Paradise is Sharing...

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Letting Myself Go...

Salud (Health)

Wearing a much too tight sundress and cursing the inventor of panty hose, I awkwardly make my way up to the buffet table.  It's my cousins bridal shower, and there is the typical patrons .. my aunts, cousins, and of course the friends of the bride who are chatting amongst themselves and calling the brownie they are eating "evil" and chiding themselves saying "I've been so good.. I need to fit into that dress...I'll have to do two Zumba sessions to wear this off"  Truthfully, I've seen mosquitoes bigger than her.

As I reach for a finger sandwich and a scoop of my mom's potato salad, I hear it.. the unmistakable sound of two biddies in the corner, holding their cups of fruit punch with chunks of sherbert floating in it, looking down their noses over their bi-focals -  gossiping.  My ears perk as I hear my name, and then the words said in a low pitiful tone "She has really let herself go..." and then the sound of disapproval and disgust "tsk, tsk, tsk."  I look casually over my shoulder to see if they were in fact talking about me, or if it was just paranoia... and as they see me gaze in their direction, they coyly shift towards each other, adverting their eyes, and start commenting on how Aunt Ethel's jello mold is SO delicious. 

The ladle I was spooning the potato salad onto my plate suddenly feels heavy, and I flop the contents back into the bowl.  My in-expertly applied mascara runs into my eyes and burns, and I suddenly feel flush.  I skip the macaroni salads and load my plate up with garden salad and a spritz of balsamic vinegar.  After the lunch is over, I smile as my elderly Aunts boney hands clamp on to mine as she says "So, when will be be going to your wedding Dear?"  I didn't have the energy to remind her she's already been to one of my weddings. 

By the end of the day I have made close and intimate friends with my Aunt Dee's mini cheesecakes, despite the fact they are made with jello pudding and canned cherry pie filling and a vanilla cookie wafer.  Not really culinary genius at its best, but I manage to put away a plate of them.  I should have just had what I really wanted, a scoop of my mom's potato salad.

Let myself go.  Hrrmph.  Driving home, I pull over in a parking lot and peel off my panty hose that has now left red and raw marks around my waist.  Let myself go.  If I had really let myself go, I wouldn't have bothered wearing this stupid dress, or caked on this ridiculous makeup.  If I had really let myself go, I would have let myself go have fun today instead of putting up with a room of miserable biddies.  If I had let myself go - I'd let myself go dancing, go kayaking, go hiking, just... go.  If I had let myself go, I would let myself go to work less, and go out and play more.  In reality, I haven't let myself GO at all... In fact, I have actually felt quite restricted. 

Once home, I kicked off my shoes (AH!!!!) and put on a pair of baggy jeans and a sweatshirt.  Whistling for Lexi, I grab the leash from the hook and meet her outside.  She bounces around me eager to go on our adventure, but soon realizes I am holding a leash in my hand.  She walks over, sits down, and waits for me to fasten it clasp.  It's a spring day, the remaining snow patches shrink away as the warm sun wakes up the crocuses and daffodils.  Lexi tugs at her leash in anticipation, and dampens her excitement as I gently correct her and make her walk properly.

We finally get to the edge of the trail, and Lexi knows what comes next.  I make her sit, and she quivers and almost wiggles out of her skin.  As she feels my hand search for the latch of the leash, she lifts up on her hind legs like a loaded spring.  Her muscles tense like an Olympian waiting for the starting gun.  On your mark... get set... and as she hears the click of the leash - she bolts off - GO!   A hundred miles an hour, she literally leaves me in the dust, and she tears down the trail.  Part of me gets anxious and wants to call her back... the other part of me is thrilled to see her bound off with such pure joy.  I start walking down the trail with her leash in my hand and see her bounding through the woods like a gazelle.  Games of chase have been negotiated with the chipmunks and squirrels.  Effortlessly she bounds over half toppled trees.  Unbeknownst to me, I am suddenly part of a game of hide and go seek... Lexi bounds out of sight, then out of no where, leaps back onto the trail behind me and races past me like a  rocket.  Suddenly, she does an about face about 20 feet ahead of me and play-bows... The smile on her face makes me laugh out loud... seeing my approval of her crazy antics, she about faces and skitters around the corner after a wayward squirrel.

 Lexi leaped out of her hiding spot as if to ambush me, and I crouched down ... she play-bowed back to me - and we had a stare down.  With a playful hop I jumped towards her and yelled "RAWR!!!".... with a sly smile she bounced back, bounced forward, then did a turn tail and bolted down the trail... bounding and leaping, pouncing on imaginary mice, sailing into the air, and flying down the trail.... Game On.

I stop in my tracks and see the empty leash in my hand... talk about letting yourself go.  I think I'm going to let myself go more often.

Paradise is here, Paradise is now... Paradise is letting yourself go...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dream a Little Dream...

SueƱo (Dream)

When I was little, my mother used to take me with her when she ran errands, and on the way home, we always stopped at the local library.  If I close my eyes, I can still smell the musty rooms,  hear the creaking of the wooden floors, and the faint whispers of patrons recommending their favorite books, or getting information from the librarian who smelled like apples.  It was the one place I can remember at a very young age that my mother would let me "go off" and sit in the children's corner... surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of books.  I loved the way the binders of the books crackled as you opened them.   It was the one place in the world I was allowed to be "indulgent"... sometimes checking out a stack of books that I could barely see over as I walked out the door.  When I got home, I would devour them...  touching the soft paper, turning the pages one by one until I was drifted off into a land of fairy tales and dragons.

OH the ADVENTURES the characters had!  They lived a far more exciting life than I did... or so I thought.  I was just a simple farm girl.  Nothing exciting ever happened around here.... it never dawned on me that I could have adventures and write about them too... until I discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I first met Laura when she lived in her Little House in the Big Woods... I followed her to the Prairie, and to Plum Creek.  She amazed me.  She enthralled me.  She mystified me.  I loved her.  I loved her dearly.  And she was just an ordinary girl... like me... who had adventures.. and wrote about them.  I wanted to BE just like her.. someday, people will read about ME.

I would fantasize about crossing the big prairies out west in a covered wagon, living in the woods, and living in a simpler time.  For a girl who grew up on the coast of Maine on a 100 acre agricultural farm, the prairie wasn't too far a stretch of my imagination... but the woods mystified me.  To smell pine trees as they gently swayed to and fro in the evening breezes, to listen to hoot owls sing lonesome mono-toned melodies, to watch squirrels play, chipmunks cause mischief and other woodland creatures scamper about .. was a dream to me.

I began keeping a diary, and wrote long passages about my life, what I did at school, what boys I had crushes on, the ins and outs of my friends and our relationships.. and as I grew older, I would read them again, and think to myself how silly and immature I sounded.  Cecilia would tout.. "This is garbage!  You are just a boring person who works 80 hours a week, eats, sleeps, cleans the house, pays the bills and goes to bed."   Eventually, I packed up my diaries in a box.. and stopped writing.  I told myself that one day, I will have adventures, and when I do.. I will write about them.  Until then, no one needs to read about my mundane and ordinary life.

“It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.”  Laura Ingalls Wilder

As I sat cross legged on the floor of my new apartment with boxes stacked all around me, I began unpacking all my beloved books.  One by one, their cracked covers and dog-earred pages greeted me as I pulled them out of the box, and placed them on their new shelf - their new home, where they would live with me and keep me company during the next chapter of my life.  At the very bottom of the box, I pulled out a half a dozen leather books... I cracked one open.  Recognizing the teenager's bubbly script.. I sat and read her story... for hours.  As night drew on, I turned the last page, and was disappointed to see the story ended in 1998, the year after she had gotten married and started her high stress corporate job.  I closed the leather cover, wrapped the leather cord carefully around the button closure... and wept.

I marveled at what I just read - the characters were amazing. Some were strong, some were funny, some were loving.. and yes, as in every good story there were some villians.  OH the adventures this girl had! And this girl was ME.  Those characters are some of my friends who aren't even on this earth anymore.  Without my journals, I would have forgotten the words that my best friend Andy said to me the night my dog Daisy died... or how my boyfriend in high school  asked me out on our first date.. or how head over heels in love I was when I first met my husband.  I would have forgotten... what a pity had I not written it down.  I mourned the fact that I lost a decade of my life by not preserving it.  At the time, I didn't find it interesting enough to preserve.. and now, I would give anything to go back and remember. 

I no longer dream about being Laura Ingalls Wilder, living her adventures, and writing about them.  No, instead, I live my adventures... even the small and what seemingly feels mundane... and I write about them.  Maybe one day you will walk into a library, pull down a book, and feel the delight as the binding crackles open... or maybe one day you will download a new title onto your Kindle or e-reader, anxious to be swept away for a while into a new place, be challenged to think new thoughts, or be inspired to try new things... and maybe, one day, you will read about me,
and my little adventures and my little dogs .. my little life .. in the big woods.    

A girl's gotta dream...

Paradise is here, Paradise is now... Paradise is having adventures.. 
and writing about them.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Lessons Learned .... How I became a Master of My Finances

Guru (Teacher)

"Class is in Session!"... and as if I was actually sitting in University, I sat up a little taller and held my pen to my notebook, ready to take in all and any information Suze Orman was willing to give me through the television screen.  As she flashed her white teeth and her perfect smile, she began with telling her class "After a few years of being a stockbroker, in 1987 I opened up my own firm and had another major setback where one of my employees ripped off all my money. It closed me down for a year or two and I ended up $250,000 in debt. That situation turned out to be the greatest thing that ever happened to me because that's where I learned to stand in my truth. That's where I learned that the truth will always lead you to a better place and a bigger place." 

Her words rang truer than true, no better lesson has ever been taught... and I can only tell you I am in a MUCH better place than I was a short year ago.....

Last year, I decided to get my Masters.  No, I am not going to school for anything... I decided to become a Master of My Finances.   (a MMF if you will)  It was not a light decision, or even one that presented itself with any real choice.  I HAD to get a grip on my finances.  I HAD to do something.  I HAD to start kick kick kicking... or I was going to drown in my sea of debt.

I've never had a problem with debt before.  I always made really good money, and I always lived within my means.. or so I thought.  When I look back on my spending in my 20's and 30's I could have done more to sock money away.  I could have spent less, invested more, and had a nest egg... but instead I bought new cars, had nice things, and lived the American Dream.  Because I managed to stay afloat, I figured I was ok - it was all manageable, and it was manageable... until I got divorced, moved out on my own, bought a truck I couldn't afford, administered expensive medical treatments to a terminally ill dog, and to kick me when I was down, lost my job ... and then the Debt Monsters began to lurk....

My first instinct was "If I close my eyes... they can't see me"... and I hid under the covers from the Monsters.  But they did see me.  They called me, they knocked on my door, they sent me harassing letters, they denied me credit, they devastated my credit score, and they made me a laughable joke to any financial institution that I asked for a loan...  oh, the monsters saw me alright.  They took my new truck, they took me to court, they made my life a living hell.  I became afraid of my mailbox and my telephone.  My confidence in myself was waning... I felt like a failure.  I was living the American Nightmare.

For the first time in my adult life, I had to turn to the bank of Mom & Dad to help me.  Humiliation cut like a knife.  I had no real plan on how I was going to pay them back, let alone Destiny's Care Credit Card, Toyota, or any of the other bills that were swamping me.  I had no idea what to do... where to start, or how to right the ship.... all I knew was I had to do something.. I am a grown woman who has been acting like a child.  I had to take the covers off my head and look the Monsters in the eye..  I turned to Suze Ormans books, Dave Ramsey's blog and website, and started to absorb everything I could about money management and budgeting.  I Googled "Get out of Debt" daily, and read countless articles. 

"The Universe provides to those who seek and are willing to do the work..."

Then one day.... in walks Cindy Parran Brochu, Financial Coach.  Fate is a funny thing... we met through a mutual acquaintance, and we decided to have coffee.  After one hour of talking with her, I knew that the Universe sent me my Guru ... my teacher.  Her Financial Fitness course was just what I needed to attain my MMF... (Master of My Finances) degree. 

Cindy helped by doing what I was too overwhelmed to do... she poured over my finances.  She made me accountable to track my expenses, my expenditures (yes, those trips to Dunkin Donuts add up!) and then once that was complete, she helped me create a spending plan.  Her advise was clear and simple - she advised me to talk to my part time employers to see if they could give me more hours until I could get my coaching business afloat.  She advised me to look at my insurance policies and get new quotes, and to go to my cell phone provider and get a more affordable plan.  And she advised me to take the covers off my head and look at my Monsters... that's right, I needed to talk to them.  She advised me to track my money, and start treating my money with respect. The formula ended up being simple: Make more, Save More, Spend Less. 

While Cindy gave me the tools and the know how - she did not do the work for me.... that was all up to me.   I have to thank my good friend Aileen's blog Kaizen Vision where she suggested to use ... it is a FREE personal finance tracking tool that actually makes budgeting fun and easy.  Best of all, you can get an app for your phone so you will always have your budget tracker with you.  This was the first major step to getting my MMF.

The part that scared me the most about Cindy's advice was looking and talking to the Monsters.  They were intimidating and scary.  They were demanding, bossy and made me feel badly about myself.  I am a good person! I am in debt because I was saving my love of my life, my Destiny... what is the matter with you people? Why do you have to be so mean?!!  So I got Pre-Paid Legal (Legal Shield).... and they talked to my Monsters for me.  They sent my Monsters letters, and they told my Monsters to behave and they will get their money.  They even told one Monster to get lost, because they didn't have a leg to stand on.   Bye Bye Monster... Buh Bye. 


I followed Cindy's advice, and was given more hours at my job.  I was lucky, I know... but I do trust that my hard work and knowledge paid off, and my employers appreciate me.   I also decided to raise my coaching rates - I have three years experience as a coach, I am certified, and I have worked with many clients who have become very successful.  I felt good about the raise, and it certainly helped in the "Make More" category.  I was afraid I would lose clients or turn people off by asking for more money, but it actually had an opposite effect.  I believe my clients saw the value in what I offered and were willing to pay more.

When you value yourself, other people see the value in you...

I also started looking for ways I could make more money - I sold some flys that I tied, I sold some books on Amazon, and did some odd jobs for extra cash.


Second, I tackled my debts.... one by one, I entered them into a snowball spreadsheet (hint... Google "snowball debt spreadsheet" and you will find one to use for free).

Next, I went to my Credit Union, and set up two savings accounts - one for my "snowball" and one for "shit happens."  I calculated my exact expenses, and set up my direct deposit to cover that in my checking account.  Any thing that was left over went into "snowball" and "shit happens" respectively.  In a few months time, I had enough money to pay off Toyota, and have a nice comfortable cushion should any other monsters come lurking.  I see you Monster... I got my eye on you...


Because of, I suddenly realized that I was spending on average $25.00 a month at Dunkin Donuts.  That's $300.00 a year.... and I don't even LIKE their coffee!!! (I'm a Tim Hortins girl)  I made a budget to spend just $10.00 a month at "coffee shops", and set budgets for everything from "Fast Food" to "Gas"... I started making a game with myself to stay under budget, and when I did, I put that savings against my Snowball.  Take THAT you stupid Monster!

I also took Cindy's advice and got new quotes on my car and motorcycle insurance.  Thanks to my friend Chris Signore of Garnsey Insurance, I saved $150.00 a year on insurance AND got rental insurance.... a big stick against those "shit happens" monsters.  Die Monsters! Die!!!

Finally, I changed cell phone providers and went on MyHoney's family plan - saving me $100.00 a month!  In Yo Face Monstah!! Who's your Master?! OH YA.
Now that I feel like the debt monsters are at bay, I am ready to tackle the credit report monsters.  Through the advice of my friend Tracy, I went to my credit union and flat out said "I am here to repair my credit, what can you do for me?"  They suggested a secured loan.  Essentially, I put money in an account, and borrowed the same amount of money against the savings account.  I took the money I borrowed, and put it into the same account.  I then set up automatic payments allowing the credit union to automatically draw the payments from that account.  So, for the amount of 3.55% interest, and in the course of a year or so, I will have "good credit" reporting to the agencies.   Down Bad Credit Monster! Down!!

Now that I am a MMF, doors are opening up for me in ways I never expected.  I am able to relax more, work with better suited clients, grow my business and be a better employee, daughter, girlfriend, friend, sister and tenant.   I am no longer burdening my relationships with the conversations of lack, fright, or desperation.  My friends and family no longer feel guilty that they can't help me.  Because of my budgeting prowess I can actually pick up the tab once in a while when MyHoney and I go out to eat.   I hold my head up higher and feel more confident about myself.  Call me the Debt Monster Whisperer....

I always wanted to be "Financially Independent".. but "Independence" doesn't mean going about it alone - it's about aligning yourself with good Guru's .. people who are strong in areas in which you are weak.  Be a good student... listen to their advice, and be willing to take action.  Get your head out from underneath the covers - look at the monsters... they are not as scary as you think.  Sit, Monster Sit.  Good boy. (arf!)

Photo credit - "Where the Wild Things Are"

Paradise is here, Paradise is now... Paradise is Abundant ...


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Don't blink ... or you'll miss it...

Anica.. Impermanence

When I was a child,  used to have a T-shirt with the name of my favorite Maine town, Oquossoc printed on the front, and the saying "Don't blink, or you'll miss it" written on the back.  I loved the idea of that saying... I loved the notion that if I even closed my eyes long enough to blink, I would miss passing through heaven on earth..... so while in the back of my Dad's Ford F150, I would keep my eyes peeled - astutely paying attention to every turn, hill and valley... in a heightened state of alertness, so that I would see on approach the fire station, The Oquossoc Hotel,  the Gingerbread House (where they served the yummiest home-churned ice cream), the A&G Variety store (where the old natives would sit on the porch, smoking their pipes, playing checkers and telling stories about "the one that got away"... whether that was fish, deer, or women, it was all the same....), and of course, my favorite, Polly's Fly Shop where the smell of moth balls would sting my nose,  and I would stare for hours at the beautiful array of hand tied flies, adorned with exotic feathers, and dream about being Carrie Stevens herself.  What it must have been like to live in God's Country and tie flies all day! 

 I didn't want to miss a thing....

Year after year, we would make our annual fishing trip, and no matter how keenly I watched the road, the little town changed before my eyes.  The Gingerbread house, that used to be a one-room ice cream parlor with a gift shop got renovated and turned into a full service restaurant.  The old dirt road that we used to get jounced and jousted on became smooth and paved.  The A&G started serving things like "smoked salmon and brie"... and became a whole foods market.  Polly's Fly Shop had a closed sign on the door. 
The next year, Polly's Fly Shop had boards on the windows and weeds growing up through the wooden porch.  A few years later, it was an old, tired, dilapidated building.   And then, one year, as if I had blinked my eyes... it was gone.

Don't blink... or you'll miss it....

When I think of impermanence.. I think of all the wonders of my childhood that have seemingly faded away.  Even this week, we lost a legend - Whitney Houston.  She sang me through my adolescence and all my school girl crushes by asking "How will I know, if he really loves me?"... She boosted my self confidence by reminding me that indeed, "learning to love myself... was the greatest love of all," and I would dance around my room wildly belting out "OH! I wanna Dance with somebody!" and wonder who that "somebody who loves me" would turn out to be... and as if I blinked my eyes... those years are gone ... along with the legend who sang the songs.

There is two ways of looking at time... you can think of it as something fleeting - something that escapes us ... something that is lost forever, that we can never get back...  or you can think of it as snapshots, Kodachrome moments to hold dearly... but most importantly, remember that the moment that is most important, the only one you can hold onto - just for a moment - is the one you have right now.   

Paradise is here, Paradise is now .... Paradise is this moment.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sangha (Tribe)

Sangha (Tribe)
Where have you discovered community in 2011? What are the defining characteristics and essential qualities of your tribe?

This particular writing assignment took me a while to think about.. because the two words "tribe" and "community" are vastly different in my book.  "Tribe" to me is akin to being close - very close - like family.  Your tribe is who you count on to take you in, protect you, nurture you, feed you, clothe you... Community is a group of people who share similar interests and live in a generally specific location.  Community is generally linked to something - whether it is a location, a religion, an institution, philosophy, or lifestyle.  

I think for the purpose of this post, I want to talk about my tribe... "my pack" .. and what they meant to me in 2011. 

This is my family.  MyHoney, Derby and Lexi.  They are my comfort, my joy, my heart, soul and solace.  They are my true companions and best friends.  The world can beat me up and spit me out.... but my little pack is always there to cuddle and snuggle - I feel safe in his arms, and brave in their presence.  

Dedicated and loyal, sweet and soft, funny, spirited, jovial and kind.... MyFamily.. MyPack.... MyLoves ... MyLife

Paradise is here, Paradise is now... Paradise is MyFamily