The vegetarian shit list

So Mike and I finally got our butts to a meeting of a group of local vegetarians for dinner on Friday. We had a great time, including great Indian food. But I think the best part is finally being surrounded by people who get you — the people who have also been the weird ones at every table. Of course, even within that group there are a lot of differences in diet and differences in opinion of just how serious a thing this is. But overall it was a very welcoming thing, and a nice change of pace to be the majority in the room.

After 3 1/2 years sans meat (wow!) there are a few things that are always the same and always irritating about being veg (or pescetarian in our case). And I will preface this by saying that I love love love and appreciate the efforts by my friends and family to accomodate my diet. It wasn’t their decision to cut the bacon out of their baked beans but they do it anyway, and for that they are supa-awesome.

But that also leads me to point one, which is that nothing makes me want to shrivel up and disappear than someone making a big fuss out of having a vegetarian at the table. “Oh yeah, I forgot, you’re a vegetarian!” Really, it’s fine. Even if I have to slap together a cheese sandwich I’ll be fine. I’ve done it before. In fact, I have no problem making something for myself if need be. I think sometimes people forget that many things in our diet are already vegetarian (ever had spaghetti with marinara sauce? A PBJ? Eggplant parm?) So it shouldn’t be any kind of crisis if you’re having a vegetarian over unless you were planning to roast a pig in the backyard and eat it with your hands. And then, okay, I’ll bring something for myself.

Point two is that the number one substitute for meat always seems to be mushrooms. I get it — they are meaty-ish tasting and also brown. But I have a real aversion to mushrooms because of the texture, so it really sucks that they’re everywhere among vegetarian options (which are already few on local menus). So I suppose it’s my fault for being extra picky, but seriously. There are plenty of other foods besides mushrooms people could cook with. Come on.

It also seems like chefs are on auto pilot when it comes to putting that token vegetarian dish on the menu. Let me guess – pasta with vegetables. Woo hoo! I think because I’ve chosen to make my diet more varied and I love to cook and try new recipes that I’ve discovered just how many zillion things you can make vegetarian. And if I had to choose out of all of them what I wanted for dinner, pasta with vegetables would be like number 126. Or, okay, now I’m on a roll — what’s up with the vegetarian sandwich or wrap that’s basically raw vegetables and a squirt of bland sauce? Did you even taste it? Because if you did you’d realize no one wants to eat that for lunch. Even a wacko vegetarian!

It was soooo nice when we were on vacation (or last weekend in Eureka Springs) when we would get to a restaurant and 2/3 of the menu was vegetarian friendly, including things like vegetarian biscuits and gravy, vegan hollandaise, tofu scrambles. I mean, I could just go back to the kitchen and kiss somebody for being both creative and considerate. I know every restaurant serves its community and this community just isn’t that vegetarian, but sometimes I miss that ease of ordering.

So what would make me happy? Just a diversity of options. There are so many in the world (and let’s face it, this is a world community of well traveled people now) so there’s no reason for chefs and home cooks not to take a chance on some different recipes. Let’s get some hummus and falafel, polenta cassrole, eggplant curry, peanut stew, sesame noodles, black bean chili, bean and kale soup… up in here. Would that be so bad?

If you want to take a chance on a new recipe, I really recommend the Moosewood cookbooks. And of course there are plenty of good recipes right here.

One hell of a to-do list

I wouldn’t say I was having a quarterlife crisis (pretty sure that happened about four years ago) but I’m definitely having one of those moments where I think, oh my God, how could I possibly have reached this age without having done this, this and this? And not even that I haven’t done them yet, but that I’m not even close, can’t even see the beginning of that accomplishment. And I’m not even that old, but old enough. Perhaps looming birthdays always do that to a person.

I don’t know, I had just gotten really excited about making financial progress and then because life is rarely friendly to your savings account I find myself right back where I started. And it’s just so paralyzing when you don’t have enough money to do the things you want. But it’s my fault, it’s all me if I don’t.

I always think of myself as a person with my shit together. Like I’m organized, I think things out. Why can’t I figure out how to manage all those “adult” things that apparently you’re just supposed to know how to do? So I bought a car. Great, in five years I might finally own something. I’ll be a 33-year-old with a five-year-old car.

So, I apologize for the complainy-ness of this post, but I’m sure others know what I mean. I think we all could use some good news, some sign that high gas prices and the credit crisis and layoffs are all part of a cycle, a cycle that will change soon, for the better. And maybe we could let ourselves off the hook just a little if we don’t check off every single item on an impossible list.

On single motherhood (and no, this isn’t about me)

I am a freak for documentaries — so I’ve put as many as I can possibly find into my Netflix queue. This week “And Baby Makes Two” came. It was made about 10 years ago in New York, and it’s about a group of women who decided that they wanted to have children, even though they didn’t have a spouse or partner.

Some of them had focused on their careers during their child-bearing years or just hadn’t found a spouse, and felt that time was running out for them to raise a child. One woman was widowed. Some of them were having IVF, others realized their bodies weren’t going to produce children anymore, so they adopted.

I found the whole thing really fascinating. And even though I’m not in that situation, in some way I felt like I could understand them. Something about being a woman, and knowing that you are able to do such an incredible thing as giving birth, makes you feel like you should. But I think what these women were really searching for was a sense of family. Sure, they all had parents and siblings and cousins, but they were missing out on the closeness and intimacy of an immediate family.

One interesting part was that this group of women, as they spent time together going to birthing classes or welcoming others as they came home to the airport with a newly adopted baby, they really became family to each other.

The film crew checked in with them a few years later. The women all said that motherhood had turned out to be much harder than they realized, and certainly harder alone. But I don’t think any of them would go back and change what they did.

So here’s the question — if you found yourself in your late 30s or early 40s, single and with no children, would you consider having one on your own? Is that pathetic? Is it human nature? Is it selfish and hurtful to the child? Or is it just another form of family?

They had Gloria Steinem comment that our culture seems to approve of a single mother when she’s been victimized — the baby’s father left her, or she was widowed or divorced. But for her to be in control of the decision is very controversial.

What bothers me is not the idea of a child growing up with one parent, but the idea that the child doesn’t know who its father is, or doesn’t have a “normal” relationship with him. I think that’s somewhat confusing. Although, is that any worse than a situation where a child doesn’t know its father because he left?

Some of my friends were discussing this article about how Alice Walker’s daughter doesn’t have a relationship with her feminist mother because they disagreed so much on the topic of motherhood. Walker (despite being a mother herself) hates the idea of it, and basically disowned her daughter when she announced she was pregnant. The daughter felt that motherhood was something to be proud of, and that she missed out on a great deal of her childhood having an absent mother.

First of all, I don’t think motherhood and feminism have to be two separate things, by any means. That’s just nutty. But I do think women have to ask themselves, if I have kids, what’s gonna give? I believe you can have a lot, but you can’t have it all. A partner who shares in everything certainly makes it easier for you to balance career and family. But I look at my schedule now and can barely find time for myself. How would I stay sane with all that plus kids?

It’s just like being in a relationship. At some point, you can only be so selfish. And that’s not being unfeminist, it’s being realistic. If you wanted to have a dog or a business, you’d have to give up some things, too.

The other question this brings up, and it’s a big one, is do we need to have kids at all? Just because we can, does that mean we should? Bringing another person into this world, a very tough world that can barely handle the residents it has, is a big responsibility.

And I was talking to my best friend about this — at our age, the idea does start to affect our relationships. If we didn’t feel we had a limited amount of time to decide to have kids, we wouldn’t feel this sense of urgency that often pressurizes our relationships. It makes us look at ourselves and go, Did I really mean that? Why is XX such a big deal to me?

Not too long ago I interviewed a woman who told me she didn’t want to have kids for the longest time. And then, nature gave her a little push. At the time I talked to her she had a two-year-old and 7-week-old twins. An exhausting responsibility, I would imagine. But she sounded content. Like it was hard, and kind of ridiculous sometimes, but it just felt like the right thing for her to be doing. And I guess that’s what it comes down to. Do you feel in your heart that it’s the right thing for you to do?

It didn’t take me a whole lifetime to figure out that family was more important than all the bullshit we put up with in other parts of our lives. As women, if we want our family to grow, is that so bad?

The riches

This month marks nine years since I graduated from high school (yikes!) and nine years since I had a debt-free existence. That was the last time I had actual “wealth.”

I always had a job in high school, and very few expenses (a cell phone-free life, if you can imagine) so I saved a couple thousand dollars to take with me to college. I have no idea where that money went. A mini fridge? Spring break? Old Navy pajamas?

Somewhere in my first brush with financial freedom, I completely lost my financial freedom. When I got my first credit card, the one with the Monet painting on it, I swore I would pay off the balance every month. And for a few months, I did. But eventually I wanted more, so I bought more.

I loved the marathon bargain hunting trips I took with my mom growing up, but I think by the time I had my own money, I wanted to have a name brand, pay full price, buy the best version of the DVD player instead of the cheap one. I’d had enough Payless. I wanted J.Crew.

I really got to a point where I didn’t see anything wrong with the way I spent my money. I put things on credit and dealt with them later. I took vacations I couldn’t afford. I bought an expensive car on a $30,000 salary. And I guess that’s what sucks about the world – you can do all that and no one will stop you. No one will grab your arm and tell you you’re crazy. Debt is normal. People who buy things with actual money are the weirdos.

I don’t know what it was exactly that woke me up. I guess it was the fact that I had always been able to rescue myself, racking up debt and then paying it down. And then this year I finally couldn’t. I payed my cards down $3,000, and in just a few months put it all back on. I am a financial Weight Watchers horror story. It’s not my fault I had to have back surgery that cost me thousands. But it is my fault I took a vacation to Europe without planning for the cost. It is my fault that I screwed up my taxes year after year. It’s my fault that I let my money control me.

Money isn’t everything, but when you’ve handled your money in a way that gives you the freedom to enjoy a vacation, to spend more time with the people you love, to feel in control of your life, it makes a huge, huge difference.

So, earlier this year, I finally decided to stop lying to myself. I went on a financial diet, so to speak. (The comparisons to food and the problems I have with eating could be compared endlessly, by the way.) I set a goal for myself that every month I would put $XX toward my credit card. If I had more I’d put more, if I had less I’d put less, but that was the goal.

For me, skipping dessert was a hell of a lot harder than making that payment. I think I’ve done it four times now, and it was just not that big of a deal. I had to buy some clothes for work (and my expanding rear), but I bought them all at Target and saved a bundle.

So four months later I am still struggling, but I think I’ve turned the tide, and I can’t tell you how good that feels. I really did not think I could do it until I did.

I’m finding myself with a wee bit of outrage, too. Why isn’t there a mandatory financial literacy class in, well, any grade? I remember learning how to balance my checkbook in 6th grade before we went to Exchange City. But no one ever taught me about interest rates or self employment tax. Somehow you’re just supposed to know how to get a mortgage. You think a couple people might have liked to know that information?

I suppose it’s true that an 8th grader would do their damnedest to tune out a financial literacy class. Some of these mistakes have to be made before a person realizes how important it is to be smart with your money. But I really feel like I was failed educationally in that sense. And I was a huge dork – I would have at least listened.

At my current job I’ve met a lot of financial professionals who don’t fit my stereotype whatsoever. They’re laid-back, they don’t speak business jargon and roll their eyes when you don’t understand. They want people to understand this stuff, because it’s better for all of us in the long run.

I’m still far from wealthy, but I’ve done some things I think everyone can do, and if you’ve made it this far and are still reading for some reason, maybe you’ll get something out of what I’ve learned.

-First of all, find out how much you’re spending every month, and DON’T LIE.

-Move all of your automatic deductions to your debit card instead of credit. Don’t let money go onto that card without you noticing. Actually pay for everything.

-Look at things you can cut back instead of cutting out. I decided I couldn’t afford my salon, my studio yoga or the doggie daycare. I’m growing out my hair, doing a DVD at home and taking the dog for walks (which my rear also appreciates).

-Look at your calendar. If there’s anything big in the next six months you’ll have to pay for, start saving.

-Make goals. The lamest of the lame advice, but in this case it has worked for me.

-Get one of those ING savings accounts. Even a 3 percent return is a hell of a lot more than you’ll get on a regular account.

See, that wasn’t that hard. Perhaps I have a 2nd career in financial education.

It’s amazing how much just being aware of my habits has made me stop doing dumb things. Now I’m looking at what else I can cut or sell or buy cheaper next time. (Thanks to Sophia for introducing me to the wonder that is the dollar store). Unfortunately in the middle of all this I had to buy a new computer, but I had the payments taken out of my checking account automatically, and I barely notice it.

Today I paid $46 to fill my gas tank. Sadly that’s not even that much anymore. That really scares me, and I think it will be my next battle. The adorable SUV I thought I had to have? I’m about ready to swap cars with the next hatchback that rolls by.

Oops, I took out the door

I love old houses, and I have loved our last two rental houses, each about 80 years old. However, the driveways are just ridiculous when it comes to modern day cars. Granted mine is much bigger than what I usually need. But it’s not that big.

Both of our driveways have had giant metal gates that you had to open and close every single freakin’ time you wanted in or out (especially with le dog). But they’ve also been situated so that if there was more than one car in the vicinity you’d have to do an approximately 16-point turn to maneuver into the garage. Which is not the worst thing in the world. It’s just that when you have to make a 16-point turn plus open and close the gate four times a day you start to get a little irritated.

And when you’re tired after a long weekend of hosting parents and scrubbing out the inside of said car, you might do this.

Yeah, oops.

I tried to squeeze in the garage next to the other car with too little space and scraped the entire car door.

And you know what would be nice? If I wasn’t already paying a gadzillion dollars a month just to own the car in the first place. (That’s mistake #1. Do not lease a car and then buy it.) So, I guess my car door will be rockin’ some extra white paint for a while. If you know how to fix this kind of thing cheaply I’m open to suggestions.

Missing Boulder

Every once in a while it will just hit me. Oh yeah, there was that one time when I lived in Boulder. There was that one time I woke up pretty much every day and it was sunny and beautiful and I could walk a few blocks and start climbing a mountain. It really feels like a dream because it was so short, yet so impactful and so needed.

It wasn’t like I went there to join some hippie commune or study naturopathy at Naropa or train for climbing Everest. I went there as a completely average person who took a cool job at the newspaper. But at the time I was one miserable and confused person. All I knew was that I needed to get out of Iowa and try something different. Be somewhere different until I could wake up for once not terrified.

I’m not sure what kept me awake until dawn so many nights or sent me to the doctor so many times just sure I was dying. I think it was just fear that even though everything appeared right, it was not right. And it just kept getting more wrong by the day. I couldn’t stand one more day straining to read HTML code. I couldn’t bear the thought that I’d lost Mike. I didn’t know how to feel about the fact that I didn’t go to New York.

I’m so proud of myself for stopping it. I’m so proud of myself for taking a part time job with no benefits in another state that paid zero moving expenses. Even knowing that I would lose my job 10 months later I would do it over again a million times. As soon as I got there I felt different. Like the cloud had lifted.

No one had to convince me to smell the roses. I smelled the roses, the microbrews, the bulk granola, the dogs, the coffee, the burritos, the hippies, the money. I smelled the dirt, people. I soaked it all up.

Of course I got lonely and broke. And pretty soon I transferred my anxiety to wanting Mike to join me. There were some hard days.

But there are times I have to admit just how much I miss it.

I miss face-sized biscuits at Burnt Toast.
I miss the sometimes Chinese/sometimes breakfast restaurant in north Boulder.
I miss Whole Foods.
I miss running really slowly on the Boulder Creek Trail.
I miss hiking Mt. Sanitas.
I miss interviewing people who complete unbelievable feats of athleticism on a regular basis and then seeing them quoted in Outside later.
I miss biodiesel buses and bike lanes.
I miss Chinese food menus with brown rice and vegetarian egg rolls.
I miss the raccoon who ate pizza out of our dumpster.
I miss playing Pickle Ball with my co-workers.
I miss Jennie and Pete and Jim.
I miss working on Pearl Street.
I miss outfitters dedicated to women.
I miss the guy with the “John Kerry throws like a girl” sign.

I don’t miss drunken college students. Or the Denver airport. Or not having air conditioning.

I am truly afraid to go back because I am afraid I’ll strap myself to the nearest Aspen tree and never leave. But my life is here and my life is now. I’m just glad I sniffed the dirt while I had the chance.

What I needed to hear

Yesterday I met with someone who can probably bring more healing to my life than any doctor I’ve seen in years, and that’s a financial advisor.

I’ve been really afraid for a while now that someone would take a look at my finances and go “hmmm, I think you should, hmmm.” But this guy didn’t. Not even close. He scribbled out the messy details of my income, bills, debt and did more math than I’ve done since high school in about 5 minutes. And at the end of that he pronounced me not in a great place, but moving in the right direction. He said things like “this is not that bad” and “I can see you’re ready to do this” and most importantly “I see more teachers retire with a lot of money than actuaries.”

Uh, what?

Apparently people who have a nice income know how to spend it and people who have to scrimp and save become good savers. So, seeing how I’ve chosen journalism as a career I’m gonna go ahead and guess I’ll be in the column with the teachers.

I expected to get a lot of information out of that appointment, but I really didn’t expect to get confidence. All you hear and read about is how poor the economy is doing, how bad our spending habits are, how expensive gas is going to be. Nobody ever says, you can do this! You can pay off your debt, you can save a little, and you can actually pay for a vacation when it comes up.

That was a big thing, too. He reminded me that this is supposed to be the best time of my life, the most carefree, and if all I think about when I’m on vacation is how I will not be able to pay for this and that, I will never really enjoy it.

The financial company gave this presentation to my office a while back and they said that Americans have these houses with rooms that have no furniture in them, no curtains on the windows. I’d never really paid attention to that, but it’s so true! We buy big houses and big cars and then we don’t fill them because we can’t. I think I’m finally starting to see the light in that sense. If you’re gonna want something and sink a bunch of money into it, at least use it. At least get something out of it. I have absolutely no regrets about taking a trip to Europe when I didn’t have the money because I will never, ever forget the incredible things I saw. But I resent that $140 pair of shoes I’ve only worn 4 times. What a waste.

So, things are starting to click. It’ll probably get worse before it gets better. But for once in a long, long time I feel good about my money and my ability to handle it. And that was at least worth the sum total of my 401k.

Back of the pack

This morning I ran four miles. Without stopping. That was a pretty big accomplishment considering that I haven’t run much at all since the snow started three months ago, that the gray sky and cold wind made me want to get right back in my car, and mainly that I wasn’t sure I would ever be a runner again after I had back surgery last year.

But somewhere around the two-mile mark I started to feel like I might make it to a 5k, and that would be just fine with me. And then I just kept going. I even felt like I could have kept running after the four-mile mark, but I didn’t want to push my luck.

Out of nowhere I crossed over to that bizarre point when running actually feels good. It’s so easy to forget that point exists, but it does. Otherwise no fool would be a runner.

Running, for me, is hard for all the same reasons other people list. It is especially hard because no matter how hard I train, no matter how much I weigh, no matter how much I spend on shoes or how loud I crank my music, I am slow. People who appear to be much older, barely shuffling, and carrying on entire animated conversations pass me. Asthmatic people could kick my ass in a race. People in the 70-year-old category beat me in the Living History Farms race last fall. And people, I’m 27.

I never advanced past C team in high school cross country, except for one junior varsity performance in which I was something like 47th out of 50. I improved my times, I got stronger, but I never ever saw the front of the pack. I never even saw the middle.

That’s not an easy pill to swallow for someone who’s a perfectionist-overachiever. Usually if I’m not good at something, I just don’t do it. But I guess I am drawn to the solitary activities like running, hiking and yoga in which you can challenge yourself to get better. You never have to shoot the winning free throw, you just have to knock a few seconds off your last time. And dear god keep me as far away as possible from the mean sports, like dodgeball. I just don’t have the aggression (or the arm) for it.

But even though I am embarrassingly slow, I can’t stop running. Something always brings me back to it. It’s like I need to prove to myself than I can do this because it’s so hard and because I’ve never quite mastered it. I need to be a runner, even if it means bringing up the rear every time.

When I read Runners World, which in my opinion is one of the greatest magazines out there, I simply cannot relate to the 80 percent of writers they have that measure their mile splits in the 6s and enter races on a whim to wind up in 3rd place. Do they make 364th place medals? Maybe the real question is, what reward is there for being a slow runner?

I guess it’s just something you have to do for yourself in the name of character development or muscular thighs. And you do meet some fabulous people who are also puttering along in the 11-minute wave.

Not too long ago there was an article in Runners World about a guy who was the worst one on his college cross country or track team, and I loved it. The guy had no regrets about joining the team and setting himself up for humiliation. He did it even though it was that much harder for him than any of the natural athletes who did do well. I’m not that brave, but I will keep running – for my health, for my stubbornness, for my 364th place medal.

Missing Blueprint

I was thinking today, for the millionth time, that Blueprint was pretty much the best magazine ever. It started off on shaky ground – I don’t remember loving the first issue I saw. But it hit its stride and vaulted to wow, this is really good to oh my GOD how can a magazine be so clever and pretty and crafty all at the same time??

I tore out so many pages and posted them on my office idea board that there was hardly anything left at the end of the month. And what did I pay for this subscription? $6! Never was there such a bargain.

I think I loved it because it treated me like the woman I was. Feminine but not too girly, crafty but in a perfectionist way (I have no use for robot dolls, I need curtains and A-line skirts!), a foodie who’s capable of more than mac and cheese. Blueprint expected me to have my shit together and go from there.

Now we are left with the Bluelines blog, which is lovely, but not enough. And even though I was told I would get a subscription to Martha Stewart Living I didn’t even get that. They mailed me a $10 check instead.

My magazine shelf still runneth over, and I think some of you share the same problem… But it still feels like there’s a hole. Martha – why?