Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Reflection & Rejuvenation: March

Remember last month when many of you were really worried about me, my relationship, and my life in general? Well, things got a lot better fast. Don't get me wrong; things haven't been all peaches and cream (is that an expression?), but I almost immediately stopped feeling trapped. The three babysitters I was able to reach out to at the end of January helped me get out of the house and into the community, so I could start working on Magnolia Montessori For All. They seriously saved me from a complete meltdown. In retrospect, I feel bad being so dramatic. Honestly, I could have waited another month before getting started on my big dreams, but at the time, I really did feel like I was getting to the very limits of my capacity to stay home full-time.

The part of my life that hasn't been all rosy has to do with feeling fearful and anxious as I undertake my big, scary, audacious goals. Part of me thinks, "Why pursue something that makes you feel that way? Why not do something more relaxing and easy?" Reading my friend's blog about her own quest to face down her fears has been really inspiring.

It's also hard to be in a new city (I swear Austin's traffic is way more frustrating than Houston's--how is that possible?). I've been really pushing myself to meet new friends (hi, Monja and Todd!) to rebuild the connections I left behind in Houston.

The pocket neighborhood idea is progressing, but the real estate piece has been tricky and slow.

All in all, things are definitely on the up and up. I found an acceptable daycare for Henry, which means our lives are about to significantly shift. Matt will take Henry every morning, which means I will have a huge chunk of uninterrupted time to schedule meetings and work. In April, I will start my part-time job as the Director of Operations and Compliance for a new charter school in East Austin. I've been working in that capacity since the fall, but I'll start getting paid in April and consistently dedicating 20 hours a week. I'll also be part of a regular professional community again, which is hugely exciting to me!

Let's check in and see how I did on my monthly intentions:
  • Create a project plan for the year for Montessori For All: Yes! And we had our first board meeting!
  • Host Henry's first birthday party: Yes!
  • Get an Austin library card: Nope. Need to change all of our address stuff first.
  • Change everything to our new address: No. This kind of logistical stuff has completely fallen by the wayside this month. [insert self-forgiveness]
  • Do one sun salutation before bed every night: No. I'm not sure why not. It's only one!
  • Practice my mantra "let it go:" Some but not enough.
  • Update our scrapbook: I can't find our scrapbook at the moment...
  • Seek out joy in my new city: Hmm...I wouldn't say "joy," per se. We did go to a coffee shop concert and to a farm for dinner. Henry and I have had play dates with new friends, we've tried new restaurants, and I've had nights out by myself. I guess it's a little joy, but not a ton.
So, March, you are upon us already. Hello! And welcome! I need to go back to my yearly goals in order to establish my monthly goals:
  • Complete the Vision and Business Plan for Magnolia Montessori For All
  • Pull together a Montessori design team to help revise the charter application
  • Present at a Texas Montessori conference
  • Get business cards designed and printed
  • Finish our taxes
  • Change our address for everything (including license)
  • Completely finish unpacking the house
  • Run at least four times a week
Although I'm going to take serious strides forward with Montessori For All, the rest of my time is going to be about equilibrium. We need to get the center in order.

Today on 2000 Dollar Wedding: Read the book update!

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Twelve Months: Happy Birthday, Henry!

Dearest Henry Jones,

This is the last month of your monthly letters and photographs. After this, we are moving to a yearly schedule. You are growing so fast!

What has this month brought to us?

One of your favorite activities is reading. You love to flip through your board books and make low, gurgling noises as you "read." You also hand us the books over and over to read them to you. You also read a lot when you're sitting on the toilet. It's adorable and melts my heart every time.

You love pulling on fan cords (our new house has a lot of fans). If we ask you where the fan is, you point to it. You are learning to point to things like "mama" and "dad" and "Hoss," although you still aren't trying to verbalize any of those words. You now give kisses on command (big, open-mouth kisses), which is pretty much the sweetest thing ever.

Strangers still refer to you as a "happy baby," and you enjoy going to new places. We've been touring schools, and you love to get down and crawl all around in the new spaces. Even though you aren't walking, you are very comfortable climbing. At one of the schools, you climbed into a chair, grabbed a book, and started reading.

You've started laughing when the people around you are laughing (which, of course, makes us laugh more). You also love to put things around your neck, especially Hoss's dog collar and leash. Hoss is still pretty much your favorite thing ever. You love to pet him and rub your head up against him.

We still go to the park nearly every day, and you love to watch the other kids. You continue to love the slide and the swings.

Our lives are about to change a lot. You start school at the beginning of March. You are so ready! You love being around other kids and exploring new environments. Your dad will take you in the morning, and I'll pick you up in the middle of the day. I imagine you'll want to take a long nap, and then we'll have time together in the late afternoon to go to the park, cook dinner, give you a bath, and read some books before bed.

You definitely make us work hard, dear Henry, but you pay us for that work by being a sweet, sweet boy. Most nights after you go to bed, your dad and I continue to talk about how sweet you are. We reminisce about things you did that day and all the ways you made us smile.

Thank you for making us smile.

Today on 2000 Dollar Wedding: Read the behind-the-scenes of Henry's first birthday party.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Dear Henry: Your First Birthday Party

Dearest Henry,

I know you're not likely to remember your first birthday party, so I wanted to jot down some notes for you about how it went. You had fun! We spent time doing your favorite things: playing in the backyard, hanging out with Hoss, and eating.

We had seven guests: Grafton (who is one month older than you) brought his mom (Leslie), dad (Daniel), and sister (Cassie). We met them at the silent film at Discovery Green when you were a mere four weeks old. They moved to Austin a couple months before we did. Our good friend, Claire, came. We've been friends with her for years. Two of your dad's friends came (my new friends): Myia and Brian.

You wore a shirt that I picked out for your uncle Dustin more than 15 years ago (I was in high school and he was a baby). You started out wearing jeans, but you peed all over those and needed to be changed.

We set up our backyard with music, chili, Bocce Ball (thanks to Kelsey's mom for letting us borrow her set!), and a quilt (although Hoss hogged it for most of the party). You and Grafton had a ton of fun playing with your ball pit. You also enjoyed eating chili at your table. When it was time for cake, we set it on your table just out of reach while we figured out how to light the candle. You reached for the cake and managed to touch it with just one or two fingers. You quickly realized that you liked the taste of the homemade frosting and starting stretching as far as you could. Soon, you were grabbing it by the handful, effectively smearing buttercream all over your sweet face. Hoss quickly joined in on the action, and you were more than willing to share. You stuffed your cheeks with strawberries off the top.

You pretty much smiled for the entire little party. The one exception was when it was time to pull the strings on the homemade pinata. I devised it to open by pulling on a string rather than batting at it. You and I pulled on the string so hard that the whole pinata came down on your head. You cried. Later, when I was picking up the pinata to recycle it, you saw it and started crying again. Hopefully, your pinata trauma will pass soon...

You took a good, long nap after your party and then woke up as happy as could be. You really seemed to have a lot of fun today. You laughed and smiled a lot. Thank you for sharing your joy with us, sweetest one.

Today on 2000 Dollar Wedding: Enter to win downloadable wedding stationery.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Henry's First Birthday Party

The birthday party is Saturday. Hooray!

Here's what we need to do to get ready:
  • Borrow a crockpot
  • Go grocery shopping (I decided at the very last minute to switch from the grilled cheese bar to chili. I think it's more economical.) We're going to make vegetarian chili and white bean chili, as well as spinach-artichoke dip, salad, fruit kabobs, and cake, so we need to get: 2 cans chickpeas, 2 cans black beans, 2 cans corn, 2 cans kidney beans, 2 jars salsa, 3 onions, 2 cans white beans, 1 can of chilies, 1 bag of frozen corn, a bag of tortilla chips, cheddar cheese, sour cream, parmesan cheese, artichoke hearts, cream cheese, spinach, bread bowl (all for spinach-artichoke dip), lettuce, goat cheese, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, avocado, cake flower, butter, and strawberries.
  • Get my hands on a bocce ball set, either by borrowing one or getting it used off craigslist.
  • Set up the stereo in the backyard (to play the Elizabeth Mitchell station on Pandora)
  • Make favors to thank guests for coming (I'm going to make and freeze the dough earlier in the week and write personalized notes and then put everything together the morning of)
  • Make name labels for the glasses
  • Hang the birthday bunting
  • Take Henry's 12-month photo, get it printed, write his letter on the back, and hang it on a ribbon using these clothespins.
  • Think through whether or not to do a candle ceremony.

Hopefully the weather will be nice and we can just hang out on picnic blankets in the backyard. The babies can play with Henry's toys/balls/balloons/pinata strings, the adults can play bocce ball, and everyone can enjoy the music, food, and company.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Make Your Own Baby Board Book

Henry's birthday present arrived in the mail from Pint Size Productions, and, as promised, I'm here to share my thoughts about it. Here's the order they occurred to me:
  • Wow, it's here already? Awesome!
  • Hmm...the picture quality/texture is not as good as I expected. I thought it would be smooth and shiny like Henry's other board books. Instead, it's slightly raised and dull.
  • Wow, this gift was the perfect thing to get for Henry. He loves "reading" and it's such a sweet, personalized gift.

We actually gave it to him early (his real birthday is the 28th) because he's sick and we wanted to cheer him up (plus we're impatient and didn't want to wait). And I can honestly say that he does enjoy reading this book. I think it's one of his new favorites (mine, too). He even likes to read it when he's sitting on his toilet. So stinkin' adorable. I can hardly stand it.

Today on 2000 Dollar Wedding: The big DIY pinata reveal!

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Finding Quality Childcare

In my Purposeful Conception class, I recommend that people who are trying to conceive should start thinking about what kind of birth they want to have and who they would like their care provider to be. Once you become pregnant, it can be stressful to "shop around," depending on how the first trimester is affecting your body. Even though it might feel like putting the cart before the horse, I actually think it's a very useful strategy (even if you don't end up getting pregnant for a long time, moving to a new city, or something else). It helps you understand what your options are and helps you start to clarify what you want for yourself. I think staying one step ahead can really help minimize stress (such as learning about how to care for an infant while you're pregnant, instead of waiting until the baby arrives and spending all your time trouble-shooting on Google).

My related recommendation about staying one step ahead has to do with childcare. If you plan to use childcare at any point before your child enters the formal school system, I recommend that you start touring facilities when you're pregnant. First, you might have to get your child on a waiting list sooner rather than later, and secondly, it's a lot easier to do a tour without having to secure a babysitter for your baby (since some places ask for you to leave the baby at home).

I have been having a heck of a time trying to find childcare. At first, I thought I would stay home with Henry for the first three years of his life until he started school in pre-K3 (relying on some kind of informal childcare exchange to free up some time for me to go to meetings for Montessori For All). I put him on a waiting list for a Montessori school in Austin when he was about six weeks-old.

However, once I learned that Montessorians recommend placing children in community around one year-old (and I started a part-time job working for a new charter school in Austin and I started to get stir-crazy at home), I began exploring childcare options. I found a former Montessori teacher who does Montessori in her home (and she lives within walking distance of our rental house!) but she's suddenly full. She might start to be able to fit Henry in two days a week on Tuesday and Wednesday, starting at the beginning of March.

Since I'll need to work 20 hours a week at my part-time job and do my own work for starting Magnolia Montessori For All, I'm going to need more than two days a week. Finding an amazing facility on short-notice is not easy. Seriously, every reputable Montessori daycare I call is full. I found one that had a spot open, but I didn't feel comfortable when we toured there.

At this point, we seem to have only one other option. A new daycare just opened in North Austin, which touts being "eco-friendly" and they mention the word Montessori in their brochure (thanks for sending me the link, Kelly!). Since Henry is going to start real Montessori school this fall, I'm less worried about the Montessori piece (although it still matters to me). The downside of our one remaining option is that it is far from our house in South Austin. However, it is right by my work (although some days I won't be going to that job, I'll be doing stuff for Magnolia Montessori For All).

As Facebook says, "It's complicated."

Anyway, my recommendation is to start touring and getting your name on waiting lists when you're pregnant!

Today on 2000 Dollar Wedding: A delicious recipe for creamy tomato soup!

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Thoughts on Having a Second Child

For the longest time, my plan was to have only one child. I was an only child for 15 years, and none of the arguments against "onlies" made sense to me. Because I want to live in a close-knit community, I figured that we could fill our son's life with plenty of close, close connections. The benefits of having an only child (not as much work, cheaper, better for reducing population growth) seemed to outweigh the vast drawbacks (hard/hard/hard, refereeing sibling bickering, saving for two college educations, etc.).

And mainly, I wanted to give birth to other things in my life, like a school and a community. I figured I didn't have it in me to mother Hoss, Henry, a school, a community, and another child. When I told one of my close friends that I only wanted to have one child, she said something like, "That makes sense for you. You'll be able to do more good for the world."

But somewhere along the way, my mind started shifting. I started to see growing a family as one of the most significant ways to tap into our humanity. I started brainstorming ways to work around the drawbacks. I figured we could wait five years before having the next one, so I would have time to start the community and school, and Henry would have time to grow more independent (and out of diapers). I started looking at families who had waited several years in between children for inspiration.

Then I started realizing what my friend Sarah has been saying all along. If you have children closer together, you get the hard parts over with faster. My rebuttal was always, "Sure, but you make it so much harder for yourself in the meantime!"

I started thinking about this idea more. In a way, having young children around is very constricting. To meet their needs properly, you have to shift your life to reflect theirs in a lot of ways. If we waited five years to have another child, we would then enlarge that period of intense constriction from three years to six years (or five years to ten years). And then there's adolescence. Instead of going through 5-7 years of tumult, we'd be looking at 10+.

Even more than that, I'm getting my head out of the day-to-day struggle of meeting someone else's every need and understanding the bigger picture of motherhood. It's not about changing diapers and engorged breasts; it's about nurturing and nourishing another being and helping them uncover their unique place in the universe.

Plus, I just turned 34. Of course I could wait five years to have another child (my mother had her second baby when she was 38), but I'd likely be pushing up against the limitations of my fertility, and the risk of genetic issues grows exponentially after 35.

In terms of my career, now might actually be the best time for us to have another baby. If all goes well, my school will open in the fall of 2014. The application is due February 2013 and I wouldn't interview until August. If I got pregnant sooner rather than later, I could work on the application while pregnant (Henry would be going to a half day of Montessori childcare), finish the application by December, have the baby, and not have to interview until the baby was six or seven months-old. Then I would have to start working to get the school started when the baby was around eleven months-old and could start part-time in Montessori childcare. The second baby would basically have the same solid foundation that I've been able to give Henry.

As I type all of this, I am fully admitting to myself (and reminding myself rather vociferously) that you can't plan when or if you have a baby. I know that. I really do. I can only focus my energy on the things I can control, such as tracking my cycle, getting my body ready for conception, and deciding to try.

I also realize that Matt's perspective has been absent from this discussion. I promise you it's not! It's something that Matt and I talk about a lot. He comes from a family of three, but he knew I might only want one child when he married me. When Henry came (and was hard/hard/hard), he agreed that one was fine. And then we started talking about maybe having two--later on down the line. We've just started the conversation about whether we really want to try for two and when the best time would be.

In a very short span of time, I've gone from, "Definitely only one child" to "Perhaps we could have a second." Suddenly, I'm getting to the point where I think I do want two, and I'd like to start trying for the second one soon. Craziness. I would want to provide the second baby with the same solid foundation that I provided for Henry. Just in case we start trying soon, I've recommitted to taking my prenatal vitamins religiously, strengthening my body with this 20-minute DVD (you can download a single level for $1.99), drinking at least two water bottles of water every day, taking a hard look at my life to see how I could make more space for pregnancy, and de-stressing every night before bed.

We'll see what happens. Matt and I might decide that now doesn't make sense. I just wanted to keep you updated in case we do decide to start trying.

Have any of you read anything about different approaches to spacing out children? If so, please share! I enjoyed reading this article about the pros and cons of various spacings.

Today on 2000 Dollar Wedding: Plans for the Gourmet Grilled Cheese Bar at Henry's birthday party on Saturday.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Thoughts on Weaning

In the Montessori tradition, weaning generally happens between 10-14 months, as children start eating more solid food. Weaning is considered to be an important part of helping children cultivate their independence.

That timeline fits with my own preferences for weaning. Once we got over the three rocky months at the beginning, breastfeeding has been much easier. And it's been awesome knowing that I'm nourishing Henry with the healthiest possible thing. But I'm eager to reclaim my body and my independence.

Last week, Henry and I seemed to come down with a yeast problem. He had thrush in his mouth, and I think he passed the yeast infection to my breast (sorry to be graphic, but it felt like shards of glass getting sucked through). It caused me to cut back his milk feedings from five times a day to three. As I am away from the house more and more with my work, I imagine Henry will be breastfeeding less and less until he stops altogether. We've decided not to give him cow's milk to drink every day and instead give him his fat and calcium through other dairy products (cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, etc.), since the protein in milk can be difficult to digest.

There's a wonderful ritual in the Living Passages for the Whole Family book. The author weaned her child at age two, so the ceremony makes sense in ways that don't really make sense for Henry as a one year-old. But I enjoyed reading the ritual and reconnecting with the bigger picture vision of what it means to be a mother.

Here's an excerpt from the poem:
Rise now--you have been nourished well.
Rise now--you have been made strong.
Rise now--knowing life courses through you.

And an excerpt from the script:
"From the time you were a tiny seed inside me, you were fed from my body. When you were born into this world as a baby, you were fed from my breasts. Now, I give you this cup, so you can feed yourself."

I am so thankful for my year of connecting so intimately with my sweet boy and nourishing him through me.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

For Sale by Owner: How to Sell Your Own House Part II

In last week's installment about How to Sell Your Own House, I talked about how to get your house ready to go on the market. This section is all about how to actually put it on the market.

If you sign with a realtor and agree to pay them 3% of your house's selling price, they offer a full range of services, including photographing, marketing, holding open houses, connecting with other agents, and listing your house on the MLS. If you opt to sell your house yourself, you have to undertake all these components on your own. Here are my recommendations:
  • Get a professional photographer: Although professional photography is expensive, good photos will bring in the buyers. Fortunately, we are friends with a professional photographer, so he agreed to snap some shots for us in exchange for a tutorial about how to do Montessori in the home. Even if you have to pay for it, it's worth it. It's one of those upfront expenses that pays off later. You'll need high-quality photos for your MLS listing (research shows: the more photos, the better), your flyer, and your website.
  • Make high-quality signs: We made our signs (a for sale sign, as well as an open house sign) using templates from Build a Sign. We believed that professional, sturdy, customized signs would represent our home better than a sign from the hardware store with a handwritten phone number.

  • Design high-quality flyers: We looked at other realtors' flyers (from our initial meetings) to get inspiration for our flyers. We printed them in color. We opted not to leave these next to our sign outside because they're so expensive per copy. Instead, we posted the link to a website on our sign (for folks who wanted more information) and left the flyers inside on the dining room table, so people could take one with them during a showing.

  • Set up a website: We used Blogger to set up a website (that didn't look like a blog). We included a letter about all the things we love about living in our house.
  • Write compelling copy for your MLS listing: I looked at the listings for other houses in our neighborhood for inspiration (these were the same houses that I had the flyers for and the same houses that I toured during open houses).
  • Get your house listed on the MLS through a company, like If you want to sell your home in the most efficient way possible and reach the widest audience, you need to get it listed on the MLS. However, only realtors have access to the MLS.We used a website company to list our house for us. I don't necessary recommend the company we used, but I did appreciate the option for signing up for Centralized Showing Services. They mailed me a lockbox, so I could put the key on the front door and they would dole out the combination to any realtors who were interested in showing the house. This meant we would get a call a couple hours in advance, and we could completely evacuate the house. The folks at Young House Love did not go this route (they showed the house themselves), but I think this piece was key for us. Realtors are already wary of dealing with For Sale by Owners; I think it's important to make the process as professional and normal as possible.
  • Build relationships with realtors: We did not do this, but I'm convinced we would have sold our house more quickly if we had. In retrospect, I wish that we would have held a special open house just for agents. We would have lured them in with free food and drinks. This practice is common in the real estate world. Realtors like to do a preview before they bring by clients. I'm not sure if this would actually work for an FSBO seller, but it's worth a shot. Additionally, I wish we would have sent flyers to all the local agents and written them a note emphasizing that we were welcoming buyers' agents and were willing to pay the standard 3%. Many agents are reluctant to deal with FSBO sellers because they can be very unprofessional. I think this kind of proactive relationship-building would do a lot to prove that you are, in fact, professional and will be easy to deal with. You want to convince the realtors to bring people to your house.
  • Hold open houses: Many people in the real estate world say that open houses are not actually effective for selling homes (they say they are more effective for realtors to meet new clients). However, I enjoyed dressing up in professional clothes, putting out our open house sign (with balloons), and holding open houses (we did six of them). Although you may not get much bang for your buck, it only takes one buyer to sell a house. Matt and I attended open houses in order to figure out how to run one. We garnered tips from paying attention to what the real estate agents did or did not do.
  • Keep your house spotless: I do not envy those of you who are trying to sell a home in this market. It is extremely stressful to keep your house in show-ready condition. We did it, however, for the sake of trying to sell our house. I have many memories of getting a call from Centralized Showing System letting me know that a realtor wanted to come by in an hour. It would throw Henry in the Ergo on my back and run around the house like a madwoman vacuuming, fluffing pillows, spraying cleaner on the countertops and in the sinks to make the house smell good, checking inside the shower and major closets, moving the dog bed to the car (we really tried to present a de-cluttered home), etc. The more showings you have, the greater chance you have to sell your house (except it means more cleaning!).
  • Know your bottom line: At the FSBO seminar I went to, I learned that you should have a bottom line in your mind--your lowest price. The idea is that if you receive an offer at or above your bottom line, you should accept it. Matt and I received an offer that was slightly above our bottom line (but significantly below our asking price). We negotiated a couple thousand dollars up. Then we had to concede a couple thousand down after the inspection came back. In the end, we were $1,000 above our bottom line.
The rest of the process will vary from state to state. Texas makes real estate transactions very easy. The buyer's agent submits a contract, you negotiate the price via e-mail, you revise the contract by crossing out numbers and initialing next to it, the buyers schedule an inspection, you negotiate again, the buyers schedule an appraisal, the title company contacts you about your next steps, and you show up at the closing to sign papers (and at any step of the way, you can ask the buyer's agent, the title company, or the person who listed your house on the MLS for help). Seriously, the rest of the process was that easy.

As I type this post, I count my lucky stars that we were able to sell our house ourselves in a down economy. And, honestly, there were times throughout the process when I didn't think I was going to be able to write this post. I thought we were going to have to sign with an agent.

This post reminds me how many steps were involved in this process. It did take a lot of work. But as I've mentioned before, the hardest parts were things we would have had to do with an agent anyway.

As with any big, scary endeavor, I think the key is taking it one step at a time. I kept a list of everything that had to get done, prioritized the list (in case not everything got done), and scheduled each task on a particular day, so I could just take it one step at a time.

I've tried to share as much as I can think of, but please ask me clarifying questions if there's anything you want to know!

Today on 2000 Dollar Wedding: Be one of the first ten commentors and receive a free DIY printable invitation!

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Equal Distribution of Chores

I apologize for not having a more romantic topic on Valentine's Day, but according to this NYTimes article, equally distributing household responsibilities is romantic!

Matt and I try to divide our chores evenly. We divide the weekly and monthly chores into two different groups (#1 and #2) and then we alternate who does them each week/month. Then we have chores that are specific to us every week.

Now that we moved into a new house, it's time to make up new lists to reflect our new environment.

Weekly #1
  • Clean entire kitchen (counters, sinks, refrigerator, microwave, floor, windows)
  • Mop bathroom floors
  • Shake out rugs from kitchen and bathrooms
  • Wipe down dining room table, Henry's table, office desk, desk in front room
  • Get stains out of couch

Weekly #2

  • Clean both bathrooms (counters, sinks, toilets, tubs)
  • Vacuum whole house
  • Vacuum couch

Monthly #1

  • Dust bookshelves and desk in living room
  • Dust bookshelves in Henry's room and master bedroom
  • Wash rugs

Monthly #2

  • Wash duvet cover
  • Sweep front porch
  • Sweep back porch
  • Clean out bowl by front door
Daily/Weekly: Sara
  • Water plants
  • Empty the dishwasher
  • Do general laundry

Daily/Weekly: Matt

  • Take out trash
  • Take out compost
  • Put away dishes from dinner
  • Wash cloth diapers

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Henry's First Birthday

The little Henry Jones is coming up on the one-year mark (February 28). I've been planning his party over at 2000 Dollar Wedding. I'm trying not to fall into the trap of go-all-crazy-and-then-take-lots-of-pictures-for-the-whole-internet-to-ooh-and-ahh-at-and-pin. But I am seizing this milestone as an opportunity to flex my creativity in fun ways (I'm making my first pinata! and we're having a gourmet grilled-cheese bar!) and as a chance to create a fun party for Henry (we'll be in our backyard with balls and dogs!) and as a chance to bring together friends and family.

I love birthdays. The author of Living Passages for the Whole Family: Celebrating Rites of Passage from Birth to Adulthood says, "Birthdays can be sacred portals through which we remember the soulful significance of our lives and relationships." She goes on to explain, "My own childhood birthday memories aren't filled with a bounty of presents, though my family members were thoughtful gift-givers. My memories are filled with presence--the presence of a family, animated with gladness that I was a growing sprig on their family tree." And I love her argument for continuing to celebrate birthdays, even as we age: "As we age, birthdays may continue to be touchstones upon which we affirm our deepening human own continue to thrill me with their potential for gratitude expressed, growth acknowledged, and visions ignited."

As far as other traditions go, we'll be hanging the birthday bunting. If Henry wasn't going to be in a Montessori school, we would do the Celebration of Life at home. I thought about getting the Waldorf birthday ring, but it seems really expensive to me, and I'm wondering if there's another way to represent the passage of time.

As far as gifts go, I tried to think of something that Henry would like and would be meaningful. I've already been planning to turn all of his old clothes from the first year of his life into a quilt, but that won't have much meaning for him now. So in addition to the quilt, I also decided to make him a board book. I found a company that does it for about $20. I was able to upload eight different photos and type the text. I kept the book as simple as possible because I want him to be able to use it as an early reading book when he's older. Henry is at an age where he loves "reading" his board books. He takes them out of the basket, flips through them, and makes low, drawn-out noises as he looks at each page. His two favorite books are Global Babies and Smile, I think because they are full of pictures of babies. My brain is guessing that he will love a book with his own pictures, as well as the pictures of friends and families.

When the book arrives, I'll share photos of it and let you know if I recommend the company or not.

What birthday traditions and rituals do you love?

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

For Sale by Owner: How to Sell Your Own House Part I

We did it, friends. Matt and I sold our house by ourselves without listing it with an agent, which saved us approximately $7,500.

I have to confess that I wasn't sure we were going to be able to pull it off. Our house was on the market for 3.5 months. At the three-month mark, we started connecting with a realtor. We came very close to signing with them. In fact, their forms were in my e-mail inbox; I just didn't have time to deal with them because I was scurrying to meet my book deadline. And then we received an offer.

Selling a house is hard, hard work, but it's hard whether you work with a realtor or not. The hardest parts of selling our house included:
  • Getting our house ready to go on the market (purging, decluttering, organizing, and cleaning)
  • Keeping our house in show-ready condition constantly (daily vacuuming, clearing off the bathroom sink, putting away Henry's changing table, etc.)

And we would have had to do those things even if we went with a realtor.

If you're on the cusp of wondering whether or not you should try to sell your home yourself, this series is for you. I'm going to do a couple posts about how to sell your own home (including things I wish we would have done but didn't). An important point to remember is that trying to sell your house yourself does not mean that you can't later list it with an agent. The only things you have to lose are the money you spend making signs, the small commission you pay to list your house on the MLS, and the extra time it might take.

Step One: Get Your House Ready to Go on the Market

Oh, boy. The pretty much joyless process of selling your house begins. Whether you list your house with an agent or not, you still need to get your house ready to go on the market, which entails the following:

  • Make a list of everything you want to fix before listing your house. You don't need to fix everything that's wrong (just be prepared to disclose the things that are wrong), but you should repair obvious things.
  • Once you make your list, reorder everything from most important to least important, since you might not be able to get to everything. Then start working on the projects or calling folks to get quotes. For us, we needed to fix things like a broken outlet on our front porch.
  • Go through every room and purge, purge, purge. I can't emphasize this enough. Even though Matt and I try to purge pretty regularly and keep an ongoing "Donations" box to collect stuff, we still had to get rid of a lot of unused junk.
  • Once you've pared down your stuff to things you actually use and need, then it's time to declutter and reorganize. For us, this looked like stripping down nearly every surface of our home to the bare minimum. In the bathroom, for example, we put away our toothbrushes, soap, and other personal belongings every single day, so that the counter looked clear, clean, and beautiful. In the kitchen, we stopped storing our cutting board on the counter. We moved a basket of Hoss's toys from the dining room to the attic (sorry, Hoss!). We stopped storing Henry's carseat in the house (which we had to do all summer long to keep it cool). In other words, we tried to make our home look like a model home, even though all six of us were still living in it day in and day out (Matt, me, Henry, bloodhound, plus two chickens in the backyard).
  • Go through your home and try to depersonalize it as much as possible. Apparently, it's hard for people to envision themselves in other people's homes if the owners leave out too much of themselves. To combat this problem, we replaced all of our framed photos with pictures cut out of magazines. We also stopped hanging things like bathrobes on a hook in our bedroom.
  • Make more space in your home by taking things out. You honestly might have to store large pieces of furniture elsewhere. The goal is to make your house feel as light, airy, and spacious as possible.
  • Once your home is purged, decluttered, organized, and de-personalized, it's time to clean it like your life depends on it. We did things like scrub the baseboard edge with a toothbrush (and by "we" I mean "Matt").
  • Focus on the curb appeal of your home, since it matters tremendously. We hired professional landscapers to spruce up our front yard. We also hired someone to pressure-wash our house and repaint the front of it.
  • Once you think your home is as beautiful as possible, ask an honest friend or neighbor to walk through and give you additional suggestions for how to make it even less cluttered and more organized and beautiful.

Once you have prepared your home as much as possible, I suggest that you meet with a realtor. When we met with a realtor, we honestly didn't know whether we were going to sign with her or sell it on our own. Here are the questions we asked:

  • How is the market doing right now in this neighborhood? Is it improving or worsening?
  • How many comparable listings are there? What does our competition look like?
  • What would be the best time to put our house on the market?
  • What changes would you recommend we make in order to help our house show as well as possible?
  • What do you think are the best features of our house?
  • What do you think would hold someone back from purchasing our home?
  • At what price would you recommend we list our house?
  • What percentage do you charge?
  • We're thinking about trying to sell our house ourselves at first. What are the benefits and drawbacks to selling it ourselves?

We only met with one realtor, but I would recommend meeting with at least three. That way, you get diverse perspectives and as much information as possible. Also, even if you decide to sell your house yourself, I don't think it's sneaky or dishonest to meet with realtors during the information-gathering stage. Just because you try to sell your house yourself doesn't mean that you won't ultimately sign with a realtor. You'll need to have these meetings anyway, so you might as well do it early in the process.

The three parts of selling a home are price, condition, and location. You absolutely have to get the price right. If you set your price too high, you will struggle to get showings. At the same time, there will likely be negotiation involved (both with the initial offer and then once the inspection report comes back), so try to set the price above your bottom line if possible.

At the end of the day, the market determines the price of your home. Nothing else. It doesn't matter how much you love your home or how beautiful it is to you. The only thing that matters is what someone else is willing to pay for it. The folks over at Young House Love described their process, which included setting the price too high initially.

Many realtors will do a free analysis of the comps in your area to recommend a listing price. If you talk to three different realtors, you should get a good sense of what price to start with. I also recommend that you scour the MLS website for your area and spend a Sunday going to open houses in the neighborhood. Open houses will help you get a sense of what's available in your area, will give you ideas about how to host your own open house, and will help you set a fair and reasonable price tag for your house.

After you meet with the realtors, spend some time implementing any suggestions they have for staging your home even better. For example, the realtor we met with recommended that we replace the plastic panes on our front door with glass and repaint the whole door.

This first part is really time-consuming and difficult (and potentially expensive) if you do it right. However, investing upfront will pay off later down the line. During this stage, I recommend that you learn as much as possible about how to sell your own home. I read For Sale by Owner, as well as House Selling for Dummies. Also, I connected with someone in my neighborhood who had sold her own home (way more informative than the books!) and attended a free seminar hosted by For Sale by Owner (also very helpful, although this book looks even better).

It's true that it takes extra legwork to sell it yourself, but for a stay-at-home mom, the legwork was worth $7,500.

Stay tuned for Part II next week!

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Chocolate Fondue Recipe

We had friends over for dinner at our new house in Austin last Friday night (it's part of my "Build Community Crusade"). Our guests requested gluten- and cheese-free options, so I cooked:

For dessert, I made chocolate fondue with strawberries and pineapples. I actually botched the fondue because I didn't follow my own recipe, but I wanted to write this post anyway. I've made this recipe in this past, and it's delicious. Plus, I discovered my new favorite chocolate chips at Central Market: Guittard Semi-Sweet. I may or may not have snacked on several handfuls before making the fondue.

I found this recipe on the box of my fondue pot, which has traveled with me from house to house, city to city, for the past 11 years. I don't make fondue all that often, but when I do, I'm sure glad to have my trusty fondue pot.


  • 1/4 c milk
  • 6 oz. butterscotch chips
  • 6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 t vanilla


  • Combine milk and chips in fondue bowl.
  • Set temperature to low.
  • Stir until chips are melted.
  • Add sweetened condensed milk and vanilla.
  • Stir to combine.
  • Serve with pieces of angel food, sponge, or pound cake, fresh fruit, pretzels, etc.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Montessori Home Tour: Living Room

When Matt and I were unpacking and moving into our new home in Austin, we tried to keep Montessori principles and ideas at the forefront of our minds as much as possible. I went back to this post about how to set up each area of the home. Of course we had to make adjustments based on the space we have and the set-up of our new rental house.

The living room is the hub of our home. We don't need a separate "play room" for Henry because we spend most of our time in the living room, and he wants to be where we are. We intentionally devoted all of the low shelves to Henry's toys, so we can create "an environment of yes's." We don't want to waste a lot of energy saying "no" all the time. As a side note, Henry used to listen to us when we said no. Now he doesn't, which means we have to exert even more energy removing him from the forbidden object (he loves to stuff fistfuls of Hoss's dog food in his mouth). We try to be as consistent as possible. Matt and I say no to the same things, and if he doesn't listen, we remove him from the object and explain why he can't have/touch it.

We intentionally turned this IKEA bookshelf on its side to create as much space as possible for Henry. In Montessori environments, we avoid big baskets full of toys. Instead, we create a distinct spot for every object. Having a separate spot for everything fosters order. Order in the physical environment is very important because children are absorbing their environment and it impacts the organization and development of their brain. Also, it usually reduces the number of toys in the environment. The "absorbent mind" takes everything in, so it's important not to provide too much stimulation.

Henry's toys include this puzzle and this puzzle to encourage the development of his hands (although something more simple would be more aligned with Montessori). He also has this drum, these wooden toys, and a basket of three balls (including a puzzle ball). We devote one shelf to a food object. Ideally, we would have a separate shelf in the kitchen for Henry to explore new fruits and vegetables, but we don't have the space. Instead, we just set aside a spot in the living room, since this bookshelf is right next to the kitchen. This week is had a pineapple, but I just cut it up to make fondue, so I quickly put in some tangerines.

This shelf includes this alligator, a toy from Pottery Barn, and this xylophone.

We decided to put our coffee table in the little front room and instead just use our ottoman from IKEA with a DIY slipcover that used to be in Henry's room.

His weaning table and chairs are in the living room, again since we don't have room in the kitchen. I placed them as close to the kitchen as possible, while intentionally placing it in a well-lit and beautiful spot by the window overlooking the park. My plan is to get one of those plastic mats (that go under desk chairs) at the office supply store, so clean-up will be a snap.

Henry's wooden walker with blocks (similar to these) sits in the corner, ready for use at any time (although I wish we would have bought this wagon instead; it's not as pretty, but I think it's more functional in the long-term since kids can push each other in it).

And that's it! The space is intentionally calm, orderly, de-cluttered, and organized. Once we de-cluttered and organized our last house before putting it on the market, I vowed to maintain a more minimalist aesthetic for future homes (of course it's even easier now that we live in a 3/2 with a garage!).

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Reflection & Rejuvenation: February

Long time, no talk! I apologize for my unscheduled break last week. We found out on the previous Tuesday that our closing was actually going to happen on Thursday. Although Thursday, 1/26 was on our original contract, we assumed it wasn't going to be that early, since the title company was still working on financing stuff with the buyers.

So Tuesday to Thursday isn't much time to pack. Although I did attempt to follow my moving project plan as much as possible, I didn't start the packing part until we knew we were officially moving. Two days to pack up your entire life (2.5 people + bloodhound + 2 chickens) is a bit stressful. On top of the sheer physical demands of packing and loading boxes, there was also the emotional stress of leaving my beloved city (even though I want to move to Austin to make my dreams happen). Matt and I tend to fight more when we're under stress, so we found ourselves arguing about packing (I thought we should stay up late packing every night; he wanted to go to bed and "just pack the boxes when we're loading the truck.") and fighting about asking for help (I wanted to throw a little party and invite lots of good friends to help carry boxes; Matt thinks it's rude to ask other people to help you move). We stayed up until 3:30am getting the truck packed (after the battery died and we had to unpack almost the entire truck to find our checkbook for the closing).

Our closing went smoothly, and the buyers are a delightful couple. We are so, so fortunate to have sold our house in this economy (and at a price significantly higher than we paid for it 3.5 years ago, thanks to the desirability of our neighborhood). After the closing, we trekked to Austin. Matt drove the truck, while I schleped the baby and the chickens (in a box) in my car. We arrived in Austin around 10pm and started unloading the truck.

And I have to say that our first week in Austin was hard. In some ways, it was awesome. I went to the grocery store on our first day here, and I ran into someone I know. The next day, I took Henry to his first birthday party. On Sunday I went to a cohousing potluck and met up with an awesome blog reader and her partner. On Monday, I met Kelly for lunch and a walk around the lake. On Tuesday, I met this cool lady at the park behind our house, and met a woman for dinner who is interested in Montessori For All. On Thursday I had a playdate with someone I met for the first time through a friend. On Friday we had a playdate with someone else and we hosted a dinner party.

But there was also the sinking realization that my life was better in Houston. I thought that Henry was going to start childcare right away, so I thought I would have time for work meetings. It turns out that the teacher isn't ready to take him yet, so I'm left feeling trapped. We moved here so I could start a school, but I don't have any time to get out into the community. I also thought that Matt would work from home, but he's been choosing to work out of the Austin office instead.

As I type all of this, I am overwhelmed with forgiveness. I want to say to myself, "Of course you are feeling this way! Look at all you've been through in such a short amount of time! Transitions are always hard. Things will look up soon."

But I'm also pushing myself to feel overwhelming gratitude for everything I have in my life. All the really important things are right here by my side.

And then I'm also generating next steps. I've connected with three different babysitters who will be able to give me the time that I need to meet with people in the community to talk about my idea for a school. It will be expensive, but it's what we have to do, so I can continue to be a patient and present mother when I'm with Henry. As I write that sentence, I worry that I'm going to regret my eagerness to go back to work when I'm old and gray. I don't want to think to myself, "Why was I in such a hurry? Henry was young for such a short time."

It's a delicate balance, for sure. I want to savor this time with Henry, prioritize family, and create space for connection, but I also want to feel like a complete, passionate person.

So, February, you are upon us. Let me go back and see how I did with my January goals (I'm afraid to look).

  • Select at least three people for the Montessori For All Board of Directors. I selected two.
  • Follow our project plan for getting our house ready for our move to Austin. I followed it for purging and organizing, which was good.
  • Find a good rental house in Austin. Yes! It's right on a park.
  • Get unpacked and settled in Austin fast. We're getting close. We already hosted a dinner party, so I'm feeling good.
  • Read Strengths Based Leadership. Yep.
  • Read Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys. I borrowed the documentary from the library so Matt and I could watch it together.
  • Help Henry build his iron supplies with a green smoothie every day (he's slightly anemic). Yes.
  • Publish consistently on my two blogs. Nope. I couldn't keep up when we didn't have internet connection and we were busy, busy, busy.
  • Finish my sections for the Montessori book I'm working on with Kylie. No! This project has been pushed to the back burner. Sorry, Kylie! Hopefully I will get to it this month.
  • Participate daily in the Purposeful Conception e-course. Yep, I've been participating a lot.
  • Read Love Medicine. I started it but it was too depressing for me.
  • Run at least three times per week. I only ran two times this month. But I'm still really proud of myself because I didn't run for almost two years. When I picked it up again, I was able to run three miles without stopping.
  • Do one sun salutation before bed every night. No. Now that our new house has carpet, this is going to be even easier. I'm realizing that I never responded to the yoga teacher's comment about picking a more relaxing posture. I Boldhear you, but I love sun salutations! They stretch me out really well, and the breathing is so soothing to me.
  • Send birthday cards. Big fail.
  • Plan my birthday party. Tried to but the Portland idea got nixed.

Oh, February, you are a short month, and I'm already late getting to these goals. I need to be very careful with myself this month.

  • Create a project plan for the year for Montessori For All
  • Host Henry's first birthday party
  • Get an Austin library card
  • Change everything to our new address
  • Do one sun salutation before bed every night
  • Practice my mantra "let it go"
  • Update our scrapbook
  • Seek out joy in my new city

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