Finding balance

In my semester recap post back in December, I wrote about some changes I planned to make to bring create some space and balance: reducing my hours at my paid job and resuming a regular mindfulness meditation practice.

Mindfulness first!  With the exception of three or four days, I have made time for formal practice every day for over a month now!  I try for 15 minutes a day, but if five or ten minutes is what I have, I go with it.  Gifting myself this time is a struggle some days, but it is SO important!  It feels good to be back in the saddle.

As planned, I reduced my [paid] work hours from about 15 hours/week to 8-10 hours/week.  Eight hours a week seems rather ideal, and it seems to be helping with the balance I was seeking, even though I have somewhat negated the reduction by adding an [unpaid] internship (≤5 hours/week).

My classes are going well, though none of them was quite what I expected. The Experimental Foods course doesn’t involve all that much time actually cooking.  Instead, we have a team project that involves making one modification to one recipe over the course of the semester.  Our instructor works at Bissenger’s [Chocolates], so our recipe had to somehow include chocolate.  My team is making chocolate waffles.

My Advocacy in Family and Consumer Sciences course has some nice tie-ins with my Business Management course.  We’ve picked a broad topic to focus on for advocacy, and mine is diabetes (likely drilling down to the issue of insurance coverage for Medical Nutrition Therapy for people who are pre-diabetic).  The management course is all online, with very little interaction, so it’s a bit of a slog, but I’ll get through it!

In terms of workload, Advocacy and Experimental are both starting slow, with the bulk of the work during the middle and last half of the semester, so I may be in the calm before the storm right now.

I suppose I should mindfully enjoy the space/balance I have right now and not worry that times may get a bit hectic.  That will happen (or not) regardless (though there is some foundational work I can do now to ease my workload later).

Breathing in . . .


. . . and breathing out.

Thoughts on tidying up

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my name finally rose to the top of the library’s hold list for Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and I dove into the book, knowing I only had three weeks (no renewals allowed when there’s a wait list).

Within a day of checking out the book (hadn’t even started reading it yet), I found two lost items: a pair of earrings lost in the clutter on the top of my dresser (found when decluttering said dresser top) and Gabriel’s snow pants, inexplicably residing on the bottom of our closet floor (found when pulling out my breast pump, which I should have donated years ago).  Kondo’s little book already seemed magical to me!

I used to be quite into tidying.  As a child, I wanted my room to be just so, which was challenging while sharing a room with my not-like-minded sister!  Somewhere along the line of sharing a house with someone, and especially when that became two someones, one of them a little person, and the general hum of life, I buried those old tendencies.

For a variety of reasons, the timing is right for some purging and organizing, and Kondo’s book gave me the push I needed.  My biggest question was how to deal with all of the stuff that is not mine.  Kondo advises resisting the urge to “tidy up” or downsize for others in the household, instead letting your own personal efforts have a trickle-down effect.  This sounds overly optimistic, but despite my doubts, both Matthew and Gabriel initiated some tidying of their own.  (Matthew actually beat me to sorting through clothes!  And he read the book.)

That said, I don’t know if it’s a cultural difference, or just Kondo’s passion for the subject (and writing to sell a book), but there are some pretty hokey parts that you have to read with a big grain of salt.  A skeptic also has to question Kondo’s claim that “no one ever relapses.”  That’s a pretty bold claim without providing evidence!

Still, it seems her methods are sound, and it felt like someone was giving me permission to off-load lots of things that I was keeping “just because,” which was quite freeing.

Per Kondo’s method, I started with clothes.  In the process, I discovered that I am more of a “practical” keeper than a “sentimental” keeper.  Once I’m in the discarding groove, it’s fairly easy to see that I don’t need most sentimental items, but those old pants, that might be useful for some grubby task someday?  A bit harder to part with.

To date, I’ve finished the clothing category.

Two tidied dresser drawers

I wouldn’t mind those drawers being a bit less crammed, but compared to how they looked before, this is huge progress.  Seeing every item when I open a drawer will help me identify more items that are just taking up space, rather than being worn and enjoyed.

Books come next, but truth be told, I, personally, don’t have that many books (cough-Matthew-cough).  Other than a gifted book here or there, I’ve always been a library gal (even when it requires waiting patiently on the hold list for a popular new item), and until I hit college, with the requisite text books, I did not spend money on books, despite being a voracious reader.  My fingers get twitchy when I look at our bookshelves, but if anything is to happen in that arena, it won’t come from me.

I have jumped around a bit, tackling some low-hanging fruit, like boxes of old class notes and old work stuff.  If I haven’t referenced my grad school course materials in the past ten years, I’m unlikely to start now.  Yes, those binders contain some useful information, but it’s not organized in a way that is easy to access.  If I wanted that information today, I’d look elsewhere.  Enter the recycling bin!

So far, in addition to the recycling (and, yes, some trash), I’ve made two big trips to the St. Vincent de Paul store.  While Kondo recommends that tidying up should be a somewhat discrete event, and not something that drags on forever, she also gives a time frame of six months for the work, which works well with where I am.  I’d love to knock it out in a week (and I could see someone even doing it in an intense weekend, assuming they didn’t have too much stuff when beginning), but I can’t put the rest of my life on hold, so I’ll have to take the step-wise approach.

I’d love to hear your experiences with decluttering, simplifying, or “tidying up,” whether you used Kondo’s approach or something else — please share in a comment!

Working my way into 2016

Happy New Year, ya’ll!  I would apologize for being late, but seeing as how I’m still getting out a few last Christmas gifts, this post is actually quite timely!

We spent New Year’s in Iowa with my family, and I spent the first few days of this week getting my head into 2016.

On the school front, I’m taking three classes this semester, two in-person (dietetics/nutrition content) and one online (business management).  My original schedule had me on campus three days a week (very similar to last semester), but my T/H class changed to one longer meeting time on Thursdays.

The new timing of the Thursday class has some downsides, but I’ll save time by reducing my commutes from three days to two, which will be especially nice in the colder weather/darker days when just gearing up (clothing and lights) for the bike ride takes a significant amount of time.

I’m most excited about my “Experimental Foods” class.  It involves a lab (i.e., cooking) component, and it should be perfect for me since most of my cooking is experimental.  Mostly good experiments, but it can be tricky when someone asks me for a recipe!

My online class is through St. Louis Community College, which means I’ll benefit from their new partnership with MetroBus/Link, which provides a semester-long U-PASS to all credit students (you qualify for the pass even if you’re only taking one credit hour!).  I’m excited to be able to take advantage of this partnership!  I don’t take transit a lot, but having a pass instead of having to think about fare may inspire some additional trips, especially in these next few months, when we’re likely to have some iffy road conditions.

Also somewhat school-related — I’m putting a few hours a week into an internship with Lighter, a cool start-up currently offering meal planning and food delivery services focused on plant-based eating.  I’m excited to be part of the work (doing nutrition analysis on their recipes) and to see what’s in store for the company going forward!

Tidying Up
My name finally rose to the top of the library’s wait list for The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  While I have yet to officially start the process (I haven’t even finished reading the book), it shows promise, as I found not one, but two, long-lost items while doing some cleaning within a day of bringing the book home.

I’m curious to see where this leads for our household overall.  I’m not sure if Marie Kondo addresses this later in the book, but one of my big questions is how to get everyone in the house on board!

I dug out my mindfulness journal so I have a concrete way to track getting back on track with my practice, after a failed attempt a few weeks ago (I knew right before the holidays was not great timing, but figured I’d give it a shot — oh well, each day a new beginning!).

On with the year!
It took me a week, but with my old-school, hard copy yearly planner in hand, I’m feeling ready for 2016.  I anticipate having plenty of opportunities to practice living in the moment, taking things one day, one hour, one minute at a time in the coming year.


Rest, recharge, renew — and play!

All three components of the title were much-needed, and the past five days have been fun, with more to come!

On Friday morning, we waved goodbye to Gabriel and my MIL — they’re having their own fun in Florida (including a holiday boat parade, a sighting of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Dolphin, and a run-in with a gold-coin-dispensing pirate) while we enjoy a child-free week here in St. Louis.

On Friday night, we went to the student showcase performance at Bumbershoot Aerial Arts, aptly named the Holiday Glitter Ball.  There was plenty of glitter and sparkle, plus a wonderful variety of aerial acts, all set to Christmas music.  With slightly different line-ups every night, I was tempted to go back for an encore performance, but we had other weekend plans.

We spent Saturday doing some much-needed cleaning before shifting gears to cooking for the Candy Cane Lane Potluck and Bike Ride we were hosting.  I made black bean soup and a version of this slaw, but with sriracha instead of curry paste.  The slaw was a huge hit!

With full bellies, we took to our bicycles for a nice, easy ride to enjoy the lights of Candy Cane Lane, Snowflake Street, and Angel Avenue.  We were joined by friends, including a family with three girls, and the youngest was my companion on Big Blue.   She’s right around G’s age, and it was fun hearing her reactions to the lights (I felt a little like I was cheating on Gabriel, though).  After immersing ourselves in the lights, we returned for cake and hot chocolate ice cream.  Did I mention that it was almost 70 degrees for our ride?  My initial plan was dessert and hot beverages, but that seemed rather silly with our weather — the ice cream our friends brought was perfect!

Early Sunday morning, Matthew took off for a work trip to D.C., leaving me as a bachelorette for three days.  Despite the dreary rain encouraging a home day, I went out and was rewarded with an energizing Advent service at church.  The rest of the day was spent in good rainy-day fashion, including a nice long nap.

I worked on Monday and Tuesday, but it was not all work and no play, as I hosted a small group for dinner on Monday night.  I wrapped up my work for the week on Tuesday so Matthew and I could enjoy some stay-cation time during the second half of the week.

I had initially looked into destinations within an hour or two for a little overnight getaway, and while there are some nice options, I wasn’t finding anything I loved, so we opted with the tried-and-true Lou — plenty of great restaurants and activity options.

Yesterday we did some shopping, along with a visit to the garden for a fabulous mid-December harvest, before returning home for a dinner of homemade pasta and an evening at the ice rink.  The bike ride to and from the rink provided an opportunity to enjoy some of the Christmas lights on The Hill, and we enjoyed less-crowded, weeknight ice skating with the lovely Christmas lights at the rink.

The fun continues into Saturday with more plans for food, friends, and festivities — and hopefully a few more naps!

Worn out but still kicking

It’s been quite the week: G’s nail-removal surgery, 1 exam, 2 presentations, and an interview — glad to be on the other side of all of those things!

I started this post before Thanksgiving, when, not surprisingly, my worn-down body caught the first cold of the season.  Let’s just say that part-time job plus [9 credit hour] part-time school plus co-running a household for the past 16 weeks (right on the heels of a very intense month following G’s accident) was more than a bit overwhelming.

I survived, but I’m going to make some changes for the spring semester: reduced hours at my job and getting back into regular meditation practice.  I’ll be taking 10 credit hours, but one of the classes is online, which might make the course-load feel a bit lighter — one can always hope!

So, about that meditation practice . . . .  After almost a year of regular, dedicated mindfulness meditation practice, I fell off the train in a big way following G’s accident, and with the flurry of activity around my return to school, I never got back on board.  I don’t know if this is possible, but I felt like even though I wasn’t making time for formal practice, I benefited from the previous work I’d done, in a sense building up some reserves or buffer, but after 4+ intense months, those reserves are empty.  Time to rebuild that mindfulness muscle!

G’s surgery
We weren’t sure what to expect post-op, so we made the most of the pre-surgery weekend with a family bike ride to view local Christmas lights, a friend’s birthday party, and readying our house for Christmas.


We found the perfect field cedar at Matthew’s grandpa’s, and hauled it home on our little car.  By the end of the day, after only one tree-tipping episode, our not-so-little tree was decked for the holidays.

We arrived at the hospital bright and early on Monday morning to “get those silly nails out,” getting a lovely view of the moon and Venus on the way.  The play area next to G’s same-day surgery prep room kept him calm and distracted from his empty belly until go time.  I accompanied him into the surgical suite and stayed until the anesthetic took effect.  Two hours later, we were headed home, with the hardware in tow — nine-inch titanium nails!


Monday and Tuesday were rough, with some stomach side effects from the anesthesia (somewhat unexpected because he didn’t have issues in August), but by Wednesday morning, this kid was claiming no pain (without drugs) and literally bouncing off the walls.  So, so thankful that this is behind us!

Dietetics coursework
My first of six [part-time] semesters (plus a few summer courses) is now behind me!  Somewhat ironically, my grades matter more in dietetics than they would have if I’d gone the physician assistant route, because getting a dietetic internship (required to become an R.D.) is really competitive.  With the possibility of PA school, I’d tried to start internalizing the idea that I didn’t have to “be the valedictorian” of my PA class.  When I chose dietetics instead, I had to rearrange my plans for mediocrity 😉

Anyhow, the semester went well, and, despite a near-disaster with a group project (I had group projects/presentations in all three of my classes — gah!), I should come out well on the old GPA front.  More importantly, I met some cool people, and my classes exposed me to new information and ideas!

On the bike
The amazing weather for biking continues into December.  After making my 16-mile RT commute three days a week for the past 16 weeks, I am in pretty decent biking-shape.  I only used the car for five of those school commutes, justifying my choice to not by a parking pass.

I may have to ride my commute route a few times over the next four weeks, just so I don’t lose everything I’ve built.  Other than that, I’m looking forward to a little down time to rest and recharge for 2016!