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Imagine my surprise when I realized that all the big and little savings tip sand tricks I’ve been implementing since the beginning of the year are actually starting to “pay off”. Here are a few:

• Borrowing books from friends and the library- huge huge savings. Humongous. If local bookstores notice a dip in sales they can definitely blame it on me.

• Cutting back on eating out. Way way back. Again- huge savings. On both money and calories.

• Going to game night in the neighborhood. Bring a dish and byob and it’s a fun, cheap, night out.

• Instead of meeting friends for a movie and/or lunch we meet at someone’s house, bring a DVD and a dish to share and voila, another cheap, fun day.

•Buying groceries at one store, buying generic, and going every ten days instead of once a week.

• Reading magazines that I don’t subscribe to at the library. Saves money and it’s green.

• Using a washable mop instead of disposable ones.

What savings tips work for you? Feel free to share them in the comments.

Creative Everyday

I love Leah’s blog, her artwork and her challenge to be creative everyday. I signed up two years ago and didn’t follow through (according to my own harsh standards) though I still followed her. I skipped last year, watching wistfully from the sidelines. This year I signed up again but without the pressure of literally creating a piece of artwork every single day. Instead I thought I’d look back on the week and see what I created.

This week I created:

• a beautiful day for my daughter’s 13th birthday

• a card for her

• flexibility and inner peace through yoga every morning

• cardio health through working out

• progress on a story by showing up everyday even if just for 5 minutes

• a new budget

• yummy healthy meals using what we already had in the freezer and pantry

• a chocolate cake and frosting from scratch

Adventures in Frugality

This didn’t start out as a new year’s resolution but it became one after we started experiencing some cash flow issues and couldn’t figure out why. So we sat down and went over our expenses from January to January and boy was it eye-opening. We found the leaks. Well, more like huge gaping waterfalls where some of our money was going.

It wasn’t too surprising. Books (of course) and dining out were the two biggies. But in a way it was kind of surprising because we had identified these last year and here we are a year later and still they are causing problems. I finally figured out why. When I identified them last year, I was so horrified by the amounts that I just said, “That’s it. No more books or restaurants. Period.” Well. That’s not realistic. It’s like a really strict diet. You can force yourself to adhere to it for  a short while but then you are bound to rebel. What’s one lunch? One dinner? One happy hour? One book? Or one more? It all adds up to a lot of money going out the window each month. So this time I set a budget for books and restaurants. This way we aren’t denied but we have boundaries. And I am getting to know my library again.

While we are at the low end for most of our basic necessities each month our groceries are at the high end so I’ve been thinking of ways to trim that monthly expense without using coupons. I hate coupons. And they are never for things I would normally buy if I didn’t have a coupon so what’s the point? I came up with two solutions. The first is to extend my time between shopping by three to four days. That will cut out an entire week of groceries each month. To do that means I am scavenging through the freezer and cupboards but the meals are healthy and delicious and food is being used up. Second, eliminate trips to the grocery store to just pick up a couple of things in between shops. It’s never just a couple of things. Ever. And it always adds up to  at least twenty to fifty bucks a pop. If we don’t have it on  hand I’ll make something else.

This week, because we were running low on snacks I rummaged around the baking cupboard and found some Hersey’s cocoa. I ended up making a homemade chocolate cake and frosting from the recipe on the back on the canister. And I used up all the cocoa which had been up there for awhile. My family deems it the best cake ever. And it was a cake for no special occasion which made it even more special.

Stay tuned for more adventures in frugality throughout the year. I am anxious to see how these changes add up… literally.

Vegan-ish

So it’s been about six weeks since I stopped eating meat and pretty much eliminated dairy from my diet. It’s an experiment that is showing some impressive results so far:

•  lost two inches off my waist

• I can go four to five hours without being hungry, compared to grazing every two to three before

• No PMS this last month

• Sleeping better, deeper, longer

• A perpetual earache is gone and I no longer wake up with sinus pain or mucus

• I feel lighter, have more energy

• No cravings for sugar

• No need to consider the calorie or fat content of every morsel I put in my mouth. I eat healthy whole foods until I am full.

• Satisfaction knowing that I am helping the environment and animals

I am still not comfortable declaring myself a Vegan with a capital “V”. I prefer how my sister puts it. I am vegan-ish. The vegan lifestyle seems to me to be dictated more about saving animals and the planet as opposed to my main (selfish?) goal which is saving myself. Being as healthy as I can be to avoid taking medications for diseases that can usually be prevented through diet changes. Don’t get me wrong. I try to do my part for the planet by turning off lights, reusing paper before recycling it, bringing canvas bags to the grocery store, bringing my own mug to Starbucks, bringing my own stainless steel water bottle with me when I leave the house. And I enjoy animals. Every pet we’ve had, we have saved from the pound or rescued from the street. We have two adorable cats now. But I am not one of those animal rights people. My donations go to charities that help people, not animals. That being said, I have skimmed ( I can’t bring myself to read it in depth yet) the literature detailing the treatment of the animals we consume and it’s not pretty. I can’t un-know what I know and that does affect my decision to not eat meat. So while I am not declaring my vegan(ish)ism to the world, I am day by day and meal by meal making a conscious choice. If I say anything I say I am trying to avoid eating meat and dairy. If asked why I say because I feel better. And I do.

Diet and Writing Books

Here’s the thing about diet and writing books: they worked for the person who wrote the book. That doesn’t mean it will work for you, or rather, me. Don’t eat carbs. Don’t eat meat. No sugar. Raw foods only. Or. Write everyday. Write an  hour a day. Two hours Three. Ten. Write all you can. Stop writing in the middle of a sentence. Write at home. Write in coffee shops. Make an outline. Under no circumstances should you ever use an outline. Write first thing in the morning. Write at night. It’s crazy-making.

Here’s what I’ve learned: you have to discover what works for you. Sure, go ahead and read the books. Get some ideas but then you need to listen to your body, to your mind and adjust it to work for you. That’s what I am doing now, but in a gentle and kind way. I am experimenting with veganism. No huge proclamations that I will never ever eat another animal product again. I am not only taking it day by day but meal by meal. Leaning into it. I have read many articles lately that lead me to believe this kind of eating is better for my body, health and the planet so I am playing with it. Not black and white, all or nothing. Just eating in a clean and conscious way and then seeing how I feel. So far, after over three weeks without meat, minimal dairy and minimal sugar, I feel great. Lighter, physically and emotionally. More balanced.

Same with writing. I am experimenting with what works for me. Right now I am writing first thing in the morning after a ten minute meditation. I write morning pages then do a warm -up from “Naming the World” edited by Bret Anthony Johnston before revising existing stories. I spend about two hours then take a break to eat breakfast, workout. I’d like to write more in the afternoon and use a writing textbook as a structure. But again, I am treading lightly. Being kind to myself which those who know me know is a new and different path for me.

The point is, it’s all a process. A process of listening and trusting myself instead of looking out there for all the answers.

New Blog

So I’ve started a new blog devoted solely to writing and reading. Not sure if I’ll be maintaining both blogs or if I will slowly let this one go. In the meantime, you can visit me here.

Books Read in September

“A Prayer for Owen Meany” a novel by John Irving
Okay, so I came a little late to this particular party. This novel has been on my to-be-read list for years and years. Both of my sisters have raved about it for years and years. And I’ve tried to read it for, you guessed it, years and years. But I could never quite get into it. Could never get past the first fifty pages or so. Determined to read it, I suggested it for my book club and had the entire summer to read it. Turns out I didn’t need the entire summer. Turns out I can’t figure out why I couldn’t get past the first fifty pages. I was hooked from that fabulous first sentence: “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice–not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.” I mean, what a great first sentence. Irving even says, “ I may one day write a better first sentence to a novel than that of “A Prayer for Owen Meany”, but I doubt it.” The entire noel is encapsulated in those few words and they reel the reader in. Who doesn’t want to know about this small boy with the wrecked voice who killed this boy’s mother and made him believe in God? Owen Meany is one of the most captivating characters I have ever had to pleasure to encounter. Lesson? Never give up on a book.

“Paper Towns”
a YA novel by John Green
I fell in love with his previous two books. This is his latest. Just as I was able to get a library copy, the paperback edition came out. While I enjoyed it, I wasn’t quite as enamored as with his other novels. There was still a truly engaging voice and some laugh out loud lines like: “Talking to a drunk person was like talking to an extremely happy, severely brain-damaged three-year-old.” But the popular girl with mysterious deep angst just didn’t ring true this time for me. I liked it but am okay with not owning my own copy.

“The Glen Rock Book of the Dead” a memoir by Marion Winik
I ordered this little gem after it was recommended by Heather Sellers for a writing class I took with her. It is barely a hundred pages but each page is powerful. It is a series of portraits of people Winik has known who have died over the years from the eye doctor to the counselor to the nurse. Each portrait is tender and raw and each one pierces your heart leaving you a little breathless. It left me reeling with ideas of my own portraits and how to write about people in such a way that they as well as you are revealed. Riveting.

“Miles from Nowhere” a YA novel by Nami Mun
Joon is thirteen, her father has left, her mother has retreated to a place that Joon can’t reach so she sets off on her own out into the world of NYC in the 1980’s. It is not a pretty journey. Mun’s prose is raw yet poetic as we follow Joon from a shelter to strip clubs through addiction to a place fragile place of hope, I found myself underlining sentences like: “The dress tongued the floor behind her as she walked up to Lana…”

“Livability” stories by Jon Raymond
The last story in this collection, “Train Choir” is the basis of the movie “Wendy and Lucy” with Michelle Williams. Amazing but sad story. Not sure I cold watch it as a movie. All of the stories feature characters who struggle against the inertia of their own lives whether it’s a man who invites the Mexican landscapers he hired for the day to a feast he’s prepared or a recent widower. We are allowed such emotional access that we want to look away but like passing an accident it is hard to shift our gaze. And that is Raymond’s strength as a writer, he doesn’t avert his gaze nor does he wallow in what he sees.

“Normal People Don’t Live Like This” a novel in stories by Dylan Landis
I read a review of this in More magazine and had to get it the day it came out as it is similar to a novel in stories I have been working on for years now. Both feature an adolescent girl growing up in the seventies. I learned something about structuring a novel in stories. Every story doesn’t revolve around Leah. The stories follow Leah Levinson and the dark world of girls’ lives murky with secrets and sexuality. Beautiful and hypnotic.

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