Friday, April 17, 2015

My $29 Food Challenge

Simone's groceries - just $27!
Inspired by Gwyneth Paltrow's goop.com $29 Food Stamp Challenge, I wanted to take this challenge as well to see just how much food I could buy with 29 bucks and live off of it for a week. As a single female, I don't have a husband/SO or 2-3+ kids to feed, so it is practically the norm for me to survive perfectly fine on a grocery budget of $30 or less per week. The key is to buy staple products that can be used in various meals to stretch the product over a few days. I purchased foods from all four food groups: meat, fruit/vegetables, diary, and grains.

I usually just eat a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. Make protein smoothies for lunch, and a side of salad, I'll eat a protein bar mid-day, and for dinner I can make penne pasta with Alfredo sauce and some veggies, or add some grilled chicken. I went to Kroger to buy my groceries because I had some coupons which saved me $2.15, bringing my total food bill down to $27.64! Not seen in the photo but included in my grocery shopping is a 3-quart jug of Ice Mountain water for only $1. I think I did a great job with my shopping. One thing that I want to stress is that I chose to buy some products from the Simple Truth organic line because I like to eat as healthy as possible and I try to buy foods that are non-GMO. So if someone else were to buy the exact same items, they could literally save even more money. For instance, the can of corn, I wanted to pay 29 cents more for the can of Simple Truth organic corn at $1.29  - whereas someone else would decide to buy the Del Monte can of corn for only $1. Same thing with the organic chicken. There is a notable price difference between cage free, no-antibiotics/no hormones, organically raised chicken that Simple Truth sells, in comparison to a Tyson's chicken breast package.

Goop.com's Californian groceries.
When you look at goop's grocery items (approximate cost - $24), it's very, very green and organic, much like her reputed daily diet. I think it's safe to say that it is admirable the awareness that Gwyneth has raised by taking on this food stamp challenge, but the reality is that the very people who survive off of food stamps which only permit them to buy $29 worth of groceries, do not buy the type of food that Gwyneth does, or, even what I buy. Like, who needs 7 limes? Really?

At the end of the day, I think what is more newsworthy from this challenge is the focus of having access to good quality healthy foods. Not everyone has access, the ability, or the motivation to buy the foods shown in this article. Hopefully some people's food buying habits will change from the publicity of this project that goop.com took on.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

New Heights of Frustration With Michigan Living

As each day passes while I live here in Ypsilanti, MI, my frustration becomes more evident and it's a signal that I need to move on with my life. But the reality of the situation is that change does take time.  And the more time I have, the BETTER my plan will be as I make my move to California in late 2016. On my way home this evening, after having a good workout at the gym, I experienced a road rage incident with people who apparently find  it as a source of entertainment to try to cause accidents with strangers. Since I have moved from my previous apartment in Ann Arbor, where I lived for the past 12 years, the IQ has seriously dropped since I move to neighboring Ypsilanti. There is a healthy diverse mix of people in this community which I like, however, the majority of them are blue collar workers with a blue collar, limited world/community view, rust belt attitude, and I'm sick and tired of them and this environment.

I'm grateful that I am able to travel to foreign countries and experience life with people in different cultures. It allows me to grow and develop as a person, and as an American. Here in Michigan, it's evident that most people here don't travel much because they lack a certain level of culture that people who travel regularly possess. Dealing with driving around town lately has become a stressful mental chore because there have been so many accidents on the road due to rude and reckless driving. The speed limit on the highways around here is 70 mph. So that means people drive 85 mph, or more. And when these traffic accidents occur, it is complete GRIDLOCK in the Ann Arbor/Ypsi area, and what makes it so bad is that so many roads are under repair that there are no detours to take to alleviate traffic congestion due to accidents. It's a symptom of how poorly designed the infrastructure is on the roads in this area. And when ignorant hillbillies (I'm using this exaggerated term broadly to cover at least 50% of the general population that commute around here) cause these accidents, and add to the stress of gridlock, it is incredibly frustrating and it almost puts me in a blind fury. When I get so angry, I know I'm getting angry, and I force myself to stop being angry by realizing that this situation is what it is, and I will be leaving this fucked up town/state in due time. I will look back on these days and hug myself for hanging in there, but for now, even the beautiful Ford Lake view that I have from my apartment cannot make up for all the annoyances I encounter from the people and elements that constantly surround me.

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page." - St. Augustine

At this very moment, I'm grateful that it's quiet - which allows me to write this cathartic rant. My next door neighbor is not very nice. She's a 60-something woman who regularly has parties in her apartment, and because we share a common wall, the noise from her apartment spills over into my apartment and is very disturbing. I have asked her three times (1, 2, 3) to turn the music down, but during my last request, she copped a very bad attitude because I had the nerve to ask her to turn down her music again. What civilized person doesn't comply to a simple request like that? When I filed a complaint with the management office, this ghetto woman stood outside of my apt door the following day and loudly told her friend so that I could hear, "After living here for 10 years, no one has complained about my music, but I don't give a fuck, I'll keep playing it loud. I don't care." Her attitude is just one example of a common dog eat dog mentality of the people in Ypsilanti. I can't change anything here, but I will leave this place in due time. I have other complaints about this apartment community - like how most dog owners don't pick up after their nasty dogs, and how some disgusting creep walks 100 feet from the parking lot to the apartment building door, only to then spit up half of their lung right there at the entrance way! I used to be able to walk barefoot outside my previous apartment in Ann Arbor, but hell no, not here I won't! What kind of people don't clean up after their dogs, and spit phlegm by the front door where everyone can see it?

I have been contacted by the management to see if I'll renew again, and I told them that I will renew, but this will be my final year as I will be moving out of state. It's too much trouble to move to another place when I know I'm moving to California, so I will stick with the devil I know. I realize that most of what I have written may appear whiny and maybe has an elitist tone. But I don't care what you think, it's good for me to vent like this on my own blog than giving someone the finger, and risk having them shoot me, or damage my property. The next time, and there will be a next time, someone plays games with me on the road, cut me off, drive slow deliberately, refuse to use their turn signal, or play their ghetto music too loud, I need to remain calm because I know that the countdown to move out West has commenced and that I will leave this area soon.

Just to show you that I'm not losing my mind or asking for something unobtainable, here is a post written by a woman who relocated to my very area a few years back. I read this and I sympathize with her 100% because she's johnny on the spot of her assessment of Michigan. It's disheartening to agree with such a negative rant, but I've spent most of my life in Michigan and I know she is speaking the truth.

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What Is Wrong With People In Michigan? 

My family and I moved to Michigan almost 3 years ago from Florida only b/c my husband couldn't find a job at that time and yes, there was a job in his specialty in Ann Arbor. We moved to the Canton/Ypsi area and we have been miserable since the day we moved here and want so badly to move back down south. My main problem is the people. We are looking for others that may have moved from the south or others that don't agree with the way people behave. All i have seen are alot of mean, ill-hearted, unsociable, close-minded people who are very full of themselves and have no concept of what real life is really about. No compassion or kindness and forget hospitality. My husband loves his job for the 1st time in 20 years and we are struggling to decide which is more important, being happy at his job or having friends and a life with others. I HAVE NEVER been without friends in my life-I have always had plenty of friends and I have yet to make one here, and I have tried ALOT, and no I'm not from a small town, I have actually lived in several cities, mid-size to large.... I just don't understand what is wrong with people here.........If anyone wants to chat lmk.............   http://www.experienceproject.com/stories/Hate-Living-In-Michigan/1724285

Monday, April 6, 2015

It's Really Springtime!


Since my last post, I'm happy to report (aka, brag) that I am in possession of the OG Bag from Lo & Sons, and I have my new iPad! And in these few weeks, it is now Springtime and I cannot emphasize enough how my spirits have been lifted by the calendar shift of seasons. It's still a little nippy outside some mornings, but today, it is sunny and it will be in the low 60s. Trust me, this is good weather for Michigan in early April!

The month of March was a bit hectic as I worked hard for a fundraiser in my fan community. Although we were just a tad short of our goal, we still did a great job and I'm at peace with how I managed the fundraiser. It's good experience to help me with future jobs by demonstrating my initiative in selecting a fundraiser, and the marketing and strategizing I did to get the funds I was able to secure. I know now who are the true fans and those who are just looky loos. Nuff said.

I'm just 44 days out from my vacation and I am so excited to visit Ireland and England again. I have drawn up a savings budget for the next six weeks and so far I'm on target to have my vacation paid for without the use of one credit card. And speaking of credit, I'm hunkering down on tidying up my credit report. I'm subscribed to Credit Karma and it's a good tool to check up on regularly to make sure my report is accurate. One of my goals has been to not use my credit cards - if I can't pay cash for it, I don't need it. I want zero debt. Credit cards will be for emergencies only. For example, last Friday, I went to the Salvation Army store to see if I could snag a couple pair of pants and some shirts. Upon visiting the store, it's easy to be overwhelmed with all the stuff they have. But I was specifically looking for some khakis, some dress slacks, a polo shirt, and a long sleeve grey top. And I found all items, and the total was less than $7! These four items will expand my wardrobe significantly. I could have gone to the mall and spent almost $100 or more for the items I got, but instead, they were gently used high quality clothes from a second hand store. It helps that this is a college town with money to burn. So there is a lot of nice stuff to be found at the salvation army here in Ann Arbor! BTW, I'm wearing the khakis and the grey top right now!

My next purchase will be some very good walking shoes for my trip. During my 2012 visit to Ireland, in anticipation of the long hikes I would be doing, I purchased some Keen hiking boots. For some reason, after all the walking I did, my big toe on my right foot developed black toenail and it hurt like hell for weeks after! But I'm prepared to deal with this torture next time if I over exert my feet. But still, I want some newer shoes that are fashionable, and not as clunky as my boots.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Big Spring Purchases

Now that my airfare is all purchased for my upcoming European vacation, there are two products that I WANT to purchase soon which will help my vacation be more efficient. I declare want instead of need because these are purely vanity purchases that I deserve and will be put to great use and last for years.
The OG (Overnight/Gym bag) in Chocolate.
Firstly, a girl needs a proper carry on bag. Since I don't have a non-stop, I need my most precious items close to me. I currently have several carry on bags that I could easily use, but my investment in the OG bag by Lo & Sons (watch the video demonstration on the awesomeness of this travel bag) is something I want to have not only for this upcoming trip, but future trips too. BTW, Lo &Sons have a spring sale of 20% off. Perfect timing! I will buy it in the Chocolate shade because that will match my London Fog suitcase.

In my most recent quick weekend trip to Toronto, I used my bulky duffle Vera Bradley weekender bag. It was the perfect size to carry all by stuff, including a big fluffy robe to wear in my hotel room. Hey, it was 9 degrees when I traveled to Toronto during late January. But for my spring trip to Ireland/England, it's time to use a bag that is not only posh, but very, very functional and compact. As per the demonstration video, I really like all the neat pocket features, and the fact that it will perfectly attach to my larger suitcase. Also, I won't have to stress out and fight for overhead space on the plane, I can just place the OG under my seat and let the commoners bicker and deal with tight bin spots.


Since my smart phone will not work in Europe, I need to upgrade from my ancient 2011 iPod Nano 4 toy and use something more functional for communication. I will also purchase the iPad Mini 2 32GB. I prefer the smaller style of this iPad because it'll not only fit very neatly into my OG bag, but when I'm carrying a purse or backpack, I can slip that bad boy into it and not worry about it being too cumbersome.

With these new items that I will be purchasing soon, I'll be all set for travel comfort and efficiency, and having an updated form of wi-fi communication and internet usage tool.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Tax Refund Time!


I received my tax refund in my bank account this morning and you just don't know how much I rejoiced when I saw that significant deposit! I processed my tax refund exactly four weeks ago, and as I was working on the refund template on the HR Block website, I was amazed by how much money I was getting back. I have never received this large amount, and I'm still awaiting an equally impressive amount from my state refund. So to get on top of booking my airfare for my Ireland/England trip in late May, I booked my outbound flight to Shannon through US Airways, and then I booked my Shannon to London leg on Aer Lingus. Along with booking on Aer Lingus, I reserved my Heathrow Express ticket too. All combined, I still saved $719 by not flying the rip off non-stop Delta flight from Detroit to London.

The importance of booking my flight with Aer Lingus so early is because they sell out quick. And when I purchased my seat this morning, they only had 3 seats left in the 'Plus' ticket category on my dates of travel (this price category allows you to pre-select your seat).

Due to some winter maintenance expenses for my car in the past few days, barring any other emergency bills and crap, I'm on target to use my state refund tax to buy an iPad. This will be a great tool to use while traveling and I like the iPad Mini 2 32GB; I don't need the newest, fastest and largest iPad. I mainly want it for wi-fi communication purposes so I can connect with family back home, and my friend in London. Since my mobile phone doesn't work overseas, it would help being able to keep in touch with folks. I'll buy it in a few weeks.

It really is a great stress reliever when I make the flight reservations for my next great adventure! Thank you tax refund!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Oscar Season is Over and my Favorite Won!

Eddie Redmayne is very happy to win Best Actor.
I'm grateful that the 2014 award season is over, and I'm pleased that the one category and performance that I have been rooting for has won. Eddie Redmayne was bestowed as the Best Actor last night at the 87th Academy Awards, and he was very, very happy! I jumped up and down and was just very pleased for him.

I did not watch every second of the program because I don't like all the song and dance and lame jokes, I just don't have the patience for it. I'm not going to slam Neil Patrick Harris, he does a good job as a host from the bits I have seen, but it's the material that he has to work with, and the way the show is produced that I find to be very corny. I did not have a care in the world with the Birdman vs. Boyhood Oscar battle, and as it turns out, Birdman won.

It's typical for Hollywood to vote for a film that is about actors. But it's also hypocritical of Hollywood to celebrate a film about an actor who played a superhero named Birdman, but they can't be bothered to ever nominate an actual superhero film for Best Picture. I look at this win as a way for Hollywood to pat itself on its back in supporting a film that has such a large cast of well known actors playing, actors. And it's another win for them to appear to support superhero films, but you have to be a naive if you think that's what they really do. The Dark Knight (2008) was a film that AMPAS refused to recognize for a Best Picture nomination. However due to the untimely death of Heath Ledger who brilliantly played the Joker, they gave him the Oscar for Supporting Actor that year. To AMPAS, real superhero movies are beneath them, they are silly popcorn genre films, not serious, well acted and crafted films like the one they honored last night.

For the first time in Oscar history, all eight films that were nominated walked away with an Oscar. I cannot help but think that this was not a coincidence; it's a deliberate act of spreading the love, but, not too much love on certain films, like Boyhood (the purported front runner, which just got 1) and American Sniper (which I thought would at least win both sound awards, but only got 1 as well). Meanwhile, Whiplash got 3 awards, The Grand Budapest Hotel got 4, and Birdman won 4 along with Best Picture and Director. The Imitation Game and my favorite, The Theory of Everything, had to settle for a measly single Oscar too. Selma won an Oscar for Best Song that seemed to bring many people in the audience to tears. It didn't have much affect on me because I thought the whole performance was contrived and overkill. Yes, I'm cynical because I'm tired of the pomp and bullshit of the Oscars.
Birdman won Best Picture
One main ire I had with the Oscars this year, but kept semi-quiet about it, was that Birdman director Alejandro G. Inarritu was the only person of color nominated in the five top categories. Of the five actors nominated, I'm not going to say whom should have been excluded, but I find it troubling that Selma actor, David Oyelowo did not garner enough votes to be nominated. If Morton Tyldum could be nominated for Best Director, how in the heck was David overlooked? So, in order to make up for this madness, the Oscar producers fall all over themselves to have a record number of minority performers and presenters on the show. It almost looked like the NAACP awards, that's how many notable people of color were presenting and entertaining at the Oscars this year.

I don't trust AMPAS because I believe the voting process and production of the program is played like a smart chess game with the powers that be at the highest echelons who know where the next move will be, and why it has to go into that spot. AMPAS can talk all they want about how democratic their organization is and how democratic the voting process is, but it's a pathetically predictable program in the major categories where biases and politics easily form voting decisions. But hey, who am I but just a mere movie fan? I'm probably the only person on the planet who feels this way. Nah, I doubt it. But in the end, I'm glad Eddie Redmayne won, and I hope Bradley Cooper wins his Oscar one day soon.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Oscar 2015: Best Actor Race Commentary

Eddie Redmayne has come too far to not win on Oscar night.
Going way back to September in Toronto at TIFF, after watching The Theory of Everything, I knew Eddie Redmayne was going to go all the way to Oscar night and be the strongest contender for the Best Actor Oscar. It helps that I'm a fan of the work of Stephen Hawking, and that I enjoyed the movie very much. But for the first time in a very long time, I found myself rooting for a very young actor who has had a lot of detractors discrediting his work and talent. They even loathe the fact that Redmayne has the audacity to attend almost every Hollywood red carpet event in support of his film and award ceremonies. And in a sad attempt to wish professional harm against him, they foolishly hoped that his appearance in Jupiter Ascending (an entertaining film) would slow down his momentum and lose precious Oscar votes. Silly people.

For the most part, the 'haters' don't like Eddie Redmayne's pre-Oscar award tally success (Golden Globe, SAG, and BAFTA) because Eddie's main competitor, and critical favorite, the cool Michael Keaton, for Birdman, lost out to Eddie in these very important precursor awards. For clarity, Keaton also won a Golden Globe but in the 'Comedy/Musical' category, the less serious Actor category; while Eddie won in the more prestigious Best Actor in a Dramatic Film category. What is important to note is that Eddie and Michael were in the same category for the SAG and BAFTA, and Eddie won both of those. But yet, the fans of Keaton believe that Keaton can still win the Oscar. For the past 22 years, the overwhelming majority of the time, the winner of the Best Actor SAG went on to win the Oscar, and that's what scares and concerns the Keaton fans. The other acting categories are considered clear cut locks because they also won critical support and have won the major award prizes. When Eddie won the SAG, it really pissed off a lot of people who hate 'Theory' and Eddie, and that's how I know that his SAG win has pretty much sealed the deal for Eddie to go all the way on Oscar night.

Another Best Actor winner hopeful is Bradley Cooper for American Sniper. Some Redmayne haters at the two Oscar discussion websites I visit have also thrown their support for Cooper, in case Keaton doesn't win. Their argument is just as long as Eddie doesn't win, they will be happy for anyone else to win. And it should not surprise you to know that most of the Eddie haters haven't even seen his performance in The Theory of Everything. Isn't that insane and childish? At the crux of some of the hater's argument is that Eddie is too young to win a Best Actor Oscar and he hasn't "proven" himself yet. According to Eddie's IMDB, the man has been working steadily since 2005. Eddie is 11 years older than Jennifer Lawrence when she won her Best Actress Oscar two years ago, so this reverse ageist argument is insulting and embarrassing. AMPAS does have a problem with awarding men under 40 with a Best Actor Oscar, and they love the girls to be way under 35. The other nonsense argument is that this is Michael Keaton's "only chance" to win an Oscar, and that Eddie could easily be nominated again next year instead for The Danish Girl. Oh, so AMPAS is in the business of looking through a crystal ball and determining how many more times an actor has in him to be nominated and win in a different year, instead of honoring the actor for the current year's strong performance? There's no denying that Keaton is great in Birdman, and he has a long and varied, entertaining career, but was his performance really, really that more incredible than Eddie's? I don't think so.

I have had a serious love/hate relationship with the Oscars for the better part of a decade. After last year's exhausting race-baiting, political Oscar watch game between Twelve Years and Slave and Gravity, and my favorite actor being shut out time and time again, I'm glad to take a back seat this year. The only category that I have the slightest interest in is the Best Actor and my hopes for Eddie Redmayne to win. I won't be upset if Keaton, or Cooper to win. But I can't say that for my peers at Awards Daily and Awards Watch, most of them will lose their damn minds if Eddie wins. The sinister side of me wants Eddie to win so that I can also watch the entertaining meltdown that these Eddie haters deliberately set themselves up for. I don't care which film wins Best Picture, nor do I care which director will win. I'm at peace with being on the sideline this year, gently shaking one little pom-pom for one actor.

Best Actor:
Who will win: Eddie Redmayne
Who should win: Eddie Redmayne

I knew this guy was going to be busy this Oscar season!



Saturday, January 24, 2015

I'm Going to See Bradley Cooper in The Elephant Man in London!

Bradley Cooper as The Elephant Man. 
In the nearly three years of writing for Theatre of Zen, I haven't written about my experience at a theatre production. Well the time has finally arrived and I'm excited to announce that in reference to my previous post about my London trip this spring, I am going to see Bradley Cooper in The Elephant Man! It was just announced officially yesterday (Friday, Jan. 24th) that Cooper's play will be in limited run in the West End starting in May through early August at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

I visited the box office website last night and searched for tickets during the brief time I'll be in London (26 May - 30 May). As per seat availability at the right price and location, I was able to snatch up an orphan seat in the second row of the Stalls from the stage! Seats in the Stalls are £108 or £65, so I was very lucky to find the cheaper ticket so close to the stage. With the exchange rate, it's about $100 - a lot of money for a theater ticket, but this is a unique and rare opportunity to see an A-list three-time Oscar nominated actor. And to think, to my now embarrassment, I ridiculed his Oscar nomination back in 2012, for Silver Linings Playbook, as 'the pretty one from The Hangover movies'. But upon review of Bradley's IMDB page, you know he's not just a pretty face, he's a good actor, and after his stunning portrayal in the divisive film American Sniper, Mr. Cooper deserves some respect. And what's the highest praise a fan can do other than drop some nice coin to see him on stage in London.
Seat highlighted in green is mine for the May 28th evening performance
(stall section as of Jan 24th)
According to his IMDB, he has been mesmerized by the story of the real Elephant Man, John Merrick, since he saw the 1980 film starring John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins. So much so that for his Master's thesis (he's well educated too!), the Elephant Man play was his thesis project... and here he is playing John Merrick on Broadway and now the West End. Talk about having a life long passion for a project!

I'm so excited about seeing this play because I too am very familiar with the Merrick story and saw the movie when I was a kid. Meanwhile, Bradley's American Sniper is going into its second weekend and the film is expected to be number one again with earnings close to $60 million, pushing it well past $200 million. That's an amazing feat for an R-rated film released in January.

Bradley Cooper a Navy Seal sniper, Chris Kyle
If you haven't seen American Sniper yet, this weekend is a good time to go check out what everyone is talking about.