Monthly Archives: December 2009

Thursday Challenge: Free For All (and some thoughts on money)

Thursday Challenge is having two weeks of free-for-all. Any favorite picture. Here is one of mine. It’s a picture of some stores in Tahoe taken through an Amtrak window. It represents my greatest adventure.

Two summers ago, I sold my first fiction story. It was just a short story, and I sold it to an obscure online publisher that was so new mine was the first story it published. But still. I. Sold. A. Story. I was an author. Approximately 10 people have bought and read my story!

That was in June 2008. I found out that the ginormous Romance Writer’s of American conference was in San Francisco that year. San Francisco is about 500 miles from my house. Not super close, but when you realize that the nearest city to me is 250 miles away, really it isn’t that far. There would be 10,000 other writers there, dozens and dozens of agents and publishers. I was a writer! I had to go! Never mind that it was in four weeks.

Somehow I managed to convince the RWA to take my money, even though their registration was closed. Somehow I came up with the $500 registration in the first place. I went online and found a forum where people post for roommates and connected with the most wonderful woman who needed another roomie. We’re so far from an airport, that by the time I got to one I’d be half-way to San Francisco. I was on the verge of just driving the whole way, when I found out that I could take an Amtrak for $100 round trip. If you think back to what gas cost in summer 2008 (it was over $4 a gallon here) you’ll realize this was a steal.

So I went on an adventure. It was as far from frugal as I’ve ever been in my life. I paid a premium for the registration, I stayed in the conference hotel which cost $500 for the week just for my quarter of the cost (but I DID get to ride in the elevator with Christine Feehan!), and eating out three meals a day in San Francisco in a swanky hotel just isn’t frugal no matter how you cut it (but I did get to eat Indian food for the first time and fell in love.) I wouldn’t trade one minute of that week for anything. It was absolutely worth the money.  Every single penny.

Here is my thought on frugality. I don’t think it’s the end-all. I think it’s the means to an end. Not spending everything we earn every single week on crap means we have money when an opportunity to have an adventure comes up. That trip, silly as it sounds, made me a real writer. I pitched a novel I had written to every agent who stood still long enough and to the head publisher of Kensington. I met and formed relationships with a handful of New York Times bestselling authors. I rode in the elevator with Christine Feehan (yes, that deserves two mentions), heard Nora Roberts talk about her success, spent five minutes standing shoulder to shoulder with Jayne Ann Krentz, and ended up shipping my clothes home so that I could stuff my suitcase with the eleventy billion books they gave away at the conference.

That conference was a defining moment for me.

It was the moment that I realized that “real authors” are no different than me. Nora Roberts started out writing Harlequin Romances to stay sane as a single mom. Every author I met started out where I was–unsure if all the bazillions of words and hours writing those words would ever pay off. Unsure if they were good enough for anyone to notice. The only thing they did that got them where they are today is to keep writing, keep trying, until they were good enough to be published. They didn’t give up.

And neither will I.

This lesson comes to you in a very round about way via frugality. Being frugal today means you have the money to take advantage of opportunities later.

More Thursday Challenge here.



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We live in the mountains–the very high (6500 elevation) desert. We get snow from September to June. Snow this year was super late. We just had our second real snowfall the last two days. I love when it snows, because for a day or two it warms up some. When it’s super super cold it won’t snow at all, it’ll just be insanely bone-chilling cold. So today the snow stopped, and it’s 40 degrees instead of 0. And Nick took his little sister out for some fun.

The first snowball …

 was a bullseye!

Monkey see, monkey do.


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Works For Me Wednesday

I love love love thrift stores.

You know that scene in The Neverending Story where the kid goes into a bookstore and finds the oracle?

That’s what thrift stores feel like to me.

Like magic places where secrets and treasures and little bits of the past are waiting for me to spot them.

We have three in our little town. One has been around forever and is tiny and cramped and gives up some of the best stuff for really good prices. There is another just next door that is more like a junk shop, but often has treasures hiding here and there. And the third is a more upscale thrift that thinks it’s all that, but because it’s connected to the local animal rescue society smells like a litter box. I don’t miss much about Vegas, but I do miss the dozen or so thrift stores that was my regular weekend route.

Here are my tips for getting the magic out of a thrift store:

  1. Really open your eyes. See past the crap. See the potential in something.
  2. Dress comfortably. You’re going to be digging around. Treasure hunting is serious business. Also if you wear a tank top with a cardigan or jacket over and a pair of fitted pants, you can slip off the cardi and try some things on without getting a dressing room.
  3. Bring some nail clippers. This is going to sound weird, but flipping through racks of clothes messes with your nails. It absorbs their moisture or something, but I always break one. Always.
  4. Keep a notecard with the measurements you need a little retractable tape measure in your pocket. Especially if you’re into vintage, because a 1950s size 10 and a modern size 10 are totally different animals.
  5. If you’re skeeved by wearing someone else’s clothes, think about this. Clothes in a department store have often been tried on multiple times. Beds in a hotel have definitely been slept in lots and lots of time (and that’s the least of what’s been done on them! ewww!) Buying thrifted things is so good for the environment and your wallet, that even proponents of no-spending weeks/months/years don’t count them as spending lots of times.
  6. With that said, make sure that when you’re buying clothes at a thrift store, they are in fact washable. If they aren’t, make sure you are willing to add the price of a dry cleaning into the mix.
  7. A decent from-home income can be made if you have an eye for OPT (other people’s things.) My vintage etsy store, in it’s heyday, earned as much as $500 a week. About five years ago I found a vintage 1970s Yves St. Laurent coat for $20 once, and sold it for over $700. I’ve also made hundreds of dollars over the years by reselling books I’ve bought at a thrift store. Once I bought a little 1960s book about back pain that was snapped up by a chiropractor off Amazon in less than an hour for $50. These aren’t typical results, but they happen often enough for me to always have my eyes open.

Thrift shopping works for me! More works for me Wednesday here.

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Grocery Round-up

I went to the store yesterday. This whole week has just been kinda screwy. Normally I go over the weekend, but I’d planned on being in Elko where there are several big chain grocery stores. Didn’t happen, so I went to our local store. Who knew that Christmas week just doesn’t have good grocery sales? It seemed like nothing was on sale. So I just bought what was, and we’ll go again because the flier for this week is chock full of good deals.

  • bag of salad, 99 cents
  • two bags shredded motzerella cheese, 3.00
  • five pound of apples, 4.45
  • bunch bananas, 2.37
  • 12 huge muffins, 5.00 (I know…I know! This is what happens when I don’t have a list.)
  • two white onions, .89
  • two avocados, 1.00
  • sour cream, .89
  • cottage cheese, 1.25
  • yogurt, 1.80
  • 1 loaf bread (NO bread was on sale, so I just got enough to get by) 1.89

Meh. Not my best week. And I’ll have to go back and shop more because I didn’t have a cohesive list. I’m going to have to do better than this to stick with our goal.

I can update our menu though to include chilequillas tonight and homemade pizza on New Years Day.

More Grocery Round-up here.

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What a Day!

So this morning I dropped Nick off at his grandma’s house at the butt crack of dawn. It was still dark outside. I’m not even kidding. It was also approximately 10 below zero. That part is important.

My plan was to run to my office and do a ten minute job that had to be done this morning no matter what, then drop a package off at the jail for a client and pick up a check from them, and then come home to pick up Kevin and get on the road by 9 so that we could get to Elko by noon.

Easy peasy right?

Oh so wrong.

First, the moment I slid my mini-van down the incredibly steep and icy hill leading away from Nick’s grandparent’s house, my cell phone rang. It was my supervisor. Apparently on their end of the state they were expecting some snow so the meeting in Elko was canceled. She hoped I wasn’t already on my way.

Okay. Fine. I’ll go to work instead. I was really looking forward to a weekend alone with my husband AND a movie AND Burger King AND Wal-Mart. But whatever. Work it is.

I drove the two blocks to work, opened my office door, and knew immediately something was wrong. My frozen breath was a clue. Ten below, remember? It might have been twelve below in my office.

I am NOT even kidding. I swear I’m not. The water in the toilets was frozen solid.

I spent an hour, freezing my poor toes and nose off, getting maintenance notified, doing that stupid 10 minute job, letting the urine testing lady know that the frozen toilets that had made her life miserable all weekend would not be a problem tonight, calling in frozen-out-of-my-office, and informing the-girl-whose-last-day-is-Thursday that our office was fit only for Frosty the Snowman. Then I went home. It took fifteen minutes for me to be able to feel my feet again.

I told you. Whew.

But the day wasn’t bad. Not at all. I love when things get a good shake up. I spent the day with Ruby and Kevin, I went grocery shopping and stopped at two of the three local thrift stores and found some great stuff for almost nothing. (I’ll post some pics tomorrow.) We went out to dinner. (I know, I know, but it’s not January yet!)

The toilets are no longer frozen in my office, which means that a couple dozen people didn’t have to balance over a glacer and try hard to aim for that little plastic cup.

All in all, this day can be chalked up as memorable and exciting, and overall solidly good.

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Menu Plan Monday

I have an absurd week this week. Tomorrow early Kevin and I are heading out of town so that I can do a training for work. My work is putting us up in a nice hotel, so that will be fun. We rush home on Tuesday because Adrienne has an interview for a job at the local library. The girl I have been working with has quit her job, affective on Friday. That means that this is her last week and starting the next week I’m up to 32 from 20 hours a week. I’m stressed beyond belief about this whole situation–but I’m prepared to handle it with as much grace as I can muster. I have to work like a mad woman on Wednesday and Thursday because I’m out of town on Monday and Tuesday. And then the whole New Year’s thing at the end of the week–whew!

Monday: Nick will eat with his grandparents. Adrienne and Ruby will eat leftovers from tonight (which was rice topped with stirfried cabbage and ham…delish!) I’m sure that Kevin and I will be eating out somewhere. I get a per diem for meals, so the plan is for both of us to eat in that budget if we can.

Tuesday and Wednesday: The one great thing about travelling is that on Tuesday morning before we head home, I get to go to big grocery stores. More than one of them! Yee Haw! I have no idea what I’ll buy, as the fliers aren’t out yet.

Thursday: Our family New Year’s Eve tradition is to have an appetizer day. We’re going to make a crock pot Rueben dip, pineapple cream cheese dip, pickles and olives, a veggie tray, and stuffed mushrooms. I can hardly wait!

Weekend: This is the starting date for my elimination diet. Poor kids. They’re either going to have to fend for themselves for a few days, or else eat allergen free with me. My plan is to make up some food during the weekend that I can take to work with me. Lunches out is among the worst of my st ruggles, mainly because I’m too rushed to make food in the morning. I’m thinking stirfries with rice, cabbage, fish, lamb (if I can make myself try it), and maybe some nuts and other veggies would be safest. After the first four or five days,  lots of stuff has been added in and things are closer to normal.

Sorry, I know this isn’t exactly a precise menu plan. I promise that starting next week I’m going to be thinking this out more. This week is just going to be–insane. I won’t be able to post tomorrow, as I’ll be out of town. See you on Tuesday night!

I will be able to post about my big city grocery shopping adventure. We may go over $100 if the prices are especially low, but not much because we just don’t have it right now. I know I’ll be stocking up on some gluten free stuff while I have the chance.

See more menu plans here.

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Where I am now

I have this book, The Allergy Exclusion Diet by Jill Carter and Alison Edwards. This book called out to me from the shelves at the Whole Foods in Park City last spring when I drove through on my way to a writer’s retreat. I was feeling triumphant at the moment, because for the first time EVER I was able to take a long driving trip on my own. See, normally if I’m in my car more than 20 minutes, I’m fighting sleep. Not just sleepy, but nearly comatose. The kind of sleepy that makes being awake painful.

I had given up gluten a month or so before. If I hadn’t, I never would have been able to make a five-hour drive unless Kevin drove and I was the sad little passenger sound asleep with her cheek against the seatbelt.

Also, my sisters names are Jill and Alison, so it just seemed that this book was meant to be mine.

The book has a 28-day elimination diet that seems really good after about the first week. The first four days you’re allowed to eat lamb, rice, lentils, pears, mineral water, and sea salt (thank God.) Four. Days. Maybe if I liked pears or lamb, that wouldn’t sound like a prison sentence. But I don’t.

The books says that if you aren’t having serious allergic reactions to foods, you can start with more foods than those four. I don’t have allergic reactions in the sense of swelling throat or swollen tongue (like my best friend’s daughter when she got a corner of a peanut and scared the pants off me.) And I would like to succeed. So I’m going to just do less severe elimination diet in January.

Therefore, it’s official. January will be my self-care month.

What will get me through is knowing that at the end I will be starting the year out feeling really, really good. I did pretty good for like three weeks after Thanksgiving, but this Christmas week I’ve been eating gluten like it doesn’t make me sick. To motivate myself, I thought I’d give a list of why exactly I need something like this. I’ll start at the top.

  • My hair is falling out. In clumps. Scary clumps that remind me of when my mom got really sick and her hair started falling out. She had guillain barre syndrome and ended up paralyzed in a hospital for a month when I was ten. Yeah. That scary.
  • I have brain fog. Brain fog feels like there is a film between my brain and the world. I don’t see things clearly. I spend a lot of time staring into space trying to get up the motivation to do anything. I also lose words. Yes, they are just gone. Not big long words either. Like the other day I was talking to Kevin and I had to say…you know, what your mother is to Ruby…because ‘grandma’ was gone. In a black hole. Again, pretty damn scary.
  • My eyebrows are falling out, too. Especially the outer corner of my left one. Weird, I know. Right now they’re actually ok–but if I don’t stop with the gluten thing it’ll happen again.
  • My skin is itchy, dry, and scaly. Gross. I know. I’m sorry.
  • My lips are chronically chapped to the point of pain. They peel, they crack in the corners, and sometimes they swell to the point of looking ridiculous.
  • I have thrush. Again Gross. I’m sorry.
  • Every joint aches. Sometimes I feel like I’m an arthritic octogenarian. I especially get severed pain in my lower back, hips, and legs. When I’m tired, the pain is nearly unbearable, and makes it difficult to sleep. I feel weak a lot of the time and can’t participate in the active things that I’d like to. For instance 20 minutes standing at the kitchen counter cooking or washing dishes is excruciating.
  • My belly hurts. All. The. Time. This is way way TMI–but I have to know where every bathroom is when I’m not at home. It’s a necessity. For years I have attributed this to IBS. Now I’ve learned that IBS is often the label they put on undiagnosed gluten intolerance. I’ve had a bad stomach as long as I can remember, since early childhood. I had ulcers when I was 8 and had to eat baby food for a whole month.
  • I have periods from hell. I know, I know. I’m SORRY. But it’s true. Since I was 14, like clockwork, my period has always been preceded by two days of the flu. The kind of flu that makes you think that being dead would be better. And then a full week of debilitating cramps and heavy bleeding. (okay, I’ll stop now.)
  • Serious gas and bloating. Okay, last one, I swear. And I think this one is self explanatory.
  • Swollen legs and hands. This is one of the first symptoms when I’m eating gluten. My legs and feet especially swell up like water balloons. It’s really not fun.
  • Exhaustion. I saved this one for last. Because it is the worst. If I’m eating gluten, as I have been the last week, I could sleep ten hours and it wouldn’t matter. I’m still so fatigued that I can barely function. I mentioned before that this fatigue makes it unsafe for me to drive more than just to and from work. This exhaustion seeps in and affects every inch of my life. It got really bad when I was pregnant with Ruby and just never went away. I’ve read since that an event that’s traumatic to your body–like pregnancy–can trigger a latent gluten intolerance.
  • I can not stop gaining weight. I’ve gained about sixty pounds in the past five years, and until I stopped eating gluten nothing I did stopped the pounds from coming on. When I’m eating gluten I crave simple carves to a eating-disorder degree. There is no such thing as a little cheat for me, because one bite of a sandwich and I want all the flour-y, sugar-y food there is. All of it. When I’m gluten-free, after a few days those cravings go away like someone  turned off the crazy switch in my head.

I’ve been to many doctors in the past five years trying to get some answers to why I’m so tired all the time, why everything hurts, why my hair is falling out. Almost without fail the symptoms were blamed on my weight. I come from a family of fit, slender people. I am the heaviest person in my family by more than 100 pounds. My children are not overweight. My siblings aren’t. My parents aren’t. This is not genetic. This is–something else.

And it’s not to blame for my other health concerns. It is one of them.

So wish me luck with lamb/pear/rice for four days. I can do this. I want to feel good again. I have to.


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