Hope and New Year’s Resolutions

Yesterday, I was given a teaser of hope that I might return to part-time employment in the new year, probably sometime after April. It could not have come at a better time. I worked 19.75 hours of overtime in the last pay period and have consistently worked 10-15 hours of overtime per pay period since returning to full-time work a year and a half ago. That, plus all the teenager activities have left me tired and not taking good care of myself. With little time for exercise, poor food choices and using wine to decompress instead of getting enough rest I have gained twenty pounds in the past eighteen months. I don’t like how it looks and I don’t like how it feels.

I want very badly to return to part-time (read: about thirty-six to forty hours per week) so I have time to rest and exercise and write. It is going to be a bit of a squeeze money-wise between the car payment and the music lessons, but I am nothing if not determined and hard-working. I am making the following changes in the new year to accommodate my decreased paycheck:

1) sometime in the next couple months I will cut my hair off. I currently have long, blond hair. I have been coloring it for about ten years, the last time it was naturally this color, I was eleven years old. I currently get it colored eight times a year at $60 a pop and get it trimmed four times a year for $30. I will let it grow out grey, at least shoulder length. I can trim it myself saving myself $600/year. That doesn’t even account for the decreased need for shampoo and conditioner.

2) I will stop drinking wine (except for those special social occasions when I meet with a girlfriend for Whine & Wine, or another girlfriend for Adult Beverages with a Fire in the Fireplace.) This, I calculate will save about $1,000 per year. I will resume my meditation practice to de-stress–saves money and calories.

3) When my gym membership contract expires in August, I will not renew it. Between now and then, I will gather some exercises that I can do at home and combine that with speed walking in the park to regain my former fitness level. This will save $40/ month–so $200 this year and $480 every year thereafter.

4) I will cut the boy’s hair. I already have the clippers and can do a passably decent job. This saves $30 per son every six weeks, so $520 for the year. I will not cut beloved daughter’s hair. I did that once. It was not pretty.

5) I will take my water bottle to work every day, so I will not be tempted to buy a soda. I have cut back quite a bit on the sodas since this paying down the credit card challenge, but at my former level of one soda every workday, with an average cost of $1.50 each ( the ones in the office are $1.25, the ones at the convenience store are $1.72,) that will save about $375 per year.

Total estimated savings per year: $2,975. If I give up lattes, we can round it to an even $3,000.

Even without the money savings, these are positive changes. Let the New Year begin!

Dangerous Times for Minimalists

This time of year is a dangerous one for minimalists. Other holidays, only people who know you fairly well feel inclined to give you gifts. On Mother’s Day, nobody but my kids try to give me things. On my birthday, only friends and my kids feel inclined to give me gifts. And this works very well for minimalist me. My kids and family know that if they give me a non-consumable gift, that I will have to count it  or re-gift it. So generally, they give me bookstore and coffee shop gift cards, which delights me no end. First, there is the delight in someone understanding you well enough to respect your wishes and not Simple Living Magazine expectations in the gift arena. And second, I really, really like books and overpriced lattes. So while it may seem uncreative (let me just interject here that I am NOT opposed to creative gifts, as long as I do not have to count them on my birthday) they are really gifts that I use and appreciate.

Christmas Eve 5pm, my street looking north

But Christmas! [stage directions: she throws her arm up over her brow, sighs deeply, rents her garment] Oh, Christmas!

Christmas gives license to every person who owes you a favor/wants you to owe them a favor/has some distant blood relation, i.e. you could legally get married/likes you/ likes your kid/ likes your pet/doesn’t like you, but works in the same office as you do/works in a service related industry, i.e. waste recycler, hair stylist/add your own here…Christmas gives license to all these people, in the name of goodwill, to foist on you all sorts of crap that you (that is me…but listening to other people over the age of 4, “you”) do not want or need, but feel now emotionally tied to and store away so as not to offend the gift-giver.

These are dangerous times for minimalists.

Have a plan. Fight back!

1) Tell everybody that loves you that you do not want stuff. If they feel they must “give you a gift” they can give to a charity that has meaning to the two of you, can pay your utility bill for the next year or month, give a gift of service (babysitting, car washing, house painting, you get the idea,) or a shared event (season tickets to the theatre, museum memberships, subscription to a periodical/Netflix/sports team you love.)

2) The people you do not know well enough to give the above hints to, you can easily re-gift what they give you, as they will likely not set foot in your home to see that it is not there. Several family members of my patients fall into this category. We are not allowed to accept gifts of monetary significance from the people we serve, but many gifts this time of year represent not huge dollars spent, but a socially acceptable way of expressing gratitude for the services received. It would be rude and ungrateful to foist these back into the face of the giver. Sooooo..the candy tray and boxed candies and handmade crocheted angel have been loving re-gifted to folks that deeply appreciate these items.

3) Every now and then a material gift resonates deeply in me and I find a place for it in my home. A beautiful scarf from DIL, a hand-carved bird figurine from a patient. It is one of my hundred things. It is meaningful. Those are the gifts to hang on to.

Spending 12/17 -12/23

12/17: Stamps $7.92, breakfast out w/ a friend $55.76, groceries (includes $21.00 for an organic pot roast for Christmas) $79.64, haircut for youngest $30, T-shirts for daughter $21.60.

12/18: car wash $5.00, tickets to see Sherlock Holmes for middle son’s birthday $84.00, kid’s chores (from two weeks ago-I forgot to report to you) $55.00, kid’s chores from today $43.00.

12/19: National Latin Exam $4.00 (I will save for another day the rant about how much is costs to send a child to public school with all the small fees for everything.)

12/20: gas $28.32

12/21: organic cream for my coffee $2.72

12/22: no spend day

12/23: drumsticks (for the drummer, not the kind you eat) $5.81, Christmas gift $15.64

Bruschetta Chicken Bake

This recipe comes from my daughter in law, Brittany. Hi! [waving wildly] It is more expensive than many of my meals, but the kids love it, so I have added it to the rotation about once a month.

Ingredients and cost:

1.5 # chicken cubed    $3.00   (I just bought breasts and cubed them myself)

1 tsp salt                             .10  (it’s sea salt, your salt is probably cheaper)

15 oz can diced tomatoes with juice   .59

.5 cup water      nominal cost

3 cloves garlic          .33

Boxed chicken flavored stuffing mix  .89

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese   $1.75

1 Tbs Italian seasoning       .30  (I don’t keep this in the house, so used 1 tsp of each: basil, oregano, rosemary)


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 9 x 13″ glass baking dish with oil. Toss the chicken with the salt. Place the chicken in a layer in the bottom of the baking dish.

Stir together the tomatoes, water, chopped garlic and stuffing mix and let soften.

Tomato/stuffing mix

Sprinkle the cheese on top of the chicken, then sprinkle the Italian seasoning on top of that.

Spread the stuffing mixture on top.

Ready for the oven

Bake for 30 minutes.


I served this with some steamed broccoli.

This was enough for dinner for the four of us and enough leftovers for two lunches.

Spit Pea Soup (Seven meals for 38 cents each)

This recipe comes from earthsister at the old Simple Living Forums. You can find the new forums at  http://www.simplelivingforum.net/forum.php

This soup is rich in protein and vitamins for just pennies a serving, and one of my comfort foods.


From a recent grocery reciept: the onion was .25, garlic .33, oil .07, dried split peas $1.00, 3 carrots 0.33, 3 stalks celery .15, 3 potatoes .30. Total $2.43 and it made 10.5 cups, each satisfying serving is 1.5 cups.

1 Tbs oil, 1 onion, 3 cloves garlic, chopped

Simmer the onion and garlic until translucent and then add 8 cups water and 2.25 cups dried spilt peas.

simmer water and peas until tender

This step took longer than usual as I had to run some kids errands in the middle–no sweat. I just turned the burner off before I left the house, no harm done.

Add diced carrots, celery and potatoes and simmer till tender

Voila! Soup!

Lunches for the week and then some

Helicopter vs. Gardner vs. Potter Parenting

The other night while waiting in the parking lot for the kids to get done with film club, another parent asked me, “What do you think of the physics teacher?” It took me by surprise. I don’t think about the physics teacher.

“Well….” I stalled, searching my brain for what I am supposed  to be thinking about the physics teacher, “I haven’t met [uh oh….him? her?….avoid pronoun] the physics teacher, so I guess I don’t have much of an opinion.”

“Well, the boys [this parent has twins taking the same classes] say that he [Ah Ha! the physics teacher is a man] doesn’t explain the subject matter well and that they have to go to the chemistry teacher for explanations.”

“Oh, yes, I did hear a little about that [yeah, one comment at supper from my daughter.] I guess it is good that the kids have found someone who can explain the material to them.” [There is a lull in the conversation where I guess we are thinking similar things, i.e. we have very different parenting styles. I have had conversations with the twin’s mother that lead me to believe that she sits down with them every time they study for a test and reviews the material with them.]

His next remark reveals this: “My wife says that the parents of six children do not give them the amount of attention that the parents of one child do.”

I agree, “This is true. I parented differently when I had one child then I do now with four. Now, I’ve just got my nose down, working to put food on the table.”

He nodded and the conversation drifted to other topics.

The next night at supper, I asked the kids if they felt they were missing out because I don’t help them study. They were of one accord, “I would find it really, really annoying if you were to do that. I am glad you are not a helicopter parent.”

Maybe the twins like/need the studying attention. My kids do not want it. Parenting is a dialog between parent and child, sort of an open feedback loop in which the child lets you know which parenting interventions are successful and which ones aren’t.  [See previous post on gardener vs. potter parenting http://wp.me/p1fMoF-25 ]  The kids (mine and his) are getting good grades, have friends across a spectrum of interests and ages, can hold their own in a variety of social situations. So far, so good.

Spending 12/12 thru 12/16

12/12 and 12/13 were no spend days (Yeah me!)

12/14 spent $18.10 on groceries.

12/15 I bought $26.71 worth of gas. Remember that most of this is spent for work, and I am reimbursed for work mileage. I also took a Starbuck gift card (Christmas gift) and bought a latte: $4.91.

12/16 I spent $10.79 on wine (Woo Hoo payday! Livin’ high now!) Then drank a glass as I made out the checks for auto insurance $358 for six months and $600 on the credit card bill- leaving the remainder of $1,054.68.

Other frugal choices this week: I am reading Early Retirement Extreme (how to retire in your 20’s or 30’s) Obviously, I’ve missed that bus, but his ideas do inspire me and may lead to further cost cutting in the future.

Beloved daughter asked me to pay for an acting class at the local college. I declined. If she really wants this she will have to pay for it herself. I currently spend $250-$300 per month on lessons and instrument repair, which is almost as much as I spend on groceries.

Money Spent in Past Week

12/4: $4.95 for 2 ginormous cookies at the mall (OK, wasted money), $32.38 for dress/performance shoes for daughter, $28.64 for gas, $3.02 milk, $50 gift card for needy family, $12.72 for book (Early Retirement Extreme–I’m really excited about it, have just started it.)

12/5: no spend day.

12/6: $6.23 for yard waste bags and stickers, $21.57 for furnace filters, $33.07 for baritone sax reeds, $19.41 for 3 pill crushers (this is a gift category-I keep them in my car and give them to my patients when they need them), $10.79 wine

12/7: $90 for cut and color of my hair. I will have to let this go if I want to retire early.

12/8: no spend day

12/9: $13.61 X-mess, $28.85 gas

12/10: $4.90 hand lotion, $10.96 cat food, $8.71 wine, $8.62 gift for friend, $49.18 groceries, $32.39 briefcase (the one I bought two months ago is starting to disintegrate), $6.47 socks for youngest and the final X-mess purchases $139.38.

12/11: $3.30 for luminaries for Christmas Eve–something our neighborhood does. There is a Catholic Church at the end of the street and the luminaries are lit for the whole block before the evening mass. It is very beautiful.

Simple Christmas Decorations

Let me just begin this post by stating that for many, many years I was an ardent supporter of the Christmas tree as holiday decor. When I was a college student in my first apartment, I created a “Christmas tree” from the plumbing pipes near the ceiling and fishing line and butter cookies. Wish I had a picture to show you. When I was a “starving” nursing school student with a toddler at home, I spent $25 I did not really have, on a fresh pine tree (OK, it was lopsided) and stand so as to create the proper Christmas atmosphere for my child.

Been there. Done that. Done with it.

Now a days, it takes $50 and 10 hours to put up a tree and take it down…and I do not have that time or money to spend that way any longer.

So here is my grinchy holiday decorations:

stockings hung on the mantle


bowl of glass ornaments

Front Door with Evergreen Wreath

Cost $25 total (for the wreath) and was put up in ten minutes.

If your passion in December is holiday decorating…ignore this post. But if you are a single parent, overwhelmed with December school programs and holiday shopping and feast preparation, take heart! Celebrating the holiday does NOT require a lot of money or more time than you have.

Decide in your heart and mind what is essential and let other people do the rest.

Just for the record…I will celebrate “Christmas” with my children December 23rd. I will work the 24th and the 26th and (I hope) lay on the couch in repose on the 25th of the month.

We single parents can decide how we choose to spend the parts of the holiday that we do have control over. Your children’s other parent may have other ideas….but you are in control of your part. Make it Joyous.

Another Payday, Lots of Money Spent


$5 for youngest son to go to the dance, $89.99 for winterizing of my lawn mower (includes pick-up and delivery)–and yes, I know I could do this myself for a lot less cash, which I will when I am retired, or several kids no longer live here or one of them learns to do it, $200 to beloved daughter’s band Disney trip fund, $662.65 for the mortgage, $170 for woodwind lessons, $9.72 for X-mess gifts, $386.97 for the car payment, $74.59 for electricity, water and sewage.


$116.19 groceries (about 9-10 days worth–which, interestingly enough is about $12/day for 4 people or $3/day/person. Still under the Food Stamp Challenge amounts), $6 for beloved daughter for lunch away at a Scholastic Bowl meet, $34.84 for X-mess gifts (almost done) $6.80 for household supplies, $2.14 for gum, $29.95 for Internet service and $115.87 for cell phones for the four of us.

Total spent: $1,910.71.