Categories
Food Happiness Holidays

The First Step to Happiness

There is an epidemic of unhappiness in this world. We don’t want to talk about it since unhappiness is now called “depression.” Depression is a bad word because it now means that we’re crazy and we need to go talk to a psychiatrist or take some drugs.

The stigma surrounding unhappiness makes it hard to discuss openly. Our current social climate makes it almost dangerous to discuss. So what do we do when we feel the darkness encroaching?

I believe that the things that have been programmed into us by society are the major triggers of unhappiness. We’ve been taught from birth that we have to look a certain way, act a certain way, earn a certain amount of money (more is better), and own a certain type of stuff. It is almost as if they want us to feel bad about ourselves to drive us towards impossible goals or simple insanity.

But we can step off of that hamster wheel. We can begin to change the programming. Maybe if enough of us do it we will even begin to change society as well.

The first step to happiness is related to that.

Honesty.

We have to start being honest with ourselves. We have to admit that there are things that we don’t like, don’t enjoy, or simply can’t afford.

In order to begin making changes to the world we need to be open with our honesty. I’ll begin.

Confession

I have an issue with cooking.

When I would get hungry as a child, there were times when I wanted to fix something on the stove to eat. My mother would be busy taking a nap or watching a television show, so I wouldn’t want to disturb her. I just wanted to toast a cheese sandwich on the stove or whatever.

Whenever I would begin, my mother would attack me. I was going to burn the house down. I was going to dirty the kitchen. I was wasting food. The litany was so horrible that I eventually quit trying.

As a result of that, aside from a few simple dishes my father taught me, I didn’t learn how to cook.

And when I reached adulthood, it showed.

I’ve set the stove on fire. I have burned things beyond recognition. When I tried to correct that, I prepared food that wasn’t near done enough on the inside.

I’ve watched people quietly spit my food out in distaste. I’ve seen them sneak it to the animals or scrape it in the trash. I’ve had people vomit after one of my meals. I even shattered one of my teeth after a particularly desperate attempt.

My lack of cooking skills quickly became legend. I’ve suffered from teasing for decades from people who would try to teach me and fail in the attempt.

While I have gotten to the point where I can make some simple dishes, I cringe at the thought of trying to prepare something new. It appears that I am stuck with the limited repertiore of dishes that my dad taught me as a child.

I am almost fifty years old. If you watch television, that means I should be able to cook like a madwoman, taking almost anything in a pantry to whip up something wholesome and delicious.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

This is why I very rarely share recipes on this website or in my books. I am an atrocious cook and I know it.

So it is time to be honest now.

I cannot cook. I’ve reached the point in my life where I don’t even have the desire to try. I am content with eating meals out of a can or a box, supplementing with the simple stuff my dad taught me how to prepare. If I want something more substantial I’ll visit a friend’s house to bum a meal or go to a local restaurant.

I am the woman who can tear your computer apart, fix what’s broken, and put it back together. I am the woman who can change the oil in your car without breaking a sweat. I am even the woman who can take wood scraps and build a sturdy porch.

But I am not the woman who knows how to cook.

According to our society, that makes me a failure. Even worse, in the frugality arena where I roam, that makes me a spendthrift since I spend more on eating out than I do on groceries because I happen to like food–I just can’t cook it.

My first step at achieving happiness is to not only be honest about that fact but to share it with the intention of giving the middle finger to a society determined to shove my round peg into the square hole called “cooking.” I no longer enjoy even attempting to cook and I am okay with that. I am who I am; if someone doesn’t like it they can keep out of my life.

This Christmas my daughter will be preparing dinner. I will contribute with a batch of deviled eggs (dad taught me how to make them) but otherwise I will stay out of the kitchen so she can work her culinary magic.

I accept that part of myself so society can kiss my ass. It’s safer for myself and those around me if I leave the cooking to the experts so I intend to do just that.

I have other things I can be honest about as well. I don’t really care what color my walls are or if my decorations all match. I don’t care if my yard is perfectly manicured or my house is spotless. I have many interests in my life but those are not among them.

If society wants to judge me for that, let them. The clock is ticking on my life so I have decided to no longer care. If someone wants to criticize me for my limitations I will drop my pants and show them where they can kiss. Heaven knows I’ve got the real estate back there.

What do you want to be honest about with this coming decade? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

And if you happen to know of someone who doesn’t know how to cook either, instead of criticizing them, why not send them this link so they know that they are not alone? Even better, why not gift them with a visit to their favorite restaurant or cook them a meal? Once they realize that you aren’t making fun of them they will appreciate it immensely.

Categories
Holidays Personal Simplicity

Family Tradition

Once upon a time when Katie was small money was really tight. I’d spent most of my cash on Black Friday in order to afford to give my baby the best Christmas I could afford.

Katie wanted Christmas candy that year. In order to keep her happy I promised her that on the day after Christmas, once candy went on clearance, we would stock up and eat until we couldn’t.

True to my word we went out the next day. We not only bought several boxes of clearance Christmas candy; I also stumbled upon a discounted copy of the movie Forrest Gump.

I had just enough to buy it.

When we got back home Katie suggested that we eat our candy as we watched our new movie. I agreed. I had heard about the dorm scene so I made sure to distract my baby girl when it came up that evening.

The very next Christmas we went out after the holiday to stock up on candy; at Katie’s request we watched Forrest Gump once again.

And again.

After we moved into this tiny little house our after-Christmas routine fell to the wayside. I didn’t think much of it until the other day when Katie asked if we could follow our tradition once again.

I didn’t even realize that I had started a tradition.

I dug through my collection of DVDs, searching for the copy I’d purchased so long ago. To our immense disappointment, the movie had disappeared. We couldn’t locate a copy locally so Katie sprung for a digital copy in order to enjoy our tradition one last time.

We snuggled in her bed with the cat. The lights went down, the movie went on…

…And I cried.

Tears streamed unchecked down my face for the entire film. I cried for the purity of Forrest Gump, the sweetness of Bubba, and the pain of Jenny. I cried over the mother’s love for her son. I sniffled over the trials of Lieutenant Dan, the magic of their friendship, and smiled when he walked to Forrest’s wedding.

I cried for so many things but mostly I cried over the end of an era. I cried because this is the last time I’ll be able to share such a simple thing with my beloved daughter and I cried over the fact that I’d inadvertently created a tradition during her childhood that she had grown to cherish.

The tears of this mother are still falling as I type.

***

Do you have any traditions? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Categories
Decorating Holidays Life

Making Christmas Memories

Christmas dawned bright and early in the Brewer household. Katie had been sad since it was the first Christmas since her father had passed so I wanted to make it memorable. We invited a few friends to come visit with us so it was time to start cooking!

It is amazing what you can whip up using a toaster oven, a microwave, and a hot plate. The evening before, Katie made a white chocolate and Macadamia nut Christmas cookie. She ran to the store as it cooled, daring me to touch it, so guess what I did?

I took this photo and sent it to her:

The next day we set to work. Two Cornish hens, a bunch of Deviled eggs, and assorted sides later we ended up with our Christmas feast.

Assisted by our friends, we ate ourselves into a food coma by evening’s end as we listened to the Christmas music I splurged on for the event. To my delight, we had just enough room in our tiny fridge to store the remaining leftovers for the evening. Dishes were left until the next morning.

At one point, my childhood friend and I started discussing the artwork we’d made in the past. She mourned the fact that she no longer possessed any of the pictures she’d drawn as a child. With a smile, I ordered them to stand up and help me scoot the kitchen table to the center of the room. They watched me curiously as I tugged down the attic ladder and climbed up to retrieve a large tote. I’d saved a sketch she’d given me when we were kids. The expression on her face was priceless. I wanted to take a photo but she’s a bit camera shy, especially where my blog is concerned.

I became lost in memories as I went through the photos. I stumbled upon an old 8×10 that we’d had professionally taken years before Katie was even born. It was the best photo I’d ever seen taken of my ex-husband, so I gave it to Katie for her memories.

I retrieved a number of the photos, filling what frames I’d collected over the past few weeks and sticking them up on my walls. With the next round of frames I purchase I intend to start filling the walls in my kitchen. Here is the current layout:

My Main Photo Collection

Honoring Dad

Ignore the notes on the wall. As I read books late at night, I write down important things to store them until I transfer them into a notebook. If I pull them down before I transcribe them, I’ll misplace them. I don’t have many photos of my mother (she detested photos), but I intend to frame several photos that I have of her as time goes on. I have one gorgeous black and white photo of Mom in her youth that I may get enlarged into an 8×10 when I’m ready to make an honor wall for her.

Before it’s all done my home will be filled with my little treasures. My walls will be filled with photos of memories and people I’ve loved, my shelves will be filled with books, and my windows will be overflowing with plants. I can see my future home already; it will essentially be a giant library. I’ll have an old stereo, one with an old record player and old albums that I acquire here and there. I’ll have older radios, older clocks, and whatever older technology that I want to preserve. My furniture and appliances will be a mix of antique and modern. I am hoping to acquire a home with a large dining room that I can line with shelves from floor to ceiling to fill with books. In one corner will be a reading nook and the dining room table will be a place for me to spread out my research as I write my future books except on the random occasions when I invite friends over to entertain.

This house will be my haven.

It feels so good to finally be able to close my eyes and see where I’m going. It feels so good to be able to make small steps where I am, using the few things I already have.

And it felt like heaven to make yet another memory with my beloved Katie before she leaves the nest.

I am luckier than I ever imagined.

***

What memories did you make over the Christmas holiday? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Categories
Holidays

A Bit of Holiday Fun

One of the things I am thankful for is that I have the freedom to do little things for fun at work. It started out during Halloween last year when the manager in charge of decorating the store gifted me with some spider pins for my smock. I ended up being the only other person who dressed up for the holiday. I donned a geeky bandanna from my collection and added a few other touches from my wardrobe to become a geeky pirate. Here I am with one of my bosses in a silly picture captured by a coworker.

My daughter got in on the fun by dressing up for her shift at the store next door. Here is a pic of her with my grandson when he came to visit us.

I started something that day. As each proceeding holiday rolled around both coworkers and customers began to ask if I planned to dress up again. My boss has even started gifting me with silly little hats and headbands for the season. I’ve donned reindeer antlers, Santa hats, bunny ears, and a myriad of other items designed to give the world a chuckle.

It doesn’t take a lot of money to have a bit of fun as you go through your day. Most of my acquisitions cost less than a dollar if I purchase them myself and will be used for many years. The smiles I receive in exchange are a priceless return on my investment.

While I still don’t bother decorating my home for the changing seasons, I have realized that doing these little things at work not only makes my day more enjoyable but lightens the mood of those around me as well. It’s hard to be in a bad mood when your cashier is sporting a goofy hat.

Here in a few minutes I will need to dress for the holiday and head to work. I’m rather looking forward to it.

Do you wear silly things to celebrate the holidays? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Categories
Holidays

Spinster

Valentine’s Day means that all of the lovely people around me will be focused on romance. As a cashier and a single mother, this means that the volume of questions will increase. My regulars have gotten so close to me that they feel completely comfortable asking questions that many would consider rude.

“Are you married?” No.

“Do you have a boyfriend?” No.

“Do you want one?” Meh.

I had one gentleman come through my line with his adult daughter the other day. When he started tickling my taste buds by describing the meal he was preparing to cook his daughter loudly announced “My dad needs a new girlfriend so he can cook for her. Do you know anyone?”

I couldn’t help but laugh at the sheepish expression on the gentleman’s face. Either Daughter saw my lack of a wedding band or they were one of the many who have inquired about my relationship status over the months.

It has gotten to the point where I jokingly refer to some of my male customers as my harem. It’s hard not to think of them that way when so many like to sneak up and surprise me with friendly hugs! A shift does not go by where I don’t receive at least one.

I have been given phone numbers on everything imaginable. A few have included little declarations about just why I should call (and assuring me that they were serious).

While I never call the numbers, I keep every single one of those notes. When I stumble upon my little collection I smile.

The hardest part of being single is fielding one particular question: “Why?”

How do you tell someone that you’re content with your singleness when the whole world seems obsessed with romance? That you’ve not seriously looked for a relationship in years because you’re happy to go home to an empty house?

I usually just shrug and say “I don’t know.” It’s the truth, in a way. I honestly don’t know what to tell them.

While normally it doesn’t bug me, Valentine’s Day is the worst. Upon the day of romance I am usually looked upon by my beloved customers with well-meaning pity.

That’s okay. Their concern just tells me they care.

For now I need to get dressed, head to work, and deal with a stream of customers focused on love and relationships. My boss will doubtless have something silly for me to wear (she’s discovered that I’m the only one aside from her willing to dress up on holidays) while my customers invariably try to hook me up.

Oddly enough, I’m looking forward to it.

How do you handle being single in a coupled world? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Categories
Holidays Simplicity

A Rule About Gifts

I don’t buy many gifts. However, if I am out and happen to see something that reminds me of someone that I care about I get it for them when money allows.

The other day I managed to hitch a ride with a coworker for the rare treat of shopping in a neighboring town. It had been years since I had enjoyed the pleasure so I savored the ability to pick out several gifts for loved ones. I got some things for my daughter Katie, my grandson, and my very first granddaughter who is due to arrive in the next few weeks.

One item in particular made me smile when I stumbled across it. It reminded me of something that a friend and I would do back when we were kids. I snagged the item along with something else that I thought would give her pleasure to use in her home.

With a toss of her head and a wave of her hand she refused to even examine the items.

“I’m not into stuff like that,” she sniffed.

I was hurt. While she thanked me offhand for thinking of her I was still floored. I had cared enough to carefully select items that she would enjoy and that were useful. While I didn’t expect her to keep the items forever (they were designed to be used and then discarded), I was hurt that she refused to even give them more than a cursory glance.

I have a rule for people who do things like that. I neither buy nor accept gifts from them again. I’ve had this rule for many years. It eliminates having to worry about whether or not the person will actually accept my offerings as well as the pain of rejection should they refuse, while also preventing any disparity that would arise from unbalanced gift-giving.

Before this event occurred I had been saving money towards a rather expensive item that I knew my friend needed. Since I now know that my friend has a tendency to refuse gifts outright I have shelved my plans. The money will be added to my computer fund.

Do you have a rule concerning gifts to other people? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Categories
Food Frugality Holidays Recycling

How to Eat Your Christmas Tree

Okay, folks, time to recycle that tall piece of greenery you have stuck in the corner of your living room. While most of us just toss it out with the trash, did you know that you could actually eat it?

I’m serious, you really can.

I’ve known for a while that you can actually eat pine trees. In fact, you should never starve if you are stuck in a forest with pine because seriously, the trees! Eat them!

From what I understand in ages past pine trees were called the feast of kings because when kings would go out with their armies to invade other lands they allegedly relied on these trees to feed themselves and their armies even when there was meat around (I guess to supplement the meat).

Now I’m not sure about the legend but if you’re hungry and you’ve got a tree that you’re about to toss in the trash, why not try it? Can’t hurt.

Here is the link to eating pine trees: http://tacticalintelligence.net/blog/how-to-eat-a-pine-tree.htm.

And last but not least here is a link specifically aimed at teaching you how to eat that Christmas tree instead of tossing it away: http://wholefedhomestead.com/how-to-eat-your-christmas-tree/.

Enjoy!

Categories
Holidays

Happy New Year

Happy New Year my friends. For my next trick I plan to rise out of the ashes of what has been a really crappy couple of years and flap like a chicken or something.

Katie and I rang in 2017 by throwing away our old calendars. I took my 2016 file folder and archived it. I was tempted to give it the round file treatment but I realized that I might need my tax records even though I’m broke.

And while I lost Princess Leia, Charlotte the spider, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and a ton of others that I loved I found out tonight that the Cubs WON the World Series for the first time in 108 years!

I was born in Chicago. That’s my team right there. Doesn’t quite make up for Leia but it’s a start.

Anyway, last but not least I now have 65,776 words written on the new Shoestring Girl book so I’m very happy with that.

So here’s hoping everyone has a great year!

Hugs!
~Annie

Categories
Economy Holidays

Sign of the times

While Katie and I forgo decorating our home to celebrate the holidays we still enjoy walking around our little neighborhood to examine the festive atmosphere. We may live in the ‘hood but several of our compatriots enjoy going all out for the season.

I wasn’t up for last year but since I’m feeling a bit better we resumed our little tradition this Christmas Eve. We anxiously awaited dusk to arrive, grabbed our coats, and started walking.

Our first stop was a pair of houses just a couple of blocks away. The folks who live there team up to create a fabulous display complete with music and the occasional light show so I was excited to be able to witness their annual offering.

As we approached I noticed that the lights weren’t on. “That’s odd, “ I commented to Katie. “They’re usually lit by this hour.” Disappointed, we continued our walk expecting them to be alight by the time we came back through.

The second house we approached was just as dark as the first. So was the third, the fourth, and so on. Slowly we realized something sad.

Only two houses in our little hood had even bothered to decorate. Even the brightest houses were dark and what displays we saw were muted.

It is a sad time when nobody decorates for Christmas, not even the ones who savor the season.

In my experience, people in this area don’t decorate when money is tight because they are afraid of the electric bill. It is a sign that jobs have been lost, income decreased, and fear prevails.

I wonder what next year will hold.

Were there any changes in how your neighborhood celebrated Christmas this year? Did you do more or less this year? Why? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Categories
Frugality Holidays

Simple Christmas

Katie and I tend to make our Holidays simple but this year we’ve went a bit lower than usual. Since money is tight Katie made some edits for the website and gave them to me as her gift. She is the one who designed the new logo, actually. Isn’t she talented? I bought her a box of hair bleach since she wants to go back to her natural blonde. Grandson is getting a coloring book, an art book, and a pack of tracing paper since he likes to draw and everyone else focuses on getting him toys.

Katie also played Secret Santa at school this year so one of her friends received a mug decorated with her favorite animal and an assortment of food treats. Some special friends and family members received Christmas cards from us since we’ve been neglectful about keeping in touch over this past year.

So that’s the bulk of our Christmas, purchased for under $30. How much did you spend?