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,, (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. (Quotes 5-6)

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

Three hundred and thirty

Personal stories Part One

I’ve been talking about sharing stories of people who have been through (or are going through) financial troubles.  I think it’s really important to help understand the many faces of Canadian poverty and how to overcome that.  A few days ago one of the gracious readers of the blog, theragingarcangel (I forgot to ask you if you want me to put up your real name, so I’ll leave it as this for now), commented that he’d be happy to share his financial story on the blog.  We did an e-mail interview and here are the questions and his very personal responses:

1. You said you grew up with a little money, but because of the divorce of your parents, you ended up with a lot less. Do you think your childhood taught you certain ways to deal with money?
– Hmmm…. not initially, no — all I witnessed, as a 15 year old, was the stress it put on mom with two teenaged boys, and a baby.  But I guess we never starved or were cold, so she must have managed to scrimp somehow, and it was in my much later life when she was able to talk to me about that period of time, that I learned how resourceful she was.  Unfortunately, it has only been VERY recently that she has started to impart that wisdom on me.  I think it is “easier” to be careful with money when you don’t have any…

2. What was the turning point that sent you into debt (I’m assuming from your comment the other day that you are paying off debt and that’s why you don’t have any extra money now)?
– A few factors, like a slow moving train wreck:  I came out of university with a year remaining and couldn’t finish because of funds, into an early 1990’s economy that had no jobs (for almost 3 years), and the constant need/obligation/feeling to help out as much as possible to lessen the financial burdens at home…then a bad breakup with my fiancée when I was around 29 which I didn’t handle well (you can use your imagination and you would probably be accurate with the filling in of the blanks here), and THEN… I moved in to my aunt’s house to help take care of her two little girls after their dad went crazy, and became the parental figure for my cousins.  That last one was a great expense as there were many legal things to take care of and so forth. (It may help to know that this aunt is my mom’s youngest sister, and she is only 6 months older than me, and we went to highschool and university together, so she is really more like my sister — big Jamaican family)

3. How have you coped since then?  Negative and positive ways.
– negative –> used to drink way too much ten years ago or so, and spent a lot of money on keeping unconsciousness
– positive –> learned to appreciate my family and friends more, for sure.  Learned to do much more involved budgets and planning…of course the endless stress of remaining employed is always on my mind (especially with the mass layoffs that seem to never end these days all around) and it affects most of my monetary plans and decisions.  But I have slowly been learning to avoid the bars and to buy groceries more and to look for less expensive things to do out, with or without the kids (cousins) and to enjoy video games at home!

4. How does it make you feel?
– Obviously it can be frustrating, when you know you want to take a vacation but you can’t justify it because of car payments or rent or the paying off things you owe on still, but I long ago dealt with the fact that this is my life right now, and I am at least lucky to be healthy and live here as opposed to some truly poor place where I would have no opportunity to improve my situation.  At the same time, I know that our society also promotes a live-beyond-your-means-lifestyle, and I am getting older and wiser, so I try not to fall into it.  Cash is king.

5. What’s your financial plan for the future?
– I am saving in an RRSP so I hope to have enough down payment money, a continuing good source of income, and most of my debts paid off (to a legal organization) within the next 12-24 months, so that I can start looking at properties.  Since I was 18, with the exception of when I was 24-28, I have been living with someone, or on a couch, or at my moms, or with friends with kids…I have longed for a reasonable, safe, clean place to call my own.  At 43, a house seems like a distant dream to me now, maybe even a waste of space, since I am single… but it would be nice, and I still like to hope.  Even a little condo would do, if I could have just enough space for someone to crash if they wanted to stay over.
– my plan is simple: pay off things and owe nothing by 2015 (other than where I live)

6. What’s one practical piece of advice you can give other people going through the same thing as you?
– be VERY CAREFUL with Credit Cards, and also pay yourself, even if it is a dollar a day. (That is two things!!) You can’t just work and have nothing, so get strict with saving, even if you have to make someone else take and hold the money for you.  If I had started doing that earlier, I would be in a MUCH better place right now.

Thanks for doing this!  It’s great to be able to post some personal stories.  
– Anytime.  I spend a lot of time educating younger people around me on how to avoid some of the mistakes I made along the way in this life…

Two hundred and thirty-four

Another interview with a vegan friend…

Sheri is a friend of mine from university.  She recently became vegan for health reasons, as opposed to my previous interviewee, Amy‘s, ethical choice (although Sheri’s is an ethical choice as well).  Here is what she had to say:

1. When did you become vegan and why?

I started eating vegan about 5 months ago. I had a few health concerns this year. At the beginning of the year, they found a 10cm mass on one of my ovaries. When they removed it in March, they found that there was cancer in it. So they wanted to go back in an remove that ovary and my appendix (because it’s related to that kind of tumour). So at the end of June I had my second surgery. I am lucky that the cancer was completely contained, and after the second surgery, everything was okay, so I did not require any more or any treatments. But surgery sucks, and a six week recovery period after each one sucks even more.

So after my first surgery, I started really thinking about eating vegan. I was a vegetarian for two years before, and always had it in the back of mind, but did not think I could give up ice cream and cheese. But when I found out that I had a form of cancer and would require more surgeries, I decided that I want to keep my body as healthy as possible. I did a lot of research and reading to understand plant-based diets and how I can get my calcium without having milk etc. And after learning about the environmental concerns and the animal cruelty (those pictures and stories would turn anyone off animal products), I was convinced.

So I started out slowly.

I decided to be really strict when I was in charge of my own food and then a little more lenient when I was at other people’s homes. But I’ve been educating my family about it and they are all into it. We have so many dietary issues in my family that we’re used to making more than one ‘kind’ of food, so that makes it easier. Even my 78 year old Italian grandmother is making her delicious lasagna, ravioli and manicotti vegan for me.

And the thing is, I did not miss ice cream this summer and I don’t miss the cheese. I think it’s because I set my mind to it and knew this is something I wanted to do for my own health, so it made the transition much easier for me.

2. What is the hardest thing about being vegan?

The hardest thing about eating vegan (I’m not a vegan, I just eat vegan, I couldn’t give up leather shoes…..not yet at least) for me is pretty much the same thing that was hard as a vegetarian, eating at restaurants. That’s really the biggest challenge. That or when you’re at someone’s house, or there is a staff lunch at work etc. Now I always bring a ‘just in case’ meal when I go to a meeting or workshop where lunch is included, just in case I can’t eat what’s provided. But most times I have been okay.

3. Do you ever feel like you’re missing out (and do you ever cheat)?

I don’t ever feel like I’m missing out. I feel like I missed out before, because now that I am so much more concerned about what I eat, I try so many new things and no longer get stuck in the same routine that I used to before, eating the same things I’ve been eating since I was a kid.

And yes I ‘cheat’. But I don’t consider it ‘cheating’ because they’re my own rules. Usually ‘cheating’ happens when I’m at someone’s house and I need to eat and don’t want to be a huge pain, particularly if it’s someone I don’t see often and therefore does not really know about my diet. But the ‘cheating’ is very minimal now. But the one thing I will allow myself to ‘cheat’ on are those Chocolate Mint Girl Guide cookies they sell in the fall. I love those things, and I figure that since they only come out once a year, I can do that. :)

4. How does it make you feel health wise?

I feel great. I did not notice much of a difference going from vegetarian to vegan, just like I didn’t notice much of a difference becoming vegetarian. I think my body was meant for this kind of diet. I barely ever feel bloated or sick after eating any more, which was always a common occurrence with my semi-sensitive stomach. And I have lost about 10 pounds, purely from the change in diet. I know this because the weight loss came during the six weeks of recovery from my second surgery, when I couldn’t be physically active but still had a good appetite. And I’ve managed to keep it off, so dropping those few pounds also helps on the ‘healthy’ aspect.

5. Do you cook a lot or eat out at restaurants? What’s your fav recipe and/or restaurant?

I’ve cooked more in the past five months than I ever have in my life. I love my sweets and I love rich foods, so I bought a few vegan cookbooks and started cooking. I wanted to make sure I did not miss out on anything. I’ve always cooked, I hardly ever ate pre-made/processed foods. But now cooking/baking is much more exciting for me. That may make me sound kind of nerdy. I’ve even been making breads. I love trying out a new vegan recipe and seeing how delicious it is. And most of the ones I have tried have been absolutely delicious.

It’s harder to eat at restaurants, plus eating out all the time is expensive, I don’t understand how people can afford to do it. But eating at Asian restaurants (Thai, Japanese are two of my favs) is much easier than other restaurants, such as Italian (also my fav). But I make it work.

Three of my favourite recipes so far are Pumpkin Pecan Banana Bread, Yam and Black Bean Tacos and Double Chocolate Chip cookies (which I add a hint of mint to).

Thanks Sheri!  The recipes are from Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook and I will be trying them out soon.  They look delicious.

Two hundred and twenty-seven

Every week I find I’m using the skills or knowledge I gained from my previous months.  Yesterday I ordered some a few vegan books online that people recommended or that I was interested in from and they arrived today (free shipping and so fast).  The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone is a #1 New York Times Bestseller and I’ve seen on Oprah (the rare time I watch Oprah) as well as a friend told me I should read it.  Skinny Bitch, another #1 New York Times Bestseller, is supposed to be a great read on what crap we are eating and why it’s not good for us.  Finally, Animal Ingredients A to Z will help me sort out what is really vegan and what is not, including what beer and wine I can drink.  I’ll be writing more about these as I read them.


I’ve decided to do a few interviews with people who are vegan and have been for a long time.  I’m interested to know why they chose a vegan diet and what the challenges are.  The questions I asked are:

1. When did you become vegan and why?
2. What is the hardest thing about being vegan?
3. Do you ever feel like you’re missing out (and do you ever cheat)?
4. How does it make you feel health wise?
5. Do you cook a lot or eat out at restaurants? What’s your fav recipe and/or restaurant?

My first interview is with a high school friend of mine, Amy Toon, who I found out was vegan when she responded to one of my Facebook comments on being vegan for the month.  Her response was as follows…

I became vegan about 7 years ago. The hardest thing about being vegan for me is finding good stylish boots. Seriously, it’s very hard.

I never feel like I’m missing out. I made this choice based on what I believe to be right. I never see a hunk of cheese or a slab of meat and think I wish that was going into my mouth.  I feel healthy. I’m not sure if I feel healthier than anyone else. I feel, I believe, like a 31 year old should feel. Some days I’m tired, I still get colds, but most days I feel just fine.

I eat out a lot. I’m not a cooker, I never have been. And when I do make things at home it’s usually sandwiches or vegan nachos. They have vegan cheese (daiya is the best) vegan sour cream, vegan ground round…

All in all, my ethics overrode my taste buds. I don’t push it on anyone, and I have found that more meat eaters give me a hard time and try to make me feel like I’ve made the wrong choice…to be honest I don’t know why they care so much about what I eat or wear…  And no I don’t cheat. I’m sure that at times when I go out to eat sometimes [animal] stock is used or something. I try to only eat at vegan or vegetarian places but I’m not going to make a massive deal out of it.

Thanks Amy. I find most interesting her comment about meat eaters giving her a hard time.  I just got a message from a friend saying she’s afraid of what this month will turn me in to.  She was saying it as a joke, but  I think a lot of people feel this way.  To be honest, until I started this month, I didn’t really understand why anyone would want to be vegan.  I’m now considering sticking with this after the month is over.  There’s something to be said about knowing what you are putting in your body and I feel really healthy.

One hundred and thirty-six

I did a lot of online shopping yesterday.  Too much probably.  Do I really need three new dresses?  But in order for me to talk about online shopping, I sort of need to actually shop online.  I’ll be interested to see how quick things are shipped to me.  And whether they fit.  A tape measure and a photo don’t really help me see whether the clothing suits my body type.

I realize I’m not very good at finding amazing deals on the web, so I thought I’d ask my online shopping expert friend Michael to answer a few questions to help me out:

1. Why do you shop online?
I can either find hard-to-find items that are unique or useful (like tech stuff or gadgets) or I can find things for ridiculously cheap. Both have their plusses.

2. Where do you find the best deals/what sites do you regularly use?
Checking regularly on ebay really helps if youre looking for something specific, like a certain brand of clothing or accessory, but you have to be good at sniping auctions to get the best deals.
My favorite online store is Everything is shipped from Hong Kong , so if you can wait 3 weeks , they don’t charge shipping and the prices are unbelievable.

3. Do you have any funny stories about online shopping?
Nothing really funny. I only had one bad experience where an item from India I bought on ebay never came to me, but I filed a complaint with paypal and after a week got a refund.

4. What’s the best deal you got online?
I got a $900 Invicta watch for $96.00 with free shipping from the US on eBay. I also just recently got a 5meter strip of waterproof LED lights for $40.90 with free shipping and the cheapest other online store I saw it in was more than $250.00.

Thanks Michael!