A Christmas Lesson

by Christine

"Is there a purpose? Why are we here?"

A little boy asked as the yuletide drew near.

"I really do hope that someday I will know

the reason we stand out here in the snow,

ringing this bell as people walk by,

while thousands of snowflakes

descend from the sky."

The mother just smiled at her shivering son

who would rather be playing and having some

but soon would discover before evening was

the meaning of Christmas

the very first one.

The young boy exclaimed, "Mother where does
it go?"

"All the pennies we collect - every year in the

"Why do we do it? Why do we care?"
"We worked for these pennies,
so why should we share?"

"Because once a baby - so meek and so mild

was born in a manger - so humble the child

the son of a King - was born in this way

to give us the message

He carried that day.

"The present God gave the world on that night,

was the gift of his son to make everything right.

Why did he do it? Why did he care?
To teach about loving

and how we should share."

"The meaning of Christmas, you see my dear

is not about presents or just having fun
but the gift of a father - his own precious Son

so the world would be saved

when his work was all done"

Now the little boy smiled - with a tear in his eye

as snowflakes kept falling from out of the sky -

rang louder the bell as the people walked by
while down deep in his heart
at last he knew why.

Tom Krause


Intentional Living Week Nine: Review

by Christine


Review your goals twice every day in order to be focused on achieving them. 
Les Brown

I started this series because of the questions I was receiving on the meaning of and how tos of intentional living. The ideas and concepts of how to take control of your life and live intentionally have been shared with you each Friday. As the end of the year is upon us, I believe this week would be good time to stop and reflect on the steps we have taken so far. Dedicate your Morning 30 to sitting quietly, maybe make a cup of peppermint tea or a cup of gingerbread latte and review the steps you have taken to get to this point in the series. 

Week One: To get started commit to a time of day that works best for you to spend 30 minutes a day in quiet thought. 
Week Two: Make a list of key life questions.
Week Three: Discover what is working in your life and what is not.
Week Four: What are you spending your time on now?
Week Five: Are you moving foward?
Week Six: Identifying your Lifetime Priorities.
Week Seven: What are you top 4 Lifetime Priorities?
Week Eight: Draft your plan to help you achieve your LP's.

The groundwork has been completed so that you can start 2013 by implimenting your plan. I will share with you my plan for supporting my own LP's in 2013 and together we can help each other reach our goals.  Until then if you have any questions or comments on what we have done to date, please drop me a note. I would welcome the opportunity to work together on your priorities. 


No Farewell Words Were Spoken...

by Christine

If tears could build a stairway, 
And memories were a lane,
We would walk right up to heaven
To bring you down again.
No farewell words were spoken,
No time to say good-bye.
You were gone before we knew it,
And only God knows why.
Our hearts still ache in sadness 
And secret tears still flow,
What it meant to lose you,
No one will ever know.
When we are sad and lonely,
And everything goes wrong,
We seem to hear you whisper
"Cheer up and carry on."
Each time we look at your pictures, 
You seem to smile and say,
"Don't cry, I'm only sleeping,
We'll meet again someday."


The Art of Balancing The Kids, Ex-Spouses and the Holidays

by Christine

Our community has had multiple major thunderstorms this fall. Trees including one in my yard have come down as a result of the high winds that whipped through the neighborhood. One large oak in front of the local nursing home snapped in half, leaving a large exposed trunk. I was sad to see the shade tree go and mentally calculated the cost of removing such a large tree. Fortunately, the owners of the nursing home had other ideas. They hired an artist to come in and carve a series of bears romping in and on the tree trunk. Daily I see people stopping to take a closer look at this clever and whimsical addition to the grounds. 

I no longer feel sad at the loss of the tree; I am happy to see the new art that enhances our community.  I see this as an analogy for my life. Not so much the concept of when you get lemons, make lemonade but more like make sure you don't miss a positive opportunity. We can spend our time grieving for what was lost or look for a new, equally positive opportunity. It may be different but that different "thing" can still bring us joy. 

This is our first Christmas since my son's divorce. I now see this change to our family as an opportunity to come together and create new and inclusive traditions. We can celebrate in the traditional way with good food and gift giving around the Christmas tree. But is also an opportunity to build something new and equally as meaningful as the Christmas celebrations of the past. This is our chance to take the exposed tree trunk and craft something clever and whimsical. It is our choice as to whether we will have a good experience on Christmas. 

As a grandmother, I believe that grandparent can be a steady force that welcomes new traditions within the framework of a newly fractured family. We can love, support, suggest and even, when requested implement the new ideas at the holiday. Our Christmas is still evolving but I know the most important traditions such as being together on Christmas day will be honored while new traditions such as a Champagne/ Shirley Temple Brunch will be started. What about your family? Does divorce influence your holiday plans? How do you handle it? Let me know, we are all still learning.




Intentional Living Week Eight: Planning

by Christine

"In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable".
Dwight D. Eisenhower

The assignment for week 7 was to decide on your top 4 Lifetime Priorities. Was that an easy or difficult task for you? Are you clear about where you want to spend your time and energy? This week you will learn how to develop a plan that will help you accomplish your goals.  

There is a 1980's TV series called The A-Team. It is a campy, action adventure show that boasts of 4 former Vietnam vets fighting crime. Yes, there is a little more to it than that but for our purposes that is enough explanation. Anyway Hannibal Smith, played by George Peppard, cigar in hand, mugs for the camera as he says, "I love it when a plan comes together"...while everything around him is blowing up.

Life is about planning. You have worked hard to identify what is important to you in life; you even put your LPs in order of importance. Now is the time to draft a plan that will help you achieve your LPs. You are going to start with your number one goal and dedicate the first three months of 2013 implementing your plan. As the year progresses, each quarter you will take on a new LP. 

There are three guidelines to keep in mind as you build your plan. First, start small. My #1 LP is Maintain good health. I needed and wanted a regular exercise routine and after attending a marathon with my son I decided to take up running. I love the positive people at the races and the sport really only requires a good pair of shoes and the desire to Just Do It. Now let's be clear, I did not lace up and run 26.2 miles the day after making this decision. I purchased a new pair of running shoes, got a training program from my trainer at the gym and set a goal of running a 5K (3.1 miles). I started slow and worked the plan...I ran my first 5K in October after 4 months of training. (I finished second in my age group.) I have seen positive health benefits which support my #1 LP but I am no where near running a marathon. As I said, start small. 

Next, keep it simple and be specific. I have a friend who can take the simplest task and turn it into the most complicated chore. As a result many things are left undone. As you move forward with creating your plan, keep it simple. You don't need a complicated plan, just straight forward and clear. Also, be specific. When I started to run, I set a specific goal, run a 5K. In doing that I knew what I had to accomplish and when I was successful. In the coming weeks we will talk more about this but for now as you are developing your plan, resist the urge to make the creation of the plan an overly complicate task.

Finally, make sure the plan fits into your life. I know enough about myself to understand that if I had to drive a half an hour everyday to exercise that I wouldn't. Running fits in my life at least for as long as my knees hold up and I can head outside to do it. Create a plan that works for your life.

Week 8 Assignment: Build the plan.

This week start putting on paper ideas on how to further you #1 priority. What are you willing to do to achieve your goal? Start small, keep it simple and specific and make sure works in your life.


Get caught up on the entire Intentional Living series:



Can You Embrace Every Season Of Life?

by Christine

Pete Seeger adapted Ecclesiastes 3.1 for the lyrics to his song Turn! Turn! Turn! The song soulfully announces, “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven-“ Each time I talk to my daughter I am reminded of the wisdom in those verses. Kathryn is the mother of a three-year old and twin eight month olds, a job and passion that require all of Kathryn's mental and physical strength. About a year ago, her oldest child Lucy was spending "naptime" quietly in her room.  When Kathryn opened her door to say that naptime was over, she discovered that Lucy had drawn on the wall over her bed. Not drawn exactly but created a mural size drawing on her freshly painted walls. Needless to say, Kathryn was not pleased. Of course when the grandmothers were shown a picture of Lucy's afternoon endeavor, we laughed and praised our grandchild for an extraordinary sense of balance, color and symmetry. Her parent did not respond to our comments and repainted the room in silence.  

We are in different seasons of our life. Now is Kathryn's time to be the parent, the one who sets the rules and enforces them, the one who strives to raise a healthy, educated, law abiding human being. It is my time to be the grandmother, the one who defers to the rules as set by her parents but will occasionally advocate for chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast and buy my granddaughter Dora the Explorer shoes when asked. I know my grandchildren are in good hands so I leave the worrying to their parents. 

I embrace this season of my life in a manner that I did not at other times. There is an advantage to aging. You learn along the way that the good times may not last but neither do the bad times. You recognize that working hard for a goal may be more rewarding than actually obtaining the goal. Today, I work to balance between being in the moment and planning for the future. I live in the knowledge that at this time of my life, it is not wise to procrastinate. I am not old. I know that. But I have witnessed the journey that took me from being a young mother to a young grandmother more quickly than I could have imagined when I started my family. I don't want to be lulled into believing that this next season of my life will move any more slowly.

I ask you, what lessons of life have you learned? What piece of wisdom would you share with your children or a younger you?



Creative Gifts for Aging Parents and Others

by Christine

One Christmas my grandmother's gift to me was a quilt she had hand sown. The quilt is called a charm quilt because it is made with many, many small patches. Most of the 2 inch squares came from the left over remnants of material that my mom used to make our clothes. The fabric from my high school graduation dress is easily recognizable as is the fabric of a white and yellow sundress that I wore the summer I turned 16. Quilt making was a talent and passion of my grandmother and I was blessed that she shared that talent with me. Her quilt holds a special place in my heart and in my home.

Gift giving is an art that I continue to work at perfecting. I don't have the same kind of talent that my grandmother had in quilt making. Honestly, I have not always been on target with my gift choices particularly as it relates to the men in my life. I don't give Marty clothes any more because too many sweaters and shirts spent an extended period of time in the closet before being donated to Good Will. But there are two gifts that are always needed and pleases everyone. The first is the gift of time. Whether you dedicate a Saturday morning to deep clean your aging mother or grandmother's kitchen or baby-sitting for your grand babies while your daughter and son-in-law take a Saturday night to go to the movies, these are gifts that go beyond the traditional. Just like my grandmother's quilts, giving time is a labor of love.

The second is experiential gifts. This could include a monthly date with dad or taking the grandkids to a pottery studio to paint a Christmas plate or photo frame. One-on-one time can give you an opportunity to reconnect and spend time doing something with a family member or a friend outside the normal routine. It is "we" time particularly with aging parents. Whether they are living in a group situation or at home, they would welcome a trip to lunch or a movie. 

This Christmas season put on your thinking caps and think creatively. It doesn't need to cost more and trust me it will be a lot more fun. If you would like a bit of help jump starting your thought process check out Simple Organized Living. Andrea has put together a series titled Creative & Clutter-Free Gifts. She has given me a couple of ideas that I will be putting into practice this year. For those of you who are ahead of the curve, share with me some of your creative and experiential gift ideas for Christmas.




Intentional Living Week Seven: Decision Time

by Christine

{Exploring Cape Horn on the Continent of Africa}

"Every choice you make has an end result". Zig Ziglar

Last week your focus was on compiling the list of Lifetime Priorities. These are goals that last for the duration of your life and shape the overarching framework of your world. As you compiled your list, what did you learn? Were there any surprises? This week is decision week; you will identify your top 4 Lifetime Priorities. 

When I originally created my list of LPs, I learned something about myself that surprised me. I was not putting energy into any priority that I stated was important to me. How could that be? Did I really believe what I wrote down or was I just parroting the "shoulds" of others? As I questioned why there was such a great chasm between what I said I valued and where I was spending my time, I made an illuminating discovery. After my husband walked out on our marriage, I automatically moved into a reactionary mode. My time was spent responding to the struggles of my new situation. I was responding to the demands my job and others made on my life; I wanted more. I decided to focus on my top 4 LPs and refocus my energy on what mattered to me. 

Week 7 Assignment: List your top 4 Lifetime Priorities.

This week you are going to list your Lifetime Priorities in order of importance. You may find that some feel equal in weight but you must assign each LP a number. Two of my LPs, employment that is personally challenging and rewarding and financial independence, may feel interwoven but they are not the same thing. Ultimately I assigned them to the number 3 and 4 slot respectively. You may have more than 4 LP's but for our next phase, you will focus on the top 4. If you don't have or have not currently identified 4, weight the ones you do in order of importance. You may uncover other LP as you start to work on the ones you have already identified. 

One cautionary note, LPs may shift in importance during different seasons of your life. You are weighting these priorities based on where you are in your life today. I started my own business in 2005 and was charging ahead on what was my #1 LP at the time, employment that is personally challenging and rewarding. I was growing my company; it was an exciting time. But in 2007, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. While my work continued to be one of my top 4 LPs, out of necessity another moved to the #1 slot. Maintain good health became my #1 LP and remains so today. Shift focus if you need to, just make sure it is your decision to do so. 

Get caught up on the entire Intentional Living series:




When Is Gift Giving Too Much For Kids To Handle?

by Christine

Several years ago one of my grandchildren received a Christmas gift from his Aunt.  Barely acknowledging her kindness, he quickly tore off the gift wrapping, took one look at the present and threw it on the floor stating, "I don't want this!" Every adult froze as if the air had been sucked from the room. His father quickly commanded that he retrieve the gift and accompany him to another room in the house. When they returned my red faced grandson apologized to his Aunt and thanked her for the present. 

Candidly, I had a great deal of sympathy for my grandson. He is normally a loving and gracious child; he loves life and embraces it with all his heart. But during the previous 24 hours he had no less than 5 big holiday meals and gift exchanges with extended family. It started Christmas Eve at his maternal grandparents and ended with the melt down at his paternal great grandparent's home on Christmas Day. Sugar charged with limited sleep, he stated what was really in his heart. He just didn't want one more thing. 

We are a family of divorce and the multiple sets of great grandparents and grandparents have come to a place in life where there is some discretionary money. It gives us all a great deal of pleasure to spend it on our grandchildren. Christmas is one of those times when each of us has been guilty of overdoing it when it comes to the little ones. But as I stood watching my grandson, exhausted, overwhelmed by the day and embarrassed because he had behaved badly, I realized that too much of a good thing can ruin the day. 

It was clear to me that the fault did not lay with my grandson but with the adults that had turned a religious and family holiday into a consumer endurance event. In that instant I decided to change my approach to gift giving at Christmas and birthday's for my grandchildren. I set up a savings account for each grandchild; it is their dream account. I budget a specific amount of money for special occasions and then deposit that amount into their account. These accounts are not for college but for something special when the time is right. If they want to learn how to wind surf or buy a musical instruments to play in a rock and roll band in a few years, they may use money from their dream account. 

At first the concept was difficult for them to grasp. Spending the money seemed abstract and too far in the future but now they have taken ownership of the concept. They no longer talk about getting the latest video game but think more experiential. The dream account has created a unique connection between my grandchildren and me; it has been a positive experience. 

I am always encouraging others to be aware of the life they are crafting and to live intentionally. If your family holidays fails to reflect your values, make a change. It is a challenge to be true to your vision in a society where excess can quickly become the norm. But if you do,  you and those around you  will be happier.



Will You Avoid A Financial Hangover?

by Christine

I love the Christmas season. I love giving gifts. I don't love the financial hangover that can result when combining the Christmas season with gift giving. I made the decision to live debt free 17 years ago. That means when I use my credit card, that I must be able to pay off the bill when the statement arrives. I save for large ticket items that I want and purchase them only when I have the money to pay for them. My philosophy is pretty straight forward and I have developed the discipline to adhere to my code. 

But Christmas giving hits all kinds of emotional buttons. We want to see the delight in the eyes of our children or grandchildren when they look upon all the gifts around the Christmas tree or as they are opening their gifts. Also we want them to avoid feeling the disappointment we once felt at not receiving the toy of the year.  We want to bring joy to our extended family as well as friends. The list grows longer as we add the mail carrier, hairdresser and other service people in our lives. There are those we truly want to give presents to and then there are those we feel we are obligated to acknowledge at the holiday because of some unspoken expectation. 

If you want to avoid the financial hangover groaning in January along with the high interest rates in February and beyond then taking the time now to plan is imperative. I have a few long-term and short-term ideas of managing your money during this gift-giving season that can take some of the financial pressure off you. 

First the long-term ideas. Create a budget and stick to it. This tool helps you know what you have to spend and can keep you from going overboard. Don't think of it as something that limits your spending but allows you to purchase gifts guilt free because you know exactly how much you have to spend. 

Next, open a Christmas Club Savings Account today...for 2013. I can imagine you feel that a lot of cash is already going out now but to get control of tomorrow you must start today. You can put $10 a paycheck in the account now increasing it later in the year based on your budget. Learn how to open a Christmas account here.

Shop during the year for Christmas gifts. I know this takes a certain personality type to shop proactively and keep quiet about it. My mother was like a little girl when it came to Christmas. More than once she would say, "Don't tell your father" and proceed to tell us all about our Christmas gifts. The positive side of shopping year round is that you can take advantage of sales and avoid hitting your wallet all at once. 

For the short-term you can do a couple of things. First, review who is on your list. For years we gave gifts to everyone in our extended family. When the current generation came of age, we discussed how logistically and financially burdensome it was to be giving gifts to so many people. We enjoyed getting together for dinner and the gift exchange was fun so we decided to draw names instead of cutting out gift giving all together. We found a great deal of joy in finding the perfect present  but did not feel so strapped financially. I would encourage you to discuss this with your family; if you are feeling the pinch, I imagine they are also. 

I urge you to consider homemade gifts. I will write more on this next week but this is an area that creativity is more valuable than cash. If you have an aging parent, you know that they are letting the heavy lifting of cleaning slide. A gift certificate that promises a top-to-bottom kitchen cleaning is priceless.

Finally, just say no. Your child, grandchild or significant other doesn't need everything on their Christmas wish list. When I was growing up, we knew we would get one "big" gift and several other smaller ones, which may include pajamas. We understood that we were not going to get everything we wrote down on our list when perusing the Sears Catalog. 

I remember very few of the gifts I was given for Christmas. Yes, the bike and pogo stick come to mind but mainly I remember being with family. I remember decorating the tree, setting the table with the good china and the Christmas records playing on the Magnavox. Christmas is about celebrating the season and being with family. The New Year is about starting new, debt free.