Friday, February 15, 2013

Catching up

I've had a lot to say lately and yet not very much. Nothing that would make for a real, cohesive post. It's still winter, and I've entered that blah phase where I just want winter to be done. I'm tired of the cold and the layers of clothing and the lack of daylight. The light is coming back rapidly but not fast enough for my taste. I know I've complained about this time of year before so I didn't want to write a whole post where I just repeat what I feel every year around this time.
However, I'm not the only one who's feeling this way. Our poor pets! The cat has been wanting to go outside, but it's still cold outside so he only goes out for a few minutes to sit on the edge of the porch and sulk. When he's inside he's been a bit aggressive (he'll let me pet him for a second or two, then he complains at me and bats my hand away or stalks off), and very loud. Not a happy camper. So we've been drugging him with catnip to keep him happy. It's not the best solution, but when he's high on nip is the only time he's not anxious and testy. I think that at some point, most likely after we buy a house (whenever that is), we'll discuss getting another cat to be a friend/companion for him.
The dog, too, is ready for spring. Despite my attempts a few weeks ago to trim her down a bit, her hair is out of control. It's making her itchy and too hot, so she's been scratching herself constantly and leaving bits of herself around the house. I vacuumed recently but you'd never know it by the state of our carpets. I just feel so bad for her! The overheating problem means that she also wants to be let outside frequently. (But she doesn't want to stay out there, because that's not where her people are. So it's in and out all evening.) If I get her a haircut she'll be shivering and cold and since we're scheduled to get down to the negative teens this weekend it could be dangerous for her to suddenly get all her hair shaved off. She needs to wait just a couple more weeks, until the beginning of March, and then I'll schedule a haircut for her. In the meantime, I feel like a monster.
I was messaging with a friend yesterday and when she asked me how Shane and I are doing I answered, "Busy." I realized that that's become my default answer and, while it is accurate, I kind of hate that answer. It's meaningless, really. Everyone is busy. Also, there is an attitude among people that if you're busy then you're somehow Very Important. Anyone who's less busy than you just isn't as important as you or they'd have more demands on their time, right? I think this is tied to people who spend so much of their time complaining that stay at home moms "don't actually work". (Why is it somehow considered work to raise kids when the work is outsourced to a daycare, but not when a mom or dad chooses to raise their own kids?!?) Saying that you're so busy or claiming that you work harder than others are just ways to pretend that you're better than other people. It's a very subtle, "Fuck you, because I'm better than you are." And I hate that that's the message I've been sending out, even inadvertently. I'm not sure yet what I'm going to say when other people ask how we've been doing, but it's definitely deserving of a better answer.
Honestly, we are busy. There's truth behind the statement. But not because we're somehow better, or because we're trying to see just how much we can cram into our days and show off. It's just a busy period and things will slow down again at some point. Also, it's the good kind of busy. The kind that's made us focus on what's really important, the kind which has forced us to be more organized and to remember to get things done in a timely fashion. Somehow, in all the busy, we've managed to keep our apartment looking cleaner than it is when we've got lots of time on our hands. (Well, except the carpet.) It's even, in a way, brought me and Shane closer together because we're doing our best to remember that when the other person has done something like cleaned up the dishes, it also means that they took time out of their busy schedule and that it means you don't have to worry about that detail. That's deserving of a thank you, at the very least. We've been giving each other verbal high-fives all over the place to show our appreciation. We've been trying to be very respectful of the other's need for time to themselves, and time to work on their own things. And as cheesy as it is, we'll leave little "I love you, btw I fed the pets" kinds of notes around the house when we won't get to see each other for most of the day.
One thing we don't usually do is sit down together for dinner. Well, we will, but we'll put on a movie or a TV show (often something we've seen before so that we don't mind interrupting to talk about our day or something funny we heard, or just whatever's in our heads). I grew up in a family which sat down together for dinner pretty much every night. Occasionally someone would be missing but mostly we'd all be there, in the dining room and with the TV off. Those were great times and it definitely brought us closer together as a family. But as a couple Shane and I haven't put the emphasis on dinner together and I think we both figured we'd start doing that more after we have kids. Well, with the start of this semester, dinner together is sometimes the only time we can scrape together in an evening. (Hello, Tuesdays!) Other nights, we don't even get that. (Hello, Mondays!) So we're making more of an effort to actually sit at the table together and chat about our day, catch up, plan and organize. With as much as we have going on, it's not like we have a lack of subjects to discuss!
When we need to, we've also managed to clear our schedules to spend a decent chunk of time together. We took time out yesterday for Valentine's Day/our Pseudoversary. (Six years together!) I made dinner, and it was delicious. (Beer chicken, sweet potato biscuits, and green beans, with this pie for dessert.) We hung out and chatted and we didn't buy anything for each other but we didn't need to. (We made plans to go see the new "Die Hard" movie this weekend. It's my romantic gift to him.)
The one thing I've been trying to keep doing, if for no other reason than for my own sanity, is to workout 4-5 days each week. Last weekend was bright and beautiful and not too cold so on Sunday I took the dog for a run and, somehow, pulled some of the stabilizing muscles in my left flank. (My hip ached in several different directions, and it definitely wasn't my power muscles I pulled.) I must have slipped on the ice in such a way that I didn't really notice, but somehow tweaked my muscles. It hurt. It also occurred at almost exactly the halfway point of our run so I had to hobble/jog the rest of the way home. (It probably wasn't great for me, but I did jog part of the way because I didn't want to get too cold. That would have been worse.) It felt bad enough that I called my boss that evening and said I probably wouldn't be able to make it to work the next day. Walk up the hill when I could barely walk to the bathroom? Uh, no. I didn't sleep well that night because every time I rolled over in my sleep I felt it and woke up. Eventually my brain would wake me up first so that I could support my leg as I rolled over, but it did not make for a restful night.
I'm trying to look at it as a blessing in disguise. Instead of rushing into my week like usual, I had to take Monday off. I used the time to relax, yes, but I also used it to clean the house a little bit more (I dusted!), to go over my readings again for that night's class (I did still hobble to class, carefully), and to work on some projects (that sweater I've been knitting). It really sucks to be injured, but it was nice to have that time and to get some things done I might have pushed off again, to feel more prepared for my class. I even took two baths this week to relax and to help my sore muscles. (That brings my total baths for the last 14 months up to 2. I'm not much of a bath person.)
I am feeling better now, thank you. My hip still aches a bit but every day it's getting better. (Shane worried that I'd really torn or pinched something, but no.) I'm still having to be careful with myself and even that mindfulness is helping me. I'm more grateful for my body and its normal good state of health, flexibility, and usefulness.
I wish you all the same peace and gratitude I'm finding this week.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Life is beautiful

Do you ever have a day where the beauty of your life hits you all at once? Where all of the wonderful, fascinating details scream at you, "Look at me!" and you actually sit up and take notice? Where the problems don't seem as big as they were the day before, where the small things make you ridiculously happy? I woke up this morning feeling optimistic and joyful, euphoric even. There's no real reason for it. It's still cold, half the people I know are sick in some way (sinus infections, stomach upsets, influenza) and overall this week wasn't the greatest. I was exhausted for most of it and thinking that I was fighting off a cold myself and unable to take time off work if I had really needed to, adding to the stress. But, none of that matters today. I got a good night's sleep and woke up to my pets being loving and wonderful. I started my walk to work thinking that, overall, my life is amazing. It has little moments of dissatisfaction, like when I see pictures of places I'd like to travel to and realize that instead, I'm stuck in my office. Or lately, any picture of a beach makes me ache with longing to be there, in the warmth and sunshine and salty ocean. But you know what? I'm working toward my goals. I'm working to make my life, my shared life with Shane, to be what I/we want. That is a beautiful, wonderful thing, and I am so incredibly lucky.
On my walk to work, I got to see this:
I was even a bit early so I could stand there and appreciate it for a few minutes, guilt-free. How many other people around here got to enjoy that sunrise? How many were taking their time and got to really see it?
When I got to work, after taking care of a few details, I opened Facebook and found this article about empathy, courtesy of my friend Hannah. It's beautiful and if you haven't read it yet, you should.
Today, I am at peace with the world, and I wish the same for all of you.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Chocolate cravings and lady problems

For various reasons not at all related to making babies, I stopped taking birth control in the autumn. Shane and I have agreed that this has been a very good decision. The problems I'd been noticing in myself went away almost immediately and I even lost almost ten pounds in the first two months after I stopped taking it. Just that, and the relief of knowing that the weight I've gained over the past several years wasn't actually because of me (stupid pills), has made me feel more confident about myself.
Now that I've returned to normal hormonal functioning, it's also been fun for me to notice all of the differences in myself each month. Scientifically, I knew that changes in women's hormones lead to certain notable things. For instance, when a woman is ovulating she's more likely to be attracted to a strongly masculine face or a more "manly" man, whereas at non-ovulating times women are more likely to choose sensitive, more effeminate-featured men. (Hello, Orlando Bloom!) I'm lucky because when I look at Shane I see both the boy I met and the man I married, so I get the best of both worlds. :) But even watching movies, I've noticed changes in what actors I find attractive depending on where I'm at in my cycle.
There are other things, of course. While the pill helps some women regulate their mood swings, it seemed to make mine worse. Shane says that I seem more in control and "less crazy" before my period now. On the other hand, I now get zits around my period like I'm in high school again. No fun! And I seem to get cramps no matter what. But I'm still having fun observing these changes in myself. Science!
The one thing I completely forgot about, but probably should have expected, is a serious craving for chocolate. Not sweets in general, just chocolate. Last week I was raiding the cabinets searching for any sort of chocolate to the point that Shane noticed and gave me one of his "holy crap you're a little nuts right now" looks. Disaster averted: we had both hot chocolate and some leftover Christmas candy in the house. :) I'm also using the cravings as an excuse for why I bought chocolate ice cream and $23 worth of bulk-bin chocolate chips on Saturday. It's a good reason, right?
But I don't want to be eating crap every time my period rolls around. If for no other reason, it's not exactly going to make that time any more pleasant if I'm feeling bad about my eating habits in addition to everything else that happens. So I'm trying to find better ways of controlling the need for chocolate and I think I've found the perfect solution: oatmeal. Hear me out! Oatmeal is my go-to winter breakfast because it's easy and hot and healthy and I can change it up every day. I've made PB&J oatmeal (not bad, actually), oatmeal full of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, oatmeal with fresh fruit. I've used brown sugar, honey, and maple syrup as the sweetener. (Not all at once!) I've put in nutmeg and cinnamon to change the flavor. It's totally versatile! One of my favorites for the past couple of weeks has been chai oatmeal.
Well, now I know I can add a little bit of chocolate too. The heat from freshly cooked oatmeal melts the chocolate perfectly and everything you put in the oatmeal becomes covered in the gooey sweetness. It's perfection and it clears up any chocolate cravings I might be having without falling off the healthy eating bandwagon. I didn't add any other sweetener, since the chocolate is sweet enough. And when I can, I find dark chocolate chips which helps to make it slightly less sweet and just a bit healthier than it would be with milk chocolate chips.

Black Forest Oatmeal:
About a serving and a half of oatmeal
Enough water to cook the oatmeal (I cook it in the microwave, on high for three minutes)
A cup of pitted, frozen cherries (thawed overnight in the fridge) or 1/2 cup of dried cherries
1/4 cup of walnuts or pecans
1/4 cup (or slightly less) of dark chocolate chips

Cook the oatmeal. When it's still very hot, mix in the chocolate chips, then the walnuts and cherries. Consume and be happy.

Chocolate Coconut Oatmeal:
Cooked oatmeal
About 1/4 cup of chocolate chips
About 1/4 cup of unsweetened coconut shavings
1/4 cup of any type of preferred nuts (I love hazelnuts in this one)
Optional: a dash of cinnamon

Mix in the chocolate first so that it's all melty and covers the oatmeal, then mix in the other ingredients. Consume, and pat yourself on the back for choosing something healthier than a Pop Tart for breakfast.

Monday, February 4, 2013


I did my first ever guest post at Mr. Money Mustache. Wow, what an honor! It is, of course, about my one area of "expertise"--non-car commuting in the winter.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Totally normal

Yesterday on my walk to work my right bootlace broke. And, that pretty much sums up how the rest of the day went. Nothing major and dramatic, but full of small irritations.
I checked around the house for a spare shoelace last night but didn't find anything that would work. So, no big deal. When I was getting ready for work this morning I decided that, since it's warmed up so much the last few days (about 60 degrees!) I'd be fine wearing my "winter" Dansko clogs. They've got rubber soles so they're not as bad on the ice as my other ones. I've worn them plenty of times and, mostly, they're fine.
Except when it's this cold. Apparently I over-estimated the temperature because it's still cold enough to freeze rubber. Don't worry, I wore two pairs of socks so my feet were totally warm. But thanks to the ice leftover from the freezing rain a few weeks ago, the dusting of snow on top which we got yesterday, and the frozen rubber of my shoes, I had to do an odd shuffle instead of just walking. I nearly fell so many times but by the time I thought, "This was a really bad idea," it was too late to turn back. So I soldiered on, being very careful and moving more like a cross country skier than someone walking.
And then I reached the hill. It's a popular sledding hill, so while there is a bit of a path carved by me and others who walk, there isn't exactly any level ground so even on the best of days it's tough going. And, it's been worn mostly smooth by all the sledders packing down the snow. I was stepping really carefully, placing my feet before putting weight on them so that I didn't fall over. I made it almost to the top, where there's a fence and the assurance that at least I wouldn't tumble fifty feet back down the hill. Ten feet away from the fence, I started slipping backwards. I fell, got up, fell again, and while I was trying to hold myself up I just kept slipping further and further away from where I needed to be. I debated just clawing and crawling my way back to the top but decided that was too undignified. (Because, apparently, I wasn't already undignified?) When I stood mostly upright I ended up using my purse as a weight to help throw myself up the hill and that worked. I made it to the top with only one or two more small slips.
After I rounded the fence and felt secure again all I could think was, normal people don't have these problems.
And that about sums up my life.