Sunday, October 31, 2010

Just For One Day

A blog post popped up on my Facebook today that changed my blog post topic for tonight and how my entire day will go tomorrow. The Communication Shutdown will help raise funds for and awareness of autism worldwide. Jess's post, which was followed a bit later by its twin post on Luau's blog, invited us to join her in shutting down Facebook and Twitter communication for one day, in "a symbolic gesture of solidarity and support for those who struggle every day to communicate."

Why does it matter to me? I do not have a child with autism. I have zero right to claim to have any idea of what it feels like to be part of a family with a member who has autism. BUT, for some reason God has given me a couple of opportunities to have a glimpse into what people facing HUGE challenges feel. One was when I had a "suspicious area in my breast" ten years ago, waited 30 days for the needle biopsy, then arrived for the biopsy and watched the surgeon scratch his head as he performed 11 mammograms to try to find something that wasn't there anymore (thank God for that valium!). The second was when Wayne "failed" his screening through the First Words Project at the age of 12 months. The screening involves a "pre screen" that is a form filled out by the parent (I completed his when his first birthday picture was taken at the Tallahassee Democrat). It asks questions like, "does your child point to demonstrate something he wants?" For the period between the initial results of the screening (which stated he was below normal for his age) until he was released from the First Words project at the age of two with the status of "must have been just a slow talker; all caught up," I was on an emotional seesaw teetering between trying to determine how we would pay for years of special therapies, wondering how our family would adapt to deal with a child with a communication disorder, and rejoicing disproportionately with every single tiny advance (like pointing to a desired object).

No, I don't know what it feels like to be the parent of a child with autism, but I have had a fleeting taste of what it feels like to wonder if autism is going to touch my family, and that has raised my empathy level for parents of kids with autism by about 500%.

Now, about the "no Facebook, no Twitter" part of this.  I described my personal social media approach in this post. Short version: although it has its drawbacks, I love it! Although I don't feel the need for an extended social media hiatus like many blog about, I have been curious to see if my ability to focus would improve if my social media "stuff" were not at the tip of my fingers on my smart phone.

In addition, it alarmed me a bit when Tenley, whose math text is on cd and who has to request a "real" book and provide a reason for the request, told her teacher that I use our home computer to freelance a lot (true), but then told me that she said it that way "because I didn't want to tell my teacher you're on Facebook all the time."  Ouch. 

That said, here are some things I won't be able to do tomorrow:
  • Say "happy birthday" to any FB friends who have November 1 birthdays
  • Click "like" to indicate that I am amused by, supportive of, or in some other way feeling positive about someone else's post
  • Promote this blog via Facebook and Twitter (so please feel free to share it if you liked it!)
  • Check on my daughter's profile to see who her friends are and what she's up to
Here are some things I will be able to do tomorrow:
  • Focus more effectively at work without the siren call of social media
  • Get out the door in the morning without being "hair on fire" stressed because I spent so much time on social media that I don't have time to iron, blow dry, or dress
  • Let any good or bad news sit until Tuesday - and give myself something to look forward to
  • Remind people who see that I am participating in the Communications Shutdown that the world can be frightening and overwhelming to a person with autism (and their family)
See you Tuesday!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Your Home is My Home (A Mama Kat Writing Workshop Prompt)

For tonight's post, the random number generator handed me prompt #2: If you could witness (or take part in) any event in history, what would it be? Why?  This sounded deceptively easy until I tried to decide what historic event I would write about.  My decision coalesced when I was commenting on Dan Rockwell's Leadership Freak post "Pressure to Be Invisible." 

In my response to Dan's post, I was answering the question: Can you think of people who changed the world by standing out?  Here is a modified version of what I said, utilizing information from the Tallahassee Democrat's 2006 Special Edition on the 50th anniversary of our town's Bus Boycott: 

There was a (white) family here in Tallahassee (George and Clifton Lewis) who, in the mid 50′s, opened their home to black people; George (a prominent banker) made loans to black homeowners and those who were jailed. Believe me when I say that there are times even in 2010 when this town struggles with civic equality (it is exponentially better, of course); for a family like this to take such a step in the 50′s really boggles my mind and makes me humbly respectful. They changed the world and stood out by opening their doors, literally and figuratively.

I learned about the Lewis family from Edwina Stephens.  Tenley and I visited Edwina several years ago; she had been recommended to me as someone who Tenley could interview in order to learn about the history of race relations in Tallahassee (the Democrat was compiling information gathered by schoolchildren).  I am pretty sure I learned at least as much and maybe more than Tenley.  Mrs. Stephens talked to us for well over an hour.  I really wish I could have the tape recording back, but it seems to have disappeared into a black hole at the Democrat's offices.  I don't need the recording, though, to conjure up in my mind the parts of our conversation that have stuck with me: how lynchings occurred at the tree that still stands on the grounds of our Old Capitol, how impossible it was for an African American person in Tallahassee to prove "competence" to vote (how many soap bubbles on the bar of soap? having to solve complicated mathematical equations); how dangerous it was to treat a white child at the black hospital, even if the child's health were in serious jeopardy; the separate education systems.  I don't recall the specific details she shared about the Lewis family, but I remember her talking about how, to the shock and disdain of their fellow Tallahasseeans, they supported the town's black citizens through financial assistance and emotional support.

Edwina Stephens and Tenley (2005)

George Lewis provided financial support to Tallahassee's black citizens, and Clifton Lewis opened their home to blacks and marched in civil rights demonstrations.  I always wonder if I would have the courage to do what's right in the face of disdain and outright hostility from my peers.   For example, several years ago I was at a family gathering and a cousin who I only see every few years, but with whom I have always considered myself fairly close, told a joke that was anti-semitic and racist.  I froze.  What to do?  I ended up saying, "Oh, so that's a [name of small town he lives in] joke, huh?"  My response, in belittling his town, may not have been any better than his original attempt at humor. 

To get back to the prompt's original question, I would like to have been a witness to the turning of the civil rights tides here in Tallahassee, and I would like to have been at Clifton Lewis's side when she said, "come on in - your home is my home."

Mama's Losin' It

Good Plain Fun (A Mama Kat Writing Workshop Prompt)

Note:  I am reposting this (originally written in April 2010) because it is the post I had in mind when I suggested to Mama Kat that one of her weekly writing prompts be: a book (or something) you loved as a kid that you see completely differently now that you are an adult/mom.  That was certainly true for me when I re-read Diary of a Young Girl.  As a teenager, I sympathized with Anne, specifically with her loss of freedom.  As a mom, I experienced a completely different layer of sentiment - how as a parent would I try to help my teenager make sense of a world that has been so completely turned inside out?  I am pleased as can be that this prompt is one of this week's choices.  I can't wait to read the posts by other writers who chose it!

Today, April 11, 2010, is Holocaust Remembrance Day. As my contribution, I am sharing an essay I wrote last year. I originally wrote this essay in response to a Literary Mama prompt. I never heard back from them, but I loved writing this piece and fantasizing about it actually happening. I re-read (via audiobook) "The Diary of A Young Girl" prior to writing this essay and discovered that a) Anne Frank's name was probably pronounced like "Donna" as opposed to "Dan" and b) reading this book now that I am the parent of a teenager was a completely different experience than it had been when I was a young girl myself.

The prompt essentially instructed us to write, in 500 words or less, how we would interact with our favorite author. How would we conduct the interaction, and what would we ask?

Good Plain Fun With My Favorite Author

Anne Frank’s diary could have been penned by my own 13 year old. When I listened to the audiobook version today, this is the line that most resonated with my current “parent a teenager” mode: “I sometimes wonder if anyone will ever …… merely see me as a teenager badly in need of some good plain fun.”

I would not want to have a serious conversation with Anne. She had enough “serious” in her time in hiding than anyone should have in a lifetime, much less fifteen years. Rather than a deep conversation, I would want to have little snippets of overheard online conversation like I have with my daughter, who is usually too busy having fun to converse at length with me.

(I am waiving “real time” in order to invite Anne into our home as an exchange student. )


Our family lives in Tallahassee, Florida. I am Paula, and my husband is Wayne. Our daughter, Tenley, is 13. Our son, Wayne, is 10. We also have a cat, Alice Cooper. Tenley is a cheerleader, and our son Wayne likes cars and video games.

From Anne:

I am a little apprehensive about leaving my family behind but the adventures ahead will be all worth it! I am 13 (like your daughter!!) and have a sister who is three years older than me. I have had several cats, but I haven’t ever had a younger brother.

I am only 13 but I am positive I want to be a journalist someday. My diary will make the trip with me. I enjoy reading and French, but my family would probably say my favorite pastime is talking. Thank goodness for Skype!

Once our family learns we’ll be having an exchange student, Facebook attests:

TENLEY’S STATUS: Exchange student coming!!!!!!!!!!

FRIEND’S COMMENT: What’s her name?


FRIEND’S COMMENT: Where’s she from?

TENLEY: Holland.

FRIEND’S COMMENT: She’ll LOVE the dress code at school.

OTHER FRIEND’S COMMENT: I hope they have belts in Holland.


Fast forward to December, about a third of the way through the school year.

More Facebook:

ANNE'S STATUS: Soccer game against Deer Lake tonight with Tenley!


MY (PAULA'S)  STATUS: Go Raa Rams!

ANOTHER FRIEND’S STATUS: My mom is so lame; I’m grounded.


MY (PAULA'S) STATUS: Hey, back off the mom hating!!

HER STATUS: Tomorrow I start my first Hanukkah in the US! Missing my family (even my mom).


ANNE: Thanks! ILY

The letter I send home with Anne when she goes back to Holland talks about how we enjoyed having another teenager around (even if it did double the drama factor), and tells her to always remember the crazy funny things she did with her US girlfriends – the dress code, the “sleepless” sleepovers, the shaving cream fights ….. to always know that the Kiger house is where she can lay her head and dream her journalist’s dreams, after days and nights of good plain fun.

Mama's Losin' It

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wordless Wednesday (Vote! Edition)

It's not the hand that signs the law that holds the destiny of America
It's the hand that casts the ballot
-Harry S. Truman

Monday, October 25, 2010

Thoughts As I Close in on 60 DWR*

*DWR = Days Without Running

When I look back at my training logs, especially from the perspective of the time that has elapsed, I can pinpoint my injury to early July 2010, when I decided to do some homegrown speedwork.  What I thought was plantar fasciitis ended up being more of an ankle joint/tendon injury, and like many runners, I kept on running in hopes of "working it out."  I actually had a pretty fun summer of running, despite the regression in my times and the circuit of chiropractors, doctors, ultrasound treatments, and inserts.  Finally, after the Miller's Landing Madness 8K on August 28, I accepted and decided to act upon the sound advice I had received from several reliable sources:  it was time for a break from running.

Miller's Landing Madness 8K (8/28/10)
Photo credit:  Herb Wills

It was at a PiYo (fusion pilates/yoga) class 24 DWR that some of the information those reliable sources had been imparting to me started to click -- information about how our core really provides "a solid base upon which all other muscles can work upon to initiate movement," as described at the Virtual Sports Injury Clinic.  When I took my shoes off, entered the downward dog position, and felt my achilles, calf muscle, and hamstring all stretch in unison, something loosened up in my brain a bit too regarding my approach to running and fitness.

Here's a breakdown of my DWR journey:

17 days on my old but still fundamentally sound (enough) bike
11 rest days
9 swimming days
9 walking days
RealRyder days (2 of which included a TRX workout)
5 PiYo/Yoga days

I have had some fantastic guides along this unexpected (but quite rewarding) journey.  One influence has been a RunRunLive podcast in which Chris Russell interviewed Jessi Stensland of Movement U.  She talked about the core and her work with athletes in many different disciplines.  Her comments echoed those of Jeff and Ann Bowman of RevTriCoaching, my swimming coaches, who pointed out that your core has to drive the motion of your arms and legs, or else you waste energy.  Kim Bibeau and staff at Sweat Therapy Fitness have introduced me to the RealRyder challenge, to TRX (which made itself known to me for DAYS afterwards), and by offering a few complimentary sessions of PiYo helped me get acquainted with something I clearly needed.  Journeys in Yoga has helped me extend my interest in yoga, stretching and strengthening my body as well as my spirit.  Jeff and Diane at PRSFit shared their experience,  knowledge, and wisdom with me. 

I wrote Chris when a friend was starting her "DWR Journey" a few weeks behind me.  I was searching (and failing) for something to say that would make her feel better and less defeated.  Here's what Chris said:

Running is such a large part of your life, a personal part, losing it is like losing a friend. You will go through the cycle of grieving. Denial (your friend), Anger, Sadness, acceptance and learning. Once you know this your big brain can cope. Once you set your immediate goals aside and take the long view you can move ahead in a positive manner. I like to think of time off as a "great gathering of strength". Time off allows not only physical healing but allows you to put this thing, this running, this gift in perspective.

Now that I am approaching 60 DWR, I am so happy to be more in the "learning" phase than the "sadness" and "anger" stages.  Over the past two weeks, there have been times when I can almost physically feel the area that had been so painful and tender throughout the summer knitting itself back together.  I suppose I owe my body the courtesy of giving it a chance to put itself back together, right?  I also owe it the courtesy of preparing the "solid base" of a core from which all of the other good, fun, challenging exertion can come.  To those of you who have helped guide this journey, thanks!  When I eventually cross a 5K finish line in less than 30 minutes, there may only be one runner but a bevy of virtual "teammates." 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It's About Time for "About Me" (a Mama Kat Writing Workshop Prompt)

When Mama Kat published her weekly writing prompts this week, I put the five options into the Random Number Generator, and came up with a prompt that would have been interesting to write to (In what way were you labeled as a child and how did it affect you?).  However, prompt number two kicked me in the procrastinating butt and reminded me that my BigGreenPen webpage is still under wraps, primarily because I haven't finished doing the writing to flesh the page out. That is why tonight I will be writing to this prompt (and getting a step closer to activating my web page in doing so):  About me. Do you have an about me page? Because people want to know. Write a page that describes who you are and what you’re about or spruce up your current about me page!

The screen print of the site that is under development.

With gratitude to Mama Kat for this prompt, I am happy to share the newly composed "About Me" content for


Introducing myself through these one-dimensional words on a computer screen seems so impersonal! However, you are there and I am here, so we will give it a shot.

In a way, my Twitter profile says it all:

Wife of one, Mom of two, friend of many

The beauty of a website is that I can use more than 140 characters to introduce myself.

My husband, Wayne, and I got married in 1992. (We met on a blind date!) We had our daughter, Tenley, in 1996, and our son, Wayne, in 1999.

I have a bachelor's degree in Child Development and Family Relations from Florida State University.  My master's degree, also from FSU, is in Counseling and Human Systems.

I took my "bite of the Big Apple" from 1989-1992, when I coordinated the internship program at Fordham University.

When Wayne and I decided to get married and locate in Tallahassee, I worked in communications for the Florida Department of Education's Comprehensive School Health Program.

In 1994, I moved to the Florida Healthy Kids Corporation, which at the time was a fledgling program designed to insure uninsured children. "Fledgling" would never describe Healthy Kids now -- we have more than 225,000 enrollees, federal funding, and 30+ staff members.  I have done pretty much every task there except for accounting.

Throughout the years, reading and writing have always been a thread running through my life. In New York, I proofread professionally for Ballantine Books. I am a voracious reader who actually still communicates via snail mail with some people.  I am the "go to" girl for friends who need "one more eye" to tighten up and clarify their writing.

There are other things that I like to give my energy to also:  acting, running, being with my church family, and mobilizing volunteers. 

I also love quotes, and have chosen this one to sum up my approach to the things I do:

You don’t have to get a job with a famous company or hot-shot industry in order to have a spectacular career. You just have to do what you do with reverence.
--Hugh MacLeod

Mama's Losin' It

Monday, October 18, 2010

It's 4 AM - Do You Know Where Your Sense of Adventure Is?

Hello Sunshine!

A hard drive crash the same night that Tenley had to complete a major English project, along with several other obligations, has brought me here to the laptop, needing to get to bed but wanting to share this weekend's experiences with you.  The biggest highlight of the weekend:  participating in the Worldwide 4 AM Project, in which people all over the world capture their view from the 4-5 am.  (Oh how I wish I could have joined the Times Square group!)

The highlights included:

Making a difference:

For the cure

Tiffany at Magnolia Gate sells me a pink ribbon "for the cure"!

Feeling Unconquered:


Doak Campbell Stadium and the Unconquered Statue

Thinking "What-a-Night":


Don't know their names but I do know they don't recommend my 14 year old go to Florida State.

Discovering that being camera-shy evaporates quickly:

Camera Shy Much?

A Tallahassee Democrat Deliverer Preparing for Her Route

Appreciating a Quiet Capitol Morning:

The Old and New Capitols

See my blog about my 4/4/10 4 am project here,

It was a special treat to have my friend and neighbor, Deb Glotzbach, along for the fun!

Anyone can do 4 am pictures; just tag any pictures you have taken between 4 am and 5 am, on Flickr, with "4amproject"!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Where's My Hat?

For the first time since I started doing Mama Kat writing prompts, I blew off the random number generator's suggestion of #2:  The biggest Halloween trick or prank you ever pulled.  My holiday prank history involves only one thing (I was a very good girl as a teenager!):  a late night relocation of the nativity scene from the First Baptist Church of Lake Butler's lawn to the youth director's front yard.  He was not amused (but I think baby Jesus appreciated the change of scenery).  More importantly, #4 (Share a photo that represents how you see yourself) gives me the chance to share via my blog a fundamental clash I have in my head.  Between this:


and this: 

I couldn't find the perfect picture to demonstrate the un-Mary Richards-like aspects of my life.  This one is the best I can do - yes I was camping, but the crocs, the unironed "whatever was available to throw on that also fit" ensemble, the "it'll do" hair (under a hat), and the lack of makeup are far too often the "me" I present to the world these days.   

Having Mary Richards as my professional role model during those formative years of ages 6-13, I concocted a "future me" vision complete with a great wardrobe, a spacious (and always clean) apartment, vivacious friends, and an upwardly mobile job. 

Wardrobe-wise, my clothes are as often held together by safety pins as not; my house is in CHAOS, my friends are vivacious (1 out of 4 is a start!), and I perch precariously on that teeter totter called family-life balance daily.

Being a mom is what has been the most important thing to me as an adult.  But when I go back to New York City, and walk the bustling streets among the career women who look so purposeful and directed, even though for all I know they are going home to empty, tiny, lonely apartments and downing pints of Ben and Jerry's, I still crave some "hat in the air moments" just for me.

What kind of "hat in the air" moment are you still looking for?

Mama's Losin' It

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Wordless Wednesday (Pigging Out Edition)


"Gum Art" by Wayne Kevin Kiger

(You moms of boys may not be surprised to hear that my main reaction
to this picture was "how did his nails get that clean?!)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My First Stringer

When this weekend began, I was not sure what I was going to end up writing about for my weekly blog.  There are quite a few images and thoughts in my head.  I participated in a "virtual" worldwide race.  I was the only protestant at a workshop that my Catholic mother-in-law had invited me to, and ended up jotting down in my blog ideas notepad: Do I have tinnitus because I was a Rainbow Girl (the speaker had stated that sometimes the demonic aftereffects of being a Rainbow Girl manifested themselves in auditory ways)The image that is begging to be written about is my son's body language when he was not played at all in his Pop Warner football game after the first 10 plays of the first quarter.

This year is Wayne Kevin's first year playing Pop Warner football.  He has played two seasons of YMCA flag football, but tackle football is an entirely different activity.  He turned a deaf ear to his father's reminders all summer long to improve his conditioning.  This was nowhere more evident than the first times he ran laps with team, finishing almost a full lap behind everyone.  In addition, at just over 90 pounds, he is one of the smallest boys on a team whose weight range is 90-120 pounds.  He has overcome some of that beginning-of-the-season stuff, and the fact that many of these kids appear to have played together for years, to the point that he doesn't always finish last in the laps, and he has had what even his choosy father called "good practices" recently.  On the way home from practice Thursday night,  he was bubbling with excitement because he had been told he would be on "first defense." 

He played the first few series of the game (Pop Warner requires every player to be played a minimum number of plays (ten, I think)).  I was late to the game after attending the workshop with Barb, so I missed the big debut.  But after those series, nothing.  He ran out a few times when "first defense" was called, but was sent back to the sidelines.  I guess the coaches had decided to get his minimum plays out of the way first and have that done with.  I heard him bring it up to the Team Mom, and she tried to make him feel better, saying "well you were in the first plays."  He brought it up to me, and I said the same unhelpful thing.  Let's just say I was relieved to have to leave the game a few minutes early to pick Tenley up from dance and leave the post-game processing to my husband. 

Photo Credit:  Jarmon Photography
(Wayne is #50)

Wayne's team won 20-0.  There was not much doubt, by the fourth quarter, that his team was going to win.  He would have loved to have been used for a play or two that last quarter.  And for Wayne, part of the reason it matters is that the opponent team is full of kids from his middle school.  He is proud his team has beaten them all three times the two have played, but he knows he is going to get some ribbing for his lack of playing time. 

Neither my husband nor I are insiders in this group.  We have been the most unhelicopter-y of parents pertaining to playing time.  We know he is not one of the most proficient players; we know he started out the season slow.  We haven't brought the topic up to the coaches.  But, darn, it's hard to see your kid dejected, to see all of that enthusiasm and team pride slipping away. 

I know that kids (and adults) learn from adversity.  I remember how awful my first experience was at Junior Gardeners camp, how I could have vowed never to go back, but instead announcing when I got in the car, "I am going back next year and I am going to make it good."  I went to the same camp for years after that and had great experiences.  I find it so hard as a parent to sit back and let that determination percolate in my children.  When I talked to Wayne later in the day on Saturday, I went down that same "at least you played the first few series" road (when will I ever learn?).  Over the weekend, I kept being tempted to send him emails letting him know I believed in him, to bring up the subject again, to invasively force some determination into his 11 year old psyche. 

I can't do that.  It's up to him. 

When Tenley was in 4th grade, she had just switched schools and was having a hard time.  I wrote her 3rd grade teacher, who had always been helpful, about what "we" would have to do about her anxiety.  Mrs. Hudgins immediately wrote back, telling me to re-read what I had said.  For Tenley to master her anxiety, there needed to be less "we" and more "she." 

I read a quote this week that resonated with me:  To be is to fly the flag of one's own shadow (by Godfrey Reggio).  The older both of my kids get, the less control I have about who they will be or how they will embrace their strong parts and their weak parts.

I just know that Wayne (#50) will always be on my first string!

Photo Credit:  Jarmon Photography
(Wayne is #50)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What Is My "Dirty Job"?

Of the five Mama Kat   writing prompts this week, there are several I would have enjoyed writing to. The Random Number Generator handed me #1: Describe a job you absolutely would never want to do.

What image comes to your mind when you read this prompt? Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe? Any of a number of Dilbert cartoons? Episodes of The Office?

For me, I can’t name one specific occupation that I would outright say, “I would hate doing that” (if we eliminate the illegal/immoral ones). Anyone who reads me regularly knows I am a huge believer in the “do what you love and the money will follow” philosophy. In a recent episode of the RunRunLive podcast, writer Ann Brennan talked about how she got a degree in business “like she was supposed to” but never warmed up to the field. Her calling as a writer kept nagging at her and refusing to be suppressed. Now she is a regular contributor to Eye on Annapolis and has written her first novel. (And, as a side benefit, she is really happy.)

Three things I consider fundamental about the work I do:

Cruelty is Out

As a manager, I have had to deliver negative messages. I have had to terminate people, put employees on Corrective Action Plans, notify them their only option for staying employed was moving to the subcontractor taking over their function. But a job that required me to tear people down or be cruel is one from which I would resign before I started. It’s not in me.

Where Do I Fit In?

I am not currently supervising staff, but when I was, one of my main principles was the belief that people engage more fully in their work if they understand where the task they are doing fits in the overall “plan.” When an employee is stuffing envelopes, for example, will they be more energized (and therefore productive) if they understand that the application they are stuffing, once it is in the hands of a family needing health insurance for their child, will result in a child getting preventive care and being able to succeed in school? Much better than “get these 500 envelopes stuffed today. Thanks.”

As an employee, it is important to me to understand where my task fits in the big picture. If I am data entering an application, will I be more careful if I understand that inputting a date of birth incorrectly will keep a child from getting health insurance (because it messes up the files)? I commend Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) for putting pictures of children up throughout their building – having a visual reminder that we are all here to serve kids sets the right tone for keeping the mission in mind.

I ran across this article about Generation "Why?" when researching my blog post. Honestly, I think I am a displaced GenYer.

Can’t do it, will never learn

You can love it and hope the money will follow, but there are some jobs out there that can’t be learned, no matter how much passion you have. For example, I am a huge fan of figure skating (hence my daughter Tenley’s name) but could not be an Olympic figure skater, EVER. An article I read yesterday by Whitney Johnson posed this question to people trying to be more valuable as job candidates: What do you do reflexively well? The author quoted Marcus Buckingham, author of Now, Discover Your Strengths, who stated, “Our strengths…clamor for attention in the most basic way: Using them makes you feel strong. Take note of the times when you feel invigorated, inquisitive, successful…These moments are clues to what your strengths are.”

There are some things out there (think: nuclear engineering) that will never be a good fit for me. There are other things (think: anything to do with reading, editing, writing, networking) that I keep coming back to, professionally and in my non-work life. Those are the responsibilities I am hungry to take on.

In his article “Job Versus Vocation – What I Didn’t Learn in B-School,” Andrew J. Hoffman says that students who ask “Where can I make the most money?” are asking the wrong question. Hoffman’s key questions are:

• What were you meant to do with your life?

• What do you want to do?

• Where do you most fit?

If I can’t answer those three questions (or I refuse to stay on a path that strives to ask), that is a job (and life) I would absolutely never want to do.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - The "Gold" Edition

must be a new fitness trend................

                                            .......doesn't every body need a little "sclupting"?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Loose Change

I am very excited to have Robin Dunn Bryant share a guest post tonight.  In all honesty, I need to let you readers know that I invited Robin to share her experience, partially so that I can piggyback on her experience with a comment of my own.  In my mind, I had always thought that when I wrote a post about debt management and financial struggles, it would be a celebratory post explaining how our family had conquered the debt monster and put money issues far behind us. 

Although Robin and I worked both worked "for" Healthy Kids, me as an HK employee and her as the trainer for our Third Party Administrator, I really did not know anything about her personally until she and her family participated in the We Live FIT (Financially Independent Today) Challenge sponsored by the Florida Commerce Credit Union.  When you participate in the We Live FIT challenge, your life as a family is literally an open book: your savings, your credit score, your debt ratio.  You name it, the community knows it.  AND your own family smiles down at you from a huge billboard on Capital Circle. 

Without further ado, and with a huge "thank you" to Robin and her family, here's Robin's story and then I dip my tiniest of courage toes into starting to tell ours.


The Ultimate Exposure aka the We Live FIT challenge

In April my family and I embarked on a road to financial fitness through a “reality show” challenge our credit union, Florida Commerce, was holding. The premise: nine families would work until the end of the year to increase savings, decrease debt, and increase their credit scores. They would work in conjunction with a coach from the credit union and the winning family would receive $10,000. This was the second year of the challenge and since we'd missed the deadline the first time around, we made sure that we got our information in early this time.

After a review of our application and an in-person/on camera interview, our family was one of the nine chosen to enter the competition. We were thrilled, of course, because we'd been taking a financial beating for a few years.

Let me backtrack a bit.

Before we moved to Tallahassee in 2006 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Our plan to move to a cheaper location (we were coming from DC) so that we could cut our expenses and live a life with a lowered stress level went right out the window. My really lucrative work from home job, that before cancer could pay all of our living expenses, became part of a high wire balancing act while we tried to pay an expensive COBRA bill and keep our household running. Then, to add insult to injury, my job bounced several of my paychecks, an action that sent us spiraling into the world of payday loans where we lived for several years.

Fast forward to the beginning of this year.

My DH and I had decided that this was the year that we were going to take control of our financial situation, so getting the call to be part of the competition was so timely. What we weren't expecting was all of the emotional upheaval that comes with 1) finally getting real about what we were (and weren't) doing right with our finances and 2) pulling back the curtain of our completely wrecked financial situation for everyone to see. I honestly can't say which part was hardest for us. I do know the day the website was launched I kept looking at our numbers with a deep combination of pain and shame. We had over $160,000 in debt, $10 in savings, and both of our credit scores were under 500.

We got off to an aggressive start and our situation made an immediate turn for the better. We went through all of our bills and made changes that left us more money each month. We cut back our cable (getting rid of the set in our bedroom entirely), closed down our storage unit, and adjusted our W-4 withholdings so we would bring home more money on payday. Our ace in the hole was our friend Kristen, who is a credit report wizard. She went through them with us line by line and gave us specific marching orders. By June we'd decreased our debt by $1500, increased our combined credit score by 80 points and “passively” saved $628 dollars (by making lifestyle changes...we did lose a good bit to a repair bill for our car.) We really struggled with the community votes, but managed to make it into the second round.

Between June and September we kept up a good part of our momentum – the part that had us focusing on driving down our debt and raising our credit scores – but we were tripped up on other points of the challenge. The stress of the first elimination caused an almost total shut down after June. I couldn't rouse the enthusiasm to blog or even shoot videos on our lil Flip camera. I was completely overwhelmed. Luckily we were able to keep our heads about ourselves and were able to keep our focus on what I saw as our “real” work: cleaning up our finances to make way to a more stable future for our family. We increased our savings by $2100, decreased our debt by over $20,000 (yes, you read that right) and saw our credit scores skyrocket. Ultimately, though, it wasn't enough to counteract having the lowest amount of savings and community votes and we were eliminated.

So now our family is in the “savers bracket” competing with the other eliminated families for $1,000. I think we have a pretty good chance, but even if we don't win that money, I know what we've received as a family is more valuable than any money. My husband said it best in one of his blog postings for the challenge: “We decided as a family that we would not deprive ourselves to win this challenge or be people we aren't. We made small changes and saw the pay off. We made more small changes and saw more pay off. We got lucky and had some things fall into our lap. Overall, we are happy. Anyone who says staying happy is easy is lying. We choose to work at it relentlessly.”


Once I realized that Robin and her family were participants in the We Live FIT challenge, it was important to me to get behind them, support them, and to, as I stated in my Facebook status during the most recent round of voting, "whip people up into a frenzy of voting."  Why was it so important to me to do so?  Why do I feel so much solidarity with a family that looks unruffled on the outside while simultaneously being barely able to breathe due to not being able to get ahead of the debt monster?

Because I know what it's like to live in a $400,000+ house and have to gather up loose change to make it through the end of the month.  I know what it feels like to not be able to breathe due to the stress.

Kudos to Robin and family for working so hard (and so publicly) to reclaim their financial fitness.  Robin added this quote, and it's the perfect ending:

"The day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."
-Anais Nin