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Archive for the ‘Money’ Category

Another Year Bites the Dust

The year 2011 has been full of ups and downs. My sister got married to a great guy, connecting our family with a phenomenal family. That was most definitely an up. My mom died on December 17th, leaving a big void. That was most definitely a down. I left my weekend job in June (up), but the resulting loss of income has strained my finances to the breaking point (down). I’m looking forward with anticipation to 2012. Let’s see what the Universe has in store for us this time around!

In the interest of self-betterment, I have developed a list of goals for 2012. The word “resolution” grates on my nerves, as it suggests that there was something wrong with me to begin with. Since we all are constantly learning and changing, I don’t think it’s the word to use. So here is my list of goals for 2012.

1. Spend More Time with Family and Friends

This sort of speaks for itself. 2011 hammered home the fact that family and friends are of paramount importance to me. To that end, I would like to spend more face-to-face time with the important people in my life. Not Facebook time, not texting time, real time. I would like to visit with my sister at least once a month. I would like to visit my Dad twice this year. I would like to take my daughter out for dinner once a month. I would like to have a date with my husband every month. It could be as simple as curling up on the couch, watching a movie while munching on popcorn. But we have to do SOMETHING together.

I am also in the early stages of planning a road trip this summer to visit family and friends around the country. From elementary and high school friends scattered around the country, to my Dad in New Mexico and cousins in Oklahoma, North Carolina and Ohio, I want to see them all. It will be great fun to sit down and share a meal and lively conversation. There are a lot of really interesting people in my life and they add a vibrancy that I appreciate. Life is short. What am I waiting for?

2. Create a Reasonable Budget

Money is always an issue for me. Working as a teacher’s aide, I bring home about $100 a week after taxes. That’s not a whole lot of disposable income. My husband contributes to our household account once a month, but it always seems like the money is all gone a good week before the month ends. I am going to sit down today and figure out a way to economize on groceries, which is a HUGE chunk of our monthly expenses. I know it’s all in the planning, so I’ll create weekly menus. I used to do that. Then I got all cocky and started buying $3.99 half pints of fresh raspberries. I also need to remember the phone bills, the Netflix account (which I’ve already cancelled half of), birthday presents, etc. There’s a way to do this; I just have to write it all down and stick to it.

3. Get in Better Shape

On 11/11/11, I began a weight loss journey that has me feeling GREAT. I started doing a workout from Team BeachBody, and eating healthful meals. There’s also a nutritional shake that I am drinking, although I’ve had to cancel autodelivery of that, due to finances (see #2). I’ll use my shake supply until I run out. So far, I’ve lost 12 pounds and nearly 12 inches, which is GREAT!

The challenge is now to continue on the journey while staying within a reasonable budget. I have two workout DVDs, so I’m set on exercise. I also have a yoga workout series on VHS that I use. I can always strap on my beat up old sneakers and go for a walk or stack wood or rake leaves. Lots of opportunities to stay active, which was the missing component in my life. The food part – no problem. Plus, my good friend Jolie has motivated me to stay the course. Her perseverance and enthusiasm are inspiring.

#4. Stay Ahead of the Dust

Ugh. Cleaning. I hate it. Always have. There’s something so incredibly distasteful about cleaning. The end product is WONDERFUL. I love being able to see through the windows and walk around the house in my bare feet without stepping on grit that came from unknown locations. I’ve long maintained that gravity is stronger in our house than almost anywhere on the planet. Everything winds up on the floor. Dirt, dust, pencils, papers, rubber bands, plastic bags, clothing, plant matter all mysteriously leap to their doom in this house. I bet there’s some convergence of cosmic energy right below our foundation that causes this phenomenon.

Whatever the cause, I vow to stay abreast of cleaning. That means a schedule must be created. Mondays will be floor day, Tuesdays –  laundry, Wednesdays – bathrooms, etc. I think that’s really the only way to get it done, since maid service is not in the budget.

#5. Live an Adventurous Life

I love adventure. From traveling to new places, to learning new skills and trying new foods, I love it. This year I would like to dip my toes back into adventure. My road trip – perhaps solo – will be one. Rick has an art show in Florence, Italy in March. I might go with him. That’s another. I want to develop a new income stream. Many people have said I should cater parties. That’s a possibility – I was a food vendor at one event this past year and loved the experience. That would be another adventure. I would love to sit in on a session of Congress when I’m in Washington, DC. I would like to learn to scuba dive. I want to eat poutine and fois gras in Montreal. Teach myself to make tofu and corn my own beef. Go on a kayak trip in the Adirondacks. Climb a mountain – a real one. Go zip-lining somewhere. Start writing a book. Attend sacred ceremonies in religions I have only a nodding familiarity with (Buddhist, Muslim, Pagan, Hindu, etc.). There’s so much to do and learn and experience. It’s well past time to get moving.

So, those are my five big goals for 2012. There are other, smaller goals (like trying one new recipe a week, going through the bookshelves and weeding out all those books I “had” to have, etc.), but if next year ends and I’ve accomplished these five things, it will have been a smashing success.

I wish you all a wonderfully healthy and happy 2012. Blessings and light for the new year. So mote it be.

* * * * *



New Chapter

It’s been a while since I blogged. The days and weeks have been flying by at a blazing pace. It would be gratifying to say I have accomplished something tangible in that time, but, in reality, Life has been teaching me her lessons in the most mundane and humbling ways. Through the angry young man whose comment, “Do you want me to piss on the floor right here?” almost brought me to tears, I’ve learned patience and compassion. Through the student who asked me for money one too many times, I learned to say ‘no’. Through the gift of a lollipop from a usually sullen and frequently volcanic eighth grader, I learned that even the most difficult and obnoxious kids have goodness at their core, something I seriously questioned. And, finally, by making a HUGE mistake while proctoring a state exam, I learned humility.

These are lessons I needed, and for which I am grateful. However, during the past few weeks I also observed that life is passing me by, and I’ve been so set in my ways with my eyes focused some imaginary, far-off finish line that I’ve missed some important events.

The tulips bloomed without me this year. They are my favorite flower, but I didn’t notice that they had grown and budded and opened. A week ago, as I drove down the driveway focused on the workday ahead, I noticed a blur of crimson in the corner of my eye. From the rearview mirror the tulips waved a greeting in the early morning light, and I felt so forlorn at that moment I wanted to weep.

My nephew turned 17 last week. The gift was planned, the card bought; that part I did in April. However, April came and went, and with it my birthday, Easter and Mother’s Day. For the first time since he was born, I screwed up his birthday. Nope, that’s wrong – I totally forgot it. Instead of consciously sending his package in time to arrive on his birthday the 5th, I thought I had more time and my brain put his birthday on the 17th. Turns out the 17th is my girlfriend Virginia’s birthday. {sigh}

My eye doctor died last week of pancreatic cancer. I didn’t even know he HAD cancer. And now he’s dead. He was a caustic, drily funny man, once commenting, when I told him I liked the SpongeBob statue he had in his office to distract kids during their exams, “I hate SpongeBob.” I was at his office today and saw a tribute to him on the wall where his cat trophy used to be. He loved his cats. I wonder who took them when he passed on.

These three events together, although they might not seem like a big deal to some, made me step back and ask, “Am I going to continue to chase after some illusion that one day I will arrive somewhere?” There is no valid reason for me to run like a madman 7 days a week. Louise has been telling me for years to slow down, Richard has been trying to teach me how to say “no” (I seem to be allergic to the word). But I have been overextending myself, working seven days a week during the school year, and refusing to take vacations because I didn’t want to leave the church parishioners without music – I love them! In February this year I finally broke down and told the priest of the church where I play organ that I couldn’t work Saturdays anymore. I said I needed the day off, but, in no time, Saturdays became full of activities, too.

Last Saturday, while spending a rare moment reflecting, I realized how desperately unhappy I am. For years I have wanted to leave my weekend job, but thought I really needed the money. I complained weekly about how I would love to stay home on Sunday morning and have coffee on the deck. Richard would always say, “keep your foot in the door” or, “maybe you can quit next year”. I always listened and took that to mean I had to stay, as though the decision was his to make. After all, my Dad always made those decisions for my Mom, or so it seemed. The job was also taking its toll on me physically – I would get so stressed at being there some weeks that I would have to go outside the church during the sermon and throw up, or I would have to pull over to the side of the road on the way to work Sunday mornings and do the same. It got to where I wouldn’t eat anything before going to work. I would have some toast and tea after the 9:00 Mass if I felt up to it. I told people it was allergies and mucus at the back of my throat making me gag, but in reality it was stress shutting down my body and rejecting sustenance. I didn’t take the hint, though.

I tried to come up with other ways to make money – after all, the economy is in the crapper and prices are steadily increasing. If I could only figure out a way to earn some extra money during the week, I could quit and have weekends free. That magic solution never materialized, however, and I stayed miserable, working week after week at a job that no longer held meaning for me. My “ah-hah” moment came while preparing for last week’s First Communion Masses. I pulled out a program last Friday night for the First Communion Mass I had played in 2006 and realized that nothing had changed since then. The music selections were the same, the readings were the same, the psalm was the same, all that had changed were the names of the kids. This was a metaphor for my life! I decided then and there to quit for good. I wrote a letter to the pastor of the church and resigned as of this coming Sunday.

I would be a liar if I said I wasn’t terrified about finances. How am I going to pay for the groceries? Clothing? Incidentals like bandaids or milk in the middle of the week? Textbooks? My family gets medical benefits through my school job, but I still pay the vast majority of the premiums and take home about $10 a day, a pathetically small sum, so I rarely have cash in my wallet. Richard has drummed into me for years how important it is to keep that job because his income is uncertain and my income gets us through the “bald spots” of his work year. I was expecting a mini-explosion when I told him I quit. However, his only response was, “Good!”

This stunned me. I had expected whining and complaining. I had expected a lecture about money. I had expected a pronounced sigh and the silent treatment for a day as Richard came to grips with my stupidity. None of that happened. He was actually glad that I could finally be happy and that we could go away together. Imagine my surprise to learn that the decision had been mine all along but I had given away my power and my freedom to an imaginary keeper! When Louise found out she hooted and squeezed me in a giant hug. I was moved to tears to know that they wanted for me what I wanted for myself all along: the chance to be happy.

A few months back I wrote a post entitled “The Winter of My Discontent”. I wrote then that “there are still days when I listen to my soul whispering to me that there is more than this. I want to surrender to that seductive whisper and fall in love with Life again.” Finally, I have listened to that whisper and taken the first step to reclaiming my life. It was daunting, but I took it.

My friend Erika said yesterday that she felt the Universe was “seriously shifting some gears.” I think she’s right. Perhaps I’ve tapped into that energy and that’s where the courage to make the change came from. Perhaps my guardian angel poked me in the butt with a sharp stick because she was tired of seeing me punish myself. Perhaps God whispered in my ear, “You deserve more than this, my child”, and I finally heard Her voice. Perhaps I finally gave up the martyr mentality and took back my human right to be happy. Whatever actually happened, I have ended one chapter and started another. This new chapter is yet to be titled and yet to be written. I am certain, however, that it will be an adventure. Bring it on!

* * * * *

Guns and Butter

Years ago, shortly after we were married, my husband Richard said a funny phrase that I asked him to explain. The phrase, “guns and butter”, is from economics and is used to describe how a country divides its national spending into funds used for defense and funds used for consumer goods. The more funds spent on defense, the less there is for consumer goods. It has, over the years, morphed in our household into the “need vs. want” model. What do we really need (guns) and what do we want (butter)? I long ago realized that I NEED only two dresses – one to wear and one to wash. Ditto with underwear. I NEED one pair of shoes. I have two pair, a pair of sneakers, a pair of boots AND two pairs of slippers. I NEED a coat – I have that plus a vest and several sweaters. I NEED one nightgown. I have 15 or so (I have serious nightgown issues….). I NEED a place to lay my head at night and a roof over my head. I have those things in spades. I NEED a way to get to work. I have a car – a new model, no less! When I look at all the things I have, I become so grateful for the abundance in my life. However, I still occasionally fall prey to the butter demon, though.

Yesterday I got paid from my church job. It happens once a month. However, that means that the money is not accessible until Tuesday, because the deposit will get credited today, with the funds available tomorrow. Being that it is the end of the month, this means I had to borrow $20 from Rick’s wallet  to get all the food lined up in my house for Monday and Tuesday. $20 for two days. Full of an “I can do this” attitude, I set off for the grocery store.

I found myself wandering through the store in a foul mood. I felt poor. I hate that feeling – the feeling that I work my butt off and have little to show for it.  I couldn’t get the vegan meatballs because they were $4.99 a package and that was a full quarter of my budget. There went Louise’s meatballs for Monday’s dinner. Mushrooms in the package I wanted (portabello caps, more than enough for Tuesday’s pizza) were $3.49. That’s almost $10 a pound for fungus! That’s ridiculous! As I wandered through the store, lamenting my pathetic budget, the guns and butter phrase floated through my head (thanks to my guardian angel for the timely reminder).

I stopped myself short and thought for a moment. What do I need? Really, truly need? I started to think about everything I had already and realized I was being utterly ridiculous.

For Monday, the menu is:

Breakfast – cold cereal with dried fruit

Lunch – egg salad sandwiches with pickles for Rick and I, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for Louise.

Dinner – Spaghetti and meatballs for Rick (vegan meatballs for Louise), salad and garlic bread.






For Tuesday, the menu is:

Breakfast – oatmeal with apples and dried fruit

Lunch – peanut butter and jelly for all

Dinner – a white pizza with vegetables and salad.

I had most of what I needed at home, but I still needed a few things.

Our breakfast supply was low – I needed cold cereal, oatmeal and apples. I got house brand raisin bran and rolled oats. We had enough cow and rice milk and dried fruit at home. I also got 3 apples – one for each of us.

I had all the ingredients for lunches at home. Since I make all my own bread, the garlic bread, sandwich bread and pizza dough are covered. However, I needed meatball meat for Monday night. Rick rarely gets a big meaty meal, which is his preference, so whenever he asks for meat, I try to get him enough to satisfy him. So I got that. Three-quarters of a pound for $2.92. I can bulk that up with some sauteed onion and bread crumbs. Maybe a chopped tomato. Roll them and bake them and, if there are any leftovers, he can make a meatball hero for lunch on Tuesday.

I had plenty of salad greens for both days, but needed some vegetable toppings to go on Tuesday’s pizza. I chose a bag of spinach that I know will get eaten wherever it turns up – no waste. Cook it all at once and it will be gone almost as soon as it is cooked. We love spinach.

I chose one beautiful zucchini. Only one. Yes, I wanted more, but I only needed one for Tuesday.

I also chose mushrooms, but a $2.49 package that worked out to be cheaper per ounce, and the least expensive can of black olives I could find.

I needed the tofu to make a tofu “ricotta” that my daughter and husband will both eat. Another $2.

I needed a box of tissues because Rick has a bear of a cold and is going through them like wildfire. I also got a bag of lentils ($1.19) to bulk up the spaghetti sauce and add some protein for Louise.

All total, my shopping jaunt was $21.10. I kicked in the extra money from a $5 emergency stash I keep in my wallet.

It worked out in the end. It usually does, too, in a way that will illustrate whatever Life lesson I’m working on. I am profoundly grateful that my guardian angel tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me of what was truly important. Reminded me of the abundance of butter in my life. I am especially glad that she did it when nobody was around. I’m sure I looked silly standing in the grocery store staring at nothing…