The Home Improvement Cycle

Hammer with Glasses

I better safety up before using this bad boy!

I’ve been watching home improvement shows again. I really should just stick to watching Tiny House Hunters and feel smug in my smaller than average house, because my bed could be a “claustrophobic morgue-drawer nightmare” as Chuck Wendig says in his hilarious post: An Open Letter to Tiny House Hunters. Watch out, bad language warning!

Anyway, because of all this Property-Brothers-Fixer-Upper-House-Hunters-Moon-Edition viewing, we have decided to have some work done in our garage. The problem is that having any large-scale work done on your house is like planning a party. And while I love going to parties, planning them makes me doubt I will ever smile again.

Instead of caterers, you are dealing with painters, installers, and HOAs. It’s all a dance, too. Before you can paint, you need to have the electricians install the new outlet, but before you do that, you need to plan where the cabinets are going. Do you want a new garage door that is up to code and looks better than the one with two-by-four crossbeams and old bumper stickers all over it? Then you need a permit and approval from your HOA. Oh and also, you need to either paint the new garage door the same color as the old one, or paint the entire house. If you want to paint the house, then you really should get your gutter work done so they can be painted at the same time.

This is where my head explodes. If I can’t get it done “I Dream of Jeannie”- style, then I’m just not doing it.

Then I calm down. Eventually, I will watch another HGTV show and think, maybe…just maybe…it’s not so bad. What’s the number for the electrician again?

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Portland in August


“The Dream of the 90s is alive in Portland.” –Portlandia

It was really hard not to sing that song as I toured Portland for my first time. I was only there for a weekend and most of that time was spent in a hotel for the Willamette Writers Conference (which is an excellent conference that I highly recommend). However, I was able to get out to explore downtown for one day.

It’s a very interesting city. People bike everywhere, which is something I totally endorse. I rented a bike and rode around the Willamette River and had the sore legs and bottom to prove it.  Living in Florida, I am NOT used to hills! Of course, the warm weather of Florida followed me up there and the temperature was in the 90s (ha!) during my visit. Everyone complained about the heat, but I would just smile. They don’t even know heat.

There was so much I didn’t get to see, so I will definitely be making a return trip at some point. I would love to hike the surrounding forests and explore the mountains. While I didn’t get to see much, I did get to have a doughnut from VooDoo Doughnut. Oh my gosh! So good. Here is a picture of my Portland Cream. I only had to wait in a line of twenty people to get it!

Portland Cream

Here is the shop with the line out of the door:


The people from Portland and other parts of Oregon and Washington were so friendly. I met lots of great, interesting writers. I can’t wait to go back with the entire family.

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Salad Woes? Tips for Eating More Salads

Salad_ZoomOh, salad.  I love thee.  I hate thee.  I eat thee. I avoid thee (at times, with every fiber of my being).  Our relationship is complicated, to say the very least.


Because salads are not simple.  They’re not just the tossing of leafy greens with an oily substance to bind them together.  Salads require effort…and a certain mindset.

In my years of tedious salad eating, I have accumulated some tips on making an adequate, healthy salad. Without further rambling, here they are:

Lowered Expectations

You must accept the fact that your meal will only be mediocre when you are making a salad.  This is absolutely necessary.  If you embark on a meal where salad is the main course and you are thinking about burgers or pizza, you will be crushed.  A salad, even at its best, can only reach a certain level of okay.

It is best if you focus on the fact that you are being healthy.  Think of it as dues paid for your cheat day.  You could also just try not to think about food at all, focusing only on fueling your body.  Either way you look at it, you must prepare yourself for a subpar experience.

Lettuce Choice is Crucial

Lettuce is basically leaves and to make matters worse, the healthier the lettuce is, the more it tastes like a weed you pulled from your back yard.  This is where you have to make a personal decision by weighing health benefits with quality of life.  If you can gnaw on dandelions  with a light coating of a raspberry vinaigrette without diminishing your mood, then more power to you.  You should reach for Kale in the produce section with pride.

If you prefer your lettuce to be crunched rather than tasted, don’t be embarrassed to reach for iceberg or butter as both are still healthier than a grilled Nutella sandwich with it’s warm chocolaty goodness…damn it…go back to the first step immediately.

Add-ins: Not so Important After All

When you first decide to make salad a main staple in your diet, you go all out.  Tomato, check.  Cucumber, check.  Olives, peppers, onions, celery: check.  You slice and dice your way to a gourmet salad that rivals a restaurant’s creation.  Since you are being so healthy, it’s even okay to add a few croutons.  Hard boiled egg?  Not a problem, you’ll just boil one up really quick.  You sit down with a napkin in your lap and consume the bowl of healthiness with the highest manners.

After eating salads for a few months, things change.  When you open your fridge, you will pick up the lettuce and glance at the other fixings, shake your head, grab the dressing and close the door.  Since you aren’t adding anything else to it, you should probably have more croutons.   You don’t bother to sit and eat it; instead, you stand at the kitchen counter with lettuce slapping the sides of your face as you shove it in your mouth and finish it within a minute.  The relief of choking down the mandatory leafy veggies will cause a physical reaction in you.  Savor the feeling; it is the only good one that you will have during the experience.

Dressing: The One Redeeming Quality

If you are a person who can eat a salad without dressing, then you should just go back to your home planet, because you must be an alien.  The only reason to somewhat enjoy a salad is the dressing.  There are plenty of options, as displayed by the wall of choices in the grocery store condiment aisle.  All of them are filled with flavor designed to make your salad experience bearable.   Here are some rough guidelines to help you choose your dressing:

  • Ranch – When you feel wildly optimistic and fun-loving.  Everything is going your way when Ranch is the choice of the day.
  • Thousand Island – When you miss fast food and really want a Big Mac.
  • French – When you feel sassy and sophisticated—it’s called French after all.  Oui!
  • Greek – When you need an escape.  While you eat, you can picture yourself on a boat off the coast of Greece with a hot guy named Yannis Angelopoulos slathering sunscreen on you.  Or if you are a guy, it’s a busty brunette named Katerina.
  • Oil and Vinegar – You are too boring and too perfect for your own good.

Common Side Effects and Misconceptions

Now that we have learned about making a salad, there are two important things you must remember when eating salads regularly.


Don’t fret when one day your mouth, body, and soul reject the salad.  It will happen. You will feel guilt. You will pile vegetables on a plate to feel better, because even though they may be the same things you would normally put in a salad, it is not technically a salad.  The distinction matters.

The important thing to remember is not to force the salad at this point, or you risk permanent damage from which the salad will not be able to return…ever.  Instead, focus on other foods for a while.  Be gentle with yourself and nurture yourself.  When you do go back on salads, do it gradually—for instance, just have a side salad with your meal.  Try to remember something, anything, you might have remotely liked about it in the first place.  Often, a useful tip is to remember your waistline when you ate them regularly.

Those Other Salads

Salads are not defined by lettuce.  There are plenty of other salad options that can be just as tolerable.  When you tire of one, move on to another or create your own.  Some to consider are egg, bean, potato, pasta, chicken and tuna.  Okay, some of those might not be the healthiest, but they sure are delicious.  Sometimes you need to treat yourself with something scrumptious that has salad in the name.

Please feel free to share your experiences with salads, good and bad.  And remember:

Salad Poem

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My First Writing Conference

NYC WDC15 1_BorderAt the beginning of August, I attended my first writer’s conference: The Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in New York City.  As a writer, going to conferences is often touted as the point where you begin to take your writing career seriously.  In many respects, I agree, since it consists of listening to lectures on the craft of writing, learning about the publishing world, and networking with other writers as well as agents and editors.  I particularly enjoyed meeting other unpublished writers, which were all talented, helpful and supportive.

At the conference there were three keynotes given.  The first was Jonathan Maberry, who writes horror fiction, comic books and a young adult zombie series.  Before the conference, I read the first book in the zombie series titled Rot and Ruin, which was very good if you like zombie stories…which I do!  The central keynote was given by the award winning author, Jacqueline Woodson.   She writes young adult and children books filled with African-American themes.  I started her book Brown Girl Dreaming before the conference but I ran out of time.  Hopefully I can finish it soon, because it is beautiful.  When she gave a reading of her work, I got chills.  The closing keynote was Tim Johnston, the author of Descent, which is a novel about a young college-bound woman in Colorado for a family vacation, who goes out for a run and is abducted.  I read the book this summer and enjoyed it.  His speech was great, and he handled a few technical issues with grace and a whole lot of humor.  I love hearing about how people find their way into writing careers.

The climax of the event, for me and other authors pitching work, was the Pitch Slam, which is basically speed dating in the publishing world.  Agents sit at tables circling a room and you get three minute chunks of time to pitch your novel to them, in the hopes that they will give you their card with a request for actual pages of your novel.   To say the stress level for those pitching was high, would be an understatement.   I engaged in some light banter and anxious giggling with a couple of people while waiting, while others murmured to themselves in an attempt to soak up the final minutes of preparation.

I signed up for the very first pitch session.  I liked that time slot because 1) I got it over with early and could enjoy the rest of the day, and 2) the agents were fresh and hadn’t been listening to pitches for hours on end.  That being said, I also didn’t get to practice much that morning.  As it turned out, that practice wasn’t even needed…

They opened the doors and the long line of us lumbered toward the entrance in nervous anticipation.  I had a list of agents I was targeting based on my research of the participating agents’ manuscript wish lists.  Luckily, the first agent I choose to pitch to was not one of my top bets, since it didn’t go well.  I don’t believe I was alone in this, because many people referred to your first pitch as a throw away.

I sat down in front of this first agent and after calmly shaking her hand and telling her it was nice to meet her, I immediately launched into this long-winded script that I had written in hopes of selling my book.  As I rattled on, I could see in her face that I had lost her and I wondered if she was even listening.  She finally cut me off, to my relief, and started interrogating me about my novel.  I could tell by her questions that she totally missed what my story was about.  She gave me some tips, but my main takeaway was that I needed to keep it simple.  She did offer to read a scene if I sent one to her, so it wasn’t a complete waste.  After we were done, I stood up and wandered toward the middle of the room, trying to determine who to pitch to next while simultaneously rethinking my entire pitching approach.   I saw a short line for one of the agents whose wishes aligned with my book and before I could overthink it, I went for it.

I sat down in much the same fashion as before, but this time I just started talking in a conversational manner.  I left out some of the details I had included the first time and instead focused on the overall arc of the story.  I felt more relaxed and my enthusiasm for my work was much more obvious.   When I finished, I looked anxiously at the agent in front of me.  She remained serious for a second then nodded with a smile and grabbed a card from her stack.  As she handed it to me she said, “That sounds good, I like feminist angles.  Send me the first twenty pages.”  I think I said thank you before I skipped off toward the middle of the room.  I fought the impulse to shout out to everyone that I got a partial request.

Part of me wanted to leave right then, since I felt validated that I had secured one request.  I pushed on, though, and got three more requests, each one for more pages than the previous.   I left the room buoyant and floated on a cloud for the rest of the time.   I don’t know if I felt better at the possibility of agents reading my work, or that I finally felt like I belonged at the conference.

Another benefit of the conference was being able to visit one of my favorite cities.  I haven’t been to NYC in over twelve years.  In my twenties, I went through a stretch of going almost every year.  I definitely have missed it and as always, felt sad to have to leave so soon.  After the conference, I was able to wander down to Times Square, snap some pictures and buy t-shirts for my kids.    Before my feet were rubbed raw from tramping all over NYC in dress shoes, I boarded a train to Newark for my flight home.

NYC WDC15 2_border

So what happened with those blessed agent cards I received?  Well, other than securing them in an envelope placed in a box and locked in a fireproof safe, I have sent off the pages to one agent so far.  That way, if I get feedback from agents along the way, I can make changes before sending it to the next one.  It is a long, slow process and the likelihood of landing one of these agents is extremely small, but it is exciting to try just the same.  Soon, I will begin writing my second novel, which is where the real fun is for me.



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Tidy Up, Y’all!

This summer I am home with my three young kids, working on final edits for a book I am pitching at a writer’s conference at the end of July, blogging, and spending time with friends. Sounds like the perfect time to reorganize my entire house, right?

Anyone who knows me well knows I am a self-improvement junkie. As much as I love reading fiction, I devour good non-fiction books that challenge the norm.   When I heard about Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and OrganizingI knew it was a challenge I must accept.

I should have waited to read this book until after my upcoming writing conference, but it came available at the library and was automatically checked out onto my Kindle. I tried to resist it, but when I see the word “decluttering” it is like catnip to me. Or like Vicks VapoRub to my cat.

I succumbed to temptation and spent a couple of days reading it. That would have been fine had I not been driven to implement some of her suggestions, but more on that later.

What This Book is About

While the author may be a small, soft-spoken Japanese woman, she has big ideas on home organization.   In her book she introduces the “KonMari” method, which consists of taking everything you own and determining if each item brings you joy.  If it fails to “spark joy” tell it “doumo arigatou” and promptly discard it. She advises to do the process in one big effort and to start with clothing, since it is usually the easiest to make decisions around. After clothes, move on to books followed by papers, miscellany and finally memorabilia. By starting with easier decisions and progressing to more difficult ones, you get a chance to hone your decision-making skills.

To begin, she instructs you to take everything in a certain category, clothes for instance, and put them on the floor.   When she says everything, she means every single thing: hanging clothes, clothes in drawers, underwear, jewelry, shoes, coats in the closet by the door, etc. After the wave of nausea over the amount of crap you own passes, take each thing in your hand and ask yourself if it makes your heart pound with excitement.   Note: it’s important to move everything to one pile, because when you leave things in their current place they can be invisible to you.

She covers how to organize the things that pass your strict joy assessment. She insists on storing things vertically instead of stacking horizontally, because that leaning tower of shirts are hard on that old N’Sync concert T at the bottom. You know, the one you would totally wear if only you could see it or reach it.

Why Being Tidy Matters

The premise of the book is that we have a limited amount of time, space and capacity to truly enjoy objects we bring into our lives. Having an extraneous amount of things to maintain, to clean and to manage can have a negative impact on our health and professional lives. Weight loss was one benefit that her clients have apparently experienced after implementing her “KonMari” method. I doubt the things she claims can be verified, but I can see their validity.  Once we rid ourselves of the excess things in our life, we are able to see what we need with more clarity.

At first, some of her suggestions sounded silly; such as thanking the objects you are disposing of and greeting your house when you arrive home. What she is really suggesting is to practice gratitude for your possessions.   I believe that happiness begins with gratitude. This is why you should thank your underwear every day for covering your…well, you get the point.

What I Have Done

Tidying Pics

I tried to wait until after my trip to try some of her suggestions and I am proud to say that I am a rock. I waited until the next day to gather all my clothes and put them on my bed to create a peak that rivals Pike’s. I picked up each item and asked myself if it sparked joy. Some answers came quickly. If it didn’t, I tried on the item to obtain the solid “yes” or “no”.  I surprised myself by generating four large bags to donate and one bag of trash. What the hell? I thought I would have enough to fill one bag max. I felt like a big failure toward my minimalistic claims.   I still have a lot of work to do.

While I have not lost weight, I have found that I definitely feel lighter. I also gained a ton of extra space in my closet and dresser. My clothes are no longer squashed together and my drawers actually close without needing to put my weight behind it. Looking at my remaining clothes is now a surprisingly peaceful experience.

I also implemented her suggestion on emptying your purse at the end of the day. I created a place to put my wallet and other items each evening, which allows my purse to rest.   It works hard lugging around all my stuff day after day. When I read this in her book, I thought it sounded so ridiculous that I had to try it. For something that only takes a few minutes, I find that it has surprising benefits. For one, I use all of my bags equally depending on my needs (and colors) for the day and, for two, I am more prepared when I am out since I am purposefully choosing what to pack each morning.

I am resisting the urge to tear apart the remainder of my house until I get back from New York. My house better watch out in August, cause I am going to descend on it like Taz from “Looney Tunes”.  You might find me in the middle of a mound of my stuff spitting and spouting off gibberish, “Soaooo maauch crrappp!”

Final Words

Overall, I think it is a great book to help you if you struggle to part with clutter. I don’t know if will transform your life, but it will definitely help you make more space and create a more peaceful environment in your home. There is much more in her book that I didn’t cover here, such as how to think about gifts and memorabilia.   If you feel like your home is busting at the seams or you like big challenges, this book is for you.

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Challenging Your Money Mindset – Part 2

CoinsThis is the second in a series of three posts I am writing that explore the unexamined ideals about money.  Part 1 covered the middle class and not spending your future earnings in a search for happiness.

Today, I am going to talk about the differences between the money mindset of an average person and a wealthy person.  Your relationship with money can be as complicated as your relationship with a person. It will define your life, whether you like it or not. It can give you security or cause you to teeter toward destruction.

Rich People’s Secret Affair

I’ll let you in on a little secret.   At one point wealthy people, or someone in their family, were just like you. They were toiling away at a job, day in and day out. At some point, the rich people took a different fork in the road and decided to keep their money. They saved and worked, worked and saved. They did other things, too, such as invested the money they kept so it worked for them making even more money, but the point is they did not spend everything they made. This might have taken decades or just years, but regardless, rich people like to keep the majority of their money, at least they should if they want to stay rich.

Being rich isn’t about spending; it is about keeping. Anyone can do it, at least to some extent. You might not be able to spend like the rich, you might not be able to earn like the rich, but you can save like them.   Even if it isn’t much at first, you can still save something. Start somewhere.

It’s worth mentioning that you often see athletes and celebrities out spending money on ridiculous parties, yachts and mansions. What you don’t see is that many of them end up broke. Don’t model your life after theirs.

Two Ways to Think About Salary

When the average person gets a job, he or she looks at the new salary and thinks, “Great, this is how much I can spend.” They go to a real estate broker, who looks at their salary and says, “Great, this is how much you can borrow.”   They subtract their new house payment from their salary, plus a few more necessary expenses and the difference is the amount they can pay towards a new car. So they march down to the dealership and buy a car that uses up the entire payment, if not over a smidgen.

Now, their budget it balanced. No room for savings, but that’s okay. They can charge any emergencies that come up to their credit card and as they get raises they can save at that point. They get their first raise. Saving it crosses their mind, briefly, but then they realize they haven’t had a vacation in a while. Or they are jealous of their friend’s housekeeper. And so on…you get the picture.

Now an alternative attitude toward the same salary…

You look at your new salary and think, “Okay, I am trading my life for this amount of money, what is the best way to use it?” First you plan a decent amount to save. You’ve done your homework and you know that 10% is the bare minimum, but who wants to do the bare minimum? You decide on 20%. You need a place to live, so you research and examine all of the expenses in your life and decide that you are willing to borrow an amount that puts your house payment at around 30% max.   You keep driving your current car and stock away money towards buying a new one when this one is no longer reliable.   New raises provide more opportunity to save for rainy days, retirement and other big things like vacations. None of your salary is spent on credit card interest or penalties, since those are wasted expenses.   You remember that working is trading bits of your life for money, so why waste those bits on interest?

I am sure you can see the difference in those two mindsets. One is reactive and reckless and the other is deliberate and planned. Which one do you think will lead to a more secure and lucrative future?

What if You Were Rich?

Imagine for a moment that you have worked hard, kept your money and saved up enough to be considered a millionaire. To do this you might have kept the same car for fifteen years or never upgraded your house. You made do with what you had while you watched others around you snatching up luxuries like wildflowers.   How would you feel if those same people, who were busy spending while you saved, complained that you were lucky, that it isn’t fair, that you aren’t paying enough taxes?

Prolific articles condemning the rich and blaming them for the imbalance of wealth in our country clutter the Internet. Yes, the rich are getting richer in some cases.   The more money you have, the easier it is to make money. So why spend all of yours?

Instead of blaming and castigating the wealthy, why not learn from them? Yes, there are rich people who take advantage, who manipulate others, and who play system. It’s important to remember that those characteristics run the gambit across all income levels. Many wealthy people are worth admiring and emulating.

For instance, I commend Warren Buffet for his frugality. My favorite fact is that he lives in the same house he bought in 1958 even thought he is the second richest person in the United States.

Get Smart!

These are just a few of many topics regarding money. They represent my humble opinions, obtained from lots of reading and research.   I am not a financial expert; therefore, before you take any action, do research on your own. It’s your money, so it’s worth it. If you take anything away from this, I hope it is the following:

  • Becoming wealthy is usually not a result of luck or social advantage; it’s from sacrifice and hard work.
  • Act like a wealthy person and keep the money you make – then make it work for you.
  • Take control of your finances; be deliberate.
  • Instead of grumbling about rich people, identify the honorable ones and make them your role models instead of celebrities known for squandering.

Good books to read: The Millionaire Next Door and I Will Teach You to be Rich.

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Summer is here!

This summer I will be vacationing with my family in Colorado. I have been there three times in my life, all of which occurred over twenty-four years ago. When I was a freshman in high school, my family drove an RV through southern Colorado, visiting Pike’s Peak, Colorado Springs, Cripple Creek and others. The remaining two trips were band trips, one as a freshman and one as a junior. I think our band performed in some contest, but I was more interested in the skiing. Out of all three trips, this is one of the only pictures I have:

Age 15

Me in Colorado at age 15

Where do I start? First, how disappointing that there are no pictures of mountains in my collection? That will be remedied on this trip. Second, my hair is big and frizzy, but not much has changed there. I think that is about all that is wrong with this picture.

Oh, the butt on the wall? I would like to inform you that I have pictures of two other girls cupping the butt, so it wasn’t just me. I think the question you should really be asking is why was the butt there to begin with?

I am looking forward to the downtime of my vacation. I am going to read, I am going to hike, I am going to manage my kids, and I might have a drink or two.   Here is my ambitious reading list:

  • Yes Please by Amy Poehler – I am almost done reading this and am hoping to finish.
  • Summer Sisters by Judy Blume – I heard this was a quick, light read, which is perfect for vacation.
  • Funny Girl by Nick Hornby – I probably won’t get to this one, like I said this is an ambitious list for a week long vacation.

The rest of my summer is going to be filled with spending quality time with the kids while they are on break, blogging, and finishing the last revisions on my novel. I will be attending the Writers Digest Annual Conference in NYC at the end of July, where I will get the opportunity to pitch my book to a bunch of agents, speed-dating style. My expectation for the event is not to get published, but to network, get insight on the publishing industry, and learn a plethora of new things at the educational sessions.

If you have any additional summer books to suggest, please comment below. I am always working on my to-read list. Have a wonderful summer!

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Challenging Your Money Mindset – Part 1

Old TV Money Face

This is the first in a series of three posts I am writing that explore the unexamined ideals about money, which many of us hold as truths. These are typically passed down from our parents or other authority figures, beginning when we are young, and we have accepted them with little or no analysis. Unfortunately, these monetary topics tend to be the ones causing the most strife in a person’s life.

When encountering a new concept, we often get defensive because we feel defined by our mindset. To grow as a person, you must open your eyes to different ways of doing things, and you must put away any defensive attitudes toward the dogmas that you hold dear. Putting your ego aside when you are learning enables you to truly understand new ideas. This approach will either validate your current beliefs or lead you to change your beliefs altogether.

Today, I am going to talk about what it means to be in the middle class in current times.

My Money Mindset Evolution

I myself went through the process of challenging my money mindset when I found out I was pregnant with my third child. In an overwhelmed haze, my husband and I discussed how our life was going to change, and we both agreed we would need a bigger house. As a middle class family, we always assumed we would upgrade our house because that is what you do. Our 1,600 square foot, four-bedroom, two-bathroom house would be tight for a family of five. We were convinced that moving was a necessity. Once we reached the decision that many parents of big families reach, I set out to make our move a reality.

I have always been a proponent of not carrying around debt, other than a mortgage and maybe a car loan. In order for us to move, it required us to amass a 20% down payment to get the best interest rate. Since this was just after the housing bubble burst, most banks were requiring it as well. Undaunted, I came up with a plan utilizing our current investments at the time combined with aggressive saving. In two years we would have enough to move comfortably – with the required down payment while also retaining our emergency fund. I sat staring at the amount that we would have at the end of those two years. I thought about the next step, handing over that big sum of money and taking on an even greater loan. I said, “No.” Out loud. To my computer.

We had a home. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough. A bigger, fancier house didn’t compare to the power that came from saving. What that number at the bottom of the spreadsheet represented to me was freedom. It was a step towards retirement; it allowed us room to spend money on travel and on experiences. That was the turning point for me. That’s when I moved from being a money spender to being a money keeper.

I got excited. I read blogs about finance, I consumed information on reducing our tax burden, and I read books about investing.  I discovered that the way I had always viewed money wasn’t the only way, or even the best way. This was a catalyst for challenging other areas in my life.

Sometimes it can be hard to go against the grain. To ignore normal ways of portraying success is a difficult hurdle to get over. As is living in a smaller house, or not having as fancy things as your neighbors. Who ever said that life was supposed to be comfortable all of the time? In discomfort we find what we are truly made of.

So go ahead, expand that comfort zone! Now for some money mind-melding…

The Middle Class is not Getting Screwed

You may have heard that the middle class is getting screwed, squeezed out, on thin ice, etc. People also say the rich are getting richer and the middle class is getting poorer. Is this something you have heard?

If the middle class is getting poorer it’s because they are spending money like they are rich, or at least an income bracket or two more than they make.   They aren’t living like the typical millionaire, who is actually keeping their money. They are trying to live like their combined friend list on Facebook.  They don’t stop to think that Person One is taking a vacation but not buying a new house. Person Two is buying a new house, but having to skip vacations for a while. All they see is Person going on vacation and buying a new house. So they want it all.

We are also a bored nation. The typical family in the United States has few genuine challenges to worry them. Stores overflowing with food are on every corner, as are pharmacies with medicines to help when we get sick. We have bigger houses than ever in history to keep us safe from the elements. We have cars, planes and trains to transport where we need and want to go. We have computers and phones to help us to the point we rarely need to use our brain to remember anything. Sure, things aren’t perfect, but we are living similarly to how royalty lived just a few generations ago.

We live isolated from family and friends in our big homes. Our lives include limited socialization and limited passion. We distract ourselves from the monotony with television, video games and shopping.

Because of boredom and because of isolation, we buy. We buy big houses. We buy stylish clothes. We buy fancy cars. We buy the hopes that these things will fulfill us, and will prove that we are going somewhere, that we are successful.   These feelings never last and we are left with emptiness again, boredom. So we buy more. With debt, we spend future wages on something instant gratification convinces us that we need today.

When the dust settles, our future selves look at the mountain of debt that was built and feel wronged. Frustration over the unfairness of life consumes us, just as we consumed our future. Instead of casting the blame where it belongs, which is ourselves, we attack things like taxes, businesses, rich people and the shrinking middle class. It’s everyone else’s fault that we can’t have everything we deserve. It’s easier to give up our power over our situation, than to take ownership of it and realize that it was our fault all along. We stole from our own future.

Be Thankful

The best way to combat the feelings that you don’t have enough is to practice gratitude. Be thankful for what you do have.

You know what helps me when I get frustrated with our small house? I work on it. I plant new plants, I paint it, or I fix something that has needed to be fixed for a while. Every time I pour love into my house, my love for my house returns in equal measure.   Take care of what you already have before rushing to buy something else.

Just as the journey is more important than the destination, life is more important than stuff. The family inside the house is more important than the structure.   The person inside the clothes is more important than the fashion. The idea is to strike a balance and make sure you don’t short-change the things that are the most meaningful.

If you still struggle, remember this: People really don’t care what you have. They don’t care about the car you drive or your house or your clothes.   Your stuff is a fleeting thought that flashes through their mind as they do a quick comparison. Then they move back to worrying about themselves! 

Get Smart!

These are just a few of many topics regarding money. They represent my humble opinions, obtained from lots of reading and research.   I am not a financial expert; therefore, before you take any action, do your own research. It’s your money, so it’s worth it. If you take anything away from this, I hope it is the following:

  1. Harness your power over your finances. You decide how to spend it or how to save it. You are not a victim.
  2. Address the core cause of your boredom, or whatever pushes you to make poor money decisions. Get a hobby, be more social, or get out of your comfort zone (this one in particular is a big rush after you take the initial scary step).
  3. Be thankful for what you have. Not just with words or thoughts, but with actions. Lovingly take care of something or fix something. Polish something that’s tarnished. Your rekindled fondness of it will surprise you.

To challenge this part of your life further, here are a few great places to start:,, and for a real kick in the pants,

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Ten Signs You’re An Inherent Minimalist

Lego HouseI know that minimalism does not come naturally for the majority of people; however, there are some of us that seem drawn to this lifestyle as if it were encoded in our DNA. For me, it has always been there, even when I tried to fit into materialist settings. I don’t feel that I am a hardcore minimalist, although I think my husband would disagree. He once told me that I wouldn’t be happy until there were five things left in our house…and that was us and our three kids!

Here are some signs that you might have the genetic predisposition for living with less:

1.  You are mesmerized by Tiny House living

You know you could rise to the challenge of living in a 300-square-foot (or less) home. There would be so much less to clean and manage. Sure, you might have to go to the bathroom two feet from your kitchen, but is that really such a big deal? It’s also worth mentioning that you can hoist your house on a trailer, drag it around the country and park it almost anywhere. On top of those benefits, there is the cost to build and maintain it, which are both a fraction of a traditional home’s expense. Check out:

2.  You avoid shopping like most people avoid the dentist

You refrigerator is empty. Instead of running out to the supermarket, you seriously consider whether eating is a necessity. When you do make it to the store, you are a chronic under-buyer. Even though you know you might need something next week, you can’t seem to make the commitment to buy it today.

3.  Your wardrobe is extremely limited

You pretty much wear the same thing every week. You are aware that some people are judging you, especially if you are a woman, but that does not motivate you to put forth more effort in this area. You marvel at people who you never see wearing the same thing twice. Where do all their clothes go? You comfort yourself with the fact that Steve Jobs wore the same thing everyday to avoid decision fatigue. So, it’s not that you aren’t fashionable; you’re just a genius.   It’s the sacrifice you have to make for your superior intellect. Check out: and

4.  You travel light

You travel assuming best-case scenario. You are not going to pack for any disaster that may happen because that just requires too much stuff. When possible, you travel with only a backpack since it’s boss to walk through the airport with your hands free. Free to do what? Anything you want.   They will be free to high-five someone, wave, pick your nose, play patty cake, the options are limitless! When the plane lands you head straight for the Taxi stand and are sitting by the hotel pool with a drink in each free hand while the other suckers are still waiting for their luggage at the carousel. Check out:

5.  You don’t cry when things break

That’s just decluttering done for you, pure and simple.

6.  You have learned not to voice your opinions about stuff around others

When someone hears you say you like something, many times they hear, “I want that!” That often is not true for the inherent minimalist. You can like something, but freak out if it comes into your possession. You love having empty shelves in your home, since it makes you feel as if you still have room in your life and you are not yet full. Check out:

7.  You are not a good gift giver

You like to give, but you find it extremely difficult to give anything that might be useless or clutter someone else’s home. You are good at gift cards and donations, but if someone is wanting some sentimental tchotchke from you, it ain’t gonna happen.

8.  You are not a good party planner

Obviously you are fun at parties, but you are not going to create a deluge of unique party decorations from ideas you garnered off Pinterest (even though those ideas are adorable). If you do get a few festive flourishes for the party, they will be disposed of immediately afterwards. Your life does not need to be weighed down by holding onto an “Over the Hill” centerpiece waiting for your next friend to reach middle age.

9.  You prefer not to participate in prize drawings

The thought of someone calling your name for a towel, a bag or some other random crap, makes you squirm. The elation of winning doesn’t outweigh the responsibility that comes with properly disposing of said crap.

10.  Your family always blames you for missing things

Your son can’t find his favorite stuffed animal, so he accuses you of throwing it away during your last junk-sweep of the house. Your spouse is missing his most comfy t-shirt, so you must have donated it. When your family members do find the missing item, they never apologize to you. It’s annoying, but then you remember those rare occasions when you have actually disposed of something you shouldn’t have and find that you are equally guilty of not apologizing. After all, they just need to take better care of their stuff.

I hope that you are able to take away something from this list. If you see yourself in these signs, make sure you fly your minimalist flag high, which probably doubles as your sock so when you are done waving it you can put it back on your foot and not have to carry it around. If you don’t identify with this list, tuck it away as a tool to help you be more understanding when someone gives you a gift card at the generic birthday party they threw for you.

Did I miss any signs? Have a great, simple, clutter-free day!


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My Path to Creativity

At forty-one, I discovered that I genuinely love to write.   Between my hearty appetite for reading and my wild imagination, stories have been flowing through my head since childhood, but I never summoned the determination or discipline to extract them into a permanent form. Feeble attempts to write always ended up as fragmentary stories because my dream to write was a soft and yielding goal instead of a purpose.

My first attempt was representative of this:

First Book

I forget my exact age at the time of this exercise, but I do remember feeling confident that I could write a book of my own. I gathered a few sheets of paper and pruned them to roughly the size of playing cards.   After deciding upon staples to be my binding of choice, I sat at the table prepared to create a masterpiece. Instead of keeping the tale short and simple, as the novice canvas would suggest, I began a saga that muddled on until I reached the end of the prefabricated pages. I must have sensed that the story was going nowhere because I didn’t think twice about tossing it aside, knowing that procuring more pages would just prolong the torture.

High school stomped through my life with all its hormone-raging glory. Throughout the four years I attended, I was bombarded with messages that I could not write from frustrated teachers who tried unsuccessfully to garner my attention. A minimal amount of encouragement was my reward for the minimal amount effort I put forth. Casting blame accomplishes nothing when the problem was simply a matter of mismatched goals. Teacher’s priorities were teaching and mine were boys, having fun, boys, friends and boys.

In college, one professor claimed to enjoy my writing. Perhaps writing about more interesting subjects, such as current events, allowed me to flourish in previously unexplored ways. It also could be attributed to the natural maturing that comes with age and a focus on learning that developed upon escaping the smothering years of living at home.   This professor suggested I submit one of my poems in a poetry contest. Somehow I advanced as a semi-finalist and even though I didn’t win, my poem was published! When I received The Coming of Dawn (copyright 1993 by The National Library of Poetry) where my poem resided, I found it was over six hundred pages thick, with up to six poems per page. Suddenly, I didn’t feel special anymore, much like the kids of today who get a trophy just for participating. I felt discouraged and gave up once again on believing that I could write.

After college I halfheartedly attempted to put pen to paper. Sometimes it would just be in a diary or some short story. Following a particularly debilitating heartbreak, I got the closest I have ever come to finishing a book and typed out fifty pages in an outpouring of emotion.   Unfortunately it was fruitless, since I still lacked the knowledge on how to plan a story.  I would start with a seed of an idea and a couple of characters, expecting the story to flow freely with no thought of plot or structure.   Like many falsehoods I believed in my youth, I thought that if you were a natural writer you would just know how to do it.

Fast-forward one decade and half of another; I am at home for almost six hours every day, totally alone. My third and final child now goes to preschool along with the older two in elementary. A formerly elusive moment is finally the present one. I love my kids, but my brain has been craving full use for years. I am referring to complete usage, not the decision-fatigued, sleep-deprived amount used when trying to figure out how to get your babies to go back to sleep in the middle of the night or the twenty-minutes during your kids’ beloved show when you try to cram in doing the bills or investments. I could finally commit to something big…but what?

Enter writing…again. I was committed this time and did my research. I read books on how to write, how to create a plot and how to make the story flow. I fell in love with writing as soon as I began my first project. Even when my new planning skills failed and necessitated a total rewrite of the first draft, it didn’t discourage me because I knew I was still learning and would only get better. Having finished three drafts, I am now on my final edits and polishing.  I enjoy editing my finished work, but at the same time I am anxious to begin my next. Writing is a true test of patience.

I’ll conclude with a piece of advice: If you have ever had the inclination to be creative in some way, start now. Fear of failure, or success, will fade the more you do it. Lack of knowledge and experience can be solved with a mixture of studying and doing, while remembering that the most important part is the doing.   Learn a little, do a little, learn a little more, and do a little more. Start somewhere and start soon. Start even if it is total and complete crap. Don’t think about selling it or about how it will make you appear to others. Create it because there is no better feeling than expressing yourself through your art.

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