Money Choices and the Rightness of Grapes

I have a confession to make.


I pay someone to clean my house.


And that’s not all.


I am white. And the woman I pay to clean my house is brown-skinned and speaks so little English (and I so little Spanish) that we communicate mostly by gestures, or through phone calls to her daughter who translates for us.


And that’s not all.


I paid this woman to clean my house for 10 months when my income was under zero.  That is, during a time when I was spending more on my new business than what I was bringing in. 


Elitist?  Racist?  Irresponsible?  Maybe.


In any case, I’ve found that in most social justice and religious circles moral judgement intersects with financial decision-making all the time.


And in my experience the right/wrong judgments we make about how we, and others, use money often cause more harm than good. In fact, I’ve found that often what looks “right” might actually be closer to “wrong,” or at least not helpful to ourselves or the world.


One story from my past stands out as a turning point for me in relation to my thinking on this topic.


In 1989, I was a new teacher at a school I often describe as being “founded by flower children.”  It was a small private school in Chicago that served mainly low-income families and we, the teachers, subsidized the cost of tuition with our extremely low salaries.  Working at this school was my introduction to the world of liberal social-justice-oriented Christianity, which was a far cry from the socially, politically and fiscally conservative Christianity I’d grown up with. 


Anyway, all the teachers and administrators at the school worked extremely hard for very little money because we believed that all children should have access to an amazing education.  We wanted to change the world, to make it better.  But many of us were also quickly burning out.


I remember one day I was having a conversation with another teacher from my school.  In addition to working at our school, she was living in an intentional community, sharing a house, money and other resources with other adults who were doing various types of social justice work around the city.


I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but I do remember this.  She had decided that it was okay for her to buy grapes.


The grape boycotts of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s were started in support of California’s grape pickers, who were working under terrible conditions.  So, good social-justice types were not supposed to buy grapes.  Her statement, in this context, was surprising, even shocking. I’ve never forgotten it.  Not because I was horrified at the thought of her grape-buying.  At the time, I was new enough to the social justice community that I don’t think I even knew about the grape boycotts.  What was shocking to me was that she’d opened the possibility that a “wrong” decision could be “right.”


The values behind the boycott were values that my friend believed in—fair pay and humane conditions for immigrant farm workers—but what she had discerned was that in that particular moment, it wasn’t her battle to fight.  At least not in that way.  And she risked the judgement of her peers when she followed her heart, rather than the “moral right checklist.”  But she also protected her heart, her ability to love, by accepting her limitations.


Here’s the thing.  We humans, we’re amazing, AND we are limited.  We live in bodies that need rest and play and nourishment.  We live with hearts and souls that also need rest and play and nourishment.  My friend had realized that she was wearing herself out analyzing every small decision she made.  She needed to pause and hear from her heart about what it was that was hers to do in the world.  And to do that.  Just that.


At that moment in her life, she sensed that the grape boycott was taking energy away from her ability to do the work she felt clearly called to do, her work with children and her work for peace.


She had to let it go. 


She hadn’t stopped caring about the needs of those workers.  She was just admitting her limitations at that moment. 


When we first hired a house cleaner last summer, freeing up 16 hours a month was way of honoring my work as I step out into leadership in new ways.


It was a tangible way that my husband demonstrated that he believed in me, an investment in my work to support teachers, moms and minority college students, my work for social justice and to nurture love and healing in the world.  


He could have argued that since I was working from home anyway, and wasn’t making much money, I should do the cleaning too.  Logical in one sense, by the rules of frugality, but not in another.


Please don’t misunderstand me.  I don’t think my work is “more important” than cleaning.  It’s just that doing the work I’m called to do is more important than doing work that I (or someone else) thinks I’m “supposed” to do. 


Like my friend, who began buying grapes so many years ago, I remain committed to fighting the unjust systems that make it easier for me, a middle-class white woman, to be in the position to pay for a house cleaner and more likely that the people I hire will be women of color. 


I also want to be fiscally responsible. 


And though internally I am at peace with my choice to hire someone to clean my house, I still feel uncomfortable saying the words “house cleaner” out loud. 


Someone could make a convincing argument that my choice to hire a house cleaner has been unethical, irresponsible, and/or racist and elitist.  They’d probably be right.  And also, wrong. 


I’d love to hear what you think.


Here’s to thriving.












Taking on a Taboo Topic

“The more interest you take in your finances, the more they improve.  As if by magic.”

Mark Butler (a.k.a The Budget Nerd)


My usual M.O. here at Thriving Thursdays is to address the internal stuff that gets in the way of your joy and your ability to do great work in the world—with a few practical strategies thrown in, mostly focused on practices of self-care and self-compassion. 


In this post, I’m expanding my definition of self-care just a bit wider to include caring for your finances—and caring for yourself through your finances—because I’ve found that a crucial aspect of my personal ability to thrive has circled around how I approach money – earning, spending, saving and (of course) addressing internal barriers and blind spots related to all of it. 


Because many of my clients and readers are committed to social justice, many are deeply religious or spiritual, and many are also moms, developing self-care practices related to money can be an especially difficult task.


Here’s what I’ve seen in my own life and that of my clients and colleagues.


We tend not to make a lot of money because:


  • We have chosen meaningful work over financial gain AND


  • Our society has deemed the work we do (“women’s work” in many cases) to be not worth paying much for so salaries in our field are low (anyone out their work in the field of early childhood education?  Do I hear an AMEN?)  AND


  • because we, and many in our religion, culture or spiritual community, believe that good people who care about others (and/or God) cannot also care about being well paid (i.e. people who want to make money are shallow and probably also selfish and mean, so having the goal of making a good living financially means that we aren’t REALLY good people. In fact, we may be headed right towards evil.)


We tend not to spend a lot of money on ourselves because:


  • We genuinely enjoy spending money on others AND ALSO


  • We think selfishness must be avoided at all times.  For some reason, this is the ultimate “sin” in our psyche/belief system AND


  • because we often feel guilty about spending money on ourselves (because our students have so much less than we do, or because good moms always sacrifice for their kids, or because we think to be good is to always be frugal, for example) and since we feel guilt and doubt when we spend money on ourselves, it’s really not that enjoyable, so why do it?


Does any of this sound like you? 


If it does, I hope you’ll do two things:

Are You Building a Life You Love? [Checking In On New Year's Intentions]

If you’ve been around the Thriving Thursdays community for a while you might remember that back in January I shared a few ideas you could try (in the spirit of New Year’s Goals/Intentions/Resolutions) to help you to start moving closer and closer to a life you love, or a life you love EVEN MORE than the one you already have.


We’ve finished a third of 2017 already – so it seems like a good time to check in and...





Move ahead.


You might remember that the first thing I asked way back in the heart of winter was, “What do you want to FEEL in 2017?”  


A few of my words were “delighted, lighthearted and grateful.”  And it was good for me to be reminded of this a few days ago.  What were yours?   


What did you want to feel in 2017?  Did you set other goals or intentions?  What were they?


If you can’t remember, but you recorded your thoughts somewhere, this is a great time to go grab that notebook or open that file and just do a quick read-through.  If not, it's never too late. Make your list now.

Then, as you read through your list (old or new,) notice how your body reacts to each item.  Try, for just a minute, NOT to use your brain to analyze the items, just your body.


  • Do you feel a heaviness in your chest, a “should “energy – as in, “Oh I really SHOULD so this.”   - DROP IT.   Yes, really.  Let it go.  See if the sky falls.  My guess is it won't.


  •  Is there a goal that you thought you wanted but now, if you’re honest your body is saying “eh, whatever?” – PUT IT ON THE BACK BURNER.  When you check in next time you can see if you want to move it back up front.


  • Is there one you’d forgotten about but when you read it you feel like an excited puppy (even if it seems crazy, or unimportant or frivolous? – DECIDE WHAT TINY STEP YOU CAN TAKE TOWARDS IT THIS WEEK!


Then notice and CELEBRATE the progress you’ve made – even it’s not as much as you think you should have, or as much as you’d hoped.   

We usually wait WAY too long to give ourselves the chance to celebrate!  Think of yourself as a that little toddler stumbling her way across the room – wouldn’t you cheer each little step?  And can you picture how that praise and excitement gives here more energy to keep going AND adds to her joy?  That’s you, you might be stumbling along, but you’re getting there and it can be FUN along the way!


What has surprised you about your year so far?  Have you experienced unexpected challenges?  New opportunities?  This can be a great time to readjust your intentions and plans.

What do you need to put in place on a practical level to keep moving towards what matters most to you, despite these surprises?

I’m adjusting my January intention to focus on building my business and creating a sustainable income for my family through it.  I’m still building my coaching business, but as of May 15, I’ll also be starting a new job as Interim Executive Director of Early Childhood Programs at UCLA.  I certainly didn’t expect this new opportunity to show up, but I’m very excited about it – so I’m putting things in place to keep my business going at the same time, while also caring well for my body, soul, spirit and family (so I can feel delighting, light-hearted and grateful amidst a much busier schedule.)


For those areas of your life where your check-in reveals that you’re not quite where you’d like to be, did you remember to Make It Easy? 


Now could be a great time to add in another one of the ideas I wrote about here.  Don’t depend on will-power; it’s highly overrated.


And of course, remember to practice self-compassion along the way. 


If you need help figuring out how to move forward, shoot me and email and I’ll do my best to help you out.  


Here’s to Thriving!



No More Silence

I remember standing in the tiny cottage kitchen with the light orange cabinets that my grandmother loved from the moment she first peered through the windows.  I remember the sunny day and the breeze and the lake outside.  And I remember feeling deathly afraid.


That little cottage was usually one of my safe places, a soul nourishing space in which the stones and the soil and the deep, cold lake all spoke to my soul, filling in the parched places, nourishing me from head to toe. 


But on this day, as I looked out towards the sunporch, it did not feel safe. 

I felt protected by the U shaped arrangement of the kitchen—fridge, sink, counter, stove, counter, but I did not want to venture out to take the twenty or so odd steps it would require to reach my father, who was lying on the top bunk of the sunporch – reading, or sleeping, or staring out the window, unaware of my fear.


The thing is, if you met him, you would tell me that my father isn’t that scary, not scary at all, actually—a bit stern at times, with strong opinions about right and wrong, but trustworthy and loving, with a boyish enjoyment of outdoor adventures that's contagious.  Many times in my childhood he had personified safety for me.  But now I was a young woman, with a child of my own and there was something I needed to say to him, something I didn’t think he’d like to hear.


Isn’t it odd how scary a few words can be?


The funny thing is, I don’t even remember now what it was that I needed to say.   But I remember the fear, the incredible terror, I felt at the thought of speaking my truth.  


Not sharing who I really was or what I really thought was my safe harbor. But lately, something bigger had been calling me out into the unknown dangers of the wide expanse of the seas. 


I am not a natural adventurer. 


I know how terrifying it can feel to contemplate speaking your truth out loud to someone who really matters to you, someone who is not likely to agree with or appreciate your truth, who perhaps might even judge you as wrong, or bad, not worth fighting for, or even destined for hell. 


Perhaps they will not understand.  Perhaps the conversation will create a chasm between you that can never be crossed.  Perhaps, you think, you will not survive the storm.


I know what it feels like to be so afraid that you think you cannot possibly speak what is true.


But I also know that it’s worth the risk. 


Because while I remember the terror of that moment, and many others, when I have risked speaking out loud words that I feared would lead to rejection, I also remember the heavy darkness of depression that arrived regularly in my life for decades when I made a habit of silence.


As I see it now, that depression was  a well-disguised harbinger of light, sent to help me to see my way out of Safe Harbor of Silence into the Seas of  Living Life.


In that moment, as I walked those steps across the wide expanse of the tiny cottage, I was pushing just a few feet away from shore.


But those steps did not feel tiny to me.  And your step is not tiny for you. 


Give yourself credit for your incredible courage. 


And feel the freedom of the open seas. 


Here’s to thriving.



Think Being Stressed-Out is the Price of Meeting Big Goals? My Hypothesis: Hell, No

It’s been a tough week for me since when I wrote to you last.  Not bad, just challenging.  Mainly because, as I mentioned last week, I’ve been stepping out courageously to meet some challenges worth meeting.


Like, for starters, I held my first ever free call which scared the shit out of me for unknown reasons given that I’m used to teaching, and I coach people by phone all the time and one would think that this combo of the two would be no big deal, but for me it was. 


The call was for stressed college students who want to finish strong this semester.  And because if you’re reading this you all are in my tribe already, I’ll send you the recording if you request it, even if you weren’t on the call.  It’s chock full of the strategies I’ve found effective for me and my clients in managing stress and meeting the challenges of the end of the semester. Just shoot me an email at if you want it.


I’ve also done 2 days of interviews for a big, complicated job.  I’ll tell you more about it if it happens, but just the interviews were challenging in terms of time and emotion—fun and exciting in many ways, but challenging for sure.  In fact, just considering doing this big job while growing my business and expanding my writing requires courage for me – and calming down my inner, “Are you crazy? this is too much!” voice.


And maybe it is crazy.  But maybe it isn’t.  Because you see, this week, so far, I’m doing it.  And so far, all I’ve had to do it this week.  Not next week, not even tomorrow. 


And that’s all you ever have to do too—this. Right now. The next step.