Three hundred and sixty-six

Three hundred and sixty six days

I made it through it all.  All 366 days of it!

Normally I do a recap of the month, but as this month was a bit of a recap of the year, I’m going to skip that and just do a final post of the year.

Recap of the year

Where do I even begin?  So much has happened over the past year.  I’ve decided the best way is to share my favourite posts, divided by the months.  Although I have lots of ones I am proud of, these in particular resonate with me for some reason or another. (If you want a short description of what I got up to each month, click on the monthly topic below and it will take you to my recap posts for that month.)

MARCH 2011 – Extreme Couponing

APRIL 2011 – 30 Days of Art

MAY 2011 – 31 Days, 31 Dates (there’s a tie with this one – I also really enjoyed my dating advice at the end of my final post for that month)

  • The speed-dating date – I have always wanted to go speed dating and it was quite the experience.  It was one of the worst ‘dates’ of the month, but also one of the most memorable.
  • The social experiment date – A confusing date that forever changed my life, the way I feel about myself, and my future plans (we had a short, passionate affair that ended badly, then I drove across Canada with him during First Kiss Interviews month, we hated each other, then became sort of friends, he made me doubt all the great things about me, and now we don’t really talk – advice to all the ladies out there: listen to your instincts and don’t get blinded by a pretty face).

JUNE 2011 – Cooking 30 Countries (funnily my two favourite posts this month were meals I shared with the man who taught me stop motion animation and the one who confused me)

  • Italian with the Italian – a wonderful evening with a wonderful man, and lots of practical information about Italian cooking.
  • Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi – Kangaroo and Tim Tams.  It reminds me of living in Melbourne, and some very interesting facts about kangaroo meat included.

JULY 2011 – Only Online Purchases

AUGUST 2011 – Out of My Comfort Zone (there were so many great posts this month, but here are a few of my favourites)

SEPTEMBER 2011 – 31 First Kiss Interviews

OCTOBER 2011 – Vegan for the Month

  • Freeganism – I find this world of living without money fascinating, and although extreme, I think we can learn from them.
  • Raw Vegan Food Diet – Another extreme way of eating, taken from a lecture I went to at the University of Toronto.  Lots of great information.
  • Makeup and Skin Care – Interview with Kait Gray from Arbonne.  This changed the way I look at the cosmetics industry.

NOVEMBER 2011 – 30 Holiday Celebrations

  • Guy Fawkes Day – A fascinating discussion with some of the Occupy Toronto camp.
  • Black Friday and Buy Nothing Day – I was a model for the Toronto Star and did an online video for them!
  • Happy Movember – I love this holiday.  Men with moustaches for a month – very sexy in a Tom Selleck sort of way.

DECEMBER 2011 – Good Deed a Day

  • Extremely good and bad people in one day – A shocking negative event followed by an equally shocking positive one.  It brought tears to my eyes.
  • Hitting the bottom mid-month – including a very personal (yet very public because it was on the blog in the comments for all to read) debate between a friend of mine and I which almost cost us our friendship.  The debate crossed several posts, with this being the finale.  It really opened my eyes to my own views, but also how others perceive what I write.
  • The science of good deeds – How good deeds affect us mentally and physically.

JANUARY 2012 – Life at the Poverty Line

FEBRUARY 2012 – A Photograph A Day (month suggested by and voted on by the readers)

What I learned

In each of the month recaps (click on monthly topic above to read them), I talked about what I learned as an initial reaction.  As a year-long learning experience, I have no idea where to start.  I have learned so much from skills to knowledge to personal growth.

I am a different person than when I started March 1st, 2011.  Besides physical changes of losing weight through being vegan (and keeping it off through keeping up the no dairy and yoga), there have been many emotional and psychological changes.  The knowledge I gained about the different topics has given me a wider perspective on the world.  I feel like I have a purpose – like I’m fulfilling a need in myself and sharing it with others.  I am now part of a community of bloggers who are as supportive as they are talented.  I am happy and calmer, but also a bit more jaded with the world (damn porn cinema!).

I gained skills like extreme couponing (the auto correct on my computer kept wanting me to write extreme “coupling” – when you’re tired like I have been on numerous occasions this year and am right now, you find this very amusing) and cooking.  I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to do this and I have such amazing people in my life who support and encourage me.

I wrote this on Day 100 and it still rings true:

There have been days when I’ve hated that I’m doing this – that I’d love a ‘normal’ life where I don’t have to blog and make Taboulleh at 1:30am.  But most days I love it.  I love that I’m learning something new and writing every day.  I love talking about my project – still.  I love sharing my experiences with other people, whether by the blog or by them being a part of whatever adventure I have planned for the day.  I love that I’ve created this for myself (with the help of so many great people) and I feel so fortunate every day that I can do this.  Whether this turns into a million-copy selling book becomes less and less the point (although that would be fantastic).  It’s about the experience, the knowledge and the growth.  And the chance to share that with you.

Where do I go from here

The plan is to write the book about my experiences.  I will also be blogging at least once a week.  Every Wednesday I will post a recap of how things are going with me.  Sometimes it will be a comment on a topic or research on a subject that I’ve discovered about one of the ideas from the year.  And sometimes it will be just about how I’m feeling.  A bit like the daily blog posts I’ve been doing, but on a bigger scale.  I will also be posting occasionally during the week if there is something that inspires me to write or a very interesting or timely topic I want to discuss.  So keep reading for all that.  I will also be updating you all on how the book is coming along and my search for an agent and publisher.  This could be interesting to those of you out there trying to get your own work published.

I’m also going to stick with some of the things I learned this year.  I’m still trying to buy all natural cosmetics, and not eat dairy or pork.  I am determined to pick up my guitar again, paint, make pottery, sew more and do all the other projects I started during art month and never finished.  I still use my online and coupon shopping skills.  I’m still pushing myself to  do things out of my comfort zone on a weekly basis, and I’m a fountain of dating knowledge for my single friends out there.  I’m working on arranging some more volunteer experiences for me to help out more in the community.  I’m donating money regularly to help those less fortunate.  All of these habits I learned through experiences in the past year and I am grateful that I can stick with them.

Thank you again everyone for following along through three hundred sixty six days of posts!  Check back next Wednesday to hear how much I miss my blogging routine, how the book is coming along, and hopefully some other fun information.

Three hundred and thirty-seven

I made it through Life at the Poverty Line!

My almost empty fridge. Can you make a meal out of condiments?

Well, I almost made it.  I have the rest of the day, but I’m on the home stretch.  And thank gosh it is over! Am I allowed to say that?  I am so grateful that I earn enough income (and live in Canada and have a wonderful support system) to allow me to live comfortably, in a safe environment, with fresh fruit and vegetables, healthy food and the occasional treat.  It’s been a tough month.  A journey of discovery for me and what it means to be brought down by something that you can’t control.  It’s been a time of evaluating my priorities, and a lot of time to myself to do this in.

It was interesting seeing people’s reaction to the money topic.  I don’t think I realized what a touchy subject it would be until I started writing about it.  Everyone has a different experience and relationship with money and I thank all those who shared their personal story with us.  It was also interesting taking the big leap from my low-income line of $21.40 to my basic needs line of $4 per day.  Then thinking about the extreme poverty line of US$1.25 per day.

Recap of the month

I began by defining different options for the poverty line, and which one I chose to use.  I argued why I chose what I did.  I talked about giving up a trip to the strippers, and what my background and relationship is with money.  I was very clear that “this month does not trivialize the lives and concerns of those people who live at the low income line (and I have a few friends who do).  This month is an attempt to understand what it’s like to not have money always there.”

Unexpected expenses came up, I had to pay for transit to give blood,  I struggled with eating healthy on a budget.   I talked about the international extreme poverty line of US $1.25 per day, the cost of poverty in Canada and the emotional and physical struggles poverty can cause.  I was hit emotionally by a few comments about how my $21.40 is too much and reacted accordingly, changing my tactic for the month.  I wrote about a different ways of looking at poverty – the Ontario Deprivation Index, international poverty lines, why defining a strict poverty line isn’t always good.

I examined documenting poverty (photographs and videos) and the debate of whether this is appropriate (with a great comment from Nikki about taking photos from someone who works with communities who are poor), sugar daddies, earning extra income, choosing to live in poverty/with no money,  ways to eat and live for free, living with debt.  I shared some personal stories, here and here, from people living in poverty. I revisited extreme couponing and talked about poverty in war times and poverty and obesity.  I tried to learn a lot and share different perspectives.

What did I learn?

How do you really simulate life at the poverty line, when you know all along that it will end in a month?  You can’t.  This month has no more taught me what it’s really like to be poor as it has made poverty enjoyable.  It has, however, given me a glimpse into a world where money is a constant stress and worry and where food and emergencies are the only necessities you can spend on in order to keep yourself afloat (and even then, you’re likely to continue the downward spiral).

I also learned to spend only what I need to, to look at the cost of things, and the live on a strict budget – all skills that are really important.  I learned to be more humble and put myself in other people’s shoes.  I learned to look outside of my world to see what I say comes across to other people.  I learned that poverty can affect physical health, but also mental health, which causes a downward spiral.  Being poor takes a toll on you as a person, and it’s extremely hard once you’re in it to get out of it.

Where do I go from here with Life at the Poverty Line?

I am donating a chunk of the money I worked for, but didn’t use this month to local shelters and food banks.  Any help to get people off the streets and well fed is important.  And I would like to give locally to support my community.  I will let you know once I have done a little more research into which charities I’ll be giving to.

I will also be more frugal.  I understand the value of money a bit more and how to stretch each dollar.  I will continue setting a budget of money I can spend and saving the rest for emergencies or a large expense.

Tomorrow I start A Photograph a Day.  I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do with this topic!

Three hundred and thirty-six

Personal poverty stories

I’ve spent the day reading personal stories of poverty.  Maybe I should have done this at the beginning of this month, but I feel like I understand them more now.  Women whose fridges look like mine right now – a few condiments and not much else.  Men who have important things to say but are overlooked because they have lost their legs, can’t afford an apartment and therefore panhandle on the street to try and hopefully save enough to pay for rent.  Mothers who lose their babies because they water down the milk or formula because they can’t afford to feed their children properly.

The food coming from food banks is not very healthy.  Rent subsidies are not high enough to afford decent, safe housing.  Rent-to-own companies are preying on the poor, and cheating them out of money in the long term.  Trading sex for accommodation is not uncommon.  These are stories of depression, hopelessness, coping, and what to do to change this.

Here are some quotes from some of the stories I read and below, where to read the full reports/articles:

“The furniture and all that stuff is my past life… left over from the gravy days… a lot of women march into poverty with the goods they had before.”

“Never having enough money or enough of anything to meet basic needs has taken a toll on my health, on my self-esteem and on my idea of who I am and where I fit in this world. Living close to the edge of disaster on a daily basis eats away at your soul and destroys you from the inside out.”

“The two nights that it snowed she slept in a port-a-potty, to get out of the snow and wind. She joked and said it wasn’t bad because at least she had a bathroom but no light to read her book. She tried sitting at a bus stop under a streetlight to read but was told by police that she had to move because the bench wasn’t her living room.”

“She had always assumed that homeless people were on the street because they wanted to be there, that she never dreamed that it could happen to her or just how fast someone could find themselves homeless.”

“…an apartment where cleanliness means a sponge bath in the kitchen sink or a walk to the nearest pool house, and the toilet – shared with neighbors – is in a small closet in the hall.”

“In a typical day, he said, he would send out 10 resumes and make 10 calls.  But the months went by and nothing happened. ‘This is the first time I’m out of a job since I was 8, when I had a paper route,’ he said. ‘I kept thinking the economy would get better, and it just hasn’t.'”

“Circumstances put people where they are…You’re living in a cockroach-infested, one-room place that is not as big as half of the room we are sitting in now, about the size of a jail cell.  And you are supposed to live twelve months of the year like this? And not go out and beat each other up? And rob each other? And go and steal, and do this and do that? Because what else have you got, what else have you got to lose?”

“It is not our fault. We don’t want to be doing this. We didn’t choose this. We didn’t say OK I’m going to be homeless today. And have nothing to eat and no place to go.”

Read more at:

Women’s Perspective on Poverty: photos and stories by women on low-income in Calgary, http://www.ucalgary.ca/gender/WAFI%20Report2.pdf, (Quotes 1-4)

Poverty Stories.  A blog by David Schwab Abel, reporter for the Boston Globe and adjunct professor of journalism at Boston University and Emerson College. http://davidabel3.blogspot.com/ (Quotes 5-6)

Voices: Women, Poverty and Homelessness in Canada.  Rusty Neal.  Report of the National Poverty Association, May 2004. http://intraspec.ca/WomenPovertyAndHomelessnessInCanada.pdf (Quotes 7-8)

Three hundred and thirty five

I was flipping through the Toronto Life January 2012 edition, in their “Where to get good stuff cheap” section when I came across this sentence: “On sale for $495, it’s as cheap as it is versatile”.  And they are writing about a DRESS!  A cotton, plaid, shirt-dress – nothing fancy.  The more I look through the section, the more I see why Torontonians are constantly lured into spending money.  Nothing in the “good stuff cheap” section is all that cheap.  I guess they’re trying to go for how to get expensive items at a discount.  But I’m not sure “cheap” is the right word for a $495 cotton dress!

Prices stand out to me since living on $4 a day.  I never really noticed how expensive things are.  It’s hard to buy milk and cereal for under $4 (or almond milk, as I’m still on the no dairy thing from vegan month).  And I’m definitely not buying any new clothes or anything that isn’t completely mandatory.  It’s interesting how not having those “rewards” (like buying a new sweater, or treating yourself to a chocolate bar) makes you change your reward system and value different things.

Parkdale

We (as in you, the readers, and I) were talking about really understanding what it’s like to live in poverty in Canada, and how I need to hit the streets to see what life at the poverty line is really like.  I only need to walk outside my door to see this.  I live in Parkdale – a mix of low-income housing, lots of new immigrants, artists, and gentrified areas.  It is a diverse section of Toronto with lots of character.  There are “hipster” bars beside run-down cafes and food banks.  Walking up Jameson Avenue, lined with tall, low-rent apartment buildings, you run into all sorts of different people.  There are hard-working newly immigrated families.  Students goof around, old men mumble to themselves, and drug addicts get high or come down.  Teenage girls giggle and their mothers or fathers push carts of groceries home from the discount store.  There are people of all colours.  This is a working class neighbourhood, with some poorer than others.

In the Parkdale 2011 Report Card on Health, Housing and Food Security (which Parkdale failed most categories),  The Parkdale Community Health Centre explains: “57% of our clients report income under $20,000 and more than 30% of our clients live with mental health issues.”  I love Parkdale, but I watch some of the people here struggle – sometimes dealing with mental illness, sometimes dealing with money at the bank, sometimes just dealing with life at the coffee shop.  I wonder what they are thinking as they stare out of the window over their coffee for hours.

Here are some residents of Parkdale who explain what poverty is to them (from The Toronto Star):

Three hundred and thirty-four

Motivation

There have been times this year when I’ve really not wanted to write.  When I’d rather just relax and do something completely mindless.  When I procrastinate writing until 10pm, even though I have had the blank page in front of me all evening since I arrived home from work.  When the energy just doesn’t seem to exist to do something productive.  When a glass of wine and sleep seem like the only course of action.

These times are intensified when I don’t have plans that need to be accomplished that day.  I always get more done when I have more to do.  It’s motivation and deadline-driven.  When I have to be out of the house at a certain time, I will get everything I want to get done accomplished before I leave.

But what happens when I feel overwhelmed because I have no money to spend, no place to be and stressed because the “to be paid” stack of bills is getting bigger and bigger?  Combine that with a lack of exercise, and bad processed fast food common in low-income households, it can create a downward spiral difficult to get out of.

Today is a “I don’t want to write” day for me.  Although I do not live in extreme poverty, I can see the beginnings of the downward spiral.  My “I don’t want to do anything” days are becoming more frequent, and that scares me.  All caused by stress and money.

A little motivation is sometimes what I need to kick start my life and pull me out of my funk.  So here’s a video from One.org of how anti-poverty activists are really making a difference:

And check out their Living Proof website where they show the good news about what is happening with extreme poverty around the world.  Here’s an inspiring video of a woman who is now growing her own crops to provide for herself:

It’s always great to hear some good news.  And it’s definitely helping my mood, putting things into perspective, and motivating me to keep going.