Friday, April 13, 2012

The Secret (Deodorant) to Spending Less

I am blessed to have a husband who is tall, dark, and handsome. He looks like a manly man with his chiseled jaw, wide shoulders, and big, strong hands. He acts the part as well--changing flat tires on the side of the highway, swinging a hammer to build a fence, and yelling at the TV during a ball game. He can spend hours with his running buddies and never discuss anything deeper than chili recipes or the quarterback controversy for the upcoming football season.

Most of the time, Jeff is very secure in his masculinity. There are just a few exceptions:

1) Never, under any circumstance, is he going to share a bed with another man. If a group of four guys go on a trip and rent a hotel room with two beds, this presents a problem. It does not matter that Jeff and a potential male bed partner are 100% heterosexual and know each other well. Jeff would rather sleep in the bathtub with a sheet than sleep with a man. This is an affliction largely limited to males, and I have yet to hear an adequate explanation. The best they can do is say "you have to be a man to understand." (Total cop out!) On the contrary, I and most women have no problem sharing a bed with a female friend if necessary--what's the big deal?

2) Jeff will not wear a pink shirt. He says it does not favor his olive complexion, (or something like that), though I suspect the issue goes deeper. Wives usually make lousy therapists (says Jeff) so I not analyze this detail further.

3) Jeff will not get a manicure or pedicure. He did once, when he won a club trip through work and was tricked into registering at the resort spa for the "Gentleman's Package." He felt so emasculated after the facial and nail treatments that he was unable to open a jar of honey so that I could sweeten my herbal tea. He has never fully recovered from this indignity.

If you had asked me prior to Lent if there is something else Jeff won't do because it assaults his masculinity, I would have cited his refusal to use any type of hygiene product marketed expressly to women. However, when we gave up "unnecessary consumer spending" and his treasured Right Guard deodorant ran dry, he had to choose between wearing no deodorant or using Powder Scent Secret, complete with a pink ribbon and pretty flower on the packaging.

Jeff's company is in bankruptcy and he needs all the leverage he can get in order to avoid layoffs. Having excessive B.O. will not be a plus when it comes time to pass out the pink slips. Plus, he respects me and the general public enough to use deodorant, even if it makes him smell like baby powder with a hint of tiger lily. I was proud of him and told him so.

There were other substitutions, as well. We ran out of pancake mix, so Jeff found a recipe on the back of a box of Bisquick and made some delicious fluffy pancakes. We were out of pancake syrup, so we substituted chocolate syrup, which turned out to taste awesome!

My weekly swimming sessions went forward without my swim cap, which ripped on the second day of our fast, and my swim goggles, which fell apart a few weeks later. After my swim goggles bit the dust, I was unable to see the blue line at the bottom of the pool which directs me in a straight line. Without goggles, I looked like the equivalent of a drunk driver, careening recklessly from one side of my lane to the next. Only the floating plastic blue ropes on the sides of my lane kept me from colliding into other swimmers.

I was embarrassed, but at least the lifeguard was amused. She used her phone to film me. I may be featured on You Tube as the "Drunken Swimmer Who Would Fail A Pool Sobriety Test" for all I know.

Mika and Macy survived Spring Break without us spending a dime on entertainment. They were unhappy when I refused to take them to see the Lorax movie, claiming they were the ONLY ONES not at the theatre. Instead of the movies, I took them to get vaccinated for Typhoid in advance of our trip to Guatemala this summer. This temporarily earned me the distinction as "worst mom ever." I resorted to prying forgiveness from them by using two of the strongest weapons in my arsenal: a Barbie movie and a couple of sugar-laden cupcakes with extra sprinkles.

The moral of the story? We found our family can get by on less when we need to. We don't always have to have what we want when we want it (kids and adults alike). We discovered how prone we are to use money to solve our problems, provide entertainment, and make sure we are comfortable at all times. However, when we fasted from spending we were forced to use some ingenuity and creativity instead of mindlessly tapping the ATM or maxing out our credit card.

Having made these lofty observations, I would be a liar if I didn't say that I am glad to have swim goggles so I can see clearly in the water again. Jeff was relieved to jettison the Secret Deodorant for a manly brand, and Mika and Macy were so happy when I took them back to Sonic I thought they might kiss the fluorescent menu, the carhop, or both.

And now? The iced-coffees from 7-Eleven taste delicious, summer sandals have been ordered from Zappos, and I'm not cooking every night thanks to Papa Johns and Babe's Chicken. Yipee!! I would be completely satisfied if I could solve one of life's greatest mysteries: "Why can't two straight dudes sleep in the same bed?"

Thursday, April 12, 2012

I discovered MORE space in my brain!

Many of us are feel our brain might explode because of all the stuff crammed into it and competing for space--can I get an AMEN? Our minds are saturated with the barrage of data and technology that enters through every crevice of our lives. There is always "noise" around us. Unless you are a Benedictine monk, you probably have information overload.

Do you know a noisy, yet sneaky and insidious force that is constantly assaulting us? It is the almighty machine of Big Marketing. Numbers vary, but approximately $150 billion is spent on marketing each year in the U.S. alone. It's main job is to create dissatisfaction so that we will be compelled to buy some product or service. And it is extremely effective--based on consumer spending, debt, and the rampant materialism ever-present in our culture.

In my last post, I shared that our family gave up "unnecessary consumer spending" for Lent. It is not easy, but I am here to tell you that it felt WONDERFUL and FREEING to temporarily disconnect from some cultural behemoths ever-present in my life: marketing messages, shopping, and consumption. When I gave up most spending, the first sensation I noticed was more room in my brain to actually think.

I know it sounds silly and highly exaggerated, but I felt like a huge amount of static and garbage was removed from my mind. It was calming for me; it allowed me to mentally breathe and to reflect on other things. I felt peaceful.

What I now recognize is that I spend a lot of time mentally planning shopping trips. I plan where I am going to go and what I will buy. I wonder what store I will go to next if the store I visit does not have what I want. I think about what stores are having sales this week. I make shopping lists, which I lose, so I make more lists. I spend brain cells justifying why I am going to buy this or that. I flip through catalogs and make note of the latest fashions or decorations for a birthday party. It is never-ending for me.

These thoughts are normally galloping through my mind many, many times a day, often subconsciously. When I fasted from unnecessary spending it was like I extracted a menacing loop of thoughts, leaving empty space. Imagine, I found extra gray matter for new thoughts or even quiet contemplation. It felt incredibly relaxing, kind of like a mental massage. Most importantly, space was cleared for me to hear the gentle voice of God. He was calling me away from the materialistic stuff that engrosses me and into subdued, peaceful, fellowship with him--far more valuable than anything I find in a catalog or buy at the mall.

As the weeks wore on, days would go by and I would realize that I hadn't even thought about my favorite stores or what I might like to buy. I wasn't interested in the Khol's spring catalog, because whatever was advertised would not be on sale when Lent was complete, so it was easy to toss it. Once Mika and Macy realized I would not be buying them anything other than food from the store to eat, they quit begging for and asking for things. (YES!)

When friends mentioned something they had recently purchased, I listened with interest, but then the conversation quickly exited my brain. I no longer defaulted to thoughts such as: "I want that (necklace, pedicure, CD, etc) too! I wonder how I can get my hands on it?"

At last, I took a deep breath and and could fully appreciate all the comforts I have been blessed with instead of trying to figure out how I could acquire more. I realized I had allowed my desire to collect more stuff to hijack part of my mind.

Of course, it is not inherently wrong to make mental shopping lists or purchases at the store. It is all about finding balance and harmony. My hope is that now that Lent is over, I will be armed with the understanding and recognition of how easily my mind can be overtaken by thoughts of shopping, buying, and consuming. Warning to my brain: Watch out! I already feel Big Marketing sneaking up behind you!