Thursday, April 28, 2016

April in photographs + lists

 
 
This spring has been a whirlwind: our first (conventional) family vacation (so, so fun, but also exhausting); navigating the complex world of parenting a teenager (advice welcome); and learning to accept that I will likely always have a love-hate relationship with my job (things are looking up on that front, thank goodness). Husband turned a year older this month, which means I'm six months to the day behind him. It feels like a pivotal age, though unconventionally so; one that brings about reflection on where we are in our individual and combined lives.


That work-life balance thing I'm always waxing about feels pretty darn achievable most days. I attribute this, in large part, to a more civilized work schedule, a renewed commitment to dating my husband and socializing with friends + coworkers, and finding more space in my life for creative endeavors.

I'm also learning to let go

of plants I don't love or require too much of my time.
of clothing that doesn't fit, I don't wear, and/or I don't love.
of relationships that aren't mutually beneficial.
of trying to please the unpleasable.
of The Plan: the one that causes my stomach to clench when I imagine it working out differently.
of all those what-ifs. (Boy can they rob you of your sunshine.)


Mario and I have been dating regularly and socializing more.
I committed already and registered for the GREs: I'm slaying that beast on June 14.
I'm within 300 hours of meeting my chosen grad school's healthcare experience prerequisite.
We are snowballing the heck out of our debt.
I came back from vacation and resumed a Whole30-based diet, while practicing moderation in the form of meals out and occasionally indulged cravings.
I Konmaried my closet yesterday to the tune of six garbage bags full of clothing, shoes and accessories headed for donation. (Bookshelf, I've got my eye on you next.)
I volunteered for a school event for the first time in ages.
After nearly a decade of talking about it, we hired someone to deep clean our house once a month. (What's left are small weekly tidying sessions which equals more family time.)
I've become a float therapy convert, and try to book a session every 10 days or so.


So what brought about this recent lifestyle change? The answer is rather unconventional: I missed a much-anticipated chalkboard lettering class. I was exhausted from working long hours and feeling guilty that Mario was practically single-parenting our child, and I slept right through a class I'd been looking forward to for over a month. (And paid a pretty penny to attend, which was actually the least of my concerns about missing it.) What's worse: I didn't notice until I checked my email two days later and found a kind note from the shop owner telling of my absence. My life had fallen off the rails and I'd finally opened my eyes to it. I was tired, detached, and running on autopilot at best. Small issues felt enormous, as was my reaction to them. I was forgetting dates and times and events and felt like I was apologizing constantly. When I wasn't apologizing I was worrying that my child wasn't getting enough attention and my husband was overburdened, and scared shitless that one morning I would wake up to the realization that the path I was enduring such hardship to pursue wasn't what I wanted after all.

Then there was the worst fear of all: that I would never, ever find personal fulfillment.

If I didn't start living now by embracing the imperfect, I'd continue denying myself the ability to find joy.

So I started living. The kind shop owner allowed me to take the next class and it. was. awesome. (I've found a new hobby!) Husband and I said yes to a dinner invite and the next week tried a restaurant that had been on our radar since moving to Portland. I dragged my weary butt to a get-together after work one day and was gifted the opportunity to get to know my coworkers outside of the stressful confines of the hospital corridors. I picked a date roughly two months in the future and printed out a GRE study plan that fit that time frame. Then I sat down and started studying. (Truth: I've been procrastinating on this front for nearly 3 years. I'm ridiculous.)

 

Life is far from perfect, and I mess up on the regular, but things are looking up. Optimism has been renewed and perspective regained. Life over the last month has become more livable: less about surviving the everyday and more about enjoyment. Taking moments when they present themselves; getting out of my own way; and letting go when my body and mind compel me to do nothing more than lie on the couch after working three 12-hour shifts in a row.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I'm also going to devote more time spent writing in this space. Posting here makes me happy and keeps me connected to friends and like-minded people. It won't be every day or even every week for the next little while, but it will be more regular than it has been. Because despite the lack of posts, it's never far from my mind. I construct post titles and write sentences in my head in all those in-between moments.

Just a few of the posts I've already mentally written many times over:

(Better) Realized: Knowing when you've finally made it.
Disney World
Harry Potter World
Marbella, Spain
Barcelona, Spain
Minimizing  / Capsulizing (Sort of)
Reading Goals 2015: A Review
Living grudge-free
The Whole30 Experience
Favorite things (skincare, clothing, cosmetics, crafts, etc)
Relating to your in-laws





Friday, April 1, 2016

Seen, Heard + Bookmarked


I think it is safe to say that spring has officially sprung in the Pacific Northwest. The last few days have brought sunshine, blue skies, and impossibly colorful blooms. I'm in heaven. I've been feeling the pull to the out of doors, and I see lunches in the staff garden and t-shirt + shorts weather in my near future. Gloomy days have their place in my little introverted heart, but there is something about the sunny seasons that bring about a certain optimism.  Those in other parts of the country, I'm thinking about you and hoping more hospitable weather is on the horizon for you as well.


Here's a little of what I've seen, heard and bookmarked over the last couple weeks:

This beautiful, raw essay describes New Hampshire Sarah rather succinctly. (When I read it, all those old feelings came rushing right back. They are still in there, apparently.)

Perhaps the perfect warm weather dress.

Middle-class housing projects. (What.)

Appealing to our humanity. (Especially after these most recent remarks.) (John Oliver's commentary is so good.)


Learned a new skill. (Also, trying this.)

A list maker through and through, this article inspired me to take it a step or two further.

A very crafty blog.

Still an INFJ. (I retake it every few years, and despite my near constant evolution it's always the same.)

Floating. (I tried it for the first time this week, and this article prompted me to finally make the appointment.)

How am I just hearing about this?! Giddy doesn't even describe it. 

Junk food.

A new favorite cheek stain. (A decade-long devotee of Tarte's cheek stain, I'm not loving the new formulation—less gel-like and therefore harder to blend, I think—so I decided to move on).


Easy-to-Peel boiled eggs. I tried it; it works (!!!). I vow to submerge my eggs in boiling water from this day forth.

Also, I wrapped up my Whole30 experience yesterday (it was 31 days, technically) and I feel pretty darn good about it. Not a single cheat, even over Easter. We are headed for a family vacation tomorrow so I'm relaxing the rules just a bit, but when I come back the goal is to continue a modified Whole30 until I get closer to my happier body composition. But with a weekly cheat meal, I think. Because the real world involves the occasional ice cream cone and potato chip. More on the experience to come.

Happy Weekend!




Thursday, March 17, 2016

Taking Stock | 04


Making: time for myself. blogging, reading, taking classes, binge-watching...I'm getting better at stealing moments just for me. Sans guilt.
Cooking: split pea soup in the crockpot. peas are not Whole30 approved, apparently, but everything else is and I'm going with it.
Drinking: iced tea. unsweetened.
Reading: What Alice Forgot by Lianne Moriarty + Rising Strong by Brené Brown
Wanting: a cupcake (not worth it.) 
Looking: forward to next month's family vacation. (our first of this sort.) harry potter world, here we come.

Playing: Sia's latest album + "Love Yourself" by Justin Bieber (don't judge)
Wishing: for next month's embroidery pattern. I finished the March project yesterday.
Enjoying: five days off in a row (!!!)
Waiting: impatiently for this cold virus to go away. lots of tonics and sudafed. (the boys have been passing this bug back and forth for a couple weeks and it finally got me.)
Liking: the way I'm feeling about food right now. whole30 is definitely doing good things for me.

Wondering: about all the wild, vivid dreams I've been having lately. what's behind them?
Loving: all the sunshine after weeks of rain (thank you, Portland!)
Hoping: this is the year I get into grad school. (in other words, on the first try.)
Marveling: that I already have 1400 of the 2000 patient care hours I need.
Needing: to commit to my GRE study schedule
Smelling: spring. fresh air + blooms.
Wearing: embroidered jeans (I missed you 90s fashion!)
Following: @deerandtree on Instagram (photos of gorgeous Polaroid shots!)
Noticing: all the pretty houseplants for sale right now. (can one have too many? nah.)

Thinking: it's time to do a major closet purge. the rest of the house could use a little decluttering, too.

Bookmarking: An Introvert's Guide to Having People Over (glad I'm not the only one that struggles with this)
Giggling: at our naked kitty. he got his first lion cut of the year this morning and it's hilarious.
Feeling: Stressed. Impatient. But also peaceful in the in-between moments. Most of all, grateful.



Friday, March 4, 2016

Seen, Heard + Bookmarked


Happy Friday! Husband is leaving for a lengthy business trip tomorrow, so I took the weekend off to be with Kiddo. Then I realized this will be the first weekend I've been free and clear to do what I please since December. December. Saturday and Sunday! I will not sing a single sour note because, a whole weekend off.

Add to that a successful first three days of Whole30 with minimal cravings and life is good. Oh, and did I mention the emergence of (early) spring? It's true. The Pacific Northwest does spring like a boss


Without further ado, here are some things that I've seen, heard and bookmarked lately.

Grownup grilled cheese. (I won't be making it this month, but it's getting bookmarked for April. Fo Sho.)

I've always thought meditation would help me a lot, but have never been disciplined enough to make it a regular practice. This energy clearing meditation really struck a chord with me. (I've come to realize I absorb outside energy like it's my job.) I'm giving it a go.


After reading this floral chalk mural diy, I got inspired to sign up for a chalkboard lettering class. (I'd been holding out for another brush lettering class, but came to the conclusion that a woman cannot possibly acquire too many artistic skills.)

Attempting breakfast meal planning with this Sweet Potato Breakfast Casserole. (I got up at 5:30 yesterday morning! Progress! I'll become a morning person yet.)

Kiddo and I watched 'Mr. President' and 'The First Lady' for, like, 15 minutes straight the other day. Without blinking. Utterly fascinating and so cool.

I'm hardly one to get excited about swimsuits, but this ruffled one-piece is lovely and right up my alley.

I first saw Sarah K. Benning's work for sale in a Portland shop, then went on to follow her religiously on Instagram. Her embroidery hoops are amazing works of art. This week she made my year and started a monthly embroidery pattern subscription. It's more than I would normally pay for patterns, and a leap of faith since I won't see them until they are released each month, but I had some PayPal money burning a whole in my digital pocket and sprung for the 6-month subscription. First month: crystals!

Speaking of subscriptions, I cancelled my monthly Birchbox. I've been with them from the very beginning, but it had grown monotonous some time ago. After posting about my love of giant knitting on IG, a friend suggested The Crafter's Box. It costs significantly more than Birchbox, but I was looking for something new + different and this fits the bill. I can't wait to arm-knit myself a great big blanket!

Excited to dig into this biography about hiking the PCT. The dream is still very much alive!





Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A month of clean eating.


Yesterday I started the Whole30 plan. I have been mentally building up to this for a couple months, but I didn't get my act together in time to make it a resolution. (I'm not inclined to believe I would have made it through the month anyway, as a certain defiance of New Year's resolutions, combined with post-holiday ennui, likely would have led to its demise by Day 15.) February brought a trip to Spain and there was no way I was putting myself through the hell and inevitable sabotage of traveling on a strict eating plan. (Paella! Pasta! Coquettes!)

I have an aversion to using the word "diet" to describe my eating. I believe diets are wont to fail. That being said, a diet, by definition, involves restriction. And so. I'm on the Whole30 diet. There, I said it. And lest you think I drank the pop culture health fad Kool-Aid, elimination diets are nothing new to me.

I've been plagued by a sensitive gut and allergies since childhood, prone to skin irritation since infancy, and anxious since early adulthood. Add to that a propensity to gain and hang on to belly fat, and you have the basis for a lifelong quest to appease my easily annoyed anatomy.

Over a decade ago I followed the South Beach Diet with moderate success. Many years later my doctor prescribed a Mediterranean-based elimination diet to pinpoint sources of irritation, which helped but eventually ended up in the diet graveyard like those before it. I got into CrossFit about three years back and loosely adopted the Paleo lifestyle, but had a hard time getting behind the rationale (and the healthy dose of pseudoscience being passed off as fact.) A plethora of Paleo-friendly "cheats" didn't seem to support the lifestyle change I was looking for so much as it encouraged me to sidestep the system. I'd rather eat a slice of cheesecake and be satisfied than spend four hours making a dairy-free, gluten-free version that is far from sating. Also, zero grains while working toward a 300lb deadlift was a recipe for starvation, frustration and weight gain in my case. It just wasn't for me. (Side note: I am keenly aware that there is quite a bit of overlap between Paleo and Whole30. That being said, one is a 30-day reset and one is a long-term eating plan. When I am done with this I intend to reincorporate whole grains and legumes in moderation. And there lies the difference.)

So why this and why now? March was the perfect month because we had no trips planned, the optimism of spring is in the air, and my work schedule supports meal planning and brown-bagged lunches. We have our first official family vacation planned for next month, and I'm eager to have adopted better habits and reduced cravings beforehand. I chose Whole30 because it naturally eliminates dairy, my biggest source of irritation, as well as foods that trigger mindless eating and unhealthy habits. (Simple sugars, salty convenience foods, and carb-y treats, in my case.) Whole30 is about eating fruits, vegetables and lean meats for a month, while strongly encouraging meal planning and home cooking, two habits I have long aspired to do consistently.

Here's the thing: I don't eat fast food, ever, and I don't like sweet coffee drinks and pastries in the morning. I've never been fond of soda or alcoholic beverages, but I really like vegetables. I walk an average of 15k steps each workday, at least several thousand on my days off, and have eliminated most between-meal snacking over the past few months. So why is the weight hanging on (as measured by how my clothes fit)? Why am I drinking more and more coffee to beat general sluggishness and afternoon slumps? Why are my cravings for dessert and sweet treats at an all time high? Why can't I establish a sane morning routine? The time has come to stop wondering and start figuring it out.


Self-imposed guidelines:

1. Follow the rules of Whole30 to the letter, but don't make myself crazy in the process. Plan ahead, anticipate temptation, and give myself a break. One mistake doesn't mean I need to scrap the whole endeavor. Oh, and the scale will not be making an appearance. My numerical weight has little to do with this.

2. Reduce stress, manage emotions without food, and find outlets. These are ongoing goals, but I can't think of a better time to focus on them. Face sources of personal and professional anxiety head-on instead of avoiding, procrastinating, and ruminating. Enjoy hobbies, take classes, and diligently enforce that elusive work-life balance thing. I'm going to work on my anxiety naturally and prove to myself that I possess the willpower and self-discipline to avoid temptation for a whole month (and beyond). That may just be the most important part of this whole endeavor.

3. Explore more natural approaches to health outside of food. I have slowly but surely been replacing my beauty products with more natural formulas, eliminating clutter, organizing my living spaces, and simplifying my wardrobe. I'm almost there.

4. Drink water. A lot of it. I bought some charcoal sticks to remove the chlorine aftertaste from our tap water and have a 1/2 gallon mason jar on the kitchen counter at the ready. I always bring a 32oz Nalgene bottle to work every day, but most days it gets ignored. It is not uncommon, at the end of a 12-hour shift, to realize the only fluid I've consumed all day is coffee. Baseline dehydration is likely to blame for my frequent headaches and lethargy. The goal is to down that whole 1/2 gallon jar every day.

5. Stop thinking of it as a diet, and start thinking of it as the norm. Quite frankly, this is how I should eat on the average day. Tater tots are a treat, not a condiment and French Silk pie should not be a nightly expectation. My hope is that my habits begin to match my mindset, reducing the power struggle I often feel when faced with cravings. It's harder to give in to the siren's call of a cookie when broccoli makes up most of my dinner plate.


Tools for success:

Aside from a bottle of coconut aminos and a used copy of the Whole30 cookbook (which is still on order), I already had access to almost everything I need. I found the approved food list on the Whole30 website and did some googling to find breakfast suggestions and such. I adapted regular recipes I already loved or wanted to try to make them compliant. I prepped by meal planning, writing lists, grocery shopping, and making condiments from the Paleo cookbooks I already had on my bookshelf from my CrossFit days. As with most things, having readily available tools and resources is key to overcoming moments of laziness (which inevitably lead to self-sabotage).

Against All Grain // Her vinaigrette is an awesome everyday salad dressing, and she has a ton of great recipes for even non-Paleo eaters.

Well Fed cookbooks // There are two of them and I have both. I have a strong aversion to mayo, but can't eat tuna or chicken salad without it. Her mayo recipe is easy peasy and perfect for binding canned meats and making creamy dressings.  Paleo or not, she is the queen of dressings, condiments, and sauces to spice up meals. Oh, and she meal plans like a boss.

Nom Nom Paleo // I bought this cookbook on impulse at Costco, but her bacon hamburgers quickly became a staple in our house. Her recipe for deviled eggs with bacon lardons saved me from crashing and burning yesterday before this whole thing barely started.

Sunday Suppers & The Family Flavor // I'm a big fan of both of these cookbooks, and use them often. I've been combing them for Whole30 compliant recipes while adapting others that are not. All around good cookbooks.

Charcoal sticks // They make my water taste great and imbue an overall sense of earthiness. (I bought mine locally.)

Cuisinart 8 Cup Food Processor // I use this thing all the time, but it's especially helpful when it comes to making dressings and sauces, cauliflower rice, and when I'm too lazy to finely dice my herbs + veggies for a recipe.

Dried fruit (sans added sugar), nuts, and pre-chopped greens + proteins are also key.

I'm going to be honest: yesterday was a near disaster. It wasn't that I hadn't planned, I had, but only in the big picture sense. I had two week's worth of meals planned, but didn't think past boiled eggs for breakfast and had few snacks at the ready. I became overwhelmed but determined not to lose my momentum, which led to my first meal of the day being consumed at 1p. By then I was starving and jittery from 3 cups of coffee and I developed a case of Maybe I shouldn't do this-itis. Dinner, a big pot of chicken tortilla soup (sans tortillas), was a huge hit with both Kiddo and Husband. Faith was restored and I learned my lesson. Today I woke up grouchy and tired, but I recovered. (Poor Husband got the brunt of my sour demeanor when I discovered a basket of clean laundry containing my rumpled t-shirts and kinda sorta snipped at him.) This is bound to be the case until my body adjusts to life without gummy bears. But! One of my favorite coffee shops serves a Paleo bowl and it is delicious! And I can handle my coffee black! Success!

I've got this.

(Updates to come. Wish me luck.)








Friday, February 26, 2016

A nomad returns, bold yet weary.


This road-weary traveler is home. And though Spain is a wondrous country I yearn to explore in greater detail, there is much to be said for the comfortable familiarity of home. A bed that knows my body, a french press that gets my morning brew right every time, and perhaps most importantly, routine. I spent much of my 20s resisting routine for fear that it made me dull and unadventurous, less of the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants girl I always and forever aspire to be. My thirties brought the clarity that helped me shed all the unnecessary pretense, and I now know I do much better when life is mostly predictable. (But only in the coolest of senses.)

Because of a work obligation, I arrived in Spain a day later than the rest of the group. Portland to Chicago, Chicago to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Malaga and a taxi ride to Marbella. I traveled alone for the entirety of the 15 hour trek, and found the relative solitude to be refreshing: an opportunity to refocus my brain from life stress to vacation. There was movie watching and embroidery and reading and thoughts of the future. I rather enjoyed the opportunity for reflection; it's not often that I am able to separate myself from the status quo while simultaneously pondering it. (Side note: Mario said a youngish woman doing embroidery on an airplane is akin to wearing a I ♥ Portland t-shirt. Ha!)


From there it was cultural exploration and socializing with Mario's coworkers and clients. We dressed up for fancy dinners, which only happens enough for me to vaguely remember how to put on tights and not break my ankle in heels. I never quite adjusted to the 9 hour time difference, which meant my exhausted bones would lie awake until 2 or 3 in the morning reading. I'm so thankful I hastily snatched The Miniaturist off our bookshelf on my way out the door. I am totally riveted which kept me mostly sane during those late nights.

After a few days in Marbella, we made the trek to Barcelona where Mario taught an international class for a couple days. There were additional social obligations, of course, but the vibe was decidedly more relaxed. I spent those days exploring Barcelona on my own: riding the subway, taking a hop-on/hop-off double-decker bus tour, and wandering the historic streets of the city with camera in hand. I plan to give each city a post (or two or three) of its own in the near future.


Two hours of sleep in 36 hours, jet lag that never resolved itself, and concern about our child's lack of submitted homework during our absence caused a fight of epic proportions in the wee hours of our last night in Barcelona. (In the realm of marital discord, this one ranks in our Top 3 for sure. It turns out chronic lack of sleep + social exhaustion + mother-in-law frustration is the recipe for brutal, unabashed honesty. Hashtag real life.) Then there was an altercation between two cab drivers vying to transport us to the airport at 4a: shouts cast in rapid Español, two hotel employees who watched rather than helping, and a rare glimpse of Mario's anger for the second time in just a few short hours as he tried to help me remove one driver from my personal space. And though the trip was altogether glorious, we departed with little black rain clouds over our heads.

Despite a 10+ hour flight in tight surroundings, we managed to maintain our cool and even shared a laugh or two along the way. (Especially when Husband epically spilled cheese pasta down the front of his shirt and attempted airplane bathroom hand washing.)


We landed in Vancouver, BC and goodness that place turned everything around for us. I'm here to tell you the stereotypes about Canadians being friendly are totally true, as in TSA and customs agents smiling pleasantly and making conversation friendly, and two 30 minute chair massages + two medium Orange Julii later, all was right with our marriage and the world in general. Also, the Vancouver airport has a creek running through it and copious amounts of real foliage and a Victoria's Secret in the event you neglected to pack enough vacation lingerie. I am on the brink of applying to grad school in Canada because I think it might just be my spirit country.

And while I'd love to say my sleeping patterns are peachy-keen and Kiddo's homework is all caught up, I'd be lying. Because life isn't a package that can be wrapped up so succinctly. Overseas travel has a fascinating side effect I often forget: it makes you realize the world is enormous, your problems are small and yada yada yada life is too short to be spent living an inauthentic life. Barcelona has buildings, still very much occupied, that were built centuries before the Puritans settled Boston. There is a cathedral that has been under construction for over 100 years. Our lifespans pale by comparison and yet I'll fret over the 30 minutes it takes to get my tires rotated? The culture is steeped in tradition and belief and it became abundantly clear that I am sorely lacking on both fronts.


This trip made me realize that I want to experience more of what the world has to offer. I want to learn Spanish through immersion, to understand different cultures with real depth. I want to live an authentic life doing whatever it is I'm meant to do, and I'll only find out what that looks like if I start experimenting. After all this time and energy pursuing a singular focus, on any given day I'm no longer 100% sure what my future looks like anymore. I'm less sure than I used to be, that's for sure. But for the first time, I'm not freaked out about it. I realized the only way to know is to shed all those preconceived notions of what my path should look like and start experimenting outside the safety of my self-constructed bubble.

Upon waking the morning after we returned home, I decided to make a genuine attempt at improving my work environment. I composed and constructed a carefully worded email to an antagonistic coworker and cc'd our supervisors. It was bold and decisive and as soon as I pressed "send" I felt relieved and proud as opposed to nervous or anxious. This was a huge leap, though long overdue, and gosh does that feel good. I will complete my requisite 2000 patient care hours in late summer, and I've already starting considering what is next. This essay, which I first read many months ago and have reread many times since, sits in the back of my mind with near constancy. Every time I read it I think, go radical all the way, too, Sarah.


So goes the tale of a woman's trip halfway around the world and how real life managed to find her there. Which didn't rob Spain of its magic or me of my wonder. Life experiences, good and bad, are priceless. And you know what? The unexpected perk of jet lag is the ability to wake naturally at 4a. I'll tell you right now, joining the world at that hour is actually kind of awesome. It gives me 2.5 hours to catch up on my blogroll, make lists, eat a good breakfast, and hang out with my husband before leaving for work. I feel like a superhero at 4a and I like it so much I'm currently brainstorming a plan to make it the norm. Because I'd really like to cross "Become a morning person" off my Bucket List.