Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I'd like my very own one of these, please:

(the mad hatter, not the rabbit)

ps: Tim Burton, thank you for being awesome.
pps: Johnny, no Oscar could ever be worth your salt. You are a frickin genius.

here's a clip of the infamous tea party...
now go get yourself a ticket and watch the whole movie!


I don’t know quite what to do with myself today. I got home from the movie last night and ate blueberries & ice cream at 11:30pm while I cried. Today I had a nap instead of eating lunch and then downed fries & a pepsi shortly after. All I want to do right now is to sleep and eat chocolate...

Ha, who says I’m an emotional eater…

Anyway, I’m now suddenly under the assumption that I’m completely wasting my life. I've thought this before, but today the feeling has struck me even more so. Children are being drugged & raped and I’m…working quietly in an office building? Spending money on myself? Ptooey.

As uncomfortable as I am right now, I’m resisting the urge to flee into greener, more naive pastures. I think we do that too often in our dangerously-cozy culture. So for now I’m going to sit in my discomfort until I figure out some way to do something productive with my grief. Let me know if you think of anything.

Monday, March 29, 2010

a movie called Holly.

I considered not writing a post right now - it would be easier to write once my emotions are all safely behind me (by at least a few hours). But, as it stands, I am at my computer and typing anyways.

There have been a group of stand-out moments in my life that have absolutely broken my heart beyond a degree I know what to "do with". When I was little, it was the annual telethon. When I was in college, it was the book I read on a certain child-abusing cult. A few years ago, it was my study of the Rwandan genocide. Tonight, it was a movie called Holly. Holly takes a very close and honest (heartbreaking) look at human sex trafficking, gives it a name and a heartbeat, and asks some very comfort-threatening questions.

I am wrecked.
The problem with these moments is that they are so massive that I really do feel incapacitated underneath them. I am not a girl opposed to discomforting emotions though, and I think we're often too quick to look for something to do so that we don't have to feel as bad for as long. Perhaps, though, the least I can do in my blessed-little-life is grieve genuinely, and not rush myself into a happier more comfortable state of being. And then in that grief find hope, and learn how to respond.

I will be sorting through this movie's story (and the truth of it) for a long time to come. As hard as it was to watch (this is not a movie that will get easier with time or repetition, either), I am going to suggest that you watch it. This is a conversation that needs to happen way more often. This movie was not sensationalized; though it is a "movie" it is still reality. The same organization (the K11 project and Priority Films) actually filmed a documentary called The Virgin Harvest at the exact same time as Holly. This is real. This actually happens, is happening, will happen if we who aren't enslaved by others continue to turn a blind eye. I wonder what would happen if, instead of saying "I don't know how to fix it, I will therefore do nothing" we said "I don't know how to fix it...but I am going to do something."

(as you likely know, this isn't just a "foreign" issue - plenty of this going on right here at home.
Something to think about?)

in just a few years...

...this drawing will look very different.

Je veux aller à Paris (titre alternatif: ashley avant Paris)

I have decided, after watching Coco Avant Chanel, that I

a) want to learn French, and
b) desperately want to spend a year in Paris

Je peux penser sans meilleure manière de passer 12 mois que l'écriture dans un livre sous Tour Eiffel ou écouter le fleuve de Seine pendant que j'écris une nouvelle chanson avec mon guitere.
(I can think of no better way to spend 12 months than to write underneath the Eiffel Tower or play my guitar to the sound of the river Seine)

La mode, le romance, la créativité en expectative.
(the fashion, the romance, the expectant creativity.)

Maintenant, n'avez-vous pas une tante riche dans le bon ol Paris nécessitant un compagnon?
(Please tell your rich aunt that your friend wants to board in her guest room for a year)

(does English not sound completely atrocious? I can't even type it in big letters. Oh mon!)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

the big man in the sky

I watched a movie a couple months ago called “The Invention of Lying”. The movie stars funny (but awkward) man Ricky Gervais and girl-next-door-beauty Jennifer Garner (who was the star of the best show ever made, before this dufus got her pregnant and ruined the series). While the first five minutes of the movie were fairly crass (parental/high standards warning), the rest of the movie was entertaining. This movie at its outset was promoted as a comedy – and it is – but I realized as I was watching it that underneath the surface there were ideas more profound than a simple punch line. I saw more than one of these threads as the movie played out, but there is one specific moment that absolutely struck me with its poignancy. It happened right near the end of the movie (don’t worry, I won’t give away the ending); and it’s actually taken me this long to figure out how to write about it.

Our main character (played by Jen) is about to make a big, life altering decision. In her face you see the distress she’s feeling as she tries to decide between option A and option B. Ricky’s character simply stands there and asks her, “What do you want?...what do you want?” The pressure builds until finally she is yelling in painful desperation, “Tell me what the big man in the sky wants! Tell me, what does he want?” This line pierced me, as I saw played out before me the learned nature of so many: the inability to make decisions because we are waiting for the “big man in the sky” to come along and tell us where our feet should go.

I can’t and won’t assume that everybody reading this believes that there is a God. However (and if you haven’t guessed it already), I definitely do. I’ve researched other options and I tell ya, nothing makes sense to me without Him; not flowers, not the complexity of the human body, not the tidal pull of the ocean. (side note: Check out Rob Bell's "Everything is Spiritual" dvd, it will blow your mind). For those who believe in God, a major train of thought is often, “what does he want? What is His will for my life?” Fair question. But like any character in any plot line, eventually: we have to make a decision.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about will: ours vs God’s, God’s will on its own, and how we know if we’re doing what “God wants” (also phrased “what is my calling?”). Sometimes (and we’ve all got stories to prove it), God says to a person “Go to this place specifically”, or “do this specific thing”. This is a very real part of active belief: at times, I may be asked to do something far beyond the reaches of my comfort zone, or I may simply be asked to do some very specific job/vocation/"calling". I can’t settle, however, on the idea that God always spells the words out for us so clearly. Couldn’t it be said that sometimes, God’s will is a little less geographically specific? What I mean is this: regardless of where we are or who is around us, could it be that His “will” for me is simply that I love Him with my life?

This “will” is unchanging and is required of me in my day to day actions and thoughts, regardless of where I am. This is my specific calling. His will for me is to honour him with my decisions, regardless of what those decisions may be. Am I honouring him? Then I am in His will. His will for me is to trust him, no matter how much of a mess I seem to be in. His will for me is most certainly to listen intently for his voice – but his will for me is also to use my will and decision making power; he gave me a brain and reasoning skills, and I am pretty sure he expects me to use them. I know his will for me is not to live in guilt for past mistakes. His will for me is not to hurt other people, deny them grace, or envy what they’ve got. I know He wants me to learn how to give; and how to receive.

I know that sometimes, His Calling on my life will cause me short term pain; but sometimes, I need to be stretched or broken or humbled in order to grow. Sometimes, He doesn’t take me on the short route to get somewhere: like the Israelites and the Promised Land, he took them on a meandering path through a desert for 40 years instead of on the short straight road that led between the two cities. Who am I to demand that my life should always consist of short, direct pathways? I was never promised this. I was not promised only green pastures, but valleys, too. I believe that sometimes, His leading will feel like I am walking right up to my Death and asking for more – but isn’t this what we are called to do anyway, to lay down our lives? To die to ourselves? I no longer need to assume that I have sidestepped His will for me because I’ve got an obstacle in my path; instead of turning around when I come up to a wall, why don’t I ask for help in climbing over it?

So this is His will for me, and I no longer need to fret about decision A or B on His behalf. Most of these kinds of decisions (“here or there God, this or that?”) are merely distractions from the actual heart of the matter. They are not bad things; they are not to be avoided. They should be embraced, but with the knowledge that in doing so, in taking action, in walking forward, His will for me hasn’t changed one bit. Of course I still listen to His voice in my life and in my decision making. But I also need to remember that he can use me wherever I am. And He will, if only I too, am willing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


My sister Holly and I share a brain cell (yes. just one). Sometimes we each get half (which works the most in our favour) and some of the other times, one person steals the entire brain cell, leaving the other person entirely oblivious. It’s not normally evident - we have become pretty good at masquerading as “with it” and “mentally together” people - however there is, on occasion, a breakthrough so profound that anyone in earshot would think we were joking. I still remember one of the first occasions where we learned how similarly our brains worked (or rather, didn’t). We were sitting on the floor in our living room, eating cereal at the coffee table. I picked up the box at one point in a fury of passion.

“HOLLY!” I yelped. “Lucky Charms!!! LuckyChaaarrrmmms. Like, there are lucky charms in the box, and it is called Lucky Charms.” She laughed. She made fun. So did I. But soon after this, a trend started. Whenever one of us would discover the “secret” meaning of a word or experience a thought so dull that only we could think it – we started to tell each other. From this point on, life got better.

Some time later (could have been a few weeks or years), we were sitting across from each other on our kitchen counters – the coolest place for a late night chat with a sibling. Holly hopped off the counter at one point. The moment her feet hit the floor, she was laughing. Harder than I think I’ve ever heard her laugh. So I started laughing, because she was laughing. And finally, when she could form the words, she explained the genuine thought that had crossed through her mind at that mid-air moment. “It’s a good thing I have legs,” she had marvelled, “otherwise I would have landed right on the floor”. Yes Holly, it is a good thing you have legs. (what’s even better is that we tell each other these things instead of keeping them to ourselves).

This trend of sharing a brain cell that we had begun in our younger years at home carried over into our lives even when we were not together. Following my second year of college, for example, I travelled with my (now) best friends to Nebraska to work at a summer camp. During this time, we took a road trip to Colorado to camp in the mountains. Somewhere along the I-5, as we were following a U-Haul trailer, I had another moment. It was dark and we were tired; the car had fallen silent. Suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, a shrill voice (mine) pierced the silence.

“U-haul!” I nearly screamed.
Silence. Bewilderment. Nervous laughter.
“U-haul!” I repeated, with less volume and more intensity. “Like, as in, yooouu haul it, as in you are hauling the stuff. U-haul!”

I had never felt more excited to realize something; I’m not sure I’ve ever felt smarter; it was a grand moment of discovery! Apparently, being so far away from my sister rendered my half of the brain cell entirely useless.
Thankfully, my friends stayed friends with me. And of course, Holly laughed as hard as I did when I told her the story.
These situations have happened so often for us over the years that in a brief conversation this morning, we both realized we can’t actually remember a lot of the times this has happened (although I do remember it happening a lot).

Lately we’ve begun to discover words and their origins, and how actually, words make sense. Phrases weren’t put together by happenstance or clumsy decision. They actually, you know, mean what you think they would mean when you say them. Phrases like “brand spanking new” (like a baby!), “piece of cake” (easy as eating a piece of cake, perhaps?), and “daylight savings” (because you are saving…daylight….ta da!) come to mind. Or what about words like elevator, computer, or sidewalk? A cubicle is square. And don’t even get me started on telephone, television, teleport, telekinetic… remarkable! It’s like they knew what they were doing when they invented words! Ha!

I’m sure that by now you’ve either had to downgrade your own mental abilities to compensate for a lack of them on my end (or you’ve begun to look for “special projects” for me to do next time we use scissors); regardless, I’m going to share with you our latest discovery. Well, it was Holly’s (to be fair). This one’s a bit of a stray from our other “discoveries” but it still fits in, simply because we both turned into giggling nerds when we learned it was true.

“For all intensive purposes” is incorrect.
“For all intents & purposes” is correct.

Who knew? I certainly didn’t. I had always "heard it" the first way. I actually Googled it when she told me, because I didn’t believe her (me, the English Lit snob).

So there you have it; that is today’s lesson in English phrasing, with a bit more context than you probably needed. You’re welcome.

Monday, March 22, 2010

before and after

Hear ye, hear ye, the Queen of Procrastination is making a speech:


On this day in March of the year two thousand and ten, I would like to announce to you (my treasured comrades) that I have officially and actually organized my room. It is now possible to walk from the door to the opposite corner and back without fear of losing life or limb. My armchair has re-emerged as a shapely and inviting piece of furniture (rather than a shapeless and desperate lump). The tall shelf has been cut in half (yes, I used a saw all by myself) and re-built and now sits pleasantly by the wall; its contents: organized. The bed has been made and is a vision of pristinely chosen linens, rather than an invitation into the mind of a restless sleeper with its twisted blankets and upturned pillows. The desk awaits its turn to order, as does the box of "to-be-done's" beside it. But my closet has announced with a pride rarely felt that if even HE could be organized, then the desk has nothing to fear. “Soon enough, old friend” came the reassurance from my Wardrobe to my Workspace.

From the pack-rat ways of my youth to the 14 times I moved in a 10 year span (ah, young adulthood), this has been a long and arduous journey. Every move included a box or two of “Miscellaneous”. You've had this too, right? Now imagine those boxes 14 times over. Add in there a schedule filled with “I can do this for myself later, I will do this for you now” and an overall overfilled calendar, and I usually had to squish my Feats of Organizational Madness into a weekend or an afternoon. My quick fix “organizing” jobs (when people were coming over) were often reversed and undone in a matter of days. (important distinction: I was disorganized, not dirty…blech). The funniest part is that I’ve made a living for years ensuring that other people were organized. Because in my head, I am organized. There is a side of me that is very Monica. I don’t like specs on the carpet, I like all my pencils to be sharpened the exact right amount, and my hangers and shirts all need to face the same way in my closet (don't even get me started on window streaks).

The problem arose when I got so busy organizing everyone else that I didn’t take any time to organize myself – hence, the rushed “morning before everyone comes over” organizing sessions; hence, the quick undoing of my work a few days later, as I was never home long enough to maintain a decent system. If I was home, I was only home long enough to brush my teeth and hop in bed. I was lying in bed one night a few months ago (perhaps in December?) and I had a moment of connectivity with my surroundings (rare, for one so overscheduled): My room was a mess. A very, very big mess. This mess wasn't just surface; it wasn't just clothes piled on a chair or papers stacked on a desktop. It was disorganized from the bottom up; from the very drawerest-drawer to the shelfest-shelf. So I got up the next morning (a weekend, thankfully) and decided that it was time to overhaul my surroundings. I took all of my storage boxes out of my closet (my hiding place for junk when people come over), and all of my clothes, too. I took every thing off of every shelf and I put it in the center of my floor. This method won’t make sense to most, but for me it was the only way to go about it. I had to start over. I had to go through every box and put everything left there in a place. I had to make sure there were places available. And, I had to make sure that everything that could go, went. The problem, of course, is that my schedule forgot to pay attention to my plans, and I was soon off and running into 2010. Home only long enough to sleep (and sometimes, not even then).

Like any good intention, it soon rose to the top of my list of “musts!” Like any list item set beside an overstuffed calendar, it got pushed back, and pushed back, and pushed back. It was so hard to ignore though: the entire contents of my room were in the middle of my floor. From corner to corner; from carpet to kneecap. It was overwhelming, and annoying, and real, and…didn’t fit in my schedule.

But as I have been learning about budgeting my money and managing the whole of life, I have been thinking a lot about how I budget my time. And I’ve realized: I kind of suck at it. So after about a week or so of slowing down the wheels of busyness, I finally stayed home and organized my life. Saturday AM after a very satisfying run, I started. Like a long drive through familiar territory, I don’t actually remember most of it. I looked at my room on Sunday morning and I had to remind myself what I did to get it there. I pictured the folding of all the clothes (oh, the clothes), and the organizing of the boxes and shelves, the vacuuming of the carpet and the making of the bed and it was then that I felt a wash of pride all over again: I took time for myself. I actually took time for myself.

Like any major epiphany, this one hardly happened on the weekend alone. It’s taken me years to sort through and prioritize a lifetime of belongings. I have purged through more household items and wardrobe choices and pieces of paper over the span of my life than most people collect, ever. I have re-taught and re-taught myself what to keep and what to toss (in a more instantaneous fashion). I have begun to prize simplicity and I am proud to say I think I’m actually starting to see the effects of it on my tangible life. I am learning how important it is to have a place for everything. And last night, I enjoyed the fruits of my labour, as I sat in my cozy armchair and played guitar. When I looked out over my room, I could see my whole floor.

Perhaps as you read this you are brushing off the urge to judge the mess I’ve just told you I created. But like my finances, I eventually stopped being embarrassed about the mess I’d gotten into and decided instead to embrace it so I could move on. It took awhile (a long while, just ask my patient roommate), but it's done.

I think we’ve all got things like this. The messy room in my life was a tangible one – it was my actual room. This room of mine is incredibly symbolic in so many ways, though, and as I worked through the mess I am sure that somewhere in my soul, another mess was being sorted out. So this is where I leave you: it may take you years upon years of trying, but sorting through that enormous mess you’ve been ignoring is worth it. So, so worth it.

With Love,
The Queen of Procrastination
(formerly known as the Queen of a Messy Room)

Friday, March 19, 2010

happy friday?

practice run number one of twenty two

Well I did it! On Tuesday I started a process that I'm actually getting more and more excited about. I'm really looking forward to seeing myself grow as a runner (which Chelsea promised me would happen). It took me about an hour to run the track I've marked out from my house - and I've realized that as time goes on and I get better, I'll have to extend that journey as I'll be covering the ground faster. It's an exciting prospect.  I told my coworker I started a running club - sure, I'm the only real member, but it sounds so much more exciting to say it that way!

run number one, summation: well, it was basically "glorified walking"...or...walking, with a bit of jogging thrown in. I do push myself, but I don't want to push myself too hard or too fast - injuries would be a pretty significant let down. I did run farther than I've run before though (I have invisible markers laid out where I run) which means I'm already seeing progress from last week! (oh - even though this is "run one" of my official practice runs, I ran last week too).

My next run is tomorrow morning - I was trying to figure out who would pick me up from the car dealership when I dropped off my car for servicing, and then - bam! - I realized: I could just run home, SO I'm going to. I suprise myself! First I get up early on a Saturday, then I start an exercise regime...what's left?

(using mapmyrun.com, I’ve calculated that my overall distance from start and back to the finish was approximately 5.34km. Remember, this was mostly a walking practice.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

oh, pardon me!

I suppose it would’ve been wise, before I posted the last bit about chocolate, to post something that addressed beans & rice month, because I obviously didn't finish. You’ll have to forgive me – both for eating chocolate before I told you about it and also for not finishing beans & rice month the way I expected that I would. I’ve been delaying telling you about it, partially because I wonder if you'll stop being my friend, and mostly because of self-inflicted-toldyouso’s.

the explanation: As it turns out, my body doesn’t do well on only beans & rice. It does so poorly, in fact, that I ended up rushing to the doctor’s office in a panic by day eight (not even because I’m a hypochondriac, but because the three friends I bounced symptoms off of all said to go to the doctor!!!). I went to the doctor, the doctor’s eyes widened a very noticeable amount, tests have been ordered, and now I await my results. In the meantime, I’m back to eating a normal diet: every meal of the day, and for all my snacks, too. And yes, I even eat chocolate on occasion.

This is the disclaimer, and the most important part: I still haven’t spent any extra money on groceries, which means I can still send money to hungry people! I had a budgeted amount on “day one” that I would set aside to give away, and I’m happy to say that the money is still intact! I have been able to eat using what was already in my house, what my friends have fed me, and the reasonable grocery budget I had allotted before I began. This was – to me – the most important part of this “beans & rice” project. I certainly psyched myself up about the food side the day before we started…but by the end of day one I knew (no…I knewww) I would not be riding this month out as I had hoped. So I changed my priorities: eat normally, but send the money.

I’m working on the administration of sending it (communicating with the organization, signing up for paypal, etc), and have that budgeted number sitting patiently in my bank account, ready to be sent to a place that needs it more. So while I do apologize for not finishing (can one apologize for health problems? hmm), I also am going to not apologize for starting. It was a sobering experience, I learned my lesson, and also got re-acquainted with my doctor. Good things all around.

For those who are curious, I’m sending my money to God’s Little Angels – an orphanage in Haiti. I’ll do a write-up on this later!

(...you may have gotten wind of this "FAIL" through recent posts, I've been trying to ease the news in gently)

low standards, defined.

me, to coworker: do you have any chocolate?
coworker: well I do, but it's expired.

(for the record, I scored the whole box. they're Belgian. and they're delicious)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

gravity: it's a real thing

I was a gangly, awkward youth with little (*cough* no) athletic ability – I spent most of my adolescence and young adulthood sitting on the couch reading books or writing poetry (I know right, how cool am I?). While in my younger years this type of behaviour sufficed, I’m starting think a lot more these days about heart health, joint strength, muscle endurance, and lung capacity. Surely, my couch-potato days have hindered optimum efficiency in these areas.

To make up for it, I decided awhile ago that I wanted to start running. I’ve been toying with this idea for a few years, but I usually end up stopping after about a month for various reasons. But now I’ve got a nurse friend on hand to remind me to eat my body weight in pasta every day and I’ve got brand new running shoes (that are oh-so-sweet), and to top it all off: I signed myself up for the Sun Run on May 9.

May 9 is only SEVEN WEEKS away! I made that realization a little less than an hour ago. The Sun Run is a 10k jaunt through the streets of Vancouver (I think…I’ve never actually done it). My only goal, really, is to finish (even last place would be a point of pride for me). However, while the temptation to just “wing it” on May 9 has crossed my mind, I’ve decided I should probably train a little bit, if not as much as I can, before that day comes.

I’ve just written up my schedule, and I’ve got approximately 22.5 hrs of running scheduled between now and May 9 (not including The Run itself).

Here. We. Go.

(if you see me at any point during this month, feel free to bring me bowls of pasta or loaves of bread. I will eat them)

the pictures don't make sense to anyone else.

the scene: a girl, sitting beach side, beside her shipwrecked faith on the edge of a lonely island.
her clothing: white, but tattered.
the ship is big and broken: jagged and unkempt; aged and weathered; dark, silent, and brooding.
the girl is near the water, but not close enough to touch the closest tide.

the scene: one lonely girl, on one lonely island.
her heart: alive, but battered.
the pain she feels is dark, silent, and brooding... but subtle enough to stay beneath.
she sits out by the water, to watch the ships go by.

the ships: one of every kind. Some are expansive, and some are quaint, but all are kept well as they sail around the water, past this waiting ship on the girl's (consenting) island. There are luxurious ships at sea, 18 floors high and just as wide; brimming with bubbling champagne, their decks are filled with women in furs and diamonds; their tables are surrounded by men who like to hear themselves. There are mid-sized ships, too,  made of steel and copper and cologne colored wood - polished and majestic, even with their humble size. The men that man these ships are deep voiced and broad shouldered and happy; but even in their jollity, they are ready to defend: they are muscle clad but fear driven. There are also small-sized ships sailing about the ocean, resembling simple structured houseboats. Families live here (family either by blood or other ties); these ships smell like Christmas dinner and living room fireplaces and warm, down-stuffed comforters.

the girl: knows each ship before it meets her vision.
the passengers: pause their songs and conversations only long enough to yell things to the waiting shoreline and its rusty inhabitant.
the girl: resents being told what a mess she is.
the passengers: never come to shore.

the families (the ones that smell like food and blankets and comfort) come the closest, but even still, will not drop their anchor. Instead, they slow the boat to show the girl the ways they spend their time.

"Do what we do!" they yell.

the strongmen on their iron ships sail the fastest; they may have physical strength but the destitution of the girl (a rags-not-riches audience) seems such a contrast to their own outward majesty that they paralyze their strength with silence. They close their mouths and avert their eyes and move the boats as quickly as they can through the water.

they say nothing.

the diamond ships and their blushing faces go the slowest, and stay in view the longest. The men debate the cause of such a wreck and the women search their brains for ways to hide it. Each suggestion, both for the cause and for the cover, are spoken loudly and with pride.

There are too many suggestions tumbling out at once; none are distinguished from the other.

This is the pattern: from sun rise to sun rise to sun rise (and set, to set, to set).
Our girl sits on her island, and awaits a pattern change.
while she waits, she notices the water (while trying to ignore the boats).
she looks for hope in nature;
the clouds are white, but scattered.

pass years
pass years

no pattern change:
one girl, alone on a lonely island
the crowd at sea, ignoring what they can.

sun rise,

One solitary man comes this way upon the water.
One small wooden boat: paint chipped, salt soaked and tattered by the lengthy sea.
This man, this boat, comes beachside
To a lonely girl on a solitary island.

He pauses once at shore, and looks knowingly at the wreck beside the water.
He moves again, and pauses once more: to sit beside her.
He doesn't say much, just that he'll stay here until she's ready to Go.

sun set.
sun rise.
sun set.
sun rise.
upon years,
upon years.

"Go where?" she asks.

A smile underneath the eyes of a man who has waited and walked and crossed oceans to hear her say these very words.

A hand in a hand, a reluctant step, and a man who calms the oceans with his voice.

One solitary boat, one Friend and a lonely girl, sailing away from that wreck on the island.

© afterthoughtcomposer

Saturday, March 13, 2010

i was meant for sleeping in

This morning, as you may have read, I got up early. After only 6 hours of sleep, I was wide awake at 8am on a Saturday. Perhaps I should clarify that I never gotten up (without a reason) this early on a Saturday before; not even once. If I don't have somewhere to be, I sleep in; it's a hard and fast rule I've lived by since birth. This morning, however, I decided to "just try" getting up and getting going at that abnormal-for-a-weekend hour. I made myself some tea, processed some thoughts on the blog here and finished a load of laundry. Productive morning, and it felt great. I then went downtown for lunch, to visit some out-of-town friends & their adorable baby; at Calhoun's, a trendy little spot on West Broadway (where everyone but us had a laptop and a latte at their table).

By the time we had visited and I was back on the road to my house, I was feeling slightly nauseated. By the time I pulled into my driveway an hour later, I was almost falling asleep at the wheel (my head even nodded a few times... don't tell my mom). I stumbled in my house, changed quickly into my pj's, and crashed. Four blissful hours later, I awoke. To the smell of my roommate and her friend eating a late dinner.

It's been about 3 hours since I woke up, and I've passed enough time and gotten in enough activity to remove "slothful" from today's descriptive words. With that being said - I'm off to bed again, and I can feel my body shutting down as I write this.

I blame you, 8am.

the deficit generation

You know what's weird? ...I'm up. It's 8am, it's Saturday, and I'm awake (alright Adulthood, now it's getting personal). I suppose I could have kept on sleeping - I have a natural gift for going right back to sleep on days like this. But as I lay in bed I heard my brain start saying crazy things, like "Just try it." Well, truth be told, I've never "just tried it", when it comes to getting up early on a sleep-in day for no reason. But here I am. I tried it. I've got my Tazo Awake tea steeping in one of my favorite mugs (I have a thing for mugs), and I've got Jill Paquette crooning me softly from my laptop speakers. It's sunny. Oddly enough, I'm a lot less bitter about being "up" than I thought I would be. Huh.

The reason I'm here with you so promptly is that while my brain was thinking of ways to dare me out of bed, it was also thinking about....wait for it... finances. At 8am. I even drifted off to sleep for a moment while I was fighting the decision to awake fully, and had a wee dream, in which my friend Lavonne was asking me questions about the cash budget. That was the kicker - it must be time to blog more about money.

Recently (sssh), I was having a conversation with friends over tapas. They asked me about budgeting, and what was this course I was taking, anyway. Much to my delight, it was they who asked the questions - it was they who showed interest. Did you know that I have yet to meet a person under 30 who is not interested in what I'm learning? This tells me something: despite the high cost of education, there is an area in which we as a generation have faced some serious lack of direction. That area is personal finance.

For some of us, we were taught well by our parents to save for a rainy day (wise advice!). Still others of us were taught by our parents, a little less directly, that it's important to enjoy life; that as long as you can 'afford' the payment, you can sign your name on the lease. There are still others of us who were taught nothing, and therefore, taught everything.

But even for those of us who've had the most practical advice from our parents, I daresay even we have more to learn about how we spend & save our money. I know this, because as a generation, we are in debt. Serious, serious amounts of debt. According to The Wall Street Journal, 70% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. That means 7 out of 10 families on your street—your friends and neighbors—are only one paycheck away from disaster.

7 out of 10 of us!! Go outside and stand on your street. Count ten houses. Put three aside. The rest of them are in serious financial trouble. Again, this is an American statistic, but there are Canadian figures too that are just as frightening. This article, stating that the average Canadian household debt is at now at a record high, has shocked and saddened me the most so far. This sentence, I think, sums up everything I want to say, everything I have been learning, and everything I want to change:

“For far too many, there is too little income, too much spending,
too little saving and too much debt.”

...Debt. Did you know that "Debt" is a very new thing? Think about your Gramma. In her generation (less than 100 years ago), debt was something only the worst of sinners had to their names. To owe even $5 on your house meant you were shunned from the neighborhood and likely, the church. They only ever had a cash budget. They lived within their means and bought it when they had the money, and never before. Next, think about your parents. A booming generation, in more ways than one. Television, radio, magazines & all other forms of media ran laps around their predecessors from the time your parents were young to the time when they were  buying houses and cars and having babies. This allowed product marketing to become a viable career - and a convincing new tool for consumer spending; but I need it, want it, have to have it. If you could market well, you could set yourself for life. The very first Credit Card was invented in 1950. Our parents were some of the first to embrace debt as a way of life. They started to trickle their debt in slowly - and by the time we came along, debt was normal and saving was a quickly dropping item on the national priority list. So then, think about us. Where does a generation go, when they started out thinking that debt was inevitable?

To buy anything, we turn to debt. When we want to go to school, when we want to buy a car, when we want to buy a house, when we want to buy a TV or a couch or a kitchen table; when we renovate our houses or go on vacation, the majority of us turn to debt to do it. Sometimes, we even go into debt to buy dinner or entertain ourselves. We use credit, because that is what credit is for. We get loans because we have to. Right?

 0% financing! No money down! Buy now, pay later!
The problem with this philosophy is that we are intensely ill prepared for LIFE - 7 out of 10 of us, you may recall. Gramma's advice to save for a rainy day is wiser than you think - because the rain is coming. Did you know that each one of us will encounter a significant negative financial event in any given 10 year period? What this means: emergencies happen. Emergencies that disability insurance and life insurance and car insurance can not prepare you for. But the funny thing about a financial emergency is that if you have the money to pay for it, it stops being an emergency. If you simply save and budget wisely, you'll be fine. You'll be in the 3% of our continent who are prepared.

But who is teaching us these things? Who is sitting down with us and teaching us how much freedom comes from a good budget? (yes, I said freedom. that was not a typo!). Who advises us on how to prepare for job loss, serious illness, household emergency renovations (flooding? emergency furnace repair? roof leak?). Maybe, just maybe, you are the one person who's parents had an Emergency Fund. And maybe you have one too. Guess what though - you're almost entirely alone, because the rest of us don't have that. In fact, I daresay most of us reading this are thinking, "Emergency Fund? Why? What for? I could just use my Visa!!"

The question that arises here & now pertains to the 70% of us who live for that cheque. What do we do? How do we save, if everything we make has already got someone else's name on it? That's to come, my friends. For now, a project - if you dare (you should do this, and not just because I said so). Pull out your bank statements for the past few months and categorize all of your spending by month; if you stick mostly to credit cards, then pull those statements out too. Tally up your eating out, groceries, gas, car payments, debt payments, giving/tithing, saving, starbucks visits & coffee store purchases, and unknown "what did I do with that $20 withdrawl, anyway?"s'  - you're going to need your calculator for this one. And a big red pen, and some tape. Write the totals in big red pen, and tape it somewhere you'll have to stare at it for at least 3 days.

Why oh why would you do this? Why would I suggest you look backwards? Well, it wasn't a specific instruction from Sir Dave (that I recall), but I am of the mind that I can't very well go forward if I don't know where I've been. And I've learned that the gap between what I thought I was spending and what I was actually spending had grown quite large (yikes); I daresay, you may come across a few surprises of your own. I reasoned that I couldn't very well make a plan for my money without knowing what my old, non-productive plan had been. I actually got really industrious with this - and pulled my bank statements from all of 2009. I considered it an act of penance for my unwise money management...and a signpost marker, for where I'd never go again.

This isn't an easy task; it's slightly painstaking and it could wind up being a heavy-handed smack from reality. But you should do it anyway. Do you know how much you are overspending what you make? Scrap that - do you even know how much you are spending, at all? Do you know how much you pay out in interest payments and fees? How much unplanned spending do you do in a given pay period (and goodness gracious, a given year)?

I loved what Dave had to say about budgeting, a few lessons ago. It was along the lines of "if you don't tell your money where to go, you'll end up wondering where it went." While he applied this principle to a forward thinking budget, it has implications for what we've done in the past, too.

How in control of your finances are you? How willing are you to re-learn, to re-consider what you "know" about personal finances? For those of you who (like me) have gotten themselves into a bit of a pickle over the years, know that your road to Financial Peace won't be a walk in the park. It might actually be really hard! For example, I've just realized that even with diligence, it will be 5 years before I'm debt free. That feels like a really long time to me.

But then I think, that before I made this plan and before I paid any attention to my finances, my payoff date was almost 20 years away. So what changed between now and January? I didn't win a million dollars, I didn't get a pay raise, and I didn't inherit any windfalls. The only thing I did was make a plan - and subsequently cut down my payoff time by 75%. I am making my money work for me instead of wondering where it went. Because of this, that sunshiny day of total freedom is closer than I ever thought it could be. It won't be easy, but it will certainly be worth it.

Taking this course has taught me so many things. It has completely shifted my financial paradigm. But add to that: it's made me pretty steamed, that we've become a people enslaved to our money, and unprepared for the days ahead. It's changing with me, friends - but I think we could do a lot more damage together. I wonder what it would be like, to have an entire community living without any debt?

related afterthoughts: like no one else

If you can name ten people under 30 (that you know personally) who are not in any amount of debt whatsoever (mortgage free, student loan free, credit card free), I am sending you a free Laurell CD. I honestly don't think this exists anymore...maybe in a rare, counter-cultural community...perhaps?

Friday, March 12, 2010

break time

Today: is most definitely Friday. It’s only one o’clock, although it feels like it could at least be three. I’m munching on some dried mango slices given to me by a co-worker, and hoping that by the time I leave the office today, the Sun has found its way through the clouds. I’ve got my dayplanner open on my desk, just to my left. On today’s page, I’ve taped a schedule for my evening:

430 – enjoy the productive serenity found in the empty church office, send an email to 500 people, and learn as much as I can about the Dewey Decimal System (without actually taking a class).

630 – head home, and convince myself that a list of long neglected to-do’s is much more important than being with friends.

635 – begin to-do list: whites in the wash, dismantle the shelf, darks in the wash, hang the whites, fold the clothes that are still hanging on my drying rack (that I put there last week), organize my desk, look for things to give away (to lessen the load on my bedroom floor), and then, of course, finish the laundry. (I think it’s safe to say that laundry is very quickly becoming the bane of my existence)

800 – break time. Time to consider the lilies; time to eat the meal I’ve just neglected. Open up the laptop while my food is heating up, and download the stack of free itunes songs I’ve accumulated from miscellaneous starbucks visits. Throw on an old familiar sweater, prep the tea, and curl up in front of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. (the one with the secret closet, or the one where Chandler takes a bath!).

900 – realize that by “break time”, I meant “I have reached capacity”. Continue hanging out with my favourite fictional characters. Wonder what all my real-life friends are doing. Mentally prepare for tomorrow morning’s run. Revel in the long forgotten act of solitude.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

humility and art

“As soon as you think you’ve found it, you’ve lost it.
As soon as you’ve lost it, you’ve found it again.”

I heard this quote by a pastor a few years ago in a sermon he was preaching, on Humility, and my love for snappy sayings has kept it firmly in my memory bank. I’ve been thinking a lot about Humility lately… or in the past few days rather, in the aftermath of thought that’s come out of this post.

Blogging is a funny thing. Such a funny thing, in fact, that every blog I’ve had over the years has ended up having a post remarkably similar to this one. On the one hand, I revel in the space I’ve created here: you know the one: where I can craft my words exactly how I want to. On the other hand, I wonder what it’s like to be someone that doesn’t know me and come across this written piece of mind. An interesting thought; one I’ve been considering, obviously.

I suppose I wonder where Blogging crosses over into Narcissism, or if these two things are irrevocably one and the same. I certainly hope they can be seperated – and hope to keep those boundary lines as far apart as I can. As tempted as I am to worry about whether or not I’ll cross this line (or if I’ve crossed it already), I won’t (at least, not for long). To soothe my waning conscience I keep thinking about dancers and painters and violin-concerto-ists… the first group dances, the second group paints, and the third group rips their fingers up to learn the music. In short: dancers dance, painters paint, and musicians play music – they do this if they’re all alone, or if the world is watching. It becomes a part of who they are, and even when they miss a note or trip onstage, it doesn’t change the fact that this is what they do to breathe. They show their work because it’s theirs and not because it’s perfect. I suppose it can also be decided, then, that writers who write to breathe must also keep on writing, regardless of what gets dropped on the pages.

I wonder
 how little art
there would be in the world
if perfection
and compliance
were the only motivations
for creating.

both art pieces taken from www.lilymoonhome.blogspot.com
girl is created by lilymoon -see blog
little bird is a creation by little doodles. find more of her stuff on etsy.

pushing back the deadline

Many of you will remember that November 2009 was quite a busy month for me! I participated in something called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and consequently disappeared from view for all of November, largely without warning. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I am happy to say that although I started late, I finished early: after only 25 days (and only 19 days of actual writing), I finished. When I was done, I fully planned on having the book printed & available to read by the end of February. I even promised you that! But as it turns out, life-after-NaNo has taken more getting used to than I originally thought it would.

In the space between November and Now, I have edited the manuscript only once by skimming through the pages, and I have let 4 willing test subjects give the book a read through (mostly to see if they survived). Soon, I plan on being the 5th reader and scrutinizing the pages a lot more thoroughly than I did the first time. Originally, I didn’t think I would care that much about making the book better. “It is what it is: I wrote it in 19 days!” …but as it turns out, I do care; months of delays and apprehensions have told me so! Now is the time, however, and I’ve started working this project back into my brain and schedule – so I can finish it before the next November starts.

I currently have the book out for editing in Ontario, in the hands of a beloved friend (who happens to be very intelligent in the ways of English lit). When I get it back from her in a few weeks, I will start my own process: the dreaded re-write. Ugh. I know this is a good thing, but I already gave birth to you; this child had better be twice as pretty at the end of this second labour! Once the book has been made over, reformed, torn up, and re-built, I will be sending it off to the printers (self-publish) and hopefully, to amazon.

So, dear friends, that is the update. Quite a few of you have been asking me oh-so-sweetly-and-kindly when you can give the book a read-through, and I’m not sure I’ve been able to give any of you a solid answer! So I came here today to tell you that you will be able to read it by…(*searches calendar, looking frantically for a deadline*)…Mid-may, I imagine. Late-May, and the late-latest (I think).

In related news: I could really use an extended, paid vacation.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

people too

Very recently, I purposely decided to challenge the status quo (something I enjoy; something that now comes naturally, often without even trying outright). A few hours later, I am still working through the reaction I got.

The topic at hand for the crowd's discussion: Who are the oppressed? Who do we stereotype and belittle in our society?
The answers put forward so far: young single moms, foster kids, the homeless, mentally & physically disabled people.

(These answers are painfully true and deserve far more attention than I am currently going to give them)

As the wonderful people are pondering these and coming up with more related ideas, a spirited member of the peanut gallery (yours truly) pipes out rather loudly with an answer not yet mentioned.

"celebrities" said the girl, knowing it would cause a stir.

(insert *stir* of crowd here; giggles, laughs, and disagreement)

Now, to be fair, I know exactly what I'm doing when I do this kind of thing. I know that I am about to say something completely unholy and directly opposed to the norm. And I know what you're thinking: celebrities are anything but oppressed. But this is where I have to disagree. I may be stirring the pot, and I may be doing it on purpose, but far be it from me to say something that loudly if I don't believe that I am right.

To oppress someone, in essence, is to deny them their humanity; to erase their dignity; to ignore their worthiness of grace. Instances of oppression are much more obvious in those well versed categories (see "answers" above), and oppression in those areas is absolutely devastating, unfair, and unjust - I am by no means trying to belittle the horrors seen the world over each day. It is sad yet true, that we categorize people's worth based on what we think of them; we somehow see fit to deem the dirty as less than human. But what we often forget is that we're doing the exact same thing in a different light when it comes to those on the fault-ridden pedestals they make in Hollywood. We deny their need for human decency because we see their actions as "asking for it" or "bringing it on themselves" - change the context, and you have the typical reaction to a homeless person.

Celebrities are wealthy and beautiful and talented. They live in big houses and they drive nice cars and they are well fed and well kept (for the most part). Peel all of that away, though, and they are people too. They are people who have lost their worth in our culture (as individuals worthy of grace, love, respect) because of an image. Your defense here might be that they choose the image, and again I digress to a different opinion. They may choose to act or sing or even to construct a public persona. I highly doubt, however, that they choose to have their marital troubles mocked at large, their mental illnesses made spectacle, their weakest moments held up on parade for the entertainment of millions. We put pictures of their cellulite on magazine covers and we make sure everyone knows when they make a parenting mistake. Why would we focus on our own faults, or the fact that 83% of us live our lives the exact same way that "they" do? (in some form or another)

We do this to them because we love it and because it's easier to point out a speck than own up to a plank. Entire professions are made from stalking, hunting, and tearing strips off of people's dignity. We love to set them up so we can watch them fall. In my eyes, this is merely another form of oppression. In my opinion, we are fooling ourselves if we think we're getting off scott free for this one.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

learning to run

Once again, the shoe makes all the difference. Only this time - it has nothing to do with the outfit.

I decided recently (as I have decided ad nauseum for the past few years) that I should start running. It's healthy and good for your heart, and besides: all the cool people do it. As you have probably guessed by now though, this plan is one I've abandoned as regularly as I've started it. Of course, I've gotten into semi-running-patterns before, but have yet to stick with said pattern for more than a month at a time. This time around, though, I am guaranteed to make it to at least two full months of running practice.

...because I have to, that's why.

Last month, an email came out to the employees at my workplace, encouraging us all to get involved in this year's Sun Run (a 10k run held in Vancouver each year). The email also said that our company would pay for the registration fees of the first 20 people to register for the "Company Team". Combining my love of all things FREE and my longstanding desire to get my butt in gear, I signed up less than a minute after the email started circulating. Ahemahemahem....meet the very first member of the Company Sun Run team :  me.

what? the salesgirl said they only had blue ones...
well, I suppose I can get the pink ones next time!

About a month has passed since the fateful day of my signing, and just last week I realized that I now have less than 2 months to rehearse for a 10 kilometre run...oh boy. I went out yesterday and picked up a brand new shiny pair of Asics* (pictured above, in pink though, sigh), and today, I went for my first run of the season.

For almost eleven years, I've been running in an old pair of running shoes that I stole from my mother** (for gym class in grade 11). They didn't fit me quite right, and it grew more and more obvious, over time, that they should be retired; they looked fine enough, but they were far from supportive (because they were so old and well used). I didn't really realize how bad they were though; not until today, when I was wearing my new shoes.

The shoes I bought, the Asics of course, are beyond comfortable and make me feel as though I'm walking on little puffs of air. The soles have gel pads in them, which provide cushioning for my aging joints - so the shoes absorb the hit of the pavement (instead of my knees). I'm not kidding you - it's like I was a different person out there this morning. Don't get me wrong: I still couldn't run the whole length of the pier, I still stopped to walk for 10 minutes after every 1 minute of running, and my lungs still had just as much difficultly building tolerance as they usually do. But other than those things, running felt so much easier today, in my new shoes. The ground didn't seem quite so annoyed to see me. My body used it's energy to propel itself forward, not absorb copious amounts of shock. It was raining and chilly - but the air was fresh and I felt good about being out there.

I think it's fitting, really, that this is the week I would recognize the difference a shoe makes.
Now all I need is a running partner!

*THANK YOU HOLLY! I will edit your papers any time!
*pt 2: 50% of runners wear Asics, and the other 50% wear everything else. What does that tell you!

**it's okay, she knew I was taking them.

Friday, March 5, 2010

marking parties

One of the most exciting things about “becoming an adult” is that my friends are adults too; and now instead of playing house or school or cops and robbers – we actually are those things (well, hopefully we aren’t robbers). I have friends that are moms, dads, teachers, plumbers, police officers, engineers, carpenters and pastors. We live in houses on our own, we go grocery shopping, we write cheques and deposit money into the ATM. We drive cars and take trips and plan weddings. We write music, we bake cookies, we paint for local galleries; we visit the symphony, have dinner parties and play hostess. This is the stuff of daily routine, so perhaps it isn’t really that exciting. But when you think about it in the context of your childhood, it is pretty darn cool.

When I was little, and before I learned to write, I used to scribble on paper instead – to make it look like writing. I would “sign documents” beside a clumsy red X, and I’d pick up my “receipt” after grocery shopping. All of these things were things I eventually started doing in reality, and now that I’m an adult, I don’t think about them nearly at all.

But then, yesterday, I got to do something that I used to pretend to do: I marked a math test.

A group of friends and I had congregated at a local coffee shop to enjoy some live music (performed by our friends). About halfway through the evening I looked down the way at my friends Natasha and Stacy – they were at the other end of the coffee shop and I hadn’t yet had a chance to say hello. I waited for an appropriate break in the music (so I could move), and went to sit with them for awhile. As I was walking over, I realized something: they were marking papers. Natasha is an elementary school teacher. They were marking school papers.

I was sitting down at the table right as this realization was settling its way into my brain, and by the time I was in my chair I was involuntarily (but excitedly) offering to help. Natasha gave me a red pen and I went through the stack in front of me, adding up the checkmarks on page 1 of each test. As I came across each “23/23”, I felt a little twinge of envy; as I came across each “10/23”, I felt a wave of sympathy. “Maybe he’s good at English” I would tell myself. Poor kid. I was never very good at math either, and in my elementary school days I used to dream about one day being so good at math that I got to be the one to put the big red X’s on the page.

I graduated highschool math with no less difficulty than I had passed through math every other year, and I am by no means any better at math now than I was when I graduated highschool (in fact, I believe I am worse!). But yesterday I got to mark a math test! Like scribbling lines on a page or writing fake signatures, marking “tests” was something I used to pretend to do as well. I would write the “test” in one color pen, and then get out a red pen and mark it with the pride and surety I had seen on my teacher’s faces at school.

Marking those tests last night was something very simple indeed, and on the surface, there wasn’t much to it. But doing something I had pretended to do in childhood (and secretly – geekily – always wished for) began a train of thought for me that’s carried me through until this morning: it was fun, wasn’t it; to be a child and dream about all the things we hadn’t yet done in life. Simple things like scanning our plastic groceries or rolling toy cars through the front garden – these were the things that filled us with excitement and passed our time. I wonder, now that these things are common place (as we buy real food and drive real cars), what is it that we’re filling our days with?

The beauty of running barefoot on the lawn or making yourself sick on a merry go round is that these moments require our undivided presence. How much of what we do, are doing, have done this year has required that we be entirely present with the people around us? I suppose what I am saying is this: we are the very things we dreamed of as children. We’re wearing the uniforms, driving the cars, and counting our kids. And these are good things. But I’m not sure this excuses us from giving up our right to dream big and to imagine that we could be doing things in 20 years that seem impossible now. I think I’m going to try – I’d like to have this oddly nostalgic moment again, when I’m 50 and looking back.

if this was you in elementary school, we probably weren't friends.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

like no one else

I’m trying to decide how likely it is that I will have a heart attack by the age of 30. Sure, I’m not over 65 and I don’t smoke and I don’t eat refried pork fat for breakfast…but I’m starting to feel a familiar squeezey feeling in my chest this morning – and it’s gotten me wondering how susceptible I am to this kind of physiological failure.

Reasons for current heart strain: largely stress related.
Reasons for current stress: the permanent lines I just drew in my budget, and the long financial road I have ahead of me.
Reasons for heart strain in previous years: finance related stress
Reasons for finance related stress in previous years: I am a dumbass a product of my debt-loving culture. I fell for all of it.
Which brings me back to: the current budget.

A few weeks ago, I started taking a finance course, called Financial Peace University (FPU). When I first read the course name (early last year) I actually laughed out loud: “Financial Peace!?” I guffawed. And then I kept saying it to myself over and over, and without warning, Financial Peace became I dream I dreamt of often. I then decided that maybe this dream could actually be a reality. Financial Peace. Aah.

The course was created by a man named Dave Ramsey – a self made millionaire twice over. Why twice over? Because the first time, he was young and made poor choices with his money, and went from being well-well-off to very-very-broke in a very very short amount of time. The second time, he started paying attention; he learned things on purpose, he created new habits, he decided to be smart with his money (instead of pissing it away mindlessly, like Big Bad Culture tells us to). He started to look at how the rich spend their money, how they save it, how they invest it. How they keep it. What he found, after a few years, was that the information he was digesting, sorting through, and absorbing, was SO DIFFERENT to what everyone else was telling him (even a large percentage of “financial advice" books were off the mark). The reason he stuck with his findings was because he wanted to change his family’s financial future. He did just that. His book, The Total Money Makeover has been a bestseller since its publication date. He’s given millions of people advice on money through that book (and others) and through his radio show – and he has helped the same amount of people become (wait for it)….DEBT FREE. Permanently.

FPU and the principles within have completely shifted my financial paradigm – it has changed the way I think about money, spending, saving, and debt. It has taught me that budgeting is not only valuable, it is ESSENTIAL. Not only is it essential, it actually brings FREEDOM (unlike the popular myth that budgeting is for tightwads and people with no friends).

So, why the heart attack?

Untangling any financial mess is challenging, but what we often forget is that we can’t “quick fix” something that we didn’t “quick create”. Righting a wrong that took 10 years to create is a new kind of daunting, in and of itself. I suppose the pressure I’m feeling in my chest is the challenge of a million questions; questions that all relate to strength, courage, ability, and hope.

I’ve always felt the most at peace with my decisions when they are different from the norm – perhaps it’s an addiction, but I like to be different. I like to challenge the status quo and play devil’s advocate. Unfortunately for my family, friends, and you dear readers: this trend is only going to solidify as I continue this journey to Financial Peace. What I’m learning about money, spending, saving, and debt is THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE of what the majority of you have been taught. I know this because I am a product of the same culture you are, and I am being pared down to my naïve financial bones each week I attend my FPU class (it’s oddly disconcerting). The conversations I have had with friends & others since I’ve started this course have proven to me still further that none of us really know what we’re doing when it comes to money.

One thing Dave mentioned in our last class was that if you tell a lie often enough and loud enough, it begins to be accepted as the truth. For example:

Myth? Getting a bank loan, credit card, or financing a car (or boat, or TV, or clock radio) can be useful tools to help you get out of debt and/or manage money wisely.

Truth: That was most definiltey a myth. Borrowing money is not smart.You can NOT get out of debt by going into debt. If you are in a hole, you don’t dig out the bottom to get out of it! You only get yourself deeper! You climbclimbclimbclimb until you are out. For some reason, however, we’ve been taught (and actually believe) that getting out of debt requires getting into debt first. Here’s a fun fact: -Total U.S. consumer debt (which includes credit card debt and noncredit-card debt but not mortgage debt) reached $2.56 trillion at the end of 2008, up from $2.52 trillion at the end of 2007. (Source: Federal Reserve's G.19 report, February 2009). Do you remember what happened in 2007? The Recession. According to that statistic, our unmanageable debtload was “fixed” by getting into more debt on a personal level. Ay yi yi.

Truth: Debt is a PRODUCT. It’s sold to you for the financial benefit of the seller (not the other way around, as advertised). Another fun fact:

Profits or Losses at Top 10 U.S. Credit Card Issuers in 2008
1. Chase: $780 million profit
2. Bank of America: $520 million profit
3. Citi: $530 million loss
4. American Express: $850 million profit
5. Capital One: $1.00 billion profit
6. Discover: $710 million profit
7. Wells Fargo: $990 million profit
8. HSBC: $520 million profit
9. US Bank: $1.07 billion profit
10. USAA: Not listed
(Source: Nilson Report, March 2009)

These statistics are “American”, but this does not by any stretch of the imagination disclude Canadian Credit Makers from this reality: they are making money off of you. They are selling you a product. And we are begging them to do it.

So what’s my point? My point, I suppose, is not to believe everything you hear from your banker or your car salesman or the guy at the furniture store. Getting into more debt will not get you out of debt. Financing is stupid. Borrowing money is not smart. The only way to get out of debt is to stop spending more than you make – plain and simple. If you are drowning in debt, the only way to get out of that debt is to swim to the edge and get out of the pooldon’t add more water!!!

Unfortunately for me, I’ve already got an Olympic Sized pool in my backyard. These flimsy water wings have worked for a time, but they are starting to deflate. Thankfully, I am just now figuring out how to get to the edge…before I can climb out and leave that pool behind me for good!! To do this, it's going to take a lot of work, a LOT of self motivation, and probably a few rants along the way. Dave's famous mantra applies here: live like no one else, so later you can live like no one else! I am proud to announce that one day, on this very blog, I will proudly announce that I am financially better off than all of you.*

aaaaaand…. GO!

* I kid, I kid....sort of.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

so hungry.

Well, had you any doubts that a steady diet of beans&rice would be challenging, let me reassure you that it is most definitely a difficult undertaking, in more ways than one. At the end of day one, I was almost in tears I was so hungry and I was physically exhausted – I could actually feel my energy slipping quickly onto the floor. I promptly decided (since I had it in my fridge anyway, and it’ll go bad if I don’t eat it) to add cheese to my daily menu of beans & rice & veggies. Cheese has never tasted so good. Day two left me wondering how long it would take for my body to get used to this. You wouldn’t think so, but my body noticed the diet change in less than 36 hrs. I’ll leave it at that; details are probably unnecessary. I got to see Bonnie last night though, and found comfort in knowing that she was having as hard of a time as I was with this change, in as many ways as I was. We laughed as she recounted seeing pinapple at a community event and panicking when someone else went to eat the last piece (we’re allowed fruit, it’s okay). We shocked ourselves at how quickly we felt the change and we each spoke our mind about what we've learned: already. We then made a pact to allow ourselves a few hors d’œuvres at the party – she enjoyed a piece of bruschetta and I downed a chicken skewer appy like it would be my last meal on earth.

Beans&Rice month, you win. You’ve proven your point. This is a horrible, horrible way to live
…..can I go home now?