Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spanx for the memories; April Updates

Most women know them, many women love them. To some, they are an occasional necessity. To others, they are an everyday reality. I'm talking about Spanx--slimming undergarments, lady-shapers, "sausage casings." They're those things that we ladies shove our bodies into in an attempt to look slimmer and feel leaner. They both enhance the body and distort the body.

This article does an excellent job of summing up the reality of these slimming undergarments for many women; it also offer a great historical retrospective of women's undergarments via an accompanying slideshow. For those of your unfamiliar with them, here are the basics: slimming undergarments offer women the promise of looking and feeling slimmer. They are difficult to put on and take off. They are expensive. They can make essential activities like going to the bathroom extremely difficult. They are an impediment to intimacy and make the body inaccessible. And they can't always deliver what they promise; as Hank, the husband interviewed in this piece points out, "if you stuff five pounds into a two-pound container, it doesn't make the five pounds smaller. It just makes it stranger-looking and uncomfortable."

Sadly, these undergarments can also be a great source of shame and embarrassment. Women are encouraged to wear them but are often chastised if they're mistakenly made visible. Heaven forbid that the curtain be lifted and the magic destroyed! Great and powerful Oz!? No! Behind the curtain you find hundreds of dollars worth of hardworking Spanx. 

Bridget Jones' iconic battle with slimming underwear.
For most of my adult life, I have worn some kind of "body-shaper" as part of my everyday clothing routine. My body is lumpy and bumpy. Even when I weighed 150 pounds, things were not lean or flat or bulge-free. I dealt with this by squeezing myself into some kind of slimming garment every single day. I know all of the challenges of wearing these undergarments better than most. They are uncomfortable, refining, restrictive, limiting, and SWEATY. But they do offer a feeling of steadiness that I feel I lack without them. They are a source of security for me. They come with a host of challenges but they often make clothes look and fit better than without. While they are accompanied by a hefty price tag, they are a less expensive alternative than plastic surgery or other more permanent means of altering one's body. The offer a "fast" solution when diet and exercise fail (or as an alternative to diet and exercise?)

For me, the slim feeling offered by these undergarments comes at an even greater cost: my dependency on them has left me out of touch with what my unaltered body actually feels like. Slimming garments offer a temporary solution that distorts reality. Often, as with plastic surgery, they don't "fool" anyone: when wearing Spanx you look slimmer AND, surprise, you look like you're wearing Spanx. My back-and-forth between "shaped" and "unshaped" has left me often feeling uneasy when I'm not wearing them. Is my body supposed to jiggle? Are my thighs supposed to chafe and gap? Are these shapers a necessary evil? Are they worth the sacrifice?

Since moving to Miami and having Trudy, three changes to my daily reality have challenged me to examine my (psychological? physical?) dependency on Spanx and the like. I'm working to abandon slimming undergarments in my daily life but not altogether. As I've said before, I like the way they make me feel some of the time. But I also need to work on liking my body and normalizing my experience of my own body without them! The first change that has forced me to confront this has been living in a really hot place. Miami's heat makes wearing as little as possible necessary nearly every day. And with the amount of time I spend outside, the idea of being shoved into a sausage casing is utterly unthinkable. The second change is breastfeeding. For those first few months, my body pretty much had to be accessible to Trudy 24 hours a day. Even now, I feed the little one 6 or 7 times a day, day and night. It's hard to whip out my boobs at a moment's notice if everything is locked-down. The third reality comes from being exhausted all the time. I crave comfort at any cost. I don't have the time or energy to feel uncomfortable for the sake of looking slimmer.

I will continue to think about this. Do I need to wear slimming undergarments? Who am I wearing them for? Do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks? Do I need to constantly change and/or manipulate my body to feel comfortable in my own skin?

April Food Update

The last few weeks have seen me do a lot of baking. Pictured to the right: mini banana bread (with and without chocolate chips), top left; full-size banana bread, top right; chocolate peanut butter oatmeal bars (to give away to our neighbor for Easter and to some friends who came for Easter brunch), bottom left; and baked sour cream cake donuts, bottom right. We have another couple friends coming for brunch this coming weekend, so I've frozen a lot of stuff to enjoy again. The donuts were a major experiment and I was happy with how they turned out. I would have liked a bit more of a sour cream taste and may up the sour cream content for the next time I make 'em. I'm thinking that they might be a yearly Easter tradition.

After all, you can't get a much "holier" food than donuts...

Speaking of brunch, here's a photo of our Easter brunch spread:

I continue to learn to bake in my crappy oven and have found that doing smaller items works better than big ones. The large banana bread in the earlier picture came out just slightly underdone in the middle but was nearing overdone on the bottom. I have experimented with all kinds of temperature and baking time modifications, but have have found that cooking smaller things (like those mini breads above) gives me more reliable results. I did these mini-scones for our brunch and they were awesome.

I've still got a whack in the freezer to enjoy for the next few weeks. I did two kinds: cheddar and green onion (left) and cinnamon raisin (right.)

I also did up a few batches of dark chocolate chunk oatmeal bars for our trip to Fort Myers last weekend to give to my aunt who was down visiting from Ontario and to the friends with whom we crashed for the night. I made a curried carrot soup with lentils (in process, pictures to the left) this past week and it was delicious. I made a double-batch and put half in the freezer. 

I continue to eat for pleasure and health and not stress about calories or anything else. My appetite has been OUT OF CONTROL lately... not sure why, but I am still breastfeeding all of the time and Trudy is growing like a weed! I do my best to keep my portions under control and eat frequent, small meals. That being said, I am also allowing indulgences from time to time, including a whack of delicious Easter Peeps that I enjoyed this past Easter weekend! Yum.

Fitness Update
Bryn has had a lot of meetings as the school year comes to a close, so I haven't been able to get out as much as I want to. This past week only saw one run and one bike ride. I did a quick 3.1 mile run, pushing myself to run as fast as I can. It was a great -- a post-baby personal best of 31:50. I've never run that distance under 30 minutes. I am going to continue to shoot for one short (3.1) and one long (6.2) run each week, whenever possible. (My best race time, right around 31 minutes, was a few years ago.)

Biking continues to be a wonderful release and escape. I did an 18.5 mile ride on Sunday before Easter brunch, which left me with a voracious appetite! I went out to the Mathieson Hammock park and took in a few minutes of glorious ocean before turning around to come home.

When I got home on Sunday, I saw a woodpecker on the tree in front of our house. I snapped this quick picture (below) with my phone and then ran inside to grab our big camera to take some better pictures.  When I got back outside, my little friend had flown away. This crappy picture will have to suffice until he decides to come back and pose for a proper photo shoot. (Rude.)

There is also a rather elusive blue jay that I still have yet to capture on film. I've started bringing the camera out with me anytime I go outside in the off chance that he may make an appearance. Still no luck.

Family Update

Trudy continues to grow and change and be wonderful and amazing every single day. I love her with my whole heart. I love the Mommy she is helping me become. And, my God, I love the Daddy she has turned Bryn into! He is so wonderful with her. 

We've been tackling some constipation issues (oh joy!) which I think I asked for as soon as I started calling her "Turdy." Ha. She's getting back on a regular routine and I am starting to worry less... for now... at least about this. She just passed 8 months old. She's got four teeth. We bought a little inflatable pool for the backyard which has been a lot of fun and has an added another play station to our daily circuit. No crawling yet, but she's trying! She's got an awesome plank and several yoga moves down.

Next up, starting in May...  a lot of travel! Four trips in four months. Stay tuned.

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.


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 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.


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:


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.  


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!