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Money … to spend, to save, to make, to donate, to put in its place

Money — the M in HOME — is a commodity that affects everyone’s lives. You may have a lot, you may have a little, you may inherit some, you may work hard for it, you may invest it, you may waste it. It may make you comfortable, it may make you complacent, it may make you reckless. You may always be looking to make more, you may be happy with what you’ve got, you may spend more than you have. You might use it to travel and study, you might only have enough to rent a room and look out the window. You might use money to eat well, you might only have enough to eat occasionally. You can buy works of art, you can buy cigarettes and crystal meth. You might obsess about money, you may not give it much thought, but do know that money will play a role in your life.

That said, a lot of people at this moment are worrying and/or wondering about money because their place of business is closed, they cannot pay their bills, they have no idea what’s ahead. And while I do want to speak at some point about how to view and assess your financial situation and your handling of it, right now I will not talk about money per se but about five tips to help you get and maintain a rhythm in daily life. These suggestions are helpful at any time but can really make a difference when times are hard.

  1. Make your bed. Seriously, whether you are sleeping in a king-sized poster bed or on a park bench, make your bed once you get up (even if that only means to move your pillow to your cart). Doing so signifies that your day has begun and you have decided so. It’s very easy to get sloppy and mopey and leave the bed or the couch or the sleeping bag undone, but taking the three minutes or so to make or wrap it all up begins your day on an organized note in which you are in control.
  2. Reevaluate your schedule and adjust accordingly. I know there is a school of thought that everyone should wake up early, be productive in the morning, eat three squares a day, and turn into the sack by 10:00 p.m. If that schedule fits your day and you find it fits you, go for it. If it makes you irritable or leaves you exhausted, change it. People have slept and waked and worked at all hours since the beginning of time (see Luke 2:8-11). You the night owl can be as productive at 1:30 a.m. as your day lark neighbor is at 1:30 p.m. and both of you can be successful. You might be one of those people who feel best eating only two meals a day or you may rather work on weekends and have Wednesdays free or perhaps you dig seeing the sunrise on your morning jog. Find out what is your timing and work with it.
  3. Do not overindulge. If you are going through a tough time, you are most likely anxious, worried, angry, and worn-out, yet still need to be clearheaded enough to look for work, budget, and make other decisions. It is going to be a lot easier to do so if you are not nursing a hangover, struggling to zip up your pants, or cursing your maxed-out credit cards. While it may seem the perfect time to treat yourself — with a hot fudge sundae, a double gin and tonic, those cool new boots — it is a time to develop frugal methods. No, it may not be your first choice, but moderation is the smart choice during hard times and it will make being to indulge all that much sweeter.
  4. Give yourself a challenge. When was the last time you had a deadline or goal to meet that was not from school, work, or the government? When was the last time you tested yourself? Can you go one month without sweets? Meat? A glass of wine? Can you save $500 by the end of the year? Can you learn enough Spanish to order in a Mexican restaurant at Christmas time? Can you do 100 push-ups per day for one month? Can you tell a joke a day everyday from here until Halloween? A challenge is a great way to evaluate and improve yourself at the same time.
  5. Develop a sense of adventure for ordinary days. We often fall into routines that become ruts simply because we don’t see the magic in the mundane. Okay, your days are made up of a commute, your job, grocery shopping, dealing with friends or family (maybe kids), washing dishes, paying bills. Pretend you are a spy. Test yourself on your way to work: What is coming up at the next corner? What businesses are two blocks up? How many coffee shops do you pass? Churches? It is amazing how little we notice and how much we miss on a daily commute. At the market, what new veggie or herb can you throw in a salad? Take a peek at those jars with foreign writing on them. What is in the discount bin? Can you switch around your daily schedule at work? Take a break outside instead of in the lounge? Read a poem (or write one) while you eat lunch? What is the favorite color/movie/meal of your friend or sibling or son? Find out what they would do if they could do whatever they wanted. Pay attention when washing dishes. Feel the hot water, smell the soap, and remind yourself that you are preparing to eat good meals in the future. And while bill paying is a drag, is there any way to reduce your bills? Have you ever investigated the possibility? If they are what they are, can you find some great music — 1960s Egyptian jazz, country swing, Christian metal — to add some spice to this necessary chore?

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At odd times in history …

Ordinary people have done extraordinary things. Some of these accomplishments have been horrific — the slaughter of innocent people, the destruction of entire countries, the suppression of free thought — but other achievements have been wonderful — the liberation of those oppressed, the exploration of new lands and galaxies, the finding of a cure. And while the people behind these triumphs and tragedies become well-known and may seem bigger than life, they were actually ordinary people who focused and dedicated themselves to a cause, be it good or bad.

Staying inside when you want to go out and hike in the hills, shop at the mall, have coffee with friends, or attend church services may seem nothing more than annoying, but at this odd time in history it is heroic and selfless and a gesture of love. It is the smallest chore you can perform that will yield the largest yield. Not being out and about will help to contain the virus and flatten the curve as they say, and while you may feel anxious or upset or overwhelmed or even angry, know that you are doing an extraordinary thing — you are saving lives.

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To look at yourself, look at your outlook

OUTLOOK: Your wellbeing encompasses more than just your physical and psychological health. Outlook is an aspect of your mental health; it is the gauge of how you view the world and interact with it. You could say that it is the way you look out of yourself and how do you feel about what you see. It encompasses passions, obsessions, emotions, spirituality, flexibility and fortitude. Your outlooks reflects your standards (what they are and whether or not you meet them), your desires (the same), your ability to make a change, and your view of where you stand in your corner of the world.

  • Are you generally content with your life? If not, what areas bother you?
  • Do you feel overly pessimistic?
  • Are you lonely a lot?
  • Do you feel people pester you too much?
  • Do you often feel misunderstood?
  • Do you find it hard to understand others?
  • Do you look forward to meeting new people?
  • Do you wish to avoid people often or always?
  • Do you feel optimistic about your future? The world’s future?
  • Do you think everything is okay and the world’s problems is media-made?
  • Do you have a sense of impending disaster?
  • Do you feel well-balanced – content enough but with goals and plans?
  • Do you feel as if you have enough support?
  • Do you feel abandoned by people you considered to be friends?
  • Do you believe in God? If so?
  • Do you pray regularly?
  • Do you bring your troubles to the Lord?
  • Do you bring your triumphs and thanks to the Lord?
  • Do you attend church or belong to a group of followers?
  • Do you have a hobby or interest to enjoy in your free time?
  • Do you feel a sense of accomplishment at your job, with your studies, or with other obligations?
  • Do you keep in touch with people?
  • Do you have trouble sleeping due to worries?

Again, the list could go on and on, but I believe you get my drift. When taking stock of your life, it is essential to look at your current disposition objectively – not as you wish you were feeling/thinking/acting, but as you truly are – and see where improvements need to be made and where you need not expend more energy. (For example, if you sometimes find the world to be a scary hellhole, you are in sync with most of its inhabitants. If you are continually afraid, however, to travel or attend social functions, you may want to talk to someone about your fears. An occasional thought about slugging your boss or neighbor or best friend is not necessarily bothersome; a constant desire to do so should be addressed.)

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HOME Assessment/Action Plan

How are you?

This is a question that most of us answer quickly (“Fine. Okay. Lousy. You?), but from time to time, you really do need to step back and think it over. How are you? How are you feeling? Are you enjoying life? Feeling any sense of accomplishment? Do you have friends? Goals? Hobbies? Is your garage a mess? Do you have trouble sleeping? Praying? Paying your bills? Seriously, how are you?

Several years ago, I developed an assessment plan designed to help me look at all facets of my life in a systematic way (as opposed to laying awake at night with my mind rolodexing through issues and concerns). I call my plan the HOME Assessment/Action Plan, with HOME being an acronym for

Health

Outlook

Money

Environment

These four areas cover every situation and subject of our life. Your job, your daily habits, your favorite pastime, your wardrobe, your budget, your choice of vehicle, Whatever you are doing on a daily basis Obviously, these facets overlap. If your health is bad, your outlook on life may be lousy. Your environment – home, office, car – is affected by your income (money). Health problems are affected by your finances also. None of these compartments are exclusive from each other, but dividing your life into four quadrants makes it easier to assess your current state of being and take action to improve it (if necessary).

Let us look at each component of this plan, starting with H – health.

Health focuses on your physical health (which can include mental health issues). Questions to consider regarding your health include:

  • Do you have pain anywhere? Can you banish it? If not, can you reduce it?
  • Are you overweight? Underweight?
  • Does your stomach give you trouble? Indigestion?
  • Are your teeth in good shape? Clean? No cavities? When was the last time you saw a doctor?
  • Do you sleep well?
  • Do you have a decent amount of energy or are you often fatigued?
  • How is your appetite? Do you have healthy eating habits? Do you eat a lot of sweets? Use a lot of salt? Overeat often? Starve yourself? Binge?
  • Do you drink alcohol? Do you ever drink too much? If so, how often?
  • Do you smoke? Have you tried to quit?
  • Do you take recreational drugs? If so, are they adversely affecting your health?
  • Do you have any addictions? (You might want to get another’s opinion for this question.)
  • How is your eyesight? Your hearing? Can you see the horizon and hear others speaking?
  • Do you suffer from depression? Mood swings? Hear voices? (This is actually more common that one might think.)
  • Do you have any scratches, cuts, bumps, bruises, or burns that are not healing?
  • Are you sexually active? If so, do you use birth control? Practice safe sex?
  • Do you drink a lot of caffeinated drinks?
  • Do you eat junk food? Drink sugary drinks?
  • Do you have any rashes on your skin?
  • Do you have arthritis? Is it impacting your ability to get around and get things done?
  • Do you ever get short of breath? Have fainting spells? Get dizzy?
  • Do you have any allergies? Suffer from hay fever?
  • Do you catch colds and get the flu often?
  • Do you have heartburn often?
  • Do you have problems with incontinence?
  • Do you feel anxious for no apparent reason? Depressed? Hyperactive?
  • If you taking medication for an illness or chronic condition, is it working?
  • If you wear prosthetics or orthotics, do they fit properly?

I have probably overlooked a zillion different health concerns that one might have, but I believe you get the picture. Pay attention to your body and take note of how you feel, how you move, what gives you pain, what seems out of balance. Everyone experiences fatigue and aches occasionally, but you should not be in pain or tired continually. No matter what issues you may have – from being overweight to being bedridden – assess what you can do to improve your well-being. The action(s) you might take could include:

  • Losing weight
  • Getting your teeth cleaned
  • Having your hearing checked
  • Taking a vision test
  • Seeing a doctor
  • Seeing a chiropractor
  • Seeing a specialist
  • Taking herbal remedies
  • Quitting smoking
  • Changing your diet
  • Going into rehab for drugs or alcohol
  • Beginning an exercise regimen
  • Using a neti pot
  • Seeing a psychiatrist
  • Eating more fruits and veggies
  • Eating less ice cream
  • Taking a multivitamin
  • Undergoing physical therapy
  • Being screened for cancer
  • Undergoing medical tests
  • Adjusting your medication

How you handle your health issues is your prerogative, but once in a while – once a month, annually, seasonally, twice a year – it is good to focus exclusively on how well is your well-being. Once you determine your physical fitness and how you feel, you can do a bit of decluttering and/or self-improvement in that area. Quit bad habits, start new regimens, go to the dentist, get new glasses, get a second opinion.

While health is important, it is just one of the four cornerstones of the life you are building. Check back in a few days for the next installment of the HOME Assessment/Action Plan.

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My Apologies.

My original intent for this website was to give readers a different (and hopefully helpful or at least thought-provoking) slant on how to view life and its problems, predicament, upsets, and daily challenges. (Actually, this was the second intent for this website. My first intent when I created the website for a grad school project was to provide cake recipes.) I wanted to show that we all can handle tough times with finesse and show grace under pressure. I think most folks, if given the chance and a bit of guidance, can face occasional disasters and days of drudgery with dignity. I just wanted to remind everyone of that fact.

During the last few months, I have had a lot of oh-no-this-cannot-be-happening moments and have not handled them with any dignity or grace. Actually, I smashed whatever rosy-colored glasses happened to be laying around the house and succumbed to depression and reclusion. I allowed myself to fall apart. I replaced self-respect with self-pity.

Because I was so busy wallowing in regret and disappointment, I felt I could give no advice or insight or ideas. I saw myself as a screw-up — surely others would see that and ignore anything I had to say, no? Thus, I have not made any posts recently.

Finally, I stopped blubbering. I accepted that I had plenty of reason to be disgruntled, but also admitted that my bouts of depression were simply avoidance tactics developed long ago in my youth and fine-tuned in recent days. Whereas I could lose days when I was young, I cannot avoid life and its consequences ad infinitum.

So now I am getting back in the saddle and taking charge of my life once again. And I can see that this lousy period of my life has given me some new insight and taught me some valid lessons about living gracefully.

I do hope you will check back to this site if you are searching for a different viewpoint, an alternative to the usual self-help one gets these days. I will not go into it right now, but here is my first piece of advice (to be expounded in the next post): Create a short answer and find a sympathetic ear.

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When searching for passion …

I recently spoke with a man who started a business for one specific reason: to make money. Now you may say, “Well, of course, that’s why everyone starts businesses.” You are partially right – 99% of people want to make a profit in their businesses. That said, 99% of business books will tell you that starting a business with the mission of making of a profit is a very bad idea. The market can be unpredictable, cash flow even more so, start-up costs spring up unexpectedly (and licenses can be prohibitively expensive), and you simply don’t know if your idea will take off, if folks will like what you offer and become loyal customers. Moreover, running your own business is all-consuming. If you just want steady pay, a job might suit you better. It is better to start a business because you have a passion for something (clothes design, resume writing, organic soap) and you want to pursue it on a daily basis.

Okay, I understand. Pardon me if I beg to differ.

While passion is grand and can inspire one to do grand things – build businesses, seek a cure for cancer, feed the poor, etc. – it can also be fleeting. Ask anyone who has fallen madly, passionately in love and then (just as quickly) fallen out of love and they’ll attest to the transient nature of passion. Passion also has a nasty tendency to dry up in the light of day – i.e., the daylight or desk light where you will be crunching numbers, washing dishes, dealing with upset vendors, or sitting in yet another meeting. Yes, a lot of entrepreneurs accept the drudgery that goes with owning a business, but just as many people are astounded (and exhausted) by all the minutiae that pursuing their passion entails.

How about – instead of passion – we have commitment? Yeah, yeah, yeah, it sounds boring and stifling. Commitment reeks of obligations and duties and signing on the line to do a bunch of piddly-assed chores. Who can garner one iota of enthusiasm for scrubbing toilets or proofreading documents when they could be meeting with like minds and creating a plan to end homelessness or hunger or human trafficking?

Therein lies the rub. Plans are just words on a piece of paper. To implement them requires grubby and greasy ground work. Someone needs to go out and grow crops, build shelters, change adult diapers, raise funds, arrest criminals. A lot of this groundwork is neither inspiring nor glamorous, yet it needs to be done. And for any of it to produce any results, someone needs to commit to all the steps and see the process through.

A friend of mine, a former Army paratrooper who took part in dangerous and exciting missions (some which had long-term political implications), told me that all these endeavors were “Like life – 90% grunt work. A lot of prep and cleanup.” The cool part that made you feel as if you were in Mission Impossible was generally not much more than a few hours or so.

But back to passion. Is it necessary to do a good job? Can you replace passion with a calling to precision and professionalism? If you cannot get excited about what you are doing, can you at least feel a sense of accomplishment at a dirty job done damned good?

And here’s a funny thing about passion. It can pop up at the oddest times in the most ordinary circumstances. I asked the businessman how his business – the ones he started specifically to make a profit – turned out. He told me he sunk everything he had into this venture and promptly lost everything. He lost his house and lived in his car for a while. He met with prospective clients in Starbucks. He held one business meeting in a park. Yet he persevered because – surprise! – he found he actually liked what he was doing. He had not intended it, but he developed a passion for his job. From this passion developed a purpose and now, finally, he sees a profit.

He would have never experienced this passion nor developed this life path without commitment. Commitment was what got him out of bed (his back seat) and kept him seeking customers. Commitment strung him along when passion might have left him high and dry. Since so much of life is mundane, perhaps we should commit to doing our best regardless of our feeling meh about it all. And perhaps we should not be too surprised when the rewards for a job well done is a newfound passion, no?

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Hope revisited …

About a year and half ago, I wrote a post about hope. I felt that hope (much more than that other four-letter word — love) makes the world go round — or at least get out of bed. I still stick to the premise that hope — the anticipation that a desire will somehow be fulfilled — leads people to tackle difficult problems,  and try to improve their lot in life. Recently, however, I had a conversation that gave me pause for thought.

A friend has been trying to improve her marriage for many years. She and her husband have raised a family, built a home, and contributed to their community, but their relationship is that of housemates who share a living space but have separate lives. They tried counseling, getaway weekends, trial separations, date nights, and long discussions and all they got were awkward moments and arguments. No amount of effort forged a new connection, improved their communications, drew them closer. Finally, my friend threw in the towel. She accepted the marriage was never going to be more than what it is now. stopped hoping that the marriage would change and become a loving union. It was a waste of time and tears to hope for what would never be. She stopped hoping and started coping.

In my own life, I have recently questioned if hope is always that helpful. Sure, hope can get you motivated to make changes, stay the course, and tolerate living when life is crummy, but what about when you hope and work hard and your efforts are never rewarded? If  you are constantly disappointed, shortchanged, irritated, and exhausted, is hope worth the hard work? When does hope become pointless, delusional, or simply counterproductive?

Hope can help us pursue dreams, but it can also have us squander time, energy, and money on dreams that will never be anything more than dreams. Our resources could be better spent dealing with the situation at hand as it is right now. Of course, that begs the question: When do you accept the fact that the here and now is also the future and you cannot change it?

It is not always clear. You cannot always know if what you are hoping to happen is going to happen. It could take years for your career to take off and then you are a success — or you might never succeed. That new cancer treatment could work — or kill you. Your boss could see things your way — or fire you. So when do you stop hoping and start accepting? I am reminded of what the late advice columnist Ann Landers would tell women wondering if they should leave their husbands: Are you better off with or without him? Sometimes, we need to leave hope out of our decisions. Sometimes, it is best to stop hoping and start coping. Sometimes, we are better off without hope.

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A new year needs new standards

With the commencement of a New Year comes the creation of resolutions. Yes, as corny as it sounds, I truly do want to improve myself and, at the beginning of each year, I brainstorm to discern what resolutions will guide me to my goals and help me better myself. In the past, I would write my resolutions down and then promptly forget them. I would then fumble my way through the year. (Yes, I have followed through on a few resolutions, but it tended to be happenstance more than dedicated effort.) I decided that this year I would try a new approach.

I read a number of articles about resolution making. Some experts (and I have no idea as to what you need to do to be considered an expert at resolution setting) suggested making goals with very concrete and measurable goals (say, lose 30 pounds). Others said to focus on a process and not a goal (eat less and move more). Another method that’s gaining popularity is to have a theme for the year (for example, healthy eating or snack-free living), while some writers suggested focusing exclusively on habits or practices you need to quit (snacking, smoking, oversleeping). All these methods are helpful to some and useless to others. I decided on another method I don’t see covered anywhere. It is setting standards.

Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, said that man is “pushed by drives and pulled by values”. While we may have many desires that motivate us, our values clarify what is worth pursuing. Before you can improve your life, you need to define your values. Once you define your values, you can set standards, which are the measuring sticks that let you know if you are living your life as you intend to live it. Frankly, my life has changed a lot in the last two years due to various occurrences (job loss, hitting sixty, some health issues) and I think it is time to take a look at my needs, wants, and abilities and evaluate my standards. Am I making a concerted effort to be the best I can be? (I want to read more and eat healthier.) Are there areas where I need to possibly set some new standards? (Housekeeping comes to mind.) Are there standards I can discard as they no longer serve a purpose? (I am no longer on a career path, which changes my standards of suitable employment.)

While it is important to set goals and evaluate how you go through your day and live your life, setting standards will help you live your life according to your values. Of course, your values may change and your standards will follow suit. Such is personal growth. (Although some standards, such as always being on time or telling the truth may remain constant through your life.) In the end, living according to your standards is a life well lived.

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A lesson about going forward learned after being left behind …

Years ago, I had a friend whom I met through work. We joked around in the office, commiserated when things got ugly (thanks to a very difficult boss), and socialized outside of the work place. She was an actress and I watched her captivate audiences in small, intimate theaters. We had dinner together and discussed anything that came to mind. She had very different views from me on life and work and God and just about everything. She offered me a fresh perspective and always left me feeling challenged and charged.

Then she hit a rough patch. She left that awful office for another job which folded within a week. She stayed unemployed for a long time. Throughout this time, we met for coffee. We discussed job searches but also God and his plans and his timing and our impatience.

Finally, she got steady work. She was happy at first, but then dissatisfaction enveloped her like her own personal cloud. She couldn’t get promoted, she couldn’t get another job, she was stuck. She became short-tempered and argumentative.

She got a chance to study abroad. It was a great opportunity and I was thrilled. I felt it was the best break she could have gotten. I met with her a few months before she left and mentioned how I looked forward to hearing all about her big adventure. As we talked, it slowly dawned on me that she was starting a new life and leaving behind her old life — of which I was a part. This was our last breakfast together.

I tried to stay in touch with her, but she ceased contact, so I did likewise.

I thought about her this morning. I was disappointed that our friendship ended, but realize that such is the way it needed to be. She started a new life and wanted her old life to stay outside the fence, and if I am any kind of friend at all, I’ll respect her wishes and wish her well. And, frankly, I understand. I have had a few fresh starts myself.

I am also reminded that, as I get ready to go into a new phase myself, I can shed relationships without guilt or grief. The folks I leave behind may be disappointed or disgruntled, but they will not be destroyed. They have their own dreams and desires, and they will understand.

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Desiring change and the changing of desire …

Image result for lucifer

“What is it you truly desire?” asks Mr. Morningstar on Lucifer, the very witty, well-written, and well-acted television show on Fox. The premise is that Satan decides to take a break from torturing souls in Hell and sets up residence in Los Angeles. While in the City of Angels, he operates a fabulously decadent nightclub and helps an LAPD detective solve crimes. He uses his extraordinary power of getting the complete and unadulterated truth from people (he casts his stare on humans and they spill their guts), ascertaining why someone did what they did and then determining what might come next. (Although sometimes I think he is just being nosey.) The answers people give reveal the complexity of humanity – a biker dude desires to start a clothing line, a paparazzi putz dreams of winning the Pulitzer, a priest wants to punch a benefactor in the face. These answers surprise the giver as much as they do Lucifer – it’s not what they expected. Desire is tricky – we do not always see it clearly and the devil is indeed in the details.

Lately, I have been reexamining some of my goals, particularly those that have been sitting on my to-do list for a while (some for years). I have come to realize that some projects/habits/changes never get finished/ingrained/instituted because, truth be told, I don’t truly desire whatever it is these endeavors will bring me. I may have cared at one time or perhaps I just felt I should care, but if a tall dark devil cast his eyes on me and asked, “What is it you truly desire?” my answer would have nothing to do with any of these plans or projects. It is time to wipe them off my to-do list.

And now onto my next project, which is finding out what it is that I truly desire. The search begins.