What you came here for

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My good friend and mistress of all thing blogging Skye just sent me a list of search terms that have led people to my blog. Quite a few of them are obvious or make sense, but some are too damn funny not to share. A few of my favorites:

  • man hating songs: this actually brings people here all the time, to my great joy
  • erotic stories/making love ata drive in movie: this one took me a minute, but it must be the "ata" that does it
  • girly badass tattoo: hell yes!
  • short brown curly haired actresses from 1930's: specific! I like it!
  • in 'girl interrupted' 1999 what song do susanna and lisa sing to polly outside her door
  • : Hrm...Downtown, I think?
  • disney's belle is a whore: I'd say she's more a rape victim with possible Stockholm Syndrome, actually
  • where can i buy malibu musk: good God, why would you want to?
  • is reed college stressful? Haha! Yes. But worth it.
  • evil beagle tattoo: this just makes me laugh
  • every single god damn disney movie ever made: again, hysterical
  • smith college vagina: this is one that probably shouldn't make me laugh, but does anyway
  • what place in shreveport bossier louisiana deals with stories walruses hills and rainbows? Again an odd and specific question.
  • why do i drink more when i get my period: reasonable question. I do, too.

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Thoughts upon meeting a canine champion

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So, as anybody who reads WINOW for more than a day or two knows, I'm a dog person. In my case, "dog person" means someone who loves dogs, has dogs, volunteers for dog rescue, and has done quite a bit of dog training work. It means someone who has all sorts of opinions on dog politics and health care. It doesn't mean someone who knows a damn thing about grooming or really much at all about breeds or showing or dog pedagogy. For that stuff, by all means let me refer you to Joanna's amazing blog. Joanna knows her dogs.

I've never been to a dog show. I watch them on TV, but I've never attended one. I have been exposed to show dogs only in the form of the relatively low-ranking show Akitas and Boston Terriers raised by my family. Due, I guess, to this lack of information, I haven't ever really considered that there is a world of difference between a champion dog and a "regular" dog.

unoAnd then, on Saturday, I met Uno.

Remember Uno? The beagle who won the Westminster Dog Show last year? First beagle ever? His owner was kind enough to bring him to an event we held for Hound Rescue this weekend. He was a big draw and we got a ton of donations, but beyond that, I think seeing him was really eye opening for some of our rescuers. I know it was for me.

Over the past couple of years, I've either fostered or evaluated lots of beagles. At least a couple of dozen. Some of them have clearly been mixes, some poorly bred, a couple AKC-registered. I have never seen a beagle that looks anything like Uno.

yogi close upThis is a picture of Yogi, who we fostered last year. Yogi was pretty typical of the dogs we see in rescue--likely full beagle, but not "perfect." The "flaws" in his body were pretty obvious--heavy set, short legs, smoother and longer than breed standard tail, etc. These are areas in which I'd expect our average foster dog to differ from Uno. What is really interesting and surprising to me, though, is the face. Yogi's face, as you can see, has a very definite point, with pointed ears and a narrower forhead.

unofaceThis is Uno's face. The jaw is much more square, the ears are set differently, they eyes are farther apart. This, apparently, is what a beagle is supposed to look like.

So what happened? Why have I never seen a beagle that looks like Uno before, if Uno is the standard for beagles?

Dogs bred indescriminately is what happened. The beagles I know and love don't look like Uno because Uno is a purposeful creation. Before Uno was ever conceived of, people were thinking about the genetics that would make him up--his perfect head, his perfect stack, his perfect little beagle yodel. Uno is, frankly, eugenics. My beagles are, by and large, accidents.

None of this is to say that Uno is "better" than any beagle I've ever fostered. He seemed like a very nice little dog, but I'll keep Huey, who is, frankly, funny looking, but has one of the best canine personalities I've ever encountered. But Uno is markedly different than our dogs. It seems almost wrong to call Uno and Huey (or Yogi, or any of our beagles) the same breed. I hadn't realized it before, but even if you are comparing two "full bred" dogs, the difference between one that is intentionally and carefully bred and one that isn't is almost as big as the difference between one breed and another.

All of which is to say that I think, finally, I kind of understand what good breeders are trying to do in protecting the integrity of breeds. Had I never met Uno, I honestly would not have known that our beagles, varied and wonderful as they are, do not very well represent the beagle breed standard. I love every one of our muttly beagle crew, but even those among them who are likely "pure" beagle are steps away from, rather than towards, what beagles are "supposed" to be.

Whether or not maintaining the greatest possible variety of differnet breeds is imporant is, of course, a matter of debate. If you think it is, however, this illustration proves, at least to me, that intentional and careful breeding is the only way to succesfully do that.

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The power of smell

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Since I wrote this post about my addiction to fancy bath stuff and perfume, I have had it in my head to write something about the smells I prefer and why. Obviously, since I make my own essential oil scented products, as well as spending an embarrassing amount of time picking out the smells I want from other people's stuff, I have preferences. There are a set of smells I love and a set of smells I can't stand, and some of it is probably just random taste, but a lot of it does have to do with the feelings that those smells invoke in me. I don't know if I really believe in aromatherapy or not, but it seems undeniable to me that smells do have bearing on your feelings. Bad or overpowering smells are distracting and irritating, while subtle and pleasant smells are calming. Smells can make you nostalgic, obviously, but also tense and troubled. Smells can help you to relax or energize you. But not all smells work the same way for all people, so please don't think of this as instruction or advice. This is just what works for me.

Smells I Love
Lavender: For me, lavender is probably the most overall useful and pleasant scenting agent. I use it everything from bath stuff to cleaning supplies, combine it with nearly everything, and it is almost never wrong. My laundry soap is lavender lemongrass, with a lavender dryer sachet; there is a lavender and sweet orange spray near my cat boxes; and if I am making bath products for myself, they are more likely to contain lavender than any other single smell. Lavender makes me feel calm and relaxed, and it also gives me the sensation of being clean and fresh (which is why I love it so much for laundry and cleaning).

My favorite lavender products: There are a ton to choose from, but the first two that come to mind are Aveda's Balancing Infusion for Sensitive Skin (which contains lavender, patchouli, geranium, and rose oils) and EO's Lavender and Sweet Orange Room Spray, which I believe is found at Whole Foods.

Orange: Like lavender, I find orange to be a versatile and almost univerally pleasant smell. It has to be a natural orange smell, though--the kind that smells like an actual orange, not like orange candy. Many people find citrus smells invigorating and energizing, but I don't particularly (probably in large part due to the blends I choose). For me, orange, like lavender, invokes feelings of calm and cleanliness.

My favorite orange products: My own orange and clove bath stuff has to be up there, but I like other people's orange products as well. One I've been enjoying lately is the Orange Sherbet Bubble Bath Dough from Red Leaf. It's a nice warm orange scent with a little bit of vanilla in it that smells very natural and I find both cheerful and soothing.

Fig: Though it is slightly more esoteric than the first two scents I mentioned, I'm nuts about fig scented products. I love fig because it's a natural, fruity smell that has some earthiness to it and isn't too sweet. For me, it's a very grounding, centered smell. In particular, I love bath products with a fig element.

My favorite fig products: The product that introduced me to my love of fig was Lush's Figs & Leaves soap, which is made with actual figs as well as orange and ylang ylang and is my hands-down favorite thing from Lush. More recently, I have been crazy about Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab's Carnal scent, which pairs fig with mandarin.

Rose: It took me a long time to warm up to rose, mostly because there is so much badly done rose stuff out there. Nicely scented rose products should smell like an actual rose, not your grandmother's underwear drawer. There is a weird underlying power or talculm scent in some rose stuff that I just cannot get behind. Real rose, though, is a pure, beautiful scent, and not just a floral but also an earthy, almost spicy note. I like to wear it because it makes me feel not only feminine, but somehow more mature and confident.

My favorite rose products: Once again, BPAL does an amazing job with rose. Their The Rose perfume is probably the perfect pure rose scent. I love the blends with rose even more, though, particularly Catherine, which is rose, rosemary, and orange blossom; and Mata Hari, which is a five rose blend with jasmine, vanilla, fig, tonka bean, mahogany, and coffee.

Clove: The more I experiment with scents, the more I realize that I strongly prefer "warm" scents to "cool" ones. I like spicy, rich scents. And nothing adds spicy and rich to a combination faster than clove. I mix clove with nearly as many things as I do lavender (though I do not mix them together!). I love orange and clove, rose and clove, vanilla and clove...I could go on. The smell of clove makes me feel warm and safe and at home.

My favorite clove products: Once again, I am awfully fond of my own clove blends, but nothing I've made can hold a candle to Villainess' Embargo. Embargo is a complicated scent, "Indonesian Patchouli spiked with imported spices - cloves, sandalwood, and cedarwood, and a drop of perfume - Tunisian jasmine, tuberose, lily of the valley, grape and Tahitian vanilla," but mostly, to me, it smells like a warm library. BPAL's Madrid is another great clove scent, mixing clove with red wine and mimosa.

So tell me, what smells do you love? Why? How do they make you feel? Do they invoke specific memories, or just general feelings? How important do you think they are in your life?

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Soap in review: Hill Country Haiku

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Chiara.jpgA lot of bath product junkies won't lower themselves to bar soap. They prefer shower gel or cream or butter, complete with a loofah or pouf or sea sponge. When it comes to the actual getting clean part of showering, though, I'm a purist. Bar soap and a washcloth for me, thanks. But I do like nice bar soap. And (big surprise) I'm kind of a collector of it. I can't go to an art fair or farmer's market or street festival without coming home with a few bars from whomever is selling there. In these parts, that means a lot of Austin Natural Soap and South Austin People, both of which I like (in particular, I'm a fan of Austin Natural Soap's 78704 and S.o.A.P.'s Christmas Love soap. Since those are the vendors I am used to seeing, though, I'm always excited to see new soaps around.

Yesterday, at a spring festival thing where our rescue had a booth, I hit the soap jackpot. A vendor I had never seen before and knew nothing about who was selling loads of big beautiful bars. I came home with six.

Hill Country Haiku is a one-woman shea butter soap making enterprise located out in Spicewood, Texas. The woman behind it, Margie Lemons, was running her own booth yesterday, so I got to speak to her briefly. Sounds like her soap making started out as a hobby and has grown from there, and she's clearly (and rightfully) very proud to say that every bar is 100% her work--she designs the soaps, makes them, molds them, cuts them, labels them, sells them, ships them, the works.

And they are beautiful. Each bar is oversized, perfectly trimmed, and nicely and minimally labeled (less waste!). Margie does use dyes, so her bars are a rainbow of colors and patterns. She has tons of scents available, too--it took me forever to narrow my list down to just six. (For the curious, I came home with Honey Bee Mine, Chiara and Blackberry and Sage from the Tried & True collection, as well as Hemingway, Peekaboo Pink, and His Own, which all seem to be limited scents). Each bar is $5.95, which is a good price considering they are at least 5 oz each.

But really, the look and scent of the dry bar is hardly the test for soap, is it? How was my shower?

Fantastic. I started with the Hemingway, which is an orange and brown swirled bar scented with kumquat and chocolate, and it's divine. Rich lather, very moisturizing, lovely and not too strong scent. Felt good in the shower, felt good when I got out. I think the bar is going to last a long while, too--the soap is nice and hard and doesn't fall apart when water touches it.

Lately, I've moved away from my usual local soaps and tried a few fancier varieties from online (mainly Villainess). The price of this soap is similar or slightly higher than what I usually pay at farmer's markets and fairs, but the quality is higher too. The bars are more evenly trimmed, harder, last longer. From what I can tell so far, the quality of the Hill Country Haiku soap is more similar to that of Villainess (or Lush) than the other local small batch soaps I've tried. Margie's soap isn't just as good as any I've gotten from a booth before, it's better.

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In my previous post about what I've learned from paying off my credit cards, Kasia asked how I managed to transfer it around to keep the interest low/non-existant. Since that's likely a question a lot of people I have, I thought I'd answer it here. Please keep in mind that this won't work for everyone, as the credit situation is changing all the time, and the cards and limits you can be approved for depend on your particular situation.

Also know I am doing this from memory, so the details may not be exactly right.

So, at the time I decided to get serious about paying down my debt, in January 2008, I had about $11,300 total. It was divided onto two cards, a Visa with my bank that has I think a 12% interest rate, and a Discover card with an introductory 0% rate that I got through a mail offer. The 0% card was maxed at I think $9,000, leaving about $2,300 on my bank card.

The first thing I wanted to do was transfer the debt that was on my bank card to a 0% card. So I went here and searched for cards with 0% interest on balance transfers. I found a card that had 0% for balance transfers for a year, and applied for it (I think it was this one). I was approved with I believe a $4,000 credit limit, so I transferred the whole $2,300 immediately. I was charged a fee for the balance transfer, but I honestly can't remember how much it was--I am thinking $60-$80. Since that $60-$80 works out to only 2.6% to 3.5% of the balance, I was ahead.

Next, I paid at least the minimums faithfully every month on both cards. This is very important with 0% balance transfer cards, as even one payment one day late gives them the right to jack your entire balance up to whatever interest rate they say (in the case of these cards, I think one would have been 18% and one 22% or something like that). The other thing to make sure of is NOT to use the cards, since that 0% is only for balance transfers and new charges accrue regular interest. This is especially important when you realize that the new charges don't start being paid on until ALL of the old ones are paid off, so you'll be accruing interest on them until the card is completely paid down.

Then I waited until the end of the 0% period, putting me sometime last fall/early winter. About a month before the end of the 0% period, I called both cards and asked if that 0% could be extended. I did this to save myself transferring the balances again if I didn' thave to. Both cards declined my request, so I went back out and searched for a new 0% card.

At that point, due to either a change in my credit rate or in the greater economy, it was a little bit harder to get a 0% balance transfer card. I was denied for the first one for which I applied, and the second one only gave me 6 months at 0% and a very low maximum (I think $3,000). Since I still had more debt than that, I applied for another card that was similar and got it as well. I then transferred what was left of my balance onto those two cards, paying another $60-$80 each in transfer fees.

Once again, I paid faithfully (using direct withdrawl to make sure I didn't miss a payment) and didn't charge anything new on those cards.

About a month ago, that six months was up. I still had about $3K left to pay off, so I applied again for a new 0% card and got one for 6 months with a maximum of $4,000. I transferred what was left from the other cards onto that one, paid another $60-$80 transfer fee, and have since been paying that one off.

At this point, I have three open credit cards. These are the original two (the Visa from my bank and the first Discover card I had) and the last 0% card that I just paid off. I will be closing the newest one and keeping the two older cards, as I have been advised that older accounts are better for the sake of your credit rating, and the Discover card does provide cash back incentives. Neither of these cards has a particularly good interest rate now, but as I don't plan to carry debt, that should not matter.

So how much did it cost me to pay this debt down? If I assume each transfer fee was $80, it cost $320 in transfer fees. I made no interest payments. The current average consumer credit card interest rate is 14.7%. If I assume interest at this rate, it would have cost $1,060.98 in interest to pay down the same amount of debt in the same amount of time (you can calculate that here). For that kind of difference, the juggling and opening and closing accounts was definitely worthwhile. I was concerned that it would mess up my credit rating to have opened and closed so many in a short time, but it doesn't seem to have done so.

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2009 Goal Progress Report, Week 16-17

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I missed last week, so I'm catching up for two weeks worth:

#1: Read one book per week.
I finished both The Secrets of the Fire King and An Unquiet Mind. I started the audio book Wicked (which is lame so far) and the book Under the Banner of Heaven (which I can hardly put down).

#2: Watch one movie per week.
I saw two movies: Dragonball Evolution (good God, don't bother) and My Fair Lady (incredibly offensive).

#6: Pay off my credit cards.
DONE!!!

#7: Save at least $100/month.
Done, and this goal is under revision.

#13: Build my freelance resume.
This is turning into one of the most productive goals I have this year. I'm buried in freelance work, much of it very very exciting.

Y'all, I'm doing well. But there is definitely room for improvement. My diet and exercise are...not. And I am not blogging as often as I'd like to be. Nor am I working on my house or cooking. I am hoping I can focus a bit more on these things in the future weeks.

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So, Gracie, what have you learned?

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I was listening to this story on the Obama Administration's new standards for credit card companies on NPR, and got to thinking about this whole credit card mess I just got myself out of.

What have I learned?

First, I still don't think credit cards are an inherent evil that should be avoided. While I do plan to close the 0% account I'd opened and transferred my debt to most recently to avoid paying interest on it, I will still have two open credit card accounts, which I plan to keep and use. Credit cards are a financial tool. I misused this tool. But I don't think cutting myself off from it is the way to keep that from happening again. I used credit cards responsibly for years before I got into this debt, and I plan to go back to that pattern.

Secondly, I don't feel like I was abused or misled by credit card companies. I have no doubt that people are, but I wasn't. I knew what I was doing when I ran up my debt, and I was very lucky to have been able to move it from 0% card to 0% card while I was paying it off to minimize the amount that having it cost me. (Note that I did pay a transfer fee every time I transferred it, so it wasn't free, but it was much cheaper than it would have been at 18% or whatever.) During this process, I've dealt with several major credit card companies and a couple of minor ones, and while none of them made any effort to help me, none of them sabotaged me either. I feel that I was treated fairly as someone who had entered into a contract and was holding up my end of that bargain.

However, I think my situation is somewhat different than a lot of people's. I ran up my debt by spending stupidly, not due to any catastrophe (beyond the initial vet bills for Chance, but that ended up being less than 1/4 of my total debt). I was employed at a decent salary the whole time. Making mimimum payments was always within my capabilities, and making more than mimimum payments was usually possible. I have no idea how the credit card companies' treatment of me would have changed had that not been the case, but I can't imagine the change would have been positive.

Someone asked me recently what this experience has done to my credit score. The answer, as far as I know, is not much. My credit score right now is 867 on TransUnion's 925 scale, which is considered excellent (freecreditreport.com). That doesn't yet reflect the last two payments I've made, either. I can only assume my continued good score is due to making all of my payments on time. My credit report shows one 30 days past due charge in the last 24 months, from when I missed a gasoline bill and carried a $37 balance for 2 months. That's it. Everything else is gold star paid on time. So, apparently, you can carry at least some debt without hurting your credit. I was worried that the number of new cards I'd opened in the last 18 months to keep transferring my balance would hurt my score, but it doesn't seem to have. Still, in the interest of keeping it up or boosting it further, I plan to close all but my two oldest cards (one of which has been open since 1997) and use them for small expenses and pay them off each month. I also plan to call and ask to have my credit limit on those cards lowered.

Basically, then, for me, the reprecussions of my stupidity seem to have been pretty mild. The only major one was spending the last 16 months feeling like a complete moron for having gotten into this situation for no good reason. And it is that I want to avoid in the future. Unfortunately for me, since I had to do both of these things, that means budgeting and saving.

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A very special Earth Day announcement

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This is a funny post to be writing in light of my last series of posts, but I can't not share this with you all.

Look down at my sidebar. Scroll down, I'll wait. See that debt reduction bar that's been there for months? See how it says 0 now?

Yep. I'm out! I made my last payment this morning and my credit card debt is now 0.

For those who haven't been playing along for months, I started my debt reduction campaign in January 2008, with nearly $12,000 in debt. That debt had been accumulating since July of 2005 when Chance died and I put my half of his $6,000 vet bill on my credit card. From there it grew.

Since January 08, my progress has been up and down. Some months I did great, other months my debt actually grew. But I've been able to hit it hard with my new job and freelance work this past month or so, and today I finally finished paying it off.

I can't tell you how I thrilled I am, both not to have it over my head anymore and to have finally achieved a financial goal I'd set for myself.

I'm still not a financial rock star by any means. I have a student loan, a car loan, and a mortgage. I have no retirement and next to no savings. But now, with this hurdle out of the way, I can begin to tackle those ones.

Truly, this is a great feeling.

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A few more thoughts on morality and money

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The last couple of posts have garnered more comments than just about anything I've ever posted here! Figures that would happen just as I'm too busy to give it the attention it deserves. If I haven't responded to your comment, please know that I have read it and am thinking about it (and am not mad at anyone). I just don't have the time I'd like to have to reply to everyone individually right now.

That being said, I do want to say a couple more things to clarify my position. To begin, I absolutely do think that there is morality in consumption. The ways in which we make and spend money are full of moral choices. I just don't think that, removed of all other factors, saving is a more moral choice than spending. Is saving a more moral choice than spending in environmentally destructive ways? Yes. Is saving a more moral choice than spending in ways that profit off other people's labor in unfair ways? Yes. But is saving, in a vacuum, more moral than spending? I don't think so.

There are a lot of ways to be immorally frugal. Buying whatever is the lowest cost, regardless of how and of what it was produced, when you have other options, just so you can have more money in the bank, is, to my mind, immoral. And I have a far bigger problem with that than I do with someone who has consumer debt but doesn't buy plastic shit made by slaves in sweatshops.

Personally, I am by no means a perfect consumer. I haven't ever quite broken my Target addiction (though it is much moderated these days). I strive to comprise most of my wardrobe of secondhand clothes, but as I've admitted here before, I'm definitely not above getting fed up and buying from a mainstream (read: sweatshop produced) store. I am more and more committed to supporting small businesses, and I do pretty well, but it's certainly not 100%. I'm not above my own moral reproach here.

But, as someone who is fairly suddenly and not very comfortably (upper?) middle class, I think my responsibility to spend well is far greater than my responsibility to spend less. It is important to me, and I hope increasingly important to the rest of my new class, to support my local economy with my dollars, to support independent artists and craftspeople and farmers, and to make a concerted effort not to line the pockets of the Walton family and their ilk. If I spend in ways that are helpful to my community and further my personal and political objectives, I think that spending is good. Better, in fact, than not spending at all. If I don't spend at all, the only person that helps is the me of the future.

I understand, or at least am beginning to understand, the importance of saving. Saving for the future, for emergencies, etc. I'm not saying that I think I or anyone else has a moral obligation to spend every dime, or to go into debt, in order to buy more local fair trade junk. But much of the frugality stuff I'm hearing and reading seems to me to just be miserliness by another name. Super for you if you can pay off your mortgage in four years and have a twelve month cushion in your savings account and never have a credit card, but what's the cost? To the economy you didn't support, and to yourself? If that way you were able to do all that super special saving was to only eat clearance food from Wal-Mart and never do anything fun, then sorry, you aren't going to get kudos from me. And if that journey has turned you into someone who thinks it is a waste of money to buy art, or to support charities, or to give gifts, or even to treat yourself to an occasional luxury, whatever your luxury of choice may be, then honestly, I don't think it did you a whole lot of good.

Obviously my thoughts on this subject aren't set in stone. I spend a lot of time thinking about money, both in the direct sense (i.e. how to do I save and spend my personal income?) and in a global sense. I don't have a lot of answers, at least not firm ones. But I am beginning to get more assured about speaking up when something makes me uncomfortable. The idea that salaries are secrets makes me uncomfortable. The myth that people are rich or poor based on how hard they have worked, rather than to whom they were born, makes me uncomfortable. And, most recently, the idea that you are a better person if you are far into the black makes me uncomfortable. I'm truly sorry if any WINOW readers find that offensive--it's not meant to be. But, as always, I'm glad to have this forum in which to work my thoughts out, and to hear yours in return.

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The (im)morality of debt

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This is kind of an addendum to my last post, but I found I had so much I wanted to say to the commenters on that post that I should probably just add a whole new topic. (Please note that I adore both of these commenters, I just happen to take issue with them on this topic.)

Christine said:

I believe a large group of people in trouble are where they are because they can't separate needs and wants very well.

Crystal said:

We've lived with minimal "stuff", many handmedowns, and no vacations for years, because paying off our debt (and not accumulating MORE) was our priority, as I think it should be for anyone with a debt.

I have a problem with both of these statements. It's not that I don't think there are people in trouble because they spend unwisely (been there and done that and still paying the bill), but I'm bothered by the assumption that we can judge for other people what a need versus a want is, and whether paying debt should be a priority. I am increasingly bothered by the overtones of morality in fiscal conversations like this one. Not having debt does not make you a better person. Have a frugal lifestyle and not spending frivolously isn't going to get you into heaven.

The older I get, the more I believe that our financial system is a game of random luck. Working harder doesn't get you more, being in the right place at the right time does. Sure, stringent habits can keep you afloat, but so can not getting sick or losing your job. Given that, what is the use of attaching morality to who dies with the biggest savings account balance?

Obviously it has become important to me over the course of the past year or so to pay down my consumer debt. I've worked at it, and I'm almost finished. I'll have paid something like $11,000 in 18 months--not pocket change. But I bristle at the idea that whether or not to try to do that is a decision I can make for anyone else (and at the idea of being judged myself for running up the debt in the first place and for not being more frugal and paying it down faster). Lenders sought me out and lent me money. There is absolutely no shame in my having taken it, nor, as long as I meet with whatever interest conditions are agreed upon (most of which are, in my opinion, ridiculous) in taking my sweet time to pay it back. Deciding I didn't want it in my life and paying it back was my decision, and it's one I'm happy with, but it doesn't make me a better person.

Similarly, deciding that I don't need to buy X, Y, or Z doesn't make me a better person, at least not for fiscal reasons. Supporting small businesses and fair labor practices and environmentally friendly products, and forgoing those I know to be made with slave labor and of environmentally damaging materials, might imply moral growth, but just spending less doesn't. A large majority of what I spend my money on may well be considered luxuries by many people, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't be doing it. The important part, to my mind, is that you use your resources--time, money, whatever--in ways that make you happy. Letting someone else judge what those should be makes absolutely no sense.

I understand that it's natural and even necessary for people to get more frugal in a recession. And I roll my eyes at a lot of big spending, too. But why can't all of our discussions about how to do things inexpensively come without the heavy layer of self-righteousness? What does a discussion about frugality look like without the moral underpinning?

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Poverty and luxury

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On an online forum I frequent, someone recently asked if the members thought it was OK for someone whose family receives food stamps to spend money to get a facial. Berefit of things to blog about recently, I thought I'd bring that question, and my thoughts on it, here.

First, yes, I absolutely think it's OK for someone who is receiving food stamps to get a facial. I believe that those who qualify for government assistance should receive it, and taking it doesn't make them any more in need of my (or anyone else's) monitoring their spending than not taking it would. So whether or not you get food stamps makes absolutely no difference, to me, in whether or not you should get a facial. You are in charge of your money and how you spend it.

The response to that from the right (and much of what passes for the left, honestly) is that if someone has money for facials, then they should leave the food stamps for someone who "really needs them." I call b.s. on that. The truth is that nearly everyone in the U.S., even those who are constantly preaching and bragging about their frugality, has luxuries. Our standards for receiving assistance are plenty low enough without trying to cut out anyone who spends any money on anything that we don't consider necessary, especially when that consideration is so subjective. For example, that facial money could be spent on cable, or zoo admission, or cigarettes, or books. All of these things would be serving some of the same purposes the facial does--relaxation, a feeling of brief luxury, entertainment. Would they all be subject to scorn? Is it really possible that we believe that someone whose income is low enough to qualify them for government aid deserves none of these things, ever?

Speaking of "deserve," I think that's part of what this debate is about. The idea that that the poor deserve only subsistence. I reject that notion. Everyone deserves more than subsistence. And given the extreme luxury in which the majority of this country (myself included) lives, it is extremely hypocritical for us to spout about other people's wastefulness. Chances are very high that we ourselves are wasteful, but we have much more trouble identifying our own wasteful natures than those we see, especially when we see ourselves as somehow subsidizing other people's spending, as we do in the case of recipients of government dollars.

Clearly, I think I deserve luxuries. I spend a stupidly huge portion of my income on them. Why, then, would I think anybody else doesn't? How small and miserly would I have to be to begrudge other people the things I think are nice and fun and pampering just because they have less disposable income than I do?

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2009 Goal Progress Report, Week 15 (belated)

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This is way late, but I want to keep up the habit, so I'm slipping it in here. Last week's progress:

#1: Read one book per week.
No progress here--didn't finish either book.

#2: Watch one movie per week.
Saw A Man For All Seasons for the Oscar project. Liked it quite a bit.

#6: Pay off my credit cards.
Made a big payment, and making another one this week. Currently, I plan for the entire CC debt to be gone by the end of the month. BIG SCORE!

#8: Learn a new craft.
Since I am pretty much too busy to think, last week seemed like an excellent time for this. I've taken up cross-stitch, with the hope to move on to embroidery after a bit. I've only done one little flower thing so far, but I like it a lot and plan to do more. Once I have something worth showing, I'll post a picture.

#13: Build my freelance resume.
This is going very, very well. I have several freelance grant applications in the works and am feeling really good about it.

Not a bad week, huh?

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Makeup review: e.l.f.

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Given my new obsession with cosmetics, I was anxious to try eyes lips face (e.l.f.). e.l.f. is sort of a "budget glam" line--basically, they make replicas of higher end stuff and sell them very cheaply (most of their products are $1 each). While the reviews I'd heard were mixed, and as was a bit dubious about getting what you pay for, I figured for a buck each, I could try things out from them. Plus I found a coupon code for buy-one-get-one-50%-off, which further reduced my tab. So I put in an order for the following:


The total cost of my huge order, after coupons and with shipping and tax, was just over $25.

Shipping was quick--the order arrived in just a few days, and there was so much there I was briefly overwhelmed. Then I started systematically trying the products.

The eyeliner & shadow sticks were absolutely worthless. They didn't leave much of a mark unless I pushed really hard, and what they did leave wore off almost instantly. The Shimmering Facial Whip looked and felt just like grease paint. The nail polish was about as effective as painting my nails with rubber cement.

I was really not happy with the first several things I tried. They weren't worth what I paid for them, even at $1 each. So I wrote an email of complaint to the company. I goit an automated response saying to expect it to take up to 72 hours to hear back from them. I waited ten days and heard nothing.

So I emailed again. This time, I received an apologetic response from a manager within a few hours. She apologized for my not liking the products, made some other suggestions of things I might try, and offered to refund my money for whatever products I didn't care for. I sent her a list of the things I had tried and not liked (by then I had been through everything), and she issued me a refund the next day. So I can definitely speak well of e.l.f.'s customer service.

As for the makeup, now that I've been through the whole order, I have found a couple of things worth using. The eye primer is very nice and definitely makes my eyeshadow last longer. Both of the lipsticks are nice, though they lack staying power. I hated the Pink Lemonade color stick, but loved the Persimmon one (just for my cheeks, though, it's ridiculous anywhere else). The concealer stick isn't great, but will suffice in a pinch.

So will I order from e.l.f. again? I don't know. They are having a 50% off sale on their slightly more expensive mineral line right now, which is sort of intriguing. I might try their mineral lipstick and they have some great eyeshadow colors. I'm also slightly interested in their "professional" studio line, since I do like the eye primer I bought from that set. So while my first experience with the company wasn't exactly a smashing success, it's possible I'll give them another go, based completely on their inexpensiveness and customer service.

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When deprivation begets addiction

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As a pre-teen and teenager living at home, I had the usual number of parental rules to rebel again. Retrospectively, they mostly make sense--I understand now why my mom wanted to know where I was going and with whom, and why she wouldn't let 14 year-old me go on a co-ed camping trip with my new 18 year-old boyfriend, and even, to some degree, why she balked at letting me out of the house in some of the outfits I picked out. One rule I absolutely hated then, though, and still sort of feel for my teenage self on, is the no smelly stuff rule.

Perfume was not allowed in my house. Neither were highly scented lotions or soaps, or candles or incense. The reason for this ban was my mom's sensitivity (she calls it an allergy, but I'm not sure it actually is in the clinical sense) to scents--both artificial and natural (fresh flowers weren't allowed in the house either). And she knew if you tried to get around it--I would try to apply perfume at school and she'd smell it on me seven hours later (the fact my perfume of choice was Malibu Musk probably didn't help). The embargo was total.

As soon as I left for college, I became a Bath & Body Works junkie. I may have worn the same pants every day for 90% of my freshman year, but I smelled like Cucumber Melon (in retrospect, not a huge step up from the Malibu Musk). I bought whole collections. I had a dresser drawer stockpile. I spent hours in that store. I was a bonafide stinky stuff junkie.

As I got more comfortable in my late-teen/early-20s alternative skin, I moved on from Bath & Body Works. I started wearing essential oils, and burning them. I colored my hair pink with that Jason's Pomegranate shampoo that that smelled like candy (I don't think you can get that stuff anymore, can you?). There was, possibly, patchouli involved.

At the beginning of my post-college "professional" career I found my happy medium in The Body Shop. I could smell good, use relatively earth-friendly products, and still shop at the mall! Since it had been a few years since living under my mom's no-scent reign of terror, I didn't take my smell quite so seriously anymore, but I never stopped using fun scented lotions and potions.

Then, a few years back, an online friend introduced me to Lush. And I was back in Bath & Body Works land, spending countless hours and dollars on bath bombs and melts, excessive soap, and fancy shampoo. I read Lush message boards. I planned purchases in advance. I re-built my stockpile.

Since then, you sort of know what has happened. I got disillusioned with Lush's extortionist prices and branched out to lots of smaller indie companies. Then I started making my own stuff, and then I started Crushworthy. My obsession with the scented and frou-frou plateaued into something manageable. A hobby and sometimes business, but not an obsession.

Now, though, I'm in the throes of Obsession: Round 3. Once again, it is courtesy of the amazing women I meet online. I've been introduced to the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab and their insanely named and charmingly goth perfume oils. First, it was just a few samples to try. Then a couple of message board posts to see if I could buy a few more samples for cheap. Now there's a spreadsheet, a storage plan, decanting, files on how different scent notes work on my skin. There are other, similar companies I plan to try or have already started trying (Villainess, Possets, Happy Housewife, Archana). There is a growing stockpile. What was intended as a trial run to see if I could identify one or two scents I'd like to wear on a daily basis has become an obsession to try everything, smell everything, possess everything.

(In case you are curious, my favorite BPAL scents so far are Mata Hari (rose, jasmine, vanilla, fig, tonka bean, mahogany, and coffee bean), Catherine (orange blossom, rosemary, and rose), Glasgow (wild blackberry and heather), and Lady Macbeth (Bordeaux wine, red currant, thyme and wild berries)--sensing any patterns?)

Why? Well, I blame my mom. Childhood deprivation has led to adulthood obsession. I buy and wear countless highly scented and expensive body products because I can, now. I'm making up for lost time.

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Notes from the bins

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Recently, someone I know online asked me if I had stopped thrifting. After I finished laughing, I assured her that yes, as long as I am breathing and have access to thrift stores, I'm still thrifting. I can't imagine it being otherwise. What I do seem to have stopped doing, however, is blogging about it. This hasn't been intentional--I just haven't though to do it. Due to being unusually busy, I have been thrifting less often than usual, and though my take is generally pretty OK, I haven't come home with anything so fantastic I felt the need to share it with the world in a while. But, since I was asked, and since this is pretty much my favorite subject, I thought I'd share the goods from my bins trip last night.

What you see here is the sum total of last night's trip. From the bottom left:


  • Three new greeting cards with envelopes, all of which read "These are but wild whirling words"--William Shakespeare. $.25 for three

  • Four plastic containers of Risk figurines, intended for Tiny Shiny Things jars, $.25 each

  • A hand knitted red cotton strawberry baby hat, $.25

  • A Panache appertif poster that is going to go in my bathroom, $.50

  • Three bags of new rubber jacks cat toys, $.25 each.

  • A small candle mold, $.25

  • A large candle mold, $.75

  • A package of three small red tins, $.25

  • A Bamboo Utensil To-Go set like this, $.25

  • A cool wooden tension toy/puzzle, $.25


Total with tax: $4.87

This represents what has become a very average trip for me. Nothing exceptional, but a few cute things, very little money spent, and very little new stuff that I don't have an intended use for coming into my house. I'm very happy with being in this stage of my thrifting career.

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Migraine musings

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I spent most of Sunday night and yesterday with a migraine. Thanks to some combination of genetics and hormones, I am prone to them. Thanks to better living through chemistry, I don't get them too often and I have pretty decent treatment when I do. However, for about 12 hours on Sunday/Monday, I was completely incapacitated. There was the pain, obviously, which is, for me, exactly like the "brain freeze" you get from eating ice cream too fast, only it doesn't go away.There was also the loss of peripheral vision and depth perception that goes with my migraines. And the loss of ability to think coherently or translate thought to word that comes with the medicine. All in all, not a wonderful combo, and one that left me sprawled out on the bed unable to sleep or move for far too many hours.

Another thing that accompanies my migraines is delusions. It's not full-on hallucination--I am, dimly, aware that I'm delusional, and I don't see things that aren't there (in fact, I don't see much of anything). Rather, it's grandious or incredibly horrible ideas. I often believe I am dying. I sometimes think my bed or room or house is moving. I sometimes smell things or hear things that aren't really there. And nearly always I am very sure it's never going to end. I am not only in horrible pain, with impared vision, but I'm permanently crazy.

I don't know how common these side effects are, or if they are connected to my overall mental health or not. I haven't done a ton of research on migraines, and delusions haven't come up in any of the reading I have done. Mostly, I just chalk it up to one more way in which my brain is not quite right and hope it doesn't get any worse.

Another really great aspect of the migraine drama is the hangover. I don't know if it is from the headache itself or from the drugs, but I spend 24 hours or so afterwards feeling like I had too much to drink. Woozy, tired, sensitive stomach--it's a joy.

So that's how I've been. How're you?

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2009 Goal Progress Report, Week 14

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It just occurred to me that I haven't done last week's goals update. Totally slipped my mind. Now that I look at my lack of progress, I think maybe I forgot on purpose. Oh well, next week will be better.

#1: Read one book per week.
Still listening to The Secrets of the Fire King, but it's almost done. Started reading The Unquiet Mind and am about 2/3 through it.

#2: Watch one movie per week.
I watched Oliver! for the Oscar project last weekend and hated it. Then M. and I saw The Watchmen in the theater and loved it.

#4: Improve my eating habits.
Dismal failure here this past week, but I'm back to tracking points now.

#5: Exercise regularly.
See above.

#6: Pay off my credit cards.
This past week has seen the balance go up, rather than down. However, that trend will reverse this week, so I should have better news to report on Friday.

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March Little Black Box

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March Black BoxAs I mentioned I was going to last month, I got March's Little Black Box. And I'm much more impressed with it than I was with February's offering.

It includes:

Like I said, much better than last time. I can't wait to try some of this stuff. And I'm likely intrigued enough to get April's box if I have the cash when it comes out. So stay tuned!

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Dog Rant: Use a collar!

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While waiting for his bus yesterday morning, Mark saw a dog across the street. The dog didn't seem to have a person, but it was just wandering around in a neigborhood, so Mark hoped its person was close by and go on the bus. Just as he did so, the dog crossed the street (using the crosswalk!) right in front of the bus.

The bus stop is on a busy major road. It's not remotely dog friendly. So Mark did what he felt he had to do, and I would have done the same. He resigned himself to getting to work late, got off the bus, and called the dog over to him (out of the street).

The dog was very friendly and came right to Mark. She was an older, overweight chocolate lab with some clear hip issues. No collar or tags.

So Mark borrowed a length of rope from the gas station next to the bus stop, looped it around to make a leash for the dog, and brought her to our house, a few blocks away. Then he called Animal Control to see if there as a missing dog report that matched her description. There was not.

Needing to go to work, Mark asked our neighbor if the dog could stay in her back yard until he got home and could figure out what to do about her. This would at least keep her safe and out of the street. She couldn't stay in our back yard, because our dogs, who are inside during the day, would go ballstic and tear the house apart if she was back there. Our neighbor agreed and Mark went to work.

When Mark got home, he tried to introduce the dog, whom he was calling "Pickles" (which is what we call all random dogs, for reasons unknown to me at this point), to our dogs. She was so friendly to him and to the neighbor, he thought she'd be fine. She wasn't. She growled and snarled at our Leo.

This is, always, our limitus test for dogs staying in our house. We will deal with many things, but threats to Leo are not acceptable. And so, by the time I got hom, Martk had already pretty much resigned himself to having to take the dog to animal control and hope for the best.

We decided, however, to take her on a walk through the neighborhood first, just to see if she would lead us to where she belonged, or if anybody would recognize her. So we leashed her up and began to walk, following her lead.

She led us through the neighborhood where Mark first saw her, then across the major street and down a side street. Along the way, we asked everyone we saw if they knew her, but nobody did.

Then we came to a Montessori School. A little girl and her mother were just leaving the school, and the little girl immediately ran toward her. We asked her mother if she recognized the dog, and she did! In fact, she said, she'd picked up th same dog less than two weeks ago, right here in the school parking lot, along with another dog, a Husky. After having both dogs for two days, she found their owner via a call to Animal Control. She knew the owner's name, and that he lived on the cul de sac of that street, but not which house. So we continued on with the dog, letting her lead.

And she led us directly to the last house on the cul de sac. There was a Husky in the back yard. And nobody was there.

After waiting a few minutes, we decided to ask the neighbors if they recognized the Lab. Just as Mark went to knock on their door, a truck pulled up and the owner of the house hopped out, thanking us for finding his dog, who had gotten scared and bolted during the storm the night before.

Then he told us that she gets out often.

I am very happy this all worked out. It's often not this easy. As much as you'd think maybe they should, dogs don't always lead you back to their homes. But also, honestly, I'm pissed. It is just not that hard to put a collar and tags on your dog. Then, if s/he gets out, the nice person who finds her can simply call you, rather than having to go on a wild goose chase, or make the tough decision to take your pet to an animal control facility that will, in the best case, be uncomfortable and tramautic for him/her.

The owner of this particular dog went on to tell us that since she gets out a lot, they microchipped her. And that's good, but it's not sufficient. A microchip is only useful if the dog is taken to a vet or animal control facility that can read it and find you. It's not useful in the least for the person who disrupts their life to scoop your dog up out of traffic. It's a back-up plan. It shouldn't be your pet's only indentification.

I'm not perfect. My dogs have gotten out before. Once, Huey even got out without a collar on, as we had taken it off to bathe him and hadn't put it back on yet. But that happened once. It should not and does not happen regularly. That would just be irresponsible.

OK. Rant/PSA over. Put a collar on your dog. That's all.

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