Sunday, January 29, 2012

Reorganizing the home and the homeschool...

I'm making up for my complete lack of new pictures in my last several really long blog posts...

This past week, I reorganized all of our homeschool materials, and our kitchen work space.  It used to look like THIS.  But, now it looks like this:
Our furniture is pretty much all mix and match junk since we don't know how long we'll be in New York.  I didn't want to buy anything that I either don't absolutely love and would be willing to tote elsewhere, or that I wouldn't be willing to get rid of should we move.  Put together this way, our junk furniture functions pretty well!  Two old kitchen tables side by side, a hutch without doors or inside shelf for books and random stuff...

A box on its side works well as a makeshift bookcase, and is perfect for holding binders.  I have materials arranged in binders by subject...

We've done some schoolwork since rearranging our workspace...
Filling out a science lab experiment page...
Eating homemade ice cream, made while learning about the movement of molecules, and water temperature...

We've also reorganized a few other areas of our apartment, but I forgot to take a before picture, so instead I have an "in progress" and "after" of our hall...

And, I'm leaving you with what we had for dinner tonight...puffed oven pancake...
You should probably eat your oven puffed pancake with a fork, but it was pretty yummy folded in half and eaten with my hands!  I love it with frozen raspberries, and a sprinkling of powdered sugar...yummy!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Your dream life...

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about my "dream life" - what do I want my life to look like? My best life possible?  And, how can I achieve it?  I've been pretty much BROKE since my son was born (13 years) despite coming from a well off family. I could go into detail about the how's and why's, but for this post, I will spare you.  Instead, I want to talk about my "dream life" and how I plan to achieve it.

(Apologies for lack of photos!)

Sometimes, too often really, it seems impossible to achieve our wildest dreams.  But, what if you could?  What would happen if you shift from a mindset of "That would be nice, but it probably will never happen..." to "That would be nice, and it might be hard to achieve, but it WILL happen..."?

I recently saw that financial guru Suze Orman would be answering questions on the Facebook page for Glamour magazine.  It would be a 30 minute window to ask questions.  I jumped on it, figuring so many others would as well that my question wouldn't get answered, or even seen.  I was surprised moments later to see an answer!

My question:  I'm struggling to get my finances under control. I also have a 13yo son, and am a single mother. How can I best make sure my son understands finances when I struggle so much myself? Thank you.

Suze's response:  Malea B listen to me-- stop being a MOM you need to just stand in your truth-- kids do what you do not what you say- so be honest and proud-- you can do this.

And because there was a little confusion on the Glamour page discussion, I actually got a second response:  Teach your children well by being proud of what you do have as well as what you do not have. Kids do what you do not what you say. Show your child that happiness comes from within not the wallet-- just be strong- and smile.  

Pretty simple, right?  In a moment of doubt, and feeling bad about my financial situation, that had power for me!  Sometimes we just need a little knock upside the head to say, "Hey! You already have the tools and know-how, so DO it!"   

You may have read my mini-pity party about my car woes, and I was feeling pretty down about it until I calculated the cost of keeping my car versus getting rid of it.  That was an eye opener!  Even if I never made another repair to my car, it wasn't worth keeping.  I have been without my car about a week now, but I actually haven't really been driving it for an additional two weeks.  I am lucky enough to live 2 blocks from the commuter train, and one of my tutoring students lives a mile from another stop.  I can walk to school, and the grocery, drug store, and post office are all right around the corner.  We also are a train ride away from New York City.  The only thing I've needed my car for, and the only reason I didn't sell it immediately upon arrival in New York, was so that I could get to one particular tutoring family.  Well, February 3rd will be my last day of tutoring for that family on a daily basis (due to other reasons I won't go into here), and financially I will come out AHEAD despite giving up income!  Until recently, I had never looked at the cost of getting to and from this family compared to not having my car, and not tutoring for this family.  It actually was costing me money to do this job!  Whoa!    

So, my first steps to living my dreams, were realizing that life without my car is a good thing financially and in terms of my stress level.  Not having my car, I've felt freer and lighter than ever.  Not only do I not have to worry about paying for insurance, gas, and maintenance, but I also don't have to worry about parking (on the street, with alternate side restrictions twice weekly).  And, a side bonus, I'm getting a ton of exercise because I'm walking substantially more...from the train to one of my tutoring clients is a 1 mile walk each way, plus 1/4 mile from my place to my train stop.  Most days (Monday to Friday), I'm getting 2 1/2 miles of cardio exercise, and I walk FAST (why is another story involving fond memories of my grandfather...for another post) so I'm burning loads of calories!  I had set a weight loss goal of 15 pounds with a deadline of April 20th.  I've been tracking my walking, and calories burned, and I will meet my goal long before April 20th!  Another side benefit, my son is getting a lot more exercise too.  Better health means fewer doctor visit, which is money saved.  Plus, we have been happier due to the positive mood effects of exercise, and we've been focusing on better eating habits to make sure we have the energy to keep walking.

The next step to living out my dreams is to finish graduate school.  My last term begins tomorrow (January 23rd), and graduation is mid-May.  I can't wait!  I will have an MFA in Writing, with a concentration in Poetry.  I've been actively applying to community colleges for teaching jobs (if you know of any openings, please let me know...including overseas openings!).  These are ongoing activities, but they add to my ability to live my dream life.

Additionally, I've been tracking my spending, especially on transportation costs, and food.  I've found ways to save on transportation (buying a 10-punch trip ticket for the train costs less than buying 5 round trips, and I need to find out the benefits and cost of a monthly pass).  And, I'm being extremely conscientious about our food purchases, and making sure we eat everything we buy - throwing any food in the trash for any reason is wasted money - I might as well through cash in the trash bin.

I've also been focusing a lot on needs versus wants.  I want a soda, but I need water.  Ok, water is boring, but it's true...I need it! Of course, we all need water, but I had surgery to repair a torn tendon in my foot a few years ago, and I've noticed that if I am dehydrated, even slightly, my foot starts to get all cramped up.  If I don't take care of it right away, or have been dehydrated for too long, it ends up so cramped and painful that I literally cry, and it can take hours to uncramp.  I used to drink 8 cups (or more!) of coffee everyday PLUS at least two sodas!  Whew!  I'm amazed that I didn't have major heart palpitations!  I still drink 3 to 5 cups of coffee, but I've been working really hard to NOT have a soda everyday, or even most days.  I try to make my coffee at home, and fill a thermos if I will be gone all day.  When I crave a soda (a certain caffeinated cola with a red and white label and polar bears in their advertising), I try to think about my foot.  Usually that's enough to get me off the soda thought train, and grab water instead.  When I do give in, I try to find a smaller soda (either a regular can or mini can) instead of the 20oz bottles that seem to dominate these days - cheaper, fewer calories, less sugar, and I really don't want a full one anyhow!  Cutting back on soda may seem small but it adds up.  In my area, a full sized 20oz soda can cost $1.75 or more...multiplied over a month, and that is $52.50 per month on just sodas!  $630 per year!  Those savings, combined with savings from cutting way back on evil-empire (think green aprons) coffee drinks (I've gone from 3 times per week to maybe 3 times per month), and we could, annually, take TWO trips to the west coast to visit family, or one trip to Mexico City to visit my uncle!  

I also find myself more and more often thinking, "If I buy this, I will have to work x-hours to pay for it."  This is something my dad used to tell me to do in analyzing my spending habits, but for some reason, I've never done it until recently (maybe I was never broke enough to feel the need?).  The savings, when you realize how much you have to work to pay for the stuff in your life is amazing!  Seeing the number of work hours rack up just to pay for stuff is a wake-up call, and really brings home the needs versus wants.  Most of the stuff in our lives falls in the wants category.  Yes, we all treat ourselves periodically, but periodically should be the key...if you just buy stuff all the time because you want it, then the stuff isn't is just STUFF.  How much have you spent over the years on random stuff that you can't even name anymore, that you don't have anymore, that you never truly wanted in the first place?  All money WASTED...that could have paid for something you really wanted if you'd only been a little patient with yourself.

This is getting super long, so I will stop here, and post more another day...including a list of links to my favorite inspirational blog posts about living your dream life, being inspired, and so on.

Oh, and I also got some GREAT news this weekend!  I received a little package in the mail from my tutoring company - inside the box I found: a tote bag, stainless steel water bottle, note pad and pen, keychain flash drive, and a letter stating that in 2011 I was one of the TOP 50 TUTORS FOR THE COMPANY!  The company has over 33,000 tutors on the books (as of my last check, although at various times I've seen as many as 38,000 registered tutors!).  If you are need of tutoring services for yourself, or for someone else, or you want to become a tutor, please consider using WyzAnt.  I've had a great experience working as a tutor, and my students are happy with the company as well.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Interesting college application requirement...

The take away? Although the admissions officer interviewed says to relax, you might want to think carefully before you submit your short answer.  25 words isn't a whole lot.  Be sure that every word is necessary.  Can you say the same thing in fewer words, thus giving you more room to say something additional? 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

One of "those" days...

I am having "one of those days"...  I'm stressed about money, about the ex, about school starting next week, about my falling apart car.  I kind of want to have a good cry, but don't want to expend the energy on crying.  Right now, I am feeling exhausted and worn out by those little things (and big things) that add up and leave you feeling like poo.  :(  No bueno...  Nicht gut...

I got my car into a shop today, after consulting other shops, and the verdict is that I need a new motor.  Do you hear that wooshing sound?  That is the sound of money flying out of my bank account, and not enough money coming back in.
I happen to love my car, and hope the repairs won't be as expensive as I fear!
The bright note today, is that I recently found a website where I can study German for FREE, and the site is well organized, and thorough.  I've used numerous websites and software with mixed results, and none have been substantial enough for me to return time and time again.  This site, however, is FANTASTIC!   If you have any interest in learning German, check out Deutsch Welle! I am focusing on the Deutsch Interaktiv and Mission Europe sections right now. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Do something that scares the crap out of you...

I don't mean do something that you are afraid of because it might mean harm or danger.  I mean, do something that scares you because it is unknown or because of the risk of failure.  Do something you can't possibly do perfectly.  Do something where you are far more likely to lose than win.  Do something you don't even dare dream is possible...

Yeah, it is January, which means a new year.  I don't want you to resolve to do something that scares you.  I didn't even mean for this post to be written at the start of a new year.  It is a post I've wanted to write for a while, but just haven't been able to find the words for...tonight, I have the words.

You know, life isn't easy.  It may look easy when you see others doing more, having more, enjoying more.  Guess what?  For the vast majority of people - even the super happy ones?  Life is really damn hard (excuse the cursing...).  I can honestly say I'm happier than I've ever been, and at the same time, life is incredibly challenging with new difficulties to overcome all the time.  Why?  Because I take risks instead of sitting around on my don't have to take risks everyday, or even every week.  But, you can take risks on enough of a regular basis to see great rewards.  And, when you don't see a reward, and  instead get a big fat rejection, you can also gain insight and knowledge.  Gaining insight and knowledge, even if it is a negative like, "Wow, I really hate doing xyz...", is worth it, because at least now you know!

My challenge to you - whether you do it now or later - is to do something you only dream about.  Take a risk, give it a try, naysayers be damned.  You won't know until you get out there and do something...  It could be as small as trying a food you've always been a bit afraid to taste.  It could be as huge as selling everything and moving to another continent. 

I wouldn't be as happy as I am if I hadn't taken some risks in the last ten years.  The first was FIGHTING to finish my undergraduate degree.  Once I decided to actually stop goofing around, and decided to get that degree, I went for it and fought tooth and nail to attend classes, do well, and graduate!  Those last three semesters often felt impossible, but I struggled through, received A's in the last three classes, and got my degree!  Next came leaving an abusive relationship despite dread that to leave might be worse than to stay (where would I live? how would we pay the bills? who would I lean on during tough times?).  My abuser made those last three terms of school exceptionally hard (taking the car and canceling babysitters so I couldn't go to class were only two of many things he did to stop me from going to school).  Then, I worked my way into a job in the Emergency Department of a major hospital even though I knew it would be a hard job with crazy hours (I worked night shift for several years).  That job was exhausting but incredibly gratifying.  

Eventually, I wanted more, so I applied to graduate school and was accepted by two different programs.  One would have been fairly easy, and I could have stayed in my job and could have continued living with family...but would it have been satisfying?  The other was at a school with an amazing reputation, but 3,000 miles away from everything my son and I knew.  I applied to the second school on a whim, assuming I would never get in. It would require moving, leaving behind friends and family and belongings, and there was no guarantee that my son or I would like the school or the city or anything else.  We knew no one in the area except for one cousin that I hadn't seen regularly since childhood.  The cost of living would be higher and there was no guarantee of a job once we got there...and, I got in!

Guess which path I chose?

There were plenty of people saying I was nuts to follow path #2 into the great land of unknowns.  "It will be too hard."  "You'll be broke all the time."  "How will you make friends?"  


What if I fail?  SO WHAT?  To fail means to learn.  To fail means to grow.  To fail means to be human, and to be engaging life instead of letting life roll over you or around you.  TO FAIL MEANS TO LIVE LIFE ON YOUR TERMS.  TO FAIL MEANS YOU TRIED. But guess what?  While we've had some hard times - some much harder than I ever imagined - we've also had some incredibly amazing times!  We've seen places, and met people we would never have experienced had I not taken a risk.  We've found out that we love some things and hate others when we expected the opposite to be true.  We've found that people are mostly the same everywhere you go - I swear to you that New Yorkers aren't big, bad, scary people!

By taking risks, and being willing to accept failure as an opportunity to learn about myself and the world around me, I've opened up the world to myself.  YOU HOLD THE KEY TO YOUR OWN PATH.  YOU CREATE YOUR OWN HAPPINESS THROUGH YOUR OWN ACTIONS AND ATTITUDES.  

So, what are you going to do that scares the crap out of you?

Now, I'm on the path to looking for a post-graduation job.  I thought about looking for jobs exclusively where we now live, or exclusively back "home" where my parents live.  Eh, those would be great, but why not look further afield?  Why not look EVERYWHERE?  It is cliche, but why not SHOOT FOR THE STARS?   You don't know what you can achieve if you don't try.

I spent years as a miserable, scared person.  I was terrified of failure.  Terrified of even the slightest chance of not being perfect.  And as a result, I did nothing...ever...until one day, I'd had enough, and decided to try something new.

So, what are you going to do that scares the crap out of you? 

I'm leaving you with this...I found it floating around on Facebook.  If you know the original source, please let me know so I can give proper credit: