Monday, January 30, 2017

Reset and Resume

First, I wanted to thank everyone for the extra prayers and support you have given us after my last post. It's been a difficult couple of weeks, but it's looking like (fingers crossed) the worst is behind us. My father-in-law is doing a lot better and will probably be out of the ICU today, and we got to visit with him yesterday and even hear him joke around with us a bit. The whole conversation in his hospital room last night felt like a clenched fist in my chest slowly unfurling, one finger loosening at a time.

It was like I felt I could finally breathe a little again.

And so it feels like life has slowly resumed once more, unpaused from about 11 days ago---

We started introducing Raven to the idea of the potty (after I borrowed a mini toilet training potty from my sister) and explained to Raven the concept of going poop on that instead of in her diaper. She's been enthusiastic sitting on it several times, but we're not pushing anything yet---we're just easing into it, trying to feel out if she'll be ready for more intensive training soon.

I started watching my friend's baby for her as she went back to work last week, and he's just been the sweetest. The whole experience makes me realize that I am, indeed, capable of watching two small children simultaneously, which is helping me get over any jitters I might have had about someday adding a second child to our family (of course, it helps that my friend's baby sleeps WAAAAAY more than Raven ever used to...seriously, he naps like a champ).

I finished up most of my goals for January (as per the resolution I set in January to set monthly goals as well as make a weekly to-do list), and I've already pounded out a list for February, which includes making dental appointments for all of us (something I'm SO bad at) and finally setting up an official playdate for Raven (another thing I'm so bad at).

So it seems, by our daily routine at least, that it's been Life As Usual here lately.

But ever since we got word of Matt's dad being in critical condition in the ICU, something has forever shifted in the parameters of my mind.

I knew before that tragedy could strike anytime and that it was important to enjoy each day and savor each moment spent with loved ones (the unexpected deaths of my nephew and of my coworker taught me that).

I knew that if you're lucky enough to get a little warning before you lose someone, that you should make time to be with them, to ask them about their past, to frame each moment as if it could be one of your last with them (I learned that when my beloved grandma was getting sicker and sicker from her breast cancer before she passed).

With this latest narrow escape from losing someone I loved, the lesson has felt different---

The truth is, I've always felt a lot of anxiety about the terrible things that might happen to me in my life. I look at all the awful and hard things that people around me have had to face, and I have worried endlessly over what will be my lot to face in the near or far future.

I know that my anxiety might be useless and not helping me any, but that's the thing about true anxiety--it can be hard to keep under control, and it usually doesn't go away just by you telling it that it should.

So with this latest scrape with trials and sorrow, I knew to expect the surge in anxiety, the increase in worry of what might happen next. To any of us.

And it came. That anxiety definitely came.

But as I've been studying scriptures and praying and reading uplifting books (like A Million Miles in a Thousand Years), I've just been thinking a lot, too. Thinking without the anxiety. Thinking about what life is, and what it's supposed to be, and what I want it to be. Thinking about the things I can control, and the things I can't.

And while I've still felt some of the old anxiety creeping in, especially right before I try and sleep or when the phone rings at an unexpected hour, I've also noticed that my fear of the future is gradually starting to lessen its death grip on me. Fearing the unknown is a weakness I'll probably always have to deal with. But building faith every day that no matter what, things will be ultimately All Right is something I CAN control--it is, indeed, one of the reasons that I'm here to experience life at all.

And so yes, we are back into our routines, as per normal.

But with a whole different outlook on what's to come ahead.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Waiting.

I debated whether to write at all, but if I didn't, I feared the silence would stretch into an endless thin line, a string I could never pick back up again.

This is not my story to tell, so it will be sufficient to say that my father-in-law has been in the ICU for almost a week.

And we have been waiting, waiting, waiting...torn between hope and fear, between wishes and reality, between shock and the pit of cold resignation deep in our stomachs.

There have been other times I have dealt with tragedy---icy blows that came out of nowhere, knocking the wind out of me and making all the internal windows of my mind shatter. Times when the unthinkable happened, when the unimaginable had already occurred, and all that was left was to wait until the world finally seemed to slightly right itself again, forever a bit off-kilter from before.

But I have never dealt with anything quite like this---

Where every time a text comes through, the phone rings, or the hospital doors swing wide, fear throttles me with its airtight grip, my breath finally let out again when the news is not The Worst It Could Be.

We seemed to live on the fourth floor of the hospital all weekend, spreading out in the hall with all the food remnants that were being continually brought to us. The weather outside matched my internal hemisphere---swirling, blinding snow, contributor to white-knuckle drives and sharp intakes of breath every time we hit a black patch of ice.

I've always been the kind of person who prays a lot---whose mind is often drawn out to my Father above, usually in soundless conversations and uttered gratitudes and silent pleadings.

For the past week, when I haven't been talking in hushed tones in the hospital corridor or trying to distract myself with a book, I have been praying, endlessly and fervently.

And while I still have the fear, I also have the peace--

Of knowing that death is not the ultimate end, that we have a Father who oversees all, who will one day in the eternities make all unjust things right again.

I also have the hope that although miracles are not always granted in the wisdom of He who knows all things, I do know that they sometimes ARE given---and that we have the possibility of this maybe being one of those times.

For now, if you could throw a prayer our way, we would sure appreciate it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

What I've Read Lately (+ Recommended Reading)

I happened to be looking through some old blog posts the other day when I realized that I haven't done a full update on what I've read lately since August of last year.

Whoops.

Sure, I covered some of the more recent titles in my post on the top 10 books I read last year, but I have been seriously slacking in the department known as letting-you-know-what-I've-been-reading.

So, if you're in the mood for a new book, check out some of my latest recommendations.

If You Feel Like Leaving the Country (or the Planet)...

Title: A Gentleman in Moscow
Author: Amor Towles

This title made my top 10 list from last year, so faithful-to-reading-every-last-post readers will have heard of this one already.

This book is set in Russia starting soon after the close of WWI, and it follows an aristocrat who is accused of crimes against the new Russian government and ideologies who is sentenced to live out the rest of his life in the Metropol hotel or be shot.

Although Towles's writing style tends to be slower, his fabulous setting descriptions and memorable characters make this well worth your time.
Title: My Brilliant Friend
Author: Elena Ferrante

This book is actually the first of a series (the Neopolitan Novels) that has received a decent amount of press over the past little while (although, admittedly, I came rather late to the game, having never heard of it until fairly recently).

The series basically follows the friendship of two Italian women over the course of their lives, and this book covers their childhood and adolescent years, where one girl was able to realize the dream she sought for of obtaining the top education available to her at the time, and the other girl was forced to stay home and work for her father's shoemaking shop.

I've heard many people praise these books to the high heavens (some even calling them among their favorites of all time), but I'll admit, it took me awhile to get into this one, and I wasn't even sure I'd continue reading the later books. However, when it had been weeks and I was still thinking about the characters and their lives in rural Italy, I've decided to just go ahead and finish out this series in 2017.

Title: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Author: Rachel Joyce

This story about a middle-aged man in England who sets off on an unexpected journey after finding out that an old friend has cancer seemed, at first glance, like it was going to be pretty stereotypical and stale (middle-aged man faces midlife crisis and goes out on a life-changing journey, learning how to actually embrace and live life again along the way).

While the book did meet some of those stereotypical expectations, it also surprised me with its depth in various places throughout the novel, and the MENTAL journey that is covered during Harold Fry's physical journey is what made this one really stand out for me.

This one made me think more deeply about my own past than I have in years, and I was pleasantly surprised by how this one turned out. (Warning: this one is a bit on the slow side.)

Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir

I'm sure most people have heard of this one since the movie came out, but just in case you haven't, The Martian is the story of an astronaut sent up in the first space mission to Mars who accidentally gets left behind on the planet by the rest of his crew and has to use every last bit of ingenuity and willpower he has in order to try and survive.

While I loved the ending of this one and thought the overall plot was fantastic, I felt like the book could have been better about fleshing out the emotional state that he must have been going through--overall, the main character lacked depth for me, and I felt like the book got a little bogged down by all the scientific explanations sometimes (although many people have said that those were their favorite parts of the whole thing).

If you're looking for a thrilling sci-fi pick that actually reads like something that could potentially happen not too far off in the future, you'd probably enjoy this one. (Warning: several instances of strong language throughout.)

If You're in the Mood for an Epic Family Saga (told from multiple perspectives)...

Title: Commonwealth
Author: Ann Patchett

I know Patchett's been big for quite awhile now, but this was actually the first book of hers that I picked up. Considering that I knew nothing of the book or of the author either really, I was pleasantly surprised to find a well-written, well-paced book that I easily finished within the span of about 3 or 4 days.

Commonwealth is the story of the blending of two families after an adulterous kiss at an after-christening party. While the kiss is what sets off the rest of the story, this book is not really so much about the infidelity, but rather about the intertwining of all our decisions and their impact on far more than just ourselves.
Title: Homegoing
Author: Yaa Gyasi

This debut novel got huge praise last year for its epic scope and strong sense of history, not to mention its unforgettable structure and characters.

Two half sisters from Ghana are set on two different paths--one marries a white man who's in Ghana as a slave trader, and the other gets traded across the ocean as a slave herself. This book follows their posterity over 300 years of history, briefly exploring key events such as the Civil War, Jim Crow laws, and the jazz movement in Harlem through the eyes of the two half-sisters' posterity.

This book is heartwrenching and uncomfortable, which is exactly what it's supposed to be.  While I didn't feel the ending matched the grand scope of the rest of the book, I still am glad I picked this one up. (Warning: if you're super sensitive to abuse, violence, or acts of human cruelty, you'd best leave this one on the shelf--it has triggers galore.)

Title: How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
Author: Julia Alvarez

This book follows four Dominican sisters as they acclimate to American life after their immigration to the States as children. The book follows a backwards-plot structure (meaning it starts in the present and then works its way back through time) and is more a collection of loosely-connected stories rather than a novel with one cohesive plot.

While this was well-written and had some stand-out moments, I felt like I would enjoy this one more in a class setting, where we could discuss the structure of the book and the differences in the sisters' developments through time. As it stands, this was one of my picks from last year that fell a little short for me (although I could definitely see why it was chosen to be on many recommended-reading lists).




If You're Not Sick of Historical Fiction Yet...

Title: China Dolls
Author: Lisa See

It seems like there has been SUCH an explosion of historical fiction books lately, especially ones based on WWII, so if you're totally sick of that era, you'd better pass on this one.

With that said though, Lisa See has always been one of my favorite authors, and this novel based on three girls who form an unlikely friendship in the seedy entertainment business during the 1940's was still an enjoyable read.

While I didn't find the three main characters as likeable as the main characters of her other books, I found this particular segment of history fascinating, especially as it was less about the war itself and more about the boom of nightclub entertainment that came about as a result.
Title: Rules of Civility
Author: Amor Towles

This is the kind of book I would pick up again just for the writing style alone, but luckily, it also has a pretty memorable story behind it as well.

A young woman and her roommate meet a handsome (and unbelievably wealthy) young banker during the late 1930's. Both girls are captivated by the man, and he proceeds to show them the kind of life that only loads of money can buy. Obviously, problems arise with there being one man and two women, not to mention an unexpected accident and a series of life-altering secrets coming to the surface.

While this will occasionally read slow, the dazzling prose makes up for it twofold.

 


If You're Not in the Mood for Anything Too Serious or Realistic...

Title: Cinder (Lunar Chronicles #1)
Author: Marissa Meyer

I'd been hearing whisperings of the Lunar Chronicles series from students and fellow book-lovers alike for years now, but I was hesitant to start this series because of how cheesy it sounded.

Basically, the Lunar Chronicles is a retelling of several fairy tales, with the main story portraying Cinderella as a second-class cyborg in a futuristic post-WWIV world who somehow gets into the middle of a saving-the-world scheme when the Lunar Queen tries to take over.

While it sounds cheesy, this series is surprisingly well-done and totally fun, and, just for the record, I liked this WAY more than Hunger Games or Divergent or any of the other dystopian series that have come out recently.

Title: Flora & Ulysses
Author: Kate DiCamillo

Sometimes you just need a refreshingly light YA read that ends happily and makes you laugh, and this recent book by the same author who wrote The Tale of Despereaux fits the bill exactly.

Flora's life takes an unexpected turn when she saves a squirrel from certain death, and that same squirrel appears to have superpowers much like the beloved heroes of Flora's favorite comic book.

Told partly in graphic novel form and partly in novel form, this book is fun and easy and just heartwarming all around.
Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern

I'll say this right off--

This is one of the most unusual books I've ever read.

Part magical realism, part gothic romance, this is the story of a mysterious circus that only shows up at night where two magicians are competing against each other for terribly high stakes.

This book reminded me of such movies as The Prestige and The Illusionist, and as far as escapist fiction goes, it isn't half-bad. While I thought the plot sometimes got lost a bit in the descriptions, I've heard many people mention this book among their favorites to come out recently.




Title: Holes
Author: Louis Sachar

I had so many students review this book for book projects that I felt like I'd already read it a million times, but I'm glad I finally took the plunge last year and read the whole thing for myself.

Whether you've seen and love the movie or not, this book about a boy who is wrongfully convicted of stealing shoes and sent to a camp for delinquent boys is just awesome. This book combines a family legend passed down through the generations with a modern-day mystery that needs solving, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading this even now, as an adult (especially since I unhappily discovered a few years ago that young adult fiction doesn't *usually* hold the appeal it used to for me).

I think all kids and teens should give this one a try, as well as any adults who didn't have the pleasure when they were younger.

If Your Heart Can Take a Good Beating...

Title: The Light Between Oceans
Author: M. L. Stedman

In a writer's group discussion, a fellow writer reminded us that as authors, we have to give our characters "an impossible choice" in order to give our novels the kind of tension that makes for gripping writing.

Well, this book sure delivers on that front.

A man and his wife live alone on a remote island, where he operates the lighthouse. One day, a boat washes up on shore with a body and a baby inside, and the couple makes a choice that day that will affect far more than they ever dreamed possible.

This book grabbed my heart and didn't let it go until the very end, and I still have spent months thinking about this one.


Title: When Breath Becomes Air
Author: Paul Kalanithi

When I initially heard of this book, I thought to myself, "No way. Not for me. WAY too depressing."

Then I saw it on my library's "new books" shelf, and I fell prey to a moment of weakness and checked it out.

When Breath Becomes Air is the true account of Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon in his final year of a decade-long residency who is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer at the age of 36. All of a sudden, this man who has treated the dying himself for years has become one of them, and he must discover for himself the answer to that all-important question: What should he do with the time he has left?

Equal parts philosophy and personal narrative, this book is not for the fainthearted. It's made even more poignant by the fact that it is unfinished, the epilogue written by his wife.

If You Think This List is Shockingly Void of Nonfiction Titles...

Title: Comfort Me With Apples
Author: Ruth Reichl

Having read two of Reichl's other books, I know I'm a fan of her writing style, especially of her to-drool-for descriptions of memorable meals and dishes (a talent she honed over years of being a food editor and restaurant critic).

Comfort Me With Apples is the account of how Reichl finally broke into the restaurant critic business, and how the commune that she lived in had distinctly negative feelings towards it.

Honestly, this is by far my least favorite of Reichl's works that I've read so far, not because it wasn't well-written or interesting, but just because I had a hard time dealing with the subject matter (about the multiple affairs she had while still married).
Title: Outliers
Author: Malcolm Gladwell

I thought I knew what this book was about before I picked it up, but I was wrong, wrong, wrong. In this nonfiction pick, Gladwell argues that success is rarely the American Dream story we make it out to be and that people who are phenomenally successful have to have a fair amount of luck and timing on their side in order to make it big.

A fascinating look at what breeds success, and a book I found equal parts motivating and disheartening (you'll see what I mean if you ever read it).

A book that's well worth at least one read, if for nothing else than the fact that it will change your views on success forever.




What have you been reading lately? And what should I add to my To-Read list for 2017?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Hi, I'm Torrie, and I WAS a Social Media Addict

One of my resolutions for 2017 was to drastically limit the amount of time I spent on social media, especially because, only recently, I discovered how toxic it often was for my mental and emotional state.

Well, with very few slip-ups, I've managed to stick with my social media plan--

Facebook for 10 minutes on Tuesdays and Thursdays,
Instagram for 10 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, Friday (or on the days I blog), and my
Bloglovin' blog roll feed on Saturday (although I've extended this to include Friday night as well).

(Note: I haven't tried to set limits on my Goodreads or Pinterest time because I don't spend all that much time usually on either of those platforms.)

And here's what I've learned so far:

1. Mentally and emotionally, I don't miss being on social media more AT ALL. 

In fact, there have been a couple of the days I've been tempted not to get on for even the ten minutes. I thought I would feel very out of the loop by not taking the time to scroll through all my Facebook and Instagram feeds when I did get on for those few minutes, but I haven't felt anything of the sort. In fact, I've felt a profound sense of calm that I haven't felt probably since July, when I unintentionally took a 72-hour social media break when we were on vacation in Island Park.

All this has just proved (again) to me that constant overload of everyone else's emotions, thoughts, political opinions, and to-dos is just overwhelming to me.

2. What's been hard about cutting down on social media hasn't been what I've missed out on---what's been hard has just been cutting out the habit itself.

The first week or so that I was on my new schedule, I would open the laptop and be all poised to push enter after typing in one of my social media URLs at the top, only to realize (almost a second too late) what I'd done without even thinking about it.

The actual physical habit of constantly getting into my feeds had been so ingrained in me that I quickly discovered I was going to have to replace it with something else--and pronto--if I didn't want to be accidentally breaking my resolution every other hour.

So I started replacing the habit with other things---

I started turning the laptop off and putting it away more often.
I started keeping books by the computer to remind me to read instead.
I put my to-do list front and center in front of the keyboard to remind me of what I really wanted to be doing this week.
When I did get on the computer (much less often than before), I started studying French. Yes, FRENCH.

It's only been a couple weeks, but I've already noticed that I'm much more present in the current moment than I was before. This wasn't something that I was intentionally striving for, but because I had to train myself out of my bad habits, I gradually had to become more mindful as well of what I was doing.

That mindfulness has meant that when I watch a t.v. show with Matt or the (rare) movie by myself in the afternoon when Raven is napping, I actually sit down on the couch and focus on it instead of opening up a computer screen at the same time.

It's meant that I've been more likely to chop up the vegetables for dinner in the quiet of my own thoughts or against the backdrop of quiet music instead of the blare of a t.v. show or movie in the background (just to fill the silence). 

It's always so fascinating to me how new habits can come with completely unforeseen consequences.

3. I was wasting even more time before on social media than I thought I was.

It took me a long time to realize I had a social media addiction, and it was one of those things I shrugged off admitting for a long time because I was ashamed of it. I mean, it's not like I had a smartphone that I was glued to every two seconds, so I must not have a problem...right?

Well, it was only when I cut down that I realized how much time I was really spending before on it.

In the 16 days I've been on my new plan, I have:

- Finished 3 books (and will finish two more in the next day or so)
- Easily kept up on all the dishes (something that always seemed inordinately difficult before)
- Started doing family history and genealogy again, something I haven't touched in a couple years, really (and I've already discovered a name on Matt's line, an astounding feat since there are about a billion people working on his line, it seems...)
- Felt more spiritually in tune than I have in a long time (which has been helped along by the fact that I'm reading my scriptures and other church materials much more frequently and deeply than I was before)
- Exercised 3 or more times a week again
- Started learning French (something I've said I've wanted to do for ages but never "gotten around to")
- Listed almost all of the items from our latest storage shed auction that are at our apartment
- Typed up more than 40 pages of my second mission journal (I finished the first a few years ago when I'd set it as a goal to type up all of them for one of my resolutions that year)

And even having done all this, I've still found time to do the things I normally do (like blog and play with Raven), as well as found time to just veg out and do nothing (like watch a movie).

It's seriously like I've gained about 2-3 hours a day from this one change in my habits, and it's amazing.

4. I'm most likely to want to break my resolution when I'm lonely or bored, so I have to find ways around those two things to stay on track.

When I'm bored now, I do one of the things I've mentioned above, or I bundle Raven up and we leave the house for awhile.

When I'm lonely, I've made myself start texting or calling people rather than scrolling through what those people are doing on social media.

It sounds so stupid, but I didn't realize before how much I was trying to use social media before to fill a void. I feel so fortunate to be able to stay at home with Raven, but it can definitely be lonely at times (and not always too exciting, especially when we're stuck inside due to weather for long periods of time). So, when I finally realized that, I was able to do other things that would actually legitimately help me with those things, rather than just distract me from what the real issue was.

Honestly, I'm kind of embarrassed to write all this out and admit it to people. I've always thought of myself as a motivated, driven, hardworking person, so it's been a bit humbling to realize how much time I'd truly been wasting on my social media addiction (not to mention the reasons I was doing so).

But I'm feeling much calmer and more in tune with my own thoughts than I have in years, and I'm excited to see what kinds of self-revelations come to me over the course of this year as I try and keep this up.



Have you ever tried cutting down on your social media? What differences did you notice?


Saturday, January 14, 2017

10 Healthy Habits I'm Glad I Adopted in my Twenties

With the onset of my thirties, not much obviously changed for me, aging-wise. Sure, I'd noticed for years that my body was becoming more sensitive to things like bad mattresses and not warming up properly before a hard workout. I also found my first gray hair when I was probably around 26, and I've had subtle wrinkles across my forehead for years (which have now been joined by subtle wrinkles around my eyes in the past year or so).

All these small but significant signs of aging have been happening slowly, some almost imperceptibly, long before I turned the big 3-0. However, the great thing about hitting such a milestone is that it makes you reflect a lot more than usual about The Direction of your life, as well as the always-present past (which sometimes can come back to haunt me even now).

This morning, as I rode the high of endorphins that came from doing my third hard aerobics workout this week (the holidays, rather than pushing me into the cycle of indulgence and then laziness, seemed to push me instead back into the gym, for the first time regularly in about a month and a half), I started thinking about all the habits I'd started in my twenties that I'm now SO GLAD that I did.

Because another thing about aging that I know is that the longer you're used to doing something, the harder it is to change it. So for me, I'm glad that my twenties were a time of adopting lots of healthy habits that I still have now, even though my schedule has been taken over by childcare and other adult responsibilities.



Here are 10 healthy habits I'm glad I adopted in my twenties:

1. I became a runner.

After five years of running, the shock of associating myself with the word "runner" has finally started to wear off, and it's now become such a part of my identity that I can never seem to go too long without thinking about it, participating in it, pushing myself to do it more/better/faster...you get the idea.

As a kid and teenager, I stayed active doing sports and biking outside and walking long distances with friends (even if it was to the local Arctic Circle for milkshakes).  By the time college started though, I had dabbled in a lot of different cardio-type exercises but never stuck with just one. For years, using the treadmill and elliptical and bikes at the gym was just something I forced myself to do for 20 minutes before I got to what I really enjoyed (weight lifting). During the seasons of my life when I wasn't so good about going to the gym, I basically wouldn't work out regularly at all.

That's why, when I discovered that endurance running was something I could not only handle pretty well but also something that I enjoyed, it was life-changing. Now, I finally had a go-to workout that didn't require hardly any equipment or other people or really any forethought at all--I could just strap on my running shoes and go out for one mile or for six. I may continue to cycle through other workouts in addition to running, but the runner part of me is here to stay for a few more decades at least, I hope.

2. I pushed myself to be comfortable trying different workout routines.

As much as I love running, there are a couple times where I tend to get burned out from it: one is during the dead of winter (when the elements and the cold are enough to make anyone never want to step a foot outside again), and the other is right after I've finished a big race I've been training for.

During those times of flagging motivation, I'm glad that in my twenties I also learned to push myself out of my comfort zone when it came to exercise, particularly when it came to trying out new things like outdoor sports (such as hiking or rock climbing) or group fitness classes. Not only are group fitness classes, in particular, generally pretty fun and a great workout, but because I tend to thrive on routine, I tend to be great at sticking with the same class for a long period of time.

At first, I was intimidated by many of the classes, but I made myself keep going, and I found a few more exercises I love---dance, yoga, and, most recently, kickboxing. Now, because I'm used to going outside of my comfort zone, I am constantly pushing my body's limits and growing and improving (not to mention meeting new people and learning new skills).

3. I learned to floss daily.

I was so terrible at flossing regularly as a kid, but once I got married, I was determined to start afresh. In our five and a half years of marriage, I've rarely missed a day of flossing, and---bonus!---Matt also started flossing and no longer dreads the dentist (because he was always getting cavities as a kid but now doesn't get them anymore).

4. I got in the habit of drinking a lot of water.

This one was all about making it convenient. On my mission, I carried around a 3-liter water bottle in my backpack at all times. When I taught, I kept a giant water mug on my desk and replenished it with ice water throughout the day. Now, I take a drink whenever I'm in the kitchen and whenever I think I want a snack (when what I really want most of the time is a drink). 

5. I stopped chasing the sun-kissed look.

It took me a LONG time to accept my fair skin, and I spent many a year in my teenage years trying to prove my skin wrong and show it that it did, in fact, want to tan and get all bronzey-beautiful (spoiler--it never listened). Finally, I cut my losses and just started wearing sunscreen regularly, and not only has it saved me from a lot of blistering sunburns, but it also got me into good habits for when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that required that I cover up even more than what I was used to.

While I'm not 100% perfect at wearing SPF, I am infinitely better than I used to be.

6. I prioritized sleep.

Even when I was a kid, I prioritized my sleep, so I'm not sure I can count this as a habit I formed in my twenties. But I guess I'm saying that I'm glad I continued to prioritize sleep despite the ever-mounting pressures of adulthood. Pretty much every night, I get 8 hours. Period.  Obviously, there have had to be a few exceptions to this (like the first month or two of Raven's life and the occasional emergency project or whatnot), but I've always made it a point to stick to a pretty consistent nightly routine and bedtime (even during college, my first year of teaching, and my first year of motherhood).

7. I learned to say no and to cut back.

In 2013 (so, in my late-ish twenties), I discovered the idea of minimalism and spent the entire year radically decluttering our home and pursuing a much simpler lifestyle. Before, I often sought to fill my schedule to the brim with work and school and friends and hobbies and dating and exercise and just everything. Every single day had a massive to-do list, and every year, I was guaranteed to have about 4 massive meltdowns due to all the pressure I was putting on myself.

There have been many events in my life that have pushed me to slow down and enjoy where I'm currently at, but the year-long experiment of cutting out all the excess was the only thing that seemed to stick for the long haul, and now it's much more rare that I actually HAVE a must-do on the calendar rather than how it used to be. Granted, a lot of this was made possible by my graduating from college, but it's still a philosophy that's stuck with me.

8. I became aware of my sugar addiction.

Now, please note--I didn't say that I've totally gotten RID of my sugar addiction, but I'm at least much more aware of it now than I was before. Before, I would think nothing of eating 50 Tootsie Rolls or downing a milkshake every other day after dinner or noticing the size of the bowl that my ice cream was being stuffed into. Now, while I still allow myself to have sugar (okay, let's just call it chocolate because it's pretty much always chocolate), I have more or less finally understood how to enjoy it in moderation. I know that that strategy doesn't work for everyone, but it works better for me than to try to cut it out entirely (because then I'll think of nothing else, even if I've already been off of it for weeks and weeks).

9. I started washing my hands a lot more.

I've always been an avid hand-washer after using the bathroom, but it was only after I served a mission in El Salvador (where sickness seemed to spread much more readily because people there don't have the hand-washing habits many Americans tend to have) that I became a stickler about it. Becoming a teacher only reinforced the importance of washing my hands, and I credit my habit of frequently washing my hands (especially before eating or before touching my face) with the fact that I rarely get sick.

10. I know what it takes to maintain a healthy weight for me.

Even with a bedrock of healthy habits, there were still a few times I struggled to maintain a healthy weight (namely on my mission and then later when I was pregnant). Having lost 25 pounds after my mission and then the 50 pounds I gained in my pregnancy, I now much more fully understand just how hard it is to lose weight, and I have adopted the necessary practices to maintain that healthy weight once I've reached it.

Now, I no longer think of "dieting" or lose-weight-quick schemes. Instead, I've gotten used to eating more correct portion sizes, watching my sugar intake, cooking the majority of my own meals, and avoiding greasy and processed foods. I don't deny myself treats or the occasional pizza (we ordered some last night, actually), but I've also learned to just pay attention to how my diet looks over a day and a week, and then make changes if necessary. (I also weigh myself every day, and when I notice my weight creeping up, I'll cut back then, too.)

Gone are the days when I could eat whatever I wanted and it wouldn't show or when I could stay out until one o'clock only to wake up five hours later for school or work. But, though my twenties are behind me, I am still feeling pretty good about all I've learned so far in taking better care of my health.

Now if I can just remember to schedule our twice-yearly dentist appointments, I'll be set for life.


What are some of the healthy habits you're glad you've adopted already? Or what habits do you WISH you would have adopted earlier?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Why It's Sometimes Best Not to Expect Too Much

Upon embarking on any venture in life, most of us have some kind of expectation attached to the outcome of that venture.

I decided to make cookies yesterday...I expected they would be delicious. (They were.)
I went to a kickboxing class last night...I expected it would kick my butt. (It did. I can barely move today, thanksforasking.)
I became a parent...I expected it to be a whole lot of things...

That it sometimes wasn't. (Which was sometimes really, really good, like when I had the expectation that I would never get a full night's sleep again but was proved wrong when Raven hit about 3 months old.)


As I've gotten much more used to playing the role of Mom, I discovered that the expectations often just flare up out of nowhere, seemingly. And that even the expectations based on sound reasoning and past precedent sometimes don't get fulfilled. (Like the fact that Raven LOVED eating sweet potatoes out of the baby food jar but hates the real thing. What's up with THAT?)

Sometimes, I recognize almost immediately that the expectations in my head are silly. For example, I watched a video of my Facebook friend's kid (who's about the same age as Raven) counting to ten, and I expected that Raven would quickly pick up on the same skill, so we spent an afternoon or two working on it. (Apparently, she only feels the need to count to 3--a skill she had learned long before I started trying to teach her more--which makes sense, really, when you think that one...two...three leads to us throwing her up into the air with eager squeals or when it's our way of getting her excited and ramping up her sense of anticipation about bouncing on the bed, or that we usually only read a maximum of three books before each nap/bedtime, or that she usually doesn't exceed two pieces of toast or three clementines or whatever it is).

So she can't count to 10.

Obviously, expectations like that aren't such a big deal. (And I felt no sense of let-down whatsoever that she hasn't reached that particular milestone yet.)


As a parent, you realize pretty early on that it's not a good idea to base your expectations on what someone else's kid is doing---

But I think something important for me to realize early on too was that it's important not to heap too many expectations either on what I'm going to call "the magic memories."

Magic memories, for me, are the memories that (hopefully) most adults have of their childhood---memories of building snowmen outside on a snow day from school, memories of walking around seeing Christmas lights and sipping on hot chocolate, memories of building fires in the fireplace and gathering around to read a story together as a family. Some of these so-called magic memories are based on traditions that can be anticipated year after year, but some of them arise from the moment at hand, like when my siblings and I used to play fox-and-geese out in our snowy backyard, throwing ice water down on the paths we'd made so they'd be extra slick (and therefore much more slippery and fun to run on).

I think sometimes as parents, we remember such times from our own childhood and remember how much we loved them, so it's tempting to build up this grand sense of anticipation anytime we lead our children to participate in just such a magical activity.


Well, as we now embark on the stage of Raven's life where she's more fully starting to "get" everything that we're doing with her, I noticed that my expectations were also increasing---

She was going to be so excited to try hot chocolate for the first time!
She was going to ooh and aah over all the Christmas lights!

And, of course, she was going to simply be breathless with excitement over her first "real" afternoon in the snow, complete with snowsuit and boots and everything.


Well, in typical Raven fashion, she approached the whole business of this "playing in the snow" deal very cautiously.

She carefully picked her way along the paths that Daddy had made before her, taking particular care not to brush any of the snow on the side and whining whenever any snow got onto the top of her boots.

She had zero interest in actually touching the snow herself.

Upon being placed on a little snow "seat" (just to show her that she could do that now that she was in heavy-duty snow gear), she promptly burst into tears and blubbered, "Up! Please! PLEASE!" until we took pity on her and picked her up.

Although she clearly loved being outside again (since we've been cooped up in the apartment for SO many days this winter), she didn't really want much to do with it all---

She just wanted to be able to walk and walk and walk and walk with no limitations of walls or doors or cupboards or furniture, and she wanted to be able to notice the airplanes as they roared across the sky and say bye-bye to the dogs as our neighbor trotted them past on their leashes.

I was okay with all this, of course. But I'll admit, I still felt like I'd let her down, somehow, by not being able to SHOW her how amazing the snow could be. I felt like this experience didn't exactly live up with the experience I'd envisioned in my head, and I went inside feeling just the teensiest bit sad over the whole ordeal.


I realize this is all going to sound rather silly to some.

I mean, look at these pictures! The fact that she clearly doesn't love the snow is kind of hilarious! (Which it was, and is.)

But I've been thinking over the past month of holiday merry-making and so on that perhaps it is best sometimes to go in with no expectations---to just go in, rather, with the sense of embracing whatever is the outcome as the way it will be, and as a way to make perfectly imperfect memories.

I know, looking back, I will laugh and laugh as I remember how much Raven treated the snow like it was a thing to be ignored at best and a thing to be feared at worst. (In fact, I DO laugh as I see these pictures.)


But I want to file away a note to myself, a note to remember when we are about to embark on the always-oncoming firsts and new experiences and possible magical moments---

Just go into them with no expectations other than to live in the moment and appreciate the time together. What will happen will happen, and true "magic" can rarely be forced, anyway.


Just enjoy it all, the tears as well as the excitement, the mood swings as well as the triumphs.

Because someday, you will look back on this first "real" time playing out in the snow, and you will laugh in delight that it was not at all to your expectations.

Because parenthood has not always been at all to your expectations.

And many times, that has been a very, very good thing.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

10 on 10 (On Time, For Once)

Raven's been sick with a nasty mucus-filled cough for days now, and for most kids, that would mean more naps (or maybe longer naps), but for Raven, that means that she sleeps less, and more fitfully at that. As of now, during her one "nap time" of the day, she is proceeding to name every object in her room and make a sound that closely resembles a duck trying to sing.

So.

It's amazing that I'm getting this out on time, is what I'm saying.

Here's some of what we've been up to over the past month of picture-taking:

 1// We've officially reached the trying-on-mom-and-dad's-shoes stage. It's basically adorable.

 2// SMOOTHIES!!!

 3// Peekaboo during lunch, when things get too dull (or when she's sick of eating her peas).

4// We ventured out to play in the snow (for real) for the first time. She is distinctly on the fence about it. (Probably a full post to follow on this---there are just too many good pictures not to share.)

 5// Trying to "catch" snowflakes with Daddy. (Don't worry---she was NOT outside for very long dressed like that. Just in case anyone was tempted to report me or something.)

6// Special Christmas Eve Eve (Dec. 23rd) dinner, just the three of us. Roast beef and homemade rolls were involved. We may have tried to convince Raven to try some sparkling cider. She is distinctly overwhelmed with disgust by all things carbonated (not that she gets many opportunities to try them).

 

7// We used some of Raven's Christmas money from her grandparents in Missouri to buy her some new board books from the only local bookstore left in Logan. The entire car ride home from the store, she chanted, "NEW BOOKS! NEW BOOKS!" in the back, with never-wavering enthusiasm. 

She is definitely our kid.

 
8// In December, we tried to read an inspiring Christmas (short) story every day, a tradition we've been doing for years.

9// Baking instead of cleaning. Eating chocolate chips instead of green smoothies. (That's the way we roll in the new year!)

 

10// Since Mom has taken up doing her hip hop aerobics routines at home during the week for extra exercise (since there's no way she's going outside to run in the -20 degree weather we've been having), Raven has officially became the Dance Queen of the Year.

 And, for a bonus pic, this is Raven's: "Mom, it's ridiculously cold outside, and this picture-taking idea is stupid" face.

(But we managed to get some pretty cute pics, anyway)

And, for more Raven goodness, here's a video of me trying to get her to say "Cookie" really loud (like she'll sometimes yell out in the middle of the night):

video

Aaaaand....I'd better go get her out of her crib since there's obviously no napping going on today...
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