Traffic Jam at the Intersection of Chronic Sinus Infection Avenue and Swamped Street

traffic jam

Hello, my name is Sarah, and I am a planner. You might call me OCD. My husband rarely makes plans without asking me first, for fear that I’ll lose it if my plan gets sidetracked. This particular piece of the Sarah puzzle doesn’t always fit nicely with the rest of the pieces. But on the up side, I’ve always known what I wanted. As a seventeen-year-old high school graduate, there was absolutely no question about what major I would claim in college: English, obviously, because I love to read and write, and I was well on my way to becoming a published author who would make enough income to support herself and her future family.

Fast forward to reality: at almost thirty-five, the only books I’ve published were paid for by me, and the income I’ve made as a writer is hardly steady, much less supportive to the family budget. I still love to write, but it was with a heavy dose of humility that I finally admitted that, if I didn’t want to watch my husband work himself to death from the sidelines, I needed to find something profitable to do. Having a traditional, full-time job was never a part of my plan. But after I stalled for years and accepted it, I have found satisfaction and even a joy I never expected by first teaching and now crunching numbers, of all things.

Have no fear: I am still a writer, and even though I am much less active than I once was, this blog keeps me accountable. Although I’m going on three months without a post, it’s not that I’ve lost my passion for writing or run out of things to say; I simply haven’t been able to wrap my mind around a cohesive topic in a while. Or more accurately, I haven’t had the time to so much as think about it. What with going from the “let’s look at houses” to actually buying one and moving in in exactly one month, being busier than ever at work, getting and staying sick for almost three months running, and becoming an independent consultant with Thirty-One Gifts, I feel lucky to remember my name.

But it happens to be spring break, and I consider it a God-thing that inspiration finally struck right when I had the time to nurture it. It happened Monday while reading my daily devotional. Some mornings, I absorb it, while others I’m lucky to remember what I read five minutes later. But this particular entry seemed to be speaking to me:

Lately, as I’ve been skimming financial advice books, I’ve noticed an interesting trend. While almost all such books have good advice, many imply that the primary reason to cut costs is to live like millionaires later. But one book offered a refreshingly different perspective, arguing that living simply is essential for a rich life. If you need more or fancier stuff to feel joy, the book suggested, “You’re missing the point of being alive.”

—Monica Brands, “The Point of Being Alive,” Our Daily Bread (read full entry here)

This struck me because I’ve been following one particular financial method for over a decade, and it is absolutely based on the idea of sacrificing certain pleasures now in order to enjoy them after retirement. Now, I have no argument with saving for the future. And really, is being fiscally responsible and living within my means a bad thing? But I don’t think that’s what the author of the devotional was getting at. There has to be a balance between wasting what we earn on instant gratification and becoming misers who save for a tomorrow that might never come.

Years ago, I met a woman who had looked forward to her husband’s retirement more than anything else in her life. They were retirement saving pros, their goal to travel during their golden years. But mere weeks after he retired, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and their retirement dream died right along with him.

I am usually not one of these people who dwells on death, but I have been sick for 11 weeks now—the perfect storm of chronic sinus infections, allergies, and barely enough time to rest every night. The same day I read the above devotional, I had a CT scan to ascertain what, exactly, is going on in my head. My ENT expects to find a reason behind the congestion, but as soon as he said, “scan of your head,” I thought about my friend who lost her life to a brain tumor at 32.

Wouldn’t it be just like Life to give me a major detour? Health problems are a nightmare to planners like me—I don’t have room for that nonsense! But while I seriously doubt that my results will show anything that serious, just the idea of it has been enough to make me look back over my life and consider my regrets. Well, I’m not a bestselling author… and that’s about it. I married the love of my life, and we have two children whom we adore. My family in itself is blessing enough, but I have more: we’ve taken great trips and made lots of memories. We read to our children all the time and tell them stories of our own childhoods. We instill in them the values that we hold dear, and I hope I’m not too boastful in saying that they’re good-hearted people (even if the older one is snarky and the younger one is a hot mess).

When I was younger, I assumed that everything I wanted in life would fall into place as easily as my marriage: I would land a literary agent, get published, play Scrooge McDuck in my mountains of earnings, and then write more novels from my office while watching my children play in my perfectly manicured backyard. I have the husband and children, so why is the rest so unattainable? It’s frustrating to say that I’m a writer—that I’ve written novels—yet have little to show for it. I was jarred by my ungratefulness when a friend who is successful in her career and seems to have it all told me she admires me for being a mother. She doesn’t look down on me at all because the career I’ve always desired remains out of reach.

It’s easy to get lost in the belief that life doesn’t begin until [fill in the blank]. The problem is that if we have to achieve x before life is worth living, we could travel down that lonely road forever without reaching the destination.

While the lure of a perfect someday can blind us to the imperfect joys of today, if we follow the (annoying, frustrating, life-changing) detours without fighting to stay on our original path, we’ll likely end up right where we need to be… with many (worthwhile, unexpected, fulfilling) stops along the way.

Birthing a Book (as told by memes)


If you follow my blog at all, you know that I’ve participated in both NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo for the past several years. If you’ve read my most recent blogs, you’ll know that I’ve been struggling to finish writing my latest book for several months now. Even dedicating both Camp NaNos to this book didn’t do the trick.

I find that writing is often akin to jumping on a treadmill—I keep going without actually moving forward. With this latest book, in particular, I already had the ending written and just couldn’t seem to get the story to go there. Yes, I wrote—thousands and thousands more words than I wanted to write. And I was still just as far away from the end as I had been when I started. Or so it seemed.

I’m glad to say that I finally made it (and completely changed the ending, of course), and in celebration as well as exasperation, I would like to document this latest writing experience via some memes that must have been written by some poor souls who’ve had similar experiences.


So you get an idea for a book, only to discover that



03 Madeleine L'Engle Quote.jpg

Yep, Madeleine L’Engle. At least you get it.

And Dory has some valuable advice, too:


So you do, but sometimes


Or you read over what you wrote yesterday and wonder,




And there are those times when the page stays blank because of


But no matter what,


So your days start to look like this:


Through it all, you have to remember that


By the end of the process, you think this is a pretty good approximation of your mental state while writing:


You’re glad you stuck with it, however, because


But you’re not quite there yet. You still have to


When the Retailers’ Black Friday Puts You in the Red

Black Friday shoppers at Walmart

Black Friday shoppers at Walmart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was a childhood joke with my mom and her sisters. After returning from a big shopping trip with their mother, they would say, “Look, Daddy! See how much money we saved!” Then my grandfather would groan and view the purchases and all the “savings.”

I can’t tell you how many times I go to one store or another, where the cashier makes a point to show me how much I saved. Yeah, but what about that other number–the amount I spent? What I save doesn’t actually put money in the bank, although many people shop like it does.

While retailers look forward to moving from the red to the black this weekend (and I understand that they depend on Christmas shoppers to turn a profit), I wonder how many of their shoppers will do just the opposite, putting themselves into debt to kick off the holiday season. There’s nothing like spending your way into financial oblivion in the space of a few days. And why? Do we really need seven cashmere sweaters? Will everyone on our Christmas list pitch a fit if they don’t get the latest i-device?

I’ll get controversial up front and say that we have commercialized way too many holidays. Can’t we enjoy one (or at tops, two) at a time? I love Christmas, but please can’t we save the decorations until at least after Halloween? (I’d prefer after Thanksgiving.) And while we’re on the topic, how many people have bought into the idea that their kids’ lives are going to be ruined if they don’t get everything on their list? Have we raised a bunch of Dudley Dursleys who count the number of presents? Many parents, instead of teaching gratitude for any gifts their children receive (since Christmas is all about presents, right?), put themselves into ridiculous debt by buying everything their children ask for. And most of them start the day after Thanksgiving.

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox and say that I don’t have a problem with Santa Claus. I like having an excuse to indulge and celebrate, just like everyone else. But, at the same time, I was thrilled when my dad’s side of the family decided to move to a Christmas drawing for the adults. I guess my middle name should have been “Moderation.”

As for Black Friday fever, I’m not exactly immune to it, either. There’s something invigorating about crossing items off my list, about being out and about when, any other week, I’d be at work. When my husband and I were footloose and fancy free, we enjoyed our Black Fridays, sleeping late and venturing forth when we felt like it, buying if the prices were reasonable, and, of course, enjoying people-watching. I’ve actually tried the hard-core-up-before-the-rooster shopping a couple times, but since I’m not a big ticket item buyer, there is absolutely nothing on my list that is cheaper at four A.M. than at noon. I don’t plan to waste my sleep again.

And did you know that not everything is at its best price on Black Friday (or Cyber Monday)? Here are a couple handy websites that I’ve found that, respectively, debunk Black Friday myths and give tips to stay debt-free on Black Friday, which is why I’m writing this after all.

If you somehow don’t need sleep like a normal person and enjoy getting up at two A.M. (or not sleeping after Thanksgiving at all), good for you. I know it’s a once a year thing, and maybe you’re having fun bonding with your friends, high on the promise of a bargain and ten cups of coffee. But maybe you feel like you simply can’t afford not to take advantage of all the great deals (again, see the Black Friday myths link above). If that’s you, watch out. Falling for too many of these “great deals,” could end you with a lot of debt and buyer’s remorse.

So the following are my tips for disciplined Black Friday (or really any) shopping:

1) Go with a game plan. And I’m don’t mean mapping out a specific store (although I know people looking for doorbusters do that) but rather knowing what products you plan to buy where. Not only will you save yourself the headache of forgetting something and having to go back (which could lead to an unfortunate impulse buy or three), but it will make you create at least a rudimentary budget. Which leads to number two.

2) Go with cash. Yep. Cash. What a pain, right? That means going to the bank or an ATM. Trust me. If you leave your debit and credit cards at home and only have cash, you cannot overspend. Of course, this also means that you have to have the aforementioned budget. Say you know that you have $200 of gifts to buy, but you also want to spend a little on yourself. As long as you don’t withdraw the money you were going to use for your electric bill or next week’s groceries, plan on a little of what Dave Ramsey calls “blow” money. I’m not really advocating for you to blow it, but sure, get something fun. A cinnamon roll, a movie you’ve wanted, a blouse you’ve admired for a while. Just try to be a little bit rational and make it something you’ll be glad you spent your money on.

3) Don’t open store credit cards just to get a “deal.” This could equal going into debt. Maybe not. Maybe you’re disciplined like me. The last time I opened a store credit card, I had a pre-planned amount I knew I could spend. I asked the cashier give me the price of everything, so I could decide what to keep and stay within that budget. She told me not to worry about how much everything was because I was approved for a much higher credit limit, and I could pay it off during the month. Do I look like I’m 18 and have never had a credit card before? Lady, I know what I can spend, and it doesn’t matter when I pay it off, that’s all I can afford! Two hundred dollars more now is two hundred dollars that I’m going to need to feed my kids during the month. Avoid the temptation. No new credit cards!

4) Choose coupons (and incentives) wisely. I know it takes time and effort, and I’m not one of those crazy ladies you’ll see on TV, but there are some great holiday coupons. If you have a Kohl’s card, there’s a $10 coupon toward any purchase. The nice thing is that there isn’t a minimum spending requirement. Target, on the other hand, has a coupon for $5 off the purchase of $50 or more. Don’t load up on $50 of junk just to qualify for the coupon, but if you’re going to spend $50 anyway, by all means, use the coupon. Make sense?

So, shop if you want, get up early like the hordes of other insane people (just don’t expect to see me at an ungodly hour), but help your personal economy while you stimulate the retailers’. Oh, and if you’re going to buy a movie, get Jingle All the Way with Ah-nold and Sinbad. You’ll get a good laugh over Hollywood’s version of two crazy Christmas shoppers.