Challenge: Lose 20 Pounds Before Spending Any More Personal Money

It’s been a while since I’ve done a challenge on the blog. With winter arriving and my activity levels falling, I’ve been gaining some weight. I’ve also been feeling the “need” to buy this, and that, and this other thing.

Take a breath.

Let’s step back. Hey, how about a Win/Win solution? How about I’m not allowed to spend any of my personal $ until I lose 20 pounds. The money will simply accrue until I hit the goal weight or give up. (Hey, admitting failure is an option is just being honest!)

Feel free to join in the challenge if you want via comments.

Goal Weight: 195

Initial Weight: 216.2

11-21-14: 218.2

Frugal Scripts

I’ve been slowly making my way through The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People at the pace of a few pages every week or so. It’s dense, potent stuff that I’m only in the mood to absorb occasionally. I’m only just starting Habit 3, but one concept I really, really like in the book is the idea of having “scripts”.

Script is a fancy term for a habit (in normal parlance, not the eponymous Habits). They’re how we act, how we talk; most importantly, how we respond to situations when on auto-pilot. The conventional wisdom about habits is that they’re hard to change. That’s true, and replacing ‘habit’ with ‘script’ doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. But, at least for me, I think it does. A script is something you can write. You’ve inherited a lot of programming via genetics, upbringing, environment, social influences, etc. But YOU can pull up the script and tweak it. Edit it. Reprogram yourself.

Being pretty sick on and off for the last two weeks has had me reflecting on how my scripts have changed. As little as 6 months ago, if I was as sick as I’ve been, I would have forgotten about baking bread and resorted to tasteless, spongy store bread. Now, even when I was on the cusp of vomiting, the idea of resorting to store bread horrified me. It was NOT an option. There was one day last week I was laid up in bed most of the day, except getting out of bed to handle the next step of the baking process.

Yesterday and today I haven’t been feeling nearly so awful, but not exactly great. I’ve enjoyed making a batch of granola, a pumpkin pie with puree that’s been thawed for quite some time and I would hate to spoil, more bread, and started a couple experimental batches of extracts. These have become activities I not only like to do, but they’re so programmed into me that I can functionally perform even when ill.

Frugal scripts like this can have various motivations. One popular motivation is saving money. We have, in MMM parlance, “hair on fire” debt – non-mortgage debt in excess of $30K, and our mortgage’s rate is pretty fiery as well. But as laudable as money-saving matters like this are in our situation, it’s sub-optimal in the grand scheme of things if an external factor is your true motivation. My mind has been clear enough to reflect that pinching pennies isn’t my primary motivation. My motivation flows from a core, internal principle of desired self-sufficiency.

Recipe – Adios to Peanuts Nut Butter

Nut butter

For those (like me) who have peanut allergies* or who want a different taste, I’ve really come to like alternative nut butters. The most commonly available pre-made butter is almond butter, but I find the texture of commercial almond butter leaves a lot to be desired. Different brands have different tastes, many of them actually quite off-putting. Maybe you’ll find my recipe off-putting yourself, but after a few months of tweaking I’ve got something I’m quite happy to share.

Note: homemade nut butters are more prone to rancidity than commercial ones. I store this in half-pint jars, the active one in the fridge, the extra portions (depending on batch size) in the freezer. The olive oil added to the mixture helps keep this nice and spreadable even when refrigerated – another plus versus commercial butters, which are impossible to spread when cold.

  • 1 cup whole almonds
  • 1 cup roasted unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup flaxseed meal
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tsp sea salt, or to taste (I like it salty but even half this amount is enough to enhance flavor)


  1. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet at 350F for 15 minutes
  2. Add the toasted almonds (no need to let them cool) and remaining ingredients to a food processor or high-powered blender. (From what I’ve read, unless you have a super blender like a Vitamix, a food processor is your better bet. I have a $40 Hamilton Beach model that handles this task just fine.)
  3. Process on low speed until butter reaches desired consistency, scraping sides of the bowl as necessary. With my machine it takes 5-10 minutes.
  4. Enjoy it warm. Store in refrigerator for 1-2 weeks, or freezer for several months.

*Luckily mine isn’t severe, but when I was on an elimination diet years ago to understand my chronic health issues, peanuts are DEFINITELY a trigger for bad things in my system (mainly sinus congestion).

Goblin Hoard Report Card – October 2014

October was a massive income month for us and we were able to put that to good use by keeping our spending low. The close of the month was our first time using the Frugalwoods’ idea of a “finance date night” to help talk about how we wanted to allocate funds into our various earmarked savings accounts. I think this method works well for us. I made a separate little worksheet that does most of the calculations for us, but the purpose of the meeting is to override our normal parameters. For example, we socked away an extra $750 or so for an upcoming vacation.

We’re split on whether to go ahead and pay off our 0% home improvement loan now (we finally have enough) or hoard the cash until closer to the April 1st, 2015 deadline before interest accrues. I’ll make a final decision sometime in the next couple weeks. I know the math is in favor of letting the money make (pittance) interest, but the Alchemist really just wants it off our back.

Budget for October 2014

Income (combined after all deductions): $6,042

Fixed Spending

  • Housing (Mortgage+Tax+Insurance): $1,061
  • Student Loans (combined): $859.78
  • Auto Insurance: $82.58
  • Life Insurance: $60
  • Internet: $58
  • Amazon Prime: $8.42

Variable Spending

  • Fuel: $148.87
  • Gas/Electric: $102.20
  • Medical Expenses Out of Pocket: $57
  • Water: $0 (billed quarterly)
  • AirVoice cell: $0

Sink Funds Spending

  • Groceries/Necessities: $562.95 (the $38.05 under our $600 limit contributes to the discretionary account)
  • Discretionary: $157 (Forward balance: $103.04)
  • Transportation Capital Fund: $44.97 (Forward balance: $130.55)
  • Travel: $0 (Forward balance: $1,000) –> We’ll be taking a rather long vacation over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday. It should cost us closer to $600-$700, but I’d rather have some buffer here.
  • Kids/Education: $0 (Forward balance: $66.09)
  • House Capital Fund: $0 (Forward balance: $66.29)

November should be a pretty quiet month, as we’re staying local for Thanksgiving. The goblins and I will continue biking (we’ve already braved some pretty nasty cold/windy days) as our primary transportation. I need to fix some lingering problems in our secondary car, but should be able to do it relatively cheaply.


Bike Versus Car – October 2014


October 2014 Report

  • Vehicle Miles (this month): 948
  • Vehicle Capital (this month): $227.85
  • Vehicle CPM (all-time): $0.38
  • Bike Miles (this month): 314
  • Bike Capital (this month): $148.07
  • Bike CPM (all-time): $0.46

bike versus car october 2014

Car spending this month was basic usage. Bike spending was high because, as the weather gets colder and darker, we’re finding we need a few more things. We also bought a trail-a-bike off Craigslist for Goblin Gamma. While he misses the ability to nap after a long day at the park, in general he likes it quite a bit more than the trailer.


[Einar] #1 – Under the Oak Tree

Einar shifted on the bench, smiling nervously Maera, the older student who shared the bench with him. Class had only convened for a minute but his face was already tingling from the brisk wind off Starfire Bay.

Master Faren glanced up from the slate table he was inscribing on, smiling at the uncomfortable faces arrayed before him. School in their town was always held outdoors, two students to every slate table with rough timber frame, in a semi-circle under the canopy of an ancient oak tree. “Just a few more moments,” his voice trailed off, focused on the final arithmancy of the spell. With a final elegant sweep of his arm he drew the perfect near-complete circle, completing it with the binding word KINGDOM.

The wind died immediately as the weather spell took effect. Faren smiled. “Who wants to tell me why I had to do that over again?” The spell he’d cast before the first class had lasted the entire week until this morning.

To Einar’s right, Maera raised her hand. In profile, her soft button nose, eager green eyes, and pony tail gathered at the top of her head made her seem orbits younger than she was.

There were few answers she didn’t have – our couldn’t theorize. They all, even Faren, knew this. And so the Revealer smiled, waiting to see if any of his other students would attempt an answer.

Comets, I might as well. Maera looked at Einar in surprise when he raised his hand – turning enough to face him that the intricate tattoo surrounding her right eye became visible. Hadn’t he just told her how much he hated the new master’s habit of asking questions the students couldn’t possibly answer?

He shrugged sheepishly, then readied his answer: “The obvious answer is that it’s twenty marks colder today, but-” and his face screwed up, trying to find the right words.

“But what?” Faren prompted.

“I’ve learned in the past week that the obvious answer to your questions is never the right one.” The other students chuckled, then nervously looked away past their teacher to the sea beyond.

“Never is a bit harsh.” Even Einar chuckled at that one. “But why don’t we need to adjust for changing conditions?”

“Because it’s not a weather spell at all – the arithmancy couldn’t possibly fit in a circle -” Faren raised an eyebrow at that, but Einar pressed on with his theory – “It’s a pocket dimension, and it’s impossible to keep it correctly joined with our native dimension over long periods of time.”

“Close enough.” He paused to consider something, then chuckled. “At least until you were a novice in the order. How did you arrive at your deduction?”

“Honestly, the complexity of weather arithmancy was a guess, but it just seemed simpler to isolate us than try to correct every possible variable as it changed.”

“And Maera,” Faren asked, “what was your answer going to be? Shadow methodology can be so different than my own.”

As young as she looked, Maera was less a prodigy and more a full adult wizard in her own right. People often asked if she were twelve orbits to Einar’s thirteen, but he knew she was nearly twenty – for as much as the reckoning of the Shadow People could be trusted.

“If you must close the circle with KINGDOM, then Einar’s description would have been my method as well. Casting it with FOUNDATION, however, solves your power source problem.”

“Sub-dimensional magic using FOUNDATION?” Faren scoffed. “I wouldn’t call that a solution.”

“You believe in the demons?” Maera looked incredulous. “We don’t scare our children with tales to make them afraid to travel across the Tree.” Einar glanced around at the faces of the other students. None of them understood the high level of this conversation, but instinctively they listened with rapt attention, absorbing the deep knowledge in the hope of one day piecing together understanding.

The look on Faren’s face could have been anger. Or it could have been cold terror. Einar expected the Master to shut the conversation down and begin the mundane lesson on lintel charms they’d prepared.

Instead, the Revealer spoke in a calm voice that would have been inaudible were it not for the spell keeping the wind out: “The shadow – and no, with you here, I do not use the word lightly – the shadow within FOUNDATION is not something to dismiss.”

“Have you been to the Thousand Room Mansion?”

“I have.”

“My father has taken me there for five orbits now. Never have we seen the demons you Revealers speak of.”

Faren suddenly pulled his tunic over his head. His chest bore multiple scars. Einar sat too far away to see in any great detail, but the scars had broken many of the powerful body-binding magics the Revealers were known to use for their self-defense.

“These were not the work of children’s bedtime tales.” He smiled. “But I think this has been enough of a diversion. I don’t wish to keep you past the midday hour, so we must hurry if we are to complete today’s lesson.”

After class, Faren pulled both Einar and Maera aside. He looked to the boy: “Will your parents miss you if you aren’t home for lunch?”

Einar looked at Maera. His family was hosting the Shadow mage until mid-winter. “Maera is still new in town, so I have been introducing her around. Father would expect us home at sundown, and no earlier.”

“Very good,” the Revealer smiled. “Bring your lunches then and I’ll share bread and cheese. Perhaps I may be able to even supplement your fare with some, ah, alchemical sustenance.”

Against the advice of most in the village, Faren had chosen to live in the long-abandoned cabin built by his predecessor. Einar’s village had been without a Revealer since before he was born. The death had been sudden and war across the Grey Steppe had delayed a replacement.

Maera twitched her nose at the decayed smell. Rotten thatch and other debris still littered the periphery of the simple two-room dwelling.

“Why live here?” She asked. “Even with hosting me, Einar’s family has two empty rooms. And there’s-”

“Layta knew what she was doing. To understand her death, I must live as she lived. Einar, close that door, will you?”

The boy did as he was asked, blinking his eyes to adjust to the dim light. Faren spoke a word under his breath and the exposed timber framing began to glow with fire red runes.

“Smoke and ash!” Maera cursed.

Faren chuckled and looked to Einar. “These runes are Shadow magic,” he explained. “Young Maera here isn’t the first magician in this town to know both disciplines.”

“Is this the reason I was accepted? Citizens of the City have gone all across the Steppe – to the Citadel itself. Gold, steel, even flesh have been offered. And never permission until now.”

Faren shrugged. “The superiors owe no explanation to me. But let’s eat while we talk.”

A few minutes of hustle had them arrayed at Faren’s trestle table. Split between them were crusty loaves of yesterday’s bread, cheese from a few villages to the south, and strong red wine Faren claimed he had vinted himself.

The Revealer faced Einar and Maera. The Shadow mage’s firm thighs were up against Einar’s at the short table. It was cozy and not at all unpleasant.

After they’d eaten a few bites, Faren resumed their earlier conversation. “I was surprised when I first got the assignment here. I’m quite young to be sent so far away, but I was even more surprised when I’d be the first Revealer to officially teach a Shadow mage our own craft.”

“Because you have no experience with Shadow magic? Are they expecting me to teach you in return?”

Faren cracked a smile. “I might regret sharing this with you, but the ignorance I feign in class is an act.”

Maera folded her arms and took a deep breath.

He chuckled. “You don’t believe me. No problem.” Maera took a long sip of her wine and remained silent. “I have a good demonstration for you, I think.”

Faren stood up to grab a spell slate. The rough surface of the table was less than ideal for magic. Unless, of course, you wanted to blow yourself up.

As he began sketching the spell’s skeleton, Faren looked up at Einar. “The writing system is different. Syntax is important, but it is less rigid. That helps when you must form the arguments geometrically.” Symbols were scrawled in five distinct places, double lines linking them.

Maera inhaled sharply and leaned back after studying the spell intently so far. Einar could feel the rippling tension in her leg, and the tendons flexing in her elbow. She knew what he was casting. Suddenly her elbow was no longer against Einar’s rib cage. Her hand slipped inside her outer vest, briefly exposing the pale tops of her breasts before producing the rough charcoal of the Shadow mages.

Faren looked up but said nothing.

Maera smiled. “It’s not that I think you’re going to fail, but I don’t have a death wish either.”

Faren chuckled but continued without looking up.

Maera sketched a half circle directly on the table, leaning across Einar to enclose him as well. He cleared his throat, which earned a chuckle from both of the adults. The Shadow mage flashed a warm smile, her eyes becoming sparkling crescents. Her right hand began sketching a sinuous script woven through and around the semi-circle, while her left found its way to his thigh – gradually moving upwards and inwards.

Einar had no idea how – or if – to respond, but involuntarily let out a shuddering sigh. Maera chuckled but left her hand there, smiling coyly at Einar, her counterspell now complete.

Faren sat back, taking a deep breath while reviewing his work. Einar studied his new teacher’s face. His dark hair was cropped short on top, and even shorter on the sides. Hazel eyes set in a furrowed brow relaxed and twinkled when he saw the boy studying him.

“Are you ready to see something amazing?”  Einar nodded. Maera had a wry smile on her face. “Einar,” Faren continued, “perhaps it’s best we open the door.”

Einar looked to Maera, who simply nodded.

Sunlight bleached out the fire runes’ light, but not completely. The stark shadows thrown from the door retained a dark orange hue. The boy considered if he should feel uneasy. His heart raced, but the hearty food and wine allowed for no trace of a pit in his stomach. He watched the Revealer sketch two semi-circles with the gaps between them at the spell’s top and bottom.

“You can do a dual binding?” The question escaped his lips before he realized he was speaking.

Faren looked up before he finished the spell, but it was Maera who answered the question, chuckling a bit as she did: “You can bind with the full Tree in theory, though if any experimenters have survived the attempt, their inscriptions have never made it into a manuscript.”

“What is the highest binding you’ve ever seen?”

“Triple. After that,” her eyes closed and she shuddered, “the complexities become dizzying.”

Faren cleared his throat before closing the circle. The top binding was KINGDOM and the bottom was DECISION. Infinitesimally precise rays of light began arranging themselves over the slate in a squat shape about two hands high. The white light flashed red before cooling to the orange-gray of dying embers. Smoke began rising from a hidden source, but the skeleton of light kept it contained.

Other than the smoke roiling inside it, nothing appeared to change for a full minute. Einar watched Faren lock eyes with Maera. The Revealer had a half smirk on his face, while the Shadow mage’s brown eyes regarded him impassively.

Suddenly a bird’s cry echoed in the tiny cabin.

There, standing in the middle of the slate, a black bird stared at Einar with a glowing red eye. But then the moment passed. The bird tucked its legs, pushed off, and with three forceful beats of its broad wings, escaped the cabin.

A single feather fluttered back down to the table. Einar picked it up out of curiosity. The inky black vane was completely matte, without any trace of sheen. The quill, on the other hand, shone grey like pure silver fresh from the jeweler.

Maera clapped slowly in appreciation.

Faren inclined his head. “Creation magic is hard. Killing a Revealer capable of defense such as this,” he waved his arm at the wards carved into the cabin around them, “is even harder. Maera: the traces left are minute, but the echo’s pattern is unmistakable. The final spell, the one which tore Layta’s soul from this world, was a hybrid of our two magics.”

“Is that even possible? I mean, one of the reasons we’ve been so desperate to learn your art is that it’s trivially easy for the one magic to cancel the other. And if there was a war….” Her voice trailed off.

“Okay,” Einar looked slowly at each other them, “But why am I here?”

“Einar,” Faren answered, “traditionally the local Revealer is the closest confidante of the ruler. I will serve your father as best I can, but his wish is that you learn to defend your people – yourself. If a new battle magic might fuel the wars, it won’t be enough to have a Revealer at your side. You must be a wizard yourself.”

What is the Grey Empire?

Early on in the life of this blog, I made an attempt to post some of my fiction but didn’t stick with it. A couple of things have changed recently that have me changing my mind on that. I asked for some advice about coping with boredom at work, and a couple people suggested writing. I’ve been feeling a mild itch to get back to my fiction universe for a few weeks now (probably a subsconscious reminder that Nanowrimo is approaching, though I’m not participating this year). Being in a retail sales environment, typing is out of the question, but man writing by hand – even in fits and spurts – drastically improved my mood at work. I’ve said this every time I return to writing after a long absence, but being creative is incredibly therapeutic.

Finishing Chris Guillebeau’s excellent The Happiness of Pursuit has me wanting to set a goal: publish at least one story or chapter a month. I’ve got this (I think) wonderful universe I’ve spent ages in, but it’s only ever been seen by about 5 people. I’ve got partially written stories during multiple time periods, with multiple protagonists. I called it the Grey Empire, after the eponymous political force in the universe, a fledgling interstellar power. It’s a non-Earth universe with a heavy mixture of fantasy and science-fiction, a mixture which changes depending on which time period I write in.

But in returning to the world, I’m finding myself drawn to the beginning. Instead of my existing characters, I’m taking on a new one: Einar, the boy who eventually goes on to found the first Empire. Being so early in the world’s history, his story is almost completely fantasy, but perhaps some science fiction will find its way in.

The goal in posting the stories here is to share the world with more people, but also to prod me to keep writing. So some of this may seem disconnected, but I’ll try and make it clear how it’s all connected.

It’s entirely possible that I will introduce stories from other characters (and thus other time periods) before Einar’s story is done. The plan is to write – and publish – as I am inspired. Each entry will be titled with the protagonist in brackets to keep it clear. I’ll also update this page to better explain the overarching history.

The Protagonists

  • Einar is born in a small village (which I haven’t yet named) off of Starfire Bay during a period of turmoil across most of Nelara. Most of the planet is a collection of city-states, but the planet’s most fertile lands have been scarred by a decades-long series of wars. The major source of stability in this period of Nelara is a magical order known as the Revealers. Members of the order owe limited obedience to the Citadel in a city known as Mindseye, a center of traditional learning but more importantly magical research. Each Revealer traditionally serves as an advisor, bodyguard, educator, and healer to the leaders of the many fractious political entities.


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