My man in Iraq…

It was at a gathering of friends from my church.  We met to plan the next YAG season at a restaurant a few steps down the road from my house.  Nice night, two-for-one pizzas, outdoor smell of mosquito repellant and summer, and four women around a table.

After the planning and decision-making we ate and relaxed and the topic came up.  Very flip, in response to something decisive (perhaps aggressive, I don’t remember) that had somehow slipped out of my mouth, the seniormost of us turns to me and says “Girl, the man for you God hasn’t finished making yet.  He’s gonna have to be stroooong.”

“Oh yes Bushy… he must be going through some hardship right now where God is toughening him up for you,” was the chime of another.

“Girl, you need to pray for him.  He’s somewhere difficult right now where God is preparing him.  Dodging bullets in Iraq or something.”

At the time I sputtered out a surprised laugh.  But… REALLY?!

The thought has stuck with me over the course of the past few days and I really don’t know what to think or feel about it.  Is it true?  Am I ok with that?  Am I hard work?  Does it mean something is wrong with me?  Or right with me?  What kind of strength is it he would need?  What do I demand?  Is it unreasonable?  Is it a demand?  Or is it just my presence?

And if it is true, where is he now?  What does he need?  Is he really dodging bullets in Iraq?  Or fighting tigers on the Indian Sub-continent?  Or drilling wells in hostile territory in Africa?  Is he hungry?  Is he hurt?  Is he sick?

And I stop myself.  What the hell am I doing dwelling on something said so casually and meant to be light-hearted and funny?

Something is different.  Could it be that I’ve become this sensitive?

Advertisements

Every Single Woman Needs…:#18 To Understand Debt

So Ladies.  You got your end of year bonus.  It made you smile and helped you feel appreciated for all the blood, sweat and tears you put into your work for the past 12 months.  But what do you do with it?

Many of us have a shopping list for that bonus.  We have a dress we’ve had our eyes on, a vacation we feel we deserve, a day at the most opulent spa in town, or maybe all of the above.  The more practical of us will have a savings account that we’d like to put that plush little cushion into so that we can sleep better at night.

Enter something we don’t like to talk about.  While we’re thinking lovingly about that shopping list or that cushion in our savings account many of us have the flesh-eating disease called DEBT.   1. credit card balances, 2. student loans, 3. a car loan, 4. a mortgage, 5. a loan for our last redecorating project, all tick-tick-ticking with interest payments.

Now, Bushlings is no numbers woman.  Remember, I’m a lawyer.  I don’t naturally think like an accountant.  I have to use a calculator to figure out the number of quarters in a dollar.  But to me this stuff is common sense.  Caveat – to the accountants who read my blog, please correct me if you think this is all rubbish.  And have patience with my simple language.  Remember the rest of us speak plain english.

So.  Let’s talk seriously about this bonus.  Starting with the concept of…

INTEREST. 

By definition in the Bushlings dictionary, Interest is the fee someone charges you in return for allowing you to use their money.  I remember in college I had a roommate who used to say “I’m going to ask Mr. Barclay for some more money” as if Barclay’s Bank were a benevolent benefactor.  No baby.  They don’t give you money for free.  Interest is the sweet little harmless-sounding name of their fee.

Some homework for you ladies.  What is the interest on your credit card?  What about the interest on your student loan, your mortgage, your redecorating loan, your loan-because-you-qualified-for-a-loan loan?

Credit Card Interest:

Most of us have no clue how much the interest rate is on our credit cards.  So we will play with a hypothetical figure for you.  Taken from the source-of-all-knowledge for the modern world  (Wikipedia) we are inclined to believe that,  “Interest rates vary widely. Some credit card loans are secured by real estate, and can be as low as 6 to 12% in the U.S. Typical credit cards have interest rates between 7 and 36% in the U.S., depending largely upon the bank’s risk evaluation methods and the borrower’s credit history. Brazil has much higher interest rates, about 50% over that of most developing countries, which average about 200% (Economist, May 2006). A Brazilian bank-issued Visa or Mastercard to a new account holder can have annual interest as high as 240% even though inflation seems under control at around 6% per annum (Economist, May 2006).”  And we all know, Wikipedia doesn’t lie.

So from this we can gather that 1. It sucks to live in Brazil and 2. 7-12% interest is considered “low” in the USA.  So you have an outstanding balance of US$5,000 with a “low” interest rate of 7% charged on an annual basis.  Honey that’s US$350.  THAT’s your new dress right there.

Interest on Loans and Mortgages:

You may be fortunate enough to have a fixed rate on some of your loans.  Fixed rates are becoming more and more rare as our economies prove to be more and more volatile.  They have been relegated to loans for small amounts for short terms (periods of time).  So your vacation loan for $3,000 to be paid out over 18 months, or your redecorating loan for $10,000 to be paid out over two years, may have a chance of having a fixed interest rate.  But what are they fixed at?  Usually pretty high.  10-15% for 5 years on $20,000 car is something you should expect.

Variable rates are increasingly prevalent.  These are usually expressed as a standard rate plus x additional percentage points.  That standard rate will go up or down as the economy fluctuates.  So, in the Islands where I live, interest rates are prime+1% or prime+2% and so on.  That “prime” rate is the interest rate determined by the bank to be their standard interest rate.  It is usually based on a national/international rate.  For instance,  in London, the LIBOR rate is what is used as a standard rate that banks will use to come up with their prime rate.  It is the average interest rate that leading banks in London charge when lending to other banks.  There are other standards – EURIBOR, TIBOR, SONIA… but I digress.  Ask your loans officer what “prime” is today or whatever standard they use is and take that number and figure out your exact interest rate.

Now for those of you who want to do the math, let’s use an example.  A mortgage for US$250,000.00 (If that number makes you balk, pick your own number and follow along please.  Let’s not get distracted.)  Prime+1% is the interest rate.  You ask your lovely loans officer who convinced you that their bank was the one you should pay to use their money just what prime means today and she tells you 4.25%.  You add 1% and come up with 5.25% total.  For 30 years.  Do you see how many thousands of dollars that adds up to in 30 years?  How many vacations could that pay for?

ON THE FLIP SIDE, for the more responsible ones of us who are thinking of putting all our bonus in our savings account and just continuing to pay our debts out on a monthly basis, let’s talk about this next piece on interest.

Interest on your savings:

No financial institution hoping to stay in business is going to pay you more interest in your savings account than they will charge out on your loans.  Let’s face it, if you’re getting 2% interest on your savings you’re doing very well indeed.  Credit unions and cooperatives might take you a bit higher than the average bank.  And there are cute little savings packages that lock your money down like CDs but they are never going to be so cute as your credit card interest of 19%.

Some more homework for you ladies – find out how much interest is being paid on your savings account.

WHAT TO DO?!  SO MANY THINGS TO CONSIDER

We will use an example.  Let’s say you have $4,000 of credit card debt at 12%.  You have a savings account that is earning you 2%.  And your bonus is $5,000.  Would you really pass up the opportunity to stop paying someone 12% to use their $4,000?  You can still put your $1,000 in savings and feel satisfied.  The next month you will not have to meet that minimum balance of $350 that you would pay out on your credit card.  You can add that to your $1,000 in savings.  And so at the end of the day you end up with NO CREDIT CARD DEBT, and $1,350 in savings.  Leave your credit card at home for the next month and put that $350 in savings and you’re at $1,700.  Before many months pass you’re looking at having that $5,000 in savings and NO CREDIT CARD DEBT.  Isn’t that great?

As we go into a new year, let’s make sure we’re looking at our finances in the right way.  Debts are the enemy – we never want to find ourselves without a job in a global economy as uncertain as ours is with debts to pay.  Surviving is hard enough.  I will accept that some debt is necessary – mortgages, car loans, and so on.  And I will also accept that some level of savings is also necessary.  We need some debt to operate our lives and savings are a real cushion for when things do go wrong.  But let us take control of the credit cards and spend our windfalls (and salaries) wisely.  Saving is important.  But let us balance our saving against our aim to be debt free.  Balance our credit card interest of 12% against our interest on saving of 2%.

And where you are stumped, call an accountant.  I did!

FIGHT the FRUMP

It’s lunchtime and I’ve just remembered what day it is.  Today I’m supposed to do lunch with one of my best friends – a half-posh-whole-trendy lunch spot with perhaps a glass of wine and a roll of sushi, lots of fun and fashionable people.  I look down and take it all in:

  1. Cracked brown toe-nail polish (it was more of a taupe three weeks ago… no? Not good enough?),
  2. Clashing black patent flat sandals,
  3. New York & Co. gray slacks that would look great if they weren’t paired with…
  4. Red company polo shirt a shade faded and clashing more than the shoes with the cracked brown polish,
  5. No belt, and
  6. Heels that could grate cheese.

I don’t need to look up to remember that

  1. I have no makeup on,
  2. Eyebrows could use some painful tweezer time, and
  3. Curly mop hasn’t seen a blowdryer in months.

I’ve forgotten to Fight the Frump.

No, I’m not a Kardashian-following fashionista and have no desire to join the Plastic Pin-head Population.  But there are miles and miles of good real estate between Bimbo and Hobo.  And today I’m looking at a lunch that belongs on one side and looking like a bag lady that belongs on the other.  (Isn’t it amazing how three perfectly good items of clothing can go so badly wrong together?)

It doesn’t feel good, does it ladies?  Don’t pretend you don’t know – every one of us has done this.

Time for a kick up my own bum to get me out of the Raiments of Droll.  Here is how I plan to do it.

  1. Go for a run after work and open the pores.  Perhaps scare a few fat cells off at the same time.
  2. Do my own nails, rub my own heels, shave whatever needs disappearing and and buff back in some self-respect.
  3. Choose tonight, the night before tomorrow so I have no rushing excuses, something much more sassy from the professional side of the closet.
  4. Punish self by setting alarm 1/2 hour earlier to make time for makeup.
  5. Sexy underwear.
  6. Stilletos.
  7. The jewellry and perfume I usually save for special occasions.

Fighting like a champ.

REST

Isn't this just the image of an ideal resting spot? © Brent Mclennon

It is a fact that we often mistake for a baseless opinion and shelve behind the important things we need to do.  Like run a company, write a book, meet so-and-so for drinks so she can cry on your shoulder about her recent breakup, classes that we Single Women like to fill our time with on the premise of “self-improvement”.

There is no good excuse for running oneself into the ground.  Yet we find them and invent them and sell them as though they would gain us commission.  Why?

I’m sure the answer for every Single Woman is different in the details but it usually boils down to fear.  The fear of losing momentum, the fear of missing something, the fear of silence, of aloneness.  Pick one or mix them up, but fear wraps its frozen claws around us subtly at the thought of what our thoughts will say if we gave them the silence in which to speak.

SINGLE WOMAN LOVE THYSELF!

Your SELF is your own precious Ferrari, given to you and designed by God.  Let your thoughts speak.  Trust the good at the core of your gift to temper your quiet conversation.  Take a day, a few afternoons a week, and sit in your own company at rest with your Self.  It is a very important relationship to maintain, this relationship with ones Self.  It will determine how you live, how fulfilled you will be and the direction in which you will go.  How can you have your dreams come true if you can’t take the time to actually find out what they are?

In Eat. Pray. Love., Liz describes the first time she actually meditated.  It excited her beyond her expectations and she has made meditation a daily practice in her life.  Sure, her New Age beliefs are not for everyone but the concept remains the same.  Spend some time letting the quietest of your thoughts do the talking and perhaps you too will discover profound truths within yourself.

It is no secret that regular and quality rest can add years to your life.  Sleep studies and stress tests are increasingly coming upon new information on the benefits of rest and the damage that the lack of it can do to your health.  Many of today’s most common diseases are stress triggered and avoidable.  Certainly we aren’t aiming for a quick race to the grave, are we ladies!

But what is rest?  The opposite of labour is the idea given by Jesus (“Come unto me all ye that labour and I will give thee rest”).

rest

noun

1.  the refreshing quiet or repose of sleep: a good night’s rest.
2.  refreshing ease or inactivity after exertion or labor: to allow an hour for rest
3.  relief or freedom, especially from anything that wearies, troubles, or disturbs.
4.  a period or interval of inactivity, repose, solitude, or tranquillity: to go away for a rest.
5.  mental or spiritual calm; tranquillity.
In all of these there is a quieting of the mind and a gentle run of thought akin to the flipping of magazine pages and looking at the pictures (contrary to closely examining the text of a volume of the US tax code).  Eight hours of sleep is not your only option.  I find rest in many places like the chaise side of my sofa with a blanket over my legs, a cup of tea on the table, and a sleeping dog on either side.  I find rest in the hammock on my back porch with a good book.  In yoga, in meditation, in a boat ride, tanning by the pool, walking the dogs.  I find rest in long drives and beach walks.
Today I invite you to think about what rest looks like to you.  And embrace it!

No more rain… no more pain…

That last night as I stood looking over the night sky a sense that this moment would be special came to me.  There are defining moments in life that we do not recognize at the outset, so cloaked are they in the veil of the ordinary.   But their flavour lingers and their perfume settles on your soul to become a part of you, an enrichment of you, and a turning point for you.  This time with Nena sat out over the rain-washed garden and looking up into the stars of La Ceiba with un tragito is one of the memories I treasure most from my short time in Honduras.

We spoke of life, of the love of country, of the power of womanhood.  She asked me what was happening in my life and sat waiting as I spoke of my love of work.  I do love my job and throw myself in.  When that topic was exhausted she sat waiting some more, looking at me gently.  Sensing no escape I went on, told her of my troubles, my struggle to recover from a few heavy blows in swift succession.  I didn’t belabour or expand and in a few short sentences cut to the core.  There was no need to embellish – Nena feels it as I do.  “Trraicionera” she swore under her breath and as I finished she spat out “Mentiroso!”

Aiii m’hija…” her advice to me was priceless and matter of fact.  No need for dramatics.  The power of her feelings came across without the theatre of flowery words.  “Mejor soltera que mal acompañada, m’hija.  Hay mujeres tracioneras en esta vida… y hombres mentirosos… interesadas en cada calle… ”  She advised me for some time on the management of my friendships, the balance of my personal life and my work, and the part I can play in my family life.

She went on to tell me of her life, of her own deep love and the devastation of betrayal.  She told me of her suffering, of her passion for her family and her city.  I listened to the beautiful melody of her spanish and felt my own battery recharging as she continued on, great peace in her voice together with the quick-blood of life.

In life there are defining moments brought about by powerful colourful people.  Not for my Nena the essence of insipid pastel yellow and baby blue.  She is a woman of pulsing blood-red like her ginger lilies, the lush green of the life of her mountains, and the sharp, clear lightning of her intelligent mind.

Across Latin America there are peaks and valleys, love and pain, people of dominance and people of passion.  My Nena is a mountain, plain as day.  Never again will I apologise for feeling deeply, for speaking powerfully, for being all of me at full intensity.  Never will I feel shame at being too much or too scary or too bold or too strong.  There is a whole continent of people who feel as deeply as I do and do not fear to show it.  It makes us dangerous when we want to be, strong when we need to be, and an ocean-depth full of love when the time comes for us to be.

This is who I am.  And thank you Nena for encouraging me to be.  To be me.

Intoxicating Simplicity – The morning after

“Cincuenta guineos por veinticinco lempiras!”

Nena's stream

Everything is sold door to door.  Tortillas, ice, green bananas, cheese, a Ceiba woman can do all her grocery shopping from her front door.  This morning I am sat once again on the patio watching the rain reclaim the city that was once her worshiping forest.  The loudspeakers from well worn pickup trucks have passed twice now since I sat down.  The green bananas (guineos) were the last to leave and the truck was filled to bursting with stiff, milky fruit tight in their leather-tough green skin.  I was sure he must be confused – fifty guineos for twenty-five lempiras?  That’s just over a dollar for the fruit of several trees!

It has rained all night and shows no sign of letting up.  Today I was to go to the islands and to my Uncle and hundreds of unmet cousins.  But the catamaran that would take me over is likely parked in safe harbour right now.  There is bad weather between us and Cayman and the islands in between are getting a good taste of it.  Only the most seasoned islander would take to the ocean today.

But it is just as well.  Coffee is on the stove and semitas are coming with it.  I am rested and comfortable on the adirondack two-seater on the porch.

Nena is still asleep, her baby Monkey up close to her for warmth.  I slept in another bed under a heavy blanket with the image of a galloping stallion.  I had teased little Fiore that he would likely wake me up galloping in my sleep in my broken spanish the night before.  Still shy, or perhaps not understanding my torn up attempt, she smiled and nodded.  The breeze was cool with rain and I snuggled deep under the covers.

My orchids would love this place.  In fact, the orchidia brasavola is the national flower of Honduras!  There must be magic in the mountains for an orchid hunter here!  All around the garden and in the trees in the surrounding hills raindrops fall like diamonds and hang languid to the leaves until sliding slowly to the leaf below.  Each drop makes its way slowly to the stream that runs through the property to the left below the garden.  It is an aching beauty, an untamable wildness pretending to be domesticated, and an intoxicating simplicity.

Puentecito Nena - The Bridge Nena Built

Under my blanket I dreamed of love and believed it possible.  There is so much more space in ones being when messy clumps of the material life are stripped away.  Bills are gone, corporate struggles forgotten, conflict does not exist and all that is left are the basics of being.  The eating, the drinking, the laughing, the loving, the remembering of a childhood and reliving the things that made it great.

I realized today just how Honduran I have been all my life.  My family has always congregated on broken chairs and hammocks under the tamarind and mahogany trees sharing stories and laughter, jokes and pepsis, catamales and fried fish.  Much of what I always believed to be Caymanian is in fact Honduran.  The two are similar, don’t get me wrong, but there is a rawness and a boiling intensity to the Honduran that is missing in the other parts of my blood.

My hostess is an amazing woman.  Known as Nena to her community, she is a Chona – a follower of Visitacion Padilla, a feminist famous for the way she changed Honduras.  In her early 50s or late 40s (I wouldn’t dare guess which on this blog), my Nena is completing her qualification process to be an Abogada here in La Ceiba, a lawyer licensed to practice in a year’s time.  Bo, her son, is studying the foundation courses that will take him into medical school.  The little bridge that crosses the stream before we get to her house is called the Puentecito Nena.  There was a bridge before that washed away in a hurricane many years ago and she worked hard to get it rebuilt, lobbying local government, supervising the workmen and feeding them daily.  She is a woman of great passion, rosy cheeks and a huge laugh that fills her home and tickles everything in her orbit into laughter as well.  No one would believe the things she has survived.

Love is possible here...

Two children join her and Bo in her home, her neice and nephew.  Christian is in the early stages of his fight to manhood, a spicy boy of 13 with the makings of a man of power.  Fiore is tiny, doll-like, with flawless skin and beautiful brown eyes shining from an angellic face that bellies any suggestion of the mischief she can make.  She will be a knockout in no time.

The story of the Honduran home is evident everywhere you look outside these walls but Nena is an exception.  Not for her family the division of roles along sexual lines.  Life has taught her that she is capable of successes well beyond the imaginations of others.  Her family is a well oiled machine, her children capable and efficient, and her home powered by respect.  In other families the girl will run the home but the boy will need a wife to run his.

But love is possible here.  To my surprise today I see far less wrong with the lean of our culture, here in its natural element.  I see it as neither a lean toward man nor toward woman but toward an era that has passed by in my home and in Nena’s home but is the present tense with distinct heartbeat in most homes in this rainy land.

Barista de San Jose

Flowers and Food

It is the haven where I sit with my cup of coffee in my pajamas and write for a few hours.  It is my most brilliantly decorated space.  It is where I can feel the breeze filter through screens and dance over petals to bring offerings of fragrance to my nose.  It is my pantry and my showcase where tomatoes, parsley, dendrobium orchids and sun roses overlap like uneven partners prepared for a waltz to begin.  This little piece of Eden is my very own porch garden.

So many things that a woman needs can be found on this eight-by-twelve piece of the world.  Rest, birdsong, breeze, peace, puppies (always at my feet), mint, new blooms, cushions, books, lightning storms, rain, and soon to come, a hammock.  But this morning I will focus only on two essentials.

Every Single Woman Needs FLOWERS.

Snow White

And I don’t mean the hastily selected gas station bouquet held behind his back when he comes on his first date.  I mean her very own blossomer that she teases and talks to and sings to and protects that will once or twice a year reward her with gorgeous flowers round and sweet.  I am an orchid lady.  My girlfriend in college was a daffodil woman.  My aunt in Jamaica dwells amongst her proud ginger lilies and birds of paradise.  My mother has never been able to love one flower over another and has every possible bloom she can get her hands on hanging from and propped against her trees.  Pick your flower or love them all, flowers are a necessity.

Moving from the city to back home was a big change for me.  I found myself in tears at the most unexpected times, I had nightmares and the silence of island life and pressures of work began to drive me crazy.  One afternoon after a particularly bad night of tears and alcohol I woke up to find a white dendrobium balancing on my bedside table.  My mother, helpless but relying on the power of the flower, had gone to town in search of a way to help me see past the clouds.  She selected something of beauty that would change my life.

Another darling to join Snow White

It was my first orchid.  Today she is blooming in bursts of purity right next to me as I write.  She is over two feet tall and makes me very proud.  Several others have joined her but she is very special, my first.  I learned that morning as I fawned over young blooms through tear-tired eyes that I too can blossom out of nothing but air and water.  I made the decision there and then that I would be an orchid lady.

Every Single Woman Needs FOOD

Vegetables.  And fruits.  And roots.  But how about we start with veggies.

Young Herb Garden

Anyone who tries to eat healthy or, more difficult, to become a vegetarian, will tell you that it can be very expensive.  Picture a supermarket cart full of fresh vegetables side by side with one full of processed chips and pastas and rices and butter and all things bad for you.  The veggie cart will always be more expensive.  Worse now that we are in a recession.  If you are in the USA, run the experiment of shopping at the local Whole Foods store and then go do the shopping at Publix and see the difference.  The grocery bill for healthy food will blow your mind.

In comes the garden.  Lacy mint and proud parsley, crawling cucumbers and bright tomatoes.  You decide how much to sow and how much to reap.  You putter over the pots in your slippers with a watering can in one hand and your coffee in the next.  All for the cost of a few seed packs and some soil you can have your own grocery cart full of vegetables.

Mint

In our strained economic times it is very easy to feed off the bottom with places like KFC and Popeyes, Wendy’s and Burger King.  But you are still spending for three meals every day more than a pack of seeds and some soil for food that will not clog your arteries and take years off your life.  Do it right and those seeds will be the gift that keeps on giving.  Many a Single Woman has discovered for herself a green thumb she didn’t know she had until she lost her job or had financial troubles tumble down toward her.

But why wait for disaster?  We have no excuse.  We don’t have a husband or a boyfriend pressuring us to put greasy toe-cheese on the plate every day.  Just like our financial plans need to be independent and geared toward protecting us into the future, so too should our bodies be invested in as the vehicles that take us into tomorrow.  We need to keep our tyres changed and oil checks up to date – we need to eat our vegetables.

I encourage every Single Woman today – if you have a garden outdoors don’t shy away from it.  If you have a patio like mine or a porch, invest in it.  If you only have a window in an urban apartment, open the blinds and let light fall on something that is growing.

As my tomatoes peek out from their little seed pods I can already taste the tang of vitamins as I imagine biting into the first red fruit.  I’m sure in the supermarket they will cost me up to $2 a pack.  But for that amount of money I can have the all year round from my little trees.

One tree's crop for $2