A Week of Gratitude

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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? 

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? 

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? 

Pit Stop Mondays, Week 3

Holla!

Final update on last week’s project: I wasn’t that intentional. I think if I had put a bit more structure around it, I would have had better luck with my focus on flexibility. Something more concrete: I will stretch for x amount of time, and I am focusing on achieving y goal.

I’m tackling a few different challenges with one common thread . . . the Internet. This week’s Pit Stop Monday  is designed to help me waste less time (always a precious commodity) and not fixate on unimportant things (a struggle sometimes). What’s the project? A week without:

gasp!

what!?

Don’t worry! I’m not going a week without WordPress, I’m abstaining from checking my stats for the week.

I always enjoy my breaks from Facebook. It helps me both save time and prevents me from the ever-insidious Facebook creeping.

For Hulu, watching shows typically corresponds to times when I am feeling very de-motivated, lethargic, and introverted. Rather than doing good things for myself, such as seeking out friends or going on a walk or even reading a book (one of my favorite pastimes that often gets neglected because of said Hulu), I’ll squander a few hours watching meaningless drivel. Entertaining drivel, but pointless none the less.

I place too much weight on my WordPress stats. Whenever I get on my dashboard and don’t have the highlighter orange number alerting me to new activity on my blog, I automatically check my stats to gauge some form of ‘success.’ For my very type A, rewards and accomplishments driven personality, I’ll equate high bars as ‘good’ and low bars as ‘bad.’ But it really isn’t about that. Maybe on a very low traffic day, the very person that needed to get encouragement stumbled upon my blog and did. On a higher traffic day, maybe no one who could relate to my journey actually stopped by.

It’s going to be a good week!