Monday, April 14, 2014

Some Bunny Loves Easter

'Tis the season for eggs, ears, and Easter endearment!

Trudy is quite precious right now and she may not be cute forever so I'm taking advantage of this while I can in case it doesn't last. I hope this doesn't count as both child AND animal cruelty.


HAPPY EASTER from my favourite little bunny.


So smiley!


You can check out the ENTIRE photo shoot here,
along with some other photos from April so far, if you're so inclined.


Hugs and kisses and best wishes for an egg-cellent Easter! xo

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Early April: Food, fitness, and family

Food, Fitness, and Family in Photos - Early April Edition

Some food updates! I've been cooking and baking a lot over the past few weeks (see yesterday's blog post for some background information.) I've included recipe links in photo captions where available.

Homemade pizza pockets with sauce and salad.
Spinach and feta scones
Split pea, ham, and lentil soup
My first frittata
Pork enchiladas
Post-run breakfast
Homemade pizzas: sausage, spinach, and roasted garlic (left) and barbecue chicken with carmelized onions (right)
Homemade limeade.
Sausage and Rice Casserole (with fresh corn added) and a side salad.
Ranch Chili Chicken (in the pot); cornbread (top right); chocolate shortbread (bottom right.)
I got a new square baking pan!
Three mini Cookies 'n Cream cheesecakes (one to eat, one to give away, one to freeze.)



Fitness updates! I continue to bike and run each week.

Muggy bike ride

I had a strange encounter this past weekend with an overly-friendly, middle-aged male European-sounding cyclist (squished into a cycling outfit like a sausage in a casing) who was so concerned about my cycling that he took it upon himself to bike up alongside me to "correct" my "technique." He felt I was cycling in too hard of a gear and didn't want me to "bulk up" my legs. He told me I needed to focus more on my cardio by cycling in lower gears. I told him I liked harder gears and didn't mind having strong legs. I should have told him to screw off, but I was so caught off guard by the whole IN-MOTION interaction that I didn't know what to do. Was he hitting on me? What was his motivation? Bizarre.


A great 6.2 mile run.

Bike ride to the end of the world!



And finally, some Trudy updates!

Our little superstar is growing in size, sprouting teeth and hair, and working on crawling. A major development: Trudy got her Canadian citizenship certificate in the mail this week.

Oh Canada!
Beautiful mermaid/Ferocious sea monster
Diaper changes have become a bit more challenging lately.
She's Trudy, Trudy, Trudy outrageous
My favourite backyard buddy.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Home/Life Economics

My daily routine affords me a lot of time to think. Lately I've found myself fixating on MONEY -- namely, how to spend less and save more while still living a full, rich, exciting, happy, and healthy life. I've been thinking more and more lately about my family's financial fitness. I have a small amount of income coming in from school but, for the most part, we are a single-income household. We rent. We don't own a car. We live frugally. We live simply. We are happy. We've managed to add a baby without feeling a huge financial strain... yet...  I want to do what I can to make sure that we are able to live comfortably for as long as possible. I want to financially prepare us to be okay when unexpected expenses come up.

Budgeting is new for me. I've struggled with managing money for most of my life up until only recently. I can't help but feel a great deal of regret for how frivolous Bryn and I were with our money in the past. The chapter of our life that was worst was definitely while we were grad students in Tallahassee. There was a year or two there where we ate out in restaurants every single meal, every single day. I don't know how we afforded this. We made very little money. And this is what gets me -- we wasted money on food which left us overweight. We wasted money buying bigger clothes. We wasted time and money figuring out how to lose the weight. Weight loss and gain has to be one of the most financially irresponsible things a person can do, especially if you're on a loss/gain roller coaster with extreme peaks and valleys.

Our monthly Google Doc shared budget spreadsheet
One of my standing New Year's resolutions for two years now has been to save more money and wisely spend what money we have. I've started reading relevant blogs (one of my favourites is Get Rich Slowly) and talking to people about what they do to manage their money. With some research to help guide us, Bryn and I set our first budget in January 2013 and we stuck by it! We now track every dollar in and out on a shared Google spreadsheet.

Following our first year budgeting success, we revised and revamped and set another one for 2014. Budgeting has made life easier and more predictable; it has also highlighted areas where we can improve our spending habits. Broadly speaking, our budget is separated into three categories: fixed costs (things like rent and utilities), variable costs (food, miscellaneous spending, pugs, baby stuff), and savings. We have the added challenge of having two countries' worth of income and bills/debt. We pay down Bryn's remaining Canadian student debt from my Canadian income. We use Bryn's income for everything else and for our savings.

We are now as financially fit as we've ever been. We have saved enough to afford an application for two green cards and to pay the lawyer who will make it all happen. We see this as an investment in our future, as a green card would enable me to work and increase our family income. As it stands now, we spend around 58% of Bryn's income each month and save around 42%! Bryn is paid over the course of 9 months. During that time (now), our savings are higher because we will live off of them for the three months in the summer. "Savings" should be further qualified as it stands now, since we will be spending a large whack of that money very soon when our green card applications move forward. BUT... the good news is that this is a one-time thing (as long as everything goes as planned), meaning that we can start putting that money towards other things starting in August 2014. We've lived frugally for so long since we've been students so long. We've grown comfortable with very little! The challenge will be in one year (deep breath) when I'm done school. I'll have a short grace period, but then my student loans go into repayment. Hopefully by then the green cards will be in our hands so that I have some flexibility to work as much as I want, where I want. (Under our current visa situation, I am not able to work. I am Bryn's dependent. I could qualify for my own visa, equivalent to what Bryn has, should I get a job, but then I'd have to work full-time and couldn't simply pick up an adjunct course or two while raising Trudy.)

But (starts hyperventilating)... let's... not... worry too much... about that for now...

There's a lot of dissertating to be done between then and now.

Onto an analysis of sorts. I want to look at a few different areas of our life and see where we're doing well and where we could make changes to save more. I'm going to tackle three areas that fall in our variable cost category: transportation, baby business, and  food. These are areas where I set projected budgets but also where things are a bit flexible.

TRANSPORTATION


Much to the shock and awe of everyone we meet in Miami, Bryn and I have lived here since August 2012 without a car! We moved here without a car. We have positioned ourselves in a location where we can exist without our own transportation. Our neighborhood is very walkable; the Walk Score website gives in an 82. We can accomplish most errands on foot. We have three grocery stores, two pharmacies, a post office, and a hardware store within walking distance. We can easily hop the metro at the South Miami stop (an 8-minute walk from our house) to get pretty much anything we may want. We have also been Amazon Prime subscribers for almost a year. This allows us to get pretty much anything we need shipped to our door for "free" for around $80/year. Dog Food. Laundry detergent. Toiletries. Non-perishable food items. Garden gnomes. Office supplies. Sexy outfits. Gifts. You name it. Two days from computer click to door. We have a very warm relationship with our neighborhood UPS man. The only challenge with walking and biking everywhere is the motorist climate here in South Florida. Motorists rule. Pedestrians are not safe in crosswalks or even on the sidewalks. Bryn and I call it the "Wild, Wild West." If it wasn't so terrifying, it might be funny.

Sidewalk-less road (left), "Thank the Driver" (middle), Trudy on the metro (right.)
We are very close to several ZipCars and get discounted rates on rental cars through several providers thanks to Bryn's job at UM. Bryn took me and Trudy (then dans le ventre) to the hospital in a ZipCar! We've been tracking our car share and rental car spending and, on average, spend about $200/month on car rentals. This includes all insurance and gas, and is equivalent to what we would spend on insurance alone if we had our own car! We spend around $20/month on transit (that's a generous estimate). This is an area of money management where we feel we are doing very well.

It's funny to look back; it's been just over two years since our car died. Since then, we have embraced a car(e)free lifestyle. Only a few weeks after our car died, I wrote this here on the blog:
In the time that has elapsed AC ("After Carl"), I've learned that a car is a luxury and a convenience, not a necessity.  I would have been biking a lot this time of year even if I did have a car, so I've found the transition to be manageable.  The biggest difference I've found is when I want to go somewhere late at night or realize that I've forgotten something and want to quickly pop somewhere to grab it.  Neither of these things are easy to do on a bike and often take forever on the bus.
Not owning a car has helped us both financially and health-wise. We walk to do most of errands. Bryn bikes to work. We take public transit whenever we can. We rent cars for trips and occasional events. We both agree that there will be a car (OR A ROCKIN' MINI-VAN) in our future but, for now, we don't really need one nor can we afford one. Not having car payments, insurance, gas, and repair costs to deal with has left us in a position to make the most of what money we have without amassing unnecessary debt.

BABY


Baby costs have yet to impact our budget but we anticipate that changing a bit in the near future when Trudy starts eating more, becomes involved in activities, requires childcare outside of the home (?), and costs money to fly with. Cloth diapers, using cloth wipes, making our own spray-able wipe solution, and breastfeeding have eased us in and kept costs low for the first eight months so far. We've also been very lucky to have the generous support of friends and family (thank you, thank you, thank you) who have set little Trudy up with clothes and toys and furniture for a while. We've also been very frugal and any additional clothes or furniture we wanted at thrift stores.

Now... let me be honest... I have a bit of a "problem" when it comes to baby clothes. I can't handle the cuteness and want to enjoy putting Trudy in ridiculous and adorable things as long as I can. I'm working on reducing my impulse buying and my trips to thrift stores. This is an area where I need to improve.

FOOD

In my daily hours of solitude, during bike rides and long runs, and during the multiple times daily while Dear Trudy suckles from my teet, I've been thinking about the challenge of maximizing the financial side of healthy eating. Is there a way to optimize money and health? Is all of the money spent on diet foods and plans and weight loss secrets and kickstarters and cleanses really worth it? I've fallen prey myself. It seems so easy! My latest kick with the Paleo diet saw me spending ridiculous amounts of money on luxury items like coconut water and non-dairy, non-soy, non-everything protein powder. Grass-fed meat. Organic this. Local that. Is it really worth it?

I went gluten-free for a while even though I didn't need to for health reasons. Oh man, that's one expensive way of life (check out this article for more on this; I'll be blogging more on this topic shortly.) I think I saw a lot of weight loss results while eating gluten-free because I cut out a lot of things and didn't add substitutions made of corn and potato startches or rice flour--things that are just as bad for your gut and your waistline as the wheat-rich equivalents.

I am working to develop strategies for our family that maximize taste, health, and value. Can this be done? My thinking in this area has been heavily influenced by a lot of Freakonomics podcasts and radio interviews (including this one about the McDonald's McDouble burger which adds another angle to the discussion--social justice--which I'm not going to discuss in this blog post. I'm also not going to touch on sustainability/environmentalism which opens a whole other 10-blog-entry-worthy can of worms.) I'm curious if there's a healthy way to meet one's daily caloric needs in the cheapest way possible. In my thinking, I've come back several times to this poster, and many similar variations of it, which I've seen time and time again in restaurants or tossed about on the internet:


I think this kind of "pick two" hospitality service mentality has some truth when it comes to food as well. I offer below my version of this poster as it pertains to this discussion:


Organizing my thoughts and experiences with food and finances has helped me narrow in on how I want to move forward with all of this. In the last few weeks, I've stopped obsessing and counting calories and trying fad diet plans and eating strategies. I FEEL FREE. I've started looking at food through a long-term lens in terms of how it leaves me looking and feeling AND how much it costs. I have been embracing the first option: healthy and cheap... which takes time. Time to shop and menu plan. Time to cook and bake REAL food from scratch at home. Time to eat and enjoy. Time to grow vegetables in my garden (which I hope to get back to in the near future.) The question is, will this work? Will I lose weight? Will I gain weight? Will I find balance? Might this be there a long-term, SUSTAINABLE way to eat that will help me optimize money and health for the rest of my life?

Food is a variable cost in our life over which I'd like to have more control. My newfound obsession with being frugal has given me the motivation to slow my food roll and focus on this new outlook. In my last few blogs, as I struggle to lose weight after giving birth, I've found myself coming back to this idea of eating for pleasure and health as I work to lose weight. I'm reclaiming my kitchen as I work to reclaim my body. I am learning to make delicious foods and realizing that the best thing I can do for my family's health and financial fitness is be able to provide real food at home. We pretty much never eat out anymore and are cutting down on ordering food in. No more delivery pizza! (Shocking, I know -- what a huge sacrifice.)

It always seems to come back to Michael Pollan for me. I've written about his book The Omnivore's Dilemma on my blog and I've read pretty much everything he's written. Lately Pollan's been talking about how "cooking can change your life." Check out this little video for more info on this. I'm with you, Michael. This resonates with me. I'm ready to try this in the long-term. Lately I've been preparing delicious foods from scratch at home and have never been happier. We are saving money. We are eating well. I never feel like I'm starving. I never feel desperate to stuff my face because I've been withholding. I know what I'm putting in my body! I am in control. I find myself more likely to eat a giant salad alongside something delicious like a rice casserole or a bowl of homemade soup. I'm no longer viewing days as "cheat days" and find that I eat less of things I saw as "bad" before embracing this new mentality simply because they are not restricted. I am not obsessing. I am not counting calories. I am listening to my body and building upon the good habits I've worked to make permanent in the past few years: drinking lots of water, being mindful of portion sizes, striving to eat a diverse array of colourful, tasty foods. I have the energy and fuel to run further and faster than I did before. I feel hopeful and healthy. Is this how other people without food hangups live? While it isn't always simple in action, is it really this simple in theory?

But, let me be really honest for a moment. I'm scared to weigh myself. I feel like I've lost weight. I feel happier and fitter than I have in a long time. But what if I've gained weight living and eating this way? Then what?

(And, on another note, I'm working on reducing costs on items in and around the kitchen. For example, I've given up purchasing paper towel. I'm working on eliminating wasteful, cost inefficient things that are really unnecessary. Next up: saran wrap and ziploc bags. I'm working to make these changes gradually so that I don't overwhelm myself.)

EAT ANYTHING YOU WANT, just cook it yourself.

A few other tips that have helped me build up the financial gains alongside this way of eating:
  • Whenever I cook, I double and sometimes triple recipes. I buy foods that are on sale, make large batches, and freeze things. I have a wonderfully stocked freezer at the moment!
  • Whenever possible, I stock up on things that are on sale. I've read on couponing blogs like this one that stores have sale cycles anywhere from every six weeks to every three months. When things (mostly non-perishable) go on sale (especially buy-one-get-one), I try to stock up on the item until it goes on sale next time. (I don't think I'll ever go as far as to get into extreme couponing, especially since Florida does not match coupons.)
  • I don't throw-out any food, whenever possible. We work hard to eat everything we buy. I make frequent walking trips to the grocery store and only buy what will fit under the stroller. Fruit on its way out goes into smoothies. Veggies can always be thrown into casseroles or stirfry. 
  • I'm working on flexibility and patience when it comes to stocking our fridge. The best thing we can do is let the fridge get as empty as possible before filling it again. The planner and organizer in me struggles with this but the frugal (RICH!) tyrant I aspire to be is starting to win out more and more.
I'm going to leave the last word on all of this to Trudy. Here's my little raspberry monster with some thoughts of her own on the matter.

Trudy talk, keep talking Trudy talk...



She makes an excellent point. I couldn't agree more!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

March Updates

Today we celebrate seven months of Trudy!
We got up bright and early this morning and did a photo shoot:


When it comes to being a cutey, this baby means business!


And a little video from this morning (please ignore my annoying soundtrack):


Some other updates for March:

Food

Lately I've been feeling very relaxed about food. I am not tracking calories. I am not restricting anything. I am eating when I'm hungry and consuming many different foods. I am trying to follow the same strategy I'm using with introducing food to Trudy: aim for colour and variety. I'm listening to my body and working to not overeat. I am eating for pleasure. I am using food to fuel my activities. I am feeling much less stressed in this department!

I've tried a few fun new recipes so far this month. I continue to enjoy cooking out of The Looney Spoons cookbook (thanks again, Mom.) Their Moroccan Stew (pictured below on the left) has been a big hit in our house. Bryn lovingly refers to it as "peanut butter soup."  I've also been making a lot of spinach hummus (chickpeas, spinach, oil, salt and pepper, garlic) which goes with and on top of pretty much everything.

Other new food adventures include the Light(er) Sweet Potato Mac 'n Cheese (top right in the picture below.) I split the macaroni in half and froze one. I also made more scones (from the Baby Led Weaning cookbook) and more Coconut Almond Chocolate Chunk Cookies.


We had friends over twice over Bryn's Spring Break (last week). Our first dinner featured pizza. I made the crusts and a homemade basil pesto. One pizza featured the pesto, traditional toppings (meat, onions, peppers, etc.), roasted garlic, and feta cheese, and the other was a Thai chicken pizza (chicken, sweet chili sauce, cheese, green onions, peanuts, and carrots.) The second dinner was a rib extravaganza. I pulled out the frozen mac and cheese I'd put away a week or so earlier, cooked some asparagus, and made a spinach salad to go along with the ribs. For dessert, I made my first bread pudding from a Looneyspoons recipe. It was delicious!

Family, Friends, and Fun

As mentioned above, Bryn was on Spring Break last week. It was so wonderful having him home and being able to entertain friends in our house. Bryn is so wonderful with Trudy and it's great to see how much joy it brings him to be able to just hang out at home with her all day. We didn't do much exciting over the break, other than clean and organize the house, entertain friends, and enjoy being together as a family.



Spring Break did give us the chance to get some things crossed-off our to-do list (like our taxes--two countries' worth) and to plan ahead for the future. I am treating Bryn to a surprise vacation in June (he knows when but not where we are going). We will also be heading to Winnipeg, MB and Kenora, ON for a family wedding (my side) in July.  

Fitness

I have had some wonderful exercise moments over the past few weeks. I am regaining my strength and endurance bit-by-bit, day-by-day. Both running and biking have filled my mornings (four times a week, most weeks) with such joyous stress-relief and time to think away from the house. With running, I've been working on lengthening my distance and increasing my speed on shorter runs. I ran a 36-minute 5k last week which is the fastest I've run that distance in a while. As I've said many times before on this blog, I've always felt like I was built for endurance and not speed. I'm hoping that this next chapter of running will help me improve in both categories. With biking, it's about discovering cool places to explore and trying not to get killed by motorists. If I get a work-out in the process, it's a bonus.

This past Saturday I went out for a great bike ride. The weather was beautiful: a little breezy, warm, and sunny. I discovered a new (to me) park and set a few personal records.


This past Sunday I finally got back up to running 6.2 miles. It was a wonderful run which left me pretty sore the next day. I refueled with a delicious post-run meal which included a cranberry, strawberry, banana, blueberry, watermelon + protein powder smoothie, and avocado and goat cheese on toast).


We are savouring these sunny, rain-free, warm days in Miami, fully aware that very soon it'll be too hot to be outside as much as are we are now. It's been so nice to be able to just pick-up Trudy and go out and explore whenever we want. We spend as much time outside right now, even if it is just lying in the backyard on a blanket, singing songs at the clouds. If only Miami could be like this year-round, it would be the best place to live in the entire world!


F-School (I can't think of a synonym for "school" that begins with "f" to go along with the other titles)

My dissertation data collection continues to move forward. There are three phases to my research: 1) group interviews; 2) participant journals; and 3) final follow-up interview. All of my families are through the group interviews and are all in the journaling stage! Two of the families are on journal entry #3, two are on journal entry #2, and one has just started the journaling process. The goal is to have all of the data collected by the end of April! Then... the real writing begins.

Final edits for the Birdsong article are in the article should be appearing very soon in the SAGE publication Journal of Music Teacher Education. It has been a really great experience going through all of this.



I am looking ahead to setting some actual deadlines and goals for myself. I would like to be done in one year from now, and participate in the June 2015 graduation ceremony. I am e-meeting with my advisor next week. We are going to start meeting weekly in the very near future to make sure I stay on track!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Spring Cleaning

It took the better part of two weeks but, boy, was it worth it. In the spirit of Spring Cleaning, we tidied and reorganized our house from top to bottom, inside and out. I view Spring Cleaning as an important annual event. (As such, the capitalization of said event is intentional!) It is important to take the time at least once a year to move things around, clean under the fridge and stove and behind the dresser (yuck), to purge (donate!), to cleanse, to revise, to refresh, to change!


Spring Cleaning this year was especially intense since I've spent a lot of time in our house over the past year or so. I've wasted hours staring at walls and considering different furniture configurations when I was "beached" at the end of the pregnancy and during epic breastfeeding sessions with Trudy. Our house is just under 1000 square feet, has three bedrooms and one bathroom, and feels smaller than ever since we added Trudy. This most recent cleaning and reorganization challenged us to really think how we use all of our available space. With being at home so much, I want to be able to really enjoy every room. Two bedrooms are no-brainers: one for me and Bryn (the three photos on the left and top closet photo in the middle column) and one for Trudy (top left.) The third bedroom has always been the wildcard. We actually had our living room in one of the bedrooms when we first moved in. Since then, we've used it mostly as a guestroom and for storage. Now, it is many things and we love it--this transformation took the longest time of all:


The computer workstation is for both Bryn and me to use. We have our bikes hanging on the wall which frees up a lot of space. We also use the room to store all kinds of computer peripherals, exercise equipment, musical instruments, and bedding/pillows/towels. Bryn uses the closet for his clothes and has a dresser in here. We have a nice inflatable queen bed available for guests and a lot of open floor space available. In summary, we love this room now so much more because it does so much for us.

As our family grows, it's hard not to think about the possibility of "movin' on up" to a larger house. My feeling on this is that we can still make this house work for us for quite a while if we are smart, stay on top of our clutter and stuff-collection, and use every inch of space available to us in clever ways. More room just means more space to fill and dirty. We don't need more stuff and, dear lord, I don't want any more space to clean.

A side-step for a moment... I think it's easy to get caught up in a new-is-better mentality. It certainly is easier at times... you know, buy a replacement vs. clean or repair an existing item. Here in Miami, I've found that there are so many cheap options available for pretty much anything under the sun. Why invest time and energy when you could just throw something out and buy a new one? Lately I've been thinking a lot about waste and time and responsibility and MONEY--but I'll save a really deep discussion of this for a later blog posting (on which I have already started working!) To combat my obsessive need for order, I've started challenging myself to really think about value and time and where things go when you throw them into a trash container (this is what I mean what I say "responsibility.") If I have to choose a bit of chaos as I work to repair something or deal with a bit of disorder as I work to re-purpose something, I will strive to do that over quick, fast, cheap, and wasteful. A new path is being laid out before me. Reduce waste, slow down, think, create a living environment that is purposeful, evolving, and carefully (thoughtfully!) constructed. Don't finish a task quickly if it's not done well. Deal with chaos and a bit of clutter here and there instead of demanding the wasteful stagnation that comes with obsessive order! (exhale)

Back to Spring Cleaning...

One of the most challenging spaces to work with has been Trudy's room. As we learn about having a baby and as she continues to grow, what's she's able to do and wants to do and what we're able to do with her is constantly changing. We've reorganized her room now several times. The other challenge with this space is managing all the stuff: clothes she grows out of, clothes she is wearing now, clothes she'll fit into in a matter of days/weeks/months, newborn stuff she no longer uses, stuff she'll use when she's a bit older, and on and on. Add to this that she's in this room sleeping anywhere from 12 to 14 hours a day. Hard to access, hard to keep clean, but filled with so much fun. I this most recent room version is my favourite so far.


The change table is the newest addition to Trudy's room. It is new (to us) and was picked up at a thrift store for $60 (retails new for $250+). I added some cute new vintage drawer knobs I had kicking around the house, cleaned it up, and fixed one of the drawers. Add to that an expanded play area and a shelf for diaper stuff above the change table (thanks, Greta, for that inspiration) and, voila! A cute, functional, and space efficient baby room. We've also been very happy with our re-purposed TV stand shown here in the corner. I picked up a few baskets for it which house toys and books in an orderly fashion.

Now, let me be really honest here for a moment. I am loosening up when it comes to my need for order and cleanliness on a daily basis, as I alluded to earlier in this post when talking about waste and whatnot. As I age, I feel more and more confident in my ability to defend a reasonable, rational amount of cleaning and organization. If you don't know where things are, you won't use them. If you can't something, you're more likely to waste money buying it again!!! If you feel overwhelmed in your space by things, your mind feels full and overcome with distractions. And if you don't think about efficient usage of space from time to time, you may miss out on opportunities to make your home something that is fashionable, fun, AND functional.

Spring Cleaning also extended to the great outdoors. I took some time and elbow grease to tackle the weeds, but I managed to clear out the front area of the house and added some new mulch. It's amazing what $10 worth of new mulch can do.


The other big project I tackled was cleaning out our shed. We have a small shed in our backyard which houses our washer and dryer and acts as not-climate-controlled storage space for gardening supplies, lawn furniture, grocery carts, etc. In the months since Trudy arrived, it became a warehouse of neglect and disorganization. I cleaned it out, sorted through everything, put a bunch of stuff on the curb (all of which was scooped up in a matter of minutes), and reorganized the space.


Speaking out outdoors, we've started using our outdoor space a bit better. Since we don't have a dining table inside our house, we've set up an eating space in the backyard out on the grass. The weather is perfect this time of year for outdoor eating and since our house faces west, our backyard is wonderfully shady in spots in the afternoon. We talked to our landlord about laying down some concrete for an actual deck but he wanted us to split the cost. (Unless something changes and I can take my $1200 worth of concrete with me when we leave this place, it's not going to happen anytime soon.)

We had a strange visitor the other night who stopped by to help us with our Spring Cleaning. At first we thought he came to add to our Spring Cleaning. Thankfully, I did not have to scrape his dead body off our window, despite every indication that he was stuck in the window screen and only minutes from death.


We stepped inside to call Animal Control for some advice and came out to find our little friend had departed. Perhaps he decided it was time to fly home and do some Spring Cleaning of his own!

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Oscar Night in South Miami

And the Oscar for best baby "raspberries" goes to...

TRUDY!

(*crowd goes wild*)


And, can it be, could she win again?
She's nominated in another category...

The Oscar for most convincing delivery of "mama" while eating melon/
best impersonation of a toothless old man goes to...

(*hushed silence*)

TRUDY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Congrats, little one. xo

Friday, February 21, 2014

Body/Language

Lately I've been thinking a lot about my body. I feel really out of touch with my life/soul/identity-shell. I've tried so many diets and exercise plans. In my adult life, I've worn every size from 6 up to 20. I don't know what my body is supposed to look or feel like. I don't have a firm sense of who I am (what I am?)...  you know, in the physical sense of things. I've seen my body grow and shrink and grow and stretch and shrink and sag and grow again.

Right now I'm on a "shrink" leg, I guess? The numbers have being going down (very slowly) for the past 6 months or so, kick-started by the delivery of dear Trudence.

I feel disoriented. I don't have a sense of what I look like or what I should look like. I don't have a strong feeling as to how I exist in the world. If someone asked me draw a picture of myself, what would I draw? Skinny Jill? Fat Jill? Or someone somewhere in between?

I constantly hear Moms talking/read Moms blogging, post-baby, about how they "want their bodies back." I don't know what this means for me. What body do I want back? I've had so many. And I know my weight will continue to go up and down as I get older, especially if I have any more kids, but I hope that the changes to come as I work to discover my self won't be as drastic as they've been in the past. What was my pre-baby body like? I know it was not an unmarked, untouched canvas so the idea of reclaiming something lost does not resonate with me. The life-wide body changes I've experienced thus far left marks on me, inside and out, even before I was stretched in the process of growing human life.

I want to take a moment to look back on "all of the Jills." This blog acts as an excellent catalogue of where I've been and the many physical "selves" that I've experienced. Let's take a trip down memory blane (blog+lane), shall we?

Looking back:

April 14, 2006: I started this blog. Sometime between this point and the next highlighted post, I tipped the scale at 260 pounds. That's the highest I've ever seen. Blogging from 2006 to 2010 was sporadic, at best. There were large gaps of time when I didn't say anything. Those years were full of failed weight-loss attempts.

Tallahassee, FL - April 2006

I managed to get somewhere around 205 pounds for my wedding in 2007, but my weight quickly went back up.

August 9, 2010: I weighed in at 230 pounds. I decided to make some big behavioral changes, in addition to changing what I ate and how active I was. I marked changes in my weight by killing imaginary babies. Yikes.

Peterborough, ON - August 2010

March 27, 2012: I weighed in at 150 pounds. This is the lowest I've ever weighed as an adult. It was a great weight, but not a sustainable one for me unless I wanted to live in the gym and eat nothing. But, MY GOD, I looked good. (Not trying to sound conceited, but looking back on that and not having it now, it's hard to deny... MY GOD, I was an animal.)

London, ON - April 2012

November 12, 2012: 165 pounds. I write about this weight like it was the end of the world. Like I was a failure. Looking back, the weight gain from 150 pounds came from an unsuccessful experiment with vegetarianism, among other things. This was a bit heavier than I wanted to be but I still felt good.

New Orleans, LA - November 2012

August 18, 2013: At my heaviest pregnant weight, I came in at 207 pounds. Previous to being pregnant, the last time I weighed that much was September 23, 2010, only a month and a bit after I started really focusing on weight loss.

Miami, FL - August 2013

The ongoing process of looking back on these blogs is helping me put things in perspective while also facilitating a kind of re-connection with the journey my body has been through over the past few years. Things I've learned from taking the time to look backward:
  • My feelings of disorientation are completely founded. No wonder I feel out of touch with my body--things haven't stayed constant with it long enough for me to have any real, secure sense of self.
  • I used to put a lot of time and effort into my blog. Trudy has, understandably, taken up most of the "extra" time and energy I used to have. I am going to try to get back to writing substantive, meaningful, detailed posts like I used to.
  • It's a strange feeling to look back upon yourself and not recognize who you were. I suppose we'll all go through this as we age, try out clothes and hairstyles over time in response to ever-changing fashion trends and whatnot, but those of you/us who have extreme weight gain and loss may experience this kind of distancing nostalgia in a way others won't know.
  • I kept my blog to myself for quite some time and only shared things as my progress started to pick up. Publicizing my weight loss helped keep me accountable but I think it has also come with a negative side-effect: I constantly feel a lot of pressure to improve upon myself. This pressure can be helpful as a motivator, but I'm currently finding it really difficult since I'm not seeing the progress I'd like.
  • Also, isn't the human body an amazing thing? How is that I've been able to stretch and shrink and stretch again? 

Let's fast forward to present day: February 21, 2014. The scale has shown me between 181 and 183 for the last few weeks. I feel stuck. I'm tracking my calories (between 1800 and 1900 a day), exercising lots, getting more sleep than any before, and feeling pretty much stress-free.

A little perspective: coming down from 260 a few years ago, my current weight BLEW MY SOCKS OFF.This post from December 14, 2010 offers a glimpse of the past:

"183.  I weigh 183 pounds. WHO IS TYPING THIS?!?!? Whose life am I living?  Because I realllllllllllly like it. I don't ever want it to stop."

Looking back at all of that helps me see that it took me nearly six years to figure myself out and make changes that have become (hopefully permanent) habits. Familiar themes on this blog, coming up time and time again: dealing with change, dealing with unpredictability, dealing with the unstable nature of life. No wonder these themes challenge me in every part of my life: the very vessel by which I pass through this world has caused me to constantly reframe what it means to be "me" and redefine the way in which I interact with the world.

No wonder I struggle with some strong OCD tendencies... control what you can, Bracken. If you can't control your body, at least you control how tidy and organized your closet is.

I think my body isn't going to shed anything until I'm done breastfeeding. I've talked to my Mom, and that was her experience, too. This is not me being lazy (this is Jillian talking to Jillian) -- this is the truth. I eat well, I move lots, I am happy, I sleep. I drink only water. I'm doing everything right. But my body is more concerned with keeping Trudy alive and healthy than it is with losing weight. This is my journey. This is my body right now. I need to be okay with that.

And (again, Jillian to Jillian), you gained the weight this time for a beautiful REASON. It was part of an amazing, necessary process that ended in a miracle: your daughter. You are not lazy, you have not let yourself go. You are in the middle of an experience, unique to you, and you WILL find fitness and optimum health again.




Looking forward... my next challenge: helping Trudy navigate food, starting her early with a firm grasp of how to eat until she's full, how to eat the right things, and building upon her innate knowledge of what she needs to fuel her body to grow and thrive.

Now that Trudy is 6-months old, we've started introducing some solids. She let us know she was ready when, on a lovely Saturday afternoon, she grabbed a rib out of my hand and shoved it in her mouth.


Our plan all along has been to try the whole Baby-Led Weaning approach (BLW), so we've been on the look-out for these signs as indicators to begin letting Trudy experiment with food. She's sitting up well, she's FASCINATED by food, she loves to watch Mommy and Daddy eat... so, we've started letting her play and experiment with different tastes and textures. 

Now, let me just say one thing about BLW. It's not for everyone. And I'm not saying here that this is the ONLY way to feed your baby. I read the BLW book (thank you to the Kyle family for such a great gift) and also bought the cookbook. I found the argument for this approach to be very compelling and, two weeks into the process, can report that it is working very well for us. It is amazing to see Trudy grab food and play with it. She's learning how to put food in her mouth and, over time, will learn to moderate what she eats and the amount she eats in a way that should set her up for a life free of food issues. Time will tell if this works; stay tuned, and I'll share our experience as Trudy grows. 

We talked about this at our most recent pediatrician visit. The doctor is open to BLW but had some concerns. She's seen babies suffer from iron deficiency with this approach and also raised concerns about safety. I was appreciative of her honesty and will do my best to address both concerns. I've been reading about how to introduce iron-rich foods into everyday items (in addition to just giving her chunks of meat and eventually letting her eat whole beans, lentils, etc.). Yesterday, I gave Trudy some homemade hummus on toast and it was a big hit. This morning I modified a basic scone recipe (flour, butter, milk, baking powder) by reducing the milk, adding prune juice, and adding spinach. A teaspoon of garlic powder and a bit of cheese on top (I had one chunk left in the fridge and it was begging to be used up) and, voila:



They turned out wonderfully. They are dense and delicious! I am excited to let Trudy try one this afternoon once she's up from her nap.

I've found that the BLW approach is also keeping my eating in check. The idea is that the baby eats what you eat and that, eventually, the baby can just sit with the family at mealtimes and eat whatever the family is eating. Brilliant. It takes time to build up to this. The first stage, in which we currently find ourselves, is all about experimentation. It's been fun going to the grocery store to find new things for the little one to try. Fruits, vegetables, meats... you name it. And I'm benefiting from this, too. I eat what she eats/she eats what I eat. My meals are more colourful and fun than they've ever been before.

It's messy, yes, but this is GOOD for both of us... it's fun mess, it's necessary mess. It challenges me to let things be out of control for a little while and, surprisingly, I'm okay with it because it's happening for good reason.

Trudy with (clockwise, starting top left): Chicken, ham, apples, strawberries (and some apples on her tray!).

She's tried all kinds of things. Some of it actually gets eaten, most does not (at least at this stage). Trudy is so adventurous and enjoys the process and I have to try hard not to stare at her, in amazement, or constantly take pictures and videos as she tries a new food.


Does she choke? Nope. This is where the parenting comes in -- you don't give her nuts or berries or things that aren't easily gummed (she has no teeth) at this point. And you supervise her while she is seated upright. Does she gag sometimes? Yep. But, amazingly, she's not bothered by it. Apparently this is part of her process of learning how to control all the muscles and whatnot involved in food consumption. I'm not going to lie, it was terrifying the first time the gagging happened, but it's been happening less and less frequently as she learns and grows. Despite this challenge, it's working for us. 

A related update on the dogs: They are finally coming in handy. They clean up the scraps that Trudy drops/throws on the floor. I'm hating them less (loving them more?) with each day that passes. 



A few other updates:

Before-the-oven shot of a new favourite dinner (below). Two cans of some kind of soup, milk, wild rice, broccoli, chicken breasts, topped with powdered onion soup. Easy, delicious. Around 480 calories for 1/5. Trudy plays with the broccoli and chicken from this one.


First apple crisp from scratch:
(One to eat right away, one to freeze)


As I mentioned earlier, Trudy bear turned 6 months old this past week!
Here she is with her favourite fuzzy companions/best food-friends:


I am still enjoying and sticking to my exercise routine! I get out for 2 bike rides a week and 2 runs, and do at-home work-outs with FitnessGlo in the mornings when I am stuck at home. Running has been my favourite rediscovery--I forgot how much I love a good run. It is going to take me a while to get back to where I was when I was at my peak, but I'm getting there. I have to keep reminding myself that I stopped running in late December 2012! It's been over a year! So, yeah, I'm out of shape. But it's all coming back to me, Celine, it really is. Highlight so far? I did a 5.1 mile run last weekend. Exhilarating.  

And, a new favourite website to share: the stuff I'm reading on Evidence Magazine is really resonating with me. The site offers a lot of no-nonsense, scientific research-supported suggestions on how to reach a variety of weight loss/healthy living/exercise goals.

That's all for now!