Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Natural Deodorant That Works

As I've written about many times, I've been trying to switch to more natural and healthy personal care products. I've switched to a new shampoo, and I already use a great soap. The main item on my list was moving away from a harsh antiperspirant. Honestly, I'm scared of the aluminum in antiperspirants and the parabens that are in a lot of personal care products. But I've had the hardest time trying to find a deodorant that works for me (I sweat a lot! And I live in Central Texas!). 

I fell in love with this natural deodorant sold on Etsy, but I'm allergic to it (my mom is also allergic to a lot of natural deodorants). The last time we talked about this issue, I was working on a solution. One of my ideas was to make this natural deodorant that was recommended by a blogger I respect immensely. 

But then I dragged my feet for a while. I was on vacation, I had a miscarriage, school started and I was working every weekend (even though it's only a part-time job). I confess that I resorted to using my old antiperspirant. 

And then Matt and I were digging through our pantry and refrigerator, trying to plan our weekly meals around random items we already had (we're on a saving money kick). I noticed that he had purchased coconut oil, which was on the list of ingredients for the natural deodorant. I looked up the list again and realized it only required three ingredients (why was I so daunted by such an easy recipe?). Since we already had baking soda, I only had to by arrowroot. 

Making the deodorant was a thousand times easier than I ever imagined. I even had the perfect container for it. I used one of the little bowls and tops we used for Henry's homemade baby food (purchased from Target). Once again, I felt bad for not putting in the 15 minutes it took to make a major change in my life. 

And you know what? It works! It's not perfect. First of all, there's no pleasant smell at all (and I'm too lazy and cheap to start experimenting with essential oils). Second, there is still some wetness (I told you I sweat a lot). And third, when I wore a tight, dark navy shirt, you could see small specks of baking soda under my arms. 

But still, I feel infinitely better about using it every day. It feels so much healthier and safer. 

I definitely recommend you give it a try (I swear it's super-easy).

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Enter to Win a Dream Do Planning Consultation

During this round of Purposeful Conception, one of the participants was talking about making a career change in order to create more space in her life for pregnancy and parenthood. She mentioned that she might want to start an in-home childcare program, but she finds the idea "completely terrifying." 

My mind flooded with excitement about the possibility of helping her translate this big, audacious goal into smaller, manageable action steps. I think I might really enjoy helping people make their big dreams a reality. 

I decided to create a contest to give away one free Dream Do Project Planning Consultation to see if I'm actually good at this kind of thing before I start charging people for it. 

Do you have a dream that's lying in waiting? Do you want help translating your big goal into a step-by-step plan that is actually achievable? Enter the contest today! 

Here's how it will work:
  1. I will read through all the entries and select one winner.
  2. I will e-mail the winner a Dream Do Project Planning Workbook with reflection exercises to prepare for the consultation.
  3. We will schedule a phone call planning session to co-create your Dream Do Project Plan that will empower you to make your dream a reality. 
Don't delay! Enter today! (Bonus points will be awarded to the folks who enter sooner rather than later...)

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Stroller Recommendation

Hooray! One of my dear friends is pregnant, and I am over-the-moon excited for her. Honestly, I didn't even feel a twinge of sadness about the fact that she is pregnant and I'm not. It's definitely because some time has passed since my miscarriage, but it's also because I'm in such a good place right now. Another Purposeful Conception class just ended, and I've had such a good time connecting with kindreds and generating next steps for myself. As I've already mentioned recently (but want to mention again because I'm so proud of myself!), I've lost four pounds via Weight Watchers and have been running three days a week (and walking a fourth). I've been doing a good yoga stretch before bed each night, and I have a list of things to take care of before we try to conceive again. 

My dear friend asked me some logistical questions (she's a fellow planner), and I wanted to answer them here in case they are helpful to anyone else:

Would you recommend the Bob? And did you have a secondary stroller at all or just get by with the one?

Matt's parents immediately offered to buy us a high-quality stroller as a Happy Baby gift, so we requested the stroller that had been recommend to us over and over: The BOB Revolution. They also got us the bar that helps it hold an infant car seat before the child turns six months, the rain cover, and the canvass console that can hold cups, keys, etc. (I know; they are extremely generous!)

We decided not to get another stroller because a) we lived in a 1,000 square-foot bungalow and didn't want to store it 2) didn't want to be overwhelmed with "stuff." I read Kristina's post about strollers and figured that the BOB would be sufficient. I also thought that if we needed another stroller, it would probably be one of those cheapy umbrella ones. I figured that if we needed one down the line, it would be easy to order it via Amazon and get it in two days (P.S. If you buy a lot of baby products on Amazon, you can qualify for free Prime through Amazon Mom). 

I have loved, loved, loved the BOB and have not regretted having only one stroller. I mainly use the stroller for walks on gravel trails, so the BOB has been perfect. It's comfortable for Henry, it has great shocks, the handle bar falls at the perfect height for me, etc. I have also used it other places, such as at the Farmers' Market. 

However, I have to confess that Matt and I are not big shoppers. If we liked to go antique shopping every weekend or spent a lot of time at the mall, then we might need a smaller, more maneuverable stroller. For us, we mainly used the Moby Wrap and the Ergo carrier in those environments (including the grocery store until Henry was big enough to sit in the cart). Now if we go somewhere like that, we let Henry walk. So for us, a second stroller was never necessary. 

I definitely suggest that you go through your day-to-day life and normal weekend activities and think about when you might want to use a stroller. Each family has to figure out what works for them. I usually tried to err on the side of less and then add more if necessary.

I actually think the newborn stage goes by really fast and that we should not just build our baby registries with only that stage in mind. As a general tip, I recommend requesting registry stuff to get you through the first year of life (or at least until Christmas, if you celebrate it). Some big ticket items I recommend for the first year are the BOB stroller, Tripp Trapp high chair, wooden walker wagon, weaning table and chair, and floor bed crib mattress. At Henry's one year mark, we asked for the Learning Tower.

But take or leave my advice! Only you and your family can know what will work for you. Matt and I used a folded towel on the bathroom counter as a "changing table" for Henry (still do), and we never had a swing or even a rocker/glider in the nursery. Have the courage to forge your own path!

Wishing you the very best!

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Monday, August 27, 2012

In the News: Kids in the Kitchen

Hey friends! Check it out! Kids in the Kitchen: Simple Recipes That Build Independence and Confidence the Montessori Way was reviewed by Courtney on blogcritics and republished on her personal site. I love this quote:
This is a very thoughtful and well-planned book that provides a clear path to help your child achieve independence in the kitchen with confidence. I've seen in my own son the desire to be helpful and the pride he has when he's allowed to do these tasks for himself. I found Cotner and D'Alton's suggestions useful and easy-to-implement and they've inspired me to take the time to allow my son to help more in the kitchen.
 Also, a new review was added on Amazon
I just got my copy today, and I've already read all the background and made one of the recipes with my 5 year old. She loved it! She loves to help in the kitchen anyway, but she was super excited about the book. The pictures make it really attractive and easy to follow. She had fun picking a recipe and the step-by-step guide - with pictures - was super. I found the instruction to be helpful and pointed. Thanks for a great book! 
If you haven't ordered a copy yet, you can snag one here. All proceeds go toward creating free public Montessori schools in diverse communities nationwide. Or if you've received a copy and want to write a review about it, we would be grateful! 

I'm clearing our more space in our kitchen cabinets for Henry. We have one cabinet for him right now. I want to set up an area for cleaning supplies, as well as his dishes so he can start setting the table. He's been getting better and better at pouring with his pitcher (see video above). We're careful to only fill it with as much water as we're comfortable being spilled on the table. When that happens, we look at it as a lesson in cleaning up spills rather than pouring.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

How a High Chair Builds Independence

Getting Up
And Down
I know I talk a lot about cultivating independence in children (perhaps too much?). And it's funny. Before learning about Montessori, I wouldn't have been one to tout independence as a core value for which to strive (except maybe when I was majorly obsessed with the philosopher Ayn Rand when I was in high school). 

According to my understanding of Montessori philosophy, independence isn't the end goal; it's just the vehicle that drives the child's formation of self. 

In the earliest years of life, Henry is forming his understanding of the world, but he is also building the core of his personality. I want him to have a strong sense of self. I don't want that confidence to stem from being dependent on others for praise. I don't want him to feel good because I tell him he's a good person. I want him to have the experience of self-pride--pride that comes from independently interacting with the environment in order to accomplish his own outcomes. 

When Henry interacts with his environment on a daily basis and does things for himself, he is getting concrete experience that reinforces the following ideas: "I can make things happen for myself. I can trust myself. I can trust my experience in the world."

Trying to create and maintain an environment that helps promote independence and confidence is one of our main focuses (is that a word?) as parents. We've taught Henry how to use the key fab to lock and unlock the car. He knows how to feed the dog all by himself. He picks out his clothes in the morning. He helps make breakfast, etc.

We've also been teaching him to climb into his own high chair. The Tripp Trapp is often recommended for parents who are trying to cultivate independence because children can climb into it and out of it from a very young age. It's expensive, but it converts into a chair that can even be used by adults, so it will be around for a long time. Henry has been able to climb into it for a while now; we recently started teaching him how to get down (I won't lie; it makes me nervous!). When I read on Kylie's blog that she removed the harness for Otis (who is one month younger than Henry), I was inspired to do the same. 

Henry and I got out the tools and took everything apart so we could remove the straps. Now it's just a chair. A chair for a 17 month old. A chair that allows him to climb up and down to join the family at dinner time. 

I like Stephen Covey's explanation of independence. He said that independence was one level higher than dependence but a bridge to interdependence. I love that idea. Feeling good about himself will help Henry better interact with others. 

I'm crossing my fingers! This parenting thing is just a big scientific experiment with no control group and a sample size of one. We're just trying to figure it out as we go along--seeking inspiration and ideas from others--and making sure that we parent in a way that feels good to us and makes us feel proud. I'm thinking that's the best we can do.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Post-Miscarriage Reflection

It's been more than a month since my miscarriage, and I'm honestly feeling a lot better about it. Do you want to know what lifted my spirits the most? (Hint, it wasn't any of the "positives" I tried to identify in the midst of the experience.). It was projecting myself into the future, thinking about our family of four (or seven if you include our bloodhound and chickens), looking at my second child and thinking, "I'm so glad you're here. I can't imagine anyone but you for my second child." 

I know people think about miscarriage and conception in different ways, but for me it's a very scientific thing. I lost a very particular child. That child was a very specific combination of a very specific egg and a very specific sperm that are no longer in existence. I will never have the privilege of knowing that child (which still makes me sad when I stop to think about it), but I am hopeful that we will bring together another egg and another sperm that will form a child I will be able to hold and nurture--a child who would never have existed if I had not had a miscarriage. 

We all think about these things differently. That's just how I think about it, and it helps me get through it.

Honestly, this is the first time in two years that I have had my body back. I was pregnant for nine months with Henry, breastfed him for 14, and was then pregnant for two months. That's more than two years of sharing my body in order to sustain another life. 

It feels good to focus on me (even though I'm focusing on me by getting my body ready for conception again). I've been running three times a week and walking on the fourth day. I've lost four pounds and am closer to my pre-pregnancy weight. I'm feeling really good.

If I felt like I could, I would probably stretch out this time a little more. It's like the time between getting married and having your first baby. It's relaxing and fun. Henry gets more and more personality every day, and it's fun to experience the world through his curiosity.

But when I sit down to map it out, I can't help but feel like we need to hurry up if I want to honor my various priorities. Those priorities include:
  1. I want to open a school in the fall of 2014. I have wanted to open a school for almost a decade, so I don't really want to put off this goal any more. Further, putting off this goal would mean that we would have to fork over another $11,000 for Henry to attend private school (we're already forking over $22,000 for two years). I'm eager to open a public Montessori school for the children of Austin (and my own child).
  2. I want to have as much time as possible with our new infant before starting a school. 
I'm already brainstorming all sorts of scenarios (i.e., working part-time to open the school while our young infant naps), but the signs still all say, "Hurry up."

Of course that's not a healthy place to be when you're trying to be as stress-free as possible in order to promote conception, but it is what it is. I chose not to get married until I was 30 and chose to have a couple years of just Matt and me before we expanded our family. So now it's crunch time. I'm turning 35 in February which means statistically increased difficulty with conception and a drastic spike in risk for chromosomal abnormalities (although my mom did had my brother when she was 38).

Also, I'm still wary about the risk of miscarriage. While I was pregnant, I personally met up with six different friends who were all pregnant within a month of me. Out of the seven of us, three of us had miscarriages. That's 43%.

Although there's nothing you can do to prevent a miscarriage, I am doing as much as possible to ensure a healthy environment for conception. I still need to go the doctor to get my hormone levels checked to make sure they are all in the right range. I also want to take care of some dental work before I get pregnant again.

Overall, I'm staying focused on the things that are within my control.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hanging My Head in Shame

 Okay, that title is a bit melodramatic, but I am seriously embarrassed to admit how much money we have been wasting on car insurance. No, this is not a paid, sponsored post. This is me finally getting around to something that has been on my to-do list for ages: finding cheaper car insurance.

Years ago, I was with GEICO and loved them. They saw me through a stolen car and an accident that left my car and me in a ditch (in the middle of the night in rural Louisiana to be rescued by volunteer firefighters). 

When we bought our house in 2008, Matt found us new insurance with Nationwide that would combine our house and cars for a discounted rate. We also got good service from Nationwide (they saw us through two stolen cars--seriously*).

But when we sold our house in January, I knew that we were paying too much for just car insurance from Nationwide. I had it on my to-do list to look into new insurance. I asked around and got some recommendations but never made the call. Then I shifted the action item over to Matt and asked him to call. He never got around to it either. 

Finally, finally, I took 15 minutes to call GEICO. We had been paying $560 for Matt's car and $652 for my car (every six months). GEICO quoted me $406 for six months. Combined. Seriously, that's our total for both Matt and me. We will be saving $1,654 a year (which means that we wasted more than $800 by not switching our insurance when we sold our house). 

Oh, the embarrassment! 

But that's what blogging is for, right? To share the good and the bad?

I immediately went to our monthly budget tracking sheet (it's set up like this one with numbers populated) and changed our monthly insurance rate from $200 to $70. I added a $100 back into our grocery budget (I really like all the organic food we can buy at Whole Foods). I'm going to set up an automatic transfer so the remaining money goes straight into savings and can't be spent. 

It's frustrating when procrastination prevents me from doing 15 minutes of work that significantly impacts my life. I talked about it here in this post about shifting around the top of a bookcase that had been bothering me. Sheesh!

But instead of spiraling into self-flagellation, I need to be more proactive. What else in my life requires 15 minutes of attention to make a huge impact? Hmm...probably each of the home organization projects listed on my whiteboard (referenced in my monthly goals post).

And how else can I save more money? Cell phone bill? 

Onwards and upwards!

* I promise that we always lock our cars (mine even has an alarm), but I guess we tend to park in high-crime areas.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Trying to Save More Money

Matt and I are in the final stretch of finalizing our house design and the construction budget. With a construction loan, we will have to pay a down payment + closing costs on the total cost of the house. Then, at the end of construction, we will have to pay closing costs again to covert the construction loan into a 30-year fixed loan. 

We haven't yet filled out the bank paperwork to see what we can qualify for. I'm terrified that we won't have enough money. I'm so eager to get settled and to take advantage of the amazingly low interest rates right now, but it's not the best time for us since I'm only working part-time. 

If we can get through the initial chunk of change required for the down payment + closing costs, then we need to work really hard to save money for the rest of the construction process. We're going to need money for the final closing costs + we'll need to pay midwife costs if I'm able to get pregnant again + we'll need money to cover my maternity leave when we drop back down to one income. 

I feel like we've been in save-save-save mode ever since Henry was born and we dropped down to one income. It's a hard place to be. I hate scrutinizing every single purchase, but I know it will be worth it in the long-term. I'm eager to get through this final saving stretch. I estimate that I will have a full-time income again in April 2014, if all goes well with my school. Shoot; that's still 1.5 years away! 

Oh, well. In the meantime, we really need to focus on living on Matt's full-time income and banking my part-time income. To get us back on track, I returned to our list of budget categories and made sure they were updated. We've recently started subscribing to Netflix again. Also, since we purchased a 1/2-acre of land, we have to pay a small mortgage payment every month. With those two additions, we were spending more than Matt was bringing in. I adjusted our allowance for groceries to account for the difference. Now the numbers match up; we can technically live within one income. 

I added up all the things we purchase with our credit card (groceries, entertainment, eating out, etc.) and came up with our total allowance for the month. I entered that number into an app on my phone called Spend Free. When we're out and we spend money, I simply subtract it from the total in that app. When we get to the end of the month and start to run out of money, it forces us to be even more conscious with our spending (such as not shopping at Whole Foods).

I know I've written a handful of posts about this process because we start doing it for a while, it works really well, and then we drop the habit because it's just not fun to live within a strict budget.

But here we are again. It's time to really prioritize saving and make it through this particular stretch in our lives. It will be so worth it once we get to the other side. We'll have a home in which we want to raise our family, we'll have a mortgage that we can afford even if we're living on one income, and we'll be up to two incomes again (so we can save more for retirement and trips and a swimming pool). 

A participant in the current round of Purposeful Conception recommended the book Start Late, Finish Rich. I got it from the library (free!) and have read the first chapter. The first chapter is about identifying the little ways in which we waste money (called the "Latte Factor" after the habit of daily trips to Starbucks). Those little bits of spending every day can add up to quite a bit over a week, month, and year, especially if you take that money and invest it in a retirement account where it will accrue compound interest. 

The book seems a little outdated (I'm not sure the stock market is doing as well as his projections from more than seven years ago), but I'm definitely getting something out of it. It's already inspired me to track every purchase with Spend Free, which will keep us very conscious.

As tedious as it is to track all of our spending when we're out, it's also a very empowering process. It helps me feel like our finances are within our control. We're choosing what we want to prioritize as a family right now and taking concrete steps toward our goals. 

I hope we stick with it this time!

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Reflection & Rejuvenation: August

Oops! It's been quite a while since I set aside time to reflect on the previous month and set goals for the upcoming month. When I last did it in June, I thought I was still pregnant. I set intentionally light goals for myself to honor my body's needs during the first trimester. At the beginning of July, I realized I was having a miscarriage. I was too busy dealing with the current moment to reflect on the past or set intentions for July. When August started, I was so, so busy with the start of school. 

So, mid-August, here I am! 

What do I want to accomplish this month? Let me look back at my yearly goals to get ideas:
  • Plan a pop-up dinner party for September
  • Start working on Henry's Halloween costume
  • Get our rental house organized once and for all (this gigantic goal is broken down into smaller goals on the whiteboard in our kitchen)
  • Ask our landlord to fix the three broken things in our house
  • Get Henry three cheap little stools for around the house (one in the bathroom to sit and take his underpants off, one in his bedroom to aid in dressing, and one by the front door for getting shoes on and off)
  • Submit the construction budget to the bank so we can see what kind of loan we qualify for and they can do the appraisal to see if we can build what we want to build in our neighborhood
  • Run at least three times a week
  • Do a sun salutation every night before bed
  • Go to the ob/gyn for a yearly exam and pre-conception visit
  • Go to the dentist
  • Read this book about personal finance
  • Track my points every day via Weight Watchers
Okay, I need to stop there. I feel my intentions starting to spiral out of control. Eek! 

Photo Courtesy of the Nikki McClure Calendar

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How and Why I Took an Extended Maternity Leave

Last week, M.S. left a comment on this post that said: "I'd love to know more about how you and your husband budgeted the amount of money you would need to save to transition into a family and work less than full-time for a while after Henry was born. There is surprisingly little information out there for couples on this topic."

For as long as I can remember, I knew that I either wanted my partner or me to stay home with our child in the early years. It just seemed like it would be natural and healthy for their development. At one point several years ago, Matt said he might want to be the person who stayed home. 

When it actually came time to welcome Henry into our lives, it made the most sense for me to stay home. I was finishing up my time as a Montessori teacher, and I was gearing up to follow my big dream of starting a national network of high-performing, authentic, dual-language, public Montessori schools in diverse communities nationwide. Matt was working as the Director of Knowledge Management for KIPP Houston. KIPP is a national network of college-prep schools for economically-disadvantaged children. He was/is happy with his job and wanted to continue with it full-time. 

When Matt and I were preparing for conception, we started a separate savings account called "Lima Bean". I set up an automatic transfer every month, and I also contributed extra money whenever we had it. Further, I started an account called "The Dream." (I use INGDirect, and it's really easy to set up sub-accounts). I put all of the money I earned from separate projects into that account (e.g., revenue from Purposeful Conception, my book advance, educational consulting, etc.). 

When Henry arrived at the end of February, I took three months of unpaid maternity leave under FMLA (the Family Medical Leave Act). At the end of those three months, I went back to work for the last three days of school. Then it was my summer vacation. The school district took a huge chunk of my summer pay (to cover other stuff that's not entirely clear to me), but I did get a little pay over the summer. Then we started living entirely on Matt's salary. Matt makes a decent amount, but he works for a non-profit organization, so what we consider to be "decent" is significantly less than our Houston friends who work in oil. I explain how we live within a budget here.

In order to make it work, we had to stop contributing to our retirement account (I know, I know, it's a terrible thing to do but we didn't have much choice). We also stopped contributing to all our other savings accounts (Vacation, Future Cars, etc.). We also cut our personal allowance from $70 to $35 each per month. 

The initial plan was for me to stay home with Henry for the first three years of his life and to set up some kind of co-op system where I traded babysitting with friends in order to carve out time to work on my school. However, when I learned that Montessori recommends that children enter a community around the one-year mark, we changed our plans and decided to enroll him in part-time care at that point. It coincided perfectly with my growing itch to get out of the house and back into the working world. In April (when Henry was 14 months), I started working part-time. Matt took Henry to daycare in the morning, and I picked him up at 12:15. He slept from 2-4pm every day, so I would work on starting my school then (as well as on Friday mornings when Henry was at school and I didn't have to work). 

In the beginning of my maternity leave, we had trouble living off Matt's income, and we had to dip into "The Dream" savings account. Then, Matt got a slight raise, and it was easier to live within one income again. 

In January, we sold our house for $20,000 more than we purchased it for. We sold it ourselves, in order to save the $7,000 realtor fee. That was a huge boon. We were able to start paying for Henry's part-time daycare ($675 a month) and pay for a year of private Montessori school (which starts this August and will replace his daycare) for $10,900.

Now that I'm back at work part-time, it's much easier to make ends meet. Our financial stress right now comes from the fact that we bought a 1/2 acre of land (in the cheapest part of Austin) and are trying to build a house while interest rates are at an amazing low. We're also gearing up to try and conceive again, so we have to think how I can stay home with another baby and still make ends meet.

Every family has to figure out what works for them and what they can afford. Our situation has been absolutely perfect for us. That's not to say that it hasn't been stressful and difficult (honestly, I'm much happier working than I am staying home with an infant), but it's been just right for our family. I feel like Henry has benefited so much from having a family member as a primary care giver at home with him for an entire year, and I feel like he continues to benefit from spending half a day in daycare and half a day with me. 

Matt and I have had plenty of fights (er, difficult conversations) about how hard it is to live so frugally. He gets frustrated that we can't be as generous with our friends as he would like, and we both get frustrated that we can't go on extravagant vacations. Honestly, we try not to even get new towels. I try to keep us both focused on the fact that this is a very short chapter in our lives. If everything goes according to plan, I will be working full-time again by January 2014, and we will be in a mortgage that costs just slightly more than our rent right now. 

For those of you who are thinking through this kind of stuff, too, my advice is this:
  • Start with the End in Mind: What is your ideal situation? Whom do you want to stay home with your child? For how long? What's the right balance between what your child needs and what you need? What can you make work?
  • Do the Math: Once you know what the ideal is, put a pencil to paper and start playing with the numbers. How much do you need to get by every month? Enter the numbers into a budget tracking tool, compare your expenses to your income, and see what the discrepancy is. 
  • Stick to the Plan: Once you have a plan that will help you get to your end goal, you have to stick to it (even when it's hard and your towels are eight years old).
Each of us can shape our lives into what we want it to be. We can even move to Paris if we want to! (As I write those words of encouragement, I recognize that they are coming from a very privileged place. Honestly, not everyone has the ability to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and carve out the exact life they want--that's why I devote my life to education. I want to help all people have choice and access in their lives.). 

But don't let the usual culprits hold you back from living the life you imagine. It's so easy to let fear scare us into following the trodden path.

If you want something for yourself, envision it, backwards plan the smaller steps that align with the end goal, and make it happen! 

And then be prepared to make adjustments along the way if you realize what you thought you wanted was slightly different from what you actually wanted.

Now, please share links to other places that talk about the difficult issues of staying home and budgeting for maternity leave. I'd love to read more!

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Toddlers in the Kitchen

My schedule is about to undergo an exciting shift. Instead of working four days a week from 8am-12:15pm (with the remaining hours in the evenings at home), I'm going to work three days a week from 6am-12pm (with the remaining hours in the evenings at home). Of course 6am is not a particularly desirable time to get to work (I have to get up at 5:15am), but getting off at 12 and having two free days is amazing. 

The shift started this past week. I was off Wednesday and Friday. Normally, Matt gets Henry up, helps him get ready, and takes him to daycare. But since he had to travel to Houston on Wednesday, I was responsible. Henry and I were able to take our time, since he didn't have to be to school by a particular time. 

Matt typically feeds him whole-milk plain yogurt with frozen blueberries mixed in (plus a multivitamin), but on Wednesday we had time to make a smoothie. Henry scooped the yogurt into the blender, poured in the orange juice (I poured it into a tiny pitcher first), and put in the spinach. I had to put in the frozen berries and half a banana because Henry would have gobbled them up right away. Then Henry pushed the button. He loved drinking his smoothie out of the blender cup. 

Our child-sized utensils from Montessori Services arrived, so Henry now has a whisk for beating eggs and mixing pancake batter (we cooked pancakes around an electric griddle as a family on Saturday, using this recipe). It's been so amazing to watch him develop his coordination, confidence, and critical thinking just by helping around the house.

Also, his new electric toothbrush arrived. It says it's for 2-7 year olds, but we figured it would be okay to start with a 17 month old. Henry hates brushing his teeth. I went to a Montessori parenting class, and the instructor said not to force the toothbrushing but to instead model it for Henry. Personally, getting Henry's teeth brushed well is a non-negotiable for me. I had eight cavities before I lost all my baby teeth; I don't want him to face the same fate. Fortunately, he loves, loves, loves his new vibrating toothbrush. He even requests to brush his teeth outside the normal times. So sweet! He's growing so much.

If you want more ideas about how to cook with young children, check out our book Kids in the Kitchen: Simple Recipes That Build Independence and Confidence the Montessori Way.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Making Friends as an Adult

 Since moving to Austin more than six months ago, I've put forth a concerted effort to make new friends. Although I was eager to move to Austin to work on my big dream of starting Austin's first public Montessori school, I was simultaneously devastated to leave behind the dear friendships I had cultivated over the years. 

While I'm trying to maintain those friendships, I'm also trying to make new friends. Spending time with friends is an important part of life for me. I want to host dinner parties and play board games and have picnics and go out for sushi have people over to swim (when we can afford to build a swimming pool). 

When Kelsey wrote about the book MWF Seeks BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend, I immediately ordered it from the library. The title describes my predicament exactly! I feel like I've been going on a lot of friend dates in search of some new close friends who live nearby.

Making friends as an adult is hard. It was easy in college and in Teach For America because everyone is thrust into a new and uncomfortable situation at the same time. It's easy to connect. It's much harder now that I'm a grown-up. And it's even harder now that I'm a mother! 

Yes, it's easier to strike up conversations with strangers now that I have a little guy by my side. I have quickly become the master of making the first move at the park. My pick up line is, "How old is your son/daughter?" We've had a couple over to our house that I picked up at the park, and I'm Facebook friends with another mother that I met at the pool. But it's hard to find friendships that stick now that I'm a mother because the threshold for compatibility has increased. 

Before I was a mother, I was looking for someone who liked to have analytical conversations, liked to do crafts, and enjoyed dinner parties and board games. Now that I'm a mother, I'm also looking for someone who tries to cultivate independence in their children, doesn't feel compelled to always chase their children around, and can set and adhere to boundaries and consequences. It's a whole different ball game. 

I've even gone to quite desperate measures in my search, such as e-mailing a blogger and inviting myself over to her house. Yes, I did exactly that, and yes, it was super lovely. Nichole made me pizza and sun tea and gave me a tour of her exquisitely decorated bungalow. I had the best time watching our little ones play together (Henry climbed onto a bike, and B pulled him around the driveway because his feet couldn't reach the pedals). It was amazingly sweet.

In the book I mentioned above, the author cites research about friendship. She explained that psychologists have described four major types of friendships and also recommend a certain number in each group:
  1. Acquaintance (10-100): Someone you'd cat with on the street or at a local cafe
  2. Casual Friend (10-50): A "grab lunch" pal who often serves a specific purpose, such as a tennis or running partner
  3. Close Friend (5-12): An intimate, trustworthy comrade you can say anything to
  4. Lifer (3-5): Someone who is as deep and forever as family
When I explained this list to Matt, he started to get worried that he didn't have enough friends either. He recommended that we make a list on our whiteboard (sometimes he's as dorky as I am). The list made me realize that I do have several people in the "Casual Friend" category who might move up to "Close Friend" if I invest more time in seeing them. I also realized that I have a "Close Friend" in Houston that I need to maintain contact with so she can become a "Lifer." 

At the start of each week, when I sit down to plan out my time, I'm going to make a concerted effort to make plans with friends. Also, when I sit down to set my monthly goals, I'll make sure I intentionally carve out time to make new friends.

Today on 2000 Dollar Wedding: More planning for the pop-up dinner party!

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Take a Personality Quiz

I am a big fan of personality assessments, like the Myers-Briggs and Strengths Finder. They help me articulate my strengths and areas for growth, and they remind me that my friends, colleagues, family members, and neighbors all have different ways of processing experiences, communicating, relating, etc.

I came across a new one called Equilibria. It's free and takes about 15 minutes. At the end, you get a three-word phrase that is supposed to sum you up. Here's mine:

The Doing Thinker

I actually think that description is surprisingly accurate! As for the rest of the description, I felt like some of it was spot on and some of it was off. 

If you care to read it, I've pasted it below. If you take the assessment, let me know what you are!


I am a pioneer by nature who can become bored with day to day routines. My goals and standards are generally more rigorous than those of other E-Colors. I seek and demand perfection of myself and thus tend to be critical.

I prefer to work on my own as this gives me control. I am task oriented and have a need to analyze situations until I fully understand them.

I do my best to make sure my work is perfect and get frustrated when people criticize my efforts. I find it difficult to understand YELLOWS as they spend a lot of their time talking, which I consider to be non-productive.

My tendencies include:
  • I like performing to my own standard and strive to achieve the unusual
  • I often fear I will not meet the high standards I set for myself
  • I am not good at expressing my innermost thoughts and feelings
  • I often become demanding and even more detached under pressure
My Potential Limiters:
With tasks: My very high expectations mean I often end up being too hard on myself. This can be self-defeating, as I spend too much time thinking negatively. I would benefit by developing elaborative problem solving and people management skills.
With people: I am very task oriented and focused that I can appear to be aloof or calculating. I need to show more genuine warmth and interest in other people's problems.
  • I should be more realistic in what I expect of myself and others
  • It would be to my advantage to take training or mentoring courses on how to enlist the creative potential and untapped talents of others
  • I should minimize my tendency to be aloof and guarded. This can include simple gestures such as smiling, asking others how they feel about things and giving honest and timely feedback
Today on 2000 Dollar Wedding: I'm planning a pop-up dinner party!

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Revamping My Organizational System

Friends! I'm okay. Thank you for your messages of concern. It's only been four days without posts!

Life has been quite hectic around here:
  1. Two-week vacation at the in-laws house while having a miscarriage.
  2. Matt was out of town for 1.5 weeks. 
  3. My part-time job ballooned into a 200% time job, as we busted our butts to get ready for the first day of school. I was working full days, as well as Saturdays and Sundays. 
  4. We traveled back to Indiana for Matt's cousin's wedding.
  5. Henry has swim lessons every day for 10 minutes. The pool is about 20 minutes in the opposite direction of everything else. We've been in the car a lot.
So, blogging has taken a back seat, as well as a whole bunch of other things (like working with the architects to build our house, eating healthy meals, crafting, etc.).

All of this craziness has forced me to revamp my organizational system AGAIN. I know. It's a bit crazy how frequently I have to update my system. But my needs have changed drastically. My system for maternity leave was great for a while, but now that I have a torrent of to-do's every day, I needed something that could handle more capacity. Even my weekly template wasn't cutting it.

I went back to my friend's book to flip through some samples. I was inspired to create this template. I now clip it on a clipboard (no time to open binders!). It helps when I'm running all around school and get bombarded with requests. I have to write them down in the moment, or else they risk being lost forever.

I feel okay with the fact that I've had to change my system so many times within such a short span of time. Our organizational systems are only effective if they meet our needs. If our needs change, our systems have to change, too. 

I'm still going to play with my system a bit more, but this current one is a good stop gap. It helps me feel a little less stressed and a little more on top of things when the you-know-what hits the fan, but I know it could be better in terms of helping me prioritize.

I hope all is well with you!

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Halloween Update

 From Etsy

After pondering the grape idea for several days (thank you for your suggestions!), I realized that I should probably factor in comfort a little more for little Henry's Halloween costume. Knowing my little boy, I don't think he'll be comfortable with little spheres sticking out all over him (he likes to sit down to eat--frequently). 

I went back to thinking about his favorite things. Food is at the top. Behind grapes, he loves strawberries. A quick google search produced several adorable images:

From Etsy

From Pinterest

I think the last picture might be my favorite. I love the way the strawberry shape is maintained.

At this point, I think a trip to the fabric store is in order!

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