The ‘B’ Word

In my last post, I described a few money mentalities that I think are pretty common yet can be very damaging to our overall happiness with life.  Because, like I hesitantly wrote then, how we handle our finances has a direct impact on how happy we are.  Does that mean the more cash in my pockets the bigger the smile on my face?  Definitely not.  But I do think that means we cannot ignore this area of our lives as we continue on our journey to greater joy.

            So what does a healthy relationship with money look like?  If I had to sum it up into one neat, little phrase, it would be this: money management.  The three categories from my previous post were all examples of not really managing your money.  Ignoring how much money you have is not at all managing it – it’s avoiding it.  Hoarding and materialism, on the other hand, are like two sides to the same coin.  In both, inanimate objects are controlling people instead of the other way around.  There is also a tendency for people in these camps to look to money for gratification in ways money alone cannot give, such as control, peace, or contentment.

            What do you think of when you hear the word management?  To me, it makes me think of people who are ‘large and in charge,’ so to speak.  When you are managing your money, you know how much you already have, how much is coming in when, and where all that green is going.  How can someone realistically stay on top of all that information?  While there may be a variety of methods people use, I think one of the most essential ways is to budget.

            I LOVE budgeting.  Don’t get me wrong – it has been frustrating at times, especially when my husband and I were first starting with it.  But knowing how much money we have in the bank (we share both a checking and savings account), how much we should earn in a given month, and exactly where all that money went once it has been spent is extremely empowering.  With student loans or other debt, bills (being an adult means SO many bills!), essentials to buy, and – hopefully – some fun to be had, I think it can be all too easy to feel overwhelmed by finances.  But budgeting is a way to know you are in control, even in those trying times when it may not feel like it.

            We used two very helpful resources to begin budgeting back when we were first married. The first was Dave Ramsey.  We had one of his books, and while I think that is a great investment to make, he also provides a lot of information and resources on his website.  Some people are crazy hard-core into his program, and I can understand that, especially because a lot of these people seem to have had out-of control spending habits and/or a growing amount of debt (especially with credit cards).  Neither of these issues applied to us personally, so we take the money wisdom he offers and apply the parts that work for us. One of his main concepts that we strive to stick to is the ‘zero-based budget.’ This is basically his way of stating the (often forgotten) obvious: don’t spend more than you make.  

            The second irreplaceable resource we use is  I’m sure there are other free, online budgeting options, but this is the one we really liked and chose to implement.  It’s very easy to use, can be linked to debit cards so purchases can be automatically categorized within your budget, and has many helpful tools for managing money.

            I’m coming to the end of this post, but if there are any questions you have regarding the details of budgeting and/or money management, please comment and let me know!! I have a feeling that this topic may be just beginning : )

Moolah on the Mind

            The free-spirited, barefoot hippy in me wants to start this post with a proclamation that money has absolutely nothing to do with happiness.  And I really like to believe that, someday, that will be true, and that maybe that is already true in certain pockets of existence.  But today, at least in the part of the world I inhabit, money and happiness are very much linked together.  Because if I don’t have enough money for the food needed to keep my stomach full and my body working, I’m inevitably going to be grumpy.  And if I cannot afford clothing to cover that body, I’m not going to get very far before my butt-naked self gets thrown into somewhere not very nice.

            Of course, the above examples are extreme.  But the truth is that we use money to help fulfill all kinds of needs and wants in our day to day lives.  And unless you want to begin some kind of communal sharing living situation (which came up in pretty much every other conversation I had throughout college [if this sounds appealing to you, check out]), you will have to develop a good relationship with money in order to experience happiness.

            Allow me to be crystal-clear: I am in no way saying that having more money equals having more happiness.  I do not believe that is how it works.  But I do believe that there are a few very common – and dangerous – mentalities concerning money that make being happy more difficult.

  1. Ignorance – It has been said that ‘ignorance is bliss.’  Not with money, people!  I am always in shock when a friend has no idea what is in their checking account, yet is swiping their debit card for dinner and/or a movie and/or a latte.  If this is your money management style, the fear of reality keeps you living in a fantasy world…until overdraft charges begin to pile up and you have to borrow money to cover rent.  Knowing you have very little money is not fun, but it can be the start of making some positive changes.
  2. Hoarding – Hoarding is a very sad and very serious issue where, basically, a person clings to certain things and is unable to get rid of them.  Hoarding can manifest in many ways, and one of those ways is with money.  This often has to do with control and the fear of the uncertain future.  This is not the same as saving.  It is an inability or unwillingness to spend money on anything but the bare essentials.  People who do this have such a tight grip on their funds in hopes that, when disaster ultimately strikes, they will be as prepared as possible.  Overcoming this mentality first requires a commitment to understanding the underlying causes.    
  3. Materialism – This is the classic ‘keeping up with Joneses’ where happiness is as elusive as the ever-changing desire for more and better stuff.  People of this mentality are constantly chasing contentment through material possessions, whether through shoes, cars, the latest technology, the nicest house, and so on.  But the problem is that, while sometimes a new item can help us feel happy, real happiness does not come from anything.  Often, people who struggle with this mindset find themselves feeling empty when the ‘new thing happiness’ wears off.  A good way to begin to change this is by shifting one’s focus away from material gains and onto other, more fulfilling parts of life.

So what does a good money mentality look like?  Tune in next time…!    

Sweet Celebrations

            Today, I am feeling extremely grateful.  I think a big part of this is the fact that this weekend was filled to the brim with celebration.  I took a half day off from work on Friday, and while I originally thought my hunger would lead me straight home, I instead wound up at my church’s Good Friday service.  It was a very meditative time focusing on the last words of Jesus, and I think it was a great opportunity for me to start Easter weekend grounded in what the holiday is all about.

After a restful afternoon with my hubby, my dad joined us for ‘dinner and a movie’ to celebrate his birthday.  Of course, since we’re on a budget, this meant we cooked him dinner (and organic brownies made from a mix from Aldi!) and watched a flick found on Netflix.  It was a wonderful evening for all of us, and I think my dad really appreciated the thought and time put into celebrating him.

            Saturday rolled around and was all…about…me!  It was my birthday (yup, my dad and I have back-to-back b-days).  The aforementioned hubby had been told a while ago that he was in charge of planning any festivities that would take place, and he took this as an opportunity to completely blow me away with a full day of fun.  He gave me an itinerary the night before, but it simply had the times with none of the events labeled.  Throughout the day Saturday I would either find or be handed an envelope with a beautifully designed ‘certificate’ complete with a limerick clue describing where we were going next.  I seriously think I’m still in shock at how amazingly he orchestrated this whole shebang.  It was ridiculously awesome.

            I’ll spare you all the details, but I do want to share the fantastic places in Detroit that we enjoyed, just in case you ever have the chance to check them out for yourself:

  • Avalon International Breads – fresh-baked deliciousness and the best hot chocolate I’ve had in a long time
  • John K. King Books – floors, rooms, and rows of every type of book you could ever imagine…and they’re used, which means affordable, which means you can actually buy some
  • Good Girls Go To Paris Crepes – the menu (written on the wall) contains both sweet and savory crepes…bon appetit!!
  • The DIA – did you know that if you live in Wayne, Oakland, or Macomb counties, you can go here for free?  I’ve been there countless times, and there’s always something new to discover
  • Pewabic Pottery – unique artisan-made pottery pieces; they also have classes sometimes
  • Pizza Papalis – my mom’s boyfriend thought this was the best deep-dish pizza he’s ever had (including Chicago pizza)
  • Astoria Pastry Shop – I won’t even try to describe it…just go

 I’m so glad I live in such a cool city : )

            We began our Easter celebration with church (I wore jeans, but it was fun to see how a lot of people really ‘kicked up their fashion’ for the special day), then spent most of the day at my mom’s with family.  One of the highlights was watching my adorable 1 ½ year old niece collect plastic Easter eggs outside.  We ate a lot of yummy food made by my mom and her boyfriend.  Let’s just say the cheesy potatoes are pretty much famous.  The evening there ended with an ice cream cake for my b-day.  Once back home, we ended the day – and weekend – how we most like to: cuddled up on the couch.

            This weekend, sweetness was not just a flavor found in food, but an experience shared with loved ones.

A Monday Misadventure

On Monday when I arrived home from work, I decided that I wanted to make something good for dinner.  We had been eating delicious leftovers all weekend (plus a picnic lunch of PB&Js on Saturday when the weather was so beautiful it would have been a crime not to enjoy it), and I wanted to take advantage of the extra time I had on the day my husband would be getting home a little later. It’s important to note that my expectations for ‘a good cooked dinner’ are pretty low.  This particular day, these were the desires that were the foundation for my cooking: no frozen meals, no pasta or salad (what we had been eating all weekend), and no meat (per my hubby’s Lenten fast).

            So, of course, here’s what I found – a frozen spinach mushroom pizza, a bag of frozen veggies, fresh lettuce, various pasta noodles, chicken-potato soup, tuna, a box of couscous, a can of tangerines, and two containers of chicken stock (one of which that had gone bad).  Hmm…I could only work with the last three ingredients, and I wasn’t even sure chicken stock was okay during a meat fast.  I pulled out the couscous and tangerines and set them on the counter.  It was about this time I began to realize that my desires for dinner were not going to ‘pan’ out (and, yes, I did use that cooking pun on purpose!).

            Now, there’s a chance that some of you reading this have the perfect recipe for tangerine couscous, possibly cooked in chicken stock.  I’m not that creative or skilled when it comes to preparing food.  While I’m trying to be open to ‘winging it’ more, what I really like is a simple recipe with realistic ingredients.  Since the dinner prep was looking bleak, I instead channeled my productive energy into washing the dishes.  It was about then that my hubby called, and I must confess that I was a bit snippy.  I was annoyed at the lack of food to work with and the budget which, at times, keeps our kitchen feeling so empty.

            Not knowing my underlying guidelines that originally propelled me into this misadventure, he offered what was the obvious solution – the frozen pizza.  My frustration grew as I tried to explain to this clueless guy I live with why it’s crazy to not have anything to eat in our home!  The only fresh vegetable was lettuce – just lettuce!  We might as well have been consuming overly processed and packaged cookies and pop for the ridiculous unhealthiness in which we were living!!

            As you may have already guessed, we had the pizza for dinner.  It was delicious.  I apologized for speaking unkindly to my sweet, understanding best friend who sometimes gets the brunt of my negative moments.  And I realized that maybe my feelings were rooted in something deeper than the food, in something inside of me that makes me feel inadequate in my cooking abilities, something that maybe connects to my longing to be better than I am in this area.

            Did I mention how tasty that frozen pizza was?   

Shal the Scientist

You may have already figured this out, but I’m not one to get too excited about science.  I vaguely remember learning about the wavelengths of light and different colors either in middle or high school, and for a small time I couldn’t see a color without thinking about the size of its wavelength and why I was seeing that color.  And don’t get me started on atoms!  When I was first taught that everything was made up of these teensy-tiny building blocks, my mind was blown and the way I saw everything changed…at least until I saw my crush in the hallway and forgot all about science class, lol.

            I guess what I’m getting at is that when it comes to the natural world, I typically prefer to live in the magic of wonder instead of the light of understanding.  So imagine my surprise when I found myself thinking about inertia the other day.  It’s Newton’s ‘First Law of Motion’ (and, yes, I had to look this up to refresh my science knowledge) which states, basically, that an object in motion will stay in motion and an object at rest will stay at rest unless an outside force gets involved (I remembered that!).  It’s all about energy amounts and movement and…well, boring science jargon.  Sorry to all you science-lovers out there!

            As I continue this journey of actively seeking a healthier and happier lifestyle, I am realizing more and more that inertia is a powerful reality in our lives.  If I get home from work, change into comfy clothes, and we decide to eat dinner on the couch while watching a show, the likelihood of doing anything productive for the remainder of the evening is greatly decreased; I’m an object at rest that wants to stay that way.  If I’m trying a new, healthier product or doing a DIY project and something goes wrong or I’m not pleased with the results, it’s natural for my movement towards healthier decisions to be slowed; the disappointing outcome is like that outside force that changes my speed and/or direction.

            But here’s the upside: once you propel yourself (or are moved by other forces) to be actively moving towards health and happiness, inertia will help you keep moving in that direction.  That makes me think of how I did some research almost 2 years ago on how to clean my oven without using harsh chemicals, and soon was using baking soda, vinegar, and lemons for other cleaning, which led to reading the labels on my cleaning products, which coincided with my reading food labels for ‘high-fructose corn syrup,’ and then was making sure our bread was whole wheat…I think you get the idea : )

I believe this knowledge is empowering in two important ways:

  1. Awareness – Once you know that there are pesky forces that may slow you down or bring your progress to a grinding halt, it is easier to see them coming and prepare…or even try to avoid them.  Whenever I am frustrated with this journey, it is easy for me to think negatively and become discouraged.  But if I remain aware, I can remind myself to stay positive and not allow one event to derail my forward movement.
  2. Encouragement – According to this law of motion, it is natural to keep going once we have started.  So, even if you’ve taken only one step toward a happier and healthier life, the difficult part of beginning is already behind you.  I find that very uplifting!  Use this scientific fact to help you keep rolling in the right direction.

How has inertia helped or hurt your journey to better health and happiness?       

The Toughest Choice

I’m starting to feel like I want to begin almost every post I write with some sort of apology about the hard work aspect of what I’m going to share.  In fact, today’s topic was going to be ‘difficult conversations’, but as I was brainstorming about that, it dawned on me just how much work it takes most of the time to be healthy and happy.  Sure, I have those moments and even days – I hope you do, too! – when everything seems to be ‘flowing’ and ‘just going right’ and I just feel happy, you know?  But maybe that’s the exception and not the rule.  Perhaps, most of the time, my happiness is a direct result of tough choices I have made and difficult work in which I have endeavored.

               Recently, my mom sent me a text with the following quote from the Dalai Lama: “Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.”  This really struck a chord with me.  I am sure part of the reason was that my mom happened to send it to me when I had just finished a difficult task that I was hoping would bring some more fulfillment and provision into my life [Thanks, Mom! (she’s probably going to print this post out now and put in on her fridge…she’s that kind of mom, lol)].  But I think the other, more important reason is that it is such an important truth, and I believe truth we need to hear has a way of sticking to us until we get it.

            And I don’t think we get this.  I think we want to swing by the drive-through and grab a bag of happiness with a large side of peace and contentment.  I think we want happiness specially delivered and expressed shipped to our door.  I think we want that one book we read or movie we watch or place we visit or person we love to give us that happiness we’re so longing for.  But I’ve got news for us, all of us – that is simply not the way it works.

            Happiness is a choice.  Sometimes our circumstances make this choice more difficult or even nearly impossible, and I in no way wish to belittle nor discredit this.  But nearly impossible is not the same as impossible.  We can choose actions that lead to our own happiness.  We cannot control everything (which I personally thank God for), but we can control how we respond and react to the things we have no power over.

            Time for a difficult confession – I don’t always want to choose happiness.  Sometimes, I’d rather feel angry, sad, or bitter.  Sometimes, I want to wallow in emotional yuck just like I sometimes prefer greasy, fried food from Chicken Shack as opposed to a healthier option.  I think the fact that we have this choice is a testament to our humanity.  I think it is a part of the weird and beautiful mess of creation that we are.

            So, I will give myself grace in those ‘down’ moments to feel whatever I choose to.  However, I will try to remember the power of choice I have been given and use it to choose happiness for myself and, whenever possible, to help others choose happiness, as well.     

A Pain in the Neck (Both Metaphorically and Literally)

            Before we get into today’s topic, I want to apologize if I am unable to post and/or respond as much as I’d like to this week. We’ve been having internet problems (as in the internet being completely disconnected for unclear and confusing reasons) since Saturday, which hopefully will be all taken care of by the end of this week. Unfortunately, this has greatly decreased my ability for ‘blog time.’  It is frustrating times like dealing with the internet company (which my husband mostly did, Bless him!) that are perfect for reminding ourselves just how fortunate we are and how much we have to be grateful for.  Not to mention that, really, we have so much more compared to our struggling neighbors down the street or around the world.

            Now to the topic at hand!  Sunday evening, my husband and I both noticed that we were carrying a lot of tension in our neck/shoulder areas, and my husband felt the start of a headache coming on (and, yes, I do think some of the blame is on our internet provider, lol).  So we gathered some supplies and camped out on the couch to watch a movie.  Neither of us grabbed a bottle of pills.  Instead, we made sure to heat up our microwavable bean packs (we each have our own long one and share another specifically designed for neck and shoulders), checked that both our neck and foot massagers were plugged in and nearby (yes, we’re spoiled: most of these items were gifts!), and had the massage oil within reach.

            While we watched the movie, we took turns massing each other’s tense shoulders and necks.  When our hands became tired, we either used the heat packs to ease our muscles or one of the massage machines to work the tension out.  This process helped us both a lot.  Unfortunately, I awoke in the middle of the night to pain that had returned full-force.  Since I wanted to get a good night’s sleep for work the next day, I took some low-dose pain medicine, and then used the heat pack and shoulder massager for about 40 minutes before returning to bed.

            The main point I want to make is this: medication should not be our first line of defense against our pain.  Obviously, some people suffer from chronic conditions and may have to rely on drugs regularly as part of their management.  And I am in no way judging others for using medications.  There are times (like at work or in the middle of the night) when I rely on medicine if my pain is too distracting for the current task.  It’s just that our society relies on medicine so much, often without considering other possibilities.  So here are my ideas of what we can do to help manage our pain before reaching for the pills.

  1. Listen to your body.  In our busy lives, it is easy to ignore what our body is telling us until it has to shout so loud that we have no choice but to stop and listen.  But if we can tune in just a bit more and try to understand the subtle cues, perhaps we will have the chance to deal with less pain as opposed to whatever else is on its way.  This all about being as proactive as we can regarding our bodies.
  2. Have natural alternatives on hand.  When you’re in pain, you want relief as soon as possible.  If all you have in your house is typical pain medication, than that is what you are going to use.  Instead, when you’re not in pain, think ahead to what you need.  Maybe that means ordering the right essential oils, asking for a neck massager for the next holiday when you’ll be receiving gifts, or even researching natural remedies for your most common ailments.
  3. Rest and hydrate.  This may seem overly simple, but when we’re in pain, we need to provide our body with the tools it needs to deal with whatever is going on inside.  Allowing ourselves to pause, taking deeper breaths, and consuming enough water are all ways we can work with our body to promote its healing.

What are some of your favorite natural methods for fighting pain?