Mary Beth Writes

Have you ever considered joining a gang?

Three times in my life I have been a Gang-Member.

FIRST – When I was a little kid in a rural elementary school. There were about 10 girls in our class and we became a gang by necessity. If we didn’t make friends with each other we were going to be lonely - and we were also going to be at the mercy of those stinky boys.

We started Kindergarten together and were classmates through 8th grade. I learned the glories of gang life from those lovely South Hamlin girls.

SECOND - My husband and I moved a Chicago neighborhood where, in the beginning, we didn’t know anyone.  We also didn’t have family close enough to help us get some time away from our youngsters.

I was talking about longing for a break with some friends who also had a toddler – and whose parents also lived 200 miles away. We didn’t know how successful we were going to be when we decided to organize an evening play date for our kids. We asked another couple if they were interested and soon after that, a fourth family joined. Over the next five years, one night per week, one of the couples would mind all 5-7 of the little kids for about two hours. We fed them a simple supper and then they played together. The 3 non-hosting couple used that time to go on non-glamorous dates; often nothing more than two hours to talk without interruptions. 

I can’t remember when Larry (one of the dads) started calling this “Bridge Club” --which was the hilarious name that stuck.  We belonged to a gang of parents who figured out a free and simple way to give ourselves a break - and to give our kids a regular experience of “gang/family”.

THIRD - Can a person create close friendships when one they are already well into their 40’s, 50’s or beyond?  I didn’t know what I was doing when “the Marys” started - and neither did Mary Kay.

She liked reading my local newspaper column.  When an opportunity came along to meet for a lunch (she and her husband donated money to a cause I was championing) – we talked for the first time. It was a fun conversation and time flew. I recommended a Barbara Kingsolver novel I’d just read. Later that day I lent the book to her.

A few weeks later she called to return the book so of course we had to talk about it. After an hour of fun conversation  I wanted to suggest we meet again but I was wary.  Without overthinking it, I suggested we meet the following week, only she should bring a friend and I would, too. It seemed to me (and it still does) that “four adults” is less intense than two adults.  It isn’t going to be co-dependency; it’s just going to be an evening out.

This evolved over a few months into five women. The coincidence was that we all had a Mary in our names so we became "the Marys".  We have met at many different time and locales over the years, although our main ritual is mornings at a local coffee/tea shop.

As women will do, we talk about anything and everything. How to pack a suitcase; where to shop for what; how to send photos of the grandkids on iPads.  We talk about our children, husbands, pastors, priests and churches, volunteer obligations. We worry about health, money, jobs, retirement, the world and our hair. We are liberal, generous and we all read news and novels. All of us have traveled more than the average bear although none of us is even close to wealthy or privileged.

This is what I was aiming for when I started to write tthis.

If you are trying to thoughtfully shape the way you live to be less about money and more about the richness of a good life – and if you don’t belong to a gang already – you might want to start one.

It is wealth itself to belong to a small group of consistent friends who know you, listen to you, who will tell you their tales of triumph and despair and the awesome new recipe they tried this week. This is NOT the same as therapy, but sometimes its close…

There are all sorts of research reports that indicates our bodies and souls heal better when we can tell our story is a safe place.  

Hearing that someone whom you love and respect is having the same worries and misgivings somehow that takes away isolation and fear. Yep, I can feel my health changing as i age and it makes me nervous. Yep, modern politics infuriates me way too often.  Yes, my kids are my life but they also make me crazy. I am worried, I am relieved, I am happy, I care about what’s happening to you.  These conversations are balm to our spirits.

So how does one do this?

Here are my best clues, observations, and tips:

  • Make it bigger than 2. Two people or two couples is too small. You don’t want to marry them; you just want to explore camaraderie!
  • If you like one other like-minded person, ask them to find a pal and you find another. Now you won’t all be from the same church or neighborhood or family. Diversity is interesting.
  • Experiment with times.  The weeknight Bridge Club dates were good – we’d leave our house at 6, be back home before 9. Small breaks, over time, were the key. The Marys used to always meet on a Saturday, now the weekday varies but those two hours add spirit and energy to our lives. 
  • We don’t gossip.  I don’t talk to one Mary about another in a critical way. We don’t want to divide ourselves into “teams”, we want to be whole. The only time there are secrets is when one of us reminds the others to bring birthday cards.
  • We don’t plan many Big Events.  Yes, in 15-plus years of friendship there have been some parties with husbands, some weekend adventures.  But in general, we are not about expending a significant amount of time, money, or planning for complicated occasions. 
  • We seldom meet at each other’s houses.  We all have welcoming homes, but when four women are coming over for coffee, the hostess is going to spend energy to vacuum, bake a treat, wash the bathroom and all sorts of other stuff which will change our time together. We are not about Martha Stewart hospitality; we are about simple conversation, support, and laughter.  To keep our agenda clear, we drink our chai and latte at Wilson’s.
  • We coordinate and we share can't-wait updates (new grandchild! husband got hurt! I lost two pounds!) by email.  We also check in to make sure there are at least 3 of us to meet for coffee. We rarely call on the phone. 
  • We all have other friends and we are respectful of that. People have friends, family, other obligations and connections, other passions.  One of the pleasures is to hear how our other friends are doing in their lives, too.

I just did some fast math. Yes, in the past 18 years I think I have paid more than $2000 in lattes (the only time and place I drink them). In return I have sailed the Friend Ship with four kind and generous women. We have all retired, many of our kids  have met sweethearts, married, and had their own kids. I’ve watched the sun set over Lake Michigan with these friends many times (in the summer we often met at Lake Michigan with collpasible chairs and snacks from home). Once I travel to London with my daughter; the best night we enjoyed there was with the sister and nieces of a Mary; we were treated to a gorgeous seafood and champagne meal! 

If you want your money’s worth from life, put down your wallet and your long, long list of duties and desires. Find a new friend, and then find two more. Have a cup of coffee, say what’s on your mind, and see where it goes.

 

Dedicated to my husband and Jack, Steve, Tom and James with whom he rode bikes every Saturday while was at coffee. Sometimes men do the same thing women do – just a little differently…

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Mindful Chickens 11/15/2017

Our son was married this past weekend. As he said, “This wedding has a lot of moving parts …” We are slowly coming out of our happy preoccupation with our kids’ lives.

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Mindful Chickens? We are frugal so that our retirement savings will last as long as we do. At the same time we try to consume responsibly so that our choices have the least negative impact on our fellow humans and on our earth and its creatures.  Cheep, Cheap!

Mindful Chickens of the past few weeks?   

American Clutter

I watched an 18-minute video about Americans and their clutter.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AhSNsBs2Y0 

 (I read about it in the letters section of The Non-Conformist Advocate.   http://thenonconsumeradvocate.com/ )

The book it is related to is this: Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors. http://www.ioa.ucla.edu/press/life-at-home

From Our Hit Parade of $ Mistakes

I said last week that I would list The Dumbest Money Things Len and I have done in our lives.

1. Oops. I forgot to get a graduate degree at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. What would my writing career have been like with top-notch editors, agents, accolades and cash?

I have no idea. I write fiction but I don’t live it

Mindful Chickens 10/23/2017

1. The most effectively frugal thing I did last week -- was have a cold. I walked some of those beautiful days… but other than that I stayed home with my germs.

Botanical Gardens

10 Things I Learned By 65

Yesterday I turned 65. My birthday weekend was great; we saw all the kids and our grandbaby. The baby smiles slowly at us now. When she feels brave that we will be nice to her, she lifts her hand and waves. My socks melted.

So now I’m old!  Well, at least on the outside … inside I feel a smooth 47.  I went for a long bike ride Sunday afternoon and I wasn’t even sore yesterday when I apparently walked seven miles (in two walks). That’s cool!

Credit Freezing

Just figures; all the frugal sites i read are talking about freezing lovely produce from their gardens - while I'm  freezing my credit report...

Per my Mindful Chickens of just this morning - I just froze two credit reports and fraud alerted the third. There are apparently two smaller credit reporting agencies I never heard of before, so I’m doing nothing about them at this time.

I suggest you read this first. Krebs is a well-respected guy; I heard him interviewed on an NPR show a while back. Read “about the author” section for more credentials.  

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