Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I'm Back!

If anyone is still reading this, I appreciate you sticking with me in spite of my Sabbatical. Hawaii was lovely. It is my intention to write about it before those little nuances begin to slip from my memory, but I believe that the tone of our Hawaiian trip will always be with me. I have had some remarkable vacations in my life, but this trip resonated with me in a particular way. I can't help but think that all the little ways we planned ahead and saved for it made it more significant . Because, of course, all those little things made us grow closer to each other and better able to communicate. Those virtues make any experience shared by a husband and wife sweeter. So soon I will be sharing the highlights of our trip, and in the meantime I will be expounding on Christmas, and why I've been silent in this online medium.

Last night Matt and I exchanged gifts. For anyone who thinks we were premature, I assure you: this is the longest we have ever waited to do this. And we didn't even start hinting and giving clues until last Saturday. It was not from lack of enthusiasm, so I proudly ascribe it to our increase in patience. And if that wasn't evidence enough that we are adults, yesterday I called and ordered a ham. I won't be cooking Christmas dinner, but I am certainly contributing in a grown-up manner!

Matt gave me some precious gifts. It's exciting to see our gift giving show evidence of our growing to know each other better. His gifts always speak of love and generosity; this year they sang of understanding as well. I was more confident in buying for him as well, and seemed satisfied with the results.

I've been busy recently writing on my novel. Every day I am less self-conscience muttering that phrase "writing my novel." It is important to take myself seriously as a writer. After all, I've been published on this blog fifteen times!! Although I have been directing my energies towards the Novel, I miss the sincerity and interaction of blogging. So I'm back. With intentions of documenting my growth in my relationships and writing (and my lack of growth in physcial stature and general rotundness).

Thank you for reading. Merry Christmas!

P.S. The picture was taken at the Greenville County Register of Deeds office. That little snowman has been with the county longer than any of us. He makes me smile, so I included him in my picture.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Weekend #10

Today is a crazy day. I was overwrought last night, and as I was stumbling into wakefulness this morning, I could feel that I’d been grinding my teeth in my sleep. Sweet Nicole at work brought me a diet Coke and I slurped it up with gusto. Now the caffeine is racing through my blood stream wreaking havoc on my customarily caffeine free nervous system. So I have clamped my mouth shut and am steering clear of social sites on the internet. Caffeine has caused me to carry-on conversations that keep me up at night squirming with embarrassment at the memory. Thankfully, I have a respite here at work with me. A friend has lent me James A Michener’s Hawaii to read before our upcoming journey, and it is a lyrical description of adventure and beauty. The physical book itself makes me happy because it has a worn canvas cover suggesting years of reader enjoyment, and on the thick spine Hawaii is written out in faded pastel Copperplate – each letter a printed in a different color. It is charming and friendly. Here is my favorite sentence from just the first page, “Agitated by a moon stronger then than now, immense tides ripped across this tremendous ocean, keeping it in a state of torment.” My jaw aches and there is squabble buzzing around my head, but I have Michener at my fingertips and Hawaii is only four weeks away!

This weekend was atypical to say the least. Matt surprised me by taking me to a bed and breakfast in Asheville. I’ve never been to a bed and breakfast before, and found the entire experience utterly delightful. Asheville was alive with the change in season. The morning air was undeniably cold and the trees were the colors of fire. I'd always considered the suggestion to "rediscover romance" to be merely a marketing device; I now realize the distinct benefit of spending time together far away from the day to day tasks of laundry, dirty dishes, and dingy carpets that seem to stare up at me accusingly. The room was white and clean and had a fireplace. There was a four poster bed and a goose down comforter. We ate at a Spanish fusion restaurant in funky downtown Asheville. The mountainous terrain and dated architecture give Asheville a unique feel. Matt mentioned that it reminded him of Diagon Alley and that he expected to see a flying car at any minute. And sitting in the restaurant, half undeground, the flash of headlights was well above our heads. I love how Matt is imaginative to relate to my poetic side but also gounded enough to keep me from overdosing on emotions. When we got back to our "cottage," we found chocolate covered strawberries waiting at our bedside table (courtesy of the romantic Mr. Collins). We ate them as slowly as we could in front of the fireplace.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Money-Free Weekend #9

"I'm a pack rat of sorts myself. Of emotions. Not so much with actual things." - Pushing Daisies

South Carolina has succumbed to autumn. The days are mild and the evenings are distinctly chilly; the vivid blue sky is turning grey, and the silky green trees are edged with red. I have traded in my sundresses for wool slacks, and I’ve tucked away my polo shirts and unfolded my sweaters to hang in the closet. Fall is upon us and Hawaii is only a month away!

Saturday morning began with a sharp dose of reality. Matt had to work, so I got up with him and helped him gather up all his stuff and kiss him goodbye. When I opened the garage door, I was abruptly reminded of our community garage sale. There were a dozen people standing at the end of our short (very short) driveway staring at me as I stood there in my ratty sweatpants and sweat shirt, my greasy hair piled on my head haphazardly. There should be some kind of law preventing strangers from being in front of your house at 8:00 am on a Saturday. If I wanted people to know what I really looked like I wouldn’t spend so much money at Sephora. After slipping Matt a discrete goodbye kiss, I slipped back inside where I debated between going back to bed or snuggling on the couch with Henry and watching Pushing Daisies. Henry and Pushing Daisies won, so we settled down on the couch and watched the Piemaker and the girl he calls Chuck solve the mysteries of life and death.

At 10:00, I packed Henry in the back of the car and headed out to pick up Lucy. Lucy is the two-year old daughter our friends Nathan and Holly. Nathan is Matt's best friend, and Holly and I are fortunate enough to get along as well. Lucy is delightful, and I'd been wanting to have a play date with her for a while. It finally worked out that Holly needed someone to watch her at the same time that I was free to do so! Lucy came out dressed in a green sweater, blue and green flowered pants and matching green and blue striped glasses. I generally have a rule that children in my presence can not be better dressed than I am, but I made an exception for Lucy. We stopped at Liquid Highway to get some lattes for the adults, and then met Beth at the dog park downtown. As we made our way from the parking lot to the dog park (all the while trying to juggle two lattes, a pug, a dauschund, and a two year old), we passed some volunteers planting. One of them called out to Lucy, "I like your sunglasses," so she stopped and twirled for them and announced, "I have a 'pack-pack' too!"

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Money-Free Weekend #8

I have not posted here in a month. We have been continuing to save money and live our weekends to the fullest we can, but I’ve become too distracted living life to write about it. September has been beautiful in South Carolina. The humidity vanished and the sunshine remained. The sky burned bright with that blue that September seems to have some kind of special monopoly on. Every evening when I got home from work, the wood floors and pear colored walls in our house glowed comfortably in the lazy sun beginning to slip into evening. We loaded up on Asian pears, and I’ve made buttery pear cakes that we ate with hot coffee. We’ roasted asparagus, caramelized cauliflower and boiled new potatoes and then dressed them in olive oil and yogurt. I don’t want to place too much emphasis on my feelings or risk taking myself too seriously, but I think I have manage to shake of this bout of restlessness and discontent.

This past Saturday we woke up in Atlanta. We had gone down Friday night to help my accomplished sister Rebekah celebrate the successful completion of her CPA exam. Daddy paid (read moochers), and Matt and I stood nearby to let some of the fruit of her labor rain down on us as well. I always enjoy staying at my sister’s Atlanta townhouse. It’s like staying in a boutique bed and breakfast where you are the only guest, and you are related to the proprietor. She has the poufy guest bed with soft sheets and a fluffy duvet that is perfect for burrowing when you don’t want to face the sun. The room also has a unique alarm clock in the way of her birds who will sing you into wakefulness if you continue to ignore the sun. Her shower has thundering water pressure and her towels are like big velvety blankets. Then of course, there is her wardrobe which I like to scavenge through and her array of makeup that makes Sephora’s sample tables look stingy. Rebekah brews us lattes and makes us food. It is truly lovely.

We didn’t leave as early as we had planned (see above description of blankets, makeup and lattes for explanation), but were able to tear ourselves away in order to be home not too late after lunch time. I immediately jumped into organizing mode. Atlanta is not only home to the largest aquarium in the world and Coke; it is also home to The Container Store. I have been eyeing Rebekah’s nifty containers for quite some time and gradually made my way to their website, but this was the first time I was coming home with Containers of my own. When I was in junior high/high school, my mother’s nickname among their friends was “the Tub Lady.” It seems I am not impervious to the inevitable fate of turning into my mother. Matt had given me a budget and I was seventy cents under! That takes skills. Loaded up with my bins, I organized all the bathroom drawers and under the sinks of both bathrooms. Inspired by my own organizing prowess, I also cleaned all the surfaces and mopped the floors. I stopped short at vacuuming, because I consider it the most unromantic of all common household chores. How can you escape into the world of Jane Eyre on your headphones or pretend that you are Marie Antoinette in prison if you have to maneuver a huge plastic sucking motor around your carpets? Matt is not, however, hindered with these sensibilities and stuck his head around the corner to ask, “Are you going to vacuum?” Translation: Please vacuum; the carpets are dingy, darling. I decided that vacuuming for Matt is almost romantic, and obliged.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Black-Out Weekend #1

In retrospect, I really wish I had named this a "Frugal Weekend Project" or a "$20 Weekend Project;" but it's too late now. The "money-free" aspect is an illusion. It seems no matter now carefully I fill up our gas tanks or load up on groceries on Friday nights, we still spend money. This weekend, my supportive, deeply committed husband was beginning to feel the pressure of my project. No man works hard all week just to be told that he can't spend any of his loot on his two days off. Additionally, my sister had suggested having a monthly "Black-Out Weekend" in which we did what we wanted and spent what we wanted without feeling the need to share it with the virtual world. As she pointed out, there is nothing wrong with occasionally spending the whole day in bed and then getting up and going out for an expensive meal. And that's hardly something anyone should be blogging about. So let us draw a curtain across this weekend's money-spending dubauchery and focus our attention on other matters.

I had originally planned to do a special post on sugar-free recipes, but Matt encouraged me to spend the time on my novel instead. It has been slow going! I struggle with getting the ideas down on the paper in a rough draft form. It is too tempting to edit just one page to death without never moving on to the next page. The extra two hours afforded by not blogging afforded me three pages of novel! However, next weekend will be another fabulous frugal weekend, and I can't wait to write all about it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Money-Free Weekend #4

Last weekend was so busy and full, that this will be only some of the highlights. Matt, the hard working banker, had to put in a half day of work. I kissed him goodbye and then did some cleaning. The whole time wondering, how does the house get so dirty during the week? We hardly spend any time in it! At 9:00, three of my girlfriends showed up for a money-free spa party. I asked everyone to bring something for breakfast and some spare spa and bath products. I organized the products on the counter and made a little gift basket of samples I've seemed to accumulated over the years. We soaked our feet, and gave ourselves manicures. Then we ate a delicious healthy breakfast. It was as much fun as the spa, and much cheaper. Not to mention, I got my bathroom closet cleaned out in the process!

When Matt got home he changed and we ate lunch. Then we packed up our camera and headed up to Ceasar's Head. When we go there, the parking lot was under construction. We weren't sure we'd be able to make to the overlook, but we asked permission to cross the construction site. Two rangers came out to watch Matt, Henry and I struggle up the sandy hill. Every once in a while they would call out a suggestion. It seemed to take a very long time to cross that parking lot. It was a hazy day again, but we still got some breathtaking views of the mountains. And our plant pictures seem to benefit from the overcast conditions. We experimented with different settings on our camera and tried to take pictures of all striking plants we saw on our hike.

We started driving back down the mountain just before the rain that had been threatening all day poured down with vengeance. On the way home, we stopped at Walgreen's to get some of our pictures developed. It was still pouring rain, so we got absolutely drenched getting out of the car. We squeaked our way through Walgreen's, and took about twenty minutes trying to figure out how to use the picture developer thing. While our pictures were being developed, we ran over to the grocery store where I had to pick up some apple cider vinegar ($3). Then we went to pick up our pictures and got, if possible, even more wet. We were very happy to get home and get in some dry clothes. After dinner we finally got a start on our nature journal. We had a journal we'd purchased when we were dating but never used; so with that and all my scrapbooking materials, all we needed were our pictures ($7). We pulled out some field guides and started to identify some of the things we'd found. Right before going to bed we watched a movie we'd been wanting to see for a while.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Money-Free Weekend #3

Last weekend was busy, sweet, and everything I hoped to get out of this project. For a while I’ve wanted to get up early to watch the sunrise together. Matt thought it was a good idea, so we set out alarm clock for 5:00 (sun rose at 5:56 am last Saturday) only half believing we’d actually get out of bed that early. We woke up easily enough when the alarm went off, so we got up and made our way out to watch the sunrise. Matt was all ready for the day, but I stayed in my pajamas. Our sunrise plans were hindered a bit by a heavy fog, but the mountain forests were eerily beautiful in shades of gray and green. We drove up the mountain until suddenly we drove out of the fog and the sun shone all around us. When we rounded a bend, we caught a glimpse of Greenville that took our breath away. Down below the mountain Greenville was covered in a swirling white cloud with just little green peaks of baby sized mountains peaking through the top. Matt swung the car around so I could see it again. I stared at it until a car came up behind us and we had to start moving back down into the fog again. The sun was up in earnest at this point, and the fog glowed in its light.
Matt asked me if I’d be interested in going to Stax Original for breakfast. It’s a local restaurant with a bit of a diner feel that Matt and I used to frequent when we were dating. At first I obnoxiously pointed out that going out for breakfast would completely defeat my attempts to be money free on the weekends, but the look on his face reminded me why I’d allowed a $20 exception for the project. I was still in my pajamas, but Matt assured me that it wasn’t obvious. I certainly hope that was true since we saw about a dozen people that we know. Breakfast was perfect. And it only cost $7. There is something so satisfying about sitting in a booth sipping coffee out of ceramic mugs while ceiling fans spin the scent of bacon, eggs, and pancakes around your head.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Money-Free Weeeknd #2

Before heading off to work this morning, I had to say goodbye to my parents and my three youngest siblings who have been visiting us this week. Since leaving for college nine years ago, my time with family has always been marked with relative brevity and goodbyes. It doesn’t seem to be getting any easier to say a meaningful “goodbye” or to translate my love into a parting hug, although the tears have decreased between my freshman year and now. I am so grateful that they put the time and effort into visiting as frequently as they can. One of my sisters lives in town and another sister lives two hours away, so they are able to fit many visits in one trip. This visit they also extended trip down to see some friends on Hilton Head Island. They left Thursday and had intended to return Friday night, but Matt and Dad put their heads together and proposed that we drive down Friday night, stay with them, and spend Saturday (Matt’s birthday) together at the beach. My mom’s first response was to ask, “What about the money-free weekend?” I am flattered that at least one person takes this so seriously, but I figured I would just do a special “mooching” edition of Money-Free Weekends and enjoy my weekend at the ocean.

Hilton Head Island is my favorite place in the world. I love the salt-marshes busy with frisky fiddler crabs watched by unmoving snowy herons; I love the sea food prepared fresh by unpretentious cooks; I love the bike and running trails that stretch on for miles and miles shaded by trees and dotted with “Don’t Feed th
e Alligator” signs. Most of all I love the beach. The grey waves of the Atlantic sweep in and out of the white sand which at low tide is packed as hard as concrete. At Coligny Beach there is a wheelchair mat laid out from the boardwalk to the water line. Matt can wheel down the beach as easily as he maneuvers the bike trails, and we can take walks down the beach hand in hand as naturally as anyone else. Our preceding times in Hilton Head were in the off season when the beaches are nearly deserted. We make our way down the beach hand in hand until we come to a small pools skimming rippled sand where Matt looks for orphaned sea creatures to throw back into the ocean and I read a book until he’s saved all the ocean life he can and is ready to move again. This was our first time being there in the summer, and there was a drastic difference. I still loved it, but I loved it with about three thousand more people.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Money-Free Weekend #1

In anticipation of our first money-free weekend, I went to this recommended website for ideas. There aren't any ideas listed for Greenville, but I did discover information on free botanical gardens in Clemson. The project was born partly out of my own discontentment and partly out of seeing the restlessness of my husband who often complains on Sunday nights, "We didn't even do anything this weekend." It's taken me almost three years to figure out that "doing something" means being outside. Matt's interest and knowledge about nature and wildlife always makes our time outdoors more enjoyable. I love seeing and learning from his enthusiasm. Anything that we can do outside is guaranteed to be healthy for us physically and emotionally. A day spent exploring botanical gardens and nature trails seemed like a good starting off point of the project.

Saturday morning, the alarm went off at 7:30. However, after turning off the alarm, Matt pulled me over next to him, and I didn't resist falling asleep again with my head on his shoulder. Sleeping is, of course, a money-free activity and was perfectly appropriate for the weekend. When we got up around 8:00, we filled up on Little Red Wagon granola, which Matt informs me is "man granola," and got ready for the day. We got to the South Carolina botanical gardens around 10:30. After a few false attempts to find the parking lot, we parked in shady spot from whence many winding paths led off into sunny parks and woods. We gave our little pug dog some water, and set off. Right off the parking lot is a park with a big red caboose. I now want my own. We couldn't go inside, but Henry and I peered in the windows, and it is all set up with a little table, chairs, a bed, and homey curtains. The way I imagine it would be living in a caboose is, I'm sure, more romantic than realistic, but it was fun to imagine.

There are paved paths all throughout the gardens. The twists of the paths and the groves of trees make it impossible to see where each path is leading, making each path a possibility. All along the paths are greenery and flowers arranged in a way that shows craftsmanship but suggests happenstance. And I finally understood the appeal of hostas which were ubiquitous throughout the park. Just looking into the gentle green of them made us cooler. Waterfalls flowed into duck ponds which we knew were man made. but we pretended they were natural. We saw very few people in the park, which made the experience even more our very own.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Perfectly Normal Human Being

How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being. - Oscar Wilde

I love my husband. He is funny, smart, loves God, and loves me. Nobody can make me laugh harder than he can. Last night he was on the couch and he pulled me into his lap. I wrapped my arms around him and put my head on his shoulder. He squeezed me tight and said, "I just love it when you're right here like a blanket...a very thin blanket."

Last night we started working on one of my projects. My amazingly talented sister Christina makes beautiful multimedia artwork. When she was describing them to me, I realized that this would be an excellent way for me to deal with a problem I've been pondering for a while. I have wonderful memories from college, as well as some beautiful letters and mementos. Presently, however, they are all just sitting in a box under our bed. Every once in a while I pull this box out and read through some of the cards; the words of affection and encouragement are as effective now as they were when they were first written. However, I don't like keeping them somewhere I rarely see them, and the master of the house doesn't like anything being kept in boxes under beds. Christina's mutimedia projects seemed like the perfect way to preserve and display some of my best memories.

Last night I went to Hobby Lobby and purchased a small canvas for $4. Other than that , I used only things that I had already at the house. Matt helped me go through my Martha Stewart magazines and find some pretty things to use in my collage. (Christina tells me that it isn't a collage, but mine is still at the collage level). I didn't want to cut up any of the articles, so I only cut up advertisements. Matt found the cutest little cartoon drawing of some pink owls in an ad for Las Vegas and I cut out some trees from an ad for soybeans. Then I put all this together with a picture of my neice McKenna. I was hesitant to use a photograph, but I'm supposed to be living more courageously and this seemed like a good place to start. I haven't finished yet (photos to come when the project is complete!), but it felt good to create again, make use of that picture of McKenna (which, ashamedly, has been in box), and do it all with Matt - who apparently is as talented at spotting owls in advertisements as he is at spotting them in the wild.

Tomorrow begins our first "money-free" weekend. Tonight I'm going to the grocery store to stock up on food. We might be bored, but we won't be hungry!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Letter to the World

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,--
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me! - Emily Dickinson

There is something rather eerie to me about clicking on the "publish post" button, and sending my words out into the world wide web. In fact, blogging has always been vaugely unsettling to me. For one thing, my fear of writing is always that no one will want to read what I have to say. Secondly, there is something just a smidge egocentric about blogging. As someone who struggles with self-centeredness already, I don't need to set myself down a path of making it worse. However, I believe there is nothing wrong with writing because you want to even if no one reads it. Also, I know my mom will read it, and I can coerce my sisters to read it as well. My dad will likely read if for no other reason than to make snarky comments about my being a "cheapskate;" I prefer to think of myself as frugal. And as for making myself more self-absorbed, I am determined to blog responsibly and with accountability. I am asking mom, dad, coerced sisters, and anyone else who reads this to (privately) call it to my attention if my blogging ever becomes obssesive or down-right obnoxious. I hope it will never be necessary.

On to other things... (hopefully this blog will help me improve my segues)

The Greenville county library system is really fantastic! Until recently, Matthew has asked me to refrain from "borrowing" books due to my propensity to return them late and incur penalties. He figures (logically as ever) that if he's going to spend money on his wife's book obsession that we might as well have something to show for it. However, with our money saving becoming more intense, the library was really the only way for me to keep up with my reading. After promising to diligently return/renew all library books in a timely manner, I got permission to start borrowing again. The library website is extremely helpful and easy to use. Not only can you renew books online, you can request books, have them put on hold, and specifiy which the location most convenient for your pickup. Contrary to my childhood experiences, the librarians are actually friendly and helpful. And the downtown main library has a lovely little café that serves healthy, affordable food. It's halfway between my office and the church were my friend Beth works so we meet there twice a month to pick up (and return) our library books and eat some lunch. Last week they had a delicious whole wheat pasta dish. I have been hungry for it ever since, so last night I finally made up my own copycat version. It turned out great! Not only was it sugar-free, but Matthew loved it and told me to put it on the "make-again list." I am including the recipe here, but I can't post pictures of it because 1) we ate it and 2) our camera isn't working. I realize, therefore, that it is unlikely that anyone will actually make the pasta from this recipe. I personally never make a recipe if I don't first see a picture of it.

1/2 lb of whole wheat angel hair pasta
1 cup asparagus chopped into 1-2" pieces
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 pound of shrimp, peeled
1/8 cup + 1 TBSP olive oil
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
fresh cracked pepper

1. Cook and drain pasta according to the instructions.
2. Meanwhile, in a small frying pan, sautee aspargus in 1 TBS of olive oil for 2 minutes.
3. Add tomatoes and cook another 2-3 minutes; season vegetables with sea salt and pepper to taste.
4. Add shrimp and cook until cooked through and pink.
5. Toss vegetables and shrimp with cooked pasta, olive oil and parmesan.
6. Top with extra cheese and fresh cracked pepper.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Lady Engaged

"An engaged woman is always more agreeable than a disengaged. She is satisfied with herself. Her cares are over, and she feels that she may exert all her powers of pleasing without suspicion. All is safe with a lady engaged; no harm can be done." - Jane Austen.

It is unfortunate that a happily married, middle-class, employed woman would find herself disengaged and disatisfied; nevertheless, I have. In spite of the education bestowed on me by those wiser than I, the affections lavished upon me by my husband, and all the other countless blessings in my life, I am, in fact, bored. However, it turns out that if you Google "things to do" you can find some excellent suggestions including this helpful
post. In reading said post, I realized that these are activities I should already be engaging in - organazing the closets, decluttering the house, volunteering in the community, spending more time outside etc. Matthew and I are also working on saving money for our trip to Hawaii.

Thus the challenge: enjoy money-free weekends from now until our trip in November. To preserve the sanity of my husband, a few exceptions will have to be made. I will allow myself $20 a weekend for "emergencies." Any money not used one weekend can be carried into the next weekend. However, my main objective is to live fully with as little expense as is possible. My weekdays will be spent at my satisfactory if somewhat unchallenging government job, my weekday evenings will be spent cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and snuggling on the couch; and my weekends will be full of engagement at little to no cost! Then, as Jane says, "No harm can be done!"
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