Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Conversation Wtih Fear

Heart lights up and declares, "I want to travel to Africa and take a photography workshop!"

Brain wants to check in with husband. It is very expensive and not at a great time.

Fear quietly allows us to ask for details but go no further than that.

Husband surprisingly says, "yes! Go! You have to go!"

Heart jumps for joy and does a ballerina twirl.

Anxiety wakes up and shouts, "NO! Are you crazy? A week in Africa with a group of people you don't know doing something where you can be judged! Plus, its too much money. Plus, you won't get to go to Disneyland."

Fear agrees wholeheartedly. "I've played along while you daydreamed about this, but now I am putting my foot down. Do NOT send that deposit check. What if you regret this? It is very God oriented and what if you don't get a lot out of it? Also, do you know how many shoots you will have to do to cover the cost of this trip? A billzillion! I thought you wanted to retire sooner."

Heart pipes in, "I need to be inspired. I need to know what my path in life is, and I think this may be it. I think I want to travel and tell the stories of people I meet through photography. Plus, I want to invite Creativity. I haven't seen her in a while and I need her in my life."

Anxiety replies, "Stay at home. It is safe and you are surrounded by those you love - like a warm blanket. Think of all the horrible things that could happen if you leave this cocoon."

"What horrible things?" demands Heart.

"You will be tired - Africa is on the other side of the world and you won't be able to nurture  yourself since you will be so far out of your comfort zone. Imagine trying to interact with strangers after flying for a day."

"This is true," Heart concedes, "but I have survived harder things in my life for less reward. I can do it."

"You will have to be 'on' all the time. Interacting with new people trying to get the to like you. It is exhusting."

"Plus, what if they realize that your photos are not good," Fear chimes in. "You call yourself a professional, but everyone else will be better than you. It will be humiliating!"

"I don't want to go to show off or impress anyone. I want to go to learn how to be better. I want to be inspired and walk with Creativity," Heart replies. "My work is a process, and I deserve to be here. I deserve to create. I have a right to work with Creativity just by being human. Learning and being inspired by others is my only goal. It is impossible to be humiliated if I go with that intention."

"Don't go," Fear shouts, but his words are fading away.

"Please stay," begs Anxiety with a pathetic whimper. Like a drowning man who knows it is too late. 

"I am going." Heart declares loudly. "And you can come along. You will come along regardless of what I say, but you do not get to dictate our choices. I will be in charge. You are the observers. Creativity and I will make the decisions."

And Fear and Anxiety didn't respond because they were so small that their voices couldn't be heard.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

How to Retire Early: Walk

Lets talk about cars. I love my car. Who doesn’t? Its comfortable, convenient, and opens up an entire world of possibilities: a world of go anywhere/do anything possibilities. Just last week, my family and I jumped in the car and drove up to the snow to go sledding. That experience was priceless and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.



I do, however, think that - perhaps - we as a culture depend too much on our cars (ducks to avoid the throwing of rotten fruit). Hear me out. Driving a car around is more than just the price of gas. It is the cost of wear and tear on your car and each little piece that keeps it together. These all have a finite life span and every mile you drive moves you closer to that end. Not to mention the cost to the environment with all the pollution in the air.

I came across this profound piece of advice from a blogger that I follow: Cars don’t cost you money per month, they cost you money per mile”

We are so trained to think, “well, I pay $xxx for my car loan so I might as well use it as much as I can.” Wrong! You pay $xxx for your car loan and THEN gas and deterioration PER MILE.
With this in mind, Adam and I made a deal to only drive the car if we were traveling further than 2 miles. (At some point we will increase this number once we get the little one more comfortable on a bike, but for now, its all on foot).

By keeping the car in the driveway and using our legs to transport us, we discovered something truly amazing:
  1. Our bodies are getting more fit. Instead of sitting, we are now moving more - yea for exercise!
  2. We are connecting more. In a car, there is music and traffic and cell phones and a million other things that distract you from the very simple joy of spending time together. When you are on foot, all of those distractions disappear and you find yourself marveling together around a leaf changing color or a caterpillar building a cocoon. We talk together. We laugh together. We may even sing and dance together (yes, we are that geeky).
  3. We save money. We didn’t buy our car on credit, but we are saving money on gas and repair.
  4. We connect with our neighbors. We happen to live in one of those magical neighborhoods where everyone knows each other so a walk down the street invariably results in an unexpected conversation with someone who lives nearby.
  5. We are more connected to nature. Now, I know this sounds a little woo woo, but being in touch with the changing seasons and sounds of the birds fills my soul in a way that listening to music in a car never will.
  6. We shop local which supports our local economy. Most of the businesses around us are local shops run by local people. So, by limiting ourselves to what is within walking distance, we inevitably support those local business.
  7. My daughter gets exposed to multiple opportunities to learn. Why do the ants walk in a straight line? Why do some trees lose their leaves while others don’t? What makes something a weed? There is so much wonder in the world around us and by simply being in it, my kid is asking all sorts of questions that we then build on later.
  8. We appreciate what we have more. When we have to physically move to go get something that we want, we end up seriously considering if we actually want this thing.
  9. We buy less wasted food. There are four grocery stores within two miles of our home. We carefully make a shopping list every time we go because we know that we will have to carry whatever we buy home. That box of crackers suddenly seams a lot less appealing when you have to carry it two miles on your back.
  10. We get to explore more. When we are driving, there is usually a pretty strong emphasis on getting from point A to point B. When we are walking, however, every new street becomes a chance to explore something new. We discovered that the beach is less than 2 miles from our house over Thanksgiving, as is a movie theatre and an amazing wooded park.
In my quest to retire early to spend more time with my family, I am discovering ways to do just that within my current life. There are so many conveniences - cars, restaurants…etc.. - which have actually disconnected me from the people and world around me. By simplifying my life, I am getting back in touch with the things that really matter to me.

Monday, December 28, 2015

How to Retire Early: Cooking at Home

I have a confession to make: for the first part of this year (let's say January through October) my family ate our meals out 90% of the time. The food that I could make at home was boring and tasteless compared to the explosion of flavor that graced my plate at the restaurants. And I love food. A lot. I tried to recreate the meals that I love but they never worked out as well as what I could simply buy.

I knew I was eating out too much but I had no idea how to change this behavior. Because I wasn't cooking at home, my skills atrophied and I swear that I got worse at it.

All that changed when I got invited to try Hello Fresh. I swear, this is not an add for Hello Fresh. I'm not getting anything by linking to them. I'm just explaining how I managed to escape the trap of eating out.

Hello Fresh is one of those meal in a box delivery systems (overpriced but convenient with everything you need so I did end up saving money on both eating out and grocery shopping). I was skeptical since everything I cooked tasted like mush, but I followed their directions and was amazed by the way a few herbs and spices could make an ordinary dish taste extraordinary.

Don't get me wrong. I had used herbs and spices in my own cooking previously but I often used old dried herbs and out of date spices. I was amazed by how much flavor fresh herbs and spices produced. Not only that - but I LOVED the meals. Each one was different and flavorful.

I used Hello Fresh for about two months and steadily ate out less and less during that time when "the switch" happened. I turned into one of those snobby food people. Their bulk ingredients were no longer satisfactory. I wanted only fresh organic vegetables to go in my cooking.

So, armed with their recipes (which they kindly let you keep), I cancelled their service and began to make my own meals. I used herbs from my garden and veggies from the farmers market, and I became addicted - not only to the flavor in the food but to the act of preparing a meal for my family.

I would pour myself a glass of wine and listen to Billie Holiday on the radio while I created a meal that would nurture those I loved most. Dinner became a sacred time in our home. A time to connect and talk about the day away from bustle of a busy restaurant. A time to enjoy the simple flavors of the food and appreciate each other.

Dinner became more than just a inconvenience to feed my hunger. It became an integral part of my life. I love to create meals to feed my friends and chatting with them while the flavors of the food cook together on the stove. I love the time it takes to create the meal and the love that is my table when it is ready.

By giving up restaurants, I not only saved hundreds of dollars a month on eating out but I found a connection and joy with my family that I didn't have before.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

New Goals and a New Direction


I started this blog as a personal journey to document my life and, continuing in that vein, I'm excited about the direction my life is headed.

First a little back story: Over the past several years, my family did what most families do when they get to a place where they are comfortable with money. We spent it. A lot. We never went into debt and prided ourselves on that fact but we didn't really save it either. We just didn't worry about it. I get it - we are lucky. I know. But to be fair, we did work very hard to get to that place in life...and that was the trouble. Working. Because no matter how much we love our jobs (well, I love my job - SDN - my hubby - tolerates his) we are still working and not spending our time doing the things that we want to do.

I want to be at a place where I can give photography as a gift to those whose lives would be enriched by it. New mothers, animal shelters, causes I believe in...etc... and SDN wants to draw. To be an artist and create graphic novels. We also want to travel and spend time together with our little Alice while she is still little. We want to cook together and live abroad and explore the rain forests and create. everything.

To reach these goals we need to be at a place where we don't have to work to make money. Retirement.

I started reading everything I could about retiring early, and believe it or not, it is surprisingly simple to do (notice I didn't say easy). To retire early, you simply need to save as much money as you can, invest that money and live off of the interest. 

For those of you who like lists (like yours truly), here are some steps to retire early:
1) calculate your monthly expenses (don't forget to factor in big expenses like car repair and holidays - and spread that money out over the year)
2) Take that number and multiple it by 25 - this number is the amount of dollars you need invested in order to retire and just live off of a safe withdraw rate of 4%
3) Start saving for your goal (the number you came up with in step 2)

Simple, right? Simple but not easy.

If I had done the exercise two months ago, that number in step two would have been enormous and I could as soon as flown to the moon as saved that up. So, I made some choices. We were spending A LOT of money on eating out. Tons. I made it a goal to only eat at home and like magic that big number shrunk (plus, I now had extra monthly income that I would have spent eating out to save towards that big number).

It became a game: what things could I cut from my life and still be happy? The answer was surprising. Almost everything. Once I stopped spending money on new clothes and shoes and coffee out, I found that I started to appreciate all the things that I did have so much more.

* The smell of grinding our own coffee grounds in the morning and pouring over the frothy sweet milk
* The music filling my house
* The way my puppy rests her head on my lap while I am reading a book as the rain hits the window

I could go on and on.

I started this change so that we could retire earlier thinking that it would be hard to deprive myself of the things that I loved so much (eating at fancy restaurants, getting a latte whenever I felt like it, shopping) but what I found was that life became immensely more enjoyable once I cut those things out.

You're thinking I'm crazy, right? But here are a couple examples:

For my birthday dinner, instead of going out to eat sushi and spending around $100, my husband and I bought some fish and made our own sushi rolls at home complete with saki (for about $30).  The food was amazing and plentiful. We had a blast making the rolls together and every bite was melt in your mouth delicious.

I joined a group called "buy nothing west seattle" and kept a close eye on it throughout December. It didn't take long before someone offered a stuffed moose. I knew that my kid would love it so I picked it up. I was thrilled when I realized that it was no ordinary stuffed moose. It was a KIDSIZED stuffed moose. My daughter absolutely LOVED it. She sleeps with it and drags in around everywhere even though it is bigger than she is! Plus, this stuffed moose is getting a new round of love where he might have ended up in a landfill. Total cost of the best holiday present ever? $0

My goal is not to live in deprivation but to treasure what I have and to get what I want in a more meaningful way.

Currently, we are saving anywhere between 40% and 60% of our take home pay (this does not include the 401K that we contribute to - so really those numbers are about 5% higher).

I'll go into more detail about how we will reach our Big Number goal later but I feel like this post is already too long :)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Summertime fun

I have taken a small break this summer to spend some much needed mommy Ily time. We've been going to the science center, taking the bus to meet daddy for lunch, and playing outside with friends. Some of the best friends that we have happen to live practically next door. Ethan and Ilya are BEST friends (I'm making to sure to capitalize the BEST as they declare their love for each other and best friend status daily, much to the envy of the other children). Ethan's little sister, Eliana, is quite possibly the cutest child that has ever lived on this planet - and I can say that without bias as she is not even my kid (Ilya is a close second, though). Their mother, Rachel, is my favorite of the bunch (sorry kids). She is so kind and supportive. I don't know what I'd do without her. Plus, she is probably the best mother I've ever met, which makes me a better mother...because I like to copy my friends...especially when they do something cool. Rachel, her kids, me, and my kid all took a big field trip to the aquarium about a week ago. The weather was beautiful and we decided to take the water taxi, which is basically a ferry that doesn't allow cars and runs from west Seattle to downtown. The kids were so excited and we had such a fun (if completely exhausting) day. I love the octopus making the heart. Here is Rachel, looking lovely - if you look really closely, you can see her kids reflected in her shades :)
We watched the water taxi get closer and closer and even got to see the great wheel (is that what we're calling it?) along our way.
Ilya and Ethan looking out the back of the boat
I told you she was the cutest kid in the world.

Friday, January 6, 2012

New Years Day

The New Year started off great! Our dear friend, Melissa, flew all the way from Boston to visit us over the weekend and we took her on our favorite walk through the arboretum. Ilya, sporting her unique fashion sense which included pink boots, poka dot pants, a hello kitty shirt, and very messy hair, had a blast "braiding" old pine needles in her hair!

















Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Chicken Pox Debate

This is NOT a post to debate the relative merits and risks of vaccines.

This is NOT a post to judge others based on their beliefs about the relative merits and risks of vaccines.

This is simply a post about my experiences over the past few days. After extensive research and discussions with Ilya's doctor, Adam and I decided not to give Ilya the Chicken Pox vaccine. I'm not here to justify that decision. It is a personal decision. Its the decision we made.

A girl in our community came down with a case of chicken pox and we figured this would be a great time to expose Ilya. Being responsible parents we informed the community that we were exposing Ilya and that we would keep her separate from the other kids until the risk of contagion had passed.

This started a slew of emails from concerned parents who informed me they did NOT want their children exposed (well, duh. I was planning on having Ilya stick her fingers in their mouths, but now that you have expressed this desire, I guess I wont). That's fine. Whatever. Parents are worried about their children. I get that.

What I don't get is what happened next.

Chicken Pox will take AT LEAST 7 days after exposure to become contagious, but I was informed in no uncertain terms that Ilya was NOT invited into common spaces starting immediately. I was sent links about how irresponsible it was for parents to expose their children to chicken pox. I was refused entry into my friend's homes because "I might be a carrier" (not possible, by the way). This is a culture of fear. This is what happens when people allow fear and conjecture to run their lives rather than research and reason. This is a SCARY place to be.

If communities are little peep holes into the world, I worry about the human race.