The Great Debate
It is mystifying to me why it still continues: that great debate regarding whose kid is better off – a Working Mom (WM) or a Stay-Home Mom (SHM). Interestingly, it's still moms who are labelled – soccer mom, tiger mom, helicopter mom…although Stay-Home Dad has become a part of the vernacular recently. But since I was both (SHM & WM) during my daughters' childhood, I wonder myself – were they better off with me there to tend to their every need or were they better off in daycare where they could mix it up with other kids and authority figures.
That said, I reflected on my own childhood where neither my mom nor anyone else's mom worked outside of the home until I was a teenager except for Ellie's mom Eleanor the Avon Lady who would cruise the hood selling her wares and handing out fabulous mini lipstick and hand-cream samples that surely ignited my love of makeup that I have until this very day. But Eleanor would be in the neighborhood, we'd see her and she'd see us as we raced by on our bikes leaving her in the wind. That's the point – we saw her briefly and only because she was walking the sidewalks. For the most part, we were largely unsupervised after school into the early evening and during the summers, from rising until the streetlights came on. And our moms were home!
Nobody knew where we were as kids. We'd go as far as our bikes would carry us, stopping at a corner store for a bottle of soda and a candy bar. We walked along railroad tracks and we jumped into the Allegheny River from what seemed like mountainous cliffs but were probably just kinda high if I'd see them now. We crawled under Holy Family Church and listened to mass going on above and we'd laugh hysterically (sorry, God). When we got a bit older, we took busses into downtown Pittsburgh and hung out at Point Park. We'd take busses to Oakland and transfer to Schenley Park to skate during the winter. Nobody drove us. We were on our own and resourcefulness was second nature. If we were hungry, we'd cajole someone into giving us something to eat. If we had to use a bathroom, we'd find a store. If we wanted money, we got a job. Mine was sweeping a hair salon in the evenings after closing time. If we fell, we got up before someone called us 'sissy' and if someone got badly hurt, like when a kid from down the block took a header over his ten-speed bars, then we ran as fast as we could and got his mom. We knew where that line was and we never crossed it.
As kids, we raised ourselves and we raised one another. We learned what was appropriate and what was not by the reaction of other kids. Our parents took us to mass on Sunday and sometimes to buy us clothes at K-mart or Sears on a week night. But other than that, we had nobody hovering over us, checking our homework or driving us to playdates. We knew better than to bring home a lousy report card so we did the homework. We would knock on another kid's door and yell "calling on (insert name here)" to see if they could come out and play. We forged relationships, explored constantly and made adventures out of nothing except imagination and some old junk we'd find in an alley.
I'm not sure if today's kids are better off with all the attention they get whether it's from their SHM or a daycare provider. I guess we'll find out soon enough.
Being relatively new at my job, I didn't realize the importance of scheduling vacation at the end of the year. If you do, you do not end up teaching a class during Christmas week. I didn't so there I was on Christmas Eve teaching a group of new hires the ins and outs of their job. My job isn't at all like work. I love what I do and I immensely enjoy being in front of people helping them develop professionally. Yet it 'tis the season and I was at work which meant I had to make some hard decisions. And it ended up being the best holiday for me – something I didn't realize until it was over.
First, I tend to shop early and I did so this year; however, in the past I would still end up thinking "I don't have enough" and run out at the last minute to join the throngs I so desperately wanted to avoid. This year I decided I had to be satisfied with what I had. I wrapped what I purchased and put it under the tree. Since the world is still spinning, I guess what I did was good enough.
Next, I ordered Christmas dinner. I had a catered spiral ham and all the sides plus two desserts. I pressed one microwave button to heat things up and I set the table. Voila! My Christmas dinner was a hit and I actually enjoyed it as I wasn't too tired to eat.
Since I only had Christmas Day off, I did the things I enjoy. I attended Mass on Christmas Eve so I spent the morning with my girls laughing and opening gifts. Later that day, I visited with family. It was an awesome day and I did the things I enjoy instead of trying to 'fit in' multiple visits to things I half-like.
When it was all over, at first I felt like I blinked and it was gone. But truthfully, even if I had weeks off to prepare, it would still go by in a flash. Life is like that…time keeps moving whether you are sitting still or up and around. Being that I had so little time, I was able to ensure I did what I liked and I did away with what I didn’t such as cooking and frantically running around town.
On Christmas night, I pulled out Jesus Calling from the pile of books near my bed. I began reading it nightly again and I soon realized my spirit was calm. This never happens after a holiday. Usually, I have a sense of sadness or feel let down. But that's because the one thing I didn't do in the past was nourish my spirit. This year I did, even though it was kinda by accident. But it paid off immensely. I had a Christmas to remember and I rekindled a spiritual connection that I hadn't been feeling for quite some time. Isn't that what Christmas is all about?
How I Saved $500 Plus a Month
Last year, I made the decision to cut back on unnecessary spending. Of course, I failed where shoes and purses were concerned; however, I was able to cut a significant amount out of my budget where I had been spending unnecessarily and it was causing me stress. Here's what I did.
$187.00 Cell Phone
I had an iPhone and so did Emily. I also had an Android work phone. I honestly became weirdly overwhelmed with the amount of texts, messages, etc., I was getting on a regular basis so I decided to cancel the iPhone accounts. My kids and the school, doctor's office, etc., have the work cell number to use in case of emergency. I absolutely do not miss the iPhone. Emily actually felt the same way. She was tired of being obsessed with the iPhone. She uses Google Hangouts to chat with her boyfriend and friends. Otherwise, she is unplugged. Smart kid. Savings so far: $187 a month
$119 Gym Membership
So, going to the gym was hit or miss anyway so I cancelled the membership. First of all, we have a gym at work that I could join for $15 a month. Walking outside is free. So is using one of the million web workouts. Just be real...if you're not using the membership, save yourself the money. When you get motivated again, you can always join. But don't hang on thinking 'one day, I'm gonna do that Zombie Workout' and let go. Savings are now: $306 a month.
$30 Trash Collection
A cheaper trash service literally knocked at my front door. Rather than hide from the solicitor, I actually chatted for a moment and found myself saving a ton. Instead of paying over a hundred dollars bi-monthly, I'm now paying $15 a month for excellent service. Yes, they don't pick up a Christmas tree when it is lying on the sidewalk next to your garbage can but mine is fake and it is a small price to pay. Savings: $336 a month.
I stretched my manicure out another week or two by filling it in myself. Honestly, I should cut it out completely and do my own nails but I get an acrylic overlay because my nails are so brittle that they tear constantly. Therefore, I splurge on a manicure. But instead of paying $80 a month, I stretch my manicure so it lasts long and only pay $40. Savings so far: $376.
$200 Mortgage Re-fi
I was paying over $200 on PMI insurance. When I refinanced my house in 2009, they said it didn't have the appropriate equity. Okay – that's fine. I got a four percent interest rate and my payment was lower. However, when the housing market crept back up and I did have more than 20 percent equity; I wasn't able to drop the PMI…because it was an FHA loan and the PMI had to stay on for 5 years. So I refinanced again and got a 3.75 percent interest rate and no mortgage insurance. The payment is now $207 lower and I'm paying half of a payment twice a month so it will be paid off much quicker than the original. Savings in total: $583. Cha Ching!!
I'm also writing for the web and making extra money a week. The cool thing about writing for internet sites is that you can make as much or as little as you want and you get a byline. More on ways to make extra money next time. Happy New Year!!
One Minute Miracles: Free Yourself
So, obviously as I am writing more than one semi-annual blog, the pace is slowing down a bit for me. I still work many hours, have two teenagers with boyfriends and two dogs at home, and am President of the local high school drama boosters; but, I find that I can actually read for fun, go for a walk and show up prepared instead of trying to prepare myself on the fly.
Therefore, I have been looking at some of the albatross-like activities and expenses I have been incurring over the last year. I wrote them down on paper and decided to take some steps to free myself from those things that were not beneficial to serenity and peace. Like, I have two cell phones. People look at me and say "you have two cell phones" and it's true. I have my personal iPhone and my work Galaxy. I like the Galaxy better than the iPhone but I am holding on to the iPhone for reasons unknown. Or perhaps I just fear letting go. Either way, eliminating it all together or finding a different provider can save me a ton each month. I also cancelled my gym membership. First of all, I have a gym at work that I can join for $15 a month. Second, and more in line with the truth, I never go. Neither do my girls. If we do, it's about once a month and that just doesn't cut it. I'd rather go for walks outside and do yoga than huff it on a treadmill in a crowded room.
I also decided to stop writing for content mills. For those of you who don't know, these are websites that pay writers to write keyword rich articles and then post them online. Usually, you don't get a byline for the article; however, sometimes you do. But online content is drying up and the editors of the few sites that pay well have become so extremely picky that it causes me more anxiety than happiness. I'd rather blog. My page, my rules.
I have a few maintenance items that I am determined to eliminate too. It's not even really the money, it's the time it takes to schedule and make appointments. I'd just rather be doing something else. I like the idea of having that time to explore and find new adventures. I'd prefer, in the words of Mary Oliver, to not have simply visited this world.
Won't you take a minute and free yourself from the burdens that drag you down? List them out on paper and cross them off, one by one. Believe me, once that weight is lifted off of you, you will breathe easier having more time and more money to incorporate the important things into your life.
I read something not long ago about writing prompts and I started thinking wouldn't it be cool to have a prompt every month to live by; something that would be a mantra for areas of development. I was looking at a beautiful flower in this month's edition of Bella Grace (check it out – expensive magazine but totally worth the money) and I was amazed by the beauty of the petals and the perfect color of the rose. So my prompt for this month is 'open' in honor of those petals.
This month I am concentrating on ways I could open my life to new experiences and be open to eliminating experiences that are not beneficial. I'm not good at meditating but I do keep trying and one thought I had is that if I keep doing the same things, I will get the same results. So I became open to doing things differently. When I disagreed with a colleague, instead of belaboring the point, I kept quiet. I said my piece, no need to beat it into the ground. I became open to stillness. That has never happened before. Now that I finished my Master's program, I have more time on my hands and I would generally fill up spare time with unhealthy (for me) activities such as shopping or watching Law and Order re-runs ad nauseum. Today, I am practicing being – taking walks without music to distract me, sitting still and breathing and generally being open to possibilities that might arise if I don't constantly find things to 'do'.
In my ongoing effort to live a serene and peaceful life, being open is necessary. If I want a different life, I must live differently and take different actions. If I want peace, I must be open to stillness and quiet so I can practice. If I want awareness, I must be open to the possibilities that the universe is trying to communicate. While it isn't easy, my prompts are a start. They are a little reminder that change is imminent and they are a little helper when I begin to fall back into my old ways. Instead of looking at time as a runaway train, today I am looking for the stops along the way. The stops where I let people off and new people arrive. The stops where I am amazed by nature and take deep breaths that fill my lungs and my soul. The stops where I can simply be.
About three weeks into my "No Shopping for One
Year," I begin to feel antsy. As I explained before, I shop when I need a distraction. Some people eat, some drink or pop pills, etc., but my way to get my mind off my problems is to shop. I have been receiving all sorts of mailings –'tis the season, you know – that entice me to buy! That, on top of some personal issues in the family, has made me think that I need the following:
So, now begins the internal battle to fight that urge to shop. I have to decorate my house
and really don't feel like it. I have two papers to write for my graduate program and really don't want to (nor do I have any idea what to write about). Both of my daughters are
having struggles with various things. Add all that to the usual suspects: laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping, and cooking and you can see why I want to distract myself.
But the whole point of not escaping with material things is so that I can face my challenges and deal with them in a hopefully calm and serene manner. It is no longer satisfying to buy a bunch of clothes or accessories; hang them up in my closet and realize the paper is still due and the house is not festive at all. There will always be a mountain of housework and when you have teenagers, there will always be an issue or two…or twelve. The
key is to face my problems and deal with them.
And yet, while that might be the grown-up thing to do though, I just don't want to. I want to explore the mall, listen to the Christmas tunes and buy every single item on my list because I work hard and I deserve to have nice things, right? That is what my shopping-addict mind tells me over and over. "Work on school later. Or better yet, drop out with three classes to go." "Who cares what state the house is in? People LIVE here…it should look messy."
The committee in my head is loud and lousy with advice this morning. I have the whole day
ahead of me and I know that, at various points, I will feel the strong pull to jump in my jeep and escape to that beautiful land of lights, music, shiny-happy people, laughter, and Starbucks.
And I will try to breathe and remind myself that I am Queen of my life and queens do not give in to every urge and desire. And I will deck the halls of my own house and write a stellar paper for class today. Because I am worth more than the clothes in my closet.
I am on a path to freedom and I am going places!
A Year Without Shopping
Chaucer wrote something like "all things have an end, even the good things". Then
again, Mae West remarked "too much of a good thing can be wonderful". Well, I say that too much of a good thing can be expensive so I'm siding with Chaucer. My shopping habits (addiction) must come to an end.
First, let me state that I have an addictive personality. If I find something I love, there is no such thing as too much. So, with that said, I have found shopping to be a harmless way to
distract me, lift me up after a bad day, encourage me, motivate me, give me joy
and comfort. Shopping truly does all these things for me….until it doesn't.
Once I binge and binge on clothes, shoes, accessories and makeup for too long, shopping stops making me feel better. And that sort of coincides with my credit card statements coming in.
So then I stop shopping and purge my closets, giving tons of well-made, barely worn items, some with tags adhered, to Goodwill.
And then I buy some more.
So a few years ago, I instituted my Year Without Shopping. I pledged to stop
shopping for everything but necessities for 365 days. Things went well for, well – not a year. I began in June and was shopping on Thanksgiving. My rationale was that I bought tee-shirts that were necessities. Other necessities included replacing my Calvin Klein Boyfriend jeans, a few tops, some jewelry and a handbag or two. In other words – I
relapsed. After the year ended, I celebrated with a trip to New York City.
To shop. What else?
But I'm feeling the same despondency that occurred a few years ago and I know that dealing with my issues instead of shopping will help tremendously. So until November of next year, I will not shop.
And this year, instead of focusing on lack, I am going to try to devise ways to save money throughout the year. I have invited a good friend and stellar coupon guru to write some guest blogs on how she makes coupons work for her. Seriously, she saves so much money, it is
unbelievable. And we can too – with her help. I'm sure I will find some other interesting ways to save a buck or two and I'll pass those on to you.
Finally, I plan to investigate a theory of conscious money. I read an article by
Patricia Aburdene in Spirituality & Health and the concept is intriguing to me. Live, create and invest with your values. I like that a lot. So I'll share what I learned here too.
And, with the money I save, hopefully I will be able to contribute to important
causes more than I currently do. Because, I do feel called to contribute more and be more charitable than I have been in the past. Especially when I am fighting crowds on Black Friday
for that perfect pair of boots on sale for $49….ah, the good ole days :)
Five Dollars Well Spent
Well, I did it. Those of you who read my article
on Yahoo Sports several years ago, might remember me writing about the unique mother/daughter bond that I have with my oldest. It's our love of football and particularly our team – the Pittsburgh
Steelers. That's us in the photo, by the way.
So, last Sunday, on our way out of church, we
stopped and bought one $5 raffle ticket to win a four-pack of preseason
Steelers/Redskins tickets. And we
won! So yesterday afternoon, we
embarked on another crazy Ayers family adventure – to FedEx Field to watch our
boys in person.
I was apprehensive about wearing our jerseys – after all, I had never been to an away game before. Would people harass us? Well, hardly. Half the stadium was wearing black and gold and waving The Terrible Towel. I was super glad we wore shirts and brought our Towel!
The trip was long but totally worth it. We ate super expensive, terrible food and were coaxed into buying souvenir cups that won't last one round in the dishwasher. As a matter of fact,
my oldest left hers in the stands when we left.
We saw our favorite players (#43, #7, #56) and added some new ones to our list. We lost the game, sad to say and even though people say "well, it's preseason", it is still an indication of what's to come. Our first string guys played lousy. We left when we heard the announcer state that our backup quarterback threw a pass and hit the referee with the ball.
Everyone was amazing and friendly. We laughed with our seat mates who wore Redskins' colors. A few people acted like jerks to other Steeler fans, but not to us. My youngest really got into the game and stood and waved The Terrible Towel with abandon. We laughed the whole way home.
We added some amazing memories to our repertoire of good times to think back on: the baby wearing black and gold and chewing a Terrible Towel, the scalper who tried to buy our extra ticket for $5 but we just ended up giving it away because my dad wasn't able to join us at the last minute, the worker who told me I couldn't carry my Towel in plain sight so I had to "complain" to some police officers that they needed to take him away, the way my kids cracked up when Party in the USA came on and then suddenly stopped but I kept singing.
I love how football brings us close together and how the joy of the game is spread throughout my little family. It was worth the long drive and the lousy food and the expensive parking lot. Because, in a few short years, they will be off doing their thing. But hopefully, they will often look back on Sunday afternoons with the boys and a very special Monday night ride with their
mom to see our team in action. To me, no matter what the scoreboard said, we won.
Staying Sane When Monkey Mind Hits
Today was a rough one and it isn't even 11:00 a.m. For about a week, I've been waking at 3:30 a.m. and can usually fall back to sleep within the hour. But even so, that broken sleep causes me to walk around exhausted. Last night, that monkey mind kicked in and sleep was a distant memory. Everything started to bother me: worrying about not having a job, thinking that if I did have a job, I would have to call in sick out of sheer exhaustion (totally pointless, right?), worrying about commitments I need to follow up on and people I need to call and pretty much everything including the starving people in China whom I neglected to send uneaten food to.
Several articles that I am working on came back needing (unnecessary in my opinion) revisions. By the way, to the monkey mind two equals several. A few jobs that I was pretty sure I would get just didn't happen. Running on empty due to lack of sleep combined with frustration and anxiety really equals a recipe for a disastrous day.
In the old days, I would forge ahead on days like this. I would pressure myself into producing 'just one more thing' so I could feel confident that everything was not just done, but ahead of schedule. I would have worked without ceasing and tried to accommodate everyone else's needs and schedules. And I would have taken my bad mood out on those closest to me.
But today, I am queen!
Today, in my land, I am entitled to a break. I diligently practice self-care. After realizing sleep was a thing of the past, I began writing at about 4:30 and finished the requested revisions and
even managed to eke out two new SEO articles. I answered all outstanding emails and then I shut down the computer for the day (at 7:00 a.m.).
I diffused some lavender essential oil, leafed through the Zohar for healing, meditated asking for Christ's presence in my heart and mind and then pulled out my Visual Journal to the Soul book (the image above is a vision board I created during my first class). I wrote a letter to myself getting a few things straight and then I wrote a list of the people and things that I love. I am allowing myself to take the day off of work, emails, texting and unnecessary commitments so I can be present and conserve whatever energy I can. I have acupuncture at four and I know Diane will get to the bottom of this sleep issue. I'm going to win the war against the monkey mind one step at a time.
So far, it's working. 'Cause I'm smiling as I write this.
I had to go to the post office this morning.
Ugh! It’s Monday morning, pouring
rain and I have to go to the one I try to avoid at all costs. If I need to go into a post office, I go out of my way to one that is quicker and somewhat friendlier. But my package was at this particular post office. Definitely not the way I wanted to start my week.
I handed the lady my notice of the package awaiting me. She went into the
back and I heard her say she couldn’t find it. But right before annoyance crept up on
me, a guy walked into the post office with a bag of envelopes and a box. The lady came out to ask me my name and address and the customer told her that the box contained hot bagels for
everyone. He said “I hope there is enough” and he handed her the box and the bag and left.
The lady was smiling as she took the bagels into the back.
I just stood there amazed, my package annoyance forgotten. Did someone just bring a box of kindness into a US Post Office?
While a supervisor took over the task of looking for my elusive package, the lady returned to the counter to help the next customer who had an envelope. The lady asked the customer if there were any harmful items in the envelope. No, the customer replied. Just hair.
Yes, my granddaughter is sending her hair to locks of love.
Lord, have mercy. Two in a row? All this kindness surrounding me at the one place I never expected to find it!
Had I been glued to my iPhone, I would have missed it. Had I been stewing over the fact that my package had gone missing, I would have missed it. If I was doing anything besides being present in the moment and trusting that my package would find me, I would have missed it.
The supervisor came out of the back with my package and she was singing. Yep – I am serious. It was Monday and it was raining but kindness and love prevailed at the post office. And I am so grateful to have been a part of it.