Getting Back on Your Feet

budget_storyThis may be the hardest part of a financial crisis. It’s officially over – In my case, I got a new job: I start next week and I’m very much looking forward to it. I’m also, frankly, looking forward to getting a real paycheck again!

Unemployment saved me, certainly, and I am most appreciative of the safety net it provided. It would have been an awfully long way down without those benefits. I was fortunate, too, in that I did really want to go to school, and was able to access a federal program called the Worker Initiative Act. This paid my modest tuition and less modest books at the community college, and allowed me to collect unemployment while I was “retraining” for a new career.

I’m just past the midpoint of the last full semester. One more course this summer and I’ll have the AAS in Business Administration. None of those things would have been able to happen without a robust network of assistance, options, and community and personal resources.

I got to breath, grieve, regroup, focus on the future, and keep my house and car… by the skin of my teeth, but I managed.

My new employer is willing to work with me some scheduling accommodations so I can finish in early May – saving me from that tough choice of finishing school or grabbing hold of an opportunity. I’m not being forced into that unpalatable set of choices.

Reality Check

So, with all this good news I’m relaying, why do I say this is the hard part?  Well, the crisis is over, and that means a whole bunch of assumptions and beliefs we hold about how things are supposed to be get triggered – crisis over? Cable TV back on? Paycheck coming? Eating out more often? Work wardrobe needs reburbishing? Ooohh, new clothes and, wait for it, new shoes…

But the difficult reality is that there is no money to these things for a while. Breaking even will be triumph enough for the first few months. So much has gone unattended. Things have been back-burnered, let slide, pushed down the line…. whatever your favorite cliché. To not leap into fresh disaster (another food metaphor: from the frying pan into the fire) takes a very simple task: Planning….

Okay, I take it back, it takes a very complex task: Planning…..

I really is a little of both. Here’s what I want: I want everything that’s been on my wish list for the past 22 months. I want several pairs of new shoes, I need a tune up and new tires for the car, I want home repairs to the floors and gutters, and heavy yard clean-up, and a better television (you know, for with that new cable service. I need to get to the dentist and want to tune up my sewing machine.   I want to rebuild my tattered IRA account start the climb back up from crisis to stability.

This is a lot of expectation to lay on a simple little paycheck. Will this suddenly turn me into a master planner, able to exert unnatural discipline in the face of temptation? I’ll craft the perfect, magical budget that will simply follow itself, that’s how perfect it will be.

Now, back to our reality check:  I didn’t win the lottery, I got hired by a lovely local nonprofit (I won’t mention them by name since I don’t yet know their social media policies).

Please allow me to proclaim again, in all seriousness, I am extremely fortunate. I will enjoy the job I’ve gotten, my skills and talents will be appreciated, I’ll have the magic phrase: paid medical benefits. I will clearly be better off within a few weeks of my start date.

But then what?

I need – more than all those other wants and needs spurting out above here – I need to get a plan and prioritize what I’m going to do.

A Whole New Kind of Pyramid Scheme

pyramid_schemeHere’s where Financial Literacy 101 helps. Begin at the biggies – you know, rent or mortgage, utilities, car payment, regular medical expenses, insurance and so forth. Write down what the cost is each month for the items you know, put a guess in the spots where you don’t know and we’ll return to them later. Get a broad idea of how much it costs to live each month. We’re looking for the basic nut – the amount you must have to stay safe and warm and dry. These items all stay pretty much the same each month, so the financial pyramid now has its base.  The next level is the regular expenses that aren’t the same amount all the time – food, gas, usage-based utilities, etc. These make up the middle chunk of the pyramid. The amounts vary, but they happen each week or month and you can, with a little review of your spending, develop a pretty keen sense of how much these represent each month. NOTE: this is fertile ground for trimming expenses down the line.

Finally, the top of the pyramid. This is the chunk that breaks off and slams you periodically. These expenses represent the apparently random ones that are actually startlingly predictable, but on a longer curve than monthly. Over the course of a year, these expenses are bound to occur. The amount, timing, and particulars may change, but they happen. Imagine driving a car that never needs repair and maintenance? If there were such a thing, we’d all be riding in one.

Here’s one of the big secrets of budget planning: everything we own, everything tangible, is subject to breaking down, wearing out, or becoming obsolete (just think rotary phone if you doubt me). So we’re going to always be in the midst of fixing or replacing one thing or another. Holidays and birthdays roll around with boring predictability (so why do they always take us by surprise?) The question is often pay now or pay later. Regular maintenance reduces long-term repair costs. Setting aside money in advance each month towards these costs reduces stress, credit card interest, late fees, and insanity.

Not a Quick Fix

It can easily take a year of building reserves for these irregular and periodic expenses before you can draw against your own savings to meet an “unexpected” expense. Just keep socking the allotment you’ve determined aside, again and again, until it works. There’s a great moment of pride and relief the first time your car breaks down and it’s like, “so what, big deal. I’ve got the money…. I just need a ride to work while it’s in the shop.”

Starting Now

I haven’t even started work yet. I won’t have a paycheck for several more weeks. I have new expenses to consider and old ones to whittle away at. But all a person can do it begin. Gather the information starting now. Write down the expenses, keep the receipts, think before you buy – oh, and never, never shop when you’re hungry.


Meeting a Commitment

Nearly six months ago I made a commitment to myself and my coach to walk with her to the riverside at our final coaching retreat. This past week I met that commitment. By many standards it wasn’t a long or difficult walk, but for me — at this time in my life — it was substantial. So, on a hot early summer morning, my coach and I, hand in hand, heading down the path to the river. 

Not all experiences that have the potential to be landmark ones live up to their hype. This one did. In quiet beauty the woods and fields welcomed us as we walked. We stopped for a vivid, iridescent blue dragonfly. We gazed at an old barn through a field punctuated by two small trees dense with deep claret leaves. We listened to the hiss and burble of a creek tumbling down the same hill just out of our sight. We shared the space with shaded ferns, tiny mushrooms, wild jasmine and blue and yellow butterflies.

It was hot, I dripped sweat, body parts alternately ached and throbbed. I felt safe and beloved with my coach. The river beckoned and delivered on its promise of cool shade and clear, mountain water dancing over  rocks and through patches of sunshine. An old wooden bench gave me welcomed rest and time to savor the accomplishment.

We practiced a tai chi exercise called the four flowers — and I learned the first pattern which was chrysanthemum.  We felt the breeze, heard the far off deep rumble of a tractor and the high floating song of a bird.  We returned up the steep and rocky path to the lodge. I felt satisfied, and both exalted and exhausted — a heady combination.

Thank you Wendy, for being a skilled, compassionate coach, and a loving friend.

Take Me to The River
Take me to the river.
Take me by the hand and lead me from under
the comfortable arbor of my fears.
Take me to the river.
Walk with me, stumbling, on a new path,
still fettered by the stony present.
Take me to the river.
Talk with me about the shape and texture of the future,
blooming, blooming,
like a chrysanthemum in the sun.

It’s Tarot Tuesday Once Again!

Clinging to the Past

Well, that will learn me! I haven’t been back to my blog site in a month, and thought, “how lovely, I can re-enter easily by drawing a tarot card at the Osho Zen Tarot  site!” So what do I draw, this:  Yuck!  I don’t like it at all.  Which is probably just why I needed to have it pop up for me. 

One big question that runs around in my mind is, what’s the difference between remembering and clinging? If I think about people and events gone by, and I have good or bad feelings in this moment because of my thoughts, is that clinging to the past? 

Maybe it’s about recognizing that it’s my thoughts in the here and now about the past that are causing the feelings I have. I’m having the feelings right now, after all.  But, feelings slip away after being felt, and new ones, and new thoughts and sights and sounds take their place.

There’s where my opportunity to cling or release comes. I thought my thought, remembered my memory, felt my feeling… now, what’s next?

Struggling to bring my blog into my present is what’s in front of me at the moment.  This wonderful on-line journal has served me so well!  I hope it’s been even half the pleasure for y’all as it has for me.  I’m not closing up shop — but rather dusting things off, ready for a new season of sharing. 

So, thanks for the memories yet made, and the thoughts and feelings not yet experienced — future, here we come.


From the Zen Osho Tarot commentaries:

These tenses–past, present and future–are not the tenses of time; they are tenses of the mind. That which is no longer before the mind becomes the past. That which is before the mind is the present. And that which is going to be before the mind is the future. Past is that which is no longer before you. Future is that which is not yet before you. And present is that which is before you and is slipping out of your sight. Soon it will be past…. If you don’t cling to the past…because clinging to the past is absolute stupidity. It is no longer there, so you are crying for spilled milk. What is gone is gone! And don’t cling to the present because that is also going and soon it will be past. Don’t cling to the future–hopes, imaginations, plans for tomorrow–because tomorrow will become today, will become yesterday. Everything is going to become yesterday. Everything is going to go out of your hands. Clinging will simply create misery. You will have to let go.

Osho The Great Zen Master Ta Hui Chapter 10


The figure pictured in this card is so preoccupied with clutching her box of memories that she has turned her back on the sparkling champagne glass of blessings available here and now. Her nostalgia for the past really makes her a ‘blockhead’, and a beggar besides, as we can see from her patched and ragged clothes. She needn’t be a beggar, of course–but she is not available to taste the pleasures that offer themselves in the present. It’s time to face up to the fact that the past is gone, and any effort to repeat it is a sure way to stay stuck in old blueprints that you would have already outgrown if you hadn’t been so busy clinging to what you have already been through. Take a deep breath, put the box down, tie it up in a pretty ribbon if you must, and bid it a fond and reverent farewell. Life is passing you by, and you’re in danger of becoming an old fossil before your time!

Moth-Eaten No More

With a little help from your friends, you can do practically anything!

The Yucky Moths

My old moth-eaten rug is gone. Finally!  Carolyn (bless her heart — for real) came over last night to make it so. We had some nachos and then went to work. She cut up the rug and disposed of the nasty pieces in a heavy-duty plastic trash bag. I was going to use the bits as weed suppressants in the garden they grossed me out too much.

After much picking up and sweeping, and a little rearranging, my main room is looking much lighter and cleaner today. What a relief! I swear I’ll never neglect things like that again. It just creates too much of a problem when it’s time to face things.

But I truly do feel a great weight has lifted and I can now proceed with the Big Clean, a small step at a time, with a little help from my friends.

Crafty, Cookin’ Sunday

I’m taking a short catch-my-breath break.

I’ve been busy making space for my beading supplies, which have been stored away for several years. I’ve got everything arranged, but not yet neatened up — maybe I’ll post a photo when it’s all pretty.

I’m also finishing up a short grocery list so I can get cooking, too. A nice meat sauce is on the menu, as well as starting slow-cooker 3-bean chili (recipe to be posted once I create it☺).

Hope everyone is having the Sunday they wanted, too!

Completion…or Not?



Don’t you love the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle?

The satisfaction of finishing something is an important motivator along the way — eventually we get to that last piece, enter the last word in the crossword, set the last stitch, hammer the final nail…

But in daily life, those moment of completion rarely get savored for long. The next project pops up, often even before we’re finished with the last!

Delighting in those moments of satisfaction is so important, though. It strengthens us for the next journey, the next challenge.

So take the moment to breathe in satisfaction and pleasure. Enjoy that sense of accomplishment. Even knowing that it won’t last, that it’s just a moment’s pause in the journey, relish that inner smile, stretch those moments out with everything you’ve got… then take another breath and move on!

Osho Zen Tarot’s interpretation of Completion:

This is the way of Zen, not to say things to their completion. This has to be understood; it is a very important methodology. Not to say everything means to give an opportunity to the listener to complete it.All answers are incomplete. The master has only given you a direction… By the time you reach the limit, you will know what is going to remain. This way, if somebody is trying to understand Zen intellectually he will fail. It is not an answer to the question but something more than the answer. It is indicating the very reality….The buddha nature is not something far away – your very consciousness is buddha nature. And your consciousness can witness these things which constitute the world. The world will end but the mirror will remain, mirroring nothing.

   aaaaa                               Osho Joshu: The Lion’s Roar Chapter 5
Here, the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle is being put into its place, the position of the third eye, the place of inner perception.Even in the ever-changing flow of life there are moments in which we come to a point of completion. In these moments we are able to perceive the whole picture, the composite of all the small pieces that have occupied our attention for so long. In the finishing, we can either be in despair because we don’t want the situation to come to an end, or we can be grateful and accepting of the fact that life is full of endings and new beginnings.Whatever has been absorbing your time and energy is now coming to an end. In completing it, you will be clearing the space for something new to begin. Use this interval to celebrate both – the end of the old and the coming of the new.

Mid-April Madness

Just a few days ago I took the picture of the magnolia tree in flower that I posted. Now the flowers are all spent, the tree has greened up, and the next stage of Spring is here.

Mid-April madness is a mind-set that always comes upon me at this lovely pause in Spring’s sweet progress.

Spring in the Blue Ridge

Things are green, but still slightly golden around the edges. Flowers are still tender — not yet having achieved the profusion and brilliance of a southern summer.

The Blue Ridge Mountains are not yet deep green (they are still pale along the high ridges, where Spring is running a week or so behind).

Misty mornings still hold a touch of frost behind my house, though the birds wake me earlier each day.

I’m still filled with the enthusiasm of Spring. Once Summer arrives in earnest, I wilt way too easily to enjoy the gardens I plan at this time of year. I will soon seek the cool dimness of air-conditioned rooms, instead of baking in the garden’s heat.

For now, though, grandiose plans are the order of the day.

last summer's garden

I visualize spilling containers of herbs, brilliant pots of petunias and zinnias, hot pink roses, and climbing trumpet vines with dancing hummingbirds.

I imagine cool, deep green shadows under arbors heavy with grapes… my magical garden that needs more sweat and muscle than I can provide.

But, I’ve got a plan!

I cook.  In fact, I cook really really well. 

So, I’ve lined up garden and yard work on the barter system for this year. 

One friend to mow, one to trim hedges, one to weed and mulch, and so forth. I’ll make gallons of red sauce, quarts of chicken in wine sauce, pots of vegetable soup, pounds of artichoke salads, baked ziti, casseroles, stews, stir-fries — you name it, I’ll cook it. 

My garden elves will be well-fed, and I’ll finally have the garden my mid-April madness and imagination dictate.

Buon Appetito, garden crew!

Training Time

I’m in the middle of a fabulous 2-day training on facilitating a strategic planning model called the Theory of Change.

So far it’s been fascinating. I’m excited at the prospect of bringing this knowledge back to my agency to use in our internal planning. There may even be opportunities to offer my newly learned skills to other organizations involved in similar projects.

Theory of Change starts with establishing the final desired outcome — in other words, it starts with Intention — and then digs down and down to identify and map out the all the “necessary and sufficient” preconditions that must be in place to achieve the final desired outcome.

While it shares a lot with traditional logic models and other planning tools, some how it turns these on their heads — or inside out — and encourages a perspective that is a structured, but creative, kind of thinking.

Maybe Theory of Change is the sonnet of planning — infinite variety in a tightly constructed format.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s sessions and to exploring different ways to use this tool.

Learning new stuff is so great!

Teaching the Teachers: embracing your inner elder

For about 10 years I’ve taught adults about managing money as the central part of my job. I’ve loved it completely — teaching is incredibly fulfilling and creative for me. I’ve created the curricula and materials and developed the flow the the classes — including lots of laughter and compassion, but very little “you shoulds” and no judgment.

In the last few years, several things began to shift. The agency I work for has grown in response to the increased need for our services as well as high-quality management and the excellence of our work with clients.

me teaching in 2001

me teaching in 2001

So, these days I have a staff. It’s been a gradual growth for my department, first one educator, who was already experienced, then others with different experience, and finally a new instructor, who is incredibly smart and quick, but hasn’t taught at all in this kind of setting.

It took me awhile to come to grips with the changing needs of my position. Part of that lack was because of Dennis’ death last fall and my subsequent lack of focus on work. Part of it is resistance to the change.  As I said, I’ve loved teaching adults about money. I didn’t want to stop doing that.  However, the demands of department administration, community obligations, and senior management were leaving me stretched in too many directions.

With none of my activities getting all the attention they deserved, my wonderful staff was being left too much to their own devices. No discipline issues or problems — they are all amazing, self-reliant and dedicated people — but they simply didn’t have enough of my support and attention for their professional development.

Since I believe so strongly that happiness is largely a choice and we can train ourselves to be happy, I started looking for how to make this necessary transition a positive one for us all. And I found the answer.

I’m no longer primarily a teacher of students, I am now mostly a teacher of teachers.  It sounds very simple but it’s a bit magical too. I’m largely self-taught, with no academic credentials but gobs of experience. Transmitting the skills I developed intuitively over the years is a fascinating process.

In a way, I’m deconstructing myself. I’ll teach a segment of a class to my staff (one or several) and then process what I did and why. It’s sometimes about body language, or word choice. Sometimes about pacing and emphasizing certain content points. I’ll talk about the depth of knowledge behind a simple statement and how that knowledge informs the confidence with which I speak. I can analyze and transmit the path I took to reach an approach and we’ll discuss options for making the class their own.

It is so much fun! My staff is happier and more confident (I think) and I have a new peace as I face reams of data and reporting because I know my experience and joy in teaching is spreading out there, one instructor at a time.

Cloth Napkins & Resolutions

Good stewardship seems like such an important trait, yet one I habitually struggle with. I don’t tend what I own well enough, and I create more waste than I am comfortable with. I’ve tried incremental improvement with mixed success, and think it’s time for another step.

The inspiration for this is a post I just read at on using cloth napkins. This echoed my happy experience of switching back to cloth a couple of years ago, and inspired me to ask “what other easy adjustments can I make?”

I’ve been a lazy environmentalist: unless it was easier than tossing it away, I found it hard to stick to my resolutions. Sure, I recycle cans and bottles, but I sometimes throw away the junk mail (gasp!). I use cloth napkins and natural dish liquid, but I leave the water on while I brush my teeth. I garden, but often fail to feed the compost pile because the kitchen scraps get smelly and gross before I empty them out. I don’t litter, but my car’s a god-awful mess. I drive too much, but I do have a nifty, high-mileage Scion. I use all compact fluorescent bulbs, but there are 2 I leave on 24/7 so I’m never in the dark, even by accident.

I could go on…. in fact, I will.  I feed the birds (good) but buy the seed anywhere I find it cheap, even Walmart (bad). I wash the clothes in cold water (good), but use the dryer (bad). I often toss away those stupid 20 oz. water bottles when I’m on the road (just plain bad). I bring my own bags (good), but use disposable plastic containers for leftovers (bad).

Does anyone else have the same love/hate relationship with good stewardship? My younger friends all seem so in tune with being good tenders of our planet — many of them in a loving and nonjudgmental way that makes me want to do better. Some of my sins I attribute to imperfect re-conditioning from a profligate childhood, environmentally speaking. Others to sheer laziness.

Resolved: I will begin composting again and recycling paper more responsibly.

I’m learning to be kind to myself in the long haul as well as the short, so I will give myself an ample learning curve and commit to changing my composting habits a step at a time.

1) Clean out the kitchen compost bin I used last year and replace the charcoal filter.

2) Begin to save all the non-meat kitchen scraps and small yard waste.

3) Actually turn the compost bin by mid-summer.

4) Use the compost (the step I forgot last summer).

After I’ve started the composting habit again, I will become more conscientious about paper. I have an old plastic bin in the yard whose lid is long gone. If I clean it up, it would be a great place to stash junk mail and magazines. Newspapers have to be bundled separately for pick-up, so they can go in the bin I already have.

Long experience with effective goal-setting has taught me two major skills. Accountability and imposing a deadline. Therefore, I announce to the world at large that I will get the compost started again tonight, and begin recycling paper by the end of the week.

I’ll report back on how my better stewardship plan goes.