Tag Archives: contemplation

Marking the Cost of Going Gray


All 50 shades of it…. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

As I get older, the question of hair color becomes more relevant than I ever thought it would.  I used to play with hair coloring all the time as a teen and in my early twenties.  Blonde, purple, red, you name it, it was a form of accessory.  It was something I did because I wanted to, not because I felt I had to.  I expected gray hair to present itself when it did for my grandmother and mother.  My grandmother was white headed by 35 years old, nearly completely.  My mother headed for salt and pepper by then and started coloring her hair in earnest a few years later.  As she likes to say, “We don’t go gray; we go blonde.”  LOL.  Except I sort of hate that color on me.  So, I’m a little surprised that at 35 years old I’m not in the same situation.  I don’t know why, except that maybe genetics doesn’t have anything to do with it.  Who knows?

When it came to the question of having to, I was mostly against the idea.  I felt like there were not enough role models for young women about how to age with grace and power.  We’re taught to fight aging as though it were public enemy #1 (and possible in the first place).  From all the ads fighting wrinkles and “signs of aging” and everything else, I really hated the notion of treating a normal part of life as though it were a combat zone.

Of course that was before I was really starting to drift into that combat zone.

Now my hair stylist says I’m about 20% gray.  And I have a decision to make.

I’ve realized that the “vanity” option is really more than just that.  It’s not that I want to look “old.”  I just don’t want to look like I’m so much older than I feel (or am).  I don’t want to be treated differently because people perceive I’m older than I am (for example for job hiring purposes).  This is ironic, because for years people thought I was much younger than I really was.  Even still people make comments, which I’ve learned to accept graciously and just fork over my i.d. so they’ll shut up and move on.  Maybe in the dim lights they can’t see the gray.

I think that for two reasons I’m not going to start coloring my hair and just see what sort of silverback gorilla I become.

First, getting your hair colored is expensive.  My hair falls to the bottom of my shoulder blades and I have a lot of it.  To hide those gray roots, you’re looking at upkeep of every 6 – 8 weeks.  Sure, you could do it out of a kit yourself at home.  But I’ve never been a fan of many of those looks on older women.  It looks so obviously fake in many cases (and I find this to be just as true of many professional coloring jobs).  If I didn’t like it, that’s a heck of a lot of hair to grow out for a while and probably a very weird color scheme to deal with in the meantime as it grows out.  It’s not very budget friendly.

Second, there is more of a “cost,” in my opinion, associated with buying into the notion that we must all be fearful of gray hair and run from it at first sight.  It costs more in personal worry and fear than if you just accept this is a normal part of life and figure out how to rock your gray hair.  And, if I may be a bit preachy, it costs society when we as women promote that fear of looking our real age.  Now this is not to come down at ALL on women who choose to color their hair.  I’m a big fan of personal choice, and I would want no one to tell me what color my hair should or shouldn’t be any more than as a grown woman I want someone to tell me what I can and cannot wear.  I do wish, though, more women would talk about coloring their hair with a sense of pride as a fashion statement.  My mother, for example, and a close friend of mine discuss coloring their roots as though it’s a desperate secret they must maintain.  Newsflash, we all know that your hair isn’t naturally that color.

Maybe if younger women saw more models of women with beautiful hair in various shades of gray, they would get over the thought that they had to “fight” aging and turn around and fight something else that was far more important.  Like stagnant wages, or hunger and homelessness or something.



All or Nothing? A Compromise


I find myself getting locked into unholy combat with the dilemma over saving money or saving time.  As I read many of my favorite PF blogs, they seem to struggle with the same issue from time to time.  I tend to drive myself nuts with it, and it is because of my all or nothing outlook toward saving in some category or other.  This ultimately stresses me out, doesn’t work or save money.  Sometimes, as I just discovered, a compromise is just as good.  At least for people like me.

I don’t have a lot of wiggle room in my budget, but even a glamorous little shoestring budget like mine has SOME places it can be, nay MUST be, cut back.

Case in point:  parking fees.   Parking costs vary for me, but they average around $135 a month.  Just to park in the garage for work five times a week.  I’ve often come down very hard on myself for not riding the bus to and from work.  Not only would it save gas, but with my I.D. it’s FREE to me.  That’s right, f-r-e-e-e-e-e.  So every week that I chose not to take the bus, I’d get busy being mean to myself over it.  I’m not that bad with a budget; but I’m not nearly as frugal as some people on the internet seem to be.  I don’t wear all black clothing and then dye it when it starts to fade just so I have a few extra bucks.  I don’t brown bag constantly or eat rice and beans constantly.  So sometimes I feel like I have no right to bitch about saving money or needing it.  After all, I’m not doing EVERYTHING I possibly could to save a dime.

The trouble is, will power is a finite resource.  You do not have an endless supply of it to draw down on whenever you want.  This is why so many people’s New Year’s resolutions don’t even make it to the end of the month.  If you pick one thing, you’re drawing down on that supply.  Pick three more things, and you won’t find you have the energy for everything.  You have less to work with, so less determination can be spared to get the job done.  I’m a single mama, I work full time and I have a house to run and a teenage boy to understand and guide.  Oh, and savings goals.  Nothing ever gets done 100% perfectly all the time.  Most times it’s a compromise:  80% work efficiency, housework has dropped to 40% lol, teenager took 115% this week…etc.  And so my compromise might be an extra cup of coffee at work or a sandwich out for lunch.  I just can’t do it all.

Further, I don’t *want* to do it all.  I get tired or demoralized sometimes and I need a pick-me-up.  Or it’s just too much effort.  This is not a big city, so the bus routes are on fixed times.  They don’t go everywhere I need, and it costs me an extra hour minimum to take the bus to and from my house, just in waiting on it, routes taken, etc.  If I have an extra errand to run, switching buses to get it done sometimes means I’d wait quite a while to get back home.  So, I just took the car and bitched about the cost to park in the garage.  Then, I had a minor brainwave.  If the parking garage offered student passes, maybe they offered us working stiffs a pass as well.  Turns out, they sure do!

So, $45 a month later, I’m the proud owner of a new parking pass.  Am I saving $135 a month?  No.  But I am saving $90 a month.  And my time is not constricted by the available bus services.  Sure, I still want that extra $45.  But that is apparently the value of my driving time per month.  There is also the added sweetness of just waving a card in front of a scanner instead of digging for change and misplacing garage tickets, which I like quite a bit.

I can settle for that.  Now I just have to remember to move that same amount of money straight to savings instead of spending it on something stupid!

A Life Well Lived…


When I was Teenage Budget Glamorish (for I have always been budget and in various stages of glamorosity), I started developing my own ideas of that age-old concept known as “the good life.”  Really, I’ve turned over this notion in my little noggin since I was Little Budget Glamorous.  When I was five, I decided the best life possible would have to be lived as a spy.  As a spy, I would have apartments in Paris and in New York, and both would be full of truly fantastic clothes.  I would travel everywhere doing whatever spies did and it would be awesome.  Then I turned six.

My teenage self modified this concept to include having lots of ca$h, lots of travel, serious job prestige and still a closet full of awesome clothes.  That self settled on a stockbroker as the ideal vehicle to such ends.  Then I went to college and took some finance classes…

College Budget Glamorous by then was a young single mother.  Her version of the good life included financial security (whatever that was), a strong future for the kidlet, and “living the life of the mind.”  Then this version of the self graduated and tried to do just that.

It was frustrating.

For one thing, the stress of being a starving artist with a kidlet sort of takes away from the lofty amounts of time I figured I spend Thinking Deep Thoughts while being creative and fulfilled.  Whatever that was about.  I had all these notions of how to live ethically and with value other than moneydollars.  I pondered the breakdown of community and why we were all so isolated.  I wanted to do something meaningful.  I knew that I had to work to live and I wanted a certain measure of “stuff.”  But my Parisian apartment vision had been replaced by something tidy that I could call my own (though I went through various stages of wanting to build a “dream home” as well).

Now, I realize that my idea of the good life really should be more properly defined as “a life well lived.”  It’s not so much about the stuff, but about the activity that stuff stood for.  My tiny self wanted a Parisian apartment because I thought the view would be beautiful and somehow the inside would be delightful to come home to.  I have achieved the same effect with my tiny little mid-1950s house here in Appalachia.  I put some time and effort into making it that place that promotes creativity, supports the life I want as well as the life I have to lead, and generally speaking is just as dang glamorous as the apartment in my head (tho far more budget and still not completely finished).

Travel is the one consistent theme I’ve kept from little girl to now.  The only thing that has changed is my idea of what I can afford.  I may have gone to Mexico City instead of Paris, but for all purposes, the effect on my worldview was the same.  Each place offers its own take on life and how one lives it.  Just getting out of the country was good enough, even if it’s on a shoestring to the developing world.  It’s a valuable part of my life experience and one I hope to continue to do.

Ultimately, it’s just about figuring out what all that “stuff” was supposed to mean.  I don’t really want the floor to ceiling cavernous library with the leather chairs for reading.  I want intellectual curiosity, escape and fantasy that books can offer.  A Kindle will do.  Or the used book store or the library.  I didn’t really want a chef.  I wanted access to neat foods.  (So I learned to cook, and what I can’t cook, the occasional sushi binge fixes!)  I didn’t really want high end dinner parties (OK, maybe once).  I want the feeling of eating with friends and talking about interesting things.  I can do that with potluck and it feels great.  I don’t really want all the acreage and the massive gardens I used to want.  I want to make my little vegetable and cottage garden on my own soil and visit other public parks and gardens instead.  It’s the same thing without all the upkeep.

I’m still working on the closet.  I cannot get past the clothes.  For me, they’re forms of art.  I’m just too budget limited to get what I truly want.  So perhaps in that way I’m very materialistic!

How do you define a life well lived?

Toxic Environment = Toxic Finances


Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  In part, that’s because I was dealing with a highly toxic environment and it’s taken a while to get my head above the noxious cloud that seems to have been my permanent weather state for the past very long time.  Once I did get (mostly) clear of the nasty weather, I can see how choosing to stay in a toxic environment also poisoned my finances.

It’s easy to spot a literal toxic environment.  We all know what bad water looks and smells like.  But sometimes it’s not so easy to recognize metaphorical toxic environments.  Doesn’t make them any less poisonous, though!  Consider the places in life where your environment is less than uplifting.  Do you feel a heaviness fall on your shoulders when you get close to your job site every day?  What about when you are headed home?  There are some people and situations that can just suck the life energy out of you and I’ve found it’s important to recognize them as soon as possible.

Example number one from several years ago:  I used to help run a couple of nonprofits in the area that had to do with literacy issues.  This is work I loved to do, even though it was drastically underpaid.  I loved most every aspect of the job and I had my hands in pretty much everything.  It was a great learning experience.  The environment, however, was highly toxic.  We had a mostly unsupportive board of directors — and anyone who has worked nonprofit can tell you that basically makes you dead in the water.  They were full of suggestions for how we do our work and not forthcoming with money or help to get those things done.  They actively worked against us on some occasions.  Our partner organizations were sometimes just as bad.  One particularly bad Americorps hire led to all kinds of human resources issues that went unsupported.  Needless to say, there was stress.  Lots and lots of stress.  And I don’t mean the productive, deadline making kind.  Underneath it all, the director and I were angry.  And that’s how we came to work no matter what was actually going on.  We’d start out OK, but inside, we were prepped for battle.  That’s no way to live.  The majority of people and experiences in that work were toxic — and they slowly poisoned us into bitter people.

I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence that when I got a job outside of nonprofit, I made at least 50% more money and certainly far better benefits than I had there.  Not because nonprofit is spectacularly underpaid — there are plenty of positions in this area in nonprofit that make a lot more than I do now.  I think it was because as the toxicity of that place washed out of me, I got better at seeing opportunities for better money and circumstances.  The director of that nonprofit left it several years later — and the same thing happened.  After she left, it took a few months, but then suddenly she started seeing more money where there was none before.  I think this is because cloudy judgment from toxic atmospheres keeps you from being able to see opportunities that might be right in front of your nose.   When your vision isn’t obscured by a poisonous fog, money happens.

Example number two from these past months:  toxic relationships.  I got tangled up in what turned out to be a highly manipulative and dishonest relationship with someone I thought I knew well.  Blech, whatever.  In that process, though, I found myself doing a bunch of toxic things I never really would’ve done much of otherwise.  Things like spending money to make myself feel better.  Or buying dinner out because I was too upset to cook.  During the relationship, I was watching money go through my fingers like water because we weren’t on the same page about finances and I couldn’t seem to communicate without him starting a fight (yes, he started the vast majority of the fights.  I hate fights.).  So instead of arguing the point or putting my foot down, I’d take all those unnecessary items in the grocery cart and just pay for them.  It got to the point where I dreaded coming home, so toxic was the home environment.  He did me a favor by running away.  But even afterward,  it still took me some time to come to grips with what happened, how I’d gotten myself into that mess in the first place, and to get over it.  In the meantime,  a few trips to the salon, a few nights on the town with a bad case of the aw-fuck-its, and you’ve got yourself  a small credit card mess.

This also applied to me when I was sick and going through treatment for the beginnings of cervical cancer.  Or going through divorce.  Or a house refinance.  Or whatever it is that causes you to have a giant case of the aw-fuck-its.  My budget is the first casualty to that disease.  Being filled with negative emotions from that toxic situation also helps you miss important connections from other people.  Maybe if you’re in a haze you’ll get lucky and someone will reach out to you with an opportunity.  Too often, though, what happens is other people either think you’re in over your head anyway and don’t want to bother you, or they  have no idea you actually want or need new opportunities and you have been too busy in a fog to notice the things right in front of your face.

After I came to terms with my last disaster relationship, got through the sickness scare, got everything lined out budgetwise and knew where I stood, some of the fog started to clear.  As it dissipated, I noticed that I had a spare bedroom and that the international exchange student program was looking for host families on a per semester basis.  This pays basically my mortgage.  So I signed up.  Then I noticed that I could do enough copywriting quickly enough to make the per hour cost somewhat OK for a second job.  It’s not huge money, but it’s paid a few bills in a pinch.  And it let me go to the salon once completely guilt free and paid for in cash.  I also filed for child support for the first time in 15 years.  Why?  I was too busy with my head down being toxic to notice that we were suffering when we shouldn’t be.  Also not coincidentally, I landed a three year contract at my job to develop a new course for my college.  I think it had everything to do with attitude and of course previous work history.

When I cleaned up my environment, things really started to bloom.  I won’t and can’t say I’m flush with cash, because I still have to work hard for my money and I enjoy working.  But I went from drowning in worry on my tiny budget to popping back up to the surface and floating along, with three additional income streams coming down the pike, giving me anywhere from $700 to $1000 extra a month, depending on what is going on.  Three.  Not one, not two, but three!  And that, my friends, is making all the difference.

Glamorously Resisting Temptation!


As I’ve gotten my financial priorities lined up, I’ve noticed…ye gods, but it’s hard to find a hobby that doesn’t involve spending money, and boy is it hard to resist the urge to go into a shop!  I like looking at pretty things, whether that’s dresses or furniture, home decor (lord, especially home decor!) candles, art, seeds, you name it, I like looking at it.  The problem is, the more I look, the more I want to buy something, and even if it’s dirt cheap, it’s not a bargain if I don’t need it.  Further, I’ve also got a terrible hankering for eating out, whether that’s a couple of beers and some chicken wings at the local pub, a quick pizza when I’m tired at night, or a few pieces of sushi.  If i’m not careful, I nickle and dime the hell out of myself on food out.  There are few things I like better than places to eat.

I need other activities that don’t involve spending or at the least don’t involve spending too much money.  I’d also like to not be bored, so there is only so much of curling up with a laptop and some netflix movies that I can stand.  Community events sometimes help.  I recently went to a Chocolate Lover’s Day downtown, and for a mere $5 each, my friend and I walked around the downtown area to the various shops listed on the choco-map sampling all the chocolatey goodies.  We ate well over $5 worth of chocolate, much of it homemade nomnoms.  The chocolate cheesecake in the yarn and sewing shop was particularly delicious.  I’m hoping to figure out how to get into more events like that.

The gym should factor into my daily life more, but it just doesn’t.  This is appalling, as I’m paying for the membership every month straight out of my paycheck.  It’s cheap, because I’m faculty, but still, it’s money wasted.  There always seems to be something in the way of going, when in reality it’s just because I don’t prioritize taking care of myself.  I also don’t look at the gym as fun.  I see it as sweaty work.  Maybe if I followed a session with a round in the pool and hot tub I would think differently.  I’m already paying for it.  It’s stupid not to get my money’s worth.  And then I’d be too tired to think about nickle and diming myself for food out.

The bike, once I get into a higher gear than first, seems like it could be some nice and cheap amusement.  With gas at $4 a gallon, the bike gets 70 miles to that gallon.  My only fear is that I’ll try to stop in places along the way for a pit stop…involving beer and chicken wings.  My solution to this is to try to orchestrate some fishing expeditions for the warmer days.  I can put my collapsible pole and tackle in the saddlebags and zoom off for the afternoon.  A fishing license even with a trout stamp is pretty cheap.  And I have a couple of buddies ready to show me some great spots for fishing.  Hopefully a day of being lazy in the sun with a pole will get me past the urge to pop myself into the corner shop and just see what’s in there.

If I am going to spend money on events, I’d rather it end up having some lasting effect.  I’m headed to the Kentucky Derby soon — my annual pilgrimage to the state of my birth.  Every Derby we try to do different activities.  Sometimes we’ll go to concerts.  Last year we went to the Kentucky Horse Park and saw some of the retired great horses, like Cigar.  This year we’re doing something called “Sips and Strokes.”  We’ll be walked through creating a painting appropriately called “Derby Girl” while we sip on wine.  It’s for complete beginners and I’m very excited about it.  It’s $40, but unless it becomes “Slips and Slurs” it’ll give me something to put on the wall back home.

One of the things I’m still kicking around is a monthly potluck.  My sister has weekly dinners with her girlfriends, but I’m just not that coordinated.  I could manage to do it once a month, though.  I’ll have to see about getting this done.  That would be lovely fun.  Oooh, and there would be food too!

What are your suggestions for cheap amusements?  Besides heckling passersby from my porch with a beer?

Nice Try But No Cigar


A former student who is now a resident assistant in her dormitory invited me to come and speak to some of the students about end of semester portfolio tips during one of their social events a little bit ago.  Though the event was at 7:30 in the evening on one of my longest work days, I agreed to it.  I was really pleased to see my student again, as she was one of my first generation college students a few years ago.  And it’s a good thing to do, not to mention I can put it down in my portfolio narrative as “service.”  Whoo-hoo!  While this activity is a “good thing to do,” it’s a shame the university committees aren’t so recognizing of plenty of other volunteer work done in the community.  I can help run parents’ meetings for the Boys and Girls Club, help out in food banks, tutor people, you name it; but it doesn’t count if it’s not somehow explicitly tied to my university and my job.  They define “service,” usually, as “university committee meetings.”

So anyhoo, I show up just before start time walking through campus and I notice how warm it is that night.  Unseasonably warm weather usually means very poor student turn out, and such was unfortunately the case for this event.  Not a single soul showed up, all preferring to go out elsewhere in skimpy duds, I suppose.  I left my student a copy of what I was going to present as a handout and headed home.  Outside the frat houses were absolutely blaring their music.  One group even had a megaphone and some sort of siren going.  The noise was practically deafening.  I can’t imagine trying to sleep through it, though I suppose I’m old enough now to worry about such things.

I never realized just how much of a party school we were until I tried to get back to my car. I was right in the middle of campus, and the frat houses ringing the campus were incredibly loud.  I think they pretty much get a nuisance party citation, pay it out of their dues, and do it all again the next day.  Everywhere people were headed out, some clearly already drunk.  I’ve never really been on campus during these times.  I’ve either been in class or already at home.  Watching some of the girls wobbling down the sidewalk at about 8:00 was kind of…scary.  And sad.  And apparently preferable to popping into your carefully planned activity at your resident faculty leader’s little pad.  They were supposed to have a game of some sort and my little presentation.  Given this was just past midterm, many of them probably should’ve been sitting through my fun and short presentation … THEN going out to wobble down the sidewalk on a Wednesday evening.

Sigh.  It’s getting harder and harder to pull students into any event like this, no matter how well designed and fun it seems, even if you offer free food.  They’re just not interested.  If you don’t compel them to come by dinging them with loss of points or something, they don’t show up.  It would be one thing if they didn’t later on in the semester complain and whine about how there just isn’t any help here on campus, and somehow that is responsible for the sad state of their final grades.  The worst are the seniors who complain they aren’t prepared to enter the job market while simultaneously ignoring every single presentation and service the Career Center offers over the course of their time here.  They even do mock interview sessions and they bring all kinds of companies to campus.  But good luck getting the majority of students who need such help or contacts to take advantage of them.

I walked to my car thinking “Sigh, Nice try BG, but no cigar.”  And then I realized that’s exactly what life is going to say to the kiddos who don’t take advantage of these services now but feel entitled to better grades or jobs later.  Nice try, honey.  But no cigar.

Ladies Who Coffee


It’s taken a few weeks to get off the ground, but Wednesday was the first truly successful day for us Ladies Who Coffee.

After a hard and fast realization that life is very, very out of balance, I realized I was missing real interaction with friends in my life.  Oh, I have them, but I don’t do a very good job of cultivating them.  Not following each other on Facebook, not texting, not emailing, not waving across the road, real honest-to-god interaction with friends.  To be fair, I think most of my friends are similar.  We want to do more with each other, but life always seems to be getting in the way.  Then the next thing you know, you run into each other and have weeks of catching up to do.  Unhealthy.  Are we really so busy we can’t take an hour once a week to sit and bitch about others?  I think not.

My sister helps run a highly successful dinner group every Tuesday night.  They potluck, with each woman taking turns hosting the main dish while others bring the sides and dessert.  They are very tight knit, and the older women end up mentoring the younger ones.  I met a few of her dinner girls at my sister’s wedding back in October.  They were strong, happy and clearly benefited from spending that kind of time with each other.  I’m barely coordinated enough to feed my own self dinner, much less others.  But I can drink the hell out of some coffee!

Our first two attempts were not highly successful.  For one, we were trying to hold the event on a Friday.  All I could think about come Friday at 3:30 was fleeing campus as hard and as fast as I could.  Turns out so were they.  So we moved it to Wednesday instead.  That ended up being perfect!  It was a delightful antidote to getting through the hump of the week and we were all more committed to being there.  I went through graduate school with one of the women and another I guerrilla garden with (a post for another day lol).  But the others I only knew somewhat loosely.  This was probably ideal.

We all had the university in common, more or less, and so we began as you might expect:  by bitching about the students.  LOL!  That quickly turned to bitching about the administration (I know, right? Who knew we all had so much in common??).  This was followed by more personal discussions of family, friends, writing, weird housemates, cats (not mutually exclusive of weird housemates), plans, revelations, excitement, you name it.  Before I knew it, an hour and a half had passed.

I can’t speak for men, but I know as a woman, I really do need my women friends.  I never realize this more than when I am away from them.  There is a sense of community and common bond that I don’t get anywhere else.  I appreciate their insights and I want to champion their causes as my own.  Lord, how I’ve missed them!  While my tendency is to jump into something “whole-hog,” as us Appalachians might say, I’ve realized the value in doing this one thing the right way.  I can’t exactly mark up my calendar with loads of social obligations.  But for this semester, for my life and for my girlbuddies, I can do this one thing as right as I can do it.

It was just a coffee date.  But oh, was it so much more than that!

Of course, given that this past Wednesday was the day before midterm grades were due, we became the Ladies Who Beer, but who’s watching?