ING Direct – review and $50 new account bonus

Until the end of this month (Dec 2011) ING Direct Canada is running an awesome holiday promo – if you open a new account with at least $100, they’ll give you a $50 bonus.  Normally the bonus is $25, which is still pretty great.

To get this bonus, you need to use an orange key.  I’d like to volunteer mine, not because I’m a good samaritan, but because ING gives the $50 new account bonus to both you and me if you use my orange key :)  So here it is: 35355532S1

I’ve been using ING savings accounts for a few months now, and so far I think they’re excellent.  I’m currently using 10 ING savings accounts – 4 joint ISA accounts with hubby, 1 ISA, and 5 TFSAs.

In addition to the “no fees” awesomeness, there are 3 features that really make ING savings accounts great (and it’s not interest rates – those suck everywhere these days):

1. You can name your accounts.

The ability to name your accounts sounds simple but it makes such a huge difference.  A list of meaningless account numbers makes banking more complicated than it needs to be – you’ve got to be really careful when transferring funds because all the accounts look the same.  Naming your accounts not only solves this problem, it also makes your savings more tangible, and I think that helps keep savings from burning a hole in your pocket.  For example, my emergency fund isn’t just a string of numbers with a balance, that money is clearly labelled “emergency fund”.  As in, don’t even think about touching this money because it’s earmarked for an emergency!

2. Once you’ve opened one account, it’s a breeze to open additional accounts.

The ability to have multiple accounts and give them all names makes the ING savings accounts great for budgeting and saving up for specific items.  E.g., we have an account named “veterinary fund” which we use to pay vet bills.  We have it set up to automatically transfer funds in every 2 weeks, and we’re slowly growing a little cushion in case the dogs get sick or injured.  If they don’t have any calamitous accidents, we’ll have enough savings in there to throw them a lavish funeral when they die of old age ;)  (hopefully I’m joking about that).  We also have a “vacation fund”, a “house fund”, and a “transportation fund” to budget for car rentals (we don’t own a car).  In my own accounts, I’m saving up for thesis tuition, taxes, a trip with my mom, and a new computer; and of course there is the ubiquitous emergency fund.

3. The “goal getter” feature.

ING has a goal calculator that will tell you how long it will take to reach your savings goal / how much you’ll have to save at regular intervals to reach your goal by a specific date.  You can calculate all of that yourself of course, but it’s nice to see your progress visually with a little savings-o-meter every time you log in.  My macbook is 4 years old, and I’m determined to save up for a new one instead of just putting it on my line of credit like I did for the last two computers.  Every payday $50 transfers to my “computer fund” account, and when I reach my goal, I am free to go buy a macbook if I want to – after checking macrumors of course :)

Two other things help this system function nicely.  Automatic transfers are essential.  Follow The Wealthy Barber‘s advice to “pay yourself first” and set up automatic transfers for the day after payday, and you don’t even have to think about saving.  The bank does it for you.  Also, it probably helps that ING isn’t my “primary bank”.  My/our chequing accounts are elsewhere, so the savings are to out of sight, out of mind.  Although they’re not really…saving this way is very motivating, so I check the balances regularly (the ING iPhone app is great for that).

Anyway, if you like the idea of using savings accounts to budget or save for specific things, I definitely recommend checking out the ING savings accounts.  And don’t forget the orange key ;)

Dear AMEX, you make me mad.

I’ve used an AMEX for several years, and so far my experience with the card and the company has been completely fine.  I have no issues with their customer service.  But their junk mail is making me cranky, for reasons beyond the senseless waste of trees.

Twice now this year I’ve received the same infuriating letter from AMEX.  Some no interest on purchases deal, which in and of itself is fine.  What makes me angry is the way they’re promoting it:  ”Go ahead, treat yourself!”

In other words: Spend money you don’t have on crap you don’t need; you’ll pay for it later but don’t think about that now!*  Just shop, shop!  You deserve it.

*p.s. if you miss a payment we will destroy you.

It’s like they have total amnesia for the whole “economic tsunami” situation.  Maybe they just haven’t been reading the news about how so many people are dangerously overextended with debt.

Expecting credit card companies to think of people’s welfare would be naive.  I don’t expect them to care about people, but I do expect them to care about their brand.  And blatantly encouraging financially irresponsible behaviour in a recession makes them look like assholes.

So no, AMEX, thanks for your “special offer” but I think I’m going to stick to my totally retro plan of saving up for things before buying them.

Cry your eyes out: rescued beagles have their first taste of freedom

This video of laboratory research dogs being introduced to the outside world is absolutely heartbreaking. In a good way, like Free Willy.  I clutched my 2 dogs and bawled my eyes out watching it.

These poor beagles had spent their entire lives in small cages.  Never smelled fresh air, never felt the warm sun on their backs, never felt grass under their paws, never ran free in a big open field.  Never felt the love and comfort of a good snuggle.

The rescue volunteers brought the dogs to a park and opened their cages, and the dogs just sat there looking apprehensive.  They weren’t sure what to do.  It’s like watching a learned helplessness experiment.  They don’t have any concept of escape because it’s never been an option.  Seeing that just broke my heart. Eventually one of them took a tentative step out of his cage and started sniffing the grass.  The others slowly came out too.  They all looked a bit unsteady on their legs.

When they were back in the van, there’s a shot of one of the beagles snuggling with one of the volunteers.  It’s the most beautiful thing; the look on his little face…he’s just in absolute bliss to finally have some much-needed affection.

As a doggie momma, I can’t imagine someone keeping dogs captive in little cages to test cosmetics, drugs, and household products on them.  So cruel and completely unnecessary.  No dog should have to go through that.  This video is a good reminder to seek out cruelty free products.

But really…why is this shit legal?

Raw cheesy kale chips recipe

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Last night we tried making kale chips for the first time, and I’m pleased to report that the experiment was a success. We worked from a few different recipes from gone raw for inspiration and the end result was delicious!  This is great because buying bags of kale chips at the health food store is obscenely expensive, and we have a whole lot of kale to eat from the garden.

Here’s the recipe we ended up with:

Cheesy Kale Chips

  • Massive bowl of fresh kale, de-stemmed and torn into manageable chunks
  • 0.5 cup water
  • 2 TBSP nutritional yeast
  • 1 fresh tomato
  • A few shakes of paprika
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 cup raw cashew pieces, soaked (we had a bag of really small cashew pieces so we only soaked them for ~20 mins)
  • 0.5 tsp sea salt

We blended up everything but the kale in the Vita-Mix, then poured the sauce over the kale in batches (there was too much kale to work with in one batch…I think it took 4 batches).  Then “massage” the kale until its every nook and cranny is coated with sauce. Spread the coated leaves out on dehydrator trays. It’s okay if they overlap; and leave them curly, don’t try to flatten them out. We dehydrated them overnight; first at 135 F for a couple of hours, then at 105 F for the rest of the night. When we woke up, the whole apartment smelled like macaroni & cheese :)  There were a few pieces that could have used a little longer in the dehydrator, but we just ate ‘em.

As for storage, I’m not sure what’s optimal for these.  We put some of the kale chips in a tupperware to bring to my folks’ place later today, but everything else only briefly graced a bowl before getting hoovered :)

I know that chips made from dehydrated kale probably sound weird and not very yummy, but trust me, they are awesome (and a much healthier alternative to potato chips when the salty/crunchy cravings hit).

under construction

I’ve been neglecting this blog for ages.  So I’m trying to dust it off, reorganize things a little, and migrate it from wordpress.com to wordpress.org.

MacBook fix-up to fend off the urge to upgrade

The upgrade-itch is familiar to all mac enthusiasts.  No sooner have you gotten your shiny new mac product out of it’s well-designed box, and Steve Jobs is unveiling the Next Best Thing!  I got sucked into the new product lust when I abandoned my perfectly functional 2 year old iBook for a MacBook, and although I keep casting lusty glances at my hubby’s unibody MacBook, I definitely cannot afford to upgrade this time.  So my mantra is “make the most of what you’ve got.”

I’m fixing up my 2.5 year old white MacBook in hopes of making it purr like it’s just out of the box again.  Here’s what I’ve done so far:

0. Upgrade memory

(I did this when I first acquired the MacBook – installed 2GB memory)

1.  New battery

The rechargeable battery in my MacBook had gone from achieving an impressive 5 hours of run-time to a measly 2.5 hours.  It took forever to recharge and then drained pretty quickly.  After 415 charge cycles, that’s pretty normal.  So I ordered a new battery, calibrated it, and I’m back to a happy amount of battery time.

2.  Clean out the cobwebs

I bought software called “Clean My Mac” that made short work of all the junk taking up space on my computer.  So far it’s recovered 2.07 precious GB of space.

3. Upgrade iLife & Office for Mac

iLife ’09 seemed worth it.  The update to iPhoto was excellent, with the new “faces” and “places” features and all the great photo book templates.  I’m looking forward to trying out iWeb too.

And since hubby was buying a copy of Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac for his macbook, I upgraded my old version too.  I already really liked the old version (especially the “notebook” view in Word), but 2008 is even better.

4. Organize my photos and music properly

I wasn’t using iPhoto properly.  Instead of importing directly into iPhoto, I was first importing to folders within my Photos folder, (a hold-over from my PC days) which meant duplicating my photos in the iPhoto Library folder and using a ton of space.  In some ways it’s easier to use the folder system, but I decided to relinquish a bit of organizing control to the iPhoto software to make life more simplified.

Similarly, I had a few folders of music in my Music folder that weren’t within the iTunes Music folder, so I imported those and deleted the out-of-place folders to simplify things.

5. Organize my out-of-control Firefox bookmarks

Still working on this one.  I bookmark so much stuff!  But I’ve been trying to go through and consolidate all the odd bookmark folders such as “dec16tabs” and “nov14blogging”.

That’s all I’ve done so far to try to make my MacBook good-as-new.  I would welcome any other suggestions people have.  The best defence against new Mac lust is to make your current Mac as awesome as possible!

in the stars for 2010

The G&M published horoscopes for the upcoming year…I know I may as well read tea leaves or interpret signs from the pattern of dog shit strewn on the lawn, but what can I say, I love reading horoscopes.

Here’s what’s in the stars for this Virgo in 2010:

VIRGO You are still feeling the after-effects of the past 12 months and although January’s solar eclipse will herald a respite, you may have to wait until late June for definite signs of progress. Because expansive Jupiter and restrictive Saturn are both focusing on your finances for much of the year, you will need to find a balancing point between parsimony and profligacy. With a friend or loved one relying on you for practical, emotional or moral support, your resources will be sorely stretched, especially around the time of April’s Saturn-Uranus opposition. The year will end on a higher note than it began but just how high depends on you.

Ignoring the broad applicability customary to all horoscopes, I find this to be quite spot-on for me.  I am definitely still feeling the after-effects of the past year (mental health tanking), and I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes until June before things start looking up on that front.  I particularly like “just how high depends on you”…I know I have a lot of work to do to get healthy, and I find this horoscope very motivating, what can I say.  I’m ready to work hard and kick some mental health ass!

Pour your apathy into the “meh.” flask

This meh. flask almost makes me wish I were a drinker.  I’m too much a teetotaller to justify procuring a flask, (after all, I am on a decluttering kick), but I do think a flask is an essential part of any holiday family gathering survival kit.

From ThinkGeek

Pantry: OCD for your kitchen

In my quest to obsessively organize everything in the house, I’ve stumbled upon what looks to be some fabulously useful grocery inventory software: Pantry by ThinkFresher.  I’m using Pantry for Mac (free) and Pantry for iPhone ($2.99).

Here’s the scenario.  You want to make a recipe, but you aren’t sure if you have all the ingredients.  But you’re already at the store!  So you buy everything you’ll need, only to find that you already had a giant sack of spelt flour at home, and you sure did not need any more cinnamon.

Alternatively, you’re pretty sure you have a can of pinto beans at home, except that oops, you didn’t, but now you can’t make your awesome stew without trudging back to the store.  Sigh.

Pantry seems like the ultimate, overkill answer to this problem.  I say overkill because, in the “olden days”, people just got a little organized and checked for ingredients before going out shopping, right?  Well, for those of us who are too disorganized to do that, this software promises to get your grocery inventory organized to an obsessive level so you’ll never have to dig through the cupboards again.

The daunting part is taking the initial inventory.  Holy crow, how many bottles of different oils and vinegars do we have in here?!  And spices!  So many spices.  That’s going to take a while.  But the payoff will be fabulous, especially for more obscure ingredients that we’ve bought for one recipe and then barely used.  Don’t want to end up with another jar of coconut oil.

But once you have that inventory done, you’re set (err, aside from keeping quantities and items updated).  You’ll never run out of toilet paper again, because Pantry will automatically put it on your shopping list when you’re running low.  Phew.

Pantry’s sync capability is a crowning touch.  You create a free account for your household’s pantry, and this will keep your grocery inventory synced between your desktop software, and iPhone apps.  You’ll be able to check to see if you have cinnamon while you’re in the store, and view your real-time grocery list.  So when the hubby calls to ask if we need anything at the store, I can just remind him to check Pantry on his iPhone.  Dig it :)

Now, Pantry is not all sugar and spice (though it is very nice); there are two things I would change:

One is to make the quantity tracking a little easier.  I can track how many cans of chickpeas we have by calling each can a unit, fine (though I would love to be able to select “cans” out of the drop-down list).  But with stuff that doesn’t come in such clearly defined units, I am still trying to get the hang of the quantities.  E.g., dog kibble.  I want it to be added to the list when we’re down to a third of a bag.  But it looks like my only option is to use cups or kg or some measure like that.  I feel it would be more useful to be able to enter a percentage, because I’ll never keep precise measurements on that stuff.

The other thing I would change is that I would like to be able to edit the categories to fit what we buy a little better.  We don’t need a “meat” category, because we don’t buy meat.  I put the tofu in there, but it’s not really intuitive for us.  So I’d love to be able to take it out or rename it.  Minor edit, but it’d be nice.

Anyway, overall, I think this one is a winner, if I can keep up with it.  But it does make me wonder…is it really necessary to expend all this energy to get the kitchen organized to this level?  I guess time will tell.

I’m off to inventory the spice drawer!  You can check out Pantry here.

Too many vitamins

I have just realized that I have a ridiculous vitamin hoarding problem!  Seriously, there must be dozens upon dozens of bottles of vitamins in my cupboards.  His and hers multivitamins, co-enzyme Q-10, vitamin D, calcium + D, zinc, echinacea, some kind of thyroid formula, greens + fibre, iron, ginko, ester C, Greens+ extra energy tablets, MSM, B12, some other kind of calcium…and that’s just the stuff in pill format.  Don’t get me started on the powders and liquids.

Way, way too many vitamins.  I think if I actually took them all, I would make myself sick; but here’s where my absentmindedness is actually good for my health.  I buy vitamins impulsively after reading this or that about them in some kind of health news, take them for maybe 3 days, and then completely fall off the wagon.  So for all of the vitamins in the cupboard, I end up just randomly taking one every once in a while when I remember they’re there.  Yesterday, for example, I ate leftover birthday cake for breakfast, which prompted me to wash it down with a multivitamin.  Because they totally cancel each other out…right? :)

Anyway, my absentminded vitamin hoarding problem is probably a huge waste of money because I bet that many of them will expire before I get around to them.  And maybe I’m missing out on some possible health benefits from taking some of them religiously…after all, that’s why I bought them in the first place.  E.g., as a Canadian, and a depressed one at that, I should definitely be taking vitamin D more regularly.  But the prospect of figuring exactly which ones I should be taking and when and with what and without what and how much and for how long…well…shit, I have no idea.  So I’ll just keep taking a random one out of the collection when I remember, and try not to bring any more home.  I like to think of vitamins as a stop-gap anyway…I should really be getting my vitamins from my diet in the first place!