How to Be Broke: Introduction (and an update!)

Hello, folks!

It’s been awhile.  This summer has certainly flown by, and it has brought with it a fair amount of challenges.

Our kitty, Popcorn, playing with her best friend, Mikey.  They're kind of like Milo and Otis.

Our kitty, Popcorn, playing with her best friend, Mikey. They’re kind of like Milo and Otis.

In late June, we bought Morning Mist, which gave us some much-needed space.  I’m not going to lie–Breaking Tradition was a little TOO minimalist for me!  I’m glad we did it for a year, but sharing a twin mattress was aggravating an old shoulder injury.   I was so happy to sprawl out in our full-sized v-berth on Morning Mist!

Beanie's birthday party.  Her teacher said it was the social event of the season!

Beanie’s birthday party. Her teacher said it was the social event of the season!

Having a HUGE fridge, an oven, and hot running water has also been amazing.  We’ve even got a shower on the boat, which makes washing Beanie’s hair much easier.

Making green eggs and ham!

Making green eggs and ham!

Then end result.

Then end result.

After we made our move, we stayed on Morning Mist in its slip on West Dock.  We had until August 1 to find a new home for Breaking Tradition, so that we could move Morning Mist into our slip (and not have to pay for two slips).  We had a buyer lined up, so we felt confident heading up to Michigan for our annual trip up north to visit family.

Tropical storm Bill added some excitement to our moving experience.  There was flooding, but not much else.

Tropical storm Bill added some excitement to our moving experience. There was flooding, but not much else.

We tried our best to keep our Michigan trip low-budget, because we owed money to three different parties, in order to buy Morning Mist.  We would be making our first payment after getting back.

Beanie rode her "glide bike" in the fourth of July parade.

Beanie rode her “glide bike” in the fourth of July parade.

Of course, the universe had other plans.  The axle bushings on our car went out while we were up north, so we needed to spend a great deal of money fixing it.  Luckily, it was work that Rob could do, even if we did end up setting the axle on fire in his dad’s driveway!  (We had to, to burn out the old bushings).

So it all went smoothly, right?  Wrong!  On July 31st, the buyer, unfortunately, had to back out.  So we had to pay double slip fees, and we had to get some payments to the people we owed.  And still find a way to eat.

Hanging out with Grandma on the 4th!

Hanging out with Grandma on the 4th!

The good news is that it turns out that Houston is a great place to be broke.  We have eaten well and kept ourselves entertained.  Things will continue to be tight, probably until Christmas, but to good news is that we are making progress toward getting everybody paid off.

And, of course, the experience has been educational.  It’s been a boot camp in how to stretch our dollars, whether we’ve been buying groceries, looking for things to do, or maintaining things at home.  And over the next few weeks, I will be sharing the lessons I’ve learned, with all of you.

Chilling with Grumpa in Michigan.

Chilling with Grumpa in Michigan.

Being broke doesn’t mean that you have to eat beans and rice and sit around at home.  I look forward to sharing some of my strategies with you, so that we can all live frugal, fun lives.

Lessons from the Journey

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During the time that I call Last Winter (the winter of 2012-13, spent living in the basement of our old house), I shared a great deal with you, about my journey and the challenges I faced.  I continued to share with you during our move and adjustment to our new life in Texas.

But what you don’t know is that the journey has continued since then.

I’ve been working very hard, for nearly two years now.  My journey began when one of my readers called me a Linchpin,and I would like to share with you the places it has taken me since then.

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Here are some things I’ve learned in my travels:

1. Reality is a very simple, painless thing.  If you’re experiencing anything other than that, it’s not reality.  When I read Linchpin, after being told that this term applied to me, it brought to light so many assumptions I had held about myself–so many limiting beliefs.  That was what started my journey.  I realized that I was not what I had thought I was.  I’ve since learned that anything that causes fear, anything that doesn’t “feel” good, is based on misunderstanding, not reality.

2.  Willpower is not the answer.  Like flowers turning toward the sun, we all are always turned toward the light.  We want to do what is “right,” and we are always trying our very best.  If we’re stuck in a “bad” habit, then there is a misunderstanding or a reason why.  We need to look deeply at that, and figure out what is preventing us from doing what we’re trying to do.  Forcing ourselves to do anything, ultimately won’t work.

3.  Your mind is likely stuck in a loop.  I had the same patterns coming up over and over again.  I thought I was unworthy.  I thought I couldn’t handle the intense fear I sometimes felt.  It was the same messages, over and over.  And the solution lie in redefining those messages.  Over and over.

4.  Never underestimate the power of a good teacher.  Learning to move beyond fear and to see reality is like learning to speak a new language, and it helps to have guidance from someone who has traveled the path already. While I had many mentors along the way, the smartest choice I made was to seek help professionally.  I ended up finding a counselor who works via e-mail and used a technique that I recognized as a variant on cognitive-behavioral therapy.  She worked closely with me and helped me learn methods for doing that repetitive redefining. After nearly two years of almost-daily contact, I am no longer experiencing those looping thoughts and am seeing a great deal of freedom from fear.  If you’re interested in pursuing a path in this direction, here is a good place to start.

5.  You are not what you think you are.  I have learned that I am more than the challenges I have faced, and I am certainly more than my reaction to fear.  We all face fear, and it manifests differently for each of us. Some people react with substance abuse, others become depressed or anxious, and others overeat or indulge in retail therapy.  These are all reactions to the same thing.  Don’t mistake your reaction for who you are.

6.  Self-love is always beautiful.  Early in my journey, my therapist said, “Your only obligation is to love yourself.”  I didn’t understand this at the time.  I thought caring for myself and turning inward was selfish.  But it is not–it is actually the opposite of selfishness.  It is through knowing, understanding, and loving our own minds, with their tendencies and misunderstandings, that we learn to understand and therefore love all of humanity.  If we misunderstand our tendencies, we are going to misunderstand the same tendencies in everyone else.

7.  Narcissism and martyrdom are the same thing.  Or, at least, they are manifestations of the same misunderstanding.  In both cases, the person sees themself as separate–from all of humanity and from God, the Universe, Love, etc.  Putting yourself before others and putting others before yourself are both based on the assumption that your “self” is separate from “others.”

8.  Nobody has an opinion of you.  We take what people claim to “think” of us as meaningful feedback about ourselves.   When people don’t really have opinions of us. They might misinterpret our fears and the way we act upon them, but that’s not a opinion of me. They might misinterpret our fear-based actions based on their own fears. But that’s not about us. And we’re probably not even seeing this window into their inner life. Because our minds are picking out bits of and pieces of their actions (which are based on their own fears, etc.) and using them as evidence for what it already believes. So “feedback” and “criticism” are just our mind’s way of proving itself right. The other person is just a messenger. 

9.  Labels are limited in their usefulness.  It would be easy to pick out labels from my experience.  “Anxiety” and “depression” stand out, amongst other things.  But how helpful is that?  These are all just names for manifestations of fear and misunderstanding.  We all face fear and misunderstand.  If it’s an “illness,” it’s one that EVERYBODY has.  That’s the journey through this life–seeing through the illusions.

10.  There is no past.  There is no accurate record of it, at all.  Everything I’ve told you, about my “back story” is just comprised of memories with meaning attached.  There is no way for anybody to know what REALLY happened.  It’s gone.  It doesn’t exist.  This moment–with all the baggage we carry to it–is all that we can ever have.

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I could go on with lessons, but I think this is a good starting point.  It’s been a very busy two years, and I look forward to growing–and resting–more in the years to come.

 What are some lessons that you’ve learned on your journey?

 

Lesson #10: Notice the World Around You

Note:  I don’t quite have an update on the boat or apartment for you yet.  It’s coming, since we have 4 days to get out of here!  Work has been slow since the last update, because I pushed myself so hard that I ended up getting sick with a cold or the flu or something.  We’re still plugging away, but we haven’t accomplished enough to justify an interesting update post.  So, in the meantime, I will share another of my 35 Lessons in 35 Years.

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Life is fascinating.  It really is.

Living in the city in a warm climate, I have had less reason to stay inside and more reason to be out and about, exploring.  I really am an avid people-watcher, and amidst this sea of humanity that we call Houston, there is much to watch.

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Coming out of a challenging–yet very necessary, important, and beautiful–time in my life, I carry all that I have learned with me as I observe this world we live in.  I love to watch and to talk to other people and realize that each and every one of them is on a journey similar to my own.  We all see life through the clouded lens of our own perception, and our journey is one of clearing that lens.  And eventually removing it.

We are all on a journey to find and understand love, to belong.  We are all searching to discover who we are.  We are all emerging from the fog of perceived unworthiness.

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We all have a story to tell, and lessons that we’ve learned.

Watching everyone with this knowledge, removes the filter of judgement.  Yes, people do funny things.  We all do very funny things!  We get caught up in dramatic spats that are largely irrelevant.  We valiantly fight shadows and chase ghosts.  But seeing this in ourselves and in everyone else reminds us of our common humanity.

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When I rode my bicycle to work, Rob asked me if I would like to bring a MP3 player.  While I often do enjoy good music, I declined the offer.  The beauty of my ride is to be a part of everything and to experience it all:

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The singing of the birds in the morning

The lights on highway 3

The rising sun that greets me

The ducks swimming along the bike trail

The gentleman taking his morning walk

The crossing guards I see every morning

The smell of breakfast cooking at the local restaurants

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I used to wander through life, completely lost in thought and always seeking distraction.  When I read about the importance of “present moment awareness,” I laughed because this was something I was simply unable to do!  My mind was always busy, always noisy.  I couldn’t just force it to be quiet!

And I was right.  Quietness is not something that can be forced.  It was only through looking deeply into those thoughts, and into my mind’s reason for being noisy and seeking distraction, that I was able to find peace.  Peace was my reward, for my journey into the heart of my fears, my journey toward seeing reality as it is.

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So if you find yourself unable to put that phone away, or always wanting those headphones on, maybe just putting it away isn’t the answer.  Look deeply, and lovingly discover what it is that you are trying to escape.

Letter to My 16-Year-Old Self

Don’t worry, you’ll get an update on our adventures soon.  We’ve been working on emptying out the apartment, and this next week we will get started on the boat.  When I have significant progress or news to share, I definitely will!  In the meantime, I’ve wanted to do a post like this for awhile, and the timing seems perfect right now.

Pictures are from a trip to Palm Beach in Galveston.

Pictures are from a trip to Palm Beach in Galveston.

Dear Bethany,

(Yes I’ll call you that, because I know that’s what you want to be called.  And here’s one little secret–in the not-so-far-future, they will!) OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I know you feel hopeless right now, and it seems like life is an endless stream of rejection and self-doubt.  I will give you some reassurance, but, for reasons you don’t yet understand, I am not going to tell you what is around the bend.  You need this journey.  You need to see first hand the strength and wisdom that you already possess. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA But I will tell you that there are changes, just around the corner.  BIG changes.  Within the next year, you will lose.  But, more importantly, you will gain.  And both of these changes will set the course for the rest of your life. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA At this juncture, you think that you know your future.  You are relatively sure you know the rather calm path your life will follow.  And I can tell you that you’re wrong. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA You have already discovered the kindness that is a part of your very soul.  But you have yet to discover that you have an adventurous spirit as well. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA You will not lead a pre-determined life.  You have more choices at every bend, than you can even comprehend.  You will be one of the few people to see all of the choices, and you will use this to create a life that is uniquely yours. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Just wait until you see where you’re going to live when you’re 35!  You will never guess…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA You want to know if it will get easier.  The short answer is yes.  The challenges you face now will not persist relentlessly. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I know you don’t want to hear this, but it will also get harder.  You will face challenges, but you will find the strength within yourself to not only survive them, but to thrive and grow from them.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You will survive, you will thrive, and you will contribute to the world in so many ways that you can’t even imagine.

The remaining pictures are from Clear Lake Shores, the current home port of Breaking Tradition.

The remaining pictures are from Clear Lake Shores, the current home port of Breaking Tradition.

You will have the opportunity to make every one of your dreams a reality. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA You share a stronger connection to everything and everyone around you, than you realize.  You will make so many true friends, who will be willing to travel to the end of the earth for you.  You will experience unconditional love over and over, and it will become even stronger after you finally recognize its presence. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I am telling you all of this, that you may have hope.  But I don’t want you to do anything differently.  The mistakes you will make are only a part of the journey.  You will learn so much, grow more than you can fathom, and you will find no room for regret. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I love you, Bethany.  And the time will come, when you will find that love within.

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Love,

Yourself, 19 years later

(I can’t tell you my last name!)

Lesson #6: There is Always a Path

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I have decided to come back to my 35 Lessons in 35 Years.  This is lesson #6, which I learned last summer.

As we were finishing the endless decluttering, we decided that it would be best to find a place to live, before our arrival in Houston.  We had the name of a good school district for students with special needs, and it just so happened to be the same school district that Beanie would attend if we moved into a marina.

I called up the manager at a nice looking but reasonably priced apartment complex, and she got the ball rolling.  She said that we would be able to send in our deposit, as soon as they got our credit report back.  I had warned her that we were in the process of doing deed-in-lieu with our house, but she said that should be fine.

What I hadn’t realized, was that, until the process was completed, the mortgage company had listed the amount we still owed on the house, as a landlord debt.  This led to a conference call with our case manager from the mortgage company, and the apartment manager.  The manager said she would plead our case with the company that owns the apartment complex, and that we would have an answer in two days.

It was a long two days.

During this time of waiting, my imagination spun out of control.  What if we couldn’t get an apartment?  What if we had to live in a dangerous neighborhood?  Send Beanie to an unsafe school?  What if we were homeless?  What if?  What if?

I began to doubt my decision to leave.  Here we were, leaving a 4-bedroom house that we owned, in a place I had worked for 10 years.  I had chosen my daughter’s kindergarten teacher years ago.  Yet we were leaving this stability behind, and plunging into the unknown.

I was fortunate to have many good friends who helped me through that time.  Three things that were said to me, really stuck in my head.  “There is always a path,” “You can not fail,” and “Do not let fear blind you to how powerful you are.”  I repeated those lines to myself, as I took my morning walks.

And, better yet, I began to believe them.  There would be a path.  We would have a roof over our heads.  We would find a way.

Finding a way was not necessary, as the manager who was working with us (who is now our neighbor, and it was really sad when I had to give her my letter of notice), pulled some strings and got us the apartment.  It’s been an enjoyable year, living here.

But still, knowing what I know now, there would have been a way if the apartment hadn’t have worked out, and it would have been fine.  We could have lived in an RV park, near the marinas, that we didn’t know existed at that time.  We could have lived in an extended stay hotel, in the same school district.  There would have been infinite options for us.

Sometimes we get so attached to the path we want to be on, that we fail to see all of the other possibilities.

 

 

An Unconventional Gratitude List

I’m going to be honest with you.  I’ve never done well with gratitude lists.

Last winter, I tried to write them everyday.  I wanted to see the roses amongst the thorns.  But it seemed…forced.  And almost like I was in denial, since it was the thorns that I thought were ripping me to shreds.

But that is because I didn’t understand gratitude.  I didn’t understand that the thorns are a part of the rose.  If I love the rose, I have to love it in its entirety.  If I am grateful for the rose, I must also be grateful for the thorns.

So, this Thanksgiving, I am giving thanks for all the thorns of the past year, that have turned out to be a part of the rose:

  • I am grateful for my misinterpretations of reality, based on ghosts from my past.  Because nothing in my life has been more rewarding than waking up from this, and reality looks all the more beautiful when I see it for what it is.
  • I am grateful for the struggles I went through over the past winter.  Because through those struggles I learned not only to accept love, but to find it within myself and share it with those around me.  I learned that I am stronger than I could have possibly imagined, and that life truly is what I make of it.
  • I am grateful for my daughter’s health problems and challenges.  Because they have allowed us to form a closer bond than I knew was possible.  And her unique perspective on life brings her more joy and happiness than anyone else I know.
  • I am grateful for the arguments and disagreements I have with my husband.  Because they allow us to get to know each other better, and to love each other more fully.
  • I am grateful for the challenges I have had since moving here.  Because they have allowed me to learn to love myself and trust myself–and that is where true love and compassion for all humanity starts.
  • I am grateful for the mistakes I have made and the unpleasant tendencies I have discovered within myself.  Because they have taught me not to judge, but to look beyond the surface to see what is truly there.  This understanding of myself has allowed me to better understand those around me.
  • I am grateful for the fear I have experienced.  Because fear always carries with it a lesson, and an opportunity to better understand myself, those around me, and the world in general.
  • I am grateful for the confusion I have experienced.  Because it means I don’t know all of the answers, and that life still has lessons and surprises in store for me.
  • I am grateful for the times I have been wrong.  Because the truth was always greater than that which I believed to be truth.
  • I am grateful for every dark night in my life.  Because each time, the night was followed by a beautiful sunrise.

So, this Thanksgiving, take some time to adopt gratitude as a state of mind, rather than a list.  There are lessons to be learned from life’s storms, if we are willing to be open to them.

What thorns in your life, have turned out to be part of a beautiful rose?

Note: I have notified all of the winners, of my Advent Calendar.  However, you still have plenty of time to order yours, for $1.99.  We’re hoping that you will join us, in simplifying and finding peace during the countdown to Christmas!

Texas Women Bloggers

Finding Meaning Where There is None

It’s time that I levelled with you again.

I’m a hypocrite.

Fortunately, we all are, but I still thought I would confess my most recent hypocrisy to you tonight.

I’ve talked to you about fear.  I’ve talked to you about believing in happily ever after, and not waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I’ve talked to you about not letting fear paralyze you.

So, it may or may not surprise you to know that I’ve taken the opposite of my advice on all three counts.

Two days ago, I was sitting in my classroom, realizing that I was holding back, shying away from things I knew I could be doing.  I was acting tentatively, not wanting to get settled in or comfortable, because I was waiting for everything to fall apart.

I was drawing parallels to the situation I left, and finding meaning where there likely is none.  What if things happen the same way this winter?  What if it all falls apart?  What if history repeats itself?

What if?  What if?

All over again.

Sometimes I need to take my own advice.  And sometimes I’m glad that my friends are kind enough not to throw my own words back into my face.

It’s one thing to know something intellectually, but it’s a whole other thing to live it, all the time.  Fear is sneaky.  That hesitancy, those “what if’s” have a way of sneaking in, after they’ve been friends (or at least familiar) for so long.

My first instinct is panic–here is fear, with a capital F!  I worry that I’ve let it slip in, then become angry at myself.  I thought I was beyond this!

But then, maybe fear is just a normal part of the human condition, regardless of how perfect we aspire to be.  Maybe it is something that will keep coming back, keep sneaking in.  If that is the case, then maybe the solution is not to overthink and become critical of ourselves, but to feel the fear…and move forward anyway.

And that is exactly what I’m doing.  I don’t regret giving life my best, before it all went downhill last winter.  Bad things can happen.  This winter could very well be as bad as last winter.  But will it be any easier, if I shy away and hide in the shadows?  No matter what happens, I will still feel better if I know that I gave it my all.

So, let’s all give it everything tonight.  Life is too short to spend locked inside, letting fear get the best of us.

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Please check out my guest post on Pick The Brain, How to Overcome Fear and Live Your Dreams.