How To Know You're Living Simply

Simplicity stresses me out. 

I know. It’s counter-intuitive.

When I focus on the word, it conjures images of a sparse (and very well organized) closet, friends laughing around a table (no TV in sight), and lots of neutral colors. Not for you? Well, for me then.

But here’s the thing. I don’t have a nearly empty closet of perfectly hung white and beige outfits. No, on the contrary, I’m tripping over items I decided not to wear, baby clothes waiting to be passed on, random toys that have lost their way.  

When my husband and I were dating, he was helping me move. As he hauled yet another box overflowing with jeans and t-shirts out to the car, he casually mentioned, “Ah, so I see you like to talk about simplicity….” He wasn’t being mean. He wasn’t even really teasing me. He was just noticing. Ouch!

You’d think with all this talk about clothes that I’m a particularly stylish person. But the reality is simply that I accumulate things and then I accumulate some more. The reality is that I’m a really cheap person, so I live in fear that I will give away that one item that I’ll need (read: want) later on and then have to “waste money” re-buying the same thing again.

No, I do not really know how to live in the freedom of simplicity. (Freedom of Simplicity – great book by Richard Foster, by the way!)

You see, the thing is I want rules. I want someone to tell me exactly what I have to do to live simply, and then I can know how I measure up. You can take the girl out of the fundamentalism, but you can’t always take the fundamentalism out of the girl.

I have trouble extending grace in the area of simplicity. There’s always something I could be doing better… living more simply. There’s often something holding me back to truly celebrate and enjoy pleasures that I know are luxuries.

But the thing about simplicity, as with most things, is I have to draw the line back to relationship. God is not waiting for me to walk enough places that wars over petroleum come to an end. I cannot leave enough empty space in my closet that sweatshops close down around the world. And I cannot drink enough cups of fair trade coffee to end the exploitation of farm workers.

This reality does not mean those actions are worthless. I do think it’s important to make intentional choices to live life in a way that supports justice. However, these are not items on my “to do” list that I can cross off when I have lived “simply enough.”

No. I must choose simplicity because it draws me to the heart of God. When I deny my materialism and consumerist spirit and turn instead to the Lord, what will I learn? When I silence the noise and the notifications, what will God speak to my heart? And when I choose simplicity out of solidarity with my neighbors, what will I experience in relationship with them?

There’s always someone who will live more extravagantly than me. And there’s always ways I could live more simply. But as much as I may want it, there is not a cookie cutter checklist to “know when you’re living simply.” I must submit everything to God and allow Him to work in my heart, to ask me to give up possessions and distractions, and to meet me where I am.  

How do you measure simple living in your life?

I Wish I Had Two Last Names

This month three sweet couples we love got married. Wooo hooo! All the shower and ceremony hopping has been so fun, and we are thrilled for each of the new families.

I dig weddings. I always enjoy a good Cha-Cha slide, and I love the reminder of the beauty of the marriage commitment. It makes me tear up every time we celebrate friends beginning this journey.

All this marriage has brought up some conversations about name changing for the wives. There are so many options now: change it, hyphenate it, merge it, or simply don’t take a new name at all.

I changed my name… and I’m glad I did. I really like everyone in our family having the same last name. I will also add that, given our immigration situation at the time, I felt any other choice could jeopardize our legal process.

However, while I was excited to take on a new name, I really felt sad about saying good-bye to my maiden name. It’s memorable… with 11 letters and a whole lotta German. Many friends did (and sometimes still do) call me by it. And hey, I’d always had it. Ultimately, I changed my middle name to my maiden name because I just didn’t want to say good-bye.

I asked Billy to add it as his second middle name, but it was a little more complicated - partly because of immigration and partly because he already had four names.

Here’s the thing. In Guatemala, kids take on the last names of both parents. The father’s last name is first, but it is still used as the more “dominant” last name… especially for immigrants to the States. So my current last name is the last name of my father-in-law. For Billy, though, it’s the third of his four names.

The second last name is the mother’s maiden name. It causes a little bit of confusion in US circles because this is so unfamiliar to many of us. For example, Billy has one rogue credit card in his mother’s maiden name because that’s what the company saw “last” when they looked at his full name.

At the time of marriage, a woman does typically “drop” her mother’s maiden name, but she keeps her father’s last name. Then, they add the preposition “de” (meaning, “of”) and then includes the new husband’s last name (his father’s). The groom still keeps both his father’s and mother’s last names.

So for me, I would’ve kept my full maiden name and added “de Quezada” at the end. This is kind of what I did by changing my middle name, except I “lost” my original middle name and left out the preposition.

Anyway, it’s just been interesting as over the years I’ve watched so many girlfriends struggle through the question of what to do with their last names. We often feel attached to our birth name and may have degrees, publications, or other documentation that is associated only with that name.

In the States, the question is often framed as a sometimes controversial or feminist or women’s rights issue. But to me, it’s always interesting to look at how the same topic is being addressed in another culture. There are so many other approaches, and it’s enlightening to learn from others. In actuality, I sometimes wish we would have done our names the Guatemalan way. Then I’d get to hang on to both.

Did you (or will you) or your spouse change names? Was it a question or an automatic? How do you approach this topic?

Five Minute Friday: Remember

Lately I’ve been reflecting a great deal on the birth on my daughter… over two years ago now. There are things about it I love to remember – meeting her, introducing her to loving and cooing family and friends, and watching her sleeping with her hands out like she was saying, “Wait just a minute.”
But there are also parts that have been difficult to remember, especially the unmet expectations and unexpected events about her labor and delivery, as well as those chaotic, trying first weeks. I had put all of these things out of my head for a reason. It’s in the past. 

Still, with #2 arriving in July, I’ve been forced to remember. And it’s fascinating how hurt can linger. How you feel you’ve moved on, but it’s still there… just waiting to be acknowledged.

And yet… the present keeps marching on. And eventually I will have to make decisions about this next experience, recognizing that I am influenced by the past. That I cannot not remember and act like I’ve never done this before.

It’s a unique challenge to balance life in the present with information from the reality of the past and also the true recognition that God will do a new thing.

Five Minute Friday

I [Heart] Pre-Chewed Gum

One of the things I have enjoyed the most about blogging is the cool people I have met in the process. If you had told me a year ago I would make friends through Twitter, I would have laughed heartily.

But after getting the chance to meet Michelle, Kristen, and Emily in person, I find myself thankful for my online-turned-real-life friends. So naturally, when Abby and I talked about meeting for the first time… at a park with our kids… I said “of course”!

It was a gorgeous spring day, and our girls jumped right into swinging, sliding, and running around. Soon, they migrated a little bit further away from us, and I noticed the three of them sitting in a circle, studying the sidewalk.

It seemed slightly odd, but in general, I have a parenting philosophy that goes something like “Don’t poke the beast.” If there’s no whining, screaming, or obvious danger… just let it be.

But then she was clearly chewing something. And I hadn’t given her a snack. It was time to investigate. Yep. Upon inspection and sample swiping from the mouth, it was confirmed. Pre-chewed park gum. Yum!

Recently I have been reading the book of Judges. I can’t believe how many times the story include some semblance of what we find in Chapter 3:12-15.

Once again the Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight, and the Lord gave King Eglon of Moab control over Israel because of their evil …  And the Israelites served Eglon of Moab for eighteen years. But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help, the Lord again raised up a rescuer to save them. (emphasis mine)

[Side note: They make a point of saying that the rescuer is left-hand, which you know I think is pretty awesome.]

But over and over throughout the book, this pattern repeats. The people turn away… God allows them to be oppressed… they cry out… God rescues them. It’s like watching a scary movie and shouting, “Don’t go in there!” to the TV… you just want to get a message to the Israelites. “Don’t do that! This never ends well!”

What is it about human nature that wants to scrape pre-chewed gum off the sidewalk when we have a Father willing to provide more than we could ever ask or imagine (Eph 3:20)?

It’s so convicting. Watching these beloved children scrounging after other gods and their own devices, over and over and over again, when it’s really nothing more than sloppy seconds. God has such good gifts for His children. 

Why do I stray? Why do I do my own thing? Why do I stuff pre-chewed gum into my mouth when there’s something so much better available to me?

Photo credit: Jason Britton

"Not Really Latino": Thoughts on the New Pope

I was a couple days late on the selection of a new pope. Thankfully, enough people started posting on Facebook and Twitter, so I finally caught on.

Of course, consuming my news through the commentary of friends and strangers leaves the door open for a wide variety of opinions. What struck me most was not religious or social analysis, but the comments surrounding Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s ethnic identity.

Some were applauding the choice of a South American, or Latino, leader. Others were quick to point out that “he’s not really Latino”… his parents were Italian immigrants to Argentina and his skin tone leans “white.” This topic was of particular interest to me because while this was happening (but before I was aware of it), I had written a blog post entitled “My Latino Husband is White.”

These casual, dismissive comments surrounding the new pope’s “Latino-ness” hurt me… and they frustrated me.
It hurts me because there will be a day when someone will say to my daughter, to her face or behind her back, that she’s “not really Latina.” That her white mama and her US Passport trump the other full half of her identity. It will not matter that she’s spoken Spanish “from birth” (I mean… to be fair, she wasn’t talking at birth), that she’s spent time in the other country of her heritage, or that she’s culturally fluid.

I appreciated the opinion of Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, associate professor at UCLA's Cesar E. Chavez Department of Chicana/o Studies, featured in LA Weekly. To the question “Is the New Pope Latino?” he responded with an unequivocal “yes.”

He says using a test of indigenous blood -- the pope's parents are from Italy – “would eliminate a large part of Latin America and a lot of Latinos”… “More important,” Hinojosa-Ojeda says, "is the experience, not the genetic background.

Comments have also frustrated me because even as the world becomes more globalized and individuals’ identities become more multicultural, society holds tight to rigid, outdated categories into which we demand people fit.

I will admit that I forgot President Obama’s mother is white. I had to Google it to be certain before I wrote this post. Now, I do not take issue with him being identified as the first African-American president or the role model he has become in communities of color.

However, as a mother of a child of two cultures, I wish President Obama’s multicultural heritage could be celebrated more. But society finds it confusing… unfamiliar… so we simplify race as much as we can…. despite its real complexities.  

One of the only pop culture examples of biracial children I’ve seen lately are the horrific commercials for Kraft MilkBites. You can read a more in-depth analysis here, although I’m pleased to say it’s pretty much impossible to find the videos of the ads anymore. I guess all the outraged mamas signing petitions and tweeting like mad sent a message!

Bergoglio is not biracial, but he is connected to two cultures, born and raised in Buenos Aires as the son of Italian immigrants. Having lived in Buenos Aires myself, I know the Italian influence there is still very strong. They are famous for their pizza and pasta (which is easy to find homemade), and their Spanish is best described as Spanish with an Italian accent.

I think I can make a loose comparison with the child of Mexican immigrant parents being born and raised in East Los Angeles. The equivalent question is “Is that kid American enough?” And maybe that’s up for debate in some circles, but for me, it’s an unequivocal “yes.”

American does not mean white. And one can be fully American while also being fully versed in another culture. Latino does not mean indigenous. And one can be fully Latino while being fully versed in another culture. In Pope Begerlio’s case, that’s Italian (and he speaks German fluently).

Let’s not cram multicultural persons into dusty, too-small boxes of racial and ethnic heritage. Let’s support the children of immigrants and the children of cross-cultural relationships by affirming their unique and beautiful identities. Let’s acknowledge and celebrate their special connection to multiple cultures.

To keep up with all posts from A Life with Subtitles, you can subscribe with a reader or sign up below to receive posts via email.

5 Minute Friday: Rest

I'm trying something new today. Several of my "blogger friends" have shared some great posts as part of a link-up at Lisa-Jo Baker's blog called 5 Minute Friday. One word. Five minutes to write. Go. I liked the concept, and it felt manageable. So today I'm giving it a whirl. Hope you enjoy, and if you like to write... head on over there and join in the party! 

Rest. Ha! That word has been showing up everywhere in my life recently. It’s like God is trying to send me a message or something…. 

Things in my life have felt *slightly* crazy lately. 

With Billy starting a new job (for which we are SO grateful), our home life has gone through some major transitions. These are best exemplified by the disaster that is my kitchen right now… and my living room… and the dining room table. 

Having one parent at home for the last two years meant a very different pace of life… and attention to details like clean clothes… and dinner. 

Now Billy leaves before the sun (or Ella) is awake, so I greet her in the morning, wrestle her out of her pajamas, and drop her off at preschool before my day in the office. Her care is half day, so I pick her up, return her home for a “nap,” and try to squeeze in the rest of my full-time job while she jumps in her crib. 

In some ways, life has never felt better, but it some ways it’s never felt quite so wild. 

So how does a person rest… in the midst of working, in the midst of pregnancy, in the midst of raising a toddler? 

Your guess is as good as mine. 

I am trying to be more intentional about literal rest. You know… turning off the super addicting Etsy and actually heading to bed. But also being willing to sit down and put my feet up when my back just hurts. (Hey, stickers can gift you a couple minutes of peace.) And I’m thankful for friends… who head out for impromptu pedicures and who chat it up even as our kids swirl around our legs. Because finding rest in those moments of joy are becoming so important to me in this season of life.

How do you rest when life feels crazy? 

Five Minute Friday

My Latino Husband is White

Quite frankly, I’m surprised you hadn’t noticed.

I write a blog about multicultural marriage, but when I post photos it may be obvious that I am about one-day-at-the-pool away from the same general skin tone as him.

Or maybe it crossed your mind, but you are too polite to say anything. Not everyone is so shy though.

Most recently, Billy was asked where he was from. When he answered “Guatemala,” the quick response was, “Oh, are your parents missionaries?” When he said “no,” he received a quizzical look and a follow-up question. Billy continued to explain. The guy finally closed the conversation with “There’s something you’re not telling me” and walked away.

Billy and I laughed heartily over “there’s something you’re not telling me,” but I do imagine he grows weary over the consistent questioning of his ethnic identity. And he receives questions from everyone... Latino and otherwise.

One guy painting our apartment in LA was shocked when Billy began speaking Spanish. When he learned he was Guatemalan, the painter replied, “Usually when I meet guatemaltecos, they look like me… Indian.” Billy smiled and simply said, “I’m wearing a mask.”

He’s been asked if he’s a Spanish teacher, a missionary kid, if he was born there, if his parents were born there… but everyone is really asking the same thing. Why don’t you look like what I think a Latino is supposed to look like?


I get it. The first time I met light-skinned Latinos was in college. I was more familiar with the image of the Mexican or Central American representation of Latinos, and I felt a bit confused.

What I learned through those relationships and the ones since is that Spanish-speaking ethnic groups identify with several different racial categories. In Billy’s case, his ancestors hailed from Spain (get it? Spanish…yeah, that didn't occur to me right away...) and were therefore European. Entonces… light skin.

It’s fascinating to me how descendants of Spain in the US are “white” and descendants of the same country living in Guatemala are “Latino.” But it alludes to the complexities of race and ethnicity and language in our society. My sociology background teaches on the “social construction of race,” a topic about which I may blog more in the future. It’s really interesting (says the sociology nerd).

Billy’s racially ambiguity had to be clarified on the 2010 Census, and I was interested to see how it would be addressed. Well, there was an entire question “Is this person of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?” They offered a couple options, such as Puerto Rican and Cuban. Ultimately, we filled in the blank: “Guatemalan.”

But there was also a race question: “What is this person’s race?” The choices were: White, Black (African American or Negro), American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Native Hawaiian, Guamanian or Chamorro, Samoan, Other Asian, Other Pacific Islander, or “Some other race.”

So it’s official… my Latino husband is white.

I’d love to hear your thoughts or reflections.

To keep up with all posts from A Life with Subtitles, sign up below to receive posts via email.

I Pledge Allegiance

This is what we received in the mail today:

Since Billy and I have been married at least three years (well... 5 and a half, but who's counting?) and he's been a legal permanent resident for more than three years, he is eligible to become a naturalized citizen. And today our lawyer mailed us the study guide.

"Why become a citizen?" you may ask. "What's the difference between that and a legal permanent resident?"

There's a lot of difference of opinion about whether the citizenship is worth the effort, money, and (I think, more importantly) the emotional and identity shifts. In fact, many immigrants proudly announce that they will never become citizens. And I understand that sentiment. An LPR has the right to work, live, travel, open a bank account, buy a house... pretty much everything.

So why go for the next step? I can only tell you our reasons.


Whereas the green card (the document confirming one's legal permanent residence in the States) used to be approved indefinitely, it now has to be renewed every 10 years. This means if Billy were to commit a crime, he could potentially "lose" his status. Now... before you get nervous... that's not really our main concern.

More importantly, Billy has always worried that a sharp shift in politics could change laws. And the expiration date on his green card allows an administration to decide they will no longer renew these documents. As we know, immigration is a controversial and heated issue, and sentiments about the topic often sway directly in relationship with economics and media. Knowing that you'll always have to renew leaves space for some doubt, especially when you are from a Central American country.


This is truly the main difference between an LPR and a citizen: the right to vote. Citizens (including myself) often take this prividlege for granted. But Billy has been disappointed to have to stand by and watch campaign ads smear immigrants, call them names, and spread fear without the opportunity and recourse of being able to vote in the elections. So many immigrants do not even have voting as an option that Billy feels compelled to take the next step to share his voice.

Jury Duty

Okay, he really couldn't care less about this part. But it is the other difference between what you can do as an LPR and a citizen. Of course, this citizen is still waiting for her moment in the jury box!

So now we study. Billy was quizzing me tonight, and it seems I can keep my passport. I surprised myself with details I could remember from the 6th grade. His source of knowledge was a little different: "I've seen enough action movies to know that the President serves as the Commander-in-Chief of the military."

No worries. We definitely seem good to go.

What do you remember from Civics Class? Ever had experience with the Naturalization Test? Any advice?

Baby Bump in Flight

This week I am flying again. In an unfortunate turn of events, my flight was preemptively canceled. Thankfully, I was able to rebook.

However, moving my departure time up several hours really affected my packing procrastination.

But I arrived unscathed. Now I must simply wait to die in the storm allegedly headed toward Chicago. I should have packed water and batteries.

It was around this same time in my pregnancy with Ella that I first flew to Buenos Aires. I must admit, the international experience of being pregnant is hard to beat!

From the moment we arrived, I was whisked to the front of the immigration line. In addition, nearly every ride on the Subte meant someone insisting (not offering... insisting) that I take their seat.

What brought me sheer delight, though, was the express lane at the grocery store. Yes. There was a line at the checkout with a sign for elderly, disabled, and me...preggo!

If you're not familiar with the symbol for "pregnant lady," it is super cute. Similar to the graphic above, but it tended to be more of a side profile with a heart in the belly. Sweet, right?

Well, no speedy payment for my pickles and ice cream in the States. And the lady in Security looked at me like I was crazy when I wanted to verify the safety of the human scanner for my baby.

But overall, people are kind when you travel pregnant. At least they don't run from you like they do when you have a newborn on a flight!

Have you traveled or visited other places while pregnant? Any unique experiences?
A Life with Subtitles. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.