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Thursday, January 29, 2009

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Where I Come From

The fjord in this video is just up the road from my hometown. I thought everybody had something like that in their backyard until I grew up.

I also thought everyone put rum and fruitcake out for Santa on Christmas Eve, but that's another story.

This one's even lovelier, and shot mostly in and around the city of St. John's, where I was living when Patrick found me and called me away. I am the Seal Wife*. But I keep my skin near.

*Well, one who lived happily on her two legs ever after, let's hope...

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

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Chin Up, Chaps.


Reproductions of this British poster from World War II (which actually never saw distribution) have become a bit of a hipster cliche, but I've reappropriated it for our front entrance way where, on school mornings, its prescription is untainted by irony.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

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The Gamut, We Run It

If you've been following me on Twitter, yesterday's updates might have led you to believe that my children are cherubs attended by animated bluebirds and chipmunks:


I mean, they open their mouths, and out comes spun sugar, right? I could barely keep up with the cuteness.

Then at two a.m., somebody came to my bed, opened his cute little mouth and threw up on me. The smell killed all the magical forest creatures within a five-mile radius. So very untwitterable.

I saved it for Facebook.


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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

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Mindful of the Miracles

On Tuesdays, I pay bills. This week, I paid all the bills. I can't remember the last time I was able to do that —just write the checks, matter-of-factly, in order of due date, without having to shuffle anything to the back of the pile or dial an 800 number to ask for more time. It seemed like a miracle. It is a miracle.

Before anybody gets the wrong idea, and quits their day job to become bloggers and at-home graphic designers, let me hasten to say that this sense of abundance is relative to some very lean years. We are a still a one-Korean-car family. Our home is lovely, but modest. I still carry a wad of coupons to the supermarket check out, and our children are in no danger of losing their grasp on the concept of "not in the budget."

I did overhear them telling someone that they had more presents than ever before this Christmas. But, again, that is relative to before. It was our second credit-card free Christmas, and it felt bountiful in many ways, the least of which fit under the tree.

Our horizon line is still pretty short, probably a lot shorter than most salaried people would tolerate. But the distance between us and the edge feels like it is widening. My shoulders stay at shoulder-level (as opposed to earlobe level) for longer and longer periods of time.

I could get used to that. But I'd like to stay mindful of the miracle of Tuesdays.

I've been very moved by some of the emails and comments I've been receiving from people who feel like my article in Good Housekeeping on staying married through financial hardship speaks to their situation. God bless every one of you. Hang in there.

Beyond offering up moral support, I would have liked to include some brass tacks resources in that piece, but space and other considerations precluded it.

Awesome reason #154 to have a blog.

First, the financial advisor who cheered and counselled us through, Linda Bessette, has a book, and it is wonderful. Everyone, rich or poor, needs a Linda, and now you can have her. Here's the link.

Linda, who announced her retirement last year (it is possible we drove her to it), did not know I was going to write about her part in our story. I waited anxiously for months to place a copy of the magazine in her hands.

"What were you thinking of, retiring?" I said to her. "The world needs you more than ever!"

Happily, other former and future clients had already convinced her of the same, and she has withdrawn the "gone fishing" sign. If you are in the Little Rock area, and would like to get in touch with her, please get in touch with me at kyranp c/o gmail(dot)com, and I will give you her contact information. Meantime, buy the book. It is so much more than just another how-to book on money. It's a chiropractic alignment of attitude.

Secondly, as I wrote in the article, we entered a debt-repayment program to handle the formerly-manageable credit card balances that began to cripple us as we fell under the wheels of the predatory lending machine. I include mainstream institutions in that indictment. Nobody forced us to use their credit cards when we needed gas or groceries and were out of cash, but the penalties they imposed were no more ethical than the neighborhood payday lender. As we learned the hard way, they prey upon vulnerability. I don't see how it makes good business sense, and I hope recent federal legislation will go a long way to correcting a model based on kicking people when they are down.

We've been enrolled in the repayment program for a year, and our balances and interest rates have come down dramatically. Before you dial the number on the late night TV commercial for a similar-sounding service, I recommend you contact The National Foundation for Credit Counseling, (800) 388-2227 to find a reputable, truly non-profit one, as we did.

Finally, miracles don't just happen by themselves. When no one else would give us a chance, a few relatives and family godparents helped pull us out from under the wheel. Their help gave us the time we needed to sell our house. We repaid what was lent, and hope to pay forward what was given. God willing, and then some.

I can tell you from personal experience, what is a small matter to one person can be a miracle to another. In the sidebar to the left, near the top of this page, is a link for Kiva. It is an organization through which you can make very small or big loans to people around the world who are willing to work hard and sacrifice for a better life, but need that chance that others are born with, or luck into.

You don't have to be a millionaire to work miracles, and the person you help might make one happen for the next person. How lovely to imagine where it could all end.


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Saturday, January 10, 2009

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I'm thrilled to finally share two things that have been in the works for some time.

First, my article, "Staying Thick Through Thin Times," is in the current (February) issue of Good Housekeeping, now on the stands and in mailboxes. It's a story that those of you who have been around for a while will recognize in part: our year of living on the brink of financial disaster, and the lessons learned about staying married through the downside of for richer, for poorer.

I put heart and soul into this one. I hope others are able to take heart from it.

Second, there's this:


Even when you've been expecting it for several months, there aren't really words to describe the feeling of turning to the masthead page of a magazine that has been literally a household name for nearly 125 years, publishing women writers from Virginia Woolf to Anna Quindlen, and seeing your own name there.

I cried a little. I called my Mom. I wrote my editor. I took the boys out for ice cream and drank a little champagne last night. Today, it's back to the eternal truths: laundry, trash, and figuring out what's for supper.

Life is beautiful.


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Friday, January 09, 2009

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Adventures in Social Media, Part II:
A Woman Walks Into a Bar...


You walk into a bar. Music is playing. There are clusters of people talking. Someone is walking around passing out flowers. A few patrons are playing scrabble at a table. A strange woman runs up and hugs you a little too hard.

"Remember me?"

"Uh, no."

"You and my older sister were in kindergarten together! For two months! And then we moved across the country, and I never saw you again! Wow, you're old now! Look, here's a picture of my Yorki-Poo!"

Just then you spot, it couldn't it? Yes!

"Excuse me," you say, wriggling away from Ms. Yorki-Poo. "I think I see someone I know."

Sitting at a table are your three best friends from high school. You haven't spoken to them in years. It's great to see them. You're gushing over photos of each other's husbands and kids, when the bartender brings over a drink.

"It's from that gentleman over there," he says, pointing back to the end of the bar.

That sip of White Russian sputters through your nose as you choke. It's your pothead ex-boyfriend from college, flanked by a couple of strippers. You'd duck, but it's too late. He's raising his drink to you. And who's that behind him? Your family priest? Oh God, don't let them meet each other.

Someone taps your shoulder.


You spin around. "MOM???? What are YOU doing here?"

"I was just having the nicest chat with this person who said they saw you in a magazine. I told her everything about you!"

She's drinking a White Russian, and looks past you to wink at your ex.

You run for the exit, but zombies and vampires are blocking the way, poking you.

"Welcome to Facebook," they cackle. "You can login, but you can never leave."


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Thursday, January 01, 2009

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Crooked Road


I've been craving a moment of quiet so I can write down some goals and intentions for the New Year, but quiet fled out the back door when the kids came home from the last day of school and isn't expected back until Monday.

I've become a believer about being specific about the things I want to happen. As a departure point, anyway. Life seems to unfold along a course that lies outside the familiar highways and byways of my imagination, but I figure you've got to start somewhere, or you don't get anywhere.

My resolutions are an itinerary written in pencil, not ink.

This year, one goal has to do with relationships. I've got a decreasing amount of time spread across an increasing number of people, and I'd like to find the magic ratio for tending the relationships that matter most, while staying open to the new ones.

Then there's the usual "exercise more, eat less, live better" darts thrown up on the map.

I guess they are all coordinates in the eternal quest for balance.

Somewhere, I read or heard the idea that a life in motion is necessarily one of perpetual imbalance. Just as we shift our weight from side to side in order to walk, ambulating through life requires us to sway back and forth. Balance isn't static; it's a process of correction. A little more of this, a little less of that, and so on.

It's stood me in good stead. Frankly, I've come to think that the culture oversells us on the idea of the balanced, well-rounded life. I think it's a very pale rainbow we keep chasing, and maybe even shorthand for mediocrity. The most vibrant people I know are not models of balance. Some of them are decidedly off-kilter. But they shine with passion, vision and drive.

I think that's worth a few dropped balls.

"More balanced" is an oxymoron, but it's what I'm lurching toward in '09. Not perfection. Not a pie chart sliced into nice, equal sections. Just some (oops) more of this, some (oops) less of that.


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