The Undeniable Ruth Rotating Header Image

Ruth Carter

Minimizing Debt

I recently listened to The Minimalists’ Podcast episode about money. It inspired me to review my thoughts and plans about money in my life and revise my current plans.

Day 178: Almost Full by Tom Small from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Day 178: Almost Full by Tom Small from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The Minimalists say, and I agree, “There is no such thing as good debt.” I took on a considerable loan when I bought my condo in 2014. I regularly pay more than my mortgage payment to pay off my loan faster. After listening to this podcast, I was inspired to play around with an online early mortgage payoff calculator. It showed me that I can pay off my loan significantly faster and avoid paying a substantial amount of interest by paying a bit more than I currently am each month.

As a minimalist, my overhead expenses each month are not that high. I don’t mind foregoing some temporary luxuries if it means saving over $25,000 in the long run.

Listening to this episode also made me revisit some of my other financial goals for the year – like fully funding my retirement account. I usually wait until the end of the year to do this, but there’s no reason to delay if I can do it earlier.

To date, my savings have been part of my personal and business checking accounts; however, after revisiting my financial goals, I want to open a separate savings account as well. This will be an account to deposit money that is “spoken for,” like my quarterly estimated taxes, charitable giving, retirement, as well as building a “rainy day fund” that contains at least six months worth of expenses. This can also be the account I use to set aside funds to pay off my mortgage faster and to save up for big purchases and travel.

Separating out my savings will make it easier to see how much I can save month-to-month and how much I really need to fund my life and run my business.

If you want to know more about my experience with minimalism, I suggest you read about the “packing party” I did in 2014 and got rid of everything that no longer added value to my life.

Being Nobody

Rosie approves of this fire.

Rosie approves of this fire.

Rosie and I shipped ourselves up to Flagstaff for a long weekend. I found a cozy place on Airbnb where we could start and end our day sitting in front of the fire. I needed a few days to do a self-retreat, to rest and re-charge. This gave me the chance to takes some much needed time to think about what’s important to me and what I want to do personally and professionally during the next year.

The highlight of the trip was doing the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course. I love ropes courses. I love climbing trees, and when I traverse the obstacles, nothing else matters except the challenge in front of me.

After a brief orientation with one of the guides to learn how to use the carabiners and attach ourselves to zip lines, we headed out to the trees to take on the course. This course has five levels – Green, Silver, Blue, Red, and Black – each level more difficult than the last. (Apparently only 50% of participants finish the whole course – including me! It’s quite a workout.) The highest platform was 61 feet off the ground and longest zip line was over 300 feet long.

One of the obstacles at the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course, Courtesy of FLG X.

One of the obstacles at the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course, Courtesy of FLG X.

I was the only person in my group who wasn’t there with family or friends. At first it made me uncomfortable, but halfway through the course, I realized that this gave me the chance to be nobody. For three hours, my “job” was to climb trees, navigate obstacles, and sail along zip lines. For three hours I wasn’t a lawyer, a writer, or even a dog parent. For three hours I was Joe Nobody, anonymous, and free to merely be “Ruth from Phoenix.” I just got to be a person.

My friends invited me to do this ropes course with them last year and I’m glad I declined to go. Even amongst friends, I still would have felt pressured to perform. Completing the course alone, I didn’t feel the added stress that comes with the fear of being watched and judged.

In a society filled with job titles, reputations, and expectations, it was a gift to take this break from reality. I felt no pressure to perform, except the pressure I put on myself get across the next part of the course. Going to the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course gave me the opportunity to be a human being instead of a “human doing.” For three beautiful hours, my only job was to put one foot in front of the other.

Bigots Pay More

I’m frustrated about the slew of anti-LGBT laws that have passed and are under consideration all over the country. I was happy to see celebrities responding to the transphobic bathroom law in North Carolina – Bruce Springsteen cancelled his show and Mumford & Sons donated the profits from their North Carolina show to a local LGBT organization.

SCOTUS APRIL 2015 LGBTQ 54663 by Ted Eytan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

SCOTUS APRIL 2015 LGBTQ 54663 by Ted Eytan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I don’t live in North Carolina or Mississippi, but I want to respond to these anti-LGBT laws too. I’ve been reading the labels on products in my kitchen and bathroom to make sure I’m not buying things from those states. Originally I considered adding a “bigot fee” for any speaking engagement in a state that has an anti-LGBT law in place, but then I had a better idea.

I raised my speaking fee and added the opportunity for discounts for those that qualify:

  • Equality Discount – for states, cities, and counties that don’t have anti-LGBT laws in place: $1,000 discount (Companies that opposed these laws before and after these laws passed also qualify – it’s not their fault the people in power are closed-minded jerks.)
  • Gender Neutral Bathrooms Discount – must be at hiring company and venue locations: $500 discount
  • Equal Pay Discount – if the hiring company can demonstrate they give equal pay to all genders in comparable positions: $500 discount
  • Non-Discrimination Discount – if the hiring company lists sexual orientation and gender expression in its non-discrimination policy: $500 discount

If a company wants to hire me and they qualify for all the discounts, it’s a $2,500 savings. These are issues that are important to me and I’m happy to give discounts to those who share my views enough to implement change and stand for equality.

Mad at Sugar

I’ve been trying to eat a healthier and more conscientious diet. Since January, I’ve been a gluten-free vegan at least 90% of the time. This significant shift in my diet hasn’t been that hard. There are lots of options for wonderful flavorful fresh foods. I hope I make my co-workers jealous with how awesome my lunch smells every day.

I like to joke and say that I have palette of 5 year-old. I like simple foods and I like foods that taste sweet. I used to be the person who put 4 spoonfuls of sugar in their coffee (now down to less than 1) and eat candy by the handful. But then I noticed that my sugar intake was affecting my mood. Around the office (where we have a sugar-laden snack counter) I frequently said that giving me sugar is as dangerous as feeding a Gremlin after midnight – usually while helping myself to more jelly beans.

Sugar Kills by Juhan Sonin from Fickr (Creative Commons License)

Sugar Kills by Juhan Sonin from Fickr (Creative Commons License)

I decided to be more thoughtful about my sugar intake. I’ve seen documentaries that discuss the impact of sugar on health – particularly Americans – like Fed Up. Annoyingly, the nutritional information on food labels doesn’t include what percentage of added sugar that food item contains. But, the American Heart Association recommends that women have no more than 25 grams (100 calories) of added sugar per day (no more than 37.5 grams for men).

Armed with this information, I started to be more diligent about reading food labels in my kitchen. Holy crap there’s a lot of sugar in seemingly nutritious food!

The vanilla almond milk I was using as a substitute for cream in coffee had 13 grams of sugar per cup! (Thankfully its unsweetened counterpart has zero added sugar and no artificial sweeteners.) At first, I was happy when Cheerios changed its recipes to be gluten free. Honey Nut Cheerios are delicious – hey, maybe that has something to do with the 9 grams of sugar it has per serving! (For comparison, Lucky Charms has 11 grams per serving.) Who knew it was so hard to eat breakfast!

I’ve since changed my breakfast from cereal to kale-and-fruit smoothies. Screw you Kellogg’s and General Mills.

Last week, I had an upper respiratory infection. I was coughing so much, my throat felt like it was on fire. I thought some whole fruit popsicles or sorbet might be a nice alternative to drinking copious amounts of ice water. I walked the freezer section of the store, reading the back of every healthy-appearing item. To my dismay, the first two ingredients in every option in the store were water and sugar.

Bah! Sugar is everywhere! Even in “healthy” options.

I don’t mind making most of my food from scratch, but geez, I’d like to enjoy some processed stuff. I don’t disagree that a lot of these foods are delicious, but it pisses me off that companies promote these toxic foods as healthy. Now, I have to be that guy who is meticulous about reading ingredients on food labels in stores.

I’m frustrated that food manufacturers can’t be trusted to be forthcoming about what they’re pushing. It’s hard to know at a glance what’s actually good for me. This is another reminder that most companies are more interested in manipulating us to benefit their bottom line, rather than create quality foods.

Major to Minor – Chase Holfelder

I love music that is strong musically and has a powerful message that’s so real it’s a bit eerie. Those are two of the reasons why I love Chase Holfelder’s Major to Minor work. He takes a song where the original is written in a major key and transposes it into a minor key. With this treatment, songs are still familiar and take on a completely new meaning and feeling.

I became aware of Chase’s music when his rendition of “Amazing Grace” was used on an episode of Deadliest Catch. I had to buy it on iTunes immediately. (And I’m not a religious person.) Chase takes some latitude with the lyrics, but it fits with the tone of this song.

Earlier this year, Chase released a Major to Minor version of “Over the Rainbow.” I love this version so much, I never want to sing the Judy Garland rendition again. I wish Chase would per out a karaoke track for this song.

“Over the Rainbow” is gay anthem and this version captures the pain and perseverance that sometimes comes with coming out. It’s scary to be reminded that there are people who would kill us or deny us our rights for not being gay, bisexual, transgender, or otherwise not conforming to the hetero-male/female norms.

I want to do a photoshoot inspired Chase’s music. I’m envisioning a plain black backdrop, jeans, white tank top, bare feet, and capturing whatever feelings come out while listening to his music – hopefully something strong and raw.

The first Major to Minor song Chase did was “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s gorgeous. I would support a national movement to perform this song in the minor key during times of war or conflict. It would still represent national pride, but the minor key would remind us that members of our armed forces are putting themselves in harm’s way to fight for our freedom.

More Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

One of the best ways a company can respond to HB2, North Carolina’s new anti-LGBT law that requires people to use the bathroom that corresponds to sex indicated on their certificates, is to make all their bathrooms gender-neutral.

Gender Neutral Restroom UC Irvine 49490 by Ted Eytan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Gender Neutral Restroom UC Irvine 49490 by Ted Eytan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Yes, just like in Ally McBeal.

For reasons of decency, no one should be permitted use a urinal in a gender neutral restroom that isn’t in a separate lockable stall. For people who are too uncomfortable to use gender neutral bathrooms that have multiple stalls, a company could put in some single-user restrooms, like some places have a “family restroom,” probably meant for a parent with a small child.

There are lots of reasons to have gender neutral bathrooms besides the obvious ones of preventing transphobia and acknowledging that gender is a spectrum, not a binary identity. Some people need help in the bathroom – like small children and the elderly. Or if you have an injury or a complicated outfit, you may need help getting to or using the bathroom. If you and your companion are of different genders, that could be awkward without a gender-neutral bathroom.

Gender-neutral bathroom sign by Bryan Alexander from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Gender-neutral bathroom sign by Bryan Alexander from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Gender-neutral bathrooms could help companies eliminate problems that accompany single-gender bathrooms. When I was in college, I was an RA in the dorms. Our dorms were coed by wing or coed by neighbor. There were a lot fewer issues on floors that were coed by neighbor because the women didn’t want to look foolish in front of the men and vice versa. The same would likely be true in a gender neutral bathroom – less vandalism and fewer annoying behaviors.

Conversely, until the law in North Carolina changes, if I had reason to be in that State, I would be tempted to walk into a government building wearing a dress and heels and walk into the men’s bathroom. If stopped, I’d say my birth certificate says I was born a boy and then offer to use the women’s bathroom if that would make the person feel more comfortable. (I’m not transgender; it would just be to make a point. I mean to offense to anyone who identifies as trans or cis. I’d want to have a male buddy with me for this stunt for safety reasons.)

Stand Against North Carolina

-> North Carolina -> by Justin Warner from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

-> North Carolina -> by Justin Warner from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The State of North Carolina can go fornicate with itself. I can’t believe the bigots in power over there not only passed HB2, but their governor signed it! (At least when the bigots in office in Arizona voted in favor of SB 1062, our moron governor was smart enough not to sign it.)

In case you’ve been living under a rock, this new law prevents municipalities from passing LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances and it requires people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex indicated on their birth certificate.

This law makes me so angry. It’s hard to believe people still have these backwards beliefs. I don’t know what y’all in North Carolina do in bathrooms, but I use them to use the toilet, wash my hands, and check my hair. In the 36 years I’ve been using public bathrooms, I’ve never had an issue with another user.

Being that I’m across the country, I felt somewhat powerless – but then I thought about what little things I could do:

I can choose not to attend events in North Carolina until this law is repealed. If there’s an event I feel compelled to attend, I can require a North-Carolina-Bigot fee in addition to my usual speaking fee.

I’m not licensed to practice law in North Carolina, but I can do federal work from anywhere. I can choose not to accept clients from North Carolina, or limit my engagement to clients who have anti-discrimination policies and practices that include gender identity and sexual orientation.

I can have similar rules for products from North Carolina. (Don’t think I’m joking about this. I boycotted all the sponsors of the Sochi Olympic Games who didn’t openly oppose Russia’s anti-LGBT laws for the duration of the games.)

As a lawyer, I started thinking about contracts. I would support clients adding a provision to their contracts that requires clients to have anti-discrimination policies that include gender identity and sexual orientation and that the company must publicly oppose all applicable state and federal laws that would permit such discrimination. (Now my head is spinning with other ideas – like equal pay for men and women within the company.)

Until this law is repealed, I hope someone makes a video similar to this, asking people if they brought their birth certificate to government buildings to verify that they’re using the appropriate bathroom – much like this guy asked white people if they were immigrants in the SB 1070 days in Arizona.

My hat goes off to the many companies that have already spoken out against this new law including Marriott, Apple, Google, PayPal, and the National Basketball Association. I hope more people and companies will do what they can to influence this situation. Every little bit helps.

Another Reason I Love my Job

While I was getting my master’s degree in counseling, I asked my professor, “Is it ever appropriate to do counseling barefoot?” (I was a gymnast for 17 years. I think better when I’m in bare feet.)

“Only if you work at outdoor school,” he replied.

I guess I’m lucky that I changed careers to become a lawyer.

Typical Day at the Office

Typical Day at the Office

First (and Last) Trail Race

Last weekend, I did my first – and last – trail race.

This is my friend Kolby doing the same race I didn't finish. - still smiling at Mile 11.

This is my friend Kolby doing the same race I didn’t finish – still smiling at Mile 11.

To date, I’ve completed five half marathons (road races), and I was looking for something different to change it up a bit. Plus, one of my personal goals is to get more dirty, so the idea of running along dirt trails and through streams seemed like something I’d enjoy. Years ago, I did the Phoenix Summit Challenge – seven mountains in one day – so I have some experience doing speed work on trails. I figured this would be more of the same, just a little bit faster.

I was wrong.

I signed up for the Xterra Black Canyon trail race – a half marathon just north of Phoenix. The finish line is right next to the Rock Springs Café, one of the most popular pie shops in Arizona. We parked at the finish line and buses drove us into the desert to the starting line. I was excited to tackle this new challenge, but that excitement vanished in the first mile when I rolled my ankle.

I knew it the moment it happened. There weren’t any pops or snaps; I felt the ligaments in my right ankle stretch like a rubber band pulled to its limits. I kept running, hoping the pain would dissipate in a few minutes. That hope turned into anger with every step as the pain persisted. There were only four aid stations in this race. Thankfully the first one was at Mile 2. As I rested for a few minutes, I told the volunteer I was injured. He told me they could get me out and that there was another jeep at the next aid station.

I didn’t want to end my race at Mile 2. I got up before dawn and drove an hour to do a trail race, damn it!

Knowing that the next aid station was only 2 miles away, I pushed on – sometimes walking, sometimes jogging. I was so pissed – angry that I wouldn’t be able to finish the race and angry that I was injured. I warned the runners around me, “I’m going to scream. I promise it’s not about you.” And I proceeded to scream and curse for the next 2 miles whenever my frustration bubbled over.

My ankle hurt with each step. Despite the pain, I considered finishing the race. Then, I remembered something Rocky told me years ago. He reminded me not to kill myself while I was training when the goal was a bigger event. This was supposed to be a fun race, and I had other things on the horizon where I needed my foot to work. So, at the next aid station, I dropped out of the race and hitched a ride back to the finish line with the volunteers. By the way, riding on a bumpy road with a swollen ankle is not fun either.

I have no intention of doing another trail race. It’s too bad I don’t like trail races – everyone I know who does them, loves them. I’ll stick to running on the road and hiking in the mountains – once my ankle heals.

It’s been a week since the injury, and I can walk again, but my ankle still hurts. I hope I’ll be pain-free and running again in another week.

Paying it Forward to the Hounds

I adopted Rosie from the Arizona Basset Hound Rescue in 2012. Having this dog completely changed my life. I am beyond grateful to this rescue organization for saving her. Now we’re paying it forward to other hounds.

Rosie and I at the AZBHR Picnic 2014

Ruth and Rosie at the AZBHR Picnic – October 2014

Before they rescued her, Rosie was in rough shape. She had neglectful owners who didn’t notice that she had growths in her mouth that had to be surgically removed. I doubt they ever trimmed her nails because they got so long they curled under and were digging into the pads of her paws. Somewhere along the way, someone or something took a notch out of one of her floppy ears. How could anyone treat this dog so badly?

The Rescue got her out of that situation, provided the medical care she needed, and placed her with a foster family who showered her with love. I remember the day of our meet and greet. I took one look at Rosie and thought, “We’re done. That’s my dog.” It was love at first sight.

The Arizona Basset Hound Rescue cares for and places dozens of dogs every year. They even have “Angel Hounds” that are on adoptable due to medical reasons or other issues, but that the Rescue places with a foster family and cares for them for the rest of their lives.

Pirate Pup - March 2015

Pirate Pup – March 2015

I’m so grateful to this organization for taking care of Rosie, and I feel lucky that I haven’t had to flinch any time she’s needed medical attention. She’s been a bit of million dollar dog with a getting valley fever in 2013 and then glaucoma last year. I’m fortunate to be in a position that I can provide for all of her needs.  I feel that it’s the least we can do to help this Rescue care for other dogs in the same way.

Rosie and I will be walking with the Arizona Basset Hound Rescue in the Phoenix St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 12th to raise money for this organization. The rescue calls this event Waddle O’ the Green. This name is perfect because basset hounds’ spines are so long that their butts sway back and forth when they walk. One of Rosie’s nicknames is “Waddles.” We are well on our way to reaching our fundraising goal, and we would love it if everybody in our extended circle of loved ones could contribute to this cause.

Rosie has brought so much joy to my and other people’s lives. I feel this is the least we can do to pay it forward to the next hound that needs rescuing.