Category Archives: coping

not just getting by

I want to thank you all for your supportive comments. We’re going to make it–barely–and it looks like J will either be able to claim her California Paid Family Leave or get some other special federal extension. Either way, we’re going to be afloat until her teaching begins (fingers crossed) at the end of the summer (although, please keep your thoughts with us on that; we learned it’s less than a sure thing now).  We have really been working well together to keep our family and household solvent, and while it’s challenging and gut-wrenching at times, it’s also reminding us of what we do have.

One of the things we have going for us right now is our creativity. For a long time, we have been tightening our belts and following a fairly strict budget, but now that we’re in such a precarious position, we are finding it necessary to pull out our best strategies for surviving on nothing. We learned to do this during college, then graduate school, and a lot of those strategies are coming in handy again. But let’s face it; we’re not college students anymore, and our standards for things like food–well, they’re quite a bit higher. So I thought I’d share with you some of the choices we’re making to live on what we’ve got–and not feel poor.


It’s no secret that J and I love good food. I mean good food. In college, we could easily subsist on ramen, ninety-nine cent cheeseburgers, and generic diet soda, but we’re grownups now, and we eat vegetables and whole grains and tend to avoid anything processed. Our palates have also grown to expect a certain standard of food. Fortunately, we’re both inventive cooks, and I’m willing to try to make just about anything. 

One thing we’ve done to make eating more affordable is to dramatically reduce the amount of meat we consume. In the last year or two, we had been eating less meat, but now we only have it maybe a couple of times a week. If anything, it’s a small amount used as flavoring, and the bulk of our meals are made up of grains and veggies. Now that we really can’t afford meat, this is coming in handy because we don’t miss it, and our menus are far more creative as we try to make the last few frozen portions from the freezer stretch and work to get different types of protein into our diets.

We also have implemented a homemade-only, pantry-only strategy, which is to say, we’ve been eating all week just on what we have and making everything from scratch that we don’t. Now, we do tend to keep pretty stocked up on things like beans, grains, pastas, salad dressings, oils, vinegars, and the like, but even so, this does cause one to get creative. If you are having a chocolate craving, and the only chocolate you’ve got in the house is cocoa powder, it takes a bit more effort to indulge that craving, but it’s possible. When the craving hit two nights ago, we made a half batch of chocolate cupcakes. They were phenomenal, and they make us feel good. Really, who can be depressed eating a chocolate cupcake? We were also out of bread recently, so I decided to bake some. I had forgotten how much I love the process, and it was made even sweeter by the fact that Baby Genius napped on my back in the Ergo. It was such a poignant moment kneading that dough and feeling him sigh against me. In moments like those, I’m a very wealthy woman.

Our one big splurge is still fruits and veggies at farmer’s market. That is the one place where we have to spend a little bit of money on food, but even that we’re really stretching, making certain that each purchase we make is one that will be used wisely.  (However, this week’s farmer’s market wouldn’t have even been possible had it not been for a gift from the carrot cash fairies. We are still so humbled by this sweet gesture. Thank you, A.)


It’s not easy to have fun when you’re a ball of nerves, but as someone who has long struggled with anxiety, I know well that one of the best things one can do to combat this is to be physically active. Because we also don’t want to spend money on gas, we’re doing a lot more walking to and from various places, but walking is also one of our favorite past-times. Fortunately, it’s completely free, so we’re taking advantage of that a bit more and coming back much less stressed. Last weekend, BG and I attended an organized walk with his pediatrician and some of the other families who see him, and it was great fun. The baby got a balloon for the stroller, and I had a chance to chat with another mom, kids, and BG’s doctor too.

One of recent activities we walked to was story time at the local library. We are fortunate to have a very active county library system, and our local branch has storytime for little ones from ages 0-3. We are also within a very short walk of the library, so we have started taking BG there. He’s mesmerized more than anything by all the other children. The librarian who conducts story time is wonderful, and it’s overall a great half hour. The bonus for J and I is that it’s a fairly intriguing ethnographic study of moms in our area. I plan to write a post after I’ve collected enough data. We have learned that this coming week, our library will be hosting a band that plays kids’ music, so this will be an extra outing.

Oh, and the library is awesome for another reason: free music and free movies. We checked out something like ten CDs that we had always wanted to buy and have been listening to them all week–all for free. They have a great movie selection, even some good yoga and pilates DVDs, so we’ll be taking advantage of that too. We’re so accustomed to university libraries that I don’t think either of us had realized how far public libraries had come. We officially love them and ours especially.

Farmer’s Market is, of course, one of our favorite places to go, and last week we went with our carrot cash donation and thoroughly enjoyed people-watching, chatting with farmers, and meeting up with people we know. We would have gone even if we hadn’t had any money because it’s an event that lifts our spirits so much.

In that same vein, we have never been to our town’s 4th of July celebration, but we hear it’s like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting (not surprising, considering this town’s endless charm). So while we’re normally not big on celebrating the 4th (we seriously used to have a furniture refinishing tradition for this day), we’re going because we need free fun things to do, and this is one of them. We have prepared a picnic, and we’ll spend as much time there as the heat will allow, soaking up the fun.

We can even have drinks…

So I’ve mentioned our wine clubs here before, and I know what you’re thinking, They better have given those up! But no, we haven’t, and once I tell you how these work, you’ll understand why. You see, wine clubs are sort of like a subscription to that winery’s wines. You get a shipment once a month or once a quarter–however that club does it–of their selected wines. The two we belong to only ship during the spring and fall to avoid extreme temperatures, so our wine club obligations were over a couple of months ago.  This is, of course, a great relief at the moment because even though they don’t cost a lot of money, alcohol is way down the list of priorities, and it’s not something we are willing to buy at all right now.

When one joins a wine club, however, one of the other benefits is the free wine. That’s right. Free wine. We can go to either of these wineries at any time, and we can have free tastings. As members, they give us lots of free tastings. At the sparkling wine place, they give us four full glasses of sparkling wine every time we go. And artisan cheese. And spicy nuts. Yep, we get all of that for free. If we had money, we’d also be able to use our 30% discounts to buy really good wine at affordable prices, but for now, it’s just free wine. It’s one of the perks of living in wine country, even when you are poor as poor can be. Whether we will be able to keep the clubs when the autumn shipments begin is to be decided then, but for now, we’re definitely keeping them.


There are other things we do too, but they are things we started doing some time ago. Cloth diapering is one, as is using cloth wipes. I don’t know what we’d do if we had to buy diapers right now–or formula. We also tend to use really inexpensive cleaning products: vinegar and baking soda are our best friends. In fact, we’ve recently found a great recipe for homemade laundry detergent, which we’re going to try out once we can get the rest of the supplies because it’s super cheap and super easy.

And I’m sure there are more things that we’re doing that have just become so commonplace that I don’t notice, but this impacts every part of our lives right now. In school, J coined the term “PIC”–panic-induced creativity. But we’ve decided that PIC can also mean poverty-induced creativity. We’re seriously tapping into PIC these days.

As you can see, we’re not doing so badly. Yes, life has been more stressful, and it’s hard to breathe very easily at times, but we’re managing and sometimes even having fun in the process. In fact, I think we’re both hoping we can maintain some of the more positive changes once we’ve found some stability again because living this simpler life really does have its benefits.

So what do you do to cut corners when money is tight?



Filed under coping

My Work Is Never Done

J here. I’m working through something, so bear with me as I clunkily trudge through it. Where to start? I guess I’ll start with the word “work” which appears in the title. Though I am not working, as in bringing in a paycheck regularly, I feel like I’m working harder than ever in so many other ways, and it’s hard. It. Never. Ends.

I’ve written about some of the work I’m doing to change my habits: quit smoking, eat better, exercise more, etc. All of these are important because I want to be around to watch our child grow up. I don’t want to teach him that it’s okay to smoke. Neither of us want him to struggle with weight issues. We want him to be healthy, and we know that in order to best do that, we need to model healthy behavior. However, healthy behavior is new to us, so it’s a challenge sometimes, but we don’t shrink from challenges; we rise to the occasion, and so a new life is beginning to emerge–one that doesn’t rely on crutches to overcome the hard stuff. Not easy, but doable, and getting easier with practice.

There’s other work too, mundane stuff like extra chores around the house, going to the grocery store, which I generally loathe, attending doctor’s appointments and the like. Again, not back-breaking, but a non-pregnant wife of a mother-to-be has got to do what a non-pregnant-wife of a mother-to-be has to do.

Then there’s some of the really hard work, like sifting through the emotional minefield left to me by my departed alcoholic mother. Yes, that lovely pile of shit that I have waded through my entire life resurfaced almost instantly the moment we found out we were having a baby. She was a sick, abusive, mean woman–a terrible mother. She left me with no positive messages about myself and certainly no model for good mothering. She taught me how to smoke, drink, gamble, and most importantly, how to hide my hurt behind rage. I have been working for years to heal, to relearn what it means to be human and vulnerable and to resist escaping life’s problems with unhealthy activities. I honestly feel like I’ve abandoned much of that, seeing as how it doesn’t really help, but some of it remains, and I fear always will. There are times when I’m nearly paralyzed with sadness about my own childhood, yet I try to use this as motivation to be everything my own mom wasn’t. It’s work, I tell ya, to overcome all of this. There are so many layers to it, and sometimes it comes out of nowhere and knocks me on my ass. I worry that I won’t have it sorted out sufficiently by the time my baby comes, and I get terrified that somehow, unconsciously, I’ll send the wrong messages to my son. But I keep working on it.

Here we are, two months out, and I find I’m not done with my work. I’ve discovered something very unsettling the past few weeks. I have issues with males (as in boys, men, human beings with penises). I don’t “get” them, and too often for my own comfort, I don’t really like being around them. This is a wee bit of a problem considering I’m about to have one, don’t you think? I don’t hate men, but I’ve privately thought on more than one occasion that I could live quite comfortably without them, just in the company of women. Men are loud, often inconsiderate, uncommunicative, and they take up a lot of room with their bodies, their voices, their ideas. Did you ever notice how much space they take up in public places? It’s like there’s this entitlement about how much of the world belongs to them. Try sharing a bench with one sometime. Do they scoot aside and make room? Not in my experience. They talk over women in conversation. I’ve seen this time and again in the classroom where a young woman will patiently wait her turn to make a comment only to be drowned out by some guy who could care less that someone else was speaking. When something is wrong, they don’t tell you about it. They brood. I know what some people will think: not all men! Of course not all men. This is the problem with generalizing about any group of people, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have a point.

There are these teenage boys that hang out down at our pool. They take up the entire pool splashing each other (and anyone around them whether in the pool or not), performing dangerous dives too close to others, they spit loogies on the cement, cuss loudly, and openly admit to pissing in the pool. They are completely oblivious to those around them. I was out there last week trying to read a book, trying to be cool about the fact that they were having fun in their own way, trying not to be offended by the spit and piss, but I couldn’t help it, my first thought was “Oh my God. I’m going to have one of these.” I was stricken by that thought, readers, very shaken up that I not only thought that, but I also thought “I don’t want one of these.” I’m terrible. I know it.

I’ve lived too much of my life cloistered by academia, surrounding myself with educated, refined people, enjoying wine and fine foods and quiet hours reading books. I’ve been overly-selective of the company I keep, and I find that anything, anyone who seems rough or rowdy or crass completely turns me off. What the hell am I going to do? Certainly my boy will cuss and spit and scratch himself and injure insects and any number of things that boys do. It seems I have much work to do. I want this baby so much, and I know baby boys don’t come out of the womb doing these things, that I’ll have time to adjust to his personality. I know, too, that I’ll have some influence over what kind of boy he is, but these thoughts about men, about boys, they plague me lately. I tell myself to stop, that my boy won’t be that way, but what if he is? I’m ashamed of these feelings, and I am working on them. I hope you won’t think ill of me for voicing them here.


Filed under coping, disgusting things, fear, J


I often wish I could adopt my cats’ behaviors and not seem like some sort of lunatic in the process. Hissing, for example, is a wonderful expression. Our cats do it when they see other cats they dislike. They do it when one of their siblings is pissing them off. They sometimes do it to one of us if they don’t particularly appreciate the claw clippers we have in our hands or the bath we’re trying to put them into. But hissing and other cat behaviors don’t flatter humans. J had a student once who meowed and hissed. She meowed when J would call attendance. She would hiss when she didn’t like a grade she earned. And through all of that, she shattered the hope I held for making cat-like hissing an acceptable human expression. She was just too fucking weird.

So today, I am left with a very human sigh, a furrowed brow, and a generally grumpy countenance. My 4am test was negative. At least I had J and this guy to snuggle with me and soften the blow. 


The crimson tides still haven’t arrived, but I’m sure they aren’t far away. Upon their arrival, we’ll call the bank, place our order, and we’ll hopefully be sperming up before my mom comes for a quick pre-holiday visit. While Mom is hip to everything, she’s also particularly awkward about the means by which we are attempting to grow her next grandbaby.

But honestly, I’m okay. J mentioned this morning that we hadn’t had time to process all of this, and she was concerned about me, but I’m at a point now that I would rather move on with finishing the grading, pulling out holiday decorations, and sampling one of our most recent wine finds. To me, these are far more appealing than crying. Besides, I’m good at negatives. I’ve had ten of them already. I would rather expel a spitty cat hiss than cry over any more of these because the hiss is efficient: it’s much quicker than the talking and the sadness and the crying.

So this time, when/if you comment, there’s no need for the usual apologies and empathy. I know the sentiment is there; I feel it from you all, and I appreciate it so. But honestly, I would rather see some amusing stories–perhaps your favorite pet story, perhaps an amusing holiday tale, or perhaps just a dirty joke.

Or, you can join me in a good long hissssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss.


Filed under cats, coping, negatives


Thank you all. Your outpouring of support has really helped me today. Why can’t you all move into my neighborhood? I would make delicious coffee and tea every morning, and we could sit out in one of our gardens and talk, and it would be lovely.

I spoke with my sister just a few moments ago. She’s exhausted and scared and emotional, and she needed me. I’m sort of known as the Vice Mom in our family as the oldest child/daughter, and so I’ve often filled this role for my siblings. When I called, my sister needed that, and she needed her older sister. I told her I was proud of her, that I loved her, that we would all be there for her. It felt good to be in that role and not in the childless mother, cry my heart out, jealous bitch role. That’s my ugly side, and it’s a side I’d rather not bring out into the light of day again. The sister is a better side. I’m generally a good sister, a good daughter, a good friend, even a good partner, but I have my ugly side. She can stay away for awhile.

One of the many things that made yesterday so difficult was that J brought up adoption before we even got out of bed. She suggested that we start trying to adopt while still trying to get pregnant. My warped little ears heard, “Let’s give up on getting you pregnant–since you’ve clearly failed–and try this other thing.” Of course, this is far from what she said, but it’s what I heard. This (rather, I ) started an argument and a very bad day. Ultimately, she’s just feeling the urgency of needing a child. The pain of not being pregnant and having this break and the birth of the niece overcame her. In case you were wondering, my reaction and warping of her words didn’t help matters. Ugh.

So it only made sense that my niece would be born yesterday because I was already a wreck, J and I weren’t getting along, and there was no way I could have handled it gracefully. Stillness was our solution for all of it, and it worked. We each had a beer, watched So You Think You Can Dance, and ate spring rolls and rice for dinner. Then we snuggled on the couch with cats draped over us. Good medicine.

Today I am better. We both are. Today, J and I are close and understanding each other. We’re preparing for our ladies’ poker group to come visit (and play cards!) for the weekend and getting excited. Today we are continuing to figure out our next steps toward getting me pregnant. But more importantly, today I am looking forward to meeting this (apparently) gorgeous, big, long baby (8 lb 4 oz, 21 inches long) with the beautiful head of dark brown hair whom I get to call my niece. I won’t get to do that until next week, but it’s going to be good.

See? I’m better.


Filed under coping, crappy days, family, ladies' poker, niece

walking it off

As I sat around feeling sorry for myself yesterday morning, J didn’t quite know what to do with me. I was a bigger mess than I’ve been in awhile, and I was determined to stay that way. Eventually, she looked at me and said, “I think we need to go for a hike. What do you think?” My immediate reaction was to say no. I wanted to sit in my own misery all day. Then quickly, my rational side rescued me, and I remembered the mantra of gym teachers everywhere: when in pain, walk it off. So we packed some sandwiches and some water, and we headed out to walk off the pain of this cycle ending.

We went to this nearby state park that we had not yet explored. It consists of many different trails, some of which go straight up the small mountains in the park. We decided to follow a trail that went about halfway up one mountain and soon discovered that it linked with the main mountain trail, so we climbed and climbed and climbed until we could see the entire valley where we live:


We think it was probably about five miles total, but much of it (okay, half) was straight uphill. We’re still just intermediate hikers, and this was a bit more brutal than either of us had expected, but along the path, we both became lighter and happier. By the time we were back down the mountain, we were ready to move forward again, ready to leave the tears behind so that we can try again. It was beautiful.


HIking has unintentionally become our way of dealing with the loss of possibility. It seems that every time a cycle ends, we lace up our hiking shoes, pack a lunch, and head out on a new trail. It’s far healthier than drinking our way through it, and it give us the chance to leave some of the pain behind.

I’m better today, thanks to my wife. I’m going to try not to pin all of my hopes on this next cycle, but at the same time, I know that if it doesn’t result in pregnancy, we’ll figure it out. We always do.



Filed under coping, hiking, J, us