Freckles in April

Monday, January 7, 2019

4 Things I Learned from Our 6 Month Spending Fast

Picture from our summer trip to the redwoods

In 2018 I set a resolution to go on a spending fast. I wrote:

Every time we go through our finances we cringe a little at how much money we spend. I decided (and made everyone else get on board) that for 6 months we are only going to buy things we have consumed or used up and need to replace. I want us to think a lot harder every time we reach for our credit cards. Plus this will allow us to save up for a summer trip we're trying to plan.

I was initially inspired by Miranda's More Than Enough Stuff experiment but Christmas 2017 was bonkers and I just felt overwhelmed by our family's consumerism. I knew six months of not buying new junk wouldn't hurt us.

Aaron forgot about his commitment to the idea almost immediately (if you were married to him you would not be remotely surprised by this). What was supposed to be a family goal ended up just being a Kayla goal. It became a test of my endurance and commitment and I'm proud to say that I mostly stuck with it and learned some really interesting lessons along the way.

1. Sometimes online window shopping scratches the itch

Right off the bat I realized I have a bit of a shopping compulsion. Checking my fav sites for sales or new items was such a big part of my routine that I seriously struggled to stop myself from looking. I assumed that looking would lead to buying and then I'd have lost the battle. But! I was wrong. Looking (and even adding items to my cart) didn't lead to buying. It just allowed me to look at and dream about pretty things without spending any money. Then I'd close my browser window and move on with my life with that same sense of satisfaction.

2. That feeling of NEEEED fades faster than you'd think

Early on I decided that I would ask for gift cards for my birthday to buy some of the things that I was dyyying over. It was my loophole. I made a private Pinterest board and used it to keep track of all the things that I would have immediately bought for myself if I hadn't been on a spending fast. But when my birthday rolled around and I looked at my Pinterest board I realized I didn't particularly want or need anything on there anymore.

That was a huge light bulb moment for me. So many of my purchases are made on the basis of instant gratification. Putting items on a Pinterest board and coming back to them later has given me a better perspective as to what I actually want versus what makes me feel good in the moment. I've started really dragging my feet when I buy things for myself. I just barely pulled the trigger on the Everlane wrap dress I've wanted for months. I wanted to make sure my excitement about it didn't fade before I spent the money.

3. Things wear out fast

I thought our shopping would drastically drop off but, as it turns out, we go through stuff really quickly. We're a fairly active family and our shoes do not last long. My kids are growing and speeding through clothes so quickly I can't keep up (I finally got StitchFix boxes for my boys. LIFE CHANGING. I'm planning to write about it). I cook a lot and occasionally ruin clothing. I was surprised how often I still had to buy shoes or replace clothing (I did make efforts at repair!). This actually made me feel a lot better about my previous shopping habits- some of it was definitely unnecessary but plenty of it was replacing the things that a very busy and active family wears through.

4. Buying things is SO MUCH FUN when you're not buying much

A few months in I managed to wear holes through one of my very favorite tank tops that I wear all the time. In the spirit of my resolution I replaced it with essentially the same thing- same brand, color, and a very similar style (the original was no longer available). Placing that order and waiting for the package to arrive was SO EXCITING. Even though the item itself wasn't novel (almost the exact same as the one I had before!) I could. not. wait. It had been months since I had the chance to anticipate something coming for me in the mail. When the shirt arrived I felt deeply satisfied. The whole experience was so different from what I'd been experiencing before, which was more or less like, "Wait that package is for me? What did I even order??"

Replacement tank top in action while looking through antique shops with friends in June

After six months of extremely limited spending I thought I'd go a little wild but mercifully that wasn't the case. I did buy a few things but, because I had spent 6 months thinking about what I really wanted, the things I got were deeply wanted and appreciated. Those habits have carried over (mostly. I'm not perfect). I sit on things for a while before I buy. If something arrives and I don't LOVE it then I return it. I really enjoy receiving the odd package in the mail. I generally feel more content with my possessions.

So in a year that didn't go quite the way I wanted, I'm grateful that one of my resolutions worked out really well for me and gave me a chance to learn and grow!

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

2018 Resolution Report (or: How I Failed in 2018)

Hiking in Sedona with my blonde hair that lasted for like three seconds because it was insanely high maintenance

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I LOVE making resolutions for the new year. I love lists, I love planning, I love setting goals. Resolutions are my jam and I'm generally really good at keeping them. Normally I can go through my list at the end of the year and think, "check...check...check..." and bask in a sense of accomplishment and growth.

2018 was not that kind of year for me and my resolutions (which you can find here). Let's take a look:

1. Read to my kids more

I think this one lasted for maybe two weeks. I made a few more attempts throughout the year but we just couldn't ever seem to hit on a book that we were all interested in. I really do believe in the value of reading aloud to your children but, for some reason, it's a struggle for us. For example, we all love Harry Potter individually but cannot seem to read it together as a family. We probably need therapy as there is clearly something wrong with us.

2. Keep to our schedule

This was totally doable in wintertime but was much harder in the summer when the sun was basically still shining in my kids' windows at bedtime. I can't say this was a complete failure but it wasn't a win either. We did our best.

3. Go on a spending fast

This was likely my most successful resolution, though it petered out a bit at the end. I learned some really valuable lessons from it though, which I think I'll address in a future blog post (...probably).

4. Reach out to far-flung friends and family

I should have immediately spotted the flaw here. Resolutions 3 and 4 are at odds with one another and I chose #3. I did try to maintain a connection though. Marco Polo was really helpful with this and I felt like I was able to maintain closer relationships with people I love who live far away. I spoke regularly with everyone on my list. It wasn't exactly what I had in mind but I think it accomplished the same thing.

5. Take time to be creative

This summer I made my kids do a creative project every day (if you go on to my Instagram you can tap the "Creative Summer" highlight to see some of the projects we did). I'm not going to lie, it was work on my part and required that I tolerate clutter that would normally have me tearing my hair out, but I think it was one of the best things we did all year. The goal was for ME to take more time to be creative and, since I was making my kids be creative, I did find myself sitting to paint, draw, or letter. It's still not as often as I would have liked and it only lasted for the summer, but thinking back on the summer makes me so happy.

Painting with a neighbor friend

6. Be consistent

And here's where it alllll fell apart. I had a sort of perfect storm in 2018 that killed so many of the good habits I worked so hard to put in place in 2016 and 2017. At the beginning of 2018 I knew I'd probably be part of the new PTO board at my kids' school but, after a chain of unexpected events, I was elected PTO president. I decided that, if I was going to do it, I was going to DO IT and also make it easier for everyone who comes after me. This means I've spent a lot of time on PTO- planning events, putting systems into place, and then writing it all down in an operations manual for future boards. It will be so much easier going forward but this year was a lot.

Also, I've felt really crummy. For some reason, my body doesn't like food. It's been coming on slowly for a long time (and it definitely got worse around the time I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's) but it got really bad over the past little while. I tried CrossFit this year (and loved it!) but had to quit after only six months because I just couldn't eat enough food to fuel my body for that kind of exercise without feeling awful. After years of consistently working out, I haven't been to the gym in 4 months. I'm working with a gastroenterologist trying to figure out what's going on with me (had the best nap of my life after an upper GI endoscopy) but the things we've tried so far feel a bit like band-aids. They help...but only kind of.

Overall I had a pretty great year but it also felt like I took some major steps backward. I finished 2017 feeling SO good and then finished 2018 feeling sort of confused and really tired.

That being said, I'm optimistic about this year. I'm adjusting my expectations for myself and my family and hoping to come out of 2019 in a better place.

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Sunday, October 28, 2018

Thoughtful Books for Troubled Times

As a politically progressive ex-Mormon in Mesa, Arizona, I am used to being the black sheep. I may have tweaked my social media feeds into a bit of an echo chamber as of late, but I can't do that with my real life. My friends and family are predominantly religious conservatives, parents at preschool pick-up wear "Hillary for Prison" shirts, and I've worked out next to people who angrily denounced brands that took social stances I stand behind.

It's uncomfortable.

I mostly stay quiet. I am non-confrontational, almost to a fault. But sometimes (rarely! But sometimes), a chance for real conversation arises and I try to be prepared. I try to listen. I try to understand.

It's even more uncomfortable.

But life isn't supposed to be comfortable. And things aren't going to get better if we all insist on comfort, on not listening to other ideas, other experiences. So here are some books for navigating that discomfort and helping us to reach across to the other side.

Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind

I'm a huge Haidt fan- his work is both fascinating and accessible. This book builds upon his Moral Foundations Theory and does a really good job of explaining how good people can end up believing completely opposite things. It's non-partisan - you'll come away feeling validated in your beliefs but also understanding why the things that other people believe are also valid. I read this one early last year and I think I'm due for a re-read.

Justin Lee's Talking Across the Divide

Lee is a gay evangelical Christian and thus is uniquely positioned at the crux of both the left and the right. He's known for his efforts to build bridges between LGBTQ+ and evangelical communities and his book is a master class in both listening and empathy. His recommendations are solid and gave me a lot to think about and practice.

Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

I know I JUST recommended this one but it's relevant to this post. Justification plays a large part in politics and this one goes hand-in-hand with Haidt's book. We need to examine our self-justifications and also be able to see the justifications of those around us. This book is also really good at pointing out the power of apologizing and taking responsibility which I think we all need a little more of that these days.

Tribe by Sebastian Junger

This book is about veterans, PTSD, and the difficulty many soldiers have in coming home, all of which is timely and pertinent to today's sociopolitical climate where concern for veterans has been politicized and weaponized. But he also talks about the deep divides we're experiencing, how they're hurting us and where he thinks they come from. This book isn't perfect and there are some solid criticisms out there, but I loved it and it made me think about how I'm contributing to the divide. It's also quite short and a fairly quick and easy read.

Also, an excellent blog post worth the (not inconsiderable) time it takes to read- I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup from Slate Star Codex

Any books or podcasts or other resources you'd like to add?


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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Just Checking In

This fun thing keeps happening lately where someone in a FB group will post about a religious struggle and my blog gets mentioned and then a friend sees and I get tagged and then, while looking for relevant posts, I fall down the rabbit hole of my own blog. And then I start to miss writing and I daydream about getting back on the old bloghorse and then, like Fat Amy before me, I think, "Mmm better not."

But I wanted to check in and say hello, thanks for sharing my posts about losing my religion where appropriate...I still get regular emails from people whose friends or family have referred them to my blog once they started struggling. Some decide to stay, some decide to leave, but they find comfort in knowing they're not alone and boy do I know that feeling. It's nice to feel like I've had a positive impact.

In unrelated news, I cut my hair:

sister + me in the redwoods this summer

I've never done super short or blonde before so I decided to do both at once. The daily work is like nothing but dang, the maintenance! I need a trim and color like every 4 weeks. It's bonkers. We'll see how long I last. I'm a girl who saw a stylist *maybe* twice a year before.

so amazing for summer though

My kids went back to school today which means I have officially survived the summer but, if we're being completely honest, I didn't really. I started off strong through June and then we spent all of July traveling and it felt like everything slowly fell apart. One of my kids in particular really needs a schedule that includes an early bedtime. Without it he quickly becomes grumpy, impulsive, and irascible and by the first week of August our interactions were basically him being naughty and me yelling and both of us hating everything.

It doesn't help that I planned a 1 week vacation followed quickly by a 2.5 week vacation that involved a lot of (me) driving and then, smack in the middle of it, my kids got freaking LICE. A few other things conspired to make everything miserable (including raging wildfire smoke keeping us indoors) and I threw in the towel 5 days early. I drove my three children 17 hours in one day so I could just. freaking. get. home.

And thus I limped across the summer finish line, clothing smoking faintly, hair looking reminiscent of Albert Einstein.

Our vacation did have some really amazing days, just for the record. This one was darn near perfect.

Day 1 of back-to-school schedule and we are already doing so much better. I wish we were more flexible but we're just...not. We like our house and our bedtimes and our schedules and predictability. We will never be the Bucket List Family. We're like...the Stay Home and Be in Bed by 8 Family. Trademark. Now accepting sponsors.

I'm still doing (and loving) CrossFit. I took off the whole month of July (see: travel) and just started back this week and thus this post. I am too sore to do literally anything else. It's either type or stare at a wall and I choose the former.

I guess I can also read, which brings me to a recommendation: Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.

I'm well on my way to reading 100 books in 2018 and thus far this is the best one I've read. I actually read it twice and now I'm foisting it on my book club for the month of August. It's all about self-justification and it's crazy how often I catch myself doing it. I'm taking on some big responsibilities this year and I want to be able to admit when I've made mistakes and apologize without justification. The few times I've been able to do that it's been amazing how quickly things resolve and everyone can just move on. I really think this book has been life-changing for me.

I have other things but they can wait. Love and hugs to everyone who is somehow still hanging around here from time to time!


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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Mixed Faith Marriage and the "Big Days"

When I've written in the past about marriage after a Mormon faith transition I promised that life goes on and it looks mostly the same. The exception to this is the "big days." Blessing days, baptisms, weddings. These days, which should be lovely and happy and joyful end up being a little more...fraught.

Our first "big day" after I left the church was The Caboose's blessing day. I was having some anxiety over the idea of blessing her at church so we opted to bless her at home with only family present. I thought about asking to hold her during the blessing but, when it came down to it, I didn't feel the need. It was, as you can tell from the picture, really casual. My house was a disaster. Aaron was barefoot. We had an easy dinner afterward. The pre-big-day anxiety was way worse than the actual day.

Our next "big day" was Oldest's baptism. I didn't want him to miss out on the full experience due to his mom's belief system so we did the "normal" thing: invited lots of friends and family and planned a big pancake brunch at our house afterward. My emotions in the days leading up to the baptism were running really high. I personally feel 8 is too young to make the choice to get baptized and I didn't feel like he was choosing baptism because of a particularly strong belief but because it was expected and everyone else was doing it.*

On the day of the baptism I barely held it together. There were a ton of kids getting baptized that day and the chapel was PACKED. I don't remember much about the actual service but I was relieved when it was time to go home for the party.

Except the party was actually worse.

Well meaning friends came up to me and said things like, "Oh we're just so happy and relieved that he chose to get baptized!" While I stood there awkwardly, a smile pasted on, NOT saying, "Oh, you're so relieved he chose not to follow me?" The day was full of congratulatory texts and expressions of satisfaction with his choice. Sent to me. The person they knew didn't believe anymore.

A few days later I was talking to my friend Camille and she said, "I saw that Oldest got baptized...that must have been really hard for you!" I immediately burst into tears. She was the only person to acknowledge that that day might have been rough and less than joyful for me.

I understand that my child's baptism day is not remotely about me but that small expression of understanding meant the world.

*my intuition was right on this one. Six months later he declared he didn't believe in God or Jesus and he hated church.

Our most recent "big day" was Middle's baptism a couple weekends ago. I was less worried about his choice because he seems to be a real believer. He loves Jesus and enjoys church and I felt like he genuinely wanted to be baptized. However, I was dreading sitting through the talks again, the expressions of joy and relief from friends, the celebration afterward. In the weeks beforehand I'd occasionally joke with believing friends about how uninvolved I was with the baptism planning and would just get uncomfortable silence in return. My emotions started rising in that old, familiar, awful way.

Aaron and I discussed my concerns and decided to keep the baptism small- family only. We also decided not to do a party afterward. We thought maybe we could go out and do something, just the five of us.

After how awful Oldest's baptism was for me, I was braced for the worst.

And was fine.

It was structured differently- we were in our own room and never combined with the other groups getting baptized that day. My mother-in-law gave one talk and my mom gave the other. Our group was really small, which kept it casual and light. We're not a particularly musical group so the closing hymn was hilariously painful as none of us knew it and none of us can read music. When we went outside afterward the weather was so nice that we decided to all go get some lunch somewhere we could eat outside. I didn't have to stress about feeding everyone or cleaning my house or anything. It was easy and comfortable.

Also, multiple people checked in with me throughout the day. Friends texted to see how I was feeling, how it had gone, how I was handling things. That care and concern meant the world to me and it was really nice to respond that I was fine, things had gone well.

If you're in a mixed faith marriage, here's my advice for the "big days":

1. Keep it small and casual. It might help reduce the pressure on the non-believing spouse.

2. Know that the anxiety leading up to the day is almost always worse than the day itself. Aaron and I both have to deal with my big day anxiety and it's unpleasant. By the time the actual day rolls around we are both on high alert. And then the day passes and it's usually not nearly as bad as I'd imagined and we both breathe a sigh of relief.

3. Do what you need to protect yourself- For you this might mean inviting people who will serve as a buffer between you and people you can't handle on the "big days". It might mean building in some alone time afterward to decompress. For me this means a new dress. In my brain, clothing is armor but it also gives me something else to focus on during the lead-up. I can't tell you how many dresses I ordered and returned in the search for a good dress to wear to Middle's baptism. It was a weeks-long search and it was exhausting but you know what else it was? Distracting. Which was good for my anxiety.

4. Skip extras if you don't feel like you can handle them. The party afterward? Not an actual part of the ordinance (and, I've learned, not super common outside of areas that are heavily Mormon). You don't have to take fancy pictures. You don't have to create a special program. Do what you can and don't worry about the rest. I do recognize that kids might have their own expectations. I'm lucky in that my kids are pretty happy with the minimum but you may have to work with your kid to figure out what they are expecting out of their baptism day. Maybe you can negotiate a bit- a big party with friends to celebrate the birthday and a small baptism with family might be an acceptable option.

If you're a believer with an ex-Mormon friend who is going through "big days", here's my advice for you:

1. Acknowledge your feelings but also acknowledge that theirs may be different. They might want to cry. They might be really grumpy. They might be totally fine. You can say, "We're so happy for Timmy but how are you feeling? I can see how today might have been rough for you." If you're not prepared to deal with their uncomfortable feelings then maybe you're not very good friends after all.

2. Be open. Acknowledge awkwardness. Laugh together about it. Ask questions if you have them. When you refuse to acknowledge that things are different or weird or unique you are probably just making things MORE awkward. Don't make their exmo status a taboo subject. This applies in general but I feel like things get real weird with friends and family around the "big days" when I awkwardly try to ease the tension and everyone else shuts down and changes the subject and doesn't know how to handle it. We're all learning together- isn't it better if we can laugh and talk about it?

Your mileage may vary, of course, but this is my experience and advice from some of the "big days" we've had over the past four and a half years since my change of faith. If you're going through it, I just want to send you love and hugs. If you're in a mixed-faith marriage, I'd love to hear how you've handled the "big days" in your family!


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