Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Blossoms and Inspiration for Wednesday!

Springtime Blossoms 2_25_15

Hello, hello!  After the hurricane that was the start of the 2015 academic semester, I am back with a few great links to share with you on this fine Wednesday.  Above, I share with you some springtime blossoms I saw this morning outside the library.  (So pretty, right?  So hopeful!  Come on, spring!)

Let’s get to the links!

* ONE: Dear Sugar is back!  In podcast form!  Hurray!

* TWO: When I was in graduate school, I never got around to writing a post about the care and feeding of your graduate student.  So I loved this post from Alison on the care and keeping of your med student.  Yes.  

* THREE: I’m trying to revise my wardrobe to reflect my new lifestyle as a professional freelancer.  I no longer work in a lab, nor do I go to the same place every day for work.  Some days I need to look more professional; other days I’m sitting on the floor with kids talking about science.  I’m trying to figure out how to curate a wardrobe that will work for me.  I loved Jess’s teacher capsule wardrobe—so many pretty pieces!  All those jewel tones are my kind of capsule—I want to see more capsules where people don’t shy away from using beautiful, vibrant COLOR.

* FOUR: I’m feeling drawn yet again to meditation and to contemplating my spirituality.  I have more to say on this topic, but for now, enjoy this beginner’s guide to meditation from my favorite, Gabrielle Bernstein.  I especially like #5: peace begins with me.

* FIVE: “Don’t doubt yourself.”  I’ve been super-busy with work, mostly high school chemistry.  On top of that, I’ve been offered some interesting freelancing opportunities that will push me out of my comfort zone.  I want to bookmark this post on avoiding freelancer burn-out because some weeks are really hard and I need reminders that it’s okay to set limits, to take time to learn new things, to be a little choosy over the jobs I take.

So what’s new with all of you, lovely readers?


Monday, January 19, 2015

2015 Intention: Flow

After such an incredible goal-reaching year, it would be easy for me to conclude that 2015 will be nothing special.  I’m hoping that all the hard work during 2014 has created a solid foundation so that 2015 will be a stable, happy year.  And that’s why my goals for 2015 are less about new achievements and more about flow.

Let’s talk about flow for a moment.  In 2014, Danielle LaPorte’s work rocketed into my world.  To hear Danielle speak about, oh, I don’t know, ANYTHING is to stop whatever you are doing and PAY ATTENTION.  Because whether you agree or disagree with her, you will feel compelled to listen, to figure out if she’s friend or foe.

I was actually a little miffed by the first interview of hers I heard, one she did with Jonathan Fields.  She slams higher education as being a system of right and wrong answers and toots her own horn for having never gone to college.  That’s an awfully narrow view of college and one that is not reflective of much of the work that happens in higher ed.  (True, a lot of STEM classes have right and wrong answers, but even those fields have plenty of room for creativity and ambiguity.)

I was annoyed by Danielle at first, but I kept listening.  Why?  Because I had left the realm of right and wrong answers, and I was trying to find my path.  Here was a woman who had dedicated her life to helping people find their paths.  Her method?  Ask yourself just one question:

How do you want to feel? 

How do you want to feel?  It’s so simple!  So simple and yet so…refreshing.  Profound.  Uncomplicated.

So I listened to all of Danielle’s talks I could find on youtube, then I put The Desire Map on my wishlist.  All along, I’ve been asking myself that one question: how do I want to feel?

Saturday Desk

As a book, The Desire Map is really two books in one: it’s the why and how of desire mapping.  I’ve read the why part; the how part is a workbook that I have yet to start in the pen-on-paper sense of the word.  But I’m introspective enough to have figured out how I want to feel.  Two words: flow and free.

Flow.  Flow describes how I want to feel in my personal and professional personal life.

I want to be more easy-going about how neat and clean (or not) our house is.

I want to spend lots of time exercising, on my bike and my two feet.

I want to keep the cash flowing in my life.

I want life to feel easier.

I’m pretty happy with how things are going now.  My work is off to a good start for the new semester, I’m renewing my commitment to running, and I haven’t been as stressed out about the state of our house.  This month, our roommate Courtney got a great new job, so that will increase our house’s cash flow.  For me, flow is about being energized by the things that I want to do.

Free.  Freedom can be a hard goal to nail down, given how busy our lives are and how enmeshed we are in relationships that place expectations on us.  I’m thinking of “free” in a few ways.

I want to be free to say yes or no.

I want to be free to accept invitations and to spend more time with friends.

I want to be free to learn more, write more, think more.

When you’re a freelancer, it’s easy to feel insecure about the next paycheck because it might not be there.  But I’m guessing that the sweet spot of freelancing is to know when the consequences of saying yes outweigh the freedom of saying no.  I remind myself that every yes has an opportunity cost: I won’t be free to say yes to something else when it comes along.

I want a great paycheck, but I also want to be me.  And I’m a person who needs time away from work in order to be energized and excited for my work.

* * *

You’ll notice that I don’t have any big achievement-oriented goals on my list for this year.  It’s not that I don’t have any goals like that; instead, they are embedded within my larger feelings for 2015.  I’m still running a half-marathon in February; I still aim to hit 20 billable hours each week.  Because my real goal for this year is to feel the way I want to feel, flow and free are deeper goals, more authentic goals.  And there are so many ways on a daily basis to feel the way I want to feel—it’s not limited to what I’ve listed here.

I have a feeling that 2015 is going to be a very good year.  Onward!  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

2014: The Year in Photographs (Part Two)

You Are Here

Austin, Austin, Austin!  That is the second half of 2014 for me in three words or less.  I’m so glad we made our move to Austin this year.  Austin has been exhilarating, challenging, and ultimately very rewarding.  I remember being jolted upright by the realization that chasing your dreams was, like, A LOT of work.  So much work.  And yet the hard work of chasing my teaching dreams was easier than delaying them any longer.

Austin gave me a chance to grow.  I learned how to live (mostly) peaceably with two roommates after living alone for a decade.  I learned how to run my own business.  I learned how to combine finances with my partner.  And I’m still learning what exactly I need in this new freelancing lifestyle of ours to make it really work for the long haul.

And with that, let’s check out my favorite photos from July-December of 2014.  (For Part One of this series, click here.)

Connect Four at Hullabaloo

* July: July was our last month in College Station.  Leaving was a bittersweet experience.  I knew that it was time to leave, yet I was sad to see that chapter of my life draw to a close.  As much as we all made fun of College Station, it was still our home, and we had a comfortable life there.

The photo above is from an evening at Hullabaloo Diner, legendary for its menu and train-car-turned-diner restaurant space.  We played Connect Four while waiting for a table; that’s Paul checking out his next move.  I love that photo as a reminder of the fun night we had with friends; we were out celebrating our friend Matt’s birthday, and it was an altogether great evening.      

On the Bike Trail

* August: In August, we settled into our new home in Austin, and Paul and I got busy working on our professional websites.  I spent much of August studying chemistry and genetics, trying to get ready for the fall 2014 semester.  In August, we discovered (via a friend) the riverfront trail that runs along the Colorado River in Austin.  The trail quickly became one of my favorite spots in Austin.  That’s me on my bike up there in a photo snapped by Paul.

Spider House

* September: In September, the fall semester started and I worked on marketing our various tutoring businesses.  The photo above is from Spider House, a groovy coffee shop near the University of Texas.  Courtney and I went on several field trips to advertise our services, including the Austin Writing Shop, and I snapped a photo of the art at Spider House.

Gorgeous Flowers

* October: October was a crazy-busy month for me, as the semester kicked into full speed and my tutoring schedule filled up.  I was so happy to have paid work because it meant I was doing it!  I was making a living as a freelancer!  It meant I was adding value to people’s lives using my teaching skills.

It was pretty great.  But it was HARD, too, in ways that I could not appreciate until I started doing it.  I didn’t have much time for blogging, photography, or any of my other creative hobbies, but I did spot the gorgeous roses at Whole Foods one day, hence this photo.  We can always find a few moments to appreciate beauty, no matter how busy we are, right?  Right. 

The View from the Trail

* November: Another photo from the riverfront trail!  We figured out that the trail can be used to ride to west Austin, to UT’s campus, and to downtown Austin.  I think this photo is from a UT/downtown trip.  In this photo, you can see some of the downtown buildings through the branches of this wooded part of the trail.

November was a great month.  I was pretty busy with work for most of it, but tutoring slowed down during the week of Thanksgiving, and I had some much-needed time off.  Paul and I celebrated my birthday with a long bike ride and a trip to downtown Austin for Anthropologie and fresh juice and snacks at Whole Foods.  It was a low-key celebration with my love, and it was perfect.

December Dusk in Austin

* December: December was by far the hardest month of 2014.  I was crazy-busy with work and worried sick about our house’s financial health.  I got pretty worn down by all the stress, but about a week before Christmas, work slowed down, and I was able to calm down and recover from all of it.  We had a fantastic party on New Year’s Eve as we said good-bye to 2014.

The photo above was taken from one of the bridges that crosses the river from downtown into south Austin.  You know I can’t pass a pretty sunset without taking a photo of it, and this one was no exception.  Austin is such a pretty city, with great views all around.  I look forward to exploring the city more, hopefully on foot and on bike.

* * *

2014 was a banner year for me.  I achieved a lot of goals and survived big challenges.  2015 might not be quite so exciting, but it might be even more rewarding.  I’ll be sharing my 2015 goals soon.  Until then…

Onward, 2015!

Monday, January 5, 2015

2014: The Year in Photographs (Part One)

Believe it or not, one of my biggest regrets of 2013 is that I didn’t do a “Year in Photographs” post.  I loved doing it for 2012, despite the sadness that permeated that year for me.  Curating these posts is a bit time-consuming, but it’s oh so satisfying to have these memories to look back upon and enjoy.

Without further ado, here is January-June of 2014, one photograph per month (plus narration from me, of course).

Loving the Tree

* January: In January, Paul and were lucky enough to visit Louisiana with our dear friends Amber and Jeremy.  We had an amazing time!  I think back on that trip and feel so very fortunate to have shared that time with some of my favorite people in one of the best cities in the world.  In the photograph above, that’s Amber and Paul loving one of the trees in City Park.

Fun fact: we were in NOLA for several days and drank zero alcohol.  That’s got to be some sort of tourist record!

Patio Sitting

* February: From what I remember, February was pretty quiet.  I was settling into a new job, meeting new students for tutoring, and getting ready for a March half-marathon.  Here’s a photo of Lucy, being her adorable self.  Sharing my life with this kitty has been such a joy, every day.

Pretty Colors

*March: In March, I flew to Michigan for my sister’s bridal shower.  March was a tough month for me: I was really anxious about money and the future, and I was grappling with the realization that despite my general dislike of change, I needed permission to change.  I needed permission from myself to change.

But I like this photo: it’s the kitchen window that looks out into backyard at my brother’s house, and the art is homemade, of course.  I like to think of it as a reminder that we can always open our eyes and enjoy the beauty of the place, the moment, wherever we may be.

(Also, it was a freezing cold winter, even in Texas!  You can see the snow on the ground in that photo.)

At Lake Bryan Together

* April: In April, I bounced back from my March gloom.  April was busy in all the best ways!  In this photo, Paul and I were at Lake Bryan with friends, out on a hike, when I asked someone to take our photograph.  I have surprisingly few photos of the two of us (though our friend Jeremy aims to fix that—thank goodness for that man and his beautiful art).  In this one, I especially like the way our arms and hands are entwined.  It feels like a metaphor for the way our lives have become woven around one another.  I feel very grateful for the life we are building together.  Paul is a wonderful person, and our partnership is the foundation of everything I do.

Good-Looking Bridal Party

* May: In May, my sister Theresa got married!  Here’s a photo of the bridal party on the night of the rehearsal dinner.  Everybody looks so pretty in their party dresses!  Being part of Theresa’s wedding was really special to me.  One of the most fun things was getting to know each of the other bridesmaids.  We are all so different from each other, and yet Theresa’s personality is reflected in each friendship.  It was so neat to see that.

Shallow Stream in Lost Maples

* June: Wow, June was a big month for us.  We signed a lease on a new place in Austin!  Immediately after we did that, Paul and I went camping in Lost Maples, our favorite Texas campground and the site of this photo.  It’s outrageously pretty there—it’s my idea of heaven, with its waterfalls, canyons, trees, and hiking trails.  I just love it so much.

Stay tuned for Part Two, July through December…

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sunday Night Review

Hey!  Happy 2015!

I had the loveliest New Year’s Eve and Day.  On New Year’s Eve, a bunch of our friends came over.  We ate delicious snacks, had a few drinks, and cozied up for an evening of Cards Against Humanity and Bananagrams and counting down to the start of the new year.  The next day, we had a lazy, rainy, stay-at-home-in-your-pajamas celebration, with burritos from Super Burrito and more Bananagrams.  Austin has been chilly lately, and our house has been really cold too.  So in the living room, we’ve had the fireplace and/or the space heater going, and we’ve dragged Courtney’s floor pillows into the room.  The vibe is very cozy and warm, a space to share with your favorite people (some of whom happen to be my housemates).

Kitty on Cushions

It’s been a wonderful, slow winter break.  I really needed it

My winter break ended abruptly on Friday, as I’ve had billable hours with students, lots of prep work, and a rocket launch on Saturday morning with some of the students at Acton Academy.  We drove far north to a cornfield outside of Austin to launch the rockets that our students built earlier this year.  Have you ever been to an model rocket launch?  It was so much fun—I was surprised at how much fun I had out in that muddy, chilly field.  It was so muddy that one of our students lost both his shoes in the mud, and a dad retrieved the launched rockets by strapping reusable grocery bags on his feet and clomping his way into the fields.  We were able to do eight launches, and it was just amazing to see how high those little rockets were able to go.  As they came back down to Earth, their little parachutes deployed, and they floated ever so gently into the mud.  I loved being able to share that experience with Paul and our students.

In other news, my friend Emily fixed my hat!  I’m so excited to be wearing it again.

Back in My Hat!

And even though I’m sad that winter break is ending, I’m excited about some good stuff coming up soon.  I’m working on a post about perfectionism for Austin Writing Shop, and it’s got me thinking about perfectionism versus the pursuit of excellence.  I want to try my hand at making homemade tortillas.  I’ve got paid work this week, which my wallet is happy about.  Life is good.

Have a great week, friends!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Two Stories, One New Year’s Eve

Hi, friends!

Today I have two stories.  The first is that we went to look at a house, a house that we might consider buying.  The realtor warned us that it’s a fixer-upper, and indeed—that would be putting it mildly.  The lay-out of the house, the feel of the space, was fantastic.  It has such potential!  The downside is that in its current state, this house is a dump and needs major renovations to be a place that I might consider living for the next 5-10 years.  It may also have structural issues, with its uneven floors and door frames.  So we’ll see.  I think we’re going to move forward with the financial part of home-buying, and we’ll see if this place stays on the market for any length of time.

The upside is that when we returned home, I felt so grateful for our beautiful house.  It might be a rental, but it’s our lovely rental, and I’d be happy to stay for a while.

The second story is that we’re having a New Year’s Eve party tonight!  We’ve been cleaning and cooking, as you can see:

Kaitlyn's Delicious Toffee

This here is Kaitlyn’s delicious toffee.  We all tried it yesterday and loved it!  Kaitlyn (ever so kindly) agreed to make a batch for our party tonight.  She’s promised to share the recipe, so it’ll be yours soon, too.  Other items on our menu include:

* Courtney’s homemade nachos

* Hummus (a riff on this recipe, in fact), pita chips, carrots, and celery sticks

* Pau’s kimchi pancake (What’s that, you ask?  It’s a savory pancake made with kimchi, and it’s really good.  We dip slices in soy sauce and sriracha—yum!)

* Toasted baguette slices with cream cheese and a fancy jam

So our menu is more of an hors d’ouevre sampling, and we’ve asked our friends to bring the booze, if the spirit moves them.

Our house is feeling clean, cozy, and ready for fun tonight.

Emily in the Living Room 

Courtney Being Domestic

That’s our friend Emily in the chair, knitting, and that’s my roommate Courtney.  And yes, she’s wearing a bell hooks shirt because she is awesome.

As for me, I have some time before I am needed for more party prepping (like sweeping the kitchen floor), so I’m going to steal away for an evening walk before the festivities begin.  I wish you a very happy New Year’s Eve and a 2015 filled with love and good cheer!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Do Better: Thoughts on My First Semester of Full-time Tutoring

The end of December marks the end of my first semester of full-time tutoring.  Ooh, boy, was this one a wild ride!  I wanted to take some time before the next semester is in full swing to take stock of this one, to mark the victories and hardships and to make notes about how I’m going to strive for an even better spring semester.

This semester was not what I thought it would be.  I thought that I would struggle to find work, that I would have a lot of time on my hands as I waited and hustled and prayed for students.  Instead, I had plenty of students and struggled to manage my time.  In the spirit of list-making, let’s walk through my victories and hardships, shall we?

Victories! are as follows: 

* I had as much business as I could handle.  I didn’t quite hit the weekly average for billable hours (I’m aiming for 20), but my monthly income was satisfying (and, quite frankly, much higher than I anticipated during this first semester).

* The students and parents with whom I worked were awesome.  I consider this such a blessing and one of the best parts of the work I do.

* I was able to pass my driving test in late October.  For the rest of the semester, I drove myself to my tutoring appointments.  I think my driving has improved a lot, simply because I needed to get better at navigating to new destinations.

* Paul and I were able merge our finances.  Even better than that, we’ve been able to find some common ground to make our financial conversations more peaceful.  Compromises were made for the greater good.

* As a reward for hitting 100 hours of tutoring on WyzAnt, I bought my first piece from Anthropologie!  I think this will be my new tradition for every 100 hours I bill on that site.  (I should snap a photo of myself the next time I wear my new top!  It’s super cute.) 

I had some real low points, too.  My hardships included:

* I struggled with the amount of commuting that I did for tutoring.  On some days, I would be in three or four different locations to meet with students, which was hard.  I don’t like spending that much time in the car or on the bus.

* It was a big challenge for me to have so many new subjects on my plate, including algebra, geometry, and science club for elementary students.  Overwhelmed was how I felt for most of the semester.

* In December, I had a major meltdown.  It was a combination of stresses that led to a pretty spectacular blowout—finals, supporting our still-unemployed roommate, feeling time-starved, our messy/dirty house.  I consider myself very lucky that Paul didn’t break up with me.  During December, I had the intense desire to live by myself, to be done with roommates and their messes and their problems.  That desire has now faded, only to be replaced by shame and self-loathing.  I’m trying to forgive myself, but it’s hard.  I will, however, be taking some proactive steps next semester to avoid a meltdown in the future.  

I learned a lot this semester, which is why I’ve got a list of…

Spring 2015 resolutions:

* Friday will be my official day off.

This idea seems super obvious (duh!), but it’s not something I scheduled deliberately.  What I learned is that I desperately need a day off from tutoring each week to recharge my batteries.  Teaching takes a lot out of me.  I love it, but it can be very draining.  The good news is that Friday is a low-demand day for tutoring, so I’m unlikely to lose much business and now I can count on getting that day off each week.

* I will schedule time for preparation and creating course materials.

I felt like I had NO TIME for this work, which is sad because I really enjoy it.  My best chance for doing this prep work is in January because the beginning of the new semester will be the slowest part of the season.  I’ve been pretty unmotivated enjoying my vacation for the last ten days (I needed it!), but I’m slowly starting to get excited about new students and new projects.

* I will strive for each of these things daily: meal preparation for my house, a chore, and exercise.

I felt like I had a breakthrough when I realized that my daily essentials can be summed up in such a short list.  I’m not including the basic self-care that I always do, no matter how busy, but I am including stuff that I know I neglected and that makes a huge difference in how good I feel about my life at the end of each day.  The exercise is especially important.  Part of my rationale for taking Friday off is to make sure I have a day when I can do a long run and have no pressing commitments afterward.

* I am allowed to say no if I’m feeling too much work fatigue.

This one is more of a permission slip than a goal.  When you’re a freelancer, there is the temptation to take on too much work because oh my god, what if there is no work next month?!?  It’s too easy to let panic make all your decisions for you.

I do think that a regularly scheduled day off will help a ton with the fatigue.  But if it doesn’t, I am giving myself permission to say no.  Not every student or tutoring inquiry will be a good match for me.  If I’m feeling overwhelmed or overbooked, I can seek balance by saying no.  It will be okay.  And honestly, when I have said no, it’s been a relief.  I am learning my limits, and I’m learning that it will be okay.

How about you?  Any victories or lessons learned in 2014?