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.

Advertisements
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…

5 things we are getting for our second baby, and 2 we aren’t

5 things we are getting for our second baby, and 2 we aren’t

With your first kid, there’s the baby shower. Everyone’s excited. Especially if that baby is also the first grandbaby. The cutesy stuff pours in thanks to generous and loving family and friends. Some of it you return so you have some practical stuff too. But what about baby #2?

Boy clothes – Our first was a girl, and this hunka munka is not, so despite my earlier attempts at gender neutrality, we will still need a few items. (The toddler’s favorite pajamas are her fire truck/helicopter/police car/ambulance/motorcycle ones. Butterflies are a close second.) But honestly, I’ve learned that summer babies don’t need a ton of clothes. If people gift us any (thanks for the cute, striped onesies, Nonnie!), I will be grateful. But on my “need” list for him are a couple t-shirts to go with his cloth diapers when we leave the house. We’ve got a hat, swim diaper, socks, pajamas, swaddlers, and blankets. At church, they are in the car seat asleep the whole time or under a blanket nursing, so he doesn’t need fancy clothes until he’s a little older, and then only one outfit. And maybe some trunks to go over the swim diaper because, who can resist. 

Baby carrier – While we already have a lovely Beco Gemini and a ring sling, we are a hiking family. For long/strenuous nature walks, we need something for each little person (don’t worry, we let them out often to run, but I don’t think the two year old can handle a 10 miler just yet). I’m looking into carriers that can put an infant on your back. We bought a hiking carrier with an external frame a while ago and hated it so we got rid of it. The Beco is great, but when I am hiking I prefer them on my back so I can watch my foot placement, and the manual says the back position is only for babies with neck control. I’m not waiting 6+ months to go on a hike guys. I need your suggestions on this one!

Mattress – And sheets. But no comforter or pillow. This is actually for the toddler, since she sleeps on her crib mattress straight on the floor (and has since about a year old, when I read about Montessori floor beds). I was going to get rid of the crib when we made that switch until I realized that if we had another (which we wanted) and they had to share a room (which seemed highly probable), I didn’t want my oldest smothering her little sibling with affection, or blankets, when I wasn’t looking. Our oldest stopped night nursing at 6 months (when I moved to the living room), so the plan is to put the babe in the room with the toddler whenever that happens in the safety of the crib. Which means that the toddler now needs a mattress! I’m thinking a twin, so it will last, well, until she moves out. I have made the switch to plastic-free, organic, natural jimmy jank in many areas of my life, and I know your face is pressed up against a mattress for like a third of your life beating in its contents, but guys, THE PEE! So feel free to try to convince me either way. We will just have to see what’s in the budget when the time comes.

Dresser – Not normally on baby registries, but with our first, we were in a one-bedroom so our dresser was also her dresser and changing station. For the past year, her clothes have been in baskets on toy shelves or on her closet floor. It’s time to upgrade. We did the measurements the first time around so we knew my husband who’s over a foot taller than me wouldn’t break his back changing a diaper on it, nor would I need a stool. So we are thinking the half-size, same height version of what we already have to go in their closet.

Carseat – #2 gets the hand-me-down. #1, the Costco multi-use on sale for $80 that’s been sitting on our dryer for 6 months.

What we are not getting:

Diapers – We did cloth for the newborn stage, so we are covered there. One is pink, but we got the rest as culturally gender neutral as possible. And it won’t kill him to wear pink. People confuse the sex of your kid even when she’s a girl in a headband with a bow and taffeta dress with roses on it and lacey slippers. One thing I learned with the first is that cloth can be so bulky, pants don’t really fit over them. You might see that as a drawback, but I see the silver lining! In the California winter, we just used leg warmers. And in the summer? Well, all he’ll need is a diaper!

Double stroller – Maybe we’ll change our minds on this. Many a woman is wiser and more experienced than I who swears by them. But, for now, my two year old walks just fine. I have not once had her ask me to pick her up because she was tired. Because she wanted love and attention, about every 5 seconds. But not for muscle fatigue. Plus, we’ve got at least two carriers that fit in the basket underneath the stroller if we ever need to swap! (Granted, no swapping will occur whilst babe still requires infant adapter and carseat. But it’s like St. Josemaría says: “Don’t create needs for yourself.”)

What wisdom do you mamas of more than one have to share?

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.

Who has room for a nursery? Sleeping 3 people in a one bedroom apartment

Who has room for a nursery? Sleeping 3 people in a one bedroom apartment

When our first was born, we lived in a one bedroom apartment and pictured (safely) co-sleeping as one happy, cozy family. The first night home we had her sleep in the car seat right next to our bed because the crib looked way to big and scary. A friend lent us a co-sleeper which we used gratefully for almost six months. For almost six months, I would wake up when she did, bring her into bed with us and place her between myself and the co-sleeper falling asleep nursing her. I would usually wake up some time later, try to put her back in the co-sleeper, wake her up, and begin the process all over again until morning. Any mom of a newborn can tell you, you love your baby to bits, but you get tired. It worked out just fine, until, she got too big for the co-sleeper and could sit up on her own. Since we didn’t want her crawling out, we started using a method similar to what we had been doing, but using the crib instead. Around that time, the fatigue was catching up to us. My husband was having a hard time concentrating at work and I was plain exhausted. I remember telling our doctor at her 6 month checkup that I had been scared driving to the appointment that morning because I was so tired. We couldn’t keep it up. Without another bedroom to put her in though, we didn’t have many options. So I moved to the living room.

We have a pullout sofa and every evening, before putting our sweet angel to bed, we made sure to use the restroom and grab our toothbrushes and pajamas. We would then have dinner, clean up, catch up, or watch some TV. We’d close the curtains and get ready for bed in the living room/kitchen. Daddy would sneak into the bedroom so as not to wake the babe, and I would pull out my foldable mattress. Success! I am not sure why it worked, but it did. Maybe she could smell my milk from the crib and so kept waking up frequently and unnecessarily. Maybe I was too sensitive to her every little noise and she to mine. But once I moved out, I couldn’t hear her and she couldn’t hear or smell me and we both instantly started sleeping through the night.*

We had friends who did the opposite and the baby got the living room while they got the bedroom and bathroom, but I couldn’t get dinner ready in time every night to do that in our house! Whatever works!

When we were able to upgrade to a two bedroom 6 months later, we appreciated it so much and saw it truly as a luxury. So I guess the old folks are right when they say to be grateful for each moment as starving newlyweds because these will be some of your fondest memories!
*I know not all babies sleep through the night at 6 months and we shouldn’t expect them to. But God knew what I needed and allowed it to work for us! Each family needs to take the mental and physical health of every person in the family into consideration when making such decisions. This worked for us!