Thursday, October 31, 2013

Does Marketing Mean No Free Market?

Since I'm apparently a budding right-wing pundit, you might expect my reaction to this press release from Lady Obama to be something along the lines of "get your nanny statism out of my grocery shopping." It's not. More on that later, but first here are some excerpts:
As part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, Mrs. Obama today joined Sesame Street’s Elmo and Rosita to announce that Sesame Workshop and the Produce Marketing Association joined the Partnership for a Healthier America in a two-year agreement to help promote fresh fruit and vegetable consumption to kids... 
The announcement comes on the heels of the first ever White House convening on food marketing to children, during which Mrs. Obama called on stakeholders to leverage the power of marketing to promote healthy products and decrease the marketing of unhealthy products to kids. 
It goes on to mention a study where kids were given the choice of an apple or cookie to eat. Most, of course, chose the cookie. But when the researchers put an Elmo sticker on the apple, twice as many kids took the apple as before.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The cheapskate-beginner's guide to non-committally dabbling in candle-making

By Mary C. Tillotson

It all started early in the week when my husband kindly asked me to put away some things I'd left strewn around the office.

I looked at my eclectic shoeboxes labeled beads+string and dremel+woodburner and so forth until my eyes fell on a navy blue box -- Florsheim, apparently courtesy of someone else years ago. I'd been too ashamed to label this one: inside were four jars with the last bits of scented candle in the bottom. The two largest jars I'd been lugging around since (*blush*) college, and the medium-sized ones since the year after.

I am a closet packrat, and all I can say in my defense is that when I married my husband, he owned -- meaning, had not thrown away on purpose -- more than one empty soap squirter. I mean the kind you can buy full of liquid soap for 99 cents.

I realize this is not much of a defense. But these candles had lovely scents, and it would be a snap to combine the last bits and make a new (smaller) candle. Plus, those jars with the gasket-lids are just so handy. I mean, you could clean them out and fill them with Christmas candy and give them as gifts!

Feeling competent and confident from something I'd just finished, and embarrassed at the realization that I still hadn't made the candles (or the Christmas candy, for that matter), I announced to my husband that I was hereby going to make candles this weekend, or I was going to throw the jars away.

And scented candles, too, because without fragrance, what's the point of a candle?

The candles were three different types of floral, and I thought they'd blend well, but I would need to add some scented wax to what I already had.

Unfortunately, nobody sells floral fragrances this time of year. (Aside: candles with baked-goods or fruit fragrances generally smell like tween girl body wash; as for the rest of what's on the shelves this month, what does "Tis The Season" or "Distant Cabin" even smell like?)

I also hadn't realized that there are about 18 different kinds of candle wax and 16 different kinds of wicks, or remembered that in the world of crafts, anything can be really really complicated and expensive if you let it.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Mission of Money and the Single-Income Marriage

By Katie Sciba
The Catholic Wife
“Who can find a good wife? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm” (Proverbs 31:10-12a).

Back in August I dug up my old Dave Ramsey CDs for some monetary motivation; and immediately Andrew and I got back on the horse to ride furiously into the sunset of Financial Peace (because frankly, I’m terrified of not having Financial Peace).

We’re a single income family and in the beginning, Andrew and I agreed that I would handle the finances. Though of course he’s privy to our cash flow, it’s my job to make sure the outgo doesn’t exceed the income. Since our financial revival a couple months ago, I’ve made a habit of combing our budget in search of error and excess to ensure that we have complete control over our finances, intentionally placing each penny prudently. Coupons, SALES, switching to reliable-yet-inexpensive Ting for our cell service, coffee at home vs. Fivebucks; every little bit helps and any new approach we find to help us save more and spend less becomes Sciba Family Dogma: we cling to it stubbornly, knowing the discipline will help our family. (In case you think we live like shoeless hermits, I want you to know that we still LIVE, have fun, and purchase things we want.)

Friday night I burst through our front door beaming from a big grocery trip. I giddily reported to Andrew that after coupons and discounts, I managed to save us $16 at the check out, not including the dollars saved from buying only on-sale items. Others might save much more on a regular basis, but I was pretty proud of myself since the whole coupon/smart-shopping idea used to intimidate me.

In my chatty glow, it occurred to me that I waxed so merrily about my savings because I wanted Andrew to know that I was being a good steward of his income – a wife who doesn’t take advantage, but has learned to deeply appreciate his work and reaping.


A sudden, simple, spiritual/financial/revival AHA! struck me at that very moment: It is Andrew’s task as the breadwinner to provide financially for our family; it is my corresponding duty to reveal to him, through good stewardship of his income, that what he brings in is enough. Generally speaking, men want to provide; it’s a natural charism that when under fire, can cause self-doubt and anxiety. If it seems like there’s not enough cash, then it’s easy (and common) for a provider to doubt his worth because if he’s doing his best, working hard, and coming up short, discouragement follows; BUT, I can stave off that discouragement by being a good steward of our finances, by living simply, making prudent financial choices and communicating about expenses and needs. And the plus is that I can build Andrew up in good, honest confidence because he’ll trust that I treasure him as well as his work for me and our boys.

I want so so so much to be the Proverbs 31 type for my husband. And why not? I’m crazy about him! With our combined duties of providing and stewardship, we feel safe with each other and hopeful in our relational security. The whole thing is a team-building effort that applies not just to single-income marriages or he works/she’s at home situations; the point is that putting a little financial prudence into practice has a way of letting your provider know you appreciate what he does.

Image by Finance Fox.

Originally from Newport News, Virginia and grown in the burbs of Omaha, Nebraska, Katie Sciba is a housewife and mother, award-winning columnist for the Catholic Connectionand editor for the blog Truth & Charity.  She won a third-place award from Catholic Press Association for Best Regular Column on Family Life in 2013, and her blog has been featured on National Catholic RegisterNew AdventSpirit Daily, and Big PulpitA 2008 Benedictine College grad, she lives with her husband, Andrew, and three sons. She admires St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who was renowned not only by her compassion for the poor, but also by her deep love for her husband. She blogs at The Catholic Wife, where this post originally appeared.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Working from Home: 15 tips from 4 friends

By Mary C. Tillotson

our backyard neighbor!
My husband spent four days in Vermont this summer, and during that time I called some girls at the nearby college to see if we could hang out in the evening -- till then, I'd had more face time with bears than human beings that day and it was disconcerting.

Working from home is awesome but, like anything, it presents its own set of challenges. I emailed three friends (including Joy from this blog and Laura who's written for us a couple times) for their work-from-home tips, and included mine as well. Feel free to add yours in the comments below!

Keeping focused

1. Don't stay in your pajamas all morning and half the afternoon on a regular basis. It might be comfortable, but it will make you feel lazy and unproductive. And not like the functioning, mature professional that you're trying to be. Anna Sutherland

2. Set work hours. I work from 9 (or whenever I wake up, really) until 5, with a lunch break. If I just worked whenever, I would never get done what I need. But if I didn't have an end time, I would hate my job because I would work constantly. Joy Pullmann
via Wikimedia Commons

3. If you have trouble staying focused, as I do, pray specifically for diligence.  I find this helps. Also, I have a picture of St. Thomas More (patron saint of lawyers) hanging right above my desk. His stern gaze can help me stop dilly dallying and get back to work. Laura Christine

4. Make an effort to be friendly with your co-workers, over phone or email. Talking shop with others in your profession helps you stay focused and develop yourself professionally. Build relationships that you can easily share ideas over. Mary C. Tillotson

Not Going Crazy

5. Don't let inertia keep you from leaving the house. If you work from home all day, going places suddenly seems like a significant undertaking (even if it's just the grocery store). And if the only people you regularly see are your family members, going somewhere to (gasp) socialize feels even more daunting.... so you might as well just stay home, you tell yourself. In reality, you do need a change of surroundings and some new company every now and then, so don't hesitate to go to the library, the coffeeshop, the gym, that church event you meant to attend, whatever. Anna Sutherland

6. Don't work an hour before bed. Staring at a computer messes up your sleep patterns. Joy Pullmann

7. Take a walk. If you need a break, get up and go outside for a while.  It helps clear your mind much better than checking Facebook or browsing the web.  In the same vein, consider taking an actual lunch break instead of eating at your desk. Laura Christine

8. Know yourself and your social needs. I'm sure your husband is awesome, but if he's the only human being you see all day (especially if you're extroverted), join a club or take a class or do something outside your home on a regular basis. This will take time away from work and family, but it'll make you happier and more emotionally equipped to be good at all the things you're doing. Mary C. Tillotson

9. Consider a standing desk, or some other way of working while standing. Sitting all day is all kinds of unhealthy.  My husband has set up his computer monitors so that they slide up and down, and he can work part of the day standing up.  He finds he actually has more energy and concentration that way.  I'm working on a way to prop up my laptop so that I can do the same. Laura Christine

Parenting and Family

10. If your kids are older than 1 year old, you need childcare for them, unless you're only working part-time. Under 1 can stay with mommy and is not much trouble, but after they start walking and stop nursing you're hosed. Joy Pullmann

11. In that vein, schedule phone calls. I love having my kids around me, but I can't make calls knowing someone might randomly start screaming while I'm on the phone. Joy Pullmann

12. Make a deliberate decision about the lines between work and family, don't just let it fall where it falls. I don't mind taking some breaks during the day (either I'm distracted by the internet, or I need to go outside, or I wash dishes or update our family budget) and doing some work in the evening, but I might do it differently if I had kids. There isn't a blanket right or wrong way to do it; the best way for you to manage those lines is going to be whatever will make your family top priority and allow you to be professional and hardworking at your job. Mary C. Tillotson

Helpful apps and tools

Waste No Time
13. Get a smartphone. I can work in airports, while the kids are at the library, in the car on the way places, etc. You can get cheap ones and plans at VirginMobile or similar services. Joy Pullmann

14. Waste No Time App: I love this free browser extension!  It allows you to set limits on how much time you spend on a certain website at various times of the day.  For instance, you can set it so that you can only spend 15 minutes on Facebook or Pinterest between the hours of 8 and 5.  You also can block certain sites altogether.  Of course you can cheat and disable the settings, but I find that the screen that pops up when I've gone over my time limit is enough motivation to get back to work. Laura Christine

15. Workflowy is great. I don't even use it that much, because I have to write everything down with a pen, but I can't get over how cool this program is. It's free, just sign in with your email address and a password. (If you want some fun features, you can get them for $5/month.) Workflowy is literally a bunch of bullet points and sub-sub-points and you can zoom in and out and collapse and expand as much as you like. (There's a short video here that gives you a better visual.) For a while I used it to keep track of all my phone calls, so I could know at a glance whether I'd been obnoxious, assertive, or passive about getting ahold of someone. Mary C. Tillotson

If your to-do list is overwhelming and it's hard to get motivated, remember this tidbit from Ray Bradbury: "By doing things, things get done."

What tips do you have for work-from-homers?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Good Reason to Wear White

By Marissa Farrell
Guest Contributor 

The last few days have been difficult for my family as we celebrated the life of our “Uncle” Steve, who passed away on September 8. The events that immediately precede and follow the end of life are emotionally taxing. Steve experienced intense physical suffering as cancer ravaged his body. Family and friends said their goodbyes and attempted to spiritually smother him with prayer. Our parish priest helped to prepare Steve’s soul through the reception of the sacraments, especially Anointing of the Sick. The grieving process began over a year ago for most of us, when Uncle Steve was given his terminal diagnosis, but having time to prepare does not dull the grief.

My sister and I play the harp and flute and are often asked to play for special occasions at church. Uncle Steve’s near-obsession with all things Three Stooges and Harpo Marx had always been one of his favorite ways of relating to our love for music and unusual instrument choice. It only made sense for us to give his family in their suffering and him in his eternal life the gift of our music. So, we undertook the difficult, but worthwhile, task of playing for his wake and funeral services.

From our seats in the choir section of the church, I could see the hundreds of people who gathered to celebrate Uncle Steve’s life. The church was packed with family and friends – a sea of dark blue and black. In the front row sat his wife, son, mother, father, brothers and sisters. As I looked at that front row I was struck. The entire row was a solid line of black dresses and suits, except for one woman dressed in white linen from head to toe. She looked as if she stood in defiance of the tradition to wear black while mourning the loss of a loved one. It was Uncle Steve’s mother.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

We're Not Confused, We're Married

My husband and I have sort of a strange relationship. I happen to earn our main income and produce all the babies, but he's not one of those lazy-a** husbands who make their wives do all the big jobs while they sit on the couch watching porn or Simpsons reruns. I'm also not the career woman who spends 80 hours a week in the office while her kids languish with a nanny. We're both sort of a weird mixture of the other, unlike both the traditional and sensible husband-wife relationship where the man is the hunter-gatherer and the woman the homemaker, and the modern relationship where everyone works while outsourcing the kids to strangers.

My husband is not androgynous or effeminate. He's spent the past two weeks jackhammering and digging out our hideous concrete patio to make way for what I hope will be a nice new brick one. He handles all the home repairs, car maintenance, and financial matters (thank goodness). I'm also not very manly. I'm not the Cinderalla-Barbie-princess sort of girl, but I crochet, and bake bread, and squee at mice. He's also more stern with the children, and I'm a mushball. 

But my husband also does almost all of our grocery shopping and meal creation. I used to, but I got busy and tired being pregnant all the time, so he took it over.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Want More Babies? Stop Needlessly Terrifying Pregnant Women

By Carrie Lukas
Culture of Alarmism

Western democracies face a growing problem. No, it's not the ballooning budget deficits, swelling entitlement programs, or expanding ranks of the permanently unemployed. This time the problem is what's not growing: Too few women are having babies to sustain the population.

European countries have long posted fertility rates far below 2.1 births per woman, the level required to replace the population absent immigration. The United Kingdom and France have relatively healthy rates of around 2 births per woman, but Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, Hungary, Poland, and Austria all have fewer than 1.5 births per woman. The United States had been an exception in the Western world, but the fertility rate recently dipped to 1.9 births per woman.

Low fertility has enormous economic implications. Too few babies today means too few workers and taxpayers tomorrow, and a stagnant economy. World leaders know this, so have tried a range of policies, from tax breaks and cash payments to subsidized parental leave and childcare programs, to encourage procreation. Such efforts have had modest, inconsistent impacts.

Here's one idea that Western democracies ought to consider and it won't take a dime from their strained government budgets: Try toning down the alarmism heaped on expectant parents to make pregnancy and parenting more appealing. Sadly, too much of society seeks to scare would-be parents into believing that danger lurks around every corner for any child they foolishly bring into this toxic world.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The ocean of life: another Facebook Expat muses

By Mary C. Tillotson

h/t Laura for starting this conversation! And note: I'm musing here, not preaching, so if you want to stay on Facebook, I'm not judging you.

When I got off Facebook, a college acquaintance was seven months pregnant. I’m sure she’s had her baby by now. I haven’t seen photos, and I don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl. Or twins, or a stillbirth, for that matter. I don’t have her email address, though I suppose I could ask around and find it without much trouble.

But she and I weren’t super close in college and haven’t gotten super close since, and if I never find out how her pregnancy ended, that’s okay. I keep in touch with some of my college friends, and one friend from St. Ignace (where I lived and worked after college before moving to Virginia), and that’s enough. With some of them, one of us will email a link to an article and we’ll get into a long email conversation about it (and the rest of life). With others, I exchange letters. One of my closest friends, we’ll forget about each other for a few months, play phone tag for a week, talk for a couple hours, then forget each other for another few months.

And that’s enough.

Like many in my generation, I’ve moved too many times and will likely move a few more times before we settle (if we ever do). Every time I move, I meet new people, and about the time I can’t imagine a routine that didn’t include these people, I pack up and leave town, off to another adventure. I graduated and moved; got married and moved; left the homeschool circuit and took a desk job. Or, back in my college years, the summer ended and I left camp or my internship.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Because She is a Person

By Rebekah Randolph
A Mad Tea Party

As I look at my beautiful little girl, I wonder what womanhood may come to mean to her as she grows up—how she will come to think of herself amid the frothing nonsense of our society. I hope she doesn't listen to American culture too much. Most of its messages about womanhood are terrible: you should try to be like a man. You should flaunt your body to manipulate men. You should shut up and do what men tell you. You should do whatever you want, because nobody cares.

I want her to know that she is valuable. But not for the reasons that the world plasters across its billboards, proclaims from its political rostrums, and teaches in its “enlightened” classrooms. Not because she is sexy. Not because she can do anything men can do. Not because girls rule and boys drool. Quite simply, because she is a person.
Michelangelo's "Creation of Eve" (Sistine Chapel)

Our daughter is a female person, of course, which is delightful for many reasons. However, her femininity affects neither her essential value nor her essential purpose. After all, when we first realized that our baby existed, we had no idea whether it was a boy or a girl. Why did we rejoice, then? Simply because a soul had been created. When I felt her first movements, I still didn't know but I praised God for giving us a child. No matter which way things developed, our joy would have been the same.

And so I don't want our daughter's primary identity to be "a girl." That is, I don't want her to tiptoe through life filtering everything through her gender, believing that she must be different in every way from men and that if she isn't, she has somehow failed as a woman.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bringing humanity back to politics

By Mary C. Tillotson

I found myself back in the swing of full-time journalism, and now it's my job to pay close attention to the goings-on in the government, and to read lots and lots of news. Sometimes the most difficult part is sifting through the name-calling, the caricatures, the nonsense and distilling the actual truth of what's going on and why people believe it.

Let's take the issue of abortion, for example. That's controversial enough. If you make a statement one way or the other about it, either you approve of killing children or you're against women's health. From big-name liberal newspapers to conservative opinion journals to bloggers to average Joe on Facebook, many (not all) people are making this sort of claim all over. If you believe something else, your reasoning must be stupid because you're a complete and total idiot.

This is not how civilized people behave. This is not how civilized people treat each other.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Musings of a Facebook Expat

By Laura Christine
This Felicitous Life

I deactivated my Facebook account two years ago.  At first, the thought of getting off Facebook was terrifying.  How could I stand being so disconnected from everyone?  I hate feeling out of the loop.

But I knew Facebook was feeding too many of my baser instincts to judge, to compare myself to others, to pry into personal details that are none of my business.  Worst of all, I was not fully appreciating my daughters’ sweet, fleeting childhood moments.  Instead I was engrossing myself in the lives of people whom I did not care much about.  How does Facebook do that to us?

I really don't need to know everything going on in the lives of hundreds of people I barely know.  It’s nice that a person I went to school with but haven’t talked to in ten years just had a baby.  I’m misprioritizing, however, if I spend time reading about that instead of loving on my own babies, or instead of bringing a meal to a new mom who lives down the street.

Deactivating my account has been so freeing.  I used to know a lot about people.  Now I focus more on knowing people.  People are my vocation right now—primarily my husband and children but also my extended family and close friends.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Why I Went to College

By Catherine S.
Guest Contributor
courtesy Kevin Dooley, flickr

Last week, a friend sent me this article by Raylan Alleman, a conservative father who declares it is better for girls not to go to college. Alleman claims that college these days is expensive, morally dangerous, and academically disappointing, and that women can do better for themselves by avoiding it altogether and preparing themselves for their true purpose in life: marriage. Like any (or at least, many) college-educated woman, I immediately laughed it to scorn. However, as I mentally prepared my biting rebuttal, I came across other online reactions to the article, and I began to question my position. Anonymous snarky comments and my knee-jerk reaction only strengthen Raylan Alleman's original argument. Because I have a degree, I automatically know better than some man online, don’t I? Sadly, I’m the woman with the education, and yet I can't do any better than scream through cyberspace at a stranger. I reacted in an antagonistic, militant, feminist manner. This is why Alleman doesn’t want to send his daughter to college: because she will go to college and get her degree and fly her “educated woman” flag without having the initial decency to consider the opposite side of an argument, without being able to logically distinguish between an incorrect argument and a poorly-made one. Alleman has expressed his opinion with sweeping generalizations and what seems to be little knowledge of many conservative colleges across the country, but as a father, he has every right to express his concern with the dangers that surround a college-bound child.

That said, although I agree with his principles, I disagree with his points.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Community Is Better than Experts

By Joy Pullmann

My three-year-old son learned a new word this week: Proud. I told him for the first time I was proud of him when he learned to ditch his diapers, all in three days. I'm not sure he understands what the word means--it's an abstract concept, after all, which is why he hasn't heard it before--but it was the best way I could think to express my approval.

My husband actually changes most of the diapers in this house, and makes most of the meals (we havesome role reversal going on because I'm currently the full-time breadwinner), so I wasn't as much relieved to get out of a big chore of mine as tickled pink my little boy managed to figure this out so fast. I mean, he went from peeing in his pants without thinking about it to marching himself to the bathroom at the right impulse, pulling pants down and up himself, doing his business, and cleaning up afterward. That was a lot to learn in six hours. But we haven't had an accident in two days (fingers crossed), and there were a few unintentional ones the two days before that.