Saturday, October 18, 2014

Life Lately: Living and Working in Austin

Austin_Crossing over the River

Hello, long-lost readers!  I’m alive and coming up for air.

I had no idea that I would disappear so completely from this site for a month.  The last time I did that was, I believe, two years ago when I was recovering from a heart so broken that I had to be alone, inasmuch as that was possible.  But while my absence in 2012 was driven by loss, my absence this year was driven by fullness, the incredible overflowing fullness of my new life in Austin.  In a word, I am happy.  In more words, there is lots to tell you.

Today is a rare day off for me: I’m at home with no students on my schedule today or tomorrow.  I’ve been so busy for the past five weeks that this mini-break feels delicious.  I feel like I’m finding my groove in this business of being self-employed, so when a break naturally falls into my schedule, I’m happy to take it.  Just around the corner is likely to be another day full of students and teaching.

There is so much to tell.  Let’s start with work.

Work.  Austin has shocked me with its abundance of tutoring work that landed at my feet.  Paul and I accepted jobs as freelance contractors with a company (College Guidance Associates), where we work as learning coaches (or tutors, for the uninitiated) with various students.  My primary gig at CGA has been teaching geometry, which I haven’t studied seriously since I was fourteen and taking high school geometry.  But I love the subject, and I’m learning how to teach it, at least to my one student, which is good enough for now.  In addition to CGA, I’ve got a steady load of students who found me through WyzAnt and a few students who found me through other channels.

Tutoring full-time is incredibly rewarding.  I’m very honored to do the work that I do now.  It has absorbed my attention and energy since the fall semester started; I haven’t had much time for writing or reflecting on my experiences.  I’m getting pretty good at simplifying ideas so that my students can grab a foothold and climb the mountain in front of them.  I’m a learning sherpa.

That being said, tutoring has significant challenges too.  Wrangling my schedule is an on-going task.  I’m figuring it out.  I am learning how much commuting I can handle and being willing to say no when a job isn’t the right fit for me.  Finding time to study is hard too, because I often have chores and other work I need to do when I’m not with students.  Today and tomorrow I hope to take advantage of my unexpected free time to do some studying.

Home.  You might recall that when I moved to Austin, I moved into a townhome with Paul and our friend Courtney.  We’ve been together for more than two months in the house now, and we’re finding our groove.  We eat lots of delicious home-cooked meals together, we share rides and grocery lists, and we watch episodes of Community every night.  We try to stay on top of the house chores.  Courtney made us an adorable chore chart that lives on the fridge.

Courtney's Chore Chart

The longer we live together, the more I feel that we are not just roommates; we are becoming a family.  We live together, we work together, we play together.  We take care of each other.  We all moved to Austin without “real” jobs, and we have supported each other as we set up new lives in a new city.  We’ve had our bumps along the way (such as battling a pile of dishes that never goes away!) , but life here in our south Austin home is very, very sweet.

Spider House

Out and about in Austin.  Because of work, we spend a lot more time in the car than I used to in my old life in College Station.  The upside to all this commuting is that we’re getting to know Austin as locals (which, of course, we are now).  We’ve got our favorite burrito place (Super Burrito) and coffee shop (Café Crème, where I meet with students in south Austin).  Across town, we’ve got our favorite ramen shop (Michi Ramen).  And if we had more money, I’m sure we’d be regulars at Kerbey Lane, where we dine when we have guests in town or when we need a treat.

We are so lucky to live in south Austin.  We’re a five-minute walk from a wildflower preserve where I like to go for walks and runs.  We’re an incredibly fast bike ride downhill to the riverfront, where Paul and I like to ride our bikes on Sunday mornings.  And south Austin has a kind of urban grit that I like—we’re living in the city here, not in the suburbs.  We can take the bus to downtown Austin or UT’s campus easily.  We can ride our bikes to the grocery store if we’re up for handling the punishing hills between us and HEB.

On the Bike Trail

In short, we love Austin.  Settling into our new city has been one of the best parts of moving.

Love.  The kind of move that Paul and I made comes with a significant amount of stress.  We’ve stressed about money, moving logistics, work prospects, housework, driving, all of it.  All the stress could have left us frazzled and angry with each other.  We’ve definitely had our moments.  But now that we’re a good two months out from the big move, I think it’s safe to say that we’re stronger and more confident in our partnership.  We’ve given up tracking our expenses separately and now treat our money as one big (or not-so-big) pot.  That was a huge shift for us and one that I think was the right decision.  We’ve tied our boats together; we’re sharing everything else, so why not share our money?

Sharing my life with Paul has been one of the best things to come out of the mess that the last few years have been for me.  Loving him came so easily to me that I sometimes forget how incredibly lucky we are that we found each other.  Austin was a destination for us for nearly a year before we moved.  I remember asking him, hours after I found out I was losing my job for the second time in 2013, “Can we just move to Austin now?”  Never mind his work, my lease, any of it—in that sad moment, I was ready for a fresh start and I wanted it NOW.  

You Are Here

 It took us much longer to get here.  Having worked toward our Austin move together, it feels like our city now.  It’s a place we get to discover and love together, a place we chose together.  It’s a place that feels like us.

Brief chronology note: I started writing this yesterday (Friday, October 17).  I’m finishing it today, October 18.  I decided to leave the timeline inside this post as though I had published it yesterday.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Budgeting for Freelancers, Part Two: Our Business Expenses

Hola, dear readers!  I’m finally returning to my “Budgeting for Freelancers” series.  Today will be Part Two, in which I discuss some of our business expenses.  You can find Part One here.

Paul and I share a financial goal: to sustain our lifestyle through freelance/contract work.  As you might recall, we both work as STEM tutors.  Paul’s been tutoring for a long time; I started in November 2013 and decided to go full time when we moved to Austin.

Being in business for yourself, as yourself, is many things.  It is empowering, challenging, satisfying.  In some ways it is simpler because there’s no hierarchy—it’s just us, doing our thing.  In some ways it is harder because it seems like there is less security, no “guaranteed” steady paycheck.  I put that in quotes because my experience in 2013 has made me roll my eyes at the assumption of a steady paycheck.  It’s steady until you are called into your boss’s office on a Friday afternoon and she tells you that you are being laid off, so sorry, accounting mistake.

2013’s rollercoaster has made me a lot more resilient in the face of freelancing.  No one can “fire” me from freelancing.  I’m always on the market, always open for business.  So it’s up to me to figure out how much I want to work and how to handle the logistics.  It’s a challenge I’ve accepted, sometimes bravely, sometimes fearfully.

There’s no honest way for me to write about budgeting for freelancers without talking about our business expenses.  You gotta spend money to make money.  And spend money we have, in the form of equipment, marketing, and learning.  Let’s talk about that now, shall we?

* Equipment.

Paul and I decided back in the spring that we were both really interested in being able to do on-line tutoring.  To do so, we needed to up our game.  As of this writing, we’ve spent over a thousand dollars on the following:

- a new desktop computer for Paul

- two kick-ass microphones

- two digitizer tablets, which function as virtual whiteboards on which we can work problems, explain concepts visually, etc.

Also under the equipment category is my new-to-me iPhone!  Paul repaired a broken one from his sister, and we activated it at the AT&T store for free.  My phone bill each month is about $52, which is less than I was paying on my old plan with all the pay-per-text communication I was doing with students.

* Marketing.

Entering a new market here in Austin, it’s essential that students know we exist and how to contact us.  Here’s what we’ve been doing to make that happen.

- I bought us some on-line marketing by upgrading my profile placement on UniversityTutors.com.  Cost: $179.

- My roommate Courtney and I have been putting up flyers all over town.  I’ve probably spent about $20 on flyers.

- I made business cards earlier this year with moo.com!  That was fun.  My cards were about $22.

* Learning.

On a beautiful day earlier this year, Paul and I rode our bikes to lunch and Barnes & Noble, where we both bought new books.  I bought The Freelancer’s Bible by Sara Horowitz and Toni Sciarra Poynter (cost: $20).  We took our books to a park, where we lounged in the sunshine and read on a Friday afternoon.  That last part, my friends, is the best part of being a freelancer.

The Freelancer’s Bible is an excellent read.  It was helpful to me as a newbie to start thinking about how to spend my time so that I can bring in the income that I need to live.  I haven’t looked at it in a few months, but I have a feeling I’ll be dusting it off in December so that I can think about how things went this semester and what I want 2015 to look like.

* * *

In writing this series, I’ve resisted doing a lot of on-line reading.  In the next few installments of this series, I’d like to offer the best-of links that I find after I let myself loose on the internet.  I’ll also come back around to the topic of lifestyle and the on-going conversations we’re having about that in my house.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Just Another Wednesday

Hello, friends!  After diligently working on my to-do list, I’m taking a break to dust off this space and tell you a bit about my August.

This time of year is the dry spell of the academic calendar, so things have been very slow on the work front.  Which is great for our peace of mind, less great for our wallets.  I’ve been working on several projects, some of them work-related and others just for me.

* I’ve started creating on-line content for my students.  The idea here is threefold: 1) it lets me practice my teaching in a way that’s not dependent on having students, 2) it gives students access to my knowledge, gift economy-style, and 3) it lets me market myself to students in a “free sample” way.  So far, I’ve done lessons on mitotic recombination and population genetics.  My goal is to have four of these lessons completed before the fall semester starts for Texas A&M University (where I tutored several students in genetics).

* I’ve been studying thermodynamics at the general chemistry level.  I finally saw, for the first time and with Paul’s help, how calculus applies to chemistry, and it was kinda awesome.  I’m not sure if or when I’ll move beyond general chemistry as a tutor, but I am becoming more and more intrigued with math and physics.  I’m surprised but delighted!

* (This is a secret, but I’ll tell you anyway…Paul and I had a job interview last week with a company here in Austin.  It went really well, and we might get hired.  I’m excited!)

* I’ve been cooking a lot and settling into our new kitchen here.  I’d like to give you a little photo tour of our kitchen because I like it.  The best thing about the new kitchen, though, is sharing it with our roommate Courtney, who has been cooking all sorts of delicious things for us.  Her secret?  How to Cook Everything The Basics by Mark Bittman.  If I didn’t have access to Courtney’s copy by virtue of living with her, I’d be running out right now to buy a copy!   

* I’ve resumed my preparations to get a driver’s license.  Paul is really looking forward to not being the only driver in our twosome.  (But I did just buy us a new car, so he can’t complain too much…right?)

* Let’s see, what else…?  I want to get back into running and have signed up for a half-marathon here in Austin in February.

* Finally, I’m working on Part Two of my “Budgeting for Freelancers” series.  What a challenging subject!  I feel a bit like a fraud offering anyone advice on this topic because we’ve spent SO MUCH MONEY this year.  What I really want to do is tell our story, not give anyone prescriptive advice about budgeting.  Maybe I’ll follow Chrissy’s lead and give you nitty-gritty numbers on our expenses to illustrate how we’re using money as a tool to build our life in Austin as freelancers.

Bonus: my cat is adorable.  Sometimes she thinks my socks are kittens and carries them around in her mouth.

Good Stretch

* * *

How are y’all doing?  What’s new?  Got any good links to share?  Happy week to you!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Budgeting for Freelancers, Part One: Investing in Your Life(style)

Just typing the title of this post, I can tell you that it’s tempting to read what other people have written first, then write my post.  But you know what?  I don’t want to do that.  I want to write this post from my heart, and my heart wants to build a life to love.  I don’t know what the specifics of that are for you.  I’m still figuring out what it means for me.  But I do know that it means putting your money where your heart is.

Because I’ve been so busy with our move to Austin (which is finally done—hurray! more on that later), I haven’t had much time to write.  This post incubated, and during that time, I realized I had to address a much, much larger issue in budgeting than what I thought I might write about, and it boils down to one word: lifestyle.

Our move to Austin marks my transition from regular wage-earner to full-time freelancer.  That means that Paul and I are both freelancers, so together we have no regular paychecks.  Instead we have bursts of income (like the entire month of April—heaven help us!) and dry periods, like the summer, when tutoring gigs are fewer.  Our lifestyle needs to accommodate the unpredictable nature of freelance income.  Our spending needs to include the investments we want to make in our businesses.  Here are a few thoughts on what these abstract ideas look like in the form of purchases.

* Be realistic about what you really need.  We needed a new(er) car, one that has better gas mileage and will last us a good long time.  Paul found us a gorgeous used car, and we cashed in some of my investments to pay for it.  The car is by far the biggest expense of the year for us, and it was totally and completely worth it.  I think we are both relieved and happy with the purchase.

Buying the new car also gave Paul a chance to take his old car into the shop, where he dropped a good chunk of change on repairs.  The plan is to sell the old car and set aside that money for car repairs/maintenance/etc. for the new vehicle.

* Pursue what you really want.  I mentioned that we just finished our move from College Station to Austin.  As luck would have it, I just crunched the numbers on the cost of that move!  We spent close to a thousand dollars on the move, and again, I’d say it was a thousand bucks well spent.  We’ll be sharing that cost with our friend Tim, with whom we shared a moving truck.  The point is that we wanted to live in Austin; it seems like a city in which we can be close to friends and do work that we love to do.

Moving is anything but easy.  It’s not glamorous.  It’s not fun.  In fact, it’s kind of awful and heartbreaking.  It feels like weeks of your life are simply consumed by the task of moving belongings from Point A to Point B.  But we really wanted to live in Austin, and we were willing to do what it takes to get there.

* Invest in your dream.  I have wanted to teach at the college level since I was a college student.  This was before I knew what I know now about myself, which is twofold:

1) I’m not that interested in doing research as a lab scientist any more.

2) I’m not interested in working 50+ hours a week for the rest of my life.  The idea of doing that depresses me.

But I am interested in freedom and how to create a life that lets me utilize my gifts.  I want to be able to choose where I live and how much time I spend working.  When I consider all of these factors, private tutoring is the choice that works.  It’s a choice that makes me happy because I love making students happy.

The biggest tutoring challenge for me is to attract enough clients so that my income supports my lifestyle.  To do that, Paul and I have invested in some great technology so that we can do on-line tutoring with students who are, potentially, anywhere in the world.  We plan to invest more money into our business so that our equipment doesn’t limit our ability to book students on a daily scale.  (Right now, we have the equipment for one of us to be tutoring on-line, but what happens when we both need the microphone and digitizer tablet?  We don’t want to say no to students!)

You gotta spend money to make money.  Fortunately, the start-up costs for tutoring are low.  But to work at the level we want, we needed more than our laptops and a pad of paper.  We needed some serious equipment.

* Experiment with your business.  Today I spent $179 to be listed as a “featured tutor” on UniversityTutor.com.  It’s the most money I’ve ever spent on marketing.  It’s an experiment!  I don’t know whether the results will be worth the money, but there is only one way to find out.  I’ll report back in a year.

(I also bought business cards, which was a super fun experience.  I love having my own cards now.  moo.com for the win!)

* * *

Taken together, I’ve spent about a third of my 2014 tutoring income on my tutoring business.  I believe it is money well spent, and somehow, spending money on the business makes it easier for me to let go of money, to send it out into the world to do its job.

Next up: my thoughts on daily choices while living the freelance lifestyle.  Until then, have a great week, friends!

About Me, Seven Years Later

Us

Hi, my name is Rose-Anne.  I started this blog seven years ago, and here we are today.  That’s my partner Paul with me in that photo up there.

This huge blogging adventure started with one desire: to write in my own voice.  It was a gratifyingly selfish project, and it remains so: I write this blog for me.

But if I may contradict myself (very well then, I contradict myself…), I write this blog for you, too, and for any and every reader who finds her way to my site.  I write because I love to write, and having a place in which to do it is a beautiful thing.

I started this blog as a food blog, but since then, it has transformed into a personal blog that chronicles my life.  I still occasionally write about food, but I also write about freelancing, thoughtful consumerism, love, loss, travels, and my home life.  I write about topics that interest me, and that turns out to be a pretty eclectic list.  But I do still love food and feeding people; you can check out my recipe index for some delicious ideas.

Who am I?  Professionally, I’m a freelance chemistry and biology tutor.  My professional blog lives here.  I’m always looking for new students, so if you want to work with me, e-mail me at r-meissner@u.northwestern.edu.  (Shameless plug: my partner Paul tutors students in mechanical engineering, math, and physics, so if you need help in any of those subjects, contact him through this link.  We offer on-line tutoring, so location is not a problem for us!  Also, he’s a wonderful and patient tutor—I can’t recommend him enough.)

Who am I?  Personally, I’m a vegetarian, politically liberal, PhD-trained, 30-something lady living in Austin, TX.  I love good books, good design, and good food.  I’m always learning (hence the unofficial name of my tutoring business: #love_learning) and practice gratitude and love on a daily basis.  I live with my partner Paul and our dear friend Courtney.  Within the last year, Paul and I discovered the work of Charles Eisenstein, who has influenced us in profound ways.  In the spirit of his idea of “living in the gift,” we seek to be of service to our fellow humans.  I consider this blog one way in which I can give my gifts freely to anyone who might enjoy them.

Thank you for visiting me!  May you live well, love well, and eat well.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Moving Weekend is Upon Us!

Hello, howdy, hey!

Moving weekend is upon us here in Casa de Paul y Rose-Anne.  I write this from a living room that’s been taken over by stacks of boxes that Paul refers to as his Tetris game.

Ugh, moving is so hard and bittersweet!  I feel like we’ve been moving for weeks and weeks, between all the decisions we’ve made, the logistics we’ve wrangled, and the fact that Paul started packing weeks ago.  Our poor kitty is hiding in my bedroom, trying to ignore the chaos in her usually peaceful home.

Packing up books today, I unearthed a library book that I deeply enjoyed but never finished: The Creation of Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner, who was a historian.  It’s a brilliant book, one that attempts to answer a fascinating question: when, how, and why did women start accepting the role of second-class citizen in Western cultures?  It’s tough to deliver a definitive explanation, but I think it’s a noble effort.  Anyway, what that book reminded me is how much of my time in College Station was really spent exploring and trying to figure out who I am.  I know that may sound cliché, and shouldn’t someone in their late 20s know who they are?  But truth is paradoxical: I was lost, and I knew what I wanted.  Sort of.  I’m a wanderer, a truth-seeker, a teacher.  I’m so grateful I was able to explore so deeply during my almost-five years here.  The journey was painful at times, but I know now that I am leaving College Station more myself than I ever have been.

There has been a lot of sadness here—a LOT of sadness.  But there’s been a lot of happiness too, even moments of joy.  In this particular moment, with Paul sautéing onions and tofu in the kitchen, the smell of curry powder hanging in the air, I feel very content.  Despite the boxes, even despite myself.  I hate moving, and I don’t really like change.  But I love what both can bring into my life—new places, new people, and a new chance at happiness.  We’ll get through this weekend, and next week, when I work my final days inside a lab.  For now, I’m just riding the wave that is carrying me toward Austin and into my future.

 Gah!Our former living room, now our moving room

Lu with LaundryLu loves a good pile of laundry

Notes from Creation of PatriarchyNotes on The Creation of Patriarchy

Sunday, July 13, 2014

We Begin to Say Good-bye

A few images of life lately…

Bread and Cheese Board

Steeping Strawberries

Packing Tape and Cookbooks

Perhaps it’s self-evident that I’m busy this month: it’s been two weeks since my last post.  We’re in the thick of our move to Austin.  I began packing boxes yesterday, we decided on a moving strategy (hire your friends!), and we’ve picked a date for the big move involving a big truck and a plan of attack.

To be really honest, I kinda hate it when bloggers go on and on and on(!) about their move.  So boring.  I don’t want to do that to you, and I don’t have the energy to write about it either.

Suddenly I have nothing to talk about.  Good-bye.

Okay, maybe I’ll talk about the move a little bit.  It’s a bit more complicated than you might think.  Paul and I have been collaborating with his friend Tim to move two homes: the apartment Paul and I live in now and Tim’s house, where Paul and Tim used to live with their roommate Matt.  We had initially planned to hire professional movers because we’d prefer to trade our money for the convenience of having someone else do the heavy lifting.  But the estimates we got were shockingly high for such a short-distance move (College Station and Austin are about 100 miles apart), so we’re going to rent a truck, hire/bribe some friends, and do the move ourselves.  We’ve made our peace with this decision, so it’s on to scheduling a truck and packing boxes.

Meanwhile, I’m working 25+ hours most weeks, finishing the final weeks of my lab job.  In Austin, as I’ve mentioned, I’ll be a full-time freelancer.  After a meltdown last week, I realized that I have a lot of spiritual work to do to step into that role.  My breakthrough insight: I am never going to be “free” of my fear of not having enough—enough money, enough time, enough creative work, enough food.  I’ll never be free of my fear, so instead I must see my fear as part of my process.  Charles Eisenstein has this phrase where he talks about humanity entering into a co-creative partnership with the Earth.  Likewise, I am starting a co-creative partnership with my fear.  I’m inviting it to join me in this new adventure.  Intellectually, I’ve already made my decision, but the fear was nagging at me, pulling on me, demanding my attention.  So what do I do with the fear?  I invite it along for the ride!  The fear will be what pushes me to work when I don’t feel like it.  It will be what reminds me to be not just good at what I do but excellent.

You might say, “But Rose-Anne, isn’t that really negative to let your fear be what drives you?”  I say: fear isn’t in the driver’s seat.  I am.  But fear is my co-passenger on the days that it insists on tagging along.

I’ve spent too much time being afraid of the fear.  By embracing it, I hope to disarm the power it has over me.  Last night, I bought a copy of May Cause Miracles by Gabrielle Bernstein to work through my fear and find a healthier path.  (And again, the fear might walk beside me on that path, but that’s okay.)

In other news, Paul and I bought a new car last week!  He found us a used 2007 Volkswagen Passat, and we couldn’t be happier with it.  Our vehicle until now has been an ancient, much-loved Explorer.  We had been planning to buy a car for many months now.  Paul tells me that driving the Explorer into the garage at our new place in Austin was his lightbulb moment: the Explorer didn’t belong in that space, our new car did.  So when we came back to College Station, he buckled down, hit up Craigslist, and found us a lovely used car.  It’s a much smoother ride than the Explorer, comfortable and in great shape.  What’s funny is that I grew up riding in old, beat-up cars, so I don’t care about having a nice car.  But even I like our Passat and feel very happy we bought it.  It’s another item checked off our to-do list.

That’s all the news for now.  I’m still planning to share my thoughts about budgeting on a freelancer’s income, but now I think I’m going to split it into two parts.  So stay tuned for that!

Happy week, dear readers.