Portrait of Benjamin Franklin
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In honor of Ben Franklin who focused on one virtue a month each year (plus humility, which he worked on all year round on the advice of a detractor), I’m working on one life principle each week from Sunday to Saturday.  Will you join me?

I’m not sure why we tend to associate activity with right-mindedness.  I mean, isn’t it better to BE humble rather than to act humble?  To BE happy than to act happy?

Be.  Just be.

Week Eleven:  Be

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SRT in a mine
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I thought it would be cool to think – over the next few days – about gifts to include on our holiday wish list.  First on the list is EXPLORATION, which empowers us to open wide the windows of our hearts and minds.  A willingness to explore is a willingness to discover within and without all that is available in life.  To look at the old as if it were new.  And the new as if it were old.

To step outside of what we know, to visit another viewpoint, another country, another way of doing things, is an act of bravery. And brave acts, once completed, invigorate and energize us.

There’s something about EXPLORATION that doesn’t come naturally.  At least not beyond the toddler years.

I grew up in a small town, maybe 5,000 people.  Even now I long to go back to those days, those people, the certainty that the next person I met along the street would be like me, think like me, share my taste in food, probably my religion.  I envy my girlfriends who married hometown boys and never left.

Maybe I’m not so unusual.  I read recently that the older you get, the more you want to go backward in your life, not forward.  I get that now.

But, no matter, it’s too late anyway.  I peaked behind the curtain too many times to imagine that I won’t do so again.  You have too.

We like to blame it on fate or “the cards we are dealt”, but the truth is we have often chosen, unconsciously or consciously, to trade in door #1 for the uncertainty of door #2.  And have been enriched in the process.

The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size. Oliver Wendell Holmes

With the gift of EXPLORATION we will continue to walk into the unknown.  Map in hand (if we are lucky).  Our travels, whether on the road or in our minds, will include some dead ends and the inevitable, time-sucking wrong turns.  But, and this is usually a “hindsight thing”, we will learn the most from these detours.  Smooth sailing never makes a good story.

Remember “the bigger yes”?  Never happens without EXPLORATION.  Contarian thinking?  Duh, EXPLORATION.   Add it to the list.

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Portrait of Benjamin Franklin
Image via Wikipedia

In honor of Ben Franklin who focused on one virtue a month each year (plus humility, which he worked on all year round on the advice of a detractor), I’m working on one life principle each week from Sunday to Saturday. Will you join me?

Every moment is an opportunity to give someone (including yourself) or something the gift of yourself.

Then why do we squander our moments as if they are of little value?

Why are we “better-dealers” with this moment, preferring instead to reminisce about moments from the past or daydream about moments to come?

Why do moments increase in value only as our lifetime decreases in years?

Multi-tasking is over-rated and ultimately inefficient and ineffective.  Attending to the moment is golden.

Week Ten:  Attend to the Moment

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Sorry I haven’t posted much lately.  Got sick, low on energy, yada, yada, but beginning to bounce back!  I’ll write more tomorrow, but thought in the meantime, you might enjoy this (true) story I wrote a few years ago.  It fits very well with this month’s contemplative theme.

The story takes place in Crystal Beach, Texas, near Galveston, at my beach house.  When I moved to San Antonio from Houston, I had to sell my beloved home as it was too difficult to maintain from so far away.  A year later it was completely destroyed, along with most of the property on the peninsula, by Hurricane Ike. (“Phine”, short for Josephine,  is my black lab mix.  Travis is my son.)

Phine and I smugly step onto the deck this morning knowing, as we take in this salty, breezy, sunny, wave crashing on sand day, that it’s for this we pay the mortgage.  Actually, we’re in for a treat this early Sunday morning.  But we don’t know that as we skip forward down the path to the water.

As we move onto the beach I see a ragtag group of guys to my right.  The men are standing in line fishing from the shore, long fishing poles with even longer lines arcing optimistically into the water.  One is manning the ice chest.  Another is standing next to a young boy, his Dad I guess.  Because I’m sinking into a delicious surf fishing memory, I don’t pay much attention to them, except to note that the kid is surely there to learn what boys need to learn from men about fishing.

It’s this “rite of passage into manhood” thought that distracts me from wondering if the water will be cold when Phine and I step in and from paying attention to the fishing men.

It’s Trav I see in my mind’s eye, at eight, running from the water toward our rented beach cabin, fish flapping, mouth grinning.  Uncle Brian, who had awakened every day at the crack of dawn for one whole week to stand steadfastly but unproductively at the water’s edge, is right behind him, calling loudly for us to see the big catch.  Uncles love it when kids outdo them at their best game.  It’s part of their anthropological role in life.  And while my sister’s husband is an excellent fisherman, he is an even better uncle.

So I’m smiling as I reminisce about Trav and his Uncle Brian and the delicious taste of that first fish.  And now I’ve started laughing all over again at the memory of the razzing Uncle Brian got from the men when little Trav gets the first and only fish of that summer in Crystal Beach.

So it takes me a minute to realize that one of the fishermen has a fish.  Well, he’s gonna have a fish, a big fish, because he is pulling and reeling in and pulling and reeling in like it’s a marlin on the line.

I’m not, of course, the first to see what’s going on.  The guys with him are edgy.  As the pulling and reeling in continues for what seems like hours, they pace, get the camera ready.  No one talks.  Somebody grabs a measuring tape.  Do they all carry them?  Or just the ones who know it ain’t about fish, it’s about hope?  And somebody actually turns his back on his struggling buddy and ties his tennis shoe in a vain attempt to relieve his personal tension.

The kid stands back from the action as long as he can, his dad’s hand firmly on his shoulder, but finally breaks free.  He doesn’t run toward the water.  He knows better.  This is not his first time fishing with the men.  He creeps forward in slow motion actually in perfect rhythm with the rest of us, because we are all edging closer without realizing it.  His dad doesn’t notice.  He does take on a kind of keening, a push and pull motion, not as obvious as the one we are all fixed on, but just as intense.  I’m feeling the pangs of labor, push, pull, wait, rest while you can, sweaty, scared, it’s almost over, here it comes, one more time.  I’m seeing TV scenes of disciples at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

The old couple I recognize from other walks along the beach have seen this before, but now they stop to watch, virgin spectators.  Three teenagers pull over in their jeep, momentarily relinquishing their mission to piss off adults, and lend their adolescent angst to the pulling and the reeling in.

Finally we all exhale at once as we realize it’s over.  The fish is hoisted from the water and it thuds onto the sand.  It is big.  Worth the effort.  A drum, good size one, the Dad announces to the scattered onlookers.  I don’t hear the measurements, but the backslapping and head nodding tells it all.

When he stops grinning and the picture taking is done, the fisherman puts the fish back in the water.  It’s the right thing to do.  It’s not easy because the fish is big and slippery.  The kid helps.  They carefully step into the surf with the big fish in their hands, Olympians carrying the torch.  They slide the fish into the water.  Knowing how important his role is in this drama, the fish seems to flourish its tail and heads out to sea.  It’s a drum, for God’s sake, but we’re seeing Free Willy as we watch intensely, respectfully, silently, the teenagers, the fishermen, the old folks, Phine and me.

Heading home I realize I have once more received a precious gift from this place, an opportunity to be part of something important.  If we truly are all one being, a universe of seemingly separate bodies sharing but one soul, then we caught a big fish today, savored the win, and put it back so we can catch it again tomorrow.

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Portrait of Benjamin Franklin
Image via Wikipedia

In honor of Ben Franklin who focused on one virtue a month each year (plus humility, which he worked on all year round on the advice of a detractor), I’m working on one life principle each week from Sunday to Saturday. Will you join me?

I going to admit it front and center. This one is tough. It looks easy. It’s not, trust me.

Admit it, you have trouble letting go of an old t-shirt. This life principle asks you to let go of things you may have been holding onto for all of your life!

What are these things you will be asking yourself to let go of? Typically they are going to be mindsets you have about something or someone. The first clue that you have something that is begging to be sent packing is when you hear yourself saying the word “always” or it’s equally evil twin, “never”.

A whole world of possibilities are lost between those two words.

Possibilities like trying a new food, exploring a new way of communicating with someone, learning a new skill, meeting a new person, loving a previously “hated” part of yourself, giving someone a break, turning a corner on a relationship…

Every morning let go of something.  Whether you want to or not.

Week Nine: Let it go

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So far we’ve spent a couple of months putting together our LIFE LAYOUT, our vision of the future.  And last month was all about being practical, how you can finance your dream.  This month, though, is not about money.  It’s about you.

While you’re running about preparing for the holidays, you will be able to come here to focus on peace, joy, play, and spirituality.   We’ll talk about mindfulness and tapping into your intuition – the storehouse of your life experience.  We’ll continue the conversation about values that we began while you were creating your LIFE LAYOUT.

You have a dream to realize if you are to live the life you have envisioned.  This is the month to step inside yourself and fortify.  And have some fun doing it.

Don’t miss a single post, including some guest posts I know you’ll enjoy reading:  Subscribe to Re-Do You! by Email

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I hope you used the tips and the posts from this month to re-invent your relationship with money. It’s a sure way to realize the future you created for yourself faster.

Since my LIFE LAYOUT is mostly about retiring in a couple of years, I really needed to get serious about money.

Here’s what I did:

  1. I began by calculating how much money I would need monthly to be able to live in retirement and cover financial risks.  I realized I needed additional information so I contacted my benefits department to learn:
  • The exact amount and start date of my future monthly pension
  • An estimate of my 401(k) plan total at my planned retirement date
  • Transferability of my medical, dental, and vision, and life insurance

2.  The news?  My monthly pension and 401(k) were both higher than I realized.  Fantastic!

While my health and life insurance weren’t transferable, I would have Cobra to fall back on (if I can’t get less expensive health insurance) until Medicare kicks in.  And I will leave my employment insurable for both health and life.  My benefits representative helped me estimate these costs.  So I factored all of this into my budget.

3.  I budgeted for $100,000 of life insurance to cover burial costs and a small legacy for each of the kids.  Just enough for a first house down payment, extra schooling, or to start a new business.

4.  I added in the cost of a good long term care insurance policy to cover retrofitting a home, assisted living, at home care, or a nursing home.  If I become infirmed, I don’t want my kids to suffer financially or have to make difficult decisions based on money.

5.  I reviewed my annual Social Security statement to calculate my monthly income at various ages.

6.  When it was all said and done, I could enter retirement debt-free, pay for the move, and maintain a modest nest egg.  But, because I’m insistent that I want to cover all financial and health risks and maintain my current discretionary spending habits, I’m $800 short of what I need monthly for a couple of years.  Airplane tickets to visit the children and grandchildren and books I’m not really willing to cut back on!

I can easily cover this shortfall, without touching the nest egg, with my writing, book sales, and my marketing and job search business.

7.  To test out my calculations, I began living on my retirement budget as of my mid-November paycheck.  The rest I’m plowing into the 401 (k) plan.  My employer has a very generous match and I’m fully vested now.  I can always cut back on my contribution if I absolutely have to.  But because my contribution is not taxable, I increased my income tax withholding allowances.  This softened the blow to the net paycheck somewhat.

It’s amazing how focused I’ve become, especially about the “nickel and dime” spending!  Here’s the test I use:  Am I willing to pay to move this?  Am I willing to compromise my retirement strategy for this?

  • I’m cleaning out all of my books – you know how heavy those are to move- and selling unwanted books at the book store.  Pin money for sure, but I cover a sack or two of groceries with each trip.
  • I sold my treadmill which is, of course, like brand new, too heavy to move, and the walk from my apartment to the fitness room is, after all, more exercise.
  • I’m not renewing any magazines.
  • I sold the extra TV, which brought in a little cash, but saved $50 on the monthly cable bill.
  • I experiment with a generic or store brand item every shopping trip.  I previously have been “brand loyal” no matter the cost.  it’s been a real eye-opener for me how less costly items can be very satisfactory.
  • But here’s the most fun and powerful budget move I made, totally inspired by Nadia’s rule to “buy everything you would typically buy anyway at the lowest price”:

I made a spreadsheet of everything I routinely buy:  groceries, cosmetics, pet, and household, by brand name.  Yes, it took a while!  But I already had an Excel spreadsheet grocery list with little boxes to check that I use to create my shopping list.  So that helped.

The list of items went down the left hand column of the spreadsheet.

Then, across the top, I titled each column for a store at which I typically shop:  Target, CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens, Petsmart, HEB Plus. I could have added Walmart, but it’s a little further than the others and I rarely shop there.  These are my “go-to” stores. I rarely veer.

I printed out the list, clipped it to a clipboard, and stashed it in the car.

Over the last few weeks, as I’ve shopped, I’ve been jotting down the prices of my items at each of the stores.  Not the sale prices, the regular prices.   Someone more ambitious might do a field trip and knock it out in one day.  That is not me.

So I’m about a third of the way in completely listing and comparing the routine cost of each of my routinely purchased items.  But my master grocery list is already expanded and continually updated by store.  When I’m in Walgreen’s, I pick up certain items.  In Target, others.  And, of course, I buy my $50 of sale items I typically purchase.  So I’m always buying low.

I’m not obsessive about it but frankly, before now, I bought strictly on convenience.  I couldn’t have told you the cost of anything I purchased routinely if my life depended on it.  I’m already seeing a difference in my budget.  And it’s kind of fun.  It’s a challenge I’m freely embracing to meet my goal.

Me, thrifty.  Somewhere my kids are laughing…

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