Articles By Jamie DeBree

Of Wheels & Motion & Things That Go Round

I’ve had wheels on the brain a lot lately. The back tire of my bicycle, specifically, that needs a little pump-up before I can continue the journey I half-started last year of reacquainting myself with bike-riding after falling off my skinny-tire ten-speed as a teen. I left those two wheels behind soon after for four wheels and an engine.

I loved that bike. It was a gunpowder blue and had black curly handlebars that made me feel “like, so adult” when I cruised downtown to work and back or to the park to hangout with friends. I saved up for it, bought it myself, and went all over on it for several summers back when I was in lifeguard-shape, often sitting up and riding “no-hands” because that’s what all the cool-kids did.

Understand, I was not a cool kid. I just wanted to be one.

I also hated backpacks back then (still don’t care much for ’em, honestly). So I carried a bag over one shoulder. Not cross-body, because…I never have understood how people can do that comfortably, but just slung over one shoulder with a wide, preferably padded strap.

When you have skinny tires and gravel on the road and you think you’re so cool you can adjust the strap of a bag heavy with wet towels while balancing on a bike…well, gravity has a way of keeping you humble. Half a mile from home I found myself tangled up in my bike and bag on the street, and unable to use my right wrist for anything, including balancing said bag or getting back on my bike. I tried.

I walked the bike home (no cell phones back then, we just…dealt with stuff), told my mom I’d fallen and couldn’t move my wrist. My mom’s a practical, resourceful sort who doesn’t tend to panic (thank goodness), and she splinted my wrist with a wooden spoon and towel and off to the hospital we went. After she finished what she’d been in the middle of, of course.

Several hours later, I came out with a bright purple cast that started at the very tip of my upturned thumb, and covered not only my wrist and forearm, but also a few inches above my bent elbow. I could not unbend my arm, or twist my wrist. It was nearly impossible to deal with my waist-length hair, and I had to write with my left hand because you can’t really grip a pen without your thumb.

As it turns out, I’d broken the bone at the bottom of your thumb, shattered the back of my hand and put hairline fractures up into my wrist. To this day, I feel the weather in that hand/arm, and the doc said it was going to be like that forever.

Eight weeks I was in that huge, unweildy cast, and then a smaller one that allowed movement of my thumb and ended just below my elbow for another four. Three months in a cast will atrophy some muscles, I tell you what, and it took awhile and some really annoying stretching/lifting to get the movement and strength back in that arm/hand.

The itching. OMG…the itching!

By the time it was healed up, it was the dead of winter and my bike was safely in the garage while I took driver’s ed that following spring. I may have ridden it a couple of times the following summer just for kicks, but cars were cooler

Last May was the first time I’d been back on a bicycle since. And when I stood in the parking lot of the local bike shop and prepared to push off, I really wasn’t sure I’d remember how to ride a bike, much less keep my balance. But as everyone says, muscle memory took over, and I was fine.

The road bike I bought that day (there’s a pic of it here somewhere – probably last May’s blog posts) is mint green and white, and the frame and tires are at least twice the size of that old 10 speed. It’s stable and strong and comfortable to ride for the most part, though I wouldn’t say no to more seat padding. I’ve been itching to get back on it this spring, and start cruisin’ around the neighborhood, building up those leg muscles again, not to mention some stamina.

Yesterday was payday, and after I got home, I went on a bike-accessory shopping spree (gotta love Amazon). By Thursday, I’ll have a new basket for the front, a new big tire pump with a pressure gauge attached, a mini-tire pump that attaches to the frame, some patches, a bike-specific multi-tool and front and rear USB rechargeable lights. Weather-willing, this weekend I’ll be cruisin’ around town, making my legs and heart actually work in a way they haven’t for quite a long while. It’ll be fun.

My plan is to incorporate a good bike ride 2-3 times per week. Good for metabolism and muscle, good for clearing the head and just getting out for a bit after the nightly dog walk. Maybe a good way to run small errands on the weekend too, depending on where I need to go.

If that goes well, who knows what’s next? I have been thinking it would be fun to have a pair of roller skates again (not inline, just regular quad skates)…hmm.


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The Chair, Assigning Value, & Fear

The Thinking Chair

I’m a member of the local online rummage sale group on Facebook, which is a great way to get rid of unwanted stuff in a hurry, but it’s also a great way to find/buy stuff you never knew you needed (and really, you don’t). Like the old Red Robin booth I got for my writing desk. And the old fabric and wood rocking chair I bought this past weekend. I didn’t/don’t need it, had to rearrange a bit to make room for it, it doesn’t match the rest of our furniture or the decor, and according to hubby, I don’t look like I “fit” it when I sit in it. Apparently tattoos, a cap, and a superhero shirt clash with beautifully carved thick wood and faded tapestry fabric. Who knew?

Whatever. My personal style may not match the chair, and the chair may not match the rest of the house (though it does blend well with the tapestry and wood dining room chair that it’s close to, and the antique sewing machine behind it that I still haven’t put back together), but I love it. I love just looking at it – it’s calming and reminiscent of past lives and lifestyles that I sometimes wish we could incorporate into today’s world, even if just in a small way. It’s not the kind of chair you’d spend hours in…it’s comfortable, but not plush. But it’s the kind of chair you could sit in when you need to noodle something out, or deal with something that’s been on your mind, maybe with a crochet hook or knitting needles in hand.

I have a wingback recliner in the office that I use as a reading/writing chair. I think I’ll dub this new rocking chair the “thinking chair”.

The Reading Chair

And perhaps look for a small, tapestry-covered footstool to go in front of it since I can rarely reach the ground to rock when I’m in a rocking chair (relatively short legs, I guess).

I’ve been thinking a lot about value lately, and how we assign value to things – including how much we’re willing to pay for something. A week ago, I was raising the price of my alter-ego’s new book to “normal retail” online, and I decided to raise the prices on all of my other books too. Previously, I’d priced books by what I thought they’d sell for – the value I expected others would put on them. I determined that almost exclusively by page count/length, and genre. I was trying to get them to sell based on price alone, and sales generally trickle at those prices for me.

Here’s the thing. It takes a lot of time for me to get a book written – even a short one, and even more time to edit, check the formatting, write the blurbs and create the covers. It takes money to get the formatting done (I’ll probably go back to formatting the digital versions myself…more time!), and money to buy cover art images. And even pricing for the lowest-spending reader, I still get only a handful (sometimes not even that many) of sales in a month.

Does this mean I’m not a stellar writer? Possibly (I’m certainly not a “bad” one, considering some of the incredibly/inexplicably popular messses out there for sale). Does it mean I’m not good at marketing? Absolutely. Does it mean that my admittedly possibly mediocre books should be priced at bargain basement?

No. No it does not. $3 is nothing for a story, even a short one. Some people spend more than that on coffee in the morning or lunch during the work day. I spent just shy of that on a cup of tea at the bookstore last night. $3 for all the hours and work I put into that story is a pittance. And if people won’t pay that for one of my short stories (and $4-5 for a longer novel), then I’m really not doing a very good job with either writing or promoting them, and don’t deserve the sale.

With that in mind, I raised all my prices. And sales went flat. And that’s okay. It is what it is, but I’m done with bargain-basement pricing. I’m assigning more value to my work, and my time, and readers can decide whether it’s worth that to them or not, but at least I feel like I’ve shown some confidence in my abilities, and that I’m not undervaluing what I do (or try to do, anyways).

I am going to be going through and redoing cover art and blurbs on some older books, to bring them up to date. And I’ll be working on some promotional things as well, just to draw attention to them and let people know what I have available. I have one book I’ll be going back through and re-editing too, but that won’t be a normal thing. most of my books are already well-edited, this particular one sort of slipped through the cracks and it won’t take me long to fix the minor nits within.

So, I’m assigning more value to my work, and whether it deserves that valuation or not will depend on each individual reader. And my mission/goal is to make sure that what I put out is worthy, in my own eyes, of the value I assign to it. Fair enough, I think.

As far as that whole promotion thing goes, I need to be more “forward” (aggressive?) about letting people know that I write. I don’t know why it’s such a difficult thing, but somehow, it seems stranger and uncomfortable to talk about being a writer (and even openly acknowledge it) locally than it does to say I’m a database administrator for the county. Probably because I make a good wage as a DBA, and there are measurable activities that tell me I’m fairly decent at my day job. But because I make very little money as a writer, and that’s really the only measurement I have for that particular “job”, it’s harder to acknowledge/admit to. I feel like people will think I’m a fraud, or a “wannabe” writer (even though I’ve published around 40 books now…it’s only the ones people have heard of that matter).

And we all get annoyed by those people who claim to be writers and never write or publish anything, don’t we? Even though I have written and published quite a few books, a lot are under pen names, and none are popular, so I feel like I come off like the wannabe, even though I do actually write and publish (okay, so I took a couple years off, but I just published two stories this year, and I’m working on a couple more). Gotta love “imposter syndrome”, eh?

In any case, I went to the annual shareholders meeting for our local bookstore co-op last night, and beforehand hubby was looking at the site and asking why my name wasn’t on the author/shareholder page. My answer was that I guess they overlooked me, or that I haven’t really pursued getting my books in the store yet (I don’t currently have any that meet their “criteria”), but really, it’s probably just because I haven’t emailed them and said, “Hey, I’m an author/shareholder – would you add me to the list, please?” Because it’s probably just that easy. And I’m just…not that forward. But there’s no reason not to be.

Aside from fear.

Fear is why I priced my books so low to begin with – I was afraid no one would see the value in them and pay a higher price. Fear is why I don’t talk about being a writer with people I know personally – because I’m afraid of all the negative connotations that might bring, and also the “oh, I’ll read your book” or “I’m reading your book this weekend” statements that never result in feedback.

Incidentally, if you’re going to read my book(s), be kind. Don’t tell me you’re going to. Just do, and then if you liked it, tell me (or just leave a review wherever you got it). If you didn’t like it, we’ll both be happier (and things will be less awkward) if I don’t even know you read it.

But seriously. I’m more afraid of what people will think if they know I’m an author than what they think when they see my tattoos. Even I know that’s seriously messed up and backwards. Especially when I’ve devoted an entire arm to tough, resilient animal tattoos reminding me to be bold and strong and fearless. I really need to work on taking my own advice.

And yes, I got the bookstore manager’s card, and will follow up with that whole “will you add me to the author page, please?” thing. And getting my books into the store.

Do you have a “thinking” chair? What are you afraid of? Post a comment – as Red Green says, “We’re all in this together!”


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Beauty, Patience, & Dog Food

This past weekend as I was working in the yard and exposing my oh-so-pasty legs to the sun for the first time since last summer, I thought about beauty, and the patience it often requires. Effort too, to a certain extent, but while I trimmed the rose bushes and maple saplings and cleared away last year’s weeds, it occurred to me that while in that moment it felt like a lot of effort to facilitate growth and eventual beauty, the effort on my part wasn’t actually necessary.

The thing is, despite the dead leaves and weeds and dead grasses, the roses were budding out (and in one case, growing new canes under the weeds), the trees were budding out, and geraniums were pushing up through the dead leaves. Nature really does “find a way”, no matter what we do for (or to) it. And even weeds can be beautiful if we’re not trying to keep them from strangling our favorite “domestic” plant or tree.

Beauty is a very subjective thing, of course. We used to have an apple tree in the backyard that I absolutely adored. Every spring, it would bloom with these huge clusters of single pink flowers that filled the yard with a divine scent – especially at night. It provided shade and privacy for the yard, and the apples it produced were small and tart and perfect for just eating or making all sorts of fun treats with. I found great joy in just watching the flowers in spring, picking the apples in the fall, and having shade from the hot afternoon sun.

My husband, on the other hand, hated that tree. The sprawling branches that I found intriguing and interesting just got in his way while he was trying to mow, the fallen apples made a mess all over the lawn and attracted yellow jackets, and the leaves were just one more thing that had to be cleaned up in the fall (along with any leftover apples).

Needless to say, the tree needed to be trimmed, and when we decided to replace the back fence it was growing by, hubby happily said the tree had to go. They could have worked around it, I think, but I knew hubby would never be happy with that tree in the yard, so I agreed to let it go.

Yes, I miss it. One day hopefully our maple trees will be as tall and provide their own kind of beauty to the back yard (without annoying the hubby). Will we put effort into supporting them with water and nutrients and pruning? Absolutely. But they’re tough, and I’m fairly certain that without any interference from us, they’d still leaf out and be beautiful every summer. It’s just the destiny of a tree. Or a rose bush, as it were.

In other, completely different news, I’m on the hunt for new dog food again. For the second time, a favorite dog food brand made in Canada has set up a plant somewhere in the southern US, and I hate to say this, but even though the ingredients list doesn’t change, the quality of the food goes way, way down when that happens. Murphy and Mica are both having problems with the food they’ve been on for several years now, so it’s time to find new foods for them both.

This sounds like it should be an easy task, but my dogs are never *that* easy. Murphy needs fish, and lots of it for the anti-inflammatory properties of the omega-3 oils. Too little omega-3’s, and he’s gimping around like he’s 80yrs old, due to the self-inflicted damage and resulting arthritis on his right front foreleg. Good omega-3’s, and he’s hopping around like a puppy. Magic.

Yes, we can supplement, but it’s a tough balance without a predominantly fish-based food to start with (too much fat alone is just as bad as not enough). There are few foods out there based solely on fish, and none raw that I could tell, so we’re going to try a dehydrated human-grade food instead. Hopefully that will work, otherwise it’ll be back to reading a million dog food labels again. Oh goodie! Said no one ever.

I’m going to try a dehydrated food for Mica too, though he’s hard to find food for too, because he’s allergic to pretty much any grain and…yes, he’s allergic to fish, too. Trying to find a kibble without added fish oil is next to impossible. The food he’s on right now used to be fish-free, but they added herring oil awhile back. He can tolerate it, but it’s pretty obviously not optimal for him. He’s an odd dog in that he doesn’t do well with raw feeding either (tried that back when I was making Lucy’s food from scratch), so raw is out too. I’ve considered cooking for him, but it’s a big time commitment (which is why I stopped making raw food…though I regret that, which is another story for another time).

I have to order the fish-based food in specially…our local pet shop carries The Honest Kitchen dehydrated line, but not that particular food. She’ll order it if I ask her too, but I want to have Murphy try it first, to make sure he’ll do okay with it. I got a box of a limited beef-based/grain free version for Mica to try, and gave some to both dogs last night with no ill effects, so I’m optimistic, but you just never know.

It’s expensive, but health always is, it seems. I haven’t always been able to afford specialized diets, and I did the best I could (especially with Lucy’s very specialized needs). That’s all any of us can really do. But I do feel like I need to make the best choice I can at the time, which generally involves a lot of label-reading and googling and gnashing of teeth until I find something that “might” work. And then there’s testing, and trying again, and maybe trying something different….

Crazy process, that, but if I’m patient *and* put in a lot of effort, I should be rewarded with beautiful dogs in good health for however many years they have left (too few, at this point).

Except they’re already beautiful, without any effort *or* patience on my part. Which is exactly as it should be.

What kind of beauty have you noticed recently? Did you put any effort into it, or was it just…there?

Recalibration, Spring, and Dreaming

I don’t know if this works the same way for everyone, but every time I make a plan, I end up being surprised at how much longer things take than I expect them to. Occasionally I’m surprised the other way, but for the most part, I think I’ll be able to fit more in than I actually am. Which is why I’m constantly recalibrating.

It’s kind of annoying, honestly.

Of course there are always those tasks that take longer initially, and then I get more efficient the more I do them, so I can shave the time down some. And I hate to say it (because I hate sounding like a whiner), but a lot of the time my “allotted time” gets encroached on either by my own laziness, or the dogs, or other humans/plans going on around me that I have to be flexible for. That annoys me too – mostly when I have a nice routine going and finally have all the things in a time slot perfected to fit there, and then…the routine has to change. And that just blows my fragile little mind for some reason. I don’t know why I can’t just adjust and recalibrate to keep moving forward “on the fly” so to speak, but I can’t. My mind needs time to process the new order of things, and re-do my routines, and then settle in again and then…usually something happens to change it again.

I wish magnesium (or any of the other supplements I take or could take) would fix that too, but unfortunately, it’s more a personality trait than a physical thing. There isn’t any “fix” for personality quirks.

So then I try to “proof” my routines by building in extra time, and that never really works either, so…I just muddle through knowing that I could be so much more productive than I actually am if only I could get into a daily routine and not have anyone change it on me for a good solid six months or more.

Yes, I know. That sounds horribly boring to most of you, but it’s heaven to me (and others like me).

In any case, I don’t have a “meal budget” this week due to routines being thrown out of whack this past weekend, I let my workouts get sidelined for most of last week, and I had to spend “business hours” (ie, 10:45pm – 11:45pm) working on the new book cover/uploading instead of the tasks I wanted to, because time is finite and that had to be done on deadline. I’m trying to just roll with it. I got a quick workout in last night, I’ll try to do a menu plan tonight and I started getting back on track with the business plan last night since the book is all done/uploaded/ready to go, but it still niggles in my head that I lost all that time.

In other news, the garden is waking up, and I love going around and checking out which plants have buds on them, what made it, what didn’t, and seeing all the potential for the beauty that is to come. Both of our maple trees have buds (thought we lost the little one!), all of my rose bushes have green on the lower canes and buds on the stems, and a couple rhubarb plants that I thought for sure were goners because I left them in a big pot on the patio last year are coming up as if winter never happened, which is pretty amazing for our climate (things don’t tend to overwinter well…or at all, in pots here). I’m getting the itch to go out with a rake and clean things up, and then get started on all the “beautification plans” we have for this year. Even if we only get a fraction done, it’s going to look so much better and be so much nicer than it is now…I can’t wait to see what it looks like by the end of summer.

We went out looking for a mailbox last Saturday, but not just any mailbox. We wanted a large, nice-looking, sturdy metal mailbox, with some decorative elements to it (ie, not a big box store “box”, so to speak), so we drove out to a specialty shop on the frontage road. Unfortunately, said shop has closed up business and is waiting for liquidation auction scheduled for early May. We decided to wait and we might go out to the auction and see if we can get a nice mailbox and a patio set, if there are any up for grabs. It’s really too bad we didn’t go sooner. But who knew they’d go out of business? It happens so fast, and always makes me wonder what happened.

The other thing that made me wonder recently was running over two things as I was pulling into my parking spot for work yesterday morning: a nail brush attached to a lid, and a polish bottle. The lid/brush actually fared far better than the bottle, so I can tell you the polish was black.

Things that make you go “hmmm….”

 

Full Speed Ahead & Business Planning

The thing about newly (re)discovered skills is, there’s a certain amount of excitement in seeing just how far you can take them. The whole budgeting thing (and subsequent successes) have reawakened my love of building plans and organizing routines to help execute those plans, which is what I spent some time on last week.

My side-business, Brazen Snake Books (BSB), needs to make money. Or more than it does now, anyways. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, and how I could best spend my limited free time making that happen (without burning out/going nutso). There has to be a balance of producing new books and keeping the names producing those books visible, so I took a couple of hours last week and broke down some things I need/want to do in order to refresh old work and make it more visible/attractive, and also all of the tasks I need to do just to keep things churning business-wise. I went through and rearranged my before & after work schedules, and my late night free time to accommodate those tasks in the most logical and efficient way I could think of, and I built in some time for education and motivation too – at the beginning of the week when I need it most.

I made sure to leave enough time for writing – without new books, none of the rest really matters. And I took some time to think about what kind of books I want to write too, and which alter-egos/genres I want to focus on building. Those aren’t really market-driven…in fact, the main ones I want to focus on are the ones least likely to sell, so I’m making things hard on myself there, but I need to enjoy writing or there’s no point. So the trick will be making those not-so-great selling genres at least sell “enough”, to break even. Though I do have a few stories in the works for a more saleable genre as well.

I feel like I have a solid plan now, which is a good thing, and I’m starting to implement it this week. Adjustments will need to be made, of course, but I feel good about the overall outlook.

Now I need to email the city and throw myself on their mercy for letting my business license lapse several years ago. We’ll see what kind of fines they stick me with. Maybe it’ll help that I haven’t been making (or claiming, for that matter) any huge profits. We’ll see, I suppose.

So…budgeting: check. Meal “budgeting”: check. Business planning/organization: check. If I could just carry all of this over into the yard and gardens this summer, that would be awesome. Though I do tend to lose motivation to work outside very quickly when it’s hot.

Part of this week’s activities include finishing up the front cover wrap for the new release I have coming out on the 20th. It’s a kids book, which is so far out of my comfort zone to write it’s not even funny, but I decided to release it anyways just because I find myself wanting to write the rest of the stories in the series and see how it eventually ends up. I’m releasing it under a new alter-ego, Marie Yoch, and I spent most of last weekend putting up pre-orders for the book and an online presence for her (still not completely happy with the web site template and that banner is way, way too big! But it’ll have to do for now – marieyoch.com). I should get the formatted print file back later this week, and then I’ll need to upload it to CreateSpace so it will hopefully be available on the 20th as well.

It’s gonna be a busy week, but satisfying too, I think.

Oh, and did I mention over here that April is National Poetry month? I can’t remember, but if you’re interested, I’m reading a poem a week, and posting a short analysis of it on the BSB blog. If you read a poem and mention it and the author in the comments over there, you can request one BSB book for free. Join us, if you’re so inclined!

Budgeting Sucks (but Works)

Happy tax-month! Here in the US, April is tax time, and like a good little citizen, I did our taxes this weekend. Our income goes up (nominally) every year, and so does our tax bill. Thank goodness we have our mortgage interest and property taxes to deduct, or it would be even more painful.

In any case, it was slightly less painful this year as far as actually getting it done goes, because I managed to keep better track of my business (publishing) finances last year. And I could have written a lot more expenses off, but I didn’t, in order to claim a (very small) profit so the government won’t be tempted to downgrade BSB to a hobby (which would mean being unable to write off expenses for it ever again). Going along with everything I’ve been discussing for the past few weeks, this just underscores the fact that my business has been just sort of floating along while my head was all screwy, and now that I’m back to a much better “normal”, I really need to up my game and start promoting my books (not to mention publishing new stuff) so I can bump that income up, and at least break even with the business expenses (I’m not right now, obviously).

Stuff to work on. Better mental clarity seems to have helped with both motivation and self-control, so I’m feeling pretty good about being able to work on building BSB this year. And writing/publishing more books.

After I finished the taxes (Turbo Tax is awesome, BTW), I forced myself to go look at the budget I’ve been largely ignoring all week because I was very aware that I’d overspent. The interesting thing is, since I’ve started budgeting, I’ve noticed that even when I overspend, I still have money to cover it, and it’s just a matter of moving things around from one category to another. I have more flexibility, and I’m also less likely to overspend *too much* – I’m far more conscious of where and how I’m spending, so my indiscretions are less damaging. That was an unexpected side effect of budgeting (though it does make sense), but a very helpful one.

I still don’t *like* budgeting. It feels confining and while every budgeting guru out there will tell you that it’s “really not that much work”, for me, taking the time to sit and actually allocate my dollars and then taking more time to actually check in with the budget and reconcile my accounts *is* definitely a lot of work. Mainly because I have about a million other things I’d rather be doing than that. But as restrictive as it feels, it’s actually giving me a lot more freedom to be flexible and allocate dollars to things that I want to make priorities, like debt paydown and investing. Yes, I know. Today was not a good day on Wall Street, but that’s why I’m a long-term investor (and our penny marijuana stocks did just fine during this crash, thankyouverymuch).

Days like this make me think “flea market – yay! Let’s pick up some cheap stocks!” Then of course I sound like my mother when she says she bought a shirt off the clearance rack that she might wear one time because it was “only $2, and you can’t pass up a sale like that”. *sigh*

But I digress.

We were talking about budgeting, and how it sucks, but it works, and like most other humans on the planet, when I learn (or take up) a new trick, I tend to apply the philosophy to *everything* for awhile (until it gets boring). So, given that budgeting has helped with my finances so much, I’ve started “food budgeting” (read: menu planning) too.

I’ve tried just about everything when it comes to menu planning, and nothing ever works, because inevitably, I get to those days where I don’t feel like eating whatever I planned, and then I go “rogue” with the menu, and then the rest of the week is shot and there’s no point in planning the next week since I’ll just do the same thing…

Yes, I know.

I’ve tried pen and paper, calendars, digital planners, online menu planners with recipe books, and none of it ever “sticks” well enough. I think it’s mostly because I love grocery shopping (I know, who doesn’t, right?), and I love food, and I hate buying off a list made from a menu because I’d much rather keep a well-stocked pantry/fridge/freezer and be able to make whatever I happen to feel like having that night.

Only what tends to happen is I’m tired, or rushed (lunches especially), and I spend more time making the decision than actually cooking/eating. Therein lies the rub – I want my decision-making time back…or at least limited to the weekends.

In any case, budgeting money gave me the idea to try “budgeting” with my food. Which is backwards from most menu planning advice. Instead of deciding what to make and then buying the ingredients, I decided to just shop like I normally do, and then “budget” the food I got out over the week (or two weeks, or whatever). The main goal being, of course, to *use* all that lovely fresh produce I got before it goes bad, and also to use up what I have before buying so much new.

I’m only on the first week, and the second day, but so far, I’m feeling pretty good about it. I bought a menu magnet/board to put on the fridge, and made a menu for this week (lunches and dinners) after I shopped, keeping the fresh produce and stuff that’s been in the freezer longer than others in mind. We’ll see if I can keep it up, but last night, I actually remembered to get meat out of the freezer for dinner tonight – a meal we wouldn’t be having if I had to defrost meat right before, and also one we wouldn’t be having on a random, unplanned night, because it takes more time than normal (but I get off early on Tuesday nights, and earlier still tonight due to a dentist appt).

So, budgeting money, budgeting food…who knows what I’ll decide to budget next? I just hope that some of it sticks past the point where I’d normally be bored. That’s the true test of whether or not it’s a good system.

Are you a budget-er? What are some things you budget with besides money? Inquiring minds…

Gettin’ Organized, Stayin’ Healthy, Movin’ Forward

Super-quick recap: Magnesium rocks, hormones suck, and aging is hell on the body. Yes, I know I’m not all that old yet, but man…my metabolism decided to just go on vacation once I hit the late 30’s, and now in my 40’s I’m trying rather desperately to drag it back and get it under control. Annoying, but possible, perhaps. Now that I’ve gotten my supplements in line and my focus & motivation back (thank God), I’m weight lifting again, which feels really good, and hopefully will be the final piece in my “put your metabolism back to work” puzzle. I don’t miss much about my younger years, but a healthy, fast metabolism is definitely one of those things.

In any case, the whole “getting my focus back” thing has made me realize just how nutty my brain actually was for the last few years, and also how much I need to put some new organizing structures in place now that I can actually see the way forward again. Some of that is household related – budgeting, meal planning, restructuring routines, and some of it is side-business related – namely, publishing. I started wondering how I’d kept things going for so long in that ridiculously unmotivated mindset, and then I realized, I really haven’t. Which is probably why I’ve been having trouble keeping track of things with this latest release I’m trying to do. I needed to buy ISBNs, and kept forgetting. Had a huge struggle with cover art for a lot of reasons, but one was not having a clear vision of the series as a whole. And then getting formatting scheduled, leaving myself time for uploading and getting the print copy put together and the print wrap done and writing a blurb, getting a couple new web sites up and running for the new alter-ego….

I was sort of drowning in everything, to be honest. And I knew what I needed was something (paper, digital, whatever!) to help me manage my writing projects. I’ve needed something to help me keep track of characters, profiles and important scenes for a long time, and nothing’s worked long term, but while I was looking for project management software this week (and not really wanting to pay an arm and a leg for it after buying more ISBNs), I actually came up with something I think will work perfectly for me, both for publishing project management and keeping writing projects organized.

If you haven’t heard of mind mapping, go check out MindMeister. It’s mind-mapping on steroids, and includes notes, task lists and due dates, and is easily used by collaborators if that’s your thing. And then MeisterTask is a sort of companion program, and you can actually create a mind map, and then export the items into a MeisterTask list in order to have a very convenient and easy to organize “kan ban board” style of task list. And both the mind map and task list have email notifications, so you don’t have to keep checking the list for what’s next if you set deadlines right up front.

Not everyone’s mind works this way, but I tell you what – just using the free versions of those two tools got my latest publishing project organized in about 20 minutes (and that’s just due to the learning curve). I can’t see myself ever needing more than the free version of MeisterTask, and I may eventually pony up for the lowest tier of MindMeister just for the ability to print maps that I make for my series books.

Yes, I get excited about new organizing tools. I love them – always have. I’ve been using “You Need A Budget” (YNAB) for budgeting, which I both hate and love at the same time. I hate budgeting, period – always have. But I need to budget and get some debt paid down and just get control of my spending, so I’m forcing myself. It’s not always easy, and never actually “fun”, but it is working, so I’ll keep doing it. *sigh*

I really need to do the same basic thing with food – “budget”. I’m kind of a food hoarder, so I buy way too much, and then waste way too much. I also spend too much time deciding what to make on any given day for both lunch and dinner (except Mondays, when lunch is always burritos, Thursdays, when dinner is always pizza, and Fridays, when lunch is always…leftover pizza). I need to develop a good solid meal plan and dinner rotation so the decisions are made on the weekends, and I don’t have to think much during the week – just cook.

Note: the calendar software I have already has meal-planning capabilities, so while there are “sexier” programs out there, I’m doing my level best to use what I have. I think I may have the most luck though with a couple of simple menu boards for the kitchen. Sometimes low-tech is still the best way to actually get something done.

In that same vein, I may have just ordered some new cookware for one of my cousin’s online Pampered Chef parties. I have a small kitchen that is overflowing with Pampered Chef (and other stuff), but I managed to convince myself that new bakeware would come in handy.

So. Menu-planning to use food, and now to use/justify new cookware too. Sounds about right. Right?

Magnesium, Muscles & Motivation

For those (few) of you who were waiting anxiously (ha!) for this week’s post, my apologies for being late. We had a mild family crisis of sorts Monday night, which pre-empted my writing this. Crisis averted, so…back to normal.

Last week, I was talking about supplements. After some trial, error, research, and really uncomfortable hormonal shifts, I figured out that it was the magnesium bringing me mental clarity, and the calcium/mag combo had to go. I ordered some Magnesium/B vitamin supplements, got off the calcium, cut back the vitamins to half dose, and my head is clear and focused. All is mostly right with my world, or will be after a few weeks of adjustment. Magnesium is amazing, and also very easy to find information on. Google it, read bunches of stuff, and try it, if you’re so inclined.

The mental space and focus…man. Awesome. And as a nice little side “perk”, I’m finding it far easier to resist things that used to be very tempting to me, like donuts, cookies and breads of any kind. Even a week ago, I was drooling over muffins. This week? Saying “no” is no problem, really.

Which means I’m also sticking to my diet plan better, and between that and being motivated to work out, and work out hard, with weight training (which is really the only exercise my body has ever responded well to), the weight is starting to slowly lose it’s grip on my poor, tired hips.

I fell in love with weight training back in college, when I’d head down to the free weight room at the Y between lifeguard shifts and lift while I oogled the big burly guys. Weight training just feels good to me – the pressure on my muscles, pushing them to fatigue, and then getting that little adrenaline rush and kick of dopamine when you wonder if you’re going to be able to pull out that last rep and then you…just do it.

I’ve trained since then, but not often, and never with enough true stress to actually make much of a difference. My body tends to respond well to heavy stimulus, but not light – so while yoga in the morning keeps me limber, I will never build muscle. Same with pilates or cardio or any of that. It’s incredibly difficult to get my heart rate up enough for cardio to do any good.

So, just after the first of the year, we bought a set of dumbbells at Costco (really nice set). Last week, I went downstairs and between the dumbbells, the Total Gym (yes, the Chuck Norris thingy – it’s actually awesome as far as bodyweight trainers go), and running upstairs and back down between sets to check on Murphy, it was a fabulous workout, and also hard enough that I felt it for the first time in a long time.

And it felt good. Really good.

I think my muscles needed to be reminded of just how good it feels to work, and work hard. I was really looking forward to Monday night’s workout, and ended up skipping, so Tuesday night I finally got to workout again, and it felt awesome. Again. Better yet, I wanted to do the workout, and I felt motivated to do it. And that is something I haven’t felt in a very long time.

Motivation paired with focus is a magnificent thing.

So, less cravings, more focus, more motivation…fabulous.

During the first workout, there was lots of clicking and popping of joints while I went through my sets. By the second workout, just a few little token pops here and they subsided as the workout went on. I’m not lifting too heavy ( just 15 and 20lbs on shoulder raises), so they should strengthen fairly quickly.

Now if I could just convince myself to get a full 6 hours of sleep every night for the rest of the week, that would be pretty great.

On that note, I’m off to bed. Next week, maybe we’ll discuss budgeting. I’ve been doing that too lately. It’s both annoying and gratifying at the same time. Mostly annoying, but I don’t have an overdrawn bank account anymore, so there’s that…

Where the Body Goes, the Mind Follows

Everyone make it out of this past weekend’s bi-annual time warp okay? I like daylight hours well enough, but nighttime is when I feel most alive, so this is my least-favorite time change. But, I’m managing passably well, I suppose. Only six more months until my inner vampire will be happy again.

A few things about me that might be of interest before we start talking about supplements:
– My body is incredibly sensitive to supplements, vitamins, drugs, etc.
– My personality is such that I pay attention to and notice the *tiniest* changes in my body (yes, it’s annoying – I generally don’t share).
– I’m a control freak, and I studiously avoid anything that fogs my brain or slows my thinking for any length of time. That includes most pain-killers, psychotropic drugs, and large amounts of alcohol. I’ve been tipsy, but only had one hangover, ever, and I’ve never done any kind of street drugs or been “high” aside from the occasional contact high with friends or in concerts. My greatest fear is probably general anesthesia, which I wouldn’t even let a dentist use when he wanted to pull one of my teeth (I’ve had several teeth pulled, fully conscious, thank you very much). Yes, I have a high pain tolerance.

All that said, I am constantly studying herbs, spices, and various vitamins/minerals in order to try to keep my body running as well as it possibly can. And a very interesting (I think it is, anyways) side effect of this is what happens to my brain in the process. Depending on what I happen to be “experimenting” with on any given day/week/month, my thoughts can either be completely chaotic and have the texture of a bouncy ball, or they can be overwhelmed with anxiety in several different forms, or they can be calm, focused and downright serene about life. That calm focus is the goal, of course, but sometimes a new supplement or different percentages of things can screw that up almost instantly.

Toward the beginning of that whole mid-life “thing”, I started taking MSM because I thought it would help with…some aspect of my body (I forget what…it was several years ago, in my defense). I did all my research, and as usual, nothing mentioned anything about mental side effects. Just how great it was for so many things. So, as usual, I tried a quarter of the normal recommended amount first (because…sensitive). The first day, things were okay. The second, things were a bit weird. My body felt fine, but my thoughts were starting to race a bit. Still, I have my off-days like everyone else, so I didn’t think much about it.

Long story short, by the end of two weeks I was an anxiety-ridden mess, misinterpreting people’s actions/words (I’m normally pretty decent at interpreting people), and not interacting well at all due to all the weird and confusing thoughts going through my head. By then it was pretty obvious that it was the MSM giving me some sort of odd mental reaction, so I stopped it, and within a day or so, I was back to “mid-life” normal.

It’s kind of freaky how stuff like that happens. And if you’re not paying attention and keeping track of what’s changed in your life (for me, a new supplement), it’s very easy to miss the cause of such a quick onset side-effect.

In any case, I’ve taken a multi-vitamin for years, and during the mid-life thing I found that fish oil really helped to calm the anxiety in my head. I started taking it to balance out my cholesterol and get more omega 3’s in, and realized not long after that my thoughts were clearer. I stopped it for a few days to test, chaos returned. Started it again, and within a week, I was mentally more stable. I’ve made sure I am *never* out of fish oil since then – it makes that big of a difference for me.

I’ve tried a lot of things, with varying results, and I could share them, but the thing is, everyone’s body and chemistry is different, so what works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. Right now, I’m experimenting with new supplements that are made in Seattle to replace the basic Costco variety we normally buy. The difference is night and day. We have a calcium supplement, whole food vitamins for women/men (same basic mix on the label, just proportioned a bit differently), and new fish-oil tablets that are stronger than our usual.

I’m not gonna lie – it’s not all roses right now. There’s a fair amount of vitamin D in both the calcium supplement and the vitamin, and that tends to wreak havoc on my system (physically). There are a lot of other vitamins/herbs that have been blended together, and according to the company, they’re put together in specific amounts that should make all of the elements more bioavailable. Which for me, is basically code for, “These things are strong – start slow and pay attention.”

Of course I didn’t, because I’m trying to figure out if there’s anything out there that will help talk my body into letting go of extra weight (unsuccessfully). I just went ahead and started with half a dose of calcium, and a full vitamin dose. Which, predictably, made me physically miserable for a solid week until I backed off on the vitamins (cut to half-dose).

But, while my body was rebelling, my mind was doing something very interesting…like…nothing. My anxiety shut down, my thoughts calmed, I could focus without even really trying, and I wasn’t worried about much of anything – just like when I was younger. It was glorious!

When I cut back on the vitamins, the mental effect was still there, just not as strong. Which was disappointing. So now I’m kind of playing with the amounts of the calcium/vitamin supplements to balance out for my physical comfort, and hopefully once I get that figured out, the mental benefits will stick around as well. If they don’t, you can bet I’ll be breaking down those vitamins and figuring out what gave me that shining “moment” of serene relaxation again. Because that is the person I want to be.

All this to say…what we put in our bodies has such a huge impact not just on how our bodies work, but how our minds work as well. I’ve done so much as far as cleaning up my diet, and it’s still not perfect, but it’s pretty decent, overall. And I know I still don’t get the vitamin/mineral balance I need just from diet alone, so supplementation is an important part of my life. Naturally, as our bodies age, the things we need change, so it’s not really a “set it and forget it” type of thing – it’s something I pay attention to and tweak often, because what helps one day or week may not the next, depending on what’s going on.

Now, to sleep. I haven’t been getting all I need of that lately either, so I’m making a better effort. Except for tonight (Mon/Tues), so I can get this post out (since I have to be up early anyways). But the rest of the week, you can bet I’ll be getting my 6 hours in.

I wonder if those years of sleeping 4.5 hours a night contributed to my mental issues…could I have saved myself a lot of angst just by sleeping more? Something to ponder further, perhaps. After I get some sleep.

Finding the Calm

It’s late Monday night as I type again, but this week, we finish the mid-life crisis. Note that my head isn’t all that great with keeping dates and timelines straight, so all of this might not be strictly in the right order, but it’s all true, which is what matters, really.

In any case, we left off with my tattoo sleeve, and the story it started churning around in my head. The sleeve was finally finished late last summer/early fall, and by then, I was ready to start writing up that story. I was also coping much better with some of the feelings I’d been dealing with. I’d taken up archery (a year ago last month, actually), and faithfully went to the range once a week or so, and I’d also taken steps to ensure I could take care of “me” – which sounds so cliche, but I think that’s because we have to remind ourselves to do it so very often.

I started sleeping more hours at night (after reading a study basically condemning my brain to dementia or worse if I didn’t), and taking time for myself when I needed it. I was still doing a lot of thinking…some of it on paper, some just in my head, about the feelings and…”loss”, I guess, is the best way to describe it. Things that I simply can’t have or do because…well, because I chose/choose to prioritize other things. I acknowledged that I built the life that I have now, and I choose to stay in it for all the reasons that I am who I am.

There are things I still don’t want to accept not having/doing, and experiences I’m choosing to go without, and that’s just something I’m going to have to live with. But I’ve made a sort of uneasy peace with them that allows me to move on. To not dwell and obsess and drive myself insane trying to make it happen no matter the cost…because obviously, I’m not willing to pay that particular price.

Vague, I know. Like I said, some things are too personal for the cold light of public scrutiny. I suspect most who have gone through this same sort of process understand just what I mean.

And of course, I was writing again. Finally. Making time for one thing that I truly needed to get back to. I’ve since restarted Misty’s story, because part of this process was figuring out what kind of a writer I wanted to be, and where I wanted to go with my stories. I started Misty over because I figured out (20k words in) what kind of “presence” I wanted the book to have, and for once, I have an inkling of how I can give it that feel. So far, the rewrite is coming along well.

I decided to release the young reader’s book, under a different pen name (it’s coming out in April). Partially because I’m curious to see how it does, and partially because I’m still curious as to where my young treasure-hunter will end up, and I actually want to write the rest of the series.

Which brings us to the present. And me, on the other side of what’s commonly known as a “mid-life crisis”. But is it, really a “crisis”? It’s definitely uncomfortable and painful and there’s a certain sense of “mourning” that goes on, but now that I look back on it, it seems more like a growth period. A period of redefining myself, and balancing the “self” I was in my youth with the “self” I grew into as an adult. Part of that was stripping off some of the armor I’d put on for protection, and parts of that were embracing my “quirkier” aspects. Yet another part was acknowledging things I’d wanted for a long time but was afraid to really examine, and deciding if I was willing to give up other things in order to have those long-held desires. In some cases, yes, and in other cases, no. And for the latter, accepting my own decisions. Which is admittedly, the hardest part, and there are still parts of me that want to throw a temper tantrum like a child because I can’t have what I want…but that was a big part of the last few years. I’m over the whole tantrum thing. I’m increasingly able to just accept what “is” and move on, though I don’t think I’ll ever quite give up those desires completely. They’re part of me. A good part.

Which is okay. Accepting that there are some things I want and will never be able to have was a big part of this whole experience. I won’t say it’s all “good”, but it is “okay” now, and I can get past it.

Recently, I’ve completely switched up my supplements too, with the idea that perhaps something in my body isn’t “processing” quite right. I’ve been doing my best to lose some weight and its been doing its best to hang on tight, and after some research and reading, I picked out some super-supplements that I hoped would give my thyroid and adrenal glands some help in balancing everything out. I knew they would affect my hormones (any little thing does), but I wasn’t really expecting how much they’d affect my brain. In a very good way.

So, if you’re up for a little “better living through vitamins” talk…that’s what we’ll discuss next week.

For now, you can all be as grateful as I am that the “crisis” is over, the sun is out, and things can only get better from here!