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!

* * *

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!

* * *

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!  

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Canyons, Trees, and Stars: To Lost Maples We Went

Here’s Part Two of our recent adventure to Austin and beyond.  Part One is right here.

Austin Wildflowers

High on our good news from Austin, we drove west to Lost Maples State Natural Area.  Paul had been itching for us to visit Lost Maples for months.  Now I understand why: it’s a gorgeous park deep in Texas hill country.  It’s more like canyon country, reminding me of the splendor of Colorado but not nearly as steep.

Once we escaped Austin traffic, we drove for several hours to Lost Maples, where Paul quickly built a fire while I chopped vegetables supper.  After dinner, Paul set up his hammock, and we cuddled and dozed together until we finally got so tired that we crawled into our tent.

The next morning, we ate our cereal and fruit, I drank coffee, and we discussed a plan for the day.  Our time in Lost Maples was, unfortunately, pretty short: we had just the weekend, Friday to Sunday, and we both kinda knew without discussing it that we’d need to leave pretty early on Sunday because we had a long drive home.  If we were going to explore the park, Saturday was the day to do it.  We decided to tackle the East Trail, a nearly five-mile loop with some serious elevation changes.  Paul warned me that the trail was steep in some places, but I didn’t really get it until I was confronted by our first rocky incline.

The hike was an athletic endeavor, which was not a bad thing at all, considering that Paul and I have been lamenting our lack of fitness lately.  Lucky for me, Paul carried our heavy day pack on the way up, which included our lunch and most of our water.  All that climbing was totally worth it, as we were treated to scenic vistas once we reached the plateau.

At a Scenic Overlook

We sat and ate lunch in a shady spot on the plateau—canned chili, hummus and crackers, bananas and for dessert?  More crackers, this time of the graham variety, with some almonds.  It was a hot day, so we sat for a while, drinking water and feeling the stillness of the moments.  Other hikers passed us by, and at one point, we acted like goofy statues, breathlessly waiting to see if they’d notice us.  They didn’t.  Once we felt sufficiently rested, we got up, and this time, I took the heavy pack and staggered onward.

We climbed down, down, down, off the plateau and into some of the prettiest sights I’ve ever seen in Texas.  There was a waterfall, more canyons, and this open stretch of river.

At the Water

The riverside was so lovely that we unloaded our things and spent some time at its bank.

But soon our campsite was calling for us: the day was hot, and we were tired, and a nap seemed like a necessity.  We shuffled our way back to the car, drove back to the campsite, and collapsed onto the nearest surfaces: a hammock for Paul and a picnic table bench for me.

Afternoon rolled into evening, and eventually we roused ourselves to make dinner.  Our standard camping dinner is cooked in a foil packet; Paul calls them Hobo Dinners, and we both love them.  Ours is a tumble of vegetables and cubes of tofu, tossed with coconut oil and a spice market’s worth of seasonings.  We’re a model of teamwork when it comes to campfire dinners: Paul builds the fire while I prep the food, then we hang out together while it cooks and dig in hungrily with our sporks.  Afterward, we wait for the sun to set and for the Milky Way to illuminate the dark sky.  I think I spotted it the first night, but I couldn’t find it the second night.  I’ll never forget seeing the Milky Way for the first time, while camping in Colorado.  The darkness was so intense that the faint smear of light from our galaxy was unmistakable—there it was, like white chalk smudged on the blackness of night.  Looking back on that trip, Paul and I agree that our time in Routt National Forest was the highlight of the trip.  Though camping often involves physical labor, even hardship (soft creature that I am), the feeling of connection to the universe beyond human civilization is more than worth the trouble.  So far in Texas, Paul and I have camped in Pedernales Falls State Park and now Lost Maples; Lost Maples is by far the better park and comes just a bit closer to our Colorado experience.  (Though in fairness, I have to say that I loved Pedernales too, but it’s not nearly as stunning as Lost Maples.)

The next morning, we woke early, breakfasted, packed up our campsite, and drove out of the park.  We returned to Austin to sign our new lease(!) and eat lunch at Kerbey Lane.  Contemplating the menu, it was one of the hardest decisions to forgo the pancakes, but I did and got the Egg Francisco instead (yum!).  Paul is nudging us to eat less added sugar, and I admit that he’s got a point.  Maybe we don’t need to eat pancakes every time we go to Kerbey Lane?  (More about the sugar thing later.)

After lunch, we hopped back in the car and were back in College Station by 3 PM.  Just like that, our little whirlwind trip to Austin and the woods was over.  But it meant that the next chapter of our lives had officially started, the one where we move together to a new place and begin our Austin adventure.

Near the Water

Sunday, June 1, 2014

To the Capitol City!

Fallen Rocks

I have yet to get around to writing my goals for 2014 (it’s not too late! I’m gonna do it!), but the biggest one is that Paul and I want to move to Austin, TX, where we will live fabulous, indie-hipster lives.  Or maybe we’ll just be ourselves but in a new city.  At any rate, we had settled on moving this summer because my current lease is up at the end of July.  Plus moving in the summer would put us in Austin before the fall semester starts, which seems ideal for finding new tutoring students.

The move is something that we weren’t thinking about too much until recently.  I just had no room in my brain for anything more than the essentials.  Once my sister was married and off on her honeymoon, I felt free to focus on the next task, which was to find housing for three of us in Austin.

(Three of us, you ask?  Why, yes, indeed!  I already had an Austin roommate, my friend Courtney.  Paul had other plans in Austin, but when they fell through, we decided that we’d try to get a home for three, with the caveat that every person would have his or her own bedroom.  Private spaces are important.)

The challenge of finding housing in Austin loomed large for me at the end of May.  I won’t share the gory details with you (unless you want them, in which case let me know!), but suffice to say that I spent the better part of last Wednesday on the computer and the phone researching our options.  Austin’s housing market moves frighteningly fast, according to our sources, so we decided to schedule our rental viewings the day before we arrived in Austin.  There was no point in scheduling a visit to see a place that might be rented before we could see it, plus Paul and I aren’t moving for another two months.  By the end of the day on Wednesday, I’d scheduled four visits, and we were ready to schedule more on the fly if we could.

We headed off to Austin on Thursday morning, joking that if we liked the first place, we’d apply for it and be done with our search.

And then?

We loved it.

Before we started our search, we decided on some basic wants: three bedrooms, two bathrooms (preferably full), and a location that wouldn’t make our lives hell as we commute to work and around the city for fun times.  (Austin traffic is notoriously bad; we caught some of that as we drove around on Thursday and Friday.)  We had other wishes, too, of course—I wanted Paul to have space for all his work and hobbies, I wanted a kitchen that would let two of us cook (Courtney and I both love to cook and feed people), and we wanted a space that we all liked, of course.  The first place we saw had all of these perks and more—there are trees and green space right outside our front door, it seems quiet, there are two and a half(!) bathrooms, and the space feels homey yet big enough to be comfortable for three adults, two of whom will be working at home (at least some of the time).

After touring the first home, we went to lunch and unanimously decided to put in an application.  Even before we put in our application, we were getting good news to add to our good feeling about this place: the owner said that Lucy the cat was acceptable.  Paul loved that the owner only has one house that he’s renting out, so we were dealing with someone who probably cared a great deal about the condition of this place.

Nervously, we filled out our applications, unsure if our collective income level would be deemed acceptable.  I was probably the most nervous about this part: even though I have savings and know that I can pay rent, my income is much lower than it’s been in years past.  I know that the decision to freelance as a tutor and work part-time in a lab was the right one for me this year, yet I still wondered if I’d be punished for my choice by being denied a rental home that we loved.

Nevertheless, we completed our applications, breathed a temporary sigh of relief, and dropped off Courtney.  Paul and I headed to our hotel room for some rest and some cool air.

A Sweet Little Room in Austin

The next day, we met up with Courtney and our friend Emily for pizza at Conan’s.  We ordered vegetarian deep-dish pizzas and devoured them.  With our pending application, I had canceled our other viewings, so we had a leisurely lunch and tried not to think about the news we wanted to hear.

When we planned this trip to Austin, Paul had suggested we make a little vacation out of it, so we were scheduled to drive from Austin to Lost Maples State Natural Area, about 3-4 hours outside of Austin.  As we left Conan’s, Paul checked his e-mail and found a funny-sounding e-mail pertaining to our application, so he called our agent and left a message.  When I checked my e-mail, I found messages that said first my application had been canceled and second the landlord had approved my application.  Confused, we waited for our agent to call us back, and when he did, we found out…

Getting the News

…that the place was ours!

We sent excited text messages to Courtney and joyfully drove out of town, all the way to Lost Maples.

Stay tuned for our Lost Maples getaway…next time, friends!