No Spend Month Fun and Vegan Food

We’re 21 days into No Spend January and I have to say it’s been so easy that the prospects of ending it are not especially attractive. I’m thinking about continuing it for another month with a couple of small exceptions to the rules.

Weekends and most evenings have called for quiet times at home. I’ve had time to read, watch movies and catch up on chores around the house. It’s like a staycation every weekend.

Purging and organization projects have revealed some disturbing patterns. For example, just how many half used bottles of bathroom cleaner and conditioner does a gal need? I even discovered that I have two copies of Outlander Season three on dvd that I don’t remember buying.

Either of them.

The month began with a list of areas to purge like my sock drawer, kitchen cabinets and movie collection. About two-thirds of the list is complete. I also have a list of things to do instead of shopping or spending money but I haven’t referred to it even once. It’s going to sound weird but it’s sort of fun to just spend some time inventorying and appreciating what you have.

Cooking has been more fun this month and there’s been a fair amount of experimentation in the kitchen. I’ve been trying to figure out how to make vegan baked goods that resemble their non-vegan counterparts. Removing eggs and butter from the equation is harder than it sounds. While there is a vegan butter on the market, I refused to remove one processed food from my diet only to add in another.

Even with cooking more and experimenting a lot, I’m eating extremely well for less money than normal. Plus there’s been a lot less kitchen waste which is extremely pleasing.

I ran into Wal-Mart for cat food and also to TJ Maxx in search of a gift last week. I wasn’t tempted to buy a single thing and didn’t even buy the gift because everything just looked like cheap, unnecessary crap. A month ago I would have been all over the clearance section and would have walked out with a bag of stuff I didn’t need.

That, my friends, is a huge accomplishment.

For all this progress, there’s still much to do. First, I need to figure out this vegan baked good thing. And, at odds with this goal, is my desire to exercise more consistently. I’m still working toward that goal to run a mile. Perhaps another four weeks will get me there.

Are you interested in trying a No Spend Month? It doesn’t have to be as hard or as austere as it sounds. You set your own rules and have the ability to make a No Spend Month what you want it to be.

My rules are as follows:

  1. Pay all bills on time.
  2. Continue saving money for future goals including retirement, emergencies, vacation, etc.
  3. Buy groceries but attempt to use out of the pantry and freezer stockpile. Avoid buying processed foods by preparing fresh and healthy alternatives.
  4. Buy things that are needed. If I damage my work shoes, they need to be replaced but a cute pair of shoes that I don’t need aren’t part of the equation.
  5. Buy gas but make an effort to batch errands and to not drive unnecessarily.
  6. Seek free entertainment. For me, that’s hiking, photography, reading, play piano, movies and other hobbies.
  7. Write down wants and needs instead of buying immediately. So far the list doesn’t exist because I don’t need or want anything but the idea behind this is to delay gratification and to plan purchases.
  8. No more shopping for entertainment. No Amazon and no browsing for entertainment.
  9. Plan as much as possible. I can stop for gas but having a reusable water bottle and a snack in my bag means there’s no reason to go inside for a drink.

There were a couple of exceptions to the rules this month. Dinner and a movie with a friend (it was a delayed Christmas celebration), a retirement gift for a friend at work and retirement cards for some others were planned. I ate out a few times but, aside from that dinner with a friend, it was always because I had to while traveling for work. So far, I’ve stayed in budget and that’s ok.

If I continue this into February, there’s a comedian I want to go see and my mother’s birthday is in February. Other than that, there aren’t many reasons to spend money.

You can make up your own rules and make the exercise what you want it to be.

So who’s in? Anyone else want to try a no spend month? February is the shortest month of the year so it’s a great time to try!

A Lunchtime Stroll

I’ve been dying to get outside and breathe some fresh air so when Thursday was sunny and warm(er), I took a walk on my lunch break. My town has a large cemetery on a hill with roads that are perfect for walking.

It may sound odd, but I rather enjoy cemeteries. They are usually peaceful and are filled with history and stories and mysteries. Here’s one that I always wonder about. Isn’t he handsome? And so very young….

It was just a mile and a half walk but it was enough to clear my mind and energize me for the rest of the day. I felt so much better for it and only wish it could be an everyday habit.

And for good measure, here’s a barn that’s visible from the cemetery. Cause you know how I like my barns!

Happy Saturday, friends.

I’m Trying To Learn Guitar

50122867_10209864476286980_4255696743565361152_nMusic is one of the best things this life offers. Today I mostly listen to records and play around on the internet looking for old tunes time has forgotten.

But I took piano lessons when I was a kid and also picked up alto sax, flute and clarinet. It’s been a lot of years since abandoning most of those but I kept up with the piano sort of half heartedly until just a few years ago. I still have a piano in my home but life is busy and it’s been so long since I played regularly that I’ve pretty much lost my way.

A pal, who is an expert guitar player, suggested that I give the guitar a try and was kind enough to help me get started, trading me a guitar for some records. I demanded that he teach me a few things as well.

So for the last few weeks I’ve been working with what he showed me as well as with a nice little Hal Leonard book. My approach is to practice a little every day and now have some really sore fingers to prove it.

Sadly, my technique is not improving. I’m attempting to learn “Ode To Joy” but the results aren’t very joyful at this time.

I’ll keep trying.

It’s fun to learn new things although I really hate being bad at something. That should be incentive to keep working at it but it’s easy to become frustrated. My friend tells me that every time you see someone who is good at guitar, that person has spent a period of time – maybe even a lifetime – living with their instrument.

If that’s what it takes, my job and other interests will probably interfere with my future as a rockstar. Nonetheless, it’s good to try new things.

 

The Year In Pictures (Proof That It Does Get Better)

When the year began, this is is what I was photographing.

As you can probably see, my mood was dark and brooding. I spent hours stomping around in the cold and looking for anything I could find to occupy my mind and camera. My world was quite small too. My adventures took me around my own property and local state parks but not much further. Life was quiet and introspective. It was intensely focused on self betterment and on finding beauty despite the starkness and darkness that seemed to envelope my world both inside and out.

If you’ve been following this blog you know I’ve come a long way since January. In fact, I’ve come a long way since starting this blog over the summer. And I am thankful for that.

This has turned out to be a very good year. A beautiful year, actually. I’ve had so many adventures as well as time with friends and family and have learned a lot.  I’ve traveled near and far, spent countless hours relaxing on the back porch and met some special people along the way.

I still do some black and whites but have come to enjoy more playing with color and light. In fact, most of my recent black and whites exist because the color or light is poor but the conversion salvages the picture. Here’s what I’ve been photographing lately.

My eye reaches for happier things… I call this photographic proof that it does get better.

48416903_10209755131673433_8729230697920724992_nMy life isn’t what I thought it would be a year ago but that’s ok because it has turned out to be great anyway.  In fact, looking back on last January, it’s leaps and bounds more than I could have asked for or imagined.

I am cautiously optimistic that 2019 is going to be even better and I look forward to seeing what life has in store. I’m certain something special is around the next corner.

Happy New Year, my friends. Make 2019 amazing!

I’m Getting There

Arches and Canyonlands (22)

Standing on the edge of a cliff in Canyonlands National Park during this summer’s vacation. I’m afraid of heights!

This year has been a personal quest for self betterment. The goals are vast and open. The means to achieve them pretty loose. Get healthy. Learn new things. Explore the world. Make new friends and reconnect with old ones. Read. Write. Listen. Engage.

It’s all been part of a big picture goal to know myself, to be healthy, to be strong and to be a better person.

I’ve spent more time exploring than ever before and have sought ways to connect getting fit with exploring and exploring with spending time with friends and spending time with friends to finding things that inspire me.

It’s turned out to be a pretty good year.

As hard as I’ve tried, there have been some real gaps in the process too. People who are important to me but who make me feel stressed or inadequate are a real challenge. The thought of dating again was overwhelming. Wandering alone in the woods makes me happy but also conveniently removes people from the equation.

Along the way I have forgotten to stop and appreciate how far I’ve come or to realize that maybe I have arrived. That’s not to say that I’m done growing and learning and improving myself but I am healthy and strong again – both physically and mentally. Ha, ha… at least by my standards.

A friend recently recalled watching me work through my difficulties early this year. She said I “pushed through the pain with grit and determination.” It sounds silly but that was the nicest thing she could have said to me. Grit and determination. These are strong words and words that I will forever carry with pride. It was tough but I pushed through and made it out of the darkness and back into the light.

Today I’m holding my own and would venture to say that I’m ready to move on. Or I guess I’m ready to keep moving on. I’ve learned a lot from my successes and my failures over the years. The most valuable lesson is to never lose sight of who you are or to stop working on yourself because of a relationship, a job or for any other reason.

You are all you have at the end of the day and it’s vital that you be true to yourself. Be kind to your body, mind and soul. Look inward as you venture forward and you will better understand your place in the world and you’ll be happier for it. You’ll be a better person, partner and friend.