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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Trying New Farmers Markets

Thanks to a fabulous "summer hours" program at work, I was able to take Friday off, which I used to visit a new-to-me farmers market near my home. I'm a big fan of checking out a variety of farmers markets, because I've found them to differ pretty significantly based on location.  Affluent neighborhoods tend to have a lot of prepared foods and craft item offerings and larger markets in general. I assumed that lower-income neighborhoods would have cheaper offerings, but that's not always the case. But the broke 'hoods generally never have the crafty items. I'm okay with that. It tends to be hippie shit. I could happily live the rest of my life without seeing another tie-dye object.

My community has been gentrified, but still manages to be mixed income, so I didn't really know what to expect. My usual farmers market is on the other side of town and is large, extremely popular, very crowded and has a ton of great offerings. Yes, even a bunch of crafty hippie shit. The Friday market was much smaller and didn't have much traffic, since it's held during the middle of the afternoon during the work week. But lo, did I find the world's cheapest  and most fabulous vendor.

Check out this massive bounty I got for $20!
They were offering 3 bags/3 items mix and match for $5 (the 3-pack of strawberries were $5). That's a whopping $1.66 per bag, and they were STUFFED full of veg. I have seen bunches of kale on sale at Whole Jerks for $1.50 each, but they are usually less than half the amount in the bundle pictured above.

Other vendors were  more expensive, with prices comparable with what I'm used to at my usual market. And I will admit that these bad boys were ripe and needed to be cooked within a couple of days. But since I do bulk cooking on the weekends to get me through the work week, that's not an issue.

I then more than doubled my spending, for a total of $46, buying only 3 more items: eggs (30 total for $10, which is .33 per egg. Not bad for local, pasture-raised chicky eggs); honey ($11.50 for 24 ounces, which is .48 per ounce. Kinda pricey, but FUCK YEAH bees and local producers) and 1.5lbs of nectarines at $3 per pound. There is nothing more glorious on this earth than a local, perfectly ripe yellow nectarine. I would kick a baby in the face for that glory. Check out the total bounty!


With the above goodies and stuff from my pantry, this week will be filled with fancy toast (toast with goat cheese, sliced strawberries and a drizzle of honey); brussel sprout and kale hash with eggs; the world's largest pot of ratatouille; and (don't get jealous) halibut and/or salmon sent from my sis in Alaska with corn and green beans. Did I mention the delicious fish caught by my family in Alaska? Yeah. I'm kinda loopy with joy right now.

I went to Trader Joe's and got the necessary half-and-half, toilet paper and chocolate, among other goodies, but still managed to come in under my $100 per week budget. This amount does include certain non-food items like dog treats, toilet paper, lotion and laundry detergent (basically, home and personal care items I can get at Trader Joe's so I don't have to go to a big box store). However, this amount doesn't count the bulk purchases I make directly from farmers for properly-raised meat, which averages to about $166 per month for about 22 chickens, a quarter of a cow, half a pig, and half a lamb per year. That's a shit ton of money, particularly for the meat. But you have to keep in mind that I live in Southern California, where farmers wear $300 sunglasses. We're all living an absurd lifestyle out here, and I don't expect my farmers to be an exception to the rule. They work their asses off, generally hold down additional day jobs, and they can spend their money however the hell they want. (I do not own $300 sunglasses, because that's just fucking idiotic. But, yanno, to each their own and all that jazz.)

The money I don't spend on gas and groceries every week is going into a "new furniture" fund. I "should" use it to pay off debt, but mama needs a new couch and a couple of dining room chairs. The act of saving is helping to return me to sanity around money, focus on paying off debt instead of buying yet another dress and blah blah blah. It's working for me, so I'm not jacking with it.

A buddy of mine on facebook asked folks what they spend per month on food and how often they cook. It was pretty fascinating to read. Me and one other dude had high budgets (he's an athlete; I'm just a glutton). So, I'm curious--what do you spend per month on food at home? How often do you cook? What are the prices at your local farmers markets like? Are your farmers markets certified or are they trying to sell you Dole We Use Slave Labor bananas? Do you grow or forage much of your grub? Do you have a direct-from-farmer, properly-raised meat source? If so, how much does your stuff run?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Healthcare in America: You're On Your Own, Love!

I mentioned a few posts back that my friend Rosa died after a year and a half battle with cancer. She was 28.

The short version is this: She went to the doc, complaining of pain. She was thin, tattooed and Cuban. So, he assumed she was drug seeking. Instead of testing her to show her just how wrong her pain complaints were, he repeatedly sent her on her way. When she finally found someone who would listen to her (no insurance at the time), it was too late. The cancer had spread. Her husband said that the doctors and hospitals fucked up her care every step of the way. She died from a type of cancer that has an incredibly high survival rate. At their wedding, a gift from hospice care, one of her nurses said, "No one dies from this anymore. This is malpractice."

Welcome to healthcare in America.

Upon moving to California from Missouri, I was shocked at the level of incompetence in the support staff at doctor's offices. Secretaries and medical assistants couldn't seem to manage the most basic of tasks. In MO, I had worked in an ICU throughout college with some incredibly talented nurses and secretaries. My mother is a nurse practitioner; my father was an RN. I expected the same level of competence I experienced in small town MO in big city CA. Ohgoodlordjesus, no.

But then again, competence in any field is a rare thing. But when we're talking about people's lives, accepting the status quo of incompetence seems a little insane. We complain and complain, but not much is being done on a national level. Obamacare is a blessing to many, but I have to wonder--is shitty healthcare better than none? Is it possible that it causes more harm?

Case in point: Weight stigma has created negative health outcomes for fat people. Shitty care in this regard, much like my friend Rosa, means that concerns are ignored, because you just need to Lose the Weight (tm). Every health concern is attributed to weight and the solution is to just Lose the Weight. I don't have many horror stories of strangers being mean to me over my weight, but goodlordjesus, do I have some tales about crappy healthcare. Enter the latest saga.

Since I started my new job, my self-care has gone to crap. I was exercising most days of the week at my previous job, because we had an onsite gym. I haven't worked out in eight months. I work crazy long hours and have eaten more fast food in the past eight months than I have in the past eight years. Not that self-care during The Lunacy or the past four years of my crappy marriage was so great, but still. I was working out and not scarfing down fast food every minute. So, I wasn't too surprised to find that my A1C had gone from 6.1 to 6.7. Not a good thing.

The ADA recently changed their parameters, increasing the level at which someone is considered diabetic. I think that's insane. I used to work at the ADA and talked with researchers frequently. Back in the day, they fought to keep the "pre-diabetes" diagnosis out of the discussion and diagnosis realm, because you can get complications at a pre-diabetes level as well. Short version--there is no "pre." If you're "pre," you have diabetes.

Today, diabetics are told to keep their A1C under 7. A non-diabetic person's is less than 6. My new doctor told me that at 6.5, she medicates. I assumed that since I am over that amount and that my A1C was worse, she would want to medicate. No. Well, that's okay. This is still manageable with lifestyle changes. So, I explained to her that I wanted to get it under 6, essentially--I want to reverse my diabetes. I was doing great and fell apart during The Lunacy and my new job. Time to get back on the self-care wagon.

What she said in response floored me. "You're doing a good job managing your diabetes. Getting it under 6 really isn't necessary."

That's right. Just "manage" the disease. It's getting worse? GREAT. JOB. Trying to reverse something you likely have the power to change isn't necessary. Just keep doing what you're doing, and everything will be just fine.

Diabetes complications include blindness, kidney failure and lower limb amputation. Recent studies link it to dementia. That's right, kids! If I keep doing what I'm doing, I have a blind, one-footed, dialysis-driven demented future in store. FUCK YEAH!

After years of crappy experiences with doctors and watching Rosa die, I knew I had to advocate for myself. I went into my appointment (a new provider) with a fist full of tools I wanted to help me get myself back on track. My healthcare provider, Kaiser, offered only one of them. My primary options were weight loss surgery (incredibly high mortality rate and mutilative bullshit) and a weight loss program. As we all know, weight loss programs result in 85-95% of participants (depending on the data you're looking at) gaining more weight back than was lost. So, surgery with an alarmingly high death rate and something that will likely make me fatter? FUCK YEAH!

What the hell is wrong with this picture? Even while advocating for myself, I encountered rampant incompetence, bigotry, and outdated, ineffective, and even harmful treatment modalities. How can anyone win in this system?

Of course this doesn't mean that I will stop being my best advocate. I am cobbling together resources to help me reverse my diabetes. I was on the path before, I can get there again. But ferfuckssake, it would be a whole lot easier if my healthcare provider didn't suck.

So, my goals for the next 2.5 years:
1. Get out of credit card debt
2. Get my A1C at or below 6.0

I have a payment plan for my debt and am building a health plan to kick diabetes' ass. I will bore you to tears with tales of both. My apologies in advance.



Monday, August 4, 2014

Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without

"Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without." Ah, the beloved refrain of the Great Depression. During The Lunacy (not yet a nationally known phenomena, but you know you've had your own crazy grief-stricken period too. ADMIT IT), my manta became, "Fuck This Shit, Just Buy a New One" or my even more favored, "Can't We Just Outsource This?" $18,500 in credit card debt later, it might be time to kick it old school and get all crazy Depression Era on my own ass.

Since returning to center, I've found myself rather shocked at some of my new spendy impulses. My dog Daphne had some awful bowel issues before she died, and I had a few days before I bought those handy puppy pads to help out. So, in my exhaustion and disgust--seriously, y'all, bloody stools are NASTY--I just tossed towels she was laying on. After all was said and done, I lost about four towels. My first impulse after she died was to just go out and buy some more to replace those that were tossed. But I don't actually need more towels. I have four large bath towels. I'm one person. I use two at a time and wash them once a week. Why bother with more?

My shower curtain is a little grubby and a few of the holes have ripped out. Impulse? Fuckit. Go buy a new one. But I don't need a new one.  I can run it through the washing machine, repair the torn holes (or not. Still has plenty of undamaged ones), and call it a day. Plus, after watching a documentary on the plastic soup that is the ocean and the plastic-related toxin laced world we live in? Yeah. No need to add to that waste stream.

I expect to fight the Fuckit urge quite a bit over the coming months, until I am fully back to myself and in the  "Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without" mode. I've pulled out my copies of The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn, The Simple Living Guide: A Sourcebook for Less Stressful, More Joyful Living by Janet Luhrs, and Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin to reread, which were the most influential in helping me on the frugal, simple living path. With all the pro-disposable culture advertising that's thrown at us on a daily basis, I figure I need all the help I can get.

 





Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Personal Responsibility in the Social Sphere

This is long and rude and has nothing to do with money. You've been warned. If you can't handle snark or a long read, you should probably hit "next blog."

A few posts back, I referenced a hilarious piece in The Onion and chatted about systems and personal responsibility. The gist: I don't think it's either/or. It's both. Thinking otherwise is all part of the joy of dichotomous thinking, where all things are black and white. 'Cept it's rarely ever genuinely so simple.

I wanted to chat a bit about personal responsibility in the social realm after seeing a few pieces by young size/fat/body acceptance activists. I'm not going to reference the stories with direct links, largely because I don't want to deal with 20-something kids raging at me. And 20-somethings are largely leading this discussion, which is problematic. But that's a whole other issue.

Let me preface this by saying that the first criticism of my view point is that I'm blaming the victim. I'm trying very hard not to do that here. Much like how I feel about poor folks and money--the world we SHOULD live in is not the world we ACTUALLY inhabit. People should be able to wear whatever the fuck they want without any grief. People have a right to exist exactly as they are. But, and this is news to no one, that is not the world we exist within. I advocate embracing reality while advocating for change.

SO! A few folks are documenting their experience with being ridiculed, bullied and/or mocked in the public sector. These young women believe it is because they are fat. They have some horrible stories to tell about how they are treated. Story after story after story of mean, awful, wretched things being said and done to them. One woman said that she cannot leave the house and venture out into the world without someone making a disparaging comment about her weight. It happens every. single. day. (Holy shit!)

It was all truly shocking to me, which is rather surprising, as I am one seriously fat muther fucker. I'm not "chunky" or a little "plus size." I am fat. as. hell. Supersized like fries. Yet I've not experienced nearly the kind of crap these women have endured, and have probably had less than 10 super douche experiences in my life related to my weight. I am not special. I am not some anomaly. So, why is that, I wondered? I live in Fake Tit LA, where botox is king and women as young as 30 start in with the godforsaken juvederm face. (It's horrifying, truly.) Thinness is considered a virtue in this Land of Vapid Twats. So, what the hell? Why are these women suffering such horrible shit while my life experience largely consists of kindness, compliments and warmth?

I started looking at their projects and paying attention to their facebook pages, etc. And lord forgive me if this sounds like victim blaming, but I noticed ways in which they were participating in the abuse. I also noticed that they were making assumptions about why people were giving them grief, and I believe some of those assumptions to be incorrect. As in, it ain't always about your fat ass, darling. A few examples, where I'm going to pull out my inner asshole. You've been warned:

1. One woman started a photo project, documenting the way in which people reacted to her. She believed they were giving her dirty looks, etc., because of her size. She's slightly above average weight. I would consider her a "wee chunk." The most common thing I saw in all of her photos was that she was, well...acting like a goddamned freak. Incredibly awkward, not engaging at all with her surroundings, and seemed almost to go out of her way to separate herself from those around her. Obviously this could be do to the fact that she feels unsafe in the world and is fearful. I suspect, however, that she has some form of autism, and people were reacting to that, which is an entirely separate issue.

What I saw in the reactions of people around her was not "ohgodDEATH!!!FAT!!!" It was, "Why is this woman acting like such a weirdo?" Also, several photos showed folks holding their noses around her. She attributed it to the stereotype that fat people are dirty and stink. Um, is it possible, perhaps, that she needs better hygiene? 'Cuz...well, I've seen lots of fatty hating crap out there, and "eww, stinky" never happened until I saw this woman's project. I have, however, read about some folks on the autism spectrum having specific issues related to bathing. So, maybe?

2. Another lovely woman is an unconventional plus-size model (as in, she's actually plus-size). She has talked at length about how she dropped out of high school because she was bullied so relentlessly due to her weight. She lived in a small town in the Deep South, which is known for being the fattest part of the country. So, that surprised me. She has also talked about how her chosen profession, modeling, has driven her to contemplate suicide. The most common thing you'll see on her facebook feed is posts of her raging against those who belittle the way she looks, asserting that she doesn't give two shits. She'll have 2,000 comments clamoring over her beauty and 200 calling her a fat cow. The 200 become paramount and the focus of her attention. That is most definitely giving two shits.

So, let me get this straight: She's chosen a field where the most successful people are underweight and she is significantly overweight (chart weight, whatever the hell said charts deem acceptable these days). The experiences she's had as a result of this career choice make her want to die, but she still "loves it." I have a distinct feeling that if something makes you wish you were dead, you probably don't genuinely love it all that much. But since she dropped out of high school, she's limited her career options. What's the long-range plan here? And what do all those posts giving attention to haters do? Well, it gives them attention. Internet bullies thrive on attention. So, she feeds the beast that makes her suffer.

3. Another woman, whom I referenced earlier, says she cannot leave her house without someone making a disparaging comment about her, usually about her weight. She told a story of a boy coming up to her as she was in a restaurant and boldly taking a photo of her while she sat there. Super rude. I wanted to slap that little douche. Then I ventured over to photos of her.

She's definitely fat. But that's not the first thing I noticed. The first thing that came to my attention was her outfit, which  I likened to a clown suit. Obnoxiously bright, blindly mismatched patterns. She dyed her hair a kind of nuclear orange-red, which emphasized her ruddy skin. I was surprised to see so much color in her hair and clothing and zero makeup (I'm also surprised when I see women in sweat pants and a stained t-shirt with impeccable makeup and hair. It's so odd what we choose to give attention to). I didn't think, "Damn, that's a big girl." I thought, "Damn, that girl looks like a circus clown on fire who is about to explode."

4. I know several people who make it their life's work to search for and document cases of abuse against fat people, women in particular. They see it everywhere, because they look for it constantly. I have learned horrible terms about and abuses against fat people that I never knew existed until they wrote about it, and I have been fat most of my life. Each of these women has a shit storm of horrible personal stories that they can cull from in their documenting adventures. On facebook, I watch them tell stories about how men just want to sleep with them and don't want to actually date them, because they're fat girls. On and on and on. They are deeply committed to their stories of pain.

--

There is no doubt that misogyny is alive and thriving across the globe. We have ridiculous standards of beauty in this country that have more to do with photoshop than reality. Fat people suffer all kinds of abuse. I have some horror stories of the medical variety that would make your blood boil. Studies are surfacing that note health disparities may not be due to the DEATH!!!FAT!!! that we once thought, but poor care received because bigotry is alive and well in the medical community. Fat folks are a favored scapegoat. The "war on obesity," beyond being utterly absurd, is a prime example of just how insane we are around weight and bodies. People will "health troll" (but your health! Being overweight can kill you!) with a complete inability to have a conversation that even entertains the idea of separating weight and health. Fat people most definitely experience abuse and bigotry and are blamed for it, because we are under the delusion that being fat is a choice, despite the fact that we don't have any genuine evidence to support that notion. (Side note: health trolling comments will be deleted, because you fucksticks are dumb and annoying.)

We absolutely need to address bigotry in all its forms. It exists. It sucks. We need to stop that shit.

Yet...do we participate in the abuse? Do we support structures that oppress us? I would say, most definitely. If you feed the beast that makes you miserable, how can you expect to experience joy? If you constantly look for pain, you'll find it. Over and over and over. If you attribute every negative experience to one single aspect of your person, you might be creating a story that doesn't actually exist. It might not be your fat. It might be that you need to take a shower. Or maybe learn the basics of human interaction. Or maybe you just need to ignore the asshole who is cheating on his wife and raging at you because he doesn't know where else to direct his shame and guilt.

If you go out into the world in a manner that screams LOOK AT ME and then become angry when people do and find your clown hues disturbing to their beige world, it probably shouldn't be surprising that you'll get a reaction. Daily. Because, yanno, you're trying to get one.  Maybe it's time to admit that? It's not just about wearing what you want to wear. Maybe you want to scream FUCK YOU to the world. It probably shouldn't be surprising when the world responds in kind.

We internalize our oppression. All women do. It's nearly impossible not to. One of the ways in which we do so is to take these external negative stories about our bodies and make them our own. Every woman, regardless of her size, has to deal with a shit ton of douchebros trying to fuck her without wanting to take her out. Every. Single. Woman. But we tell ourselves it's because we're fat. That somehow, this is a curse felt only by those with extra adipose tissue. We ignore countless compliments and fixate on the far rarer rudeness. We make ourselves glaring and harsh in our dress and then blame our weight when people try to hide their eyes from the garish spectacle we call an outfit. We hunt and hunt and hunt for pain and feel brutalized when we find it. We feed that which makes us miserable and rage at the world for being so awful.

Maybe we could just stop that shit?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

30 Day Challenge: No Eating Out

In the process of returning to sanity (for any newbies: divorce + lots of death = cray cray), I've found myself wandering back to things I used to adore. Blogging, being all anal about my money, walking through the halls at work shouting WU-TANG MUTHER FUCKERS!, and other assorted joys. It's kinda fun. So, I decided I needed a new 30-day challenge. Those used to delight and frustrate me to no end.

The biggest and most bat shit drain in my budget is eating out. During the height of what shall henceforth be known as The Lunacy (the 2+ or so years of divorce, death and crappy health), I spent about $800-$1000 a month eating out. Yes, in addition to my monthly grocery bill. Yes, that is absurd. Thank you for feeling the shock with me. Anyhoo, I decided to knock it down to $200 a month to see if I'd survive.

Surprisingly, I did not die. Something else pretty interesting happened--friends started buying ME lunch and dinner. Part of the reason why my spending was so out of control in the eating out arena is that I had a combination of annoying asshats who would never pay their full share (seriously, I attract these blowhards like flies to poop), or if I was dining with someone I loved, I would take care of the entire bill (always booze and dessert , y'all. Go big or go home!). But when I got honest about my debt and my ridiculous spending, some friends decided to take care of the bill for me. I used to resist that kindness. I wanted to prove that I was doing just fine, thank you very much. I was happy to give but had a hard time receiving. (Word to women like me: This is why your love life sucks. Learn to receive. It's the best thing you can do for the entire universe.)

That kindness helped ease me into my $200 per month budget. Thanks, friends. But I found that the biggest drain on that 200 bucks wasn't socializing with friends; it was a "quick bite" because I had worked too late, again, or felt too tired, again, to really deal with dinner. Then I remembered a little tidbit I read from Jackie over at MoneyCrush eons ago--going through a drive through, or running to pick something up, or waiting on delivery didn't actually save me time or effort. There was still waiting and fetching involved. Still some form of clean up. And, of course, I was supporting (via fast food) food systems I absolutely hate. Ain't nothing convenient about any of that.

So, my 30-day challenge will be not eating out in August. Due to a flexible summer schedule, I get three Fridays off in August. I'm going to use that time to create my own convenience foods galore, so that in coming months I can use that $200 towards social outings with friends and not sad 11pm, I-just-finished-work-fuckit-Imma-eat-a-shitty-burger drive through adventures.

I will have dinner with friends, if the opportunity arises, but I doubt it will. August is a hell month for me at work, and very few of my friends venture to restaurants at 10 or 11 at night. But there's no eating out on my own, definitely no fast food, etc. I'll put the $200 in my couch fund, and hopefully call it a win.

To help me, I'm going to browse recipes over at Barefeet in the Kitchen (I love Mary so), rip out my Working Class Foodies cookbook that a friend bought me, and revisit Casual Kitchen. Do you have suggestions for food blogs that are simple, easy, and locavore focused? I need to expand the number of go-to dishes I can make.

Feel free to swing by and make me dinner though. ;)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Getting Out of Debt...Again

Kinda felt like calling this post, WTF, You Idiot? but someone told me I needed to learn to talk more kindly to myself (eye roll. Hippies, amirite?), so I'm going with the softer version.

Four years ago, I wrote a post about being credit card debt free. I felt pretty fabulous. To have that devil off my back! Praise The Lawd! (Henceforth known as PTL.) At that point in time, I vowed that it would never happen again. I did none of the things to help prevent it from happening, of course (save, save, save, save). Well, I did some, but I did them half-assed. So, when shit hit the fan, as it always does, I was unprepared.

At some point, I'm going to get smarter. I'm a late bloomer. And other cliches to help ease my sense of shame.

Anyhoo, the shit that hit the fan--health issues. I paid a great deal of those expenses out of pocket, but managed to save myself from surgery in the process, so go me. Followed by divorce. Then pure insanity. Now, I find myself deeper in debt than I have ever been. Can you believe it? Could I possibly be more of a ridiculous stereotype? I've been obsessed with personal finance for years. I've even coached people through this crap. Yet here I find myself. Again. I could easily blame lack of quality health care or the insanity that divorce causes and blah blah blah, but I'm afraid that's not the problem. The problem is, has been, and always will be (let's hope I get it this time around, eh?) my spending. I could have saved mightily and not found myself in this mess. I didn't do that. I saved half-assed, ate through it, and spent some more. That, my friends, is some horseshit.

So, here I am. 41 years old and $18,500 in credit card debt. Yes, you heard me correctly. $18,500 in revolving, dipshit debt. That is not a good place to be. I confess this to not only cleanse my soul, but because I never want to be one of those people who professes expertise in the very thing she can't conquer (life coaches and motivational speakers, I'm looking at you). After I found myself debt free, I assumed I would have plenty of time to save for any rainy days, so I played it up. And played some more. Fear not! I'll get to that aggressive savings plan just after I buy yet another ridiculous purchase and/or expensive meal out. Over and over and over again.

Then my health went into the shitter. Then I got divorced and lost my goddamned mind (bonus: after years of having clothes I hate, because fat girl clothing manufacturers are blind assholes, I finally found an American-made, plus size clothing line that I love. I have a closet full of clothes I adore! And the debt to prove it!). And now I'm looking at credit card bills that make me want to weep.

Consequently, I had a conversation with myself that I've had with others. Time to get real, chica. Stop using the cards. If you can't pay for it with the cash you have in hand, you can't have it. Figure out how much you actually owe and plot a plan to pay it down. (I absolutely love this Debt Calculator from bankrate.com. It helps you to see a light at the end of the tunnel.) Find the  holes and plug them. And most importantly, remember your mantra for this year: Calm The Fuck Down.

New budget constraints I've placed upon myself after a couple of years of orgy spending:
1. Eating out budget reduced to $200/month (folks, I was spending that in a week. I shit you not);
2. Have the bff's girlfriend start cutting and coloring my hair ($20 a pop instead of $200);
3. No more new clothes, unless it's bras and undies. Tailor things that don't fit (have done most of the alterations myself at $0);
4. No longer allowed to go over the grocery budget weekly with an "oh well" attitude. I take a calculator with me and back off the novelty crap I don't need;
5. No more gadgets, etc. for the house. Job is to purge. Nothing new comes in until all the purging and decluttering are done;
6. Nothing goes on the credit cards. Nothing;
7. All major items (I need a new couch!) must be purchased through a fund set aside specifically for its purchase (see #6);
8. No more crafts spending allowed. Use what I have;
9. No more paying for other people's crap. No more meals out for friends, no more fundraising drives for other folks, no more "oh, don't worry. I'll get that;" and
10. Start using the library again for books, music and DVDs.

The one saving grace in all of this is that I did not take out of my retirement account to pay this off.  I paid for three different trips for family members to come see me with a complete fuckit attitude. I know I shouldn't, but I'll just pay this off  with my 403b since I'm switching jobs. I'll be able to start off with a clean slate. 

PTL that I came to my senses before making such a huge mistake. The penalties would have eaten more than the debt payment would have, and I'd have a clean slate alright. No debt and a decimated retirement savings. Oh, PTL, PTL, PTL that I did not do that.

More importantly, I wouldn't have done the work necessary to relearn how to live below my means. That's the key. If I don't get back to center and learn to live on far less than what I make, I'm just going to find myself right back here again. If I don't see being out of debt as an opportunity to develop a substantial savings and instead decide to "support" all the shit I love (aka buy stuff I don't need), I'll end up back here. If I don't develop a hefty savings to help weather the next round of Shit Just Hit the Fan, I'll be right back here again. I do not, under any circumstances, want to end up here again.

I created a reasonable plan that allows me play money. The true zealot would go bananas paying off the debt. Been there, and it just made me binge spend. So, not gonna do that. It looks like it will take me about 2.5 years to pay it off, barring some windfall miracle. If I'm still blogging by then, I hope we can all celebrate. Most importantly, I hope this round of idiocy is my last. Say a prayer, y'all.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Heartbreak #487,000 (Alternate Title: Veternarians Suck)

My tale of woe continues. 'Cuz, yanno, life just does its thing, regardless of our need for a break from bullshit. My friend Rosa passed away in May. Dead from malpractice, essentially. But I'm not going to address that now. Or maybe ever. It's just unreal. Instead, I'm going to talk about my dog Daphne, who died in June. 'Cuz in doing so, I can bitch about money and my deep loathing of veterinarians.

This is Daphne after "helping" me in the garden one summer. Pretty adorable, eh?
I got both of my fur kids via a dog rescue agency that has since been closed for animal cruelty. The owner, like many well-intentioned folks, lost her mind and just took things too far. But that's another tale. Anyhoo, I had Daphne for 11 years. She was about three years old when I brought her home. Her brother is an attention whore and loves anyone who pays attention to him (yeah, he loves Mom most though), but Daphne bonded with me like no other pooch I've ever seen. And she could manipulate me like crazy. She knew I loved this face most of all:
She was begging for steak in the above shot. It worked. Every time.

Little Daphne had problems when I first got her that the rescue agency, due to having too many dogs, just didn't catch. Worms and a fucked up back leg were the first two issues we had to address. Her previous owner didn't take care of an injury, so she spent her days with bone fragments on a nerve, which caused her pain. She never complained though. Just would sometimes not use one of her back legs. The vet (seed of loathing #1) wanted me to put her on a pain med that required liver panels. I refused. If the drug knocked out her liver, she was screwed. She seemed to do alright without meds, so I figured we'd just continue on as we had been. I got a hefty guilt trip from the vet, but stood my ground. Less than a year later, the drug was taken off the market for killing dogs. (Never trust someone who pushes a drug like a used car salesman.)

We had lots of fun together over the years. She was a great kid. A living terror (bit one of my neighbors, whom I loathe, so WAY TO GO LITTLE GIRL!) and sweet as pie. In hindsight, I can see where things started going wrong, but no one else but me could see it. She started "falling" when walking. I thought I was just crazy, since my ex never noticed on her daily walks. Then she started having other issues, so I decided to take her into the vet.

$500 later, I came out with a diagnosis of a herniated disk and some meds. On day two, she had what I thought was a reaction to the muscle relaxant she was given. Turns out, it was a quick seizure. A couple of weeks later, she had a massive seizure and was no longer able to walk normally. She stumbled around like a drunk person. I took her back into the vet, who sent me to a specialist--a neuro vet. Never even knew such things existed.

This is where I went dumb. I was scared and worried about my little pooch, so my brain froze, and I just said "ok" to his suggestions, instead of asking questions and digging deeper. He thought her problem could be one of three things, and wanted to do a spinal tap to rule out the first potential problem. She was 14. Rule 1 of being a pet parent: don't put old dogs under anesthesia. He said she would only be under briefly. So, I went for it. Dumb move.

She had two major seizures after the procedure. I brought her home on day two. It took her four days to recover from the anesthesia and the anti-seizure meds he gave her, but she was worse for it all. Didn't recover the ability to walk in any capacity. The test revealed that she didn't have what he thought she most likely had. He suggested an MRI, to the tune of $1400, to see if it might be a tumor. At this point, my brain unfroze. What was the treatment protocol for both issues he thought it could be? Same meds, different dosage. So, why do we need an MRI then, doc? Well, to know for sure. Ok. So we'd know for sure. What would her prognosis be if it is a tumor? Well, at that point, we would be looking at comfort care for a few months, at most. How about we just put her on the higher dosage and go from there, since an MRI isn't genuinely going to help anything? So, we put her on the meds.

But here's the kicker--I called to let him know that she wasn't improving. He suggested the MRI again. At this point, between the two different vets, I had already spent $2300, mostly for fruitless tests. But when I asked this time what we would do if it was a tumor, he said something about chemo and radiation. Previously, he let me know it would be a losing battle. But when I called, crying, because she wasn't getting any better, the outcome seemed to change. No talk of "comfort for a few months." No! Chemo! Radiation! 'Cuz that's what an old, sick dog needs, amirite?

I told him I didn't think that was a good idea, particularly given that he mentioned previously that a tumor did not have a good prognosis. She was unable to walk, could barely move, could not stand, needed to be carried and held to potty (which I did every 30 minutes to two hours for about a week), and started having bloody stools. So, we agreed that we would put her to sleep at her follow-up appointment, which was scheduled two weeks after her spinal tap, if nothing improved. She didn't survive to her follow-up appointment. Died in the car at 1:30am on the way to the emergency vet. Oh lordy, that sucked.

Yes, I am one of those people who loves their dogs more than they love the people in their lives. Sorry 'bout that y'all, but you just aren't this cute:
Losing a creature you love is tough stuff. And I believe the vet I worked with was more than happy to exploit that grief to line his pockets. Expensive diagnostic tests that would not actually change her treatment plan? Seriously? Talk of chemo and radiation when they would probably only lessen her lifespan and quality of life? Oh, suck it, specialist. And the first diagnosis? Yeah. Crap. There was no herniated disk. Instead of saying, "I don't know what the problem is. Let's try this," the original vet simply made shit up. Fun times. Fun times.

I had her cremated and a mold of her paw print made. That was the cheapest part ($260) of the process and the only bit that really made any sense in the end. Her brother is still kicking, my perpetual Peter Pan who doesn't know he's an old man. At least now I'm better equipped to handle things when it's his turn to kick this mortal coil. (Please lawd, no.) And of course a friend posted a notice from the local dog shelter that has a pooch I want to rescue. (Oh lord.) Dunno about that at this point, but I do know that I will be sure to not let my grief overpower my better judgement.

Most importantly, I'll be hunting for a vet who doesn't suck.