Friday, July 31, 2015

Repost: Underneath Your Clothes

Please tell me I'm not the only blogger who obsessively checks page views and comments on the day a new post goes up.  Please.  In the past month since I began my attempt to bring this thing back from the dead, I've been staring down the search terms and traffic sources that led people to these pages, and was surprised--not in a bad way!--to see a significant number of search terms for "Catholic lingerie" and "Can Catholics wear lingerie?"  My opinion is here in this post from 2 years ago, and I'd love to reignite the discussion.  Thoughts?

Remember my honeymoon essentials post ?  It featured a pretty lace bra and underwear set, and as I collected images for the post, I came across plenty of other pieces worth sharing.  Behold, here, the products of my internet wanderings.

1 and 4, Rikshaw Designs.  2512, & 13, Anthropologie.  3, J. Crew.  67, & 9, Topshop.  810, & 11, Aerie.
To be honest, I wasn't really interested in lingerie before I got married.  I'd heard of lingerie-specific parties for the bride that sounded impossibly awkward, and asked my bridesmaids to just politely let shower guests know that I wouldn't prefer to receive any. Mostly I just wanted to avoid being embarrassed, but I think I also had this idea in my head that I'd be buying into the culture, and its seeming insistence that women look and act like Victoria's Secret models, if I set foot anywhere near something lacy.

In the past few years, though, my attitude has actually changed.  I realized I was failing to separate the culture's idea of beauty in the bedroom from that same beauty as it really is and should be.  It wasn't what a woman wore that was the problem; it was the messages of objectification and naughtiness that I'd been encouraged to believe about it, and I realized that with purity there can be freedom from so many of those lies.  Plus, I discovered there are plenty of classy, pretty choices available, a far cry from the costumey nightmares some brides receive.  Back in December, I wrote about beauty and sensuality in a way I don't think I can reword better, so here it is again, a little summing up of my attitude towards the way a woman can (and in my opinion, should) present herself to her husband with love:

When I was younger, I remember being so surprised by the Song of Songs' overt sensuality, as well as by the idea that lines like "Your hair is like a flock of goats!" were considered turn-ons.  Now, though, having been graced with a deeper, much more integrated view of sexuality, I see nothing but purity in these lovers' passion.  As human persons, we are more special than we could ever fathom: no other being on earth is made in God's image and likeness, as a body and soul.  And as women, we're the crown of creation.  Our bodies express who we are and express the love between man and wife in such a visible way, so what I've come to realize is that sensuality, in the literal context of having to do with the senses, is such a beautiful thing.  Sensuality, eroticism, and sex itself...these goods have been so twisted by the world, but when they're untwisted and placed squarely back where they belong, in light of nuptial love, they're nothing but good, pure, and holy.

You totally wanted to read about my undies today, I'm sure.  The reason I brought this up is that I think there's a possibility, particularly in Catholic circles, to turn lingerie into a moral issue, probably because of the negative messages out there that had me confused for a while.  I'd humbly argue that it's not an issue of morality, but of preference, love, and femininity.  I think adorning your body can be a beautiful (though certainly not necessary, if it's not your thing) invitation to be gazed upon with love, not just in the physical sense, but in the sense of truly being seen.

What do you think?  I realize, like I said, there's some debate about this,  though perhaps largely as a result of misunderstanding, and I'd love to hear your thoughts!



Tuesday, July 28, 2015

How We Budget, or, Money For the Non-Mathematical

For most of our first year of marriage, Andrew was in grad school and I was unemployed.  Panicky, we asked Andrew's brother Anthony, a lover of budgeting who'd been married for a while, to sit down with us and show us how he and his wife broke down their spending and stuck to the limits they set.

Anthony's an accountant.  With him, "sitting down" meant opening an Excel document, entering a bunch of formulas, and peering at his estimated gas costs per month based on the exact mileage he drove each week.  I so admire that man's precision, love of detail, and willingness to live a little Spartanly in certain areas during months he overspent in another area.  But Andrew and I knew the sort of fastidiousness that worked for him wasn't as well-suited to our personalities.  After learning Anthony's ways, thanking him but having a mild freakout, coming up with a more moderate version that felt like our own way, and changing our methods through trial and error over the past four years, here I am sharing with you how we set up a monthly budget.  So far, each of our 4 years of marriage has brought either a move, a job change for one of us, or both (we had that first year of sort-of poverty, followed by one year of what felt like total riches when we both worked full-time, followed by the past two years of more school for Andrew while I work part-time), yet these steps are flexible and have continued to work each month, as long as we've adjusted them for our changing financial situations.

Let me say that I'm fully aware we are basically cave people when it comes to money.  Aside from a calculator and the deposit app for our bank, we like to track all our spending on paper, not digitally, and prefer to crunch the numbers without any shmancy formulas.  You probably spend a lot less time carrying the one and writing on legal pads than I do.  But if, like me, you aren't terribly mathematically inclined, or if you like a lot of visuals to see what's going on, maybe this will help you like it's helped us.  Here's how we did it:

1. Figure out exactly how much you have coming in each month.  For us, that basically just means adding up our paychecks.  We decided to leave out windfalls like birthday or Christmas money because we wanted to set up our spending guidelines based on the least amount of income per month we might be bringing in and have the freedom to use the surplus how we wanted or needed (sad but true: we once had no choice but to blow half of a $500 gift on a locksmith when we got locked out of our apartment on Christmas night).

2.  Identify your monthly fixed costs, like rent, internet, utilities, and loan payments, and subtract the sum from your total income.

3.  Categorize your other expenses.  We have categories for groceries, dates, gas, and miscellaneous needs like gifts, toiletries, Andrew's schoolbooks, Aaron's dipes, and things for our home--this month, for instance, we inherited a printer and needed to buy new ink and a table for it.  For a while we also set aside personal spending money for each of us to use on fun stuff, which usually translated to clothes for me and snacks for Andrew, but, well, we just aren't raking in the Benjamins right now and had to shelve that for a while.

4. Decide how much is realistic for you two to spend in each category.  Our personal goal is to strike a balance between comfortable and overly strident, while not losing any money each month, i.e. have more money going out than coming in.  As a ballpark if you've never tracked your spending before, we designate $250 for groceries and $250 for miscellaneous, which works well for our little family of three  if we are frugal.  I recommend talking about areas in which you're willing to be flexible about spending a little more or a little less--for us, we decided not to worry much about gas since visiting our families at least once a month, even though we lived about 3 hours away, was a priority.  Since we tried to set up our categories in a way that would allow for money left over at the end of the month, we just used it as a cushion for months with extra gas expenses.

5. Subtract the sum of each spending category from your total income.  What's left over will hopefully be a positive number, and is yours to save or spend how you want.  When we're saving for a big purchase (at one point it was some storage furniture; right now it's a new camera lens), we roll any leftover miscellaneous money towards it at the end of the month.

So, this is that our breakdown looks like (yours might have different or additional categories):

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It's up to you how to track your budget.  Like I said, I get that most people are more technologically advanced than I am, but the thing that's worked best for us is just keeping separate lists on the fridge for each of our spending categories and writing down the amount spent each time we make a purchase.  For me it's an easy habit because I constantly see our lists (like, when I'm putting groceries in the freezer, the lists are right there for me to write down what I spent on groceries) and can do the math right there to see how much is left for a given month.

Honestly, PhD life is rough financially: Andrew puts in way more than 40 hours worth of work per week, with very little pay to show for it, and it's not really prudent for us to buy a house right now because we don't know where, God willing, he'll end up teaching one day when he's finished with his degree.  Though I'm sure I'd be quite happy having a little more money to go out to eat on nights when we're tired and would love to have someplace bigger to live than a 2-bedroom apartment, I'm grateful that for most of our marriage, we've been forced to spend less than we might be inclined otherwise.  It's trained us in sacrifice and encouraged us to be creative with our dates and entertainment, and truly made this former spender actually happy to decide certain new stuff isn't as necessary as it once seemed.

Let me be clear; that's not to say I think we've taken a higher road than couples who have a more typical dual-income situation and more settled home.  What I'm thankful for is the way month after month of circumstantial cheapness has helped me wise up about money in a way I might not have otherwise--people learn about and come to appreciate money in different ways, and for me, this was a very welcome opportunity.  If you're in a similar situation, or are just wondering about ways we try to spend as little as possible while still having fun and feeling like we have what we need, here's where we've been able to save the most:

  • Grocery shopping based on sales, not our appetites, and not buying packaged foods.  One of our highest priorities is eating healthfully, yet when we're trying to spend moderately on groceries, I've found that it can be easy to go over budget (especially at this time of year, when there's tons of fruits and veggies).  To compromise, I read over the store flyer before a shopping trip so I can make my list and plan our meals based only on the produce, meats, and other ingredients that are on sale that week.  At first I thought this approach would be limiting, but to my surprise, it's much more freeing than just asking each other, "So, what do you want to eat this week?" because we aren't just blankly casting around for ideas.  And, as someone who enjoys cooking, I really like the challenge of coming up with recipes based on what's available to us.  Every few months, we make a huge Costco trip to buy items that have become our staples, like cooking oils, chicken stock, roasting chickens to eat and to make more stock, rice, quinoa, vitamins, and spices.  Rather than blow a whole month's grocery budget on that one trip, we break it down over the next few months into $50-$60 installments, which is about what we spend on one normal grocery trip, subtracted from the $250 total for the month.
  • The library!  We're lucky to be able to walk to our library, which is also located next to a kids' play fountain and a farmer's market, and Aaron loves it.  I haven't braved organized story time yet, but he loves picking out books and playing with the toys there.  Andrew's schoolbooks are a big expense every semester, so to offset that cost, we don't really buy books for pleasure reading anymore unless it's one that we've already read and loved.  We bought a Kindle Paperwhite after Aaron was born so I could read one-handed during feedings and while he napped in my arms, and the amount of eBooks we've both borrowed from the library system have more than paid for it by now.
  • Truly, just a combination of being creative with our wants and thinking twice before buying non-necessities has gone a long way for us.  For me, I love treating myself to a coffee drink and I love having my nails painted, so rather than spend money at a coffee shop or nail salon, I make iced coffee at home and paint my own nails.  We also decided that our Amazon Prime membership, which we really value, offers a decently comparable selection of movies and TV shows to Netflix (it's not quiiiite as good, but we are fortunate in that Andrew's sibs let us mooch their Netflix account in exchange for using our free 2-day shipping, so we decided to stop shelling out for both Amazon and Netflix services).  For dates, we try to think outside the going-out-to-dinner box, unless we have a coupon or Living Social deal, and just do things like go for walks or to Adoration or play board games and make dessert after Aaron goes to bed.  I promise it's not as old and boring as it sounds.
So there it is, way more than you maybe ever wanted to know about our money and what we do with it.  I just remember the stress of figuring out spending as a couple when we were newlyweds, as well as the feeling of wanting to know where our money was going during times when it felt like we were buying one thing after another, whether for stuff we wanted or for situations that actually called for it, and I hope this is helpful.  But, to Him be the glory.  God blesses us with money as a good, but not as an idol, and I try to be mindful about the fact that worrying too much about too little money is idolatry in the same way that greed and materialism are idolatry.

What do you think?  Questions?  In attempting to uncomplicate things have Andrew and I actually complicated them, living unaware of some simpler method out there?  I'd love to hear about your budgeting experiences and any strategies you've come by in your relationship.  Share away!


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Couple That Reads Together...

Youngins.  At the beach after my college graduation.  Clearly Andrew's book was more interesting.
You'd think two former English majors, one of whom is still studying English literature as a career, would have a better track record.  For pretty much our entire relationship, Andrew and I have tried on and off to read the same book together, at the same time; sort of our own little book club.  We'd talk about books we'd both always wanted to read, or a book that one of us had loved and wanted to share with the other, and make plans to chat about them on the phone, or, after we were married, at dinnertime or bedtime.

That was the idea.  Andrew valiantly devoured Emma, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, even all of Anna Karenina while I…very, very slowly made my way through those choices while reading 2 or 3 other books at the same time, meaning we didn't have many chances to talk about our shared book like we'd intended!  I get that people have different reading personalities--he's a one-book-at-a-time kind of man, while I prefer to play the field, I guess--and fully admit to dropping the ball on this.  Andrew's workload this summer while teaching full time and studying for comps exams has left him precious little time for pleasure reading, and I wish I'd taken better advantage of the time when we were both free to read more books by choice.

But, I refuse to give up.  Even when we're turning different pages, talking about what we're reading remains one of our favorite topics of conversation, and if I can salvage my dignity at all, I wanted to share a few books we did both manage to read, ones we enjoyed and that led to fruitful talks:

Fill These Hearts by Christopher West: We were both left absolutely amazed by this take on the Theology of the Body in light of the restlessness and longing every human heart feels, why that deep ache sometimes leads us to settle for less, and why embracing our longing and desires for what they are can bring us fully alive.  I wrote more about it here.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt: Neither of us had ever really read a Western-type novel before (though Andrew loves this movie), but decided to read this simply for the reason that we'd heard it was good.  It is!  Though it's the story of two brothers riding around on horses and shooting things and all that entails, the Western setting seemed secondary to their development as characters.  One brother tries, but often fails, at righteousness, while the other…well, doesn't really try.  The tragedy of it lies in the ways their consciences diverge further and further apart.  In full disclosure, we read this at all hours of the day and night after Aaron was born, so their might be some haze over our opinion, but I suspect we'd still enjoy it if we reread it in a saner state.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: I've been reading this since January and Andrew smoked me months ago…it's not taking so long because it's boring or because I don't like it; it's that, since this classic is so fat, I keep taking (maybe unnecessary) breaks to read other books as I work my way through!  Slow and steady, friends.  Seriously though, this truly is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read.  Tolstoy seems to deeply know the heart, and his language and the characters' topics of conversation sometimes feel almost like spiritual reading (curiously enough, to my surprise, Anna herself is a central part of the story but hardly the main character).  We got this translation because we'd heard of its readability and closeness to Tolstoy's original words, and I promise it feels nothing like a stiff high school reading assignment; it is so human and relatable.  It hasn't stuck around for 200 years for nothing, right?

The Secret History by Donna Tartt: …and here's one that Andrew's still reading!  This is the author of The Goldfinch's first novel from about 20 years ago, and in my opinion, it's much better.  We learn on the first page that a group of college students have committed a murder, and the rest of the book explains their motive and the aftermath.  Even in the hundred or so pages my husband has read so far, we've had plenty to talk about regarding the students' and their teacher's philosophies on beauty and justice and on the book's theme of how subtly and seemingly harmlessly evil can take root in a soul.  So, so compelling and tense.

Tell me, have you ever read a book together with your fiancĂ© or husband?  I love new recommendations and would love to hear any ideas you have for keeping each other on track with a shared reading project!


Friday, July 17, 2015

Sacred Time: A Rebirth As I Get Ready to Give Birth

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I mentioned a few weeks ago that vacationing with a toddler is not the same as actual vacationing.    Vacations with extended family are a mixed blessing for this homebodied introvert.  Time I might ordinarily spend alone or with my husband, like after Aaron goes to bed, was instead spent hanging out with my nieces and nephew, playing board games, or sitting around talking in a group.  Andrew has given me such a gift in his parents and siblings, and never am I more aware of it than when I crankily, sometimes guiltily feel like I'd prefer to leave the group and be on my own.

That's not to say I think always opting to spend time and energy with others is a morally preferable choice to spending time alone; in fact, in most cases I don't think it's a moral issue at all.  But self-knowledge is a good thing, and the more I've come to know myself, the more I've seen that I am much kinder and more giving in groups when I've had time to recharge by myself.

I struggle constantly with time.  Mustering the motivation to get something done at a certain time, when I think to myself that it could be done anytime or that doing it later isn't a big deal (when, in reality, the demands of caring for a 1 1/2 year old means I really don't have any time when I can do whatever I need or even want to do) is a constant effort for me. I try to remind myself that time is sacred, for the simple reason that Christ freely chose to enter into it, all for love of us.

During the school year I work three days a week, and starting after vacation, I was starting my summer schedule of working one day a week.  I started feeling a hunger to use all that new time well.  Working on my book and helping a friend with a writing project of his own have taken significant time away from this blog in the past year, but in all honesty, there were also a good amount of days where I just plunked down in front of Netflix, happy to temporarily relax, as soon as Aaron napped and ignored things like dishes and tidying up that I know help me to actually relax (please tell me I'm not the only one who experiences ridiculous bouts of cray cray in a messy living space).  I'd been feeling unfulfilled creatively and just generally stressed.  In a way, our vacation felt like a final break from what had become my normal routine.

Typically I'm not much of a list-maker, but I sat down and made a list of projects for the summer as soon as we came home.  Some were necessities, like research for another car and carseat and recommitting to the budget plan we've followed on and off since Andrew and I got married, but I also resolved to do one creative thing I enjoy, like journaling, knitting, or playing my ukelele, each day.  The break from screens has been such a breath of fresh air--the other day I found myself drawing with Aaron's crayons after he went to bed!-- and to my great contentment, these creative pursuits have motivated me to get more practical things, like chores, done as well.

Why am I telling you I am the ultimate lazy housekeeper with the hobbies of a hipster (whom I do not, by any stretch, consider myself!)?  It's so clear to me why I hungered for greater productivity and purpose.  In letting some tasks I should've been more responsible for fall by the wayside, and just in the busyness of our life, I knew I'd also been ignoring my spiritual life.  I like to pray the Rosary in the car while running errands, but since Andrew has had our car for his summer job, I haven't been driving as often, and as far as just prayer from the heart, I'd become so quick to fill my hours with sound instead of silence.  On some days, Aaron's bedtime prayers were my first prayers of the day.  For shame.

I stumbled onto this site recently (Please, please, please click over!  You will love it; I promise), the work of a fellow alumna from my alma mater, and was awestruck by the poetry and beauty of Carolyn's writing.  I felt a spiritual kick in the pants, and I also felt a little envious and nostalgic for my former self, the one who had time to sit at the foot of the Blessed Sacrament at her leisure.  I know, though, that at this season in my life of marriage and babies, my prayer life has been called out of the chapel.  Service and sacrifice for my family, all in the name of God's glory, is the day to day prayer my vocation asks of me, and I've been praying so often to meet it with love.

I walked to confession on the 4th of July and sobbed at the end for the joy of coming back to the Father, of just making time for Him.  On the way home, it started pouring buckets.  Seriously?  I know how contrived it sounds, but hey, the weather's not up to me.  I just stopped crying and cracked up, marveling at how, on Independence Day, of all days, I had just been loved by Christ in his infinite mercy and the true freedom it brings.  I'll take that baptism for what it was: home.






Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Guest Post from Brooke: Why I'm Banning Myself From Pinterest


When Brooke of A Beauty-Full Life wrote to me a few weeks ago saying she dreams of being a Catholic wedding planner, I figured we'd have a lot to talk about together.  When I found out that, like me, she loves JPII and Lilly Pulitzer, I was sure of it.  She graciously shared this post from her blog and I'm so excited for you to read it--I feel like these types of detox-from-social-media-and-comparison posts aren't uncommon, but Brooke's is different, raising worthy points about the restless human heart and God's merciful, loving timing for every part of our lives in a way I've never encountered or spent much time contemplating.  She is a wise, wise, beautiful soul.  Enjoy, and be sure to drop by her blog!

Timothy and I became best friends when we were 13. We started dating when we were 16. And by 18, we were pretty sure we had found the person God was calling us to marry. It has now been almost 5 years since we started dating and we’re about to start our senior year of college.

Let me tell you a little bit about ourselves. I’m type A; he’s type B. I’m a Theology major; he’s a Government major. I love the beach; he loves the mountains. Opposites attract? Yet we have one major thing in common that trumps all of our differences: we’re both devoutly Catholic. We love Mama Mary, Saint Pope John Paul II, praying the rosary, and going to Mass together.

God has been so so good to us, and His blessings upon our relationship are truly immeasurable. Over our college years, I’ve seen more than ever that Timothy is exactly the man God has chosen for me to spend my life with. Being semi-long distance hasn’t been easy, but we’ve learned what sacrificial love looks like. We’ve discovered what true emotional and spiritual support is, and we’ve worked tirelessly to build a faith & prayer life together as a couple. Not to mention Timothy has filled my life with laughter and joy every step of the way.

Now, why is all of this back story important? Because I am incredibly restless to marry the love of my life.

You need only look at my Pinterest account to see proof of this. Take a look:



In fact, the closer Timothy and I get to our future vocation, the more time I find myself spending on Pinterest.

But something serious has changed about my pinning habits. I am no longer obsessing about color schemes and flower choices – I’m now pondering how we can teach our wedding party about the sacrament of marriage. Instead of invitation styles, I’m thinking about how we can intentionally form our guest list out of a desire to evangelize those we love. Rather than thinking about how I want to decorate the gift table, I’m now trying to figure out how a wedding registry can give our guests the opportunity to support and serve us as part of their community.

The superficial pinning of pretty dresses and decorative cake stands has transformed into the deep desire to not merely plan a wedding, but to prepare for a sacrament. 

All of this excites me so much. It sets me on fire with the desire to make my marriage what it's meant to be--a witness to and reflection of God’s love. And it makes my love for Timmy grow even more as we think more about not just a wedding day, but a life together.

So why then, as the title of this post states, am I giving up Pinterest?

Because every pin is becoming more of a reality in my heart than it can be in my life.  
The truth is, Timmy and I are anywhere from 1-2 years away from the reality of getting married.  I know in my heart that getting married any sooner is not what is best for us or what God’s wondrous plan for our lives is. Yet, knowing that it is not God’s plan doesn’t necessarily make it easy.  I am longing for a sacrament, for a life, that I am not called to live out yet.


And the more I’m on Pinterest, the more restless I become. This ache is taking me away from God’s plan for my life here & now. I know the time that lies in between this moment and my wedding day is going to be so grace-filled. More than that, I know that there are very authentic ways in which I am called to love God and Timothy now, in this moment that don’t require us being married. There are countless ways in which I can make a gift of myself in our relationship, and I am determined to discover them anew.

A few weeks ago I came across a quote from St. Faustina that said, O present moment, you belong to me, whole and entire. I desire to use you as best I can.

So I’m giving up Pinterest. I’m setting my sights not on planning the beginning of my future vocation, but on how I can find, love and serve God through my relationship right now. I ask that you pray for Timmy and I as we continue on this journey, and know that we are praying for you, too.

Brooke Paris is a senior at The Catholic University of America studying Theology and Religious Studies. She has worked in various fields of ministry within the Catholic Church and dreams of one day being a Catholic wedding planner. She loves praying with Mama Mary, studying the Theology of the Body, drinking carmel macchiato coffee, wearing bright pink lipstick, blogging and learning how to more perfectly love her boyfriend.

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