Thursday, January 29, 2015

That Time I Failed My Glucose Screening Test

Ever since I found out about gestational diabetes, I've been worried that I'd have it when I got pregnant. I don't know if it's because I know how much I love chocolate and fruit and feared the worst (that I'd have to go off of them for months), or if my rational self knew I probably ate too much sugar and it would come back to haunt me one day.

Plus diabetes runs in my family, so....there's that.

So it didn't exactly come as a surprise to me that I failed my glucose screening test. (In fact, I'd been telling people for weeks that I probably would.) Some people had been surprised at my assertion---they'd comment on how I'm at a healthy weight, had been exercising a lot (up until the pregnancy), cooked most of my own meals, etc. And they're right--I do (or did) all of those things.

But I wasn't reassured--I felt like it would be a miracle if I passed, and I tried to brace myself for the worst.

I guess it goes without saying that when the results came back and I had, indeed, failed the test, I wasn't exactly surprised. (Of course, I wasn't happy about it either, but at least it didn't come as a shock.)

I blame my paranoia about becoming diabetic on two things:

1. I distinctly remember when I was younger that I had elevated glucose levels on at least a few blood tests, but it was never looked into, either because of the medication I was on or because of my overall health status. (Of course, I had mistakenly been telling my husband and mom for weeks that I'd ALWAYS had elevated glucose levels, but checking my facts, this was apparently untrue---I was thinking of triglycerides, not glucose. But I know for sure that at least SOME of the tests had come back with higher-than-normal sugar levels.)

2.  When I was taking violin lessons, my instructor was always getting after me for having longer fingernails than I was supposed to. When I told him how often I was trimming them as it was, he said, "You know what? Every single student I've seen who had fingernails that grew as fast as yours has ended up with diabetes."

And that did it---

I was convinced from that point forward that, while I could try to manage my weight and diet as best as I could, diabetes was an inevitable part of my future.

So last Saturday, I took a big stack of grading and two books to read to the hospital lab, where I had to go in after an overnight fast and have my blood taken 4 times, once at the beginning and once every hour after. After taking my blood initially, I was given the glucose drink, which I decided I actually preferred without ice because it went down faster that way.

And then I waited. And read. And graded. And got poked. And waited some more. And tried not to feel nauseated. And tried not to think about how hungry I was. And got poked again. And finished the grading. And (almost) finished one of the books. And got poked a final time.

I asked the nurse when they would know the results.

"Oh, we'll know them immediately," she said. "But you won't know them until your doctor calls you."

Sigh. At least a 48-hour wait, then.

I debated all the rest of the weekend if I should have any sugar or fruit or not---should I start strictly watching my sugar grams, as if I'd already received the dreaded diagnosis? Or should I enjoy these last couple days and indulge a little, since it might be the last time in who knows how long? I decided to do something right in the middle, with each bite of chocolate chip cookie feeling like my last.

I was too anxious to wait for the doctor to call me on Monday, so I just dialed up the medical center myself and asked to be told the results. I braced myself for the worst as the nurse started reading my results (which, as they were just numbers, meant absolutely nothing to me without some kind of range to go off of). Finally, she said, "Well, looks like you don't have gestational diabetes. Your levels were out of range for one of the three tests, but they have to be out of range for at least two for you to receive the diagnosis. We still recommend you watch your diet, cut down your intake of sugar, and watch how much fruit you're eating though."

I couldn't believe my luck.

My biggest problem though?

I feel that each time I'm faced with a piece of candy or an orange or even a glass of juice, it becomes this great internal battle--

"If I eat this, will I go from "borderline" to "diabetic" and not know it until it's too late and I've already done harm to the baby?"

"Even the one test I failed, I was barely out of range. Can I just eat pretty much like I normally do, with a little more emphasis on vegetables and a little less emphasis on fruits and sweets?

"Am I out of line because I'm even considering this? What would my doctor say if she saw me considering this piece of chocolate?"

I'm hoping that at my next doctor's appointment, I can get some more clear guidelines before I go absolutely insane.

Anyone got any advice? Sympathy? Sugar-free chocolate?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Work Wellness Challenge? But I'm Pregnant!

One thing I quickly realized about being pregnant is that I can basically use it as an excuse for everything--

I forgot we had that meeting today? Blame it on pregnancy brain.

I was late for work yesterday morning? Blame it on morning fatigue and my struggle to move quickly.

I almost started crying over a stranger's well-intentioned remark? Blame it on the hormones.

It's kind of become a problem. In fact, I find it so easy to blame everything on the pregnancy that it's become altogether almost second-nature, even when it comes to things like taking care of myself:

Whoops! I just downed three pieces of cake and a huge glass of milk.

(I had a massive sugar craving and am ravenous all the time!)

Whoops! I haven't exercised in, well, almost my whole pregnancy.

(My round ligament pain starts flaring up, and I might slip on the ice if I go walk outside!)

Whoops! I've already gained 30 pounds, and I'm just over 2/3 of the way into this process.

(Every woman's body is different, and mine just wants to eat all the time! First-timers always put on more weight!)

It's a dangerous mind game but, luckily for me, I had an unexpected saving grace fall into my lap last week in the form of a work wellness challenge. It might not be saving me from the excuses mentioned at the very beginning, but at least it's giving me the kick in the butt I need to take the best care of myself (and this baby) that I can.

The challenge is basically this---each week, we get points for exercising (30 minutes), not eating sweets/desserts, not drinking soda, not eating after 8:30 p.m., and drinking 64 ounces of water a day. Then, as the challenge progresses, we are given special weekly challenges to focus on that can earn us additional points. Last week's weekly challenge was keeping a food journal, which I've purposely avoided doing all pregnancy because I didn't really want to know how many calories I was allowing per day (since I knew I shouldn't be having more than about 400 extra per day above and beyond my normal amount).

I've "discovered" many times that food journals help me control my weight gain (or loss) more than anything else , but I just somehow keep forgetting to do it consistently (or consciously choosing not to because I'd rather remain ignorant).

This time was no different. I quickly discovered that I was embarrassingly beyond what I should be eating per day (sometimes by a couple thousand calories!) and that many of those calories were coming from pretty empty sources. I also discovered that I was going super heavy on the carbs and butter and not so heavy on the protein, which is not exactly what I've been counseled to do in this pregnancy. So now, because of this challenge, I try to keep my calories around 2,400 a day, making sure that most of those calories come from nutrient-dense sources (or at least not empty ones!).

Even though I'm definitely not obsessing over the numbers (because if I'm hungry, I'm not going to starve myself or the baby), I'm finally pleased to note that my weight gain is no longer out of control (like the 12 pounds I gained over the month of December), and that it's inching along forward right like it should be--at between a half pound and pound per week.

And even though sweets will always be my downfall, it's nice having this extra incentive to reach for a piece of fruit rather than chocolate, and to guzzle down a glass of water rather than (yet another) glass of juice, pop, or sparkling cider.

Basically, this wellness challenge was the wake-up called I needed; I needed a kick in the butt so that I would start taking better care of not only myself, but this growing baby. I'm far from perfect, but I'm at least doing better than I was a month ago, so it's a good start. I'm still only one for eight on the exercise though...

If you've ever been pregnant, what were your best secrets or tricks for staying as healthy as possible?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What Was Worth Reading in 2014 (& What Wasn't!)

I mentioned in several posts back that the first 13 weeks of pregnancy made me too sick to even read, which is partly the reason I took such a long break from blogging about what books I'd finished lately.

However, it's been several months since then, and I'd like to get back on track (especially since my reading started to finally pick up again at the very end of the year).

I decided I wanted to do my book reviewing a bit differently, though--instead of just giving a general synopsis of each book and calling it good, I wanted to categorize the books according to their readability and worth so that you, my lovely reader, can skim as you please and maybe get some good reading suggestions out of it.

Books I Loved in 2014 (and would read again!)  (in no specific order)

1. The Fault in our Stars by John Green

I actually prepared myself to be disappointed by this one because John Green for me, in the past, has been highly uncomfortable to read (esp. Looking for Alaska, which I still can't believe is marketed to a young adult audience). I was pleasantly surprised that Green kept the sex and language to a minimum in this one, and the storyline was surprisingly page-turning, considering the content of the book. The thing I loved most about the book was that it took what can be a very serious, depressing topic (cancer) and turned it into a pretty humorous novel. But I appreciated the fact that while Green put a lot of humor into the book, he never treated the subject *too* lightly, which meant the ending was still able to have quite an impact on me.

2. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Even though this was a bestseller, I hadn't heard too much about it, and I was surprised at how quickly I was caught up in the storyline of the American expatriates in Paris in the 1920's. The novel is basically about Ernest Hemingway's wife and her experience being one of the only non-artists/writers in her and her husband's social circle. The prose is beautiful in this, and though the ending is far from happy, it's still a beautiful story worth reading.

3. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey

I read this several times as a teenager but had never re-visited it as an adult until I was asked to teach it to my students last school year. Even though some of the anecdotes and tips no longer apply to me as a grown-up, I still appreciated the fresh reminders of the seven habits that were such a formative influence on me growing up.

4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I can't believe this book isn't on more recommended reading lists (it is, at least, on a couple). I feel like this book is the most relatable story on childhood I've ever read, and even though my circumstances were pretty different than the main character's growing up, I still felt like her past was MY past, somehow. And that's a pretty tricky feat to pull off. There actually isn't much of a plotline to this story, but I absolutely loved it, and I think it's one of the most accurate books when it comes to capturing the essence of what childhood and growing up are all about.

5. Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin 

Initially, I didn't like this book nearly as much as I liked Rubin's previous book, The Happiness Project. But, as time has gone on, I found that I refer to this book on Rubin's year-long mission to make her home a happier place just as much I refer to her original happiness project. Basically, anytime I'm feeling unmotivated, I can pick up this book and feel ready to conquer the world (of my home, at least) with zeal and enthusiasm. (Of course, perhaps part of the reason why I keep referring to this one instead of her other book is because I can't seem to find my copy of The Happiness Project anywhere. I really need to keep better track of who I loan stuff to...)

6. To Be a Runner by Martin Dugard

I'm a sucker for non-fiction books on running, and this one was no different. Instead of being strictly a memoir of an accomplished runner (like Scott Jurek's Eat & Run) or a "bookumentary" on distance running (Born to Run), this book was more all about the philosophy of running. I couldn't read it in large chunks at a time, but I loved the thoughts in it. I'll probably get my own copy of this when I pick up running again after I've had the baby. 

Books I'm Glad I Read Once (but probably won't read again)

1. The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee

Although I remember that I liked this book when I read it, I actually don't remember too much about the story, which is usually a sign that the book wasn't anything super spectacular. I do remember it was based during World War II (at least, I think?) and that there were some surprise twists at the end (although I can't for the life of me remember what they were). This would be a good book to read if you're not looking for much substance, but you want to be entertained.

2. Moon Over Manifest by Claire Vanderpool

The young adult genre has steadily gone further and further down on my priority list, which is perhaps part of the reason why I have 4 young adult books in this particular section. Since I don't find the books as relatable anymore, it's hard to get wrapped up in them like I used to. I remember that this particular book about the Prohibition period in history was interesting, but a little slow. I think it finally picked up near the end, but it's not one I'd read again.

3. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Even though I wouldn't read this one again, I've actually thought about it quite a bit since reading it (which is usually a pretty good sign). This dystopian book is all about a society that has created clones for the sole purpose of harvesting the organs later, and it talks about the moral issues that come up with that, especially the treatment and "raising" of the clones. Although I remember the ending being a bit disappointing (and I think a bit of a cliffhanger), I have thought about the ideas in this book quite a bit and have found myself relating it to many other things (including the movie The Island).

4. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

This was one of the most readable classics I've finished in a long time, and even though I liked it and could see why it was a classic, I probably wouldn't pick it up again. Perhaps it's because I'm not one to read sad stories over and over again, but I am really glad I read this South African novel at least once.

5. A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck

Another young adult novel, this one a series of mini-stories that all weave together to show the summers a young boy spent with his grandma in the country. There were some funny moments in this Depression-era Newbery winner, but I didn't think the book was all that compelling.

6. Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Santos

I had some students who read this and loved it (I caught them several times stifling laughter while reading it in class during silent reading time), so I figured I might as well check it out. While this book is hilarious--no doubt--it once again was not super relatable. After reading several young adult books off my Newbery list that been just that (well-written, but nothing really special for me), I'm honestly reconsidering my life goal of reading all the Newbery winners. Guess I'm just getting too old.

7. Divergent by Veronica Roth 

I wasn't sorry I read this book, but I actually enjoyed the movie quite a bit more (which is something most book lovers will never say). I liked having some additional background on some of the characters,  but I was actually glad that the movie had taken out some of the parts in this book, since some were super disturbing. As I tell everyone about the Divergent series, Roth had a cool idea for her dystopian trilogy, but it wasn't executed super well, and the writing is nothing memorable.

Books I Was Downright Disappointed By

1. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Oh. My. Heck. I kind of hated this book. I love Gilbert's writing style, but this book was one massive disappointment for me: too much obsessing over sex and too many pages. I just kept plugging away at it, hoping that the end could redeem what was quickly becoming one massively depressing story, but I found no such luck. If Gilbert ever writes another novel, I might not ever pick it up because of this book.

2. Insurgent by Veronica Roth

After the first book in the trilogy, the whole series just seemed to go downhill. The plot seemed to slow down, the characters, action, and settings seemed to get even more vague (to the point where I couldn't remember who was who and didn't even really care anymore), and I couldn't remember why I'd started the series in the first place.

3. Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Being a person who apparently needs things to be finished, I picked up the third book in the trilogy even though I wasn't excited about it. Not only did it take me forever to finish this last one, but I totally HATED the ending. I mean, I REALLY hated it. I thought it possibly one of the worst endings she possibly could have chosen, and the entire series seemed so meaningless by the last page of this book that I wanted to scream out in frustration that I'd wasted so much time reading them. (It didn't help that in this book, she all of a sudden switches to a dual-narrator perspective, which really threw me for a loop since the two voices were almost indistinguishable.) Seriously, I could keep myself awake at night with how mad the ending of this book made me.

4. Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus

I'm actually super disappointed that I was disappointed by this book because I absolutely love the blog these two men write. In fact, their blog was one of the things that got me pushed into the whole idea of simplification and minimalism, and I thought the book would be over-the-top motivating and give me the new push I needed to continue simplifying after my "50 Weeks to Organized" project was over. While this non-fiction read wasn't bad, it lacked the research, facts, and MEAT that I like in my non-fiction reads. I don't know if I'll even keep this little book, much less read it again. But we'll see.

5. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving     

Oh man, this book---it's on so many modern classics lists that I was sure that I would be totally blown away by it from the beginning. And, at first, I kind of was--the conflict was utterly fascinating (an unusual boy believes God has given him a special mission after he accidentally kills his best friend's mother with a baseball) and some of the lines were so profound that I just had to highlight them. But then the book started going between the narrator's boyhood self and his current self, and the current self was so boring to read about that I almost wept. Basically, the current narrator loved all the things I've always hated reading about--politics, war, and corruption--and I felt like whenever it switched to the present time, I was in a constantly whining vacuum that I could never escape from. By the time I finally got around to the end (which took me literally like 4 months), I was so sick of the book I wanted to cry, and I could barely enjoy the fact that even in my crippled mental state, I recognized that the ending was really quite brilliant. Basically, I can see why this is on those lists, but I'm counting my lucky stars that I never have to read it again!

What books did you read in 2014 that are worth passing on? Any major disappointments?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Bucket List: Volunteer at an Animal Shelter

One lesser-known fact about me is that dogs kind of freak me out---stemming back from a bite I got in the face when I was 3 and continuing throughout the years, my semi-fear of dogs has been pretty constant. If I know the dog and it obviously is friendly, I'm fine. If I don't know the dog and it's big and has a booming bark, well...

I kind of panic.

And then Matt will tell me that the dog can sense my fear.

Which makes me kind of panic more even as I'm trying hard not to panic.

This fear would all be fine and healthy (or at least not disruptive to my life) except for one looming Truth:

My husband absolutely adores dogs. Is kind of obsessed with them. Spends hours watching shows like The Dog Whisperer. Has been trying to convince me for years that we really "need" a puppy.

I knew that sooner or later, I would need to come to grips with the "dog thing."

So I put "Volunteer at an animal shelter" on my life's bucket list, hoping that the experience would maybe sate Matt's need for a puppy for at least a couple more years and give me some much-needed experience around the things. Thus, when I came across an article on Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah (one of the largest animal sanctuaries in the nation), I knew it was something we both needed to do.

Thanks to some money I inherited from my grandma, we were able to take the trip earlier than planned, over the Christmas holidays. At almost six months pregnant, some people might have mistakenly thought we were taking a "babymoon," but the trip was going to be so much more than just one last hurrah before becoming parents--

This trip was going to be about me hopefully conquering my issues with dogs once and for all and getting to cross a couple items off my bucket list, to boot.

Once we arrived for our shift at the Sanctuary, I could immediately tell that Matt was in his element. These were his people. (Kind of like how, whenever I'm around other teachers, I'm with "my people.") Watching all the dog lovers around me greet each puppy or say goodbye to a recently adopted canine, I started to get a bit anxious---

What had I gotten myself into? Were these dogs going to try and lick my face? Would they start growling at me because they could sense my growing sense of unease? What if all the dogs just chose to love Matt instead of me (including the dog(s) I was put in charge of)?

We signed in at the volunteer desk and got our first assignment working with the puppies.

I breathed a sigh of relief:


I like puppies.

We drove over to the puppy training center, waited awkwardly around for awhile for someone to show up to help us, then got our first assignment: walking two adorable siblings named Nibbler and Fry, who I kind of instantly fell in love with. We took the puppies out on the trails outside Val's Puppy Care Center and breathed in the crisp, chilly air. I felt like it was the first time I'd been out in the sun in weeks. The puppies were eager to get exploring, and, soon enough, it became apparent that "my" puppy (Fry) wanted to run (especially when his brother--led by Matt--was already bounding away ahead of us).


I hadn't anticipated this.

Although I'd run regularly 3 times a week up until I was about 7 weeks pregnant, I hadn't gone running one single time since then. But, figuring that the muscles would remember what to do and that my body could at least handle a slow jog, I allowed the dog to lead me into a run.

I'll spare you too much more on the details, but we'll just say that the pulling of the leash against my ever-expanding uterus basically meant I had such intense round ligament pain the next two days that I could barely walk, much less run with the dogs again.

Lesson #1: Don't run with the puppies when you're 6 months pregnant (unless you've been running regularly and your body is used to it).

The funny thing about it all though is that I couldn't even get upset over it--that puppy was so stinkin' cute, I was totally fine with the fact that it had basically disabled me for the next week. (Plus it meant that Matt was even more willing than usual to get up for me every time I needed something, so... not such a losing situation.)

After the walk, we took the same two puppies inside a room in the care center modeled after a typical house---it had a couch, dishwasher, fridge, etc., and its sole purpose was to help the dogs get used to a home environment so they'd adapt easier to being adopted. Basically, we were told to "socialize" the dogs for the next 45 minutes or so by just interacting and engaging with them as we normally would so they could get used to being around people and being in that kind of environment.

At first, I thought that both the pups would just play with Matt the whole time since he's much more a natural with animals than I am.

But the puppy who'd been assigned to me started snuggling in the jacket I'd just taken off and laying there calmly and happily while I scratched his belly and rubbed behind his ears.

My heart was kind of melting over it, actually, and the small part of my brain that was still somewhat reasonable by this point was glad that our apartment doesn't allow pets.

After about 45 minutes, we got two other puppies to replace the two we had been with, and the routine started all over again (minus the walk this time). When the other two dogs came in, I noticed how different these puppies were from the first two. They were milder in energy but more interested in playing with toys (and not as interested in engaging with us personally, per se).

And thus was my lesson #2: Dogs, like people, have vastly different personalities, and I get along with some of those personalities better than others.

I also realized that if (when?) we do get a dog, I'll need to spend ample time with several different puppies before I know which one is a good fit for us. (By the way, I realize most of these "lessons" are probably fairly obvious to everyone else in the world, but I have purposely avoided spending a lot of time around dogs, so I just never really understood all this for myself.)

This other batch of puppies was still fun though:

(Look how happy he is--how can I keep saying no to a dog for the rest of our lives 
when my husband looks this delighted?!)

Our first day wrapped up with us taking a dog out in a cart who didn't have full use of his hind legs and then helping (watching?) while he got some physical therapy in the play yard. While I cheered on his progress every time he pulled himself forward using those hind-leg muscles, I made friends with the trainer's toy poodle that she brought, who seemed to want to stay and cuddle me rather than join the others in the rambunctious play.

I was okay with that.

The second day, we helped train a puppy in a trainer-led class, where we were given the most spastic, treat-happy dog I've ever encountered. 

Lesson #3: I need a dog who is more interested in people than treats (which Fry, the first puppy I was assigned, was.)

After that, we were led to "The Clubhouse," which only allows volunteers 18 and older.

That should have been my sign.

We walked into the octagonal-shaped building, and I was immediately surrounded by a chorus of booming barks and bellows coming from some of the biggest dogs I'd ever seen, including one particularly intense-looking mastiff. I immediately tensed up and then just as immediately tried to make myself calm as the trainer came over. He explained that any dogs with red collars were "staff only" and were not to be touched or handled by us.

He didn't have to tell me twice.

Then he asked if we wanted to take one of the purple-collar dogs (meaning that they weren't safe for everyone, like the green-collar dogs, but they were more people-ready than the red-collared ones) out on an excursion, and Matt and I looked at each other.

"We do have that old Scout blanket in the back we could cover the seat with..."

"Sure. Why not?"

That is how I found myself sitting in the front seat with a heavy, pink-draped, blue-eyed dog squirming around in my lap who just didn't understand that she was supposed to sit in the back and stay there and that she definitely wasn't supposed to have her sharp claws around my pregnant belly and on my sensitive legs.

Lesson #4: Apparently you need to train dogs to stay in the back of the car, otherwise they just go wherever they want. Who knew? (Probably everyone besides me once again, I know...)

I tried to feed the dog treats while we drove to where we were taking our "excursion" so that she wouldn't block Matt's view as he drove, and I quickly learned lesson #5: be careful how you offer grown dogs treats because their teeth hurt a lot more than a puppy's will when they take it from your hand.

Scratched up and with slightly smarting fingers, I gladly gave the dog a gentle push out of the car and handed her over to Matt, saying that I just wanted to take pictures on this particular walk rather than try and handle the leash myself (a smart move, considering that my uterus didn't think it could take much more pulling). 

I toddled on behind Matt and the dog, keeping a comfortable difference (except for when the dog looked back, knowing that I still held the treats bag, and I decided that the only way that she might still like me was if I gave her one every now and then). For some reason, I just hadn't bonded with this dog at all, and I was fine taking my sweet time on our little hike. 

The whole time we were volunteering, I couldn't stop pondering this revelation about how different all the dogs were in their personalities---I couldn't believe that this was something I hadn't realized more fully before, and it also made me appreciate how good my husband was (because, while he had his favorite dogs too, he genuine loved and cared for and liked being around all of them).

 We took Seneca back to the scary octagon room, where the mastiff still looked like he wanted to eat me and where I tried to avoid eye contact with any of the larger canines. Since we still had about 25 minutes left in our shift, the trainer asked if we would like to go into one of the runs to interact with the dogs.

Matt looked at me doubtfully, then turned back to the trainer. "My wife kind of has a fear of big dogs..."

To which, almost surprising myself, I said, "But it's something I need to get over, so what would you recommend?"

And that's how I found myself in a run with two huge dogs---a purple-collar Rottweiler and a green-collar (super hyperactive) golden lab, with the trainer telling us we could take them through their door leading outside and play with them for the next while. I thought the green-collared lab would be my best bet, but that dog was running so fast up and down the fence that my pregnant legs couldn't keep up. 

So I turned to the Rottweiler.

Maybe it was because the dog was old or maybe it was because he had always been more mild than what you'd imagine that breed to be, but that dog didn't instill any fear in me once I saw how sweet he was. I felt like me and that dog kind of understood each other---he was too old and too tired to run up and down fences, and my round ligaments hurt and my pregnant body just couldn't take much more movement. 

So there we sat, me and the Rottweiler, just taking it all in, me petting his head every now and then and scratching behind his ears (and then spending the next five minutes trying to pick all his hair off of me).

Lesson #5: Don't judge a dog by its breed (or by the color of its collar).

As we left the Sanctuary, I realized a few more things:

--I felt so GOOD after volunteering. I felt like we'd made a difference (albeit small) in those dogs' lives, and I felt happy we'd gone. In fact, I'd had a lot more fun than I thought I would, and even the anxiety-producing parts just added to the excitement of the overall experience. I couldn't wait to volunteer at another animal shelter, and it was so fun for me to see how happy the whole thing had made Matt, too.

--I guess I'm more of a dog lover than I thought---I'm just picky about which ones I want to spend a lot of time with.

--I was totally stupid to think that the experience would sate Matt's desire for owning his own dog. In fact, the whole thing has made the fact that we don't currently have a puppy almost unbearable now for him. I guess I should have seen that coming.

In case you're wanting to volunteer at Best Friends (and I highly recommend the experience!), you can go to their website and check out what they're all about. The youngest volunteers they allow need to be at least six years old, and in certain animal enclosures, you do need to be an adult. If you bring minors with you, they need to be with an adult/guardian at all times.

To actually volunteer, you need to fill out some online forms, watch a 20-minute training video, and sign up (the earlier the better) on their volunteer shift calendar. You'll usually find out within 48 hours whether or not your shift (and your volunteer request) has been approved.

Seriously, this experience was amazing, and I'm even already scheming about when we can try and make it back.

The best thing about all this? Even though I'm not totally over my "thing" with dogs, I'm a heck of a lot better than I was before, and I know now I can condition myself to become as much a dog lover as my husband is.

Well, almost.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Spending Freeze: Week One

One week into January's spending freeze, and I'm somehow already broke.

I know exactly why, of course--

You see, my school district does this thing that I HATE where they pay us much earlier than normal "to help with the Christmas expenses." Normally, I get paid the last day of each month (as long as the banks are open), so I'm used to getting my paycheck around the 30th-31st. In December, though, they pay us on the last day that we actually work, which for last month was Dec. 19th.

And then we don't get paid again until January 30th.

I'm not kidding.

So basically, money is always tight in January, no matter how responsible I try to be with that early paycheck.

Luckily, as far as the actual spending fast is going, we're doing pretty well--we haven't eaten out or bought any movies, and even though I've sorely wanted to not pack my own lunch a couple days this week and just get lunch at the hospital ($5 lunch special!), I've gritted my teeth and packed it every day anyway (or, let's be honest, Matt has packed it for me every day).

We haven't been perfect, though--Matt went out one afternoon to see a movie with his brother (but used the last of his Christmas money, so it was okay), I bought a couple unplanned things at the grocery store because they were having their case lot sales (and we were running low on some items in our pantry), and Matt had forgotten he had pre-ordered a book from Amazon months ago that just came out this week (and was therefore debited out of his account this week).

There also was a situation that almost came up that I would have for sure broken one of the rules for--a dear friend from El Salvador flew up for the week, and I was hoping to meet her somewhere down southwards for lunch or dinner. However, the reunion never ended up panning out, so I was spared having to spend any money, but I sure was willing to bend the rules for such a special occasion (something that truly might have been a once-in-a-lifetime chance).

Here's a breakdown of our spending for the week:

Gas - $16.80 (joyous day! a full tank for under $20!)
Groceries - $75.00 (about $35 more than normal due to the case lot sale)
Utilities (Questar) - $30.36
Rent - $565
Auto/Renter's Insurance - $106.51
Book (that Matt had pre-ordered) - $18.23
Movie Ticket (bought with Christmas money) - $6.75
Grad School Application Fees - $120.00

I don't think I'd realized until I started this spending freeze how many social opportunities come our way that involve spending money. I was somehow in the mindset that since opportunities to go out to dinner and movies with friends and family were few and far between, we should take advantage of every one.

Now I realize that these opportunities seem to come up all the time--at least 2-3 times a month. Of course, I'm not saying that we should never use our money to go out and enjoy ourselves and create memories with our loved ones. All I'm saying is that I didn't realize how much money was going towards that until it was no longer really an option.

It also made me realize that apparently I have a little bit of embarrassment about turning people's social invitations down for money reasons, which is something I'll need to work on.

Looking at our expenses for the last few months left me thinking about another thing, too--it seems like nearly every month, we have some sort of "special" expense thrown at us, like a car registration, Christmas or other holiday, or--as the case is this month--grad school application fees. I'm always wondering where all my paycheck seems to go every month (since on paper, I should have at least a few hundred dollars of flex money that can be spent on leisure or saved), but lately we haven't had that due to those aforementioned "special" expenses (that somehow seem to come up every month...).

I won't be able to tell how much we've been able to save until the end of the month, but I'd say we're off to a decent start.

I didn't buy us any ice cream at the grocery store, anyway.

I do have a question for you other people living in apartments though---how much do you spend per month on utilities, including water, electricity, and gas? Altogether in the winter, we'll usually spend from $120-150, which seems a little on the high side for only a two-bedroom place. What do you think?

Monday, January 5, 2015

26 Weeks & I Feel Like I've Been Pregnant Forever

Today, my first day back at the school in two and a half weeks, brought comments like the following:

"I probably shouldn't say this, but over the break, you got REALLY pregnant." (from a fellow teacher)


"Mrs. Meidell, you came back! I thought you would have gone and had your baby!" (from a student)

Basically, it has been brought to my attention numerous times in the past 48 hours that I have managed to double in size in the span of less than a month. Luckily, many of the comments were accompanied by people telling me I had "The Glow" and not commenting on my ever-more-apparent waddle.

Only 6 months in, and I honestly kind of feel like I can't remember what it's like to not be pregnant.

I can't remember what it's like to run (or even walk quickly) without my round ligaments feeling like they're going to allow my legs to snap off.

I can't remember what it's like to drop something on the floor and stoop down to retrieve it without a second thought as to how I'm actually going to get myself down there.

I can't remember what it's like to sleep through the night without having to use the bathroom or eat something to quell the raging hunger beast within (or have to do both).

I can't remember what it's like to know that the same clothes that fit me last week are for sure going to still fit me this week.

I can't remember what it felt like to sleep on my stomach (or wake up to find that I'm sleeping on my back and feel no guilt or terror).

I can't remember what it feels like to have people ask me questions about something other than my pregnancy.

And yet...

I love the way the baby's kicks feel like happy bubbles as we drive home from work together.

I melt every time Matt pats my belly and talks to our little girl.

I wonder at the miraculous way my body knows its way around this thing called pregnancy--how it knows how to stretch, mold, and change in order to nurture this growing life inside me.

And even though I've never been baby hungry, I'm sure getting excited to meet our beautiful little girl.

Only 3 more months to go.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Financial Friday: Spending Freeze

I think I wrote down once that December was a time for excess and that January is a time for paring down. It seems it happens every year---after the decadence of overeating, overspending, and over-receiving, I am ready come the new year for eating healthier, spending less, and downsizing.

This month I want to kick one of those things up a notch.

There was a time near the beginning of my marriage that we barely had enough to make ends meet--I've mentioned it before, but we were spending less than $100/month on groceries and were pretty much living on the bare minimum. Then time and good fortune and heaven-sent help brought  us stable jobs and a slightly more roomy income. Matt and I have always talked about how we want to keep our expenses down to what we're used to rather than increase our spending when our incomes increase. We both have lofty goals of retiring comfortably (hopefully with a couple million in our 401k's), traveling to various exotic locations, and of owning a large yard someday. We know that to get to these goals, we'll need to be in frugal habits now and save liberally over many years.

I thought we were doing a decent job at this. And, by many standards in our nation, we're doing better than many--we have no debt whatsoever to speak of, we have a little money stashed away in easily-accessible savings, and we both have retirements accounts we've been contributing the max amount on for years.

However, we don't have the 3-6 months' worth of expenses stashed away in our emergency fund that I've been working on for two years now. At first, I chalked it up to medical bills, prenatal care, and taking advantage of our last stretch of time together as just a twosome. But after doing some reflecting and some checking and some reviewing, I discovered (with a bit of a shock) that we'd done exactly what we'd sworn not to do those three years ago---

We were living up to our newly increased income, almost to the dollar.

Our ascent to this new level of monthly spending started out innocently enough--once Matt got a part-time job to help us out (while he was still a full-time student), we finally felt like we had some breathing room. We took advantage of the new income by having weekly date nights out, a luxury we definitely couldn't afford before. From there, we somehow came up with the concept that Matt's income was our "fun money," which seemed to give us license to do whatever we wanted as long as the money was there. We found ourselves going out to the movies a couple times a month, regularly hitting up the bookstore, and spending at least $40-50 most months on buying new DVD's for our collection.

Once I got pregnant, the spending only seemed to get worse since now I had what felt like unavoidable cravings that must be satisfied and new maternity clothes to buy (even though I'd inherited plenty from my two older sisters).

But I'm putting my foot down. With the dawn of 2015 here, the baby's arrival seems much closer than it did before. All of a sudden, the realization that I'm about to drop thousands and thousands of dollars on medical bills has come crashing down around me, and I've realized we need to get our financial butts in gear, and quick.

So, we're doing a "spending freeze" in January.

What's a spending freeze, you ask?

Well, it basically means we will not be buying anything that's not absolutely necessary for the entire month. It means that, once the few restaurant/movie gift cards we got for Christmas are used up, we will not eat out nor go out to the movies. It means we won't be buying any clothes or books or DVDs for the duration of the month. It means making a list of needs and wants, and only sticking to buying things off the former list.

It means it will probably be a long month.

To start me off, here's a quick summary of some of our needs/wants:

- rent
- utilities
- cell phone/Internet
- groceries
- a new ice scraper for our Buick (since our last one broke yesterday due to the amount of ice on the windshield)
- car insurance
- one last belated Christmas gift

- 7-11 hot chocolate (oh, this will be so hard to give up!)
- maternity sweaters and tees
- a haircut/color (I need a haircut so badly, but I'm hoping I can get a free trim from a family member and maybe do something more drastic right before the baby comes)
-  eating out (this includes not only date nights, but also those days when I don't feel like packing a lunch from home)
- sweets/ice cream (lucky for me, we can make a lot of sweets from ingredients we have on hand if things start to get desperate)
- books and DVDs
- movies at the theater (luckily we have two movie gift certificates right now, so I won't feel too deprived on this one yet)
- new picture frames/prints to hang up in our bathroom and bedroom

- a hypnobirthing class to prepare me for labor since that's the method I've chosen. (I'm undecided as to the necessity of this because my sisters say that as long as I faithfully practice with the c.d.'s and DVD and books they've loaned me, I should be fine without a class. However, I've always felt more comfortable learning new things under the guidance of an instructor, so I don't know yet if this class is a need or want.)
- other prenatal classes, like ones for breastfeeding or for infant safety (luckily, I don't have to decide yet on these ones since I can take either of these up until I deliver)

I'm sure there are more, but this covers the basics I think. What are your thoughts on the prenatal classes--needs or wants? And have you ever done a spending freeze? Any tips?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Massive Photo Summary of Most of December

Until I really discovered blogging, I was an avid journaler. And by "avid," what I really mean to say is that I at least HAD a current journal at every stage of my life and wrote in it anywhere from a dozen times a year to almost daily. As anyone who's ever tried to keep a personal journal can attest, once you get off the wagon of writing in it daily, it becomes harder and harder to work up the motivation to write in it again because you know you have a ton of "catch-up" to play, which is a bit mentally draining. What would usually happen with me and my journal would be that I would either do a massive dump (where some pretty big life events only got recorded as succinct bullet points in a huge catch-up entry), or I would just pretend like the last several months didn't happen and just start afresh.

Today I'm choosing the former option.

I'm sure I should have done the 2014 holidays more justice by doing each of these events as its own post, but you do what you mentally can do, and this is about all I've got after making this tired body stay up until midnight last night to ring in the new year. (In case you were wondering about how fabulous our New Year's Eve was, we spent it here at home, sipping sparkling cider and eating homemade orange rolls while playing one of our favorite card games (Hand & Foot) and watching one of our new movies from Christmas (Hundred Foot Journey).

We party hard here at the Meidell home.

But now, in about one minute and 42 seconds, I give you a run-down of what went down last month:

1. The extended family Christmas party on my side near the beginning of the month.

This party was a little hard for me this year---it was the first time we'd brought together the entire extended family since my grandma's passing in April, and the yearly party just didn't seem the same without her. My aunts and mom did kind of theme the whole party around her though, which felt right---instead of us bringing white elephants from our own homes, they had wrapped up various odds and ends of my grandma's that we swapped.

We also took back our ornaments from "The Grandpa Tree" (below) that we had given to my grandma immediately following my grandpa's death over ten years ago. He had died just a couple weeks before Christmas and she didn't have the energy to put up a tree, so we bought her a little one and each put on an ornament that represented us or some memory we had with our grandpa. She'd put it up every Christmas since, so it was pretty hard to take it all apart and take back the ornaments. I think everyone was trying not to cry. (I know I was.)

The grandkids also got a big surprise--my grandma had left each of us some money in her will, which is why Matt and I were able to take our spontaneous vacation down to Kanab/Arizona this last week. When I received the money, I thought for awhile about what I wanted to spend it on. I knew I could use it to get something I really wanted but wouldn't have the money for right now (like a camera lens or a nicer t.v.), but using the money to buy ourselves more stuff just didn't seem right. My grandma was all about family and spending time with us, so I know she'd be happy we spent the money to create memories.

To help lighten the sadness of missing my grandma, we incorporated something new into the festivities---"Minute to Win It" games that ended up being hilarious to play (and watch). Even though my team lost pretty dismally, I still had a blast.

A picture of me in all my pregnant glory. I felt pretty huge then, but now, just 4 weeks later, I feel like I've doubled in size. So it goes.

2. Mormon Tabernacle Christmas Concert & Lights on Temple Square (two different nights)

I've talked before about our tradition of going to see the MoTab Christmas Concert, so I won't be too wordy here. This year it was fun because the Muppets were among the guests asked to perform, as well as the guy that plays Prince Hans on Frozen.  It was the first time Matt didn't fall asleep during the concert. It was also the last time Matt's dad would be in the Christmas program, as he is reaching the mandatory retirement age of 60 that the Choir has in place.

A week after the concert, we tried to meet up with my dad (who was in town) and some of my siblings at Temple Square, but it didn't exactly work out. Matt and I still enjoyed walking around and listening to some of the local high school choirs perform, though.

(We did end up spending time with my dad later, but unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of that.)

3. Our annual "special dinner" right before we celebrate Christmas with just the two of us.

I've talked before about how Matt and I always have our Christmas a few days early (since we're always with our families on the actual holiday and live a bit too far away to want to try and do both in the same day). The night before we do our stockings and gifts to each other, we always do a special dinner of some kind.

This year, I tried my hand out at a Christmas ham for the first time, and we invited our good friends over for dinner and games. It's exactly the way I like to spend the holidays--good food, good company, and plenty of game-playing.

4. Our early Christmas morning (three days before the actual holiday).


5. The extended family party on Matt's side, which always includes an attempt at the Nativity with all the great-grandkids, a white elephant gift exchange, and a LOT of food.

Important things to note:

*I have realized, through looking at these pictures, that our new camera lens is not quite as great indoors as it is outside. Therefore, I apologize for the not-so-great quality on most of these pics.

*We didn't have my mother-in-law take any pictures of just Matt and me (like I've done in years past for sending out a Christmas card). I'm actually pretty sad about this one. (About not getting the pictures taken, I mean---the card is usually more stress than it's worth for me.)

*Now that I'm (almost) caught up, hopefully my blog posts will get a little more interesting. I want to try and find a happy medium between how I was blogging initially (at least 4-5 times a week) to how I'm blogging now (5 times a month if I'm lucky). Maybe that will be part of my resolutions for 2015, eh?

Anywho, happy new year! And congratulations if you actually made it to the end of this post.

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