The high costs of eating meat

I’m not a vegetarian, and neither is the writer of this New York Times article, but it will make you think about what our nation’s out-of-control meat consumption is doing to our planet – and our bodies:

Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler, Jan. 27, 2008

Coincidentally: One of the pictures on the page — I almost didn’t notice it! — is of cattle at Harris Ranch in tiny Coalinga, Calif. One of my relatives used to work in the restaurant or gift shop at Harris Ranch, and my brother and I were born in Coalinga. Just some trivia for you.

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10 years of wedded bliss (ok, maybe not bliss every minute — but bliss now)

wedding_kiss_010398

Ten years ago today, Bruce made me his bride, and we have had very few dull moments. It’s kind of strange, but the last year or so has seemed like history repeating itself …

We had a small wedding planned for Jan. 3, 1998 — just family (including the justice of the peace, who was my brother’s father-in-law) and two good friends (my matron of honor and our photographer, Barney, who didn’t charge us for any of it). My brother’s house, complete with Christmas tree, fireplace and white poinsettias, provided the cozy setting.

I had never dreamed of a big wedding, even when I was a girl, so the preparations didn’t cause a lot of stress. We spent less than $1,000 on everything — rings, dress, veil, suit, license, flowers, cake. My mom handled the flowers and the cake (both provided by friends), and even the punch — she suggested raspberry, and I said OK even though I didn’t care for raspberry. I just wanted things to be as simple as possible.

Things were sailing along, only 11 days to go. Then I got a call at work — the afternoon of Dec. 23 — about my dad.

We got to the hospital five hours before he died, but he was really already gone before we arrived.

Christmas was never going to be the same.

And the wedding? My brother gave me away. I walked on the wrong side of him. I barely remember the ceremony. I couldn’t tell you what the cake looked like. I was numb.

That was 10 years ago today.

Nine years ago, a couple of weeks before our first anniversary, Bruce spent 16 days (including Christmas) in the hospital. They diagnosed him with Crohn’s disease.

He came home with an IV needle in his chest. By our one-year anniversary, I had learned how to hook up the battery-powered pump that fed him via total parenteral nutrition (TPN). By Feb. 1, he had graduated to baby food. By March 1, he was back at work full time. He had another hospital stay in early 2004, and he recovered more quickly that time. But his little body would never be the same.

Fast forward to Dec. 3, 2006. We lost Bruce’s dad, an Army Air Corps veteran who had served his country honorably as a young man but could not beat Alzheimer’s in his 80s. We went to California and buried him in a national military cemetery on Dec. 7, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

After that, Bruce was ready to forgo Decembers for a while.

In early 2007, my sweetie began getting sick again. For most of the year, he battled the Crohn’s. He was in the hospital in late May, again in late June/early July … and in December.

Over the past year, we haven’t celebrated birthdays, anniversaries or holidays the same way as usual. In fact, we’re no longer sure what usual is.

I have a new job that — along with battling the disability insurance people, caring for a sick husband and just trying to get through the holidays with a bit of sanity — has again made me numb on many days.

But Bruce and I have never been closer. Having never walked in his shoes, I cannot say that his illness has been a good thing, but I see aspects of it as blessings in disguise. We’ve spent more time together this year than ever, and our appreciation of each other has grown. We have battled common enemies (illness, bureaucracy, financial hardship, dog poop), and we have grown extremely close.

Tonight I came home from work, apologized for not buying him a gift — or even a card — received his apology, and drove to Burger King for a buy-one-get-one-free deal that we had a coupon for. Our 10th anniversary is a big deal, but failing to buy each other gifts or dine out — no big deal. We ate the burgers, then crawled into bed to watch holiday bowl games, content just to be together.

It sure beats hospital food.

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Bruce is taller than he looks here. He is slumping to show off where I “marked” him.

P.S. Happy birthday, Judy.

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I'm still here

I miss writing this. And I know how I feel when I visit my friends’ blogs and they haven’t posted in a while. I realize that my readership is limited to just a handful of people, but you are precious to me.

Just wanted to say hi.

My new job is a handful, to say the least. When I figure out how to juggle long workdays, a sick husband, health insurance and disability paperwork (practically a full-time job in itself), along with packing our house so we can sell it, I will post more. Until then, the pickings will be slim.

I miss you guys.

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Birthday flowers

birthday flowers

Yesterday was my birthday. My husband, who has been sick for several months, could not buy me a gift, but when I got home after nearly an 11-hour day at work, I discovered this little vase of flowers. What a way to refresh my tired spirit.

He found some tissue paper and drinking straws, and what more appropriate “vase” than a pill bottle? It sums up our lives for the past eight months.

He kept telling me he wanted to do more, wished he could have bought me a gift, but I told him this was the best gift I had been given in a really long time.

So I had to share this incredible gesture with you, my friends.

I love you, Bruce.

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Debt-free Christmas

As a volunteer budget coach, I encounter many people who have lived beyond their means and fallen into desperate straits. One of my goals in life is to teach people how to avoid the debt trap – or to climb out if they’ve already fallen into it. I don’t want to get too preachy, but this subject will come up over and over in my blog.

Now that Halloween is over, shoppers will begin hitting the stores with visions of Christmas bargains dancing in their heads.

Many of us will spend more money than we have, figuring that we must use plastic to finance our family’s happy holiday. We’ll worry about the bills in January, when we’re not so busy trying to make things sparkly and special, we tell ourselves.

Then January (or perhaps even December) rolls around, and we open the first bill. We had no idea we spent that much! And for what? A toy that gets shoved under the bed after two weeks (or less), a sweater that the recipient hates, decorations that will spend most of the year in the closet …

The Christmas season: The retailers love it. The credit card companies love it. And we love it … until the spending hangover.

No one enjoys the aftermath of a spending binge.

The problem, in my view, is twofold: too-high expectations and too little planning.

Great Expectations

Most of us have unrealistic expectations. We want our holiday celebrations to be perfect … or at least as close to those in our memories as possible. But those memories don’t have to include extravagant spending.

The best gifts I have received were homemade. I will never forget the tiny red wooden firetruck my brother made for me in the 1970s, when the TV show Emergency! was popular. Granted, my brother and I fought like cats and dogs most of the time, but that Christmas he gave me a priceless gift – the gift of his time, his effort and his heart – the only gift he could give on a kid’s salary of $0 (we had chores but not allowances). I don’t have the firetruck anymore, but I still cherish the memory of my brother’s gift.

Three or four Christmases ago, I (and my little sewing machine) made most of the gifts I gave my family (my in-laws received store-bought gifts); my friends and co-workers got homemade candy or cookies. Money was tight that year, and I chose not to worry that I wasn’t giving fancy or expensive gifts and to rely on my family to understand and love me anyway.

Lack of Planning

Giving homemade gifts required me to plan ahead (although I was still sewing at 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve). But avoiding overspending requires planning, too.

You may think it’s too late this year to shop within your means for Christmas. After all, if you haven’t been funding the holiday budget all year, there is little you can do now that it’s November.

If you haven’t budgeted for it (decided on the amount you won’t exceed and saving for it all year), the alternative is to adjust your expectations – and those of your family.

Yes, this is difficult. But it’s so worth it. The payoff is in less stress. Stress over having to make sure everything on everyone’s list is bought (and presented beautifully), having to have the perfectly decorated house, and thinking you have to buy each and every acquaintance and co-worker a gift.

And stress over having credit card bills that have no end. That, in itself, is incentive enough for me.

Stay tuned for ways to give that don’t require money (feel free to submit your own tips). Meanwhile, visit my favorite Web site about the art of living below your means: Debt-Proof Living (formerly Cheapskate Monthly).

Check out Mary Hunt’s book Debt-Proof the Holidays: How to Have an All-Cash Christmas.

Debt-Proof the Holidays book

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Arsenic and Old Spice

 

spicecookies

 

My close friends will not be surprised that my inaugural post is about baking cookies – one of my all-time-favorite activities.

Tonight’s bakefest coincided with another favorite pastime: watching a classic movie – specifically, my favorite Cary Grant movie, Arsenic and Old Lace. My husband and I watch it every year at the end of October (the movie is set on Halloween).

Now that I’ve revived this old recipe for Spice Cookies with Pumpkin Dip, it has GOT to become part of the annual ritual! I hadn’t made the cookies in several years, and I don’t know why. They were so yummy, I could have eaten all 164 (yes, 164) of them. They’re great just a couple of minutes out of the oven, still warm and chewy.

Saturday is our community’s ShareFest, and I was asked to make two dozen cookies for our church’s volunteer crew. I didn’t remember that this recipe made so many spice cookies. Looks like there will be plenty to share.

Which is another of my favorite activities … sharing baked goods straight from my oven.

Spice Cookies with Pumpkin Dip
From Taste of Home magazine, October/November 1995 issue

NOTE: Dough must chill for several hours.

Spice Cookies
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup molasses
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon salt
Additional sugar for rolling

In large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add molasses; mix well. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt; add to creamed mixture and mix well. Chill dough overnight.

Preheat oven to 375º F.

Shape into half- to one-inch balls; roll in sugar. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake 6-9 minutes or until edges begin to brown. Cool 2 minutes before removing to wire rack.

Pumpkin Dip
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
15-ounce can pumpkin
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Beat cream cheese in mixing bowl until smooth. Add pumpkin; beat well. Add sugar, cinnamon and ginger; beat until smooth. Serve with cookies. Refrigerate leftover dip. (Makes about 3 cups.)

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