The Author

My photo
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.

Monday, July 21, 2014

An Artistic Year

     Tonight, Marc and I took Vinny with us to see We Will Rock You at the Ahmanson.  I've wanted to see this show for a really long time, so I was so excited it was coming to Los Angeles and very excited to see it.  Queen is the soundtrack of my childhood, and I even got to see Queen live in 2005 at the Hollywood Bowl (yes, I know Freddie Mercury was gone... Paul Rodgers took his place on that tour and it was phenomenal).  One of the best experiences of my life. We Will Rock You really does an awesome job of translating Queen's counterculture vibe to modern times. Loved it.

     The past year (as in twelve months, school year, not calendar year) has really been an artistic turning point for me.  Marc and I have made the arts a priority, and it all feels SO right.  Growing up an artsy geek in the greater LA area, I always imagined that I would spend a great portion of my life soaking up the arts scene in Los Angeles. For various reasons (mostly education and small children), this was the first year where I really felt like we did that.  With visits to the Getty Center and the Getty Villa and MOCA and LACMA and the Pompeii exhibit at the science center, I've definitely gotten a good taste of the LA life I wanted.  The little tastes I've gotten make me want more more more.  I wish we didn't live so far from the subway lines.  It's only about a 20-25 minu;postID=2329769197757677996te drive to a decent subway stop, which saves us some parking money and gas, but L.A. really needs a public transportation network more like New York because L.A. traffic sucks, and I'd love to avoid it altogether with a decent schedule and reasonable prices.

     This has been a great theater season for me too. I've seen more shows than I can practically count. I've seen Evita and Lion King and Ghost at the Pantages, bare in Los Angeles and community theater, Rock of Ages in Las Vegas, a community theater production of Next to Normal (totally blew my mind), The Last Confession and We Will Rock You at the Ahmanson, Cats at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center, and In the Heights by Cabrillo (oh my gosh, amazing!).  When you add to that list the shows I saw Vinny in -- Little Mermaid, Wizard of Oz, and Shrek, that's a lot of theater watching! I also directed two shows with my students and performed in a six week run of Willy Wonka at a local community theater. As a family, we hit the original Renaissance Faire for the first time, as well as a smaller faire called Nottingham Village, which actually was better in many ways than the original Ren Faire. We went to the Holli Festival (festival of colors) for the second year in a row and this time brought the kids. Altogether, this past year really represents, to me, one of the major highlights of living here. 

     I also realize that these things have only been possible because Marc and I have prioritized them. We have chosen to spend our money on these things instead of theme parks and other entertainment this year. We haven't done a lot of typical family friendly "kid" stuff, but our kids don't really need typical kid stuff. They are being raised to be patient and to work to expand their attention span, to appreciate staring at statues or taking in a garden. They are developing their own tastes. Tiana especially loves looking at ancient jewelry in museums. Vinny loves statues and realistic art, mostly classical stuff, and he isn't at all into surrealism or impressionism (which pretty much is the exact opposite of my tastes). Vinny has gotten past the shock and awe factor of nudity in art and might actually be starting to see the beauty in some of it, while Tiana still finds in necessary to giggle and say "Ew!" at all nude figures in art, regardless of gender.  Kids will be kids... but they don't always have to have non-stop action and "kids-friendly" entertainment. Given time and guidance, they can learn to find anything entertaining. With my few remaining days of summer, my kids are begging me to take them to the Natural History Museum. How many kids do you know who would rather go to a museum than a water park? 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The People Most Likely To Stick With You in the Future

     Today was my grandmother's memorial service.  Grieving my grandmother was strange until today. Today, it felt normal and okay. Memorials are important.

That's my grandma, but her body language and face here,
she looks exactly like my mom.
     My family and I have all spent the past three weeks preparing for this. The service was really nice. Just enough humor. Just enough spirit. When my cousin said during her eulogy that it had hit her that she would never receive another illegible letter from Grandma again (her eyesight wasn't great in the last few years, which made reading her letters somewhat of a shared family decoding activity) or sit around and chat politics, well, I pretty much lost it there. My grandmother was really rather "with it" until right up until the very end. Even when she started to lose her wits a little, the conversations were delightfully entertaining. Grandma always said exactly what was on her mind with no concern for political correctness or offensive content, which made listening to her like watching an episode of Saturday night live.

     I went on Pinterest and found some great ideas. I collected everyone's family photos with her in them in one Dropbox folder and I ordered prints of them from a legitimate photo place so that they would be high quality and look really nice, and I hung the photos up on clotheslines in the backyard and made a table runner from them too. (Incidentally, I forgot to take a picture of these and I thought it looked really nice. If anyone did snap a photo, can you send it to me?).  This way people could feel free to take the photos with them, so that they would have photos that they might not have had otherwise.  There's something to be said for paper photos that we might be losing in this digital age. It's nice to sit around and look at photos together without staring at a screen.
    I haven't really been emotional about it all this week -- the first couple of weeks were pretty tough, but this week I was more in "get ready for the reception mode."  But when I stood outside by myself hanging up all those photos, my grandma's entire life was on display for me and... wow... just wow.  I got so choked up. It's like disbelief, admiration, and sadness, all mixed into one.  In the video montage at the memorial, the song "My Way" by Frank Sinatra really said it best.
The little baby on far right, yeah... that's me. 
Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
 When I bit off more than I could chew 
But through it all, when there was doubt 
I ate it up and spit it out 
I faced it all and I stood tall 
and did it my way
 I've loved, I've laughed and cried 
I've had my fill, my share of losing
 And now, as tears subside, 
I find it all so amusing  
To think I did all that 
And may I say, not in a shy way, "Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way"

My grandma's life really had some ups and downs. When I think about some of the things she faced, I know that, put in the same situation, I'd have difficulty getting out of bed and functioning. But grandma ate it up and spit it out.  Okay... well really, there was very little spitting it out for Grandma. Especially not if it was sweets. If there was leftover chocolate cake in the house, you had to hide it if you planned to eat it later because to Grandma, well if no one's gonna eat that....
Food is a precious commodity to the Feeney clan. Haha. Although you'd never guess that today with the amount of food we had leftover. I love this family more than words.

Some of the family came to say goodbye to her the weekend that she passed away, so being together there was important, but this weekend's service and reception brought real closure.  I saw family I hadn't seen in quite literally twenty years, and then I saw some family I haven't seen in about three or four years, but a lot changes in a few years. The older I get, the more I realize that time is flying by.  I got to meet one of my eldest cousin's first baby. I feel like I remember just receiving a birth announcement for him and, well, he isn't even really a baby any more, he is a full fledged toddler. My own children spent the day ecstatically running amuck around the backyard with their cousins and second cousins. Tiana, who has not had a potty accident in nearly two years, was having so much fun playing with one of her teenage cousins that she just stopped in the middle of the yard and peed and let it run out through her shorts and then expected to jump back and play again. "Tiana! Why did you do that?" I asked. When she realized with disappointment that I was going to make her change her clothes before she went back to playing, I didn't even need an explanation. Her look really said it all. Family is important. Making time to see family is truly important. Every so often, one should enjoy the company of family so much that stopping to go to the bathroom feels like an unfortunate lapse in the pleasure of it all.

I convinced my mom that we needed to start the memorial service with Baz Luhrmann's spoken word recording, "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)," because in the past few weeks I have been reminded that this sound advice is truly a form of nostalgia that time and wisdom etch permanently on my heart:
"Get to know your parents, you never know when they'll be gone for good

Be nice to your siblings, they're your best link to your past
And the people most likely to stick with you in the future
July 19, 2014
Understand that friends come and go
But for a precious few, who should hold on
 Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle
For as the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young."

   My mom cried through most of her eulogy, which made me cry too, especially when she said that her mom was one of her best friends. My mom is one of my best friends too.  I'm so grateful to be of her clan.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Mere Sense of Living is Joy Enough

I haven't blogged since April, which means a whole heck of a lot of catching up.  The return of warm weather has meant a renewal of time outside, campfires, 'smores, and family time.

In May, my English students joined with the art students to put on an exhibit of activist art. This exhibit was truly beautiful. My students displayed photography and petitions pushing for changes they truly believe in, which was beautiful. It was a reminder that there are many people out there who wish to make the world a better place. It was the perfect way to end this year with these great kids... many of whom I will be teaching next year.  Yes, I will be teaching three 11th grade classes next year, so I will keep some of my students, which I am excited about, because I like this group and having students whose strengths and needs I am already familiar with will be an interesting experience.

To end the year in drama, Jasmin and I worked together to put together a musical number about bullying, being different, and what it means to be an ally by re-imagining the musical number "Somebody to Love" from the musical We Will Rock You. I have noticed that musically, I don't always recognize what things are within our students' ability levels and what pieces are really way out of our league. Someday, I suppose I will be familiar enough with music to recognize this, but apparently, I just don't yet, because I am great at picking pieces leaps and bounds above what our students are capable of on their own. Jasmin is amazing though and is able to untangle my pipe dreams and make them reality. This nine-minute musical number ended up being far more challenging than either of us really imagined, but the final product taught us a lot and made us both very proud. After that "little" project, my students ended the year with a series of vignettes parodying stereotypes in schools, particularly ours.  A student parodied the principal and had everyone hysterical with his rather accurate portrayal, but my personal favorite was the senior who has been with me for several years and parodied me in a drama class skit.  She picked up on little details that I never even noticed, like the way I sit when I'm watching drama scenes, slightly shifted to the side, leaning back in my chair, and that I swing my keys around constantly, and how I hold my coffee cup slightly inverted inwards in the crook of my hand and my wrist. I found this very amusing. The kids did too. I really loved this drama group. They were less "drama," in the negative sense of the word, than any group I've had before, which was really interesting.

Saying goodbye to this group of seniors was hard for me. Because I teach mostly sophomores, by senior year, they have mostly all moved on, but I usually have a handful of seniors with whom I am still close at graduation. This year, it was a lot more than a handful, which made it less emotional and more emotional, all at the same time. I had some good closure this year because I went to prom, and graduation, and grad nite. I hosted a drama dinner and bonfire to say goodbye to the drama seniors. By the time summer began, I felt like proper goodbyes had been said, and I didn't even cry that much.  I somehow know that this group will stay in touch and that they will be very successful, and that is reassuring. 

Summer. Ahhh.  Summer began with a week of all my favorite things: sleeping in, going to the beach, and hanging out with my family, including some quality time with my nieces, whom I don't really get to see enough.  Then, the next week, the schedule picked up with Vinny at theatre camp and Tiana at gymnastics camps and me playing chauffeur. In between stops, I made time for lots of classes at the gym, and I decided to not feel guilty about how seldom I made time for these classes during the school year.

Then... my grandma took a turn for the worse.  She's been in assisted living in Vegas for a couple of years. She took a fall in October and broke her hip and shoulder, and we kind of all knew it was the beginning of the end. She wasn't taking to rehab quite the way someone with years to go would, and it was only really a matter of time, but a week ago, she took a turn for the worse, so we all rushed out to say goodbye.  Even though I knew when we went to see her for her birthday in December that things would never be the same, and she probably wouldn't live too much longer, saying goodbye still caught me off guard. I think it caught her off guard too. She's a fighter and lasted much longer in those final days than we thought she would. Very Dickinson. 
Because she could not stop for death, death finally stopped for her. And away she rode. And I'm still in this strange state of disbelief and acceptance all at the same time. It just feels like the last twenty years went by so fast. In my head, I'm still ten years old laughing at her struggle not to fall off an inflatable raft in my backyard swimming pool.  It really makes me feel a strange sense of my own mortality too.  Some days, I feel like I have so much of my life before me, the world is my oyster. But then, I wonder... if twenty years can just fly by... what is the end of my life going to feel like?  Will I wonder where all the time went? Will the memories be articulate pieces of happiness I flip through in my mind or will they be a stew of reminiscence that I stir in wonder?

For me, this portion of summer usually comes with bursts of energy that I funnel into being the best homemaker I possibly can.  I do my semi-annual deep cleaning and purging and many of my Pinterest projects for the house and yard become realized.  But right now... grief has drained my energy and all of my emotional and physical resources are going into just functioning. Forget completing Pinterest projects -- I will be happy if I can just get my laundry done this week.

I've given myself permission to be okay with that though. Instead, I'm investing in things that count and recognizing that watching the sunset on the porch while sipping drinks with my papa, well... that's time well spent.

 "Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough." 
- Emily Dickinson

Monday, April 14, 2014

There is a season - turn, turn, turn: Spring

Since it has been a while since I have blogged, I am going to try to visually catch up on everything that has been going on.  As I have mentioned before, 2014 was my return to the stage in Willy Wonka.  It made my soul feel alive again. I grew as a person and found an inner peace I had been lacking for quite some time.   I made friends I will never forget. I laughed often. I smiled. I stayed out late. Wonka was good for me psychologically.

    Meanwhile, life continued to be fun with my students and my family. We attended the Holi festival as a family, and I offered my students extra credit to go as well, since I think it is so important for them to experience all the joyful, exciting things that exist outside of mainstream American culture. 

They had such a good time.  I think it was good for them to see me in a context outside of the classroom on a Saturday as well.  Some of the students with whom I have to be the strictest came and had the best time. 

 And of course Tiana had a blast because she is just that kind of kid.  Several weeks later, we were driving in the car and she said, "Remember when we went and we threw color everywhere and it was like, 'Ahhhhh!'  That was so much fun." She and I are kindred spirits. She just gets me. She reminds me so incredibly much of myself as a child.
I think this might need to be our Christmas card next year.

     And of course there is still the usual stress that is my life... grading hundreds of papers.  It has been a hectic season -- lots of papers, lots of work, lots of responsibility at work. I took to heading to Starbucks in the early mornings to do rush grading sessions before school (which is actually a really good technique).  
My students this year are great.  I really like them a lot as people and as students. They are mostly hard workers and they have a greater sense of personal responsibility than my students in the past have had.  I'm not quite sure why exactly that is, but I think it has something to do with the fact that we have been focusing on personal responsibility as part of our school culture.   (Notice the common theme in all of these pictures... a cup of coffee.  I feel like I am fueled by purely caffeine and adrenaline lately.)

Vinny has also been going through some rough times emotionally lately, so I've been doing my best to be there for him.  Things I learned in educational psychology have been seeping into my consciousness -- remembering the "industry vs inferiority" stage, specifically, has helped me to understand why Vinny struggles. Because his strengths and achievements are not in areas valued by society, at least not for men, he struggles not to feel inferior to his peers. He isn't good at handball (or really any sport) and doesn't like building things. But he is a great singer and dancer and painter, but these aren't things really valued by his peers, so that has been hard on him. I've made it a point to spend a lot of one-on-one time with him lately. We went to a trampoline place one weeknight and had a great time bouncing all over together. Well... I should say that Vinny had a great time. It frankly made me feel old, as I did quite a bit of falling on my butt and found myself being told by the college kids who work there to "be careful."  Lovely.... thank you.

After Wonka closed, my weekends became completely free again, so last weekend we took the kids to the opening weekend of the Renaissance Faire, which was awesome.  My super creative, imaginative children really thrive in this environment.
I think Tiana probably had the best time of all of us.  She loved this place more than Disneyland. 

  Vinny's favorite part was the magic show. He asked the magician afterwards if he could take a picture with him.

Tiana ran right up to this guild of
washer women and delighted in learning how to wash clothes.  I'm thinking next year we are all going in peasant costumes. While it was fun to dress up as middle class, by the end, I was DYING to get out of my hoop skirt and corset.  I really feel for Renaissance women. They had a rough life.

 I think I would have enjoyed the Renaissance Faire more if I were rich. It's fun, but it really is meant for people who have truckloads of money to spend. I think I would enjoying staying at the Double Tree hotel nearby and taking their shuttle back and forth because both the kids were so tired afterwards that even though the drive is not that long, it felt too long to them.  And it also was really frustrating to have to keep saying to the kids, "No, we can't do that. It's too much money."  Everything cost an arm and a leg. If I had said yes to everything the kids wanted to do, we would have spent a couple hundred dollars. Maybe some day we will have enough money to somehow budget for that kind of day there. Tiana loved every minute of it, nonetheless.

  I also got to take my students to see In the Heights last weekend.  What a wonderful show and what a wonderful experience.  I truly believe I may have changed some of my students' lives with that trip. They saw musical theatre threw an entirely different light.
Egg Hunt 2013
Egg Hunt 2014
This past weekend was the egg hunt at church for Palm Sunday.  This is like the third year in a row that my kids have gotten to do this, and comparing years is an interesting benchmark in my mind, reminding me how much my little ones have grown. Last year, T was just like one of the little babies to me in her cute spring dress. This year, she wanted a "cool" skirt and t-shirt and was so independent. She is just getting so big.

Life goes by too fast.  Do you ever feel like you are still a little girl just pretending to be all grown up?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Glass House Memoirs

Marc and I are watching Fat Kid Rules the World.  If you haven't seen it, it's a really funny movie about a fat kid who is about to commit suicide when a junkie punk rocker teen saves his life, in every respect of the word.

There's this club scene in it, where the fat kid is at his first show, and the band is of course pretty much just like every other garage band, but the kids in the club are jumping and cheering, because that's what it means to be young and love life.

And as I watched this scene, there was this great rush of memories of what it was like to be young and love life. Like those nights, where we'd drive around looking for parking for what seemed like hours and finally make it into the Whiskey (or the Key Club or the Roxy or the Glass House or the Chain Reaction or.... yeah.....) where we'd push our way as close to front as we could and stand shoulder to shoulder, waiting for (insert cool hard core band from 15 years ago here) to start playing. And when they did, we'd jump up and down and sing along because inevitably we would know every word (especially if it was Project 86... they usually started with "Stein's Theme," which I still remember lyrics to -- "You hate us 'cause we'll never go away. We're like some sort of fungus, growing every day." Classic hard core lyrics, if every there were any).  I'd check out all of the band members and decide which one I thought was cutest.  I'd get immeasurably excited if I was somehow close enough to feel droplets of his sweat as he shook his hair from stage. Those times when it happened to be AMR playing and I'd inevitably be tagging along with Marc, those were especially exciting times because I'd of course end up feeling like I was "with the band," and well... being "with the band" is pretty much the coolest thing ever.

Which reminds me of how markedly cool my husband was.  I will never forget how there was this band that was the super popular local band his senior year, "Needful Things," and they played  a concert for his 19th birthday party in his backyard, and that was like... awesome.  Which really speaks multitudes for how cool my in-laws are because, really... if I was somehow magically cool enough to get a band to play my party, my parents would never have said yes. My dad would be too paranoid that someone would call the cops.

I miss being young. I don't even know any small bands any more.  I only know the names I hear my students buzz about seeing at Warped Tour.

I'm Old.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Arts and Leadership

I haven't blogged much lately, and I have been trying to think of why. Truth be told, I have started blogs many times that I haven't finished and have deleted.  I am not sure what is going on in my head... but I am feeling more private than usual.  I normally rejoice in sharing my thoughts and feelings on my blog because I know that people who care about me read my blog (and maybe some people who don't really care about me... but whatever), and I am the type of person who appreciates the sense of community I feel from knowing that those around me know how I am feeling and what is going on in my life. Lately, however, I have felt a sense that the things I am excited about belong to me somehow and sharing them will somehow make them less special or perhaps will make me just a braggart or something like that.  But today, I feel like writing, so I am going to share some of the things occupying the space in my head. Forgive me if I am vague about them.

What occupies my mind....

Theatre theatre theatre -- This family eats, breathes, and sleeps the arts lately.  It is nearing crunch time with the show I am in, Willy Wonka, and Vinny had production week this week for Little Mermaid, plus, he also had his first rehearsal last week for Wizard of Oz, which he is really excited about.  Vinny now takes dance one day a week, but if it were up to him, he'd probably be at dance every day. He practices tap steps non-stop.  I'm not supposed to tell anyone that he wants to do ballet too. We can't really afford for him to take any more classes, but there are many he wishes he could take. With me, and Tiana, and Vinny all dancing now, well... it gets on the pricey side and we are far from rich.

Speaking of us all dancing, this week I am starting a ballet class for beginners. I am scared and excited. I don't know if I am more afraid of sucking at ballet or more afraid of just putting on a leotard and tights.  A little bit of both.

I know that some people probably think that I am somehow pushing all of this on Vinny to live vicariously through him, but this couldn't be further from the truth. He spent the entire week at the theatre doing field trip performances, but I made him go to school on Friday. He came home from school and by 4:00 was like, "Is it time to go to the theatre yet?  TWO MORE HOURS?  Oh man! That's a really long time!" He got home from his final performance tonight and tap danced down the hall. This kid does not stop.

On another note... a couple of weekends ago I saw a local production of bare the musical that continued to tear at my heart for days.  That is what good theatre should do.  It should leave you humming the lyrics and replaying key moments in your head all week.  That is for sure what that show does. After Wonka, I hope to audition for a drama.  I love the fun, lighthearted spectacle of Wonka, the larger than life wonderfulness of it all.  Next, I hope to do something deep.

What else is going on in my mind and life lately?

    Leadership. A year ago, I sat in the first part of an educational leadership class, and the teacher asked us  about leadership positions we could see ourselves in.  I honestly sat there thinking, "That's funny, because I was thinking of ways I could keep myself out of leadership positions." I had taken many pseudo-leadership positions in my early years of teaching, and not all of it worked out like I wanted it too. Most of it was just a lot of work, and I didn't really see it making much of a difference.  This year, however, I took on one key position that has actually lead to a lot of good things.

   Most importantly, some of my ideas about professional development have come to fruition this year. Yesterday, instead of hiring someone from outside to come do an expensive professional development workshop, we did a mini conference style professional development, and I lead a workshop on vocabulary development, which I repeated multiple times throughout the day.  It was a great experience.  I felt, probably for the first time, like I provided something valuable to the entire staff. Several people thanked me for my presentation, and I felt like everyone really got something out of it.  It was an incredibly exhausting day, but it really filled my cup... and it wasn't really that hard.  The wheels in my head are spinning.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

2013: Journeying along the road to freedom

At the end of last year, as I did the usual retrospective and introspection that most of us do going into a new year, I pondered a question that was posed in a TED Talk.  The speaker, a young man named Adam Baker, asked...

What does freedom mean to you?

This really had an impact on me because, for some reason, I really did not feel free.

Why?  Well, because I felt like so much of my "free" time was spent tidying up stuff (or feeling guilty about not tidying up stuff) or digging through piles of stuff to find something I needed or wanted.  Plus, I felt like I wasn't and would never be free to do things I want to do -- like travel or go see more live theatre -- because we financially just couldn't afford it.  Too much debt. Too many bills. Not enough cash.

Baker's talk inspired me to make my 2013 goal to collect experiences, not stuff. I realized that meaningful, interesting experiences are what I want in life, and that, if we worked at it hard, we could achieve that.

So... how's it going?  Well! Very well! In 2013, we....

  • Cut our credit card debt in half
  • Began paying down my student loans
  • Bought very, very few new things
  • Sold hundreds (maybe thousands) of items we own
  • Donated several boxes of clothes and toys to charity
  • Became significantly more organized
  • Spent an average of $485 LESS per month than we did in 2012. 

Even though we spent less, we had a lot of amazing experience, which was exactly what I had aimed for, and there have been so many wonderful benefits.  I feel less stressed than I did a year ago, for certain.  In addition, my house is tidier on average and is easier for me to tidy up.  My mom does a lot of this for us, because she is our full-time nanny, but even she has noticed that things have been better.  It used to be that when she came back from a break (being a teacher, I have several of these), she expected things to be messy, but now I find that I can keep up with the cleaning up on my own. I'm not overwhelmed like I used to be.  I spend so much less time looking for stuff I need because there is just less stuff overall and it is so much better organized.  It feels really, really, really insanely good.

How did we sell all of this stuff?  Amazon, eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook.  It takes work, but it is worth it.  It also can't be done in one shot. I have found that mentally the mind just can't go there, even when that mind is determined to sell half of what you own (I don't know that we quite got to half -- maybe 25%).  So you go in rounds. I would typically do a room at a time and fill a box with "sell" stuff and list it.  When most of that box sells, I move on to a new room and fill the box again. Now, a year into this, I have been through most of our rooms multiple times.  You'd think there would be nothing left to sell. Admittedly, it involves more searching now and more thought as the obvious stuff is gone already, but I am still finding stuff to sell on the second and third round through each room.

There are some tough decisions in there, and there is emotion attached.  Like the bike that both my kids loved as toddlers.  Even though T still rides the toddler bike when its out and she sees it, she has a brand new big girl bike that she is really good at riding. She doesn't need the toddler bike, so its time to go, but my memories of it make it hard to put a price tag on (especially because I know it is weathered and worn and will not fetch what I wish it was worth).  Even the never used stuff has emotional ties. I remember looking at an opened toy from last Christmas. I had a heart full of loving intentions when I bought it. I thought it would bring him joy. I imagined him spending hours playing with it, thought it was just the thing, and bought it. Even though it didn't cost that much, a part of me was still hurt that he hadn't enjoyed this thing I put money and love into getting for him. That part of me wanted to suggest he open it and play with it, which he probably would have.  But really... why hadn't he in the first place?  Because he has too many toys!  Because he enjoyed some of the other presents he got last year so much that he plays with them regularly.  I have come to accept the reality of the fact that it doesn't take much to make kids happy. Even kids with a room full of toys have their favorites that they play with daily. The others mostly sit on the shelf.  I am learning to embrace favorites and experiences.  So I take the unopened toy and sell it.

As for spending less, there were quite a few strategies there.  The greatest area where we cut costs was in food.  The majority of that monthly savings was in food. As we became aware of how much we were eating out and how much we were spending, we really scaled it back and began thinking about decisions we made. We realized that a regular Sunday lunch out is not a big treat and does not really mean we need to order drinks. We bring our own straw cups almost everywhere (even amusement parks) so we have a giant cup of ice water, not a dinky plastic water cup, which is both environmentally friendly and more satisfying. We also cut costs in shopping by buying a lot of things used, instead of in stores. When Vinny needed moccasins to be an "indian" in Peter Pan, I turned to eBay for used ones at a fraction of the cost.  If Vinny is invited to a birthday party, instead of heading to Target's toy aisle, we head to re-sale groups on Facebook and search for items that are new in the package.  I've been bought shampoo and conditioner like this.  I also dug through our bathrooms and found that we had literally a bucket full of samples of toiletries from traveling, dentist samples, etc. I forbid the buying of any product in the bucket.  Before toothpaste is purchased, we must double check that all samples from the bucket are GONE.  I haven't purchased shampoo since this past summer (and when I did, I bought an opened bottle with only one washings worth used from Facebook).

These things add up. They add up to freedom.

My daughter has been watching her namesake movie a lot lately (Princess and the Frog), and our entire family has become very fond of singing "Almost There" in a variety of situations.  On the way to the museum today, "How much longer until we get there?"   "Almost there.... almost there"  (Just imagine this sung in a catchy southern jazz tune).  Squeezing lemons for lemonade today -- "How much more juice do you need, Mom?"   "Almost there.... almost there."

The same could be said for where we want to be financially.... "We're aaaaaalmooooost there!"