I don't usually toot my own professional horn on this web log very much, or really even talk about my work at all, but I had to share this message I recently received from a client - she copied me on an email she sent to a bunch of her friends. This client attended one of my Panic-free Planning Workshops and had some wonderful things to say about it. I'm grateful for the recommendation, of course. Also I think her words - born of experience - convey the message perfectly. Thank you, lovely client. I imagine your friends thank you, too.
"I have talked to some of you about this, so I thought I would pass the info on to everyone! I know that no one wants to talk about death and dying, especially as new parents. But it may just be the biggest gift you can give to your child and your family when the inevitable occurs. My father died unexpectantly when I was a teenager and more recently we have had to deal with an elderly family member who died without a will, so I speak from experience that writing a will, financial power of attorney and healthcare directive is of the utmost importance.
I recently took a workshop with attorney Amy Shelf. She is an estate lawyer who has created these workshops to help get the basics in place. Once they are in place, she can help to get your whole estate in order. Amy has made this uncomfortable, difficult and challenging task easy and accessible. She offers "Panic Free Workshops" in a group setting in which the purpose is to ease you through the process. You leave the workshop with all three documents complete and a feeling that you have tackled a difficult thing, successfully.
Amy is not only knowledgable about the law, she understands how difficult this topic is for parents and non-parents and with humor and compassion walks you through the entire process.
I can HIGHLY recommend her workshops and hope this inspires you to move this very important to-do to the top of your list."
I suppose I need to start by telling you that my family does not celebrate Christmas. We are Jewish, yes, though not practicing, really. In one respect, all Jews can be divided between two groups - those who celebrate Christmas and those who do not. I grew up celebrating at my Dad's; my husband, Ken, didn't celebrate it at all. Nuanced aspects of our decision aside, we don't celebrate Christmas now.
We do celebrate a few Jewish holidays, and Chanukah is now one of them. Before we had kids, we didn't really pay much mind to the festival of lights. Our inability to schedule a Chanukah get-together with Ken's family, who all live nearby, inspired the self-styled, gift-giving holiday we do celebrate: Gift-X. But that is another story.
Enter kids into our lives, who turn into frustrated and disappointed kids because they are not in on the Christmas experience. So enter Chanukah, and, from time-to-time, service and volunteer activities on Christmas day, which is really the best thing any of us can do.
When we started celebrating Chanukah, we had to then address the present issue. Really, the best part about not celebrating Christmas (other than the self-righteous martyrdom in which we get to wallow) is not having to participate in the consumer frenzy of December. We have tried to minimize the gift-giving element of Chanukah. The motivation is two-fold: we want to retain our status as conscientious objectors to consumerism - mostly for our own stress levels, and our kids do not need more crap - er, stuff. Plus, Chanukah is really a war holiday anyway.
A few years ago we started giving the kids home-style gift certificates. Along the lines of "When Mama and Papa decide to go out to dinner you get to pick where we go," and, "You get to make the whole family go out for ice cream and Mama and Papa can't say no." The kids are sometimes a bit disappointed that there's no toy or thing on that particular night of Chanukah, but they've come to accept that some nights will be certificate nights, and that is just part of the deal. The kids also cope by muttering things to themselves about getting 8 nights to Christmas's 1. Standard.
Each certificate comes with rules, written and unwritten, and that's where the Spinach Incident comes in.
Trudy, my nearly 5 year old, announced before dinner last night that she was using her ice cream certificate, and we were all going out for ice cream after dinner. Dinner that night consisted of rice and beans with cheese, and sauteed spinach.
Kids are so weird about vegetables. My kids, like so many others I know, ate vegetables heartily and indiscriminately until they were 2 or 3. This is the age when parallel play usually tapers off and kids start paying more attention to what other kids do and say. Maybe the vegetable animosity is learned behavior, maybe it is a vestige of a Darwinian aversion to plants as they become more mobile and independent: you can't poison yourself by eating the wrong plant if you don't eat plants at all. Most likely is that it is a cyclical interaction of the two. Regardless, I'm a firm believer in making my kids eat some plant matter with most meals. It is a non-negotiable rule in our house, and hopefully the habit will become so rooted in their psyches and behavior patters that they will eat some nutritious food in their first years of college.
Not surprisingly, eating a good dinner, including that evening's vegetables, is an unwritten prerequisite for the kids to be allowed to use their ice cream certificates.
Trudy refused to eat her spinach last night. At other times, Trudy has proclaimed that she loves spinach. Both kids usually have some list of veggies that they'll eat willingly or enthusiastically, and apparently that changes without notice.
Last night's spinach - lightly sauteed with a bit of olive oil and garlic, fresh from our CSA farm - was sweet and tender. Huck, Trudy's older brother, was also being a bit of a spaz about the spinach - maybe he set the whole thing off - but, he is older, wiser, and really committed to sugar consumption, so he begrudgingly ate his greens. By his last bite he had almost forgotten to maintain his repulsed expression.
We made it clear that Trudy was going to have to eat her spinach if we were going to go out for ice cream. She panicked. Got kind of hysterical. Was nearly hyperventilating, almost. While we are pretty damn good about sticking to our guns and following through on the rules we set down, we did give her quite a few opportunities to follow the righteous path. We offered to feed her. We set the spinach out into four discrete bites. I even went so far as to chop the spinach up after Trudy insisted that she could not chew it - at that point she'd been simultaneously crying and attempting to chew the spinach without it touching her tongue.
Before we made the call that ice cream was not happening that evening, there were a few exasperated threats. We were both coming to terms with the fact that we weren't getting ice cream either, and poor Huck, who had eaten his spinach, was wimpering on the couch, pleading with his head-strong and misguided sister. (Don't worry, he secretly got a chocolate-covered mint a little later in the evening.)
The final verdict of NO ICE CREAM was announced, and Trudy took to her bed and cried. I felt for her, we all did. I have memories, somewhat fragmented, of being a child unable to swallow a bite of butternut squash, or crying and crying while kind of knowing somewhere deep in my developing brain that I was taking the longer, more difficult path.
As the spinach was transforming into the Spinach Incident I had a few moments of questioning my parenting decision. Was I turning food into a power-play? Was I setting the stage for an eating disorder or rebellious teen behavior or both? Was I being overly punitive? Maybe, but I don't think so.
Trudy cried in bed for a while. I spent a lot of the time with her, stroking her hair, feeling and being sympathetic. She was obviously out of control, because any logical person would have eaten the damn spinach and been halfway through a strawberry cone at that point. Being that out of control feels terrible, even worse than not getting ice cream when you want it.
So here we are: 2010! What a year this has been. 2009. What. A. Year. To the extent you have made it through 2009 without completely freaking out and falling apart, you deserve kudos. I know that many of you reading this have experienced your own struggles and losses this year. And even for those of you who have not personally and directly felt the effects of the financial, ecological and political instability of our time, it is in the air and is flavoring life, exposing, and even emphasizing, the ever-present uncertainty of the future.
This is the third year in a row that I've sent a message to my community in early January - I guess that makes it a tradition! As much as I love to fill this space with discussions of the coming year and the larger issues that interest me, this message is fundamentally for marketing purposes and my rant this year has gotten a little long. So I'll let you click the hyperlink to read my full explanation of how I see 2010 as The Year of Generosity. For more buzz about my law practice, please read on.
First of all, I want to send a big thank you to my clients. You are the best! Really, I could not ask for nicer and more wonderful people to walk through my door. I am honored to have you place your trust in me. I am not just talking about your faith in my technical skills as a lawyer, but I also mean the way you open your lives and hearts to me as we discuss our often difficult and emotional work. This moves me and inspires me, and, more and more, becomes the thing that calls me out of bed each morning. Thank you so much.
My Panic-Free Planning Workshops continue to receive lots of enthusiasm and great feedback - they are an easy, and even enjoyable, way to get the basics in place for a great price. All you need to do is a little bit of prep and attend a two hour workshop, and then you'll have a basic Will, Power of Attorney and Advance Health Care Directive in place. I've got a full Winter/Spring schedule for my Workshops on my website.
Another very exciting development is that I'm partnering with the folks at Recess Urban Recreation (a fabulous, indoor rec center for young kids and their caretakers). I'm offering two of my Panic-Free Planning Workshops (January 23 and April 24) at Recess, where I can accommodate much larger groups. Also, Recess is hosting a few free presentations I'll be doing about Estate Planning, so sign up for their mailing list and watch their calendar.
Remember, advance registration is required for all Workshops, so just pick a date and sign up online! Believe me, you'll feel so much better when its done.
Increasingly often I hear from friends and neighbors that they've seen my name recommended on local parenting email lists, or that they've recommended me themselves. It means so much to me that you think highly enough of me and my work to send other people my way. Your recommendations are also my lifeline: almost all of my business comes through word-of-mouth referrals. So, thank you for sharing my name, and please continue doing so. And do forward this post to anyone you know who might want or need my services.
Last year at this time, I wrote about hard work and fortitude. I have certainly had a very, very hardworking year, and I know I'm not alone. And there is, without a doubt, much work to be done. In addition to the great, global to-do list, many things in my own life require constant work and attention. My husband and I, along with two business partners, have just opened a new shop, Succulence. It is a hidden gem: Succulence can be found by going through our other business, Four Star Video. Once out back you will find yourself in a sheltered oasis of Succulent Living. If running one new business and two going concerns wasn't enough, there's also the day-to-day tasks of raising our kids, being involved with schools and community, and occasionally (though not often enough) doing laundry. Lots of work.
In addition to my vision of hard work for last year, I also felt much promise in the beginning of 2009. Opportunity for growth and, yes, change. Analyzing the ways in which our worlds and lives have grown and changed is always a challenge. Often transformation is accompanied by an amnesia of sorts; it is difficult to remember just what life was like before. I can barely remember what my husband was like at 23, when we met; my vague memories of my children as babies seem almost disconnected from who they are now, and it is a struggle to put myself in the place of someone who has never seen a person of color elected President of the United States.
In looking forward, and thinking of what I not only want to create this year but also what I want to wish for others, I keep coming back to the idea of generosity, and a deep conviction that it is going to be critical to our overall health and survival as communities and as a society.
With shrinking resources - financial, natural, and otherwise - often the urge and tendency is to grip tightly to that which we do have. I guard my free evenings, I panic about my credit card balance, and I want to protect that which I already own. Perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, I think that instead of giving in to the impulse to be proprietary, now is the time to give more.
Meditating on generosity, I am reminded of a short story I read once about a woman who gets married and moves to her new husband's home in a rural, mountainous place. During the winter. She, the protagonist, is a city girl, a professional, and she is not comfortable in the solitude of the wild. She is terrified of what she cannot do or accomplish on her own out in the snowy mountains.
When the story begins there are news reports of a dangerous man on the loose. Maybe he has escaped from prison or a mental institution or something. I don't remember the specifics, but this unknown menace is woven into the storyline and psyche of the main character.
The narrative climaxes when she is home alone and looks out the window to see a man come toward her house from the woods. He is obviously in need - perhaps injured or simply dangerously cold and deliriously hungry. The main character is terrified of this stranger, and she is so consumed by her own vulnerability that she ignores his signs of distress, his knock on her door, and his calls for help.
It turns out that the man who came down from the mountains was not a threat, and our protagonist had broken one of the cardinal rules of rural living: you always help those in need. Makes sense, when you think of it - when people live so far from each other and from the conveniences and protections of civilization, some version of the golden rule must govern their interactions: give help unto others as you hope beyond hope they would help you if you needed it.
A rule like this, of living and helping generously, seems critical at this moment in history. But my vision of a generous way of living is not just about money. Obviously, the nonprofits and the needy are desperate for cold hard cash, and let us reach deep into our pockets for that kind of giving for sure. The generosity I'm thinking of, however, extends farther than gifts of money, and is a whole attitude about the resources we each possess and how they can be shared.
Like we all have different skills, we all have different resources. Some of us have experience to give, others of us have time, or compassion, or love, or power tools. Some of us have money, so let us give it or lend it. Let us also share our things. Our hearts. Our time. Our tables. Let us give what we can to those who need us. A parent, a sibling, a stranger. When others ask to use what is ours, let us all say yes.
We've all heard much recently, perhaps too much, about the psychology of economics and financial activity. The credit crunch is fundamentally the result of a deep lack of confidence and trust, not just a shortage of resources. In some oversimplified way it seems that overall economic health is akin to us all holding hands at the edge of the pool and agreeing that we'll jump in together.
So where will this giving and sharing get us? By giving money we can provide an obvious kind of assistance. But by giving and sharing other resources . . . well, we might actually be building trust and community. Imagine the power of saying yes, sure, have some, take mine. Imagine the power of hearing those things.
One thing that the last year has shown is the unpredictability of bad fortune. The neighbor who seemed to have it all? Lost her job and then her house. The friend with the ideal marriage? Maybe he's not so happy right now. With financial instability, the pressures on our relationships and friendships mount. We must stay committed to keeping each other from falling through the cracks. Not just the socio-economic cracks, but the spiritual ones as well.
Open your door and your heart and your wallet to those, known and unknown, who stumble down from the snowy mountains. The more you do, the better the chance that when you are cold and lost a door will open for you.