Thursday, June 30, 2011

Travel Ideas

From our road trip up the California coast to Canada last year

Our vacation is coming up. I can't wait!

Henry, Matt, and I will be flying into Albuquerque and then renting a car to drive to Taos for a wedding, then Denver to catch up with old friends, the Estes Park area to visit the B&B where we got married, and then to Breckenridge where we will be meeting up with Matt's family for a week.

Travel is so important to me. It's one of the few things I absolutely need on a yearly basis. I look forward to my yearly vacation with Matt. Last year we took a road trip from California to Canada. The year before that we took our belated honeymoon to Paris and Greece (for a sailing trip around the Greek Islands!). The year before that we took a road trip from Colorado to California. Next year, I want to go to Kauai (with a couple families with children).

Matt and I have a tendency to pack too much into our vacations, especially our road trips. Case in point: We almost decided to drive from New Mexico to Colorado to Utah and back. I'm glad we left Utah out (sorry, Utah!). I'm glad we're slowing it down this time.

Do you all have any recommendations of places to go in any of the following locations?
  • Albuquerque
  • Taos
  • Denver
  • Estes Park
  • Breckenridge
  • (Or anything along the way between those places)

We're already making a list of all the places we want to eat in Denver:
  • Yak and Yetti
  • Watercourse
  • Beau Jo's
  • SAME Cafe

I also want to hit up the Saturday morning farmer's market in Taos, which I read about in a recent issue of Sunset Magazine. And lots of hiking (and sleeping!).

Can't wait!

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Importance of Letting Children Struggle

A few weeks ago, Henry and I were at a party, and a woman was talking to us. She noticed that Henry was looking at her bracelet, so she held it up for him to get a better look at it. Once she did that, Henry started reaching out to touch it. At the time, his reach and grasp were still pretty shaky, but you could tell he was working hard to learn how to reach toward something and grab it. He was so focused on getting his hand to that bracelet. It was an amazing thing to watch! I love seeing children work so hard at something that is challenging for them.

But suddenly, the woman grabbed Henry's hand and put it on her bracelet. Of course the woman had good intentions. She thought she was helping Henry reach his goal. However, Henry's goal wasn't really to reach the bracelet. His ultimate goal was to develop his coordination so that he could reach out and touch anything, anytime. She actually hindered Henry's progress toward that goal.

Of course this one-time incident is not a big deal, but what would happen if a child had this kind of experience over and over again for many years?

Looking at it from the opposite angle, what do children learn when they are given the freedom to struggle with challenges? Well, first of all, they develop themselves at a pace that is more in line with their potential. Because I let Henry practice reaching and grasping, he was able to develop those skills at his natural pace. Secondly, children who are allowed to struggle with challenges learn that they can work hard and overcome those challenges. Current motivation theory suggests that developing this kind of "growth mindset" is integral to children being motivated to take risks, make mistakes, and continue to grow.

In my nine years as a classroom teacher (ages 1st through 6th grade), I have seen what happens when adults step in to much to "support" children. Children don't believe that they are capable of overcoming challenges. They break down when faced when difficulty.

But learning that one can muster internal strength and persistence to overcome challenges is such an important lesson to learn! That's why I try to help Henry learn it day in and day out, even though he's a baby. For example, when he's on his movement mat reaching for a toy and he starts grunting and getting fussy, I don't automatically step in and give him the toy. I may move it a little closer if it's truly beyond his current ability to scoot and reach, but I let him spend time in the struggle. It's amazing to see what children can do if we stand back and give them time and space.

I think the two biggest hurdles to letting children struggle are awareness and time/patience. First, we have to observe our children and know what is within an appropriate range of struggle. We have to seek out opportunities for them to do work that is within this range. Secondly, we have to slow down and be patient as they struggle. It would be much more efficient to simply hand Henry his toy rather than let him reach for it, but efficiency is often the enemy when it comes to human development!

I'm definitely going to keep this concept at the forefront of my mind, especially as my days become busier and busier as I work toward opening a non-profit organization and applying for a charter to open a public Montessori school.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Montessori Floor Bed Update

The floor bed is one of the things about the Montessori approach to educating children that tends to shock people the most. "What? You don't have a crib? Your baby sleeps on a mattress on the floor?"

The idea is to set up the child's environment in a way that helps him/her develop movement. The more freedom children have to move, the more they move. The more they move, the more they strengthen their muscles and develop themselves.

Along these lines, we also try not to use common baby contraptions that limit movement, such as swings (since the movement is done onto the child) or infant seats (since the child's movement is restricted to a vertical plane rather than a vertical and a horizontal).

In a Montessori nursery, the entire room becomes the crib. The doorway gets closed off with a gate, and the child is free to move around their room as they please. The room is set up to be as safe as a crib would be.

Matt and I knew we would probably move before Henry started crawling, so we didn't child-proof the room from the beginning. Although our four month-old son isn't crawling, he is definitely moving! When we transitioned from co-sleeping to putting Henry in his own room at two months, we really started to notice Henry's ability to roll and move. Although he wasn't rolling during the day, at night, we would find him off his mattress and several feet away. Honestly, we wondered if perhaps our dog, Hoss, was dragging him off the mattress so he could take Henry's spot!

It turns out that all the work Henry does with movement all day long has really helped him develop his core strength. By three months, he was rolling from his stomach to his back and from his back to his stomach.

Henry's ability to move made us realize that his floor bed was not set up in the best position. The bookshelf posed a hazard. So now, each night before we put Henry to bed, we move his little mattress to the center of the room, so Henry has plenty of room for his double barrel rolls in the middle of the night. We position Henry's mattress right in the middle of a giant 4' x 6' rug. Honestly, we would much rather have Henry roll off his mattress onto a comfortable rug than roll into the wooden slats of a crib.

I do wish we had room for a larger mattress. Ideally, we would have gotten a full-size. A larger mattress would mean that Henry would be less likely to roll of his bed in the night, and it would also be more comfortable for me while breastfeeding in the middle of the night.

Also, we ended up combining his movement mat with his floor bed, because we have limited space. That's why there's a mirror and a mobile by his bed

The one thing we did get right was the thickness of the mattress. Initially, we had a 5-inch mattress but we exchanged it for this 3-inch mattress from IKEA. I could not imagine watching my son roll off of anything higher than 3-inches.

Overall, we're very happy that we opted for a Montessori floor bed instead of a crib.

Definitely let me know if you have any questions!

Also, if you're interested in talking more about how to implement Montessori in the home, consider joining our e-mail group!

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Club: Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

I made it to the end! I'm patting myself on the back. I'm really inspired by Covey's idea of independence. He says we are truly independent when we can make and keep commitments to ourselves. He goes on to say that we can't be truly interdependent until we're able to depend first on ourselves.

Deciding to read and then finishing all 318 pages--one chapter a week--has been a good exercise in making and keeping commitments to myself. I won't lie, however; it truly helps to make a public declaration on this here blog. Promising something to myself in front of thousands of people is a powerful motivator.

I enjoyed reading the last habit about the importance of Sharpening the Saw. He argues that we should spend at least an hour a day working on ourselves physically, socially/emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. About exercise, he said, "Most of us think we don't have enough time to exercise. What a distorted paradigm! We don't have time not to!" I think the same thing holds true for all the other areas of self-development.

He talked about how watching too much TV can infringe upon one's self-development time. It was good for me to reconnect with that idea because I've been wondering if Matt and I should put a TV in our living room when we move to our next house. Right now, we only have it in our bedroom, and it's not connected to any sort of cable. We simply use it to watch movies. We sometimes use the computer to watch TV shows on Hulu, but we honestly don't spend too much time watching it.

I think I'd like to keep the TV out of the living room--the center of our family life--and instead fill that space with books, music, crafts, and games. It's not that I want to completely deprive Henry of screen time (which would make him want to spend all his time at friends' houses!); it's that I want to show him so many other possibilities.

While reading this chapter, I also came up with a better plan for cultivating my physical self. The past couple days, I've been reluctant to take Henry and Hoss on our daily walk through the neighborhood because it has been excruciatingly hot. This chapter inspired me to come up with an inexpensive solution. I decided that we will drive to the arboretum every day. It's not too far away (sorry I'll be driving more, Environment!) and it's very shady. Also, the trees, smell of pine, and solitude are so good for my spiritual and mental development. I truly feel like a happier person when I make time to be in that kind of environment.

It reminds me of this quote from the chapter: "Peace of mind comes when your life is in harmony with true principles and values." Daily walks in beautiful nature would give me the time and space to think about my principles and values. I also need to start rereading A Year of Living Consciously while I'm going to the bathroom (sorry if that's too much information!). It will be good for my spiritual development.

This chapter also inspired me to throw away the pint of ice-cream I had been dipping into all day. Usually, I'm pretty good about not buying that stuff. However, if I do buy it and bring it into the house, then I have very little willpower. Moderation flies out the window! Perhaps that's because I don't let myself buy it often enough? I don't know. I think it's much better for me to surround myself with healthy foods at home and to save my indulging for when we go out.

There was lots of random goodness in this chapter, like:
  • This quote from Goethe: "Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be." What a powerful quote, especially for educators!
  • I loved, loved, loved the anecdote about Covey's sabbatical in Hawaii with his family. I was so inspired by the mental movie of their daily trips to the ocean and the time they set aside to focus on deep communication as a family and then as a couple. I really want to make more time to deeply communicate with Matt on a daily basis.
  • This excerpt from George Bernard Shaw: "This is the true joy in life--that being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one."

And then the closing idea that self-development is a continual process of Learning --> Committing --> Doing. Love it!

I really do think that The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is a classic in the self-development genre. I'm really glad I read it from cover to cover!

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

De-Cluttering Rampage: Dry Goods Drawer

Okay, people, I am on a serious de-cluttering rampage. I'm finally starting to internalize the idea that if something in our house bothers me, I should spend 15 minutes fixing it and then bask in the new-and-improved area day in and day out.

Case in point: Our dry goods drawer. Check out the "before" photo! It was chock-full of stuff. Every time I tried to close it, plastic would hang out the side. There were stray pieces of rice strewn across the bottom of the drawer. It contained almonds that haven't been touched in over a year.


So I spent 15 minutes taking everything out of the drawer, tossing a bunch of it, and putting the remaining stuff back in. While I was at it, I found a recipe to use up the random box of barley I found. We're also going to make sushi this week to use up the bag of sushi rice in there, I'm going to use all those lentils I bought so long ago to make dal, and I made whole wheat spaghetti for lunch today.


It's simply crazy to me how I can let something bother me over and over again for months (or--gasp--years!) before finally mustering the motivation to do something about it. And when I do muster the motivation, I realize it only takes 15 minutes to fix the problem.


Next Up: Our Shower...

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Henry's Easy-Peasy Scrapbook

I don't have much memorabilia from when I was a newborn. My mom did start a baby book for me, but it's kind of sparse.

I knew that I wanted to document Henry's life for him from the very beginning and in a prolific way, but I also knew that I had to keep it as simple as possible or else I wouldn't sustain it. That's why I turned to the Living, Growing Scrapbook idea that I've been using to keep a scrapbook for our family (originally inspired by Amy over at Progressive Pioneer).

It's so very simple. It just takes a three-ring binder, plastic sheet protectors, double-sided tape, card stock, and a pen.

Every once in a while, I upload pictures to Snapfish, search for a coupon, and have the photos delivered to our house. Then I tape the photos to the card stock, jot down a few notes on the side, slip them into the sheet protectors, and insert them into the binder. Voila!

It's such an easy process; I honestly think it's something I can sustain. And even though I think Matt and I will only have one child, if Henry does end up with a sibling, I'm pretty sure I can sustain a scrapbook for that child, too. In addition to the letters that I write Henry approximately every month, I also have a separate page where I jot down things that would normally get recorded in a baby book (i.e., first smile, first hair cut, etc.).

Maybe instead of calling it a "Living, Growing Scrapbook," I should call it a "Quick and Dirty Scrapbook." It's so liberating to release myself from my tendency to strive for aesthetic perfection and instead just record our life in a sincere way.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Children's Clothing: Function, Then Fashion

Henry dressed in a functional kimono-style outfit on his Montessori movement mat

I'm reading more of Montessori from the Start, and I particularly enjoyed the section about clothing.

The authors assert that the main principles around selecting clothing should be:
  1. freedom of movement
  2. ease of dressing
  3. appropriate dress for the occasion

Although the principles seem simple, the implementation of them is pretty radical. For example, Montessorians do not select dresses for everyday use because they can inhibit a crawling child's movement (since the dress will hang down and is likely to get kneed). They also try to keep the feet and legs as bare as possible to facilitate movement (temperature permitting, of course).

In terms of ease of dressing, the goal is to facilitate the child's ability to dress him/herself as early as possible. The idea is that the more independent children are, the more secure and confident they feel about themselves as individuals. In terms of clothing that helps children dress themselves, the authors recommend pants that have an elastic waist with no buttons or snaps, shirts with wide necks to go over the head easily, pants that do not have tight cuffs at the ankles, and sweaters and coats that have buttons that fit easily into their holes.

I found the third principle--"appropriate dress for the occasion"--to be quite interesting. I guess it means you don't let your child wear a tutu to church, even though you are trying to cultivate their independence and their right to choose. It reminds me of a Montessori principle I learned in my training and implemented nearly every day in the classroom: "freedom with responsibility." In practice, this looks like setting out two appropriate options for the child to choose from.

I found this approach to dressing children to be very practical, yet a bit counter-cultural. I see so many parents who emphasize fashion over function when it comes to dressing their children. The authors ask this very poignant question:

"As a parent, are you seeing your child as a living human being with specific needs or as an object for your pleasure and self-enhancement?"

They go on to say: "It is particularly unfortunate when the child is dressed with so much adornment that we see not so much the child as her outward decoration. The message that we inadvertently send to the child is 'What is important about you is not what is inside of you but what is outside of you.'"

Whoa! What a powerful thought!

All of this reminds me of a lecture I went to by the author of So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids. The author talked about how girls are choosing to dress in sexier and sexier ways at a younger age. It makes me wonder if the drive to dress oneself to attract attention and feel worthwhile stems--in part--from the ways in which we dress our children when they are younger?

And then, on the other hand, I do want Henry to have attractive clothing. I think aesthetics matter. I like beautiful and attractive things in my life.

I guess I should think about it like a decision tree. The first question I ask myself when buying Henry clothing should be: Is it functional? Will this piece of clothing be comfortable to him? Will it facilitate his movement? Will it facilitate his independence with dressing?

If any of those answers are "no," then I should not buy the clothing, no matter how cute it is.

If the answers are "yes" to all of those questions, then I can ask, "Is it aesthetically appealing?" If it's not, then I shouldn't get it either.

In short, I'll shop for function and then fashion.

I put these ideas into practice this past weekend at the Baby GAP. I had a gift certificate that I wanted to spend, and I found the most adorable pair of jeans on the clearance rack. Since Henry won't really need to wear pants until this winter, I wanted to buy a large size. This winter, he will be approximately ten months old, and he will be much more involved in dressing himself. The jeans I wanted to get had a hook closure at the waist that only a grown-up would be able to close. I decided, instead, to opt for a pair of pants with an elastic waist. They aren't as cute as the jeans, but they will help Henry feel more accomplished and independent, which is way more important to me.

Now that I've babbled on and on about clothing, I'm starting to ask myself, "Aren't you wasting a lot of time and energy thinking about something as mundane as clothing?" But my response to myself is that the little things have big implications. How we interact with our children in small ways start to add up to something much larger. In the first six years of his life, Henry is constructing his personality, his sense of self. I want him to feel confident and competent, and if I can help cultivate those feelings by facilitating his ability to dress himself, then the effort is worth it.

(Editor's Note: This post doesn't even attempt to address all the other aspects that go into my clothing purchases: Where was this made? Were workers exploited? Could I buy this used instead to be better for the environment? Is this item budget-friendly? Is this item really needed?)

Oy vey!

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Monday, June 20, 2011

P.S. Thank You for Your Support!

Image courtesy of September Faire on Etsy

I just wanted to take a second (I only have a second because Henry is napping and I need to make some headway on a major project) to thank you for all your support on Friday.

It's scary to take such wide steps toward my audacious goals, after I've been inching along for so many years. I truly appreciated your comments, your e-mails, and the phone call from my dear friend, Marisa.

You all made me feel so much stronger and braver. Mille grazie!

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Book Club: Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

This little book club is almost coming to an end! I'm very glad that I'm revisiting this book at this point in my life. The three habits of interdependence will come in very handy as I work to build a school and community.

The sixth habit--Synergize--will be invaluable as I try to bring people together to participate in the creation of those aforementioned goals. I love the idea that "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." I have to work on incorporating that belief into the very core of my being. I tend to be a very independent person. I have to remember that collaborating with others will produce something greater than I could produce alone.

I should say it again: I have to remember that collaborating with others will produce something greater than I could produce alone.

Oh, how I hope I can truly internalize that concept!

When Covey says that embracing synergy "requires enormous personal security and openness and a spirit of adventure," I realize that working on the first three habits for the past six or seven years has really helped me in those areas (although I definitely still have a long way to go, especially in the area of personal security).

Plus, I still need to move away from dichotomous thinking. My default reaction is usually to see two options, black or white. I'm not particularly creative when it comes to seeing/generating the third option. I've been working on it, though. The last time Matt and I got in a fight, I kept saying, "Let's work toward a Win/Win solution."

These last few habits--the habits of interdependence--really need to sink in. I need to keep them at the forefront of my mind. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Think Win/Win. And synergize.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Rental House in Austin?

Our house, photographed by Ben Becker

Dear Universe,

I'm not one of those hardcore subscribers to the idea of "manifesting," but I figure it can't hurt to put a tiny request out into the world.

You see, my family and I are going to need a rental house in Austin. We could be moving as soon as August 1, if Matt is able to secure a job and we're able to sell our Houston house before then. I met with a realtor who thinks it's highly likely that our house will sell quickly, since there aren't many comparable houses available in our neighborhood right now.

I am so sad to say goodbye to our current house. In fact, I'm hoping we find something similar to it in East Austin. Here's what we're looking for:
  1. 2 or 3 bedroom house; one bathroom is fine (or more is fine, too)
  2. Must allow us to have our dog (70 pounds) and our two chickens (yard must have a high fence)
  3. Lots of natural light (this one is huge for me!)
  4. Wood floors preferred
  5. Central heat and air

Unfortunately, we have two competing goals. First, we need to spend as little as possible, since we need to put as much money as we can toward saving for our land and future home. However, we could very well be in this rental for several years as we work toward that goal, so we need to find a place that is nice and comfortable. We're raising our son in the Montessori way, so we want to create a space that is beautiful, uncluttered, and organized.

I'm so very worried, Universe. My preliminary searches have turned up dingy and depressing rentals that haven't been cared for very well, which makes me even more sad about what we are leaving behind.

I guess the bigger issue is that I'm scared to leave behind our support network, and I'm scared to undertake my two audacious goals. I'm scared to fail.

So I'm a little sad right now. Thanks for listening, Universe.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Holy Moly

Chances are all of you web-savvy internet people have already seen this. I mean, more than a million people have viewed it! But I simply must share it anyway. The video brought tears to my eyes, and I think the idea is simply brilliant.

I registered an e-mail address for Henry's online scrapbook right away. In case you have something you want to share with him, his e-mail address is I'll still keep his tangible scrapbook going, but I think an e-mail scrapbook will be an excellent way for family members to contribute.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Kind of Friend I Want to Be

We recently went to a friend's birthday brunch, and I was surprised by my ability to get my act together and do three things for her:
  1. Wrap her present in a creative and fun way
  2. Make fresh-squeezed orange juice for the brunch
  3. Pack up a dozen eggs from our backyard chickens to give to her

And I showered!

As we were rushing out the door (and I was hurrying to snap a picture for posterity), I thought to myself: This is the kind of friend I want to be.

I want to be the kind of person who gives birthday gifts and wraps them up real pretty. I want to be the kind of person who makes time to squeeze oranges for juice. I want to be the kind of person who can collect wholesome food from her very own backyard.

I'm trying to keep these goals and this lifestyle in mind as I forge ahead on the path to my life dreams. I don't want to get so busy that I lose sight of the small things that will help me be the kind of person I want to be.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Montessori Weaning: Months Two to Four

According to the teacher at the Montessori class Henry and I are taking (who, coincidentally, happens to be the mother in my favorite Montessori documentary of all time), the Montessori weaning process begins at two months. "Weaning" at this stage just means introducing the tiniest bit of food.

Here's an overview of the first couple of months (I'll share the later months when Henry gets to that point):
  • First two months: Exclusively breast feed
  • 3rd month: 2-3 drops per day of sweet, fresh, organic juice on a small spoon to stimulate enzymes and to help the child explore taste and texture. Peaches, pears, carrots, watermelon, apples, and cucumbers are good to start with. The same fruit is used for the entire week. Citrus and berries are not used during this time, due to allergy concerns. Throughout the month, the frequency increases to twice daily.
  • 4th month: The child practices holding something in her/her hand, such as non-wheat bread, rice crackers, or salt-free rice cakes. This is offered when the rest of the family is having a meal. The juice drops continue.

My Montessori teacher has followed this process with all three of her children, and she is convinced that it helped all of them develop broad palates. When I took Henry for his two-month appointment with the pediatrician, I explained the Montessori approach to weaning, and my doctor advised me not to start the juice drops until four months.

Now that Henry is three months, I think I'm going to start. It seems to be a good compromise between the Montessori advice (two months) and the pediatrician's advice (four months).

Since I don't have a whole-fruit juicer, I'm going to use my citrus juicer. That should work well enough to get a couple drops. I need to order child-sized spoons, forks, and plates in preparation for this weaning process. In Montessori, we use real items from the very beginning (e.g., real child-sized glasses instead of "sippy cups.").

I need to purchase a Henry-sized table and chair (which he will start using when he's able to sit independently). I was going to get one from IKEA and chop the legs down to size, but my Montessori teacher explained that it's very important for the first table to be heavy, so it provides stability for the yet-to-be-stable child. There's one available from Michael Olaf, but I think I'll explore my options locally first.

The entire Montessori weaning process takes 10-14 months. My original plan was to breast feed for 12 months, so this approach seems to line up well with my thinking.

I'm excited!

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Home Tour

Created by Ben Becker

I've been wanting to do a virtual tour of our house for a while now (perhaps to help me feel like a bona fide blogger?). However, I never seemed to muster the motivation to do it, probably because I don't feel like our house is finished in terms of decor.

But then I got a request in the comments section of this post from WilderMiss to post a tour of my house. And then I got an e-mail from reader Emily letting me know that she's moving to Houston and would be interested in looking at our house (since we'll be moving to Austin soon).

After Matt and I organized and cleaned our house for Emily's visit, I asked my professional photographer friend, Ben, to snap a few shots for our MLS listing. He was coming over anyway with his wife Sarah and their daughter Ellie Cate to get a mini-lesson about how to do Montessori in the home.

Ben took our little request ("One shot of each room will be great, Ben.") and proceeded to inject it with growth hormones. We ended up with tons of photos and a video to boot!

By the way, what do you all think about trying to sell our home without a realtor? I know they did it over at Young House Love, but I'm still a little intimidated. Still, it would help us save a lot of money. Hmm...

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Thank You Cards

While reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I had the idea that I should write thank-you notes at the end of every day. Don't get me wrong: I won't actually have people to thank every day, but if I intentionally make time for it, then I'll be more likely to write them more often.

To make it easier for myself to actually make thank-you writing a habit, I decided to create a little thank-you card station for myself. Previously, the thank-you cards were kept in the craft side of Henry's closet, in a box that was a little difficult to get to. The stamps were kept in a different place.

I wanted to keep my thank-you writing station simple (I am anti-clutter!), so I tried to find a place that would make the most sense. It occurred to me that I could simply add thank you cards and stamps to the back of our sticky note container. It makes a lot of sense because it's right above the desk where I can sit down to write the cards (I'll always have easy access to a pen from the drawer). Also, by adding everything to an existing container, I didn't create any additional clutter.

Now that I have everything in one place, I think I'll be more likely to make my thank-you writing a daily habit!

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Father's Day Brainstorming


Matt's first Father's Day is coming up. Well, we technically celebrated it last year, too, since I was pregnant at the time. I bought myself some lingerie (as a present to him) to say, "We're still going to have a good relationship, despite the added stress of a baby!"

I'd really like to give him something or to do something that comes from Henry (as much as possible, given the fact that Henry is only three months old). Is there something that I could help Henry make for his dad?

Hmmm...I was recently enamored with all of the colorful images of their daughter that John and Sherry put together over at Young House Love. I wonder if I could put a lot of smiling Henry pictures together to make something for Matt. Like a bumper sticker for his computer or for his water bottle? Perhaps I should search Snapfish to see what kind of photo products they are offering these days...

Ooh! Maybe a photo skin, since he's obsessed with technology. Perhaps I could get him one for his phone. It would have to be the perfect photo in order for him to actually want to use it. Perhaps something of Henry and Hoss--his two sons. I don't even know what kind of phone he has (he just got a new one through work). Let me sneak into the other room and see if I can figure it out...okay, it's an HTC Arrive.

Now to just take the perfect photo of the two H's!

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Home Organization

So I've been wanting to clean and organize our house for a while. I'm the kind of person who feels happier and more comfortable in a clean and organized environment (I actually wish I weren't so sensitive to my environment!). Lots of other things keep getting in the way (like my three-month-old, a lack of motivation, other more urgent deadlines, etc.).

And then I got a request in the comments section of this post from WilderMiss to post a tour of my house. I've been wanting to do it for a while, so her request was a little kick in the pants.

And then I got an e-mail from reader Emily letting me know that she's moving to Houston and would be interested in looking at our house. I let her know that I would be posting pictures soon, but then she responded with the fact that she would be in Houston the following day to look at houses.

So I invited her to stop by our house, and that was a huge kick in the pants to get the place clean and organized. Thank you, Emily!

I feel so, so fortunate that the love of my life, Matt, also happens to be an equal partner. We worked together to get everything put away and cleaned. After we were done, I realized that we simply must, must, must commit to keeping our place picked up and organized as much as possible. I seriously feel so much better.

I've been pondering how to keep one's house picked-up and organized, and I think it comes down to these things:
  1. Purge, purge, purge: Matt, Henry, and I have things that we no longer use. Our shelves are overflowing with books we never reference. Henry's closet is full of clothes he's already outgrown. I think the first step to maintaining an orderly environment is getting rid of stuff. It doesn't make any sense to clean and organize stuff you don't really need/want.
  2. Make purging a habit: It seems to me that purging has to be an ongoing habit. I wonder what's the best way to make it a habit? Is it to keep a constant eye out for things that could be donated or tossed out? I once read about someone who had a specific box that she used to collect things for donation. When the box got full, she donated it. How could that work for us? I seriously don't know where we could store a box. I wonder if Matt would be willing to keep it in his trunk (since he's the one who always takes our donations to the store)? Also, my trunk is already full with Henry's stroller, since we try to reduce baby clutter in our house.
  3. Be intentional about what comes into the house: If we are more intentional about what we buy and bring into the house, then we will be able to spend less time purging it.
  4. Make a place for everything: If everything has a place, then everything can be put away. But making a place for everything is easier said than done! I find that it's particular hard to find a place for phones and computers while they are charging.
  5. Reduce the number of dumping sites: We have three main areas that collect stuff in our house: our dining room table, the other table against the wall in our dining room, and the bench in our bedroom. We leave hats, mail, boxes, laundry--the list goes on and on. Three dumping sites leads to a lot of clutter!
  6. Make it a habit to organize the dumping sites: If something takes three minutes or less to process (e.g., mail, trash pick-up, putting away a hat, etc.), then we should do it right away, no matter how busy we feel. If something will take longer than that, then we should give ourselves permission to organize it later.
  7. Put stuff away at a specified time each day: For our family, it would work best if we would do a final walk through of our house before going to bed each night and pick-up whatever needs to be returned to its place. That way, we could wake up to a clean house.

Of course, changing one's habits is never easy. For me to turn something into a habit, I have to be very clear about what the action looks like, and then I have to have a regular schedule for implementing the action.

So in terms of my next steps, here's what I'm thinking:
  1. Go through our book shelves and purge the books we don't really need.
  2. Ask Matt if he would be willing to keep an ongoing box or bag in his car for donations.
  3. Process Henry's clothes as soon as he outgrows them. I've decided that I'm going to make him a quilt for his first birthday out of my favorite outfits from his first year, so I have a bag in his closet where I can collect them. The other outfits should be put in the donation bag or box right away.
  4. I need to clean out and improve upon our filing system.
  5. I need to process all of our papers that need to be filed.
  6. Do a walk through and pick-up every night. When would be the best time? Perhaps after dinner? Right before bed isn't good for me because Henry will have just gone to sleep, and I don't want to be banging around the house.
  7. I already went through Henry's toys and organized them into two separate categories. There are a couple toys out on his shelf. There are other toys in a basket that I can pull out and rotate onto his shelf every once in a while. Then there are toys in a plastic container that he's not ready for yet. When he's ready for them, I can rotate them into the basket to then be rotated onto the shelf (in a Montessori environment, we limit the number of toys that children can choose from at a given time, in order to keep the level of stimulation just right). I need to be good about keeping this system up.
  8. Lastly, I want to read really good books about home organization. I'm feeling totally inspired and passionate about this topic, especially since we plan to move to Austin in the coming months and we'll be setting up a new home. Do you have any recommendations?

Any experience with Martha Stewart's book?

I was able to order this book from the library.

One final thought: I really need to clean out my e-mail inbox. It currently has 1,344 messages. That will be a good project while breast feeding!

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Book Club: Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

I first started reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in 2004 or 2005. Even though the first few habits revolutionized my life, I never finished the book, which is why I wanted to read it again.

I thought I had only made it through the first three habits, since those are the ones that are deeply ingrained into my being. However, as I continue reading the book for our little book club, I keep seeing my notes in the margins. I figured I had only made it halfway through the last habit, but my notes kept going. And then I thought there was no way I had read this habit: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. But lo and behold, my notes go all the way through that chapter, too.

So then I thought to myself, "Why in the heck don't I remember these latter habits?"

And then it hit me: The first three habits are the ones related to getting mastery over one's self and one's life. They are the keys to independence. The second three habits help one move from independence to interdependence. It occurred to me that I never internalized the last set of habits because I wasn't ready for them back in 2005. I needed to spend six years(!) working on the first three. Now I'm ready to move forward.

Sheesh, personal growth can be such a slow process!

Now onto Habit #5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. I am so, so bad at this! Is it because I was an only child for 15 years and am very self-centered? Is it because I'm an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs personality assessment and I am very quick to collect data and make a judgement? Is it because I have a wounded little girl inside of me (since my father never wanted anything to do with me) and she's always too busy trying to get her need for attention satiated to really seek to understand others?

It's probably a combination of all three (Look! I'm already starting to break my habit of seeing things through a black-and-white lens!).

Regardless of the reason, it's something I desperately need to work on. Stat!

I was fascinated by the idea that we spend years learning how to read and write at school, but we don't learn how to really, really listen to another person. So true! I'm very eager to build this into my school's curriculum. Covey explains that "most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They're either speaking or preparing to speak. They're filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people's lives." (Um, I'm raising my sheepish hand.)

I also love the idea (going back to Covey's claim that real change has to happen from the inside-out) that to really influence another person, you must first understand them.

Once again, I very much appreciated the anecdote illustration of the conversation between the father and the son about how the son doesn't want to go to high school anymore. I liked reading the original version and then the reworked version with "empathetic listening." The idea is to rephrase content and reflect the feeling of what you hear. I need to say that again because I really want to internalize it: To empathetically listen to another person, I need to rephrase the content of what they are saying and reflect the feelings that I think I hear coming through.

I can't wait to work on this habit!

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

New Wallet!

Image courtesy of Komono Art

So a long time ago--like, December of 2009--I read this post over at Superhero Journal. Andrea's quote really resonated with me:
"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."

At the time, I loved my handmade wallet (from a laminated map and a Loteria game from the Dollar Store), but it was definitely not going to draw any abundance into my life, primarily because it was simply so old and breaking down. By that point, it had to have been at least three years old.

Flash forward to May 2011. I still have the same wallet.

Oy vey!

To my credit (pun acknowledged), I did try to rectify the situation by buying an adorable wallet off Etsy. But the wallet never came. And I e-mailed the seller and I e-mailed the seller again. And then I had to file a complaint. And then Etsy had to contact the seller. And then I e-mailed some more. Finally, Etsy had to shut down her site. Yikes!

So I never got a new wallet.

Here I am again, trying to proactively fix my wallet situation. I found another great maker on Etsy. Now I'm just waiting for my new wallet to come. Hooray! I could definitely use a little more financial abundance in my life (12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave is a bit rough), but really I'm looking for a different kind of abundance. A kind of confidence. A kind of professionalism.

I'm excited!

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

June: Reflection & Rejuvenation

Another month has gone by. Whooosh!

Henry and I have been doing well. Thank goodness I formed so many strong friendships with the women from my prenatal yoga class. We all get together for a monthly brunch, and we plan other events throughout the month. Further, I get together with two women and their babies every single Tuesday for a walk, talk, and lunch. I think I might go insane if I were a stay-at-home-mom without that kind of outlet. Honestly, I am not much of a baby person (although I love you dearly, Henry, and you shouldn't take it personally!).

Since Henry was two weeks past his due date and I was able to work right up until the very end (I went to work on Friday and went into labor on Saturday), I only have to go back for the last three days of school. It's going to be very stressful to try and wrap everything up in such a short amount of time. I have to help the third graders put together their portfolios, supervise the children as they clean the entire classroom, get all the materials and shelves wrapped up for summer cleaning, pack all my stuff since I won't be returning next year, facilitate the children as they plan our end-of-year party, and put together all the cumulative folders for the office. Eeek!

Instead of getting stressed about what's coming up, let me start by reflecting on this past month and the intentions I set for myself:
  • Be the best mother and teacher I can be for my son, Henry: I'm doing my best, day in and day out!
  • Maintain consistent posting on my two blogs: Yes!
  • Advertise for the next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy: Yep!
  • Send printed photos to the grandparents, like I promised to do every month for their Christmas presents last year: Yep!
  • Study Spanish for 20 minutes every weekday (I do this while breast feeding): I've been kind of spotty, but I am trying.
  • Attend a Montessori class twice a week with Henry and learn as much as I can: Yep!
  • Plan a fun potluck picnic for the next silent film at Discovery Green: Yep!
  • Plan a reunion for my childbirth class: Check!
  • Pump and store enough breast milk for a night away with Matt (while my bonus mom and bonus brother stay with Henry): I've decided that I don't want to pump. I know, I know, it might seem kind of crazy to commit myself to being by my son every three to four hours for an entire year. But, for me, I would rather make that commitment (with the knowledge that we may have to resort to formula if some kind of emergency arises) than pump. Seriously, I do not like pumping. I feel like I would need to do it regularly, so that it doesn't mess with my milk supply (I am very susceptible to plugged ducts), but I don't need that much milk on reserve, since I am staying at home with my son. I don't want to commit to regularly getting out the pump, getting myself all set up, devoting even more time to having a sucking sensation on my nipples, and then getting everything cleaned up. And since you pretty much have to pump every time the baby is sucking on a bottle, I would rather just cut out all the middle steps and feed my baby from my breast. It means that Matt and I will just have to settle for date nights instead of date getaways for the year. But we're okay with that. Plus, once Henry has an earlier bed time and sleeps longer between feedings, we'll be able to extend our date nights if we want. It will get tricky if I decide to take on some educational consulting work to supplement our income, but I'll just have to get creative and make it work. I would rather do that than pump (but that's just me!--all my friends are fine with pumping).
  • Send birthday cards to my friends/family: Yes!
  • Walk frequently and go to yoga once a week: I went to yoga two weeks in a row and didn't go after that. No good excuses. I just wanted to be at home. At least I've been walking pretty much every day with Henry and Hoss.
  • Finish my book outline!: Oy vey. I am going to start falling seriously behind on my personal schedule for finishing my book if I don't get my act together. However, this goal took a back seat this month, due to the next bullet point.
  • Finish evaluating the charter applications for the state: Yes!
  • Be patient and forgiving with myself: I'm working on it.

In addition to that list, I also consistently read a self-development book (for our little book club). I also took care of some of the house beautification items that were on this list. I put away the birthing ball, got new dishes and glasses from IKEA, replaced two of our dying plants, got a new rug for the living room, used a lot of our gift cards, and asked my friend to store the comfy/cozy chair we're not using. But looking at that lists reminds me that I still have a lot to do!

Here are my intentions for the upcoming month:

  • Be the best mother and teacher I can be for my son, Henry. I have to remember that all the time and energy I put into parenting now is an investment in our future together. Specifically, I want to help Henry learn how to take naps on a bed instead of in a carrier or wrap. I also want to practice asking open-ended questions (e.g., "What did you think about that book?) instead of closed-ended questions (e.g., "Did you like the book?").
  • Maintain consistent posting on my two blogs
  • Actively participate in Purposeful Conception: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy
  • Send printed photos to the grandparents, like I promised to do every month for their Christmas presents last year
  • Study Spanish for 20 minutes every weekday (I do this while breast feeding)
  • Attend a Montessori class with Henry and learn as much as I can
  • Plan a fun potluck picnic for the next silent film at Discovery Green
  • Make a video about implementing Montessori in the home
  • Go on a date with Matt
  • Write the first chapter of my book
  • Travel to Florida with Henry for my brother's graduation
  • Wrap up the end of the school year with my students
  • Read a self-development book and a parenting book
  • Create a new header for my Feeding the Soil blog
  • Declutter our house
  • Plan a fun Father's Day surprise

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