Sunday, November 13, 2016



October 10th, 2016.  We took our first cruise.  Four nights and five days to Mexico. We left out of Long Beach, CA on the Carnival Inspiration.  When we dropped off our luggage outside the cruise terminal and got through the check in line, we crossed that long covered bridge to get on the ship.  There it was, our big, beautiful lady of the sea, The Inspiration.  Going into this I knew it was an older ship that was revamped a few years ago, but it was 4 days of cruising for $299.00 each.  We could not complain.  For that price, we had an ocean view stateroom.  First our thoughts on the ocean view.  It was really not much more money than the interior rooms, about $50.00 a person.  So we decided to splurge for it.  I loved it and felt like we should always have a window in our room on every cruise we take after this one.  My husband and 10yr old son both thought it was annoying and unnecessary.  The sun shines bright in the morning and even though the curtains are thick and heavy, they let a crack of sunlight come in and they found it annoying.  And, since we spent so little time in the stateroom, I had to agree with them that it was not really necessary to have a window to feel like we weren’t claustrophobic.  The room was big enough as it was so if you are worried about it feeling closed in, don’t.  It was fine.  We are doing interior rooms from here on it.  I’m an early riser so I didn’t care about the sunlight.

Our stateroom attendant was amazing.  We had ordered a 12 pack of water to be waiting for us at the room before we left port.  It was there when we got to the room, as was our luggage.  I asked him to bring us an Ice bucket filled with ice so we could drink the water.  From that moment on, we had an ice filled ice bucket the entire trip.  He was on it and never let it get empty.  He came into the room throughout the day and he worked 24 hours a day.  If we needed something at 2am, he was there.  There was one point when we came back to the room at 5pm to get changed.  My son used the toilet and his business went into the toilet sideways.  I know, this is gross but when we tried to flush it, the toilet flushed fine but since the business was sideways it was kind of stuck in the same position and wouldn’t go down with the water.  I was all dressed for dinner so I told them to leave it and I would try and deal with it when we got back.  Well of course, one thing led to another and we didn’t get back till 10pm that evening after dinner.  The room had those towel animals in it and the pillows had been all fluffed and put back where they belong.  Fresh ice was there again. I forget all about the toilet issue until I went to use the restroom myself, I was standing there doing my business and realized that the toilet had be cleaned. OMG!! Our attendant took it upon himself to deal with that??  Do I even have enough cash on hand to leave him after the trip is over?  How embarrassing.  When we left the ship at the end of the cruise, I handed him $20.00 for taking good care of us and another $10.00 for “Above and Beyond toilet issues”.  He smiled and wished us well.

I got up every morning at 7am like I do at home.  I am on Weight Watchers and it’s a battle every week at my weigh-in to stay on target and lose a pound a week.  Well here I am on an “all you can eat” cruise and I was determined to not gain a pound.  So, every morning, at 7am I walked up to deck 14 and jogged around the track.  11 times around is 1 mile.  I did 33 laps every morning.  I also had a rule with my family that we were NOT to use any elevators.  It was stairs all the way every day.  They hated me!  I ate what I wanted to but tried not to stuff myself.  I didn’t really eat at the buffets but I took advantage of the Blue Iguana Mexican food because they had beans that are not made with lard (I’m a vegetarian) and I ate at the restaurant every night including desert.  They had some meat free choices every night for dinner.  So, if you are vegan or vegetarian, they are ready for you, don’t worry.   So how did I do on my Weight Watchers?   I didn’t gain any weight!  Yeah Baby!!

In Catalina Island, we got off the ship and just went shopping.  We didn’t even buy much, just some souvenirs for our son but it was fun to walk around the town.  You don’t need to buy an excursion if you don’t want to spend the money.  We wanted to do this trip economically.  When we got to Ensenada, we walked around town. We found a great Mexican restaurant and had an awesome lunch.  This place even had potato tacos for vegetarians.  In Mexico????  You betcha!   We had a great meal and then headed back to the ship. 

My son went to the kids club as soon as we got on the ship to check it out.  I had already pre-registered him online.  They welcomed him and asked me if he was allowed to come and go on his own or if I wanted to be there to check him in and out.  My 10yr old son told the guy he could come and go as he wanted to.   I was not comfortable with letting him come and go by himself but some of the adventures at the kids club involved roaming the ship with groups of kids that did scavenger hunts.  Eventually, I gave in and let him do it.  By this point, we had been on the ship a few hours and he already knew the layout better than I did.  It turned out to be good for him and he loved it.  I was still uneasy about it the whole time but it’s probably because I'm a helicopter parent.  He was never in any danger.  He spent almost all his time with those kids.  Eating, playing, dance party every night.  He loved it.

What was included in our trip?  Well our stateroom of course, all the room service we ordered was free.  The buffet is free.  I didn’t eat from it but my family did.  They loved it.  It was too “Golden Corral” for me and I ordered fruits from room service every day so I was never hungry for the buffet.  24-hour pizza is available to you at the buffet area and all the juice, coffee and tea you can drink.  I just drank water the whole time.  I watched a live show about games shows where they pick people out of the audience to play games on the stage.  That was fun.  There were many other shows included but I just never made it to them.  Between the pool, the meals, the ports of call, the jogging, the miniature golf and all the exploring, I was wiped out by 10pm daily.

The highlight of my trip actually started out as a nightmare.  When we first got on the ship, we went to the dining room and looked at what table we had.  We wanted a table for 4.  We didn’t want to be at a large table with other people.  We found our folio number on a smaller table for 4 on the side of the dining room.  That was perfect.  Now I don’t have to go ask the maître D to relocate us.  That night, we came to dinner and that table was taken.  I noticed that our reservation card with our folio number was on a large table for 8.  I was not happy.  I went to complain but they insisted that we were supposed to be at that table for 8.  Reluctantly, we sat there and were upset.  Two ladies showed up and sat down. They said that they are supposed to be sitting with those people as she pointed to the people at our original table.  She said that they were all supposed to be sitting at the 6 available seats at our current table.  After a few minutes, those 4 people moved over to the table we were sitting at.  As soon as that happened, I asked the Maître D to move us back to the original table but he would not do it.  He insisted that it was reserved for a party of four.   I told him that nobody is sitting there and nobody is going to sit there.  He wasn’t getting it.  After a while I just gave up and said this cruise was getting off to a bad start.  As we started to eat, we realized that we had a lot in common with the other 6 people at our table.  First, they were all real estate agent, which is what I do for a living.  Second, they were all over 30, same as me (ok I'm over 40 but who’s counting).  They were also fun to chat with.  They held great conversation and not once did anyone talk about politics.   At the end of the meal, the maître D came over and gave us a table number for the rest of the trip.  That new table was a table for 4.  The next night, we went to our new table for 4.  We wanted a table for 4 because our son was supposed to eat with us, but he ate at Camp Ocean the whole trip so he didn’t eat with us at all.  Well the new table was nice.  Nice and quiet.  Too quiet.  The people behind us had 8 at their table.  They were all about 22-28, talking about college and starting their careers.  Talking about infants.  I felt like we were in the wrong place.  Our dinner was nice but I really started to miss the people from our table from last night.  This was crazy.  I wanted to eat by ourselves and here we are doing just that and now I miss those people from last night.  On the third night. We ran into the people from the dinner the first night outside the restaurant.  They were like “What happened to you guys, we missed you last night”.  We told them the whole story and they said that the two spots at their table were still open so we should come back that night for dinner.  We did, and we had the BEST time eating dinner with them for the rest of the trip.  We saw those people in the ports of call, at the pool and at brunch.  They were always polite and asked how our son was doing.  They turned out to be great dinner companions.  Of course now we had our original table and the table the Maître D gave us both with nobody sitting at them the whole trip.  Ironic.

So, the most important lesson I took away from this trip was this.  All the stuff they provide for you is great, but the people that you meet will really teach you more about yourself than you can possibly imagine.  Be open for new things and new experience and be ready to make new friends.  It really made the whole trip for us. - JT

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Road To Compassion.

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.   
Without them, humanity cannot survive    -   Dalai Lama

For those of us that decide we have had enough, the path is different.  It’s different for each of us.  One day you are leading a life enjoyed by the majority of people, eating steak, chicken fingers, lots of dipping sauce, fast food almost daily for lunch and telling yourself a salad at dinner with your pasta is putting the cap on a somewhat healthy day of food.   Meanwhile, America gets fatter, unhealthier, and people come into an operating room weighing 300 pounds, on 10 different medications for high blood pressure, cholesterol and type 2 diabetes, yet their relative’s cant understand why they are dropping dead.  They demand autopsies, they demand explanations and they even start praying for help.  All a waste of time.

My own journey began about 10 years ago.  I was like most people.  My favorite food was anything with chicken.  I hated veggies, and I do mean hated them!!!!  Greens?  No thanks.  But, I was an animal lover.  Ok, I thought I was an animal lover.  I had a dog that I loved.  One day, I was at a party at a major hospital here in Phoenix.  It was a Winter Holiday party.  My husband was chatting with his work counter parts and I wound up talking with the wives.  We all seem to hit it off and even though I didn’t know any of them personally, they talked with me like they knew me their whole life.  That’s definitely a perk of being a gay man around a bunch of ladies.  They share!

A few days later my husband comes home and hands me a pamphlet that one of the women had given her husband at the hospital to give to me.  It was about how animals are treated before they are slaughtered.  I didn’t put much though into it.  I am not really interested in all that crazy stuff that people try and convince you of.  Well I had to use the toilet so I grabbed that pamphlet so I would have something to read.  Yes my epiphany in life was experienced right there on the throne.  I started reading.  Very quickly, I realized how completely clueless I was to what was going on in the world of livestock and animal cruelty. 

This particular pamphlet talked about how pigs are kept their whole lives in cages so small, they can’t move at all.  Their hoofs get diseased and 75 percent of pigs go mentally insane before they are ever slaughtered.  How the hell is this possible?  In my mind pigs had a lovely life, with kids visiting them and mud to play in and then one day they get really old and they get put to sleep humanly until its time to cut up the body and make food of it.  That’s how it was supposed to work in my mind.  There was a lot more to the article about cows being shot in the head with screw guns and it went on and on.  I was crying.  I was shaking.  I was part of something that was absolutely horrible and it was wrong.  I knew it and I knew that I could not continue on the same path.  I was still sitting on the toilet when I came to the realization that I was now a vegetarian.  Why the heck did that lady send that pamphlet to me? What could I have possibly said to her to lead her to think I wanted to be a vegetarian?  UGH! Somehow, she knew it when she met me.

My first questions was, how was I going to stay a vegetarian for more than 20 minutes?  I had no idea.   For the rest of that day I did not eat anything.  I was still so hurt.  I went to the store, looked at the fresh vegetables and was lost.  I don’t even like veggies.  This isn’t going to work.  Although I never went back to eating meat, I spent the next weeks, month and most of the year eating just side dishes.  When we went to a restaurant, which was almost daily, I just got the side dishes, minus bacon or any obvious meat items.  I was still so clueless but I was making changes.  I thought it was going well until on the 4th of July, during a pool party at my house, I served Jell-O to our friends, one of who is a vegetarian.  I had spent hours on this Jell-O.  It was three different layers in the colors of red, white and blue for the holiday.  The red Jell-O was the first layer.  The white whipped cream was the second layer and the blueberries on top were the third layer.  I started handing it out.  Everyone was amazed and commented on how good it was.  I got to my vegetarian friend and he said “Ill Pass”.  I asked him why he was passing and he said its because he’s a vegetarian.  I was stunned.  I said “Its Jell-O, There is no meat in this”.  He then very nicely told me about gelatin.  How it’s made, and well if you are a plant based eater, you know the rest.  It’s made form the bones of animals.  In fact, anything with gelatin in it is made that way.  I got on the Internet and of course, he was right.  I told him I was sorry and I put the last two of them back in the fridge.  He felt bad because I decided not to eat mine either, but I couldn’t do it after all that I had accomplished.   So, being a vegetarian meant not only passing on the meat, but also now giving up Jell-O, marshmallows, s’mores, some candies, and lots more.  Holy smoke, I had no idea.  Why the hell are there animal parts in Jell-O!! I thought it was just sugar and water.

As the years went on, I learned to make sure that the refried beans I ordered at restaurants didn’t have lard in them, I learned to ask if the vegetable soup is made with chicken broth or vegetable broth and I learned to ask if the baked potatoes are rubbed with animal fat to make the tastier.  The list goes on and on but learning to eat a meat free life goes so much further than not chewing on flesh.  I had to almost completely give up fast food.  Taco bell has some non-meat items but the big names in fast food are not vegetarian friendly.

As time went on, something amazing happened.  I started to reach for more vegetable at meals.  I was still eating side dishes only when I was at a restaurant with my family and they had only meat main courses.  But, I started to acquire a taste for avocados, spinach, salads, sweet potatoes, kale and all sorts of stuff that I never liked before.  I thought I would be happy knowing that after about 7 years now, my palate had adjusted and the food choices in front of me was much broader.  Then, I started watching movies on Netflix.   There are lots of them on there but they really broke my vegetarian heart.  Here I was thinking I was saving animals by being a vegetarian. Sure, I was making a difference in the world by not choosing meat, but I had no idea cows are kept pregnant their whole lives so they can produce milk.  I had no idea that chickens are basically kept on top of each other and not roaming free in the grass like I pictured in my mind.  I also had no idea how disgusting the process of pasteurizing milk is.   I still ate a lot of cheese and milk.  It was the base of my meals.  Now, I find out that I am part of the problem for what those animals go through even though I am not eating their hide.   And the photos of the pus from the processing of milk were just too much for me to go back to.

So, I started the conversion to vegan plant based eating.  How the heck do I give up cheese and dairy?  I started with Soymilk.  I had to stop drinking dairy milk immediately.  I discovered that you really don’t taste the milk in cereal or most of the foods you put it on.  When I went to soymilk, there was little change from diary milk as far as taste.  Since then, I stopped eating anything soy and its now almond milk.  It only took me a few days to get off dairy milk and its now been a few years since I had any of it.  Getting off the cheese is a much different story.   I know there are cheese substitutes so I started trying them.  I was not happy with them.  I just eventually came to the conclusion that Pizza is never going to be the same again.  And it’s never been.  But, it has been better at times.  I learned to eat pizza with BBQ sauce on it (home made) and with just a slight layer of substitute cheese that tastes half way decent (Follow Your Heart) and its fantastic.  I add pineapples too. So, I had to change the way I eat pizza, but didn’t have to give up pizza.  I was ok with that.

10 years have gone by.  Now, not only do I not eat anything to do with animals, but I also make almost all my own food.  There is nothing in my house that is processed. I prepare food on the weekends for the coming week.  That includes all my vegetable soups, my cashew based dips, my vegan burger patties made with almonds and quinoa, and usually some vegan pancakes for during the week.  My kid loves the vegan chocolate chip cookies because he can eat the dough raw and my family loves my tossed salads with romaine lettuce, avocado, dried corn, seeds, walnuts and home made dressings.  Becoming a plant-based eater was originally about the animals for me.  In the end, it became about health.  Not only did I not want processed animals on my plate, I no longer wanted processed anything on my plate.  My fridge is filled with organic fruits and veggies, washed and in clear glass containers ready to eat.  I never feel like I have nothing to eat. 

The clincher to all this, and the reason I write this story is that 10 years ago, there were no vegan or vegetarian restaurants in Phoenix, AZ.  Today, you can eat vegan anywhere from the local trendy vegan restaurants to basically any Mexican restaurant by asking them to give you their beans (black beans or whole pinto if no lard is in them) potato and avocado in a tortilla or corn shell depending on how they’re made.  There are multiple pizzerias in the area that have a whole section of their food made vegan.  The choices are plentiful.   Of course you will be eating processed food at restaurants to some degree but you can still rest assured that you are making a difference in the animal world.  If every one of us stopped ordering meat, it would no longer be stocked by the stores and restaurants.

Ignorance is bliss.  I get that, and I know we can all agree on that.  It’s the decisions you make after that bliss is over that really define who you are and where you are going.  I knew sitting on that toilet 10 years ago that I had to make a change.  I didn’t know what that change was going to be or how to get there.  I had to keep learning every day and keep asking others who were on the journey too.   But, at 51 years old, I am in great health, am not on any medications and every time there is a new meat based virus scare in the news, I just smile and think, not be baby. Not today.  You can make the journey too and today, its easier than it ever has been.  Just ask.

07/02/2016 - Regular Joe

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Shadows of my father.

I don’t know how to be a good parent.  I don’t know how to make sure my kid grows up being a quick thinker, a helping hand to others, a sincere person and a strong willed man.  I think about this every day.  I don’t have the answers. When problems come along, I just try and take a deep breath, think about our options and hopefully I say something that can be just a little bit inspiring.  Admittedly, there is sometimes a bit of yelling and frustration on my part.  But, my son is not afraid of me by any means and he stands up to me even at 6yrs old.  I am never really sure what I am doing is correct. 

But, one thing is for sure.  I absolutely know how not to parent him.  I have only to think back to my own child hood to be reminded of how completely unprepared my parents were during my upbringing. There were never any questions by my parents as to did we do our homework.  Nobody asked me if I had brushed my teeth, which should have been a concern when I had cavities every year.  There was not a book in our household for bedtime stories.  If there was any discipline with us, it was always physical.

I am sure that there were positive points of my childhood.  I just can’t remember any of them.  What I remember is the negative stuff.  I remember what my parents didn’t do for me.  I remember how young they were and how accidental we all were to them.  I remember that we were born with only 9 months notice each and they never really got to live their own lives.  I feel sorry for them.  They should have had so much more but because they had kids so fast, it didn’t happen.

Now, with my own boy, I know some things not to do.  First, I am involved in his schoolwork and classroom like a helicopter parent. I sit with him each afternoon to help him get through his homework.  I practice his spelling words all week so he’s ready for his test on Friday.  We do the same thing with math.  If he doesn’t do well, there is never any negativity, we just go back and try and learn what happened and use it to help him the next time. His entire school knows my name, even teachers in grades he won’t get to for years.  It’s because I volunteer to do lunch duty in the cafeteria every week.  I get to know who my kid’s friends are and what kind of kids go to his school.  The kids in all the grades know me so maybe my boy will have 1 less bully as he gets through the grades.  His teacher doesn’t hesitate to ask me if she needs help with something.  Lately, I am going in 30 minutes early before I pick up my son just to help the class with watering their garden project, which seems to have died a few weeks before I took over.  I love working with the kids on growing stuff like plants.  I am also at every PTA meeting.

My son has been on a swim team for the last year and a half. During the summer, this requires a commitment of 4 days a week Monday through Thursday.  I have to bring him to this outdoor pool facility and sit in the Arizona sun at 120 degrees while he races back and forth with the other 5-6yr olds on his swim team.  Is it miserable?  Oh god yes.  Do I complain? Absolutely not.  I text people or clip coupons or whatever but I would not miss any of the practices or swim meets we go to.  Last summer, my boy won a first place ribbon for freestyle in a swim meet.  He also got a third place ribbon in a backstroke race, but he was actually the second person to finish.  I got it all on video and it’s the big “swim race scandal” we talk about often at the dinner table.  He will tell you that Michael Phelps was afraid to go under water before he was 7 years old so he’s a better swimmer than Phelps.  I just love this age.  On Fridays, my boy goes to an art class after school. He absolutely loves it.  I would never let him miss that, its makes him very happy.  Also, aside form all the activities, it seems that every weekend it’s someone’s birthday from school or from one of his activities.  We will bring him to the birthday party and we always stay for the whole thing.  Many parents just drop the kids and go but we take those opportunities to get to know the parents better and so they can get to know us.

So, while I don’t have the answers on how to handle each dad situation.  I do know what not to do.  When I feel myself get frustrated with my boy and when he is purposely not listening to me, I get angry.  And, once I feel myself becoming the person my dad was, I stop immediately and rethink what I’m about to say.  I don’t want to be my dad.  I don’t want to be that parent.  I don’t want my boy to remember only bad things.  I want him to remember how I was there by his side every moment of his life.  I want him to remember how I gave him some room to be free but that I was on the sidelines if he fell or wanted to come back.  I want him to remember that I pushed him on his schoolwork, even when he said he couldn’t do it, because I knew that he could, and that he just needed to know someone believed in him.  I not only want to love him, I want him to feel loved.  Thanks to my Dad and Mom for showing me how to raise a child.  In their own way, their failures at child raising made all of my successes possible and showed me how to be a much better parent.  I do know that if I had accidentally had a child at 20 something years old, I could not have afforded to be the parent I am today.  I am able to be this involved in my sons life because my partner works hard at his job.  We are a team because we have been through life and are both in our 40’s. We know what to expect, and we know that our lives are not about us.  We are fine with all that.  It has been said many times that Gay parents don’t have accidental children; they have children when they are ready to have them.  It is absolutely true.  I have to think my parents took their frustrations out on me because their lives were changed for the worse by having kids.  My life changed also, but since I was already past the “All about me” part of my life, it changed for the better.  I Believe that this fact about gay parenting gives us an edge and in future studies, it will become a deciding factor in placing kids with couples for adoption.  Birthmothers will start wanting an older, same sex couple so they can make sure their child has a less stressful upbringing.  I see a future where there is a waiting list of kids wanting to be adopted by gay couples, and what a wonderful world that will be.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Dudes Guide To Couponing

Ok, I know what you are thinking. Couponing? Really? No, really? Lets go back a few months to July-ish of this year. My Sister was visiting from NY and of course she spent most of her trip staying at my already too small home in Phoenix. I was on the computer doing something with HULU. I was searching for a show that I wanted to watch, probably SuperNanny or another “my kids out of control” show, when up came some episodes of Extreme Couponing. I don’t have cable so I have never heard of it but my sister Melissa saw it and said, “Have you seen that show?” “People walk into stores and buy $500.00 worth of groceries and pay $10.00 after their coupons”. I said, “No, I haven’t seen it and how is that even possible?” We selected one of the episodes and started watching. As the show started, they introduced a family that seemed to be doing ok with money but for some reason, they were cutting out coupons. I thought, wow, what a waste of time. Coupons are for low-income people. Coupons are for buying items you wouldn’t normally use otherwise. Coupons are gimmicks. Right?

As the show went on, the family on TV talked about how they buy 4 newspapers every Sunday. I thought that was totally stupid but hey, they had my interest, so I watched. They threw away the newspapers after they removed the coupon inserts. There are usually at least two inserts but sometimes they could have many more. This week’s episode shows two inserts in their newspaper. Now they had 4 copies of every coupon. Next, they showed the mother of the family going down the street to the vacant/foreclosed homes on her block and grabbing their newspapers. She did the same thing with each of those newspapers as she did with the four she purchased. Next, she was going through the dumpsters at a recycling center looking for coupons inserts. I thought, “Is this lady nuts?” All of this craziness including climbing into a dumpster to save .25 cents on soup? I was ready to call her up and go, “Honey, here’s a dollar, pull yourself together, the soups not worth all that”.

As the show progressed, she had all her coupons from various legal and not so legal sources and the family was off to the grocery store. This is where it all started to make sense. First, they had made a list of what they were going to buy based on the weekly adds from that store and the coupons they had, not based on what they needed. They started with candy bars. The store was having a sale on specific candy bars for .50 cents. She had a coupon for .50 cents off that brand of candy bar. The candy bar was now free. Of course with all the newspapers, she had 25 coupons for that candy bar so she loaded her cart up with 25 candy bars, all free. Wow, I thought, that’s amazing, and really totally unhealthy. Next, she went to the cereal aisle. She had a coupon for .50 cents off a specific brand of cereal. The store doubles coupon so it was $1.00 off each box. The store also had their own coupon out that week for $1.00 off that specific box of cereal. Together, between the store coupon and the manufactures coupon, she had $2.00 off a certain box of cereal that was priced on the shelf at $1.99. (Most grocery stores allow you to use 1 of their own store coupons and 1 manufactures coupon for each item, also known as “Stacking” coupons) She had 30 of these coupons. She loaded 30 boxes of cereal in the cart and at this point, the store was going to owe here a penny for each box she bought, or .30cents in this case. I could not believe it. She purchase two products and now the store owes her money? The shopping trip went on and in the end, she had $850.00 worth of groceries in her 4 carts and ended up paying $16.00.

After the show was over, I couldn’t stop thinking about anything else. “This is my new obsession,” I thought. I can do the same thing. That next Sunday, I went to the store and purchased a Sunday paper for the first time in many years. I cut out the coupons that I thought I would use. Men’s shaving stuff, men’s deodorant, Boxes of Cereal, Bubble bath…er..I mean Shower Gel. One of the coupons was for $1.00 of Old Spice Deodorant. I was currently using that brand. Next, I read all the weekly ads for all the stores including the drug stores. The purpose of the coupons was to hold onto them and NOT use them until the time was right. I had to wait until I saw the price of that specific product so low that I could get it for free or very cheap. I didn’t use any of the coupons the first week or even the second week. On the third week, Basha’s grocery store had a sale with Kellogg’s Cereals on sale for $1.88 a box. That alone is a great price, but I had a coupon for .50 cents off Kellogg’s cereal. Basha’s doubles the first three coupons up to $1.00 total off the item. So for a $1.88 box of cereal, I used my one coupon for $1.00 off and bought the box of cereal for .88 cents. WOW, I thought, I just bought Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes for less than $1.00. That was amazing, but at the same time, it was terrible because I just had one coupon. Now I totally understood what that lady was doing in the dumpster, although I still think it was gross. I get it now. She was getting ready to stock up her cabinets. The next week I started purchasing 4 papers. I would throw the papers out and keep just the inserts. A few weeks later, a really big sale hit the local stores. First, Albertsons was having a deal where if you purchased 4 items from a list of items, you got $4.00 off. That already made their General Mills cereals $1.49 each if I bought four of them. Of course, I had a coupon for .50cents off each box (Albertsons doesn’t double coupons), which made the cereal .99 cents each. This time, I had 4 coupons, which were perfect in order to get the cereal for that price. Also at Albertsons, they had my Old Spice Men’s Deodorant for .99cents if you purchased 4 of them. I had 4 coupons, each one for 1.00 off Old Spice Men’s deodorant. The deodorants were going to be free. So, I went to the register and paid my .99 cents for each of the boxes of cereal and left with the 4 boxes of cereal and 4 brand name deodorants for under 4.00. WOW. I would normally pay that just for 1 box of cereal. Its like I got 3 boxes of cereal and 4 deodorants for free. As time went on, more and more deals in the weekly ads started matching my coupons. Just last week I paid about $22.00 and got $145.00 worth of groceries between 4 different stores.

A lot has changed since I first started this craze in July. For instance, I don’t go to the grocery store when I need something. I go to the grocery store when they have a sale on products that match up to my coupons and the price is low enough where I get the product for very cheap of free. When that happens, I stock up on that item. Besides getting coupons in the paper, you can print them online for the same products, so I usually have 8-10 of each coupon when I am at the store. Another thing that has changed is I now have lots of stock in my cabinets. My hall closet has 14 bottles of brand name men’s body wash, 11 deodorants, 24 Men’s 5 blade razors and cartridge refills (Gillette Fusion), 8 large bottles of mouthwash, 8 bottles of men’s lotion, 6 tubes of Sendodyne Pro-enamel toothpaste (that stuff is way expensive) and so on. I didn’t pay for any of it. It was all free from coupons or from the stores rewards programs. Another thing that happened is I now know the price of just about everything I use. For instance, I know that a tube of sensodye Pro-Enamel toothpaste is about $5.50. That of course is absurd but that’s the brand we use. Recently, CVS had a special where if you purchased $10.00 worth of that toothpaste, you got $5.00 back in their Extra Care bucks. Well, they had a sale on the toothpaste for $3.00 each. I had coupons for $1.00 off each one. When you figure in the $5.00 they gave me back, that’s another $1.00 off each one. I used a $5.00 Extra Care bucks reward from a previous deal so now I had 5 tubes of toothpaste that I paid $10.00 for and then I got $10.00 back in rewards, making the toothpaste completely free. Would I pay $5.50 again for a tube of that toothpaste? Hell No! I just stocked up with enough of that stuff to get me to 2013. But, the next time it goes on sale, Ill add to my stock at that time.

While I am not an extreme couponer, I believe that I am a couponer born out of today’s economy. I work hard, make a decent living and pay all my bills, but in the end, I don’t want to pay a dime more than I have to for grocery items. So I stock up when the price is low. Did you know that the more affluent the household, the more likely it is that there is serious coupons usage? Its true. You start to see much more serious coupon usage in salary ranges of $50k and up. This is based on a Neilsen report on their blog at It’s quite an interesting read. People that fall into the lower income bracket seem to pay much more money for items that they need than people in higher income brackets because they buy the items when they need them instead of when they are on sale with coupons. I never really understood that until now. You have to have resources to get the coupons in order to eventually save so much money. It takes a few hours a week to cut and organize your coupons into a binder so you can find them fast. It takes money to buy 4 or more papers a week. It takes a computer to print coupons online. It takes a lot of planning before you go to a store to make sure it’s a smooth experience. If you are poor and you work two jobs. There is no way that you have time for any of this.

So, I will leave this story today right here. With me, pulling into the grocery store parking lot, getting out of my German SUV, wearing a shirt and tie and carrying my 3-inch coupon binder filled with coupons. Do I find it even just a little bit embarrassing? Not at all. I’m about to get 30 Candy bars for free.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I need your help in the fight against Lymphoma

Hello Friends

Its that time of year again when I ask all of you to help me with my family’s crusade to put an end to Leukemia Lymphoma and other types of blood cancers. In the past 5 years, I have sent email updating you on the progress we have made in the fight against cancer. I have told you about how the money collected gets spent and how every dollar you contribute to my family's fund raising campaign goes directly to those who need the help most. The people affected by cancer, the patients, the drug trials, and the support that goes along with the horrible news that people get every day.

This year, instead of doing all that, I am going to just tell you about a memory I have. This will should help you to understand why Me, Tim and April spend so much time trying to raise our goal before the end of October every year. As you may or may not know, We lost our family member Bobby Jewell to lymphoma on March 02, 2005. It was a long fight which included chemotherapy. During all that, there are some vivid memories that stand out. Here is one that I cherish.

While Bob was fighting cancer, I lived in Tampa, Fl with Bob, my sister April and our friend Jeremy and Bobs dog, Tucker. Tucker is a Black Lab/Sharpei mix with a very unattractive overbite, but he has a heart of gold and is very lovable. We had lots of fun together. Every day was an adventure. During Bobs fight with cancer, he would often miss the holidays because he was getting Chemotherapy and it required a three week stay at the hospital. April, Jeremy and I would go to see Bob daily at the hospital. We would bring him magazines, vitamins, Dairy Queen Blizzards, whatever he wanted. Bob would try and be happy when we were there, but most of the time he was just unconformable because he didn’t have the strength to get out of bed. He was always very athletic, played softball and basketball for years and was one of the smartest guys we ever met. He loved to watch old TV shows. We had lots of sofas at our place because we all loved to watch TV together and it takes a lot of couch space to seat the four of us and a black lab. Anyway, during one of Bobs lengthy hospital visits for chemotherapy, we went to see him. In his hospital room, I felt like we were losing him. He was just out of it. He could not find the energy to even smile. He was getting the chemotherapy pumped into his blood and it just kills everything in you, It kills the cancer cells and the good cells. Its terrible, Well we all sat there for a while and then went home. Once we got home, we talked about how to make Bob feel like he had to fight harder. We wanted to show him that we missed him at home and we wanted to bring our home to him. We came up with a plan. We were going to take Tucker to the hospital and sneak him up to Bob’s room for a visit. And, if that wasn’t enough, we grabbed season 1 of Wonder Woman, the TV Series to watch on the TV in the room. We just had to figure out how to do it.

The next night, Me, April, Jeremy and Tucker the dog piled into the jeep. We drove to the hospital Bob was at and parked the car. It was 10:30pm. We know the halls of the hospital were quiet at this time, so this was when we had the best chance of getting Tucker into the room to see Bob. We had the whole thing worked out. Jeremy stayed in the car with Tucker while April and I headed for the hospital doors. As we got to the back entrance, April stayed at the entrance door to keep watch for the security guard and the desk person. I continued on toward the elevator, pressed the button and waited until the elevators doors opened and the empty elevator car was in front of me. I used my foot to stop the doors from closing. There was nobody else around.. I could see April at the front entrance and she could see Jeremy and tucker by the jeep. We waited for a few minutes and then the opportunity presented itself. April signaled to me and Jeremy that the front desk person got up to use the rest room. She waived Tucker and Jeremy on. Jeremy and Tucker met April at the front entrance, and the three of them headed right for me. We entered the elevator, pressed the number 4 for the fourth floor and up we went. We knew that this particular elevator opened on the fourth floor far enough away from the nurses station to be an issue and it was only two doors from Bob’s room.

The elevator ride seemed like an hour. My heart was racing. We were so proud of ourselves for getting Tucker this far into the hospital but now I was scared to death. What if someone was waiting to get in the elevator when we got to the fourth floor. Or even worse, what if a doctor calls for the elevator on the 2nd floor and gets in and had to go to the 4th floor with us. What would we even say? “Um, hi doc, heard any good stories about the crazies in the mental illness ward lately?” I had not planned for anything like that and I didn’t think far enough ahead to bring mop buckets or construction cones with me to put in front of this elevator on the 2nd and 3rd floor. Ok, mental note to self. Read up more before attempting to break hospital rules in the future. My heart was racing and I felt like It was 120 degrees in the elevator.

The elevator doors opened on the forth floor. Nobody was there. I could hear the nurses talking at the nurses stating about 100 feet away. Luckily, they were in the opposite direction of where we were going. We left the elevator and headed down the hall to Bobs room. So far so good. I was really feeling great at this point. I looked at April and Jeremy and we all smiled at each other, as if to say “Pffft, this sneaking around stuff is simple, we should do this more often”. We got to Bobs door and I looked around. Nobody was near the door. This was perfect. Without even hesitating, I cracked Bobs door open, and April, Jeremy and tucker darted inside. I looked one more time up and down the hall of the 4th floor and nobody had seem them dart into the room. I slid into Bobs room as the last of our group and closed the door behind me. I stopped in my tracks, my mouth dropped and my heart started racing again. Jeremy and April were frozen in place and Tucker was sitting at attention. Ok, its times like this when I really need to re-think these crazy ideas. Standing around Bob were 3 doctors and a nurse. They were all staring at us. We were all staring them. Nobody moved or said anything until Bob turned his head to see what the doctors were looking at and saw us. He looked at all of us and in this very week voice that got stronger as he went on, he said “That’s my dog!” That’s my Tucker”.

Tucker pulled on his leash to go toward the bed and Jeremy let him go. Ok, another mental note, if you are sneaking a dog into a hospital room, don’t let go of the leash. Tucker jumped from the floor into the very skinny hospital bed and right on top of Bob, with all his IV’s and other important medical looking stuff on him. Tucker laid his head down and Bob found the strength and the energy to put his arms around Tucker and hold him tight. From the time we entered the room to the time Bob was holding tucker on the bed, no more than 30 seconds had gone by but it seemed to last an hour. Now that Bob had Tucker with him, the doctors backed way from the bed and headed for the door. One of them turned to us and said “We didn’t see anything, but just keep It down in here. Please.” And that was it. They left. We all were so relived. We kissed Bob and Tucker and Bob seemed to get stronger by the minute. It was amazing. If you have never owned a dog before, you can possibly know how loyal they are to their owners so let me just tell you that they want nothing more in the world to be center of their owners attention. That relationship with Tucker made Bob stronger and soon he was his old self We popped Wonder Woman in the dvr and watched some tube. As were were sitting there, we got hungry so I had the bright idea to order Dominoes Pizza. Thirty minutes or less later, the pizza guy knocks on the hospital door. Tucker, doing what dogs do when someone knocks on the door, started barking. We all froze. TUCKER!! I yelled almost in a whisper. He backed down, and Jeremy jumped up and raced for the door to deal with the pizza guy. Luckily, nobody heard a dog bark in our hospital room. We all ate pizza and watched TV for a few hours until Bob started to doze off for the night. When it was time to leave, we just opened the door and walked out of the hospital with Tucker on his leash.

We lost Bob a few months later just after his 38th Birthday. Tucker lives with me here in Phoenix, AZ and is now 10 years old. While I have learned to live with the loss of Bob, I have not been able to think about it any less. I often think about the days when we all lived together and how we had fun with everything that we did. We had no idea all of that would change or that one of us would not be around. You just never know who is going to be affected by cancer. It could be you, me, any one of us. The odds are just crazy. Please, take a few minutes to visit my family's ‘Light the Night” fund raising page link at the bottom of this email and make a donation to help us end blood cancers for all future friends and family members. I could give you many reason to make a donation to help stop cancer, but I think this year, I want to show you just what my family lost in this fight. You already know what it will cost you to make a donation, but for me, I’m still paying the price, every day. I have attached a photo to this post of the night we snuck Tucker into Bobs Hospital room. I hope you enjoyed the story, and the memory.

Here is the link to donate to my family’s “Light the Night Walk” fundraising page. Thanks very much for supporting me for the last 5 years in this effort.


Joseph Spinelli
April Spinelli
Tim Troxel

Team: Forever Jewell
Light the Night Walk, Glendale AZ Chapter.

October 17, 2010.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What's so great about Apple's Imac Computer?

Well, as some of you may know, I have had a successful career as a Network Engineer. Of course, I am now a full time Real Estate agent, but for 15 years of my life, I was at the top of my game with computer networking. So, when it comes to computer problems, I usually know how to get the answer I need to fix the problem. That brings me to a recent situation that occurred at home. 4 years ago, I purchased an Ibook G4 from I was very excited. I was a PC person my whole life and I had wanted to make the switch to Apple. I was familiar with Apple since I supported Apple products in my career, but never really owned one or used one as my primary computer. Anyway, It arrived in the mail and I was really taken back, the packaging is just stunning. Everything from the beautiful white box with the colors on it, to the carefully packaged and wrapped components. Each piece of the device was meticulously placed in the shipping box so that when it got to me, it was safe, sound and ready for startup. For the first few days, it was love at first site. This new eBook cost me just over $1000.00 back in 2006. It was worth every dime.

Jump forward a few months and I’m not feeling so happy. I am just starting my career as a real estate agent and my brokerage hands me all my training materials on a CD-Rom with Microsoft Publisher files. Now, I have office installed on my Windows Computer in my closet, and publisher is on there too. It was at that time that I realized not all products using Microsoft software are compatible with Apple machines. The files I needed to access were not readable by any piece of software currently on my Mac. No problem I thought, ill just buy publisher for Apple. Right? Wrong!. There is no version of publisher for Apple. Now how am I supposed to read these training files if Apple wont read publisher files. What am I supposed to do? Well, I had to get my old Windows machine out of the closet and power it up so I could read the files.

A few days later. I go to log into one of the websites I use for business. It’s a Real Estate based website. It says right on the main page that the website is best viewed with Internet Explorer, which is the browser that comes pre-installed with Windows. (Actually it’s integrated into the Windows operating system, but that’s not important here). Well I am not using Windows Internet Explores; I am using Safari, the Macintosh browser. I log into the website and I start to notice that some things look strange, while others just flat out don’t work. For instance, I enter information required for a report that I am getting paid to do, and there is no “Submit” button. The button was there when I used my Windows machine but it doesn’t show up on my Mac machine’s Safari browser. Again, It was then that I learned that websites written specifically for Internet Explorer would not work correctly on Macintosh machines. I tried other browsers but the same thing happen. The next day, I went to Best Buy (don’t get me started on them, I hate that store), and bought a brand new Windows XP laptop for $399. I gave my Ibook to my partner and that was the last time I used it. About 30 days later, Macintosh introduced the MacBook, with the Intel processor, which would allow you to run Windows or Windows based applications on your Macintosh. Great, now they tell me!

I used my Windows machine for 4 years. I had to reload it 4 times, lost my hard drive twice, got numerous viruses, dealt with it slowing down a little bit more every day, etc, etc. The usual stuff that we deal with when we run Windows. A new computer was calling my name. I used my computer daily for work. In fact I am on it for about 16 hours a day every day. It makes me plenty of money so I have no problem with shelling out enough money to get exactly what I want to make my job easier. In the past year, I had been using my laptop with a second monitor hooked up to it so I could have more screen space. I need the space to keep multiple pages up at once in order to fill out my reports. As I started shopping for computers, I knew I needed a large monitor. I also wanted a camera so I could start using Skype. Another thing I wanted was a lot less wires and power cords in the computer part of my desk. I had a cord for every USB device, a power cord for the computer and the monitor, and I needed a power strip hanging off my desk because my outlet has two sockets but I needed 3 power chords for my computer, monitor and desk lamp. I spent about 30 days looking at computers and the choice became crystal clear after a few days. The Apple IMac 27 inch priced at $1699.00 plus tax. It was a work of art. A 27-inch monitor with the computer built right into the monitor. No tower to keep under my desk. Also, it had a lot of features built right into it that I needed. For example, it had a built in SD Card reader for my camera memory card, which I use every day for business. The DVD Reader/burner was also built into the monitor. It also used only one power cord since the monitor and computer were one device. The Imac came with a wireless Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. I purchased a wireless number keypad separately. I looked at this for almost a month. I went back and forth and looked at the Windows machines too. There are matching Windows machines that do the same thing. They were about $999.00. But, there were some big differences. For one, the biggest monitor you could get with a Windows “All-In-One” machine was 23 inches. As I compared that to the Imac 27 inch monitor, I realized that I needed all the screen real estate I could get. (Ha, that was a real estate joke. I’m too funny!). 23 inches for screen space wasn’t enough. Next, the All-In-One machines had the typical appeal that is meant for gamers. Black plastic trim, flashy software packaged and lots of brand names working together to bring you a device that just doesn’t compare to the Imac 27inch. It just wasn’t working for me. I wanted the Imac.

I thought about it long and hard. 30 days and 30 nights. At this point in my career, I didn’t use publisher files anymore. In fact, I created all my own files for the last few years and made sure they were saved in formats recognizable by software packaged used by both Windows and Mac. Also, $1699 was a lot of money to spend vs $999.00. Did I really need the Imac? Yes. I was sure if it when I saw a special online that said if you are a student, you can get $100.00 off the n new Imac27 and you can get a free 8mb iPod touch when purchasing an IMac. I was sold. Off I went to the apple store. I got my new Imac 27, my free iPod, and I purchased MS Office for Mac 2008. When I got home, I also downloaded Quicken for Mac so I could transfer my money management data over from my laptop. I also had to purchase software to edit PDF files since I use them a lot and the software I currently own was for a Windows machines. In all, I spend about $2300.00 on this venture, but I would be able to do my work much faster and have a lot less clutter. Really, I got exactly what I wanted.

I open the box and again, the packaging is a work of art. Yada yada yada, I plug in the machine and start working. I spend about 24 hours transferring over my email from Outlook to MS Entourage, included in Office for Mac, my personal finance info from Quicken Windows to Quicken Mac, links to my saved documents, links to my saved website shortcuts and all my favorites from my internet browser. I was all set. I was ready to work. Bring it on baby, Show daddy how you want it!

Ok, here is where the trouble starts. I bring up my real estate websites to start working. I notice on the very first one that it doesn’t look right. Some of the buttons are missing and some of the pages have words on top of other words. What is going on? The next day, I try two other websites, and similar stuff starts to happen. I then powered on my old Windows laptop and the websites work find on my Windows laptop. I go back to my new Imac and again, I have the same problem. Wait. Wait, wait. This is the same problem I had almost 5 years ago on my Mac g4 that was not running the Intel chip. This new Imac IS running the Intel chipset. It’s been 5 years. There is no way that this problem still exists right? Ummmm Wrong!. I started logging into forums and found out that websites made specifically for Internet Explorer will not work correctly in the new versions of Macintosh safari, Firefox, opera, or any other standard code browser. If it’s made superficially for IE, you need a Windows Machine to view it correctly. No freaking way!. So now what? I have now spent $2300.00 on a machine and software only to find out that 11 of my 12 real estate websites can’t be used on that machine. This machine is for my work. If I can’t work on it, I can’t use this machine. This is exactly what happened to me with the Ibook g4. Same problem, 5 years ago. I was livid, I was shaking, I couldn’t see straight. I started to get a huge headache. I was in a very bad place. Ok, now what?

The next day, I thought about this some more. It’s all I could think about. I went down to the Mac store and signed up for someone to talk to me at the genius bar. (That’s what they call the support people there) The support person told me that yes, there are some website out there that are not viewable correctly on a Macintosh machine but the number of websites is very small, somewhere around 11 percent. Well, 10 of my websites are in that 11 percent. That’s 90 percent of the websites I use for work. He confirmed that there was nothing I could do other than return the machine. There was a 10 percent restocking fee and the office for Mac software was not returnable if it was open, which of course it was because I installed it. Another problem was that I couldn’t not return the software purchased and downloaded online, like quicken and Adobe Acrobat. What a nightmare. I told the genius about my whole situation and his answer was “You know you can buy “Parallels” and install Windows on your machine. Then you would have all your applications working on your new Mac”. Well I told him that if I wanted a Window machine, I could have gotten one for $999.00. The whole point of this was to be off Windows entirely. I was not going to install Windows on the flagship machine of Apple. It would be an abomination, this was a huge mess. I went home and wanted to disappear somewhere. This was the biggest mistake of my life.

The next day, I got an email from apple asking about my visit to the store and if I was happy with my purchase. Well, opportunity was knocking, so I answered. I answered the email with all the anger, frustration and rage I had inside for being duped again by Apple into buying something that would not work in the every day world. That email resulted in the manager calling me back and offering to take the whole thing back, software and all with no restocking fee. He could make it all disappear. I had another 9 days left to return the computer. So, I packed it up and got it ready to go back to Apple. But, before I returned it, I wanted to take one last trip to Fry’s Electronics to see what my other options were.

I went to Fry’s Electronics, which is where I want to be buried when I die. It’s my favorite store in the world. They have everything I need in life from Home Automation products to Guitar supplies to home theatre stuff. They sell Apple machines there so I told the Apple expert about my problem and he confirmed that everything that I was told was true. I’m screwed. I told him I was going to return my machine to Apple and that I wanted to see what he had in an “All-in-one” machine. While I was frustrated with the Apple, it was very sleek, had only the one cord, and took up so little space on my desk even thought it was a 27 inch monitor. The look was amazing and I wanted the same thing in a Windows machine. We looked at some different options, but it was still a problem if I wanted a monitor bigger than 23 inches. Since that was the largest monitor size available in an All-in-one machine, I would have to buy a computer tower or desktop and a separate 27-inch monitor. That would mean more power cords, a monitor cord and other wires going across my desktop. I didn’t like that idea. So in my last ditch attempt to make all this work, I asked the salesman at Fry’s, what would you do in this situation? He said, I would install Parallels, then install a virtual Windows machine and use just the Windows applications that I needed when I needed them. I said, no, not a tall, no way. I’m not installing Windows on my Apple machine. That was it, I was leaving. I know when its time to fold and bow out gracefully. I walk toward the exit, steaming mad and thinking that I was never coming back here again. Who needs this place? Wait, are they putting out new items in the Home Automation section? Let me just see whets over there.

At some point, before I got to the exit, I thought about what the salesman said. I could install this Parallels software, whatever that is, and then install Windows, and just use the Windows applications that I need like Internet Explorer, when I need them, and then shut them off. What was he talking about? Would that mean I can have my Mac and when I wanted Internet Explorer, it would be available to me? Why don’t I want to use Windows on my Macintosh anyway? Would it hurt my Mac pride? Could it get any worse? I did leave the store but I went directly to the Apple store. I asked the salesperson there about Parallels and he told me the whole story. I purchased a copy of Parallels for $60.00 and then I went to Best Buy and purchased a copy of Windows 7 for $200.00. (Apple doesn’t sell Windows OS). I went home and started installing software. First, it was the Parallels software. Parallels sets up your Virtual Machines. You tell it to set up a new machine and then tell it what Windows OS you want on it. Then, you tell it where the Windows install CD is and it will install Windows into this virtual machine. What does that mean? It means it installs Windows on a part of your drive and when you want it, you open it, and when you don’t, you can close it with no changes to your Macintosh system. So, it installed this. And, on the bottom of my Mac, on the” Dock” (Which is like the Windows Start Bar), I now had a folder called “Windows Applications”. I clicked on that folder and all My Windows programs were now available to me. Internet Explorer, Windows Explorer, etc. This is called “Coherence mode”. One of the many ways to use the software. You could also do the “Full screen” mode, where the entire screen looks like Windows, acts like Windows and really, it is Windows until you shut down the Windows Virtual Machine, then it closes the virtual machine and you are back at your Mac desktop. I don’t need it to run like this so I used the first mode. I started doing my reports for work and sure enough, it all worked. Now, I had my Imac, my 27-inch monitor, my application on my new machine and my Windows applications’ that I need for work. Everything was here and it all worked almost floorless form that point on.

I went back to the store and told the salesperson about what had happened when I got that email from Apple and how mad I was when I answered the email. I asked him to apologize to the store manager for me next time he was there and to let him know that I was all up and running and satisfied. He said he would relay the message. In the end, I got the computer I wanted. I got rid of the wire clutter, I was able to work on my reports again and I now have the opportunity to install other virtual machines, maybe even a server. What did it cost me? Well for the computer, the software, the Parallels software and the new copy of the Windows OS, about $2600.00. Was it worth it? Sure. But, I could have purchased a flat screen TV, a new living room sectional sofa, and got wall to wall carpeting in two of my bedrooms for the same price. Is this solution for everyone? Not at all. I urge you to think about what your needs are before you buy a new computer and make sure that they are met before you get caught up in the look of what you are buying vs the functionality.

Like everything else in life, it really just comes down to that age-old question. Do I want something with substance or do I want something with style? Hmmmm…….

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Eating meat-free in a meat-full world.

four years ago I was reading a pamphlet from P.E.T.A. You know those crazy animal rights people. Well There I was, reading, and I found out some horrible things about how animals are treated before they are ever slaughtered for food. Long story short. I put down the pamphlet and stopped eating meat. I never thought about it again.

Jump ahead four years later, to today. Eating has been quite challenging for me. First, I can’t really go to fast food anymore. I had to search high and low for places that serve vegetarian friendly meals and the choices were not plentiful. For instance, Arby's is out, Sonic is out, and so is Wendy’s, KFC, Whataburger, In and Out Burger and the list goes on and on. Sure, some of these places have salads, but I don’t go to a fast food joint to get a salad. It just doesn’t taste good with a side of fries and a chocolate milk shake. Ok, that’s another problem for a different blog.

Another thing I learned is that just because it takes less time to make a meat free meal and less money to make it since you don’t pay for meat, doesn’t mean your meal is any cheaper. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. You can plan on paying more for a meal without meat then you would for a meal with meat. Think I'm wrong about that? Every Tuesday, Arribas Mexican Restaurant has .99 cent tacos. They consist of beef, cheese and lettuce. Now I go there often and order bean tacos. It’s the same thing as the beef taco except I have them put their refried beans in the taco shells instead of the ground beef they would normally use. That’s a no brainier right? I mean, beans are dirt cheap. Beef is expensive. Well, on Tuesdays, during 99cent taco day, my friends pay 99cents for each of their tacos and I pay $2.99 for each of mine. I always ask the server why this is the case and they always tell me that the tacos are pre-made before lunch. So of course I always say, well if I order a beef taco and ask you to hold the lettuce, is it still 99cents? They answer is always, yes. Well then I always ask, if you have to hold the lettuce, do you make me a fresh taco or do you scrape the lettuce off one that was made before lunch? The waiter says that we would make you a fresh one. Ok, so now I can get a fresh made taco with no lettuce for 99cents but to make that same fresh made taco with bean instead of ground beef, that’s $2.99? This is the point where the waiter gets frustrated and storms off, plotting my slow death in the kitchen. When it’s all said and done, ill still be paying $2.99 for each of my bean tacos.

Breakfast is usually easier, but don’t bother trying to get a vegetarian breakfast at McDonalds. I went there right before doing an open house last year. I went into the restaurant and looked at the menu items. Bacon Egg and Cheese Biscuit, Egg McMuffin (has sausage), Chicken Biscuit, bacon and eggs. The list goes on and on. I approached the counter and a very nice, bright eyed young lady greeted me. You know the type I’m talking about. Just out of High School, eager to do a great job, still smiling after 6 hours or working the counter, no house payment, and no responsibilities to worry about... Man I miss my youth. Anyway, I explained to her that I am a vegetarian and I ask her if she served any type of vegetarian friendly breakfasts besides eggs and pancakes. I wanted something in a sandwich type of food so I could get the potato cakes with it. She thought about it for a second and then said, we sure do. Do you like chicken? I said, I love chickens, I just don’t want to kill them. She looked bewildered. I then ordered the bacon, egg and cheese biscuit and told her to hold the bacon. She said “do you want it on the side”? I said no honey, you keep it, ok? She smiled and got my order together.

I then went back to the same McDonalds for lunch. This time the manger was there. He was the one that was working the counter and he asked me what I would like to order. Well, I asked him if they had a vegetarian burger, like Burger King does. He said no, we don’t have that. I asked him if he had any type of meatless sandwiches, He said “I can take the meat off any of our value meals or sandwiches”. So, of course I asked “Is there a discounted if I do that”? He said no. So, they are willing to serve me a burger with no burger, or I guess we can call it a grilled cheese sandwich but I still have to pay for the meat. I opted for a large fries and a shake. That’s it!! No more open houses for me!!

Ok, so how in the world can you go out to eat when you are a vegetarian? Well I have learned that it’s a challenge, but not impossible. For instance, did you know that Burger King has a veggie burger and a Veggie Burger Value Meal? Yep, you can go up to the counter and say you want the Veggie Burger Value Meal and they will ask you if you want it supper sized. They won’t even blink. It’s not even on their menu. Look at their value meals on the menu. Nowhere does it say anything about a Veggie Burger Value Meal. But, every Burger King has it. I did this in Fargo, ND, Orlando FL, and here in Phoenix, AZ.

Did you know that Subway has a Veggie Max sandwich? No, not a bunch of vegetables on bread with mayo. I hate vegetables. I know, a vegetarian who hates vegetables, funny right? Don’t get me started. Anyway, it’s an actual patty made of …well..Im not sure, but it’s not made of meat. It’s really good. I have learned to appreciate their veggie max meal. But, the down side is that it’s never on sale. So, again, you can walk into Subway on any day of the week and get a meat sandwich for $2.50 during the sub of the day, but if you want a Veggie Max sub, it will always be full price. Still, it is nice that they even offer it.

There is always Taco Bell too. When you have Mexican food, you have to ask if the beans are made of lard. If they are, then you can’t eat them as a vegetarian. Taco Bell does not use lard for their beans so they are vegetarian friendly. I simply get bean tacos, bean burritos and bean nachos instead of the beef. Are they cheaper than the beef? Of course not, but I didn’t have to give up going to Taco Bell when I stopped eating meat.

The list goes on and on, but the reality is, more and more restaurants and fast food are offering vegetarian friendly choices for people who have stopped eating meat all together. Why did I go through all this and was it worth it? I’m still not sure. I stopped eating meat because I did not want to be a part of the inhumane treatment of animals that were bred for food. I don’t try and change other peoples minds with what I’m doing, I just don’t want to be part of it myself. Was it all worth it? Well it depends on how you look at it. I am making a difference in my own little world, but I usually eat with others when I go out to dinner. If I say “ill take the Chicken Caesar salad but I don’t want the chicken, my dining companions will usually say “waiter, you can put his chicken on my salad so it doesn’t go to waste. So, just as much animal was consumed as would have been had I not had a meatless meal. The only difference is, now I’m hungry again an hour later.