Thursday, September 18, 2014

It's been a while

It's been a wild, crazy summer. I've had so much going on, both professionally and personally, that something had to give and, unfortunately, what gave was my blogging time. I have had so many ideas I wanted to write down, or started to write down, but never got to complete. There are so many things I want to get done and only so many hours in a day. Getting into all of the details would be far, far more than one (or even 8) blog posts could handle, so I won't even attempt it. I'll just highlight, and say that most of the changes have been really good. Also, I didn't stop writing entirely. I feel a little silly admitting this, but I wrote a book. It's a lighthearted piece of fluff, but one I think is good enough that I'm now working on getting it published. (Wish me luck!) So that's been sucking up any potential blogging time I might have had.
So what are the big changes and highlights? First of all, there's work. I got a new job! This has been one of the best changes in my life since Miss B was born. I interviewed for this job mostly because it was away from my old supervisor (who was bad enough, and crazy enough, that I actually had to file a complaint against her with HR sometime in the last year--and the problems didn't stop, I just tried to keep my head down until I could find a way out) and because I would get a small pay raise. Well, the new job is better than I expected. I'm actually really enjoying it as a job. The tasks are fun, and my coworkers and supervisor are really supportive and friendly. I've worked with them before, so I did know that going into the job. But it's refreshing, after hating work and being so stressed out about it for so long, to have going to work suddenly be pretty good. And that small pay raise? It turns out that moving up a level the way I did entitled me to a 10% pay raise, rather than the $.50 or so that I thought it would be. Now, I keep thinking of this quote, but my raise is nothing to sneeze at. It's enough that when Shane told me his campus job from the last two semesters is only taking on grad students this semester, we were able to be happy about it rather than stressed. We don't *need* the money from that job anymore, and now he gets to be home with Miss B more which makes finding babysitters for his class time much easier. He's still working his weekend job, and we're staying afloat. It's a good feeling.
Miss B herself is thriving. She's 10 months old today! I can hardly believe it, although my thoughts keep turning to the upcoming 1st birthday party. I'm excited to plan it. We're going to ask the grandparents not to go crazy on gifts, and tell friends that gifts are unnecessary, because she's turning 1 and doesn't have any expectations and won't remember it anyway.
We've finally got some of her sleeping problems settled. She's been in her own crib for several months now, and I miss the co-sleeping less than I thought I would. Don't get me wrong, sleepy baby snuggles are awesome. But she was pinching and scratching and kicking us toward the end there and we were being driven crazy. So the move into her own sleeping space has been a really great thing for all of us. She still doesn't want to go to sleep, and usually wakes herself up several times after we put her in bed, but once she's out we get only two wakeup calls during the night, to eat and be changed.
She's thoroughly mobile now, on the cusp of walking. She has a baby walker which she can push around the living room and has quickly gotten really good at it. And she can stand for at least 30 seconds on her own. I've seen her eyeing distances between furniture like, "Hmm, could I walk there?" before she decides that the answer is "no" and drops to a crawl.
She calls us by our slave names, "Mama" and "Dada". She even started calling one grandmother "Nana". Very exciting. It adds an extra level of pathos when I'm trying to make dinner and she crawls over to me, pulls herself up to stand clutching my leg, and says, "Ma! Mama!" because she wants to be held. Since she's so very curious I've been trying to get her involved in cooking as much as possible. She loves it. I'll pick her up once I've got all of the chopping and prep work done, and describe what I'm doing and why I'm doing it as I add ingredients to a dish. "See the onions? See how they're getting lighter and softer? They're almost ready." Yesterday she helped me make bread and was fascinated with the whole process. I let her eat a couple of small bites of dough and when I was kneading it she got some flour to play with. It's working really well for us to do things this way. She so wants to be like the big people that making her feel involved and important is going to be key as she grows up, I suspect.
As always, the summer garden had highlights and low moments. My potatoes were awful because it was the rainiest, wettest summer on record and they just didn't do well. Neither did any of my squashes. I got one--one!--zucchini. Thankfully, a friend got quite a few so she shared with me, and I grabbed some from the farmer's market. Others of my plants did really well, though. Carrots and lettuce went crazy. We had at least one big dinner salad each week this summer, with enough leftovers to be lunch the next day. So we worked with what we had, and I'm filling in now with farmer's market produce to shore up supplies for the winter. Because it's Fairbanks, and as cliche as it has become to say, winter is coming.
Last day for the market is this Saturday. I'm sad, but excited too. I love autumn. All of the gorgeous colors, the different foods we're eating now. It's glorious. Here's a picture I took on a bike ride last weekend:
Beautiful. I live in such a gorgeous place.
That being said, we're working on eating up all of our stores of food by next May, because we're planning to move. Out of Alaska. There are so very many reasons why--Shane can get a better job in another state, I want to be closer to my parents, etc.--but it's still not an easy decision to make. I have a running "pros and cons" list in my head and it comes out about even for both moving and staying. Shane is more excited to move than I am, actually, and without his enthusiasm we would probably stay here. As it is, I'm trying to think only of the positives and not what I will miss so much about Fairbanks. Perhaps we'll come back to live here again someday. At the very least, we have friends here so it won't be a permanent goodbye.
Right now it is definitely the busy season. I'm trying to preserve as much good, local food as possible, trying to get out for bike rides and walks as much as we can while the weather is nice (I love our bike trailer), and at the same time trying to focus on indoor pursuits. I haven't knitted, well, anything in the past two years, so I want to correct that. I've had a sweater which was half finished when I got pregnant and then realized that I wouldn't be able to wear it for about a year anyway so I never finished it. I'm doing so now. Then I want to make a couple of toddler hats (I found an adorable and warm pattern from a Norwegian woman whose last name was my maiden name--distant relative perhaps?), some baby mittens, and maybe some baby sweaters and baby boots (we'll see about the boots--she's got mukluks which would be much warmer, but will they fit during the early part of winter?), as well as some items for Christmas presents.
I also interlibrary loaned a whole pile of books which I've been frantically trying to read before their assigned due dates. Most of them, I've had to request a renewal.
As if all of this wasn't enough, I started a workout program on Monday. T25, so it's supposedly only 25 minutes a day. But then I have to factor in procrastination (I pick up all the toys in the living room so that I can actually workout without stepping on something potentially dangerous) and shower time. The workout is kicking my butt and just what I need to really get back into shape. Walking and biking have been great, but I need more core work and the only work my arms have gotten is lifting and carrying the babe. It's not nothing, but I'd rather not get hurt because I was neglecting to work my arms and shoulders.
So that's what I've been doing the last few months. What about you? How was your summer?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Meal planning when you just don't have time

I'm all about doing things the easy way these days. At least, I still want to do so much stuff, but I just don't have time. For some crazy reason, my baby actually wants me to pay attention to her and play with her. I love that ...most of the time. When we have 2 weeks of laundry piled up, crazy amounts of dishes we haven't gotten around to cleaning, a cat box that needs cleaning, a dog who's pawing at my leg to get my attention, a husband I feel like I haven't had any truly good time with lately, and a need once in a while for a little "me time" (it's important), I kinda wish I had a baby who would play by herself once in a while. It's a joke that's not really a joke in our house that Miss B won't let Mom get anything done. We've tested this. When I'm home, she has tolerance for about one chore each night. Some days, only half a chore. Ask me how many times I've finished making dinner while juggling her. Go on, ask. The answer is, pretty much any time I've made dinner since the day she was born.
The other night I made dinner and, later, committed the cardinal sin of cleaning the cat box after she'd gone to bed. She woke up and immediately began screaming because, as Shane put it, "Mom wasn't within arm's reach." She's getting a little better now because she actually likes tummy time--she's somewhat mobile (enough to grab a toy that's over there but not yet to actually crawl or move more than a foot or two) so that's helping. God help us when she does start crawling because she's never going to be still and I know already she's going to want me to watch her wherever she goes.
You're wondering why I don't do all of this when she naps. Ha! Hahahahaha!!! At the Easter potluck we went to there was another family with an 11 week old. The mom complained that their little girl had "only" taken a 2 hour nap that afternoon. I told her, if my child sleeps for more than 45 minutes I end up checking every 10 to make sure she's still breathing. It happens so rarely that she sleeps longer than half an hour. Last night, ten minutes. She took a freaking ten minute nap. >( So when I'm home and she does nap, believe me I am running around like a madwoman trying to get everything accomplished. Somehow, it's never done. I've started calling my family when I'm walking Dog and Baby (still in the carrier on my chest) because that's the only time I tend to have peace and quiet. I tried talking to one of my brothers when she was awake and about 5 minutes into the conversation he told me, "You have a very loud daughter." Yes, yes I do.
I don't feel that all of this is an excuse to fall behind in certain areas of life, however. Like meal planning and cooking. Not even Baby + finals week (next week) is an excuse to fall behind on that. We're relying slightly more on convenience items (as in, I bought rather than making the graham crackers for Shane's birthday pie crust) but for the most part we're keeping on keeping on in terms of cooking whatever we can. So how do I streamline the process? That part, it turns out, is easy.

1. I was once told that to be a home cook you should either have a lot of recipes in your repertoire or just a few. Why? Because that makes it so much easier to meal plan without having much food waste. If you have only a few meals, you'll use the same ingredients over and over again so that they don't go bad. If you have lots of meals, you'll have plenty of recipes with which to use up the foods you buy. I am a "lots of meals" kind of person. The meals we love and make "often" don't usually get made more than once in a month. In fact, if we do plan for a meal to be repeated in less than four weeks it feels like we're having it a lot.
This system gives me lots and lots of meals to choose from, and lots of ingredients to play with. So I know if I want to make one of these three dishes, I should choose one of the others as well so that I can use up the monterey jack cheese. (Usually the sausage & pasta meal with one of the soups so that we don't have too much soup in one week.) If I have leftover ham, as we recently did, oh look! Super easy to make this ham and white bean soup. And, easy enough that the baby let me do everything but cut up the ham before I had to recruit Shane's help. (Rare. Very rare.)
The other night we had no time to go to the store, but not much food that seemed to go together. Chicken? Grapes? Mayonaise? Almond slices? However, because I had so many recipes in my head it was easy to pull one out and make a delicious dinner that didn't feel hurried or scraped together. (It was curried chicken salad--I added some dried cranberries too, to good effect.) And because I utilized things that were about to go bad (chicken we'd thawed for another meal the night before, grapes that would have been thrown out otherwise) we both reduced our food waste and helped keep our food budget in line.
2. Use that freezer! Shane and I are really, really bad about freezer cooking. Some people are awesome at it, but we aren't. However, while we don't necessarily freeze extra meals all the time, we do freeze parts of meals. For instance, tonight we'll be pulling out some homemade freezer biscuits. When we want some and I have time, I make a fresh batch and just rotate those into the bottom of my big bag of biscuits in the freezer. That way when I don't have time to make more (like tonight) we always have them on hand. They're super easy to pull out of the freezer to bulk up a meal. Tonight we're having bratwursts (in the freezer since our big Costco trip last summer), sweet potatoes, green beans, and biscuits. It'll be a ridiculously simple meal to throw together, but hearty, filling, and yummy.
We did manage to put one lifesaver into the freezer. I accidentally made way, way more filling for burritos than I intended to (mostly, it was the beans and rice I made too much of) so Shane and I spent a hurried half hour assembly lining them, wrapping them in foil, and tossing them into a bag in the freezer. This has been super helpful a few times when the question came up, "What are we going to do for lunch then?" Grab a burrito, as it turns out.
3. Crockpot. I can't say enough good things about our Crockpot. We use it so often, and it always comes in handy. When I know we're going to have a big, crazy week I plan meals that can go into the Crockpot really fast. Not ones that are fussy (they're out there) and require putting in different ingredients at different times. No, I love the ones where you dump everything in and turn it on. I usually do all the prep the night before so that in the morning I can just pull the crock out of the fridge, put it in the heater, and turn it on. So simple.
This is also how we utilize dried beans so much. I soak them overnight in the crock of the crockpot (in the fridge) and in the morning I refresh the water, put the crock in the pot and set it to low. By the time I come home in the evening the beans are soft and ready to go into whatever dish I've planned. I've never had luck just letting a soup with beans in it simmer for hours on end. They always end up somewhat crunchy and unsatisfying.
4. Have the ingredients for a few quick meals on hand at all times. These are mine: chili, pasta primavera, chicken soup, lo mein, chicken fried rice. If it turns out that we didn't plan enough meals and leftovers for a particular week, or if we don't have time or even inclination to go to the store, I can pull out a meal that's easy to make. When we all came down with some awful cold earlier in the year, it was so nice to have the ingredients for chicken soup on hand. I use my mother's recipe, which I could make blindfolded in an unfamiliar kitchen, so it was a cinch to make it even when I didn't feel well. And it really does make you feel better.
5. Plan the easy meals. Seriously. Shane is swamped this week getting ready for finals next week, Miss B has been needier than usual (perhaps another growth spurt? a tooth getting ready to pop out?) and I've been a little anemic yet again (grr!) so I've been drained and tired. Neither of us really wants to cook. So our meal plan has been: salmon (from the freezer) and veggies (also from the freezer) one night; brats, veggies, and biscuits as stated above; BLTs; fajitas; pasta primavera. Super easy and quick meals so that we can feel slightly less overwhelmed. :)
6. Make extra. Sometimes, lots of extra. For lunches, routinely, we do leftovers. It's not really much extra work (maybe a bit of extra vegetable cutting?) to make enough to have leftovers the next day, and when we're putting the meal away we just pack lunch portions for ourselves.
If we know we'll have one or two nights that are super busy, we'll cook one giant meal (red beans and rice, a big soup + bread, or two-three main dishes such as chicken fried rice, egg drop soup, and stir fry) and coast on the leftovers for several days. This has seen us through finals weeks, through Hell Week when I'm doing a FLOT musical, and through the first few weeks after our parents went home after we had Miss B.

By the way, all of this works just as well for breakfasts. Between biking to work and breastfeeding, I need a filling breakfast every morning. But, it also has to be fast. I already put up my blueberry oatmeal banana bread recipe, but I mix it in with other things. When I lack time, oatmeal is always a good choice. But I measure it out and get my toppings ready the night before so that in the morning I can just add water and pop it in the microwave to cook while I feed the pets and change a diaper. When it's not my night to cook dinner and we're out of breakfast food, I'll run around making something easy and quick, like the banana bread. If I have a little more time (like, say, weekends) I'll make something more involved, such as pancakes (which can be refrigerated or frozen for quick weekday breakfasts) or muffins (can also be frozen). This has removed most of the stress from weekday mornings, and I always know that I've got a healthy breakfast waiting for me, a lunch packed up and ready in the fridge.
You'd think that planning this would take time, but it doesn't. In my spare moments--walking to the bathroom at work, during my bike ride home--I'll figure out what I want to and what we should eat in the coming week. Later, I'll ask Shane's input. (It usually goes, "What do you want to cook and eat this week?" "I dunno, you pick.") What do we still have in the fridge that needs to get used and eaten? What do we have in the freezer that we should eat? Ideally, the meals I come up with utilize at least one of those components. When I actually sit down to write out the grocery list, it takes less than 10 minutes. All of this has helped to keep our grocery budget in line and to keep our sanity, even though we've added a tiny human to our household. It means we don't waste time every night trying to figure out what to eat, or getting takeout because "there's no food in the house".

Friday, April 25, 2014

Cycling

Finally, finally! I was able to start biking to work again. After being pregnant, then recovering from the c-section, and finally breaking my wrist, this feels long overdue. But I'm recovered from it all, the wrist brace came off, and the snow is mostly melted now. I hopped on my bike Monday morning, elated, and by the time I got halfway to work my legs were burning and my lungs were working overtime. What the heck? This was before the hill I had to conquer, too. I had thought I was in pretty decent shape once again. Sure, I've been avoiding push-ups while my wrist was healing, but I've been running on weekends and doing what I think of as my "baby weight exercises" on weeknights. That is, on weeknights I've been doing any and all exercises I can do while holding or at least involving my daughter: squats (60, with the 14-15ish pound weight of my baby), lunges (30-50, each side, again with the baby), leg lifts that I could do while smiling at and talking to my girl. She's enjoyed these times more than I have, since she wasn't pushing herself to do more. :)
So I was very surprised when I found myself so out of biking shape on Monday. As soon as I started up the hill, I was gasping for air. I downshifted, I pushed through even though my thighs were burning. And I did make it to the top, but my legs felt like jelly. Over the course of the day, my rear end got saddle-sore as well, but that was expected. I kept telling myself not to feel bad, that I'll get back into biking shape again soon. I mentioned on Facebook that I'd started biking again and a friend reminded me that that hill gets easier pretty fast.
It wasn't until the end of the day, during my ride home (I get to go "Wheeeeee!" down that hill) when I was trying to take my mind off of how sore my butt was that I realized: the first summer I got this job, when I first started biking up that hill, I couldn't make it. I had to stop halfway up and walk the rest of the way. I got better quick enough, but still. The fact is, I couldn't make it all the way up for nearly the first month of biking that hill. I further realized that, though my legs had felt rubbery that morning, that went away quickly. By the time I rode home, other than my sore backside, I was feeling great. Even after everything I listed in that second sentence (having a kid, recovering from an emergency c-section, breaking my wrist) I'm in better shape than I was five years ago. This is something that most people can't say, even without throwing in major abdominal surgery.
I felt like crap riding in that day, but I rode home smiling and feeling proud of myself. And my friend was right, by the next day I already had an easier time getting up that hill.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Life, the Universe, and Everything

Ok, I'm not really going to talk about the Universe. I lied. But I do have a bunch of other cool, and some not-so-cool, things to talk about on varying subjects.
As you may have noticed, I really haven't written much lately. Turns out, becoming a mom has taken away much of my free time. I would have more if my child napped with any consistency or for any length, but she doesn't so I don't. *shrug* What time I do have is usually spent catching up on chores, or just reading. You never realize how much mental energy it takes to keep up with a child and work full-time until you have to do it. Add in tax season and craziness at work (annual evaluations with a completely crazy supervisor, woo) and I've been feeling a little overwhelmed. But in some ways, it's brought me to a good place. It's all forced me to take a good look at my wants and needs, to figure out what is unnecessary stress in my life. Take my garden, for instance. What will be the most satisfying for me? Well, obviously I want to still garden. But, fighting with the weeds and grass in the actual dirt area we have isn't working for me any more. I don't have the time, and I don't have the money to make it right. So this year I'm focusing solely on my garden boxes. However, I am willing to put more time and money into those than I have been. Since they're also the most productive part of my garden, the ROI should be pretty good. And I don't have to stress about what I haven't been doing.
The other benefit of the garden boxes is that they're portable. It sounds like we'll have to move out of our place sometime soon. We were really hoping to stay here until we move out of Alaska (sometime next summer-Shane just found out that he'll finish his degree next Spring!) but there's been a change of regime. Our old landlord sold the duplex, and the new landlady wants to move in downstairs. For now, they've moved in upstairs. Apparently the plan is to fix up the upstairs (to try to rent it out for an exorbitant and crazy amount - $2500!!!) and then move downstairs, where we currently are. She hasn't given us a good timeline, so we're just trying to find something before we're forced to take something at the last minute. Bleh. Again, though, it's making us look around at our Stuff. What's necessary, what isn't? We might have to rent a smaller place, so what can/should we take with us and what should be gotten rid of? I'm paring down the baby stuff a bit (clothes which we were given but won't re-use for a second child, some of the baby blankets which we don't need) and I'm even going through a formerly untouchable category: my books. The idea is to pare down before we actually have to pack it all up.
We have also gained some things recently, however. One of Shane's relatives bought a couch (on clearance) which she didn't like when she got it home. So she bought another couch, and needed to get rid of this one. She gave it to us. Yay! We actually have a decent couch now! We got rid of the second half of our horrible, ugly, broken Cat Pee Couch (seriously, we discovered when we moved it that the cat had been peeing in one corner--thankfully, it was so uncomfortable that we never sat on it!) and put this lovely new couch in its place.
Our upstairs neighbors have moved out, since the new landlady is moving up there. Someone rang our doorbell by accident asking about a piece of furniture that they were selling, and that gave me an idea. The next time I saw them I asked if they had an old T.V. stand that they'd be willing to sell to me. The answer was, "Please, just take it! We don't want money for it, we just don't want to haul it away." So I got a free T.V. stand, in decent shape, to replace the rickety little bookshelf that our T.V. had been sitting on. Thus, we got rid of my biggest babyproofing worry: that she would pull the T.V. over on herself when she starts crawling and pulling herself up to stand. We'll attach the T.V. to the stand so that she can't pull just it over, but now we don't have to worry about the bookshelf and the T.V. falling over. The stand is nice and low and sturdy, just what we wanted. And, just like the couch it was at the right price: free.
In addition to the T.V. stand, one of the neighbors is a liquor distributor and didn't want to move a bunch of half empty tasting bottles he had around. So, he gave them to us. Yep, you read that right. Free booze. And not even a small amount, either. We're not talking bottom shelf liquor, but good stuff, and not all of it has been opened. At my household's normal rate of consumption this is more than 6 months worth of liquor, even assuming we throw a party or two (or bring some along to other parties). I used some of the vodka straight away to make vanilla extract, since I'd been meaning to buy vodka for that purpose for the last month but always forgot. Now, I don't have to worry about it for quite a while.
We went to Arctic Man over the weekend. For me, it really wasn't that interesting. It can be summed up by "A tribute to the decadence of the first world." Or "fat men on snowmachines who think they're so sporty...because they can ride a machine real fast." Ugh. Not my scene at all. the wastefulness of it all, the amount of oil that was burned just in this one weekend. Not to mention everything else. Because people were camped out, a lot of them scoured Craigslist for free couches that they didn't mind having around a campfire. And on the last night, all those couches got burned so that people didn't have to haul them out. !!!! Yeah, you can probably imagine what I felt about that. Then there were all of the motorhomes, and I'm sure lots of food waste and packaging and whatnot. I went for a walk with the baby at one point and a girl on a 4-wheeler stopped and asked me if I wanted a ride. She looked at me as if I was crazy. After all, who would want to walk, right? I said no, of course, and she said, "Oooo-kaaaay," as if she totally didn't get it. Wow. Just wow.
Anyway, we went because my in-laws were going with some friends, and my FIL hasn't seen the baby since New Year's. Unfortunately, she was mildly ill most of the weekend and, especially with the new circumstances, just wanted to be with me the whole weekend. Oh well. But the in-laws were also about to take a trip to Hawaii so they'd brought up a bunch of food for us. A lasagna, a ham (part of which was eaten there), some milk, and a bunch of fruit. Banana bread. So our food bill should be almost non-existent this week, which is nice, especially since we came home to a sick cat.
I took Monday off anyway to watch the ill baby (just a precaution) and myself (I was feeling under the weather too, I just didn't realize it until we got home), so making a vet appointment when I discovered that our cat was peeing blood (I know! poor guy!) wasn't as hectic as it could have been. Still, forcing the cat into the kennel (with gloves on) and taking him to the vet, yowling the whole way, and with the baby, wasn't the most pleasant of activities. I think I need to talk to my child about being kind to animals, though, because she thought his cries of distress were pretty hilarious.
Thankfully, it is *just* a bladder infection. His kidneys seem fine, and the peeing blood should stop within 48 hours. I wish I could tell him that. He might be more willing to take his medicine that way.
So, life goes on. You win some, you lose some. For the most part, things have been going really well for us. Finding out that Shane only has one more year of school was a huge, huge plus. We're nervous and excited because we're not sure where life will take us after that, but it will be good. I'm certain of it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Blueberry Oatmeal Banana Bread

This has become my new favorite breakfast. I really don't like bananas. In fact, they're one of the few foods I'll say that I pretty much hate, with the caveat unless they're in something. Then, the other flavors tend to mask at least most of the banana flavor and I can stand them.
You can imagine Shane's surprise, last time we were at the store together, when I put two big bunches of bananas into our cart. "Miss I-Hate-Bananas, you're picking up bananas?" Yep. Because this is seriously the best breakfast.

Blueberry Oatmeal Banana Bread

(adapted from this recipe)

3 very ripe bananas, mashed to oblivion
1 large egg
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, or honey (both work well)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 generous cup oats
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4-1/2 tsp nutmeg (optional, but delicious)
Frozen blueberries, preferably wild, until you think "that's blue enough", about 1 cup

Preheat oven to 350. Mash the bananas, then mix in the wet ingredients, then the dry ingredients into the wet, then finally the blueberries (gently) into everything else. Bake in a greased loaf pan for 1 hour.

In the mornings I cut generous slices, slather them with butter, and microwave them for 30-45 seconds to make the butter melt. It's heavenly, and actually not too bad for you.

So, how's it going?

Every day is a whirlwind for us. Especially the evenings. We've fallen into a routine, but that doesn't mean the routine is particularly easy. For at least 1 1/2-2 hours in the evening, it seems like everything needs to get done. Dinner needs to be made, breakfast (if I'm making something baked) needs to be made, pets need to be fed, baby always needs to be fed and have a diaper change, it seems, which leads to realizing that we're totally out of diapers and so a load of laundry needs to be started, the overflowing dishes need to be done because the cook needs that item right there and all the space the dishes are taking up, the cat box needs to be cleaned out, some spill (or spitup) needs to be cleaned up and, oh crap, is it a bath night? Hurry hurry hurry! When we were in the midst of this the other night Shane paused and asked, "Do you remember when we used to relax in the evenings?"
Which is not to say that we don't relax. It might seem crazy for a short amount of time, but the before and after are quite nice. It's been warm enough in the afternoons to go for a decent walk when I get home from work. I strap baby into the Ergo, leash up the dog, make sure I'm wearing my ice cleats, and off we go for about half an hour. It's lovely. Miss B(aby) tends to suck her pacifier and keep her serious face on during the walks. I was a little worried that she wasn't enjoying them until Shane pointed out that not once in her life has she ever hesitated to tell us, quite loudly and vocally, when she wasn't enjoying something. Too, she tends to put on her serious face whenever she's trying to take in a lot. She's the same way at the grocery store, but she's also very quiet and well behaved so she must enjoy it at least a bit.
The reason I mentioned my ice cleats is because, well, I broke my wrist a couple of weeks ago. I know I mentioned before that it was already hurting and I was starting to suspect a stress fracture. Well, I fell on it one day when I took the dog for a short walk (for which the dog is totally to blame), and then slipped and fell on it again later in the same week. It hurt bad enough that a couple days after that I decided to go to the urgent care clinic. I have, according to the doctor, a buckle fracture in my left wrist. So I need to wear a hard brace for 6 weeks (I talked the doctor out of making me see an orthopedist to get it casted) and I'm already sick of it. This is all exactly what we needed, more medical bills and for me to not be at 100% again. I'm somewhat annoyed with my dog (I had the baby in the Ergo when I was tripped, and she nearly fell out), but then I have to remind myself that she's an old lady and she tripped me not on purpose, but just because she was so damn happy and excited to be out for a walk. She's going blind, and we think she's starting to go deaf as well. Poor dear, she didn't know what she was doing. Her life has changed, she's not getting all of the walks and runs and attention from me that she's used to. Sometimes that's hard to remember.
After the crazy part of the evening, though I need to be with her (still) for her to sleep, Miss B is usually asleep sometime between 8:30-9:15. After she's asleep I read, with her snuggled up against my side, until I get sleepy and then curl up with her and go almost instantly to sleep. It's hard to complain about that.
As crazy as life at home has been, life at work has been even worse, filled with uncertainty and, frankly, having to deal with crazy people and crazy ideas. I won't go into it, because this isn't the right time or place, but it's been stressful, annoying, and just plain hard to deal with at times. It makes leaving my baby every day that much harder.
As if everything else wasn't quite enough, our duplex was purchased and, though we'd been told by the realtor that the new owner wanted to keep renting to us, I met the new owner this past week and she said that she'd like to move into our unit, not the upstairs as we'd been originally told. When I asked for a timeline she said "one to six months, I'm not sure." Oh goodie. Apparently she's going to fix up the upstairs unit a bit first, while living there, and then move downstairs. So, Shane and I were hoping that we could stay in this place until we moved out of Alaska and it doesn't look like that's going to happen. *sigh* We're trying to figure out what our options are.
You'd think that life would have slowed down a little bit this week, because it's spring break here, but not really. Shane gets to be home with Miss B during the days, but that just means that he needs some time to himself in the evenings. I do get tomorrow off, though, so I'm trying to hang onto my 3 day weekend. I'm sure it will go by far too fast, to be in proportion with how long this relatively short work week has felt.
The very big "however" to all of this is that I'm still managing to take care of myself pretty well. In fact, now that I'm pretty much totally recovered from the c-section, I'm doing my best to put myself first once in a while. I've started running regularly again! Just on weekends, but it's still progress, and last weekend I was actually able to extend one of my runs, so I'm getting back into shape. I carve this time out for myself when I get the baby back to sleep on weekend mornings. I lay her down with Shane (who's either sleeping in or very happy to have an excuse to nap himself) and then I lace up, grab the dog, and go. If I'm really, really lucky, she'll sleep long enough to let me do a few other exercises (like core exercises), stretch, and take a shower. Ok, that really only happened once so by lucky I mean, in my fantasies.
When Breakup really starts and the snow has melted a bit more, when Baby Girl is big enough to go in the jogger, I'll start adding weeknight runs into the rotation. For now, we'll stick with our walks on weeknights. That's about my pace in the evenings, after work. Just enough time and distance to get the benefits of exercise, without it feeling like exercise.
I'm losing the weight I wanted to lose, and though it seems slow to me, it really isn't. I'm losing about the pound/week that's recommended as a healthy pace. And the best part is that I'm not depriving myself at all. Our birthdays are at the beginning of March and this year I made a giant skillet cookie for my birthday, and a key lime pie for Shane's. (See in the pie recipe how it's supposed to be two layers? Yeah, I need to learn to read directions when I'm trying a new recipe. I mixed it all up together and then realized what I'd done. So I tossed in an extra egg and hoped for the best. It still turned out great!) I've since made the skillet cookie again, and I probably will make it again this weekend. It's so much sugar but damn, it's tasty. Even Shane, not normally a fan of cookies, loves it.
I've gotta say, drinking a big glass of whole milk most days is helping me with my weight loss. I'll feel a bit hungry after dinner, drink my milk, and still usually be a bit hungry but not so much that I feel the need to eat. Just as good, I've noticed that it helps with my milk production. And, with a broken wrist, the extra calcium is doing me some good.
So life is crazy, but for the most part I am enjoying it. Baby Girl has learned to laugh, so Shane and I spend a good portion of our time trying to get her to laugh some more. Just as there are no diminishing returns on the humor of baby farts, baby giggles solve all problems and make life infinitely better.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Things I want my daughter to know

I've been thinking a lot over the last year about what I'd want my child to know. Some of these things are specifically because she is a girl, and will have to deal with a world which can be much harsher to the "fairer sex". Some of it is just what I hope any child will grow up knowing.
Shane and I talked about this briefly a while ago. When I said that my number one hope for our girl is that she grows up to be a good person, he pshawed. But, I pointed out, I have no doubt that she will be intelligent and pretty and all of that. So what do I most want to teach her? To be a good person. I think the following things might help with that. Here's my list of life lessons I want her to know, and approximate ages that I hope she'll at least have a grasp on the concept.

From the beginning: I want her to know that she's loved. Not just in the "oh, they're my parents so they have to love me" sort of way. I mean deep down in her bones, in the depths of her soul, as her first and last thought every day. Not every child is lucky enough to receive such love, and it breaks my heart. I am so in awe of this tiny, wonderful person I made and birthed. I hope she grows up secure in how much her family loves her. This is the start of self-confidence, which she will need in this big crazy world. I have stated before that one part of having a high needs baby is that she's already strong willed, and no one's pushover. I hope she keeps that all her life, and that our love for her will give her the confidence she needs to not back down when she's knows she's right, and to reach out to help others when they need it.

By elementary school: Damn those post-pregnancy hormones! My emotions are more raw now than when I was pregnant. I was listening to the Pandora "Lullabies" station the other day and the song from "Dumbo" came on. You might not remember it, but I always thought it was such a sad lullabye. In fact, I never liked that movie much because I knew I'd cry at that scene. So here I am, nursing my daughter and listening to this song. It hit me, powerfully, that one day in the not-too-distant future, someone will make fun of my perfect, wonderful little girl. It will hurt her and there's nothing I can do about it. More than that, though, I felt a sense of companionship with every other mother, ever. No child escapes being ridiculed by somebody, and every mother feels it just as keenly as their child does*. I thought back to elementary school, and what jerks we were. Of course, there was one kid everyone picked on. Brian. He peed his pants in first grade and that was an unforgivable offense, especially since he was kind of shy and weird anyway. Now that I'm older, I wonder what his home life was like. I actually wonder a lot about him. Whatever happened to him? I have no memories of him after middle school. But I do know that he was picked on and shunned and bullied for all of his school days that I saw. Even worse, I participated. I wasn't the worst, not even what you'd call a bully. But I took part in the shunning and laughed at the mockery. Now I can't get out of my head how many evenings his mom must have spent comforting him, telling him that things would get better. At least, I hope she did. For all the hell his schooldays put him through, I hope he had (has) awesome parents to make up for it. And wherever he is, I sincerely wish Brian well. I hope that life got better for him, and the people around him more understanding.
Just as much as I can't stop other kids from making fun of my girl, I can't stop her from at least occasionally being a jerk to other kids. That hurts too. Because every mom feels just the way I do right now, that their child is the best and most perfect being ever. We should feel that way! Certainly our babies deserve it, because they are beautiful and wonderful and perfect. My girl might not understand this lesson until she's older, but I'm going to try to carry it with me. To be more forgiving and understanding and just plain nicer to everyone I encounter. If nothing else, I can lead by example.
Going along with that, I hope she has empathy for others. There are plenty of ways to help your child learn empathy and I'm already starting some of them. I think that one of the benefits for kids who grow up with pets is that they learn early lessons about other creatures having feelings of their own. So when I help her pet the cat or the dog I talk to her about not only how soft they are, but also how they feel about being petted. (And I praise them hugely for letting the baby touch them.) If the cat backs away from us I talk about how he's not in the mood to be petted right now. Baby Girl might not yet be vocal, but I want to get myself into the habit of showing her the thoughts and perspectives of other creatures.
I want her to have a basic grasp on manners. Not just please and thank you, but actual respect for others which manners are meant to show.

By middle school: This is such a tough age. Puberty and hormones, oh my! Through it all, I want her to know that she's beautiful. There are so many distorted ideas about women's and girls' bodies in the media, including people who think that beauty doesn't matter. It does. I want my girl to know that she's beautiful. Not that she's super hot, or glamorous, but it is important for her to know that she's pretty. And I mean her. I want her to know that makeup can be fun but isn't necessary (and that too much is awful). I want her to understand that there's much more to life than being fashionable, and that clothes which suit her matter the most. This all goes back to self-confidence. I want her to know these things because, for so many of us, puberty is an awful time and most kids look painfully awkward during this time. Even if that's the case with her (as it was for me--glasses and braces on a late bloomer with too-long, unkempt hair? yeah...) she deserves to know that it's just a phase and that she is, and will be, beautiful.
Along with her beauty, however, I want her to know that she is strong. Exercise was never really emphasized in my house growing up, but I think it would have helped my self esteem a lot more if it had been. I became used to thinking that I couldn't do things, when in fact I could have if I'd just tried. It's taken me many years to get over that attitude so I hope that Baby Girl never has it to begin with.
This is also the stage when I think we'll start mandating that she cook, or help cook, dinner every once in a while. I think it's important for every adult to know the basics of how to feed themselves without resorting to a box. She will grow up cooking and baking with me (in fact, we baked our first cookie together this past weekend!) but this is when I'll feel comfortable letting her have more, er, solo flights in the kitchen. I started baking bread by myself when I was 12. Yep, there were plenty of failures. Like the time I killed the yeast? Or the one I put in way, way too much salt. Or the time I did both of those things. Ha! I look forward to seeing what kitchen disasters my little girl comes up with.
Going along with this, I want her to have a basic understanding of building and fixing things. I mentally thank my dad a lot for teaching me how to swing a hammer and use a screwdriver. It gives me confidence to attempt new projects, and to figure out how something works so that I can fix it myself. And, as a woman, it's fucking beautiful to not have to depend on a man to do these things for me. I want her to be just as capable.

By high school: Most parents dread teenage rebellion. You know what? I welcome it. I want her to test boundaries (safely), and to get into some trouble, and learn life lessons. More than any other time of life, this is when kids start figuring out who they want to be. Good! I want her to try many things, and fail at plenty of them. She'll find what works best for her, and what her deepest interests are, that way.
I also want her to have a basic grasp on finances. I don't mean of the "how to balance a checkbook" variety. (Does anyone under 40 actually still do that?) Monitoring finances is important, but it's one small part of a much larger picture. I want her to understand that expenses trump income any time when it comes to building wealth (that is, keep your expenses low and save the rest) and the best ways to utilize her money.
I don't want or expect riches from her. Wealth yes, but not Scrooge McDuck status. I just want her to have the independence which comes from not needing to work for a terrible boss, or to make hard choices because of money. I also want her to know the joys of being generous with others, which is a lot easier when you have a firm grasp on your finances.
I want her to think critically. I don't want her to take things at face value, including what she learns in school. So much of it is actually wrong, or interpreted in such a way that it changes your understanding of a situation. It's up to her to look at the actual facts, or dig deeper into a text, and figure out how she thinks/feels about it all.
I want her to invest in her health. We will, of course, try to instill healthy eating habits in her, and get her into sports, and lead by example in these things. However, by high school I hope that she'll be doing these things not because we want her to, but for herself. It's really, truly hard for most high schoolers to recognize just how young they are, but the things we all do at that age have lifelong consequences. I hope we can show her enough of the long view so that she doesn't take youthful health for granted and instead cherishes it and takes care of herself.

By college: Ok, so maybe she won't go to college. I hope she will, not because I think it's so necessary for a good job or a good life, but because I want her to have a lifelong enjoyment of learning. I also think that there are life lessons which college teaches that you don't necessarily get (or get in a harsher way) in "the real world". My family has a long tradition of going to college (even my grandmother went to college, which not many women did in the '40s) and I would like her to continue this for truly intangible reasons. There is a benefit in education for the sake of education, and I think that we've lost sight of that in our society and especially in current conversations about whether college is worthwhile or not.
One of the opportunities you don't really get outside of college is to study abroad. Shane and I are disappointed in ourselves for not pursuing it when we had the opportunity. We cited how expensive it is, and worried about trying to go somewhere together, or what it would do to our relationship if we had gone separate places. We should have just done it. There are things about other countries that you simply can't learn by visiting. To go, to immerse yourself in another culture and truly live there, is a special thing. I will very much encourage her to do so.
Whether she goes to college or not, I really want to show her that a car is not a necessity. In fact, it's a fitness destroying, lazy-making money pit. I find it a pity that so many people are so dependent upon their cars. I used to have a roommate who would drive two blocks to go get cigarettes from the gas station. I'm still in awe of that. I hope my daughter is more dependent upon herself and her own strength to get around than she ever will depend upon a car.

Eventually: I want her to know true love. I'm sure most people want this for their kids. But what I want for her is not some fairytale, storybook romance. I mean true love; the kind where you have fights that can last a couple of days without thinking that it's all over, where you see something funny and your first thought is of how much your partner would laugh, where spending an evening in with them is just as fun and exciting as all the nights you ever went clubbing and bar-hopping. I don't care if it's with a man or a woman. (I might find it a little hard if it's with a space alien, but for different reasons.) Even if the relationship ends, I want her to know what that's like at least once in her life. Of course, I do hope she ends up happily married. And yes, I do hope she opts for marriage because I think there are many benefits to marriage, and a different sort of commitment than just "living together". (Not to mention all the legal and tax ramifications, oy.)
I also hope that she chooses to become a mother one day. Why? For one very simple reason: because I feel like I understand the world so much better now. I mentioned above when I felt a kinship with every other mother on the planet. How many other life experiences help you to feel that way? I also understand my own mother so much better than I did before I was one. The intense love, unlike any other. I don't want to diminish my love for Shane, who is and always will be the love of my life, but I never knew I could be in love with another creature the way I am with my baby.
The highs in life are higher now that she's here. When I hear her laugh...words cannot describe it. When she cries, part of me cries too. And things which wouldn't have touched me so deeply before now do. I read an article the other day about all the new gadgets which are being marketed to parents which play on fears of SIDS, and in it they discussed a device which needed to be recalled after a couple of babies got tangled in the cords during their sleep and strangled to death. That sentence was hard even to write. When I read about these deaths, I actually gasped aloud. I just can't even imagine what that would be like. Before having a child, I understood the pain in the same way I imagined it to be painful if one of my siblings died, without having to experience it myself. This...is so much more. With the intense love comes the intense pain. But, I wouldn't want her to shy away from romance because of the possibility of a broken heart. Neither do I think she should avoid motherhood for the same reason. Being a mom is worth it.

There are many, many other lessons that I want her to learn, and skills I want her to have. How to read (and I mean truly read, the way I was taught as an English major to pull everything possible out of a text) and write well, how to speak, optimism, etc. But this short list will do for a silly blog post.


*I feel the need to clarify: yes, I do understand that there are shitty moms out there. I'm not referring to them, as that's a whole different topic.