Monday, February 28, 2011

Self Esteem

Yesterday, I saw myself briefly on television.  In the spot that the reporter did about Justin shaving his head, he did a teaser for the segment with Justin and me, standing in front of our house.  And I got a good look at myself.  I'm not going to lie.  I wasn't very happy with what I saw.

I've struggled with self-esteem issues my entire life.  I've never felt I was pretty enough or outgoing enough or "good" enough and it's a problem.  The older I get, the worse it seems to get.  I wake up sometimes and look in the mirror and think, "Oh, my God!  What happened to "me?"

I just don't recognize myself anymore.  My clothing clearly has nothing to do with my "self," but I am in a wardrobe crisis of epic proportions right now.  Because of a really weird medical condition that I'm not going to go into, I am unable to wear anything...and I do mean anythng...that is in any way restrictive around my waist.  I hope this is going to go away, as dresses seem to be out of style and "skinny" jeans are in.  (Have you tried shopping for dresses lately?  You can't find them.)  I've always worn jeans, until now, and I have reverted to sweat pants just for the comfort of it.  Not a good look on anybody.  Try it on a 46 year old housewife/wanna-be-writer who hasn't had a haircut since last June, doesn't believe in hair color, has nails that shred if they're more than 1/4 inch long, and just looks "dumpy" in anything she puts on.  How did this happen?  I mean I used to be the skinniest kid I knew.  I used to wish I had curves instead of angles. 

Okay, wardrobe aside, the hair is a problem.  It really is.  I have never, in my entire life, found a hairstyle I liked and so now, it's just hanging there growing and going gray.  I don't know what to do with it.  I really don't.  So much of how you feel about yourself is tied up in your hair if you're a woman.  Why is that?  Maybe I should join Justin and shave mine off.  Just start over?

And let's talk about the glasses I thought were so cool last year.  Do you remember seeing these (or something like them) on Danny Gokey in American Idol a season or two ago?

Okay, here's something of an idea of how they look on me:

This, in a nutshell, is what's bothering me!  The cat looks great, if fat.  The woman, not so much...?

I need a makeover, which I'm not willing to pay for, and a personal shopper to find me some clothes, which is really never going to be a possibility.  Even if there were such creatures in Winchester, Virginia, we don't have a lot of clothing store options here.

What I'm asking myself is what on earth has happened to me?  Is it the passage of time?  I don't even recognize myself.  And I keep making these horrendous fashion choices, like these glasses that I'm completely dependent upon if I want to walk without running into walls.

I've been restless lately, feeling out of sorts, not myself.  Definitely on the depressed side and really not wanting to go anywhere.  My therapist said it's normal that when everyone around you seems to be coming down with deadly diseases (i.e. cancer) to reassess where you are in your life.  Kind of like a mid-life crisis that I didn't see coming.  Have I done everything I want to do and if I haven't, what do I want to put on my own, personal "bucket list?"  This isn't about things I haven't done.  I try not to have regrets because everything I've done in my life, especially things I'm particularly not proud of, have shaped me into the woman that I am today and I kind of like that person.  But what about my looks?  Why is this so important and why is it bothering me so much?  Why does the inability to wear a pair of jeans for more than an hour without crying, necessitating wearing the same three pairs of sweat pants repeatedly, make me absolutely not want to get out of bed in the morning?

I'm not talking about making major life changes here.  I just want to look decent when I go to the grocery store.  And I can't quite seem to pull it off, no matter how hard I try.  When I see pictures of myself or I catch a look at my unkempt hair in the mirror (which I try not to do, if at all possible), it just makes me cringe.  And it was definitely a cringe-worthy moment, seeing myself on television for all of about 10 seconds.  Because there was everything that's bothering me about myself on a 40" screen in my living room.

I think right now I'm sounding a lot like a whiny three year old that needs a nap.  And I seriously do know how trivial this is in the grand scheme of things.  But am I asking too much to have hair that looks good on occasion and a pair of pants that fits and flatters me?  Don't get me wrong.  I'm extremely grateful and appreciative to have what I have in life.  And I am grateful to just be alive, despite the fact that my diet and lack of exercise has been inviting a heart attack for my entire life.  But there's something about that reflection in the mirror that is really bothering me.

I'm on the spending diet, so I don't see much changing in the near future.  No new glasses, no new clothes (unless I find the shorts that I bought last year will no longer go over my hips when the weather turns), no haircuts or perms or coloring because it's okay for it to grow.  It's not like I really have a better idea for it anyway.  I guess I'm going to have to accept myself for who I am and how I look and be okay with that.  But that is really not easy.

St. Baldrick's Event

That's a lot of hair!!!!

Yesterday, TV 3 Winchester sent a reporter out to the house by the name of Alex Holmes.  Alex stayed for about two hours, interviewing Justin for the story that appears in the link below:  Just go to the link and click on "cancer fundraiser 2-27-11" (the box on the righthand side of the web page) to see Justin talk about his connection to JJ and why he will have all of this amazing hair shorn on March 27th.

I think that it is clear from the interview what a cause close to Justin's heart this is.  I mean, if you can resist this face, then I really don't know what else I can do to convince you to donate to St. Baldrick's in their effort to cure childhoold cancer:

Juliana had a personality bigger than life, a smile that would melt your heart, and she bore her cancer treatment with a dignity that you don't often see in an adult.  Childhood cancer has got to be the most unfair thing in the world as we know it.  I don't understand myself how there can be such a horrific degree of suffering in such a tiny little body.  I'm not religious myself and Juliana's death really made me question how there could be a God.  What kind of God allows a three year old die?  Who takes this precious life and gives it to wonderful people like Mike and Christine and then cruelly snatches it away?  I don't have any answers here.

Justin and I have hatred in our hearts for this disease.  Cancer.  It's such an ugly word.  Appropriate, because it's such an ugly disease.  It seems like all of a sudden it is epidemic around me.  My best friend, my mother, Juliana, both my grandfathers, Justin's dad, a friend's son, another friend from Justin's car club...what the hell is happening?  Why is this suddenly a diagnosis that is epic in proportion?  And how do I find the inspiration to stay positive amidst all of this ugly medical nightmare?

Childhood cancer has to be the cruelest form of cancer, because its tiny victims can't really begin to understand what is happening to them.  And to lose a child to cancer has to be a hell that I can't begin to imagine.  Justin watched Mike and Christine go through losing Juliana and we never, ever want to have to see another family torn apart the way the LaMonicas were.

Please, if you haven't already, go to and donate whatever you can to Team JJ's Angels for cancer research to end childhood cancer.  The team has raised over $10,000 and the goal is $15,000.  Can you help us to meet that goal?  Let's make Juliana the last child to die of childhood cancer.  Watch the interview, look at the pictures, and join us in our cause.  Let's eradicate this disease off the face of the earth and make sure that no family ever has to lose a child to this disgusting, horrific disease again.

Thank you.

Justin and Chelle

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Spending Diet - Epic Fail

I'll admit it - February has not been good for the spending diet.  First the printer went out.  Then we (I) decided it was high time to get the dog neutered, so the check for that $152 went out on Friday.  Then I needed to have the vet out because one of the cats has an abscess on a tooth.  Another $157.  Sigh.

There are a lot of things I haven't done this month.  (Old Navy and downloads for the Kindle come to mind.)  And I did pay cash for all of the things I mentioned above.  But life just keeps crushing us with unexpected expenses.  Our taxes are currently at the accountant (I want that home office deduction, damn it, and I'm going to get it) and that's not cheap.  If we owe, I will be very depressed.

Also, the washer and dryer are just not doing a good job on cleaning the clothes.  I see new appliances in the future, although Justin wants to try different detergent options before going whole hog over to Lowe's for replacements.  They just don't build things the way they used to, do they?  I really want to try that homemade laundry detergent, so I'm going to go to the site and get the ingredient list (which are supposed to be really cheap) and give it a shot.  Also Tide is on sale and maybe the more expensive stuff won't put what look like grease stains on the three outfits I wear continuously.  But somehow, I just don't think it's the detergent.  (Glass half full again - what else is new).

I'm frustrated at the rising costs of gas, groceries, clothing, all the essentials we need to get by.  Our electric company was bought out several months ago and the new one is quite a bit more expensive for the same amount of electricity.  Can they really do that?  Apparently, they can.  We're being held hostage by our utility companies, limited grocery shopping options, and gas prices.  The only thing not going up are salaries.  Oh yeah, we're definitely out of the recession.  Joey asked me at dinner if I thought we would be going into a depression.  Could that be possible?  We're incredibly lucky that Justin has some pretty good job security, since I'm obviously not worth much with the income generating anymore.  And to think, I used to pull my own weight around here!

I finally caved tonight.  I was just tired of worrying about it and Justin went out for KFC.  Over $15 for dinner, but that's really not that bad for a family of 5.  I probably would have spent that just going over to Food Lion to buy stuff for dinner.  Tomorrow I'm taking out a roast and we're going to cook.  I will say that thinking about expenses on a daily basis has been good in a way I didn't expect, because now I see getting take out as a cop out and something that should only be done as a treat, not as a way of getting dinner on the table 3 or 4 nights a week.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Spending Diet - Day 15

No thoughts from the peanut gallery on the laundry soap idea yet, but I'm still thinking I'm going to give it a try, just because the store bought Arm and Hammer is doing such a number on our clothes.  Or maybe it's our aging washer and dryer which make me hold my breath through every load, praying this won't be the day that sends me out to my mom's to beg the use of her appliances or (gasp!) to the actual laundromat where I haven't been since I was a kid.  I assume they still exist, but I would have to google it to find one in Winchester.  To be brutally honest, the idea of a laundromat scares me (how snobby does that sound?), so I am guessing that when our machines do finally give up on me, Justin will be heading over to Lowe's to replace them.  But for now, I'm making do, even though our clothes sometimes come out with very weird stains on them after "cleaning."

Yesterday I had to go out and buy Jamie new shoes.  This was not an optional purchase, as his feet had grown an unbelievable size and a half since August and the bottom of one of his shoes was torn and coming off.  I am surprised a big toe hadn't poked through the top of one of them, after seeing him go from an 8 to a 9 1/2 in the store yesterday.  I've had pretty good luck finding the boys shoes at Kohl's on sale, so that's where we went and sure enough, I got him a great pair of Nikes for $45.  And paid with the debit card (no extra debt!)

Other expenses this week - $50 for a tank of gas!  Can you believe that?  I remember back when Justin and I were first dating and there was a gas station in Fredericksburg selling gas for 98 cents a gallon.  That 17 gallons I put into my paid off Explorer the other night would have cost less than $17 back when I started driving.  The sad fact is that I have to have transportation.  I don't commute to a job and so I don't have to fill it up that often, but I have been driving quite a bit more in the past month and that's really not in the budget.  That $50 physically hurt.

My other big expenditure this week was for a thumb drive so I can download my childrens' books and have them printed over at Office Max (another expense coming).  But what am I going to do?  If I want to have a snowball's chance in hell of selling them, I have to print them, and I want them to look good.  So $20 for the thumb drive.  Can I write this off if the books sell?  I saved the receipt, hoping for a business expense deduction.

While we were out, Jamie asked me for two things.  One was for me to take him to Gamestop, to which I answered no, not out of spite, but as an incentive to haul up those math and science grades.  I think knowing that your grades are tied to wanting something badly might make you work a little harder.  We'll see.  At any rate, that's coming out of his allowance, so not my budget when he makes the grades.

We stopped at Food Lion on the way home to pick up $5 worth of stuff to go with our homemade dinner last night and I realized that I wanted Chinese food.  From Mimosa.  The one right there in that strip mall.  And I wanted it Right. That. Minute.  I even said it to Jamie, who immediately said, "Can we get Chinese food, Mom?  We need to get Chinese food this week."  It would have been yummy and digested in about an hour (isn't all Chinese food?) and it probably would have cost me $15.  I held firm and brought the kid home and fed him here.

The Chinese food debate became a very small triumph in a very large war.  Over the last two weeks, I have become suspicious of any expenditure.  I get angry at the thought of having to spend money.  Who. Am. I?  Justin asked me this morning if I wanted to order pizza tonight.  Only if he's talking about the Anthony's special $4.99 large cheese pizza on Tuesday deal.  I'm not spending $40 at Papa John's.  Yay me!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Should I Save Money This Way

I found this totally cool link to make homemade laundry detergent.  It's supposed to be dirt cheap and very effective with only a tablespoon or two per load.  After seeing the price of Tide detergent, Justin has been bringing home Arm and Hammer which does not combine well with our rapidly aging washing machine, leaving big detergent spots if I don't put the water and detergent in before the clothes.  Anyway, just wanted to share this link and ask if anyone has ever tried this:

Make Your Own Laundry Soap

It looks really easy and laundry soap is so expensive.  Thoughts?

Why Are We Here?

I had some bad moments when I got up this morning.  The younger kids are off from school for President's Day, so maybe that was what was making me feel so out of sorts.  I had gone to bed (and more importantly, to sleep) at a decent hour and actually slept through the night.  It should have felt like a good morning, but for some reason, it just didn't.  Maybe it was the very gray sky and the threat of snow (seriously?) again.

In the last 24 hours, I have actually read two complete books.  This scares me, as it seems the publishers cannot keep up with my insatiable need for decent reading material.  The second book, I read in two hours this morning before showering and "starting" my day.  (It was a great book by James Patterson and yes, Mom, I'll bring it over the next time I come.)  The first one, I read yesterday.  It's called A Dog's Purpose and tells the story of a dog that is repeatedly reincarnated as he (at one point she) tries to figure out exactly why he is supposed to be here.  The last lines got me to thinking:

The deep aching grief I knew I would feel would come
soon enough, but at that moment mostly what I felt was
peace, secure in the knowledge that by living my life the way I had,
everything had come down to this moment.

I had fulfilled my purpose.

(Quote from W. Bruce Cameron, A Dog's Purpose)

Why are we here?  Way greater minds than mine have wrestled with this question since humans had the ability to reason.  Since we gained language skills, we've been wondering why we were put on this earth. 

I have, in essence, a great life.  I have everything I could need, want, or ask for (okay, I don't have an iPad...yet, but we're talking a very comfortable life).  I have a fantastic husband, three great kids, wonderful parents and in-laws, a few good friends, and lots of people who care about me.  And yet...

Why don't I feel fulfilled?

I think the answer lies in not only loving and being loved and having what you need, but also in doing what you love.  To be fulfilled, you have to look forward to getting up every single day, knowing that you get to do what you love doing.  In other words, you have to have a passion for whatever it is that you are getting up to do.

Growing up, I had three goals.  By the age of eighteen, I knew three things about myself.  I was (a) going to get a Ph.D. and be a psychologist; (b) I was going to get married; and (c) and I was going to have one child and she would be a girl.  Okay, things didn't go exactly as planned.

I always thought that psychology was going to be my passion.  I mean, I never, ever had any doubts as to what my major should be.  Well...there was that one year detour into interior design, but overall, it was the study of the human mind that interested me and I was going to help people.  Then life kind of got in the way and I dropped out of college and got married and got off the path to what I thought was supposed to be "my career."  But what I've realized in the past year is that getting a doctoral degree and practicing psychology are not necessarily all that much fun.  Number one, that doctoral degree seems to guarantee a lifetime of student loan debt and an attitude that you are better than everyone who doesn't have a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. or whatever.  And I wonder if it's really that fulfilling to spend your time listening to people complain all day about their problems.  If you're truly mentally ill, you're probably either not able to afford good mental health care because you don't have insurance or you're in a mental hospital.  So if you're practicing psychology in an office, it's a good bet that you are getting a lot of unfulfilled housewives griping about the monotony of their days (hmm...sounds kind of familiar) or people who have been traumatized at some point in their past, or children enduring their parents' divorces...or something not very much fun to watch or listen to.  And honestly, through my own therapy experiences, while I know it's helpful to talk to someone, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that my therapists have never really done anything but listen to me.  Most of the "help" I got, I got from making changes in my life; not from anything they ever suggested.  Where's the helping part of the helping profession, exactly?
I eventually finished up my bachelor's degree and even considered going on to graduate school, but by that time I had three children who I realized were probably going to want to go to college themselves.  And I was no longer certain that I was all that passionate about psychology.  Last year sealed the deal when I temporarily reentered the work force and watched people be miserably unhappy doing what I thought it was I wanted to do and complaining about it constantly.  Maybe not the direction I really wanted to go in after all.

I (obviously) achieved goal number two, which was to get married.  There were two false starts and I realized that I would never have lasted in those initial two relationships and would have ended up one of the 50% of people who were divorced, just because I was insisting that I had to get married.  In fact, with the second relationship, I think my mother would have tackled me at the altar if I had actually gotten that far, because she knew that guy just wasn't right for me.  I lucked out and found my soul mate in Justin and have been very happy with that part of my life.  He has given me more than just my three boys (not the one girl I thought I would have, which ended up being quite okay) and I have him to thank for the fact that I am not alone, miserable, lonely, destitute, poverty stricken, or divorced.  He has given me love, a home, children, and a commitment to love me forever.  I couldn't ask him for more than he has given me.  

I won't even dwell goal number three, because obviously you don't get to choose whether you have girls or boys and I wouldn't go back and change having the three boys I did.  It's really amazing that I gave life to three people.

But back to my original point.  Why are we here?  Am I here to be a wife and mother?  Was my purpose to make these three little (well not so little now) people?  Am I here to finish my schooling and go into psychology?  Good God, no!  I get up day after day and do the dishes and the laundry and walk the dog and insist that the kids do their homework and there are days that I feel like didn't I just do this?  Now I'm doing it again???  Right now I have a child forcibly sitting at the kitchen table because he ignored the fact that he had a homework assignment due on Wednesday and I just won't let him wait until tomorrow night to do it.  And two baskets of clean laundry waiting to be folded and one in the dryer waiting to come out.  Sometimes, it really is like being a hamster on a wheel, isn't it?

But then, I started getting final pages from my illustrator for my new childrens' book today and I realized that wait.  Aside from the wife, mother, dishes, laundry, homework thing, there is this other thing.  Something I really enjoy doing.  Something I'm passionate about.  I don't do it enough, but when I do, it's something I think I should be doing more.  I'm doing it here and I'm about to send some of the other stuff I've done out and see if I can get a nibble from a publisher.

Maybe our purpose changes over time.  I'm not smart enough or wise enough or logical enough to know why I'm here.  I do know that it's not for the dishes or the laundry.  Those are just asides.  Things that have to be done.  And I've definitely gotten a lot out of the marriage and kids thing.  But there is this other thing that maybe, just maybe, might be part of my reason for being here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Spending Diet - I Cheated

I promised, so here goes.  I fell off the diet wagon last week.  Not super big time, but there was definitely some spending.

It was a rough week.  I had a parent-teacher-guidance counselor conference (those are always so fun) and then Justin's grandmother passed away and then I found out that a dear friend's cancer has come back.  Oh, and to add to the fun, my mother fell going into her quilt guild meeting and I was worried sick about her.  Thank God my brother is here and helping out.

So, the spending.  First the printer broke.  I didn't want to make the decision to buy a new one, even though I knew we were going to have to.  You just have to have a printer when you have kids in middle school and college.  They need to print out their assignments.  I don't know when it became mandatory for parents to provide their kids with technology, but here we are.  I kind of wishy-washied around the issue for a couple of days, hoping Justin would just go buy one and then it wouldn't be me spending the money.  Then we found out that Channel 3 wants to come to the house tomorrow and interview Justin for the head shaving event in March and we needed pictures of Juliana fast for the interview.  Yesterday, we went out to lunch (ouch - how can getting an appetizer for your entree be so expensive?)  After lunch, we jumped over to Best Buy and bought a new printer.  It's really great - it's a Kodak and is supposed to be much cheaper on ink.  As an aside, of course I had just replaced the ink cartridges in the old printer, the day before it decided to give up the ghost.  Irony.

I also started physical therapy this week and have a $300 deductible I have to meet before the insurance kicks in.  Do medical expenses count as frivolous spending?  I don't think they do, but it was still $100 I could have put towards a bill, so writing that check hurt.

Yesterday was kind of a spending day, but I did have help from Justin.  He agreed that we had to have a printer and I wasn't about to contradict him.  We probably didn't have to go out to lunch, but hey.  We don't get to do things together very often, so I took him up on his offer.

It also occurred to me last week that my brother's birthday is the 24th.  And I haven't seen him in a very long time.  We're going out to my mother's house tomorrow to have dinner, since he's been staying with my parents and he's a professional chef.  Wow, I bet my mom's been eating good this week!  But I digress.  My point was that his birthday is next week, I hadn't seen him in three and a half years, and I felt it would be really tacky to ignore it by sticking to my spending diet.  I went over on the gift from my $15 limit by getting him a $25 gift card and I bought a cheesecake to take out there.  I could have made brownies or a cake, but because of his occupation, no matter what I make, I don't think it's going to live up to his standards.  Although I'm sure he would be very nice about whatever I brought.

So, physical therapy, printer and extra cartridges, gift card, and cheesecake.  All things that weren't in the budget, but I did them anyway.  Sometimes, you have to spend money, no matter how hard you are trying not to.

I did not by the People magazine, even though Christina Applegate is on the cover with her new baby.  She beat breast cancer and had a baby!  But I've decided that there's going to be a new People out every week and it's actually a $3.99 expense, rather than my previously estimated $2.99.  So, I guess I'm saving somewhere.  I also did not go to the Old Navy website, even though temperatures soared yesterday and I wanted spring clothes badly.  And I have not downloaded anything for the Kindle in what feels like ages.  I miss my Kindle, but I'm sticking to my library books until payday.

So there's my confession.  Money went out last week and I was actually very unhappy about it.  I think that shows tremendous progress from my buy anything I want attitude.  But I fell off the wagon, so I'm owning that.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Spending Diet - Day 8

Okay, so today's savings is $120 for the next year.  I just canceled our Netflix membership.  It really made sense.  The DVD of Night at the Museum 2 had been sitting on our shelf since early January and the DVD player isn't even in the family room.  Justin had moved it upstairs and connected it to our bedroom tv a few weeks ago so I could do yoga up there.  Well, I've done yoga up there once, but's something I might do, right?

This morning I opened my credit card statement and saw the regular monthly charge for $10.49 and realized I couldn't remember the last time I had streamed a movie on my computer, which is really what I loved about the service.  While Justin watched football, I would haul the laptop into the family room, plug the headphones into the computer, and pick an instantly streaming video to watch.  We were both happy.  But I found two problems with this expenditure.  One, I had gone through most of the movies in the queue that were available for instant streaming and was running out of things to watch.  (Hint to Netflix: make all of your movies available instantly.  You'll keep more customers.)  Two, football season is officially over, obviating the need for the instant streaming on the laptop.  Justin informs me that there may be no football season this year - something about contracts and owners and a lot of stuff I don't understand that adds up to there may be no need for the Netflix this year. 

So, I went to the site and canceled the membership.  Yay me!  That's $10.49 every month that I will not be adding to our debt.

On the other hand...I really want an iPad.  I don't need one.  But here's today's I really think I should have this:

Is this not the coolest invention ever?  I thought the kindle was, but here is something that not only will allow you to read books.  You can do So. Much. More!  It's the size of a magazine and you can carry it around with you.  I saw on our big television on our wall last night that you can actually watch tv on this device if you download our cable company's app.  There's Facebook, which I have been accused repeatedly of wasting way too much time on.  Okay, yes, I spend too much time on Facebook.  But I don't have a life, people!  You have to give me Facebook.  Otherwise, I'm an old lady in the recliner in the family room with my knitting and my reading glasses on a chain around my neck.  And I don't knit.

Do I need this?  No.  I don't need this.  But oh how much fun it would be to run over to Best Buy and get one.  I'd be busy the rest of the week just playing on it.  I think instead I'll run over to the accountant's office and drop off our tax papers and pray for a refund.  Which I'll send to a credit card.  I guess nobody said saving money is fun.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Valentine that Was Fate

The picture above doesn't look like much.  But it has more meaning to me than probably anything else I own.

I wrote the letter pictured above sometime at the end of August 1984 to my now husband of almost 23 years.  If it hadn't been for this letter, I would have either ended up with someone else or single.  My children would not be here.  I keep the pieces of this letter in a plastic bag and take them out exceedingly carefully on the rate occasion that I try to put the letter back together.  Sometimes, I just want to read whatever it was that I said to make Justin hang onto it in his locker at work, reread it over and over, and eventually use the return address (which I can actually still make out) to find my house in Vienna and, well, me.

I met Justin on July 22, 1982 at freshman orientation day at (then) Mary Washington College.  I think it sounds cheesy to say this, but it really was love at first sight.  I've always been a shy person, but that day, when I saw him standing in the group of other freshmen, something told me I needed to meet that guy.  I walked over and introduced myself, something so completely out of character for me that I have trouble believing even now that I actually did it.  When he showed up in my freshman English class, I knew it was all over.  He took the seat beside me and he also took my heart.

We were eighteen years old, overly dramatic, reckless, afraid of the feelings we had for each other and what they might mean and overwhelmed that it was possible to feel that strongly about another person.  We never really got together while I was there in Fredericksburg.  He was still seriously dating his high school girlfriend and I was still dating my high school boyfriend.  We were both otherwise attached, but we couldn't deny that when we were together, it was like fireworks going off.  We spent a lot of time sneaking around campus, going through the drive through at McDonald's and eating cheeseburgers down by the Rappahannock River.  The most romantic "date" of my life was the walk we took one October night in 1982, meandering around the sidewalk outside of the old Fredericksburg cemetery, shuffling our feet through the dead leaves on the ground, feeling the breeze, looking at the stars, and just holding hands.  I like to think that was the first time he kissed me.  Sadly, my memory won't cough it up, so I just choose to think that was the night.

Then he went his way and I went mine.  I came back to Northern Virginia, lost contact with him, got engaged to someone else and started back to college at George Mason University.  Apparently, though, Justin was somewhere in the back of my mind, because in late August of 1984, after not having seen him for over a year, I wrote the letter you see above.  He received it the night before his wedding to his high school girlfriend.  Talk about your timing.

I didn't receive an answer to my letter and so I kind of put Justin out of my mind.  I was in a relationship with someone else (not the high school guy) and he would later give me a ring and ask me to marry him.  There were no fireworks in that relationship, but I believed that the one thing I needed to do in my life was to get married and have children and here was this guy who was really quite nice to me and willing to commit to that.

Then, in early November 1986, I was home from school doing some laundry and sitting in our family room with my parents.  I saw out the window someone parking their car and, as he came up the walkway, I said in astonishment and disbelief, "It's Justin!"  My mother said she's never seen anyone with the look I had on my face at that moment and I think she knew she had just seen my future husband.

Justin had kept my letter, in secret, in his locker at work.  He was taking real estate classes about five minutes away from my parents' house in late 1986 and he took the return address on my letter (which I can actually still see) and looked up where I lived.  He knocked on my parents' door that day and turned my life upside down.  I don't know why I was home at that particular moment, but I really think that fate was involved.  We just couldn't seem to forget each other.

Somehow, my letter eventually was left in the pocket of his jeans and ended up going through the washer.  What I said that would make him come looking for me in 1986, I will never know, because there's no putting it back together.  But it will forever be my most prized possession, because it brought me the man who I would marry and have three children with.  I can still make out some words - "probably" and "wondering" are the two that stand out to me.

What followed that fateful moment at my front doorstep was the most incredible, passionate, unbelievable love affair; feelings that I never thought I would have for another human being.  The fact that he returned my feelings is evident in the many letters he wrote to me at the beginning of our romance.  Because today is Valentine's Day, I spent a couple of hours reading the things we wrote to each other and it's kind of uncanny how the letters by me echo the letters from him almost word for word, at times.  It's hard to believe that two people could be so in sync.  And so in love.

I write this part of our story because it's Valentine's day.  The day you are supposed to cherish your sweetheart and let them know what they mean to you.  It's a Hallmark holiday if ever there was one, but every time February 14th rolls around, I reread the letter where he asked me if I'd like to get married on Valentine's day.  We didn't end up doing that, but I still think the cheesy holiday has special meaning because he wanted to marry me on Valentine's day.  I have written proof.

Our road to marriage and children wasn't easy.  There were lots of bumps and turns and dropoffs.  We both had other relationships we had to end, although that was done pretty quickly after that day he turned up on my doorstep looking for me.  There was the state imposed waiting period of his separation, which meant we couldn't just run away and tie the knot the way we wanted to.  But the happy ending to this story is that we did get married, April 15, 1988, and I have never, ever been sorry.  We've both changed and grown and developed emotionally over the last 23 years.  The intense passion (or hormones) that starts the relationship grows and changes and develops into a more true, lasting commitment to each other.  Justin is the one person on this earth that I know will never let me down, will be there no matter what, will put up with my crap and tell me it's crap, take care of me when I fall down, and rejoice with me when things go right.

So happy Valentine's Day, Justin.  You are my best friend, the love of my life, the one person I would have chosen over everyone else on the planet to spend eternity with.  I got so lucky when you walked up that walkway in 1986 and I will never forget it.  Thank you for being my husband.  I hope you are glad that I am your wife.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Spending Diet Update

Were you aware that you start spending money the minute you get up?  This is something I've been thinking about over the past five days, as I've struggled for control of my outrageous, impulsive spending.  As the water runs in the shower, I think, "How long have I been in here and how big is our water bill again?"  As I walked past Joey's empty bedroom this morning, I reflexively turned off the light as I thought, "Does that kid think we're made of money?  If you leave the room, turn the light off!"  Electric bill.  I've left the thermostat at 68 degrees, even though to me, that's kind of arctic cold.  I spent the whole week buried under a blanket and trying to warm my fingers around cups of hot chocolate.

Money goes out no matter how hard you try not to spend it.  But you can save in little ways, even as you are saving in the big ways by not buying the things on your "wants" list.  So I am trying to shorten my showers, turn off lights in rooms no one is in, make sure the washer is full (clothes and dishes) before I run it, keep the thermostat set a little lower than I find comfortable.

It's the bigger things that are tougher.  I'm choosing to look at this diet as more of a "challenge" than a "diet."  How can I get around spending money for this thing or that thing that I want?  Here's the update on my astounding success over the last five days and I can proudly say that I don't have to admit that I messed up even once.  Okay, I know, it's five days.  But still.  It's five days!

Here's where I have not spent money since Monday.  It's money I would absolutely have spent before finding the spending fast on Anna Newell's website And Then She Saved.

1.  I have not asked Justin to pick up dinner even once this week.  I have been more cognizant every morning that we need to figure out what we're going to do for dinner because, inevitably, dinnertime always comes, just like death and taxes.  I was tempted twice - the very first night I wanted Chipotle.  We made mexican food at home - savings @ $20. 

2.  Today, Justin went down to visit his grandmother in the hospital and won't be back until late afternoon.  He's going to be tired and have no interest in cooking. (In case you've been under a rock, Justin is the chef in our family.  I can't boil water.)  Almost always when he would take this trip, I would say, "Oh, let's just order something.  I don't want to think about it."  I actually anticipated this yesterday and asked him if we had any of his homemade BBQ sauce and maybe a roast in the freezer we could do in the crock pot.  If I hadn't thought about this beforehand, we probably would have ordered pizza tonight - @ $40 (maybe $30 if we'd been trying to be thrifty and kept it to two pizzas).

3.  On Wednesday, I finished the enormous Ken Follett book I had downloaded on my Kindle - Fall of Giants.  A great book, by the way, if you like history.  Uh oh.  I have one more unread Kindle download and then it's the free classics and I am in way more of a Nora Roberts mood right now than a Charles Dickens mood.  Normally, my immediate response to this "dilemma" would have been to go onto the Kindle website and download something that caught my fancy.  I had also been wanting a copy of The Good Earth for some reason.  There is no Kindle version of this book, so, before the spending diet, typically I would have run over to Borders and bought it or gone to and ordered it. 

Instead, I went onto our library website and found The Good Earth was on their shelf, available immediately.  I uncharacteristically jumped into my car and drove to the library (praying I didn't accidentally hit anything, thereby costing us money).  Not only did I find The Good Earth on the shelf (savings @$7), I also peeked around the corner of the shelves and found not one, but two Emily Giffin books I had not yet read.  These are books that I would absolutely have downloaded on the Kindle, so by getting them at the library, I saved @$23 in dowload fees.  (I won't count the 25 cents I saved by parking illegally at the library because I really didn't mean to park illegally and it could have cost me a parking ticket.)

4.  On the way home from the library, I had to stop at the grocery store to pick up a couple of items for our homemade dinner.  Have you ever noticed how they put the tabloids right up at the checkout, just to tempt you?  I am a People magazine fanatic and the whole Halle Barry child custody thing had exploded last week.  Normally, I would have just picked it up and thrown it into my basket.  This time, I resisted the urge, knowing that I could read about Halle Barry for free on the internet.  Savings:  $2.99?  What does People cost?  I should know this, since I buy it so often.

5.  Thursday, I knew I was going to have to spend money and I wasn't happy about it.  Stopping impulsive spending is not like stopping doing drugs or drinking.  You can't just not spend money, ever.  Thursday is the day the cleaning woman comes and I had to pay her.  If you didn't read it in the previous post, I have determined this to be an expense I am not willing to give up because of my fibro, but writing that check hurt a little bit.  I also had to go to the store or the dog was going to be going hungry.  Of course, my pets can't eat Purina from the grocery store.  Oh no.  They need the designer food from the pet store.  But, Justin discovered that we can save money if we get the food from Tractor Supply Company, a rather scary store where rough types go to buy farming supplies.  A place I was pretty afraid to go to.  I sucked it up and went over to Tractor Supply Company and bought 33 pounds of Hill's Science Diet puppy food for Jackson.  I spent $2.64 less than I would have spent across the street at Petco.  A Very. Small. Victory.  But these things add up.

Are you keeping track?  I sure am.  Here's the total savings in the first five days of my spending diet:

Chipotle - @$20
People Magazine - $2.99
The Good Earth - $6.99
Latest Two Emily Giffin Books - $22.98
Dog Food - $2.64
Pizza Delivery - @$40

Oh. My. God.  I didn't spend $95.60 in five days.  And that doesn't include finding both peanut butter and peanuts on sale at the grocery store because I'm not sure how much I saved by buying them this week instead of letting Justin pick them up on Sunday after they go off sale.  But I'm pretty sure it would have topped me out at over $100 for just the first week.

I am looking forward to saving more money.  This week I intend to not get my hair cut and permed - at least $100. 

I won't order replacements for the slippers that are, pretty much, shot - $50?  I need new slippers.  I wear them every day.  This is a dilemma.  You can shoot ideas on how to solve this problem without spending my way and they would be greatly appreciated.

I'm actually feeling pretty inspired about this not spending thing.  I got mad at Joey when he told me yesterday that he had "lost" his gym shorts "a long time ago."  I am putting a rule into place:  If you break it or lose it, you pay for it.  I'll let him slide on the gym shorts, this time.  But next time, it's coming out of his allowance.  I certainly am not going to buy things twice.  Especially things like gym shorts.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Oh What a Blessing - the Ability to Fall Asleep

Ever since I was a little girl, I have been cursed with the inability to turn off my mind when I lay down to go to sleep.  It doesn't seem to matter how early I get up or how much sleep I've gotten the night before or what drugs the doctor gives me to knock me out.  Whenever I lay down to go to sleep, I'm pretty much guaranteed that I will lie awake for about two hours before finally dozing off.  Now it's become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Last night, the light went out around 10:30 and at 12:15, I came downstairs to turn on the television and see if I couldn't get drowsy.  That usually will work in about 20 minutes, but it has to be after two hours of tossing and turning first.  Sometimes I blog in the middle of the night and send emails and don't remember doing it the next day.  Thank God I'm not a middle of the night internet shopper!

After doing a little research recently, I found out that this condition is called "primary insomnia."  Being unable to sleep is actually a medical condition, which is good to know, but doesn't exactly help me get the "z's" I need to function in the every day world.  The kind I have is also known as "chronic insomnia," which is (obviously) something that lasts more than one month.  There is also "secondary insomnia," which is where you can't sleep due to a medical condition or substances you are taking (alcohol, drugs - illegal or legal).  I suppose primary insomnia would encompass trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, and waking up too early and then not being able to go back to sleep.  My problem has always been falling asleep when I hit the bed at bedtime, starting long before my medical conditions surfaced and I began taking drugs for them.

About 12 years ago, a doctor I was seeing decided it might be a good idea to help regulate my sleep with Ambien.  For those of you not familiar, this is the drug where you sometimes do things like eat, drive, have sex without being aware you are doing them.  I had a few incidences (never driving, thank God) when I first started taking the drug, but it would now appear, that the drug no longer has any effect on me (unless the sleep blogging counts).  The doctor eventually doubled my dosage, to no avail.  I'm not sure why he continues to prescribe it and I continue to take it.  I still just can't go to sleep.  I now take the pills because the doctor tells me to and because I am afraid that if I don't take the pills, I will never go to sleep.  I don't know why this would be something to fear, since I don't really go to sleep that well anyway.  I keep thinking that I should just stop taking them and see what happens, but every night, without fail, I pop open the prescription bottle and down 20 mg, hoping against hope that tonight I will actually Go. To. Sleep.

As most of you are aware, I lost my job last October.  I went through a pretty bad depression after that and, during the course of that depression, I found myself going back to bed in the mornings after the kids went to school.  I figured that (a) my going back to bed wasn't hurting anyone and (b) that's why people have appointments later in the day available.  They're for people like me who don't like mornings.  I have gotten over both the job loss and the depression, but I have decided (at my therapist's suggestion) to be nice to myself and continue with the sleeping in the morning.  My body just seems to get better sleep when I go to bed at midnight (or maybe later) and get up at 9:00.  Also, Justin benefits, since he works from home, because I'm not downstairs talking to him and distracting him from his work until at least mid-morning, when I remember the real world exists and become conscious and coherent.

I have made a point in the last couple of months to never schedule anything in the morning if I can help it and to ask people not to call me before 10:00.  That way I can make sure that I am awake and aware of what I am doing and saying.  I find myself mildly irritated with chipper morning people who ignore my request and call early.  Hey, just because you're up doesn't mean I am!  One of the best things I got out of losing my job was the ability to say once the kids go off to school in the morning, I am allowing myself another two hours of sleep. 

It's weird that I can be up for half an hour to help usher the kids out the door and then lay down and go right back to sleep.  I don't know why I can do it in the morning but not at night.  I read somewhere that teenagers brains are actually geared to work later in the day and that it would be beneficial to start school, once they get to high school, an hour later.  They have tried this experiment in various places and found that grades actually go up when you don't drag the kids out of bed at 6:00 a.m.  Teenagers are wired to stay up later and sleep later.  Maybe I had this wiring from the time I was little and it was actually hard wired.  Whatever.  Again, I'm not hurting anyone, right?

I'm slightly concerned that my going back to bed in the morning is causing a little marital irritation in my spouse.  I'm afraid he sees me as lazy because I won't do mornings anymore.  (I could be assuming something that's not true here.  Maybe I should just ask him?)  Justin wouldn't sleep in even before we got a dog that needs to go out early, due to some shoulder problems that would wake him if he stayed in one position for too many hours.  He is blessed with the ability to lay down and shut off, kind of like the Terminator in those movies that could be shut down for 90 seconds (except he can shut down for the whole eight hours in about 30 seconds).  Justin can go to sleep anywhere, at any time, just by closing his eyes.  Oh my God, what a gift!  He was more of a night owl when I first met him and I remember both of us staying up until all hours of the night when we were carefree 18 year olds with flexible college class schedules.  I remember several phone conversations that went on until 3:00 a.m. and annoying his sister by calling his house at ungodly hours of the night.  But he has always been blessed with an ability to get out of bed no matter how little or how much sleep he has gotten the night before.  He's able to start work at 6:00 a.m. with no problem whatsoever and sometimes I feel like I must look like a total sloth, even though I still do all of the stuff I need to do - just later.

If I force myself to get up and stay up when the kids go out the door, not only am I cranky, I will end up napping in the afternoon, defeating the purpose of forcing myself to stay up.  So, for the present, it would appear that going back to bed is just the way my body wants to work.  If there's nowhere I have to be and I can schedule things later in the day, I don't see that it's a problem.  I feel kind of bad that Justin and I aren't in sync in this area, but every night I go upstairs at 10:00, go through my remove makeup/brush teeth/use bathroom routine and crawl into bed to read for a half hour with him and then, once I know he's asleep, I sneak out of bed and back downstairs and turn on the television.  Or blog.  Or send emails.  Or get on Facebook...which can easily eat up two hours.  I think it's probably more productive to lie in bed being frustrated that I can't get to sleep than to sit on Facebook until I'm tired enough to drop off.  It's kind of sad when you're awake when even the dog is out like a light.  But, then again, it's kind of nice to have the quiet house to myself for an hour or two. 

Spending Diet Update to Follow

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

To Work Out or Not to Work Out - That is the Question

Day two of my spending diet - February 9, 2011.  It's 1:40 p.m. and I haven't spent anything yet today.  Of course, I did spend a good hour going through Jamie's closet to find - ta dah - his math book that's been missing for the last month.  It's hard to spend money when you're in the midst of mining for things that are missing.  I walked the dog.  (Yay, me!)  And I've been working on this new post.  (Writing - also yay me!)

Here's my spending dilemma for the day.  A friend of mine has been asking if I would like to join the new gym that just went up about a ten minute drive from my house.  She's already plunked down her $20 first month's fee, along with some sort of add on fees that amounted to, apparently, $50.  I ask you, how can it be a $20 a month deal if they are going to add on $50 in enrollment fees?

This appears, on the surface, to be a really good deal.  They have all of the cardiovascular machines you could ask for, free weights, all kinds of classes (including a spinning class I am very interested in working up to), tanning booths (for those of us who have some seasonal affective problems), and childcare.  I don't need the childcare any more, thank God, but it gives my friend the option of meeting me there during the day if we want to work out together.  And it doesn't smell all "gymie" (read, like sweat) yet, because it's new.  It's not an unpleasant place.

For years, Justin has been begging me to exercise.  In my heart and mind, I know that exercise is a good thing, but I. Just. Hate. It.  Always have.  I don't understand why I have to sweat to get healthy.  I don't like to sweat.  I don't like to go to places where the goal is to make you sweat.  And I really don't like to have to pay for the privilege of sweating and needing another shower.  Also, what do you wear to the gym?  Okay, this may seem kind of vacuous, but I notice what people are wearing and am cognizant of the fact that no matter how hard I have tried, I have not succeeded in obtaining a successful wardrobe for any occasion.  Old Navy habit aside, I just don't dress "cool" any more.  If I ever did.  I'm going to be one of those old ladies who people whisper about behind their hands and say "I wonder where the hell she got that horrendous housedress."

But, here's the thing.  This gym membership really is a good deal, once you've paid their "enrollment" fees (which really amount to just another way to get your money).  There are benefits to exercising.  You lose weight.  You feel better.  Your heart likes you better and your waistline shrinks.  Exercise is a good thing.  (If I keep saying it, will I convince myself?)  And the other thing about this gym membership is kind of stupid, but I'll put it out there anyway.  Someone actually likes me enough to want to meet me at the gym on a regular basis.  Okay, I know I'm a likable person, in theory, but to have someone actually ask me to join a gym with them so that we can work out together...well, let's just say I'm touched.

So, I started adding it up in my head (sorry, I meant on the calculator) and weighing cost vs. benefits.  At $20 a month for the three year commitment they require, it would be a grand total of $720 plus the $50 miscellaneous crap fees they forget to mention in the advertisement they sent to get you in there.  (By the way, I checked the flyer and it says "No Enrollment Fees."  Okay, so why the $50 again?)  Three years is a big commitment from someone who vows to exercise and then falls down on that promise within two or three attempts.  I mean, I've committed to walking the dog at lunchtime every day and, for the most part, I've kept that commitment.  If it's below, say, 30 degrees and the wind is whipping down the plains at more than 10 mph, Justin generally takes over, but weather aside, I do keep my promise to take Jackson around the block once a day.  That's been a big step for me, but the dog has to be walked and he was my idea.  And yes, I feel better on the days that I take the dog for a walk.  One point goes to the exercise camp.

So here's my dilemma.  I'm on a spending diet and I want to succeed and get out of debt.  I'd like to stop the impulsive spending and hitting that "buy" button automatically without thinking about it at all.  If I go this week, the first week of my "diet" to sign up for the gym and spend $70 for a three year commitment, am I going off of my "diet?"

I think the answer lies in whether or not I would actually use the gym for three years.  $20 a month doesn't sound like much money, but $720 does.  That would buy my son a lot of books for college.  Or some of his tuition.  Or groceries for a month (maybe - with food prices, who can say?)  And what if my friend moves?  That's more likely than not, because her significant other is wanting to go to grad school somewhere else and, since they do have three children, I would think the likelihood is that she is going to want to go with him.  What are the chances that I will make the gym into a habit and actually go over there several times a week to make myself sweat if there isn't someone who wants to sweat with me?

This is my money dilemma on day two of my "spending diet."  I'd love to hear opinions as to whether this is a "need" or a "want."

Day One - Spending Diet

Okay, so day one, February 8, 2011, I am proud to say that I did not spend one cent today!  Was it cheating because I knew I was going to start this "diet?"  No, because I actually didn't have anything (aside from take out dinner) that I really had to have today.  I think I got so caught up in getting the tax information put together and figuring out what I had spent on what over the last year that I was kind of astonished into not spending.  By the time I might normally have done some of my covert operations, it was dinnertime and we were cooking in.  (That big $20 savings for dinner.  Wendie's right - I should put it in savings, but I think I'll count it toward the big payment I sent to the credit card company when I paid the bill today. $20 less they can charge me interest on, right?

Of course, the last month has not been about things so much as it has been about family relationships and how much more important they are than materialistic goods.  Maybe I'm still in that mode of thinking.  Or maybe it's just that I had nowhere to go today and wasn't finished with the very long Ken Follett book I started reading before the trip to Richmond.

I'm sure temptation is right around the corner and I promise to report on whether I can hold strong (in which case I will post up a pic) or whether I "cheated" and bought it anyway.  Fingers crossed! 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Today's Subject is Money

I'll admit it.  Let's just put it out there.  I am a lousy money manager.  I'm also an impulsive spender.  And you would think from my credit card balances that I dress like that girl from Confessions of a Shopaholic.  But no - I don't have any of those name brand clothes or shoes she was so enamored of.  Nor do I do the Starbucks thing, which I understand can be incredibly expensive really fast.

I'm more of a covert shopper.  I love online shopping.  Just pop in your credit card number and Bing!  In a couple of days, packages start arriving.  You don't even have to be dressed and you certainly never have to set foot in a mall.  (If I go to hell when I die, it will be a shopping mall with no exits, which is funny considering how fast I can run up a credit card.)  I also have a bad habit of printing things out on my ink jet printer when I really could just bookmark them on my computer and save the ink.  It's $66 for a combination black/color ink pack and I seem to be buying them about every other month.  Whoa.  Almost $400 a year, just for ink.

For the past month or so, I have been working on getting our tax information together to take to the accountant.  It's just gotten too complicated to do it myself anymore and I suspect he is probably going to find some errors in the two years' previous returns that I printed (yes, printed) out for him.  It can't possibly be a coincidence (while I was collecting tax items) that my husband discovered a website yesterday on called And She Saved, about a woman who went on a spending fast for the entire 12 months of 2010.  She really went on a fast.  She didn't buy gifts for people, no new clothes, no eating out, no trips.  She even opted out of going with her husband on a hiking trip to save the $138 in air fare.  Ouch, that had to hurt.

I've tried a lot of "budgets" over the years and have always given up within days (okay, maybe hours).  For some reason I just can't figure out, I have never been good with money.  If I have it, it's supposed to be spent.  Period.  And if I don't have it at the moment, it certainly can go on a credit card.

I spent probably a couple of hours cruising around the And She Saved website yesterday and started thinking seriously about my spending habits.  Two items came to mind immediately as non-essential spending:  Old Navy and Amazon Kindle purchases.  In my quest to save money by spending it, I got an Old Navy card a couple of years ago.  They had a great 15% discount if I signed up for the card on the day I was making my purchases and would send me a $10 gift card for every $100 I put onto the card.  The limit was low, so I couldn't get myself into too much trouble and I got rewards for spending.  I was saving money by spending.  Oy - how skewed is that thinking???  Somehow, I ended up with about a $100 a month Old Navy habit.  Um...that's $1200 a year, Chelle.  And all I have to show for it is a bunch of ugly sweats that I shouldn't wear out in public and lots of clothes for a job I no longer have that I couldn't fit into.  Can you say "waste?"

The Kindle is a tough one.  It was a gift from my husband last Christmas and I discovered it's the greatest invention since sliced bread.  In fact, I think I devoted a whole blog post to how it was the best gift I had ever received.  This morning I took a look back at my credit card statement to see just how much this gift has cost me and discovered that since December 25, 2010, I have charged $96.96 in Kindle downloads.  Uh oh.  This is sounding an awful lot like the Old Navy habit.

I don't think it's realistic for me to think that if I vow to go on a spending diet, we will never eat out, I will never spend money at Old Navy, and I will never download another Kindle book.  (I think not using my Kindle would be an insult to my husband, who was kind enough to buy it for me.)  However, I think it's time to take a look at how I am spending my money and where I can cut back.  If Anna Newel (the And She Saved woman) can save over $18,000 in a year and pay off a ton of credit card and student loan debt, surely I can learn something by her sacrifices last year. 

It's hard not to spend money when the computer makes it so damn easy.  They'll even save your credit card information on a secure website so that you can buy with only one click.  The Kindle store allows you to browse the New York Time bestseller list and if you see something that looks good, you can get it in 30 seconds on your Kindle by simply hitting the "buy" button.  Oh. My. God.  How do I resist this temptation?

Okay.  Let's be realistic.  There are things I have to spend money on.  The kids outgrow their shoes and jeans.  The tuition bill is going to come due regularly.  That damned life insurance bill keeps showing up every three months, even though I conveniently try to forget it's coming and never plan for it.  Same for the water bill.  And the personal property taxes.   It is so freaking expensive just to live these days!

Necessities:  Mortgage, electricity, water, food (for humans and pets), clothing for the children, internet access (yes, because my husband works from home by the internet), cell phones, heat, vet...okay, I probably need to check the bank account because I know there are way more things that we can't get rid of that I'm just not able to come up with off the top of my head.

Then there are wants:  gym membership, Kindle downloads, iTunes, expensive chocolate, new clothing, new shoes...I could do what Anna Newel did and post up a "hankering a day" and put up everything that goes through my mind on a daily basis that I think I have to have.  But then I would be overwhelming the internet.

I just finished a phone conversation with one of my dearest friends and we were trying to decide what falls into the "want" category and what falls into the "need" category.  I have been vacillating all day as to whether the woman who cleans my house every other week has to go and crying with all my might that this is a "need" and not a "want."  My friend said, "Chelle, this is not a want.  It's a need.  With your fibromyalgia, you can't do the heavy cleaning, so stop feeling like that is money you can't spend."  God, do I love her.  Free pass on the maid service.

I think I will start keeping a list of things that I think I should buy and then don't.  Like the Chipotle I was going to have Justin pick up tonight for dinner.  Instead, I took hamburger out and we're making dinner.  $20?  Okay, so I've already saved $20 for today.  Hmmm...what else can I find that I didn't buy today?

Oh and by the way.  If you're on my gift list, this is fair warning.  I'm setting a $15 limit for all gifts.  This means I'll have to be creative and you are welcome to set the same limit for me, or a smaller one if it fits your budget better.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Why Pain is Relative

I cut my shin in the shower this morning while shaving.  As I cursed and staunched the blood flow with a tissue, I laughed a little bit as I contemplated how much my pain was relative.

I have always had a kind of pain scale of my own.  I snickered at people who would say their pain was a 10+ in a perfectly normal, conversational tone of voice.  Even though I’ve always been a big baby about my own personal physical pain, I’ve never deluded myself into thinking that I was anywhere near a 10 on the 1-10 pain scale.  Well, maybe after major surgery, but it was probably in the recovery room and there was probably a good deal of morphine readily available at the time.  I have always said, in a joking manner, that if you are at a 10 on the pain scale, you have probably lost a limb.  Otherwise, you should shut the hell up and be realistic.

In the last month, my whole world has turned upside down and my own, personal, physical pain has become an even more relative thing than it was prior to the beginning of the New Year.  These are the dates that will stand out in my mind for the rest of my life:  January 8, 2011 – the day my mother told me she had cancer.  January 19, 2011 – the date my mom found out that her cancer was a very rare form of sarcoma and if it had spread to her lungs, there was really nothing she could do but enjoy the little time she had left.  January 26, 2011 – the day we found out the cancer had not yet spread to her lungs.  February 1, 2011 – the day the doctors amputated her foot and a portion of her leg to remove the cancer from her body.

These are horrific dates, fixed forever in my mind.  We are Just. So. Grateful that my mom is going to survive and we count ourselves unbelievably lucky that the cancer had not spread to her lungs.  I spent the night before we would hear the results of her CT scan holding the prayer cross my mother-in-law had sent me, repeating “please, God” over and over while I cried myself to sleep.  The thought of losing my mother is something I never want to have to ever contemplate again.  Is this realistic?  No.  But for now, she is cancer free and I am so grateful that she is still here. 

Going through this experience beside my mother (I won’t say with her, because obviously she is the only person who knows what this actually feels like), I have gained an even greater respect for the person she is, her bravery, her courage, her determination, her incredible will to live, her practicality in the face of losing a part of her body to cancer, and, most importantly, her ability to deal with pain.  Pain is, in fact, completely relative, and the ability to handle pain is totally individual.

I have always been a huge baby when it comes to pain.  Having fibromyalgia, I have spent a good deal of the last twenty years whining about how much pain I am in on a constant, daily basis.  My perception of the pain varies, based on what I am doing, how bad my pain level is on a given day, whether I am doing something I am interested in that takes my mind off my pain, and what my emotional state is at any given time.  But I have never wavered in my complaint that “it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, damn it!” 

Then I watched my mother go through losing part of her leg and the grace with which she dealt with what must have been an unbelievable amount of pain last week.  I saw her mentally evaluate every time the nurse would ask her what her pain level was and say “oh, it’s bearable” or “oh, probably a 4.”  Seriously?  I mean, yes, I knew my mother had a very high pain tolerance, but this was cutting off part of her leg.  If it was me, I know I would have been screaming to increase the pain meds and begging them not to take out the morphine drip.  My mom was looking to increase her time between doses and, as soon as she got home, immediately went from two pills every four hours to one every six, with the idea of getting off of them as soon as humanly possible.  Did I mention what an incredibly strong woman she is?

After deciding that amputation was the best way for her to become immediately cancer free, with almost no chance of the cancer returning, my mom made the decision without any regrets and no whining.  No what if, no what might have been, no why me, no but WAIT A MINUTE!  To her, I think, her leg was now the enemy and she was going to fight it with everything she had.  If the cancer in her leg was going to kill her, the leg was history.

Wow, I admire my mother.  And watching this practical, no nonsense approach to what for me would have been a gut wrenching, tear provoking, whine and cry fest has totally changed both the way I look at my mother and my own relationship with chronic pain.  If my mother could tell the nurse, less than 48 hours after her surgery, that the pain was “about a 4,” what the hell was I complaining about all these years?

Everything is relative.  Am I in chronic pain?  Yes, every day.  I’ve found ways of dealing with it over the years and have my coping mechanisms.  But there was never a better coping mechanism presented to me than the one I found this month.  The gift my mother gave me in the last four weeks is the ability to say, “Okay, yes, I’m in pain.  But it’s a minor annoyance.”  I can deal with it now in a way I was never able to before and it only took a week to completely turn my way of thinking around.

While we were sitting in the hospital room, I was having some discomfort and rubbing my abdomen and my mother said to me, “Are you in pain?”  I immediately looked at her and said, “I’m fine.”  Because I was fine.  We’re all going to have pain from time to time.  I’m probably going to have pain for the rest of my life because I know that having fibromyalgia is a lifelong, chronic, painful disorder.  But the pain is now relative.  And while cancer is something I would not have wished on my worst enemy, I have once again learned a very valuable lesson from my mother.  My mom is still teaching me how to deal with life through example.  I can only hope to be that good an example to my own children.