Be honest.

Or go away.

I doubt that the person I am writing this about will read it, mainly because I don’t think she follows my blogs. And if, by chance, she does read this, I hope that she understands that I prefer to use the written word to communicate my frustration, rather than trying to speak to her in person about it. I hope that she will learn from it and behave in a different way to others in the future. Because at this point, I hope to never see her again.

A couple of months ago I was teaching an Edible Landscaping class at a local library. Several people quietly edged in late – it happens, I don’t worry about it. Afterwards, one of them approached me and introduced herself. She was also a homeschool mom and Emily, who had been along with me due to a scheduling conflict, had been playing happily with her children while I conducted the class.

She was very interested in talking to me more about gardening since they had just bought a house with some acreage in Grain Valley. As I often do for people who are interested in gardening, I invited her over to see my garden and possibly get some ideas. The next week she called me and we set up a time for her to come by.

It was great having her and the kids come by. Emily joyfully played with the three younger ones and her eldest, who is fifteen or so, and she and I toured the garden, talking about all things plant and chicken and bee. The next week she asked if she could come again and I was happy to have her. At the end of the visit she mentioned that she would really love for her husband to meet me and Dave, and could they schedule something for next week?

“Sure,” I said. We set a time that would work for everyone and they all came by again.

I hate it when people disappoint me by using subterfuge. And that is just how I view what happened next.

Her husband is part of some MLM or some such nonsense. He sat Dave down and started trying to sell him on it. Dave is far more positive about MLMs than I am. He was in Amway for a while, and says he got a lot of confidence out of it, despite it not being quite his style.

I can’t stand MLMs. They are predatory and exist on manipulation and fear.

This guy wasn’t the worst I’ve seen, but I have to admit I was trying desperately to hide the hackles that had risen on my back. He was in our house, trying to sell us something. Did I mention I HATE that? He had apparently asked Dave what he wanted in the near future. Dave had said something about having a farm and so, of course, this was the selling point.

“If you really want that farm, you’ll buy this leadership program.”

For the record, I absolutely despise someone who tries to manipulate me in any way. Whether it is a used car salesman telling me how cute my little girl is, to a person peddling ‘leadership programs’ as the only way to achieving my dreams.

It disgusts me.

Worse than that, is the thought that this woman who said she was interested in gardening was probably only cultivating a friendship with me in order to get an “in” into selling me some crap leadership program that I do not need and do not want.

From the very first time I saw her, I made it clear we were secular homeschoolers. Despite this, she brought her ultra-conservative Christian leanings (and ridiculous Christian leadership program) into my home. The Christian faith I can forgive – I believe that we all have a right to our beliefs, but the ‘leadership’ book she insisted on lending me to read quite clearly categorizes anyone who does not share a faith in God as someone without values, honor, direction, or morality.

That is a line in the sand for me. I would posit that I am bound by values, honor, direction and morality far more than many self-professed Christians. I don’t need God or the bible to tell right from wrong.

If you want to sell me something – come out and say it. Don’t beat around the bush, don’t pretend to be interested in what I’m interested in, and don’t ever presume to think I am in need of spiritual intercession.

Be honest.

Or go away.

I ended up nipping their little talk in the bud and pointing out that we had all we needed, right here, to make our dreams come true. If we are so inclined, just like the Dervaes family in Pasadena, we could transform our 1/3 acre into a farm of amazing levels of productivity. And if that is what we want to do, we will end up doing it. No cultish ‘leadership programs’ needed to accomplish this, just our hearts and hands and hard work. We won’t need to manipulate anyone, sneak up on anyone and spring any MLM program on them, just us and our own intent.

We are not sheep. We are not stupid. We know our minds and hearts.

In whatever you choose to do, go forth and do it with honesty and integrity. If you choose to sell a product, make it the best product you can. If you sell your services, make them the best services possible. In all things, do good, cause no harm, and avoid manipulating others. There is plenty of money to be made in living a good and honest life. Perhaps I’ll never be a multi-millionaire. Perhaps I dream too small or put a smaller value on the classes I teach then what I could possibly earn. At least I’ll go down knowing I did my best and that I brought change, empathy, motivation and more to others.

Be honest.

Or go away.

This is probably going to make me cry…again.

As I was typing up tomorrow’s post for The Deadly Nightshade my home phone rang. Phoenix area code, and the only person I know in Phoenix is my daughter’s best friend, Casey.

I’ll be seeing her walk down the aisle in just a few short weeks. I consider myself lucky – even though there is three day drive with a 4 year old involved…and that’s just one way.

Casey is like a daughter to me. I’ve known her for over fourteen years now, and she is a good kid with a big heart. But even still, I wasn’t prepared for what she said next.

She said, “I’ve always known that I wanted to grow up and be a stay-at-home mom. I wanted kids, and I would love to homeschool, and have a garden and make a home of my own.” She paused then, “Mom had a different way, but I knew I didn’t want to be like her, I wouldn’t be happy in offices or working for someone else. I wanted to be an entrepreneur and to be home with my kids.” She went on to describe her first garden, that she grew in back of a little rental house on 3rd Street here in town. The tomatoes never did much (too much shade) and most of the harvest never made it inside (she ate it fresh from the vine). She told me of trying to sell little braided bracelets door to door when she was seven.

“I woke up early this morning, Christine, like I normally do. And I was reading your blogs and thought, ‘I want to be like Christine’. And I tried to write it down, but I thought I’d call you instead.”

So, yeah, that made me cry. Big time. It was sweet, and kind, and it is still a bit of a jolt for me to think that I might actually be inspiring others.

It makes me think that, we make choices every day. To help a neighbor with their lawn, to offer a stranger some comfort, or to write words that go out into the blogosphere and that somehow and in some way resonate.

You don’t have to be like me.

But you do have to be a person that you like and that you want to be. I wonder if Casey has any idea how lucky she is to have found that…now…at this young age.

No matter when you find it. Hold onto it. Believe in yourself, in the boundless potential that lies within you. And then access it, wield it to make your world, and the world around you, a better place.

House work is good thinking time. Especially in the morning before the kiddo is awake and asking me a million questions.

Today I was thinking about little dreams and big dreams and I’d like to give you a few examples…

Belton Brewing Company

At a recent, city-wide garage sale we ran into a couple who were brewing beer in a small turkey fryer in the front yard while running their garage sale. They started talking about the “new brewery that was coming to town.”

We both winced, Dave and I did, because that brewery was supposed to be us. In point of fact, they had seen our website and were expecting us to open this year or next.

That dream was a big one. It started in the weeks following my husband’s sudden unemployment – after over four years with a local industrial computer company. We sat down, we mapped it out, we cashed in the 401k to buy a experimentation size brewing setup. We drew up estimates, made materials lists, scoped out properties, and tried to figure out funding sources. And then the housing crisis hit, the economy hit a monster truck sized pothole, I lost 1/3 of my cleaning biz income, and our dream dissipated into smoke.

Not able to visualize anything past all of the worksheets and plans we had made, we walked away from that dream. It was a painful day.

Dreams of Self-Sufficiency

Recently my husband has been cultivating a friendship with a guy in a local beer store. The guy owns five acres of land and dreams of being self-sufficient – “I want to buy 500-1,000 acres of land and be 100% self-sufficient.” We’ve been ‘collecting’ like minds these days, and he fits into a lot of what we are looking for – DIY, Libertarian, self-sufficiency, the works.

His dream – of owning 500-1,000 acres is a big dream. When I heard he had five acres I was consumed with envy – what I would DO with five acres of land!

I think that, in order to accomplish our dreams, we must do three things:

  1. Dream small but open-ended
  2. Adjust the lens
  3. Act

Dream Small But Open-Ended

If we dream too big, we are automatically limiting ourselves. Unless you are Warren Buffett and have all the money in the world, a big dream is damned near impossible. My husband Dave often says, tongue in cheek, “We had a great idea for a brewery, but for some reason no one wanted to hand us a million dollars to get it started!”

As I stood there today at the sink, thinking about my husband going back into the computer field that had been so emotionally draining and unfulfilling for him just a few years ago, the epiphany struck…he needs to be brewing. We have this amazing brew system sitting in the garage and has not been using it. Now mainly this is a money issue, which should be solved within about two months. After that, I see no reason that he shouldn’t be brewing every month or two, trying new recipes, honing his skills. He may not get to open a brewery today, tomorrow, or even next year – but if he uses what he has, perhaps teaches classes and broadens his involvement in community-based activities, what is a dream and a hobby right now could morph into an actionable business over time and eventually become a full-fledged brewery.

Adjust the Lens

This goes hand in hand with the idea above. Basically, if all you can see is one way to do things, then you are lost. For any dream, there are at least a dozen ways to get there.

Take my husband’s new buddy at the liquor store. He’s sitting on FIVE ACRES of land and dreaming of self-sufficiency. I have to laugh, just a little, because I know of at least one family who live on 1/5 of an acre (1/10 of which is cultivated) and earn their entire income off of that land and the items they sell on their website. Their house runs mainly on solar and hand-cranked appliances, they use solar to heat their water for showers, and manage to produce 4-6,000 pounds of produce every year.

Off of 1/10 acre of cultivated land.

Imagine what this guy could do with his five acres. He could be self-sufficient, or damned close, right now. As it is, we probably grow more produce on our little 1/3 acre of land (800 sq feet currently farmed) than he does. Why? Because we have what we have, and I’ll be darned if it’s gonna sit unused.

Act

Dreams are great. They really are. Someday I’ll tell you about our latest “if we won the lottery” dream – it’s a great one. But dreams will never be reality without action. If you want it, if you really, really want it – if you are sitting in your little gray cubicle wishing for a different life – then ACT on it. Don’t play games with yourself and say, “If only,” or “as soon as” or “when my ship comes in”.

No one is going to walk up and hand you this life. No one is going to make it all better and give you the money and time and resources you need for your dreams.

If you really want it…ACT on it. Today. Now.

In 2005, when I first became self-employed, I was nervous and uncertain. Nearly two decades of work in an office environment had left me unsure of who I was and what I was worth. Outside of an office environment, I wondered, did I even have any marketable skills? Who would be willing to take a chance on me? And what would I do for income?

Sure, self-employment sounded like a great deal – work my own hours, set my own prices, call my days my own – but could I actually hack it? Could I be successful? The answers to my questions and fears didn’t come right away, but eventually they showed up and gave a simple “Yes” before moving on to other issues and concerns.

Starting out in your own business can be rather intimidating. As I was thinking about all of the lessons I have learned in the past six years, one in particular came to mind – assessing your worth.

How do you put a price on your experience? How do you assess a value to your work?

I run service-based companies. I’m either arranging for staff (or me) to clean a client’s house, meet for a one-on-one organizing session, or I’m scheduling with a host site to teach a class. Over the years, I’ve sometimes been asked to reduce my prices, to either meet a client’s budget or their opinion of what my work is worth. Budgets are one thing where there are often times when a client genuinely needs help (usually organizing) and doesn’t have a lot of money. In a case like that, I often reduce my rates in a limited fashion, enough to get them going in the right direction, and then bow out, knowing I’ve helped them get on their way.

For the others, those who are seeking the lowest price without a care to other aspects (namely, you get what you pay for), well, I refer to them as having a garage sale mentality. They love to ‘get a great deal’ and want to tell you that you are worth X amount and nothing more.

Each time I run into ‘garage salers’ I learn an important lesson. Yesterday was one of those lessons. It put the kibosh on that persistent adage that ‘some business is better than no business’. I had met with a potential client a few weeks ago and bid on a job. They certainly had their ‘perfect number’ in mind and let me know what it was when we met. Considering the size of the project, their number was ridiculously low, and had I not been experiencing a lull in business recently I would have given them a far more realistic quote. Instead, they received about $150 worth of services for $90 and I walked away pretty frustrated in myself.

However, it is a learning lesson. I am worth more than that and I recognized it immediately, before the job was done. In fact, the rest of the time I was there, working on the details and giving them the better service than anyone could expect for the money, I mentally wrote out the email I would send to them explaining why I would not be returning to provide them with any additional services for the price we had initially agreed upon. After I returned home I sat down and wrote the email and sent it off.

Part of me wonders if they would think it was a ploy to simply get more money. Once I’m inside, dazzle ’em, then charge more. But that isn’t it at all. My goals yesterday were simple:

  • Provide the service I had been retained to do – give them quality work no matter what price I had been paid
  • Protect myself in the future from being taken advantage of

I may never hear from them again. And if I don’t, well, [shrug] I know I did my best and that it was better than anything they had paid for. I did the right thing, I gave them value and hard work and I can walk away with my head held high and my conscience clean.

So what is my point in all this?

Simply that you are worth more than you might think. We often allow others to tell us who we are and what we are worth. When we undervalue ourselves, or let others undervalue us, it can be demoralizing and disheartening. And those feelings feed into a less than perfect job or feelings of resentment (even if you resent yourself!). You are WORTH your experience, your commitment and willingness to do the right thing. Don’t let desperation or fear rule your decisions – and when you do, act immediately to correct the mistakes and learn the lesson it has to offer.

It is then, and only then, that you will find the business comes to you.

A couple of years ago I decided to paint my toddler’s room in a garden theme, complete with a little picket fence around the perimeter, and a counting adventure of creatures on the walls – four birds, ten bees, two beehives, et cetera.

I started early, first laying down the base coat and then meticulously adding the picket fence border. As I painted I described what would come next to my mother…”I guess I’ll try my hand at painting the creatures,” I said to her.

“Honey, you would be better off finding stencils or adhesives.” My mother advised, “After all, you can’t draw like Dee (my grown daughter) can.”

I agreed with her. After all, stick figures were rather challenging. What was I thinking even considering drawing and painting dragonflies and birdhouses and more on the walls? It would turn into a disaster. But somehow, the discouraging tone of her voice made my mind up for me. Out of nowhere my backbone straightened and I thought quietly, “Oh yeah? Sez who?” Suddenly I was determined to paint them all myself.

And so I did. They turned out pretty well. Especially these two strings of butterflies and bees…



When I looked at the finished project the feeling was indescribable. I had spent most of my life, nearly forty years, believing I couldn’t draw. And while I’m no Picasso, nor do I aspire to be, I was immensely pleased with my work.

Today I looked at a little rocking chair in Emily’s room and decided it needed a serious facelift. The bright red paint was peeling and it was no longer looking as pretty as it had been when it first made its way to our home. Here are the before and afters:

Bright and shiny in 2007

Tomorrow the chair will be dry enough for me to take down and put back in Emily’s room. It matches well with the garden theme and she has already grinned with delight over the flowers.

All it took for me to do this was a change in perspective. Instead of saying, “I can’t draw” I said, “I’ll go for it, the worst that can happen is that I end up painting over it.”

Life change isn’t really that much different. It is the changing of “I Wish” into “I am” or “I have” or “I’ve done”. And when you do it, when you give yourself the chance to just do it, your future opens up and all is possible.

I woke up at 6:00 and was hard at work by 7 this morning. Except for a couple of breaks…and a small little nap [ahem] I’ve been going strong all day. It’s been fantastic. How often do I get a full day, a FULL day with no one and nothing to distract me or need me for anything? The husband is off on a short trip to California, the little princess is spending a couple of days with her Grandori, and I have the house to myself.

WRITING TIME!

Since my last post on 7/10, I have felt the floodgates open and the creativity spark. I keep finding my feet guiding me back to the computer, despite the mounting pile of dishes or the quickly multiplying weeds in my raised beds. I am well and thoroughly hooked, and the progress I’ve made has been quite rewarding. I am now at seven books, all significantly outlined and I am nearly ready to begin writing. Just a few more details and I will be there, ready to roll.

Before I started to work this morning I thought about a book I read recently, “What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self” by Ellyn Spragins. The thought occurred then, and again today, that I would much prefer to write a letter to my future self. Somehow, it seems more…useful.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved reading Ellyn’s book. It made me cry and smile and think of all that has happened in my life, especially the last five years. But it also got me to thinking about what motivates us. What keeps you going? What makes the difference between today and what happens tomorrow? How do we stop from giving up, five minutes before the miracle? How can we accomplish our dreams on our terms, in our own unique way, and within some reasonable time frame?

Does it have to take five, ten or twenty year to make that leap? To jump off the cliff and turn your world on its ear?

It can be so hard, stuck in the present, dreaming of an unknown future, and hoping, praying for a change to happen. I know I’m not the only one who has felt that way. So, before I sat down and began to work on the details of my new book series I wrote a letter to my future self. I wrote it, then I printed it out, and I stuck it on the wall right in front of my face. It is there, along with the quote from Thoreau, an email from my firstborn, and an email from my dad commenting on “War’s End”. I would like to think that when I hit a brick wall (most likely of my own making), that my eyes will stray to that letter and that I will renew my belief in myself again, long enough for it to take hold and make a difference and keep me on the path.

A letter to your younger self is wonderful, but I think that who we want to be tomorrow needs to be believed in and visualized today. And perhaps that is realized in a letter to the person you will be tomorrow or the next day or next year. Think about it, write your own letter to your future self and keep the faith. We are all on such a marvelous adventure!

Here is my letter to my future self…

Christine –

On this day, July 13th, 2010 you are 40 years old. You may look at this in just a few hours or a few days or even months and be filled with fear, stress, or worry. You may tell yourself “it’s shit” or that nothing good can come of it. You may castigate yourself for wasting time that you could have been working and making money. You may tell yourself that you aren’t a good writer or that you will never, ever be published.

But Christine, it isn’t true. None of it. Of all the things I know, in this moment, in this place, on this beautiful sunny summer morning – I know you are capable and that you have this within you. You WILL be published. You ARE a writer. And this project, whichever you are working on at the moment, is WORTH IT. Why? Because you have something to say and it is worthy of being heard.

So Christine, keep writing. Do it for me/you. Do it for your children and husband and friends and family and for the untold thousands who will someday read what you have read and tell you it moved them or amused them or maybe even made them cry. Do it, because this is what you were meant to do.

Oh, and Christine? Stop crying and get back to work. It’s high time the world saw what you are capable of.

I had a good laugh at my own expense this morning and I’m going to share it with you.

I recently finished writing “War’s End” a fictional book I had been working on for way too long. It’s been submitted and now it is a matter of waiting to hear back. Meanwhile, I began to sort through my different book starts, looking for the next project to begin working on. Mercedes Lackey said it best, “I often have a project in the planning stages, one currently being written, and another in the editing stage at any one time.” In other words, if you are a writer, you keep going and don’t get to sit on your laurels for too long.

I had settled on choosing between two possible projects, and as I made notes, created time-lines and character descriptions in each of them, much to my dismay, I found myself gravitating towards the bigger of the projects. How big, you ask? Try FOUR books big. A bigger project than I could have even imagined a few years ago when I was just trying to get one written.

The funny part of this is, the sheer number of books (four, plus several – even possibly many, spin-offs) doesn’t faze me as much as one little, tiny, small little problem…I don’t have the details down of who Liv Rowan encounters, how it might be a problem, or what she might do to fix it. I’ve got four working titles and a solid idea of what happens at the end of book 4. And…that’s it.

I would be writing about this on one my private blogs, I actually started to do so this morning, until I was reminded of the quote from “The Stand.” The big bad guy is interrogating one of the people from Boulder and she claims she has no idea who the guy he is looking for is. He responds, “All the same dear, I think you do know.” For those of you who have seen the movie, you know it doesn’t end well for her, but it got me to thinking.

When I am working with a coaching client and they hit a wall, usually the reason they have a coach in the first place, they will say to me, “I just don’t know what to do.” In that moment, no choice seems right, and the way in front of them is blocked. What might seem incredibly easy and clear to me, is clouded and dark for them. We work on it, nibbling away at the edges, pushing gently against the metaphorical wall, until there is that moment when things suddenly resolve into clarity and conviction. The client is excited, I’m happy for them, and there is progress past this stumbling block.

My job as a coach is to be the catalyst for change. I don’t provide the answers, or try and tell a client what they need to do. I believe the answers are within them and that they know, deep inside, what will work best for them. My job is to get them to the point where they are listening to that quiet voice inside. Once they can access the answers from within, they can make changes in their lives that will serve them well in the weeks, months and years to come.

  • What do I want to do for a living?
  • Is this relationship good for me?
  • Where do I want to live?
  • How do I want to proceed?
  • What should I do about this particular situation?

I believe we each have the answers to all of those questions and more, waiting inside us. I believe that we intuitively know, without a shadow of a doubt, the course that would be best for each of us to take. Life, culture, expectations, upbringing – all of these things pull us away from the truth and distract us from listening to the one person who knows you better than anyone else in the entire world…you.

So how do these two topics – writing and coaching – fit together?

This morning I got up, as I have several morning over the past week, asking myself, “What happens to Liv Rowan in Byd Arall?” It’s been driving me crazy. How can I be so audacious as to suggest I have four books to write and not have story plots worked out for them yet? Who am I kidding?

It was the certainty I have felt over this series that has allowed me to suspend my disbelief at my current writing situation this far. I cannot tell you how I know, but I know for sure that what I have here (as scant as it is at the moment) is worthy of my attention. Something deep inside is pushing me towards this, pointing insistently, determined that I continue.

“I don’t know what happens to Liv in Byd Arall!” I told myself for the 20th time this week.

And then Randall Flagg from “The Stand”…

“All the same dear, I think you do know.”

And with that, the path before me is clear. No, I don’t have all the answers, not yet. But I know it’s in there somewhere. I just need to be patient, eventually I will find it. Most likely it will find me. Somewhere in there, is a complete story. If I keep nibbling at the edges, the details will come.

The answer is within.