Friday, October 30, 2009

I Joined Facebook, Reluctantly

I now have a Facebook account.*

Until recently I had no intention of joining Facebook. I don't need one more thing to learn about, keep track of, or give my time over to.

But this fall I started hearing less and less from my sons, who no longer live within walking distance of each other in Boston but now live on opposite sides of the continent. The irony is that when both of them were in Boston I not only heard directly from each of them more regularly through phone calls and emails, but I would also hear from one what the other one was doing. It was great. I was in the loop.

This summer when Ken was in the hospital the guys called at least once a day and responded to my emails. Once Ken was home, and when P first moved to California, we still got regular updates from them and responses when we called or emailed.

Then things shifted this fall. Life settled down, routines fell into place, normalcy reigned.

Contact suffered with T in Boston and P on the west coast. The unspoken message: Life is good! Life is busy! Don't worry about me! I'm fine!

And I realized that I wasn't hearing about what was going on in their lives. I wasn't missing just the exciting news but the everyday events that make up daily life, too.

I missed my sons. I missed knowing what they were up to.

So I joined Facebook. My daughter got me started. To my sons' credit, they both friended me.

Now I can read what P posts on his "wall," about work or the weather or sports.

Now I know that T's CANstruction "Beantown Pineapple" won an award.

Facebook doesn't take the place of phone calls and emails, which I still look forward to and hope will continue for years to come.

Facebook does give me a chance to fill in the spaces of the days in between.

* If you find me on Facebook and want to hook up, I will "friend" people who ask.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Bottom Line

In Tuesday's class we started talking about the financial elements of starting a business. We talked about our attitudes about money and the basic descriptions of different bookkeeping systems.

This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where I usually shift into reverse and go in the opposite direction as fast as I can.

I have to put my fears and doubts on the side of the road, or I will not be able to go forward.

Two years ago, when I first considered the possibility of becoming an entrepreneur, I met with an accountant to talk about how to start keeping records for a small business. I took notes and was excited about everything I was learning...until I asked her about how much information she needs to do the yearly tax return for a business, how she reconciles the work she does with a family's personal taxes. Oh, she said, she also does the personal taxes for the business owner because she needs to make sure all the numbers match up.


What about the FAFSA, I asked. How would I get the numbers by March 1, the filing deadline in Massachusetts where my son is in college?

Oh, she said, we can ask for an extension. She would fill out the FAFSA as well because she would have all the tax information at hand.


Well, that sent my control issues into a tailspin. I have always done our taxes. I have a good relationship with the people at the other end of 1-800-IRS-GOVT and call them anytime I have a question. By the time I get everything in order for an accountant, I might as well fill out the forms myself, and there have been years where there have been lots of forms to fill out. I always figure out what to do.

Then I use those numbers to fill out the FAFSA for whoever in the family needs one filled out.

It's a source of pride for me that I have been able to manage our family's finances all these years. I like knowing what the numbers are, that columns match up, that accounts settle out, and that amounts have been checked and double checked.

It's not that I don't think an accountant knows what they are doing.

It's that I don't know what they're doing, which is one of the main reasons I am taking this class. We are going to learn everything we need to know about cash basis bookkeeping and filing taxes for a small business.

It's not that we will need to do all of the bookkeeping and tax filing ourselves. It is that we need to understand what is involved in keeping records and filing taxes for a small business.

Last Tuesday was just an introduction. Next Tuesday we will spend the entire class with a certified public accountant who will go through the income tax forms with us. The following week we will work on laptops to become familiar with cash flow, balance sheets, and profit & loss statements.

This is a big leap for me. I am entertaining the idea that the day might come when I will turn over the filing of my family's income taxes to a professional accountant.

What can I say, other than I like to keep my eye on the bottom line.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Good Food For Every Day

This morning I started my day with oatmeal.

I have always been a cream-of-wheat kind of girl, which is my first choice for breakfast on a snow day.

Ken likes oatmeal. Until I figured out how to make oatmeal so I can eat it, I used to make cream of wheat for me and oatmeal for Ken. The kids could have whichever they wanted, and they usually opted for Cheerios.

Then I figured out that if I use a bit more water and cook it slowly, I can eat oatmeal, though I've never made it just for me.

Until today.

This week-end I flipped through Eat This Not That! by David Zinczenko, 2008. It's a fun book that makes suggestions about which foods to eat at chain restaurants, which prepared meals are better than others, and which snack foods are least bad for you. Little of this information pertains to how I eat on a regular basis, although I did learn that the crackers Ken and I like aren't the best for us.

The best information I got from this book was the list of "8 Foods You Should Eat Every Day." Spinach. Yogurt. Tomatoes. Carrots. Blueberries. Black Beans. Walnuts. Oats. I think it's a great list because I already like almost everything on it.

I don't like yogurt, no matter what I do to it or how often I try it.

And I was a little light in the oats department. I like my homemade granola but don't always have a ready supply.

So today I made oatmeal for breakfast. I like it with brown sugar and low-fat milk.

Then I went outside to shovel and rake rocks for two hours.

Oatmeal, my new energy food.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wanted: Local Woman Who Enjoys Politics

I felt deflated when I hung up the phone.

My friend in town is moving to Boston. She is one of two friends I have here. I met her when I wanted information about the 2008 presidential caucus. She is the chair of the town's Democratic committee, and we hit it off immediately.

We both love politics. Our children are grown. We have similar interests and have both been trying to start a new career.

Her husband has taken a job in Boston, which is exciting for both of them and will open up possibilities for her job search. She shared that it's also scary because it means starting over in a new place where they don't know anyone. They have lived here more than twenty years.

I will miss talking to her and attending meetings with her. She is organized, knowledgeable, and passionate about politics.

I have offered to continue to help with the local Democrats, but I do not want the position of committee chair, which is a lot of work and means constantly trying to get other volunteers to help.

So her move will leave a hole in my daily life. As happy as I am for her, I am that sad for myself. In the year and a half that I've been active with local politics, I have not met anyone else who has the same interests or wants to be as involved.

I will miss our conversations about what's possible.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A List To Guide Me

Before we left for Boston on Saturday I grabbed my class notebooks, with the intention of getting some work done in the car on the trip south. Several paragraphs of the business plan are due this week. I have about half of them written in rough draft, and I have cryptic notes on the rest.

I looked through my notes. There was a question I needed to answer before I went any further: What do I want from a business?

Here is what I wrote, unedited, as the words flowed onto the page~

I want:
- to share a product that makes life easier
- to have fun with it - product and process
- to connect with other women around business, ideas, innovation, life
- to make a high quality product that promotes eco-friendly practices & materials
- to make product(s) widely available, easily accessible on internet, through avenues that do not require me to sell directly
- to use the product to help women succeed

I looked back through the paragraphs I have written and most of these elements are present in one form or another. They need to be prominent. These ideas are at the heart of my mission. This list is the reason that I am putting myself out there and taking the risk.

Now that I am clear about what I want, I can clarify what I need to do.

Monday, October 19, 2009


On Saturday Ken and I were in Boston to see the installation of 16 sculptures at Bunker Hill Community College. Titled "Eat The Art" this is an art exhibit with a twist ~ the entries are constructed out of canned goods. An international competition, CANstruction is happening this month in over 60 locations. Our son T, a civil engineering student at Northeastern, learned about the competition this summer, put together a team, and found sponsors. The team designed their entry, Beantown Pineapple, and determined the number and type of canned goods they would need. Sponsors donated the dollars and the food was ordered. The result is an eight-foot tall pineapple made from canned spinach, peas, green beans, tuna, beans, orange slices, and peas & carrots. The creations, which include everything from a sushi boat to an ice cream cone to a set of false teeth with feet, will be on display for three weeks. Then the food will be donated to a local food bank. Ken and I got there to see the addition of the final touches ~

There was a discussion about the height and whether or not green cans should be added around the bottom ~
The team decided to add a green apron, but alas our camera bit the dust...literally. Ken accidentally dropped it on the floor from several feet in the air. It really is time for a new camera, though I would like to say that we appreciate the years of service rendered by our very first Sony Cybershot and the stamina it had to persevere even when injured.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Like A River

Halfway through class on Tuesday I wanted to be anyplace else.

Physically, I was sore from hauling rocks the day before and tired because I didn't sleep well. I couldn't get comfortable in the straight-backed chair, so I got up to walk around as often as I could without interrupting class, which also helped me stay awake.

Mentally, I was on overload. The topics this week were production and distribution, image and branding, advertising and promotion. By lunchtime I could feel the anxiety creeping in, and after lunch I had to force myself to focus to "stay in the room." When we broke into small groups I asked if people were as excited, less excited, or more excited compared to the first week. We agreed that we were feeling stressed and decided the best strategy was to take things one step at a time.

Once class was over I put everything out of my mind. I felt frustrated but couldn't verbalize why.

Wednesday morning I had an "aha moment." I was catching up with my blog reading, and the Monday meditation over at Awake is Good invited me to flow like a river. That struck a chord with me because of 1)my recent attention to the way water moves through my yard, and 2)the feeling that I have been swimming upstream for a long time. In my yard I am trying to accommodate the way rainwater naturally flows through my property, whereas in my life I have been trying six ways to Sunday to make things fit that have no intention of falling into place.


The contrast is striking. I am willing to let rainwater follow its path, yet I am unable to honor my own. I have lived with myself my whole life, yet there are still things that I will not accept about who I am and how I do things.

There's nothing like a good metaphor to bring clarity.

Flow on.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Driveway Reclaimed

Ken and I have known since before we bought this house that we needed to level the driveway. There was a dangerous slope on one side that, when covered with snow or ice, invited a vehicle to slide toward the trees. The day we met the building inspector here Ken's work van got stuck near those trees on the left when he tried to make it up the incline; the building inspector was kind enough to use his truck to give Ken a tow ~

With another winter upon us, it seemed like a good time to take care of the driveway, starting with the removal of the stump of the birch tree Ken took down two years ago ~

Truckloads of fill were brought in to level the low spots and give the driveway a "drivable" slope. Then truckloads of "reclaim," which is old asphalt that has been collected and pulverized, were brought in, spread around, and tamped down ~
The stickiness of the reclaim holds it in place, though there will be some shifting and fading. The result is a surface that blends in with the surroundings (and costs a fraction of new pavement) ~

Our next challenge was the way water moves through the property and down the slope. We need to enhance certain areas with gravel and rocks if we want to preserve the integrity of the new driveway. We went to work with the larger rocks first ~

...which did not shovel easily. I pulled rocks down to the ground with a hoe, and Ken lifted a shovel at a time into the wheelbarrow, wishing he had a tractor with every shovelful. I decided things would move along more quickly if I climbed atop the pile and shifted rocks with my feet. That worked...until I lost my footing and found myself on my tush at the bottom. I was fine. Nothing was broken, on me anyway. I got to my feet and remembered the ultra-compact digital camera in my back pocket...which is now literally a "point and shoot" camera. It still takes photos, but the screen is blank so the shot is a mystery until the camera is plugged into the computer. A broken camera is better than a broken wrist or ankle but I still felt awful. I did manage to get a shot of how we are using the larger rocks to fill in around trees and down the banks ~

Ken and I started this work on Monday and were both so sore that night that we could hardly move. Bruises on my knees and tush appeared yesterday. I am moving better today, so I may get some of the smaller rocks moved later...a little bit at a time.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Home Safe

Elizabeth Berg is one of my favorite authors, and I have been looking forward to reading her latest novel since Cindy wrote a post where she mentions Home Safe. I waited for it to come out in paperback, and then I paced myself so I could savor the words on the page for as long as possible.

I finished the book last night. I didn't want it to end and knew at her last word that I would soon return to read it again. In the main character, Helen, Berg artfully captures the transitions of a woman in mid-life. I felt that from early on in the book; the paragraph that begins at the bottom of page 236 leads me to believe that Elizabeth Berg knows that of which she writes:

"On a few occasions in her life, Helen has felt deep happiness as a kind of pain. The day she married Dan. The day Tessa was born. Now comes another such time. She sits down and puts her hand to her chest and rocks. Thinks of all she has lost and will lose. All she has had and will have. It seems to her that life is like gathering berries into an apron with a hole. Why do we keep on? Because the berries are beautiful, and we must eat to survive. We catch what we can. We walk past what we lose for the promise of more, just ahead."

I love that, the promise of more just ahead. What better reason to keep walking?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

My Daughter The Doctor

My daughter has been independent since the day she was born. I have never known her to be any other way. It hasn't made her life easier, and in many ways it has made her journey more difficult. K stands up for herself and speaks her mind, which isn't always well received by other people.

I vividly remember the first time it became clear to me that not everyone would celebrate my daughter's independent thinking. I was attending her eighth-grade parent/teacher conference. I remember what I was wearing, as well as the tenor of the 45-minute meeting. K's advisor, who was also the French teacher, had a lot to say, not all of it complimentary.

Now my daughter was doing the work in all of her classes, getting good grades, and acting respectfully. What she was not doing was towing the line. K did not automatically take the word of people in authority, which included teachers, and she challenged what she did not agree with. The message to me, as the mother of this strong-willed teenager, was to explain to K why she needed to go along and get along. I tried to explain to Madame how this was not part of my daughter's personality. We went back and forth for the better part of a half hour.

I was tired. I was getting a head ache. I finally looked at the woman sitting across from me and said, "Do you think K is any easier to live with at home? If she behaves the way you are describing at school, how do you think she behaves at home? She is not an easy person to live with. I know that she will face many challenges when she is on her own in the world, and she needs to learn now how to stand up for herself now." Madame had no comeback for that, and we left it that I would talk to K about her advisor's concerns.

In high school K left a history class because the male teacher was making sexist remarks. She sat outside in the hallway so she would not miss the lesson, but she said she could not remain in the classroom for another minute.

In college K stood up to a biochemistry professor who didn't like the way K arrived at her answers, which had merit but were found another way.

In medical school K learned to knit so she could focus on the lectures. She had survived a roll-over car crash the spring before she graduated from college and suffered a head injury as a result of the accident. K taught herself to knit because she learned if her hands were busy she was better able to learn new information.

All of this, and the biggest challenge was still ahead. K writes honestly about her last year of residency on her own blog, so I will not repeat the story here. I will say that she has been asking for help with the overwhelming course load that is residency for the last nine months. It is a lot to handle for anyone, but for someone who learns and processes information differently it is challenging at every turn.

My daughter did not give up. She pursued solutions, followed up when others dropped the ball, challenged the status quo, and stood up to authority figures who did not care to be questioned.

Yesterday K learned that she has prevailed. I have not talked to her about the details, but her most recent post reveals that at yesterday's meeting with the director there were decisions made in K's favor. She will finish her third year of residency on time and she will graduate in June.

My daughter is an interesting, intelligent, engaging woman. She is also a talented, caring, knowledgeable doctor.

Her patients are lucky to have her.

I am lucky she is my daughter.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Like A Fever

It started with setting up accounts online. One thing led to another, and by Monday evening Ken and I were having a conversation about our financial picture. We review our budget once a year; the class I am taking pushed the conversation ahead a few months. It takes time to gather the account folders, organize the statements, and update the figures. If I needed to go through the process for my business plan it made sense to share the numbers with Ken.

For the first time we have an end-date.

At this point in our lives, there are only so many earning years left for us.

The plan was for me to graduate in 2007, get a full-time job with a modest salary, and use my income to pay off the mortgage before Ken retired.

Things haven't happened that way. We need to evaluate where we are and adjust our plans.

* * * * * * *
Yesterday in class we covered a lot of ground.

To continue what we started last week, we worked individually and in small groups to refine the mission statement for our business and an explanation of what our business is about.

The subject of marketing was introduced, the first of three classes on the topic. We worked during class to describe our product, define our target customer, and pinpoint the competition.

There was time to write and time to share ideas with classmates. It is eye-opening to hear a person's first impression about an aspect of your product. It's helpful to get a fresh perspective. It takes time and thought to integrate all you hear and learn.

Finished drafts are due next week, a paragraph each for the mission statement, business description, product details, target customer, and competition.

* * * * * * *
After class I had errands to run.

My first stop was Sam's Club. I had a dozen items to pick up. I made my way to the check-out, where someone directed me to the register at the photo counter. That sounded like a good idea, until I got over there and realized that I had to unload my cart so the items could be scanned and then put every item back in the cart myself because of the way the counter is designed.

I could feel the frustration building.

Out at the car, I had to unload and load again and remembered I would have to do it again when I got home.

It was too much. Ordinarily it wouldn't have been, but yesterday it was too much.

I was tired. I was frustrated. I wasn't where I wanted to be, nowhere near what I wanted to be.

The tears started to roll, unbidden and unwanted.

I got home to an empty house and knew I needed something to do with my evening. I started rearranging furniture, a good default activity that requires movement and focus.

I was tired and didn't finish what I started. It was after midnight when I got to sleep.

I woke up at 6:30 this morning to an unfamiliar clicking sound. The heat was running. I had slept for six hours, a good run these days.

I felt better. Nothing had changed. The frustration had run its course, like a fever.

Life goes on.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Please Hold....

In August it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to set up our household accounts so that we can pay most of them online. If it had been me, instead of Ken, who was out of commission for a month, it would have been his responsibility to pay the monthly bills. While he knows what accounts we have and what goes in and out, I have my own "clip bills together in the order that they are due" and "I know when I need to mail that so we don't incur a late fee" system that has worked for 32 years.

It is time for an upgrade.

The easiest solution seemed to be to set up as many accounts as possible so they can be paid online.

Solution? Yes.
Easy? No.

In September I spent almost two hours setting up the accounts I want to pay electronically so that in October I could access the online statements to pay the bills. So far this makes sense, right?

Last night I wanted to pay one of our credit card bills. I signed in, cleared security, and found the current balance due. I clicked "pay" and an outdated checking account number came up, as in it has been closed for two and a half years.

I tried to delete it. No go.

I went through the process to add our current checking account. Things went smoothly until I tried to make that the primary account from which to pay the bills. The program would not let me "confirm" the new account, and I couldn't "delete" the old account until I had a new account from which to draw funds.

I was at this for thirty minutes when I called the 800 number for assistance. Then I was on hold for twenty minutes. A nice woman then took my call, but she couldn't help me. She could connect me to an online technician, if I would please hold. More minutes passed...and then I was disconnected.

I went back to the computer to see if I could pay the current bill with the "unconfirmed" account, and it would let me do that. The payment was scheduled for October 3, which is a Saturday. Some places will not post payments on Saturday, and the bill was due Monday, but what if the payment I've made doesn't count because it's from an "unconfirmed" account....

It was late. I went to bed.

I tackled the problem head-on this morning. I called the 800 number again and ran through the gamut of options until another nice woman took my call. No, she couldn't help me, but she could connect me to an online technician. I explained how well that worked last night, so she gave me the direct number in case I got disconnected.

This time the call went through. The technician answered all my questions and gave me information I didn't know I needed.

Yes, they will accept payment from my "unconfirmed" account because the amount is less than $400.

Yes, they post payments on Saturday.

Yes, I can delete the old account once my new account has been confirmed.

To confirm the new account I need to check with my bank in two days for the amount of cents the company has deposited in my account. Then online I enter that amount(s) in the proper box, which verifies that indeed that checking account is mine. That confirms the new account. Then I can delete the old account.

I want to pay my bills online.

Please hold....