Friday, May 30, 2008

No such thing as a late bloomer

You've heard this expression? "She's a late bloomer." Used in an apologetic tone for someone who is taking their time, or not finding their way, or changing their direction in life.

Late bloomer? What is this? I don't like this expression and think it should be banished.

Life is not a contest or a race.

You might be a later bloomer....but you're never late. It's not about who flowers first.

You just take your own sweet time. Flowers bloom at all times of the year. Early spring flowers...late summer flowers...fall flowers. All equally beautiful at their own special time.

Remember that!

Practice makes Perfect

Don't wait for--or look for-- the perfect man, the perfect job, the perfect vacation, the perfect house, the perfect car, the perfect dress, the perfect whatever.

If you wait for perfection, you miss out on life's experiences and waste a lot of time. You'll be sitting on the sidelines while everyone else is living.

Just get yourself into the fray and work your way up to perfection! Get a job and then you'll find a better job. Don't wait for Mr. Right; go out with Mr. Okay. He just might turn into Mr. Right.

It really is practice that makes perfect.

P.S. Perfection doesn't exist. When you do find something that's "perfect," it will be perfect for awhile, until you decide something else is... more perfect.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Life with no regrets

You can't live a life with no regrets. We are human, and there is no such thing as a perfect life.

There are two kinds of regrets in life, those you can do something about, and those you can't.

It is never too late to say I love you or I'm sorry. Depending on your age, it might not be too late to learn or try something new, visit a place, buy a particular thing. If you have the chance to undo a regret, do it!

The regrets that you can't do anything about are the ones that hurt. But don't get stuck! Feel the pain and then move on.

Thinking about your future feeling may help you to think twice before deciding to do -- or not do -- a particular thing. Here's an example: Your friend is in ill health. You are torn about your vacation that you planned with your family -- do you go to the beach with your family, or take some time to see your friend. Ask yourself, "How would I feel if in a year, my friend were gone?" The answer to that guides your decision about what to do. Another question to always ask yourself is, "What would I like to have done to me?" and then act accordingly.

Also, keep in mind the famous saying: "You only regret what you don't do."

You never regret things you have done, because everything - good experiences and bad-- adds to who you are as a person. You never say, for instance, "I regret that I went to Montana where I climbed mountains and rode horses." But you will probably say, "I regret that I never went to Montana."

Here are a few of my gentle regrets. I share them with you, in the hope that perhaps they might help you to think about your lives.

I regret not having started therapy earlier in my life. I went into therapy at age 33. I lived for so many years, unhappy, confused, lost. If I had started earlier, I might have been more in command of my life at an earlier age. Moral: Don't waste time being unhappy. Take control and deal with it. Do whatever it takes to get to th root of your unhappiness, insecurity, whatever.

I regret that I didn't go into the Peace Corps when I was accepted back in 1975. Looking back now...I can't believe I didn't go! What an amazing experience that would have been! I had been accepted to teach English in French speaking Togo. I had the government physical, they pulled my wisdom teeth out getting me all ready for the adventure...and then...I didn't go! Decades later I now understand that it would have sent my life into an entirely different direction. I don't beat myself up about it too much, because, well, my life took other turns. But it is something I think about. Moral: An action not taken can change the course of your life. Only you don't know it at the time! Another moral: Go for it! Take risks!

I regret that I didn't take music more seriously and make it my career. I am tremendously musical. I had a good voice. I played the piano. Most important, I loved music. I'm not saying I would have been a rock star or a concert pianist. Far from it. But I was talented enough to have had a soul satisfying career in music, a music teacher, for instance. Moral: Take your talents seriously.

I regret that I didn't go to medical school. I would have liked to have spent my life in a healing profession. But the fact is, I never took my acadmic achievements or intellect seriously. It never occurred to me that I could become a doctor. I thought it was something other people did. Now I realize, that person could have been me! Moral: Take yourself seriously.

I regret that I didn't have a honeymoon. Not a life shattering regret, but just something to think about. The husband and I didn't have any money for a honeymoon. Or so we thought. We could have at least gone to Atlantic City for a weekend, or something simple like that, to call something a "Honeymoon" and honor the event. As a result, all my life I've said, "I never had a honeymoon." I'm divorced now...and regret not having a honeymoon even more! Moral: You never get a honeymoon again, so do it the first time!

There is one regret you can't win! I'm laughing here! You've all had this experience. It's when you are shopping on vacation and you see something you want to buy. If you don't buy it, thinking, "Oh, I'll see it again, later on, cheaper," I guarantee you, you'll never see it again. And if you buy it then and there, at full price, I guarantee you, you WILL see it again later, cheaper! For some reason this is a no win situation! My advice after a lifetime of this: buy it, enjoy it and carry on!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Celestial Cheesecake

Since I just spent two days talking about gifts...I thought I'd give you one.

Everyone needs at least one WOW dessert recipe in their repertoire. This is mine. I cherish this cheesecake recipe so much, I want to share it with you.

Many years ago, I asked my Mother's grand friend, Betty Kass, to send me a few of her signature recipes. Betty, who raised her kids in Huntington Woods, Michigan, was a masterful cook, and having some of her favorite recipes would be my way of having her spirit with me always.

My Mother passed away almost two years ago, but Betty Kass continues on as I write this, in an Alzheimer's home in Colorado.

This is a masterful recipe because it is foolproof, easy to make, exquisitely delicate and impressive. It is my idea of a perfect cheesecake: light but creamy. Great to serve at any dinner party, no matter how humble the first course. Make it early and forget about it. And if you bring it to a friend, they will know they are cherished.

But mostly, it is a great dessert to welcome kids, friends and family back home.

Betty Kass' Huntington Woods Cheesecake

Graham cracker crust in a 10" springform pan.

5 eggs, divided into whites and yolks
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 3-ounce packages of cream cheese
1/2 pint sour cream
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. Make a graham cracker crust in a 10" springform pan.

2. Beat to stiff and set aside: 5 egg whites,1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp cream of tartar.
3. In another bowl, beat 5 egg yolks to pale.
4. Add 1 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch. BEAT well.
5. Add 3 3-ounce packages of cream cheese. BEAT well.
6. Add 1/2 pint sour cream. BEAT well.
7. Add 1 cup milk. BEAT 5 minutes.
8. Fold in the egg whites (from #2 above). Don't beat. Just fold in delicately!
9. Turn entire mixture into graham cracker crust.
10. Bake in 350 degree oven for one hour.
12. Can be served as is, or top with fresh strawberries and glaze if you like.

Share the magic with someone you love.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"I hope you like it!" On giving a gift.

The purest way to give a gift is from your heart, with great joy and love. This is true giving.

Gift giving appears to have no strings attached. At best, it is. But in reality, gift giving is full of strings attached: emotional strings, political strings, hidden agendas. Payback gifts, bribery gifts, impersonal gifts. Interesting once you start to think about it.

Gift giving can be political. People give gifts for many different reasons. They can give gifts out of their own sense of guilt. Or to inspire guilt in you. They give gifts out of fear ("every else is giving one") or out of politeness. Some people give gifts out of obligation. Some people give only because they want one in return. Others give you something to annoy. Some give gifts begrudgingly.

How do you choose a gift?

Do you give something you love? And because you love it so much, you hope the other person will love it too?

Or do you think only of the other person and buy something you know they will love? Your friend collects watermelon folk art and you don't particularly like it. But you see a nice watermelon salt shaker, so even though you don't like it, you select it as the gift.

The best gift giving is when you combine the two: something that the other person will like, that has a little bit of you in it. Your taste, your style.

A few of the finer points...and some stories.

At Christmas, when I was a little girl, my mother would ask me what I would like and I would proceed to tell her. But then she would buy me something only if she liked it. No matter that I liked it. Her gift giving modus operandi was if she didn't like it, I wouldn't get it. Of course this made me feel as if my opinion didn't matter.

As a result, I have always made it a point, ever since my kids were born, to get them things on their lists especially if I don't like them.

Because the whole point is to give pleasure and delight when you give a gift. Your pleasure is my pleasure.

I learned a few things about gift giving as founder of The Merida English Library. Our entire collection of books is donated. Over time, we learned we had to institute a policy on how to receive the book donations because because we learned we were hurting feelings. In the early days, a person would come into the library with a bag of books, only to have the volunteer librarian say, "Oh, we have that book," or, "This is a trashy novel," or, "This is in such bad condition, we'll have to throw it out."

We learned that quite often, people weren't giving us their books to make us feel good. They were giving us their books to make themselves feel good. So, our job was to welcome them, be thrilled no matter what the book or the condition of the book, and to thank them for thinking of us. In private, because we had a book policy, we could dispose of the books anyway we wanted: feature them on our shelves, sell them, throw them out or givie them away. The lesson learned was: if you burn out the giver during the gift process they would never give you another book again.

"You can return it if you don't like it." If someone says this to you while you are opening their gift, never say in front of them, at that moment, that yes, you will return it. Accept the gift, let it delight, and return it privately and quietly on your own time, knowing you have the blessing of the donor.

If someone brings, unrequested, a dessert or an hors d'oeuvres to your dinner party and you already have your menu planned and ready, it is not correct to leave their dish in the kitchen and serve only what you prepared. Put everything out.

However, if you bring a bottle of wine to the dinner party, don't expect that it will be opened. If there isn't any wine, or not enough wine, your bottle might be opened. But if the bottle is put away to be enjoyed at some later date, that is perfectly appropriate.

I don't agree with people who say, "Don't bring flowers to your dinner party hostess, because she doesn't have time to arrange them." Flowers are always a lovely gesture and a delight to receive. However, if you do bring flowers, don't expect the hostess to rush into the kitchen, clean and prep them, find a vase, arrange and display them. She might stick them in a bucket of water in the kitchen and save them to enjoy the next day.

What to do when people keep giving you gifts you don't want or like? Well, the first thing is to remember: it really is the thought that counts!

If the "bad" gift givers are business contacts, you might say, graciously of course, "You are so kind! But my company doesn't allow me to accept gifts. So, thank you for your consideration, but please, no more, because I simply can't accept them." They might even be secretly thrilled.

You can always preface your birthday party invitation with "No gifts please!" I'm laughing here, because...if you say it, you should mean it! I recall one woman who threw herself a 40th birthday party and specified, "No Gifts Please" but it was clear, to all who were invited, that she meant, "If you don't show up with a gift I'll be sad."

A gift that's always appreciated?

When in doubt, give a gift that can be consumed. Sometimes people "have everything" or have difficult tastes and are hard to shop for. In this case: a box of lovely French soaps. A bottle of fine Chardonnay. A box of Swiss chocolates. A beautiful candle. A tin of English tea. A jar of home made jam. A luxury handcream. A cellophane bag of Italian biscotti. A plant. Little luxuries are always in good taste and welcomed. You use it up, and it's gone. Pure delight and no clutter.

And then, there's the issue of "regifting" or gift recycling of gifts that you don't want. Never regift to friends. Only to a charity organization please!

Monday, May 26, 2008

"You shouldn't have!" On receiving a gift.

What's the big deal? Everyone loves receiving a gift. What advice do you need about this?

Well, apparently, a lot. One of my all time disappointments in human nature is a lack of common courtesy. The inability of people to utter a simple, genuine, delighted "thank you" stuns me every time. "Thank you" really is the expression that can make the world go 'round.

Gift giving - and receiving - is actually far more complex than you think. Whenever a gift is involved, there are messages being given and hungers being fed...or frustrated. (Tomorrow's entry will explore all that.) But for today, just know that gift giving and receiving is a human exchange you will participate in all your life. Doing each side of the transaction well adds tremendous enjoyment and satisfaction to your life.

Gift giving is a a social dance with its own choreography. It is a transaction with a beginning, a middle, an end. The giving and receiving of a gift is a cycle that must be completed if both parties are to be satisfied.

The receiver of a gift has a job to do: to acknowledge the giver for his thoughtfulness and generosity.

Not being thanked or acknowledged for giving a gift has killed the joy in gift giving for me. Lately, I haven't been receiving thank you's for wedding and baby shower gifts. I go to the effort to choose something I think the couple will like, or, selected something for which they registered, spend my hard earned money...and then it falls into a black hole! I don't know if they even received the gift, opened the gift, or knew it came from me!

This is low class behavior. I don't care if you have a college degree or are a millionaire. Saying, "Thank you," is priceless and it doesn't cost you a thing.

Always be delighted when someone gives you a gift.
Say "Thank you!"
Ask if you can open the gift right away, because people like having their gifts opened in front of them. Unless of course they say, "Do save it for Christmas morning," or, "Open it at your party tomorrow."
If you love it, then by all means express it! If not, then you must appreciate it. Never show that you don't like it. After all, it really is the thought that counts.
Don't just open it and put it aside. Comment on the gift. Even if you don't like it, there are things you can say: Where did you find it? The color is amazing. It is so exotic. I've never seen anything like it! Tone of voice is everything.
Try to refer to the gift at least once during the course of the time you spend together.
When the person leaves, thank them once again for their thoughtfulness. You just can't overdo, "thank you."
Certain gifts --Christmas, birthday, wedding--deserve a written thank you.

Never say you don't like a gift. Never even show ambivalence about a gift. Even if you have the book, say, "Oh, I adore this book." And you are telling the truth! If it is a particularly close friend, you might be able to utter a geniune groan and say, "Oh dearl...I love this book so much that I already have it!" And they will groan and be disappointed too. And then you'll make the arrangements about who will return the book and get something else.

Tomorrow: on giving!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

My favorite time of day

When it comes down to it, every time of day is my favorite time of day.

But I must admit, in early motherhood, I discovered an especially beautiful time of day. Naptime. But it was not because I finally had time for myself. No, it was because in the few minutes the kids were napping...they were mine and they were: safe.

I write this on a Sunday morning, years later. My now teenage adults are sleeping late after their Saturday night out. During the week, they are busy in their lives, driving in a car, windsurfing in the ocean, going about their daily activities, prone to the risks of everyday life. Young people feel invincible, they think bad things or death happen to other people. But we parents know better. We know how fragile life is.

So as I sip my morning coffee, putter around the kitchen, read the Sunday newspaper, I have a beautiful feeling. My "children" are in my home, asleep. Safe.

This is my favorite time of day.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Thank you dear reader!

Dear Reader,
Thank you for your tremendous response to The Portable Mother. What started out as an attempt to get my thoughts down about living a "good" life for my Pablo and Nina...turned out to be something else altogether. Your emails, your phone calls, your posts on this blog and other forums that I belong to show that: I love writing it, and you're having a blast reading it.

Who's reading The Portable Mother? Mothers of young children. Mothers of older children. Also, men and women in their 20's, 30's, 40's, 50's. Men and women who have Mothers, and men and women who have lost their Mothers. People who had great mothering...and people who had less than great mothering. People who love(d) their mothers and people who less than love(d) their mothers. People who remember their mothers and people who can't remember any longer.

Readers have told me they send posts to their family members and friends, that its their way of telling them something and not having to say it themselves. Sometimes, you can "hear" a message when it comes from a stranger.

Here's the thing. Your job as a mother in the beginning, is about survival: getting your child socialized and fit for human life. You start at zero with your newborn. Eating, drinking, walking, talking toilet training, dressing, bathing, shoe tying, bicycle riding, reading, writing, etc.

It is just when your child becomes an adult and leaves your home, that you want to convey the interesting stuff, the topics I'm addressing here. But they're gone! And what's more, they don't want to hear it!

That's why I have readers in their 20's, 30's, 40's -- who finally are ready to hear it. They suddenly are open. It is amazing to me how many young people have written me, acknowledging a lack of thoughtful, common sense information in their lives. What happened? They were so busy living, and trying to get away from Mother...that they forgot to ask and, more importantly, to listen.

Even as adults, successful or struggling, there are days when we miss the iconic presence that is MOM. We want Mother -- for that caring, in-your-best-interest advice that no one else can give. How I wish I could ask my Mother certain questions today.

So thank you, dear reader, for your confidence and for your inspiration. Thank you for sharing your stories and giving me ever new ideas and topics to address. Upward and onward.

About Money. Part Three

How "healthy" is your attitude towards money? Let's say you inherit a huge sum of money tomorrow. What would you do? Go out on a wild spending spree? Buy a house? Travel around the world?

If inheriting money would change your life that much, then you have what I would call a problem with money. If you feel you would go out and immediately trade in your car for a more expensive one, or buy yourself a wildly expensive watch, then you need to think about your relationship with money.

But if you put the money in the bank and think about your life, what you need, what your plans are, then, carefully invest and save some and then spend some, I think that would be a good attitude towards money.

Spend your money wisely. Become a smart consumer. If you spend your money "wisely" you can buy more things and have more experiences. But more important, you will enjoy your purchases much more. If you are buying something big, do your research, do some comparative price shopping.

Buying things on sale is one of the best feelings there is. I have a friend who never buys anything at retail price. "Anyone can pay retail," she says. "The fun is in the chase -- in getting something for less."

There is no correct price for any object. Be aware that "regular" prices are false and "sale" prices are false too. The price is whatever the market will bear. A shirt might start out at $300 but you'll pick it up for $29 at a discount store because no one wanted it and it lost its supposed market value. And just be aware too, that just because something is marked down, doesn't mean it is a bargain. Don't think a discount store is necessarily a deal wither until you've done your homework. A sale at Saks Fifth Avenue migh tbe cheaper than what you pick up at a discount store. The world is a tricky place.

Never be in a hurry to spend your money. If you're not in a hurry to buy, you are always much better off. You can compare prices or wait for a sale. If you don't need the sheets immediately, wait until the January white sale. I often ask salespeople, "When will this go on sale?" You are not being silly or cheapl you are being smart.

One thing I've become quite good at is buying gifts for people when I see the right thing and holding onto it until the gift giving moment arrives. That is how the gift becomes the perfect thing. Christmas shopping during Christmas rush is not fun, nor is having to find a birthday prsent. That is when you are pressured and things sell at their full price.

How much is something worth to you? Get to know yourself. Everyone has a different level of how much they would spend on something. I personally could never spend a fortune on a car. I would feel terrible spending $40,000 on a car when I could have a nice one for $23,000. That's me. Another example: I am renovating a bathroom. The price range in toilets is tremendous. I can buy a toilet for $150 or I can buy one for $800. The technology is the same, they all serve the same purpose. The price difference is in the design. I bought the less expensive one and used the "leftover" money to purchase rustic tiles for the terrace floor.

Some people are happy with a Timex watch. Some want a $1200 Tag Heuer. Fashion magazines are filled with watches that cost $12,000 -- and someone is buying them. Spending $12,000 on a watch would make me tremendously unhappy. I have a $25 Tiffany crystal votive candleholder, not a $300 Baccarat one. Some of you may know that I love handbags...(ahem) but even I have a threshold when it comes to purchasing one, and as to how many I will allow in my closet at one time. I have a "one in, one out" rule with clothes, shoes and yes, handbags.

I have a friend who worked hard in her job and was careful with her money. She was not wealthy by any means. When her husband started earning a lot of money, her lifestyle changed tremendously as they moved into a different economic bracket. I asked her, "So, are you happy now?" She sighed and said, "You know, now that I can finally afford a $100 while blouse, I want the $300 one." This is but one tiny example of elusive and tricky money is.

Enjoy your posessions but don't let them posess you. Don't let them define you.

Value Experiences over Things. Is it a trip to Paris, or a more expensive car? Will it be an evening at the theatre or a new dress? You must decide what's important for you. But at a certain point in life, you will have basically evrything you need. At this moment, you understand that experiences enrich your life far more than more possessions. An experience makes your soul grow, a thing doesn't. Creating moments, experiences, memories are priceless. Swimming with my children and the dolphins is worth more than any object I could ever own.

Get your money life in order. It clears your head for the other, more important aspects of life on this earth. Determine your priorities. Work to get what you want. Always save some of whatever money you receive. There are no tricks, there is no magic. Common sense and respect of money can bring you great peace of mind, happiness and yes, even riches.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

About Money. Part Two

Learn how to save money.
Always save something out of any money you earn or receive. Saving money is your new mantra, your new religion. Saving should be automatic on your part. If you receive a large sum of money -- an advance on a book, an inheritance, a bonus, you should save 95% of that. Large chunks of money are hard to come by and should be treated with great respect.

Saving money should not be a torture. If it is, you are not doing something right . Perhaps you are living beyond your means, not spending properly, buying badly, allocating poorly. Saving money should be natural and free. Put it away and keep a little bit for your living needs at the time.

Learn how to invest money when you are young. Put your money to work for you. (Instead of you working for it.) Learn the famous "rule of compound interest." If you start saving and investing in your 20's, you will have wealth and peace of mind in your later years. Why struggle to pay for college with actual dollars, when you can save today and let it grow by itself, to the quantity you will need.

I know, it is very hard, when you are in your 20's to discipline yourself and think that you need to save...and that you will ever get "old." But time will fly faster than you ever imagined and you will be grateful for this advice.

Take responsibility for your retirement. Being "old" is hard enough. Who wants to be old and poor? There is nothing worse than being sick and not having money for the doctor. These two scenarios can be avoided with planning and the simple fact of saving a bit of all money that ocmes your way.

Learn how to spend money.
Wisely. You can spend money, or you can spend it well. Spending money should not be frivolous, nor should it be painful. I have a friend who spends every cent she earns and another friend who has buyer's remorse and can't buy a thing without feeling tremendous guilt. You work hard for the money, and money is there to be enjoyed.

Do your homework. See what things cost. Comparison shop. If you don't need something right away, buy it on sale. Ask for "something off." Be a smart consumer. Buy what you need, not what you want. But of course, occasionally you have to splurge. But when you do spend your money, enjoy it.

Money does not bring happiness.
Don't fall into the trap of thinking money will make you happy or that rich people are happy. The rich have the same problems as you and me. All the money in the world can't help my friend whose son has a terrible neurological condition. Another friend has accumulated several million dollars during his lifetime and lives like a miser, never taking vacations, inviting people over to dinner etc.
While money doesn't bring happiness...having enough money can make your life a lot easier. Hence: save!

Money and good taste are entirely unrelated.
Even after all these years I am still surprised when I come in contact with a wealthy person's life and discover, more often than not, how ugly their house is, how badly dressed they are, how boorish their manners. Just because you have money, doesn't mean you know how to live or you spend it on lovely things.

Good taste is what is priceless. Having a good eye or your own personal sense of style lets you live with "champagne taste on a beer budget." I line my garden patio with inexpensive votives that I buy by the ozen at Ikea. My simple, twinkling garden makes everyone feel I'm living luxuriously. It is my personal sense of style that brings wealth into my life. You don't need Gucci, Pucci or Fucci. A trim, toned body dressed in clean, pressed jeans, a nice white shirt and good leather shoes is my idea of perfection.

How to feel like a million(aire).
Feeling rich is far more than just having money. Look at the daily graces in your life. If you enjoy good health, you are truly blessed and rich, because good health, like good taste, is priceless.

Luxury is an attitude. A home made loaf cinnamon swirl bread, still warm from the oven, is luxurious. A vase of fresh wild flowers that I picked myself is luxurious.

It's all about your ability to take pleasure in the details. Cooking a lovely meal for a friend is the most extravagant gift you can imagine. A glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and an excellent cup of coffee in the morning is what makes me feel rich, taken care of, in control of my world, happy with my life.

You've often heard the cliche that the rich are bored with things, that nothing brings them pleasure because they can have whatever they want. The ability to take pleasure in my things is what makes me feel rich. I never taken anything for granted. Perhaps I don't have expensive cars, antiques, first class flights to Paris...but a cup of tea and a clean house make me feel like a million.

To be continued!

Monday, May 19, 2008

The world doesn't owe you a living. About Money.

Money is very complicated.

That's an understatement.

The relationship you have with money will affect every aspect of your life: emotional, physical, spiritual, mental. Like most of the advice I've given you, moderation is the key. (Oh those clever Greeks...) That's because money is filled with paradox. Money can bring you joy or unhappiness. You can have a windfall, or lose it in minutes. You can be obsessed by money --either getting more of it or fearful of losing it. If you ignore money, you will be tortured by it too.

Money and sex are the two power issues of life. Money and sex make people do foolish things, like lie, cheat, steal, plot, kill. Money and sex are the two issues around which marriages flourish or founder. When you have the "right" amount of each, you don't think much about them. But when you don't have any at all, they are all you think about.

Money is a concrete, worldly thing -- but, another equally important aspect of money that most people ignore is that money is a spiritual thing. Your attitude about towards money affects the quality of your life. If can affect your ability to have harmonious, satisfying relationships. Your attitude towards money determines your ability to enjoy yourself and to realize your true self and your dreams.

If you are constantly anxious about money, or always feel you don't have enough, you need an attitude adjustment. Here are some thoughts about money, from the concrete to the metaphysical. I'll post it over several days. Here is part one.

Buy a book (or several!) about money and read it.
I agree with Suze Orman on this one. We go to college, we learn and study up about everything. But we never take a course in personal finance!

Money is complicated! You need to learn how to earn it, negotiate for it, manage it, save it, invest it, make it work for you. Money has its own set of distinct "rules." Learn what they are. In order to fully understand and respect money, you need to read and study about money. Think about your money, learn about money, read books, talk to experts and friends whose attitudes and money management you admire.

Just as your life's reading should include fiction, non fiction and poetry -- you should also read up on money.

Stop asking people, "How much?"
Often the first two words to pop out of a person's mouth when a friend has purchased something: How much? It is aggravating and besides the point. Assume it costs more than you think. Usually, if something was cheap, the person will offer that information because everyone loves to show how clever they are. But learning the price tells you what exactly? That the other person has money to spend? That the thing they bought was so expensive you could never afford it? That they are richer than you?

When I lived in Manhattan, the first thing people would ask me when they came into my apartment was, "Do you mind if I ask how much rent you pay?" I learned to smile and say, "A lot." The perfect, ambiguous answer. Because what is "a lot?" If means entirely different things to you and me. And that is precisely the point.

In short, asking, "How much" is gawking and just plain rude. More important, stop thinking of everything in terms of its monetary value. If you really want to know the cost of something, you can look it up yourself.

The world does not owe you a living.
Take control of your financial life. Earn the money you need. Be responsible. Don't wait for an inheritance. Don't marry for money. (Who was it who said, "She or he who marries for money, earns it.") Understand that you have the power to earn the money you need and want.

Bite the bullet.
Just as you should not worship money, do not be afraid of money either. By being afraid of money, you give it a power it doesn't have. Never feel powerless about money. Don't feel powerless about earning it, or changing the circumstances in which you find yourself. If something's too expensive, cut down, cut back.

Be honest with yourself about your money. If you are in debt, handle it. Decide what steps must be taken and do something about it. Seek help if you have to.

An example of what not to do is to close your eyes. Some friends lived in an overly expensive house, unable to meet mortgage payments. They lived in daily dread of when it would be taken away from them, creating altars to God in every room and praying daily for a miracle. They kept giving up things in the name of God if only he would act. This is not living, this is hell.

They should have faced reality: Found a cheaper house, sold their house and taken control of living within their means. But they didn't because it would signify in their eyes, defeat and shame. Fact is, we admire those who life themselves out of adversity, those who fight back and win. There is nothing shameful about having to cut back.

Don't compare yourself to others.
This is a true waste of time. There will always be people who have more money than you. And there will always be people who have less. Money does not define a successful life, as you will see. If you want to get into the comparing game, compare yourself only to people who have less than you do.

Being "rich" means more than just having money. Feel rich in your good health. Health is everything, because money cannot buy your good health. So look at your good health, your artistic sensibility, your ability to receive pleasure from literature, art, music, nature, people.

If you are a happy person, you are rich beyond words, beyond money.

To be continued!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Don't stop at "No."

The world is full of “no.”

No, you will never make it to the Olympics. No, you didn’t get into this college. No, you didn’t get the job. No, you will never write the great American novel. No, you are too old to be a great chef. No, you can’t afford this house. No, you can’t move to Europe.

Don’t believe any of it.

Strange I should say this, because when you were little children, after saying “No!” repeatedly to something you were doing sans cesse, or to one of your endless requests for another cookie, I’d say in exasperation, “Don’t you know that “No” means “No?”

In grown up life however, “no” doesn’t mean stop. “No” is often the first and easiest word out of someone’s mouth. They probably don’t even mean it or know any better. “No” should never stop you. When you are pursuing a person or dream, getting an appointment, trying to return something in a store etc, you have to:

--Get past the “no.”
--Never take the first “no” someone says to you.
--Learn to view “no” as the first step in getting to “yes.”
--And when you have really arrived at NO, then you must take a new direction.

I cannot tell you the number of times I have gotten past, “No.” I view “No” as the beginning, not the end of an encounter. When the credit card person on the end of an 800 number says “No” to my request, I don’t yell at this person, I just view them as powerless to say “yes” to me, and ask to speak to a supervisor. No anger involved. Just get to the person who can say “yes.” Sometimes it is as easy as saying goodbye, hanging up and calling again to get a different operator who says "yes" immediately.

Get yourself to the person who can say “yes,” – even if it is the President of a company.

Your goal in life is to get to “yes.” When I was looking for a job as a copywriter in advertising, if I had stopped at every “No,” I would never have had the happy, successful career I did. Imagine all the “No’s” I heard as I walked around Manhattan with my portfolio, trying to get a creative director to see me.

“No, you can’t have an appointment.” “No, he’s not interviewing anybody.” “No there are no openings here.” “No, he is too busy.” “No, we don’t hire junior copywriters.” “No you don’t have any job experience.”

Sometimes, getting to the person who can say yes is as simple as waiting until the secretary has gone to lunch and the person himself answers the phone and you’ve got five seconds to make your case.

Another way to get past someone’s “No” is to enlist that person to help you. When I was founding the Merida English Library, a woman named Marilyn Smith would come in and tell me I'd never get it off the ground. I realized I had to turn this woman into my ally. I said, “Look, I really need this children’s reading room to work. How can we make this happen? Can you help me?” In short, keep the conversation going. Turn the “no” into a positive, problem solving experience.

And finally, there are times when you really will arrive at a definitive "No." Don’t beat your head against the wall and remain bitter or antagonized. Accept it, knowing that you’ve exhausted all possibilities. Change your tactic and move on to a new situation where your outcome will be yes.

When the first No really means No In sexual matters. If either man or woman says no, IT MEANS NO. It does not mean yes. No in this case means No and you should not persist your way to yes.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Airport Mother vs. Helicopter Mom

It is May, and I am in the final days of driving Pablo to school, as he graduates in June. I have had the pleasure of driving him to school for 16 years. When he gets out of the car with his deep voice and his heavy backpack, I think of the three-year-old he was, "just yesterday" running into Pixie PreSchool to get his hands on the Playskool doctor's kit.

I have never complained about all the driving I've had to do over the years -- and it has been considerable-- because I learned early on that driving in the car is when your kids really talk to you. The most interesting things, deep thoughts, confessions and wonderings float up as you wait for a light to turn green.

When Pablo goes to college in August, I will become what my Mother was to me for most of her life: an airport Mother. How I recall seeing my Mother's anticipatory face, wandering through the baggage claim, looking for me, and the happy light in her eyes when she saw me. "Yoo hoo!" she'd call. Her daughter was home.

The airport Mother is always happy to go to the airport to pick up her "child" and always takes her "child" back to the airport when he must leave to go back to his own life.

Whereas, the helicopter Mom is a somewhat derogatory term, used by college administrators, to describe a mother who sends her child to college, but hovers over him the whole time, ready to swoop down and fix his problems or whisk him away at the slightest call. Or sometimes, even uninvited.

My older brother, Buzz, describes raising children with an analogy to the solar system. You are the earth and your child is your moon, orbiting around you for 18 beautiful years. Then, the child breaks free, like moons do, and drifts out of your gravitational pull, to orbit around a different planet. Occasionally, your orbits intersect and you fly together for awhile, but then, again, off he goes. You are in the same solar system, but in different orbits.

It is amazing: You will spend more time without your children than you ever spent with them! You really only have the fulltime pleasure of your children for the 18 years they live at home.

You've all heard some of your friends or acquaintances say, in a pained tone, "Oh gee...I have to go see my Mother," anticipating a draining, needy Mother.

I want to be the kind of Mother whose child says, "I'm going home to see my Mother!" The welcoming, approving, supportive, fun Mother. The home where the bed is made up, the soup bubbling on the stove, the car keys dangling so they can go out and see their friends.

Planet Mother. Because it's a rough solar system out there.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sunshine Eggs

When my kids were little, I learned that if I named a dish, they enjoyed it all the more.

Sunshine Eggs is not so much a recipe, but an assemblage of common ingredients which, when combined in a certain way...creates a breakfast moment!

Just this morning as I drove Pablo to school (May of his senior year in high school, so you can imagine his mood...) I told him I would post the recipe for Sunshine Eggs. He smiled. I said, "Someday, you will cook this for your girlfriend in the morning, and she will love you even more." And of course, someday, he will cook this for his children and they will think he's the most amazing dad in the world. But let's not get ahead of ourselves here!

I discovered this dish in the film, "Moonstruck" when Cher had it for breakfast. It seems to be of Italian origin? Well, now it is Sunshine Eggs. To start your day with a burst of sunshine.

Sunshine Eggs

1 slice of bread. (Little children like the softness of regular bread. But a more elegant version for the more adventurous is to cut a diagonal slice of French or Italian bread.)

1 egg.

Butter, salt & pepper.

1. Cut out a small hole in the middle of the bread. What size hole? About the size of an egg yolk. What do you do with the hole? Eat it or give it to your dachsund!
2. Heat a nonstick skillet. When nicely heated up, plop in a pat of butter.
3. When the butter is sizzling, put the bread into the middle of the skillet.
4. Let the bread crisp for about 20 seconds.
5. Break the egg into the hole of the bread. The yolk should go into the hole. The egg white will go where it wants to. It might stay on the stop, it might seep around to the bottom. It's all good.
6. When you feel the egg yolk has set a bit, with a spatula, pick up the bread and the egg and gently flip it over. You want the egg yolk to stay whole.
7. When you feel the egg white has cooked and the bread is crispy, slide it onto a plate and serve immediately.
8. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
9. Place dish in front of you and NOW you can pop the egg yolk with your fork. The yellow spreads all over the toasty bread, like sunshine, making it all eggy and delicious.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Five Simplicities

I've been away on business to Princeton, NJ and a one day shopping fling in Manhattan (amazing how much credit card damage you can do in one day) I thought I'd get back in the groove with some simple thoughts that were years in the learning. These simplicities can ease your way in the world and make life a whole lot nicer, for you and for others as well.

1. Be nice to the little people. First of all, there is no such thing as "little people." They are big people in little jobs. They control the access to the big people you want to get to. These people have the ability to make your life hell or heaven. They have the ability to get your papers slid in after five o'clock, to protect you from "situations," and to get you where you want to go.

When I worked in advertising, I always treated the secretaries like queens. Not only my secretary (who would cover me if I spent too long at lunch or stay late to get something done for me) but also, the secretaries of the higher ups whom I had to please. Those secretaries guarded access to the important people and could get me appointments as well as be a source of information when I needed it, even going so far as putting in good words for me. I am not implying that I used these people, just treated them with courtesy and genuine concern. I always gave gifts for Christmas, lunch for birthdays and flowers on special occasions.

Amazing how a small but caring gesture goes such a long way. The mailman will hold a package for you instead of returning it back into the system; the garbage collector might good naturedly take away something beyond the call of duty; a store clerk who actually makes the effort to help you locate what you're looking for or calls you when something's come in.

2. Make your bed each morning. I know, not what you wanted to hear. Not something you think has the key to the universe. And I'm not saying, "make your bed" because someone will come over to your house and think you are a slob.

No. A made bed gives you the gift of a fresh, orderly state of mind from which to begin your day. A made bed greets you happily and calmly each night. This is no joke; it is extremely important. An addendum to this is: wash the dishes at night before you go to bed. Even when you're tired and say, "I'll do it in the morning." You want to start the day inspired and unencumbered when you walk into the kitchen in the early a.m. -- not burdened by yesterday's business.

3. Find the joy in daily life. Do not wait for "big" things or moments to come and make you happy. Don't say, "I'll be happy when vacation comes." Be happy now. If you make something so big in your mind, when it arrives, you will find it doesn't make you as happy as you had imagined. And besides, why wait for a "happy moment" when you can live happy, every day.

Happiness is not something you wait for. Happiness is something you make. Or recognize. Life is made up of a continuity of small moments, therefore, the small things are what add up to big happiness. Try to do everything beautifully, even the "lowliest" task, knowing that you are honoring yourself and others, honoring life itself, and you will find yourself living in grace and... happiness.

Don't take daily life for granted. Happy moments simply need to be acknowledged. It is so easy to say, "I am so depressed," and great courage to say, "I am so happy!"

Take charge of your happiness. Practice it! You are taking your first sip of morning coffee accompanied by the crinkle of The New York Times. Say, "I am happy." Take a walk with the dog, smell the sweet country air and say, "I am happy." Sip a cup of cocoa in bed with a book at night and say, "I am happy." And you will be.

4. If you are sad, lonely, bored, get outside yourself. It's an easy solution and it works every time. I tell you this with great meaning because I spent too many years floundering in loneliness.
Read a book. Books are the ultimate best friend. Books open the world to you. Better yet, go sit in a cafe and read a book. Join a library. "Libraries Change Lives."
Exercise is a great way to get outside yourself, change your attitude and feel better phsycially. Go for a walk, a bike ride, a swim, a rollerblade.
Volunteer. Help someone less fortunate than yourself.
Learn something new. Learn how to sail, how to knit, how to speak a new language.

Life is entirely too short to spend on sad, lonely, bored.

5. Surrender your soul to the joy of art. Make art an integral part of your life. Art is the soul's expression of divine creation. Art is an infinite inspiration to your life. Art comforts and inspires. Art challenges and explains. Go to museums and galleries and see how people over the ages have tried to capture the varieties of the human experience on canvas and in sculpture. Go to concerts and recitals. Bathe your life in music, the soundtrack to your life. Support artists always.

Now...carry on!