Tuesday, April 30, 2013

From Inspiration to Action

I often marvel at what an amazing historical period we're living in. Any time I have the inkling of an idea, I can google it and read all about how it's already been implemented at least 25 times with step-by-step tutorials and can then pin images left and right to remind myself of the project I want to undertake.

But while having that kind of technology at our fingertips makes it easier to undertake new projects, it simultaneously provides a whole new level of procrastination--"productive procrastination," if you will. It's so easy to feel like all that reading and pinning is productive work, but really, at the end of the day, I'm still sitting on my butt in front of the computer.

Case in point: I just spent a whole 30 minutes scrolling through Kylie's blog. I am in complete and utter awe of the experiences she provides for her children on a daily basis. 

But I don't want to stop there. I want to figure out exactly what it is about Kylie's parenting that I want to replicate and identify ways to get off my butt and make it happen. 

So what exactly left me feeling inspired? I love the way Kylie creates a truly comprehensive Montessori experience for her children at home--everything from the beauty of the environment to the rotation of stimulating activities to excursions into nature to baking to other practical life activities.

How can I follow her lead and create more of a Montessori experience in our home?
  1. Make sure I click over to her Activity/Photo of the Day feature every time I read a regular blog post of hers. There's so much inspiration in there! As a side note, Kylie, how do you feel about posting that content in the main section of your blog so that no one misses anything? Pretty please?
  2. Read through the archives of her blog and make a list of things I want to do each month. Although Otis and Henry are the same age (so convenient!), Caspar is three years older and my new baby will be two years younger. Making a list of various activities/experiences at different ages will be very helpful for me. As I read new blog posts, I can continue to add ideas to the list.
  3. I can start writing one post a week about what we're doing in our Montessori home. Documenting and sharing our experiences might be the inspiration I need to do even more.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

A High Chair for Independence

I'm so glad that Matt and I invested in the Tripp Trapp high chair for Henry. It's recommended within the Montessori community because it facilitates and supports a child's independence. From a young age, they can begin climbing in and out of it independently. It also slides right up to the table to help the child feel like part of the family. The chair grows with the child and can be used for many years (since children are too short to sit comfortably in a regular chair for quite a while).

As we prepare to welcome a new baby into our family, I've been thinking about the high chair situation. If we tried to move Henry into a booster seat, I feared that he wouldn't be able to climb up and down independently. 

I had resolved myself to adding yet another expensive Tripp Trapp to our baby registry. 

Then we spent the weekend eating out with Matt's parents, and I watched Henry climb in and out of those wooden restaurant high chairs with complete confidence, grace, and stability. I was reminded by my friend Kelly's idea to take the bar off the restaurant-style high chair. Brilliant! 

I managed to locate one on Craigslist for $20. Now Henry can use the bar-less restaurant-style high chair and the new baby can inherent the Tripp Trapp when he's around six months-old. The only downside to the new high chair is that it's not as stable as the Tripp Trapp. Henry could surely push himself backwards by kicking off the table hard enough. It's not a deal breaker; it just means we need to be even more vigilant with supervision when he's in it.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Brainstorming: A Montessori Bedroom

Henry's Montessori bedroom changed a lot during the first year of his life when he went from lying on a movement mat watching mobiles to pulling himself up on furniture and low shelves. When he turned one, we moved to Austin and his room became even more simple (primarily since we moved into a bigger house and we didn't need his bedroom to serve so many different functions). It honestly hasn't changed very much from 1-2, except that we recently traded out his crib mattress floor bed for a twin-sized mattress with a duvet cover.
As we prepare to move into a new house, I'm rethinking his bedroom and wondering how to set it up to meet his growing needs. This article from The Montessori Foundation had a couple good ideas, such as:
  • Incorporating an area for Henry to select and play his own music (I'm debating between a CD player and an MP3 player)
  • A nature corner for Henry to collect and display things he collects outside
  • An area for Henry to produce and display artwork (although I'm wondering if it would be better to put his easel in a more common area, since he'll want to be out with the rest of us)
The other complication is that Henry and his brother will likely share a room, once the baby is sleeping through the night. This means the room will have to accommodate an infant as well as a growing toddler.
Here are the main components I want to be sure to include:
  • An area for sleeping. Since Henry likes to snuggle into the corner (i.e., where the two walls come together), there's really only one place where his bed can go in his new room. Once the baby is old enough to join him, I wonder if we should build some type of loft bed and keep the baby's twin mattress on the floor. A loft bed would be less bulky than bunk beds, and it would keep the baby low to the ground on the bottom.
  • An area for dressing. Henry's closet will have shelves that he can reach, so he can dress himself, but we should also have a mirror, so he can see how he looks. I like the way Otis's room is set up with a little table, brush, and handkerchief.
  • A reading nook. This might just be Henry's bed on the floor since we're always so comfortable reading there. But we'll need a way to organize his books.
  • An area for toys. Honestly, we make space for Henry's toys all around the house, so he doesn't actually need that much space in his room for toys.
I think we'll keep the art/writing/crafting area out of his room, since we'll also have a guest/craft room. Although perhaps we should at least have a small table and chairs?

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Stocking Up & Hunkering Down: Preparing for a Second Baby

Our little family of three (well, six if you count our bloodhound and chickens) is in the final stretch before a cascade of changes sweeps through our lives. Honestly, I haven't thought enough about preparing for the transition this time around. My thoughts are consumed with purchasing land and undertaking site development for Austin's first public Montessori school. (Note to Self: Think more about the transition to second babyhood!). 

The one thing I have thought about is meals. We won't be able to afford take-out like we did post-Henry. It's imperative that we set ourselves up to prepare meals at home, even amid the stress of a new baby. 

A couple weekends ago, I started brainstorming our easiest meals and identifying which parts of them could be prepared in advance and frozen (the process ultimately inspired me to create our new meal planning process!). For example, one of our easiest meals is rice and beans with mango and scallions. It would be simple to cook the rice (in a huge batch!), cut up the mangoes and scallions, and freeze everything. Then the night before, we could put everything in the refrigerator to defrost, start heating everything 20 minutes prior to dinner, and add a can of beans. 

I worked really hard to come up with 20 meals--five meals a week for an entire month (we can continue to splurge on take-out two nights a week). Here's what I came up with (the underlined parts are components that we can prepare and freeze in the weeks leading up to the birth):
  1. Rice & Beans with Mango & Scallions
  2. Pasta w/Vegetables
  3. Grilled Cheese w/Premade Soup
  4. Lebanese Soup
  5. Quesadillas with Frozen Vegetables
  6. Pizza with Mushrooms, Red Pepper, and Onion
  7. Vegetarian Chili (all in cans) with Shredded Cheese
  8. Veggie Burgers with Sweet Potato Fries
  9. Black Bean and Yam Quesadillas
  10. Chickpeas with Spinach + Rice
  11. Spinach, Artichoke, and Sundried Tomato Pasta
  12. Tamales (Pre-made from Whole Foods)
  13. Vegetarian Lasagna
  14. Vegetarian Enchiladas
  15. Feta and Spinach Rolls
  16. Roasted Vegetables & Chickpeas with Quinoa
  17. Tomato and Chickpea Pasta
  18. Pasta with Lentils and Vegetables
  19. Macaroni and Cheese
  20. Feta, Tomato, and Pesto Pasta
My mom and brother are coming for ten days to take care of us. Then our month of partly-pre-made meals can kick in. After that, I hope we'll be in a place where we can go grocery shopping (using the same list above).

What else do we need to do to prepare ourselves and our lives for the transition? I need to make sure this blog is taken care of. With my first pregnancy, I wrote tons of posts in advance and scheduled them to run. This time, I won't have time to do that. Perhaps I should do what we did for 2000 Dollar Wedding? Open it up to kindred spirits to write guest posts? It was so fun for me to read everyone's wisdom! 

If you'd like to write a guest post to cover my maternity leave, please e-mail me with your topic idea. If it seems like a good fit, I will e-mail you the process for uploading your post. The deadline would be May 31st. Thank you in advance for any help you're able to provide! 

I also want to re-read Baby Wise, as well as another scheduling book recommended by my friend, Maia.

I also need to do some mental preparation for the birth. Perhaps I'll re-read Birthing from Within, as well as the letter I wrote to myself to prepare for birth.

Of course there are all sorts of things to do around the house. I've already made lists of those things (I need to get off my computer and go do them!).

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Monday, April 22, 2013

A Family Table

When I was an American Studies major in college, we talked a lot about artifacts and how they can give you insight into a particular culture--how people lived, what they valued, etc. 

On a separate note, we talked a lot about materialism and how a consumeristic culture can falsely equate purchasing products with attaining happiness and contentment. 

I carry this dualistic interpretation of objects with me, which may explain why I had to think long and hard before trying to convince Matt to splurge on a hand-crafted dining room table. 

It started with a simple Craigslist search. We knew that we wanted to upgrade our cute $50-mid-century modern dining room table (also from Craigslist) to a larger table for our new house. We've had our current table for years, and we've put up with the fact that it only fits four people. Since we're still trying to conserve money, I tried hard to find something on Craigslist or at IKEA. I also researched a ton of DIY options, although all of them seemed beyond our skill level. 

While browsing Craigslist, I came across a local furniture maker who combines reclaimed wood with more modern metal. His ad had four different dining room tables featured, one of which quickly became the object of my affection. Although I didn't love the way the steel base ran from one leg all the way across to the other side of the table, I loved the wooden top and the story behind it. It was a 100 year-old reclaimed pub table top from the Czech Republic. 

I didn't spend too much time dwelling on the table because it didn't look large enough in the photo (we wanted a table for 8-10 people). Further, the price tags were astronomical for the artist's largest tables. 

The table started to fuel my DIY ideas. I thought about buying butcher block from IKEA and attaching some metal legs from modernlegs.com. I figured a DIY table would cost way less. I struggled, however, because I couldn't figure out how long the table could be and still only be supported by a leg in each corner. I tried e-mailing two different experts to answer my question but never received any responses. I had scary visions of our boys trying to build a fort under the table and having it collapse on them (yes, I am insecure about our carpentry skills...). 

Meanwhile, I kept going back to The Table. I stalked the artist on Facebook and realized that the table was actually 7.5 feet long. The more I thought about it, the more I realized 7.5 feet was the perfect length. Our kitchen island is going to be 10 feet long, and the island and the dining room table will run parallel to each other and be the first things you see when you walk into our main room. It seems like we would want them to be different sizes, so they don't create too much monotony (or something like that). 

I e-mailed the artist to find out if the table was still available (the last Facebook update about it was in January) and to inquire about the exact cost. He responded to say that the table was still available and that it was actually half the cost of his normal tables!

The next day, I trekked to his studio/warehouse to look at the table in person. It was even more beautiful than the picture. The table top contains the marks of 100 years. There are scratches and notches and indentions. It's a table with character and history. It's a table just waiting to be invited into a family home for more scratches and notches and indentions. 

I thought long and hard about the benefits versus the drawbacks of the table. On the negative side, the table cost three times as much as the large table we were considering from IKEA. If we went with the table from IKEA, we would have had $700+ remaining (which could be a road trip vacation!). 

On the positive side, the table would be our first real splurge on a piece of furniture, and it would fit really well into our open-concept home. It would be a sturdy, low-stress piece of furniture (how much damage can little kids do to a pub table top that's already weathered the past 100 years?--knock on wood...). 

But more than that, the table seemed to fit right into the kind of life we're working to create for ourselves. We went with an open floor plan for our house because we want a centralized place to congregate and connect. The 10-foot, waist-high island will provide ample space for multiple people to gather to help prepare the meal or to snack on appetizers and chat. The dining room table, just beyond the island, would be able to accommodate the spillover without any additional effort (such as putting in an extra leaf). And beyond that, we'll have even more room for spillover with the sectional couch. It will make spontaneous dinner parties easier and more natural. 

And the large table will be able to fit science project boards and homework and art projects. It will withstand the daily use from a family of four who will try to make it a habit to gather daily for dinner to share our joys and frustrations and insights and questions from the day. It will be there on Saturday mornings when we wipe the sleep out of our eyes and gather around for make-your-own-pancakes on the electric griddle or waffles. It will be there when we want to host Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. It can host board meetings or board games. It can even be easily moved onto the deck on a cool evening when it feels too good outside to be anywhere else. 

It's a table that will gather memories, just as it gathers new dings and dents. It's a table that will feel really lonely when the boys journey beyond our home for good, but it's also a table that will readily welcome them (and their expanding families) home. 

As difficult as it was to fork over a lot of money for a table, it ended up feeling like a small price to pay for such an artifact. Matt and I don't splurge often on furniture. Most of our furniture is from IKEA or Craigslist and has traveled with us from Houston to Denver to Houston to Austin over the last eight years. The new furniture we plan to buy for our house (a king-sized bed, a sectional couch, and bar stools) will be from IKEA and Overstock.com. It also felt good to support a local artist and his family, and the price was actually about $600 less than a comparable-sized table at Crate & Barrel. 

Before Matt and I go to bed each night, we turn to face each other for one final chat, and we inevitably end up talking about our house. We talk about how excited we'll be to have friends over for pizza and movie nights, how relaxing and comfortable our new space is going to be. I think about how much uncertainty I had about buying the land in the first place and how nervous I felt about the home building process. I fall asleep full of gratitude for my family and our health and the life we're living--and creating--for ourselves. 

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Rubbermaid Closets

It's unreal to be able to literally stand inside our house and get a sense of what it feels like. I'm surprised by how much I'm enjoying the building process. I never had the dream of building our own house; it just kind of worked out that way because of the particular neighborhood we wanted to live in (both in terms of affordability, diversity, and proximity to the school I'm trying to start) and our aesthetic preferences (we didn't want to renovate a ranch house, which is what the rest of the neighborhood is comprised of).

But now that we're building it, I'm thoroughly enjoying the process. We visit it at least 1-2 times a week, and it's amazing to watch the progress and imagine our future life there.

Try as I might, there's actually not that much that I can plan right now. 

The one thing I can start planning, however, is the closets. The master closet is 13' long, the baby's closet is 9' long, and Henry's closet is 11' long. I considered different options in this post (and ultimately decided to go with IKEA), but now I'm leaning more toward the Rubbermaid closet system. I like the customability that will allow us to design a closet to our exact specifications for an affordable price.

I started by brainstorming everything I want to keep on my side of the closet (Matt is going to design his own side of the closet):
  • Hanging shirts
  • Hanging skirts
  • Hanging pans
  • Hanging dresses
  • A shoe rack
  • Cubbies for sweaters
  • A place for belts/scarves
  • Drawers for socks, underwear, bras, workout shorts/shirts/pants, and sundry items
  • Tabletop for jewelry (nice to have but not need to have)
  • Computer printer
Then I sketched out my ideal arrangement (I tried to use their online design tool, but I could never get it to work properly). I have no idea if this configuration will actually work, but I'll try to go to Lowe's and see what they have to say. I'll also plan to watch for sales or request a 10% off coupon directly from Lowe's.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Easy Meal Planning

I finally figured out a meal planning system that works for our family!

And I get to cross off one item on My Organizational Vision! I'm ecstatic! 

Okay, enough with the exclamation marks. But I'm seriously excited. I called all of my family members to tell them about it.

First, let me backtrack and explain why meal planning is for me (with the obvious caveat that it's not for everyone):
  • I do not particularly enjoy cooking. Although I wish I were more like this author who starts a pot of boiling water and then decides what to put in it, I have to be honest with myself and admit that I'm not. I also wish I were the kind of person who could trek to the farmers' market each Saturday or open a CSA delivery and base all of our meals around what's available. Again, if I'm honest with myself, I'm just not that person.
  • I'm the kind of person who thoroughly enjoys home-cooked meals and the process of coming together as a family each night, but I want the prep and the clean-up to be as efficient as possible. Matt and I work full-time and try to squeeze in time for exercise and relaxation. For some folks, cooking spontaneously is relaxing. Again, for us, it's not.
  • Meal planning helps us save money. Matt and I only buy what we will consume in the upcoming week. By the end of the weekend, our refrigerator and pantry are essentially empty. We waste very little food or money when we meal plan.
On the weekends, I want to spend my time reading, doing yoga, running, crafting, hanging out with friends, hiking, biking--the list goes on! (notice that meal planning and cooking are not on the list). Over the years, I've tried various systems for meal planning. I have a recipe binder that I've used to collect recipes over the years. If we like it, I clip it into the rings. If it's a recipe we want to try, I put it in the front pocket. I prefer to cook from a tangible recipe rather than my phone/computer, so this system has worked well for me. 

The trick has been translating these recipes into a weekly shopping list. I didn't enjoy how much time it took to flip through each recipe and hand-write the shopping list. I often wouldn't write the shopping list out, which meant I would waste a lot of mental energy at the store trying to remember our five meals for the week and remember all the ingredients. Inevitably, this strategy resulted in one or two missed items or multiple trips back to various parts of the grocery store while I was shopping. 

I was inspired by Meg at Sew Liberated to set up a seasonal menu that we rotate through each month. That's why I collaborated with others to create vegetarian Meals for a Year. It includes 12 different meal plans with corresponding shopping lists organized by meal and by section of the grocery store. 

But I realized that monthly or seasonal meal planning doesn't work for me either. I find that my tastes vary from week to week, and I don't like being locked into a particular meal plan. 

Back to square one. 

I finally, finally think I've solved my meal planning dilemma (I imagine you hoped I've solved this problem for our family so I can stop talking about it!). I spent Saturday morning entering 20 of our favorite meals and their ingredients (organized by section of the grocery store) into an Excel document. Matt set up a filtering system that allows me to sit down on Sunday, click on the column of meals, select five meals for the week, and print a sheet that includes the names of the five meals and the ingredients I need for each week (again, organized by section of the grocery store). I made one row for our weekly staples, so I'll always be sure to include that one.

 Master sheet with drop down menu

Final shopping list with the selected meals + standard list

 Printed shopping list

Twenty different meals allows us to eat a different meal five nights a week for nearly an entire month (we usually eat out on Fridays and Saturdays). However, we can also repeat meals easily if we're craving something more frequently. Also, I can save the sheets I print out each week, so if I'm in a hurry and don't want to open my computer, select five meals, and press print (yes, sometimes I am that lazy or that pressed for time), I can simply grab an old one and go.

I can also easily enter in new meals that we want to try. Further, as our bank of go-to meals grows, I can add additional columns (such as season or prep time) and filter the recipes in additional ways. 

I've only tried this process once, but I'm optimistic that it's the solution we've been searching for all these years!

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Reflection & Rejuvenation: April

April kind of snuck up on me!

Honestly, March was a bit of a blur between presenting at two different Montessori conferences (one in Houston and one in Orlando--so happy that I got to meet the lovely blog reader and kindred spirit behind the company Montessori 123), dealing with vomiting/diarrhea/achiness among all three human members of our family--excluding the fourth who is in utero--and trekking to eight different meetings.

But there were so many memories to savor, too. A group of families with babies/toddlers from our new church gets together for a monthly potluck, plus we took a family trip to a small Texas town, went to a birthday party, participated in Outdoor Environment Day at Henry's school, and went to an Easter party. And we've had a ball visiting our new house every weekend and checking out the progress.

I'm officially entering the third trimester of my pregnancy. I'm feeling good but not as great as I felt the first time around with Henry. Most people are quick to say it's because I have a toddler now, but I honestly don't think that's it. I've been really good about rearranging my schedule to fit in a nap nearly every single day before I pick up Henry. It helps a ton. However, I have not been as good about walking every day and eating a pristinely healthy diet. I think those two things go a really long way toward warding off a lot of the discomfort of pregnancy.

Let's see how I did with respect to my intentions for the month:
  1. Fully immerse myself in this round of Purposeful Conception: Yep!
  2. Work on the publicity I need to do for 2000 Dollar Wedding: I was not able to prioritize this item.
  3. Organize our recipe binder: See response above.
  4. Finalize Henry's baby binder: Almost!
  5. Make a binder for the new baby: Almost!
  6. Organize Henry's clothes: Yes!
  7. Find summer daycare: I have a plan in place; I just need to finalize all the details.
  8. Enjoy our vacation: Argh. We had to cancel it due to the aforementioned sickness (plus the fact that the temperatures were too cold to fully enjoy the beach). 
Hmm. I'm not feeling very proud of my results for the month, but I'm not going to beat myself up about it. When I'm working really hard in other areas of my life, it's hard to make space and time (and, frankly, hard to find the energy) to focus on other things.

I also need to focus on the things I did accomplish: I finished sewing Henry's duvet cover (which I'll share when we move and I can do a home tour) and completely updating his floor bed from a crib mattress to a twin (complete with a water proof mattress cover and pillow protectors). And, honestly, I was very close to finishing three more of the above items. 

This month, I want to do a better job of referencing my monthly goals when I sit down to plan out my week. 

Here are the items on the docket this month:
  1. Update our scrapbook
  2. Organize the garage in preparation for moving
  3. Plan our baby shower
  4. Organize our closet in preparation for moving
  5. Finalize Henry's baby binder
  6. Make a binder for the new baby
  7. Finalize summer daycare
  8. Read Barbara Kingsolver's new book
I need a plan for being sure to follow-through with these goals this month. It's going to be kind of a tough month between a trip to Dallas + many days off for Henry due to school conferences and curriculum planning days + Matt traveling more than usual for work. I think I'll try to capitalize on the time I have with Henry after school (at least for getting the garage and closet organized).

Oops! I almost forgot about my cumulative resolutions:
  1. Drink Enough Water: Yes!
  2. Read Before Bed: Not this month...I've been waiting for my turn from the library with the new Kingsolver book!
  3. Practice Gratitude Every Night: Yes! 
  4. Let Matt parent his way as much as possible: I'm doing better! 
Photo Courtesy of the Nikki McClure Calendar

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Yet Another Budget Update

Image courtesy Emily Henderson's blog

The financial discussions (and--let's be honest--occasional shouting matches) continue around these parts. To catch up those of you who have joined us recently, Matt and I have a lot going on right now that impacts our finances (fortunately, it's all by choice):
  • I took a year off to stay home with Henry after his birth from 2011-12. I continued with side projects that brought in additional income (I published a book, did a couple consulting jobs for schools, sold our house for a profit without using a realtor, and ran several Purposeful Conception courses), but I still brought in considerably less than when I was working full-time.
  • For the past year, I've only been working part-time, so that I can volunteer the rest of my time to pursue my passion of starting Austin's first public Montessori school (and support our family by picking up Henry every day from school at 2:45pm).
  • We choose to send Henry to an expensive Montessori daycare because the philosophy resonates with Matt and me, and we both believe that the early years are critical for laying the foundation of Henry's brain development and future personality.
  • We're preparing to have another baby at the end of June.
  • On top of all this, we are building a house. Although our monthly mortgage payments will be less than what we currently pay for rent, we've had to save up a significant amount in order to buy the land, close on the construction loan, and gear up to close on the permanent loan. 
I know; it's crazy. 

But, honestly, for the most part, it feels really, really good to be putting all of this in place right now. 

The times when it feels the worst are when we have to sacrifice things that we want right now for all the things that we want in the future. We have seriously cut back our spending (for the past seven months--it feels like so much longer!) to live within Matt's income in order to bank my entire part-time income. We've cut way back on eating out, going on vacation, spending money on hobbies, going on date nights, purchasing clothes, etc. 

(As a side note, I know our story doesn't sound like much of a sacrifice for anyone who has been laid off or is searching for a job or can't work due to health concerns, etc. It's just felt like a sacrifice to us compared to how much financial freedom we had when we were both working full-time without paying for daycare and without saving for a house.)

The shouting matches usually come when Matt wants to spend money on something, and I remind him that x, y, or z is not in our current budget. He gets mad and then I get mad because it makes me feel like I'm the bad guy, even though I'm just reminding him of the budget we worked to set for ourselves. I get mad that I have to be the enforcer all the time, and I say things like, "We can't spend money on x, y, and z and build a house, so if you really wanted x, y, and z, then you never should have agreed to building the house." 

Really, he's mad at the fact that we can't have x, y, and z in the immediate and the house in the future.

Anyway, it's definitely been a hard process for our family. I try to stay focused on the end result. Even though it's a bad time for our family to be moving forward with this kind of financial investment, it makes a ton of sense from the perspective of what's going on in the U.S. economy, especially in Austin. We bought our land right before the market really took off again (we bought it for more than $30,000 less than the current market value). Construction prices have started to steeply increase, and they're definitely only going to get worse from here. The housing market in Austin is booming; and supply is scarce. Meanwhile, interest rates are amazingly low, which will allow us to lock in a surprisingly low monthly payment for the next 30 years.

We managed to clear the major hurdle of saving up for the downpayment and closing costs on our permanent loan. We had also started building up other savings accounts, such as the one set aside for appliances and furniture. Unfortunately, our tax bill just wiped out about half of that particular savings account. I'm trying to stay focused on the fact that half of it is still there...

Now is the time to whip out the detailed Excel sheets. I started one to predict our expenses for my 3-month maternity leave (particularly Henry's daycare for the summer, any gear we might need for the new baby, Henry's tuition payments once school starts in August, and any babysitting we'll need to cover professional obligations that pop up). 

I started another tab to predict our expenditures for the things we need/want to get right away: refrigerator, washer/dryer, stove, dishwasher, bed, couch, living room rug, bar stools, and dining room table. The total costs gets summed at the bottom, and then I subtract the amount of predicted revenue we'll be able to generate between now and then. 

As we buy things on the list, I change the predicted price to the actual price and watch the difference between our expenditures and revenues change. For example, I had budgeted $500 for dining room chairs but ended up spending $400 for eight of these. When I changed the amount from $500 to $400, I watched the difference between predicted revenues and expenditures change for the better. I look forward to waiting for appliance sales and reading about how to save even more money on big purchases. This kind of system makes the relationship between splurging and saving very clear. For example, if we save money by going with mid-range kitchen appliances, then we will be more able to splurge on a larger washing machine (which will increase our quality of life by reducing the amount of time we spend doing laundry). If we save money on inexpensive furniture (e.g., a couch, bed, and mattress from IKEA), then we might be able to splurge on a hand-crafted dining room table from a local artisan (maybe?). 

If we're going to pull off our crazy financial goals, we're going to have to stick to the rigidity of the Excel sheets until the end of October (when I--fingers crossed--start part-time work again, hopefully at a higher rate than I earn now).

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Helping Children Deal with Death

I have to insert a caveat before we begin and say that I've never read anything about how to help children deal with death. This post is based on my general parenting philosophy applied to death. 

The other day, I came home from work and found a dead bird lying just beyond the door to the backyard. My immediate instinct was to pick it up with plastic bags, wrap it up tightly, and throw it away. 

Instead of yielding to my instinct, I realized that it would be a good opportunity to expose Henry to the cycle of life--to the naturalness of death. I figured it would be much easier to start to learn about death among animals. I decided to leave the bird exactly where it was and wait for Henry to get home.

As we drove home from school, I explained to Henry that a bird had died in our backyard. I asked him if he wanted to help me dig a hole in the backyard and bury it. I knew that he didn't fully comprehend what I was saying, but he did understand the solemn tone of my voice. 

When we got home, he kept talking about the dead bird and the hole we were going to dig. We ate snack first and talked about it some more. I explained that we don't touch dead animals with our bare hands; we can only look at them with our eyes. Then we opened the door to look at the bird. He immediately started laughing. I explained that we don't laugh when something or someone dies.

We then went just beyond our back gate (Hoss might have thought that we buried a bird in the yard for him to dig up) and started to dig a big hole. We used Henry's kid-sized tools from the Dollar Store and Montessori Services. Once the hole was big enough, we used his rake to pick up the dead bird and place it in the hole. Then we covered it back up and patted it down with our feet. I asked Henry if he wanted to find a rock to mark the spot, but it was easier for him to find a stick. 

Then we said a brief eulogy for the bird about how we hoped it had had a good life flying high in the sky (I kind of started crying). 

And that was that. Henry did mention the dead bird several times throughout the evening. 

I took the same approach as a classroom teacher. When the temperature suddenly dropped in our classroom and we accidentally killed a bunch of our fish, we stopped everything to bury them in the garden and have a little funeral service. It feels very natural to expose children to death in the natural world as it occurs.

I feel like these experiences are like layers of rock that form over the years and help build the foundation for a healthy understanding of the world. Although Henry didn't nearly understand everything about that experience, he definitely understood pieces of it. He'll carry those pieces forward and attach them to other experiences as he develops his understanding of the world and his place in it.

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Crafting the Lives We Want: Getting Creative

A solution to my summer childcare dilemma fell on my lap the other day when a friend of mine (who is a certified 3-6 Montessori teacher) mentioned that she might be interested in watching Henry during the summer. Her daughter is in Henry's class, and they are great friends.
I've been stressing about the situation because it's difficult to find temporary summer care for a 2 year-old (many of the camps are for older children or they don't last the entire summer). It's even more difficult if your whole heart and mind love Montessori. It's even more difficult if you're going to add a new baby to the family in the middle of the summer and want your older son to have as much stability as possible, while simultaneously having no idea when your house is going to be finished and you're going to pick up and move your family to the complete opposite side of town.
I thought about putting Henry back at his old daycare (where he went from 14-18 months-old before his Montessori school started), but it's up by our new house. If we're not living there, it would be a huge hassle to drop him off and pick him up each day.
I've been dragging my feet, however, about searching for a new daycare near our current house because most of the good ones have really long waiting lists. I also didn't know what kind of commitment we would have to sign and whether we could leave without a financial penalty as soon as our house is finished.
When my friend mentioned her potential interest, my heart lept with joy but then deflated a little when I read her message again and realized that she only wanted to do it part-time.
That's when it hit me: There are no rules about how we do things. We can be completely creative and unconventional as we try to piece together the life we want for ourselves and our families.
I suggested that she watch Henry for three days a week (during his normal school hours of 8:15-3:00) and then I sign him up for his old daycare for two days a week. We do this until (if) we move in the middle of the summer. At that point, Henry returns to his old daycare five days a week.
It's the best possible solution given the craziness and uncertainty of our lives right now:
  1. Henry will love going over to his friend's house three days a week. Their home is a Montessori Mecca! It's full of practical life activities, music, gardening, water play, etc.
  2. He will also enjoy the stimulation of his old daycare. Going there twice a week will prepare him to make the transition (if we move during the summer) to full-time. It will be a familiar environment to him (while he's undergoing all the changes that come from having a new baby at home).
  3. Combining in-home care with more institutional care gives us the best of both worlds. I have no doubt that the in-home care will be superior to the institutional care, but we will also benefit from the predictability of the institutional care. If our friend gets sick, for example, we can use the other daycare as a back-up.
  4. Although it will be a pain to drive Henry across town to his old daycare, it will only be two days a week until we move. That's way better than every day!  
I know it seems like a straightforward concept (make things work for you and your family!), but it's a nice reminder for me. When I go back to work full-time away from home, I want us to continue to think creatively about what it should look like so that it best meets our family's needs. For example, Matt and I were talking the other day about how I could go into work early while he gets the boys ready for school and then I could come home with them when school is out and we could spend the afternoons together before Matt gets home and we eat dinner together as a family.
Sometimes it feels overly tricky or complicated to set up these kinds of situations, but if it's what is needed to meet an ever-shifting and growing set of needs, then why not? I want to pursue my professional passions and spend a lot of quality time with my children and have quality time together as a family. I think tweaking our schedules, taking turns, working at different hours, etc. in order to make it work is worth it.

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Living on "Toddler Time"

This past Saturday was a particularly busy day. Henry woke up at 7:15 and immediately wanted to read books (three of them). Then we trekked to the grocery store to pick up supplies for cookie-making. When we returned, Matt woke up and the three of us made cookies for an Easter party we were going to that afternoon.
Then Matt, Henry, and Hoss went to the dog park while I went to my prenatal yoga class and visited a house with goats as part of the Austin Funky Chicken Coop Tour. Meanwhile, the boys went for a haircut. Upon returning home, Matt, Henry, and I went over to our neighbors' house. Henry enjoyed jumping on the trampoline.
Henry, Hoss, and I napped while Matt played in a soccer game. Then we reconnected and went to an Easter party, full of egg hunts, eating, playing with sticks, and bubble-making.

And then we trekked all the way to the IKEA (it's pretty far beyond the Austin city limits). On the way home, Henry started to melt-down. He was whining and crying and acting generally irritable (even though it wasn't his typical bedtime yet).
That's when it hit me: We crammed too much into the day. Duh!
Henry's tempermant is a gauge that let's us know how much his absorbent mind can handle. After the Easter party, we should have gone home for a quiet dinner and bedtime routine at home.

Of course children are adaptable. They can do everything we do if we make them. But if we pay close attention, they give us clues about their needs. Yes, they need stimulation, but they also need quiet, slow time to process that stimulation.
I find that if I try to cram too much in, I end up rushing Henry. As a toddler, he likes to take his time. He doesn't want to rush to the car to get to the grocery store in the most efficient way possible; he prefers to take his time, observing the moth on the screen of the front door and stopping to pick up a rolly polly. Everything in his very being is telling him to take it slowly, to explore the world around him, to take it all in.
I try to honor Henry's developmental needs at each stage as much I as can. Of course it means that I don't always get to check off the items on my to-do list. Heck, I try not to put any items on my to-do list every afternoon between picking up Henry from school and the time we start making dinner. I try to follow Henry's lead. We take our time using the toilet so Henry can pull down his own pants and underwear, pee, and then pull everything all the way up. I even sit down for the hand-washing process because it takes a while for him to climb the stool, turn on the water, wet his hands, turn off the water, get one squirt of soap, rub his hands together to make bubbles, turn the water back on, rinse off his hands, turn the water off, dry his hands, and then climb down.
Then we go through the slow processes of making snack together, sitting down to eat, and cleaning up.
Afterwards, we usually trek to the park for an hour, and I follow Henry's lead. Sometimes he wants to explore the periphery of the park, looking at the city's lawnmowers or climbing the turnstile at the city pool (which is closed until summer). Other days he wants to swing for a really long time. Sometimes he wants to play in the rocks, and othertimes he wants to ride his back.
When I follow Henry's lead as much as I can, I find that he is happier and exudes general contentment. He is more willing to comply with my demands when his needs are met. When he starts to throw tantrums or melt-down, it's usually because he is tired or overstimulated.
I'm not suggesting that we completely sacrifice our own goals or agendas for those of our children. I believe that our families are systems and that each component of the system has to compromise in order to help the larger system function well.
The over-stimulating Saturday was a reminder for me, however, that children have different developmental needs and tolerances at different ages. I want to pay close attention to Henry's developmental needs and adjust our life/schedule as much as possible to support him as he integrates his personality.
I imagine this process of observing a child's needs and responding accordingly will get even trickier when we add a new baby into the mix. Although it's a little daunting to think about, I look forward to undertaking such a worthwhile challenge.   

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Monday, April 1, 2013

Baby Book Update

There are some things I did when Henry was a baby that I know I won't be able to maintain by the time we have a second child. However, there are a couple of things that are really important to me, such as creating a baby book that is just as robust as Henry's was. 

As a reminder, our plan for scrapbooking is as follows:
  • Matt and I maintain an ongoing "Living, Growing Scrapbook" for our family
  • We made a baby book for Henry to encapsulate the period leading up to his birth and his entire first year. After that, we only e-mail him photos and notes to a special e-mail account. We plan to pass down our family scrapbooks to our children, which is why I'm fine only making him a separate one for the first year of his life.
Sadly, we canceled our Spring Break vacation to Galveston. At first we were going to cancel it because the weather was not going to be so beach-friendly. At the last minute, we decided to go anyway to have an adventure as a family. The night before we left, Henry got sick and finalized our decision not to go. 

Instead, I used the time to catch up on a lot of projects, such as adding to our scrapbooks. Last year, I had to mail our family scrapbook to Voyageur Press (the publisher of A Priceless Wedding) for a photo shoot. I took out all of our post-wedding photos and temporarily stored them in Henry's baby book. 

When I finally got everything back and sorted in the right place, I realized that I had stopped adding to Henry's baby book around the 8th month and stopped adding to our family scrapbook around the 5th month! 

I spent an evening uploading photos to Snapfish. While I was at it, I wrote a letter to our second baby to tell him the story of how he came to be in our lives and what my pregnancy with him has been like. I've been writing him letters throughout the pregnancy, just like I did for Henry, but I also wanted to capture the complete story for him (like I did for Henry). This letter (plus accompanying photos of the pregnancy + the letters Matt and I have been writing all along) will form the start of the baby's book. While I was at it, I also uploaded photos for our family scrapbook. 

At the end of the process, I had uploaded 111 photos. I found a Snapfish coupon on retailmenot for 25% off plus free shipping. It brought the total down to a little over $8. Woo-hoo!

Just the other day, I read John and Sherry's recap of their yearly family yearbook. I love the idea of creating a slim, easily storable memento every year, and I started to regret our growing binder scrapbook. However, after flipping through our scrapbook again, I realized that I really like being able to add tangible items directly into our scrapbook, such as letters Matt and I write to each other for our anniversary, cards, invitations, etc., as well as being able to write next to certain pictures. Also, I think the process of uploading, printing, and taping photos into a scrapbook every couple months is more manageable for me than creating an entire book every year.

Going through the process also made me reflect on my process for storing photos in Picasa. The first year of Henry's life, I stored all of our photos by month. However, that process made it extremely difficult to locate specific photos unless I could remember exactly when they were taken. The next year, I lumped everything into a single folder for the year. Although it made it easy to upload photos for our scrapbook, it made it extremely difficult to scroll through and access individual photos during the year. This year, I'm going to go back to my old, old system of organizing folders by year and event. However, I'm going to keep them in order by adding a two-digit number right after the date. Here are some examples of folders we have already:
  • 2013_01_Henry's Birthday
  • 2013_02_Zoo Trip
  • 2013_03_Food Truck
I think this system will make it easy to locate individual photos throughout the year and make it easy when it's time to upload for our scrapbook (since I can systematically go through each folder in order).

A couple other things I learned during the process:
  • When we take photos, we need to get better about deleting the obviously bad ones before we even transfer them to the computer.
  • When I upload photos from the camera to my computer, I need to delete the bad ones to reduce the time it takes to scroll through so many pictures.
I'm feeling good about being able to check things off my list of goals for the month

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