Thursday, June 25, 2015

Why I gave my husband a $700 phone for Father's Day.

When the iPhone 6 came out last year, my husband knew immediately that he wanted it.

I was skeptical. 

Growing up, my parents taught me to be frugal in everything possible. I never had my own cell phone growing up, although when I was a teenager, most of my friends had cell phones. (Except, of course, for the monster pay-by-the-minute phone my mom had me carry around for safety when I was driving alone. The thing was so big it barely fit in my purse. Needless to say, I couldn't use it to text. I didn't learn how to text until I left home.)

I've only had a smartphone for about a year, and it's nowhere near the newest version. I've just never been interested in having the latest and greatest iPhone. Frankly, I don't care. I mean, I can actually use the Internet on my phone. How unreal is that?! I really don't get how I could ask for anything more.

My husband, on the other hand, got used to always having the newest smartphone in the years before we were married. As a bachelor who worked as much as possible, he had the money for it.  

But since we've been married, I've always talked him out of having the newest phone. To me, it felt like a game of "keeping up with the Joneses." (Or keeping up with the Kardashians. I mean, the iPhone 6 seems a little extravagant to me.) Why not just wait a couple years and then buy it at a discounted price? (I love me a good deal.) 

My husband agreed with all this in word, but he still spent a lot of time wistfully eyeing that new iPhone and crunching the numbers. (Unfortunately, no amount of crunching could take the numbers down to a place where I was comfortable with them.) 

This month, I was considering what I wanted to get him for Father's Day. Did I want to get him something nice, or save a little money this year? And then I thought, I know what he really wants. And as though a switch had been flipped, I finally gave up my endeavors to force my thriftiness on him and I knew it was worth it. 

The truth is, I still don't get why he wants an iPhone 6 so much. It doesn't make sense to me. But I love him and I know that it would make him really happy, so I'm not going to ask him to answer to me.

My husband always puts my needs and our daughter's needs above his own, and that's really not an exaggeration. In fact, sometimes it's been a point of frustration with me when I ask, "But what do you want?" and he'll answer, "Well, I know that this is better for you, so..." He can't even give me a straight answer because he can't think about his own desires without considering mine. 

When we got married, my husband gave up his nice phone for a crummy, cheap one. Even when he switched back to a smartphone, he recycled an old one of his, made sure our phone plan would stay cheap, and bought a smartphone for me, too. He honored my desire to be frugal since we were students and we really didn't have the money. 

But now he's graduated and working full-time on a good salary, and we can afford it. 

So I decided to stop nickel-and-diming my own husband and agree to buy the one thing he really wants right now. 

Will I ever understand his desire to have the newest iPhone? Probably not. But being a good wife--for me, right now--means letting go of my own thoughts on the matter and just being happy that he's happy. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why having in-laws is so hard.

Let me start by saying that I probably have the best in-laws in existence. And that's not an exaggeration. They're kind, generous, supportive, forgiving, and understanding. They're always there for my family, but they're never demanding. They see me as their own daughter. 

But all the same, getting used to having in-laws is a strange, uncomfortable experience.

I didn't expect that. Before I got married, I thought I would be the perfect daughter-in-law. I would call my in-laws "Mom" and "Dad." I would take their quirks in stride. I would be totally angelic. 

Yeah. You can see the problem here. 

First of all, it's kind of weird to try to treat people like they're you're parents when in actuality, you hardly know them. I think I saw my parents-in-law-to-be twice before I actually got married. Only twice. I've seen a cashier at the grocery store more often than that, and I'm not about to call him "Dad." 

So I suddenly had these people in my life that I was supposed to treat as equal to my own parents, aka the people that I've known intimately since the moment I entered this world. I was supposed to call my mother-in-law all the time in addition to calling my own mom. I was supposed to invite them to stay in my home and try to entertain them. 

(By the way, my in-laws have never actually had these expectations of me. I wanted to do them so I could be an angelic daughter-in-law.)

(Cue laugh track.)

It's just a little weird, no matter how wonderful they are. It's hard to treat someone like family when you haven't spent much time with them. (I'm not the only one who feels this way, am I?) I've been trying my best to do it, and of course it gets easier as I get to know my in-laws better. But I'm always wondering what they're thinking of me. Every time I say a word, I start thinking, "Did that make me sound dumb? Did it make me sound like a bad wife? Do they think I deserve their son?" And it's just a downward spiral. 

I know some people would say, "Don't worry about what your in-laws think. All that matters is that your husband loves you." That's true, but I mean, they are my husband's parents. He cares what they think. And they're pretty much in my life to stay, so I might as well try to start the relationship off on the right foot. 

My in-laws are great people, but when I try to be perfect all the time, it puts a certain strain on our relationship. When my husband and I went to visit last year, after a while my father-in-law asked me, "Are you okay? You've been so quiet the last few days." 

I'm not generally a quiet person. 

But when I'm afraid that everything I say will make someone think less of me, I'm a little less inclined to open my mouth.  

That's not good, y'all. 

(My husband is from the South, by the by.)

It keeps getting easier, the better I get to know my husband's parents. More and more, I'm beginning to honestly feel like they are my parents. I'm lucky to have in-laws who do everything they can to make me feel comfortable. All I have to do now is resolve my own insecurities. 

We're traveling to visit my in-laws soon, and this time I'm doing my best to get it through my head that all I have to do is be myself. Knowing my in-laws, they'll still love me. 

And my husband loves me, so that's all that matters. Right? 

Ha. Ha. Ha. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

6 things I learned from giving up sugar for 30 days.

I never thought I would do this.

It seemed like the kind of thing other people would do--like health-obsessed people who shop at Whole Foods. I wasn't interested in giving up my favorite foods, only in moderating myself so I didn't eat too much of them.

But after attempting to moderate over and over again, and failing every time, I finally learned from my mistakes and decided I needed to do something different. 30 days isn't too long, right? Just long enough to maybe slow down my sugar cravings, kick some bad habits, and make moderation a little easier.

Here's the clarification on my "rules" (feel free to skip this part if you don't care about the details): During the 30 days, my goal was to eat no refined sugar, including added sugars in pre-packaged foods. So yeah, I was checking labels and giving up things like salad dressing. It may not have been necessary to be that extreme, but I knew that if I give myself an inch then I would probably end up taking a mile. I didn't want to start giving myself exceptions and then just keep adding to the list. 

I did eat honey, although I know it's really not healthier than white sugar. But I couldn't start eliminating sugars that are naturally in food or I would really be crazy. And of course, I didn't eat nearly as much honey as I used to eat refined sugars.

Here are the things I learned from giving up sugar for 30 days:

1. I'm an abstainer, not a moderator. When I first learned about the difference between abstainers and moderators from Gretchen Rubin, I wasn't sure which one I identified with. In fact, it's something I've been wondering about for quite a while now. I started to suspect that I was part of a third class of people who could neither abstain nor moderate and instead could only try and fail constantly and comfort themselves by stuffing their faces with ice cream.

I finally realized that I was failing all the time because I was trying so hard to be a moderator. I thought I couldn't possibly give up my favorite foods, even for a little bit. But now I know that...

2. I wasn't ready to give up sugar until now. And I'm still not ready to give it up completely, although I can now see that happening someday. But before, every time I tried to give up treats, I was going into it kicking and screaming. I didn't truly want to succeed. I didn't have the motivation to see it through. This time, I finally went into this with determination. That said...

3. If it's not hard, it's probably not the thing you need to give up. Yes, I was determined to succeed, but it was still hard. My husband can attest that I whined to him every other day about wanting chocolate. (It didn't help that I knew he had hidden my chocolate in the house somewhere, per my request.)

And I finally realized something. You know how you hear about the people who stopped drinking soda and lost 30 pounds? Well, I gave up soda almost completely a while ago, and I never seemed to lose any weight from it. But that's because I never really drank that much soda. In fact, I haven't even liked soda for the last few years.

But I used to eat dessert every single day, sometimes more than once a day. My day didn't feel complete without a cookie or two. Part of it is that I like cookies, and part of it was just habit. Somewhere along the way, I just got used to eating a lot of treats.

After learning about food addictions, I know I'm not addicted, which is a relief. But I never want to become addicted. I want to change my habits while it's still just a matter of habit.

4. I lost weight. I guess that should come as no surprise, but I actually tried not to focus too hard on losing weight. I knew that if I tried to change too many habits at once, it would be too hard and I would crack. So I didn't worry too much about exercising or eating less or anything. I allowed myself to eat what I wanted as long as it wasn't sugar. But also...

5. I lost my preoccupation with food. I still love to cook and I love to eat, but I'm not spending half my day wondering what and when I'm going to eat next. I didn't think my preoccupation was primarily connected with sugar, but apparently it was. I guess when sugar is off the table, my brain decides that food isn't worth ruminating on anymore. I've actually had the brain space to devote to other things in my life.

But the most important thing I learned from doing this was...

6. I did this for my daughter. In the past, I've always had good intellectual reasons to break my bad habits with food, but I never had a good emotional reason. After my baby was born, I started asking myself, "Do I want her to start eating brownies just because she's bored? Do I want her to have the same habits I do?" And suddenly it was bigger than me. It wasn't just about losing weight, or looking better, or feeling better. It was about giving my daughter a healthy start to life. It was about setting her up in good habits that she will never have to worry about breaking.

I don't want my daughter to have to give up sugar. I want her to be able to eat a single cookie and be satisfied. I want her to have the ability, from the very beginning, to focus on things other than food. I want her to see treats as just that--an occasional treat, nothing more.

Giving up sugar, even just for 30 days, wasn't easy, but it was easier than it's ever been. As much as I would like to clean up my diet whenever I set my mind to it, what I really needed to do was set my heart to it.

Now, I'm going to try a moderate approach to sugar, but knowing that I'm an abstainer, I plan on doing another "sugar fast" soon.

Are you an abstainer or a moderator? Have you ever given up certain kinds of food?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Things I loved in May.

Today I'm playing Oprah and sharing a few of my favorite things with you!

1. This reading journal from Modern Mrs. Darcy. I've always wanted a reading journal but I would always be afraid that I would fill up parts of it faster than others. This is great because you can print it out and customize it any way you like. (And it's freeeee!)

2. These fruit and nut bars from Sally's Baking Addiction. Healthy, chewy, easy, and tasty. I didn't know such a thing could exist. 

3. The Emily of New Moon books. I read the series this month and wished I would have read these books as a kid. I'm excited to share them with my daughter when she gets older.

4. Dressing Your Truth. I have a little obsession with this. I'll probably post about it soon because I just can't help myself.

5. Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg. Be warned that there is quite a bit of strong language, but this book kept me literally laughing out loud. (And I'm not normally the laughing-while-reading type.) Just be prepared for a little irreverence toward the literary classics.

6. Find out what your name would be if you were born today. Mine would be Ava. Share your "today name" in the comments! (I made my whole family do this.)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Why I'm not interested in the life-changing magic of tidying up.

At my local library, there are 10 copies and 48 holds on the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. It's sweeping the Internet right now and I've been hearing about it constantly.

This isn't a review. I haven't read the book. And I don't plan to.

From what I've heard about this book, it tells you to get rid of things. (Surprise, surprise.) Like, a lot of things. Like maybe even a dish rack. (You can put your dishes outside on the patio to dry!)

Now, I don't want to criticize this book in particular, especially since I haven't read it. But its enormous popularity tells you something about our culture. A lot of us (especially us moms) are becoming preoccupied with decluttering and getting rid of things. Things, things, things! We Americans are so obsessed with things! Get rid of everything! 

I mean, yeah, go ahead and throw away the weird art project that your kid never even enjoyed. Give away the clothes you never wear. Good for you. I love getting rid of stuff I genuinely don't care about.

But the decluttering frenzy seems to be extending even to things that are a little more important, like books and heirlooms. People talk about "letting go," and allowing your peace to come from the inside.

Over the last couple years as I've been settling down, I've been feeling a cultural pressure to just get rid of it. I've been encouraged to be ruthless when I'm organizing. I've heard all kinds of rules, like, "If you haven't used it in the last year, get rid of it!" and "Only keep one shoebox of sentimental items."

Now, I know this kind of thing is making a lot of people happy, and I think that's great. If you honestly look into your heart and think that you'll get a lot of peace from giving away your grandmother's jewelry box, then I think you should do that.

But I'm not going to.

I like my stuff and I'm keeping it.

Now, I know that possessions don't create happiness where it doesn't exist. But I think some possessions can actually add to happiness

I have a lot of things that are special to me. I love my books. Yeah, I get rid of a few that I don't like every once in a while, but my dream is to have great books overflowing in every room of my house. (My husband is somewhat less interested in that dream.) In my home growing up, there were plenty of shelves full of books that I could peruse if I ever needed reading inspiration, and I want my kids to have that.

And then there are things that can't be replaced. Handmade things from my mothers-in-law. A doll I inherited from my grandmother. A carved wooden giraffe my parents brought back from Africa.

My mother-in-law gave my daughter a cross-stitched baby blanket that she'd worked on for months. It's completely impractical since we can never use it as a blanket, but I would never dream of giving it away.

When I was growing up, I loved my grandmother's decorations, particularly a certain doll with a crocheted dress. When she passed away and my family was deciding what to do with her possessions, I immediately asked for that doll, and I was overjoyed when it was given to me.

My parents have been in Africa for almost a year and a half as missionaries for our church. They sacrificed a lot to be there, but I had to sacrifice too because it meant that my mom didn't get to be with me when my first baby was born. My parents gave me an incredible gift by coming all the way from Africa to visit a few days later so they could help with the baby.

They gave us a wooden souvenir giraffe from Africa which will always remind me of that special time that they came to help with my daughter and give me their support. My grandmother's doll will always remind me of the happy days I spent at my grandparents' house before they got sick. And who knows what wonderful memories will be tied up in my daughter's baby blanket?

People say that you don't need things because you have the memory, and that's what really matters. But the truth is, memory fades. My memories from the time just after my daughter was born are already getting fuzzy just a few months later. My grandparents passed away when I was fairly young and I didn't get the chance to know them very well. Memories from childhood often fade, and my daughter will forget so many things from when she was young.

Yes, things are just things, but they help us remember. I don't want to fill my house with useless trash; I want to fill it with beautiful things that evoke warm memories from happy times.

To me, that's a lot more special than an empty closet.