No Spend January Is Here!

January is a No Spend Month for me. It’s a fun little game I’ve played for the last few years where I pay for what is needed but there’s no frivolous spending (unless pre-planned), no impulse buying and no shopping for entertainment. Goodbye, antique malls!

So bills are paid and groceries are purchased but I work on using some things from the freezer and pantry. Yesterday, I stopped at the store for about $10 worth of produce needed to create meals for the week using things I already have. If I stop for gas, my reusable water bottle had better be full because I’m not running inside for a drink. Not even for just a dollar.

There’s a gift to buy this month and a planned dinner and movie with a friend that was postponed from the holidays. That’s all the extracurricular spending that should happen.

This month, I will spend a lot of time at home, using what I own, looking for creative ways to entertain myself for free and simply appreciating the life that I have built and all that I already have. The Depression era mantra “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” comes to mind.

After all the excess and gluttony of the holidays, a spending fast is a welcome relief to the bank account but it’s also a welcome break from commercialism.

We spend a lot of time making money to survive and on spending money on stuff to fill our homes but we don’t always go home and just enjoy the life we have.

It’s is an exercise in gratitude as much as anything else.

I wrote a Winter Survival Guide last fall and it’s here in January that these techniques are truly put to work.

Here’s what’s happening in my world right now:

Books are a priority this year and I’m finding that the more I read, the more I want to read. The problem is that there’s a new one that I’m dying to tear into. I usually have three or four going at once but want to focus on one at a time this year. It can be next.

Cooking is more fun. I always enjoy playing in the kitchen but winter is a great time to experiment with new recipes. This year is especially fun as I’m looking for plant based recipes for my new lifestyle. This week I made a potato corn chowder that was divine and the lunch leftovers were a welcome treat! I also made a pumpkin cookie that was disgusting but we’ll just call that an experiment gone awry and move on.

Organization and purging are another priority. I have a list of areas to hit – from the pantry to the sock drawer to the nightstand and all points in between. It’s shocking how much stuff accumulates over time even when you try to be tidy. The goal is to do one thing from the list every day. The purging extends into intangible areas too. One evening was spent purging emails while watching the Closer on TV. Brenda Lee Johnson caught the bad guys and I unsubscribed and deleted thousands of old marketing emails. The above picture represents a new set of Christmas dishes that need to be put away after some rearranging in the china cabinet.

Movie time! I can’t go to the movies but that doesn’t matter because there’s a stack of movies waiting for my viewing pleasure. One day I’ll make some homemade potato chips and hit the couch for a little movie marathon.

Self care is a priority. Outdoor activity is less common because it’s dark at quitting time but I am trying to prioritize some kind of exercise every day. Rest is also important. My philosophy for most of the year is that you can sleep when you’re dead. During winter, these cold, dark nights call for a warm blanket and an earlier bedtime.

Being happy with the Now is a common theme and resisting the urge to adventure plan involves daily internal negotiations. It’s much harder than it should be. However, the theme of this stage of the year is being satisfied with the abundance of everyday life. Adventure planning can wait a bit. I have started a list of day trip ideas based on suggestions from friends but that’s more about being forgetful than about planning. Being present in this moment rather than dream of the next adventure is a real challenge.

For me, a No Spend Month is an opportunity to get myself together for another year, to set new goals and intentions, to stop buying stuff I don’t need, to nourish my mind and body, and to practice gratitude for what I have.

It gets easier every year and, this will sound sound nuts, but I’ve been looking forward to January for weeks.

Want to do your own no spend challenge? You can set your own rules and make it what you want it to be! You might be surprised at how much money and time you save!

Cultivating a Better Life

I like to take vacation around the holidays. This period is perfect for a forced slow down, to transition from three seasons of busy into my season of quiet.

The rest of the year is occupied by a lot of running around but our unpredictable winter weather often makes it hard to get out. I look forward to this time of year- soft blankets and books, inside chores and quiet walks through the snow take the place of road trips, weekend adventures and breakfasts on the porch.

January is typically a no spend month for me. This organized spending fast means bills are paid and necessities purchased but making do is the common theme and there are no frivolous purchases. Recreational shopping is not allowed but that’s ok because there are many free ways to stay happily occupied.

I’m more apt to do puzzles, to go to bed early and to spin records while cleaning something on a Saturday afternoon.

Relaxation is key and I turn my attention inward, write more, focus on self improvement and on building a better life.

It’s a good time of year.

This vacation is about transitioning into that period. I spent a couple of days running around but today will bake Christmas cookies for my folks. From now until the New Year the plan is to be mostly domestic.

Although, if the weather is good, there may be one last little road trip for the year, a Christmas gift to myself. After Natalie died, I realized that life is too short to not live as we wish.

This week is also about refocusing on plant based eating, exercise and rest. The last couple of months have brought spurts of stress and busyness that have messed with my sleep and left me in a position that I’m glad to just eat vegetarian while away from home rather than the plant based food that makes me feel so good.

In other words, friends, I’m making this break exactly what I need it to be. My wish for all of you is that you get a few days each year to do that for yourself. Remember, today is a great time to start.

Self Care Sunday

I protect my free time on Sundays the same way a mama bear protects her cubs. If I agree to do something on a Sunday, it must be really important or I must really like the person who invited me.

The phrase “self care” sounds self indulgent but I’m not lazing around in a bubble bath all day. Instead, this day is reserved for certain household chores, laundry and preparing for the week as well as for more traditional self care efforts.

I respond well to structure and planning. I also respond well to rest and relaxation and to the sense of accomplishment that comes with a well spent Sunday.

This is what I seek on an average Sunday:

Wake up naturally. The is the only day out of seven that I am not ripped from my sleep by an alarm and then forced to leave the house. This simple act feels decadent.

Eat well. Breakfast is normally a really good smoothie with peanut butter on toast. This is my normal daily breakfast but on Sunday there’s time to actually enjoy it. I aim for healthful foods on this day because there are no excuses when there’s time to cook.

Be enlightened. I typically watch CBS Sunday Morning, a magazine show that covers lifestyle, history, current affairs, entertainers and almost anything else the folks at CBS can dream up. Sometimes I kick up my feet and watch but some weeks just listen while doing chores. Much of what they cover doesn’t sound at all interesting in advance but I nearly always enjoy the stories and learn something.

Do laundry. Starting the week with an empty hamper ensures that whatever I want to wear is clean and there are plenty of clean towels. I typically put together some outfits to choose from including scarves and other accessories to save time on work mornings. Also, the bed sheets are always changed on Sunday because there is nothing more decadent than clean sheets.

Meal prep. Grocery shopping usually happens on Saturday or maybe Friday after work. On Sunday, I cook a few things to make weekday meals easier. This is the ideal day to experiment with new recipes or to make things that require more time. Soups that need time to simmer or beans that take hours to cook are good candidates. Homemade granola always happens on Sunday too.

Sweat. At some point, I like to break a sweat. This typically happens on the treadmill or maybe with an exercise dvd. This is followed by a hot shower and clean pjs. That’s right, I wear pajamas all day. Judge me all you like but it makes me happy.

Work the brain. This means that I kick up my feet and curl up with Scout to read, journal, do crosswords or catch up on other things that give my brain opportunity to stretch.

Embrace the quiet. Soft music, smart stuff on tv and plain old silence are important to this introvert. It allows me opportunity to calm my mind and mentally prepare for the week ahead.

Whatever I please. Real work always comes first so that the last half of the day can be devoted to whatever I feel like doing. Sometimes this means decluttering a drawer because this makes me happy. Sometimes I process pictures, write a blog post or watch a movie. If I’ve been too busy to keep up with housekeeping it often makes me happy to do some chores. It really just depends on what I’m in the mood to do.

Rest. Going to bed early on Sunday sets a good tone for the rest of the week. I love to take a book to bed early and then wake up feeling good on Monday.

In short, everything I do on Sunday is aimed toward improving quality of life during the work week and making myself healthy and well.

It’s not a bad way to live.

Do I feel like I’m missing out on something by basically hibernating one day a week? Not on your life. I feel stronger and happier for it.

The weeks when I skip my routine are harder weeks. The simple acts of staying fed and clothed take longer and eat up valuable time that could be used for fun, rest, exercise or basically anything else.

It’s not that I can’t function without my Sunday routine, it simply makes life more pleasant and easier.

Clearly, this wouldn’t work so well for someone with kids or a significant other. This is one benefit of being on my own and I am milking it for all it’s worth.

Remembering Natalie

Frequent readers here know that this space is typically dedicated to positive topics – adventures, stories about my cat, the occasional pep talk and whatever else is on my mind.

The working theory is that there’s enough negativity in the world without my adding to it. But something happened this week that’s been weighing heavy on my mind and heart.

It’s time to talk about it.

On Monday morning, a woman that I knew was kidnapped and murdered by her estranged husband before he turned the gun on himself.

Today, loved ones will gather in a country church in the woods to remember a mother, daughter, sister and friend. Her little boy is an orphan. Friends are devastated. A community is in shock.

Things like this don’t happen here.

There’s a lot I’d like to say here. I would like to tell you about the failures of our justice system for not doing enough to stop domestic violence or about the complacency of regular people because we think it isn’t our place to get involved in a family matter and how we talk about these things as though it’s something to be kept secret. I would like to gripe about the concept of a restraining order, a document that’s not even worth the paper it’s printed on when someone is crazy and mean enough to want you dead.

But standing on my soap box won’t change anything.

There’s no way to change what has happened. Her parents will bury their daughter today. Her child will spend a lifetime without an amazing mother because of something his father did. No matter what we say, the world will be a darker place without our friend.

Natalie was a bright, happy person who took a sincere interest in everyone around her. You got the impression that she was thrilled to see you and never had a harsh word but instead always had a kind word or compliment.

She exuded true kindness and literally lit up a room. She had an energy about her that I only wish I could capture. And she had no idea how special she was.

When someone dies after an extended illness we like to point out they aren’t suffering anymore. When they’re very old, they had a long life and are in a better place.

There’s nothing to say here. I have nothing. She was 35, vibrant and kind – the sort of person we should all aspire to be.

Everywhere I go, people are talking about it, they’re tearful, they’re upset. They’re confused, angry and numb. All of us are struggling in our own way.

If you think that this sort of thing won’t happen to you or doesn’t involve you, think again. Domestic violence threatens us all. Your neighbor could be in danger. Your child or friend could be suffering and you may not even know it.

Have you ever wondered why a woman doesn’t just leave? This is why. Because it’s hard and it’s dangerous. Because women die when they have done nothing wrong. Because there are people out there who would rather kill the one they say they love than allow them to be free.

My heart is tired, friends.

I cannot fathom how her close friends and family are suffering today. And I can’t understand how someone could behave viciously toward the person they say they love.

Sadly, she isn’t the first person to be victim to this kind of senseless cruelty and she won’t be the last. Many of you reading probably at least know of similar stories.

My apologies for this sad and rambling story today. It isn’t nearly so fun as an adventure but life can’t always be fun. Sometimes it’s a confusing, tragic, horrifying place.

Make the best of today. Tomorrow is not promised.

When Your Body Asks For A Break

There are some lessons that bear repeating.

1. The emotionally unavailable man will never change, not even for you.

2. It is impossible to open a package of Oreos and eat just one. You have to do an entire row or none at all.

3. Your body deserves better than you likely give it in an average day.

There are more but these are the big three.

I seem to swing between being ultra aware and responsive to what my body needs or I tune it out altogether. For the last couple of weeks, I have ignored my body as it has screamed for more rest, less stress, better food and much needed quiet.

I have this inner voice that’s constantly pushing me to keep going when I don’t want to, that tricks me into not hopping on the treadmill when I know exercise would be invigorating, and that tells me to eat the fries because that’s what I really want even though I know I’ll be sluggish tomorrow.

Meanwhile, my body is asking for a break, begging for good nutrition, movement and rest. And I ignore it.

I rely on my body to get me through the day. It takes me everywhere I need to go even when I’m mean to it. It has never failed me but I fail it all the time.

How to do better? That’s the $64,000 question.

This week has been stressful and tiring. Healthy eating, exercise and stress management are really just a pipe dream, something to be put off until the weekend when I undoubtedly will crash.

We all go through times like this and the best we can do is the best we can do. I’m trying hard to remember that good choices breed more good choices and that what I do to my body today will effect how I feel tomorrow.

I know that I’m approaching a breaking point when I simultaneously want to run away on a trip and also hide in my quiet house with a package of cookies.

A trip may be in my future but the cookies will not.

For today, I’ll just keep pushing forward and make the best decisions possible. And then tomorrow, I’ll wake up and do it again.

Things will be better soon.

Enjoy the Small Things

Remember when something so simple as a little change for the gumbball machine made your day?

It can still be that way if you allow it to happen.

This machine sits in a Chillicothe dinner called Carl’s Townhouse. Going there and seeing their counter is a simple pleasure for me.

Simple pleasures can be all sorts of things – finding a favorite candy from your youth in the checkout lane at the grocery, a few stolen moments to watch the sunrise, singing along to a favorite song- there is no right or wrong answer if it makes you happy.

Find a simple pleasure and go enjoy it today!

A Hard Lesson

It’s a hard lesson and one that life seems to teach me repeatedly. In case no one has told you, I will say it today.

You deserve better.

Treat yourself like a priority, especially when no one else does. If someone truly wants you in their life, they won’t make you feel like you’re last on their list.

That’s all. Now go do something kind for yourself. And no matter what, enjoy your day!