Vacation Blubber: Meet Mr. Gym Membership

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So, it can’t be often in your life, when you have a week, at home, by yourself, with absolutely nothing – and I mean  NOTHING! – you  have to do. Other than the dishes. And take out the garbage. And maybe shower once in awhile. My man had to go back to work today, but I don’t go back for another week – hence the week, as-of-yet-unheard of, remote-control domination; bed and couch occupation.  And although I plan on revelling in this, I have this feeling like I don’t want to waste such a blessed snippet of my existence on simply stuffing my face with Cheezies and watching re-runs of Say Yes to the Dress. I want this week to matter.

So although I started my day with a cigarette, that’s it folks — no more. This is going to be Healthy Week. I finally forked out for a legitimate gym membership. I got sick of trying to scam my local gym into letting me use all the “First Time Customer” coupons (although I DID score at least 25 FREE visits with this strategy). And it turned out to be not so bad of a deal at all. And by paying an extra $50, you have the priviledge of putting your membership on hold for as long as you want, and the payments are suspended. Awesome! I think this will be a great motivator, because it will take some serious shame to call up and say, “Yeah, I’m not planning on using this for the next few weeks….. just put it on hold….” in fact, just writing that makes me want to go to the gym RIGHT NOW, even though I was just there and just did a ridiculously hard spin class. Here’s the thing though, I weighed myself, which I definitely should not have done. And it’s one of those old-fashioned sliding bar scales, and I did the usual — slid out the 100 and then proceeded to kick the “one-pounder” out from zero, breezing through the “impossible” twenties and thirties, expecting it to stop somewhere in the high 140’s…. but oh…. oh SHIT!! No you’ve got to be KIDDING ME!!! I had to start back at square one with the big, FAT 150 slider. Yeah, that’s going to end, and quickly. I was on vacation, people!! (An awesome vacation at that — which I will probably elaborate on later).

So yes, this week is going to be Getting my Ass Back into Shape week. I didn’t eat any junk food or drink any liquor today, which is amazing considering the previous three weeks are all a blur of Pina Coladas, Rum Punch, Nachos, Beer, Cheesecake, Wine, Pizza, Beer, Dark n’ Stormys, Bailey’s, Cheeseburgers, ice cream, and scotch. Yes, it was an epically awesome vacation. But now it’s time to buckle down and recover. And give my poor liver a breather.

Heartbreak and happiness – the trials and tribulations of house-buying

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Wow, ok, so it’s been awhile since my last post but WOW have I ever had an extremely exciting action-packed month off! “Be careful what you wish for!” the old adage goes — and that is certainly the case here.

As I mentioned in a few previous posts there, now that I have graduated from university and have a “real job” with a “real paycheque” my biggest goal for the New Year (along with losing some pounds, yawn) was to get my financial house in order, not just budgeting but making a real effort to edumacate myself in financial matters…. RRSPs, investing, savings, home buying, mortgages, wha? WELL…. less than two months elapsed, and, we almost bought a house!! I know, ‘almost’ buying a house is nowhere near as exciting as ‘actually’ buying a house, but what an education it’s been.

So, we’ve (my boyfriend of five years and I) have been house-scouting online on a casual level now for over a year…. bombarding my parents with links, asking ‘what do you think of this one??’ etc. I found one gem on MLS a few weeks ago, and even though it was strikingly strange looking (picture to follow) I found it somewhat captivating. So I emailed the agent for more info. Being a good agent, he immediately emailed me back and asked if we wanted to do a walk-through of the house. Whoa! That is a big leap from passively online browsing… but why not right? It’s like trying on those $1500 Armani jeans — you can always pretend you don’t like them. So anyways, we went to see the house. It is a 1984 contemporary diamond in the rough, but both of us have terrific imaginations and were immediately picturing it without the horrid lace curtains and 90’s wallpaper and MDF kitchen cabinets, with slate floors instead of yukky linoleum…. and basically we left the appointment glowing. Behind all that horrible decor, there were high ceilings, hardwood floors, an awesome yard, deck, and view…..  After mulling it over for a few days, we went to see a mortgage broker, and were shocked, amazed, and incredibly excited to find that it would be well within our reasonable house budget — WOW! Armed with this new, empowering knowledge, we jumped off the cliff and made an offer. A verrrrry low offer (the house had been for sale for almost a year already!). Just in case you have never bought a house, as we certainly hadn’t, it is probably the most fun and exciting heartbreaking game of cat and mouse I have ever played. We offered, they countered, we counter-countered, and they counter-counter-countered, but the deal eventually broke down when they made their “final final lowest of low” offers that was still 25G’s above what we felt was a good deal. I was initially devastated — but after all, I got what I wanted — a top-notch education in buying a house. The first part, anyways! And the story is not over, oh no, I think when we get back from sea, we will probably make another offer, only slightly above what our last offer was. Of course, we run the risk of it selling in the meantime, but I have a pretty good feeling that that is NOT going to happen. Not everyone is as ambitious as we are, and willing to take the sledgehammer to the ugly stuff. I still want it — and if you saw it, you’d want it too!

AND – we also discovered (not on our own….. our mortgage guy pointed this out to us) this unbelievable loophole in Canadian taxes. We already had one meeting with the bank, and are going back to finalize it on Monday, where we’re each taking a loan out for RRSP’s. This amount that we put in an RRSP, even though it’s not “our” money, per se, is deducted from our incomes for income tax. So we will get a fat wad of money back from the Tax Man when we file next month. AND — here’s the best part — as long as that money stays in the RRSP for at least 90 days, we can cash it out, tax-free, and use it as a downpayment on a house, since we are both first-time homebuyers. Head spinning? Yeah, mine was too. But believe it or not, it’s totally legal, and will save us a pile of dough and the shame of having to knock on the Parental Bank for a downpayment. Awesome!

So yeah, as of now, we are kind of in limbo. Going back to sea for a month, starting next week, so this freight train has been brought to a grinding, screeching, halt. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to contain myself! As is, I am dreaming of hammering, building, painting, fixing, and decorating…. I have always dreamt of owning my own space, and to be so close, but so far, is exhilarating and agitating!

Here is our "diamond in the rough".... I know it looks a bit horrible right now, but picture it with a splash of new paint (not red!), some new windows.... oh yeah and that stupid wishing well is a goner, just incase anybody wants it...

Save yourself a Mint: budgeting made easy

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For anyone interested in getting their financial $#!% together, I could not possibly recommend any higher my new discovery of Mint (www.mint.com) and the corresponding smartphone app (available free on the app store).

I make the goal every year of creating a budget, but to be completely honest, until now, I have never gotten around to even taking the FIRST STEP – opening up Excel and punching in expenses and incomes. Somehow, the image of sitting there in a haphazard pile of crumpled reciepts, struggling to fill in mystery blanks, cursing my computer monitor, and forgetting about it the next week anyways, was just too depressing to even attempt. Not now though! Oh no!

I stumbled upon Mint first on my iPhone. It was the top rated personal finance app, so I thought it was worth checking out. At first, it made me a bit sweaty since you literally give them all your banking information – but after doing my homework and feeling pretty comfortable with their security and everything, I went for it. Thank god I did! It is a masterpiece of web architecture. It brings together all your accounts, cards, loans, debts, and investments in one place. It automatically uploads and categorizes every expense, and gives you the ability to upload cash expenses in, oh, about two nanoseconds. You can create custom reports out of all this information, broken down by category, store, month, multiple months, trends, etc. You can get it in graphs, pie charts, or good old fashioned spreadsheets. It’s freaking awesome, and REALLY enlightening (“Did I seriously spend that much at the liquor store…. holy $#!%”).

It makes a default budget for you, based on your past few months of expenses, which you can then take and tweak any which way you want, and add or subtract categories. I rigged mine up so that, WHEN I follow it (notice, I did not say “if” there) I will end up putting a minimum of two G-Notes a month into savings or investments.

The best part is though, it prompts you to keep on track. This is really embarassing, because just yesterday, I wrote that rather self-congratulatory post about striving to get fit for free. But whatevs, sometimes you slip. Anyways, I discovered the ‘wagging finger feature’ after blowing a bundle at Lululemon’s clearance sale here in St. John’s. Almost immediately, my phone jingled and politely informed me that I had exceeded my clothing budget for January. Not to be defeated, I split the purchase into three categories (which is amazingly easy to do): a) Clothing, b) Health and Fitness, and c) Miscellaneous. Hey, that’s legit! Of course, there is only so much of the ole category shuffle you can do, before you literally just run out of TOTAL money in the budget. (I can see it now… self-justifications firing on all cylinders: ‘well, these spectacular shoes are made of leather. Leather is made of cows. We eat cows, ergo: these shoes could be Groceries, no?’)

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Ohhhhh…. $#!% !!

All silliness aside, it at least made me think about the purchase (although maybe not enough -!). And there is no way I am going to tolerate any more wagging fingers. Not happening! I feel like it is challenging me – something no run-of-the-mill Excel spreadsheet could ever accomplish.

Seriously worthwhile – check it out! Even better – it’s completely free.

 

Getting fit for free: the battle between fitness and finanaces

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I have a confession to make – I’m a gym slut!

And by that, I mean I will go to whatever gym is giving me free drop-in passes. There are sweet deals to be had out there, people!

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This time of year, everyone is forking out hundreds upon hundreds of dollars for exclusive memberships, signing their lives away on contracts, trundling off to Sport Chek to spend megabucks on the hottest new fitness duds…. NOT ME!!

Well, not this time anyways. I would be a huge hypocrite here if I did not ‘fess up that I indeed, in the past, have been on that very bandwagon. But this year, I am determined to have my fitness and financial goals in harmony with one another. And to that end, I am busy milking every gym in the city for free passes.

A quick Yellow Pages search of St. John’s came up with over thirty different fitness clubs and gyms. Almost every one has some kind of promo ‘freebie’ offer – ranging from a free daypass, to three days, or three classes, or a week, or a steal of a deal on the first week (Shakti Yoga – $20 unlimited drop-in trial for a week, etc). Right now, I am busy getting the most out of my Goodlife “Three for Free” pass. I’ve already been to two savage spin classes, and will hit up two more before it expires on the 12th. (Soooo….. really I will get Four For Free! And, if it was a drop in class, I would probably pay up to $10 for it, so that is like $40 I saved right there!).

I already got a sweet Groupon (I actually bought a secondhand Groupon — paid $30 for it, the girl I bought it from paid $50 for it, which was an epic deal to begin with, for two months of drop-in Muay Thai Kickboxing… two a week, eight a month, 16 in total, so if I go to every one, which I have so far, the cost to me is less than two bucks a class) So I have that to do this month as well. Once that is finished, I’m thinking – Hot Yoga! (Saw an ad for a free week there, too!).

 

I alloted $100 in my monthly budget for “Health and Fitness” but heck, I’d rather spend it on wine or clothes or shoes — and if I succeed in my Fit for Free mission, that is exactly what I’m going to do!

If anyone knows of any other great promo offers – let me know!

Just in case you want to be a gym slut, too, check out these deals:

  • Goodlife Fitness: (Canada-wide) Three-visit pass:

http://goodlifefitness.com/Memberships/FreeVisitPass.aspx

  • The Works (St. John’s only) Free 7-Day Prime Time Deluxe Membership:

http://www.theworksonline.ca/survey.php

  • Ches Penney YMCA (St. John’s) Free Day Pass:

http://www.ynortheastavalon.com/files/free_pass.pdf

 

Change your headlights, save some money, glue your dreams

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I can’t decide what to write about right now! I have three topics arguing inside my head about who is more relevant and interesting. Let me introduce you to them:

  • #1: The fact that I changed my own car headlight today, on my own
  • #2: My new financial forays into the incredibly exciting world of Mint.com
  • #3: The completion of my new vision board for 2012, what’s on it and why, and some tips for making your own

The conversation in my head is going something like this:

Headlight: “C’mon, I was easily the highlight of your day – no pun intended! I know you, and nothing makes you happier than conquering some new task. And, you saved $50 that it would have cost to get the mechanic to do it! That is goshdarned exciting.”

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Mint.com: “Fifty measly bucks! Hahahaha! [High roller chuckle] Think of all the money you’re going to save once you get dialed into my state-of-the art budgeting and finance world! Two words: …..Pie Charts!”

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Vision Board:Ahem, lets just be calm here, maybe a deep breath, no? I don’t mean to be arrogant here, but what is more exciting or interesting than a visual manifestation of your dreams for the upcoming year? And wouldn’t it be awesome, if you convinced even ONE other person to try it? Annnnnd…. just sayin’…. I’m alot prettier than a dirty ole headlight or some stupid pie charts!”

And the winnah is….

Vision Board

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This is a really, really, really fun thing to do. Especially if you’re a nerd like me, and love collages. It took me maybe a full hour altogether, so nothing too crazy, and now I have something that is really fun to look at, and will keep me on track to accomplish my goals for this year. If you’ve never tried it before, I highly recommend it! It requires zero artistic ability, and very little cashola. Basically, you grab a pile of old magazines. Flip through them and rip out everything that catches your eye, in any way — the key here is to not be too choosy, if it caught your eye, there’s something there that resonated with you, so rip it out. Pictures, sayings, drawings, words, maps, whatever! If it’s something you want – in the material sense or spiritual or travel or experience sense – put it in the pile. Take a large piece of poster board. Old science fair projects will do just fine. The bigger the better. Start gluing. Have fun with it, overlap it, mix up the words, it is YOUR creation to make in any way you want. When it’s all done, you can trim the edges to make it look pretty, and then step back and take a look, because this is what you are welcoming into your life in the coming year.

I was planning on elaborating a little bit on what is on mine, and why, but upon having another look at it, I think it is so straightforward it requires no explanation. The only thing I kinda feel like I need to elaborate on a bit is the kid — no, I do not want a kid this particular year; that is just to remind me that pretty soon I WILL want a kid, and there are things I should be doing, like saving money, getting my $#!% together, getting my Masters’, which will put me in a better position when that day DOES roll around. Eventually.

I really believe this kind of stuff has power. Is it as instant and simple as laid out in “The Secret” and other similar books? No, I don’t think it is. Just because I want someone to bring me a coffee right now, does not mean it is going to happen. However – in the action of choosing, the action of cutting, gluing, arranging – you are creating a physical manifestation of some desire that is inside of you. This physical manifestation might be a flimsy piece of paper – but even that is a big leap from being an intangible thought, no? Just the act of bringing it into your awareness, will make you more aware the next time it blips on your radar, which might make you stop and look at it in a store. Which might make you research it online. Which might make you think of ways you could save money or strive to get that thing/experience/achievement. Which, sooner or later, will end up with you having it.

For example, I had no idea I had such a strong desire for a nice kitchen, that this was, in fact, not only a peripheral desire but a central desire in my life. It came up in technicolour yesterday, in that ‘5-year visualization’ exercise, and then again today, I found myself, zombie-like, cutting out picture after picture after picture of gorgeous kitchens! I couldn’t fit them all on! Who knew?

Limits are learned behaviours. You can be and do absolutely whatever you want, so beware of that sneaky, sabotaging thought that pops in when you see a castle or a Ferrari, that thought that says, ‘oh yeah, that is nice, but that is NEVER going to happen…’ Because there is real power to your thoughts and words, folks!

Have fun!

Where will YOU be in five years?

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One of my big goals for 2012 is to get my @#$% together financially. Not that I am doing terribly, but I would say I am blundering blindly, with good intentions, paying off my credit card monthly, etc, but still being totally oblivious to how much I am really earning, and more importantly, how much I am really SPENDING every month. So, with my new Kobo e-reader, I picked out the Smart Cookies Guide to Making more Dough and Getting out of Debt. This is a gem of a book. I am only halfway through it, but it is packed with sturdy advice without being preachy or jargon-y. It is kind of an informal workbook format, and prompts you with several questions along the way. One of the first exercises is to picture your perfect day, five or so years down the road. Where you are, what you are doing, what your workplace looks like, what you look like, what makes you happy, etc. Detail was emphasized.

I have a rather vivid imagination, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I whipped out a pen (yes, an old-fashioned pen) and the words just started gushing out of me. Seven scrapbook pages later, I stopped scribbling and was really amazed at what I had just spewed forth. I am going to transcribe it here, not because I think it is deserving of accolades or because I think anyone will even be interested in it (or even read it for that matter)– just because, in five years I will likely have lost this notebook but will still remember my WordPress.com password, so I can see how close I got to my vision. Pardon the extreme arrogance of it all — but the idea here is to picture an IDEAL day. And in my ideal day, I will not be fat or driving an old Firefly or working somewhere boring as a cog in a machine. So here it is:

I wake up around 6:30. It’s summer, and sunshine is streaming in through the huge windows looking out on the ocean. I feel great – energetic and excited about the day ahead. I do a few quick yoga moves while the coffee is percolating, the smell intoxicatingly perfect, and I breathe it in relishing the early morning peace.

I am at home, and it is a truly magnificent space – every square inch carefully chosen and selected. Heated slate floors graze my bare feet, a giant soapstone fireplace reaches for the solid wooden rafters on 20′ ceilings. Beautifully hidden lighting creatively illuminates a space that is the perfect blend of quirky nostalgia and modern elegance. Colours, fabrics, wood, stone…everything natural and harmonious. Enormous picture windows look out over a spectacular ocean vista, and a stone patio is freckled by the early morning sun, the patio chairs beckoning me with my morning cup of coffee.

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I grab my favourite cashmere sweater, soft and bulky, and wrap it around me, going out onto the patio on this perfect morning. The smell of happy plants and trees coming alive, covered in mist from the early morning automatic sprinklers, fills my senses. Everything is shimmering with dew, the ocean like glass except the ever present surging of the waves, gently, on the rocks.

Suddenly my daughter comes running out, messy-haired and still in pyjamas. Good morning my beautiful princess, I say, enfolding her lithe, warm, flannel covered body in my arms and hoisting her up, spinning around and laughing with silly exhilaration. It is our own little world, quiet, magic, and perfect. But we are not alone – I suddenly look toward the patio door and smile, seeing my sleepy husband gazing out at us with a happy smile on his face – that of a man who could not possibly ask for more. Our little girl runs to him, leaping into his arms, and I follow, savouring the moment, the patio stones cold and refreshing on my bare feet. Good morning, my love, I say, kissing him deeply.

As I am getting dressed in the morning, I peruse my wardrobe and pluck out my favourite outfit – a gorgeously custom tailored charcoal grey suit that fits me superbly. I toss on a lime green silk blouse underneath to spice it up a bit, and add some killer animal-print heels. I pause, looking in the full-length mirror. I look terrific. A woman in her prime.

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I get to work at eight – my parking space is waiting for me and my saucy black Mercedes. I feel great climbing out of it, like a genuine rock star.

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As I walk through the front doors of the modern, beautiful, light-filled harbourfront building, people smile as they shake my hand and congratulate me on my recent success. People are bustling with excitement here, it is a big day today, a lot of hard work and planning has gone into it, and everyone has really risen to the occasion. Phones are already ringing with media inquiries, and my boss comes up to me and says, Thank you for all your hard work, we couldn’t have done this without your dedication and talent. I smile and acknowledge the compliment gracefully, then proceed to my office, with a terrific floor-to-ceiling view of the harbour. There is a pile of paper on my desk, all reports awaiting my discernment and approval. My inbox is already humming with people wanting my opinion and expertise, or thanking and congratulating me.

Work is done early. I am done when I say I’m done, and I grab the keys to go pick up my little girl, and meet my husband at the park. We play and run in the afternoon sunlight, walk by a beautiful lake, rolling down hills, playing on swings, laughing and savouring every moment. We run into other close friends, and laugh and talk and catch up, while watching our kids play and get dirty. Everyone is radiant with the beauty of the day, the perfect temperature. The light reflecting off the lake gives everything an extra luminous glow.

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It’s evening now, and while my husband and daughter are playing a game close by, I go to the kitchen and start preparing ingredients for our dinner. I open the fridge and it is overflowing with colourful, healthy, organic ingredients – the sky’s the limit! I have tons of space on my beautiful maple counters, and I start merrily chopping and dicing and creating. I am in my element. Great music is playing on the surround sound system, and I dance and sing along while cooking. Blackened salmon, fresh asparagus, a salad overflowing with beautiful, exotic greens and toppings. We take it out on the patio, along with a bottle of Prosecco, and dive in, while watching the sunset – the automatic garden and patio lights gradually coming on as it gets darker, creating a beautiful Midsummer Night’s Dream fantasy. After our girl is in bed, we stay outside, talking and drinking and enjoying the cool evening air, stars, and the sound of the crickets. One of our favourite songs comes on, and we get up and dance, swaying gently in the moonlight.

 

As I crawl into bed, I am exhausted but happy. I feel wonderful knowing how loved, respected, needed, and fulfilled my life is. My little family is a source of unending joy. My work is satisfying, challenging, and interesting. My relationships are harmonious, and I have a support network of family, friends, and coworkers. I am incredibly grateful for everything in my life. The easy wealth and abundance. The wonderful people who colour my life. The gorgeous place that I live. The delicious things that I eat. My healthy, thin, active happy body. My long beautiful hair, my red-hot sex life. My beautiful, perfect house. As I drift off to sleep, I am nothing but excited to see what the next day will bring.

Whew! 1300 words. Where the hell did all that come from? I’ve never even thought about such things. I can definitely see the point of the whole exercise though – looking at the things you really do want in your life, sure makes it seem frivolous to spend another $120 on a pair of boots, or another $80 on a new perfume, when that could go toward some much bigger, much more worthwhile dreams.

So, will I have a black Mercedes and custom tailored suits and my own oceanfront house AND office, and a BABY — all in five year? We’ll see. As they say, “Thoughts are real forces.” I sure hope so, because that all sounded pretty damn good.

 

 

 

 

Content with Contentment – a seriously underrated state of bliss

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I don’t know about you, but I love newspaper horoscopes.

Even though I am generally quite interested in the politics and reviews and general goings-on sections, after I pick up a paper I  thumb through its inky recesses immediately, looking for the best morsel in the whole thing: Pisces.

It’s not that I really put a whole lot of faith in horoscopes, being as generic and vague as they are (a joy-killing skeptic once pointed out to me that, since there are twelve signs of the zodiac, then that Pisces horoscope would have to apply to approximately one-twelfth of the population…). I just think there’s something kind of cool about something so outrageously esoteric having such an exalted position along with serious news of the day.

It is rare, however, that any particular horoscope really stops me in my tracks. A few months ago, however, one did. I wish I’d cut it out or copied it down, because I felt like it had been written specifically for me.  It went something like this:

Pisces: The Portugese have a word, “saudade”, which does not really exist in any other language. It is defined, approximately, as a “…vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist … a turning towards the past or towards the future.” Get over yourself. It’s time to let it go, and start celebrating what you have.

For whatever reason, this really punched me in the face, and got me to thinking about my life. At 27 years old, I have had innumerable amazing and fortunate experiences. I have sailed halfway around the world; skiied in the Alps; lived in the woods; camped in the high desert; waltzed in Vienna; owned my own boat…. and the list goes on. But somehow, nothing has ever been enough to quell the fierce case of saudade which has brewed inside me for as long as I can remember. Nothing has ever been quite intense enough, no adventure is extreme enough, no relationship perfect enough, no job interesting or challenging enough, my body never thin or fit enough, no living situation exciting or edgy enough. For as long as I can remember, I have lived with an aching dissatisfaction with my life – for absolutely no reason. Not anywhere near as debilitating as genuine depression, but always there nonetheless. Even logic continually failed to cure it. No matter how many times I told myself that ‘there are millions of people out there who have it worse off in every possible way’, I just could not seem to get over that ever-present, background saudade.

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Cry me a river, well-educated first-world healthy-bodied well-loved princess!

 

Until now.

I’m not really sure where it came from, but for the first time in my life, I am really starting to feel content. I realize “content” is not a very strong word, but it’s not a very strong feeling. It is the absence of the saudade. The saudade has, for once, retreated with its murky shadow and left me with this very foreign, airy-fairy feeling of contentment.

I have so much to be thankful for! I have a man who loves me more than life itself. I have a rock-solid family who have and would support me in anything. I have a great career, doing something that is not always exciting and challenging, but definitely can be. I have a car that runs. I am blessed with health and fitness. I live in a place that is begging to be explored. Right this very minute, I am being paid an absurd amount of money to do absolutely nothing – legitimately!

I am not sad to see you go, saudade. I hope your vacation is lengthy, if not indefinite.