Sunday, January 31, 2016

Some of My Favorite Resources on Living Simply & Minimalism


I first encountered the idea of minimalism back in 2013, and it has held me riveted ever since. I first got into the idea while I was in the throes of doing my 50 Weeks to Organized Project and was looking for inspiration to keep on going. Since then, what had simply been a way of helping me get rid of a bunch of clutter has turned into a complete paradigm shift that influences many of my decisions.

There are many different definitions of minimalism, but to me, it means cutting out all the unnecessary in order to give full attention to the most important. For me, it started out with massively paring down our possessions (which I'm in the process of doing again now that we have a baby in the mix and way more stuff than I'd like) and has led to me intentionally carving out more time to pursue my interests, cutting back on unnecessary spending, and pursuing experiences and learning rather than "stuff."

A few years back, there were only a few places to really glean inspiration, but nowadays, the idea of minimalism and simple living is having a major moment.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Websites

Becoming Minimalist

This is the one that started it all for me. In it, you'll find pages upon pages of resources and inspiration and real-life examples of people letting go of the excess in order to embrace more fully the most important. 

The Art of Simple 

This one is more all-encompassing than Becoming Minimalist, in that it includes posts on other topics such as books, travel, parenting, etc. But what I love about this particular resource is that the same thread of pursuing the simple but meaningful life is throughout the entire thing.

Cait Flanders

If you need a kick in the pants to cut down on excess spending, this is the source to go to for motivation. The blogger behind Blonde on a Budget is now in the middle of a two-year shopping ban, and reading her rejection of living the typical consumerist lifestyle is inspiring and informative.

Valerie Keinsley

These last two blogs are more "simple living lifestyle" (meaning that rather than just including resources and tips, they offer beautiful snapshots into the lives of people actively pursuing a simpler life). I love The Peace Notes because its messages and personal stories are uplifting and beautiful without being unattainable.

Practising Simplicity

Like I said above, this is another example of someone trying to put into practice the tenets of the simple life. The photography on this site is gorgeous and is what first drew me in, but I've loved her take on the benefits of living a simpler life, too.

Books

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Pursuing the simple life is not a new idea; it's not a new idea now, nor was it a new idea in Thoreau's time. But Thoreau was perhaps one of the first to document his journey about his pursuit of simplicity. See more of my thoughts on Walden here and here.

7 by Jen Hatmaker

I mentioned this one just a few blog posts ago when I was cataloging the books I'd read the last half of 2015. In case you missed the post, this book made it to the top of the list due to the fact that I considered it "life-changing." In case you missed the review, check out what the book's all about here.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

This book has been everywhere, and for good reason--this little volume is equal parts philosophy and practical to-do, and it will change the way you think of "tidying" your house forever. I only wish this would have been around when I was in the middle of the 50 Weeks to Organized project. (Read my more full review on the book here.)

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Confession: I haven't actually read all of this one yet, but I do own it and have started to read it. From my readings so far, I'd say this book will do for your time what Kondo's Tidying Up will do for your physical space.

Living with Less: an Unexpected Key to Happiness by Joshua Becker

This tiny book by the blogger behind Becoming Minimalist was a delightful surprise--I had been looking for motivation to keep on going with my massive clutter overhaul, and I found plenty of inspiration in this little volume that not only gives practical advice on how to pare down your life but also gives you the author's scriptural take on the whole idea of simple living. Ever since I read this, I have not failed to notice that holy writ is absolutely chock-full of scriptures exhorting us to pursue only the most essential in life.

Posts

I've done several posts myself on what simple living and minimalism mean for me. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Bare Necessities 

A post on how living with a chronic condition has taught me to only do what is absolutely essential and not worry about the rest. I did a similar post while pregnant here.

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

A recap of what life has looked like for me after wrapping up the 50 WTO project and what I've actually carried over from the experience (and what things I'm still working on).

19 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Clean the House

Since I have a terrible time working up the motivation and energy to clean (since I hate it so much), I came up with a list of 19 tricks I use to get myself going on tidying when it's the last thing I feel like doing.

One Truth About Simplifying 

A post about an important realization I had while going through each item in our home and asking myself if I really wanted to hang onto it or not.

Thoughts on Minimalism 

Here's where I put my thoughts down for the very first time on the whole concept of minimalism and what it was starting to mean for me in my own life. It's interesting for me to look back and and see how much my ideas have evolved and been added upon since then.

Thoughts on Simplifying & Taking Back Control of My Life

This post marked a gigantic shift in my life, both on the blog and with my personal life in general. This is where I took the idea of minimalism one step further, evolving it from where it had been before about my possessions to where it is now, which is the pursuit of what is the most important.


Hope you'll take some time to check out some of these resources and get inspired on how you can seek out what truly matters in your own life.

And by all means, if you know of other resources, please recommend them in the comments!





Saturday, January 30, 2016

My Weirdly Effective Technique for Keeping our Table Clear of Clutter


***CONFESSION***

Our kitchen table (and all of our kitchen counters, for that matter) are almost always filled with clutter of some kind. After my 50 Weeks to Organized Project back in 2013, I got really good at keeping certain surfaces clean, like the bathroom counter--a major win--and the tops of "decorative surfaces," like the piano, bookshelves, etc.

But the surfaces we used every day? The ones where the mail got stashed, the purse got thrown, the food got eaten, the chopping/peeling/dinner prep happened?

Not so much.

I've tried it all, folks---handling mail as soon as it comes into the house, hanging up my coat and purse right when getting home (or soon thereafter, anyway), getting rid of almost a third of our possessions, not letting myself pass a counter and go into another room without putting something away...but nothing has kept those puppies cleared off for more than a few days (usually until my next big cooking project).

The fact is, it has never been in my nature to be tidy (see exhibits A, B, and C), but at the beginning of this month, while starting out on Apartment Therapy's January Cure (a great motivator to start some spring cleaning!), I stumbled across a trick that actually seems to work better than anything else---

Buying fresh flowers for the table.

It's stupid, really, why this even works, but there's just something so sad about seeing a beautiful vase of flowers get overshadowed by a bunch of junk, so I actually tend to keep the table free of clutter when I have fresh flowers on it. (It helps that we're actually eating most of our meals at the table now instead of on the couch while watching t.v., which forces us to regularly make sure the table is clear).

So there you go--a $5-15 investment in grocery store flowers every other week or so is apparently the secret to getting that kitchen clutter under control.

Who knew?


For you neat types out there---what tricks do you use for keeping clutter at bay?

Friday, January 29, 2016

Today


Today I took a sick day from work due to the fact that our entire household seems to have come down with something. Owing to our slightly varying symptoms, it's been difficult to tell if we've all come down with the same something or with three different somethings, but either way, it's not been much fun.

Today I felt bad for my students because I submitted the sub request at midnight last night and came up with the sub plan at the same time, and I have no clue how coherent it was. I for sure know though that the lesson plans had nothing to do with what we were currently working on...

Today, after nearly five years of marriage, I saw my husband throw up for the first time, and I myself have felt like I'm in the first trimester of pregnancy all over again, complete with feeling a dreadful nausea constantly but without even the temporary relief of being actually able to throw anything up.

Today we have eaten applesauce and Sprite and buttered toast, and I am still undecided about what gluten does to my body (if anything, really). I've added gluten back in for about six days now, and I'm torn about which symptoms are owing to which thing (to sickness, to the dry, cold weather, or to the gluten). I told my husband that after my two slices of toast this morning, I was going back off of gluten (which for some reason he found funny...).


Today I put in Frozen so that I could relax for a minute, and today I present you with "Raven's Frozen Face"--a look of complete rapture and focus as she stares, transfixed, at the singing figures on the screen. That movie has magical properties, I swear.

Today I discovered that even when I'm sick, I feel like I need to be getting stuff accomplished. A small part of me always longs to get a little sick just so I can feel justified in taking a break, and now that I am actually sick, I'm still puttering around, feeling stupidly guilty about trying to take time to do things like watch a chick flick or read or just sit and stare at the ceiling.

Today I told Matt that maybe I shouldn't read my current fiction book--The Husband's Secret--right before bed because I'm worried it will give me nightmares. I almost never read books that are "pageturners" or "thrillers," and now I remember why. I am still enjoying it, though (until I turn off the light to go to sleep, anyway).

Today I kept looking at the clock and thinking about what period I'd be teaching if I were at the school. The funny thing was, every time I looked at the clock and saw the time, I'd think--"Wow. I really teach for this long every day?! This is the longest day ever..."

Today I realized that to keep my new year's resolution of blogging at least 12 times every month, I'll have to blog today, tomorrow, and Sunday. Looks like you'll be hearing from me a lot this weekend...

 
Hope your weekend is not full of sickness and throw-up bowls and fuzzy brains, like another person's that I know...
 


Monday, January 25, 2016

January Adventure: Dinosaur Bones & Gluten-Free Bakeries


The original plan for our January adventure involved large amounts of salty air (not from the beach, unfortunately, but from Antelope Island) and plenty of outdoors time for all three of us, but the real January adventure ended up involving large amounts of really, really old bones and some pretty delicious gluten-free fare at a downtown Salt Lake bakery due to Mrs. Sleet Storm coming to pay an unexpected visit on the very day we'd planned to go out.

It definitely still beats staying at home watching Jane Austen movies for the millionth time and wondering what to make for dinner, though!


In case you hadn't guessed our location (or are not from Utah), we ended up spending our day adventure at the Natural History Museum of Utah in Salt Lake, which is known for its full dinosaur skeletons, its floor dedicated to Native American tribes across the U.S., and its focus on the local geography of our lovely state.

I decided that I am undecided when it comes to museums--on the one hand, I feel like I should LOVE museums more than anything since I would consider myself to be somewhat "intellectual" and am definitely a person who loves to learn. On the other hand, because science was never my strong point in school and a lot of science involves "close observation" (also not my strong point) and a lot of museums involve science, I feel like museums can be a little on the dry side for me.

All that undecidedness aside, though, I still thoroughly enjoyed our time at the museum with Matt's parents, and I even learned a thing or two, thankyouverymuch.
 

Additionally, any trip that ends with a detour to a bakery is a success in my book (especially now that baked treats have been few and far between for me lately), and the gluten-free bakery we stopped at (Sweet Cake Bake Shop, in downtown Salt Lake) was worth every penny.


Quick Info for the Natural History Museum of Utah: 

Address: 301 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City, Utah
Hours: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. every day but Wednesday, which is 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Cost of Admission: $13/adult, $11/young adult, $9/child, children 3 and under = free
Things of Interest: five floors of displays and interactive science-based learning modules about everything from dinosaurs to geology to weather patterns to biology; gift shop; cafe

A great start to our monthly adventures!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

100 Hours in the Kitchen Project


As I mentioned in my blog post about my new year's resolutions, I'm trying out a new project this year that's meant to reignite my passion for cooking (which has severely petered down the last several months due to all the dietary changes I've been making).

There's a theory that says that you need to spend 10,000 focused hours on something in order to become a master, but another, more recent theory speculates that it only really takes 100 focused hours of doing something in order to become much more advanced than a beginner. So although I'm no beginner in the kitchen, I sometimes feel like I am a beginner lately because of all my dietary restrictions (which luckily just mainly include staying off gluten and going easy on the red meat and greasy foods right now).

But here's the project:

Each quarter, I will focus on a different cooking "genre" and try out 12 new recipes under that genre during those three months. My goal is for each of the recipes to challenge me in some way, whether that's because they consist of foods I normally don't cook with or eat or that they require some more advanced knowledge of cooking than I currently have. If the recipe doesn't fit either of those requirements, I have to at least make a few adjustments to it so that I can get more comfortable with the idea of making recipes "my own" instead of following them to the letter, like I often do.

My focus for the first quarter of the year is SOUPS, CHOWDERS, and CHILIS.

My reasons behind this first choice of category were three-fold:

1 - There's nothing so great as a hot soup on a cold day, so if I'm going to focus on soups, chilis, and chowders, now is the time.

2 - I'm terrible at making anything besides just a "main dish" most of the time, so making soups frequently will hopefully force me to actually think about having side dishes since they naturally lend themselves to pairs (like soup and salad or soup and a sandwich).

3 - It's hard to go wrong with a soup, so it's the perfect place to start branching out with my experimentation (plus, you can apparently make soup out of almost everything, which is an important bonus as I haven't been too great at going to the grocery store lately). Oh, and because you can make soup out of almost everything, it's really helping me to clear random stuff from my freezer, fridge, and pantry.

As far as my progress with this project, I'm right on track with my goal since I've already made four new soup/chili recipes and it's not even February yet. I've already noticed that this project coupled with our new habit of eating at the table every night with no distractions has naturally lent itself to getting more enjoyment out of meals and in making it much more natural to add in side dishes and other courses (like dessert!). I'm still not as good as I used to be at cooking every night, but I'm much better than I was even a month ago.

And now, to end the post, I'll share an elimination-diet friendly (no gluten, corn, soy, or dairy) chili recipe that I heavily modified from the Internet in order to make it my own:


Ground Turkey Chili

1/2 can tomato paste
red or green pepper (or a few mini sweet peppers), diced
olive oil
small onion (red or yellow), diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. ground turkey
1 can kidney beans
2 cans stewed tomatoes + 1 can water
2 small zucchinis, grated (with peel is fine--just make sure you wash them first)
2 carrots, grated
salt
pepper
chili powder
paprika
cumin
cinnamon (pinch)
cayenne pepper (pinch)
chopped cilantro and avocado, for garnish
dairy-free "cheese" crumbles (optional)

1. Heat olive oil in large pot.
2. Saute peppers, onion, garlic, and ground turkey until onions are soft and turkey is cooked through.
3. Add the other ingredients (minus the garnishes) and add spices to taste (about a teaspoon of the first four, with about a tablespoon of cumin).
4. When the chili is heated through, garnish with the chopped cilantro, avocado, and cheese shreds.


If you've got any great soup recipes, send them my way, please! (Bonus points if they're already gluten-free!)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

What Was Worth Reading the Last Half of 2015 (& What Wasn't)


Thanks to the habit I started in November of reading about 40 pages on most days (by reading ten pages of four different books a day), I got a decent number of books finished before the year petered out.

I thought I'd pass along a few of my thoughts since I know that many of you are always on the lookout for good reads, too.

Books that Changed My Life

I don't use the term "changed my life" lightly, here--it takes a LOT for a book to be considered life-changing for me, and I was lucky enough to read two different books the last half of 2015 that definitely qualified for this category:


7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker

I loved this book so much that I forced myself to only read a little bit of it each day so as to make it last longer. This real-life experiment about a woman (and her family) who tried an extreme challenge each month to counteract all the "excess" they felt was in their life totally and completely (and sometimes uncomfortably) challenged me to look deeply into where many of my daily life choices (especially as a consumer) were leading me.

Basically, for each month, her and her family focused on a different area that they wanted to try and pare down drastically in order to focus on what was truly most important. The seven categories were food, clothes, possessions (in general), trash, wasting time, shopping, and stress. Each month, she participated in an extreme challenge to rid herself of the excess in each category and then wrote (often humorously) about the results.

I thought this book was the perfect blend of inspiration and humor, and Hatmaker was successfully able to pull off basically preaching a sermon without getting too, well, preachy. While her and her family have accomplished many things and served in incredible ways, I never felt like her journey was too "out there" to be attainable for me, too.

When I finished this, I started to dive back into my minimalism quest, this time armed with a whole lot of new insight (both spiritual and worldly) that I didn't have before.

SOOO worth your time if you feel your life could do with a lot less "excess."

Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin

I have long been a Rubin fan. In fact, before her bestselling book The Happiness Project came out (which I actually base a whole unit around in my 7th grade Language Arts classes), I was clipping out and saving the articles she was writing for Good Housekeeping magazine because I found them so inspiring.

In this most recent book of hers, she explores all the research on habits--how to make and break them, how to know which habits will work best with your nature, and little strategies on making desirable actions and tendencies more habitual (without too much effort). In fact, as I taught that unit in December that is inspired by her first book, I found myself often having the students do exercises out of this latest book, with fantastic results.

The biggest mindset-change this book had on me were the four different tendencies she described when it comes to forming and maintaining habits: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. This way of looking at habit formation has greatly influenced how I approach students when I have them do their own happiness projects, and it's also changed the way I approach habits with people in my family (especially my husband). If you're interested in taking the quiz to see which type you are, click here.

Books I Enjoyed & Recommend (some with caveats)

While not necessarily "life-changing," I also read several books the last half of 2015 that nevertheless I would heartily recommend to you readers in search of something new.


Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

The last couple months of 2015, I picked up several parenting memoirs (many of which I'm close to finishing now), but this was the first I picked up, largely because of all the hype and backlash surrounding it when it first came out a few years back.

Basically, Amy Chua set out to write a parenting book about how Chinese parenting is so much better than the "Western" parenting she sees in America (using her own parenting experiences with her two daughters as the main subject matter), but the book ends with her being not quite as sure of that hypothesis as she'd once thought. Interestingly, I found that I resonated pretty strongly with many of her "tiger mother" ideals, although I never plan on taking it to the extreme that she did. An interesting look at differing parenting styles, and the different outcomes they might produce.


For the Love by Jen Hatmaker

Because of my becoming immediately smitten with her previous book 7, I was excited when I heard through the blog grapevine that Hatmaker had recently come out with a new book.

First, you must understand that Hatmaker is a Christian writer (her and her husband actually started their own church shortly before she wrote 7), so both 7 and For the Love have religious undertones and Biblical examples and all that good stuff. However, whether you're religious or not, I think her books are valuable to pick up anyway on the merit of their ideas alone.

While For the Love lacked the cohesiveness of 7 (the ideas often seemed random to me, the organization a little bit all over the place), there were a couple sections that really stood out, especially the sections on building a sense of community with the people in your life and the section on how to effectively serve others (especially those we've dubbed the "less fortunate").

While I'm happily planning on keeping and re-reading my copy of 7 forever, I would recommend just checking this one out from your local library.


Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life by Kathleen Norris

This book kind of blew my mind in many places, but because it was often very slow and sometimes dull in places, I decided against placing it in the "life-changing" category. However, I am very tempted to buy my own copy of this book just so I can mark up those sections where I really felt like Norris was speaking directly to my life.

This nonfiction exploration of the idea of "acedia" (the spiritual or mental state of being apathetic or slothful) as it applies to daily life is deep and insightful, with several pearls of wisdom scattered throughout that made the longer, duller passages worth the work. Although this is not a book for the reader looking for something "light," it is a book that will make you take a deep and meaningful look at your own state of mind.


A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

This food memoir intersperses memories the author had of her experiences with her father dying of cancer and memories of her meeting her husband with recipes she was cooking through at the time, and the mingling of food and family moments turned what could have been depressing subject matter into something a lot more hopeful.

A lovely tribute, with some truly scrumptious-sounding recipes scattered throughout.

Books I Was On the Fence About
While it's been awhile since I read a book I truly hated, I was conflicted about several of the books I read near the end of the year (three of which I happened to read right in a row, which almost killed my desire to read). Here are my thoughts--


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

I actually bought this book way before it ever became popular (and especially before it became a Broadway play), but I will admit, the increased popularity made me finally pick this one up and actually read it. The basic story is that a teenage boy with mental challenges is trying to solve the mystery of who murdered his neighbor's dog. The book takes some surprising turns near the end, and the whole novel fiercely reminded me of the film Dear Frankie (which is a good thing, in my view).

Was the book pretty good? Sure. But worthy of being made into a Broadway play? Ehhhhh....I wouldn't have seen it as having that potential, anyway. (But the play's won all sorts of awards, so who am I to judge?)

Note: the book had quite a bit of strong language in it, which might have been part of the reason I didn't love it as much.


A Tiger in the Kitchen by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

I wanted to love this memoir all about a woman who traveled back to her home country of Singapore to finally tackle her fear of cooking and learn all the traditional recipes she grew up eating, but I didn't, so much. While the book had a couple fun sections, I found that neither the writing nor the storyline was too compelling, and by the end, I was just having to force myself to finish it.

However, the book does contain some traditional Singaporean recipes, so if you're interested in branching out your cooking skills, you might consider checking the book out for that.


Saturday by Ian McEwan

My feelings about McEwan are mixed--while on the one hand, I can appreciate the theories behind his books (and especially behind the unusual organization/pacing strategies), the reader in me who appreciates the actual plotline just thinks, "Get on with the story already!" Granted, I've only read two of his books now (Atonement being the other one), but I found that both books had some very slooooow sections, especially this particular book. The whole book is written about a single Saturday in the protagonist's life, and the novel basically includes every detail of the character's day, which made for several rather dull sections. Eventually, all those events (even the boring ones) all converge for the ending (a strategy McEwan also did in Atonement with masterful effect, but those same strategies were not pulled off so masterfully here), and you at least appreciate the reasoning behind the organizational structure.

However, I complained to Matt about this book almost the whole time I was reading it, so . . . yeah.


Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

I don't even know where to start with this book, and so much has been said about it already that I fear everyone's Watchman-ed out. To be honest, I've only ever read To Kill a Mockingbird once, and it was over ten years ago, so I'm not nearly as attached to it as most people are. But just looking at Watchman as a novel by itself, if I'm being honest, I found it disjointed, frustrating, and pretty uncomfortable to read. The "takeaway message" I got out of it is that for you to be truly master over your own ideals, you have to let go of the idea that your "heroes" have all the answers, even if those heroes happen to be your own parents.

For people who love (or for people who have simply read) Mockingbird, this book will prove the most interesting. If you haven't read Mockingbird, I wouldn't bother.

And that wraps up my 2015 reading list! What did you read last year? Anything life-changing?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Raven: 9 Months


Quick Stats 

Weight: 17-18 lbs. (?) 
Height: about 27" (I don't know on these--we'll find out for sure at her appointment next week)
Clothing Size: 6-9 month size
Diaper Size: 3


Milestones Reached
  • Pulls up to standing on pretty much everything, including in her crib
  • Holds on to and uses furniture, toys, and/or people to walk ("cruise")
  • Can go from standing to sitting, from crawling to sitting, and from stomach to sitting
  • Babbles in a way that more and more closely approximates actual language instead of just basic vowel-consonant repetitions 
Physical Appearance

Her hair is now long enough to be put into a baby elastic (so cute!), and she just cut through a third tooth (this one on the top) a couple days ago, a little past her 9-month mark. Her eyelashes, which had always seemed to be inherited from her daddy (thank goodness!) have gotten markedly darker and thicker in the past month, with no signs of stopping.


What I Love About This Stage

I love the burgeoning sense of pride that Raven displays when she accomplishes some challenge that she has set for herself. The first several days she successfully pulled herself up in her crib (sometimes while still wrapped in her swaddle blanket), she gave out a triumphant laugh (which was also what tipped us off that she wasn't actually sleeping in there). And if she really wants something, she tends to do everything in her power in order to reach it (or to use her cuteness to manipulate us into getting it for her) and when successful, she'll often flash a smug little smile or let out a squeal of laughter.

I love what a good eater she is, too--we've never had issues with her throwing food, and she eats almost everything we give her with a hearty appetite, including the broth of a pretty spicy chili that I made one night and mixtures that contained mushrooms, beets, and asparagus. Even when she doesn't love something, she can usually be persuaded to keep eating a few more bites of it anyway, and when we've been persistent enough, we've convinced her to like (or at least tolerate) a lot more foods than she did previously. She also doesn't usually try and spit out her food either (and she's actually never spit out food because of not liking it, at least not for me--if she spits anything out, it's because she's excitedly trying to talk to us while we're putting the spoon in). She's a great little eater, which I couldn't be more pleased about!

She's also gotten a little stranger-shy, which, while it has its downside, is completely adorable because she'll bury her face into mine or Matt's chest and just peek her eyes out occasionally to see if the person is still there. It's so cute I could just die.

Challenges

Now that she can get herself almost wherever she wants, Raven will pretty much always choose to be right next to me or Matt at all times, which means she's almost always underfoot while I'm cooking, blogging or grading at the computer, or trying to do housework. I wouldn't mind so much except that I worry about her safety.

Also, now that she can easily stand herself up in her crib (and often prefers to stand or sit up in there rather than, you know, sleep and stuff), it's become necessary to rock her to sleep during the day if we're trying to put her down for a nap (whereas before, she would just roll over, stick her thumb in her mouth, and be out before too long). Luckily, she still goes down without fuss or trying to stand up and play when we put her down for the night (and will still sleep for 13-14 hours without waking!), but the naptimes are becoming a bit hit and miss.

She also seems to have developed this eczema-like rash on the hand that she sucks her thumb on, and there are a couple rashy marks on her cheeks too. Since I myself suffer from eczema and other skin problems (obviously, since I've talked about a bajillion times about my autoimmune disease), I'm not too surprised, but I do feel bad she's having to deal with it so young. We have her 9-month appointment next week, at which point I'll bring it up. In the meantime, we've just been rubbing coconut oil on it to try and keep it hydrated, and that has seemed to help a bit.


Things I Don't Want to Forget
  • The way that she'll lift her legs straight out in front when you try and have her "walk" with you and she doesn't feel like walking
  • The fact that when she picks up small bits off the kitchen floor or the carpet, she actually won't try to put them in her mouth but will instead just sit there quietly and observe them, occasionally trying to tap them against something else to see if it will make a noise
  • How much she loves when you drum out a rhythm
  • The way that she laughs and bounces up and down excitedly in her crib when you've caught her standing once again instead of napping (because she thinks that you're coming in to rescue her)
  • The hilarious habit she's picked up of excitedly coughing right before you're about to put in a spoonful of food. It's not forceful enough to usually spit anything out (thank goodness), but it's just this weird quirk that I have no idea where she picked up.
  • How she'll open and close her hands very quickly when she's excited about something or when she wants something really badly (like for one of us to pick her up)
  • How I still can't believe how much she is absolutely obsessed with the movie Frozen. We'll occasionally put on movies for her when we need to get something done (like the dishes or a meal prep) and don't want her underfoot, and the ONLY movie that can hold her in complete and utter rapture is Frozen. It's always been this way, for basically her whole lifetime. (Needless to say, we're starting to get REALLY Frozened-out).
  • The fact that she is now ticklish, a fact we take full advantage of while playing games like "This Little Piggy" or games where we "chase" her around to try and catch her
 Happy 9 Months (and 8 days), Baby Sweets!
Note: pics were taken at 9 months and 4 days
Second note: her adorable bow was made by my sister-in-law, who runs this darling hairbow business

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Body After Baby: 9 Months Postpartum


There's a common saying that says that since it takes 9 months to grow a baby, you should expect it to take at least 9 months to lose the baby weight.

Or something like that.

Well, today I am 9 months postpartum, and ***SPOILER ALERT*** I haven't lost all the baby weight.

BUT!

I'm a heck of a lot closer than I thought I'd be if you'd have asked me 3 months ago, when I was doing everything just to desperately maintain my weight while on Prednisone.

Long story short: I was steadily losing about a pound a week after the initial "miracle weight loss" that happened the week after childbirth (when I shed 25 pounds that had been made up of the baby and the placenta and the excess fluids and who knows what else in the span of about six days). In other words, I was right on track to being down to my pre-pregnancy weight by about six months postpartum.

Enter my autoimmune disease diagnosis, the prescription of steroids, blah blah blah.

Quick summary: I lost no weight, but I also (miraculously) managed to not gain anything either.

Progress on getting any semblance of my pre-baby figure back seemed stalled indefinitely . . . until about a month ago, that is, when I decided to try an elimination diet to see if that would help with my AI disease.

While most people probably would have lost at least 10 pounds on the diet (which I'm still working through, thanksforasking), I have lost five. But man, does it feel good to have lost those five after months and months of seeing no change on the scale!

So as of today, I am only five pounds away from what I weighed just before getting pregnant and only about 10-12 pounds away from what I weighed while training for the half marathon a few months before all that.

In other words, THIS FINALLY SEEMS DO-ABLE.


But on to the stats!

Quick Stats
Weight right before delivery: 191 lbs.
Pre-pregnancy weight: 140 lbs.
Current weight: 145 lbs.
Goal weight:  135 lbs.

Measurements at One Month Postpartum:
Weight: 163 lbs.
Bust: 40"
Waist: 33"
Hips: 41"
Thighs: 24"
Arms: 12"

Measurements at Four Months Postpartum (before everything stalled):
Weight: 150 lbs.
Bust: 38"
Waist: 31"
Hips: 37"
Thighs: 22.5"
Arms: 11.25"
Pants Size: 8

Measurements at Nine Months Postpartum (aka, NOW):
Weight: 145 lbs.
Bust: 37"
Waist: 30.5"
Hips: 36.5"
Thighs: 22"
Arms: 11"
Pants Size: 6

Going forward, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that now that I'm finally off of the Prednisone (YIPPEE!!), I'll be able to see some real progress over the next few months. I plan to figure out more definitively what foods my body is sensitive to, keep gradually increasing my running distance (I currently run between 3 and 3.5 miles each Saturday), continue going to my hip hop aerobics class once a week, and start weight lifting with a little more regularity.

Be assured that when I finally reach my pre-pregnancy weight (even though it wasn't within the 9-month time frame), I will post about it.


For you mamas out there---had you lost all your baby weight by 9 months?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Oh, Happy News!


January does not typically seem to be the month for happy news--instead, it usually suffers in gloomy silence as the ugly middle child squashed between buoyant December and perky February, and it and I have a long history of grey moods and general dreary demeanors together.

BUT! Today---today I have joyful news to share with you all (and no, it has nothing to do with the fact that we stayed up way too late last night playing games (worth it!) or that I just felt like I was "in the Teaching Zone" all day today (and on a Monday, no less!))--

TODAY WAS MY LAST DAY ON PREDNISONE!!

Can I get a "Hallelujah" from the crowd?

Before I entered the realm of autoimmune diseases, I was wildly oblivious to the idea of medications in general. Other than my prenatal vitamin, I had never had to take any sort of pill with any sort of regularity, so it probably goes without saying that I completely took it for granted that I never had to worry about side effects or deal with dosage changes or stress over missing a day.

And for anyone who's ever been on Prednisone can tell you, it's one BEAST of a medicine (as I already mentioned here).

So, after today---

- No more "moon face" syndrome (well, it won't go away immediately, but I at least now have a fighting chance)
- No more stressing out over a weight battle that seems almost futile (again, see this post)
- No more random bouts of aggression and anger that just seem to flare up out of nowhere
- No more tossing and turning and sleepless nights even when my body is exhausted

I AM FREE.

(And the news gets even better---my doc told me that in about two and a half months, we start tapering down off my methotrexate, which will mean no more nausea-filled, sleepy Sundays where it's all I can do to drag myself to church and drag myself home again, with no energy, motivation, or general feeling of wellbeing anywhere in sight. Big News, people!)

Just thought I'd like to blast this little post of rejoicing out into the bleak January air to remind myself in future years that sometimes, good things do come out of January.




Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A New Way of Doing Resolutions in 2016


Partly due to my failure to complete any of my resolutions last year and partly due to all that I've learned and postulated about habits vs. goals in the past few years, I'm doing my new year's resolutions a little bit differently in 2016. After much informal research (aka, me learning by trial and error), I have discovered that I need to set both specific goals I'd like to meet as well as outline habits I'd like to implement, instead of doing one to the exclusion of the other. Additionally, after trying for years to be more mindful about what I fill my life with, I have discovered how vital it is that I schedule in opportunities for adventure, novelty, and pleasure.

Therefore, I have outlined three different categories for my "resolutions" this year:
  • HABITS I'd like to implement
  • CHALLENGES I'd like to push myself to achieve
  • PLEASURES I'd like to let myself enjoy
It might seem odd that I am scheduling "pleasures" as part of my resolutions, but I've found that for me, if I don't schedule in fun or vacations or new experiences, they rarely seem to happen. Besides, growth and satisfaction and joy do not only come from pushing ourselves to do more or be more---they also come from giving ourselves permission to fully embrace the wonderful and the beautiful and the adventurous. 

My plan is to do more progress posts than usual on how I'm doing in order to keep myself more accountable; I probably will do traditional progress posts on just the "habits" category and a post for each challenge and/or pleasure item as it's met so as not to make it too overwhelming. 

So here we go, my 2016 resolutions:

HABITS

*Blog at least 12 times per month. 

I cannot tell you how much I regret not blogging as much as usual these 18 months; since this blog has become my own personal record of growth and life and family and friends (rather than the traditional pen-and-paper diaries I used to keep), it is of the utmost importance to me that I better keep up with this space.

*Eat dinner at the table 6x/week, with the t.v. off

Somehow early in our marriage, we got in the terrible habit of eating our meals on the couch, usually with a show or a movie playing. Now that we have Raven, I strongly desire to instill good eating habits in her, so I figure we'd better fix this now before she gets any older. Besides, I've always hated our eating-and-watching-t.v. habit, so I am more than ready to boot this bad habit to the curb forever.

*Attend the temple once a month.

Matt and I had been doing so well at attending the temple close to our home, but once we had Raven, that habit disappeared by the wayside. Even if we don't end up going together every month (which would be the ideal), I still am determined to at least have each of us go (even if separately) once a month. (For more info on what LDS temples are all about, click here.)

*Read the Ensign cover to cover every month.

This is another spiritual goal, and one that I think will be a great strength for me. If you want to check out this magazine produced by my church, click here.

*Read 40 pages on most days (10 pages from four different books)

I started doing this in November, and it's totally rejuvenated my reading life. I've wanted to do a 50-book challenge for a long time now, and this might be the year I actually do it if I can keep this up.

*Index on Sundays.

Last year, I set a specific goal to index 10,000 names, which I didn't end up reaching. To better participate in this family history service, I'm going to set aside Sundays during Raven's afternoon naptime to work on this.

CHALLENGES

*Buy my own domain name and redesign the blog. 

Even though I no longer aim to make money from blogging, I think the time is long overdue for me to give this space a facelift. (If any of you bloggers have bought your own domain names and transferred your blog hosting away from Blogger, I would really appreciate some input on which web hosting companies are worth the money (or if you use a blog host at all) and which are the best places to buy domain names.)

*Finish the first draft of my novel.

Oh man, just typing out this challenge terrifies me. But, as someone once said, "If your dreams don't scare you, they're not big enough," so here I go. I'm only about 25 pages into my novel, but I have a direction to take it in, and Matt and I are devising a plan to help us both complete this goal this year. Wish us luck!

*Run a half-marathon.

A part of me wanted to set the bar on this particular challenge high by saying that I want to run a half in under two hours (which is on my bucket list). I was only about 9 minutes off that goal during the half I ran in 2014, but with all the health problems I'm working through and with all that my body went through last year, I figured a half-marathon (with no time goal) would likely be a challenge enough.

*Print my blog out.

There are several companies now that let you turn your blog into a book, and my plan is to finally take the time (and money) to do that this year.

*Do the Minimalist Challenge.

Basically, the idea behind this is that on day one of the challenge (which lasts one month), you get rid of one thing. By day 31, you're getting rid of 31 things. All in all, it adds up to you getting rid of several hundred items, and since it's been quite awhile since I did my 50 Weeks to Organized project, I figured I'm due for another decluttering party.

*Try out a new volunteering experience.

After watching how much Matt enjoyed his volunteer experience at the local animal shelter (which he did for several months), I've wanted to go out of my own usual service zone and do something new for a local cause or group. I'm sure I won't be able to do this one until the school year is out, but I'll be keeping my eye out for opportunities.

*Reach my goal weight.

I know that many people set some kind of weight goal for their new year's resolution, but this is actually a first for me. My goal weight is 135 pounds, and I'm currently only 9 pounds away, so this is very doable. In fact, once I'm off the Prednisone, I'm hoping I can reach this challenge within a couple months.

*Take a class.

Sometimes, I really miss being in school. And even though I always think that I don't need to pay for a class because I can just check out a book on most any subject and/or watch online tutorials, the fact is, my progress is drastically sped up when I attend a class. I don't know if I want to do another photography class or try out something else (like cooking or painting), but I plan to do this one during the summer.

*Complete my "100 Hours in the Kitchen" Project.

I read this post the other day that talks all about the original 10,000-hour theory (that it takes 10,000 hours of focused practice to become a master at any one thing) vs. the new 100-hour theory (that it only takes 100 hours of focused practice to become significantly more advanced than a beginner). I've been trying to come up with different ways to bring the joy back to eating and cooking for me (since my health problems and now the elimination diet have taken much of the pleasure out), and I think I finally hit on something---I've been wanting to extend my cooking repertoire forever (especially when it comes to trying out different cuisines), so here's what I'm going to do--I'll focus on a different category each quarter (such as "soups" or "French cuisine") and challenge myself to try 12 new recipes over the course of those three months in that one particular category. 

Although I know I've spent much more than 100 hours already on improving my cooking skills, a focused year that adds another challenging 100 hours should help me to take my skills to the next level. I'll probably do a full blog post on this soon, so I won't say too much more here, but I really want to reignite my passion for all things food once again.

PLEASURES

*Take a trip with Matt's family to Oregon.

This one's already in the works, but I want to make sure we make it happen, which will mean saving up money and making sure we can afford to take work off.

*Travel to the hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico in October.

Ever since getting into photography, I've longed to attend a hot air balloon festival (not to mention that it's been on my bucket list for years to ride in a hot air balloon). I'm really hoping we'll have the financial resources this year to take this trip, as I think it would be incredible.

*Host a quarterly dinner celebration. 

I love entertaining and I love cooking, and since we don't know for how much longer some of our close friends will still be living in our area, I want to take full advantage of every opportunity we can to spend time with them.

*Purchase a large canvas print of at least one of my photos.

Even though I'm far from where I want to be as a photographer, I'm still proud of my work. I've dreamed for awhile now of displaying some of my photography in our home, and since I also wish to be better at decorating our space, I figure this will  hit two birds with one stone.

*Go on a day adventure at least once a month.

These day adventures don't have to be big, but they do need to be something that's out of our usual routine (read = something we've never tried before). It's taken me awhile to realize it, but I've learned that I'm the kind of person that needs a certain degree of novelty in my days in order to maintain my sanity and my overall satisfaction with life.


Man, typing that out makes it seem like a LOT. But I'm really excited about this new 3-pronged approach to the new year, and I'm excited to let you know how I'm doing in about a month!

What resolutions did you set this year?

Monday, January 4, 2016

How I REALLY Did on Last Year's Resolutions


With all the valuable lessons I learned last year, you'd think I would have crushed my new year's resolutions for 2015.

Well, not exactly.

Actually, I didn't complete a single one.

This is unprecedented for me, I think--most years, I complete at least half my resolutions, and there have been a few notable years when I've completed every single last thing I set out to do. And while some of my resolutions last year were out of my control (like the running one), most were very much within my control . . . but I just let them slip through my fingers.

The past two weeks while on holiday I found myself looking back a lot, something that I hadn't done for awhile. And even though I know I am extraordinarily blessed, I finally allowed myself to admit that the past couple years have been kind of tough. I don't know why that's so hard for me to say--maybe because I feel selfish allowing myself to feel upset or sad when so many other people have it so much worse? Maybe because sometimes, I feel like if I just had a little more faith or just were a little bit better or did things a little bit differently, I wouldn't be having a tough time? Or maybe because most of the time (seriously, at least 80% or more) I feel pretty content and happy, so it seems frivolous to focus on the other 20%?

Whatever the reason, I haven't allowed myself, even in the midst of various trials, to just allow myself to come out and say that it was tough and that sometimes I got tired of dealing with it.

And while that sounds an awful lot like an excuse for why I didn't complete my goals last year (and really, I guess it kind of is), it nevertheless helps to explain why last year, I basically crashed and burned with my resolutions.

In all honesty, I'm not too bent out of shape about it, though--I still made progress on all the goals, and I have a shiny new blank slate in this new year. Sometimes all it takes is a new beginning to breathe a little hope and motivation into you, ya know?

Here were my goals last year though (see the original post on them here):

*Read 5 books off the Newbery Awards list, 5 books off the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list, and 5 books off the 100 Most-Recommended Classics list.  

I almost made it halfway through this goal--I ended up with 3 books off the Newbery list, 2 books off the 1,001 Books list, and 2 books off the Classics list. Near the end of the year though, I realized that I was starting to kind of dread reading many of the recommended books I was picking up and "sneaking" other books instead, and I am now questioning whether or I should keep reading off of recommended reading lists period (a post on this will probably follow at some point). It's kind of a major dilemma going on in my head at the moment, actually.

*Work my way back into running and sign up for at least a 10K by the end of the year.

To my credit, I did what I could on this one, but I was pretty limited (doctor's orders) on what I could do with my running (although, in all fairness, I at least asked permission to run a 10K in November, but I was not granted leave to do so by the doc treating my AI disease). I did, however, make significant progress--when I started running again after having a baby, I could *barely* squeeze out a straight mile of  "running," but I can now run about 3.5 miles without stopping and at a pace over two minutes faster than what I was doing right after having the baby (and only about a minute off of my previous mile time). So, slowly but surely...

*Finish the Old Testament.

Sigh. I SO wanted to say I completed this one, but I'm still about 150 pages shy. Oh well---I should, at the pace I'm going at, be really and truly completed with this one by March at the latest.

*Index 10,000 names.

This one started out on such a promising note for the first 4 months of the year (when I was still pregnant) and then crashed and burned the second I had Raven. I didn't even hit 5,000 names last year. Poop.

*Set monthly goals related to a different focus.

Considering that I was the most excited about this resolution, I find it ironic that it's the one I gave up on the earliest in the year. From April on, I never bothered with this one again. However, you can see what my monthly focuses were for January, February, and March, if you wish. I think I just lost momentum on this one and felt silly starting up again randomly.

(Note: don't worry--the baby was only outside for all of about two minutes dressed like that)

All my failed resolutions aside, however, I am feeling enormously motivated and hopeful at the start of this new year. Maybe it's partly due to the fact that I'm physically feeling so great now that I've been on my elimination diet for over three weeks, but I finally feel like I have the energy to really push myself again.

Post on my 2016 resolutions to follow. Stay tuned!

Friday, January 1, 2016

A Promising Start


A good holiday break needs to have a good dose of crazy loud fun with family and friends (check), a  healthy taste of something new (check), and a big ol' dollop of just quiet contentment.

Because, let's face it, as an instructor of over 150 students, "quiet contentment" is a commodity that's hard to come by.


So we've done the crazy/fun (loud family Christmas parties, a New Year's Eve involving way too much food and sparkling cider and plenty of games with friends), we've done the new (our elk-watching "sleigh ride," going to see the new Star Wars movie), and now, for the little holiday break that remains, I am firmly going to revel in each and every moment of blissful quiet contentment spent with these two right here:
 

Largely thanks to the fact that I'm no longer stressed out of my mind, and partly thanks to the fact that I'm reading Ruth Reichl's latest book My Kitchen Year, I'm finally starting to get my cooking mojo back. It ran screaming out the door when I got hit with not just one, but two massive student projects to grade last month, and I feared it might never come back again after I started on my elimination diet.

But come back it has, thanks to a little recipe called "Avgolemono" in the self-same book mentioned above. This soup recipe is little more than broth, eggs, and rice, but with a few hefty chunks of sauteed chicken in there and a healthy squeeze or two of lemon, we had ourselves a zippy little pick-me-up that seemed to melt the weariness out of our bones and open our eyes to the beautiful way the bubbling soup steamed up the kitchen windows, making the white wonderland outside seem like a frothy cloud enveloping us with feelings of home and comfort and love.

A good soup can do that, you know.


But seriously, this book is the cookbook I've been dreaming of without realizing I've been dreaming of it--it reads just like a blog (complete with gorgeous, "everyday"-feel photos) and contains just about any kind of recipe you might be in the mood for. I had originally planned to just check it out from the local library and call it good, but now that I'm almost finished, I'm pretty tempted to go out and buy my own copy.

In other news, the baby has been pleased as can be to have both of us home so much, and she has provided ample entertainment by learning to pull herself up to standing on pretty much everything and now seems to be graduating to trying to use the wipes box as a step in order to get closer to her ultimate goal of climbing up onto the couch to snuggle in beside us. I also have felt a grand rush of motivation fueling my new-year fire, and I've *almost* decided what my resolutions will be in this new year (post to come, hopefully by Monday morning). Additionally, I remarked to Matt that after almost three weeks of being on this elimination diet, I finally realized this morning that my body finally feels quiet on the inside--for so many months, I got so used to feeling inflamed internally and having cramps and discomfort and just a general sense that my body's systems were in overdrive all the time.

But now, I almost feel as good as I did way back when, before I got parasites, before I developed my AI disease.

So thank you holiday break, for bringing back my sanity. (And the best part is, I've still got two more days!!)

2016, you're looking good already.



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