Where Logic Meets Love

Companionship/Autonomy Series: Sara

Sunday, July 31, 2011

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This is Jessica dropping in briefly to say, I'm on vacation! Yay! Because I would afraid you would all feel neglected without any updates while I'm gone, I arranged for some lovely ladies to guest post in my absence. If you'd like to read the original post on which this series is based, you can check it out here! Please leave lots of wonderful comments for my guest bloggers and check out their blogs!

Here was the question: Within your marriage/partnership, how do you strike a balance between companionship and autonomy? What are the challenges you still face in finding this balance? And what role, if any, does faith in God play in how you create this balance?

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Balancing companionship and autonomy in the relationship between me and my boyfriend is simple: We just choose one or the other for as long as we can stand it and then switch.

In August 2008, I met Matthew, who was surprisingly thrown into my Boise Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) community. If I remember one thing from JVC orientation, it's "Don't date a housemate." I had absolutely no interest in dating during my JV year (and then he'll tell you he got new hip glasses, and we were glasses twins and I fell in love with him….blah blah blah). We each stayed single until sometime in November, when we brought up the idea of dating each other at a house meeting and our 3 female roommates gave us their blessing. ("Do you care if we date?" …awkward conversation? Um, yes.) Though my dad responded with a sarcastic "Well, that's cozy!" when I told him over the phone that I was dating Matthew, I still argue that it's better than the several suitors I had at my job…

In any case, we survived and lived happily in community for a year until we realized that our year-long commitment was coming to an end and we had to figure out what to do about "us." I had never been one for long-distance relationships. If I'm dating you, I want to be able to SEE you on a regular basis! I sort of abandoned that mindset and have been "going with it" ever since. Shortly after JVC, Matthew went to an artist residency in Michigan for several weeks and lost cell service. Our main form of communication became old-fashioned snail mail. It was just plain terrible. Then we visited each other back and forth in Chicago, Columbus, and the St. Louis area until our five-month trip to Peru, where we traveled and volunteered.

In Peru, the dynamic of our relationship changed completely. We were a team 100% of the time. With my Spanish skills and Matthew's sense of direction, we survived adventures of all kinds, not excluding culinary. With dishes that regularly included random animal body parts (tongues, feet, intestine…really, you name it!) and bus rides from hell, we had the pleasure of seeing each other very, very sick. We also pushed each other to the bottom of a canyon and back up (figuratively, mostly). I learned that I hate hiking. And that Matthew has a much deeper interest in old rocks than me. But we survived, taking care of each other and loving each other. Even when all his CRAP somehow magically ended up on my side of the room, or when he decided that he wanted to sit right.next.to.me while I was trying to write in my journal. That's companionship.

Since Peru, I've mostly been in Columbus, and Matthew moved from Chicago to Boston for grad school in January. Autonomy is easy. I wake up, go to work, come home, work another job, come home, sleep. I see my family and sisters. I read, I swim, I go on the Internet. I am independent from Matthew! Believe me.

When we do get to spend time together, like the 5 days I visited him in Boston in May, it's the best. I don't care if we're sitting next to each other on the train, or drinking iced coffee on rocks overlooking the sea, or running back to his house after being shat on by a bird. Being together is good.

Living at home with my parents is good and easy (and free), but I'm trying to summon the courage (and the money) to move to Boston and live in the same NEIGHBORHOOD as my boyfriend of almost three years. No more of these extremes: living in the same house or 12+ hours away from each other. Some kind of personal space is good, but having multiple states between us is a little much, if you ask me.

I think our relationship works because we started in a funny place, living in community for a year focused on simplicity, social justice, and spirituality. We're invested in working for the good of humanity and taking care of people. We feed off of and inspire each other and have been open to what life brings. Without the intentions of meeting or dating ANYONE during my JV year, I met this crazy boy whom I love deeply. Our relationship has evolved in so many ways and it's been tough being so far apart for so long. But if you ask us whether "it's working" the way things are... we'll just tell you we're really excited to be neighbors sometime soon.

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Sara works hard flingin' bagels and pushing kids on swings. She plans to move to Boston soon, but not above the liquor store down the street from Matthew's house, like he suggested. If you want to read more about their crazy adventures in Peru, check out their blog at www.piefoot.blogspot.com!

Companionship/Autonomy Series: Macha

Thursday, July 28, 2011

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This is Jessica dropping in briefly to say, I'm on vacation! Yay! Because I would afraid you would all feel neglected without any updates while I'm gone, I arranged for some lovely ladies to guest post in my absence. If you'd like to read the original post on which this series is based, you can check it out here! Please leave lots of wonderful comments for my guest bloggers and check out their blogs!

Here was the question: Within your marriage/partnership, how do you strike a balance between companionship and autonomy? What are the challenges you still face in finding this balance? And what role, if any, does faith in God play in how you create this balance?

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My relationship with husband is based on a deep level of trust, consideration, and respect for one another, and I think that is the basis for how we find balance between autonomy and companionship. In general, big decisions are discussed openly and without judgment or contempt of one another's opinions and feelings. Because of that, we're never afraid to say what we really think about a subject, so we never have to operate in ignorance of one or the other's true feelings.

For us it's all a matter of degrees – it is something that affects just one of us or both? Is it something big or relatively trivial?

For example, when husband was considering changing jobs as opposed to waiting for a higher position to open up, I was of course involved in the decision. However, I was hesitant to do anything to actually sway him in either direction because really, what he does for a living affects his daily life more than it would mine. I limited my comments to pointing out the pros and cons, and asking questions about how it would affect him and our life. When it became a question of maybe moving a few hours away, however, I decided it was appropriate for me to share an actual preference.

There's also a continuum of decisions on topics like big purchases vs. small purchases. For instance, when husband wanted to buy a smartphone so he could have his email and schedule available while on the road for most of the day, he asked me what I thought. We talked about whether or not we could afford a new air conditioner, an X-box 360 for him, and a new tattoo for me. But if I want to buy a book on Amazon or if he wants to buy a new video game, we don't expect notification or discussion, as long as we know there's enough money in the bank and it's not marked to pay a bill in the near future.

Similarly, if I want to dye my hair black or chop it all off, husband doesn't expect me to ask him how he'd feel about it (even if I would just out of curiosity), and he doesn't ask me how I'd feel about him changing how he wears his facial hair. We don't ask each other's opinion about clothes, I don't ask about the color of my nail polish or how often I shave my legs, except out of curiosity. These are trivial matters, and matters of personal autonomy. We both feel that the other has absolute autonomy over their own body.

So far I've only talked about superficial matters of career, money, and appearance, but how do we find balance in our relationship about the big things? I have to admit, it's been a struggle at times. I am much more aggressive, and at times closed-minded, than husband. I've had a tendency in the past to try to impose my beliefs on him, prioritizing my warped idea of unity as a couple over his personal autonomy. For the first few years of our relationship, I tried desperately to get him to become Catholic. I pushed him to the very limits of his ability to tolerate nonsense, and I am honestly surprised he never decided that the relationship wasn't worth that abuse. Now, however, I've come to terms with the idea that husband and I really don't need to agree on everything, not even the big things, to have a fulfilling and truly intimate relationship. I have honestly accepted that husband is genuinely apathetic of and uninterested by religion and spirituality, while I am thoroughly and irrevocably fascinated and deeply moved by them. We are different, and that's okay.

Another way couples have to address autonomy vs. companionship is in their sex life. I cannot go into any detail about my own because, respecting husband's personal autonomy, I know that he is uncomfortable with me sharing details about our sex lives with others, even if I am not at all squeamish and know that most people who read my blog have no idea what my real name is and therefore no idea who my husband is. We are, again, vastly different in that area, but because our relationship is based on respect, trust, and consideration, I choose to respect and give consideration to his feelings in order to not betray or lose his trust.

I can, however, speak in general terms from what I know about sexuality in married life. You can't expect your spouse to be on the same schedule as you. I would be shocked to find a couple who always wanted sex at the same time. You shouldn't feel bad about wanting sex when the other doesn't, and you shouldn't feel bad about not wanting sex when the other does. No one should ever feel forced to have sex out of marital obligation; sex should always be a freely-made choice of both individuals. At the same time, having sex even when you don't really feel like it isn't necessarily a case of coercion. It is entirely possible to make a free and conscious choice to participate when you're not aroused. This is the balance you have to find in your relationship – between respecting the other's feelings and your own, between being a slave to your own arousal or a slave to over-thinking it all. In other words, just because you don't feel like it doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, and it doesn't mean you should always do it either. Husband and I have had to struggle finding balance in all these areas and more in our physical relationship, and it's not over yet. Above all, we are committed to our foundation of respect, trust, and consideration.

For me, it's about neither always being compliant nor always being aggressive, but always trying to do the thing that does the most amount of good, or in bad situations, the least amount of harm to both of us. Something that came to mind while thinking about this question was that I'm not sure if I'll have the same idea of what autonomy means as other people. I considered the idea that people might not see husband and I as autonomous because of how much we dislike being away from each other. If there's a family event that one of us is available for but the other is sick or working, we usually don't go. We don't like to go to the grocery story or laundromat alone. I know this bothers some members of my family, but really, we're happy with it. I don't expect every relationship to work like ours, and I don't think it's a superior way to be either. It's just the way our personalities work. Both of us were always loners when we were young, and social situations are stressful for both of us. Having the other there helps us enjoy our friends and family with less stress.

I bring this up because I sincerely wish everyone would explore the kind of autonomy that works for them and their own relationship, because there's no magic formula. Some couples really are happy having one spouse/partner make all the decisions about big purchases or having their spouse/partner's input before drastically changing their hairstyle. If you're not made unhappy by that, that's great for you. Just because it would never work for me doesn't mean it can't work for anybody else. I know that some people wouldn't be able happy being with their spouse/partner as much as I like to be with husband, and that having enough personal space and alone time is an essential factor in their happiness. I want to end with this exhortation for diversity and individualism in all things, because all couples are unique, and you as a couple have a right to autonomy in addition to your autonomy as an individual.

peace.

Jessica says: Check out Macha's awesome blog at Life as a Reader!

Companionship/Autonomy Series: Caitlin

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

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This is Jessica dropping in briefly to say, I'm on vacation! Yay! Because I would afraid you would all feel neglected without any updates while I'm gone, I arranged for some lovely ladies to guest post in my absence. If you'd like to read the original post on which this series is based, you can check it out here! Please leave lots of wonderful comments for my guest bloggers and check out their blogs!

Here was the question: Within your marriage/partnership, how do you strike a balance between companionship and autonomy? What are the challenges you still face in finding this balance? And what role, if any, does faith in God play in how you create this balance?

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Hello to all of Jessica's readers! My name is Caitlin and I am very excited to be guest posting for Jessica while she is on vacation! I, like Jessica, am relatively newly married and I also blog about the fun and foibles of newly-married life on my blog The Rad Life. Feel free to check us out!

Before I really dive into this topic I first have to tell everyone about the cute and similar origins of my marriage and Jessica's. You see, Jessica and I both lived on the same floor during our first year of college: 7 Middle. And I think Jessica would probably agree with me when I say that our floor rocked. So much so that the gentleman who resided below us on 6 Middle were constantly venturing up to hang out with us. Jessica's husband Mike and my husband Bill were two such gentleman. So what you have here are two 7 Middle/6 Middle marriages. How cute is that?

Jessica's husband used to work for the housekeeping staff at our dorm as well and, hilariously, he always used to clean the door knob of my and my roommate's dorm room door. He would also leave a note on our dry erase board: "I cleaned your knob. -Mike." To this day, if ever I clean a door knob, I think of that and chuckle.

But that story had little to do with this post, so I will move on.

Companionship and Autonomy. I don't think anyone who is married hasn't had to contemplate this balance. I know I have in my marriage. I've done more than contemplate it, actually; I have all-out wrestled and fist fought with it. (That was a metaphor, by the way. Bill and I don't fist fight. I promise.)

I've never been the "clingy" and "needy" type. I have always been just as content to stay home by myself and read a book as I would be to go out with friends. So, since Bill I started dating and especially since we got married, I have been very surprised by the way I long for Bill's company. Literally, I miss him all day when we are working. Honestly, there is no place I would rather be in the world than snuggled up on the couch with him watching Netflix.

But all that doesn't mean that I don't get frustrated. That we don't get frustrated. Because the truth of it is he and I come from totally different family experiences. Not that one experience is better or worse than the other. But they are different. And so that, along with our own inherent personality differences, we often see the world differently. And this creates conflict.

An example? The dirty dish debate. When the dishwasher is full of dirty dishes and has no more space, my natural inclination is to place any subsequent dirty dishes in the sink. My husband, however, feels that those dishes should be placed on the counter so that we can still use the faucet. I, the person who is always wiping down those counters, think that is preeeetty much the most annoying solution ever. But it's simply a matter of differing priorities. Bill wants to be sure that he can get to the water. I want to make sure that the counters stay clean and there are not dirty nasty dishes just sitting around. How do we compromise? I try to make sure that I keep up with loading and unloading the dishwasher so that the situation doesn't arise. Because neither of us want to have to put dishes in the sink (or on the counter *shudder*) anyway.

But the point is that we each have different views and different needs. And yet, we are united in partnership. This is challenging. The example I gave was relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, but this issue presents itself in various aspects of our life together, and there are occasions when it's a lot more serious than dirty dishes.

But obviously this is part of what it is to be married. Does it make me nuts that Bill uses the kitchen towel and then leaves it on the counter rather than hanging it back where it goes? Yes. Does it drive Bill crazy that I put the toilet paper on the roll with the sheets under rather than over? Yep. But we have to acknowledge the validity of our spouse's perspective as well as acknowledge that whatever perspective we have of our own is not THE perspective.

And for me, that's the balance between companionship and autonomy: respecting your spouse. Obviously, deep down, we all think our way is the best way. But when you are married or have otherwise joined with someone else you can no longer let that kind of thinking dominate. Because, guess what? It might come as a surprise to you, but sometimes your spouse might have a better idea. Sometimes he is better at something than you are. Sometimes she knows more than you do. And that is the beauty of it! Two amazing, unique, and intelligent people working together for common goals and desires.

For us this means that Bill takes care of all the bills. He takes care of the budget. He makes the calls pertaining to our student loans or our bank account. For us this means that I make our grocery lists and I cook our meals during the week. I make the phone calls to schedule our various appointments. It also means that we share housekeeping responsibilities and, even though I am more socialized to notice a mess and therefore do more light cleaning throughout the week, he always rolls up his sleeves and helps on the weekends.

I think you can balance companionship and autonomy by both spouses recognizing and acknowledging the unique perspective of the other. And then utilizing the skills and abilities in your relationship in fair and effective ways. And this, we believe, is what God desires in the marriage relationship. We believe God wants us to see each other. Really see each other and respect our differences. We believe he wants us to contribute to our marriage by using the unique gifts we both have. He doesn't want us to conform or change ourselves in an attempt to make our partners happy. Because in the end THAT WON'T REALLY MAKE ANYONE HAPPY.

Do we have this down? Not totally. But the important thing is that we are always working on it.

Words, Happiness, and Faith

Sunday, July 24, 2011

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Words, Happiness, and Faith | Faith Permeating Life
[STOP! If you have not yet taken the Positive Feelings survey, please do so before reading this post:

The Positive Feelings Survey

I may update these results in a later post if I get more responses.]

A few months ago, I pondered the different words people use for positive emotions, such as happiness, joy, satisfaction, etc. I created a survey and, after receiving 51 responses, decided I had enough for some preliminary observations. This is not meant to be scientific by any means, just a way of asking questions and satisfying my curiosity.

The first thing I did was to create consistency among the answers by making them all (where possible) into nouns. So "happy" became "happiness," "satisfied" became "satisfaction," and so on, so that I could lump together all the people who said essentially the same thing.

The Less Interesting Findings
I didn't find any noticeable relationship between what people called an emotion and how much they felt it. Most people felt positive more often than not: On a scale of 0 to 5, the average rating was
  • 3.74 for the extent to which people felt a "generally positive emotion" about their life in general
  • 3.98 for the extent to which they had a "positive outlook about the future"
  • and 3.42 for the extent to which they tend to see "the positive side of something that's currently happening."
Also, on average, people experienced "something especially good" occurring (and the accompanying positive feeling) a few times a week, with answers ranging from a few times a day to a few times a year.

There was no apparent relationship between levels of positive emotions and faith in a higher power. Average faith in a higher power for the respondents was 3.5 on a 0 to 5 scale, which isn't that surprising since many respondents were readers of this blog or my friends and family, most of whom call themselves Christians. However, the Pew Center reports 71% of Americans are "absolutely certain" they believe in God, so it looks like my small sample was at least leaning in a direction representative of this country. (I don't know if all my respondents were from the U.S.)

The More Interesting Findings (I think)
I found there was no relationship between how often people experienced an event they felt especially good about and having a positive feeling about one's life in general or towards the future. However, there was a positive relationship (r=.407, p<.005) between having a positive feeling about one's life in general and having a positive feeling about the future, and also a positive relationship (r=.379, p<.005) between having a positive feeling about one's life in general and seeing the positive side of things that are currently happening. This seems to me to lend credibility to the idea that it's not what happens in your life but your attitude that most determines how happy you are. One of the things I found most interesting from the survey results was seeing which words people most often used to describe different types of positive emotions. You can see in the tables below how many different people used the same type of word to describe an emotion. I had also speculated that people who used certain words, such as calling an overall positive feeling about life "joy," were more likely to have faith in a higher power. That seemed to be the case, to a certain extent. See what you think. Note: Each of these tables contains only those words that were mentioned by more than one survey respondent. Some of the unique responses are listed after all the tables. (And sorry the tables are so ugly-looking; Blogger doesn't play nice with regular html tables so I had to use Google Docs.)









I'm interested in your thoughts on this, and I'll briefly share my own.

It seems like there is a relationship between faith in God and seeing life events as purposeful or planned. Thus you see reactions to good events with words such as "blessed" and "gratefulness," and "hope" and "faith" as descriptions of future outlooks, corresponding to higher levels of faith. On the other hand, words such as "satisfaction" for a general feeling toward life and "elation" and "excitement" for reactions to specific good incidents are related to lower levels of faith; this, to me, indicates much greater spikes in emotion when something good happens, as if it's a stroke of good luck in an otherwise hum-dum existence.

Also, people who described a generally positive feeling about their life as "joy" tended to have a higher faith in God, as I had guessed, whereas people who described the feeling associated with specific positive events as being "joy" had lower average faith than those who called those moments "happiness." That may be, in part, a result of people who read my original post before taking the survey (shame on you!).

Here were some of the more interesting unique responses:

What do you call the emotion you feel when something especially good occurs in your life?
  • "Suspicion"
  • "Surprise"
  • "Awesome"
  • "Magical"
"What do you call a generally positive emotion about your life in general?"
  • "Attitude"
  • "Love"
  • "Fulfillment"
What do you call the state of having a positive outlook about the future?
  • "Potentially dangerous"
  • "Wishing"
  • "Future-oriented"
What do you call seeing the positive side of something that's currently happening?
  • "The bright side"
  • "Cup half full"
  • "Resilience"
I'll state yet again that this is no scientific study and I'm not trying to make any sweeping generalizations with it. I just thought it might be interesting to do a kind of initial investigation into the language around positive emotions and how they relate to faith.

Does anything jump out at you as particularly interesting here?

A Married Woman by Any Other Name...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

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A Married Woman by Any Other Name... | Faith Permeating Life
Since this discussion got buried in the comments of another post (which already had the most comments of any post so far!), I thought it would be good idea to give it its own post.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned before, but one of Mike's minors in college was Women's and Gender Studies. We took a class together called "Women and Psychology." I also took a grad class called "Women and Communication" taught by my advisor/favorite professor, who was a very outspoken divorced feminist. So as you can imagine, between the two of us we encountered quite a lot of discussion and debate around issues like historical patriarchy and the sacrifices women make in our society.

In that atmosphere, it would have been impossible for me to plan on taking Mike's last name without giving some thought to it first.

I have attempted to make some big countercultural decisions in my life, none of which have yet panned out. At one point, I decided that I never wanted to learn to drive. (I did.) My mom tells me there was a point I swore I would never go to college. (I did.) Then when I graduated high school I said I was never getting married. (I did.) And I'm pretty sure at some point prior to that I had decided that if I did get married, I would keep my own last name.

So what changed?

Common vs. Rare
For one thing, when I arrived at college, I was no longer the only person in school with my full name. Having a very common first name for my generation, combined with a very common last name, meant that from the moment I stepped on campus and went to pick up my student ID I had to clarify "which one" I was. My first year, there were only two of us, then the next year two more showed up, though apparently they both left by the following year because it was back down to two of us again. I have a feeling the other Jessica got mistaken for me more often than the other way around since I was very active in multiple organizations, including the student newspaper, so my name was pretty well-known on campus. Still, it caused problems and was just generally annoying to feel like I wasn't unique.

Mike, on the other hand, has such a rare last name that as far as I can tell there's only one other person in the world with my married name (one of the many reasons I don't share my full name here). If you Google my name, everything pertains to me and only me, which is a blessing and a curse. I've been able to build up my online footprint from scratch, so I won't be connected to anything from college or before if I don't want to. I also don't have to worry about somebody else with the same name posting inappropriate things and having them mistakenly linked to me. Future employers Googling me will find my LinkedIn profile at the top of the list, not buried among thousands of links about other similarly named people.

The Jokes... Oh, the Jokes
No, I didn't have an embarrassing maiden name, like Weiner, but my full maiden name was similar to a celebrity's name. When I got to college, I met a lot of new people, and when I started job-hunting, I met even more people, and about half of all the people I ever met felt the need to make an awkward joke about the celebrity with the similar name. I got so sick of it. It didn't happen often with people my age, but practically every adult my parents' age felt the need to crack a bad joke. And that's not what I wanted people's first impressions of me to be linked to!

The other problem with the name resemblance was that because my name wasn't identical to hers, I got called the wrong name. A lot. And then people would feel obligated to make excuses about how they were thinking about their friend or their cousin or somebody else who looked like me who had that name, but I knew what the real reason was. I've been married almost two years now, and in that time, nobody has called me by that wrong name. It's been fabulous.

Family Heritage
Mike comes from a relatively big extended family: His dad is the youngest of 9, and he's one of 23 grandchildren. However, only two of his grandparents' sons had sons, and Mike's the only married one. It's looking more and more likely that we may be the only one of that entire clan to have kids we could pass on the (very rare) family name to. So it was pretty clear which of our last names we wanted our kids to have. Which brings me to...

Simplification
If this had been the only reason, I'm not sure if I would have taken Mike's name, but it's definitely the icing on the cake. For better or for worse, American society pretty much operates under the assumption that moms and dads and kids all share one last name. Even with all of the paperwork that schools require to document family information and legal guardians and whatnot, I still know of cases where moms were questioned about picking their kids up from school simply because they didn't have the same last name. And particularly since we're planning to adopt our kids, the more that I can do to make sure everyone knows we're a family unit, the better. Certainly this could have also been achieved by Mike taking my last name -- for example, my former boss's husband took her last name -- but for reasons #1, #2, and #3 above, that wasn't a good option for us.

The divorced feminist professor I mentioned earlier -- she kept her last name when she got married (and tried to convince me to keep mine), but her kids' friends called her Mrs. [Husband's Last Name] anyway, even after the divorce, since that was her kids' last name, and she didn't bother correcting them. I think I would feel weird either having to correct kids all the time or just being called by the wrong name.

I've found sharing a last name with Mike to come in handy numerous times since getting married. Again, for better or for worse, no one questions that I'm his wife. We can pick up each other's library books when holds come in; we can use each other's credit cards when necessary.

I should reiterate that these were just my reasons for changing my name. This doesn't mean that I think everyone with a common name should take their spouse's last name or vice versa. But I am a big fan of having reasons for your actions and being able to explain them. Many people assume that I took Mike's last name because, well, that's just what you do when you get married, right? Others think I fell prey to old-fashioned, stereotypical, patriarchal notions about ownership and tradition. But in reality, I had my reasons -- and now you know what they are.

If you are married, did you change your name? Why or why not? What have been the pros and cons of your decision?

Pre-Vacation Ball of Stress

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

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Pre-Vacation Ball of Stress | Faith Permeating Life
I'm having one of those days.

It's a day where everywhere I look, I see something that needs to get done.

Right now, from where I'm sitting:
  • Empty pill organizer. Need to refill it with my vitamins.
  • Hangers. Shoot, Mike took the laundry to my parents' house and forgot to bring hangers again, so we'll have to steal more of their hangers and add them to our overflowing closet.
  • Our car insurance bill. It's sitting next to me because I had to e-mail our insurance agent for the third time to see if we'd get a corrected bill by the time we leave for vacation. Also, this reminds me I need to pay our renter's insurance. (OK, done.)
  • Our check for our vehicle stickers. Needs to go in the mail tomorrow since it's due before we get back.
  • My e-mail. Oh yeah, I promised my friend I'd look over her paper. Hopefully I'll have time before we leave.
  • Even this blog. Argh, still need to schedule the awesome guest posts I got and e-mail my guest bloggers with the date theirs will be published.
I seriously need a vacation just to deal with the stress of having to get ready to go on vacation.

My brain can't stop coming up with things I need to do:
  • Don't forget to set PaperBackSwap and Half.com on vacation so no one orders books from you.
  • Tell the post office to hold your mail, but not yet.
  • Didn't you want to get some more library books for the trip?
  • Wouldn't it be a lot nicer to come home to a clean apartment? You should find some time to clean.
  • You cannot forget to pay rent when you get back!
It's ridiculous.

This is not even counting the stuff that has to get done at work before I go on vacation. My boss, unfortunately, is going to be at a conference until I leave for vacation, so I can't get his OK on my projects before I go. I just need to get done what I can and then send it all to him to review while I'm gone and let him distribute what he thinks is ready to go. He gave me about four new projects today before he left, so I'll have to move forward with those without getting any more clarification.

Oh yeah, I need to ask my coworker to handle room reservation approvals while I'm gone. Yet another thing to remember.

You know what does not help at all? The fact that it's 95-freaking-degrees in Chicago and it's that time of the month. (Woohoo TMI!) I am not well-equipped to deal with stress at the moment.

----

OK, I took a short break and let each of the rats take a turn riding around on my shoulder and then rewarded them each with a piece of apple. We haven't done much training with them yet, so I'm trying to start off small with getting them used to staying on me and being calm. Ernie climbed inside my shirt, which was kind of hilarious. Spending a little time with them made me feel better :)

I know all of you have probably had a day like this, so I'm just reaching out and asking for your prayers, your sympathy, your suggestions, whatever. I know myself and know that everything that is really, really important will get done in time and I'll be able to relax next week. It's just a little overwhelming in the moment.

I've got nothing profound or insightful today -- just another slice of life. I'm going to go do my gratitude journal and go to sleep now, and I'll try to focus on the small joys, like how cute our rats are and how awesome it's going to be to spend time with my relatives next week.

Wherever you are, I wish you a peaceful, non-stressful week full of small joys and gratitudes.

SPOILERS: My Thoughts on the Last Harry Potter Movie

Sunday, July 17, 2011

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I had other ideas for today's post... but then I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 last night, and now I just want to talk about it.

So I'm giving you fair warning that if you haven't seen the movie yet and don't want to know about it, you should click off this page right now. And if you hate Harry Potter, rest assured that this blog will be back to its regularly scheduled programming again by Tuesday.

I'm a pretty big Harry Potter fan. Not quite get-dressed-up-and-go-to-the-midnight-showing obsessed (Mike would have had to go straight from the movie to work if we did that!), but like when the last book came out I got it at 9 a.m. and sat down and read for 16 hours straight until I was done at 1 a.m. the next morning.

SPOILERS: My Thoughts on the Last Harry Potter Movie | Faith Permeating LifeI wasn't nearly as excited for the last movie as I was for the last book -- with the last book, I didn't know what was going to happen; with the last movie, I knew what was supposed to happen, so the only thing to see was whether they got it right or not!

I'm usually pretty understanding when it comes to movies and books being different, but I was severely pissed off at how badly they screwed up the sixth movie. Even ignoring what happens in the book, it made no sense that Draco would spend the whole movie fixing the Vanishing Cabinet so that the Death Eaters could come in and stand around for five minutes and then leave without fighting anyone.

However, I thought the seventh movie was fantastic. It was amazingly close to how I pictured things happening, even if they did add in a few things and obviously had to leave out a lot. So I had high hopes for the last movie. I was glad that I opted not to re-read the seventh book before seeing the movie, because I could just focus on the internal logic of the movie and not on the differences between the book and the movie, other than what I remembered from reading it four years ago.

What I Loved:
  • Details I remembered from the book -- like everything multiplying in Bellatrix's vault, the Snitch, and who appeared to Harry in the forest -- were included. It felt like, in general, they really wanted to stay true to the book and not switch things up for no reason.
  • I thought they did a fabulous job with showing Snape's memories. In the book, it goes on for pages and pages and there's the whole thing about Petunia being jealous that would have been unnecessary to include. They managed to make the whole series of flashbacks last only a minute or two and yet included just enough that it was easy to follow the story. And yes, I cried.
  • The really memorable lines from the book were included: Snape saying, "Look at me." Dumbledore saying, "Of course it's in your head, but that doesn't mean it's not real." And most importantly of all: "NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!"
  • In the book, the whole "Ron faked Parseltongue" things never made any sense, and I thought it was a cop-out on Rowling's part. I loved the "Harry talks in his sleep" line because it was a much better explanation.
  • The heavenly King's Cross station looked exactly like I'd pictured it, even what the "flayed baby thing under the bench" looked like. They could have gone all stereotypical with clouds and mist and stuff, but instead it was just as it should have been.
  • In general, the whole movie. They did a really, really good job of including the important parts of the book and making sure everything flowed together.

What I Didn't Like:
  • When Harry goes to tell Hermione and Ron he's going to the forest, Hermione understands why and they have this whole emotional goodbye with hugging. Ron just stands there. Nobody ever clues him in, and he never asks, and Harry doesn't even say goodbye to him. It was totally weird. Mike and I agreed that they probably originally had Ron say something funny and it got cut out as not being appropriate for the moment. In the book, Harry doesn't say goodbye to either of them (I checked when I got home), which I guess would have looked strange on-screen when you can't tell what's going through his head, but that didn't make the scene they created any less awkward.
  • There was a completely unnecessary exchange of dialogue added in between Harry and Dumbledore about Lily's and Snape's patronuses being the same. You already get it from the flashback scene where Dumbledore sees Snape's patronus and says, "Lily." And then when Harry's talking to Dumbledore, he says something like, "Their patronuses were the same. That's a strange coincidence" and Dumbledore says, "Oh, I don't think it was a coincidence." Huh? What? Are you just emphasizing yet again that Snape was in love with her, or are you trying to make some other insinuation? It was just weird and unnecessary, and clearly not from the book.
  • In the book, you get a clear explanation that because the Elder Wand was really Harry's, Voldemort's killing curse rebounded on him. They didn't bother trying to explain it in the movie, so instead it looks like Voldemort loses his wand and then just explodes for no real reason. I think they tried to tie it to Nagini's death by having that happen at the same time, like once she died Voldemort couldn't live anymore, but that isn't right.
  • I'm glad that they included the epilogue, but the characters didn't look old enough and so it was very strange to try to pretend they were in their late 30s. I read in Entertainment Weekly that initially they made them look too old and it didn't look right at all, so I guess they did their best, but I thought they could have done a bit more to make them not look like college kids.

What I Wish They'd Included:
  • One of my favorite moments in the Deathly Hallows book is when Harry gives Regulus Black's locket to Kreacher, and Kreacher transforms into a loyal, fight-to-the-death ally of Harry. In the movies you're just left thinking Kreacher is still off being miserable and grouchy somewhere.
  • I thought it was cool in the books when they figured out that the Horcruxes had to do with the different Hogwarts founders. In the movie, they never even mention that the cup is Helga Hufflepuff's, and they figure out the next Horcrux has to do with Rowena Ravenclaw because *ooh, Harry has a vision of her face.* It kept the story moving, but I liked the mystery-solving aspect of figuring out the Horcruxes in the books.
  • In the book, the Malfoys take refuge in Hogwarts at the end, and that's how you know that they're not going to be punished for their involvement with Voldemort. In the movie they just Disapparate, and when Harry sees Draco 19 years later there's no interaction between them at all. I guess maybe that was too complex to try to capture on-screen, but it would have been nice.
That was my take on the movie! What did you think?

You Can't Get an A in Saving Money

Friday, July 15, 2011

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You Can't Get an A in Saving Money | Faith Permeating Life
I've been thinking lately about saving money... but not in the way you might expect.

One of the blogs I follow recently posted this powerful post in which she basically explains why no matter how frugal you are and no matter how much money you save up, there's no guarantee it will always be enough. And you can't live your life in fear of debt. Being proud of how frugal you are and saving up more and more money makes you no better in God's eyes than the person who puts their worth in their possessions.

I really struggle with this because I alternate between fearing we won't have enough money to achieve our few big goals (adopting a large family, buying land, and building our own house) and trying to keep myself from getting too obsessive about how much money we're putting into savings each month.

Mint.com, much as I love it, has totally messed with my perceptions because it's all based on a budget. I try to set our budget as high as possible in each category so we can see the "worst-case scenario," so it's always telling me that we're going to barely save the $250 that is our monthly goal, plus there are always a few categories where we end up spending more than planned. It scolds me by turning a month's budget red if we make even a dollar less than I said we would. The majority of the time I spend on Mint makes me feel like I can barely manage our money.

Yet when I look at our "trends" on Mint over the last year, I see that when you compare how much we brought in to how much we spent, we saved an average of $1,000 a month. How is this possible???

And then I feel like I'm being too tight with our money, even though I know we're saving up for a reason.

Yesterday I went to a seminar at work on saving money because I figured I could pick up a few tips even if it was mostly stuff like "here's how to make a budget." I did end up with a handful of notes (like "Don't forget to add the Christmas gifts budget to Mint now") but the vast majority of it was stuff I consider basic baby steps, like "Try to curb impulse buying when you go to the mall" (have I even been to the mall in the past year?) and "See if you can cut back to basic cable if you're not watching all the premium channels" (we don't even watch TV).

The worst part was that I was sitting close to the front and the speaker apparently needed constant reassurement because she kept asking, "You know what I mean?" and then pouncing on me if I looked at all like I didn't know what she meant. She kept making generalizations about women and shopping, like, "Women, how many black pairs of shoes do we really need? You buy a pair and then find you've got one just like it at home, amiright?" and "We're just lazy, we'd rather go buy a new dress than look through our closet to see what we have." The last time I went clothes shopping was in January and that was because I'd gotten a bunch of Kohl's gift cards for Christmas. I rarely spend money on myself.

I know all the statistics about how most people don't have a budget and that it's really common for people to buy coffee every morning and go out to lunch every day. It's just that the concepts of having an emergency budget, saving for long-term goals, and paying off my credit card in full every month are so drilled into me that I have a tendency to assume that people spending that much extra money must have that much more money than me, and so I find myself wishing that I had those kinds of things to cut out of my spending so I could save even more money and reach our goals that much faster. Which is silly.

Wise Bread ran an article last fall about how when they'd asked readers what money advice they were sick of, many people said they were sick of being told how much money they'd save if they "cut out their daily latte." People who spend a lot of time reading about personal finance aren't often the type to have these kind of "daily sacrifices" they can make to bring their spending down. One great blog I read, The Non-Consumer Advocate, recently asked people to post their money-saving ideas, and these were much more geared toward people who have the basics down: tips about what to find at thrift stores, how to get things free in bad shape and fix them up, what kind of free entertainment to look for.

One of the comments on the Wise Bread article, though, has stayed with me. Here's part of it:
When we are first new to this save-money thing, it is exciting because there are lots of strategies to learn. But eventually we pretty much have learned what there is to learn that we can apply to our lives. We all want to continue to learn, so we come to sites like wisebread. But it is an unrealistic expectation that we will continue to find a wealth of completely new ideas at the same rate.

Frugality has limitations. That's just the reality. You can't save so much money that your cost of living is zero. There is a bottom limit that is a realistic standard of living. But even if you do everything possible, for some people it still will not be enough to make ends meet. There just is no magic.
This is hard for me as a person who wants to follow all the rules and get straight A's and explore every possible avenue. There is no point at which the Magic Money Fairy will come down and say, "Good job! You are now saving 100% of the money you could possibly be saving!" It's an area where I just have to say to myself, "I'm doing enough" and be satisfied with that. I've already made some decisions about where my boundaries are, what things I won't cut out and won't do -- like I rarely attempt to find coupons because 1) we get half our food from our CSA and 2) Mike never remembers to take them to the grocery store anyway. The effort it would take to find and use coupons isn't worth the few dollars a month it would save.

This is an area where I need to "let go and let God." Maybe when we have five kids our current strategies won't be enough and we will have to become crazy coupon-clippers or something, but right now I feel like we're doing pretty damn good. I can't predict the future. It's possible we'll be completely fine and achieve all our goals and live long, happy lives in financial security. It's also possible that even if I found an extra $1,000 a month to put away, we'd get hit with something so big we'd end up in debt. There's no way to know. I can only do my best and trust God with the rest!

Why Get Married?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

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Why Get Married? | Faith Permeating Life
In Sunday's post, in which I dismantled the bishops' argument about how marriage is for procreation and therefore gay people can't get married, I wrote about how some of the initial reasons for marriage (paternity, inheritance) are not very relevant in America today. I started to write about what benefits of marriage are still relevant today, but it got really long and I cut it out... and then immediately got called out for it in the comments:

Interesting. And here you've said what marriage isn't for - any thoughts on what it is for?

It's a difficult question to answer for a number of reasons:
  1. There are various legal benefits that come from marriage as a civil institution. This is a big reason many gay couples want to get married. In college I took a class on LGBT history and current issues and we had a lesbian couple visit our class. They had a huge stack of legal documents that they brought with them whenever they traveled anywhere in order to ensure that they would have the same rights that a married couple would have automatically. (Some of these rights have since been granted for same-sex couples by the Obama administration.) But I don't think the legal benefits are why most people get married.
  2. Similarly, there are health and financial benefits. You can save money on car insurance and get better loan offers when you get married. Various studies have claimed health benefits ranging from "married people have more sex" to "married people live longer." The health benefits of marriage have even been compared to the benefits of giving up smoking. But again, I don't think most people are this calculating when they choose to get married.
  3. Many people get married because they were brought up to get married. The acceptance of unmarried couples raising a family together is a lot higher now than in my parents' generation. Growing up I didn't know anybody who lived with two parents who weren't married to each other. And I don't want to overlook the role that societal pressure and expectations can play in a person's decision. Now that gay marriage is legal in New York, some gay individuals have been pressured to get married. Religion, obviously, can also have a lot to say about when and why you should get married, and if you are a compulsive rule-follower like I am, that may play a role in your decision to get married. But it's a cold and incomplete explanation to say I got married because I was supposed to.
  4. Marriage is about love... except when it's not. Arranged marriages still happen. One girl I went to high school with was totally comfortable with the fact that she would eventually have an arranged marriage, and she explained how arranged marriages begin with respect and develop into love, rather than starting with love, which can be fleeting, and expecting it to develop into respect when the passion subsides. I wouldn't have wanted that for myself, but I can understand why she was OK with it. Marriages don't all result from the same kind of relationship.
The truth is, what marriage means to any one person and their reasons for getting married -- or not getting married -- are personal. I know that some people would like us all to be operating under one, static definition of marriage, but marriage's purpose and role in society have never been static.

So all I can share with you is what marriage means to me. How my relationship with Mike was different, in my eyes, after we said our vows at the altar.

First, I need to explain what I consider to be the difference between unconditional and conditional love.

Unconditional love is, by definition, love that has no conditions. It's most often talked about in the context of a parent's love for a child or God's love for us. It means that no matter who you are or what you do -- no matter if you're totally ugly, or you become disabled or ill, no matter how badly you screw up, no matter what -- you will always be loved. It is the love for the Prodigal Son. It is the love of a family and sometimes of close friends.

Less talked about is conditional love. When you are dating someone, your love is conditional. It has to be. You don't know enough about the person to know if you will always love them. You date them to find out if you're compatible, whether you have the same goals, and whether there's anything about them that you absolutely couldn't live with -- like, if it turns out they're a jerk. You may date many people, and when it doesn't work out, one or both of you ends it. You agree to stop having the same kind of relationship that you had. If you said, "I love you," you probably stop saying it. If you continue dating someone, you're both aware that it's a choice, that your significant other has the option to end the relationship but chooses to stay with you.

When I said yes to marrying Mike, I said yes to making my love for him unconditional. And at our wedding, I declared out loud, in front of family and friends, that no matter what -- no matter how much money we might have, no matter if one of us got sick, no matter how bad things might get -- I would love him. I would support him. I would join my life with his until death. I would look to God's unfailing love for me as a model for how I should love Mike.

That's how big of a commitment marriage is. It is not to be taken lightly. It is a commitment you make when you're absolutely sure that you can spend your life with this person no matter what.

I think this is why, before same-sex couples could legally marry, many still had commitment ceremonies or something similar. To make that official, once-and-for-all declaration and confirmation of unconditional love. It's something that can't just be assumed once you've been together for a period of time. Even Elizabeth Gilbert, who was entirely opposed to getting married again until she was forced to (see Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage for that story), and her partner had a private commitment ceremony and exchanged rings. Even she, suspicious of (maybe even outright hostile to) the idea of an official, government-sanctioned marriage, wanted to draw that definitive line in the timeline of their relationship.

That is what I think marriage is for.

What about you? What does marriage mean to you? If you are married or want to be, why is that important to you?

(UPDATE: Check out the What Marriage Means to Me guest post series for other responses to this questions!)

What Is Marriage For, Really?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

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What Is Marriage For, Really? | Faith Permeating Life
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Statement on Same-Sex Marriage (which is 15 years old but appears to be the one they're still operating under) lists two purposes for marriage:
  • "the mutual love and support of the spouses"
  • and "the procreation and education of children."
These are really awesome things, truly... but they make a pretty weak argument for why we have marriage in the first place. All of these things can and do happen both within marriages and in non-married relationships. Saying that these things are the "purposes of marriage" -- i.e., the reasons for marriage -- makes it sound like we need marriage in order to have these things. And that's just not true.

I'm going to set aside the mutual love, mutual support, and educating children parts of this for the moment because you can't make arguments against gay marriage using these "purposes" (since gay couples can do them too), which is why Catholic leaders have homed in on the procreation part in order to argue against gay marriage.

On the USCCB's FAQ page about Marriage and Same-Sex Unions [updated link], they make this argument for why marriage is unique and thus should only be between a man and a woman:
"There is a fundamental difference between marriage, which has the potential to bring forth children, and other relationships. The fact that marriage between a man and a woman will usually result in children remains a powerful human reality, even if circumstances do not prmit [sic] every marriage to result in children. This makes marriage between a man and a woman a unique institution."
The first sentence essentially says, "Married couples are the only relationships that can create children." Which is, um, completely false. Do I need to TiVo Teen Mom for you?

Then they go on to say that marriage is this totally special and unique union because it will usually produce children.

Ummm... I think you're mixing up marriage and male-female intercourse.

Seriously, this argument is so convoluted I can barely untangle the logic. I think they're attempting to say something like, "Because only married straight people can make babies, only straight people should get married."

We've already established that babies can be made outside of marriage, so this provides a pretty shaky foundation for the whole "the purpose of marriage is procreation" argument.

I know what you may be thinking: "But you shouldn't be having babies outside of marriage!"

This, my friend, is an entirely different Catholic argument, about how a purpose of marriage is for telling you when it's OK to start having sex. Which I've discussed elsewhere. (Also here.)

(And if you really, really want to argue that sex should be saved for marriage, then let's both fight for legalizing gay marriage -- otherwise gay people have nothing to wait for. And if you want to argue that gay people shouldn't be having sex at all because it says not to in the Bible, then I will patiently point you this resource guide.)

Way back when, when the whole idea of having some kind of official joining-of-two-people came about, it was not because people thought that there was no other way to have children. I mean, think about that for a second. You really think people said to themselves, "We want to have sex, so we'd better have some kind of formal ceremony or else we'll never produce children"?

I don't want to bore you with a history lesson (again, I will point to the many wonderful books out there, of which two of my favorites are Marriage, A History and Committed), but essentially marriage, at its most basic, is a way of organizing society, and in a cruder sense, of organizing children. Back when all property was passed down through eldest sons, it was vitally important to know which sons were whose and which were "legitimate" versus "illegitimate." Go read the book of Genesis if you want to get a sense for this. Rabbit pointed out on this post that this is a big reason Catholicism no longer has married clergy: Property would leave the church's possession and be passed down to these men's sons if they weren't forbidden to marry.

Nowadays we don't have as pressing of concerns about paternity and legitimacy and inheritance because these things aren't written into law, at least in the United States. And so, understandably, we see fewer couples feeling a need to get married. Because (need I say it again?) marriage and procreation are not one and the same.

Marriage can be a great way for spouses to find mutual love and support, and to create and educate children, but it's not the only way, and opening marriage up to gay couples won't change that.

----

What do you think? What did I miss? Respectful disagreements always welcome.

(In case you didn't catch it, this issue is near-and-dear to me not only because of my many gay friends, but also because I am a married person who doesn't plan on procreating but rather adopting.)

----

Reminder: If you're guest posting for me, I'd like your post tonight if possible. If you can't get it done by tonight, don't stress--I set a pretty early deadline relative to when I'm leaving for vacation. If you didn't volunteer originally but would like to jump in now, go ahead! I can always fit in a few more.

(UPDATE: Here's my actual answer to the question, "Why get married?")

Take Care of Yourself: It's Best for Everyone

Thursday, July 7, 2011

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Take Care of Yourself: It's Best for Everyone | Faith Permeating Life
This week on my favorite marriage podcast, Tony mentioned a recent moment when he'd lost his temper with their son. His explanation for what had caused him to snap was, of all things, about the weather: "I was hot, he was hot..."

It immediately reminded me of this post from The Happiness Project blog, in which Gretchen talks about how much happier she is when she "treats [herself] like a toddler." The idea is that when you travel with a toddler, you have to plan ahead and make sure your kid is comfortable, well-rested, well-fed, etc., or you're going to have a miserable situation on your hands. So if you want to make yourself happy, why not plan along the same lines?

A while back, I determined something about myself. If I am
  • Too hot
  • Too cold
  • In pain/uncomfortable
  • Tired
  • Or hungry
I can deal with it. But if I am two of these things at one time, I will get incredibly cranky incredibly easily. And if I am hot, tired, hungry, and I have a headache? Oh boy... watch out.

One of the primary objections to a "happiness project" is that it's selfish. It's all about you and your own personal happiness. But the truth is, for me to be the best wife/friend/daughter/employee/Christian I can be, I need to remove as many barriers as possible.

For example:

I have been doing pretty well taking care of myself since I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia, but I utterly failed yesterday. I knew my boss and I were going to have a lunch/brainstorming session outside the office to work on our department's strategic plan, and so I said to myself, "Oh yay, I don't need to pack my lunch in the morning because I'm going out for lunch!" It did not cross my mind that part of my "lunch" is an assortment of snacks I eat throughout the day to keep my blood sugar stabilized. Whoops.

Fast-forward to yesterday evening and I was so weak and shaky I could barely drive myself home. I crawled up the stairs and collapsed in our living room. I did finally manage to get myself some Triscuits and then feed the rats, but I didn't get the mail or clean up the dining room table or play with the rats like I should when I get home. I was utterly useless until Mike got home and made me some dinner. Not a good wife. Not even a good roommate.

Working to make sure I'm happy and healthy is not a selfish goal! Whether I'm taking care of myself has real consequences for the people around me, even at the most basic level of regulating my body temperature and being fed and rested. How many of us, like Tony, have lost our temper because we were cranky about something really fundamental within our body?

One of my happiness commandments is "prioritize right." Making sure I'm comfortable and functioning at my highest level has been a goal of mine since starting my happiness project. I have a bad habit, if I'm working intently on something, that I will sit in an uncomfortable position or put off going to the bathroom or eating food for way too long. It's incredibly stupid and I don't know why I do it. This year I've tried harder to pay attention to those bodily signals. Sometimes when I'm at home I'll even talk out loud to get myself to act:

"Jessica. You are sitting in an uncomfortable position. Stop what you're doing and reposition yourself."

"Jessica. It's 1pm. Shut your laptop and go make yourself some lunch."

It might sound stupid to talk to myself like that, but it's important for everyone that I take care of myself. I mean, if I'm exhausted, hungry, and I've got a cramp in my leg, do you think I'm going to feel like having sex with my husband? Probably not.

Take the time to take care of yourself! It's not selfish to focus on your own needs if it helps you to be a better partner and friend.

How do you take care of yourself? Do you struggle with it like I do?

Budgeting for the Long Term

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

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In case you missed the news, Mike finally landed a job after a year of job hunting. I'm very proud of him!

I've written previously about how I don't believe your standard of living should grow with your income and that when I got a promotion this year we weren't going to make any huge changes to our budget except committing more to our retirement fund. This ended up being a good strategy when Mike quit his part-time job and we were able to maintain our same budget, just without putting much money in savings for a month or two.

Now that we're looking at having a substantial boost in income, we've been discussing how to maintain our frugal lifestyle while taking advantage of this period while he's working. When we have kids, Mike will be the stay-at-home parent, so we want to be sure we can continue to live on just my income.

Here are the changes we've made or we'll be making:
  • Doubling the amount we pay toward his student loans each month. We'll save over $3,000 in interest over the long term, and pay it off in less than half the time, than if we continued with the monthly amount we were paying, which was already above the monthly minimum payment. We also took an interest-free loan from my parents for his grad school, so we're planning how and when to start paying that back.
  • Putting aside money every month for a vacation. We want to plan a big vacation with Mike's friends next summer, so we'll start saving up some money every month to make that a reality. This is the kind of thing that's good to do now before we have kids and which can be reduced or taken out of the budget if necessary.
  • Increasing our tithing amount. I've talked before about the importance and benefits of tithing. We split our 10% between our parish, our World Vision child, and another charity of our choice each month. We ended up folding that last part into our CSA subscription because we felt strongly about supporting the CSA, but now we'll have some additional funds to go toward charity again and may increase the portion going toward church as well.
  • Making some larger purchases. Mike needs a good desk chair -- he just uses a folding chair and it's horrible on my back when I have to use his computer -- and his current "L-shaped desk" is actually his childhood desk and one he picked off the curb, pushed together. We'll save some money as our budget allows and use that to get him a nicer setup.
  • Getting a pet. I promised Mike a long time ago that when he finally got a full-time job, we could discuss getting a pet. Given that we live in a small apartment, we decided that fancy rats would be the best pet for us. The plan was to save some money from his first paycheck or two before getting the rats, but no sooner did he land the job than he found someone on Freecycle giving away two rats from their own rat's litter and pleaded with me to let us get them. The next morning we were off to PetSmart to buy the necessary supplies before picking up our two new housemates, whom we dubbed Bert and Ernie :)


That's it! The rest of his salary will go into savings to get us closer to our goals of adopting kids and owning land.

Here's what we're not doing with the extra money:
  • Increasing our personal spending budgets (we each get $10 a month to use as we please)
  • Increasing our "eating out/entertainment" budget
  • Moving to a bigger apartment (although we did discuss this briefly)
  • Getting smartphones
We are viewing this as a temporary excess of cash rather than a permanent increase to our monthly budget. We're trying to plan long-term so that we won't be forced to "cut back" on our lifestyle if one of us loses our job or when Mike stops working to stay with our kids. Of course we will have to make changes to our budget when we have kids, but by then we should have a healthy amount of savings and have Mike's loans nearly paid off, and I should have a higher salary by then as well.

I can tell that my husband has really been reformed from a spender to a saver because he has actually started brainstorming ways to save even more money so that as much of his salary can go into savings as possible!

What do you think? What are good and bad ways to deal with a temporary influx of money? Do you think we're taking a good approach?

The Happiness Project: July is the Month to Regroup

Sunday, July 3, 2011

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The Happiness Project: July is the Month to Regroup | Faith Permeating Life

It's time for a happiness project check-in!

I have several themes I want to focus on during the rest of the year, but none of them seemed right for July.

Since I'd only made charts for the first half of the year, I decided to take the opportunity to review all of my resolutions to date and winnow it down to the ones I felt did the most for my level of happiness. I had a mini-meltdown last Thursday (a combination of many different factors, including lack of sleep and way too much paperwork) and decided that I couldn't put anything more on my plate right. So July is going to be a month for solidifying the habits I've been trying to build so far this year, so I'm more prepared to continue through the rest of the year.

Here's what I'll be concentrating on for July:
  • January: Wii Fit twice a week and taking vitamins every morning. I'm also adding "sunscreen" to the the list because I've never been able to remember to wear it even when I put it right next to the bathroom sink, and I suddenly realized having it on my chart would give me the needed push to make it a habit.
  • February: I'm dividing up my journal into two sections and I'm going to keep two separate lists: One of things I'm grateful for and one of things I'm looking forward to. I'll add one thing each day. I will also continue "doing my homework" once a week.
  • March: It will continue to be a priority to check that I have everything I need before leaving home, and I'll keep pushing myself to save my work as often as possible. I'd also really like to get our emergency kits finished -- now that Mike has a job, we'll have a little extra cash to make these kind of purchases.
  • April: I'm keeping my resolution to always have an e-mail draft saved to someone, though I might eventually push myself to send one short e-mail a day. Otherwise I end up with one draft sitting around for a week or more.
  • May: I definitely want to continue having lunch with one friend each month.
  • June: Mike and I have gotten back in the habit of praying together every night, and I'd like to keep that up.
To me, this seems manageable and a good way to keep up the best parts of my project thus far.

The hardest thing for me is to remember that this isn't a project for "self-improvement" but for happiness, and that my No. 1 resolution is "Be Jessica." Even though there are some things I'd really like to do (like striking up conversations with strangers), they're just not realistic for me and end up producing more stress than happiness. I have to make resolutions that work within the boundaries of who I am.

How is your year going? If you made New Year's resolutions, have you stuck with them? Are there some you decided to let go of?
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