Thursday, January 30, 2014

Unexpectedly Wonderful

I have a subscription to SELF magazine, courtesy of the Detroit Marathon.  This month’s issue (Feburary 2014) has an unexpectedly wonderful interview with Cameron Diaz, who recently published The Body Book, her perspective on the science of the body and her experiences in learning how to take care of herself.  The whole interview is pretty great.  I especially liked the following tidbits.

* When asked about being famous for half her life, Diaz said, “This is how I look at my life.  I’m one of the most blessed human beings on the face of the planet, and gratitude is the only attitude as far as I’m concerned.”

* “I definitely advice befriending a vegetarian.  Seriously, some vegetarians have developed a real knack for turning garden-fresh produce into delectable, satisfying, I’d-have-thirds-if-I-wasn’t-already-so-full kind of meals.”

* And at the end of the day, she looks at herself in the mirror, and “It’s not like ‘You’re great!’  It’s like, ‘How did I do today?’  If I did my best, it’s OK to say, ‘I fucking did it!’  But if I didn’t, it’s sometimes like ‘Fuck!’  You can do better!’”

(I didn’t blank out the expletives like the magazine did.  Sometimes editors are silly.)

Doesn’t she seem like the kind of person you’d want to be your neighbor and your friend?  She seems so ordinary, so grounded.  I love that.  And I’m totally content to believe in the sense of authenticity that the interview conveys.

Happy Thursday, friends!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism, Vol. 7

Yesterday, I stalked a pair of boots on  I put them in my shopping cart in the morning (only one pair left!), and every few hours I’d refresh the page to see if they’d been sold.  All day, I wondered, Should I buy them?  I decided to not decide and just stalk them instead.

Nolan grey boots _cropped

So today, when that last pair of boots was still available, and there was freezing rain outside, I pulled the trigger.  I bought the boots.

Yes, they were on sale, even moreso today than yesterday.  Yes, I will need them, though it’s debatable whether I needed them now.  Yes, they’re gorgeous, and if the fit is right, I am sure I will love them and wear them lots.

And yet, as of a few days ago, I had finally made enough money to pay for rent this month.  Should I really be buying shoes or clothes at all?  As I transition into my part-time steady job plus part-time freelancer lifestyle, I find myself wondering: How the heck am I supposed to budget this year?!?

I’ve read advice suggesting that if your income is uncertain, then you should base this month’s budget on last month’s income.  Well, my December income fell way short of my December spending.  I had already started tutoring by then, and I knew I wanted to focus on that part of my professional life in 2014.  But in December, the academic semester is winding down for undergrads, and everybody’s anticipating their vacation.  Few people are looking to start a new working relationship with a tutor, or so I thought.  I decided not to worry about December and let myself have a break after the whiplash of 2013.

It is hard for me not to worry about money.  Rather than focus on my worry, I am telling myself that I am learning a new skill set this year.  I am learning how to tutor, how to run a business, how to promote myself and my work.  Really, there’s a lot of learning going on!  It’s like I’m in school, except there’s no tuition and my teachers come in many forms.  And—lucky me!—I can actually get paid during this time in tutoring school.  I don’t have to take out student loans or apply for scholarships.  Instead, I need to show up and do the work.  As for my budget, while my goal is to break even this year, I need to be patient and recognize that really, I’m just getting started and there’s a lot of 2014 ahead of us.  Plus, I think Paul is realizing that this change in my employment status comes with $acrifice$, so we may shift the balance on who pays for what.  Especially when his semester is going so well, perhaps stepping up financially is a way to show his support for me.

Clothes and shoes, for me, are often purchases that straddle the line between want and need.  Sometimes I go too long before I replace a worn-out item.  Other times, I want a back-up waiting in the wings, like those gorgeous grey boots.  I don’t have a set budget for wearables; they fit into my “monthly extras” category for which I allot $300.  Generally, I can stick to my budget (but not this month!).  But a budget requires predictability, and that is lacking in my life right now.

Have you ever found yourself in a transition or an “in-between” time in your work life?  Did you adjust your spending habits?  How do you decide the difference between a want and a need?

Saturday, January 25, 2014


Remember those resolutions I made earlier this week?  Well, here I am, reporting back on them!

I am trying to settle into a somewhat predictable work routine, despite my freelancin’ lifestyle.  I ended up spending most of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday on campus for my lab job.  I tutored Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, and I did some tutoring prep work today.  On top of that, I set up a session with a new tutoring client.

Workwise and incomewise, this week has been my best one since the new year started.  I’m giving myself a pat on the back for that!  Resolution-wise, here’s what happened:

* On Tuesday, I was at work by 9 AM.  Resolutions achieved!

* On Wednesday, I was out of the house by 9 AM and doing the work thing before 10.  Resolutions achieved!

* On Thursday, Paul suggested that we spend the day together, which I’ll tell you about in my next post.  We sat around after breakfast, working on various things on our computers.  Even though I wasn’t showered, I was doing tutoring work by 10:30 AM, so I’ll count that as a win.  I got cleaned up and dressed some time before noon-ish, I think, which is better than some of my other work-at-home days.

* On Friday, I was showering by 10 AM and got to work by 11.  Not too bad!

* And today, I was invited to a brunch, so I was trying to be ready by 10:30-ish.  Despite getting a slow start, I was getting ready by 10.  After brunch, I came home, took a walk around the neighborhood, and did some prep work for a tutoring session I have tomorrow.

I read in this post that for maximum productivity, you should try to get as much done as early as possible.  That makes complete sense to me, and I think that’s what I’m really trying to do by setting time-dependent goals for my otherwise unstructured, work-at-home days.  Personally, I love working in my pajamas, but I’ve also noticed that it can hamper my focus if I haven’t taken care of basic hygiene for the day before I sit down to get started.  Additionally, I love the idea of working in different spots—the library, a coffeeshop—just to keep things feeling fresh and fun.  On those days, I definitely plan to get dressed and summon my professional self so that we can get some items checked off ye olde to-do list.

Thanks for your tips on my last post!  I’m going to keep up the momentum on these resolutions and aim for good starts next week.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Late-Night Resolutions for the Week

It’s a little after 10 PM now.  Tomorrow and Wednesday I have the longest work days I’ve had in a while: a full day of hours for my lab job and tutoring clients in the evening.  I’m excited!  Paid work ahoy!

I fully admit that time management is not my strong suit.  I can manage it; I just don’t really enjoy it.  This week will be the biggest test in juggling two jobs that I’ve had yet, and I’d like to show myself that I can handle it.  In the spirit of late-night resolutions (the best kind!), I hereby resolve that this week:

I will be showered and dressed by 10 AM every day.

I will be working on something productive—paid work, tutoring business-y stuff, or my own writing projects—by 10:30 AM.

Today was not a bad day for productivity.  I spent over four hours doing work for my two jobs, but I also didn’t shower and get dressed until close to 3 PM.  I’d like to be more serious on my work-at-home days by preparing for the day as though I were going off to work.  I might even start packing a lunch for myself!  I like the security of knowing that lunch is ready to eat whenever I’m ready for it.

For those of you who work at home regularly, do you have any tricks for keeping yourself focused and humming along?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday High Five (copycatted, again)

I’m up to no good again, copycatting Chrissy with a High Five post.  These posts give me a chance to share a little news in between bigger posts.  Without further ado, five high points from the past week:

{One}  Today I went on a group bike ride with Paul and his roommate Matt, which was super fun.  I love riding with other people and rarely get to do it.  Now that my work schedule is much less intense, I’m hoping that Paul and I will do more of this sort of thing—maybe I’ll even ride across town to hang out with him at his place!  Currently, Paul does all the driving for us, which means we spend a lot of time in my apartment.

Friday Lunch

{Two}  Speaking of my apartment, for lunch today, I made an old favorite, Greek Avgolemono Soup.  Yum.

{Three}  A new book recommendation: Bread & Wine.  I just finished listening to a podcast episode in which the author, Shauna Niequist, was the guest host, and it was wonderful.  I would love to have more people over for dinner or coffee and nibbles this year.

{Four}  Speaking of having people over, Paul and I went to our friend Faith’s last weekend for a movie night.  We made it a “let’s-stay-in” night by making our own pizzas, starting with homemade dough.  It was simple and homey and delicious.  Paul and I are trying to travel less this year, though our calendar seems to be conspiring against that goal.  Nevertheless, I hope that we can have more weekends in College Station and more movie nights with Faith.  And, of course, more homemade pizza!

{Five}  I’m not sure I’ve spelled out, here on the blog, exactly what I’m doing with my life this year.  I decided that I am done postdocking and that I want to move my career away from the lab.  I managed to cobble together a transition period for myself: I’m working close to twenty hours a week as the lab manager in a friend’s lab, and I’m planning to fill the rest of my working hours with tutoring or tutoring-related work, such as studying, lesson-planning, marketing, communicating with clients, and whatnot.

It’s a big transition for me to go from a salaried position to being an hourly employee.  But…it’s also a huge relief.  I want to write more about this in a future post—I have much to say.  What I want to say for now is that I am surprisingly at peace about the reduced income.  On a Friday afternoon, I was able to spend some time studying cell biology, and when Paul and Matt arrived, I was able to put away my studying and hop on my bike with them.  It was lovely to be in the sunshine and fresh air, lovely to have the freedom to choose to embrace the day and time with people I like.

I enjoy working; I really do.  I like getting things done, and I have fun being a scientist and a teacher.  But I don’t enjoy feeling like my job owns me, and that’s the feeling that I have been able to walk away from now that I am no longer a full-time, salaried person.

Happy weekend, friends.

PS  Lucy loves Merrills too.

Shoe Lover

Thursday, January 16, 2014

2013’s Finish: Ambition and Transition

Pinwheel in Snow{Pinwheel in snow}

Last night, I said to Paul over dinner, “When I think back on 2013, I’ll say to you, ‘Remember that year we fell in love and ate all that delicious food?  Yeah, that was a good year.’”

2013 was the year of learning how to love and learning to let go.  And it was a year of very, very good food.  Paul swooped into my life in February, and together, we began learning how to be a couple, how to depend on each other.  He has changed me, and I think I have changed him. 

While I was falling in love with Paul, I had so many job-related transitions that I have whiplash: by the end of the year, two jobs began, two jobs ended, and another job was in the pipeline.  Snap.

2013 was also the Year of the Wedding.  All together, Paul and I attended six weddings, four of them together as a couple.  Each wedding had something about it that was sweet and memorable—the Texas-themed one we attended in San Angelo for Paul’s friend Mandy, the seaside event we enjoyed in Corpus Christi for our friends Erin and Cy, Dana and Jason’s Austin wedding where Carl Sagan was quoted during the ceremony…I could go on.  I’m not a big wedding person, to be honest, but truly, it is an honor to witness that event for dear friends and family.  Love is grand!

We’re already halfway through January, but I wanted to spend some time looking back at 2013 to see how my intentions panned out.  For a variety of reasons, I am still finding it hard to carve out the time for blogging; I like to joke that I’ve replaced blogging with boyfriending.  The truth is that I’ve had other things pressing on my attention, and I’m a slow writer.  I have come to accept this about myself, and yet, I feel bad when my blogs are neglected.  But I’m here now, so let’s do this!

I revisited my August post about goals for the second half of 2013, and it’s that post I’m quoting for each goal listed here.

* “My new work goal is to be the best scientist I can be in my new position.  Thoughtful, diligent, productive—these are the qualities I want to embody in my work life.”

I think I nailed this one!  Despite the fact that my position lasted for just four months, I was able to accomplish a lot and thus added a lot of value to the lab’s work.

Verdict: Success!

* “Begin learning how to teach biology.”

I nailed this one too!  In November, I began tutoring through WyzAnt.  I was fortunate enough to work with two clients who have very different needs, and I’ve really enjoyed it so far.  I am continuing my tutoring work this year and hoping to work with more student clients to help them meet their biology or writing goals.

(Pssst.  If you want to know more about WyzAnt, click on the ad at the bottom of this blog’s home page to help me out as a WyzAnt affiliate.  If you sent an e-mail to a tutor after you click through, WyzAnt gives me a modest commission.  Please and thank you!)

Verdict: Success! 

* “Finish: 26.2 miles at the Detroit Marathon in October.”

Oh, yes.  I totally nailed this one too.  On my other blog, I wrote my race report and thoughts after completing the race.  Those posts are among my very favorites that I’ve ever written.

Verdict: Success!

* “I am going to try one new recipe each month from Vegeterranean, one of my new cookbooks.”

Well, now.  This one totally did not happen.  That cookbook was, I think, a bit too cheffy for my taste.  Despite not posting many recipes on the blog in 2013, I still cooked A LOT, especially because I was often cooking for two.  Paul and I cooked dinner together almost every week, and we tried all kinds of new recipes.  It was fun for me to have a regular person with whom to cook; I have missed a steady kitchen presence since I moved away from my dear Chicago friends in 2009.  And Paul’s a fun kitchen companion: he appreciates good food and enjoys the more experimental aspects of my cooking.  We make a good team.

Verdict: Failure, but eh—it’s okay.

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

This one is still a work-in-progress.  Paul and I had a decent number of practice sessions together, and we are in the early discussions about buying a car.  I think we’re leaning toward having one car that we share, which could be fantastic.  Like I said above, we’re a good team, so sharing a car with him feels very natural to me.

Verdict: Working on it!  This one will carry over to 2014.

* “Pay off 2013’s debt (or at least a good chunk of it).”

This goal was somewhat thwarted by the fact that I was laid off in December, thereby losing more than $1700 in income that I thought I would earn.  Nevertheless, I was able to pick up a bit of tutoring during December.  More than anything, though, I just decided to relax and chill out.  2013 was an exciting year, but by the end of all the traveling, I was just tired and ready to be at home.

In the end, I spent more than I made in 2013, about $3300 more.  That includes everything: all the travel (which was extensive), my cat Lucy’s expenses, medical bills, and about three months of unemployment time.  I had a lot more time in 2013 but less money.  I’m okay with that.  My debt amount will be adjusted a bit after I redeem some credit card points and who knows if I’ll receive money back after I file my taxes?  That $3300 was the cost of doing what Thoreau so elegantly states was his goal in Walden:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.  I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear, nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary.  I wanted to live deep and suck out the marrow of life…

$3300 was the cost of transitioning out of my old life and into my new one.  Paul and I sucked the marrow out of life; we traveled near and far, to the woods and back, for love and friendship and the joy of being together in new spaces.  In 2013, I put my money where my heart was, and it was worth every penny.

At the Falls

Verdict: 2013 was expensive but necessary.

Thanks for everything, 2013.  You were a good teacher and brought me closer to living my full truth.  For that, I am grateful.

And coming soon, my 2014 goals!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism, Vol. 6

I’m sure the last thing anyone wants to think about after the indulgence of the winter holidays is consumerism, but today’s post is light-hearted and fun.  I have just a few things to share with you, so let’s do this!

* I for one am delighted to hear that the Color of the Year for 2014 is radiant orchid.  I love me some purple, that’s for sure!  It was my favorite color as a child, and I feel pretty wearing it as an adult.

* My friend Jeremy shared a beautiful post recently.  Be sure to watch the film he made!  That is the feeling of sacred materialism.

* Also from Jeremy’s post, I have fallen in love with the song “Supersymmetry” by Arcade Fire.  Not a bad theme song for 2014, if you’re into that sort of thing.

* For Christmas, my sister and her fiancĂ©e gave me those river shoes I mentioned a while back!  I heart them and have been wearing them all over the place, including City Park in New Orleans.

Finding Roots

That’s all for today, friends.  Have a wonderful day!  To my snowbound friends, be safe and stay warm out there.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sunday Postcard: Love in New Orleans

Loving the Tree

Ferrying Together

In Conversation

Hello and happy New Year!  I’m back from the first trip of 2014: a multi-leg journey that took us from Texas to Louisiana and back again.  Paul and I set off for Clute, Texas to visit his family for a few hours.  From there, we went to Houston, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Houston again, and finally home sweet home in College Station.  It is so good to be home again.

Today I wanted to share a few photos from New Orleans.  Paul and I were lucky enough to spend a few days with our friends Amber and Jeremy; that’s them in the second photo up there.  (Amber and Paul are hugging the tree in the top photo—what a bunch of hippies.)  We had a marvelous time in NOLA.  There was lots of delicious vegan food, ferry rides, deep conversation, windblown hair, and an absolutely unreasonable amount of photography.  I loved it.

I want to write a longer post about our trip, and I seriously, seriously need to share with you some new recipes, like Paul’s vegan migas.  They have become legendary, and they are perfectly spicy-crunchy and delicious.  For tonight, I’m just stopping by to say hi and wish you a happy 2014.  I’ve been percolating on 2013 and new resolutions for 2014.  For the former, I think I’ll do another photo-per-month walk through the past year.  I really enjoyed doing that for 2012, and digging through visual memories is startling and evocative.  For resolutions, I’m going to write a review of my success and failure on 2013’s resolutions.  Then I’ll tackle 2014 goals, which can be summed up in a single word: abundance.

For now, I wish you a happy new week.

(Oh, I can’t resist.  Here’s one more photo from New Orleans of Paul and me.  Jeremy took this photo, I believe.  We were spoiled to be subjects of his incredible photographic skills.)