Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Shadow of Poverty

God posted it forward on facebook, and I clicked the link, "16 Brutally Honest Confessions From People Who Used To Be Homeless." My family has never been homeless. Through all of our struggles, unemployment, illnesses, and underemployment, we've always had an apartment or house to call home. Scrolling through the list I was surprised at the way it resonated. I'm not saying I know what it was like to be homeless, or that our situation was "just the same." Obviously neither of those things are true. However, the shadow that the past struggle casts over the present is undeniable. 

We are only a few months into a whole new life of having a paycheck that pays all the bills, plus enough that we can budget for things like clothes and household repairs. It will be a long time before the backlog of needs is fulfilled, but we are able to make small purchases already. Our tax refund came and, instead of using it to pay the day to day bills, we could use it to pay off some debt, pay for car repairs, and even put some into savings for upcoming medical bills. We are doing really well, and yet....

I still check the bank balance to make sure we have enough money to cover expenses. Actually, sometimes I check it just to check it.
I look at that balance and have to remind myself that in a matter of weeks there will be another paycheck that will pay all the bills for the following month.
I wonder how much money we need to have in savings before I will feel secure, how many paychecks it will take before I trust they will keep coming.
Every time we spend money I think of all the things it could be spent on, and I worry that we aren't making the right choices.
I want to do more for other people, but I worry about taking that too far - giving too much. As hard as it is to see others struggle, I am reminded that while we have more, and we have what we need, we don't have a lot extra.
When I told my daughter that we would no longer be getting food assistance she asked, "But how will we survive?"
I'm worry about saying "yes" to too many splurges, and yet I worry about being unnecessarily tight fisted with our funds.

Pretty much, I over think every purchase or expense.

We are in a time of transition, from living in poverty to having an adequate income. Some days that feels really good. Some days the fear and stress and worry creep in. We are working really hard at being fiscally responsible, having a budget, and creating priorities. I do think about how growing up poor may have affected our kids and their relationship with money. Hopefully now we will be able to set an example of how to manage money, rather than how to survive poverty. Thinking about that strengthens my resolve to be responsible with the money we have. I wouldn't wish the struggles we've faced on anyone, and I do wish we could have provided more fun and educational experiences for our kids along the way. Hopefully our kids will have futures that don't involve poverty, but if they do face financial struggle I know they have the skills they need to survive, and that's not a bad thing.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Create Your Own Expectations

What four words of wisdom would you give your 17 year old self?
I came up with a few ideas and settle on these four words:

Create your own expectations.

Most of my life I have lived to meet other people’s expectations. I think this is true of most people. We start internalizing the expectations of others from the moment we are born. As an infant and child the best way to survive is to meet the expectations of others. In fact, most children are punished if they fail to meet the expectations of their parents, teachers, or other adults in their life. During the teenage years, when our biological imperative is to create our own identity and separate from our families, the pressure to conform to other people’s expectations often intensifies as the adults in our life try to assure themselves that they are doing everything they can to make sure we end up successful adults. By the time we are adults the pattern of accepting the expectations others have for us, without question, is so ingrained that we are often unaware of its impact upon our life.

With the empty nest years approaching, I have realized that I need to create my own expectations for the rest of my life. As my children have become teenagers, and are catching glimpses of adulthood on the horizon, I have realized that the best thing I can do is to let go of my expectations for their lives and support them in creating their own.

Expectations can push us toward greatness or keep us on a path that we should have abandoned. Expectations can create the potential for feelings of success and accomplishment or lead to disappointment and dissatisfaction.

How can we experience the benefits of expectations?

1. Stop creating or holding expectations for other people.
2. Examine where the expectations we have for our self and our life originated.
3. Create expectations with intention.
4. Adjust our expectations as we learn and grow.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Impossible Things Challenge

Alice laughed.“There’s no use trying,” she said, 
“one can’t believe impossible things.” 

“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen.
“When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day.
Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things
before breakfast.”    (Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 5) 

We create a frame and then we try to stuff our life into it. 
“This is who I am” and “This is who I will be.”

We have help creating our limiting frame from our parents, teachers, religion, and other voices of authority that have left messages in our minds telling us what we are and are not capable of accomplishing with our lives. 

How often do we say we can’t do something, that something isn’t possible, or there’s just no use trying because… How often do we assume something could never happen, and by that very assumption limit ourselves?  When we believe something is impossible we don’t even try. When we believe something is possible we are open to the possibility, we are willing to at least consider ways to make it happen. 

I will not tell you that nothing is impossible, however, many more things are possible than we imagine when we are focused on limitations, or what we think we can do, or what we already have done. 

It is time to start practicing believing impossible things: 

Practice believing impossible things to open yourself up to new opportunities and adventures. 

Practice believing impossible things to learn more about yourself.

Practice believing impossible things to strengthen your imagination.

Practice believing impossible things to avoid accepting internally or externally imposed limitations
that are based on faulty beliefs or invalid facts.

Try believing something impossible, but don’t just believe: explore, challenge, and research. Every one will have different impossible things. What seems easily doable for one person feels feels completely undo-able for another. 

Impossible things we may need to practice believing: 
I am beautiful
I can love my body
I can be successful
I can enjoy exercising
I can learn to paint
I can climb a mountain
I can start a business
I am worthy
I can be happy single
I can be happy in a relationship
I will write a novel
I am a badass

Take the Impossible Things Challenge: 
Try believing impossible things for half-an-hour a day. 
Try coming up with as many as six impossible things to believe in. 

What would your life look like if that impossible thing was possible? 
How would you live your life differently if you believe that impossible thing? 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Easing Hard Days for Others

I know Buddy the Elf says that the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear, and he's got a point, however, I also recommend doing small acts of kindness. This week I had the opportunity to do small things for a few people who have done kind things for me in the past, and that was wonderful. It has been hard for me to be on the receiving end so much all these years. I love to do things for other people, but even if I made things mailing them off to friends was beyond our means or added to our family's financial stress. It's hard to describe the awesomeness of being able to mail off packages to friends! Yesterday I did just that, and I have hopes and plans for doing it more in the future. It's a clear sign that our financial situation is slowly getting better! Doing things for friends, especially for friends whose kindness you are repaying, is a particular kind of warm fuzzy feeling. That said, I love doing things for strangers at least as much, and probably more. 

Yesterday, as I stood in line to mail my packages, I realized the man behind me was empty handed. It turned out he was only buying stamps, while I had four packages to mail as well as stamps to buy. I let him go ahead of me. This is something I try to do whenever I am not in a huge hurry. And really, I'm rarely in so much of a hurry that I can't let someone go ahead of me in line if they have a few items and I have a cart full. My husband called me just as it was my turn to buy postage, so I let the woman behind me go next while I took the call. She needed to get to work so that helped her day go more smoothly.  

Later in the day we went to the airport to pick up my daughter's boyfriend. This is the busiest travel week of the year. The airport was packed full of people, at least half of whom were carrying a baby and/or holding the hand of a small child. The other half were travelling with dogs. That's a slight exaggeration, but the level of adorableness at the airport was at an all time high. I spend a ridiculous amount of time dropping people off and picking them up at the airport for a person who hasn't flown anywhere in over two years, so I'm familiar with the average level of adorableness at our airport.

While we were waiting for the luggage to show up on the carousel, a young woman approached one of my kids, asking for help. She was holding a credit card in her hand and spoke with great hesitation, English was clearly not her first language. My kid brought her to my attention. She was trying to get a luggage cart from the rental rack. Next to her I saw a huge box, 3 feet square, a large suitcase, a backpack, and a purse. As I tried to help her I found that her card was being denied. There was no way she was getting her luggage anywhere without a cart. I pulled out my card, swiped it, and helped her get a cart. Together we loaded the box, the suitcase, and the backpack onto the cart. She said her uncle was meeting her and I pointed her toward the doors that lead to the arrivals pickup area. It wasn't much, but in the past I would have been stressed about that $5, it would have been too much out of our budget for me to offer help without hesitation. As much as I love showing small kindnesses to other people, I know part of my good feeling comes from feeling financially secure enough to spend $5 on a stranger. It's not something I can do all the time, but now and then it won't add to my family's financial burden. It's hard when you want to do nice things for others but you lack the resources to make it possible. I'm so excited that with this holiday season I am also celebrating the beginning of a new phase for our family, a time when we can start giving back. The ability to pay forward the kindnesses that others have show us in the past, even in small ways, is something I am incredibly thankful for. I hope you'll join me in looking for little ways you can spread kindness in the world. It doesn't take much to brighten someone's day or decrease their stress level a little. 

All the Hard Days

This morning I was going to post something on facebook, and then decided to expand on the idea and write a quick blog post. While signing in to my account I saw the date on my last post, May 30, 2015. Some days are hard. There are the times when every day is hard and you are so busy surviving you barely have the time and energy to realize how difficult things have gotten. The past seven months have been just that. The struggles have been too personal to share, the challenges have been so great that often I couldn't even reach out and ask for support. And really, we've asked for, and gotten, so much support and help over the past 3 plus years, since my husband was laid off, that it felt greedy to ask for support when so many other people we know were struggling. And really, it was starting to feel like people were tired of being there for me, that my need for support had exceeded the ability of others to tolerate the depth and length of my string of hard days. 

But here I am, blogging. It's two days before Christmas. I will admit to being completely exhausted and emotionally raw. My To Do List is still rather long, but I'm accepting that some things won't get done and really, after the year we've had, I've done a lot! I probably don't have time to blog, but I have the desire, and that is something that has been missing. 

We are still in the midst of change and upheaval, but things are getting better:

For the past two months we've had a homeless teenager living with us. She now has a job, and last weekend she moved off our couch and into a shared apartment. 

For the past year we've had my daughter's boyfriend living with us, and this week he is moving out to his own apartment. In January he's starting classes at the community college! 

For my husband's entire career he has been under appreciated and under paid. The last three years he's been unemployed or seriously underemployed. In October he was hired by a wonderful organization as a member of their executive team. His new job is challenging, and involves some not very fun stuff, but he really likes his job! He feels appreciated and his work is meaningful. 

We have a long way to go before we are solidly on our feet financially, but for the first time in a very long time I know we can pay all the bills all the time, and still have money for socks and underwear. 

There are still on going challenges, there are still really hard days, and I'll admit that it's hard to believe that things are actually better and going to stay better. Things have been hard for so long that I'm really afraid of believing that we are finally climbing out of the pit of desperation and back up to the land of people who get to live life, not just struggle to survive. 

I'm so hopeful, and yet so afraid that all  the needs and repairs and things that need replacing are going to make staying in this more positive place impossible. But like I said, I'm hopeful! And hope has always been something I was good at holding onto, always the optimist, but hope is also something that I was beginning to lose sight of in all the struggles.

One of the best parts of things getting better is this: now I can be someone who supports other people. (That doesn't mean I don't still need support, believe me, I do!) Doing things for others has always brought me joy, and it's nice to have a little bit of that joy back in my life. 

My next blog post will share more about doing things for other people, I hope you'll come back to read it.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Panhandling on Virtual Corners

How bad does it have to get before you ask for help?
Last night I posted this status on facebook: I'm going to spare you the details, but our financial situation is bleak. If anyone is inspired to buy us a case of toilet paper that would be awesome...

And in the early morning hours, when I wasn't sleeping, but wished I was, I realized that facebook status was me standing on a virtual corner panhandling, begging, with a virtual cardboard sign that took the form of a facebook status. 

It's embarrassing to admit how many times I've been on this corner: posted a facebook status, written a blog post, or offered up items for sale, in a desperate attempt to increase our cash flow.

It's hard for others to know how hard we have worked, only to end up staring into the financial abyss once again. It's discouraging to recount how many hopeful job interviews have ended up with a "thanks but no thanks," and how many job applications never even got a response. It's hard to acknowledge publicly that once the mortgage leaves the bank account on the first we don't have any money to pay the rest of the bills, that we can't afford dental floss, that we need to ask our friends if they have it in their hearts to buy us toilet paper.

Sometimes when we pass a person standing on a busy corner, holding up their cardboard sign, I say, "Maybe it's time for me to stand on a corner and beg for money."

 Last night I realize, I already am. 

(Come join the conversation at Some Days Are Hard on facebook by clicking HERE.)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Choosing to Live Simply

Stories like this Piss Me Off!

She's a French Accountant who owns a house in France, which is being rented and is making her money. She *chooses* not to use that money. She has financial security, she has an education, she is French and does at least admit that because she's French she has privilege that illegal immigrants from quite a few other countries simply wouldn't have.

Pretentious, privileged people who *choose* to "live off the waste of others" get cute little articles written up about them - articles that shame homeless people for not wanting to eat food that comes from the garbage.

People who choose to live simply, people who choose not to spend the money they have, people who have financial security to back up their life if they ever face a crises of any kind, need to check their privilege. The difference between choosing to live simply and having no choice but to live simply is a vast chasm.

If you've never lived simply because society doesn't value the work that you do enough to pay you a living wage, because you have never had mental or physical limitations, because you've never faced prejudice, because of so many variables beyond your control, then don't hold your values and choices up as superior. You just don't get it, you can't really, unless you've lived it.

Here's the article that brought about the above rant: 

How to live a middle-class life in New York City on less than $5,000 a year
Marie is a French woman living in Brooklyn who has no job, no visa, and lives in a three-story house for free. Her secret: living off the waste of others

Marie was mixing basil for pesto on the kitchen counter of a brownstone in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn when the doorbell rang. Her friend Janet Kalish was early for lunch: the butternut squash was still cooking. “I found kilos of carrots yesterday,” Kalish said joyfully. “I have to give them away before they turn bad!”
Kalish had collected the carrots on the street, just like the parmesan Marie was grating had been rescued from the trash. The pair became friends when Marie started dumpster diving three years ago.
Drifting from the American philosophy of incessant consumption, some have adapted to a system of interdependence and sharing – and eating for free is just the first step.
Marie lives a New York middle-class life spending less than $5,000 a year. Kalish, who travels more, needs $10,000. They work, eat, have a home, but there’s no rent bill or grocery shopping. No regular salary, even. Money isn’t their currency.
Marie is a petite, black-haired French woman who looks just like the conventional fortysomething Brooklynite. But she has no job, no visa, and lives in a three-story house for free. Living in the US also comes with an additional bit of daring: she’s an illegal immigrant. For privacy reasons, she asked to be identified with her first name only.

Read the rest of this article HERE.