Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Fiction Vs. Non-Fiction: Which Camp Do You Fall In?

 Image via

I've always believed you can tell a lot about a person by what they read (or what they don't)--perhaps this is why, when I come into someone's house or apartment for the first time, I will often poke around their bookshelves a bit if given the opportunity because it makes me feel like I have an edge when it comes to getting to know them better.

On my bookshelves (not my husband's--we have our own separate shelves), you might be a little bit more hard-pressed than with some people's book collections to find out my definitive tastes. You see, I've looked at a LOT of bookshelves in my time since it's one of my favorite places to kind of, well, snoop around. I've noticed that with many people, their book tastes can be nailed down to a few different styles. Take my husband's shelves, for example--you take one look at his bookshelves, and you know immediately that he is a hardcore fan of anything fantasy, with a healthy mix of science fiction (especially dystopian novels) thrown in to keep things interesting. Or one of my close friend's shelves---she's a serious sucker for a good self-help read, especially anything to do with marriage, parenting, or fulfilling her own potential, and you'll be hard-pressed to find an open fiction novel around anywhere.

Having looked at a lot of people's personal book collections, I've started to create somewhat of a theory. While this theory is far from including everyone, I have generally found that people usually fall into one of two camps when it comes to books they prefer to keep around:

In the first camp, you'll find the avid readers who clearly find reading to be more of an escape or a relaxation of sorts. You know this, because not only do they usually own MORE books, but they usually own mostly FICTIONAL books (or maybe some non-fiction books that have a compelling storyline, such as memoirs). In this camp, the readers' goal tends to fall more towards pleasure and entertainment than it does toward education. (My husband clearly falls into this category.)

In the second camp, you'll find readers who think that reading is important largely because it's how they gain new information and become more knowledgeable in some certain subject. If these people are going to spend time reading (especially considering how busy they are), then that time better produce payoffs, dangit. On these bookshelves, you will most likely find a good and varied smattering of non-fiction, which could include anything from cookbooks to books on gardening to religious materials. My friend with the self-help collection would clearly fall into this category.

And there are definite benefits to both kinds of reading, of course---non-fiction reads clearly extend your knowledge database, help you to stay current on certain trends, and help you to delve into the inner workings of your own personality and mind. Reading non-fiction tends to produce a much more metacognitive (thinking about how you think and process and deal with information in daily life) effect than fiction does, and I think most people could benefit from a little more self-reflection in general. Plus, one huge bonus of reading non-fiction is that it has a longer mental shelf life---what I mean by that is that you can start a non-fiction book, read a chapter, and then pick it up again 9 months later and not be totally lost. Since there aren't any characters or plot lines to keep track of, you are free to pick and choose what you want to read, in what order, and when.

On the other hand, reading a good fiction novel produces a state of relaxation that is extremely difficult to get from a non-fiction read. I once read of a study that says that it's much better to read fiction rather than non-fiction right before bed because following a good story produces a much more calming and relaxing effect than does having to process a lot of informational text. Additionally, our brains are hardwired to process information through narratives, and although we may think we're only paying attention to the story on the surface, our brains are, in reality, processing all sorts of deeper meanings through the telling of that story, such as character motivations, cause-and-effect relationships, and comparisons to our own life or the lives of others we know. Plus, they're just plain entertaining, which makes them more immediately satisfying than a non-fiction read.

When I look at my own reading habits, it's tempting for me to try and put myself into both camps because if you look at my shelves, I have a pretty hefty collection of both types of books. And lately, since I seem to be favoring non-fiction more and more, I'd almost convinced myself that I belong more in the second camp than the first, especially since the fiction books I do read are often a means to an end---being able to cross off yet another book on one of my many recommended reading lists.
 But then I looked again, and I realized that most of my non-fiction books still follow some kind of narrative (or narratives), whether it be the true story of someone's quest to be healthy (such as Healthy Me by A. J. Jacobs) or the moral tales found in books like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

And, in the end, I had to admit to myself that for me, one of the main drives that keeps me reading is that it does keep me relaxed and connected with the larger human family through the telling of our collective stories. So, even though I would be a bit of a "tricky case" for a bookshelf snoop, I think I'd have to put myself in the "We Read Mostly Fiction and Are Proud of It" club.

What camp do you fall in?


Monday, August 24, 2015

Thoughts on Going Back to Work After Being a SAHM


It is a truth universally acknowledged that Mom Guilt is a real thing.

Even when you have done pretty much everything within your power to be the best mom you could be, to protect and nurture and teach and care for your kid(s), The Guilt seems to remain--The Guilt over what you could have done better, what you could have done more of, what you shouldn't have done at all.

It's a real thing, folks.

I remember the first time I felt this phenomenon--Raven was probably only about ten days old, and I decided to do what I'd done before and take advantage of her mid-morning nap and take a shower. The problem was, during this particular shower, she decided to wake up and start screaming instead of sleeping peacefully through my "me time." I had just lathered up my legs for a shave, and I had a dilemma---let her scream a few minutes longer while I finished shaving, or rinse everything off and hop out? Well, I decided that my legs were getting a little too beastly for comfort and so decided to go for the shave while my baby yelled and cried and made a big ol' general hullabaloo in the next room.

And there it was, hitting me in the chest the second I went into the room and saw her red-rimmed eyes and tear-streaked face:

Mom Guilt.

"How dare I shave my legs when I had a screaming infant?" I thought to myself. "I must be the most despicable new mother in all of history! What's more important---getting rid of a little stubble or ensuring that my infant is able to trust that her mother will come when she needs her?!"

Little did I know that Mom Guilt seems to grow in proportion to the time in which I've been a parent so that, instead of lessening over time, the accumulation of everything I could be doing better or different or not at all seems to sit like a weight on my conscience, with an ounce or two added on every day for good measure.

Enter the fact that this morning at exactly 7:15 a.m., I left the apartment to go back for my first day of work since becoming a mom. Luckily, the baby was asleep soundly with her thumb firmly in her mouth---

Otherwise, I might never have made it out the door.

Or at least not without crying out loud, fat, ugly tears.

Before I became a parent, I always loved the idea of being a working mom---I could get the best of both worlds! I could continue to work on myself and my dreams and goals while simultaneously having a family of my own! I could contribute to the financial stability of my family but still be around to help raise my children!

And maybe work will be all of those things for me, someday.

But today, when I got a text at 11 a.m. from my husband saying that our baby had apparently gone on a hunger strike since I left and had refused to touch the bottle he was offering (despite one or the other of us having fed her by a bottle during that very feeding for the past two weeks or so), I started to have some serious fears that I'd somehow made a colossal mistake. Then, when I got a text from the sitter saying that she was continuing on her strike at 1:30 p.m., I was about ready to flee the school right then, come hell or high water or an ignominious dismissal from the teaching profession.

Basically, my baby refused to be fed by another hand until I got home at THREE O' CLOCK.

Mom Guilt is a very, very real thing.

I know it will get better with time. (I mean, it HAS to, right?!) I know that eventually, this new routine of me working full-time and Raven's time being split between Matt and our wonderful sitter will become our new normal.

I know this.

But it doesn't take away the fact that I came home and just wanted to cry realizing that my baby basically hadn't eaten for eight and a half hours. It doesn't take away the guilt I feel that perhaps I could have done more than I did while trying to get her accustomed to the bottle and to formula over the past two weeks.

So, when people ask me how I feel about going back to work, let's just say that I'm still not used to the idea (and nor is Raven).

For all of our sakes, let's hope that this working mom thing really does get easier with time.

 
(Photos obviously were not from today...)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Life After My 50 Weeks to Organized Project (+ An Apartment Tour)


The fact that the years pass by quickly is a truth pretty much every adult has internalized, and it seems like every other week, I hit the anniversary of some momentous event in my life with yet another year tacked onto it. 

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about how it's been over a year since we moved into our apartment, and how it's been over a year and a half since I completed my "50 Weeks to Organized" project. And I also thought about how I promised everyone pics of the new place last June or July, yet here I am, in August of the following year, still without blog proof that we did, in fact, move.

I'll admit, my reasons were less-than-pure:

The fact was, I wanted to wait until our place was in picture-perfect state before photographing it and hitting "publish." The fact was, I wanted to be able to show you physical proof that I was, in fact, completely and totally cured from my clutter problems of the past and that I had never fallen back into the bad organizational habits of younger years.


The truth is, I still have to work really hard to stay on top of my clutter habit. Many days, if you come by and visit, you will find that there are dishes spilling out of the sink, mail on the counter that needs to be dealt with, and random books, magazines, and baby items that have managed to escape their rightful place and land on our kitchen island (which is an all-too-easy catch-all for any physical possession coming through our home).  

It is tempting to look at physical proof that I still have clutter in my life as evidence that I haven't really changed from my "50 Weeks to Organized" days and that I still am far from the real "minimalist" that I dream of being.

But then I look around, and I look at before and after photos from the project two years ago, and I think about our old place and my old ways, and I absolutely KNOW, for a fact, that I have changed.

That I'm still changing.

And that I'm changing for the better.


Granted, these pictures were taken on a particularly clean day when we'd cleared out the house in preparation for a baby shower. But even if the counters were full of their usual random debris, I can still look around and see differences.

Here's a short list of differences I've noticed in myself since completing my 50 Weeks to Organized project (50 WTO for short):

*I no longer keep stuff out on the bathroom counter. Guys, this was HUGE for me. Being a girl that liked to "put on her face" every morning, it used to be that our bathroom counter was always covered with makeup, hair tools, styling products, etc. Since doing the bathroom portion in 50 WTO, I have never gone back to keeping stuff out on the counter. It's such a simple thing to put the stuff away right after I use it, but it really makes such a difference.

 (a pic of the double vanity outside our bathroom---I LOVE having my own sink and counter to get ready at in the morning!)

*Before, I kept a lot of mementos and decorative clutter out everywhere because I couldn't bear to part with anything. Since I cleaned off every surface for 50 WTO and only put back the stuff that I felt really looked best out on display, I overall have much less "decorative clutter," which means that the pieces that I do have stand out more. (Note, I'm not nearly perfect in any of these things, but I am a lot better than I used to be. I say this because I'm fully aware of how much decorative clutter is on our bookshelves and on that little end table by the couch there.)
 

* I have gotten into the good habit of second-guessing purchases that would be taking up permanent residence in our home. Instead of just buying something because I want it or without really thinking about it, I take some serious time to evaluate the future commitment of space, energy, and time that it will take. Many times, it's meant that I don't make the purchase. Or, if I do decide to go forward with it, it often means that I'll come home and get rid of more stuff so that I'm not just adding to our possessions with each new trip to the store.


* Shockingly, I have started to really curb my book-buying. This is by far the most tempting habit of mine when it comes to acquiring MORE of something, but I have started to seriously rein this one in. It was probably all the money we were required to spend on hospital bills that started it, but I have kind of unconsciously in my mind made this vow that I won't buy new books until I've read all the books I currently have that I haven't read (which is a number in the hundreds, embarrassingly enough). Sure, I've slipped up a few times these past six months or so to make some exceptions, but for the most part, I've spent much less this year in books than in years past.

 (Raven's "nursery," which she has yet to sleep in. Basically, it's a glorified library with a crib.)

*Another habit I'm miraculously getting out of is my magazine addiction. Last summer, I had subscriptions to over a dozen different publications (honestly, it was so many I didn't even know the exact number), but now, I'm down to only 4 or 5 subscriptions, which I'm planning on just keeping until they run out and then not renewing them. With so many magazines coming into our place each month, you can probably imagine how quickly they piled up. For awhile, I stocked them under the t.v. with the intention of going back through them and tearing out anything I wanted to keep before recycling them. Now, I just tear out whatever I want (if anything) when I first read it and recycle it immediately after, which has greatly reduced the amount of magazine clutter in the apartment.
 

*Although it is overwhelming how much your stuff multiples when you have a kid, I have been proud of the fact that I've been doing an okay job of keeping it all relatively in check. Matt and I have hardly made any purchases ourselves for the baby, and what we do have, we use (or we will use when she's a bit older). Her stuff still takes up a lot of room though, which is why you'll see in the pictures below that we still have some pretty clutter-y corners.


* Even though I will probably have to work at keeping counter clutter contained for the rest of my life, because we own so much less stuff than we used to, it's been a lot easier to keep our place looking halfway decent. Basically, we've pared down our stuff enough so that when we have company coming and need to get the place ready quickly, we can do it effectively in about 20 minutes or so (and without having to stuff things in closets, too). This NEVER could have happened before I completed the "50 Weeks to Organized" project.


I still have a lot of plans for making our space a bit more inviting (like finally putting up some art on our bedroom walls and maybe even getting brave and painting a bookshelf or two (!), but all in good time. Interior design has never exactly been my forte, but I figure that if I gradually work on it over time, I'll get our place to where I want it to be.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed this little apartment tour, and sorry again for it being a year or so late.

Whoops.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Raven: 4 Months


Today at Raven's doctor appointment, the pediatrician remarked that the 4-month checkup was probably his favorite of all the checkups because the babies are interactive, they don't fear him yet (ha ha), and they're really starting to show off their personalities.

Amen to that!

Having a 4-month-old is definitely a lot of fun.


Quick Stats
Height: 25" (75th percentile)
Weight: 13 lbs., 11 ounces (50th percentile)
Head Circumference: 15.75" (25th percentile)
Clothing Size: 3-6 month sizes in everything


Milestones Reached 
  • Grabs her feet and toes
  •  Reaches for and holds onto toys, blankets, Mom's hair...pretty much whatever is in her immediate line of vision and/or within easy reach
  • Can sit up unassisted for a few seconds (can sit up assisted easily)
  • Arches back and scoots around when put flat on her back
  • Has full vision now instead of just the 12-18" that babies can see at first (because she'll smile at us when we smile at her across the room)
  • Shrieks with delight
  • Can almost fit her whole fist in her mouth (an important skill, indeed)
  • Sleeps regularly for 12 hours (!) at night
  • Got the clearance from the doc today to start on solids, so we'll be doing that first thing tomorrow!
  • And just today (at 4 months, 6 days), she rolled over from back to front, meaning that she can now roll both ways. We're in for it now!


Physical Appearance

THE FUZZ! Her little head is just covered in hair that's about an inch long and that refuses to lie flat (not that we encourage it to). I'm obsessed with the fuzz head, and I'm already sad that I can tell it's getting longer because I'll definitely miss it. Her hair and eyelashes have gotten very subtly darker too, which means that I've had a lot more people tell me that she's starting to look a lot more like Matt (I'm planning on posting baby pics of both of us soon so that you can all compare and weigh in yourselves). Basically, although I didn't think it was possible, Raven pretty much gets cuter ever single day, with her rosy cheeks that just won't quit and her little dimply baby hands. 

Adorable.
 

What I Love About This Stage

I feel like Raven is learning a new "trick" just about every day--her progression is going at a much more noticeable rate, and she is seriously almost all smiles, all the time. We're in a loose schedule now, which allows me to plan my days a lot better and get a lot more done for myself because I know what to expect. I also find it easier to take her places now because I can predict her behavior much more easily. 

I also love that while she's so interactive, she's also getting better at independent play and exploration. Near the beginning of her life, she seemed to want us in her sight all the time (even better if we were holding her), but now she's pretty content for decently long stretches of time to practice rolling over, chew on toys, or try to get her feet into her mouth (which she hasn't accomplished yet, but I'm sure she'll get there within a week or two). It's a great balance right now between interaction and independence, which I really love.

Challenges

Because I think it's important to note the hard(er) stuff as well, I'm adding this new section this month. Overall, Raven really is quite an easy baby, but the challenge of the month is definitely with the weaning process. She absolutely refuses to drink formula plain, so we've been mixing it with breast milk and trying to fiddle with the ratio so that she's gradually getting a little bit more formula each time. It's kind of working, but she's still not happy about it. Part of the challenge was also because she's also taken bottles pretty grudgingly from the beginning, so having to do about a third of her feedings (at this point) from a bottle has not been her favorite. We're hoping that when she's completely weaned in a couple weeks time that she'll be much more used to the whole bottle-and-formula idea and not going on a hunger strike. Guess we'll see.

 Things I Don't Want to Forget
  • The THUMP, THUMP, THUMP of her legs hitting her mattress when she's awake in the morning and trying to worm out of her blanket (which has recently been accompanied by the little *scratch, scratch, scratch* of her fingernails against the side of the pack 'n play)
  • The way she stopped crying immediately when I picked her up after getting her shots today at the doctor--she screamed while they were doing them, but the second she was in my arms, she stopped screaming and smiled
  • How she's started to show interest in books--we've been reading to her from the beginning, but she wasn't very interested for the first several weeks, so reading was a bit sporadic. Now, we read to her daily, and she's much more attentive and curious, even starting to reach her hands towards the pages to try and manipulate them
  • Her smile first thing upon waking up and seeing that one of us is standing over her bed to "rescue" her. She really fights naps a lot of the time (although she goes down really easy at night), so getting rescued from her bed is pretty much her favorite thing ever, next to being nursed.
  • The way she "dances" her fingers along my shirt while I nurse her, like she's telling a little story with her hands. 
  • How she starts to babble ever more loudly the more tired she gets, culminating in a siren-like imitation. It's not really fussing---it's just really loud jabbering, and it's pretty much hilarious.
  • She still tries to suck her thumb while she's eating (whether from me or from the bottle), and it just kills me every time.
  • How much she really seems to know me, and how I seem to be the one who is able to calm her instantly and (usually) know what she needs. I always wondered at how moms could do that, and the whole process has been much more intuitive than I thought it would be (much to my relief!).
  • How she's started to suck on her lower lip. It makes both Matt and me totally melt.
  •  Her discovery yesterday that one of the toys on her "pink playground" plays a song when you pull it down, which none of us knew about. Now she loves doing it.
  • Her absolute fascination with our wall clock. Apparently, the second hand moving around is the funniest thing she's ever seen because every time she looks up at it (which is very frequently), she shrieks with delight and starts to giggle. There have been many days when I have joked that it seems she is much more interested in the clock's jokes than in mine.              


    And, because I'm one of "those" moms, here's a bunch more pics 
    because I just couldn't narrow it down any more: 

     

    ANNND, the picture that will probably become my new screensaver:
    Happy 4 months (last week, anyway), little Raven sweetie!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Soaking In the Last of Summer While Trying to Avoid the Sun


I'm trying desperately not to count down the days until summer ends for me and I have to go back to teaching, but I do this every year around now---I become determined to make every last summer weekend count, and I plan getaways and hikes and ice cream dates to try and savor every last bit of freedom left. 

This year, the plans have had to change a bit due to the fact that we have a chubby little 4-month-old in tow and that I've been given strict orders from all my doctors to pretty much avoid the sun, but last weekend, we managed a little afternoon getaway at Bloomington Lake, which is about forty-five minutes away from Bear Lake (on the border between Utah and Idaho). 


Funny story--as I was planning what we should do for our little excursion, I came across a website raving about the beauty of Bloomington Lake, and since I wanted our trip to take us past Bear Lake anyway (so that we could get some of our favorite milkshakes!), I excitedly mentioned it to Matt. 

The funny part is, Matt had actually told me not too many days before that he really, really wanted to take me and Raven to this lake that he spent time at while on a Scout biking trip earlier this summer.

Well, they turned out to be the same place.

 
We left Logan in the afternoon (around 3:45 or so) and got to the trail head at about 5:30. I thought multiple times that our tires would surely pop on the 10 miles of bumpy dirt road going into the lake, but the car handled it like a champ (and I didn't fret aloud too much because I was distracting myself by listening to Harry Potter on audiobook).

For anyone interested, this hike is totally worth the drive, and it's a great hike for families because it's so short (only about a mile each way, if even) and there's a lot to see. Plus, if you're up for swimming, the water's pretty clean, too. (These are things that I think about.)


And I officially joined the "Finally Comfortable Breastfeeding Anywhere" Club because at one point halfway through our hike, I veered slightly off the trail and fed the baby right then and there on a large rock that most definitely had some bugs on it.

It's moments like that when I REALLY get sad about having to stop nursing because it really is just so stinkin' CONVENIENT.

Oh well--- c'est la vie.



And now, for a whole bunch of pictures (because that's what I do when we have an adorable kid and are in one of the prettiest places around----I take about a bajillion and a half pictures).





We're hoping to fit in some more summer fun before school starts for me on the 31st, so hopefully this won't be the end of all the adventures in the sun for us (complete with me in long sleeves and pants, avoiding said sun). I have to go into work three days next week for contract hours though, so this weekend might be basically it for me.

So if anyone has any killer ideas of what we can do this weekend before said work days that doesn't involve us being out in the middle of the day, I'm all ears.







And, to finish off this post that is more for the pictures than anything else, a photo of Raven letting us know that her adventure definitely was over for the evening.

Ha ha.
01 09 10