Treading Lightly and Changing the World

Treading Lightly and Changing the World

I have been having an internal debate lately. Here are the two arguments:

  1. Treading lightly: I love the idea of not taking up unnecessary space. Of letting nature be. Of not filling even the virtual world with my picture duplicates and papers from college. Of giving people the room to think and ask questions and feel comfortable and dance. Of treading lightly on this earthly journey of mine, and not disturbing what is already so good.
  2. Making a difference: Both in the world and in Christian tradition, we want to leave our mark. Most people would say that they want to be remembered. In the Church, we want to bring light to the darkness. We are co-creators. We take trees and we build houses, stone and we build cathedrals, gametes and we build persons. We want to change the world for the better.

As I write this, I realize that the two thoughts are not necessarily contradictory. I grew up in a family of boy scouts and one thing that really stuck with me is “leaving no trace”: every place you visit in nature should appear untouched upon your departure, or even better than it was when you first arrived. We made sure to pick up after ourselves and after those who came before us. When I first thought of that lesson, I thought it fell under the “tread lightly” camp. But we don’t just “leave no trace” of our presence, we pick up the litter of others as well. And so, we do leave a trace, in a way, by making it better.

The problem arises because we all disagree on what is better. Would it have been better for Europeans to have stayed in Europe and not colonized the Americas, unknowingly wreaking havoc through the spread of disease, and sometimes intentionally destroying through slavery, violence, and racism? Or is it good that many local traditions were fairly supplanted by the newcomers own culture, language and religion? Should we have fewer children and instead adopt those who need loving homes? Or is each person such a wonderful, marvelous entity that an attitude of “the more, the merrier” is appropriate? I’m not here to debate. In fact, I am very over that. But do enjoy a good ponder, and a healthy dose self-reflection.

I appreciate the trend of minimalism, as I strive to practice it. Living clutter-free, or as close to clutter-free as possible in America with a toddler and an infant, helps keep me sane. I remember as a kid trying to get my mom to sit down with us and just watch a movie, as she repeatedly got up to clean something, and I am now that mom. It isn’t because we are masochists, but because, as moms, our home is our kingdom. We are in charge. And when that which you care for is in dissaray, it is hard to think about anything else! The adage is true that an exterior orderliness reflects an interior orderliness – and, for me, and exterior chaos creates an internal chaos! So I keep our home simple. I started with clothes – keeping what we wear, what we love, and what we need, and getting rid of the rest. I’ve Marie Kondo-ed my kitchen cabinets, our medicine cabinet, our linens, and our sports equipment. I am an adrenaline junkie and this is my high: having space to not be distracted, to sit and relax or to dance to the Moana soundtrack for the 10,000th time. I have started to try to carry this clutter-free environment with me wherever I go. I keep in my car only what I use. I’ve deleted old files on my computer, unstarred what I thought at the time were important emails I will never look at again. And in my activities, I like to just be. I don’t want to do crafts that I will make and not use. I cook. I garden. I read. I watch my children grow and explore. I hold my husband’s hand. I’m seeking the best of both worlds: appreciating and respecting and transforming to help something become more of what it is, and what it can and ought to be.

I don’t want to make the world a messier place, but I also don’t want to think that it’s all on me to perfect the world, either. I want to tread lightly, and I want to bring light to the darkness. I want to harvest a dirty, gnarled root and turn it into a beautiful, delicious meal to nourish the bodies and spirits of those I love. I want to be changed by the beauty around me. I want to soak it in.  And I want to cooperate with that which is good around me to bring out the best in everyone and everything.

I want to be salt. Too much salt kills a dish. Too little does nothing. The right amount allows the flavor of the food to shine forth, while it steps silently into the background.

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Beauty Will Save the World

Beauty Will Save the World

Reading this article by Humane Pursuits, and recent conversations with my self-employed motion designer husband have emboldened me to call myself and others to action: As Catholics, I firmly believe that we have to step up our game in the realm of beauty.

I know that I personally overvalue efficiency – why would I spend more on something when I can get something that works just as well for less? Because beauty will save the world. My husband works in beauty, in creating. My dependence on the success of his business has opened my eyes to the negative effects of my own short-term, function-oriented vision. If someone is willing to do a job he is trying to get for half the price and half the quality, many clients go with the cheaper. And who suffers, besides my family obviously? I would argue: everyone. Their company suffers, because even if they can’t really tell the difference between the two styles of product, the audience will notice that one has the it factor, and the other doesn’t. And the world suffers. It tells artists to stop making beautiful work because it is not wanted. No one shares crappy commercials on Facebook. But some of the most watched videos on YouTube are commercials that touch our hearts, inspire something within us, call us to something greater. Obviously, we need to be practical and prudent, but I would argue that beauty is a factor as important in our decision-making as function and cost. Otherwise, we begin to use and abuse things without orienting them to God, and we are tempted to begin to use people as well.

Minimalism and the Virtue of Detachment

Minimalism and the Virtue of Detachment

I was already getting into the minimalist movement via Marie Kondo* when my husband quit his job to start freelancing from home, I got pregnant with our second, and I lost my (part-time) job.

This pregnancy, I ended up getting rid of 10-15% of our stuff. Once the what felt like near-death symptoms of my HG wore off and I became more “normal sick” and mentally functioning, just mostly couch-bound, I hadn’t much in my control, many ways to feel productive, so I decluttered, and organized, and re-organized our house. A few weeks ago, I casually asked my husband if he ever used the holy water font by the front door, to which he responded while looking at me both imploringly and firmly, “Please don’t give away any more of our stuff before this baby is born.” Poor guy. It was a bag of donations for Goodwill every few days at one point. Plus a couch here and bookshelf there. But that’s just part of it.

I was, at first, living a privileged minimalism. I could get rid of something that didn’t “spark joy” in me and replace it with something cute with gold accents from Target or IKEA that did. Things have changed. Due to our current financial situation, with my husband being self-employed and a lack of regular paychecks in regular amounts, budgeting has been an adventure. We were already on the Dave Ramsey* bandwagon and at the beginning of this freelancing journey discovered You Need A Budget (it’s not free, but it is worth it). It has helped tremendously, says my husband. (I’m normally more involved with our finances but constant nausea isn’t super conducive to that.) YNAB is great because you tell each dollar where to go – it’s not designed to simply record where that dollar ended up going, and because it works with the actual money you have, not a theoretical amount that doesn’t align with your bank account. This has left us with the age old wisdom: if you don’t have money for it, don’t buy it. How has that been going for us?

My mom was great at buying in bulk, finding sales (maybe a little too great – “It’s on sale! If we don’t buy it, we will be practically losing money!”), and keeping every odd and end that passed through our hands for “someday”, “just in case”. I’ve definitely got her frugality, but her holding onto everything started to rub me the wrong way once I was in college and discerning religious life. I went away for a weekend with some nuns to learn about their life, and only brought with me a backpack with a change of clothes, pajamas, minimal toiletries, and a Bible. It blew my mind that you could live this way. We are talking about the girl who filled at 12 passenger van to move across the country for university, bringing even multiple sets of free weights which I lifted only when moving residences. Since getting married, I’ve been learning what I can and can’t buy from Costco. 50 lb bag of flour? Yes! We bake our own bread and go through it fairly quickly. Bag of nuts that I only use for a couple recipes? Pass. They have been sitting in my fridge for years. I still try to shop only from what’s on sale, but the hoarding thing is another story. If not minimalism, then simplicity has gotten under my skin. And while the end product of that is delivering bags of donations to Goodwill and a more open, more streamlined house, it starts, I’m learning the hard way, with my Amazon account.

I’ve always loved reading tips on our how to save money. It feels like entertainment that is also productive! And although the repetition gets old, I’m ever-hopeful that the next list will include an idea I haven’t heard before. The #1 suggestion listed is, almost without fail, cutting out Starbucks and either making your mocha-caramel-frappa-whoozie at home, or dropping it altogether. First off, I don’t like coffee. Secondly, due to probably both nature and nurture, I’ve never spent money on things I was taught to be extravagances. Like drinks. Bring a water bottle with you and fill it up. Not too hard. As a family, we already rarely go to the movies or out to eat. We stick to our grocery list when shopping and make ourselves leave the store or sleep on it to think it over before making a purchase. But then it hit me. Amazon is my Starbucks. Because we have a couple different accounts and I’m lazy, I didn’t tally up how much we have spent the last few years on Amazon, but I know I would be shocked by the number. No big purchases, mind you, and I don’t even buy clothes or shoes online because I’m annoyingly picky, but it’s sooo easy as a housewife to read a blog or hear a suggestion from an older, wiser friend and think, “That product would be so helpful! And it’s only $10! I’ll just pull it from my ‘household’ budget for the month. I’m doing my job.” Let me tell you: since my husband has been freelancing, our “household” budget has disappeared. Toothpaste, deodorant, soap, and toilet paper are the only non-food items we buy. Seriously. My recent Amazon order history is blank (except for some maternity underpants, but if your underpants literally made you throw up, you would think new ones were a necessity, too). When I first got into Montessori, I got major Instagram jealousy and thought I couldn’t educate my children well if I didn’t have every – or even one or two – wooden, naturally-dyed, organic things made by 7th generation German craftsmen with an affiliate link on a blog I liked. At first, I tried to keep up. Ahhh, my first experience of keeping up with the Joneses. A humbling one. Now, I don’t even DIY these activities. When my toddler is ready to sort by color, she doesn’t need anything I bought for the purpose. She doesn’t need a game I DIYed out of recyclables (that I went out and used and then saved for that purpose). She will sort her socks. And her balls. And her beads. Heck, with me stuck on the couch, she doesn’t even need me to model it for her most of the time. She will survive. And she will learn.

Another tip I read about to be thrifty is to have a “no-spend” weekend, or week, or even month. “Challenge yourself!”, the authors croon, “It will force you to be creative and work together!” Before this current stage of life, I could totally get down with that. Now? I laugh. How elitist I was! And how proud, I’m sure, my future self will see my current self as! It’s a constant temptation to see the good that others have, but to focus on the negative in our own lives. To wallow in our busyness and lack of time, and then we have kids! To mope over our financial situation, and then we lose our job! My life feels like a no-spend zone, I complained then, and I complained now. I thought not being able to buy red meat regularly was a deprivation, and now vegetarianism isn’t just a trendy lifestyle choice. But you know what? We aren’t starving – and some people in the world are. Not that my sufferings don’t matter because someone else has it worse, or even just different. It’s not a comparison game. It’s a humility game, if you will: seeing reality, including ourselves, for what it is, for what we are. Praise God. We have a home. And family and friends. We can feed ourselves and our children. We can put gas in our car to go to the park or to church. And if I really need new underpants, we will find a way to get me new underpants. I’ve heard it said, What if we woke up every morning, with only the things we thanked God for the night before? I am so grateful. I guess that’s what I’m learning from this whole experience.

I’m​ a list-maker, so I used to have a note on my phone with our immediate family’s special dates (anniversaries, birthdays, Baptism days, etc.) and next to each of those I had a gift idea. Whenever I came across or thought of another idea, I would extend the calendar , or even include less special days to make room for the purchases I wanted to make. It was hard letting that go. It’s difficult when something breaks to not be able to replace it. When people ask how you celebrated an event and you say, we went to the park or we had a nice homemade meal (like we do every week, but we did it with extra joy), it’s humbling. But this is our life. We are living this way by circumstance and by choice – but mostly by grace. This lifestyle is – I’m sure – closer to the reality of the “good ol’ days” than the idealized version expounding community and homegrown everything that exists in my head. I can see God’s hand at work, teaching me detachment, to stop creating needs for myself, to surrender my concerns over our financial situation to my omnipotent, omniscient, and most loving Father, to be grateful for every crumb on my plate and every sock I get to/have to darn, to, yes, enjoy the creative challenge of going without, to humbly let a generous friend buy us groceries​, and to just be – loving my people and using my things, rather than using my people and loving my things.

Plus, cleaning the house is a lot easier when you have less stuff to put away.

 

*Note: Any books, and almost any products really, that I recommend, I would borrow from a library or a friend if possible, and buy second-hand and locally if need be, to both save money and reduce waste.

My journey as a cook: Part I

My journey as a cook: Part I

After I graduated college, I moved to Spain to work as an English teacher and meet my Spanish, soccer playing husband (one of those two things actually happened). My first week or two were spent in a hostel while I tried to figure out where to live in the sprawling city of Madrid. Even though I was staying in a hostel, I cooked all my meals because who has money to eat out every day?! I remember my first day I went grocery shopping and it hit me for the first time: I don’t know how to cook.

This was a terrible blow to my ego because, for some reason, I thought of cooking as one of my hobbies. Growing up, I helped a lot in the kitchen. Being the oldest of the 6 at home kind of leaves no other option. But I only really knew how to be told what to do. Making my way through the grocery store, I tried to think of a dinner my midwestern mom would make a lot. I had it! Pot roast with potatoes, onions, and carrots! She would buy the meat from the Schwan man and it was to die for. I didn’t know what animal the meat came from, so I bought a couple slices of the cheapest deli ham, one carrot, and one potato. I would leave the onion for another day because it seemed a little extravagant. I got back to the hostel kitchen (after embarrassingly realizing that you have to weigh your own food, bring your own bags, and bag your own groceries in Spain) and looked for cooking utensils. I can up with a dull paring knife, a microwave, a coffee mug, and a spoon. I cut up everything, put it in the mug, added some water, salt and pepper, and kept adding more time on the microwave until it was edible.

And so began my cooking career.

To be continued…

Chic-Fil-A and the salt of the earth

Chic-Fil-A and the salt of the earth

What it means that Christ calls us to be salt of the earth became much more clear to me the other day. We were leaving the Chic-Fil-A Escondido drive-thru and I realized we forgot to ask for salt for my french fries.

French fries are my favorite food. If I was stranded on a desert island and I could bring one thing it would be french fries. But french fries without salt are just potatoes and oil. Driving away, I tried to eat them, but I couldn’t choke ’em down.

Salt brings out the best in food; it brings out its true flavor. That’s why the vast majority of Christians are lay people. God placed us in the world (Jn 17:15) – in the midst of soccer practices and work deadlines and presidential elections – to bring out the good. He didn’t introduce us to our social media acquaintances or family members to win arguments.

He put us in our exact circumstances to love, and love calls forth love (1 Jn 4:19), just as salt calls forth the best flavors of those delicious fries.

Maternity clothes when you have HG

Maternity clothes when you have HG

I am 6 months pregnant and not yet sick of the three items of clothing in my closet. That’s a good sign!

Everyone is different, but my pregnancies involving hyperemesis gravidarum complicate many things, one of which being my style. I know that sounds low on the list when I’m practically homebound anyway due to HG, but for my mental health, I need beauty. And my collection of baggy t-shirts paired with no pants and the extra Tinkerbell mumu from the kids clearance section was not cutting it.

You see, HG for me means not being able to handle pressure on my abdomen or chest. I can’t wear bras, or pants, or skirts, or dresses with elastic below the bust, or underwear that cover everything. TMI for some, but for moms who can relate, we need to hear that we are not alone! In the first trimester, I can’t shower without vomiting because of the water pressure on my chest and back. It’s a good thing I’m hot blooded and only like a sheet anyway because pulling a blanket over my belly makes me physically sick. So where does that leave my inner fashionista?

Dying on the side of the road.

Then comes this season’s off-the-shoulder peasant dress to the rescue! Normally, I wouldn’t wear these things. Off-the-shoulder means gets-messed-up-everytime-I-move-my -arms. And peasant really doesn’t fit into my clean and classic vibe. But, let me tell you, after months of pantlessness and Tinkerbell, I feel like a freaking super model in the three dresses I own! Thank you, Target!

One is denim with a flutter top that gives an extra layer to cover my non-bra-ed chest. That hem and the one on the bottom are unfinished, so that’s some fun fringiness for ya.

The other two are the same style as each other but have different patterns. Tjey don’t have the ruffle up top to hide my au natural shape, but they are made to look embroidered  so the detailing is distracting. The print is the plastic-y kind that peels off after too many washes (ask me how I know), but they don’t look too bad yet. One in black with a white design and and the other in maroon with white and pink. 

The further along in the pregnancy I get, the shorter my dresses become, but as those with HG know, when you’re​ puking out of your nose in the bushes of the Costco parking lot from your wheelchair, modesty gains a temporarily lower value and a meaning more open to interpretation.

I also have a beautiful, spaghetti strap maxi from Motherhood Maternity in a navy blue with blush, burnt orange, and green exotic flowers. That fabric, though, has no give, and only lasts half way through the second trimester. But at least it coincided with winter for me so my legs were covered!

The underpants that have brought me such joy I got from Amazon for Valentine’s Day. My husband is a true romantic. I picked the non-lacey basics in grey, black, and neutral. There is a band inside, but only in the back to keep them from slipping down so no pressure on my belly. I got a medium just in case, but if I had to order again, would try my normal small.

There you have it. Literally three dresses and some underpants. Talk about a minimalist wardrobe!

What to wear while breastfeeding

What to wear while breastfeeding

Agggghhhhhh!!!!!!!!

I have been wearing the same three dresses for 6 months (that’s not true, I wore that fugly mumu from the clearance section for the first trimester) and my beauty-loving soul is starving to death.

But the end is in sight! And what do I have to look forward to? It’s not my fav, but it’s better than this!

Some women love nursing. All their baby weight goes into making literal awesome sauce for the munchkins. I love nursing too, but my figure doesn’t benefit in the same way. I hold onto those extra pounds no matter my eating/workout regimen until we cut out the momma milk altogether, and then they melt away!

That leaves me with loose fitting clothes to hide said extra baggage, whereas my non-pregnant/nursing self wears legitimately only waist-defining items.

And some people might like cleavage, but to me it’s just a nuisance. When I’m nursing, I double in size, and I have to consequently double up on my sports bras if I want to jog or dance. Anything that doesn’t have a high neckline, has a too low neckline. Models and some people in real life don’t look too strange showing cleavage, but I feel absolutely exposed. And HUGE. And veiny. And not sexy.

What does that mean for me? That advice to grab a v or cowel neck top for nursing doesn’t cut it. And a scoop neck will give you a scoop of something! Wear a scarf you say? Obviously you don’t live in southern California in the summer time.

Ok. It has to be loosely structured, with a high neckline, in a lightweight material, that won’t show leaks or stains (so solid prints – my air – are mostly out, as are many lightweight fabrics)… What can I wear?

I’ve got four boxy, casual shirts and three short sleeve blouses that I wear with maternity shorts or pants (and no photography skills, so you’ve got to use your imagination). One tee in light blue, a leaf-printed one, a white guy with thin black horizontal stripes, and a white peasant top with navy blue embroidery. A royal blue blouse with subtle, flutter sleeves and two patterned Merona buys are my up-my-game, I was once in the career world too, tops. These I pair with a nursing camisole from undercover mama that attaches​ to my bra so I only have to deal with one set of straps instead of two. I’m not a huge fan of the double layering thing simply because it’s hot, but it provides dec coverage and isn’t ugly. Let’s top that off with one nursing dress in light grey from Dote Studio with a scalloped hem hiding my chest of plenty that gets worn to every Sunday Mass, every wedding, and every date night for the next year.

I’ve got my eye on a nautical, little number from Seraphine with cap sleeves, blue and white stripes, and appears to be linen. It is a dress designed for nursing, so I have high hopes. But don’t buy it before my birthday because if they are sold out I’m​ gonna be pissed.

I hear the advice all the time that you don’t need to buy nursing clothes, you can just wear regular clothes and make it work.

I call bull. We make it work because we have to, but I’d much prefer something designed to not flash the world, that takes into account my still present baby bump, my rather prominent and rather leaky chest, and the Bunsen burner often strapped to my hormonal, heat-flashing body. Even if it’s only for a year. Even if I might not wear it again. Even if it’s a chunk of change we could have put towards student  loans. Because, I’m not in the future. I’m here and now.

And right now, I want to feed my baby and feel beautiful.