Saturday, September 24, 2016

How I'm Paid as a Housewife

A couple of weeks ago, I watched Churchill's Secret, a made-for-TV movie about the late British Prime Minister's recovery from a series of strokes in 1953. Ramola Garai plays Churchill's plucky nurse. She delays her emigration to Australia to marry her sweetheart to care for Churchill. According to the movie, she loves her job and is having some angst at moving to Australia to become 'just a wife.' (Do we know Millie Appleyard was feeling this way? Or is this some feminist spin injected into the life story of a woman about whom, really, we probably know very little?)

Last year, I finally got around to watching the last couple of seasons of Foyle's War. You know, the ones that tragically did not include Sgt. Milner. Less eye-candy, for sure, but still a great show and worth watching. In these, the character Sam(antha) is now married, and at the end is expecting a child. As per the dictates of 1950's culture, Sam has to leave her job to be home full-time with her baby. She's not too happy about it, and makes some pretty disparaging comments about the horror of being 'stuck at home changing nappies all day.'

My firstborn is in a World War II phase. He's like his mother--he gets a topic in his mind and reads voraciously about it until his obsession is spent or he has read through all the books on it in the library, whichever comes first. So we're reading a lot about World War II, and invariably, the Rosie the Riveter chapters tell glowing stories of women thrust into the workforce during the war, and their GREAT, SEETHING DISAPPOINTMENT at having to go back home after the it was over. I mean, really, according to every book, every single woman absolutely *LOVED* her factory job and was severely disappointed at having to chain herself to her kitchen when the men came home. You can almost hear the 'clink' of the prison gates as she shuts her front door.

From all this, we can only presume one thing: housework is inherently dreary, oppressive and demeaning. You can't possibly be 'fulfilled' doing housework. No way.

But I'm going to let you in on a little secret: I'm 'just a housewife.' I'm 'just a wife,' 'just a mother.' And I love it. I thank God everyday that I can be home, and I have pretty much no desire to go back to work. I actually like cooking. I don't mind working in the yard. I get a little thrill when I can use up all the leftovers without anything spoiling. I get jazzed when I find a good deal on raspberries or chicken (I got a whole chicken for free once. For real!) I like making crazy birthday cakes for my kids. I feel immensely satisfied when a room is tidy, or I tuck my kids into beds that smell like clean sheets dried on the clothesline, or when order has been restored to the chaos that is the LEGO corner or our upstairs playroom. (That doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it's nice.) I like teaching my kids to vacuum and dust even though it's easier to do it myself.
Yup, that's me. Except I'm in yoga pants.

I like doing letter worksheets with my five year old. I like reading World War II books with my eight year old. I like tying them into their train and pumpkin aprons and baking cookies, talking about fractions and macro-nutrients and yumminess as we pour things into a bowl.

I like paying bills and saving money and strategizing how we can pay off our mortgage early.

I couldn't do all these things if I worked outside the home. I'm just not that productive. And I don't think people should feel like they have to do all these things and work outside the home. Yes, some need doing (laundry), others are just for fun (birthday cakes.) There are only 24 hours in the day. Something has to give.

When people ask me 'what I do,' I tell them 'I'm at home.' No one has ever been snarky or rude about it. People are always very nice and polite, but the conversation usually stops there. There's typically a rather awkward silence. People just don't usually know how to engage me in conversation once I admit I'm not splitting the atom. Feeling the awkwardness, I usually end up saying things like, 'I do volunteer work.' Which is true. 'I help out at the kids' school.' Also true. 'My husband works crazy hours and travels a lot, so I don't even know how we would manage if I had a job.' 'I'm very involved with my church.' 'I have a child with special needs.' True, true and true. But it's as if I feel I have to justify being home. As if keeping house is not enough. Because although people are very nice and polite, I feel like they're thinking.... what does she do all day?

Sometimes I think I'm probably just projecting. That people aren't really thinking that. And they probably aren't. They probably aren't thinking about me at all. They're probably making their grocery lists in their minds. Or thinking about a work deadline. Or maybe they are thinking, how on earth do I relate to this dinosaur from the 1950's? How do I make conversation with someone who washes dishes and does laundry all day? Her house must be so clean.

Well, it's not. Right now the upstairs toilet is kind of nasty, but I'm procrastinating by writing on my blog. I lose my patience and my temper and my keys. And I'm certainly not the world's greatest mother. I lost my temper in a kind of epic way last week, and begged my firstborn's forgiveness with tears in my eyes. And he gave it so freely.... that I cried even more.

Whatever any family decides to do with paid work and housework is up to them and it's none of my--or anyone else's--business. But we have elevated paid work above the unpaid. Whether someone works a paid job all day or not, those household chores need doing. Whether you do it yourself or pay someone else to do it, it needs doing, and it blesses people when it's done. Just because you didn't receive a check for the doing, doesn't mean it isn't worth something. Betty Friedan told us we couldn't be fulfilled without paid work, and as a society, we believed her. The irony is that I now hear feminists complain that 'care-giving,' which is usually done by women, is undervalued. Ummm, yes. It is. And who started that, I wonder?

Yet no work is unpaid, not really. Last night, as my boys and I were supping on chips, salsa and olives after flag-football practice, my firstborn said, "Mommy, this is my refuge." I looked at him for a moment with alarm. He's not usually the introspective, mushy type, so I wondered.... Why does he need refuge? Did someone bully him on the school bus?!

"What do you mean?" I replied. He said, "You told me once that our home is my refuge. That no matter what happens in the world, this is where I can come for peace and rest, and it is."

And that was payment, larger than any check I could ever be given.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Quick! Fast! Learn How I Lost 15lbs. This Summer

Years ago, when I was single, childless and living in low-maintenance, rented apartments, I was something of a mystic. I read Julian of Norwich and went on silent prayer retreats. I walked labyrinths and even made a pilgrimage to Taize, the French monastery known for it's moving chants.

That's what I did, but really, to be a mystic is more about what you don't do. In Christianity, the way up is often down. The way to salvation rests on someone else's doing, not your own.

I was led to try out some of the traditional Christian disciplines that have been almost totally abandoned by modern American protestants. I learned to sit in a verse (or even just a word) of scripture for a long time. I rested on the Sabbath, instead of stopping off at the grocery store on the way home from church. I made a Lenten sacrifice every year, and... I fasted.

The practice of fasting--that is, intentionally going without food for a period of time--is an ancient one, and it is not limited to Christianity. All the major religions have advocated fasting. Early Christians fasted, typically on Wednesdays and Fridays. It's a practice that's all over the Bible.

I'll be honest, I never really took to fasting. I enjoyed Taize chants a whole lot more. I found fasting profoundly difficult and uncomfortable. Of all the traditional practices that have fallen by the wayside since I've become a mother, fasting was probably the first to go.

However, I've recently learned how profoundly good for us it is! Contrary to modern advice, going without food for a day... or two or three... is extremely healthy. It is when we abstain from eating that our bodies can divert energy to the business of repair. By depriving the body of food for a time, our insulin levels drop. Insulin, the hormone secreted by the pancreas to deal with blood sugar, is a healthy response to eating. It is a storage hormone. Insulin scurries around, putting away all the glucose--first for immediate fuel, then into muscles as glycogen, then whatever is leftover is stored as fat. Without it, we're in big trouble, but over time, the constant eating advocated by the snack manufacturers can lead to insulin resistance, which is the precursor to type-2 diabetes. This nasty disease is so preventable--and, it turns out--reversible!

Fasting makes our bodies more insulin-sensitive. So does exercise. Going without food for a bit is not going to throw our bodies into 'starve mode,' that state in which the body cannibalizes muscle to survive. Most of us have plenty of stored fuel in our bodies to last us a few days... or weeks, even. And, contrary to other weight loss diets, people who lose weight by fasting lose far less muscle. One study found the average lost muscle in the fasting group was only one pound, compared with a 10lb. muscle loss average in the low-calorie diet group. And fasting is, in my opinion, much easier to stick with. You eat normally on non-fast days. It's not a free-for-all, but it's normal eating. It might involve ice cream. Or wine. You're not forsaking treats forever and ever. Just for today.


I'll admit, my renewed interest in fasting was not to get in touch with God in a deeper way, nor was it motivated by a desire to understand the suffering of the poor. I was driven by my growing weight gain.

As I've mentioned before, a couple of winters ago, I put on some weight. I was surprised to find that my summer clothes did not fit at all well after the long, harsh winter of 2015. I had gained 15lbs, which slowly started to increase to 20. I tried all my usual tactics to reign things in, and to my great surprise, NOTHING worked. I even went very low-carb for a few weeks. And I lost a pound. Way to much good stuff to give up for only a pound!

I eventually tried to make my peace with it. I had read that many women gain around 10lbs. during perimenopause, that this was a normal and healthy thing and not something to be feared, so I tried to console myself with that. Yet my weight continued to climb. Despite the healthy eating, despite the workouts, I was getting heavier and heavier. (And no, it wasn't muscle, but thanks for asking.) I went shopping earlier this summer and I could not believe what I saw in the mirror. I didn't even recognize myself.

The next day, I decided to fast. I didn't eat for 24 hours, then had a small, reasonable dinner. The following day, I ate normally. I alternated fast and feed days, and within the first two weeks, I had lost 6lbs. Whoa!

I continued the alternate day protocol for a total of four weeks, at which point I was getting a little sick of it. I transitioned to fasting two days a week,

Many people have taken an interest in fasting, so I'll try to answer my most frequently asked questions:

Did you read any books about fasting? Of course, because I'm a tool. The best book I read was The Obesity Code by Canadian physician Jason Fung. If you're interested in the science of weight gain and loss, this book is must-read. I really couldn't recommend it more highly.

I also read the The Fast Diet by Michael Mosely and Mimi Spencer (aka 'the 5:2 diet.') Mosley is a non-practicing English doctor who presents health-related documentaries for the BBC. The Fast Diet is basically what I'm doing now, though I don't strictly monitor my calories as they dictate. More on that later, but it's a good book that is easily readable.

Probably my least favorite book is The Every Other Day Diet by Krista Varady. She's a PhD nutritionist who has done numerous studies on fasting. Her schtick is eat 500 calories a day every other day, then eat normally on the feed days. Much of her research is interesting, and the 5:2 diet was influenced in part by Varady's work. It might be worth a read if you get it from the library, but the writing is terrible and she advocates a lot of processed frankenfoods. Yuck. I get that they're easier for the sake of compliance, but Lean Cuisine is gross and I have a hard time with a nutritionist advocating the consumption of frozen dinners with any regularity.

Is fasting hard? At first, yes. The first two weeks in particular were hard. At times, I was tempted to throw in the towel and tuck into a can of Pringles. If I hadn't been seeing such great results, I might have bailed. But I'm so glad I didn't! I'm actually pretty used to fasting now. I'm fasting today, and while I do feel a bit hungry right now, it's totally manageable.

How do you get through the hunger? The interesting thing about hunger is that it goes away. Seriously, it does. I find if I keep busy, out of the kitchen and I don't watch The Great British Bake-off, I'm fine. On fast days, I do things that keep me out of the kitchen. I run errands, work in the garden, clean out closets, whatever. Just stay out of the kitchen.

For me, the hardest time is the afternoon. I breeze through the morning. I'm seldom hungry for breakfast anyway, so mornings are easy.

What does a typical day look like? It sort of depends. Some days I will start my fast after lunch. I just won't eat dinner. Then I'll break the fast at lunch the following day. Usually, I'll go dinner to dinner. I do have coffee in the morning with heavy cream. Since heavy cream is just fat (no protein or carbs) it doesn't stimulate insulin as do other foods. Hard-core fasters would tell me I shouldn't even have that, but coffee is a non-negotiable for me, and it keeps me in the game. If I couldn't have creamy coffee, I would be a beast and I would hate life and everyone would hate me, so for the sake of world peace, I have the coffee.

Then I just don't eat. For the rest of the day, until dinner, at which time I will eat something whole, real and reasonable. Tonight I'm planning on a green salad with steak and a mustard vinaigrette. Ok, now I'm hungry. Let's move on.

Do you exercise on a fast day? Yes (you knew I was going to say that.) At first, I was doing a short, HIIT-type workout. I was afraid doing anything longer would make me ravenous, but now I just do whatever I want on a given day. (I'm trending towards shorter workouts anyway, but that's for another post.) Today I did a 30-minute Physique 57 video, and I felt great.

Are you really strict with it? NO. I'm really not strict at all. The 5:2 and Every Other Day diets say you should restrict your fast-breaking meal to 500 calories, but I don't bother. It's not that I hoover everything in sight (though I might have done that once or twice.) I just really, really hate weighing, measuring and tracking my calories. It feels really obsessive to me, and it makes me crazy, so I don't do it. I just stick to whole, real and reasonable. It might be under 500 calories, it might be over. I don't know and I don't care. What I'm doing seems to be working for me.

On non-fast days, I eat whatever. I might have breakfast, I might not. I might have ice cream, I might not. I really just eat normally, which for me is whole, real food with occasional treats. I am not very restrictive on those days, and I've still lost weight. I know some people still have to be fairly strict on non-fast days, but I just won't do it. To me, life is too short to be strict all the time! I'm still a few pounds over what I used to be, but it's ok. If I don't lose any more, that's fine.

As for Christians fasting, is it commanded? No! You don't have to do it, and I'd say most modern Christians probably never have. But I find there is great blessing to this and other spiritual disciplines. I find my mind does turn to other, deeper things on fast days. I do reflect more on the plight of the poor and others for whom hunger is not optional. I approach my fast-breaking with a more grateful heart than I normally have. It is not a burdensome requirement, but I wonder... in our post-Reformation fervor to avoid legalism, are we missing something very precious when we jettison these old practises? I think we do. The traditional disciplines are good for both body and soul.

I do hope this is helpful for some of you. If you have other questions, please post a comment below! I'll write a follow-up if there is interest.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Nine Tips to Reduce Food Waste

This summer, the bigger little and I have been studying World War II together. He's all jazzed about the tanks, battles and bombs, and I, of course, am fascinated by... the food. While he maps out his tactical maneuvers, I'm reading about ration books and victory gardens.

Food scarcity was a big thing during World War II. Britain, for example, imported a whopping SIXTY PERCENT of it's food in the 1930's. The looming threat of war, with it's inevitable shipping blockades and shortages, meant the British government had to scramble to provide sustenance to it's nearly 48 million inhabitants. Flower gardens were turned over to vegetables, every patch of available land was plowed for cereal crops, and Women's Institute members relieved countryside bushes of their berries and fashioned them into jam. Rationing was immediately enacted and persisted until 1952.

Food waste was curbed dramatically. Any remaining scraps that couldn't be eaten were composted, or thrown in the scrap bin to be fed to pigs. Wasting food became a crime. Literally. In August 1940, wasting food became a prisonable offense.

Rationing and shortages existed in America, too, but since we are a significantly larger country with a far more varied landscape and climate, conditions were not so desperate here. Oh yeah, and we didn't have bombs raining on us every night. That helped, too.

Fast forward seventy years, and we have lost all sense of wartime thrift. Watch this (FYI, there are some bad words):

Whoa. FORTY PERCENT. We're wasting forty percent of the food produced in this country. This hurts my heart.

This is insane, especially when you consider one of the big justifications for GMOs and increased pesticide use is 'the need to feed our growing population.' We're told tinkering with plants will make them more drought-resistant and enable farmers to grow more food on less land. Well, that sounds just super, but how about we start by actually EATING the food we're growing now??? Does it strike anyone else as utterly ridiculous to spend millions of dollars developing frankenplants that use less water, while we use MORE water to grow plants that get thrown away? Anyone? Beuller?

Then there is the complicity of our own government in this. My friend Dietitian Deb, whom you may remember from the chocolate milk post, sent me this article about millions of beautiful cherries sacrificed for the sake of 'market regulation.' Insane.

What can we do about this?

On the grand scale, I don't entirely know. I'll work on that, but I do know there is plenty we can do at home. We can make a concerted effort to eat whatever food we bring into the house. I don't want to sound braggy or anything, but I've got our food situation down to almost no waste. Here's how we do it:

1. Clean out the refrigerator every week. Years ago, I happened upon a blog that had a weekly feature called 'food waste Friday.' The blogger cleaned out the fridge every Friday and posted a picture of whatever she had to throw away. The idea was to hold herself accountable to waste less food. It's a good practice and it inspired me to do the same. I actually peruse the fridge every couple of days to see what needs using up, then do a weekly clean-out to make sure nothing has fallen through the cracks. It only takes a few minutes!

2. Simplify your cooking. I read that all the great chefs of the early twentieth century had specialities--only about 10-12 dishes they would simply cook in rotation. In the past, I've done a lot of experimenting with cooking and making different recipes, and I've ended up with cupboards full of obscure ingredients. I'm working on using all that up and just sticking with a skeleton menu. Yup, we're becoming a 'Tuesday is spaghetti night' kind of family.

3. Eat leftovers. I know this seems obvious, but a lot of people don't like leftovers. I don't fully understand why. Plenty of food is actually better-tasting the next day, but I can appreciate sometimes you're sick of whatever you made, or it seems pointless to hold on to just a little bit of this or that. However, you can re-purpose those bits and bobs into new, exciting meals! Quesadillas, frittatas, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink chili, fried rice... they're all great ways to use up little bits of things, and you might even be able to postpone a trip to the market.
Some random leftovers we made into quesadillas one night

4. Eventually, you need to go, and when you do, shop with a list--and stick to it. When people don't use a list, they buy more things they don't need. A friend of mine turned me on to a great iPhone app called Wunderlist. It has a share function, so you can create a list and share it with your spouse, roommate, whomever, so if anyone else is going to the store, you don't end up with duplicates. You buy only what you need.

5. Ignore 'best by' dates. If you watched the video above, you now know that those dates are completely arbitrary. Just because something is 'expired' doesn't mean it isn't still perfectly edible. A better guide is your nose. Even if it smells 'off,' you might still be able to use it. We use soured milk in baking or pancakes, I make banana bread from over-ripe bananas. Use common sense--if meat smells rotten, well, don't eat that. But fruit with a little bit of fuzz? Just cut off the fuzzy part and eat it. It's fine.

6. See if you can use things you didn't think you could--like bones. We save bones from meat, for example. I collect them in a bag in the freezer and when I have enough, I make bone broth. I never buy broth anymore. It's healthier, it's easy, and it's basically free.

7. Preserve what you can. Greens can be chopped and frozen, herbs can be dried or preserved in ice cube trays, lots of things can be canned. That's a bit of a process, but I'm learning. I had a tutorial from my friend Kelli last year. I'm a little intimidated and afraid I'll screw it up and kill my family, but Kelli says my cans will tell me before they kill us, so that's a comfort.

8. Let things rot--on purpose. Fermenting food is a great way to extend it's fridge/shelf life AND improve it's nutrient profile. Foods actually become more nutritious when you ferment them. Pickles and sauerkraut will last for weeks in the refrigerator, buying you more time to use them up!

9. Lastly, compost. Fruit and vegetable peels, corn husks, coffee grounds, grass clippings.... they can all be tossed together in a compost bin (either purchased or of your own making) and over time, they will become beautiful, nutrient-rich soil for plants. Do I compost? Umm, not yet, but I'm working on it. Our town sells bins at a reduced rate to residents, so I'm planning to get one soon and get started.

One of the best parts of not wasting food is the money you save! We pre-pay for our weekly farm share box, and we buy half a grass-fed cow every year, but apart from that, I spend $50-$75 a week on groceries. That includes lunches I pack for my husband and small people. That's milk, cheese, baking supplies, fish, chicken, tortillas, grains like rice and oats and most of our fruit (since we don't get much fruit in the farm box) for $50-$75 a week. We save a lot of money by not wasting food.

I know, I have a real bee in my bonnet (that I would put to work making honey for me, by the way) on this topic. I'm probably on the more extreme end of this issue, but whatever you can do... it helps! I don't want to be preachy, but I really, really encourage everyone to think about how we can reduce food waste. It just makes sense! (cents?! I'm slapping my own knee.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Fire and Water: American Arrogance Outside the Pool

Like most of the rest of the world, I'm glued to my TV in the evenings, watching the Olympics. Every two years (Winter and Summer games alternate) my bottom grows roots while I delight in the heroic physical feats of the world's best athletes. They're sweating and suffering and I'm just chillaxing away. Sometimes I foam roll while I watch, just to break up the sloth.

Last night, Michael Phelps won his 20th AND 21st gold medals. The man is a machine. The 200m butterfly competition included a side dish of intense public rivalry and trash talk outside the pool. Yummy! South African Chad le Clos has been goading Phelps over this particular race. He bested Phelps in 2012 to win gold in this event. Apparently avenging this loss was part of reason Phelps came out of retirement to swim again in Rio.

For some insane reason, le Clos thought it was a good idea to stir the pot with Phelps, to rub it in that he won last time and challenge Phelps to another duel. Yes, challenge the greatest swimmer (athlete, maybe?) of all time.

People, this is never a good idea. Michael Phelps is an amazing physical specimen. I'm sure he trains very hard to be as good as he is, but he is also genetically gifted. His wing span is ridiculous. He is a machine.

But sports at this level is not just about the body, it's also about the mind, and Phelps is all about the mind game. I remember he sat down with Bob Costas during one of his previous four Olympics and talked about how he psyches himself up before a race. He explained to Costas that he imagines slights from other athletes. Another swimmer might glance in his direction, and Phelps will take affront in his own mind and nurture the 'grievance,' for hours, days, weeks, months before the race. He will work himself up into an embittered frenzy and unleash his fury in the pool. Seriously, he said he does this. Yikes.

Phelps won last night's race decisively, earning is 20th Olympic gold medal. He relished in his victory, perched atop the lane divider, he urged the crowd to bring on the praise.

As for le Clos, he finished fourth, and NBC commentator Rowdy Gaines offered sage advice--"Don't poke the tiger." Words to live by.

Sadly, and unsurprisingly, Twitterland erupted with heaping shame and humiliation for le Clos. We Americans do many things well, but increasingly, tact, kindness and graciousness are nowhere on the list. We've always been chided as an arrogant people, and it seems to reach new heights everyday. Honestly, I fear for my country. Phelps has earned the right to be proud and maybe a little smug, but the rest of us? The armchair/foam roller athletes? No. Sorry.

Of course, I'm happy for Michael Phelps, but I can't help but feel sorry for le Clos. Poor guy. He's eating a massive slice of humble pie, and apparently BOTH his parents have cancer?! Good grief. Let's all give the guy a break. I just don't have the stomach or the steely heart for great athletic feats, let alone the physical capacity.

I'll just go back to my foam roller.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Barre Crawl: barre3 Revisited

Lately, I've been taking classes at barre3. I reviewed one class I took there when it first opened, but I did so with some trepidation. I really don't like reviewing studios with only one class under my belt. Somehow, it doesn't seem quite fair. You need a few swigs to get a really accurate perception of a barre, and at the time I was in the tank for the Bar Method. I still really like the Bar Method, by the way. They're tops for form corrections, and the carpet... oh my. But I gave up my membership there last summer. My wonky bits were acting up too much for me to get enough use out of it, and I was ready for a change.

So color-me-happy when my local barre3 had a sale on ten class packs. Yippee! A sale on barre classes is to me what a sale on shoes is to other women.

Here are five things I'm loving about barre3:

  1. I sweat. This is not usually that hard for me, as I've mentioned before. I tend to be a sweat-er. But not all barre classes will get you more than misty. Barre3 is a full-on sweat. This is because b3 always includes a set of compound exercises. You're working upper and lower body together, and it's intense. 
  2. They use large range of motion exercises, along with the up-an-inch-down-an-inch isometric contractions for which barre is famous. Usually, a set of tiny pulses is followed by some big movements. Honestly, this just feels good after the tiny pulses. And it gets your heart rate back up. See #1.
  3. It's different. We all know how I feel about barre. I *heart* it to the moon and back, but sometimes it's nice to do something a little different from the standard barre workout format (arms/thighs/seat/abs.) The layout of a barre3 class is not like a classic barre class. Everything is all jumbled up. You know, in a good way. Not like my kitchen gadget drawer. Anyway, moving on...
  4. They are all about modifications, and that makes my heart sing. After my year of 1000 injuries, I need modifications, and I love that I am encouraged to modify up the wazoo if I need to. Every studio I've ever been to sanctions modifications if you need them, but sometimes it feels a little less-than if you are doing them. Not at barre3. They're all over making the workout work for you. And that leads me to my fave aspect of b3....
  5. The vibe. It's very supportive, and very non-competitive. You won't hear any of that 'see if you can get one inch lower than your neighbor' nonsense. You know what? Some people could maybe get a little lower in wide-second, but maybe they shouldn't. Not everyone's body is designed to get the femur parallel to the floor. For some people, that's an injury waiting to happen. I've now taken classes with five different instructors, and they are all about making the class work for you. On that day. Even if you're normally an amazon, if you're just not feeling it that day, that's A-OK. And that, peeps, is really nice for recovering badasses like me. 

The only thing I'm not loving about barre3 is the floor. It's hard. And the mats are rigid so you can't just fold one up and stash it near your spot for when releve is hurting your bunion. But that's ok. I can work around that. barre3 is getting two thumbs up.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Biggest Loser is STUPID


I used to watch the reality show Biggest Loser from time to time. I liked watching the challenges, and I'll admit I got a little choked up at all the transformations, heart-wrenching stories, etc. I was cheesier when I was younger.

In fact, BL was on the TV in the birthing room when I had my first child. I suppose I enjoyed seeing other people grunting and not looking cute and fluffy, because Lord knows, I was not so cute and fluffy at the time.

Anyway, there were always things that bothered me about that show, and the more I learned about diet and exercise, the more I grew to despise it, and now I officially can't stand it. I can't even watch it for five minutes. If you like, me no judgey, but I'm going to tell why:

I hate how they make exercise look like torture. You do not need to vomit to have a good workout. You do not need to walk on treadmills for hours on end. There is almost no joy in movement communicated to the participants on that show. They seem to do the same old same old all.the.time. Why not water aerobics? Ballroom dancing? Or even... barre?! (You knew I was going to say that.) Really, there are so many different ways to move your body. I don't understand why they persist with rope slinging, kettlebell swinging and treadmilling over and over and over. Not to mention the fact that many of these activities are really tough on the joints, and when you're dealing with the morbidly obese, joint issues should be a huge consideration. Not to mention all the emphasis on processed diet food and calorie counting. It makes me crazy.

But today I read an article in the New York Times that made me hate this show even more. It's called 'After The Biggest Loser, Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight.' The article is heartbreaking. It chronicles the punishing regimes to lose weight fast, and the regain experiences of contestants on the horrible show's season 8, nearly all of whom regained almost all the weight they rapidly lost this stupid show.

And it's not just the season 8 contestants. If you search 'where are they now' type articles, you'll find many, many, many BL contestants have regained all or most of the weight they lost. It's just that the season 8 contestants were studied by the National Institutes of Health. They found that all the contestants had significantly slower metabolisms after participating on the show. This means they now burn far fewer calories at rest than they did before. This means they MUST eat FAR fewer calories than would be expected for people their size.

Also, since they lost so much weight so rapidly on The Stupid Show, their hormones are messed up. The contestants were found to have almost no leptin, which is one of the hormones that governs the hunger response. After regaining some weight, their leptin levels increased, but not to the previous levels they had enjoyed before The Stupid Show. This means these poor people were HUNGRY ALL THE TIME. Of course they gained the weight back! Who can resist the siren song of HUNGER?

Ok, I really need to go do some laundry, but could we please just get over the number on the scale? Please? It is SO NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. SO NOT. These people would have been so much better off if the emphasis had been on small, sustainable changes, like moderate, enjoyable movement. Like eating WHOLE REAL FOOD. Like focusing on other health markers, such as blood pressure, blood sugar, heck, just ENJOYING LIFE MORE.

Even this article reveals that people are still hung up on weight, even though the maniacal focus is what seems to have permanently damaged their bodies.

The only winners of The Stupid Show are Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels, who have become household names and made money hand over fist from yelling and screaming at people. It certainly wasn't the contestants, nor the millions of people who have watched this show and tried to emulate the results. Enough.

Can we please finally get this stupid show off the air?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Five Tips for Getting #sweatyin30

When I was a child, my brothers and I loved watching The Jetsons. The antics of the eponymous futuristic family were highly entertaining. I distinctly remember the episode in which Mrs. Jetson had to be treated for 'button pushing disease.' Everything in her life was performed by the push of a button. We laughed uproariously! Can you imagine? Button-pushing disease! Hahahahaha!
Jane Jetson doing Jack Lalane-esque finger exercises in episode 1 of
The Jetsons, which first aired in September of 1962.

Well, here we are, fifty years later, and 'button-pushing disease' is an actual thing. It's called 'carpal-tunnel,' the repetitive stress from pushing buttons. This, coupled with the deleterious effects of simply not moving around much, have left us in sorry shape.

We now live in a world of unprecedented comfort. We can have pre-cooked food delivered to our homes with the push of a button. Vacuuming was the last vestige of moderately strenuous housework. Now you can buy a Roomba and (he? she? it?) will do it for you. This may be convenient, but it's not good for us.

Peeps, I know it is hard to carve out time for exercise, but we have to do it. We were born to move. It's essential.


We just got home from a week long visit with family. We did a lot of sitting. Sitting in the car. Sitting to visit. Sitting to eat (which we did a lot.) But we kicked off the trip with a drive-by visit to Physique 57 in New York City. As you all know, I *heart* Physique 57 and go whenever I can. I took a deliciously spicy Signature class with a delightful instructor. Later that day, Ashley Perez, another instructor I follow on Instagram, posted a picture of Jacqueline Nickelberry, long-time Physique 57 client, completing a #sweatyin30 challenge she had designed.

The goal of #sweatyin30, according to Ashley, is 'thirty minutes of exertion with a side of sweat.' That's it. No do-this-activity-on-that-day. No over-thinking it.

Just do some movement for thirty minutes, everyday for thirty days, working hard enough that you're getting at least a little misty. 

The blissful simplicity of this directive really struck a chord with me. I've been a fitness buff for a very long time. I've read countless articles on exercise and sifted through differing opinions over the years on the 'best' or 'ideal' way to get in shape. Some of that information is interesting and helpful, but it's easy to get caught in a kind of analysis paralysis. Fear of 'not doing it right,' or not doing 'enough,' can keep us from doing anything at all.

Over the past eighteen months or so, I have struggled mightily with injuries, aches and pains. Consequently, I have become significantly de-conditioned and I've put on weight. Every time I've tried to complete a rotation, I've gotten sidelined by something. Something with my body, something with the small people. And then I'd lose my momentum. It's been frustrating and discouraging.

But this idea of just 30 minutes... Anything for 30 minutes... I could do that.

And so I started. That day. That Physique 57 class, from which I was quite sore for several days, that was day 1. None of this 'I'll start tomorrow' nonsense.

I'm now on day 9. I've done my #sweatyin30 while traveling. I've done it after being up in the night with sick kids. I've done it on only five hours of sleep. I've done it with soreness. I'm not saying I've killed it and dragged it home on some of those really hard days. We've gotten this idea that exercise has to be punishing, but it doesn't! In fact, we really shouldn't kill it and drag it home everyday. On rough days, I've taken fairly gentle walks, I've played around in hotel pools with my kids, I've climbed stairs, I've jumped on a trampoline. The point is to do something. Anything. Just move.

And so with that verbose introduction, here are five tips I can share (you know, from the vast wisdom I have acquired in nine days of working it):

1. Do it in the morning. I know morning exercise doesn't work for everyone, but there is a lot to be said for doing it in the morning. (I don't necessarily mean the minute you get out of bed, just early in the day.) When you give it the first fruits of your day, it is far less likely to be crowded out by other things. I find if I wait too long, it becomes a chore--something hanging over my head that has to be done. I don't like thinking of exercise that way. I don't want it to become a chore, so I usually get it done in the morning.

2. Do it with other people. Personally, I like exercising alone. I'm an introvert and I enjoy the solitude, but exercising with other people has some distinct advantages. It can be more fun, motivating, and it holds you accountable. It's also efficient--catching up with friend, check! Workout--check! All at the same time.

3. Tell people about it! I committed to my #sweatyin30 on Instagram by commenting on Ashley's post. I don't even know Ashley, but I said I'd do it and that was enough to get me up and going on those rough days. There's a burgeoning #sweatyin30 community out there. Join us!

4. Accept limitations, and find creative ways to work around them. We all have limitations. Some are physical, some financial, and all of us are constrained by 24 hours in the day. I know if I wait for all the planets to be properly aligned, I'll never do it. This is my life and I have to work with what I have. Sometimes I play tag with my kids, sometimes I dance around the kitchen for thirty minutes. I prefer a dedicated workout, but it can't always happen.

If money is tight, check out the library or YouTube for free material. On my day six, I streamed a free barre workout and did it on my parents' deck. BAM! Thirty minutes. Sweat like a mad beast. Check!

5. Recognize this is going to cost you something. The Internet is rife with articles about how to do things in 'quick and easy' ways. It doesn't have to be punishing, but it might not be 'easy.' We have to get over our love affair with comfort and convenience. It's going to cost thirty minutes. It's going to cost some energy, but you'll get it back in spades.

We're not asking for blood or tears... just a little sweat.

Are you ready to get #sweatyin30?

Follow me on Instagram @momsatthebarre to see how I'm getting sweaty!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Should You Fire Your Maid? And Other Lessons from the Era-House

The older little and I have gotten hooked on the era-house reality shows that were made around the turn of this century. They typically involve a modern family (or three) 'going back in time' to simulate life in an earlier period. The first of this genre is 1900 House. A British family moves in to a restored late-19th century London semi-detached house and copes with all the inconveniences of life in that period, including a woefully inadequate stove, far too infrequent baths and a marginally helpful mangle.
image: wikipedia
Finally, the housewife snaps under the strain of housekeeping and employs a 'maid-of-all-work,' one of the lower members of the late-Victorian/Edwardian servant class. This type of maid was, as the title implies, responsible for taking on all manner of chores, from cooking to cleaning to laundry. This freed up the housewife to pursue other interests, such as the burgeoning women's movement and other social causes of the time. She becomes so burdened by the plight of women servants (through her research, not actual interest in the woman she's hired) that she decides she can no longer square her conscience with hiring a maid, and promptly sacks the young woman.

In a letter. Because she was too chicken to do it face-to-face.

Of course, the only reason she does this is because there is only a week left on her social experiment and she really doesn't care how dirty the house gets because they're out of there. But I couldn't help but wonder.... what would have become of such a woman? (The maid, not the housewife.)

In fact, these maid-of-all-work positions were a lifeline for poor women of the period. Uneducated and ill-trained, maids-of-all-work were pretty much one job away from the gutter. For a lower-middle-class woman to let go a hardworking maid was to consign her to a miserable fate, unless she had an excellent reference and another job lined up right away. So I'm naturally thinking, 'just give her a job and treat her with dignity!'

It's very easy to get preachy when you watch these shows from your comfortable, well-heated 21st century living room, but I find that we might be in a similar position without even realizing it.


Ever since I began my household purge using the KonMari Method, I have been pitching things left and right. How wonderful! Less stuff! YAY! The first week alone, I donated over six huge bags to charity. I have less stuff, a tax deduction, and poor people... somewhere... have the blessing of all my cast-offs, right?

Well, maybe not. Right after I finished my clothing purge, I happened upon a documentary called The True Cost. It focuses on the abuses perpetrated by the garment industry, specifically a segment of it called 'fast fashion.' This is the low-quality, mass-produced stuff you find at Walmart, Target, H&M, Forever 21, Kohl's and the like. Fast-fashion is a huge segment of the garment industry, and it's growing rapidly. The clothes are produced in third-world countries in what are basically slave-labor conditions. The toll this takes on the workers, local economies and the planet is nothing short of staggering.

The plight of these workers was highlighted a few years ago by the fire that swept through a Bangladeshi garment factory. Unsafe working conditions resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 workers. While it may be tempting to lay the blame at the feet of the factory owners (and they deserve some of it), they are trying to compete with other factories to secure the contracts of western companies.

The movie is incredibly depressing and hard to watch. And it has, in my opinion, some problems. The filmmaker blames fast-fashion for everything from environmental destruction to farmer suicides in India. I'm not saying there isn't a link, but the scope of the film is so broad, it lessens it's impact. It's like drinking from a fire hose. After a while, you just shut down.

It's also long on problems and short on solutions. Clearly, avoiding mindlessly buying stuff from Walmart just because it's cheap is a start, but even better retailers outsource their manufacturing to these countries. I started checking labels on my kids' clothes, and my son's L.L. Bean sweatshirt was made in Cambodia, one of the places garment workers have clashed with police over wage disputes.


I remember when I first read 'made in Bangladesh' on a clothing label. I felt really glad. Knowing what a poor country it is, I thought how great that my t-shirt is providing a job for someone in Bangladesh! Awesome! It was the same feeling I had when I'd donate clothing, but as the film reveals, many western clothing donations end up in landfills, and these donations have gravely affected the local economies of the countries to which they are sent.

So what are the answers? How do we help with this?

One thing I know I can do is to...

Stop buying cheap clothes. I am very sympathetic to the fast-fashion buyer who is cash-strapped and just needs something to wear, especially the parent who is trying to keep her kids in clothes that fit. The siren song of cheap is very alluring, particularly when it comes to children who outgrow things in a hurry. But even then, I find the cheap stuff doesn't last. I discovered holes in the knees of both my littles the other day. I'm resolving to buy better quality clothes. The L.L. Bean knees remain intact (even if they are made in Cambodia), while the pants from Target have to be patched before they can even make it down to the little darling. It's not cheap if I have to replace it for the younger child. I'm better off in every way if I just buy the good stuff the first time around.

Another is to...

Fix things!
A maxim of World War 2 Britain was 'make do and mend.' Fabric was in short supply during the war, and housewives were tutored by a fictional character called Mrs. Sew-and-Sew.
She provided lessons in how to extend the life of garments and other textiles, lessons which were sorely needed. Food, clothing and household supplies were rationed into the early 1950's. Patching and mending are easy and inexpensive ways to breathe new or longer life into clothes. Recently we had a pair of torn trousers fashioned into shorts for my husband by a local seamstress. The fact that we supported a local business was a bonus.

Stop Shopping for Recreation.
Really. Shop when we need things, not just to 'see what's on sale.'

We've been immeasurably blessed by hand-me-downs, and we love passing them on when we're done with them.

But as for the Bangladeshi worker, I don't know the long-term answers. I don't know what regular people like me can really do to make an impact on this lamentable situation. Yes, I can refuse to buy clothes with the 'made in Bangladesh' label, but am I really helping the garment worker there who has to leave her children with relatives so she can work for starvation wages? Or am I just making her plight worse, like the 1900 housewife firing her maid?

What I do know is the gluttonous consumption of the west is not helping them, and really, it's not helping us. We're drowning in things. We're not happier with more things. In every single one of these era house reality shows, the participants say they are changed. That they now enjoy having less. They acknowledge how overwhelmed we are with things. A boy in the series Frontier House, emphasized how he enjoys having fewer toys after his experience, and the children in 1940s House (the best of the genre, I'd say) returned home with no interest in their PlayStation. They were more entertained by a homemade board game.

We've been deceived into believing that more is always better, and it isn't true. Often, more is just... more.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

How to De-Stress Your Socks: The KonMari Method

About a year ago, I first heard of the KonMari Method of home organizing. It's the brainchild of Marie Kondo, a very successful Japanese organizing consultant. Kondo's first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, was published in 2014 and has become an international best-seller. Kondo and her method have gotten a lot of press, mostly because Kondo's ideology is.... well, a little different.

You see, the KonMari Method runs pretty contrary to most standard home organizing advice. Rather than tackling your home room-by-room, or chipping away at it little-by-little, Kondo wants you to wage war. Instead of endorsing complicated organizing systems for your stuff, she wants you to start with a purge.

Lots of people suggest you declutter, but Kondo employs a completely revolutionary criterion: joy.

Joy? Seriously? What does joy have to do with my socks? Or my potato peeler? Of course, it's 20 degrees out, so my Smartwool does make me pretty happy, but I still can't say I'm giddy about it. The whole thing just seemed waaaay too touchy-feely. Plus, the method calls for doing everything in one fell swoop. You're supposed to dump all your clothes out on the floor--all at once--and assess whether or not they 'spark joy.' This is not something you can knock out during nap time. (Obviously, Kondo didn't have little kids when she wrote this book.)

Still the most controversial aspect of the book was the talking. Kondo says you should talk to your stuff. Oh my word. Or no words. No words for my stuff.

So I dismissed the KonMari method as 'not for me.'

Fast-forward a year and my recent epiphany that I want to throw out all our stuff and move my family to an ashram, and I decide to give the KonMari method a read. I really shouldn't judge a book by what I read about it on Facebook, after all.

She begins by telling us her recidivism rate is basically zero. Apparently scads of Japanese people have taken her course, but no one needs to take it again. Her approach, which has been cultivated from her earliest OCD life experiences, is that effective. It completely changes your relationship to your stuff. But first, you must purge. Which she calls 'discarding.'

Yes! I'm thinking. I'm in!! Let's discard!! Yay! She encourages us to start with clothing. If that's too overwhelming, she suggests you break it down by category of clothing, starting with tops. Well, that's still too overwhelming, and I don't have a lot of time here, so I figure I'll start with socks. I hadn't gotten to the sock part of the book yet, but there is only one drawer of socks. I should be able to knock that out before Bob the Builder is over. Can we build it? Yes! We can!
The 'before'

The Darling Husband is packing for a business trip. He's watching me dump all the balled-up socks, packaged stockings and other flotsam and jetsam out onto the bed.

Then I start reading to him. About socks. She says, "Let me state here and now: Never, ever tie up your stockings. Never, ever ball up your socks."

She goes on:
"Look at [your socks] carefully. This should be a time for them to rest. Do you really think they can get any rest like that?
That's right. The socks and stockings stored in your drawer are essentially on holiday. They take a brutal beating in their daily work, trapped between your foot and your shoe, enduring pressure and friction to protect your precious feet. The time they spend in your drawer this their only chance to rest. But if they are folded over, balled up, or tied, they are always in a state of tension, their fabric stretched and their elastic pulled. They roll about and bump into each other every time the drawer is opened and closed. Any socks and stockings unfortunate enough to get pushed to the back of the drawer are often forgotten for so long that their elastic stretches beyond recovery. When the owner finally discovers them and puts them on, it will be too late and they will be relegated to the garbage. What treatment can be worse than this?"
We felt the socks needed a session... you know, from all the stress

At this point the Darling Husband has picked his chin up off the floor and is now doubled over laughing. He thinks Marie is looney tunes.

As Long as They Don't Talk Back...
The anthropomorphism makes KonMari a tough sell for many, especially considering the socks are just the tip of the iceberg. By the end she has you greeting your house when you come home from work and thanking all your stuff for serving you. She empties her handbag at the end of the day, you know, because it needs a break from schlepping her stuff around. She thanks it for having done such a great job and tells it to have a good rest.

As cuckoo for cocoa puffs as this all sounds, I actually don't mind it. Kondo practices the Shinto religion. In fact, she was an attendant maiden in a Shinto shrine for five years, so 'Shinto' is not just a box she checks on forms. Shintoism teaches that objects have a kama, or spirit. So talking to her things is just taking this belief system to it's logical conclusion. If that sounds off to you, I'd suggest taking it up with Shintoism, not just writing Kondo off as crazy. For her, it's an authentic expression of her beliefs.

For Japanese people, this concept of kama is understood, even if it is not necessarily believed by everyone. Since Shinto has been a dominant religion in Japan, it has influenced the culture and so Kondo's message is not as strange to them as it may be to us. I wondered how much harder it might be for people to 'discard' things they believe to have feelings and a soul. Turns out, anthropomorphizing objects is a common trait among hoarders in the West, but not so much in the East.

For me to talk to my possessions would be inauthentic and a violation of my beliefs. So no chitchat between me and the socks. I do appreciate the idea of gratitude that permeates the KonMari Method, but I'll be thanking the Giver of the things, not the things themselves.

And so, back to the socks.
Which ones spark JOY?! Well, my barre socks. Joy joy joy joy, down to my feet! Smartwool, fer shur. I mean, as joyful as I can get about socks. I kept a few fuzzy ones I wear in the evenings with my Fuzzy Blue Robe, which is the greatest joy sparking item in my wardrobe. Fuzzy Blue Robe means the SMALL PEOPLE ARE IN BED, baby!

However, the sock discarding starts to get hard when I come to the six pairs of stockings I still have in their packages. (Leaving the tags on/stockings in packaging is a big no-no with Kondo. After all, how would YOU feel if you were left in a box??) Stockings do not spark joy. Maybe if I had lived through World War 2 rationing and had to draw a seam up the back of my legs while rolling bandages for the Red Cross I would feel joy at the sight of brand-new stockings in the box, but no, not so much.

In fact, I don't even wear stockings anymore. No one does. That's why I was able to score them dirt-cheap. I figured some day I might use them, but I think I bought them ten years ago and I still haven't. Even so, I'm having trouble putting them in the donation box. Brand new stockings remind me of a time when I was poor, living in New York City making a pittance. I carried a bottle of clear nail polish in my heavily burdened handbag to stop runs because I couldn't afford new ones (cue stirring music.) How could I possibly 'discard' perfectly good stockings?! I got so stressed out over the dumb stockings that I had to take a break and do a Physique 57 video.

Finally I returned to my job and finished my sock drawer. I folded all my socks into little rectangles as Kondo recommends. See?
Ok so it's sideways, but you get the point
Now I can see all my sock options when I open the drawer! They're all just hanging out, chillaxing in there. It's nice.

Later in the week I moved on to the rest of my clothes, and I must say, I'm loving it. I gave away six huge bags of clothes and shoes. I kept only the things I really like and actually wear. I'm not a huge clothing person so I had to branch out a little from outright joy. I mean, I need more than just barre socks, my wedding dress and the Fuzzy Blue Robe, you know?


It is interesting how tied we become to our possessions. I was surprised by how many memories I had attached to my clothes. Some I might have kept, but one of Kondo's directives is to think of the person you are becoming, not the person you were. Clothes that no longer fit or remind me of high school are not going to help with that. Kondo has a very guilt-free way of looking at these things. She says not everything is meant to be worn to the point that it's threadbare. Some things served you for a time, but they don't anymore. Better to let them go than to keep hanging on in your closet.

The delightful part, now that I'm through all the hand-wringing over the stockings, is now I have plenty of space in my closet and drawers. In fact, I was even able to move some things that I had squirreled away in other parts of my house into my closet. And still, I have extra room! Delight!

And so, yes, I'll admit....

I'm a konvert.

(pssst... I kept the stockings.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Lose the Stuff, Find the People

Like many people in the Boston area, I live in an older home. By 'older' I mean we don't have walk-in closets, a dedicated mudroom or a custom built-in study area for our children like you'll see in fancy new construction. 

Our house was built in the 1930's. The original house consisted of a living room, small kitchen and dining room, two bedrooms, a bathroom and a screened-in porch. One of the bedrooms is a good size, but the other is pretty small. 

Over the years, different owners have made modifications to the house. The footprint hasn't changed, but the attic space was enlarged to accommodate two more bedrooms, a bathroom and a small sitting room, so it is not an uncomfortable size for our family of four. 

Still, I love peeking in the downstairs bedroom closets. The larger room we use for guests, and this is the closet:

As you see, I'm using it mostly for pillow storage (which is ridiculous, I know. How many pillows do we need?!) But when I consider the fact that this little closet stored ALL the hanging garments belonging to a married couple, it blows my mind. I am no clothes horse, but you couldn't fit my workout-wear alone in this little number. I'm guessing Mrs. Originalowner must have had three dresses--two she rotated during the week and a nice one for Sundays. 


I've been trucking along little by little in the A Bowl Full of Lemons 14-week organizational challenge, and I've made some nice progress. I found a great way to organize our deep freezer, which is such a relief. It's too cold to be digging around in that thing trying to find the bacon. And I finally figured out a way to keep our food containers tidy.

But the more I 'organize,' the more I realize a key thing: we have too much stuff. The reason organizing is hard is because we have too much to organize. It's not that our house is too small. It's that we have TOO MUCH STUFF. We can't even use it all. It's ridiculous. 

And I know I'm not alone. The size of the average American home has nearly tripled since 1950, while the size of the average family has halved. Certainly, bigger homes mean some degree of increased comfort, but they also spell bigger closets, more cupboards and, at the very least, more floor space to fill. Stuff comes at a cost--not just what you spend to buy it. You have to maintain it, power it and store it, not to mention the relational cost. 

2006 story about big houses on NPR notes the following: 
"The big house represents the atomizing of the American family," says [John Stilgoe, a professor of landscape history at Harvard University.] "Each person not only has his or her own television — each person has his or her own bathroom. Some of these houses are literally designed with three playrooms for two children. This way, the family members rarely have to interact. And the notion of compromise is simply out one of the very many windows these houses sport."
Recently I came to the painful realization that a significant amount of my time is spent managing our possessions. I spend a lot of time washing things, cleaning things, looking for things, organizing things and putting things away. I'm exhausted by it. Many days I spend more time with our stuff than I do talking to, or playing with, my children. And that, people, is sad. 

I joined the A Bowl Full of Lemons challenge group on Facebook for a little inspiration and motivation. There are lots of pictures of clean, beautiful, organized spaces, and more than a few posts lamenting the perceived deficiencies of the posters' homes. But today, I read my favorite. A woman posted a picture of her darling little nugget holding a half-eaten cookie. She wrote, "I am really starting to notice that I have more time in my day now that I'm not always shuffling around my clutter. Now that my kitchen, pantry, and dining area are clean and clutter-free I finally had the time and patience to let my 2 year old help bake cookies with me today."

I can tell you from vast and painful experience that a tremendous amount of patience is required to bake with a two-year-old. And yet this mother found it... when she lost the stuff. Hurrah!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Organizing the YUM!

I know I said last time I wasn't going to talk about food for a while, but the first stop on the Bowl Full of Lemons organization challenge is the kitchen, so it's a little tough to not talk about food. Actually, week one is the kitchen, week two is the pantry, but I don't really have a dedicated pantry. So I'm combining weeks one and two.

This week I organized my food. See?
Laundry room/pantry/mudroom combo

You can see the paleo thing didn't take--a whole shelf of grains and beans!
Baking items grouped together

This wasn't too difficult for me because I always clean out my fridge. I believe in regular management of the refrigerator because I *hate* to waste food. Every few days I'll poke around and look for things that need to be used up. I very rarely have to throw anything out. Any amount of leftovers that can't be used in school lunches is re-purposed into quesadilla or frittata fillings. Last night we had sausage, peppers, onions, greens and broccoli for dinner. Usually we polish off the whole pan, but on this occasion there was about a half-cup left, so this morning I put it in a frittata. Yum, easy, no waste.

However, one item did get the old heave-ho. Over the years I have acquired some odd ingredients that were called for in recipes. Some have become staples, some have been tolerated until they were used up, but every once in a while I purchase a read dud, and one of these was....

Cocoa Nibs

According to the box, which claims 'yummy super food' status, cocoa nibs are, "cocoa beans that have been separated from their shell and roasted to perfection." Apparently they are "naturally rich in vitamins and minerals, and a great source of antioxidants."

They're also utterly revolting. And I'm saying this as a chocolate lover. Not yummy in the least and very hard -- as in, break-your-teeth kind of hard. They were also insanely expensive, so I kept trying to use them, but they ruined everything I put them in. I kept holding on to them, mostly because they were expensive. I'd offer them up for any local who wants them (a long list, I'm sure, after my glowing recommendation,) but they're 'best by' date was January 2015. They were looking past their prime, so today I decided to let them go.

And I'm publicly vowing not the buy anything crazy for another recipe ever again. Amen.

Speaking of buying, I know I said I was going to try not to buy anything, but I realized I needed a better means of can storage in my two pantry-like shelves in the basement. Stacking the cans was not working, so I went to The Container Store and bought this very nice little wire rack.
$15 at The Container Store

A couple of years ago, we bought these pull-out elfa drawers for the very deep lower shelf. Although you lose some real estate this way, things kept getting lost in the back, so these were definitely a worthwhile purchase.

The real sticky wicket in my food storage world are spices. That's a whole saga that probably needs it's own post, so I'll leave you on what I'm sure are pins and needles waiting for that one.

Friday, January 15, 2016

When Life Hands You Lemons

A couple of Advents ago, my older little asked me THE QUESTION:

"Mommy, is Santa Claus real?"

At the moment he asked this, I was in the throes of my harried Christmas preparations and was tempted to respond, "Yes. I AM SANTA! I make your Christmas happen! I make YOUR LIFE HAPPEN! If it weren't for me, you'd be eating a TV dinner on Christmas Eve with a nothing more than a Nike sock hanging on the mantle!"

I didn't say that, but I wanted to. I get kind of stressed out during Advent. The blessed season when I am supposed to be reflecting on the Coming, I am more focused on figuring out what I'm going to get everyone, what we going to eat, and managing everyone's dizzying social calendar. Somehow it all seems to come together, but by Christmas Eve, I'm spent. Every January, I vow I'm going to do better, but I never seem to manage a low-stress holiday season.

I think part of this is due to lack of organization. I am a somewhat naturally organized person, but since I had the small people, I've lost my way. Anyone who knows anything about small people knows you don't get chunks of time to do things. So for the past eight years, I've just been stuffing things in closets and drawers to reduce clutter, but the result of that has been... more clutter.

The littler little started preschool last year, so I have tackled a few closets, but there is still plenty more to be done, and some of my 'organized' spaces are not so organized anymore. This means my system was not good, so I have decided to branch out on the blog to chronicle my home organizational projects. I'll still talk about exercise from time to time, but I'm kind of done with talking about food, and I think you are all kind of done with me talking about food, too.

When life hands you lemons...
... and limes... and an orange...

I've decided to do a modified version of the 14-week Home Organization 101 challenge that is outlined on the very orderly blog called A Bowl Full of Lemons. The Lemon Lady has also recently published a book, which you can find here, but I think I'm going to forgo the book because I am really trying to reduce the amount of stuff in our house. I'm also being super cheap these days. (December was a very expensive month.)

A Bowl Full of Lemons is a very pretty blog, with very pretty pictures of a very pretty house. My house will never look like that. I think I will have to go off the lemon grove to some extent, because I will never be storing my books by color. Seriously, she does that. She has a Paula Deen cookbook next to a Harry Potter book because they're both orange. I mean, it's pretty, but not super practical.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa, and I am he.

In addition to having a lower-stress December, I also realized that the Santa question brought up a real truth that scares me a little. I DO make it all happen in my family. My darling husband earns the paycheck, does the taxes and handles car and many household repairs, but I keep pretty much everything else humming. In fact, I even file the car paperwork, organize the taxes and pay all the bills. I'm also the one who does all the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, and anything that pertains to the children, including medical stuff. Since we have a child with disabilities, that stuff can get very complicated.

I'm not saying all that to sound like a martyr, or make my husband sound like he isn't involved (because he is), only to point out that I keep all the plates spinning, and I have a lot of information in my head. What if something happened to me? If I died (!) or were incapacitated, life would be hard for my family.

So, with that long-winded pre-ramble, my goals over the next 14 weeks are not just to organize, but to label everything so other people know where the spare batteries or extra laundry detergent is hiding. Also, I'm planning to make up a binder with pertinent information, especially regarding all of the little little's medical stuff. Yes, my husband or others could dig around and find what they'd need to know, but wouldn't it be nice to have it all in one place?

Lastly, I'm going to try to do all of this without buying anything, or at least, not buying very much. I might even do a nice spicy rant on my love/hate relationship with The Container Store! Goody!

I might not be able to do all of this in 14 weeks, but I'll try. What's more important to me is developing systems that work. Let me know if you want to join in on the 'fun'!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

My First Trip to Lulu

Last Christmas, I received a lululemon gift card. (I can't believe blogger doesn't recognize that as a word. Yes, there is a red, squiggly line under it.) Of course, I said thank you very much to the giver, but I received it with mixed feelings. I know many, many women who *LOVE* lulu. I see it's little trademark all over the other women at barres all over town, but I've never gotten into it.

My Darling Cousin gave me a lululemon shirt a few years ago for Christmas. She gushed effusively about it's wonderfulness, so the following Christmas I set foot for the first time into a shop with the intention of buying her a gift. I took one look at the $58 price tag on a plain t-shirt and walked out. Lulu is just too rich for my blood. I was afraid if I tried anything on I'd fall in love with it and then I'd go broke. With Physique 57 and Bar Method, I really don't need another expensive obsession. And really, how good could lululemon be?? Is it really better than all the other purveyors of high-end fitness wear? You know, the ones that are also expensive, but at least run decent sales? It just seemed highly over-rated.

But lulu devotees swear by the lusciousness of their clothes. I've been promised they'll make my bottom look irresistibly cute. I've been told they will last for years and years. A dear friend was hit by a car last year while she was out running. A horrible accident that left her in the hospital and a rehab facility for weeks. Once we got over the 'oh my, thank God you're alive!' part of the story, she said, 'yeah, they had to cut off my running tights. I was pissed. They were lululemon!'

And yet still, even with that most remarkable testimonial, I resisted. The little gift card sat in my wallet for exactly 380 days. Today I finally decided to do something with it.

I walked into the shop and was immediately accosted by loud music. This gave me a sickening feeling of being far too old.... like this was the workout-wear equivalent of Abercrombie & Fitch and I should only be shopping here with a sullen teenager in tow. But the gift card kept whispering, 'spend me.' I reminded myself that there were plenty of women my age at the barre wearing lulu, and so, I persevered.

I wouldn't mind something that would make my bottom look irresistibly cute, so I headed over to the pants. There were nice, firm plastic mannequins wearing all the different styles, which were stacked according to size--lots of 2s, 4s and 6s, a few 8s and only a handful of 10s and 12s. (It seems, like Abercrombie, they don't want anyone bigger than that wearing their clothes.)

A friendly saleswoman helped me pick out a few styles suitable for my workout of choice, then led me to the very cramped fitting room. She introduced me to the girl working that part of the floor. "This is Stephanie. She does barre."

I tried on a few pairs, and meh.... for $128, these did not light me up. They were just regular workout pants. For that price, I need something to sing to me. So I dropped them off with fitting room girl and told her none of them worked for me. She said, "Is it the style? The fabric? The fit??" I replied, "Honestly, they're just really expensive and I didn't think they were anything special."

Well, she asked. (Actually, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago that said,
"Lulu also trains its workers to eavesdrop, placing the clothes-folding tables on the sales floor near the fitting rooms rather than in a back room so that workers can overhear complaints." 
So really, by being straight with her I was able to save her the subterfuge.

After the pants fail, I perused the workout tops, t-shirts and hoodies. I liked one of the hoodies, but not for $128. They like that number, 128. They also like the number 58, which was the price of the t-shirts and workout tanks.

Finally, I saw a scarf I liked. It's actually quite versatile! It has snaps and you can wear it a number of different ways, including all the way open, like a blanket. The other friendly saleswoman said, "A lot of people like this option. You can use it like a blanket on a plane!" Well, this was a nice selling feature, since jetBlue now charges you for blankets. So I settled on the scarf.

I still had $27 left on my gift card, so with a little kick in from my wallet (because nothing is only $27!) I bought over-the-knee grippy-soled socks. Apparently they'll keep me warm during savasana. And now I can look like Jane Fonda. See?

And with that, I departed lululemon. I like my scarf. And my legwarmers, but I won't be rushing back. In fact, if I never go back, that will be just fine. Don't get me wrong--I'm thankful for my gift card. I fully intend to enjoy my purchases.

But I stand by my original suspicion--to me, lululemon is highly over-rated. And for that I am glad. My wallet, and my children's college funds, are safe. At least, for now.