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“If you keep an open bough, the singing bird will come.”

That was a poster I had in my room as a teenager.

Each year, around New Years weekend I make space for the year to come:

  • I transfer birthday, anniversary and other commemorative occasions to my new calendar (my one remaining paper-based calendar – the birthday reminder/pretty art calendar in my home office)
  • I go through the cupboards and the refrigerator and toss things that are past their usability
  • I go through the medicine cabinets and do the same

Then, sometime soon thereafter I go through the rest of the house – clothes, decorations, and, for me the bibliophile, the Big Deal – the Purging of the Books.

A friend had told me that bibliophiles past 50 must institute a rule of ‘one in, one out’ lest they become buried under an avalanche of books.  While not rigorous in that application, my rule is “no new book shelves” – so my books have to fit their current space.

For those readers in the Chicago area, I’ve stumbled upon a great resource the Chicago Books to Women in Prison project.  This group (which also has a Facebook page) collects paperback books (no hard covers allowed) and ships them to women in prison.

I LOVE taking my books there as it seems like a triple win:

  1. Most obviously, I achieve my goal of clearing space for new books to enter my life
  2. The books I am releasing get recycled – they will be read again – and most likely more than once
  3. It’s a tiny mitzvah -a good deed, bringing joy to someone who could really use some

Maybe you don’t live in Chicago.  Maybe you’re not much of a reader.  But I’ll bet there is something in your house that you have too much of it, that might be useful to others.

I feel pretty sure that we don’t own our stuff – it owns us.  So if you want to invite spaciousness, newness, and exciting opportunities into your life, you might try creating an open bough on which those bluebirds of happiness can land.

At a minimum you’ll have less stuff to tend to and thus more free time.

Do you do any routine “purging” of stuff?  When? What? How?  As always, I really want to know – so add your comments to the conversation!

And may the singing birds you attract this year delight you and surprise you with goodness.

If you keep an open bough, the singing bird will come

If you keep an open bough, the singing bird will come

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Chase Bank has lost two BILLION dollars (or more) gambling.  They have fancy names for gambling.  Just like they use fancy names for corporate welfare.  We cut assistance to the poor and bail out rich bankers who give themselves big bonuses for tricking us.

I’m so curious about the somnolence of the American people.

I transferred my money out of the big banks into a credit union after the meltdown.  Yes, I getter better service, better rates and nicer people.  But my primary reason was to ‘vote with my feet’ – to say no to greed, to plutocracy and plundering.  I am appalled by the behavior, lack of ethics and robbery that all the big banks participate in.  I turned my anger into action and moved to a credit union – which supports the local community and is not for profit. 

I don’t understand why everyone hasn’t done this.

I also don’t understand why people are just putting up with being robbed by the rich, overall, but let’s save that for another day.

So I’m curious.  If you still have your money at a big bank, rather than at a community bank or (even better) a credit union, why?

And I’m also curious – have you watched the movie “Too Big to Fail”?  Have you read books about the financial meltdown?  Are you okay with being robbed – truly, personally robbed – as a taxpayer, shareholder (if you have mutual funds you are most likely involved in this mess)?  Really? 

We used to (about 30 years ago) have a democracy in this country.  One of the nice things about democracies is that you get to vote.  And one of the nice things about capitalism is that you get to vote with your feet. You express approval or disapproval in each store you visit (like Wal-Mart? Then you are saying yes to abusive labor projects and misanthropy), each institution you frequent and support.

If you have questions about making the switch from gambling, reckless, ethics-less Big Banks to community banks or credit unions I can both point you  to good resources and also tell you of my own experience.  For a starter, I have never paid one cent for an ATM nor have I had a hard time getting all the cash I seem to go through.  Just not an issue.  That was one of the things I thought about before I made the switch.

So now, over to you.  Mad about being robbed? Whatcha gonna do about it?

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The sun moves into the constellation of Taurus today, moving us to the heart of spring.  Each season has a beginning, a middle and an end.  You can see this clearly in nature.  If you live in the northern hemisphere, you really KNOW it is  winter in February.  Similarly, you can’t miss the heat of summer in August.  May is the analogous ‘heart of the season’ for spring.

The sign of Taurus is associated with the planet Venus and she is associated with love, beauty, art, money, fecundity, the earth, gardens.  It’s a time of lushness and fertility.  Remember the song from Camelot?  “Tra la, it’s here, the lusty time of year!”  May is that – just look at how nature is seductively decking herself out and using the flowers and trees to bat her eyelashes at us.  It’s almost embarrassing, this glut of beauty and splendor.

And – like all of life – it’s ephemeral.

So take a moment today, as we officially move into the heart of spring to drink in the splendor of nature:  the blooming flowers and trees, the greening grass, the birdchirp and that crazy beautiful spring light, especially at sunrise and sunset.  Mother Nature is waking up – and we can, too!

What are YOU doing to celebrate the lushness of spring?  As ever, I really want to know!

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Late tonight (about 1 AM CDT) the sun moves into the sign of Aries, which marks the Vernal Equinox – the start of spring.  Here in Chicago, the weather has been more summer-like than spring, in these waning days of winter – setting new records almost every day this past week. The usual ‘signs of spring’ are weeks early (forsythia a-bloom, daffodils up and glowing, robins on the wing).  It’s spring – for sure!

I wrote a post awhile back about ‘preparing for winter – what do you do?‘, so I thought I should give spring an equal opportunity.

Preparing for winter feels like “batten down the hatches” to me – steeling oneself for a time of hardship.  Preparing for spring has a very different feel.  While the winter preparation is ‘shutting down’, spring preparation is about opening up.

Here are some of the things I do:

  • Clear the yard of any debris.  I live next to a grade school – I routinely find school papers, Cheetos bags and all manner of stuff that’s blown over from the school.  But there’s also the stuff that most people have – twigs from my tress, pine cones, etc.
  • Rake up the dead grass – give the grass a chance to come back unencumbered by its deceased cousins
  • Tidy up around the flower beds
  • Put the patio furniture back
  • Hang up my prayer flags, put out Matilda the wee stone bird and other small garden decorations
  • Wash the windows
  • Wash my one pair of curtains (the rest of the windows have shades)
  • Put away the winter rugs and wash the floors they were sitting on
  • Go through my stuff and find things to give away (my favorite part!!)
  • Order Ravinia tickets for the summer (schedule comes out around now – and this feels like a ‘preparing for the new season’ task!)
  • Make sure the dehumidifier for the basement works; turn off the humidifier on the furnace
  • Get my carpets cleaned

I remember my grandmother and my mother doing an extensive spring cleaning that involved things like washing walls, polishing furniture and all sorts of stuff that probably still should be done, but usually is not in my house.  But I DO like the sense of creating an environment of ‘newness’ to accompany the yearly renewal outside.

Many world religions have a holiday of renewal and beginning again in the spring – for Christians it is Easter. While spiritual renewal is important to me all the time – and something I consciously practice, there is also a sense of getting a chance to do it over again – hopefully, right this time, in the spring.  So it’s a good time for me to look at things like taking a personal inventory, looking at any amends I need to make, seeking to ask for and to give forgiveness.

And now, for me, the great joy of spring is getting to ride my motorcycle again after her long winter nap!

What do YOU do to prepare for spring?  What does the season evoke for you?  Chime in and join the conversation – we’d really like to know!

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We’ve started a ‘mini-cohousing’ experiment here where I live.  Four households (five, if you include my friend Bill who doesn’t live in the neighborhood but often teams up with us) have joined forces to share more, buy less, and to help one another.

At our initial meeting David & Katja said they have a compost bin behind their garage and that we are all welcome to use it.  I composted all last summer, when my friend Bill had his community-based garden (his town has a plot of land where people who don’t have space to garden where they live can have gardens).  It has really tugged at my conscience to just throw food scraps out since fall.  So I was very excited at David & Katja’s offer.

I’ve seen some fancy composting containers for sale, and if I had a household of more than one person it might make sense for me to get ‘more stuff’ and spend the $20 to get one.  But it’s just me here and Bill came up with a very simple system last summer.  I use 2 different 1-gallon Ziploc bags.

First, I fill bag 1 – putting in my fruit and veggie scraps, coffee grounds (and I believe I can put eggshells in but I want to make sure David & Katja are okay with that in their compost).  I eat a fair amount of fruits and veggies so I can often fill a gallon bag in 4 days or so.  Put stuff in bag, zip it up, put it in the fridge so it doesn’t smell.  Continue til done.

Once the bag is full I get it to the composter – in the summer that means Bill takes the bag and dumps it directly into his garden, now I walk across the street to David & Katja’s composter and just dump it in.

Then I wash bag #1 and while it is drying (my drying rack is to put it over the top of one of my 2 metal water bottles, near the garden window and let the sun dry it), I use bag #2 as above.

Simple.  Easy.  Cheap.  5 household, 1 composter.  I don’t know how much David & Katja paid for their nice composter, but this site has a variety of options in case you, too, want to start composting.

How about you?  Do you compost?  If so, tell us about it!  If not, tell us why.  Is this something your neighborhood or farmily could do?  Join the conversation – I really want to know!

 

 

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The power of investigation


“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all argument, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance. This principle is, contempt prior to examination.” – William Paley

I’ve noticed that I possess an unfortunate characteristic.  I’m not sure if it’s because in my first eight years of school I had a total of one year of science.  Or maybe it was my magical, mystical mother for whom leprechauns were more real than things like balancing checkbooks.  Maybe it’s intellectual laziness or moral turpitude. Or a belief in what my brother calls “FM” – which, since this is a family-friendly blog, I’ll translate to “Flipping Magic.”

I realize lately how often I don’t investigate situations or beliefs.  How I can, in some areas, skip over the laws of causation.  So then, things DO appear either magical or murky to me, when, often, they need not.

Yesterday I had a job interview at a company that I have said repeatedly would be my ‘last resort’.  I had 3 reasons for this (at least this part wasn’t vague!):  a) they pay sub-market; b) their location creates a very long commute; c) I’ve heard that the corporate culture is not pleasant.

One of my recruiters had approached me with an opportunity at what I’ll call Company A.  Having raised objections about them in the past he told me the rate they were paying – while not top market dollar for the position involved, it was within range, at least.  Objection a overcome.  I was still VERY iffy, but decided to do a little INVESTIGATION.  So I sent an email to people I knew had worked at Company A in IT – one as a consultant, one as a contractor (since I am looking at a contractor job I didn’t seek out any employees).  The consultant got back to me with very detailed, specific mostly positive remarks.  The ‘negative’ remarks were ones that could be applied to most huge, bureaucratic companies and no worse than the last place I worked. Hmm, objection c at least opened up for review.

I decided to time (in mileage and minutes) the commute to the interview.  The location of Company A still seemed like “the ends of the earth” to me.  Imagine my surprise when it was almost EXACTLY the same as Company B, for whom I worked as a contractor for a total of two years.  Yes, it’s a long drive (45 minutes in non-rush hour) but no worse than one I just took as “part of the job” at Company B.

One other immediate example comes to mind.  I was recently at a party at which I thought there would be dinner type food served and it turned out to be mostly snacks.  I was way hungry and there was this dip.  It was white, so I was worried that it was onion dip – you see, my body and raw onions are worst enemies and have been for decades.  I tentatively took a bite and decided it was horseradish.  Man, it was good!  So I ate about a million carrots and celery sticks with the yummy dip. And then my hostess refilled the bowl from the container.  Yup.  French Onion Dip.  Knowing how my body reacts (24+ hours of intense intestinal discomfort) I felt panicky.  I confessed all of this to my friend Kate, who is a health educator.  She said “why don’t you just take digestive enzymes?  that will likely help this occurence and you SHOULD be taking them with every meal anyway.”  She went on to give me an enzyme pill to take and then gave me a digestive helping routine to try (for the record:  2 oz aloe vera juice plus probiotics upon arising, 15 minutes before taking any other food/drink, then an enzyme tablet before each meal).  That was about two weeks ago and I have to say I have had NO digestive upset since.

I do think my stoicism and the way in which I value “being tough” can be virtues.  I’ve had to be tough to get here and in that way it has served me well. But I see that it can also be blindness, keeping me from simple solutions that make my life better.

I’m doing a lot to help G4 (Generation 4 – my grandnieces/grandnephews) in my family to embrace math and science.  Perhaps I too need to embrace the power of investigation.  The laws of cause and effect.

How about you? Are you a magician or a mathematician? Do you embrace mystery or science?  For an intriguing look at both, check out my friend Julia’s new blog “Unfolding Science“.  And I very much welcome YOUR thoughts right here!

 

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The Problem:   America was robbed blind by the Big Banks – we bailed them out; the perpetrators got big bonuses.  AND they nickel and dime you daily still.

The Solution:  Move your money!

As noted in my previous post, my focus this year is on creating positive change.  Change in my own life.  Encouraging YOU to make change in your own life.  I believe that together, we can change the world – one little change at a time.  I’m always heartened by the Margaret Mead quote:  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

As my outrage over the big banks grew, my friend Liz Kirkham alerted me (via Facebook) to a site called Move Your Money.  It suggested that the antidote to outrage and despair was action.  Move your money, it said, move it out of the banks that are robbing us and to a credit union or a locally owned bank.  That sounded a bit daunting to me at first – I’m an electronic type of gal – so I had all sorts of bank-related things automated.  Eesh! where to start?

No worries!  They had thought of that and laid out 7 Simple Steps to Move your Checking Account.  Oh! That was easy.  But where should I move it?  Ah, they have that covered too with the Find a Bank/Credit Union page – just put in your zip code.

Plus the site is filled with information about WHY you should do this (don’t just take my word for it!) and other useful tools.

If you are on Facebook you might consider following not only Move Your Money, but also Bank Transfer Day – both have great updates that will reinforce your decision (and which you can share with friends and family).

Facebook – Move Your Money page

Facebook – Bank Transfer Day page

Oh – one of the things people ask me about is ATMs.  I know I was a bit worried about that given as how my old bank (Chase) had an ATM about every 100 feet.  I’ve been with my credit union several years now and this has NEVER been a problem.  Here’s why.  Credit Unions and small banks (at least where I live) have reciprocal agreements – so I can go to the community bank in my town and use their ATM.  Or I can go to any other credit union in Illinois and use theirs.  But what do I do in real life?  When I need cash I use my debit card, ask for cash back and get it that way.  Truly, I have not missed Chase’s zillion ATMs once.

I also wanted the ability to do electronic banking – use Quicken, set up auto payments and deposit, transfer funds electronically.  Yep, they’ve got that.  I could even do text banking if I wanted (I don’t).  All the modern convenience. No robbery.

I’ll finish with an interesting anecdote.  Every year at New Year’s time I review all my money and home administrative things.  As part of that cleanup I decided to close out an account I had set up to help a family member (I was the treasurer – siblings and cousins contributed and I wrote the checks) since our aunt died last year.  I had that money in a community bank – nothing wrong with that bank, but I didn’t need this account.  The personal banker asked why I was closing it – I told him – then he asked if I’d consider opening an account for me there.  I said “No, thank you.  I like community banks – hate the big banks, but you guys are okay, but I prefer credit unions and that’s where my money is.”  He asked me why and I said “they’re not for profit, locally owned, friendly and besides have great rates.”  He asked which CU I was at and I told him BCU (for my NW suburban friends – http://www.bcu.org ).  He then told me in a lowered voice “That’s where I bank, too!”

So you see – even the bankers know the right thing to do.

I promise you – this is a change  you can make that WILL change the world.  It’s WAY easier than you thought.  This could be a GREAT January project for you!  And hey – spread the word, okay?  Send this post to your friends, or send the links in it.  Let’s get this handled!

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