27 November 2005

FtG -- Holiday Finance Disaster

I know, I know, I was supposed to start off with basics. But I think it would be more practical to start with where we are -- the Holiday Spend-O-Rama. At no other time is there so much cultural pressure on you to do the wrong thing, wrack up consumer debt, purchase needless stuff, and generally make yourself crazy. But try, just try, telling your loved ones that you're swearing off this mercantilistic orgy, and just see what happens next. Oi! So, some reading that I found inspirational, that you might enjoy. Cancel Christmas This one's particularly good for the comparison of what kind of money you'd have if you'd boycotted christmas in 2000, and instead invested. It's really illuminating. Although having tried to explain this very concept to one relative and not been able too, apparently it's further out than I thought. UK 'must learn' Christmas finance The BBC lets us know that the Brits are just as bad about this as we are here in the States. Give It Meaning (You might need to register to view this one, but consider that part of your New Finance Info Gathering resolution, and do it anyway!). The idea in this article alone is worth the read, all by itself. I am so inspired. Check it out. Ten Tips for a Happier Holiday Pretty generic, but there's some good links on charity, and on gift guides for kids. 10 Questions for Holiday Shoppers Nice and blunt, from a "repairing your credit" standpoint. 20 Gifts Under $20 From my pals at the Dollar Stretcher, which is a fabulous site in any circumstance. Got links? Let me know what you're reading!

24 November 2005

Gratitude and Thanks

Woke up this morning thinking about getting food on the table. It's soooooo easy to jackrabbit, on this particular holiday, into the materialistic. But due to the film What The Bleep Do We Know!?, I've been toying with the concept of consciously creating my day, which actually works far better than I would have expected. But anyway... I moved into thoughts of true gratitude and thanks. Philipp Moffitt says,

Practicing mindfulness of gratitude consistently leads to a direct experience of being connected to life and the realization that there is a larger context in which your personal story is unfolding. Being relieved of the endless wants and worries of your life's drama, even temporarily, is liberating. Cultivating thankfulness for being part of life blossoms into a feeling of being blessed, not in the sense of winning the lottery, but in a more refined appreciation for the interdependent nature of life. It also elicits feelings of generosity, which create further joy. Gratitude can soften a heart that has become too guarded, and it builds the capacity for forgiveness, which creates the clarity of mind that is ideal for spiritual development.
Once you still your mind a bit from the daily grind of how-tos and must-dos, there's quite a bit to be incredibly grateful for. Anne Cushman says,
As Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh points out, even neutral experiences (the touch of the air on our skin, the fact that we have teeth to chew our food with and do not currently have a toothache) can be transformed into pleasant ones simply through the power of our attention. To encourage this transformation, I often begin my mudita practice by formally "counting my blessings," as my mother used to call it. In a silent inner litany, I say "thank you" for the magnificent gifts of a healthy body: lungs that breathe the cool, foggy air; a nose that smells eucalyptus leaves and banana muffins; eyes that see hummingbirds swooping outside my window; a tongue that has just savored a golden, juicy peach. I express gratitude for my friends, my family, my son riding his tricycle up and down my deck, the doe and fawn that wander through my yard, nibbling on the lower branches of a plum tree. I give thanks that bombs aren�t falling on my city, that tanks aren't smashing through the walls of my house.
I wanted to spend my morning sharing mine with you... so here we go: I am Grateful for:
My sons, Rowan and Kestrel My husband, Jason The fact that Jason is here, with us, to see Kestrel's early months My triumphant mostly unassisted homebirth vbac My health My home The luxury of being able to choose what food I want, instead of having to take what's available, because that's all there is Clean water My job, which allows me so very much freedom and autonomy, and lately is also offering me the challenge of having to really, really think, instead of merely follow orders The fact that I can reasonably awake each day with the assumption that no one is going to be lobbing bombs at me or anyone I love The fact that every day, I have choices in how to behave, and the consciousness to recognize those choices The fact that I am lucky enough to have access to technology and information
And that's me. But as the Dalai Lama says, regarding mudita, the innate delight in the well-being of others,
It's only logical. If I am only happy for myself, many fewer chances for happiness. If I am happy when good things happen to other people, billions more chances to be happy!
So...what are you grateful for?

23 November 2005

Windhorse, revisited

Cracks me up that I started this blog as a mommy thing, and it looks like we're heading into intense Buddhism and Finance territory (talk about opposites! Ah, the contradictions of modern life!) Anyway. my pal Bryan, who is also quite the Buddhist scholar, had more to say on the topic of Windhorse. This is excerpted from "Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior", Part One, "How to be a Warrior", Chapter 10, "Letting Go", and Part Two, " Sacredness: The Warrior's World", Chapter 13, "How to Invoke Magic". By Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, Supreme Abbot of the Surmang Monasteries in Pre-China Tibet.

In meditation, you can experience a state of mind that is without second thoughts, free from fear and doubt. That unwavering state of mind is not swayed by the temporary ups and downs of thoughts and emotions. At first you may only have a glimpse. Through the practice of meditation, you glimpse a spark or a dot of unconditional, basic goodness. When you experience that dot, you may not feel totally free or totally good, but you realize that wakefulness, fundamental goodness, is there already. You can let go of hesitation, and therefore, you can be without deception. There is an uplifted quality to your life, which exists effortlessly. The result of letting go is contacting that uplifted energy, which allows you to completely join together discipline and delight, so that discipline becomes both effortless and splendid. Everyone has experienced a wind of energy or power in their lives. For example, athletes feel a surge of energy when they are engaged in their sport. Or a person may experience a torrent of love or passion for another being to whom he or she is attracted. Sometimes we feel energy as a cool breeze of delight rather than a strong wind. For example, when you are hot and perspiring, if you take a shower, you feel so delightfully cool and energized at the same time. Normally, we think that this energy comes from a definite source or has a particular cause. We associate it with the situation in which we became so energized. Athletes may become addicted to their sport because of the "rush" they experience. Some people become addicted to falling in love over and over again because they feel so good and alive when they are in love. The result of letting go is that you discove a bank of self-exisitng energy that is always available to you - beyond any circumstance. It actually comes from no-where, but is always there. It is the energy of basic goodness. This self-exisitng energy is called windhorse in the Shambhala teachings. The wind principle is that the energy of basic goodness is strong and exuberant and brilliant. It can actually radiate tremendous power in your life. But at the same time, basic goodness can be ridden, which is the principle of the horse. By following the disciplines of warriorship, particularly the discipline of letting go, you can harness the wind of goodness. In some sense the horse is never tamed - basic goodness never becomes your personal possession. But you can invoke and provoke the uplifted energy of basic goodness in your life. You begin to see how you can create basic goodness for yourself and others on the spot, fully and ideally, not only on a philosophical level, but on a concrete, physical level. When you contact the energy of windhorse, you can naturally let go of worrying about your own state of mind and you can begin to think of others. You feel a longing to share your discovery of goodness with your brothers and sisters, your mother and father, friends of all kinds who would also benegit from the message of basic goodness. So discovering windhorse is, first of all, acknowledging the strength of basic goodness in yourself and then fearlessly projecting that state of mind to others. Experiencing the upliftedness of the world is a joyous situation, but it also brings sadness. It is like falling in love. When you are in love, being with your lover is both delightful and very painful. You feel both joy and sorrow. That is not a problem; in fact, it is wonderful. It is the ideal human emotion. The warrior who experiences windhorse feels the joy and sorrow of love in everything he does. He feels hot and cold, sweet and sour, simultaneously. Whether things go well or things go badly, whether there is success or failure, he feels sad and delighted at once. In that way, the warrior begins to understand the meaning of unconditional confidence. The tibetan word for confidence is "ziji". Zi means "shine" or "glitter," and ji means "splendor," or "dignity," and sometimes also has the sense of "monolithic." So ziji expresses shining out, rejoicing while remaining dignified. ~*~snip~*~ The chapter "Letting Go" introduced the idea of windhorse, or riding on the energy of basic goodness in your life. Windhorse is a translation of the Tibetan lungta. Lung means "wind" and ta means "horse." Invoking secret drala is the experience of raising windhorse, raising a wind of delight and power and riding on, or conquering, that energy. Such wind can come with great force, like a typhoon that can blow down trees and buildings and create huge waves in the water. The personal experience of this wind comes as a feeling of being completely and powerfully in the present. The horse aspect is that, in spite of the power of this great wind, you also feel stability. You are never swayed by the confusion of life, never swayed by excitement or depression. You can ride on the energy of your life. So windhorse is not purely movement and speed, but it includes practicality and discrimination (judgement), a natural sense of skill. This quality of lungta is like the four legs of a horse, which make it stable and balanced. Of course, in this care you are not riding an ordinary horse, you are riding a windhorse. By invoking the external and internal drala principles, you raise a wind of energy and delight in your life. You begin to feel natural power and upliftedness manifesting in your existance. Then having raised your windhorse, you can accommodate whatever arises in your state of mind. There is no problem or hesitation of any kind. So the fruittion of invoking secret drala is that, having raised windhorse, you experience a state of mind that is free from subconcious gossip, free from hesitation and disbelief. You experience the very moment of your state of mind. It is fresh and youthful and virginal. That very moment is innocent and genuine. It does not contain doubt or disbelief at all. It is gullible, in the positive sense, and it is completely fresh. Secret drala is experiencing that very moment of your ustate of mind, which is the essence of nowness. You actually experience being able to connect yourself to the unconceivable vision and wisdom of the cosmic mirror on the spot. At the same time, you realize that this experience of nowness can join together the vastness of primordial wisdom with both the wisdom of past traditions and the realities of contemporary life. So in that way, you begin to see you the warrior's world of sacredness can be created altogether.
Bringing it back around to parenting...have you ever noticed that some days with the kids are just brilliant, and some days, nothing any of you do is ever quite right? I really think that kids exist in a state of this drala, this windhorse. That's where they get the confidence to scale 30 foot walls, how they pick themselves up from tumbles time and again, and fling themselves back into whatever they were doing. Children never let themselves get drug down by the housekeeping, or stressed out about tomorrow. And I think that "growing up" is the process of beating that natural, innate ability to tap into the power of basic goodness out of them. Who knew Peter Pan was a Buddhist? The idea of flow, groove, or "rush" as mentioned above is something that has also been associated with parenting. In their book "Magical Parent, Magical Child", Michael Mendizza and Joseph Chilton Pearce offer up exercises for keeping your parenting in that space. They refer to it as the "Optimal Learning Relationship", but really, isn't that all just windhorse in psychologists' packaging?

Teething, Family, and Photography

On Nov. 19th, his Grandma's birthday, Kestrel cut his first tooth, bottom left front. And thankfully, the drama seems to be cooling...less drool, less pain. My happy baby is returning! Now, just a whole mouthful left, aiya!
We spent our whole weekend with family; cousin Nathan turned 1, and Uncle Scott held Kes pretty much through the whole party. Rowan played his little heart out with all the other cousins; Tyler, Ryan, Brighton. We left when the effects of too much cake began to show themselves in outbursts of toddlerish enthusiasm. =) Sunday was Scott and Noreen's wedding reception. We're thrilled for them; we're more thrilled for Ryan, though. And it was nice to have an afternoon in the sunshine, with good food and good people. I'd have photos for y'all, except Rowan broke the camera. I see this as A Good Thing, though. Lately, he's been fascinated by taking pictures, and not just the taking, but the assessing and selecting of them afterwards. Quite the little photographer. So we haven't been restricting his access to it at all, but are letting him just explore this creative burst. Unfortunately, if you turn the thing on and off too many times, the motor that controls the aperture fries out. We're getting it fixed.

18 November 2005

Financing the Gap

money tree Money. Finance. Cash flow. ...words that strike terror, guilt, and fear, into the hearts of most of us. We all dread tax time, most of us have recordkeeping systems that aren't systematic at all, we take whatever insurance our employer offers us (or whatever we can or can't afford on our own) and don't even think about whether it's the correct amount. If we're lucky, we've got a 401(k) that we're saving into, but the majority of us have no idea what we're actually invested in or what horrors we're perpetrating on the world in the interest of stockholder profits.... the list goes on, and what it spells is "denial". It's interesting that we have all these cringes built-in about finance, yet the majority of us received little to no financial education. We're beating ourselves up for being illiterate. Everyone can get behind programs to help people learn to read, yet when the program's to help us figure out money, we get all freaky. Well, it's time to stop. Scott Noelle, my favorite parenting guru, coined the phrase "the healing gap". His explanation of the phenomenon:

How could I raise a child responsibly when I was still recovering from my own troubled childhood? That feeling, over seven years ago, came from an awareness of what I now call the healing gap, a phenomenon that arises when a person consciously seeks a healthier path than the one he or she is currently on. In parenthood, it's the gap between the healthy parenting ideas you embrace consciously and what you're actually capable of doing, here and now. Real-life parenting does not emerge solely from the parent's conscious intentions; it involves the whole person — mind, body, emotions and spirit — as well as the social and cultural context in which it takes place. In other words, it's easy to change your mind, but implementing a change in your whole self is far more difficult, especially when going against the grain of society and culture. The gap between parenting theory and practice is filled with "stuff": each parent's unique collection of fears, attachments, emotional wounds, unmet needs and obsolete strategies — plus external, sociocultural pressures — that impede our efforts to do what we believe is best.
I use Scott's wisdom all the time, when trying to cut my perfectionist self some slack when I blow it with the boys. And while working through my own finance baggage with my pal Angela, I realized that Scott's gap exists every bit as much for money as it does for parenting. Wading through finance information, you get routinely smacked with fears, attachments, emotional wounds, unmet needs, and oh man, the obsolete strategies. And of course, heading into the holiday season as we are, the sociocultural pressures to behave badly financially are all around us. I'll be the first to admit my overwhelming ignorance. Hi, my name's Laureen, and I'm financially ignorant. There. I did it. =) And since I hate being ignorant, I'm embarking on an adventure of self-education with regards to things financial. And you're all welcome to come along. I'll be reviewing websites and books, eNewsletters and stock trading sites. I will take the proverbial hit, blundering around the financial world, and asking all the questions we're all generally too embarassed, or too distracted, or too clueless, to ask ourselves. And then I'll report back with findings. They'll be posted here with the same heading, Financing the Gap (or FTG), and I'll make sure they link correctly in the right nav. It's probably important to say, up front, that this is NOT about advice, it's about highlighting some of the best and coolest places to go to get the information to make the best decisions for you. The more I read, the more I understand that there is not one ultimate financial truth, there are different perfect answers for different people, and it's only by being immersed in the material that you'll learn enough to figure out what your truth is. I'm hoping that this will generate discussion, and further questioning (I can't really be expected to think of every question, can I?) And this is not just a stunt to drive traffic to my blog, although that will be a nice side-effect. Truth is, the thing that has finally gotten me to quit dodging and start facing the wild world of cash flow is that I want to give my sons a financial legacy of something other than debt and chaos. I want them to understand money, to not be a slave to it, to not be prey to unscrupulous debt-mongers and salesmen and godforbid analyists. I want them to be able to live off their investments, and to enjoy the life fantastic, without falling prey to the habits that doom most of us to eternal wage-slavery. I'm assuming that, as is usually true with organic research, my path will meander with my interests, so I won't commit to any particular direction or topic or godforbid, outline. Right now, here are some of my thoughts. Feel free to leap in with suggestions:
  • Basic personal finance education books -- Suze Orman, Eric Tyson, Robert Kiyosaki, Charles Givens. Controversies, contradictions, and chapter titles.
  • Web resources -- links, forums, articles
  • Finance in the media
  • Lingo
  • Vehicles -- why would you want, say, eTrade over eVision, or would you want them at all?
  • Tips n Tricks, Hidden Money and Money Found
So away we go. Hope you all enjoy the ride....

Universal Preschool -- Over my dead body

Because of the trickles and bits I'm seeing around the media, I've joined a yahoogroup (anyone who knows me, knows I think that yahoogroups are often the best source of info about most parenting concerns) devoted to discussing the juggernaut coming to California, courtesy of that bonehead Rob Reiner, called Universal Preschool. Frankly, I'm terrified. We'd already decided to homeschool our kids, and we're both leaning hard towards an unschooling model. The idea that it would be manadatory to send Rowan off to be indoctrinated by strangers, right now, makes me want to throw up. I've read enough of John Taylor Gatto, (look here too), and of John Holt to realize that the education system that I and everyone I know came out of, failed us in so many profound ways. It's not a system to nurture individual talents, it's a system designed to instill maximum complicity in a docile and unquestioning population. It failed Jason in one direction, it failed me in the other, and we are not going to, in turn, fail our kids, simply because we lack the creativity to figure out another, better way. And now, the attack on our children begins even earlier. Universal Preschool. An abomination.

17 November 2005

He Crawls!!!!!

WAHOO!!! Yesterday, despite teething and a yucky cold, Mr. Kestrel S. Hudson crawled two whole ...steps? Is that what they're called when it's crawling? Anyway, we're all terribly impressed. And truth to tell, I'm also a little panicked. Crawling before the first tooth is out? Egads! The motivation for this forward motion was, unsurprisingly, trying to get to his big brother, who was sitting at the end of the couch. I can see that in the future, Rowan will end up being the motivation for many of Kestrel's mighty leaps. What an incredibly awesome, humbling thing.

15 November 2005

Beneficence and Philanthropy

Tis the season, generally, to be charitable. I'm not quite sure why it's now, and not some other time, but there you have it. The requests to ante up, some delivered with more humbleness than others, are beginning to pour through the various channels of communication. It's weird to me that people think more about giving during the insane holiday period. You'd think the gifting would make more sense deeper into winter, but I'm guessing people are dealing with consumerist hangover at that point. To that end, I'll be putting up links in my right nav to charities I find worthy, as I am reminded that they exist. Then, instead of doing a one-time donation, Jason and I have decided to start a quarterly rotating donation. Something regular, accountable, that puts us in touch with our beneficent side a little more regularly. What are your favorites? Send em to me, I'll add them as they go...

14 November 2005


My pal Dana loans me her castoff reading material, since we're interested in a lot of similar stuff, and because her book budget is worlds higher than mine. Anyway, this weekend, Rowan was really sick; hacking, coughing, miserable little boy who only wanted to curl into my lap and do nothing, and Kestrel has kicked into high-speed teething, where his whole face is swollen and he has to sleep upright to keep from drowning. So there I am, on the couch, smothered in Small Boys, reading the September copy of Shambhala Sun, when an article by The Sakyong, Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche rearranges my head. He says,

The teachings of Shambhala offer all kinds of practices to raise windhorse. The most effective lies in virtuous activity, embodied in the qualities of the mythical tiger, lion, garuda, and dragon. Each time we act with discernment, generate love and compassion, let go of attachment, or relax into the natural vastness of our mind, we are breaking through the stress and confusion that keep us trapped in suffering and instability. The point is to use our worldly lives to create spiritual success. The secret of success is to keep putting the welfare of others before our own. Some may consider this approach unrealistic, but the ruler knows that getting off the “me” plan is the most expedient and practical element in any social or economic system. Life tastes good when we are moving forward, free of self-interest, in tune with the glory of our being.
Woah. Who would have thought that enlightment was there to be recieved, in the act of just being present with two other little beings, putting them ahead of, well, everything except bathroom breaks? Discernment? In cancelling all activities, goals, appointments. Generating love? Check. Generating compassion? With every soggy tissue, check. Let go of attachment? Well, I'm attached to them getting better, but unattached from every other thing...the babes on the couch had become the center of my Be-ing. Relaxing into my natural vastness? Still working on that one, but that was what the magazine was for. It's a huge shift, from "did nothing but push fluids on recalcitrant kids" to "oh, I spent my Sunday in tune with the glory of my being."

10 November 2005

The View from my Desk

Telecommuting has got to be one of the finest inventions of the age. This is the view from my desk. Sometimes, just for fun and if I'm in danger of not being thankful enough for my sitch, I listen to the morning traffic reports while still in my jammies, tea in hand. As a working mother, it can be tough, since a Toddler on a Mission isn't likely to stop simply because Mama's on a deadline or in a meeting. Most of my coworkers understand. In fact, most of them have small children too, and I think it's delightful to hear everyone's kids in the background, when we're all on the phone pretending to be Serious Corporate Citizens (tm). Deep down, that's how it should be. Since the Industrial Revolution, we've been steadily isolating ourselves from our loved ones, and it shows.
After my slew of meetings today, I think we'll go to the park.....

09 November 2005

We Three... Posted by Picasa

Cause it's easier than a webpage...

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee! At the request of fans and grandmothers alike, welcome to ElementalMom. It's me, it's our adventures as a family, it's easier than a webpage or a baby book. I'm hoping the boys will appreciate it when they're old enough to read, and even more, when they get to the parenting gig themselves. So we're starting when Rowan's three, Kestrel's five months, and Jason and I are sleep-deprived. Why, oh why, does no one tell you that teething changes the universe forever?