Saturday, December 16, 2017

Breaking the Bathroom Scale Habit

After gaining 50lb this pregnancy (and still being up 25lb from the last pregnancy), I am beginning my journey "back down the scale". At this heavy of a weight, my energy is terrible and my health can't be great either. I have my age going for me, but that advantage fades a little with each passing day. I know it will catch up with me if I don't get ahold of things now.
Photo by ja ma on Unsplash

My first two weeks postpartum, I ate pretty much whatever I wanted including two or three desserts/sweets per day, lots of bread and cereal, and lots of milk (which I normally don't drink and typically causes me to gain weight). After giving myself that time of freedom as I recovered from childbirth, my husband and I committed to a change in our eating habits. I still can't really workout -- just taking short, leisurely walks for now. But I can eat in a way that is healthy and still provides me with more than enough food I need to produce milk for my son.

We are only on our sixth morning of this new routine, and I so desperately wanted to step on the scale this morning. If I could just see that I've lost a couple pounds, I could stay motivated, right?

Well I know from past experience that the number on the scale is deceiving. It can also become a roadblock. If I get to a weight that I deem "acceptable", I start to slide on my new habits. A cheat treat turns into a cheat day which turns into a cheat weekend. Sometimes I completely abandon my new habits and won't eat something green for months.

The yo-yoing has to stop.

The number on the scale is exciting and does reflect one small portion of my progress, but how I feel and how my health has improved are the ultimate goals -- and those can't be measured on the bathroom scale.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Confession Tapes (Netflix Series Review)

Would you confess to a crime you did not commit?

None of us want to believe that we or any other human being would be so stupid. In the Netflix Original Series called "The Confession Tapes", this phenomenon is explored through six real cases. Viewers of this docuseries find out just how much our investigative officers can fail us and our justice system allows it to slide. We see story after story showing us how reasonable doubt would have likely freed people in all of these cases... if only they had not confessed.

Who would confess to something they didn't do? most people think.

A few reasons, as explored in the series, include:

  • False promises of going home
  • Long, drawn out interrogations without a lawyer present
  • Police officers selectively taping interrogations to hide the lies they told and tactics they used early in the interrogation
  • Setting up young and vulnerable teens to give a false confession to undercover agents
  • Using hypnotic techniques during interrogation
  • Devices such as a polygraph also played into people's minds, convincing them to confess because they "failed" the test
  • Questioning parents who were still grieving the loss of their child(ren)

This series also explores the media's role in some of these cases and how that twisted the truth, sometimes even twisting it in the minds of the suspects. The media would also pit the local community against the suspects, seemingly sealing their fate.

It's definitely a disturbing thought -- that innocent people were coerced into a confession and ended up behind bars. America is said to have one of the best justice systems in the world. Unfortunately, though, if the investigators have pinned a certain person as the criminal, they can sometimes develop tunnel vision and work hard to take down that suspect, neglecting all other leads. They manipulate to get what they need. They may believe they are doing the right thing, but it has landed innocent people behind bars.

My number one take away from the series: if I am ever accused of anything and taken in for questioning, I will be asking for a lawyer and keeping my mouth shut until council arrives. Even if I am innocent, I cannot rely on the system and the evidence to clear me.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Giving birth = empowerment

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
I gave birth to my second baby a little over two weeks ago. Like my first, I planned for a homebirth and was able to fulfill my goal due to a complication-free pregnancy, labor, and delivery as well as careful planning and having plenty of support.

Because I have been overweight for the majority of my life, I can sometimes feel pretty low about my body. Plus, I managed to gain right around 50lb with each pregnancy (when a "healthy" recommended pregnancy weight gain for a woman my size would have been less than 20lb). Sometimes I hate the way my body looks. But right now, in the wake of giving birth at home, I feel like my body is pretty badass.

I will admit that birth is an experience that can make you feel like you are on the edge of death. I never felt like I was going to actually die, but during both labors I remember coming to a point of thinking/saying "I can't do this much longer". I remember asking for help. I remember relying on the support of my doula, my husband, my mother, my sister, and my dad. I will be forever grateful for the strength and comfort that they gave me. If I had been completely alone, I think I would have survived. But with the extra hands of support and love, I am able to look back at my experiences with even more fondness.

Giving birth is an experience that a woman remembers for a lifetime. She may not remember all the details and specifics, but she will remember how she felt. How a woman is treated, comforted, supported, and spoken to during her labor and delivery will leave a lasting impact.

I hope all women feel empowered after giving birth, no matter how or where they do it. It is an amazing feat!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Cooking from the comfort of my computer

I've blogged in the past about my struggle to cook at home. Now that I have a newborn and an almost two year old to take care of, I am not too interested in sitting down at a restaurant anytime soon. So it was time to push myself. Some people like to cook, but I'm just not one of them yet. I have to make it easy.

In the past few days, I have cooked three clean and healthy crock pot meals and the majority of the work I put into these meals was done at my computer.

How to feel like you're cooking but put in minimal effort:

  • Open Google or Pinterest. Search for easy, healthy crock pot recipes. Find a few you want to try.
  • Order ingredients for recipes of interest from Wal Mart Grocery Pickup (or another store that does curbside service)
  • Pick up ingredients
  • Assemble in the crock pot/let cook
  • Eat!

This week I did a broccoli beef, chicken curry, and a butternut squash soup. I thoroughly enjoyed two out of three recipes and the third I think I can tweak to my liking. All I did was assemble the ingredients that I picked up from the store in the crock pot and let it cook. The chicken in the chicken curry I had to shred but that took less than five minutes. Other than that, these took minimal work and effort. I honestly am not sure it could get easier! If I can't make this work then I'm a lost cause ;-)

I look forward to finding more easy, healthy crock pot recipes. If you have any to share, please drop a link in the comments!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Childcare in America: Challenges and Solutions

I recently read this article which covered the history of childcare in America and government involvement in childcare from World War 2 to present day. Although I did not fact check the article, it lines up with much of what I know about the history of working women in our country and the challenges they have faced in balancing childcare with career.

As I have written about already this year regarding maternity leave, I do not believe women can have it all. It is simply impossible to have a career and be the best mom you want to be. Each week working women spend 40 hours on the job, 3-5 hours on lunch breaks, and more hours on commute time, leaving just a few hours at the beginning and end of the day to get everyone ready and to wind down.

The article I read discusses how devastating childcare costs can be, especially for single moms or lower income families. The cost is so prohibitive that mothers especially of two or more children often cannot go to work because of inconsistent and unaffordable care.

The author suggests that it is time for the government to step in like it did during World War 2 by offering subsidized childcare. The author wants workers to be paid more and for the government to make more facilities available. Yet the author wants parents to pay much less.

While this is a fantastic idea, it makes me wonder what would happen if those wishes were implemented. If childcare options are already poor, imagine how bad it might be if the government were to run it. Every government "service" I participate in is typically a hellish experience. Think about waiting in line at the DMV or filing taxes. Think about our K-12 public school system (which most people would agree needs an overhaul). The government lowers incentives for efficiency and quality. When the government pays for, subsidizes, or completely takes over an industry, the standards typically lower and the costs go up.

The other issue with government subsidized childcare (or government subsidized anything) is that someone will be paying for the subsidized childcare. The money will come from one of three places:
  1. Higher taxes (which typically trickles down and hurts the people it was supposed to help)
  2. Debt (which will have to be paid by future generations)
  3. Inflation (which is basically a tax on everyone as it raises the cost of goods)

When I got pregnant with my daughter, I made $15/hour. But I was a contractor and had to pay all my own taxes so it was really more like $12/hour. But, my hours were not consistent and I worked a lot of night shifts. So I left that position for one that only paid $10/hour but had consistent, daytime hours and commission opportunity. So, I typically made between $400-$550/week. On a bad week where I did not commission, my paycheck would be less than $400 because of taxes. This job offered no sick days or paid time off so if I did not work my full 40 hours, I was out of luck. I called in sick one day (I had a cold) the whole six months I worked there and took on overtime when it was available since I was trying to pay for my midwife and save for an unpaid maternity leave.

Thankfully, once I gave birth to my daughter, I got another job which paid significantly better plus offered vacation, sick days, and reasonably priced benefits. In addition, my parents and little sister have flexible enough schedules and big enough hearts that they were willing to watch my child.

If I had not gotten a better paying job or if I had not had childcare through my family, I do not think I would have returned to work as more than half of my smaller paychecks would have gone to childcare expenses. Not to mention, I know that the quality of childcare can be spotty and I do not easily trust people around my child. I am not sure what I would have done to bring in income for my family, but it would have had to have been something I could do at home while caring for a child.

I can only imagine how difficult this situation is for many women who do not have a spouse, do not have family support, and do not have a decent salary.

Like with the dilemma of maternity leave, I do not have an easy answer to this challenge. I think the best thing the government could do for moms, however, is to get out of the way. If income taxes were actually lower, women would have more of their paycheck to go toward childcare. In addition, the government has many regulations on childcare facilities which cost them time and money to comply with. While the regulations and standards were implemented to keep kids safe, they raise the cost of care. I would recommend the government lift the regulations and allow parents to make the best decision they can regarding their child's care. With online reviews, childcare centers which do not offer quality care will soon run out of customers. They will be forced to self-regulate in order to keep their customers. By creating barriers to entry through regulations, though, the government may be keeping potential daycare centers from ever getting started in the industry because they cannot afford to get through all the red tape. Less competition means higher prices for parents.

Like many issues facing our society, there is no one size solution or easy answer. My personal belief is that the more freedom people have to open up businesses (like childcare facilities) and the more money that is in the hands of the parents (through lower taxes), the more choices parents will have to get quality care for their child at a price that they can afford.

For my family, I can only express how thankful I am that my parents are in a position to watch my child which puts me at much greater ease while at work and in a better position financially (compared to other moms who pay for expensive care).

What solutions can you think of?

Monday, September 11, 2017

My Cruise Experience: Tips, Tricks, & Ideas

I love to travel. However, going on a cruise was not travelling. It was a vacation.

travel (v) - make a journey, typically of some length or abroad

vacation (n) - an extended period of recreation, especially one spent away from home

Going on vacation may involve travel, but travel does not always equal vacation.

In high school and college, I spent several months working and living in a different place (once in Hungary and once in South Dakota). Both locations offered plenty of tourist attractions, but in both instances I spent a good amount of time building a community and making friends (not just sightseeing). I had a job and a purpose in my presence. I did not just receive but I was able to give to the community. This is how I prefer to travel.

Last week, my husband and I went on our first true vacation. We went on a 5-day cruise stopping in Cozumel and Progreso, Mexico. The whole purpose of the cruise was to relax, have fun, and enjoy ourselves -- to escape reality. This is a pretty foreign concept to us. We have gone on trips "just for fun", but never one where we were waited on hand and foot. A few times a year I will get a pedicure or a massage or try to find a way to treat myself, but those instances are always short and few and far between. Our past travels have always involved family and were not nearly so "luxurious" as a cruise. This was definitely a new experience for us!

I wanted to take some time to write out my thoughts and top tips for any other newbie cruisers.

Tip #1: If you are going to cruise, work to get into relaxation mode before you get to the boat! Prepare ahead of time, do breathing exercises on your way down, and get in the right mindset.

It probably took me 24 hours after stepping on the ship to feel relaxed. After all the stress of whether or not we were even going to have a cruise and get to the ship due to hurricane issues in addition to just not being used to being on vacation mode, I struggled to unwind and relax. I was also leaving behind my daughter overnight for the first time which made me feel guilty.

A cruise involves nightclubs, bars, pools, hot tubs, comedy clubs, casinos, music shows, being waited on, not having to pick up after yourself, having photographers constantly trying to snap your photo, and food (lots and lots of food!). And that's just what is on the ship! Once you get to port, excursions can include day passes at resorts (which means more food, alcohol, and pools) or more adventurous excursions such as horseback riding, ATVs, or other tours. Nothing about a cruise is "normal" (at least not in my life). So getting in the right mindset before you begin can help you take advantage of every minute of the cruise.

Tip #2: Even if it is not your usual scene, try some alcoholic beverages and study up on casino games and etiquette. Those two activities are how a lot of people spend their time on the cruise. I did feel like I was "missing out" a bit by not being a part of that scene.

I'm pregnant so alcoholic drinks were out for me. Drinking by the pool is a big part of a cruise so if that's what you like, a cruise is probably a good choice for you! In addition, people who love to gamble were having a great time. We have never been to a casino so we tried a few slot machines but were honestly so confused and had no idea what we were doing so we did not spend much time there. I wish we had studied up a bit more regarding casino games before getting on-board.

Tip #3: To reduce spending, look for deals, ask for discounts, or just wait till you get to your port of call. Going on a cruise does not have to break the bank, but you need to be prepared to shop around a little.

The two things we spent the most money on was a couple's massage and on photos. (If we were into gambling and drinking, those probably would have made up most of our on-cruise spending.) As it turns out, there were several places in port to get a great massage at a fraction of the price we paid on the boat. In addition, we probably did not need every single photo we purchased. So if you do not want to get caught in the trap of over-purchasing photos, I would suggest just not getting so many of them taken. Once you see them, you feel an attachment because those are your photos. If you decide you do not want the photo, they have you put it in a recycle bin. So you are literally throwing away perfectly good photos of yourself. The cruise line has a monopoly on everything so services like spa treatments and professional photos are not cheap.

Tip #4: Take advantage of the food and order as much as you want. There was more than one day where my husband had steak at both breakfast and dinner. I also ordered multiple appetizers at dinner more than one night. If it sounds good, try it. If you don't like it, don't eat it, but a cruise is a fun way to try new foods. The food is part of the price of admission so enjoy!

Tip #5: Try something new on-board. The gambling was not the only new activity we tried out. One of the things we enjoyed the most as far as on-board entertainment was the comedy club. We have never been to a comedy club so we went to multiple shows and laughed until our bellies hurt! Now that we know how much we enjoyed it, we will be looking at comedy clubs in town for us to visit for date night.

Tip #6: Consider booking excursions through a third party. The cruise line offers interesting and fun excursions for when you are in port, but so do a lot of great local companies.

For our time in Cozumel, I booked a dune buggy tour of the island which included an amazing local lunch and snorkeling. My husband and I had a tour guide all to ourselves. After tipping our amazing guide, we paid about the same as we would have paid through the cruise line for a similar excursion except ours was completely private. We talked to some other cruisers who booked third party and they agreed that their experience was wonderful and their group was very small and intimate for typically a better price than the cruise line offered. Some people get nervous about booking an excursion third party because they have to be back at the boat by a certain time. However, the third party companies know the rules and will help ensure you get back in plenty of time.

Pro-tip: don't go on a cruise when you are as far along in your pregnancy as I am! If possible, I would recommend not being pregnant at all so that you can also drink as much as you want. However, if you do go on a cruise pregnant, it can still be a blast. But as your belly gets bigger, sleep becomes less comfortable. I slept fairly well but did struggle at times. Because of weight gain, I also just felt like I had less stamina than I otherwise would have had.

On a similar note, I would not recommend bringing very small children. As much as I missed our daughter, the cruise would not have been a good experience for any of us if she had joined. She needs a lot of sleep -- she sleeps 11-12 hours/night and usually takes two naps during the day. This is awesome at home, but not conducive to a vacation. If she had come with us, we would have been confined for more than half of the cruise to our cabin due to her sleep schedule. We would have missed out on the evening entertainment (or had to take turns watching the baby while the other spouse went alone). There is on-board babysitting but that is an added expense plus you are leaving your child with a stranger (not a comfortable experience for you or the child). I would also have been constantly worried about her well-being and making sure she was entertained. It would have made the cruise the opposite of relaxing! As kids get older, there are more activities for them to do. But toddlers and babies (basically any child requiring a nap), should probably stay home.

I consider my husband and me to be very normal, down-to-earth people. A cruise is certainly an easy way to feel like you are living the life of wealth and luxury for a few days. There are not even any trash cans on board because the crew is constantly picking up after the cruisers. You didn't even have to throw away your own trash!

I am not sure if or when we will cruise again, but it was definitely a unique experience. If we do cruise again, I feel better prepared to enjoy myself even more and spend my money more wisely.

Have you cruised? What is your top tip?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

100 days of blogging -- I did it!

When I logged into my blog and wrote that post about considering daily blogging, I was honestly not even sure I would log in the next day and make it a two day streak. Before this daily blogging challenge I do not think I ever blogged two days in a row, much less 100. Not to mention, it had been over a year since I put out a blog post... where had my inspiration to write gone?

In the past month alone I have had over 1,100 page views which is pretty crazy to think about. There are plenty of posts I write that I do not feel are all that worthy of readers. Other days, I am extremely proud of my content. Every day, I am thankful that I live in a place where I am free to express myself and in an age where it is so easy to spread ideas.

Writing/blogging is 100% free. I do not pay google for space on the internet. I already own my computer and pay a monthly subscription for internet. There is no added cost, except my time, to blogging daily.

But what it has given me is incredible. I have learned to be creative every day, I have been forced to feed myself something each day to inspire me, I have learned to discipline myself daily.

Two days ago, I wrote my 100th consecutive daily blog post. Yesterday, I skipped writing on purpose. Although I could continue to write daily for an indefinite amount of time, I did not want to get glued to the number. I did not want to keep writing every day for the sake of making it one more day. Perhaps because I had the number 100 in my mind or perhaps because I have gotten lazy, I feel like some of my recent posts were not that great. But still forcing myself to write daily has been an excellent exercise for me.

I hope anyone who has read one post or all 100 posts from this challenge have gained some value. Maybe you're even inspired to come up with your own creativity challenge.

I'll continue writing, just not daily. Please know I am thankful for each and every person who takes the time to read.