Sunday, February 28, 2010

As One Series Ends, Another Begins

30 days ago, I sat in the local Longmont Ice Pavilion and watched my three girls skate. While they skated, I read from Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs and was deeply changed by what I read. So changed that I set out to write as honestly as I could for 30 days about where I am in my life and to explore the life or lives, I've dreamed about living, but which have not happened, or not happened to the full extent of my dreams.

I've come to the end of this particular project and am exceptionally grateful for the kindness and support and kinship I've experienced from friends and strangers. I've learned a huge amount about myself and through this process, I've gained a bit more understanding about how I got here and  few ideas as to how to make some significant changes.

One thing I've realized is the importance of a daily practice and I'm about to embark on a new and slightly more ambitious project, which I will be sharing on this blog. I'm hooked on the idea that a daily, simple practice can have significant changes and this past month has given me the experience and the support to take the jump into a new venture - drum roll, please -

One Dream A Month: Turning Dreams into Actions

Over the course of this year, I'll be going through the catalog of my dreams and taking them out of the closet, from under the mattress and unearthing them from wherever the dog buried them in the yard. I'll be choosing a few that I believe I can commit to and on a daily basis, I'm going to breathe some life into them. Day by day, I'm going to apply one action toward turning a clearly defined dream into active reality.

Some of the dreams will be simple, like learning to change the oil in the car. Others will be more ambitious. All of them will be based in three principles:

1. Mission-based purpose
2. Kindness
3. Creative

The first dream I'll be breathing life into for March's One Dream a Month is a new business venture based in my love for reading, children and history. That's all I'll say about it for now, except I'm very excited about taking it out of my head, where I've been burying it, and into the world.

Tomorrow will be spent creating some tools for One Dream a Month, which will include a new blog, as well as Facebook and Twitter pages, to help create a larger community around One Dream a Month, as well as a basic outline of how I'll proceed with each project.

This blog, "Boobies and Other Bodily Functions," will return to its original intent, which is to explore life as an older mother, or as my oldest likes to remind me - "the oldest mother at her school."

The day will also be spent gathering my various notes on my business dream and getting them into one location - this computer. I'll be sharing how that messy process unfolds, as well as how to find the One Dream  Month resources, in case you'd like to breathe some life into some dreams that have been deferred.

Hope you'll join me.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Small Victory and One Piece of the Big Puzzle

This might seem really small, but the accomplishment of it has made a big difference. I successfully set and carried through on a weekly food budget for our family. I set the amount on Sunday, made the list, made the food plan for the week, organized the coupons and headed to the store with the girls, each with their own job of list carrier,  coupon holder and bargain finder. After I wrote the check for the food, I then wrote a check to myself for the amount we'd saved and I deposited it into a household savings account. I even made Jack pay me back for the amount he'd gone over, which he did with a certain amusement at my insistence that we adhere to the budget. We made it through the week and spent, almost to the penny, exactly what I set out to do and which included wine, chocolate and some really good meals.

A first step, one that has taken me a number of decades and the better part of this month to make happen. And which represents the most hopeful part of all of this because of its' smallness.

I've been described as a big person. Not in physicality, but in my energy. I think big, can usher in a big energetic wave that I recognize can be overwhelming to some, especially employers. I don't believe it's completely an issue of ego, but more how I feel about this life. How much I love this life and how much I want to live in and make the most of it for as long as I can.

So for me to do something as small as follow through on one week of our family's food budget, is no small thing. It is probably one of the biggest things I've done in a very long time, other than becoming a mother three times over.

The small victory of sticking to a modest weekly food budget that reflects our income and expenses is that I realized the bigness in a small and simple act in my own life. So often, the bigness of our world sets the bar for just how much we expect of ourselves in terms of out put, energy and accomplishments, when as Margaret Mead wrote:

"A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Our family is a small group of thoughtful people and I believe we can change the world. Our world, to begin with and hopefully, the larger world through the daily act of our living.

And the small act for my family that changed our world this week is that I proved we could set a limit and live within it. I taught my children that frugality is a positive way to live, as is planning and following through. They've watched their father and me go through this struggle, they've experienced the stress of it themselves in reduced activities, postponed necessary and wanted purchases, not to mention living with a high degree of stress. But as we rolled the shopping cart down the aisle and then they watched me write a check to our family, and the look on their faces when we figured out how much we'd save in one year if we put just this modest amount away every week, I knew I'd started a little revolution in our home. And in our life.

One small change showed up in the way of a shopping cart moving slowing down a grocery stores aisles.

Tomorrow morning, as I sip my coffee and read the paper, I'll cut the coupons and plan the meals. The grocery list is already made.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Dreams Into Actions

Normally, on Shabbat, I take a break from the computer. I unplug for a little more than 24 hours and try to bring that portion of myself, the self who is out there in the world, back to myself and my family. I've made an exception to this practice during this time of every day writing.

Shabbat is a time of renewal, punctuated by a deadline with the sunset, bringing the light inside, raising a glass of wine and breaking bread. A ritualized closing of the work-oriented week; a break from what Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi calls "commodity time." And quite honestly, I've never felt more intensely ingrained in commodity time, the time of money-making energy, or in the case of the past couple of months, sheer financial survival.

Each Friday morning, as I head off to work, I'm happy in the knowledge that when I see them again, Shabbat is close at hand. The furrow between my brows is just a little less indented because I know the permission for taking a break is almost here.

Each Friday night, I close my eyes and draw the light of the candles toward me. I hold my hands close to my face and feel the warmth and glow and recite a simple prayer. A prayer of thanks, of blessing our family, friends and the world. A prayer of peace.

Shabbat is also the one time during the week when I feel I have time to think about the life I'm, the life I'm creating for my kids and the kind of person I've become. Some Shabbats are a time of joy and relief. Others I find it incredibly difficult to leave the week behind and make the transition. But every week I try. 

Tonight, my Shabbat intention is to make the internal space so I can begin to seek out the dreams I want to turn into action. A committed set of actions that I will make visible and public, as I did with this series, on a monthly basis. 

My tendency is to rush and make a list, but instead, I'm going to slow down and think. Think about what are the dreams that are flowing below my surface that I want to bubble up and bring into this realm. Even as I begin to think about this, the dreams start talking to me and each one has a story to tell, but they all can't be told and I have to make some choices. One by one. One month at a time. 

March starts on Monday, which means that we're already into the third month of 2010. January was spent in a state of shock, but I'm close to the end of February and completing the first month of a dream turned into action. 

My goal for Shabbat is to get some rest and by sundown tomorrow, to have the next two months figured out. I'll have a few other things to discuss about this as well and hope that some folks reading this might want to join in. My hope is that by the end of this year, I'll have developed the discipline and experienced the satisfaction of returning the favor to a few of my dreams, which have kept me company below the surface all these years, and breathing some life into them.  

My dreams deserve it and so do I. And so do we all. 

I hope you'll be able to bring some light into your house with those you love and find the space you need. 

Good Shabbos. 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

When All I Want is Sleep

I'm tired. Really tired. I've been pushing hard the past two weeks and I'm feeling it. Feeling it so much that I'm not sure I have anything to say, or write, except that I need to write about working hard. Working too hard.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of helping to promote a wonderful film, "Peaceful Warrior," and an even deeper pleasure of being able to engage with Dan Millman, the author and visionary whose inspiring books, inspired the film. After the film project had finished, I contacted Dan regarding a professional matter, but really one that was based in my quest to continue doing work I find meaningful and with people dedicated to making positive change. I was seeking to change the way I work and how I work, which has always been at a high level of effort and energy and often exhausting.

Dan's message back to me was generous and authentic. He stressed doing work I love and working in a smarter, more efficient and gentler way. Seemed at the time like a pretty simple work methodology to follow, but four or five years later, I'm far from figuring it out.

Let me make something clear. I'm not interested in not working. I love to work, to have a purpose and take pride in the work I've committed myself to. What I'm interested in is finding a way to work better, to work in a way that makes a larger sense.

Did I lose track of the criteria I set for myself this past few weeks? I challenged myself to look at any job or project I would agree to take according to its' impact on my kids, my marriage, my health and my finances. The past two weeks have tested the criteria and I'm not sure of the answer. I know my finances have benefited from this time, which has taken a bit of stress off - a good thing for one' relationship. But my yoga practice is down and I've had much less time with my kids, including a small crisis today with my oldest. Thankfully, we have a wonderful support system and I know that I can't be there for every moment, good and bad, but it capped two weeks of feeling the pangs of separation.

One of the aspects of starting a new job or project is inevitably the period of trying oneself out, of fitting in, of trying on new clothes that may or may not fit. Today, I wasn't sure that the new set of clothes I put on two weeks ago now fit. It may be that I was too quick to buy the clothes without trying them on and making sure the fit was right, as well as not necessarily being my style of clothing.

Another realization that has come to me in my exhaustion is I'm a very adaptable person and while that is a good skill to develop, I need to reign that aspect of myself in because it can cause me to react instead of act.

Work smarter. Adapt less and create more. Get more sleep and spend time with myself and my family. Work is just one part of the picture I'm creating and I can't allow it to take over.

Time to get back to that criteria and really commit to holding up any new project to it. And to be willing to step back or away from anything that doesn't meet all four. Not one, not two, not three. All four.

I guess I needed to be reminded of that. Again, and as many times as it takes.

Good night, all. I'm going to sleep.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What My Dreams Have to Say

I came across a great quote today that I'd like to share:

"Some people dream of great accomplishments, while others stay awake and do them." - Anonymous

I've always been a great dreamer. Not when I'm sleeping, but when I'm wide awake. In fact, I like to talk my dreams out loud as I go about my day, mostly in the car on the way to and from work. With the ever present cell phone as part of our driving experience, I no longer get the looks I used to get, especially in warmer weather when the windows might be rolled down. My parents told me that when I was a little girl, they would hear me talking to myself, making up stories with me as the central character. 

My favorite place to talk my dreams out loud was New York City. I was right at home there, walking along busy avenues chatting to myself and never once did anyone ever look at me sideways. This was above the ground behavior only, never on the subway or a bus. Only once did I get caught and it was by my then partner, now husband, Jack. He'd been walking behind me a few steps without my knowing he was there and he noticed I was carrying on a conversation with myself. He caught up with me at a curb and asked me, "Do you always talk to yourself like this?" I answered yes. He shrugged his shoulders. He knows of my capacity for chattiness and accepted without question that sometimes, when there isn't anyone to talk to, that I'd just turn to myself. 

But what does my talking to myself have to do with the quote? A great deal. Most of what I talk to myself about has to do with things I want to happen. Like the house I briefly dreamed about last month. About any of the many jobs I've come close to getting. Mostly I talk to myself about dreams that are within my reach and step into a conversation with a part of myself that is already there. 

Some of the dreams have come true. Sadly, others have been talked away. 

But I also think there is something to my dream talking that might just be useful in moving away from the front end of the quote - some people dream of great accomplishment - and toward the daily actualization of the second part - while others stay awake and do them. And something that is missing. 


What I've come to realize is that I'm not listening to either part of myself I'm giving voice to, the dreamer and the dreamed. If I can begin to listen to what my dreamer self is saying, what dreams I'm talking out loud and perhaps start asking questions of both parts of that voice, instead of just posing possible situations that might happen, then that could be the way to continue this conversation with myself. 

If I listen to myself in this funny little dance I do with myself, the very act of listening will change the conversation. Instead of driving along within the alternate dream life I've created for myself commuting to and from my "real" life, if I begin to ask questions of myself, I'll actually have to come up with some answers. And answers mean action. 

Asking questions of myself will take me out of what has been a tendency to be present in my own life and will plant me squarely back into my life, my blessed and slightly messy life. Asking questions will force me to investigate the difference between a dream, a fantasy and just a temporary escape from my life. 

And just as I'm beginning to ask financial questions of myself, and expecting answers, I need to do the same with my dreams. I better spend some time thinking about the questions I want to ask of my dreams. 

I think I'll start with asking - are these dreams I speak out loud part of the under current I began to explore in this series 25 days ago - the turns in the other direction, the dreams left on the curb, the life I haven't lived? 

I believe this would be a very good place to start. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Joannie Rochette: A Personal Best

I write this through tears, having just watched the heart-breakingly stunning skating performance by Joannie Rochette, who tragically and suddenly lost her mother two days ago. To watch her move across the ice, with her grief held so tightly against her heart and to share it with her country, the audience, her father sitting in the stands, makes me understand how extraordinary the human spirit is.

Rabbi Akiva, who I studied about this evening, left a legacy: our present circumstances might be negative, might be more than we think we can take, and for many of us they have been and continue to be, but the purpose of the circumstance is something else. An initiation, a part of an outcome that is larger than we might understand as it is unfolding.

How can I say that in the face of a young woman who just lost her mother, two days before the biggest moment of her life and one her mother no doubt supported and worked to help her achieve? How can I say this six weeks after the devastation of the earthquake in Haiti? Because I've heard the stories of a father coming forward to pick up a broom and sweep a hospital floor because his children had been spared by the death of his mother-in-law, whose body created enough space for them to breathe. Because I've heard the story of a young law student who appeared at the only hospital to serve as the translator for families dealing with the injuries and deaths of their loved ones. Because my father taught me that no matter how bad things are, no matter how much loss you suffer, being alive and being able to feel the grief is the way through and the way to survive.

Because I know it.

It's been a challenging time for me and for so many people I know. I've felt the deep and seemingly eternal sadness of losing my beloved dad, a job and then the loss of whatever material or professional security I might have still felt.

As Ms. Rochette awaited her scores, she touched her chest and spoke in French to her mother, the words, Maman, Maman, being offered to the sky. Her score was announced - her personal best.

Tonight I received two lessons. The first came from the historical perspective of a great Jewish and world wisdom sage, who led with dedication, belief and optimism. The second from a young woman on a thin pair of blades, wrapped her grief in love and skated with grace and an open heart. Both of these, one ancient and one so much in this world, reminded me - on a day of being pulled in many directions and questioning what this time in my life is all about - to take a deep breath and trust.

Tonight I learned that every day can be my personal best, if I remember that best is not really about getting what I want, but about learning what I need.

This time in my life is my personal best.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Necklace for Purim

A wonderful thing has happened to our little town. Four years ago, a young Rabbi, his wife and two young children, moved from Brooklyn to Longmont to open a Chabad Jewish Center. I grew up as a very Reform Jew, but one with an equally strong identity. I went to a Jewish summer camp, was Bat Mitvah'd and when it came to raising our children, even after years of not really participating in a Jewish community, there was no choice. I wanted our children to grow up with the same positive self-identity I'd enjoyed and which I especially helped me grow into a strong minded and spirited Jewish woman.

Longmont is a lot like where I grew up, with a small Jewish community. Unlike where I grew up, there is no regular synagogue in Longmont and the kids have often been the only Jewish kids in their class at school.

To be honest, I was more than a little hesitant to go to the Longmont Chabad. I had many pre-conceived ideas of the Chabad culture and many of them stereotypical, a hard thing for me to admit about a segment of my own tradition and faith.

But all that changed when I met Rabbi Borenstein and his wife, Shayna. Their ease and warmth instantly put us at ease and we started going to events where we were amazed to see large groups of other Jewish families from Longmont. I could see that they were committed to creating an open and welcoming center for the small, but growing Jewish community in Longmont to be together as families, with our children, and throughout the elegant unfolding of the calendar celebrations that mark our lives in such strong ways.

One of those ways is a monthly women's circle. It's a mish-mash of old, young, in-between and we gather for a gentle evening of study, and also to engage in a fun activity where there is always lots of delicious food and plenty of laughter, all led by Shayna, the rebbetzen, the Rabbi's wife.

This month, we came together for an evening of jewelry making in honor of Purim and Esther. We met at The Bead Lounge, a lovely local business. We sipped wine and ate cheese and chocolate. The tables were filled with shiny beads and we were told we could make either a necklace, earrings or a bracelet. I chose to make a necklace.

I looked through the colors and shapes and settled on a color palette I'm recently very drawn to. Metalics in bronze, copper with opaque round beads. And then I saw them. Stone hearts, maroon and smooth. I chose three of them and felt them get warm in my hand as I poured some more wine and settled in to make my necklace.

I'm a fairly deliberate person and usually like to plan things out in advance. But I let the three hearts lead me and before long, I was putting together a delicate strand of beads and stones as Shayna talked about Esther's open hearted strength and simple path toward significant bravery.

As I listened, I found myself counting out two sets of 18 small copper beads to frame each side of the necklace. 18 is the Kabbalistic number for life, for chai, and 36 minutes was also the time between our first and second twin's birth. Two lives, the night before they were about to turn 8 years old.

The gentle ladies helped me with the heart stones, so that they would hang downward. I added gold-toned spacers, five on each side, one for each member of our little family.

Before I knew it, the necklace was finished. The ladies agreed it was indeed beautiful.And simple. To me, the necklace looked like a dream, like the dream that is my family, my husband and my girls, my three hearts. To me, the delicacy of the necklace represents the fragile nature of it all, how quickly it can be taken and how quickly it goes. The simplicity represents the way in which I choose to live my life and raise our girls.

I haven't worn the necklace yet. I'm waiting to put in on for the annual Purim party, where we'll gather again, as we did last year, a little older and knowing each other that much more, as communities do when we come together to signify our lives with meaning and ritual.

I'll look forward to the glass stones and beads warming themselves against my skin. They'll be reflecting how I feel inside, from the kindness, joy and burgeoning community of kindred folks.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Embracing Expectations

Last year, Jim Tracy, in his first Spring Training as the Colorado Rockies' manager, spoke about about wanting the team to embrace expectations. I hear a great deal in the business world about the phrase, '"exceed expectations" and quite frankly, I've always viewed those two words with the same skepticism as I view most of the business jargon that comes my way. What I appreciate about Jim Tracy's take on that overused phrase is talks about presence, a gentle, grace-filled presence that runs too short for me and most folks I know. 

I've got a big week ahead of me and Jim Tracy's stated, and then implemented, desire for his team will help to propel me into mine, which will take a certain kind of focus that is about bringing what I've got to a certain situation with the potential of transforming my self and our life. What does it mean to me to embrace my expectations for myself? 

1. Be honest with what I'm able to do and then do it.
2. Ask a lot of questions. As far as I'm concerned, there are no bad questions, just the ones that don't get asked.
3. Rely on outstanding mono-tasking skills and leave the multi-tasking to those who have something to prove.
4. Drink lots of water instead of coffee. 
5. Keep up my yoga practice. 
6. Be proud of my skills. I've worked my butt off to get them as good as they are. 
7. Make good mistakes that show I'm willing to try and to learn.
8. Trust. If it's the right fit and situation, the rest will fall into place. 
9. Breathe. When all else fails, hopefully we still have that. 
10. And as Dory, my favorite Pixar character and which my kids are sure is based on me, says: "Keep Swimming."

To end tonight, I'd like to honor the life and poetry of Lucille Clifton, who died at the age of 73 year old on February 13, 2010. A friend said of Ms. Clifton's passing: "A passage that means less grace in the world..."

blessing the boats 
by Lucille Clifton

(at St. Mary's)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back    may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

From Quilting: Poems 1987-1990 by Lucille Clifton

Have a good start to the week. 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Poem, a Look, a Life

The eight year olds' birthday sleepover is now over and as expected, we're all exhausted. Face it, birthdays are exhausting. For me, the mother, it is like some still remaining body memory comes back every year and I wonder, do all mothers feel this way for their whole life as a mother?

But despite the labor echoes, the sleepover was sweet, as they are supposed to be. The girls did face painting, ate too much sugar and went to sleep too late. I cooked up my sleepover special pancakes and turkey bacon and the morning rolled by as the parents picked up their daughters and our house came back to some sort of order.

The afternoon unfolded with them exploring their new gifts, mostly furry ones that they'd already embraced into their already too large stuffed animal collection.

But one gift stood out for me and I think, for them. A simple gift the twins received from their grandma Lila. A poem she wrote in honor of their birthday. In honor of their birth.

It's a wonderful thing having a writer for a MIL, especially one as talented and artistically generous as Lila. Not a birthday or anniversary goes by that she doesn't offer a poem in celebration of the event. At 77 years old, she's published a number of books, most recently "Pages, A Memoir: Musings of a 75-year-old Woman," a true love poem to life in book form.

The poem she wrote for the twins birthday stands out as one of her most lovely and I wish I had a video camera on the girls face as they read it, out loud from my computer monitor. The look on each of their faces as they came upon a particular line will stay with me forever:

Life has been better since the twins have arrived

The only way I can describe the look on their face is one of deep contentment, of the peace that comes from knowing not only that you are loved, but that your life is part of a larger good. In this case, the larger good is that of our collective family, but hopefully, with knowing this at this early age, they will have this understanding throughout their life as their life continues to extend beyond our little clan. What more could we want from this life? What more could we want in a gift?

What compels Lila to write every day is the same that is taking hold in me - just as in the movie, "Up," where we see the fast slide show of a life shared in love, there is so little time with each other. Lila's great gift has gone far beyond the twins' and into my heart, to honor my life as a writer and a mother, and as another kindred soul working to bring the water that flows underground just a little, every day, to the surface.

Thank you, dear Lila, for your loving gift of words in celebration of two little girls who have changed my life and the life of who know them:

February 19th, 2010

The phone rang

It was 3o’clock in the morning

Auntie Deb excitedly said

The twins are coming

I jumped out of bed put on my eyeliner

I wanted to look pretty when the girls arrived

I kissed Zoie and Grandpa goodbye

Ran down the steps-jumped in my car-

I followed our plan and turned onto Venice Street

Deb’s car was there-of course

I remembered the plan –

Debra was taking sweet Mila in her Van

And I was going to Deb’s to help and to wait

It was around ten when the twins came into our world

Two little dolls

Maedee arrived a bit before Julea

We ooed and we ahhed and we cried and we laughed

Mila was hugging her two little sisters

They both fit in one bassinet

Life has been better since the girls have arrived

And the Trank- Greenes have become five

Happy Birthday to you two who are EIGHT

I Love you I Love you

You two are so great!!!!

Happy Birthday Darling Maedee and Julea

With Love From My Heart

Grandma Lila

© 2010 Lila Greene All rights reserved. 

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Last Balloon Bouquet

The pizza has been devoured, the sugar rush from the ice cream cake has passed and ten girls are hunkered down on our couch in front of our little TV watching the movie "Up." It just happens to be my favorite movie of the last decade and one that has helped me enormously survive the last 18 months of loss, uncertainty and stress.

I first saw it in the movie theater (a rarity) last May. I went with my brother-in-law and the kids while his wife (Jack's sister) and Jack were in LA for a family birthday. We gathered our forces to get through the weekend without the spouses and met at the movieplex.

The movie started and I knew I was in for something special. The silent movie that took up the first ten minutes which showed Ellie and Mr. Frederickson's life as quickly as we all know it passes brought a lump to my throat. One of the twins was on my lap and intuitively turned to see if I was all right. I hugged her and kissed the back of her neck to reassure her I was. When the part when Ellie dies happened, I closed my eyes, already full with tears and tried to hold back the sob. My brother-in-law glanced down at me with a little concern, but I shrugged my shoulders, as if to say, "just another emotional member of this family." I got through that moment and enjoyed Ed Asner's grovel-ey voice and delighted in the introduction of Russell, the over eager and tender-hearted scout. I was sure I was out of the woods.

Until a few scenes later.

It comes right after Mr. Frederickson hits the construction guy and it's decided he's a menace and has to move to Shady Oaks retirement home. When the two orderlies come to pick him, Mr. Frederickson tells them he just wants to go back inside one more time, to say good bye to "the old place" one more time.

What happens next is a moment in my film-watching history I will never forget. First it was the sound, a ripping out of the ground and then there they were. The balloons. Thousands of them expanding into the urban  skyline. And with "the old place" tethered to it and rise up with Mr. Frederickson inside.

I actually gasped out loud. Literally, gasped with amazement and delight. Pure delight. And then I couldn't hold it in anymore. I sobbed. Hard. Hard enough to get my kids worried and so pulled it together and tried to smile. I was so happy for Mr. Frederickson. And those balloons.

Balloons are a big deal in our house. The kids love them, I'm all right with them, but my husband? He hates them. Or rather, he hates the craziness they seem to make in the house that at our advanced age of parenting, grinds on his nerves. Every birthday, he dreads the arrival of the dozen balloons, but I still get them.

When we were deep in pre-turning 8 birthday planning mode, the topic of balloons came up, of course. I hemmed and hawed and stated that I thought that they were too old for balloons. I was quickly reminded that their older sister had them at her first sleepover party when she turned eight. Well, that was the end of that discussion. In our house, what is good for the goose, aka, the older sister, is always good for the gander. Chronological democracy in action.

I ordered the balloons this afternoon and emailed Jack asking him to pick them up and assuring him that this, according to our oldest and corroborated by her sisters, would be the last year for balloons. I could almost see him smile through the computer.

The rainbow-colored balloon bouquet sits on our side table. The girls have all claimed their colors for when they go home tomorrow morning. Blue, green, yellow, pink, purple, yellow, pink and two "Happy Birthday" mylar ones for the birthday girls. The last balloon bouquet.

It's almost too much for me to bear. It was hard enough when my phone rang and one of the twins gushed on the other line, , that my mother had sent a gift card to their new favorite clothing store and added, "it's just what I wanted, sounding like a teen ager, not a just eight-year-old.

We move through a constant silent movie of our own lives, rarely taking the time to look up, let alone back. I know I have to let go of the balloons, or the girls wanted to have balloons, just like Mr. Frederickson has to let go of his house in order to find his own adventure.

But in the meantime, I think I'll have to make a note to order up some balloons for my birthday. One for every blessed year. Just might be enough to put my dreams solidly in flight. Just might.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What Is instead of What If...

It's the night before our twins turn eight years old. To say that birthdays are hard on me would be an understatement. To say that they are hard on the rest of the family is a new definition of understatement. Remember the reference to the Tasmanian Devil from an earlier post? Just put a vacuum cleaner and a dust rag in my hand and spin me off into the distance and you have the picture. But this year, I'm going to try really hard to not become the birthday mother from hell. And to understand why I get this way.

Part of what drives me to the point of no return is that I think that the birthday should be something other what they end up being. I don't really know why, but somewhere between our oldest's first and fourth birthday, I got overly concerned with the what-ifs that can come up around a birthday. And most of those what-if's have to do with money - if I had the money, I would buy this. If I had the money, I would buy that. And the what ifs extended to the house. If I had the money, I'd fix this. If I had the money, I'd replace that.

Inevitably, the what-ifs would do what they usually do and send the house into a pre-birthday frenzy and the birthday would arrive with tension, exhaustion and one of those nasty pendulum swings. Not really the way to spend a birthday, huh?

This morning, as I could feel the pre-birthday what-ifs creeping into my brain, I got ready to leave for the morning. The car needed gas, so I pulled into the nearest one, slid my card into the payment slot and pumped. I pushed the button to print a receipt and the screen told me to see the cashier. I went inside and a large, friendly man greeted me from behind the counter. I looked at his face and smiled.


A large hand extended out to me.

"Lisa, I thought that was you."

Vern was a student of mine from my days at Front Range Community College and one that I remembered with great fondness. An ex-firefighter, Vern was one of my older students and one of my brightest. He led the class with his articulation, writing skills and hard working ethic. He was seeking a new degree as a nurse's assistant, after not being able to keep up with the physical demands of fire work and his age, which when he was my student was already in his 50s. That was 8 years ago.

I asked him how he was and he shrugged his shoulders.

"All right, but going blind. Darned macular degeneration."

We exchanged a few more words and then I had to go onto my day. We shook hands again and I wished him well.

I got to the car and realized I hadn't gotten my receipt. But I'd received so much more.  Instead, as I started back on to my day and the what-ifs were no longer in my brain. What was there was a strong sense of what is.

What is is the fact of two sleeping girls who have graced my life for 8 years. What is is my oldest daughter blossoming before my eyes. What is is the incredible support and love I've received while reading this series. What is is the feel of a firm handshake at 7:15 this morning.

The first birthday present for two eight year olds from their Mama? What is instead of what if.

Happy Birthday, my beloved girls. Happy What Is.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Being All Right with Not Getting it Right

The funny thing about a long term relationship is that you get to experience the great pendulum swing that happens when two people share a space and a life for a period of time. Sometimes the pendulum swings in the direction of deep connection, humor and passion. Sometimes the pendulum swings in the other direction and it's not very much fun. Add in some financial instability, parenting and lots of daily stress and sometimes the pendulum seems to get stuck in the polar opposite of the sweet space.

Last night, the pendulum got a little stuck in that other direction. Well, more than a little stuck. More like super-glued.

The details of how an argument gets started are rarely important. A look misinterpreted, a too long pause before responding, a simple gesture taken too personally. It doesn't really matter what pulls the pendulum away from the love at the center of a relationship.

In our case, it was a plastic bag. A plastic bag filled with glass beads and other items for an upcoming birthday party that had been left on the coffee table. I was working on my computer and Jack picked up the bag. I asked him to leave it and that I would put it away when I was done. Jack picked it up again and then kind of crumpled it. I responded with annoyance in my tone. "Please don't, there are glass beads in there and you'll break them."

See? The details are insignificant and really dull. But the result was a heated hour that followed the case of the crumpled plastic bag with words thrown back and forth at rapid speed and with little thought.


The thing about our relationship is that we are talkers. For 25 years we've been talking and we especially love to talk when the pendulum swings in the other direction. We will talk an argument into at least five other arguments with so much speed that we have a hard time remembering with the originating argument was even about. Kind of funny and really silly. Any wonder our budget is not done?

This past year, as we began to face the stress of our financial worries, we decided it was time to get some professional help. One of the first thing our therapist told us was that we both talk too much. That was quite the moment, when our therapist, a person trained to help people like us talk through their issues, tells us that we talk too much. It was probably the only quiet moment in our time with this therapist, as we all sat there dumbfounded.

But back to the crumpled bag argument. We did realize we had lapsed into our habit of talking too much and that we were both invested in not only trying to be right, but in proving the other person wrong, a pretty universal condition of arguing. And maybe it was just late, or that something inside of me just shifted, but I blurted out, "We should begin every argument with one question - do I need to be right?" Again, not an earth-shaking realization, but in that moment, saying those words stopped these two world-class talkers in our tracks. And we asked each other that question and the answer for both of us was NO. Neither of us needed to be right and the argument could be let go of without feeling like we'd given in.

And there was nothing left to say.

I'll never give up being a talker, no matter what any therapist or anyone else says, and certainly not in my relationship. Our talking has taken us to the deepest places in our imagination and in our love. Our talking has shaped us as parents and in our children's high level of articulation. Our talking represents how much we care about our relationship and how hard we will fight to keep in tact.

If our talking is the way we swing our relationship pendulum back toward the passion, the humor and life long connection, as well as to the every day center it usually settles at, then so be it.

I'm happy to give up being right. Just don't expect me to stop talking.

That is so not going to happen.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Looking at the Big Picture or How I Fired Our Family's CEO from Hell

I hate to be micro-managed. All right, I know I'm not supposed to use the 'H' word, but my kids are sleeping and besides, they don't know how to find my blog. I don't use that word often, but in this case, it is the only word to use, so I'll say it again. I ate being micro-managed, being watched every minute to see if I'm completing a task and not being given the space to actually get it done.

But somehow, I've appointed myself the supreme micro-manager of our household. Part of it is being a mother and quite frankly seeing things that no one else does. The sock in the corner of the couch. The clothes poking out of the drawers. The bowls of half-eaten cereal left on the kitchen table in the rush to finish getting ready for school. Before I became a mother, those things didn't really bother me, but now it's another story.

What prompted this realization? Simple. Eggs. No, I'm not referring to my gender-specific biological function, but eggs that come in a carton, usually in the amount of a dozen and which we sometimes make for breakfast.

This week has a lot going on in too many directions and when that happens, my anxiety comes out in an extreme form of micro-managing. This particular morning had way too much needing to get done before the clock struck 8:00 a.m. and that too much going on was going to go on until the end of the day.

The day started out all right. I woke up early and made lunches before I headed off the my pre-sunrise yoga class. When I got home, all three girls were showered and thanking me for making their lunches. I braided their hair and began to get dressed, when, whammy, the first rumblings of anxiety hit. Maybe it was not being able to find the right earrings for what I was wearing. Maybe it was that I hadn't eaten breakfast and was running on coffee and water.

All I know is that when I came into the kitchen and saw the time and then saw that six eggs were about to be poured into a hot frying pan with only ten minutes before I HAD to get out the door, the anxiety spoke and it sounded like every micro-manager we all love to hate. The thing about anxiety, or I should say, my anxiety, is that it's never pretty and it's never calm. I instructed, instead of suggesting, that there was absolutely no time for breakfast before I needed to be dropped off. This instruction was met with, let's just say, stifled displeasure. I tried to cover my tracks and launch into a long explanation, but the damage had been done.

I felt terrible. All the goodness of the morning, all the helpful efforts that had really been helpful and which had occurred without my micro-managed eye, had been erased. I apologized and my apology was accepted and we got on with the morning. Sort of.

But in that moment in the kitchen, with six eggs staring at me in the face, I realized something about micro-management. It is nothing more than anxiety being pushed onto someone else. Micro-managing is about not being able to let go, give space and all those other things that come with trust. There is a positive intent at the center micro-managing, which is an attention to detail, a desire to do well, as well as be directly involved, but what usually happens is getting lost in the minutiae, a need to be liked and ego. This may seem like a harsh judgment, but that's been my experience on both sides of the micro-management fence.

There has to be a better answer, as a partner and as a parent than to hover like a helicopter over every single detail of the household. The micro-management style is exhausting and doesn't work. How do I fire myself and step down as the micro-managing CEO of our household?

Stop. Look. Listen and Breathe. Any of those will work and hopefully, the next time anxiety shows up, which should probably be in about eight hours, I hope I'll be able to take a deep breath, stop, look and remember to look at the big picture. One that includes all of us.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Getting the Budget Back To Square One

Lately every day, it seems, I wake up feeling like it's the first day of school and I'm the new kid. It's an uneasy feeling and usually sends my already precarious stomach into nervous overdrive. The past two months have been exhausting and enlightening, although there's still a long way to go. The budget is still a work in progress and we've done something we rarely do - give ourselves a real deadline. When dealing with extreme financial anxiety, approaching the very real aspect of budget planning can just about send even those with the best intentions into a massive back pedaling under the covers. At least it does to me. Why is that? Why is the reckoning of my financial means cause this internal uproar? I suppose it doesn't really matter, except to approach with care and understanding toward myself and our dancing around our budget.

What I realized is that part of my running away from the idea of creating a budget is that I actually don't even know the true definition of the word. First step - accept my gaping ignorance and look the damn word up. According to, the word 'budget' can be parsed in the following ways:

1. An estimate, often itemized, of expected income and expense for a given period in the future.
2. A plan of operations based on such an estimate.
3. An itemized allotment of funds, time, etc., for a given period.
4. The total sum of money set aside or needed for a purpose: the construction budget.
5. A limited stock or supply of something: his budget of goodwill.
6. Obsolete. a small bag; pouch.

7. Reasonably or cheaply priced: budget dresses.

Verb (used with object)
8. To plan allotment of (funds, time, etc.).
9. To deal with (specific funds) in a budget.

Verb (used without object)
10. To subsist on or live within a budget.

As I look over these various definitions, I kind of feel hopeful. As far as the six noun usage, I can't really claim that I have any contact or application with most of them. Maybe #5, which is showing some promise as I'm working on strengthening my sense of my own limitations. Moving on to the adjective - YES! I've definitely got a strong connection to that one, as I've written about before. I'm a natural born bargain hunter and can count on one hand the amount of times I've bought something at full price. The rest of the list, verbs with or without objects? I suppose I'm able to budget my time, although I've come to realize that multi-tasking is just cramming everything I need to do in too small a period of time and just how difficult it is to do one thing at a time. So, I guess I better be honest and realize my budgeting skills around time are a also work in progress.

Part of the challenge is that when partial employment becomes the main source of income, peppered with whatever freelance work can be fitted in, the fluctuations on a monthly basis can make it challenging to create a workable household budget. Not impossible, just challenging.

If I'm honest with myself, then it's not realistic for me to think that I can simultaneously incorporate all ten of these budget definitions into my life. But I can use them as a starting point for understanding what I don't know, which is obviously quite a bit and I can also commit to a few of them that are doable, three of them to be exact. For this week, I think I can realistically commit to #1, #2 and #10.

1. An estimate, often itemized, of expected income and expense for a given period in the future. Thankfully, our income seems to be coming back into some sort of stabilization, at least approaching what it was before this period of uncertainty. And now that the intense stress has passed, budget planning can happen.

2. A plan of operations based on such an estimate. Again, possible because #1 is now approachable.

3. To subsist on or live within a budget. Even without having created our family budget, I've been doing really well on my 21 Day Financial Fast. My non-essential spending is non-existent and I haven't been inside a  coffee shop, have only bought coffee I've had coupons for, in over a week. I've walked into a few thrift shops, my personal non-essential budget breaker, but have turned around and high tailed it out of there before lots of non-essential items started wooing me. I've kept to a very modest food budget and managed to cook a week's worth of delicious meals (that even the kids ate up) and still have left overs to get us through to the middle of the week, even with the extravagance of having a friend over for dinner. It felt great to share a simple meal made from what was in the refrigerator, as opposed to running out to the store. And I came across a great food shopping tip to pass along - I read about a mother who buys a $600 grocery store gift card for her family of four and makes it last the entire month. She expressed initial fear that she run out before the month's end, but with the right planning, she's made it work. I was inspired by her example and while we are a family of five, which pushes our monthly food bill up a bit from hers, and the fact can't quite plunk down that amount of dough in one fell swoop, I can take away some lessons. We could break it down into two parts. I like the challenge of having to make it work, and it would satisfy definitions 1, 2 and 3.

Many of our other budgetary items are fixed, but food? Even if I can just commit to addressing our second largest and most fluid part of our budget, our food costs, then that would be the biggest step toward instilling some financial sanity. I like that. Feeding our budget by budgeting our feeding. Not limiting the quality or nutrition of our food budget; after all, we have three small and fast growing children, but I know that our food budget has long been the bane of our household budget ills. Shopping without lists, not using coupons, impromptu meals instead of weekly meal planning, shopping when hungry or with hungry (and bored) children. All of those items are ones we can change and I've begun to see, after two weeks, the positive impact of shifting from the negative toward the positive.

  • Meal planning. I've made new dishes I never would have made without planning, not to mention cutting down on unnecessary trips to the store, which has had a positive impact on our gas and car usage. 
  • Cutting AND using coupons. We make this a family affair. The kids help cut the coupons and on the way back to the car after shopping, we hunker down over the receipt and see how much we saved. The next step is to take these savings and put them into a family "mad money" fund like my medical examiner/electrician friend told me she did with her family.
  • Eating before shopping. Good for the waist line, great for the pocket book. 
  • Involving the kids. I can't even count the amount of times I've left completely full shopping carts in aisles and left the market after three tired and/or bored children have pushed me to my limits. Now, either I go to the store by myself, which these days is like a trip to the Bahamas, or I make sure they all have specific roles and duties for when they accompany me. One is the holder of the coupons. Another is the finder of the bargains. The third is the sorter of the coupons. It works and we end up having fun together, rather than it being just another chore. Plus, as I'm trying to give them some kind of financial education, going to the market is a great place to do some on the spot training, with aisles of items to talk about quantity, cost comparison and quality. 
The whole budget process is about learning, trying and trying again.

All right, so I feel a little bit better than when I started this post. I feel like I'm finally not running away from my budget fear, and just the act of looking up the word has cast new meaning and allowed me to get back to square one with a bit more gentleness and self-love. 

And I just looked back up to my list of budget definitions and realize that do have a personal connection to one of the definitions - noun #6 - a small bag; pouch - but I think I sold it at my last yard sale. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day Morning and Yellow Slips of Legal Paper - A love post to my beloved

Last night, just before we fell asleep, my eyes flew open.

"I forgot to get the girls' a Valentine's Day present."

Jack had one leg under the covers and took a deep breath. "Where should I go?" It was nearly midnight. "Walgreens...," I answered quietly. He sighed again and got dressed and headed out into the night. I fell asleep.

In the morning, just as I was waking up, three warm bodies appeared in our bed. "Happy Valentine's Day, Mama." I kissed their foreheads and we cuddled in bed, our normal Sunday morning routine. I kissed them again and rolled out from under the covers to have my coffee and as I came into the kitchen, I saw three heart decorated cups on the kitchen table. Inside each were small books of Valentine's temporary tattoos and chocolate cover, heart-shaped marshmallows. Tucked in there as well were small pieces of yellow legal paper with these words:

"Will you be my Valentine? You're ours forever. Love, Papa and Mama."

I sipped my coffee and smiled at this wonderful man I'm lucky to share this life with. Not only did he go out just minutes before collapsing from another ordinary exhausting day, but he managed to pick the perfect (and highly affordable) gifts, AND shared the giving of the gifts with me. Not to mention let me take the first, and strongest, cup of coffee.

The girls tumbled into the kitchen and they saw the cups on the table. Their eyes widened and their faces lit up with smiles. They each took out their yellow slips of paper and one by one, read the loving words, written in their father's unique handwriting, a script I've loved seeing on paper for 25 years. Then they took turns reading them out loud and flipping through their tattoo books. They all hugged their papa and within five minutes at least three different tattoos were on their cheeks, hands and arms. They clutched their gifts, hugged Jack again and then Julea said, "I'm keeping this piece of paper forever."

As parents, we often wonder what our children will remember, fearing that the not so good, times like we've had for the last few weeks, will overtake the good. But this morning, waking up to three toasty and delicious Valentines, and witnessing their deep love for their father, put that fear to rest. This morning also helped me remember that small gestures bring forth so much - a chocolate heart, stickers and a small piece of yellow paper and a Valentine's Day that will be remembered forever.

Happy Valentine's Day

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why I Love the Olympics

I know it's corny, but I love the Olympics. From the opening ceremony to the time the torch is extinguished, I'm transfixed. And I always cry when the parade of countries begins, especially the ones represented by one or two athletes. Throat chokes up and the tears just stream.

I remember, with horror, the tragedy unfolding at the 1972 Munich massacre. I was at summer camp and we waited, transfixed, as news of the hostage and then murder of the Israeli athletes, which occurred during our own mini-Olympics, known as the Maccabee Games. When I was in my 20s, the 1984 Olympics were held in Los Angeles. I got tickets for rowing, being held at Lake Casitas, where we'd vacationed when I was a child. I attended track and field and sat slack-jawed at the legendary Edwin Moses.

Why? Why do I love the Olympics? It's more than patriotism, because I don't really care about country of origin. 

I love the Olympics because beyond the obvious display of excellence, what has always amazed me is the single-minded attention to one thing and especially now, I'm drawn to this way of living. My sense is that most of the athletes could have excelled at any number of sports, and probably did, but at a certain point they had to make a choice and commit to that choice. 

I did that for a long time, a single-minded focus on one goal, so I understand that frame of mind, when a passion and a skill come together toward obtaining that one goal. In my case it was theater, although I never achieved the heights that many of the athletes I'm watching achieve. Just arriving at any Olympics game represents such a high level of achievement, a fact that I try to emphasize to my kids. I wince every time I hear these words: "Second place is just the first place loser." Blech. 

How do we measure success? For me, winning is more a state of mind than anything else. And these days, my idea of winning has changed from the broad stroke of fame and fortune to more modest ways:
  • Waking up to freshly brewed coffee that is really strong
  • My kids getting up in the morning all in a good mood and all wanting the same thing for breakfast
  • Finding a matching pair of earrings
  • More than a quarter of a tank of gas in the car
  • Locating the top to my car coffee mug
  • Having enough hot water for four showers before 7:30 a.m.
Get the point? I'm starting to. 

In my life, as well as in the life of so many parents, every day is an Olympic achievement. Just getting out the door each morning ready for our days feels like a slick ride down the slalom run. At school drop off I kiss the kids good-bye, wish them a great day and say a little prayer that we made it to 8:20 a.m. in tact and with  positive energy. And every afternoon when I gather them up, we breathe a collective sigh of relief at our little family unit team making it through it in our separate ways and so happy to reconnect for what is left of the day. 

I celebrate the Olympics because they represent an ideal how many people from different places around the world can  join together for 16 days with the common goals of peace and excellence. They stand for the heights we can achieve and it's great to be reminded of what we can attain, like great music, art and literature. But for most of us mere mortals, as well as for the Olympiads when they retire and must find another way to live their lives, learning to bless the daily successes is equally important. 

All of these little ways of winning add up to equal a great day, or at least one that is a bit easier than others. If I can add in doing work that has meaning, heart-felt communication between myself and those I love, as well as those I cross paths with, then I'm ready to take my spot on any one of those podiums and drape that gold, silver or bronze medal around my neck. 

And you know what? Take a string of those great days and you know what you have? Your life.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Our Friends In Need Live Right Next Door

I've written before about how much simple kindnesses can make the difference when you're struggling. Today, I'm sending out big waves of kindness energy to encourage everyone to reach out to someone who is hurting, in one way or another. I'm talking about in your own neighborhood, your group of Facebook friends, your work colleagues, your family. There's not a day that goes by where I'm not hearing about someone in my immediate community needs help, support or a kind word. And as we enter Valentine's Day, we express big gestures of love with flowers, jewelry, or my personal favorite, chocolate.

At my kids' school, like many schools, there's a firm policy and one we could all learn from. Every child in every class gives and gets each other Valentines. We're given a class list and while there might be grumbling about having to write out 26 names, when the day comes for the giving out and getting, no one is excluded or left to the chance of who is friends with who on any given day. Regardless of whether they are all friends, they all extend a bit of kindness to one another. The universal smiles on all the faces as they came out of school, as well as the pleasure in reading each card to me after school, is proof that they feel that little bit of kindness that adds up to one big and good feeling.

I've been touched over the last two weeks, as I've shared my personal story of facing my financial demons, with the acts of kindness, support and encouragement. These came in the form of a phone call, a warm cup of tea, an email or a job lead. We have so many and varied ways of reaching out to each other, there are no excuses for not spreading a little kindness in person and electronically.

I've also been disappointed by those close to me who have turned their eyes away from my situation, an act that hurts more than nasty comments anonymously posted on my blog. But I've had to extend kindness to those as well and hope that their disdain, or fear of my current set of circumstances, will enable them to learn more about their capacity to care, instead of ignore. Saying no is fine, but let the center of that no be filled with kindness.

We live in a time where we're faced with so much tragedy, close at home and far away. It's overwhelming. And while it is vital that we respond to the serious needs of those in far away places, it is just as important to focus on those really close at hand. I've known too many people, as I'm sure we all have, who have a strong sense of global kindness, but who don't bring that awareness to the people on their block, or even in their homes.

And I'd like to say a word to those who are in conflict with one another. Disagreements, no matter how large or small, are never an excuse for a lack of kindness. Especially if there are children involved. Take a deep adult breath and bring some kindness into the picture. You might get over the difficult patch, but your children will carry it forever and into their relationships, work and lives. Friendships go through all sorts of ups and downs, jobs end and marriages fall apart, but your ability to respond with kindness is what will prove you able to withstand these inevitable relational twists and turns.

We can't always fix the big picture. In fact, we rarely do. But we can ask ourselves if there is one part of that picture that we can help with. If a friend is unemployed, forward every job lead that comes your way. If a single parent is struggling to take care of her or his kids, send over a hot meal, offer to drop off some extra groceries or invite the kids out for a play date to the ice rink. If there's an older person living on your block, make a point to ask them if you can shovel the walk after a snow storm. If you've been able to help out a friend or family member in need and that need continues, which it often does, don't stop. Now is the time to see how you can give a little bit more, be it time, patience, friendship or a shoulder to cry on.

My dad set a high bar for me as a child. He helped those he could in whatever ways he was able, with very little expectation of what we now refer to as our personal return on investment or ROI. He did it because he knew what it was to be without, alone and hungry. He knew what it was like to not be without his family, some who he was able to reunite with and some he never saw again. My dad might have disagreements with people, even with his brothers, or other family members, but he was always willing to work it out and always, regardless of any ill feelings, to help when they were in need. He did the same with his employees and plenty of strangers. And what he knew, he passed on to me. Share your kindness as you are able to, in whatever way you are able to do it.

Make the choice everyday to be kind, to those you love, like and especially to those you don't, even if it is only in your mind. It all adds up.

"Wherever there is a human being there is an opportunity for kindness." -- Seneca 

Good Shabbos.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Life as a Fire Hose and Tending to Two Gardens

I recently gave a talk on “Tweet, Friend and Connect: Social Media Trends in the Insurance Industry,” for the fine folks at Peak Performance Insurance Ski Conference 2010. I stayed at the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa, a lush hotel in Avon, Colorado that was a dream in dark wood, stainless steel, marble bathroom with a huge glassed in shower, pristine white linens, and much to one of my daughter’s delight, two flat screen TVs.

Prior to my presentation, I listened to two really knowledgeable men, obvious experts in their areas of insurance. I studied their styles, one quite informal, stepping off the platform and walking the floor like a talk show host. The other fellow was not comfortable with presenting and was struggling with the altitude, but he found his humor and pace after admitting his fear and trepidation at public speaking. I was third in line and stood at the back of the room, something I like to do in order to get a sense of who is listening and those who are on their PDAs or netbooks.

As the conference host introduced me, I headed up to the podium and took a minute to look at the crowd. I asked them about who had a computer, a pda, internet access and put them at ease when I pretended to walk off stating, “all right, I guess I’ve done my job.” But when I stepped back behind the podium, a different energy level hit in. After 30 minutes, I had given them a great deal of specifically useful information and had achieved my goal of sparking their interest, despite a very healthy degree of cynicism. After all, these are insurance folks; they’re in the business of risk analysis, so I didn’t expect them to drink the social media punch in one gulp. I let them take little sips, challenging them to articulate to their customers, industry and colleagues why they weren’t participating. They nodded their heads and smiled. I was asked to stay for the panel and I finished with a great deal of satisfaction at a successful time.

But when I stepped into the elevator, I held the door for a gentleman. The doors closed and he said, “Wow, you were like a fire hose up there. A real fire hose.” I laughed and thanked him, saying it was a lot of information to pack into 30 minutes. I got off at my floor and had a good laugh when I got back to my temporary palace.

A fire hose? I’m not sure the gentleman meant it as a compliment or a criticism, but as I drove back home, it certainly got me thinking about my energy expenditure. I have an enormous amount of energy and always have struggled with the balance between expenditure and renewal. If being a fire hose means constantly putting out fires, then hell yes, that would be me. And of course, because I’m so focused on the state of my financial state, I’ve been thinking of this description as it relates to my relationship with money.

Am I a financial fire hose? Yes, I’d have to say, yes, that would be a good description. If a fire hose means either being turned on full force or shut off, yeah, I’ve done that back and forth between spending way too much and not spending at all. Sort of a binge and purge relationship money; I have it, I spend it. I don’t have it, I expend all my energy trying to get it.

Just like the weatherization process that is now allowing our 90% furnace to operate at its’ most efficient energy output, I need to review my fire hose tendency and see if there isn’t a more efficient way to expend my energy output. 

So how do I transform myself from fire hose to let’s say, a more sustainable drip irrigation system, where the water goes where it’s needed when it’s needed and in the right amounts and distributed evenly.

Granted, it’s been a particularly hard winter and spring is hinting at me around the corner. I’m itching to get my hands into the dirt. But the metaphor is a good one and appropriate to what I’m trying to do. By tilling the ground of my life, of my finances. To weed out the noxious plants, or the plants that didn’t make it through the winter. To take the time to plan my financial garden. If I turn on the hose with full force, I flood the new seeds and overwhelm the soil. If I ignore it, then I risk allowing the ground to dry up and to will have wasted my time, energy and money.

It’s the same thing with my financial garden. I’ve been sticking to my personal 21 Day Financial Fast and it’s been a good experience this week. I’ve only gone shopping for food twice, school supplies once and have cut down on our driving. We baked Valentine’s Day goodies for the girls’ classes and they chipped in their allowance for their much desired store bought cards. We created a fun meal plan and have even come up with a new way to cook ground turkey! I’ve identified the credit cards that need to be paid down and have a plan to begin that when our work situation gains more momentum, which I’m happy to say is happening.

But I need more help. I recognize that the fast is just a cleansing process, but like any fast, it’s way too easy to go back to the habits that brought about the fast in the first place. So I’m exploring what free financial education classes I can gain access to, one that doesn’t require me to pay for a suite of tools or sell anything, but one that will give me the real life tools to plant and tend to my financial garden just as it is – small.

This spring I’ll be planting two victory gardens, the humble vegetable and herb garden outside my kitchen window, and the financial one. Maybe if I can do this and channel my fire hose personality into a really effective and water conserving one, both gardens will grow as lush as it is in my dreams and intentions, and will be enough to care for my family.