Frugal Living

Facing Everyone’s (Secret) Greatest Fear

According to Forbes, more than half of all Americans are unhappy with their jobs.  For most of my career, I have been one of them.

Oh, I loved my first job for the first 5-6 years.  It was a mission, a calling, and I felt very confident and effective.  I knew that what I did made a difference, and I am still in touch with many of my former students from that time.  There are people who are reading this blog, because I taught them to read.

But around the 6th or 7th year, I began to love my job less.  With a newborn baby at home, I resented the time commitment.  Changes to the education field made the school environment much more cut-throat.  Yet I stayed there, because it was “secure.”  I said that I needed the income, so we wouldn’t starve.

I did leave, once I had secured a job offer across the country.  That job ended up being even worse, with more time commitments and a much more negative environment.  Yet I stayed, because we “needed the income.”  I needed to feed my family.

Job loss and financial stress are common reasons that people commit suicide.

Image result for poverty clip art

And yet, it is very rare for someone to starve to death in the US.  There are supports and safety nets designed to prevent that.

Poverty is the real fear.  People are torturing themselves, staying in miserable situations, because they are so terrified of being poor.  And tragically, people have even killed themselves, because they could not bear the prospect of poverty.

I knew there was a possibility of financial loss when I went on leave from my job on March 1.  However, I thought it was a very remote possibility.  I had requested assault leave, which I had been told could not be revoked, only discontinued if it was determined that I did not qualify.  And if that happened, I had a great deal of leave time saved up.

Carefully, carefully, I watched the calendar, until I thought I was safe.  Then I received an email saying that all of my assault leave was being revoked, and that my sick days would be applied, starting on March 1.  Additionally, since I had not taught a full school year, my leave time would be reduced.  All in all, I went a month and a half with no pay.

The docked time ate up our savings cushion, which was supposed to carry us through the early fall, after my paychecks stopped and before I started earning money through substitute teaching.  And I learned that getting started subbing was a much longer process than it had been 15 years ago.

My first day on leave, March 1, 2018.

The first thing I did was sign Iliana up for free lunches.  She’s gotten reduced-price lunches in the past, and the process is very quick and simple.  She was approved before the school year began, and this is saving us $80 per month.

After working on job applications, I filled out an application for benefits.  This was very eye-opening, and I learned that a great deal of the ideas people have about “welfare” are simply incorrect.  For example, to get cash assistance, a family of 3 has to earn under $200 a month, and their benefit will be somewhere around $200 a month.  It’s hard to live like a queen–or even pay rent–on that.

We’ve gotten help from an agency, so Iliana began her school year with a new wardrobe of lightly-used name-brand clothing.  I let her school counselor know about our situation, and Iliana will be picking out some more free clothing at Kohl’s next week.

Pride is the only reason for starving in the US, and we certainly are not.  We are in a transitional period, with supports that have allowed me to leave a traumatic situation and take the time to find a path for my career that is in alignment with my long-term goals and dreams.

This is the worst-case scenario.  This is what everyone is so terrified of.  This–our life–is what keeps people stuck in miserable situations.

It’s not scary.  It has taught me volumes about being a part of a community and taking care of each other.  It has taught me more about understanding and not judging.

I have taught in low-income rural America.  I have taught in the inner-city ghetto.  I have been through Ruby Payne training.  I thought I knew all about poverty.

Image result for poverty clip art

And yet the first-hand experience has taught me so much that I did not expect.

Here are some lessons I have learned from our time below the poverty line:

 1.  Most people receive “welfare” and don’t realize it.

Long-term cash “welfare” no longer exists, due to the reforms in the 1990’s.  Instead, we have a number of benefit programs aimed at helping the working poor and families in transition.  If you are in a lower tax bracket, the odds are that you already receive help from some of these programs, or have in the past.

If you have received the earned income tax credit or the child tax credit, you have received welfare.  Free and reduced school lunches, college financial aid, Head Start, rural housing loans, and subsidized housing also fall under the umbrella of “welfare.”

2.  It is not possible to be a “welfare queen.”

Benefit programs are designed to help families through tight times, and they can help fill in the gaps.  However, there is not a single program available that will allow someone to live like a queen.

I’ve already mentioned the limits of TANF, cash assistance.  SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, has very tight restrictions.  After a short period of time, recipients who are not unable to work (due to age or disability) are required to be employed.  SNAP is not an all-or-nothing program, as it gradually decreases as income increases.

Because TANF is so minimal and SNAP is income-based, it is not possible to be living high off the hog and receive assistance.  If you do happen to see someone pay with a SNAP card, then drive off in a Mercedes, you are probably seeing someone in situational poverty.  When you are temporarily experiencing “hard times,” it makes no sense to sell everything you own and replace it with less expensive things.  That hypothetical Mercedes driver will likely be in a hurry to get off of assistance and return to their former standard of living.

3.  Agencies are wonderful resources.

If you have a friend who is experiencing hard times, resist the urge to buy their groceries, and instead, offer to go with them to seek help from an agency.  Agencies can often provide more help than an individual can, and they come with pre-set boundaries.

4.  Don’t judge what we do spend our money on.

I’ve applied for assistance, but yoga and Weight Watchers are the first items I pay for each month.  Neither of these are luxuries for me.  Controlling my weight and receiving support as I recover from emotional eating is crucial to maintaining my health in the long run, and yoga is very important for the maintenance of my mental health.

If you would be fine with a person on assistance buying diabetes medication, then you should be fine with a person paying less for Weight Watchers.  If you would support a poor person paying for antidepressants, then you should also be supportive of a person paying less for yoga in order to prevent that prescription.

And also know that I don’t owe you that explanation.  Neither does the person in front of you in the grocery line, buying ice cream with their SNAP card.  Sometimes the occasional treat is necessary in order to maintain sanity.

5.  Receiving is a vital to being a part of the community.

I know a lot of people who pride themselves on giving, but have difficulty receiving.  Just think about this for a moment.  If you are willing to help other people but are too prideful to ask for the same help, are you not judging the people you are helping?  Are you not assuming that you are better than they are?

Receiving is a beautiful blessing, if you approach it with an attitude of gratitude, rather than shame. If you think that the people you help are deserving and worthy, then you are as well, when you receive help and support.

Receiving helps you to understand interdependence, and I think it has the potential to make us all more generous.  When I am working again, I know that I will donate to the food bank regularly, and possibly even volunteer.

6.  Generational poverty needs more support and understanding.

We are “upper crust” poor people.  I have a “story,” and it is one that anyone–even a strongly anti-welfare person–would sympathize with.   Rob and I grew up middle class, and while we have always been low-income since we’ve been married, our trip below the poverty line is going to be a short one.

However, we need to extend the same understanding to the single mother who grew up on assistance, got pregnant at age 16, and is struggling to make ends meet.  People who ask for help are quick to try and establish themselves as being in situational poverty, if that is the case, because our society is more understanding of middle class families experiencing hard times.

But generational poverty is every bit as legitimate, and the people experiencing it will need much more support than that temporarily embarrassed middle class family.  Nobody is career welfare anymore, and it will take a lot of support to help that single mother to break the cycle for her children.

7.  “Hard times” do not necessarily mean “bad times.”

In her song, “Hands,” Jewel (who has lived in a car) sings, “Poverty stole away your golden shoes, but it didn’t steal your laughter.”    There is an assumption that living on less means being unhappy.  This is simply not the case.

If you are grateful for the help your receive, rather than shameful, you will feel joy.  If you let go of any illusion of security and simply let life unfold, knowing you will be okay, you will feel joy.

A “welfare Christmas” is not necessarily a sad Christmas. We have a local thrift store that stocks unopened toys around the holidays, and we have surrounded the tree with those in the past.  One birthday, Rob excitedly gave me a multitude of presents rescued from the dumpster.

You can find joy, regardless of your financial situation.  Poverty is not a reason to be miserable, and the fear of it is not a reason to torture yourself.

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About Us, Boat

365 Days Ago, Today

When you live on a boat, there are milestones that you know are inevitable.

You will have pleasant things, like your first long-term cruise, your first time breaking hull speed, your first time partying with total strangers who are now your best friends, your first time seeing the stars without the light pollution of the city, and so on.

There are also unfortunate milestones, that come with the boating lifestyle.  Your first time running aground.  Your first time making port for repairs while taking on water.  Your first distress call.  Your first small craft advisory.  And, if you are living on the ocean, your first hurricane.

Rob and I frequently discussed that last inevitability.  We decided that it would be ideal if we could experience our first hurricane at our current marina, which is very sheltered.  We are on a very sheltered bayou on a lake that feeds into a bay that is part of the Gulf.  This would help us to be much more prepared if we encountered one while cruising somewhere else.  After talking about it, we decided, as a rule of thumb, that we would definitely stay if the projected wind speed was in the double-digits.  If it were in the triple-digits, we would play it by ear.

Since we moved to Legend Point, there have been a lot of false alarms.  We got all excited about Tropical Storm Bill, which dissapated and was nothing more than some rain and wind.

Image result for tropical storm bill we will rebuilt

While our friends were visiting from Michigan, everyone was getting panicked about “potential tropical storm Cindy.”  People were hunkering down after fighting for the last case of bottled water (yes, there were actual fist fights in stores!).  I checked the forecast and assured my friends that this was nothing.  Sure enough, it didn’t even rain for an entire day.

I was feeling a little cynical as I made my way out to my car for 6 am yoga on August 24 last year, during the suckiest first week of the suckiest school year ever.  One of our neighbors asked me if I was worried about the storm.  I laughed and said, “There is another one?”  He said, “Well….it’s heading for Mexico.”  Then he slowed his speech for dramatic effect, “But it might turn.”  I laughed and continued on my way.

After yoga, I made my commute down the freeway.  The signs all read, “Disturbance in the Gulf.  Fill your gas tank.”  This was unusual, but I was still skeptical.

At work, my department chair immediately asked all of us if we were planning on comiMy ng into work the next day.  I said I would, as long as I could make it through any flooding.  She said she was not planning on coming in.  We received an email from district stating that if we stayed home, it would cost us a sick day.

At lunch time, the department chair said that it was now a hurricane and they were talking about evacuation.  I was still skeptical, because she had alarmist tendencies.  Then Rob emailed me and said we needed to prepare that evening.

S*** was getting serious. I was walking home on August 23 last year, after another sucky day of the suckiest first week of school ever.  As I made my way to my pier, bottle of wine in hand, one of our neighbors asked

My day ended horribly, with me considering resignation for the first time of many.  I got home late, but as I pulled into the marina, I saw a rainbow in the sky.  Then my phone gave its notification beep, and I saw that school was cancelled for both Iliana and me.    I ran to the boat, excitedly proclaiming that something good had happened in my life!

Image result for hurricane harvey rainbow

We went to Walmart, with my prepping list that I had written at work.  I was thinking bagels, sandwiches, and Mac and Cheese.  After everyone had picked through everything, we got gluten-free bagels and bread, fancy organic meat, and Annie’s Mac and Cheese.  Fortunately, we had a water tank, so we did not have to fight over bottled water.  We waited in line at Spec’s, Texas’s favorite discount liquor store (which was already boarded up, but open and busy!), and we thought we had enough “hydration” to get us through the storm!

Part 1

The morning of August 25, 2017, Rob and I walked out to the aft deck as soon as we woke up.  A very dark, low-lying cloud blew over, and then the sky opened up.  It rained the rest of the day.

Rob went into work, and I was at home with Iliana.  We decided to keep her with us, since my parents were not evacuating.  They live in a mobile home on stilts, so we felt better having her on the boat with us, should there be high winds.

She chilled and enjoyed her day…

Yes, we were recently moved onto Loco Lobo, so we had not carpet or wallpaper. Iliana’s room was finished, but the main salon and aft cabin were not.  We slept on a Futon.  And Popcorn, our cat, was quaranteened to the boat.

The power stayed on all day, as the water rose from the storm surge.  I knew it would likely be cut at 5, so I washed a load of laundry and cooked a vegan lasagna.

By 5:00, I was unable to get off of the boat.

After the power was cut, Rob helped me get off the boat for a walk, and then he set up our alcohol stove.

I watched the water level throughout the day.

First this…

Then this…

Then, by 11:00, this…

The docks went underwater overnight, then the next morning, we got what I called “intermission.”  The rain stopped for an entire day.My parents came to pick up Iliana, and Rob and I decided that we really needed to make Harvey Wallbangers.  Unfortunately, Spec’s was closed and boarded up, as was every other business in town.  We returned to the boat, sure that the worst was over.

 

Before bed, Legend Point lost its first two boats, both unmanned.  Obsession was the first, and another followed shortly after.

The lake began receding before we went to bed.

Then it woke us up at 4 am…

Part 2

It was hard to take a picture in the dark, but the docks and most of the power pedestals were completely submerged, as was our dinghy.  I posted on Facebook, writing, “Helllllooooo, Harvey!”

In the morning…

It was during this time that we committed our first act of piracy on the seas.  Our dinghy had sunk, so we had no way to get to shore.  Since this was a potentially life-threatening situation, we decided to “borrow” the neighbors’ inflatable boat.

Rob put on an orange “camp snoopy” life jacket, jumped into the water, and boarded the neighbors’ boat.  He grabbed a large stockpot that happened to be floating by and used that to bail it.  We used that boat to get to shore for the rest of the storm.

Our dinghy, after we rescued it and dragged it to shore!

Rob made breakfast, then while he was at work, I kept myself occupied with cooking!

After work, Rob and I decided to walk to docks (he helped me get off the boat!).

For the next 3 days, our life was lived on the boat, with a once-daily excursion to shore.  We were advised not to walk in the flood water, but the grass was so infested with fire ants, that I always stood in the water while tying up the dinghy.  My feet were constantly covered in ant bites, which I lanced with a razor blade in order to stop the incessant itching.

Our pier had the only bath house that was not flooded, although it had no power.  Using my phone as a light, I took a shower everyday during our shore excursion.  The water was nice and hot the first day, but everyday it got colder, until it was just a cold shower by day 5.

More boats sunk everyday, all of them unmanned.  Altogether, the marina lost 6 boats.

We ventured out to our road, which flooded and receded everyday.  We didn’t leave the marina, because we didn’t want to be unable to get back to the boat.

By day 4, we were getting burned out, and I did what I could to make our lives less miserable.  Rob was no longer going into work.  Still, we were constantly wet.  I tried having one set of clothing that we would wear outside, so that our other outfits would stay dry, indoors, but that never worked.  I tried setting up a drying rack in the office area, but in the humidity, only one article of clothing ever “graduated” from it.

Facebook was jumping with stir-crazy Houstonians, and I had a few friends that I was chatting with constantly on Messenger.  The morning of day 5, I jokingly posted, “Today I think I will take a bike ride and maybe go out to eat.”

One thing that wore on everyone was the constant darkness.  No matter what time it was, it always looked like dusk.  The last time we saw the sun was the morning of day 1, before the clouds rolled in.

On day 5, there was a lot of speculation on Facebook.  Rumors were flying, that it was going to stop raining that night.  My friends in Michigan were insisting that the storm was predicated to come back through, and that we had a lot more rain coming.  I turned off my computer and created my own sunshine in my mandala coloring book.

“Here Comes the Sun”

Before I went to bed on day 5, I looked over the side of the boat and saw this:

And in the morning of day 6, this:

And finally, this!

 

By noon, we could see the docks again.

But our adventure was far from over.  Our power boxes had been submerged, so we were still without electricity.  My parents brought us some more batteries and invertors, and our living space looked very post-apocalyptic.

Rob was going back into work, and working extra hours to repair the damage.  He would bring a battery or two with him and charge it while he worked.

One of my friends let us borrow her Yeti cooler, which was wonderful!

Stores were beginning to open, with police officers at the doors, allowing a limited number of people to go in at a time.  There were long lines waiting to get in.  I was glad we were so well-provisioned, so that I could avoid this.

Two days after the storm ended, we had a yoga class.  The studio had flooded a little, but there was not a lot of damage.  With fans running to help things dry out, Cass led us through a restorative class.  It was a wonderful piece of normalcy.

Friends wanted to know how they could help, and I said that meals would be wonderful, since our cooking options were limited.  We were also unable to do laundry, since we had no electricity and the marina’s laundry machines had been ruined in the flooding.  Various friends helped me with that, and I even enjoyed an actual hot shower while doing my laundry at one friend’s house!

By the weekend, we needed a break.  On Priceline, I found a great deal at the local Extended Stay America hotel.  It may as well have been the Hilton!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We watched a Harry Potter marathon that weekend, which seemed to be especially fitting.

Back on the boat, the lack of air conditioning was definitely adding to the misery level.  It had not been hot during the storm, but afterward it was back to typical Texas August temperatures.  One day, I was determined to help someone who had been flooded out.  I needed the diversion…and the a/c!

Cass, my yoga teacher, had posted on Facebook that her son’s house had been flooded, and people were asking if they could help.  She posted the address, and Iliana and I made a beeline over there!  I was rewarded with air conditioning and was more than happy to help clean up sheetrock, while Iliana played with the kids.

School was cancelled the next week, but a martial arts studio held an extended day camp.  This gave Iliana some structure and got her out of the heat.

I was glad I had obeyed the highway signs and filled my gas tank, because it was a week before any gasoline was available.  The stores, which no longer had police acting as “bouncers,” were very poorly stocked.

Then, finally, on September 11, it was time to go back to school.

I wrote on this paper, “Harvey ate Iliana’s homework!”

Going back to work meant that I could do my laundry before school, in the machines in one of the classrooms.  I also kept water bottles in the freezer at work, so that I could bring them home and have cold water to drink.  I had to hurry home everyday, because Rob was working long hours, putting the marina back together.  After 19 days without power, he finished single-handedly repairing the electrical system.

About Us

Back to School!

September has always been my January.

One of my favorite aspects of teaching was that every fall was a fresh start.  No matter what had happened the previous year, September was a time to hit the reset button and begin anew.  I made resolutions–both personally and professionally–every fall.

So you can imagine the roller coaster of emotions that I have experienced this fall, since I am not returning to a classroom.  There has been grief over losing a huge part of my identity, guilt over the way things ended, fear about my next steps, and exhileration and optimism about my new direction!

The past few days, however, have been all about Iliana.  Last year was rough for her, with the hurricane interrupting things, me being gone until after she was in bed in the beginning, then me not going to work in the spring.  She was not looking forward to going back, so we have been working on putting a positive spin on things.

We began with a favorite tradition from my school days–a trip to the mall!

Of course, multiple trips on the escalator were involved.

Ili has a sizable wardrobe on hand-me-downs and thrift store clothing, but for her “opening day” outfit, we actually went to the Gap.  This was a new experience for me as well, since I have never been to the Gap!

You will see what’s in the bag later!

Then it was time for Dippin’ Dots!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, we were off to Claire’s to find that perfect accessory for Meet the Teachers night!

Unimpressed with the overpriced school supplies at the mall, we headed to Five Below to pick up a binder and some stickers to decorate it with.

Then, it was time for Meet the Teachers night!

That is Ms. Gomez, Ili’s favorite parapro, in the middle picture.

After meeting her new teachers and reconnecting with all of her friends, we met up with Jocelyn and Ava for some end-of-summer fun at the Kemah boardwalk.  Because when you live within walking distance of an amusement park, you have to go there!

And finally, this morning, it was time for Iliana’s first day as a fifth grader!

With her new outfit and Undertale backpack, she was ready to go.

 

The bus was running a little late, which was typical for the first day…

Iliana found ways to pass the time.

After 20 minutes, Iliana had given up, and I called the bus garage…

…Which, of course, meant that the bus pulled in during my call!

Iliana had a great first day of school, and she loved being in the highest grade on campus!

Do you have a little one heading back to school this fall?  How was your first day?

Uncategorized

OH HI

well… I just want to say thank you for the great story’s that you put there it means a lot to me thank you guys thank you

 

Note:  This post was written by Iliana.  I spent all morning wondering if my blog was hacked, when Ili started trying to stifle a laugh.  Her response:  “Well, you shouldn’t have left you laptop open!”

Minimalism, Philosophy

Thoughts on Minimalism

I identify as a minimalist.

I recently had my third post published on Miss Minimalist.  I wrote a minimalist blog for four years and developed a small but tight-knit community.  I have before and after pictures of our house when we completed the first Great Purge of possessions.  At one point my entire family of 3 owned 75 possessions.

Early in my journey, a well-natured relative joked that we sucked as minimalists.  This led to more manic purging of items.  “Minimalist” was a label I wanted.  It was a clique I wanted to join.  In those early days, I worried about whether various things I did were “minimalist” enough.

As I became minimalist, I also became more “crunchy.”  I became obsessed with my daughter owning a few, non-plastic toys.  And absolutely no electronics or cartoon characters!   (Except for her v-tech piano toy, which magically kept her occupied for hours!)

I had a capsule wardrobe.  But mine consisted of 14 items.  When I started working out, I bought 3 tank tops and 3 pair of shorts.  For the two years at the gym and my first year at Moonlight, I refused to buy separate clothing for yoga.   All of my books were electronic.

Fast forward to today.  I am now an “old” minimalist.  I have no idea how many items I own, although I do know that it is time to get better about decluttering 15 minutes everyday.  I own lots of yoga pants, because sometimes I go twice a day and don’t want to be stinky.  (And I work out in yoga pants too).  I have a weird 1970’s chips and salsa tray, because it’s weird and someone gave it to me.

Image result for 1970's chips and salsa tray avocado

And speaking of the 1970’s, I have a collection of vintage cookbooks from all decades, as well as the Good Housekeeping Housekeeping book from 1947!

Image result for the good housekeeping housekeeping book 1947

I have a full bookshelf and enjoy exchanging books with my friends.

So what does minimalism mean to me, after 8-9 years of practicing it?  And what lessons have I learned through those years?

Here are a few random thoughts about my minimalist experience:

1.  Question everything.

When you embrace minimalism, you question the amount of possessions we should own and the pursuit of the “American Dream.”  When you continue in this lifestyle, the questioning continues.  I have questioned and redefined my identity, my assumptions about myself, my living arrangement, my career, etc.  There is no reason to do ANYTHING, just because everyone else does it.

Image result for question mark

 

2.  Minimalism is a mindset, not a doctrine.

Minimalism is not a religion. I don’t do or not do something, just because it is “more minimalist.”  If I want to own a gazillion old cookbooks, I will!  It is not about counting possessions.  It’s not a clique that you need to get into.  Minimalism is about simplifying, so that your possessions, your home, your committments, and your relationships are all in alignment with what YOU want out of life.  It is about having the minimum that you need, of all of these things, in order to live a life that best suits you.

 

3.  There is no “graduation.”

I’ve been done decluttering before.  That “done” lasted until we needed to get rid of most of our possessions in order to move to Texas.  I never decluttered our apartment, because we didn’t live there long enough to accumulate clutter.  This boat, however, is in dire need to decluttering.  Because decluttering is a process you keep coming back to.  Examining your possessions, as well as your home, committments, and relationships, is a lifelong process.

Image result for graduation clip art

4.  Minimalism leads to other changes.

Ya gotta put something where the stuff used to be!  I have found that making one major life change eventually leads to more changes.  We decluttered our house, and in doing so, we questioned a lot of what society was telling us we needed to have and do.  Which led to me leaving my job and moving to Houston.  Which led to us moving onto a boat.  Which led to me quitting another job.  And so on.  Once you get brave enough to go against the grain, you become brave enough to take it a step further.  And another step further.

5.  Eventually people stop giving unsolicited advice.

Because eventually you stop behaving in a way that communicates that you are asking for permission.  Living counter-culturally becomes routine, and you no longer feel like you need to make a big deal out of it or defend it.  It has been years since anyone has given us advice or voiced disapproval.

Image result for unsolicited advice clip art

6.  You meet like-minded people.

Every lifestyle change we have made, has brought us closer to our tribe.  Our marina is full of live-aboard, who also own few possessions, out of necessity.  In my yoga class, I have also met a large number of friends who choose voluntary simplicity as a lifestyle.  At my Weight Watchers meeting, we talked about decluttering our homes, and I said that I spend 15 minutes a day decluttering.  The lady next to me said, “Yup!  That’s what Fly Lady recommends!”  Your journey will inevitably lead you to other people who are on the same journey.

7.  Possessions become less of a focus.

When we first embraced minimalism, our live was very focused on possessions: counting them and, more importantly, getting rid of them!  Even though decluttering is an ongoing process, we don’t think about being minimalists much anymore.  We just live it.  Our life is more centered around experiences and doing the things that we enjoy.  Minimalism is just more of a guiding idea that has become a habit.

So now it is your turn!  What surprising lessons and observations have you discovered on your minimalist journey?

Image result for rose clip art

 

 

About Us, Health

Weight Watchers on the Go!

We spent the past week visiting family and tying up loose ends in Michigan.

It was a week of changes and travel.  We flew to a hotel in Detroit, rented a car and drove to our hometown of Midland, spent 3 days staying in a travel trailer at my father-in-law’s house, visited with my grandmas for one day, drove 3 hours to Grand Haven where we cleaned out our old sailboat, spent a rainy night tent camping on the beach, drove 3 more hours to Buchanan to visit my brother-in-law and meet my new nephew, spent one night at their house, then drove for 3 days with our friends who moved to Texas, camping along the way.

Whew!

At my Weight Watchers meetings, we have talked a lot about vacations.  The consensus is that these are times to maintain, or even just try to minimize the weight gain.  It is perfectly okay not to track while on vacation.

This is all well and good, except that I had fallen off the wagon big time in the two weeks before we left.  I gained weight at two meetings in a row.  I was feeling anxious and lethargic, and I really needed to get back on track.  When I eat better, I feel better.

So I tracked everything I ate on this trip, enjoyed some yummy treats, and planned ahead for each scenario we encountered.  While this might not sound like fun, it actually helped me to feel better physically and mentally.  I kept a level head throughout the trip and had a much higher energy level than I have in the past.

I do not weigh in until Wednesday, so we don’t know the official end result.  But looking at my own scale, I lost somewhere between 2-4 pounds.

How did I have an amazing time, eat yummy food, and still lose weight?  Let me tell you about each scenario and how I handled it!

Friday: Flying Out

Rob and I discussed our meal plans for the airport, ahead of time.  We knew we would be eating there, since we like to give ourselves plenty of time to get through security.  I looked on the airport’s website and saw that there is a Chick-Fil-A there.  I had planned on ordering grilled nuggets, which are 1 point, but they did not offer them.  After quickly consulting my app, I ordered a grilled chicken market salad with no dressing.  This was 5 points, and it tasted amazing, even without the dressing.

For the flight, I packed my favorite 0 point snack–boiled eggs!

A quick tidbit of wisdom: If you are flying with a bag of boiled eggs, take them out of your bag when you go through security.  While they are not considered liquids, the scanner identifies them as such, which can lead to having your bag searched.  Of course the TSA agents found this highly amusing, as they had never encountered someone flying with a bag of eggs before!

Saturday: At the Hotel and On the Road!

We spent our first night at a hotel in Detroit, where we were treated to a continental breakfast.  I enjoyed 1/4 of the gigantic waffles made by the machine, for 2 points.  I also grabbed some 0 point fruit.

We then drove our rental car 3 hours to Midland, and we stopped at a grocery store on the way.  I bought provisions for my favorite on-the-road lunch: sandwiches.  We bought low-calorie bread (1 point per slice), light mayo (1 point per tablespoon), 98% fat free turkey lunch meat (0 points for 3 slices, 1 point for a full serving), and water.  I also grabbed some fruit, fat-free cheese, Greek yogurt, and ranch mix to use once we reached our destination.

Saturday Night and Sunday: Visiting and Cooking Collaboratively

We arrived at my father-in-law’s house in time for dinner, which was sloppy joes.  My stepmother-in-law and I always prepare meals together when I visit, so using the substitutions I brought was not a problem.  (I do have a rule that I will eat anything that is homemade when visiting, because cooking is an act of love). I used my low-calorie bread and kept my sandwich open-faced.  Ground beef is 4 points, sloppy joe sauce is 1 point, and the bread was one point.  I had been conservative in my point values, so I also had enough points to enjoy some 4 point potato salad!

My stepmother-in-law keeps a fruit bowl in her kitchen, and she said we were welcome to munch on it during our stay.  Whenever I was hungry, I nibbled on grapes.  We planned breakfast together and ended up having French toast (made with my low-calorie bread, so it was 1 point per slice) with homemade strawberry syrup (I made mine without sugar, so it was 0 points), and sausage (3 points).  The next morning, we had scrambled eggs (I used fat free cheese in mine, so they were 0 points) and sausage.

Lunch was, of course, sandwiches, and we went out for pizza on Sunday.  This may seem like an impossible situation, but I had one slice of pizza, which I ate mindfully and thoroughly enjoyed.  Then I finished my meal with a salad with no dressing.

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Yes, my high school mascot was the Chemic!

Monday: Conquering the Chinese Buffet!

I treated myself to an early-morning yoga class on Monday.  This got me some exercise, which I had been lacking, and helped me to stay positive and energized!

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After having eggs for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch, we headed off to visit my grandmas.  We spent a lovely time with my grandma Eileen at her house, then went to do some work at my grandma Misty’s house. (Her real name is Elaine, but I called her grandma Misty as a child, because I got my two grandma’s names mixed up.  Fun fact: “Elaine” and “Eileen” are both variants of “Iliana”!)

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When we moved to Texas, we left some items behind, and they eventually ended up my grandma’s garage.  Our mission on this trip was to remove these items and drive them back to Texas in my father-in-law’s truck, which we were borrowing.

But before we set to work, we needed to eat.  And we have a long-standing tradition of eating at Chinese buffets with my grandma and my Aunt Anne.

Yikes, right?  Nope.  Yum!

I began with hot and sour soup, for 3 points.  Then I loaded up on 0 point shrimp and vegetables.  I decided to have small servings and sesame chicken and General Tso’s chicken for 3-ish points, then used the rest of my points on Szechuan chicken (7-ish points) and half of an egg roll (3 points).  I left feeling full and satisfied, without going over on my daily points!

Tuesday: Rainy, Yucky, and Stressful!

Then Tuesday happened.  After a healthy breakfast of eggs and sausage, we drove to Grand Haven to work on Moonraker, our old boat.  In the summer of 2012, we had sailed Moonraker from Bay City, on Lake Huron, to Grand Haven, on Lake Michigan.  We had dry docked the boat with the mast down, planning on beginning the Great Loop the next summer.  However, we moved to Texas instead, and the boat has been dry docked ever since.

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We were determined to make this our last “working” trip to Michigan, so that meant that we had one day to empty and clean the boat, so that we could make arrangements for the marina to broker it.

The good news:  The boat was in remarkably good shape.

The bad news:  It was yucky and rainy all day.

I had hoped to make it to a yin yoga class in Grand Haven that evening, but the traffic we encountered on our trip to the store made that impossible.  We finished at 6:30 on the dot.  I had thought that the office closed at 6:30, but they actually closed at 6.  So we weren’t able to sign over the title.  We will do that by mail.

That evening we headed to our wet campsite on the beach.  I had made reservations when the forecast looked good, or otherwise, we would have stayed at a hotel.  We had found a tent in my grandma’s garage, which she said we could have.  The stakes did not take hold in the sand, so it drooped.

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That evening I was hangry!  Grand Haven was supposed to be the high point of our trip, and it was nothing but yuck.  We were not really able to enjoy one of our favorite port towns, from our sailing trip.

I didn’t make sandwiches for dinner.  I went to Subway.

Did I order a salad?  A low-fat sub?

Nope.

I got myself a pizza.  With extra cheese.  And not fat free cheese either.  Rob and I split a large bottle of wine.

And I tracked none of it.

Iliana, however, had a great time.  She played with the other kids in the campground and loved the sand.  We saw a lovely sunset over the water and watched the musical fountain, which had been a mainstay of our week on the seawall in Moonraker.

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Wednesday:  Visiting my Foodie Brother-in-Law

Wednesday is supposed to be my weigh-in day, and I had found a meeting near my brother-in-law’s house in Buchanan.  If we broke camp at 6 am, I could make it.

We broke camp at 8:30.

So I had no idea how much damage I had done, but my weekly points had reset.  I carefully chose a breakfast sandwich from Subway, tracked the points, and enjoyed the drive to Buchanan.

After finally meeting my 7 month old nephew, Will, we discussed our plans for the day.  We decided to make our own wraps before heading to a winery.  We were treated to a tasting, before settling on the most wonderful, caramelly tasting Pinot Grigio I have ever experienced.

Then we returned home for dinner and my brother-in-law made us very large, very delicious steaks, with mashed potatoes.  I finished a portion much larger than a deck of cards and enjoyed every bite.

Breakfast was the most wonderful biscuits and gravy that I have ever eaten, along with hash brown potatoes.  And orange juice.

By the time we left that morning, I had 0 weekly points remaining.  Yes, I ate them all in one day!  (And if the truth be told, I actually went into the negative by 18!)  I have no regrets.

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday: Road Trip!

After eating that breakfast, we hit the road, so we could meet up with our friends who were moving to Texas.  I bought fruit and boiled eggs for snacks (both are 0 points), and we ate sandwiches for lunch.

We camped in the evening and grilled turkey hot dogs (2 points) over the fire.  Breakfast was fruit over Greek yogurt, and I added a salad with my lunch that day.

Lots of water, lots of salad and sandwiches, and lots of fruit and boiled eggs.  Every morning, we stopped at the grocery store before we left.

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The trip was not without adventure! Luckily, the tire was quickly patched!

Friday night, we stayed at a campground with a fitness center.  I stepped on the scale in the evening, when I was full of water weight, and saw that I had lost 2 pounds!  I am excited to see how I do at my weigh-in on Wednesday!

Frugal Living

How to Have More Fun Flying

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I flew for the first time in 2009.  Iliana was 22 months old, and I was 31.

For our annual spring break trip to Florida that year, Rob’s parents had generously used their United miles to book all three of us on a flight.

Per TSA’s recommendation, we arrived two hours early, to the small airport in Freeland, Michigan.  There was no line for security, so we made it through in 10 minutes.  Ili delighted the agent with her cuteness.

My first flying experience was on a small connector plane that took us to Detroit.  Our flight attendant was a delightful man who was very excited when we told him that this was Iliana’s and my first time flying.  Right before we landed, he awarded both of us with printed certificates and stick on wings.

Four years later, we moved to Texas.  I have since lost count of the number of times that we have flown.

And yet, it has never stopped being fun for me.  And it should be fun for you, as well!  My mission today is to prevent you from becoming one of those downtrodden, stressed-out zombie-people in the airport.

So without further adieu, here is my list of tips for making air travel actually fun!

1.  Book like a true tightwad.

I used to think that flying was prohibitively expensive, but that was just because I was doing it wrong!  With a little bit of legwork, I can always find tickets to Michigan, that cost about the same as driving.

I start with Priceline.  This lets me know right away if any of the major airlines are having a special.  Then I check that against Google Flights, the airline’s website, and Spirit’s website to see if there are any better deals to be found.

If there are no special deals to be found, we can almost always get a good price on Spirit.   (That is what we are doing on this trip).  However, in the past we have flown on American and Delta for lower prices than what Spirit was offering.

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2.  Pack light.  (Ridiculously light, if you are flying on Spirit!)

There are many minimalist blog posts about the virtues of packing light.  I don’t buy it, for road trips.  Loading up the car is easy, and bringing things instead of buying them saves money.  When we drive, we pack everything but the kitchen sink!

On a plane, however, being less encumbered saves time, money, and hassle.  I detest having to deal with a lot of luggage at the airport, especially if there is a layover.  In fact, I only bring a carry-on bag if there is not a layover.  Otherwise, we check our baggage or pack everything in our “personal item” bags.

On the major airlines, you can bring a lot as personal items.  One time when we flew, we were allowed a bag, a purse, and a laptop bag.  We didn’t bring that much, because we didn’t want to be carrying it during the layover, but it did give us ample room for packing!

Another time, we did not pack any clothing.  Instead, I ordered lots of clothing for all of us from ebay, and had it shipped my relatives’ house.  This cost $25, so it was cheaper than checking a bag.

This time, we are each bringing one bag that fits the specs for a personal item on Spirit.  Since Michigan can get cold at night, we will be wearing our long pants on the plane.  Rob is wearing shorts and a t-shirt under his outfit, and Iliana and I are wearing pants under our dresses.

We have each packed three outfits, rolled up in our bags.  Other than that, our bags are packed with entertainment items and snacks. We did not pack any toiletries, other than a hair brush, Rob’s mustache wax, and an extra set of contacts for me.  It is easy enough to pick up shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, razors, etc. from the dollar store.  And much cheaper than checking a bag or a carry-on!

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3.  Get to the TSA line early.

Going through security stresses me out.  Not because I am afraid we will not be cleared, but because I am afraid that we will miss our flight, no matter what time it leaves.  So my trick is to get to that line ASAP.

If our flight leaves in the morning, we will have someone drop us off at a hotel with a shuttle the night before.  (Priceline is a great place to find a hotel.)  Otherwise, we try to get there 3 hours early.  We check-in online and print our boarding passes at home or in the kiosk, then get our butts into that line!

Then we plan on eating at the airport.  If the line went fast, we will sit down for a burger and a beer.  If things took longer than expected, we grab some fast food.  Usually, we get the sit-down dinner, which is very relaxed, because we know we will make it to our gate on time.

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4.  Don’t be in such a hurry to get on the plane!

Seriously, why is priority boarding a perk?  When you’re at the airport, you can use the wifi and walk around.  Once you are on the plane, you can not.  You don’t have to get on the plane until 20 minutes before it leaves.  We usually wait until the final boarding call, then wait to get in line.

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5.  Dress for the occasion!

You are riding a flying machine!  So dress up, already!

Be sure to take a lot of pictures and talk about how exciting that it is that you are riding a flying machine.  In fact, the dorkier you can act, the better.

Trust me on that one.

Note:  Iliana had a dress to wear, but it was PJ day at her day camp, and we forgot to have her change.  Pajamas are also an excellent option at the airport!