Monday, March 31, 2014

Defining Beautiful

Makeover Sunday!
I tell my daughter that she is beautiful. Every day. Sometimes multiple times a day.

On Friday morning, Mark and I were standing in the kitchen getting ready, and Ellie came into the room, spun around, and said “I’m beautiful!”

“Yes, you are!” I responded cheerily.

Mark chimed in, “You know, I read recently…”
I interrupted him, “I know what you read. I know what you’re going to say.”
He continued, “Should we really be telling her that she’s beautiful… you know, all the time?”
I waved my hand dismissively, “I know, I know, I know. They say that you shouldn’t praise your daughters (or sons) based on their looks, that it puts too much emphasis on looks versus brains… blah blah blah."
“Okay, and…?” Mark asked in that tone that said, “So why are you still doing it?”

“It’s just something I need to do!” I yelled from the bedroom, as I scrambled to get dressed.
I came back to the kitchen to see Mark contemplating my answer as he spread mayo on his ham sandwich.
“I’ll explain later,” I smiled.

It’s a lot to get into during the 5-minute rush out the door, and I hadn’t even come to terms with it quite yet myself.

Makeup by E!
I know what it means in my heart to tell my 2-year-old that she's "beautiful" and "pretty." My heart swells with joy and pride, and I watch, with wonder, this little creature that dances, spins, her eyes wide with excitement, her own wonder. Brown curls fall over her plump baby cheeks, messy bangs tangle in long eyelashes. Big brown eyes take in the world. Her smile radiates warmth, acceptance, love, for the tiniest little ladybug, for her stuffed doggie, for Auntie Bee's pugs, for the lonely old woman in line at the pharmacy.

Besides her typical selfish toddler moments, every fiber of her being is love and empathy. "Is that man okay?" she asks, as a disabled man gets his cane stuck between floorboards at the Sugar House. "Oh no, let's help him," I say. Days later, she asks, "What happened to that man at the Sugar House?" and I explain.

Then, "You are beautiful," I say.

Of course, I tell her she's beautiful "inside and out," and that she is:
Creative
Kind
Smart
Giving
Etc.

I praise her in context with phrases like, “You were so kind to that woman when you introduced yourself” and “Wow, what a smart solution to that problem!” When she flips my stamps upside down to use the handle as a stamp -- first, I cringe, but then I say, “I never thought to use the stamps that way. That’s creative! Look at the pretty block-pattern you made.”

But besides all that mushy junk (which I sincerely feel and believe), is it so bad for her to also really feel beautiful and pretty on the outside?

She is a beautiful human being. Her hair is beautiful, her eyes, her body. Not because they look a certain way or conform to some cultural standard of beauty but because she is a wondrous little creature of light. A miracle.

And, I think that, maybe now, at 2-years-old, is the time to start feeling this way, to have a foundation, to feel beautiful on the outside, just for being glorious, perfect you.

Soon enough, some child will tell her that she’s ugly, that her clothes aren’t “right,” that there’s something wrong with the tiniest part of her body. And I can only hope that my voice sounds louder in her ears, in her heart – that beautiful (inside and out) is a state of mind, a state of accepting yourself completely, even in the face of adversity and criticism... even when you feel there's something you want to change about your life. To be able to assess your current situation, feel okay with yourself, to look at perceived mistakes and know that it's all part of growing, transforming; and watching that beauty grow and transform as you do.

I’ve also considered that I may need to explain to her at some point why it isn’t entirely appropriate to stand up in a crowd, spin around with a handful of scarves, and shout, “I’m beautiful!” But then again… is it?

Is that so bad? Is that really conceited? It doesn’t feel that way. I don’t look at my 2-year-old, and I surely wouldn’t look at my someday-15-year-old spinning in front of a mirror and think, “Wow, she’s so full of herself.”

I'd think, “Wow. I can be beautiful too.”

Friday, March 28, 2014

Before

Yesterday I started my 21-Day Fix Challenge. It was a bit of a rough start as you can see from my previous post.

In these moments of misery, I question everything I'm doing, my motives, and I tell myself things like, "I don't need to do this plan. I'm fine the way I am."

But really it's just me doubting my strength to change my life in a relatively simple way.

After my Pity Party post, I picked up E from day care, and it was beautiful outside. And by beautiful I mean that it was 28 degrees, sunny, and not sleeting. I had my writers' meeting and knew I wouldn't get home in time to do my workout. I'm on a strict bedtime routine (10pm), and I wouldn't be home until about that time.

So I decided to get in a quick run with Ellie. I'm so glad I did. It completely cured my 'blah' mood, gave me energy, and motivated me to keep up with this plan. This morning I wasn't sick, wasn't bloated, and felt a million times better.

I even had Mark take my "Before" pic. Our conversation went something like this...

Me: Can you take a quick pic of me?
Mark: Sure, here you go.
Me: Why is my belly-button squished?? Can you take another one?
Mark: Sure. Here.
Me: Can you take it lower, so I don't look like my upper belly is hanging over my lower belly?
Mark: Are you serious?
Me: Try it with the flash on.
Mark: I can't believe you. Are you going to be late?
Me: This is more important!!
Mark: Here. I'm done.

Ta-da! It'll have to do!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Pity Party

I just want to cry... I've gotten sick a total of 5 times this morning, and I have no idea why. I can only hope that my body is ridding itself of all the nastiness I've been eating over the last week. Everything I'm eating today is good for me -- fresh fruits and vegetables. My body doesn't always love a lot of raw foods, so I may have to try steaming some. Anyway, I feel exhausted already and can't imagine doing a workout tonight, especially considering that I won't be home until after 10pm, but I'm going to give it my best shot!

Anyway, in honor of this vintage-inspired Throwback-Thursday, I found this lovely ad, album? This woman looks so happy that I might be able to convince myself that I'm having fun too, today!

I know it'll get better. Big picture, view, Gretch. Big picture view.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Me and Fitness

For this lovely "Whatever Wednesday," I'm sharing my (very shaky (pun intended)) beginning to a new Fitness Challenge.

Song stuck in my head: "Shake it Up!"

So, last summer, my physical therapist suggested that I start running. I did and loved it! My ultimate goal weight has always been 175, but at 185, I was feeling great, had a lot more energy, and was happy to be easily fitting my 5'10" frame into a size 14! I actually like how my body carries weight and was generally happy with how I looked, even at a size 16.

But 14 felt all-around wonderful. Winter came, and I kept up with my old eating habits and gained 20 pounds. I'm now at 205lbs (no fibbing, no rounding). This was what the scale said the last time I stepped on it at the doctor's office, last week.

Since then, I've been trying to eat better, but in all actuality, I want a plan to live better and healthier as Spring and Summer approach and I have more opportunities to get outside with my daughter. I also want to go into warmer weather with more energy and motivation to pick up where I left off last year!

My biggest struggle lately is eating better, so I'm trying the Beach Body 21-Day Fix Challenge. What I love about this challenge is that it's more about portion control and eating the right foods. It's also only 21 days, 3 weeks. That's short enough to be doable for me and long enough to get me into some healthy habits that will last beyond those 3 weeks.

The pack was about $50 and came with cardio workouts, portion-control containers, and I also invested in the Shakeology ($130). I've heard so much good about this product that I had to at least try it.

I expected everything would come in the mail Friday (that I would eat like a king through the weekend and start on Monday), per the tracking information on the site, but it came early! Yesterday, I got home to find the box on my doorstep.

"Whoa, there! I'm not ready," I thought. I glanced sideways at the box, left it on the doorstep, then went out a few minutes later to bring it in. I opened it to get my first impression -- but E tried to steal my colorful portion-control containers.

I let her play and explore just about anything, but I could already see her throwing the containers and lids all over the house and me spending three mornings trying to put them all back together.

"These are Mommy's," I said firmly. She screamed, but I tucked them back in the box and put the box in my room. Like a baby someone left on my door step, I was protecting it but not quite sure I wanted to keep it yet.

Truthfully, though, I had been preparing myself all week. I even started eating significantly better the last few days except for 2 tablespoons of French onion dip and a half-bag of BBQ chips. I paid for it by being violently ill the last 2 mornings.

"When are you going to realize that you're too old to be eating and acting like this?" I reminded myself. I continued the self-instruction: "Indulging sometimes is okay, but you've been sick off and on since October. You can't keep putting your body through this."

I also have a follow-up appointment with the gastroenterologist next Wednesday, and I'd like to be able to tell him that I'm actually feeling better!

This morning I got up early and sorted through the challenge box. The different-colored containers were a little overwhelming to me. I pored over the 21-Day Fix book and took it all in. I love challenging myself to adhere to a system or schedule, and I love figuring out all the details. This plan was a little confusing to me, so this is how I eventually worked it out. It took me about an hour:

The initial information focuses less on an actual meal plan and more on the individual foods you should be eating. I just wanted someone to tell me exactly what to eat for each meal, but as I read on, I began to see the beauty in this system. It's similar to the Weight Watchers Points Plan, but instead of calculating points all day, you pick the foods you want to eat (off the list provided) and go by what fits in your containers to control portions, NOT the exact number of calories. Less daily calculating! Alright!

I think this might work better for me, because the point is to pick good, healthy foods... NOT try to eat one tiny piece of chocolate cake (which, let's face it, that's what I did on WW!), which ultimately just makes me want MORE chocolate cake. The program does allow you to indulge in some healthier sweets 3 times a week, but these "treats" are made with raw, natural sweeteners like raw honey or maple syrup (which we VTers always have on hand).

So. I calculated my caloric intake per the plan which is about 700 more calories than My Fitness Pal suggested (because the idea is to work out on this plan) -- 1905 calories per day. This is just a guide to know how many containers of each food you should eat per day.

This number equated to these numbers of each container. As you could probably figure out, the green container is for veggies, purple for fruits, reds for proteins, yellow for starches, orange for oils, blue for fat, and then you get a certain number of "teaspoon" foods which could be olive oil or a nut butter.

With my calorie goal, I should eat daily:
5 Greens
3 Purples
5 Reds
4 Yellows
1 Blue
1 Orange
5 Teaspoons
Spices and certain mustards, vinegars, you can use freely to flavor the food.

I immediately put this system into my planner, which was the very first step in admitting that I was doing this. Really doing it. My planner goes with me everywhere and has become my life-line. If this plan is in here, I will do it.

The next thing I did was go through each page of the book that lists the foods for each category. Then I made my own list of the foods I would actually eat. I was glad to find out that we had a lot of these in the house already! I highlighted the foods I would need to pick up at the grocery store.

Then I made a list of the times I should eat throughout the day -- every 2 hours from 8am-6pm, and I spread out the colors throughout those times. I knew I would want to eat a Purple (fruit) in the morning. I knew that I would have a hard time wanting something sweet in the evening, so I added a Purple to my 6pm meal. Per the number above, I made sure I had 3. I did this for each category and started jotting down foods from the list that I would like to eat at each time of day.

If I found that the categories didn't really go together, I moved them. For instance, I had a Yellow in my 10am snack and was having a hard time picking a Yellow food that I would want to eat at that time of day, knowing I would be at work. I moved that Yellow to my 2pm snack.

Of course, I can change this at any time, but I had to do it this way to make sure I covered all my categories. It felt like a lot of advanced-level mathematics, but once completed, I had a visual of what I wanted to eat during the day, and I actually am looking forward to it! This food sounds good!

I'm starting the plan tomorrow, after a run to the grocery store tonight. If I started now, I'd already be behind, but I am going to try to eat the foods from the plan that we have in the house as much as possible today.

In the mean time, I have a 4-week supply of Shakeology. Last night, I stuck my finger in the mix to try a taste. I was skeptical, but it was good. Really good. This morning, I figured that I could at least start with a Shakeology breakfast shake until I officially start my 21-Day Fix tomorrow.

I mixed a scoop with about 12oz. of water (didn't measure), a half banana, and about 1/4 cup of chocolate soy milk. And I reached for it at every stop light on the way to work and devoured it once at my desk. It is slightly chalky but not enough to bother me at all, and I'm a texture person. The flavor is great -- comparable to any chocolate milk on the market.

Also, I did not get sick this morning. For the first time in a week. Was it the Shakeology? Who knows, but it's the only thing I've changed in the last week, so I have to wonder! I'll definitely try it again tomorrow!

Thanks to Ashley for getting me started. I'll post a "before" pic today and keep you updated over the next 3 weeks! I'll probably be in my sports-bra (cringes). You won't want to miss it!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Restoring Order

Housecleaning is such an emotional thing for me, like emotional eating. I know it completely falls under the category of "first world problems," but it really gets to me. I look at a mess and see all the things about my personality that I don't like -- my forgetfulness, my absent-mindedness, my laziness. The self-bullying just makes me feel worse, and I clean even less.

I've been trying to see the positive and give myself permission to let go a bit. We live in a very small apartment with no room for storage. I have a pretty happy kid who I spend most my time playing with.

So, here's what I'm doing. Some of these ideas are my own, but they also come from FLYLady's excellent advice on taking baby steps (15 minutes a day) to organize and clean, and the beautiful design and inspiration I find at Apartment Therapy (sites here: FLYLady and Apartment Therapy).

(1) I'm slowly working through each room per FLYLady's schedule, cleaning out closets, and making room for the things we LOVE and want around every day. My apartment is feeling more livable by the day, and I love that.

I just had a few days where I was in a funk, felt overwhelmed, behind on cleaning, and (2) I had to tell myself that these days would pass, that I could always jump right back into the plan per FLYLady's forgiving nature. So, that's what I did yesterday as I began working on the living room.

You know what else I did?? (3) I left the crappy cleaning tasks that I just couldn't face for Mark to do when he got home. I just did not want to do dishes, so I asked him to do those while I gave E a bath. Voila! Clean(er) kitchen and a more-organized living room.

And, I had to admit, when the apartment was quiet this morning, after E and Mark and left for day care, I looked around and saw change. Glorious change. I saw a much more manageable apartment.

I am also (4) learning more about myself -- knowing myself and what motivates me. If you're a regular reader, you'll know that I just love new projects, new challenges. They keep me interested. So, it's easier for me to look at "cleaning the living room" as part of a bigger project to transform the living space into something I love, even if that just means hanging some new art on the wall.

Apartment Therapy recently posted a list for learning to love your home and included a few great steps. One was to (5) buy furniture that you love, then (6) accessorize for cheap. I love this idea. I can't afford to buy new furniture, but I can give my current furniture, which I do LIKE, a face-lift or just a deep cleaning and build a unique style around them. I can also afford to redesign, organize, and make storage space in a room based on an inexpensive new piece of furniture, like a bookcase. Then I can easily accessorize with discounted items from TJ Maxx or even the Dollar Store for vases and frames. Now I just have to (7) pick a theme for my home, to make it feel more like me and to celebrate our styles as a family.

And in between all this, I still have to find time to do the (8) daily cleaning tasks like pick up the living room, unload/load the dishwasher, and still maintain my sanity. This is the hardest for me. I have no interest in doing repetitive and monotonous daily tasks. Maybe I can (9) make it fun somehow and (10) have my daughter help!

Also, stay tuned at the end of this week as I try out a Beach Body Challenge Pack courtesy of my lovely friend and fellow toddler-Mom, Ashley (Check out her Fitness For Living Facebook page here)! There are so many fun walking and running events coming up this summer. I want to be ready. Ultimately, I'd love to be able to run a 5K, but I'm shooting for 1 mile first! Baby steps! I know my biggest struggles are going to be making time to exercise, eating right, and staying hydrated!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Monday Curse

Don't forget to check out my post today for the BVT Moms Blog site, here! This week is all about sleep! I gladly shared a story about my anxiety-ridden first month with a newborn! And there are some other great posts out there from other moms!

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In other news... there really isn't any other news. It's a typical Monday, and I have no motivation to write or do anything, really. It's your every-day post about nothing. Am I selling it, or what?

Here's what's going on in: E had an awful morning. She slept okay but woke up early wanting to use the potty, then not wanting to use the potty. She wanted to eat cream of wheat for breakfast but refused to eat most of it. Then when I finally told her it was time to get dressed, she screamed because she was "still eating," also known as "not eating."

I gave her a 5-minute warning. She spilled her milk and spread it across the table, so I moved her right on to getting dressed. I gave her plenty of time to do it on her own (her favorite thing to do right now), but she refused, so I dressed a very angry, screaming, thrashing toddler myself.

I let her put on her coat on her own, which made her happy for all of 5 minutes before she ripped it off, when I didn't "act surprised enough" after witnessing the miraculous event.

I mean, seriously, I gasped so loud I nearly passed out at the intake of air and in my highest-pitched voice said, "ELLIE!!!! OH MY GOSH!! YOU DID IT!!"

"Nooooo!!! Mommy, I want you be soo-pwised!!" she cried hysterically.

This is as "soo-pwised" as I get on a Monday. I'm sorry! I then had to get in the shower so that I wouldn't be late, so I told Mark to do whatever he had to do to get her out the door. Taking her out without coat, hats, and mittens was fine by me.

"But it's -11 outside!"
"So, she'll be cold. Wrap her in a blanket," I yelled as I got in the shower.

I just refuse to reward this behavior. I told her that I was sorry she was sad, that we could talk about it if she wanted to, but she was just beyond that point. Maybe later.

In the mean time, she's off to day care and went happily I found out.

My mind is swimming with some new projects... a children's book for E, some practice illustrations with some inspiration from Andrea Joseph's blog (here), and the fact that I didn't get my entry form in time to do the Baby & Child Expo in Berlin on the 12th. I'm going to try for another one in the summer. My schedule is full right now, anyway.

I'm kind of in a funk. I hope it's just a Monday thing. I want to just draw, just sketch, but I feel obligated to make it be something -- you know, something I can sell or build into a bigger project, and that entire obligated feeling is making me want to do absolutely nothing.

I'm behind on cleaning per Fly Lady's schedule, but I was happy to find out that this week is dedicated to Zone 5, the Living Room. I'm almost completely decluttered in that room, save one corner, so that makes me happy. I can't wait to get that room feeling more livable.

I'll keep you posted throughout the week, and I sincerely hope that your Monday is a happy one... or over quickly!

Much love,
G

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Before You Judge

Today, I had a doctor's appointment -- just a quick follow up for my anxiety meds. I brought E along and thought I'd have the doctor check a freckle on the back of her neck that's had me concerned (all was fine).

My appointment wasn't until 3pm, but I have to pick up E from day care in the same town at about 1pm, so I got her, ran a few errands, and headed over to the office early. E could spend all day playing with the waiting room toys, so I wasn't worried about being an hour early, and I'm finally far enough into the motherhood experience to be less of a germophobe. I let her have run of the place.

I don't know what it is about the last few weeks, but we've hit some kind of toddler terror phase. It's like terrible-twos on steroids (Growth-spurt exhaustion? Teething? It's anyone's guess). Every time I say "no" or even if I say "yes," she cries and screams. Our conversations go something like this:

E: I WANT WATER!!
Me: Big girl voice, please.
E (calmly): I want water, please.
Me: Ok, here's some water.
E: NOOO!! I DON'T WANT WATER.
Me: Okay, what would you like?
E: Water!!
Me: Here's your water.
E: I WANT WATER!!
Me: This is water.
E: Oh, thank you, Mommy.

Chaos, screaming, crying, all just to realize that I gave her exactly what she wanted in the first place. I get it. She's a toddler. She's going through a developmental stage. She's tired. So am I...

In the waiting room, I went into zen-mommy mode. E cried when she was too shy to talk to the little girls sharing her play table. I sat with her until she felt comfortable then went back to my seat. She cried again when I wouldn't let her:

-climb on the play table.
-climb on the backs of the waiting-room chairs.
-wrap the cord from the blinds around her neck.
-put her hands in the garbage.
-lick the window.

I calmly distracted her by playing at the play table with her, reading her a book, making up a game with a vegetable chart. I pretended one of the benches was E's house and the other mine and invited her over for coffee. I pretended I was a mailman and delivered her brochures. I hid around the corner and played peek-a-boo. I created a matching game by laying out magazines on the floor and having her put ones that were the same in piles -- essentially a game to organize the magazines she took out. Clever, right? Ha!

Finally it was our turn to see the doctor. I coaxed her to the nurse's office, to the scale with words of encouragement like, "Let's see how big you are!" and "Are you taller than the giraffe?"

Once in the exam room, the real challenge began. To E, there's no difference between the toys in the waiting room and the tools in the exam room. Finding appropriate things for her to play with is difficult to say the least. The toys I brought with me (books, paper, stickers, pens) paled in comparison to the new "toys" here.

I let her wash her hands in the sink and get a drink of water. She flooded the counter and spilled water on the floor. I had her help me clean it up -- as fun as making the mess at this age. We drew pictures on the exam-table paper. She climbed the lamp, turned it on and off. I let her use cotton balls and a tongue depressor to make "cookies." In between playing, she screamed at the top of her lungs because I wouldn't let her:

-jump off the exam table.
-lick the blood-pressure cuff.
-use the exam-table paper as a parachute.
-play with the light with wet hands.
-climb up on the counters.
-bang on the mirror.

My two-year-old actually said to me, "Mama, put me up on that counter so I can bang on that mirror." My "No," triggered another temper tantrum.

Each time, I calmly distracted her, managed to carry on conversations with the nurse and doctor. I put her in time-out when necessary, and through the toddler storm, I was able to communicate with my daughter and get her to listen to me -- even if she wasn't happy about it. "Go, me!" I thought.

After the appointment, she wanted to ride the elevator to the second floor. When the door to the elevator automatically closed, she assumed I had pushed a button. She always gets to push the button. Once again, super-toddler meltdown. I explained to her what happened and how she could do it herself, and she was all smiles again.

We finally left, even though she screamed at the top of her lungs because she wanted to do the elevator one more time. She cried half the way home until I put the radio on for my own sanity, and she said, "Oh, I like music! That make me better!" Had I only known 2 hours ago! I would have put on a flipping flash-mob musical for you, my dear!

Since the music calmed her down, I was able to talk to her about going to the grocery store and what my expectations would be if we did go. Though this triggered another crying fit (because she really, really, really wanted to go and was afraid I would just take her home for crying), she finally agreed to sit in the cart the entire time and not scream in the store. MUCH to my surprise, she did just that while I shopped for a few items to make dinner.

Until we got to check-out. Temper tantrum number 35 (? I've lost count). She wanted to push the buttons on the debit-card reader. Which I've let her do. Every single time. Since she was 9-months-old. But apparently I wasn't moving fast enough, and she asked the woman in front of me in line if she could "have her turn now!" The woman looked up surprised as E yelled at her again, "It's my turn!"

We apologized. I told her it was not her turn, that she needed to sit down right away or that we would go right home, and she wouldn't get to push buttons. Gah, do I sound like my own mother or what?

That worked, and she quickly sat down and waited for "her turn." While the cashier rang up my items, I let E push buttons. Then I scanned my own card, and off we went to the car. She cried the entire way home about one thing or another -- something felt wrong with her shoe, the seatbelt was too tight, she wanted the stickers that she had thrown out of her carseat.

I yawned and drove along, ignoring the more outlandish requests and calmly responding to the more reasonable ones. I pulled up our driveway, put her socks and shoes on for the fifth time. I helped her out of the car, held her hand in the parking lot. I cradled her head as I closed the car door to be careful not to bump it. I led her to the trunk, got our groceries, let her carry a bag, let her accidentally step on and squish the bread in that bag and walked her toward our building.

With my arms full of grocery bags, a day-care tote, my purse, and a go-cup, I began the trek up 3 flights of stairs. When we got to the first landing, E started crying hysterically.

"What is it?"
"Pick me up, Mommy!"
"Look at all my bags. I can't right now."

I started up the second set of steps, trying to keep my balance. E threw herself on the floor and started screaming. Just then, a woman who works upstairs came down to find us. She took one look at E then gave me that look. You know the look...

It's the look that says, "You're really going to let your child do that?"

I glared back at her with the look that says, "Oh, aren't you cute... you little twenty-something with your innocent wide-eyes, wearing skinny-jeans stuffed with skinny little hips that have never pushed out a baby... and way too much eyeliner, snappin' your gum and playing on your cellphone because you're just... bored."

I wanted to take out her gum, put it in her hair, wipe boogers on her skinny jeans, take off her cute flats, swap them with my sensible loafers, spit-shine her hair, take a Sharpie out of my purse and draw on her pretty white blouse like a flipping white board, put a glitter-glue hand print on her left boob, then get in her face and yell, "MOMMY!! MOMMY!!! MAMA! MAMA!!!" close enough to her that my nose was in her mouth while sobbing "I want watch Paw Patrol!! I want watch Paw Patrollll!!"

Then I'd calmly step back and ask her, "Now do you care if she's rolling on the floor?" and "Would you mind helping me with my bags?"










Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How We're Surviving (and Enjoying) Day Care

One of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a mom was leave my 3-month-old daughter at day care for the first time. I remember driving to a cafĂ© after leaving her off, to sit in the car, sip a coffee, and cry. There was also relief, glorious relief, after spending the last 3 months with my daughter literally attached to me almost 24 hours a day. Then relief mixes with guilt for feeling relief, and it all melds into this weird confusion and questions pop into your mind like, “Am I doing the right thing?” “Could we afford to have me stay home full time?”

But the truth is that, day care works for our family. No, we couldn’t afford to have me stay home full time, and to be 100% honest, I’m not sure it would be good for me emotionally. Sure, I would adjust, but the reality is that I’m the type of person who needs some “me,” time to be me as an adult, time to be my own person, even if that’s only at work.

So, this is how we learned to survive and enjoy day care, to get to a point where it worked, and continues to work, really well for our family.

This list does not include criteria for finding a new day care. However, this link (via Baby Center) has some great advice if you’re an expectant mother looking for day care opportunities for the first time.

The Obvious – Find the Right Day Care For Your Family
Trust your gut. I always imagined finding an at-home day care, but when my daughter was born, we were newcomers to our town, and I didn’t know many families personally. I received a few recommendations, made phone calls, and most women who answered sounded rushed and rude. Okay, they’re running home day cares. I get it -- it’s stressful during the day. But my sister runs a home day care in New York, and she’s always polite, friendly, and open to having a conversation with new clients. Business 101. So, I opened up my search to day care centers.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Musical Saturday!

Today, we were lucky enough to be invited to the house of my dad's childhood friend, Stewart Foster, of the HubCats (here), and his wife Cheryl -- for an afternoon of music-playing and yummy-food eating! He also offered to record some of our songs for us!

My uncle had wanted me to record the opening verse of Golden Slumbers by the Beatles for a separate project, and as soon as Stewart started playing it in C# for me, I was hooked. I asked him if we could record the entire song with our Ellie tracks. Though I love the little lullabies I've written for E and am so thrilled to have them sounding a million times better than my iPhone recordings, Golden Slumbers was my favorite recording of the afternoon. Stewart's guitar playing is just so pretty, and years ago, I imagined singing this to my baby. It made me so happy to have it.

Here are all the songs -- Thanks again, Stewart & Cheryl!

Golden Slumbers, with Stewart on guitar:


Old Dirt Road, with me on ukulele and Mark on bass:


Ellie Singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and The Wheels on the Bus:


Rain Keeps Falling, just me and the ukulele. I need to work on my chord transitions. Darn you, E-minor! But, I wanted to have this:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

15 Minutes of Cleaning is Saving My Life!

Today is Whatever Wednesday, so I've chosen to share what I am most excited about right now. I know this is hard to believe. I can hardly believe it myself (blinks a few times), but it's housecleaning.

Don't run off just yet, I'm serious. You know me, right? I usually hate housecleaning. Actually, "hate" is too gentle of a word.

I despise it with the rage of a thousand rabid dogs.

I could get into all the psychological reasons for this and go into a long rant about my cleaning past, but the gist of it is that I had a wonderful mom growing up who did almost everything for me. I had to keep my room clean, help clear the dinner table, put my dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and do my own laundry (if I really wanted a certain article of clothing clean). Occasionally, I helped out by doing the bathrooms, vacuuming, etc. Other than that, my mom did it all and didn't really mind if my room was a mess, cluttered with a pile of unfinished projects. She was amazing. The table was cleared every night of homework and toys, dinner always on the table, dishes done before she went to bed.

And for some reason, I'm still living like she's in the house with me. Then, I seem surprised to look behind myself and find a trail of creative wreckage that no one but me is responsible for picking up.

Then, of course, the negative thought process kicks in, "You're lazy, you're still such a child, you're forgetful, you're not a good housewife," and worse, "Ellie will get sick, because your floors are dirty." Everything must be my fault.

On Friday, I had a particularly rough day feeling overwhelmed by the housework and expecting company to come over. I finally cancelled all my plans, and that made me even more upset. I had a meltdown, as something as simple and insignificant as the garbage not being taken out became bigger in my mind. I thought, "I'm not in control of my own life," and "We're all going to die." Thanks, anxiety.

For the first time ever, I called my counselor and cried like a baby. She talked me off the hypothetical ledge, told me to stop cleaning, to let Ellie watch a TV show, and to put my feet up and take a break (physically and emotionally).

She also asked me, "Was it like this when it was just you and Mark?" No. Well, sometimes, but we could quickly pick up on a Saturday when we had nothing else to do. Now we have a toddler who demands a lot of our attention and is also a little bit like a Tasmanian Devil baby, flying through our house and undoing any of our picking up in about 5 minutes flat.

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She then suggested FLY Lady. I was skeptical, but it was a project, and you know how I love starting new projects. I'm still very new to this project, and as with most things, I'm customizing it to work for me right now.

Here is how I started:
  • There is a list of baby steps on the site (here) that you can start any time. These are just little "habits" to get you into a routine. The first is to "shine your sink" every night. For me, this means, emptying the dishwasher at some point during the day, then before bed, all dirty dishes go in the dishwasher, and I wipe down the sink. As a result, my counters stay pretty clean, and I wipe those down when I can during the day.

    The FLY (Finally Love Yourself) Lady calls sink-shining her little "hug" to you in the morning -- seeing your clean sink. A bunch of baloney, you say? I thought so too. At first. But I have to say, seeing that clean sink each morning is nice. It makes my morning routine easier, which consequently makes the rest of my day easier, so it's a gift from myself to myself. "Thank you, self." "Oh, no, thank you, self!"
  • One of the next baby steps is to "dress to shoes" each morning. I'm almost always dressed first thing in the morning but rarely have a spare pair of shoes to throw on, so I've skipped this step. I believe it's geared toward those of us who need that extra boost in the morning, and I have a toddler boosting me most days. I will, however, make sure to do this on weekends.
  • But the BIGGEST and most important part of this little program for me has been the 15 minutes of decluttering. That's it. 15 minutes each day. I picked my target areas that I felt were most in need of picking up (though the site designates zones, as you'll see). On Monday, I decluttered the living room in 15 minutes. FLY Lady suggests setting a timer -- I use the oven timer. Yesterday, I cleared the kitchen table of mail and E's toys underneath. Again, I only did 15 minutes. When the timer went off, I was done. It's Wednesday. Three days later, and I have a relatively clean living room and dining room. My kitchen counters are clear, and there are no dishes in the sink.
  • I spend each afternoon only maintaining these areas -- pick up dining room table, empty dishwasher. I pick up the living room after E goes to bed which usually only takes a minute or two to throw her toys in a basket. Altogether, I probably spend about 15 minutes each afternoon picking up. If E gets into a game during the afternoon, I do my extra 15 minutes of decluttering then. If I get interrupted, I stop the timer and start again later.
Going Forward
When you visit the FLY Lady page, you can click on the "Today" tab, and the "Flight Plan" link. Everyone has access to this -- no sign-up or sign-in required. Here, she has everything organized into sections. Once I feel my home has been significantly decluttered (just focusing on trouble-areas for now), I'll be at a better starting point for moving into the "zones."
  • Each week, FLY Lady designates a zone to focus on, and each day of that week, you spend your 15 minutes of time in that zone. Read more about zones on her site, here. This week's zone is the Bathroom and Laundry Room. She assigns tasks for you to complete in that short amount of time, and at the end of the week, you have a spotless zone. Again, you can switch zones if you need to focus on another area of your house, but the tasks for each area are so well organized and explained, it's worth following the flight plan as closely as possible.
  • The site has TONS of other ways to help you get into other routines like drinking more water and detailed cleanings. It also has lots of products to help on your journey, but starting with these simple baby steps, splitting up my cleaning time, having time for the other things in life that make me happy, and having a relatively clean apartment (after only day 3) has been life-changing, and I hope you'll like it too!
Also, "I need help!"
Maybe it's just because Mark and I both work and have a toddler, but as much as I love this cleaning plan, I need help with it. I strongly encourage you to share your housecleaning plan (whatever it may be) with your partner and children. Let me tell you why...

The first night I shined my sink was an awakening for me. It was finally admitting to myself that I needed more help, that I needed FLY Lady to be my surrogate cleaning-mom and to tell me what to do each day in order to have less chaos and clutter in my home.

I don't need a perfect home. I just want to be able to make food in my kitchen, to have enough room on my couch so that both Mark and I can sit on it, to be able to use my dining room table, and for guests to be able to use my bathroom and not get exposed to some 18th-century disease that I'm sure is breeding in my toilet. Those are the very small goals I've set for myself.

So, I said to my beautiful sink, that first evening, "Goodnight, see you in the morning friend," and fell asleep happy. When I woke up, I remembered my good deed and rushed out to see it sparkle, to feel that happy feeling of doing something good for myself. And you know what?

Someone had put a nasty milk cup and bowl of old coleslaw in it after I had gone to bed. Ugh. Mark must have been too tired to really understand my little speech about sparkly-sink excitement the night before. I explained to him again why this was so important to me.

Now he knows, and even if he doesn't help me shine it, he surely won't put dishes in there before bed. We're on the same page, and it feels great.

He even has offered to do his own 15 minutes each night, and I've given him tasks that are hard for me to do during E's nighttime routine -- like take out the garbage and put the dinner dishes in the dishwasher. Those 2 tasks left me with a clean kitchen last night.

We both woke up this morning and smiled at each other in our clean kitchen. "This is nice," Mark admitted. Plenty of room to make lunches, and a clean sink to rinse dishes. "Yeah, it is."

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Housekeeping Disasters and FLY Lady

Okay, so you should all know by now that I'm not a great housekeeper. I think I'm a pretty good mom, though it took me awhile to admit that, and I'm still feeling guilty for hollering at E the other day when she drank water out of a dish rag.

And I think I'm doing okay at being a wife -- even if that means that this week the most I did was hug my husband, ask how his day was, beg him to take out the trash, and asked, "Are you okay? Are we okay??" as he ran out the door, to which he replied. "Yeah, of course! Always. I love you!" Ahh, isn't love grand?

But the housekeeping thing is just... meh. Here's my usual daily routine:

Waking Up (A Half Hour Late)
  • Grab my bra off the bed post
  • Trip over books and pile of dirty laundry
  • While on the floor, grab my jeans that I wore yesterday from under the bed
  • Stumble to the mirror while putting on jeans
  • Make sure my hair isn't too greasy and try to remember the last time I washed it
  • Try to figure out what day it currently is
  • Simultaneously brush teeth and put hair in ponytail 
  • Scrounge in the clean-laundry pile for a shirt
  • Put on that shirt and decide it's too wrinkly
  • Put on a sweatshirt over wrinkly shirt
  • Remove toddler from hip by coaxing her with Cheerios and milk
Making Lunches
  • Distract toddler with dancing and Shakespearean soliloquies in horribly bad olde-English
  • Grab bread from cupboard
  • Find turkey in cupboard from yesterday
  • Throw out turkey
  • Make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Discover that toddler's lunch pale hasn't been cleaned
  • Clean lunch pale
  • Toddler wants to "help" (DO NOT ALLOW THIS)
  • Lets toddler help wash lunch pale
  • Change toddler's wet clothes (allow 30 minutes to 3 hours)
  • Distract toddler with a YouTube video (must be longer than 5 minutes)
  • Hit "restart" on video every five minutes
  • Clean lunch pale
  • Argue with toddler about why she doesn't need to help again
  • Lie to toddler about the lunch pale already being clean
  • OR pretend that cleaning the lunch pale is not fun
  • Pretend it makes you cry

Getting Out the Door
  • Send toddler out the door
  • Give hugs and kisses 5+ times
  • Send my husband out the door with toddler, missing half the items she needs for day care (not to worry, day care has extra boots and blankets)
I've only forgotten her lunch once, and I made sure to bring it over to her. I rarely forget the important things, and if I do I can get creative to make it work.

But sometimes "getting creative" is exhausting.

I'm trying out this new site my counselor recommended. No one paid me to say this. Ha! It's 100% free to sign up, and I've found the emails and plan that "FLY Lady" sets up incredibly doable and manageable, even with my busy lifestyle! Here's the link! Disclaimer: You get TONS of emails, so I recommend signing up for the "Lite" version if you sign up for the emails.

I've only just started this plan, but am already noticing SO MUCH of a difference in my attitude about housecleaning and the state of our apartment! If you decide to join me or have already tried this program, I would love to hear about how it's working for you!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Thievery and God... and Stuff

My weekend was a little hectic, so I apologize for disappearing for a few days. As most of you probably already know, we took E to the Montshire Museum this weekend. While there, I put my purse down to take a photo, got distracted, and someone took it.

I was so sure that I had just lost it, and I feel like for the first time in my life, I believed that I was just a ditzy mom, more focused on chasing after my 2-year-old, who would retrace my steps and find my purse next to one of the exhibits. After all of us searched the museum from top to bottom, we were pretty sure that someone had taken it, but I still believed that someone had just found it, that it would be returned.

Just to be safe, I called the bank to close my debit card, credit card, and Pay Pal accounts. When I did, I found out that someone was trying to use my cards and had attempted to charge a total of $762.00 on my cards. I had closed my accounts just in time (within 5 minutes of the attempted charges), and he was only able to get about $70.00 off of my debit card that the bank will refund us after the police report is filed.

This was hardly a devastating loss for us, but it still makes me ask the question, "Where is God (or positive energy or good karma) when bad things happen?" I firmly believe that these negative things that happen to us are of the Earth, that they're just life. Negativity working through other people is bound to touch as at some point. It's bound to blast through our lives in the form of a stolen purse, a stolen moment, a stolen life itself.

After I reported what happened to the museum staff, I looked up to see other moms searching the museum for my bag. My sister-in-law said, "Look at all the people who are helping." Women came up to me and asked if they could help. Families spent their last few minutes at the museum helping me look. The staff took down my information and are even having a meeting today with executives to discuss the situation and the possibility of putting security cameras in the museum.

This is the first time something like this has happened at the museum in over 10 years.

My mother-in-law helped us by giving us some cash to cover the amount we lost until the bank can refund us. She even took me out to buy me a new purse. I had lost the one she had gotten me for Christmas. She even took me over to Staples to buy a new Moleskine sketchbook to replace the one stolen.

Every time I look at that bag, I'm happy.

I kept asking myself, "Why did this happen to me?" And I came to the conclusion that -- God knew we could handle this blip, he knew that I would look to Him and say, "Thank you for picking me... and not some family who only had $70.00 to buy groceries for the week and no other source of funds."

I like to imagine that God delayed this guy's spending spree by 5 minutes. Maybe a slow-driving grandma pulled out in front of him or his super-sized McDonalds dinner that he bought with my money came out of the fryer a few minutes late. Ha!

And when I ask myself, "If God could do all that, why couldn't he prevent my $70.00 from being stolen?" I have to believe that there was a reason for that, too. Maybe he needed medicine for his son or food. Maybe he really needed that 42" plasma TV from Best Buy too... Okay, probably not, but... I have to trust that in the big picture, we're all heading toward something that's good and that for that to happen, some bad must happen along the way.

And all I know is that, when I follow that feeling I get when I do something good to help others, when I choose a path of helping instead of hurting and when I teach my child the same, it feels right. By law of attraction, I draw similar people close to me, and I'm blessed to say that these things have rarely happened to me. And when they do, I can always find the good in it.

And when I have trouble seeing the good, the good people around me find it for me. And when I really have trouble seeing the good, when I lose sight of the path, God shows me.

So, suck it, thief!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Back to the Future of Cards!

I’m going to combine Tutorial Tuesday into a Whatever Wednesday today and show you how I made my most recent card and tell you about the FUTURE of my cards and prints!

I’m incredibly motivated right now to help this local family, and I feel like the universe keeps giving me opportunities to continue helping.

As of tomorrow, I won’t be selling any more of my hand-drawn cards. This was the plan all along, but I think some small part of me felt like I could keep this up forever and keep donating all the profits. That’s just not feasible right now, and I need to focus on the next step, to ultimately help in a bigger way.

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So, to sum up the hand-drawn orders: today is the last day to place an order if you want one, and I should have all cards completed by next week.

If you’ve already ordered a set earlier this week, they should ship by Friday. And any orders from today will ship next week. Thank you all SO much! It’s looking like we’ll have at least $150-200 to give to this family this week. Yay!

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Going forward, I’m going to take most of these designs, digitize them, and have them printed. Using this process, I’m also going to be creating some parenting/new-baby prints with inspirational quotes.

The great thing about the digital process is that I can mass-produce cards and prints, add color digitally, and have them printed and re-printed to meet demand. AND a portion of the profits will continue to benefit our sponsored family. (I’ll have more information soon about how else you can help if you'd like, more details about this family’s situation, and the “Donate” button on the left side of my page will hang out there, probably indefinitely.)

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ALSO. Tune in over the next few weeks as I (quickly) churn out my first few batches of cards and prints. I’m getting ready to set up a table for the Child and Baby Expo (April 12th, 10am-2pm, Berlin Elementary School), so these will have a baby/parenting theme!

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And if you’re feeling bummed at missing an opportunity to buy one of my hand-drawn cards, here’s how you can make your own!

As I’ve said before, I’m all about CHEAP shopping, BARGAIN bins, and CLEARANCE sales. Storm them to find stamps, and pick up a cheap stamp pad. I found this “Hello Friend” one in the dollar bin at A.C. Moore. There are probably still some there! I used a stencil to create this oval, but I’ve also traced Tupperware lids and anything else I can find around the house – kids’ toys are great! Also, think cookie-cutters and magnets. You can make some great “tangles” or doodles by just filling these traced shapes with patterns.

For patterns, I think I’ve mentioned tanglepatterns.com, and the one I shared here is from The Zentangle Untangled Workbook by Kass Hall. There’s nothin’ to it!

Some of these patterns did take me some practice. And, if you look closely at some of my hand-drawn cards, you’ll even notice that I made mistakes. That’s what makes them special, though, and it’s one of the things I love about doodling and Zentangling. The mistakes shape the drawings. Many of my sketches were transformed by a 2-year-old bumping my elbow. I keep some scrap paper handy to stamp on and sketch. Then, once I know the layout I want to do, I go right to work in pen. I use an 05 Micron Pen to do the ovals. It makes the outline a little thicker. Then I use a 01 Micron Pen for the interior detail. But any old pen or Sharpie will work, and you should always use what feels comfortable to you!

If you make any of your own designs and want to share, please tag them on Instagram! -- #ymistrange

Monday, March 3, 2014

Moms' Night Out at the Oscars

Now that I have my planner all set up, I see that I have a busy night ahead of me making cards. I have two more shipments to get out before Wednesday! I still have a few more cards left if you're interested (see info at left)!

So, I have to get out a quick blog post now to tell you about how amazing it was to go to the Moms’ Night Out at the Oscars last night! I brought along my dear friend Molly. It seemed appropriate, as she was the one who encouraged me to try for a baby when I was feeling pretty overwhelmed by the whole “trying to get pregnant” thing two years ago (and she was already 6 weeks along with her first pregnancy). Nice timing on that nudge, Molls! Nine months later, I had little E. We went through our pregnancies together, and she was a HUGE support as my anxiety spiked during my pregnancy. I still call her when E takes a tumble or comes down with a nasty flu… to cry and hear her tell me words of encouragement like, “You need to calm the f*** down.” Haha! Gah, I love her!

Ellie helped me get ready before my big night. She barged through the bathroom door while I was on the toilet, brushed my hair with Mark's hairbrush, pretended to trim my nose hairs with Mark's nose-hair trimmer, then said, "You need a bow, then you be all set!" Bippity, Boppity, Boo!

Molly and I arrived at the Sunset Ballroom on Shelburne Road. What a beautiful place to spend the evening! We checked out all the local businesses who had free samples – everything from amazing, organic body rubs to yummy candies and cupcakes. Heaven!

The food was delicious, and Molly and I sipped sodas and mingled a bit, then headed to the red carpet for some pics. We had lots of laughs, and before we knew it, it was time for the raffle. No winners at our table, but it was great to hear the cheers of excitement as other moms won some wonderful prizes.

More than anything, I just loved getting dressed up, feeling like a princess (in my VonBargen’s jewelry we borrowed), spending some time with lovely, amazing moms, and having a great friend by my side.

Mark said Ellie went to bed well with me gone for the night, and I was able to relax and enjoy some much-needed me time! Yay for getting pampered, wined, and dined!

If you’re a local mom, mosey on over to the Burlington VTMoms Blog, read some wonderful posts from moms in your community, and keep an eye out for other amazing events that you can be a part of!

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I woke up this morning to E climbing in bed with me, wearing her glasses (with the lenses popped out), and asking me to "wake up now." I stumbled out into the living room, and she happily raided my swag bag. Happy girl! Thanks again, BVT Moms!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

My Planner!

Ok, so here's what I finally decided to do for my planner!

I had a lot of fun with this. I combined some ideas from different sites and simplified the process a bit for myself. What I love most about this system is that you can completely customize it for your needs.

First, I found a mini binder on sale at Staples -- I recommend starting with the stores that are least expensive and moving up to find supplies. My usual order of shopping is: Dollar Tree (500+ stickers for $1? Yes please! Some of the teacher stickers work great for this), Walmart, A.C. Moore, Staples, etc.

Our Dollar Tree store had large binders (if you prefer), stickers, post-its, and washi tape!

I ended up finding great deals on some clearance supplies at Staples and got the binder and dividers for $6 altogether. Raid the clearance aisles first!

I don't know about you, but I almost always have post-its (or scrap paper), random stickers, letter-stamps, and sharpies kicking around, so I didn't need to purchase those. I also had a hole-punch -- only a heart-shaped one, but it did the trick.

FREE TEMPLATE PAGES

For my first go at this, I actually measured and cut out some pages to put in my binder and sketched out some weekly and monthly pages, but that takes awhile, so I ended up putting together some quick printable weekly/monthly page templates that you can download in PDF format for free here. The file contains 3 different color options (blue, green, and pink).

TABS

My binder has 3 sections:
  • WEEK Tab
    This contains my weekly template where I list my daily to-do tasks, appointments, etc.
  • MONTH Tab
    This has my monthly template where I mainly list upcoming appointments, important events, etc.
  • IDEAS Tab
    I've made more customized pages for this section, to have a little fun with it, and make crafty pages to inspire my daily sketch ideas and drawings.
  • To Add -- ACTIVITIES Tab
    I want to add a page just dedicated to family activities that we want to try, directions to the location, and cost, to better plan our warm-weather adventures (if warm weather ever comes!).
I've been in doodle heaven lately, so this page on the left was one of my first!

WASHI TAPE

I'm finally hooked on washi tape after hearing other crafty bloggers rave about it for years and having no luck with it myself. The rolls I bought always shredded and never peeled off evenly.

I've now experimented with the Scotch brand ($2.99 at Staples) AND a cheap dollar-store brand. Both worked great, but I have to say that the dollar-store brand worked even better than Scotch. When I peeled the tape, it didn't roll back on itself like the Scotch brand, so no carefully unrolling your tape and getting it stuck all over your fingers only to grease it up and have it not stick! Also, it was quite a bit thicker than the Scotch brand, so more durable.

http://www.simplypchee.com
So far, I've only used the washi tape to stick things into my planner -- random scraps of paper to draw on or write notes, like above, under my "Doodle Ideas" paper. But, this crafty blogger mom (simplypchee.com) shared this image which shows what I found to be a really clever use for washi tape on your calendar.

I've had so much fun with this planner and have really put minimal time into setting it up. I hope that you find something similar that works for you if you're in need of a planner. And, feel free to shoot me an email at YourMomIsStrange(at)gmail(dot)com if you think of any questions I didn't answer here.

Happy planning!

For more ideas, see the links in my previous post, here.