Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Embarrassing Moments from High School, One of Which Still Stings

I try not to hold onto mistakes that I made in the past, but sometimes I do.  The funny thing is that it isn't the "big" mistakes that bother me.  For instance, several years ago, Ian and I decided to go into debt to put him in a program at an expensive university that he wasn't even able to finish.  In retrospect, it was a really bad decision, but you know what?  We paid off the debt and moved on.  C'est la vie.  YOLO.  Etcetera.

A decision that haunted me for years, though, was buying an electric guitar from a (person who I thought was) a friend my sophomore year in high school for way more than it was worth.  I trusted him, so I didn't do a whole lot of research (and, to my defense, there was also a lot I just didn't know).  When I asked my father to get the money out of my savings account, he asked me if I was sure it was a good price, and I said yes.

Later I learned that not only did he charge me an extravagant price, but the guitar wasn't even in the best condition.  For YEARS I would think back on how I was taken in, and it would make me feel all hot in my insides.  You know the feeling I'm talking about?  I mean... I was married, living in a different city, and had sold that guitar long ago to someone else (at a fair price, of course), and it still made me feel bad, even though, at worst, I was only ripped off by $200.

Finally, I decided I had to find a way to deal with it.  I thought long and hard about what still bothered me about it, and finally, it clicked.  I called my father up and confessed.  Hey Dad, remember when you asked me if I was getting a good price for that guitar six years ago?  Yeah... I didn't.  I trusted instead of researched and made a poor financial decision.  Mostly, my dad thought it was funny I was bringing it up after all these years, but ultimately he asked, "Well... did you learn anything from the experience?"  Of course I had.  "Better to learn that lesson on a small thing when you are young than a bigger investment when it could cost you a lot more."  Good call, Dad.

From that conversation on, it hasn't bothered me at all.  I came clean to my father about my irresponsibility, learned my lesson, and moved on.

But that is only one of several examples.  There is another embarrassing situation that I still can't shake.  When I was taking Art Appreciation at a community college at the age of, say, 16, we had to make collages that represented things about us.  On the list was "one pet peeve."  Scrambling to finish the assignment, I ripped a picture of this structure out of a National Geographic and pasted it on my poster board: 

Via Wikimedia Commons
I decided the pet peeve I was going to represent was "pretentiousness" and the tower above was like the Tower of Babel (an example of pretentiousness if ever there was one).  When I was presenting my collage in class, I got to this part and happened to notice the look on my instructor's face.  I could tell I had done something ignorant or offensive or... something... but I had no idea what. 

Well later I learned that the image I chose is the famous Great Mosque of Samarra.  And while I am not the first to compare this structure to the Tower of Babel, I can understand why the instructor was a little unnerved by my presentation.  Had I known that it was a holy place for people of another religion, there is no way I would have pointed at it as a personal pet peeve. 

My ignorance still haunts me a little, and I fear I lost that particular instructor's respect, and I thought he was a fantastic teacher.  I doubt he remembers me or my faux pas, but I have long remembered his reaction to it.  In some ways, I think my ignorance was forgivable.  How many high schoolers from a small town have a working knowledge of important architecural and religious structures in the Middle East?  Probably not a lot.

But what bugs me is that I didn't even bother to read the caption in the magazine before I tore the picture out.  It was the cavalier "this will work, whatever" attitude that bugs me.  If I had taken, literally, ten seconds to see what the picture was, I could have avoided the entire thing.

So, Dear Internet, this is my confession.  And, I suppose, the lesson I am trying to learn from it is that some ignorance is excusable (and unavoidable), but not if the information is right on the page in front of me, and I don't bother to even look.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Story of Home (In Two Crosses)

Photo from the official Bald Knob Cross of Peace Facebook Page
This is the Bald Knob Cross of Peace.  It sits at the highest point in the Shawnee National Forest in a little rural town called Alto Pass.  It is over 100 feet tall and, when illuminated at night, can be seen from 7,500 square miles.  It is about 30 miles from my hometown, and it may be my favorite place on Earth.  Here is a picture of my sister and me on our last visit to the cross together (a few years ago).

I grew up in Southern Illinois.  Northern Illinois is Chicago.  Central Illinois is farmland.  Southern Illinois is this:  National Forests.  National Parks.  Wine trails. 

Then there is the college town of Carbondale.  I went to school here at Southern Illinois University.  There is a forest situated in the middle of campus with trails criss-crossing one another running through it.  It takes a few tries to figure out which path would get you to the right building when you emerged on the other side of the trees on your way to class.

Carbondale also has a thriving underground punk scene.  It's home to The Lost Cross, one of the oldest (if not THE oldest) DIY punk houses in the country.  By day it's a dilapidated looking house in an unassuming neighborhood, but at night it hosts shows for both local groups and touring bands from all over the US.

It is notoriously difficult to locate (the address is kept secret), which adds to its already legendary status.  It has been in continuous operation since 1986 and shows no signs of going away anytime soon.  Here is a short video about The Lost Cross that was made, I believe, when the house celebrated its 25th birthday (Warning:  there is one cuss word in this video).

I still live in a college town, though this one is in Alabama.  I don't have as much to say about our current home.  We have only been here for a year (with one year to go), and I spend the vast majority of my time at home caring for my two babies, which makes it difficult to explore (or go to punk shows).  We have found a wonderful community here, though, and I look forward to seeing what the next year brings.

Here is another picture of my sister and me, though this time we are in front of the historic train trestle in my current city.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Just Taking a Breather

I don't normally post on Saturdays, but I DO normally post on Wednesdays and Fridays (which didn't happen this week).  This wasn't my original intention, but I've got some things I'm working on (including some tweaks to my blog design), so I'm taking a little break from my regular posting schedule.

I'm still around, though, and I'm looking forward to picking it back up soon!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Our Little Step Towards Orphan Prevention

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of online chatter concerning adoption.  The discussion seems to center around the ethical murkiness of adoption and the concern that American (often evangelical) demand for adoptable babies leads to certain parties creating supply, which can result in families being tricked, payed, or robbed of babies they would otherwise raise.  I am not about to wade into this controversy, and I don't need to, as Jen Hatmaker has been taking the subject head-on on her blog.

This discussion is relevant to my husband and I as we have talked about adoption since before we were married.  It will be a couple years until we are in a place to pursue that goal tangibly, and even after all the reading and research I have done, I don't know what our plan is going to be (international, domestic, single child, sibling group, boy, girl, age, etc.).  We will cross that bridge later.

One idea that keeps circulating in all the controversy, though, is that as beautiful as an ethical adoption is, it should always be Plan B.  Plan A should focus on supporting birth mothers and biological families in caring for the baby if they feel inclined to do so.  Basically, the best way to care for an orphan is to prevent a child from becoming an orphan in the first place.

Learn more about sponsoring a child.With this in mind, Ian and I decided that while we aren't prepared to adopt an orphan today, we can prevent an orphan today.  We signed up to sponsor a child through Compassion International, an organization that has been recommended to us over and over again from various sources.  A Compassion advocate (and friend of ours) was looking for sponsors at church a couple Sundays ago, so we signed up!

We are sponsoring a 7-year-old girl from Rwanda.  She has a single mother and one other sibling.  I wrote her a letter telling her about our family and including a picture of us.  I know it can take quite awhile to hear back (often months), but I am very much looking forward to it.

Anyway, we have wanted to do this for a long time, but our financial situation was too tight for us to be comfortable committing to a child.  My husband was recently blessed with a new job, though, and we felt that part of this blessing was an opportunity to help in this small way.  Whether or not we ever adopt a child ourselves, I know that we are helping at least one child stay with a mother who loves her.

Disclaimer:  I have no professional connections with Compassion.  I just wanted to share this exciting development in our life.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Using Routines to Create Consistency (Even When You Can't Keep a Schedule)

In a recent meeting with my mastermind group, we were discussing the challenge of being consistent.  The context of this was focused on blogging, of course, but we discussed consistency in other areas of our lives as well.  The consensus seemed to be that we were most consistent with the things we had to do (buy groceries, any number of things related to babies, work deadlines, etc.).

I have given it some more thought, though, and I realize that I have been successful at being consistent with optional things (like reading, making my bed, or going for walks) at different points in my life, even since I've had two little ones at home.  I've been pondering what has worked for me.  Why do some things stick and others don't?

We don't have a strict schedule around here.  I try to plan my day loosely around baby naps, but even meal times are different from day to day.  My husband's work schedule varies.  My work schedule varies.  Both my babies are very laid back, so we just go with the flow a lot (though afternoon naptime is more or less sacred).  So when there is no schedule and each day is a little different, how in the world do I maintain any sort of consistency?


First of all, routines are good for babies.  Past that, though, I have had the most success being consistent with my own priorities when I work them into a routine around the times of day that happen without fail:  breakfast, lunch, dinner, and bedtime.

With that in mind, an ideal day looks like this:

After breakfast:
Make my bed
Get dressed & brush teeth
Hang up diapers to dry (we wash them overnight)
Put on load of laundry
Write blog post/write for an hour

After lunch:
Put Saul down for his nap
Spend 10 minutes in the kitchen loading breakfast/lunch dishes, etc.
Wash bottles
Transfer or hang up load of laundry

After dinner:
Family walk
Put laundry away
Clean up toys
Baby baths & bedtimes

After babies are asleep:
Put diapers on to wash
Dinner dishes
Go to sleep

Like I said, this is an ideal day.  Not all of these get done every day, and, of course, days like this get totally interrupted by grocery shopping, church events, dinner with friends, etc.  Having a basic plan, though, helps me be consistent with my time when it is available.

I guess, then, that if I want to be more consistent about something, I just need to ground it to one of these mini-routines throughout the day.  Daily routines seem to come easily to me, but if it needs to be done once a week? Forget it.  I am terrible at weekly routines.  Something to work on, I guess.

How do you encourage consistency in your life?  Do you have any life-saving routines to help you get it all done?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A List of Unfamiliar Products I Have Purchased (AKA: Make-up)

This is a part of the Primped to The Teeth series.  See what it is all about here.

I have always had a pretty uncomfortable relationship with make-up.  For one thing, my mother never wore it growing up, so I don't have memories of getting out her lipstick, etc.  I'm actually glad about this, because it means I wasn't raised thinking make-up was a daily requirement, even though it means I didn't really have any guidance on the topic.

There are so many reasons I don't wear it daily, and it's not my intention to start that now.  However, after years of not even owning make-up (let alone being confident in my skills to apply it), I decided it's time to take it it head on, and the first step was to buy some.

I considered going to a make-up counter or store for a professional opinion, but I quickly decided against this for a couple reasons:
  1. On the few occasions I have had my make-up done by consultants, I have always gone straight to the bathroom afterwards and taken half of it off (just because it seemed like way too much for me).  Then there was one consultant who did a terrible job matching my skin color (unless "face tans" are a "thing" I've never heard of).  Now, I am sure that there are fabulous consultants out there who could save me a lot of time and trouble, but I have trust issues.  
  2. I take an eclectic approach to everything in my life.  I like to pick and choose from different options to piece together a system that works for me.  Even the most talented and helpful consultant might have a certain line she would recommend, and I want all the options on the table.
For me, though, this was much more complicated than reading a few reviews online and then heading to the drugstore to pick some items up.  As much as possible, I wanted the make-up to be as natural and eco-friendly as possible.  This is a personal conviction for me, and since I don't plan on wearing make-up all the time, I figured I could afford to invest in some higher-quality make-up to ensure that I wasn't putting harmful chemicals on my skin or contributing to the exploitation of workers in a developing country.

Of course, it's very difficult to be 100% "safe" from these things (and no make-up is going to be perfect), but I wanted to give it my best shot.  I am slowly building up my make-up stash over time, mainly due to the expense.  Here is what I have settled on for now (items I have purchased already are crossed off):

Physician's Formula Organic Wear Tinted Moisturizer
The Body Shop Carbon Eye Definer - Brown 
The Body Shop Colour Crush Eyeshadow - (4 colors)  
Physician's Formula Organic Wear Mascara
Physician's Formula Organic Wear 2-in-1 Bronzer and Blush Rose
The Body Shop Love Gloss - Pale Pink
Physician's Formula Organic Wear Loose Powder
EcoTools Bamboo 6-Piece Make-Up Brush Set
Gussy Sews Large Zipped Pouch

For now, I am going to try it without concealer.  I am also going to DIY my own make-up remover.  I haven't tried any of the items I have purchased so far, as I am waiting for them all to do a full "makeover" (that sounds soooo weird to me).

So... yeah.  That's where things stand on the make-up front.  Slow and steady wins the race, right?   

Monday, May 20, 2013

Constant Optimization: How Pretending to be a Pioneer Saves Me Money

The latest post on the Mr. Money Mustache blog is called "The Principle of Constant Optimization," which put a voice to a philosophy I have practiced for a long time without realizing it.  I recommend checking out his post first to get a good overview of the principle (his tone is a little aggressive, so here is your warning if that kind of thing bothers you), then I'll explain why this practice makes me feel like a pioneer.

photo credit: Al_HikesAZ via photopin cc

When I optimize, I like to consider how I would survive with a different set up.  If you want, you can pretend that you woke up one morning and this change has been made for you.  How would you handle it?  Get creative.  Think like a pioneer!  If they could survive with some oxen and a hatchet, then surely you can conceive a plan in which you can make it without a data package on your phone.  This is how it works for me.

1)  I have no minimum requirements.

If you say "We need at least three bedrooms," then you will never explore the cheaper options that come with fewer bedrooms.  You may have perfectly good reasons for wanting three, but if "three bedrooms" is truly a need, then it will survive the optimization process.  Allowing for the possibility of a smaller place doesn't mean you have to get a smaller place.  It just means you have to honestly entertain the idea of a smaller place.  That's it.

As a family of two adults and two small children, we live pretty comfortably in a two-bedroom apartment.  However, I wasn't content to say "This is as small/cheap as we can go."  I wanted to consider all my options that might save us money.  There are one-bedroom apartments in our complex that have washer/dryer hook-ups and are right across the parking lot.  What about one of those?  Nothing is too crazy to consider.

2)  I imagine what would happen if this change occurred and how I would deal with it.

This is where you start playing the "what if" game.  What if we made that change?  How would we adapt our life logistically?  What kind of conflict or challenges would arise?  What sort of advantages might there be?  How would we have to do things differently?  Plan it all out in your head. 

In a one bedroom apartment, we would put the nursery in the bedroom and our bed in the front like a studio apartment.  Maybe we could find some cheap room dividers of some sort to give the bedroom privacy from the living space. What about storage?  We could get rid of more stuff and/or buy a big wardrobe or dresser piece for storage.  It would be very difficult to have company over, especially overnight guests.  We might need to get rid of our dining table and guest bed.

3)  Failure is not an option.

In this experiment, you cannot say "it won't work" or "it's too hard."  Remember, you woke up this morning and you no longer had a car.  You have to figure out how to make this work, no matter how outrageous the solution.  You are living on the "no car" frontier now, so figure it out, even if it means moving to a different place, finding another job, buying bicycles for the whole family, or whatever.  Make it as workable as possible, but find a way to survive.  No excuses.  If you don't come up with a plan, you are going to catch typhoid or get eaten by coyotes. 

4)  Decide if the savings (and other benefits) justify the change in lifestyle.

In our case, the one-bedroom apartments are only about $100/month less than our current apartment.  We would have one fewer bedroom and bathroom to cool/heat which might bring down the utility bill.  We might need to buy some things for the move (room dividers, extra storage pieces, etc) that potential sale of other things probably wouldn't cover.  Plus, I really like our dining table, and we use it, and we would probably want one at the next place we live.  Same for the guest bed.

Right now it's not uncommon for a baby to be napping in the nursery, my husband to be studying in the bedroom, and me to be working in the living room.  This set-up isn't necessary, but it's nice.  Plus, we have overnight visitors pretty frequently, and I like it that everybody gets a real bed when that happens.  There is also the fact that we just really like our current apartment.  It is nothing extravagant, and we genuinely like the size and lay-out.  We are very happy here, and I am constantly de-cluttering so we don't "out-grow" this space, because I want to stay here.

The verdict:  We could make it work; it would be tight and unconventional, but possible.  In order to be worth the hassle, though, it would need to save us at least half of our current living expenses, and the savings aren't even close to that.  We could consider moving to another complex, but then we have the added expenses of application fees and deposits.  Plus, this location is perfect because my husband can bike to work and class from here, which saves us money on gas.  We will stay here and look for other areas to cut costs... until I optimize our living situation again, which I will.  The principle is constant optimization, which means you have to keep doing it.

5)  Live it out.  Be a pioneer.

In the case of the apartment, we decided to stay put, but many times optimization leads you to find waste and fat in your budget and life.  Don't be afraid to cut it out.  Who cares what people think?  You are a pioneer now, okay?  You have to be a little crazy to live differently than everybody else, but you have to be a whole lot of crazy to live just like everybody else without questioning what actually works for you and what doesn't.

Here are some questions you can entertain to help you optimize:

  • Could we live with one fewer bedroom?
  • Do we need high-speed internet at home?
  • Could we live with one fewer cell phone?  Or one fewer data package?  No cell phones at all?
  • Could we live with one fewer vehicle?  A smaller vehicle?  No vehicle at all?
  • What if we didn't have central air or heat?
  • What if we didn't have cable?  Or TV at all?
  • What about items we automatically buy more of when we run out (make-up, cleaning supplies, paper plates, paper towels, toilet paper, diapers, wipes, printer paper, etc.)?
  • What would it take to work without commuting?

Basically, if it costs you money, can you live with less of it? Or none of it?  Just because you can live without it doesn't mean you should.  It's just good not to accept "the way we've always done it" as the way you have to do it, especially if it's costing you.

Do you practice constant optimization?  What is the craziest thing you've considered doing?  What's the craziest thing you've actually done?