Creating the Life You Want

I have a friend that tells me the way that he motivates himself to action is to take on a project that is huge, like preparing to run for a marathon or creating a software project that can be marketed to every emergency room in the United States.

This technique would not work for me. I would see that big thing looming outside my bedroom and roll over and go back to sleep.

Most of us create the life we want by adjusting our habits.

“Sow an act and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny. ”
Charles Reade
We all have habits, save babies and mystics.  It makes the day easier. That way we don’t have to think about which way to fold the towel, which brand of laundry detergent to buy, what the first thing we are going to do when we get up in the morning will be. We just do it. Which is fine as long as our habits are serving us and not us serving our habits.
If your life is not exactly as you want it to be right now, I challenge you to change just one of your habits. Not all of them, it’s too exhausting and you are still going to have to go to work and take care of the kids. Just one. Identify one thing in your life that you want different-you want more money, more sleep, less fat on your middle, less anxiety. You pick. Then change one habit which will move you closer to that occurring. 
I’ll be right behind you. The thing I want to change is the fat around my middle. The habit I am changing is: when I wake in the morning I will put on my exercise shoes rather than start the coffee pot. Starting the coffee pot leads to drinking a cup of coffee while I read e-mail and cruise the internet, and my brief window of opportunity to exercise is lost. So, I will put on my shoes and exercise and drink my coffee at work while I am reading the work e-mail there.
And if I don’t get to read your comments till after dinner, I’m sure you’ll understand.
OK. Your turn. What habit are you going to change?
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Final Grocery Shop of February

I am continuing my pledge to keep our food costs to less than I calculate our family food stamp allotment would be ($420/month.) In keeping with my upping the ante post, I bought most of our dairy/meat/coffee from organic or range free sources. In the photo you can see this higher cost food grouped on the right lower corner of the table. The non-organic animal products (turkey slices and shredded cheddar cheese) are in the left lower corner.

February 26 groceries


Total groceries costs for the month:$341.01, total eat out costs $68.27 (oops sorry, math error–$88.27) which includes a meal out as a family and two student meals out with their respective teams and my bad habits of soda and gas station coffee. Total food costs for the month $409.28. (error correction–$429.28– though most of that food will get eaten in March… sorry.)

Menus for the week:

Saturday: Homemade pizza

Sunday: Stew and biscuits

Monday: Spagetti and meatballs, steamed brocolli (switched from Sat. as this is a faster meal. I try to keep the slow cooking items to weekends)

Tuesday: Fiesta Biscuit Casserole (new recipe I got from Cozi calendar)

Wednesday: Kids w/ their dad. I will eat leftovers.

Thursday: Leftovers for all of us.

Friday through Sunday: kids at their dad’s, I will finish off the leftovers, eat scrambled eggs or otherwise make do. I’m working, so probably won’t do much cooking.

Cleaning the House

Who is supposed to clean the house? The shared areas, the individual rooms, the icky areas (toilets and cat urp), the dishes, the refrigerator and on and on…..

I know spouses and roommates have come to blows over these questions.

At different times, we have had different answers at my house. When the kids were toddlers, they weren’t able to much more than “help” pick up their toys. I did everything from washing all the linens to mopping the floor after each meal (we ARE talking toddlers here) to pinning one of them down to brush his teeth.

When everyone was in elementary school/college and the day care costs were down, I hired someone to come into the house and clean it. I still did the dishes and washed the linens and clothes, but it was a huge time saver, and if you can afford it, I recommend it. When I went part-time, there was no way to pay for house cleaning services, and the kids were older and more capable. I proposed to them that I would pay them for cleaning the house, and I broke it down into small chores. I created a document in the computer listing the chores, what I would pay for the chore completed to my satisfaction and what cleaners/tools were required to complete it. That document looks like this:

Things to Clean In the House

~Sweep or vacuum all wood floors $3.00

~Vacuum carpet (upstairs and stairs) $3.00

~Vacuum couches, under cushions too (use crevice tool) $2.00

~Clean toilet (brush and baking soda on inside, 7th Generation on outside) $4.00 upstairs toilet

 ~$4.00 downstairs toilet

~Sweep or vacuum kitchen and back entry way floor, shake out rug (outside) $2.00

~Mop kitchen and back entry floor (it must be swept/vacuumed 1st) $4.00

~Clean bathroom sinks and mirrors (use 7th Generation for sinks, glass cleaner for mirrors) $1.00 upstairs

~$1.00 downstairs

~Wash and dry towels in downstairs bath, wash rug with towels, but DO NOT put rug in dryer (use ½ cap laundry soap) $1.00

~Wash and dry your own sheets and comforters $1.00

~Clean inside and out of microwave (use 7th generation) $1.00

~Take out ALL trash (kitchen, both bathrooms and kitty litter in basement) Refill trash can liners in kitchen and litter container) $1.00

~Vacuum basement floor $2.00

~Clean downstairs shower and tub (7th Generation on walls, Barkeeper’s friend on tub) $3.00

~Vacuum or sweep bathroom floor, wipe down with wet cloth $2.00 upstairs

~$2.00 downstairs

~Clean living room mirror, glass in pictures in living, dining room, kitchen (glass cleaner & paper towel) $1.00

~Wash car $5.00

~Vacuum car $2.00

~Sweep back porch $2.00

~Clean stove drip pans $1.00

~Dust downstairs and upstairs (baseboards, window sills, furniture, etc) $4.00

~Sweep and wipe the front entry floor $1.00

Every other weekend, when the kids are at my house, I print off this document. The kids and I do a round-robin choosing up of the chores, then we get to work. Nobody has to pick a chore that they loathe. I pay more for the chores that I would rather not have to do. It generally takes less than an hour and a half, with all of us working together. And lately, the only chore that they will “let” me do is vacuum the basement floor, as they want the money for the other chores.

There are benefits to this arrangement, too many to mention, but here are a few:

~the kids learn how to clean a house, how quickly it gets dirty, what they can do to make things easier, i.e. take shoes off when you come inside, wipe it up before it dries on, if you kinda put things away during the week, you don’t have a 2 hour blitz of picking up before your brother vacuums your floor, etc.

~they earn their spending money. They become mindful about how they spend when they know how much work went into earning.

~they take pride in our home. (No kidding, I have heard a kid, when a friend is over, commenting….”well, we just cleaned the house…”

~they hold their siblings accountable (less nagging for mom). I don’t have to tell them to pick up their rooms, a brother or sister will say, “Do you have all the stuff off the floor so I can vacuum?” or there was the day I got a series of phone calls while I was at the grocery store about a sibling who had let loose in the house with some Silly String. By the time I got home, it was (mostly) cleaned up.

When I went back to full-time work, I told them I could hire the cleaning people again, or they could continue to clean the house for pay and they chose to keep cleaning the house.

My kids are the best.

It’s All Fantasy

The other day I was standing in front of the magazine rack at my local drug store trying to decide whether or not to buy the latest Oprah magazine. It was on decluttering. Which is a funny debate on its own, if you think about it. Really, what can Oprah teach me about decluttering?

As I stood there pondering the purchase, a man walked by, nodded his head in the direction of the magazine/book rack and said, “It’s fantasy.” I started to look more carefully at the books and magazines there to determine which one he meant: the fashion magazine, the celebrity/gossip mag? The muscle car or the human muscle magazine? The mystery novel or the romance series?

And it hit me, they are all fantasy publications. There is a flavor of escape no matter your preference.

I decided reality is infinitely more interesting than what the rack had to offer. I put the  Oprah back and walked out.

Minimalist Garage

A dear friend who has followed my silly counting game for years (and benefited–you are welcome for the wooden hangers) saw the inside of my garage for the first time last week and said, “You need to post a photo of this!”


east wall

south wall

northwest corner


True minimalist will note there are three (!!!!) rakes. As is the case with most excess, this is related to some fantasy/rationalization. I had thought/hoped we would all rake the leaves together. HA! Now, I just hang onto them till they break. I really only need one.

Also the peat pots in the northwest corner are leftover from a freshman science experiment and I am holding onto them until the other 2 students have passed through freshman biology….just in case (another cause of clutter.)

You will notice missing: the lawnmower. The lawnmower maintenance guy seems to have stolen the lawnmower. He has had it since November and is not returning my calls…..I’m not going to call the police till spring.

Food Stamp Allotment: Upping the Ante

Even allowing that February is a short month, the food totals so far are: $ 231.07 for groceries and $80.17 for eating out. I haven’t really been trying very hard to reduce eating out as the monthly totals have easily been less than the Food Stamp Allotment, even w/ me going through the dollar menu at McDonald’s and the drive through at Starbucks WAY more regularly than is comfortable to mention.

So, I’m going to up the ante, make things a wee bit more challenging.

Any animal products I buy from now on will be organic/range free or I will confess it to you here on-line. Here is the grocery shop from today, $86.72 worth, with some organic meat, organic milk, range free eggs.

Groceries 2/20/11

Lotta yogurt there for some reason….

Menus for the week:

Monday: Canned Ravioli (it was a weak moment) and fresh watermelon

Tuesday: Chicken and noodles, steamed green beans (this is son #2’s favorite dish)

Wednesday: leftovers

Thursday: Egg Drop Soup (using the last of the Ramen noodles) and fresh fruit

Friday: Stuffed baked potatoes (request from middle son) w/ cheese and broccoli and Mac n Cheese (just to get rid of it.)

Saturday: spaghetti and meatballs, steamed broccoli

Sunday: homemade pepperoni pizza

Monday: leftovers

Jammie Day

Because I wanted to be home with my kids as much as possible when they were little, I arranged with my employer a part-time position where I worked every other weekend, two 12 hour days, plus 15 hours of call. Then during the week, I worked two eight-hour days. This way the majority of my work hours fell when the kids were at their dad’s or in school. Things were a little tight money-wise, but the whole arrangement worked pretty well as long as I didn’t get too tired.

I have a long history of pushing myself pretty hard until I get sick or so exhausted I get depressed. I’m a slow learner sometimes, but I have learned that I have to listen to my body and give it what it needs for optimal functioning.

I had big plans for yesterday. Really, I did. I was going to transfer a bunch of documents from one computer to another, make a card for my friend who is going through a rough patch, go workout, take another picture of my empty refrigerator to show you guys before I went shopping and do the laundry.

But, when I woke up in the morning, my body was telling me I needed to take it easy. So I didn’t do any of those things except the laundry. And I napped and ate a big salad for lunch and didn’t change out of my pajamas (those of you who have read the 100 things threads: pajamas = clean work out clothes) all day. Somebody rang my doorbell about noon and I hunkered down on the couch. He put a flyer for a local mayoral candidate through the mail slot and went away. I read a book and played with the cat. I made eggs and toast for dinner and went to bed early. I didn’t speak to another human all day.

I was just what I needed.

Big Orange Moon

Driving back from taking the kids to their dad’s house tonight, I see the moon, just rising. Huge. Orange. Full. It is so beautiful that I pull the car over and watch it crawl up over the only tree on the horizon.

It’s Friday night, after a long busy week. I should have a date or a plan or something to go to, but I don’t and there is nothing I would really rather be doing that watch the moon come up.

When my daughter and I were in Paris, we went to the Louvre, a place full of man-made beauty. I remember a room, bigger than my house, full of paintings of the Crucifixion. Right next door to that (or maybe further down, my memory is blurry) was a room of similar size with a similar mind-numbing number of paintings of the Nativity. Each of these paintings is a work of art. I remember being annoyed. “How can I possibly see, much less appreciate, this much in an afternoon?” I left the Louvre overwhelmed and irritable.

The moon never does that to me.

Teenage Driver’s Expenses

My daughter has recently gotten her driver’s license. (Yeah!) Knowing that this was coming, I though long and hard about how involved I was going to be in financing her and her brothers’ auto expenses. I decided not at all. I have recently returned to full-time work to pay for college expenses. I am saving $1,000/month or $12,000 per year for the next 10 years for college. I estimate the routine operation and maintenance for a vehicle to be about $3-4,000/year. That’s what I have spent on my paid-for car, on average, for the last 4 years. Coming up with this extra money would not be easy.

Besides, it really is not burdensome for me to drive the kids around. We have some of our best conversations in the car.

Their father has several used vehicles, and offered to sell one to the kids.  I am OK with this idea. He called me last weekend asking me to split insurance and gas expenses. He lives about 30 miles from here, so it is more of a problem for him to run the kids to their activities.

I said, “No, thank you.”

He stressed the importance of the kids continuing their activities vs. getting a minimum wage job to pay for the $1600 yearly insurance for our daughter. When our son gets his licence next year, his insurance will be more than that. Their father plans to put the kids on his insurance, which gets them discounts. I agreed that the activities were important and would likely end up providing more money for college than a job. But, “No, thank you.”

He mentioned that I would not have to drive the kids up to his place again. I told him that it was not burdensome for me to do so. I told him that the child support that I have received for the past ten years was a help to our budget, but certainly did not cover even half of the children’s expenses and that “Thank you very much, no,” I was not paying for a car or any part of a car for the kids.

He asked if I thought that he would be spoiling them if he paid for it. I said, “No, if this was something that you wanted to provide for them as their father, I am OK with it.”

The kids are big bike riders (all get themselves to school this way on an average day.) Bike riding is something that I would like to encourage as it is good for the environment and good exercise.

So for now this big question is settled.


Recently commenter Lora mentioned that she did not think that she had the discipline to reduce her stuff so much. I don’t have the discipline either. For me it’s all about finding my “enough point.” It doesn’t feel like deprivation at all, it feels like liberation. Let me explain.

In his book Your Money Or Your Life, Joe Dominguez talks about the “enough point.” (I’m paraphrasing here, ’cause I gave my copy of the book to someone who needed it) Say you are really, really hungry and you eat a cheeseburger. It is very tasty but you aren’t quite full yet. So you eat another cheeseburger. It’s good, but not nearly as wonderful as the first one. Since those first two were good, you eat another one. Now you are stuffed. You eat one more and you are miserable. The enough point was somewhere between the first and second cheeseburger.

This idea can be applied to almost anything. Food, clothing, extracurricular activities, meaningful work, foreign travel, number of children to raise, money.

Figuring out your own personal enough points for these things is incredibly powerful. Say, you figure out that your enough point for clothing is three saris (what Mother’ Teresa’s nuns wear) or a new outfit for each of your TV appearances in the next three months, or two dark suits with five dress shirts and four ties. As soon as you get there, you can focus your attention on something else. Something more interesting and meaningful.

Everybody’s enough points are different, and differ in an individual as his or her  circumstances change. Perhaps you were paying attention back on the post whereby I give you two more hours per day and you are scaling back your TV viewing time. Enough TV will be different for you than for me. No TV is enough for me. At least it is right now. But if I was laid up with a bad back and lots of time, my enough point would shift to lots of TV viewing. 

Keeping track of how much money I spend, how many items I own, what I’m cooking for dinner this month are only mildly amusing pursuits on their own. The purpose behind these counts makes it not a discipline but a joy, makes it fun.

 I am a single parent with a middle class income. There is rarely a day that goes by that I am not overwhelmed by the task I have taken on. There is one of me and three still at home (waving to J & B who need my love, but not necessarily my daily attention–XOXOX.)  By knowing my enough points for food, clothes, rest, self-care, I can reserve the rest of the resources here for what really matters to me…taking care of my kids.

Knowing your “enough” is amazing freedom.

Please share an “enough” moment of your own life. Your first comment has to be moderated by me and then all other comments post immediately. (Prevents spam)