Friday, May 23, 2014

Tiny Habits, Big Summer

Happy day to you, dear reader!  I’m writing this on a Friday afternoon, having spent my day taking care of a ton of little things, including such excitement as:

* completing the paperwork on my estimated taxes for 2014.  I don’t owe anything right now—hurray!

* writing and posting summer advertising for tutoring.

* sorting and filing some mail.

* paying rent and health insurance for June.

* updating my subject qualifications on my WyzAnt Tutoring profile.

* petting my kitty every time I see her.

* listening to two talks on habits.

And it’s that last item that I’d like to discuss with you today.  On a scale of 1-10, how good do you feel about your habits?  I’d put myself at maybe a 7—pretty good, but I could definitely use some improvement, especially in the work arena.  I’d be happy to live my life at an 8.  (Mathematically, maybe this means that most days are 8, but some days I have a 10 and other days I am a sluggish 6.)

The first talk I listened to was actually an interview.  Jonathan Fields talked to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.  The second talk was a TED talk by BJ Fogg on tiny habits as a mechanism for change.

The interview delves into the neuroscience of habit, which is interesting, but I think the second talk was more relevant.  In it, BJ Fogg tells you exactly how to use his tiny habit approach to make a goal into an everyday habit.  The key: make a tiny change, do it after an everyday habit (like your morning coffee), and celebrate yourself for doing it.

A while back, I made a tiny change that has more or less become a habit: push-ups before bed.  I think I started with three push-ups and now I’m at five.  I’m totally happy staying at five.  I also do some yoga stretches and maybe some plank position and call it good.  Does that sound lazy?  Perhaps.  But I can do this every night, no matter how tired am, and that’s what matters to me.

I want to make another change; this one is related to my tutoring business.  My goal is to be an awesome chemistry tutor, and that will require time spent brushing up on the basics.  I’m thinking about spending 15 minutes a day studying a chemistry textbook, and I want to do this in the morning, during or after my coffee.  Is 15 minutes too much?  I hope not!  It’s enough time to let me chip away at those textbook chapters, so that eventually, when I sit down with a student again, I will know that I recently reviewed anything they might throw at me.

I think that I need to be more deliberate in setting up my study time.  At the end of the day, my eagerness to study is often zero, especially if I’ve spent most of my day at my day job.  And yet, I’m feeling guilty that I am not spending more time studying.  I have excuses, of course, but I’m trying to move beyond excuses in my athletic life and my professional life.  To do so requires being intentional about how and when I plan to accomplish my daily goals.

Tiny habits, big summer: bring it on! 

Monday, May 19, 2014

I Heart Having You Here

Heart-Shaped Pizza

Saturday was Day One of Paul’s big move across town to this apartment that we now share.  I didn’t do much to help him move, which in hindsight makes me feel like a slug.  I was busy trying to wrangle my possessions into new homes so that he could have (most of) a bedroom to himself.  I try to keep my packrat tendencies under control, but I’m pretty sure it’s genetic.

While I wasn’t much help with the move proper, I did make us a celebratory pizza from scratch—crust, sauce, veggies, the whole shebang.  But I completely failed to get our uncooked pizza from the pizza peel* to the pizza stone, so I waited for Paul to arrive so he could work his magic with the cornmeal.  By the time he slid it onto the pizza stone, the unbaked pizza had arranged itself into a striking heart-shaped pie.  I commemorated the event by borrowing Paul’s iPhone to take photos.  After I was done, he asked, “Am I really living with someone who takes pictures of her food?”

To which I replied, “Yes.”

And then we ate.

It’s taken us a long time to make this move happen, due to our crazy-busy lives.  I think I’m repeating myself, but what’s amazed me most is how easily we’ve brainstormed ideas on how to make this space work for two of us, after one of us has lived here for 4+ years.  Actually, that’s not quite right.  Though it’s awesome that we are creative problem-solvers, what has amazed me more is how I don’t feel like I’m losing anything in this transition.  I expected to feel at least a little bit threatened by the prospect of living with a partner.  I thought I might feel like I was losing part of myself, losing the home I’d carefully maintained throughout all these years of single life.  And maybe I will feel the loss later, as we adjust to an everyday routine that includes the other.  If those feelings bubble up, I’ll honor them as part of the process.  But for now, all I feel is happy that we have arrived at this point, that our partnership is taking on a new dimension.

Today I came home from work, and I peeked into Paul’s room.  He had been here   earlier.  I saw that the bed was made and there were books on his bookshelves.  The room smelled like him, a vague clean scent.  And on top of his bookshelf were two photo frames, one containing a photo of him from college, I presume.  For a moment, I mused on the Paul in that photo.  He would never know me, of course, but I felt this surge of love and protection for him, knowing that he would grow into the man I love now.  I wanted to reach into the past to tell him that his future was going to be awesome, that he had so much to look forward to, that it might take a while to find me but he shouldn’t stop looking, that I’d be looking for him too.

Maybe that strikes you as too Time Traveler’s Wife, but gratitude makes me sentimental.  I spent my early 20s watching my friends get married.  I had concluded that I was too stubborn and curmudgeonly to build a life with someone.  That was the story I stuck to, at least in my head.  I wasn’t unhappy as a single person, and I’m sure it has given me the perspective to be a better partner now.  But now, I feel like the best experiences that are ahead of me are those that will come from being part of a team.  After all those years alone, it’s a tremendous gift to be with someone who is more than I could have hoped for in a partner.

My apartment for one has become a home for three (don’t forget about Lucy!).  For now, I am content.

* That Paul made himself!  Oh, I love it so much.  I’ll have to show it to you when my camera returns.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Six Things for Saturday

Maid of Honor

Yup, that’s me, in my maid-of-honor finery.  It’s a busy day here at Casa de Rose-Anne, so let’s dive into it!

{ONE}  Today is moving day: Paul has already been here with his first batch of stuff.  He’ll be back with more.  Meanwhile, I’ve been moving things around, decluttering, recycling, and generally lamenting the sheer amount of stuff that I own.  Sigh.  But we’re getting close to having his room completely ready for him.  I even cleaned the dead bugs out of his closet, vacuumed it, and wiped down the shelf with Mrs. Myers spray!  We’re about to be co-habitating or, as my recently married brother likes to say, “living in sin.”

{TWO}  I left my camera in Michigan earlier this week, which makes me super sad.  I was even more sad when I realized that I’d left it out in the rain, and it might be damaged beyond repair.  There are some really lovely photos on there of Paul’s first visit to Michigan to meet my family, and I was heartbroken to think they’d be lost forever.  But!  Amanda, my sister-in-law, told me she was able to turn it on, so that’s a good sign that it’ll be okay.  And my sister Theresa told me the camera would be on its way to me shortly.  Hurray!

{THREE}  The house we thought we might rent in Austin fell through when our potential landlord rented it to other people.  I was pretty disappointed because I feel like the landlord misrepresented her willingness to work with us.  But a friend of Paul’s gave us a pep talk and said, “There’s a much better house waiting for you.  That one wasn’t the right one anyway.”

{FOUR}  Speaking of this friend of Paul’s, how wild is it that in Detroit, we had lunch with a friend of Paul’s from high school?  Paul grew up near Corpus Christi, which is the far southeast part of Texas.  We met up with Paul’s friend Wyatt and his girlfriend at Seva, a vegetarian restaurant.  Now, here’s another fun connection: I used to eat at the Ann Arbor branch of Seva when I was in college.  Looking at their menu, I spotted the enchiladas calabaza, which was my usual back in the day.  They were so good, and you know what?  I ate them again this week, and they were just as good as I remember.  Well done, Seva!   

{FIVE}  Let’s see, what else?  I’m thinking about making pizza tonight, perhaps to share with my love, who never turns down a homecooked meal.  My new go-to crust recipe is the one in The Vegan Table.  It’s perfect!

{SIX}  In a burst of late springtime indulgence, Paul and I have decided to treat ourselves to a little vacation after our vacation in Michigan.  We’ll be heading to Austin later this month to find ourselves (and our roommate) a place to live, and then we’re going to camp for a few days somewhere in central Texas.  I can’t wait to see a starry sky overhead and to disconnect for a few days.

Bonus!  Listen to this awesome interview that The Suitcase Entrepreneur did with Farnoosh Brock.  So many great ideas in there for those of us who think we might want to write a book (or five) and (GASP!) self-publish them.

* This post contains an affiliate link to support me and this blog.  Thanks for reading, everyone!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Most Important Lesson

Like a Little Fairy

So.  It’s May and the tail-end of my first full semester of tutoring.  As I have waded into a new phase of my career, I’ve been dealing with turmoil inside my head.  I don’t want to focus on the details of that.  Instead, I want to tell you about the biggest insight that came out of the turmoil:

You have permission to change.

I am a person who changes slowly.  I am also a person who expects a lot of herself.  As I’ve been reflecting on the last few months or even the last year, I realized that my life has been anything but balanced.  It’s been so full to the point of overwhelming.  In the past year, Paul and I met and started dating.  My job ended.  We traveled thousands of miles together, around Texas, into the Rocky Mountains, over to Louisiana.  I started a new job, then I ran a marathon.  My job ended again.  I started tutoring and realized my dream of teaching and helping others with their learning goals.  I started another new job.  I ran my sixth half-marathon.  I traveled to Michigan five times in the span of a year.  Paul and I grew closer and more serious; we started making plans to move in together and to move to Austin, TX later this year.

Along the way, I met an incredible new friend whose commitment to personal growth and values challenged the way I see myself and my place in the world.  Jeremy is an intellectual juggernaut with a heart of gold.  He is driven to live a life that reflects his values in the deepest sense, and our conversations have revolved around values and actualizing them in our daily lives.

Jeremy’s influence has nudged me out of my comfort zone.  Being out of your safe spot feels vulnerable and uncomfortable.  It’s also refreshing and exhilarating.  Outside of my comfort zone of a salaried research position, I found the courage to start tutoring.  I started questioning how much my time was worth and what I was willing to do in exchange for money.  Looking back, it feels like a lifetime has passed between the end of my last salaried job and today, even though it was only about five months.

Here are some of the ways in which I’ve changed over the past year:

* Partnership. Oh, man.  The biggest source of change in my life has been my partnership with Paul.  When we started dating, we were dating as two separate people.  We are still Paul and Rose-Anne, cognizant of our need to be free to be individuals.  But we’ve also become Paul-and-Rose-Anne the couple, a unit that makes decisions together and shares the weight of life.  Before dating Paul, I never thought I’d find someone who is such a great match for me.  Paul is better than any person I could have imagined dating, and our life together brings me more joy than I thought possible.  I love having a partner to take care of me, and I love taking care of him.

* Higher standards.  Having broken out of the mold of a salaried position and the associated responsibilities, I am so, so happy I no longer sit in boring meetings every week.  My willingness to put up with work-related bullshit is a lot lower.  I ask myself regularly, “Is this what I really want to be doing?”  When it comes to tutoring, more often than not, the answer is YES.  With that in mind, I’d love to make a living as a full-time tutor.  Paul (who is a full-time tutor) and I are actively working toward being on-line tutors.  I think I’d still like to work with students in person, but moving things on-line will give us a wider net of potential students.  I anticipate that I’ll have a local, in-person side to my business as well as an on-line presence. 

* Permission to let traditions change.  This one has been the hardest change to accept.  One tough decision sparked this realization: whether to spend Christmas in Texas or Michigan this year.  On the one hand, I love my family and have spent Christmas with them for my entire life.  Not once has this tradition been broken.  On the other hand, Paul’s family is in Texas, and we could spend it together with them. 

The time, travel, and money loom large in this decision.  It takes most of the day to travel from Texas to Michigan.  In December, it’s easily $100+ more to make the trip than it is during the rest of the year.  I have traveled to Michigan five times in the past year.  On top of that, because of my career transition, I’m making a lot less money than I was as a postdoc.  The idea of spending more money on travel this year pains me.

If I’m not in Michigan for Christmas this year, my niece will be really disappointed and perhaps the rest of my family will be too.  Or maybe they’ll understand and accept that as life changes, so do our choices.  I know this decision is not about how much I love them, but it kinda feels like it is, you know?  Like, if I loved them, then money and distance would not stop me from seeing them.  But with limited cash flow right now, I want to use my resources wisely.

I’m leaning toward staying in Texas for Christmas and spending that time with Paul and his family.  Paul and I had such a fun time with my family in Michigan this month that I’d love for us to come back again in the summertime next year, maybe for a full week or more to soak up the good times.  Michigan in the summer is gorgeous and full of life; it would be such a treat to share that experience with Paul and my family.  (Plus Texas in the summertime?  Ugh.  Head north for cooler temps!)

* * *

Writing all of that out feels really good.  Thanks for reading, as always.  I think I don’t say that enough these days.

* The photo above is my niece, in her white dress, on the day my sister got married.  They were both so beautiful!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism, Week 14: Summertime at Target

Target Strapless Dress 5_08_14 with frame_cropped{Image from Target website}

“Cheap sundresses.”  Is that phrase not synonymous with summer?  And yet, is there anything that feels less thoughtful than buying something where cheapness is one of its primary virtues?

Summer’s virtues are its ease and frivolity.  Sunshine, ice cream, bare feet, fresh vegetables, long days, road trips big and small, that Neko Case song…“It looks a lot like engine oil and tastes like being poor and small and popsicles in summer.”  Cheap sundresses go hand-in-hand with drippy ice cream cones, live music, and summer love.  Summer isn’t a season for serious decision-making or ambitious plans.  (Ask me more about this statement after Paul moves in with me, we find housing in Austin, and then we move to Austin.  Ambitious plans, welcome!  We’ve been expecting you.)

Anyways, spending $20 on a Target sundress strikes me as a trivial purchasing decision, but it’s one of those decisions where the ripples spread into your life and beyond.  How many “trivial” decisions add up to a life lacking intention and focus?  I’m kind of afraid to know how much of my time is lost to my frittering away the best hours of my day.  Now feels like a good time to hold onto a thread of intentionality in all of my decisions.

(As an aside, I think it’s okay to be “intentionally flexible” in life.  But you might ask yourself what the purpose of such flexibility is.  Is it driven by a higher purpose?  For me, it’s all about reducing stress and anxiety.  I’m willing to spend money in ways that accomplish that goal as long as my everyday routine is not running from one crisis to the next.) 

I decided recently that I wanted a strapless summer top, preferably something floaty and pretty.  My sister had given me a top from her giveaway pile that fits this description, but it doesn’t stay tied in place very securely.  So now I’m on the hunt for a strapless top, and I bumped into a rack filled with dresses like the one you see up at the top there.  Adorable, right?  Except that the top is secured by just a band of elastic, so I passed on them.  I think my next destination will be Plato’s Closet, which seems likely to have plenty of cheap, secondhand(!) summer clothing.  I’d love to support an ethical clothing maker, but I’m not all that motivated to comb the internet in search of something cute and affordable.  (However, if you’ve got suggestions for great companies to check out, by all means, send them my way!)

Either way, I think it’s a little better than spending more money on cheap clothing from Target.  What do you think?  How do you curate your summer wardrobe?

Monday, May 5, 2014

This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism, Vol. 13: The French Wardrobe Shopping Post

I promised you a post about my “French wardrobe”-style shopping this season, and I mean to deliver!  As I have mentioned before, my income this year is uncertain because of my career shift into tutoring (which I love and is totally worth it).  This means that I want to be very intentional about my purchases, even moreso than when I was working in salaried positions.

Into Mind is a great blog for thinking about style and fashion for a thoughtful consumer.  Anuschka (living in Berlin!) shared a post about different wardrobe curation strategies, and after reading it, I realized that my current strategy is very similar to the “5-piece French wardrobe” technique.  The basic idea: replace your wardrobe essentials as needed, and each season, buy five items to add personality and oomph to your essentials.  I don’t instinctively divide my clothes into basics and oomph pieces, but I like the idea of asking yourself if you can identify both categories in your closet.

I’m still trying to figure out how to define my style.  I think of it as casual-dressy, with a splash of sporty on the side.  When the weather is warm, I wear a lot of dresses with cute but comfortable shoes.  In cooler weather, I wear leggings or skinny pants with boots or flats and a cute top, generally something with some feminine details or a pretty pattern.   I tend to like clean, simple looks more than elaborate ones.  I use color to make my outfits more fun.  My closet contains a lot of pink, blue, and purple.  I like to mix a variety of neutrals with all that color to balance things (at least to my eyes!).

I have trouble dressing for weddings and other more formal events, so I’m trying to find pieces that feel like “me” while being formal-dressy.  There’s something about my casual-dressy style that has made it challenging for me to hit the right notes with formal outfits.  I have days when I think it would be simpler to be a man and wear the same suit to every wedding!

With all that in mind, let me show you what I decided to purchase this year.

New LOFT Dress

* A dressy dress from Ann Taylor LOFT.

I love black-and-white prints in general, and I fell in love with this one.  I think this dress is formal enough to wear to weddings, and I wore it to the rehearsal dinner for my sister’s wedding last week.  Check out the ruching detail on the side:

Ruching Detail

And here’s the dress in action!  My sister the bride is in the center, surrounded by her four bridesmaids.

Good-Looking Bridal Party

I think everyone looks amazing in their party dresses!  Look at how cute my little sister is!  It’s going to take me a while to get used to thinking of her as a married woman.

New Purple Top

* Next up: a drapey purple top from Kohl’s!

I bought this top on a whim.  I was in need of some retail therapy, which is unusual for me, but I do love this silky, jewel-toned top.  I like drapey, v-neck blouses, and this one is dressier than my others.

 Grey Skinny Pants

* Grey skinny pants.

I had been wanting grey skinny pants for a long time, inspired by this outfit in particular.  Pants like this pair are more of a basic than an exciting seasonal purchase, but I have been so happy with them.  The material feels like a sweatshirt, and they have a good fit and good stretch.  I wear them all the time.

Grey Boots

* Tall grey boots.

More grey!  I waflled a lot about buying these vegan boots, but now I’m so glad I did.  It’s been a wet, cold winter and spring in Texas, and these boots keep me dry and happy.  They go well with my wardrobe’s primary color palette of blues, pinks, and purples.  They look great with dark denim-colored leggings, my grey skinny pants, and many of my skirts and dresses.

Yellow Tank

* Simple yellow camisole.

Ages ago, I had a lemon-yellow camisole that I wore all the time.  Eventually, it lost its stretchiness, and I had to retire it.  That simple piece has been missed for a long time, and I finally decided to replace it.  Ta-da!

Purple Tights

* Purple/magenta tights. 

This purchase was an end-of-winter decision.  I haven’t worn them yet, but I think I’ll be glad to have them come next fall.

Skirt Slip

* Skirt slip.     

And one last basic.  I like feeling prepared, and this slip will let me wear more skirts+tights with less bunching/clinging.  It’s warm enough in Texas now that I haven’t worn tights in a while, but like the magenta tights above, I’m sure I’ll be glad to have this slip when cooler weather comes back.

And that’s it!  Seven new pieces for a grand total of $181.81—a few basics, a few fun pieces.  I feel satisfied with my new items.  Now, I’m not swearing off any more purchases until the fall; in fact, I have another post up my sleeve about the temptation that Target poses in the summer.  But I do feel that I have a closet full of great basics and fun interesting pieces that make getting dressed a highlight of each day.  I for one love the sense of stepping into my “daytime self” when I get dressed.  Along those lines, a well-curated closet is always a goal and a work-in-progress.  Just like life.