Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Getting Back on Track with Our Finances

Matt and I spent a very long time monitoring every last penny that we had and how we spent it. There was a time when I was on maternity leave and a time when I was only working part-time, so that I could volunteer to get Montessori For All up and running. We were also trying to send Henry to Montessori school and save up money to build a house. It was a stressful period. Once we got through it, we both had full-time jobs, our mortgage was just a little more than our rent, and both our children were at a public school. 

Now that we have more money, it's easy to spend more money. Matt eats out for lunch all the time. I order stuff off Amazon. Matt goes to Target. We still have money for vacations, but we aren't saving money the way we could be.

If we keep spending our money without intention and purpose, we aren't going to maximize our savings potential. We could be investing our money rather than just piddling it away. 

I'm noticing a trend in my posts this week. It feels like I'm turning over a new leaf! I really want to get this aspect of our lives back under control and move forward really intentionally and purposefully. How should I do that? 

Step One: Evaluate Where We Currently Are
  • I need to go back to our budget and update it based on our current reality. I also need to go through our credit card statements with a fine-tooth comb to see 1) if we have any unnecessary recurring expenses that we are not even aware of and 2) if there are places we can cut back. 
Step Two: Revise Our Budget
  • Once we take stock of where we are, we can set goals for ourselves. We have to be honest about the fact that if we go on vacation several times a year, we will need to spend less in other areas in order to end up saving money. 
 Step Three: Track Our Progress
  • I love Mint.com's capacity to let us track our spending according to our budgets on a daily basis. We need to get back into using it religiously. Maybe I'll get into the habit of using the app before I let myself go on Facebook.
This sounds like the right plan. I'm going to work on this for the next couple weeks and then implement the new plan starting on October 1st!

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Where I Am Versus Where I Want to Be

My brain is trained to focus on outcomes. When I step back and focus on the outputs, here's what I notice about my life right now:
  • I'm tired all the time.
  • My clothes aren't fitting well.
  • I'm having trouble mustering up motivation.
With those outputs on the table, my mind then goes to the inputs. What am I doing (or not doing) that is contributing to those outcomes? 
  1. I'm addicted to a TV show. While a little bit of TV can help me relax, a lot of TV makes me feel lethargic, passive, de-motivated, and tired (in part because I let myself go to bed too late to fit in one more show and in part because I'm not doing anything interesting or productive if I fill up any free time I have with television).
  2. I'm not eating a good breakfast (or sometimes any breakfast). I'm not eating a consistently good lunch (or sometimes any lunch). And I'm not eating enough fruits and vegetables. One day, I ate nothing but donuts before dinner time. Seriously. (At least they were delicious donuts from my new favorite donut shop.)
  3. I'm not exercising at all. Since my back injury in May, I haven't been running and I've only gone to yoga a couple of times. I hardly ever do stretches before bed.
Geez. As I write all of this out, it is crystal clear that I am missing some of the key components of a healthy life: healthy food, healthy sleep, and healthy activity. I'm surprised I'm not feeling worse!  

I write these posts every so often because I need a re-set. It's too easy to get busy and let any one (or all) of these things drop. 

I need to re-commit to the healthy habits that lay a solid foundation upon which to build my life. I commit to:
  • Drinking a green smoothie every morning for breakfast (plain yogurt + spinach + frozen mango + banana + ground flax seed)
  • Going to a yoga class once a week
  • Stretching each night before bed
  • Starting physical therapy for my back (and then getting back into the habit of running)
  • Turning the light out by 10pm every night--no excuses
  • Bringing fruit to work for a morning snack
  • Getting back into the habit of having a salad with dinner
  • Ordering a new work bag so I can comfortably fit my water bottle, snacks, etc. 
  • Take vitamins every day.
  • Leaving work on time each day so I can have more time to prepare my lunch for the next day in the evening
Whenever I make commitments, I try to ask myself: "What will get in my way from actually doing these things?"
  • I hate making smoothies every morning. I need to find a way to make them in advance. I might try this method. I can definitely make a big batch on the weekend and freeze it for the week.
  • I just need to make myself go to yoga class. That's all there is to it! I feel like my boys need me during the bedtime routine to feel like their lives are safe and complete. Maybe if I commit to leaving work on time every day, that extra time might help me feel like I am filling their buckets.
  • I also just need to make myself stretch. It's not rocket science. I am going to ask Matt to help me recommit to this one (and all of these!). 
  • I added "Call the doctor" to my action plan for Monday. 
  • Talk to Matt about the new 10pm rule. I think he'll be on board. 
  • I need to get a lunch box. I like this one. I will also need to get everything ready the day before.
  • Making salads won't be hard. Now that we aren't swimming every day anymore, I have a little more time to make dinner.
  • Done! I just ordered a new work bag.
  • I'll take my vitamins when Matt takes his. 
I'm already feeling much better by having these next steps in place! 

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Farewell Summer, Fall Is Coming!

It's funny how the seasonal shift is so sudden. We woke up the Saturday after Labor Day and it was noticeably cooler. We suddenly needed fall clothes instead of summer ones. 

The way it works in Texas, though, is pretty awesome. We will have Fall for a little bit but then it will suddenly spike back up to Summer. I like it because it alleviates some of the "grass is greener syndrome" that can happen with the weather. Just when I'm starting to miss swimming, it will get really hot and we can jump back in the pool. 

But while it's a little bit cooler, I want to think about what my intentions are for this season. I finally bought this book. I hope that I will actually read it and get some ideas about how to align my families' activities more with nature.

Our goals for the season: 
  • Go to a pumpkin patch
  • Carve pumpkins
  • Host a Halloween trick-or-treating party for our neighbors
  • Make homemade Halloween costumes for the four of us
  • Have a great Thanksgiving dinner with friends
  • Host a couple more backyard movie nights before it gets too cold
  • Be fully prepared for Christmas by the end of November!

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Living an Adventurous Life

Every time I read another study about how parenting decreases the quality of one's life (in the immediate sense), I nod in agreement. Parenting two young children (28 months apart) while also undertaking the most intense time in my career--most likely ever--was a recipe for pushing me to the edge of my capacity. (Of course there were way worse things that also could have happened---Universe, I am not tempting you to pile on more.)

There were (and still are) some days when I feel like I'm just pushing through until bedtime. 

But I am seeing glimpses of the light. Now that Tate is past two, the tide is shifting. The boys play better together and there are more moments when I can sit and do my own thing while independent activity happens. 

While I most certainly take advantage of those moments, I also find myself wanting to do more fun things with them as a family. Two weekends ago, for example, Matt was out of town. The boys and I spent Saturday morning at the house. They played while I cleaned. It was glorious. That afternoon, I decided we needed to get out of the house. We were going to go to the Bullock Texas State History Museum, but at the last minute I decided to take the boys to a free history museum on the UT campus instead. As we were driving toward the free museum at UT, Henry asked if we could stop at the college bookstore and get him and college t-shirt. It's a tradition in our family to visit colleges when we're traveling and pick up a t-shirt souvenir, so it made sense to get one from our hometown college. 

Once that decision was made, it made sense to go to a different free museum on campus. We found a parking spot and headed in. We happened upon a wishing pond, which was something Henry had been asking for, as well. Each boy got a penny and made a wish. We then made our way through the campus, heading toward the bell tower and basking in its beautiful music every 15 minutes. 

After seeing the first photograph in the world, we made our way to a busy street to find a campus bookstore. We got Tate a "Born a Horn" t-shirt, since he's the only one in our family actually born in Austin. 

We hit the street again, looking for a place to eat. It was such a fun adventure not knowing where we were going to end up and people-watching along the way. 

After dinner, we picked up ice-cream sandwiches and strolled back through campus. It was the perfect way to fill all the space between nap time and bed time. It was interesting, engaging, unexpected, fun, and memory-making. 

The experience made me realize that I need more adventure in my life. That night, I re-watched the video that Matt made for our wedding. It reminded me that our life used to be full of adventure. People always say you don't need to lose yourself when you have children, but it's pretty darn hard to figure out how to parent well and take care of yourself.

So this past weekend, we planned a family adventure. I stayed up late on Friday night scouring all the nearby Texas Hill Country towns trying to find something interesting to do. We ended up heading to Longhorn Cavern State Park. On the way, we stopped at a small-town cafe for breakfast tacos and a blended, frozen chai drink. We tried to go to a small farmers' market hosted by a little Montessori farm school, but it was closed for the season. The caverns themselves were a phenomenal experience, both visually and historically. 

The whole experience inspired Matt and me to undertake a major project together. After we got home, we got started on the project and made major headway in one night. I'll be announcing more details soon!

It was a reminder that planning adventures is the helium to my balloon. I am so inspired when I'm making plans to go somewhere different and try something new. And I love that planning adventures with my boys makes my life better. Adventures are more fun with them. Seeing the world through their eyes and teaching them things along the way--things about history, things about the natural world, and things about how to be a better person--make me grow as a person. 

Thank you, Parenthood, I think I could get used to this!

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Monday, September 14, 2015

Update on Toilet Learning and Pacifiers

The last toilet training update I gave was when Tate was 23 months-old. At that time, we were reminding him to use the toilet every hour or so. 

He's currently 26 months-old and now he can independently decide when he needs to go pee or poop. He'll yell "pee!" and start running to the toilet. We only use diapers at nap and bed time.

In the middle of helping Tate with his toilet learning, I read this article about the dangers of early toilet learning, written by a pediatric urologist. I'll be honest and say that it freaked me out a little bit. Fortunately, everything seems to be going well with Tate's early toilet learning, just like it did with Henry. I'm still convinced that the Montessori approach of starting early is right. We have three year-olds at our school who cannot yet use the toilet independently, and it's hard on both the teachers and the parents. Three year-olds have such a strong, independent will. Toilet learning can easily become a battle. 

On the pacifier front, I wrote this post back in October about trying to wean Tate by reducing his usage to nap and bedtime. The goal at that time was to wait another month and then eliminate it all together.

Well, that did not go so well. He screamed and screamed as if he were being psychologically traumatized. We persisted for a few days (if we could handle sleep training, I figured we could handle pacifier-weaning), but it was awful. We finally gave in and gave his pacifiers back at nap and bedtime.

Fast forward almost a year(!). Tate bit a hole in one of his pacifiers, so we seized the opportunity to try again. It was a rough couple days, but nothing like the first time we tried. Now he says, "Giraffe broke." And we commiserate with him and then move on.  

Phew! The pediatrician said we should wean him by two years-old, three at the very latest. Tate is now two years and two months. It seemed like the right time. 

I'm glad we are done with that phase in our lives! #stoppingattwo #hoorayforvasectomies

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

New Toys from IKEA

Oh, IKEA. You are such a money suck.

We went a couple of weekends ago to get a new outdoor umbrella (which was out of stock) and instead walked away with:

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Easy Personalized Board Book

Please forgive me if I already posted about the board book we had made for Tate. We had such a positive experience with Pint Size Productions again. I thought I already wrote about it, but I can't find the post. I came across the book in our book basket, so I thought I would share.

We made a board book for Henry's first birthday. I reflect a lot about things I did for Henry that I want to also do for Tate (like his scrapbook) versus things I want to let go. The board book was one of those things I really wanted to do for Tate but finally decided it was time to do. 

For his second birthday, we uploaded photos from Instagram and had his book made. It was a pretty simple process. 

Sorry it was late, Tate!

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Vacation: The Pacific Northwest

We have another family vacation on the horizon! At this stage in our life, we are choosing to financially prioritize traveling with our family. We find that traveling together removes us from the day-to-day stresses and immerses us in each other's company and offers us new experiences and adventure. 

Do you have any recommendations for Portland or Seattle? (Megan, I hope we can finally hang out together!)

This post has an amazing (and overwhelming) amount of Portland advice, and I enjoyed this post about going to Seattle with family. Here's our tentative plan:

  • Arrive really late at night (this will be our first flight with Tate needing his own seat!)
Monday: Seattle
  • Boat adventure in the morning
  • University of Washington in the afternoon and maybe Trophy Cupcakes
Tuesday: Seattle
Wednesday: Seattle
  • ? in the morning
  • Drive to Portland in the afternoon
Thursday: Portland
  • Slappy Cakes for breakfast
  • Bike ride in the morning
  • Hiking in the afternoon
  • Powell's Bookstore in the afternoon
 Friday: Portland
  • Breakfast
  • Westmoreland Park
  • Drive to Seattle to catch our flight 

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

How to Host a Backyard Movie Night (and Replace Your TV with a Projector)

Matt and I got rid of our TV many years ago. I grew up watching A TON of TV (hello, Facts of Life, Three's Company, Silverspoons, Punky Brewster, Alf, You Can't Do that on Television, Saved by the Bell--I know I'm dating myself). Once I hit adulthood, I started to realize that it's a major time suck. It's so easy to lose many hours in front of the screen and to emerge from a TV feeling foggy and disappointed in myself rather than relaxed and rejuvenated. 

But that's just me. I know there are lots of people who do find TV to be a productive way to relax. I just know that I personally want to be intentional with my screen time, and switching over to a projector allowed me to do that. 

Matt and I haven't had a TV in our living room for about 8 years and we finally ditched our bedroom TV about 5 years ago. When we watch movies or shows now, we use a computer or a projector. 

We purchased this one from Amazon, but there is also a more recent version available

We keep it in a basket with an extension cord for easy portability. We use this speaker to go with it. 

A couple years ago, there was a flash sale on a website called Woot and we scored this giant outdoor screen for an inexpensive price. It takes about 10 minutes to set up, and it breaks down into a relatively small bag for easy storage (under our couch). We only put it up for special events, like Matt's Goonies birthday party or our backyard movie night. I've been meaning to get an old-school projection screen like this for more casual movie nights in our living room. In our bedroom, we simply project things onto our closet.

I think that's about it. Let me know if you have any questions!

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