Thursday, September 27, 2012

Our Son Eats Sushi

This is another one of those posts that I hesitate to write. We are so, so happy with the eater Henry has become (he eats things like vegetarian sushi and seaweed salad with us!). I want to share our general approach and strategies, but I have no way of knowing if there's a causal relationship between our strategies and the current outcome or if it's merely a correlation. 

That's what happens when your science experiment (er, parenting) only has a sample size of one. 

Regardless, I want to record our approach in this space because I want to adhere to it if we're lucky enough to have a second child. So here it goes:
  • We watched closely for indications that Henry was interested in food. Around three months, he started watching our mouths when we ate.
  • We waited until the four-month mark to introduce any foods to him because we were worried about allergies and what not (especially because he had a dairy allergy early on). 
  • At the four-month mark, we started feeding him homemade baby food. We fed him lots of different fruits and vegetables, not just bland rice cereal. We fed him homemade baby food rather than food in jars because the homemade stuff was chunkier and had more texture. I think it helped him make the transition to real food faster.
  • Somewhere around the eighth month, we started making dinners that all of us could eat. We started by using this cookbook and then we quickly made the switch to feeding Henry our regular foods. We established the idea that we all eat the same thing early on. 
  • Because Henry started eating real food very early on, we never got into the habit of making him a separate meal. He never eats mac-and-cheese, while we eat something more grown-up. We always serve him exactly the same thing we're having (which is in line with the philosophy in Bringing Up Bebe). 
  • We adhere to the philosophy that we control the what, where and when of eating, but he gets to decide whether to eat and how much. When we first took Henry to sushi restaurants, he would only eat the edamame. We were fine with that. Honestly, he probably left a little hungry, but he quickly learned that whatever we served for dinner was his only option. Now he eats the sushi, seaweed salad, and the edamame.
  • We don't let Henry snack all day. Henry has a morning snack and an afternoon snack, but other than that, we don't let him graze. For example, we don't give him food to keep him occupied in the car or stroller.
  • We don't let him drink juice. To me, it's much healthier to eat fruit instead of drinking juice (the whole fruit has more fiber). I worry that juice is bad for the teeth and creates a sweet tooth. Henry primarily drinks water and milk (we occasionally let him drink orange juice because we don't want him to feel deprived and then go crazy later).
  • We let Henry eat sweets in moderation for the same reason touched on above. If we never let him eat sugar, then he's going to be a fiend whenever he goes over to a friend's house. Instead, we try to teach him (through modeling!) that sweets should be eaten in moderation.
Of course he's only a year and a half. His eating habits have lots of time to change as he gets deeper and deeper into toddlerhood. 

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Flipping a House?

Last week, I mentioned that one of my long-term financial goals is to get into real estate as a hobby and a secondary source of income (since I'll always work primarily in non-profit as my day job). I also mentioned that Matt had no interest in saving up our money for such an endeavor, and it seemed very, very far away since we have about a trillion other things that we need to save for first (the house we're building, a pool, an orchard, raised garden beds, a couch, a washer/dryer--the list goes on and on). 

But then someone I know (hereto referred to as My Potential Business Partner) read that post and  mentioned that they, too, have an interest in real estate. Not only does this person have an interest in real estate, they also have capital to put into such a project! We quickly brainstormed how they could put in the capital and I could put in the work. Then we could divide the profits in a way that makes sense. 

And in some bizarre way, I am over-the-moon excited about this proposition. It's bizarre because all of my interests up until this point have been distinctly non-corporate. I value community and family and wholesome food and the handmade and eco-friendliness. I've worked in non-profit my entire life (even my first job as a 16 year old was at a museum and then I taught swim lessons at the YMCA). 

But there's something incredibly exciting to me about this project--buying a house, renovating it, reselling it, and hopefully making a little profit. I know a reader already cautioned me against the negative effects of gentrification. That's definitely happening on the east side of Austin. And I know that flipping one house on the east side does impact gentrification. I'm not making any excuses about that. But I will say that a lot of young families are looking for affordable housing near the center of town, since they have been priced out of Central Austin. Since we would be flipping a house in the neighborhood where Matt and I are moving, we would essentially be creating a home for a new neighbor. 

Matt and I moved into a flipped house in Houston, and we were extremely thankful to be able to move into a historic home that had been completely updated (without having to do any of the renovations ourselves while also trying to make it a home). 

I'm excited about this idea because 1) this kind of project sounds so stimulating and exciting. I would have to do so much research and learn so many new things in order to pull it off. 2) Any extra income I'm able to earn would be able to support a second maternity leave and help us make our dream house possible.

But then I remind myself that I need to make space in my life for pregnancy. I'm already working part-time as the Director of Operations and Compliance for a new charter school. I'm also working to start my own charter school. I also recently co-authored a book that I need to spend more time publicizing. I also authored a book that's coming out in January that I need to start publicizing. I also run an e-course about preparing your mind, body, and life for pregnancy and am writing a new e-course called Purposeful Parenthood.

So, yeah, when I write that all out, I feel like it's dumb to take on anything new. 

But can I at least think through all the steps involved? Maybe that would bring me to my senses:

Phase One: Research [October, November, December]
  • Complete a table that includes the average cost per square foot, average time on market, number of rooms and bathrooms, extra features like garages, etc. for all the homes in our target area that have sold within the last six months.
  • Make a prediction about how long it would take us to sell a house and how much we could get for it, per square foot.
  • Schedule tours of renovated homes in the target area that are on in our target range.
  • Schedule tours of potential houses that we want to renovate. Complete a table that includes the cost per square foot, number of rooms and bathrooms, extra features, and a list of visible renovations that we would want to make, estimates of renovation costs, and an estimate of the resale value. 
  • Talk to friends/neighbors/colleagues to generate a list of recommended sub-contractors: flooring, kitchen renovation, bathroom renovation, landscaping, exterior painting, interior painting, roof, A/C, etc.
  • Talk to contractors to understand the general costs associated with typical renovations.
  • Read books about flipping houses, such as this one and this one.
  • Watch TV shows about flipping houses.
  • Get recommendations for a good inspector.
  • Get a quote from the inspector.
Phase Two: Purchase [January, February]
  • Once we find a house that works out well in our predictive model (potential resale price minus the cost + renovations + mortgage payments while on the market), we would put an offer on it.
  • During the 10-day option period, we would pay for an inspection. If anything major came up in the inspection (like the need for a new roof), we would get two contractors out to give us bids and then negotiate to subtract that cost from the sales price.
  • During the 10-day option period, we would get contractors out to give us bids on all the renovations we want to do (at least two different contractors per job for competitive pricing).
  • If the sales price + cost of renovations still made sense in our predictive model, then we would move forward with the purchase. If not, we would lose our option money and the cost of the inspection.
Phase Three: Renovation [March, April, May, June]
  • The sub-contractors would complete their individual projects. We would DIY small projects as feasible.
  • We would be preparing to put the house on the market: finding an MLS listing agent, securing a lockbox, making flyers, and creating a website.
Phase Four: Resale [July, August, September, November, December, January]
  • We would work to sell the house: e-mailing neighbors to ask them to spread the word and holding an open house for realtors (providing food and drinks).
I guess this idea appeals to me on many levels because 1) it seems like a lot of fun to tackle something so new and difficult 2) it's amazing to have a friend who is willing to take on all the financial risk if I do all the work 3) it seems like a potentially awesome way to raise a good chunk of change. Our non-profit salaries are not going to increase any time soon. It already feels like we are doing as much as we can to reduce our spending. This might be a way to help us work toward some of our financial goals. 

Thinking, thinking...

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

IKEA Stepping Stool

I'm in love with this stepping stool from IKEA. I have the hardest time washing Henry's hands. I'm either pressing his abdomen into the side of the counter, getting his feet soaked by sitting him on the edge of the sink, or honestly not washing his hands even when I should.

I've been eying this stool for awhile, but our spending hiatus made that purchase utterly impossible. When we went to IKEA to get Henry an inexpensive easel, I spotted a similar stool for a much more reasonable price. I love that it reaches so high up, it's sturdy, it's natural wood, and it's narrow so its footprint isn't too bad. It doesn't make our bathroom feel claustrophobic.

We also got a plastic stool for him to sit on while he's taking off his underwear to sit on the toilet, a new pot for a jade plant that is outgrowing its current home, and the aforementioned easel--all for $45. Since we don't have much money left in our budget for this month, we decided to purchase it with money from our personal allowances.

As I celebrate my inexpensive finds, I also want to take a moment to acknowledging the environmental costs of purchasing cheap products. I hate that my values often contradict each other and I'm forced to prioritize one over the other (in this case I am prioritizing budget-mindedness over eco-friendliness). I try to be very conscientious about what we purchase and bring into our home. For example, I tried flipping over an old basket and using it as a little stool for the past six months, but it's sagging in the middle and it's very scratchy. That's why the $5 plastic one seemed like an okay purchase, especially since we want to have another child and will need it for many years to come.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Thoughts on Making a Halloween Costume and Striving for Balance

Henry's Halloween costume is finally done--hooray!

My first attempt was a complete disaster. I kid you not. I tried to make a little outfit in the shape of a strawberry and it ended up looking like a three-dimensional Star of David with a slit down the back so Henry could get into it. Oy vey.

I then decided that for Attempt #2 I would make more of a sandwich-board kind of strawberry costume with a flat strawberry on the front and back, connected by straps over the shoulder. Fortunately, the 1/2 yard that I purchased was sufficient felt for both my failed attempt and my second try (too bad I didn't realize that I had enough fabric left over before I tried to salvage the first attempt with a seam ripper). 

I experienced my general gamut of emotions that I feel when I DIY something: excitement, exhilaration, inspiration to mass-produce them and sell them on Etsy, despair, frustration, agony, and ultimately satisfaction and pride for making something with my own two hands. 

This time was a little different because I worked on it while I was watching Henry. At the inspiring parent education event I attended and mentioned last week, I came across this quote: "Children are made readers on the laps of their parents."--Emilie Buchwald

I decided that the same general philosophy applied to this situation: "Children are made artists/crafters/doers/inventors on the laps of their parents." So I tried to involve Henry as much as possible. He sat on my lap while I cut out the strawberry seeds (we took breaks so he could feel how sharp the scissors are). I held him on my hip while I used steam-a-seam and an iron to attach the seeds to the strawberry body. He even sewed a little with me, pressing the button to reverse my stitching at the beginning and end of my sewing runs and then pressing the scissor button on my machine to separate the thread from my fabric. I was mentally patting myself on the back for being so Soule Mama

But then the tides shifted and Henry started to get impatient. He didn't want to wait until the end of my sewing line to press the buttons. The tension and frustration built as I tried to stop him from pressing the buttons, and he wanted to press them more. I started to get frustrated and impatient because I was so close to finishing the project and I wanted to get it done. It had been taking up valuable real estate on our kitchen table all week and making me feel unsettled.

And then I stopped, took a deep breath, and realized that our current activity was no longer meeting both of our needs. So we set the sewing aside and went into the backyard. Henry explored while I sat and enjoyed the sunshine and the quiet of the day. I was able to get back to my project as soon as Matt got back from his run and my free time started. 

That experience reiterated for me that I am not the best parent possible when I'm frustrated. I was impatient and short and even a little angry with Henry. It made me realize that Matt and I typically go to great lengths as a family to minimize our frustration, thereby trying to be our best parent selves. For example, after I stayed home with Henry for an entire year and started to get frustrated, I found a part-time job for myself and a daycare for Henry. When I start trying to make dinner in the evening and Henry gets irritating (because he's tried, hungry, etc.), Matt gets home and we can tag team (Matt intentionally works a job that allows him more time with our family). When I pick up Henry from school, we go to the park so he can explore freely and I can chat with other parents. 

For us, parenting is looking at the family as a system with different components and different needs. Our needs are just as important as Henry's needs, and Henry's needs are just as important as our needs. When making decisions for our life as a family, we try to look at the whole system and figure out what makes the most sense for making everyone healthy and happy.

It's a careful balance to find, for sure. If we swing too far in one direction--letting Henry's need dictate everything about our lives--then we can grow weary, depleted, and bitter (which wouldn't end up being very good for Henry at all). If we swing too far in the other direction and let our needs trump Henry's, then we risk not providing him with what he needs to reach his fullest potential. 

It's a balance we keep at the forefront of our minds when we decided how much daycare to sign Henry up for, when we decided when to end co-sleeping, when we decided to stop breast-feeding, when we decided to try sleep training, when we decided how to spend our days, when we decided how much Matt and I should work, when I decided to put down the sewing and go outside. 

It's impossible to get it exactly right every time, but it's definitely worth striving for.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Living Like a Reader

Last week I dragged myself to a parent education event at Henry's school, despite the fact that it was rainy, I was tired, and I didn't think it was going to be very good. 

Boy was I glad I went! It was awesome. It was all about the importance of crafting a literate life as a family. For example, the presenter told a story about a family who read an old book together about a pony-related festival on the eastern shores of Virginia. Years later, they found a picture book related to the same topic, which led them to suspect that the festival might be real. After a little research, they realized that the festival was, in fact, real. They decided to take their first ever road trip as a family to visit the eastern shores of Virginia to attend the festival. 

I nearly cried. I was so overwhelmed by the beautiful image of a family learning and loving the world together. When I taught middle school reading and writing, our theme was "Oh, the Places You'll Go with Reading and Writing." It's true that reading and writing transform our lives and connect us to the far reaches of the Earth. And that's part of why I was a teacher and am now a parent--because being around children inspires me to live my very best life, out loud. I am thrilled about the chance to make birdhouses and hunt for bugs and make a weather station in the backyard and grow fruits and vegetables and go to aquariums and learn how to play new songs on the piano. I can't wait to get Henry his own Writer's Notebook and to travel to new places and sketch them. 

That's the kind of mother I want to be for my son; that's the kind of family I want us to be together--always learning, marveling, slowing down, observing, experimenting, laughing, and loving. 

Our new daily rhythm has been really good for us. It includes an hour or more at the park right behind our house. We walk through our backyard, out the gate, and into the park. Henry has been practicing how to wait for me to cross the street (on a "street" that rarely has cars). Then I let him lead the way as he hugs trees, pokes his fingers in dirt, climbs on tree stubs, and eventually finds his way to the playground to climb, slide, hang, swing, and play in dirt/rocks. This past week, I ran into a woman and her son (three months younger than Henry) that we met at the swimming pool this summer. We were at the park at the same time on three occasions this week. Henry and I have both been getting what we need by going to the park.

I will need to continue to be purposeful with my parenting as Henry grows and all of our needs change. I'm especially worried about being a purposeful parent once I am working full-time on an endeavor that means a great deal to me.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Natural Deodorant: Part XII

So my natural deodorant saga continues. It turns out that I am allergic to baking soda (which one of you predicted, several attempts ago). The deodorant I made from three simple ingredients (which worked like a charm!), gave me itching and then weird, huge bumps. I won't go into much detail. Suffice it to say that I had to return to my regular antiperspirant (which could eventually cause Alzheimer's or breast cancer) and wait for the situation to stabilize. 

I am now on to what I hope is a final solution: I went back to Etsy and ordered a $6 trial of the natural deodorant that I loved many attempts ago (this time without the baking soda). The seller lets you customize the product for a couple extra dollars (and try out a smaller version for half the price). I have no idea if it will work without the baking soda, but I am oh-so-hopeful. 

Here are my recommendations, based on my quest to find a natural deodorant that could hold up to the challenge of living in Central Texas:
  1. This deodorant on Etsy is relatively easy to apply, smells great, and works well. The only downside is the price. 
  2. This recipe for homemade deodorant also works really well. It's also relatively easy to apply. It's much easy to make than you might think. The only downside is that you have to work a little harder to add a scent to it (I never got to that stage because I didn't want to irritate my sensitive skin). 
This struggle has been worth it, in my opinion. This is one instance when I don't want to compromise effectiveness or naturalness. I want a product that does the job and doesn't harm my body.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

New Washer and Dryer

When Matt and I moved to Austin, we purchased a washer and dryer off Craigslist for $125. Having just sold our house without a realtor, we had too much going on to worry about researching and ordering a new set (I've heard that delivery times can take a while). 

But, we're going to need a stackable washer and dryer for our new house, so I want to be on the lookout now for a good deal. I'm definitely going to look at the local scratch and dent store to see if they have anything good. But what else should I do to save as much money as possible? 

And do you have any recommendations? Here are our criteria:
  • Front-loading washer
  • Energy and water efficient
  • As large as possible (for getting laundry done faster)
  • Fast wash time
  • Stackable
  • Cheap delivery
Here are some of the brands I'm considering:
  • LG Electronics 5.1 (huge! fits a king-sized comforter+!, steam, stackable, $1,399)
  • Samsung 4.3 (steam)
  • Whirlpool 4.3 (clothes come out almost dry; cheaper; steam; $1,299 but available for $899; can delay wash up to 16 hours)
Here are some of the sites I used to search around a bit:
  • Washer Dryer Reviews
  • Reviews on individual store sites, such as Home Depot, Lowes, Sears, and Best Buy
I can easily become overwhelmed when I'm shopping for something like this and need to compare multiple options. Each one has its benefits and drawbacks, so I need to stay focused on my original list of what matters to me in a washer/dryer. Then I can create a matrix with my criteria down the left side and my options across the top...

Now that I have it narrowed down to three choices, I can start price shopping. There are other things to consider, too, such as 18 months of free financing from Best Buy.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Last Chance: Register for Purposeful Conception

Matt and I might be getting close to trying to conceive again. Although I'm nervous about all the things that are out of my control, I'm working hard to stay optimistic and positive and to focus on the things that are within my control: religiously taking my prenatal vitamin, running three times a week, eating healthy foods, relaxing before bed, letting go of stress, detoxifying my environment, getting our finances in order so we can afford a second birth/child/maternity leave, and strengthening our partnership. 

I just finished my first menstrual cycle since my miscarriage in July. I wanted to wait at least one full cycle to help my body get readjusted to its non-pregnancy state. This time period has been bittersweet. On the one hand, I still mourn the loss of our perfectly-timed second baby. On the other hand, I am thankful for this additional time to focus on getting a school started, strengthening my body with exercise, normalizing healthy eating habits, and having more time to save money for our house.

I'm eager to join another round of Purposeful Conception: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy. If you're thinking about joining us, now's your last chance! The first lesson was posted today. I always tell folks that they should sign up for the course as early into their journey as possible. Sometimes the course generates next steps that can take a while to complete. For example, a friend from the November 2011 class just wrote in the group to let us know that the course inspired her partner to make a career change, so that he will be a happier and more fulfilled father and husband. No matter where you are in your own journey, feel free to join us!

And check out this article at Consumer Reports about the Top 10 Pregnancy Procedures to Reject When You're Expecting. I'm excited that the ideas that once seemed radical (in films like the Business of Being Born) are now becoming mainstream in the United States. It's about time!

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

A New Rhythm to the Day

Henry has now officially started Montessori school as an 18 month old. I signed him up for the extended day program, which means he has class from 8:15am-12:15pm (including lunch that he and his classmates make every day) and then a nap until I pick him up at 2:45pm.

I was home with Henry all day for the first 14 months of his life, and then he started part-time daycare. We've always had a routine for our days together, even from the very beginning, although the exact rhythm is always changing and evolving as my little boy's needs change. 

I still remember those first three months when he would take 45 minutes to breastfeed. Then he would have about 15 minutes of awake time on his movement mat under his mobiles, and then I would put him in the Moby wrap and he would fall asleep. I would have to wear him through the entire nap (but at least I could multitask by typing on my computer or reading). He would sleep for about 1.5-2 hours before it was time to wake for another feeding (and the pattern would repeat). 

Although keeping to that kind of schedule was constricting in a lot of ways (e.g., I always tried to be home when it was time for Henry's nap), it was ultimately very freeing for me because I knew what to expect and when to expect it. I also think routine is good for children. If the core of their life is stable and predictable, then I think they are more comfortable to create and take risks beyond their core of security. 

Henry and I co-create the schedule. He tells me what he needs and I figure out a rhythm to the day that gets his needs and my needs met. Now that our days are changing, it's time for our schedule to change, too. Here's what I'm thinking:
  • 7am = Wake-up
  • 7:00-8:00am = Dad helps Henry get dressed, eat breakfast, and get his teeth brushed; if there's extra time, Henry can play with his toys
  • 8:15am-2:45pm = School + nap
  • 3:00-3:30pm = Prepare, eat, and clean-up snack with Mama
  • 3:30-3:45pm = Clean up around the house (Henry can help or play with his toys)
  • 3:45pm-4:30pm = Walk to the park for exploration and play
  • 4:30-5:00pm = Dinner Preparation
  • 5:00-5:15pm = Play with dad when he gets home
  • 5:15-5:45pm = Eat dinner
  • 5:45-6:30pm = Dancing and playing with both parents, bath time, books, bedtime
I also need to figure out some alternate activities to keep me sane (I need more adult interaction time!):
  • Playdates with friends and their children (this one is hard because most of my playdate friends live too far away to drive during rush hour to play)
  • Walks around the lake with friends
  • Figure out where other families spend time after school (by asking on the mom's list-serv I belong to)
I want to find the right balance between having things to do, so that the time doesn't feel like it stretches out indefinitely, but also providing a relaxing, rejuvenating environment for Henry. Perhaps we implement the above schedule on Mondays/Wednesdays/Fridays and then have some kind of alternate adventure on Tuesdays/Thursdays.

I'll let you know how it goes! (of course we'll have to rework this schedule as soon as it gets too cold to play outside comfortably...)

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Back to School: Montessori Style


September 11th, you are forever etched onto my heart. Before I begin my day, I would like to stop and acknowledge the crushing, senseless losses that people experience every day around the globe. We are all united by "Life's longing for itself."
Henry starts Montessori school today, and we've been eagerly getting him ready.

Here's what he needs to bring:
  • Soft shoes for wearing inside the classroom (like Robeez)
  • 5 pairs of training pants (he has some from Hanna Andersson, but when he outgrows them, I'm going to purchase them from Target to save some money)
  • 5 pairs of shorts
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 3 shirts
  • One photo to go above his cubby
He's going to an AMI-recognized Montessori school, so it adheres pretty purely to Montessori principles. For example, here are the guidelines for his clothing:
  • All clothing should be easy to work with, provide comfort, and follow the school's philosophy
  • Youngest children are focused on the active pursuit of functional independence and the mastery of movement. For this reason, we give careful consideration to the clothing that the children wear to school.
  • The powerful, absorbent mind of the child takes in, whole and unfiltered, the images it encounters. The child accepts all and does not discriminate as s/he collects sensorial experiences from his/her environment for the construction of his/her intelligence, memory, choice, will, independence, esthetic sense, and standards of beauty.
  • Elastic waistbands with no snaps or zippers for maximum independence
  • No overalls because they create frustration and require too much unwanted assistance from adults
  • Plain slipover t-shirts with necks that pass easily over the head
  • Shirts and pants that are solid colors, low-keyed stripes, or unobtrusive plaids
  • No logos, ads, pictures, or words
Luckily the school's preference for clothing aligns with our own. Most of Henry's shorts have an elastic waist, and most of his shirts are plain, striped, or plaid. We've been able to purchase most of his clothing at Target, although I've also heard that Old Navy is good. I would buy his clothes from the Goodwill if I had more patience for shopping.

We've tried to prioritize function then fashion from the very beginning because we are trying to help him uncover and grow his most authentic self. We don't want to stereotype him as a "daddy's tough boy" or a sports player. We want him to develop and follow his own interests. We've almost always wanted him to be comfortable above being cute. We want him to care more about what's on the inside than the outside. 

He'll need to bring a bag with all of his stuff each day, so I decided to create a checklist. There's nothing worse than leaving something behind or wasting too much time trying to remember everything you need. I decided to make the checklist as kid-friendly as possible.

We also needed to say goodbye to his old daycare, so I made a photo card for his teacher (and slipped in a $50 Target giftcard--which we thankfully purchased before our stringent budget went into effect) and a laminated letter for the daycare to say thank you and goodbye.

Now all that's left is to label his clothing (I think I'll just try permanent marker initials on the tags for now).

REMINDER: The next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy starts September 16. Register today! We'd love to have you join us!

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Prioritizing Wants

In today's post over at 2000 Dollar Wedding, I delineate our financial goals for both the short- and long-term (and mention a financial blog that I have started reading from start to finish--thanks to a suggestion in the comments!). One of our long-term goals is to live in an eco-friendly, comfortable, and fun house. We're homebodies much of the time, and we want to create a home that feels like a retreat, a sanctuary. We want to create the home that Henry (and hopeful his sibling) bring their friends to. We want to have casual parties and impromptu gatherings. I want our home to be the center of our lives in many ways, which is why I'm fine making it a financial priority both in the short- and long-term.

I've talked some about what kind of yard we want to have. It includes:
  • A large deck for eating, relaxing, reading, entertaining. We will need to purchase patio furniture (a table for guests, as well as loungers), procure some plants or build some kind of beds with benches to make the space feel more intimate and not too expansive, and likely hang some sun shades to mitigate the intense Central Texas sun.
  • A swimming pool for nearly seven months of water fun. This will be expensive! I wish, wish, wish we could fold it into our mortgage, but there's no way we could afford it.
  • Raised beds for growing food
  • Fruit trees
  • A chicken coop
  • An herb garden (maybe this could go in planters on the deck?)
  • A fire pit
  • A grassy area for playing
  • A large fence around the perimeter so Hoss and the kids can roam freely
  • A welcoming path to the front door 
  • A zero-scaped front yard 
  • Rain barrels 
  • Solar panels
  • Potentially steps down to the creek with a cleared out area for hanging out and relaxing
  • Maybe a Bocce ball court (I know we could just play on grass, but it's easier to take care of a rectangle of crushed granite rather than grass!)
  • Maybe a wood-working studio some day
  • Hmm...what if we build a studio apartment in the back and rent it out to someone who is interested in community?
 Inside we're going to need:
  • A king-sized bed 
  • Bedside tables
  • Closet shelves for every closet
  • Bar stools 
  • Sectional couch
  • Giant rug for the living room
  • Tiled backsplash in the kitchen
  • Washer/dryer
We're definitely going to have to purchase these things in stages, since we won't be able to afford it all at once. We'll have to make a prioritized list, so that we purchase the most important things first. There's a lot to think about!

REMINDER: The next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy starts September 16. Register today! We'd love to have you join us!

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Budget Update

Phew! September is here. Our monthly budget resets, and we don't have to scrape by (at least for the first part of the month). 

We reinstated our strict budget halfway through August. It was a particularly rough month because we spent $100 a week on Henry's swimming lessons, and we essentially paid double in childcare costs. Henry's authentic Montessori school is now in session (which we had to pay for in May), but they phase in the new children one by one, so he doesn't start until September 10. 

I know I sound whiny when I talk about our budget. We are extremely fortunate to be able to send our son to our top-choice school and provide him with expensive swim instruction. And we eat primarily organic food. Tightening our spending is a choice. It's not due to a job loss or illness--we are very lucky and fortunate. 

We're choosing to really tighten our belts right now because we want to continue to send Henry to private school until Austin has a free public Montessori option, I want to take another maternity leave if/when we have a second child, we want to continue eating food that is as healthy as possible, and we want to build our dream house while interest rates are amazingly low (and because I want to feel settled and put down deep roots into the neighborhood and community where I'm working to build a school).

But wanting to save for all those things doesn't make the act of doing it any easier. I feel like The Enforcer, always saying things like, "Well, if we're going to eat out tonight then one of us will have to pay with our personal allowance because we have no money left in our general account for the month." I want to buy Henry a balance bike because he's so interested in bikes right now, but we don't have that kind of disposable income. I find myself accidentally not purchasing as many fruits and vegetables in an attempt to keep our grocery bill in check, which affected Henry's regularity this week. Awful!

According to my estimates, we have more than a year left of living like this. I'm trying to figure out how to a) make living within a strict budget more enjoyable and b) keep up our strict budget for the next 12+ months. First, I went back to our monthly budget (which is based on this Excel document). Then we started a account to look at our actual spending (instead of trying to sift through credit card and bank statements manually). I had to increase a couple of the categories based on what we were actually spending, but I managed to find an extra $100 in the end (primarily because I was rounding down my income initially). Matt suggested that we add $50 to our general monthly fund and $25 each to our personal allowances for the month (bringing us up to $60 each for the month). 

I'm hoping that the extra little padding + swim lessons only once per month through the winter = a more sustainable and enjoyable life within a strict budget. I'll let you know how it goes!

Piggy bank available on Etsy

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Register Now: Purposeful Conception

I want to hurry and squeeze in another round of Purposeful Conception: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy before Matt and I start trying to conceive again. 

Because I have learned to recognize cervical mucous (thanks to Taking Charge of Your Fertility and Making Babies), I can tell that I'm ovulating right now. We decided to wait at least one cycle after my miscarriage to start trying again. Since my cycles tend to be long, I think the timing will be perfect to offer another course. I want to work through each lesson one more time before we try again. 

The most recent course was a lot of fun, and the feedback warmed my heart. Here's a sampling:
"Sara, we want to thank you so much for undertaking the great task of assembling this class and drawing this fabulous group of people together. In addition to being informative and reassuring, your insights, questions, and good humor have become a touchstone that clarifies for us the adventure of starting a family, and helping us envision the many wonderful and challenging experiences that are in store. Having this touchstone has opened up conversations for us and added needed structure to the way we're approaching preconception and pregnancy. As you advised, we hope we can continue to stay as open to change as possible on our journey towards parenthood."

"I put a lot of effort into starting to wrestle with some new ideas about quitting my job and finding a place for myself that I enjoy and that fits into my overall goals as a future parent. The feedback from Sara and others was key to offering new ideas and the encouragement to follow through. I'm still hard at work exploring the ideas that arose, and I'm feeling excited about the direction of my life for the first time in a year or so."

"I now have a lovely to-do-list in my Google docs and I've already started checking things off! It feels really good to be approaching conception so deliberately. One day at a time, I am also making decisions to help me carve out some me-time in the evenings and thinking more practically about the changes that having a baby will bring to our lives."

"Sara, this was a wonderful course - thoughtfully put together and well written. You covered the topics in a sensitive but matter-of-fact manner, and really captured the full spectrum of issues that are important to consider when planning to start a family. I feel I would have overlooked a lot of the issues had you not given us 'permission' to really think them through..."

"Can you make one for every stage of life? :)"
I'm blushing. Thank you for letting me share those words with you!

I'm pretty sure Matt and I will stop after two kids, which makes me start to get nostalgic for this period of preparing for conception. This month may be my last chance to undergo the process of preparing my mind, body, and spirit to welcome a new life. If you'd like to join me, please sign up!

For those of you who are thinking about conception or are actively trying, this online course is for you! From September 16 through October 12, a new lesson will be uploaded each weekday. The lessons will address a comprehensive range of topics, such as preparing your body through solid nutrition and exercise, finding balance between what you can and cannot control, making space in your life for pregnancy, deciding whether to track your cycle, building a solid partnership as a foundation for your future family, and much, much more. As a participant in the course, you'll receive information, tips, reflection exercises and prompts, and a community of like-minded kindred spirits who are on a journey similar to your own.

The course doesn't presume that doing x, y, and z will lead to pregnancy. Instead, the idea is to focus on the things we can control in order to create a solid foundation (e.g., nutrition, stress levels, relationships, finances, etc.) and to make peace with the things we cannot control about the process.

Interested in learning more? Visit the Course Overview or About the Author. Spaces are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The total cost is $99 USD. Register Now! Or e-mail me with more questions. Happy Conceiving!


Please consider spreading the word by sharing this post via the buttons at the bottom of the post (especially the Facebook "like" button) or by reposting the information on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Thank you so, so much for your support!

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Reflection & Rejunvenation: September

And with that, August is gone. 


I want to personally thank Sunset Magazine for making their September issue a sort of "Ode to Summer" instead of making me read about Fall in the heat of August. Down here in Central Texas, summer lasts quite a while.

Aside from living within a not-so-fun budget (which I'll address later in the week), life is good. I'm gearing up for another round of Purposeful Conception. During this course, I think I want to focus on reducing stress in my life (which definitely affects my cycles). As part of that, I really want to examine the amount of complaining I do, perhaps even revisiting the book, A Complaint Free World: How to Stop Complaining and Start Enjoying the Life You Always Wanted. I want to continue working on my healthy eating and exercising. 

This past month, Matt, Henry, and I started going to church. I grew up Presbyterian and Matt grew up Catholic, but we both wandered away from church because it never really resonated with us. Lately, I've been craving community, support, and reflection. I also want Henry to interact more with people of different ages and to have a touchstone in his life that he can return to again and again (especially when he's looking for someone/something other than his parents). We've been going to a Unitarian Universalist church whose mission statement is the following:

"We gather in community to nourish souls, transform lives, and do justice."

Yes, please! 

I've also been thinking a lot about rituals and what kind of family we want to be. Saturday mornings, Henry, Hoss, and I go for a long walk around the lake while Matt goes running. When we return, we cook pancakes on an electric griddle on the table. On Sundays, we go to church together and then go out for breakfast tacos. 

I've also been brainstorming ideas for my next e-course: Purposeful Parenthood. Ritual is going to be touched upon in the course, so I'm eager to think through ideas with fellow kindred spirits. 

As far as our house goes, we've officially submitted the construction budget to the bank. Now we have to wait for an appraisal and cross our fingers that they don't think we're trying to build a house that is too expensive for the neighborhood. 

Henry starts an awesome, authentic Montessori school on September 10. He's been in a Montessori-inspired daycare for the past six months, but I can't wait for him to be in a pure Montessori classroom with a certified Montessorian. I think kids really flourish when their school environment aligns with their home environment. I'm also eager to learn from his teacher about how we can implement more Montessori at home. 

This month I want to be very intentional about the goals I set for myself. They need to be at the intersection of ambitious and feasible. Let's see how I did last month: 
  • Plan a pop-up dinner party for September: Yes! I even made and mailed the invitations.
  • Start working on Henry's Halloween costume: Yes! My first attempt was an epic failure, but if at first you don't succeed...
  • Get our rental house organized once and for all (this gigantic goal is broken down into smaller goals on the whiteboard in our kitchen): Whomp, whomp.This goal was way too lofty. I did knock out the hall closet and some of the craft closet, but I didn't do nearly as much as I wanted to.
  • Ask our landlord to fix the three broken things in our house: Yes!
  • 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): I tried to go to Goodwill once, and I poked around online. Our spending hiatus has made this goal difficult. What's a girl to do?
  • 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: Yes! We have one tiny piece left.
  • Run at least three times a week: Yes! I skipped two days, but other than that, I ran three times a week every week.
  • Do a sun salutation every night before bed: Half-and-half. Sometimes I just forgot. But I loved it when I did it!
  • Go to the ob/gyn for a yearly exam and pre-conception visit: I'm working on scheduling this. I want to find an internal medicine doctor. I like how they understand the body as interconnected systems.
  • Go to the dentist: Scheduled! I used Yelp to find what looks like a good one.
  • Read this book about personal finance: Yep! It wasn't the greatest book, but reading about finance always inspires me to work harder to save.
  • Track my points every day via Weight Watchers: Half-and-half. Some weeks I did and some weeks I didn't. I really need to get in the habit. Tracking my intake is the best way for me to be honest with myself about what I'm consuming. 
 So my goals for this month include:
  • Work on Purposeful Parenthood (no pressure to finish it)
  • Get the bulk of Henry's Halloween costume finalized (I'm thrilled that I can re-use my costume from four years ago for myself)
  • Work really hard for Magnolia Montessori For All to plan an awesome "Meet & Greet" event 
  • Attend a parenting bookclub (we're reading Parenting from Your Heart)
  • Get some fiction books from the library to help with my process of decompressing before bed
  • Enjoy the pop-up dinner party
That feels just about right! 
Photo Courtesy of the Nikki McClure Calendar

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