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Friday, November 27, 2009

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Beautiful Mess


I've lived in America for thirteen years. I still have days when I think, that's it, we're through. Who could live with a country like this?

Then I wake up some mornings to the smell of pie baking, and she's gone and dressed all the little brown kids as pilgrims, and the little white kids as Indians, and it's all so sweetly absurd and sincere, that I fall in love all over again, and go on believing all the promises I know she'll keep breaking.


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Monday, November 23, 2009

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Upon being wished a happy birthday on the morning he turned four, my middle son looked down at himself in amazement, and said, "But I'm still three!"

I felt the same way when Patrick reminded me it was my 40th birthday this morning.

I'm not sure what turning forty means, if it means anything at all. When I was a kid, forty seemed old. "Over the hill," according to the greeting cards and paper plates. Over what hill, I wonder. Over the the struggling, aspiring, climbing phase of life? I don't feel over that. But my stride feels stronger, and more steady. And I'm far enough up the hill to look over my shoulder and be knocked out by the view. So much broader than it was when I was 20, or even 30. I can see for miles.

That's worth celebrating. And I believe in leveraging a milestone for all it's worth. I figure it's good for the whole year. To get this party started, a few girlfriends and I went to Dallas Saturday. We stayed at the charming Belmont Hotel, chowed down on outstanding fish tacos at Cafe Veracruz, and went dancing at the fabulously appointed Ghost Bar (full of douchery, but nonetheless a glittering spectacle). We swilled prosecco, made too much noise, and some of us may even have gone skinny dipping. The next morning, we wandered down to Smoke and ate a breakfast that was so good, as one of my friends put it, "it makes you want to slap someone."

It was ridiculously fun. Over the top, certainly.

Over the hill? No way.
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Thursday, November 19, 2009

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Telling the Story

Notes for the last chapter of my memoir, Ring of Fire: our emails from March to June, 1995. The end is —and was—the beginning.



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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

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Dream Girls

One of the amazing things about having my dad for a dad was watching him pick up a piece of blank typing paper (or a No. 9 envelope, or a cocktail napkin), pull out his black ballpoint pen, and start scribbling notes. It was amazing, because you knew something was taking shape on that scrap of paper that was going to gather people and energy to it, until it became real: a book, a television show, a concert, a dinner party. My father was one of those people who could dream a thing into being.

My very dear friends at Kirtsy are also those people. Sometime ago, they got the idea to put a book together that would celebrate the way women are telling their stories online. And now we have this:

I'm really proud to be a part of this book. I can't wait to hold it. It's available today, through various outlets, and launches are planned around the country. I hope to get to at least one of them. In the meantime, why don't you go to Laura's blog, and congratulate the ecstatic mamas?

Speaking of Kirtsy, I will be teaching a free 101-level social media seminar for small business, courtesy of Kirtsy and Microsoft Office Live, at the public library in Maumelle, Arkansas this Thursday. If you have a small and/or home-based business in the area, and aren't using social media for business yet, come out, and find out how you can and why you should. There is also a session in Hot Springs on the same date, being led by Susan Payton of Egg PR and Marketing. We'd love to see you at one or the other.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

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Winning Tomorrow

In the middle of our Saturday afternoon in St. Louis, I logged into our checking account, and had a mini anxiety attack upon realizing that the actual balance was somewhat shy of my estimate, my estimate being based on a complicated algorithm of optimism and denial. Patrick had made a deposit earlier in the week, and instead of getting out a pen and paper, and budgeting the money, which is a very good idea when neither of us draws a regular paycheck, I went about blithely spending it.

It was hardly a spree. We had take out meals a couple of times more than usual. I gave the boys twenty dollars each for getting straight A's on their report cards, no doubt setting a dangerous precedent. I bought some fall clothes on sale at the Gap. I didn't bathe in Cristal, or charter a jet, or buy a diamond-encrusted iphone. But I felt guilty anyway.

Patrick noticed the wind come out of my sails. Later, he asked me about it. I had regained perspective by that time. I confessed what it was that had me briefly tied in a double knot: my intertwined fears of too much, and not enough. It's a problem, but it's not a numerical problem. I can get all tangled up in my money fears, no matter what's on the balance line.

I am getting better at getting myself untangled. I teased out the twisted strands of guilt and panic, and I remembered something really wonderful: the dim sum, the t-shirts, the trip to St. Louis, were all paid in full. We've been living without credit cards for two years. It's been gratifying to watch the balances come down, erasing the mistakes of the past, but I hadn't really considered the impact on our present and future, until Saturday.

Our revolving debt wasn't accumulated by living the high life, but by the kind of moderate expenditures I'd made last week: food, gas, clothing. We put those things on credit cards when there wasn't money in the bank, deferring hard decisions for another day. Writing about that saga for Good Housekeeping magazine was almost as traumatic as living it, so I won't go into it again. But if you are just tuning in, you can read the whole story here.

Today we don't get to defer. Choices have to be made in real time. Corrections have to be made quickly, not long after we've gotten off track. If we overspend one week, we're forced to underspend the next. An outfit bought on sale impulsively may be a hundred dollar mistake, but it stays a hundred dollar mistake. It doesn't accumulate interest that cancels out the sale price by the time it's paid for. Extra restaurant meals one month might mean a few more crockpot meals next month. Debt, and the regret that accompanies it, doesn't follow us into the next month, and the next, and the next.

When I looked at our bank balance and panicked, it was a reflex left over from the days when we consumed first, paid later. When I calmed down, I realized I was looking at a small surplus, not a big deficit.

That's a great feeling, one I want to keep carrying forward.

I average a couple of emails a month from people who have read my article about our financial restructuring, and wonder how to find a reputable credit card repayment program. It's a smart question, because there are plenty of agencies who are less than scrupulous. You should start as we did, with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, who have guidelines and accreditations for their member agencies.

By the time we got there, we were maxed out on six cards, with interest rate percentages in the high twenties, unable to make even minimum payments. As dishonorable as the penalties and fees were, I wanted to resolve our debt honorably if we could. It looked impossible. We signed onto the counseling service not certain if we'd be able to make the new monthly payment they negotiated with our creditors. But the first step led somehow to the next one, and every time I get a statement in the mail, showing shrinking balance, it feels like we've won back another tomorrow.

I don't ever want to sell them again.


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Sunday, November 08, 2009

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Dance Me to the End of Love

I plan to live to be a very old lady, with a great many grandchildren. They'll think I was always ancient, but one day I'll show them these pictures, and they'll know that my hair was once dark, and I knew true love, and in the last fiery sunset rays of my thirties, I sat in the Fox Theatre, and heard Leonard Cohen sing.



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Monday, November 02, 2009

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When your kids are still imaginary, you dream about all the cute, original, clever costumes they will wear at Hallowe'en, and how cute, original and clever you will seem by association. Then you have real kids, and they have their own ideas. Actually, they have Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Disney's ideas. Nothing but that $30 licensed costume (on sale the next day for five bucks) will do.

So I was really thrilled and surprised this year, when my boys ventured beyond Saturday morning cartoons for their costume ideas. We were lucky to snag the wonderfully soft and fuzzy Max costume on Amazon before the seller mysteriously disappeared (I'm guessing we are the proud owners of a bootleg wolf suit?). My Max has hardly taken it off. He wore it for nearly 72 hours straight this weekend. If you look closely, you can probably see cheeto dust and cereal O's clinging to it.

My middle son was a ghostbuster. The proton blaster was fashioned out of duct tape, milk jugs, foam pipe insulation, and a couple of funnels. We slimed him with silly string.

I'm not sure what my eldest was, exactly. I think some sort of fascist.

And me? I was one lucky devil.

Halloween 2009 011

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