Thursday, February 24, 2011

A History of Eating

At 5:30 pm every night, everything stopped. No television, no phone calls, no video games, no toys, no homework. Only one activity occurred in that hour: eating dinner as a family.

In our house, anyone who dared call between 5:30 and 6:30 would get the same automatic response from one of my parents: "Sorry, but Jessica's eating dinner right now. She'll have to call you back later. Can I take a message?" Callers who were bold enough to leave their name were unknowingly setting themselves up for months of future discrimination. (Because clearly, anyone who called during suppertime was a no-good heathen whose parents didn't feed them.)

The fact that our family ate dinner together every night was a point of pride for my mom. "Does [insert name of any friend I ever made here]'s family eat supper together?" my mom would ask inquisitively. If I confirmed that they didn't, her eyes would light up in triumph. "Aren't you glad we eat dinner together?" she would say proudly. It wasn't a question.

Dinnertime was family time.

Sounds lovely, right? Well, there was just one small problem--I was a picky eater of epic proportions.

I initially thought the best way to prove this statement would be to write a comprehensive list of all the foods I wouldn't eat. And then I realized that would be impossible. Instead, here's a list of the foods that I would eat, without complaint:

-Kraft Dinner
-plain spaghetti with butter (and later, as my tastes matured, parmesan cheese)
-chicken fingers
-crackers and cheese (although only particular kinds of crackers and again, I wasn't a big fan of non-melted cheese)
-toast with peanut butter
-candy (I wasn't discriminating. If it had sugar in it, I would eat it.)
-grilled cheese sandwiches
-On holidays (Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving): buns and cranberry sauce

Anything that doesn't appear on this list would ultimately invoke the wrath of my gag reflex.

Unfortunately, my mom refused to cater to my self-inflicted dietary restrictions. (Andrew's list of likes was only marginally longer than mine. His favourite foods were potatoes with butter and white rice with butter.) We got whatever was on the table.

No worries, though--I developed strategies for dealing.

I'd chew up pork chop, hide it in my cheek until the end of my meal and then stuff the remains behind the piano. Peas went under the placemat. I'd chew food and spit it out in the bathroom. (Thereafter, leaving the table during meals was regarded as a highly suspicious activity). My mom found weeks-old bowls of milk moulding under my bed. (I didn't mind cereal, but I couldn't stand drinking the milk that the cereal had been floating in. As an adult, I eat cereal with only a couple tablespoons of almond milk.) I even stuffed food into the cracks and widget holes beneath the table.

Our house was turning into a hidden smorgasbord of semi-masticated rotting food.

But it wasn't until grade three, when my teacher discovered that I was throwing out my lunch, that the food war came to a front. (I was caught throwing out a cheese bun. Although I liked cheese and I liked buns, I did not like cheese buns.) A further search of my bedroom uncovered a garbage can of rotting school lunches.

As it turned out, my picky eating was translating into far scarier territory. I stopped zipping my winter jacket up because I was convinced that it made my eight-year-old prepubescent frame look "fat." One afternoon, I broke down in tears and confided in my mom. When she asked me what I wanted to look like, I pointed to the illustrated cover of a Baby-Sitters Club book. (And you thought Barbie dolls were to blame for negative body image? Well, it turns out the public library is equally problematic.) My mom, who up until that point had pulled out a scale every night to weigh her butter, quit Weight Watchers.

At 10, I didn't look like one of the girls from the Baby-Sitters Club books. Instead, I looked like a 10-year-old. (Pictured here with my aunt, uncle and cousin. I'm the skinny little girl.)

While my parents dealt with my "eating disorder" in stride, they didn't have as much patience for my pickiness, which continued well after I realized that I was, in fact, quite skinny.

For example, there was the time my mom made chocolate zucchini cake for my birthday, which even in retrospect I think was a tad cruel. (Birthday cakes should never be a way to teach a lesson.) And then at 12, when I developed a serious aversion to meat, my dad took to braying "Baaaaabe" whenever pork or lamb was on the table. (Convenient year for that movie to come out, really.)

The dinner table had turned into a war field. Every meal was a battle.

Meals often ended in me sitting at the table alone, staring woefully at the three green beans left on my plate. I wish I was joking when I say that our family albums are filled with countless photos of me crying at the dinner table. (My family also took great pleasure in taking pictures of my miserable face whenever we had fish for dinner. It was a solid strategy for mitigating my food-related tantrums.)

(Just in case it's not clear, that last sentence was very bitter sarcasm.)

My 9th birthday. Photographic proof of the zucchini cake in question. My mom thought she was being sneaky, but shortly after this photo was taken, I threw an epic tantrum. There's probably a photo of that, somewhere, too.

By the time I was a teenager, my palate was expanding to accept more foods. (I think ranch dressing suddenly became permissible, which was a big step forward.) I began to accept the occasional dinner invitation, which I had previously generally avoided because of my pickiness. (Whenever I was issued an invite, I would lie excessively about my known food allergies. Basically, my "allergies" were everything that I wouldn't eat. Birthday parties were easier to navigate because at least there was always candy.)

But my progress came to a sudden halt when I was hospitalized as an outpatient for a week in grade nine. I was throwing up blood and couldn't keep anything down, including water. In the weeks that followed, I still had trouble eating much other than bread and crackers. It was only a couple of weeks, but in teenage time it felt like months.

My last meal had been strawberry shortcake. I wasn't really big on strawberries prior to getting sick (too many seeds and weird little hairs), but afterwards they moved onto the "allergy" list.

Although I gained back the weight I lost during my illness, I was still borderline underweight.

By the time I was in high school, I had developed a new food-related neurosis: eating in front of people. The idea of chewing and swallowing food in front of boys was inherently unsexy. So for lunch, I would pack the following: two fruit cups, a granola bar and a juice box.

And while I'm airing out all my dirty eating-related laundry (mixed metaphor much?), I have one final confession to make: I didn't and don't like my food to touch. The idea of mixing peas with potatoes disgusts me. As such, sauces (including gravy) were once non-permissible. Juices from one food touching another was also a deal breaker.

For my 18th birthday, my mom marked my rite of passage into adulthood by presenting me with my very own divider plate. It was pink to match my hair.

On the day of my high school graduation and 18th birthday my parents hosted a party. They bought alcohol for my friends who were already 18. So why the Pepsi? I didn't like the taste of alcohol. (And who would, if you were only ever offered peach schnapps and Smirnoff Ice?)

Today, I'm proud to say that I'm no longer a picky eater. I've learned that I'm a texture-based eater and will eat most foods if they're prepared a particular way. Travelling has also done for me what years of chocolate zucchini cake never could; I just got over it. (I even went so far as to choke down the fish sauce our hosts prepared for us in Croatia when I forgot to tell them that I'm "allergic" to fish, not to mention a vegetarian.)

In fact, most of my friends don't know about my food issues. I've worked my way up to eating certain foods just to maintain polite company. I'm also very strategic when it comes to serving myself--in the case of salads, for instance, whatever ends up on my plate is usually primarily greens. (You now know all my secrets. Please don't judge me at the next potluck!)

I may no longer be a picky eater, but my favourite meal is still Kraft Dinner and I still tell people that I'm allergic to fish.

And you know something? Zucchini cake and braying aside, I know now that my mom was right. I count myself among the lucky because every night, at 5:30, my family would sit down and eat together.

Jay claims that he's going to write a children's book called "Jessica the Pickiest Vegetarian."

Curious about what I still won't eat? Here's a random sampling of the foods that I find really hard to swallow down:

-Celery (aka the devil's food)
-Mushy broccoli
-Raw broccoli (the only raw vegetables I'll consume off a party platter are cucumbers, carrots and very occasionally, red peppers)
-Cooked spinach
-Canned peas
-Whole tomatoes
-Cherry tomatoes (I've tried, trust me)
-Green olives (unless they're hidden)
-Red onion
-Any type of seafood including: shrimp, prawns, canned tuna, mussels, clams, fake crab meat, real crab meat or lobster.
-Mushrooms (but very specifically canned, button mushrooms)
-Mayonnaise (garlic mayo is sometimes permissible)
-Potato salad (unless the mayo is cut with something else)
-Egg salad sandwiches
-Pea pods (cooked or raw, but it's way worse if they're raw)
-Most soups, but particularly plain tomato soup and cream of mushroom
-Cooked cabbage

Then there's the things I eat, but don't really like:

-Pizza with tomato sauce (unless it's plain cheese pizza)
-Onions (they must be finely diced or well-cooked)
-Portobello mushrooms
-Basically any flavour of potato chips other than sour cream and onion (I prefer corn chips to potato chips)
-Peanut M&Ms
-Omlettes (Too. Much. Egg!)
-Cold sandwiches
-Broccoli stems

Things that I really I like that I probably shouldn't:

-blue cheese
-fruit cake
-bread pudding

This blog post was inspired by Katie Daubs' series on adult picky eaters.

[Edit: After reading this, my brother pointed out that I also used to hide bread crusts in the ventilation ducts. Apparently the smorgasbord was even bigger than I remember.]

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Two Months to Go!

I'm way too excited for my upcoming vacation because I just wrote an excessively long (and only mildly interesting) blog post about it. You can read it over there, on my travel blog.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Forget Travis Broyles. Danielle is the one that I love.

Actual blog posts (you know, beyond screen shots of things posted on my Facebook) to come shortly, once I am just am unemployed bum again. In the meantime, watch the video, then read Nikki's story for bonus marks.

Monday, February 14, 2011

My heart is broken.

Travis Broyles doesn't want to be my friend. He also doesn't want to write a theme song for my dog, which would, of course, feature the phrase "laser shit."

That's what happens in a free market economy, I guess.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Kindred Spirits

For those of you who only know me in blog life, I apologize for my lack of posts as of late. Right now, I'm actually getting paid to write. And unfortunately, blogging doesn't pay. (Except, of course, when you all helped me fundraise for Miss Universe Canada. And when Alex Dodd's apartment burnt down. And when marketing companies send me free stuff, which I'm really into, by the way. But apart from these exceptions, blogging is not very profitable, at least in my case.)

However, I still have time to procrastinate, it seems. Case in point:

(Click images to enlarge. I took screenshots because allegedly the posting was flagged for removal.)

I've determined that in order to prove to Travis Broyles that we are, in fact, kindred spirits, I first need to ask him to do something since after all, he is willing to do anything. And as tempting as my own theme song is (only $10!) sounds, I don't think that ordering something off of the list he presented would seal the deal. (That would be the equivalent of trying to befriend a tattoo artist by picking a butterfly tattoo out of the book and then raving about how much you love watching LA Ink.) I need to wow and impress him with my task request, which will be so amazing that he'll offer to do it in exchange for the promise of my undying friendship.

So, what should I ask Travis Broyle to do?

Four other pertinent updates for my blog-only friends:

1) One of these guys came to a party with me on Saturday night. I don't know what was more humorous--introducing him as my "new friend who I picked up at the bar," or when everyone would whisper loudly behind their hands, "This is the guy you blogged about, right?"

2) No, I never got a call from this company. Could have been that my keen proof-reading skills failed to pick up a couple of errors before I emailed it. (Contrary to popular belief, I am far from a perfectionist.) However, moments after I sent my application through, I was offered another contract that will keep me busy well into March. (So much for the layoff list. I have three contracts to complete this month.)

3) Year of the Deal update: On February 7th, I paid $3.95 for $24.55 worth of purchases. Had I left the house with all my coupons, I would have only paid $2.95. (Sunlight dish detergent was 99¢ at the Shoppers in the Eaton Centre and I had a coupon for $1.00 off at home.) Lesson learned. So far in February, I've saved exactly $69.

4) Brockton is super healthy, not to mention cute and really annoying. No giardia. No laser shit. Just teething. All is well with the pup.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

This post is boring, but you like it.

Most people describe their first time as being nerve-wracking and full of uncertainty. But I'd been thinking about it about too long. I wanted it too much. There was no need to be embarrassed. So when the moment finally came and it was clear we were both ready, I was prepared. I confidently pulled out my coupons and handed them over to the cashier.

And then I laughed all the way to the bank.

Okay, well, not really. But since my last grocery shop two weeks ago, I've learned five key things:

1) Although I've always had a solid understanding of value, I'm realizing that I have very little understanding of price. I'm good at weighing a purchase and determining its worth. But I have no idea the typical regular price of items that I frequently buy. Is toothpaste usually $10 or $5? I have no idea.

2) Nothing should ever purchased at full price. Year of the Deal is changing the way I shop. Rather than simply purchasing the "necessities" on my list, regardless of price, I now walk up and down the aisles looking for sale stickers. I'm starting to buy things that I don't need in the immediate future because they're on sale now.

3) Unfortunately, having room to build an inventory really is key. Since everything eventually goes on sale, you need to stock up when it does--otherwise you end of buying things at full price.

4) Different locations of the same chain may have different prices. (For instance, Dove body wash at the Shoppers on King & Peter was on sale for $5.99 on Thursday night. On Friday, I went to the Parkdale Shoppers only to discover it was on sale for $4.99. I was so upset about the loss of a $1.00 that I dropped a f-bomb right there in the store.) I always just assumed that all the chains in the same city would have the same prices.

5) I'm bad at math. I didn't actually learn this fact--it was just reinforced. Here's the story: I went into Shoppers on Thursday intending to spend a minimum of $50 (after coupons and sales) so I could get the free $10 gift card. But whenever I looked into my basket, I kept thinking that it wasn't enough. So I added more to the basket. The final price before taxes? $78.90. That's not even close to $50.00. (The really annoying part about this is that if I had split my purchases in half and stocked up on another $20.00 worth of items, I would have received TWO $10.00 off coupons.)

The Deals

I've determined that since I can't build an inventory, it's more useful for me to focus on tracking my total savings, rather than how much I spent on something. I'm certainly no MrsJanuary or Krazy Coupon Lady, but here are some of the deals I got with coupons:

Sunlight Laundry Detergent
Regular Price: 9.99
Sale Price: 6.99
Coupon: 1.00
Final Price: 5.99
Savings: 4.00

Head & Shoulders Shampoo
Regular Price: 8.49
Sale Price: 4.99
Coupon: 2.50
Final Price: 2.49
Savings: 6.00

One A Day Multivitamins
Regular Price: 14.99
Sale Price: 7.99
Coupon: 1.50
Final Price: 6.49
Savings: 8.50

Colgate Toothpaste
Regular Price: 3.99
Sale Price: 1.99 Sale
Coupon: 1.00
Final Price: 0.99
Savings: 3.00

The Points

This week was amazing for points collection. I likely won't continue to detail this or track it on the blog, but I was particularly proud of what went down:

Pet Store

-Double Aeroplan points. (Right now you get double Aeroplan if you purchase groceries or gas with your Amex.)
-Regular Airmiles & promotional Airmiles
-Bonus 25 Airmiles with coupon. (In total I earned 46 Airmiles points at Metro.)

-Triple Aeroplan points. (I filled up at Esso, so I received Aeroplan points. Then I paid with Amex to receive double points with their gas promo.)

-Aeroplan (paid with Amex)
-Shoppers Optimum Points
-For purchasing over $50, I got a $10 gift certificate to Shoppers.

Tracking My Savings

Okay, this is where I'm going to get in the nitty gritty details of how I'm going to track my savings this year. On that note, now's a good time to mention that the only reason I'm blogging about this is because Year of the Deal is on par with my Miss Universe campaign in terms of reader feedback and hits to my blog. (So basically, you've asked for it, although I'm not entirely sure why. Girls in bikinis vs. couponing? Do they really have equal appeal?)

Based on the five key lessons I've learned, I realized that it's necessary for me to track my savings for a couple of reason:

1. To determine how much I'm actually spending in a month on groceries and pharmacy items.
2. To gain a better understanding of value vs. price.
3. To determine the best possible price that I can purchase items for.
4. To track my overall savings for the year.
5. To justify my new obsession to people.

I've decided that it's too much of a challenge to track total grocery savings because of the sheer number of purchases and lack of itemization on receipts. (That and because I'm bad at math.) So instead, I'm going to focus on pharmacy purchases:

Click image to enlarge.

The first tab of the spreadsheet I created tracks purchases made at the drugstore. I typically buy products at Shoppers and will likely continue to do so, but if I pick up laundry detergent or toilet paper at Price Chopper or Metro, I will put it into this spreadsheet for price comparison. My hope is that with this spreadsheet, I'll not only develop a better idea of the value of products, but also of the price.

Click image to enlarge.

On the second tab, I'll transfer all the information from the first tab into the pharmacy section. In the grocery section, I'll track information on my food purchases. The key difference between the two categories is that the pharmacy "savings" will include savings by purchasing something on sale (because it's easier to track--I'll be sure to right down the regular price while I'm in the store) while the grocery savings will only track savings from coupons.

This spreadsheet will help me track my total savings for the year, as well as how much I've saved from clipping coupons. It's also meant to give me a better idea of what I typically spend so that I can identify where I can cut back.

I spent a lot of money this week. But I also saved a lot. (According to my spreadsheet, I saved $47.30, to be exact.)

And that my friends, concludes a very boring blog post. (It may be boring, but I feel a strange sense of accomplishment and I'm glad I had somewhere to share it.)

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Dear Hiring Manager

It's Tuesday night and I'm headed back from Ottawa. I was bored on the train. That is, until I saw this posting on Craiglist:

Small downtown Toronto freelance writing and research agency requires a very organized, detail-oriented Office Manager 5 days a week who will feel comfortable in a high paced bohemian-intellectual setting. . . If you think you can work with a bunch of quirky, eccentric writer types and an office full of often cranky and demanding clients, send in your resume. . . To apply please e-mail us your original and winsome cover letter and resume.

A part-time job working for a freelance writing and research agency? It sounds like a good fit. The only thing that threw me off was the demand for an "original and winsome" cover letter. I worked for three years as a resume advisor, so it really goes against the grain of my very being to write anything beyond "I worked at this place for 10 years, where I developed skills doing exactly what you're looking for."

In short, it was a challenge and I love a good challenge.

Here's what I wrote. (Some information has been removed for privacy's sake.)

February 1, 2011

Dear Hiring Manager:

I’ll admit that it goes against every grain of my being to write a “winsome” cover letter (it’s not that I’m the conventional sort, necessarily—I just strongly believe in old-fashioned professionalism), but I’m going to make a valiant effort. So, to start, here’s the two most important things you should know: I’m a Ryerson University journalism graduate who currently works as a freelance fact-checker and writer.

After completing my degree, I went on to join [a non-profit] (a charitable youth development organization) as the Office Manager. At [acronym], apart from writing fundraising materials and copy-editing government grant proposals, I was also responsible for listening to my eccentric co-workers’ tales of misadventures with neti pots, as well as dealing with the cranky helicopter parents of twenty-somethings. (I have a feeling that your demanding clients have nothing on the parent of a 24-year-old who doesn’t know how to do laundry, yet suddenly has decided that they’re capable of facilitating sexual reproductive health workshops in a developing country for eight weeks.)

Apart from my ability to defy convention by writing an original and winsome cover letter, I also have a number of other practical skills related to your Craigslist job posting. In my undergraduate years, I spent my summers working as an administrative assistant and for [the government], which allowed me to further develop my skills as a generalist. In my attached resume, you’ll find a bit more straight-forward information about how my experience matches the qualities you stated in your posting. But just in case my administrative, writing and customer service experience doesn’t sell you, here are two more fun facts to seal the deal:

1. I was a recent participant in the Miss Universe Canada GTA pageant. I entered because I thought it would be funny. And it was. * (Oh and I somehow managed to win the People’s Choice Award while I was at it. True story.)

2. I host bimonthly trivia nights. I know very important things like that China technically only has one time zone and the most expensive spice in the world is saffron.** (Invaluable knowledge to any workplace, really.)

I’m available for an interview at your convenience and can be reached at [this email address] or [this phone number]. I look forward to hearing from you.



* Although this is seemingly random and maybe even an overshare for a cover letter, this fact demonstrates to the reader that I have an excellent, albeit slightly askew, sense of humour. Although this does not make me inherently employable, it does make me a bit more likeable.

** Read: I’m good planning events, researching, fact-checking and public speaking.

(And yes, dear blog readers. I have three years of experience editing resumes. If you'd like me to critique your cover letters or resumes, I will do so for a very small negotiable fee or service exchange. And while we're on the subject, I also do baking and cleaning. Might as well be a generalist to the max, right?)