I get a little bit of money in my savings, something big and unexpected occurs that wipes my savings totally out.  Then when things get tight for me, my mother has the audacity to say something to me like, “You know, it’s always best to have have about $10,000 in your savings.”  She’ll also let a day or so pass and then mention that I really should be making extra payments to my mortgage principle a couple times a year.  Meanwhile, I have been telling her things like I have to make a choice between eating lunch this week or paying the water bill or that I’m not sure how I am going to pay the $1,000 bill I got from the hospital for the emergency surgery I had last month when I also have to pay for heat.  Where does she expect me to come up with $10,000?  If I had $10,000 I wouldn’t be starting the “Eat Only What’s In My Pantry For A Month” Diet.

It’s that kind of useless advice that people offer that boggles my mind.  There’s never any additional advice attached that helps explain how you are supposed to reach the lofty goal of the advice when you are in the particular situation you are in.  It’s kind of like the obscure New Year’s resolutions “I want to lose weight” or “I want to be more healthy this year.”  There’s no specifics.  Everyone with smarts knows that in order to make a resolution you can keep, you have to have a specific goal — like “I want to lose 10 pounds” or “I want to walk 30 minutes 3 times a week.”  Then you can make a plan to achieve your goal.

The problem with arbitrary advice like “You should keep 3 months-worth of your salary in savings” is that it doesn’t take into account the financial situation the person is in already.  Is the person in debt over his head?  Is the person living paycheck to paycheck?   Is the person making more every month than she is spending already?  A person who is struggling is going to have a lot harder time figuring out how to save that much money; in fact, such a person might find the feat overwhelmingly hopeless despite the fact that the advice is painfully obvious and having that savings would in fact make life easier.  Dishing out such advice without actually offering any real direction on how to achieve this while still being able to pay bills and eat is just as useful as announcing that you hope for world peace.

But it’s worse because it’s thoughtless and hurtful; it sets the receiver of the advice up to feel like a failure because he or she can’t snap his or her fingers and magically make all of his or her financial woes go away.  It’s clear what the goal is, but the path isn’t always obvious and unless you are walking it or at least can see the same point-of-view and offer more than a trite recitation of what all the books or magazines or talking heads have been repeating for ages, sometimes the best thing to say is “I empathize” and leave it at that.

Financial Quicksand

For the last few months I’ve been struggling to pull the purse strings tightly together.  I’m about to have another round of what else can I do without.

In the meantime, I began the desperate process of applying to refinance my home; my property taxes have consistently gone up in the three years that I’ve been living there.  I’m now paying $350 – $400 more than what the previous homeowner paid the year I moved in.  Let’s just say that $1900+ a year is not fun to come up with even when it’s divided up into 12 payments and added to my escrow.  The $172 Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) that the broker told me I’d only be paying for a year — yeah, he saw a naive sucker coming — really bites, and to be honest, I cannot figure out how Chase calculates the escrow.  Even if I were to write a check for $600 at the beginning of the year, it would not reduce my mortgage bills by $50 each month.  Forget trying to discuss the logic of that with them.  Bank people do not live in a world that operates with the same numeric logic that the rest of us do, I have learned over the last year or so.  Bank math logic is mysterious and mystical.  I really thought I understood accounting when I took it in college but apparently they teach all of the magic spells that go with it in the non-Freshman classes.

So, I currently have a 6.5% interest Fixed loan.  I was told that the only way for me to have financial relief was to acquire a 4.75% Fixed interest loan, which I can only get if my home has gone up in value by at least $7,000.  When I plugged the information about my home, including the fact that it has a brand new roof, a brand new furnace, and a brand new fence, into the Quicken Home Value Calculator, it indicated that my home should go up in value about $20K.  Well, clearly Quicken doesn’t know squat.  My home, on which I owe just over $207K, was just this week appraised at $208K; it was compared to three homes that sold last year between July and October; none  of them were more than 30 years old — mine is 50 years old.  Plus, mine was valued higher than those three.  My house has lost $10K in value in 3 years thanks to the economy, despite the fact that I have put $22K into it.

Now I am between that mythical rock and that unfortunate hard place that everyone keeps talking about.  I was smart enough to get a fixed loan and my loan is not with Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, so I do not qualify for Obama’s Making Home’s Affordable program.  I sure would like to know when that stimulus package is going to start helping someone like me — the single, barely making it, childless, almost 40 white females who theoretically did all the right things to be successful, independent women and got dragged kicking and screaming into this recession with all of the two-income folks who at least have each other or each other’s incomes.  I’m not poor enough to qualify for property tax exemptions and yet not rich enough to actually afford the increase in the costs of food, gasoline, electricity (which went from $67 per month to $171 per month in the last 3 years), and other necessities.  I have cut out doggy daycare, cut way down on Nexflix (from 6 to 3 per month), have put a stop to online impulse shopping sprees, and have been trying to get every last ounce, morsel, drop out of every container the last few weeks.  I would hate to think that in a month or so I might get to the point where I think I might have to start considering which of my medications I might have to forgo.

Anyway, I am about to attempt to appeal my property taxes, though I was told by the town clerk that the assessor is usually dead on and everyone’s taxes went up because the school’s budget went way up this year.  The thing is that my taxes are pretty high compared to the rest of the houses on my street — I’ve looked.  Mine are closer to the house with the swimming pool and finished basement.  If I’m going to pay that much in taxes, someone better come over and build me a indoor greenhouse in my basement or something to offset the cost.  (I don’t want a pool or some fancy Mother-in-law suite. ;) )

I feel like I’m drowning.  The cost of living has increased and my salary is not increasing with it.  I’m in quicksand; I know I’m not alone, but it sure feels like it.

Wearing Your Pajama Bottoms In Public — You Know You Do It

Do you remember the moment it became “o.k.” for you personally to wear your pajama bottoms to somewhere outside of your house as an adult?  You know what I’m talking about, right?  For the longest time you were appalled by all of those freaks going to the Wal-mart and the grocery store in their pajama bottoms, but then there was that one time…that one time when you just needed to run out of the house real quick…and no one would know…it was just going to be that once and it wasn’t like you were one of those freaks doing it all of the time…

Come on, you know you do it…

I wore mine to the Rite Aid on Sunday so I could buy cat food, toilet paper, a soda, and some of those valentine sweetheart candies.

13 Things Vegans & Vegetarians Wish You Knew

When I first started this experiment and began to haunt vegan and vegetarian forums, blogs and the like, I began to discover a very complex society all of its own. The only comparison I have is religion. People feel very strongly about the choices they make in life regarding what they eat, what other people think they should eat, and whether or not those choices should go beyond just their dietary nature. Some people feel more strongly than others, and like religion, the more passionate about their beliefs, the more enthusiastic and sometimes the more venomous and close minded some people can be.

So, I’ve compiled a list of definitions, I believe that most Vegans and Vegetarians (all types) wish everyone else knew and understood. Anyone can correct me if they feel I’m wrong; in fact, I love learning new things, so please feel free to add on.

first, the stuff that won’t start any fights…

  • Vegan — A person who has chosen a lifestyle of compassion with the intention to end the suffering and exploitation of animals; his or her diet excludes animal flesh (meat, poultry, fish and seafood), animal products (eggs and dairy), and usually excludes honey.  Beyond his/her diet, his/her lifestyle also excludes the wearing and use of animal products (leather, silk, wool, lanolin, gelatin…).  The major vegan societies all disallow honey, but some vegans still use it.  Some vegans also refuse to eat yeast products.
  • Vegetarian – A person whose diet is mainly plant-based and excludes animal flesh (meat, poultry, fish and seafood), but may or may not consume dairy products or eggs.
  • Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian — A person who follows a plant-based diet, excluding all animal flesh (meat, poultry, fish and seafood), but also consumes eggs and milk and milk products. This is the most common form of vegetarianism in the Western world.  Most vegetarian restaurants in America serve Lacto-Ovo meals.
  • Lacto Vegetarian — A person who follows a plant-based diet, excluding all animal flesh (meat, poultry, fish and seafood) as well as eggs, but also consumes milk and milk products. This is common in India and most vegetarian restaurants in India serve Lacto Vegetarian meals.
  • Ovo Vegetarian — A person who follows a plant-based diet, excluding all animal flesh (meat, poultry, fish and seafood) and milk and milk products, but also consumes eggs.  Many people are ovo vegetarians because they are lactose-intolerant.
  • Fruitarian — A person who follows a vegan diet, but only eats foods that don’t kill the plant.  For example, picking apples does not kill the tree, but you cannot have carrots without killing the plant.

now for the controversial stuff…

  • Dietary Vegan — A person who follows a plant-based, animal-free diet, but does not necessarily follow the strict lifestyle of non-use of animal products.  It is important to note that the use of this term often causes controversy — many vegans feel it takes away from the spirit of their ideology and cause, while many strict/pure vegetarians feel it is the only term that clearly separates them from Lacto-Ovo Vegetarians in society’s eye.  Using this term to describe yourself on a Vegan/Vegetarian forum is likely to start a flame-war.
  • Psuedo-Vegetarian – A person who claims to be a vegetarian, but isn’t.  This is a term used by Vegans and Vegetarians to describe semi-vegetarians and pescetarians.
  • Pescetarian/Pesco-Vegetarian — A person who generally follows a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet and also consumes fish and seafood but no other meat; this type of pseudo-vegetarianism is not accepted by Vegan and Vegetarian societies. It’s possible that the Catholic practice of eating fish on Fridays during Lent led to the Western cultural misunderstanding that pescetarians are the same as vegetarians.  In fact, I often have run into co-workers and others who believe that as long as fish or seafood is on the menu, “the vegetarians” in the group will have something to eat — this was only further confused by the fact that I was a pescetarian for a few years.
  • Pollo-Vegetarian — A person who generally follows a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet and also consumes poultry, but no other meat.  This is considered to be a semi-vegetarian diet, which is not an actual vegetarian diet at all.
  • Flexitarian — A person who considers him/herself to be a semi-vegetarian focusing on vegetarian food with occasional meat consumption. There are no guidelines for how much or how little meat one must eat before being classified a flexitarian. Flexitarians sometimes refer to themselves as “almost vegetarians” — most actual vegetarians do not appear to appreciate this. In fact, this is a good way to start an argument in any kind of diet or food-based forum.
  • Semi-Vegetarian — A person who follows a diet which excludes some meat (particularly red meat) from the  diet while still consuming limited amounts of poultry, fish, and/or seafood. A semi-vegetarian may also be a flexitarian. Semi-vegetarian diets are not vegetarian diets.
  • Raw Vegan – A person who consumes only unprocessed vegan foods that have not been heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius). “Raw foodists” believe that foods cooked above this temperature have lost a significant amount of their nutritional value and are harmful to the body.  Proponents claim that there are many benefits to the diet, including weight loss, more energy, clear skin and improved overall health.  This may or may not be a fad diet; we will see.

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others’ comments. It’s easy, and fun!

Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

My Pug Wants To Know If Twizzlers Are Vegan

I’ve been trying to eat healthy since the beginning of the transition, but I’m starting to realize there are a few comfort foods that my pug and I are going to miss over the next year.

For example, Loki is just nuts about strawberry Twizzlers, has been since he was a puppy.  They aren’t even safe in the house; I have to keep the bag in a Tupperware or Rubbermaid container on a high shelf with a lip (because the cat will knock it off the shelf just to see the dog get in trouble if he can get into it).  In fact, when I have to go out of town without him (which makes me really sad :( ), I actually buy him his own bag of Twizzlers and take the time to cut up treats for him and put them into a ziploc baggie to leave with whoever he is staying with.

Now, I had cut way back on the Twizzlers because I’m watching my weight but they are still one of my special comfort foods in times of work stress, when I feel really ill, or whenever I have to travel (particularly via airplane).  I don’t really care much for other kinds of licorice either, just the strawberry Twizzlers and only in those 1 pound family size bags.  It has something to do with the texture and the flavor.  The vending machine size Twizzlers  are physically smaller and don’t feel right when I bite them.  (See, I’ve put a lot of thought into this.)  The Red Vine licorice that everyone else seems to like is too thick and a little too sweet for my tastes, though Loki doesn’t seem to mind, but I’ve caught him eating plastic bits, grass, and things you’d rather not know about; so his tastes aren’t that discerning. :P

Anyway, I googled “vegan Twizzlers” hoping to discover if Twizzlers were vegan or not, but I’m only more confused. There seems to be a lot of disagreement on the subject.   There are a number of websites that indicate that Twizzlers are indeed vegan and use Peta’s  I Can’t Believe It’s Vegan! >> Snacks page as the source for this information; the only problem is that even though that website and page come up as Google’s first link, Twizzlers isn’t mentioned anywhere on it.  There were other websites that mention that Twizzlers contain glycerin and thus cannot be vegan; however, my Twizzler package does not contain that ingredient, thus confusing me further.

I really wish there was a less confusing way to figure this all out.

Oh, and Loki also wants to know if there is a vegan substitute for nacho cheese Doritoes.

Update: Good News! None of the ingredients listed on the Strawberry Twizzlers bag (see below) appears on the Peta “Animal” Ingredients List.

Corn Syrup, Flour, Sugar, Cornstarch, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Salt, Artificial Flavor, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate (a Preservative), Artificial Coloring (includes Red 40)

Vegans & The Sugar Debate

Nothing is more confusing than trying to figure out “the rules” about sugar and sweeteners where vegans and vegetarians are concerned.

I’ve spent the weekend surfing the web, reading forums, opinions, papers, theories, and so on, regarding the ethics of why we shouldn’t eat table sugar or its derivatives (cane sugar is processed with bone char) or why we shouldn’t be so picky (but beet sugar isn’t) or why it’s better to be safe than sorry (you can’t tell from the packaging label which one you are getting); I’ve seen websites that go on and on about how Splenda has been tested on animals by one of the worst abusers of the animal testing labs but I’ve also seen Vegetarian recipe sites full of Spenda recipes.  Some people say to stick with natural sweeteners like agave nectar and maple syrup but others say they wouldn’t dare put that in their coffee.

The really troubling thing is that I started this trouble query because I found a recipe that called for sugar in my Quick-Fix Vegetarian cookbook by Robin Robertson and I know that all of the recipes in there are vegan or so she claims (and so do many of the people who wrote recommendations on Amazon.com). I thought I’d read somewhere that sugar was a vegan no-no, so when I came across that ingredient in her cookbook, I got sidetracked from my menu planning (again) in search of an answer.

As you can see, I don’t think there is a correct answer for me, anyway. I’m not doing the vegan eating because of the ethics, though that is a nice afterthought. I’m here for my health, so I’m inclined to agree with the “don’t be so picky” crowd. The only issue is that I’m also here to lose some weight and I haven’t actually used real sugar except for Christmas baking since the 1990′s. My doctors don’t want me to have aspartame, which is why I only drink soda with Splenda — and, o.k., I haven’t been able to commit to giving up my cold caffeine yet; at least, I make my own at home. I have been trying agave nectar the last few months in my smoothies and cereal in place of the Splenda and I like it. I might be convinced to try Stevia once. My health nut aunt, my inspiration, swears by it.

Anyway, I was hoping that there were going to be some clear cut rules out there on what to eat and what not to eat (like Weight Watchers©), but other than the real obvious things, a lot of it is kind of like religion — there’s a lot of debating over the interpretation.

…for every person we convince that veganism is overly demanding by obsessing with an ever-increasing list of ingredients, we do worse than nothing: we turn someone away who could have made a real difference for animals if they hadn’t met us! Currently the vast majority of people in our society have no problem eating the actual leg of a chicken. It is not surprising that many people dismiss vegans as unreasonable and irrational when our example includes interrogating waiters, not eating veggie burgers cooked on the same grill with meat, not taking photographs or using medicines, etc.

Instead of spending our limited time and resources worrying about the margins (cane sugar, film, medicine, etc.), our focus should be on increasing our impact every day.  (How Vegan? Ingredients vs. Activism)