The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Looking Back. Looking Forward.

Wow, I cannot believe that it is already 2012. I feel like I was just getting comfortable with writing 2011. Honestly. Weird.

2011 was a good year though. So many good things happened for us.

  • Tiana turned into a toddler. This may sound duh, but I love toddlers. She weaned, she walked, etc. This is great stuff in my book, because I am really not a baby person. 
  • We got copper plumbing. Prior to this, we were calling the plumber like once a month to fix some problem. We haven't had to call him since. Yea!!!
  • Vinny started Kindergarten! 
  • Marc got his dream job.  :-) 
  • We went on our dream vacation to Hawaii. The memories from this trip kept me going through the rest of the year. 
  • I started my master's program.

                                                          Overall, an amazing year!

I looked back on my goals for this year (I don't really like to call them resolutions- since they are not really about me resolving anything). They were...

#1) Balance my work-home time better
Well.... one could certainly not call what I have going "balanced," but I have made progress. By co-planning everything with Leslee during school time, I only plan at home for my honors class at my drama class, which really has made a difference. I have stopped reading anything that is not an essay or a test, which has helped with the workload. This has also been thanks to having great TAs. I have also developed a great "get it done" strategy- sit at Denny's drinking coffee, eating terribly unhealthy food, and just grading until it is done. This is so much better with company, so I really have Barb and Mo to thank for that. 

#2) Cross at least 4 things off my buried list
I actually crossed 6 things off my buried list this year! The heart of this goal was really just to live life intentionally, and the results were beautiful. I started a separate blog to blog about it, so you can read 
about my adventures there:

#3) Manage our finances well: Pay all of our bills, preferably on time, give more to the church, and somehow make a dent in our debt. 
By the grace of God, this has been a good year for us financially. We truly could not have done it on our own, so I cannot really say "I" did well with this in 2011, but God blessed us, and I think we managed his blessings well. I will share some things that really made our success much easier. 
We stopped paying late fees for bills by figuring out a perfect schedule for what bill should come out of what paycheck with enough balance to still leave us some money for gas and food, and then- this is the key- we set everything with a regular monthly amount to auto pay by using online bill pay. It is great. Even non-traditional "bills" like day care and tithing can be paid this way. You just have to enter all of the information into the bill pay system and it sends them a paper check. I also set myself recurring calendar reminders to set the utility bills to pay each month, since I do want to review the amounts on those before paying them.
In addition, I think the greatest key to success here has been (If you worry that I am one of those bloggers that endorses things for money, know that I am not, and this is an honest recommendation- no strings attached). What is  It is from intuit (makers of Turbo Tax), and it allows you to track everything you spend and categorizes it. Think of it like this- if you want to lose weight, you have to track what you eat and become aware of every calorie, right? That's why Weight Watchers is so effective. Well, if you want to save money, you have to track everything you spend and become aware of every penny you spend and know on what. I link every account we have, including credit cards, to Mint, and it categorizes our spending. I do have to check on it sometimes- like it didn't realize that the gas station by our house is gas, so that was going uncategorized at first, but once you categorize something, you can set it to keep that category. 
I pretty much make it a habit to check Mint every Saturday morning, since that is when they send me my "week in review." (Incidentally, I think the timing of this has subconsciously helped me curtail weekend spending). Through this, I was able to realize where we were overspending, and set goals. We now have official budgets for fast food and sit down restaurants, and Mint actually sends me an email to let me know when we have reached our limit. So... long story short, if you want to save money this year, is the trick. 

#4) Be a quality friend to my few quality friends
In prior years, I have felt like I needed to just "make more friends." But this year, I focused on something else- being a better friend to a few friends. There may have been some friends I have not spent a lot of time with this year, but I have intentionally tried to be a better friend to a few who I really care about and have really learned something about myself and life in the process. It truly is about quality, not quantity. 

#5) Exercise Consistently 
This year, I did actually start to exercise somewhat more consistently, although consistent could hardly be used as a word to describe my exercise habits. I joined a gym. We pre-paid for a couple of years, which both got us a better deal and made me feel much more invested in actually going, since I feel like canceling is not an option.
Plus, two of my best friends go to this gym, and I am social exerciser, so working out with them has made my workout sessions much more effective. I forget that I am tired of running by getting involved in a good conversation. When I workout on my own, ten minutes on the elliptical feels like a really long time, but beside Barb, half an hour can fly by. 
Now, I just need to prioritize things better to go more than once a week, and I have to somehow force myself not to miss weeks at a time during my busy school seasons (May and November, usually- hey at least I know my patterns)

 My new goals for 2012 are very simple. There are only two. 
1.  Resist the urge to plan an elaborate vacation for 2012, but plan and budget for a really cool vacation in 2013. 
I am addicted to traveling. Family vacations are my anti-drug. They get me through the rest of the year. I desperately want to return to Maui. Like... now. It doesn't help that Vinny does stuff like hand me his 2012 calendar and say, "Can you write in when we are going to Hawaii again?" Cringe. 
2009 me would want to book it, put it on a credit card, and figure it out later. 2012 me knows that this will not make me happy in the long run. I know that looking forward to a debt-free elaborate vacation in 2013 is the key here, and that we can still plan something low key this year... and have a really good time. Undecided on low key possibilities. Camping is out of the question. I am thinking of possibly a trip up the coast? Maybe as north as Oregon? Or down the coast... San Diego?  Other ideas? 
But dear friends... if you love me... you will help me with this. If I post anything on facebook, or say anything in conversation, about trying to figure out how to get us to Maui this year... admonish me. Seriously. 

2. Simplify.
Less is more. This short TED talk really summarizes it perfectly.
 I believe it. I think I always have- I am not the type of person to hoard. I like getting rid of stuff... and I do it frequently. It feels freeing. But with a family of four and a large extended family, it really feels like the odds are stacked against me. 
So much stuff comes home from school and birthday parties. Well-meaning family members love to give my abundantly blessed children gifts, and I am not just talking about Christmas. They honestly have too many toys, despite my constant efforts to purge what is no longer enjoyed. 
Every event comes with a t-shirt. A birthday party at Dimples comes with a free t-shirt. So much stuff. Stuff=Anxiety. More to clean. More to organize. A garage that is hard to wade through. 
So my goal this year is to simplify. This sounds harder than it is. It means making constant efforts. It means overcoming the guilt associated with giving away the shirt I really wanted on vacation in Santa Cruz. It means getting over the guilt of getting rid of things that were gifts at some point. For Vinny's fourth birthday, we actually put on the invitation "Your presence is Vinny's present. No gifts please." Stuff like this needs to be done more. Cheers to Tina and other parents who have gone party favorless this year. While I appreciate parents' efforts to thank us for coming to the party, it really isn't necessary. But I can't change other people, I can only change me. So party favors will continue to go in a bag of stuff to be freecycled.  I will limit our DVDS to the shelves we have. I will purge clothes more frequently. I will shop more carefully. And most importantly, I will force myself to remember that less is more and that the space we have is wonderfully sufficient for our family of four. When I see houses with tons of space, huge master bedrooms, giant playrooms filled with toys, and dreamily large kitchens, I will remind myself that it is more to clean, more space to air condition, and more space to pay property taxes on, and I will remind myself that I am in the richest 10% of the world's population.  

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