The Focus Project: (Personal Style) Wrap Up

This month has been so fun! I loved the rhythm of spending this amount of time–the month of July–focused on one area of my life. I think this year is going to be GOOD!

July was my personal style month. As a reminder, the habit I wanted to cultivate was a monthly closet curation. The books I looked at were The Triumph of Individual Style and Vintage Style. My goal was to wear a different outfit every day this month, no repeats. My focus word was Quirky. And my do something was to make a personal style pin board on Pinterest.

I wrote last week about my closet curation. I have a feeling that this is going to be one of my most favorite projects of all time. Between my closet only holding pieces of clothing that I adore and my new purse organization that lets me see all my pretty vintage bags, I’m officially in love with this part of my house. Setting aside 15 or 20 minutes a month to make sure that the curation stays up to date is going to be fun.

I did wear a different outfit every day this month. Yay for meeting goals! I took a trip to Idaho, where my Adrienne is moving for school in August and to visit my sister. It was awesome to be able to pack in less than an hour and to feel amazing in everything I wore.

Taking Stasia’s class involved choosing power words–words that reflect what I want to project into the world. Quirky, my focus word for the month, was one of mine. So were: creative, brave, vibrant, and bold. Curating my closet with those words in mind has left me with the ability to choose an outfit everyday that helps me to feel the way I want to feel.

I highly recommend The Triumph of Personal Style. It has a lot in it about things like color and balance and choosing clothing that suits your body proportions. I love that it isn’t about weight or size, but about figuring out your proportions and finding the clothes that fit them. For instance, I’m oval shaped–narrow-ish hips, thin-ish limbs, and a round, soft belly. I’m also evenly proportioned from top to bottom, so I’m not particularly long in the torso or legs. The Triumph of Personal Style has helped me figure out that there isn’t anything wrong with my body shape. It isn’t broken. It isn’t too big or too round or too anything. And there are clothes that work for it.

I was less excited about Vintage Style. Pretty pictures, but most of the clothes weren’t vintage. Bummer. It was just an okay read for me.

I think that’s about it. See you in August!


The Focus Project: (Personal Style) Closet Curation

I love the concept of curation. I think it stems from my love of thrift shopping. When I go into a thrift store, it’s all about shifting through piles of stuff that other people don’t want, to find the treasures that I adore.

That’s exactly what I’ve been doing in my own closet.

I have a history of buying whatever clothes would fit my body. A year ago I wore a size 26 or 28, and there just weren’t many choices. Especially at thrift stores. And then I lost a lot of weight, quickly, over the last year and found myself with a closet bursting with clothes in every size between 28 and 14. Some of it I loved, but just didn’t fit. (I’ve really had to work on getting past the idea that if I could put it on my body, it fit.) Some of it fit, but I didn’t like it.

What curation looked like for me involved taking everything out of my closet and going through it piece by piece. I tried everything on. If it was too big, it went either in a pile to sell or a pile to give away. If it was too small, I kept it if I loved it, because my body is still changing. If I didn’t love it, it went in one of the other two piles.

When I was left with just the things that fit me (and I mean really fit me), I went through each piece and asked myself if I loved it. Did it reflect the image of myself I wanted to project to the world?

Here’s an example. I’d had this skirt in my closet for at least a year and never worn it The colors are right, and I love the pattern, but I hated the length. Midi-skirts just don’t work well for me. They always make me feel like they’re swallowing me up.


So, I got brave. I whipped out a pair of scissors and hacked a foot off the length. I was left with an above-the-knee skirt that I absolutely LOVE. It didn’t even need to be hemmed, because the fabric won’t unravel.


Thanks to Stasia’s class, I’ve figured out that I love bright, clear colors. I’d always believed I was an autumn because someone told me so when I was a teenager, so I had a lot of muted, fall-toned clothes. Pumpkin and brown and forest green. They didn’t make me happy and they didn’t suit me. Once I realized how much happier I am in bright spring colors, everything changed and that really directed my curation.

Stasia also helped me figure out that I am drawn to bold patterns and textures. I love stripes and plaid and polka dots. I love vintage graphic t-shirts with the necks cut out and lace and pin tucks. I like those things more than wearing jewelry or other accessories. So when I put something on and tried to decide whether or not it made the cut, I asked myself if the pattern and texture made me happy.

In the end, I filled my van TWICE with donations and put a couple of boxes of things I will eventually sell in my garage. That’s insane, right? I didn’t even realize I owned that many clothes.

I was left with a curated collection of clothes that both fit me well and make me feel good.

My personal style habit for the rest of the year is to curate my closet once a month. Obviously, it won’t be such a big job going forward. The hardest work is done. If I keep up with it, I’ll never have to do that again. But I’m still losing weight. It’s conceivable that in a year, nothing I own now will fit me anymore. So, once a month I’ll go through my closet and decide if there’s anything I’ve been holding on to that just doesn’t work for me, or anything that doesn’t fit me anymore.

In the meantime, having a curated closet is an absolute joy. I’m off this weekend to Idaho to help my oldest daughter move for school, and packing took about ten minutes. Every morning, I’m excited to pick out something to wear. It took most of the month to do, but I highly, highly recommend a closet curation if you’re not in love with your clothes or if you end up staying in your pajamas all day because you can’t stand the idea of diving into your closet one more time.


The Focus Project: (Personal Style) Style Journal

One of the projects that we did during Stasia’s Style School that I loved the most was to create a style journal. I think Stasia actually called it a Vision Book, but I started calling it my Style Journal and it just stuck.

Basically, I just picked up a notebook in the cheap section at the front of Target (I think it cost $3) and borrowed one of Ruby’s glue sticks. I went around my house and picked up any magazines I had lying around and headed to Savers where I could buy magazines for 29 cents (plus, buy four, get one free) and bought some more there.


I went through the magazines and tore out any pictures that appealed to me, style-wise. Some are fashion style, some are house style. Some are just an aesthetic I love that could translate a bunch of ways. I glued the pictures into my Style Journal and made little notes about why I picked that picture.


The Focus Project: Monthly Themes

The Focus Projet

I wonder if this sounds at all like you?

You tend to hyper-focus on one thing, letting everything else go. So, for instance, maybe you’re knee deep in organizing your garage, but you haven’t done your laundry for two weeks. Or maybe you’re right up on top of starting a new Etsy store, but you stopped halfway through painting your guest bedroom and never got back to it.

Or how about this: you have fantastic ideas, you’re great at planning them, but you really struggle with follow through. You bite off more than you can chew sometimes. Maybe more than sometimes.

I’m not the only one, right?

We all have our zones of genius. For creative, right-brained people, our zone is ideas. Ideas are awesome and they come easily to us. Actually they bombard us and keep us up at night. Our zone is getting excited at the beginning. And that’s great. We’re the ones who get the ball rolling. We’re the ones who make everyday things exciting. We’re the dream weavers.


The Focus Project: (Personal Style) Purses

I love purses. Especially vintage bags.

For a long time, before I lost weight, I couldn’t find clothes that fit the style that I wanted to project. I wanted to wear vintage dresses and cute shoes and I just couldn’t find the things I wanted to wear in a size 28. So, I bought purses. I love Vera Bradley tote bags and sparkley Enid Collins bucket purses and sweet little mid-century clutches and sturdy 1970s leather handbags.

My goal for July is to curate my closet. I’ve decided that ‘my closet’ will include the trunk at the foot of my bed that holds my purses. I love that trunk, but my purses are so tucked away, I rarely use them. So, I set up a little purse corner of my room with a bookshelf and a little wooden cabinet that my older daughter made for me when she was in high school and some wall hangers, and I made what is officially my most favorite corner of my whole house.



July’s Theme: Personal Style

July Theme-Personal Style

I’ve been away from this blog for a little bit, working on building my writing blog. But I’ve missed it here! Now that summer is here and my day job is done (not just for the summer–I quit! I’ll post more about that later), I’m able to start writing here again. I’m super glad to be back, and I’m even more glad than that to be back with an idea for a series that I think you guys are going to love.

I’ve divided the year into twelve months (Clever, no? I mean, no one else has ever thought to do that, right?) and given each year a theme. Once a week I’ll post on that theme, and we’ll also work on building a small habit that can be sustained for a whole year (until that theme rolls around again!)

Each month’s theme will have a task, a habit, a focus word, a goal, a book, and a challenge.

Sounds fun, right?

I thought about starting with Home, because restarting CHAOS is something that’s important to me, but I changed my mind. Instead, I’m going to end with that theme next June. For July, I decided to focus on something that’s a little more fun and that I’ve had on my mind a lot the last few weeks: personal style.

Style has always been something that I love, and something that entirely eludes me. I know what my style is, but I tend to have a problem with executing it on the outside. My right-brained, scattered self comes through and I end up in the same old jeans and a t-shirt every day.

I’ve especially been thinking a lot about style since losing weight. Dressing in clothes that fit is more difficult than it might seem when you’re body is changing quickly. I’m so used to buying anything that will fit on my body, and now that I have more choices I’m working pretty hard to keep my head and my body on the same page.

One thing I did, which has been invaluable, is to take Stasia Savasuk’s Stasia’s Style School class this summer. If style is something you want to learn more about, I highly, highly recommend the course. It’s all about helping you choose power words and power colors and step out of your comfort zone to help make the way you present yourself to the world match who you are on the inside. Stasia calls that inside out congruency and it’s just brilliant.

Here are July’s Theme Things:


How to Make a Family Calendar Meal Planner

How to make a Family Calendar Meal Planner--a life-changing system for crazy-busy, right-brained moms.

I have a lot going on. A lot, a lot. I have a full time job. I’m launching an online course. Soccer season just started.

I’m super busy. Like 5 a.m. until I fall into bed at night busy.

So here’s what happens when I’m this busy. Especially on soccer nights, when Ruby and I don’t get home until after 7.

Me: I’m hungry.

Ruby: Me, too. Let’s call Dad.

Kevin: Don’t even say it. I already picked up pizza.

It’s so easy to fall into a pizza-run or drive-through habit when you’re insanely busy and time just slips away from you. There is literally no way to be as right-brained as I am, as busy as I am right now, and successfully have a home-cooked meal if the first time I think about it is on the way to soccer practice or as I’m driving home from work in the afternoon. It’s just not going to happen.

I’ve tried every single meal plan out there. I’ve ordered eMeals, which was fabulous, but not flexible enough for me. I’ve at least considered a fairly complicated system I read about on a blog that involves an online calendar and a lot of looking up recipes on blogs to load it up on the front end. (There is no way. No. Way.) I’ve tried just writing down a meal plan once a week like a normal person. I’ve tried winging it.

Just like with everything else in my life, I need something that’s both flexible and structured enough to help me get out of my own way. So, way, way less than someone else telling me what to eat every day or (shudder) using a computer program to track Pinterest recipes. And more than me scribbling something in a notebook and keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll stick with it.

After months of thinking on this and trying things, I’ve finally hit on a system that works so well it’s almost like magic.

Click here for a free download of the Family Calendar Meal Planner Checklist.


Project Buy a House: The Last Few Weeks

Project Buy a House 2016: Spending the next year paying down debt and saving some money so that we can become home owners instead of home renters.

Project Buy a House 2016 is my family’s reaction to finding out in late 2015 that our rent would be increased by about one third. It’s time for us to buy a house–and that means taking 2016 to pay down our debt, increase our income, and manage our money.

Here are the plans:

  1. Have a Money Day meeting every Thursday.
  2. Put $50 a week into our Lifeboat.
  3. Pay the minimum payments on everything, on time.
  4. Put $200 a week aside in a debt-repayment Booster envelope. At the end of the month, use that money to make a booster payment to whatever debt has the lowest balances. (At the end of the month, if we’re short on the rent, some of this money can be funneled there. It can’t be used for anything else.)
  5. Roll the minimum payment for each debt that we pay off into the Booster envelope.
  6. Save 10 percent of our income until we have $1000 saved, then put that 10 percent into the Booster fund as well.

Here’s how we did the last few weeks.


It’s been a while since I updated regarding Project Buy a House. Almost exactly one month, as a matter of fact. I’m pretty excited about this particular update.

I wrote the other day about the magic of serious intention. Well, I seriously intend to buy a house in 2017. Seriously. Intend.

Being so focused on that one goal has really helped me to stay on task when it comes to personal finance. In order to buy a house we have to:

  1. Pay off our debt, in order to shift our debt-to-income ratio.
  2. Save for a down payment.
  3. Increase our credit score.

In order to do all of that, we need to both get better at managing the money we have and do what we can to bring in more money.

It sounds so easy when I lay it all out like that.

So far in 2016, we’ve cut our power bill by 1/3 just by turning our heat down by 5 degrees and we’ve successfully kept our grocery bill at $125 a week (which is at least a 50 percent reduction over what we were spending. At least.) Not bad.

But what I’m super excited about is the ‘bring in more money’ part.

Pay Down Debt

Okay, let’s start here. Because it’s SUPER exciting!

I made a pretty audacious goal of putting $200 a WEEK into a Booster fund to put toward paying down debt (on top of our regular minimum monthly payments.) We didn’t hit that goal in January–not even close. In fact, we only had $52 to use as a booster payment.

February was considerably better. Since Kevin works in a casino and depends on tips, Super Bowl week is always extra special around here. We also had a friend pay us back some money we’d loaned him. And I made a lot more money than I usually do in February. More about that in a few minutes.

I’m super, super pleased to report that we were able to put the full $800 booster payment toward our debt. That paid off three credit cards, which freed up $75 in minimum monthly payments–money that will be rolled in March into the Booster stash. That means that March’s booster payment will be $875. Go us!

The whole debt repayment thing is particularly important to me because my entire pay check from my day job is used to repay debt. The amount I earn is about equal to our minimum monthly payments for credit cards, a loan, and Ruby’s braces. I’m working to pay off some important stuff, like the braces, but also a whole bunch of crap that I don’t even remember buying. Not good.

Make More Income

Here’s the one that’s making me giddy this month!

I have been so FOCUSED on increasing the amount of money I earn. And it’s working! I’ve transferred to a different school, to a position that both pays $5 more per hour and offers 5 more hours per week–which means that I also get health insurance through my job now. What to know what’s absolutely magical about that? The extra money I’m bringing in is EXACTLY equal to the $800 we want to put into our Booster every month.

Serendipity. I’m telling you.

On top of that, I decided to launch an online writing course through my new blog. A Novel Idea: The Full Course is in early release right now and launches officially on April 1. Enrollment closes on May 1. I have no way of knowing yet how many people will sign up for the course, but enough have already that Kevin can quit his second job. He wasn’t getting many hours there anyway–only five days in 2016, and all of those around Super Bowl. The summer is when he gets a lot of hours from that job, and when I don’t work at all.

It’s hard to even find the words to describe how good it feels to do something that I feel so much passion for (writing AND teaching) and to be able to earn enough money doing that to positively impact my family. This summer will be the first in a very long time when Kevin isn’t working two full time jobs.

Manage Our Money

We’re still having Money Day once a week. The best decision ever. Having a set time to sit down and focus for a few minutes on our finances has made a huge difference.

The thing we have to focus on, as far as money management goes, in the next month or so is making money I’m making this spring from A Novel Idea: The Full Course last all year–especially for the summer, since I work at an elementary school and I’m off when the kids are.

We’re close to having $1000 in our savings account. We should hit that this week during our Money Day. We decided to up that to the amount of one month’s rent–so $1900 (thanks so much landlords!) before we start putting that 10 percent of our income into the Booster.

The one thing that’s working very, very well is saving the Booster until after we’ve paid the rent. That has really helped ease the stress of having to come up with a rent that is, really, more than we can easily afford to pay. Just the idea that the money is there if we need it helps a lot. We did need nearly all of it in January–which sucked, but it was such a relief to know it was there. We didn’t need it in February, but it was very nice to get toward the end of the month without counting pennies to make sure we wouldn’t all (that’s me, Kevin, adult son with autism, and elderly grandparents with dementia) wind up homeless. No matter what, between our Booster and our savings, we could have paid the rent. Even if somehow we managed to lose all of our jobs and had nothing coming in at all the end of the month.

Goals for the Next Two Weeks

  1. Be able to use the entire $875 booster for debt repayment.
  2. Work on a meal plan I can stick to between day job, A Novel Idea: The Full Course (which is like a second full time job right now), and soccer season starting up again. Stick to the $125!
  3. When I see how much money comes in at the end of the early launch for A Novel Idea: The Full Course, make a plan for how to use that money.

The Magic of Serious Intention

The Magic of Serious Intention.

Here’s what’s been going on with me for the last five or six weeks. (Or really, since about December.)

I think I’ve mentioned that I was in a very toxic work situation. I don’t want to go into too many details, but I’ll just say that I’ve been working since I was fifteen and I’ve never, ever had a worse job. The stress was making me physically ill.

I had to do something to make things better. I started throwing ideas at the wall. I started a Patreon page. I applied for whatever job I came across that I was even minimally qualified for, I put in for every single job transfer I was eligible for at the school district, and I started a second blog for my writing posts. I also wrote like my fingers were on fire, because I was positive my best bet for getting enough money to quit my horrible job was to sell another book.

A couple of those ideas stuck.

I was actually offered a couple of jobs outside the school district, and it nearly killed me to turn them down. Both turned out to be mostly night and weekend jobs and as awful as that job was, I knew it wasn’t permanent and I didn’t want to stop being able to take Ruby to her soccer practices and games and tournaments. Working for the school district, if I have to have a day job, is perfect for me, logistically. I was glad I held out, because I ended up being offered a position at an elementary school that offered not only five extra hours a week, but also pays a full five dollars more per hour.

I also was completely unprepared for the success of my second blog, What Is A Plot? I started a free course called The Plotting Workshop that I thought, maybe, 50 people might sign up for in February. I thought that it would at least take my mind off my toxic job and give me the chance to do something productive that I loved. By the end of February, though, more than 800 people had signed up for the class. A vibrant, engaged, amazing community of Ninja Writers sprang from that class.

Because the free class went over so well, I decided to do something that I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. I launched a year-long course based on my A Novel Idea posts. The response to that has been so humbling and so incredible. I’m not even exaggerating when I tell you that as miserable as my toxic job was, what came out of my desperate attempt to get out of it will change my life.

There is real magic in the act of serious intent. Call it manifestation or the Law of Attraction or whatever you want. Making a decision to do something, putting that desire out into the universe, putting all of your efforts and bravery and skill toward making that thing happen, is POWERFUL.

Here’s what I did that changed everything.

I made a decision.

On the morning that I woke up covered in hives caused by the stress of my toxic job, I knew that I had to do something. There was a very definite line that was crossed between what I was willing to take and what I wasn’t. I couldn’t just quit my job, although believe me I wanted to badly. So, I said out loud to myself, to Kevin, to whoever would listen, that I was looking for a different way to make money.

I took risks.

I risked being stuck in my toxic job by staying there instead of taking the first new job that was offered to me. I knew in my heart and in my gut that neither of those jobs would have been right in the long run. They were both jobs that I would have felt terrible walking away from soon after taking them. I trusted that something better was coming. I also took a risk by stepping out of my comfort zone with the Ninja Writers. When the success of The Plotting Workshop came barreling in, I risked failure by deciding to put A Novel Idea: The Full Course out there.

I made myself uncomfortable.

It’s hard being vulnerable. I’m a natural over-sharer, but it’s super hard to take on a steep learning curve, offer up everything you know about a subject you truly love and risk total failure, put hours and hours and hours of work into a project without knowing that it will be even a tiny bit successful. It was uncomfortable to turn down jobs that, in the end, just didn’t feel right to me. It was uncomfortable to stay in my toxic job for the weeks it took to move into something different. It’s so much easier and more comfortable to just compartmentalize and stay where you’re miserable and not take the risk of change.

I opened myself up for success.

As soon as I realized that what I was offering in The Plotting Workshop had an eager and excited audience, I knew that I was on to something that has the potential of being very big. The Ninja Writers are more than a community. We’re a revolution, and I can barely believe that I get to be a part of it. If I can earn a living teaching people to write their stories and writing my own stories–I decided that I wanted that, and I have spent the last several weeks doing whatever I can to make it happen. That means waking up at 5 a.m., working until I have to go to my day job, coming home and working until I go to bed at night. We’re talking 18 hour days. I’m dead excited about the work I’m doing. I’m prepared to do what I have to in order to make this happen.

I asked for exactly what I wanted.

This is the part that might sound silly, but at 5 a.m. every morning, when I sit down at my desk to start working, I light a candle. I like yellow or orange, because for me they are creativity colors. I say thanks to the Universe or whoever is listening (maybe my muse?) and I let them know that I’m still working hard. I say out loud that I’m still serious about my intention to make Ninja Writers happen, to be able to earn enough money doing what I love that I won’t have to have a day job anymore, and to have work (in whatever form) that feels good to me. I try to be as specific and simple in stating what it is I want as I possibly can be.

Here’s what I believe: if we are very clear about what we want, we’re willing to do the work (not just think about actually having the end result), and we actively pursue our intentions, magical, amazing things happen.

I’ve never worked as hard as I have in the last six weeks or so. I’ve never been so excited about work that I’ve done, and that includes when I’ve written my own novels.

I know that Going Reno has gotten the short end of the stick lately. I have some ideas bubbling for this place, which is still so important to me. One thing I know for sure is that I don’t want to ever just throw something up, just to have posted, again. When I write here, I want it to be amazing. Truly amazing. So, A Novel Idea’s launch ends on May 1st. Until then, I might not be here as much as I want to be. But please stay tuned, because incredible things are coming.

The Great Grocery Challenge 2016: Week 7

The Great Grocery Challenge 2016: Spend $25 per week per person. We can do this!

Welcome to Week Six of 2016’s Great Grocery Challenge. The challenge is for me to spend no more than $125 a week to feed my family of four, plus a few others most nights for dinner.


Are you getting tired yet of me telling you that I stayed in my budget? I’ll tell you what, I’m not tired of being able to say it!

Not only am I sticking to my $125 budget, I’m having fun with it.

This post is a day late, so I can tell you (since it’s Monday) that I ordered our Bountiful Basket for next Saturday’s pick-up. We’re getting the regular basket, plus I ordered a ‘Fondue Pack’ add on that has portabello mushrooms, fingerling potatoes, apples, bananas, and a bunch of other stuff all for $11.50. Yum. I also got whole grain bread that I see every time and think–man, I should have ordered that. Our bill this time came to $42.50.

One thing that we’re really trying to do is cut down on food waste. Not only saving left-overs, but actually eating them. Not letting produce go bad before we eat it. I had to throw away three oranges last night because they’d molded. We love oranges! There wasn’t any reason for them not to get eaten. We just didn’t do it.

Here are a few ways we combated food waste this last week:

  • Avocados were so cheap they were practically free during the Super Bowl sales, plus we got four giant ones in our Guacamole pack. I made guacamole twice last week. Once an avocado is ripe, it’s lifespan is SHORT. I’m proud to tell you we didn’t waste a delicious fruit.
  • I started using my old-school vintage Tupperware veggie keepers and our fresh produce lasts much longer. I found another one for $1.99 at Savers this week, so now I have three and they all fit in a row on the bottom shelf of the fridge.
  • Our friend Albert eats dinner with us two or three nights a week, at least. I’ve started sending leftovers home with him. I think this week I might start making him up a plate to pick up on his way to his night job, too, some nights. I’d rather feed him than throw food away!

Here are those vintage veggie keepers again. I see them often in thrift stores and they are the BOMB. I love mine so much. They’re long and narrow, so you can slide them easily onto a shelf of your fridge. Inside there’s a removeable grid thing that keeps the veggies up out of any water that might collect. We had fresh broccoli with dinner two nights ago that had been in one for two weeks and was still crisp and amazing.


We’re getting better at sticking to our menu and not heading to the grocery store because we’ve decided we want something different to eat. Or, worse, heading to a drive-through because I can’t face cooking on Friday night when we finally roll home close to 8 p.m. after a two hour soccer practice. Not perfect, but working on getting better.

Here’s the meal plan for this week. Ruby has soccer practice on Wednesday and Friday again, so I have meals planned on those days that I can make ahead. Saturday it’s just me and Ruby for dinner, as usual, so we’re having left overs. This is the third week in a row where I didn’t plan a meal to cook just for the two of us, and that’s working out really well. It’s helping keep food waste down and it’s kind of fun. Like a smorgasbord.

SUNDAY: It was valentine’s day and we grilled steak that I got a great deal on at Smart & Final and had it with Brussel’s Sprouts and roasted potatoes.
MONDAY: Slow-cooked BBQ pork ribs with asparagus.
TUESDAY: Chili dogs (STILL haven’t eaten these!)
WEDNESDAY: Spaghetti
THURSDAY: Homemade Pizza
FRIDAY: Slow cooker chicken and dumplings
SATURDAY: Left overs