how my Christmas spending will be different this year

Fall is in the air, Halloween candy is on store shelves, and I'm procrastinating on working on both the kids' All Saints Day getups and their Halloween costumes.

So that means, LET'S TALK CHRISTMAS!

For as long as we've had kids who have been old enough to expect presents and a stocking from St. Nicholas on Christmas Day, we've had basically the same structure to our Christmas budget. Throughout the year we'd wait and see if a bonus commission check would come in, or if I'd earn a check through one of my side gigs, and then we'd get that amount out in cash and put it in a Christmas envelope. We'd have a mini-monthly-budget meeting for our Christmas budget, and we'd make a list of all gifts and Christmas expenses: the tree, Christmas stamps from the Post Office, teacher gifts, all that good stuff.

Last year, we did our usual planning, but then somewhere between Black Friday and Christmas morning... I went off the rails. It wasn't that I spend too much or blew our budget--no, just the opposite.

The budget became an obsessive focus point for me. Case in point: I found a great deal on Vtech smart watches for the boys, early in December. Two for $60, and free shipping, wahoo! But merely getting the great deal wasn't enough for me--I kept checking on various store websites for the rest of the month to see just how great my deal really was.

No other retailer ever beat the price I got them for. Yessssssss.

But. There's nothing like spending Advent by pouring over my phone, waiting for daily affirmation that yes, indeed, I was a TERRIFIC BUDGETER and SHOPPER EXTRAORDINAIRE.

And then Christmas day came, and those gifts were opened, with thank yous and hugs all around.

But I was left with a feeling of remorse over all the time I wasted--yes, wasted--pouring over sales and taking victory laps with price comparisons.

The boys did enjoy those toy smart watches. But did they change our lives? Am I still reveling over the great price? All that time I spent online--what was the long-term benefit?

I told myself that all the time I spent focusing on the gifts and the budget was time responsibly spent. I told myself that the joy on my kids' faces when they opened the *perfect* gifts (scored at the best prices) made it all time spent responsibly, instead of a time suck.

No. It was a time suck. I let myself be sucked into the vast world of Christmastime materialism, but even worse, I considered myself as better than the other "holiday" materialists, because I was doing it in the name of BUDGETING!

Gah. This year, I'm planning a different approach. (And to truly ready myself for it, I'm starting in September. Apparently.)

This year: I'm making every attempt to purchase gifts in-store from Costco, second-hand from thrift stores, or sparsely online. I've already deleted the Walmart app from my phone once I saw their new clothing line which collaborates with Ellen Degeneres. Enough already.

This year, my goal is to make sure that the buying of Christmas gifts, the checking of the budget and the frenzy of shopping all stand in service to the ultimate goal: preparing for the birth of Jesus.

 Anything that detracts from that needs to be tamed, or pruned. In my case, it's both. I need to tame my desire to ensure that I've gotten the best deal--and then prune back all the time I waste on that pursuit. 

Was our whole household consumed in this frenetic, add-to-card shopping spree last year?  No. We did a lot with the kids to make sure our family focus stayed on that journey to Bethlehem: Advent calendars, moving the wise men closer to the stable day by day until Epiphany, praying the O Antiphons together at night. All well and good.

This is by and large a personal discipline for me, and one that I need to put in place so that I, too, can move closer to that humble stable in Bethlehem, day by day this Advent.


my reaction to design mom: there's got to be a better way (oh wait, there is)

I waded through the murky waters of a Twitter-thread-turned-blog-post by Design Mom founder Gabrielle Blair. It's a doozy: The confirmation process for one soon-to-be Supreme Court justice has caused Blair to ruminate on the problem of abortion. She posits that all "unwanted pregnancies" are due to "irresponsible ejaculations of men."

To solve the problem of "unwanted pregnancies," she suggests either castration (as a punishment for, I guess, what someone deems "irresponsible ejaculations") or, mandatory sterilizations.

For all male children. At the onset of puberty.

And we thought the possibility of mandatory Guardasil for all kids was bad! Ha!

All I want to do is write and tell Mrs. Blair that there is a better way--better than surgically sterilizing my sons for the mere crime of being male.

This better way is, I think, the way of God. The better way involves living the truth of our bodies, as God made them. Since Mrs. Blair identifies herself as a Mormon, I hope she might be inclined to look at sex, pregnancy and the human person through a lens of faith.

I'll keep it concise--maybe not twitter-concise, but close.

First off, "unwanted pregnancies" is a pretty crude way to describe... people. Do we call any other class of people unwanted?  Unwanted furniture, unwanted kitchen tile, unwanted old toys. It's how we describe things, not people, each one made uniquely by God.

We, especially we people of faith, can do better when we're talking about the problem of abortion.

Things can be discarded. People shouldn't be.

Next: I write from my home. I'm a 30-something mother married to a 30-something father and together, we're raising a bunch of young children. Our marriage has, and always will be, free from contraceptives.

If we don't want to conceive, we abstain. (As Mrs. Blair points out, a woman can only conceive a few days per month. I'd argue with her given number of 2 days, but, still.)

Think of it: no condoms. No pills. No side effects of extra hair. No weird skin spotting.

No irreversible changing of the chemical makeup of my brain to make it less female. No accidentally transgendering of my kids' genitals.

No stocking up on condoms to keep bedside to be discovered inadvertently by my kids (ick).

And, perhaps most notably, no mutilation of my body, or of my husband's body.

All it asks is persistence, and sacrifice. No one can tell me that using all that junk above doesn't take persistence and sacrifice, too. Only with my way, my skin still looks just fine.

I am part of the the aberration, the counter-cultural movement. My peers and I (and our larger than average families) are mocked by our skeptical doctors and belittled by shocked onlookers at the grocery store.

But we don't have to worry about "irresponsible ejaculations." I made a choice to live my sexuality authentically, wholly, freely, with one man who fervently believes the same. Isn't that the ideal we should strive for--and not resort to calls for penal castration and pubescent sterilization?

While reading Mrs. Blair's post, my first instinct was to eye roll at the whole thing--but that's only because I've lived so long in the world of what she might call responsible sex, sex in which the man and woman both share responsibility. I don't get what an "irresponsible ejaculation" is. It seems to be that a man promises to use a contraceptive, but then, deceptively, does not.

Ok. So wouldn't you want, first, to not be sleeping with a deceptive man?

Wouldn't you want to structure your life so that sex is done with a person who wouldn't lie? Wouldn't you want to give your most precious gift to an honest man who valued you so much, such a deception would be unthinkable?   

It's long been said that abortion is not a cause but a symptom of the sad state of our generation's outlook on sex and morals. I find it amazing, always, when folks say (as Mrs. Blair says in her post) to "stop praying in front of abortion clinics," but have nary a peep to say about any other form of protest. How about the Women's March? How about gay pride parades? Is voting with your feet wrong in all circumstances, or only those that you find objectionable?

I'm just me. I haven't earned the success and enormous online platform from which Mrs. Blair can broadcast her thoughts.

But I can share the truth here, my tiny space. And the truth is this: Contraceptive sex kills love. And abortion kills a human life. Unless those two immutable truths are acknowledged, we're going to have pain and sin, and we're never going to figure out how to end abortion. That's all I'm saying.

(Oh, actually, one last thing: Anyone threatening to surgically sterilize my boys will find themselves face to face with a very aggravated, very aggressive mama bear. Take note.)