Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Free Resources for Montessori Infant Education

I stumbled upon an awesome resource for free information about raising infants in the Montessori way. The company is ultimately trying to sell their products, so the information is riddled with side advertisements, but the information is helpful nonetheless.

Here's a snippet of what I learned:

"We know very little about what a baby really experiences during those nine months in the womb, what he senses, feels, intuits, thinks about, and understands. But we do know that he responds to voices and to sounds and to music. So we offer the best by every day spending some quiet time talking to him, singing, and playing beautiful music."
  • I love the idea of spending a few moments of quiet time talking to the baby in utero. I would also love to sing and play beautiful music. What great ways to build a connection and facilitate stress reduction. Next Steps: Make a playlist of good songs specifically for this purpose.
"It is not an accident that the focusing distance of the eyes of a newborn matches exactly the space between his face and that of the mother while nursing. Perhaps the best first communication experiences are provided while nursing the baby."

"We can feed the child's intense interest in language and prepare for later spoken language, by speaking clearly, not using baby talk, by not raising our voice to an unnatural pitch often reserved for speaking to pets, and not oversimplifying language in the presence of the child." "We can tell funny and interesting stories of our lives, recite favorite poems, talk about what we are doing, 'Now I am washing your feet, rubbing each toe to get it really clean' and enjoy ourselves in this important communication. And we can listen: to music, to silence, and to each other."
  • I've read research about how important this kind of communication is with young children. As a teacher, I've seen the benefits that children reap when they are raised in this kind of environment. The point about using baby talk is an interesting one. There's research out there that highlights the benefits of using baby talk. I think I fall on the anti-baby talk side, since I think accurate modeling (although in a simplified, scaffolded way) is a great way to teach something. Next Steps: Pay attention to my use of baby talk (specifically with regard to my dog!), and analyze its function and purpose in my life.
There's other stuff about soothing a crying infant and raising children who do not depend upon adults in order to go to sleep. There's so much to learn! It's all very exciting.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

DIY Birthday Cards

I have to confess that I have done a terrible job sending birthday cards this year. By "terrible job," I mean that I literally didn't write anyone's birthday on my calendar at all. So I don't even know when I'm missing a birthday.

Wow. Not knowing what you don't know is a really awful place to be.

So, I'm going to rectify the situation for the second half of the year. Better late than never, they say.

I'm feeling inspired to make homemade birthday cards. If I make enough of them for an entire year, then everyone can get a handcrafted piece of goodness (but they'll be made in bulk, so it's easier for me to keep up with).

I've been collecting security envelopes forever, and I still haven't done anything with them. I was originally inspired by Kristina's design, but now I'm also remembering this card design from Rubyellen. Perhaps I could do a blended version: use security envelops for the bunting and then sew them onto the card. Maybe I could get really fancy and make a stamp that say's Happy Birthday.

I should make a sketch before I move ahead with this idea...

I could make a separate stamp for the parenthesis + the lovely and a separate one for the Happy Birthday, so I could use two different colors.

Now the question is: Do I try to purchase a triangle hole punch? Is it worth the money? I mean, I could easily make a cardboard template and then trace and cut them out. Then again, I will need to make a lot of these triangle things....hmm...

And before I buy anything, I should dig through my craft closet to see what I already have...

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Scrapbook Update

As Matt and I gear up for our next vacation, I'm realizing that we haven't added our last vacation to our Living, Growing Scrapbook. For Spring Break, we took a road trip out to West Texas to visit Big Bend and Marfa. Good times!

Hmm...I should also upload pictures from our Mother's Day trip to Indiana and whatever cute, random pictures we've taken of Hoss in the past few months.

This scrapbooking system works really well for us. I upload the pictures to Snapfish, find a coupon on retailmenot, and then have them mailed to our house. We simply use double-sided tape to stick our photos to white cardstock (we put photos on both sides of the sheet). I write a few words on each sheet to describe what's going on or to record the date. Then we slip the whole thing into a plastic sheet cover, which protects the photos and makes turning the pages really easy. Voila!

It's not as fancy as a real scrapbook (with fancy paper and stickers and all), but it's definitely something that I can manage and keep up with (which is the most important thing in my book!).

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Lessons Learned: Photography Class

Image courtesy of Bob Krist for National Geographic

I went to a photography class a few weeks ago, led by two travel photographers for National Geographic. Although the class was interesting and entertaining, I would have learned more if I actually understood the basis of using a DSLR camera. Unfortunately, this class only comes to Houston every once in a while, so I had to take it before I take my basics of photography course. I just tried to write down everything I could, so I can go back and read it when I have a more of a clue.

Here's some of the useful stuff they shared:
  1. You can "shoot from the hip" to get candid shots of people by using a 35mm lens and prefocusing to one meeter.
  2. Good photographers look for juxtapositions and anachronisms to find good shot.
  3. Architecture is always more interesting if you add the human element.
  4. When booking a helicopter for aerial shots, look for an outfitter that will open the door/window for better shots.
  5. "Inspiration is for the amateur--professional need to be proactive."
  6. The best time to shoot architecture is one hour before sunset."
  7. Photography helps you be in the moment.
  8. Switch ISO depending on the situation (preset 100 or 200; push to 400 or higher in low light).
  9. Ask "What is the brightest thing in the shot? Am I blowing it out with overexposure?"
  10. You can't judge exposure from the LCD monitor; you have to read the histogram to make sure it's not over the edge on the right.
  11. Photography is a physical skill. The more you know your gear, the better you will be.
  12. Use soft light and non-distracting backgrounds for head and shoulders portraits.
  13. To blur the background, move the camera at the same speed as the moving object.
  14. Include objects that provide a sense of scale.
  15. Use flash in high contrast situations.
  16. You can make something look like night by underexposing the background and using a flash.
  17. In terms of gear, if you can't carry it all day, don't buy it.
  18. Only ever show your best work (even if it's only a couple photographs!).

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Conception Update: Cycle 1

I'm now on Day 38 of my cycle. Which is weird and not weird at the same time. My cycle has a history of being irregular, so it could simply be another long cycle. Plus, May was kind of a stressful month due to the end of the school year (although it was simultaneously not as stressful because I have been actively eliminating new commitments from my plate).

I don't want to turn into this person. I don't want to be the person who obsesses about this whole conception process. I don't want to drive my best friend or my partner or my blog readers crazy with my constant, "Could I be pregnant? Is this symptom a sign of pregnancy? When should I take a pregnancy test?"

The problem is that all the questions are happening in my head. And I like to share what's happening in my head with my best friend, partner, and blog readers.

But I don't want these questions to be happening in my head. The more I talk about them externally, the more I think about them internally. The more I think about them internally, the more I want to talk about them externally. It's a pernicious cycle.

So this is my last post about conception obsession (for a while, at least). There's a lot one can do to prepare for conception (we'll be talking about that in my online course), but then you have to let go (we'll be talking about that, too!).

All of this is complicated by two things: my age and my uncertainty about whether I'm fertile. As far as my age goes, I'm 32. I'm not so worried about the first kid, but if I do want to have a second child, I'll start to be on the old side of the fertility spectrum (especially because I don't want to have kids too close together). As far as my fertility goes, a doctor one told me, "When you start trying to get pregnant, you're probably going to have trouble. But don't worry about it now."

I think I need a plan. Plans usually help me feel better.
  1. I will continue trying to conceive for four cycles (May, June, July, and August). During that time, I will really work on my stress levels, my tendency to control things, and my obsession with planning and worrying. (I recognize that this plan is already counteracting #1!). I will incorporate a little yoga into my daily life because I think it works wonders on me.
  2. I will wait until Day 43 of my cycle to take a pregnancy test. Forty-three days was the longest that my cycle has been in the past year. This month, however, I will take it on Day 41, since I'll be leaving for my yoga retreat soon.
  3. If nothing happens in four months, I will go to my general physician to request a hormonal fertility workup to see if I'm ovulating. I will lie and say I've been trying for a year (since a year of haphazard trying is apparently equivalent to four months of strategic, cycle-tracking sex). I've heard that doctors won't do anything until you've been trying for at least a year.
  4. If there's a hormonal problem, I'll start going to acupuncture for treatments. If there are no hormonal problems, I'll go anyway for the relaxing effects of acupuncture.

Okay, that plan really does make me feel better. I am turning off my obsessive, wondering, conception self.

If you don't hear from me again in Cycle #1, you can safely assume that I am not pregnant and that I will be happily trying to get pregnant during Cycle #2 (but I'll try not to talk about it until I know the results for sure from each cycle).

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Book: Glass Ceilings & 100-Hour Couples

I am so excited about one of the books I recently check out from the library. It's entitled, Glass Ceilings & 100-Hour Couples: What the Opt-Out Phenomenon Can Teach Us About Work and Family.

I have to confess that I've only read the two-page prologue, so this isn't yet a bona fide recommendation. However, I already have lots of neat ideas swirling around in my head.

The authors are both college professors. They talk about how the sabbaticals that they are entitled to as college professors give them a chance to feel what it's like to be a "stay-at-home-mom," while the rest of the year they experience what it's like to be a mother who also works full-time. In the prologue, they briefly talk about how gratifying it is to stay at home and yet simultaneously, there are reasons why they choose to work outside the home.

I'm eager to explore the benefits and drawbacks of staying home versus working full-time, and all the other configurations that are possible. One of my friends, who is currently a school principal, plans to quit her job for ten years to raise four kids. Another one of my friends, works part-time from home, and she and her partner hire a nanny to take care of her children at home while she's there working.

I can't even begin to imagine what kind of configuration will work for Matt, our family, and me. I'm eager to explore diverse ideas in this book!

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Yoga Retreat "To Bring" List

Image courtesy of My Big Walk

I can't believe I'm going on my first yoga retreat ever. Woo-hoo!

Clearly, I am very, very excited.

Here's what my best friend and I are going to do:

4:15pm yoga
7:30pm whole foods cooking class

9am detox Sara, maybe Andy (guided hike @ 9)
11am Ayurveda class
4:15pm yoga class

6:30am yoga (Andy?)
9am becoming whole class
11am yoga and nutrition (Sara) share circle (Andy)
noon dance
1:30pm kayaking
4:15pm yoga

11am awakening the six senses class

What are my goals for the retreat? (I'm going to force myself to prioritize them from most to least important.)
  1. To relax and rejuvenate
  2. To learn new skills for a healthier lifestyle
  3. To spend quality time with my best friend

Having a sense of my goals will help guide my decision making (it's Starting with the End in Mind!). For example, if my number one goal is to relax and rejuvenate, then I am going to give myself permission to skip classes if I start to feel overwhelmed.

If it's more important for me to learn new skills rather than spend quality time with Andy (since I talk to him on the phone every day), then I'll make sure that I go to the classes that truly interest me instead of trying to reach consensus with Andy so we go to all the same classes.

So what do I need to bring with me?
  1. Four days of yoga clothes
  2. Yoga mat + bag
  3. Camera
  4. Phone + charger
  5. Library books
  6. Sunscreen
  7. Portable blanket so I can relax on the grass?
  8. Writer's Notebook
  9. Bathing suit
  10. Chacos
  11. Snatch It

Excitedly yours!


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Monday, June 21, 2010

Conception Update: Cycle 1


Today marks 35 days since the start of my last period. I haven't been feeling anything too strange, so I have no reason to suspect that I'm pregnant. I mainly think my strange feelings are related to digestive issues from all the unhealthy food I've been eating. I've read that many early-pregnancy symptoms mimic those of PMS. Strangely, I'm not having too many PMS symptoms either.

Also, my cycle has been irregular ever since I stopped taking birth control pills (of course it was regular when I was on the pill, but it was all regular before I started the pill). I'm not going to start taking multiple home pregnancy tests within every cycle. I think it would stress me out. My last cycle was 38 days and the one before that (when I was really focused on de-stressing) was 33 days.

In the past year, my longest cycle was 43 days, so maybe I should make a little pact with myself not to test until the 45 day mark. We'll see what happens.

The good news is that working on my online course about Purposeful Conception has helped me recommit to all the principles of healthy conception that I started learning about so long ago.


The good part about not being completely ready to have a child is that I'm a little bit relieved when I'm not pregnant. With that said, I will confess that I felt completely jealous when one of my "friends" in this conception journey got pregnant. I am so, so happy for her, but I did feel jealous and a little sad that we're no longer in the same stage. If you read other blogs of folks who are trying to conceive, please leave them in the comments section! I need to make more trying-to-conceive friends.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

In Need of Book Recommendations

I've been a reader ever since I found divine inspiration in Ramona Quimby, Age 8. My life is significantly better when I am reading a good book.

And yet I have fallen out of the habit of reading. I'm trying to figure out why.

I think I first put reading on the back-burner when Matt and I moved in together back in 2006. I no longer had long stretches of time by myself. I wanted to fill my evenings chatting or playing Scrabble with Matt.

The other thing that happened was that I started realizing that buying new books wasn't good on my budget or the available storage space in our home. I started using the library instead, but it is much, much harder to find good fiction at the library for some reason.

Then I realized that I could go to the bookstore, find books I wanted to read and use my iPhone to place a hold request on them from the Houston Public Library. I think I've forgotten about this strategy. I think I've also been reading too much non-fiction (mainly about conception and pregnancy).

I really do need to get back into the habit of reading fiction. It relaxes and enriches me. It gives me insight into the world and myself.

I think the last fiction book I read was Day After Night by the author of The Red Tent. I didn't love it as much as I loved The Red Tent, but it was still really good.

Any recommendations for really good contemporary realistic or historical fiction?

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Stress Management Update

A while ago, I realized that I have too much stress in my life. Also, since Matt and I are trying to have a baby, I am working on my stress management because it helps with conception and, besides, babies bring enough stress into one's life.

I've been working on a couple different strategies with varying degrees of success:
  • Better Nutrition: Nutrition definitely impacts stress, particularly because it impacts our hormones. I was doing really well with this one, but I have strayed. I am officially re-commiting to eating in a healthier way.
  • Consistent Exercise: Like nutrition, exercise helps manage stress levels by impacting our hormones. Like nutrition, I have strayed on this front, too.
  • Daily Relaxation Ritual: For a while I was shutting everything off at 8:15, picking up the house, doing a bit of yoga, and relaxing until bed around 9:30. I have to confess that I have strayed from this one, too. Egad! I think it was caused by a couple problems. 1) The end of school was very busy, and I oftentimes had to stay up later to get my work done. 2) The line started to get blurred between work and relaxation. For example, I really like writing blog posts, so I started to count those as "relaxation," but really they aren't. My mind is much too active for it to count as relaxation.

Okay, making this list is depressing. Apparently, I'm not doing very well.

I think I'm doing two things right:
  • Eliminating Commitments: I have done a good job of eliminating commitments that no longer bring me meaning and joy, and I have done a great job with saying "no" to new requests, even though it's really, really hard! Last month, I had three different organizations ask me to contribute to their projects in different ways. I respect every single one of them, but I simply had to say no. I have to leave space in my life for new projects and relaxation.
  • Organizing My Time: I do a good job of managing my time and working to get ahead on projects rather than leaving everything for the last minute.

It looks like I've got some work to do...(I'm trying not to stress about it too much!)

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Pre-Fab Home Tour

Matt and I took a very concrete step toward realizing our dream of creating an intentional neighborhood (even though we only have $84 in our savings account entitled, "The Dream"): we went on a house tour offered by Ma Modular, a company that specializes in bringing affordable, modern, eco-friendly design to the masses.

I went into the experience with limited expectations. The pictures on the website looked amazing, but I figured they were professionally stylized and were intentionally shot to create the best possible views. I couldn't have been more wrong! The house looked exactly like it did in the pictures. It was a little more cluttered because a real family lives there, but the design is truly beautiful.

There's lot of natural light (my number one pre-requisite!). The ceilings are high and there are windows and sliding glass doors (eco-friendly ones) everywhere.

My only complaint was that the kitchen was a little small, but the Ma Modular representative explained that many aspects of the home can be customized, despite the fact that the house is pre-fabricated in a factory.

Speaking of the Ma Modular representatives: they were amazing. They have a whole team of people: people to help you customize your house, people to help you find land upon which to build your house, and people to help you secure a loan for land + construction.

I also went out of my way to befriend a woman who is thinking about going through the process. I would love to hear about others' experiences with the whole thing from start to finish!

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

DIY: Summer Pajama Pants

I've been wanting to make some summer pajama pants for a while (and by "summer", I mean cropped about 3/4ths length).

I finally got around to doing it! I used the pattern in Amy Butler's In Stitches. The first time I tried it, I trimmed too much off the sides (I didn't want them to be so billowy), and they ended up not pulling over my hips. I had to give them to Krista, a visitor from Canada who was passing through on a road trip adventure.

The second time I tried it, I followed the pattern exactly. This time, the waist is too high. I kind of look like I'm wearing granny panties (hence the photograph with the pants on a doorknob rather than my body). I'm pretty sure it would be an easy fix; I just haven't gotten around to doing it yet. You know how that goes...

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Helping Children Develop a Solid Foundation

I've been following Monica's journey back to full-time work away from the home over at Attachment Mama. Her post about all the separation anxiety and emotional turmoil the change is creating within her family makes my heart ache.

On the one hand, I think it's healthy for children to experience discomfort and some uncertainty. Those emotions are most definitely part of all of our lives, and I believe that we need to cultivate the ability to be comfortable in those moments. We need to develop self-soothing mechanisms in order to cope with inevitable discomfort and uncertainty. We need to experience discomfort and uncertainty in order to practice dealing with it.

On the other hand, I believe that being able to cope with discomfort and uncertainty stems from the process of being "full-up" with love, connection, and certainty. In other words, once children build a solid foundation of love, connection, and certainty, then they can move onto the art of practicing how to deal with discomfort and uncertainty.

I have no way of anticipating how long I'm going to want to stay home with my [future] child. I have no idea how long it will take to create that solid foundation. I have no idea how long I'll be able to sustain my need for creativity, inspiration, analytical conversation, and connection with others as a stay-at-home mom. I have no idea if my partner, Matt, will want to stay home with our child instead of, or in addition to, me.

Regardless of all these questions, there is one answer that seems to float to the surface of certainty: Matt and I should do everything possible to get ourselves into a financial situation that allows us to work out whichever arrangement feels right when the time comes.

Put more simply, it means that we should a) save as much money as we can and b) be careful about the financial commitments we make. For example, as we ponder what our next house will be, we should remember not to get ourselves into a mortgage that requires two full-time incomes.

Easier said than done!

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Friday, June 11, 2010

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Broadcast

I've been working on a few blog updates (as part of my master plan for summer vacation). I wanted to bring a few of them to your attention.

Without further ado:
  1. I now have an RSS feed in the right-hand sidebar beneath my profile. I didn't even know I didn't have one (it's dangerous when we don't know what we don't know). Thanks to Michelle for requesting one! Please let me know if it works...
  2. You'll notice there are new buttons at the bottom of every post. If you're feeling generous, please click on them sometimes. They'll help me spread the word about my little humble corner of the internet. I promise to do the same thing when I'm on your blogs!
  3. The Facebook like button at the bottom of each post is a great way for me to get feedback from you about what kind of posts you like. It's kind of like the democracy of blogging. The more votes particular posts get, the more clues I'll get about what your favorite topics are or which ideas resonate with you.

I think that's it for now! As always, let me know if you have feedback on things I can do to improve my blog.


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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Being a Neighborly Neighbor

The view from our bungalow to the house across the street

Matt and I have only lived in our humble bungalow for two years. In that time, people have come and gone in the rental house across the street. We were really good friends with the first family that lived there. We went to their birthday parties, we talked on our porches, we cooked S'mores together.

And then they moved. We were heartbroken but not discouraged. We attempted to make friends with the new neighbors. They were young and interesting. We walked our dog with theirs. We invited them to our monthly potlucks.

And then they broke up. In an instant, the girlfriend was gone. She didn't even say goodbye to us. And then there were moving trucks and more moving trucks. And then the guy grew a really long beard and hair and started wearing glasses, so we had a hard time distinguishing him from his friends.

And then there was a "For Rent" sign again. And I almost gave up. I almost said, "I'm done with that house!" I'm an introvert, and it takes a lot of energy for me to meet new people, for me to extend myself over and over again.

But then the new neighbor pulled up with a truck full of stuff, including a couch. He was by himself. I knew there was no way he could get everything inside by himself. So I grabbed Matt and we headed over there. And you know what? He seems like a super-cool guy. And while we were in front of his house, our other neighbor, Linda, came out and I got to introduce her to her new neighbor. And then I got to chat with Linda about the end of her school year and what she was going to do this summer. And then I asked her if she wanted some eggs from our backyard chickens. She didn't even know we had chickens, so I invited her over to meet the chickens. I also gave her some of the tomatoes that our other neighbor had given us.

Yes, it's worth it. This process of putting ourselves out there with a smile, a helping hand. It builds connection and community, something we're all in need of.

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Mother Mentor: Things I Wish I Would've Known Before Having a Baby

I'm on the search for "Mothering Mentors," so I was giddy with excitement when one of my internet friends e-mailed me with this advice:
I wanted to send a quick list of some of the things about motherhood that I wish I would have known beforehand. Hope it's useful on your journey.
  1. Postpartum depression is real and even if there's no history in your family and even if you had a perfect pregnancy, it is real and not to be ignored. I didn't seek help for mine until my daughter was 6 1/2 months old because I was so stuck on being organic. I was in denial big time. So, if you feel out of it for longer than the first few weeks, see somebody. So many of my girlfriends admitted they had it too after I admitted I did. Crazy!
  2. As a planner myself, I think it's important to focus on what matters. For me and my partner, it wasn't having the perfect nursery or all the clothes washed, or even having all the stuff society says you need. We focused on finding a rhythm with our daughter, getting her on a sleep/feed schedule and sticking to it even when everyone said we were being too rigid. All I know is that our girl was sleeping through the night at 12 weeks and has been doing so ever since. That is a lifesaver especially if you plan on returning to work as I did.
  3. Breastfeeding or not does not make you a good mom or bad mom. I was so hell bent on being natural (I had a midwife, I had an all natural labor, etc.) I didn't even consider bottles while pregnant. I just knew I was going to breastfeed for a year. Period. It didn't work out that way for a lot of reasons and even though I pumped for 7 1/2 months and our daughter got breastmilk regardless I had such tremendous guilt about not being able to do it the "right" way. Whatever happens for you, know that all your baby wants is love.
  4. The first 6 months it's all about YOU and not your husband. Babies depend on mama for everything. You are the source and as a result you may find yourself resenting the freedom that Matt gets. And the accolades. Society is structured such that dads get applauded for everything they do and moms don't. It's not about the recognition but I know I would get a little pissed when people would praise my partner for being such a good job because he was washing bottles or changing diapers. I always felt like that was his job too since it was his daughter. I found that to be quite difficult.
  5. Finally, trust your instincts. Have fun. Don't blink. And rub your belly as much as you can. A miracle is in progress.
Hope this helps. I wish you guys well! :)

I appreciate her wisdom so much. As I work on my online course, Purposeful Conception, I worry about being part of the oppressive rhetoric around being 100% natural and 100% healthy. We put unhealthy pressure on ourselves when we expect 100% perfection with regard to anything. Her advice inspires me to make this commitment to myself: I will do my best to follow the conception, pregnancy, and parenthood guidelines that I believe most nourish my children, but I understand that things happen and that I must be patient and kind with myself no matter what.

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Moments of Authenticity

I've struggled for a long time to find "my path"--my most authentic wave. Many years ago, I auditioned to work at Princeton Review (as a side job to supplement my teaching income). As part of the interview, we had to do a sample lesson about anything. I chose to do a tutorial about how to make an envelope out a recycled magazine page.

A co-interviewee decided to teach about quantum physics. (Please forgive me as I botch his lecture through the lens of my metaphor-obsessed brain.) He talked about how everything in the universe is essentially a wave. He also mentioned that waves can collide and cancel each other out.

That night, I committed to finding my authentic wave. I worried that if I lived on anything other than my authentic wave, then I would be at risk for canceling myself out.

As I brushed my teeth in preparation for bed (I had an early flight to Guatemala for a 7-day vacation), I got a call from an old friend who was in Houston for a conference. He wanted me to meet him at a bar.

Normally, my homebody self would have said thanks-but-no-thanks. The teeth are already brushed. But because I was trying to live my most authentic life, I jumped at the opportunity. We had a fantastic time together.

When I returned home at 4am, there were no parking spots to be found in my apartment complex. I decided (against my better moral judgment) to park in a handicapped spot since I would be vacating the spot in less than two hours to get to the airport.

Well, long story short, my car got towed, I had to call my friend to take me to the impound lot, I forked over a hundred or something bucks to get my car back, and I managed to make it to the airport on time. Phew! The best part is that I didn't even care. It felt great to be living on my authentic path.

While in Guatemala, as part of my quest to live my most authentic life, I decided to save up my money for the entire upcoming school year and then take a year off from teaching to go on a self-subsidized sabbatical.

Longer story, shorter: I traveled to India, an intentional community in Virginia, and folk art school in the mountains of North Carolina. While at folk art school, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and many of the evacuees headed to Houston. I decided to return to Houston to help my friends create a tutoring program for families living in the Astrodome. And that's how I met my husband!

I say all of this to illustrate that I believe in authenticity and doing things that feel right and following my passions and my intuitions. But at the same time, I don't often feel like my life is reverberating with authenticity. I take these online courses about dreaming big or growing your creative business and I feel frustrated when I don't know what my goals are or what I want to do. And it can be hard to read my intuition. Sometimes, a bad feeling is just fear of inadequacy.

So, it was much to my surprise when I started working on my online course about Purposeful Conception and it felt like I was back on that authentic wave again. I'm having so much fun that I would rather not shower or eat so that I can spend more time working on it. I overhear Matt telling his friends, "My wife is weird. If I were on summer vacation, I would be out having fun. Sara just sits in front of her computer working on these projects."

I'm trying to pay attention to those moments. To collect clues about what feels authentic and why. Let me see if I can encapsulate it:
  • I like the challenge. It has been so, so hard to figure out the technical side of creating and executing an ecourse. I have to ask others for help, and I get frustrated, but so far I've been able to figure everything out. It's a challenge that is within my zone of proximal development. It's not too easy and it's not too hard. It's a bowl of porridge that is just right.
  • It's not conception, in particular, that I'm passionate about. I've been interested in it for over a year, but once I'm no longer in this phase of life, then I'll be ready to focus on something else (pregnancy? parenthood?). I am passionate about sharing information with others--information that I believe will make the world a better place for all of us.
  • I'm eager to interact with others once the course starts.
  • I like that the project requires a wide range of tasks. I have to do graphic design, write, edit, solve coding issues, project plan, read, make documents, take pictures, interview others, etc.
  • I like that I'm in charge of the project's direction from conception (pun intended) to execution.

I'll keep thinking about it. I want to make sure that I learn from this experience and these feelings of elation.

What's feeling authentic to you lately?

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Collecting and Developing Ideas in Notebooks

I just bought a new notebook, and I figured it was time to hunker down and write a post about the concept of a Writer's Notebook. I've been promising to do it for a while now. I think I've been reluctant to do it because I had a sense that it would take me f-o-r-e-v-e-r. Going into one of my old notebooks is like going through a photo album or a box of memorabilia from the past. You know how you just get sucked in and one thing leads to another?

The idea of a Writer's Notebook comes from the writing workshop approach to teaching writing. The gurus of this approach work over at The Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University.

I've always had a journal. In 7th grade, I remember writing things like, "Do I want to be pretty or do I want to be cute?" When I grew up and started teaching 6th grade reading and writing, I learned about the concept of a Writer's Notebook.

The founder of The Reading and Writing Project, Lucy Calkins, says:
The recognition that writing begins not as deskwork but as lifework has radical implications for how we and our students rehearse for writing. Whereas some educators imagine that rehearsal for writing begins with listing and choosing among topics, brainstorming ideas, mapping alternative forms, and experimenting with various leads, most writers say that rehearsal for writing is not a string of exercises that warms up a writer just prior to the process of drafting but a way of life. Rehearsal is not even something that occurs in conjunction with any one piece of writing; it is a state of readiness out of which one writes.

For me, my Writer's Notebook is more like a Life Notebook. It's a place to collect my ideas, my insights, my lists, my goals, the things that amuse me, questions I have, words that make me smile.

But it is not a journal. I write a separate journal on my computer that is full of angst and rambling and freewriting in an attempt to unlock my deepest feelings. My notebook is something that I carry around with me at all times (you never know when the inspiration is going to strike!). It's something that can become public at any moment.

Here are some examples of things I do in my notebooks:

Strategy #1: Collect Quotes
  • I simply jot down quotes that resonate with me. I read and reread these when I add new things to my notebook. It's interesting to see the types of quotes change as my life changes.

Strategy #2: Notes from Presentations
  • When I attend workshops, lectures, classes, etc., I like to take notes in my notebook rather than on the handout. I find that I file handouts away and never reference them again, whereas I read my notebooks over and over.

Strategy #3: Logistical Stuff
  • As you can see, I make "To Do" lists, I record directions to people's homes, phone numbers, etc. It's a catch-all place. It's like sticky notes, but it's all in one place and nothing ever gets lost.

Strategy #4: Travel Notes
  • When I'm traveling, I take notes about what I do each day. That way, when the trip is over and I want to write a Friends & Family Update or a blog post, then I can remember everything.

Strategy #5: Lists
  • And more lists, lists, lists. I am a verifiable list-maker. Hey, I need to go add that to my blogger profile. I make lists about absolutely everything. I make lists of who I want to invite to my birthday party. Lists about who came to my birthday party. Lists about things I'm looking forward to. Lists of moments in my life when I felt most authentic. Lists about what I want to be when I grow up. Lists about things that bring me joy. Lists of guys I've dated.

Strategy #6: Collect Ideas
  • I brainstorm various ideas with webs (or lists, of course!). The webs above relate to gift ideas I have for my husband and best friend.

Strategy #7: Develop Ideas
  • After I pick an idea off my lists, I develop it. The example above includes my ideas for starting a neighborhood time bank.

Strategy #8: Artifacts
  • I tape artifacts into my notebook (e.g., movie ticket stubs, museum admission stickers, sticky notes from other people, etc.) that help me remember important or interesting things.

Notebook Logistics:
  • I am addicted to using colorful, Sharpie pens. Unfortunately, those pens bleed through pages really easily. Therefore, I have to use a special Sketchbook from Moleskine that has thicker paper. My friend, Camella, changes the type of notebook she uses every time. She prefers the variety.
  • When I finish a notebook, I flip through it and transfer anything that I'm still thinking about to my new notebook.
  • When I'm ready to store an old notebook, I put a label on the outside to indicate the start and end dates contained in the notebook.
  • I always write my name and contact information inside my notebooks so they can be returned if I lose one. They are very valuable to me!

I think that's it for now! Please let me know if you have any questions...

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Friday, June 4, 2010

Cultivating Independence in Children

Now that I'm safely on the summer side of the school year, I have a bit more time to reflect on the end of the school year. I experienced one of my most memorable teaching moments of all time: I stood back while my third graders planned and executed their very own field trip.

First, they collected and developed ideas (just like we do in writing and research!) about where they wanted to go. They brainstormed lots of ideas, including going back to the Houston Arboretum or the zoo, to our pen pals' school across town, to Rice University, downtown Houston to see the "highest" and "lowest," etc.

Then ended up picking the latter option, and they set out to plan the entire trip. For example, they had to figured out how to get from our school to their first destination on the city bus. They also had to create an itinerary for the day, decide how much money to bring, debate between a picnic or a restaurant lunch, keep an ongoing "To Bring" list, and call the bus company to confirm the schedule.

During the field trip, they had to use a compass and a map to navigate the streets of downtown Houston, pay cashiers, ask security guards for directions, hold doors for people, and solve issues that came up along the way.

It was no small feat--for them or me. I had to stand back and let them take charge, even though it inevitably meant that the process was slower, less efficient, and more riddled with error. But it was in the slowness, the inefficiency, and the errors that the real learning took place. That's when the children really activated their critical thinking, made predictions, tested out ideas, demonstrated persistence, and collaborated with each other.

We missed the first bus, headed the wrong direction on McKinney street, and couldn't find the Smoothie King for our afternoon snack. But they had more fun on a field trip than they have ever had before. Because they planned it. Because they got their hands dirty in the creation and execution processes.

As teachers and parents in a fast-paced, drive-through society obsessed with the product at the expense of the process, it is so easy to do everything for children. It's faster. It's cleaner. It's more efficient. We've got things to do and places to go.

But, as Maria Montessori said so long ago, our children need to do for themselves. That's how they learn. That's also how they build true self-esteem--the kind of self-esteem that stays rooted in storms, not the kind of "Oh, you're so smart/pretty/amazing!" self-esteem that blows over as soon as someone expresses a contradictory opinion of them.

It's challenging, but it's possible. It takes time, mindfulness, and a commitment to truly cultivate independence in our children. But it can be done. It has to be done.

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Announcement: New Online Course About Purposeful Conception

Are you thinking about getting pregnant or are you already actively trying? Welcome to Purposeful Conception! This course is for all of us.

The idea is simple: bringing a baby into the world is both an overwhelming joy and a life-changing commitment. When we approach conception with intention and purpose, we create a welcoming and prepared space for children in our lives.

This online course will help us position our minds, bodies, and lives for pregnancy. Over the course of five weeks, a new lesson will be uploaded each weekday. The lessons will address a whole host of topics, such as preparing your body through solid nutrition and exercise, finding balance between what you can and cannot control, making space in your life for pregnancy, deciding whether to track your cycle, building a solid partnership as a foundation for your future family, and much, much more. As a participant in the course, you'll receive information, tips, reflection exercises and prompts, access to video interviews, and a community of like-minded kindred spirits who are on a journey similar to your own.

Interested in learning more? Visit the Course Overview or About the Author. Already prepared to join the community? Registration begins on Thursday, July 1. Spaces will be available on a first-come, first-served basis and will be limited to the first 100 participants. The total cost is $99, and the course will begin on August 1, 2010. In the meantime, feel free to sign up for a reminder registration e-mail.

Also, you can easily share this announcement with others by clicking on any of the buttons at the end of this post.

Finally, you could download a button (by clicking on the code below) and add it to your own blog!

Happy Thursday!


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Scared of Falling (Flat on My Face and Losing Some Teeth--I Really Hate Getting Dental Work Done)

So, it can be kind of scary to go out on a limb when you're not sure how high the tree is and you don't know how thick the limb is. It's even scarier when you can't see a clear path to follow out onto the limb and you have to inch your way forward, overwhelmed with uncertainty about whether you're going to get completely stuck before you even make it through the clearing.

That's what the past couple days have been like for me as I've worked feverishly to design an e-course called Purposeful Conception.

The content is not the scary part. I've been preparing for conception for almost a year, and I have lots to share (in a consolidated, user-friendly, inspirational format!). The hard part has been getting the technology piece to work out.

You see, I know very little about graphic design. I don't even own a real graphic design program (I use a free one I downloaded off the internet). I can barely get it to do what I need it to do (and plus I don't even know what I don't know when it comes to graphic design).

And then there's the coding part. Wwwwhhhhaaaaa!

When I was in college, I read a tome about teaching yourself HTML in 14 days. But A LOT has changed since they published that book back in 1996.

Of course I could fork over hundreds of bucks to have someone else do the technical heavy lifting for me, but Matt and I don't have hundreds of bucks to invest in something that might not lift off the ground.

You get my point. I won't wade around in my whining any longer.

In fact, the only reason I'm enumerating all these complaints is because I've made it out onto the limb, and so far I haven't fallen to the ground.

See? If I can do it, you can, too!

What's scaring you in your life right now? As Kelly Rae asked in her Taking Flight ecourse, "What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?"

Creating this e-course is scaring me big time. But I'm doing it. Step by step. Line of code by line of code.

Stay tuned for an official announcement later today! I'm close to reaching a breakthrough!

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

First Pre-Conception Visit with a Midwife

Matt and I had our first pre-conception visit with a midwife this week. I feel fortunate that she's already volunteered so much of her time. A few weeks ago, she spent about half an hour on the phone with me talking about her practice, and this time she spent about an hour with us.

I'd like for us to decide on our care giver before we get pregnant because it's quite stressful reading about the American birthing industry and sifting through the various options. I don't mean to put the cart before the horse, but it makes sense for us to have our plan in place when/if we get pregnant.

After the conversation with her, we're definitely leaning toward a home birth. She talked us through the risks of delivering at home but also talked through the benefits of laboring in the home environment. She's helped deliver more than 1,600 babies and has lost 9 of them--many of them due to congenital defects that the families knew about in advance but decided to birth at home anyway. She said there were 2-3 cases that may have gone differently if the mother had labored at the hospital. Her hospital transfer rate is around 10% and 3-4% (of the 10%) end up requiring a c-section). She has had to call for an ambulance 20 times, and the mother's life has been in danger 7 times.

She's a certified nurse midwife, and she brings the same equipment to a home birth that would be available in the delivery room (electronic fetal monitoring, IV, antibiotics, infant resuscitation, etc.). She also brings a labor and delivery nurse with her and requires that we hire a doula.

She also humored us as we asked a wide variety of questions, ranging from "How do we prepare our relationship for pregnancy and birth?" to "Should I work full-time while pregnant?" She talked about the importance of putting systems in place for communicating our needs to each other and embracing the fact that we're going to have to put our needs on hold for 1-2 years (although she thinks couples start to get their life back after six months). As for working full time, she's seen mothers make lots of different choices for themselves. Her one worry is that a lot of full-time mothers can't listen to their bodies, like taking naps when they need to.

I also brought along my Rainbow Light prenatal vitamins and had her look at them. She said they were fine but they weren't as good as the Opti-Natal vitamins from the Eclectic Institute that she recommends, since the latter has more vitamins, minerals, and herbs.

I asked about other birthing options in Houston, since a birthing center attached to a hospital seems like the ideal way to balance the risks and the benefits. However, the landscape is not very appealing. She says there aren't very many certified nurse midwives in Houston, and most of the birthing centers are not attached to hospitals or are far out of town.

I was surprised that Matt left with such a favorable impression of home birth and midwifery. He appreciated her honesty, warmth, knowledge, and humor.

Since she's downsizing her practice as she nears retirement, she won't be available to deliver babies next summer. That means we have would need to get pregnant in the next few months if we want to use her (or stop trying for September, October, and November) and then try again after that. We'll see what happens.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

June: Reflection & Rejuvenation

Image courtesy the Nikki McClure calendar


Did I seriously make it to the end of the school year relatively unscathed? (Aside from the bruise from my student's metal lunchbox crashing into me as he ran out of the closet and into my leg.)

I can't believe it, people. Those of you who are teachers know that May can be a tough, tough month.

First there was the third grade field trip that my students planned entirely on their own. They navigated us from the school to a bus stop. We took the city bus downtown and toured the "tallest" and the "lowest" of Houston. Then we picnicked at Discovery Green and finished the day off with a smoothie.

Then there were our two end-of-year parties. The first was a pool party at a student's house, and the second was a Make-Your-Own-Pancakes party. We split into six groups (led by parent volunteers). Each group made something different (whole wheat pancakes with freshly ground flour, whipped cream, syrup on a hot plate, orange juice, etc.).

Then there was report cards and individualized advice for each child about what they should work on this summer and cleaning our classroom and packing everything up in preparation for the custodial staff to do a deep cleaning.


I am here, and I still seem to be breathing. Just barely.

Luckily I was intentionally light on my goals for May. Here's what I set out to do:

  • Order a new-used SLR camera: CHECK! We ordered this camera body and this lens.
  • Take a photography class from two National Geographic photographers: CHECK!
  • Help my 3rd graders plan their own field trip (using the public bus system!): CHECK!
  • Keep trying to create a potting area (I haven't had success locating a good table). (Although, I just took a major break from this post and think I found a vintage desk on craigslist for twenty-five bucks.): Okay, we just bought a table! Finding the bricks, setting up shelves, and finding cute containers will have to continue to be a work in progress. I really hate shopping!
  • Keep trying to turn our backyard into an oasis. I almost bought a couch off Amazon, but I had second thoughts about buying something new instead of used. But it can be so hard to find something used! I'm really not much of a shopper...: We have put this one on hold. There are so many other things we want to buy!

So what's in store for June?
  1. Work on creating an e-course about purposeful conception
  2. Update the look and functionality of my blogs (have you noticed the banner doesn't match the URL? Oops!)
  3. Completely immerse myself in a yoga retreat with my best friend
  4. Prepare my workshop for the KIPP School Summit in August
  5. Start my charter school application
  6. Host a picnic/silent film event for friends
  7. Invite someone over for a dinner party
  8. Run and do yoga regularly
  9. Work diligently on the Taking Flight e-course
  10. Study Spanish for 20 minutes every weekday
  11. Make a travel pillow for our impending vacation to California and Canada
  12. Take a photography class to learn how to use my new DSLR camera

I think that's it! I'm so looking forward to having an entire day to devote to my various projects. Hooray for summer!

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