Better money management

So, finances have been a struggle this month. My rent went up, and overtime has not been offered at the day job. Another revenue source went down by about $50.

We had already been discussing moving, but we’ve been having trouble finding another house to rent.

Then we thought it might be a good idea to buy a house instead. Really, it won’t be much more expensive than renting. So we’re looking into it. And the sequel to Broken Patterns is coming out soon. That means lots of production costs on my part.

All of this combined means I’ve been devoting a lot of time to tightening our budget. I started where I always start, Pinterest.

Now that I’ve crawled out of the giant rabbit hole I went down, I have knowledge for you. I tried a lot of suggestions, with varying degrees of success. Here’s what I learned.

What didn’t work.

Ibotta doesn’t work on tablets. Funny story about that. I really thought that this was going to be something I was going to like. Maybe I’ll like it better if they ever get their act together and put their damn app on tablets!

Saving change and small bills doesn’t work if you don’t use cash. I’ve found if I keep cash in my wallet, I’ll spend it. This is a great example of how important it is to know yourself before taking money advice.

Some things I tried to replace with cheaper alternatives didn’t work out for me. Maybe I’m just spoiled, but I don’t like anything but felt tip pens. And the best pens I’ve found are Le Pens. (Not a sponsored post. But if Marvy wants to send me some free pens, my favorite colors are oriental blue, royal blue and black.) Likewise, I really like Starbucks coffee. I don’t go to the shops, but I do purchase the grounds to enjoy at home. Maybe I’m selfish, but I don’t think I should have to compromise on everything.

No spend times, I’ve found don’t work for me at all. If I try to do it for a whole month, I’ll never make it. Then, once I’ve spent money on one thing I might as well keep going. Already broke the seal, right? If the time is too short, it doesn’t work because most days I don’t spend money. I go to work and come home.

One suggestion that continues to piss me off is cutting out take-out coffees. It’s a great example of an expensive luxury that helpful money articles suggest cutting out. Things like buying expensive clothes, eating out all the time and purchasing new furniture. I’m not doing any of that shit anyway! I don’t have the money to be getting a cup of coffee every morning on the way to work, are you kidding me? We might eat out twice a month. And when we do it’s fast food, unless it’s someone’s birthday.

Coupons are my enemy. Here’s the thing, most coupons are for things that I don’t buy anyway. Usually, the name brand is still more expensive than the generic even with the damn coupon anyway. Or you’ve got to buy a stupid amount to use the coupon. Really, I save more money just buying the store brand to start with.

What is working.

Dollar Tree has become my best friend. I actually found some decent shampoo there, and body washes that everyone in the house likes. I was amazed at how many good things I found there, saving me a ton of money. Also, if you keep an eye out you can sometimes find some legit makeup there. I probably won’t be buying foundation, but I got some decent lipsticks. I’m officially only shopping there for toiletries from this point on. In fact, I’ve started shopping there first, and only going to other stores for things I can’t find.

I’ve started making more stuff at home. The biggest thing that’s been helping me out here is dry shampoo. It’s a simple blend of corn starch and a little chocolate baking powder. You need more or less chocolate powder, depending on the color of your hair. I also started making these awesome cheap cookies. They are delightful, take next to no time to make, and are super cheap! I’ve also made homemade therapy putty and pancake mix.

I really am sitting down and making a budget at the start of the month. There are lots of different methods for doing this. Find one that works for you and stick with it.

We are using some coupons if it’s something I would buy anyway. The ones that save us the most money are usually for fast food places.

Dave Ramsey is amazing if I’ve never mentioned this before. I started on his baby steps, focusing on building that $1,000 emergency fund right now.

Again not a sponsored post, but the darling husband and I started using the Dollar Shave Club. (#fuckthepinktax.) It’s three bucks a month, and we get four razors. He doesn’t shave that much and I only kill two blades a month, so it’s great for us. That is so much cheaper than buying razors anywhere else.

Finally, I think I finally messed up enough that God stepped in. No lie! I’ve been looking for an online Unitarian service for awhile now since there isn’t a real life service near me. I finally found one that has a different theme every month. Here’s a link to the website. The theme for May? Being more mindful about how we spend our money. I don’t think that timing is coincidental.

So that’s how I’m taking better care of my income. What are some ways you manage your money?

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What I learned coaching volleyball

I just finished coaching my kid’s volleyball team at the Y. It was the first time I’d ever coached anything, and the first time I’d ever been in charge of kids besides my own.

It was… and experience, to say the least. It’s not one that I was especially fond of if I can be completely honest. And I guess if I can’t be completely honest here, where can I? Well, in a private journal, but still. Work with me here, people.

So here’s what I learned, coaching volleyball.

Knowing and accepting my limitations is important.

I’m pretty open and honest about who I am here. So you probably know that I enjoy sports, both playing and watching them. I like kids, and I think it’s important to teach them things.

But you probably also know that I’m an introvert and really get anxious in new social settings. This leads me to second guess myself and get super upset. I also get really tired when I have to be sociable for extended periods of time. Especially when I have to not swear!

Now let’s add the fact that the games were Friday nights. My day job requires me to be at work at 7:00 am on Saturday. Friday is my Sunday, also. And the day I usually clean my whole house.

Do you see the problem with my plan to coach? That’s good because I didn’t see it until about three games in. No, that’s not true. I saw it right away. I just didn’t admit it to myself until three games in.

I actually remember how to play volleyball, and it’s kind of fun.

I was almost on the Jr. ROTC volleyball team, did I ever tell you guys that? Well, it’s true. I tried out and got on the team, but it was too much of a time commitment for my mom. A lot of things were too much of a time commitment back then, but that’s not the point of the story today.

But I did actually like volleyball. I was pleased to find out that I’m still actually pretty decent at it.

Teenage girls are nicer than I remember.

So let’s be clear, my kids weren’t great at volleyball. The other kids on the team were pretty good, but not always. There was a lot of messing up. Right along with that was a lot of teasing.

All of it was in kindness, though. There was no bullying. The girls were all really nice to each other. I was happily surprised. The whole team was full of really good kids. I may not have been thrilled to be there, but it was an honor to coach them.

If you don’t think you can do a thing, fake it really hard and it will mostly be okay.

At no time did I think I knew what I was doing. I was not prepared, not at all. I had no sort of training plan, no plays, nothing.

What I did have was a confident attitude and a big old smile on my face as I faked it really hard. And you know what? We actually won the majority of our games. So, I guess faking in until you make it actually does work for something.

Sometimes I just don’t want to know some things.

My darling husband decided to wait until we were leaving the last game to tell me that some of the parents had been saying unkind thing about me during the games. Since these were the same parents who were cussing on the sidelines and sitting on each other’s laps I really don’t care. Actually, I really didn’t care at all. I was the one who’d gone through the whole training process and volunteered to do this mess. They hadn’t. So I shut down my husband before he could repeat any of the unkind things that had been said. He himself wasn’t trying to be unkind in telling me these things. He was angry that they’d been complaining, and when he’s angry he needs to talk about it. I get it, I’m the same way.

The requirements to work with children are way stronger than I realized, which is a mixed blessing.

In order to volunteer to coach volleyball, I had to have a full background check, including a Children’s Service check. I also had to become a mandated reporter. That certification training is three hours of my life I’ll never get back.

On the one hand, this is good, because it tells me that the people who are around my children at places like the Y are looked into, and held to high standards. On the other hand, mandated reporting is scary. It puts people in the uncomfortable situation of having to report behavior that is probably nothing as though it’s something or risk jail time. It’s kind of 1984 esq, if we’re being honest. Everyone’s job becomes tattling on everyone else.

Not all experiences that are good are necessarily good for me.

While I did get a lot out of this experience, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it was good for me. Nothing is good for everyone, except maybe water. The water we can all agree is good.

This could have been a really good experience for some people. I was not one of them. Please don’t take this to mean that I think it’s a bad thing to do, or that I’m in any way bad-mouthing the Y. This was a great program that my kids did enjoy and did get a lot out of.

This just wasn’t for me. So now is when I bow in thanks for the lesson and move on knowing that I did the best that I could.

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Sing A Sad Song And Make It Better

I’ve been going to my local theater for some time, watching amateur plays. I take the kids, trying to force some culture into their little brains before they decide that nothing I like is cool. I am, after all, in my thirties.

The husband doesn’t go with us, and that’s fine. Sometimes my mother in law goes, sometimes it’s just me and the girls. Sometimes it’s just me and my older one.

The last play of the season, before their long Summer break, was Flowers For Algernon. Yeah, I took a twelve and thirteen year old to see that.

My husband thought I was crazy for going. He’s not a big fan of sad for sad’s sake. “That’s such a terrible story!” he said. “Why would you want to go see something that has such a sad ending? It’s just going to upset you.”

He also pointed out, as lovingly as possible, that I have depression. That at least one of our daughters also has depression. That maybe seeing a play about a man who goes from mental retardation to superhuman intelligence and back again might be a little more than my depressed little soul could take.(Please don’t take offense at my use of the phrase mental retardation. It is the actual medical term given to the character, Charlie, and is not intended as a slight in any way.)

Fun fact, a whole rainbow of elderly dementia illnesses run in my husband’s side of the family. They don’t in mine. In fact, my two great grandmothers’s lived to their nineties. Both of them held my older daughter, their great-great-granddaughter. In fact, one of my great grandmothers attended my daughter’s third birthday. All of this means that I’m awfully sure that I’ll watch my husband decay mentally one day, then live for another decade or two. Sharp, right up to the end, which will just mean that I’ll remember every emotionally crippling moment of my beloved husbands decent. So, that whole watching someone lose their mental capacity right before my eyes thing? It might be my final chapter.

Before we throw too big of a pity party for me, let me tell you that my husband is in his early thirties, showing no signs that this is actually going to happen, and I might get hit by a car tomorrow and die before him anyway. I really might, I read while I walk.

Well, I loved Flowers For Algernon. So did the kids, thank you very much. It was a beautiful story, and I cried right there in public.

Funny story about that play. At the start of it the main character, Charlie, is a mentally handicapped man. As such, his character behaved as someone of that mental condition would act. In some cases that was comedic. The rest of the audience laughed at some of his antics. I, who have had some small experience with people who suffer from disabilities, didn’t. In fact, I hated the other patrons a little. At the end of the play, when Charlie lost his small reprieve and sank back into his illness, not a damn soul in that theater was laughing.

I think that has a part in why we, as a society, seek out these stories. A sad story, one where everything doesn’t come out neatly, changes how we view the world. I think we’d all like to think that everything is going to work out for the best. I mean, it does in most stories, right? The lovers fall in love. The orphan finds a family. The poor man improves his position. The good guys win.

When is it, I wonder, that we realize that the good guys don’t always win? That sometimes life is just cruel? Life will teach us that lesson, over and over. But sometimes stories do too. Old Yeller, Where The Red Fern Grows, Forest Gump (the book), Boys On The Side. All of these are examples of horrible things happening for no good reason. The characters in these stories weren’t bad people. They were, in fact, often good people. They didn’t deserve to have their dogs die, or get sick.

No one deserves to have these things happen. You’re an adult, I don’t need to tell you that bad things happen to good people.

But in most cases, life goes on after the bad thing. Maybe not for everyone involved, but for some. After a death, or a fire, or a loss of a job, we have to keep on living. Groceries must be bought, carpets vacuumed, dishes washed.

In some cases, the bad thing is temporary and we have to fix it. A lost job, or a house burning down. When my older daughter was kidnapped. It was a bad, horrible, terrible thing. But it wasn’t the end, and I had work to do.

In other cases, the bad thing can only be accepted. A death is usually the most obvious example.

This, I think, is why I enjoy a sad story or a sad song. When these horrible things happen to us we must react. We must feel our emotions and we must grieve. We must cry, or scream. Throw ourselves on the ground, just break right down.

But eventually, we must get up, brush ourselves off, and keep on going. Otherwise, we become the bad thing that’s happening now to someone else. Either because we become impossible to love, or because we make the final decision to take our own lives. Let’s not do that.

Let’s just sing the sad songs, and make it better.

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Darklands The Rhen Wars Saga comes out tomorrow!

Hey, everyone.

I was so fortunate to get an advanced copy of this book to review. And I have to tell you, it was awesome. The world is well thought out, the characters were endearing and the magic set up is highly structured.

Here’s a quick blurb from the book.

Compelled to obey the dark god he pledged his soul to, Darien finds himself tasked with delivering the people of the Black Lands from under the curse of darkness which shrouds the skies. With the enemy mage Azár, Darien sets out across a barren darkscape to assume his place as the leader of a people who despise him.
As he journeys deeper into the shadowed waste, Darien is confronted with difficult truths that force him to question every loyalty he has ever held. For there, in the brutal proving grounds of the north, Darien will be inexorably forged into the most dangerous adversary the Rhen has ever faced.

Of course, if you follow me on Goodreads you already know what I thought of the book. But if you don’t, here’s what I said.

When I started this book, I had a fairly clear idea of who the bad guy was. I had a clear idea of who the bad guy was at the end too.

The depth of the characters in this book is really what makes it stand out from other fantasy stories. Absolutely worth a read. I have to catch up with the first two, and can’t wait for the next.

Here’s a link to the Goodreads page for the book. I definitely suggest checking this one out.

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An Open Letter To The Teacher Who Changed My Life

Last month I wrote an open letter to a teacher I wasn’t thrilled with. Unless you’ve been very lucky I’m sure you have at least one of those teachers in your past.

Unless you’ve been very unlucky, you also have a teacher like the one I’m going to tell you about today. He was an English teacher of mine. For privacy reasons, I won’t be sharing his name.

I don’t know where he is now, or if he’s even still alive. But this is the letter I would send to him if I could.

Dear Mr.

You taught English to Eight graders. That’s a damn thankless job, let’s just throw that out there right now. By the eighth grade, most kids have lost the joys of hearing a story. They’ve reached that sad, depressing age when they think themselves too old for such thing. Pity on them.

You taught English, and I loved you for that alone. By this time I knew that I wanted to be a writer, and so I valued English as one of the only classes that could teach me something that I would need for the rest of my life. As you can see, I was as dumb as the rest of my peers, believing that the rest of my classes had nothing to teach me. If I had gone in with a more open mind, I might have gone away with more than I did.

Or maybe not. You and I both know that we deserved better than that school. It’s sad, but a fact’s a fact.

At any rate, you taught me English. But you taught me more than that by far.

You taught me the importance of being able to give good directions. I remember so clearly the day you explained that, for whatever reason, people tended to stop and ask you for directions to a place. I was really bad at that. I still sort of am. But I’m getting better. I see it as a mark of belonging. If you can tell an out of towner how to get to the nearest gas station, or how to get back onto 422, it marks you as someone who lives here. Someone who has lived here awhile, long enough to have roots. It also marks one as a capable, competent adult. Something I still feel like I’m trying to prove to myself I am.

You were right, I can now guess the endings to most movies, books and tv shows. You said that when you heard enough stories, you started seeing the clues early on. Almost no endings surprised you anymore, you said. And you were so right. I’ve gotten better at solving ‘Who’s the Killer’ sort of shows over the years. Not because I’ve gotten better at deductive reasoning, but because I’ve learned to look for storyteller cues. This only works with stories that aren’t based on real events, though. No one can guess what’s going to happen in real life. This past election was proof enough of that. This ability to see the ending has led me to treasure the endings I don’t see coming. I have striven to write that kind of endings. I don’t know if I’ve succeeded every time. But I have tried.

You told us why we were writing what seemed like stupid essays that lacked any originality. Actually, this is how the whole directions thing came up. You never just said, “Here’s what we’re writing about today.” You explained why this sort of writing was important, really important. Not just to people like me, who tell stories for a living. When I was in your class I was an elitist, believing that only professional writers really needed to be able to write well. But I was wrong. Writing is a skill that everyone needs. Thank you for trying to tell us that. I hope I wasn’t the only one who got it.

You taught me a new sense of patriotism that I hadn’t understood before. I’ve always been proud to be an American. But before I met you I’d only ever seen our country painted with two colors. The first was the blind love of a fanatic who will refuse to see faults. We are the best country in the world, damn everyone else! All other countries are inferior to ours. The second was a sort of creeping self-loathing, that tended to meld with a good helping of narcissism. It was the point of view of someone who saw our country as bad and flawed. But this person wasn’t like all the rest of us. This person had a world view that was greater than that of the US of A. They saw America for what it really was, and found it wanting.

You didn’t see us that way, and neither do I. We’re a complex place, with grave issues and lots of infighting. But we’re good too, and creative. Our country is our people, with good and bad all mashed together until you can’t tell where one starts and the other ends. Just like every other place.

You shamed me into sharing my writing. It was a lynchpin moment for me. You asked me to share a piece I’d written, reading it aloud to the class. I was fourteen, can you forgive me? I refused, the first time I’d ever said no to a teacher. I didn’t really understand why at the time. I had read plays and stories out loud. I was always eager to give answers. But to read my own words out loud? To the class? No way, someone might laugh.

After class, I apologized, because I was a good student who wanted her teachers to like her. And you said to me, “Don’t apologize. If that’s how you’re wired, that’s how you’re wired. I just didn’t think that’s how you were.”

You were right. That’s not how I am. Fortunately, I changed my wiring. And when I hesitate to hit the publish button on a project, I think of you. I changed my wiring, sir.

Maybe that’s why you said what you did when I got the courage to share my work. You told me my writing was good. And I bet you didn’t know that you were the first person ever to do that.

Thank you.


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My Kids Are Not My Life

As most of you know, I have two daughters. One is twelve and one is thirteen. Yes, I do want to put my own head through a wall, thanks for asking!

I often hear other parents say, “My kid is just my life!” More than that, I see other parents practice what they’re preaching. Their kids really are their lives. They would do anything for their kids, everything for their kids. They tend not to make plans for themselves, with their friends or spouses. They don’t give their children chores. If there’s an issue at school with a classmate or teacher, that issue becomes the parent’s issue.

Because that’s what we’re supposed to do, right? When you have a child, your life stops being about you and starts being about them. Right?

No, not right.

I love my kids more than anything in this whole big world. I’ve never missed a practice or game. I help with homework. If an adult is being unkind to them, I step in big time. But my whole life does not revolve around them. This is not for my benefit, though I do benefit from it. It’s not because I’m selfish or because I have other priorities. When it comes to my kids, I have no higher priority. But it’s what’s best for them and their lives long term. Here are some reasons why.

Other people matter.

My children are the most important people in my life. But they are not the most important people in the whole world. So we don’t do things like accept cuts in line in the bathroom or take up seats on a crowded bus when there are older people or toddlers. Mind you, my kids are older. But I’ve instilled in them, not respect, but courtesy toward their fellow man. You open doors for people who are carrying heavy things. You help the older person off the bus. You pick up the dropped wallet and return it. You give up your seat on the bus to the exhausted woman who obviously just got off a long shift. You help when you can. Not because of praise, but because it’s what you’re supposed to do.

If I do things for them, they don’t learn to do things for themselves.

I was one of those kids everyone hates. I had no idea, when I moved out on my own, how to take care of myself. I couldn’t work a washing machine, didn’t have the discipline to keep a home tidy, had no idea how to make a budget or shop for groceries. I couldn’t cook, that was for damn sure. (I still can’t cook, but we won’t get into that.) I was trying to learn how to keep house with a baby.

I figured it out, through a shit ton of trial and error.

I don’t want my kids to go through that. They take turns making dinner. They know how to run the vacuum and use the washing machine. Now that they’re older, I’m making them sit down and watch me figure out the bills at the start of the month and at every pay day. They don’t like it, but that’s fine. I don’t like it either. It still needs to be done. They need to not only know how to get things done but to have the discipline to do them on their own.

My children need to learn from me that self-care is a priority.

I talked about this before, when I discussed the importance of filling your own cup before you serve others. But I’ll rehash it here, just in case.

If my daughters see me pouring all of myself into them, keeping nothing back for myself, that’s what they’ll think is expected of them as mothers. If they see that I take the time to look after myself, they’ll do the same.

Think about it. Do you want your kids to miss doctors appointments, work themselves sick, stay up until three just to keep the house clean? Should they never buy themselves new clothes, wear the same sneakers until they fall off their feet? Should they neglect their emotional and spiritual needs just because it might take time away from their families?

What would you say to them, if they were acting like that? Now go say it to a mirror.

Someday they’re going to leave home, and then what will I do with myself?

You know that your kids are going to leave home and not need you one day, right? When that day comes, what are you going to do?

Hurry and make some friends? Take up watercolors? Call your kids and meddle in their lives?

I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to write more. I’m going to take long baths, with and without my husband. I’m going to go to hockey games. What I’m not going to do is fuss after them. They’ll have their own lives to live with jobs, homes, and families of their own. While I’ll always be their mom, they’re not always going to need me. I need to be able to handle it when that day comes.

I do kind of like my husband.

That man who lives in my house isn’t just my co-parent. He’s my husband. We didn’t start this family together, but we did stitch it together because we love each other. And I want to keep loving him. So we need to take time for each other now and strengthen our relationship. We have to have more in common than the day to day parenting stuff. Otherwise, I’ll look over in bed and find a stranger there one day.

I won’t always be there for them.

I mean, let’s be realistic. I’m going to die one day. My hope is that by the time I do my kids don’t depend on me for anything. What if that day comes and my daughters are bringing me their minor sewing repairs still? I’ve known grown adults who couldn’t be responsible for their own budgets. They’d give their parents their paychecks, their bills, and leave it at that. Their parents would give them an allowance out of their own money. I know some people who do that with their spouses too. I can’t help but wonder if you don’t know how to budget yourself, what are you going to do when they die?

Losing a parent has got to be tough enough. The last thing I want for my girls is to find that with me gone, they suddenly have to grow up.

What do you think? How much or little do you do for your kids? Let us know in the comments below.

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My Reading List, Right Now

I started using Good Reads! So, as my reading list continues to be scattered and all over the damn place, you can keep updated with it easier. Here’s a link if you want to follow me or add me.

So, here’s a link to the last reading list I posted. Since February I’ve read a lot of books, but only one of them was on this list.

I should have known. I’m impulsive, especially when it comes to books. I should have known full well I was going to end up scrapping the whole list.

Keep all that in mind before I share my current to read list with you. These aren’t necessarily books I’m going to read. Or books that I’ll be talking about here. These are the books that are on my radar. The books I really want to read.

Today, at least.

Dark Storm and Dark Mage, by M.L. Spencer

Lucky me, I got an advanced copy of the third book in the series in May. I was absolutely blown away by the book. So now, of course, I need to read the first two.

Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman

It’s a nonfiction book by Neil Gaiman about Norse Mythology. Do I need to explain why I need to read this book? Good.

Three Sisters, Three Queens, by Phillipa Gregory

Every book in this series so far has fascinated me. If you like historical fiction, you’ll love this. If you find the War of the Roses fascinating like I do, you’ll really love this.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson

I have a long history of loving autobiographies from strong women. Princess, Yes Please, Bossypants, Buffering, One More Time. I loved all of these books. I’m also a fan of seeing my, we’ll say less brilliant choices in a better light.

What are you reading right now? Let us know in the comments below.

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Picking Apart American Gods

Spoiler Warning! If you haven’t read American Gods, or if you’re watching the mini series as it airs on Starz, don’t read this yet!

This is the last Neil Gaiman book for awhile, I promise. At least, until I finish Norse Mythology.

I really loved American Gods. It’s a perfect example of a good book always being too short. Because, even though I read the Author’s Preferred Text and it was a hefty read, it was still too short. And if you’re wondering, I am watching the show on Starz. Yes, I am enjoying it.

But, I’m sure you know the drill by now. I can’t love anything without picking it apart. So here it is, American Gods.

The research.

As a speculative fiction writer, I sometimes discount research. I might give an article about archery a passing glance, but nothing more than that.

Obviously, Neil Gaiman didn’t feel that way. He poured so much information about the history of immigration to America, and the Gods that people brought with them, into this book that it’s amazing. I learned things about mythology reading it. I thought I was pretty well-versed in mythology already. I was wrong.

This has absolutely influenced me in writing the Roc Hunter’s books. While some work is going to need more research than others, this book made me realize that the more knowledge, the more realism you can pour into your fiction, the richer it becomes.

The Coming To America Stories

Scattered through the book, in no particular order, are stories titled “Coming To America”. They weren’t my favorite part of the book because I wanted to continue reading about Shadow and Wednesday.

But saying that this is the weakest part of the book doesn’t mean that they’re bad.

First off, they were cripplingly honest. Uncomfortably so, in some cases. They also tricked you. As you’re reading them, you’d think that they don’t really have any bearing on the main story. As it turns out, though, they really do. You just don’t realize it until you suddenly recognize someone. Or, my favorite part, you look back and realize who someone was.

This is really the brilliance of this book. See, to really understand the gravity of the book you have to have some background information. Gaiman has found a creative way to teach us about the mythology of different cultures in interesting ways. He’s showing, not telling.


I have to admit, I didn’t see a lot of what was happening in this book coming. Especially Shadow’s lineage. Looking back, the whole story makes a lot more sense when you realize that Shadow is a demigod.

Not that Gaiman ever used the word. He also never outright said that the crime Shadow was in jail for he committed for his wife Laura.

Shadow’s a conflicted person. He’s a pacifist, which I love. He saved everyone, stopped the whole war by telling the truth. He walked among gods, thinking that he was only a man, and never batted an eye. He found out that his wife was cheating on him with his best friend, and just went on loving her. Even when she showed up dead on his doorstep. He found out that Wednesday orchestrated his very birth, then walked out on him, and still didn’t seek revenge.

Shadow is an admirable character. I just don’t think he knows it.

One reveal hid another. Then another and another.

I couldn’t possibly have guessed everything that was going to happen in this book because too much happened for that to be a possibility. I never thought that the small little down that Shadow is supposed to be hiding away at would have a ghastly secret. I never thought that Wednesday would be Shadow’s father. I never thought that Shadow would need the strength of a death to save everyone.AG 2

I don’t know how realistic it is to have so many reveals that no one can keep track, but it certainly made for a fascinating read.

Seeing America from the point of view of an immigrant, writing as an American character.

I was born and raised in America. Aside from a quick trip to Canada as a child, I’ve never been out of the country. (Yes, I know it’s pitiful but traveling is expensive.)

I know what America looks like to an America. I don’t know what it looks like to someone from the outside. I’m not talking about politics. I mean the people who make up this country.

American Gods is a story that reminded me that we are, after all, a country of immigrants. I valued this. It’s a rare thing, being able to see your home from a different perspective.

Hopefully, you’re not reading this if you’ve never read American Gods. If you have read it, I’d encourage you to read it again as a writer. Pick it apart and see what you can learn from it. If you haven’t read it and missed my huge Spoiler Alert above, I’m very sorry.

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How I’ve Changed Since Turning 30

My birthday is this week and I’m turning 31. I really didn’t think that turning 30 was going to have any sort of impact on me or how I live my life.

I was wrong. I’ve changed a lot in the last year. Some of it was on purpose. Some of it was just a shift in perspective. At least one thing was a really big surprise.

In short, about to turn 31 Nicole is a different person than about to turn 30 Nicole. Here are some things I’ve learned in the last year.

Face and skin care

I’ve started incorporating taking care of my skin into my self-care routine more. No, I haven’t seen any wrinkles yet. But I have had next to no acne. I might, at 30, finally be done with that.

I’m using a night moisturizer, an under eye cream and a special moisturizing soap. These are things I didn’t bother with up until this year. I’m also making a point of using BB creams with SPF instead of foundations most days and putting on sunscreen any time I’m going to be out in the sun. Finally, I’m drinking more water, finally. The point of all of this is that I’m taking better care of my skin now in the hopes that I can keep looking how I look for awhile longer. I like how I look.

I don’t like being called Miss anymore

I don’t really know if this is about the shift from 29 to 30 or a shift in my perspective as I become more protective of myself as a woman. But when I was younger I had no problem with being called Miss, Honey, Sweetheart, Sweety, Baby Doll or any of the other pet names people (especially older men) feel the need to give women who’s name they don’t know.

Now I’m more likely to quote Janet Jackson. My name’s not Baby, it’s Nicole. Or Mrs. Luttrell. Or, if you really don’t know my name and you don’t want to ask Ma’am is fine.

This desire to not be called pet names is largely due to a shift in how I wish to be perceived. I used to want to be seen as cute, spunky, energetic and funny. Now I’m a grown ass woman. I want to be seen as competent, committed, accomplished. And you don’t call an accomplished woman Miss. You call us Ma’am.

I really need a financial plan

Confession time again; I don’t have an emergency fund. I don’t have three months of expenses saved up. I sure don’t have anything stashed away for Christmas. I don’t own my house, I don’t own a car.

These are all things I’ve decided that I need to change before I turn 40. That’s the ten-year game plan. And I’m getting a lot better at saving money. Not perfect, mind you. But better.

One thing I do have going for me, or so I thought, is that I’m not in debt. Turns out, though, that there’s good debt and bad debt. No debt is almost as bad as bad debt when you start making real financial plans. Like, for instance, what I’m going to talk about next.

I want to buy a house

You probably know that I grew up broke. My grandmother owned her house, my great grandmother owned her house. My mom did not. She was a waitress, we rented. I have always rented. I never thought that buying a house would be something I could do.

Recently I’ve realized that not only can I buy a house, I want to. I really want to own my own home. It’s going to be a damn journey, let me tell you. But I’m going to do it.

How many of you have turned 30? How did it change your life or your perspective of yourself? Maybe it didn’t at all? Let us know in the comments below. Or, you know, just wish me a happy birthday.

My Generation

I’m turning 31 on the 7th. That means that I was born in 1986. That means that I, and my husband, are Millennials.

I get that we have a bad name. I hear the word ‘special snowflake’ thrown around, along with ‘safe spaces’ and ‘Boomerang Generation’. We’re the generation that embraced out nerdy side, created crazy social media platforms and way over share. We made the Kardashians stars. We may not have invented reality tv, but we took it and ran with it. We can’t stop buying back our own childhood, over and over.

I’m actually sick to death of this whole mentality that my generation is full of weak-willed children who can’t deal with the real world. Yeah, there’s a good amount of that out there, but there always has been. We’re dealing with a lot, and we’ve done a lot. Here’s what the world actually looks like to a Millennial.

We are in a bad place, financially.

Let me throw some numbers at you from previous years with this handy chart.


Here’s a link to the full article that explains, in detail, how much we’re all kind of screwed financially. Yes, we’re all living with this. The difference is that people my age are living with it, children, aging parents who can no longer take care of themselves and crippling student loan debts. Yeah, some people are moving back in with their parents. A lot of other people are having their parents move in with them. So maybe keep in mind that the ‘lazy Millennial’ who can’t afford to buy a car probably has a lot more to deal with financially than her parents did when they were in their thirties.

We’re breaking all of the rules.

And I’m loving it! We’ve changed the face of ‘Family’. We’ve boosted Youtube people to stardom. We don’t wait for people to tell us we can do something like start a business or get published. We just go out and do it. I’m a great example of this. My youthful impatience pushed me to publish my own books.

A lot of have jobs that didn’t even exist for generations before because we decided to invent them. We’re not waiting for permission to do what we want.

We really like a lot of the things from our childhood. That’s why they’re coming back.

I actually started writing this blog post about Bill Nye Saves The World. It’s on Netflix and I love it. Watching that show feels like I’m hanging out with an uncle who remembers how I was as a kid but understands that I’m a grown up now.

Look all around and you’ll see examples of Millennials bringing back things from their childhood. Why? Because they’re cool and we like them. We crowdfunded Mystery Science Theater 3000 because we wanted it back.

We decided that we didn’t have to give up the things we liked about being kids when we became adults. Let’s take me as an example. I work a full-time job and financially support my family of four. My husband and I keep a house, raise two kids and are becoming increasingly responsible for older family members. I also publish several books a year.

Can I please watch Bill Nye and have an ice cream without being judged?! Is it so terrible if I want to play video games after a long (long long) day? How about if I just want to chill out with a coloring book? Can you really say that’s less healthy than crashing in front of some ‘grown up’ show or a game show?

We actually have a scary good work ethic. It’s just not the same kind of work ethic as generations before us.

Yeah, Millennials invented all sorts of terms that, frankly, offend me as a writer and lover of the English language. The next person who says YOLO to me is going to find out how right they are.

But you know what other phrase Millennials invented? Side Hustle.

As in, “I have a full-time job, but I don’t really want to do this my whole life. So I’m not going to pour my time and energy into a job so that I can get promoted and do more work that I don’t really love. I’m going to go to work and do my job, and do it well. But I’m going to have this thing on the side that I really do love. Someday this will be how I make my money. But for now, it’s my side hustle.”

And we’re hustling. We’re taking up our evenings and weekends. We’re working our eight hours, then putting in way more to our passions. We know that living our free and independent lives means work. But when it’s work we love, who cares? I don’t really mind getting up before work to write because I love writing. Millennials are starting their own businesses in the wee hours of the morning, the late nights. We’re creating companies while sitting in coffee shops. We’re writing and producing music while our kids are napping. We’re building the lives we want.

If we are putting up with some stupid behavior, it’s because we want to be good to people and are going overboard.

Look, I’m not thrilled about the people who want to say they’re foxes or dragons or spiders. I’m also really not thrilled with people who claim to be ‘triggered’ all the damn time. I don’t believe we need ‘safe spaces’ on campus where people don’t have to interact with others who might disagree with them.

I do love that having a mental illness isn’t seen as a weakness. People who suffer from depression, anxiety, self-harm, PTSD, Postpartum depression and any number of other issues talk about their diseases openly and honestly. I try to do that here, talking about how my depression and anxiety impact my life and how I manage them. If some posers who don’t really have issues pretend to for attention, I can live with that. It pisses me off. But I’d rather have that and give the people who are really sick the support.

I love that people are free to embrace who we are. I am fully in support of the transgender community and think it’s great that they’re doing what they want to do with their own bodies.

I don’t love that we’re so worried about offending people that we’re policing each other and becoming way oversensitive. But I do consider it acceptable to people throwing around racist slurs like it’s acceptable behavior. (Though I really think we need to find a happy medium. For real, people, learn to take a joke.)

This is how I feel about my own generation. But I’d love to hear from you. I know that some of you reading this are from my generation. Some of you are from older generations. So please let us know. What do you think of the Millennials? What do you think of your own generation? Let us know in the comments below.

Want to keep up with PBW all the time? Interested in learning about indie authors besides me? Then click here and sign up for the PBW Update, published every other Monday.

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