Carolyn Henderson

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Most of us readily say that the things we are most thankful for, are people. So let’s focus on those people, and take care of them. Evening Waltz, original oil painting by Steve Henderson Fine Art.
Most of us readily say that the things we are most thankful for are people. So let’s focus on those people, and take care of them. Evening Waltz, original oil painting by Steve Henderson Fine Art.

Being thankful is a good thing, but how we do it is just as important. If we’re too accustomed to forming our opinions by the words of others, then unscrupulous people — and they abound — can use thankfulness as a weapon to keep us from focusing on societal and political wrongs.

There are many, many things about today’s society and political and economic climates that we are not obligated to be thankful about, and it’s good to adopt an attitude of cynicism toward “voices” that pressure us into compliance:

“You live in a nation of free speech. In many, many places, people cannot speak up with the freedom you can.”

Well yes, that’s true, but what’s also true is that our speech is not as free as it used to be. No longer is simply yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater the benchmark used by what we may, and may not say. “Racist language,” “Homophobia,” “Hate speech,” “Potential terrorist thoughts” — these concepts, misused, subtly chip away at our freedom to speak freely.

“The Fourth Amendment protects you from unwarranted or unreasonable search and seizure. You are safe in your homes and in your person.” Just recently people in North Texas were stopped at a roadblock and asked for saliva and blood, in an effort to “crack down” on drunk driving; theoretically voluntary, road blocks of this sort smack of something you’d see in Russia, in a James Bond movie. They’re not supposed to be part of real life, in a nation that calls itself free.

“Even with the economy down, people in the U.S. make more money than people elsewhere.”

We used to make more, and we are gradually being inoculated into the thought that we can expect to continue to make less. Too many college graduates — significantly in debt for a piece of paper — find themselves cobbling together two or more part-time jobs in an effort to pay rent on an apartment, because house prices — like medical care, insurance, and taxes — have risen far faster than wages.

So no, you don’t have to be thankful for these things. Be aware that there are problems and don’t accept mediocrity or oppression as normal or inevitable. Know your rights and fight to keep them.

While solving the big problems seems impossible, recognize that you have power over the small things, the good things, the overlooked things in your own life — and by identifying, appreciating, protecting, and using these small things, you can push yourself forward financially, intellectually, physically, and spiritually.

Like this:

Can you read? That’s a gift, one that many people don’t use. Turn off the TV, drown out the voices, and spend some time with a good book. You don’t need to go to school to be educated. Have you ever noticed that people passively watching a screen look like zombies? People with their noses in books look smart.

Is there food in the cupboard? Share some with someone who’s lacking, and you don’t have to go through a prescribed, approved charitable association to help others out. Surely you know a person who could use help with the electric bill, or an extra $20 for groceries, or a gift certificate to a toy store so they can buy their child a Christmas present. It doesn’t matter if you’re related to this person — in a healthy society, families look out for one another, and from there, give to others outside their circle. In a passive society, we figure that a government program will take care of it.

Can you walk? Get outside, alone or with a friend, and get exercise at the same time that you talk, or think, or daydream. School, work, business, community service, and media keep our minds and body at a constant state of busyness, and no matter how much of a socialite you are, you need time alone.

Have you ever heard of God? The freedom to believe what and how you do is an inalienable right, and contrary to what many people think, governments do not “give” us this right — they are supposed to protect it from being taken away. But nothing can stop the spiritual exchange between God and His people, and for now at least, people in “free” nations are allowed to talk about God, on a limited basis. Get to know Him, and let Him direct your life.

Read. Think. Take care of yourself and your family. Learn to create as opposed to always consume. Question. Turn off the media and tune out the voices. Pray.

These are the things to be thankful for. Don’t lose them.

Carolyn Henderson is the author of Live Happily on Less — Renovate Your Life and Lifestyle, which addresses how to live well on whatever resources you have. She writes about contemporary Christianity, family life, and financial health in her blog, This Woman Writes as well as about Commonsense Christianity in her column at BeliefNet. Carolyn is the co-owner of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

All God’s daughters are beautiful. That includes you, my friend. (Name of chosen painting with link embedded) by Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art.
All God’s daughters are beautiful. That includes you, my friend. Ocean Breeze by Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

Generally, when someone sends me a link to a YouTube video, I ignore it, because most of the time it is something from one of my daughters.

Not that I ignore my daughters, mind you, just the songs and media links they send me. I think I started doing this after viewing Sitting on the Toilet, something College Girl thought was uproariously funny and which, I assure you, is pretty much encapsulated in the title. But, maybe you know this already since it has millions of views, one of which is . . . mine.

But the particular link that I was recently sent (not by one of my daughters) and opted to view is beautiful indeed – 50 of the Most Beautiful Women Ever, created by HerBunk and featuring head shots of Hollywood’s icons — from Marilyn Monroe to Liz Taylor, from Vivian Leigh to my personal favorite, Sophia Loren, all the way to modern day with the likes of Catherine Zeta Jones and Penelope Cruz, one face morphing into another to the accompaniment of the song Different Dreams written by Richard Kates and sung by Claire Moore.

It is haunting — not to mention technically freaky fun watching Hedy Lamarr turn into Ingrid Bergman, or Halle Berry turn into Nicole Kidman — absorbing these faces from our collective cinematic past, and the four minutes went by quickly (far, far more quickly than anything my daughters send).

And I am left with several thoughts:

  • These are, and were, beautiful women.
  • Sometimes, the rest of us feel awkward around such beauty, because we are convinced that we do not have it.
  • But we do. All of God’s daughters are beautiful — I know mine are, despite our different opinions on aesthetics. Our beauty is a flowing synthesis of who we are on the inside which determines, ultimately, what we look like on the outside. I know that we say this all the time, but maybe we should start believing it. You are beautiful because you are made in God’s image, and He doesn’t make junk.

So the title of the piece needs to be changed to 51 of the Most Beautiful Women Ever, so that we can put ourselves in the list. Oh, and I want to add Eldest Supreme, College Girl, Tired of Being Youngest and Small One. And my sister, and my sisters-in-law, and of course my mother, my mother-in-law  . . .

Carolyn Henderson is the author of Grammar Despair: Quick, simple solutions to problems like, “Do I say him and me or he and I?”, the creator of This Woman Writes and the manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

With creativity and ingenuity, we can create the magical world of simplicity we crave – right in our back yard. Autumn Dance, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.
With creativity and ingenuity, we can create the magical world of simplicity we crave – right in our back yard. Autumn Dance, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Ah, the simple life.

So many of us crave this so intensely, it makes our addiction to potato chips look minor indeed.

I know one woman who is convinced that the only way she will find the simple life is by moving to a tropical island and settling down in a hut.

Another man subscribes to every magazine on simple living that he can find, and his bedside table is stacked with books on the subject. Time to read, however, is nonexistent.

Last week, the familia and I settled down, with blankies and pillows and hot drinks, to watch the 198o sleeper hit, The Gods Must Be Crazy, which chronicles the difference in lifestyles between overstressed, overworked, overwhelmed city dwellers and the gentle, quiet, contented Bushmen of the South African wilds.

You can’t watch this for long before you crave a lifestyle in the Kalahari desert, pounding roots with clubs (because there are no rocks), sitting around the campfire and communicating in clicks and whistles, and wearing a breechcloth.

Okay, that last one is too much for me.

But the tranquil, peaceful, halcyon life — free from thumping stereos, wailing sirens, telemarketing calls, truly unpleasant managers and bosses, copious paperwork in a paperless society, too much work required in too little time, not enough money and too many bills, new and improved government regulations — I’m sure you have your own list — we want this.

And it seems impossible to find in the society in which we live. The only way to find it, we think, is to run away to that tropical island, far far away from everything that stresses us out everyday.

Like other people.

The problem with the whole tropical island scenario, however, is that even if we could afford the tickets and find ourselves a little property with the hut on it, we still have to eat, and spearing a fish with a sharp stick, if we’re not particularly adept at this, will become a stress of its own. So unless we have a private source of unlimited income, we may want to find an alternative to the tropical island scenario.

The good news is, there is that alternative. And the better news is, it’s within the grasp of all of us.

Living the simple life is a process, and the first step to achieving our goal is to recognize that there is a problem in the first place. Most of us have probably managed this step, so it’s time to move on to the second step:

Simplify something, anything, in our life and see what it feels like. Once you know what simpler feels like — and you like what it feels like — then you know what to do for the second step. While changing your job may not be immediately possible right now (and for many people, their job is one of the most complicated, stressful aspects of their lives), you can make changes in what you do when you’re not on the job.

Like turn off the phone — constantly being on and available to everyone all the time is stressful and the opposite of simple. If you can give yourself no more than 15 minutes away from being beeped, do at least that, and treasure a quarter of an hour of silence, independence, and freedom. Pretend you’re on a tropical island.

Clear your schedule, one evening a week, and make that yours, or your family’s. Watch The Gods Must Be Crazy (and turn off the phone).

Find something creative to do — a hobby, like knitting or building model cars or baking — and give yourself time to do it. Focusing on something we create gives us a sense of pleasure, confidence, and peace — especially if we don’t turn it into an obsession and start attending regular group meetings revolving around our hobby of choice.

The upshot is this: the simple life is lived by making one small change at a time, and building the next change upon the one that went before it. It won’t happen all at once, but that’s okay: fast and quick are aspects of our frenetic modern life that we’re trying to get away from.

Take it slow. Take it easy. Keep it up. Don’t get discouraged, and give yourself time.

Literally. Give. Yourself. Time.

Carolyn Henderson is the author of Live Happily on Less — Renovate Your Life and Lifestyle, which addresses how to live well on whatever resources you have. She writes about contemporary Christianity, family life, and financial health in her blog, This Woman Writes as well as about Commonsense Christianity in her column at BeliefNet. Carolyn is the co-owner of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

 

Take time and think, seriously, about who cares most about you, your family, and your life. It’s probably not an organization – public or private – of any kind. Thoughtful, by Steve Henderson Fine Art.
Take time and think, seriously, about who cares most about you, your family, and your life. It’s probably not an organization – public or private – of any kind. Thoughtful, by Steve Henderson Fine Art.

In the effort to save money, we’re always trolling around for ideas, and bullet pointed lists catch our eyes like shiny costume jewelry attracts a raven. But these lists rarely work for two reasons:

1) They’re too specific

or

2) They’re too general.

An example of number 1 is:

  • Get a goat and drink the milk. You’ll save hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars a year on milk products.

This is true because I do it. But if you live in an apartment or housing complex, it won’t apply to you.

An example of number 2 is:

  • Don’t buy things you don’t need.

This, also, works, because it’s the basis behind the lifestyle changes you need to make to actually live well on what you have, but most people’s lifestyles are so consumer based, they don’t truly understand the difference between “need” and “want.”

But this week, I’m giving you a bullet pointed list that fulfills its promise because

1) It is odd

but

2) It will work, if you give it a go.

So let’s look at three things you can do, this week, that are odd, but workable, and if you give them a fighting, honest chance, will eventually make a change in your finances — because they will nudge you toward the single most important thing you need to make any lasting change in your life:

Independent thought.

Here we go:

  • Cook for yourself something, anything, this week. If you don’t know how to cook at all, check out my Recipes section at my site, This Woman WritesYukon Gold French Fries are easy and palatable to the palate accustomed to prepared and manufactured food.

If you do know how to cook, branch out and try something new.

Why is cooking important? It involves doing, creating something as opposed to consuming, and breaks the cycle of consume, buy, rely on someone else that drives our national and personal economy.

It also enables you to make independent decisions — and if you work at a retail establishment, an office, or in a cubicle, you know how many truly independent decisions you are allowed to make each day. When we’re constantly told and instructed what to do, we get out of practice making critical decisions for ourselves.

  • Turn off the TV and cable for the week and read a book instead. If you absolutely can’t miss your favorite show, just make sure you take a sabbatical from network news.

If you’re a reader on this site, you’re already looking for alternatives to mass media, so just skip the talking heads for a week. It doesn’t matter if it’s Fox News or CNN –they are cherry picking items for you to hear, skewing them to a specific world view, and focusing on fear as opposed to information. Do you EVER feel better after watching the news?

More importantly, do you ever feel as if there were anything you can do to make it better?

You’ll benefit by a break from, not only the news it’s determined that you need to hear, but the ads as well. Regardless of what book you choose to read, you’ll get more out of it this week than you would by sticking to your traditional TV schedule.

  • If you believe in a Supreme Power, like God, connect with Him this week and ask Him to show you direction in your life.

According to Gallup polls, 9 out of 10 Americans say they believe in God, so if you snorted at this last bullet point, you must be in the 10 percent who don’t believe in Him. Otherwise, do something with that belief you say you have and turn toward the one and only Person in the universe that you can trust to have your best interests in mind: God.

He answers when we ask — generally not instantly, and pretty much always not in the fashion we expect — but He does answer.

There are your three bullet points. If you give them a try, in a very, very tiny way, you will be slightly more independent at the end of the week than you were at the beginning. I’d love to hear from you about your experience — you can reach me, privately, through the Contact page at Steve Henderson Fine Art.

Carolyn Henderson is the author of Live Happily on Less — Renovate Your Life and Lifestyle, which addresses how to live well on whatever resources you have. She writes about contemporary Christianity, family life, and financial health in her blog, This Woman Writes as well as about Commonsense Christianity in her column at BeliefNet. Carolyn is the co-owner of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

Skip buying the cheap impulse stuff, and save your money for special items that mean something to you. Tea by the Sea, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.
Skip buying the cheap impulse stuff, and save your money for special items that mean something to you. Tea by the Sea, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

My husband, The Norwegian Artist, is a really boring person to go shopping with.

I’d say that he shops like a man, except that in this politically correct environment which slathers smog over every thought we have and word we utter, I would sound like a dogmatic, diehard bigoted extremist spewing aggressively hostile expressions of hate.

So I won’t say he shops like a man, but those of you closely aligned to someone like this know what I mean:

He doesn’t go to a store unless he has to. When he does, he heads straight to the aisle with the item in question — antifreeze, or masking tape — and compares prices to quality. He makes his choice, decides that there’s nothing else he’s been in desperate straits about — socks, washers and bolts, light bulbs — and quickly checks out. And then he heads home.

End of the shopping expedition.

When he shops online, he does pretty much the same thing, but given that we both work on the computer all day, I sympathize that it’s not much fun, in our off time, spending even more time on the computer, looking around. He decides what he wants — stretcher bars to put canvas over so that he can create a painting — goes to the site, picks out the item and hits the checkout button.

The Norwegian Artist spends remarkably little time — and money — shopping, which is good. It’s just that you don’t create a date around that particular activity with this man.

But if you want to save money, shopping like a man, or at least like the Norwegian Artist, is a good idea, because you don’t fill the cart with all the ticky tacky plastic items screaming at you from the aisles, gaudy Sirens calling to be taken home and stuffed in your already crowded house.

The other day I was in a store, heading purposefully toward the back to pick up, of all things, antifreeze (the Norwegian asked me if I minded doing an errand for him) and I found myself striding past colorful displays of stuff, all of which appeared to be 30 to 65 percent off and none of which, when I stopped to look at the items and consider if I wanted them, appealed to me.

I don’t need a plastic pitcher with pineapples on it, even if it is $5 instead of $10.

Same for the plate that looks like an alarm clock, the book of prayers in both Russian and English, and the tape dispenser cleverly disguised as a chocolate bar. While some of these are clever and fun, and all of them were on sale, if I bought everything that caught my eye — like a raven attracted to something shiny — I would, over time, spend a lot of money on items I don’t really need, probably won’t use, and will wind up stepping on because everything, in my house, at some point winds up on the floor.

I would far rather head straight to the anti-freeze and straight out, using the money I save to make a larger or more expensive purchase of something I really want — like a piece of Polish pottery (which NEVER winds up on the floor, by the way), a hank of yarn, or even a flattering item of clothing that fits perfectly and looks stunning on me. These purchases I will use and not step on.

Living life in a sensible financial manner does not mean that we never buy anything; it means that we buy wisely, and in a society with So Much Stuff, that’s a challenge. When all of your money goes toward impulse purchases of stuff, there is little left over for the real thing: items of luxury, elegance, and pleasing design (like paintings, say) that last, and bring pleasure, for a long time.

There’s nothing wrong with shopping being a pleasurable activity, and indeed, even the Norwegian Artist engages in it — you should see his book wish list. When you shop well, with sense, sensibility, discipline, and self-control, you build up a collection of beautiful things that you never thought you could afford, a little bit at a time.

Carolyn Henderson is the author of Live Happily on Less — Renovate Your Life and Lifestyle, which addresses how to live well on whatever resources you have. She writes about contemporary Christianity, family life, and financial health in her blog, This Woman Writes as well as about Commonsense Christianity in her column at BeliefNet. Carolyn is the co-owner of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

Whether we walk through the garden or work in it, the important thing is that we’re in an actual place – not a digital image. Promenade, original oil painting and licensed print by Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art.
Whether we walk through the garden or work in it, the important thing is that we’re in an actual place – not a digital image. Promenade, original oil painting and licensed print by Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

By contemporary standards, I am inept, because it takes me eight minutes to tap out a simple text on my ancient (two years?) Star Trek communicator fliptop phone.

My daughters laugh and laugh.

However, I do have a skill that predates 21st century technology, and it’s one that everyone, regardless of their technological toy arsenal, can — and should — get good at.

I read.

Specifically, when I’m on a social media site and I see a link to an article, like,

Praying for Miley, Britney, and Lindsay

I actually read the article, all the way through, before I share it or pass it on. Of course, in this particular case, I don’t have to read the article before sharing it since I wrote it, but before it was 45 seconds digitally live it garnered comments along the lines of:

“Amen! We need to pray for these precious young women.”

Well golly, Beave, that’s true, but it isn’t the point of the article. In our busy, frenetic lives, we are forgetting that headlines are designed to draw us into the story, not function as the article itself, but in a world of Tweets and Facebook posts, we are lulled into thinking that we can acquire knowledge 140 characters at a time.

Many of us who do recognize that acquiring knowledge involves more than reading a headline fall into the bullet point trap, gravitating toward articles along the lines of,

  • 10 Surefire Ways to Get Your Boss Fired!
  • 7 Fabulous Techniques in Bed — and the Kitchen!
  • Have You Been Mugged? 6 Ways to Find out

My favorite was a variation of

  • 36 Things You Can Do with Dead Rhubarb Plants

with half of the bullet points saying, “I’ve never actually done this myself, but it sure looks like it would work!”

The only bullet point title I can remember doing is “Three Halloween No No’s for Christians.” Most of the time, my titles look like, “Should Christians Think?” or “People Call Us Stupid, You Know.”

And as much as I preen a little over the titles I give to the articles, I — and other writers — would really appreciate if people followed the links and read them, especially before passing them on.

I recognize that I’m raving, within the process cleverly managing to get a number of links to my articles drawn to your attention, but I mean this, people:

As the information, and disinformation, around us increases, we are becoming remarkably less able to process it, and we gain knowledge in a fragmented, bits and pieces manner. If we wanted to learn how to grow tomatoes, would we satisfy ourselves with a series of headlines –

Tomatoes are easy to grow

Even apartment dwellers can grow a tomato plant

Become more independent by growing what you can

Or would we buy, and read, a book or books; find, and peruse, online articles; and track down breathing human beings, who grow tomato plants, and ask them questions? At some point, we would actually plant a tomato plant, and it wouldn’t be on Farmville.

Technology’s cool — it opens the whole wide world up to us in a way that it wasn’t back when I was in second grade. But it also closes worlds, as we spend time digitally surfing, jumping from site to site to site, twitting instead of knitting.

As our economy continues to bedraggle itself out of bed, flopping back against the pillows in exhaustion, we who need to eat regularly every day have to solve our problems ourselves, and we don’t do that by being shallow, impatient, flutterbudgety, and online, all the time.

We need to know how to do actual, non-digital things, like grow tomato plants and cook the resulting fruit, and we learn this by doing.

Carolyn Henderson is the author of Live Happily on Less — Renovate Your Life and Lifestyle, which addresses how to live well on whatever resources you have. She writes about contemporary Christianity, family life, and financial health in her blog, This Woman Writes as well as about Commonsense Christianity in her column at BeliefNet. Carolyn is the co-owner of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

 

Balancing time indoors with out, adding exercise and fresh air to our lives, is a prescription from yesteryear that is largely overlooked today. Lonesome Barn by Steve Henderson Fine Art.
Balancing time indoors with out, adding exercise and fresh air to our lives, is a prescription from yesteryear that is largely overlooked today. Lonesome Barn by Steve Henderson Fine Art.

Last week, I talked about taxes, and how we can — albeit rarely — stand up and say “No,” even when the taxing agency’s response is to shut down the library, or close the swimming pool, or keep us out of National Parks (Increasing Taxes: Can We Just Say No?) Whenever voters agitate, government retaliates, but that shouldn’t keep us from standing up now and again.

This week, the person to say “no” to might be your doctor, and of course I preface everything with the caveat that I’m not giving you medical advice, just voicing an opinion, and it’s your responsibility to make the decisions that affect your life.

Not that many years ago, people went to the doctor’s office when they were sick, or if they had broken something. The rest of the time they muddled happily on, and more than one person my age was nursed through a flu, or a cold, or chicken pox, by a parent who fed us chicken soup, insisted that we rest, and commiserated with us on the absolute inanity of afternoon TV, once the game shows were over. Parents had a pretty good, and sensible, eye for what was serious, and what wasn’t. They still do — they’re just told that they don’t.

And then Prevention became the big word, starting with regular well-child visits, progressing to adult wellness, resulting that the entire population demographic shows up on a regular basis for this screening or that. Now, the norm of yesteryear — staying away from waiting rooms filled with coughing people and taking care of yourself, making a doctor’s appointment only when something was wrong — is considered bad, reckless, and irresponsible.

While it’s true that certain conditions may be detected that might not have earlier, what’s also certain is that more people are walking out of the doctor’s office with prescription slips. Sitting in a doctor’s office is like playing I Spy — within the 15 minutes you wait, shivering in a thin piece of cloth, you see notepads, calendars, pencils, coffee cups, posters, and knick knacks blazoned with the name of various drug companies. It makes you wonder.

Years ago, the Norwegian Artist underwent a series of rigorous tests prior to providing a stem cell transplant to a relative suffering from cancer, and the physician in charge was stunned that the man, in his late forties at the time, took no medication — prescription or otherwise — for anything.

“You are an extremely and unusually healthy man,” he told the Norwegian.

Later, when the extremely and unusually healthy man underwent his ultimate adult wellness checkup (at my request, because I still had a tendency to obey the establishment), the same numbers that had so impressed the first physician prompted the second one to reach for the prescription pad.

“Your numbers are too high,” he said.

“But they are the same as they were when I underwent the tests for the stem cell transplant,” the Norwegian replied, “and the doctor then pronounced me sound and sane.”

“The numbers have changed,” the medico replied.

“Then I would like to address the issue with lifestyle issues first. What do you suggest?”

“What I suggest,” the medico retorted, “is that you do what I tell you. If you’re not going to listen to me, then we have nothing to talk about.”

The Norwegian stared back, took in the overweight, out of shape nature of the man; the stern, inflexible countenance; and the hand hovering over the prescription pad, and said,

“Then I guess we have nothing to talk about.”

That was the last time the Norwegian Artist has been to the doctor’s office, and the next time he visits — he tells me — is when something is significantly broken or lacerated. In the meantime, he eats well, exercises regularly, sleeps deeply (how can anyone drop off 30 seconds after the light goes out?), and enjoys remarkably good health.

“But something hidden could be going on that you don’t know about.”

I hear that voice.

But there’s another voice, as well:

“Something that is a problem only because the numbers have changed — and not because of science but because of economic gain — could get us on a merry-go-round of medication that we don’t really need.”

Your health — like every other aspect of your life — matters most to you, and ultimately, the decisions are in your hands. Ask questions, research options, read articles, and don’t be cowed into obedience by stern looks or advertising campaigns.

Carolyn Henderson is the author of Live Happily on Less — Renovate Your Life and Lifestyle, which addresses how to live well on whatever resources you have. She writes about contemporary Christianity, family life, and financial health in her blog, This Woman Writes as well as about Commonsense Christianity in her column at BeliefNet. Carolyn is the co-owner of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

 

Our money needs to go to the places and people that mean the most to us: our families, our homes, our lives, our children. And the more we control it, the better it will be spent. Lilac Festival by Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art.
Our money needs to go to the places and people that mean the most to us: our families, our homes, our lives, our children. And the more we control it, the better it will be spent. Lilac Festival by Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

Anybody who has tried to lose weight knows that it involves saying the word, “No,” a lot. It’s not easy, and sometimes you say “no,” to some really cool things (cheesecake!), but ultimately, if you’re going to succeed, you say no.

So it is with finances, and most average, regular people know that they’re saying “No,” a lot these days to purchases that they wish they could make, because they simply don’t have enough money. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be discussing some of these “no” decisions we make, and this week I’d like to start with the one we all like to talk about, but so rarely do:

“No,” in the voting booth, to both politicians and taxes.

If you don’t know this already, you pay a lot in taxes — federal, state, municipal, county — and some of them look like taxes (think FICA, federal withholding, property taxes), and some of them don’t (think, mandatory health insurance). Most of them, you have no choice in, because they’re mandated, because they’re the law, and because as good citizens that last phrase is supposed to be enough to quieten us, but when you do have a choice, you might want to think about making it.

Start by researching your income and where it goes — specifically when it goes to places that don’t buy food, clothing, or shelter for you or your family. State property taxes, because they are frequently tucked into people’s monthly mortgage payments, are hidden from many people’s view, but over a year, they add up. Are you getting what you’re paying for?

“Oh, but we need schools!” people aver. “Our children must be educated.”

As a person who successfully homeschooled four children to articulate and well-read adulthood on far less than $6,500 or so per year, per student, I question how educated our young, and existing populace is. I also question why so much of the school personnel is made up of people who are not teachers — okay, so there’s the lady who makes the hot lunches, but what about the assistant to the assistant principle, or the parcel of administrative assistants who do . . . what? (By the way, when I was a kid, most of us brought our own lunches; do people do that anymore?)

A new police station? My little hometown got one of those. One time I accompanied a progeny there to report the theft of a debit card (the large national bank wouldn’t release the videos needed to catch the perpetrator, by the way, and the police, “just couldn’t do anything, ma’am”). We met with the officer in the lobby, in the midst of everyone waiting, because there just wasn’t any room in the empty, inner offices. There is now, in the shiny new station that will take voters years to pay off — in those extra property tax payments hidden in their monthly mortgage — and people who are criminals because they forgot to buckle their seat belts and express themselves forcibly to the officer issuing the citation, now have a nice place to go.

Last night I fielded a phone call, requesting funds, from the alumni association of my university alma mater, and my basic question was: Why do you need more money? I already pay taxes to you through the state, and your tuition isn’t cheap. “This is to fund exciting new programs that will benefit the studentry and the alumni of the institution, ma’am.”

Will tuition go down, especially considering that you’re offering more online classes taught by off-campus adjunct professors who are paid half of what your tenured faculty make to teach the same class?

No. Okay, so that’s my answer. “Use what you have, even if it doesn’t seem to be enough, more wisely. That’s what I have to do.”

While paying my car tabs (during which I was required to replace my perfectly sound license plate, because this is mandatory every 7 years), I was asked if I wanted to donate $5 to the state park fund. Rarely am I given a choice to pay a tax. When I am, the answer is “no.” The last time I was in a state park — all of which charge day-use fees now — the garbage was overflowing, the real bathrooms were closed, and the portables were . . . repulsive. What will additional funds do?

These are the few instances when we have a choice. Yes, saying “no,” will have repercussions, and standard public institutional response is to cut the stuff that actually means something to us: libraries, swimming pools, federal National Parks and Monuments that theoretically belong to We the People, but if we keep saying Yes to everything, all the time, the only time we’ll say No is to ourselves and our families:

“No. We can’t afford that. I just made a tax payment.”

Carolyn Henderson is the author of Live Happily on Less — Renovate Your Life and Lifestyle, which addresses how to live well on whatever resources you have. She writes about contemporary Christianity, family life, and financial health in her blog, This Woman Writes as well as about Commonsense Christianity in her column at BeliefNet. Carolyn is the co-owner of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

America the beautiful – it’s not just our landscape; it’s our people. Homeland 1, licensed open edition print by Steve Henderson.
America the beautiful – it’s not just our landscape; it’s our people. Homeland 1, licensed open edition print by Steve Henderson.

I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but the American Dream has had the flu lately. At least, that’s the latest from the Washington Post, which published an article by Carol Morello, Peyton Craighill and Scott Clement (why did it take three people to write an 8-paragraph story?) entitled, American Dream Fades for Many, or a variation on the theme.

I’m so glad that an article has been written about this matter because now I know it’s true, along the lines of, once something’s put on Facebook, it’s gold.

Despite being assured for years  that the 2007 Recession is over and recovery begun in 2009, I always wondered, and actually began wondering long before that. Well before 2007 people in their 50s were being regularly downsized from private corporations that long ago traded the pensions our parents knew with classy little 401Ks, which didn’t look particularly classy for most people when the stock market jumped more down than up.

An expensive college education bought many people part-time work with no benefits, multiple jobs and juggling schedules; prices and taxation outstripped wage increases. But nobody really talked about it — other than real people over their dining room tables — and media, politicians, and socially concerned university sorts continued to assure us that life is fine. For them, I’m sure that it is.

The lesson in all the verbiage is this: it doesn’t matter what the experts say or the policy wonks propound, when it comes to your home, family, life, and personal finances, it all hinges on you and your tribe. If things aren’t going well, you know it, and the steps you take to make things better are the ones that work best for you.

In these uncertain times, it wouldn’t hurt for us to look back a few generations to our parents and grandparents who lived through the Great Depression, and pick up a few pointers about life, and living it:

  • Be more independent. The more you know how to do for yourself, the better off you are, and not just financially.
  • Don’t believe everything you’re told — even when it’s repeated everywhere. Consider the source of the information, and accept or reject it based upon the integrity of the person or organization behind it.
  • Live green — not because it’s freaky cool, but because wasting resources wastes money — yours. Turn off lights; don’t scatter all over the house each doing your own thing (family togetherness is a memory many Depression era survivors mention); put on a sweater before turning up the thermostat; learn to renovate food leftovers into something new and exciting; discover your public library as a free or inexpensive source of entertainment. Most money saving tips are simple, and are a matter of lifestyle choices.
  • Join together as a family. This does not negate being more independent; it strengthens us. The person who cares most about the members of a family are the family members themselves. No school, beneficent organization, government agency, health care establishment, financial endeavor, or outside third party cares about your life as much as you do. Take care of yourself, and take care of the people in your life.
  • Laugh. Life is short; life is tough, and if we’re always waiting for Someday to arrive, we’ll miss the moments we’re living now.
  • Give. Choose carefully, because there are a lot of voices clamoring for any extra cash in your wallet. Make sure that your hard earned cash goes someplace where it provides the most benefit for the people you want to help.
When you live your life in accordance to what works for you, the ups and downs of the economy don’t have to be quite so scary. You know that — good times or bad — the most valuable resources in your life, the people you love, pull together to make it all work.
Carolyn Henderson is the author of Live Happily on Less — Renovate Your Life and Lifestyle, which addresses how to live well on whatever resources you have. She writes about contemporary Christianity, family life, and financial health in her blog, This Woman Writes as well as about Commonsense Christianity in her column at BeliefNet. Carolyn is the co-owner of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

Living alternatively frequently means living simply, and in doing so, we hearken back to an earlier era. Beachside Diversions by Steve Henderson Fine Art.
Living alternatively frequently means living simply, and in doing so, we hearken back to an earlier era. Beachside Diversions by Steve Henderson Fine Art.

Because I am essentially an ordinary person, my chosen alternative lifestyle is not one to provoke hate mail, rabid Tweets, and major national news stories. I figure that what goes on in my bedroom–with my Kindle and the unfriendly cat who really hates to snuggle–is my business, and you’re probably not interested in it.

My alternative lifestyle involves things like cooking from scratch, debating whether I will actually splurge on (organic, GMO-free) snack chips, or whether we should plant twice as many pumpkins this year. Most of my–and our family’s–focus is on creating, doing things for ourselves, and saving money by not being rabid consumers of cheap plastic products. In today’s American society, you have to admit that’s a little different–and come to think of it, I suppose it’s radical.

But it’s still not blaring its way through major news.

One thing you discover, however, when you truly strive to live sensibly, sustainably, and inexpensively, is that a lot of products out there that promise to help you do so . . . don’t. We once invested in a razor blade sharpener: theoretically, it was supposed to increase the life of our disposable razors by weeks and weeks and weeks, because it honed the blade to a crisp, fine, deadly edge.

In reality, it was a piece of mirror with a frame around it. I’d call it cheap plastic junk except for the mirror part.

Another product I have fallen for more than once are the pump spray units that are supposed to replace pressurized cooking sprays. I avoid the latter because many of them consist of canola oil, an agricultural product increasingly associated with GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). Call me a fanatic, send me a hate Tweet, but I just don’t feel comfy with this. As a consumer, that’s my call.

Well, back to the pump sprays–theoretically (isn’t that a great word?) you pump the handle of the unit up and down, the oil in the container unit pressurizes, and a fine mist spray–that mimics the spray from the pressurized can–gently massages your muffin tins, or cake pan, or skillet.

At the best of times, which is generally the first week of ownership, a reasonable facsimile of mist ushers forth. It’s never as fine as the pressurized version, but then again, the alternative product doesn’t contain Propellant– Non-Chlorofluorocarbons. I seem to be out of those in my kitchen cupboards this week.

Sometime, anytime after you have thrown away the receipt for the thing, a pathetic piddle of oil streams forth, and no matter how much you pump the pump, pathetic reigns.

Which brings me to the conclusion we have reached about alternative products: they rarely, if ever, perform like the “real” thing. Vinegar based cleaners, while decidedly healthier than their chemical competitors, do not clean the same. Gelatinized flax seed, which may look like hair gel, will not spike your hair to the sky. I don’t care what mystery plant is ground into that laundry detergent, you’re going to need more than a half-teaspoon for a large load.

The thing to remember about living alternatively is twofold:

Alternative means different, and anyone who assures you that their natural product is exactly the same as its chemical counterpart, is probably not being 100 percent forthright. The more they’re charging, the more you might want to research the matter.

Don’t give up–it’s worth trying sustainable, homemade alternatives that don’t pour more money into the pockets of major chemical manufacturers.  Just don’t expect them to be, or do, the exact same thing. They may not clean as well. They also won’t trigger your allergies, or worse.

Keep being different, experiment, make mistakes, and try out new things. And–alternative or conventional–remember: Buyer Beware.

Carolyn Henderson writes about contemporary Christianity, family life, and financial health in her blog, This Woman Writes as well as about Commonsense Christianity in her column at BeliefNet. The co-owner of Steve Henderson Fine Art, Carolyn is the author of Live Happily on Less — Renovate Your Life and Lifestyle.