When Life Isn’t Happy or Simple

Michael, Jose and Gracie - Easter 2015

Michael, Jose and Gracie – Easter 2015

Last Friday evening, my former husband Jose passed away of a heart attack. Although Jose and I had divorced in 2006, we remained good friends and celebrated holidays and family birthdays together. He was a good dad to our son and a good stepfather to my daughter, and we are all still reeling.

If you’ve ever gone through something like this, you may have discovered that even in the midst of your grief you will be called upon to do impossible tasks. Our son Michael has already had to spend hours going through things at his dad’s house. He’s had to make a staggering number of decisions while grieving, and he’s only 14 years old. But we have no choice; the apartment has to be vacant by month’s end.

When your sweet son lost his dad six days ago and he wants to bring a lot of his things into the house, the only answer is “Yes, of course.” In a matter of days our house has become a very full house … and that’s okay.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the minimalist lifestyle this week, and realizing that those concepts about which I often write are all relative. I’ve expanded my definition of ‘simple living’ to include sensitivity and comfort and gentleness, and letting go of perfectionism.

These are some of my other thoughts after this week’s sad events:

Minimize regrets. Many people expressed sorrow that Jose was gone so young, and talked of plans they’d had to reach out. The takeaway for me is to do all I can to express love to the important people in my life, and act on those urges to get in touch.

It’s worth the effort. It wasn’t always easy, but now I am so very grateful for how Jose and I worked hard to communicate and have a friendly relationship. We all got to share important family occasions together, and the kids and I will always cherish those special memories with Jose.

Comfort in. I recently read this very practical article in the Los Angeles Times, “How Not To Say the Wrong Thing.” I highly recommend it. The advice is simple to remember, and so helpful during a time of crisis.

Pray for grace. Along with all of the grief and emotion that accompanies a death, there are a multitude of hard things to discuss and decisions to make. Abundant grace is the only way through the difficult path.

Seek out the strong ones. Jose’s siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins were rocks this week. I felt prompted to check in with them and see how they were doing, and was glad they could talk privately about their feelings. In a time of crisis, the strong people need support, too.

Don’t underestimate the stepparent relationship. Jose was an involved and loving stepfather to my daughter, helping her move numerous times, sending her funny e-mails, and always bragging about her accomplishments. Gracie is grateful to those who have acknowledged her loss and supported her in this tough time.

Organize papers. Jose kept his papers in tidy, neatly labeled files. Even so, it’s been challenging for his siblings to figure out some things. Of all the organizational tasks we can undertake, I’ve come to realize that this one is the most important. Clothes and furniture can be packed up and given away, but no one else can decipher our paperwork. If I passed, could someone figure out what bills I owe and find my will and other crucial documents? I’ll be working on this task in the days to come.

Let’s not feel guilty about our stuff. Sometimes having special objects around helps us feel connected to people we love. Real life isn’t a magazine spread, and sometimes we just have to do the best we can and let go of impossible ideals.

A sudden, unexpected death brings sharp, narrow focus to what’s really important.

I know we will learn more lessons in the coming days, but I’ll leave you with this: Life is short, so live today to the fullest.

Reach out today to someone you love.

No regrets, dear ones.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Win a Copy of the New Book How To Be Alive

howtobealive

This week, I’m giving away a brand new copy of Colin Beavan’s new book, How to Be Alive:  A Guide to the Kind of Happiness That Helps the World. Colin gained notoriety when he wrote No Impact Man, a book about his year-long experiment to lead a zero net-impact existence in the middle of New York City.

If you’re reading this blog, I know you’re going to love How to Be Alive. Colin has a very friendly, engaging writing style, and I quickly connected with his premise. He challenges each one of us to figure out how to live truly happy and fulfilling lives, so we don’t leave this planet with deathbed regrets.

Beyond figuring out our own true needs and desires, he encourages us to find our calling and consider what we might do to improve things around us. He explores many spiritual concepts throughout the book, without ever being the teensiest bit preachy or judgmental—an approach I found so refreshing.

Author Colin Beavan

Colin Beavan

I loved reading Colin’s personal experiences woven throughout the chapters, like the story of when he decided to buy a boat and how boat ownership was so different from his original bliss of being out on the water on a friend’s boat. Haven’t we all experienced disappointment about a possession we bought thinking it would bring us joy?

This is a book that covers many deep topics, and yet at its heart it’s a surprisingly practical guidebook to help us figure out and map some of life’s big decisions. In fact, one of my favorite sections of the book is “Bootstrapping Your Way to Where You Want to Be” about small, low-risk steps we can take now to move us closer to thriving and crafting more meaning in our lives.

As a writer, I loved the exercises throughout the pages that challenged me to consider my life’s trajectory. What would I save in a fire, and why? What could I do to be more self-reliant? What is the gift that I want to give my community, town, state, or country?

If you’d like to win a hardback copy of this wonderful book, just answer this question on the Comments section of this page:

What is one improvement you would like to make in your life?

The drawing is open to readers in the U.S. who reply between now and Thursday, February 18 at midnight MST. I’ll do a random drawing and announce the winner the following day.

Grateful thanks to Colin Beavan, TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins Dey Street Books for providing the book for this giveaway.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Colin has a great blog, too. For a laugh and some excellent advice, you might enjoy starting with his post “No Impact Man Gets a Colonoscopy.”

 

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

January Money Diet Winners Announced

Snow day in Colorado

Snow day!

Dear friends,

We’re in the midst of a beautiful snowstorm here in Colorado, and my son is happy because schools are closed today. I spent a most enjoyable day yesterday re-reading all of the wonderful comments you left on each post throughout the January Money Diet last month.

This year’s community of dieters was truly our best ever! So many of you participated wholeheartedly, and generously wrote about your honest struggles and challenges. You encouraged others and shared your own ideas and money-saving strategies. Your participation made this endeavor better and richer for everyone. Thank you.

I wasn’t expecting the difficulty of choosing the winners of this year’s prizes, but so many of you completed the challenges and stayed true to the money diet throughout January that we had lots of qualifying candidates. I eventually narrowed the field to a small group of nine people who were especially involved this year, and from those nine I did a random drawing for the prizes. You will receive an e-mail from me today with details.

The winners are:

Lynn Louise – $25 cash, $25 Amazon gift card, cookbooks and household samples

Virginia – A Simple Act of Gratitude by John Kralik

KimberlyHow to Get Rich Without Winning the Lottery by Barbara Friedberg

Libby 101 Things To Do With Beans by Eliza Cross

KathyThe Quinoa Quookbook by Eliza Cross

BIG, big thanks and hugs to each one of you who participated in the 2016 January Money Diet. You are now entitled to display one of these badges showing that you completed the challenge:

2016 January Money Diet Graduate     January-Money-Diet-2016-Graduate-sm

(Right-click the badge and choose “save image.”)

Throughout January, I prayed for each person participating in this challenge. Many of you entrusted us with your personal stories of struggles and difficulties. I think most of us can relate to having financial worries or having to dig out from unwanted bills, and it was good to put our heads together and strategize.

I was also deeply touched by your response to Challenge #1 to give 31 gifts, and amazed at all of the many acts of kindness you performed and things you gave away.

My hope and prayer for each one of us in the months and years ahead is that we can do EXTRAORDINARY things with money. May we take the necessary steps to simplify and live within our means, so that we never have to be slaves to debt or experience financial fear.

Thank you for sharing this journey, and I look forward to having many more conversations with you in the days ahead.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

January Money Diet Day 30 and 100 Little Things

Day 30 of the 2016 January Money Diet

As this no-spending month winds down, I want to thank each one of you who participated in this journey. Thank you for showing up, and sharing your creative ideas and thoughts, and trying new things. It’s been so good to be with you during the January Money Diet.

As I consider the Big Picture and think about how each one of us might accomplish extraordinary things with money, I believe the best approach incorporates a lot of little steps practiced faithfully over time.

We may have to do 100 little things each month to save money and some will produce bigger results than others, but together they form the basis for a better financial foundation. This month we explored many strategies:

  • Whittling down monthly expenses
  • Saving energy and water to reduce utility bills
  • Eliminating wastefulness
  • Cooking good food at home
  • Fixing and maintaining the things we have
  • Giving generously to others
  • Growing our own food in a garden
  • Setting up an emergency savings account
  • Using things we already have at home
  • Paying off debt
  • Figuring our net worth
  • Practicing gratitude
  • Making things with our own hands
  • Nurturing our health
  • Creating peaceful, uncluttered spaces at home
  • Earning extra money
  • Finishing projects
  • Saving for the future
  • Being mindful about every dollar spent

Many of us will continue to stay on a modified version of the money diet in the coming days. As needs arise, we will inevitably shop again. Perhaps we might ask ourselves these questions before handing over our hard-earned money:

Do I love it?

This is now my mantra for every single clothing purchase. Do I love this? Do I feel great when I wear it? Is it well made? Will I want to wear it for years to come? Do I need it? I no longer buy something just because it’s a good deal. I have to love it. Consequently, my wardrobe has shrunk quite a bit. I don’t shop that often, and when I do, I don’t often find clothing that I truly adore. But interestingly, my smaller cache of clothes is evolving into a better selection of nice pieces that I truly love to wear.

Can I plan for the purchase?

If your old hot water heater suddenly breaks, you’ll have to raid your emergency savings account and make a fast buying decision based on what’s in stock locally.

On the other hand, if you know your water heater needs to be replaced and you have the luxury of a little time, you can research the best quality models on Consumer Reports (at the library, of course). You can figure out the exact size you need for your family, and choose whether you want a tank or an on-demand heater. You can comparison shop, and watch for sales. Best of all, you can save up the money for the water heater, and replace it before your old one breaks and causes damage and stress.

Can I wait?

I have a weakness for the light fixtures made by Rejuvenation. The designs are classic, the craftmanship is first-rate, and the products are priced accordingly. For a few years I’ve been lusting after an Art Deco semi-flush light with reproduction slipper shades for my office. I created a custom search on eBay, and several times a month I receive e-mail notices about Rejuvenation light fixtures that are listed for a fraction of their original price. My exact fixture hasn’t been offered at the right price yet, but the hunt is part of the fun. In the mean time, I have a simple overhead light in my office that illuminates the room just fine.

By being willing to wait, I used this method ten years ago to purchase the exact energy-efficient ceiling fan I wanted for our kitchen at a deep discount; you can see the old and new fixture here.

Will this purchase lower our overhead?

Certain purchases might quickly pay for themselves in future savings — a rechargeable lawnmower that you use instead of paying a lawn service, or canning supplies to preserve food from your garden, or quality scissors that you use for kids’ haircuts.

Other things might be worth investing in for long-term savings: rechargeable batteries, an antenna that brings in free television, solar lights, perennial food plants like berries and asparagus, fruit trees, window film, insulation, and energy-efficient or hand-powered appliances. These are decisions we will have to weigh carefully and research thoroughly.

Can I innovate instead of spending money?

Figuring out a solution for little or no money is not only fiscally rewarding, but personally satisfying. I love the Budget Living section of Apartment Therapy, where readers show their amazing hacks to transform spaces for little or no money.  Make it and Mend It has tons of DIY ideas, and LifeHack has numerous articles for saving money and repurposing.

Let’s continue what we started

I am so proud of everything we’ve accomplished together this month. You have been the most engaged, generous group of money dieters yet, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you.

Some efforts produced big results and others are small, but financial stability comes as a result of many efforts and thoughtful decisions, practiced faithfully over time. If we continue what we started together in this first month of 2016, I promise that these steps will add up and produce real, lasting change in our finances.

How about you?

What specific results did you achieve as a result of your participation in the January Money Diet? I invite you to share your experiences in the Comments section of this page.

If you have excess cash left over as a result of saving all month, I challenge you to go stash it immediately in an inconvenient savings account, pay off debt, or invest the money before it drifts into the slush fund.

Prizes Ahead!

I have some special giveaways for several January Money Diet participants. One lucky dieter will win a $25 Amazon gift card, $25 cash, signed copies of two of my cookbooks, natural beauty and household samples, and more.

You could also win one of three books. I’ll be giving away a copy of A Simple Act of Gratitude by John Kralik to one of you who gave away 31 things during Challenge #1, a copy How to Get Rich Without Winning the Lottery by Barbara Friedberg to one of you who figured your net worth in Challenge #2, and a copy of  my book The Quinoa Quookbook to one of you who weighed in and left a comment on Day 11.

You’ll hear from me next this Monday, February 1, when I announce the prize winners from among those who have participated in this 31-day challenge with heart and soul and achieved good results.

If you haven’t completed the 5 Challenges, you still have until tomorrow evening (1/31/16) at midnight MST to finish up. Be sure to leave a comment on each page if you completed the challenges:

Challenge #1 – Give 31 things away.

Challenge #2 – Figure your net worth.

Challenge #3 Do something to earn an extra $25 or more this month.

Challenge #4 – Reduce monthly expenses.

Challenge #5 – Open an inconvenient savings account.

Although our month-long experiment is coming to an end, I look forward to continuing this journey with you in the year ahead. I’ll be sharing ideas and posting about my money-saving strategies in the coming months, and I encourage you to do the same.

If you have any ideas about how to improve next year’s January Money Diet, I’d love to hear from you at elizagcross (at) gmail (dot) com.

Enjoy the weekend, stay strong, and you’ll hear from me again on Monday.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 29 of the January Money Diet – Baby Steps

Take baby steps during the January Money Diet

We have just a few days remaining in the January Money Diet. You’ve been such a wonderful, caring, generous group of dieters, and I have SO enjoyed getting to know you.

As this spending break winds down, I encourage you to drop by your library and check out a good money book to read and reinforce the financial concepts we’ve been exploring this month.

These are some of my favorite books, all of which have inspired me develop better money habits.

“Your Money or Your Life” by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez was recommended by one of last year’s JMD participants, and it quickly became my favorite financial book. Through a series of essays and questions, the authors challenge us to delve deep into our spending habits and consider what we might be sacrificing by our lifestyle choices. Their message of money mindfulness resonated with me so much.

“The Millionaire Next Door” by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko opened my eyes to the fact that most people who enjoy financial freedom generally don’t waste money trying to impress other people. They drive reliable cars, for example, and make careful spending decisions about major purchases. They build real wealth, and tend not to fritter their money away.

“How to Get Rich Without Winning the Lottery,” written by my friend and personal finance guru Barbara Friedberg, demystifies saving and investing.  Barbara has a knack for explaining money matters in a simple, straightforward way, and I appreciate her solid advice about building and managing wealth. (A reminder: Barbara generously donated a copy of her to one dieter who completes Challenge #2 this month. If you figured your net worth, leave a comment on the page and you’ll be automatically entered.)

Finally, one of the most practical financial books I’ve read is “The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey. Dave is the founder of Financial Peace University, and I remember the first time I heard that phrase I took a deep breath and felt calmer. Financial peace…what a wonderful concept. Reading his no-nonsense advice was like having a trusted advisor take me by the shoulders and tell me exactly what I needed to do.

As you’ve probably gathered by reading this blog, I like things that are simple. That’s probably why Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps appealed to me so much. Dave recommends 7 steps to achieve financial peace, pursued in a very methodical order. With apologies to Mr. Ramsey, I have also taken the liberty of adding a few extra suggested steps to the list:

Dave Ramsey (and Eliza’s) Baby Steps

Eliza’s Baby Step 0.5: Start an emergency fund and build the balance to $100.

Eliza’s Baby Step 0.75: Start a separate Freedom Account to accumulate money for large annual bills. Save 1/12th of the total amount needed each month.

Dave’s Baby Step 1: Fund an emergency account with $1,000.

Eliza’s Baby Step 1.5: Start a separate savings account for a vacation fund. This is important!

Dave’s Baby Step 2: Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball method.

Dave’s Baby Step 3: Build 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings.

Dave’s Baby Step 4: Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and tax-advantaged retirement accounts.

Dave’s Baby Step 5: Save for college funding for your children.

Dave’s Baby Step 6: Pay off your house early.

Dave’s Baby Step 7: Build wealth and give.

How About You?

Do you agree with these steps? If so, which step are you currently working on? Because I bought a used car and took out a small loan last year, I’m simultaneously working on steps 2, 4 and 5.

Do you have any of your own steps or tips for achieving financial stability to add to the list? Do you have any other good money books to recommend for solid financial advice?

Happy Friday, and stay strong!

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

January Money Diet Day 28 – Make Something with Your Own Hands

Make homemade chocolate truffles | Happy Simple Living blog

One of the (many) reasons I love my sister Catherine is because she is an intrepid DIYer. She will fearlessly experiment with creative endeavors that would intimidate many. She has hand-sewn her own Battenberg lace, for example. She makes those mind-bogglingly complex Ukrainian Pysanky Easter eggs. She raises chickens and bottles her own Limoncello and grows artichokes.

She inspires me to get my hands dirty and try new things. If you’re game in these final days of the January Money Diet, let’s try making something from scratch. We’ll save money, learn something new, and feel the satisfaction that comes from creating something with our own hands.

Here are some ideas:

Kitchen Staples

Biscuit Mix

Graham crackers

Tortillas

Spaghetti sauce

Ricotta cheese

Bread

Bagels

Granola

Greek yogurt

Pita bread

Gourmet Treats

Dim Sum

Latte

Gingersnaps

Barbeque

Hummus

Pizza

Chocolate truffles

Limoncello

Home Goods

Laundry detergent

Dryer sheets

“Unpaper” towels

Soap

Apron

Dog treats

Cat Litter

How About You?

What do you love to hand-craft? If you make something at home in the coming days, be sure to let us know what you create in the Comments section of this page.

By the way, if you’re on Pinterest you can check out my “Foods From Scratch” and “Made By Hand” boards for more easy ideas. Better yet, follow my sister Catherine, who posts amazing recipes, craft ideas and DIY home projects.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Photo:  David Leggett

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.