A Week of Gratitude

(source)

As I’ve mentioned before, the Pit Stops on this blog are loosely modeled after The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin’s year long adventure to seek happiness. Each month, she focused on a different aspect of her life she wanted to improve, one of which was her gratitude for others. To work on this, she wrote about what she was thankful for in a gratitude journal every evening. The other inspiration for this week’s project is John Kralik, a man who decided to write a thank you note every day for a year. I haven’t read his book, 365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life, yet, but hope to this summer.

There are so many people that I am thankful for: my family, past teachers, dear friends. My family knows I am thankful for them, but they would benefit from a letter telling them so. Many of my teachers changed my life, and they deserve to know that and be thanked for it.

I love handwritten, posted letters. They take effort . . . which is what makes them special to me. I remember hating to write thank you notes as a child, putting it off until the last minute when my mother finally dragged them out of me. Often, they were short and insincere. As I got older and began to receive letters, I realized how important even small notes of gratitude are. They can truly change a day, and therefore change a person.

Edit: After I published this, the WordPress quote that came up on my screen was: 

“To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.” Phyllis Theroux. How appropriate! 

This week, even with finals coming to a close, I plan on writing seven letters (or more) thanking different people for the positive effect they’ve had on my life. As of right now, I’m thinking of three different English teachers, a church history teacher, the family I nannied for in high school, and maybe some family or friends. It might be difficult to find addresses for some of my past teachers, but I’m going to try.

Do you have a habit of writing thank you notes? 

What is the favorite thank you note you’ve ever received? 

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Looking Forward

I finish exams in TWO days. TWO DAYS, people! And the I’ll be finished with my freshman year of college. I feel like I got here two weeks ago, but have been here forever.

Last night, before I went to sleep, I was reading through my journal entries from the beginning of the year. They were vibrant and full of expectation, hope, change. They spoke about my friends now when we had first met, dreams for the future, aspirations for the year. And now, I’m about to be one fourth of the way done with my college career. Well . . . unless I decide to delay it, and go to grad school. But that is a decision for several years from now!

With that said, I wanted to let you all know what I’ll be doing this summer and what you can look forward to on the blog! I’m not going to be lazing around, relaxing in the warm sunshine all day long, mind you. I am super super excited about my summer: I know it will be a period of very spectacular growth in my life.

The month of May (starting at the end of this week!!) I will be interning with Greenbrier Farms. Greenbrier is a smaller, poly-culture farm that I actually did a research project on last semester for my Sustainability Science introductory course. Sustainable agriculture is one of my passions, and the chance to (quite literally) get my hands dirty and learn about fills me with exhilaration. It will be hard work, I hope, but definitely rewarding. I’ll probably be working in the produce gardens, helping out with events, putting together CSA bags, and working at the farmer’s market. I might not be able to take too many photos, but I’ll snap them when I can 😉

This entire summer, I’m living at a house run by our Mere Christianity Forum on Campus. It’s called the Vista House, and it is intended to a place for intentional Christian community.

In June, our Servant Scholars Program starts. I’ll be interning with United Ministries, an organization that has several programs dealing with homelessness, poverty, and adult education. I’m expecting to be thoroughly challenged and stretched by my work there.

The Vista House has an absolutely amazing kitchen, and I won’t be on any type of meal plan this entire summer! That means . . . lots of cooking. It’s where some of these beautiful communal meals took place:

This summer is going to be a great experience. I’m excited to share this part of my journey with you!

What are your summer plans? 

Forgiving the Forgetful

. . . in myself. Really, it isn’t just the forgetful: it’s learning to forgive the imperfections within myself. That, my friends, is something that I thought I had grasped only because I was able to give myself grace in one area of life. When something else happens to remind me of my inherent human-ness, I feel like I’m starting all over again.

This is exam week, hence my lack of regularity in posting. I’ve been stressed the past few days about the exam I had this morning–not because I was unprepared, or because it was going to be particularly challenging. It is my easiest class, and therein lies my problem: I’ve been unwilling to accept anything less than an A in that class because it is easy and unchallenging. There were several homework assignments I forgot to do, which makes my current standing in the class less than my ideal. Had I done them, I would have gotten 100%–but I just completely forgot. It had been a hard few weeks with a death in the family, traveling to the funeral, missing class, working through my emotions, and I simply blanked.

It took me days to stop kicking myself over them, with renewed pressure this week to excel on the final so I don’t get–oh the horror–an A minus. I keep trying to remind myself that this isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of life. That it is a learning experience, a reminder that when I mess up, life will continue.

It is this same, take it or leave it, perfection driven mindset that got me into a state of un-health in the first place.  I refused to yield on myself, convinced that I could make myself do anything if I simply set my mind to it. If I applied myself, I would get what I wanted. I’d never experienced anything contrary to this logic in the past–if I wanted a good grade, I could get it. If I needed to get into a certain program, I’d apply and get in. If I wanted to change a system, I’d simply find the right person to talk to and convince them to my way of thinking. If I thought modeling was something I wanted to do, I’d be damned if I didn’t whittle myself into their restricted standards of measure to succeed by someone else’s definition. Problem is, I didn’t always evaluate if my end goal was actually something good, as it clearly wasn’t in the latter.

Sure, I’ve learned occasionally that there is room for failure in my life–when I didn’t get accepted to the Washington DC Senatorial Page Program, or when I didn’t receive a scholarship I wanted at a certain school. But all of these I could justify as ‘not part of God’s plan,’ or some other factor. When it is my own personal involvement that trips myself up . . . that is what I struggle to accept.

I’m trying to learn to love and accept what my counselor calls the shadows of ourselves. What would happen, she asked, if you were a forgetful person? But I’m not. That isn’t a part of who I am. But, you forgot. Does that make you forgetful? She was purposefully letting me be flustered so that I could see the hypocrisy of accepting forgetfulness and imperfections in other people, but never myself.

Grace. Forgiveness. Self love.

How do you forgive yourself? 

Do you ever struggle with perfectionism? 

Financial Plan, Part 3: Investing

Today, as per promised as one of my goals for financial health, I continued researching investment options. At the moment, the only real investment experience I have is with Kiva, a micro-loan organization (and a topic for a future post!) I was planning on purchasing into a mutual fund and showing you all the process, but since the market closes in approximately a half an hour,  I decided to not  rush it.

First things first: I want my first investment to be in a mutual fund because they typically offer good returns with less risk. They’re professionally managed, and offer a diverse portfolio with a single investment.

I had to find one that I could feel good about. Thanks to my good friend, Google, I found a few lists of mutual funds that promised to be environmentally and socially responsible. I picked one, Appleseed, and then turned to Morningstar and Scottrade to find out what I could about it. (No, Morningstar is not the veggie burger manufacturer, though I did think it was the first time my dad mentioned it!)

Here is the information I found from Morningstar:

You have to be a premium member to get any analysis worth anything on Morningstar, it seems. Phooey!

I do like the one bit I can see--fund managers buy into their own account. I don't know a lot about investing, but that seems promising.

I also got this graph, which was constant from all the sites I saw:

I see green, growth, and stars. That's good, right?

Everything I saw seemed promising. I googled APPLX some more, and found a website called The Street which gave APPLX an A+, BUY! rating. Since I honestly don’t really know anything about this and didn’t want to be rash, I called the one person I knew would give me solid advice: my father.

Daddy? I’m trying to purchase into a mutual fund, and wanted your advice before I did anything rash. Morningstar gave me nothing.

Have you looked at its individual holdings?  From my silence, he inferred that my answer was a no, so he directed me to Market Watch.

For those of you that know anything about investing, suspend judgment for a moment!

Do you see the individual holdings tab? Yes, but those are just the top investors, right? Not the ones the company is investing in?

No, Michaela, those are the investments, not the investors. You see why I called him? Noble corp is a gas and oil company. Avon, you know what that is. The makeup company? Yep. Now let’s look up Mabuchi. I have no idea what they are. We clicked it, and it had no information. So, I went back to ever trusty Google, from which I found their website. They are a small motor manufacturer who purports to be environmentally friendly.

So, should I buy it now? Since the market closes soon? At 12.88, and it’s 2,500 minimum buy in… Well, you won’t necessarily get it at that price. You get it at market closing price, which is called NAV or Net Asset Value. 

Hold on, pops. I’m writing this down. But it still looks pretty good, right?

Hold on. Look at the Lipper Rankings. Do you see them? 

Yes. Ok, so right now it has a 9.62% return, which translates to a 7.62% return because they take two percent for fund management. It has a good ranking. Look at the one year: it lost a little less than half a percent, but the other funds in its category lost almost 7.5%. Ok. So that’s good!

Yep. But, look at it compared to the S&P. It’s trailing in pretty much every category. Bless my patient father: What’s the S&P? The S&P is comprised of 500 stocks that are meant to mirror the US economy. But, it’s still ok that it’s not better, right?

Yes, but we want to get you a fund that does at least as well as the S&P. But, does that mean it’s riskier? Higher return on investment, higher risk? Typically, yes. But not necessarily. How do I find one? We’ll talk about it later. I have to get back to work. 

 I still don’t understand half the symbols or indices or graphs . . . but I’m learning!

If you’re an investor, how did you first learn to understand all of the abbreviations and different terms? 

If you don’t invest, are you considering it? 

Financial Plan, Parte Dos

Afternoon,

I’ve tackled one of the goals set forth in my last post: creation of a budget.

This will probably change, as the month of May I won’t be in school! Woop! I will be living in a house for intentional Christian community located about a mile off of campus, and will be paying rent and purchasing all my own food. I have to talk to the parentals about finances and see if I’m going to be completely fiscally independent this summer, or if they’ll be helping out and in what capacity.

This budget makes more sense for the school year, so I’ll have to see in what ways to modify it this summer when I won’t be on any type of meal plan.

I think this is realistic for a month when I’m in school. After talking to my parents, I’ll be changing this! After looking through my spending habits, I decided that $150/ month is realistic. Out of this, food accounts for about the most: $65 between restaurants, coffee, and groceries. I allotted $40 for my compassion international young woman, Archana. Miscellaneous refers to exactly that: toiletries, clothing, books, gifts, etc.

This budget makes sense for me. I’m not out on my own yet–I’m at school with a meal plan, no rent, parents who pay for insurance and gas on my car. I am very blessed in this sense. Practicing making a budget now, however, while I have limited expenses and limited income will help make it simpler when I do have that control.

I’ll let you know about the evolution of the budget, as I’m sure it will for May/June-August.

Next on my list? The other goal from last time . . . investment options!

Do your budgets ever vary? 

Financial Plan, Part 1

Sorry for the long lapse between posts, readers. I am a weary traveler this week.

I have, however, been evaluating my financial fitness [so to speak] to try and figure out how to obtain better money-handling skills. First things first: to see how much I have in the bank, and where I’m spending it. I hate to confess, but I haven’t looked at my accounts . . . in awhile.

Since January 1st, my biggest expense has been travel. Plane tickets are pricey!

After travel, my next biggest expense seems to be “merchandise.” This seems to include miscellaneous expenses, such as food and cosmetic purchases from Wal Mart, as well as online expenditures [gifts from Etsy :)], and I think different expenses I’m going to put in a category of ‘charity.’ Food, all totaled, probably accounts for about a fifth of my purchases. This isn’t necessary, since I’m on an unlimited meal plan.

The above graph is only my personal credit card spending. I made my own graph in excel that includes my debit card, and is broken down more in depth for the past 3 months:

Don’t worry–the HUGE blue one isn’t coffee (though it might as well be!), it’s “miscellaneous.” Travel is again the biggest chunk of my money, followed by ‘miscellaneous’ (which includes cash drawn out), then, surprisingly, charity. I sponsor a young woman named Archana through Compassion international, which is a sizable expense every month.

Since I’ve had my student credit card, my largest expense has been something I’m a bit embarrassed to share about. It was a one, lump sum purchase that accounts for the most money I’ve spent. Ever. I thought long and hard about it, and decided to do it. . . but I’m still a bit nervous to share, since it seems like such a silly thing. Let’s just say it rhymes with ‘maser lair shemoval.’

Yep, it’s the big one in orange, back from December.

I have to say, however, that doing this analysis of my spending makes me feel much more in control than I have before. Now that I know where my money is going, and how much I’m spending, I feel equipped to make a budget and stick to it.

My goals for the rest of this week and the next?

Make a budget

Research different mutual funds and stock options and invest! 

Two small lines of text, two big undertakings! I’ll keep you all clued in. This ‘Pit Stop’ is going to be a two week endeavor.

Now, let me know:

What is your biggest expense/splurge?
Do you use any online tools to track your money?
Have you ever invested? How did you decide where to invest?  


Clearing Up the Financial Jumble

Confession: I’m not good with money.

I don’t feel like I have a good grasp of money or finances, or an appropriate attitude towards them. Budgeting is a skill I’ve never learned; when I asked my parents if they budget and why it wasn’t transparent to us kids my dad told me that his “budget is to always make more than I spent.” I’ve spent several years trying to figure out what a healthy attitude towards money is, and I haven’t reached it. This is further complicated (though not badly so) from my perception that everything I have really does not belong to me, and that Jesus talks very specifically about money. Some of his teachings (or my reading of the teachings) have me undulating between seeing money as a useful tool, and wanting to simply give it all away and live meagerly.

“We do need to be born again, since Jesus said that to a guy named Nicodemus. But if you tell me I have to be born again to enter the Kingdom of God, I can tell you that you have to sell everything you have and give it to the poor, because Jesus said that to one guy, too. But I guess that’s why God invented highlighers, so we can highlight the parts we like and ignore the rest.”  Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. 

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Luke 16:13 

I also spent time last semester reading:

The discussion group that accompanied the book was helpful, but I feel like I didn’t really change. Ultimately, the conclusion we all came to was that in intentional community, our attitudes towards money would change. If we love people and not ideas, and people are in need, we will help those people with the resources we have.

But here’s my problem: I’m not involved in community with a range of people in different socio-economic statuses. My friends are all pretty similar to myself, and spending money goes hand in hand with our social outings. Hopefully this summer working with a ministry in our downtown will help change some of this. I have a lot to learn about money, its role, and my handling of it. Because I’m in school without a job, I sometimes feel like I don’t control the money I have, but I do.

This week’s Pit Stop (which is occurring on a Tuesday) involves a re-evaluation of my finances, the creation of a budget, and decisions about what and where I will spend. I typically don’t even look at my balances in different accounts, and I opened an investment account months ago and have never used it. Now, let me know:

Do you budget? 

Do you ever struggle about the role of money in your life? 

Facebook and . . . Bacon?

Tomorrow, as you all may be aware, is Monday. Which means another project on my journey to health and a suspension of my current undertaking: a week without Facebook, Hulu, or checking my WordPress stats.

And it’s ridiculous how relieved I am. I’ve held strong, no slips in that vein–but I still simply want to get on Facebook. A bit revolting how much it’s pervaded our lives, eh? Because Facebook is not equivalent to real life, interactions on the site are easier and therefore perhaps a bit cheapened, and we’re all very cognizant that a friend on Facebook may not be a friend in actuality.

But part of my desire to get on is purely practical. There are several people for which I lack phone numbers or email addresses that I’ve wanted to slip a note, and at times when someone wants to see a picture of a member of my family or someone else it seems so useful. Maybe that’s how it gets us–by convincing us it’s all good.

A few times this week, friends have approached me with quizzical looks and a note of concern. There’s something I want to ask you . .  . about bacon? Apparently, one of my joking male friends thought it would be simply hilarious to use my computer  (with its easy access to my Facebook) and post some tidbit about bacon on my page. Since I’ve been abstaining from the site, there was no universal denial nor way to clear my vegetarian name. The audacity!

(source)

The irony is, if I was ever to be tempted by meat it wouldn’t be bacon. As a child, I loved pigs. Adored them, really, and had an embarrassingly large collection of porcine treasures ranging from small figurines, fuzzy slippers, and piggy banks nearly as large as I was. For those who knew me, a pig token became an easy gift, thus growing my already large collection. From the age of about four until a year before I became a vegetarian, a morsel of bacon, ham, or pork chops never crossed my lips.

Sausage, however, was a different story. Somehow I mentally excluded it from the pork family after an event that transpired about a year after I’d sworn off any meat from my beloved animal. The family was at breakfast at Denny’s, and as my father and mother recount the tale, I ordered a pancake breakfast that included sausage links. My parents looked at each other dubiously, asking with their eyes does she know? Does she know that it comes with sausage, and what that means? The meal came. I stared at my plate in silence, and after a moment my papa leaned over and inquired gently, do you know what’s in them, Michaela? My chubby little face nodded and my eyes betrayed my conflict . . .  I choked out, “I’m sorry little piggies!” right before I hurriedly shoved the links into my mouth.

The week away has been a good and refreshing break from those places of the internet that steal my time and tempt me to acknowledge them as more than they are. Look forward to tomorrow’s Pit Stop Monday, my friends!

Now tell me–any similar childhood stories 🙂 ? 

Have any of you sworn off Facebook for good? 

A Resolution to Vegan Doubts

Fellow travelers,

I’m sorry for the lack of posting; I was traveling due to the passing of my grandfather.

Which brings up a slightly beaten, re-occuring topic: my struggles following a vegan eating regime.  While up north, I had plenty of time to contemplate my food choices. My dear, sweet grandmother has always loved on our family with food. The moment you finish eating one meal, she brings out another. The first morning I went to the old farmhouse, she was slicing every roll on the premises, buttering them, and placing them back in their bags. Her hands needed something to occupy her mind. The day before I’d turned in a paper entitled “Ethical Eating: Should Christians Consume Meat?”* based upon Romans 14 that made the claim Christians should abstain from [factory farmed] meat out of love. But, watching my precious Grandma, I realized that it can also be loving to eat something I wouldn’t otherwise choose, regardless of my reasons.

The extended family did not know I was a vegan until my sweet papa, trying to provide for my needs, told an uncle who was purchasing dinner to make sure there was something “Michaela could eat, because she’s vegan.” At the hotel, and at the house with my family, there wasn’t a lot I could eat, but it was ok. I’ve realized, though, that for me, being strictly vegan might not be healthy.

Physically, a vegan diet works for me. I always feel nourished, bright, clear, and energetic. But as I’ve mentioned before, health isn’t a simple equation of diet and exercise–it is comprised of many aspects, be they social, spiritual, mental, and emotional as well as the physical. The social exclusion I experienced as a vegan was not healthy for me, and has led to feelings of isolation, deprivation, and discomfort when someone else was providing my food for me. I never wanted to be a burden to people, nor did I want others to feel regretful or uncomfortable because there was no vegan food present.

Here’s my plan, folks. For the most part, the food I consume. Lots of wonderful, healthy food: veggies, fruits, grains, nuts . . .everything I eat now, with very few animal products. Even though I’m going to allow flexibility in regards to some dairy or eggs, I probably still won’t eat meat.** When I can provide the food for myself, I’m going to follow what is known as a ‘vegan’ diet without worrying about labels or restricting myself to that.

*If you’d like a copy of the paper, let me know in the comments.

**Until I intern at a farm this summer, when I’m open to the possibility.

Eating Well and Exercising . . .On Vacation

Fellow pilgrims, I journeyed this past extended weekend to a friend’s home in North Carolina for Easter Break.

And unfortunately for me, this post . . . isn’t about how I ate well and exercised on vacation. Because I didn’t. I grazed mindlessly throughout the day, ate when I wasn’t hungry, and didn’t do anything physically active. Not once! And it’s ok to have weekends like that. It’s ok to take a break, and eat foods you don’t usually eat, and lay around like a slob relax on breaks. It is especially ok to take a break from exercising, as I’ve mentioned before. But what isn’t ok is to feel bad about it, or feel unsettled because you’re not controlling your meal times or meal components.

What I didn’t do but could have done better: thought about the weekend ahead with a plan in mind. In my excitement to spend the time on break with friends, I didn’t think there’d be any challenges. If you’re breaking routine or going somewhere new, I encourage you to pause beforehand and come up with a game plan. Write it down, if need be! Will exercise make you feel better and give you a break from the family? Bring clothes, and make that a priority (preferably in the morning). Are you wanting to take a break from physical activity, but wanting to spend time catching up on a book? Do you want time away from the internet, or from television? Think of pitfalls that could come up and waylay these goals, and devise a few creative solutions to fall back on if you encounter an obstacle en route.

On a check in for this week’s Pit Stop Monday:

Every time I get on my computer, I want to get on Facebook. It’s habit–my fingers automatically go to open another tab while something is loading to check it. Same thing for my WordPress stats–it’s a default action to get on my account, and if there are no comments or replies to click over to see how many of you viewed my blog today. That fixation is definitely not constructive, so I’m glad this is my special focus this week.

How do you stay happy, healthy, and relaxed when away from your routine?

Do you ever take a break from the Internet, or specific sites?