Finances vs Health

Cancer is a beast. It comes at you from all angles. It’s like the Muhammad Ali of illnesses. There’s lots of dancing (aka doctor’s visits, blood tests, scans, infusions) and then WHAM. You get the insurance bills.

And ‘lights out’ to your finances.

Muhammad Ali drops Sonny Liston with a short hard right to the jaw on 25 May, 1965, their second bout. Photograph: John Rooney/Associated Press

Cancer hits you where and when you least expect it. I was 31 when I was diagnosed with cancer, and I had literally JUST moved to Florida for a new job. We used up most of our immediate savings on the move and I didn’t have the best insurance. Then after researching oncologists, we decided we needed to move back home…BACK cross country…to New England for treatment.

That decision was really tough. When I decided to quit my new job, ultimately ending a career that I had worked so hard for, I bawled. So much time, energy, and money had just gone down the toilet. I felt so guilty for upending our life TWICE in one year.

You can’t plan for something you can’t see coming. And our finances got stung big time.

I HATED that feeling. That feeling of squeaking by on one paycheck. Every bill was another stab wound to my heart and my wallet. I vowed that when I went back to work, we’d do things differently. I wasn’t going to leave my husband with a huge medical bill and no savings a second time around.

So while I was on the couch during my many months of treatment, I read everything I could on finances. I read Dave Ramsey. I read Tony Robbins. I read Ramit Sethi. I read Suze Orman. I read up on real estate, 401(k)s, IRAs, index funds, bonds, I read it all.

I became a sponge for finances.

At the same time, I changed my thinking about what’s important. I no longer needed ‘things’ as much as I once did. I stopped caring about shoes and purses and STUFF. Now I care about health, food, and retirement.

Yes…I’m 33 and I care about retirement. My husband is quite a bit older than I am. The one thing I want more than anything is to be able to join him in living life without work in the way.

We never know when we will leave this world. I could get hit by a truck tomorrow. But I love my husband too much to leave him in financial ruin.

So what did we do? We took a little advice from every source. We cut back on spending. Saved a couple months of a safety net. Paid off the cars and we’re working on paying off the house and my grad school loans.

We’re also maxing out my husband’s 401(k). Our latest adventure in finances includes buying a multifamily rental property and (eeeek) we’re looking at buying another!

Our humble rental property

Why why WHY did we decide to invest in real estate? Based on my calculations, we will get over 15% return on investment in cash. Every year. Forever. PLUS the tenants are paying off the mortgage, so we get to add that value to our wallets.

The best thing of all, though, is that we get to provide housing for some seriously hardworking locals. Our local area has a shortage of apartment rentals and many of the ones available are run by the kind of people who give landlords a bad name.

TRUST me – real estate is not for everyone. My husband and I agree, though, that it’s something that benefits both of us. We can see it, touch it, smell it (not that I suggest doing that 😉 ) and if something happens to either one of us, the other can handle the challenge.

Cancer taught me many things and I’m still using it as a learning opportunity. My health was the most expensive thing I’ve ever unwillingly purchased – and you can’t put a price tag on it. I hope to be prepared financially if melanoma ever rears its ugly head again. I gotta make the ‘return on investment’ worth every penny!

How has your health changed your mind on finances? Tell me in the comments!

Update from the Farm – The New Russian Queen

My bees are not happy. They were so unhappy, half of them up and left.

I shouldn’t say they weren’t happy. Its not like I speak the “buzz” language and asked them. As a matter of fact, it could be that they were TOO productive for their own good and had to leave the hive to prosper.

What the heck am I talking about? I’m talking about what’s called a swarm. In everyday language, we say ‘swarm’ when we mean a large group gathering. But in bee speak, a swarm is when the bees actually form a whole new colony – queen and all – and leave the hive for another spot.

This could be for many reasons. Perhaps the queen is old and the bees need to start a new colony. Sometimes it happens when there isn’t enough room in the hive for all the bees to prosper. Or when there’s a lot of nectar flowing, meaning lots of food to go around, the bees may split to get their share of the good stuff.

I’m no honeybee expert, so I don’t know why they split, so I’m sad to see that they did. And there’s another problem that occurred with this that’s far more detrimental to my bees than them swarming.

My bees have no queen.

Nope. Nada. No queen. No leader of the pack. No one to tell the hundreds of worker bees what to do. No one to lay eggs to help the hive get through the winter.

How did this happen? Again, I have no idea! But I have found a solution.

I bought a Russian Queen!

The Queen is the one with the visible wings…her body is almost double her wing length!

Queen bees, much like dogs, are breed based on their temperament. Some varieties show resistance to disease, others are gentler or produce more honey. Some are just breed for looks (JK! It’s not a beauty contest with these ladies!)

My bees now are Italians. I’ve done a little research on the difference between the two, and the Russian variety has all positive attributes for life in New England. You can see an article explaining that here.

The biggest problem may be introducing her to the hive. This may sound funny, but bees are incredibly particular to scent. A Russian Queen has different hormones than an Italian Queen, and they may not accept her.

Beekeeping is hard. It’s like adulating – a lot of the time, we wing it or use Google to get by. (Yes, seriously, I google everything! It drives my DH crazy!)

We put the new Queen in yesterday in hopes that the bees accept her and they make it through the winter. At this point in the year, it’s a slim shot, but it’s worth a try. I will keep you all updated on how it goes!

Would YOU ever try beekeeping?? Let me know in the comments!

One of our honeybees pollinating a Clematis flower


5 Life Lessons I Learned from my Garden

They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds ~Mexican proverb

My garden is my sanctuary. As I wander down the stone path, through the trees to the garden, I always get a feeling of uplifting calm. The quiet peace allows me to breathe and absorb life in a whole new way. I can sit and reflect on the day, do some mindfulness meditation while watering, or even take my frustrations out on those darn weeds in the tomato bed. Many days, I look on in awe as I create life through the simple ingredients of light, soil, water, and seeds.

The simplicity of my garden helps me to reflect on life on a deeper level.  What does it all mean? Why are we here? And over the past few years, I’ve learned many a life lesson from my garden (sometimes the hard way when nothing grows!) They may open your eyes to the simplicity of life in a whole new way.

My happy place

1 – Things grow faster with a little rain

Bad weather always seems to last forever. When it rains, it pours, and it feels like the sun will NEVER come out again. Winter in New England is like this…it drags…and drags…and draaaaaaaaags on forever.

But you know what? Seasons change. Even though it’s raining now, it will not rain forever. If you hunker down and hang on long enough, the sun will indeed show its happy little face again.

Weathering a few storms only helps us grow. Personally, professionally, and spiritually you can’t grow unless you have some challenges along the way. My melanoma was a HUGE challenge for me – and I can honestly say it was probably the best life-altering challenge I could have asked for. It changed my whole outlook on life and I am a happier/stronger/better person now because of it.

Did I think that way during the hailstorm of treatment and doctors’ visits and scans and sickness? Heck no! I just hunkered down and rode it out. But I never let the rain bring me down.

2 – Keep pulling those pesky weeds!!

Every gardener will let you know how much they HATE weeds. Weeds are nothing but pesky little nutrient-suckers that steal the life out of whatever else you’re trying to grow. They create an unnecessary competition for your plants that will overpower them if you don’t keep weeds at bay.

Weeds don’t seem that harmful on the surface, though. Cute little baby sprouts around your plants don’t seem all that imposing, so what’s the point? Or maybe you don’t have the time to pull all those darn weeds, so you leave them to grow. You’ll get to them next weekend.

But before you know it, these weeds have stunted your garden. They compete for nutrients, sun, soil space, water, everything – and before you know it, your tomatoes all have blossom end rot and your daises are crowded out by the dandelions.

This happens in life, too. Every person has that one friend or coworker who just seem to suck the life out of you. It’s always a competition and you feel like you’re being suffocated. They feed off of you, always take, take, take and they never give back.

You just gotta pull those weeds, people. Pull them out of your life and don’t look back. Cultivate your garden of relationships and don’t let in those pesky weeds. You are much better off letting your real self shine through.

3 – Sometimes you need a change in perspective

I tend to be a shoot-from-the-hip flower gardener. I swoon over the wild-flower “English Garden” look. So I grow a bunch of flowers from seeds and when they are big enough, I go plopping them around the garden all willy-nilly. It’s a bit of organized chaos, but when it comes to flowers, that’s the look I love.

Plopping things randomly may look great, but it often doesn’t come out the way I expected. Most importantly, it doesn’t always work for the flowers. Flowers, just like humans, tend to grow best under very specific conditions.

So as my garden evolves, I try to help things along the best I can. Many times, the plants just need a little change of perspective. A transplant from a shady area to one with full sun. Or maybe from the rocky hill to the soil-rich bed. Sometimes they look better clumped together, other times they look better spread out.

What’s the magic combination? I have no idea. Every flower has different likes and dislikes, and sometimes a little change in location is needed to help them get along with their neighbors. Its like Jimmy Buffet’s “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” – you gotta keep trying until you find the right fit for your attitude!

One of our honeybees pollinating a Clematis flower

4 – The secret’s in the soil

I’m going to continue along those same lines and go a little further. Some plants in my garden have it all – great sunlight, perfect amount of rain, living near neighbors that they get along with, good vibes going their way, the whole deal. And yet, SOMEHOW, they refuse to grow.

I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what they wanted. No amount of questioning or moving helped me figure it out. Until I added a little nitrogen to the fertilizer.

You know what I discovered? The secret is in the soil.

Any plant can grow with just the necessities. But to flourish – to really grow beyond belief – the secret is in the soil. Tomatoes love nitrogen and calcium. My cucumbers love Epsom salts. Every plant will blossom under the certain circumstances.

And humans are the same! Take any one person and transplant them somewhere else. Maybe it works out, maybe it doesn’t. For example – put a gifted writer in a computer coding class and they will flounder. Send that same writer to a fiction writing summer camp, however, and they will absolutely blossom.

You need the right conditions to grow beyond expectations. Keep on trying until you find the perfect mix for you!

5 – You harvest what you sow

Last year, I didn’t plant a single head of lettuce. You know how many heads of lettuce I harvested?

Zero. (Of course!)

Last year, I also planted about 10 lupines. You know how many blossomed last year?

Also zero.

But you know how many blossomed this year? Three.

Gardens take some time to grow. They take time and energy and effort to get going, to grow stable root systems and blossom. You simply cannot expect to put 10 seeds into the ground and get 10 gorgeous plants within a few months.

So why do we do this with life?

If we move into a house, we expect everything to be perfectly decorated – immediately. When we get a new job, we get frustrated if the first week doesn’t go well. Or when we put in extra effort to get that project done and no one noticed.

We all want a first class life on a shoestring budget. And we expect 100% success rate from every little effort, with immediate results. One day of extra effort doesn’t guarantee you a life of luxury. Months and years of extra effort? NOW you’re adding that secret ingredient to the soil!!

Gardens take lots of TLC – just like life. With gardens, you take the time, put in the energy, and reap the rewards. We need to transfer this into our own fast-paced lives and slow down. Put in a little more TLC to the area we want to get more out of. Maybe that’s your family. Maybe that’s your job. But don’t be afraid to spread the love.

Enjoy the journey of life. Take the time to let your garden grow. Then reap the rewards of a VERY plentiful harvest.


All The Newest Buzz

We interrupt your regularly scheduled program to bring you this very important announcement.

…Drum roll please…


Yup, that’s right. We just picked up our new hive from the bee supply place. (If you’re interested in where we get our bees and supplies, you can follow this link here.) They usually have 2 deliveries in the spring and we signed up for the first possible delivery!

When we arrived to pick up the bees, it was like “Move-In Day” at college. There was a line of cars to pull into the small parking lot and no open spaces, two lines to check out and people getting irritated with the wait.

Bees all packed and ready for transport!

But, as with all things in life, everything that’s worth having is worth waiting for. And bees are always worth the wait!

We plopped the bee carrier in the back with a few other supplies we purchased. Once we got in and shut the doors, I realized that we were in the car with a few hundred bees.

A FEW HUNDRED BEES!! Buzzing away right behind us!! Ahhhh!!

I had to take a few deep breaths and remember that they’re locked into the bee carrier. But still, it was a few seconds of panic. I’m usually in a hood with the ability to run away (if necessary). There’s no running away in the car!

We all made it home safe and sound. And while we were opening the container, OF COURSE it began to sleet/snow.

So we tried to hustle the ladies into the hive before they got wet. Unfortunately, we lost a fair number that either hit the wet deck or couldn’t find the hive before it got cold that night. I hate to see all the dead girls on the deck – I feel responsible for the ones who didn’t make it.

But I know that nature has to take its course. And the hive will bounce back (much) bigger and better than ever. We just have to give it time and the best fighting chance to survive.

Zee Bear Zapper fence!! And yes, we unfortunately still have some of the white stuff 🙁

And to help give them a leg up against the bears this year, we put up an electric fence. The fence is literally called the “Quick Bear Fence” from Premier 1 Supplies. We also purchased the solar energizer so no crazy car batteries that may run our of juice at the worst time.

We had a wooden fence up last year, and I walked out of the house to see a bear chowing down on the pushed-over hive in November. I scared the bear away using the car (which is a story unto itself), but the damage was done and the hive flew the coop. Fingers crossed that the electric fence keeps those bears’ sticky paws out of the honey this year!

Mindfulness in the Garden

When I moved back to New Hampshire after being diagnosed, I really wanted to change my lifestyle. I knew I needed to decrease my stress level (a proven primary cause of inflammation) and boost my immune system. Before the move to New England, I was living in Florida, with organic fruits and vegetables everywhere you looked.

But in New Hampshire? Not so much!

Growing up, we always had a garden and I used to LOVE LOVE LOVE eating tomatoes and beans and strawberries right off the vine. There is something so delicious and satisfying about growing your own food. Taking a seed, seeing it sprout, and nurturing it to flourish gives you a new perspective on life and what living really means.

I don’t always wear gloves. But when I do, I’m in my happy place.

So a greenhouse and three raised beds later, we have a garden! It has been such an awesome learning experience. My garden is my happy place and a great place for me to practice mindfulness meditation. Every moment I get a chance to play in the dirt is a moment well spent.

What the heck does gardening have to do with mindfulness? Everything! I’m a tactile/kinesthetic person, so getting my hands in the dirt is incredibly relaxing for me. Getting my hands in the ground is like becoming one with the earth. I don’t need to think about anything…I can just be.

I never see the garden as work. I see it as a place to relax. A place I can absorb the beauty around me from every angle. A place I can breathe.

My happy place
My happy place. And yes, those are tomatoes growing out the vents of the greenhouse!

My tomatoes don’t care that I’m not wearing makeup. My beets don’t judge me or cause any drama. It’s a place I can put my hair up and let it all go. I can be myself, flaws and all, and create a beautiful world to surround me.

My garden, just like life, is what I make it. The more effort I put in, the more it grows. And the more it grows, the more I grow…emotionally AND spiritually.

Plus I get to reward myself with strawberries 🙂

How do you practice mindfulness meditation? Let me know in the comments below!