Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thanksgiving: a month of gratitude

Starry starry night! Moody Gardens Festival of Lights the day after Thanksgiving. Copyright (c) Wendee Nicole 2012

Happy post-Thanksgiving and now onto Advent season - time is flying! I had a really beautiful Thanksgiving with my mom, stepdad and son. For Thanksgiving month, I posted daily gratitude to Facebook, and I thought I'd share the ones I have done thus far in the month of November with you all - and one of them from Thanksgiving day details what made Thanksgiving so special, so I won't repeat that here.

I actually keep a daily gratitude journal in which I write down 5 things I am grateful for before going to sleep. Sometimes it's actually hard to come up with them... on an off day. But they don't have to be related to that particular day, so sometimes it's as simple as "I love my bed!" I have found, over the years, my gratitude list often relates to a phone call or a visit with a friend at Starbuck's. The second most common are when I get or complete a writing assignment! What about you? Do you have a gratitude journal, or notice particular things showing up over and over?

Here is my November special gratitude list, in reverse order.

11/27 Today I give gratitude for the struggles that I face and have faced in my past and for the life lessons I have learned from them. I just emerged (am emerging) from an extremely difficult year in my life, mostly due to a struggle with my teen daughter (who I also am very grateful for). It has been heartbreaking and nearly tore me in two, and I still don't know the outcome of this situation. I was worried for my very life for a few months, but thankfully have emerged from the deepest depths of despair I faced a year ago. I seem to have lost a couple of friends in the darkest of times even when I needed them most. I still give thanks because in the darkest times, the Lord spoke this verse to me, "[W]e also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts..." Romans 5:3-5. And I would repeat that, and sometimes write it in my gratitude journal, "I am thankful for my suffering, because it brings hope." Sometimes, even now, I have nothing left but hope. And I do cling to that hope in bringing a positive outcome to the painful events of the recent year.

11/26 I am grateful for my amazing dad, Thomas Finlay, and all the life lessons he imparted through his love of the land, nature, progressive thought, intellectualism, and so much more. I am so grateful to have lived like a "Little House in the Big Woods" pioneer in the 1970s like so few others in the US have lived - outhouse, woodstoves for cooking and heating, raising our own chickens and veggies, and so much more. I'm grateful that he fought for custody of me when I was just 8, and the life lesson I learned that I could affect the direction of my own life, and that my opinion was worth listening to. ♥ you dad! http://bohemianadventures.blogspot.com/2011/06/crackerbox-palace.html

11/25 I am thankful for my writing career! I have gotten to do so many cool things (dive with sharks: http://bit.ly/Tnty7K), trek through Nepal in search of red pandas: http://bit.ly/rTBXpz), search for cassowaries in the Australian jungle: (http://bit.ly/UF41G0), & explore the Amazon Rainforest (http://bit.ly/Qi4AH7) just to name a few! I love writing about science, the environment and my biggest passion: wildlife!

11/24 I am grateful for being able to run, and that I started running when I was in 9th grade and never stopped… exercise is a joy to me and always has been.

11/23 Yesterday's gratitude: I am thankful for all God's creatures. I love love love wildlife and most of the items on my bucket list involve seeing animals in the wild :) I also love my kitty cats!

11/22 Today I am thankful for a wonderful Thanksgiving Day with my mom, my stepdad and my son. My mom and I took a bike ride to Starbuck's and the weather was delicious - sunny and yet cool with a slight wind - tantalizingly perfect. I loved the sound of my bike tires crunching the sycamore leaves on the path, and the five brown pelican perched on a log in the San Jacinto River we rode across. And how I love the San Jacinto River, my river... with the trees all changing color... and I'm so appreciative and thankful for my mom, and all she and my stepdad have done for me in my life, much of which I didn't appreciate until well far longer than it should have taken me. I'm thankful they paid for my college and college wasn't even an option -- I was going (well my stepdad did want me to pay my way, like he did, but my mom would have none of it. She'd never been to college, and I was going). I'm thankful for the forgiveness and love she has always shown me even when I have treated her badly, and that she will always love me with a mother's love. ♥

11/21 Today: I am deeply thankful for the peace – lack of war - I experience in my city, in my nation and in the places I have traveled. Even so, I am always cognizant of those experiencing war and violence abroad – let us never grow complacent of what others suffer. (And I am thankful for the cease fire in Gaza...)

11/20 Today I’m thankful for the golden hour, and the way the world looks in these beautiful moments of dusk. Tonight on my run, the golden sun illuminated the palmettos, sweet gums, and hickory trees on my favorite part of the path, and it was just lovely.

11/19 Today I'm thankful for love. In the words of Alfred Tennyson: "I hold it true, whate'er befall; I feel it, when I sorrow most; 'Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all."

11/18 I am thankful for the writers and thinkers who have most influenced my thinking, my faith, my outlook, and who have inspired me (in no particular order - though Scott Peck is definitely #1 on the list for a reason): M. Scott Peck, Anne Lamott, Alanis Morissette, Beth Moore, Christy Nockels, Liz Gilbert, Henri Nouwen, John Lennon, Jesus, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Oprah Winfrey, Debbie Ford, Bill Moyers, Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Paul Cox, Helen Keller, George Orwell, Philip Yancey, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Martin Luther, Harville Hendrix, Byron Katie. Saint Augustine, Melody Beattie, Rob Bell, Miguel Ángel Ruiz.

11/17 I forgot my gratitude yesterday - oops! So here's yesterdays: I am grateful for my sweet son Sam, who is kind, gentle-spirited, funny, smart and a gift from God to my life! ♥

11/16 Today I am thankful for a strong and healthy body! I am grateful I can work out, walk, ride bikes, run, hang upside down from the monkey bars :) I am thankful I have excellent health as do my children! A very big blessing I never take for granted, especially since as I age I know that things will start to hurt, ache, and become more difficult. Today, I live in the moment and appreciate what is!

11/15 Today I'm thankful for these beaded coasters because they represent a pivotal moment in my life when I realized I didn't need to wait for my husband (at the time) to make me happy by doing what I wanted. The responsibility for my happiness resided with me & so I went out & bought my own Xmas gift that I wanted. A small insignificant thing but truly groundbreaking in its implications.

11/14 Today I am thankful for my house, my home. I love it. It's been an awesome place to live for the past several years: safe neighborhood, spacious, colors on the walls, comfortable and I have loved having my own home as a single mom, and I'm proud of it! It's a great place to raise kids, and I will miss it when I move on from here in 2 years (the house, and my friends, but not Texas!) :)

11/13 Today I am thankful for my sweet kitten Pippin, who has given me much needed cuddles and sweetness in this phase of my life when I so need it!

11/12 Today I am thankful for sunshine! I love love love the sunshine!!!!

11/11 Today I am thankful for my friends around the world. You have no idea how much you mean to me, how you are all my dearest family and have touched my life beyond measure. Whether we are close now or were once, I will always love you all and be here for you, as you have been there for me, You are all the best people in the world and my life was forever changed by knowing you!

11/10 Today I am thankful for the gift of sight. What would the world be without it? As a fan of Helen Keller from a young age, I have always been aware and grateful for this amazing gift!

11/9 Today I am thankful for the awesome variety of fruits and vegetables and foods that are available to me, and relatively inexpensive! What a blessing!

11/8 Today I am thankful for freedom of speech -- that I live in a country where I am free to speak my mind. This right is one of the world's most precious.

11/7 Today, I am so so thankful that Obama was re-elected. It feels like a huge weight lifted off of me. I am grateful that he can fight for the concerns that I have as a citizen: global climate change, equality for all, sound science, continuing to improve the economy. I am so proud of people for getting out the vote, and though our country is in many ways divided, I am grateful for this amazing democracy. I put up with 4 extra years of Bush and survived, and now it's time for those who feel as I did then to suck it up and deal. Maybe, even, give him a chance. Bush, after all, is the one who gave us this massive deficit. So there ya go! It feels like a brand new day!

11/6 Today I am thankful for: butterscotch. Yum.

11/5 Today I'm thankful for these crisp fall mornings when I can wake leisurely, cuddled under my down comforter, read & drink tea (or, I was until my annoying cat started clawing at the carpet under the door... but I digress). Im thankful that I can work from home & set my own hours like this :)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Poverty isn't what you think

My dad's log cabin. Copyright (c) 2012 Wendee Nicole

"If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs. Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, 'The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,' and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the Lord against you, and it become sin among you. You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand. For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, “You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.” Deuteronomy 15: 7-11

During election season, there was a lot of stereotyping of Democrats as people who - in the hilarious sardonic humor of The Daily Show's Jon Stewart - are "thing stuff takers." He was making fun of how Bill O'Reilly had posited, post-election, that Obama won because people on the left wanted things, and stuff. It was a thinly veiled insult of people of color, morphing them with people of poverty without really saying that. It's a sentiment echoed by the likes of Mitt Romney a couple days later, when he came out of hiding, and said Obama won the election because of the "gifts" he gave to specific interest groups. During all the immediate post-election Facebook rambling, a friend of mine posted something that led me to post the following, which I'll post below almost verbatim.

But poverty isn't always what you think it is. I am someone who has directly benefitted from the use of food stamps and welfare. Let me tell you the story of my childhood. I am the first in my extended family to ever go to college. EVER. Neither my parents or grandparents had more than a high school education. My dad didn't graduate from h.s. (but got a GED), yet he is the most intelligent, articulate, and intellectual man I know. After his divorce from my mom he moved to Oregon and built a very simple log cabin on 24 acres, grew his food, totally back to the land. It was an awesome pioneer way to live, and to grow up that way was extremely influential to who I became as an adult.

Dad had a biz making log cabins for others and at one point his partner took off with the businesses money, leaving him a heavy burden financially. So during a period of my youth we had food stamps and at one point he was on welfare. He overcame that, and went on to work for many years for the Oregon food bank, doing social work and giving back. He was and is an incredibly hard working man - both when he was on welfare and after - and at his retirement last year was granted the very award that he established for those at the Oregon Food Bank who had a lifetime of service. (I am getting tears in my eyes writing this - I love and am so proud of my dad!). I also, as mentioned in my recent blog post "freelancing does not suck" that I had applied for food stamps during ~09 when times were incredibly hard for me, and I thought I might have to sell my house.

I'm a single mom and I work incredibly hard, and I sure as hell was not getting an "entitlement" or a handout. I never ended up getting on food stamps - long story - but I would have gladly taken them, and I have no qualms or shame about it. It's damn hard to be a single mom and support oneself, even when you get some child support (I got - and still get - a fraction of what I'm legally entitled to). Anyway... social welfare is there to help people when times get tough. I hope that you never have to know what it is to be poor and genuinely need help. There are people who really do need help, and who use it and get off of it, and are not just "lazy" as the Right often characterizes people on welfare. My dear precious daughter, a brilliant young woman who is a National Merit Scholar Semifinalist and in the Top 10 of a class of more than 700, and an amazing human being is a product of welfare. As am I - I earned a M.S. and am a PhD candidate (on leave of absence...) and have built an incredibly successful freelance writing career. So there you go. That's what welfare gets you.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Proud to be an American!

I woke up this morning so proud to be an American. I am welling up with pride for our country. I am so proud of African Americans turning out the vote in the same numbers they did in 2008. And I'm proud to be an American in this really transitional time in our country. I am confident history will look back at Barack Obama as one of the best presidents our nation has ever had. He represents the people of America's tomorrow - equal rights for all people, a safety net for people in crisis, health care for all, and yes higher taxes for people who can afford to pay. Romney had the ridiculous "binders full of women" while Obama had the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as his first piece of legislation as President. No comparison.

And yes, Obama has helped turn the economy around from the Bush years, even though these things take time. If Romney had won - as Robert Creamer pointed out in a smart HuffPo commentary - it would have been described as a "Romney miracle." Now the Obama administration can show once and for all that the President's methods of turning around the crappy policies of the Bush era can and do work -- and let us never forget the clear fact that Clinton had a surplus and Bush created the deficit, not Obama. You can't just scrap everything a previous president did overnight. America is a big ship and it takes time to turn her, to avoid hitting the iceberg. We have done so, and God willing, can now continue to thrive and move into safer waters.

On election night, I was at a friend's house watching the election results, playing an election drinking game - though we could barely hear the newscasters over the din of our own laughter and chatter. We were convinced Diane Sawyer was on something as she slurred her speech and slouched in her seat - bless her heart - and we threw our hands up in the air wondering how networks call a state for a candidate with confidence with less than 1% of precincts reporting (I still am mostly at a loss on that one). My friend Stef made me laugh so hard at her snarky comments about Republicans getting all excited when it looks like so much of the country is "red" on the electoral map, but "No one lives there!" and laughed when Lester Holt on NBC News seemed a little too happy when announcing that recreational marijuana use was legalized in Colorado. "Lester Holt smokes weed!" she said, and I about died laughing.

When I said, "Women are really coming out strong for Obama over Romney this election," she quipped, "Yea, cuz they don't want their rights taken away. Or sister-wives." And in the analysis of what went down, women did prove decisive in this election - along with minorities. Women overwhelmingly went for Obama by a 20-something percent margin. Many women - myself included - were disgusted by the brash and insensitive way so many white Republican men discussed and dismissed rape, and used abortion in rape cases as a talking point. Bad move. As a rape victim - no, a rape survivor - I find their statements appalling, Neanderthal, and just plain sick, and I am glad America kicked all of those candidates out of Congress. And the Senate added 5 female Senators, including the first openly gay woman, bringing a record number of 20 women Senators. Go women! We are a force to be reckoned with, as we well should be, yet we are still struggling against a white-male status quo (if you doubt this - reread the obnoxious statements by "Team Rape" - all a bunch of white male candidates.

But this election isn't about who we voted out, it's about who we elected in, to continue leading us, and hopefully with an even stronger push for the initiatives I believe Obama wanted to do from the outset, but might have affected his re-election chances - fighting for climate change legislation, immigration reform, environmental protection, and other issues important to social progressives. Robert Creamer wrote the most moving summary I have yet read: 6 Reasons Why the 2012 Election will be Considered Historic.

"It presented Americans with the clearest choice in my lifetime between traditional progressive American values -- a vision of a society where we are all in this together on the one hand -- and a vision of a society in which everyone looks out first and foremost for himself alone on the other....Mitt Romney offered America an opportunity to choose values and leaders that were committed to the radical individualism espoused by his running-mate, Ayn Rand disciple Paul Ryan. America said no."

He also made the point that this is likely the last election that the Republican party can turn its backs on ethnic minorities and gays - not to mention women - because America's values are shifting.

"The Right made a desperate last ditch attempt to turn the tide in the "culture war" -- on equality for gays and lesbians, on the right of women to control their own bodies, on women's equal status in America's work places and society at large. They failed. Their positions on rape, contraception and abortion cost them dearly among women. In referenda this fall, the forces favoring marriage equality won in four out of four states....The outcome of this election demonstrated that as the millennial generation grows in number in the electorate, it will most likely be impossible for any candidate to win the presidency who wants to take American social policy back to the 1950's."

Creamer also mentions the reasons why minorities were so key in this election. I personally had a hunch that African Americans would get out and vote for Obama again because - and I hope this doesn't offend anyone - they wanted to continue the era of having a black President. I am lily white but I feel the same damn way. I am so proud of our country for electing Barack Hussein Obama in 2008 and couldn't be more proud to have him re-elected in 2012. And my support for him is not because of the color of his skin but because I believe in what he stands for and his policies, but I have to say that I am so proud of how far we have come in our country that a man with his name, and his skin color, is now the President for another 4 years. Booya! Creamer adds:

"It turned out that African-American voters were every bit as enthusiastic about re-electing President Obama as they were about electing him in the first place. He carried African-American voters 96 percent to 4 percent -- and they turned out at the same levels they had in 2008.... Obama won Hispanic voters by 44 percent -- 72 percent Obama to 28 percent Romney. ... Republicans like to delude themselves that many Hispanics are "conservative." While many are very religious and have strong commitments to family, the polling shows that Hispanic voters believe in a society where everyone has each other's back -- a society like a family -- where government plays an integral role."

I also want to add in a quote by Howard Fineman, another HuffPo commentary.
"[This is] Not a Status Quo Election. Sure, the numerical line-up didn't change much: a Democratic president, a narrowly Democratic Senate and a Republican-led House. But under the circumstances, the results made an extraordinary statement about commitment to change: in health care (Obamacare), in taxes (a push to raise rates on the wealthy), on environmental action and for activist government. The vote was an expression of hope for more change in the future, along the lines of what the president has done so far."

I stayed up until Romney had offered his gracious concession speech, and then even later to see Obama's victory speech. And if you haven't watched Obama's 2am speech, I highly recommend it. If you are on the other side, and believe that this is a tragedy, all I can say is: get a grip. Read this: Presidential Election: “Sad and Tragic Day for Our Nation”.

And if you're still in denial about how America could vote for Obama after watching Fox News all the time, here's a hint: Change the channel and get some real news. Fox is not news. And Jon Stewart made the racism it spews abundantly - and hilariously - clear on last night's show "Avalanche on Bullshit Mountain." Fox puts out the message that Dems are just a bunch of minorities on the take. Not only is that a huge lie, it's downright offensive to people like me, a hard working single mom who will benefit from ObamaCare.  Not only that, most of the social reforms in our nation - social welfare, food stamps, Medicaid - were passed long before Obama came around. All Fox and conservative media consumers should get their heads out of the sand and read this: How Conservative Media Lost to the MSM and Failed the Rank and File.

I absolutely love the Jon Stewart showing footage of Fox newscaster Megyn Kelly calling Karl Rove on his denial after Fox News had actually named Obama as President. Priceless! She said: "Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better, or is this real?" Laughing so hard! Stewart thinks that is a much better slogan than the one they have now: "Math you do as a Republican to Make Yourself Feel Better" - hahaha! He also makes a cogent case for Fox being blatantly racist, with Palin and O'Reilly saying we are a country of minorities and a country of people who "want stuff." Really? I as the first generation to go to college, and the success of my children, are products of the welfare system. More on that in an upcoming post.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

freelancing does not suck!

My vision board... Copyright (c) 2012 Wendee Nicole

I posted this on the UPOD Yahoogroup that I'm on (UPOD is a writer's group and it stands for Under Promise Over Deliver) and I got enough positive feedback on it that I thought I'd share it here, too.

I posted it in response to a writer who posted about freelancing being not as financially lucrative as his previous full-time job, and he was lamenting that freelancing was not so glamorous. This was my response:

I am sorry that you are making less now than with a full-time job. That is probably the state of affairs in this business for MOST freelancers, but most freelancers choose this life (those that DO choose it, rather than who were laid off and got into it involuntarily) because we love the freedom of waking up whenever we want, working in our pajamas, getting time to spend time with our kids – or friends – when we want, and working when we want. Yea that sometimes means two weeks of deadline-hell where we work til 2am and fall asleep at the computer, but it also means the ability to travel whenever, wherever, and go to all the kids' events and be there when they get home from school. I don't know if you have kids, but whatever your case may be, I'm sure there are benefits of freelancing that outweigh the "money" situation because after all, money alone does not a happy life make.

That said, I wholeheartedly agree with advice to "follow the money." When I left grad school to freelance full-time, I decided I wouldn't write for less than $1/word. That's my gold standard (and now I often make more than that). That's also why I never in a million years would write for a newspaper, I don't care how prestigious it is – unless they can pay me what I need. Truth is, I'm a single mom and I have to pay the bills, and that's what I need in order to GET BY. I also value a high quality of life which means a balanced life. I work like a madwoman at times, but I also spend time with my kids, friends, God, and I take time to travel (which is always, for me, "work-fun").

I once read an interview with the actor Will Smith and he said he analyzed who made the most $ as actors and it was those in action-adventure movies, so that's where he's focused his talents. In freelancing the advice is the same: Find who pays the best, and pursue them. Of course, it all depends on your ultimate goals. If your ultimate goal is prestige, then pursuing prestigious pubs may be what you want to do, But you indicated frustration with finances, so focus on who pays. It may not even be consumer publications. Maybe you need to balance your portfolio out with some corporate writing, or whatever. I also agree with the importance of networking. There's NO substitute for meeting editors face to face!

My freelance career has ebbed and flowed, and there was one year in the depth of the recession when I stood in line to get food stamps (but because I had JUST deposited a check, despite being flat broke for 60 days before, I wasn't eligible – I could easily see how people play the system. Had I just waited to deposit it, I could have gotten on them and once on, it's easy to stay on – but that's another story entirely). Nevertheless, my income has increased substantially, and this month I made more than $10,000 – just from writing for consumer pubs and teaching my online writing class. I am really proud of that!

The economy is definitely improving in my estimation, and I am glad I didn't cave in and take a full-time job when times were tough (I applied, and didn't get them). What I did get was a "free car" offered by the Universe – God provides… and that solved my biggest concern of the time, which was – what happens if my Subaru with 200,000 miles on it dies? A random stranger who read my blog contacted me out of the blue to give me a Honda Accord… no kidding. He even put new tires, new belts, gave me a box full of oil and filters, gave me all the records, waxed and polished it and put a roll of shiny quarters in the "quarter drawer"). Every morning I get in that car, I am still amazed, two years later.

Other ways to get your life in line with your vision – CLARIFY your vision. If you want to make $X/year, then make mini-steps to how to get from here to there. And this may be too woo-woo for ya, but vision-boarding (looking at images in magazines that appeal, and creating a board with words and images that appeal to what you want) and journaling are great ways to establish a vision for your future that is everything you desire, and more.

And keep focusing on the positive aspects of the freelance life. Just changing the words we use can make a difference. I used to ALWAYS say "I'm so broke." But a couple years ago, I made a conscious choice to stop saying that phrase, and when I stopped saying the words and focused on the positive – what I DID have, what I was thankful for, what God did provide (or the Universe or fate or whatever you call it), things turned around. And also, give back (as David also suggests) – whether financially or of your time. I have an open hand policy in terms of sharing contacts and advice and also finances – when we give freely, the Universe provides back.