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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: Cornucopia Popcorn (and Plum District's $15 for $30 deal)

When we moved into the Nuthaus last year, Cornucopia was right across the street, tucked into a convenient-to-us location right behind Veggie Heaven (of which James and I have grown extremely fond). However, if one did not live near the UT campus and had to drive to Cornucopia's former shop, getting there was extremely frustrating.

Back when D and I first moved here and lived in the RV, we wanted to visit Cornucopia and had never driven on Guadalupe before. We approached it from the south, turning onto Guadalupe off of MLK, and traffic was so backed up that we couldn't turn left into the parking lot. Then we realized that you can't turn left on most of the streets when you're heading north past campus. After having spent more than half an hour driving two miles, I gave up and we had to go back again a different time.

For this reason, I understand why they moved. It kind of stinks that we can't walk over anymore, especially on free sample days, but the newer location at 32nd and Red River is still here in the 'hood, and it's a lot bigger and brighter. AND it was busier when I visited today than I ever saw it here. It's actually just on the northeast side of campus now instead of the southwest side.

I love flavored popcorn, and Cornucopia does the flavors they produce well. They have some pretty standard choices, like confetti or kettle corn or cheddar, but they also create their own flavors, have a few signature recipes, and feature seasonal choices as well.

For instance, this vegan corn is made with a "secret blend" of spices, garlic, and sea salt. The garlic gives it a bite so that it almost tastes spicy, but not too much so (which I wouldn't like).

Cornucopia has four "categories" of popcorn: seasoned (including the Veggie Green Corn, Creamy Jalapeno Ranch, and Texas Chili, among others), candied (Salted Toffee, Cinnamon Toast, and Red Hots), Chocolate (S'mores, Chocolate Covered Cherry, and Birthday Cake), and Vegan (which includes any of the other three selections which are also vegan). The chocolate popcorn costs more because it actually includes a drizzling of either chocolate, white chocolate, or peanut butter, or the inclusion of mini M&Ms.

They also have these sample cups that you can see at the bottom of the picture above. With them, you can try any of the flavors they have out. Probably a good 65% or more of the stock is available for sampling, which can really help when you don't know what the difference might be between Chili Lime and Texas Chili.

There are a variety if sizes and options, and they'd actually deliver to us for $3 on an order of $30 or more. Also, on Wednesdays between 4 and 6, they have kid-sized bags for $1 (limit two, normally $2.25).

Today, we decided on a 2 gallon tin and here's why: Right now on Plum District, you can get a certificate for $30 to spend at Cornucopia for just $15. The 2 gallon tin is priced at $33. The great thing about the tins is that they can be refilled for "half price" FOR LIFE. So whenever we want to go back in and get two gallons of popcorn, it will be $16.50. There are 32 cups in two gallons of popcorn, and to purchase it in bags would cost about $23, so the tin does offer a savings on refills. And since we got the tin for $18.25 total (plus a small tip for the guy who helped us), it was even a savings the first time with the fabulous coupon!

I don't know how long the coupon will be available to buy, but you can use it online or in the store through the end of November.

I peaked into the back room. I want a bean bag chair made out of popcorn. Then I'd have the Jim Gaffigan/Cinnabon conundrum: "I don't know whether to sit on it or eat it!.. I'll sit on it AND eat it!"

Instead, we got a beautifully-decorated tin. (I also got a sticker for my computer, a refrigerator magnet, and a bumper sticker, which are all free but you can only take one.)

The popcorn is sectioned off and sealed inside of a bag both to preserve freshness and, I'm guessing, to keep the tin from getting dirty and therefore requiring washing.

Clockwise from the top left: Veggie Green Corn, Loaded Baked Potato, Pink Lemonade (a summer flavor, very tart in addition to being sweet), and Mexican Hot Chocolate (cinnamon with ancho chili and chocolate drizzle). I'm pretty sure the guy could/should have charged us extra for the chocolate flavor, but he didn't.

If you like flavored popcorn, Cornucopia's a good, local choice. And if you've ever thought about buying a tin (which I have considered for over a year), the coupon makes this the PERFECT time to invest in one!

The Top Ten Things (for me) About Being Pregnant

Yes, it's summer. Yes, it's warm. I don't feel like it's "more" warm because I'm ripening with child (poetic, right?). I was miserable last summer, too. It's Austin, and it's just hot and humid and disgusting.

As I've mentioned, people often ask me about "feeling" this pregnancy more than I did when I was expecting Daphne, but, honestly, I'm probably in better physical shape now, and I've had a blessed lack of ambient stress for the most part, so it's all pretty good.

In fact, I'm feeling so great, I think I might have missed my calling as a surrogate mother, helping couples' dreams come true... And now I'm too old.

So, lest I retain a stone of water in a couple of weeks like I did with D and forget how awesome this whole thing has been, I will count down for you my ten favorite things about being pregnant. These are not in any kind of order. Just ten things.

10) An excuse to indulge in chiropractic. Man, I love getting adjustments. In a world where I'm not too cheap to do it, I'd go to the chiropractor regularly. As it is, I only go when there's a "problem" or something to be treated. Pregnancy is the best "nothing's wrong, but this makes it even better" excuse for that!

9) An excuse to indulge. We know I love the junk food and fancy foodie-type stuff. I typically eat fairly healthily, anyway, but when I'm pregnant, I'm SUPER mindful of getting the vitamins and minerals and balance that I need, so I feel extra entitled to indulge in stuff I might otherwise avoid, including "liquid calories" like shakes and Slurpees and chocolate almond milk and even some fruit juices. And I don't feel guilty later. Just really happy.

8) Confidence in my appearance. I don't obsess over my looks much; I'm pretty low maintenance. I can be in bed, turn off the alarm, and be ready to leave the house in 15 minutes But of course, I like to look nice, and sometimes I'm taken aback when I catch a surprise glimpse of myself in the mirror or a picture of me taken from an angle I don't view on a regular basis (and since we only have a face-height, face-sized mirror in the house, that's a lot of territory). But right now, seeing pictures of myself shockingly huge is just all kinds of precious. Every day after I wave James down the street when he leaves for work, I catch my profile in the window on the porch, and it makes me smile. I don't try to suck it in at all! I can't!

7) My sebaceous glands take it easy for a few months. Ever since I've been an adult, I've had a difficult time growing out my hair. James and I saw a girl filling up her car at 7-11 the other day, and she had this beautiful, healthy, past-booty-length blonde hair. When I commented on it, James tried to make me feel better by saying, "I'll bet it's a pain to maintain." Well. I'd gladly do it if that were an option for me. But it's not.

I know that not washing your hair and therefore not stripping it of its natural oils is supposed to be really good for its health, but my hair does not cooperate with this kind of thing. Normally, I wash my hair every other day. I don't wash it every day because I don't want to, but very often, by the middle of Day Two, it's annoying me like crazy as it looks like I slept in a hot oil treatment. My roots get all sticky and stringy, and I feel very self-conscious about how "dirty" it looks.

When I'm pregnant, though, that doesn't happen. In fact, I'll confess something to you: It's Wednesday evening right now and the last time I washed my hair was Sunday morning. I did put some dry shampoo in it last night before I went to bed because I thought I might go swimming today and didn't want to waste a wash when I'd just need to wash it again after. I ended up not swimming, so I won't be washing my hair until tomorrow morning. Check it out:

Um... I probably need to get to my roots, but that's a whole other thing. Also, I curled my hair with hot rollers on Monday morning, and it still has some cool wave to it. This I chalk up to having avoided the humidity most of the week.

Anyway, my hair grew out a LOT when I was expecting Daphne. A lot of people think that's because of the prenatal vitamins, but I don't take those because they're disgusting. My hair has grown out a bit during this pregnancy, but I recently got a really good hair cut (read: Not the $12 SuperCuts one) and it's certainly more healthy than usual. So I'll take the break in the "every other day mandatory wash" regimen!

6) My husband is especially attracted to pregnant women. He tells the story of trying to chat up and getting shot down by a lady in a bar once, and his friends all ragging on him for hitting on a pregnant lady. He hadn't realized she was pregnant until they pointed it out to him; he just thought she was beautiful.

James is always good about letting me know he appreciates my unique set of aesthetics, but he's particularly mesmerized by me right now. You know, because of "the glow." (Daphne rolled her eyes at that last night and said, "That's exactly what my friend said." She's not quite as taken in by the whole thing.) Sometimes he'll just be staring vacantly at me, and it's sweet and mildly creepy but I suppose he owes me for all of the times I do that to him, anyway.

5) I feel great! Sure, I've had some nausea and some heartburn, and have slept a lot, but overall, pregnancy hormones make me feel amazing. My bike rides are getting more difficult because of the excess weight, but that's a good thing! It's increasing resistance and forcing me to work harder, which is also good for me. I do have some meralgia parasthetica in my left leg, but that just means I have to sit down between "things," and you know what? That's probably good for me, too. It's easy for me to get caught up in the momentum of "doing" until I'm exhausted. Right now, my body is forcing me to empty the dishwasher, then sit down. Make dinner, then sit down. Vacuum, then sit down. And it still all gets done.

Bike riding is still my favorite because 1) it's hot; with biking, there's at least a breeze, and it doesn't take as long to get places and 2) the nerve pressure and stomach stress (and subsequent need for the belly belt) don't happen when I'm sitting on a bike. I am told that my center of gravity has changed, but I haven't found biking to feel weird. I'm hoping this activity is improving my postnatal health, too!

4) People are super gracious. When I'm pregnant, people who'd normally just look at me and look away will look at me and smile. They strike up conversations. In some cases, they might cross physical boundaries, but I apparently put out a strong enough "don't touch" vibe that I don't get that. Oh, they give me extra samples at the grocery store! They seem more cheerful about holding the door.

Also, being pregnant is about a 5-month pass from tons of things (it lasts all 9 months at home, but only as long as people "out there" know about the pregnancy). Group outing to clean up the park on a hot summer day? Oh, no! Not you, Laura! You don't need to be bending over and straining yourself in this heat. Heavy lifting, strenuous activity, no one wants to let me do it (and, honestly, I am perfectly able)!

James never lets me clean litter boxes, anyway, because he says the cats are his and Daphne's. But if it were a shared chore, I'd get nine months off of that.

Whereas someone might get annoyed if I flaked out or forgot something, during this time, they laugh and chalk it up to "pregnancy brain." Whether I neglect to pay a bill or miss an event to which I'd committed... People are more than willing to excuse me. It might help that I have some goodwill in the bank because I rarely do flake out in "real" life, but it's refreshing not to be made to feel guilty when I accidentally goof something up.

3) Buying stuff. I'm not a huge "hobby" shopper, but it's been a lot of fun finding cool baby stuff, then stalking it until the price drops, and using coupons and sales and codes and that kind of thing. Also, I bought a bunch of maternity stuff because I did start showing/feeling pregnant earlier than I did with Daphne, and I didn't have a lot of forgiving clothes to wear. With everything, I do research first, then position myself to be ready to buy when it's most advantageous. I do this with vacation plans, groceries, and pretty much anything. I'm kind of a geek that way. But it's nice to have an excuse to be able to "play." Plus, there is some uber-cool baby clothing and amazing products that have come out in the past decade!

One difference this time around is that we're going to try cloth diapering, so that was a lot of research before investment. Should save us more than a thousand dollars, though, in the long run. Also, James' mom made us diaper wipes out of felt, so we won't have to buy a bunch of wipes, either. I've gotten tons of samples and "free" (shipping only) items intended to seduce me into purchasing more... but I can milk a loss leader with absolutely no shame.

2) All the sleeps. I know some women have difficulty sleeping when they're expecting. Not this girl! Although I was absolutely wiped at first, by now, I tend to take a short nap during the day and sleep a good solid 8 hours at night. When I'm not pregnant, I am a light sleeper. I can't go to sleep because Taco Cabana's outdoor music is too loud. I get waken up by cats chasing each other through the house. Not right now! In fact, I've slept through James' alarm a couple of times, and I'm the one who is supposed to be up to wake James up because HE routinely sleeps through his alarm.

1) Mystery and weird body stuff. It's a little scary, but mostly exciting. The "scary" part is mostly, this time around, from having experienced a previous loss. With Daphne, I sort of expected that the pregnancy would lead to having a baby; I didn't make that assumption for a long time this time around. But still, there's that element of the unknown. What will the baby be like? How will the baby decide to make its appearance? What's going to happen next?

Also, my body is a source of amusement as it often operates independently of my brain. I'll be sitting here on my laptop, and it will try to pitch itself into the floor because of a well-placed kick. Or suddenly a restaurant where we've eaten several times has to sit us at a table instead of a booth because I can no longer fit into the confines.

I was having very obnoxious edema for a while, then I started chiropractic treatments and realized after a few adjustments that I wasn't swelling anymore. Why is that? What was going on that the alignments fixed? I probably never would have worked that out if I weren't pregnant. (And I did sometimes experience swelling, anyway; I assumed this was left over from my ruptured disc.)

Also, if not for the heartburn, I might never have tried and realized that I like very much almond milk. Or have found all of the protein-added products it'd probably do me good to incorporate into my normal diet because I don't gravitate toward natural protein sources, for some reason.

Finally, this isn't a general benefit of being pregnant, but this time around, I know a BUNCH of couples who are expecting. It's been a lot of fun to feel like I'm going through it with friends and family, some of whom are quite far-flung. But it's a nice sense of connection.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

House (Not) Hunting

Our lease just renewed last month. We have at least one more year at the Nuthaus, and because we're such good tenants, the landlords raised our rent "only" 5% rather than the standard 10%. Well, gosh, thanks, gracious masters. The fact is that they raised the rent at the house on the other end of the lot 20% when the previous tenants moved out, and I know ours is going to increase next year, too. According to this report, the average PER-BEDROOM rent in our ZIP code is $1161. We are NOT paying that much for our three-bedroom, and that rate includes both some student housing (which seems to be about on target with this, if a kid wants to rent a one-bedroom apartment; if they go with a three-bedroom, they can usually get that for about $900 per month for their one bedroom) and the condos downtown, which are all high-end. Here's a snapshot of the ZIP on Zillow. It actually makes that rate look on the lower end.

So, although we're not "house-hunting" and in no position to move now (between the baby and the legal commitment to the house and the fact that it's so hot, I get exhausted watching our across-the-street apartment neighbors moving in and out), I do keep an eye out on Zillow and Redfin to track real estate trends. There have been a couple of interesting homes that have come up, including a neat elevated house in Lago Vista, north of "Lake" Travis, which has been reduced in price over $50,000 since I started looking at it a couple of months ago. But as much as we love the house, until James can work from home, it's not a great option; ten hours of his time per week is too much to pay, even if the mortgage is reasonable.

This weekend, though, we went and saw a house that James said he "liked... more than I expected to." Here is the Google Street View of the house, which is on a busy road but totally fenced in.

We got to the house a little early; it's only 3 miles from where we live right now. So we drove around the neighborhood and found it to be charming. The houses were built in the late 1940s, so it's very established. Most of the streets are tree-covered, perfect for biking and walking.

There has been an annual 4th of July parade and block party in this neighborhood, which is Austin's oldest HOA, for more than 55 years. In addition to that, it's directly adjacent to a new development that is very popular (more expensive) and growing rapidly.

In fact, this homeowner sold 600 square feet at the back of her lot to the developers so that they could build a pathway to connect this older neighborhood to their hike/bike trail.

Between this house, which is at the terminus of the neighborhood, and the new development is the awesome park where we had Daphne's 11th birthday party.

Behind that is a kids' museum, and in front of it is a food trailer court. The house itself is one mile from a newly-refurbished swimming pool that has slides and a beach entry. Also, the house is only a couple of blocks from the democratic school I've been obsessively investigating for the past few weeks. As much as I'd love Daphne to go there, she's not interested right now... but it might be a good fit for Rooby. The house is no further from James' work than where we live now.

The house is 67 years old, cinder block and stucco construction. It was originally a 2 bedroom, 1 bath home and there has been an add-on, so it's 3 bedrooms now. There is also a mud room that they recently expanded. It is where the washer and dryer are, and it's not air conditioned, which might be a little sticky but will save money. They just put in 14 inches of insulation in the attic.

Apparently, there was a detached 2-car garage and carport in the back of the quarter-acre lot when the current owners moved in, but it was falling apart, so the man tore it down and built an outdoor storage shed, painted to match the house. It looks like it has solar-powered lighting. The current owners also put in a patio, enlarged it, and poured a driveway most of the way to the back of the property. They've recently put in a $50,000 wrought-iron and wood fence, and James noticed that the gate in back has grape vines trailing over it.

Also, there is already a place to plant a garden. And they have a kinkajou, so there's a structure in place outside that is the perfect size/location for a chicken coop, if we decided to build one and get chickens. We don't have to clear out anything; the area's ready.

Our patio furniture would be perfect out back. We'd have to get a lawn mower, but it's really the front yard that requires attention; the back doesn't have a lot of sun-exposed grass. Here's the back of the house from about the middle of the back yard.

So, that's the good stuff. I mean, it's also close to a bunch of local restaurants and, unfortunately, chain shopping, too. And the owner said the house is "basically a bunker" because of the construction.

But here are the main things that give us pause. First of all, the owner's fiance seems to think the house will be ready to list in the next 30 days. If that's the case, we can't jump on it at this moment. The owner is retiring and she said she just wants to be out by next spring. If they do it that way, we'll be in a better position to make an offer.

And there's the biggest rub: This house is expensive. We could spend the same amount of money and get more than twice the house if we bought further out, but neither James nor I has any interest in living in the suburbs. We'd prefer farm land, but, again, the commute is an issue right now.

To go into debt for this much is frightening, and especially I dislike the idea of having the weight of that resting solely on James' shoulders, since I'm not working any more. It is at the upper end of our budget (and for us to buy the house we want, we pretty much need to spend that much), and limits his options as far as taking a gamble on a job he'd really love but that pays less than what he's making right now. Also, if we had any unexpected expenses, I'm not sure how we'd manage without going into more debt. At present, we are completely debt-free. At the same time, if we kept renting our house for 10 years, we'd have paid the asking price for this house (minus interest, of course). 

It seems pretty likely that the value of this property will increase as the development next door gets more popular and builds out. And interest rates are low enough right now that even with a VA loan and no money down, our monthly payments would be the same as what we're paying now for rent. The difference now is that if James wanted to take a different job with a lower salary, we'd just have to move when our lease elapses. No trying to sell a property.

So that's where we are right now. I'm hoping we have a few months to think about it, and to see how James likes the changes at his office, and whether this is going to be a good long-term fit for him. We really like the house. But it DOES only have one bathroom (having two bathrooms is definitely at the top of our "must haves," so that's a giant compromise). It's an old house, and those tend to have surprises fairly frequently. What a great neighborhood and location, though.

It's a conundrum, for sure...

Monday, July 28, 2014

A New Vlog Entry (the 10th!) Touring the Nursery

Here we are at 34 weeks and some change, and Rooby is on the move. Nearly constantly. Also, I am having contractions all of the time. Fortunately, the contractions aren't painful; they're not even uncomfortable. The baby's moving is usually fine, just weird, except when the movements poke up against an internal organ.

Also, the originally-named hormone relaxin is at work, and sometimes I have to stop want I'm doing to breathe through a brief ligament stretch.

Other than that, I'm as healthy as always. Normal (low) blood pressure and pulse, ease of mobility, holding chiropractic adjustments, and trying to get as much bike-riding in as possible. Exercise, except for swimming, has to happen before or after 8 AM and 8 PM, as the temperature plus humidity plus UV means daylight is out for anything but water activities, preferably indoors or at one of the cold venues like Deep Eddy or the Barton Springs pool. James and I walk together to some places on the weekend, but it's really disgusting outside.

I'm on track to gain about 25 pounds this pregnancy, which will put me at about 20 pounds less than I weighed when I gave birth to Daphne. I'm not too worried about any of that, though, because I'm feeling awesome and doing so well.

When I went to the chiropractor today, I felt bad for the other pregnant lady there. She was having a difficult time getting up and around, and breathing heavily while sitting there. I feel very fortunate, and pray that my health and well-being foreshadows positive outcomes for Rooby, despite the fact that James and I are older.

Anyhoo, here's the promised vlog update! Come look at the nursery.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: Patticake Vegan Cupcakery (with Amazon Local deal!)

This weekend, I saw a deal on Amazon Local: $10 for $20 to spend at Patticake Vegan Cupcakery.

As I'd been wanting to try them out, anyway, I took advantage of the deal. Here's something you should know up front before you purchase the voucher, though: Their special-order cupcakes only come in 2 sizes: 25 for $18 and 16 for $12. You cannot use the voucher for just 25 cupcakes and let them keep the extra $2 for their troubles. This means you'll spend at least $20 out of pocket for what on paper is $30 worth of cupcakes. Just making that part clear, because I didn't realize it when I bought the voucher, and wasn't sure I would have done it if I'd known that up front. 

Now that I've tried them, though? Let's see...

First, the description on the voucher is "bite-sized." Really, if you can consume these in one bite, you are probably a disgusting eater and you don't enjoy your food. They are at least three bites, even the tiniest of them.

As I mentioned, we ordered two different boxes.

With the 25-cupcake box, you can get up to 5 different flavors. With the 16-cupcake box, you can get up to 4 different flavors.

First of all, if you just want to try one or two, you can visit Quickie Pickie on E. 11th (and it looks pretty cool, so I think I should try them out soon). Here are the flavors we ordered.

Snickerdoodle, for Daphne: Cinnamon cake, cream cheese frosting, and cinnamon.

Margarita. It's billed as "lime and salt on white cake." I didn't taste the salt much at all (James might), but it was VERY limey and very refreshing. I am not a huge drinker, but we do live next door to Taco Cabana, where there is happy hour every day and I haven't been able to enjoy a $1.50 margarita in almost 8 months, so this was extremely enjoyable.

Pumpkin Patch: pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting.

The Gob: Banana cake with chocolate frosting. (Bananarchy has a Gob offering, too. Yea, pop culture!)

Cookies 'n Cream: Chocolate with vanilla icing, topped with crushed Oreos.

Those were my top choices from their menu. The next four I ordered when I realized we had to get another box in order to fulfill the "spend $20" rule.

Palette Cleanser: ginger cake topped with lemon frosting. This one tasted vaguely soapy to me, but it might have just been the strong lemon scent of the icing paired with the ginger cake. I liked it, but it tasted "clean."

Chocolat et Fraises: chocolate cake with strawberry frosting.

Sweet Heat, for James: spicy dark chocolate cake, cream cheese frosting, cayenne pepper.

Horchata: cinnamon cake with cinnamon frosting.
Daphne said James probably wouldn't like this one because it's super sweet.

The cakes we sampled were moist and flavorful. The icing is generously dolloped on, and since they're not wrapped in anything airtight, the icing develops a slightly crunchy exterior. The cupcake was rich enough to be pretty filling, and 2 actually made me a little uncomfortable (if you know me, I can put away some desserts). We got the awesome Patticake reusable bag with our order (although the website says you have to order 4 boxes or else the bags are $1 a piece).

The Amazon Local deal is the perfect chance to try them out, so go for it. My pick-up at the Crown and Anchor Pub was super simple; Tram brought the cupcakes out to my van for me so I didn't even have to brave the "delightfully mild" Austin summer afternoon (95 degrees... 50% humidity).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My Educational Philosophy

What I'm about to write is an attempt to boil down my educational philosophy into something concise that shows I'm not going about our homeschooling/unschooling adventures willy-nilly. I do not expect that anyone else should conduct their family's education the same way we do, or that it would work for larger-scale schools, or even that the majority of people reading this will agree with me. Instead, I just want to show that I have come to this practice after much reading, research, and knowing of my child. Also, that the philosophy does not exist in a vacuum. There are plenty of "experts" (psychologists, homeschool parents, "graduated" homeschool students, public figures) who have either lived out experiences backing this up or who have conducted research in the field and have come to some conclusions with which I agree, many of which feel intuitive.

Anything I might say about why the larger-scale educational system doesn't work for me is not an indictment of that system. If you or your children are in it, and it is working for you, I think that's awesome. I am a product of the same system (as much as one can be when it changes as much as it is wont to do), and I don't think I'm stupid or poorly-educated or that I missed out on anything. I don't think that about anyone else's kids. I am a huge advocate of parental choice when it comes to education, and that's not just lip service (as in, "Oh, parents SHOULD get to choose... *quietly* but the ones who really love their kids and want the best for them will do ABC...").

I am writing this for my own benefit. I need to clear out the cobwebs and be able to offer up some clearly-articulated ideas, goals, and methods to show why I think what we're doing is what works best for the one kid whose education is currently in my hands. Because it appears that, at some point in the future, I might have to defend it. And I can.

The term "unschooling" has a spectrum of connotations, even among people who identify as unschoolers. To some educators and more traditional homeschoolers, unschooling means that the parents don't do anything at all and just let the kids do whatever they want. Actually, some unschoolers agree with this. Some unschoolers equate true educational autonomy with unparenting, and this is not even close to where I fall on the spectrum.

First of all, I'm the parent. There are times when I do just know better, and it's still my responsibility to help my child become the best person she can be, so that she's equipped to be a compassionate, well-rounded, content, and competent person by the time she leaves the house. While I do feel that it's important to start granting independence to her in certain areas sooner rather than later, I'm still here to guide her, to help her get back on track when she messes up, and to help her prevent major catastrophes that would do more harm than good (as opposed to mistakes that are awesome, if painful, learning experiences).

I do not agree with the philosophy that says "anything you force your kids to do that they don't want to do squashes their creativity and embitters them." Ehh. I don't particularly want to vacuum every day, but I do because it's necessary. There are things I make my child do because we live in a household where everyone pitches in to take responsibility for its functionality. This extends to my frequently having her do "school work" and out-of-the-house activities she'd rather avoid. I certainly pick my battles, but there are times she just has to do things she doesn't want to do, because that's life.

Some unschoolers think this means I'm not qualified to call myself an unschooler... in the same way that when homeschoolers ask what curriculum we use and I say we don't, or ask what grade Daphne's in and I say that's not relevant to her education, they don't consider what I'm doing "homeschooling enough." Whatever. I'm not particularly interested in labels.

There used to be a show on television called "Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?" The premise was to pit adults against 5th grade students to see who could successfully answer more grade-appropriate questions. Inevitably, the kids were better equipped to provide the correct information; the sort of fun take-away, as evidenced by the show's title, was that 10-year-olds are brighter than grown-ups.

But that's not how I saw it.

When I watched the show, I was overwhelmed by one idea: We "learn" a lot of stuff in school that we don't use in life, and therefore forget. I couldn't name the author of "Black Beauty" without looking it up, whereas a 5th grader probably could. But if you get a flat on the side of the highway during rush hour, I have enough practice that might be more useful to you in the situation.

I am certain that I "learned" which Indian tribe originally signed a treaty with the pilgrims, but I couldn't tell you today. When I was in 10th grade, I had a leaf collection assignment that took up most of the first 9 weeks of school. We had to procure and identify something like 200 different leaves, and I got good at it. I could narrow down tree type by leaf shape, veins, points, etc. Today? No way. I think I can tell the difference in a sycamore and a maple tree but that's about as good as it's going to get.

Have I gotten more stupid?

Please, don't answer that. I will. I like to hope that I have not gotten dumber, but that I haven't needed to access the "tree-identifying" information I acquired in order to pass a biology class in the last 25 years. If I were a park ranger or a tracker or had pursued a different vocation or avocation, things might be different.

Since I think this happens to everyone, the question at the bottom of everything might be: Is it valuable to learn something for learning's sake if it is not going to benefit you in the long run?

The answer to that, I believe, is a solid, "It depends." People don't like answers like that. People want to hear, "Learning is always important, even if just for learning's sake." Or, "No. It isn't." And it's not that simple.

Beyond the "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" principle, one of the ways I personally came to my educational philosophy was my experience as a 2nd grader in a 1st/2nd grade split.

When I was in elementary school, we had too many 2nd graders for one class, but not enough for two. Consequently, half a dozen of us were picked to be in a split classroom, comprised mostly of 1st graders.

The way it worked is that we would be given all of our work for the day the first thing in the morning. The teacher would briefly walk us through it, and tell us to help each other then come ask her if we got stuck. Typically, we'd blow through the mandatory work and be finished by first recess. We'd spend the rest of the day writing stories and notes to each other. We had search-a-word races, which lead to our creating our own puzzles. We would find manipulatives in the classroom and play with those.

I learned a few things about education from this: 1) Even state-mandated work doesn't have to take an entire school day to accomplish. 2) Cooperative learning is fun and effective. 3) Left to their own devices, kids will come up with accidentally "educational" activities to fill their time.

The other 2nd graders, the ones in the legitimate class, were doing the exact same work we were doing, and it took them all day. Plus, they'd get in trouble for communicating with each other too much (a couple of times, we joined them for a special speaker or event, and once I ended up in the hall for talking). They never got to choose what to do with their time during the day, and I'll bet my friends and I enjoyed our school year a lot more than they did.

When Daphne was a baby, her father and I worked at Boys Town for a few months and realized, caring for six kids who were in the public middle and high school programs, several in honors classes, that the education they were receiving was not something we wanted for our child. We explored private schools, but those were largely richie-rich factories and we weren't down with a lot of the fund-raising and pomposity involved in those, either.

We ended up moving to a different state with much smaller schools before my daughter was old enough to start her "formal" education, and then by the time she was old enough for kindergarten, she was already reading and it seemed like a waste of time (for her and for a teacher) to send her to learn her numbers and colors and letters.

By this point, I'd already experienced student-lead learning, because I can tell you right now that I did not teach my child how to read. I don't have any idea how to impart that skill to another person. I did read to Daphne from an early age (although, according to Peter Gray, that has no bearing on whether you end up with a "precocious reader" or not; it's all about how the kid is wired). She had access to lots of books, and a desire to read them herself, I suppose. I also spent a lot of time with her as she clicked through Starfall. We watched a lot of "Between the Lions" and its PBS website. We had a couple of "read-along" games. Daphne wasn't able to use the computer alone at this time, so we enjoyed hanging out "exploring" the worlds in these digital books.

The thing is, I didn't "make" her learn to read. I didn't require that she sit for 30 minutes a day in my lap and do this. She wanted to.

When she was little, she wanted to do "workbooks" so we had some preschool curricula that she completed. She also wanted to do Harry Potter Science, so we did that one summer. We went to story time at the library. She participated in the summer reading program. We joined a homeschool co-op and I let her pick her own classes.

When she was in early elementary, I provided for my daughter a range of subjects: science, social studies, spelling, math, and Bible. Daphne took Texas History (twice) in enrichment classes, as well as some art and project-based stuff that I appreciated since I didn't have to buy a bunch of supplies.

As she started getting older and developing her interests more, the way we did school started to change. I started feeling more confident with the process and dropping things that felt like a waste of time and effort.

For instance, writing prompts and assigned essays were a stress on both of us. Daphne's main question was always, "How many sentences do I have to write?" The "work" I got out of her wasn't stellar, and she was discouraged. This is the same girl who has written short stories, twice completed all 30,000 words for National Novel Writing Month, and who role plays online for hours at a time in one chat room where the format is "paragraphs" instead of just exchanging lines of dialogue. She writes. But she writes what she wants when she wants.

"But sometimes you have to write things you don't want to write!" one might argue. Ehh, sort of. You have to write for classes, if you choose to take (and continue) those classes. You have to write for some tests, if you choose to take the tests. You have to write for some jobs, assuming you want to keep the job... but that's the deal: you get to choose.

Another thing I realized over time was that Daphne was not "remembering" things that were irrelevant to her. We'd study American history and then go back and review it and she'd have no recollection of it. Same with some science. And these were things that were difficult to muddle through (we tried a BUNCH of different history curricula and even the "best" ones just didn't click with her), so it was disheartening that the result wasn't true learning, anyway.

What did stick was when we'd be preparing to go somewhere like San Antonio and read about the history of the Alamo, beginning with the story of a resident cat and then once we had some anecdotal familiarity with the Alamo as a structure, why it was important. Once we visited, to see a proctor use the giant scale model to explain the standoff made it come to life. Those things, she remembers.

At that point, I decided that we'd study history and social studies as it was relevant. Since we've lived in Austin, we've gone to a Constitution Day rally and studied civil liberties. When I was particularly moved by the warm reception the crowd gave to a bunch of Vietnam Veterans at a parade, we studied that conflict and the politics of then anti-war movement here in the US at the time. When we visit the LBJ Presidential Library, we talk about his good intentions and whether or not all of the government "help" he enacted was a good idea.

Can Daphne draw a timeline and lay out all of the events in our country's history? No. But neither can I. If you can, that's awesome. Can you make fondant from scratch without a recipe? I don't necessarily think either of those is more important than the other. We just have different interests and different strengths. And one of the benefits I have in having only one student is that I have learned her strengths and am able to play to those, while also shoring up some weak spots.

Many years ago, I was listening to (or reading something by) Dr. James Dobson. He said, in effect, that if a kid brings home a report card that is all As except for a C in biology, what do parents do? They will buckle down on the biology. They will get tutors, make the student study harder, and focus all of their time and attention on bringing the grade up. Why? he asks. Why not recognize that the student is performing solidly in all of the subjects, that biology isn't the child's strength, and instead channel time and resources to the kid's areas of passion and expertise?

Not all kids need to achieve an "A" in biology. Not all kids will. It's not a value judgment that one person excels and another doesn't. We're not identically gifted and talented.

And that brings me to standardized testing.

"Have you had her tested?" No. "Then how do you know where she stands educationally?" I am with her every single day and I see what she can and can't do. "No, I mean, how do you know how she compares with other kids her age?" That is a loaded question, because the actual issue is that I'm not particularly interested in how my child "compares" with other kids her age. I've seen kids younger than my daughter on "Junior Next Top Chef" and don't feel like either of us is failing that Daphne has just recently taken an interest in preparing macaroni and cheese. (In fact, those kids have superior kitchen chops to me.) I've seen kids many years older than my daughter who can't write two sentences without making overt spelling and grammatical errors that she wouldn't make. It's not a competition. Daphne does not need to be ranked among her age peers. It doesn't mean anything.

Also, standardized testing doesn't test what a person actually knows. It tests whether the person taking the test can answer the questions that are on the test. My daughter is an artist. She's incredible at it. She studies and researches and works hard, and a standardized test can't measure that. It can't tell that she can spot a red herring a mile away. It can't infer whether she knows how to discern solid information from propaganda, or whether or not she's creative, or if she's likely to get a job she loves some day.

When my sister and I were younger, I was a "better student" in all of the measurable ways. I made better grades. I had an easier time testing. I was in a higher percentile among my age group. I didn't struggle with studying as much. These together could have given the false impression that I was smarter or better educated. The fact is, I was just good at taking tests and they made me feel superior, which I liked. Peter Gray, a psychologist who writes a lot about learning, points out that testing tends to bring out the best in those who are confident and the worst in those who are less secure. That was likely the case with my sister and me.

When I went to college, I breezed through everything, loading as many classes as I could take at once, because I wanted to finish and get on with my "real life." When my sister went, at first she didn't take it seriously, not showing up for classes, failing some and barely squeaking by in others. However, once she got to concentrate on her chosen major, services for the Deaf, including a heavy load of American Sign Language and Deaf Culture, she thrived. She excelled. She became fluent and a short while after graduating became nationally certified as an interpreter.

Although I consistently out-performed my sister in school, if we were both to start from scratch and see how much money we could make working as much as we could for one week (disqualifying illegal activity or any aspect of the sex trade), she would earn exponentially more than I'd be able to rake in.

Which brings us to another question: What is the final outcome of a "successful" education? Is it earning potential? Is that really the end-all/be-all of what we're doing when we set out on an educational path?

My sister finally got to a point where she was able to study what she wanted to study, and what she loved. When it mattered, she was able to learn and grow and develop and excel, even if you wouldn't have thought she had that potential based on her school grades and test scores.

Actually, before my sister went away to college, she was working in the mall at a cookie kiosk. She was offered a management position, and declined it because she knew what she wanted to do, and she did it. In truth, that could have been an ideal career for me.

Instead, I got a degree in theater and never worked in the theater because jobs are hard to come by, I wasn't talented or motivated enough to get a job on Broadway, and I had (and have) no desire to teach theater or to run a community theater.

But you know what? During my adult life, I've gotten Real Estate and Insurance licenses. How did I get them? By studying things I needed to know at the time that I had never learned as a youth, in order to pass a test. I did both successfully my first time around... and. honestly, would likely be unable to pass either again today.

So what's the point of all of this, and where does it leave my daughter's education?

Daphne is almost 13. She is mature enough to learn to start managing her time. Every morning when she wakes up, there is a list on the board of what she needs to do for the day. It lists chores, "school" stuff, and tasks (like calling someone or making a list she needs). Sometimes, she'll negotiate for tasks she'd prefer to do and if I've put in a "time filler" because I'm concerned her "must dos" won't take very long and she'll spend too much of the day screwing around, then I often let her choose to do something else.

The only thing I push on her nearly every day is math. Math, like reading, is one of those skills on which one builds, and it's consistently relevant to daily life. If I did not make Daphne keep up math practice, she would not do it and she would likely lose those skills. She just finished a 6th-8th grade algebra book and we've started on Danica McKellar's "Girls Get Curves" for an entertaining introduction to geometry.

I don't have to "insist" that Daphne keeps up with reading or writing, because those two things and art are the things with which she's almost continually occupied (although sometimes she'll go on a Minecraft or MiniClips tear and play for hours... but we all do that sometimes, don't we?).

Recently, to try to reintroduce some science, I purchased another set of Harry Potter labs like we'd done before. Daphne just wasn't interested this time. I could force her to do the activities, to "learn" what the labs mean... but I don't believe it would benefit her in any way, and instead would teach her that "education" or "school" equals "tiring, useless crap forced on me in which I have no interest." As it is, I watch her research things with vigorous interest. Why is what I might want to assign her to learn more important than that which she actually wishes to learn?

Although it is my intuition that allowing Daphne to pursue her passions while I help her learn life lessons will ultimately benefit her, and help make her independent in a couple of years instead of when she's 26, it's nice to know that people are actually studying this and finding it to be true. I've mentioned Peter Gray a couple of times. He has a blog on Psychology Today called "Freedom to Learn" (also the name of his book). He has researched and writes a lot about the importance of play in education, about the results of unschooling, about the decision to quit, and about whether or not you can actually objectively measure someone's "education."

Mike Rowe has also written a lot about formal, "standard" (of course you're going to college after high school; that's what people DO) educational routes versus the value of just working your butt off at whatever it is with which you are occupied, and whether one leads to a genuine feeling of contentment and "success" over the other.

Another blog that has a lot of content I enjoy reading is "I'm Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write," written by a young adult chronicling others' and her experiences with and her thoughts on unschooling. I particularly like her take on how it still seems like homeschoolers (and within that group, unschoolers in particular) have to "prove" that what they're doing is legitimate by succeeding in these big ways. Homeschool family with 9 kids, 6 of whom are in college before the age of 16? Well, that's some good homechooling! Homeschool family with 2 kids, one of whom is a mechanic and the other is in community college? Ehh. Why is that? What is "successful enough"? What is "education"? Why does it have to look certain ways to be considered valid?

I think we actually limit our kids (and ourselves) when we narrowly define "education." Can true "education" can only be done in age-defined groups, led by an "expert," and meticulously managed? Sometimes, I'll hear stories about young people who are offered amazing jobs as professional musicians or on sports teams or acting or whatever, and they (or their parents) put those opportunities off until after they've completed their "education." What?! WHY?? Is there nothing to be learned from work? Certainly if you can successfully navigate both learning AND earning an income, why would you wait? If you want a college degree, there's not a time limit on that. They let 30-year-olds in! I've even heard that they let octogenarians in!

With all of this in mind, and with my daughter approaching her teen years, I believe that there is nothing better I can do for her (nor could any school) than to start preparing her to be independent. She will be able to start work in a year, and between now and then, she needs to learn to manage the checking account she has (right now, that involves primarily scanning and uploading deposits, as she tends to hoard money), to navigate the area where we live on her own (when we walk and she asks, "How much further?" we turn it into a lesson. "We're on 23rd and *this street,*" then she has to calculate blocks in both directions and find her own answer. This really irritates her; she just wants me to tell her.), and to narrow down her interests to find a good part time job.

I could be wrong, but I'm thinking a good start for her would be the art store across the street. When she's there, she'll continue her math in a retail environment. She'll also have access to people who "art" for a living as teachers, sculptors, illustrators, etc. and can talk to them about career options. She will learn organization and people skills and collaboration. She will use those things throughout her life, even more than she'd use trigonometry, if I kept her home or put her in school and made her take it.

When Daphne was younger, if you'd asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up, she'd say, "Be a veterinarian." A guidance counselor might then have set her on a track heavy with math and science like one would for someone interested in pre-med. However, because I knew her so well, I was able to discern that she didn't actually want to treat animals medically. She wanted to be around animals. She wanted to be the person you'd call if you could hear kittens trapped in a storm drain but you couldn't see them. She would not need the same extensive (expensive) education to fulfill that dream.

One way she could pursue this if it's still something that interests her in a few years is by applying for an internship at Turpentine Creek, where she would work with cats (and a few other animals) in exchange for room and board and a stipend for food. It could help her narrow down what precise interest she has in animals, and maybe inspire her to go on to vet school... but she'd also have a lot of experience going in. Then at that point, she'd have her internal motivation for boning up on her science.

The fact is, as an adult, I don't want to have to spend time and mental energy on something that isn't relevant to me. If someone forced me to take an AutoCAD course, I'd probably resent it a lot. I'm not sure why we treat young people like that, though. "I don't care whether you want to learn this. Take the class, anyway. It will be good for you."

I'm not anti-education. I'd love to take a cake decorating class, or learn how to use Adobe PremierPro for Windows (which so far has me banging my head against the desk and fully indoctrinated to the "Mac is so much better for this kind of stuff" side of things). As I mentioned, I've taken a real estate course and studied insurance stuff on my own. That involved a lot of things I found uninteresting and didn't love studying, but because it was relevant to the life I had at the time and the goals I was pursuing, there was a motivation to learn.

If I could go back and do my education over again, I would probably elect either not to go to college, or to pursue my interest in the theater on a community level rather than paying for the privilege and instead study something I couldn't have learned except in the college environment. Or I would have gone back to my hometown and asked for that management position at the cookie store.

Although I made straight As, aced most every test I took, and have a college degree, I've had the same mishmash of unrelated jobs that most people have had, working when and where I needed to to get by.

In contrast, my husband, who went to college for one semester (majoring in classical guitar performance), has taught himself a bunch of computer languages and has no problem finding full time work with great pay and benefits. He seriously reads coding books for fun. He pursues his own education in an area about which he is passionate, and the fact that he didn't jump through proscribed institutional hoops has not mattered one iota. (Even for those jobs that say that they require a college degree; at this point, his experience more than makes up for that.)

Before my daughter leaves the house, I want for her to be able to research and learn what she wants to, to be able to weed out what is good information and what is garbage and/or propaganda. I want her to have a work ethic that drives her to do and to do well, even if the particular task at hand isn't her favorite (and while that might seem antithetical to not having her study a lot of things she doesn't want to study, I'm purposefully saving those battles for things like chores, helping other people move, visiting old people in nursing homes, etc.). I want her to understand managing personal finances, and how to stay out of debt, and how important that is.

Honestly, if Daphne had to go live on her own today, I don't think she'd be any worse off than most high school graduates, except for the ones who've already held jobs. At this point, she needs exposure to the "real" world to start efficiently down a path toward what it is her life will become. There is a great interview with psychologist Robert Epstein about infantilizing teens here. I am ready to see what mine can do when given the opportunity! I have been with her almost every single day since she was born, and I see that she's ready.

As a final note, I want to address my child's "socialization." I've been asked recently what opportunities she has to meet people, and it's been suggested (not by her mental health care provider, but others) that it'd probably be good for her to get out and around more people.

Here, again, it's a matter of my being her mom and seeing who and where she is, and knowing that the same prescription doesn't work for everyone.

Daphne is an introvert. She is quiet, but not socially awkward. She will talk to strangers if she wants to. A lot of times, she doesn't want to. She was involved in the same gym for six years and got along well with a couple of girls during that time, but didn't ever make a "best" friend. That was at four hours a day, four days a week for quite a while. When we were in homeschool enrichment classes, she made a couple of close friends, but most of the people she hung out with she did so because I'd contacted their mothers when we'd first moved to town, and we started getting together when the kids were still preschool aged.

She's now way past the point where I can pick her friends.

Actually, there is one friend that I make sure she connects with and hangs out with every so often. Not because she doesn't like her, but because Daphne would almost always rather just stay home.

Daphne made a very fast friend in BSF last year, but then she and her mom moved to the East Coast unexpectedly. Also, when D is in small-format venues like robotics camp or art camp, she'll usually end up with the phone number or Skype contact of some guy with whom she really hit it off.

But if we go to large-format get-togethers like the Austin Area Homeschoolers' not-back-to-school swimming party or a dance? She won't talk to anyone. It's overwhelming. Heck, it's overwhelming to me and I'm a borderline extrovert.

D will be starting Hill Country Academy on Mondays this fall, and I'm sure she'll make some new friends in those classes... especially since one of them has a final cosplay project.

What bothers me is the knee-jerk assumption that because I have a 12-year-old who really likes to be home alone, something is "wrong" with her: either the homeschooling is making her weird, or she's troubled in some way because of life issues, etc.

"Unlike the general population, the majority of gifted children are introverts who need to pull back in order to refuel. Gifted children who need to be alone to recharge may be misinterpreted as excessively self-preoccupied (narcissistic), timid, or socially backward."

There's also a great blog post about this from the standpoint of a mom with a much younger child at whom the off-hand diagnosis of "autism" was thrown (apparently that happens frequently).

My husband and I are both products of a "typical" public school experience. He is extremely introverted, to the point that we don't schedule activities on Sundays because he needs that day to recharge in order to go back to work and be around a lot of people on Monday. He is also outgoing, pleasantly social when the situation calls for it, empathetic to the point of being sacrificial, and very well-adjusted.

There's long been a stereotype that when a kid messes up or gets kicked out of a public school, the parents put that kid into a private school. Unless the problem genuinely is the school itself or the specific peers in that place, does anyone believe that simply changing an educational venue alone is going to "fix" something that a kid has going on? I think in this situation, people would say, "No." But the knee-jerk to a quiet homeschooled kid is "they're not socialized enough. They don't know how."

Trust me, my daughter knows how to socialize. She can talk. She can be bossy. She can have an attitude. She can be extremely protective of friends. She loves to know she made someone who was sad laugh. She just does it in her own way, and her own way will follow her wherever she goes. It's not a problem to be fixed. It is her personality... and even though it's completely different than mine, I'm learning to appreciate it (having an introvert as my husband and her stepdad has probably bridged a lot of this between us) and to work with it. I sometimes make her go do things she doesn't want to do. I sometimes let her bring distractions into which she can disappear; I sometimes make her leave them at home. It's a balance, and I'm working to find it. I think she is, too.

To summarize: There is a reason I'm doing what I'm doing with regards to my daughter's education. It's not because I'm wanting to keep her away from anything bad (and, in fact, would be pleased like crazy if she'd go to the Clearview Sudbury School a few miles from here), or as any particular demonstration "against" anything. It just seems to make the most sense in getting a smart, talented kid from where she is now to somewhere she can be happy in the long term. I don't operate in a vacuum; there are plenty of studies and professionals who would agree with me (and, I believe, there will be some sweeping if slow changes in mass education over the next few years as the pendulum swings in a different direction). I don't mistake my child's foreign-to-me disposition as a liability or something to be fixed.

I'm doing what all of us parents are doing. Trying to provide opportunities so that she can realize and fulfill her potential. And I'm certain that each of us parents knows our kids well enough to help make that decision with them rather than having the decision made by someone outside of our situation, even if they're professional and well-meaning. They can't know our kids. And the exact same path can't be the best for every single person.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

How Can I Even Begin to Explain?

Three days.

That's how long I've had this blog window open, and have written nothing until today. Day Four.

This weekend, I was feeling overwhelmed by how amazing my husband is. That's when I decided to write about it. And, obviously, I've failed.

I've failed because when I start to write about James, the words that I end up seeing don't come close to describing what is awesome and admirable and lovable and life-changing about him. It's pretty frustrating, actually.

Over the past week, my sister's family has been remembering the trip they took to China three years ago, during which they adopted my two youngest nephews. I remember managing to Skype with them one or two times, and getting a few text exchanges in, even though their internet and communications were extremely limited. I was very excited at the time because of a turn I thought my life was taking. I was happy and hopeful for the first time in a couple of years.

That lasted all of about two weeks, when some proverbial dooky hit the fan and it took me almost a year to recover from the ensuing crapstorm. Basically, it was the death of my naivety regarding my situation, and my coming to terms with reality. I wanted things I could not have, even though I believed that I could manage. I wanted things that were not right or good, but seemed to make sense at the time. I wanted things, so many things, from the wrong places.

As I was rebuilding (or, perhaps more accurately, building) my life from that devastation, James and I got reacquainted. During that time, he gave me a lot of good advice, but was also annoyingly inconsistent about being available. I didn't realize it early on, but he was going through one of the toughest times in his life, too.

When we started seeing each other, I have to admit that I was probably not fit to date. I was insecure and needy and very seriously suggested calling the whole thing off about three or four times when what appeared to be insurmountable differences came to the front.

This sweet man took my histrionics in stride, typically "compromising" by first calming me down and often giving up things he wanted because he genuinely loved me... and I wasn't used to being truly loved. I didn't know how to take it. I didn't know how to turn off the scared.

It took until probably last summer, a few months after we had married and after we'd loved each other through a fast surprise pregnancy and miscarriage, but eventually, it took. Eventually, I got it.

James and I are a team. We're in this together. Not just whatever's going on this moment, but life. That's the way a marriage is supposed to be, I realize. James actually articulates this on a regular basis. For someone whose baggage says not to take for granted that love is unconditional, this is a big deal.

I've mentioned (to the point that you probably want to headdesk right now) that I've had a running crush on James for almost as long as I've known him. I knew he was a neat guy. I knew he was brilliant. I knew he was compassionate and articulate and fun. But I didn't know how easy it would become to trust him. I didn't realize that, after my initial struggle with trying to micro-manage our relationship, being together would be so simple. And secure. And empowering. And blissful. And joyous.

My husband is an exceptionally patient man, and I am sure I haven't tested that for the last time. But after what feels like a lifetime of struggling, it is incredible to be in a relationship where I can just rest. And I don't mean "rest" as in "stop trying" or anything like that. I mean the kind of rest that lets me forget about caring for myself and concentrate on caring for him and for us and for our family. The kind of rest that lets you be your best, and bring your everything to the table every day, because you're not worried that you're going to be rejected, or run out of steam, or have more stolen from you than you're able to offer.

I've read that one of a woman's primary needs is security. James provides that in every single aspect of our lives, and he seems to enjoy it. It's my goal to make sure he always feels like it's worth it.

Every day, this man tells me how much he appreciates something about me, whether it's the effort I go to to make our house a home, or fixing up for him, or cooking meals. In fact, I have a suspicion that this might actually be a "to do" item on his daily list. If that's the case, I ain't even mad about his auto-prompt; I'm flattered that it was important enough for him to make it a conscious action item.

He knows I love him. I tell him all the time. Like over and over. Annoyingly frequently, I'm afraid. And, just like this whole blog thing, the words are woefully deficient. I hope we have many, many years left for me to show him.

(Plus, he isn't exactly hard on the eyes... I mean, look at that face...)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Review: The Cutting Room, Austin, TX

Several months ago, my daughter decided to get her first "real" hair cut... meaning, an actual style rather than just trimming up the ends as we have done her entire life until now. Both because I do mystery shopping and am often offered quicky-chain-salon jobs and because it's difficult for the cheap-o in me to justify paying more than $15 or so to have split ends chopped, we've always gone the quick and dirty route.

For this major change, though, I wanted someone who would take time, talk to Daphne, want to see her happy, and was in our neighborhood... Shopping local is a pretty big deal and one of the benefits of living as close as we do to everything. And, honestly, it's a luxury that my dear husband works very hard to afford us.

So, I called and made an appointment at The Cutting Room, which is easy walking distance from our house. Since I didn't know anyone who works there, we had no preference, and ended up with Melanie. As it turns out, she was the perfect fit for Daphne.

The Cutting Room last Christmas season.

And again on the spring day we visited.
One of the coolest things about The Cutting Room is that they have a back bathroom full of robes for you to choose from. Daphne picked out a pretty standard "hair cutting" cape, but when we went back and I got my hair cut, I picked a purple silk that looked like a kimono. I seriously wanted to bring it home. One lady in the salon when we were there the first time had on a hippy muumuu. There are literally dozens to choose from, so that's fun.

Melanie sat Daphne down, looked at her head, talked to her about what she wanted to do, and showed her the plan before moving her back to the sinks for a shampoo.
This is an Aveda concept salon, so all of the product is Aveda. And smells delicious.

After shampoo and conditioning, Melanie cut a ponytail long enough to qualify for Pantene's Pony Up! Beautiful Lengths hair donation. Locks of Love requires 10 inches, but Pantene only needs 8.

Immediately when the ponytail came off, Daphne already looked more like... Daphne. It's weird. Shorter hair suits her personality *so* much better.

Next came the cutting. So. much. cutting. Melanie was meticulous, measuring and eyeballing and working with some "fun" quirks Daphne's hair has. The end result was beautiful.

We wanted a few highlights, so Melanie put in some foils, carefully avoiding some damaged and vulnerable hair. She basically framed Daphne's face.

It's easy to enjoy the pretty view while waiting for the color to set.
While we were waiting for the processing, Melanie showed Daphne the bright colors of highlights that they can do, so Daphne could think about them in case she decided she wanted a purple or blue or something more drastic later.

In the end, Melanie was disappointed that the highlights didn't "pop" as much as she wanted them to. I thought it looked great and very natural. She asked to take an "after" picture of D to add to her Instagram portfolio, and I promised to send her a "before."

Daphne, stoically enduring the modeling preparations.

Her "before" is the top right. This style works really well for her, and she recently took to wearing a beanie most of the time, so basically she just has a bit of hair sticking out from the hat, which she loves.

Melanie didn't charge us full price for the highlights since she wasn't happy with them (even though I was), and offered to "fix" it next time we came in. We did go back two months later to get the cut evened out, but since D is wearing a hat most of the time, anyway, told the stylist not to worry about any more highlights for now. Even though it was just a maintenance trim, Daphne's clean-up took about 40 minutes. I appreciate the time and care dedicated to making clients look their best.

When D went in last time, I made an appointment for myself, as well. I needed a good trim, and I have very fine damaged hair that is in layers. Melanie did a great job with straightening everything out so that it looks healthy enough that I don't feel like I have to style it every day, so I can give it a rest.

One thing I really love is that a couple of the hair-dressers here asked about my hair color... and not one of them lectured me about coloring it at home. I've had employees at Super Cuts tell me that my hair will fall out if I don't let them professionally color it, or tell me that I'll never have healthy hair because I'm ruining it by using home color. The fact is, coloring hair at home might be worse on it than having someone custom mix and watch the process, but I cannot afford that every six weeks. I prefer not to be bawled out at the salon when all I want is to get my hair cut!

We were really pleased with everything about our visits to The Cutting Room. In fact, walking home after the initial cut, Daphne said, "I wish I could have better expressed my appreciation." So I'm expressing our appreciation by recommending The Cutting Room, and Melanie specifically. Go check them out!