Exploring ideas for affordable, sustainable, enjoyable living.

Free Writing Therapy

Far be it from me to sell you anything. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring to your attention the occasional awesome free thing I run across. With that in mind…

Have you heard of “morning pages”? The idea comes from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s very simple–every day when you wake up, you write three pages. Three pages about anything, whatever comes to mind–no self-censoring, no worrying about spelling, grammar, or punctuation–just stream of consciousness writing. About 2/3 of the way through you will find you often hit a “truth point” where you really get to the meat of something that’s been on your mind, and it can be surprising and enlightening. This is one benefit of the practice; another is to get your creative juices flowing, which can only happen when you’re not censoring yourself or preoccupied with unrewarding, mundane, and repetitious thoughts that we all seem to bear and even cling to as some kind of proof of adulthood. But of at least equal value is that when you write it out, you get it out of your head. Whatever is bothering you, whatever is on your mind, whatever is just taking up too much space in there, like ’80s song lyrics deep thoughts.

But writing three pages by hand does take awhile, and maybe when you first wake up you need to hit the shower and the coffee STAT, or get the kids up for school, or maybe you’re like me and you can’t actually remember your own name until after 1 pm.

Enter Three handwritten pages equals about 750 words; this site is nothing but a totally private blank canvas on which to write your words. You get a reminder every day by email, and it counts your words as you write. It even compiles nifty statistics based on words you use most often. No one ever gets to see what you wrote except you, not even the people who run the site, and you can always access everything you’ve written previously. After you’ve been writing for a few days you start to earn humorous little animal badges which are surprisingly motivational. You can write at any time of day or night. Best of all, if you join before May 1st, 2013 it’s free. Forever. (Of course you can always donate if you wish.) If you join after May 1st, you get a 30 day free trial period, after which if you want to create a membership it will cost the royal sum of $5 per month. The fees all go toward site maintenance and operating costs.

I’ve been using 750words for about 4 months now and I’m quite pleased with the results. I was skeptical at first but I was looking to try new things, so I figured, what the heck. I thought there was no way I had enough to write about to make 750 words once, let alone 750 words a day, but in fact I average over a thousand words a day, and 105 pages per month (which may come as no surprise to you given how wordy this post already is). For me it’s extremely therapeutic. Once I’ve written down what’s bothering me, I can put it aside and get on with life, and I have brain-space and energy to devote to things more interesting than worry or complaint. It also helps my memory to write things down–I don’t have to ever look at them again, just the act of writing (well, typing) them seems to seal them in.

So if you’ve ever thought of doing NaNoWriMo, or you can’t afford a shrink or an external hard drive, why not give it a try?

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Free Fitness Logs

There are many great online resources for diet and exercise tracking.  I’ve been exploring some of the free ones, and thought I’d share my reviews.

For GPS tracking of my outdoor workouts, I’ve been really happy with the CardioTrainer smartphone app.  It provides real-time data on steps, speed, distance, calories burned, plots my route on a nice street map, and would apparently integrate with my in-phone music library (if I had one).  I was much less impressed with the affiliated Noom application for diet tracking.  It would be great for anyone who wants to characterize a meal by size (small, medium, large) and color (green for healthy, red for unhealthy, yellow for in-between), but I found that to be far too subjective to be useful.

My new favorite online food diary is  It also has downloadable smartphone apps that work seamlessly with the main website.   The database for the food diary is extensive, and it is also simple to add your own foods or quickly log calories only.  The fitness tracker is equally efficient:  just tell it what you did and for how long, and it calculates your calories burned.  There are also handy tools, a blog, and message boards to help keep you on track.  The best part, however, is the instant gratification I get when I log my exercise and it immediately increases my daily limit for food calories by the amount that I just burned.  Bring on the cheesecake!  😉

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Kid Safety Tips

One of the greatest tips I’ve heard lately is so simple, and yet could make all the difference.  On your way out the door to take the kids to the park, the fair, or any other public place, pause for a moment and take a photo of each of them (use your cell phone, if you always keep it with you).  That way, should you get separated, you have a current picture of each child, including what they’re wearing that day.

This also works for pet owners.  There’s probably no need to take a picture of your dog every time you go out for a walk, but it’s a good idea to have a current, clear picture of each animal.  For pets, I’d also suggest trying to get a picture that doesn’t show the collar, or any other unique feature that would be known only to your family.  These details can be used to identify the true owner by someone who might find your lost pet.

While we’re on the topic, it’s also a good idea to prepare a child identification kit, to help in the search if the worst happens and your child goes missing.  Many schools and police stations hold events to help prepare identification kits.  You can also order kits from a variety of online sources, which typically include materials and instructions for collecting and storing your child’s fingerprints and DNA swabs, as well as a recent photo.  These kits may help to guide you in assembling all of the materials and information, but it is also possible to put together a kit at home.

A fingerprint card can be made using an ink pad, cardstock, and a little bit of practice.  For DNA samples, simply take two sterile cotton swabs and rub them on the inside of the child’s cheek (saliva is full of DNA), then allow them to dry and store them in a tape-sealed paper envelope…just be sure that the cotton ends are not handled by anyone else (before or after DNA collection), and don’t lick-seal the envelope, or they could end up producing a mixed DNA profile that would be much less useful to law enforcement.  To be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to wear clean gloves while collecting the samples (that way your DNA won’t rub off on the swab sticks and potentially transfer to the cotton ends during storage).

These sites have more information on making your own Child ID kits:

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Free Campsite Finder

Camping is one of my all-time favorite vacation activities. Unfortunately, the price of campsite rentals has really skyrocketed.  I remember spending one summer as a kid road-tripping with my family and camping all along the way.  With a membership to a national campground chain, we could find a site almost anywhere for $8.00 per night.  Not anymore.  Many sites now range from $25.00 to $50.00 (US) per night.  In some places, it’s actually cheaper to rent a motel room.  That’s why I’m so excited about  The site has interactive maps for finding free and cheap campsites throughout the United States and Canada.

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