And the pendulum swings

I am back and recovered from Camp Exec. This past weekend (Thursday-Sunday) forty girls and executive women catgathered in the woods to learn from and help each other. It was hugely inspirational, and also hugely exhausting. By Saturday night, I was quite sick and needed some serious sleep to recover. I took today and yesterday off, mostly to make it up to the one who thinks my world revolves around her (—>) (hint: it totally does). Now, on Tuesday night, I’m starting to feel like I’m coming back to life.

I had these grand ideas last week before heading to camp that I would prewrite my Friday and Sunday blog posts, and set them to automatically release while I was gone, but as you can plainly see, that didn’t happen. And I didn’t do any writing while I was at camp either (why did I think that was even a possibility?). I was feeling pretty bad about that yesterday and Sunday because I’d deviated from the plan–the plan that I made up! But ugh, how am I ever supposed to be successful if I can’t stick to my plan, man? (this is how I talk to myself in my head).

And that of course led to me thinking about my spending in September, which let’s just say is not as pretty as it was in August when I enthusiastically began this challenge. Yep, there were definitely a few meals out, and a few unnecessary “gifts” meant for others, but which also mostly were meant to cheer me up. There was more than one, or two, or even three trips to Starbucks this month when I had vowed to only brew my own coffee at home. And of course there was a donation to my favorite political candidate even after I said that giving my time would be enough (but after last night can you really blame me?).

And then I thought, no.

No, you know what? No. This is a journey. This is an experience (this is how I talk back when I’m talking to myself). The pendulum swings strongly one way one month, and the next month it swings in the other direction, and I self-correct, and I get back on track. Sometimes that might mean that I need to loosen the reigns a little bit, not be so rigid. Other times, it means I need to pull up and think about what I really want in the long run, and whether spending this much on restaurants and coffee will get me there (it won’t).

So I didn’t write. So I spent more than I wanted to. I learn. I reset. I get better, which is a really valuable lesson, because almost inevitably, I’ll probably need another reset by November.

Off the Rails

It started last Friday with a couple of margaritas. Then a quick trip to the yarn store, which turned into a trip to the bookstore next door for some gifts (gifts are good right?): a book I will read before giving away and some cards for friends far away. Then a trip to the studio up the street–another present, local art is the best art, right? And I was going to buy something eventually anyway right?

Then a weekend of being sick and watching movies and not buying groceries or preparing food for the week led to dinner with friends on Sunday night and lunch at work yesterday, both delicious meals at places I’ve been craving since this whole “spending fast” thing began in August, a whole month ago.

Then there was an evening soy chai latte while volunteering (it’s rude not to buy something right?) and a quick and dirty trip to Trader Joes–hello corn nuts, fig newtons, chocolate covered almonds, falafel wrap, tofu spring roll and grapes (grapes are healthy).

Add to that the normal, but thus far theoretical, utility bills and increased rent, plus a quick trip to the vet for our favorite presidential kitten, and you have quite a pricey past five days. Thank Maude tomorrow is payday.

I’m trying to remember that this is not my most of the time, that this spending–at least the food and the Starbucks–is a stress response. And the presents? Well that’s a margarita response. And if it seems like I’m being extra hard on myself, it’s because I’m trying to remember that I don’t want this to be my most of the time.

Last night, after a long day at work and a few hours volunteering for the presidential who is not a cat or a demigorgon, I came home tired. I ate my falafel and my spring rolls. I listened to a podcast, and I started some soup, for which I had defrosted the stock two days ago, so hopeful was I that it would be made. I roasted some butternut squash, and put my trusty blender to work. In thanks, I have four servings of butternut squash soup, enough to take me solidly into this four-day work weekend at camp, where I will spend exactly nothing.

It’s good to have soup. It’s good to reset.


No use crying over broken glass

This morning, I took a Mason jar of vegetable stock out of the freezer to thaw for soup this evening. There was a little water left in the pot after I made my coffee, and I thought I remembered having read something on the internet about heating a jar in warm water on the stove to help speed the defrosting process. I didn’t remember exactly, but I had the water left, and I was in a rush, so I plopped the jar in about an inch of hot water, and immediately hard the crackling sound of breaking glass. I looked and sure enough, the glass around the frozen stock had cracked in several places, like a plate of ice being stepped on. I removed the jar from the water, and after a moment’s mourning, threw the whole thing away. No one wants glass soup.

A few minutes later, washing yesterday’s dishes, I remembered another kitchen and more broken glass. I was six or seven, standing in my best friend Vanessa’s kitchen, making jello with her for the first time. I’d made it before, I said, and I probably had. Vanessa heated the measuring cup of hot water directly on the electric stove, careful not to touch the red circle when she finished. We mixed in the jello powder, and went to the sink to add cold water. As soon as the water touched the hot glass, it cracked, and all our jello ran down the drain, leaving only shards of sticky glass behind. We had to get Vanessa’s mom who was mad we’d used the stove without asking, but I think she might have helped us make more jello. At least, that’s how I want this story to end.

So I should have known, I suppose, the consequences of heat and cold and glass. But some lessons learned get forgotten, and some glasses just break.


More jars defrosting after the first failure.

Sickness and Spending

For the past week, I’ve been walking the line of sickness–sometimes leaning over onto the headachey, sore-throaty, warm-facey side and sometimes pulling myself back to the energetic, enthusiastic, a-little-too-proud-of-myself-for-not-being-sick side. This morning feels like I am balanced right in the middle. I am a little headachey, but not warm, and I have my cup of ginger tea to promote my well-being. I’m tempted to go running this afternoon (it’s in the plan!) but also afraid of pushing myself and feeling miserable all next week.

Yesterday, I felt solidly well. I biked to work, I got a lot done, I learned some things. I felt so good that I had two margaritas at a post-work happy hour. I’m currently blaming those margaritas for my less than perfect health today, but I was feeling really good at the time. I was feeling so good, in fact, that after happy hour I bought presents. Not for me, but for some friends and family, and not for no-reason, but to be saved for the upcoming birthdays and Christmases. It wasn’t much, but it didn’t have to be done yesterday, but it did have to be done eventually so I’m not feeling too bad. Later in the evening, the hot-faced, headachey feeling came back, and well, here we are. You may also notice that this blog is a day later than intended. That’s what happens when you feel both really good and really bad in one day. You get forgetful.

All week, it’s been tempting to say, “I’m not as sick as her, so I shouldn’t be staying home,” or “I’m not feeling that bad, I should definitely be running.” And while I don’t think we should all push our limits, I also know that’s not a problem for me. If I’m feeling sick, I should believe me even if I don’t think I’m “sick enough.”

So with all that said, I’m going to end this blog quickly and get back to resting and knitting. May your weekend be filled with rest and recovery, even if you don’t feel the tiniest bit sick!

What We Really Need

Last week I learned about a contemplative studies conference happening in San Diego, one that seems certain to open my consciousness, make me more aware of my spirituality as well as become better versed in various world religions, and really just unlock my inner self on a whole new level. Plus yoga, obviously. $575 is a small amount to pay for what I am sure would be a life changing four days.

Then this weekend I heard about another conference through a writers collective where I’ve taken classes before. Two days of workshops would surely jump start my creative juices and give me the energy for a big writing kick. And at only $145, it’s a steal compared to the contemplative conference. But no yoga.

Then, just yesterday, a friend came over in a new pair of workout shoes that I’ve had my eye on for close to six months. They’re a little intense, but she said she never wants to buy another kind of shoe again in her life and had just ordered a second pair of the same kind. They are everything I’ve been wanting in a shoe but haven’t been able to admit, and with them, I’d be more in touch with nature and by default, obviously myself. Plus they are on sale and are cheaper than both workshops and will last longer than a weekend.

And then today came. And I went for a run in my regular shoes and now I’m writing a regular blog post without the benefit of two straight days of expert wisdom, and yet, even with my as-of-yet-unenlightened mind, I’ve come up with a rather obvious insight, but one I needed to remember.

What is it that I want? I want to be happy. I think it’s fair to say we all do, hence the title of this post.

I don’t need more things or more commitments to be happy. In fact, as I’ve recently griped about, I need fewer commitments and things are just another form of commitment. A commitment to a job. A commitment to a place.

What I need, now especially, is more time and fewer commitments. Not a four day conference to contemplate the brain-spirit-consciousness connection, though I’m sure it would be meaningful, but time to remember to take a deep breath a few times throughout my day. Not a two day writing intensive, but ten minutes to write a sentence, just one, to keep the habit going. Two days is too much. Two days is intense. And I don’t need intense right now. I need gentle consistency. What I need is not a new pair of shoes to connect me to the earth, but a barefoot Saturday morning on the patio with my cat, feeling the warm concrete on my soles, and maybe stepping into the soft dirt of my landlord’s garden for a few moments.

There is nothing wrong with these things, and nothing wrong with anyone who wants them or has them. They’re just not for me right now.

I don’t need more busy weekends. I don’t need another swipe of the debit card. I need moments to be here. Where I am. With what I already have.


Stock Up

For years, when a recipe has called for vegetable broth, I have substituted plain water. Vegetable broth from the store is expensive. Occasionally I have used bouillon cubes, but it’s hard to find vegetable ones and they are quite salty. Plus, I am lazy and I don’t like to mix them into water, I just add them directly to whatever I’m cooking and this seems ineffective.

Well no more!

Being in the habit of composting my fruit and vegetables, when my man left, I started separating the fruit and vegetable peels so that I try my hand at vegetable stock. I quickly ended up with far more supply than I needed. What can I say? I eat a lot of vegetables. So last night, I chopped two onions, three carrots and some celery (the base of the stock) and added several heaping cups of potato ends, kale stalks, and lettuce ends to my stock pot. All in all, I made about ten to twelve cups of stock, and I still have plenty of produce (or rotting vegetables my man would erroneously assert if he was reading this) left over, but lacking more containers, I’m just going to take it the compost at work.

What do I have to say about this: I can’t believe I’ve never made stock before! It’s easy! It’s cheap because it’s using vegetables that would otherwise be thrown away (and are still going to the compost bin in the end, so no waste). And it tastes pretty good! In future, I will separate out the cabbage, as I found that made it a bit bitter, but all in all, I’m inordinately pleased with myself for figuring out something that my grandparents and apparently all of the internet already knew!

And speaking of stocking up, the other main occupant of my freezer this week is seven pounds of frozen strawberries! They are absurdly cheap at the Asian market where I buy my vegetables for the last two weeks, 59 cents a pound! At every other grocery store I visit, strawberries cost at least two dollars more! So I ended up buying nine pounds, which seems like a lot of strawberries, but to be honest, I wish I had bought more. There’s no beating a good price, but there is a limit to my freezer space.

Small Steps

I am the first to admit it: I like big steps. I like to be right right away, to be proficient and then advanced in short order. I like to make sudden and immediate changes in my life, to feel the satisfying reverberations of an earthquake-sized change.

I think of my vegetarianism like that (it wasn’t). I think of my veganism like that (not it either). “Before I was that way, now I am this” sounds good to me, like snapping fingers. I like to imagine that I make a decision and then methodically progress towards my goal. It sounds so orderly.

It isn’t that way at all, I suppose because I’m only human. I make big changes, like deciding to get up at 5 a.m., run two miles, write for thirty minutes, practice Spanish and read before work. I did that for awhile. I liked it, and then something happened and now I don’t anymore. Or I decide to meditate everyday, and ten minutes is hard, but I do it until…. I don’t anymore. Because it was hard and I was tired. I do very well in classes and then the classes end and…

Well here we are. Sometimes the steps I imagine are bigger than my feet. So I’m trying to try something smaller. It’s hard. I like big! I like monumental changes that make people sit up and say, “wow, you did that?” But the big changes don’t always work, and the truth is, they never work like they seem to from the outside. Most of the time, they’re really just small changes piled up over time to make a big change. Changing a life is like turning an oceanliner. Small degrees matter and you need time.

I tell people that I’ve been vegetarian since seventh grade, and that’s mostly true. What I tell very often is that I tried to be vegetarian in fifth grade and failed because that doesn’t elicit the “ooh that’s so long!” of the former statement.

And the truth truth is that I’ve eaten meat since then! Not much, but some. I remember being in early high school and a friend’s mom insisting that I eat meat spaghetti sauce because I was in “her house” so I should eat by “her rules.” I don’t think I’d asked to be fed, but I ate around it because I didn’t want to embarrass my friend. And I ate some meat when I was in Spain, though I didn’t care for it much. And there was the infamous pork chop incident, which I cared for very much.

I tell people I went vegan after reading a book on dog training because it’s funnier than telling them I’d been trying since college and I was finally ready, and it makes me sound better than telling them “I’m vegan but sometimes when I’m stressed I still sneak a reese’s, but I’m working on it.” But those are the steps. Trial and error and success and error.

The truth is when I make big goals and fail to keep them, I fail big too. I stop doing anything. When I stopped going to poetry class, I stopped writing poetry. When I broke my streak on the language site, Duolingo, I stopped practicing for weeks. When I miss a workout, I miss three or four. I want to be a person who does those things all the time, even if I am not ready to give each of those passions the time that I wish I could.

I have to get it out of my head that I “need” half an hour to write and get it into my head that one sentence is writing. If I write one sentence a day, which is really all it feels like I have time for this month, then I am a writer and I have written. If I’m not ready to read a novel in Spanish yet (particularly one that’s due back at the library in two weeks) then I need to be okay with reading “Si llevas un raton al cine” and practicing my Duolingo.

So what do I have on my steps list?

  • Say ‘I love you’ every day to my man. Because I care about having strong positive relationships.
  • Take deep breaths. I don’t have time to meditate right now. It’s just not happening. But, I have time to take a deep breath a few times a day. And that’s important because it keeps my stress levels lower which helps me make better decisions and it makes me a nicer person to be around which goes back to having those positive relationships.
  • Follow my half marathon running plan. Yesterday I ran for 25 minutes after work because it was on the plan. In the past, I would have said that 25 minutes is not long enough, but you know what? I don’t need to be the overachiever on the running plan, especially if it means I’ll burn out and stop running entirely. 25 minutes is enough.
  • Duolingo one time per day. This one was going to be tough, but it’s been going okay for a few days. Why? Probably because I blocked Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest on my computer so that it redirects to Duolingo when I try to access those sites. It’s just a quick reminder that this is a priority, and that if I don’t have time for Duolingo right now, I probably don’t have time for Facebook either.
  • Write one sentence. I’ll be honest. I haven’t even done this one yet at all. But I have it on here because it’s a reminder of my values and who I believe I am. If I can’t even write one sentence this week, I’ll drop it down to one word. But realistically, I’m starting my writing class this weekend, so hopefully that will also help me write at least one sentence per day.

In the past, I would have tried to schedule date nights or dinners together every night, or set aside an hour for time with my man. I would have set aside ten or fifteen minutes to meditate even though I found it really hard to do for that long, and I would have added additional workouts to my half marathon training plan. I would have tried to get to the next Duolingo level each day, or gotten a book in Spanish to read because that’s “real Spanish.” I would have set aside hours for writing.

And there’s nothing wrong with that if it can be done, but I wasn’t actually doing any of those things. I was just setting goals and making plans that invariably would get derailed when I had an extra long meeting or a fun opportunity arise, or if I was just tired. And the truth is, I don’t want to wait until I have hours to spend on writing before I write. I want to write now, even if I can only write blogs a few times a week and one sentence on the other days. It’s more than I’m doing now! It’s progress. I don’t want to wait until I can go to Spain for three months to learn Spanish, because that may never happen! Likewise, a weeklong silent meditation retreat in order to find inner calm. I need those things now, even if it’s just one breath a day.

Especially when things are hard and busy, just one breath, just one sentence, can make a big difference.


Labor of Love: Meals of Labor Day Wknd

Happy Labor Day! For the past three days, I’ve had people over for meals: two brunches and a dinner. The last time people came over for a full meal was probably months ago, so three in three days is a little out of the ordinary for me, but it has been delightful! And since I’ve spent a bit extra on food, it’s also brought into focus how much more food is at a restaurant compared to homemade.

What I bought:

  • Flour: $2.19
  • Baking Powder: $3.29
  • Kale: $1.98
  • Oranges: $0.98
  • Avocados: $2.00
  • Can of Corn: $0.59
  • Can of Beans: $0.99 (Normally I would have made ahead, but I didn’t)
  • Red pepper: $1.49
  • Sweet potatoes: $7.15
  • Red onion: $.0.76
  • Jalapeno: $0.04
  • Lime: $0.10
  • Green onions: $0.50
  • Blackberries: $2.50
  • Raspberries: $2.50
  • Cranberries: $1.40
  • Pumpkin Seeds: $1.32
  • Granola: $5.11
  • Coconut Yogurt $5.29

What I made for 1st Brunch:

This is my absolutely favorite biscuit recipe, and it’s going to become my favorite breakfast potato recipe too. The biscuits were topped with jam a volunteer made, and the guests brought grapes and orange juice to round out the meal. In fact, they brought so many grapes that we debated about how many grapes one would have to eat if one were to eat only grapes for an entire day. The answer we settled on: six pounds.

For Dinner:

I really like these recipes, but I’d make a few adjustments going forward. For one, I’d use yams instead of sweet potatoes for the prettier color (which to be fair, in The Happy Pear video after the link, it looks like they do, but maybe they call yams sweet potatoes in Ireland?). I’d also add a sauce to the sweet potatoes, like salsa drizzled on top. I think they’d be good with some vegan sour cream as well, or cheese and the real thing if you aren’t vegan.

The kale salad was pretty good as is; I’d probably just use a second avocado since mine were small and the salad felt a little dry in places.

For 2nd Brunch:

  • Parfaits with Cashew Cream, coconut yogurt, fresh fruit and granola

Clearly a great brunch, since it’s the only one I got even a partial picture of. There were also roasted potatoes and banana rice, and mimosas, obviously, since it wouldn’t be brunch without mimosas.

So, I spent forty dollars and change on meals with friends this weekend, not including the regular grocery shopping that I still need to do… hello heads of lettuce! How good to see you again! But, a quick glance at a popular brunch spot here in Hillcrest and my favorite dinner spot show that I would have spent $55 on just my meals had we eaten out. And while I don’t have a lot of leftovers, I do have probably two or three meals left over, and I obviously did not use all the flour and baking powder so there will be future biscuits to look forward to. And as one of today’s brunch guests exclaimed, “this is so much better!”

Sometimes I wonder why I immediately gravitate towards writing about food when I’m thinking about money. I don’t think this is just me–many of the blogs and Facebook comments I read mention cutting down your food costs, either by reducing restaurant meals or trimming the fat from your grocery budget (not necessarily literally). Eating gives us the opportunity to make choices aligned with our values three times a day; there are very few other decisions that I make with such frequency and that I have so much control over. As a vegan, I’ve thought about this a lot in ethical terms, but I haven’t thought about it as much in terms of my budget (as though my budget and my ethics are somehow separate, which of course they’re not).

It’s just food, you might say! And it is. It’s also just money! It’s also just time! Time well-spent with friends for less than we would have spent in a restaurant, and sharing delicious things that feel good to me. It’s not always that I can spend relaxing time with my friends (and also have time by myself later) so I enjoyed this weekend a great deal. The rest of today will involve a lot of knitting, a little more grocery shopping, and hopefully, maybe, an early bedtime.

Enjoy the recipes and your weeks!

August Spending

Well, it’s happened again, as they used to say on Car Talk. We’ve come to the end of another month, and the beginning of a new one. I’m glad it’s September, because after September comes October, and by this time next month I’ll be almost with my man in Ohio. And that will feel pretty darn good.

But in the meantime, let’s do the numbers!

Income: $2,855
Expenses: $1,981
Net: $874

This feels pretty good. I’d love to see if I could net a thousand some month, but we’ll have to see how it goes. I was able to set aside $250 to my IRA (on top of work contributions) and $250 to joint account with the man for a house. The other $374 is padding my budget for future expenses (hello travel! hello oil change!)

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty spending breakdown:

  • I spent the usual $600 on rent and utilities this month. This will go up to $1,000 in September as I pay for the whole cost of rent + utilities. (Why isn’t it exactly double? The man and I put some money in  our joint account towards apartment expenses and shared restaurant meals, which I won’t be doing now).
  • $201 on groceries. This shocks me, because I remember months of paying $250 or $300 on food, but it turns out it’s only six dollars less than my average for the year. That’s the power of data! (Also a reminder not to get excited by what ‘feels like’ less spending, but actually look at the numbers).
  • $61 on gas. Nothing to say here
  • $250 on health care/medication. Whew! That’s a doozy! That’s a new pair of glasses and a year’s worth of contacts though, so it shouldn’t be a repeated expense (until next year that is…)
  • Phone: $28.

Those are the “needs” as I count them. Now to the wants:

  • $425: writer’s class that starts next week. I’ve been really failing at my writing (maybe trying to do too much at one time) and I’m hoping this will help me focus on it.
  • YMCA membership: $90. Two payments in one month. Weird. None last month though.
  • Weddings: $290. Checks getting cleared. Tickets being bought.
  • Car Insurance: $10 (It’s the renewal month, so everything extra I’ve been paying over the year gets carried into this month. Normally it’s around $100).
  • $21: parking. Parking! This is absurd! Twenty of those dollars are for work though and will be reimbursed.
  • Food and drinks out: $38.04. We’re working on this, but in the past it’s been $75, $100 a month, or more, and that’s just not in the budget anymore.
  • Gifts: $86. This is high to me. I want to work on this. #SorryFriendsandFam #ScroogeMcDuck
  • Fun Money: $162.26 Aka “gifts to myself.” This includes my half marathon entry, and also an absurd number of cards and a new planner from the beginning of the month. It’s beautiful. I regret nothing. #FredScrooge
  • $53: Political contributions. I’ve decided to give my time now, so the well is dry! Until some orange puffball decides to say something even more ridiculous than he already has.

Overall? I feel like this is a pretty good start. $874 is no slouch, and I hope I can keep it up. I hope to reduce my “fun money” slush fund this month since the writing and the political action should keep me properly distracted (and hopefully feeling invigorated and renewed, but maybe I need to look to other areas of my life for that). I’m going to try to match what I was able to do in August in September, but I’m trying not to get too attached to the numbers. #Goals. #LifeLessons.

Cheers to a long weekend and a new month!

Maybe a little too much entertainment

On Saturday, I worked all day. I spoke in front of a group of about forty people, then hung out with a group of teenagers and helped me colleagues in between. There was a lot of talking.

On Sunday, I rested. I went for a run (I guess in my life that counts as resting now). I listened to a podcast. I went to dinner with friends. There was more talking and a movie was watched. There was delicious peanut sauce.
hk back turned

On Monday, I worked. After work, I phone banked for Hillary. I’m committed to electing  my cat as president of the United States. She was pretty annoyed though that I stayed away and made phone calls instead of hanging out with her. That’s the price of victory, HK. A lady yelled at me. I wondered why I was volunteering for something that was so much like my job. It’s because the people are good, like at my job. I didn’t write, even though I said I would try to write every day this week.

Today is Tuesday, I worked. I left work early and went to my aunt’s. I brought a new and challenging knitting project. I knitted for probably three or four hours, but I still don’t have the pattern down yet. At last count, I had dropped two stitches. That’s not too bad, in my opinion. I’m hoping that I’ll dream about it tonight and master it tomorrow. When my uncle came home, we made spaghetti for dinner and a salad. I didn’t run. I am writing now. You can be the judge of the quality. There was more talking.

Tomorrow is Wednesday. I might be going to a friend’s house after work for movies and wine. There will certainly be talking. I could bring my knitting. If it is not apparent yet, I’ve done a bit of talking this week, and I might need an evening at home with the presidential candidate. I’m not even sure that I want the talking of a podcast.

Thursday I am back at my aunt’s. I’m happy to go. There will be more knitting, but I don’t think I’ll stay for dinner.

Friday, I have no plans. TGIF.