Thursday, August 26, 2021

Loan Readiness vs. Credit Repair

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Monday, June 22, 2020

Adapting During the Coronavirus

Our home has become a de facto educational facility

We have all been living in each other's hair for the past three months. The topsy-turvy lifestyle of the Lenius household started when our older daughter, Tacy, had to fly home from Germany the third week of March from her study-abroad program in Germany. One year abroad shrank to seven months abroad. Fortunately, the study portion of the program continues. The school she attended in Munich — Ludwig Maximilian University — wisely decided to provide instruction to students online after the international students got back home, so they would not lose their semester credits. This is important because European semesters are timed differently than US semesters.

Crowded House

Crowded House — the band 

(Little did Crowded House know how relevant their name would become to our family! One of their songs is, "Better Be Home Soon.")

We didn't have a good place in the house for Tacy to attend online classes and do homework, so we set up a desk in the attic, which gave her a private area to think, work and attend Zoom classes. It works great unless it's a hot day, as our house is un-air conditioned. Today she couldn't connect to the WIFI and missed a class. The attic also serves as my home gym, so she and I negotiate who gets to use the attic when. For the most part, she has adapted well and is completing assignments. To add extra spice, all of her classes and homework are in German!

Tacy lets off steam by going out with friends. I hope they are wearing face masks as they go to parks, march in racial discrimination protests and drive around the city. In six short weeks, she will journey back to Portland to move into an apartment with friends and prepare for her junior year at Reed College. It's been nice having her home for a spell!

My younger daughter, Joscelin, didn't have as much life disruption as Tacy, as she lives at home and goes to school in St. Paul, but she still had to adapt. She no longer carpooled with a neighborhood classmate each day, no longer walked from classroom to classroom, and to the lunchroom. She misses the delicious hot lunches she ate (the roasted chicken with mashed potatoes was her favorite). After the school buildings were ordered to be closed, she would shuffle out of bed over to the rocking chair and dial into an online class on Zoom. Rather than sitting in a classroom with 3-D teachers and classmates, she stared at a cel phone with tiny squares showing the faces of her teacher and classmates. It was a challenge trying to learn and do all of her work at home with only her sister, mom and dad around.

Now that school is over, she has the long summer stretching out before her. The summer camp she was signed up for has been converted to an online program, Joscelin refused to attend the online camp.  Much of the appeal was in commuting to the camp's physical location, meeting other kids, and getting away from home for part of the day. She seems content to spend her summer days playing video games, playing D&D weekly and watching videos. Her weekend paper route, weekly cashier job at Lunds, and occasional birthday parties get her out of the house.

The gyms are open again!

A big change for me and David was not having a gym to go to. We put a small gym in the attic, intended for occasional use when getting to the gym was not an option due to lack of time. Then the virus hit and my home gym became my only option! It was a test of my resolve to climb upstairs day after day to work out in solitude and sometimes suffocating heat. For David, the gym closings meant the end to all workouts. For many years he has been a swimmer and hasn't added other types of exercises. After the gyms closed, David did not work out for three months — quite a sacrifice for him.

When the gyms reopened a few weeks ago I was both happy and sheepish. David and I gleefully showed up for a workout on the first day the YMCA reopened one of its branches. What a luxury to work out in a spacious gym with air conditioning and every piece of equipment you could ever want! Who knew I would miss seeing other human beings sweating on the free weights and the stair steppers? But in the back of my mind I thought, "Am I being selfish for working out at a gym if I catch the coronavirus and then give it to someone with other serious health issues?" Every time we cross paths with someone out in public, it is like we are playing Russian roulette with our health and the health of those we come into contact with. My mom is 88 and lives in the apartment downstairs from us. It seems that I endangering her every time I go to a grocery store or the gym. On the other hand, cabin fever is real. If we get so stir-crazy that we want to kill everyone we come into contact with, that is life-threatening, too!

I try to be as safe as I can, wear masks when I go into stores, diligently social distance, go to the gym to keep up my strength and stamina, be a good parent and daughter, stay positive, and take the pandemic one day at a time. I think that's the best any of us can do.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

No longer a young whippersnapper! Reflections on turning 55

I can barely believe that two days ago I turned 55! Double nickels! While not as impressive a milestone as 60, at least Salvation Army stores believe it’s an important enough age to give me a senior discount. In some Native American tribes, “elders” are people 50 or older. I feel like I am lurching into the “older generation” while remembering clearly being an up-and-coming 20-something.

Having been alive on this earth for more than half a century, many experiences inform my decisions. In contrast, my 20-something self only imagined many of these experiences!

How are things are different for me now than they were 30 years ago? From a physical standpoint, my body doesn't rebound as quickly. Take snow sledding: as a kid, I could sled down a hill over and over, and all of the bumps just added to the fun! Now if I hit a bump, I wince and begin anxiously scanning for bumps further down the hill. There are the usual tell-tale signs that everyone talks about: a few gray hairs, slow-healing blemishes, lines creeping onto my face, hot flashes that make my torso heat up like an Easy-Bake oven.

From a social standpoint, I don't care to go out as much. At age 20, I loved "going clubbing" -- wearing tight, revealing clothes, high heels, makeup, drinking, flirting and dancing all night. Today that seems like a waste of time. Maybe it is because I am married, have three kids and have a mom with dementia. I would much rather make a cup of tea and read a chapter in a good book, do home projects, or visit with my mom. I think part of it is that I am not trying to prove that I am attractive. Another part is by a philosophy that frugality will lead to prosperity, making cover charges seem silly. At the many business trainings I have attended I learned about opportunity cost: with those two hours you sat in the bar, you could have read a financial book and turned that advice into a multi-million dollar enterprise!

Today I have a better sense for which weaknesses advertisers are playing to, so I can make conscious decisions not to respond. This has not always been the case! In the past, I was more prone to fall for advertising luring me to be self-conscious, or making me believe that buying a certain product would make me popular.

My kids have criticized me for being too “nose to the grindstone,” never wanting to just hang out with them and play a game, but always working on a project or going somewhere. I think it has to do with wanting to be prepared.

I feel like the younger generation spends too much time on their smartphones and tablets, but as I was growing up, kids my age would watch too much TV, so the technology has just gotten more sophisticated. With my kids, I feel like they use technology to keep me from asking prying questions or ask them to do a chore. But just when I think they have totally written me off, they will ask me a question or we will have a great conversation, and then I am glad: the parent-child tie hasn’t actually been severed!

At age 10 or 20, adults would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, or what I planned to do with my newly minted college degree. Statistically, I had 60 or 70 years of life ahead of me, and would have much more time to work on skills and make dreams a reality. I often found those questions annoying, although I usually answered politely. Nobody asks me those types of questions now, thank goodness! 

Most people already know what I do and what I like, so it is more a matter of calling me up and proposing a project or asking me out for coffee. I have traveled the world, earned a college degree, worked for companies, a university, and myself, been married 26 years, raised three children, care for my aging mother, stay fit, and more, demonstrating I am able to set and accomplish goals.

It is a trip to have one kid a college graduate and launching his career, one in college and one in high school. It is an experience that cannot be bought, but must be earned by living through it. When I see parents with babies in strollers, I think, "Man, that seems like a million years ago!”

Beyond these accomplishments on the physical plane, there is my spiritual journey. I grew up attending private religious schools, but felt out-of-place in traditional churches. I disliked how pastors acted as though they are the gatekeepers to God, and in order to connect to God you had to be in church with the pastor up in the pulpit. And why can I only contact God on Sundays? Adding to my annoyance was being constantly asked to donate money. I started exploring other spiritual avenues. I found a set of cassette tapes at the library on how to meditate, and to this day I start each day with meditation. I also devote some time each day to journaling, which allows me to make sense of experiences and see patterns. My cousin Suzanne gave me a gratitude journal, which I have started writing in daily. Through these methods, I feel that I can directly contact Great Spirit or Source Energy in order to become centered and finding meaning.

My experiences set me apart from someone 30 years younger because they inform my day-to-day decision making. Because of what I have seen and done I feel sure myself, and am no longer exploring all types of experiences so I can decide what I like and want to do. Rather than seek hedonism and escape, I seek ways to connect, to help others make their goals happen. There is always something to share – whether it is your knowledge or even just a smile – to brighten someone’s day and help them along. Let me hear from some of you who have passed the magical 50-year milestone. What makes you a different person today than when you were 20?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Kindness of Strangers

The phrase "kindness of strangers" was first used by Tennessee Williams in his 1947 Pulizer-winning play, A Streetcar Named Desire. The saying has been used multiple times in songs and stories since then, and it evokes an unselfish generosity that seems to be channeled through people from a divine source.

The kindness of strangers has been a saving grace for me throughout my life. There always seems to be a few perceptive souls around who notice if I seem to be lost or struggling, and offer assistance.

As a child, I remember my trepidations when starting a new school. "This place is so big! There are so many people! I feel so lost!" A kind student or staff member would notice my hesitancy and gift me with a kind word or smile, letting me know I had a friend to share that moment.

At the age of 19, I made a “Jack Kerouac”-style year-long solo European ramble, getting myself into tight spots regularly. Usually a kind person would step up out of nowhere to help me out. It could be something as simple as someone stopping to give me directions, or something as extreme as the fellow who sucked gasoline through a hose to transfer to a small portable gas tank when I ran out of petrol on an Italian highway!

With the profusion of scam artists, people may be tempted to not be kind when a stranger asks for assistance, thinking it is a set-up. How many times have you driven past those people holding cardboard signs at intersections without stopping to give spare change? Sometimes it could be a trick, but going with your gut feeling helps guide you in handling situations. But if you have a general attitude of suspicion towards people, you are missing opportunities to grow as a person, and just feel good about helping others.

It would be great to pitch in on a group effort on a grand scale, such as when hurricanes, tornadoes and floods hit an area, and join with the hundreds of Red Cross and Salvation Army volunteers who travel across the country to search for victims, distribute food, or administer medical care.

Last summer while walking to the library near our house I passed a man holding a cardboard sign that said, "Will work for food." On the way back from the library I stopped and asked him if he would do yard work for me in exchange for food. Without hesitation he nodded, folded up his sign, put it in his pocket and started walking home with me. Tony was grateful for the opportunity, and, I learned, very hard-working. He come to our house nearly every day for about three weeks, weeding, trimming bushes, cutting back scrub trees.

Each day I would give him a sack of food and a twenty dollar bill. Tony said he had worked nearly 30 years for the suburb of Brooklyn Park, who then hired a young man to take his place and fired him, leaving him homeless. I called St. Stephens Outreach Services, who sent two social workers to our house to interview him. The next day they gave him a tent so he would have better shelter at his campsite near the river. The homeless shelters were overcrowded, so this was a stop-gap solution. Aiding someone in this way felt more effective than giving money to a charity, as I could directly impact someone in need with food and friendship. Also, none of the money I gave Tony was siphoned off for "administrative costs."

What inspires strangers to be kind to people they do not know? I think it is the idea of “paying it forward” and “what comes around goes around.” We can empathize with people and the situations they find themselves in, and want to make their paths easier. We hope that others will do the same for us when we find ourselves stuck in a jam!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

How to be a Real and True Friend

Buddy, crony, homeboy, BFF, chum, confidant, pal.  No matter what term you use, a true friend can be hard to come by!

The dictionary definition of friend is, “person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.”
What is a true friend? When I was a child, making friends seemed easy. Whenever I saw another small person like me, we recognized an immediate kinship and began playing together. But as typically happens as we age, that facile closeness happens less and less often as suspicions and competition arise, and it becomes much harder to trust others and feel that they truly “have our back.”
My favorite type of friend appreciates me for me, not what I can do for them, really listens, and supports what I am going through and what I am trying to accomplish. There is an easy trust —almost a telepathy.

I try to be a good friend by listening and responding to what the other person is saying, showing genuine interest in others and what they are up to, giving suggestions or physically being helping with a project, and observing to see how I can add value to a situation.

Growing up, I discovered that sometimes friends can become too close. From fourth through eighth grades, I was best friends with Stephanie J. We became close friends and did everything together. It got to the point where if my classmates saw me without her, they asked where Stephanie was. It was divine and terrible at the same time!  We shared some hilarious, exciting times and 100 percent supported each other without question, but what was terrible was that by the time she moved to a different city after eighth grade, I was socially awkward with anyone who was not Stephanie.  In high school I was shy and especially afraid of boys.

In the “Curriculum for Living” coursework I took last year through LandmarkWorldwide, I learned that once babies learn language, they develop a voice in their head that is constantly judging everything around us.  They call it the “Already Always Listening.” The constant narrative in our head seeks to make ourselves right and others wrong. The price of being right is that we sacrifice closeness with others, and thus, happiness and fulfillment. My theory is that when the voice in our head develops (when our vocabulary expands), we start judging everything, which makes those magical automatic friendships harder to come by. Once we are aware of the voice (assuming we ever do), we can actively choose not to listen to it or automatically believe it, and instead consciously set aside judgment so we can enjoy the company of others.

Friendship is sharing a cup of coffee, a joke or story, enjoying the moment together, without expectation. Enjoying the beauty of nature together in the moment. Helping someone because you want to, not because of what you will get in return. Sightseeing in a new city, delighting in discovering the neighborhoods, appreciating the architecture and the unfamiliar foods. Calling a friend to share a difficult situation, and not being worried about being judged. Friends make the journey of life easier, help us feel connected in the community, and feel our life is making a difference.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Nature of Laughter

The nature of laughter is, for most people, a spontaneous release of energy when you find something amusing. It manifests in many forms and has many names, such as guffaw, titter, giggle and snicker. Laughter is stress relieving. It is social. It is something you do more of when you are rested than when you are stressed and exhausted. It leaves your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after, reduces stress hormones and boosts the immune system, according to an article in

As human beings, we are able to see the humor in a situation due to our developed intellect, which lets us see situations in perspective.

Apes, rats and dogs display behaviors that appear to be laughter, but will we ever really know if these creatures are actually laughing until we can speak the same language and ask them? According to a Wikipedia article, rats like to tickled, and have more optimism after they have been tickled. Dogs seem pant in a way that sounds like human laughter, display a "play face," and are more pro-social when they hear recordings of dog laughter. Chimps and other apes create laughter-like vocalizations, interspersed with panting, in response to tickling, play-chasing or wrestling.

When I laugh, it is often to share a special moment with someone, bringing us closer. Other times it is out of pure enjoyment of a funny movie, ridiculous situation or joke I have just heard.

My friend Lisa Bouta, a certified laughter yoga professional, begins her monthly Metro Women in Business meetings with a group laughter yoga exercise, setting a positive tone for the entire meeting. To visit Lisa's Meetup, which meets on the fourth Monday of the month in the south or west Minneapolis metro area, RSVP to:

Usually, laughing and a genuine smile happen at the same time. But for someone with a twisted psyche, laughter could be a cruel celebration of another's pain. There may be a smile, but it's more of a grinning rictus ("sustained spasm of the facial muscles"), and not a genuine smile of happiness. There are many famous examples of movie actors with cruel laughter, including "The Joker" in Batman, or Vincent Price in Michael Jackson's Thriller video.

I enjoy hearing people's many different types of laughter. My favorite type is a woman's high-pitched laughter with a dose of musicality.

To sum up my philosophy of laughter in a few words, I hearken back to a column in the old-fashioned Readers' Digest magazine: "Laughter—the Best Medicine"!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Cut Trees, Cut Years, Cut Lives

They cut down the trees on our median a few weeks ago.  Not just trimmed them, I mean they cut them all the way down; the tree trimmers returned with a chipper and and chewed up the stumps. The first few days after this the "tree butchery", I felt a palpable sadness, like a weight sitting on my chest. The street was eerily bright, no longer filtered through many branches. Before school one day, Tacy knew they would be cutting the trees, and she ran out to the Russian olive tree and gave it a hug and kiss. After school a few days later Joscelin ran up and down the street with our Chihuahua, kissing each stump.

Desolation: post-tree removal on Northeast Main Street
 Why the five-block stretch of clear cutting?  Turns out the neighborhood group decided that the sprinkler system was out-dated and the soil poor and not absorbing water. They wanted to start over by ripping out the sprinkler system, replacing the soil, making the median concave, and planting native plants and different trees. Granted, most were ash trees that would have been cut anyway, thanks to the Emerald Ash-Borer infestation. But a few were saplings that had just been planted last year. And why did they have to cut the majestic Russian olive in front of our house?  I had climbed that tree as a 10-year-old — all of my kids have climbed it — and it was strong and healthy.

I felt like the "Lorax" speaking for the trees when I phoned Mr. Michael Rainville, a long-time neighborhood group committee member.  "Couldn't that one Russian olive be spared, at least?" I pleaded. Rainville explained that the plan had been years in the making already, and it was impossible to change at this point. Soil replacement, rain garden construction and sprinkler removal were involved, so it was just easier to take all the trees out and start over. 

When my mom, Gerry Bruins (83), learned of the tree cutting plan, her countenance visibly saddened and she remarked, "Who would approve of such a plan?" She mourns the loss of sheltering shade and the trees' cooling effects. As frail as she is, it is doubtful she will witness the growth of the new trees beyond their sapling stage.

Falling leaves, felled trees, garden tools stored in the garage, tomatoes harvested...and Mom is growing old. Like trees, we have no control over when death swings its scythe our way. One minute we are sharing our moments and talents with others, the other we are hacked down and ground up into wood chips. Throughout the past 22 years of my married life, it has been a blessing for me and David to live with my mom. At first, the decision to move out of our hip Uptown apartment and into her 1890s duplex was due to financial concerns; now Mom truly needs someone to look after the house and yard, give her rides to appointments and the grocery store, and help keep her finances in order.

I never thought my Mom would become frail. She was such a dynamo, always doing favors for others and generous to a fault. In addition to holding down a full-time job with the city, she raised me as a single parent from the time I was 10, helped care for her own mother on weekends by painting and wallpapering the house, helping with grocery shopping, gardening and more.

How do you come to terms with the things you love winding down, wearing out and being cut down? I think the answer lies in making peace with our humanity, and being okay with doing "enough."  It requires self-reflection and an arbitrary decision as to what "enough" will be. Prioritizing our energies into the most important work is another factor. Easier said than done! Believe me, I have fought against it long and hard. Not so long ago I was still pulling all-nighters in my attempt to be a top-notch mother and successful business owner! And man, did I pay a price. My damaged feet are now unable to wear anything except well-padded athletic shoes or frumpy cork-soled shoes. Next weekend I hurtle towards Year 51 on this planet, and I believe accepting yourself for being human and finite is our challenge as well as our salvation.