Compost Soup for the Soul

This is a post I started weeks ago and then things got busy. It’s still a semi-important thing that happened, so here ya go.

Something happened to me today. I think it’s been a few months in the making.

(If you don’t want to read about gross food, stop now.)

A while back, I told you that my chest freezer went kaput, and I lost a bunch of food out of it. It was upsetting. I hate food waste more than I hate a lot of things. Having to throw so much stuff away made me a little sick, and I don’t think it was just the smell. After finding out that the service call to have the freezer looked at would cost about 40% of what I paid for the freezer in the first place, before any repairs, I decided we would try to make do without.

For the most part, it hasn’t been difficult. I had already stopped buying a lot of things in bulk, and losing all that food was a good lesson in maybe not stocking up so much. We still use our fridge freezer, and it seems like enough space for us.

In the first few weeks without the deep freeze, I had some trouble adjusting. I have a bad habit of moving food that is about to go off hastily from the fridge to the freezer, the end result of which is a lot of not-great blended soups. (I call it Compost Soup.)

This month, we’re trying to stretch our food dollars a little farther than usual, and the fridge freezer is steadily getting emptied. I had stuck a bag of Compost Soup up there back in early October, and I decided not to put off eating it any longer. I let it defrost and brought it to work with me today.

Now, I have eaten a lot of Compost Soup over the years. It’s not what I would call a family favourite, but my hatred of food waste typically overrules my palate and I will usually finish it all myself. Wouldn’t want to waste all those veggies, and food is supposed to be fuel anyway, right?

Today was different. I don’t know if it’s because I have gotten used to eating fresher food since we lost the freezer space, or if this particular soup was really that bad, but I just didn’t want it. None of it. I was trying to choke it down and all I kept thinking was that I had about six more servings of soup in that container.

So I let myself let it go. I dumped it. Life’s too short to eat gross food. And it’s too short to spend so much time turning semi-gross food into legitimately gross, inedible food. What was I doing to myself? Why did I deserve this blended punishment?

I don’t, actually.

Since that day, I have made and eaten a pretty good potato-leek blended soup, and it was not gross. Turns out I’m not completely hopeless. Long may I blend.

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See Spot Bail

wpid-wp-1421426836908.jpegBy now, most of you have already heard the news.

Target is pulling out of the Canadian market entirely, and choosing to focus on their American operation only. They tried to make a go of it in the GWN, and for myriad reasons that lots of other people have written about, they failed.

Now, I am not one of those people who complained about Target coming here. I didn’t even complain when they opened with great fanfare and empty shelves. The Canadian price markups didn’t bug me, nor did the fact that they tried to sell me a bunch of stuff I could already buy in Canada (Beaver Canoe, Nygard).

I have a deep and unapologetic love for Target. It started thirteen years ago, when I was living in the US and didn’t have a tonne of spending money. I started buying most of my clothing there, because it was inexpensive and everywhere. After I moved back to Canada, I would take regular trips across the border to visit my home away from home. Stuff was cheap. It was decent-looking.

Back in these days, Target partnered for limited-run collections with some of my favourite designers: Proenza Schouler, Liberty of London, Jason Wu, Thakoon, Mulberry and Missoni to name a handful. Nice pieces, too. Stuff I kept and wore for years. Some stuff I still wear. With these collections, scarcity was key. I couldn’t bank on there being anything left in my size on my next trip to Buffalo, so I would buy whatever was there. At full price. Happily. I was Target’s target.

Then, Target announced that they were coming to Canada. I was ecstatic. Believe it or don’t, but “proximity to Target” was on my list of reasons for choosing the street we currently live on. And it wasn’t even open yet.

Once our local store was open, I would hit it once or twice a week and always come home with something. I’ll concede that the selection was never what I really wished it would be, but they had milk, and makeup, and here’s the thing: it was dead. The store was pretty and bright, none of the carts were janky. I could grab a coffee, throw my kid in the cart with a dinky and spend an hour or two checking out every single aisle. It was almost meditative.

Target was near the top of the list of things I expected to miss when I stopped buying stuff. I have still been popping in often enough, because Target gift cards are my son’s currency of choice and they sell groceries I am allowed to buy. There have been very, very few items that have caught my attention in the past five months, and none that I couldn’t easily pass up. There was a day early on, back when I think my feelings of withdrawal were strongest, when I really wanted to go walk the Target. Thinking back on that now, it’s the environment I wanted. The pretty, quiet store. I didn’t even want the stuff they had, and I understand how that’s not a viable business model.

Target was easier to give up than I thought, but I think that expecting it would be there when I was done this experiment was consoling in some way. Now, I know it won’t be. All the stores will be closed before my August 31st end date, so I won’t get to cash in on liquidation sales, and I’m not sad about that. Target has nothing that I want.

Let me say that again.

Target has nothing that I want.

If we don’t know each other well, it might be harder to grasp what a fundamental shift this is for me. Trust me that this is huge. This might be the single most important indicator that this project is working.

I don’t know what Target’s closing means for the Canadian retail landscape, but I hope at least some of us will see it as an opportunity to support more local producers and re-sellers. And if you’re reading this, and you’re looking to hire friendly, knowledgeable sales people, let me personally vouch for the team members of the Bedford Place Mall Target. They’ll make you feel right at home.

Same Money, Fewer Problems

A lot of people are still asking me how much money I have saved since September.

It’s not a lot.

I think what they really want to know is how much less money I have spent. I don’t really have an answer for that since my recreational spending wasn’t a constant before.

My monthly obligations are largely unchanged, although I have cut back on anything I consider to be discretionary, like gas and food (food is necessary; filet mignon is not).

A few months back, I set myself some general financial goals for this year. I think it is time to update them a bit.

I revisited my budget recently. I use an online envelope system, and it was very helpful at tracking my spending back when I was doing a whole lot more of it. Now, I mostly use it to determine how much of my monthly income can safely go towards paying down my debt. It also has pie charts, which are enlightening.

I have not been able to maintain a minimum balance in my chequing account, so I have decided to take that goal off the table. It was getting in the way of making progress in other areas. I now have $1,000 in a savings account, acting as an emergency fund. I plan to leave it there and top it up as needed. Otherwise, no more of my income will be allotted to savings until this debt is gone.

Credit Line

The limit is $10,000 and it was very nearly that when I began in September. No minimum monthly payments. Interest is around prime-plus-one. Current balance is $8,000. My goal is to clear this balance by August 31, 2015.

Bank Loan

I took this out in November of 2013 to clear up a bunch of credit card balances and close out another credit line with a higher interest rate. Initial balance was $27,700 over a five year term. I can’t remember the interest rate. I have only made the monthly payments so far ($546, automatic withdrawal) and the current balance is $22,044.80. Once the credit line is gone, all the money that frees up will go toward paying this off early. My goal for this is December 2016.

Car Loan

I financed a smallish portion of a new car last summer. I have weighed new versus used and I know what Dave Ramsey has to say about it already. I wanted the new car so I bought it. Bon. I have no idea what the balance is now but the interest rate is 0.99%, four year term. I am making only the monthly payments ($273, automatic withdrawal) and will continue to do so until the bank loan is gone. With those two larger debts out of the way, I should be able to clear this up lickety-split.

Credit Cards

I have four dedicated credit cards (travel, gas, groceries, miscellaneous) and they all have zero balances. The argument could be made that I don’t need all of those cards. There’s an Amex that I got for a points promotion, but that’s already served its purpose and I think I will cancel it. If oil prices stay this low, I can see cancelling the gas card too. The points don’t accumulate quickly enough and I drive a sub-compact, so… maybe better to focus on the grocery points.

My initial plan for the year was to pay off an additional $10,000 in debt, over and above my regular monthly payments, and I am currently on track to do this. My debt obligations are about 22% of my total spending. Devoting an additional $500 per paycheque to paying it down makes debt repayment more than half of my spending pie. And I’m not even including the mortgage. That’s another piece of pie entirely.

We have done a fair amount of travelling over the years, and I still think that most of it was worth it. I am struggling to come up with a list of stuff I have to show for spending all this money. It is embarrassingly short. My relationship to stuff is changing as I work my way through this experiment, and I expect to end up with much less by the end of it. I think my brain chemistry has changed.

You know when people spend a lot of money on school and then can’t get a job when they graduate? At least those people have degrees. All I had was a lot of purses. And now I don’t even have those. I’m glad I seem to have kicked the shopping habit, but it sucks that I’ll still be paying for it years later. Maybe I won’t buy anything for TWO years.

Re-giftin’ (Remix)

The holidays are still upon us, and by now you might have some extra stuff lying around your house. (I bet it’s nice stuff. People love you.) If you want to keep it all, great! You should! Find a spot for it and let it bring you joy.

If you don’t want to keep it, then I think it’s time we talk about what to do with it.

Let’s talk about re-gifting.

You’ve probably done it. You got a duplicate of something, or someone gave you something that wasn’t exactly your taste. You left it in the packaging and found it a nice, new home. No one admits to it, even though most of the time, you can kind of tell that something is a re-gift.

So why do we hide it? Is it to be polite? If you’re re-gifting something you know the recipient will like, then why does it matter if you didn’t buy it? If you’re re-gifting something that you suspect the recipient will find just as useless as you did, then isn’t that more insulting? I think this whole culture of quid pro quo gift exchanging is annoying and unnecessary, but maybe that’s just me.

The semi-public nature of what I’m doing here means that all my people know I am not spending money on them. It’s pretty much all I talk about. A few months back, I floated the idea among a trusted group of friends that instead of making everything for my family (of origin, plus spouses), I would give them things I already own. Not junk — just nice stuff I have used and enjoyed, but that I know each of them would use and enjoy more. This is not re-gifting in the classic sense, where you just give away something that it still basically new and unused (although I do that too). This is a new kind of nonsense I was trotting out.

I really wasn’t sure how tacky this would be. The focus group gave their stamp of approval, but still I worried. Even on Christmas Day, after my family opened their (re)gifts and (re)acted happily, I had my doubts. It’s not like my family are the type to hold back, it’s just that the whole idea of wrapping up stuff that I clearly already owned and putting someone else’s name on it still seems pretty weird.

I think they liked them. Later that same day, my brother and sister-in-law sent me a couple of pictures of their new (my old) stuff in their space. They found spots for it and it looks much happier there. Don’t you agree?

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This powder blue teapot was a gift I received a few years ago. It’s basically a tea set for one. You can brew tea in the top and there’s a cup underneath. It’s cute and I used it a few times, but Jessica collects teapots and I think it looks sweet on her shelf.

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This banker’s lamp was a Sally Ann find from a couple years back. It’s solid and works and I’ve always enjoyed the look of it. Christophe placed it atop our paternal grandfather’s antique desk from his old law office, and now I’m super-glad I didn’t paint the Green Lantern symbol on the lampshade.

Naturally

I am being tempted and the culprit (predictably) is my hair.

We are 18 weeks deep into this project, my hair and I, which means it’s been 20 weeks since I’ve done anything to it apart from that brief affair with hibiscus tea.

My roots are showing, and some of them are grey, but mostly they are just my boring, flat brown colour. The grey is inevitable. Some of my baby hairs are even coming in grey.

No filter, natch.

That doesn’t bother me. If I were to go grey all over, and it thickened my hair enough, I would welcome it. But now, there are just a few that really stick out because their texture is notably different. I honestly think I am the only one who notices and I am positive I am the only one who cares.

Last Friday, I had my mind fairly made up that I was going to buy some henna and do my hair myself that evening.

“But wait!” you might say. “You’re not allowed to buy that!”

This is true. Rule #6 prohibits purchase of unnecessary personal care products and items. However, I am allowed to pay for services, so technically I could go have my hair done professionally and I wouldn’t be breaking any rules. Henna costs $30 for branded stuff and there are plenty of cheaper choices. Having my hair cut and coloured at the salon would cost a minimum of $100 and to me, it still feels like it should be against the rules. It’s not a necessary expense. I am not photographed regularly.

Since henna is messy, I would probably involve my sister or a friend, and someone suggested that I could have the friend buy the henna, and then pay them for helping me, which is a loophole I hadn’t considered. Still, that seems like a long way to go to get around a rule I could just consciously break, you know?

And now I can’t stop thinking about how much the henna would improve my hair’s look and feel.

Personal Sounding Board Stephanie told me to treat this as a test, the first one I have really had since September. She’s right. I know she is. This is a thing I do when I am unhappy with some aspect of my appearance — I change my hair colour. (Sometimes drastically. I vacillate between dark and red and blonde, and it seems people have definite opinions on which way they prefer me, which is why I’ve been on the blonder side for the last number of years.)

Right now, my hair is bearing additional scrutiny because I’ve spent weeks eating thoughtfully prepared holiday treats, and eating crap on top of those, and drinking really delicious alcoholic beverages, and not drinking water, the result of all of which is of course that I only have two pairs of pants that fit. AND I CAN’T BUY NEW PANTS.

Colouring my hair, however cheaply/ethically I manage it, is still treating the symptom and not the disease. Therefore, I am making myself wait a month (I think), so I can try to incorporate all the healthy behaviours I can to feel better about myself before deciding what to do. Deal?

(I planned for this post to solicit opinions about the whole hair business, and I’m amazed that I just talked myself out of it.)

Oh, Just Write Something Already

The longer I wait to jump back in, the less I want to. This is classic behaviour.

See, it’s not that I have fallen off or had a bad month what with Christmas and all. It’s actually been great. I feel like I can call it a success, even. It’s been busy. It’s been a little spendier than I would have liked, but it was mainly food and I’ve made my peace with it, mostly.

There are a few gifts I gave out that I couldn’t really write about in advance, and I’ll probably share some of those in an upcoming post.

The primary purpose of this blog was always to keep me accountable, and while I can ask you to trust that my silence is not an indicator of lost interest or project abandonment, this feels more like a tree-falling-in-the-forest situation, and people ought to hear.

So: New year. New resolve. I will write, even if I think it’s uninteresting. Buckle up and prepare to be bored by the minutia of my new normal.

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