Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Music in my Head

As I've mentioned before, I'm a very aurally focused person. I'm also a musician, so life inside my head is pretty much one never ending exercise of musical free association.

Generally this state of affairs is just fine with me, but sometimes a song gets "stuck" and just won't leave me alone.

So with the non-stop hurricane coverage this week, this little gem has been playing over and over and over. Just figured I'd send it out to all of my friends on the East Coast, along with my best wishes for a speedy recovery.

While the hurricane has been the big national news story, here in Colorado, we've been caught up in the first ever USA Pro Cycling Challenge... well, at least we cycling buffs have been caught up in it. Seriously though, it's pretty amazing to have the likes of George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde and Andy Schleck racing over the roads of your own home state.

I don't have cable TV anymore, so I didn't get to see most of the race, but the final stage, which ended in downtown Denver, was broadcast live on NBC with Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen calling the race.
How totally cool is that!

Anyhow, with all that inspiration, I HAD to go for another bike ride today. And lo and behold, who do you think I ran into on the trail? No, it wasn't Levi Leipheimer or Lance Armstrong, but it was CatMan! OK, he knew where I was headed, so it wasn't really that much of a surprise, but it was great fun to ride together.

At least, we tried to ride together. CatMan rides several hundred miles per week, so going for a ride together means a leisurely rest day for him, and a total butt whooping for me!

But I made it 22 miles, and he even rode "with" me up the killer hill that I narrowly avoided the other day. I put the word with in quotation marks because CatMan sped up the hill like Lance Armstrong cruising up Alpe d'huez.

Meanwhile I was barely maintaining enough momentum to stay upright!

But the only other time I've attempted to tackle that hill I got passed by a kid pulling a wagon, so I'd say this was a definite improvement!

Photo by Whitewolf Photography on Flickr
OK, now back to the point of this post... you knew there was a point hidden in there somewhere, didn't you? Somewhere along the bike path, I FINALLY got a new song in my head.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Bike Ride Bliss

Today was a good day! Things finally cooled off a bit here in the Mile High city... "cool" meaning low 90's with a bit of cloud cover. And since the weed pollen count was down to medium, and my generic Fexofenadine has been doing an excellent job (praise the lord for drug patent expiration laws) I decided to go for a bike ride.

I'm not sure if it's the new diet regimen, or my slowly evolving better sleep schedule, but it was the most amazing ride I've had in years! I rode 16 miles, which, I realize barely even qualifies as a bike ride for you hard core biker types, but it was the furthest I've been since I blew out me knee 3 years ago. And here's the thing... it felt great!

Denver's got an amazing system of greenbelts and bike paths along all of the rivers and creeks, so I decided to ride along the South Platte Greenbelt.

Now generally speaking, just getting to the Platte is a chore since I have to go up and over el mucho grandissimo hillaroonio.

To be clear, it was still work to get up and over the hill, but it was the gee-my-legs-are-getting-a-little-sore-and-I'm-a-bit-out-of-breath sort of work, as opposed to the OMG-my-heart-is-pounding-out-of-my-chest-and-I-think-I-might-keel-over-from-a-massive-coronary variety that it's been in the past.

And I was able to go at a good cadence and to keep spinning pretty much all the way through... it was amazing fun!!!

I did get a bit lost though. Apparently a new movie theater shopping mall thing had been constructed since the last time I was on the trail, and it totally threw me. Somehow I ended up turning off onto one of the side creeks and hadn't the foggiest idea where I was.

But it was a beautiful ride, and I didn't really mind not knowing where I was. Amusingly enough, it turned out that at the point I decided to turn around and go back I was only a few miles from my house. Had I know that, it would have been a much shorter ride.... but it also would have been a major haul up an even bigger hill, so in this case I think ignorance turned out to indeed be bliss.

Anyhow, there's no real point to this post other than to say:

May you all be blessed with a day as wonderful as the one I have just had!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Month of Meat

Well... it's been about a month since I decided to start incorporating some meat back into my diet, so I thought I'd give y'all an update.

My first observation is that it all felt really, Really, REALLY weird. I've eaten very little meat throughout my adult life, and what meat I did eat, I didn't prepare myself. Even when I was on the fence as a vegetarian, my meat consumption was mainly at restaurants or buying pre-cooked rotisserie chicken or other pre-cooked meat. So let's just say I've been a tad bit out of my element.

As a first step, I decided I would just venture into the meat section of the grocery store and see how it felt. OK... well, first I actually had to figure out where the meat section was! Seriously, I've lived in this neighborhood for 16 years now and I had NEVER been to the meat aisle at my local store!

I've gotta say... it was a little bit creepy. I couldn't escape that feeling that I was wandering through some sort of morgue, or morbid movie scene with dead bodies lying around right and left.

Nevertheless, I gingerly proceeded.

So I'm tip-toeing through the meat aisle, and there's some butcher dude stocking things. I swear he was looking at me like I was from Mars. In truth, he probably was just trying to decide if he should ask me if I needed help or not, but I totally felt like he, along with the whole rest of the world, knew that I wasn't supposed to be there.

Right about then the Hollywood section of my brain started to take over... I could almost hear the crackle of a police radio... a voice comes across the scanner...

"HQ, do you copy? We've got a code 42 in progress here... Vegetarian in the meat aisle. Requesting instructions..."
"Roger that... vegetarian in the meat aisle... Is it frothing at the mouth or making any erratic movements?"
"Uh... Negative. Actually it looks a bit dazed and confused. Should I engage?"
"Negative! Do not engage, repeat, do NOT engage! Lie low, we're sending in backup."

Anyhow... once I got over the shock of actually purchasing raw meat, I was faced with the stark realization that I had no earthly idea how to prepare it.

Furthermore, on Rachel's recommendation, and in an attempt to be "greener" and less wasteful, I bought a whole chicken. Let's just say that cutting it up was... um... interesting.

The worst part was that I was so freaked and clueless the first week or so, that I never prepared more than one meal's worth of food at a time. Now, my general strategy in life is to cook large quantities and then either freeze or refrigerate the leftovers so that cooking can remain an enjoyable fun activity, rather than drudgery that must be done every day. So after a few weeks of cooking every single day, I had just about driven myself mad.

Actually, it wasn't really all that bad. And I feel like I'm sort of getting the hang of it, so life is slowly returning to its usual dull roar.

And although I still feel a tad bit "qualmy" about the whole idea of eating animals, I've gotta say that the results in terms of health and general well being have been nothing short of spectacular.

Seriously, I've got energy again, I no longer feel like I'm gonna pass out every time I stand up, my digestive "issues" have all but disappeared, I'm able to get out of bed before noon, and without really trying I've lost 6.5 pounds! In some odd sort of way, I feel a bit like I've been given a get out of jail free card.

I'm not sure what it all means, and it's certainly made me re-think my entire concept of compassion. If being compassionate toward other creatures means being detrimental to myself... is that really compassion? I dunno. I'm probably over thinking this whole thing, but it's really making me re-examine many of my self-imposed prison sentences.

Connie Orlando sent me a wonderful link to a blog post from a woman named Tasha who struggled with many of the same issues I did, and finally gave up veganism. It's a very lengthy post, but well worth the read. There's one line in there that I've been repeating to myself over and over:

 I will never feel shame or guilt for eating what my body wants and needs to be healthy.  

I'm not saying that everybody should give up vegetarianism, but I think that all bodies are different, and I've finally come to the conclusion that this is what my body needs.

I've still got a LOT to learn, and I'm sure I'll progress as I figure out better and healthier ways to purchase and prepare meat. But for the moment, I'm very happy with my decision.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Extreme Frugality: The Sink or Swim Method

This post is a continuation of my "How I Escaped from the Rat Race" series... though as this one illustrates, "How I Never Entered the Rat Race" might be a more appropriate title. To read the series from the beginning, click here.

So, it was the fall of 1990 and I had just taken my first "real" job (heavy emphasis on the quotation marks.) I took a position at a folk music organization making $5/hour 20 hours per week... For those who aren't great at math that works out to $100 a week or $5200/year.

Now it's true that the dollar went a bit further in those days than it does now, but not that much further. According to this nifty calculator, $5200 in 1991 dollars (the first full year I worked) works out to $8217 in 2010 dollars. Pretty grim any way you slice it.

But, since I had the Human Popsicle for motivation, I persevered.

Some of my recollection of those years is a bit fuzzy, but as near I can figure, my finances looked something like this:

Rent: $270/month (basement apartment with utilities included)
Student Loans: $180/month
Health Insurance: $90/month (catastrophic care policy)
Phone: $20/month
Auto Insurance: $40/month
Total Fixed Expenses: $600/month

Now if you'll notice, $600/month is a tad bit more than the $433/month that my "salary" provided. And that only included the fixed expenses, not the other things like, um... food.

So, my first step was to earn some extra money! Since my goal was to be a professional musician, for me, that meant gigging. As it turns out, I did pretty well those first few years. According to my Social Security records I managed to bring in a total of about $12,000/year in both 1991 and 1992.

So when you figure in the extra money I brought in performing, I had about $400/month for food, gas, and everything else. In reality, it wasn't that bad. And with some effort (and a small bit of money inherited when my grandmother passed) I had my student loans completely paid off by 1993, plus several thousand dollars in savings.

I wish I could provide a step by step guide as to how I did it, but in truth it can all be boiled down to one simple statement. Don't spend money on anything that you don't really need.

Of course, I had a great deal of support during those years. Unbeknownst to me, settling in the folk music community landed me right in the heart of some incredible frugal living experts. The people I worked with were all professional musicians, which meant that most lived at or beneath the poverty level.

It was also a very close knit community where nobody expected you to have nice things or keep up appearances.

And most of the folks were hold outs from the 1960's... they were the real deal too... hippies in every sense of the word.

So here are some of the strategies I learned during that era.

Share and Share Alike

Living in the world of musicians was sort of like being in the middle of one big FreeCycle community. Whenever anybody had anything that was surplus, they brought it in or put a note on the bulletin board to see if anybody else could use it. I got most of my kitchen stuff from a teacher who had recently gotten married and was getting rid of duplicates. My furniture was all cast offs from folks who were upgrading. And most of my clothing came from our annual Women's Clothing Exchange, where we'd all bring in anything we no longer wanted, and we all left with a bunch of new stuff.

Lend a Helping Hand

Our little community also had an informal sort of bartering system going on. Nobody kept records or anything like that, but we all just did favors for each other. Since I had a functioning car, (which was a bit of a rarity in that community) I often gave people rides or helped them haul equipment. And since many of the music teachers knew much more about instrument upkeep than I did, they often helped me with repairs to my guitar and fiddle. I also got quite a few free music lessons! I helped lots of folks move or clean out their garages, and they gave me lots of surplus stuff that would otherwise be hauled off to the dump.

Waste Not Want Not

I actually am going to write a whole separate post about food and frugal eating, but when you live among the chronically broke, nobody ever wastes food. Those with gardens always brought in their surplus produce, which is how I became an expert at using monster zucchini long before I ever had a garden. We never let leftovers from pizza parties or potlucks go to waste, and whenever anybody ended up with surplus food of any sort, they brought it in and it soon found a hungry stomach that was happy to have it. For a while one of my co-workers had an additional job at a pizza joint, and she kept us all quite well fed with surplus slices!

One Man's Trash...

In our little community there was no shame it using something that someone else had discarded. Each year we'd hold a fundraising rummage sale, and when it was over we all eagerly picked over the booty before hauling the discards off to the thrift store. And speaking of thrift stores, we were all regulars. Going shopping with friends meant a day at the Salvation Army. I also learned the fine art of dumpster diving. Seriously, I still have some end tables and bookshelves that I rescued from the alley back in those early days!

Make Your Own Fun

One thing I never had to worry about in those days was entertainment. Our organization hosted concerts twice a week, plus most of the teachers were out performing all the time, so there was always a free show that I could attend. Plus, everybody hosted jam sessions and music parties. I still wonder what non-musicians do when they get together. I mean, what fun is a party if you're not jamming and singing?

Create Your Own Life

But of all the lessons I learned during those lean days, one stands out above all others. The hippie musicians taught me how to live a self-crafted life. I think that most people in our society are taught that adult life means they should "sign up" for some sort of career, and then follow the rules that somebody else sets out for them. My experience couldn't possibly be further from that. I learned to live in a world where there were no corporate ladders to climb, no career tracks, no "opportunities for advancement" or "steps to success." Even at work, my job basically involved doing whatever seemed like a good idea to make the organization more successful. These were self made people who understood that the world is full of opportunities, and life really is what you make it.

When I look back on those first years of "adulthood" they may have been lean in terms of dollars, but they were incredibly rich in community, friendship, life lessons and skills that have served me well ever since.

For the next post in this series click here.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hunting the Wild Cantelope

Spelling has never been my strong suit. Who am I kidding... I generally consider myself lucky if the scrawled markings I create can even be interpreted as written language.

So recently I made the switch from Internet Explorer to Google Chrome, which has a built-in spell checker.

Now on the one hand this is great because it means my ability to communicate with other humans is much improved. But on the other hand it totally sucks because it's forced me to own up to the magnitude of the problem.

Anyhow, recently I was in some situation where I was typing the word "cantelope"... only Chrome insisted that "cantelope" was not a word, and suggested instead that I try "cantaloupe".

WHAT?!? No Cantelope? Aw come on... I've been spelling it that way my entire life. I mean it sounds like "antelope" shouldn't it be spelled the same?

But no... apparently the wild cantelope is a rare creature known only to the abysmal spellers of the planet.

Geez... and according to Chrome, there are no such colors as fusha or chartruse either.

Ug... Actually, my language problems extend far beyond spelling. I think it has to do with being an aurally focused person (as opposed to orally... but I am that too) And don't EVEN get me started on homonyms... my personal opinion is that it a linguistic device created for the express purpose of torturing people like me.

But I digress... To tell the truth, I just have a real hard time connecting written and spoken words. I remember one time I had to read out loud in English Grammar class. I read an entire chapter about "deeter-miners" before I realized we were talking about determiners!

I'm sure these guys struck a rich vein of "deeter"
Oy Vay! And to make it worse, nobody bothered to correct me! It's like the time in high school when we were reading "Waiting for Godot". Yup... I was waiting for him too because in my copy the only character they talked about was some dude named "Go-Dot!" I'm sure "Go-Dot" must have been some precursor to the dot-com boom...

And it hasn't improved much over the years either. Just a few weeks ago I was reading one of Aldra's posts over on Consciously Frugal where she mentioned being a dogooder. I spent the whole time going "what on earth is a "dog-ooder?!?"

And just the other day I was telling CatMan how the only way I made it through school was by using pneumatic devices. He looked at me and said "Honey, I think you mean mnemonic devices."

Ah yes... the pneumatic device... because we all know how the iron lung improves memory!

I am at least comforted by the fact that I'm not the only person who suffers from this affliction. A dear friend of mine once told me that in an effort to become more "worldly" in her youth, she decided to read the morning newspaper. She proudly waltzed into her parents' room and proclaimed "Have you heard about the war in Nigh-cara-gooah?"

But the one that takes the cake was a friend from high school who got into Brown University. Actually, our whole little group of friends wanted to go to Brown, but she was the only one who got accepted. (It still puzzles me because she had the worst grades of any of us... maybe it was because her parents were rich and we were all broke.) But anyhow, after our first year at school we were all back home together and we asked her how it was at Brown. I think she wanted to make us all feel better, and she had no idea the extent to which she was about to make me feel better when she said, "Well... it's OK, but there are lots of "suede-o" intellectuals."

Oh, the lofty suede-o intellectuals. What do you suppose has become of them? My theory is that they're all down in Nigh-cara-gooah hanging out with the dog-ooders, using pneumatic devices, arguing about the proper use of deeter-miners, waiting for Go-Dot and hunting the wild cantelope!

Oh, help me sweet Jesus!