Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Autism Answer: Being Broke Isn't Why I'm Happy, But It Also Doesn't Stop Me

Me and my hubby driving through town just for fun.

"Money is not good or bad. We are." ~Dr. Lynette Louise (The Brain Broad)

My husband is a retired mechanic and I am a stay-at-home mom/wife/friend with a very part time job as a personal assistant to Dr. Lynette Louise, aka The Brain Broad, aka my mom. 

Needless to say, we are broke. 

Also, needless to say for those who follow my writings and videos, we are happy!

More often than our culture should be proud of people ask me how? How am I so often happy when I am so often broke? 

I've answered this question in a post before, Living Within Our Means, And Loving It, but that was years ago. Things have changed. Back then my hubby was still working, kids were still young and living with us, and we were still living in two separate homes close together (one was my mom's cabin in the woods and the other was my husband's trailer house in our small Texas town). 

So when a reporter was asking the question again, I chose to answer. Interested as always in sharing my life but also curious to see how my answers have changed. 

Below are the reporter's generic questions (in bold) followed by my personalized answers. 

If you, or someone you know, is thinking about how to enjoy life with a tiny budget I encourage you to have a peek. Maybe even answer the questions yourself! It is a wonderful way to tweak and explore all the ways we are harnessing happiness. 

Does your household income go far where you live, or is it tight?

It's tight, but it goes comparatively far where we live. 

What makes your life fulfilling, despite your income? OR What makes your life fulfilling because of your income?

Poverty, admittedly, restricts freedom in our society. 

But aside from the lack of financial freedom, my husband and I have valuable freedom with our time. Because of this, we are able to be available for our loved ones. We are able to move freely amongst the overflowing needs and questions our young adult (and some not so young!) children have, now that they are navigating the world of adulthood. 

This is not only fulfilling as a parent, but also as a human being who craves the feeling of being available and helpful. 

What is one thing you spend—or stopped spending—on that is important to your health and wellness, or the health and wellness of your family?

This is a fun one! 

The health and wellness of my family and our environment is deeply important to me. For too many years I bought into the myth that eating healthy and caring for the environment would either mean spending tons of money by purchasing special foods and fancy household items, or it would mean learning an overwhelming amount of skills that I just don't have, like gardening and creating toothpaste and soaps and cooking good food. But once I made the decision that it was too important not to take at least some steps in the healthy direction, I was happily surprised! 

Nutritious food is only sometimes more expensive (particularly healthy convenience foods) but it always goes further. Because we are getting more nutrition out of smaller amounts of food, it lasts longer. 

Also, household cleaners, along with most of the soaps and toothpaste and other personal items we have in our home, are easily replaced with cheaper natural foods and oils I can get easily at any store. And it's easier to find these items not in plastic containers. I haven't even had to learn how to make stuff because I can generally just use one ingredient (add vinegar to the wash for clothes softening; wash my hair with baking soda and rinse with apple cider vinegar; baking soda to wash stains off my all-important coffee mug; etc) and when I have decided to make my own items that require more than one ingredient, it's been easy! Mix coconut oil and baking soda and a touch of cinnamon oil for toothpaste and, voila! Whiter, healthier teeth! 

And because I am saving so much money in these areas I can also splurge on items in the health and wellness area without guilt. For example, it matters to me that my coffee is organic, whole bean, and fair trade. So, I buy an expensive coffee. But I've noticed, also, that I drink less than I did in my youth because I am healthier and happier and not overindulging in my coffee habit as a way to escape a feeling of "poverty" that, admittedly, I used to live with. So, again, I think I might even be saving money while splurging.

What's the last thing (from coffee to a car!) that you splurged on? How much was it?

Yesterday I bought plane tickets for my daughter-in-law and my granddaughter to come visit me!!!! It cost $98 and I don't regret a penny! *This question was answered in October of last year. That trip has come and gone and was worth far more than any amount of money could compete with! I wrote a bit about it HERE.

Three things (big or small) you do to live happily within your means:

1. Read books, watch movies, write stories, and listen to music. These are wonderful ways to live out many lives and many feelings without spending much, if any, money. Libraries are full of free stories. 

But I have also budgeted for two streaming media services as a way to watch movies and shows with my family regardless of where they live. Because our family is growing older and finding their own places in the world it keeps us connected. We suggest shows to each other, talk about movies together, and explore the value of storytelling, often talking about the same story from our separate places (in the world and in our development). It's been deeply valuable and enriching!

2. Shopping at thrift stores! Every item has a story--having lived in other homes or kept other bodies warm--and we get a kick out of imagining what that story could be. Also, we focus on the recycling aspect of thrift stores rather than the cost saving. There's nothing wrong with being happy about saving money, but if we put too much emphasis on being broke then we are more likely to feel broke--which can be desperate and scary. Instead, we get a kick out of our earth-friendly thrift store purchases and the unlimited story imagining potential!

3. Exploring nature and the neighborhood. I don't have the money to travel to famous places but that doesn't stop me from discovering beauty and culture wherever I am. I live in a small town with very little in the way of entertainment venues, but in my eighteen years here I have yet to discover all the treasures this town holds! 

Small hidden patches of nature, people walking alone or with family, stray animals and forgotten homes. All of these things offer ideas, stories, perspectives, and wonder. I don't have to spend a penny to feel overwhelmed with interest and appreciation for the ever-changing landscapes and generations of thought that simply going for an adventurous walk offers.  (CONFESSION: I don't do it nearly as often as I'd like because it's so darn hot here in Texas!)

BONUS: Prioritize experiences! Perhaps this should be number one because it truly might be the biggest reason I feel rich in my financially limited life. 

When I am offered an opportunity, and when I can create that opportunity for myself, I take necessary steps to make experiences happen. Travel, concerts, conferences, and even ending up on stage are memories and moments I have prioritized for me and my children. I am often nervous doing so – having little money can create a fear of things not going as planned, knowing that I may have to rely on my own unimpressive ingenuity and often the kindness of others to improvise and problem solve – but it is always worth it. 

Prioritizing experiences has given my family a plethora of stories, has connected us in moments and memories, and has reminded us to not accept the supposed limits of poverty. Also, during those times when we have had to problem solve and ask for help, it has given us opportunities to actively appreciate the kindness of others!  

Would you describe where you live as a city, suburb, or rural area?


Did you choose your location because of the cost of living, or for another reason? If something else, what is that reason?

When my mom was looking for a place to live she chose our town due to cost of living,a mong other things. At the time I was a young single mom and I was living with her. She helped me out with my children while I helped her out with hers. 

My mom is the single mom of eight kids; six adopted and four with cognitive disabilities. We lived together and taught our children together. However, it was in this town that I met a man and fell in love. So I chose this location because he was here. We have been happily married now for seventeen years. 


Do you live in a house or apartment? Own or rent?

We live in a trailer house that we own. My husband bought it in the late 80s and owned it a few years before I met him. So our monthly "housing" bills are merely gas, electric, phone, etc.

How much “extra” money do you have every month? What do you typically spend it on? 

I suppose we have about $200.00 extra a month. My husband spends his half on scratch lotto tickets and I spend mine on movie rentals and fun "treat" foods for the family. 

Have you made any trade-offs in order to live where you live, or to have the salary/job you have, or be in your relationship?

There have been trade-offs. 

For my relationship, I have turned down opportunities to live in California, where most of my family now lives. My husband sometimes voices a concern that I feel "trapped" here because of him, but no, no, no! I flourish in my relationship with him. Also, choosing to stay is something I was never good at until I met him. He's taught me the value and joy of it. That trade-off has been so worth it I'm not even sure it's a trade-off. 

However, there has been a troublesome trade-off to live where we live and not seek work that would pay me better. As I guided and joined my family in growth we have had to let go of our passion for live events. Stage shows, musicals, concerts, conferences that teach, these are things we all love but have just had to (mostly) let go of. Every now and then we'll do what it takes, find a way, to go to a concert or attend an event, but in general, we've had to just shrug it off and hope we'll have opportunities later in life. If we lived in a city we could volunteer our time at events in order to be part of them, but because we live in a tiny rural town, and we don't have the funds to fill up a gas tank or even a reliable car, that's not an option. Was that trade-off worth it? I think so, but I'm less sure.

If so, are those tradeoffs worth it?

Sorry, I sort of answered this question in my previous answer. However, I like the excuse to add a bit more. 

The trade-offs have been worth it because we make them worth it. If I had chosen to leave my husband living in Texas while I lived in California (which I did do for a temporary time of two years) and try to make the long-distance relationship work I believe we could have found a way to discover and highlight benefits. Maybe I would have followed a path of work that was opening up for me there, and maybe I would have made more money, and maybe my husband could have lived with less of the stress he endures being the one who hustles to make ends meet. I don't know. 

Also, maybe if I had worked a job that kept me busy but also made me money I would have found ways to attend events with my children and they would now have the contacts, understanding, and an example of how to make those things happen for themselves. That's what I'm not sure of. 

However, because I didn't make that choice and because we didn't get to attend the events or meet the people who make that stuff happen, we are finding our own way with what we have done and who we do know. So although I do, admittedly, wonder if staying broke in a small town with limited opportunities but easy access to each other and cheaper living was the right choice, I also work hard to make it one. 

What is the most important decision you’ve made for wellness—yours or the people you live with—in the last five years? Why was it key?

Oh, this is another fun one! 

Quite a few years ago I asked my husband if there was any way he could build a "dance room" for me and our boys. I had noticed that we (okay, mostly me) were becoming quite sedentary and I wanted to solve the problem. We went on family walks and bike rides, but too often they felt forced. 

However, my sons and I love to dance. 

The problem: In our small house there isn't much room for dancing and it's not kind to turn the music up too loud, in case other people aren't in the mood to rock out. 

The solution: My husband built a little room in the back of his garage for us! It wasn't an expensive addition to his already existing shop and he discovered that he enjoys having access to music while he works. Admittedly, my sons don't use it much but, boy, I do! Especially when the weather is cool. So a few nights a week (in the winter, less in the summer) I head outside, step over car parts and mechanic tools, enter my own little room and go dancing! I get cardio for physical health and the freedom of dancing for mental health. I'm one lucky lady!

Is there anything else that you’d like to be share about your philosophy or choices with regard to being happy with your current household income?

I only want to add that I have spent my entire life living in or near poverty, and I grew up with a single mom who taught the value of connecting, loving, laughing, and working hard for the sake of service and experiencing your worth. 

Because of this, it hasn't been hard for me to live mostly within my means, even when those means are extremely small. 

Right now my husband is retired and we live on his social security and the bit that I make as a part-time personal assistant, supplemented with my husband's ability to hustle and take advantage of his mechanic skills. It's not much, but I have almost always lived this way. I have tips, thoughts, and ways to help others find the joy of living within their means but I never want to discount the challenge it is for people who have to learn it later in life. 

Also, I don't want to romanticize poverty (obviously) or even the desire to stop wanting more. Wanting more is a valuable motivator. 

I think the challenge is keeping an eye on our reasons. Do you want more because you think it will make you happy and successful? Because you want to impress people? Or because you want the freedom to follow desires and passions? And are you so focused on wanting more that you don't adore what you have? 

There is always a balance to seek and hold onto. I think living happily within our means is an organic and alive skill. I feed it, listen to it, challenge it, teach it, and ultimately love it. 


I'm actually getting ready to head out of town for "work" tomorrow. I'll be babysitting my nieces in California for the next twelve days and getting paid good money for it. This is something I do about once a year and I'm lucky! So that's another thing I should add: Say yes to opportunities that make you money even if it seems weird to make money doing it. Of course I would babysit my nieces for free! I love them wildly! But I also know that my sister can afford to pay me in this instance and that she wants to, for many reasons. So, I say yes. It was terrifically uncomfortable to accept the money for a long time but I kept saying yes.
My hubby and a couple of our boys working together.
Now, we all feel comfortable and good about it. 

Find that balance, friends. Remember to allow it the freedom to shift and grow and change with your life. 

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Autism Answer: We Used To Live Here

We Used To Live In This RV

We used to live here. For a little over a year, this RV was our home.

And what a year!!

Life was getting heavy. My four special needs brothers were learning nothing in school except what it feels like to be bullied by teachers and peers. They were also deciding whether or not they wanted to be the kind of men who hide from or become bullies themselves. I was a single mom of two, pregnant with my third, and trying to work enough to pay some bills (while living with my mom and brothers) but not so much that I couldn't be with my children. Also, I was in the USA without a green card or visa or any other legal way to work. My mom was deeply loving all of us while trying to show us how to live healthy, happy, successful lives. 

So, she pulled my brothers out of school and invited me and my small sons to join her on an adventure of epic proportions!

Armed with ideas and a used RV (purchased for us by a friend of mom's as a donation to our cause) we purged our belongings and kept only necessary items (interestingly, that included a trampoline which we shoved into the non-working bathroom) and climbed anxiously and excitedly aboard our new home. Eight of us living in a small RV.

The heaviness of life immediately lifted. 

Mom and I worked together to teach my brothers the important things that school was not teaching. Social skills and academics were learned rather quickly when my brothers were not being pushed around in an education system that made a small amount of sense on paper but was entirely unfit for real people. We drove around the country, financially poor but freedom rich, stopping often to soak in new sights (and work on the problem of affording fuel).  

My mom had also purchased timeshares from a company that had several resorts we were able to visit. It was brilliant! We had a place to go where we always felt welcome and fancy. That's one of the main jobs of hotels and resorts, and so we took clever advantage! A family like ours was unused to feeling welcome or fancy, but after that year we began to believe we deserved it. 

And, of course, we did! 

I have no idea how my mom managed to pull off that year of vacation style living. Sure, we were living a life of minimal expense and simplicity, but it still cost money. Food isn't much available for free (no matter how willing you are to forage) and gas, timeshare fees, camping grounds, etc. had to be figured out. So my mom worked from the road. Offering her services as a freelance comedian, therapist, writer. She made it happen. Still, I don't know exactly how. I do know that my entire family was able to grow healthy, strong, and smarter because of all the things it taught us. 

Not least of all: that my mom found a way to pull it off! 

Always, when my mom feels strongly that a thing is right to do, she does it. Even if it's impossible. Me and all seven of my siblings are freaking lucky because of that.

Of course, it also leaves us little room for excuses. Me and my siblings know that we're lucky there too, having learned to get busy creating answers rather than collecting excuses. But, darn it! Sometimes we just want to use excuses! tee hee!

Eventually, just after my third son was born, my mom found an affordable home, hiding in the woods in the middle-of-nowhere Texas. Again, it was perfect! (Again, I don't know how she pulled it off.) We had freedom, hidden away from neighbors, but we also had a community. A place to practice the skills we'd been learning on the road and where we could grow some roots. 

It worked. My sons (I now have four, and met my husband of seventeen years here!) grew up in this small Texas town. They know it as home. 

But they have also learned much from the life we lived in the RV, even though they don't truly remember it and some of them weren't even born yet. They have learned because I bring to our family the things I learned. 

This was our home in the woods. My sons lived here for most of their childhood. It was wonderful!

Choose your life, friends. Don't be afraid to make seemingly strange choices. Not if they feel right for your family. And remember that a big choice brings big lessons, but doesn't have to last forever, though the lessons will. 

When it doesn't feel right anymore, shift. Change. Do something new. 

And when you feel like making excuses, remember my mom. Remember that she always finds a way to do the impossible if she believes it's right. 

Then, go ahead and blame her for that annoying knowledge that you can do it too.

Then, thank her. 

And do it too! 

Hugs, smiles, and love!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

My mom is now an international brain change expert and renowned speaker. Her international reality series FIX IT IN FIVE with LYNETTE LOUISE aka THE BRAIN BROAD airs on The Autism Channel and can be purchased via Vimeo on Demand. 
Visit my mom's websites:

Lynette Louise (The Brain Broad)
Brain and Body

*Mom sold the RV to a local mechanic and it's still there now. I took the above picture after picking my youngest son up from high school yesterday.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Autism Answer: Some New Years Are Another Chapter In A Book, Others Are An Entirely New Book In The Series

Time to reflect, create, plan, envision, and connect.

The New Year always offers a timely moment to consider, reflect, plan, and design a renewed vision for ourselves. 

However, while many New Years stretch before us with potential and possibilities waiting to be shaped by us, some New Years present themselves with the promise of huge life shifts regardless of any planning on our part. These New Years, arriving with unmistakable design changes already in the blueprint, are still wonderfully important opportunities to consider, reflect, plan, and design a renewed vision around, and indeed they almost demand it considering that new living has been previously decided. But they feel different. These New Years remind us that life is going to change, that people will leave, arrive, hold on, let go, regardless of any comfort we may have with our world the way it is, and we are always able to plan, reflect, and design new visions but we aren't always able to keep things the same, and we aren't the boss of the visions and plans our loved ones create. 

I am being welcomed into one of those New Years myself. 

2018 has my youngest son graduating high school with plans to leave home for college giving my hubby and I our first ever opportunity to live together without children or a school schedule tethering us to our town, I am expecting two more grandbabies, one of whom will be the first child for my second youngest son, and my mom (aka Dr. Lynette Louise The Brain Broad, aka My Employer) has asked me to do a new job for her as she shifts her career to one of consistently speaking and performing on stages around the world now that she is no longer accepting new clients. My New Year has been partially designed for me (new living environment, new job, new babies) while leaving plenty of room for me to reflect, plan, and design how I will step into it with passion, excitement, and intention. 

What an exciting time! It's almost like a blank canvas. Almost. But more like a sequel or series. I know the colors and characters that I certainly want written into this New Year while I find myself excited for and anticipating the new ones about to be introduced. Established storylines exhist and new ones are waiting to be discovered, explored, and invented.

Some New Years are like a new chapter in a book or a new episode in the same season of a show, while others are like a brand new book or an entirely new season. I feel myself getting ready to binge on an entirely new season while opening pages against the newness on the spine of a brand new book in a series. RANDOM ADDITION: I am not often found reading books in a series or even watching many shows, preferring to be more of a stand-alone movie and book fan, but that doesn't mean I don't ever do it or understand the joys of them. In fact, I ADORE the ones I choose, partly because I choose well and partly because I choose to ADORE the ones I choose. :D

Happy New Year, friends!! 

Regardless of how much your New Year promises to be similar to recent ones, an episode in a season of your life; or spectacularly different, a whole new season or even an entirely new show, I hope you have fun planning your role and creating visions and dreams and actions for 2018!!! 

Hugs, smiles, and love!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Autism Answer: Creating My Life With Intentional Storytelling (A Story To Start The New Year)

"Narrative and stories are thrown at people from all directions. It's easy to accept them and forget the power that they have. Yet with simple shifts Tsara Shelton suggests people can take advantage of that power by telling stories with purpose. Practicing intentional storytelling can make individuals and whole families happier and smarter." <--- That is an excerpt from this Press Release about storytelling.  The press release was written years after I had taken the time to craft and practice and live the benefits of what I first began to create for myself about twenty years ago. Following is the story of my budding new belief and how I tried to explain it to my then-boyfriend (now husband). I want to share it with you now as we step into a new year, it's a way of giving you the gift of intentional storytelling as a new understanding. In this way you can take it into the new year and create what you want out of it.  I don't know if it will do for you what it has done for me (in a word: happiness) but I hope it will give you a reminder of how powerful our personal stories are. And at the very least I hope you enjoy my telling of it. Happy almost new year, friends!!! ~Tsara

Creating My Life With Intentional Storytelling

With the sound of my boyfriend’s rusty old truck droning in my ears and the messy look of our small Texas town passing by my window I replayed his recent words in my mind, almost encouraging the annoyance to build. “It’s easier for you to be happy because your life is easier.” 

In that moment years’ worth of purposefully creating and discovering my personal beliefs about
Back in our boyfriend/girlfriend days.
happiness ignited into an uncharacteristic flame of what felt like justified anger.

“No. No it’s not,” I insisted. “My life seems easier to you because I do it well. I tell and live the story of my life happily. With intentional storytelling I am happy and I live life easier because I decide to. Not because my life is easier.” 

My boyfriend – who would soon become my husband – risked a short peek in my direction. The disbelief, almost condescending, was evident on his dark, handsome face.

As he returned his attention to the road ahead of him I heard myself lay out my proof.

“You know, I could just as easily describe my days as grueling and unfair.” A little bit crudely I affected a whiny voice. “Oh, dear me. My disabled brothers are such a burden, why must I be forced to live without the ease and freedom other sisters get to have? People stare at us, they are cruel and constantly judging us. Living with my brothers means things are always lost or broken. And me with my own problems! I was molested as a child! And I have been in an abusive relationship! I couldn’t take care of myself and went home for help. Woe is me, why must I live again with my mom? I’m such a loser!” I was almost having fun letting loose with this act and started really getting into it, holding my hand up to my forehead and closing my eyes as though all the troubles in the world were giving me a headache. “We’re poor, and I can’t even get a legitimate job because I don’t have my green card yet. And I couldn’t even work anyway because who, oh who, would take care of my babies? Besides, no matter how hard we work, and we work hard, we’re always poor. New shoes? Not in this lifetime! Oh, me oh my, the world is so cruel and my sons are treated differently. Not only because I’m a single mom but also because they are brown skinned. What a horrible hard life I have!”

As I acted out this pretend speech full of true things I was unexpectedly offered a great opportunity to solidify and make clear for myself the concrete real world power of what I was beginning to dub “intentional storytelling”. 

So, that hot afternoon in the cab of a rusty old truck driving from one small town in Texas to another small town, my much older than me black boyfriend listened as his much younger Canadian white girl girlfriend (Read: me) gave a passionate and meaningful rundown of her life and how she had made happiness a habit.

As a little girl I worked hard to be liked by others. I quickly learned that being a good listener and being mostly happy made me easy to like. Admittedly, for the longest time I was merely pretending to listen, so busy was I in my head hoping to be liked. But a degree of happiness tended to come natural to me.

Now, I am human. So I have been hurt, confused, wrong, and wronged. But with an eye on happiness I discovered (eventually) a way to learn from, understand, and disallow most of that negativity. 

Through intentional storytelling. Through the act of telling the story of my days, my life, my moments, with the intention of displaying the goodness. Whether telling it to myself or to others, always the intention was telling an authentic story that was hopeful, thoughtful, and ultimately, happy. 

At this point in my long winded argument, partly because we were almost at our destination - an Auto Parts Store - but mostly because I felt I was on the precipice of truly understanding something about myself, I spoke strong and clear.

“Do you see? My life has been, and is, just as hard as most people. But because I tell the story of my days with the intention of highlighting the happiness, the gifts, the things I’ve learned rather than the hurt, the unfairness, the things done to me, I’m actually truly happy. Sure, I talk about the hard stuff, but with the intention of finding and saying what I get out of it. Do you see?”

Pulling into the small parking lot of the store where my mechanic boyfriend was about to purchase a part for the car he’d been working on for a neighbor, he looked at me and smiled. 

“Well, two people can look at the same thing and see something different.” His go-to statement every time it was obvious we weren’t anywhere near agreeing or understanding each other.

At the time, I just shrugged. “It’s his loss,” I thought to myself, too busy being excited at my own newly concrete understanding of who I was to need validation. 

Now, happily married to that handsome mechanic for over seventeen years, co-parenting our blended family with eight colorful kids, I still share with him the value of intentional storytelling. Our happy home has benefited from it. 

But I, too, have benefitted by willingly seeing that my husband was also right. As a black man – now in his sixties – living his entire life in small town Texas with a personal history unlike anything I want to, but I do, believe, his life has always been harder and more unfair than mine. 

So now we intentionally tell our story together. And with the twining of our drastically different histories, habits, and beliefs it has become a little bit harder for me. 

But we are both happier. 
# # #

I hope you enjoyed my story! If you are interested in diving deeper into the art and power of intentional storytelling feel free to read my book, Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself. Admittedly, the book is about me and my life, the stories are told my way and in my voice, and so the art and power of intentional storytelling is on display but not given the diversity of voice and style that is absolutely possible and necessary. As I say in my book, I hope you will do that. I hope you will discover your style of intentional storytelling and use it to enhance your life and the lives of those around you. Step into the new year with the knowledge of your power and the desire to use it well! Happy New Year, friends!! 

Hugs, smiles, and love!!