Living on $1.50 per Day: Day 1

I started my Live Below the Line challenge today, eating $1.50 worth of food per day to raise awareness about extreme poverty and to raise money for UNICEF. I have raised $270 so far. Please click here if you’d like to sponsor me.

Today went well, especially considering that I have never gotten through a day with as few calories as I have today.

I can see that my husband and my friends are a bit worried about me, but they’re also being really supportive and encouraging.

I’ve had a mild headache all day, but it hasn’t been too bad. My stomach has growled between meals, and I’ve felt just slightly light headed, but it clears up as soon as I eat again.

I definitely feel less mentally sharp. For a moment, I couldn’t remember where I had put some of my food, and I was terrified that I had somehow lost it.

I’m hyper aware of food that’s nearby. I wished I could take food from kids at the park, or from my own kids, but I maintained my self-control. I wonder whether I will still be able to on day four or five.

I’m still hungry now although I’ve eaten all the food I allotted for today. I’m going to distract myself with videos and drinking water.

I have drunk a ton of water today. I’ve been drinking tap water, and I feel cold most of the time.

Because I was consuming so few calories, I couldn’t be my usual over-achieving, hyper, caffeine-fueled self. I will often run five errands in less than two hours. I knew I wouldn’t have the stamina for that today so I took it really easy.

I also walked much less than I normally do. I can walk up to seven miles in a day, as part of my exercise regimen. Today I walked only 2.5 miles.

A hardboiled egg maker

A hardboiled egg maker a friend gave me

This morning I had a hardboiled egg for breakfast, brown rice and vegetables for lunch, an apple for a snack, and some pasta shells with an egg mixed in.

All the portions were tiny. I cooked half of the rice I bought and separated it into four portions. I microwaved all 16 oz of the vegetables and also separated them into four portions. My thought when I look at the tiny containers in the fridge is “It’s not going to be enough!”

I cooked half of the 7.5 oz of pasta that I bought. I beat the eggs in a bowl and lamented that some of the egg stuck to the bowl, and I couldn’t get it into the pasta. Then some of the egg stuck to the pan, and I had to scrape every last bit of egg I could off of the pan.

I’m definitely feeling less wasteful. I ate every bit of the apple except for the seeds and the stem.

I’m very nervous that I will run out of food by day five, so I saved some of the pasta for later.

It’s so hard not to just go to the local Starbucks and get a mocha. I really miss chocolate.

The Live Below the Line challenge offers everyone participating in the U.S. $1.50 per day, but I suspect that $1.50 might get you more food in some areas than here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m going to stay within this budget as best as I can though.

One thing I’m really excited about is that I’ve reached and surpassed my fundraising goal of $250. I hope I will still be able to raise much more because there are so many people around the world living in extreme poverty.

The feeling I’m left with at the end of this first day is that I am dog-tired. I think I will be in bed by 9:30 pm at the latest.

Guidelines and Prep for Living on $1.50 per Day

I am participating in Live Below the Line, a fundraiser for various charities that challenges people to live on $1.50 worth of food and drink per day for five days. I am raising money for UNICEF. Please click here if you would like to sponsor me.

The challenge officially takes place between April 28 through May 2.

I suffer from anxiety, so naturally I bought all the food today and have decided to start the challenge tomorrow, April 23, and finish it on April 27. The Live Below the Line site says that participants can do the challenge any five consecutive days until May 30 so this is still within the rules.

My food for Live Below the Line

All of my food for the next five days

I shopped at three different stores today to buy the food pictured above. It cost $7.50 exactly. I got a 5-cent credit for bringing my own bag though, so I’m going to buy a single tea bag from a friend for 5 cents, and I’ll still be within the $7.50 budget.

Here’s what I bought:
$1.69 for 6 eggs
$1.29 for frozen mixed vegetables
$0.99 for a 5-oz. can of tuna
$0.93 for 2 apples
$0.79 for 3/4 lb. of lentils
$0.70 for 3/4 lb. of brown rice (it was the same price for white rice)
$0.57 for 3 bananas
$0.29 for a 7.5-oz. pkg of pasta shells
$0.25 for a Cup Noodles

This is all the food I will eat during the next five days. I will not accept any other food or drink. The only thing I will drink is tap water, which didn’t have to be included in my $7.50 budget. I decided to give myself salt, pepper, and a very sparing use of olive oil for free.

My Meal Plan

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5
Breakfast Egg Rice, Veggies Rice, Veggies Rice, Lentils Rice, Lentils
Lunch Rice, Veggies Egg Egg Egg Egg
Snack Banana Apple Banana Apple Banana
Dinner Egg, Pasta Tuna, Rice, Veggies Tuna, Pasta Tuna, Cup Noodles Tuna, Rice, Lentils

This is how I’m planning to spread out the food during the five days. Maybe after I start cooking the food, I’ll find I can spread out the servings more. I think it’s pretty clear that I’m going to spend a lot of my time feeling hungry.

I won’t exercise aside from short walks. I will spend time meditating, praying, and reading.

My children know about the challenge now. Thankfully, they will be in school for some of the days, and during the weekend my husband will help me take care of them.

I was going to write about my experience of shopping and meal planning, but I’ll have to save that for the next post. Stay tuned.

Pledging to Live Below the Poverty Line for Five Days

I signed up today to participate in Live Below the Line, a challenge to raise awareness and funds to help some of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty.

I’ve pledged to live on food and drink that cost no more than $1.50 per day for five days. The challenge is from April 28 through May 2. I’ve also pledged to raise $250 for UNICEF.

Tom Hiddleston's tweet about Live Below the Line

I first heard about Live Below the Line from Tom Hiddleston, who did the challenge last year and sent a tweet about it today.

I’ve become quite an admirer of his, not so much because of his acting, which is quite good, but because of his work as a junior ambassador for UNICEF and the dozens of inspiring quotes attributed to him. He spent five days in Guinea seeing first-hand the work that UNICEF is doing there.

After registering, I became so anxious about actually doing the challenge, I ate a small piece of berry pie. Hours later, I started to write this post, and I had to eat another small slice of pie.

It has been about twenty years since I had to get by with very little. I had a year after college when I made $50 per day before taxes. This was in LA during the ’90s. I got by by renting a room in a house, taking the bus or riding my bike, and eating mostly instant noodles and Campbell’s soup.

It’s not just the having to eat so much less that scares me, it’s what will I be like? I suffer from anxiety and depression, and having low blood sugar is one of my triggers. I already struggle with keeping my temper now, how much worse might I get?

I have a three-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son. Is it fair to put them and my husband through the horror I may become? I’ve written before about what my depression “looks like,” and it’s not pretty.

Part of me wonders, “Who am I kidding? I can’t do something like this. I’m too weak, too unstable, and who the hell do I think I am?”

There’s the quieter part of myself that asks, “How will I know if I don’t at least try? Will I let my depression stop me from trying to make a difference?”

I don’t know what will happen, but I know that transformation isn’t possible without giving up something, without taking risks.

I started this blog to challenge myself to be vulnerable and courageous, especially emotionally, and I think I’ve been doing that. I think now I can take the chance to be vulnerable and courageous physically too.

I won’t have food to turn to to numb negative or uncomfortable emotions. I’ll have my dialectical behavior therapy handbook, my friends and family, and the reminder that I’m doing this to raise awareness for the more than billion people who have to live this way every single day. I expect to spend a lot of time meditating and praying.

There is one change I’m going to make in that I will do the challenge one day earlier, from April 27 – May 1 because I will be driving long-distance on May 2 with my family, and I don’t want to risk being weak from hunger that day.

The other stipulation I have is that if the health or safety of my children or me becomes jeopardized, I will stop immediately. My husband will help me judge if that is the case.

Please consider making a donation to UNICEF via my campaign page and see if participating in Live Below the Line is something you might want to do.

Teaching My Son How to Manage Money

My husband and I really want our children learn the value of saving money, and we’ve already started with our six-year-old son Zach. As I wrote about previously, he’s already become a microlender thanks to


As young as three years old, Zach “earned” his toys. We had a reward chart, and if he cooperated in going to school, taking a bath, and going to bed, he’d earn one small Lego piece per day. Once he got seven days of good behavior, he’d earn a larger reward, like a Thomas the Tank Engine toy or a Hot Wheels car. Eating vegetables was also on the reward chart, but if we had enforced that, he would have never earned any rewards.

I was honestly concerned that we were being too generous with the rewards, but I respected my husband’s wish that Zach “earn” his toys rather than just receive them all as gifts.

Now that Zach is old enough to understand the benefit of waiting, we’ve started giving him an allowance. Any toy he wants now he can buy with his own money or put on his birthday or Christmas list.

To manage how much money Zach has, we use an iPhone app called FamZoo. They offer prepaid or IOU accounts to help kids learn how to save money.

We set up an IOU for Zach that automatically adds $2 per week as his allowance and adds 3% interest every week. When he wants to buy something, we can check his FamZoo account and see how much is there, and deduct the amount from his account without transferring any actual money.

We specifically chose not to open a savings account at a real bank because interest rates are so low, he’d never see the benefit of saving and earning interest.

It turns out that Zach is pretty fiscally conservative. He doesn’t ask to buy things that often. He’s managed to save up to $60 before.

Recently, he had only $25 in his account, and he decided he wanted to buy a book that cost $16.99, plus tax. I asked him to wait awhile in the bookstore and really be sure he wanted the book because it would wipe out most of his savings. He looked through it for awhile and just before we left the bookstore, he said he still wanted it. I bought it with my credit card, and debited his FamZoo account.

Later that day, Zach had his first experience with “buyer’s remorse.” He kept crying saying he both wanted to keep the book and wanted the money back. We spent a good deal of time that night talking about the pros and cons of returning the book and finally encouraging him to sleep on it and decide the next morning.

Zach couldn’t decide so he asked us for our opinions, and then even asked us to call one of his uncles who I guess he thinks makes good choices. By this time, we were all in agreement that the book wasn’t worth wiping out his savings, so we returned it. Zach had labored over the decision so long that by the time we returned the book, he was totally okay with it.

My husband and I are both really happy that Zach has learned so quickly the value of saving money. It’s such an important life skill, I really don’t understand why it isn’t taught in school from a young age.

We offered to put the book he wanted on his birthday wish list, and I think when it gets close to his birthday, I’m going to offer to buy him the book, or put the money into his account and let him decide whether to buy it right away or let it earn interest for a few weeks before buying it.

How do you help your kids learn to manage money?

You can try FamZoo for two months for free, then it costs $5.99/month or $30/year. Their site states that if you really can’t afford this, you can contact them and work something out.

Exercising (Away) the Demons of Depression & Anxiety

I used to always say that I would only run if chased, but last year I got a good pair of running shoes and would run two or three times per week. I stopped once it got too cold, but this week I started again.

A woman jogging

I only run about two to three miles, but it feels great. I signed up to run a 5k next month to help me stay motivated. Thankfully, 5k is just over three miles, so I should be able to run the whole thing without worrying about training too hard.

For most of my twenties, I treated my depression and anxiety by doing aikido a few times per week. I didn’t really know that I had depression or anxiety. I just assumed everyone else was being an asshole when they didn’t behave the way I thought they should.

I admit that I hope one day I might be able to treat my symptoms without medication. Having two kids under the age of seven seems like a bad time to try. In the meantime, medication plus exercise is working as a great combination.

One thing I like to do to squeeze in exercise into my day is to drop my car off somewhere that I’ll need to come back to later. I often park my car at my son’s school, walk the mile and a half home, do stuff around the house, and then walk the mile and a half back to his school.

The other day, I did basically the same thing except that my son was attending a day camp 6.5 miles away. I put my bike on the back of my truck, drove to the camp, rode my bike around for about 10 miles then drove my son home. My husband thought that seemed odd, but it makes sense to me.

There’s something really motivating to me that I have to go back to my car. Plus, leaving it in different locations varies the areas I’m going to, and that keeps it interesting. On my bike ride yesterday, I found a beautiful garden I’d never seen before.

I personally feel best exercising outdoors. When I run around my neighborhood at night, I get to smell the handiwork of my neighbors who are much better gardeners than I am. I smell roses, jasmine, wisteria, and orange blossoms.

Of course, if you can’t be outdoors due to weather or sleeping children, walking around the house can be effective. I vary the path I take through the bedrooms, kitchen, and living room, again to keep it interesting. I also try to get as close as I can to furniture and walls to maximize the area I’m walking in and to pretend a bit like I’m doing an obstacle course.

Last year my doctor recommended that I get a Fitbit, a pedometer that you can link online to your friends’ Fitbit accounts and sort of “compete” for first place. Some of my friends walk way more miles than I do, but being only a few steps behind one of my friends can help motivate me to walk a bit more just to get ahead. You can even “cheer” or “taunt” your friends.

I aim to walk at least 10,000 steps per day, but I don’t sweat it if some days I walk over and some I walk under. It’s all just about keeping moving. I even wear my Fitbit to sleep. Sometimes I wake up in the morning with steps counted because I tossed and turned so much.

My son Zach is in a martial arts class with his friend two afternoons per week, so his friend’s mom and I walk around for the 45 minutes the boys are in class. This is great because we motivate each other to exercise (no matter that we sometimes stop at Starbucks on the way), and we get to catch up, when time to socialize is often hard to find.

Whatever form of exercise you choose, I suggest you make it fun, by inviting a friend, changing things up if they start to feel repetitive or boring, and see if “stranding yourself” without a vehicle helps motivate you.

A friend of mine runs half-marathons, which is great for her. I might be tempted to feel inferior except that I honestly feel no desire to ever run that far. Unless I’m being chased, of course.

How do you motivate yourself to exercise?

Happy Birthday to My Blog!

“Pretend You’re Good At It” is a year old today! Thank you for being here, whether this is your first visit or whether you’ve been here since the beginning.

Zach, Kaylee, and me

I’ve enjoyed sharing my adventures with my son Zach and my daughter Kaylee. Even though I don’t make any money at this, I still tell my kids this is my job. Some day if I play my cards right, I could get paid whole tens of dollars for writing.

The blog has grown slowly but surely, and I’ve been surprised at some of the responses I’ve gotten from readers. One person said this is the only blog she reads. Another said she was so inspired by my “This Is What My Depression Looks Like” post that she made an appointment to get treatment for her chronic pain and depression.

There was that time Anne Wheaton retweeted a link to “My Miracle Child,” and I got 1,200 page hits in a single day. BlogHer has featured nine of my blog posts.

I successfully completed the Ultimate Blog Challenge, publishing 31 posts in 31 days, including some from guest bloggers Sassy Single Mom, Mara Migraineur, and my husband.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect to last this long. I have wanted to quit multiple times. Then I remember the comments I’ve received about how I’ve helped someone feel better about not being perfect, about struggling with mental illness or cutting, or about messing up as a parent now and then.

I don’t expect to ever be as popular as Scary Mommy or The Bloggess, but I don’t need to be. I care about creating and nurturing community, however small it is. Thank you so much for being a part of it.

What would you like to read more about in the next year?

Mrs. Fix-It (Not)


My husband is really good at fixing things around the house. He’s got all kinds of tools, screws, nails, nuts, and bolts. He can paint walls as well as any professional.

I recently tightened the screw in the toilet paper roll holder with an Allen wrench, and I was thoroughly impressed with myself.

My usual tool for repairs is blue painter’s tape. My husband hates that I put it up all over the house, but he gets real quiet when I tell him, “Well, you’re welcome to fix it ‘properly’ whenever you have time.”

People have asked me why I don’t use duct tape instead. I like the impermanence of painter’s tape. It won’t damage the wall at all, if and when we remove it. I once posted on Facebook that I can vow to spend the rest of my life with my husband, but I just can’t commit to using duct tape.

We put blackout blinds in Kaylee’s room, but there’s a window in the door that needed to be covered as well. I got some blackout fabric and naturally, used blue painter’s tape to secure it.

Blue tape around the window

I recently got a jogging stroller for Kaylee, and the handle had a rip in the foam. I do wonder a bit whether duct tape would be more appropriate since the stroller is outdoors all the time, but that’s the beauty of painter’s tape. I can try it first, and if I change my mind, I can easily remove it.

Blue tape on the stroller handle

In the last six-and-a-half years, the only other tool I’ve used regularly is a screwdriver, for all the horrible toys my kids get that require batteries. If I can get away with it, I just tell the kids I tried putting in new batteries, but the toy still didn’t work, so it must be broken. Alas, there are still some toys that are only usable with batteries.

I know my husband cringes at seeing all the blue tape around the house, but I think it’s worth it for me to feel empowered to fix things in whatever way I can rather than be dependent on someone else. It’s also a bit of “flipping the bird” at my perfectionism. As much as it bothers my husband, I think it also reminds him of my quirkiness, which he must love to be able to tolerate it.

What unorthodox materials do you use to fix things around the house?

I confess that I giggled a lot writing this, especially writing, “tools, screws, and nuts.”

Hi, I’m Frankie, and I Suffer from Depression

The front of my business card

The front of my business card

Every time I give my business card to someone, I think, “Oh my God, what have I done?” On this blog, I admit that I’ve been hospitalized for depression, still deal with thoughts of suicide, and have been a bit rough with my children.

The people I’ve been giving my business card to are usually parents that I know from my son’s school. Some of them have been neighbors. One couple I especially like and would like to get to know better. I was so out of it, I gave each of them my card.

I worry that they’ll be afraid of me, especially of having me around their kids. I fear they’ll misunderstand depression and think it’s contagious or something. Worse, I’m afraid they’ll think I’m weak, for taking medication and for not being able to control my thoughts.

Then I remember. I remember that I’m still the same person they know and (seem to) like. I remember that I write to give a voice to those with depression and anxiety. I present at least one face and experience that is a reminder that it’s okay to suffer from mental illness. I am not alone, neither are the other people who read my blog who deal with mental illness.

The back of my business card

The back of my business card

Part of my “paying it forward” from the many people who have supported me is to make a stand for those who are suffering and haven’t gotten help yet. I can’t do that if I’m pretending in my real life that I’m someone I’m not.

Depression does not define me, I am not my depression, but I don’t ever want to hide it from anyone. The treatment I find most effective is connection, in being with other people who understand and accept me as I am.

I’ve been telling people in my life about my depression for four years now, and so far not a single person has rejected or ridiculed me for it.

My hope is that being authentic and out-spoken about my depression may encourage others to be open about their experience or at least realize that they’re part of a larger community.

Depression lies, but I and others speak the truth that it’s treatable, and it can get better.

Do you feel comfortable sharing your struggles with people who aren’t close friends or family?

Tales from the Crib

Zach sitting in his crib

Zach sitting happily in his crib

When my son Zach was a preschooler, he complained that we didn’t have a dedicated playroom like most of his friends did. This was pretty surprising considering just a couple of years earlier, he was quite happy playing in the 28″ x 52″ play area that was his crib.

Zach spent a LOT of time in his crib. We sleep trained him when he was 3.5 months old, and he took two 2.5 hour naps every day plus slept 13 hours at night. He clearly felt very at home in there. He’d refuse to get out of his crib after his nap or make me put him back after I changed his diaper.

He slept in his crib until he was over three years old because he never tried to climb out. We finally moved him out of the crib when it was recalled during the “Every Dropdown Crib Is a Death Trap Recall.”

He did wake up some times with his arms or his legs sticking out through the crib rails. We put in crib bumpers but had to remove them when he started pulling to standing. I remember so clearly him pulling himself up to a standing position, feeling so proud for a few seconds, then screaming in terror when he realized he didn’t know how to sit down again.

Zach taking Panda for a drive

Zach taking Panda for a drive

Zach would put everything in his crib: big toy fire trucks and cranes, books, all of his stuffed animals, and every blanket and pillow he could get his hands on. He would put foam alphabet tiles in his crib and make a car out of them, then take his trusty sidekick Panda for a drive.

Zach throwing a tea party for his stuffed animals

Zach throwing a tea party for his stuffed animals

He’d use his crib as a picnic area for birthday and tea parties with his stuffed animals. He was so sweet to them. He’d tell them, “Good job!” My friend told me that her son was always putting his stuffed animals in timeout I’ll admit, I felt smug and superior. Now I know that even really mischievous toddlers can become really sweet first graders.

He’d use the crib rail as a keyboard and play music while singing and dancing.

One day I asked my husband if I could lay all day in bed and read, and he said, “Sure, as long as you do it in Zach’s crib.” To both his and Zach’s surprise, I pulled a stool over and climbed into the crib. Zach had been looking at a book, but he couldn’t stop looking over at me and laughing.

Zach and me in his crib

Zach and me in his crib

Zach will be seven years old this summer, and I’m glad he’s comfortable out in the world at school, museums, zoos, and the beach, but I still miss reaching my fingers through the crib rails to tickle him and hearing him squeal with delight.

Did you kids love or hate their cribs?

This post is part of DropCam’s “Tales from the Playroom” series. DropCam makes a high-definition video baby monitor.

Raising a Follower

Boys in a dog pile

Photo by Julie Elliot-Abshire

Of these mommy types, I’m pretty clearly a dominatrix. I’m a control freak and a perfectionist. I’ve gotten better since I’ve had kids, but it’s still problematic. I’m especially concerned about how my six-year-old son Zach will blindly follow and believe everything other kids say, especially if they are older, more confident boys.

One day, my son’s principal told me to ask Zach about “poop tag.” Apparently, his friend Lucian told him to touch some poop on the ground and tag two other kids with it. I explained to him that no matter what other kids tell him to do, he still has to “use his brain,” and ask, “Should I be doing this?” or “Is this okay?”

There’s another boy Seamus who tells Zach tall tales about dragons, unicorns, portals, and something about “bad God” and “good God”. Zach was getting scared from some of these stories, but insisted that his friend was telling the truth, and that I “just didn’t know.”

Part of it is that these boys are checking out books from the school library titled “Fantasy Encyclopedia,” “Dragonology,” and “Monsterology.” I told Zach that “fantasy” means it’s not real, and he said, “But it’s an encyclopedia!” I had a talk with the school librarian, and she explained to the boys that none of those creatures are real although it’s okay to make up stories about them.

I asked the principal what suggestions she had about getting Zach to question other kids’ authority instead of accepting them as his cult leaders, and she said if he’s used to being “dominated” (although she apologized for using that word), he’s going to seek that in his friends. She recommended giving him some tasks and a deadline, say Friday, posting it on the fridge, not reminding him about it all week, then going over the list at the deadline to see how he did.

Clearly, I do order him around a lot, but isn’t that supposed to be part of my job? I try to give him more responsibility, but in small increments. When I bring him to pick up his sister Kaylee from preschool, sometimes I ask him to stay buckled in his seat in the car while I run in and get her.

The other day, I had Lucian and Zach in the minivan and asked them repeatedly (including right as I was getting out) to stay buckled in their seats. When Kaylee and I got back to the van, the boys were in the trunk area of the van. I yelled at them to get back in their seats. I said that when they’re with me, I expect them to follow my instructions, and because they didn’t, they’re not allowed to have another play date for at least a month.

I like the principal’s suggestion of basically giving him a project, but I’m not sure when he’s supposed to do that when he’s already pretty over-scheduled already.

This feels a little damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

My husband and I do a lot of things for the kids that they could probably do, but it takes them so much longer and requires more nagging. Zach is turning seven this summer. It seems like we’re at the point where we need to swap expediency for the hope that being more independent at home might make him more confident with his friends.

It might just be his personality to be impressionable with certain kinds of people, but it’s a good practice to encourage and enable independence and self-confidence.

Are your kids followers? Does it worry you?

Scary Mommy: An honest look at motherhood

A personal blog about parenting while living with anxiety and depression

Honest Mom

A personal blog about parenting while living with anxiety and depression

The Bloggess

A personal blog about parenting while living with anxiety and depression

Illustrated with Crappy Pictures™

A personal blog about parenting while living with anxiety and depression

Miss Bookish Girl

Musings on cooking, travel and books.

Sassy Single Mom (dot) Com

A personal blog about parenting while living with anxiety and depression

My Migraine Family

I have migraines. I have a family. I'm not sure I entirely thought this whole thing through very thoroughly, but I do love them. My family, not the migraines.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.