Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Recommended Book Lists for Children Ages 3-9


Henry's old Montessori School (Austin Montessori) curated recommend book lists for Children's House (age 3-6) and Lower Elementary (6-9). I'll be getting lots of these at the library in the coming months! 
Happy Reading! 



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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Henry's 4th Birthday Party!


I recently read this article about the rising extravagence of children's birthday parties. The idea is that the phenomenon of "expenditure cascade" causes people to feel pressure to spend more and more because everyone else is doing it. 

I'll admit that I almost hosted Henry's upcoming birthday at Kiddie Acres because he would have had a blast and there's a limited time frame in which he can have a party there, but we're opting for another year of a birthday party at home. I worry that once we venture beyond our home for birthday parties, there's no turning back!

It's going to be a simple birthday party on our deck and in our backyard (weather permitting!). We'll put out Henry's bike and ring toss game. We'll also give out bubbles from the Dollar Store as a little party favor, so those can be used right away. We are also going to purchase this jungle gym for Henry for his birthday, so that will be an additional activity for the children to play on. Because this gift is so expensive, it's actually for Christmas and his birthday.

Per Henry's request, we'll be making a piƱata in the shape of a giant 4 and filling it with healthy gummy bears!

For food, we'll provide mac-n-cheese (I just do pasta + shredded pepper jack + 8 ounces of sour cream + 16 ounces of cottage cheese), homemade guacamole and chips, queso from the restaurant in our neighborhood, fruit, and cheese and crackers. For the cake, I want to make the chocolate zucchini cake that my friend made for her daughter's birthday party.

In terms of guests, we won't be inviting his whole class. As much as I love the idea of being inclusive, I don't want to create a chaotic and overwhelming/overstimulating environment. His old Montessori school recommended the child's age + 1 in order to determine a developmentally appropriate number of guests. 

The best part is that there will be lots of opportunities for Henry to help with the set-up!



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Monday, January 26, 2015

Our New Budget


So my goal to only work one hour a night is not going so well. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so ambitious? Going from 3-4 hours/night to 1 hour/night is kind of unreasonable. At least the work I'm doing finally feels like it's transition from "treading water" to "swimming forward"! 

The other good news is that I have more energy on the weekends. Last Friday, after the kids went to bed, I asked Matt if we could work on our budget. Although it's not his ideal way to spend a Friday night, he agreed to work on it for about 30 minutes. 

First we started with our income. We logged into our bank account and made sure that our incomes were adequately represented within our budget document (since our paychecks take out taxes, retirement, etc.).

Then we entered numbers into our Excel budget. It's set up so that I enter each expense as a negative number and it gets subtracted from our total income. The goal is to get the "net" box to equal 0. In other words, we are assigning our total income to all of our expenses and whatever is leftover is getting assigned to various saving categories, such that we should have $0 left over at the end of the month (it doesn't mean we are spending everything--it means it is either being spent or tucked away into a savings account). 

We feel good about how much we assigned to each category, and we feel great that we are actually able to start saving in certain categories that have been on hold for a while (such as college for the boys and retirement for us). We have a lot of retirement savings from many years ago, but while we were trying to build our house, we weren't able to save much for retirement. 

The biggest question that came up during this process was how we were going to keep ourselves within our budget. The savings part is easy; we can set up automatic transfers into our savings account. The harder part is making sure that we aren't overspending in categories like groceries, eating out, miscellaneous, and home improvement. It's so easy to go to Target and come back with a $150 receipt (ahem, Matt, I'm looking at you). It's also easy to rack up several different $50 Amazon bills (I'm guilty of this one). 

I thought about the possibility of using different credit cards for different things, but we ultimately decided to start using Mint.com again. The trouble with Mint is that it automatically assigns purchases to certain categories. And if they aren't the right categories, then their tracking system becomes useless. I'm going to see if I can get in the habit of logging in regularly and fixing any purchases that have been miscoded. 

Matt and I also talked about the ways in which we waste money. Matt agreed that when he eats out for lunch, he will use his personal allowance (this one is tracked on a different credit card, so it's really easy at the end of the month to see how much was spent). We also routinely overspend our grocery budget because we like to purchase as much organic food as possible. Now that we are both working full-time, we decided to increase the amount we allocate to groceries. 

We've been thinking a lot about our savings goals, and we decided to start saving for the downpayment on our next house. We imagine that we will live in our current home for at least 15 more years, but once we decide to move, we figured it would be nice to have the option to rent out our house rather than have to sell it. Our current mortgage is already lower than rent in Austin, so I can only imagine what it's going to be like in 15 years. Any money we make from rent could be put back into maintaining the house. Then in 15 or so more years, we could sell it and use the money for retirement. At least that's the current plan!

Another one of our financial priorities right now is travel. We want to be able to go on adventures as a family throughout the year. 

It's been interesting to see how our financial priorities and goals have shifted over the years. I remember working really hard to only spend $2,000 on our wedding so that we could afford the downpayment on our first home. Then we worked really hard to live off Matt's income so I could stay home with Henry. Once we wanted to get Henry into a Montessori school, then I took a part-time job to help cover the cost of the daycare and to save for our current home. Now that we are both working full-time and our childcare costs are starting to go down, we have more money than we ever have. I've talked to Matt about whether we should be saving money so that one of us could drop down to part-time work, but we're both really happy with what we're doing right now, so we're going to save for retirement, college, and a future home but then choose to spend the rest on travel, home improvement, and charity. If one of us loses our jobs for some reason, we would just tighten up our budget. Our mortgage is based on one income, not two, which gives us a lot of flexibility. 

Image courtesy of my friend's new business, Ami Textiles



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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Movie Recommendation: Something, Anything


Yesterday I wrote all about a film that recently resonated with me: Something, Anything. I feel fortunate that I had a chance to interview the producer, Ashley Maynor. Here's what we talked about:

How long have you been a film producer and what exactly does being a film producer entail? 

  • I’ve produced films since 2005—both my own and those of other writer/directors. The easiest way to explain the role of a producer is through this metaphor: If you think of the writer/director of the film as a birth mother (with the film as the baby), then the producer is the midwife. You can birth a film without a producer—or even produce it yourself as a director—but it’s far better to have a guide and advocate along the way to help make the process less painful. In a film’s credits, the title “producer” can mean a lot of things—from someone who raised the financing, to the manager of the film crew, to the person responsible for the schedule and budget. I do all of those things on the films I work on, but I’m also what you’d call a “creative producer”—I’m a partner to the writer/director. I get involved early on in the project, giving feedback on the script and story. On set, I offer feedback on the performance and other creative aspects, and I’m present through the film’s entire edit. My job is to make the film better, to problem solve any logistical issues that arise, and to support the director’s creative vision. 

When did you first realize you wanted to be a film producer and what was your journey like to become one? 

  • I didn’t ever set out to produce films. It was quite a detour that I began making films in the first place—I actually dropped out of a PhD program in Comparative Literature to go to film school! But, once I got there, I realized I had a talent for producing. I’m super organized; I know how to stretch a dollar; I’m a creative problem-solver. So, in a way, producing sort of picked me. People saw I could do it, and I just kept getting asked to work on projects. My producing skills really solidified, though, after I was selected for the Sundance Institute’s Creative Producing Fellowship in 2012. This program offered me incredible mentorship from great independent film producers like Anne Carey, Lynette Howell, Paul Mezey, Alex Orlovsky, and Pam Koffler and I’ve learned everything I know through their generous guidance. 

Can you give examples of times when you had to muster up immense courage in order to pursue your authentic path? 

  • I’m of the opinion that every moment I spend making creative work demands immense courage. Even though I work a 9-5 schedule (I’m a digital humanities librarian by day), I try to touch my creative work each day. And each time I do, I have to face a lot of fear: fear of failure, fear of disappointment, fear of just how hard the work will be. I keep Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” close at hand and think: what else would I rather do with my “one wild and precious life”? I’ve often had to make some hard decisions to pursue a life of integrity and intention. I’m a first generation-college student, so when I quit my PhD program to pursue the crazy dream of making films, it was a big risk. I also left a position teaching as a university professor to try out film producing full-time for a while. Freelancing in that way was a terrifying but invigorating experience. Even now, after having some success producing fictional work, I’m starting to turn back to focusing on documentaries as a writer/director and on my work as a digital humanities librarian. This seems like a crazy move to some people that I’d switch gears just as I’m having some success and recognition. But, I like to think I’m just following what Tony Kushner calls the Great Work, that which “always has to do with healing the world, changing the world, and, as a necessary predicate to that, understanding the world. […] It’s always calling, sometimes in a big voice, sometimes in a quiet voice.” There’s an episode on Radio Lab called “Help” that also gets at the same idea of following a kind of muse. To me, the work I’m supposed to do somehow calls out to me and my job is to answer the call, no matter how terrifying that may be. I’ve been lucky that ever time I’ve taken a leap, a net has appeared. That’s not to overly romanticize things, though. Sometimes my “net” has been working six part-time jobs to make ends meet! But I’ve always managed to find a way. 

Why did you want to produce Something, Anything? 

  • As a Southern woman, I’d experienced first-hand the pressures that Peggy, the film’s protagonist, goes through. There’s a kind of implicit checklist for young women in the South: get married, buy a house, pursue a career, make babies. There’s nothing wrong with doing any of these things, but there’s an immense pressure to do them and to do them quite young and without questioning. So, when I read the script for Something, Anything, I knew this was a film I wanted to see made. It’s also a film that questions our habits of consumption and that chronicles a woman’s spiritual (but not necessarily religious) awakening. These are not topics that usually get screentime in any meaningful, non-superficial way. So, for me, this debut feature from writer/director Paul Harrill is one of the most sensitive and insightful project’s I’ve had the honor of working on. 

Another topic that doesn't get screen time in a meaningful way is miscarriage. Can you talk a little about why you and your team decided to portray the protagonist's miscarriage the way you did? 

  • Because the loss of a child is integral to the main character’s journey, it was important that we portray it in an on screen way that felt real, palpable, and yet not melodramatic or exploitative. Both the film’s writer/director Paul and I have had close friends and family experience miscarriage, so we wanted to touch on this topic with sensitivity. We consulted with one of my family members, in particular, who is also a paramedic, and who was willing to share her experience openly with us to help craft the scene in a realistic way. What’s perhaps most powerful about the scene is how many people, including friends and other people we’ve known for years, have come to us after screenings to share their own miscarriage stories or say, “That happened to me, too.”

What do you think keeps so many people from pursuing their authentic paths? 

  • Fear of failure. Worry about disappointing others and not living up to expectations. Fear of not making enough money—especially for those of us who have come from modest means and know what it’s like to really not have enough money. These, at least, are the roadblocks I have faced on a regular basis. 

What advice do you have for those who are at the start of the process of identifying and pursuing their authentic paths? 

  • I’ve gotten two really great pieces of advice in my life that have become like mantras I need to remind myself of over and over again: A classmate in film school told me during my first semester: “Don’t get caught up in what everyone else is doing.” When I’m feeling Facebook envy, or getting jealous of other artists’ success, or considering signing on for a new project, I try to step back and think about those words. Do I want to do this because it’s meaningful for me, or because I want others’ approval? Am I shaping my life according to my own beliefs or because of how I want others to perceive me? It’s very hard to put your blinders on with our cell phone and social networking addictions, but when I do, I experience such great relief. The other is a piece of advice my Roanoke yoga teacher gave me during a class several years ago before heading home for the holidays. She said just two words: “Less resistance.” She was actually talking about a yoga pose, but I felt like she was talking about my whole life. Often, we are the ones that most stand in our ways—our patterns, our holding on, our insistence on things not being as we think they should. It’s that little voice that tells you, “If only ____, then my life would be better” or “When ____ happens, I will be happy.” When we can accept where we are and truly believe that here and now is good enough, the resistance will naturally fall away. This, at least, is one of the teachings of yoga and is something I’m still trying to teach myself. 

Thank you for sharing your journey and wisdom with us, Ashley!

You can find Something, Anything on iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, and Vimeo-on-Demand. 




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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Finding Our Authentic Paths


During the winter holiday, a blog reader reached out to me about a film she produced called Something, Anything. On the one hand, I thought, "How cool! I would love to write about someone who mustered up the courage it took to follow her authentic path in life." On the other hand, I thought, "What if I hate the movie? What am I supposed to say then?"

Fortunately, Matt and I watched a pre-screening that night and we LOVED it. Both of us. Seriously.

It's a film about finding and following your authentic path, despite how hard it will feel, what kind of judgement you might face, or how uncertain you will feel at times.

For me, my life's journey has been about how to find and follow an authentic path that helps bring about more social justice in the world.

This life that Matt and I have created has definitely felt hard at several different points (trying to save up to build a house while living on one income), we've faced judgement at several different times ("A $2,000 wedding? That's tacky!" or "A homebirth? That's crazy!"), and we've felt uncertain many, many times.

And that's why this film resonated with me so much. It speaks directly about the pressures that our generation faces. There's an expectation that we'll all follow the same path: creative, youtube-worth engagement (with professional photographs); handcrafted DIY wedding (with more professional photographs); blog-worthy home that is impeccably organized and decorated; garden in the back; babies (with more professional photographs); Pinterest-worthy birthday parties--the list goes on.

And in many ways, my own blog reiterates some of these same pressures. I talked in length about our DIY wedding, and I aspire for our home to be well-organized and aesthetically pleasing. I am an aspiring gardener, and I like to do things like sew my own clothes.

The difference is that these things bring me authentic joy. The joy doesn't come from getting affirmation or approval from others. In many ways, I feel so fortunate that what's cool in our generation are things that genuinely align with my interests and values (and of course my interests and values are shaped by the context I live in). On the other hand, if I lived in the 1950s where it was expected that I stay home full-time to take care of my children and my husband, I would be a wreck.

Watching the movie made me think a lot about my journey. so much has happened in such a short amount of time! I remember deciding to save up for a self-subsidized sabbatical so I could travel and see the world. I saved up money little by little each month and was then able to take a lot of time off. I traveled up the East Coast, worked and studied at a Folk Art School in North Carolina, traveled to India, and stayed at an intentional community (i.e., a commune) in Virginia where I learned how to make tofu and hammocks.

It was so hard to step off the "track" I was on, but I knew I needed to do it.

Watching this movie made me yearn for the days when I was just in charge of myself. It was much easier to find and follow authenticity. Now Matt and I have to work together to decide the direction of our life, and my two young children dictate how I spend a lot of my time!

But it was a good reminder to stay tapped into what I need in my life to feel alive and authentic. I highly recommend it!

You can find it on iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, and Vimeo-on-Demand. Stay tuned for an interview with the producer tomorrow!




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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

New Wallet!


Three and a half years ago, I wrote a post about getting a new wallet off of Etsy. I was eager to replace my old, tattered wallet because of a post I had read in 2009 over at Superhero Journal where Andrea said:

"Someone told me once that if you want to draw a certain kind of abundance into your life, the type of wallet you carry is really important. At the time my wallet was used (by someone other than me first!) threadbare, and almost falling apart. As my friend would say, poverty wallet alert! Which I guess is like having bad feng shui of the wallet."

My wallet from KomonoArt served me well for 3.5 years, so I was happy to invest in a new one. The only reason I really needed a new one was because the snap was no longer attached. I'm happy to promote her shop again! (Editor's Note: I paid for my own wallet and am I'm not getting paid in any way to say this.)

I agree with Andrea's sentiment that the state of our wallet can impact things beyond what we might initially realize. For me it is connected to my confidence. If I'm at a business lunch and I pull out a wallet that is falling apart, I'm likely to feel a pang of insecurity. 

But it's an argument that can quickly slide into justification of rampant consumerism and materialism. For example, someone could follow my logic and say, "Well this means I need to have an expensive car in order to impress my business associates." For me, it's not about things being expensive and therefore impressive, it's about things being clean, organized, and well-kept. I guess that's the difference. I don't have to have a name-brand purse in order to feel confident. I just need to organize my Target bag so that stuff isn't falling out everywhere. I need to constantly clean out the kid clutter that accumulates in my Honda Fit, so that I feel comfortable and confident when I invite business associates (or friends!) into it. 

Speaking of that, I think I'm going to go organize my Target bag right now! 

Image courtesy of KomonoArt on Etsy





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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

January: Reflection & Rejuvenation


Phew. It feels so good to be back in this space--the space where I step back at the start of each month and set intentions about what I want the upcoming month to feel and look like. This process is the one that allows me to muster up the courage that it takes to tackle really scary goals (like starting a school). When you break big things down into smaller steps, they suddenly feel much more manageable. 

This past year was the kind of year that bulldozed right over me. But it was all stuff that I chose to bring into my life, so I can't complain about it. Needless to say, setting aside time for monthly intention setting was purposefully set aside so that I could just survive. 

But 2015 is a new year! And I am eager to reconnect with this process (even if some months I come here and say I have to take a pass on actually striving to accomplish anything personal in the month because I'm too overwhelmed by the professional). 

So with that caveat, here's what I've got on the docket for January:

  • Organize Henry’s closet
  • Organize junk drawer
  • Get our wood siding refinished
  • Paint our deck
  • Plan Reflection & Rejuvenation retreat (e-mail me for details!)
  • Get budget set
  • Work one hour a night and balance our chores
  • Invite friends over
  • Date night! 
  • Plan First Thursday Fun for next month
  • Drink 80 ounces of water a day
  • Run at least once a week
  • Stretch at least three times a week
  • Trade out the boys’ toys weekly
  • Plan Henry's birthday party
The trick is going to be keeping these intentions at the forefront of my mind. I'm going to paste them into my daily action plan in OneNote, so I'm forced to look at them each day. 

I'm feeling like these are doable! 



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