Sunday, September 25, 2011

Letter To A Peace-Centered Friend

Hello My Friend,
I have been observing you in a far less stalker sort of way than that sounds.

I have noticed that you have had many successes with finding your inner peace, your time to re-center, your zen. I have recently discovered a desire to learn the ways of Buddhism. I am not seeking to convert from Christianity, just to find those Buddhist practices that I can incorporate into my regular daily routine as an over-stressed, over-stretched, out-of-shape, out-of-my-mind-sometimes, suburban mother and wife.

Please help me.

Know that I am happy with my life and for the most part, the way I live it. And at my core, I am being true to who I am. Changes will not come quickly or easily, if ever. But I am willing to try.

I cannot and will not, give up my worldly possessions. I will go as far as to purge more than is comfortable.

I cannot and will not, leave me family for months at a time to find myself though I will be more than happy to get away for a weekend ;-)

I cannot and will not, change who I am because for all my flaws I do like me, I just need a tweek. Well, maybe more than a tweek.

I want to learn to breathe and relax and center myself. I want to find time in my day to read and learn and grow. I want to learn to unwind and detox and generally be good to myself in a more healthful and productive way than treating myself to a Venti Pumpkin Spice Latte and a piece of pound cake.

I want to learn how to become a better person, so I can be a better mother, wife, friend, me. And I believe, the way to do that, is to learn from your successes as someone who embodies inner peace.

It's as if you glide through your days. For all that you do as a mother, wife, business woman, volunteer, world traveler you do it with an ease and grace. You always find time for yourself and yet, your family never seems to lack for your attention and affections. True, your home is not pristine, but that only serves to prove that some things are truly superficial and ultimately not important. [I have to be very honest, I'm not going to be able to give up on my "life at right angles" lifestyle, so you'll just have to work my lessons around that personality trait.]

And that's what I'm hoping this will be for me... life lessons.

I've gone on and on about what I need from you, I know. I have very little to offer in return that you would find of value.

Except my friendship.

Which, can only improve if I learn to be a better me, so really, you'd be helping yourself in the end ;-)

Thank you my friend.
My Best (and hopefully getting better),

The Ring

In October of 1994, my then boyfriend gave me a beautiful engagement ring. A perfect 1.25 karat solitaire diamond filled with fire sitting in a gold princess setting. I would stare at it for years after.

On our wedding day, I added it to it, a gold and white gold band that had been my mother's wedding ring when she and my father were still married. My idea was to give the ring a good home. And I have.

Sadly though, since I'm gained so much weight over 16 years of marriage, I can no long wear either. In fact, I took both of them off my swollen fingers during my pregnancy and have not been able to get them back on. I've, embarrassingly enough, worn them on my pinkie for my sister's weddings since. Other than that, they remain in their box, in the safe.

A few months after my daughter was born, my husband suggested I look for a new band. It didn't have to be a replacement wedding band, but a "mommy" band. I found one I fell in love with. A three band rolling ring with two bands of silver (one of each of us) and one band of gold (for my daughter). I have worn it on my left hand ring finger ever since.

Until Thursday.

Since working at the local elementary school, I come home from work with grimy hands. I usually take my ring off to wash my hands and then give the ring a good scrub. But not this week. What I remember is taking it off as usual and thinking for the last three days that it was in the same place I left it. But it's not there. Did I actually leave it there? Did I put it somewhere else? Did I lose it along the way?

It's gone.

I made a thorough scan of all the places it could have been. Now is the time when I have to start looking in all the places that make no sense at all. And that is just too many places. My head hurts.

And my heart hurts.

In the meantime, my bare finger is a constant reminder that I was careless. I don't deserve to find it. That's the way I feel right now.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Saving Money One Unpurchased Item At A Time

I have a list. A list of things, high ticket items, that I would like one day to do or own or provide. On that list are things like European castle tour, vacation home, private school. The list once included (for 9 years) renovate kitchen. Yes, that's right, it took 9 years to get that one off the list. And if you asked my husband, he would say that the list topper is a sailboat... between you and me, I will put it on the top of list to avoid the discussion but it will always get bumped ;-)

My husband has a very good job and provides well for us. I have several part-time jobs so I can keep my mommy schedule. We are not short on income. Unfortunately, we are not short on out-go either. At it's core, our spending habits have not changed much since our twenties, pre-marriage, pre-house, pre-children. Old habits die hard and we are spenders.

If I was to take a hard look at everything we have, weed out what hasn't been used or touched or seen in years, boxed it all up and sold it or gave it away, you probably couldn't tell anything was missing because we would still have a house full of stuff. I'm guessing that's probably standard policy for most Americans. We are consumers and we all have too much - most certainly way more than we need.

Here's a question: How many people are in your immediate family, the people who eat in your house everyday? For us, it's 3. How many plates do you have? For us, it's 12 dinner, 12 salad, assorted plastic, assorted holiday themed... do you see where I'm going with this? We only NEED 3. And while I appreciate not having to do the dishes after every meal or having extra plates for guests, different courses, the dog's scraps, we do not need more than the one plate in front of each of us for each meal.

That little exercise aside, we (my little family and the global American 'we') yearn for more. I've seen it over and over again and not just on my own bank statement but in the spending habits of others. We have a goal in mind, we begin to save, perhaps something happens that requires we dip into that savings to take care of it, we're back to square one and we have nothing to show for it. Now we are feeling a bit pent up like we "need" to shop, some quick satisfaction, some prize for our non-spending and responsible ways... yes, I am fully aware that I sound like an addict.

So we go out and buy. Let me give you a random example of a typical day in my life prior to my newly discovered ability to save. Here goes:
Let's start with a trip to Starbucks where I tell myself, I don't really have a daily habit so every once in a while couldn't hurt and if I get the Tall instead of the Venti, I will have saved a buck or more. With cappuccino in hand, I pass a Payless Shoes. It's not Nordstrom I tell myself. I can buy 10 pairs of shoes in here for the cost of one at the department store. But I don't need 10 I'll just buy 3 (that I didn't need either). Shopping bag in hand and coffee cup drained, I'm ready for lunch. I have plenty of food at home in my newly renovated kitchen, but look, there's a Panera right here, why not pick up some soup and a salad, just this once. Two hours and $50+ dollars spent later, I'm home again feeling not quite guilty but also not quite satisfied. I just threw away $50 on a whim that didn't really fulfill me; but the worst part is, I didn't notice either. This done daily for decades is why I don't currently have a vacation home.

So, enter my friend, K. She and her husband and two kids have 3 houses including one at the beach, 3 cars, and they just came back from two weeks in Alaska where they dog sled and took helicopter rides over glaciers. She wants for nothing, in fact, she always looking to downsize what she has. How does she do it? By "Saving Money One Unpurchased Item At A Time".

In the last year, I have prescribed to her philosophy and it has paid off. No, I still am not planning that European castle tour but when the AC blew in June, I didn't think twice about the multi-thousand dollar bill, because I had the money. I had been squirreling it away.

"How" you ask? By not spending it in the first place. And surprisingly enough, it's actually fun! Not only have I found new ways to spend time I would have spent spending, but I've found an extra income in selling all those purchases that didn't really give me any satisfaction.

I know you're telling yourself, "Oh she was way worse than me. I never spent like her." Yes, yes you did/do. In a million little ways.

It has gotten to the point were the idea of spending even $3 here and $7 there makes me uncomfortable. I want to save and only then spend on the big things. But here's the kicker. When I do allow myself to spend, it is that much more satisfying. It doesn't get watered down with all the other meaningless purchases. It's special.

How about that?

So as I build my little nest egg for future fun and fore go the useless purchases and choose wisely where my money does go in the meantime, I am more secure, more focused, and more satisfied. And certainly happier.

And when there comes a week, like this last one, where every dinner turned out being take out, I chastise myself for not planning my days better, but rest easy in the knowledge that I crave being back on my "stinge binge" and will be soon.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

One Day

We were living where we live now, just outside of DC. I was in my 4th month pregnancy with my daughter and just getting over that first trimester of nausea. My husband was on business in Alaska of all places. As I was ironing a shirt for work and watching old sitcoms on USA Network, the phone rang.

It was my close college friend from Boston. She told me that a plane had flown into one of the twin towers. She asked if I knew anyone who worked there. I did. Many in fact. Family, extended family, friends, extended friends. You can't grow up in NJ without knowing a few dozen people who work on Wall St. I switched the channel to the news. As we reminisced about the time she came to visit me and I took her on a tour of NY, which included the World Trade Center, a second plane flew into the second tower - all in real time, all on air.

In a split second, the situation went from a horrible accident to the realization that we were under attack. I quickly said my goodbyes to my friend (in hindsight, I hope I was thinking enough to thank her for calling me and tell her I love her, but I'm not sure that in the thick of things I remembered to even say goodbye).

My sister-in-law worked in the World Trade Center, but I didn't want to call my mother-in-law (and no doubt wake her) to ask if she had heard from her daughter; she probably didn't even know what happened. Instead, I called my husband's hotel in Alaska.

It was around 4am. The woman at the desk was very nice. I said I was calling from DC, had she heard the news, and that I had to speak with my husband. She had, and she quickly connected me to his room. Of course, he woke up startled. I walked him through what happened as calmly as possible. I told him, "Call your mother. She shouldn't hear this from me." He was worried that I was by myself and pregnant; I was worried that he was working at a military AFB plus with the planes grounded, he wouldn't be home for weeks. We said our "I love you's " and weren't in contact again for two days.

The next few hours were a blur. The towers falling all in real time for the world to see, news of the Pentagon being hit, news of the downed plane in PA which was said to have been in route to the White House. I tried to make calls to all my family and friends in NJ and NY, but I couldn't get through. I tried to call my aunt who worked at the Pentagon. I tried to call my sister who was a student at GWU in DC just blocks from the White House. I couldn't get through to anyone.

I called work and said I was staying home for a few days. They understood given my condition, my husband a country away, and our entire family in the thick of things. It occurred to me that if my husband had been home, he would have been in lockdown in DC since his office was just two blocks from the White House. I preferred that he was in Alaska.

Two days passed and my husband was finally able to get through on the phone. It would be two weeks before he got a flight out of Anchorage. During that time, I was able to contact every one of my family and friends who worked downtown and every one of them, had a story... of running late that morning, of taking the day off to golf because it was so beautiful, of being stuck in traffic, of being the last train out of the WTC station before it was hit (that was my brother-in-law who is a motorman for the PATH train). When all was said and done, I didn't know anyone directly who had died that day. An incredible feat given just how many people I know who worked there or around there. And while I was immensely grateful, I was also plagued. Plagued with the thought of bringing my baby into a world that may be at war.

Six months (and 1 day) to that day, my beautiful daughter was born. And in those six months, I had plenty of time to ponder the world that I was bringing her into. A world where men's hatred not of each other but of each other's ideas could bring them to the point of committing such tremendously horrid acts against one another. A world where men's base animal instincts are acted upon instead of the civilized and rational thoughts we should have achieved over 1000s of years of evolution. A world where I would have to teach my innocent child to be afraid of the unknown instead of seek to learn about it.

We all have a story from that one day. A day that has forever changed us; some for the good, some for the worse. A day that can't be forgotten with time only perhaps looked at with different perspective. I have used that day to remind myself to be the best version of myself each day, to make a memory each day. Admittedly, some days fall short of that goal, but it is in the growing that we become.

I leave the politics and war to the powers that be. My focus is on "if today is my last day, what would I be leaving behind". My hope is that my bright and compassionate daughter be my legacy and that the worst anyone can say about me is that I left behind a sink full of dirty dishes ;-)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

When Mass Makes Sense

This morning my family and I went to mass. We haven't been to church in so long that when I finally found the offering envelopes, I wound up recycling the months of June, July, and August. Yikes!

I am Catholic by baptism and then again by marriage, but the years in between I was raised Protestant. I vowed during Pre-Cana (that's marriage class taught by priests for those of you of other faiths) that I would raise any children Catholic and I am. And while neither adult in the house seems to remember that Sunday is for church, my daughter does and it's important we support that.

I try to get something out of the liturgy. Sometimes, the story is not relatable or the delivery too dry. Sometimes, I just wholeheartedly disagree with what is being said. But then there are days, like today, that it clicks.

Today the sermon was about love. Of all the commandments, "love thy neighbor" reigns above the others. If you love your neighbor, you won't (fill in the blank - steal, kill, covet his wife or ass, you get the picture). If you genuinely care about your fellow man, then you cannot do him harm. It seems fairly simple.

But what if this universal "neighbor" is a jerk? Does things that are annoying? Does things that are mean-spirited? Treats you with disrespect? Am I obligated to love him because the Bible tells me so? (that was a bible song from my youth). The answer is "Yes"... and "No".

As humans, we are flawed. We can shoot to do the right thing in all situations but it is our failure to measure up that makes us human and so we have an automatic "out" card... at least, that's what I got of mass today. Nice, huh?

All kidding aside, my understanding was that I don't have to like that person, I just have to appreciate they have as much right to be here as I do even if they don't think the same of me. And perhaps if I'm nice to them maybe they will be nice to me and in turn, the world will be a nicer place for all just as the commandments had hoped!

Well, seems easy enough. I'm going to try and put that into practice tomorrow when I take my daughter Labor Day Sale shopping. Let's see how many neighbors I can find the love for while we fight over the last pair of shoes in my size ;-)