Happy New Year!

It’s actually very difficult for me to stir up excitement about the New Year. Thanksgiving packs a punch with gratitude for the past year. Christmas is a time of reflection, it being the anniversary of the night my husband and I began dating. Then comes New Year’s. My family did not celebrate it much. I had a few great dates with my man before we married, but along came children and out went New Year’s Eve celebrations. I love the idea: the revelry, the reflection, new chances. I just can’t stir up the excitement.

Putting that downer aside, there are some life improvements in the works. We’re about to have another baby, which is always an improvement on the status quo, albeit a chaotic one.

I purchased a monthly planner from Target, which is beautiful. My loving husband bought a fancy fountain pen for me. I believe in the richness of the sensory experience tied to reading books. I believe it engages our minds in ways that digital world just cannot. So with that philosophy in mind, I thought I’d give a printed calendar a try. It will help with scheduling new business clients and as I do not use an internet phone, I’ll be able to access my calendar without needing the internet. Revolutionary, no?

One of my proudest moments is from last part of 2015, I took stock of our finances. I enjoy crunching numbers, paying attention to details, getting caught up in the minutiae. So while my husband is the main provider, I do the finances. While we never racked up credit card debt, it felt like each bill took me by surprise. Savings was going down and stress going up. We fell into the mindset of using the credit card to spend the money we’d earn the following pay period.

Again, while this wasn’t detrimental to our security and lives, it wasn’t healthy. I felt that they key was the abstract nature of using the credit card. I dug out an accounting pad I received from my father many years ago (I took an accounting class in high school) and began recording everything: cash spent, credit card purchases, debit card purchases, income, income from store returns. Every transaction.

To any one who ever balanced a check book, this will not sound amazing. But really, with online banking, how many of us let that practice go completely? And even for those who did or do it, what about cash purchases?

I put the numbers on paper. I add and subtract with each transaction. Credit card bills are no longer a surprise because they are already accounted for.

This process created the mindfulness needed to really get on top of our spending. The problem was not so much a problem for my husband, but for me, and this was the solution. So while, we still have things we can do better (saving more from unexpected income), I’m so pleased to say that now, at the end of the pay period, instead of nail biting, we have double the amount we would have had two months ago.

It’s a little lesson, but I’m proud of it. Writing it down, being able to glance at it any time without going on the computer, adding the numbers myself all adds mindfulness to the practice of spending and receiving.

It’s a small personal triumph. What, in the past year, have you found works for you, has solved a problem, has made you feel proud of your accomplishments?

On Doing the Thing I Don’t Mean to Do…and Why.

Also called, Weakness of Will

By Kathryn Casey, Owner and Coach at The Good Life – Life Coaching

It seems like if we know what we want, and we know that which we want is good, nothing should stop us. But time and again, it does not go this way. Maybe I have a belief I’ve held since childhood but it is does not seem realistic to practice it now that I’m dating or working or a parent. Maybe I procrastinate. Maybe I forget. Why does this happen?

To read the rest, go to CoachingtheGoodLife.org/Resources

From the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” published in the Hughson Chronicle, republished online at Coachingthegoodlife.org and thegoodlife-lifecoaching.blogspot.com.

Searching for Meaning in Life

Viktor Frankl, prominent psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor, proposed in Man’s Searching for Meaning, that it is not pleasure, greed or a life force that drives us, it’s meaning. Ongoing boredom or restlessness (ennui) affects those who have not identified their purpose in life. Something drives us forward, moving us beyond ourselves. This transcendent quality is a sign of the need to know, “What am I here for?” “What is the point?”

To read the rest, go to Coachingthegoodlife.org/resources

From the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” published in the Hughson Chronicle, republished online at Coachingthegoodlife.org and thegoodlife-lifecoaching.blogspot.com.

The Good Life: Art in the Office

IMG_7735For a long time, art has been very meaningful to me. I imagine I’ve always been a visually oriented person. Discovering the beauty of fine art only increased that, first with internet searches in the early days of the internet (discovered Van Gogh and Turner that way), and later with art history classes in college.

I made the frames myself out of 1X1 wood, painted with Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint in Linen. The color isn’t representative at all of what Linen is supposed to look like, I think, but it was my first experience using the the product. It may have been the color of the wood I started with that turned the creamy off white to a gray. It turned out perfect. The frames, though a little bulky for the size print, blend with the wall, highlighting the art.

I kept the selection to blues, as a calming color promoting trust. The color scheme for the office is blues and grays.

IMG_7739To see the pieces I selected and read about their meaning, check out my website.

Target’s change with the changing times: ending “boy toys” and “girl toys”

I’m in favor of Target “de-genderizing” their toy section. Some commentators got out of hand thinking they were putting boy and girl clothes together as well, removing those labels, but that was never true. So let’s focus on just the toys.

I have never liked “girl toys.” What is meant by “girl toys?” If you looked at Target’s aisle, you would know really quickly. It means pink. It means pastels. It means dolls. It means a lot of princess-Disney marketing and it means a lot more pink.

Boy toys? It means blue. It means dark colors. It means action figures and action toys and remote controlled toys.

Girls pretend. Boys control. Ha, sounds like modern dysfunctional relationships.

Some Christian’s object to Target’s decision. Matt Walsh:“Yes, Target, I Do Want My Daughter To Conform To Her Gender”.

I agree that we need to model behavior for children. So for nearly five years now I’ve been really happy to buy pink brooms and pink shopping carts and pink Cuisinart and paint my iron, pink (couldn’t find that one in pink) so that my daughter will know that the fact that all these pretending role playing toys are meant to imitate my life. I’m modeling domesticity for her. Naturally, my things should be pink because I am female and when you mix two X chromosomes you get a pink. I’m fortunate that the birth of my daughter coincided with breast cancer awareness because it’s really easy for me to find lots of pink so I can model good feminine behavior for her.

I also made sure to buy pink high heels and pink fairy dresses for myself.

I got a little carried away there.

I’ve always believed in just buying toys that fit my kids interests. Since my son turns toy guns, sticks, hose faucets, and American flags into guns (my little budding Republican), it’s not hard to figure out he’ll like the Lone Ranger. He can bond with his dad because his dad likes guns and making hose water spray really hard out of diy contraptions. My daughter loves to get fancy so we bought Fancy Nancy books and I buy her headbands that are on sale and jewelry from thrift stores or yard sales.

It pisses me off when a doctor kit comes in pink. What doctor carries a doctor kit? No way, I mean, what doctor uses a pink doctor kit. My kid will be interested in the things she is interested in not because they are pink but because they are interesting and because interesting models of behavior exist in her life.

Medical Care Set
From Target, at least the case is white.

So you know what? I do the sweeping. My son wants to sweep. He has to do it with a pink broom because someone bought a pink broom for my daughter. Oh we’re creating gender confusion! Watch out! Let me get him another gun.

Don’t worry too much about him. He is practicing nurturing with his “baby doggy” rather than a doll. I guess that means we’re on the right path.

I just think that role playing toys are amazing and should as closely reflect the real thing as possible and last more than one child. Melissa and Doug toys are fantastic. Let doctor kits be white and black and whatever other colors doctors like. Let brooms be green or black or wood (I really want a wood indoor broom).

Melissa and Doug doctor kit

Who decided pink was feminine and blue was masculine? It’s an American trend that is not more than a century old.

So go ahead Target. Why not? They’ll look better lying on my living floor if they’re not pink.

Now for the substantial ideas, in a nutshell. To say that pink toys and role playing toys are feminine and feminizing and that dark-colored, action-oriented toys are masculine man-makers is a symptoms of fragmentary complementarity. This is for boys and this is for girls. These are masculine qualities; these are feminine qualities.

What is masculinity and femininity? They are the respective sexes “way of being in the world,” so said Saint Pope John Paul II. They are a way of experiencing the world. Women do not actually wear rose colored glasses so it does not mean that pink toys will help a girl learn to embrace a feminine way of being in the world.

To reduce masculinity and femininity to superficial traits is to totally mis-define what it means to be masculine or feminine. It mislabels individuals who display qualities that don’t fit the Bem Sex Role stereotypes. It makes the powerhouse female saints who are Doctors of the Church to be weird, anomalies, and not feminine.

We should nurture the qualities our children display, whatever they may be. We don’t need pink and blue to do it.

Turning thirty

My, my, there is a part of me that still remembers the woes of being 13, the heartache of being 14, the love of being 16, the excitement of being 18, and the freedom of being 21. Our society marks many of these ages as important milestones. Yet, 30 is presented with a sense of dread. As I will be officially in my thirties tomorrow, without a doubt beyond young adulthood, I thought a short reflection would be in order.

At age 13 I fell in love with God and his Church. I wanted to be a nun. I likewise had a to navigate the terrors of adolescence. Being an artsy, literature oriented, old soul, high school was a place to be tolerated but almost never enjoyed. I served with NET Ministries at 18 and felt the joy of being surrounded by others who wanted to whole-heartedly serve the Lord. At the end of our year we served in the Portland, Oregon diocese and I met others like me, those who have that artsy streak in them that sets them apart, that makes them not cool, but immensely interesting. I found I was not alone. That was a very important time for me.

DIGITAL CAMERASoon after NET I met the man I would marry, also artsy, also an old soul, also desiring to serve the Lord with everything. I was never to be alone in that combination of qualities again. But at 19, everything was passionate and consuming. Such turmoil. Such self-consciousness. Such doubt.

After college, I mellowed somewhat. I worked full time. With the wisdom gained from NET, from a serious relationship, from a long distance relationship, I was no longer interested in deep heart-to-hearts late at night. I wanted to sleep. We could talk in the morning. This was the first time I remember the urgency of adolescence calming down.

My relationship and subsequent marriage boosted my confidence in my looks. I never believed myself to be movie-star beautiful. But I always felt I could look pretty, look good, and my husband loved my looks so much that it wasn’t hard to believe him.

Nevertheless, in Virginia, I began to place a significant value on how I dress, how put together I look, how much I dress to impress. First impressions meant everything. Although I knew that my natural looks mattered less, the extra, artificial stuff appeared to matter more.

Though not a big fan of Colbie Caillet, her song, “Try” hit a chord. Irrationally, I had come to believe that if I didn’t appear a certain way people would not like me.

Now we live in an area where this matters less: Casual California. I maintain a certain value I’ve placed on staying put together because my husband appreciates it and it makes me feel so much better, more awake, more ready for action. Yet I worry less. Those things I worried about all those years, matter less.

I still wonder. I still long for the feedback that I am loveable, liked, good to be around. But there are so many more important things to think about. Do I appreciate my husband? What are the needs of my children? How can I enhance or improve our home? How can I am improve my skills?

I heard this about the thirties. I heard it and its bearing itself out. It helps that we continue to be in a good place in life. We have jobs, healthy children, our priorities are straight. We’re willing to see what we do wrong and willing to try to improve. We have a home and a close relationship to the grandparents of our children. We have all the support possible. There is no ill will (that I know of at least).

It’s not perfect. I still worry and wonder about friendships as they are evolving. We have found our rhythm so that transitions don’t shake us up so much. I savor the stability. I savor the stability of our lives. I savor the emerging stability of my emotions, subject to change, no doubt.

For a few months now I’ve lost my breath at the idea of being thirty. It seemed like I was leaving something behind, like I would mysteriously age and lose vitality. It’s ridiculous, of course, but I think that is the climate of our culture. People idolize their twenties and some resist growing out of them. I want to embrace the way my body has changed. I’ve borne children. I will bear more. While I looked at the thirties with some dread, I am tasting a bit of the freedom that lies ahead. I’m grateful for that. Looking forward to the future.

Walker Art Museum

A Road Map for Turning Wishes into Goals

Goals are the way we can follow the wisdom, “begin with the end in mind” articulated by Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. A goal is different from a wish. If I say, “I wish I could make a million dollars this year,” I’d be fooling myself. But if I say, “I wish I could have a million dollars in ten years” this might not be altogether impossible.

Implicit in the stated goal is the first quality of a goal. It should have a timeline. Without a magic lamp, wishing for the million dollars means nothing. Wishing for it in x amount of years, now there is something upon which to evaluate the idea.

The second quality that makes a goal a goal is that it is realistic. I could switch jobs, cut back on expenses, save vigorously, invest as I save, and I just might save that million dollars.

Another quality that comes with my wishing for a million, but not always as clear with other goals, is that a goal must be concrete and measurable. Money is easy to measure. It comes with numbers already on it. But if I wish to be athletic or I wish to be happy, that is not so clear. How will I know when I’ve achieved it? I won’t. That’s what makes it a wish and not a goal.

We need to spell out what we want. What does it mean to me to be athletic? I can’t take Colin Kaepernick’s definition of what it means for him to be athletic. Our definitions must be different because of our different ages and states in life. What does it mean to be happy? Wherever you glean this wisdom from, it’ll have to become a belief you believe strongly enough go after it. For example, happiness for me means being wealthy…or being healthy…or giving of myself.

When we spell out our goals, making sure they’re realistic, putting them on a timeline and defining them in a way that is concrete and measurable, then we can make a plan.

The ultimate goal is the long-term goal: to reach a state of athleticism which means I can eat ice cream thrice a week without gaining weight and bike for 50 miles at a time in one year. You’ll have to take word for it that’s its realistic. One year is the time line. The ice cream is not the substance of the goal but an extra reward. Some times we want things like that. But the focus is the thing I can positively work on. I’ve indicated how many miles I want to bike.

In order to make my place I create short-term goals that build up to the long-term goal. What will it take for me to reach this goal? I will need to start riding my bike regularly. How regularly? I will need to start riding my bike four times a week at least. I can look online or talk to a personal trainer to find out what is the best regimen for riding my bike in order to reach my goal. Professionals in their field can help me determine a recommended pace.

But I think, four times? That’s crazy. I don’t have time for that. I have to find a way to make time. This process of identifying objections and obstacles is part of the planning process. Think of every possible obstacle: babysitting, laziness, boredom. Brainstorm ways to overcome obstacles. Babysitting: I could bike in the morning before the kids are up and my husband is home. Laziness: I could plan different routes to keep it interesting. Create your short-term goals based on the information you’ve gathered.

Work gradually towards your goal by using the timeline you’ve already established. If I’m going to bike 50 miles in one year, I want to be able to bike 25 miles in 6 months, 15 miles in 3 months, and so on. If I plan it out, write it out, it will be easier to see what arrangements need to be in place to make it all come together.

Becoming athletic is part of good health and part of personal development. There are other equally important types of goals: those related to professional or educational development. I want to graduate college by the time I’m 22. I want to move up to a supervision role in next three years. Setting goals can keep us focused, interested, making what could have become mundane and routine a challenge to overcome. Life and relationship goals are important as well, although they are more difficult to define. I want to be a good spouse. When? Immediately. It might take longer than that. It will be hard to know. Still that doesn’t mean we can’t keep it in mind by considering what qualities make for a good spouse/friend/parent and decide what we need to do. Perhaps it means cutting back on social media in order to focus more on the family. I can make a plan to do that gradually so I don’t binge when I can’t take stand anymore.

Lastly we come to the idea of the bucket list. The Bucket List is a 2007 film starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman on their road trip with a wish list of things to do before they “kick the bucket.” We can start considering these things now and setting goals to achieve them. If life is a road trip, these are the quirky stops along the way.

So whether your considering what you want your life to look like professionally, personally, relationally or for excitement along the way, make the steps you set down realistic, concrete, and on a timeline. Check your progress along the way. If you haven’t reached a short-term goal by the time you planned, there is time to reevaluate and see what needs to change. It’s part of the process. You have not failed if plans need to adjust.

So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.

Dr. Seuss

The Great Minimum Wage Debate

Here’s another controversial one: whether or not to raise minimum wage; the existence of minimum wage; the purpose of minimum wage. What do you think? When I write here of conservatives or liberals, I’m referring the general message put out by the respective parties in their media and spokespersons, formally or informally. This is not intended to reflect the view of every person who describes himself or herself as liberal or conservative.

Conservatives say (generally): Minimum wage should not be raised. The work down at minimum wage levels (entry level jobs) do not deserve more pay. Minimum wage is meant for entry level jobs that do not require high skill, with the intent that people would not stay in those positions, but rather be motivated to move up the ladder to higher paying jobs. Higher pay will act as an incentive to do so.

Liberals say (generally): Minimum wage should be raised. Workers in these minimum wage jobs deserve to be able to earn enough money to live on. Minimum wage is meant to guarantee workers a livable wage. It should rise to accommodate those needs.

One wonders what is at the heart of these perspectives. Do conservatives not care for the working man or woman, the single mother, the struggling graduate student? The harshness with which they state the lack of “deserving” entry level workers have for higher pay makes it easy to paint them as heartless (thinking of you, Matt Walsh). Do liberals not care about small business owners with small profit margins who will be crushed by large increases in their operating expenses?

Usually large groups of people have a good intention in mind, rather than a bad intention. Bad intentions are usually housed in the hearts of individuals who then persuade the masses by making the bad intentions seem good, or lying.

I think the primary concerns for conservatives are the impact of a government-mandated changes such as raising minimum wage. For many years Republicans have focused on the cause of the small business owner to the some times neglect of the poor. I think the primary concerns of liberals are the well-being of the poor. But to their detriment, emphasizing this while failing to present a sustainable picture of how to make this aid work for the good of the people and future generations.

There is a problem neither side addresses. Of those paying the minimum wage, we have two different types of business owners: owners of large, publicly traded corporations, called CEO’s, answerable to shareholders. The bottom line is make a profit. It is not enough to maintain a successful business, greater profit must be made, shares much go up, or shareholders grumble. The other is the privately owned, small business owner, answerable to no one but himself or herself. There are variations of each, of course. Two very successful privately held companies, In-N-Out and Hobby Lobby choose to pay their employees above minimum wage which goes against the trend of their business counterparts. One publicly owned company, Costco, chooses to ignore shareholders’ grumbles. The question at largely concerns the first two.

It’s fallen out of style to consider original sin, the existence of greed and that, if external mandates force those individuals with bad intentions to act better, they will find another way to carry out their bad intention. It will not convert them. So I see an article showing us that McDonald’s, in response to rises in the demand for minimum wage, moving towards using digital kiosks for ordering, rather than paid employees. We see the same thing happen when the law makes it illegal for those under 21 or 18 to purchase drugs or alcohol, without having any programs in place to change their hearts or minds. They find other ways.

Some conservatives say, “See! This is what happens.” I don’t hear anyone talking about the wage gap being the issue, those on top making so much money from those on the bottom. Government mandates that change that, though some labor laws have raised “unskilled labor” to the level beyond a slave.

You use a law to create an 8 hour/day, 40/week work limits; you use a law to mandate benefits for those who work full time, defining how many hours per week full time is. Face it, in a free market, you are going to get people who choose to act sinfully, who choose to put their benefit, their shareholders benefit, above the benefit of the average Joe working at the bottom. Less employees will be full time. Or there will be an unwritten rule that rewards those who work off the clock, answering emails, etc, than those who check out when they leave the office; which inadvertently rewards men over women (see the NYTimes article about this gender inequality).

Fairness and caring for employees well-being cannot come from external force without a total take over. So conservatives point fingers and say, “see! that was stupid!” and liberals point fingers and say, “Stricter laws! More regulation!” What about just trying another approach?

Many forget it is Christianity that taught us the humanity of man, that one should not own another. If society continues to pursue a culture where the practice of religion is not publicly welcome, you will just see more sin, more greed, more gimmies. Christianity speaks to what is true about man. It’s not conservative, it’s not liberal, it’s true, as Al Kresta points out. All have dignity. All have worth. One does not need overt religion to promote these values. If we use programs, perhaps government sponsored, to promote civic virtue and family dedication, making the path friendly for small businesses to begin, foster community and community programs, maybe McDonald’s won’t be the only place a teenager or a single mom can get hired. And maybe, in those smaller company jobs, there will be more mobility, there will be more chance for responsibility. Then their work will be worth more.