Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Montessori Practical Life: 19 Months

According to Montessori theories of child development, children start demonstrating a readiness for practical life activities between 15 and 18 months. I feel badly that I haven't sufficiently supported Tate's development in this area. He's definitely ready! The other day I handed him the pizza sauce and the spreader, and he applied the sauce to our pizza crust. He can also transfer laundry into the machine, carry a child-sized basket from the bedroom to the washer and dryer, and put away his clothes and shoes. I bet he would even help wash the dishes if I could muster up the patience and time to support him! It's amazing what little children can do. They are capable of so much. It's easy to let months go by before realizing they are capable of something because they grow faster than our perceptions of them do. 

Supporting children to engage in practical life activities around the home does so much. It helps them develop focus and concentration. It helps them master the ability to follow multiple-step directions, which prepares their brain for future academic learning. Further, it helps them develop a profound sense of self and confidence that comes through feeling competent. They learn that they can interact with the world around them and have an impact on it.

This article is a great overview of the benefits of Practical Life activities! 

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Self-Help Daily Digest

I love receiving daily updates from Brian Johnson. He reads self-help books and synthesizes them into brief summaries and videos. A lot of the concepts he covers are things that I grappled with in my twenties--things that now enable me to set ambitious goals and break them down into smaller next steps. 

One of the updates from last week is still something I'm thinking about:

------from Brian Johnson------

“The key to becoming world-class in your endeavors is to build your performance around world-class routines. It can be difficult, even futile, to predict or control what will show up in the middle of your workday. But you can almost always control how your day starts and ends. I have routines for both.” 
~ Darren Hardy from The Compound Effect

This. Is. HUGE. (Seriously. Huge. (!!!))

We need to “bookend our days” with awesomeness. I’ve never seen anyone articulate this as well as Darren does in the book where he walks us through what he does in the morning and night. Super inspiring stuff.

I call my bookends “AM Rituals” and “PM Rituals.”

In reality, the PM Rituals drive the AM so we’ll start there. First, Alexandra and I practice what we call “digital sunset”—all electronics go off when the sun goes down, along with bright lights. We eat an early dinner, go on our family walk (we’ve missed maybe 5 nights in the last 2+ years) and get ready for bed right after putting the little man to bed. As I’ve mentioned, I like to make going to bed early a sport. Why? Because going to bed super early let’s me *easily* get up super early and get more done before the family gets up than I used to do in a pretty good day.

That’s the PM Ritual side of things. Again, not checking out (or whatever) at night on my iPhone is one of *the* key reasons I get up feeling so great.

AM Rituals: I get up early without an alarm. This AM was a little nutty early: 3:30 am. (But I went to bed at 7:00 pm so it wasn’t a big deal.) I meditated for 20 minutes. Did yoga for 5. And immediately started working on this Note—which I had decided end of day yesterday would be my #1 for today. It’s 5:45, I’ve been cranking on it since 4:23 and making great progress.

(Sidenote: I found that it’s UNBELIEVABLY easier to write/think/etc. first thing in the (super early) morning when everything is quiet and I just meditated—I can crank out stuff in a fraction of the time vs. later in the day when my mind is full/distracted. Highly recommend it.)It’s *really* hard to have a bad day with those bookends. And, stated positively, it feels REALLY good to just crush it and get the most important things done first. We’ll have fun going off on this more. For now, how can you bookend your days to create even more awesomeness?! Get on that!

Dig that Big Idea? You’ll probably enjoy Brian’s PhilosophersNotes. Imagine the best optimal living books (ever) distilled into fun, inspiring, practical little Notes (6-page PDFs + 20-minute MP3s = more wisdom in less time).

Throw in Optimal Living classes that bring the Big Ideas to life and you have Brian’s Optimal Living program--all about helping you optimize your life so you can reach your potential. Learn more here.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

These Days

A couple weeks ago at church, the minister started to do a sermon about being happy with what you have. She then realized that she wanted to talk more about identifying the things you want to bring into your life and making a plan for how to get them. 

She asked us to make a "jealousy map" by writing the names of the people we were jealous of, the specific qualities/things we were jealous of, and what it might look like for us to bring that quality/thing into our lives. 

I immediately thought back to my twenties when I harbored lots of jealousy for the people around me. I was jealous of friends who were prettier than I was, more creative, more fashionable, came from wealthier families--the list goes on! 

But I was hard-pressed to think of anything that I'm jealous of now. I realized that two things were at play: 
  1. Getting married and being in a long-term, nurturing relationship has helped me shed the insecurities I used to feel about not being pretty enough or cool enough. It's hard to know whether these have gone away because of the strength and security I get from marriage or from the maturity that comes from getting older--but either way, I'm glad they're gone! 
  2. I've spent the last 15 years creating the kind of life I want to have. I've found my way toward meaningful work, I found my life partner, we were fortunate enough to bring two healthy children into the world, and we have a home filled with figurative and literal light. 
And I'm settling into this life more and more with each passing day. My job is becoming less overwhelming as the weeks go by, and the boys are getting more and more fun (I've confessed before that I am not an infant/toddler kind of person!). 

I just want to be sure to savor this time in our lives because I know it's going to go by quickly. I watch my friends' children growing up on Facebook, and I can't believe how fast it happens. There are children I taught as 3rd graders (which feels like just yesterday!) and they are suddenly going into high school. 

The other night I asked Matt what we should do to make sure we fully appreciate and embrace the time we have with our young children. He said we should keep on doing what we're doing--dinners together, playing together on the weekends--but we should also prioritize vacations and travel together to create those fun memories and experiences together. We're trying to decide if we want to spend six months abroad when the boys are a little older or if we just want to go on smaller vacations throughout the year. Or maybe both! The trip we took to San Francisco during Fall Break was an amazing time to experience the city through the eyes of our children and spend a ton of fully-engaged, quality time together. 

Image from the S. Carey living room concert Matt signed us up to host 

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

My Secret Passion

There are many paths my life could have taken. If I didn't go into the field of preK-12 education, I might have been a gay rights lawyer. Or a dancer. 

Yes, I have a not-so-secret passion for dancing. In fact, I was a cheerleader for eight years of my life (all the way through varsity) just because I loved the dancing part. I couldn't stomach the rest of it, so I quit and joined the swim team in 11th grade. 

But dancing! I love it. And I've been thinking about ways to reconnect with it. 

The other day, I remembered that many years ago, I used to daydream about having a "dance studio" in my home--an entire room dedicated to dance. Our current house already feels packed to the gills, so I thought about how I could possibly make this happen for myself. 

And then the idea hit me. What if I replaced our closet doors with glass doors? Instant dance studio! There's just enough room between our closet and our bed to dance a little. 

And so my birthday gift to myself this year will be my glass door dance studio and four weeks of classes at Ballet Austin. I'm going to learn the choreography to a terrible song (but it's an awesome dance!). I'm super-excited about. Specifically, I'm excited to get some movement back into my body. I really am starting to feel stiffer and stiffer as the years pass by. 

Luckily the dance class isn't until April, so there's still time to save up for the glass doors. We only allocate a certain amount to spend on our house each month. Last month it was Matt's desk from IKEA. This month it's a jungle gym for Tate and Henry in the backyard. Next month might be these sculptures from Etsy. And April can be the glass doors?!? 

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Change the Way You See Everything

Yesterday's post reminded me of a book I bought many, many years ago. Although I've cleared out a lot of the books I'll never read again, I did save several of my self-help books that I never made it through. Change the Way You See Everything through Asset-Based Thinking is one of those books.

I think it's exactly what I need to focus on right now, both in my professional and my personal life. 

Just think what could be possible if people focused their attention on:
  • Opportunities rather than problems
  • Strengths more than weaknesses
  • What can be done instead of what can't
When you decrease your focus on what is wrong (deficit-based thinking) and increase your focus on what is right (Asset-Based Thinking), you build enthusiasm and energy, strengthen relationships, and move people and productivity to the next level. 

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Monday, February 9, 2015

The Power of the Positive

Last Friday, Matt was out of town and I was alone with both boys. I ordered dinner via Favor, which is my new favorite way to "make a clearing" and reduce the stress in my life. (Full Disclaimer: My brother-in-law works for favor, but my affinity for them is completely objective!)

Right when the delivery arrived, Henry came running out of the restroom. He had nothing but a shirt on, and he was exclaiming, "Mama! I have poop on my foot!" 

The details of how that happened are not relevant to my point, so I'll spare you the gory details....

Anyway, as I was helping Henry clean up the mess, he asked, "Are you going to be mad about it, Mama?" I assured him that I wasn't going to be mad at all, but his comment left me wondering: Why is it that Henry would even think I would get mad? 

I work really hard not to get mad when Henry spills water all over the floor, breaks a glass, or drops food. I remain calm and help him figure out how to clean it up. 

But there are lots of other times when Henry probably feels me getting mad at him: when he's taking forever to climb into his car seat because he's messing around with anything and everything in the car; when he hurts Tate or an animal or a plant; when he won't do something I'm asking him to do, such as brush his teeth. 

And it connected to something that his teacher said at our last parent conference. She explained that she thinks that Henry sometimes makes bad choices because he sees himself as a person who makes bad choices. 

Is this partly because I make it so clear (so often) when he is making a bad choice? Do I make him feel like a person who makes bad choices? 

And--on the other side of things--how often does he feel like he's making good choices? That he's a person who makes good choices? 

I spent the rest of the night trying to point out the positive. "Henry, remember earlier when you held open the door for me at school? That made me feel so good! You are such a kind person!" "Henry, you asked Tate for his necklace so nicely! And you said 'thank you' when he gave it to you! You are so kind." 

And our night was amazing. Even though it was only one night, it was enough to inspire me to pay more attention (again) to the ratio of my positive to negative interactions with Henry. I'm definitely going to have negative interactions with him. I'm going to have to tell him that there's not time to make applesauce before bed and that I didn't like it when he ripped the leaf off the plant. But even those things I can convey as positively as possible. And I can overshadow those negative interactions with a ton of positive ones. I've heard that the ideal ratio of positive to negative is 4:1. 

And what would happen if I would transfer this concept into the rest of my life? What if I pushed four positive thoughts into my head for every negative thought? 

I'm feeling pulled to do some real self-work. When I was living on my own in my early and mid-twenties, I used to read a lot of self-help books and loved how they pushed me to be a better person. Marriage, homeownership, motherhood, and my career seem to have de-priortized the intentional time I used to set aside to help myself grow as a person. Of course all of those things also help me grow as a person, but I see real value in setting aside separate time for introspection. 

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Home Tour: Austin

Master bedroom

Tate's bedroom

Henry's bedroom


Other direction

Living room


Boys' bathroom

Back of the house

Backyard firepit


I can't believe we've lived here for more than a year and a half and I haven't featured a home tour! Sorry about that. (Here's the tour of our old house in Houston, if you're interested). 

As a recap of the process, Matt and I purchased architectural plans that were already in existence, which helped reduce the overall cost. This was the third time this particular house has been built in Austin. Because we were able to find an odd-shaped piece of empty land that was priced inexpensively, the total cost of the project ended up being on par with the selling price of renovated homes in our neighborhood. 

I can't think of anything else to say! We love living here and are full of gratitude. 

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Budget Update

I wanted to check back in about how our new budget monitoring is going. Here's the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.
  1. I am loving The app is particularly helpful because it is super easy to use on a daily basis to stay on top of our expenses. It doesn't always categorize things the way we want to categorize them (for example, it says P.Terry's is "fast food" and we just want to lump it under our general "Restaurant" expenses). Getting everything into the right category is integral to monitoring our budgets in the right way. 
  2. In addition to categorizing certain expenses, I like to look at the bar graphs of where our spending is in relation to our budget for the month. It shows us whether we are over-spending based on where we should be or under-spending. 
  3. Closely monitoring our finances is introducing stress into our lives. For example, Matt likes to eat out a lot (and we keep forgetting to turn on our crockpot in the morning), so our "Restaurant" budget is almost blown for the month. So I got frustrated when Matt generously paid for two other people's meals. His response was that budget monitoring was making me a "worse person". Ouch. I tried explaining that I was completely fine with being more generous in our lives, but that we couldn't be generous with money we don't have. Generosity without money to back it up = credit card debt. If we want to be more generous, then we need to allocate more money to particular categories where we want to be more generous (such as "Restaurants" if we want to pay for people's meals or "Miscellaneous" if we want to buy more gifts). I said I was fine being more generous but that we needed to sit down together and decide which category we wanted to take money from in order to be more generous. Do we want to travel less? Save less for retirement? Save less for our children's college educations? This conversation did not go well. It is yet another example of when my hyper-logic is too much for a given situation. Being an INTJ is the source of many strengths and many areas for growth....
  4. Now that I'm really getting to a good place with, I think I want to go back in and upload our entire budget (right now it just has the pieces that we have the most control over). On second thought, that might create more work for me in terms of needing to correctly code every single expense. I think I'll just leave it as it is for now, since it keeps us focused on the purchases that can easily get out of control: restaurants, trips to Target, groceries at Whole Foods, etc.

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Monday, February 2, 2015

February: Reflection & Rejuvenation

February is here. So fast! We are already 1/12 of the way through the year with just a blink of an eye. How did that happen? 

Here's what I set out to do this month: 
  • Organize Henry’s closet: Yes! 
  • Organize junk drawer: Yes!
  • Get our wood siding refinished: Nope. We decided to use the money in our Home Improvement budget to buy this IKEA desk in white for Matt.
  • Paint our deck: No, see reason above.
  • Plan Reflection & Rejuvenation retreat (e-mail me for details!): Yes! It's on the calendar for July in Austin! 
  • Get budget set: Yes! 
  • Work one hour a night and balance our chores: Um, I've still been working 3-4 hours a night, but I have gotten better at balancing our chores. 
  • Invite friends over: Yes! We spontaneously invited our neighbors over on a lovely Sunday afternoon. I recently read this article about inviting friends over and not stressing about it, and I tried to channel it as I served a regular ol' meal to them!
  • Date night! Yes! And we have one on the calendar for February, too.
  • Plan First Thursday Fun for next month: Yes! A friend and I will be going out for dinner.
  • Drink 80 ounces of water a day: I'm doing this most days, I think.
  • Run at least once a week: Yes! Well, in my Writer's Notebook, I track this goal as needing to run four times a month. I saved it until the very last minute, so I've had to run every weekend day since MLK Day.
  • Stretch at least three times a week: Matt and I have built this into our nightly routine, and we now do it pretty regularly. 
  • Trade out the boys’ toys weekly: I've been trying to, but Henry honestly doesn't have many toys to trade out! 
  • Plan Henry's birthday party: Yes! 
Wow. That feels pretty productive. New Year's Resolutions are easiest to maintain in January, right? 

Now I need to go to my list of goals for the year and see what I have on the agenda for February:
  • Purge and organize our entryway
  • Work one hour a night and balance our chores
  • Invite friends over
  • Plan First Thursday Fun for March
  • Drink 80 ounces of water a day
  • Run at least once a week (for a total of four times in February)
  • Stretch at least three times a week
  • Trade out the boys’ toys weekly
  • Submit our house to Dwell Magazine for consideration 
  • Introduce a new meal to our rotation
  • Get our taxes done

    Those goals seem pretty reasonable! 

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