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?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Meet My Favorite Neighbor

Lady Tuxedo Cat Goes Hunting

Meet my favorite neighbor, Lady Tuxedo Kitty!  She’s a gorgeous tuxedo cat who hangs around our property.  I think she’s an indoor-outdoor cat who has a human family, but I’d adopt her in a heartbeat if my own cat would allow such a thing (she won’t).

Lady Tuxedo Kitty is marvelously affectionate.  When we see each other, she comes running over for pets and headbutts and lots of love.  She’ll often follow me for a while, and she’s too adorable for me to ignore, so I’ll stop and give her some more love.  However, on the day I took that photo above, she decided to go hunting for birds in a tree, and I got left behind.  The birds were too fast for Lady Tuxedo Kitty; as soon as they heard her scampering up into the tree, they were outta there.  See ya!

Saturday, December 27, 2014


December Dusk in Austin

After a sad and tumultuous December, I am returning to this space to turn over a new leaf in blogging.

Maybe some day I’ll write about the struggles that made this month kinda miserable for me.  Or maybe not—maybe they are too personal, too unflattering, and too painful to write about.  Seeing the ugly sides of yourself is devastating, and it might be stuff that is best left in a journal, not a public blog.

What I have decided is that it is time for me to start blogging more regularly.  I’m going to try something very different, at least for me, and that is a promise/challenge to blog every day.  I don’t have many creative outlets, but blogging was is one of them.  It’s a hobby that got pushed to the side this semester, in my single-track determination to make this new life in Austin work.  Work has been the theme of the past three months, and god I miss having time to reflect and write about my days.  My plan is to share smaller stories and snippets from my day, including photos (because of course that iPhone goes everywhere with me).  The days go by so fast, and I deserve to have a creative outlet.

I took the photo above as Paul and I were biking back from downtown Austin, about to get on the riverfront trail on our way to our neighborhood.  The sunset was so pretty, the end of a gorgeous warm day.  One of my favorite things about Austin is that we are within biking distance of downtown.  On this particular day, we decided to do a bit of post-Christmas shopping.  We hit up REI in search of a secret gift for Paul’s parents and ended up buying some woolly socks for me and a sweater for Paul.  From there, we headed to Whole Foods to buy a few things.  Our last stop was LOFT, where I continued my search for the perfect beige sweater but left empty-handed (but with an imaginary permission slip to buy that sweater when I find it!).  Having recently spent so much time in the car driving to tutoring sessions, being able to ride our bikes for some shopping is a breath of fresh air, quite literally.  And I love that Paul is as happy as I am to leave the car at home for a two-wheeled adventure. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Budgeting for Freelancers, Part Four: Why We Combined Our Financial Lives

I’m back with another installment of Budgeting for Freelancers!  Want to read the rest of the series?  Here are Parts One, Two, and Three (click!).

I want to tell you about a deeply personal decision that Paul and I made earlier this year: the decision to combine our financial lives into one unit.

Paul and I have been dating for almost two years; we’ll hit the two-year mark in February.  We moved in together in May of 2014, and then we moved to Austin two months later.  We both work as freelance tutors, so we both face the highs and lows of self-employment.  Perhaps most importantly, we have been talking about money and our values since the earliest days of our relationship.

Long before we shared any bills or property, we talked about all manner of things related to money.  One of the first things I learned about Paul was his passion for quality and good design.  He buys the very best he can afford, and he’s very mindful of how his purchases reflect his values.  Paul is also very, very aware of the fact that his money literally represents his labor.  When you freelance and you get paid by the hour, you start to wear this fact on your heart.  Money is time (yesterday’s time), but time?  Time is not money.  Or at least time is not just money.  Time is a world of possibilities; money is one of them.

So in order to control his time, Paul had to control his money.  He did this by staying true to his values.  He and I share a love of reverent materialism.  We’re not anti-consumerism (though he is prone to shouting “capitalist overproduction!” much to my annoyance when I point out pretty skirts and dresses).  What we’re against is mindless consumerism and consumerism as a hobby.  How we spend our money is a powerful glimpse into our values, and Paul and I are committed to making our money work for us and our lifestyles.  We want to call the shots rather than letting consumerism or debt run our lives for us.

For a while, we shared expenses while meticulously tracking who spent what.  It was one approach to making things “fair.”  In hindsight, I have mixed feelings about this approach because I’m not sure I ever knew what “fair” is or was.  There were a lot of expenses that landed on the shared list, including a brand-new computer for Paul, groceries, and travel expenses like gas.  But the thing is, Paul and I didn’t enter into this relationship as equals.  Paul spent the last five years building his business.  He did what he had to do to be an entrepreneur and independent of a steady paycheck.  I spent the last five years working for other people, always fearful of what my bosses thought of me and my work.  I earned a comfortable paycheck and was able to save money quite aggressively, with the long-term goal of buying a home.

During the first year Paul and I were together, he worked at the job he had created for himself, and I bounced my way in and out of jobs.  I was jealous of his stability.  But I had saved a substantial amount of money, so I had resources and thus financial stability, even if my career was wobbling.

When we moved to Austin, we continued to split expenses.  Until one day when it dawned on me: we were sharing a life in Austin.  There were three names on the lease (our two names and our roommate’s).  We were tying our boats together, promising to support each other in life and love.  Splitting expenses seemed to go against the spirit of every other decision we were making.  So I couldn’t, in good faith, see why we should continue.

So we stopped.  For simplicity, we made the transition to one budget in October 2014.  I track our expenses and our income in one notebook.  Before we made the transition, we sat down with Courtney and dissected our budget.  By doing that, Paul and I were able to see how much money we needed to bring in each month to sustain our lifestyle.  So far, so good: October was a great month for us, work-wise.  We’ll see how November and December turn out!

We’ve chosen not to have any joint accounts, moreso out of laziness than anything else.  Instead, we share bills easily—I write the rent check, Paul usually buys the groceries and gas.  We don’t think about it much.  We’re mindful of our account balances, but there’s no more accounting within our relationship.  It was a pretty easy transition, though I’ll admit that Paul lacks my enthusiasm for budgeting and tracking expenses.  It’s possible that after so many lean years of being a one-man show, he’s enjoying the prosperity that our couplehood has brought him.  He still works very hard, but he seems more relaxed about expenses.  I think living together has asked all of us to compromise; one of Paul’s compromises is accepting a budget that is shaped by needs and wants that are not his own.

As for that nest egg of mine, I’m still hoping we’ll be able to buy a home in the next few years.  Austin has a notoriously crazy real estate market, but I live in hope that we’ll find a place.  For now, living in hope is good enough for me.  I was walking around my neighborhood the other day, and looking at houses, I felt my chest expand with hope.  There was no real forethought; it was more like my heart remembered a long-dormant dream and said, “Hey!”  My eyes starting searching for “For Sale” signs, though none were to be found that day.  Someday, the time will be right. 

Even if it takes us a long time to buy a house, Austin is now home.  We’ll be content with whatever our lives look like because that’s how we roll.  For now, I’m grateful that we’ve had enough money to take care of the three of us here in our Austin household.

But I’ll continue to live in hope.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Budgeting for Freelancers, Part Three: Free Fall and Family

This post is Part Three in a series about budgeting for freelancers.  Hop on over to Part One here and Part Two over here.

Paul and I have now had three solid months of freelancing together—no steady paycheck between us and the freedom to say yes to the opportunities that we like the most.  I love the commitments we’ve made to our work.  We have been incredibly blessed with an abundance of good students and parents with whom we work.  We’ve also started working as the coordinators for Science Club at Acton Academy here in Austin.  Acton is a small, progressive elementary school, so our students there are significantly younger than our usual group of high school and college students.  We are learning as we go along!

Our transition to Austin has been relatively easy, and I’m very happy with my work life.  In today’s post, my original intent was to write about our lifestyle choices.  But I realized that I can’t write about that without acknowledging our house finances, so I’m going to combine the two to talk about our priorities and what it means to live and spend with intention.

Three of us moved to Austin together this summer: Paul, me, and our roommate Courtney.  We all moved without real jobs; we knew that finding work would be a top priority for us in Austin.  Paul and I have had a relatively easy time finding work.  Courtney has had a more difficult time, for reasons that I’m not going to explain here.  What’s important to know is that we moved to Austin and promised each other that we would take care of one another.  Courtney and I both transitioned out of our old careers.  I was optimistic and nervous for both of us as we set out to establish ourselves in new careers in a new city.

Courtney has been under-employed for several months now.  It’s a situation that has tested all of us as we try to remain optimistic and hopeful that she’ll find decent employment.  Paul and I have navigated the uncertainty by sharing more our resources with Courtney, by seeing ourselves as a family that will float or sink together.  In more specific terms, here are some examples of how we share what we have:

* Paul and I have taken on the job of paying for the house groceries.  We three cook and eat a lot at home, and our dedication to the kitchen helps our food budget stretch.

* If we do go out to eat, everyone is invited.  Paul and I cover the bill.  We don’t do this very frequently, but it would make me sad to not include everyone. 

* If we get take-out (like burritos from Super Burrito!), we bring home food for everyone.  I just can’t imagine not treating everyone if two of us are getting burritos.

(In case you were wondering, Super Burrito is a house favorite—everybody loves a Super Burrito lunch!)

* Between the three of us, we have three cars.  One of them is much newer and nicer than the other two.  We share cars and rides as needed.  This was so, so helpful to me before I finally (finally!) got my driver’s license. 

And here’s a personal story from my past.  Growing up, my family often had just one working car, and my dad would usually drive that car to work.  That left my mom and all of us kids (I am one of five kids) with no car and thus no transportation beyond our bikes and our own two feet.  It was frustrating and embarrassing to constantly beg rides from other people to get to and from my extracurricular activities.  But the way other people took care of me during those years taught me gratitude for my community and the love they showed me.

It is hard when you have a roommate who isn’t able to pay for her share of things.  It’s a stressful situation for our house.  But all those years of being the kid without a ride, of being expected to fend for myself without parental care—those years taught me perseverance.  And they made me want to pay it forward, eventually.  I feel like that time has arrived.  Paul and I have the chance to help Courtney complete her transition to Austin, and to me, that completion means supporting her until she’s able to support herself.

There is one obvious question I haven’t answered yet, so here it is: what about rent?  Our compromise on rent (and our monthly bills) is that Paul and I are covering most of them, and Courtney will pay us back eventually.  I feel like this agreement is fair: Paul and I are covering some expenses as an expression of love and support.  For other expenses, we are simply tracking the bills and making sure they get paid on time.

To bring this post back around to its original message: taking care of the three of us is our top priority.  It means Paul and I have less money to put toward saving for the slower seasons, like Christmas break and summertime.  At some level, I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll be able to find some work this summer so we aren’t living on savings for 3-4 months.  As summer gets closer (and I realize it’s a long way off right now), I’ll do more than cross my fingers.  I’ll start asking around my network, looking for opportunities to teach, work with students, and improve my professional skills.

Having an under-employed roommate is probably not what most experts would recommend for a pair of freelancers.  But life is what happens while we are busy making other plans*.  In a year or two, when Courtney is working and our tutoring businesses are in full swing, I know I’ll be glad that we weathered this rough patch, caring for one another.  It’s hard now, but the future beckons.  Things will get better.

* John Lennon, RIP.

* * *

This post touches on sensitive issues, like work, value, and money.  Because of the personal content, I asked Courtney if she was comfortable with me writing about our situation, and she said yes.  I’m grateful to her for letting me share our story.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Hello, November: Celebrating Goals

Hello again, patient readers!  Life continues to be busy and wonderful and challenging, a kind of organized chaos of getting things done and sucking the marrow out of life.

It occurred to me recently, when I decided to check in on my 2014 goals set waaaaay back in June, that now is a good time to reflect on the massive accomplishments of this year.  Because dear readers, it’s been a big year, and I want to take a moment now, before the holidays-and-finals madness descends, that this year was the year of making it happen.  Booyah.

It feels like an entire year has passed since June, even though it’s only been five months.  But there are, I think, events that make time stretch into infinity, like big life changes and massive amounts of learning.  It’s why life felt like it moved slower when you were a kid.  I love that 2014 has been a year of so much growth, but I know I won’t mind if 2015 has fewer changes and more everyday moments.

I’m compiling my list of completed goals from this post I wrote in January and a second post I wrote in June about my 2014 goals.  So if you want to read the back story here, hop on over to those pages!

* Move to Austin.

Done!  Done done done done DONE!  This goal was nine months in the making, and looking back now, it feels like it unfolded exactly as it should have.  I’m so glad we’re here.

Oh, and isn’t Austin pretty at night?  I took this photo while biking along the riverfront trail one evening, on my way home from work.

Austin at Night

* Freelancing: stay in the game.

Austin has welcomed us with wide open arms!  I’ve been honored and humbled by the number of parents and students who have contacted me for tutoring.  I’ve arrived at a point where I have to start thinking more strategically about my long-term goals for tutoring—where I want to focus my attention, which subjects and age groups are the best fit for me, that sort of thing.  We’ve also launched the Austin Writing Shop, a one-stop shop for writing students in the humanities and sciences.  We’re hoping to do more promotion around the Austin Writing Shop because I really believe that we can help students become stronger, more confident, more persuasive writers.  That’s work that I want to do because I believe in the power of writing.

* Get a license, buy a car, become a full-fledged grown-up.

Holy crap, this one is finally done too!  I received my grown-up driver’s license on October 28th, and I’m so happy and relieved to have finally reached this milestone.  For the past week, I’ve been driving myself to my tutoring appointments and whatnot, instead of dragging Paul or Courtney with me everywhere I go.  It’s a huge relief for the house to have three solo drivers, but we still like to go places together to do things.  Just the other night, Courtney wanted to go to Book People for a good browse after a hard day, and I got my first taste of driving in the rain and driving downtown.  Yay?  Okay, so maybe the driving wasn’t super fun, but it is good to get new driving experiences to make me an all-around better driver.

I don’t  know if I mentioned it on this blog, but Paul and I bought a car together over the summer, a 2007 VW Passat.  We love it.  It was a big deal to buy a car together, but I think it was the right move for us.

* Wallet matters: break even financially.

Huh.  It turns out that buying a car, moving, and freelancing full time is more likely to leave one poorer instead of richer.  In the interest of full disclosure, my debt from 2014 is about $11,500, most of which is due to big purchases, like the car and our tutoring equipment.  Essentially, my savings have funded our dreams this year.  And you know what?  I’m okay with this.  I had the resources to get us where we wanted to go, to set up shop in a new city, and to help Courtney make her transition to Austin as well.  Transitions are expensive, and although I do get nervous about money sometimes, I am at peace with our decisions.

Would I feel differently if that $11,500 were actual debt, in the sense that I owe the bank that much money?  Maybe.  If we’d needed to take out a loan to buy the car, I think we would have done so.  Our tutoring equipment was a business expense, so it too feels less like a luxury and more like a necessity.  My point is that we spent money in pursuit of our dreams, and those dreams are becoming our everyday reality here in Austin.  I’d spend that money all over again if I had the choice.

I want to talk more in a future post about our budget choices as freelancers—how we think about money now that both of us are freelancers whose work is seasonal.

* * *

Before Paul and I started dating, I’d never been part of a couple that shared a home, a car, groceries, income, all of that.  I’d never been part of a couple that shared a life, and I wasn’t sure I was interested in that path.  But there is a real sense of wonder and strength that comes from being inside a partnership.  I love being a part of us.  I sometimes miss the days when my life felt smaller and simpler, but I can’t deny how good and right it feels to be building a life with Paul (and Courtney, who is like family to us).  2014 was a year of getting things done together, and I am so grateful for how far we’ve come.

Happy November, dear readers.

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  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!  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  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. 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


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  (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.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Freelancing: Why a Year?

After writing about my 2014 goals, I started thinking again about the commitment to try freelancing for a year.  Why a year?  Why a commitment?

First, let me tell you that freelancing is equal parts exciting and terrifying to me.  I love the idea of trying to be my own boss and not being tied to one particular stream of income.  (Losing two jobs in one year has made me incredibly skeptical of so-called “stable jobs.”)  I like the sense of opportunity that freelancing gives me.  I like being able to decide what my worth is and declining work that isn’t a good fit for me.  What I don’t like about freelancing is the same thing that everyone dislikes: the uncertainty of work and income.  Freelancing is not for the timid.

But I am kinda timid, at least about whether or not I can really make it as my own boss.  Some days I feel very empowered about working independently, and other days I want to run to the nearest job posting and send my resume to every single listing.  Now that I have some sense of the peaks and valleys in this style of work, I know that if I’m going to give it an honest try, I need to stick with it for a respectable length of time, long enough to let myself take risks, be creative, and get better at what I do.

A year seems like a fair length of time to focus my energies on freelancing.  I’m not saying that I expect to be wildly successfully in a year’s time.  It would be nice to break even, financially speaking.  It would be even nicer to save some money, which is something I used to do.  More importantly, a year of full-time freelancing will tell me if I want to keep doing this, if I’m willing to take risks and make sacrifices for the joy of being independent and free to be me.

So far this year, I have wrestled a lot with the question about whether to apply for jobs for the latter half of the year.  The first thing I asked myself was, “What’s the worst that could happen if I don’t have a ‘regular’ job, even a regular part-time job?”  The answer?  I make no money at all for the rest of 2014.  Based on my tutoring success in College Station so far, I think that’s unlikely to happen.  I could be under-employed, which is stressful but it also leads to new ideas.  I decided to expand my tutoring into chemistry because I saw that there was a need for chemistry tutors in the marketplace.  I’ve had to work to bring my chemistry skills up to date, but that’s okay—I like studying chemistry.  I won’t expand my tutoring into a subject that I don’t enjoy studying.

The other realization I had about freelancing is that I am open to work other than tutoring, but it needs to be a good fit for me.  So I’ll stay open to opportunities, but I won’t be devoting huge swaths of time to job applications.  I’d rather work on my tutoring business than search for other jobs.

Finally, I know it sounds cheesy, but I want to spend the next year saying, “I believe in myself.”  I want to test myself, to see what I can do with this time.  Freelancing is very different than having regular hours at a steady job—that much I have already seen.  I think I have a lot to offer—as a tutor, as a writer, as a human being.  I see this year as a challenge, and I feel ready for it.

Next up in my unofficial series about freelancing: budgeting!  Yay?  (Actually, I love talking about budgets, but as you already know, I am a nerd.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tagged: My Writing Life

I’ve been tagged!  Chrissy did a post on her writing process and tagged me to talk about mine.  I’m happy to oblige.  Let’s hop to it!

What are you working on right now?

I usually have several blog posts that I’m working on at one time.  I’m pretty excited about a series I’m writing for my professional blog about research and grad school.  I’m also working on a post for this blog about my one-year trial period for full-time freelancing.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

I’m not sure that it does, other than that it’s my voice and my experiences that shape my writing.  I’m a blogger who hopes to some day write a book or five.  Blogging has given me a regular writing practice, and that has kept me excited about writing and life.  Through blogging, I’ve also gained a lot of knowledge about social media and marketing, which I’m using to establish my tutoring business.  (OMG, I’m on Twitter now as a professional.  Heaven help me!  My Twitter feed is science, learning, and fun.  I take that last part seriously.) 

Why do you write what you do?

Really, I write because I need to sort things out.  Writing provides me a kind of clarity that is otherwise missing from my life.  And writing surprises me, all the time—I find myself saying things that I didn’t know were true until I wrote them.  It’s magical to me, and it keeps me coming back for more.

I especially like blogging because it asks us to get to the point, to the heart of the matter.  I’m kind of a wanderer by nature; it’s amazing that I’m also a scientist because I wouldn’t think those two passions would fit together.  But I genuinely love exploration, whether it’s out there in the world as a traveler or as a curious person with intellectual leanings.  I’m a scholar because I just love learning. 

How does your writing process work?

I wish I had a real “process!”  I come up with blog post ideas all the time and try to write them down.  One idea that’s posted on my wall right now is “The Purity of Learning,” in which I’d like to figure out what I think about the claim that today’s college students are not interested in learning for the sake of learning.

After I come up with an idea that I like, I’ll think about it for a while.  Sometimes I do some research.  Finally, I write whenever I can find the time.  I hate writing when I’m tired and generally avoid that; it’s one reason why I’m not a more prolific blogger.  (Sleep > Blogging.)  I’ll work on a piece until I’m satisfied, and then I publish it and let it go.  I tend not to get too caught up in “writer’s ego” in which I worry that my writing isn’t good enough to be read—I don’t write to prove anything to anyone.  I write to figure it out for myself, and if my work resonates with another person, awesome!  I live in hope that it does, but it’s impossible for me to know the true impact of my actions on other people.  I just try to do the best I can on any given day.

* * *

Let’s see, who else can I tag…how about Courtney, Kate, and YOU (but only if you want to!).

Happy writing, friends!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

It’s Not Too Late! (My 2014 Goals)

 Out west…

Shallow Stream in Lost Maples

…and closer to home.

Towering Over Me

Summertime Pattern Mixing

Shamelessly, I’m finally sharing my 2014 goals.  You might think that six months into the year is too late, and I’m inclined to agree, but here’s the thing: I’ve been busy enough pursuing these goals that I don’t feel bad about my negligence.  I’ve had tons of ideas for my writing on all three of my blogs, so this post kept getting bumped back in the queue.  But all of that is water under the blog—let’s get to the goals!

* Move to Austin.  Paul and I decided some time last fall, I believe, that we wanted to move to Austin in 2014.  We have a lot of friends there, and it’s a bigger city with more professional opportunities for us.  It also happens to be more liberal than College Station, which is part of why Paul wants to move.  (I tend to live inside my little science-writing-and-cooking bubble, so I don’t feel the pain of local conservative politics as much.)

The move is definitely happening this summer.  We have a lease on new place that starts July 1st, and my boss is getting ready to replace me.  Paul and I are preparing to migrate our freelance work to Austin.  But this month, I’m enjoying the relative calm before the storm of moving.

* Freelancing: stay in the game.  Once I arrive in Austin, I am not planning to work in a lab.  I’ve been doing it, on and off, for the last eleven years, and it’s time for me to move on.  You probably remember (since I mention it frequently!) that I have been tutoring students in biology and chemistry.  I plan to continue that in Austin; hopefully I’ll be able to net a bigger number of students to sustain my business.  I’ve also been talking to a dear friend about helping him with his business.  I’ve been hesitant to get too excited getting about working with him because I don’t want him to feel pressured to work with me because of our friendship.  But we talked over the weekend, and he’s still interested, so I’m hopeful.

Once I arrive in Austin, it will be the start of full-time freelancing for me.  I’m excited and nervous about it, having clients instead of a boss.  I’ve learned a lot in my tutoring so far—doing it part-time was the right decision for me, even as I struggled at times to balance two jobs.  My top career goal for this year is to stay in the game as a freelancer.  Working without a net is scary at times, and it’s tempting to run back to more familiar work, as Chrissy described recently.  I’m trying to resist that urge, telling myself that I’ll never know if I can really be my own boss unless I give it my best shot.  I think a year is enough time to decide if it makes sense for me to continue down this path.  Perhaps more importantly, it’s enough time for some life to unfold, for opportunities to pop up, for me to settle into a rhythm.


Several of my favorite career coaches (one of whom I happen to be dating) have reminded me that I can and perhaps should apply for teaching jobs.  Like, real college-level teaching jobs.  The adjunct marketplace is notoriously awful, but I’m not in the humanities, where it seems to be the worst.  So I’m reconsidering this possibility, if for no other reason than perhaps I should give it a shot and see how it goes.  I wouldn’t stop tutoring or seeking other freelance work, but I could be very happy teaching a few classes and freelancing—a patchwork quilt of a career, you might say.  And of course I’d keep writing, because that is my hobby and my passion and I miss it very much when I can’t find the time for it.  

* Wallet matters: break even financially.  Finally, the buck stops here.  (Rimshot!)  This goal may be more of a dream, but I do think it would be nice to make more money than I spend this year.  So far, my debt isn’t too bad—it’s mostly due to travel-related expenses.  I flew to Michigan twice this year: once in March for my sister’s bridal shower and then in May for the wedding.  Paul and I have some big expenses coming up, namely double rent in July (yay for overlapping leases?) and our move to Austin this summer.  We also bought tutoring equipment for our business.  We live fairly modestly, I think, but our income this summer has also been modest.

I have surprised myself that I am, more or less, at peace with our financial situation this summer.  Paul has been working more than I anticipated (he normally takes the summer off as a reward for busting his ass for nine months of the school year), and we’ve been splitting the grocery bill, so my weekly expenses have been a bit lower.

I’m planning to write a little bit more about my approach to the question of budgeting and the freelance lifestyle.  Also, I splurged a little and bought a few new things for my summer wardrobe, and honestly, I just want to show you for fun!

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So that’s it: three huge goals for 2014.  How are you doing on your goals?  Did you aim for a few big goals or many small goals for this year?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Getting Our Act Together

Paul did something drastic last weekend, with my permission: he cleaned out the refrigerator.  It was one of the sweetest things he’s ever done for us.

So Organized!

The carnage wasn’t too bad.  The produce drawer was surprisingly fresh, which made me proud.  There were many almost-empty containers, which didn’t make me proud.  Why is it so hard to just finish something and be done with it?  This is a problem I have in life, not just the kitchen.

But a well-organized fridge is a thing of beauty.  I admit that I’ve been admiring it every time I open the door.  My fridge is usually in such a state of chaos that opening it reminds me how much I really need to clean it out.  But not this week!  This week, we are enjoying fridge bliss.

Living together is inspiring new levels of food organization for both of us.  Paul suggested we start using Wunderlist to organize our grocery shopping, and it’s made a HUGE difference for us.  I now make our weekly menu options in Wunderlist, and of course, once I’ve made the menu, I make our shopping list.  Shopping for a week of groceries has become almost an in-and-out trip to HEB, which is amazing.  More time cooking, less time shopping!

I’ve always been kinda flaky about planning a week’s worth of dinners and then sticking to my list.  With no one to hold me accountable and just one person to feed, I was a free spirit in the kitchen, shopping for a few days at a time and cooking if and when I felt like it.  I usually ate at home, but some nights it was leftovers and other times it was a dinner that took me two hours to prepare.  I loved those days, but I’m liking the newfound structure that cooking for two has given me.

Our weekly plan thus far has been as follows: Paul cooks twice a week, I cook three to four times a week, we go out once a week, and we fill in the gaps with teamwork.  These days I am (more or less) in the lab Monday to Friday, so I’m not home for lunch.  I take dinner leftovers to work; Paul eats leftovers at home for his lunch or he makes a quinoa pilaf.  For breakfast, we do smoothies, oatmeal, and/or Grape-Nuts, adding fruit, nuts, peanut butter, ground flaxseed, or other goodies as we feel like it.

So far, I’m really happy with our kitchen routine, as long as “routine” is not synonymous with “boring.”  Spontaneity is valuable to me as a cook.  I like the creativity and thrift that cooking off the cuff inspires in me.  I’m kinda bored if I know what to expect all the time.  This trait of mine may sound crazy, like the anti-purpose of having a menu plan.  Other people sky-dive or ride a Harley; I like to cook without recipes.

Well, sort of.  What I really like to do is riff off of recipes, which is what I did last night.  I started reading Delancey by our own Molly Wizenberg.  (As an author who got her start in the blogging world, I’ll always consider Molly one of our own.)  Molly’s writing has changed a lot since she published her first book, A Homemade Life, and I think it’s for the better.  A Homemade Life was a memoir written while wearing the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, the story of a privileged childhood and, to be quite honest, not much in the way of significant life experience or struggle.  Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed A Homemade Life.  But it wasn’t a deep book.

Delancey, on the other hand, is a grittier story laced with the vertigo we feel when we know that failure is an imminent possibility.  Having survived my own painful failures in recent history (the entire year of 2012 comes to mind), Delancey feels more like real life to me.  84 pages into it, it’s not a pretty story.  But always, there’s a glimmer of hope woven through the narrative.  That’s how it is in real life, outside the pages of a memoir.  We carry on because we sense the hope and possibility beyond today’s long hours and tomorrow’s struggle.  We carry on because we believe.

I wasn’t going to write about Delancey at all in this space because initially, I was lukewarm about the book idea.  Back when Molly first started blogging about the construction of the restaurant, her posts didn’t hold my attention.  But now, inside my own romantic partnership, trying to get a small business off the ground, slightly terrified on a regular basis, Delancey feels like a friend saying, “I’ve been there too.  I wanted to get off that ride, but oh, the end!  The end is worth the fear.”

I’m not at the end of my wild ride, with Paul and our newly shared home, or with my tutoring business.  But at least I have a tasty pasta recipe to sustain me, and I’ll share that with you soon, along with more thoughts on Delancey.

PS  More praise for Molly and Delancey over at Jess’s blog: here and here.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Six Things I Love for 2014

My last two posts were a bit intense, so I thought I’d lighten things up a bit with a short list of six things that are new to me this year.  I’m terrible, just terrible, at writing end-of-year pieces, and I still haven’t posted my goals for 2014.  (But at least we’ve made big progress on one of them: move to Austin!)  So rather than waiting until the end of the year to do 2014-themed posts, I’ll write them as the mood strikes.  I hope that’s okay with you!

Perhaps it’s no surprise that many of these items are pure Paul inspiration.  I’ve always loved getting recommendations from friends, and Paul is my friend and my love.  So here we go: six fun and/or useful things.

{ONE}  Wunderlist.  We have started using this website/app to organize our grocery shopping and menu-planning.  In a word?  It’s awesome!  Though I kinda miss writing a list with pen and paper, the ease of editing and shared access to Wunderlist makes kitchen organization quick and painless. 

{TWO}  A rice cooker.  Romantics that we are, Paul and I bought each other this rice cooker for Valentine’s Day.  A rice cooker may seem like an unnecessary appliance, but we use it almost every day.  We really like rice!

{THREE}  Coffee beans from What’s the Buzz.  What’s the Buzz is our local coffee roaster, and wow, they make good stuff!  If I were to put together a “Love from College Station” gift basket, their beans would be in it, no doubt.  Paul’s roommate is devote to What’s the Buzz, and now I get it.  I totally get it.  And of course it’s wonderful to support local business.

{FOUR}  Parks and Recreation.  Yes, I’m way behind the rest of the world.  But this show is great!  So funny, so well-written, so lovable.

{FIVE}  The power of tiny habits.  I’ve been doing really well with my plan to study chemistry for 15 minutes a day, either during or after my morning coffee.  It feels huge to have found a time slot that actually works, one that doesn’t occur at a time of day when I’m tired.

{SIX}  My standard smoothie.  This one wasn’t intentional, but damn if it’s not tasty!  I make this smoothie almost every day for Paul and me, usually for breakfast.  I often put mine in a bowl and top it with Grape-Nuts and a spoonful of peanut butter.  Yum!  And now it’s yours to make, if you’d like.

Smoothie Half-Drunk

Daily Smoothie

This smoothie is thick, creamy, and deliciously blue.  I want to try making a vegan version by subbing out the yogurt for 1/3 cup of coconut milk and a squeeze of lemon.  The fat is important for making this more of a meal, I think.

Serves 2

2 ripe bananas

1 cup frozen blueberries

2 cups soymilk

1/3 cup plain yogurt (I use a full-fat version, usually the Brown Cow brand.)

1)  Put everything in a blender and buzz away.  Share with someone you like!

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Any good things cross your path this year?  Let me know in the comments!

PS  This post was inspired by this one over at SortaCrunchy, on whom I have a blog crush <3

PPS  There is an affiliate link in this post just in case you’d like to buy a rice cooker and throw us a few cents.  No pressure!