Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A lesson in education

  
I'm ready to pass the torch.

I'm over 40 and I've been working since I was 15 years old. 

Unfortunately, I have no savings and I'm deep in debt. 

I also have student loans totalling more than $70,000 that I've managed to put off paying by applying for forbearance every year for the past 10-plus years. No, those loans weren't always that high! I think when I stopped going to college (just about one semester's worth of classes shy of getting my bachelor's degree) they totalled around ... I forget. I don't want to throw a number out there and be wrong. But with interest accruing every month you can imagine how much of that current number is interest alone. 

And getting bigger with every passing year. 

So great, I've avoided default. But I feel hopeless at the idea of being able to pay that back in full in my lifetime. 

I won't lie: part of me doesn't want to pay it off. Well, not all of it. I wish I hadn't listened to my dad; he meant the best for me because he really believed that having a college degree would set me up for success in life. He didn't understand that along with that degree I also needed a healthy understanding of the financial side of it. Both my parents, God bless them, believed in the power of having a good education, and they're right. But they were only half right. 

My financial "education" - the early years

We were never wealthy by any means. We were "rich" in the sense that, compared to billions living in third world countries around the globe, my family had a roof over our heads, food to eat, clean water to drink, and decent clothes to wear. We also had a car to drive. We were always free to worship at the church we attended, cast our vote, walk freely in the streets without fear of being targeted. In that sense, yes, we were wealthy, comparatively speaking. But compared to people living in the same city, even down the same street? Our house was small -- 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, for three adults and two kids -- we didn't have central air, my room which I shared with my sister was basically the attic (which wasn't insulated), we lived in the inner city, our meals were small and we drank water, not milk, with our meals (although that's hardly a bad thing; years later I figured out that might have been the biggest gift my parents gave me: the gift of healthy eating), our clothes came from thrift stores sometimes, and the cars we drove were always used. Always. 

My dad grew up during the Depression (yes, he was older than your typical parents are when I was born). His view of money was stark, to say the least. He knew how important having a savings was, and expressed as much to us regularly; he also referred to debt by what it really is -- slavery. He often implored my sister and I NOT to go into debt, for that reason. I recently learned that my dad was very good at building a savings so we could go on family vacations during summers when I was growing up. Vacations, mind you, which forged my passions for road trip adventures, the great outdoors, and writing. 

So that should have formed quite a healthy understanding of how money works, right? Except he could sometimes be rather negative and off-putting in his delivery of that message. It is said that people from his era, especially men, tended to be negative because that was an overriding trait of that generation, due to the oppressive living conditions of the Depression era. I don't know how true that is, and I would argue that's just a personality trait in general, because I know plenty of negative people of all ages. It was certainly true of my dad. He kind of had the attitude that having lots of money and investing it in the stock market was a fool's errand. He had the right ideas as far as some basics of financial health; he just had a very negative, narrow way of communicating that. 

My mom, on the other hand ... she had a more liberal view of money, shall we say. She and my grandma, her mother, knew all about retail therapy before such a thing was even a thing. And since I often accompanied my mother when she went shopping, I would get treated, not just to getting my own things, but to the number one dynamic that drives this country: consumerism. What money can buy. I do not blame my mom. She is one of the nicest, most big-hearted people you will ever meet. Also highly intelligent and compassionate. She taught me some very important life lessons that serve me to this day, and I love her dearly. 

Both my parents taught me the kinds of things parents are supposed to teach their children in order to become contributing, law-abiding members of society. They did an excellent job raising me and my sister. The one thing they weren't really very good at, however: how to manage one's finances. 

Starting work - my first job

I got my first job scooping ice cream at the Häagen-Dazs at the mall. I was 15 years old. I had to get a work permit in order to get that job. I think I was making $3.50/hour. My motivation for getting the job? Wait for it -- I wanted to go on a cruise for fans of the Monkees. Yes, you read that right. Back in 1988 I subscribed to the Monkees fanzine, which is where I saw the cruise advertised. I figured out I'd need $3000 in order to go. And I spent around 10 months working and saving up all my money. I went on that cruise, including the plane ticket there and back, and even got a few souvenirs. 

That was the only time I saved up any significant amount of money, in three decades of working a wage-earning job. 

After I graduated high school I found myself inundated with credit card applications. This was 1990. Nobody but my dad warned me about applying for those things -- as a matter of fact, I think that's when the speeches about how being in debt is like being in slavery started in full force. I waved off my dad's exhortations to throw them in the trash, because, being a teenager I pretty much knew better than him. Sadly, I tended to not listen to him during those years (except on the one thing I shouldn't have listened to him). And I am regretting it now. The first credit card I ever applied for was an American Express card with Chase bank, and in all my 17-year-old wisdom they approved me. Suffice to say, that ended in disaster pretty soon after it began, and my credit history officially started off on a bad foot, before I even turned 20. 

My credit history was never "good" after that. 

School as the answer

Along the way my dad kept pushing me to go to college. However, since I discovered the way to make money was by working a job, and since I knew that once I finished high school I could go full-time and make even more money, I'd pretty much made up my mind that's what I was going to do so I could buy myself more stuff. You know, the stuff I went without growing up. I did not want to be dragged down with college classes when I just got finished with high school. So I made the conscious decision to put off college until I was "ready" (not that I had any clue what that meant, exactly). 

I did take one class in the fall following my high school graduation, partly to appease my dad and partly to see if perhaps it was something I wanted to pursue: a drawing class at the art museum. At the time, my dad was employed as an adjunct professor at the University, and because of that I was able to get a free ride to college, minus the general fees that everyone has to pay. That's part of why my dad pushed me to go to college; he was able to provide that for me and my sister through his work, which is why he went into that job in the first place.  

To say I didn't fully appreciate what was offered to me back then is the understatement of the century. 

And then the University changed Presidents, and the new President did away with making a college education so accessible to family members of employees of the University. The perks were still available ... but only up until age 26. Among other things. This new wrinkle happened about a year or two before I turned 26. So that basically quashed my chances of completing a degree on a free ride. It made my dad angry; not with me, but with the new President. My dad went from pushing me to go to the University to encouraging me to try the other college in town. Never thought I'd see that day! He was really bitter about that. 

I did eventually wind up going to college full time about 5 or 6 years after I graduated high school. My dad, bless his heart, gave me this unfortunate advice: "Just get the education; worry about paying for it later." 

So ... after working factory jobs those years after high school and deciding he might be right after all, I applied for and received federal grants, enough to pay for my college in full, minus books. Again, I had the opportunity to go to college for free. But it wasn't enough. I discovered I was also eligible for Direct loans on top of the grants and could get them all if I wanted. This is because to the Federal Government I looked quite poor, so I qualified for just about everything. At the time I thought that since I'm eligible I might as well take it all, and figure I'd figure out a way to pay it back "later" (not that I had any clue what that meant, exactly).  

Keep in mind, this is all happening in the 1990s. If there existed financial education targeting people like me I was unaware of it. Nothing was offered to me, and the people in my tight-knit circle of influence never tried pulling me back from jumping off this cliff. Not that I blame them, and knowing how I was back then, I probably wouldn't have listened to them anyway. 

Still, it does boggle my mind that that level of financial responsibility can be offered to people like me without accompanying education. I mean more than the Promissory Note that you sign when you take out those loans. Not everybody comes into this world with the proper fear of financial obligations that one should have when it comes to that kind of financial agreement. You get that when you apply for a mortgage, which is in many cases the same amount of money! And that's for a roof over your head! Of COURSE you're going to go to great lengths to keep the roof over your head! Maybe not so much to make sure the student loans are paid back when you realize college is not for you, or you change careers, or you're just a hopeless dreamer and drifter like me. 

From school to career

In the fall of 1999 I began work in what is my current career path -- broadcast television news production. A dinosaur if ever there was one. (That is a whole 'nother blog post. That could very well be the subject of a whole 'nother blog: my experiences over the years.) This career path proved to be lucrative and fraught with peril, all rolled into one for me. I stuck with it because of the rewards and benefits: it was my first job that came with paid vacation time. I also discovered it was my ticket for travel -- there are TV stations with production departments all over the country. I could pretty much pick a spot on the map, wait for a job to open up there, and go to it. That's exactly what I did moving down to Florida. 

I was winding down my senior year of college and only had about two to three semesters left to finish my degree which was going to be a Bachelor of Arts in Film and Video. I felt it was time I started looking for a job, since I knew it would be awhile before I'd make it as an independent filmmaker in my own right. I never watched the news because to be honest, it didn't interest me in the slightest. But it was essentially a video production, and ergo in my career path. I figured it had to be better than delivering pizzas, which is what I was doing at the time. I'd certainly learn valuable skills working at a TV station and be exposed to networking opportunities. 

I will never forget my first day on the job. I was hired as a part-time camera operator to work on the early morning shift. My day began at 3 a.m. and my work shift began at 4 a.m. I showed up, they let me in, showed me around. It was about what you'd expect to find in a newsroom at 4 a.m. -- people buzzing around, the smell of coffee strong in the air, printers going. 

Eventually they handed me a pair of headsets and got me set up in the studio. I put the headsets on and heard so many voices in my head. It was all quite overwhelming. As we got closer to show time I noticed the two anchors were bickering. The voices coming through the headset got more urgent. I heard a countdown, the very first time I heard a countdown to a live broadcast - as anyone who has ever worked in this business will tell you, it was a magical, thrilling time! The crew is about to go live and they only get ONE chance to get it right! So the countdown becomes very important. 

The person giving the countdown said, "A minute thirty". Only a minute and a half to air! The bickering between the two anchors was getting worse. "One minute." This is what stuck with me all these years -- at that point in the countdown the female anchor began crying. I was shocked. What in the world were they going to do?? Tears were streaming down her face. I heard the director (also female) say, "Oh no, he's got her crying ... " I really had no idea how they were going to recover. This was the most thrilling thing I'd ever witnessed. 

The countdown got us closer and closer to air time -- "Thirty." Meaning, thirty seconds to air. She is crying. The male anchor keeps egging her on. "Fifteen." The camera op I was shadowing, a decades-long veteran of this business, turned and looked at me and shrugged. Then the countdown from ten began ... " ... five ... four ... three ... two ... one ... you're up."

It was at that moment I witnessed the real magic. In that countdown, I watched as the female anchor wiped away her tears and when the giant, red "ON AIR" light popped on, she suddenly broke into a big, magnetic smile as if she never cried a day in her life, and proceeded to deliver the news with the most enthusiasm as I'd ever seen.

I was hooked. 

And that pretty much spelled the end of me bothering to finish my degree. 

I tried over the years, I really did. After I'd worked at that TV station a couple years I moved up the ranks and got increasingly more responsibilities as I trained on more and more crew positions. My dad died during that time. It completely devastated me and I quit the business briefly. Eventually I went back, mainly for the health insurance benefits. At some point I was ready to move up and out. I searched for and landed a job working in a bigger market a couple hours away, making more money. So since I was no longer in the same town as the university I started my degree in I had to either put it on pause, or look for other options. Sadly, I was in the middle of a semester when I was offered that job. I chose to take the job rather than finish those classes. Talk about regrets. I was getting straight 'A's and had perfect attendance, and would have been one class away from finishing my degree had I stuck it out. It kills me whenever I think about it. Unfortunately, in the news business if you don't jump on a job offer when it's available, who knows when it will be available again. I was desperate to get out of my hometown, too. I was 29 years old, so I was also feeling the pressure of, what am I doing with my life now that I'm almost 30?

I eventually enrolled in the local college there, and signed up for a class, but after three days I never went back. More money wasted. I really figured I was on a great path to paying back those loans, now that I seemed to have found my niche in life. The upward motion in television news can take you to network level if you're good enough. Those are six-figure union jobs. You get up there, you are set for life. 

Thing is ... after doing this for more than 15 years, and now that I'm finally willing to admit that I'm actually miserable at my job and I hate it, I really could care less about making network level. Why push myself toward that if that's not what I want? I had an epiphany recently, especially after reading Natalie Bacon's blog post about quitting her six-figure salary job -- I never liked news to begin with. My background and passion are artistic writing and documentaries. The TV station job was supposed to be a stepping stone at best; never a career path! 

I shelved my education for that path. 

Whatever, I think I've exhausted what I hoped to get out of it. That is not a business I care to become a "star" player in, not on either side of the camera. 

But, I've still got bills to pay ... more than ever before. 

Coming full circle

I don't think I behaved any differently than many, many people my age, back then, before my time, and now. People get themselves into financial binds all the time and then find themselves in their 40s, unfulfilled, and still owing tons of money. I would argue that nowadays, people just starting out as I once did have no excuse, because the type of financial education that exists nowadays was simply non-existent 20 years ago. And not to mention the internet. The internet certainly existed 20 years ago; but smartphones didn't, and Google was barely a startup back then. Whereas nowadays you can find blogs about personal finance in many flavors, literally at your fingertips ... that kind of thing just didn't exist back then. 

Now I'm not saying I should get out of my financial obligations; what I want, what I've always wanted, is for someone, some agency to become the financial mentor I never had! I had mentors for EVERYTHING growing up -- I was never at a shortage of mentors. I am truly blessed! But financial mentors were like a mythical fantasy creature. I don't want someone to bail me out, or even to save me from myself, but rather someone to hold me accountable for my financial choices. Someone to be that voice in my ear, that angel sitting on my shoulder to counter the army of devils all around me at every turn. Someone committed to turning me into a responsible person with my money! In some areas of life you need a coach. This is where I desperately need a coach!

I'm pretty sure agencies and people like that exist. Maybe not in the area of the country I live in (or maybe it does and I just haven't found it). But I seriously doubt I'm the only person to have this epiphany. 

In the meantime, I continue to seek solid financial advice and motivation on my own. I treasure the few blogs I've stumbled across that feel like they are speaking directly to me, such as FinanceGirl, and Money Under 30. Even though those two blogs in particular target millennials, I find the advice to be just as helpful for me. The irony is I bought Suze Orman's book, The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom back when it was first published in 1997. Well, it was probably 1998 or 1999 by the time I bought it. I instantly adored Suze Orman and still do now. I'd heard her radio show and TV show here and there over the years. I love her blunt approach. I appreciate how she tells it like it is, no sugar-coating things. I never want my financial management sugar-coated! I hate being in debt and not knowing how I'm going to get out of it! 

But I never really gave myself a chance to sit down and take notes on that book, and take it to heart. It got put on the shelf of "someday" (not that I had any clue what that meant, exactly ... seeing a pattern here?). 




Dear readers, please tell me what you think. Give me your honest thoughts, no matter what part of the financial spectrum you're on right now, even if it's to tell me you think I'm stupid. But if you're going to tell me I'm stupid I want to know why. And spoiler alert: I already know I've done lots of stupid things over the years! *wink* 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Today is National Duran Duran Appreciation Day!

The post below is my from my own blog, originally posted in 2009, and which I am re-posting in honor of today. Unlike the original post I am replacing the video with Duran Duran's "Rio" video for obvious reasons: to also honor the Olympics happening right now in Rio de Janeiro!

Enjoy!


August 10, 2009 ~

An hour of research later and I totally understand now why this day exists.

I've been sitting here blipping Duran Duran songs like crazy on my Blip.fm station (where I am the much sexier DJ SolarSoda), and looking up lyrics as I go along, and just generally getting a crash education on their history to prepare for today's post. All I really knew about Duran Duran involved their early big hits like Hungry Like the Wolf, and their unique sound has a way of catapulting me back to 7th-grade like few others. I am positively thunderstruck as I listen to their music now ... this is great stuff! Their music is more sophisticated than I remember, although I'm here to tell you The Reflex - the video as much as the song - really captured my 12-year-old imagination in a way I never forgot over the years. The lyrics are deep, deeper than I was expecting, and eclectic. I'm having a blast picking songs I'm pretty sure I never heard before in addition to the ones I grew up listening to in the 80s. So far I have not been disappointed.

So yes I understand now why there is a National Duran Duran Appreciation Day. Here is a band that deserves it's fame in my book.

Besides Simon Le Bon is still pretty HAWT!... actually, they're all pretty hot. Musical talent + pretty boy looks = WIN!




Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Switching From a Credit Union, or Bank, to a Prepaid Debit Card

Next month will be the one-year anniversary of me switching to a prepaid debit card. Here's my story.

Tell me if you can relate to this: a year ago, I was drowning in non-sufficient funds fees, or the dreaded NSF fees.

I was so over it!!

I was living paycheck to paycheck and living outside my means. I lived outside my means because the credit union I belonged to allowed me to -- for a price. And the price was the NSF fee, to the tune of $29 a pop.

I learned I could go just about anywhere and even if I didn't have enough money in the bank I could swipe the card and just pay a really ridiculous fee for it later.
Example #1: I don't have enough to get everything on my grocery list. Well, I worked some overtime, I'll just pay the NSF fee and make up for it next paycheck.
Example #2: Hubby is sick and we have to go to the urgent care center. I don't quite have enough to cover the cost, but oh well! What's another $30 on top of the $85 doctor bill?
And so the cycle perpetuated itself.



I remember a time when banks declined your debit card at the point of sale. If you were trying to buy something without having enough money in the bank, you were denied. It was embarrassing. You're standing in line at the grocery store or Walmart, you swipe your card hoping against hope this purchase will go through ... and then you see the dreaded "CARD DECLINED" show up on the card swipe display. Everybody standing behind you gets to watch as you walk away, leaving behind everything you carried up to the register. It's mortifying.

Anybody else remember those days?

Until the banks figured out how to turn that embarrassment into a way to make themselves some money.

Fast-forward to where I was a year ago.

Clearly, I was someone who needed intervention. I would have gladly received it. I often went into the credit union to pay my landlord (we used the same credit union) and expected them to pull me aside and say, "We noticed you have a little problem." I would have totally agreed with them. "Yes," I would have said, "I do have a problem. What can I do about it?"

I knew I could swipe that card, even if I was $100 in the red, and those transactions would go through.

I also knew it was a downward spiral that I had no idea how to stop.

You know what stopped me?

I stopped me.

NOT the credit union.

The beginning of the end

It got to a point where my checking account was more than $300 overdrawn. Savings? Pfft. What savings?? (That misery is a whole 'nother blog post.) I logged on to check my account one day to get the exact amount I was overdrawn, with the intention of walking into the branch to discuss how I could pay it off. To my horror I saw the amount had increased dramatically -- it was over $500 now. ALL of the extra overage came from decline fees. I had a couple of monthly subscriptions trying to go through, one for $6, one for $9, and one for $4. Nothing I couldn't live without, one was for anime and one was a music streaming subscription. I did not realize the payments were trying to go through and getting declined ... and each time it was getting declined the credit union charged me $30!!! 

I was incredulous. To say the least. I also felt betrayed. Did they not see I was already deeply in trouble with my account? I called them to see if they could reverse those charges. I explained (something I felt I shouldn't have had to do since it seemed so painfully obvious!) that I was already having trouble paying the previous overdrawn amount, could they perhaps work with me if I cancel my subscriptions?

(Not to mention ... $6 per month!! $6 per month!!!! They CONTINUED charging $30 each time a $6 charge was declined. How did they honestly think that made sense for an account that was already so badly overdrawn??? I mean I get it, the credit unions and banks have a system set up and the system was just doing its job. And I know they have rules, and the rules say if you try to charge something when you're overdrawn the credit union charges a fee. But it seemed to me someone, somewhere along the way should have seen it and red-flagged my account or something, sent me an angry letter, given me an angry phone call. SOMEthing. But no.)

When I called to speak to someone about it I was told to apply for a "Signature Loan" or otherwise come up with the $580 or the account would be closed permanently in a week (the end of the month).

Their solution for me was to apply for a loan. Me, who clearly has trouble paying money back! I thought it was a joke. I waited for the person on the other end to start laughing and then say, "Just kidding!!! We see you're in a world of trouble and we'd like to offer you an alternative in the form of education. Are you interested?"

But that is not the conversation that happened that day.

They weren't willing to work with me. They offered no alternatives. I felt utterly hopeless and betrayed. I thought, okay, so I haven't been the most brilliant client, but they have to see I've been continuously employed by the same company for nearly a decade, because I've had all my paychecks direct-deposited to them all this time. Doesn't that count for something? Obviously I can hold down a job.

My response to the lady on the phone was, "Well I am unable to come up with that money right now. Thank you for letting me know ... " I hung up from that phone call and despair settled in like blue-green algae on a Florida beach in July.



I knew about prepaid debit cards because I saw brochures where I got my payday loans (another vicious cycle, yes; one I got out of and will tell you all about that in a later post). I took one of those brochures home with me to take a closer look.

Okay, before I lose you completely, let me ask you this: have you looked at prepaid debit cards recently? No, really. Because I sure hadn't. Last thing I knew about them was they were sketchy at best because they usually came with a bunch of fees.

Prepaid debit cards are different from secured credit cards, although the mechanic is essentially the same: you load the card with money and then you can use it just like a bank debit or credit card. With a prepaid debit card you don't improve your credit score (you don't make it worse either; the prepaid debit card has no bearing on your credit score one way or another), whereas the secured credit card does.

I was at the point where I could care less about my credit. Finding out that information about my credit union checking account was like getting punched in the stomach. I have never in my entire life, since I've had checking accounts, ever let my banking habits get to this point. I've had a checking account open for more than 20 years. It felt like I hit rock bottom.

So, prepaid debit cards? Sure! Why not? How bad can it be? At first blush it appeared to be not so bad.

And I took a closer look.

And it turned out to be the greatest single financial decision I'd made in a long, long time.

Many different types of cards, rewards

It turns out there are a LOT of prepaid cards out there. After researching a few that stood out to me, I ultimately decided to go with NetSpend and I haven't looked back.

Prepaid debit cards DO decline you at the point-of-sale, just like the good ol' days! Well, for me it basically forced me to live within my means.

But that's not all!

I discovered some also come with cash back rewards.

And a savings account with a 5.00% APY interest rate!

And web banking including a budgeting tool!

And I can design my own card!

And most importantly -- your money is FDIC-insured. Which means, it's basically a bank account, but without paper checks (and really, who still uses those things, anyway?).

And it turns out -- in the case of the card I ultimately wound up going with -- they do give you a tiny cushion in case you spend more than you have: $10 to be exact. And the fee? $15, with a maximum of 3 charges per month!!

I had to read that part again.

So I'll never pay more than $45 per month in overdraft transactions???

IT'S TRUE!!!

Full disclosure: I do pay a monthly fee of $5 to use this card.

But before I was paying $29 per transaction every time I used the credit union card when I was overdrawn. With this prepaid debit card I will NEVER be overdrawn, at least not more than $10!

And a year later, I've managed to avoid overdraft fees altogether!! 

A true success story

A year later and I've finally gotten ahead on my monthly bills. I pay them early or on time now. No more robbing Peter to pay Paul! I still don't have a savings but I'm on firm footing now to get one going.

Sorry if this sounds like a commercial but I love using my NetSpend Prepaid Debit Card.

So what other cards are out there? And which ones would I recommend?

I can't tell you which one to use, if you're thinking about getting one. If your bank offers their own prepaid debit card, I'd go with that option first. Otherwise my top 3 picks are:

  1. The American Express Bluebird card is a great one, and got high marks on this NerdWallet review of prepaid debit cards
  2. The Mango card, which scored #1 out of a review of 10 such cards on this website
  3. And finally, the NetSpend Prepaid Debit Card which I use. 

Epilogue

I still go in to the credit union where I used to have an account to pay rent to my landlord. Occasionally they'll ask me if I'm a member. I simply say, "No". I don't volunteer any more information that that. I have never paid back what I owe and I don't intend to. Just because it's legal for them to charge those fees doesn't make it right! Many articles I read call it "legal extortion". However, I have noticed they now offer their own prepaid debit card. Oh, the irony! In fact, I'm noticing a lot of traditional banks are offering them nowadays, because there are so many people out there like me who really benefit from using them, and who need them.

Ultimately, you need to do your research as I did before making a final decision. The prepaid debit card is certainly not for everyone. I have no problem paying $5 per month to use the card. I'm living within my means for the first time in years, and you can't put a price tag on the peace of mind that brings.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Recipes, and photos

Today's writing challenge on BlogHer.com is about photo-inspired kitchen wizardry. More specifically, "Do you sometimes make recipes due to the accompanying photo?"

The visual writing prompt is Bokeh.

I'm not really sure at this point what I'm going to write about, and frankly, I'm not particularly inspired by either of those subjects. I love bokeh -- I just don't feel inclined to write about it.

But here's a picture of my doggie, my little man, Sattva (ZAHT'-vuh ... second half of bodhisattva) (which I just found out is the name of a horse running the Preakness this weekend; the horse is the same color as my little man Sattva!):


It's kind of hard to see his color in this pic because of the filter I put on it. But it's a bokeh filter from a photo editing app on my smartphone, PicsArt. I love PicsArt.

As far as diving into recipes based solely on the photo alone ... umm, have you HEARD of Pinterest? Hel-lo-oo, I gain weight just looking at the delicious yumminess on that website! It's not fair!! And the blogs out there dedicated not only to delicious food but equally delicious photos to go along with them are too numerous to mention. Thank God for small favors, I say. I've seen more than one blogger whose passion for photography matches their passion for food. Here's one: The Simple Veganista. She explicitly states that she loves taking the pictures as much as preparing her subjects. And she's really good at it.

Speaking of food -- and bokeh -- here's a picture I took of the sign outside The Spaghetti Warehouse in Toledo, Ohio. Again with the lovely bokeh filter from the PicsArt app.


The air temperature was in the single digits when I took this picture. We won't even discuss the wind chill. This was taken on January 25, 2014. I just absolutely adore the vintage look the filters lend to this shot. It makes bone-chilling cold seem friendly. And delicious.

I do love living in this digital age.

I love that I can capture pictures like this ... on my phone. 

*** DIGRESSION ALERT***

Last night I saw the movie Hackers for the first time. I was drawn to watch it because the actor Jonny Lee Miller is the lead. Miller is also the star of one of my absolute favorite TV shows (oh; I should add that to my profile) in production right now, Elementary. I can't stand the character Miller plays -- Sherlock Holmes -- but I adore his performance. Miller has a sublime gift. He's brilliant. And he's surrounded by talent matching his in the form of Lucy Liu, Aidan Quinn (mmm, Aidan Quinn ... ....... .....................) ... oh sorry, I'm back, heh, and also Jon Michael Hill. The writing, the directing, the acting ... some of the best commercial production around. I say, kudos to CBS for making TV better with this show! The dialogue is so complex, I have a hard time following it. And I mean, c'mon, who doesn't love Lucy Liu??? She plays Joan Watson. Yes, that's right, Joan Watson. And I don't care what kind of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle purist you are, she owns it. The whole cast absolutely kills it, week after week after week.

I can't tell you how many people I've met who are watching the British version, Sherlock, and they won't even consider watching Elementary. I mean, I get it; when you experience something as well done as those shows are, anything that smells remotely sacrilegious to the original, pure inspiration seems unbearable. But it drives me crazy. If one were going to attempt to rewrite Sherlock Holmes, CBS productions managed to assemble exactly the right people to pull it off with Elementary. It's worth watching one lousy episode, at least.

It just really bugs me when people draw conclusions about something they've never experienced, never looked into or looked up.

*** DIGRESSION END ***

The point of bringing that up, about seeing Hackers, is that it got me thinking about how far we've come since that movie came out. And I love all of it. Life is better now for all the technology we have. It's a blessing.

Yes, it's being used to hurt people.

So are knives.

Knives can be great, when they're used to cut fruit or carve wood. But just like the internet, knives are a tool. The internet and computers (and knives) are not inherently evil, nor do they attract evil by their nature. Because the internet and computers are also doing great things by bringing positive messages to people who really need to hear them, and by bringing people together who otherwise would remain separated.  Among other things. More importantly, I seriously doubt God put the grey matter between our ears to sit there and look pretty. This digital age we live in is, in my opinion, one of the highest achievements human beings have heretofore dreamed up.

It's a beautiful, sublime thing.

Hello, blog. It's good to be back. :)

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Life of a Mosquito

It was a suicide run, I knew that. But still, my thirst would only be quenched my sinking my stinger into that human flesh hovering oh, so near to me! I needed blood; ironic, isn't it? That my quest for life would only result in my death.

She was an aggressive one. There would be no 'sip-and-run' this time. I'd only managed to narrowly escape the clap of her hands as she tried to thwart my attempts at getting close to her. One time the burst of air from one such hand clap grazed my wings, sending me spinning as I drunkenly dodged her next two assaults. She almost got me! But she failed - that time. I had to dive for cover before trying again. She was onto me like a bloodhound...no pun intended.

I circled around in the shadows while the human moved about the room, preparing something hot to drink herself. I waited for my next opportunity, but I was running on fumes, and desperate to taste blood.

Finally, it happened: she was busy doing whatever and she moved close to me which I was waiting for. There it was - a flash of bare skin, illuminated by light from the window.

She stood still, I made my move.

Landed stick it in drink; ahh ...

... The end.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ahoy mateys!



 

    My pirate name is:
   
 

    Iron Mary Kidd  
 
 

    A pirate's life isn't easy; it takes a tough person. That's okay with you, though, since you're a tough person. Even though you're not always the traditional swaggering gallant, your steadiness and planning make you a fine, reliable pirate.    Arr!
   
  Get your own pirate name from piratequiz.com.
part of the fidius.org network
 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Nocans.com, and Feeding Your Pets Homemade Food

Author's note: I must make the assertion here that at the time I wrote this I was very passionate about the subject of feeding raw food to our pets. I'd stumbled across two websites which provided lots of information making an argument FOR the diet ... and I got swept away with it. I confess I didn't do a lot of research into the arguments AGAINST the diet, and so this entry comes off sounding rather one-sided. That's because it is. Read with caution and do your research. 

For the record, I still believe feeding cooked meat is bad, but I give my "little man" carrots and apples as treats, also peanut butter -- the organic kind with no sugar added, just mashed-up peanuts -- and occasionally I'll tear off a corner of a pound of ground beef and give it to him raw. I've never seen him suffer any ill effects from this. At the same time I'm not willing to gamble. 

I'm keeping this post here because I believe it's important to keep the discussion going about what we feed our beloved family members -- both the four-legged and the two-legged kinds -- and to constantly demand nothing but the highest standards of quality from the pet food companies we patronize at our local pet stores. I am fundamentally against abuse of ALL kinds, but to me abuse of non-human animals (and children) is worse because they can't speak for themselves. 

~ Sarah Barres, May 12, 2015

Conducting a search of "are apples good for dogs" I stumbled across this website: No Cans - Make Your Own Pet Food. I poked around the website reading everything the person posted on dogs with interest. Like the author of NoCans.com I too became extremely worried and paranoid about what we were feeding our dogs after the Big Giant Pet Food Recall of '07. I totally sympathize with the author of that website because all the bad things happening to our beloved pets just broke my heart, and I wanted answers. Mostly, I wanted to stop feeding my pets poison, since that's about what it amounted to. Unfortunately it takes a big devastating event like that to bring to light the harm other people will do to each other and pretty much any living creature.

However, I was disappointed to see all the cooked meat in the dog recipes. I looked and looked for a way to contact the website administrator but I found nothing obvious. Many people close to me know that I feed my dogs raw meat and raw organ meat from time to time, and I wanted to direct the NoCans.com author to some of the stuff I found. She/he certainly did her homework and research and I totally relate to what that means, and the desire to share what one has found. Neither one of us wishes to make a profit off our findings; we simply wish to share what we found in the hope that other people can benefit from our hard work and enjoy healthy pets like we are. 

Well NoCans.com, here's what I found, I hope you enjoy it! Pet-Grub.com, a website and administrator that is full of so much compassion it pours off your computer monitor and overflows into your life. NoCans.com, the reason your cats don't like the people food you're giving them is because you're cooking it. Your cats want a whole, entire, raw fish, head, eyes, tail and all. Give them that and see how they respond! They will love it, and you can feel satisfied knowing you're giving them exactly what they need and love. 

If anyone reading this can forward this information to the site administrator of NoCans.com, please do!

Anyone else reading this, I sincerely hope you also benefit from this information. Most people probably can't afford to completely switch their dogs/cats over to a raw meat diet as it is quite expensive nowadays, but giving your pets some raw meat and raw organ meat once in a while is not only safe, it is recommended. 

I am not a veterinarian. But I know several veterinarians who would endorse what I'm saying here. Check with yours first, always, especially when it concerns your beloved pet. 

One word of caution: NEVER FEED PORK OF ANY KIND TO A CAT OR DOG!!!

Here's another fantastic resource, although I should say as a disclaimer that I haven't actually read the book yet, but it gets raves from other raw meat diet proponents: ladies and gentlemen, I give you the BARF diet.  (Bones and Raw Food diet ... get it?)

Here's to good health ... all around! :-)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Nothing at all

Which is precisely what I've posted in nearly a year! What is wrong with me? I'm going to have to turn in my "blogger" status card.

My excuse is that I never have any time. But the truth is that I simply choose not to do it; I can't deny that. I love blogging ... I love writing, about myself, about other people, about subjects that interest me such as camping, human and animal rights, living off the grid, environmental awareness in general, politics, all things Japanese, news broadcasting, news journalism, to name but a few. I've reduced myself to only discussing such topics with co-workers and my husband, but the blog post is always percolating in the back of my mind. I can't help it. I've had a very intimate relationship with words since I was about 4 years old. I don't write because it's "fun" or "cathartic" or because I feel it's good for me to do, nor for any one reason, nor for any combination of reasons. I write because it's what I do. I write. That's me. I'm a writer. What do I do? I write. I don't act, or speak, or build houses, or manage funds. I write.

And ever since I realized my superpower if you will, I've realized how I can either spread hatred or make the world a better place. I keep my hatred posts private; only I see those. (Those are what I'd call episodes of catharsis.) The more edifying journal entries capture the public spotlight on my blog, however. Of course I write such subjects knowing that, like beauty, the message is in the eye of the beholder.

I also enjoy writing fiction, and my absolute favorite thing in the world to do is invent dialogue:

***

"Nuh-uh! You told him??!? Holy crap, I can't believe you did it!" Jenny starts laughing loudly and heartily. All I could do was stand there beaming.

"You told Dustin that you found out about the scam he was running. I can't believe it!! I gotta say, I really did not think you would go through with it, Becca."

"If you think that's amazing, you should have seen the look on his face, AHAHAHAHA!!!" Now I was laughing right along with Jenny. "His face froze, Jenny, like a statue! Like all the life, all the emotion just drained out of him! I had to resist the urge to poke his face to make sure he was still human, hee hee hee!!!" I was almost shaking from giddiness, a nervous giddiness, granted. A month ago I stumbled on some documents on my brother's desk that proved what I'd been suspecting for several months now: that he was actually scamming college students into believing they were paying off loans, when in fact they were paying his personal bank account. I was furious because I myself had student loans once upon a time, but back then I kept the amounts as low as possible and paid them off quickly...

***

Ah, but I digress. That is not the most inspired thing I've ever written so forgive me for the lack thereof.

The point is, blowing the dust off this blog here is hopefully the start of a new leg in my journey. I can't wait to see where it takes me ...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Now this is my kind of home furnishing...


I did a search for my handle, "SolarSoda" because I wanted to see what would come up and I stumbled across this which is very cool!



Monday, October 11, 2010

Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches

I'd like to tell you about this great service to our community. I stumbled across this while renewing my car registration online, and I came to the page where you pick a worthy cause to make a donation to (or not). After staring at the 15 or so charities staring back at me, seemingly with their hands outstretched, I nearly gave up in frustration: how do you choose among so many completely worthy causes? I want to help save the manatees AND the marine turtle, and well, children need to be saved from abuse and veterans deserve a decent place to live ... *forehead connects with desk* ... perhaps I should pick one that maybe doesn't get the kind of attention the manatees probably get?

Armed with that focus I went through them again, and one caught my eye that I wasn't familiar with - Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches. Sounds like an outreach program. I was right. I settled on that one because it really spoke to me, louder than the other ones did. Troubled youth holds a special place in my heart for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that I'm married to a reformed, former troubled youth, but also from watching Naruto, the ultimate story of a reformed troubled youth.

Youth are our future. Every day at work I hear stories of more and more funding being pulled from the very things that cultivate a solid future: education, the arts, sports. Not to mention the increase of bullying stories, some with very tragic endings. And lest we forget the youth being raised in single-parent homes because the other parent is either off fighting in a war, or never coming home because of that war! These are troubled times, cultivating more troubled youth than ever before. At least places like the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches gives both the kids and their parents some light at the end of this dismal tunnel.

I want the world to know I support this very worthy cause, and I hope after reading this you will consider supporting them too, either here in Florida or in your own community.